Ann Vernon is lunching at the Luxe when she overhears two people talking about someone who must be gotten out of the way. She has no idea that she’s that very someone! Against the advice of her boyfriend, Charles Anstruther, whose marriage proposal she’s just rejected, Ann accepts a position as secretary to an elderly woman. She accompanies Mrs. Halliday and her son, Jimmy, on a cruise, where she meets handsome, charming Gale Anderson. After a few days, the Emma puts in anchor at Loch Dhu, a remote Scottish island marked by sharp rocks, heather, and steep cliffs.
Suspecting something is not right about Ann’s employers, Charles begins an unofficial investigation. He travels to Loch Dhu, only to discover there’s no way to get on the island. As the days count down to a wealthy man’s death, steps are taken to eliminate Ann before she can inherit the estate of Elias Paulett, the great-uncle she’s never met. And once the final piece of a monstrous scheme is set in motion, not even the man she loves may be able to save her.
Kirkus Reviews hails beloved British crime writer Patricia Wentworth’s Fear by Night as “well done and full of creeps.”
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Fear by Night
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1934 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
Elias Paulett sat in an upper room of his house in Glasgow and sipped from a tumbler of hot whisky and water. He was a very old man, and a very rich man, and a very successful man, but no one had ever loved him very much. It was now a great many years since anyone had loved him at all. It must be frankly confessed that he was not lovable. He had made his own way from poverty to riches, laying the foundation of his present very large fortune when, at the age of twenty-six, he married the daughter and heiress of Duncan Robertson, whose small proprietary line of steamers is now, like poor Jessie Robertson, quite forgotten. Elias Paulett used them, broke them, and went on.
He sat now, clasping his steaming tumbler and occasionally casting a glance of sardonic amusement at his great-niece, Hilda Paulett, who was reading aloud to him from The Times. She was a handsome girl in the late twenties. Her discontented dark eyes and the set of her full, sulky mouth proclaimed the fact that she was not interested in the City news.
Elias Paulett put out his hand and stopped her.
"That'll do. Anderson'll be back by now. I want to see him." He went on sipping and smiling to himself. It was not at all a pleasant smile.
Hilda Paulett went out of the room with an air of relief.
Presently the door opened again and Gale Anderson came in. He was a fair, good-looking young man of thirty-three or thirty-four. He had rather the look of having been a great deal indoors. His skin, and his eyes, and his hair were all a little paler than they ought to have been. He had the controlled manner which was natural in one who had been Elias Paulett's secretary for more than three years.
"Miss Paulett said you wanted me, sir."
Elias nodded. His thick, bushy white hair stood up in tufts, giving him something of the appearance of a cockatoo. His face was a mass of small puckered wrinkles out of which his deep-set grey eyes looked sharply.
"Yes, yes — Miss Paulett," he said — "my niece, Hilda Paulett. Do you call her Hilda?"
If Gale Anderson felt perturbed, he did not show it. He smiled very slightly.
"Well, sir, we've known each other for three years."
"You do, then?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"Ever kiss her?" said Elias Paulett.
Gale Anderson shrugged his shoulders.
"What do you expect me to say to that, sir?"
"Are you in love with her?"
"Or to that, sir?"
Elias Paulett looked at him with bright, wicked eyes.
"You might lie, or you might tell the truth. I'll save you the trouble, young man. You're putting your money on the wrong horse. I'd hate to see you fall down."
Gale Anderson's face showed nothing but perplexity.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, sir."
"Oh yes, you do. You're not a fool, or I'd have fired you long ago. I'm telling you that you've put your money on the wrong horse."
"And I'm telling you, sir, that I don't know what you mean."
Elias Paulett set down the tumbler on the table at his elbow and pulled himself up a little in his chair. He wore a quilted dressing-gown of dark blue silk and had across his knees a plaid rug of Royal Stuart tartan.
"I wasn't asleep last night."
"I really do not know what you mean, sir," said Gale Anderson.
Elias Paulett laughed.
