The Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency are back in a witty and intriguing new mystery.
The Anwen Morris Dancers are to play a pivotal role in the imminent nuptials of Henry, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth. But it looks as though the wedding plans might go awry unless Mavis, Annie, Carol and Christine can help Althea, the Dowager Duchess, by finding a missing Morris man and a set of ancient and valuable artefacts in time for her son’s wedding.
Anwen-by-Wye might look like an idyllic Welsh village where family values reign and traditions still mean something in a modern world, but what will the WISE women find when they peer behind the respectable net curtains?
About the Author
Cathy Ace was born and raised in Wales, but now lives in Canada with her husband and two chocolate Labradors. She is a proud member of Crime Writers of Canada (CWC) and Sisters in Crime (SinC) and is the winner of the 2015 Bony Blithe Award. She is also the author of the Cait Morgan Mysteries.
Read an Excerpt
The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer
A Wise Enquiries Agency Mystery
By Cathy Ace
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Cathy Ace
All rights reserved.
Sunday, February 23rd
Henry Devereaux Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, was terribly worried about his imminent nuptials. He was utterly convinced that Stephanie Timbers was the right woman for him, and absolutely delighted that in less than a week she'd be his wife. That wasn't what he was concerned about. No, the cause of his emotional discomfort could be summed up in one word – 'tradition'.
Henry suspected he might blow a gasket if he heard anyone mention it one more time. Precariously perched on a rickety chair set against a wall in the lower library at Chellingworth Hall, he felt he could reach out and touch the word, so many people were saying it to him about so many different things. The entire staff at the Chellingworth Estate had been in uproar since he and Stephanie had decided when they would marry. He should have known how things would turn out back then; even the announcement of the date came with its own 'tradition'.
They'd been reliably and quite forcefully informed by his mother, the indefatigable Dowager Duchess Althea, that they couldn't simply put a notice in The Times; they also had to find themselves a gwadhoddwr to make the announcement. Not a real gwadhoddwr, of course, because roving young male bards were pretty thin on the ground in twenty-first-century Wales, so Ian Cottesloe, his mother's general factotum, had been 'volunteered' for the job. Henry and his fiancé had sat down together to come up with a series of rhyming couplets that told of their love for each other, their engagement, the date and time of their wedding and the fact that all those who heard the announcement were invited to attend both the wedding itself and the festivities that would follow. Then, pretending to be enthusiastic about it, Ian had read the poem aloud in English and Welsh at both village pubs and on the village green, as well as in the Old Market Hall and St David's Church.
Henry and Stephanie had chosen January 25th, St Dynwen's Day, as the date for the announcement to be made – the Welsh patron saint of lovers enjoying a much higher standing in the area than St Valentine – with the wedding itself to take place on March 1st, St David's Day, the patron saint of Wales. The entire village had been vocal in their delight at the news, despite the fact most of them knew it already because the Reverend Ebenezer Roberts had let the word slip over a glass of sherry in the Lamb and Flag after communion the previous week.
And that was when the assault had begun in earnest. It seemed to Henry that everyone and their dog had an idea about some sort of tradition that had to be observed for the wedding and everything surrounding it. It was enough to drive a man to drink. Indeed, Henry had found himself racing through his after-dinner brandies rather more rapidly than usual since then.
'People will want to be involved, Henry,' his mother had told him. 'When I married your father he'd been the duke for some time, and, as you know, we merely had a small ceremony in Chelsea Town Hall, as befitting a second marriage. When he married his first wife, his own father was still alive, and the same was true for his father before him. This is the first time the village of Anwen-by-Wye has been able to celebrate the wedding of a sitting Duke of Chellingworth in almost a hundred years. There will be many traditions you'll be expected to follow. And I suggest you do. This is a pivotal time for our family's relationship with the local community. Listen to what you're told and accommodate people. You'll be glad you did.'
Henry knew his mother was right. He silently admitted she usually was. She'd reached the admirable age of almost eighty with a reputation largely intact for her common-sense approach to life and her characteristically forthright attitudes on most topics. Known as a woman who was never backwards in coming forwards, Althea Twyst belied her small stature by holding her head high in any company, and always ensuring her views were heard.
So Henry had listened. And listened. Indeed, he felt he'd been more than accommodating of almost every madcap idea thrown at him. But this last one? It was just one tradition too far. With less than a week to go before Henry's big day, he finally felt the need to speak up.
Relinquishing his inadequate chair – the lower library had already been cleared of anything resembling a comfortable seat to allow for 'decorating' to take place – he marched into the great hall, mentally composing weighty, persuasive arguments as he walked.
His arrival in the imposing space was met by complete indifference; everyone was too busy to notice him. Voices were echoing off the venerable marble columns and floors, Edward his butler was shifting a table about and making a terrible racket doing it, his mother was waving her walking stick around and barking instructions about the exact positioning for the half a dozen harps that were due to be delivered on Friday afternoon – six full-sized harps! – while her Jack Russell, McFli, yapped at her heels. On the upper balcony, his fiancé Stephanie was saying something about the Morris dancers being late.
Waving a piece of paper under her nose, Henry Twyst whined like a small boy to his mother when he finally said, 'This is too much, Mother. I really do not care for the idea that Stephanie should be kidnapped by the bridal party, locked inside a house in the village, and I should then have to go yomping about the place pretending to look for her to be able to drag her off to marry me. Don't you think we could give this one tradition a miss, Mother? Rather unbecoming for me, don't you think?'
Althea Twyst, Dowager Duchess of Chellingworth, lowered her sturdy cane – which she insisted she carried about only so people wouldn't keep asking her if she was alright – and drew herself up to her full four feet ten inches. She looked up at her son with shrewd cornflower eyes, then down at her darling McFli with exactly the same expression. McFli stopped yapping, and sat quietly. Henry continued to whine.
'I realize it's an extremely old Welsh wedding custom, Mother, but I feel uneasy about it,' he bleated.
Althea bent down and patted McFli's little head, then stood very upright and stared at her son. 'Henry, I dare say at your age you would, indeed, look rather foolish pretending to chase down your bride, but that's not why I'm going to agree with you.' Her son's spirits lifted at the word 'agree'. 'I believe your wedding will be a richer experience for all concerned because you are observing so many of the traditions held dear by those who live on and near our estate, but the particular activity to which you refer is something I have already discussed with the Reverend Ebenezer Roberts, and we both agree it has no place in the twenty-first century. I dare say it meant something when it originated, though I happen to know that, even when its true meaning had disappeared into the mists of time and it had become a tradition more to do with making merry than the forceful taking of a woman from her birth home to her marriage home, many frowned upon it as anachronistic. Women are not property, Henry, as I am sure we all agree. Stephanie should be saved the ignominy of being treated as such. So I agree with you, but maybe not for the reasons you'd hoped. I believe people will understand women are now viewed, quite properly, as beings unto themselves, not mere chattel.'
Henry waggled the paper again. 'Tudor Evans has written to me on three occasions about the matter. He clearly feels it has a place in our wedding day.'
Althea Twyst looked at her son with a sad expression. It annoyed Henry when she did that; it made him feel inadequate. She sighed heavily. 'Tudor Evans might be the landlord of the Lamb and Flag, the churchwarden and the chairman of the parochial church council, but he's not God Almighty, Henry. You must tell him how you feel, and be firm with him. In fact, he should be here any minute, so you can tell him face-to-face.'
Henry felt his tummy clench. He didn't care for confrontation of any sort and began to panic that he might be forced to stand his ground, in person, in front of a man known to have considerable power and influence in the village of Anwen-by-Wye; the village sat upon land owned by the Twysts, and most of its inhabitants were Henry's tenants, but Tudor Evans was, to all intents and purposes, its de facto ruler.
Henry struggled to hide his emotions from his mother, though he suspected he was failing. She wasn't a hard woman – indeed, Henry knew she loved him very much – but she could sometimes be a little unfeeling with her words. He grappled with his fears, the turmoil making him bite his lip. His fiancé's hand touching his arm made him jump.
'Ah, Stephanie.' He smiled as he looked down into hazel eyes beneath glossy brunette hair. Henry thought his fiancé looked tired, a little drawn. He supposed that wasn't surprising; he felt much the same himself, and Stephanie was bearing the brunt of the organizing duties. True, she'd been working at Chellingworth Hall as a professional public relations expert and event planner prior to their engagement, so she knew what she was doing, but he had to admit she'd been doing rather a lot of it over the past several weeks. At thirty-two years of age Stephanie Timbers was twenty-five years his junior, and much more fit and lithe than he, but Henry had to assume that not even she was possessed of unlimited reserves of energy.
'Henry, the Morris dancers are late,' said Stephanie simply. Henry liked that she wasn't given to dramatics; he could never have countenanced marrying such a woman. He got quite enough of that sort of thing from his sister Clementine. 'They should have been here twenty minutes ago to discuss the exact plan for next Saturday afternoon. I know we have the general idea – that they'll dance ahead of us as we make our way from St David's Church in the village back here to Chellingworth Hall – but it's a pretty long walk, and I do feel we should be sure that they have something properly organized for the whole trip. I'm just going to pop to the estate office to find Tudor Evans's phone number, then I'll be back.' Stephanie flashed a smile at her fiancé, and made to head off to the west wing where the office was located.
At that precise moment the bell rang at the front doors, so Edward abandoned the massive table with which he was grappling to open them, allowing for the entry of a couple of men who needed to be divested of wet outerwear, waterlogged hats and umbrellas. Henry's heart sank as he recognized Tudor Evans's voice in the outer entryway. Not long now, he thought to himself.
'Terribly sorry we've been delayed, Your Grace,' said Tudor as he approached Henry, his wet hand outstretched. 'We've been waiting at the market hall for Aubrey Morris to collect us in his van, but he never arrived, so we've made our way on foot.' He looked toward the young man who'd arrived with him. 'I'm sure you know Aled?'
The younger man was in his twenties, Henry thought, so a good thirty years Tudor Evans's junior, and, whereas Tudor was tall and portly, this poor specimen was both short and decidedly weedy-looking.
Beaming at him, the young man stretched out a hand and said quietly, 'Aled Evans, Your Grace. No relation.'
It took Henry a moment to realize Aled meant that, despite the fact they shared a surname, he and Tudor were not related.
'I didn't see much point in dragging the whole troupe along,' said Tudor as the young man fell back behind his much more imposing namesake, 'but I wanted Aled to be here, as he is our caller – the man who will call out the steps and the dances as we progress. Of course I, as the squire, will have overall control, but I am a bit concerned that Aubrey isn't here. He's one of the few dancing musicians in the world of Morris. No standing about on the sidelines for Aubrey – he's known for his frolicking as he plays. Indeed, you could say Aubrey Morris is instrumental to our success.'
The ruddy-faced man stopped and grinned at his own pun. 'Oh – there you go – instrumental to our success!' He laughed heartily and, Henry thought, a little too loudly. A few inches taller than the duke, and somewhat greater in girth, Tudor Evans was the epitome of the sort of chap Henry would expect to be found behind every bar of every country pub. Henry thought the man could have modeled for a Toby jug – he even wore a yellow-checked waistcoat beneath his tweed jacket as if it were a costume from a performance in which he played a country pub landlord. Henry silently hoped the man's famed bonhomie would hold fast when the contentious topic of chasing one's bride around the village arose, but he feared it would not. Despite Tudor's beaming face and jovially rising and falling Welsh accent, Henry knew only too well that Tudor's reputation as the regulator of 'the right way to do things' in Anwen-by-Wye had been earned and honed over decades.
'I've phoned Aubrey, but I didn't get an answer,' continued Tudor, sounding concerned. 'It's puzzling; he's a reliable young man, you see. He's never let us down like this before. Never. Indeed, I don't know where we'd be without him. I was saying to Aled as we were walking here, he might have had a problem with his van. Maybe we'd better start without him? I'll take notes. How about that, Your Grace?'
Henry nodded and forced a cheery expression. Oh yes, you're all smiles now, Mr Tudor Evans, but it won't last, were Henry's thought as he, his fiancé and his mother made their way toward the woefully ill-appointed lower library accompanied by the unrelated Evanses, to discuss exactly what might be involved when a troupe of six Morris men, and a dancing Morris musician, were to lead a newly married couple and most of the inhabitants of the village of Anwen-by-Wye along a mile of winding pathways next Saturday afternoon, when the weather forecast promised 'intermittent wintry showers' and a 'brisk wind'.
Henry's tummy was awash with acid. He squeezed his fiancé's hand for courage.CHAPTER 2
Monday, February 24th
'Chrissy? You decent, doll?' Annie Parker called up the wrought-iron spiral staircase that led to Christine Wilson-Smythe's apartment at one end of the converted barn on the Chellingworth Estate now used by the WISE Enquiries Agency as its office.
A muffled reply told Annie her best course of action was to make a pot of tea. She was the first to arrive for the Monday morning meeting. She hadn't exactly run out of her little cottage in the village of Anwen-by-Wye, but she had scarpered the moment she'd heard her mother, Eustelle, head for the bathroom. 'Bye, Eustelle, mustn't be late for me meeting,' she'd called as she slammed the small but sturdy front door behind her. She'd just about got used to having to duck her head before she left, or entered, her home of just two months. A far cry from her ex-council flat in Wandsworth, the chocolate-box thatched cottage looked like her dream home from the outside, but she was having a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that four hundred years ago, when the cottage had been built, people weren't usually five feet ten inches tall, as she was. She was just grateful that a previous tenant had been allowed to dig into the foundations of the cottage to create much taller rooms on the ground floor, and that the upstairs rooms reached up into the rafters.
Its dimensions dwarfing her own little cottage, the converted barn was perfect for the agency's new HQ, not least, Annie ruminated as she filled the kettle in the kitchen beneath her colleague's apartment, because they got to use it for free. She'd been able to sell her flat in London for a good deal more than she'd paid for it, and now she had enough money in her bank account to allow her, for the first time in her life, to know she could feed and clothe herself for the next couple of decades without having to worry too much about how long she'd have to wait for a pension, or how tiny that might be when it eventually materialized. Of course, the fact that Henry Twyst didn't just allow them to use the barn for free, but was also allowing her to rent the cottage in the village for a ridiculously small amount of money every month, helped too.
Excerpted from The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer by Cathy Ace. Copyright © 2015 Cathy Ace. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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