She keeps house for Inspector Witherspoon...and keeps him on his toes. Everyone’s awed by his Scotland Yard successes—but they don’t know about his secret weapon. No matter how messy the murder or how dirty the deed, Mrs. Jeffries’ polished detection skills are up to the task...proving that behind every great man there’s a woman—and that a crimesolver’s work is never done.
A RUTHLESS END FOR A RUTHLESS MAN
Harrison Nye may have been involved in some dubious business dealings, but no one ever expected him to be murdered. Now Inspector Witherspoon must root out the perpetrator of the underhanded deed. Nye’s business associate visited him just hours before the murder and seems to know more than he’s letting on. And when his maid disappears, this dirty business gets even deadlier. Now, Mrs. Jeffries and her staff must root through the sins of Nye’s past to discover which one caught up with him…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
INSPECTOR WITHERSPOON ALWAYS TRIUMPHS…
HOW DOES HE DO IT?
Even the inspector himself doesn’t know—because his secret weapon is as ladylike as she is clever. She’s Mrs. Jeffries—the determined, delightful detective who stars in this unique Victorian mystery series! Be sure to read them all…
The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
A doctor is found dead in his own office—and Mrs. Jeffries must scour the premises to find the prescription for murder.
Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues
One case is solved and another is opened when the inspector finds a missing brooch—pinned to a dead woman’s gown. But Mrs. Jeffries never cleans a room without dusting under the bed—and never gives up on a case before every loose end is tightly tied…
The Ghost and Mrs. Jeffries
Death is unpredictable…but the murder of Mrs. Hodges was foreseen at a spooky séance. The practical-minded housekeeper may not be able to see the future—but she can look into the past and put things in order to solve this haunting crime.
Mrs. Jeffries Takes Stock
A businessman has been murdered—and it could be because he cheated his stockholders. The housekeeper’s interest is piqued…and when it comes to catching killers, the smart money’s on Mrs. Jeffries.
Mrs. Jeffries on the Ball
A festive jubilee turns into a fatal affair—and Mrs. Jeffries must find the guilty party…
Mrs. Jeffries on the Trail
Why was Annie Shields out selling flowers so late on a foggy night? And more importantly, who killed her while she was doing it? It’s up to Mrs. Jeffries to sniff out the clues…
Mrs. Jeffries Plays the Cook
Mrs. Jeffries finds herself doing double duty: cooking for the inspector’s household and trying to cook a killer’s goose…
Mrs. Jeffries and the Missing Alibi
When Inspector Witherspoon becomes the main suspect in a murder, Scotland Yard refuses to let him investigate. But no one said anything about Mrs. Jeffries…
Mrs. Jeffries Stands Corrected
When a local publican is murdered, and Inspector Witherspoon botches the investigation, trouble starts to brew for Mrs. Jeffries…
Mrs. Jeffries Takes the Stage
After a theatre critic is murdered, Mrs. Jeffries uncovers the victim’s secret past: a real-life drama more compelling than any stage play…
Mrs. Jeffries Questions the Answer
Hannah Cameron was not well-liked. But were her friends or family the sort to stab her in the back? Mrs. Jeffries must really tiptoe around this time—or it could be a matter of life and death…
Mrs. Jeffries Reveals Her Art
Mrs. Jeffries has to work double-time to find a missing model and a killer. And she’ll have to get her whole staff involved—before someone else becomes the next subject…
Mrs. Jeffries Takes the Cake
The evidence was all there: a dead body, two dessert plates, and a gun. As if Mr. Ashbury had been sharing cake with his own killer. Now Mrs. Jeffries will have to do some snooping around—to dish up clues…
Mrs. Jeffries Rocks the Boat
Mirabelle had traveled by boat all the way from Australia to visit her sister—only to wind up murdered. Now Mrs. Jeffries must solve the case—and it’s sink or swim…
Mrs. Jeffries Weeds the Plot
Three attempts have been made on Annabeth Gentry’s life. Is it due to her recent inheritance, or was it because her bloodhound dug up the body of a murdered thief? Mrs. Jeffries will have to sniff out some clues before the plot thickens…
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Emily Brightwell
THE INSPECTOR AND MRS. JEFFRIES
MRS. JEFFRIES DUSTS FOR CLUES
THE GHOST AND MRS. JEFFRIES
MRS. JEFFRIES TAKES STOCK
MRS. JEFFRIES ON THE BALL
MRS. JEFFRIES ON THE TRAIL
MRS. JEFFRIES PLAYS THE COOK
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE MISSING ALIBI
MRS. JEFFRIES STANDS CORRECTED
MRS. JEFFRIES TAKES THE STAGE
MRS. JEFFRIES QUESTIONS THE ANSWER
MRS. JEFFRIES REVEALS HER ART
MRS. JEFFRIES TAKES THE CAKE
MRS. JEFFRIES ROCKS THE BOAT
MRS. JEFFRIES WEEDS THE PLOT
MRS. JEFFRIES PINCHES THE POST
MRS. JEFFRIES PLEADS HER CASE
MRS. JEFFRIES SWEEPS THE CHIMNEY
MRS. JEFFRIES STALKS THE HUNTER
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE SILENT KNIGHT
MRS. JEFFRIES APPEALS THE VERDICT
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE BEST LAID PLANS
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN
MRS. JEFFRIES HOLDS THE TRUMP
MRS. JEFFRIES IN THE NICK OF TIME
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE YULETIDE WEDDINGS
MRS. JEFFRIES SPEAKS HER MIND
MRS. JEFFRIES FORGES AHEAD
MRS. JEFFRIES AND THE MISTLETOE MIX-UP
MRS. JEFFRIES DEFENDS HER OWN
MRS. JEFFRIES LEARNS THE TRADE
MRS. JEFFRIES TAKES A SECOND LOOK
PINCHES THE POST
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME, NEW YORK
For Sandra Elaine Diamond—
the “Princess of Quite-a-Lot” and
one of the nicest, kindest people in the world.
Thanks for all the good conversations
and great laughs.
The Emily Brightwell Web site address is
Table of Contents
“I’m afraid there isn’t much hope,” Dr. Douglas Wiltshire said, as he and his companion walked down the long hall. He glanced at the closed sickroom door. Oscar Daggett, the world’s worst hypochondriac, was currently lying in his sickbed suffering from a mild case of indigestion.
“Have you tried everything, sir?” Mrs. Benchley, the housekeeper for Oscar Daggett asked.
“Everything. There’s nothing left to be done. Sad as it is, all living things only have so much time allotted to them on this earth. When it’s over, death is inevitable.”
“It seems such a shame, sir. You’ve worked so hard to keep the old stick alive, too.”
“Even I’m not a miracle worker, and my best efforts simply weren’t good enough this time, Mrs. Benchley. It’s nature’s way, I suppose.” He shrugged and smiled as a young maid carrying a stack of linens slipped into the sick man’s room. Dr. Wiltshire knew he ought to check on his patient before he left, but he really didn’t see the point. He’d already told Daggett he was going to be fine. Besides, he simply wasn’t up to listening to the man whine. Except for the indigestion, there wasn’t a thing wrong with the fellow. But Daggett would moan and wail as if he had the grim reaper nipping at his heels.
Dr. Wiltshire and Oscar Daggett had played this game many times. Daggett ate too much, drank too much, smoked too much and took absolutely no exercise. Was it any wonder he felt ill most of the time?
“I will see you out, Doctor,” Mrs. Benchley said. They’d reached the landing. The housekeeper wasn’t surprised the good doctor hadn’t poppped in to say good-bye to her employer. If Mr. Daggett caught sight of the man again, he’d bend his ear for hours about his various aches and pains.
“That won’t be necessary, Mrs. Benchley.” The doctor cast one last glance over his shoulder. “I’m sure you’re very busy. But do remind Mr. Daggett of my orders. He’s not to have anything to eat today except clear broth and light toast.” He smiled to himself as he gave the housekeeper instructions. As Daggett’s complaints were actually very mild, there was no reason he couldn’t eat a plain, but decent dinner. But Wiltshire wanted the man to suffer a little for dragging him away from his surgery and the genuinely ill patients he’d had to put off.
“Yes, Doctor. And again, I’m terribly sorry your orange tree is dying. I know it was the pride of your conservatory. I do hope Mrs. Wiltshire isn’t taking it too hard.”
Inside the sickroom, the maid stepped up to the bed. “Here’s some fresh linens, sir, and a clean nightshirt. If you’d like me to help you to the chair, sir, I’ll change the bed.” She’d already changed the linens once today and this was his third fresh nightshirt. She hoped the doctor had given the silly old fool something to make him sleep. She wasn’t sure how many more times she could change this ruddy bed. Her back was killing her.
Oscar Daggett, a corpulent fellow with a mottled complexion and thinning blond hair, lifted his head from the six overstuffed pillows. His watery gray eyes were as big as saucers and his expression panic-stricken. “My box, Nelda. Bring me my box. Hurry.”
“What box, sir?” She laid the linens on the bedside table.
He threw out his arm, pushing the heavy, red-velvet bedcurtains to one side and pointed at the huge armoire opposite the windows. “My letter box. I must have it. Hurry, I don’t have much time.”
Daggett was terrified. He’d known his health wasn’t good. He was always sure he was on the verge of death. But ye gods, this was the first time his diagnosis had been confirmed by Dr. Wiltshire. He wished the doctor had had the good grace to give him the bad news to his face.
Nelda frowned. “You mean your writing box, sir? The gray paisley one?”
He nodded weakly. He had much to get off his conscience. “Get it quickly, girl.” He clutched his stomach as a sharp pain speared his lower abdomen. “I’ve not much time left.”
Nelda hurried over to the huge cherrywood armoire, knelt and pulled open the door of the bottom cupboard. Reaching in, she yanked out a large gray-and-gold paisley box. She took it to the bed and laid it next to Mr. Daggett. “Would you like me to change the bed first?”
“There’s no time for that now.” Wincing as another pain went through him, he forced his big bulk into a sitting position and placed the writing box across his lap. Opening it, he reached inside and took out a pen and piece of paper. “Come back in an hour. I’ve a very important letter for you to deliver.”
“Yes sir.” Nelda was a bit puzzled. It wasn’t like the master to miss a chance to loll about in clean sheets. But she did as she was bid and left the bedroom, closing the door softly behind her.
Oscar Daggett stared at the blank paper for a moment. One part of him was desperately frightened of what he was about to do, but another part knew he couldn’t meet his Maker without confessing. No, he simply couldn’t die without telling the truth. Almighty God would never forgive him for staying silent, and he didn’t want to spend eternity frying in hell.
And he was dying. He knew it. He’d heard the doctor’s grim prognosis with his own ears. Mind you, he was a tad annoyed with his housekeeper for referring to him as an “old stick.” That was quite disrespectful. If he wasn’t dying and consequently filled with mercy and forgiveness, he might consider sacking the woman for her impertinence.
He took a deep breath, and another sharp pain shot across his chest. He moaned. He’d best get on with it; perhaps he had even less time than he’d thought.
He straightened his spine, put the paper on the lid of the box and positioned the pen in his right hand. He began to write. “For the good of my immortal soul, I, Oscar Daggett do hereby make this confession of my own free will.”
He poured out his confession onto the clean, white pages. By the time he’d finished he was exhausted. He slumped against the pillows and closed his eyes, waiting for the end to come.
Precisely one hour later, Nelda came back to his room, knocked and entered slowly. “Sir,” she whispered. “Are you asleep?”
“No. Come closer, girl.” He motioned for her to come to stand by his bedside. He reached under his pillow and pulled out the letter. “Take this to number thirteen Dunbarton Street,” he told her.
“Where’s that, sir?” She was a country girl, recently arrived in London. The address meant nothing to her.
“It’s in Fulham, girl. Take the letter to number thirteen and give it to the woman that answers the door. Can you remember that?”
“Yes, sir.” She took the envelope and stuffed it in the pocket of her stiff white apron. “Do you want me to take it tonight, sir?”
“Right away. Now. Tell me the address again.”
Nelda repeated her instructions. She couldn’t read very well, but it wasn’t much to remember.
“Good. Go now and hurry. I must know that it’s been delivered before I pass.”
“But what about Mrs. Benchley, sir? She don’t allow us out of the house after dark, sir.”
“I’m the master here, not Mrs. Benchley. Send her to see me if she tries to stop you. Now, hurry, go on.”
“Yes, sir.” Nelda bobbed a quick curtsey and hurried out of the room.
Oscar Daggett sighed peacefully and lay back against the pillows. Now that his conscience was clear, he was quite prepared to meet his Maker.
Upon leaving the master’s bedroom, Nelda went down to the kitchen to find the household in a tizzy. Mrs. Benchley had fallen in the wet larder and smacked her forehead against the edge of the shelf. The cook and the other maids were gathered around her trying to stanch the flow of the blood.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Benchley,” she said. “The master wants me to take a letter to…”
“For God’s sake, girl, can’t you see Mrs. Benchley is busy,” the cook scolded. She glared at the impudent housemaid. Stupid country girls. They couldn’t see what was right under their noses.
“I’m sorry,” Nelda said miserably. “I can see poor Mrs. Benchley is in a terrible state, but Mr. Daggett ordered me to deliver this letter to…”
“For goodness’ sakes,” the cook cried. “Take the wretched letter and be done with it. Do hold still, Mrs. Benchley, we’ll have the bleeding stopped in no time.”
Nelda gave up trying to explain. Turning, she grabbed her cloak and hat from the rack and hurried out the back door.
“Mrs. Benchley, don’t fret so, we’ll have you fixed up in just a moment,” the cook assured the housekeeper. But Mrs. Benchley didn’t answer. Her eyes rolled up in the back of her head, and she slumped back against the chair. “Oh blast, we’ll have to call the doctor,” the cook said glumly. “Mr. Daggett won’t like that.”
“But the bleeding’s stopped,” Hortense, the tweeny, pointed out. She was standing behind the cook and could only see a portion of the housekeeper’s forehead.
“True. But Mrs. Benchley’s gone to sleep,” the cook replied. “And I don’t think that’s a good sign. Run along and get Dr. Wiltshire,” she ordered the tweeny. “And be sure and tell him it’s for Mrs. Benchley and not Mr. Daggett. We want the man to hurry this time.”
* * *
By the time Dr. Wiltshire arrived, Mrs. Benchley was back in the land of the living. But he was taking no chances. “You have a concussion,” he told her. “I don’t think it’s serious, but with head injuries, one never knows. You must stay in bed for a few days and get plenty of rest.”
“Mr. Daggett won’t like that, sir,” Mrs. Benchley replied. Her head was pounding, and there was a terrible pressure at her temples.
“Not to worry,” Dr. Wiltshire assured her, “I’ll make it right with Mr. Daggett. He’s not a monster, you know; he won’t expect you to work when you’re ill.” He hoped the old boy would see reason, but the fact was, half of his patients were monsters and did expect their servants to do all manner of impossible things, ill or not. Well, dammit, he wasn’t going to allow this poor woman to kill herself working. “I’ll just pop up and see him.” He headed for the back stairs and stopped at the kitchen door. Turning, he addressed the cook. “Have someone help Mrs. Benchley to her room and into bed. Is there someone who can sit with her tonight? She oughtn’t to be alone.”
The cook hesitated. She wasn’t sure what to do. “I suppose Nelda can sit with her.” She looked around, wanting to find the girl. “Where is she?”
“Remember, she’s gone to deliver a letter,” Hortense said helpfully. “She ought to have been back by now. There’s a postbox just on the corner.”
“Well, go out and have a look for her,” the cook ordered. Really, she thought, these country girls were useless. You couldn’t depend on them at all. “I’ll see that someone sits with Mrs. Benchley,” she said to the doctor.
Wiltshire went up to his other patient’s room. Daggett was still sitting up in bed, his eyes closed and his hand resting on his protruding stomach. “Egads,” he cried, when he caught sight of the doctor, “back so soon. I thought I had another few hours at least.”
The doctor was in no mood to put up with Daggett’s hysterics. “What are you talking about, man? There’s nothing wrong with you but a mild case of indigestion. I told you that this afternoon. Look, your housekeeper’s had a bit of an accident…”
“I know what you told me,” Daggett interrupted. “But I now know the truth. The end is near. The reaper is coming for me. I’m,” he paused dramatically, “dying.”
Wiltshire wondered if Daggett had ever done a stint on the stage. “Nonsense, Mr. Daggett. You’re nowhere near dying. You’ve got indigestion.”
“I’m not dying? Are you sure?” Daggett shot up off the pillows. There was something in the doctor’s voice that made him realize he was speaking the truth. “But I heard you talking to my housekeeper. I heard you say there was no hope…that the end was near, that it was nature’s way and everything had to die.”
Wiltshire forced himself to be patient. Daggett wasn’t the biggest fool he’d ever dealt with, but he was close. “You overheard me talking to Mrs. Benchley about my orange tree. It’s leaves are falling off, and it’s dying, not you. Speaking of Mrs. Benchley, I’m afraid she’s had an accident. That’s why I’ve come back. She won’t be able to work for a few days. I’ve ordered…” He trailed off as he saw Daggett’s face go completely white. For once, the fellow actually looked ill. “I say, are you feeling all right?”
Daggett couldn’t speak as the enormity of what he’d done hit him full force. He started to get up, but the doctor gently pushed him back. “You don’t look at all well. You’ve gone pale, perhaps I’d better have a look at you…”
Daggett shook him off. He had to get that letter back. He had to stop that silly girl from delivering it. “I’m fine,” he said. He tossed the bedclothes to one side and swung his legs off the high bed. “Just fine. Not to worry, I’m suddenly feeling fit as a fiddle. I think I’ll get dressed and take a bit of air.”
Puzzled, the doctor stared at him. “Your color isn’t very good, sir. You ought to go back to bed.”
“Nonsense.” Daggett forced himself to smile. “I’m fine. As you said, it’s just a bit of indigestion. Now, what were you saying about Mrs. Benchley?” He barely listened as the doctor detailed the housekeeper’s accident. All he could think of was getting to Fulham, to number thirteen Dunbarton Street, and getting that damned letter back.
“Mrs. Benchley must have as much rest as she needs,” he muttered when the doctor finished speaking. He hurried over to his armoire and yanked open the top drawer.
“A day or two should do it,” Wiltshire replied, watching him closely. The man’s behavior was odd, but medically, he now seemed quite all right. His color had returned to normal. “I’ll stop by to see Mrs. Benchley tomorrow.”
“Good, good,” Daggett said. He yanked a pair of clean socks out of the drawer. “Good night, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He wished the doctor would hurry and leave. He had to get moving. Oh God, what on earth was he going to do? Whatever had possessed him to write it all down?
The doctor finally left. Daggett threw on his clothes and raced out the bedroom door, almost running into Hortense on the landing. The girl managed to dodge to one side to avoid being run over. “Out of my way, girl. Where’s the other one?”
“Other one, sir?” Hortense had no idea what he was talking about. Alarmed, she stared at him. His shirt was hanging out of his trousers, his hair stood straight up, his tie was crooked and the lapel of his jacket was folded in the wrong way.
“The other girl,” Daggett shouted. “Where is she?”
“Nelda’s not back yet,” Hortense replied. She began to back away from him. “I went and looked for her. I went all the way to the postbox at the corner, but I didn’t see her. No one’s seen her since she left with that letter you give her.”
Daggett’s eyes almost popped out of his head, then he turned, bolted down the staircase and out the front door.
* * *
Harrison Nye sat across from Oscar Daggett and considered killing the man. He carefully weighed the pros and cons of that solution, and then discarded it. Too many people had seen Daggett arrive. How unfortunate that the fool had come blundering in so hysterical he could barely speak when Eliza was having one of her dinner parties.
No, he decided, he couldn’t kill him, and that wouldn’t solve the problem anyway.
“I didn’t know what else to do.” Daggett wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. “I can’t think what to do.”
“Did it occur to you to go to Dunbarton Street and try to get the letter back?” Nye asked.
“That wasn’t possible,” Daggett said. “The girl had a good two hours’ head start on me. I knew it was hopeless. That’s why I came here. We’ve got to decide what to do.”
What Nye wanted to do was to wrap his fingers around Daggett’s pudgy throat and squeeze the life out of him. “Don’t do anything. I’ll take care of the matter. You’re sure she still lives there?”
Daggett hesitated. “Yes, of course.”
But Nye had seen the hesitation. “Damn it, man. You mean there’s a chance she isn’t there? Tell me the truth now, it’s very important. If she got your damned confession, we might be able to deal with the consequences, but if someone else got it, we could be doomed.”
“She was living there last summer. I know because I saw her getting into a hansom on Regent Street. I heard her give the cabbie that Fulham address.”
Nye closed his eyes briefly to regain control of himself. He hated losing his temper. It made him do idiotic, impulsive things. But the urge to smack Daggett’s fat, stupid face was so strong he had to ball his hand into a fist to keep from hitting him. He’d deal with Daggett later. When he had that letter safely back in his possession. Nye rose to his feet, indicating the meeting was over.
Daggett gaped at him, then lumbered up off the settee as well. “What should I do?”
“Go home,” Nye ordered. “Just go home and try to act normal.”
“Harrison?” Eliza Nye, a tall, striking redhead in her early thirties, came into the study. “I do hate to interrupt, dear, but we’ve guests.”
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” Nye smiled at his beautiful wife. She was a good twenty years younger than he. The daughter of minor aristocracy, she’d been the perfect candidate when he’d decided to take a wife. She had breeding, but no money. She was therefore pliable, grateful and willing to overlook his more ruthless character traits. “Let me show Oscar out, then I’ll rejoin our guests.”
She nodded regally, smiled graciously at Daggett and withdrew.
“You’re not going to the house now?” Daggett asked.
“What would be the point?” Nye replied. He started for the door and motioned to Daggett to follow. “She’s had time to read it by now. But I doubt she’s going to do anything about it until tomorrow. By then, I’ll have taken care of the problem once and for all.”
They’d reached the hall, and Daggett stopped dead. Behind him, he could hear the sound of the guests through the partially open door of the drawing room. “You’re not going to hurt her, are you? I mean…” His voice trailed off.
Nye stared at him coldly. “You weren’t worried about her welfare fifteen years ago.”
“That was different.” Daggett swallowed. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to take care of our little problem. A problem, I might remind you, that you caused.”
“I thought I was dying. I didn’t want it on my conscience.”
Nye laughed. “We can’t have that, can we? Run along home, little man. I’ll get that damned letter back, and when I do, I’ll be along to see you.”
Daggett backed away. Fear curdled in his stomach. “All right, I’ll leave it all to you, then.” He turned and bolted for the door, almost knocking over a tall, lanky young man who’d just come out of the water closet.
“I say,” the young man sputtered apologetically. “Frightfully sorry. I didn’t see you…” But he was talking to Daggett’s back. He turned and looked at his host. “Your friend seems in a deuced hurry. Almost bowled me over.”
“Do forgive him, Lionel,” Nye said. “He’s in a bit of a state. Nervous fellow. You know the sort. Let’s go and join the others.”
* * *
Harrison Nye pulled his heavy overcoat tighter and banged the black-onyx top of his cane against the roof of the hansom. He stuck his head out the side. “Let me off here, if you please.”
Obligingly, the cab stopped, and Harrison climbed down onto the wet, cobblestone street. He paid the driver, then waited until the cab turned the comer before he started for his destination. He’d deliberately had the driver drop him here. He was fairly certain she could never be connected with him, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
It was past midnight and the October night was cold. A light, misty rain fell. Save for another cab pulling up at a small hotel a little farther up the street, he was completely alone. That’s the way he wanted it, no witnesses. Turning, he crossed the road and started for the corner. Dumbarton Street was a long street of small, two-story rowhouses with tiny front gardens. Even in the dark, he could see that most of the houses were unkempt and in need of a good coat of paint.
When he got to the front of number 13, he saw it was in slightly better condition than the others. Nye went up the walkway to the front door. In the distance, he heard the rumble of a train. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a small metal object with a thin protruding strip at one end. He stuck it into the lock and turned it gently. But he couldn’t hear the small, faint clicks that signaled the opening of the door because that damned train was getting closer. It was so loud now he could barely hear himself think. He tried turning the handle, but the door didn’t budge. Damn, he thought, this was supposed to be easy, in and out in a few seconds, just like the old days. No fuss or bother. Why in the hell did she have to live next door to a bloody railway line?
Suddenly, he gasped as a searing pain lanced him from behind. His fingers dropped the lockpick, his arms flailed and he turned to look at his assailant. His eyes widened. “My God, it’s you….”
* * *
“Where’s Betsy?” Smythe, the coachman for Scotland Yard Inspector Gerald Witherspoon, asked as he came into the kitchen. He was a tall, muscular man with dark hair and heavy, rather brutal features. But his true character was reflected in his warm, kind brown eyes and his ready smile.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, a short, plump auburn-haired woman in her mid-fifties, pulled out the chair at the head of the table and sat down. “She’ll be along directly. I sent her to the station. The inspector forgot his watch, his money clip and his spectacles. He was in a bit of a hurry this morning. But she ought to be back any moment now, she left over two hours ago.”
Smythe nodded. “Should I go call Wiggins? He’ll need to wash up before he comes to the table. He’s covered in filth.”
“Yes, thank you; tell him just to wash his hands and face. I’ll put a newspaper under his chair to catch the rest of the dirt.”
“The lad’s worked hard,” Mrs. Goodge, the portly, white-haired cook, said as she placed the big brown teapot in front of the housekeeper. “Cleaning them attic rooms is a right old mess. I still think we ought to burn all that old junk instead of having poor Wiggins bring it down to the terrace.”
“It is hard work.” Mrs. Jeffries picked up the teapot and began to pour. “I told Wiggins he didn’t have to do it alone, that we’d get some street lads in to help him, but he was quite adamant he was up to the task.”
“Are you going to go through all of it?” the cook asked curiously.
“The inspector wants to see what all is stored up there. He’s no idea, you know. From what he learned from his late aunt, most of the stuff in the attic was there when she bought the house. Then, of course, she lived here for a number of years and added to it as well.”
“Cor blimey, I’ve a powerful thirst,” Wiggins, an apple-cheeked, brown-haired lad of twenty, announced as he came into the kitchen. He was the household footman. But as the establishment wasn’t formal enough to really need a footman, he did any task that needed doing. His face and hands were clean, but his white work shirt and brown trousers were covered in soot.
Mrs. Jeffries got up and grabbed yesterday’s Times off the pine sideboard. “Don’t sit yet,” she said, pushing his chair to one side. She put the paper down and motioned for Wiggins to move the chair back onto the newspaper. “There, now you can have your tea in peace without worrying about dirtying the place up.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Jeffries,” Wiggins replied. Though in truth, he’d not given dirtying the kitchen a moment’s thought. He sat down and reached for one of Mrs. Goodge’s scones.
“I wish we had a murder,” the cook said glumly. “I’m bored.” She was also feeling her age. She knew that her contributions in helping to bringing killers to justice was the most important thing she’d done in her life. She wanted to do a bit more of it while she had the chance.
“What’s the ’urry, Mrs. Goodge? It’s only been three weeks since our last one,” Smythe asked cheerfully.
“That’s easy enough for you to say,” she replied. “You’re young and fit. I’m not so young and not so fit. I want to do my part while I’ve got the chance.”
Mrs. Jeffries frowned in concern. “You’re not ill, are you?” It wasn’t like the cook to be morbid or self-pitying.
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Praise for the Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries:
“[A] winning combination in Witherspoon and Jeffries. It’s murder most English all the way!”—The Literary Times
“Fascinating murder mystery...wit and style...a winning series. Mrs. Jeffries is the Miss Marple of Victorian Mystery.” —The Paperback Forum
“One historical mystery series that never gets boring or dull.”—Midwest Book Review
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Scotland Yard Inspector Gerald Witherspoon is a legend because he has solved every homicide case ever assigned to him. What no one knows, including the Inspector, is that his loyal staff of servants secretly assist him by obtaining information and serendipitously feeding it to him so he thinks he thought of it himself. Their loyalty is rewarded by how well he takes care of them, a radical departure for most Victorian households. His latest case involves wealthy nabob Harrison Nye who goes out late one night following a dinner party. His corpse is found at the home of a woman who vanished two months ago. No one provides answers to why Harrison was there or what happened to the woman. It will take the combined forces of the Inspector, Mrs. Jeffries leading her staff and tons of blind luck to prevent any more murders from occurring, but even that may prove not enough. MRS. JEFFRIES PINCHES THE POST is a fun to read amateur sleuth-police procedural tale due the varying personalities of each of the likable servants. This is one of the more complex who-done-its in this series because none of the facts tie together and clues seem scarce and not quite forthcoming. Emily Brightwell continues to brighten the well being of her fans with entertaining mysteries. Harriet Klausner
This series centers around the household of Gerald Witherspoon, an extremely kind, but not terribly bright individual who has a great reputation for his amazing (if not downright unlikely) success at solving murders. Inspector Witherspoon doesn't realize, but his good deeds and kindly nature have created great loyalty on the part of his household staff. Led by the housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, a policeman's widow, they successfully (and competitively) investigate every case, and tactfully pass the information along to Witherspoon. A few friends and neighbors eventually join in to help.I like having a largish band of appealing, repeating characters who are distinct from one another and continue to develop throughout the series. The stories are somewhat formulaic, which the reader may like or dislike. Personally, I wish that the continuing subplots would develop and change a little faster. The books are best read in order, although it isn't entirely crucial. With such a long series, it is often hard to get all the books.A friend recommended this series to me when I was extremely depressed, and it was perfect!
Mrs. Jeffries in on the hunt for a killer and a missing maid in this entry in the series. I love the look at Victorian society and the strong interplay between the series regulars, but I have to agree that this was not the strongest one in the series. The mystery was not as compelling as some of her other books. Still, I enjoyed it. Thanks!
Charming, clean, nonviolent read for all ages. I will more.