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Authors: Jacqueline Winspear

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But Maisie was also drawn to walk because she sought out the warmth of companionship, if only by proxy. She might stroll past a house where the family were gathered in the drawing room, perhaps talking by the fire, the scene illuminated by soft oil lamps. She passed another house where people were sitting at table, the spirited conversa
tion audible from the street. And in the next house, the children, in nightclothes and dressing gowns, sat on their father’s lap as he read a story. In each house, a fire, a family, and the blanket of companionship drawn close. She pulled up her collar, turned, and walked home. The flat would be warm by now.

Maisie prepared a supper of thick oxtail soup and bread, then with care gathered the letters she had placed close to the radiator and set them on the small table adjacent to her armchair by the fire. She had already turned down the radiator for the sake of household economy, and pulled a shawl around her shoulders as she sat down. She reread the first letter, and picked up the second.

Dear Lt. Clifton,

How lovely to receive another letter from you. I am pleased you are well. The farmhouse where you are billeted sounds quite lovely, and you are most fortunate to have fresh butter on your bread. We are lucky if we get drippings.

I fear I may bore you, as my days are not as exciting as yours. We are always busy, always at work, but, if I may be candid with you (and if it is a liberty, as I hardly know you, please forgive me), there is not much to tell in matters of life and death, and that which I could recount, I would rather not, because each day I want to forget.

Please tell me more about America. I am sure Boston is quite thrilling, and I cannot imagine three thousand miles on a train, and that one side of the country is so different from the other. Your letters bring a ray of sunshine to the day. I hope it is not forward to tell you that I read them more than once.

I must close this letter now, as I want to catch our messenger before he leaves.

Yours sincerely,
“T.E.N”

Maisie rubbed her forehead and whispered: “What’s your name? Tell me who you are.” She sat back and closed her eyes, remembering the letters she had written to Simon. Where were they now? Had they been destroyed? Sent back to his mother with his personal effects? It occurred to her that she had never wondered about them, yet they were so very personal. And she recalled how she became more careful with her signature when Simon was working at the base hospital and she was at the casualty clearing station—their letters were passed along the line, from ambulance driver to supply wagon, and at any time could have been confiscated because they were avoiding the censor. Yes! Michael Clifton and his nurse were doing the same thing! But where was she?

Maisie reached under the pile of letters and brought out Michael Clifton’s journal. She turned to the beginning to read, then flicked through the pages, searching for a name, a clue, a hook. She would stop, read a line or two, her eyes scanning each line written in Michael Clifton’s distinctive hand—for the most part he wrote in capital letters, and with one of his fine-nib pens. He interspersed words with drawings, sometimes a diagram, or perhaps a sketch of a flower not usually seen in the land of his birth. Maisie could feel herself becoming impatient, so she turned back the pages. She would have to start at his arrival in England.

August 31
st
. Well, here I am, olde England. Albion, I’ve arrived!

She read on, the journal revealing Michael’s path from an enlistment office in Southampton to London, where he was interviewed by an officer in the Royal Engineers, a cartographer himself. He spoke of his excitement upon being accepted. “You’re British enough, boy,” he was told, “might even be enough for the officers’ mess—and if I were you, I’d try to sound a bit more like one of us, if you don’t mind.” Michael
wrote of how much he had laughed, later, when he thought about his interviewer’s comment—he couldn’t wait to tell his family in a letter. Then there was more:

It didn’t take long for TL to find me! Received a cable this morning—he’s probably worried that the Hun have a bullet with my name on it, and then who will he go to? I only give in because our dear Anna’s heart will be broken, and if Teddy finds out…

M
aisie arrived at the office with the intention of clearing a few items of correspondence before she embarked upon the drive down to Chelstone. Spring showers had blown across London earlier in the morning, and now gray-tinged cumulus clouds moved heavily across the sky in such a way that the odd patch of blue allowed the sun to filter through, though such moments were fleeting. She turned on the gas fire low, then set to work, but had been reading through some notes for only a few moments when the telephone rang.

“Fitzroy—”

“Miss Dobbs, Detective Inspector Caldwell. I said I would be in touch about the Cliftons.”

“Oh, Detective Inspector, how kind of you to remember.” Maisie’s eyes widened, registering her surprise that Caldwell had kept his word. “May I visit Mr. Clifton?”

“This morning at ten—I’ll meet you outside the main entrance to the hospital, it’s as good a place as any. By the time you get to his ward, you’ll have about ten minutes with him.”

“Do you have word on Mrs. Clifton’s progress?”

“Or lack thereof, Miss Dobbs—she’s not changed since we last spoke. Still in a deep coma. The doctors are hoping that her son’s presence, when he arrives, might give her the jolt she needs to regain consciousness. Now then, see you at ten.”

“Right you are, Inspector.”

Caldwell ended the conversation without a formal “Good-bye,” just “See you at ten.” Instead Maisie heard only a blunt click as the receiver was hung up, and a long monotonous tone signifying the line was clear for another call. She replaced the black telephone receiver and checked the hour on the mantelpiece clock. There would be little time to finish odds and ends in the office if she were to be at St. George’s Hospital at the specified hour.

 

M
aisie had been to St. George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner on several occasions. The main hospital had been built on the site of Lanesborough House—itself constructed in the early 1700s, when it would have been situated among fields instead of a burgeoning metropolis—and was also home to what was considered to be the best medical school in the country. Until recently, Maurice had been an occasional lecturer on the subject of medical jurisprudence, and in her younger days Maisie had attended lectures there. Though she was not a student of the school, a word from Maurice gained entry to selected lectures for the bright Cambridge graduate.

There was a certain austerity about the building, as if the stone itself would have no truck with nonsense, and the only important thing was to advance medical knowledge of the human body and how to make it well when sick. As Maisie paced back and forth at the allotted meeting place, an Invicta police vehicle swung round and came to a halt, at
which point the passenger door opened, and Caldwell stepped out onto the curb.

“Good, you’re on time.”

“I do not think I have ever been late for an appointment with Scotland Yard.”

“Hmmph!” Caldwell paused to touch the brim of his hat and lost no time in instructing Maisie to follow him.

With a brisk walk, he led Maisie along the street and in through an entrance she was not familiar with, then down freshly mopped corridors, up stairs and more corridors, until they reached the room where Edward Clifton was recovering from his injuries. A solitary police constable was on duty outside, and as they arrived, a nurse left the room holding a kidney bowl filled with soiled bandages.

“Ugh,” uttered Caldwell. “Doesn’t that make you want to heave?”

Maisie registered her surprise; Caldwell must have seen his fair share of deceased persons while working for what the press termed the “Murder Squad.” “No, not really,” she said. “I was once a nurse. There’s not much I have to turn away from.”

“It’s not that I mind them dead. I just can’t stand the mess when they’re alive and bloody.” Caldwell shook his head and approached the constable. “Ten minutes for this lady. And make sure it’s ten, all right?”

“Yes, sir.” The constable stood to attention when Maisie entered the room, and nodded as she passed him.

“You’ll not be in the room with me, Inspector?”

“No, I’ll wait. I’ve already spoken to the doctor, but I want to be here if the nurses need to come in or if the doctor returns. I trust you’ll apprise me of any facts you manage to extract from the victim.”

Maisie nodded. It seemed that, like her assistant, Detective Inspector Caldwell did not care to risk feeling queasy if he could possibly help it, though it also occurred to her that he assumed she would come
out empty-handed. She entered the room, walked to the bed where Edward Clifton lay back on several pillows positioned to keep his head stable, and stood at his side. Slowly he opened his eyes and focused on her face. His head was bound with bandages, as were his palms. The skin under his eyes was black and smudged, and seemed almost blistered as the wounds on his head drained. And though Maisie had seen many much more serious wounds in the war and had stood for hours on floors thick with the blood of the dying, her eyes smarted when she thought of someone inflicting such injuries upon an elderly man who had come to London to discover the truth about the death of his beloved son.

