"Evening, m'um." Sandra gave only a short curtsy, knowing that Maisie hated such formalities. "His Lordship"
"Yes, George just told me." She passed her hat and coat to Sandra but kept hold of her document case. She checked the silver nurse's watch that was pinned to her lapel, a gift from Lady Rowan when she was sent to France in 1916. The watch had been her talisman ever since. "Thank you, Sandra. Look, could you run me a bath, please? I have to meet Mrs. Partridge at the Strand Palace by seven, and I really don't want to be late."
"Right you are, m'um. Pity she couldn't have stayed here. It's not as if we don't have the room."
Maisie patted her thick black hair and replied as she sped toward the sweeping staircase. "Oh, she said she wanted to be waited on hand and foot in a lavish hotel now that she has a few days' respite from her boys."
Outside the library door, Maisie composed herself before knocking. The men's voices carried; Lord Compton's was sharp and decisive. The second voice seemed deep and resolute, and as Maisie listened she closed her eyes and began to mouth the overheard words, automatically moving her body to assume a posture suggested by the voice. Yes, this was a man of decision, a man of bearing, with weight upon his shoulders. She thought he might be a solicitor, though one thing sparked her interest in the seconds before she knocked on the door and walked into the library: The man's voice, as Maisie interpreted it, held more than a hint of fear.
"Maisie, good of you to spare us a few moments of your precious time." Julian Compton held out his hand to Maisie to draw her into the room. He was a tall, thin man, with gray hair swept back and a debonair ease of movement that suggested wealth, confidence and success.
"It's a pleasure to see you, Lord Julian. How is Lady Rowan?"
"Apart from that wretched hip, there's no stopping her! Of course, there's another foal on the way nowperhaps another Derby promise in a couple of years!" Lord Compton turned to the man standing with his back to the fireplace. "Allow me to introduce a very good friend of mine, Sir Cecil Lawton, QC."
Maisie approached the man and shook hands. "Good evening, Sir Cecil." She noticed the man's discomfort, the way his eyes did not quite meet her own, focusing instead on a place over her shoulder before looking down at his feet, then back to Lord Julian. I can almost smell the fear, thought Maisie.
Cecil Lawton was only one or two inches taller than Maisie. He had dark-gray wavy hair that parted in the center and was swept to the sides. He wore half-moon spectacles, and his bulbous nose seemed to sit uncomfortably above a waxed mustache. His clothes were expensive, though not new. Maisie had met many such men in the course of her work, barristers and judges who had once invested heavily in making an impression but, having reached the pinnacle of success in the legal profession, did not regard Savile Row with the reverence of their younger days.
"I'm delighted to see you, Miss Dobbs; you may remember that we have met before. It was when you gave evidence for the defense in the Tadworth case. The man might have been on his way to Wormwood Scrubs, had it not been for your acute observations."
"Thank you, Sir Cecil." Maisie was now anxious to know the reason for her being introduced to Lawton, not least to allow her time to get ready for supper with Priscilla. She turned to Lord Julian. "I understand that you wanted to see me, Lord Julian. Is there a matter I might assist you with?"
Lord Julian looked at Lawton briefly. "Let's sit down. Maisie, Sir Cecil requires confirmation of information received some years ago, during the war. He came to me, and I immediately suggested that you might be able to help." Lord Julian glanced at Lawton, then brought his attention back to Maisie. "I think it best if Sir Cecil explains the situation to you in private, without any commentary from me. I know you would prefer to hear the details in his words, and any questions you put to him can be answered in absolute confidence. I should add, Maisie"Lord Julian smiled at his friend"I have informed my good friend here that your fees are not insignificant and you are worth every penny!"
From Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. Copyright Jacqueline Winspear 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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