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Authors: Jacqueline Winspear

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“Yes, I want him to look at a report, just to see what he has to say.”

“Must be urgent, if it couldn’t wait until Friday.”

Maisie nodded, reaching out to take the mug of tea offered by her father. “No, I didn’t want to wait.”

“He’s been right poorly, you know.”

“I thought he was getting better.” Maisie set down her mug after one sip.

“To my mind, it was all that going over to France what did it. I told him, ‘You can’t be going over there when you still feel rough.’ He said he had to go, had to get some affairs sorted out, and the next thing you know, Lady Rowan gets a message that he’s staying there because he’s gone down again—well, you know, don’t you?”

“How is he now?”

“As soon as he came home, they brought a bed into the conservatory for him, so he could rest during the day—it’s very warm in there when sun shines right through, plus there’s that nice fireplace. I reckon the ailment’s sitting on his chest and just won’t be moved. Nasty cough he’s got—and it’s such a shock, because he’s always been your busy sort, hasn’t he? If he’s not over there in France, or on business in London, he’s out with his roses, or you can see him reading a book up there by the window. Always one to pass the time of day, he is. But this has knocked him for six, I can see that.”

“I’ll go up and see the housekeeper this evening, ask if it’s all right to call tomorrow morning. I should have telephoned, but I thought—”

“I know—this isn’t like him. And Lady Rowan is all beside herself. You know how she is, what with her ‘I am beside myself.’”

Maisie laughed upon hearing her father’s imitation of his employer, whom he held in high regard, a respect that was mutual.

“What’s caught her attention now?”

“James is home from Canada?”

“James is home?” She reached for her mug again. “Well, that is a surprise, given that he hates sailing in what he calls the ‘iceberg months.’ I thought he wouldn’t return until summer, and then perhaps not until next year.”

“No, he’s back, and they say—them downstairs—that he’s back for good. There’s talk of the London house being opened up for him, and Lady Rowan is said to be very happy because his lordship is going to retire.”

“Well, I never.” Maisie leaned back in her chair. “I don’t visit for a few weeks, and look what happens. I wonder how things might change around here.”

“We all wonder. It’s like the changing of the guard—out goes one lot, and in comes another.”

“I doubt it will be that bad. Lady Rowan loves Chelstone and hates going up to town now—even for the season.”

“You watch. Next thing you know, James will be matched up, mark my words.”

Maisie laughed. “He’s about thirty-six now, Dad, and he’s been engaged three times already. He won’t be easily pressed into marriage.”

“Another one who lost his heart nigh on twenty-odd years ago.” Frankie shook his head and looked out of the window across the fields.

“Well, that’s as may be.” Maisie stood up, rinsed her mug under the
cold tap, and set it on the draining board. “Now then, I think I’ll nip up to see if I can have that word with Maurice’s housekeeper.”

 

I
s that Maisie?” Maurice’s voice could be heard calling from the conservatory as Maisie spoke with the housekeeper in the entrance hall.

“One minute, Dr. Blanche.” Mrs. Bromley, the housekeeper, scurried away, returning a few minutes later. “He wants to see you now, Miss Dobbs. I was just about to bring him in from the conservatory—he does like to sit there until it’s dark, and even though it’s warm and we’ve plugged it up so there’s no drafts, I do worry about him. The nurse comes in at about eight o’clock—she should be here any minute—and makes sure he’s comfortable for the night, so you’ve time for a little chat. He’s been waiting for you to come home.”

Come home.
Even though she had her own flat in London, even though she was London born and bred, when she came to her father’s house, to all intents and purposes she was considered to be home. Maisie smiled.
He’s been waiting for you to come home.
It was true, she always felt a sense of belonging at Chelstone, and particularly when she reflected upon the hours spent with Maurice at The Dower House.

Together with Mrs. Bromley, Maisie helped Maurice into a wheel-chair, then to his favorite chair alongside the fireplace in his study. As he sat down, she noticed how frail he looked. His shoulder blades seemed sharp against the fabric of his dressing gown, and his eyes milky, sunken like those of an old dog.

“Maisie, I am so happy to see you.”

“And you too, Maurice.” She leaned towards him, and they kissed on both cheeks. “I wish I had known that you were so poorly—I thought you were getting well again.”

He lifted a hand towards the chair on the opposite side of the fire-
place, Maisie’s usual seat; then he shook his head. “I did not want you to be worried, so I asked that you not be alerted to my ill health. I am sure that as soon as summer comes, I will be as fit as a fiddle.” He coughed, reaching into the pocket of his woolen cardigan for a handkerchief, which he held to his mouth. Maisie could hear the rasping in his chest, the wheeze as he caught his breath. “I beg your pardon.” He paused before continuing. “I saw the light from your torch as you came along the path. I’m glad you’ve come. Now then, Maisie, what is it you want to discuss? Give an old campaigner something to chew on; I’m fed up with being the resident invalid.”

Maisie pulled an envelope from her pocket, slipped out Michael Clifton’s postmortem report, and passed the pages to Maurice, who squinted to see the words even though he had set his spectacles on his nose. He read in silence, nodding on occasion, before speaking again.

“The body has been in the ground for some time—what, some sixteen years.”

“Yes.”

“But the body never lies, does it, Maisie? We may be pressed to see the message sometimes, and one person’s eye is not as keen as another’s, but the truth is always there.”

“What truth do you see in that report, Maurice?”

Blanche smiled, a movement that caused him to cough once again. Maisie poured a glass of water, and held it out to him. When the coughing had subsided he replied to her question. “I see wounds consistent with the type of shellfire faced by the men—there’s evidence of shrapnel infiltration to the bone from head to toe, and I would say that this man and those with him suffered vascular and arterial damage due to deep lacerations, though it’s likely the deaths of the other men were ultimately caused not only by loss of blood, but by asphyxiation when the dugout caved in.” He paused, and looked up at Maisie, the firelight
flames reflected in his eyes as he tapped the page. “But this wound to the back of the head—that was not caused by shrapnel, or a gun. I would say it was a heavy object at very close range. This man was murdered by a more personal foe, not the enemy we call war. And you knew that already.”

Maisie nodded. “Yes, I knew, Maurice. I wanted you to see the report and to have your opinion. I can see why a harried doctor might miss something; after all, the remains of soldiers are being discovered every week. Still, I thought a British military doctor checking the report might have seen what we have both seen, but this one seems to have slipped through.”

“People often see only what they want to see. To draw attention to this particular anomaly would mean more paperwork, more time—and all for a truth that has remained buried for many years. Such truths can only cause pain for someone somewhere, so perhaps consideration was at the heart of the omission.”

“Well, the father knows, and he is my client.” Maisie leaned back in her chair.

“Tell me about the dead man.”

“He was a cartographer and surveyor, an American whose father was British and who managed to worm his way into the army given his background—mapmaking is a valuable skill.” She recounted Michael Clifton’s history, as told by his father, and she outlined the nature of her client’s brief.

Maurice was thoughtful. “Ah, a man who makes maps—an adventurer with his feet on the ground.”

“An adventurer with his feet on the ground?”

Maurice coughed again as he laughed, then continued. “Who hasn’t felt the stirring of wanderlust when looking at a globe? You see the names of far-flung places and want to see who lives there, and what
paths they travel through life. Ah, but the mapmaker, he is one who looks at the land around him and interprets it for the rest of us, who gives us the path to our own adventure, if you like.”

“I see what you mean,” said Maisie. “But I wonder how someone like Michael Clifton truly felt about his role in the army. After all, his job was to interpret the land not for adventure, but for men to fight, for them to be wounded, and die.”

“Indeed.”

Maurice seemed to tire, and at that moment the housekeeper knocked and came into the room. She approached with hardly a sound, and spoke in an almost-whisper.

“The nurse is here, Dr. Blanche.”

Maurice reached out to Maisie, and she took his hands in her own. “I must go now, Maisie. The only woman ever to frighten me has arrived to ensure I take to my bed. She is fraught because I know more about my medication than she, and because I am given to ingesting my own herbal tinctures—but they allow for a good night’s sleep, which is a gift at my age.”

“May I help you?”

“No, but please return tomorrow, have coffee with me before you leave for London.”

“Of course.”

Maisie turned to leave, and as she reached the door Maurice called after her.

“You might bump into James Compton tomorrow. He’s home too.”

“Yes, I suppose I might. See you tomorrow, Maurice.”

 

M
aisie planned to leave Chelstone at eleven o’clock, to be back at her office by one at the latest, so she was surprised when the telephone rang in her father’s cottage at half past eight the following
morning, and her father announced that Billy Beale wanted to speak to her.

“Billy, is everything all right?”

“Sorry, Miss. I know you’re going to be back this afternoon, but I thought you’d want to know straightaway that we’ve had the police here this morning already.”

“The police? Whatever’s happened?”

“It’s terrible, Miss—Mr. and Mrs. Clifton were attacked in their hotel room yesterday afternoon; left for dead, they were. They’re in St. George’s Hospital under police guard, and they’re both very, very poorly. Mrs. Clifton’s at death’s door. And the police seem to think you might know who did it.”

I
n haste Maisie gathered her belongings, packed her case, and loaded the MG. She ran up to The Dower House to see Maurice, who had not yet risen, so she penned a note to him:

My dear Maurice,

I must return to London immediately. Word came this morning that Mr. and Mrs. Clifton (parents of the young man whose postmortem we discussed yesterday) have been subjected to a most vicious attack at their hotel and both are seriously injured. I will return to Chelstone on Saturday, so expect me to call upon you in the afternoon.

Wishing you well, as always.

Maisie faltered when it came to closing the note; she felt her throat tighten at the thought of Maurice so compromised in health, and at the same time she was shocked by the news from Billy. She swallowed back
a fearful anticipation of what she might have to face in the coming days and, holding the pen above the paper, wrote:

With fondest love,

Maisie

She folded the letter, placed it in an envelope, and passed it to Mrs. Bromley to give to Maurice on his breakfast tray.

Later, as she started the MG and waited for the engine to warm before driving away from her father’s cottage, Maisie pondered the words she had chosen to sign off the message to Maurice. Her love and regard for him was without question, though neither had ever said as much. He was not her father, and her adoration of Frankie Dobbs was beyond measure, but she knew that Maurice, in his way, was parent to her intellect, to her understanding of the world she inhabited. Without Maurice she would not have become the person she was today, for better or for worse. He had guided her along the path of her growing, was witness to her successes and failures, and showed her the world that could be hers if she set out to stake her claim.

Reversing the motor car onto the driveway, she changed gear to drive out along the carriage sweep, but swung over to the left to allow another motor car to pass. Maisie was not familiar with the vehicle, and was surprised when the driver pulled up alongside and wound down the window, though the cloth top was already drawn back despite the cold morning.

“Maisie Dobbs—off so soon? When I saw your little motor parked here last night, I thought I might catch you this morning.” James Compton was wearing a leather jacket over an Aran jersey, with a cream woolen scarf wrapped around his neck and reaching up almost to his nose. His fair hair had been rendered unruly in the wind, his nose was red, and his eyes—the gray-blue of a winter sky—watered from the chill
air. He pulled down the scarf to speak. “I wanted to see if you were up for a spin in the old girl here.”

Maisie was anxious to leave, but at the same time, she had known James for years and had also accepted investigative work from his company in the past, so thought it best to exchange at least a few words. “Sorry, James, but I have to return to London as a matter of some urgency.” She looked along the lines of the motor car. “And the old girl in question doesn’t look so old to me.”

James grinned as if he were a boy. “She’s only on loan—extended loan—from a company called Aston Martin. They’re in a bit of a financial bind, actually, so I may buy this one. It’s for racing, thought I might take it to Brooklands.”

“Oh….” Maisie was not sure what the appropriate response might be to a prospective racing driver, but another thought occurred to her. “Might that not be a bit risky for someone who has responsibility for the smooth running of a large company?”

“Oh, the jungle drums, they are a-beating.”

“’Fraid so, James.” Maisie slipped the MG into gear, the change in engine sound signaling that she was ready to leave.

“Back soon?”

“Saturday afternoon, I would imagine.”

“Good—I’ll take you for a spin.”

Maisie smiled and waved. “I’ll think about it. ’Bye, James.” And before James Compton could reply in kind, Maisie was on her way.

 

D
etective
Inspector
Caldwell?” Maisie was sitting at her desk, with Billy seated opposite. “Caldwell has been promoted?”

“Yes, and full of himself, he is.”

“Oh, why did Stratton have to move to Special Branch?”

“I thought the same thing. And Caldwell isn’t any nicer for moving
up, either. Throwing his weight around even when he’s asking a few questions. He’s what my old mum would call a bombastic little nit of a man.”

“I’ll remember that every time I see him now.”

“Anyway, he wants the contents of the parcel sent by the Cliftons.” Billy looked up at the mantelpiece clock. “And he’ll be here in a minute.”

“Well, let’s see what we’ve got for him to take away.” Maisie scraped back her chair and stepped across to the table by the window where the Clifton case map was laid out. “We’ll fold this and put it away for a start—don’t want him snooping. Have you worked through the letters from the claimants?”

“Yes. Every name noted, and I’ve put them in batches, just like you said. They’re listed from the believable to the downright loony.”

“Then let’s give him the letters. Shame I have the correspondence sent to Michael Clifton by his ladylove safe at home, isn’t it?”

Billy grinned. “I didn’t hear that, Miss.”

“I’d like to keep the photographs, but Caldwell will probably want them. Luckily, I brought them with me. There are some other odds and ends here, but nothing of note as far as I can see.” Maisie reached into the box and took out an oblong leather case which, when opened, revealed a collection of pens. She lifted the red pen from the case and removed the cap. Where there might have been a nib, had this been a fountain pen, there was instead a point rather like that of a needle, and when she drew the pen back and forth across the paper case map, the ink ran in a hair-thin red line that reminded her of blood. “These must have cost a pretty penny—and I cannot believe they still work, after all this time!”

“Being underground, buried, kept in the dark, that’s what must have stopped the ink from evaporating. Amazing, really, but that’s what you get when you spend good money on something,” said Billy.

Maisie nodded, replaced the top on the pen, and put the pen in the
case, which she slipped into the drawer on the underside of the table. “Right, let’s put this box aside ready for Caldwell. He should be content with his find.”

The doorbell rang, announcing a caller.

“Better go and let them in, Billy. I’ll fold and file the case map.”

 

A
nd the purpose of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton’s visit to you, Miss Dobbs?” “They wanted to find a woman they believed their deceased son to have had a liaison with in the war. An advertisement had been placed in several newspapers and they were overwhelmed with inquiries, so they came to me to wade through them, investigate each individual, and try to find the one authentic claimant.”

“Is there money involved?”

“They will of course pay my usual fee.”

“I meant, is there family money, Miss Dobbs—will the woman receive any money, as far as you know?”

“I do not know what plans they might have once the woman is located, though you must know that the Cliftons are a family of some considerable wealth, with their deceased son favored by a trust that has been accumulating interest for some time and which was not adversely affected by the Wall Street crash.”

“What do you know about the Cliftons?”

“They are among America’s aristocracy, so to speak.”

“Cliftons?” Caldwell shrugged. “Clifton—the shoemaker’s son? An aristocrat?”

“I’m given to understand that moving up the social ladder can be achieved by hard work alone on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.” Maisie smiled at Caldwell.

“And there’s some who make it look easy here—but I suppose that depends who you know.”

Maisie knew the comment was spoken in an attempt to undermine her, but she did not wish to rise to the bait. “Yes, I suppose it does, Detective Inspector. But at least you and I are both familiar with the meaning of hard work, aren’t we?” She smiled to accentuate a willingness to assist the police. “Now then, we’ve collected the items you requested. I hope they help you in your investigation. In the meantime, I wonder if you could give me an account of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton’s progress. They were a close couple who seemed to have good intentions, so we were shocked to hear of the attack.”

Caldwell appeared to relax, leaning back and shaking his head. “It was a nasty business—there was blood all over the place. And talk about ransacked! Fortunately Mrs. Clifton used the hotel safe for her jewels and valuables, but that didn’t stop the perpetrator turning over the whole room. We think they disturbed him when they returned after tea.”

“What kind of weapon was used?”

“He didn’t need to bring a weapon, there was one already there.”

“What do you mean?” Maisie leaned forward.

“An interesting piece of equipment—they call it a theodolite. Heavy it is, made of solid brass. This one was engraved with their son’s name. Apparently it was retrieved from the dugout after his remains were found—and they found other tools that belonged to him, all with his name engraved. According to communication I’ve had with the eldest son, each member of his family bought him an item of equipment when he first became a cartographer, so their names were also on the tools of his trade.”

“I see….” Maisie was thoughtful.

“Right then, this will never get the eggs cooked, will it, Miss Dobbs?” Caldwell stood up, buttoned his coat, and picked up his hat. A detective sergeant who had accompanied him put away the notebook into which
he had inscribed details of the conversation, and the two walked to the door.

“Oh, before you leave, Inspector—do you have a description of the assailant? Did anyone see an interloper make his way to the room?”

Caldwell shook his head. “The hotel’s a busy place—don’t know how people can afford that sort of money, myself—so we’ve little to go on. We’ve been interviewing the staff, but it seems that any suspicious characters, when described, could be just about anyone on the street. Now then, Miss Dobbs, I really do have to leave. I trust you’ll be in contact should you come across any information that will assist us in our inquiries.”

“Of course, be assured you’ll be the first to know. Oh, and Detective Inspector, when do you think Mr. Clifton might be well enough to receive a visitor?”

“Not yet, Miss Dobbs, but…” Caldwell faltered. “But I’ll see what I can do in a day or so.”

“Thank you. I appreciate your consideration.” Maisie paused for a second. “Might we expect return of the letters when you have had an opportunity to go through them? Mr. and Mrs. Clifton were anxious for work to begin on the investigation as soon as possible.”

Caldwell shook his head. “We’ll need them for a while. You’ll have to start work with whatever you have at the moment.” He placed his hat on his head and made one last comment before turning to leave. “Oh, and I should tell you that Mr. Edward Clifton
Junior
is on his way, expected to arrive in Southampton at the end of next week. He’ll be joining his sister’s husband, who’s been in England on company business.”

 

A
theodolite? Sounds like something you’d find in a church.” Billy came back into the room after escorting the policemen to the door.

“And it actually looks a bit like something you’d see in a church, too, because it’s a hefty piece of equipment—and could do a lot of damage if used to clout someone over the head.”

“What’s it used for?”

“I know it’s used in surveying and engineering work, and obviously by cartographers. I think it’s for measuring the angles—up and down, and across—of a given landscape, and I think it’s particularly useful when assessing ground that is not easily negotiated. A battlefield, for instance.”

“So it was buried with him all this time, and now they’ve got it?”

“Yes, seems like it.”

“Bet a tool like that could tell a few stories if it could talk.” Billy was looking out of the window, as if pondering the life of the object under discussion.

“You’ve been reading the penny dreadfuls again, haven’t you, Billy?” Maisie’s tone was light as she teased her assistant, though the same thought had occurred to her.

“Funny that the Cliftons never told us about the son-in-law being over here too, don’t you think, Miss?”

“Yes and no. There was no need for them to tell us, and I think that perhaps they were more concerned with meeting us and knowing that someone had taken the load of seeking out the source of the wartime letters to Michael.”

Soon the case map was situated on the table once more. Maisie had begun to read through the list of names from the letters weeded out by Billy as most promising. He had made notes on each letter.

“I didn’t have time to put down more about the others, just the ones with a bit of a ring of truth to them. Mind you, can’t all be the one, can they? And that means there are some good storytellers out there.”

“The whiff of wealth can make even the most dull eloquent.”

“It’s certainly made me learn a new word or two, make no mistake!”
Billy smiled, then appeared more serious. “Miss, what happens if the lady in question didn’t even see the advertisement? Or what if she saw it and didn’t want to be found? How will we find her then?”

Maisie tapped a pencil against the palm of her left hand. “To tell you the truth, I think that’s a distinct possibility. But there’s more to consider here. I don’t think the attack on the Cliftons was as simple as their encountering a burglar who happened to choose their room to break into. And though the letters are important, the search that Mr. Clifton really wanted me to take on was not for a woman, but for a murderer—the man who killed his son. So, first of all, I have to educate myself in the practices of the surveying party. I need to find out who they were, how they worked, and anything anyone can tell me about them.”

“That’s going to be nigh on impossible. It was a long time ago, and it sounds like they’re probably all dead.”

“We’ll see….”

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