Holly Howe is just beginning to succeed in in the cutthroat world of New York modeling when a car accident ruins her good looks forever and she is forced to retreat to the backwoods of Canada, to recuperate in her brother’s ramshackle country house. But Howe Hill is a wreck—dusty, ugly, and utterly lacking in modern facilities—and her brother is no more hospitable. So when Holly hears of a job in town taking care of Mrs. Partlett, an elderly, widowed invalid, she leaps at the opportunity. If nothing else, the Partlett mansion must have indoor plumbing. But Holly soon finds that while Cliff House is eerie by day, it’s terrifying by night. The other housekeeper is convinced it’s haunted by the ghost of Mr. Partlett, but Holly fears no poltergeist. It’s the old widow in the upstairs room that frightens her—and the secrets that lurk behind her dull, silver eyes.
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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
The Terrible Tide
By Charlotte MacLeod
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1983 Alisa Craig
All rights reserved.
"Watch it, fan," cried Holly. "You're popping your seams."
"I don't give a damn. Heave on this crowbar, can't you?"
Fan Howe was panting. Sweat beaded her blotchy red forehead. More stitches burst in the brown pants suit she'd bought three years ago at a Westchester shopping mall. Now it was baggy, stained, fuzzed with enough catches to make her look like a worn-out Teddy bear.
"I'm heaving as hard as I can, Fan. You know I shouldn't be doing this. They told me at the hospital to take it easy."
"You can't baby yourself forever," Fan snapped back. "Come on, put some beef in it."
"Three weeks out after four weeks in isn't exactly babying myself. Anyway, vandalism's not my thing."
"Holly, for God's sake! These old farmhouses are abandoned, falling apart. Why let good lumber lie around and rot? Roger needs it."
That was the clincher. What Roger Howe needed, Roger got, even if his wife and sister had to fight, steal, and wade through acres of poison ivy to find it for him. When Roger had decided to leave the bank and devote himself to his real love, which was certainly not Fan but the reproducing of fine antique furniture, Fan had left her comfortable home in a fashionable New York suburb and immigrated to Canada without a whimper.
Moving to New Brunswick had made sense, back in Westchester. The province had gorgeous scenery and status as a center for arts and crafts. Moreover, Roger and Holly had inherited a house there from some relatives they'd never seen. At that time, they hadn't seen the property, either.
Holly herself had never set eyes on the place Fan had grandly rechristened Howe Hill until she'd needed a quiet place to recuperate and decided she might as well claim her half-share of its amenities. She'd soon found out there weren't any, except for a handsome view of the Bay of Fundy and its incredible tides. The house was almost as derelict as the one she and Fan were dismantling now. Holly was still stunned at Fan's calm acceptance of its discomforts and inconveniences for the sake of Roger and his art.
She was also astonished by her brother's emergence as a master craftsman. That he was still the self-centered cold fish she'd known and mildly disliked since she could remember came as no surprise at all.
Nobody could actively hate Roger Howe. He never did anything rotten, at least not on purpose. His manners were courteous even when they didn't have company. When he remembered to say anything at all, he made the right sorts of noises. On the surface, Roger was a model husband and a fair enough brother, but if Holly'd realized what he was really like to live with, she'd have stayed far, far away from Howe Hill.
How could she have known? Born fifteen years apart to career-oriented parents, she and he had never been given much chance to get acquainted. When she was little, Holly had met her big brother now and then on stopovers between school and summer camp. She had vague memories of a tall youth, handsomer than she'd ever be, who'd stayed in his room assembling model airplanes and never said anything to her except, "Don't touch my tools." Why couldn't he be here to say it now?
Goaded to desperation, Holly threw all her weight on the hateful crowbar. Rusty nails gave with a screech. Fan whooped.
"Look at that! Roger will swoon for joy."
Holly doubted that. She'd never seen her brother joyful, not even at his wedding, where she'd been forced to wear a silly pink ruffled gown and a Little-Bo-Peep bonnet. She'd thrown up in the bonnet at the reception to show them they couldn't make a fool of her and get away with it.
After that, Roger and Fan had been rather standoffish with Holly until they'd met again at the funeral. Their parents had been killed in a car smash. Holly had cried because she'd always hoped some day her mother and father would stick around long enough so she could get to know them, and now she never would. Roger had shown only a decent gravity until he'd found out his only legacy was a few thousand dollars and half-interest in the Canadian farmhouse. Then he'd blown his stack.
"Come on," Fan was urging. "Let's get the rest of it." Sighing, Holly picked up the wrecking bar and tried to dig it in behind what must once have been a charming overmantel. "Not that way! You'll splinter the wood." Fan grabbed the tool and worked it skillfully under the wide board. "Good work, Fan. You're quite a demolition expert."
"I ought to be. I've done enough of it by now."
Fan wasn't complaining, merely stating a fact. Maybe she was happier in Jugtown than she'd been back in Westchester. There she'd played the model housewife, angling for Roger's praise and getting only his calm acceptance. Here she could wallow in valiant self-sacrifice as she battled tooth and claw to make her husband's dream come true.
Roger ought to be pleased by today's haul, assuming he had no qualms about receiving stolen property. Anyway, Fan didn't seem to need so many pats on the head as she used to. She'd made up her mind she was married to a genius. Everybody knew what wives of great men had to go through before they got to write their memoirs. Fan was already compiling her scrapbook.
Holly might come in for a paragraph or two. "My sister-in-law, tragically disfigured by the accident that ended her career as a professional model—"
Nuts to that. Holly wasn't going to be disfigured. At least not permanently. Anyway, not much. She'd get back into modeling.
Sure she would. The scars on her face and body had to heal before plastic surgery could begin. Then there'd be more healing, and by then she'd have lost her contacts. The flesh machine would have ground out too many fresher, smoother, prettier, younger girls. She was a has-been at twenty-one, and she might as well admit it.
Right now, Holly didn't care as much as she'd thought she would. Modeling was just something she'd drifted into because her half of the inheritance hadn't been enough to send her to college. She'd done some fashion shows, then wound up in front of a camera because she was tall and skinny and had good cheekbones. Having no illusions about her beauty or talent, she'd been untemperamental to work with. Photographers liked her vivid blue eyes, her habit of turning up on schedule with her face already fixed and her light brown hair already combed. They'd begun steering better assignments her way. She'd been on the way up, until she'd been so suddenly and agonizingly brought down. Well, back to the wrecking bar.
They were in luck. The nail holes had rotted out and the panel came off without a struggle. Holly was all for quitting then and there, but Fan insisted they stay and rescue as many as they could of the old hand-forged nails.
That was a tedious, touchy job. If pulled too fast or bent too far, the nails would snap off. Holly broke two, then left the rest to Fan and went to stare out the window. This was beautiful country, if only she didn't have to view it while listening to her sister-in-law's groaning and muttering. She tried to concentrate on the birds flitting among the tangled briars she and Fan would soon have to fight their way through to where they'd hidden the truck. All at once, something else caught her attention.
"What do you know? We're going to have company."
"Who? Where? Quick, get back from that window."
"What for? I thought you said we weren't doing anything wrong."
"Don't be funny." Fan elbowed Holly out of the way and peeked anxiously through the spider-webbed pane. "It's okay, they're turning—well, can you beat that?"
"Beat what?" Holly managed to catch a glimpse over Fan's head before the two walkers disappeared. All she learned was that the woman had glossy black hair and the man was wearing a tweed cap and a blue plaid shirt. "What's so exciting? Do you know them?"
"I know her." Fan's face was one vast, malicious grin. "So this is why she takes long walks in the country. For exercise, she says. I'll bet that guy gives her plenty."
"Goody gumdrops, a scandal. Who is she?"
"Claudine Parlett, the village virgin, or so we've been led to believe. She runs an antique shop and everything else she can poke her nose into. Come on, we'd better leave in case they take a notion to come back. Not that way, stupid! Out the side door."
Holly was only too happy to obey. They wrestled their booty through brush and briar to the Howes' old truck and stowed it under a dirty tarpaulin in case a shower happened to come up and soak the wood. At that moment there was only one tiny cloud in the whole, vast, late-summer sky. As Fan said, though, you couldn't be too careful.CHAPTER 2
Fan entertained herself all the way home wondering whose husband Claudine Parlett was sneaking out to meet. Since all the husbands in Jugtown dressed pretty much alike in tweed caps and plaid shirts, she had a wide-open field for speculation.
Holly, not knowing any of the men and not giving a hoot anyway, sat gritting her teeth against the lurches and yearning for the hot bath she wouldn't be able to take. The Howes still hadn't been able to afford indoor plumbing.
When they'd made their decision to sell out of the Establishment and move to the Good Life, Fan and Roger had been dismayed to find they really hadn't much to sell. They'd played the status-symbol game like their neighbors even though Roger's salary at the bank had been barely adequate to keep them afloat. Their equity in the Westchester house had been next to nil. Furnishings they couldn't afford to ship had been sacrificed for whatever they'd bring. They'd practically been down to living on roots and berries before Roger landed his first and only customer.
They were still struggling to make ends meet. Holly's contribution to the weekly housekeeping money was already making a difference in the standard of living at Howe Hill. It was as well Fan and Roger didn't know how little was left of that fabulous model's income she'd supposedly been making. Holly had a pretty clear idea of how welcome she'd be once her cash ran out. If she was forced to leave before she healed, though, where could she go?
At least the hideous ride was over. Fan swung the rattling truck into the weedy, unkempt dooryard. Holly tried to heave herself out of the van. The deep slash on her left thigh, kept unhealed and inflamed by overexertion, gave such a wicked twinge that she fell back on the seat with a yelp.
"Hold on, let me give you a hand."
That was Roger's lone assistant, Bert Walker, the only one around here who ever appeared to remember that Holly was a human being with genuine medical problems. In fact, for an old gaffer who looked, smelled, and often talked like a hobo, Bert could show surprising gallantry. Holly sometimes wondered what his history had been. In any event, as long as she managed to keep upwind of him, Holly enjoyed Bert's company more than anyone else's she'd met so far in Jugtown.
