Dandy Gilver & A DEADLY MEASURE of BRIMSTONE by Catriona McPherson

Dandy Gilver & A DEADLY MEASURE of BRIMSTONE - book cover

'Mrs Marple' brings her family with her for a cure at the Hydro.

Read a Short Extract



Monday, 21st October 1929


‘Hugh?’ I said. ‘Pump room, Hydro or hillside for you?’
    Hugh was behind his newspaper. I held out no substantial hope that he would be impressed by there being a newspaper for him to be behind on this first morning. He spoke without lowering it.
    ‘I don’t intend to drink the local brew,’ he said. ‘I’m here for science, not magic.’
    A devoted wife would have believed him. I, on the other hand, suspected that he knew what to expect from a glass of healing spring water and hoped to dodge it. In contrast, I’m sure that my sons had in their minds something delicious; a kind of icy, sparkling cordial. Well, they would soon see.
    Sulphur is a very necessary element, I am sure, for God would not have gone to the bother of it otherwise, but between the taste, the smell and the yellow tinge, it takes a worshipful frame of mind to thank Him for it when one is drinking a lukewarm quarter-pint of the stuff. I drained my glass and set it down.
    ‘Goodness,’ said Donald. ‘It must be awfully beneficial.’ I smiled at his composure.
    ‘Ugh,’ said Teddy. ‘That’s disgusting! Mummy that’s absolutely disgusting. Why didn’t you tell me?’ The other tables of patrons tittered softly at his ringing tone and look of outrage. ‘This is mixture of the worst sort. And a whole cup of it too, instead of a spoon.’ He put his half-full glass down on the counter and went to stand beside his father. The lines, I could see, were drawn.
   ‘I’ll have another glass, please,’ Donald said to the grey-coated attendant who plied the ladle. He flicked the merest glance at Teddy and went on. ‘It’s a curious thing, isn’t it, Mother, how late in one’s maturity one gets a taste for such things as olives and whisky?’ These were high-scoring cards, close to trumping his brother, for Teddy had felt the two years between them like a thorn his whole life through.
    Donald accepted his second glass and sipped it as though it were nectar. He had, however, goose pimples of disgust all over his neck and I was sure he was paling.
    ‘Sit down at a table and take your time, Donald,’ I said. ‘I have a little errand on the High Street but I’ll be back directly. Hugh? Don’t let him drown in the stuff, will you?’

Dr Ramsay’s brass plate was on a narrow door beside a bowed shop front and his surgery was up a steep staircase in what I assumed was a converted tenement flat.
    The doctor of my imagining was out on his rounds in a pony and trap and I would need to make an appointment to see him, an appointment I would make with a fierce secretary who guarded him like Cerberus at the jetty. Dr Ramsay, in reality, answered his door himself and waved me right into his consulting room, seeming glad of the custom, almost of the company.

‘If her heart had been fine she would still be with us,’ said the doctor. He spoke kindly as though to an imbecile. ‘Healthy hearts don’t just stop beating, you know.’
    I could hardly contain my astonishment. Healthy hearts stop beating all the time. They stop when someone jumps off a cliff, for instance, or drink a bedtime cup of strychnine. Contain it I did, though, and forged on.
    ‘I suppose – forgive me for this – there’s no chance hat you missed something, is there?’
    ‘None,’ said the doctor. ‘She bore all the signs of having suffered a severe heart attack. And do you know what the chief of these is?’ He was truly patronising me now. Had I been twelve and in cotton socks and had he been sixty and grizzled I might have been able to stomach it. As it was, it took all my effort not to draw myself up and squash him. With difficulty, I kept the annoyance off my face and simple shook my head.
    ‘Being dead,’ he said, very proud of the sound of it. ‘It’s a sad fact that dying of a heart attack is often the first clue that your heart wasn’t healthy. And the last one.’
    I nodded and even managed another smile, in acknowledgement of the clever points he was making, but inside I was reeling. Nonsense that a woman who had just been carefully attended through a bout of crippling back pain would not have had her heart listened to! Nonsense that it would not, under the strain of illness, show signs of the weakness which was going to overcome it only weeks in the future! I could not understand why no one had thought it except me. He was speaking again and I snapped my attention back to him.
    ‘I’m sure if you go to the Hydro,’ he was saying, ‘you’ll soon be able to fill in any troubling little details. Beyond the medical facts, I mean.’
    ‘Troubling little details’? Had the man any idea how suspicious he seemed? I supposed not or he would surely have shut up, and yet he was still talking.
    ‘What she’d been up to,’ he was saying. ‘How she spent her last hours. All that – very soothing to the family that’ll be.’
    ‘I’m sure you’re right, Dr Ramsay,’ I said. ‘Thank you for speaking to me.’
    ‘Happy to help,’ he said. It appeared to be his response to anything. A fellow doctor asking for his signature after a death with no visible cause? Happy to help! A perfect stranger asking questions about it? Happy to help her too. The man was a fool.
    So I took my leave, descended the narrow stairs, hurried down the narrow street and emerged into the blustery morning again, just in time to see Hugh and th boys coming out of the bath house and beginning to look around for me. I waved and picked my way across the road between the carts and bicycles and a motorbus which was wheezing away from the stop. I could not wait to get to the Hydro now. I had half thought the Addies were simply baulking at unwelcome reality, setting their faces against a natural death because they would rather it was not so. Dr Ramsay had changed everything.

Copyright © Catriona McPherson 2013