Miss Silver must contend with a vanishing corpse when murder rocks the postwar English countryside in this classic mystery perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Det. Sgt. Frank Abbot of Scotland Yard thought he’d spend a quiet holiday at his family’s estate near the quaint village of Deeping. Instead, he got intrigue and wild tales of a man dragging a horribly murdered girl into the woods. Naturally, he calls his friend, private detective Miss Maud Silver, to take a look. But the case takes a puzzling turn when no one can locate the body of the rumored victim, and the only witness suffers a broken neck. One thing is certain, however: The pastoral peace of this town masks something far more sinister. Miss Silver, a retired schoolteacher with a fondness for knitting and reading Tennyson who has found a new career as a private enquiry agent, “has her place in detective fiction as surely as Lord Peter Wimsey or Hercule Poirot” ( Manchester Evening News ).
About the Author
Patricia Wentworth (1878–1961) was one of the masters of classic English mystery writing. Born in India as Dora Amy Elles, she began writing after the death of her first husband, publishing her first novel in 1910. In the 1920s, she introduced the character who would make her famous: Miss Maud Silver, the former governess whose stout figure, fondness for Tennyson, and passion for knitting served to disguise a keen intellect. Along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is the definitive embodiment of the English style of cozy mysteries.
Read an Excerpt
A Miss Silver Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1950 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
Maggie Bell stretched out a hand and picked up the telephone receiver. It was a thin, bony hand with jutting knuckles and it moved with a jerk. Maggie did everything in jerks. She was twenty-nine years old, but she had not grown or developed very much since she had had what was always alluded to with some family pride as her 'accident'. A car had knocked her down in the village street when she was twelve.
She lay all day on a couch drawn up to the window in the room over Mr Bisset's Grocery Stores. That was what Mr Bisset called his shop, but actually it sold a great many things that could not possibly be classed as groceries. The term might of course be stretched to cover the liquorice bootlaces, a sweet now extinct in many parts of England and concocted by Mrs Bisset from a family recipe, but it could not apply to the mohair or leather varieties which hung from hooks on either side of the entrance. Onions, tomatoes, apples, pears, and nuts in season were of course quite in order, but a row of cotton overalls and a pile of strong boots, lads' and men's, could only be accounted for by the fact that Deeping was a village and that Mr Bisset's 'Grocery Stores' was in fact its general shop.
On a good day Maggie could look from the window above the entrance and check up on nearly everyone in Deeping. Most of them would wave a hand and give her a 'Goodmorning!' or a 'Hullo, Maggie!' Mrs Abbott from Abbottsleigh never missed. She'd wave her hand and smile, and Colonel Abbott would look up and nod, but if it was Miss Cicely she'd come running up the stairs with a book or a magazine and stay a little. Maggie read a great deal. You had to do something, lying there all day. That was the way she put it to herself, having grown up in circles where reading was synonymous with idleness.
Miss Cicely brought her real nice books, and not the improving kind neither. Maggie had a sharp eye for being improved, and an impenetrable armour against it. She liked the age-old success story—the barefoot boy who sells papers in the streets and becomes a millionaire, the girl who starts so plain that nobody will look at her and ends up a raving beauty or a duchess. She liked a good murder, with all the corpse's friends and enemies suspected in turn. She liked travel books with people crossing rope bridges or wading in swamps where snakes, crocodiles, lions, tigers, and enormous apes might at any moment burst upon the view.
Abbottsleigh was a treasure-house. Mrs Abbott had been known to remark that she possessed a larger library of rubbish than any other woman in England—'so reposeful after two lots of war literature to say nothing of the papers—so dreadfully up-to-date, if you know what I mean.'
Maggie didn't read all the time. She could sew when she was propped up, but she couldn't keep on at it. Her mother was the village dressmaker, so of course anything Maggie could do was a help. Buttons and buttonholes, hooks and eyes, and all the odd finishings—these were her share of the work, done in a series of jerks but quite neatly. Mrs Bell was clever and got quite a lot of custom from the big houses round. She had got through the war on turning and making over the ransackings of old laid-away things which had certainly never expected to be haled from their seclusion. Her proudest moment, and Maggie's, was when Mrs Abbott brought her old Lady Evelyn Abbott's wedding-dress to see what could be done with it for Miss Cicely. 'Because of course you simply can't get stuff like that now, and Cicely has a fancy for it. I shouldn't have wanted to get married in my grandmother's wedding-dress myself, but there's been rather a fashion for that sort of thing, and of course it is lovely stuff.'
The folds of deep creamy satin had filled the room. That was the long Court train with roses worked on it in pearls, but the dress was plain, to show off the flounce of Brussels point which draped it. Maggie had never seen anything so lovely in her life. It made her tremble to think of touching it. Pity about Miss Cicely being a little brown thing. Funny too. There was the Colonel, a handsome upstanding gentleman, and Mrs Abbott not what you'd call a beauty but what Mrs Bell called a fine woman that showed her clothes off, and there was Miss Cicely a little bit of a brown thing with big eyes and nothing much else. And all that beautiful cream satin for her wedding dress. Well, it hadn't brought her luck. There she was, back at Abbottsleigh, and Mr Grant Hathaway at Deepside, and talk of a divorce. Nobody knew what had gone wrong between them—three months married and a split like that! Even Maggie didn't know what it was all about, and Maggie knew most things, because when she wasn't sewing or reading she was listening in on the telephone.
Deeping possessed that invaluable source of private information, a party line. The dozen or so houses with telephones had this line in common. Anyone who chose could listen to a neighbour's conversation by merely lifting the receiver. This should have made everyone very careful, but familiarity breeds indifference if not contempt. It is difficult to divest oneself of the illusion of privacy when one is using one's own telephone in one's own private room. Maggie knew all the best times for listening and she managed to collect a good deal of information about a good many people, but she never found out why Cicely Hathaway had left her husband. The nearest she ever came to it was the evening when she lifted her receiver and heard Grant Hathaway say, 'Cicely—'
There was no answer for such a long time that Maggie wondered if there was going to be any answer at all. Then a little cold voice said,
'What is it?'
Maggie was listening passionately, her bony hand clutching the receiver, her long, sharp nose quivering at the tip. She heard Grant Hathaway say,
'We can't go on like this. I want to see you.'
'I have nothing to say to you, and you have nothing to say to me.'
'That's just where you happen to be wrong. I've got plenty to say to you.'
There was another of those long pauses. Then Cicely Hathaway said,
'Nothing I want to hear.'
'Cis—don't be a fool!'
Cicely Hathaway said a very odd thing. She said,
'A fool and his money are soon parted. You can have it.'
And hard on that a slam which shook the whole party line. It was Mr Grant who had banged down the receiver, because when the tremor on the line had died Maggie could hear Miss Cicely catch her breath a mile away at Abbottsleigh. Then she hung up too.
That looked as if the quarrel had something to do with money. Well, Miss Cicely had plenty, left her direct by old Lady Evelyn after she had quarrelled with everyone else in the family. And Mr Grant hadn't any at all, as everybody knew—only the big place and his farming experiments which hadn't begun to pay but he was quite sure they were going to.
Maggie thought dispassionately that Miss Cicely was cutting off her nose to spite her face. If a man married a rich wife he expected to get something out of it, didn't he? And whatever the rights of it were, there he was, good-looking enough to turn any girl's head, and there was Miss Cicely, just a little brown thing, and if she didn't take care, somebody else would get him.
Maggie put the receiver to her ear and heard a woman's voice say with what she thought was a funny accent,
'Mr Hathaway—I wish to speak to Mr Hathaway.'CHAPTER 2
It was on the following afternoon, which was a Saturday, that Frank Abbott was taken out to tea with Miss Alvina Grey. He was spending a weekend with his uncle and aunt, of whom he was more than a little fond. Colonel Abbott was so extraordinarily like his own father as to provide a sense of coming home for the holidays, whilst Mrs Abbott, warm, inconsequent, made a particular appeal to his sense of humour. With Cicely he had been on teasing terms until she married and became almost at once someone behind steel bars. Nobody seemed to know why the marriage had broken up. Monica Abbott mourned to him about it.
'You'd think she would tell her mother if she didn't tell anyone else, but not a word, not a single word, except of course that she never wanted to see him again, and how soon could she get a divorce. And when Mr Waterson told her she couldn't unless there was another woman or something like that—well, really, Frank, I thought she was going to faint. He said Grant could divorce her for desertion, but not for three years, but she couldn't divorce him unless he gave her cause, and all she said was, "He won't" and walked straight out. And of course it really would be better if she would go away and let things settle down, but she says why should she let herself be driven away from her home. And I see her point—but, my dear Frank, so dreadfully awkward, only we're getting hardened—at least I suppose we are. He used not to come to church at all regularly—at least not until he was courting Cicely. She plays the organ, you know. The Gainsfords gave it as a memorial to the son who was killed in 1915. It's a lovely instrument and she plays it beautifully, and whether that's why he comes, I don't know, but there he is every Sunday, and comes up to us afterwards as if nothing had happened. Only of course Cis isn't there, because she goes on playing for ages and he doesn't wait, just comes up to Reg and me and says something, and we say something, and everyone stares—really people have no manners—and then off he goes in a sort of seven-league boot kind of way. And Cis probably playing a funeral march or something like that inside and coming home late for lunch and nothing makes Mrs Mayhew lose her temper worse, except not eating anything, which she considers an insult to the food—and looking as if she'd just seen seventeen ghosts.' Mrs Abbott paused momentarily for breath and added with renewed vigour, 'I'd like to knock their heads together!'
Detective Sergeant Frank Abbott raised a pale eyebrow.
'Why don't you?'
She laughed ruefully.
'They're never near enough. I did ask him what it was all about. We met in the Lane and there wasn't anyone there, and he said, "Hasn't Cicely told you?" So I said, "No, she hasn't." And he said, "Nothing doing, ma'am," and he took my hand and kissed it and said, "Mothers-in-law out of the ring!" So there was nothing more I could do, was there? He's sweet, you know, and I think Cis is a fool—I don't care what he's done. I'm a fool too, because I cried, and he lent me his handkerchief—mine's always lost when it would be the slightest bit of good. Oh dear, why did I talk about it? Too stupid of me when I'm going out to tea. Oh, my dear boy, thank you!'
Frank watched her dab her eyes with his neatly folded handkerchief. When she had leaned her nose against it and sniffed once or twice, and he had assured her that neither it nor her eyes were red, she smiled a little shakily, and began to tell him about Miss Alvina.
'The late Rector's daughter. He lived to be ninety-seven. She has what used to be the sexton's house, only she calls it Rectory Cottage now—just beyond the church and most convenient, because she does the flowers. Only of course we rather wish she wouldn't, because she just crams them in, and she has a passion for marigolds. Not that I mind them myself, but not with pink sweet peas, and with Miss Vinnie you never know. She is distressingly fond of pink, which is all very well, but you can have too much of it. Wait till you see her room!'
It was just as they were starting that Cicely came up the garden with the dogs at her heels—an old liver-and-white spaniel, and a black dachshund with melting eyes and an insinuating manner who was trailing a lead. At the moment he was full of virtue because, having been put on the lead just up the Lane, he had avoided his usual scolding for chasing Mrs Caddle's cat.
'He always does,' said Cicely, releasing him. 'And she doesn't like it—Mrs Caddle, I mean, not the cat—so I've taken to putting him on till we get past the Grange. Of course the cat's perfectly all right.' She screwed up a little cross face which would have been attractive if it had been allowed to smile. 'Cats always have the upper hand, and this one's the fierce stripy sort—a regular tiger. She sits on the wall and mocks at Bramble, and of course he goes mad.' Her eyes glinted at Frank for a moment, then sank again into gloom as she turned them on her mother. 'I met Mrs Caddle when I was going out and she looked like nothing on earth.'
Monica immediately displayed the true village spirit.
'But, Cis, she's at Miss Vinnie's until five. Are you sure it was Mrs Caddle?'
Cicely gave a short, hard laugh. Everything she did these days was jerky and abrupt.
'Of course I'm sure! It's getting dark now, but not too dark to recognize people, and anyhow it wasn't dark then. She was coming up the Lane as I was going down, and she looked as if she'd been crying her eyes out. It's that Albert, I expect. I can't think why he couldn't have got shot or something when the war was on, instead of coming here to break poor Ellen's heart.' She turned back to Frank, a sudden flame in her look. 'She was Gran's head housemaid—the nice comfortable middle-aged sort—and she went and lost her head about the Harlows' chauffeur who'd been in the Commandos, and was ass enough to marry him. And now God knows what he's been up to, but she looks like death. Aren't women fools!'
She stamped her foot and ran from them suddenly in the dusk, Bramble barking wildly and snatching at her ankles, the old spaniel following at a walk. She did not stop running until she reached her own room, where she banged and locked the door. But of course it wasn't the slightest use, because she had to open it again for Bramble, who was a spoilt toad, and if you didn't let him in, all he did was to sit outside and blow under the door until you did. Even after this brief separation it was, as far as he was concerned, an occasion for pouncing, barking, and the endearing kind of nibble which was the way he had of kissing. The worst of it was that he made her cry. She made haste to lock the door again, because nobody—nobody had seen her cry since she was five years old. Nobody except Bramble, who had now bounded on to the bed and with lightning rapidity gone to sleep like a black snail on the green eiderdown. Certainly not Grant.
Certainly—certainly not Grant. The flame of her anger against him came up in her again and dried the tears. He had shown her something unimaginably beautiful—and murdered it. No, it was much worse than that—he had shown it to her, and then she had found out that what he had shown her was a sham. She could have borne to have her beautiful thing and lose it. What kept her in torment night and day was to know that she had never really had it at all.
She walked up and down in the room. The curtains had been drawn. She had turned on the lamp by the bed. Its green shade gave all the light in the room a wavering underwater look. Cicely walking up and down in it wasn't really there at all. She was going out with the dogs, walking up the Lane, stopping at the Grange to put Bramble on the lead.
Mark Harlow came out of the back gate while she was doing it. She straightened up to see him standing a couple of yards away and looking at her.
'Going for a walk? You've left it a bit late, haven't you?'
'I like walking in the dusk.'
'It will be dark before you get back.'
'I like walking in the dark.'
'Well, I don't like your doing it.' Then, as her chin lifted, he broke into laughter. 'Not my business? I suppose you're right!'
He came near enough to touch her lightly on the shoulder. Bramble growled and pulled at his lead—if you came out for a walk, why didn't you go for a walk?
Mark said in a softened voice,
'Proud, cold little thing—aren't you?'
She looked up at him, her eyes dark.
'Mayn't I come with you?'
'I don't want you. I don't want anyone.'
He laughed, and turned back to the gate again. Cicely went on.
As soon as she had gone a little way she let Bramble off the lead and ran with him, old Tumble plodding behind. Bramble was very funny when he ran. His ears flapped, and every now and then he did a sort of spy hop which extended his view. There might be rabbits, there might be birds, there might be another cat, there might be a weasel or a stoat—there might even be a badger, arch-enemy of his race. Immemorial generations of little hounds bred for hunting the badger stirred in him to sharpen the zest with which he snuffed the air.
Excerpted from Eternity Ring by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1950 Patricia Wentworth. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews