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Authors: Jacqueline Winspear

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BOOK: The Mapping of Love and Death
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“I think if the woman in question was going to do such a thing, she might not be so hard to find. And in any case, if she is not specifically mentioned in Michael’s will, surely she would have no claim.”

“Oh, trust me, Miss Dobbs, as far as the Clifton money is concerned, you would not believe the people who might come out of the woodwork. And even though Edward’s family shoe company over here closed down years ago, people still remember Clifton’s Shoes—heck, there are people out there still wearing them. Of course, that was half their trouble, they made shoes to last. They didn’t seem to understand that if shoes don’t wear out, then people don’t buy more shoes.”

“They did very well for over a century, Mr. Libbert, and certainly I
have never heard of making shoes that do not last—after all, what do we have a cobbler for, if not to repair a good pair of shoes?”

Libbert shook his head. “That’s not how it’s going to work if people want to make money—you wait and see.” He looked at his watch. “Now, is this all you wanted to see me about? To talk about Michael?”

Maisie set down her cup and saucer and picked up her gloves, shoulder bag, and document case. “Yes, that’s more or less it.” They stood up together, and as they walked towards the foyer, Maisie asked another question.

“I understand you were here at the Dorchester when Mr. and Mrs. Clifton were attacked.”

Libbert cleared his throat, and Maisie thought his color heightened a little. “I was staying here, but not here at the time. I’d gone out earlier for a walk across the park—can’t just sit in business meetings all day, can I? I was planning to join them for dinner later, but had yet to see them on the day it happened.” He shook his head. “I just wish I’d seen them earlier, gone out with them…anything to stop them going back to their room when they did. It’s a tragedy, a family tragedy.”

Maisie nodded. “They are in excellent hands, Mr. Libbert.”

“So I’ve been told, but Teddy is bringing a family friend across with him—man called Charles Hayden. Brain surgeon and one of the best.”

“Charles Hayden?”

“Heard of him?”

Maisie smiled. “I met him in France, when I was a nurse. He was a friend of a friend.”

Libbert shrugged. “Small world, Miss Dobbs. Very small world. Now, I’ve got work to do.”

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Libbert.”

“You’re welcome,” said Libbert. Then he turned and walked away.

Maisie pulled on her gloves and stepped out into spring sunshine breaking through the clouds. She thanked the doorman and they ex
changed a few words about the weather, and that spring seemed to have sprung at last. And when she looked across towards the park and saw the last of the daffodils, she thought she would walk and consider the conversation with Libbert. But instead, the words that came to her were those of Edward Clifton, when she visited him at St. George’s Hospital and asked him to recollect the day’s events leading up to the attack in their hotel room: “
…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
.”

 

A
s she walked in Hyde Park, Maisie’s thoughts were on Edward Clifton and his wife, and she thought she would make her way to Hyde Park Corner and St. George’s Hospital, where she might be able to learn more of their progress, and—if luck favored her—even see Edward again. The image of the hospital and the elderly man she hoped to see reminded her of Maurice. She confessed to herself that she had been pushing all consideration of his ill health to the back of her mind—she did not want to entertain the implications of his not getting well again. She felt as if she were on a trapeze at the circus, flying through the air, but with no net below to catch her. She stopped on the path, and as she closed her eyes, she felt the tears well up once more. Who would be there if she fell? Maurice had picked her up from the cold, wet ground when she collapsed at the site of the casualty clearing station where, in the eyes of the dead and dying, she had seen a terror she could never have imagined, and where an already compromised youthful innocence was lost to her forever. He had remained with her, had ministered to her when she needed him most—was she failing him now by not being at his side?

Maisie tried to shake off the chill that had enveloped her, and walked on along the path, so consumed by her powerlessness against the march
of time and sickness that she did not hear the steps behind her, nor had she considered that the earlier sensation had been anything more than a physical manifestation of her fear. The attack was sudden, the shove between her shoulder blades sending her lurching forward and crashing to the ground. She felt her cheek strike the path, and as she fell forward, she released her grip on her document case to break the impact of her fall.

Maisie gathered her thoughts within seconds, pushed down on the ground with her hands, and came to her feet. The document case was gone, and in the distance she could see a man running towards the gate. She gave chase, shouting, “Stop! Thief! Stop that man—stop that thief!”

As she ran, Maisie felt the air scratch her throat and her chest began to burn, but she did not relinquish speed to discomfort. She ran out through the gate in time to see the man dodge through Marble Arch traffic; then he was gone.

“Damn!” She looked down at her hands, the deep grazes and scrapes along the base of her palms, and as a policeman came towards her, she brushed the back of her hand against her cheek and felt the wetness of blood where gravel had torn at her skin. “Oh, that’s just lovely!” she said to herself.

