A Lesson in Secrets, p.1Jacqueline Winspear
A Lesson in Secrets
A Maisie Dobbs Novel
For my brother,
John James Winspear,
with much love and admiration
If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.
He who gives up the smallest part of a secret has the rest no longer in his power.
--JEAN PAUL RICHTER
About the Author
Also by Jacqueline Winspear
About the Publisher
Maisie Dobbs had been aware of the motor car following her for some time. She contemplated the vehicle, the way in which the driver remained far enough away to avoid detection--or so he thought--and yet close enough not to lose her. Occasionally another motor car would slip between them, but the driver of the black saloon would allow no more than one other car to narrow his view of her crimson MG 14/40. She had noticed the vehicle even before she left the village of Chelstone, but to be fair, almost without conscious thought, she was looking out for it. She had been followed--either on foot, on the underground railway, or by motor vehicle--for over a week now and was waiting for some move to be made by the occupants. This morning, though, as she drove back to London, her mood was not as settled as she might have liked, and the cause of her frustration--indeed, irritation--was not the men who followed her, but her father.
Maisie was now a woman with a good measure of financial independence, having inherited wealth in the form of a considerable property portfolio as well as investments and cash from her late mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche. To the outside observer, the windfall had not changed her character, or her attachment to her work; but those who knew her best could see that it had bestowed upon her a newfound confidence, along with a responsibility she felt to Blanche's memory. Dust was settling on the events of his death, and as she moved through the grief of his passing to acceptance of her loss in the process of going through Blanche's personal papers, Maisie wanted--possibly more than anything--to see her father retired, resting, and living at The Dower House. She had not been prepared for her plans to be at odds with his own, and this morning's conversation, over tea at the kitchen table in the Groom's Cottage, capped several months of similar exchanges.
"Dad, you've worked hard all your life, you deserve something better. Come and live at The Dower House. Look, I'm away throughout the week in London, so it's not as if we'll get under each other's feet. I don't see how we could do that anyway--it's a big enough house."
"Maisie, we've always rubbed along well together, you and me. We could be in this cottage and live happily enough. You're my own flesh and blood. But this is my home--Her Ladyship has always said as much, that this house is mine until the day I die. And I'm not ready to hang up my boots to sit in an armchair and wait for that day to come."
Frankie Dobbs was now in his early seventies, and though he had suffered a debilitating fall several years earlier, he was in good health once again, if perhaps not quite as light on his feet. His role as head groom--a job that came with the tied cottage--now chiefly comprised advising Lady Rowan Compton on purchases to expand her string of racehorses, along with overseeing the stable of hunters at Chelstone, the Comptons' country seat.
"Well, what about not giving up work and just moving into The Dower House? Mrs. Bromley will take care of you--she's such a good cook, every bit as good as--"
Frankie set down his mug with a thump that made Maisie start. "I can do for myself, Maisie." He sighed. "Look, I'm happy for you, love, really I am. The old boy did well by you, and you deserve all that came to you. But I want to stay in my home, and I want to do my work, and I want to go on like I've been going on without any Mrs. Bromley putting food on the table for me. Now then . . . "
Maisie stood up and walked to the kitchen sink. She rinsed her mug while looking out of the window and across the garden. "Dad, I hate to say this, but you're being stubborn."
"Well then, all I can say is that you know where you get it from, don't you?"
They had parted on good enough terms, with Frankie giving his usual warnings for her to mind how she drove that motor car, and Maisie reminding him to take care. But as she replayed the conversation in her mind--along with those other conversations that had come to naught--she felt her heels dig in when she looked at the vehicle on her tail. She was damned if she would put up with some amateur following her for much longer.
She wound down the window and gave a hand signal to indicate that she was pulling over to the side of the road, thus allowing an Austin Seven behind to pass, followed by the motor car that had been shadowing her for at least half an hour. As soon as they passed, she turned back onto the road again and began to drive as close to the vehicle in front as safety would allow.
"Now you know I know. Let's see what you do with it."
She noted that there was no number plate on the black motor car, and no other distinguishing mark. Both driver and passenger were wearing hats, and as their silhouettes moved, she could see the passenger looking back every so often. When they turned left, she turned left, and when they turned right, she followed. Soon they were back on the main road again, traveling up River Hill towards Sevenoaks. At the top, the Royal Automobile Club had stationed two men with water cans, ready to help motorists having trouble with overheated vehicles. It was a long hill, and on a hot day in August, many a steaming motor car lurched and rumbled its way to the brow, with the driver as glad to see men from the RAC as a thirsty traveler might be to reach an oasis in the desert. Allowing the black motor car to continue--she thought it was an Armstrong Siddeley--Maisie pulled in alongside the RAC motorbike and sidecar.
