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A Fine Summer's Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

Chapeter 1

Sunday, 28 June, 1914

It was a fine summer’s day in England. In fact, one of a string of bright days, languid and unhurried, full of promise. As if the weeks to come stretched out in an endless spool of long, leisurely afternoons on the lawn, croquet mallets and tea trays, men in summer white, women in frothy wide-brimmed hats, and girls with blue ribbon sashes. Peaceful, measured, and like the Empire, destined to go on forever. The distant sound of gunfire was too faint to hear. It disturbed no dreams, it marred no plans, it stirred no fears. Nevertheless, before the sun set on this fine summer day, the lives of a handful of people would have been changed by murder. Ian Rutledge drove down to Kent on Friday morning, having been given leave from his duties at Scotland Yard after a fortnight of hunting a suspect through Derbyshire. With him was Jean Gordon, whom he’d been seeing for some time. Melinda Crawford had invited a number of people for a house party, taking advantage of the fine weather. She was an excellent host­ess, and everyone had a very pleasant weekend. By Sunday afternoon the party had begun to break up. Frances Rutledge had said good-bye to her brother and Melinda shortly after the alfresco luncheon, traveling back to London with the Kerrs, who had brought her down. Ross Trevor, Rutledge’s close friend, had gone off to the tennis court with another guest, demanding revenge for a disastrous defeat on Saturday afternoon. And Ian had strolled in the direction of the lake with Miss Gordon. Melinda sat in her favorite wicker chair on the terrace, shaded by a white lace parasol trimmed with pale green ribbons. With half her mind she listened to the shouts and laughter from the tennis players, easily picking out Ross Trevor’s baritone. Despite his high spirits, she thought he was unhappy about something. Or someone. She had tried to speak to Ian about that, but the Gordon woman clung to him like a limpet. If she got no satisfaction from Ian before the weekend was over, she’d say something to David Trevor, Ross’s father and Ian’s god­father, when next she saw him. But much as she cared for him, it wasn’t Ross Trevor who had occupied her thoughts most of this weekend. It was Ian and the girl he’d apparently become rather serious about. Frances had mentioned Jean Gordon in a few of her letters, which in itself was a sign. Melinda had noted it and acted accordingly. She made a point of traveling to London several times, but Ian had been busy at the Yard, and she’d had only a few opportunities to meet Jean. The girl was lovely, there was no doubt of that. Small and delicate-boned, bright and charming, from an excellent family. A perfect choice, in many ways, and together they did make quite a handsome pair. But Melinda had found Jean shallow. That was when she had decided to arrange a house party. It was important, she told herself, to be fair, to give the girl a chance. Jean could have been overawed by the attentions of Ian’s formidable, elderly family connection. And so Me­linda had drawn up a list of young people, arranged for caterers and a small orchestra for Saturday evening, and then invited Ian first, to be absolutely certain he could come down.

And the more time she’d spent in Miss Gordon’s company, the more she dreaded the thought that Ian might marry her.

Melinda, old enough to be Ian Rutledge’s grandmother, had been friends with his parents before he was born. And of all the young people she was close to, this was the one she loved the most. Frances, attractive and bright, had inherited her mother’s grace and steadiness. She would do very well. And Ross too, in the end, whatever was wor­rying him at the moment. Melinda’s young cousin Bess had her moth­er’s spirit and her father’s clear mind. There was nothing to worry about there. She’d been invited for the weekend as well, of course, but she and her parents were in the south of France visiting with friends from India.

In spite of her careful planning, the weekend had not gone pre­cisely as Melinda Crawford had expected. Jean had seized the chance to spend more time in Ian’s company, and rather than sharing him with the other guests, she had often contrived to separate him from his sister and his friend Ross.

Now, trying to tell herself that a walk through the wood to the lake was cooler than the tennis court, and that it was the only reason Ian and Jean had gone off on their own, Melinda waited for them to return. They had set out after lunch, talking companionably as they disappeared into the trees. They had also disappeared for a while after dinner the night before, and she’d found them in the gardens. Their voices low, their laughter intimate, their chairs drawn close. She had been fearful that he might propose then, but nothing had been said at breakfast, and Melinda had felt almost faint with relief.

Perhaps Ian had planned to speak to Jean last evening, she thought, and for some reason changed his mind. Perhaps seeing so much of the girl had given him pause. He was an Inspector now at the Yard—well thought of, his career assured. Melinda had friends in high places, and when she met them in London for a luncheon or a dinner, they’d begun to mention Rutledge’s prospects in their conversations. Of course it wouldn’t be surprising if he had begun to think of marriage. After all, he would soon be twenty-five, and he could afford to keep a wife. But pray God, not Jean!

Ian was a strong-minded man. He’d chosen to become a police­man rather than join the family firm of solicitors, which had set the cat amongst the pigeons. His father had not been happy with the decision. This was his only son, and he’d seen to his education with an eye to a future in law. But Ian had eventually won him over and joined the Metropolitan Police as a constable on the street. To no one’s surprise in the family, he’d earned promotion after promotion on his own merit. Intelligent, with a quick wit and a sense of humor, he would have succeeded in whatever he’d wanted to do with his life.

But Jean, who was noticeably ambitious, had astonished Melinda by commenting that she thought it rather fun to be acquainted with a policeman. As if this were a hobby that Rutledge would soon tire of and come to his senses.

Melinda, knowing the man, knowing how he thought and felt, had nearly snapped that it was as unlikely to happen as it was to snow in London in July. But she’d bit her tongue in time.

What was keeping them? Impatient, worried, she sat there facing the wood, watching for them, sending up a silent prayer that it would not be now. That there would still be time to introduce him to other more suitable young women before he made his choice . . .

Melinda would have worried a great deal more if she’d known what was in his pocket. The small green velvet box he’d car­ried around with him for a fortnight. Rutledge was very conscious of it now as he walked beside Jean. He’d debated with himself for days about proposing this weekend. It had seemed a romantic thing to do, here in Kent, at Melinda’s house, which he’d always known nearly as well as his own home. After his parents’ deaths, he’d come here as often as he could, bringing his sister with him. She was younger, and the loss had hit her particularly hard. Last night, in the dark garden, the stars wonderfully bright and close, he’d been sorely tempted to go down on one knee. He couldn’t have said afterward why he hadn’t. It wasn’t a matter of courage. Or doubt. He was in love with Jean. And he was fairly certain she loved him. That she would accept him. She was sweet, vivacious, amazingly pretty, and amusing. He could imagine the years stretching out before them, growing old together, loving and being loved. Frances hadn’t been particularly keen when he’d told her what he was thinking. “Are you quite sure, Ian? Look at Mama and Papa. They had the most wonderful marriage. To the very end. Won’t you grow tired of Jean? Won’t you find that over the years she’s more than a little— narrow?” But he’d laughed and told Frances that she would find that having a sister would make it easier for her to fill the void of their parents’ deaths. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel shut out of his life, left behind with the past. But Melinda had said much the same thing to him on one of her visits to London, and he hadn’t been able to smile and reassure her in quite the same way. Melinda was no fool, and he valued her opinion. He told himself she hardly knew Jean, that for his sake, in time she’d come to love the woman he married. Still, he’d waited. When the invi­tation to the house party in Kent had arrived in the post, he took it as a peace offering from Melinda, and was grateful.

As they stepped out of the shadows of the wood, sunlight was dancing across the lake. White swans moved serenely over the surface, their half-grown cygnets trailing behind.

“How beautiful it is,” Jean said softly, as if afraid to break the spell.

And how beautiful she looked, he thought, watching her as her gaze followed the swans, her hair like spun gold in the light.

“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.

“I was thinking that they have not a care in the world,” she replied. “The swans. I should like to have a lake and swans one day. It would be lovely to stand by it and watch them for hours at a time.”

Hardly the right beginning for a proposal, he thought wryly. On an Inspector’s pay at Scotland Yard, there was no likelihood of such a lake in the near future. He hadn’t touched the trust his parents had left him, and he had his eye on a flat convenient to the Yard. The Rutledge house, where he lived presently, was to be Frances’s when she turned twenty-one. Less than six months from now . . .

They strolled on toward the gazebo, set by the water’s edge. Jean was saying, “Are you happy, Ian? There’s something on your mind. Is it Frances?”

Rutledge was saved from answering as the heel of Jean’s shoe mired down in the soft earth by the gazebo. Laughing, she reached for his arm, and he bent down to retrieve her shoe. Holding on to him, she limped on one foot as far as the gazebo, and he helped her up the steps to one of the cushioned seats overlooking the softly lapping water.

“Perhaps a lake isn’t the best feature for a garden after all,” she said archly as she sat down, reluctantly letting go of his arm.

He knelt to help her put the shoe on again, and as she bent her own head to watch, he said, “Jean.”

Something in his voice warned her. She caught her breath, and didn’t answer.

“My dear,” he began, and then with a smile, he added simply, “will you marry me, Jean?”

She put her hand to her throat. For an instant he thought she was going to say no. Or ask if she could have a few days to think about her answer.

In the silence, all he could hear was the murmur of bees busy among the flowers by the steps and the soft movement of water among the reeds.

And then she whispered, “Yes.”

Sarajevo was a Serbian town in the Balkans, a place of no particular importance to the rest of the world. A part of the Ottoman Empire for generations, it had been annexed to the Austrian Empire through the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Not everyone was happy about that. There had been more than a little trouble over it, and the Serbs had been behind a number of bloody assassinations. Archduke Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had come to Sarajevo on a state visit to review troops and open a museum, for God’s sake, a duty hardly worthy of the honor of having a Habsburg present for the occasion. But he loved his wife, Sophie, and only in these lackluster outposts of Empire was she given the status of an equal with him. In Vienna, in the eyes of the court, a Czech countess had no standing, and so she walked well behind him, sat far from him at table, and would never be crowned Empress when he succeeded to the throne of his uncle. He’d been forced to accept a galling morganatic marriage, which branded her as unworthy of his high estate. It was only on those terms that the Emperor would permit him to choose Sophie. And so they were together here in Sarajevo, she in an elegant hat and gown, he in uniform, feathers in his helmet blowing in the soft breeze, to be honored and feted side by side. Only it didn’t quite work out as planned.

On the way into the city from the railway station, a bomb had been thrown under the motorcar they should have been riding in, wound­ing a number of the Archduke’s staff. That had upset the Archduke and his wife, and the welcoming speech at City Hall had not gone well. The Mayor’s hospitable words to a man who’d just narrowly missed being blown up fell on deaf ears.

The Archduke was eager to visit the wounded in hospital, and it was arranged that they would be driven there. Again, they took the third motorcar, open so that they could be seen, and set out.

There was some confusion about the route, and close by the Latin Bridge, the driver made a wrong turn.

The crowds had thinned noticeably. The Archduke frowned but said nothing. Beside him his wife stirred anxiously. It wasn’t the most direct route. But perhaps it was the safer one?

A handful of assassins had set out that morning, determined to kill their high-ranking guest. A blow for the freedom of the Serbian people. But most of them had got cold feet and failed to act. Only one man had actually thrown his bomb, but at the wrong motorcar. He’d been captured almost at once. However, the youngest, most zealous assassin had continued to shadow the royal couple. And now he saw his chance. Unfortunately he was armed not with a bomb but with a pistol.

The Archduke, a smile pinned to his face despite the lack of inter­est along the street in this part of town, froze as someone darted out toward the carriage, a dark young man in dark clothes. Almost in slow motion he saw the raised pistol in the assassin’s hand, the scowl on his face. In the same instant he realized that no one was trying to stop the fool. His first thought was of his wife, but before he could move to shield her, the man fired at almost point-blank range. Sophie cried out as the bullet struck her in the stomach—she was several months’ preg­nant with their next child—and her blood began to spread across her white gown in an ugly red stain. The Archduke, his attention on his wife, still saw the barrel of the pistol swing up sharply again, and the second shot tore through his neck even as he reared back.

It would not be an easy death for either of them.

The driver, shocked, sped off. Not to the hospital, where some­thing might have been done, but toward the Governor’s Palace a little distance away. Sophie lay slumped against her husband, and he tried to hold her, begging her to live for his sake, for the sake of the chil­dren. But by the time they reached the Palace, she was dead, and he was nearly so.

Their killer was caught, a Serb and a member of one of the out­lawed nationalist groups—aided and abetted, it turned out, by Serbian intelligence officers.

The news shocked Vienna. Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie were given a hasty, slapdash funeral, their children shunned, even as the aged Emperor demanded that something be done. For God’s sake, the heir to the throne had been murdered, examples would have to be made, and Serbia punished for harboring assassins.

No one in Vienna reckoned on Russia’s reaction.

And in Scotland that sunny afternoon, a man Ian Rutledge had never met proposed to his own sweetheart.

Hamish MacLeod had taken Fiona MacDonald to Glen Coe, to see the land his grandmother had left him. Where he intended to build a house and one day bring a wife.

They’d carried a picnic basket with them, spreading a rug across the dusty ground and laughing together as they sat down. Not quite touching, but close enough that Hamish could smell the lavender scent she wore and feel the rustle of her blue trimmed skirts against his knee as she reached inside the basket to draw out the packet of sandwiches.

It had taken some doing to persuade her family to trust her with

him this day. They were strict Presbyterians, and besides it was a Sunday. He’d prayed for fine weather, and when it had dawned fair, he’d watched the sun rise with a sharp sense of elation. Fiona knew how he felt about her. She must have known that one day he intended to propose to her. But he was a patient man, giving her time to make up her own mind about him.

There was all the time in the world.

He had known her all his life. And then in the early spring, he’d been a guest at the wedding of a cousin, and she had been in the bridal party. With a shock, he realized, watching her, that he’d been in love with her for a very long time. And he’d sought her out the very next week, carefully crafting a chance encounter. It had, slowly, led to this moment.

Smiling at the memory, he took the sandwich she was holding out to him, then the handful of fresh strawberries.

“The house will stand just there, where the land flattens a wee bit. See the stakes driven into the ground?” he asked, pointing them out with his sandwich. “No’ a grand house, ye ken, but a comfortable one. I can see it a’ in my heid.”

“Will it have a verandah? I’ve read about them in books, with chairs to sit in and ferns hanging in baskets above the white railings.” She was lightly teasing, and yet he thought she was telling him that she would like to have a say in his plans.

“Ach, it will no’ be any trouble to add a verandah. It will take two months to put up the house, I’m thinking. If we begin in August or September, the inside will be finished by Christmas. I’d start this week if I could, but I’m told the builders willna’ have the time until well into August.”

“It will be a verra’ fine house,” she said, and reached out to touch his hand, a spontaneous gesture.

He froze. “Lass, don’t do that,” he said huskily. “I’ll be asking you to marry me now, this day.” He tried to keep his voice level. “And I havena’ asked your uncle if I could speak to you.”

“And you should,” she said quietly. “It’s the proper thing to do. Still, it would do no harm to inquire of the lady in question if she cares for you. That’s to say, before you add yon verandah.”

Rising quickly, he walked a little distance from her. “Fiona. I’ll no’ be rich. But you’ll want for nothing. You ken that. I’ll take care of you as long as there’s breath in my body.”

She rose as well, shading her eyes as she looked toward him. “I’ve never doubted you, Hamish MacLeod.” She hesitated. “Is it a pro­posal, then?”

“Aye,” he said, holding out his hands. “It’s a proposal. Lass, will ye have me?”

“I will,” she said softly. “Yes, I will.”

“Ye’re verra’ young, Fiona. I didna’ want to rush you, I do na’ want you to regret saying yes. Are ye sure?”

“I’m sure. I’ve been sure for weeks, now.”

She came to him, taking his hands, leaning close for his kiss. He bent his head but kissed her on the cheek, gently.

He would speak to her uncle tomorrow. He had a feeling the man might make him wait until her next birthday, in September. But that was fair enough. He could wait forever for Fiona if he had to.

And on this same day, a man sat at the table in his mother’s kitchen and listened for the undertaker’s carriage. The doctor had just gone, and the silence in the house was almost more than he could bear. The ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece seemed overly loud, and after a moment, to drown it out, he got up and began to make himself a cup of tea. She’d died of a broken heart. No matter what the doctor had given as a cause of death, Henry knew better. It had taken years to kill her, that broken heart. She’d had a son to raise, a duty to his dead father to see him right before she could give in to her grief. And yet grief had been a presence in the house for as long as he could remember. Perhaps it was fitting that she had died on this day of all others. The anniversary of the day his father had been hanged for murder. He’d been five, and he’d sat beside his mother in this very kitchen as they watched the hands of the clock creep toward noon. And when it had chimed the hour, she had thrown the bowl of sugar at it, as if to stop it. To stop time. But the bowl had crashed harmlessly against the stone surround of the hearth, and he had knelt to sweep up the spilled sugar and the blue china bits that had been the bowl while she sat there and cried.

He hadn’t understood then. Murder and hanging were incompre­hensible to him. But he remembered his father being taken away by two burly constables, his mother’s fists beating against their backs as she cried out and begged for a moment to say a proper good-bye.

He’d never seen his father again. He’d been left with his granny while his mother went to the Bristol Assizes and watched her husband convicted and then condemned to hang. She’d come home tight-lipped, her face nearly gray from sleepless nights and the strain of traveling to and from the trial.

“He didn’t do it. I know Evan, he didn’t. He couldn’t have,” she’d said, her voice harsh and bone dry.

He hadn’t been allowed to say good-bye to the condemned man. But on each anniversary of his father’s death, they had sat here to­gether, he and his mother, his father’s photograph in her worn hands, and watched the clock.

“They killed him,” she’d said once. “They took him from us and killed him. It wasn’t right. He had a family, but no one in the village cared about that. No one in Bristol gave us a thought. Cold and black-hearted all of them, and they didn’t care.”

She had never told him what his father had done. But people seldom came to the house after his father had been carried off to gaol. And his mother had had to take in mending and then washing to make ends meet. It had taken every penny they could scrape together to keep food on their table, clothes on their backs. He himself had gone to work as early as he could, to help provide for the two of them. And it was then he’d learned why his father had been hanged.

“Killed Mr. Atkins,” they said. “That’s what he done. In cold blood. He claimed that Mr. Atkins’s son had cheated him, but it was all a lie. Young Mr. Atkins was upstanding, a good husband, a member of the church. And your father was ne’er-do-well, a nobody who liked his drink. You’re no better than he is, so keep your place if you want to work here.”

Henry had tried to ask his mother about what they had said, and she told him his father had been falsely accused, that Mr. Atkins’s friends had refused to believe that the man could be both cruel and mean.

They hadn’t cared. His mother had been right about that. When she was unable to wash the clothes of her betters, he’d done it himself, and never told a soul. Working in the back of the greengrocer’s shop all day and staying up to wash the linens and the bedding and the tea towels and the stockings and overalls and God knew what. Pressing them dry, folding them neatly, and carrying them back to the people who owned them, before going on to work another day in the shop.

Taking a deep breath he tried to think what to do, now that his mother was gone. He hated this village, he hated the people in it, and he only wanted to get away. He’d stayed this long for her sake. He couldn’t have left her. He could never have been that selfish.

The clock on the mantelpiece showed nearly noon. He stared at it now, waiting for the hands to reach twelve, and the little chimes to ring out. He got up and went to his mother’s room, to find the photograph of his father that she’d kept by her bed. Stopping only for a moment to look down at her worn, peaceful face.

And then he went back to the kitchen, held his father’s photograph in his hands as she had done and waited.

By the time the undertaker had come to fetch his mother’s body, he’d made up his mind. As soon as the funeral was over, he’d go away where he wasn’t known and could live a decent life.

But sitting there in the silent house, the memory of his mother’s voice and her presence filled the room. He could almost hear her tell­ing him not to leave with his tail between his legs, not to slip away in the night like a thief.

He hadn’t slept the night before. He hadn’t rested all through the long, lonely day. He was nearly drunk with fatigue, he hadn’t eaten since noon on Friday. He couldn’t think clearly. As the long rays of the summer sun faded into sunset and then into darkness, he got up finally and began to pack. Taking only what he needed, only what meant something to him or to his mother, he would be ready to set out as soon as the service ended. When he had the money, he’d send to have a stone placed on his mother’s grave. A large stone. He’d see to it, if he had to starve to do it.

He debated about the clock, then took the weight off and padded the pendulum with rags, wrapping the clock and the weights in an old blanket before adding them to his bundle.

It was while searching through the house to find everything that he should take, that he found two things. In a drawer in his mother’s room, yellowed cuttings of his father’s trial, which his mother had never shown him. And something unexpected in the tiny room behind the kitchen.

Squatting, he stared at it. Found himself thinking about the con­tents of the pail. He wasn’t quite sure where it had come from, or why his mother had bothered to bring it here, or hide it behind a barrel of rags. Opening the pail, he peered inside, then put the lid back in place.

Later, after he’d read through all the cuttings, studying the notes she’d scrawled in the margins, the idea seemed to come out of no­where. As if his mother had spoken in his ear. He listened, considered the possible repercussions, and decided he didn’t care.

She must have had something like it in mind herself, for the feeling to be so very strong.

Chapter 2

On the Monday morning, Rutledge called on Major George Gordon, and found him in his study, working on accounts. He looked up as Rutledge was announced, and smiled.

A broad-shouldered man with blue eyes and dark hair streaked with gray, he’d been a soldier all his life. In the spring, he’d retired to take over the management of the family estates from his younger brother, who had fallen ill. Even as he smiled, lines of worry bracketed his mouth. According to the doctors, it was not certain that Kenneth would live past the summer. And the brothers were close.

“Come to make it official, have you?” Gordon asked. “Jean’s feet hardly touched the ground last evening.”

She had promised Ian she wouldn’t say anything to her parents until he’d asked her father’s permission to speak to her. And perhaps she hadn’t, but she had made it clear that something had happened. The Gordons hadn’t found it hard to guess what that was.

“I’m sorry I spoke to Jean out of turn,” he said, taking the chair that Gordon had indicated. “If you wish me to withdraw my proposal, I shall.”

“Nonsense. It’s a good match. And she’s pleased. That’s what mat­ters most to me. If you’ve come for my blessing, I give it freely.”

Relieved, Rutledge said, “Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best to make her happy.”

“I know you will. I’ve been friends with your godfather, David Trevor, for some time. He tells me you have a strong interest in archi­tecture. Any thoughts about joining his firm?”

Trevor had asked him, once it was certain that Rutledge wasn’t fol­lowing in his father’s footsteps, if architecture held more interest than the law. “The door’s always open, Ian. Ross already has the makings of a fine draftsman, and he has an eye for detail. I’d be content to have both of you there, with a view to a partnership down the road. What do you say?”

But Rutledge had had to say no. With some regret. He was close to David and knew his future would be certain with the Scotsman.

Now, facing Gordon, Rutledge said carefully, “I’ve considered his offer, sir. Perhaps one day.”

“Yes, yes, best to keep an open mind.” Gordon nodded. But Rut-ledge noted the slight frown in his eyes.

If Gordon had had a choice, he would gladly have seen his daugh­ter marrying a career Army officer. But a solicitor with a noted firm, or an architect, would have done very well. He could hardly tell Rutledge to leave the police. But it was clear that he hoped as this man’s respon­sibilities grew, he’d come to his senses.

Rutledge, on the brink of answering the thought, wisely held his tongue.

Gordon offered him a celebratory drink, early as it was, and then toasted the future, saying, “She’s my only daughter. This day was bound to come, but every father has his concerns about the man his child will choose. You’ll understand this better, once you have chil­dren of your own. Meanwhile, I can say that Jean’s mother and I are both delighted and wish you every joy.”

Rutledge couldn’t stop himself from grinning. “Thank you, sir. Jean has made me very happy.” He finished his whisky and set the glass down on the tray.

“Her mother and I would like to arrange a party, once the an­nouncement has been sent to the Times. Friday evening in two weeks’ time? Will that suit?”

They had already discussed the party, the Major and his wife. That was clear. “Yes, of course.” And then, remembering what he did for a living, Rutledge added, “I shall put in at once for leave that evening.”

Gordon nodded, and then walked with Rutledge to the door, clap­ping him on the shoulder as he said, “Have the two of you considered a date for the wedding?”

“Jean has said she would like it to be at Christmas.”

“Not surprising. Elizabeth and I were wed at Christmastime. Quite a pretty affair it was. I was a young lieutenant at the time, and I can remember being terrified of her father, the Colonel. He had mustaches that were as fearsome as he was. But as I got to know him, I grew quite fond of him. I hope you and I go on as comfortably together.”

“I’d like that.” Rutledge took his leave and walked out to where he’d left his motorcar. The wash of relief he felt left him almost eu­phoric. Gordon had been welcoming and gracious. He’d had a far more formidable reputation with his men, although unlike the Colo­nel, his own father-in-law, he didn’t favor mustaches.

He smiled to himself at the thought. Gordon didn’t need them.

Arriving at the Yard, Rutledge found Chief Superintendent Bowles fuming, waiting for him to appear. There was a murder in Dorchester, the county seat of Dorset, and Rutledge was to leave at once to support the local man on the scene.

“The dead man had connections,” Bowles pointed out as he went over the file. “And it won’t do to ignore that fact. I depend upon you to act with discretion and to take great care in conducting your inter­views, so as not to upset anyone. I don’t wish to hear complaints from the family or the Chief Constable.”

Rutledge had received similar instructions before, and he accepted them with a wry understanding of their source.

For Bowles, Rutledge was a useful tool. Even as he resented the man’s social presence and his education, he had profited from both. Cases such as this one required finesse, and he knew all too well that he and more of the Yard than he’d cared to count still had the rough edges of someone who’d come up through the ranks from lower­middle-class origins, and however high he rose, he would never shake those roots nor the occasional slip in accent that exposed them for all the world to see. It galled him to admit that Rutledge could move easily in circles closed to him. Still, what made Rutledge palatable was his ability to collect sound evidence that saw to it a case stood up in a courtroom. The reflected glory that accrued to the Chief Superinten­dent when Rutledge successfully closed an inquiry was recompense enough. For the moment.

As Rutledge packed his valise, his mind already occupied by the details forwarded by the Chief Constable, he found himself distracted by the thought that in less than six months’ time, he would be a mar­ried man. That brought a smile to his face as he walked out the door.

He was halfway down the walk when he found himself thinking that he had smiled often in the past four and twenty hours. It was, in a way, the measure of his happiness.

Despite the distance to Dorchester, southwest of London almost to the coast, he had taken the time before he left the Yard to write to Me­linda Crawford, to David Trevor, and to Ross, giving them his news. He owed it to them to see that they learned of the engagement from him rather than the Times. It occurred to him as he put stamps on the envelopes that he would like to ask Ross to stand up with him. There would be an opportunity for that later.

He was glad to find Frances at home, and when he came into her sitting room, he told her, quite simply, “There’s an inquiry in Dorset. I have to leave straightaway. But before I go, I wanted to tell you. I spoke to Jean and to her father. She’s accepted me, with his blessing.”

Later, on the road to the West Country, he still wasn’t sure how she’d taken it. She had turned away for a moment. “I thought perhaps you’d say something to me first. To let me know what was in your mind.”

“I thought I had,” he’d replied.

“In general terms.” She’d turned to face him. “Well. I want you to be happy, Ian. More than anything. You know that.” And she had come forward to kiss him on the cheek.

He had put his arms around her, saying lightly, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

It would have been better, he thought now, if he could have spent the evening with his sister, perhaps taking her out to dine, giving her a chance to talk to him about the future. But he was expected in Dorset as soon as possible. There was no time for such consideration.

Ten days later, Rutledge walked into the Yard and encountered Chief Inspector Cummins on the stairs. “Just in from Dorchester?” Cummins asked. “I’ve been reading the early reports. Well done.”

“Thank you,” Rutledge answered. “I can’t say I’m particularly happy with the outcome, but there you are. The evidence was over­whelming.”

Cummins smiled. “Even nice people kill, Ian.”

“Sadly, yes. It will be up to a jury now, of course, but I rather think in the circumstances I might have done the same as Mrs. Butler. He was a right bastard, that man. He made everyone’s life wretched. I daresay most people were relieved rather than shaken by his demise.”

Changing the subject as they reached the top of the stairs, Cum­mins said, “I saw the notice of your engagement in the Times. I wish you both every happiness.”

“Thank you, sir. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to meet Jean sooner rather than later.”

“Set a date, have you?”

“Christmas, I think.”

Cummins nodded. They had reached his door. “By the bye. A warning. The Chief Superintendent is in a foul mood. That case in Northumberland blew up in Penvellyn’s face. Three witnesses, and they’ve recanted, to a man.”

Both Rutledge and Cummins had been aware from the start that Inspector Penvellyn had not been the best choice to take on Northum­berland. A Cornishman, he’d never been north of Birmingham. He knew very little about the border counties. And that business in Aln­wick had needed delicate handling.

“Bowles isn’t thinking of sending me there in his place?” Rutledge asked, realizing that the word warning might mean just that. He’d been given leave on Friday for the Gordons’ party, but Bowles could rescind that as quickly as he’d granted it.

“No, I think Martin is going to be the unlucky man. But on a lighter note,” Cummins continued, “Davies has run into an odd case. In Somerset actually, a village outside Bristol. In the night someone crept into a churchyard and blackened several graves. Sludge more than paint, according to his report, and the very devil to clean. I doubt they’ll have it removed in six months’ time. Nothing else touched. And the graves weren’t even in the same part of the churchyard. Random vandalism, apparently.”

“Whose graves were they? Men, women, children?” Rutledge was intrigued.

“Men, every one of them. The vicar couldn’t think of any connec­tion among them. Which is not to say there isn’t one. Various occupa­tions, various ages. Farmers, shopkeepers, a doctor. Davies combed through their lives and came up with nothing of note.”

“How long has the vicar been in that parish?”

“A good point. Ten years. But Davies asked living relatives, and they couldn’t provide an answer either.”

“Did he find the culprit?”

“Davies did his best, but no, he came up empty-handed. The vicar is quite upset. He seemed to think the villain’s next target might be the church itself. It’s old, there could be serious damage done there.”

“Did the victims die at the same time? A calamity of some sort?”

“Davies and the vicar looked for a pattern, but there was none. Had they died in the same month—odd years—consecutive years— murdered? Any variation he could think of failed to hold up. And there were no witnesses, if you don’t count the churchyard owl. A constable made his rounds at ten, then again at midnight, and went away home.” He shrugged. “Whoever it was had a clear field for some hours. Well, needless to say, Davies isn’t in the best of moods either.” Cummins tossed his hat to the top of a file cabinet and said, “I thought you’d be interested. So was I. If you think of anything Davies hasn’t tried, tell me.”

Rutledge stood in the doorway. “Why was the Yard involved in the first place? It appears from what you’ve said to have been a petty crime.”

Cummins nodded. “Apparently the vicar has a few connections of his own. He complained to his bishop, and someone at the Home Office listened. It was a shocking scene, of course, and it unsettled the entire village.”

Rutledge smiled. “Too bad Davies failed to uphold the honor of the Yard.”

“I’ll wager it was nothing more than a prank or a dare by local youths. They may still come forward, if their consciences are guilty enough. Or if their fathers find out. What connects these graves may simply be high spirits.”

“I expect Davies would rather have discovered some diabolical plot.”

Cummins laughed.

Rutledge walked on to his own room, where he found Sergeant Gibson with a file in his hand.

“More grave stones?” he asked.

Gibson glared at him. “Hardly, sir. It’s a murder. In Moresby. Yorkshire.”

His spirits plummeted. He hadn’t seen Jean since the weekend in Kent. What’s more, Frances was away visiting friends. Her note gave no indication that she expected to return before Friday evening’s party.

Somehow Melinda had discovered that he was in Dorchester and replied almost immediately to his news, asking him if he was sure of his heart. By return post, he’d told her that he’d never been as sure of anything before, not even his decision to join the Metropolitan Police. That he’d lost sleep over that because he’d known it would disappoint those he loved.

A second letter assured him that she was happy for him, and that she looked forward to seeing Jean again. And she had suggested a year’s engagement, to give them both a chance to know each other better.

A spring wedding is always so lovely, she’d written. Your parents were wed in May, and so was I. Of course it is Jean’s choice, but you might suggest the possibility to her.

He had found a way to bring the date up when next he wrote Jean, but he already knew what her answer would be. She had her heart set on Christmas, because of her own parents.

David’s letter, waiting for him at the London house, had been more wholeheartedly happy for him. He’d never met Jean, David had writ­ten, but he was looking forward to it.

Frances’s note had troubled him.

I’m not certain when you’ll arrive at home. I’m visiting the Hal­danes for a few days. I’m happy for you, of course. It’s just that I’m not sure I’m ready to share you, Ian. That’s terribly selfish, I know, but I’ve only just begun to recover from the loss of our par­ents, and while I’ve leaned on you more than I should, perhaps, there has been no one else but Melinda I could talk to about Mama and Papa. I hope Jean will understand. But as you say, I have until Christmas to grow accustomed to the idea, and I’ll not let you down. I promise.

He’d already decided that it might be best to continue to live in the house on the square, if Frances had no objections. Nothing, he knew, would ever change the fact that he was her brother. And perhaps that decision would reassure her. In time, he hoped she would find some­one of her own, and be as happy as he was. Even as he thought it, he realized that he’d have to learn to accept her choice, if she’d accepted his. That brought a wry smile.

As for Moresby, it was a long way from London, up on the north­east coast of Yorkshire. He’d hardly arrive there before he would have to leave, if he intended to be in London on Friday evening. And that he had no intention of missing. For a moment he was almost willing to wager that Bowles had remembered the date and deliberately scuttled his leave.

He sat at his desk, reading through the file, then he sent a message round to Jean to tell her that he was on his way to Yorkshire, but she mustn’t worry, he hadn’t forgot the party. She would be worried all the same, and he damned Bowles for being callous about the lives of the men under him. After all, he’d gone to Dorset with no complaint. It would behoove him, he thought sardonically, to bring the Yorkshire inquiry to a swift conclusion.

A Fine Summer's Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
by by Charles Todd