The Tower of London?” Alec, spreading marmalade on his toast, spoke with a sort of deliberate casualness. “That’s rather a macabre subject to write about.”
“One needn’t go into the gruesome details,” Daisy pointed out. “More coffee? The Americans will love it. Just think, 1070 a.d. to 1925, eight and a half centuries of history! They can’t match that even if they go back to Christopher Columbus.”
“Mr. Thorwald says he’s willing to buy a series of three or four articles about the Tower for Abroad magazine.”
“You’ve already written to him?”
“His answer just arrived.” Daisy waved the telegram form from the top of the pile of letters by her plate. “See how keen he is? He telegraphed rather than waiting for a letter to reach me. I got the idea when we took Belinda to see The Yeomen of the Guard at Christmas.”
After a moment’s silence while he swallowed a bite, Alec voiced the question Daisy was expecting.
“What about the twins?”
She had her response ready. “I’ll only be gone for a few hours at a time, as I shan’t have to go out of town. That’s why it’s ideal. Honestly, darling, Nanny’s perfectly competent. In fact, she’s growing downright dictatorial. Since Mother went home to the Dower House—”
“And my mother retreated back to Bournemouth, thank heaven!”
“Exactly. Nanny no longer has their conflicting commands ringing in her ears. Isn’t it odd how both of them insisted that no one on their side of the family ever had twins? As though there were something disgraceful about it,” Daisy said indignantly.
“Yes, I never thought to hear Lady Dalrymple and my mother agree on anything except that we shouldn’t have married each other. But don’t try to change the subject, Daisy.”
“Try! I thought I succeeded nicely.”
“Only briefly. Quite apart from leaving the babies with Nanny—and I expect you’re right about that—are you sure you’re recovered enough from the birth to go exploring the Tower? As I recall, it’s nothing but stairs, stairs, and more stairs, most of them steep and narrow.”
“It’s nearly the end of April already! They’ll be two months old in a couple of days. I’m perfectly all right, just going quietly mad stuck here in the house with nothing to do but give Oliver or Miranda a bottle now and then, when Nanny deigns to permit. It was fun when Belinda was at home. She so enjoyed helping with them during the Easter hols. But now she’s gone back to school . . .” Daisy sighed. “I’m glad she’s enjoying boarding school, but I do miss her.”
“So do I. Well, love, I’m not about to come the heavy-handed Victorian paterfamilias—”
“You’d better not try!”
Alec grinned. “No, that’s exactly my feeling. But please don’t traipse off if I have to go out of town, and make sure Nanny knows how to telephone me at the Yard.”
“She can always ring up and ask for me at the Tower.”
“I hardly think the Yeoman Warders will be willing to search that warren for—”
“Oh, but that’s the best thing. That is, not the best but what, added to G & S, confirmed that I’m positively meant to write about the Tower. Mrs. Tebbit and her daughter are living there now, in the King’s House, and they’ve invited me to lunch.”
“Your mother’s friend. At least, one of your mother’s fellow bridge players. The divinely outspoken old lady.”
“With the rather limp daughter? Living in the Tower? Not, I take it, imprisoned for high treason?”
“Darling, as though your mother would be acquainted with anyone who might be suspected of high treason!” Daisy considered. “Mrs. Tebbit might commit lèse-majesté, perhaps, but one can’t be arrested for that nowadays, can one? Anyway, it seems the Resident Governor, Major General Carradine, is some sort of cousin, and—”
“Tell me later, Daisy. I must be off.” Alec gulped down the last drops of coffee, folded the News Chronicle and stuck it under his arm, and came around the table for a good-bye kiss. “Things are slow at present, so I’m hoping to clear up some arrears of paperwork before the Super has me arrested for dereliction of duty.”
Daisy returned his kiss with verve before saying hopefully, “Does that mean you’ll be home early enough to take me out for some driving practice? With what Mr. Thorwald is going to pay me, I’ll be able to buy a secondhand car!”
Alec groaned. “I’ll do my best. If you must have a car, it’ll be just as well if you learn how to drive it without running over too many bobbies on point duty. We can’t spare the men.”
“Beast!” said Daisy, and pursed her lips for another kiss.
Daisy went up to the nursery. It had been Mrs. Fletcher’s room while she lived with them, and Belinda had moved in when her grandmother moved to Bournemouth. Poor Bel had had to return to her tiny bedroom when the twins were born.
Not that the nursery was exactly large. In fact, it was definitely crowded with Nanny’s bed and two cribs. A wardrobe, half occupied with shelves, stood against one wall. There was an armchair on one side of the fireplace and an elderly ottoman on the other, full of clean nappies. Its padded top was useful for changing wet and dirty ones. Later it could metamorphose into a toy chest. In the window was a small table with two rush-bottom chairs.
Remembering her own childhood, Daisy guessed that the rush seats wouldn’t last long once the babies were up and about. Pulling bits out of them was irresistible.
Remembering her own childhood—The trouble was that she couldn’t help comparing this nursery with the spacious day-nursery, night-nursery, and schoolroom at Fairacres.
She had chosen to marry a middle-class policeman, chosen a life in a semi-detached house in the suburbs. She was content with her choice, but she had to admit to herself that she had never for a moment considered how it would affect her children.
Knocking softly on the door—after all the nursery was also Nanny’s bedroom—Daisy thought ruefully that she had made her bed and the twins were going to have to lie in it.
Ah well, they didn’t know anything different.
Nanny Gilpin opened the door with a finger to her lips. Her face was pink beneath iron-grey hair sternly pulled back under a starched cap. Her plum-coloured dress, mid-calf in length, had starched white collar and cuffs, and over it she wore a spotless starched white apron. In spite of all the starch, she was a kindly woman.
So, at least, said Daisy’s friend Melanie Germond, who had recommended Mrs. Gilpin. Furthermore, her daughter, Bel’s school-friend Lizzie, was still fond of her old nurse.
But Nanny Gilpin was undeniably old-fashioned. She expected absolute rule over the nursery, with parents admitted by appointment only. As she was, to all appearances, very good with the babies, Daisy was afraid of losing her and so catered to her whims, however reluctantly.
She had told Nanny she was going out to lunch and wanted to see the twins before she left.
“You may come in, Mummy,” Nanny whispered, “but I just put them down for a nap, so not a sound, if you please.”
Daisy tiptoed over to Oliver’s crib. He lay on his back, eyes closed, arms spread wide, hands relaxed. The soft down on his head had a distinct gingerish tone. He might end up a redhead, like his elder sister, but Nanny said it would probably change as he grew older.
He looked so tiny, so delicate. The doctor said twins were always smaller than the average baby, which made sense. Otherwise, how enormous she’d have been! They were both perfectly healthy though, thank heaven, and would catch up in height and weight in due course.
Oliver had kicked off his coverlet. Daisy leant forward to straighten it—then pulled back at a warning cough from Mrs. Gilpin.
“Now, Mummy, we don’t want to wake him, do we?”
Daisy swallowed a sigh. Of course Nanny knew best how to take care of babies, didn’t she?
The baby’s lips pursed in a sucking motion. One hand rose to insert a thumb in his mouth. It didn’t mean he was hungry, she assured herself, as she had been assured.
Nanny moved forward in a purposeful way. Daisy hastily turned to Miranda’s crib.
Miranda lay there quietly, good as gold, but her blue eyes were wide open. Catching sight of Daisy, she smiled. Daisy cast a quick glance behind her. Nanny was occupied with tucking in Oliver. Quick as a wink, Daisy scooped up her daughter in her arms for a quick kiss and cuddle before she was caught.
Miranda chuckled. Enchanted, Daisy kissed the top of her head, revelling in the softness of her dark fluff and sweet, milky smell.
“She was awake, Nanny. I didn’t wake her, truly.”
“And how is she ever going to fall asleep if you pick her up?”
This was unanswerable. With an audible sigh, Daisy laid Miranda back in the crib, where she set up an earsplitting screech.
“You see?” asked Nanny accusingly.
Defeated, Daisy retreated.
Melanie Germond had also been invited to lunch with the Tebbits. She called for Daisy and they walked together through an April shower to the tube station.
“It’s so brave of you to carry a red umbrella,” said Melanie with a touch of envy.
“Brave?” Daisy queried, surprised. After her craven surrender to Mrs. Gilpin, she felt anything but brave.
“When practically everyone else’s are black. People look at you.”
“Why shouldn’t they? Anyway, they’re only looking at the umbrella, really, not at me.”
“I suppose it’s your upbringing.” Melanie sighed. “We always had it drummed into us that one should never draw attention to oneself.”
After living for a year and a half in St. John’s Wood, Daisy was still discovering new facets of the difference between the middle classes and her own aristocratic background. She pondered. “I don’t think we were ever taught anything so specific, certainly not that drawing attention to oneself is a virtue. I suppose it was sort of taken for granted that people would look at us, just because my father was Viscount Dalrymple. Unless we were among other people of the same sort, of course. Oh dear, that does make me sound stuck-up!”
“Daisy, that’s not what I meant! No one could be less stuck-up than you.”
“Well, I hope not. My brother had the umbrella made for me just before he went to France, to cheer me up. I think of it as a sort of outsize, year-round Armistice poppy.”
“Oh, Daisy, I am sorry!” Mel said miserably. “I don’t seem to be able to help putting my foot in it today.”
“Bosh! I didn’t have to tell you that.” She grinned. “I could have just let you go on thinking me stuck-up.”
“I don’t. I never did. Do stop teasing, or I’ll arrive with my face as red as your umbrella and everyone will stare at me.”
Daisy gave her friend’s face an envious glance. Mel had a perfect English rose complexion. Unlike Daisy, she had no need of powder to hide unwanted freckles. With just a touch of lip colour, and her unbobbed hair done up in a French pleat, she looked every inch the respectable bank manager’s wife she was. Daisy was glad Alec had not followed his father into the banking profession. She could never have lived up to the requisite staidness. For one thing, a policeman’s wife didn’t have to entertain her husband’s clients.
She suppressed a giggle. Alec’s “clients” were crooks—but Mel wouldn’t understand her amusement. “Not you, darling, you never blush, you lucky thing,” she said, and folded her umbrella as they entered the shelter of the station.
“If you were stuck-up,” said Mel, “you’d travel by taxi, not by the Underground.”
“The tube is quicker than buses, and I’m a working woman, remember. In fact, this is a working occasion for me. I’m hoping to persuade the Resident Governor to give me special access for research. It would make for much more interesting articles than just parroting the guidebooks. Have you the right change for the ticket machine?”
At Baker Street, they switched to the Inner Circle line, and a few rattling, swaying minutes later, they emerged from the Mark Lane station at the top of Tower Hill.
The shower had passed over. The sun shone in a sky decorated with little puffs of white lamb’s wool. Daisy and Melanie paused to look down towards the river, where the ancient palace-fortress spread up the hill towards them, a breeze gently waving the Union Jack atop the White Tower.
“It looks innocent as a picture postcard,” Daisy remarked with a shudder.
“What do you mean?”
“Did you ever come here as a child? You’re a Londoner; you must have.”
“Yes, I suppose most London children come, but I don’t remember much about it.”
“We were brought once as a treat. Gervaise loved it, of course, all the arms and armour and bloodshed. You know what ghouls little boys are. Violet saw it as romantic, besides being fascinated by the Crown Jewels. But I had nightmares for weeks afterwards. All that chopping off of heads: I got it mixed up in my mind with Alice in Wonderland. In my dreams, I confused the Red Queen with Bloody Mary, and Alice with Lady Jane Grey.”
“I even dreamt of ravens growing as tall as flamingos and turning into croquet hoops.”
That made Mel laugh. “I do remember being afraid of the ravens,” she acknowledged.
“I’ve been reading up on the history,” said Daisy as they waited for the traffic policeman to let them cross to the gardens in the middle of Trinity Square. “Gower’s The Tower of London, to prepare for the articles. I must admit I hoped it would dispel my early impressions of the place, but it simply put the endless executions in context.”
“I don’t know how Miss Tebbit can bear to live there.”
“I doubt she has much imagination. And Mrs. Tebbit is capable of facing down any number of headless ghosts. Though I must say, it doesn’t look at all sinister today.”
Today, the picturesque scene ahead was more evocative of colourful processions of kings and queens on their way to Westminster Abbey to be crowned, escorted by throngs of nobles on brightly caparisoned horses. The blare of motor horns and glint of sunlight on polished brass headlamps conjured up trumpet fanfares and cheering crowds. Absorbed by the view, Daisy didn’t notice the constable on point duty waving them across the street.
“Come on.” Melanie tugged her arm. “Do you know him?” she asked as Daisy waved to the policeman.
“Who? Oh, the bobby? No, but learning to drive has given me a new appreciation for their intrepidity. Imagine standing there with all the taxis and ’buses and lorries and cars swirling about you, with nothing to protect you but long white gauntlets.”
“Much worse than mere headless ghosts,” Mel said with a smile.
They reached the gardens safely. The path led them to a reminder of the Tower’s grim history, a fenced-off square commemorating the scaffold where public executions used to take place. Here, Daisy thought, the crowds would have jeered, not cheered, enjoying with equal glee a royal procession or a grisly death. Dutifully, she made a note of the inscription. Alec was right: The Tower was a morbid subject to write about. But it was too late now to change her mind.
They walked down Tower Hill, the pavement separated from the dry, grassy moat by an iron railing and trees. Beyond the moat rose the outer walls. With their massive towers, arrow slits and crenellations, they had a stern, forbidding look, but daffodils danced under the greening trees.
At the bottom, they stopped outside the ticket office and refreshment room, an inappropriate-looking wooden building.
“This was the site of the Lion Tower,” said Daisy. “They kept the Royal Menagerie here for hundreds of years.”
“Please, no history lessons,” Melanie begged. “Do we need tickets?”
“Surely not. We’re invited guests. No, look, the notice says you need them only for the White Tower, the Bloody Tower, and the Crown Jewels.”
The walk swung left under a rounded Norman arch adorned with the royal lion and unicorn carved in stone, between two round towers. A stout Yeoman Warder stood there, a picturesque figure in his dark blue Tudor-style tunic and bonnet, lavishly adorned with red braid; on his chest was a crown, with G V R beneath. His eight-foot tasselled halberd was also Tudor and picturesque, though no doubt as lethal at close quarters as any modern automatic.
“Could you direct us to the King’s House, please?”
A benevolent smile divided his short, neat grey beard from his moustache. “You’ll be Mrs. Fletcher and Mrs. Germond? We was advised to look out for you.” He turned to point the way. “You go across the bridge here, over the moat, then under the next archway. That’s the Byward Tower. Keep straight ahead along Water Street, past the Bell Tower on your left. A bit farther on, you’ll see the Traitors’ Gate on your right. You turn left there, under the portcullis. There’s a tunnel below the Bloody Tower to the Inner Ward. Just follow the signs to the Bloody Tower and the Crown Jewels. Can’t miss it. You’ll find another chap there who’ll tell you the rest of the way.”
They thanked him and continued over the bridge.
“His directions sounded like a history lesson,” Melanie complained whimsically.
“Don’t blame me. The Bloody Tower is where they found the bones of the two little princes—”
“You won’t start talking about murders and executions at lunch, will you?”
“Good heavens, no! That would be inexcusable in a duchess or a dustman.”
“A duchess, perhaps,” Mel retorted, “but my daily woman’s husband is a dustman, and from what my housekeeper relays of her conversations, he regularly dispenses such tidbits from the evening paper over their supper.”
“Really? Well, I assure you, no duchess of my acquaintance would dream of raising the subject before coffee.”
Laughing, they passed under the Byward Tower arch, where a rigid sentry stood, clad in a red coat, white trousers, and red-cockaded white shako, and armed with a modern rifle.
“There’s a military garrison here,” said Daisy, “as well as the Beefeaters, who, I gather, regard that epithet as a mortal insult. Yeoman Warders, they are, so be careful what you say.”
“I shall,” Mel promised.
They watched as the soldier turned about, with much raising of knees and stamping of feet, marched a few paces, turned again, marched back, and resumed his position.
“I wonder how he knows when it’s time to do that,” Daisy said. “Did you hear a bugle or a whistle or anything?”
Daisy went up to the sentry. “I suppose you’re not allowed to answer a question?” she asked.
His gaze never shifted from straight over her shoulder, but his lips twitched and he gave an infinitesimal shake of the head.
“Ah well, never mind.” She rejoined Melanie.
“Daisy, how could you?”
“Easily. How will I find out if I don’t ask?”
They continued along Water Street.
Water Street was a cobbled street occupying the fortress’s outer ward on the river side. High stone walls on either side were reminders of the Tower’s historic function as a prison, but the inner wall’s starkness was softened by a luxuriant creeper now putting forth bright green leaves. A few other people were wandering along, many studying booklets, which, judging by their overheard comments, provided a brief history and description of the Tower. Ahead, a group stood by a railing on the right, being harangued by a Yeoman Warder. Several others turned left between a pair of sentries and disappeared under an arch.
“That must be the Bloody Tower,” Daisy said.
As they turned in between the motionless sentries, she noticed behind each man a viciously spiked semicircle of iron protruding from the wall. She hadn’t realized the torture had started before prisoners even reached their cells. That was an aspect of the Tower she didn’t intend to emphasize in her articles. She avoided drawing Melanie’s attention to the fanged arcs, and also to the ironclad teeth of the portcullis suspended ominously overhead. Presumably it had good strong chains to support it?
A cloud passing across the sun made the tunnel suddenly dank and gloomy. They started up the slope, footsteps ringing on the cobbles.
Suddenly, a black apparition loomed ahead, silhouetted against the daylight. Daisy clutched Mel’s arm. “What . . . ?”
“A Beefeater.” Mel corrected herself: “A Yeoman Warder.”
“Oh, of course.” She felt an utter ass. The shape of the dark figure was peculiar, his long tunic suggesting a fashionably short skirt, his bonnet a truncated top hat. A bushy beard made his head look overlarge. But she wouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion it was a ghost if she hadn’t already managed to give herself the creeps. Not that she believed in ghosts.
He came down towards them, a tall, burly man, who seemed to Daisy to be eyeing them in a disagreeably appraising manner. The light was too dim to be sure. Besides, she was probably prejudiced by the unwarranted fright his sudden appearance had caused her. He was perfectly polite when they stopped him to ask for further directions.
In fact, he turned back to accompany them. Emerging from the tunnel, they continued up the cobbled slope. A crumbling section of ancient wall and a hideous modern guardhouse blocked the expected vista of the White Tower, the central keep of William the Conqueror’s castle. Ahead, at the top of the slope, were two broad, shallow flights of steps. However, their guide ushered them through a gap in the wall on their left, up a couple of steps under a small arch. It was a murky spot, with high blank walls on two sides and a steep stone staircase on the third. Up this, the yeoman led them.
“So you’re friends of Mrs. Tebbit, then, are you?” he said, his voice placing him as a Northcountryman, with the edges worn off by his sojourn in the army. “A very nice lady.”
“Nice” was not how Daisy would describe Mrs. Tebbit. Amusing, interesting, thought-provoking, just plain provoking— In any case, it was not the yeoman’s place to pronounce judgement, favourable or unfavourable, on members of the Resident Governor’s household, even if he held some rank above the ordinary warder, as appeared by the White Tower insignia on his uniform. Nor did she like his tone, which seemed sly and insinuating, or the way he looked back at her and Melanie, apparently to judge their reactions.
Beside her, Mel pursed her lips in disapproval. They toiled upward in silence. In any case, they needed all their breath for the ascent. The warder waited at the top. Daisy thought she detected a touch of sardonic enjoyment as he watched their arduous ascent from the pit. Had he taken them that way just to amuse himself?
They came out level with the first floor of the Bloody Tower. Its entrance was just ahead, with a yeoman in a booth waiting to check tickets, his halberd leaning in the corner behind him. Another yeoman, unarmed, stood ready to escort visitors inside and tell them all about the murder of the young princes.
Their guide turned right towards a grassy slope with sycamores, just leafing out, surrounded by daffodils. Sparrows chirped noisily from the branches; a raven on the ground stared at them with bright, knowing eyes and greeted them: “Grawk!” The sun came out.
“Tower Green,” said the yeoman. “The scaffold was just up there, where they used to cut off the heads of them as was favoured with a private execution. That black-and-white Tudor building there, built against the wall, that’s the King’s House. Just finished scraping off the old plaster coating, they have, that hid the timbers, and a sight better it looks.”
It was indeed an attractive scene in the sunshine. Nothing could have looked less threatening. Daisy resolved to enjoy her lunch and try to ignore for the present the constant reminders of bloodshed.
Copyright © 2007 by Carola Dunn. All rights reserved.