"Having a bit of trouble, love?"
"Not yet, but I thought I might get the water checked. It's a hot day."
The man glanced down at the radiator grille and nodded when he saw the distinctive silver RAC badge with the Union Jack below the King's Crown.
"Right you are, Miss. Don't want to risk burning up a nice little runner like this, do you?"
Maisie smiled while keeping an eye on the road. Soon the Armstrong Siddeley approached the hill again, this time from the opposite direction, and as it passed, both driver and passenger made a point of looking straight ahead. Police, thought Maisie, sure of her assessment. I'm being followed by the police.
"She didn't need much, but just as well you stopped," said the RAC man. "Can't be too careful, not with this weather."
"Thank you, sir." She reached into her shoulder bag for her purse and took out a few coins. "I wonder, could you do me a favor? A black Armstrong Siddeley will presently be coming back up the hill; he's probably turning around at this moment. Could you pull it over for me?"
The man frowned, then smiled as he took the coins and looked in the direction Maisie indicated. "Is this the one, coming along now?"
"Yes, that's it."
Maisie thought the ma
"Gentlemen, how lovely of you to stop when you must be so terribly busy." Her smile broadened. "Would it be too boring of me to ask why you've been following me? I think it might save on petrol and your time to explain your actions. After all, it's been over a week now, hasn't it?"
The men exchanged glances, and the driver cleared his throat as he moved his hand towards his jacket pocket. Maisie reached forward and put her forefinger on his wrist. "Oh, please, don't ruin a perfectly cordial conversation. Allow me."
She reached into the man's jacket, took out his wallet, and smiled again. "Can't be too careful, can we?" The man blushed as she opened the wallet and removed a warrant card. "Charles Wickham. Ah, I see. So you must be working for Robert MacFarlane. Oh dear, I think you're going to get into horrible trouble when he finds out I've seen you." She tapped the wallet against the fingers of her left hand before offering it to its owner. "Tell you what. Inform Detective Chief Superintendent MacFarlane that I'll be at the Yard this afternoon at--let me see--about three o'clock. He can tell me then what this is all about. All right?"
The driver nodded as he reclaimed his wallet. To her surprise, neither man had spoken, though there was little they could say. There would be plenty for them to talk about when they were summoned to explain themselves to Robert MacFarlane.
Maisie and the RAC man watched as the black motor car went on its way towards Sevenoaks and London.
"Funny pair, them."
"They'll be even funnier when their boss hears about this."
Maisie waved to the man as she pulled out onto the road again. She was deep in thought for much of the time, to the extent that, when she reached the outskirts of the capital, she could barely remember passing landmarks along the way. Though she had kept the exchange light, she had cause for concern, given that the men were reporting to Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of Special Branch. She had worked alongside him at the turn of the year on a case involving a man who had threatened death on a scale of some magnitude. At the close of the case, she hoped never to have to encounter such terror again. But now she suspected that MacFarlane had deliberately sent a pair of neophytes to follow her, and therefore subsequently expected her call. She shook her head. She was not in the mood for Robert MacFarlane's games. After all, Maisie Dobbs was her father's daughter, and any sort of manipulation did not sit well with her.
Morning, Miss. Bet that fresh country air did you good for a few days." Billy Beale, Maisie's assistant, stood up when she entered their one-room office on the first floor of what had once been a grand mansion in Fitzroy Square. The room was neat, tidy, and businesslike, with two desks and a large table by the window at which Maisie and Billy would sit to discuss work in progress while poring over the case map.
"You're right, Billy. There's nothing like a Saturday-to-Monday spent in the heart of the Weald of Kent--and I bet you're looking forward to going down to Kent yourself, for the hop-picking. You're leaving on Saturday morning, aren't you?"
"Bright and early on the Hopper's Special. Truth is, we need to get away, and Doreen's feeling the heat, what with carrying so big--you'd think she's expecting twins, but the doctor reckons it's only the one."
Maisie laughed as she stepped towards her desk and began leafing through the post. "As long as the baby doesn't get ahead of itself while you're down there, I'm sure it will do you all a power of good."
"Nah, she's not due until October, so we'll be all right. Anyway, I'll put the kettle on."
Maisie shook her head. "Wait a moment--pull up a chair, Billy."
"Everything all right, Miss?" Billy positioned a chair in front of Maisie's desk and sat down.
Relaxing into her own chair, Maisie shook her head. "No, I don't think it is." She sighed. "You remember last week, when we noticed a man on the other side of the square, the one who seemed to be watching the building?"
"Shifty sort, if you ask me. Haven't seen him since, though."
"Oh, he's been there--along with a few others who've been following me."
"Following you, Miss? Why didn't you say? I mean, you could have been--"
"I didn't say anything because I was waiting to see what happened, and I didn't want them to know they'd been rumbled."
"But you could have been set upon. I don't know what--" Billy stopped himself.
"You don't know what James Compton would say? Well, he's away in Canada for at least another month, so let's not worry about what he would say." Maisie paused and seemed to look into the distance as she spoke. "The truth is, I didn't feel threatened. I suspected they were gathering information, and I wanted to wait until they showed their hand, then base my next move on whatever that hand held."
"Lucky it wasn't a knife."
"I'm sorry, Miss. I just worry, that's all."
"Thank you. I appreciate your concern; however, I took matters into my own hands today and have discovered that--as far as I know--Special Branch is behind the subterfuge. I'm seeing MacFarlane at three." Maisie looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. "In fact, I should leave at about two o'clock. That'll give us just enough time to go through our cases and discuss the week ahead. There's a lot to be done before you go on holiday."
Billy waited for a second or two before leaning forward. "Any luck with Mr. Dobbs?"
Maisie shook her head. "He's as stubborn as a mule and will not be moved, so I suppose I will have to wait."
"He likes his independence, that's what it is. And it's hard to take from your daughter, Miss, even though The Dower House is yours now. After all, it's a father's job to provide for his children."
"But I'm hardly a child, Billy. I'm thir--"
"Doesn't matter. You're still his daughter. I'm sorry if I've spoken out of turn there, but I'm a father and I know. You'll have a job to get him to move up to The Dower House, no two ways about it."
"I know," replied Maisie, with a sigh. "Anyway, let's get on."
Billy opened the notebook he had brought with him to Maisie's desk. "You had a visitor this morning. On the doorstep when I got here, she was."
"That Sandra. The tall girl who used to work at Ebury Place--the one who stayed with you for a while, just before she got married."
"Sandra? Sandra came here?"
"Yes, and very unhappy she looked, I can tell you. I would say she was mourning, what with the black costume she was wearing, and her cheeks all sunken." Billy looked away. "Put me in mind of Doreen, after we lost our Lizzie."
"Did she say what she wanted?"
"No, just to let you know she called, and that she'd come back again--sounded like she meant today."
Maisie capped and uncapped her fountain pen several times as she wondered what might be the reason for Sandra's visit. She looked up. "Billy, have a look in the card file. Her address is in there under her married name--Tapley. She and Eric live in a bed-sitting-room over the garage where he works. I won't have time to go over today, but I'd like to have it on my desk, just in case."
"Right you are, Miss." He made a note and looked down at the clutch of papers in his hand. "Now, there's the Rackman case. The old lady was on the dog and bone again, just before you walked in the door . . . "
They continued to talk about various cases in progress, passing files back and forth, and going through client notes one by one until two o'clock, when it was time for Maisie to leave for Scotland Yard. She collected her linen jacket and shoulder bag, but stopped before she reached the door.
"Billy, if Sandra returns while I'm out, tell her she should come to the
As Maisie approached the main entrance to Scotland Yard's ornate redbrick headquarters on Victoria Embankment, a young man wearing overpressed black trousers and a gray jacket with worn elbows came forward to greet her.
"Miss Dobbs?" He held out his hand. "DC Summers. Delighted to meet you. Come this way, please. Detective Chief Superintendent MacFarlane is waiting for you."
"Thank you, Detective Constable Summers."
As Summers led Maisie along a labyrinth of corridors and up stairs, she considered informing her guide that she knew the route to MacFarlane's fiefdom as if it were the back of her hand, so, given the heat of the day, there was no need to meander the hallways in an effort to confuse her sense of direction. Fortunately, they were soon standing outside a door bearing MacFarlane's name. Summers knocked and was met with bellowing. "The bloody door's open!" He blushed when he looked at Maisie, who shook her head and observed, "Ah, he's in a good mood. Lovely." She reached past the detective constable, pushed against the door, and walked into MacFarlane's office.
"Miss Dobbs. A pleasure." He held out his hand to indicate that she should be seated on one of three armchairs clustered around a low table alongside the window.
"Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Detective Chief Superintendent." She looked around the room. "I see you've made some changes here."
"A little more comfort for visiting dignitaries."
"And I'm a dignitary?" Maisie hung her shoulder bag across the back of the chair as she sat down. She had found that it helped to appear relaxed in all communications with MacFarlane, who was given to flying off the handle at times, and whose wit could be cutting. He was a tall man, and upon first meeting him, Maisie thought he had the frame of a docker. In his mid-fifties now, the detective chief superintendent kept his thinning hair short and made no attempt to cover the scar where a stray bullet had caught him in the war. Apparently he had raised a fist to the enemy and sworn at them over the parapet for daring to put a hole in his tam-o'-shanter.
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes