Mistletoe and murder, p.5
Mistletoe and Murder, p.5Robin Stevens
‘That’s where the dons sit,’ said Bertie to Daisy and me. ‘High Table. There’s the Bursar, and there’s the Master himself. He’s dreadfully distant, though – if you’re lucky he’ll never even speak to you.’
Michael Butler peeled off to sit with the other dons and the Master, and we were led to our places by men in red and gold livery. I almost sat down before I realized that no one else was – we must be waiting for a signal. I stood in the candlelight behind my appointed chair and looked around at our group. I was next to Alexander, I saw with pleasure, and across from Daisy and George. Bertie was next to Daisy, with Alfred on his other side. Harold was opposite him, and Chummy and Donald were facing each other next to me and George. I wondered whether Alfred and Chummy sat as far apart as possible on purpose.
A bell rang, and up on High Table the Master suddenly said something thunderous in Latin. Then there was a tremendous shuffle of chairs. I had to scramble to be seated, and I bumped into Alexander as I did so. I could not seem to stop being clumsy around him.
As drinks were served, Chummy and Donald began to talk about the party again. It was clear that they both had very different ideas about it – and very different ideas about what would happen to the money Donald was about to inherit.
‘I’ve always wanted a racehorse,’ said Chummy. ‘And a yacht – or two. I think I shall buy one in the New Year.’
‘Well, I don’t want a boat,’ said Donald angrily. ‘It’s my money, so I choose what I do with it. I shan’t be giving any to you. I don’t know why you can’t understand that. I’m buying a diamond mine, I told you.’
‘You are not!’ said Chummy, and I heard the bullying tone of his voice.
‘I am!’ said Donald. ‘On Christmas Day!’ He was trying to sound firm, but his chin quivered. I saw that it would not be easy for him to go against his brother.
A starter was put in front of me, dressed crab, dropped down by a hand that seemed oddly disembodied in the candlelight. I ate it, but all the same I did not really taste it. Daisy, George, Alexander and I were all sitting forward, watching Chummy and Donald – and that was why, I think, we were the first to notice what was happening.
It struck Donald first. He began to blink and touch his forehead, as though he had a headache. He took a forkful of crab that did not quite reach his mouth – his hand swerved away, and he had to stare at his fork, as though moving it was difficult. Then he put his cutlery down on his plate.
‘Dim in here, isn’t it?’ said Bertie.
‘Isn’t it?’ agreed Harold, and I saw that he had gone pale. ‘And I’ve got a dreadful headache.’
‘Whatever’s wrong with you all?’ asked Chummy, staring around. He seemed the only one unaffected – even Alfred was clutching his head and looking ill. There was a groan from the High Table, and when I turned to look, I saw that Michael Butler looked positively green.
‘Goodness knows,’ gasped Bertie. ‘I do feel awfully dizzy and queer. Did we all eat something, up in Donald’s rooms?’
Alexander nudged me, and I jumped. ‘Are you all right?’ he whispered, and my world was suddenly narrowed to the three inches of air between our cheeks.
‘Yes,’ I breathed back. ‘I feel perfectly well!’
‘So do I!’ said Alexander. ‘Do you think … someone did something?’
‘I don’t know!’ I whispered. ‘But if so – they all drank the port, didn’t they? The special port that Donald was saving.’
‘All of them but Chummy!’ whispered Alexander. ‘He only had one sip, didn’t he! D’you think it’s important?’
I did. I felt that we had the next clue to our mystery – and again, it pointed to Chummy.
I felt a kick, under the table, and looked up to see Daisy widening her eyes at me in excitement. There was something she was aching to say – something to do with detection. But, of course, she had to stay silent. It would have to wait.
The men suffered through two more courses, eating hardly a bite of the roast beef or the pear crumble in a lake of custard that came after, until at long last a gong went and everyone rose from the tables. It seemed, luckily, that whatever had been in the port was not strong enough to make any of them seriously ill, although they were all weak and wretched.
‘Walk you all out,’ said Bertie unsteadily, wiping his lips. He had barely touched his food – if we had been back at Deepdean, I would have asked him to pass along his pudding, but I was not sure whether the same rules applied in Cambridge. ‘Come on, then. Daisy, Hazel, Manda’ll be waiting for you outside.’
Chummy, coming past him as he said this, clapped him on the back. ‘Good work keeping her away,’ he said. ‘I’ll get to the bottom of it!’
That gave me an uncomfortable feeling. What did Chummy mean? It sounded as though he knew why Amanda would not come into Maudlin – what did he and Bertie have to do with it? Daisy glared at Bertie, but he would not meet her eyes. He hustled us out of the Hall door into the quad.
We came out into the cold, and Bertie took a few deep gulps of fresh air. He was still unwell – perhaps that was all there was to his silence. Behind him both Alfred and Donald staggered and could not walk in a straight line. Everyone shivered and huddled against the wind – and it was funny how all the students’ and dons’ black caps and gowns made them blend together like a flock of crows. There was darkness all around us, Daisy’s pink taffeta and my green velvet the only bright things I could see.
My eyes had not yet adjusted to the night, and the lamps outside the buildings seemed to burn very small in the distance. I thought we were following closely behind Bertie, but somehow we lost him. I clutched at Daisy’s hand – we were suddenly alone, with voices echoing around us. Someone knocked against me as we came out of the West Quad, and I stumbled, but when I looked around I could not see anyone.
Then I heard a splash and a cry behind us. It was quite a small, surprised one, and I almost thought I had imagined it. But I turned, and saw the surface of the pond shining and rippling.
‘Daisy!’ I said. ‘I think someone’s fallen in the pond! Quick – help!’
People came running from all directions.
‘Who is it?’
‘No, it isn’t, it’s Donald! Hey, Donald!’
But there was no response. I remembered Donald’s pale face at dinner, and how his hands had shaken as he took a sip of water. He was already ill and dizzy – too weakened to climb out of the pond himself.
Was this another ‘accident’?
‘He can’t get out!’ cried Bertie. ‘He could drown!’ He jumped into the pond with a splash. The water came right up to his chest, and he stumbled – it really was quite deep, and he was still not well himself. There was another splash of water, one that caught me like dashes of ice, as Michael Butler jumped in, looking pale but determined. Daisy squealed (we were all kneeling on the lip of the pond, staring down at the scene). Together Bertie and Michael hauled Donald upright and more or less flung him out onto the gravel of the quad. Donald made a sort of umph noise and then was very sick all over the ground.
‘Ugh!’ said Chummy. ‘Donald, you oaf! You almost got my shoe!’
He was behaving as though it was all a joke, but I knew it was not – Donald really might have been in serious trouble. Was everyone else too unwell to realize what had happened? This did not seem very accidental. I remembered the person who had shoved against me in the dark. Was that a clue? Had Donald been pushed?
‘I’ll get him to his rooms,’ said Michael. ‘Wells, take the guests out of college. Don’t just stand there! Hurry up!’
I knew all four of us were burning to follow and find out more, but we could not argue with a don. Bertie waved us all through the porter’s lodge, and as Harold, Alexander and George hurried away in the direction of St John’s, I caught sight of Amanda. She was waiting in Mill Lane for Daisy and me, arms folded. I wanted to turn to Daisy and discuss what had just happened – and also to
The room was chilly – St Lucy’s radiator policy was obviously very strict – and as we undressed I shivered. I wrapped my dressing gown around me and turned to Daisy.
Of course, she was ready. ‘All right!’ she said. ‘There are two things we must do. First, we should make cocoa. And second, we must have a Detective Society meeting.’
I was afraid that the electric kettle would not work, but miraculously it did, and we had soon heated up water for our cocoa. I poured out steaming mugs of it, and Daisy and I both picked biscuits from King Henry’s tin – chocolate bourbons for me, and squashed fly biscuits for Daisy. Then we were ready to begin.
