Authors: David Roberts
worked in publishing for over 30 years, most recently as a publishing director, before devoting his energies to writing full time. He is married and divides his time between London and Wiltshire.
Praise for David Roberts
‘A classic murder mystery with as complex a plot as one could hope for and a most engaging pair of amateur sleuths whom I look forward to encountering again in future novels.’
Bones of the Buried
‘This is a witty and meticulous recreation of the class-ridden middle England of the 1930s . . . a perfect example of golden-age mystery traditions with the cobwebs swept away for the many readers who like their sleuthing elegant and their sex and violence concealed behind the curtains.’
‘Roberts just keeps on getting better with each book in this detailed historical series . . . This is first rate fun, informed by telling period detail and an intelligent portrayal of the political issues behind the Abdication Crisis. It’s highly recommended too for fans of
Love in a Cold Climate
‘The plots are exciting and the central characters are engaging, they offer a fresh, a more accurate and a more telling picture of those less than placid times.’
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55-56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published in the UK by Constable,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2003
Copyright © David Roberts 2003
The right of David Roberts to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him 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 1-84119-921-4 (pbk)
Printed and bound in the EU
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: Oh, let the heavens
Give him defence against the elements,
For I have lost him on a dangerous sea
. . . . . . . . .
: Thou art a villain.
: You are a senator
‘Damn and blast it! Oh sorry, Connie, but, hang it all, just look at it!’
It was late February and London was cold, wet and miserable. After the warmth and colour of the auditorium, Bow Street seemed distinctly uninviting. Peering out through the rain from the portico of the Opera House, Lord Edward Corinth wondered how he would ever locate the Rolls. He grasped his companion by the arm and said, ‘I don’t think Page will find us in this mêlée. Perhaps I ought to go and explore.’
As he finished speaking, however, the Duchess pointed. ‘Look! Over there, Ned. There he is.’
Somehow, the chauffeur had found his way to the front of the queue of taxis and cars, and Edward, relieved and admiring, wondered if he had had to resort to bribery or if it was sheer force of personality. Page approached them holding a large umbrella open above him. Edward gratefully released his sister-in-law into his charge and prepared to follow but a tap on the shoulder arrested him.
‘Lord Edward – it is you, isn’t it?’
The man who addressed him was small, narrow in the shoulders and altogether unprepossessing. His fraility was emphasized by his bald head, wispy ginger moustache and weak blue eyes which nevertheless glowed brightly from behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He had raised his black silk hat to greet Edward and now replaced it.
‘Lord Benyon, how are you?’ Edward responded, with genuine warmth. Benyon might resemble an undernourished bank clerk from one of the novels of H.G. Wells but he was, in fact, a distinguished economist and one of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s trusted advisers. It was not a total surprise to see him at Covent Garden because Edward knew he was a close friend of Sir Thomas Beecham, the director of the Opera House.
‘That was my sister-in-law you saw being escorted to the car. May we give you a lift or have you a car of your own?’
‘That’s very good of you, Lord Edward,’ said the little man. ‘If it’s not taking you too much out of your way, I confess we would be very glad of a lift. I don’t fancy my chances of finding a taxi in this weather. I live in Gerald Road. Do you know it? Almost next to the police station.’
‘Of course. Noel Coward lives in Gerald Road, doesn’t he? I went to a party there once, with a friend of mine who was rather a good singer.’
‘Yes, indeed. Not that, I’m afraid, we see anything of him. He moves in much more glamorous circles. Oh, forgive me, may I introduce my sister, Mrs Garton?’
Edward raised his hat to a lady so tightly wrapped in her cloak he could only see a pair of blue eyes above a rather pleasant smile, and then looked anxiously after Connie. ‘Very good. Let us sally forth. I don’t know how long Page can defend his position from the mob.’
A girl in a threadbare dress and a rain-sodden hat thrust a bunch of violets at him. Irritated by this new delay, he moved his arm to brush her aside and was immediately ashamed. How could his minor inconvenience compare with what this girl had to endure? He fished in his trouser pocket and came up with a half-crown which he pressed in the girl’s hand. Her gratitude made him even more embarrassed and he saw Benyon smiling.
‘As my friend, Verity Browne, would say, these girls don’t need charity. They need education and a proper job,’ he said sheepishly.
They elbowed their way through the crowd which continued to stream out of the Opera House. They ducked and dodged as umbrellas were opened all about them, spokes prodding spitefully. Water dribbled off black brollies on to shawls and capes, down necks, ruining top hats and making patent-leather shoes glisten. Women, clutching their evening bags in one hand and holding their long dresses clear of the wet pavement with the other, protested in shrill squeals. The scent of rotting vegetables from the market made Edward momentarily nauseous.
When they reached the sanctuary of the Rolls, Connie was already ensconced in the back but made no objection to taking Benyon and his sister home. Connie had not met him before but they had many friends in common and were soon at ease with one another. Edward relaxed and, as the car turned into the Strand, prepared to devote himself to Mrs Garton.
‘What did you think of the opera?’ he asked her. ‘Wasn’t Erna Berger a magnificent Queen of the Night?’
‘It was heaven.
The Magic Flute
is a favourite of mine, Lord Edward, and Erna Berger . . . how could anyone sing with such purity of tone? I really can’t find the right words without resorting to cliché. And Tiana Lemnitz . . . her Pamina! I believe we were privileged to hear it.’
Edward said, rather mischievously, ‘So what do you think it’s all about? I mean, not that absurd Masonic abracadabra stuff. What’s it
‘Human cruelty,’ she replied rather surprisingly. ‘Beneath all that heavenly music, there is the story of harsh and unjustified punishment. It’s hardly surprising Pamina tries to kill herself.’
Benyon, seeing Edward was rather taken aback by the seriousness of his sister’s remarks, said, ‘Well, we must enjoy it while we can. It may not be a privilege we will have again, to listen to such singing. Sir Thomas was saying to me the other day that he was literally bankrupting himself putting on what the press are calling a Coronation Season. Unless he can find money from somewhere, it will have to be his last.’
‘Oh, but that’s terrible!’ Connie exclaimed. ‘We can’t let Covent Garden close. Can’t the government do something? Surely, London must have an opera house. If the Italians can fund La Scala and that’s not even in Rome . . .’
‘Maybe, but the government puts guns before music.’
‘Some would say about time too,’ Edward put in drily.
‘Well, I wouldn’t,’ Connie said stoutly. ‘My son, Frank, told me Sir Thomas had been at Eton not long ago and it had been a revelation. Let me see, what was it they played? I remember, Mendelssohn’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream
. Frank said it was better than the record he has of Toscanini. Of course music is more important than guns, Ned.’ She shivered. ‘Though I’m not saying we don’t need guns, more’s the pity.’
There was a silence and then Edward said, with an effort, ‘I was very sad to hear about Inna. I would so much have liked to come to the funeral but unfortunately we were out of the country . . . Verity and I. Your wife was a very remarkable woman, if you will allow me to say so. I don’t know exactly what it was she said to Verity but it had a great effect on her. She had some sort of block writing her book on Spain but Inna showed her how to overcome it. I honestly believe she is the only woman Verity admired unreservedly.’
‘That’s very good of you,’ Benyon said, visibly moved. ‘It was a great blow to me, though of course we knew the cancer wouldn’t . . . give her very long. Perhaps you think it wrong of me to be at the opera within two months of her death but . . .’ Mrs Garton leant over and took his hand, ‘when she was dying, she begged me to go on doing what she knew I had to do to keep sane – music, going to all my ridiculous meetings and committees. She knew that if I stopped and . . . gave way, I would never be able to survive. Inna was my life, Lord Edward, but I feel her with me now, by my side . . .’ He made an effort to pull himself together. ‘Forgive me for talking this way. It must be Mozart. He sometimes has that effect on me. Now, tell me, you were in Spain over Christmas, were you not? I read something about it in the paper.’
‘Yes,’ the Duchess interjected. ‘Frank gave us all a fright by running away from school to join the International Brigade.’
‘And Verity and I went to Spain to fetch him back,’ Edward said grimly. ‘We caught up with him on Christmas Day just outside Madrid. He was manning a machine-gun, would you believe?’ He could hardly keep the admiration out of his voice. ‘Anyway, we dragged him back by the scruff of his neck and he hasn’t stopped complaining since. He’s resolutely refused to go back to school so, at the moment, he’s sitting at home in a deep sulk while we try to think what we are going to do with him.’
‘I see,’ Benyon said meditatively. ‘Look, what are you doing at lunch tomorrow? I have a ghost of an idea but I need to mull it over and talk to someone first to see if it’s practical.’
‘That’s very good of you,’ Connie said. ‘Of course you’re free tomorrow, aren’t you, Ned?’
A little nettled at being taken for granted, Edward had to agree. The car drew up in Gerald Road, a narrow street of substantial houses with a small police station at one end endearingly decorated with window boxes. When Page opened the car door for them, Benyon said, ‘Please don’t get out, Lord Edward. The Athenaeum at one o’clock? Excellent!’ Turning to Connie, he added, ‘Thank you so much for the lift, Duchess. I must tell you, my wife thought very well of Lord Edward and my dear Inna was a shrewd judge of character.’