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Authors: Jacqueline Winspear

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“What was wrong with him?”

Maisie paused before answering the question. She was sorry she had mentioned the visit to see Edward Clifton. The lie came easily. “He’d suffered a fall, and he is an important witness.”

Frankie Dobbs was not easily fooled, but took his daughter at her word. “Nasty that, a fall. I remember when I came a cropper in the stables a couple of years ago, I felt more sorry for you than meself. It’s always the ones who are left waiting who suffer the most, the people anxious for news. Terrible thing, having to wait to find out if they’re all right.”

Maisie knew her father spoke from the heart, from his memories of waiting, of hoping her mother would get well again, then watching her die. He waited once more, years later in the war, when Maisie sailed for France with a contingent of nurses, and he waited for her to regain her strength and health when she came home wounded.

“Which reminds me,” added Frankie. “I saw Mrs. Bromley today, and she said Maurice was very much looking forward to your visit. You could pop over now, before they put him to bed.”

Before they put him to bed.
Maisie felt the swell of ache press down on her chest, her heart beat faster, and she thought she might not be able to
breathe.
Before they put him to bed.
Maurice was failing, and she could no more bear to think of life without his presence than she could imagine being without her father’s love and companionship, both always waiting for her at Chelstone.

“Yes, you’re right. I’ll go up now and see if he’s well enough for me to sit with him for a while.”

Maisie kissed her father on the cheek. “I’ll put that pheasant in the oven before I go—we’ll have a tasty supper tonight, Dad.”

Mrs. Bromley opened the door before Maisie could set her hand upon the bellpull. “Miss Dobbs, how lovely to see you. Dr. Blanche saw you coming up the path and sent me to the door—he might be weary, but he still doesn’t miss a trick! Come along into the conservatory. It’s still quite warm in there.”

The housekeeper spoke to Maurice as she entered the conservatory. “She’s here, Dr. Blanche. Shall I bring a pot of tea?”

Maurice waved his hand. “No, I think a schooner of cream sherry would be more to Miss Dobbs’ liking—and a malt whiskey for me, if you would be so kind.”

“But the doctor said—”

“I
am
the doctor. Some dry biscuits would go down very well too, I think, and perhaps a little Stilton. Thank you very much!”

Maisie smiled, but did not speak until Mrs. Bromley left the room. “I think you just pulled rank on the doctor—and he wasn’t even here!”

“So be it. I have earned all the rank I want to pull, so let that be a lesson to you when you are in your dotage.” He began to laugh, but the breath caught in his chest and he started to cough. Maisie reached for a glass and filled it with water from a jug, but Maurice raised a hand. “It will pass. Please. It will pass.”

The housekeeper returned, pushing a wooden trolley set with two decanters, crystal glasses, a plate of plain water biscuits, and a wedge of
the pungent blue-veined cheese Maurice favored. With a reminder to Maurice to have no more than one glass, she left the room.

“A decent pour for us both, if you would be so kind, Maisie.”

Maurice took a sip of the single-malt whiskey and closed his eyes. “I have always believed in the medicinal properties of this particular eighteen-year-old distillation.”

“I won’t argue with you, Maurice, even though I am inclined to agree with your doctor.”

“So am I, Maisie, but that this stage of my life it does me a power of good to flout rules.” He paused, lifted the amber liquid towards the setting sun, and turned to Maisie. “And what about you?’

“About me? Well, this morning I went to see Edward—”

“I’m not talking about work, Maisie. It’s your life I’m interested in.”

“My life? But my work—”

“Your work is not your life.”

“But…” Maisie faltered. “But your work was most of your life.”

“Granted, it might have seemed like that, but there was more. My life here, my life in Paris, my garden, my friends, associations. How about you?”

“Well, I…there’s my friend Priscilla, and her children.” Maisie took a sip from the schooner she had half filled with cream sherry. “What do you want to know, Maurice?”

Maurice Blanche rested his glass on the trolley, then looked at his hands, turning them over, frowning and smiling in equal measure. “They say the face tells all there is to know about a life, but I personally believe much can be deduced from the hands. There are lines and scars, bumps and calluses; indeed, the hands are both the sketch and the final work of art.”

