“Darling, I wish you hadn’t planned a morning wedding. I’m getting the most frightful morning sickness these days. I’m more likely to need support than to be able to support you.” Daisy reached for another buttery toasted teacake.
“Bosh!” Blood red nail varnish gleamed as Lucy deftly slid the willow-pattern plate on its lace doily across the dark oak table, away from Daisy. “You’re as healthy as a horse.”
“I’m eating for two,” Daisy protested. “And making up for lost time, too. You haven’t seen me between seven and eleven in the morning. I can barely manage to down a cup of tea for breakfast.”
“Too sickening, darling!” Lucy said sardonically, her clear soprano turning heads as it rang through the small tea-shop.
It was all very well for her. She never had the least difficulty keeping the straight-up-and-down figure—still fashionable in 1924, alas—which Daisy would never attain. But Lucy moved the plate back within Daisy’s reach before pouring herself a second cup of Earl Grey.
Daisy didn’t care for Earl Grey at the best of times. Now the musky scent gave her a twinge of incipient nausea. She hastily took another teacake, the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg bringing comfort to her queasy stomach. The Cosy Corner didn’t put in as much spice as the Bluebell Tea Rooms used to, she thought regretfully, but after what happened at the Bluebell she’d never been quite brave enough to go back.
She turned her attention back to her friend. As always, Lucy was the epitome of the stylish young woman, from the feathered cloche perched on her dark, sleek bob to the fashionable knee-length hemline, flesh-coloured silk stockings, and strapped shoes below.
Usually cool, calm and collected, she was now fidgeting with her teaspoon, although she didn’t take sugar in her tea. She regarded Daisy with uncharacteristic anxiety and lowered her voice to say, “For a moment there you looked quite green. Darling, will it really be too much for you to come to Haverhill a few days early?”
“Everyone says morning sickness only lasts a month, or six weeks at most. The trouble is, they say it in that frightfully hearty, encouraging way that makes one sure they’re concealing the bad news.”
“The wedding’s not for another month. I don’t know how I’ll cope without you to rely on for a breath of sanity, Daisy. All the family will be gathering, and besides the general fuss, some of my relations are utterly poisonous.”
“Her brothers and her cousins, whom she reckons up by dozens, her brothers and her cousins and her aunts!” Daisy misquoted HMS Pinafore. “I suppose you’re getting married at Haverhill rather than in town because Lord Haverhill’s getting a bit creaky about the joints?”
“Actually, Grandfather may be eighty but he’s as frisky as a spring lamb, and Grandmama too.”
“I can’t imagine Lady Haverhill frisking!”
“No, much too Victorian, but she’s healthy as a horse. They both adore any excuse to gather the whole family at Haverhill. It’s Uncle Aubrey who has a dicky heart, though I don’t believe it’s quite as bad as Aunt Maud likes to think.”
“I seem to remember Lady Fotheringay being a bit of a worrier.”
“Fussbox, more like,” said Lucy with an unladylike snort. “Cosseting him makes her feel important.”
“It must be difficult playing second fiddle for decades,” Daisy said charitably. “She’d like to be the Countess of Haverhill before your uncle pops off, I expect. It’s only natural. I suppose Lady Eva will be there. She rather terrifies me. I’m always sure she’s reading my mind.”
“Oh, Aunt Eva doesn’t need supernatural means to collect her information. She’s a bit of a bore but really quite a decent old trout.”
“I bet there are a lot of people who feel threatened by her curiosity. People who have something they desperately want to hide.”
“It’s not as if she ever does anything with what she finds out. She just likes to know what everyone’s up to. Our sort of people, I mean. She couldn’t care less about Mr. Bones the Butcher.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if she found out I was pregnant before I did! Or did she lose interest in me when I married a policeman?”
“It was touch and go,” Lucy said frankly, “but your mother is still the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and your sister’s Lady John. In spite of which you might have been relegated to hoi polloi if Alec was an ordinary bobby, not a Detective Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard. His title may not be noble but it has a certain lustre.”
Daisy laughed. “That’s all that reconciled Mother to my marriage, insofar as she’s ever reconciled to anything once she’s decided to disapprove. At least your relatives, however poisonous, can’t possibly disapprove of Binkie.”
“No,” Lucy agreed complacently, leaning back in the high-backed Windsor chair. “The son of a marquis, even a younger son, is a creditable match.”
“Lucy, you do love him, don’t you?”
“I … I think so. I’m pretty certain, actually. I’m not likely to find anyone else who’s willing to let me keep up the photography business after we’re married.”
“You can wind him around your little finger.” Disturbed by her friend’s attitude, Daisy sighed.
“One can’t ever be absolutely certain, can one?” Lucy pleaded.
“I am. Most of the time, anyway. Right-oh, darling, I’ll come to Haverhill to hold your hand and cheer you on. Maybe I can get an article out of it for my American editor: ‘A Fashionable English Wedding,’ perhaps.”
“Thanks, darling.” Lucy took out her compact to powder her nose and refresh her crimson lip-salve. “I’ve got to run. Lady Moresby wants yet another portrait, though I can’t think why, considering her face. But she says I’m the only photographer who brings out her ‘inner being.’ By the way, not a word about the photography. The parents assume I’m going to give up the studio once I’m Lady Gerald Bincombe.”
“I’ll be silent as the grave,” Daisy promised.
On a sunny afternoon in June, Lord Haverhill’s dark blue Daimler sped between the flat, emerald green fields of Cambridgeshire. Leaning back in the luxuriously soft leather seat she shared with a hamper from Fortnum and Mason, Daisy caught a glimpse to her right of their goal.
Her stepdaughter, Belinda, would love to see Haverhill, she thought. At this distance, the mansion resembled an exotic hybrid of a mediæval castle and a Gothic cathedral. The sprawling mass, complete with towers and spires, turrets and battlements, oriels and arches, was a triumph of early Victorian neo-Gothic.
One of the two tallest spires belonged to the chapel where Lucy would be married. In Victorian times, the entire household, including throngs of servants, had gathered there for daily prayers. Nowadays it saw a Sunday service only when a clergyman was visiting, as the present Lord Haverhill had no private chaplain.
Turning off a narrow lane, the motor-car approached the mansion along an avenue of elms. The grounds visible between the trees were well-kept parkland with scattered trees and a spinney off to the right. None of the fallow deer Daisy remembered were visible.
The Daimler drew up before the broad flight of marble steps leading up to the cathedral-sized front door. The chauffeur came around to open Daisy’s door.
She stepped out and paused to contemplate the vast façade. Not having visited for a while, she had forgotten how enormous the house was. From here, only the main block was visible, but that alone could have swallowed Alec’s suburban semi-detached without a hiccup. Altogether, Haverhill was at least twice, perhaps three times, the size of Fairacres, Daisy’s childhood home.
As she started up the steps, Lucy came out through a wicket in the great double door and hurried down to meet her. Elegant as ever in a simple summer frock of buttercup yellow linen, belted at the hips with a white sash, she made Daisy feel crumpled and dusty. Behind her, a woman with mousy marcelled hair paused on the top step, watching.
“Darling, I hope the journey wasn’t too frightfully tiresome. I managed to escape to the library …”
“The library? You?” Daisy said, laughing.
“ … To watch out for you.” Lucy gestured at the windows to their left. “No one but John is ever there—you know we’re not a bookish family—but Sally saw me go in and followed. She’s trying to persuade me to let her little darling carry my train. I’m supposed to make an exception because the brat will be Earl of Haverhill in fifty years or so.”
“Sally is your cousin Rupert’s wife, I take it?”
“Yes. Then there are my sisters-in-law who think their offspring should have precedence, and Mummy, who agrees on no children in the wedding but wants me to carry tuberoses, which always make me sneeze, and …”
“Darling, you’re babbling.”
“I’m well on the way to becoming a raving lunatic. Thank heaven you’ve come, Daisy.”
“Introduce me to Mrs. Rupert and then you’ll have to escort me to my room for a lie-down before tea. I’m quite exhausted from the journey.”
Lucy peered into her face, concerned. “You don’t look … Oh, you mean … Right-oh.” She raised her voice. “Sally, I don’t believe you’ve met my friend Daisy Fletcher.”
Mrs. Rupert Fotheringay’s tweed skirt, silk blouse, and pearls, though perfectly suitable for the country, looked formal beside Lucy’s frock, and her tone was more formal than friendly as she said, “Welcome to Haverhill, Mrs. Fletcher.”
“I’m taking Daisy up to her room to rest after the journey.”
“That hardly seems necessary as your grandfather sent the Daimler for her.” The tone was distinctly chilly now. “Those of us who came down by train—”
“Daisy’s pregnant,” Lucy announced baldly. “Her husband wouldn’t let her come if she had to take the train.”
“The car didn’t come just for me. It was crammed full of parcels for the wedding,” Daisy explained.
“Come on, darling, before you drop.” Lucy linked her arm through Daisy’s and practically dragged her into the house. “Sally is jealous,” she hissed, “because this time I’m the bride who gets all the attention, and I’m getting a bigger show than she did. Heaven knows I could do without it! If I’d realized what a big family wedding entails, I’d have made Binkie elope to Gretna.”
The hall was cavernous, lit high above by windows in the octagonal base of the clock tower. Between the surrounding marble pillars lurked portraits by Van Dyck, Lely and Raeburn. Daisy and Lucy picked their way across the chequerboard marble floor between stacks of trestle tables and folding chairs.
“Good gracious, how many people are coming?”
“Six hundred to the breakfast, most of them relatives. My great-grandfather had thirteen children, all dead but three, but there’s their children and children’s children. Then there’s Mummy’s side of the family. And Binkie’s mother’s guest list was almost as long as ours. Grandfather’s paying for the lot, the lamb, not expecting Daddy to cough up out of his own pocket.”
“That’s jolly generous.”
“Oh, he has pots of money. In spite of—or perhaps because of—all those children, my great-grandfather popped off before ruinous death duties came in.”
“Helpful of him!”
“Very. Mind you, Grandfather has plenty of expenses what with all the people battening on him. Not only those living here. Great-uncle Montagu gets enough income from the estate to live on. And Grandfather gives Uncle Henry and Daddy allowances, and Rupert too, because he’s the eldest son of the eldest son. Girls are supposed to stay at home until they marry.”
“Don’t I know it!” Daisy had been expected to reside with her mother or the cousin who inherited Fairacres when her father and brother died. Like Lucy, she had chosen to earn her own living, in her case with writing, and they had shared digs. “It was fun, but I have to confess I did get fearfully tired of living on eggs and sardines and mousetrap cheese.”
“It’s no fun without you, darling. But no more of that from now on. Binkie gets an allowance from his father, and he’s doing surprisingly well in the City. You’re all right with stairs, aren’t you, darling?” Lucy asked as they reached the splendidly carved oak staircase, saved from the demolition of the ancient house which once stood on this spot. “Grandmama told Jennifer to put you in the room next to mine. First floor, not too much climbing.”
“I’m perfectly well, now that the beastly morning sickness is over. But thanks all the same.”
“Lucy!” Lady Fotheringay came out of the dining room to their right. A short, plump, grey-haired lady, she was aflutter with gauzy draperies in a variety of pastel shades. “Lucy, such a shame … Oh, it’s Daisy Dalrymple isn’t it? How lovely to see you again, my dear. But you’re married now, aren’t you. Perhaps I ought to call you Mrs. Fletcher?”
“Daisy will do very well, Lady Fotheringay.”
“What was it you wanted to tell me, Aunt Maud?” Lucy demanded with barely concealed impatience.
“Oh yes. Your uncle is very much afraid he won’t have any pineapples ripe by Saturday.”
“I’m sure there’s plenty of other fruit, cherries and such, or you can send to London. Excuse us, please, Aunt. Daisy needs to rest before tea.”
Daisy glanced back with a smile of apology as Lucy bustled her up the stairs. Lady Fotheringay appeared undismayed by her niece’s rudeness, but Daisy protested, “Lucy, you’re being quite as poisonous as any of your relatives can possibly be. I won’t be turned into an invalid just so that you can avoid them.”
“Sorry, darling! I’ll grovel to Aunt Maud, I promise, but not to Sally, who was foul to you first.”
“She was rather. Pineapples—Your uncle’s still mad for his conservatories, I take it?”
“Yes. Uncle Aubrey’s a dear old bird but mad is the word, quite potty, in fact. I told you he has a weak heart? Sometimes I wonder if his brain isn’t getting enough blood. At least he sticks to his plants and doesn’t fuss at me. Oh Lord, now here comes Grandmama!”
The Countess of Haverhill was a tall, upright old lady dressed in the black her generation considered suitable for the elderly. “Welcome back to Haverhill, Mrs. Fletcher,” she said. “I trust you will be a calming influence on Lucy. Nerves were expected of a bride in my day, but I thought you modern young people were supposed to be above such weaknesses.”
“I dare say it takes everyone differently, Lady Haverhill.”
“No doubt.” She looked beyond Daisy and frowned slightly. “What is it, Jennifer?”
“Mrs. Oliver wants Lucy to try on her going-away costume, Lady Haverhill.” A woman came hurrying down the upper staircase, by no means so grand as the lower. Her slightly shabby clothes could have been Sally Fotheringay’s cast-offs, and very likely were. A niece of Lady Fotheringay, she had married a penniless war refugee from somewhere in Europe.
“Again?” Lucy heaved a big sigh. “In the sewing room? Tell Mummy I’ll be along as soon as I’ve settled Daisy, will you, Jennifer?”
“Hello, Jennifer,” said Daisy.
“Hello, Daisy. Shall I show you your room while Lucy goes to her mother?”
Lucy opened her mouth to object, caught her grandmother’s eye, sighed again, and acquiesced.
“I hope to see you at tea, Mrs. Fletcher,” said Lady Haverhill, “if you feel up to coming down.”
“I’ll be there, never fear.” Daisy walked with Jennifer along the carpeted gallery and turned left into the west wing.
“I expect you’re surprised that we’re still living here,” Jennifer said with a touch of belligerence.
“Not surprised, exactly, though I do remember some talk last time I was here about you and Johan returning to … Luxemburg, is it?”
“That’s right, only my husband likes to be called John now. He went back for a visit and found everything quite devastated after the German occupation. He’s decided to become a British subject, as much for Emily’s sake as anything.”
“Oh yes, your baby. How is she?” Nowadays Daisy was genuinely interested in babies.
Jennifer’s rather plain face lit up. “She’s just beginning to talk comprehensibly. Would you like to come and see her?”
“After tea, perhaps?”
“Anytime. Lady Haverhill’s been terribly good about letting one of the housemaids play nursemaid for Emily sometimes, but of course I mostly look after her myself.”
“That must keep you busy.”
“It does, but I lend a hand with the housekeeping as well. The housekeeper’s nearly as old as Lord Haverhill and won’t be pensioned off. And John is acting as Lord Haverhill’s secretary and cataloguing the library, so we are not living on charity, whatever Sally says. Here’s Lucy’s room, and this is yours next door. There’s a bathroom in between, all the hot water you want, and the lav is just across the passage there.”
“Thank heaven the first Earl of Haverhill didn’t insist on mediæval plumbing to match the exterior!” said Daisy.
As the bride, Lucy had one of the better of the thirty or forty guest chambers, so Daisy’s room was also spacious and comfortably furnished. There was a small writing table with paper, envelopes and an inkstand. A couple of easy-chairs stood by the window, which looked over parkland to the lake and the folly on the low hill beyond. Daisy’s bags had been sent up by the chauffeur, and a maid had already started unpacking.
Jennifer Walsdorf seemed disposed to stay and chat. Daisy didn’t know her well but rather admired her for having the nerve to marry a foreigner in spite of family disapproval. They sat in the chairs by the window. Daisy asked who else had already arrived for the wedding.
“Lucy’s parents. I expect you know them?”
“Yes. I used to call them Uncle Oliver and Aunt Vickie, but I expect that’s inappropriate now I’m married. Who else?”
“Lady Eva Devenish, Lord Haverhill’s sister. She often comes down for the weekend, so she’s just stayed on. I can’t wait to see her hat for the wedding.”
“Yes, there’s something to be said for those vast Edwardian hats she still goes in for.”
“Her son, Sir James, is here too, with Lady Devenish and Angela.”
“Their unmarried daughter. Her brother, Teddy, is coming later. Their married sister—one of them—will be here tonight, I think, with husband and children. That’s Veronica and Peter Bancroft. They sometimes come for the weekend when Lady Eva’s here, and Emily likes their little girl. She’s crazy about Dickie Fotheringay, too—Sally’s little boy, who’s already here. You know Sally, don’t you? Colonel Rupert’s wife?”
“I just met her. Rupert’s not here yet?”
“No, he’s on manoeuvres, if the Household Cavalry do anything so prosaic. Most of the men are coming down later. Uncle Montagu’s here, though, and Lucy’s brother Timothy, the clergyman, and family. He’s going to perform the ceremony.”
“Yes, Lucy told me she’d asked him.”
“Then there’s a variety of cousins—you don’t want me to go into all the cousins and their spouses and children, do you? There will be over twenty for dinner tonight, and more swarms turning up throughout the week. I have a hard time keeping them straight, though most of them visit here quite often. You’ll never manage it in four days.”
“No, you’re right, I shan’t try. Just thinking about them exhausts me. I think I’ll put my feet up for a while.”
“You ought to have a footstool.”
“Oh, that’s all right, the bed will do.”
“I’ll send a footman up with a footstool later. Is there anything else I can get you?”
“No thanks, Jennifer. I’ll see you later. Tea’s in the Long Gallery, as usual?”
“Or out on the terrace if it stays warm. Quarter to five. Is there anything else I can get you now?”
The maid had finished unpacking and departed. Daisy took off her skirt and jacket and blouse and lay down on the bed in her petticoat. Next thing she knew, Lucy was shaking her shoulder.
“Darling, if you want tea—which I’m sure you do or I wouldn’t wake you—you’d better get dressed.”
“Gosh, is it that late already? I’ll be right down.”
A MOURNING WEDDING. Copyright © 2004 by Carola Dunn. All rights reserved.