Althea Graham might have had a life of her own, had it not been for her mother. But when her father died she inherited her bitter, temperamental parent along with the house, and she has borne that burden ever since. She nearly escaped once, but her engagement to Nicholas Carey caused her mother to fall into illness, convincing Althea to keep living with her until the sickness claimed her life. That was five years ago, and Mrs. Graham is as fit as ever. Althea’s gloom lifts when Nicholas returns, and it appears that love may bloom again. Mother clings as tightly as ever, of course, but Althea has hope once more. Then murder comes to their household, and the young woman’s last chance at happiness is dashed forever—unless Maud Silver, the gentlewoman detective, can save the day.
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
A Miss Silver Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1958 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
ALTHEA GRAHAM SLIPPED back the catch of the front door. Her mother had recalled her three times already. Perhaps this time she would really get away. But before there was time for her to think that it looked as if it was going to be fine, there was Mrs Graham's sweet high voice with its note of urgency – 'Thea! Thea!'
She turned back. Mrs Graham, having surmounted the fatigue of dressing, now sat very comfortably in her own particular armchair with her feet on a cushion and a pale blue spread across her knees. She was a small, frail creature with fair hair, blue eyes, and a complexion upon which she lavished the utmost care. As a girl she had had a good many admirers. Not, perhaps, quite as many as she liked to believe. Their number and the extravagance of their attentions tended to increase when viewed in retrospect, but she had been 'pretty Winifred Owen', and when she married Robert Graham the local paper described her as the loveliest of brides.
It was now a good many years since Robert had died leaving her with an income no longer so adequate as it had been, a devoted daughter – she always told everyone how devoted Althea was – and an abiding sense of injury. She hardly remembered him now as a person, but she never forgot the grievance. There was a good deal less money than she had expected. There were death duties, and there was the rising cost of living. These things were somehow Robert's fault. When the lawyer tried to explain them it only made her head go round. She gazed at him out of limpid blue eyes and said it was all very difficult to understand. And he didn't mean, he surely couldn't mean, that the house had been left to Althea and not to her! She couldn't believe it – she really couldn't! A mere child not ten years old – how could Robert do such a thing! And why was it allowed! Surely something could be done about it! It had all been most dreadfully trying.
And it didn't stop there. Incomes went down and prices continued to go up. Of course there was the house. Houses were worth more than they used to be, and she had almost succeeded in forgetting that The Lodge did not really belong to her.
Althea came a little way into the room and said,
'What is it, Mother?'
'Darling, if you will just shut the door – such a draught! Now let me see, what was it? Will you be passing Burrage's? Because if you were, I thought I might just try that new Sungleam hair-rinse. I thought of it this morning, and then I wasn't sure, but after all it wouldn't do any harm just to try it, and then if it didn't suit me there wouldn't be any need to go on.'
Time was when Althea would have pointed out that going to Burrage's would take her at least another twenty minutes, and that she was already late in starting because Mrs Graham had mislaid a pattern of embroidery silk which had had to be looked for, and had then called her back to say that she thought the last apples from Parsons' were not very good and why not try Harper's, and – yes, after all, she did think her library book had better be changed.
'And, darling, why don't you try some of that Sungleam stuff yourself? They have it in all shades. And really I don't think you take enough care of your hair. It was such a disappointment to me when it didn't stay fair – there really isn't anything like fair hair to set a girl off. But it had a nice gloss, and it used to curl quite naturally. You know, it's a mistake to let those sort of things go – it really is.'
Althea did not respond. She said briefly, 'I'll go to Burrage's,' and got herself out of the room.
This time she got herself out of the house too. As she walked down Belview Road she found herself shaking. It was not very often that she had one of those blinding flashes of anger now. She had learned to endure them and not to show what she felt. She had not learned, and would never learn, not to suffer when they came. 'It's a mistake to let those sort of things go – it really is.' When her mother said that, there had been the lightning stroke of anger and the old searing pain. She had let everything go because she had to let it go. She had let it go because her mother had taken it from her. It wasn't just her youth and the gloss and curl of her hair. It was freedom, and life, and Nicholas Carey. She had had to let them go because her mother had wept and pleaded, and backed up the weeping and pleading by a series of heart attacks. 'You can't leave me, Thea – you can't! I'm not asking very much – only that you will stay with me for the short, short time I shall be here. You know, Sir Thomas said it might be a very short time indeed – and Dr Barrington will tell you the same. I don't ask you not to see Nicholas – I don't even ask you not to be engaged to him. I only ask you to stay with me for the little, little time I've got left.'
