The Dead in Their Vaulted Arche(53)
Author:Alan Bradley


    “Don’t be petulant,” she said. “It is a tradition in the de Luce family to hand down certain privileges—as well as obligations—to the youngest daughter, as was sometimes done in ancient Greece and Italy. Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed how much your sisters resent you.”

    This was plain talk from a plain-talking old woman. Had she been aware of my torment all along?

    “They know about the Nide?” I gasped.

    “They don’t know, but they have always suspected that in some unknown way, they are being excluded from some mystery which you are not—and believe me, they will feel so even more keenly when they hear that Buckshaw has been left to you as part of your inheritance.”

    “Has Father still not told them?” I asked. “I should have thought he—”

    “They’ll find it out soon enough when the solicitors read out your mother’s will.

    “You might not want to be around,” she added, and I thought I spotted a twinkle in her eye.

    Did she see that I was wavering? I shall never know. Aunt Felicity is such a deuced clever old trout.

    “Besides,” she said, “I am told that Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy boasts a first-rate chemistry laboratory. Rumor has it that they are about to install an electron microscope. The Academy is exceptionally well endowed.”

    I could feel myself shifting, like a fish caught in the current.

    “All the latest innovations,” Aunt Felicity went on. “Spectrophotometers and so forth—”

    Spectrophotometers! Ever since reading about the hydrogen spectrophotometer in Chemical Abstracts & Transactions, I had been itching to get my hands on one of those beauties. Armed with the knowledge that each chemical has its own unique fingerprint, one was able to crack open the secrets of the universe, all the way from cyanide to the stars.

    And although I was fighting to keep it down, the corner of my mouth was beginning to rise of its own accord.

    “And the chemistry mistress,” Aunt Felicity said, far too casually, “a certain Mrs. Bannerman, was acquitted several years ago of poisoning her wayward husband. Perhaps you’ve heard of her?”

    Of course I’d heard of Mildred Bannerman. And who hadn’t? Her trial had been covered in delicious detail by the News of the World. Mildred had done away with her husband by applying the poison to the blade of the knife he was using to carve the Christmas turkey. An old trick, to be sure: known to the ancient Persians but presumably not to a modern-day jury in Canada.

    I could scarcely wait to meet her.





    EPILOGUE



    AND SO I AM to leave Buckshaw.

    What a pity it is that Inspector Hewitt will no longer have me here to set him straight. I can only hope that Bishop’s Lacey experiences no more murders, and that if it does, they are less baffling to him than those of the past year.

    It is true, of course, that I was not entirely successful in identifying Lena de Luce as the killer of Terence Tardiman. But hadn’t Inspector Hewitt, perhaps through sheer luck or trick of Fate, by his own methods, managed to run her down in the nick of time even without my assistance? It crossed my mind that I should send him a card of congratulations, until I thought better of it. He might take it as an insult.

    Feely and Daffy will have no one to torture, although Feely will soon enough be gone, and Daffy left to subside into Bleak House forever and ever, amen, or at least until her reading is interrupted by the Apocalypse.

    Today I made one final attempt to beg off being sent to Miss Bodycote for “finishing,” as Father put it.

    “But what about you?” I had pleaded. “You’ll have only Daffy when Feely is gone.”

    “I shall have Daphne,” he said. “And I shall also have Undine. I’ve already taken the necessary steps to have her stay with us at Buckshaw. After all, damn it, it’s the only decent thing to do.”

    He was right, of course. And because Daffy would soon come to dote on the little girl—I was sure of it; they were birds of a feather—she would be coddled with books and buns. I could already imagine the pair of them hurling polysyllabic words at each other ad nauseam, or whatever that phrase is.

    While I, as I have already remarked, am to be banished to the colonies.

    My trunks are packed and Dogger is at the door.

    But before I go, I must make note of the fact that all of this has been brought about by my aunt Felicity: the Gamekeeper.

    She has already taught me this: Never underestimate either an old woman—or old blood.





    Beloved Amadeus





    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS



    IT IS THE SECRET desire of every mystery novelist to be invited to speak at Oxford, the very cradle of the English golden-age detective novel, and I am no exception. Time spent among those dreaming spires in the pleasant company of such modern day practitioners as Simon Brett, Kate Charles, Ann Cleeves, Natasha Cooper, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Kate Ellis, Chris Ewan, Barry Forshaw, P. D. James, Gillian Linscott, Peter Lovesey, Val McDermid, Michelle Spring, Marcia Talley, Andrew Taylor, and L. C. Tyler is, in retrospect, like living a tale from the Arabian Nights.

    To dine with idols is a privilege granted to few, and I thank them for their friendship.

    Special gratitude is due to Eileen Roberts and the faculty and staff of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, not just for making me feel at home, but for making me be at home.

    David Appleton, of Appleton Studios, for his invaluable expert assistance in blazoning the de Luce coat of arms. The trails and footpaths of heraldry are littered with traps and pitfalls for the unwary, and it was comforting to have David along to illuminate so happily some of the darker corners.

    Roger K. Bunting, Professor Emeritus, Inorganic Chemistry, Illinois State University. His book The Chemistry of Photography, which he so kindly put at my disposal, is what every good textbook should be: both fascinating and accessible.

    Shelagh Rogers, of CBC Radio, whose words brought much-needed warmth to a bitterly cold winter’s day, and Marc Tyley, of Manx Radio, who so kindly made it possible.

    I am especially grateful to Fiona Clarke (www.bonezdesignz.com) for allowing us to use her gorgeous original font A Gothique Time to illustrate the Samson and Delilah panels of the stained-glass windows at St. Tancred’s.

    Shena Dyer, for planting the seed of a crucial idea over a lovely Manx dinner.

    Chris Ewan (again) for his much-needed assistance. I would like to be in his debt, but he won’t let me.

    Robert Bruce Thompson, YouTube’s Home Scientist, who has not only been a generous and helpful correspondent, but has done so much to encourage the development of home chemistry labs for teaching.

    As always, to my patient editors on both sides of the Atlantic: Bill Massey, of Orion Books; Kate Miciak, of Delacorte Books; and Kristin Cochrane, of Doubleday Canada; and to my agent, Denise Bukowski, of the Bukowski Agency, who has been with me every step of the way.

    To Loren Noveck, senior production editor, and her terrific team at Random House in New York who go to such remarkable lengths to make it look easy. Any remaining egg on my face is strictly my own.

    To John and Janet Harland, best of friends and co-conspirators.

    And finally, my wife, Shirley, who, with love, has endured all things.

    Alan Bradley





    Isle of Man, Midsummer’s Eve 2013


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