Behold, Here's Poison

Behold, Here's Poison

by Georgette Heyer

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Experience Georgette Heyer's sparkling dialogue in one of her most popular mysteries.

It's no ordinary morning at the Poplars - the master is found dead in his bed and it turns out that his high blood pressure was not the cause of death. Heyer uses her attention to detail and brilliant characterizations to concoct a baffling crime for which every single member of the quarrelsome family has a motive, and none, of course, has an alibi. Heyer's sparkling dialogue is a master class in British wit, sarcasm and the intricacies of life above and below stairs.

Meet the Matthews - before the next one dies...
It's no ordinary morning at the Poplars - the master is found dead in his bed, and it seems his high blood pressure was not the cause. When an autopsy reveals a sinister poison, it's up to the quietly resourceful Inspector Hannasyde to catch the murderer in time to spare the next victim. But every single member of the quarrelsome Matthews family has a motive and none, of course, has an alibi.


"Miss Heyer's characters and dialogue are an abiding delight to me... I have seldom met people to whom I have taken so violent a fancy from the word 'Go.'" —Dorothy L. Sayers

"The wittiest of detective writers." —Daily Mail

"The ingredients are so well and carefully mixed, the writing is so bright, and the solution so unexpected that the book achieves success and remains one no reader can fail to enjoy."—Manchester Guardian

"A marvelous melange of malice, murder, mystery, and mirth. Priceless!" —Saturday Review

The late Georgette Heyer was a very private woman. Her historical novels have charmed and delighted millions of readers for decades, though she rarely reached out to the public to discuss her works or private life. It is known that she was born in Wimbledon in August 1902, and her first novel, The Black Moth, was published in 1921.

Heyer published 56 books over the next 53 years, until her death from lung cancer in 1974. Heyer's large volume of works included Regency romances, mysteries and historical fiction. Known also as the Queen of Regency romance, Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and her extraordinary plots and characterizations. Her last book, My Lord John, was published posthumously in 1975. She was married to George Ronald Rougier, a mining engineer, and they had one son together, Richard.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402227073
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Series: Country House Mysteries , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 100,057
File size: 862 KB

About the Author

The late Georgette Heyer was a very private woman. Her novels have charmed and delighted millions of readers for decades, though she rarely reached out to the public to discuss her works or personal life. She was born in Wimbledon in August 1902. She wrote her first novel, The Black Moth, at the age of seventeen to amuse her convalescent brother; it was published in 1921 and became an instant success.

Heyer published 56 books over the next 53 years, until her death from lung cancer in 1974. Her work included Regency romances, mysteries and historical fiction. Known as the Queen of Regency romance, Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and her extraordinary plots and characterizations. Her last book, My Lord John, was published posthumously in 1975. She was married to George Ronald Rougier, a barrister, and they had one son, Richard.

Read an Excerpt


It was going to be a fine day. There was a white mist curling away in wreaths over the Heath that told Mary, standing on the half-landing with the dustpan in her hand, and gazing out through the tall window, that it would be sunny and really warm by lunch-time. She would be able to wear the blue voile after all, in spite of Rose's gloomy forebodings. Rose said that it always rained on anybody's half-day. Well, it wasn't going to rain today, not if Mary knew the signs.

She leaned up against the window, watching the mist, approving the heavy dew that lay like a grey sheet over the lawn in front of the house.

It was early. The Heath, which later on would be scattered over with children, and nurses pushing perambulators, seemed quite deserted, nor was there any traffic upon the road that lay between the iron gates of the Poplars and the edge of the Heath. Craning her neck, Mary could obtain a glimpse of the next-door house through a gap in the trees. Curtains still drawn on the backstairs, she noted. Well, she didn't blame the girls at Holly Lodge, she was sure. If your master and mistress went away to the seaside you were entitled to take your ease. Not but what those girls were a lazy lot of sluts, come to think of it. Common, too. Like mistress like maid, said Rose, and that was true enough. She wasn't any class, Mrs Rumbold.

Mary turned her head, transferring her gaze from Holly Lodge to the house on the other side of the Poplars. It was a smaller house, and she could not see much of it, but she noticed that the garage doors were open. That meant that the doctor had been called out early. It was a shame the way people sent for the doctor at all hours, and half the time for nothing more serious than an attack of indigestion, so Miss Stella said. A real gentleman he was, too, and ever so handsome! She didn't wonder at Miss Stella being sweet on him. It was a pity the Master had taken such a dislike to him. For they all knew in the servants' hall that he had, just as they knew about the trouble with Mr Guy, who wanted money for that queer business he ran with that Mr Brooke, and whom the Master wanted to send off to South America. You'd have to be a pretty fool if you didn't know most of what was going on in this house, what with the Master going in off the deep end and the doctor being called in for his Blood Pressure; and Miss Harriet coming out with bits of talk to anybody, even the kitchen-maid; Mrs Matthews taking to her bed because of all the worry about poor Mr Guy; and Mr Guy himself talking it all over with Miss Stella without so much as bothering to see if anyone was listening. Oh no, there were precious few secrets at the Poplars! Too many people cooped up together, thought Mary, vigorously sweeping the last six stairs. It never did to have two families under the same roof: there was bound to be a lot of squabbling, especially when you got an old girl like Miss Harriet behaving sometimes as though she was downright simple, and at other times showing you she was as sharp as a needle, and as mean as – Mary couldn't think of anything as mean as Miss Harriet. Potty, that's what she was. You'd only got to see her collecting all the little bits of soap left over, and using them up herself, just as though she hadn't a penny to bless herself with. Regular old magpie, she was. Now, Mrs Matthews wasn't like that, give her her due. She was a nuisance all right, what with her glasses of hot water, and trays up to her room, but she wasn't one to go poking her nose into store-cupboards. You didn't really mind running round after Mrs Matthews, waiting on her hand and foot like she expected, because she always spoke nicely, and behaved like a lady. Nor you didn't mind Miss Stella, neither, in spite of the way she never put anything away, and was always wanting you to do things for her which weren't your work at all, properly speaking. And Mr Guy was that handsome it was a pleasure to wait on him. But when it came to Miss Harriet and the Master things were different. It was queer them being brother and sister, thought Mary, going slowly upstairs again to collect all the shoes which had been put out to be cleaned. Not a bit alike, they weren't. Mrs Lupton, now, from Fairview, over the other side of the Heath, you'd know anywhere for the Master's sister. She had the same domineering ways, though you weren't scared of her like you were scared of the Master. With the Master things had to be just as he wanted them, or there was trouble, and when the Master was angry you felt as though your knees were stuffed with cotton-wool. They were all of them scared of him, reflected Mary, picking up his shoes from outside his bedroom-door; even Mrs Matthews, though if anyone could get round him she could.

Mrs Matthews' shoes were the next to be collected, high-heeled, expensive shoes with Bond Street written all over them, thought Mary, pausing to admire them. The money Mrs Matthews must spend on her clothes! That was a sure sign she knew how to manage the Master, because it was common knowledge that her husband (him as was the Master's youngest brother) had left her pretty badly off. Good job for her she was so nice-looking and attractive, because though you couldn't ever call the Master mean you wouldn't catch him providing for a sister-in-law he didn't like, having her and her children to live with him, and all.

Yes, and didn't it get under Miss Harriet's skin, them being in the house and behaving as though money was no object like they did, thought Mary, picking up Miss Matthews' low-heeled, trodden-over shoes of black glacé, and tucking them under her arm. There wasn't much love lost between her and Mrs Matthews, though to do her justice the old skinflint seemed to like Mr Guy and Miss Stella well enough.

Suède shoes outside Mr Guy's door; smart, they were, but a nuisance to clean. She'd have to do them, she supposed, because the under-gardener would be sure to put polish on them by mistake.

And lastly Miss Stella's shoes, two pairs of them, the brogues she wore on the Heath, and the blue kid shoes she went to town in.

She put all the shoes in her apron, and carried them down the back stairs to the scullery. Cook, Mrs Beecher, was in the kitchen, and called her in for a cup of tea. It made all the difference to you, thought Mary, being in a place where the cook was good-tempered. She went into the kitchen, and took her place at the table between Beecher and Rose. Rose was sitting with her elbows on the table, and her cup between her hands, eagerly recounting what had passed between the Master and Miss Stella in the library last night.

‘. . . And then he told her straight he wouldn't have Dr Fielding making up to her under his roof. The names he called the doctor you wouldn't believe! And then he said that bit I told you, about the doctor being a fool with no prospects, and if you ask me it was that which set Mrs Matthews against the doctor, because against him she is, and no one'll make me believe different.'

‘You didn't ought to listen to what wasn't meant for your ears,' said Mrs Beecher.

‘It does seem a shame about the doctor and Miss Stella,' said Mary. ‘I am sure no one could be more gentlemanlike.'

‘Ah, there's more to it than that,' replied Beecher, passing his cup across to his wife. ‘They say he's a bit fond of the bottle. Not that I've ever seen him the worse for wear myself, but there's no smoke without a fire.'

‘That I won't believe!' declared Mrs Beecher roundly. ‘And what's more I'm surprised at you mentioning it, Beecher!'

Rose, avidly absorbing this fresh piece of scandal, said: ‘There you are, then! and no wonder Mrs Matthews had one of her nerve-attacks! When I saw her I thought to myself at once –'

‘Then you thought wrong,' interposed Mrs Beecher repressively. ‘I haven't ever held with Mrs Matthews' nerves, and no more I ever shall, but if she had an attack, which I doubt, it wasn't along of Miss Stella whom she doesn't care two pins for, if you was to ask me, but because of Mr Guy being shipped off to Brazil.'

‘Oh, the Master isn't ever going to do that, not really, is he?' exclaimed Mary, aghast.

‘So I believe,' said Mrs Beecher, rising ponderously and moving towards the stove. ‘Not that I'm one for nosing into other people's business, but I had it from Miss Harriet as long ago as last Thursday. It's time the Early Teas went up. Hand me over the caddy, Rose, there's a good girl.'

Rose complied with this request, and stood waiting while Mrs Beecher filled three little teapots, and one glass tumbler in a silver holder. ‘You might carry Miss Stella's tray up for me, dear,' said Rose to Mary, receiving the tumbler of hot water from Mrs Beecher, and placing it upon a small tray.

Mary finished her own tea in two gulps, and got up. She had her own work to do, and plenty of it, but if you were only an under-housemaid it paid you to keep in with the upper servants. She picked up Miss Stella's tray, and followed Rose up the back stairs, Beecher bringing up the rear with the Master's and Mr Guy's trays poised on his capable hands.

Miss Stella was not awake, and, as usual, she had left her clothes scattered about the floor. Mary drew back the curtains, tidied the clothes, and slipped out of the room again. Miss Stella wouldn't thank you for waking her.

Mr Guy's tray was reposing on the table in the hall, and Rose was still in Mrs Matthews' room. Mary could hear Mrs Matthews' slightly plaintive voice raised behind the shut door. She was just about to go and fill the hot-water cans, when the door of the Master's room opened, and Beecher came out rather quickly.

Mary stared at him. There was a queer, scared look on his face. ‘Anything wrong, Mr Beecher?' she asked.

He passed his tongue between his lips, and answered in a shaken voice: ‘Yes. It's the Master. He's dead.'

Her lips parted, but she could find nothing to say. A kaleidoscope of impressions flashed through her brain. It was shocking, awful, and yet thrilling. There might be an Inquest. She didn't want to have anything to do with it; she wouldn't be out of it for worlds.

Rose came out of Mrs Matthews' room. ‘Well!' she said. ‘Anyone would think there was no work to be done in this house! Where are my cans?'

Mary found her voice. ‘Oh, Rose!' she faltered. ‘The Master's dead!'

‘Somebody's got to tell Them,' said Beecher, glancing at the four shut doors. ‘I don't know who.'

Rose solved this problem for him. She broke into noisy tears, not because she had been fond of the Master, or disliked the thought of a death in the house, but because she was startled. The sound of her hysterical sobs brought the ready tears to Mary's eyes too. It also brought Miss Matthews out into the hall, with her grey hair in curlers, and an aged flannel dressing-gown huddled round her. She had forgotten her glasses, and she peered shortsightedly at the group before her.

‘What is the matter? Rose – is that you, Rose? Disgraceful! If you've broken any of the china it will come out of your wages, and it's no use crying about it. The breakages in this house –'

‘Oh, madam!' gulped Mary. ‘Oh, madam, it's the Master!'

The door next to Miss Matthews' opened. Stella stood yawning on the threshold in peach silk pyjamas, and with her short hair ruffled up like a halo about her face. ‘What on earth's all the row about?' she inquired fretfully.

‘Stella! Your dressing-gown!' exclaimed her aunt.

‘I'm all right. Oh, do shut up, Rose! What is it?'

Both maids were now sobbing gustily. Beecher said: ‘It's the Master, miss. He's dead.'

Miss Matthews gave a shriek, but Stella, staring at Beecher for a moment, said: ‘Rot! I don't believe it.'

‘It's true, miss. He's – he's cold.'

Somehow that seemed funny. Stella gave an uncertain giggle.

Her aunt said: ‘How you can stand there and laugh – ! I'm sure I don't understand you modern girls, and what is more I don't want to. Not that I believe a word of it. I shall go and see for myself. Where are my glasses? Mary! my glasses!'

‘I'll go,' said Stella, walking across the hall.

‘Stella, not in your pyjamas!' screamed Miss Matthews.

Stella began to laugh again, trying to stifle the unbecoming sound by biting her lips.

Her uncle's room was in the front of the house, separated from his sister-in-law's by a bathroom. Beecher had drawn back the curtains, and set the early morning tea-tray down on a table beside the bed. It was evident, even to Stella, looking on death for the first time, that Gregory Matthews would never drink tea again.

He was lying on his back in an uncomfortably rigid attitude, his arms tossed outside the bedclothes, the fingers gripping the sheet as though in a last convulsion. His eyes were open, the pupils contracted. Stella stood looking down at him, her face slowly whitening. She heard her aunt's querulous voice, her footstep in the hall, and moved towards the door. ‘I say, Aunt Harriet!' she said jerkily. ‘Don't come! It's beastly!'

Miss Matthews, however, fastening her pince-nez on her nose with trembling hands, pushed past her niece into the room, and walked up to the bed. ‘Oh, he's dead!' she said superfluously, and recoiled. ‘It's his blood-pressure. I knew it would happen! He ought never to have eaten that duck, and it's no use anyone blaming me, because I ordered cutlets for him, and if he wouldn't eat them nobody can say it was my fault. Oh dear, oh dear, he does look dreadful! I wish he hadn't gone like that. We may have had our differences, but blood's thicker than water, say what you will! And you'd never think it, but he was a dear little boy! Oh, whatever are we going to do?'

‘I don't know,' said Stella, taking her arm, and pulling her towards the door. ‘Let's get out of this room, anyway. Oh aunt, don't, for God's sake!'

Miss Matthews allowed herself to be led away, but continued to weep. Stella, unable to feel that Gregory Matthews' nature when a little boy could compensate her aunt for all the subsequent years of strife, was impatient of this facile grief, and thankfully gave her into Mary's charge.

Rose, still gulping, quavered a message from Mrs Matthews: Miss Stella was to go to her mother at once.

Mrs Matthews was reclining against her pillows in a most becoming bed-jacket, and had evidently had the presence of mind to wipe the expensive night-cream from her face, and apply a dusting of powder. She turned her head as Stella came into the room, and held out a wavering hand. ‘Oh, my dear child!' she said in an extinguished voice. ‘Poor Gregory! It has given me a terrible shock. I had a feeling when Rose brought my hot-water.'

‘Aunt Harriet says it must have been the duck he ate for dinner,' said Stella, still on the verge of a giggle.

Mrs Matthews gave a faint, pained sigh. ‘No one knows dear Harriet's good points better than I do,' she remarked, ‘but one can't help being a little sad that her first thoughts in face of a thing like this should be still of mundane things. Do you know, darling, that when Rose told me what had happened I could only think of those beautiful words: "God's ways are –"'

‘Yes, I know,' interrupted Stella hastily. ‘But the point is what ought we to do? Aunt Harriet's having a sort of hysterical fit. Shall I call Guy?'

‘Poor Guy!' said his mother. ‘One would give one's all to keep tragedy away from the young. Somehow –'

‘Well, if it comes to that I'm three years younger than Guy,' Stella pointed out. ‘Not that I think he'll be much use, but –'

Mrs Matthews laid a hand on hers and pressed it. ‘Dearest, not that flippant tone, please! Try to remember that the Shadow of Death is over this house. And Guy is far, far more highly-strung than you are, dear.'

‘Oh mother, do stop!' implored Stella. ‘Honestly, I don't want to have hysterics, but I shall in a minute. What ought we to do first?'

Mrs Matthews removed her hand. ‘My practical little daughter! Where should we poor Marys of this world be, I wonder, without our Marthas? And yet one does somehow yearn for just a little time to be quiet, to face our loss, before we plunge into the sordid side of what ought not to be sordid at all, but very, very beautiful.'

Stella gave a gasp, and went off into a fit of strangled laughter. In the middle of this her brother walked into the room, looking tousled and a little dazed still with sleep. ‘I s-say!' he stammered. ‘Uncle's dead! Did you know? Beecher's locked the room, and gone to ring up Fielding. He says there's absolutely no doubt.'

‘Hush, dear!' said Mrs Matthews. ‘Stella, try to control yourself! A doctor should of course be sent for, but one shrinks, somehow, from the thought of Dr Fielding, whom your uncle disliked, coming at such a moment. Perhaps I am over-sensitive, and I suppose there is no help for it, but –'

‘I can't see that it matters in the least,' said Guy. He grasped the rail at the foot of his mother's bed, and stood looking down at her with bright, uncomprehending eyes. ‘I can't grasp it!' he announced. ‘I mean, uncle's dying like that. Of course, everybody expected it in a way, I suppose. I mean, his blood-pressure. What do you think he died of? Do you suppose it was apoplexy? I always thought he'd have apoplexy sooner or later, didn't you, Stella? Will there have to be an inquest? I don't see why there should be, do you? I mean, everyone knows he had a weak heart. It's obvious he died of it.'

‘Yes, dear, but we won't talk of it now,' Mrs Matthews said repressively. ‘You are upset, and you let your tongue run away with you. You must try and realise what it all means to me. I sometimes think poor Gregory was fonder of me than of his own sisters. I do try always to see only the good in everybody, and Gregory responded to me in a way that makes me very happy to look back upon.'

‘Oh Gawd!' said Guy rudely.

Mrs Matthews compressed her lips for a moment, but replied almost at once in an extremely gentle voice: ‘Go and dress, Guy dear. A dark suit, of course, and not that orange pull-over. You too, Stella.'

‘Actually, I hadn't thought of the orange pull-over,' said Guy loftily. ‘But I utterly agree with Nigel about mourning. It's a survival of barbarism, and, as he says –'

‘Darling, I know you don't mean to hurt me,' said Mrs Matthews sadly, ‘but when you treat sacred things in that spirit of –'

‘You've simply got to realise that I'm a Pure Agnostic,' replied Guy. ‘When you talk about things like death being sacred it means absolutely nothing to me.'

‘Oh, shut up!' interrupted Stella, giving him a push towards the door. ‘Nobody wants to listen to your views on religion.'

‘They're not particularly my views,' said Guy, ‘but the views of practically all thinking people today.'

‘Oh yeah?' said Stella inelegantly, and walked off to her own room.

Mary's surmise that Dr Fielding had been called out before breakfast was proved to be correct. He had not returned to his house when Beecher rang up, and it was not until both Stella and Guy had bathed and dressed that he arrived at the Poplars. By that time Miss Matthews, recovering from her fit of crying, had also dressed, and had not only telephoned to her elder sister, Gertrude Lupton, but had found time to give a great many orders to Mrs Beecher for the subsequent using-up of the fish and the eggs already cooked for a breakfast she felt sure no one could think of eating. These orders were immediately cancelled by Stella and Guy, who were feeling hungry, and an altercation was in full force when Dr Fielding walked into the house.

He was a tall man in the middle-thirties, with very wide-set grey eyes, and a humorous mouth. As he stepped into the hall he exchanged a glance with Stella, who at once went forward to greet him. ‘Oh Deryk, thank God you've come!' she said, taking his hand.

‘Stella, not with your uncle lying dead upstairs!' begged Miss Matthews distractedly. ‘Not that I disapprove, because I'm sure dear Dr Fielding – But after all Gregory said – though I daresay he feels quite differently now that he's passed on: I believe they do, though I've never been able to understand why. Oh dear, how very confusing it all is! If I'd ever dreamed it would all be so difficult and unpleasant I should have been the last person in the world to have wanted Gregory to die. It was the duck, doctor. I implored him not to eat it, but he would go his own way, and now he's dead, and there are two beautiful lamb cutlets gone to waste. Eaten in the kitchen! English lamb!'

Dr Fielding, returning the pressure of Stella's fingers, broke in on this monologue to request that he might be taken at once to Gregory Matthews' room.

‘Oh yes!' said Miss Matthews, looking round in a flustered way. ‘Of course! I should take you up myself, only that I feel I never want to enter the room again. Guy, you are the man of the house now!'

‘No one need take me up,' replied Dr Fielding. ‘I know my way.'

Beecher coughed, and stepped forward to the foot of the stairs. ‘If you please, sir, I will escort you to the Master's room.'

The doctor looked at him. ‘You were the one who found Mr Matthews, I think? By all means come up.'

At the head of the stairs he was met by Mrs Matthews. She was dressed in a becoming black frock, and greeted him in a voice rather more fading than usual. She was not a patient of his, because she mistrusted all General Practitioners, but as a man (as she frequently observed) she liked him very well. Now that Gregory Matthews' opposition had been cut short in this summary fashion she was even prepared to accept the doctor as a son-in-law. So there was just a suggestion of sympathetic understanding in the smile she bestowed on him, and she said: ‘I expect Stella has told you. We can't realise it yet – perhaps mercifully. And yet, when I woke this morning, I had a sort of presentiment. I can hardly describe it, but I think that people who are rather highly-strung, which I'm afraid I am, are more sensitive than others to – what shall I call it? – atmosphere.'

‘Undoubtedly,' replied the doctor, who knew her of old.

‘It was of course a heart-attack, following on acute indigestion,' stated Mrs Matthews. ‘My poor brother-in-law was sometimes very headstrong, as I expect you know.'

‘Yes,' agreed the doctor, edging his way past her. ‘Very headstrong, I'm afraid.'

She let him go, and proceeded on her way downstairs while Beecher unlocked the door of Gregory Matthews' room, and ushered the doctor in.

He did not say anything when he saw the body lying on the bed, but bent over it with his brows drawn close. Beecher stood watching him while he made his examination, and presently said: ‘I suppose it was a natural death, sir?'

Dr Fielding looked up quickly. ‘Have you any reason to think that it was not?'

‘Oh no, sir, only that he does look awful, and his eyes being open like that don't look right, somehow.'

‘Is that all! If you take my advice you won't spread that kind of rumour about. It might get you into trouble.' Dr Fielding transferred his attention to the bed again, finished his examination, and straightened himself.

Beecher, opening the door for him, volunteered the information, in a rather offended tone, that the body had been cold when he had found it at eight o'clock. The doctor nodded, and passed out of the room to the head of the stairs.

Below, in the hall, the party had been augmented by the arrival of Mrs Lupton and her husband, who had motored over from their house on the other side of the Heath. The presence of Henry Lupton, a little, sandy-moustached man with weak, worried blue eyes, was generally felt to be insignificant, but Gertrude Lupton's personality made her a formidable and unwelcome visitor. She was a massively built woman of about fifty-five, extremely upright, and reinforced wherever possible with whalebone. She even wore it inserted into the net fronts which invariably encased her throat. Her hats always had wide brims and very high crowns, and her face-powder was faintly tinted with mauve. She had been the nearest to Gregory Matthews in age of all his family, and the most like him in temperament. Both resembled nothing so much as steam-rollers in their dealings with their fellow creatures, but the difference between them had lain in the fact that whereas Gregory Matthews had been subject to awe-inspiring rages no one had ever seen Gertrude lose one jot of her implacable calm.

She was perfectly calm now, though evidently in the grip of some powerful emotion. She stood resting one hand on the gateleg table in the middle of the hall while she delivered herself of various forceful statements. Dr Fielding, pausing on the top stair, heard her quell Harriet's volubility with a stern admonition to the unfortunate lady to control herself; and annihilate Mrs Matthews, who had unwisely repeated the history of her premonition, by saying: ‘I have the greatest dislike for that kind of foolish talk, and I must say that I consider it quite uncalled-for in one who was no relation of my poor brother whatsoever. I sincerely trust, Zoë, that you will abandon any attempt to make yourself the central figure in this appalling affair, though I am bound to confess from my knowledge of you that it would be extremely like you to try to focus the limelight on yourself.'

The candour (and indeed the blunt truth) of this speech came as near to confounding Mrs Matthews as anything could. The doctor, descending the stairs, thought that it said much for her control that she was able to reply, with unimpaired charity: ‘Ah, my dear Gertrude, I'm afraid that you strong-minded women don't always understand us highly-strung creatures.'

‘I understand you perfectly, and I may say that I always have,' replied Mrs Lupton crushingly. She became aware of the doctor's approach, and wheeled round to confront him. ‘Dr Fielding, I believe. I have heard of you from my brother.'

Her tone implied that she had heard no good of him. He answered somewhat stiffly: ‘I have been attending Mr Matthews for some time, so I imagine you might.'

She looked him over. ‘And what,' she demanded, ‘was, in your opinion, the cause of my unfortunate brother's death?'

‘In my opinion,' replied Fielding with a touch of sarcasm, ‘your brother died from syncope.'

‘What on earth's that?' inquired Stella, who had come out of the dining-room as soon as she had heard his voice.

‘You will oblige me,' said Mrs Lupton, ignoring her niece, ‘by being more precise.'

‘Certainly,' said Fielding. ‘Your brother, as no doubt you know, suffered from a high blood-pressure, coupled with a slight valvula affection of the –'

‘I am quite aware of the fact that you have been treating my brother for heart-trouble,' interrupted Mrs Lupton, ‘but I can only say that if he had a weak heart he was the only one of our family thus afflicted. I never believed in it. We come of extremely healthy stock. I am sure that such a thing as a weak heart was never dreamed of in our family.'

‘Possibly not,' said Fielding. ‘But the fact remains that your brother had – as you call it – a weak heart. I repeatedly warned him against over-excitement and injudicious diet, and as he invariably disregarded my advice I have very little doubt that his death was due to syncope, produced, in all probability, by an attack of acute indigestion.'

‘The duck!' exclaimed Miss Matthews. ‘I knew it!'

‘Yes, dear,' said Mrs Matthews comfortingly. ‘I thought at the time that it was a little unwise of you to have ordered duck, but I make it a rule never to interfere in your province. If only one could have foreseen the result!'

‘What did your brother eat for dinner last night?' asked the doctor.

‘Roast duck,' answered Miss Matthews, miserably. ‘It never did agree with him, and there were two beautiful lamb cutlets which he wouldn't touch. I can't bear to think of them.'

‘I am afraid,' said Mrs Matthews, recapturing the doctor's attention, ‘that last night's dinner was not very suitable for anyone with a delicate digestion. There was a lobster cocktail for one thing –'

‘Oh, but uncle didn't have that!' objected Stella. ‘He took about one mouthful, and said it wasn't fit for human consumption.'

‘Darling child, please don't interrupt!' said her mother. ‘And soles with rather a rich sauce, doctor, and a cheese savoury, which I always consider most indigestible.'

‘It sounds to me exactly the sort of ill-chosen meal I should expect you to order, Harriet,' said Mrs Lupton severely, ‘but I have yet to learn that Gregory had anything wrong with his digestion. My own impression is that there is a great deal more in this than meets the eye, and I insist on seeing my brother's corpse immediately.'

Mrs Matthews winced, and closed her eyes. ‘Please!' she said faintly. ‘Not that terrible word, Gertrude!'

‘I have no patience with that kind of sentimentality,' said Mrs Lupton. ‘I believe in calling things by their proper names, and if you can tell me that my unfortunate brother is not a corpse I shall be very grateful to you. Henry, I am going up to Gregory's room. You had better come with me.'

Henry Lupton, who had up till now remained discreetly in the background, said: ‘Yes, my dear, of course!' and with a deprecating look in Dr Fielding's direction, started forward to follow his wife up the stairs.

No one said anything until the Luptons were out of earshot. Dr Fielding was looking at Stella with a rueful smile; Mrs Matthews had sunk into a chair, and was wearing a resigned expression. Harriet, whose lips had been moving in silent communion with herself, suddenly said with strong indignation: ‘I shall never forgive her, never! I have been ordering meals for Gregory for years! None of the others killed him, so why should this one? Tell me that!'

‘Ah, Harriet!' said Mrs Matthews, mournfully shaking her head.

‘And don't say Ah, Harriet to me!' snapped Miss Matthews. ‘If anyone killed him it was you, with all the worry and disturbance about Guy – and about Stella too, now I come to think of it!'

‘Oh, Deryk!' murmured Stella, ‘we're a dreadful family!'

Their fingers met and clasped for a brief moment.

‘I wish you wouldn't all talk such rot!' suddenly ejaculated Guy from the dining-room doorway. ‘It's obvious what uncle died of! Nobody killed him!'

‘If anyone mentions the word duck again, I rather think I shall scream,' said Stella.

The sound of a door being shut upstairs warned them of Mrs Lupton's return. She came down the stairs with her lips tightly compressed, and she did not say anything at all until she reached the hall. Then she drew a hissing breath, and said with strong feeling: ‘Terrible! I am inexpressibly shocked by what I have seen. My poor brother!'

‘Yes, indeed,' said Henry Lupton, who was looking unhappier than ever. ‘Terrible, terrible!'

‘That will do, Henry. Talking will not mend matters,' said his wife. She bent her hard stare on the doctor. ‘Do I understand that you are prepared to sign a death certificate?'

He looked frowningly back at her, a hint of uneasiness in his eyes. ‘As a medical man –'

‘Medical fiddlesticks!' said Mrs Lupton. ‘I insist upon another's opinion being called in!'

A startled silence fell. It was broken by Mrs Matthews. Her voice jarred a little, though she still spoke in her dulcet way. ‘Dear Gertrude, you are upset, and no wonder. I am sure you don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings.'

‘I am unconcerned with anyone's sensibilities,' said Mrs Lupton. ‘I repeat, I insist upon a second opinion.'

‘Perhaps,' said Dr Fielding, looking her in the eye, ‘you would like me to notify the Coroner of your brother's death?'

‘Yes,' said Mrs Lupton. ‘That is precisely what I should like, Dr Fielding!'

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