We sat cross-legged on the carpet. Daisy leaned forward over her cocoa, her cheeks pink with the steam, and said, ‘Now, Hazel. There have been several important developments in the case!’
‘I know!’ I said. ‘We saw one of Donald’s accidents – and it didn’t seem accidental at all. Daisy, I think someone poisoned Donald’s port, and then pushed him in the pond while he was weak!’
‘Yes,’ said Daisy. ‘And that’s not all. I’ve worked out exactly what was put into that port. You see, that setup in Donald’s rooms made me remember something that happened one Christmas at Fallingford, when I was very little. Do you remember what decorations were hanging on Donald’s walls?’
I thought. ‘Holly and ivy,’ I said. ‘Mistletoe, and tinsel.’
‘Yes!’ said Daisy. ‘Mistletoe. Now, what happened at Fallingford was that Mrs D put the mistletoe too low, and I thought the berries were pretty, and ate them. Mistletoe berries are poisonous, you know, and I was frightfully ill because I was so small – she had to give me ipecac to make me be sick. But, see, I remember the symptoms. I was dizzy, and my vision went all blurred. It was exactly what was wrong with all the boys at dinner. And, if that wasn’t enough, while we were in the room, I happened to notice that some of the berries were missing from the mistletoe branches. I didn’t think anything of it until later, of course – but it backs up my theory. Hazel, I believe that someone put mistletoe berries into the port decanter! And who was the person who didn’t drink much, and was almost unharmed?’
‘Chummy!’ I said. ‘It’s what we suspected, isn’t it? But – wait. Chummy told everyone to drink from that bottle! It made everyone ill, not just Donald. Why would he do that, if he was just targeting Donald?’
‘Perhaps he wanted to cover his tracks, so it didn’t look like he was just targeting Donald,’ said Daisy. ‘And remember, it was Donald’s special bottle. Donald felt he had to drink more than the others did, and that made him more ill than everyone else. He was the perfect target by the time he was pushed into the pond.’
‘Remember when that person pushed past us?’ I asked. ‘What if that was Chummy?’ I shivered. The case seemed suddenly so clear.
‘I think that is a very likely assumption,’ said Daisy. ‘Chummy is the younger son, but we know that he’s been saying that he deserves to inherit the money, not Donald. You can see that Chummy’s used to telling Donald what to do – he’s pushing him to hand over part of the inheritance – but imagine what would happen if Donald died within the next two days. Chummy would get it all! He wouldn’t have to take Donald’s leftovers. What if that is his plan? To kill Donald and make it look like an accident?’
‘What if it is? Can we stop him?’ I asked.
‘Of course we can!’ said Daisy. ‘If we uncover proper evidence of what he’s doing, we can show it to the Master, and get Chummy sent down. Donald will be safe, and the Detective Society will have solved another case!’
Her saying that reminded me of what George had said to me. ‘Daisy,’ I said. ‘The Pinkertons haven’t been put off by you. They’re detecting as well – they want us all to work together on the case.’
Daisy made an exasperated noise.
‘Why can’t we, though?’ I asked. ‘They’ve helped us before! And … I said we’d meet George and Alexander in Fitzbillies tomorrow to talk about it.’
I said that in a rush, and then took a large bite of chocolate bourbon.
‘Hazel!’ cried Daisy. ‘It is really unfair, how bold you’ve become! Not a thought as to what your President might want! We are far better than the silly Pinkertons.’
‘If we are, then I don’t see the problem. We’ll solve the case quicker than them anyway.’
‘That is true,’ said Daisy, though she still sounded reluctant. ‘After all, we do know things that they don’t. What about Amanda, for instance? She’s behaving awfully suspiciously. She’s working all the time, and she won’t go near Maudlin – and I’m quite sure that it has something to do with Chummy and my idiot of a brother. Didn’t you hear what Chummy said earlier?’
‘What if she knows something about the accidents?’ I asked. ‘What if Chummy’s bought her off? And Bertie knows about it?’
‘It can’t be that,’ said Daisy. ‘Bertie’s pally with Chummy, but he isn’t stupid enough to be part of actually trying to bump someone else off. And anyway, that doesn’t solve the problem of Amanda’s essays. No, it’s something else. We shall just have to keep on watching her.
‘That brings us rather nicely on to a plan of action! Of course, we must see the boys tomorrow – bother you, Hazel! But we can also follow more interesting leads. I’d like to get back into Donald’s rooms, to investigate that decanter. I know what mistletoe berries look like, after all. I’d also like to question Amanda. What does she do all day, and what does she think of Chummy and Donald?’
‘And we should find out more about Chummy and Donald’s birthday,’ I said. ‘We need to know what Donald stands to inherit, and what exactly happens when he turns twenty-one.’
‘Yes!’ agreed Daisy. ‘Well, I think that’s a good list. Write it up, won’t you, Hazel? And then we ought to get some sleep. Tomorrow is a very important day for the Detective Society!’
We had breakfast on Monday morning in the rather stark St Lucy’s refectory. I was reminded of Deepdean’s House dining room, only done larger, the toast rather burned and the eggs rather raw. Amanda looked more tired than ever, and after breakfast she hurried us out of St Lucy’s and across the bridge into Cambridge. ‘Be good,’ she said shortly, turning away and swinging up onto the Horse. ‘I’m going into town to get some work done. I’ll see you back here at four.’
And, just like that, Daisy and I were left alone and unchaperoned in Cambridge, free to wander wherever we liked.
In the sharp winter morning light Cambridge seemed to be quite full up of people. We were buffeted by shoppers, their arms full of parcels and their faces frantic, and the ting of bicycle bells was almost constant. Daisy became quite practised at stepping aside for each one to whizz past, but I was startled every time.
Cambridge itself was made up of strange, twisting little passages, tiny streets with brightly lit shops crammed in on each side. Holly was hanging up everywhere, and the windows were clustered with toys and sweets. It was the most perfect place to do our Christmas shopping before we met the Junior Pinkertons.
For Daisy I already had a magnificent gold compact, with a great big dusty brush that sent white powder all over me when I opened it. With some adhesive tape, which I had bought from the chemist’s in Deepdean, it made the most marvellous fingerprint kit.
Today, I bought a big wrapped box of chocolates for Aunt Eustacia, a handsome notebook for Alexander, a box of toffees for George and Harold and (more reluctantly) a red scarf for Amanda. In Heffer’s bookshop I bought my father a marvellous book full of photographic plates of Cambridge buildings, and Daisy bought Bertie a book about George III.
‘He ought to be learning about him anyway,’ she said severely, when I raised my eyebrows.
But of co
From the lady in the sweet shop we heard about the preparations for their party at Christmas – ‘Mr Charles Melling has ordered the best of everything, of course. Fine chocolates, a five-tier cake – half the students in Cambridge have been invited! No expense spared. Donald Melling will become one of the richest men in Britain on Christmas Day this year – as I understand, the only question is whether he’ll be the one spending the money!’
From the bookseller at Heffer’s we heard about the Melling family tree, and the entail. ‘I hear the sums run into the hundreds of thousands. It’s been held in trust until the older son turns twenty-one – that’s Mr Donald, of course – and it all goes to him. It’s a pity, really – not a rule designed to be fair, is it? Everyone agrees that the heir ought to be Mr Charles.’
And from the girl in the scarf shop we heard more about what Donald intended to do with the money. ‘If only it was Chummy who was getting the cash! He’s fun, is Chummy – took me to the races once. He’s tried to make that silly brother of his give him some of the money, but he’s being a stick in the mud. He wants to make sure that Chummy doesn’t get any. Says he’s going to blue it straight away, on some mine or other in Africa – or is it South America? Such a waste. It isn’t fair at all! I’m going to the party, though – at least that’ll be a laugh!’
Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes