Jervis Weare is in a predicament. According to Ambrose Weare’s will, his grandson must marry within three months or the vast estate goes to his great-niece: Jervis’s fiancée Rosamund Carew. But the deceiving society beauty has just dumped Jervis, which leaves him scrambling to find another bride.
Nan Forsyth has secretly loved Jervis for ten years. He has no inkling that Nan once saved his life and is now about to come to his rescue again. She knows that with her working-class background and the emotionally fragile sister she’s raising on her own, she’s hardly the proper wife for Jervis. Yet marry him she does; though to Jervis, it’s strictly a business arrangement. They’re barely wed before the past comes back to haunt them—a past Jervis can’t remember, but someone else does. Now Nan must save Jervis one last time before a murderous plot a decade in the making comes full circle.
Nothing Venture is a classic British mystery from the acclaimed author of the Miss Silver Mysteries.
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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
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1932 J.B. Lippincott Company
All rights reserved.
"You were saying?" said Mr Page.
At the moment, Mr Ambrose Weare was not saying anything at all. He had been speaking, but had fallen silent. His bed had been pushed close to the big jutting window, and his eyes had gone from his solicitor to the green lawn and the lilacs, white and mauve and purple, and beyond the lilacs to the bright, glittering blue of the sea. It was a May day. There was a wind blowing, and small white clouds raced before it across a rain-washed sky. Ambrose Weare sat propped up in his bed. He was dying, for no very discernible reason except that, having lived eighty-seven years with energy and a masterful disregard of everything except the whim of the moment, he had now taken it into his head to die.
Mr Page tapped upon his writing-pad.
"You were saying?" he repeated.
Ambrose Weare turned his head. The eyes, under shaggy grey eyebrows, still held a spark of malicious fire.
"I wasn't saying anything. What you mean is that you want me to get on with it."
"Well —" said Mr Page.
Ambrose Weare laughed. It was not a very pleasant sound.
"Lord, Page! What a bedside manner you've got! You're thrown away on the law! Why can't you say straight out that I've no time to waste, and that even if I had, it's the deuce of a fine afternoon and a pity to spend it in a sick-room, when you might be a great deal more pleasantly occupied in having tea over there by the lilacs with the young people?"
Mr Page experienced a faint resentment. He had managed Ambrose Weare's affairs for some thirty-five years without ever becoming accustomed to his habit of tearing away those decent veils by which we hide from one another such feelings as distaste, boredom, and ennui. It was true that he had been thinking that it would be pleasant in the garden when he had got through the business which had brought him down to Weare; but, put as Mr Weare had just put it — well, what was one to say? His bedside manner became a little accentuated. He smiled and said nothing.
"Well, let's come to the point," said Ambrose Weare. "The legacies stand as they were, but Rosamund only gets five hundred. She can buy her trousseau with it. If she weren't going to marry Jervis, she'd have had three hundred a year, but since they're engaged, that comes out. It keeps a girl steady having to come to her husband for money." He drew in his thin lips and chuckled. "Jervis shall have the purse-strings — but she'll get round him and help herself to as much as she wants! Hey, Page?"
"Miss Carew is very charming."
"So was her grandmother," said Ambrose Weare — "prettiest girl in the county, if she was my sister. And what good did it do her? She might have had Croyston, or Ledingham, or half a dozen others — and she chucked her cap over the windmills and bolted with a penniless artist like Carew!"
"Mr Jervis is to be congratulated," said Mr Page.
"Well, well," said Ambrose Weare. "Who's getting off the point now? Restrain your enthusiasm for Rosamund and let's get back to my will. After the legacies — you've got 'em down? — everything to Jervis, lock, stock and barrel. Securities, house, property, and family temper to my grandson, Jervis Weare, on condition —"
Mr Page lifted his fountain pen from the writing-pad. His look of serious inquiry was met by a keenly mocking one.
"You're thinking now what the deuce has the old devil got up his sleeve? Hey, Page?"
Mr Page reddened. He was comfortably stout and comfortably ruddy, with a fringe of thick grey hair about a round bald patch. The ruddy colour deepened quite perceptibly. One didn't say things like that — one really didn't.
"What is the condition, Mr Weare?"
Ambrose Weare looked out upon the lawn. Two figures were crossing it as he looked — Jervis checking that impatient stride of his to keep pace with his companion. Rosamund never hurried. She wore a lilac dress. The sun touched her corn-coloured hair, and the light wind ruffled it. Anyone might have thought that they made a handsome couple. What Ambrose Weare thought, no one could tell but Ambrose Weare. He watched for a moment, saw Jervis lift that black head of his and throw out his arm with a vigorous sweep, saw Rosamund look up at him smiling, and then he turned again to Mr Page.
"Well, Page? You're on hot coals? Well, here's the condition — provided he marries within three months of my death. Put that into your infernal legal jargon, and don't leave any loopholes."
