Mistletoe and murder, p.7
Mistletoe and Murder, p.7Robin Stevens
I took the poisoned decanter and poured. Red went everywhere – down the sides of the glass, over my handkerchief and even some on Daisy’s hands. ‘Hazel!’ she said. ‘Really! Pour like a lady!’
But at the end of the exercise we were left with a handkerchief covered with flecks of the nasty bits that always collect at the bottom of wine bottles – and seven rather squashed berries.
‘There!’ cried Daisy. ‘See? And if you look about, at the greenery hanging up – that bunch of mistletoe is missing almost half its berries! Pick it, Hazel – no, wait, I will, you’re too short.’
She brought the mistletoe back to me triumphantly, and added it to the handkerchief’s contents, tying it all up in a rather sticky bundle with the bit of string she always keeps in her pocket.
‘We have our first pieces of evidence, Watson! Someone has doctored this decanter of port with mistletoe. This proves that what happened to Donald last night was not an accident, or even a harmless prank. It had malicious intent.’
‘What shall we do now?’ I asked.
‘Look about the room!’ said Daisy. ‘Documents, pictures – anything that might help us prove that this is part of a pattern! I’ll take the bedroom, you do in here.’
I looked around the room, and then stepped towards the desk. It was messy, covered with papers. I saw lecture notes and essays, all scrambled together – but on top of the pile was a much more interesting document.
‘Look, Daisy!’ I called. ‘It’s a deed – I think it’s to a diamond mine! That’s the thing Donald wants to buy, isn’t it?’ Then I saw the price he was paying for it, and felt rather dizzy.
‘Has he signed it yet?’ asked Daisy, popping up next to me. ‘No, look – because he can’t, of course! It’s forward-dated to Christmas Day, but he can’t sign until his birthday. That’s important, isn’t it? Clear proof again of what will happen if Donald comes into his inheritance on his birthday. He’ll spend the money – he’ll get out from under Chummy’s thumb at last!’
‘Chummy really must be furious!’ I said. I had a creeping feeling along the back of my neck. This, combined with the mistletoe in the decanter, and the fact that Chummy had hardly drunk any of it last night, seemed to add up to something rather chilling. Chummy had means, motive and opportunity to have poisoned the port, and pushed Donald into the pond. Could we prove that he had set up the bucket and loosened the stone as well?
‘Hazel, I have noticed something else rather interesting about this desk,’ said Daisy. ‘Look at the top of it – what do you see?’
‘Family pictures,’ I said. ‘Those people must be Donald’s parents.’
‘Yes, of course, Hazel – but who isn’t there?’
I saw at once. ‘Chummy!’ I said. ‘There aren’t any pictures of him at all!’
‘Exactly,’ said Daisy. ‘More evidence that the two of them don’t get on. This is very good, Hazel! Excellent! Now, I’ve been in Donald’s bedroom. There are some interesting objects at the bottom of his wardrobe: a pair of plimsolls and a dark coat, all bundled up with bits of rope and wire. I think it’s his climbing material! Really, people are bad at hiding things properly.’
‘Let’s go to Chummy’s rooms!’ I said. ‘Quick, before Bertie comes back!’
‘Excellent idea,’ said Daisy. ‘Here, put the handkerchief in your pocket.’
‘I won’t!’ I said. ‘Daisy, that’s disgusting. It’s all wet!’
Daisy rolled her eyes. ‘You really are the worst spy in the world,’ she said. ‘All right, I shall wrap it in my scarf.’
I knew she was not really cross with me, though, and as we slipped out of Donald’s rooms together and crept across the corridor to Chummy’s door we beamed at each other. There really is nothing in the world like being on a case with Daisy Wells.
Chummy’s rooms, thankfully, were just as empty as Donald’s. His curtains had been pulled open, and I could see down into the garden below. It was surrounded by a high brick wall, with a closed door on the side nearest to the library building. It looked very secret and quite lovely, even though all its green was wilted by the winter.
