Meet Miss Maud Silver, a retired governess and “little old lady who nobody notices, but who in turn notices everything” (Paula Gosling, author of the Jack Stryker mystery series).
Dark Threat: Judy Elliot leaves war-torn London for a job as a maid in the peaceful countryside. But something’s not right at the house known as Pilgrim’s Rest. Fortunately Miss Silver is skilled at shedding light on deadly secrets . . .
Latter End: Wealthy Mrs. Lois Latter thinks she has everything, but that doesn’t stop someone from giving her poison. And with the late matron’s long list of enemies, Miss Silver has her work cut out for her . . .
Wicked Uncle: Gregory Porlock didn’t become one of Britain’s most powerful men by following the rules. But when he’s found with a knife in his back, the game is over. Now Miss Maud Silver must deduce who’s playing dirty.
Related collections and offers
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
Judy Elliot stepped off the moving staircase at Piccadilly Circus, and felt a hand under her elbow. As it was undoubtedly a male hand and she was not prepared to be picked up by something in the lonely soldier line, she first quickened her pace, and when that didn't seem to be any good whisked round with a few refrigerated words upon her tongue.
They never got said. The keep-your-distance look melted into one of pleased recognition. She tilted her chin, gazed up at a tall young man in a dark blue suit and a discreetly chosen tie, and exclaimed, 'Frank!'
Detective Sergeant Abbott gave a poor imitation of his usual rather cynical smile. He was in fact considerably handicapped by the behaviour of his heart, a perfectly sound organ but responding at the moment to a quite uncalled for access of emotion. When you haven't seen a girl for a year, when she hasn't answered your letters, and when you have convinced yourself that any slight interest you may have felt is now a thing of the past, it is extremely discomposing to find yourself behaving like a schoolboy in love. He couldn't even be sure that he had not changed colour, and, worst symptom of all, he was rapidly beginning to feel that, Judy being here, nothing else mattered.
He continued to smile, and she continued to tilt her chin, this being made necessary by the difference in their heights. The chin was a firm one, the face to which it belonged agreeable rather than pretty, the mouth wide and curving, the eyes indeterminate in colour but very expressive. They began at this moment to express surprise. What on earth Frank Abbott thought he was doing, standing looking at her like that ... She pulled him by the arm and said,
He came to with a jerk. If anyone had told him he would make a public exhibition of himself like this, he would have laughed in the idiot's face. He found a tongue very little accustomed to being out of action, and said,
'It's shock. You must make allowances. You were the last person on earth I expected to see.'
The gaze became severe.
'Does that mean you thought you had hold of a perfectly strange girl's elbow, and found it was me?'
'No, it doesn't. I should get the sack from the Yard if I went about doing that sort of thing. Besides, not very subtle, I can do better than that when I give my mind to it. Judy, where have you been?'
'Oh, in the country — We're blocking the traffic.'
He took her by the arm and steered for a backwater.
'Well, here we are. Why didn't you answer my letters?' He didn't mean to say that, but it came out.
'Letters? I didn't get any.'
He said, 'I wrote. Where have you been?'
'Oh, here and there — with Aunt Cathy till she died, and then rather on the trek.'
'No. I've got Penny — she hasn't got anyone else.'
'My sister Nora's baby. She and John went in an air raid just after the last time I saw you. All right for them, but rotten for Penny.'
He saw her face stiffen. She looked past him as he said, 'I didn't know. I'm sorry. What can one say?'
'Nothing. I can talk about it all right — you needn't mind. And I've got Penny. She isn't quite four, and there isn't a single other relation who can take her, so I've got exemption. What about you?'
'They won't let me go.'
'What rotten luck! Look here, I've got to fly and feed the child. We're staying with Isabel March, and she's lunching out, so I simply daren't be late. She said she'd have Penny whilst I shopped.'
He kept hold of her arm.
'Wait a minute — don't vanish till we've got something fixed. Will you dine with me?'
She shook her head.
'No — Isabel's out — there'd be no one in the flat. I can't leave Penny. And if you say what you were going to say, I'll never speak to you again.'
There was a rather sardonic gleam in the light eyes as he said, 'Undoubtedly an angel child. I adore them!'
Judy burst out laughing.
'Don't they teach you to tell lies better than that at Scotland Yard?'
'They don't teach us to tell lies at all. We're all very high-toned. My Chief is an esteemed Chapel member. If your Isabel March is out, what about my dropping in to help look after Penny?'
'She'll be asleep. I could do an omelette — reconstructed egg of course.'
In spite of himself his voice was eager. Judy wondered why. They had been friendly, but no more. They had dined together, danced together. And then she had had to go back to poor old Aunt Cathy, and he hadn't written or anything. Only now he said he had ... She wondered about that. She wondered if he was one of the out of sight out of mind kind, because if he was, she wasn't the right person to try it on with. A year's silence, and then that eager voice. And it wasn't like him to be eager. She recalled an elegant young man with a rather blasé manner. He was still elegant — slim and tall, with very fair hair slicked back and mirror-smooth, and light blue eyes which had appeared to contemplate his fellow-beings with supercilious amusement, but which at the moment were fixed upon her in rather a disturbing manner.
She began to regret the omelette. Because what was the good of being disturbed? She wasn't going to have any time for young men, what with Penny and getting a job as a housemaid. She had a moment of wanting to back out — she had a moment when she would have liked to run away. And then the voice of common sense chipped in with one of its most insidious and fallacious remarks —'After all, it's only one evening — what does it matter?'
She gave Frank a smile of pure relief, said, 'Half past seven — 3 Raynes Court Buildings, Cheriton Street', and walked rapidly away.CHAPTER 2
When one is four years old going to bed is a very important ceremony. Miss Penny Fossett exacted the full rites. Any attempt at hurry, any scamping, merely resulted in a mellifluous 'Do it again.' Judy's attempts to maintain the upper hand were conscientious, but they didn't always come off. The way of the transgressor was, unfortunately, so very beguiling. At the very moment of screwing herself up to be severe the infant sinner would remark with a heart-piercing smile, 'It loves its Judy', and fling damp throttling arms about her neck.
On this particular evening the bath had been a very lingering one. Isabel had unearthed an aged rubber duck from an attic in her mother's country house. It should, of course, have gone to salvage long ago, but had been overlooked, much to Penny's delight. When she could be torn away from it, there was not as much time left as Judy could have wished. Even if you are completely indifferent to a young man, you do like to have time to do the hair and give nature a helping hand with the face before he comes to supper. It is difficult to bathe the very young without becoming dishevelled. The old-fashioned Nanny could do it, but it is a rapidly dying art. Judy was hot and damp as she sat on the edge of her bed and held out her arms.
'Now Penny — prayers.'
Miss Penelope Fossett was wearing pale blue pyjamas. Her dark hair curled artlessly about her enchanting head. She had little pink ears and rather a heart-shaped face. Her eyes were unbelievably blue, her lashes unbelievably long and black. The colour in her cheeks was pure and deep. She diffused warmth, moisture, and a smell of lavender soap as she kneeled up beside Judy, bowed her head upon her folded hands, and emitted a long penetrating 'Moo!' If you laughed you were lost. Judy bit the inside of her lip, which sometimes helped.
'Penny! I said prayers!'
One blue eye opened, gazed at her with reproach, and shut again.
'It is saying its prayers. It's a moo-cow. That's the way they say them.'
It took about a quarter of an hour to persuade Penny to be human again. Even then a last faint contumacious 'Moo!' followed the final amen.
Judy turned a deaf ear, forbade further conversation, and went to tidy herself up in the bathroom. She had just come to the conclusion that she had never looked plainer in her life, when the front door bell rang and she had to go and let Frank Abbott in.
They made the omelette together in Isabel's minute kitchen. There is nothing like a homely, domestic job for breaking the ice. By the time he had laid the table, and she had called him an idiot for dropping the butter-dish, they might have been married for years. Over the omelette, which was very good and had all sorts of exciting scraps in it, Frank told her so. His naturally impudent tongue was his own again, but if he expected to raise a blush he was disappointed. Miss Elliot agreed with perfect calm.
'Yes, we might — only not so dull.'
'It mightn't be dull with the right person.'
Judy proffered tomato sauce.
'You mightn't think it was going to be until it was too late. I mean, we both like this sauce, but if we had to eat it at every meal for the next forty or fifty years we'd be bored stiff.'
'My child, you make me shudder! I can assure you that I have at least thirty distinct flavours — like all the soup and jelly makers used to advertise, and you could always try mixing them if thirty wasn't enough. Besides, the brain is not completely stagnant — I can invent new ones. You've got it all wrong. People are dull because of something in themselves — a tendency to stew over old tea-leaves — keeping the windows tight shut to prevent any new ideas getting in — all that sort of thing. You have been warned!' 'Thank you.' Words and tone were meek. Her eyes mocked him.
When she saw he was going to speak, she said with her best smile,
'How many girls have you said that to?'
'I've only just thought of it. It's their loss.'
Something made her say a little more quickly than she meant to,
'We're going away tomorrow.'
'Penny and I.'
With the feeling of having reached nice firm, safe ground, Judy could relax. The smile came out again, bringing with it a rather pleasant dimple.
'We're going to be a housemaid.'
'A housemaid. In a nice safe village because of Penny. Their total casualties up to date are one goat in an outlying field.'
'Did you say a housemaid?'
'I did. And if you're going to say I can do better than that — which is what everybody does say — you haven't tried, and I have. If I hadn't got Penny I could get dozens of jobs — but if I hadn't got Penny I should be called up. And I have got Penny, so that's that. And I'm going to keep her, so that's another that. And when you've got all that straightened out you'll find like I did that the only job you can get with a child is a domestic one — and you can only get that because people are so desperate they'll do anything. Think how nice and appropriate it is, the policeman and the housemaid having supper together!'
Frank looked down his long nose and didn't laugh.
'Yes, I must. I haven't a bean. Aunt Cathy was living on an annuity, though nobody knew it. By the time I'd got everything paid up there wasn't anything left. John Fossett had nothing but his pay, so there's nothing for Penny except a minute pension, and I want to save that up to pay for her going to school later on.'
Frank crumbled a piece of bread. What business had John and Nora Fossett to get killed in an air raid and leave Judy to fend for their brat? He said in an angry voice, 'Where are you going?' Judy was feeling pleased with herself. She removed the bread and told him not to waste good food. Then she answered his question.
'It sounds rather nice. Penny and I are to live with the family because — well, I rather gather the cook and butler put all their feet down and said they wouldn't have us. There are two Miss Pilgrims and an invalid nephew, and the house is called Pilgrim's Rest. The village is Holt St. Agnes, and —' She got no farther, because Frank rapped the table and said in the loudest voice she had ever heard him use, 'You can't go there!' Judy became Miss Elliot. Whilst remaining only just across the table from him, her lifted eyebrows and the expression of the eyes beneath them indicated that he had been relegated to a considerable distance. In a tone of suitable coolness she enquired, 'Why not?'
Frank wasn't cool at all. The detached and indifferent manner which he affected no longer afforded him any protection. He looked very much taken aback as he said, 'Judy, you mustn't. I say, don't look at me like that! You can't go there.'
'Why can't I? Is there anything wrong with the Miss Pilgrims? One of them came up to town to see me — I thought she was nice. Do you know them?' He nodded.
'That would be Miss Columba. She's all right — at least I suppose she is.' He ran a hand back over his hair and pulled himself together. 'Look here, Judy, I'd like to talk to you about this. You know you always said I'd got more cousins than anyone you'd ever heard of, and I suppose I have. Well, one lot lives just outside Holt St. Agnes, and I've known the Pilgrims all my life. Roger and I were at school together.'
She said with a zip in her voice, 'That probably wasn't his fault.'
'Don't be a fool! I'm serious. I want you to listen. Roger is just home from the Middle East. He was taken prisoner by the Italians, escaped, put in some time in hospital, and is still on sick leave. I've just had a spot of leave after 'flu myself. I've been staying with my cousins at Holt St. Agnes, and I saw quite a lot of Roger.' He paused and looked at her hard. 'You can hold your tongue, can't you? What I'm telling you is what everyone in the village knows more or less, but I wouldn't want Roger to think I'd been handing it on. He's a nice chap, but he's a bit of a dim bulb, and he's in the devil of a flap. I wouldn't be talking about it to anyone else, but you oughtn't to go there.'
Judy sat opposite him with her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes wary. She said, 'Why?'
He hesitated, a thing so unusual that it rattled him. The cool self-assurance to which he was accustomed had left him in the lurch. It was like coming into a house and finding the furniture gone. It rattled him. He found nothing better to say than, 'Things keep happening.'
'What kind of things?'
This was the devil. The gap between what he could get into words and what he couldn't get into words was too wide. And behind that there was the horrid niggling thought that the gap had only become evident when he learned that it was Judy who was going to Pilgrim's Rest. If it had been anyone else, he wouldn't have bothered his head.
Judy repeated her question.
'What kind of things?'
He said, 'Accidents — or perhaps not — Roger thinks not. The ceiling came down in his room — if he hadn't gone to sleep over a book downstairs he'd have been killed. Another room was burnt out, with him inside — the door jammed and he very nearly didn't get out in time.'
Judy kept her eyes on his face.
'Who does the place belong to?'
'Is he the invalid nephew?'
'No — that's Jerome. He's a cousin, a good bit older than Roger. Smashed up at Dunkirk. No money. They took him in — have a nurse for him. They're a very clannish family.'
'Is he, or is Roger, well — a neurotic type? Would it be either of them playing tricks?'
'I don't know. It wouldn't be like either of them if they were normal. And both things might have been accidents. In the first case a tap had been left running and a sink had overflowed. That's what brought the ceiling down. In the second Roger went to sleep in front of a fire and the whole place littered with papers he'd been sorting. A spark may have jumped out of the fire.'
Judy said, 'Is that all?'
There was a little scorn in her voice. It got him on the raw. He said more than he had meant to say.
'Roger doesn't believe his father's death was an accident.'
'Why doesn't he?'
Frank's shoulder jerked.
'Old Pilgrim went for a ride and never came back. They found him with a broken neck. The mare came home in a lather, and the old groom says there was a thorn under the saddle — but as they'd come down in a briar patch there's a perfectly believable explanation. Only that makes rather a lot of things to explain, don't you think? I don't want you to go there.'
He saw her frown, but there was no anger in her eyes.
'It's not so easy, you know. Everyone says there are millions of jobs, but there aren't — not with Penny. Even now people don't want a child in the house — you'd think you were asking if you could bring a tiger. And then a lot of them seem to think I couldn't have Penny if she wasn't mine. When I tell them about Nora and John they get a kind of we've-heard-that-tale-before look. I was just beginning to think I should have to go round with Nora's marriage lines and Penny's birth-certificate and even then they'd have gone on believing the worst, when I saw Miss Pilgrim's advertisement and answered it. And I liked her, and it's a nice safe village. And anyhow I couldn't back out at the last minute. We're going down there tomorrow. It's no good, Frank.'
He found himself accepting that. It laid a burden on his spirits.
Judy pushed back her chair and got up.
'Nice of you to care and all that.' Her tone, casual again, indicated that the subject was now closed.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Miss Silver Mysteries Volume Four"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,