Read A Fine Summer's Day Online

Authors: Charles Todd

A Fine Summer's Day

BOOK: A Fine Summer's Day




To the men and women who served and died in the Great War. And to those who waited at home for the knock on the door and the telegram that informed them their loved ones had made the ultimate sacrifice. And not least to the wounded and the survivors, who ever afterward carried the mark of that war on their flesh and in their minds.

And to John, whose war was different.



Sunday, 28 June, 1914

t was a fine summer's day in England.

In fact, one of a string of bright days, languid and unhurried, full of promise. As if the weeks to come stretched out in an endless spool of long, leisurely afternoons on the lawn, croquet mallets and tea trays, men in summer white, women in frothy wide-brimmed hats, and girls with blue ribbon sashes. Peaceful, measured, and like the Empire, destined to go on forever.

The distant sound of gunfire was too faint to hear. It disturbed no dreams, it marred no plans, it stirred no fears.

Nevertheless, before the sun set on this fine summer day, the lives of a handful of people would have been changed by murder.

an Rutledge drove down to Kent on Friday morning, having been given leave from his duties at Scotland Yard after a fortnight of hunting a suspect through Derbyshire. With him was Jean Gordon, whom he'd been seeing for some time.

Melinda Crawford had invited a number of people for a house party, taking advantage of the fine weather. She was an excellent hostess, and everyone had a very pleasant weekend.

By Sunday afternoon the party had begun to break up. Frances Rutledge had said good-bye to her brother and Melinda shortly after the alfresco luncheon, traveling back to London with the Kerrs, who had brought her down. Ross Trevor, Rutledge's close friend, had gone off to the tennis court with another guest, demanding revenge for a disastrous defeat on Saturday afternoon. And Ian had strolled in the direction of the lake with Miss Gordon.

Melinda sat in her favorite wicker chair on the terrace, shaded by a white lace parasol trimmed with pale green ribbons. With half her mind she listened to the shouts and laughter from the tennis players, easily picking out Ross Trevor's baritone. Despite his high spirits, she thought he was unhappy about something. Or someone. She had tried to speak to Ian about that, but the Gordon woman clung to him like a limpet. If she got no satisfaction from Ian before the weekend was over, she'd say something to David Trevor, Ross's father and Ian's godfather, when next she saw him.

But much as she cared for him, it wasn't Ross Trevor who had occupied her thoughts most of this weekend. It was Ian and the girl he'd apparently become rather serious about. Frances had mentioned Jean Gordon in a few of her letters, which in itself was a sign. Melinda had noted it and acted accordingly. She made a point of traveling to London several times, but Ian had been busy at the Yard, and she'd had only a few opportunities to meet Jean.

The girl was lovely, there was no doubt of that. Small and delicate-boned, bright and charming, from an excellent family. A perfect
choice, in many ways, and together they did make quite a handsome pair. But Melinda had found Jean shallow. That was when she had decided to arrange a house party. It was important, she told herself, to be fair, to give the girl a chance. Jean could have been overawed by the attentions of Ian's formidable, elderly family connection. And so Melinda had drawn up a list of young people, arranged for caterers and a small orchestra for Saturday evening, and then invited Ian first, to be absolutely certain he could come down.

And the more time she'd spent in Miss Gordon's company, the more she dreaded the thought that Ian might marry her.

Melinda, old enough to be Ian Rutledge's grandmother, had been friends with his parents before he was born. And of all the young people she was close to, this was the one she loved the most. Frances, attractive and bright, had inherited her mother's grace and steadiness. She would do very well. And Ross too, in the end, whatever was worrying him at the moment. Melinda's young cousin Bess had her mother's spirit and her father's clear mind. There was nothing to worry about there. She'd been invited for the weekend as well, of course, but she and her parents were in the south of France visiting with friends from India.

In spite of her careful planning, the weekend had not gone precisely as Melinda Crawford had expected. Jean had seized the chance to spend more time in Ian's company, and rather than sharing him with the other guests, she had often contrived to separate him from his sister and his friend Ross.

Now, trying to tell herself that a walk through the wood to the lake was cooler than the tennis court, and that it was the only reason Ian and Jean had gone off on their own, Melinda waited for them to return. They had set out after lunch, talking companionably as they disappeared into the trees. They had also disappeared for a while after dinner the night before, and she'd found them in the gardens. Their voices low, their laughter intimate, their chairs drawn close. She had
been fearful that he might propose then, but nothing had been said at breakfast, and Melinda had felt almost faint with relief.

Perhaps Ian
planned to speak to Jean last evening, she thought, and for some reason changed his mind. Perhaps seeing so much of the girl had given him pause. He was an Inspector now at the Yard—well thought of, his career assured. Melinda had friends in high places, and when she met them in London for a luncheon or a dinner, they'd begun to mention Rutledge's prospects in their conversations. Of course it wouldn't be surprising if he had begun to think of marriage. After all, he would soon be twenty-five, and he could afford to keep a wife. But pray God, not Jean!

Ian was a strong-minded man. He'd chosen to become a policeman rather than join the family firm of solicitors, which had set the cat amongst the pigeons. His father had not been happy with the decision. This was his only son, and he'd seen to his education with an eye to a future in law. But Ian had eventually won him over and joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable on the street. To no one's surprise in the family, he'd earned promotion after promotion on his own merit. Intelligent, with a quick wit and a sense of humor, he would have succeeded in whatever he'd wanted to do with his life.

But Jean, who was noticeably ambitious, had astonished Melinda by commenting that she thought it rather fun to be acquainted with a policeman. As if this were a hobby that Rutledge would soon tire of and come to his senses.

Melinda, knowing the man, knowing how he thought and felt, had nearly snapped that it was as unlikely to happen as it was to snow in London in July. But she'd bit her tongue in time.

What was keeping them?
Impatient, worried, she sat there facing the wood, watching for them, sending up a silent prayer that it would
be now. That there would still be time to introduce him to other more suitable young women before he made his choice . . .

elinda would have worried a great deal more if she'd known what was in his pocket. The small green velvet box he'd carried around with him for a fortnight. Rutledge was very conscious of it now as he walked beside Jean. He'd debated with himself for days about proposing this weekend. It had seemed a romantic thing to do, here in Kent, at Melinda's house, which he'd always known nearly as well as his own home. After his parents' deaths, he'd come here as often as he could, bringing his sister with him. She was younger, and the loss had hit her particularly hard.

Last night, in the dark garden, the stars wonderfully bright and close, he'd been sorely tempted to go down on one knee. He couldn't have said afterward why he hadn't. It wasn't a matter of courage. Or doubt. He was in love with Jean. And he was fairly certain she loved him. That she would accept him.

She was sweet, vivacious, amazingly pretty, and amusing. He could imagine the years stretching out before them, growing old together, loving and being loved.

Frances hadn't been particularly keen when he'd told her what he was thinking.

“Are you quite sure, Ian? Look at Mama and Papa. They had the most wonderful marriage. To the very end. Won't you grow tired of Jean? Won't you find that over the years she's more than a little—narrow?”

But he'd laughed and told Frances that she would find that having a sister would make it easier for her to fill the void of their parents' deaths. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel shut out of his life, left behind with the past.

But Melinda had said much the same thing to him on one of her visits to London, and he hadn't been able to smile and reassure her in quite the same way. Melinda was no fool, and he valued her opinion. He told himself she hardly knew Jean, that for his sake, in time she'd come to love the woman he married. Still, he'd waited. When the invitation
to the house party in Kent had arrived in the post, he took it as a peace offering from Melinda, and was grateful.

As they stepped out of the shadows of the wood, sunlight was dancing across the lake. White swans moved serenely over the surface, their half-grown cygnets trailing behind.

“How beautiful it is,” Jean said softly, as if afraid to break the spell.

And how beautiful she looked, he thought, watching her as her gaze followed the swans, her hair like spun gold in the light.

“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.

“I was thinking that they have not a care in the world,” she replied. “The swans. I should like to have a lake and swans one day. It would be lovely to stand by it and watch them for hours at a time.”

Hardly the right beginning for a proposal, he thought wryly. On an Inspector's pay at Scotland Yard, there was no likelihood of such a lake in the near future. He hadn't touched the trust his parents had left him, and he had his eye on a flat convenient to the Yard. The Rutledge house, where he lived presently, was to be Frances's when she turned twenty-one. Less than six months from now . . .

They strolled on toward the gazebo, set by the water's edge. Jean was saying, “Are you happy, Ian? There's something on your mind. Is it Frances?”

Rutledge was saved from answering as the heel of Jean's shoe mired down in the soft earth by the gazebo. Laughing, she reached for his arm, and he bent down to retrieve her shoe. Holding on to him, she limped on one foot as far as the gazebo, and he helped her up the steps to one of the cushioned seats overlooking the softly lapping water.

“Perhaps a lake isn't the best feature for a garden after all,” she said archly as she sat down, reluctantly letting go of his arm.

He knelt to help her put the shoe on again, and as she bent her own head to watch, he said, “Jean.”

Something in his voice warned her. She caught her breath, and didn't answer.

“My dear,” he began, and then with a smile, he added simply, “will you marry me, Jean?”

She put her hand to her throat. For an instant he thought she was going to say no. Or ask if she could have a few days to think about her answer.

In the silence, all he could hear was the murmur of bees busy among the flowers by the steps and the soft movement of water among the reeds.

And then she whispered, “Yes.”

arajevo was a Serbian town in the Balkans, a place of no particular importance to the rest of the world. A part of the Ottoman Empire for generations, it had been annexed to the Austrian Empire through the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Not everyone was happy about that. There had been more than a little trouble over it, and the Serbs had been behind a number of bloody assassinations.

Archduke Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had come to Sarajevo on a state visit to review troops and open a museum, for God's sake, a duty hardly worthy of the honor of having a Habsburg present for the occasion. But he loved his wife, Sophie, and only in these lackluster outposts of Empire was she given the status of an equal with him. In Vienna, in the eyes of the court, a Czech countess had no standing, and so she walked well behind him, sat far from him at table, and would never be crowned Empress when he succeeded to the throne of his uncle. He'd been forced to accept a galling morganatic marriage, which branded her as unworthy of his high estate. It was only on those terms that the Emperor would permit him to choose Sophie.

And so they were together here in Sarajevo, she in an elegant hat and gown, he in uniform, feathers in his helmet blowing in the soft breeze, to be honored and feted side by side. Only it didn't quite work out as planned.

On the way into the city from the railway station, a bomb had been thrown under the motorcar they should have been riding in, wounding a number of the Archduke's staff. That had upset the Archduke and his wife, and the welcoming speech at City Hall had not gone well. The Mayor's hospitable words to a man who'd just narrowly missed being blown up fell on deaf ears.

The Archduke was eager to visit the wounded in hospital, and it was arranged that they would be driven there. Again, they took the third motorcar, open so that they could be seen, and set out.

There was some confusion about the route, and close by the Latin Bridge, the driver made a wrong turn.

The crowds had thinned noticeably. The Archduke frowned but said nothing. Beside him his wife stirred anxiously. It wasn't the most direct route. But perhaps it was the safer one?

A handful of assassins had set out that morning, determined to kill their high-ranking guest. A blow for the freedom of the Serbian people. But most of them had got cold feet and failed to act. Only one man had actually thrown his bomb, but at the wrong motorcar. He'd been captured almost at once. However, the youngest, most zealous assassin had continued to shadow the royal couple. And now he saw his chance. Unfortunately he was armed not with a bomb but with a pistol.

The Archduke, a smile pinned to his face despite the lack of interest along the street in this part of town, froze as someone darted out toward the carriage, a dark young man in dark clothes. Almost in slow motion he saw the raised pistol in the assassin's hand, the scowl on his face. In the same instant he realized that no one was trying to stop the fool. His first thought was of his wife, but before he could move to shield her, the man fired at almost point-blank range. Sophie cried out as the bullet struck her in the stomach—she was several months' pregnant with their next child—and her blood began to spread across her white gown in an ugly red stain. The Archduke, his attention on his
wife, still saw the barrel of the pistol swing up sharply again, and the second shot tore through his neck even as he reared back.

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