"You've a good poker face! I wasn't asleep last night when Hilda came up behind you and kissed you."
"I think you must have been dreaming, sir," said Gale Anderson.
"Dreaming, was I?" Elias swung round and pointed at the writing-table. "You were sitting there writing, and she came in and had a look at me. Then she said, 'He's asleep,' and she went across and leaned down over you with her arm round your neck and kissed you. And now perhaps you think I'm going to ask you your intentions. I'm not. I'm not going to ask you anything — not even how many times you've kissed her, or when you kissed her first, or whether it's stopped at kissing. I'm not going to ask you anything — I'm going to tell you something. You're putting your money on the wrong horse, and I'm going to tell you why. Someone's been making you believe I've left my money to Hilda. Well, I haven't. No — stand where I can see you and put that other light on! How's that poker face of yours? Let's have a look."
Gale Anderson was certainly very pale, but he had been so pale before that it was impossible to say whether he was paler now. There was a pendant light in the middle of the room. He touched the switch which lit a couple of brackets over the mantelpiece and turned to face his employer.
"It's very good of you to tell me all this, sir."
"Yes, isn't it?" said Elias with a grim twist of the mouth. "I've been good to myself all my life, and I'm keeping right on. I don't want you and Hilda to be thinking it's time I was out of the way, and maybe giving me a helping hand. I'll die when I'm due to die and not before." He took a bunch of keys out of his dressing-gown pocket and flung them on the floor. "If you'll open the third drawer on the left of the table you'll find the draft of my will. The original is in my lawyer's safe where no one can get at it. You can go through the draft at your leisure, unless you like to take my word for what's in it. I've got another great-niece besides Hilda — her name's Ann Vernon — and I've left my money to her. I've never seen her, because I quarrelled with her mother before she was born. If I saw her, I should probably dislike her as much as I dislike Hilda. At present I don't, so I've left her my money — provided she outlives me. If she doesn't, Hilda gets it. But I shouldn't waste my time making love to her on the off chance." He picked up his tumbler and drained it." Don't you want to read the draft?"
"I don't really feel it's my business, sir," said Gale Anderson.
"Willing to take my word for it, are you? All right — I don't want you any more. You'd better go and tell Hilda she's wasting her time too. You'll both need to marry money, so you'd best go courting where it's to be had. There's nothing coming to either of you from me, unless my niece Ann manages to smash herself up before I'm through."
Gale Anderson went out of the room without haste. He found Hilda Paulett in her own sitting-room on the ground floor. It was a dingy place and dingily furnished — old chairs that had been cast from the drawing-room; curtains of faded repp; a Brussels carpet whose pattern had almost disappeared; and an aged piano with flutings of discoloured green silk.
She looked up as he came in, and his face frightened her.
"Oh, Gale! What is it?" she said.
He shut the door and leaned against it. It was a minute before he spoke. When he did so, his voice was under control.
"Why did you lie to me about the will?"
The colour flew into her face.
"I think you did. You told me he'd left his money to you."
"Hasn't he?" The words came with a gasp.
Gale Anderson leaned against the door. He said coolly and quietly,
"What made you think he had?"
She came a step or two towards him and then stopped, twisting her hands, her colour coming and going and her breath uneven.
"Gale — what's happened? You don't tell me. Has he altered his will? I saw the draft. I swear the money was left to me — I swear it!"
"You saw the draft?"
"I swear I did! It was the day he signed the will. When Mr. Everard had gone, Uncle Elias gave me his keys, and he said, 'This is the draft of my will. I'm keeping it for reference. Put it in the third drawer of the writing-table, and mind you lock the drawer.' So I went over to the table, and whilst I was putting it away he had a most frightful fit of coughing, and I thought I'd take a look and see if I could find out what he was doing with the money. His chair was turned round to the fire, so I was right behind him."
"Go on," said Gale Anderson.
"I got the paper open, and it was all that awful lawyer's language, but I made out that he was leaving everything to 'my great niece,' and then it got down to the bottom of the page and I didn't dare turn over, so I put it away quickly and locked it up and gave him back the key. That was good enough, wasn't it?"
Gale Anderson straightened himself up and came towards her. He took her by the shoulder, and she looked up at him in a puzzled, frightened way.
"Those words, 'my great-niece,' came at the bottom of the page?"
"What's wrong — what's happened?"
With a turn of the wrist he pushed her away.
"You fool! Didn't you know he had another great-niece?"
She stumbled against the piano and caught at it to steady herself.
"Oh! You hurt me!"
"Do you expect me to say I'm sorry? You blazing fool! Did you hear what I said? There's another niece, and you don't get a penny."
She looked up wide-eyed, her full lips trembling.
"Gale — you didn't marry me for that? Gale, I didn't know — I swear I didn't! Oh, Gale!"
He said, "Be quiet!" and went to the fireplace and stood there looking down at the dusty paper between the bars.
She watched him, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief and every now and then drawing a quick breath as if she wanted to speak but lacked the courage. When at last he turned round, the words broke out.
"Oh, Gale, are you sure? Don't I get anything?"
"Not unless something happens to Miss Ann Vernon," said Gale Anderson.CHAPTER 2
Ann Vernon came up the steps of the Luxe with her chin in the air. If Charles Anstruther had been waiting for her, he would have reflected with a little stab of amused admiration that it was just like Ann to look as if she had bought the earth, in a dress which even to the male eye was tolerably out of date, and to cock her hat at an extravagant angle just because it had obviously borne the heat and burden of the summer.
Charles, however, was about a mile away. He was, for the moment, very much engaged with a pale, weedy young man whose uncertainty as to the respective functions of the brake and the accelerator of a very elderly car had caused him to shoot violently out of a side street. The consequences to Charles' car had been of such a nature as to stimulate his natural powers of invective to the uttermost. It was a hot day. A rich smell of petrol hung upon the air. There was the usual crowd. The pale young man dithered. Charles surpassed himself.
And in the lounge of the Luxe Ann Vernon began to feel justly annoyed. She was ten minutes late for lunch. Charles should have been at least ten minutes early. She had never kept him waiting less than quarter of an hour. On the face of it, it looked as if Charles was a bit out of hand
Ann pressed her lips together firmly, took a slow look round, and then sat down with her back to the door in a recess behind a palm-tree and half a dozen hydrangeas. If Charles chose to be late, he could look for her. If he was more than five minutes late, he wouldn't find her at all. She toyed with the thought of sending him a telegram. Something on the lines of "Sorry forgot." Alternatively, she might ring him up — "It wasn't to-day I was lunching with you?"
"But I'm frightfully hungry," said the part of Ann that had no proper pride — "frightfully, frightfully, frightfully. I don't know who the idiot was who had the bright idea of calling bread the staff of life, but I bet he never tried leaning on it — not with all his weight, so to speak." Ann had. It was Wednesday. Since the previous Saturday she had breakfasted, lunched, and supped on dry bread, and she positively ached for the fleshpots of the Luxe. If Charles didn't come in five minutes, she would fade out of the side door, walk for about a quarter of an hour, and then come back again all late and haughty to find, she hoped, a champing Charles. Hang Charles! She didn't in the least want to get hot, and even hungrier than she was now. For one thing, it is terribly hard to be haughty when you are hot. Charles had to be frozen, and to freeze another you must be cool yourself.
The five minutes was nearly up. She was just going to lean sideways to look at the clock, when from the other side of the hydrangeas a voice said,
"A pity you can't marry her."
Ann stopped being interested in the clock. Theoretically, eaves-dropping was a thing that you did not do. Actually, what a fascination there was in catching the little stray bits of other people's stories which came to you suddenly in trains, buses, restaurants, and crowded streets. You didn't know the people, so it didn't matter to them.
Ann felt a passionate interest in the voice from the other side of the hydrangeas. It was a man's voice, pitched very low.
"What a pity you can't marry her," it said. And then, "You're sure about the will?"
There was a little tinkling of glasses. There were two people there. Ann couldn't see a thing, but she heard another voice say,
"Of course I'm sure. Don't speak so loud."
This was too intriguing. Loud? The words had been barely audible, the voices so drained of tone as to convey no sense of individuality. Both voices might have been the same voice, only they weren't, One had answered the other with that fantastic "Don't speak so loud."
Ann was quite desperately interested. When you are alone in the world, you must be interested in other people or else you begin to die. Ann was very much alive. She leaned against a blue hydrangea and listened. The hydrangea tickled her ear. She heard the second voice say,
"She must be got away before she knows."
The first voice didn't say anything. The glasses chinked. The second voice went on.
"If he dies, the whole thing will be in the papers. She must be got away before she knows."
They were drinking something with ice in it. Lovely! Ann's tongue felt exactly like a dry biscuit. Lovely clinking ice! Hang Charles!
The first voice said,
"He's never seen her?"
The second voice said,
"And he's not going to. You must get her away at once."
"And then?" The words were hardly words at all. There was no sound behind them. Yet Ann had heard them.
All at once she wasn't hot any more; she was cold. A horrid little shiver ran over her. She didn't want to listen any more. She wanted Charles to come. "And then?" Those two words, which she couldn't really have heard, seemed to hang upon the silence. It was a horrid silence. The other voice did not break it. Only after an intolerable minute there was a scraping sound as if a chair had been pushed back.
Ann stood up, and as she did so the second voice spoke again, just a little louder: "Well, devil take the hindmost!" and she heard footsteps going away.
For a moment she stood where she was, because she was actually feeling as if she could not move. When she looked round the hydrangeas, there was nothing to be seen except two chairs and a table, and a couple of empty glasses.CHAPTER 3
Charles arrived full of apologies, but even more full of the damage to his paint and the enormities of a system which loosed half-witted invertebrate rabbits upon the highways in superannuated heaps of scrap iron.
"He calls the thing a car!" said Charles, still pale with fury. "Said he was learning to drive it! Will you have grape-fruit or hors d'uvres? The thing would have dropped to pieces where it stood if it hadn't been for the rust! I can't think how it ever started, and I don't know now why it stopped short of smashing my petrol tank! Oughn't to eat hors d'uvres, you know — you'll spoil the rest of your I lunch."
Ann took a delicious mouthful of sardine and egg. Lovely food! Lovely, lovely food — and lots of courses still to come! She smiled forgivingly at Charles and spoke the exact truth.
"I'm starving," she said.
"All right," said Charles, "put it away. I love to see you eating. You're about the only girl I know who does. I took a young thing out the other night, and she dined on four cocktails and two spoonfuls of grape-fruit. Most embarrassing for me, because I'd been playing golf and was all set for a good square meal."
Ann ate every scrap of her hors d'uvres. There was Indian corn, and little button mushrooms, and Russian salad, and cucumber, and sardine, and anchovy, and egg, and a fat green olive. When she had finished the last grain of Indian corn she felt better. Charles' face came into focus again and stayed there. It was much more comfortable like that. She hoped he had not noticed anything, but for the first few minutes or so the room had been full of little dancing sparks, very horrid and dazzling, with Charles' face coming and going in the middle of them like a conjuring trick.
The waiter changed her plate and gave her a thick creamy soup with asparagus tips in it. After that there was going to be salmon, and cold pie, and pêche Melba. She smiled so sweetly at Charles that he very nearly lost his head, and only saved himself by immediately plunging into anecdote. He would certainly propose to Ann before lunch was over, but common decency forbids a host to offer marriage with the soup, because if the girl says no — and Ann was quite certain to say no — there is bound to be a blight over the rest of the meal. Besides, he had better tell her about Bewley first. He finished a story rather lamely, and said,
"I'm putting Bewley up for sale."
Excerpted from Fear by Night by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1934 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.
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