The Corpse at the Crystal Palace: New Excerpt
By Carola Dunn
A casual outing to the Crystal Palace in London takes a mysterious and murderous turn in The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, the 23rd mystery in Carola Dunn’s beloved Daisy Dalrymple series.
April 1928: Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher is visited in London by her young cousins. On the list of must-see sites is the Crystal Palace. Discovering that her children’s nanny, Nanny Gilpin, has never seen the Palace, Daisy decides to make a day of it―bringing her cousins, her 3-year-old twins, her step-daughter Belinda, the nurserymaid, and Nanny Gilpin. Yet this ordinary outing goes wrong when Mrs. Gilpin goes off to the ladies’ room and fails to return. When Daisy goes to look for her, she doesn’t find her nanny but instead the body of another woman dressed in a nanny’s uniform.
Meanwhile, Belinda and the cousins spot Mrs. Gilpin chasing after yet another nanny. Intrigued, they trail the two through the vast Crystal Palace and into the park. After briefly losing sight of their quarry, they stumble across Mrs. Gilpin lying unconscious in a small lake inhabited by huge concrete dinosaurs.
When she comes to, Mrs. Gilpin can’t remember what happened after leaving the twins in the nurserymaid’s care. Daisy’s husband, Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the murdered nanny. Worried about her children’s own injured nanny, Daisy is determined to help. First, she has to discover the identity of the third nanny, the presumed murderer, and to do so, Daisy must uncover why the amnesic Mrs. Gilpin deserted her charges to follow the missing third nanny.
“Mrs. Fletcher, my lady.”
“Daisy, darling,” Lucy said languidly, not rising from the Empire chaise longue where she reclined. Her slender figure was draped in a peach silk negligée adorned with a froth of lace, oddly incongruous with her dark, sleek bob.
“Hello, darling.” Daisy pulled off her gloves. “It’s filthy out.” She trod carefully across the Aubusson. Her shoes were damp though she had only crossed the pavement from the taxi and had wiped her feet vigorously on entering the house. Even in St. James’s, the streets could not be kept clear of snow and slush.
“Too divine of you to come struggling through the knee-high drifts.”
“Not quite that bad, though I think there’s more to come. Three inches is a lot for London in March, and of course we have more up in Hampstead. It’s beautiful, but messy. Your note sounded urgent, darling. What’s up? Are you ill? You’re never ill.”
“I’ll tell you in a minute.”
The door to the boudoir opened again, to admit the butler with a tray of coffee and biscuits. As he arranged it on a low table beside the chaise longue, Daisy looked round the room. Lucy had had the downstairs rooms of the Georgian town house done over in the latest Art Deco style, but here, in her private room, mellow antiquity reigned. It contrasted also with her strictly utilitarian studio and darkroom in the basement.
Over the satinwood bureau hung a photographic portrait of Gerald, Lucy’s husband. It was surrounded by the original photos she had taken for the book of follies she and Daisy had produced together. Daisy was sure the display was symbolic, but whether of the folly of men or the folly of women entrusting their lives to men, she had never asked.
The warmth of the central heating was supplemented by glowing coals in the grate. Daisy took her gloves and scarf, stuffed them in her pockets, and unbuttoned her coat.
“Aargh,” moaned Lucy. Clapping her hand to her mouth, she jumped up, sped to the door, and disappeared.
Daisy looked after her friend in astonishment and concern.
“I’m so sorry, madam,” said the butler.
“What’s wrong, Galloway? Lady Gerald looked awfully pale!” In spite of her usual exquisite maquillage.
“I’m afraid the aroma of coffee … discommodes her ladyship, madam. At present.”
“Nauseates her? Then why on earth did she order it?”
For a moment he gazed at the ceiling, as if seeking inspiration, before deciding to enlighten her. “Her ladyship is endeavouring to overcome her … discomfort by force of will, I believe, madam. I have heard her ladyship remark that it’s ‘all in the mind.’”
“Oh dear!” Daisy had to suppress a giggle. “How very Lucy. Take it away, please, Galloway, and bring tea. I suppose tea is all right?”
“Oh yes, madam. Very weak China, without lemon. On no account Earl Grey.”
“No, I remember when I was…” All too clearly. “Thank you, Galloway.”
“Madam will await her ladyship’s return?”
“Good heavens, yes.”
“Very good, madam.” He gathered up the coffee set and carried it off.
Daisy also remembered that when she herself was in the same condition, Lucy had told her it was all bosh, she was as healthy as a horse. As a result, she didn’t feel as much sympathy as she might have otherwise. She nibbled pensively on one of the ginger nuts the butler had left. Ginger was good for nausea.
Lucy’s return coincided with the arrival of the tea.
“Sorry, Daisy,” she said, sitting down as the butler unloaded his tray. “That will be all, thank you, Galloway.”
The butler bowed and once again departed.
“Darling, you’re preggers at last! Congrats.”
Lucy grimaced. “I apologise for any sarky remarks I made when you went through this misery.”
“It’s horrid, isn’t it? Let’s hope it’s as short-lived as mine was. Are you all right later in the day?”
“Yes, as long as I’m careful what I eat for lunch.”
“I bet Gerald’s thrilled.”
“In his quiet way.”
“Have you told your people?”
“Not yet. I’ll be seeing the parents soon. We’re having a big family gathering at Haverhill for my grandfather’s birthday. He’s very shaky, and it may be his last. Practically everyone will be there, though I do hope that loathesome little toad Teddy won’t have the cheek to turn up.”
“Your cousin Edward?”
“Second cousin, if you please.”
“Why, what’s he done to earn your ire?”
“What hasn’t he done! Obviously you don’t read the gossip columns. He was always a bit of a tick, but since he inherited most of Aunt Eva’s money, he’s been behaving like an unmitigated bounder.”
“His latest exploit is getting himself cited in a breach of promise case. Not easy-come, easy-go Chelsea studio people, either, though I gather he frequents their company as well as the smart set. You remember the free-and-easy lot we used to know when we lived there.”
“How could I forget?”
“In fact, a thoroughly respectable girl hitherto, or so it’s claimed, in spite of being a foreigner. One can only be glad Teddy isn’t a Fotheringay.”
“Devenish, isn’t he? Yes, Angela’s his sister.”
“Have you kept in touch with Angela? Frankly, I don’t know what you see in her. I suppose she’ll be at Haverhill, with a dog or two in tow. Thank goodness I’ll have a good excuse for withdrawing from the maelstrom when I can’t stand it any longer.”
“You’re going to tell everyone the news?”
“Not likely! Not at this stage. Mother, of course, and she can tell Father if she wants to. And Tim, I expect. They’re the only people who’ll notice if I disappear from the festivities now and then. Or at least, the only ones whose opinions I care for. Speaking of opinions, what do you think of this?” Lucy looked down at her lacy negligée with a frown.
“Is it the latest thing?”
“Darling, I never wear the latest thing, I wear the next thing.”
“You don’t give a straw for my opinion on fashion, so you won’t take any notice, but I wouldn’t have said it’s really your style. The peach colour suits you, though.”
“The lace suits the way I feel, fragile and in need of cosseting.”
“Gerald will cosset you whatever you wear, darling. If you look too fragile, he may go all male and bossy and try to make you give up photography.”
“I can’t work in the darkroom, anyway. The smell of the chemicals is as bad as coffee. Worse!”
“With any luck, it won’t last long. Are you going to keep up the photography after the baby’s born?”
“Of course. Daisy, how did you find the twins’ nanny? I suppose I must start thinking about that sort of thing.”
“You haven’t got a faithful family retainer on either side who will be devastated if she isn’t asked to be Nurse?”
Lucy pulled a face. “Not one I would want in charge of my child.”
“Mrs. Gilpin was personally recommended to me by a friend whose children were too old for a nanny. She’s very good with the twins.”
“I didn’t say ‘but.’”
“I heard it coming.”
Daisy sighed. “But she tries mercilessly to boss Alec and me, not that we knuckle under. She disapproves of parents visiting the nursery whenever they please or taking the babies for walks. Children should appear in the drawing room briefly at teatime.”
“The way we were brought up.”
“Yes, and truth to tell, my mother being the way she is, I’m glad. But Alec and I enjoy playing with them.”
“And you don’t mind battling Nanny,” Lucy said dryly. “You’ve kept her on in spite of her attitude.”
“She’s very good with the children. And good or bad, like other servants, nannies aren’t so easy to come by in 1928 as they were in 1908.”
“I don’t suppose you could pass yours on to me. I expect her style would suit me.”
“The twins are only just three. Though we are thinking of sending them to the local Montessori kindergarten school … If I were you, I’d start asking friends and family for recommendations.”
“What a frightful bore. No doubt as soon as I break the news, everyone will start giving me advice.”
“I escaped a lot of that because I already had Belinda when I got pregnant. People sort of assumed I must know about child-raising.”
“Oh yes, your little stepdaughter. How is she?”
“Honestly, darling, you are hopeless. She’s not a little girl now, she’s fourteen and long since away at boarding school.”
“Don’t tell me that. It makes me feel old. Thirty! Are we really thirty this year?”
“It does sort of creep up on one.”
They fell silent for a moment, contemplating with dismay the approach of middle age.
“Does having a fourteen-year-old daughter make you feel older?” Lucy enquired, not without a hint of malice.
“Only when people comment on it. Which reminds me, I’m going to be in charge of a sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old for a week during the Easter hols. I’m sure that will make me feel old, but no one is likely to presume she’s my own.”
“Geraldine and Edgar’s brood, all of them.”
“Those West Indians they adopted? The black family? Are they adopting them legally or just informally.”
“Legally. The case is wending its way through the courts.”
“How on earth did you get yourself landed with them at Easter?”
“I offered. Cousin Geraldine wants them to see the sights of London. As she’s never lived in town and rarely visited, she asked my advice about what to see.”
“I hope she’s not expecting you to give the girls advice on fashion!”
“No fear! They’re a bit young to be worrying about that anyway. Anita’s sixteen and Dolores just fifteen, I think. We’ll be taking them to the zoo and the museums and the Changing of the Guard, that sort of thing. Kew Gardens, perhaps. Which reminds me, have you ever been to the Crystal Palace?”
“No, never. Its heyday is long past. Queen Vicky may have frequented the place in the early days, and our sort of people went on going to concerts there, but it was going downhill even before the war. The Army using it for training didn’t help, of course. There was a bit of a revival when the Imperial War Museum moved in, but they moved out again a couple of years ago. It’s strictly hoi polloi now, from what I’ve heard.”
“But neither a haunt of vice nor a desolate ruin?”
Lucy laughed. “Not to my knowledge. I daresay the children would enjoy a visit and you’ve never worried about consorting with hoi polloi.”
“The thing is, my American editor wants an article about it, and Belinda is very keen to go. She’s often seen it from Hampstead Heath, as one can on a clear day. One of her friends told her it was fun. It sounds to me like the sort of outing that would be more fun with companions.”
“As long as you don’t expect me to accompany you,” Lucy said with a shudder.
“Not likely! I meant the young people, though I wouldn’t mind another adult to keep me company. Hmm, Sakari might like to bring Deva along.”
“Your Indian friend? No doubt another brown face or two will make your cousins feel more at home.”
“I should hope they’ll jolly well feel at home in my house with or without Sakari!”
“In your house? Won’t they be using the Dalrymple town house?”
“Legally, Mother has the use of it, you know. As soon as Geraldine broached the possibility of borrowing it, Mother decided she had long-laid plans to spend April in town. Typical of Mother. She claims there isn’t room for all of them.”
“More room than in your house.”
“No, actually. We have plenty, even if Geraldine changes her mind about leaving them entirely to my care.”
“She’s not coming to lend a hand?”
“She’s very good with the children, especially the boys, but she’s also a magistrate and active on all sorts of local committees, as well as the parish council.”
“Good heavens, how exhausting!”
“She’s thriving on it. She’s really found her feet and her niche. And of course Mother says such behaviour is beneath the Viscountess Dalrymple.”
“What does the Dowager Viscountess say about the African horde moving into Fairacres?”
“They’re Trinidadian, not African. In any case, you know I stopped listening to Mother’s tirades years ago. Though I gather it’s reawakened her grievance about Edgar’s inheriting Fairacres, just when I hoped she was coming to terms with that. But that’s Mother for you. She still carries on about Alec being a policeman, though we’ve been married for nearly five years. She’s not going to change.”
“I expect not. I remember you telling me years and years ago that Gervaise was the son and heir, Violet was the good daughter, and you were the naughty daughter. I wouldn’t be surprised if all your unconventional notions come from knowing that whatever you do, she will disapprove.”
“Darling, you sound just like Sakari!”
“Sakari?” Lucy raised delicately painted eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“She’s a glutton for self-improvement. She’s always going to lectures and psychology is one of her favourite subjects.”
“Has she told you the same, that you’re still rebelling against your mother?” Lucy asked, sardonic but interested.
“Hardly. She’s never met Mother and I’m still sufficiently filial not to talk about her with anyone but you and Alec.”
“As for unconventional, you’re a fine one to talk! Who signed up as a Land Girl when she could have found a nice, comfortable job in a ministry?”
Lucy groaned. “And regretted it. I must have been mad.”
“And then set up as a photographer in a Chelsea studio instead of immersing herself in the fashionable world. And refused to stop working when she married.”
“All right, all right! I concede, at least to some extent. It’s a frightful bore not being able to work in the darkroom at the moment. The fumes are altogether too much for my poor tum.”
“I’m not surprised. I have a vivid memory of the smell of your shed in the garden in Chelsea.”
“One gets used to it. I daresay I shall even grow used to being a mother.”
“You’re welcome to come and practise on mine, and on Geraldine’s brood while they’re here.”
“Thanks, but no thanks! Be honest, darling, weren’t you the least little bit put out at suddenly finding yourself with a horde of negro cousins?”
“It wasn’t really so sudden. I’d known for ages that a great-great uncle—or whatever he was—had gone to the West Indies, so it was always a possibility. Besides, when we met them at Christmas, I liked them. Which is more than you can say for your cousin Edward.”
“True,” Lucy admitted with a moue of distaste. “Very true.”
Copyright © 2018 Carola Dunn.