Authors: Carola Dunn
“I beg your pardon for accosting you, ma’am. I saw you come out of my house. I’m Aidan Jessup.”
The staid, sensible older son? Lucy’s Gerald would have let himself be boiled in oil before he’d have accosted in the street a lady to whom he had not been introduced, even having observed her departure from his house. Unless the house was going up in flames … But a quick backward glance showed Daisy such was not the case. However, she was not the sort to cut off a possible source of information just because of a certain disregard of etiquette.
“Afternoon tea,” she explained, and added encouragingly, “Can I help you?”
“You noticed the fellow who came out just before you? Who dashed off at such a pace?” He stared frowning after the American, now out of sight. “I don’t suppose you know who he was?”
“I’m afraid not. I didn’t meet him. I imagine Mrs. Jessup—your mother—can tell you.”
“Mother spoke to him?”
“I believe so. I did hear his voice, and he sounded as if he came from America.”
His already-pale face blanched. “Oh Hades!” he groaned. “I knew it was a terrible idea. Thank you, madam, and once more, my apologies.” He raised his hat again and made for the Jessup house at a hasty pace.
Interesting! Daisy thought, making her way back to the car.
There seemed to be enough secrets and mysteries at number 5 to furnish a half-ruined Gothic mansion. They ought to have an old crone for a housekeeper, instead of a smart young parlour maid.
She had liked both the Jessup ladies, though. If they were aware of her aristocratic background, they had showed no signs of toadying. In fact, their unaffected manners were very much at odds with the flamboyance of their interior decorating. Could it be Mr. Jessup’s taste that ruled?
If anything, the mysteries associated with the Jessups made Daisy keener to get to know them better. Who was the intrusive, aggressive American whose arrival so alarmed Aidan Jessup? What was the “terrible idea” that had apparently led to his arrival? Was the younger brother in trouble with the law?
Could that explain Mr. Irwin’s reluctance to have a CID detective move in next door to his daughter?
FIRST SEA INTERLUDE
There was three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try
And those three made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.
—OLD ENGLISH BALLAD
“‘It was a dark and stormy night …’ ”
Clinging to the rail, sleet streaming down his neck, Patrick muttered the words to himself. He’d have had to shout to be heard above the howl of the wind in the rigging, and in any case, he doubted his present companions would appreciate the literary allusion.
At the best of times, the seamen had little regard for the supercargo.
Bulwer-Lytton’s London couldn’t possibly have been as dark and stormy as the North Atlantic in a September gale, at night, on board a ship with all lights extinguished. The best that could be said for the situation was that the U.S. Coast Guard was not likely to find the
If they had any sense, they wouldn’t even be afloat tonight.
On the other hand, nor would
customers find her.
Captain Watkins had insisted that the supercargo must be on deck, ready to keep tally of the merchandise handed over when the inshore boats arrived. Teeth chattering, Patrick suspected—to the point of near certainty—that Watkins had been having him on. Surely on a night like this the captain couldn’t even guarantee that the black ship was in the vicinity of Rum Row. If she was, one could only hope that a dozen—or a score or more—unlighted ships were not circling blindly in the area, waiting for the storm to ease.
At least they were not likely to be blown ashore, Patrick was glad to realise. Last year, in May 1924 to be precise, the old three-mile limit had changed to twelve, so Rum Row was now some fifteen miles from the coast.
A song ran through his head:
Oh, ‘twas in the broad Atlantic,
Mid the equinoctial gales,
That a young fellow fell overboard…
His frozen hands gripped the rail tighter. Not that he was afraid. He had, after all, chosen to come, in search of adventure. But he was so cold, he hardly felt the touch on his arm until the bo’sun’s voice bellowed in his ear, “You’d best come below, lad. The runners won’t be out tonight.”
Turning, he was grateful for the man’s steadying hand on his elbow. Thank heaven he wasn’t seasick. That would have been the ultimate humiliation.
A faint light glimmering through the downpour showed the position of the open deckhouse door. Finding his feet on the heaving deck, he made for it, the bo’sun a step behind.
Once sheltered from the storm’s savagery, Patrick felt the steady, reassuring thump of the engines. His breath caught in his throat as he stepped into the cabin. After the bracing air outside, the fug seemed thick enough to scoop with a ladle. On the outward voyage, everyone but the captain slept, ate, smoked, and drank in the narrow space, to allow room for more bottles and barrels of their precious cargo—of which one cask had been broached since he went on deck. The watch below greeted him with a steaming tankard.
“Not to worry, mate,” said one bewhiskered mariner, grinning. “‘T ain’t the ten-year-old Haig and Haig.”
He reached for the toddy eagerly. “Th-thank you.” His teeth were still not quite under control. He took a swig and started to warm up inside. “I’ll put it d-down as lost overboard.”
“That’s the spirit.” The bo’sun’s witticism raised a laugh.
One of the men threw Patrick a towel. “Better get out o’ them wet duds.”
The ordeal outside seemed to have been some sort of test. Apparently, he had passed. The son of the cargo’s owner could
never really be one of the crew, though someone made room on the steam pipes for him to hang his dripping clothes among theirs.
But he remembered the story of the Norwegian black ship
The crew had broken into the cargo, drunk their fill, quarrelled and fought, and, when the Coast Guard seized the ship, were found blotto and bloody belowdecks.
want to know,” said Daisy, “is why Alec’s great-uncle’s solicitor is nervous about having a policeman move into that house.”
Alec and Tommy Pearson had just joined her and Madge in the sitting room. It was a pleasant, comfortable room, half the size of Mr. Walsall’s drawing room and without a scrap of the Jessups’ flamboyance.
Tommy liked his glass of port after dinner, but Alec had promised Daisy they wouldn’t discuss Mr. Walsall’s will in her absence. They hadn’t kept the ladies waiting more than a quarter of an hour.
Daisy’s demand brought a frown to the face of the stocky, bespectacled solicitor. “That, I can’t tell you,” he said, accepting a cup of coffee. He helped himself to a lump of sugar. Tongs poised to take a second, he glanced at his wife and regretfully forbore.
Madge’s blond curls nodded approval, but as he sat down beside her, she said tartly, “He
tell you, more likely. Tommy’s refused to say a word to me about why you invited us to dinner tonight.”
“For the pleasure of your company, of course, darling,” said Daisy.
“Well, of course! But I know he has business to discuss with Alec, too. Do you want me to go and powder my nose while you talk? Or I could go up and admire the babies. They’re always so angelic when they’re asleep.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to stay, Madge,” Daisy assured her. “Only it’s really Alec’s business….”
“There’s no reason you shouldn’t stay,” said Alec, “but it’s not particularly interesting business, unless Pearson’s going to drag some hitherto unsuspected family skeleton out of the cupboard?”
“Good Lord, no!” Tommy was shocked. “Nothing like that.”
Daisy was always somewhat taken aback by evidence of Tommy’s earnest outlook on life. She had heard tales of his derring-do during the War, in the course of which he had been badly shot up. In fact, he had met Madge—then Lady Margaret Allinston—in the military hospital where she had been a VAD nurse and Daisy had worked in the office. Since returning to the long-established law firm of Pearson, Pearson, Watts & Pearson, Tommy had reverted to the conventions with a vengeance.
been extremely helpful in that extremely unconventional business in Worcestershire, Daisy reminded herself.
Doubtless his retreat into stolidity was his way of coping with the horrors he had lived through. People had different ways of dealing with the memories, some more efficacious, some less so. Tommy and Madge and their little boy were a happy family, and he was doing well in his profession. A certain degree of gravity was required of solicitors, as well as of policemen.
Alec wasn’t being a policeman this evening, though, just a hopeful heir.
Tommy took some papers out of an attaché case. “Let me say right away,” he stated, “that William Walsall was a very wealthy man. He left considerable sums to various charities—”
“Buying his place in heaven,” said the irrepressible Madge.
Her husband gave her an affectionately exasperated look. “There’s no reason to suppose so. He made generous provision for his butler and housekeeper, a married couple, though given their advanced ages, the annuities could not have been expensive. Be that as it may, I can assure you, Fletcher, your income from investments will be quite sufficient to cover the increased cost of a larger household, without—”
“That’s what Mr. Irwin told me,” said Daisy, “but with the utmost reluctance, which I don’t understand at all.”
“Perhaps he’s been misappropriating funds,” Madge suggested.
“My dear, you mustn’t say such things, even in jest,” Tommy remonstrated. “Phelps, Irwin, and Apsley is a highly regarded firm. Besides, the sale of the property would be equally likely to bring to light any discrepancy in the accounts.”
“We might not have delved deep, as we’d be happy to get the funds from the sale,” Daisy pointed out. “It would have been the horses he cheated, and they’d not likely complain.”
Madge had to be told about the Home for Superannuated and Superfluous Carriage Horses. “No,” she agreed, laughing, “they’d never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“Probably not,” said Alec. “Whereas if he’d left us skint, or without sufficient funds to keep up the house—”
“Either way, I shall have everything checked by an accountant, though I’m sure Madge is quite mistaken. Still, it is odd that Irwin appeared not to want you to move in.”
“Entirely Daisy’s rampant imagination, I expect,” said Alec.
“It was not! Don’t be beastly, darling.”
He grinned at her. “You were saying, Pearson, ‘without’ …?”
“Without? Oh yes, without considering the leases.”
“Leases? Mr. Irwin didn’t mention leases, only investments. I told you he was holding out on us, Alec.”
“Land is an investment,” Tommy said patiently. “Assuming you keep the house, you appear to own the freehold of the whole of Constable Circle.”
“Constable Circle!” Madge burst out laughing. “You’ll have to change it to Chief Inspector Circle.”
“I must admit the name was something of a shock,” said Alec with a smile. “It’s called after the painter, of course.”
“John Constable lived in Hampstead,” Daisy confirmed. “In Well Walk, actually, just around the corner. There’s a Gainsborough Gardens nearby, too.”
“As I was about to say,” Tommy continued, “the ground rents don’t amount to much in modern terms, as the ninety-nine-year leases were signed in the mid-1890s, when prices were much lower than since the War. Under certain circumstances, you can raise them, of course.”
“What circs?” Daisy enquired.
“It’s a complicated subject, as leases are all different. I’ll have to have time to study them before I can explain properly. But if you were ever in need of capital, you could sell the freehold. It must be worth a pretty penny. Not that I’d recommend such a course unless you found yourselves in desperate straits. Land is an excellent investment.”
“How clever of your great-uncle to buy it up,” Madge congratulated Alec.
“He didn’t actually buy it,” said Tommy.
“Aha, the skeleton in the cupboard!” Madge crowed. “He was a gambler and won it in a game of cards.”
“Stuff and nonsense. No one could have been more respectable. Jonathan Irwin’s father was Walsall’s solicitor back then, and knew him quite well. Irwin told me his history—in confidence, of course.”
“Tell all,” Daisy commanded. “Do you know what caused the breach with Alec’s grandmother?”
Tommy looked at Alec, who shrugged. “Surely you can tell me, and Daisy will find out one way or another. I gather the next-door neighbour—”
“The one with the Versailles sitting room?” Madge interrupted. She exchanged a glance with Daisy, who had described the Jessups’ sitting room to her as a miniature Galerie des Glaces.
Not that Daisy had ever seen the original, but she’d read descriptions. “That’s the one,” she said. “Mrs. Jessup told me her husband used to visit the old man regularly.”