“The police said I could see you for a moment or two, Mr. Clifton.”

He nodded, licked his lips, and then spoke in a cracked voice. “Do you think the police will find out who did this?”

“I know they are working on it—and so am I.”

“Thank you. I suppose—” He coughed, and winced as the pain reverberated through his body. “I suppose you want to ask me a few questions, or however the saying goes.”

“If you don’t mind.”

Clifton nodded again.

“And I know you’ve probably been asked these same questions before, so forgive my repetition,” said Maisie. “Can you tell me if you recollect anything about the person who attacked you?”

He paused before answering the question. “That’s an interesting thought—the police asked me if I remembered anything about the
man
.”

“We need to cast the net wide before dragging it back to the boat to inspect the catch.”

He sighed. “I’ve tried to remember, but it’s a blur—I just remember the movement, the struggle, hearing Martha scream, as if she were trying to stop someone attacking me. Then everything went black.”

“Yes, I see.” She looked at Clifton and wanted to lay her hand on his,
as she would with Maurice or her father. Instead she went on. “I know this is terribly difficult for you, Mr. Clifton. I can see you are weary and in pain, and I would not ask you to press on if it were not important. Do you think you can cast your mind back a bit?”

“I know it’s important. I’ll try.”

“I’ll be quick. Now, what do you remember before you returned to your room? Let’s start with when you left to go out.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I can’t—”

She reached out and touched his arm. “Mr. Clifton, close your eyes for a moment—not tight, but just allow your eyelids to touch.” Maisie paused as Clifton followed her instructions. “Now, imagine you and Mrs. Clifton are leaving your room, see it as if you were at the picture house—what happened next?”

“I—I locked the door. Yes, and I can remember Martha asking if I was warm enough because I looked cold—always worrying, my Martha.”

“Go on.”

“We went downstairs, through the lobby.”

“Let’s linger there for a while. Look around, who was there?”

Clifton nodded. “Well, there was a darker gentleman—looked like a Spaniard—signing the register. Martha said she thought he must feel the cold, if he came from somewhere warm.” He coughed and winced as the pain reverberated from his chest to his head, but struggled to continue. “She remarked on the flowers in a vase. Lovely flowers, with big blooms. She thought they must have been brought in from your Channel Islands.”

Maisie said nothing, though she found herself closing her eyes as if she, too, could conjure the scene being brought forth from Edward Clifton’s deepest memory.

“There’s a boy struggling with a woman’s luggage, and she’s talking in a loud accent—reckon she was from New York. Martha whispered that it was embarrassing to come from the same country.” He laughed.
“And I said, ‘It’s
your
country, my love!’” He wiped his eyes with the backs of his fingers, and flinched at the feel of bandages.

“Do you want to stop, Mr. Clifton?”

“No, no.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Now, where was I? Yes, there was the man to the left. I remember him. Very correct. Very English, as if he was in the Guards. Wore an open-neck shirt and a—” He held his hand to his neck. “I’ve forgotten what you call them here? Cravat. Yes, he was wearing a cravat. At his neck. Shoes polished. I remember him because of the way he looked at Martha, and I thought to myself, Look at her, sixty-eight and she can still draw a guy’s attention.”

“Can you tell me about his hair, his eyes—can you remember?”

“Darkish graying hair, silver at the sides. Then I heard the couple arguing, near the door, so I looked away.”

“Arguing?”

“Don’t know what about. They didn’t look as if they belonged, if you know what I mean. And it wasn’t so much the woman as the man. I remember thinking he looked like someone you wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night with those broad shoulders, but he looked as if he could do with a good meal all the same. She didn’t want him to come into the hotel, and was trying to pull him away; then one of the hotel clerks took care of it, told them to leave, I reckon. It was all done very quietly. Can’t say as I remember much after that.” He opened his eyes. “Except, when they’d gone, Tommy—he’s our son-in-law—called out to us. He’d just come down to the lobby. He wanted to know when we’d be back.” Clifton touched his head.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Starting to.” He closed his eyes again.

“Then let’s stop, Mr. Clifton. You’ve been very kind to see me, and I cannot thank you enough for trying so hard to remember. Perhaps when you feel well enough—”

Maisie leaned forward to check Clifton’s pulse. He was already
asleep. She stood up and lifted the chair to one side so as not to scrape the legs against the floor, then tiptoed towards the door. It was Clifton’s voice, speaking low but with a forced strength, that stopped her.

“Find whoever did this to Martha, Miss Dobbs. And find the man who murdered my son.”

“I will, Mr. Clifton. Don’t worry, I’ll find them.”

 

O
n the drive down to Chelstone, Maisie barely noticed the landscape around her, and at times realized that she could not remember driving past some of the usual landmarks on the journey. In her mind she was playing and replaying the scene described by Edward Clifton. Of course, each of the people he described seeing—the man with the cravat, the man with a dark complexion, the arguing couple, and Thomas Libbert—could be completely innocent. But someone had gained entrance to the Cliftons’ room, and had been so intent that his or her identity remain secret that he or she had left the couple for dead before escaping. It was clear that the person was looking for something specific, and it was possible that the very item being sought was in the hands of either the police or Maisie. Could the letters from women who had responded to the Cliftons’ advertisement have inspired the attack? Or perhaps Michael Clifton’s personal effects? Somewhere there was something of great value to another person—what was it, and where was it? And who wanted it so much that they would kill to have it?

Stalled in her quest until Monday, Maisie planned to spend time with her father, and Maurice. As her thoughts transferred to her ailing mentor, Maisie’s eyes filled with tears. She had known him for so long, and had it not been for Maurice Blanche, she might never have walked through the doors that had been opened for her time and time again. It was as if, the moment they were introduced when she was still only thirteen years of age, he had led her to a table heaped with knowledge—
only there never seemed to be a point at which her hunger to learn was sated. He had shown her a path that, in her wildest imaginings, she might never have found alone, had offered her counsel when she returned from war wounded in both body and spirit; and he had chosen her to become his trusted assistant, and taught her so much.

A recent estrangement in their relationship had been healed, and though she felt strength in her independence, she was also glad that he was still there to offer advice, to hold up the looking glass to her innermost thoughts so that she could see that what was already within her had merit and worth. If her father was her rock, then Maurice Blanche was the witness to her journey, and for that she accorded him great affection.

Maisie’s thoughts came back to the present as she reduced speed to turn in to the entrance to Chelstone Manor. To her left was The Dower House, Maurice’s residence, which he had bought years before when the old Dowager Lady Compton, Lord Julian’s mother, died. Once she had passed The Dower House, Maisie would turn off the carriage sweep that led to the manor and into a downward-sloping lane to the left, at the end of which was her father’s cottage. The gardens of the two houses bordered each other, and Maisie would often take the path from her father’s garden up to The Dower House. The conservatory where Maurice spent warm days overlooked the gardens, and Maisie knew her old mentor would be aware of her arrival at Chelstone, and would be awaiting her visit.

As she passed The Dower House, Maisie saw James Compton’s Aston Martin move from its place at the front of the mansion and begin to make its way towards the gates. She sped up enough to turn into the lane before she had to pull over to make way for his motor car, which would likely necessitate a conversation. She still hadn’t worked out what she might say to him. “Funny seeing you at Khan’s house” did not seem
quite right, though her curiosity regarding his visit had not diminished in any way. No, it was best not to linger.

 

M
aisie sat with her father at the kitchen table, and breathed an audible sigh.

“All right, love?”

“Yes, Dad. Just a bit weary, to tell you the truth. I had to visit a very poorly man at St. George’s Hospital this morning.” She was aware that she rarely spoke of her work with her father, conscious that he would worry about her safety and well-being.

BOOK: The Mapping of Love and Death
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