Read The Curse Of The Diogenes Club Online

Authors: Anna Lord

Tags: #murder, #london, #bomb, #sherlock, #turkish bath, #pall mall, #matryoshka, #mycroft

The Curse Of The Diogenes Club (3 page)

BOOK: The Curse Of The Diogenes Club
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“Yes, something along that
line.”

“Suicide it is, then.”

“Was Princess Paraskovia
invited to Bertie’s New Year’s Eve costume ball?”

“Yes – her invitation is on the
mantelpiece with a string of others. Why do you ask?”

“Her absence will be noted.
That means you will not be able to keep her death a secret for very
long. Prince Sergei will have a captive audience should he wish to
put about any rumours. Will you be going to the ball?”

“I was going to send Nash in my
place to keep an eye on things. I hate these costume galas. But it
seems I will need to make a personal appearance after all. If any
rumours start up I may need to nip them in the bud.”

“If I need to find you quickly,
what costume will you be wearing?”

“Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Royal servant, courtier, spy –
what else! “Do you have a pearl earring?”

He rubbed his ear and winced.
“Not anymore. I turned it into a tie pin.”

“I’ll send one around to the
Diogenes Club. It clips on. Your outfit will not be complete
without it.”

He decided not to argue; his
mind was elsewhere. “What costume have you chosen?”

“The Snow Queen – lots of white
fur and diamantiferous sparkle topped off with a splendid pearl and
diamond kokoshnik. I’m arriving by troika, but it will have hidden
wheels because there isn’t any snow. What costume will Major Nash
be wearing?”

“He usually goes to these sorts
of childish dress-ups as the fictional Horatio Hornblower. The man
looks ridiculously dapper in naval uniform.”

“Major Nash would look dapper
in any uniform,” she quipped without thinking.

Mycroft looked up quickly. “Are
you setting your sights on the dashing baronet?”

“I am not setting my sights on
anyone, Uncle Mycroft. I enjoy being my own mistress. But that
doesn’t mean I am immune to a man in uniform. I think the ball
should prove to be more exciting than I had anticipated. Are we
done here? Can Major Nash summon a cab to take me back to Brown’s
Hotel? I just remembered I left my carriage there.”

“Nash can take you in my
carriage. I’m going to stay here for a while longer. Close the door
on your way out. I need time to think.”

She reached the door then
paused. “Where’s the princess’s costume?’

“In the adjoining dressing
room. Why?”

“Do you mind if I steal
it?”

Avuncular disapproval was
evident in the stern rejoinder. “You already have a costume.”

“Yes, but my Ukrainian maid can
wear the princess’s costume and mingle incognito with the
illustrious guests. I think an extra pair of eyes and ears tonight
might come in handy.”

“In that case, take the
invitation as well.”

2
The Pavilion

 

“I believe the most eligible
widow in England has just been supplanted, gentlemen.”

General de Merville was
enjoying a Macanudo cigar with Sir James Damery and Mr Bruce
Blague, the wealthy American cigar tycoon, when a troika drawn by
three white stallions arrived at the orientalist pavilion in
Battersea Park.

The stately pleasure dome that
‘Kublai Khan’ decreed for New Year’s Eve was a perfect replica of
the Brighton Pavilion on the exterior, however, the interior had
shrunk significantly until all that was left was a vast ballroom
and twin banqueting rooms, one at either end. These were the
grandest rooms, double-storied and topped with soaring Mughal
domes, five in all, the largest of which centred the middle of the
ballroom. A mezzanine punctuated with box balconies ran the full
perimeter of the dance floor. Dozens of glass doors on both levels
faced north toward London and the River Thames.

On the other side of this
perfectly symmetrical building were a large man-made lake and a
small wood. This was the entrance side, not as beautiful but
beautiful enough, with a columned veranda interspersed with
filigreed peacock arches designed to disguise a series of smaller
windows that belonged to the latrines and cloakrooms. On the upper
level were small sitting rooms for the ladies to retire to and
smoking rooms for the gentlemen.

A far pavilion in the Mughal
style served as a carriage porch. From here a set of steps led to
the octagonal entrance foyer dominated by a grand staircase.
Further afield, separate to the main pavilion, were guardrooms for
the soldiers charged with ensuring the safety of the noble guests
and stables for their horses.

