First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Catriona McPherson 2010
The right of Catriona McPherson to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Epub ISBN 978 1 848 94206 6
Book ISBN 978 0 340 99297 5
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
An Hachette UK Company
338 Euston Road
For Louise Kelly, with love.
Lisa Moylett, Suzie Doore, Francine Toon, Imogen Olsen,
Alice Laurent, Jessica Hische and Katie Davison.
Bronwen Salter-Murison, for designing and maintaining the
Dandy Gilver website.
Sharron McColl, Dorothy Hall and Jeanette MacMillan of the
Local History Dept in the Carnegie Library, Dunfermline and
library user James Fraser, for information about old
Louise Kelly, for unflagging support and unsettling craftwork.
One of the differences between academia and fiction-writing
that I cherish most is no longer having to record and then cite
all my sources, but I must mention the insanely detailed and
unexpectedly riveting Lee E Gray, (2002),
Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator
in the Nineteenth Century
(Mobile, Ala: Elevator World, Inc.),
without which Aitkens’ lift would still be a mystery to me.
15th May 1927
I wish you would tell me what is wrong. I cannot imagine what it is I have done to make you angry with me or what someone might have said to turn you against me so. If you refuse to meet me or speak to me when I ring you up how can I make it right again? I know that you love me as I love you and I am going to trust that whatever has happened to upset you it will pass and you will be my same old darling again soon.
Your Dearest xxx
17th May 1927
We have had more happy times this spring than some people get in their lifetimes and must count ourselves fortunate for them. I will treasure the memory of your love as long as I live. I am not what you thought I was and not what I myself thought I was either. I cannot explain and I must not see you again but you surely know that my heart is yours for ever.
Your Darling xxx
Whatever I was expecting when I decided to take a turn around Dunfermline – I was early for my appointment and it was a particularly pleasant day – it was not this air of jubilance. Indeed, if one were taxed with naming five jubilant towns and ran out of inspiration after Paris, Barcelona, New Orleans and Rio one would not search for the fifth in Scotland’s Gazetteer. (And if one were taxed with naming five jubilant towns in Scotland and did not, for some reason, face the facts and pay the forfeit right away, I daresay Dunfermline would still not spring to mind.)
Yet I could not help but notice that, today at least, the whole town effervesced in the most remarkable way. The whole city, I should properly say, for – as Hugh never tires of reminding me with much retelling of the glories of King Robert and the shenanigans of Malcolm Canmore – Dunfermline
a city and one groaning with history too: the birthplace of Charles I and more lately (not to mention more beneficially to the world at large) Andrew Carnegie. Indeed I was passing the Carnegie Library now, thinking how generous it was of him to endow it, since here was one place he might have been sure to get a library named after him anyway.
As for the present mood, the weather had to be responsible for some of it, but soft spring sunshine and the kind of gentle breeze that teases at hat ribbons and turns the new leaves over to show their silvery undersides only go so far and further explanation was needed for the exuberance of the window displays in all the small shops along Abbot Street and up the Kirkgate, the newly planted flower beds glimpsed through the park gates, as neat as samplers with their white pansies and pink tulips stitched into the smooth brown backing, and the giddy high spirits of the girls who flitted about in giggling pairs and threesomes, all decked out in their new spring costumes and with their shingles glistening.
There was plenty for them to see: behind the plate-glass windows of a department store called – rather splendidly – House of Hepburn (Hosiers, Glovers, Clothiers and Milliners), instead of the expected outcrops of sensible hats and pyramids of sturdy china there was a series of tableaux showing a beautiful mannequin girl accompanied by a broad-shouldered mannequin admirer, the pair set before a succession of lurid backdrops and dressed in the height of fashion for golf, tennis, the seaside, and – against the most improbable backcloth of all – yachting, complete with ice buckets and open picnic hampers. In the seaside window, I was almost sure, they stood on real sand.
I walked on. At another department store further up on the High Street – Aitkens’ Emporium (Tailors, Mantle Makers, Silk Merchants, Domestic Bazaar): no less splendid, with just as many enormous windows
a revolving door – one could hardly see the sensible hats and sturdy china for exotic arrangements of ostrich and peacock feathers in urns, silver-sprayed fans of seaweed and gold-sprayed shoals of little fishes sprouting out of conch shells (also gold), with billows of sequined silk on the floor for waves, and around the top of each window . . . bunting. Actual bunting, in the dark mauve and gold livery of the store and hanging from golden rope with tasselled ends like the cords which used to hold back dining-room curtains.
There was, however, no time to penetrate the revolving door in search of whatever unheard-of delights the fish and feathers were there to advertise: I had used up my store of time in hand and was in danger of being late unless I hurried along and struck the right street first time.
