Mistletoe and murder, p.19
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       Mistletoe and Murder, p.19

           Robin Stevens
 
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  ‘The climbing accident started things off, didn’t it? Well, Bertie said that it was a well-known route. Perhaps Michael overheard Chummy and Donald talking about making the attempt. Then all he had to do was to go on ahead and loosen the stone – he didn’t have to worry about which of them it would injure. And if someone else was hurt … well, that didn’t matter to him. He really isn’t a very nice person!

  ‘Next was the bucket on the door. Michael climbed up to the top landing using the pipe and set the trap in Donald’s rooms. Easy, for a climber.’

  ‘And the same for the mistletoe,’ said George, butting in. ‘Daisy Wells, you’re taking all the credit. Michael climbs up, slips into Donald’s rooms and crushes some of the berries from the sprigs hanging up into a decanter of port. He assumed that Donald would drink it – and if he didn’t, Chummy would. All he wanted was to make them ill enough that when one of them was pushed into the pond he wouldn’t cry out or struggle. At least he stopped us younger ones drinking the port. He wasn’t all bad.’

  ‘Shush,’ said Daisy. ‘You’re interrupting my dénouement. Michael must have realized that Chummy was suggesting everyone drink the bad bottle at the party, and decided to drink it as well, so that he didn’t look suspicious.’

  That made me feel rather unwell. I thought about how much Michael had gambled – and what he had lost.

  ‘And then the pond,’ Daisy went on. ‘He lay in wait in the dark, until Donald went by. But if Chummy had happened to go by first, he would have pushed him in as well. It didn’t matter. Which brings us to the stairs. I think Michael must have been getting frustrated by then. Nothing was working. No one was even seriously hurt. The good thing was that everyone simply thought they were pranks, but the bad thing was that Chummy and Donald were still alive. And he had to kill them both before Christmas Day if he wanted to be sure of getting all the money.

  ‘He must have planned the fishing line trick in advance. The room downstairs was being done up. He took a moment when the builders were there to knock that nail into the skirting board. Then everything was ready to be used whenever he wanted.

  ‘He heard Donald and Chummy arguing that night – we know because he went upstairs to tell them off. He heard Chummy climbing out of the window – I wonder if he even heard Donald locking Moss into his rooms – and he knew it was the perfect chance. He climbed up the drainpipe into Chummy’s rooms so he wouldn’t be heard, went out of the door and set up the fishing line. Of course, he had some because he was a climber. Easy. Then he climbed back down the drainpipe into the empty room and waited, to make absolutely sure that he heard Chummy when he came back in. Remember what Amanda said, Hazel, that when she arrived she saw all the lights on the staircase on?’

  ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I thought of that! There shouldn’t have been anyone in that empty room. And according to Michael’s alibi, he should have been asleep by then, with his light off.’

  ‘But he wasn’t!’ said Daisy, nodding. ‘He was in the empty room. He waited until he heard Chummy coming back and closing the window above him. Then he climbed back out onto the drainpipe and up to Chummy’s rooms. He shoved that bit of wood across the window, so it wouldn’t open outwards, and then he tapped on the glass. Chummy saw Michael and he was horrified. I wonder whether he realized then that Michael was the person who’d stolen the essays. He must have been angry too. He went to the window and tried to open it, but of course it stuck. So Chummy, in a terrible funk, spun about and rushed out of the door to go to Michael’s rooms downstairs – tripping over the fishing line and falling.’

  ‘That’s enough,’ said Bertie, standing up. ‘Can’t we talk about something else? Today, although you all seem to have forgotten it, is Christmas. We have a holiday to celebrate!’

  ‘I suppose,’ said Daisy. ‘Just because you asked so nicely.’

  I realized all over again how odd the English are. No matter how bad things get, they can always make light of them.

  4

  Then the Master of Maudlin arrived, with Aunt Eustacia rushing in behind him like an avenging angel. I was glad that so much had happened that he was not likely to remember banning us. But although Aunt Eustacia was angry, at that moment she felt safe, and clean, and clear. I wanted to wrap my arms about her, but of course I did not. Alexander, George and Harold were sent back to St John’s for Christmas, along with Bertie and Alfred. Maudlin was closing until the next term – Chummy and Donald’s party was cancelled and all of the students were being sent away. Amanda, Daisy and I were going back to St Lucy’s. I found that I was utterly glad.

  Once we arrived back, Aunt Eustacia called us into her book-lined study and grilled us on every detail of the case. She wanted to know everything: what we had done, why and how. We did our best to shield the Detective Society, but she had a way of worming through all of our evasions to get at the truth, and I have the uncomfortable feeling that she really ended up understanding almost the whole story. She is Daisy’s great-aunt, after all.

  ‘We had to step in!’ Daisy kept on saying. ‘It happened right in front of us! We couldn’t simply ignore it!’

  ‘Hmm,’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘You do seem to be making a habit of this sort of thing. What is it about you girls? Really, Daisy, if your parents …’

  Daisy turned pale.

  ‘Well,’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘Never mind that, eh? You both seem largely unscathed, and that is a wonderful thing. We shall still have Christmas, after all, but now I think you ought to go to bed. You’ve been up half the night. I can see Hazel yawning.’

  I was glad to go, but when we got back to King Henry’s rooms, I discovered that I was still thrumming with nerves, unable to sleep. Daisy and I stayed up for at least another hour, talking through the case.

  ‘It is odd!’ said Daisy. ‘I know it’s Christmas, but it doesn’t feel as though it is.’

  ‘I know,’ I said, and I could feel myself frowning. Two bodies did not feel very festive.

  ‘Oh, Watson! These cases always do get to you, don’t they?’

  ‘I’m all right,’ I said. ‘I ought to be used to it by now.’

  ‘But that’s the best thing about you, Hazel,’ said Daisy. ‘Everything matters to you. You bother about everyone. Sometimes it is terribly annoying – your obsession with Alexander, for example …’

  I felt my face heat up. ‘Don’t – don’t tell him, will you?’ I whispered. ‘He’ll laugh at me. And anyway, he likes you.’

  ‘Why ever should he laugh?’ asked Daisy, her face surprised. ‘You’re Hazel. You’re the best person I know. Don’t I keep telling you so? He ought to be honoured. I don’t know why he keeps on mooning after me, either. I keep on trying to warn him off by being rude to him. Do you know, I’m sure I don’t understand this love business. What is it about me that he likes? And what is it about him, for you? Don’t you mind that his sleeves are always too short?’

  ‘No,’ I said, burning with awkwardness. ‘I don’t know! Let’s not talk about it.’

  ‘All right,’ said Daisy, sighing. ‘Sometimes I do think that I shall never understand people.’

  5

  I woke up late on Christmas morning to bright sunlight. Daisy was sitting on my bed, her golden curls falling in waves about her face, eating a Chocolate Orange.

  ‘Merry Christmas, Hazel!’ she said. ‘Here, have some of this.’

  I took a segment, and let the sweet tang of it soak into my mouth.

  ‘Merry Christmas!’ I said, looking around at our bedroom. There was only a little sprig of holly tied to the end of Daisy’s bed. It did not feel very Christmassy at all. I had my present for Daisy, carefully wrapped – I had left it in the sitting room after Daisy had got into bed the night before. I hoped it would be enough.

  Then I noticed something.

  ‘Daisy,’ I said. ‘Where did you get that chocolate?’

  ‘From the living room, of course,’ said Daisy casually, biting down on another segment. ‘Father Christmas – or rather
, Uncle Felix – has clearly been in the night.’

  I got up in my bare feet and nightdress and rushed into our living room – and was met by the most perfect scene.

  The fire was blazing, and in front of the fire guard were propped two bulging stockings. I could see bars of chocolate and fudge, packets of Turkish Delight and tangerines in silver foil. Next to them were piles of presents, beautifully wrapped in tissue paper and ribbon. The room was festooned with green, spicy boughs, and breakfast was laid out on the low table next to the sofa: muffins and bread ready to be toasted, and eggs and bacon still steaming.

  It was like magic.

  ‘Oh!’ I gasped. ‘It’s beautiful!’

  ‘Merry Christmas, Hazel,’ said Daisy, coming in behind and laughing at me, and we rushed forward together to open our presents.

  ‘Yours first,’ said Daisy, and she handed me a square wrapped package. I opened it to find a notebook with gilt edges and a beautiful leather cover. ‘For the next case,’ she told me proudly.