Mr Page was looking relieved. He did not know quite what he had expected, but with Ambrose Weare it might have been anything. He was certainly relieved. He said with a smile,
"Almost a superfluous condition, Mr Weare, since he is engaged."
The hawk nose above the thin mouth twitched a little.
"Engaged isn't married," said Ambrose Weare. "He's been engaged for six months, and when I talk to him about getting married, he doesn't want to hurry her. And when I talk to her, she thinks being engaged is so delightful that she'd like it to go on for ever. Damned nonsense! Not want to hurry her? I'll see to it that he hurries her! He'll have to if he doesn't want to go to her for pocket money!" Mr Weare chuckled. "If he don't marry before the three months is up, she gets the lot."
Mr Page was plainly startled.
"Miss Carew?" he exclaimed.
"My great-niece, Rosamund Veronica Leonard Carew. What any man or woman wants with more than one name, is beyond me. Pack of nonsense! But take 'em down — Rosamund — Veronica — Leonard. If Jervis isn't married in three months and a day — we'll throw in the day for luck — she comes in instead of him and gets the lot."
"But, Mr Weare —"
"Get along and write it down!"
"Mr Weare — I must point out very seriously —"
A look of fury passed over the face against the high white pillow. The right hand lying on the crimson eiderdown clenched and lifted.
"Write what I tell you! It's my will isn't it?"
"Mr Weare, I must point out —"
The clenched hand fell, the head tilted a little. Mr Page, alarmed, broke off.
Ambrose Weare shut his eyes.
"Write-what-I-told-you," he said in a changed, fluttering voice.
Mr Page wrote with a reluctant and disapproving pen.CHAPTER 2
Nan Forsyth looked up from her typewriter and dropped her hands from the keys. He was coming out. Half an hour — twenty minutes — ten..... She really did not know how long it was since he had come in with his frown and the jerk of the shoulders which said, as plainly as any words, "For heaven's sake let's get this over!"
He always came in like that; and men, after ten — twenty — thirty minutes, out again, with his black head up and the frown gone, as if he had got rid of something, for the moment at any rate. He never spoke to her except to ask for Mr Page, and then he might as well have been speaking into a telephone. Even on the day when Mr Page had been kept by old Sir Elphinstone Brady, who never stayed less than an hour, Jervis Weare had merely stood by the window drumming on the sill with a lean brown hand and frowning, as Nan put it, like a complex depression likely to break at any moment into local thunder.
It was a false alarm. He wasn't coming after all, though she had certainly heard him push back his chair a minute ago. This was his last visit. She and Miss Villiers had been called in to witness his signature to the deed of settlement. Miss Villiers, who had typed the deed, had been loud in praise of its generosity — "My, dear! She's a lucky girl! Five hundred a year just to spend on herself! And just as likely as not she'll have no idea of how to do it justice. Why, some of these high-up people are right down dowdy, and not half the looks of others that's got to dress themselves and pay their board and maybe help to support a poor invalid mother on three pound ten a week and no pickings." After which Miss Villiers surveyed herself in a pocket mirror and began absently to touch her lips with a Coraline caress-proof lipstick.
"If Mr Page catches you using lipstick in the office —" said Nan warningly.
Miss Villiers sighed.
"Sorry dear, I forgot. A perfect beast — isn't he?" She wiped off the Coraline, took a last lingering look at her pretty peaked features and rolling blue eyes, and slipped the glass back into her hand-bag. "Well, she's a lucky girl, money or no money. I'm crazy about him myself. Aren't you, dear? I do like a man that looks as if he could just strike you down with one blow of his fist and scarcely know he'd done it, so to speak. Don't you?"
Nan burst out laughing.
"What an ass you are, Villiers!" she said. "Look here, have you found that mortgage Mr Page was asking for?"
"My! No! I clean forgot."
"Then you'd better go and look for it."
Villiers went reluctantly.
"And as likely as not I'll miss him when he goes, and next time — if there is a next time — he'll be a married man." She paused with her hand on the door which led into the room sacred to deed-boxes and office files. "Are you going to the wedding?"
Nan shook her head. The keys clicked under her fingers.
"I'm going," said Miss Villiers. "I shall wear my new hat — you know, the one I got for two and eleven pence halfpenny in the Sales, and I'm sure it looks like a three guinea model. P'raps I'll get taken for a bridesmaid — I shouldn't wonder if I did. Yes, I'm going. I say, dear, if there's one thing I envy that girl besides the money and the man, it's her name. Rosamund — Veronica — Leonard — Carew. Fancy being able to stand up in church in a gold tissue that cost goodness knows what, and a point d'Alençon train, and a halo of orange-blossom, and say, "I, Rosamund Veronica Leonard, take thee, Jervis! Funny, his only having one name — isn't it?"
Nan went on typing.
"Ass!" she said. "Sorry to repeat myself, but you are — and if Mr Page asks for that mortgage again and you haven't found it, I should say the odds were that you'd be an ass out of a job."
Miss Villiers giggled tolerantly and shut the door. Desperately Nan hoped that she would not find the mortgage until Jervis Weare had come striding through the room. She wanted just that one moment — to see the inner door open, to see him come out, to see him pass, to see him go, to know him gone. It was going to hurt horribly. She wanted it even if it hurt her beyond everything she knew or could guess about pain. But you mustn't be watched when things are hurting you like that — you mustn't have people looking on and chattering — it wasn't decent.
Nan waited for her moment. Would he look very happy and relieved now that all the tiresome business connected with his marriage was done? Would he look very happy on his wedding day? By an hour or two after this time tomorrow he would be married to Rosamund Veronica Leonard Carew.
Nan tried to picture him looking happy, and failed. She had seen him frowning, she had seen him bored, she had seen him angry; and once, for a moment, she had seen him with a lost, hungry look that caught her heart and turned it in her breast. That was when he had stood at the window looking out and drumming on the sill. There was just that one moment when the drumming fingers stayed, the impatient frown smoothed out, and a lost child, hungry, bewildered and astray, looked out of the dark eyes. Nan's heart ached still when she thought about that look. It was one of the things that could not be borne, and yet had to be borne.
She took up one of the sheets that she had been typing and began to correct it. And then quite suddenly the inner door was opened and Jervis Weare came out. Mr Page was behind him, ruddy, smiling, and bland; his horn-rimmed spectacles pushed up; his head slightly thrown back as he talked to the tall young man who preceded him in what the late Mr Ambrose Weare would have described as his best bedside manner.
"Not at all — not at all. You've been most patient. A very troublesome business getting married." Mr Page laughed his mellow laugh.
Jervis Weare did not laugh, but neither did he frown. He turned with a trace of effort and said, speaking quickly and boyishly.
"It's you who have been patient, Mr Page. I — I'm afraid I'm not a very patient person. I — I'd like to say thank you for all the trouble you've taken." And with that he shook hands impetuously and was gone. The door slammed.
Mr Page put up his hand to his glasses.
"Dear me!" he said. "Very like his grandfather — but I think more heart. Well, well, he is marrying a very charming girl — quite beautiful in fact. A most satisfactory affair in every way. Yes — yes. Ah, Miss Forsyth! Do you know whether Miss Villiers has found that mortgage I was asking for? The Heaston estate. Gross carelessness if it has been mislaid — very gross carelessness indeed. What is the matter, Miss Forsyth? You look extremely pale. Are you ill?"
"Oh no, sir."
"You look extremely pale. It would be most inconvenient if you were to be ill at this juncture, but I do not want you to work if you are not feeling fit."
"I am quite well."
The outer door had shut with a clang. It was this clang that had shaken her, and shaken the room so that everything in it was trembling just a little. The door-frames, and the window-sill, and the table at which she was sitting were all moving, shaking, trembling, as if she was seeing them through a shimmering haze. She bit hard into her lip and bent forward over the table. The room cleared; the furniture and the door-frames became solid and distinct.
Jervis Weare had gone out of her life.CHAPTER 3
"I haven't found it," said Miss Villiers. "What time did you say it was? One o'clock? My! Well, that means I'll have to give up lunch and go on looking for it. Regular old Bluebeard, I call him, to keep me starving, while as likely as not he's drinking port and champagne and eating the best of everything. I know what I'd have if I was him — chicken and mushrooms, and one of those ice puddings like they gave the recipe for in last week's Ladies' Friend — pineapple and cream inside, and a hot chocolate sauce all over." She sighed voluptuously. "One thing, going without lunch is good for the figure. I say, dear, you wouldn't like to stay and help me, I suppose?"
Nan shook her head. She was pulling on a small black hat. She picked up her hand-bag and made for the door.
"I've got to get home," she said.
Miss Villiers stared.
"What do you want to do that for? If you bus it, it costs you as much as the difference between feeding at home and feeding out, and if you walk, why it's as much as you'd do to get there and back in the time."
Nan nodded absently.
"Right as usual, Villiers," she said.
As a rule she brought sandwiches to the office, or had a cup of tea, and an egg if funds were high, or a bun if they were low, at a tea-shop round the corner. She only went home when it seemed impossible to leave Cynthia for the whole day. Today was one of the days when it did not seem possible. She committed the extravagance of taking a bus, because this would give her forty minutes with Cynthia. She had ten minutes to put Jervis Weare out of her thoughts, and get the colour back into her cheeks. She rubbed them vigorously as she climbed Mrs Warren's stair, which smelt of lodgers' dinners, to the room at the top of the house which had been home for the last two years.
She opened the door, and if she had had a thought to spare for herself, she would have known at once that, like Miss Villiers, she would probably have to go lunchless today. She had told Cynthia that she was coming back. They would have scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes, cooked on their gas ring. Cynthia was to buy the eggs, but it was quite obvious that Cynthia had not done so, since she was still in her dressing-gown.
Nan took a breath, and shut the door behind her.
"Well, Cynthy?" she said.
Excerpted from Nothing Venture by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1932 J.B. Lippincott Company. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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