The right street – Abbey Park Place – was very easily found, since my amble around the town had taken me close to one end of it already although I was surprised to see how far I had since wandered, but number fifteen was not at all what I had been imagining. The postcard I had received was of good quality, thick and cream-coloured with the address deeply engraved in plain black, but I had not foreseen how one of at least fifteen houses in a street in Dunfermline could be anything except a sandstone villa, with a bay window above and one below, joined to its neighbour at the front door and inside stairway. In fact, ‘No. 15’ was merely the Post Office’s designation of Abbey Park itself that presented stone gateposts and a lodge house to the street which I supposed had sprung up around it and taken its name. I glanced at my wristwatch and opened the small pedestrian gate set into one of the large ones.
There were limits, I soon saw, lodge or no lodge; the drive was only yards long – hardly a drive at all – and the house lay at hand just before me. Nevertheless, it was a solid chunk of good grey Georgian stone, sitting there as calm as a bull walrus on a sunny rock; one of those houses where the carriage circle reaches up to meet the front door but whose grounds drop away to lawns at the back so that the porch spans the basement area like a covered bridge (they always make me think, for some reason, of a sedan chair) and its size and solidity despite the deficiencies of the drive presented me with a problem.
For there was no name engraved on the card in my hand, just the address, and I had expected, after rapping on the door of the sandstone villa, to be greeted by whoever had sent it. Clearly, however, this smart black door would be answered by a servant – perhaps even a butler – and I did not know for whom to ask. I pulled the bell and squinted at the card again:
Please come at eleven o’clock on the morning of the twenty-fifth. I have an urgent commission to put to you
, and an unintelligible string of initials written in a wavery but deliberate woman’s hand.
Butler indeed it was who answered, a portly sort in mauve and gold, and drawing myself up I conjured my grandest stare and my coolest voice to address him (taking a moment to note, with sadness, from how near at hand I conjured them these days).
‘Mrs Gilver,’ I said, ‘to see the lady of the house.’ And I waved the card in his direction. He recognised it, but continued frowning.
‘To see . . . Mrs Jack?’ he asked. I gave a nod that might have cracked a walnut under my chin; a gesture I had seen in a police superintendent of my acquaintance and had at once decided to add to my own repertoire. ‘Step this way, madam,’ said the butler and swept me inside.
As we clacked across the tiles of the porch, under a soaring arch, across an expanse of pillared hall and under a second soaring arch I peered at the signature, trying and failing to resolve that final initial into a J, then my attention was caught by the sudden blaze of light as we entered a library. The butler left me and I wandered over to the windows, the card – for the moment – forgotten.
The room faced due south and was bowed out at the far side, with the three tall windows of the bow looking over the lawns I had glimpsed while arriving. And the light simply poured in – warm, thick, honey-coloured light – rolling lazily in through the rippled old glass and washing the room in gold, making it pulse and gleam.
Perhaps it was not a library at all, I judged at a second glance around. To be sure, it was panelled from floor to ceiling and the ceiling itself was covered with panels too, but the wood was some species unknown to me – a rich glossy amber, smelling of wax and resin in the sunshine, and as far from the good dark oak of libraries as could be imagined. Add to this the fact that there were no bookshelves and it seemed less of a library still.
Then, lifting up the velvet cover from one of a number of shrouded tables, I saw that there
books after all. The cover had been guarding a glass-topped case, flattish but tilted a little for display, and in it was what looked to be a book of hours, open at a calendar page. I bent over this surprising item the better to study its decoration and marvel at its obvious antiquity and was still in that undignified position – stooped and snooping – when a gentle cough from the doorway caused me to drop the cover back again. The brass rod along its edge clattered onto the frame and, turning, I banged my ankle against one of the table legs.
‘Mrs Gilver?’ said a voice.
‘Mrs Jack?’ She had stopped in the doorway and stood there for a moment in a frame of that glowing, honeyed wood like a painted saint in an altar panel. It would have been a comely setting for ninety-nine women out of a hundred but it did not flatter this one, at least not today. She was about fifty, I guessed, but anxiety or exhaustion had further aged her; her face was tight, her skin pale and her long dark-red hair was bundled back into an inexpert knot from which great hanks of it were escaping. She wore a wool shawl over her dress and tugged it closer around herself as she moved towards me.
‘Have you brought news?’ she said, searching my face. Her eyes were drawn up into diamond shapes, red-rimmed.
‘I—’ I began, but she interrupted me.
‘Have you discovered her? Has she been found?’
‘I—’ I said again and then mutely held out the postcard for her to see. She blinked at it and then looked back at me.