“Are you all right, Miss?”

“I think so. Did you see him, the man who attacked me? He took my document case—black, leather—and ran off towards the tube.”

“I’ll take the particulars, Miss. We’ll see if we can nab him along the line. Tricky, though—these thieves are light on their feet, you know. And there’s more of it now, what with people being out of work.”

“Yes, I know, Constable.” She reached into her pocket for a clean handkerchief and wiped blood from her cheek and hands.

“I’ll just put out the call,” said the policeman after noting Maisie’s
description of the man. He ran to a nearby police telephone kiosk, and returned after a few minutes.

“There, they’ll do what they can along the line, though I think you might have seen the last of your case, miss. Just as well he didn’t take your handbag, though it would have been hard to get it off your shoulder—it’s easier to just grab the case.”

“I don’t think he was after my bag,” said Maisie.

“Oh, I don’t know, miss, what with your money in there.”

Maisie shook her head. “No. He was after the case. I’m fairly sure of that.” She paused, touching her face again. “Now, if you would be so kind as to call me a taxi-cab, Constable, I think I might go to get this cheek sorted out.”

The constable hailed a taxi-cab, and soon Maisie was on her way to St. George’s Hospital. She’d had worse scrapes as a child, playing in the streets of Lambeth, and the attack had signaled that she had no time to lose, no time to read Michael Clifton’s journal and letters as if they were a novel, no time to indulge herself in grief over events that might not yet come to pass. She knew her assailant had been waiting for her, had in all likelihood seen her enter, then leave The Dorchester Hotel. It was good fortune that the document case contained only a folder with a few sheets of notes unrelated to the Clifton case, along with her Victorinox knife, a pair of rubber gloves, a surgical mask, and a very small set of tools in a drawstring bag. She suspected that the thief might well be disappointed with his haul.

A
t the hospital, Maisie went straight to the ladies’ lavatory and filled a washbasin with hot water. The cuts on her hands began to sting again as soon as she steeped them in the steaming water, and she winced as she leaned forward, rested her forearms on the basin, and closed her eyes for a few seconds while she absorbed the pain. She rubbed her palms together to loosen the dirt and grit embedded in her skin, then pulled the plug to release the bloodstained water, refilling the basin again to rinse away more debris before shaking her hands and pulling a clean white handkerchief from her shoulder bag. Maisie moistened the cloth and began to dab around the deep abrasion to her right cheek, then inspected the wound in a mirror above the basin.

“That’s a picture,” she said aloud, before continuing to apply pressure around the outside of the graze. She knew she should have added disinfectant to the water, but at the same time, she wouldn’t think of bothering nurses in a busy hospital, and they would likely point her in the direction of the casualty department. No, she had been a nurse, she could take care of her own medical problems.

Having done the best she could to diminish bruising and inflammation with a final few splashes of cold water, Maisie made her way up to the floor where Edward Clifton was recovering. As she walked along the corridor, she noticed that the same policeman was on duty, and there were no medical staff in the immediate vicinity of Clifton’s private ward. She lost no time in taking advantage of the situation.

“Good afternoon, Constable. Having a good day?”

“Afternoon, madam. I wasn’t told to expect you.”

“Oh, I expect that because we’ve met before, Detective Inspector Caldwell probably thought it unnecessary. Do you know how Mr. Clifton’s progressing?’

“The doctors are pleased, that’s all I know really. It’ll be better when his son gets here, I would imagine. Not very nice when no one comes to see you of a visiting hour.”

“No visitors? Not even his son-in-law?”

“Son-in-law?”

“What news of Mrs. Clifton?” asked Maisie, without responding to the constable’s question.

“According to the nurses, there’s been some improvement—her breathing’s stronger, though they think that if she comes around, she might not be all there.” He tapped the side of his head. “Upstairs.”

“Oh, dear—they are such a close couple, it would be devastating for Mr. Clifton to lose her.”

Maisie knew the policeman was warming to the conversation. His present task was, at best, boring, so Maisie’s presence was a welcome interlude in an otherwise tedious shift—unless of course he was called upon to protect his charge from an interloper.

“What did you walk into this morning, madam? That’s a nasty scrape you’ve got there.”

Maisie smiled. “To tell you the truth, I fell over my own feet while rushing across the park. I should have known better than to run. Serves
me right for waiting until the last minute to leave for work. By the way, speaking of being in a bit of a hurry—it is visiting time, so I wonder if I might just pop in and see Mr. Clifton?”

“I should have prior permission, but—” He looked to the left and right along the corridor. “Go on. I’ll knock in ten minutes, earlier if someone comes along.”

Maisie smiled as the policeman opened the door. “Thank you, Constable. Very kind of you.” She slipped into Edward Clifton’s private ward.

 

E
dward Clifton was lying back on his pillows, awake, yet gazing out of the window to his left. He turned as Maisie entered, and gave a brief nod in her direction by way of greeting.

“How are you, Mr. Clifton?” Maisie came to his bedside, pulled up a chair, and sat down.

Clifton regarded Maisie in a way that reminded her of Frankie. It was the look of a father of children now grown. “I think I might be doing better than you today, Miss Dobbs.”

Maisie laughed and touched her cheek. “Oh, this? No, it’s nothing. Your wounds are much deeper and more worrisome for the doctors.” She quickly changed the subject to make the most of the next few minutes. “I understand that Mrs. Clifton has shown some improvement.”

Clifton nodded. “That’s what they say.” He shrugged. “I’ll clutch at any straws out there, but to me progress would be my dear wife recognizing me, talking to me.”

“There is cause for optimism, Mr. Clifton.”

He nodded in a sage manner, staring out of the window once more, but said nothing.

“Mr. Clifton, may I ask one or two more questions?” she went on, without waiting for a response. “Has your son-in-law been in to see you yet?”

Clifton turned to her. “I think he came before I regained consciousness—I remember the nurse saying he’d been to see me. And I know he’s telephoned the ward staff, so he’s keeping up with our progress—he’s probably calling back to Boston every day so that Meg and Anna know how their mother and I are doing. Tom’s dealing with a lot at the moment—company business in London on top of what’s happened to us—so I’m sure he’s busy.” He paused for a moment. “To tell you the truth, we’ve never had too much to say to each other, Thomas and I. Not that he’s not a good fellow—he’s a fine husband and father—but we simply don’t have much in common. If he was sitting here now, we’d both be stumped for conversation.”

“So I expect the last time you actually saw him to talk to was in the foyer of the hotel, prior to the attack in your room.”

Clifton frowned. “Yes. Yes, I suppose it was.”

Maisie nodded. “When we last spoke, you said something about a couple close to the entrance. They were arguing, there was a row or something. Do you remember anything more about them?”

After a pause, Clifton responded, and shrugged, as if what he was about to say was unimportant. “You know, this is going to sound strange, but I remember thinking that the woman reminded me of Anna, our daughter. Something about the eyes, and of course the hair—Anna’s the only one who took after me with my dark hair. Yes, she reminded me of Anna. I remember thinking that if anyone ever treated one of our girls like that, I would have had to interfere, do something about it. You see, Martha and I, we always agreed that no matter what happens, our children have their own lives. They choose their mates, and we can’t do a thing about it. But I might have had to step in if I was that woman’s father.” He sighed, then added, “Sad. It made me very sad, thinking about it.”

Maisie did not respond immediately, allowing the moment of reflection to linger. To have interjected at once with another question would
have been thoughtless after Clifton had revealed his feelings in such a way. She picked up her bag just as a light knock at the door signaled that her ten minutes had come to an end.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Clifton. I am glad your wife is making progress.” Without thinking, she reached out and held his hand, and he nodded acknowledgment. He may not have been her own father, but he was father to grown children he loved, and he missed them. Releasing his hand, Maisie stood up and walked towards the door. It was only as she reached for the handle that a thought occurred to her.

“Mr. Clifton, may I ask another question?”

“Of course.”

“I know your old family firm, Clifton’s Shoes, closed down some years ago. What happened to the company?”

Clifton sighed. “It was all my fault, I suppose—or my father’s for establishing a company based upon male inheritance of responsibility. I heard not a word from my family after I left home for America—that’s probably why family means so much to me now, why it’s important to be on good terms with my children. They didn’t communicate with me again, and I was shut out of any decisions regarding the business; though of course I was not surprised by the latter. I had made my bed, and I was expected to lie in it, come what may, and I was many miles away in any case. As far as I know my sister married, and it was she and her husband who kept the business going after my father passed away. Then her husband died and she sold out to the first bidder at a knockdown price. They weren’t business people, and she was also hampered by the company’s bylaws, so it had run into the ground—trying to keep that quality at a good price. I believe she married again, but I have no idea what happened after that, except that she was still quite young when she died. And she probably went to her grave having given her life to maintain the claim that not one pair of Clifton’s shoes went on sale that would not last a good ten years of solid daily wear.” He looked at Maisie,
his head to one side, his eyes now half closed as fatigue claimed him once again. “Is it important?”

Maisie shrugged. “I don’t know, Mr. Clifton. But I thought I’d ask.”

 

M
aisie sat at the dining table in her flat, with one hand dabbing the wound to her cheek with a cloth soaked in salted water, the other turning the pages of Michael Clifton’s journal.

I’m trying to remember her face. I could recognize her in a crowd, such a pretty girl could not be missed. But sitting here on my bunk in this French barn, waiting to go out with my guys again, I just can’t picture her. I can imagine the dark hair—thick and glorious hair, like silk down her back when she pulls out the pins and lets it fall. I can barely believe I’ll see her in less than a week—four days’ leave in Paris. They were going to ship me back to Blighty, but I said it was no good me going back, because I don’t have people there. A couple of the guys (the lads, as they say), Mullen and Perry, each invited me home with them, but I said no, I would go to Paris. Pretended I knew someone there. And I do. I do know someone there.

Several ink dots speckled the page, as if the writer was thinking of how to express in words the feelings in his heart.

I am a bit more scared each time I have to go out into the field. I play brave. I’m taller than a lot of the men, and for some reason, because I’m an American (they call me the Yank), they expect me to be the most fearless of all. So I just get on with it. We all just get on with it, but we’re all scared, standing out there setting up our equipment. We’re like sitting targets, like ducks in hunting season, the ones that just land in front of the guy with the gun. But we just work away as if no one
was there, as if it was only us and the land. I’m glad I did this. I’m not sorry I enlisted when I did; after all, they need good mapmakers. But I’ll be happy to go home again, as soon as the war is over….

Maisie stood up, went into the kitchen, and disposed of the soiled cloth. She allowed the graze on her cheeks to dry, but had wrapped the base of each palm so the cuts would not break open when she used her hands. She returned to the journal, and the letters, trying to reconcile events from one to the other.

Dear Michael,

The days in Paris were lovely. How we were blessed with the weather, only one day of rain. I am sorry about the Wednesday, but our chaperone insisted I remain with the other nurses, so I could not meet you at the arranged time. I’m glad you received my note and did not think that I had stood you up. Our chaperones have been instructed not to breathe down our necks, but at the same time, we are expected to conduct ourselves according to the rules. It seems as if we were not meant to meet on that final day in any case. You must have been so surprised when your brother-in-law turned up in Paris. I wonder how he managed to get there, with so many travel restrictions in place. But it must have been lovely for you to see a member of your family. I know how much you miss them.

I’m not due for more leave for some time, but at least we can write….

M
aisie leaned back in her chair. Which brother-in-law met with Michael Clifton in Paris? She could not jump to conclusions and assume that it was Thomas Libbert; after all, the older sister, Meg, was married to a doctor—a doctor who knew Charles Hayden, who was
himself in France in the war. Perhaps Meg’s husband was also a doctor with an American medical contingent and had sought out his wife’s younger brother while they were both serving overseas. Maisie could imagine the family pressing him to locate Michael, to seek him out, perhaps to send their love and to bid him Godspeed.

I will never forget her again. I am the luckiest guy in the world, to have found such a wonderful girl. They’ll love her back home, really love her, I’m sure. Teddy always said that I could fall in love at the drop of a hat, but this is for real, forever, I just know it. Now all we’ve got to do is make it out of this war. I guess the only cloud over our days together was when we bumped into old stiff breeches himself. Mullen thought up that name, and it suits him well—stiff upper lip and all that. In all of Paris, how did that happen, how did our paths cross? He hates me, really hates me. Every time I come in with a new map, he finds fault. He thinks I’ve done nothing but swan around stateside on my father’s dime—but I did my time at Chatham, they just didn’t have to teach me from scratch. I know MORE than him, because I’ve done more and trained harder, and I’ve said as much—not that they’ve ever heard of Berkeley here, these Oxford and Cambridge types. I know I said too much, could have been put on a charge for insubordination. Mullen said I ought to watch my mouth, but I’ve never been pushed like that, never. Told him that when that clown can find oil just by looking at the land, then perhaps he could correct me—I’m not just a cartographer, I’m a surveyor, and I’m done with being kicked around by some busybody stiff-upper-lipped limey who did his best to needle me about a darn shoe company that I know almost nothing about. I never thought I would want to be called something other than Clifton, but in that last week before my leave, I wished I was plain old Smith or Jones. Mullen asked me what he was talking about, so I told him about Dad leaving England, and he said he knew of Clifton’s Shoes. Then he asked about
the oil, and I told him about my land there. Kind of wish I’d kept my mouth shut—again. I wanted to keep the land a secret until I went home and brought Dad and Teddy out to see it. Even showed Mullen my maps of the valley, and my little piece of it. I beat the Union Oil guys to that piece of land, and they can set up their drills and derricks all around me and I bet they won’t get my oil. You should have seen Mullen’s eyes. In all his days with maps, he said he would never have a chance to survey land and then buy it. Guess I’m a very lucky guy—got the land and I’ve got the girl.

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