Maisie looked at her hands. She had always been somewhat embarrassed by them. They were hands that told a story of hard manual labor
when she was a child, hands that had scrubbed floors, had polished heavy oaken furniture. Later, they had soothed the sick, and had rested on the foreheads of the dying. She realized that she had no recollection of her hands as a schoolgirl, and she was uncomfortable with the conversation’s direction.

“I saw Khan this week.”

Maurice smiled, aware of the change in topic. “How is my dear friend?”

“We sat together for a while. He seems old, yet at the same time, he seems not to have aged since I was a girl.” Maisie paused for just a few seconds to take a sip of sherry. “And you will never guess who I saw there.”

“I think I can.”

“This one might stump you, Maurice.”

“Might it have been James Compton?’

Maisie’s widened eyes underlined her surprise. “How did you know?”

Maurice again waited before speaking, as if gauging his words with care. “Now, Maisie, you know better. I have to observe that, in personal matters, you do not have the breadth of vision that is at your disposal in your work. You have made a decision about James, that he is a certain kind of person, and that—given his character, as you have interpreted it—he is not worthy, perhaps, of an audience with someone you hold in the highest regard.”

“I just didn’t think he was the type.” Maisie felt her neck grow hot, and knew how her words sounded.

“Again, you know better.”

“You’re right, I do. I’m sorry. But James Compton—”

“Is a lonely man in crisis, and if I were to commend anyone to your good graces, it would be him.”

“I feel as if I had just been reprimanded by my teacher.”

“You have.”

Maisie looked at Maurice, and they both began to laugh, though Maurice soon held up his hand as the unforgiving cough claimed him. She poured a glass of water and helped steady him as he held the glass to his lips.

“I asked for that, didn’t I?” said Maisie. “I am guilty of allowing my past memories of James to color my view of him, which I concede is wrong.”

“James has floundered for some time, though as we know he has always found a certain peace of mind in Canada. But now he is back here, and to be once again—and likely forever—in a place where you never quite fit is like experiencing the worst of times once more.”

“Never quite fit?”

“No. James Compton is his mother’s son, his father’s heir, and a man of his generation of young men. On the one hand, his mother has always enjoyed flying in the face of what was expected of her, and on the other, his father is a businessman with barely an equal, a man who has served his country without question when called to do so. Julian is a man of compassion, but he does not suffer fools gladly. And then there was the England that James came home to—and a young man who has been wounded in body and spirit, one who was seeking both solace and joy, found easy consolation in the antics of his peers. But that behavior gnawed at him, Maisie. He grew to hate himself before he went back to Canada. And now he is here again, and though he is a man of some accomplishment, showing every sign of being his father’s worthy successor now that he has taken over the highest position in the everyday running of the Compton Corporation, his is not an easy journey.”

“I can see your point, Maurice, but there are starving people in lines for food in London—and theirs is not an easy journey either.”

Maurice took another sip of the whiskey, wincing as he swallowed. “A little compassion for James, Maisie, might not go amiss.”

Maisie nodded, but said nothing in return.

“Have you made progress with your case?”

She was thoughtful before replying. “Yes, yes, I think I have. Lord Julian gave me the name of a man to contact, and he in turn suggested others, one of whom I went to visit. Usually any connections initially effected by Lord Julian are without question, yet this time I…I can’t say—there’s just something about him.”

“Remember, Julian does not know all contacts personally—he just has an extraordinary roster of names at his disposal, not only through his commercial interests but also through his work for the government during the war. I am sure he could find out more about this man, if you wished to inquire.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

A knock on the door, followed by Mrs. Bromley and the nurse entering the room, brought the conversation to an end.

“Here come the Furies!” Maurice shook his head and reached for Maisie’s hands with his own. His eyes met hers, and she was pained to see the milky patina of age and sickness. “Remember your childhood, Maisie. Remember being at Ebury Place, and here at Chelstone. Remember being different and having to make your way in a world for which there was no set of directions. Remember that next time you try to avoid conversation with James Compton.”

“But—”

“I’ve always loved sitting in this conservatory, Maisie. Have you never looked out across the estate from here? You can see the gardens, the carriage sweep. I can see down the slope to your father’s house, across the lawns, right up to the entrance to the mansion. Indeed, if I am situated in a certain place, I can even view the stableyard and the paddocks—I take great joy in seeing your father with the young horses, or instructing the grooms when they exercise the hunters. I miss nothing, so the
sound of an MG’s engine accelerating when James Compton is leaving the manor would attract my attention.”

Maisie smiled. “Guilty as charged.” She took his right hand, kissed the liver-marked skin, and felt the web of veins touch her lips. “Good night, Maurice.”

“Good night, my dear.”

A
s if it had been orchestrated by Maurice, while Maisie was leaving Chelstone for London, James Compton was walking his mother’s dogs, a Labrador and a springer spaniel, across the lawns. It would have been an obvious omission had she not stopped to greet him and ask after his mother, so instead of driving on towards the gates, she pulled over. James waved and came towards her.

“Hello, Maisie. Leaving the fold so soon?”

“I have to get back to London, James—busy as usual.”

“You’re never here long enough for us to have a chat.” James turned away to whistle the dogs to him. “Those dogs are tearaways. My mother has let them get away with murder.”

Maisie nodded. “I’ve noticed.”

“I suppose that isn’t the sort of thing I should say to you, is it? You’ll be taking each of them by the scruff of the neck and marching them over to Scotland Yard.” He paused. “Look, I was going to ask if…well, do you like motor cars?”

“Me?” Maisie was unsure of how she might answer the question,
wondering where it might lead. “Well, yes, I do—I mean, I love my MG, which as you know, I bought from Lady Rowan.”

“Um, would you like to come with me to Brooklands next weekend? There’s a meet there. I thought it might be rather fun to watch. We could leave from London, take a picnic.” James reddened. “I—I just thought it would be something—”

“Yes, that would be lovely, James. Saturday, is it?”

“Pick you up at eight, if that’s all right?”

Maisie nodded. “Now I must go, James.” Maisie slipped the motor car into gear, then paused as a thought occurred to her. “James, just a minute—I wonder if I might ask a quick question?”

“Fire away.”

“Do you know a family, very big in building and land in America? They come from Boston—the Cliftons.”

“Yes, of course I know of them. In fact, I’ve had a few dealings with Teddy Clifton—he’s the eldest son. A few years ago the Compton Corporation was engaged in several consortium projects in which they were also involved, mainly in Chicago. We’ve also been on a couple of advisory boards together, nothing too formal, just meetings of interested parties gathered by local dignitaries. Lots of blah-blah-blah. Teddy was always a good, solid person to talk to. Rather do business with him than with that brother-in-law of his.”

“Which one?”

“Tom Libbert. I believe he’s married to the second daughter. Can’t remember her name now.” He paused, frowning as he recalled details. “I think it was Anna. Yes, that’s right: Anna. And the eldest daughter, Meg, is married to a doctor, though I understand both sisters are not above a bit of speculation on land themselves. It seems to run in the family blood.”

“Why don’t you care for Libbert?”

James shrugged. “He’s managed to garner a bit of a reputation for
himself as playing a bit too hard with the family money. He’s had a few land deals go bad—and apparently he was warned to be careful by Teddy, but on the other hand, Teddy doesn’t want to upset his sister. Mind you, I had my misgivings about Libbert before I’d garnered those nuggets of information. Can’t put my finger on it, but as the saying goes, if it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t, and even though I like a lot of background to any deal—as you know after the purchase last summer, when you played such an important part—I tend to depend on good old instinct.”

“Goodness, James, you seem to know a lot about them.”

James shrugged. “Same business, same continent. Hardly surprising. Mind you, I’m half surprised myself.” He paused. “They’re a close family, Maisie, so despite anything I might have said, the fact remains that they are tight, and they treat Libbert as any other member of the inner circle; he’s Anna’s husband, therefore he’s family.”

“Thank you, James.”

“I know I daren’t ask why you inquired—but can I help with any more details? I have employees in Toronto whose sole remit is to uncover information on land, markets, and people—I call them my intelligence squad.”

“I think you should be doing my job, James.” Maisie sighed. “You’ve probably not read the papers—mind you, the press were asked not to release the news immediately—but Edward and Martha Clifton were attacked in their hotel room earlier this week. Between us, I had just taken on an assignment for them and received my usual advance on expenses and my fee, and I consider both finding their attacker and fulfilling the terms of our agreement to be paramount.”

“Dear Lord, Maisie, are they all right? Where are they? I must get in touch with Teddy to see if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“They’re at St. George’s Hospital—but don’t count on seeing them yet. Mrs. Clifton is in a critical condition, and her prognosis isn’t good.
Teddy is arriving in a few days.” Maisie sighed, then smiled. “James, I had better be going. See you on Saturday, then.”

James Compton smiled in return and patted the roof of the MG. “Drive carefully. Oh, and remember to dress for the cold and mud—Brooklands is hardly the place for one’s finery, not if you really want to see the action.” As Maisie pulled away, she looked back to see him watching her motor car drive off, the dogs now sitting at his feet. She put her hand out the window and waved once. He returned her wave, and when she looked back upon reaching the Chelstone road, she saw him wave once more, then begin to walk back across the lawns. She began to accelerate and reflected upon Maurice’s words—“
a lonely man in crisis
.”

 

A
s soon as Maisie arrived at her flat in Pimlico, she knew she wanted to speak to Thomas Libbert at the earliest opportunity. She needed to see him for herself, to gauge the measure of the man. She unpacked her small case and went out once more, this time walking along the road to the telephone kiosk, where she placed a call to the Dorchester. Thomas Libbert was not available, so she left a message, asking him to telephone her on Monday morning. With luck they would meet that day. She was just about to leave when she changed her mind and dialed Priscilla’s number. The housekeeper answered, and soon Priscilla came to the telephone.

“Darling, you can’t let me down. If you leave now, you can join us for supper. Slight change of plan. The boys have had theirs—they are eating us out of house and home—so it’s only the grown-ups.” She lowered her voice. “And Douglas has a visitor, a charming man. Bit of a writer, but frankly, it looks as if money is no object—you know how some of them always look as if they could do with a meal, well, this one ap
pears to be rather well-heeled for a change. Do come, I think you should meet him.”

“Oh, Pris, please stop playing with Cupid’s bow, I’m sure he has a much better aim than you.”

“Not if you read your Shakespeare, he doesn’t.”

Maisie changed the subject. “I thought I would see if you’d made any progress with the little task I put your way.”

“Little task, my eye! If I tell you what I’ve found out, will you come?”

“Blackmailer.”

“Call your detective friends and shop me. Do I hear a yes?”

Maisie sighed, but smiled at her friend’s subterfuge. “Yes, I will. Against my better judgment.”

“Where men are concerned, Maisie, you haven’t the experience to have garnered judgment. Anyway—” She paused. “I just happen to have my little dossier by the telephone, and here’s what I have for you—and I will be brief, because I can tell you more later and give you my notes. Makes up for all the times I filched your essays at Girton.” Maisie heard the rustle of paper, then Priscilla continued speaking. “Now, as you know, not all nursing contingents would have been able to go to Paris for the odd day or two off. You went to Rouen, if my memory serves me well, and if you had longer, then you went on leave back to Blighty. The American and Canadian nurses tended to have more time in Paris—and remember, even though the Yankee boys weren’t at the front until the tag end of 1917, they sent out medical contingents right from the outset. Having said that, by hook or by crook, I have made a list—by no means complete—of the British units that allowed leave in Paris for their nurses. This gets very confusing, because ‘British’ means from the Empire.”

“Oh, dear.” Maisie sighed, not for the first time realizing the enormity of the task.

“And you have to consider something else, Maisie.”

“Go on.”

“This nurse may have been English, originally, but she might have been an immigrant to Canada, or Australia, or America. After all, so many young men went out to the lands of opportunity before the war, but enlisted to help the old country as soon as war was declared—many of the Canadians were born in Britain. Might be the same with the nurses. Your English nurse could have been with a Canadian contingent, or Australian.” Priscilla paused again, and Maisie heard the raspy breath as she inhaled from her cigarette, doubtless affixed to the long holder she favored. “If she wasn’t with a private nursing contingent, one of those sponsored by Lady This or the Duchess of That, I bet she was a Canadian. Australia is a bloody long way to go, after all.”

“Thank you, Pris. I’ll look at your notes later.”

“Oh, and there was this one unit, quite a few nurses, paid for by a very wealthy woman, Lady—can’t find her name, where is that piece of paper?”

Maisie felt the skin at the base of her skull tingle. “What about the unit, Pris?”

“Well, it was called, simply, ‘The English Nursing Unit.’ Bit of a cheek, if you ask me, I mean, what did it matter where you came from, as long as you were there? Anyway, the nurses wore these badges with the coat of arms of Lady Whatever-her-name-was, and the name of the unit. All a bit elitist, in my opinion.”