Bert was her authority on local history. According to him, the first settlers were Loyalists who fled Boston around 1776. Among them were potters who sailed up the Bay of Fundy looking for a clay pit at which to establish themselves as makers of fine chinaware. They'd found some clay; but soon learned nobody in this wilderness cared about fine china, only heavy crocks to salt down their food in, and sturdy jugs to hold their drink.
Since the growing season was shorter than the drinking season, jugs sold better than crocks. Within a few years, the potters were concentrating on this one profitable item, and their settlement had become known as Jugtown.
The clay pit had been worked out long ago, but Jugtown hung on. Nowadays some of the locals were trying to capitalize on its quaint name, hoping to attract more tourists. So far, they hadn't. The antique dealers, the knitters and weavers and rug hookers, the whittlers who carved little sea gulls and perched them on bits of driftwood still had to rely on shops in more popular resort areas as outlets. Right now, Roger Howe seemed to be the only craftsman around who wasn't worrying about where he could sell his products.
Fan took credit for the recent upturn in the Howes' fortunes. It was she who'd pawned her engagement ring to pay for advertisements in a couple of antique collectors' magazines, and it was through one of those ads that they'd got in touch with Mrs. Brown.
Mrs. Brown, according to what Holly had been able to gather from Fan, was an interior decorator who specialized in doing period rooms for the rich and the even richer. Since fine antiques were becoming so scarce, Mrs. Brown sometimes had to resort to reproductions.
Naturally, such clients as hers would never be satisfied with ordinary commercial copies. Even the wealthiest and fussiest, however, couldn't cock a nostril at an expertly handcrafted replica of an authentic museum piece, made with eighteenth-century tools and techniques, using the same well-seasoned woods and even the same smelly glues that might have been found in the workshops of Samuel McIntire or Duncan Phyfe.
Roger had become one of Mrs. Brown's trade secrets. She'd promised to give him all the work he could handle, provided he stopped running ads so that her competitors wouldn't know where she was getting her fabulous reproductions. So far, she'd kept her word. For over a year now, Roger had been supplied with orders, including sketches, detailed explanations, and exact descriptions of what Mrs. Brown wanted, at such a rate that he was always behind schedule.
Because of his time-consuming methods and his fanatical insistence on absolute fidelity to every detail, Roger had lagged to a point where he'd been forced to get help with some of the less-exacting work. He was paying Bert Walker on a day-to-day basis out of the American cash with which Mrs. Brown always settled her sizable bills. At first Holly thought this was just sloppy business practice. Now that she knew where Roger got his lumber, she thought perhaps there was more to it than sloppiness.
Fan must be bursting to show Roger the magnificent slabs of solid walnut they'd ripped off, but she wouldn't remove the tarpaulin while Bert was still around. He'd be too apt to recognize whose parlor the paneling had come from. Holly would have liked to keep the handyman chatting awhile, just to get back at Fan for making her help, but she was in no shape for conversation. Moving stiffly because her leg was hurting so much, she started toward the house.
"I'm going to lie down for a while."
"Oh?" Roger was cool and courteous as always. "I thought you might enjoy helping Fan fix dinner."
"I can manage by myself," snapped his wife. "I always do, don't I?"
The resentment that had been boiling up ever since Holly'd got here finally spilled over. "Listen to me, both of you. When I wrote about coming up here, I explained that I'd been badly injured and needed to rest. You told me to come ahead and take it easy, but from the minute I got here, you've been running me like a pack horse. If I'd known what you had in mind, I'd have gone someplace where I'd at least get paid for doing it instead of slaving my guts out and paying board on top of it, in a house that's as much mine as yours. All right, Fan. Now that you've tried to land me back in the hospital and set me up for a charge of breaking and entering, what's next on the agenda? Do I peel the potatoes or rob the town bank?"
Roger and Fan were both making shushing gestures, rolling their eyes at Bert, who was enjoying the scene hugely. Roger started a speech about giving his sister a richer experience of life in Jugtown. Fan fussed around being solicitous and placatory. Bert said the only thing that made sense.
"They need a hired girl out at Cliff House."
All three quit squabbling and said, "What?" in unison.
"Mrs. Parlett's still hangin' on out there by the toenails. Claudine was on to me about 'er Saturday when I went to pick up the groceries for Annie, askin' if I knew anybody willin' to help out."
The handyman had begun fiddling with his braces buckles, embarrassed for some reason. "Help Annie shove a little gruel into 'er three times a day an' change 'er nightgown, I s'pose. She can't do a hand's turn for herself, poor soul."
"Why? Does she have some awful disease?"
"Yep. I got it, too. Old age."
Bert didn't haul off the joke with his usual gusto. What was he so fidgety about all of a sudden?
"Who's Annie?" Holly prodded. "Her daughter?"
"Nope. I guess likely you'd call 'er the housekeeper. Annie's been at Cliff House long as I can remember."
Excerpted from The Terrible Tide by Charlotte MacLeod. Copyright © 1983 Alisa Craig. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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