As soon as New Year’s Eve was
done and dusted the orientalist pavilion would be remodelled into a
cricket pavilion, ditching its Mughal splendour and morphing into
something quaintly English.

A thick white Wilton carpet
strewn with gold stars formed the path from the carriage porch to
the front door of the foyer. It was conceived in the event of a
snowfall, but snow was not expected until the middle of January.
The path was lined with flaming torcheres and Praetorian Guards
chosen especially for their Roman attributes.

As carriages disgorged costumed
guests the three gentlemen smoking under the shelter of the
colonnaded veranda of the pavilion watched with interest.

“I’m guessing you are referring
to the Snow Queen – that vision in white?” said Mr Blague, exhaling
a plume of smoke into the nithering darkness.

“Yes - Countess Varvara
Volodymyrovna.”

“That’s a mouthful and a half!”
joked Mr Blague. “And who has she supplanted?”

“I bet it is the celebrated
Spanish beauty,” volunteered Sir James Damery, the silver-tongued
Irish diplomat who enjoyed enormous favour with the royal family.
“Is that right de Merville?”

“On the money, Damery, as
usual!”

The two elder statesmen were
referring to Mrs Isadora Klein, a woman with the Hispanic blood of
the Conquistadores in her veins, and the most eligible widow in
England, having inherited the full fortune of her late German
husband, the sugar king, Adolphus Klein.

Mr Blague continued to watch
the Snow Queen blaze a virginous white trail from her elaborately
carved white troika to the carved white doors of the pleasure dome.
“Is the Snow Queen one of those Russian royals I have heard is
going to be here tonight?”

“The Countess is Ukrainian,”
supplied the immaculate Damery before turning to his slightly
rumpled, old friend, who considered grooming a waste of time and a
good hobby for nancy-boys who weren’t up to the rough and tumble of
the battle-ground. “Are you thinking of tying the knot again, De
Merville?”

General de Merville took a
querulous puff of his cigar. “Well, as you know my daughter,
Violet, means the world to me and I wouldn’t want to do anything to
upset the girl, but she gets on surprisingly well with the
Countess. They are practically the same age. It might even do
Violet’s strong-willed nature some good to have a feminine
influence in the house. She has spent far too much time exclusively
in the company of men since her dear mother died, and now that I
have banned her from any more of those blasted suffragette meetings
it has gone back to nothing but men visitors to the house.”

“The Countess’s wealth would
not go astray either,” quipped Damery, smiling broadly enough to
make his Irish eyes dance and sing.

General de Merville took no
offence; he had known James Damery for years and the two men got
along famously. The two old soldiers understood each other
perfectly and each would have done anything for the other,
including taking a bullet. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with having
a wealthy wife. It beats a poor one any day.”

The trio of men guffawed
raucously as men do when there are no women about.

Mr Bruce Blague’s tobacco farms
in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, and his cigar
factory in Florida churned out Havanas by the thousands making him
richer than Croesus. He never had to think about things like wives
with money. “I might have challenged you, General de Merville, for
the fair hand of that Snow Queen, but I have been widowed just six
months and my sweet innocent daughter, Mona, would faint clean away
if I announced I was thinking of tying the knot again. Besides,
Mona tells me the Countess is an unashamed know-it-all. I cannot
abide women who get above themselves or try to act like men. Those
suffragettes should be locked up. I blame the husbands. The
unmarried ones should be horse-whipped.”

“An uppity woman does not
frighten me,” said General de Merville heartily, sucking on his
aromatic stub. “I enjoy a good battle. It makes victory all the
sweeter. Ah, here comes the inimitable Mrs Isadora Klein. I would
love to be present when she meets the Countess for the first
time.”

Sir James Damery gave a low
whistle of masculine approval. “Another uppity woman, Mr Blague. I
will introduce you later. Mrs Klein can be very intimidating, and I
see she has dressed as a Valkyrie tonight, possibly in honour of
her late husband. You might need back-up.”

“She looks like a female
warrior all right, but we deal differently with uppity women where
I come from, gentlemen. We do not encourage them.”

“How so?” asked Damery.