Maisie nodded. “I’ll just go home and dress for dinner, and I’ll be over as soon as I can.”

“Changed your mind about the writer?”

 

A
s was so often her wont, Maisie stood in front of the open doors of her wardrobe and regarded the contents. Knowing Priscilla and
Douglas, dining would not be a formal affair if only one other guest was to join them, and one of Douglas’ writer friends at that. But on the other hand, Priscilla might want to bring a level of sophistication to the proceedings if she were in a matchmaking mood, so evening dress might be appropriate—she could just imagine Priscilla wearing a pair of her signature wide silk trousers and a loose silk top with a broad sash drawn around her hips. On her feet would be a pair of satin mules embellished with an oriental design, and her thick hair would be drawn back into a chignon with a crystal-studded clip. Though Maisie had been the grateful recipient of several of Priscilla’s cast-off gowns, she did not feel that such a choice would be appropriate for her this evening, so instead took out her black day dress, which could be given something of a flourish by adding the fine cashmere wrap that Priscilla had given her in France almost two years earlier. It wasn’t quite warm enough yet to wear the matching silk trousers—Priscilla might dress as if she were still living on the Riviera, but it would not feel right to Maisie.

 

M
aisie, dear, if it weren’t for the fact that I would be sending you home naked, I have a good mind to confiscate that dress. Even I’m getting sick to death of it, and I’m not the one wearing it.”

Priscilla had brought Maisie to her upstairs sitting room while Douglas and their guest were in the library putting the finishing touches on a joint literary endeavor.

“Just as well my enemies don’t comment on my attire, with friends like you to set me right!”

“Oh, come on, you know what I mean. Where’s that lovely red dress, the one you dyed yourself? And what happened to that vibrant color phase you were going through, when you’d taken up those arty classes with that Polish woman—Magda, or whatever her name was.”

“Marta.” Maisie sighed as she corrected the name. Priscilla was
right, and she knew it. After a flirtation with color and texture, she had slowly retreated to the comfort of the more familiar items in her wardrobe.

“Well, I know when I’m right, because you don’t argue with me,” said Priscilla. “I can tell what’s happened—you’ve been buried in your work, and you’ve forgotten about yourself again. Here, let me look at you.” Priscilla stood up and pulled Maisie to her feet. “That dress is very well cut, I’ll give you that, but let’s cheer it up a bit, shall we? Oh, and before you say that work should come first, we can talk about my little investigative endeavor after supper—we’ll leave the men to their port and engage in our own important business. In the meantime, I think we’ll brighten up that dress with a splash of gold—though perhaps we should choose a wrap that really brings out those eyes of yours, something sort of deep violety midnight blue.”

 

M
aisie, how lovely to see you again—looking radiant as usual.” Douglas leaned forward to kiss Maisie on both cheeks, before drawing back and introducing her to his friend. “Maisie, may I introduce Benedict Sutton—all-round good chap!”

“Miss Dobbs, a pleasure to meet you—Priscilla has told me a lot about you.”

“That’s a frightening thought!” Maisie smiled. Sutton was a good six feet tall and, she thought, better looking than she had expected. Though his swept-back hair was somewhat mousy, deep brown eyes and clear, pale skin gave him a more interesting countenance.

“All good, Miss Dobbs, it was all good.”

“Oh, dear, do let’s get over the ‘Miss Dobbs’ and ‘Mr. Sutton’—otherwise supper will drag on like a turgid opera.” Priscilla claimed the group’s attention. “Maisie—Ben; Ben—Maisie. Now, let’s have a glass or two of bubbly, shall we?”

The butler stepped forward holding a silver tray topped with four glasses filled to the brim with champagne.

“Who needs room to let the champers breathe, when it won’t be that long in the glass?” Priscilla took two flutes of champagne and passed one to Maisie.

Benedict Sutton reached towards Maisie with his champagne, and allowed their glasses to touch with a
clink
that was so resonant, she feared they might shatter.

Soon supper was announced, and Priscilla put her arm around her husband’s waist as they led their guests into the dining room. Douglas Partridge had suffered an amputation to his arm in the war, and used his remaining hand to wield a walking stick. His wife never considered the protocols of society matrons when accompanying her husband and thought nothing of putting an arm around his shoulder or waist.

BOOK: The Mapping of Love and Death
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