Sir Richard Sedgeley and Lady Mary are broke and without an heir to the castle that’s been in their family for centuries. Tourists are infrequent, and the offers they’ve received are not ones they can live with: a state-run prison or a museum in America. What is the remedy, and is it true that there’s treasure hidden somewhere under their noses? Featuring a cast of outsize characters—timid Mary, her possibly mad husband, Wells the Butler, and his mysterious daughter Kate—Death in the Castle is a suspenseful delight by the author of The Good Earth. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973) was a bestselling and Nobel Prize–winning author. Her classic novel The Good Earth (1931) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and William Dean Howells Medal. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the daughter of missionaries and spent much of the first half of her life in China, where many of her books are set. In 1934, civil unrest in China forced Buck back to the United States. Throughout her life she worked in support of civil and women’s rights, and established Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. In addition to her highly acclaimed novels, Buck wrote two memoirs and biographies of both of her parents. For her body of work, Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first American woman to have done so. She died in Vermont.
Date of Birth:June 26, 1892
Date of Death:March 6, 1973
Place of Birth:Hillsboro, West Virginia
Place of Death:Danby, Vermont
Read an Excerpt
Death in the Castle
By Pearl S. Buck
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1965 Pearl S. Buck
All rights reserved.
The delicate sunshine of an English spring shone through the tall and mullioned windows of the castle. He had been up since dawn, on horseback as he was every morning, riding about the farm while she slept. By the time he had cantered home it was half past nine and he was hungry. He had tramped into the dining hall where they had all their meals, except tea. She talked sometimes of a breakfast room, but he was accustomed from his earliest memory to this enormous room and the long table beneath the chandelier where they now sat, he at the north end and she at the south.
This morning, however, she had been up earlier than usual. How else could the bowl of daffodils on the table be explained? They lifted their yellow trumpets, three or four dozen of them, in a big silver bowl on the lace mat. Unless Kate had got into the garden? Years ago they had decided not to talk at breakfast, though the decision had been forgotten more often than not. She had even complained because he expected her, a young bride, to eat breakfast with him. He could see her yet, a slip of a girl, an English beauty, blue eyes under honey-colored hair, facing him across the distance. He could hear her high sweet voice, complaining and willful.
"It's such a beastly time of day, Richard! My parents never wanted to see each other so early."
"My dear," he had retorted, laughing. "If I had been compelled to face your mother every morning I might have felt the same. She is a Gorgon but you're not. You've a face like a rose, Mary, and I want to see it across my breakfast kidney and bacon. It's my prerogative."
"All the same, I shan't talk," she had threatened while her eyes smiled.
"You needn't," he had said, and through the thirty-five years of their happy marriage she had been very nearly silent in the morning, though faithfully breakfasting with him. Stubborn little thing!
He looked at the rose of a face now, across the table. It was still pretty, a slightly faded rose, perhaps, but worth looking at, and not at all what her mother's had been—more like her father's perhaps, a gentle peer retiring too early to a crumbling Cornwall fortress of a castle. He had merely brought her from one castle to another, except that he had not allowed this castle to crumble and never would, in spite of these preposterous times when one was to be penalized, it seemed, for having been born in one's family seat.
She caught his half-frowning glance over the daffodils and lifted her eyebrows to inquire.
"Nothing," he said abruptly, "just remembering an odd moment."
Wells, who was both cook and butler in these lean days, had been standing with his back to them, facing the buffet; he now broke an egg into hot water. She liked her egg poached, with a side serving of kippered herring. Wells, tall and erect in a worn gray uniform, was bone thin with age; his white hair was brushed carefully, his hands were still steady. He had been footman when Sir Richard was a boy and Lady Mary a small fair-haired girl in short white frocks. They were enchanted enemies in those days, he and she, their families distant neighbors, and Mary had pretended not to see Richard when he came with his mother to tea and showed off with handsprings and gymnastics when the two of them were sent out to play on the lawn.
Wells turned to reveal a long and melancholy face. "Will you have an egg this morning, Sir Richard? With your kidney and bacon?"
"I will, thanks," he replied. "I daresay I'll need it. Is Kate gone to the station yet?"
"It's a bit early, sir. She's just dusting the great hall, preparatory to the American, sir."
"Go and tell her she'll be late."
"Yes, Sir Richard."
The old man left the room, coping bravely with a slight limp. Silence fell. Lady Mary drank her tea, gazing reflectively at the daffodils. Sir Richard buttered his toast and glanced at her.
"I say, my dear, you'll meet with us, you know."
For a moment he thought she would not break her silence. Then she spoke, her voice still high and sweet and oddly youthful with the hair now white.
"I hadn't thought I should. Must I?"
"I shan't want to meet him alone," he said.
"Did you telephone Philip Webster?"
"By Jove, I forgot!" He leapt to his feet and was halfway to the door when she spoke again.
"I telephoned him."
He paused. "What? I say, that was good of you! I don't know why I forgot—"
"You won't need me if he's here."
"Yes, I shall. Moral support. Webster's such a pessimist—convinced the worst will happen, and I am too easily convinced."
He sat down again. Somehow once the conversation was begun, he wanted to keep it going. "It was Webster who thought of this business with the American. He'll push me. He'll tell me the country is doomed and the castle with it and all that rot."
She poured a second cup of tea. "Why he should have found the American, of all people! Perhaps it was because your father sold the two paintings from the ballroom to an American the year we were married. But that was so long ago! Remember? To pay for our honeymoon tour, I'm afraid, poor dear!"
"I paid for the honeymoon," Sir Richard said flatly. It was the ballrooms he paid for. "Everything for the land, in those days," he went on, grumbling. "He scrimped me to the bone at Oxford. A lot of good it did! The land was never better, but it's still not enough, unless we modernize. And taxes! I thought when we let the damned public come in we might be saved. Nothing is enough, it seems. Government wants everything."
She spread marmalade on a bit of toast. "Yes, it was the paintings reminded Philip. Fancy his resorting to an American otherwise!"
He was suddenly irritable. The pounding headache, to which he had become liable in the last year, had attacked him again. "Stop complaining about what I cannot help," he said sharply.
Out in the hall Wells stood in disapproval of his granddaughter. "Kate, you're wanted. They think you'll be late."
"Yes, Granddad, just one more minute, please."
She was dusting the cabinet of heavy oak, English oak, carved with the royal arms. Five hundred years the castle had been the home of royalty and then it had been given to the Sedgeley family, and another five hundred years had passed. Kate dreamed through the centuries while she worked day after day, remembering the books she had pored over in the library during the years she had been growing up in the castle. They had spoiled her, Sir Richard and Lady Mary, making a pet of her and then sending her to school in London, when her grandfather was only the butler. They had spoiled her as they had her father, Colin, who had grown up in the castle too. He had refused to go properly into service as footman under his father; instead he had run off to London, had been an artist for awhile, then when the war came along joined the Air Force and got himself trained as a pilot
All in one year Colin had married, become a war hero, and been killed in an air raid on London the very day he had been given leave to see his newborn daughter. Kate's mother had been killed too, and the baby had been saved only because someone had had the wit to push her in her basket under a kitchen table.
An orphan at the age of nine days, Kate had been brought back to the castle by her grandfather. Wells was all she had known in the way of parents, for her grandmother, Elsie Wells, had died when Colin was born. As for Kate's mother's side of the family, nothing was ever said. Kate early learned that there were some things about which one did not speak; questions were not asked for answers would not be forthcoming.
Her grandfather had brought her up well, teaching her what he knew and training her in the old ways; but there had come a time when Sir Richard and Lady Mary—Sir Richard especially—had insisted that Kate have more education than the village school could give, so she had been sent to London. Wells did not approve, but there was nothing he could say or do against Sir Richard. Kate had been glad to go. In London she had learned new ways of usefulness. She could drive the car now when Sir Richard wanted her to; she could help Lady Mary with her correspondence. She was considerably more than a servant, considerably less than a daughter; but the castle was her home.
What her life might have been without the shelter of the castle she could not guess; what her life, and her grandfather's too, might be if the castle were no longer to be home was something she would not think about.
"You're working too hard," Wells said as he sat down heavily in a huge oak chair, King Charles's chair. He sat nowadays whenever he could, even for a moment.
Kate went on dusting the intricate details of the table, a long slab of polished wood set upon iron legs and claw feet holding balls of crystal.
"Not really," she said cheerfully. "I like working about, Granddad."
"You're as headstrong as your father," Wells said, but his tone had more pride than criticism in it. "I could do nothing with Colin from the moment he was born. And when he married above his station—"
She interrupted. "Now, Granddad, you've told me that over and over, and I've far too much on my mind now to listen again to that old story."
He got to his feet. "You're Miss Bossy, as usual, and have been since you were born. You take after your dad all right. You'd better get yourself into the hall, or—"
He moved slowly toward the door but Kate flew ahead of him and was in the great hall before be was.
"Good morning, Sir Richard, Grandfather says you called me?"
She saw as she talked that his cup was empty and she took it from the table to the buffet and filled it with hot coffee, hot milk and two lumps of sugar, moving deftly and swiftly, a small alert figure.
"You'll be late," Sir Richard grumbled, accepting the service.
"Take off your apron, Kate," Lady Mary directed.
She took it off. "Yes, my lady. I'm quite ready, as you see—a clean blouse and my tweed skirt. I've only to slip on my jacket and brush my hair back."
"I say you'll be late," Sir Richard repeated.
She smiled at him, coaxing, her brown hair curling about her vivid face.
"Sir Richard, dear, I will not be late. I know how long it takes."
"You always drive too fast, you young rascal—"
"Ah no, I don't, sir. I'm that careful you wouldn't believe—"
"You're what I wouldn't believe. You do everything too fast."
"Have I ever had a smash?"
"You've never had to drive an American before."
Kate laughed, "You make it sound as though he weren't human!"
"I'm not sure of the breed!"
They had been talking as equals, a young woman and an older man, and Sir Richard enjoyed it. She knew from habit, however, exactly when to slip from the role of almost daughter to almost maid, and she did so now.
"Please, Sir Richard, how will I know the American when I see him?"
"How should I know? I've never seen him myself."
Lady Mary interrupted, but mild and detached as usual. "He'll be the only one who doesn't look an Englishman, I daresay."
Kate laughed again, a pleasant ready music, rippling with gaiety. "Perhaps I'll coax him back on the train again to America! Or, if I don't like his looks, I'll tell him about the Duke's bedroom and properly frighten him."
Sir Richard put down his cup. "He should be in King John's room. We must show him our best."
"Too damp," Lady Mary said. "There's that drip in the left corner of the ceiling where the plaster fell. Years ago it was, and it still drips. I can't think why. Wells, why don't you know?"
"Nobody has ever known, my lady."
"Ah well, it can't matter now, since the castle's to he sold, it seems—unless some one thinks of something."
"It's a crime, my lady—asking your pardon." Wells said.
Sir Richard pounded his fist on the table. "Kate!"
Kate had been looking from one face to the other, her eyes questioning, her lips parted, and she gave a start at the sound of his voice. "I am gone, sir," she breathed and was gone.
They were silent again until Wells, faltering at the buffet and clattering nervously the silver dishes, turned to them, trembling with emotion, which he knew they would not allow him to reveal.
"If that's all, sir, I'd better be getting into the kitchen. The butcher boy will be wanting me. A small roast for tonight, my lady?"
Lady Mary nodded indifferently, and he went away. They had finished eating. Sir Richard lit his pipe and she watched him, meditating, her silvery head held a little to the left. It was she who broke the silence, her voice plaintively firm.
"We haven't tried everything, you know, Richard—not really, I mean."
He puffed twice. "Can you think of something? I can't. Lucky that Webster found those letters in the files! The Blaynes are enormously wealthy. Oil, I believe, or it may be steel, but Americans are full of oil."
"Hateful stuff! Black smoke in all their cities, I'm told. No wonder they want to hang their paintings here. Will they bring back the two they took away?"
"My dear, they'll do whatever they like with the two paintings—they paid for them. Otherwise we'd have no bathrooms in the castle. Besides, that was so long ago."
"Five bathrooms for twenty-seven bedrooms!"
"Better than the maids with rubber tubs and jugs of hot water, as it was when I was a lad. Gad, I'll never forget the way those rubber tubs could sag and spill the water through the ceiling! I let it happen the morning the Prince of Wales was here and the water came through on this table. I was only seventeen and I very nearly died of shame—wouldn't come down to breakfast and my father—"
She interrupted with gentle laughter. "Richard, really! You told me about it the first day we met—and how many times since!"
"It's a good story, however often I tell it," he retorted.
They heard the honking of a horn as he spoke. Together they rose and went out into the courtyard. The old Rolls Royce stood there bravely, trembling under the throbbing engine. At the wheel, all the windows down, Kate sat enthroned, her dark hair flying in short curls about her face.
"I'm off," she cried.
Standing side by side, very straight and gallant, they nodded and waved, looking after her as she drove away.
... The darlings, she thought, as she sped through the summer green along the drive, the brave old darlings, giving up their treasure, their heritage, their home, their castle! My home, too, she reminded herself, though her claim was far different from theirs. If the American wasn't moved at the sight of them, if he didn't say at once that he simply couldn't bear to put them out, if he destroyed her dream of their living on exactly as they always had, only with the paintings on the walls if the castle was to be a museum, but everything else just as it was, and she looking after it all as she did now, if he didn't see how impossible, how cruel, any change would be, then she would—she would simply hate him, that was all. She would hate him with all her heart and she would manage somehow to spoil everything, she would indeed.
She looked back before the next rise of land should take the castle from her view; she leaned out of the window dangerously far for that last glimpse she always sought. How beautiful the castle was in the sunlight! Sir Richard and Lady Mary were still standing just where they had been when she left them. The sun was shining on their white heads and she felt a surge of love for them to whom the castle belonged and to whom she belonged, too, in a way. She saw them look up, as if at something high above them, then the rising turn of the road took them from her sight.
Lady Mary's eyes had gone first to the window under the high overhanging roof.
"Richard, do you see something up there?"
"The lost window. Someone's there—"
"How can it be lost if someone's there?"
"It might be they."
"Oh, come now, my dear!"
"Ah, but you never say whether you really believe or don't believe."
"What is there to believe?"
"You know quite well."
"Richard, you're being stupid. It's naughty of you!"
"To tell you the truth, then—I don't see anything at the window—I never do."
She stamped her foot at this and stooped to a bed of the daffodils, yellow against the gray stone of the castle. He gazed down, tender-eyed, at her slight figure and the silvery hair. His headache was gone as suddenly as it had come and he felt immense relief.
"Am I being stupid, my love? Perhaps! But who knows anything these days? I'd sooner believe you than anyone else."
Excerpted from Death in the Castle by Pearl S. Buck. Copyright © 1965 Pearl S. Buck. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an interesting storyline. The book began with an older couple, Sir Richard and Lady Mary, getting ready to meet the person to whom they were selling their castle. There was a surprising turn at the very beginning when you find out what "John Blayne", the buyer, is actually going to do with the castle. There is a love interest between the maid, who is also secretary and beloved Kate, and John Blayne. The storyline explores relationships between the English and Americans, spirits of the past and the historical relationships between the gentry and the farmers in England.
Pearl S Buck is an extraordinary, award winning author, and so it was with great anticipation that I began reading this book. The setting is England in the early 1900's. Sir Richard Sedgeley and his wife Mary own a castle, but can no longer maintain its upkeep. Opening up the castle to tourists has done little to help replenish the family's fast depleting coffers. Enter an eccentric but endearing rich American millionaire who wishes to dismantle the castle and rebuild it in America. As expected with any novel written by Pearl S Buck, I found compelling characters and an intriguing plot premise. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, especially because each character seems to have a touch of eccentricty. However, in my opinion, the story unfolds very slowly and ambled along in several different directions, with little happening that could grip me until the last third of the book. This is not one of her best works, but if you are a fan of this author, then you may likely find something to enjoy in this romantic-gothic-mystery tale.