Summary: Jack stirs the pot by bringing in the Quincey twins, who have plenty to say. Briony intercepts something that's not hers.
Tuesday afternoon, June 4th, 1940
"We will now take statements from two new witnesses, Pierrot Quincey and his brother, Jackson Quincey, brothers of the plaintiff."
It had been a bold move to arrive at his sister-in-law's and collect his nephews. Jack knew he had to be quick and cunning to evade his true reasons for visiting.
His wife's sister descended up on the parlor where he waited, wearing a strained smile. There had been tension between the Quinceys and Tallises ever since the ill-fated day in 1935, when the Quincey children under Tallis care had managed to go missing or be assaulted. There had never been much love either between the two sisters, and Hermione bore a particular disdain for Jack.
"Jack, how unexpected. I hate to be blunt, but we're running a tight schedule these days. You know Lola's to marry Mr. Marshall come Saturday. The household's all a mess. I simply don't have time to entertain." She gestured to the corner, where a seamstress was putting the finishing touches on Lola's wedding dress.
"No worries," Jack replied pleasantly. "I'm here on Ministry business. I was wondering if you might lend me your boys for the afternoon. They're shooting propaganda materials for rationing and wanted a set of twins and I thought I knew just the pair."
Hermione had a weakness for fame and Jack knew this hit her in just the right way. It wouldn't matter if the supposed advertisements never saw the light of day – the fact that Hermione could boast about her sons' involvement in Ministry war efforts was a credit enough.
The look on Hermione's face was quizzical as she tried to think of a way out of it. "I do apologize for the timing, but war doesn't stop to check its schedule."
"Really Jack, two days before their sister's wedding?"
"You did just say yell at us to stay upstairs and not get in anyone's way," a voice boomed from the staircase. Jackson was as freckled and impish as ever, and his voice had deepened to match his tall frame. A voice trailed from upstairs – Pierrot was around, too.
"They'll be back in time for dinner, no one the wiser and there'll be four fewer feet for you to fret about as you prepare." Jack promised, smiling up at his godson. Jackson wiggled his eyebrows mischievously.
"Oh fine," Hermione conceded, not wanting a fight, and Jackson shot back upstairs to deliver the news to his twin. They bounded back down minutes later and they followed Jack out to where his ministry vehicle was waiting. Inside, he wasted no time.
"Boys, I'm not above bribery." He held up a 10 pound note from his wallet. "There's one of these for each of you if you do me a rather large favor, and not breathe a word of it to your mother or sister…"
The two freckled faces stared bemusedly at the line of men taking notes in Jack's London study. Their uncle had ushered them in and left immediately, closing the ornate hardwood doors with a gavel-like slam.
"For the record, state your names and ages."
"Jackson Cecil Quincey, age thirteen."
"Pierrot Roger Quincey, age thirteen and two minutes." Several pairs of eyes shot to the red-headed boy to the right. "I'm older," he explained.
The questioner ignored his addendum and continued. "We're here today to discuss the events that took place here the night of 21 June 1935, while the both of you and your sister were being care for by your aunt, Emily Tallis. Do you remember this time?"
Both young men confirmed their memory.
"Your ages at the time?"
"Eight," they said in unison.
"And two minutes," Pierrot added.
"Quite right," said the chief investigator. "Now, are we correct in assessing that the both of you witnessed the same events simultaneously? That you were always by one another's side?"
"We-ell," Pierrot said. "That's mostly true, I suppose."
"Jackson finished his bath first that night, and went back to the nursery before me."
"And you followed shortly after."
"What happened afterwards?"
"We had dinner, and then we decided to run away," Jackson replied.
"Is that correct?"
"Yes," they said together.
"We have the note you left for your family that night. Do you recall what you wrote?"
The twins looked at each other and paused. "I think so. Pierrot did the writing."
"Pierrot, do you remember what you wrote?"
The boy tapped his feet as he searched his brain. "We were mad about being left at this house. We didn't like the housekeeper, because she didn't like us. But mostly we were made at Lola."
"Ahh, excellent. Do you recall what Lola did to make you want to leave?"
"She said if we told on her, she would make it so no one would ever believe us again."
Several of the men at the table looked up, including Bruce Roberts, Leon's solicitor friend.
"Believe you about what?"
"That I found her with Paul Marshall in the nursery."
The room became very quiet for a moment, until the record keeper spoke up. "I apologize – I'm having a frightful time keeping up. Which of you said that?"
"Jackson," the two replied.
"Jackson, who finished with his bath and returned to the nursery first that night?"
"And what…why was your sister angry with you?"
"Because I threatened to tell about the way she was acting with him."
"Paul Marshall," Jackson repeated.
"How was she acting?" While his brother spoke, Pierrot noted that the line of men before him seemed dumbfounded at this new information.
"She was sitting –no, she was pinned to the bed by Mr. Marshall, who had her wrists in his."
"Was she speaking?"
"No, she wasn't."
"I think so, but I couldn't hear him at the time. He left the moment he saw me."
"That's it? For the record, you state that Mr. Marshall had your sister pinned to the bed."
"Yes. And his free hand was up her skirt. She was dressed for dinner."
The silence continued, when finally someone mustered another question. "Please continue, Mr. Quincey. What happened after Mr. Marshall left the nursery."
"Pierrot came back from the bath and Lola started to yell and slap both of us, saying that we ruined everything and if we told a soul, she would dip our hands in warm water at night."
"I'm sorry, did I hear your correctly? 'Dip our hands in warm water…'"
Pierrot blushed to the roots of his hair. "I used to wet the bed when I was younger."
One of the men spoke up. "Why target you if your brother was the one who saw her?"
"She couldn't tell which one of us it was," Jackson explained.
The chief examiner nodded. "Please continue. And after that?"
"We wrote a note and left, right before dinner."
"Do you remember at what time you left?"
"No, sir," they both replied.
"The sun had gone down, but it was still a little light, because it was close to Midsummer," Pierrot pointed out.
"And where did you go?"
"Down the path and along the cow pasture for some ways."
"Is that where Mr. Turner found the two of you that night?"
"Right-o," said Jackson.
"And do you remember what he said to you?"
"Well, first he had to wake us up. We'd fallen asleep."
"He took turns carrying us back to the house."
"The whole way?"
"Yessir. Almost a whole kilometer," Pierrot said.
"It took a while, sir," Jackson added. "If it wasn't me being carried, I'd stop and cry until we had enough rest to move on. That man had the patience of a saint."
"Why, Turner, of course! He didn't even yell at us, just egged us on back."
"And that's all the both of you remember."
"We came back to the house and saw the police vehicles. Got put to bed right after that."
"That's it?" the investigator asked.
"'Fraid so, sir."
"Thank you, boys," the investigator said. "That'll be all."
The record keeper caught the investigator's eye and shrugged, putting his notebook back in his jacket pocket. "Sounds like your day just got much longer."
True to his word, Jack arrived back at Clapham Common with his nephews at half past four. He handed them each the promised reward.
"You did a good job today, boys. Now don't breathe a word of these to anyone, at least not until the case opens up again."
"Won't they know it was us when that happens?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Let me deal with the blowback. Now you have a good time this weekend at the wedding…"
Jackson's eyes rolled severely while Pierrot stifled a laugh.
"And remember, don't say a word!"
Briony wondered where they were headed after they have finished a long lunch at Leon's, entertaining Mary for the better part of two hours. They had driven right past the hospital and continued into south London, until suddenly she realized they were in Balham. Leon had pulled up to the curb of 43 Dudley Vilas – a remarkable feat, as the street in front of the flat where Cecilia lived hadn't widened since the streets had been laid out in the late nineteenth century.
"Briony, it has to happen sometime. Think of how relieved she'll be to hear that you've amended your statement. I wasn't even sure that was possible, and now it's done."
"She'll be angry."
"Leon, think reasonably, because she certainly won't. We need at least one of us to be in our right mind."
"Can you blame her? We've done a terrible slight to both her and Robbie. I tried doing this years ago…"
"Yes, and she wouldn't hear of it."
"Well, she's apologized to you now. But that was you and this is about me. What in the world makes you think she'd change her mind now?"
"Vulnerability?" he offered, as his sister groaned into her seat. "Come, let's be quick. Just try today. If it doesn't work you can try later. Besides, she might not even be here yet. Her shift ended at four. That way I'll just pay her rent…"
"Well, from the looks of things, she could use the help. This is definitely dodgy. Don't nurses usually live together, to save money?"
"I wouldn't know just yet. Probationers don't have a lot of time to talk to other nurses off duty."
"Let's go," he said decisively. Within seconds he was halfway up the walkway, leaving Briony to scramble behind him. The sounds and smells of the neighborhood overwhelmed her – the rich smell of wet earth from dozens of gardens being turned over mixed with compost. Someone's wireless barked loudly from an open window, but tellingly there was no chorus of laughter from young children. They'd all been sent away from the city.
From inside the ground floor of 43 Dudley Vilas, a woman caught sight of them and came to the door. Leon, dressed for a day at the bank, and Briony, her nurse's cape billowing behind her, made for a less-than usual sight at her front door.
Bobbing, she gave a curtsy and asked, "Can I help you, sir?"
Leon nodded and composed himself. "Yes, thank you. We're looking for Miss Cecilia Tallis, who we believe lives upstairs. Is she in?"
The woman sighed as she looked them over again. "You from the bank? She owe you money? I expected no good from that girl."
Her nerves getting the better of her, Briony stifled a giggle that was silenced by a stern look from Leon. "She's our sister. We would like to speak with her. Will you please let her know we are here?"
"She's not in, but I can let you upstairs. I don't keep her schedule. "She led them in and they followed her up a creaking staircase that Briony felt might give out from under them at any second. The woman pounded on the door of the room upstairs, barking out, "Tallis! You in? Guests!" There was no answer.
"She's been a queer one this week. Been in and out all the time, and not even working nights this month. I've half a mind to throw 'er out. She keeps bringing this woman around. Older. Not 'er mother or nothin', but comes and goes as she pleases. They're a pair, I tell you. Well, make yourself at home." She unlocked the door and motioned for Leon to go in, Briony following after. She waited until after the door closed to pepper Leon with questions.
"What was that about? An old woman, coming home with her?"
"That's Grace she's talking about. She's up from Surrey to sit with Robbie. Apparently she stays with Cecilia when she comes to town."
They crept about the small flat, Leon stooping to avoid hitting his head against the sloped ceiling. Briony wandered automatically to where a small, built-in bookcase kept Cecilia's anatomy books and novels. A tin with a one quid note sticking out acted as a bookend on one shelf, and another was filled with photographs of Cecilia with groups of people Briony didn't recognize. This startled her and she turned to her brother. "I don't know if I should be here."
"What are you hoping happens? That she comes home and we all talk it out over a cuppa?"
Leon stared at his sister, momentarily aghast that she would be so terse, when a voice bellowed from below.
"I'll get it," Briony volunteered, and she went down the stairs, intentionally taking them by twos in order not to tax her weight against its stability. She looked up to find the landlady looking vaguely enraged, and a uniformed man standing meekly at the door, package in hand.
The landlady sized the two of them up. "I'll leave you be," she said, moving to the next room, door closing behind her.
"Miss Tallis?" the man said, removing his cap and bobbing.
"Yes?" Briony replied, confused.
"I'm afraid I don't have much other news than this, but I wanted to make sure these got back to you." He thrust the clumsily wrapped packaged into her hands. "He kep' 'em safe over there. Got 'im through the toughest parts, I'd say. It does a man good to know he's got someone waitin' for 'im back home."
Briony unwrapped a side of the package to expose the top of a letter, dirt-stained and well-worn, addressed to Pvt. Robert Turner in her sister's handwriting. "Oh my," Briony breathed. "These are…these are…"
"Your love letters, yes!" The man supplied eagerly. "I helped get the poor chap on the little boats, which got us to the rescue ships over across the channel. Kep' with 'im til Dover, and then 'e got sent on the train into town. I got nine days leave myself, but figured I owed it to him to get these back to you. He's a proper chap, Turner. Bushwhacked through the Jerries to get us to the coast. You 'eard from him?"
Briony had barely taken her eyes off the parcel in her hand, her mind reeling at what was inside those precious pages. "What? Oh yes, he's at the hospital recovering. My sister's with him."
This confused the soldier, but he said nothing. "Well, when he comes round, let 'im know that Corporal Nettle didn't forget 'im. Can you do that?"
Briony barely managed to make her tongue work in time. "Of course. I mean…thank you." She tried to muster the emotion Cecilia would have at seeing her letters to Robbie again. "Thank you so much, Corporal Nettle. It's most kind."
Corporal Nettle bobbed his head again and left down the path, disappearing off into the day. Briony stood at the threshold for what seemed like countless minutes, her mind reeling at her find.
"Close the door! I work hard enough to clean the dust out as it is!" Awakened from her daydream by her sister's pernicious landlady, Briony stuffed the letters absent-mindedly inside the pocket of her coat and turned toward the staircase, where Leon came bounding down .
"My apologies, ma'am. Looks like we're heading off," she said in a daze. "Thank you ever so kindly for your hospitality." She closed the door behind her and followed Leon down the path, feeling like she was floating.
"Who was it?" Leon asked.
"At the door just a few minutes ago. You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Oh! That." Briony's mind reeled for a quick answer. "Just a friend of hers, asking after Robbie. I lied a little bit – I said he was doing fine. " She paused and looked toward the sky. "Oh God, I hope he's doing all right."
"That's not up to us right now, sis," Leon said hurriedly, opening the car door for her.
"Isn't it?" she replied thickly. "Oh Leon, I'm so tired of all this."
"It'll be over soon," he promised.
"Except that it won't."
"Precisely," he said, ushering her in and closing the door. "Now we've got to fly if we're to catch her."
"Cecilia. Her shift schedule was upstairs. She works a few blocks away. If we hurry, we'll get her right at the end and give her a lift down to Morden."
They sat parked in front of the maternity home. "Now keep your eyes open for her. I don't want to miss her."
"I still don't understand what you plan to do."
"That's fine. You don't have to."
"But you want me here for it."
"I want my sisters to be reconciled," Leon said forcefully. "I am tired of my family being scattered to all four winds." The authoritarian air he hoped to instill over his sister silenced her for a moment.
"I suppose I'm the east wind, then," Briony mused.
"The east wind brought the plagues to Egypt. Emily's the north wind, obviously. Between Cecilia and Daddy I couldn't guess who makes a better zephyr. And in Sir Conan Doyle's, The Last Bow, Sherlock says to Watson…"
"Cambridge," Leon said wearily.
"You really ought to have gone up at Cambridge. Cee wilted there. You would flourish."
This comment made Briony feel warm in a way that she hadn't for many months, given fuel to a fire she'd felt since she'd barely passed her entrance examinations for her probationer year. "Do you really think so?"
"I can't see how you can concentrate on mending people when you're mind is so full of stories."
"It's hard," she admitted. A calmer quiet came over the car for a few moments as they sat and waited. "What time was she going to be done?"
"What time is it now?"
"Quarter after. Do you think we missed her?"
"No. She's probably changing and scrubbing down for the day. You do that on your own time."
Several more minutes passed as Leon drummed his thumbs nervously against the steering wheel. Briony was lulled into a near doze when Leon started. "There she is!" He got out of the car and ran toward a young woman in a green pea coat, who indeed, stopped in her tracks at the sight of her brother.
Tentatively, Briony got out of the car and willed her legs to move towards her brother and sister. Cecilia had turned to leave, but Leon had caught her hand in his and was speaking imploringly. Cecilia looked like she might cry and did not see Briony quietly approach the two of them.
"Cee, please. I know it's been a long day for you…"
"Leon. All I want is to go home and cry in my bed for the rest of the night." Her voice was thick and full of emotion. Her eyes wandered past him and glimpsed Briony. "Oh God. Leon, no."
"You can't ignore each other forever."
"I'm not asking forever. I'm asking that we not do this today." Cecilia put her head in her hands and gently massaged her temples. "I'm at my limit, I really am."
"Leon, I was just coming to say that I'm going." Briony's voice was stilted, and louder than she intended. She saw the bus stop and took her chance. "I'll take the bus back to the hospital."
"Wait, no. Briony!" He grabbed towards his youngest sister, but she was already marching towards the bench.
"I can't, Leon. I told you," she called out over her shoulder.
"It'll take forever to get to London!" he yelled after her.
"It's all right!" she yelled back.
Frazzled and overwhelmed, Briony turned to face her siblings. "It's as she says, Leon. Not today!"
Twenty minutes later, Leon found himself staring at Cecilia over a cup of tea at a shop not far from the maternity home. She had consented to talk, but since arriving, she had done nothing but stir her tea absent-mindedly.
"Should I be worried about Briony? I told the matron I'd see her back myself." Leon was full of a nervous energy, eager to set things straight with his sister but understanding that he might be asking for too much at once.
Evenly, she replied, "It will take her almost two hours, I think, but she'll arrived in one piece, particularly when she realizes she took the bus in the wrong direction." Finally, Cecilia took a sip of her tea.
"Cee…" he began to reprimand. Her cool gaze met his and he dropped the subject. He motioned to her tea. "That can't be warm."
"It's fine," she replied, putting it down and looking across at him. "So. Out with it. What have you been up to."
"Tell me how Robbie is," he said.
"Oh! Now you're worried!"
"Cee, please," he begged.
"He's had a rough few days. We thought his fever was coming round, but it wasn't. They spent all of yesterday day trying to bring it down. Two nights ago he was lucid. Today…" It sounded like a hiccup but he knew better. He reached across the table to stroke her arm as she cried into her other hand. "But he's here," she sniffed. "He's still got a chance."
"That's good," Leon agreed. "I'm glad you could take care of him. And Grace, too?"
"She came by earlier but got a bit overwhelmed. Spent the day in the chapel. I think she went back to my flat."
"She wasn't there around three," Leon confirmed.
"Oh, we…" He caught himself in a sheepish situation. "Briony and I stopped by, hoping to catch you."
She blinked evenly across the table. "The old hag let you in?"
He nodded. "She's atrocious. However did you find that hovel?"
"Desperation," she replied, taking another sip. "I'm glad you vexed her, really. I've been meaning to look for something new." She sighed again and leaned back in her chair. "I was surprised to see you, I won't lie. And I'm curious as to what went on today. But I have conditions. I'll need you to make a full apology to Robbie when he comes around."
"I'm ready to do that. And to you. I should have never doubted you, even though you were wrong about Hardman."
"So I've heard. Is that what happened today? Did she really amend her statement?"
"She did. And the old man brought in the twins."
This caught her off guard. "What on earth for?"
"To make a statement."
Cee's eyes flashed with an unknown emotion – rage or excitement being the top candidates. "Oh my."
"Yes, it's true. I don't know how Jack talked Hermione into it, but something tells me he didn't tell the whole truth."
"My God." She fumbled around her purse for something, coming up short. "Please tell me you have a fag. I'm dying here." He obliged and lit her a cigarette, which she inhaled gratefully. "I can't imagine how Aunt Hermione would feel if she knew. Emily, too."
"Don't worry about our mother. Whatever wounds she's dealing with are beyond you and Robbie. I'm afraid she's just chosen to take them out on you." Cecilia had no response for him, so he continued on. I sent out a message to some of my friends who practiced criminal law, seeing if they had any time on their hands to do some last-minute defending. One did, as it turns out, and he owes me a favor. So we're petitioning a judge later tomorrow, and hopefully we'll get everything straightened out before the weekend."
Cecilia's eyes widened as this sunk in. "You're doing this for Robbie?"
"Of course. It's the least we could do for… for getting him there in the first place. I don't know how I've lived with myself knowing the horrors he must have seen.."
"Let's not talk about that right now. Tell me more about today. Why rush to get it done before the weekend?"
Leon was careful to keep his voice calm. "Lola marries Paul Marshall on Saturday."
Cecilia sank back in her seat in shock. "What?"
"Yes, it's true. It's been in the making for some time."
"She'll be immune."
"From testifying against him, yes."
"Not yet. We're so close, Cecilia! Don't give up just yet."
He took her hands into his, but it was no use. She was near tears. "I've waited, and saved, and waited some more, for five miserable years…"
"Only for everyone to come to their senses too late."
He had nothing to reply to that.
"Why didn't you do anything?" she whispered. "One word of doubt from you could have changed it all."
"I know," he replied miserably. "Trust me, now I know. And I'm sorry, Cee, I'm so sorry."
She wept for a few minutes and he let her, stroking her hand as he held it across the table.
"Things happen when they do for a reason," he stated soothingly. "I just hope it's enough, and not too late. But you know, you're a lot alike, you and Briony. I can't tell you how much this has eaten at her."
She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "Don't say that. Don't push me anymore today."
"It's true, sis." He cupped her chin in his hand and wiped away a stray tear. "But we'll work on all that later. Now let's get you home. Tomorrow's another long day. And say! I need to have you over sometime soon. I've got important people for you to meet. I can't wait to introduce my newest child to its Aunt Cecilia."
"Oh Leon!" She threw her arms around him and wept. "Oh, Leon, how happy. That's the only thing I've missed these years."
"The only thing?" he teased, but squeezed her hard in return. "I missed you, too, Sis-celia. I missed you, too."