Persis Green’s existence has been overshadowed by the looming prospect of her older sister’s wedding. Her family was once normal—boring, but normal. Then the engagement was announced and all hell broke loose. Now, Persis’s father acts like a zombie at dinner parties, her mother goes from zero to shrieking in seconds, and her sister is utterly self-absorbed.
When Persis wins a statewide piano competition and a scholarship to a prestigious music conservatory, her big news is pushed aside. In addition to the general chaos of the impending nuptials, one of her sister’s wedding gifts, a wildly expensive piece of jewelry, has disappeared.
Feeling like the only sane member of the family, Persis commits her cool head to solving the mystery. But there are other surprises she’ll discover in the course of her investigation in this absorbing tale by the author of the popular Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series.
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About the Author
Charlotte MacLeod (1922–2005) was an internationally bestselling author of cozy mysteries. Born in Canada, she moved to Boston as a child, and lived in New England most of her life. After graduating from college, she made a career in advertising, writing copy for the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company before moving on to Boston firm N. H. Miller & Co., where she rose to the rank of vice president. In her spare time, MacLeod wrote short stories, and in 1964 published her first novel, a children’s book called Mystery of the White Knight. In Rest You Merry (1978), MacLeod introduced Professor Peter Shandy, a horticulturist and amateur sleuth whose adventures she would chronicle for two decades. The Family Vault (1979) marked the first appearance of her other best-known characters: the husband and wife sleuthing team Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn, whom she followed until her last novel, The Balloon Man, in 1998.
Read an Excerpt
Maid of Honor
By Charlotte MacLeod
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1978 Charlotte MacLeod
All rights reserved.
"I hate it."
Persis Green, sixteen years old and fit to be tied, scowled at her image in the bridal shop's three-way mirror. The tall, lanky reflection wearing the too-sweet, too-fluffy, totally unbecoming pale mauve gown scowled back at her. The designer sighed.
"It's all that long, dark hair. Totally ruins the effect. She'll have to cut it."
"You tell her. I've been trying for months."
Muriel Green's face swam into the mirror behind her daughter's, pinched and wan under the fluorescent lights. She'd done her best with carefully applied makeup and a well-glued hairdo, but at this point they weren't helping much. She looked just like any middle-aged woman whose feet were killing her, Persis thought. Not like somebody's mother.
Not like Persis Green's mother, anyway. Persis had always known her mother couldn't stand her. Muriel Green preferred daughters to be curly and blonde, pretty and bendable, engaged to presentable young men whose fathers had thriving businesses for them to step into. This wedding was more her idea than Loni's, and certainly more than Chet Cowles's. She'd had Chet roped and hog-tied before he'd known what hit him.
Not that Chet would know anyway, Persis thought sourly. If her future brother-in-law ever had a thought of his own, he kept it well hidden behind that pasted-on smile of his. Aside from passably good looks, an excellent barber, and his family's money, that smile was about all Chet had going for him. No wonder he didn't dare turn it off.
Loni was a smiler, too, but she wasn't smiling now. She wasn't frowning because frowns made wrinkles, and wrinkles weren't pretty. She'd simply let her face go blank. Like her mind. Persis writhed as Miss Liss jabbed in a pin and grazed her hip. Her big sister Loni's maid of honor, she was supposed to be. Some honor.
"I'm not cutting my hair," she snarled.
"Persis, you'll do as you're told and that's that," her mother snapped back. "I've already made an appointment for you at six o'clock with Antoine."
At six? You mean six tonight? Mama, are you crazy? It's after five already, and my recital starts at half-past seven. I ought to be back at the house getting dressed right now."
"You won't have time for that. We'll stop on the way to the hairdresser's and pick you up a sandwich. Antoine doesn't have another appointment open all this week. He's working you in as a special favor to me. And I'm not going to argue any more, so you needn't start."
No, she needn't. There'd been too many fights over her hair already. Down deep, Persis had known from the moment she'd seen the designs for the bridal party's gowns that she was fighting a losing battle. Okay, so a heavy, waist-length mane of almost-black hair didn't go with masses of yucky mauve ruffles. She loved it. Her hair was the only thing about her looks she did like, except her hands.
Her hands weren't pretty. They were too big and strong, and their nails had to be kept filed short so they wouldn't get in the way when she played the piano. But when she poised them over the keyboard and crashed down into the first chord of a concerto, or sent the fingers trilling and dancing into a fugue, they always took her where she wanted to go, into a world where there weren't any nagging mothers or whining sisters or stupid future brothers-in-law, or anything but herself and her music.
That was the big thing, the one thing nobody could take away from her. What if she did have to lose her hair tonight? It would grow back sooner or later. At least they couldn't cut off her hands or she wouldn't be able to carry her ladylike bouquet of purple silk pansies and baby's breath down the aisle in front of Loni.
Persis snickered at the notion. Her mother eyed her suspiciously but didn't say anything more, except to nag the harassed Miss Liss about a little pucker in the back seam.
By the time they escaped from the bridal shop, it was too late to stop for anything to eat. Persis had to be rushed straight to the hairdresser's, to have her head shoved into a sink, to be scrubbed by an assistant who was in a hurry to get out of there and didn't give a rap how hard a customer's hair got pulled. Persis had to sit still and try not to yell when the comb raked through the wet snarls. Then she had to brace herself for whatever tortures Antoine chose to dish out.
She decided the best way to survive the haircut was to shut her eyes and keep them shut. She sat there like a wooden doll, pretending to ignore the chatter between her mother and the hairdresser. At least Loni wasn't with them any longer. The bride-to-be had gone home to polish her diamond for the fourth time that day, or gab on the phone about nothing with her bridesmaids, or write thank-you notes for wedding presents her mother had already lugged back to the stores they'd come from and exchanged for something else. Loni had liked some of the original gifts better than their replacements, but she hadn't got to keep them because Mama always knew best.
As soon as the hair had been snipped beyond redemption and the weary assistant had swept it into oblivion with a long-handled floor brush, Muriel Green got up from the canvas director's chair she'd been sitting in. She handed Antoine a large bill and Persis a small one out of her alligator skin wallet. Then she put the wallet back in her Italian leather pocketbook and fastened the clasp.
"I have to run now, Persis. Grab yourself a sandwich at the delicatessen and go straight to the recital hall."
"But, Mama, what about my gown? I can't go on stage in blue jeans."
"I should hope not. Good heavens, is there no end to the bother? Why didn't you have sense enough to bring it with you?"
"How was I to know you'd made this dumb appointment? You said to meet you straight from school at the bridal shop."
"You always have an answer, don't you? All right, then. I'll send it over to the auditorium in a taxi as soon as I get home."
Before any of her previous recitals, Muriel Green would have been swamping Persis with attention: helping her dress, brushing her hair, driving her crazy about had she got her music and did she know her piece; rounding up the grandparents, goading Daddy into skipping his usual evening nap in front of the television so they could get there early and grab the best seats. This year, the one time it really mattered, Mama hardly seemd to know the recital was happening. The grandparents weren't coming. Loni couldn't be bothered. Charles Green had only grunted when Persis reminded him. Everybody was so wrapped up in this stupid wedding they couldn't think of anything else. It wasn't fair.
"Why can't you bring the dress yourself?" Persis demanded. "What if the cab driver goes to the wrong place? What if somebody —"
"Persis, that will do. Nothing's going to happen to your dress. I'll come when I can. Good night, Antoine. Thank you again for being so marvelous with this bothersome daughter of mine. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your sparing us the time."
Big deal! Antoine was getting paid for it, wasn't he? And no doubt Mama'd given him a tip that would choke a horse on top of that. And for what? Making her hideous instead of plain ugly.
Persis knew she'd have to open her eyes sooner or later. She postponed the awful moment until Antoine, after interminable fussings and snippings, dusted off the back of her neck, flipped the protective cape away from her shoulders, and said, "Viola, mam'selle. 'Ow you like eet?"
"Your French accent's even worse than mine," she told him politely, and faced the mirror. "Oh, my God! I'm going to be sick."
Antoine spun around in alarm. Looking for a bucket, no doubt. Persis grabbed her jacket and fled so he wouldn't see the tears running down her cheeks.
Miss Folliott, her piano teacher, had hired the Community Arts Auditorium for the recital. Persis knew where it was, of course; she'd performed there often. She ran all the way, fighting back sobs, forgetting to stop and buy herself something to eat. She couldn't have choked down food, anyway. She didn't stop running until she'd reached the dressing room with its familiar smell of makeup and sweat and dancers' feet.
In a little while, the room would be full of nervous piano students getting the shine taken off their faces with wads of cotton dipped in powder, the nervous pallor touched up with dabs of rouge. Right now, Persis had the place to herself. She took advantage of this brief privacy to treat herself to a good, wet, sniffly bawl.
The crying fit relieved her overstrung nerves a little, but it left her usually clear complexion blotched with red. Who cared? She couldn't look any worse than she did already, with her hair all chopped off except a few chewed-looking tufts. And what had she done with her music? Left it home on the piano, and forgotten to tell her mother to send it along with the gown. Now she really was going to be sick.
No, she wasn't. She couldn't. She hadn't eaten anything to be sick with. Maybe that awful churning in her stomach was only hunger. Did she have time to run back out for that sandwich?
Not a chance. Persis could hear voices coming along the corridor from the stage door. One of them was Miss Folliott's, sounding as if she was already beginning to fray at the edges. She always fell apart in front of a live audience; that was why she taught instead of performing. There were a couple of jittery parents, telling their kids not to be nervous. There were the kids' voices squeaking back that they weren't, and not convincing anybody, least of all themselves.
Then there was a new man's voice saying something Persis didn't catch, and Miss Folliott answering, "I don't know. Give it to me. I'll see if I can find — on, Persis, there you are. Is this your dress? A cab just brought it. I had to tip the driver a dollar," she added pointedly.
"Oh, just a second." Persis fished in her jeans pocket, found the money she now wished she'd spent on supper, and handed over a dollar of it to her teacher.
Miss Folliott held out the long, slithery garment bag. "Here, you'd better take it by the hanger so it won't get wrinkled."
"Thanks. I got hung up over a fitting for that crummy wedding of my sister's and didn't have time to go home and change. My mother said she'd...."
Persis's voice died. She'd spent a great deal of thought, hours of shopping time, and every spare nickel she'd been able to scrape together on the perfect gown for her recital. At last she'd found it: plain, ankle-length, loose enough to flow gracefully when she walked out on stage and sat down at the piano, slim enough so that she wouldn't get lost in it. Lantern sleeves would hang down to flatter her too-thin arms when she made her entrance and took her bow, then fall back to leave her hands and wrists free as she played.
The color was the gown's greatest attraction: a rich, glowing scarlet that picked up the warm flush in her skin tones and made a dramatic background for the long, dark hair she'd had when she bought it. It could not have been called a pretty dress for a sweet young girl. Persis hadn't meant it to be. It was a practical, effective costume for a serious performing artist. And it was not in the garment bag.
As usual, Muriel Green had thought she knew best. What she'd sent was the gown she herself had chosen back in February, for her younger daughter to wear at the engagement party and the various other evening affairs Persis hadn't been able to get out of attending since then. It was supposed to make its farewell appearance tomorrow night, at a so-called family dinner the Greens were giving for the Cowleses.
As far as Persis was concerned, her mother couldn't have made a worse choice. The gown was the same insipid mauve shade as her maid-of-honor gown, in a slim-skirted Empire fashion with a belt up under her armpits and a wide neckline that left her knobby collarbones on full view while her arms were stuffed like sausages into glove-tight sleeves clear down to her knuckles.
Looking silly was bad enough. Wearing a dress that wouldn't let her take a full step or bend her elbows without a struggle was plain agony. Persis had managed to endure it at the parties, where all she'd had to do was stand around and be part of Loni's background. She hadn't been too bothered about having to put it on again tomorrow night because she expected to be miserable then, anyway. But tonight, how was she supposed to make her entrance and exit in a skirt that was too narrow for more than a mincing shuffle, or take her bows with that off-the-shoulder neckline falling away to show everything she had? Worst of all, how could she play the piano in sleeves that wouldn't permit freedom of movement in her wrists and elbows?
Persis must have looked as stricken as she felt. Miss Folliott, who normally wouldn't have noticed anything except a muffed G-sharp or an adagio that ought to have been an allegretto, said, "Good heavens, what's the matter?"
"My mother sent the wrong dress," Persis choked. "I can't play in this thing."
Miss Folliott took the hanger out of her hand, shook the mauve nightmare loose from the garment bag, and held it up to the light.
"Oh, dear, I do see what you mean. One of your sister's, I suppose? It certainly doesn't look like you. But we can't do anything about it now, Persis. You're on for the overture in about a minute and a half. You'll just have to grin and bear it, I'm afraid."
"In those tight sleeves?"
"No, the sleeves will have to go."
Calmly and ruthlessly, Miss Folliott took hold of the dress and ripped. Stitches popped. The sleeves came away, leaving raw edges and hanging threads around the armholes.
"There you are, my love. Put it on, quick. Here, duck behind this screen so people won't see you. Whatever possessed you to cut off all your beautiful hair today of all days? You might at least have fanned it out over your shoulders to cover the damage."
"Don't talk about it. That was my mother's idea, too," Persis snarled.
Miss Folliott said, "Oh dear," again, zipped Persis up the back, and went to comfort a third-grader who'd come down with a fit of the hiccups. Persis smoothed the skimpy skirt down over her narrow hips and tucked away the ragged edges as best she could. Her bare arms looked a mile long, her hands as big as Minnie Mouse's. One fleeting, agonizing glance into the mirror showed her head like a fuzzy peanut with those shaggy wisps sticking out in all the wrong places.
Miss Folliott gave her a once-over, snatched the blue chiffon stole from around her own shoulders and draped it over the mutilated bodice. "Here, wear this. And for goodness' sake try to keep it down over your arms as much as you can. It's not so bad, Persis. Really it isn't."CHAPTER 2
It was a gallant lie, but it didn't make Persis feel any better. Going before an audience in that makeshift getup took nerve. Luckily she didn't have to play anything difficult at this time, just appropriate music to keep the early birds entertained while the late-arriving parents and grandmas and doting aunties were finding seats, dropping pocketbooks, and rustling programs.
"What's appropriate?" she'd asked Miss Folliott.
"Oh, some Strauss and perhaps a little Rachmaninoff or Schubert. Easy stuff. You know."
So Persis began a rather sentimental prelude she'd learned when she was about eleven. A tall, stoutish man in the second row looked up at her with a pained expression and closed his eyes.
He needn't think he was getting away with that. As it happened, Persis had played for the high school glee club a few months before, when they'd put on a College Night. During rehearsals, she'd learned a good many of the rousing old songs with which students had for ages been rattling the windows in the halls of academe. Keeping her eye on the sullen sleeper, she cut her prelude short and crashed into the opening bars of "Fill the steins for dear old Maine." His head jerked up, he caught her eye and began to grin. She grinned back and gave him the "Michigan Fight Song."
This was fun. She had the whole audience with her she could feel them responding. Okay, now it was safe to go on to Strauss. The "Blue Danube Waltz" wouldn't send her new buddy back to sleep, surely. She'd played that so often she didn't even have to think about the notes.
Not like playing her concerto. She still hadn't dared confess to Miss Folliott that she didn't have her music with her. Theoretically it didn't matter because the students were supposed to have their recital pieces memorized. In practice, though, it was all too easy to forget and have to be prompted in a hurry.
Even though she was feeling chilly in her now sleeveless dress, with nothing but Miss Folliott's flimsy blue scarf between her bare arms and an air conditioning vent that was blowing straight at her, Persis began to sweat. Forget it, she kept telling herself. You can worry about the concerto later. Concentrate on what you're playing now. Little did that man in the second row realize what a favor he was doing her by needing to be kept awake.
Excerpted from Maid of Honor by Charlotte MacLeod. Copyright © 1978 Charlotte MacLeod. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/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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