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Unflappable flapper and Town & Country scribe Daisy Dalrymple searches for a killer whose vicious pen matches a murderous heart in this delightful installment of Dunn's cozy mystery series. -- In the 1920s, in post-World War I England, the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, newly married to Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher, is asked by her brother-in-law to discreetly investigate a series of poisoned pen letters that many of the local villagers have been receiving. When the pompous and unbearable brother of the local vicar is killed by a very large rock, dropped on his head from a great height, it seems clear to all that this campaign of gossip has escalated to murder. With the help of her husband, whod rather she not get involved, Daisy tries to uncover who wrote the letters and who that person has driven to murder before the killer strikes again.
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Carola Dunn is the author of the 'Daisy Dalrymple' mysteries, the 'Cornish' mysteries, and over thirty 'Regencies'. Born and raised in England, she now lives in Eugene, OregonExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Styx and Stones
1Darling, I wish I could. But Johnnie’s taking me out to lunch and he’ll be here any moment.”“Johnnie?” The hint of jealousy in Alec’s voice tingled along the wires to Daisy’s ear.With a small, smug smile, she explained: “Johnnie Frobisher—Lord John—my brother-in-law.”“Oh, Lady John’s Johnnie.” His relief was patent, though he was several miles away, at New Scotland Yard.“Lady John’s Johnnie!” Daisy laughed. “I’m sure she asked you to call her Violet, darling. Anyway, he’s come up to town for the day and invited me to lunch with him.”“The Ritz, I suppose, or the Savoy,” Alec said gloomily. A Detective Chief Inspector’s salary did not run to luncheons at the Ritz.“Darling, you know I’d rather be with you at Lyons’ Corner House eating Welsh rarebit, but how could I have guessed you’d be free today? Oh, there’s the doorbell, I must run.” She turned to call down the stairs to the daily char in the semibasement kitchen: “I’ll get the door, Mrs. Potter! Alec, I’ll ring you up at home this evening. Toodle-oo, darling.”Daisy carefully hung up the earpiece of the brand new telephone apparatus she and Lucy had splurged for not a week ago. Lucy had paid the whole cost of the extension to her photography studio in the old mews behind the “bijou” residence they shared, but Daisy’s part of the expense was quite steep enough. They were back to living on eggs, cheese, and sardines, so a meal at a good restaurant was jolly welcome.All the same, and much as she liked Johnnie, she had rather lunch with Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher. She had scarcely set eyes on her fiancé since that glorious weekend in the New Forest.The memory brought back the small, smug smile as she glanced in the looking-glass over the hall table. She straightened the blue straw cloche garlanded with white rosebuds, which perched on her honey-brown shingled curls. The hat’s colour matched her eyes, which Alec was wont, when, annoyed, to describe as “misleadingly guileless,” though he spoke in more flattering terms when in a softer mood.Daisy’s linen costume was a darker blue piped with white. Quite smart, she thought, if only her figure were fashionably boyish. The straight lines and hip-level belt could not be said to suit her.As she wrinkled her nose at the rounded curves Alec considered delightfully cuddlesome, she noticed three freckles. All very well in the country but not acceptable in town—she added a quick dab of powder. She had given up trying to hide the little mole at the corner of her mouth, since Alec told her an eighteenth-century face-patch placed in that position was known as the “Kissing.”With a sigh, she wished Johnnie had not happened to invite her to lunch on one of the few days when Alec was able to escape from the Yard at midday.Pulling on her gloves, she went to the front door. As she opened it, a furnace blast met her. Even here in Chelsea, the August air of the metropolis stank of baking asphalt and petrol fumes.“An absolute oven, isn’t it?” Johnnie greeted her.Like Alec he was in his mid-thirties and of middling height, but—unlike Alec—slight and fair. He was impeccably dressed in a light grey lounge suit of unmistakable Savile Row cut. Only the sun-browned face gave away that he was a country gentleman come up to town for the day. Against his tanned skin, the white line of a scar slashing from jaw to brow stood out sharply. Otherwise, his most distinctive feature was his nose, passed down in the family from generation to generation.He fanned himself with the soft hat in his hand. “Whew!”“Too frightful!” Daisy agreed. “What on earth tore you away from the depths of Kent on a day which must be heavenly among your orchards?”A hint of colour tinted Johnnie’s cheeks. “Oh, er, business,” he said uneasily, adding hurriedly as he handed Daisy into his maroon Sunbeam touring-car, “I thought we’d go to the Belgravia, it’s the closest decent place. Would you like me to put up the hood to keep off the sun?”“No, thanks. We’d stifle.”Politeness forbade asking what sort of business was making him as jumpy as a grasshopper, but it didn’t stop Daisy wondering. She hoped he was not in financial difficulties, as so many farmers seemed to be these days. His eldest brother, the marquis, was immensely wealthy, but Johnnie would hate to have to beg to be bailed out.Perhaps over lunch he would succumb to the wiles of her guileless eyes and tell her what was wrong. Daisy never quite understood why people, even complete strangers, confided in her, but they did.As he drove towards the Belgravia Hotel, she enquired after Vi and the boys.“I thought you talked to her when you had the telephone put in,” he said in surprise.“That was nearly a week ago!” Daisy shook her head at his typically male incomprehension of the female need to communicate. No doubt he heard from his brothers only at births, marriages, and deaths.“As a matter of fact—promise you won’t tell Lady Dalrymple?”“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Daisy said promptly. “I never tell Mother anything unless I absolutely have to.”“Violet doesn’t want her to know yet,” Johnnie said, his face turning brick-red, “but she’s just discovered she’s ... er, she’s expecting another baby.”“Spiffing! Congratulations. At least, she’s not ill, is she? Is that what’s troubling you?”“No, no, she seems very well at the moment. But it is another reason why ... Well, that can wait. How is your writing going, Daisy?”With this suggestion that all was to be revealed, Daisy managed to restrain the curiosity which was her besetting sin. She told Johnnie about the stately home article she had just finished for Town and Country magazine, and the London Museum article she was about to begin for her American editor.Johnnie put in a “Really?” and an “Interesting!” but she suspected he did not hear a word.“‘’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe,’” she said as the Sunbeam turned into Grosvenor Gardens.“It sounds like fascinating work. Here we are.” He drew up in front of the hotel.What was the matter?Johnnie pulled himself together sufficiently to deal with commissionaire and maitre d’hôtel. They were seated at a quiet table in a corner. The restaurant was not busy, as all those in their right minds who could afford it were out of town.Glancing vaguely at the bill of fare, Johnnie said, “What would you like, Daisy? They do very good oysters Rockefeller here. The all-pervading American influence, I suppose.”“August has no ‘R’ in it,” Daisy pointed out. “You are distracted.”“Sorry,” he apologized meekly.“Luckily, I don’t care much about oysters, anyway. Something cold to start with, please. Melon, perhaps, or do they do consomme Madrilène?”With a visible effort, Johnnie put his mind to the menu. Daisy refused a cocktail, since they always made her sleepy and she had to get back to work that afternoon. She settled on the chilled consommé, followed by sole Colbert, chicken Mireille, and pêche Melba. Johnnie asked abstractedly for a cut off the joint.“I shan’t need to eat again for a week,” said Daisy as the waiter left with their order. “How do you suppose one gets one’s name affixed to a dish? Melba was Dame Nellie, of course, but who was Colbert?”Johnnie blinked at her, bemused.“Never mind! Though maybe I’ll do a spot of research; it might make an amusing article.” She leaned forward. “Now, tell me what’s wrong, Johnnie.”“Well, it’s ... I ... No, I don’t want to spoil your meal. I’ll tell you over coffee. Don’t you think most dishes are probably named after the chefs who created them?”“Probably. Too fearfully dull! But oysters Rockefeller must be after the millionaire, mustn’t they? And I think Madrilène is from Madrid.” Daisy allowed herself to be distracted, though she was beginning to grow anxious about news bad enough to threaten to spoil such a divine lunch.If Violet was well, was Johnnie ill? Had he been given six months to live, or something ghastly like that? Did he want Daisy to break the news to Vi? Gosh, how simply frightful!He didn’t look ill, only rather careworn. His valiant attempts at conversation tended to lapse into silence, and he toyed with his food. Daisy made herself deliberately savour each delicious mouthful, feeling a need to fortify herself both mentally and physically. Johnnie pushed his roast beef and French beans around the plate. He didn’t even taste his pêche Melba, though the peaches and raspberries were fresh, not tinned, and simply too heavenly.“Will you take coffee in the lounge, sir?”Johnnie looked at Daisy, who shook her head, deciding it was easier to talk seriously where they were. Unaccustomed as she was to more than a snack for lunch, the food was having the same effect a cocktail would have. She was afraid she might succumb to the comfort of a lounge chair.The coffee came. The waiter went. “Right-oh,” said Daisy, “what’s up?”Shiftily avoiding her eyes, Johnnie said, “Well, after all, I don’t think ...”“Don’t funk it now! You can’t leave me in suspense, imagining all sorts of frightful things. You ... Your business in town wasn’t in Harley Street, was it?”“Harley Street?” Startled, he met her concerned gaze and his resistance crumbled. “No, no doctors, I’m healthy as a horse. Daisy, Violet’s been telling me the most extraordinary stories about your detecting murderers right and left, and tracking down kidnappers and such.”“Well,” said Daisy cautiously, wide-awake now, “I have given Alec a hand now and then, much as it pains him to admit it.”“I need help,” Johnnie blurted out. “Could you come down to Oakhurst for a few days? Violet won’t think it at all odd that you want to get away from town. In fact, she’ll be delighted to have you come and stay. I’ll tell you what, maybe Fletcher would let you bring his little girl with you. She and Derek hit it off like a house on fire at your engagement party. Same age, aren’t they? Violet was saying only the other day that it’s not good for a child to be stuck in the city in the summer heat.” He sat back with an air of triumph.Daisy brought him remorselessly back to the point. “All very well, and I dare say Belinda would be thrilled, but what sort of help do you need? With some kind of investigation? I’m not a private enquiry agent, you know. Alec’s the detective.”“Not the police! It’s not a police matter. I’m not even sure if it’s a crime, and I certainly don’t want anyone else knowing. So ...”“Knowing what?”Johnnie tugged on a suddenly too-tight Old Harrovian tie. A dull flush once again crept up his tanned cheeks, showing up the scar, hitherto practically invisible in the diffuse indoor light. “Well, er ...”“I have to know what I’m to investigate, Johnnie! Though, actually, I can’t possibly spare the time just now, so that’s all right, you need not Reveal All.” Daisy drank the last drop of coffee in her cup and started to put on her gloves.“No, please.” He reached out a hand across the table. “I must tell someone or I shall go mad, and you are the only person I can bear to tell who might be able to give me practical advice. As a matter of fact, I’ve been getting perfectly horrible anonymous letters—what I believe our transatlantic cousins call Poison Pen letters.”“Good heavens!” Daisy exclaimed, adding candidly, “I can’t imagine you doing anything you could be blackmailed over.” Though she was fond of Johnnie, and he suited her sister very well, she had always considered him a bit of a dull dog.“It’s not exactly blackmail. Not yet, anyway, though I suppose it will come to that. No demands as yet, except to repent and sin no more, but one can’t very well stop doing something one did only once, years ago, and repented as soon as it was done.”“Difficult, yes. What was it?”Johnnie blenched. “Do you really need to know?”“I take it you want me to try to find out who wrote the letters. How do you expect me even to begin if I’ve never seen them and don’t know what they’re about?”“You will come, then?” he asked eagerly.“I’m not sure. I just might be able to arrange it. But I’d have to see the letters, so unless you want me to learn about your evil deeds—sorry, deed—from the Poison Pen, you had much better tell me yourself.”“Yes.” His shoulders slumped. “Yes, you’re right. But not a word to Violet, or to Fletcher. Promise.”“I promise.”“I don’t want you to think I’m trying to make excuses, but let me explain the circumstances.”“Go ahead,” said Daisy.
The field hospital was swamped by casualties from the Third Battle of Ypres—Wipers, as the Other Ranks wryly called the ruinous remains of the Belgian town. From snug pill-boxes surrounded by a sea of mud, the Boches poured forth machine-gun fire and mustard-gas to wipe out mired British troops by the hundred thousand.Exhausted medics stitched and amputated, and evacuated those who survived back behind the lines as fast as transports were available. No less overtaxed, the hospitals in the rear tidied up the human wreckage sent to them, and watched helpless as their patients died in droves, of infections and gas-corroded lungs.Naturally, Major Lord John Frobisher received the best care available. The last scraps of shrapnel were dug out of his body. Nothing could be done for the crudely sewn-up wound on his face other than to keep it clean.He was shipped home to England to recuperate, his cheek still swollen, the gash a lurid purple brand.“I didn’t care much as long as I was with the rest of the fellows,” Johnnie told Daisy. “It didn’t seem to matter when so many were so much worse off. Then we landed at Dover and everyone else went off on the troop train to London. I took the local to Oakhurst.”“Vi and the baby were in Worcestershire,” said Daisy, “at home with us, at Fairacres.”“Yes, but I was very tired and tense, not fit for civilized society. I needed a day or two to put myself straight before I saw Violet. I felt I hardly knew her—we weren’t married much more than a year, remember, before I went off to France, and I’d had only one fortnight’s leave since then.”“Spent at Fairacres,” Daisy recalled, “with Derek afraid of the stranger who claimed to be his Daddy, and Violet having to look after him because half the men were called up so the maids were doing their work. And Mother being Mother.”She exchanged a commiserating glance with Johnnie. Lady Dalrymple, now the Dowager Viscountess, would find something to complain about in Heaven. At the time, Daisy seemed to remember, the burden of her mother’s song had been the injustice of her son-in-law’s obtaining leave when her son, Gervaise, as yet had not. Gervaise had his fortnight later. He chose to spend half of it in London before returning to Flanders, to his death.Some of the wounds of war were invisible, and slow to heal.Daisy shook her head, shook the memories away. “You had to come to Fairacres,” she said. “Kent was too dangerous, too close to the Continent, getting bombed regularly. Father wouldn’t have let Vi go to Oakhurst.”“By George, no. I don’t hold Lord Dalrymple to blame.”
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