Authors: Catriona McPherson
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
was born near Edinburgh in 1965 and educated at Edinburgh University. Formerly a linguistics lecturer, now a full-time writer, she is married to a scientist and lives on a farm in a beautiful valley in Galloway. Find out more about Catriona and the series on dandygilver.co.uk.
Praise for Catriona McPherson and
After the Armistice Ball
‘McPherson’s refreshing debut introduces the captivating Dandy Gilver . . . memorable supporting characters plus vivid descriptions enhance a compelling mystery.’
‘In this first novel from McPherson the period setting is spot on . . . [and] in Gilver we have a winning character who will hopefully find many more crimes to solve.’
Good Book Guide
After the Armistice Ball
superbly evokes the feel of the 1920s . . . I look forward to [the] next adventure.’
‘Catriona McPherson . . . has given us a novel that even Dorothy L. Sayers would have been pleased with . . . This looks set to be a series that will really take off.’
Also by Catriona McPherson
After the Armistice Ball
THE BURRY MAN’S DAY
Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2006
This paperback edition published by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2007
First US edition published by Carroll & Graf Publishers 2006,
this paperback edition, 2007
Carroll & Graf Publishers
An Imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.
245 W. 17th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10011-5300
Copyright © Catriona McPherson 2006, 2007
The right of Catriona McPherson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication
Data is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978-1-84529-592-9 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-84529-301-7 (hbk)
US ISBN-13: 978-0-78672-019-4
US ISBN-10: 0-7867-2019-0
Printed and bound in the EU
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
with all my love
Far above us a train hurtled past and we raised our eyes to it in longing. If we had any sense we would be up there, sitting back in a carriage, instead of down here with everything clenched as the
climbed each crest and smacked down again on her plucky way across the Forth. The woman beside me sucked a breath in through her bottom teeth and shut her mouth firmly as we rose on a particularly lusty swell to tremble at its peak for a moment before walloping into the hollow beyond.
With a deep breath of my own, I tried to forget about the train, now huffing and hissing its way into the station, and concentrate instead on the bridge, since here we were toiling along at its base like Lilliputians on Gulliver’s beach with a better than usual chance to study it.
It is often called beautiful and it was certainly impressive from this angle but I have never cared for crochet-work and the colour is unspeakable, like the strips of dried liver one gives to dogs. Besides, I bear it grudges. For one thing, I could just remember being at its opening, four years old, and being smacked on the backs of my legs by Nanny Palmer for saying ‘Ugh’ in a loud voice when I saw it for the first time. Well, what colour would I have painted it, she had demanded when I – quite reasonably I thought – burst into tears. Primrose yellow, I had said, with touches of pink, and Nanny had laughed.
I could see now, more than thirty years later, that the touches of pink were not practical but I held to my primrose yellow – because really it had to be soul-destroying to the men who spent their lives painting the thing that the paint was the colour of rust.
In addition to that long-ago slap on the legs, however, I resent it because it would not be
far a reach of fancy to say that the Forth Bridge had sealed my fate. I had been present at its opening, as I say, on my way to visit my grandparents who had taken a house in the Highlands for the summer but after that I had not given it a thought until, years later, staying at a house party in Derbyshire during my coming out season, I had been unable to sleep. This was not, as one might expect, because of too much Champagne and Romance but rather out of sheer boredom. (And to anyone who has never been too bored to sleep I can only say it is as unpleasant as any other kind of insomnia and not helped by being quite ridiculous.) Eventually, having planned my outfits for the following day – boring tweed for golf, boring cream voile for tea, only slightly less boring coral velvet and pearls for dinner – I gave in and turned up the gas. On my bedside table the selection of reading matter comprised Volume Two of a three-volume Victorian romance with those tissue-thin pages like a prayer book and print far too small to read at two in the morning, something initially enticing with a new and brightly coloured jacket which turned out to be a history of Nottingham and, finally,
The Flower of Scotland: Great Engineering Feats of the Century
. (I see now that the pitifulness of such a library at the bedside of a debutante doing her Season was not accidental. It was intended to send a gentle little message about getting married as quickly as possible or ending up an embittered spinster with a knowledge of Nottingham far beyond what could ever be needed.)
Anyway, thinking that at least there would be pictures I picked up the last of these, turned to the chapter on the building of the Forth Bridge for nostalgia’s sake – Nanny Palmer had recently died and I missed her horribly – and read myself to sleep.
The very next evening, in my coral velvet and pearls and looking, I imagine, all the more fetching for the violet shadows with which my restless night had left me, I found myself at dinner sitting beside one of those fearfully reserved Scotchmen one tended to meet and upon asking him the usual bright questions I found that he was from Perthshire. My eyes must have blanked for he went on to explain that Perthshire was ‘just across the Forth from Edinburgh’. Well! One can only assume that reading the stuff while dropping off engraved it upon my brain like the grooves on a gramophone record, because out it all poured: weights of girders, numbers of labourers, depth of foundations . . . the lot.
So I can see why this dour individual, this stern devotee of solid building and proper maintenance, this Hugh Gilver as he turned out to be, must have thought he had just met the first serious-minded woman of his life. Add to this the twinkling and simpering which had been pounded into us at finishing school until it was second nature and one can almost forgive his assuming that I had taken to him as much as he to me. Thus, you see, I can blame the Forth Bridge almost entirely for my finding myself now,
Hugh Gilver, listener to plans of drain improvements, helpmeet in projects of pond construction, and mother to two little chips off the same dour Scottish block.
That was all a long way under the bridge now, if I may be pardoned the pun, as were we: I heard a new grinding note in the ferryboat’s engine and recollected myself just in time to be drenched in the backwash as the
drew into the pier. Shaking off the worst from my hat and hair – why cannot people shake themselves as efficiently as dogs? – I stepped up into my motor car and slammed the door. This was why I was on the ferry in the first place, this gleaming little Morris Cowley of mine, just six months old and still so much my pride and joy that I could not bear to leave it behind, and as I waited for the foot passengers to blunder off towards restorative cups of tea at the Hawes Inn, I breathed hard on the glass of the dials and rubbed them with my glove. Eventually, one of the ferrymen came to crank the starter and I roared away straight off the landing planks and up the Hawes Brae to the station where my maid, come on the train with my luggage, would be waiting.
It had hardly seemed like summer on our choppy crossing but now under the beech trees lining the road it was as warm and as richly, rankly green as August could be and Grant, sitting on my dressing case under the station canopy at the top of the ramp, clutching a pair of hatboxes, looked rather creased and cross in the heat, like a pink-faced toddler after an unsatisfactory nap. I wheeled around in the parking yard and drove backwards up the slope towards her – the ramp is terrifically steep – whereupon she stepped into the passenger side and slammed the door leaving the porter and me to deal with the small bags and arrange the delivery of the larger items in the dog-cart.
Even Grant at her most truculent, however, could not do much to dent my mood. I was on my way to visit Frederica de Cassilis, who as Frederica Pettit twenty years before had been my dearest friend in the world after Daisy; had in fact been Daisy’s and my chief interest whilst at finishing school in Paris – a cross between a pet and a court jester, whom we enjoyed tremendously while always believing we might tame her in the end.
After school I had thought Frederica to be lost for ever since she had contracted a dazzling marriage and disappeared into a stratum of New York society where I could not hope to follow her, but then finding herself widowed at a young age she had extricated herself from her New York connections most adroitly, remarried within a year and come with her new husband to South Queensferry, on the banks of the Forth. Here Daisy and I were now converging upon her for a visit which promised to be the most fun we had shared since we slipped our chaperone in the Louvre and went off in search of classical statuary to complete our education.
Cassilis, where Frederica and the new husband were ensconced, is one of four estates with various claims to grandeur gathered around the little Burgh of South Queensferry. Hopetoun away to the west is indisputably the most splendid – a Georgian mansion in which all three Adamses had a hand, and the seat of a marquis to boot. But then Dalmeny House squaring up to Hopetoun from the east, although it is Tudor Gothic and shelters mere earls, has a prime minister to its name, a castle in its grounds and a very pretty estate village. Dundas Castle to the south has been there since the Conqueror landed and is built on lands gifted by King David himself, all of which counts for a lot. Besides, it would have housed earls of its own had one of the Jameses not most inconsiderately died before sealing the warrant. On the other hand there is a fearful Victorian façade and the family who lives there now, whilst being perfectly respectable, are a mere Lord and Lady and no connection to the ancient Dundases at all.