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An incomplete revenge, p.1
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       An Incomplete Revenge, p.1

           Jacqueline Winspear
An Incomplete Revenge


  With the country in the grip of economic malaise, and worried about her business, Maisie Dobbs is relieved to accept an apparently straightforward assignment from an old friend to investigate certain matters concerning a potential land purchase. Her inquiries take her to a picturesque village in Kent during the hop-picking season, but beneath its pastoral surface she finds evidence that something is amiss. Mysterious fires erupt in the village with alarming regularity, and a series of petty crimes suggests a darker criminal element at work. As Maisie discovers, the villagers are bitterly prejudiced against outsiders who flock to Kent at harvesttime—even more troubling, they seem possessed by the legacy of a wartime Zeppelin raid. Maisie grows increasingly suspicious of a peculiar secrecy that shrouds the village, and ultimately she must draw on all her finely honed skills of detection to solve one of her most intriguing cases.

  Rich with Jacqueline Winspear’s trade-mark period detail, this latest installment of the bestselling series is gripping, atmospheric, and utterly enthralling.

  Also by Jacqueline Winspear

  Maisie Dobbs

  Birds of a Feather

  Pardonable Lies

  Messenger of Truth



  A Maisie Dobbs Novel


  Henry Holt and Company, LLC

  Publishers since 1866

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, New York 10010

  Henry Holt® and ® are registered trademarks

  of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  Copyright © 2008 by Jacqueline Winspear

  All rights reserved.

  Distributed in Canada by H. B. Fenn and Company Ltd.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Winspear, Jacqueline, 1955-

  An incomplete revenge : a Maisie Dobbs novel / Jacqueline Winspear.—1st ed. p. cm.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8215-9

  ISBN-10: 0-8050-8215-8

  1. Dobbs, Maisie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—England—London—Fiction. 3. Great Britain—History—George V, 1910-1936—Fiction. 4. Kent (England)—Fiction. 5. City and town life—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6123.1575153 2008

  823’92—dc22 2007040639

  Henry Holt books are available for special promotions

  and premiums. For details contact: Director, Special Markets.

  First Edition 2008

  Designed by Victoria Hartman

  Printed in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Dedicated to my parents,

  Albert and Joyce Winspear

  With All My Love

  “Of all the gifts that people can give to one another,

  the most meaningful and long lasting are

  strong but simple love and the gift of story.”

  Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., The Gift of Story:

  A Wise Tale About What Is Enough

  If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

  —Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)

  There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.

  —Josh Billings, US. humorist (1818-1885)



  Early September 1931

  The old woman rested on the steps of her home, a caravan set apart from those of the rest of her family, her tribe. She pulled a clay pipe from her pocket, inspected the dregs of tobacco in the small barrel, shrugged, and struck a match against the rim of a water butt tied to the side of her traveling home. She lit the pipe with ease, clamping her ridged lips around the end of the long stem to draw vigor from the almost-spent contents. A lurcher lay at the foot of the steps, seeming at first to be asleep, though the old woman knew that one ear was cocked to the wind, one eye open and watching her every move.

  Aunt Beulah Webb—that was the name she was known by, for an older gypsy woman was always known as aunt to those younger—sucked on her pipe and squinted as she surveyed the nearby fields, then cast her eyes to the hop-gardens beyond. The hops would be hanging heavy on the bine by now, rows upon rows of dark-green, spice-aroma’d swags, waiting to be harvested, picked by the nimble hands of men, women and children alike, most of whom came from London for a working late-summer holiday. Others were gypsies like herself, and the rest were gorja from the surrounding villages. Gorja. More house dwellers, more who were not gypsies.

  Her people kept themselves to themselves, went about their business without inviting trouble. Aunt Beulah hoped the diddakoi families kept away from the farm this year. A Roma would trust anyone before a diddakoi—before the half-bred people who were born of gypsy and gorja. As far as she was concerned, they looked for trouble, expected it. They were forgetting the old ways, and there were those among them who left the dregs of their life behind them when they moved on, their caravans towed by bone-shaker lorries, not horses. The woman looked across at the caravan of the one she herself simply called Webb. Her son. Of course, her son’s baby daughter, Boosul, was a diddakoi, by rights, though with her shock of ebony hair and pebble-black eyes, she favored Roma through and through.

  About her business in the morning, Beulah brought four tin bowls from underneath the caravan—underneath the vardo in the gypsy tongue. One bowl was used to wash tools used in the business of eating, one for the laundering of clothes, one for water that touched her body, and another for the cleaning of her vardo. It was only when she had completed those tasks, fetching dead wood from the forest for the fire to heat the water, that she finally placed an enamel kettle among the glowing embers and waited for it to boil for tea. Uneasy unless working, Beulah bound bunches of Michaelmas daisies to sell door to door, then set them in a basket and climbed back into her vardo.

  She knew the village gorja, those out about their errands, would turn their backs when they saw her on the street, would glance away from her black eyes and dark skin now rippled with age. They would look aside so as not to stare at her gold hoop earrings, the scarf around her head, and the wide gathered skirt of thread-bare deep-purple wool that marked her as a gypsy. Sometimes children would taunt.

  “Where are you going, pikey? Can’t you hear, you old gyppo woman?’

  But she would only have to stare, perhaps point a charcoal-blackened finger, and utter words in dialect that came from deep in the throat, a low grumble of language that could strike fear into the bravest bully—and they would be gone.

  Women were the first to turn away, though there were always a few—enough to make it worth her while—who would come to the door at her knock, press a penny into her outstretched hand, and take a bunch of the daisies with speed lest their fingers touch her skin. Beulah smiled. She would see them again soon enough. When dusk fell, a twig would snap underfoot as a visitor approached her vardo with care. The lurcher would look up, a bottomless growl rumbling in her gullet. Beulah would reach down and place her hand on the dog’s head, whispering, “Shhhh,jook” She would wait until the steps were closer, until she could hold the lurcher no longer, and then would call out, “Who’s there?” And, after a second or two, a voice, perhaps timid, would reply, “I’ve come for my fortune.”

  Beulah would smile as she uncovered the glass sphere she’d brought out and set on the table at eventide, waiting.

  Not that a ball made of a bit of glass had anything to do with it, yet that was what was expected. The gypsy might not have been an educated wom
an, but she knew what sold. She didn’t need glass, or crystal, a bit of amethyst, a cup of still-wet tea leaves, or a rabbit’s foot to see, either. No, those knickknacks were for the customers, for those who needed to witness her using something solid, because the thought of her seeing pictures of what was to come in thin air would be enough to send them running. And you never scared away money.

  Beulah heard a squeal from the tent that leaned against her son’s vardo, little Boosul waking from sleep. Her people were stirring, coming out to light fires, to make ready for the day. True gypsies never slept in their spotless vardos, with shining brass and wafer-thin china hanging from the walls. Like Beulah, they lived in tents, hardy canvas tied across a frame of birch or ash. The vardos were kept for best. Beulah looked up to the rising sun, then again at the fields as the steamy mist of warming dew rose to greet the day. She didn’t care for the people of this village, Heronsdene. She saw the dark shadow that enveloped each man and woman and trailed along, weighing them down as they went about their daily round. There were ghosts in this village—ghosts who would allow the neighbors no rest.

  AS SHE REACHED down to pour scalding water into the teapot, the old woman’s face concertina’d as a throbbing pain and bright light bore down upon her with no warning, a sensation with which she was well familiar. She dropped the kettle back into the embers and pressed her bony knuckles hard against her skull, squeezing her eyes shut against flames that licked up behind her closed eyelids. Fire. Again. She fought for breath, the heat rising up around her feet to her waist, making her old legs sweat, her hands clammy. And once more she came to Beulah, walking out from the very heart of the inferno, the younger woman she had not yet met but knew would soon come. It would not be long now; the time approached—of that she was sure. The woman was tall and well dressed, with black hair—not long hair, but not as short as she’d seen on some of the gorja womenfolk in recent years. Beulah leaned against the vardo, the lurcher coming to stand at her mistress’s side as if to offer her lean body as buttress. This woman, who walked amid the flames of Beulah’s imagination, had known sadness, had lived with death. And though she now stepped forward alone, the grief was lifting—Beulah could see it ascending like the morning cloud, rising up to leave her in peace. She was strong, this woman of her dreams, and . . . Beulah shook her head. The vision was fading; the woman had turned away from her, back into the flames, and was gone.

  The gypsy matriarch held one hand against her forehead, still leaning against her vardo. She opened her eyes with care and looked about her. Only seconds had passed, yet she had seen enough to know that a time of great trouble was almost upon her. She believed the woman—the woman for whom she waited—would be her ally, though she could not be sure. She was sure of three things, though—that the end of her days drew ever closer, that before she breathed her last, a woman she had never seen in her life would come to her, and that this woman, even though she might think of herself as ordinary, of little account in the wider world, still followed Death as he made his rounds. That was her calling, her work, what she was descended of gorja and gypsy to do. And Beulah Webb knew that here, in this place called Heronsdene, Death would walk among them soon enough, and there was nothing she could do to prevent such fate. She could only do her best to protect her people.

  The sun was higher in the sky now. The gypsy folk would bide their time for three more days, then move to a clearing at the edge of the farm, setting their vardos and pitching their tents away from Londoners, who came for the picking to live in whitewashed hopper huts and sing their bawdy songs around the fire at night. And though she would go about her business, Beulah would be waiting—waiting for the woman with her modern clothes and her tidy hair. Waiting for the woman whose sight, she knew, was as powerful as her own.


  Marta Jones surveyed her students, casting her eyes around the studio, with its high ceilings and skeins upon skeins of colored yarn hanging from laundry racks raised up with pulleys and secured on the wall, and the six wooden looms pressed against one another, for space was at a premium. Her desk—a battered oak table set next to the door—was covered in papers, books and drawings, and to her right, as she faced her class, an ancient chaise longue was draped with an old red velvet counterpane to hide darnings and tears in the upholstery. Several spinning wheels were set against the wall to the left of the room, alongside a box where she kept wool collected on Sunday excursions into the country. Of course, she ordered untreated wool directly from her suppliers, but she liked to collect tufts from the hedgerows, where sheep had pressed against hawthorn or bramble to ease an itch and left behind a goodly pull of their coats.

  She had taken on students with some reluctance. Even though the rent on her studio close to the Albert Hall was cheap enough due to an ancient land law that provided for artists, her commissions had diminished and she was forced to look for additional income. So she had placed one small advertisement in the newspaper, and written to those who had purchased her works in the past, to let them know that she was taking in a “small number of students to learn the art and craft of traditional tapestry.” In general, her students were a motley group and definitely better off; the working classes could barely afford to eat, let alone spend money on frivolities. There were two ladies from Belgravia who thought it might be “rather fun” to spend a Saturday afternoon or evening here each week, chatting as they worked their shuttles back and forth, following the sketched cartoon image that lay beneath the lines of warp and weft.

  Another two friends, well-funded students from the Slade seeking a class beyond their regular curriculum, had joined, as had a poet who thought that work in color would enhance the rhythm and pulse of his language. Then there was the woman who spoke little but who had come to Marta’s studio after seeing the advertisement. Watching her now, the artist was fascinated by this particular student, drawn to the changes she had observed since class began. The woman had explained that she had recently been exposed to the world of art—she said it as if it were an unfamiliar country—and that she wanted to do “something artistic,” as her work was far removed from such indulgence. She had smiled and gone on to say that she had never produced a proper painting, even as a child, and she thought she could not sketch at all, but she was drawn to tapestry, attracted to the weaving of color and texture, to a medium that did not present an immediate image but, when one stood back to regard the day’s endeavor, a picture began to take form. “It’s rather like my work,” she had said. And when Marta asked about the woman’s profession, she paused for a moment and then drew out a card, which she offered to the artist. It said, simply:



  Marta thought that this one evening each week was the woman’s only recreation, but with each class, something about her seemed to change almost imperceptibly, though the artist found the effect to be quite extraordinary. Her clothes had become more colorful, her artistry more bold as she gained confidence. On the evening when they had experimented with dyeing, taking the yarns they had spun during the previous week, pressing them down into buckets of dye, and then pulling them out to hang first over sinks in the studio’s own scullery before looping them over laundry racks to dry, she had rolled up her sleeves and simply laughed when color splashed across her face. The Belgravia matrons had frowned and the poet appeared shy, but soon this woman, who had appeared so reticent at first, so slow and measured in her interactions with fellow students, had come to be the lynchpin in the class—without saying much at all. And, Marta thought, she was very good at drawing out stories. Why, only today, while Maisie worked at her loom, her fingers nimble as she wove threads of purple, magenta and yellow, she had asked the teacher but two questions and soon knew the entire story of the woman’s coming to England from Poland as a child. In fact, as she answered the questions that Maisie Dobbs put to her, the whole class knew in short order that Marta’s father had insisted that his children learn only English, so that they woul
d fit in and not be marked as foreigners. And her mother had ensured the family dressed in a way that did not set them apart from their new friends, who knew them as the Jones family—that most British of names, adopted as they disembarked from their ship once it had docked at Southampton.

  Marta smiled, as she watched Maisie Dobbs work at her loom, and picked up her card again, PSYCHOLOGIST AND INVESTIGATOR. Yes, she must be very good at her trade, this woman who had, without any effort at all, encouraged six people to tell her far more about themselves than they would ever imagine recounting—and all without revealing much about herself, except that she was newly drawn to color.

  JAMES COMPTON WALKED at a brisk pace past the Albert Hall, taking advantage of the warm September evening. As his right-hand man in Toronto would have said, he had a head of steam on him, frustration with a land purchase that had proved to be fraught with problems. He did not even care to be in London again, though the thought of returning had at first seemed filled with promise. But the Compton family mansion at Ebury Place had been mothballed, and staying at his father’s club and spending each evening with crusty old men languishing amid tales of doom regarding the economy and reminiscences that began with “In my day . . .” was not his idea of fun.

  Of course, life in the city of Toronto was not all beer and skittles—after all, he had a corporation with diversified interests to run—but there was sailing on the lake and skiing in Vermont, across the border, to look forward to. And the cold was different—it didn’t seep into his war wounds the way it did here. He thought of men he’d seen at the labor exchanges, or soup kitchens, or simply walking miles across London each day in search of work, many of them limping, wounds nagging their memories each day, like scabs being picked raw.

  But Toronto might have to wait for him a bit longer. Lord Julian Compton, his father, wanted to relinquish more responsibility and was already talking of having James step up to replace him as chairman of the Compton Corporation. And that wasn’t all that was bothering him, as he glanced at the scrap of paper upon which he had scribbled the address given to him by Maisie Dobbs during their conversation this morning. His mother, Maisie’s former employer and longtime supporter, had always encouraged her husband and son to direct any suitable business in Maisie’s direction if possible, so she was the first person he’d thought to telephone when a property transaction began showing signs that it might become troublesome.

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