Chummy’s sitting room was chaotic. There were shirts and ties draped everywhere – ‘What a dandy!’ whispered Daisy. ‘I can see why Bertie’s friends with him; he can never resist good clothes’ – books were leaning together on his half-empty shelf, and papers were scattered across his desk. I peered at them. It was funny: although the twins were so different in character, their handwriting was exactly the same.
‘Look here!’ said Daisy. ‘This is interesting!’ She was peering at something on the sofa next to the fireplace.
I turned and looked. It was a jacket, a tweed one.
‘The laundry mark says Donald Melling,’ said Daisy. ‘So what is it doing in Chummy’s rooms?’
‘He might have left it?’ I suggested.
‘Perhaps – but I don’t think that’s it. Try to put it on – go on, try.’
Feeling rather confused and awkward, I picked up the jacket and slid my arm into its sleeve. I got halfway down – and then my hand was stopped. ‘Oh!’ I said.
‘Ah, I am right!’ said Daisy happily. ‘He’s sewn it shut. I guessed: there’s a needle and thread on the occasional table, but I can’t see anything that needs mending. And remember what Bertie said about the pranks Chummy likes to play? We’ve caught him in the middle of one! It’s not particularly deadly, but it is clear evidence that he’s out to get Donald!’
I hesitated. This prank was so far from the mistletoe poisoning, far even from the bucket landing on Donald’s head. It was so silly. I said so to Daisy.
‘True,’ she said with a frown. ‘Nothing we can take to the Master, is it? No, we need to discover evidence that Chummy’s planning a truly dangerous trick, and find it here. Look around, Hazel!’
We turned out the contents of drawers, and looked under the sofa cushions – but despite our best efforts neither of us found anything that looked damning. Daisy ducked into Chummy’s bedroom, and came out two minutes later looking deflated. ‘Nothing,’ she said shortly. ‘He’s got the same climbing things: rope, wire, plimsolls. All we can accuse Chummy of is being a climber – and that isn’t what we’re trying to do!’
It was time to go. We had spent too long investigating already. We moved towards the door, pushed it open – and stopped short. There, standing in front of us, was Chummy himself.
He stared at us. He was wearing another bright cravat, and his chestnut hair was slicked back. ‘What are you doing here?’ he asked, startled.
‘We’re lost!’ said Daisy in her sweetest voice, fluttering her eyelashes. ‘We were looking for the – you know – the ladies.’
Chummy, unsurprisingly, did not seem convinced. It was not one of Daisy’s better excuses. ‘You’re Bertie’s kid sister. You ought to be in his rooms, if you’re anywhere. What are you doing anyway, running wild on the staircase with her?’ He glared at me, and I stepped back, alarmed. He was looking at me as poisonously as he had Alfred yesterday.
‘Hey! Butler!’ Chummy bellowed suddenly. ‘Come here at once! I’ve caught kids in my room!’
He hauled us both out of the doorway and onto the landing. I felt myself shaking. We were truly in a bad situation now.
‘What’s going on?’ called Michael Butler from downstairs. I looked down and saw him climbing towards us. Alexander and George were with him. As he passed the landing below us, Alfred Cheng popped his head out of his door again. ‘What is it?’ I heard him ask.
‘Oh, do go away,’ shouted Chummy. ‘Why are you always poking your nose in where you don’t belong?’
‘Butler!’ said Alfred, glaring upwards. ‘He’s at it again!’ I could hear the strain in his voice.
‘Cheng,’ said Michael shortly, ‘enough. Haven’t I told you to stop complaining about nothing? This is England, and we don’t accuse people of things without reason.’
‘Yes, this is England, wh
‘Leave it, man, for goodness’ sake. I’ve got more important things to deal with.’
‘You’ll regret that,’ said Alfred. ‘He’ll regret that. Just you wait.’ He stepped backwards out of my sight and slammed the door. I stared at Chummy, who was grinning triumphantly, and suddenly realized, with a shock, that university students were really only like bigger Big Girls. They were not much older, or wiser – and last term had proved to me how cruel and stupid Big Girls could be. I suddenly wondered whether growing up only meant you were older, not more wise.
Michael climbed the final flight of stairs, shaking his head.
‘What’s up, Melling?’ he asked.
‘These girls were in my room,’ said Chummy crossly. ‘Send them away! I want them out of the staircase.’
