Authors: Gerald Hammond
COLD IN THE HEADS
DOWN THE GARDEN PATH
THE DIRTY DOLLAR
A DOG'S LIFE
THE FINGERS OF ONE FOOT
GRAIL FOR SALE
HIT AND RUN
INTO THE BLUE
KEEPER TURNED POACHER
ON THE WARPATH
A RUNNING JUMP
THE UNKINDEST CUT
WELL AND GOOD
WITH MY LITTLE EYE
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
This eBook edition first published in 2016 by Severn House Digital an
imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2012 by Gerald Hammond.
The right of Gerald Hammond to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Hammond, Gerald, 1926â
The unkindest cut.
1. Highsmith, Jane (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
2. Fellowes, Ian (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
3. Scotland â Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8177-9 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-443-1 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-795-0 (ePub)
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
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
ane Highsmith and Roland Fox had long been neighbours in Birchgrove, a hamlet which consisted of a cluster of small houses designed for first-time buyers, near the southern fringe of Newton Lauder, a little town south of Edinburgh and close to the boundary between moorland and the fertile plain of the Scottish Borders. The pair had started out as friendly neighbours who bade each other good morning or evening and occasionally shared a glass of wine together at convivial moments. Their relationship had progressed slowly, mainly as a result of Roland's sudden realization that he found Jane extremely attractive and had begun looking forward to bumping into her during the day â and he had even engineered the odd meeting if he was honest with himself. So, once he'd made the decision that he wanted something more from their neighbourly relationship, he made his feelings clear and managed to win Jane round to the same way of thinking.
They then spent a few pleasant years enjoying a happy and far from platonic relationship until what had been Jane's family home fell to her on the departure of her older sister Violet, together with her husband, to take up a joint post in Dublin. Violet was a skilled perspective artist while her husband was an equally skilled architectural model maker. Their skills, which complemented each other, led to their being headhunted by the architects to a huge and continuing project. This relieved the stress of a long-term sibling war. The house, Whinmount, was a spacious and solitary but comfortable old house on a byroad that came off the B-road east from Newton Lauder and led almost nowhere that anybody gave a damn about, through farmland and birch woods and heath.
It was a pleasantly secluded and rural location. In summer, when the deciduous trees were in leaf, they had cloistered privacy with only the occasional dog walker or passing car to disturb them. However, in winter, when only the conifers stood up dark against the bright countryside, they could see the roofs of Newton Lauder, the fields around and the moors above. So they had the desired privacy, but company, if wanted, was never too far away.
With Jane inheriting the house, it would, they decided, be a good time to marry. Despite this pragmatic approach to the topic of marriage and lifelong commitment, Jane made clear that she still expected to be âproposed to' in the traditional way. Since both her parents had long since died, and her great-grandfather GG had passed away a few years ago, there was no one to ask for the permission of her hand in marriage â and she certainly was not going to allow Roland to extend that responsibility to her sister Violet or her husband â but she still wanted to be actually asked, which was fair enough really despite how emancipated she felt. So, Roland good-naturedly did the deed one beautiful spring day, soon after they'd moved into Whinmount, whilst out on an early-morning walk. They were both suitably attired for such an activity in their wellies and Barbour jackets, but on such a dew-soaked morning Roland's right trouser knee got very damp as a result of the obligatory position he'd crouched in whilst popping the all-important question. Needless to say, Jane accepted with a tear in her eye and they could move on to the next phase of their lives.
These lives of theirs were swiftly progressing in the right direction: Jane was in the process of taking over the local veterinary practice, her own smaller set-up having far outgrown its humble beginnings; Roland's second novel had been accepted for publication; they would have the two small houses to let; and Jane had begun to suspect that she might be pregnant. They managed to ignore the other side of the coin â that Jane had had to find a substantial sum for the purchase of the practice while Roland would not see more than a cautious advance against the earnings of his book for more than a year ahead. However, Roland's other source of income was as amanuensis and rewrite-man to his friend and fellow writer, Simon Parbitter. Jane also had money to come from the sale of a Raeburn picture that she had inherited with the house, but the sale was taking its time. âYou can't hurry these things if you want full value,' she was told over and again. And the experts were still arguing as to whether the Raeburn was genuine or âschool of'. The truth, Roland suspected, was that it was, as usual, a bit of both.
As in recent times, the philosophy of the moment was that if you waited for something until you could afford it you would still be awaiting it on your deathbed. With the Micawberish optimism of the comparatively young they knew for a fact that British law would not permit them to starve. Tomorrow was always a lovely day. The sword of Damocles might have hung by a chain rather than a thread.
A wedding need not be expensive, they told each other. A few pounds to the local registrar, a notice in the local rag and the job's done.
So they thought.
They had reckoned without the many locals who they had not realized were also their friends. Roland might be a comparative newcomer but he was well known and well liked and Jane's great-grandfather had been a much loved local citizen, especially by the ladies. Much of his popularity had rubbed off on Jane, who had lived her whole life in the town and, having a sunny temperament and an obliging nature, made friends galore. As soon as the news spread about their impending nuptials, they found that large numbers of the locals not only wanted to know when the event was to take place but expected to be invited to it. A stronger-minded couple might have returned from their honeymoon to present the locality with a fait accompli, but they were not so cunning or practical.
Help was at hand. Not financial help â there was not a surplus of money in the neighbourhood and they were too proud to accept handouts from wealthier friends except in one or two very special circumstances. But Roland and Jane had each been living a shoestring existence, supplementing their meager incomes with what they could grow or shoot or catch by rod, or sometimes, it must be admitted, abstract overnight from the well-filled gardens of others. They had also brought to a fine art the claiming from supermarkets at cut-throat prices the goods that were within a few hours of passing their sell-by dates. So they were, on the whole, well versed in the art of being creatively economic with what they could afford.
Jane, as a veterinary assistant, had been well known and liked by the animal owners round about. She was popular with the locals of her generation â she had been at school with most of them. She was nice-looking, pretty verging on beautiful, and she had a ready laugh with a turn of wit that made her welcome in most company. She had given unstinting service, especially to farmers, and was admired and respected by all she came into contact with in her professional role as the local vet. Consequently, the pair received many offers of meat or vegetables as gifts or at silly prices towards the accumulation of the wedding feast. The chef at the local hotel was one of the few people who could afford to feed a Great Dane on scraps left by the clientele and Jane had nursed the huge dog through a crisis of pyometra. He offered to cook the wedding breakfast for them. And so it went on.
Jane was offered the loan of a half-dozen wedding dresses, one of which was bound to fit her. Jane went by invitation to Hay Lodge, the most opulent house for miles around, to try one on. She dreaded the prospect of not liking the dress on offer, worried it was going to be some frumpy, overly ruffled and lacey Victorian concoction, but she needn't have concerned herself about that. The fit was perfect and the dress was fit for a duchess with a delicately gathered corset on the top half and opulently hooped skirt on the bottom. It was certainly vintage, but so timeless in its intricate design and style that no prospective bride could possibly turn down the chance of wearing such a piece of finery.
âI'll be almost scared to wear it,' she told Mrs Ilwand, the owner of the house and previous wearer of the dress in question.
âNonsense,' said the lady briskly, running her hand over the ivory silk with obvious pleasure. âI know you'll take good care of it or I wouldn't be lending it to you. My grandmother was married in it and so was my mother and so was I, but I'll never have a daughter now and you were very good to me whenever any of my menagerie had to be put down. It's the least I can do.'
âTwo dogs and a cat,' Jane said, laughing. âBig deal! But I will be careful. I really appreciate your generosity â it's such a beautiful dress â¦'
âThe pet you have at any particular time is invariably special. You were always a great comfort, knowing just the right thing to say.' Mrs Ilwand gave the dress one last loving stroke and handed it over with just a hint of regret in her eyes; more for the lack of her own daughter to wear it than any regret at offering it to her, Jane hoped.