  I gave her my makeshift fingerprint kit. ‘You are clever, Hazel!’ said Daisy with delight, when she opened it. ‘We shall be able to behave like real detectives now!’

  Next were two parcels marked: For Daisy and Hazel, from Lucy.

  ‘Miss Livedon!’ said Daisy. ‘Or – she’ll be Mrs Mountfitchet soon. Really, how can one person have so many names?’

  They both contained Austrian-style hats, absolutely beautiful grown-up ones. Mine was red, and Daisy’s was blue.

  ‘There’s something else in here too,’ said Daisy. ‘Oh!’

  They were police manuals, official ones. For you to learn proper procedure, Miss Livedon had written on them.

  Next were two books of logic puzzles. Both said, With love from George and Alexander on their frontispieces. I opened mine first, and got a little burst of joy, but then I saw that Daisy’s was exactly the same.

  There was a box of chocolates for me from Bertie, and for Daisy there was an absolute heap of puzzles and games. Some were labelled From Mrs D and From Chapman – but they were all in Bertie’s scrawly handwriting, and neither Daisy nor I were at all tricked. My father had sent several large parcels – improving, leather-bound books for both me and Daisy (he is quite sure that she needs to be improved), and a Fortnum’s cake for each of us. On the label of mine he had written Merry Christmas! Your real present is at home. I was puzzled – but more presents were waiting.

  Hetty had sent two small pocketbooks, hand-embroidered, with notes. I miss you both, she wrote. Come and see us again soon!

  And finally we opened Uncle Felix’s presents. I had a beautiful leather-bound set of Dickens (‘Ugh,’ said Daisy. ‘Such long books. I can’t think how you can sit still long enough to read them, Hazel! But if you like them …’) and three glorious one-guinea notebooks.

  Daisy looked at them silently, and then she opened her parcel. She had a set of Margery Allingham mysteries, and a large wooden box that opened out into a detective kit. It was a real one, with little bottles and brushes for taking prints, and pots to put evidence in.

  ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘It’s beautiful.’

  ‘So are your notebooks,’ said Daisy.

  ‘I shan’t use them until the one you gave me is full!’ I said. ‘I really like it much better.’

  ‘Well,’ said Daisy, ‘Uncle Felix’s kit is much nicer than yours. But – you know, I do think I prefer yours as well. It’s much more portable.’

  I burst out laughing. Daisy cannot lie to me even when she tries.

  ‘Merry Christmas,’ I said to her.

  ‘Merry Christmas to you too,’ said Daisy. ‘Detective Society for ever.’

  After we had dressed, we went down to Aunt Eustacia’s study and found Uncle Felix there. He seemed taller and handsomer than ever, his monocle screwed into his eye and his gold hair slicked back fashionably. Miss Livedon was with him, looking different again from the last time we had seen her. This Miss Livedon glowed with happiness, and I suddenly saw what Uncle Felix must see when he looked at her. She had a tiny diamond on her finger that sparked when she moved it. I looked at it, and felt odd. It was not just Daisy and I who were changing. Even the grown-ups were at it.

  ‘Daisy, Hazel,’ said Miss Livedon, nodding at us, and then Uncle Felix winked at us and said, ‘I hope you liked your presents.’

  ‘Oh yes! Thank you!’ we both said.

  ‘I’m sure Aunt Eustacia has already told you of the change in our circumstances,’ said Uncle Felix. ‘We have an important request for you. Will you act as our bridesmaids? Of course, it’s not up to your usual mysterious standard, but I hope it’s a case you’ll enjoy nonetheless.’

  ‘I suppose we can make the time,’ said Daisy. ‘Although you ought to have told me before now!’

  ‘What, you didn’t guess?’ asked Uncle Felix.

  ‘I did,’ I said. ‘At least – I’m not surprised.’

  ‘Then Hazel ought to be head bridesmaid,’ said Uncle Felix.

  ‘We’ll share it,’ said Daisy, glaring at him.

  ‘By the way,’ he went on, ‘we swung by the local station on our way in. Wanted to hear the latest about the bit of trouble you had at Maudlin. Seems that idea of yours about Bocking’s paid off, Daisy. PC Cross asked them to open up first thing this morning, and there was a Charles Melling in the poison book. It’s a fake name, of course – the man knew Butler when he was shown a photograph. Said he was told he wanted to destroy a wasps’ nest. You’ve got Butler concealing his name – proves intent, and proves he knew about the family connection. It’ll be an easy conviction.’

  ‘Really, Daisy!’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘How many of these cases have you been mixed up in now? It hardly seems healthy.’

  ‘But I’m healthy as anything,’ said Daisy, folding her hands together primly. ‘It’s all coincidence, Aunt E. Hazel and I can’t help it if adventure happens to fall into our laps.’

  ‘Adventure!’ said Aunt Eustacia. ‘Really! Well, at least it’s all done now. Run along and get ready for church, girls. We’ll go to the late-morning service. But first I want to grill your uncle’s new fiancée without children about.’

  ‘At least she’s honest about things,’ said Daisy to me afterwards.

  ‘She’s exactly like you!’ I said, and laughed at Daisy’s upset face.

  6

  After church we had a treat for Christmas dinner: we were all invited to St John’s. Aunt Eustacia led us through Cambridge, dressed like a queen in purple. Then came Uncle Felix, Miss Livedon on his arm. They could not stop looking at each other and smiling. I think they hardly noticed where they were going. Then came Amanda and her friend Harriet, Amanda looking gladder and brighter than I had ever seen her. The terror of the essays had been lifted from her, and I was glad. I thought she would be better now. Daisy and I brought up the rear, both wearing our new hats proudly. Daisy’s looked lovely with her fur coat – at last, I thought, we both looked quite grown up.

  We walked through Cambridge in the snow, its bells tolling out Christmas Day in never-ending chains of sound. There was King’s College Chapel, looking almost familiar now, there was Senate House, with its gargoyles and curlicues, and there was St John’s itself. Alexander had been to the Christmas service at St John’s Chapel with Bertie, though Harold and George had not. They had all come to the lodge gates to meet us now, and as I saw them my heart drummed.

  Poor Bertie! I thought, as I looked at him. It must be hard for him. He had come to Cambridge to forget Fallingford, and now it had happened again.

  But then Harold turned to Bertie, and Bertie smiled at him – and I saw something else I perhaps ought to have seen from the beginning.

  ‘People,’ said Daisy to me resignedly, as they led us through the quad, to Harold’s rooms. ‘Really! Even Bertie’s caught it.’

  I decided then that Bertie really would be all right after all.

  Then Daisy turned – to George. ‘Escort me, if you please,’ she said, holding out her hand
.

  ‘Of course,’ said George, bowing and winking at her. She took his arm and they walked in together, and Alexander and I were left alone. I saw him gaze after Daisy, and then look at me. ‘May I?’ he asked.

  He held out his arm, and I put my hand on it, just the way I had seen Daisy do. It felt terribly strange, and not particularly comfortable, but all the same I loved it.

  ‘Hazel,’ said Alexander. ‘George said … well, never mind. Daisy … you know her. Do you think she’d ever—?’

  ‘No,’ I said, glancing up at him. He looked so sad that my heart ached. ‘Not ever. I know Daisy.’

  ‘Well,’ said Alexander, and he sighed. ‘I suppose some things aren’t meant to be. It’ll be all right, eh?’ He squeezed my arm, and I squeezed back. Suddenly I saw that there was something else that Alexander and I shared. It was not perfect at all, but that did not matter.

  We walked into St John’s College together, following the others along the snowy quad path to the dining hall. I heard the noise of dinner long before we walked through the main doors – the clatter of plates being set down, and dishes served – and as I smelled the delicious things in front of me, my mouth watered.

  Then the doors were thrown open for us, and inside was a scene from a painting, a dining hall even grander and more ornate than Maudlin’s, all stone and stained glass, with an enormous tree in the corner, decorated and lit. On the long wooden tables turkeys gleamed like chestnuts, bowls of cranberry sauce and piles of potatoes and stuffing and roast vegetables. Crackers were laid out at each place, and students were filing in, wearing their formal caps and gowns. Aunt Eustacia was at High Table with the St John’s dons, and Uncle Felix and Miss Livedon.

  ‘Are you sure you’re all right, Hazel?’ Alexander whispered to me as we walked to our places next to Daisy and George.

 
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