Authors: Dolores Gordon-Smith
Table of Contents
A FÃTE WORSE THAN DEATH
MAD ABOUT THE BOY
AS IF BY MAGIC
A HUNDRED THOUSAND DRAGONS
OFF THE RECORD
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First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2007
eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2007 by Dolores Gordon-Smith
The right of Dolores Gordon-Smith to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To my husband, Peter, because of all the Saturday
night steak dinners followed by the requests to
âRead another chapter,' and to the Gordon-Smiths
(junior editions), Jessica, Helen, Elspeth, Lucy and
Jenny, without whom life would be twice as
peaceful and half as much fun.
With a feeling of relief, Jack Haldean walked into the dim green interior of the beer tent. My word, it was like an oven out there. A noisy oven, where the laboured thump of the Breedenbrook band mixed with the shrieks of excited children on the helter-skelter, hoarse shouts from the hoopla and coconut shies, sharp cracks from the rifle range and the hollow, oddly mournful music of the steam organ on the roundabouts, all grilling under a blazing sun.
He took off his straw hat and fanned himself. It was easily as hot as Spain, the difference being that no Spaniard, and certainly none of his relations, ever expected him to do anything in the middle of the day but sleep. They certainly wouldn't lug him out to a village fÃªte.
Haldean found a space on a bench and wriggled his backbone into a comfortable position against a sturdy tent pole. His cousin, Gregory Rivers, was standing at the trestle-table bar, waiting patiently to be served. Haldean relaxed, soaking up the low rumble of conversation, savouring the contrast between the muffled din outside and the slow, placid voices within. The smell of hot canvas, the smell of hot grass, the pungent reek of tobacco and the sweet smell of beer . . .
âCheers,' said Greg, handing him a pewter mug. He took a long drink. âGood Lord, I needed that.' He looked at Haldean suspiciously. âYou seem jolly pleased with yourself.'
Haldean gave a contented smile. âI'm just enjoying it all, I suppose. I mean, I know we've more or less got to come, with Aunt Alice helping to run the fÃªte and all, but I'm glad we did. It's . . . it's peaceful.'
âYou're having me on,' said Greg as a boom from the trap-shooting thundered across the park.
Haldean put down his mug. âNot peaceful because there's no noise, but peaceful because â well, because all this sort of thing really makes me believe the war's over . . .
âWhatever is it?' said Greg in surprise, his mug halfway to his mouth.
âOver there,' hissed Haldean. âBy the bar. Don't look now. Thin dark bloke with Oxford bags and a moustache. This is the last place on earth I'd have expected to see the rotten little creep.'
âWhat's he done?' asked Greg. âIt's not like you to go overboard like that.'
Haldean raised his eyebrows. âIsn't it? You don't know him. His name's Jeremy Boscombe and he's a swine. He was in my squadron. He was a mutton-fisted pilot and a lousy shot with a huge chip on his shoulder. God knows how he survived, but he did. He only joined the Flying Corps because he expected it to be a soft touch after the infantry, and he held me personally responsible that it wasn't. He had the cheek to look me up a few months ago at the magazine offices to see if I could help him publish a book that he's writing, a cynical thing about what a ghastly time he had in the war.' He paused and added, with reluctant fairness, âWell written, though. I recommended him to Drake and Sanderson.'
âIt sounds putrid,' muttered Rivers. âUh-oh, he's seen you. Bad luck.'
With a weary sigh, Haldean got to his feet. Boscombe was threading his way through the crowd, a supercilious smirk on his face.
âWell, if it isn't Major Haldean.' Haldean caught the smell of drink and sighed. Boscombe always had a weakness for whisky. âWhatever brings you here?'
Haldean decided to play it absolutely straight. âMy aunt, Lady Rivers, is on the committee.'
Boscombe's eyebrows crawled upwards. âIs she, by Jove? I never suspected you of having such well-connected relations.' His smile grew. âDamned if I thought you had any English relations at all.'
Haldean smiled back. âI'm flattered to know you gave it any thought whatsoever.'
Boscombe searched for an answer, couldn't find one, and slumped on to the bench. âBloody awful affair, isn't it?' he said after a pause. âI can't stand these yokels and their high jinks.'
âA fÃªte worse than death?' asked Haldean smoothly. There was a snort of suppressed laughter by his side.
Boscombe stared at him blankly, then caught the grin on Greg Rivers' face. âDon't tell me you're enjoying it?'
Greg's grin vanished as he took in Boscombe's slurred speech and flushed face. âYes,' he said bluntly.
âYes? Well, there's no accounting for taste, is there? I don't think we've met, by the way. I'm Boscombe, Jeremy Boscombe, and you are . . .?'
âRivers. Gregory Rivers.'
They looked at each other with mutual distaste. Boscombe shrugged and turned to Haldean again. âI read one of your stories in the train, old man. Why on earth don't you write something other than those mindless detective things?' He leaned forward. âI don't say it was bad â it had a lot of promise â but the
! Murder. I ask you. Absolute rubbish.'
âThanks for the advice,' said Haldean, with every appearance of sincerity. Boscombe preened himself. Haldean took out a cigarette and lit it, without offering one to Boscombe. âDamn good of you to take an interest. Er . . . How's your first book coming along?' There was a very slight emphasis on the word âfirst'.
âMy book?' Boscombe crossed his arms and leaned back, narrowly avoiding falling off the bench. âRather well, actually. Who did you recommend? Drake and Sanderson? Hopeless, old man, hopeless. I mean, they wanted it all right but the sales they predicted would make a cat laugh. No. I've got other fish to fry.'
âOh really? What?'
âPrivate publication.' Boscombe tapped the side of his nose and laughed to himself. âPrivate publication. I can reach a truly appreciative audience . . .' His glance flicked up. Haldean followed his gaze, but could see nothing to draw his attention. A tall, fair-haired man came into the beer tent and stood in the crowd at the open flap, looking around. Without another word, Boscombe levered himself up and walked over to him. They heard his voice above the buzz of conversation. âColonel Whitfield? I thought it was you . . .'
Greg Rivers let his breath out in a heartfelt sigh. âOf all the obnoxious little toads . . .
Murder. Absolute rubbish
. Supercilious little runt. I wouldn't be surprised if you murdered him yourself, talking like that. I
âBetween hard covers, so do I. Bump off Boscombe. That's a thought.
Outraged author kills critic.
' He sighed regretfully. âThat'd never do for a motive. I wonder what really happened with Drake and Sanderson? He's barking up the wrong tree if he thinks publishing it privately will do him any good.
Tout au contraire,
as the Frenchman said on the Channel steamer when asked if he had dined. Who's he cottoned on to now? That tall bloke in riding kit who looks too handsome to be true? He seems vaguely familiar.'
Rivers glanced across the tent. âThat's Colonel Whitfield. You know, Jack, the Augier Ridge VC. We met him at the Meddingholme point-to-point. He owns a livery stable on the outskirts of the village.'
Haldean nodded. âOf course it is. I couldn't place him right away. The Augier VC, you say? That explains why Boscombe's glued to him. He was mixed up in that Augier Ridge business too. It's all in his wretched book.' Another memory clicked into place. âI say, Greg, is he the bloke Marguerite Vayle's keen on?'
âYes, that's the one.'
Haldean looked at the Colonel. âI hope everything works out for her. I've got a soft spot for Maggie Vayle. I think she had a rotten break, losing her parents. She's only a kid, after all.'
Rivers pulled a face. âKid or not, she's nineteen and old enough to get married. You know my parents are responsible for her? She's giving them a real headache. My mother's very iffy about her marrying the Colonel because he's so much older. I know he's not
old, if you see what I mean, but he must be nearly forty.' He tapped Haldean's arm. âCome on. We can get away from your pal Boscombe if we slope off now.'
They walked out of the tent into the brilliant sunshine. All Haldean's content had evaporated. That Boscombe â
â of all people should be at the fÃªte beggared belief. Well, the beer he'd been so looking forward to had been ruined, but he was damned if he was letting the little rat ruin the rest of the afternoon. With Greg following, he plunged into the crowd as far away from the beer tent as possible, fetched up at the coconut shy and then on to the darts and hoop-la.
Quarter of an hour later, having proved his skill and won two coconuts, a celluloid doll in a carry-cot and a large and violently coloured packet of sweets, Haldean, his temper restored, strolled between the stalls towards a tent advertising
Zelda, Seer of the Future
âWhat on earth are you going to do with that lot?' asked Greg, looking at his friend's winnings.
âOh, I don't know.' Haldean looked around for inspiration. A small girl, wearing a green velveteen frock which was too hot and too tight, materialized beside them. Her eyes fixed longingly on the carry-cot and the sweets. âHere â d'you want any of these things?' The little girl nodded enthusiastically but timidly. âCome and get them then,' said Haldean, stooping down and holding them out. âIt's all right, really. Don't be shy.'
The little girl took one step forward and two back. âMy mummy says I'm not to take sweets from strange men.'
âHmm.' Haldean dropped down on one knee so he was at eye-level with this cautious child and pondered the problem. âI'm not really a strange man, you know. Shut up, Greg. Have you seen Lady Rivers? She's my aunty and Sir Philip Rivers is my uncle. And Greg here is their son and my cousin, so you know quite a lot about me really.'