The vast vault of King's Cross Station echoed and reechoed to the thunder of pneumatic hammers. The air was thick with dust. Daisy tucked her extravagant first-class ticket into her handbag, hitched up the camera's strap securely on her shoulder, stuck her fingers in her ears, and looked about her.
The unification of three railway companies into one, the new London and North Eastern, was responsible for the current chaos. Why the merger necessitated the complete rebuilding of King's Cross escaped Daisy, but one result was that the clerk at the ticket window had not been able to tell her with any assurance which platform the Flying Scotsman would leave from today.
Another result was that the usual swarms of people were confined within a variety of barricades and temporary walls. Not only was the W. H. Smith's bookstall out of bounds, so were the slot machines, and Alec was not there this morning to see her off with a box of chocs. He was already in the North, the Northumberland police having called in Scotland Yard to solve some difficult case for them. Daisy was not even likely to see him, since she was going still further north. She was on her way to a stately home near Edinburgh to collect informationfor her next Town and Country article.
Her porter reappeared, battling through the crowd towards her with her bags and the portable typewriter. She removed one finger from one ear and he bellowed into it, "Platform Five, miss."
He led the way to the ticket barrier, where a reassuring sign announced The Flying Scotsman: London--York--Edinburgh dep. 10:00 A.M. A harassed ticket-inspector was trying to deal with a long queue at the same time as fielding queries from anxious passengers who had expected their train to leave from Platform 5.
Daisy's porter went ahead with her luggage and she joined the slow-moving queue. It looked as if the train was going to be pretty full and she was glad she had blown the extra three quid odd on the first-class ticket. She could just about afford it since getting the American magazine commission for the series on London's museums. For short trips third class was good enough; for over eight hours, the extra comfort and space was worth the money.
All the same, it was a pity she had not been able to buy something to read, she thought as she walked along the platform beside the varnished teak coaches. Passengers in first tended to be less chatty, more stand-offish, than their lower-class fellow-travellers. It was going to be a long, dull journey. Oh well, she could always buzz along and try to bag a seat in third for a while when the scenery palled.
She did want a window-seat, though. Coming to the first-class carriage, she stepped up into the train and walked along the corridor. Some of the first few compartments were smokers, others had both window-seats taken, but at last she came to an empty one with a No Smoking sign.
"To face the engine or not to face the engine," she mused. "That is the question."
Reluctantly she put down her handbag and Lucy's camera onthe backwards seat. She preferred travelling forwards, especially when she had nothing to read. However, she wanted to arrive looking reasonably professional, and the frightful smuts which always floated in through the window invariably landed on one's face. The window was bound to be opened, since the weather forecast prophesied another unseasonably warm day.
In fact, it was jolly hot in the train already. Why the steam heating was always on at full blast on warm days and left one shivering on cold days was another of life's little unsolvable mysteries.
Brought up on "Ne'er cast a clout till May be out" (May month or may blossom? she had always wondered), Daisy was wearing her green tweed winter coat. As she unbuttoned it, from the corridor came a male voice in rising tones of desperation.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God, I can't stand it much longer! Some of the fellows think the mud's the worst, but to me it's a hot day when all you want is to play cricket or laze in a punt. I tell you, I can't ..."
"Hush, Raymond." A girl's voice, its superficial languid drawl seemed to Daisy to have an undertone of tenderness, a blend of love and pity. "Come and sit down, darling. We'll close the window and door, and you can put your hands over your ears."
"I'm sorry, Judith," he said brokenly. "It's those damned hammers. They sound just like ... Oh God, why doesn't the bloody train start?"
Shell-shock. Daisy knew the attacks of memories too vivid to be ignored were often set off by loud noises. Wilfred Owen's words drifted through her head:
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
Owen had been a friend of Michael's. He was dead, along with Michael, and Gervaise, and uncountable others. At least they were at peace, she thought with a lump in her throat, unlike those poor souls who still suffered five years after the Armistice.
"Shell-shock, poor chap." The porter popped up again like the genie of the lamp. "Me sister's lad's the same way. Takes him something awful, it does. I put your big bags in the luggage van, miss, and warned the guard to mind the FRAGILE labels on the one with your photographical stuff in, like you said."
"Thank you. Yes, the typewriter and the small bag up in the rack, and would you put the camera up, too, please." She tipped him and he departed.
It was really too unbearably hot in the compartment, yet opening the window would let in all the noise and dirt of the station's demolition. Daisy took off her cotton gloves, stuffed them in her pocket, then took off her coat.
Thank heaven she had trusted the forecast enough to wear a summer frock. It was a rather nice new one, short-sleeved, in blue voile patterned with white and yellow daisies, with a blue sash at the low waist. She looked quite pretty in it even if her figure was far from the fashionable ideal of no bosom and no hips. A pity Alec was not there to notice that the blue was the same shade as her eyes--not that he was given to compliments. About all he had ever said on the subject of her eyes was to blame their guileless depths for leading him into indiscreet disclosures about his investigations.
She bundled the coat up onto the rack, forced to stand on tiptoe though she was not particularly short. The world was designed for men, she thought darkly. Perhaps that would change now that women at last had the vote.
The hat came off next, the prized emerald green cloche from Selfridge's Bargain Basement. Her mother would be simply aghast to see her travelling without gloves and a hat, but Motherwas far away. It was too ridiculous to die of heat stroke for the sake of convention. Besides, she had the compartment to herself so far, and the train must be about to start off.
Kneeling on the seat, she peered in the mirror to tidy her hair. The short, honey brown curls still took her by surprise when she wasn't thinking. She had not told her mother she'd had practically all her hair cut off. What a row there'd be when she found out!
Alec said the shingle cut made her look like Lady Caroline Lamb. He also said the little mole by her mouth, the one face-powder never quite hid, looked like an eighteenth-century face-patch called the "Kissing"--but he had not kissed her yet.
Perhaps he never would, Daisy thought gloomily. When she went to tea at his house, his mother had made it plain, without ever putting it into words, that she disapproved of the middle classes mixing with the aristocracy. Of course Daisy's mother, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple, felt just the same, or would if she knew about her daughter's friendship with Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher. As though having an Honourable in front of one's name translated one to a different plane from ordinary humanity!
At least Alec's daughter, Belinda, jolly well liked her.
The freckles on Daisy's nose were showing. She powdered them into submission and refreshed her lipstick. Sitting down, she leaned her shingled head back on the antimacassar covering the padded headrest. The fawn and red patterned seat was indeed comfortable, softer than third class. She might even manage to snooze away part of the journey.
Outside, whistles blew and doors slammed. The Flying Scotsman slid slowly along the platform, rattled with increasing speed over the points, and settled down to a steady clickety-clack. Signals and signal-boxes, reverberating tunnels and shunting trains gave way to the smoke-blackened backs of terraced houses, their tiny gardens abloom with Monday morning's wash.Daisy stood up to slide open the window and let in the cool morning air.
She swung round. In the open door to the corridor stood a small, skinny girl with gingerish pigtails, wearing a navy blue school uniform coat and hat, and black stockings. She looked hot and bothered and on the edge of tears.
"Belinda! Good gracious heavens!"
"I thought I'd never find you. I thought I'd got on the wrong train, or you weren't ..." A sob interrupted.
"My dear!" Daisy opened her arms. Belinda flew into them.
A hug and a handkerchief later, when the child was sufficiently restored to calm to start unbuttoning her coat, Daisy's tone changed.
"It's a jolly good job you found me," she said severely, "but what on earth are you doing here in the first place?"
"I ran away," said Belinda in a small voice, her gaze firmly fixed on the button she was fiddling with.
"No, it's the Easter hols. This is my best coat and hat, that's why I'm wearing them."
"So you ran away from ... ?"
"From Gran. My grandmother."
Her fingers crossed for luck, Daisy prayed it might be the maternal grandmother, of whom she knew nothing. "Mrs. Fletcher?" she asked with foreboding. She groaned beneath her breath as Belinda nodded.
"Granny wouldn't let me go to Deva's house," she said passionately, "or ask her over, or even meet her in the park to play, only because she's Indian. So I decided to go and ask Daddy if I may. Daddy says you mustn't judge someone by where they come from or what they look like or how they talk, 'cause everyone's equal before the law. Anyway, I play with Deva at school, so why shouldn't I at home?"
"I can't imagine," Daisy lied. "But the point is, it was very wicked of you to run away. Your grandmother will be fearfully worried. And what made you think this train would take you to your father?"
"I looked it up in the atlas my other gran and granddad gave me for Christmas. Daddy's in Northumberland, and you left that message for him saying you were catching the Flying Scotsman to Scotland today, and they're right next to each other."
"Northumberland's a big county, and Scotland's a whole country. I don't even know whereabouts your father is, and we have no plans to meet."
"Oh." Belinda's eyes, a greener grey than Alec's, were huge in her freckled face (more freckles than Daisy had ever possessed). "Oh dearie, dearie me."
"What am I to do with you, for pity's sake?" Daisy's eyes wandered to the emergency brake pull above the window. She had always wanted an excuse to yank down that red chain. Penalty for Improper Use Forty Shillings she read, and came back to earth with a bump. Money--ticket--"How did you get onto the train?"
"I bought a platform ticket from a machine. It's only a penny. I've only got tuppence left of my pocket money, though, 'cause the bus fare was thruppence. The child's fare."
"Child's fare? Of course, thank heaven. I was just thinking I haven't enough money on me to pay your train fare when the ticket-collector comes round."
"I could get off at the next station and go home," said Belinda unhappily.
"This is an express train," Daisy informed her with asperity. "The next station is York. We don't get there till after lunch, and your father--to say nothing of your grandmother--would have my head if I sent you home alone. They may anyway, since it seems to be my telephone call which gave you the idiotic idea of running away."
"I'm awfully, awfully, awfully sorry."
"Well, it's no use crying over spilt milk. Cheer up, darling, and take your coat and hat off before you expire from this frightful heat. Tell me about your friend Deva."
"She's got a sari! That's a sort of Indian dress you wrap round you. She wears an ordinary uniform to school every day, but she put it on for our Christmas pageant. It's blue silk with gold stars and gold along the edges. She said I can try it on if I go to her house. I don't see why Granny won't let me. Deva's daddy works for the India Office, so she's perfickly respectable. You'd let me, wouldn't you, Miss Dalrymple?"
"That's beside the point. It's for your grandmother to decide, and she only wants what's best for you."
Belinda sighed. "I wish you'd marry Daddy."
"Mr. Fletcher and I are just friends," Daisy said firmly, hoping her face-powder hid her blushes. She welcomed the interruption of a smart young woman who appeared in the doorway with a sleeping baby in her arms and a little girl in tow.
"Daisy, it is you! I thought I saw you in the station but the crowd was so frightful I couldn't be sure."
"Anne Smythe-Pike--no, of course you're married now. It's ages since we last ran into each other, and you were engaged then."
"Bretton. Mrs. Harold Bretton," said her one-time schoolfellow complacently. At twenty-six, a year older than Daisy, Anne Bretton's pretty face already bore marks of petulance, so it was no surprise when she added in a querulous tone, "Harold is being disagreeable."
"How difficult for you," Daisy said with a sympathetic smile.
"He says children should be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen either, but I want my little darlings with me. I'll join you. You won't mind the children." It was a statement, not a question.
"No, of course not. I see you, too, have succumbed to theheat. The sun shining in doesn't help. Aren't you glad you wore a summer frock?"
"Rather! Except it will probably be freezing in Scotland." Sitting down, the infant in her lap, she gave Daisy's bare head an envious look. "Mother would have forty fits if I took off my hat."
"Mrs. Smythe-Pike is with you?"
"She and Father have a compartment to themselves, because of Father's gout. The whole family's on the train, believe it or not. We're ... Oh, is this your daughter? No, surely not. She's too old."
Anne's little girl, who had been staring at Belinda, now announced, "I'm five. How old are you?"
"Nine and three quarters. Nearly ten."
"This is Belinda Fletcher, Anne. She's the daughter of a friend."
"How do you do, Mrs. Bretton," Belinda said politely. "What is your little girl's name?"
"Tabitha, dear. How nice, you two can play together." She smiled fondly as the child, clutching her doll, clambered up onto the seat beside Belinda. Anne glanced at Daisy's left hand. "You're not married, then, Daisy? That time we bumped into each other--at the Savoy, wasn't it?--you were engaged, too. Oh! Oh dear, I suppose ... ?"
"Yes, Michael was killed in the War." Daisy did not elaborate. Anne had never been a close friend, had in fact been regarded as fearfully soppy by Daisy's set. She changed the subject. "Did you say all your family is on the train?"
"That's my bruwer," said Tabitha, pointing at the baby. "He's in my family. He's called Astair."
"After Fred Astaire?" Daisy queried, surprised.
"No, no," Anne assured her. "His name is Alistair. Alistair McGowan Bretton, in honour of my grandfather. He's Grandfather's first direct male descendent. Don't you think he's bound to change his will in Baby's favour?"
"Good heavens, Anne, how can I possibly guess? Surely it depends on who else has claims upon him."
"If only it did," Anne said peevishly, "I'm sure we have a better claim than anyone. The trouble is, Grandfather is frightfully prejudiced. In the first place, he loathes the English, and of course Father is as English as can be, and so is Harold."
"So are you, aren't you? And your children."
"Well, yes, but Mother is Scottish, being his daughter."
"If he--Mr. McGowan, is it?--has left his money to your mother, will it not come to you in time?" Daisy asked.
"To me and Judith, but he hasn't. Hasn't left it to Mother. That's the other thing. Grandfather has left everything to Great-Uncle Albert, even though they haven't spoken to each other for decades, only because he believes in inheritance through the male line."
"Not really! How fearfully Victorian."
"Isn't it?" Anne agreed. "What's more, as they're twins Uncle Albert is just as ancient, and everyone was sure he'd die first."
"He spent most of his life in India, ruining his health with the climate and curries and too many chota pegs--isn't that what they call whisky? Yet Grandfather Alistair is on his deathbed and Uncle Albert's here in this very train, summoned along with the rest of us, and the solicitor. The only possible reason for Uncle Albert to go is to gloat over being the survivor. He doesn't need the money."
Daisy was beginning to get interested in the ramifications. "Who gets Uncle Albert's money?" she enquired. "His children, I imagine?"
"He has none. He never married. There's a family legend that Grandfather pinched his fiancée, though I don't know if it's true. His own fortune, the one he made in India, dies with him. Would you believe he spent every penny to purchase an annuity just to spite the family?"
"So he'd leave practically nothing."
"That's what it looked like. No one expected him to outlive Grandfather, to inherit Dunston Castle and the family fortune. Hush, Baby," Anne interrupted herself as little Alistair began to whimper. "Don't start fussing again, my little sweetypie doodums. Be good and your great-grandfather will leave you lots of money."
"As he has sent for his lawyer, I should think he might," Daisy said, "since the money would presumably have come to you, or at least to your mother, if Albert McGowan had died before Alistair as expected."
"Not at all. It's terribly unfair. The next heir is Uncle Peter, who's the son of their younger sister. She married a Scot, you see, and Uncle Peter was born in Scotland. So were his wife and children, though the Gillespies live in London now. What with that, and there being only one female generation on that side, they get the preference over Grandfather's own ... Hush!"
The baby wailed. Screwing up his little red face, he hiccuped, and then let loose a full-throated bawl. Daisy tried not to wince too obviously.
"Oh, do be quiet, you horrid little monkey," Anne snapped at her sweetypie doodums. "If you're going to be naughty, you'll have to go to Nanny. You too, Tabitha. Come along."
"No!" screeched Tabitha. "I'm being good. I want to stay with B'linda."
"She really is being good," Belinda said gravely. "I'll look after her for you, Mrs. Bretton. If Miss Dalrymple doesn't mind."
"Not at all." Daisy swallowed a sigh. What had happened to her long, dull, but peaceful journey?