Authors: Evelyn James
Evelyn James 2014
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Clara had come to the conclusion that cars were a
disagreeable way to travel, especially when they were open-topped and forced
one to cling to one’s hat. She also preferred to keep her eyes closed in case
anything wandered into the road. A couple of miles back there had been an ambling
farm labourer who had incurred the wrath of the driver of the car she was
currently in, for having the audacity to walk along the road. The rudeness of
it all had stunned Clara, but it seemed this was the way all ‘car-people’ drove
and treated everyone else on the roads. She had to wonder how an inanimate
vehicle could seem to bring out the worst in everyone.
Her brother Tommy sat beside the driver taking in every
gear change and fast turning corner with the keen eye of the would-be car
owner. Tommy had been left crippled by the war, but if only he had use of his
legs the things he would do! He’d love a car, Clara mused, if only he would go
see that damn doctor who said he might be able to help!
They turned a corner sharply and headed out of country
lanes into a village. The driver, not a day over eighteen Clara was certain,
honked his horn loudly as though everyone needed to know he was there. A few
people moved aside, while others gave him an evil glare. Clara was trying to
remember his name. Jimmy, or Timmy, something with a ‘y’ ending anyway. He had
met them at the station under instructions from his employers the Campbells (Clara
and Tommy’s cousins) to escort them in the car to the Campbell country seat.
Clara had feared as much, she had heard the Campbells were fond of modern
things and would not be without at least two cars.
She closed her eyes again as they zigzagged down a narrow
pathway between two old cottage walls. It surely did not seem big enough for a
car, but the driver Jimmy/Timmy hardly dropped his speed.
It had all been so much bother since the letter had
arrived the week before last. Clara had not given the Campbell family a thought
in years, except for the traditional exchange of Christmas cards. Her
grandfather had had a sister called Rosalie, who married Josiah Campbell, heir
to a thriving coal mining concern. Rosalie had moved up North with Josiah and
had two sons, while her brother had been more conservative and had a solitary
child – Clara’s father. Around 1900 Josiah Campbell had sensed trouble looming
in the coal industry and had sold his mine for a ludicrous sum of money. He had
been lucky, within years the coal market had collapsed, the war brought further
calamity, prices fell, workers had to be laid off and instead of a golden
goose, the average coal mine was now considered a white elephant.
Josiah Campbell never looked back. He invested his money,
doubled it, then tripled it. There was talk of shady deals during the war, but
nothing proven. When Josiah died in 1918, safe in the knowledge all his grandchildren
(of which he had three) had survived the war, he was a millionaire many times
over and his estate was tidily divided between his sons. Now, two years on,
there was a wedding due, the eldest grandchild Andrew was to be married on
Saturday and the occasion called for all branches of the family to be gathered
- even distant cousins.
Needless to say Clara was a little anxious. Hogarth
Campbell was the younger of Josiah’s sons. He had kept in touch with Clara’s
father because they had once spent a summer together as boys. When Clara’s
parents had died there had been a gushing letter from Hogarth, bereft forever
at the loss. She supposed the last time she had seen him and his wife Glorianna
was at her parents’ funeral. Then there were the children, Andrew, Penelope
(Peg) and Susan. Clara had a vague memory of them hovering at the back of the
funeral procession, Andrew still in uniform, home on leave, Peg and Susan
dressed in matching black outfits looking little more than schoolgirls. They
must be 18 and 20 now. Clara wondered if she would recognise them.
The car swept through a pair of stone gates ornamented with
roaring lions and the driver pumped the accelerator and churned up gravel as
they zoomed up the drive. Clara allowed herself a peek at the surroundings.
Tall ornamental pine trees were dotted on either side of the lawn, there were
chairs arranged beneath them and at one corner a croquet game had been laid out
and then abandoned. The birds were singing in the treetops, but Clara noted
there were no flowerbeds which disappointed her. April had turned into May and
this was the season when many flowers found their form, it seemed strange such
a grand garden was bereft of them.
The house loomed up in neo-classical style. The driver
pulled them sharply around the curve of the drive, level with the front door.
Clara hopped out before he had pulled on the hand-brake, she wasn’t convinced
he wouldn’t start off again at any moment. A butler came down the front steps
to greet her.
The butler raised a hand and two lads appeared to take
the luggage from the car.
“My brother needs assistance.”
The butler gave a knowing smile and personally went
around the car, retrieved Tommy’s wheelchair and helped the young man into it.
“Thanks, old boy.” Tommy grunted as he was negotiated
into his chair.
“My pleasure sir. May I ask you to both come through? I
have been asked to bring you to the summer room where the family is awaiting
Clara felt her nerves redouble. She was not one for
worrying about appearances normally, but she had the strangest desire to make a
good impression on her cousins. She automatically patted her hat and
straightened out her skirt, she readjusted the waist which had ridden up from
its fashionable position on her hips and almost gave away that she had a
figure. The problem was she wasn’t convinced it was enough.
“This way please.” The butler politely coughed, halfway
through dragging Tommy’s chair up the steps.
Jimmy/Timmy the driver was rolling away in the car. There
was no escape now. Clara braced herself and went to meet her long misplaced
“Tommy, you look so well!” Glorianna Campbell swept
across the carpet in extravagant high-heels and a dress Clara had recently seen
in an advertisement for Harrods. She was not a day under forty, but she was
second wife and that gave her an excuse to wear dresses that would have looked
more fitting on her step-daughters.
She approached with arms theatrically wide and embraced
Tommy with faux sentiment, kissing his forehead and leaving a blotch of
“Oh Clara, you look so nice! The longer bob suits you!”
Clara was equally embraced and treated to kisses on both
cheeks. Glorianna’s eyes gleamed a little too brightly.
“I am so delighted you could make it. I hate to think how
long it has been since we last saw you. I said to Hogarth, we must not leave it
so long again! Drinks?”
“Just a gin and tonic. Light on the gin.” Clara said.
“Oh make it a cocktail!” Glorianna beamed, “Peg mixes the
most splendid ones. Peg what is that new one you brought back from America last
year? The Mississpi? The New York?”
“The Boston Belle.” Peg had been languidly propped
against the fireplace at the far side of the room, now she stood and came towards
Clara had to look at her twice. For certain the
schoolgirl was gone; for a start Peg was dressed in trousers and her hair was
cropped so short it barely touched the lobes of her ears. She was oddly
androgynous in her get-up, there was not an ounce of femininity, from the way
she stood to the flat shoes on her feet, yet also she was not precisely
“I’ll mix it.” Peg offered, flashing a smile at Clara and
Tommy, “Glory never gets the quantities right.”
“I thought our American friends had banned alcohol?”
“That they did. Prohibition began in January. I was there
last October through December and missed the horrors of it all. I feel sorry
for all those poor drunks. What will they do now?” Peg was grinning wickedly.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Peg since she was a girl?”
Glorianna gave a minor grimace, which might have been accidental.
Clara risked a glance at Tommy, who, of all of them,
seemed unflustered by Peg’s appearance.
“I say Peg, are you one of these modern women who can’t
stand men?” He asked with such simplicity that even Clara was convinced it was
an unconscious faux-pas.
Glorianna tensed, the lines of her dress suddenly
becoming straighter. Peg, however, laughed loudly.
“Don’t be a fool Tommy. I can stand men as long as they
don’t expect me to marry them.” She offered him a tumbler of clear liquid,
“What about you?”
“Pretty much the same.” Tommy grinned.
The tension in the situation defused as it seemed clear
no one was taking offence. In fact, Clara had the distinct impression that
Tommy had already developed a liking for Peg.
“So you’ve been to America?”
“Only briefly. I didn’t like it. Too many gangsters
running around willy-nilly with the law taking no notice. They do know how to
make a cocktail though.”
Clara took a cautious sip of her drink. It was quite
sweet, with a bitter after-taste. Whatever alcohol was in it was cleverly
masked, meaning it was probably hideously intoxicating.
“Hogarth? Are you coming to say hello Hogarth?” Glorianna
was motioning to a large man to her right who had been standing in the
background until the calamity over Peg had been dealt with.
Now he came forward, all joviality and good-humour.
“Darling Clara! Look at you! Why I remember you as that
wee thing that pushed a dolly in a pram and refused to eat her carrots. Now you
are all grown!”
Hogarth was over-weight, the sort of over-weight that
worries doctors and has them prescribing liquid diets and exercise. He was
capacious, with a flurried face and a slight hint of sweat brought on by
hauling his massive girth about. But he was friendly and appealing. He embraced
Clara and she smelt only soap and cologne. His eyes were merry and he seemed
genuinely delighted by her presence.
“Your father would be so proud.” He held her at arms’
length to see her better and a tear dotted the corner of his eye, “Poor
“Hogarth, don’t upset yourself. This is a happy
occasion.” Glorianna patted his arm warmly, “You remember Andrew and Susan,
don’t you Clara?”
Almost eclipsed by Hogarth were his two final children.
Andrew was tall and lean, complete opposite to his obese father. He also had a
slightly haughty air and refrained from smiling as he shook Clara’s hand. For a
prospective bridegroom he looked rather under-whelmed. Susan was bubbly and
much like her father, she clasped Clara’s hand and kept saying how delighted
she was by, well, everything. The wedding, them coming, the parties, the food,
the dresses, just, everything. Clara suspected too long a time in her company
could make you feel quite dizzy. With all the room announced, Glorianna
returned to the practicalities of hostess.
“Now, you will want to go to your rooms and freshen up
for dinner. We eat at seven, but cocktails at six. We are expecting uncle
Eustace tonight. Do you remember him?”
Clara could not bring to mind the older Campbell brother,
she didn’t think he had come to her parents’ funeral.
“Never mind, you’ll meet him soon enough. We are rather
informal for dinner. Oh, silly me, and dear Laura will be there. That’s the
Clara and Tommy were shown to their rooms (on the ground
floor for Tommy’s convenience) feeling a bit dazed by the whole experience of
meeting the Campbells. Peg did the honours of showing them the way, pushing
Tommy as though she had known him forever.
“What do you make of us then?” She asked.
Clara glanced up.
“Well, you’re a female detective aren’t you? Jolly good
show, by the way. So you must look at that lot back there and have some
Clara was not about to admit anything. Tommy was more
“Clara plays her cards close to her chest, but you’re
thinking something I take it Peg?”
“I’m thinking a lot, but I think it is because I’ve been
in America so long. You see, over there you have to watch your step so much
because you never know who the bad guy is, but there is always this unspoken
tension and, well, I don’t know. It seems to me that when I came home there was
just the same feeling here.”
“It’s probably just the wedding.” Clara replied,
“Everyone gets nervous about these things.”
“Yes, well you haven’t been here long yet. Give it a
while and you will see what I mean.” Peg halted them before their rooms,
“Something’s not right among them. Maybe someone’s contemplating murder!”
Peg roared with laughter. Clara failed to see the
amusement, over the last few months she had been embroiled in two murder cases,
one recent, one historic, and there had been nothing funny about them.
“Well, I’ll see you tonight, ta-ra!” Peg waved them off
and left them to discover their rooms.
Clara pushed Tommy into his.
“I hope it’s not true, that thing they say about
policemen never having a holiday because their work always follows them.” Tommy
Clara looked at him curiously.
“Because it might be the same for private detectives.”
“Oh don’t be silly.” Clara rolled her eyes, “We are at a
wedding, what could be further from thoughts of murder? We only have to last
the weekend and then we can be back home.”
“Yes, you’re right.” Tommy shook off his sudden gloom,
“Peg’s a right one, isn’t she?”
“I suspect she likes to shock people.”
“I don’t doubt it! At least she is a bit lively.” Tommy
surveyed his apartments, “Ever wonder what it would have been like if our
grandfather had been the one with the fortune?”
Clara glanced at the green curtains and the hint in the
air of fresh paint.
“I try not to. Life is far more complicated with money.”