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Pardonable lies, p.1
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       Pardonable Lies, p.1

           Jacqueline Winspear
 
Pardonable Lies


  Jacqueline Winspear is the author of two previous Maisie Dobbs novels, Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather, which won the Agatha Award for Best Novel. A New York Times Notable Book, Maisie Dobbs was nominated for a record eight awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, and won both the Agatha and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel, as well as the Alex Award for an adult novel suitable for young adults. Born in England, Winspear now lives in California.

  Also by Jacqueline Winspear

  Maisie Dobbs

  Birds of a Feather

  Additional Praise for Jacqueline Winspear’s Pardonable Lies

  “Will thoroughly delight existing fans and should garner her new ones…Winspear carefully crafts each sentence, building toward a thrilling and emotional conclusion.”

  —Library Journal

  “If you haven’t read the Maisie Dobbs stories, you are missing a treat.”

  —The Ledger Independent (Kentucky)

  “Fans of Miss Marple and Precious Ramotswe are sure to embrace Maisie, a pitch-perfect blend of compassion and panache.”

  —Booklist

  “To give an idea of how much I liked Pardonable Lies, I immediately went to my local bookstore and ordered the first two in the series. Long live Maisie Dobbs!”

  —Mystery News

  “Maisie is immediately captivating…. Dobbs ponders the mysteries of life as well as the mysteries she is hired to solve…. Surprisingly eloquent, even moving.”

  —Saint Paul Pioneer Press

  “Jacqueline Winspear’s historical mysteries prove exactly what this subgenre can achieve, offering a prism of the past and a mirror of the future…. Fascinating.”

  —Sun-Sentinel

  “A fine examination of a young woman making her way amid the economic and social dislocations of 1930s Britain…Pardonable Lies is a reflection, a meditation even, on how those of us who have experienced war carry with us the scars that can reopen in an instant.”

  —The Sunday Patriot-News

  “Winspear again treats us to a story broad in scope and rich in detail and suspense…. An excellent series.”

  —The Orange County Register

  “Filled with convincing characters, this is a complex tale of healing, of truth and half-truth, of long-held secrets, some, perhaps, to be held forever. Winspear writes seamlessly, enriching the whole with vivid details of English life on a variety of social levels.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Winspear twists the suspense to a high pitch in this dark and moody tale that will please newcomers to the series as well as Winspear’s many fans.”

  —Rocky Mountain News

  PARDONABLE LIES

  A Maisie Dobbs Novel

  JACQUELINE WINSPEAR

  Picador

  Henry Holt and Company

  New York

  For Anne-Marie

  With much love and gratitude

  for our lifetime friendship.

  Truly, to tell lies is not honorable;

  but when the truth entails tremendous ruin,

  to speak dishonorably is pardonable.

  —Sophocles (c. 496–406 B.C.), Creusa

  Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

  Shovel them under and let me work—

  I am the grass; I cover all.

  And pile them high at Gettysburg

  And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

  Shovel them under and let me work.

  Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

  What place is this?

  Where are we now?

  I am the grass.

  Let me work.

  —Carl Sandburg (1878–1967), Grass

  CONTENTS

  PART ONE

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  PART TWO

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  PART THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

  EPILOGUE

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  AUTHOR INTERVIEW

  DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  PART ONE

  London, September 1930

  ONE

  The young policewoman stood in the corner of the room. Plain whitewashed walls, a heavy door, a wooden table with two chairs, and one small window with frosted glass rendered the room soulless. It was a cold afternoon and she’d been in the corner since coming on duty two hours ago, her only company the rumpled and bent girl sitting in the chair that faced the wall. Others had come into the room to sit in the second chair: first, Detective Inspector Richard Stratton, with Detective Sergeant Caldwell standing behind him; then Stratton standing while a doctor from the Maudsley Hospital sat before the girl, trying to get her to speak. The girl—no one knew her age or where she had come from because she hadn’t spoken a word since she was brought in this morning, her bloodstained dress, hands and face showing a month’s worth of dirt—was now waiting for another person who had been summoned to question her: a Miss Maisie Dobbs. The policewoman had heard of Maisie Dobbs, but with what she had seen today, she wasn’t sure that anyone could get this young scrubber to talk.

  The policewoman heard voices outside the door: Stratton and Caldwell and then another voice. A smooth voice. A voice that was neither loud nor soft, that did not need to be raised to be heard or, thought the policewoman, to get someone to listen.

  The door opened and Stratton came in, followed by a woman she presumed to be Maisie Dobbs. The policewoman was surprised, for the woman was nothing like she had expected, but then she realized that the voice had revealed little about the owner, except that it had depth without being deep.

  Wearing a plain burgundy suit with black shoes and carrying a worn black leather document case, the visitor smiled at both the policewoman and Stratton in a way that almost startled the uniformed woman, as her eyes met the midnight-blue eyes of Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator.

  “Pleased to meet you, Miss Chalmers,” said Maisie, though they had not been introduced. The warm familiarity of the greeting took Chalmers aback. “Brrr. It’s cold in here,” added the investigator, turning to Stratton. “Inspector, can we bring in an oil stove? Just to take the edge off?”

  Stratton raised an eyebrow and inclined his head at the unusual nature of the request. Amused at seeing her superior caught off guard, Chalmers tried to hide a grin, and the seated girl looked up, just for a second, because the woman’s voice compelled her to do so.

  “Good. Thank you, Inspector. Oh—and perhaps a chair for Miss Chalmers.” Maisie Dobbs removed her gloves, placing them on top of the black bag, which she set on the floor, before pulling a chair around so that she was seated not opposite the girl, on the other side of the table, but close to her.

  Strange, thought Chalmers, as the door opened and a constable brought in another chair, left the room, and returned with a small paraffin stove, which he placed by the wall. They exchanged
quick glances and shrugged shoulders.

  “Thank you,” said Maisie, smiling.

  And they knew she had seen their furtive communication.

  Now, sitting alongside the girl, Maisie said nothing. She said nothing for some time, so that after a while Chalmers wondered what in heaven’s name she was there for. Then she realized that the Dobbs woman had closed her eyes and had changed her position slowly, and though she couldn’t put her finger on it, it was as if she were talking to the girl without opening her mouth, so that the girl—as if she couldn’t help herself—leaned toward Maisie Dobbs. Blimey, she’s going to talk.

  “I’m getting warmer now.” It was a rounded voice, a west-country voice. The girl spoke deliberately, with rolled r’s and a nod when her sentence was finished. A farm girl. Yes, Chalmers would have pegged her for a farm girl.

  But Maisie Dobbs said nothing, just opened her eyes and smiled, but not with her mouth. No, it was her eyes that smiled. Then she touched the girl’s hand, taking it in her own. The girl began to cry and, very strange again, thought Chalmers, the Dobbs woman didn’t reach out to put an arm around her shoulder, or try to stop her or use the moment as Stratton and Caldwell might have. No, she just sat and nodded, as if she had all the time in the world. Then she surprised the policewoman again.

  “Miss Chalmers. Would you be so kind as to poke your head around the door and ask for a bowl of hot water, some soap, two flannels, and a towel, please.”

  Chalmers gave a single nod and moved toward the door. Oh, this would surely give the girls something to chew over later. They’d all have a giggle about this little pantomime.

  A bowl of hot water was brought to the room by the police constable, along with the flannels, soap, and towel. Maisie removed her jacket, placed it over the back of the chair, and rolled up the sleeves of her cream silk blouse. Reaching into the bowl, she rubbed some soap on a wet flannel and squeezed out the excess water. Then she lifted the girl’s chin, smiled into her reddened and bloodshot eyes, and began to wash her face, rinsing the flannel and going back again, dabbing the hot cloth on the girl’s temples and across her forehead. She washed her arms, holding first her left hand in the hot flannel and working the cloth up to her elbow, then reaching for the girl’s right hand. The girl flinched, but Maisie showed no sign of noticing the movement, instead massaging her right hand with the cloth, gently working it along her arm to the elbow, and then rinsing again.

  It was as she knelt on the floor, taking one filthy bare foot after the other and washing the dirt and grime away with the second flannel, that the policewoman realized she had become mesmerized by the scene unfolding before her. It’s like being in church.

  The girl spoke again. “You’ve got right soft ’ands, miss.”

  Maisie Dobbs smiled. “Thank you. I used to be a nurse, years ago, in the war. That’s what the soldiers used to say: that my hands were soft.”

  The girl nodded.

  “What’s your name?”

  Chalmers stared as the girl—who had been sitting in that room without so much as a cup of tea since she was brought in twelve hours ago—replied immediately.

  “Avril Jarvis, miss.”

  “Where are you from?”

  “Taunton, miss.” She began to sob.

  Maisie Dobbs reached into the black bag and brought out a clean linen handkerchief, which she placed on the table in front of the girl. Chalmers waited for Maisie to take out a sheet of paper to write notes, but she didn’t; instead she simply continued with her questions as she finished drying the girl’s feet.

  “How old are you, Avril?”

  “Fourteen next April, I reckon.”

  Maisie smiled. “Tell me, why are you in London and not Taunton?”

  Avril Jarvis sobbed continuously as Maisie folded the towel and sat next to her again. But she did answer the question, along with every other question put to her over the next hour, at which point Maisie said that was enough for now; she would be taken care of and they would speak again tomorrow—only Detective Inspector Stratton would have to hear her story too. Then, adding fuel to the tale that Chalmers would tell the other policewomen lodging in rooms upstairs at Vine Street, the Jarvis girl nodded and said, “All right, then. Just so long as you’ll be with me, miss.”

  “Yes. I’ll be here. Don’t worry. You can rest now, Avril.”

  TWO

  Following a debriefing with Stratton and Caldwell, Maisie was taken back to her office in Fitzroy Square by Stratton’s driver, who would collect her again tomorrow morning for another interview with Avril Jarvis. Maisie knew that much rested on the outcome of this second interview. Depending upon what was revealed and what could be corroborated, Avril Jarvis might spend the rest of her life behind bars.

  “You’ve been gone a long time, Miss,” said Billy Beale, her assistant, running his fingers back through his sun-burnished hair. He came to Maisie’s side, took her coat and placed it on the hook behind the door.

  “Yes, it was a long one, Billy. Poor little mite didn’t stand a chance. Mind you, I’m not sure how deeply the police are looking into her background at this point, and I would like to have some closer-to-the-bone impressions and information. If I’m required to give evidence under oath, I want to be better prepared.” Maisie took off her hat, placed it on the corner of her desk, and slipped her gloves into the top drawer. “I’m wondering, Billy. Would you and Doreen fancy a trip down to Taunton for the weekend, with everything paid for?”

  “You mean like an ’oliday, Miss?”

  Maisie inclined her head. “Well, it won’t be quite like being on holiday. I want you to find out more about Avril Jarvis, the girl I interviewed this morning. She said she’s from Taunton and I have no reason to disbelieve her. Find out where she lived, who her family are, whether she went to school there, if she worked, and when she left to come to London. I want to know why she came to London—I doubt if she knew it was for a life on the streets—and what she was like as a child.” She shook her head. “Heavens, she’s only thirteen now—all but a child. It’s wretched.”

  “She in trouble, Miss?”

  “Oh, yes. Very big trouble. She is about to be charged with the crime of murder.”

  “Gawd—and she’s only thirteen?”

  “Yes. Now then, can you go to Taunton?”

  Billy pressed his lips together. “Well, it’s not as if me and Doreen have had much of an ’oliday together, ever, really. She don’t like to leave the nippers, but you know, I suppose me mum can look after ’em while we’re away.”

  Maisie nodded and took out a new manila folder, which she inscribed AVRIL JARVIS and passed to Billy, along with a collection of index cards upon which she had scribbled notes while waiting for her debriefing with Stratton and Caldwell. “Good. Let me know as soon as possible if and when you can go. I’ll advance you the money for the train, a guesthouse, and incidentals. Now then, let’s get on as I’ve to leave early this evening.”

  Billy took the folder and sat down at his desk. “Oh, yeah, you’re seein’ that old friend of yours, Mrs. Partridge.”

  Maisie turned her attention to a ledger before her. She did not look up. “Yes, Priscilla Partridge—Evernden, as she was when we were at Girton together. After two terms she joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1915 and drove an ambulance in France.” Maisie sighed and looked up. “She couldn’t stand to stay in England after the Armistice. She’d lost all three brothers to war, and her parents to the flu, so she went to live on the Atlantic coast of France. That’s where she met Douglas Partridge.”

  “I reckon I’ve ’eard that name before.” Billy tapped the side of his head with a pencil.

  “Douglas is a famous author and poet. He was badly wounded in the war, lost an arm. His poetry about the war was very controversial when it was first published here, but he’s managed to continue with his work—though it’s very dark, if you know what I mean.”

  “Not really, Miss. I’d ’eard of ’im, but, y’know, poetry
s not up my alley, to tell you the truth.”

  Maisie smiled and continued. “Priscilla has three boys. She calls them ‘the toads’ and says they are just like her brothers, always up to something. She’s back in London to look at schools for them for next year. She and Douglas have decided that the boys are growing up and need to have a British education.”

  Billy shook his head. “Don’t think I could part with my nippers—oh, sorry, Miss.” He pressed his hand to his mouth, remembering that Frankie Dobbs had sent Maisie to work as a maid in the home of Lord Julian Compton and his wife, Lady Rowan, when her mother died. At the time, Maisie was barely thirteen years old.

  Maisie shrugged. “That’s all right, Billy. It’s well past now. My father was doing what he thought best for me, and no doubt that’s what Priscilla is doing. Each to their own—we’ve all got to part one day, haven’t we?” Maisie shrugged. “Let’s just get these bills finished and go home.”

  For the past year, Maisie had lived at Lord and Lady Compton’s Belgravia home. The accommodation had been offered to Maisie in the context of a favor to Lady Rowan, who wanted someone she trusted living “upstairs” during her absence—Maisie was now an independent woman with her own business, since her mentor and former employer, Maurice Blanche, retired. So instead of a lowly bed in the servants’ quarters at the top of the mansion—her first experience of life in the household—Maisie occupied elegant rooms on the second floor. The Comptons were spending more time at Chelstone, their country home in Kent, where Maisie’s father was the groom. It was generally thought that the Belgravia property was now retained only to pass on to James, the Comptons’ son who managed the family’s business affairs in Canada.

 
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