Lessons for Sleeping Dogs by Charlie Cochrane
Blurb: When amateur sleuth Jonty Stewart comes home with a new case to investigate, his partner Orlando Coppersmith always feels his day has been made. Although, can there be anything to solve in the apparent mercy killing of a disabled man by a doctor who then kills himself, especially when everything takes place in a locked room?
But things are never straightforward where the Cambridge fellows are concerned, so when they discover that more than one person has a motive to kill the dead men—motives linked to another double death—their wits get stretched to the breaking point.
And when the case disinters long buried memories for Jonty, memories about a promise he made and hasn’t kept, their emotions get pulled apart as well. This time, Jonty and Orlando will have to separate fact from fiction—and truth from emotion—to get to the bottom of things.
Cambridge, September 1921
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, and blast.” A string of swear words preceded Orlando Coppersmith into the dining room of Forsythia Cottage.
“You seem slightly put out, old man.” Jonty Stewart, currently at the dinner table, put down the newspaper he’d been perusing. “Dunderheads playing up?”
“For once, no. I’ve been invited to address the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, at Birdcage Walk, in London.” Orlando took his place at the table, pouring himself a glass of wine and risking getting it all over the tablecloth given his lack of concentration, all the while waving what must be the invitation itself.
Jonty ignored the sumptuous smells coming from the kitchen in order to deal with the matter in hand. “Well, that doesn’t sound like anything to be cursing over. You’ll love discussing torque and moments and all that other nonsense.”
“I would, normally. But it’s the same day as the bridge tournament down at St. Francis’s College.”
“Ah.” That explained everything. Bridge was the thing Orlando loved most in the world, after mathematics and Jonty Stewart. And amateur sleuthing. “They can’t rearrange the date?”
“Of the talk? Or the bridge?” It wasn’t like Orlando to look confused, but today he seemed totally perplexed.
“Either. Or both. Although, in the latter case, preferably not to the same day.” Jonty smiled, amused at how an intelligent man could get himself into quite such a doodah over something so trivial—although that was Orlando all over. Maybe his appointment to professor had contributed, given that many of the breed seemed to be verging on stark staring mad.
“I don’t think that I dare ask them to change the bridge event. They can be set in their ways and quite belligerent.”
Jonty felt like saying, For goodness’ sake, you faced much worse in France than some crusty old dons who can’t decide on three no trumps or four clubs! but held his tongue. The war wasn’t a subject to joke about.
Instead he settled for, “Then talk to those there mechanical engineers. I bet they’re decent enough sorts. Plead a prior, vital university engagement, which is nothing but the truth.”
“It isn’t just that. There’s the date itself. November the fifteenth.”
“Ah.” The anniversary of their meeting.
“Now do you see the problem?” Orlando’s anger was now bordering on distress. The man was coming to terms with life again, after the long, bleak years of war—years that had set him back emotionally and left scars worse than the physical one across his chest. He’d returned from France in a slough of despond—understandable given that he believed Jonty dead—and had been dragging himself out of it since. While he wasn’t quite back to his 1913 peak of confidence, he wasn’t far off, and Jonty hadn’t had to worry quite so often about signs of regression. Although the fact this particular matter was clearly weighing heavy on him rang alarm bells.
“We could always defer our anniversary celebrations.” With affection, Jonty rubbed the gold ring he habitually wore on his little finger. Made from Welsh gold, of a stunning hue, this was the signet ring Orlando had given him in remembrance. “The world won’t come to an end if we push the date a day or two in one direction or the other. We’ve had worse anniversaries.” He didn’t add the years concerned—Orlando would know what he meant. The pall of war would take a long time to slip from the memory, if it ever did.
Orlando opened his mouth, as though to argue, shut it again, smiled, then nodded his head deferentially. “So long as you’re happy for me to proceed. But I’ll make sure the sixteenth of November is kept sacrosanct. Mark it in your diary.”
“I will do that very thing.” Jonty made the sort of sign he’d made as a boy, to assure his brothers he was making an unbreakable vow. “Any particular reason you’ve chosen that day above any other?”
“Of course. It’s only logical. That’s the first day I felt the urge to murder you. The chair incident, of course.”
“Of course.” Jonty smiled as his lover’s face relaxed. So far so good. He watched him ease into his seat, readying himself for the arrival of dinner, which must have been imminent given the sounds now coming from the kitchen. “Why hadn’t you already decided to do away with me? The wrong bottom having plonked itself into that chair the day before?”
“Because I was still thinking the matter through. I couldn’t have decided to murder you if I hadn’t already decided whether I liked you or not.”
Jonty snorted. For all his lover’s much vaunted sense of logic, he did talk twaddle at times. “Speaking of important engagements, I’ve got several coming up myself and one might involve you. Would your whites pass muster?”
“Whites? Isn’t it a little late in the year for a game of cricket?”
“It’s a traditional late fixture. Some clubs make a point of playing at unusual times of the year, like midwinter, although I suspect that’s mainly to take advantage of a nice roaring fire and a hot toddy or three afterwards. Ah!”
The arrival of Mrs. Ward, bearing plates of beef stew with vegetables on the side and dumplings on the top, put discussion to a temporary halt.
“You asked if my whites would pass muster? I noticed yesterday that yours were out on the washing line, where poor Mrs. Ward has no doubt had to employ the local fuller to get the accumulated grime of summer off them. And you were out in the garden last evening, practicing your cover drives.”
“I thought you were working on that paper of yours!” Jonty felt distinctly miffed at having been spied on.
“And I thought you were working on your exposition of ‘Sonnet 29.’ Or so you told me.”
“I was. A man can do two things at the same time. And the elegant, flowing lines of a cut over mid-off exactly correspond with the elegant, flowing lines from Shakespeare’s pen—quill,” he corrected himself. “Anyway, I believe that all my impressive wrist and foot work will be to no avail, despite the invitation for me to play.”
Orlando narrowed his eyes. “I don’t recall an invitation coming my way, not that I’m complaining about the fact. Why might this involve me, if you’re the one who’s been put on the team sheet?”
“It’s another case of double booking. I can’t make that date.” Jonty carried on tucking into his food. Such an excellent meal needed to be eaten while it was still hot. “I’m already spoken for. An engagement I dare not break, or my guts would be made into garters.”
Orlando looked up, grinning, fork laden with beef and peas that seemed—by some stroke of magic—to be safely adhering to the tines. Jonty could never have managed the feat. “That means women. Lavinia? Or Ariadne Sheridan?”
“Ariadne, naturally. We’re meeting for a cup of tea and a cake or two—our occasional celebration of the day she walked straight into Dr. Sheridan.” Quite literally and totally accidentally, changing her life in one random incident, much as he’d done by sitting in Orlando’s chair.
“Rather like you sitting on my chair.” Orlando, whose thoughts never seemed to go far from that incident, put his fork back to work again. “Irrespective of me wanting to murder you for it, would we have met otherwise, but for that random act?”
“Of course we would, you great noggin. I’d have been sitting across high table from you and you couldn’t have failed to notice my boyish charm, nor I to notice your unruly curls. Such things are meant to be.”
Orlando smiled. “Do you reenact this meeting literally? On the threshold of the tailor’s shop or wherever it was?”
“I should say not, given that they don’t provide food or drink. We usually meet on King’s Parade, which also featured in the story. But on Friday she’s insisting it’s chez Sheridan, so I’ll be knocking on the door of the master’s lodge at St. Bride’s.” Jonty gleefully stabbed a carrot with his fork. “Much more comfortable in terms of seating, and a better nosebag.”
“Do you ever think of anything but your stomach?”
“Sometimes. I think of your stomach quite a lot, as well. How flat and smooth it still is. How muscular and—”
“Do be quiet.” Orlando cast a glance at the closed door.
“It’s a shame when a man can’t praise his lover’s anatomy in the privacy of their own home,” Jonty said, with a grin. “And we’re at no risk of Mrs. Ward hauling us up in front of the beak. Nor her granddaughter, as it would risk her continued employment.”
“Clearly all that serious consideration of the sonnets you allege you’re indulging in is stuff and nonsense. I don’t think your thoughts ever get off parts of your—and my—anatomy. And no—” Orlando held up his hand. “No taradiddle about iambic pentameters and rhyme schemes or whatever. It’s nothing more than a smokescreen to hide your true nature.”
Jonty, recognising the signs, concentrated on his food. Orlando’s tetchiness could only mean one thing. “You need a case. To improve your mood.”
Orlando opened his mouth as if he was going to argue, then shut it again and laid down his fork. “You’re right. I have no idea how I filled my days before this all happened.” He swept his hand in a gesture that seemed to take in Jonty, their cottage, and the elegant piece of silverware on the mantelpiece. The long-necked jug, a gift from a grateful client, was symbolic of investigations.
Jonty held his tongue. He had no idea how Orlando could have survived back then, cocooned in his own little world.
“Maybe,” he said at last, “our guardian angels—the ones you refuse to believe in despite all the evidence that they’re working like billy-o—are even now trying to push a case in our direction. The devil makes work for idle hands, and they wouldn’t want us put into temptation, would they?”
Orlando broke into a grin. “You do talk rot.”
Jonty lifted his napkin to his mouth. “So, can you take the field for me? You’ve an excellent eye for a ball, and that fifty you put together back in May for the St. Bride’s Fellows XI was a poem. A sonnet in itself, iambic pentameter or not.”
The talk turned to sport, and the beef was enjoyed against a background of leg spin and off drives.
The seats in the master’s lodge were just as comfortable as Jonty had predicted, and by the look of the laden plates on the table, the nosebag promised to be equally good. His hostess had made him nice and cosy, as she always did, finding them a seat in the autumn sunshine; although Jonty couldn’t help noticing there were three chairs at the table.
“Dr. Sheridan joining us?”
“Not today,” Ariadne replied, offering no further explanation. She’d always had a formidable knack of saying things in a manner that brooked no reply; Jonty would simply have to be patient and see who she’d invited. Maybe it would be Dr. Panesar, the brilliant but batty fellow of St. Bride’s who brought a formidable intellect—and more than a hatful of daft ideas—to the Senior Common Room.
Jonty’s thoughts turned to the last time Dr. Panesar had tried to create a time machine and the startled faces of the firemen who’d had to put the consequent fire out.
“How are things with ‘himself’?” Ariadne asked.
“Not so bad.” He shrugged. “Getting a bit restless, as he always does when nobody’s beating a path to our door pleading with us to solve some mystery that’s perplexed everyone else for years on end.”
“I might be able to help.” Ariadne picked up her cup and sipped her tea demurely.
“You haven’t got a case hidden in that reticule of yours by any chance?”
“No.” Ariadne smiled, a mischievous grin that took ten years off her age. She could by no means be described as a handsome woman, but when she smiled her face lit up with inner beauty. “But I know somebody who does. And”—she looked up at the clock—“he’ll be here in about three minutes’ time. Assuming he’s punctual.”
Jonty sighed happily. What better present to take back to Forsythia Cottage than the possibility of a case for Orlando to get his nose into? If he felt a fleeting pang of guilt that Orlando wasn’t there as the starter’s gun went off on a new investigation, he soon dismissed it; the man concerned would be having fun over his cuts through mid-off, so couldn’t complain. Even though he would. “You’re magnificent, do you know that?”
Ariadne beamed. “I have to admit I did, as my dear Robert reminds me of it often. You might not think so when you hear about the case.”
“I’ll reserve judgement.”
A loud rapping from the knocker on the lodge door sent Ariadne scurrying to open it—strictly the butler’s role, but she preferred to usurp it for honoured guests. Jonty could hear her greeting whoever it was, with a profuse apology to the butler for having got to the door first. She’d evidently charmed him, as he said there was nothing to forgive and formally offered to take the visitor’s hat. Moments later, Ariadne ushered a man into the room and towards the third chair, a seat with a better view than the one Jonty occupied. It was plain that the visitor must be someone for whom his hostess had great affection. The smile she wore would have made that plain anyway.
“Dr. Stewart, this is Robert’s cousin, Gerald Blackett.”
“I’m delighted to meet you.” Jonty, already standing, held out his hand, appraising him while they passed a few pleasantries. Younger than Dr. Sheridan by ten years, maybe; handsome in a rather Victorian fashion; well dressed, with an elegant cane in his hand; possessor of a winning smile.
As they resumed their seats and Ariadne ensured they all had adequate refreshments, Blackett laid down his cane. “You will, I hope, forgive me if we get to the matter in hand straightaway?”
“Please do. Straight at ’em, as Nelson would have said.” Jonty’s mother had said that too; mind you, she’d have brought off the victory at Trafalgar in half the time and got all the prizes home. The storm wouldn’t have dared to sink any.
Blackett smiled. “My wife’s brother, Edward Atherton, died in peculiar circumstances. Not, I should add, that there is any doubt what happened to bring about the end. He was very ill—a terrible wasting disease, which had left him barely able to move.”
“I remember him only a few years ago, the life and soul of the party.” Ariadne shook her head. “Full of tricks, full of fun. He could keep the most fractious child enthralled.”
“Some people have that knack,” Jonty said, in fond remembrance of someone who had the same facility, the same irresistible charm. “You should have seen Papa with his first grandchildren. He’d say, ‘Thomas, we don’t cry in Grandpapa’s house,’ and he’d just stop. I don’t know whether it’s the male voice, exerting calm and kindly authority, or some sort of innate reaction, like how you respond to your bank manager, but it worked a treat.”
“It is a particular gift, one that would be terrible to lose. Such an awful thing for the mind to outlive the body.” Blackett took a fortifying sip of tea. “My brother-in-law had got to the point where he said he couldn’t bear to live. He couldn’t take his own life, though.”
“Because of the hurt it would cause your family?” The illegality of the act was unlikely to be a consideration for someone determined to succeed. They’d have no repercussions to face in this world.
“No.” Blackett shook his head. “The practicalities defeated him. He was reliant on other people for everything; therefore, he had to rely on them to help him commit the deed.”
“Ah.” A shiver went up Jonty’s spine at the direction this case was moving in. Orlando’s father had taken his own life, something that had affected his son for years afterwards.
“Dr. Stewart, what is bothering you?” Ariadne’s voice, all concern, snapped Jonty out of his thoughts.
“I’m sorry. I’d spotted that dark cloud,” he dissembled. “Professor Coppersmith is supposed to be playing cricket today and if that decides to let loose a deluge over the wicket, he’ll never get to bat.”
“The opposition will be grateful for that,” Ariadne replied smoothly, although the keen look in her eye suggested she was trying to read Jonty’s mind.
“Back to the matter in hand.” Jonty smiled at Blackett. “Did your brother-in-law find someone who’d perform that service?”
“It appears so. Dr. Paul Robertson.”
Ariadne had glanced up at the word appears. “Is there any uncertainty surrounding Robertson’s involvement?”
“Not as far as I’m aware, though the exact nature of it is a puzzle, perhaps. There is little uncertainty surrounding the events which occurred. It was in Robertson’s consulting room, where we’d taken Edward earlier that day. To be treated, so we thought.” Blackett spoke slowly and objectively, but his face betrayed a wealth of emotion.
Jonty got out a notebook—not his investigational one, as he’d not assumed that would be needed, but the serviceable one he kept for writing comments about the dunderheads or making up rude limericks about St. Bride’s archenemy, “the college next door.”
“Was Robertson brought to book for this crime?” Could this be their commission? To see that justice was served?
“He wasn’t, and couldn’t be, due to the fact he took his own life at the same time. Possibly,” Blackett added, “or so it seems, because he was feeling guilty about hastening my brother-in-law’s death. He left a letter explaining how he’d offended and wanted to be forgiven. Although the letter was slightly ambiguous.”
“Ambiguous? Go on.”
“It wasn’t a straightforward case of, ‘I can’t go on; this is the end.’ It was open to a range of interpretations, which were aired at the inquest. Including the implication that he too felt he had nothing left to live for.” Blackett finished his cup of tea, and then, at his hostess’s insistence, offered it to be refilled.
Jonty came to the end of a sentence, then tapped his notepad with his pen. “Could one of the interpretations have been that he actually had no intention of committing suicide, whatever the reason behind it?”
“Nobody thought that. The whole thing pointed to his taking his own life, as did the fact that people felt it hadn’t been written at the time, but earlier.”
“Earlier?” Ariadne frowned. “So how could it have been interpreted as remorse if he hadn’t yet committed the act concerned?”
Blackett shrugged. “They were of the opinion he might have agreed to go through with helping Edward to kill himself, but the guilt at having done so tipped him over the edge.”
“Extraordinary.” Jonty wasn’t sure that motivation added up, although could one expect a potential suicide to think logically? “So how can we help? Given that there’s no obvious mystery to be solved except for why Robertson killed himself, and I somehow don’t think you’re here to pursue that.”
“Ah. There’s the rub. My wife believes her brother had a last-minute change of heart. Not quite at the last minute, but during the last weeks of his life. A light on the road to Damascus, only it was the road to St. Albans.” Blackett smiled ruefully. “Edward had never been a religious man, hence his having no qualms about the sacredness of his own life or the need to face up to judgement. But that changed.”
“How? I mean,” Jonty added, “I believe that men see the light as effectively as St. Paul did, and have the subsequent change of heart, but what actually prompted the change in your brother-in-law?”
“Not what, but who. A nun he met in a park of all places, discussing the dabbling ducks in the water, the beauty of nature, and so on.” Blackett shrugged. “I don’t know the details, but that simple conversation profoundly affected him. My wife, Sheila, says he’d never have countenanced taking his own life after that.”
“Nobody knows the content of another person’s mind. Not in its entirety.” Ariadne spoke with gravity, evidently not wanting to belittle Mrs. Blackett’s feelings. “And which of us keeps the same attitude all the time? Especially when somebody is feeling depressed in spirits, as Edward must have been. People can have periods when they’re happy and rational, then the dark clouds draw in and they think quite irrationally again.”
Jonty nodded. Orlando’s family history seemed peppered with men who would fit this bill.
“That’s what I keep telling Sheila, but she won’t have it. Says she’s absolutely certain Edward wouldn’t have killed himself. Which leaves . . .”
“Accident or murder.” Jonty tried to tone down the enthusiasm in his voice at the prospect of a new case. Death was no matter to be excited about.
“Precisely.” Blackett inclined his head. “I suppose it could have been an accident, maybe some treatment that went wrong—although I fail to see why Edward would have been treated with cyanide. And before you point out that I’m no medical expert, which I freely admit, the coroner and Edward’s doctor agreed that it wouldn’t have been appropriate.”
Ariadne nodded. “How was it administered? And in what dose?”
“As capsules; however, there is some debate as to whether those were dissolved in a drink to make them more palatable, or taken separately and washed down. And I’m afraid the dose itself would mean nothing to me, but I know it was ingested—by both of them—in a sufficiently lethal quantity for death to have been guaranteed, although not immediate.” Blackett shook his head. “Dr. Robertson, I assume, watched Edward die before inflicting the same fate on himself.”
Jonty, who’d been diligently jotting down his observations, tapped his pad. “And if he’d somehow administered it to Edward in error, one might have expected him to try to treat him, or to seek help, so we appear to rule out an accident. Although we must note there’s no way of knowing that for sure, given that Robertson isn’t here to bear witness.”
“It seems extremely far-fetched that there could be two such accidents, one hard on the heels of the other.” Ariadne raised her eyebrows. “And it certainly wouldn’t explain the suicide letter. A letter suggests premeditation. What does your wife think really happened?”
“My wife has convinced herself that her brother was murdered—probably by Robertson—who took his own life afterwards so he wouldn’t face the consequences.”
“But that doesn’t explain that wretched letter, either!” Ariadne slapped her spoon on the table.
“Sheila believes the letter was a smokescreen, and Robertson had intended to take his own life, being happy for people to think Edward’s death was an act of mercy for a patient who had begun to suffer beyond his ability to cope. She’s convinced herself that Robertson didn’t want them to think he was a murderer.” Blackett spread his hands apologetically. “I can tell from your faces that you think as little of that theory as I do. But she is determined to find the truth, for her brother’s sake.”
It seemed thin, perilously thin to base an investigation on, but they’d had cases that had started just as tenuously in the past. Sometimes a person’s instinct that somebody had been done away had turned out to be correct, despite the superficial evidence that all had been aboveboard. And the contrary, too, it had to be admitted: suspicious deaths that had turned out to be natural. Best to take this at face value.
Jonty wrinkled his nose. “What motive does she think Robertson had for killing him?”
“That’s part of the mystery. All we know is that Edward, in an unguarded moment, told us that Robertson had secrets, things that he wouldn’t want made public. Edward had found out, although he didn’t share the details with us.” Blackett ran a hand across his brow. “But he told Robertson that he knew about them, which Sheila thinks led Robertson to kill him. I take a different interpretation.”
“That Edward used the information to persuade Robertson to help him take his life. Why else would a physician do such a thing?”
“It happens, I’m afraid,” Ariadne said—slowly, quietly and with the sort of moral authority that brooked no argument.
“So Edward used blackmail? It’s possible.” Jonty wasn’t sure he believed the whole I know a secret but I won’t share it thesis, but it had to be considered. People did like to boast of some special knowledge they possessed. He tapped his notepad. “Your wife hasn’t considered whether anyone else could have committed the murder? A double murder, perhaps, with both men killed by a third party? Someone who was drawn into this web of secrets?”
“That would be a possibility to explore, were it not for the locked door, which sealed the room they were found in.”
Jonty stifled a groan. Orlando loved a mystery, but he hated reading one featuring a locked room. Too often he felt the solution was too clever and contrived to be likely in real life. “I think you’d better explain the scenario as you understand it. My colleague Professor Coppersmith will want all the details.”
“Very wise.” Blackett nodded, then began. “Edward’s visit to Robertson was, on the surface, just as they had been in the past. He always found some relief in the mixture the doctor made up for him. He was taken in a cab, with our gardener’s lad—who’d become a sort of manservant to him as his needs grew greater—to carry him into and out of the vehicle and to manoeuvre his wheelchair.”
“Did this manservant stay with Edward? And do we need more tea? Or does this require something a little stronger?” Ariadne glanced briefly at a decanter of sherry on the sideboard.
“I’d be happy with tea, thank you,” Blackett replied, much to Jonty’s disappointment. A small dry sherry might have been just the thing to oil his brain. He’d have to settle for another bit of cake, instead.
After Ariadne had ordered a fresh pot of tea, Blackett continued. “Now, you asked whether the manservant stayed. He didn’t, but that was usual. He’d go to run some errands for us, then return at the time he’d been instructed to. On this occasion he’d been asked to stay away for an hour and a half.”
Jonty contended with cake, notepad, pen, and trying to understand what had gone on. “That seems a long time for a consultation. Was that unusual?”
“We didn’t think so back then.” Blackett shrugged. “The visits had been getting longer and longer. Sometimes Dr. Robertson would employ someone to massage Edward’s limbs, and he would need to rest afterwards, before travelling home.”
“Was the masseur there on this occasion?”
“No. My wife, of course, has even wondered if the massages were just a ruse to lull us, so we wouldn’t be suspicious of a longer visit.” Blackett’s voice had an exasperated tone. “Anyway, when Wilshire, the servant, returned, he found that the consultation was still going on and Mrs. McGinley, the doctor’s housekeeper, had been told not to interrupt them. They waited, but Wilshire became increasingly concerned. Bright lad. He insisted on listening at the door even though the housekeeper protested that it was unacceptable. I’m pleased he did, because the lack of any sound from inside made him suspicious.”
“What did he do?” Ariadne asked.
“Broke in. Luckily he’s a big strong lad and the door had a panel which could be smashed so he could get his hand round to the key. By then it was too late to help either of them.”
A door locked from the inside so they couldn’t be interrupted—that would be equally appropriate for murder or suicide. The arrival of another pot of tea led to a round of cup filling and the opportunity for getting thoughts straight before they carried on.
Jonty smoothed out the paper in his pad. “They were both dead?”
Blackett nodded. “Yes. And appeared to have been for some time, although neither Wilshire nor Mrs. McGinley could give an opinion on that. The medical man the housekeeper called for was of the opinion that death had followed shortly after their going into the consulting room.”
Ariadne looked up, cup poised halfway to her lips. “They both died at the same time?”
“He couldn’t give the exact minute, naturally, but he seemed to think the two deaths had been pretty well concurrent.”
They sat, quietly drinking their tea, listening to the sounds of college life filtering through the window.
“It’s an intriguing puzzle,” Ariadne said at last, “but how do you—or Sheila—anticipate Dr. Stewart and Professor Coppersmith finding any solution to it, given that you have no witnesses to the event?”
Jonty was relieved his hostess had asked the question, because it was uppermost in his mind.
“Don’t think I haven’t considered this.” Blackett sighed, then took a long draught of tea. “I told Sheila that it feels like an impossible task, but Ariadne here”—he gave his hostess a smile—“had told her you can work wonders. The men who solved the Woodville Ward case, as my wife keeps reminding me.”
“In that instance we had a bundle of newly discovered manuscripts to get our teeth into. Codes to break, good solid information.” Jonty needed to get a grip; this was defeatist talk, but how could they hope to decode what had gone on in that room? “I suppose it won’t hurt to make a few preliminary enquiries, starting with your good lady. It’s always possible that she knows, or suspects, more than she’s shared with you. As Ariadne said so perceptively earlier, it happens.”
Blackett smiled. “I know that from experience. Young Wilshire might be able to furnish you with further details as well. An eyewitness account is better than one related third-hand.”
“Indeed. And Mrs. McGinley also saw what he saw. Maybe she noticed some detail which would help us.”
Blackett leaned forward. “You would have to tackle this with a degree of discretion, but I’m sure you have that capacity. Edward dropped hints that she knew about her employer’s secrets too.”
“Of course! The staff know everything that goes on.” That had always been true of the Stewart household as Jonty had grown up. Luckily for him, several of his misdemeanours hadn’t been reported back above stairs. He made a note of all the names and addresses as Blackett produced them, then went down his list. “Your wife, Wilshire, the housekeeper. Anyone else we should be considering?”
“I believe Robertson had a brother, although I have no idea of his address. Mrs. McGinley would be able to provide it for you. Oh, and I nearly forgot this.” Blackett picked up his briefcase, opening it to withdraw a thin manila wallet. “My wife put these together. A report of the case from the newspapers and some notes she took at the inquests, so I’d have been in trouble if I’d not given them to you.”
Jonty took the file. “Inquests, plural?”
“Yes. She attended both Edward’s and Dr. Robertson’s. The brother was at both of them too. You’ll find his name there amongst the papers.”
“Thank you.” Maybe there would be some other people mentioned there who’d be worth talking to.
A sudden squall driving across the court and the first splashes of rain against the window made everyone look up.
“It looks like Professor Coppersmith’s game will be interrupted, unless this is very localised.” Ariadne got up to close the window where the odd drop was getting in. “He’ll be disappointed.”
“I doubt it.” Jonty grinned. “He was ever so slightly coerced into playing. But any disappointment will soon be overcome when I tell him about this case.”
“You’ll be doing us a great favour by taking it on.” Blackett gave a gracious inclination of his head.
Jonty made an equally gracious gesture with his hand. “Not half as much of a favour as you’re doing us in asking.” Soaking at the cricket match notwithstanding, Orlando was going to be thrilled.
Orlando sat in his study, wading through a pile of notes for a lecture he was putting together and wondering why the sun had the nerve to be shining now. It was too late in the day to play cricket, or to dry out a pitch waterlogged in places after the deluge of the afternoon. At least he’d been fielding on the boundary when the heavens opened, so hadn’t got too wet, and although the match had been cancelled, the excellent refreshments hadn’t. Mrs. Ward had prepared a cold collation for tea—as both her gentlemen would have lined their stomachs with cakes galore—so they could dine whenever they wanted.
Which was as well, given that Jonty still wasn’t home after his afternoon tea with Ariadne Sheridan, though that was to have been followed by a little college business with the chaplain, who wanted some ideas for a variation on the harvest service. Orlando wondered if either sherry or a pint of beer would be essential to the planning process, and whether—in that case—Jonty would be able to make his bicycle advance in a straight line all the way back home.
A screech of brakes outside Orlando’s study window, accompanied by cheerful whistling, suggested that Jonty had returned, and was in a pretty chipper mood with it.
Soon his smiling face appeared round the door. “I’ve brought you a lovely present, but you have to guess what it is.”
“I’m too old for games.” Orlando looked up slowly, trying to make sure his expression didn’t belie his words. The papers neatly piled on his desk caught his eye; he’d been hard at work for too long and needed a rest. He started tidying them out of sight.
“Nobody is too old for games. Come on.” Jonty came round the desk, grabbed Orlando’s arm, and yanked him out of the chair. “You have three guesses.”
“A new set of mathematical tables?” Orlando’s slightly dog-eared copy—too well used and too well loved—also lay on the desk, looking forlorn.
“No, although it seems like that should be your anniversary present. Try again.”
“Another story by Bret Harte?” Orlando sighed, wistfully. “The Stolen Cigar Case” had been one of the best Christmas presents Orlando had ever received.
Jonty shook his head. “Alas, no.”
“Then I give up.”
“You can’t, until you’ve used up all your guesses. I’ll give you a clue. Something which would make you deliriously happy. Happier even than—” Jonty glanced over his shoulder, probably to check he’d closed the door behind him “—than a romp in bed with me.”
“A case? A case!” Orlando rubbed his hands together. “I was beginning to think we’d never get another.”
“Well, you’re wrong on that score. Dr. Sheridan has a cousin, who has a wife, who had a brother who might or might not have been murdered.”
“I think you need to explain that to me all over again, only much more slowly and with more detail. And preferably accompanied by a glass of sherry. I’ll move the chairs into best position for sharing notes.”
“You and chairs.” Jonty grinned and went off to fetch the decanter.
Orlando smiled fondly, his own words of 1905 ringing in his ears. “The particular chair a man inhabits after high table is regarded as sacrosanct.” What a miracle that Jonty had seen behind the pomposity.
Sherry, notepads, pens accumulated, chairs drawn into position either side of a fire that was needed on an unseasonably nippy evening, Jonty began his account. As usual, he presented the conversation apparently verbatim—rather than in a logical order as Orlando would have done. As it was, he tried to note them down a little more carefully than they’d been presented to him.
“Don’t get your hopes up, though.” Jonty scratched his brow. “I can’t help feeling that even if we suspect murder was committed by Robertson or by persons unknown, we’d not be able to prove it. Still, there are plenty of little bits to intrigue us. Like, if Atherton had changed his mind about taking his own life, would he carry on visiting Dr. Robertson?”
“And why did he let himself be locked up in the same room as the man? Unless he was oblivious to the doctor’s motive to kill him.” Orlando shook his head. “We’ll have to establish whether he might have called for help.”
Jonty slapped his thighs. “This has all the makings of an unsolvable puzzle. Although I suppose you’ll relish the challenge of that.”
“The challenge, yes. And I’d be happy to satisfy us that we’ve got to the truth, even if we can’t write QED at the bottom of the solution.” Orlando smiled. “So. Mrs. Blackett first?”
“Yes, with a side dish of Wilshire while we’re there. Before our party split up, I arranged with her husband for us to visit them this weekend. They’ve got a place just outside Guildford, and I hope we can drop in to see Dr. Robertson’s housekeeper on the way home.”
“Excellent plan. Where is she located?”
“Where she was at the time, apparently. In his old house.” Jonty consulted his notes. “It seems the house was left to Robertson’s brother, who is letting it out to another physician. He took Mrs. McGinley on with the property.”
“That’s useful. Maybe we can get a peek at the consulting room itself.” Not that any evidence would remain, but maybe they’d get inspired by the feel of the place. At any rate Jonty would be inspired by that aspect, and he could look at the layout and see if that locked room was an impenetrable as it was supposed to be.
Orlando jolted out of thoughts of secret passages and false doors. “I beg your pardon?”
“Cui bono. Who benefits?” Jonty tipped his head to one side, an indication that he was thinking. “Why would somebody want to kill Edward Atherton? Or Dr. Robertson, assuming it wasn’t him who did the deed? Would covering up a secret or putting off a blackmailer be enough?”
“You’re putting together some daft theory. I can see it in your eyes. Would you care to elucidate?”
“I was just thinking about inheritances. Who did they leave their money to? If Edward left his to Robertson, the order of death would be vitally important. We’ve a lot to consider.” Jonty smiled gleefully.
“And you’re running before you can walk. Patience.”
Jonty snorted. “That’s rich, coming from you!” He left his chair, put another log on the fire, and turned on another light. “Would you really like a Bret Harte? I’m not sure if he’s done any others in the same vein.”
“If he hasn’t, it’s a shame. Was it an inspired present or a lucky guess?”
“Inspired, naturally!” Jonty took his place again. “I knew you’d like it. No guessing necessary. How could a pastiche of Conan Doyle fail? Even I enjoyed it and I like Sherlock Holmes.”
“It was the best present I’ve ever had, I think. Even better than the Woodville Ward case.” At first he thought he’d hate the book, just as he hated Holmes, but Harte’s sly sense of humour—if such deliberate pastiche could be called sly—and his depiction of a thinly veiled Watson slobberingly obsessed with an even more thinly veiled Holmes had made him laugh aloud.
The (presumably) inadvertent use of terms such as “penetration” had added to the humour, especially when Jonty had read the story out loud in the garden one balmy evening this past summer, putting his usual emphasis on certain words. Orlando had felt forced to drag the man inside before he scandalised the neighbours. They might not exactly be love’s young dream, but a man couldn’t help feeling desires, could he?
They’d discussed before whether the original Holmes and Watson’s relationship had carried anything romantic in it, even if that romance were entirely platonic. Unlike Orlando and Jonty, who hadn’t lost their passion in their forties, Holmes had never seemed to possess the inclination towards physical passion in the first place. His affection for Watson, however, appeared—in Orlando’s opinion—to be the thing that sustained him. Maybe Harte had pondered the same thing?
“Shall I read it for you this evening?” Jonty had the sort of mischievous glint in his eye that filled Orlando with a mixture of qualms and amorous thoughts. Which would eventually prevail usually depended on how public their situation was and how much mischief was in the offing. That said, Jonty could have found capacity for mischief on a quiet Monday in a Trappist monastery.
“Hmm. It depends on how well you behave yourself in the meantime. Be useful. Find the steps which would lead to the solution for this intriguing mystery, or something. If mystery it is, I hasten to add, and not exactly what it seems to be on the surface.”
“If it turns out to be that, we can as a minimum eliminate the lady’s doubts. That itself is a solution worth reaching.”
“It is.” Orlando nodded, but he wasn’t sure he agreed. Where was the challenge in proving what had already been proved? “Maybe it’ll turn out to be suitably tortuous.”
“Perhaps.” Jonty crinkled his brow.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
“Not worth a farthing. Something buzzing around the old bonce, as usual, but I can’t pin it down.”
“Something you’ve done you’d like to confess?” Orlando grinned.
“Lots and not particularly, only that’s not it.” Jonty returned the smile but he still looked troubled. “Something I’ve left undone, I think. But I’ve no idea what.”
The lodge to the Blacketts’ house, seen suddenly as their cab from the train station turned a corner in the road, made Jonty’s heart sing. Roses round the door, a garden awash with autumn crocuses and Japanese maples, warm stone walls, leaded light windows, and a thatched roof—it resembled the ideal of the good fairy’s cottage from some children’s tale. Hopefully that boded well for the big house.
“That’s the sort of place we should retire to.” He smiled at Orlando as their cab crept up the drive.
“I thought it’s the sort of place we already have?” Orlando frowned.
“Not that garden. Ours needs a bit of a going over to reach that height of English perfection. I shall have to get you away from Euclid and out with your spade. Ah!” Jonty pointed to the elegant Georgian house at the end of the drive. “Very nice. Only that’s not the sort of place I want to retire to. Too much work.”
“At last you’re speaking sense. I hope it’s as welcoming there as the lodge appears to be. Houses which are just for show are anathema as far as I’m concerned. Even the Old Manor, grand as it was, was a proper home.”
“Aye.” Jonty smiled in fond remembrance of his parents’ country house. Little short of a castle, it had still felt as homely as a cottage. He cast a sideways glance at his partner, who had the apprehensive—if keen—look on his face that always marked the start of a new case. Who knew what paths they’d be walking down this time?
They got out of the cab and took a deep breath before Jonty knocked.
The appearance of a neatly turned-out maid at the door—a maid with a pleasant smile and just the right mixture of warmth and deference—raised Jonty’s hopes of a pleasant visit, as did the smell of baking that pervaded the hallway where he and Orlando waited before being ushered into the morning room. Maybe some of those biscuits or cakes or whatever they were might be ushered in the direction of their stomachs? Mrs. Blackett greeted them, offered them refreshments, settled them in a pair of comfortable chairs, and apologised for her husband’s absence, saying he’d an appointment with his stockbroker that couldn’t be rescheduled.
Jonty had the notion that Mr. Blackett had deliberately arranged their interview for a time when he wouldn’t be present, which confirmed their first impression: Gerald Blackett was dubious about his wife’s theory.
“Don’t feel you need to make pleasantries or small talk.” Mrs. Blackett smiled. “I’m quite happy to get down to things straightaway.”
“Thank you. That makes our task easier,” Orlando replied, graciously inclining his head. He was at least twenty-seven percent more handsome when he was solemn, which clearly wasn’t lost on their hostess, who rearranged herself in her chair, positively blossoming.
“I’m so grateful that you’ve agreed to look into things. I want to know the truth, that’s all.” She folded her hands in her lap.
Orlando, who already had notepad and pen to hand, asked, “Did you raise your concerns at the time of your brother’s death?”
“No, although with hindsight I wish I had. Gerald kept telling me it was only the grief affecting my perceptions of events. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t, I promise you.”
“We’ll do our very best to try to clarify matters. I’m sorry if this will cause you discomfort, but we have to explore every avenue. So can you explain to us once more exactly what happened the day your brother died, as the coroner had it?” Jonty smoothed a fresh page on his notepad. “Then maybe as you interpret those events?”
“It causes me no discomfort, Dr. Stewart.” She shifted herself in her chair, straightening her back and rearranging her hands. “It’s wonderful to have somebody taking me seriously. You’ve read the papers I gave Gerald to pass on to you?”
“I have, but I—we—would like clarification on a few points, and we can’t ask questions of a written account, no matter how well presented it is. Cyanide was found to have been administered to both men. How?”
“Definitely in capsule form, because they found the bottle on the desk with some still present. Possibly they were taken dissolved in two glasses of whisky.”
“Whisky?” The arrival of liquid refreshment—though not the water of life—interrupted Jonty’s flow, but Mrs. Blackett carried on with her answer as she served coffee and biscuits.
“It had always been Edward’s favourite tipple. If he did take his life, I can imagine him wanting that to be the last thing he tasted. He’d have had to be helped to drink it obviously.”
“Thank you.” Orlando took the cup of coffee offered him. “Did he have no use of his limbs by this point?”
“Very little. And no grip in his fingers.” For the first time, Mrs. Blackett seemed distressed, clenching her hands and ignoring the cup she’d poured herself. Maybe she was afraid she’d spill it. “How awful for your body to shut down, with all the consequent indignities. It appeared to sweep through him from toe to top, leaving just his upper half working. Eventually, it was only really his head which could function. Thank goodness he could talk and eat without difficulty, although he needed help to get the food to his mouth. He used to live in London, but as he got progressively worse, I insisted he live here with us so I could make sure he was looked after.”
Insisted? An interesting choice of word. “I suppose he was cross at having to give up his independence.”
“He was. He kept on his flat in London so that he could rest there if necessary when he went to see the doctor, before facing the return journey here.” Mrs. Blackett shook her head. “He hated to have to be beholden to other people, but what choice did he have? He’d tried staying in London, but he’d never succeeded in finding someone who could deal with his particular needs. We had a marvellous male nurse for him here and even Edward—who would never admit I was right if he could help it—had to say that being here made his life more bearable. It was the war.”
Orlando paused, cup halfway to his mouth. “I beg your pardon?”
“The war. That’s why he ended up ill. He volunteered straight away, before that first Christmas.” The Christmas it was all supposed to have been over by. How naive they’d been in 1914. “He was back home the next spring. I suspect it was the effects of gas.”
Jonty held his tongue. As far as he was aware, gas hadn’t been used that early in the conflict, but that was obviously the story Edward had used when he got home. Maybe he had been poisoned out there, gas not being the only thing that had affected people, or maybe that was just an assumption he’d made, to explain the inexplicable—why he’d been afflicted with some terrible wasting disease.
Orlando spoke for them. “Which regiment?”
“The King’s Royal Rifles,” Mrs. Blackett said with evident pride.
“They gave their country good service.” Best to get back to Atherton and the method of his death, although perhaps also best to avoid the actual details. “The coroner had no doubt about the verdict he gave on your brother?”
Mrs. Blackett shook her head. “I’m afraid he didn’t doubt it being two cases of suicide. Even if . . .”
Jonty’s heart leaped. An “even if.” How often had they been sent down a new, important investigational path with a simple “even if” or “however”? “Yes?”
“There was some doubt about whether the poison had been in the whisky or whether that was used to wash the capsules down. Sweeten the pill, as it were.”
Or provide Dutch courage? “It’s in those sorts of doubts that the first light sometimes dawns in a case. Who had them?”
“Two of the scientific experts.” She rolled her eyes at the last word. “They couldn’t agree on whether there was a trace of cyanide in one glass or in both. You’d have thought tests would be beyond doubt, wouldn’t you? Anyway, as the cause of death was indisputable, as was—in the coroner’s mind—the fact of suicide, they didn’t count it as important. Not to them, anyway. The two men had evidently ingested a lethal dose, whether the capsules had been dissolved in whisky or bitten and washed down.”
That dispute might indeed be important, even though Jonty couldn’t see why, as yet. “Which glass did they agree had the poison?”
“Ah, that’s another thing. They weren’t sure which glass was which, because only Dr. Robertson had touched the glasses, and he’d touched both. They agreed on that point, thank goodness, and not just because the weakness in my brother’s fingers and arms meant he couldn’t raise a glass. Fingerprints.”
Jonty smiled. “It’s good to hear they agreed on something, and that people were so up-to-date with investigational methods.”
Orlando was fascinated by fingerprints, although he’d yet to try out his pad, ink, powder, and brush—just about as popular a present from Jonty as the Bret Harte had proved to be—on a serious case. He and young George Broad, who found the idea nearly as enthralling as his almost-uncle did, had cheerfully examined the entire Broad household, above and below stairs, one wet day during the Easter holidays; but apart from discovering a remarkable range of prints on the chocolate tin, they had run no felons to ground.
“It’s a shame there isn’t a modern investigational method that could have recorded what exactly went on in that room.” Mrs. Blackett knitted her brows. “Like the newsreels they show.”
Orlando nodded. “It would make everyone’s lives easier. Is it your conviction that Robertson deliberately killed your brother, against his will?”
Mrs. Blackett took a deep breath. “I simply don’t know, but that does seem the obvious thing, were it not for the character of the man. I met Robertson, and spoke to him at length twice, when I accompanied my brother to his consulting rooms. He was the gentlest of men, with no concern other than his patients’ best interests. I find it hard to believe he could have done such a thing. We talked about Edward’s wish to take his life, back when my brother was at his lowest. I did try to dissuade him from having any part of it.”
“To which his response was . . .?”
“Sympathetic. He said he could only take the ultimate course if it got to the point where there was no alternative in terms of Edward’s quality of life. He’d served out in France too, you know. Been sent back with neurasthenia. He understood.” Mrs. Blackett stopped suddenly, her eyes fleetingly lighting on Jonty’s scarred cheek. “You served as well?”
“I did. Later in the war. Up till then I’d . . .” He remembered he couldn’t mention Room 40. “We’d been doing some important work for the government. You don’t need to explain the effect the last few years have had on anyone who saw what we saw.”
He stopped again, aware that he’d said too much for his own comfort. Only Orlando had been privy to his bleakest memories from those days. None of his family—not even Lavinia—had been granted a glimpse into that deep well. Maybe young George, when he was a man, would be told. So that his generation would know, and not fall too readily into conflict. For the moment, best to change tack, especially as he couldn’t get his mind around what his hostess was thinking.
“I’m afraid I’m getting myself a tad confused.” Playing the slightly dim card had proved successful in the past. “Your husband gave us to believe that you thought Robertson murdered your brother.”
Mrs. Blackett avoided his gaze. “Sometimes I think that, but I don’t know. It seems so far-fetched. But then Edward taking his own life seems far-fetched. When I last saw him that morning, he gave no indication that he still meant to go through with it. I was certain he’d changed his mind.”
Orlando was almost jumping in his chair with impatience. “Then what else do you think could have happened? Some terrible accident?”
“I don’t know. I believe there may have been somebody else present that day.”
Jonty and Orlando looked at each other, startled, before Orlando continued. “Somebody else present in the room?”
“No. Not as far as I’m aware. Certainly not when Wilshire broke in. It’s just that the housekeeper mentioned something to me at Robertson’s funeral. I went there to pay my respects, although I have to admit I was actually there to see what I could find out.”
Jonty nodded, trying to reorganise his thoughts about the mystery man. “Funerals can often be a useful source of unguarded remarks. What did she say?”
“That there’d been somebody at the house that day, asking for Edward.”
“At Robertson’s house? Why there and not here?” Jonty shared a puzzled glance with Orlando.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. I got the impression she was embarrassed at having mentioned the fact. As though the emotion of the occasion had overcome her and loosened her tongue more than she’d intended. She steered clear of me afterwards.”
“Hmm.” Orlando finished writing a sentence, then tapped the pad. “There are things here which would bear investigation, but there remains a stumbling block to the murder theory. The suicide letter your brother left.”
Mrs. Blackett gazed down at her cup, then turned to look out of the window. It was a lovely morning, although Jonty could see nothing there to grab her attention. Surely she must have anticipated the question, so was she buying thinking time or just evading their gaze again?
“I believe,” she said at last, “that letter strengthens my case rather than weakens it. My brother couldn’t write or type. So how could it have been produced? I didn’t write any letters for him and neither did anyone else in this house.”
“Did nobody think to mention that to the coroner? If it hadn’t already occurred to him?” Jonty sighed, exasperated.
“My husband believed he’d had it dictated by some agency or amanuensis in London. He spent every Thursday at his flat, attending to any business he had in hand. It would have been easy enough for him to have used that time to produce a letter. I have to admit,” she added with evident reluctance, “he had signed it himself, or made his official mark.”
“Yes. He had devised a sort of hieroglyph or symbol that he’d had officially recognised by a solicitor while he could still write with some clarity, to be his approved signature when he could no longer produce a legible version of that. There were many documents to be dealt with.”
That made sense. “So the coroner accepted the signature as genuine?”
“Yes. My husband was sure there was nothing suspicious in the letter, as was Edward’s solicitor.”
Jonty nodded. It sounded as though the coroner had explored that avenue thoroughly. “That matter of producing a verified signature shows a lot of foresight. Did your brother have many business matters to deal with?”
Mrs. Blackett nodded, speaking with pride in her voice, “We inherited quite an estate from our father, between us, and Edward knew he’d have things to be addressed. Papa taught us to be vigilant against the chance of fraud. There are many people who would jump at the chance of stealing someone’s money, especially when that someone is vulnerable. Edward didn’t want to take that risk as his illness developed, and he maintained that same determination right to the end. That’s another reason I don’t think he would take his life.”
Jonty wasn’t sure that argument held water. Maybe the man was just preserving his estate as he’d been raised to do, as much a matter of habit as conscious decision. Or maybe he was just taking proper steps to secure his sister’s inheritance.
Orlando’s mind must have been running down the same lines. “I’m sorry to have to pose what might be a delicate question, but you’ll understand why I need to ask it. Where did Edward’s estate go?”
“I understand entirely.” Mrs. Blackett gave a fond smile. “It went to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, apart from a token amount to Wilshire with which to toast my brother’s passing to the next world. I didn’t need any money, being well provided for already, and neither Edward nor myself had any offspring to benefit from us.”
“I see.” Orlando’s puzzled expression seemed to give the lie to his words. “Why that place in specifically?”
“Because he loved Peter Pan, of course.”
Jonty nodded. He knew of the bequest Barrie had made to the hospital, ensuring that the profits from the play would benefit many boys and girls, lost or not. He’d also known Barrie himself, in passing, although their paths hadn’t crossed in many a year.
“Such a sad family,” their hostess said, suddenly. “Would you like more coffee?”
“Er . . . yes, please. And could you clarify that remark? I don’t quite follow.” Jonty had heard a few stories about the Barrie marriage, concerning a lack of rousings in the masculine bushes, but wasn’t sure whether he believed them or not. And Mrs. Blackett didn’t seem like the sort of lady to refer to such strictly below-the-waist matters.
“The Llewelyn Davies family,” she replied, handing Jonty his cup then pouring one for Orlando. “Those poor boys.”
“Ah, yes. Indeed.” Five of them, orphaned at a tender age, left in the care of Barrie—who’d made a pretty good fist of things. Or so Jonty’s parents had averred, and he’d always trusted their judgement. Mr. Stewart in particular had known the family, through his many cricketing connections. But then, the Stewarts were renowned for having connections with just about everyone.
“I’m pleased to hear that Edward invested in such a good cause,” Orlando averred.
“Edward knew them, you know.”
“Did he?” Jonty—whose mind had gone off down a track in which memories of Barrie, cricket, two previous cases (could that really have been a dozen years ago?), all tumbled pell-mell—jolted back to the present. “So did my parents, at a remove. It’s a small world.”
“It is indeed. He’d had a sweetheart, you know, back in our younger days, who was a friend of the Llewelyn Davies family. And then one of the brothers, George, was in the King’s Rifles, too.”
Jonty picked his words carefully. “I have a feeling this story might have a sad ending. Where is his sweetheart now?”
“Your feeling is correct. She died young, just as the boys’ mother did. Edward never got over it. It’s the reason he never married.”
“How sad. I did wonder if it was something similar.” Jonty also wondered, fleetingly, if that had been the true reason, or just what he’d told his sister. There was another obvious reason that a man might choose not to marry—or have a wife simply as a mask to wear in society—but he and Orlando didn’t want to consider that possibility unless they had to. There was such a thing as getting too close for comfort.
“My brother was completely taken with the family and always took an interest in their doings.” Mrs. Blackett stopped, then wagged her finger. “Sorry, we’re digressing, aren’t we?”
“It appears so. My mother always said it was one of my faults, not keeping to the point.” Jonty smiled, then nodded towards Orlando, who was perching on the edge of his chair. “My colleague is evidently anxious to get us back on track.”
“If we could.” Orlando turned over a new page in his notebook. “Your husband told Dr. Stewart that Edward had found out something about Robertson. Some secret which might perhaps be used to coerce him.”
“My brother was no blackmailer, thank you very much!”
Jonty almost dropped his notebook at the volume of Mrs. Blackett’s response.
“Nobody is suggesting blackmail,” he said at last, in measured tones. Apart from you. “The doctor might not have had to be threatened to feel under threat, if that makes sense.”
“A secret can be just as dangerous for the one who knows about it as the one who possesses it,” Orlando added.
“Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry. Gerald—my husband—believes Edward might have used this knowledge he possessed to coerce Robertson into helping him die, but he didn’t need to. As I told you earlier, the doctor would have acted if he’d believed it to be in Edward’s best interest.” She laid her cup down on the table with a suggestion of finality. “Maybe he thought it was in Edward’s best interest, even if my brother had changed his mind.”
Jonty wasn’t ready for the interview to end. “Have you any idea what Edward knew? Or how he’d come across whatever it was?”
“No. On both counts. I wish I did know the wretched thing, because that might shed some light on matters, but I suspect it’s gone to the grave with him.” She looked out of the window again, then turned to face her guests. “Edward was so pleased with himself when he learned whatever he learned. He was like a dog with two tails. If he hadn’t known, if he hadn’t let Robertson know he knew, he might still be here.”
She buried her face in her handkerchief, and Jonty knew they would get no further on this occasion.