‘You can’t do that!’ said Daisy.
‘I certainly can,’ said Michael. ‘And in fact, that was exactly what I was on my way to do. The boys have just come back, and they’ve told me that you lied to them – Harold didn’t have a message at all. And you aren’t decorating Bertie’s door, either. You can’t simply wander about on this staircase without a reason – you’re girls!’
‘So?’ asked Daisy.
‘This is a men’s college,’ said Michael. ‘You are not a man, Miss Wells. Now, I don’t want to see you or your friend here again – not unless you have a proper invitation. This may be the holidays, but we are still in Cambridge. There are standards. Go back to St Lucy’s, where you belong.’
Behind him, Alexander and George both made apologetic faces. They were only playing by the rules that Daisy had set, I thought – but it did not make what they had done sting any less.
I knew that there was no hope of Michael reconsidering. Although he was no taller than Chummy, and hardly taller than Daisy herself, he really felt like a grown-up.
He led us down the staircase, and as we walked my cheeks burned with shame and outrage. I did not want to turn and look up at George and Alexander, although I knew they must be watching us leave. I had been right to worry about detecting at Maudlin. I had hoped to be treated like a grown-up at Cambridge. But I had forgotten that although we were older, we were still girls. We did not have the same freedoms as Alexander and George. We would be stopped, and curbed, and told where to go. From now on we would have to use all our ingenuity to discover the simplest things.
As we reached the bottom of the stairs, Daisy made one final valiant attempt to win the bet. ‘Is Chummy all right?’ she asked.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Michael.
‘Oh, nothing,’ said Daisy innocently. ‘Only – he seemed so upset that we were in his room. It must be awful, having a brother who’s going to be rich, when you don’t get any of the money. If that happened to me, I’d be furious. I’d – I’d want to kill Bertie. Chummy doesn’t want to hurt Donald, does he?’
Michael laughed. ‘They may not like each other,’ he said, ‘but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Not even at Christmas.’
‘Why would Christmas be a time to worry? Because it’s their birthday?’ Daisy asked.
‘Because they’re brothers!’ said Michael. ‘Christmas is the worst time for family. Makes me glad it’s only me and my mother – no one else to argue with. At least it’ll all be over on the twenty-fifth.’
And that, it seemed, was that. Michael was sure that Donald and Chummy’s rows did not matter – I could tell that nothing we said would change his mind. He led us all the way to the porter’s lodge, and outside. Mr Perkins watched us go, and I knew we would not be able to get past him again so easily.
We walked despondently down the road towards St Lucy’s – and I was startled when someone shouted behind us. I turned to see Amanda cycling towards us on the Horse. Her hair under its beret was windblown and her face was set in a scowl. When she saw us she swung quickly down and said, ‘There you are!’
I looked at my wristwatch. Of course – it was just past four, the time we had agreed to meet Amanda. The day had flown by without my noticing.
‘We’ve just been banned from Maudlin,’ said Daisy indignantly. ‘Imagine! I suppose you know what that’s like, don’t you?’ she added quickly. I knew what she was thinking – it was the perfect opportunity to question Amanda.
‘I wasn’t banned,’ said Amanda. ‘I— Now, never you mind. It’s time for you to come back to St Lucy’s, anyway. Hurry up!’
I thought she would not say anything more about being banned, but as we reached the bridge over the Cam, she paused. The sun was setting in front of us, and the roofs and walls of Cambridge had turned all rosy in the dying light. The reflection of the sunset was somehow almost lovelier than the thing itself.
‘Oh!’ I said, and squeezed Daisy’s arm.
‘There’s Clare College, across the river,’ said Amanda. ‘And King’s Chapel too. And look, there!’
She pointed, and her eyes made me see little things in the skyline that I had missed before – the gargoyles and towers and stone kings in their niches, the college crests and beautiful peaked windows. For a moment, everything was peaceful. Then Amanda spoke again.
‘Listen,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry about Maudlin. Best not to get yourself mixed up with them. Bertie means well, but—’
‘But?’ asked Daisy eagerly. Were we about to hear what had happened to Amanda?
‘Cambridge isn’t the place to be a woman,’ finished Amanda. ‘That’s all there is to it.’ She sighed and pushed another clump of hair off her face. I noticed all over again how tired she looked. ‘Better get back!’ she said. ‘Another essay to do before dinner.’
‘But it’s the hols!’ I said.
‘I’ve got to get ahead,’ said Amanda. ‘Because of what I said. Being a woman at Cambridge, you have to work ten times as hard as any man, just to get by. That’s all.’
But I was suddenly sure that was not all.
‘But you’re far cleverer than any of the Maudlin students,’ said Daisy, sounding sympathetic. ‘Bertie, obviously – but Chummy and Donald too. I can tell!’
‘Hah!’ said Amanda sharply. She jerked her head, and when she turned back to us her face was set. ‘I keep telling Bertie he oughtn’t to be friends with Chummy. Chummy’s bad news. He’s got Donald and Bertie dangling after him, and they’re going to regret it if they get caught up in his nonsense. It’s best that you don’t go back to Maudlin, do you hear me?’
I felt trapped. So many people were telling us that Chummy was bad – that he did not study, and he was unpleasant – but no one seemed to think that he was truly up to anything actually dangerous. What if he should do something else to Donald, while we were not at Maudlin to stop it? I could not help worrying.
I wrote all of that up on Monday before dinner. We made several attempts to get back out of St Lucy’s, and to Maudlin, but the St Lucy’s staff seemed to have been asked by Daisy’s great-aunt to look out for us. We kept on coming across kind dons and maids in corridors who thought we must be lost, and sent us back to our rooms.
We had dinner in the refectory, all peeling white walls and tinned food, and then went back up to King Henry’s rooms, where we sat in her squashy chairs and stared at each other. The red-stained napkin, with its mistletoe and berries, sat on the table between us.
‘I’ve half a mind to just climb out of the window and go and investigate!’ said Daisy.
‘We can’t!’ I said, shuddering and thinking of the drainpipe at Deepdean. I had been up and down it several times last term, and felt firmly that if I never climbed again, I would be quite happy. ‘We’d be stopped by Mr Perkins!’
‘I know, I know,’ said Daisy restlessly. ‘Ugh!’
Daisy fretfully read more of Gaudy Night (‘I know who did it,’ she said to me. ‘It’s perfectly obvious!’), and then we lay in bed for ages, talking, before finally falling asleep.
When the knocking began it seemed that I had barely closed my eyes.
I sat up with a jolt, shocked. The knocking continued.
‘Who is it?’ called Daisy, getting out of bed and putting on her dressing gown.
‘It’s me!’ said Amanda from out in the corridor. ‘Get up, do! Something’s happened at Maudlin!’
It was only when we had stumbled down the stairs, pulling on our coats and hats and (in my case) blearily wiping the sleep from our eyes, that I realized that the sky above us was still dark and peppered with cold stars. I peered at my wristwatch, and saw that it was just past six o’clock on Tuesday morning. I yawned, and my eyes watered. I felt bewildered, but I was also jangling with nerves.
‘What is it?’ asked Daisy. The St Lucy’s porter’s lodge was empty, and Amanda had to reach for a key from a high ledge and wrestle the little door-within-a-door open to let us out. This was most confusing – I knew we were not allowed out at night. What had happened, that Amanda should be breaking the rules?
‘Shush,’ said Amanda briefly. The dark circles under her eyes were worse than ever, and her cheeks were pale – although that might have been from the cold. ‘Just come along.’
Donald! I thought, all of a sudden. Had something finally happened to him, something truly serious?
Our boots clicked and echoed on the deserted streets, which were misty and chill. Cambridge at this time of night looked like something from a ghost story. It felt like I was stepping through the pages of a book. I almost wondered if it was all real, or if I was still dreaming. But I felt the cobbles under my feet, and the cold air on my cheeks.
When we reached the Maudlin porter’s lodge, it too was closed, the door locked. Amanda hammered against it, calling out. At last Mr Perkins pulled open the small door. He looked shocked. ‘Miss Price?’ he asked. ‘What are you doing here? How did you hear?’
Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes