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Authors: Jacqueline Winspear

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“I know we’ve both loved before, Maisie. I am not a monk, nor have I wanted for the company of women. But will you take a chance on me? And please, be honest with me.”

Maisie knew she must be honest, for in opening his soul to her, James had touched her heart.

“James, I want to be by myself to think things over. Let’s go for a walk tomorrow morning—you can call for me at my father’s house after breakfast, if that’s all right. I want to really think about what you’re saying, and what it will mean for me. You see…” She faltered, not sure of her ground. “You see, I am not as brave as Enid, you know. I never was. And I do care what people think, what they say, when it’s about me. I’ve worked hard, James, and I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding, especially—and I have to say this—with your mother, who has been one of my most ardent supporters over the years.”

“Enid was a long time ago, Maisie. I was no more than a boy when we fell in love, and I am now a man in middle age. I have come to terms with all that happened between us, and the others since then. But I understand your reticence. I’m just glad it’s not on account of me, of everything I’ve just told you.”

Maisie shook her head. “Oh, no, James. Far, far from it.”

“And don’t worry about my mother. I think she would be delighted to know that we were seeing more of each other. She is enormously proud of you.”

“That’s not the same as seeing us walking out together.”

“I know, but—”

Maisie rested her hand on his. “Let’s talk again in the morning, James. It’s been a lovely day, hasn’t it? Now I want to go back to Chelstone to see Maurice.”

 

M
aisie could hear the dog barking as she walked along the path leading to her father’s cottage, and before she could reach for the handle, the door opened and she was greeted by both Frankie Dobbs and Jook, the gypsy dog Maisie had brought home the previous year.

“There you are! I knew James Compton was bringing you home, so I’ve been worried. They say he drives like a madman.”

Maisie kissed her father on the cheek and bent down to make a fuss of Jook.

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Dad. He was the perfect gentleman and a capable driver—probably doesn’t drive as fast as me, and definitely not as fast as Lady Rowan.”

“That’s all right, then. Come on, I’ve got a nice soup going in the kitchen.”

Later, Maisie and her father sat at the kitchen table, soup plates filled with piping hot broth in front of them, along with slices of fresh crusty bread cut into deep “doorstep” slices. They talked of the estate’s news, then of Maurice, who had returned in an ambulance just a few hours earlier.

“I’ll go up to see him tomorrow morning,” said Maisie, buttering a slice of bread.

“I wouldn’t go too early, being as he’s only just come home,” said Frankie.

Maisie shook her head. “No, it won’t be. I’m going for a walk with James.” She looked up at her father.

Frankie sighed, rested his spoon in the bowl, and sat back in his chair. “I’ve never been one to interfere, Maisie, you know that. You’re as old now as your mother, God rest her soul, when she was going back and forth to the hospital. And you’re a grown woman, not a girl. But—”

“But?”

“Hear me out, Maisie.” He leaned forward. “But are you sure walking out with that James Compton is the right thing to do? I mean, there’s been talk, you know.”

Maisie felt color rush to her cheeks. “Dad, if I had listened to talk, I might still be shoveling coal in the morning in a grand house in London.”

“Now then—everyone in that house was proud of you, of what you’ve made of yourself.”

“So why are they talking now?”

“Because no one wants to see you hurt. Not with Simon gone last year.”

Neither spoke for some moments, then Maisie broke the silence.

“Simon had been gone for years, Dad. Years. And I will be all right—I won’t make an idiot of myself. But I enjoy his company, Dad. He’s a good man.”

“I hope he is, Maisie.”

 

L
ater, in her small bedroom with the low beams and diamond-paned casement windows, Maisie lay in bed and considered James Compton. She was no expert in love, and she knew she had floundered when it came to personal relationships with men. After Simon was wounded in 1917, returning home to live in a hospital for men whose minds had been sacrificed to war, she had not even looked at a man until she returned to Girton College to complete her education. Then there had been occasional evenings out, the odd accepted invitation to lunch
or even a party. There had been a time when she’d had what Priscilla might have called a “fling,” but she had neither confided in her friend nor considered the matter again. There was nothing to touch her heart anyway, just a passing comfort; and such moments of warmth, even if temporary, were balm for the wounds in her heart. But she was different now. She had grown up, and she knew she was, as James had said, “all there again.” And she liked being with someone who knew how that felt.

 

I
t was late morning by the time Maisie left the cottage by the back door and walked up to The Dower House to see Maurice. Mrs. Bromley had brought a note earlier, suggesting that before lunch would be the best time to visit.

“Maurice.” Maisie went to her old mentor’s bedside, took his hand, and kissed his forehead. “You have worried us all.”

She tried not to reveal how his pallor concerned her still, how the hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes told all she needed to know about his state of health. But he seemed to have more energy than during their last visit, though she knew he would tire soon.

“Andrew told me that you came to the clinic—such a long way to see an old man not at all present with the world.”

“You were ill, Maurice, and your respiration was compromised by fluid in your lungs. How are you feeling now?”

“Well enough. Andrew would not have allowed me to return to my home had he not been satisfied regarding my condition.”

“Oh yes he would—if you’d bullied him.”

“You underestimate Andrew Dene.”

“No, I don’t—but he was your pupil too, and would let you have the last word.”

“I am well enough, Maisie. Now, come on, sit down next to me. First, tell me about your work, about progress on the case of the young mapmaker.”

She shook her head. “I’m waiting, Maurice.”

“Waiting?”

“For some of the dust to clear.” She recounted the events of the past week, taking care to give as much detail as possible.

Maurice was silent, nodding his head, and then closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again.

“So what are you waiting for, my dear, if you know who must be brought to book for the death of Michael Clifton, and for the attack on his parents?”

“I’m not quite ready. I have a feeling we will locate the woman with whom Michael was involved very soon. And I’m waiting for more proof. I have to be sure.”

“And then?”

Maisie looked down at her hands, and rubbed the back of one hand with the palm of the other. “I don’t know…there are people to consider, people whose lives will be changed. I’d like to see if I can avoid too much damage.”

“I suspected that might be the case.” Maurice sighed, then went on. “Of course, such an impact might be the best thing. The truth always finds a way, Maisie, in some manner or form. You cannot deliberately change the course of the river without causing a flood or drought somewhere else.”

“But everything changes when you unearth the past,” said Maisie.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it? You bring old events and choices to the surface, and you change the vista—but spring will come, the soil will seed itself, that flood or drought will abate, and life goes on in that new landscape.”

Maisie nodded, but said nothing, so Maurice continued.

“The past was unearthed when Michael Clifton’s remains were brought up from the battlefield where his life was taken.”

“And you don’t mean the battlefields of France, do you, Maurice.”

Maurice smiled and began to cough, allowing Maisie to lean him forward and rub his back. When the coughing had diminished, she poured water for him and held it to his lips. Soon he was settled and answered her question.

“No, I don’t. Life’s battlefields are just as violent. Michael was caught in another offensive, wasn’t he?”

Maisie nodded.

“Then it is your job to be an advocate for truth, Maisie.”

“I’ve kept quiet about a few things in my time.”

“So have I. But never a killer.”

“No. Never a killer.”

 

M
aisie had decided earlier in the day that she would travel back to London by train on Sunday evening. James did not have to be at his office early on Monday, and in any case wanted to spend the evening with his parents.

As the train rocked from side to side, Maisie looked out into the darkness and thought about the chain of events since she left the house on Saturday morning. On the one hand, she deliberated about the case of Michael Clifton and his family, and on the other, there was her relationship with James Compton. He had called for her on Sunday morning, as they had planned, and after a brief conversation with her father about the horses, they walked to the gate at the bottom of Frankie Dobbs’ garden, then across the fields to the woodlands below.

With primroses, shiny egg-yolk-yellow celandines, and delicate white wood anemones underfoot, they followed an old path down to the stream
that ran through a woodland of hazel, hornbeam, oak, and beech, and soon the pungent aroma of the wild garlic that grew alongside Kentish streams was released with every step taken. The place where James stopped, a benign meander in the rushing water overlooked by the lichen-covered remains of a broken beech tree, was marked by a chill in the air that caused Maisie to pull her woolen cardigan close around her body.

“This is where it happened,” said Maisie.

James nodded. “Yes. It’s not like it was then.” He pointed to the high side of the meander. “There were logs across there, which created a large swimming hole here. I mean, it wasn’t much of a swim, but that’s what we called it.” He indicated the beech tree. “And that’s where the limb came down. As you can see, we’re not that far from the house, and on the day it happened, my parents were taking a walk together. It was their habit to walk alone sometimes, just the two of them. They heard my screams.”

Maisie sat down on an old moss-covered log. “Do you come back to this place often, James?”

He shook his head. “No. Never, in fact. But I knew I would find it with no trouble.”

She nodded. “Yes. The tragedy seems to have lingered in the air.”

He sat down beside her. “I don’t know what to feel, actually. It all seems so innocent here, in its way.”

“There is healing for you in this place, James. The kind of healing that is to be found in the wound itself.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean. I’ll think about it though.”

They both laughed, and James cleared his throat.

“I wonder, have you thought about what I said yesterday, about…you and me?”

Maisie nodded. “Yes, I have.” She looked at him. “Yes, I have, James. I’ve enjoyed your company. I’d like to…to spend more time with you.”

James nodded, gazed at the old beech tree, and took her hand in his. Then he turned and kissed her. “We’ll have good times, Maisie. We’ve both got some catching up to do, haven’t we?”

She reached towards him and touched his face. “Let’s just enjoy today, James. Tomorrow’s ground is a bit too soft for me yet.”

James Compton stood up, took her hand, and pulled her to him. “Shall we go back now?”

“Yes, let’s. Maurice will be ready to see me soon.”

James turned and stepped back onto the path, and just before she joined him, Maisie reached down to pick a single primrose, and threw it onto the water at the base of the beech tree. She watched the bubbling current catch the solitary bloom and carry it along until she could see it no more.

“Coming?” James called back to her.

She turned and smiled, feeling the color rush to her cheeks and a swell of anticipation. “Yes, I’m coming! Wait for me, James.”

D
etective Inspector Caldwell was waiting in a parked Invicta motor car when Maisie arrived at the office on Monday morning.

“Having a bit of trouble getting up in the morning, Miss Dobbs?” asked Caldwell, pushing back his sleeve to look at his watch with something of a dramatic flourish.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Detective Inspector.” She unlocked the front door and held it open as the policeman and his sergeant followed her up the stairs and into her office.

“And it looks like your trusty assistant is just as tardy on this fine Monday morning.”

Maisie rolled her eyes. “Just as you were beginning to grow on me, Inspector.” She smiled as she removed her mackintosh and placed it on the hook behind the door. “Now then, what can I do for you?”

“I thought I wouldn’t let too much time go by without receiving some sort of report on your activities on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton. I allowed your personal investigation to continue, and I keep wonder
ing whether you’ve uncovered information that might be of interest to us as we put the final touches to our report regarding the attack on our American visitors.” He sighed, and again Maisie thought it rather theatrical. “Did you hear from our friends at the embassy, by the way?”

She shook her head. “We heard from a man named John Langley, but nothing since. Seeing as Mr. Clifton’s son and a family friend—Dr. Charles Hayden—are now here in London, I thought perhaps they had smoothed the way with the consular officials.”

Caldwell seemed to smirk. “Personally, I think it’s a bit of a cheek, him coming over here with his fancy doctor. As if our doctors aren’t good enough. Who do they think they are, these Americans?”

Maisie was guarded in her response. “I can see what you mean, Inspector. Mind you, I know Dr. Hayden. We met in the war. And no one objected to him or his fellow doctors from the Massachusetts General Hospital being one of the first medical units in France, before our medical corps was properly established. And he’s no ordinary doctor now—he’s an eminent brain surgeon. I think if it was your parents in hospital with head wounds, and you had such a friend, you would have enlisted his services without so much as second thought.”

Caldwell nodded. “Point taken, Miss Dobbs. Now, to my reason for calling—anything you want to tell me?”

Maisie leaned forward. “Well, actually—”

At that moment the door opened, and Billy entered the room.

“Sorry I’m late, Miss, but—oh, Detective Inspector. I beg your pardon.” He took off his cap, rolled it, and placed it in his jacket pocket as he went to his desk.

“Good morning, Billy.” Maisie noted that her assistant seemed tired before she turned back to Caldwell.

“May I telephone this afternoon? I do not want to waste your time; however, I might well have something to discuss with you later—I want to be sure my information is sound.”

Caldwell said nothing at first, looking at her with some intensity, as if to gauge her intentions. He stood up, buttoning his coat. “Right you are, Miss Dobbs. I’ll trust you on this. Mind you, if you’ve been keeping anything from us, I will have you in court for obstruction and your feet won’t touch the ground on the way there.”

“Detective Inspector, you seem more than a little agitated,” countered Maisie. “I thought we had come to an understanding.”

Caldwell shrugged and sighed. “I’ve got some higher-ups breathing down my neck on this, being as Mrs. Clifton is from a powerful family over there in the colonies, just as you said, and the son is making his presence felt. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but he said that he’d be hiring you himself if the police didn’t get a move on and get to the bottom of what happened to his mother and father—he reckons there’s more to it than just a bloke who decided to break into a hotel room at random. On the one hand, he’s got a point, and on the other—let’s face it, it’s only the moneyed who stay in a gaff like that, so if you were looking to come away with some valuables, you could probably find them in any room you choose. Trouble is, he said it to the embassy fellow, who told it to the foreign secretary, who belongs to the same club as the commissioner, and before you know it, I’m being strangled by the old school tie.”

Maisie smiled. “Ah. I see. Don’t worry, Inspector—as I said, I think I may have something for you soon. Just give me time—and by the same token, this is a share-and-share-alike business.”

Caldwell ignored Maisie’s final comment, placed his hat on his head, touched the brim, and motioned to his sergeant to follow him. When the door closed behind them, Billy looked up at Maisie.

“He’s gone on the turn again, eh? I thought we were all getting along.”

“We were, but he’s being leaned on, and I don’t think he’s as good at bearing the brunt of the higher-ups as Stratton was.” She sighed. “There are times I miss Stratton.”

Billy nodded. “Better than that miserable whatsit, eh?” He walked across to Maisie’s desk. “Don’t mind me saying so, Miss, but I reckon you’ve sorted it all out, you know, in your mind. I know that look.”

“There’s a missing link or two, but I’m almost there. Come over here.” She took the case map from the filing cabinet, unfurled the roll of paper, pinned it out on the table by the window, and pointed to two names she had linked in red. “See?” she asked, and turned to Billy.

“That’s a turnup for the books, ain’t it? I mean, I don’t know what will come of this.”

“Neither do I.” She turned to Billy. “But I do want to ask
you
a question, Billy—has something happened at home? Has Doreen relapsed? I know she coped very well with the odd overnight visit, but now she’s at home full-time—are you all managing?”

Billy shrugged. “We’re all right, Miss. Yes, nothing to worry about. Just the boys were a bit hard to settle last night—it was that wind howling over the rooftops, I think. Young Billy was scaring his brother with ghost stories, and that set him off. They are a pair at times.” He turned away towards his desk, but not before Maisie had seen the color rise in his cheeks.

 

W
hen Billy had left for the morning—he was planning to visit three of the women on Maisie’s list—she picked up the telephone and dialed the home of Ella Casterman, but replaced the receiver before the call was answered, and leaned back in her chair. Was it really necessary to see her again? Could she close the case without involving the widow and her family? She decided to wait. Maurice had cautioned her, in the days of her apprenticeship, that if the way ahead is not clear, time is often the best editor of one’s intentions. She reached for the telephone again, this time to place a call to Lord Julian Compton, and again she began to dial, only to replace the receiver when she realized
that James might well have talked to his parents about his affection for her, and his intention to see more of her. What would she say to Lord Julian? How would she negotiate the new footing in what had, in recent years, been a pleasant professional relationship? It was one thing for a peer of the realm to have regard for her as a working woman with her own business, but quite another for him to accept his son’s wish to enter into courtship with someone who had once been a maid in his house.

“Blast!” Maisie pushed back her chair and paced back and forth, then sat down at her desk again and aired her frustration to the empty room. “I’ve got a job to do, whether Lord Julian likes me or not!” She reached forward to grasp the telephone receiver, but was startled when it began to ring.

“This is—”

“The quite lovely Maisie Dobbs.”

“James!”

“You sound surprised to hear my voice.”

“Where are you?” She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Did you drive up to town this morning?”

“No, not yet, but I’m leaving Chelstone soon,” replied James. “I thought I would telephone to see if I could stake a claim on your company for supper this evening.”

“I’m a bit busy, and—”

“Bertorelli’s? I happen to know you love Italian cooking.”

Maisie laughed. “All right. I’ll come.”

“And let’s dine early.”

“About six o’clock, then?”

“Perfect. I’ll collect you from your office.”

“All right.” Maisie chewed the inside of her lip.

“Maisie?”

“I—I was just wondering—do you think it’s a good idea for me to telephone your father on a business matter?”

“Yes, of course it is. You’ve never worried about it before, have you?”

“No. Not at all. But—oh, never mind.”

“See you at six.”

“See you, James.”

 

M
aisie felt foolish. Lord Julian spent only two or three days each week in his London office now that James was more established at the helm of the Compton Corporation, so he would still have been at Chelstone anyway. She would wait to place her call until James had left to return to London. In the meantime, she wanted to see the Cliftons again.

She arrived at St. George’s Hospital at eleven o’clock and made her way up to the private ward where Edward Clifton was resting. There was no longer a policeman at the door, but when she walked in, Charles Hayden was sitting with Michael Clifton’s father.

“Good morning, Maisie.” Hayden came to his feet and held out his hand to the vacated chair. “We were just talking about you.”

“You were? I do hope it was all good.” She stood at Clifton’s bedside. “How are you feeling, Mr. Clifton?”

“Much better, my dear. Charles here says I can return to the hotel in a day or so, but they’re moving Martha to the next room, so I’ll stay here for now. It’ll be easier to see her.”

“How is she?” Maisie looked to Hayden for an answer.

“She’s still bandaged, but she’s conscious, though very tired. I’ve asked for more X-rays, and I’ll be looking at them later today. She remains slow to respond verbally and cannot construct sentences—she can only give one-or two-word answers to questions. It will be some weeks before she can leave the hospital, however; the doctor there suggested she should be sent to the Atkinson-Morley convalescent hospital, and then perhaps to the country for a short while, but of course, Edward
wants to be as close to her as possible, so we’ll have to sort something out. Unfortunately, I can’t see them returning to Boston until mid-June at the earliest.”

“Oh, dear. You must ache to be back in the United States, Mr. Clifton.”

The elderly man nodded. “The sooner the better. I cannot wait to see our house on Beacon Street again and to sleep in my own bed.” He looked up at Maisie. “What news do you have for us?”

She sighed. “If you will bear with me, I believe I will have news for you in the next few days. I think it best to wait to give you my report at a time when I can recount my findings in such a way that all loose ends are tied—but rest assured, the person responsible for taking the life of you son will be brought to justice. You have my word.”

Clifton nodded and leaned back on the pillows.

“I’d better leave now.” Maisie looked at Hayden, who followed her as she left the room. He closed the door behind him.

“Do you really think you’ll have an answer for the old man?”

“I do.” She sighed. “Yes, I do.”

They bid each other good-bye, and when Maisie stepped out into the spring sunshine, she thought about her response to Hayden’s questions.
Yes, I do think I’ll have an answer—and probably more than you would want to hear.

 

H
er next stop was the shoe department of Selfridges. Though it was rumored that the department store founded by the American Harry Selfridge might not survive the economic depression, she thought it was probably the best place to go to speak to a buyer in the shoe department. Buyers, she had discovered, understood much more about their suppliers than their suppliers had fathomed themselves; and they certainly knew more about those companies than they knew about
the styles favored for the following season. Her visit to the store lasted only half an hour, with ten minutes spent winding her way through the different departments, and the remainder with a Mr. Buckingham, the shoe buyer. It was a fruitful encounter. Buckingham could not have known more about Clifton’s Shoes had he founded it himself.

Maisie returned to Fitzroy Square, and hearing the telephone ringing in their first-floor office, she slammed the front door behind her and ran to answer the call.

“Miss!” Billy shouted before Maisie could announce the number.

“Is everything all right?”

“I’ve found her.”

“You have? What’s her name? Where is she?”

“Her name is Elizabeth Peterson, and she was about to do a runner—but I spoke to her first.”

“Where are you?”

“Just off the Edgware Road. She’s been living in a boardinghouse for spinster women, and she’s about to leave.”

“Oh, dear. Give me the address, then go back and stay with her. Tell her we’ll look after her, and make sure you lock the doors until I get there.”

“I didn’t think it was that sort of case, Miss.”

“Don’t worry. I’m on my way.”

Maisie started the MG and took back streets to the address provided by Billy. She parked the motor car outside a smoke-smudged building in need of some attention to peeling paint around the window frames. The dark maroon finish on the front door was curling back to reveal the blue and black of previous decades, and the brass knocker was encrusted with a green mold-like patina. She rapped at the door, then called through the letterbox, knowing that Billy would be listening for her.

She heard the
thump-thump-thump
of Billy’s footfall on the stairs as he came to answer the door.

“Come on in, Miss. There’s a Mrs. Blanchard who’s the warden here, but apparently she goes to see her sister of a Monday afternoon, so we’re all right. It’s a bit of a strict place to live regarding visitors, to say that these girls are all getting on a bit.”

“How old would you say is getting on?” Maisie followed Billy up the stairs to a landing with three doors.

“You know, about—oh, Miss, you’re not going to get me like that. You know what I mean—they’re all over twenty-one, and it’s not as if they’re in a convent, now is it?”

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