They meet again in the dusk of a ruined garden. Amabel Grey hasn’t laid eyes on Julian Forsham in twenty years, not since she gave him up—the man she’d fallen passionately in love with—for the fiancé who needed her. Now an unexpected circumstance brings the British widow and the world-famous scientist together again.
Amabel’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Daphne, has been invited to join her friends—and the boy she adores—on a trip to Egypt. But she needs two hundred pounds from her mother. George Forsham is offering that exact sum to anyone willing to stay six months at Dower House, the centuries-old estate in the English countryside where Amabel and Julian first met. The fact that the overgrown, sadly neglected house is rumored to be haunted doesn’t deter Amabel. Until strange things start happening . . .
The mewing of a cat that doesn’t exist, the sound of flapping wings, someone crying in the dark. Are restless spirits walking the night? Or is there a rational explanation? Plunged into deadly danger, Amabel could lose her second chance with the man she never stopped loving.
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The Dower House Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1925 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
Amabel Grey was hemming the new curtains for Daphne's room. She sat on a low chair, and the bright orange-coloured stuff lay across her knees and was heaped upon the floor beside her. Daphne had chosen the stuff, but she was not helping to make the curtains.
"I suppose I ought to make her help," was the thought that slipped into Amabel's mind, only to be pushed out again. "You can't make people take an interest in things; but if only Daffy would —"
A little foolish blur of tears came between Amabel and her sewing. It cleared in a moment, but after a few more stitches she let her needle rest, and looked across at Daphne sitting idle in the window seat. Outside the rain was coming down gently, unremittingly. There was an open book on Daphne's knee, but it was at least half an hour since she had turned a page. The rain came down, and Daphne stared at it.
"She ought to interest herself in things — she ought, but I can't make her." The same thought, the same distress which it always brought. "After all, she's more Agatha's child than mine — it's Agatha's world that interests her, and Agatha's friends. I suppose it's natural enough — and of course Little Middlebury is dull, and the weather's been too dreadful."
Amabel took another stitch or two. Then she said, speaking rather quickly:
"Daffy dear, do come and help with this hem. It would be done in no time if you would."
"There's no hurry," said Daphne. She spoke without turning her head. Her voice, as clear and pretty as Amabel's, was a half tone deeper.
"But, Daffy, don't you want to see what they look like up?"
Daphne made a restless movement. Her book fell on the floor.
"I know what they'll look dike. The stuff was too cheap. It was stupid to get it, really. It ought to have been linen. Amber's curtains were linen." She spoke rather jerkily.
A wave of unhappiness swept over Amabel. Daphne was her only child, and such a pretty child. She looked at her and thought, for the thousandth time, how pretty Daphne was in spite of the shingled hair which she hated. Daphne had had such lovely hair — the silky, black hair which goes with blue eyes and a very white skin. Agatha had encouraged Daphne to have her hair shingled; but then Agatha was nothing if not modern.
Amabel wondered whether she would have let her sister Agatha have Daphne to educate if she had known what would come of it. Well, what had come of it? There was Daphne at nineteen, as pretty and charming as any mother's heart could desire.
"You can't say I haven't turned her out well, Amabel." That was Agatha's comment; and she had added, "You must move with the times, my dear. You're absolutely mid-Victorian. I always expect to find you in a crinoline, and your room full of antimacassars, and crochet mats, and daguerreotypes, and Family Bibles."
There were no antimacassars in the little brown room. It was a shabby room, but very comfortable. Some of the things in it were really old. The row of brightly coloured birds on the mantelpiece, for instance, and the miniatures of Professor Grey's great, great grand-parents which hung on the wall above. A little wood fire burned upon the deep, old-fashioned hearth. There was a great bowl of bronze chrysanthemums on the rather battered oak table at Amabel's elbow.
Agatha was certainly without justification. Agatha, when told so, had merely laughed:
"My blessed Amy, I'm not talking about outsides. In your true inwardness you are simply clothed in antimacassars."
Amabel was half laughing as she remembered this conversation.
"Daffy —" she began. But Daphne had sprung up, and was flying to the door. The postman's knock sounded, and she came back with two letters in her hand.
"Yours is from Agatha," she said, and tossed it lightly on to the orange folds that covered Amabel's lap. Then, sinking down upon the window seat, she tore impatiently at the tough linen envelope of her own letter.
Amabel heard a smothered "Damn!" She moved to get a better light on Agatha's illegible scrawl, and was in the middle of disentangling a long sentence in which the words Amber Studland and Jimmy Malleson occurred, when a sudden cry from Daphne made her drop the sheet and look up.
"Mummy, they want me to go to Egypt with them — to Egypt — just think of it!"
"Amber — Amber Studland. It's a party of eight. She says I must come." Daphne laughed. It was a laugh of pure, tremulous excitement. "I know what that means jolly well. Jimmy won't go unless I do — that's what it means. Amber would have seen me at Jericho otherwise; but — 'I must come.'" She laughed again. "Oh, my dear Amber, I'm not such a fool as not to see through you!"
Amabel pushed the orange stuff away, and stood up.
"Egypt! Just think of it, Mummy — oceans, and oceans, and oceans of sunlight, and — and a frightfully jolly party."
"But, Daphne —"
"There isn't any 'but.' It's simply the best thing that ever happened."
"It hasn't happened yet." There was a shade of dryness in Amabel's voice. "Is Mrs. Studland asking you to go to Egypt as her guest? Even so — Daphne dear, don't count on it; it's bound to cost a lot, and I don't see —"
"I must go." The words came quick and hard. "You're always thinking about what things cost. Why, it's simply the chance of my life, and she says —"
"Who's the letter from? You haven't told me — you really haven't told me anything yet, Daffy."
"It's from Amber of course, and she says — here's the place — she says it'll be quite a cheap trip. So you see —"
"Daffy, quite a cheap trip might mean almost anything. Does she say how much?"
"I expect she does. Amber's quite businesslike, that's one comfort."
She turned the page; and Amabel, watching, saw her face change. "She says" — the defiant note went out of Daphne's voice; it shook and fell to a whisper — "two hundred pounds — two hundred pounds — oh!"
There was a moment of dead silence; Amabel, distressed, seeking for words; Daphne, rigid, the letter in her hand.
"I was afraid," Amabel began.
Daphne turned on her like a wild thing.
"You always are. It's always 'No' to everything I want to do — no, look here, I was a beast to say that, I know it's the money. There must, there simply must be some way of getting it — there simply must."
Amabel put her hand on the girl's shoulder. She got an impression of something tense, of an excitement beyond her comprehension.
"My dear, let's sit down and talk about it quietly. You really don't think that I can find two hundred pounds! Why, it's a whole year's income — you know that, don't you?" She sat down on the window seat as she spoke, and tried to draw Daphne down beside her; but with a jerk the girl drew back.
"You could borrow it."
"And how should I ever pay it back? Ducky, do be reasonable."
Daphne retreated a step.
"I am being reasonable. I was excited at first, and I thought you'd understand." She paused, drew a long breath, and went on in a low, carefully controlled voice. "You didn't, so I suppose I must explain. It's not an ordinary visit. It's my chance — my one chance."
"I don't understand."
"No, I know you don't. It's — it's Jimmy," said Daphne defiantly.
"Jimmy Malleson, He's Malleson's Mustard, you know. The old man died last year, and Jimmy simply doesn't know how much money he's got."
There was a pause. Daphne tapped with her foot.
"He's flirted with lots of girls, so I wasn't sure. He's — he's frightfully run after, of course. I tell you, he simply doesn't know how much money he's got; and I thought he was just flirting till I got Amber's letter."
"Well, then I knew there must be something more in it, because Amber would give her eyes to catch Jimmy herself — I know that well enough — she's got a jolly soft corner for him. So when she says that Jimmy is going to Egypt with them, and that I must come too" — she laughed and tossed her head — "I know that Amber must think that Jimmy won't go if I don't. If she saw half a chance of getting him to herself, you bet she'd be on to it. I know Amber."
Amabel straightened herself.
"I dislike Mrs. Studland very much," she said. "Why on earth do you want to be friends with a woman like that?"
"Oh, Amber's not too bad. You can't blame her for playing her own hand. She's not a bad sort really. Why don't you like her? You only saw her once."
Amabel laughed — she had a pretty laugh. A whimsical expression came into her grey eyes.
"It's odd of me, I know," she said, "frightfully odd."
"But you must have a reason."
"Must I? Well, I expect it was her magenta lips. You know, Daphne, I don't think you need really worry about Mrs. Studland's attractions. I can't imagine any young man falling in love with a woman who makes up magenta,"
Daphne looked pityingly at her mother.
"But you don't know very much about men, do you?" she said. She spoke quite simply, from the heights of superior knowledge. "Of course Jimmy's rather old-fashioned; but men do admire what's smart and up-to-date — and Amber's simply nothing if she's not smart. Why, she told me we were going to wear things like drain-pipes at least a month before anyone else had the slightest inkling. Of course Jimmy's not in the least in love with her; but she's an awfully fascinating woman, and if he goes to Egypt and I don't —" The words came slower. Daphne took a step forward and went down on her knees at Amabel's side. "Mummy, I must go, I must. Manage it somehow!" The last word quivered.
Amabel felt Daphne's slight figure shake.
"Why, Daffy dear, how can I?"
"There must be a way, there must. Can't we sell something?"
"Oh, I don't know." She turned, leaning against Amabel, and looked about the room. "The miniatures — aren't miniatures worth quite a lot?"
"It depends who painted them. These are not valuable — and, besides, Daffy, I couldn't sell things like that."
Daphne drew away, got up.
"Why couldn't you?"
"Well, I couldn't. But indeed, they're not valuable."
"In fact, we've got nothing that's worth twopence!" She laughed — a little hard laugh. "Twopence or two hundred pounds is all the same if you're a pauper, isn't it?" Then, with a sudden change of manner, "You could borrow it though — I'm sure you could borrow it."
"I won't borrow what I can't pay back. How can I? It isn't honest."
"But you don't understand. If I marry Jimmy, I shall be able to pay you back a hundred times over. Mummy, think what it means. Think! It's my one chance of getting out of all this. You know it is. If I was to live in Little Middlebury on two hundred a year, you should have kept me here and sent me to the village school. You didn't. You let Agatha have me. You let her send me to Paris and Lausanne. You let me see all the things that I want — and then you say, 'No, you can't have them. Come and live in Little Middlebury, and take an interest in the parish pump.'"
"Daffy!" said Amabel, very pale.
"It's true. You know quite well that it's true. I don't blame Agatha; I blame you. You shouldn't have let her have me. I suppose you'll say that you thought she'd provide for me. Well, so did I, and so did everyone. But, now she's married that little worm of a More-land, he'll take jolly good care she doesn't provide for anyone but him. No, Agatha's no earthly — I knew that the moment she told me she was going to be married."
"Daphne, wait a minute. Give me Agatha's letter. I dropped it; and there was something — something about Mrs. Studland." She took the sheet, turning it until she found what she was looking for. "Agatha's writing — really! She says: 'Amber Studland wants Daphne to go to Egypt.'" Her voice died into silence as she read on: "'Jimmy Malleson is going too. If you can possibly raise the money, let her go. It's a good investment. I believe he's seriously attracted; and there's money to burn there. There's surely something you can sell. I'll give the child a frock or two, but I can't do more. Cyril is inclined to be jealous, and I must walk warily.'"
"What does she say? Here, let me see!" Daphne's tone was sharp. She pulled the letter out of her mother's hand, glanced at it, and dropped it on the floor with an "Oh, damn Cyril!"
"Well, I told you it was no earthly. Now it's up to you. I must go."
Amabel looked steadily at her daughter.
"Daphne, don't speak to me like that. You mustn't, you really mustn't."
Daphne flushed. How Victorian, this insistence on their relationship! Her anger rose at it. The soft, hurt look in Amabel's eyes hardened her. That everlasting appeal to sentiment!
"Oh, let's be reasonable," she said. "Listen to Agatha, if you won't listen to me. Spend two hundred pounds now, and give me my chance. In six months I can pay you back a dozen times over."
"Daphne, don't! No, no, I really can't bear to hear you talk like that. You say, let us talk reasonably, but you're not being reasonable, my dear. If Mr. Malleson cares for you, he can come and see you here. Why," — Amabel's chin lifted a little — "everything else apart, Daphne, I don't think I care for the idea of my daughter running after this very rich young man."
If she hoped to sting Daphne, she failed.
"I'm not running after him. I'm only giving him his chance, and asking to have mine. If I don't go, Amber will play it as a trump card, and make him think it's because I want to avoid him."
Amabel bent down and picked up her sister Agatha's letter. When she had straightened it out and laid it on the window seat, she said:
"I don't want you to marry for money. Money isn't everything."
The brilliant scarlet flared in Daphne's cheeks. She caught at her self-control, but caught at it in vain. Springing back a pace, she faced her mother with her head up, and what Amber Studland had once called her black panther look.
"Who said I was going to marry for money?" she cried, speaking so quickly that the words tumbled one upon the other. "I want money — every reasonable person wants it — but if Jimmy hadn't a halfpenny —" Her voice broke. "Now will you let me go?" she said with a sob, and stood there panting.
Amabel got up, fairer than Daphne and a head taller.
"Daphne, do control yourself."
"Will you let me go, then?"
"My dear, I can't." There was a weary finality in the tone.
Scenes with Daphne were exhausting. They meant blow after blow upon the tender places of her heart — the pressure of a harder and more relentless nature than her own. She felt bruised, and very tired. But what could she do? This time Daphne was asking the impossible.
"You mean you won't," said Daphne on a low note that shook with pain and rage. "You won't do it. It's my one chance, and you won't give it to me. Can't you understand that I love Jimmy? Or doesn't it mean anything to you? After all, why should it? You simply don't understand. You gave up your own love affair pretty easily; didn't you? And I suppose you think that everyone's the same — but they're not — I'm not."
"Daphne, stop!" said Amabel in quite a new voice. But Daphne went on:
"You gave up the man you were in love with, and married my father. I suppose Grandpapa and Grandmamma told you to — he was Grandpapa's friend and about the same age, wasn't he? Well, you couldn't have cared much, that's all I can say."
Amabel stood rigid. The blows had never been so hard as this before.
"Daphne," she said with white lips that hardly moved, and in a voice which did not rise above a whisper. "Daphne, who told you all this nonsense?"
"Agatha told me — so I suppose it's true."
Daphne was a little frightened now, but still defiant. After all, she hadn't said anything very dreadful. It was absurd of Amabel to look like that. The anger, the buffeting emotion, ebbed slowly, imperceptibly; its place was taken by an odd embarrassment.
After a silence which seemed to last a long time, Amabel moved. Crossing the room, she began to fold up the orange curtains. She folded them very carefully, and put them away in the corner cupboard. Then she came back to the window seat and sat down. She did not look at Daphne, but said gently:
"Sit down, Daffy."
And, still in the grip of that odd embarrassment, Daphne obeyed. Amabel looked at her then. The scarlet colour was gone from her cheeks; her face was white, her mouth sulky, her eyes hard and very blue.
Excerpted from The Dower House Mystery by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1925 Patricia Wentworth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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