“We marry them off to
blackguards who horse-whip them every time they step out of line,
men with little sympathy for uppity opinions, men with stamina when
it comes to conjugal rights. Demure and compliant is how we like
our women.”

“Indeed,” said Damery, adopting
an ironic inflection the American failed to pick up on. “Hopefully
your dear sweet innocent daughter will steer clear of such a
husband, being demure and compliant by nature, I mean. How is Miss
Blague? I did not see her arrive with you. Is she coming separately
in her own carriage?”

Glowering darkly, Mr Blague
threw his stub to the ground and stomped it viciously. “She is
bereft, gentlemen, crying her dear sweet innocent eyes out. She
refuses to get out of bed and will not be attending the costume
ball though her costume cost me a king’s ransom and I bought a
brand new diamond tiara this very morning from Old Bond Street to
try and coax the poor girl out of bed.”

“What has brought that on?”
asked de Merville with a tinge of alarm. He could commiserate on
the inexplicable behaviour of daughters, and likewise took out his
fatherly frustration on his spent Macanudo.

“That article in the newspaper
the other day regarding Viscount Cazenove did it.”

“What?” said Damery; somewhat
surprised. “The one penned by Agrippa?”

A full page article had been
syndicated to all the London dailies outlining in glowing terms how
Viscount Cazenove, who had had no military training whatsoever, had
been personally invited by General Hawksmoor to lead a regiment
against the Boers in South Africa in recognition of the outstanding
military service rendered by his ailing father the Earl of
Winchester who had suffered a debilitating stroke and was now
lingering on his deathbed.

“Yes,” confirmed Mr Blague with
violent dismay. “My dear Mona was quite smitten with the handsome
young Viscount though she understood his first interest was
directed at your dear daughter, General de Merville, - though we
were led to believe there was no formal engagement between the pair
of them - but when Viscount Cazenove upped and went to the
Transvaal sudden-like, in fact the day after he paid us an extended
visit in South Audley Street, it played with her sensitive nature
something shocking. I doubt she will get over it for days, maybe
not even for weeks. Heaven forbid!”

Damery turned to his trusty old
friend. “Did you have something to do with Freddy Cazenove’s
meteoric promotion to Lieutenant?”

General de Merville shook his
head adamantly and harrumphed. “Absolutely not! I was a shocked as
anyone. Violet was shocked too. In fact, Freddy was shocked most of
all. I saw him the day the article appeared in all the dailies. He
blamed me. His behaviour did him no credit that day. He ranted and
raved and accused
me
of getting Hawksmoor to rig-up that
bogus Lieutenant position because I had once mooted the idea of his
spending a few weeks at Sandhurst and then getting rapidly promoted
in order to experience the thrill of battle first-hand, but I had
backed down from that idea for family reasons. Whoever dreamed up
Freddy’s meteoric promotion and transfer to the Transvaal did it
without my knowledge.”

Damery stamped on his cigar and
cogitated. “There aren’t too many men in London with the clout to
pull off such a stunt.”

“I can think of only one,” said
de Merville, frowning darkly.

Damery met his friend’s gaze
and the two old soldiers read each other’s thoughts. “But whose
interests would be served? Not the Diogenes Club. Freddy isn’t even
a member.”

“I asked myself that very same
question about whose interests would be served and reached no
satisfactory conclusion. The whole episode still leaves me
flabbergasted. The exact same article appeared in all of the
newspapers on the exact same day, no advance notice was given to
Freddy, so that even if Freddy wanted to turn down Hawksmoor’s
offer to go the Transvaal he couldn’t do it without looking like a
lily-livered coward. He left England on a troop ship that same
day.”

The three men began to feel the
cold.

“Ah, here is Prince Sergei, the
new Russian ambassador,” noted Damery. “It appears he has arrived
alone. The princess does not appear to be with him. It confirms the
rumour they are estranged and she has moved into Clarges
Hotel.”

“Shall we return to the party,
gentlemen?” suggested General de Merville; warding off an icy
shiver.

Unbeknownst to them, a fourth
figure had been smoking a cigarette on the veranda, though this man
had chosen to keep a low profile, pressing himself into an
architectural recess, out of sight. He caught up to the three men
who all happened to be dressed as Henry VIII.

BOOK: The Curse Of The Diogenes Club
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