All that was five years ago – it was dead. The dead should stay in their graves. They have no business to rise and walk beside you in the face of the day. They are not suitable companions as you go down Belview Road and let the bus catch you up, and do your errands. You must get rid of them before you change the library book, and buy the fish, and match the embroidery silk, and ask the girl at Burrage's for a packet of Golden Sungleam.
She got on to the bus, and found herself just behind the second Miss Pimm. There were three Miss Pimms, and almost the only time that they were ever seen together was at church. Not because they were not on the most affectionate terms, but to do their shopping and change their books individually gave them more scope. Neither a friend nor a shop assistant can talk or listen to three ladies at once, and all the Miss Pimms were talkers. If there was news to be had they picked it up, if there was news to be given they were forward in imparting it. Althea was hardly in her seat, when Miss Nettie had screwed her head round over her shoulder and was telling her that Sophy Justice had had twins.
'You remember she married a connexion of ours about five years ago and went out with him to the West Indies – something to do with sugar. Such a pity you couldn't come to the wedding. Your mother was having one of her attacks, wasn't she? Sophy really did want you to be a bridesmaid, but in the circumstances of course she couldn't have counted on it, and the dress wouldn't have fitted anyone else, but I know she was very sorry. They have three children already, and now these twins – a boy and a girl. Really quite a handful, but her mother tells me they are very much pleased. Of course they never write – just a card at Christmas. And we used to see her going by every day. Such a bush of red hair, but it lighted up well under her veil at the wedding. Dear me, it doesn't seem as if it could be five years ago!'
For Althea the five years dragged out in retrospect to three times their actual length. The attack which had kept her at her mother's bedside during the week of Sophy's wedding had marked the end of her own struggle. However often and however bitterly she looked back, she still couldn't think what else she could have done. Dr Barrington had been perfectly frank. If Mrs Graham ceased to agitate herself there was every prospect of her recovery. She would have to lead a quiet, regular life, but there was no reason why she should not live to a good old age. If, on the other hand, she was to be subjected to any more scenes, he really could not be answerable for the consequences. There must not, for instance, be another such interview as had precipitated the present attack.
The interview had been with Nicholas Carey, and it had ended with his banging out of the house. It was almost the last time Althea had seen him. The very last time was when she had gone up through the wet garden to the summerhouse and heard the rain fall mournfully outside as they took their last farewell. She had withstood his anger and his pleading. She had withstood her own crying need of him. She had lived through the moment when he put his head down on her shoulder. His hot tears had run down and soaked the thin stuff of her dress. It was the hardest moment of all, because she could feel his need of her. It was almost a relief when his anger came on him again – a cold, proud anger that sent her away and slammed the door between them.
All this because Nettie Pimm had told her that Sophy Justice had had twins! She could feel a little bitter stab of humour over that. And then Miss Nettie was saying,
'Mrs Craddock tells me she ran into Nicholas Carey the other day – in a lift at Harrods. She said he seemed to be in a great hurry, but of course one always is in town. He had just got back from abroad – but perhaps you have heard from him?' Her little birdlike face had an effect of pecking curiosity.
Althea said, 'No.'
Miss Nettie went on in her light, bright voice.
'Oh, well, people drift away, don't they? And one hasn't really got the time. But you used to be friends – really very great friends, weren't you? Only of course you are so fully occupied with your mother. And, by the way, do you want a very good daily – because Mrs Woodley is leaving the Ashingtons. Fancy, after all these years! But, you know, we have her cousin Doris Wills, and she says ...' Here Miss Pimm leaned right over the back of the seat and dropped her voice to a buzzing whisper. 'The old lady, you know – quite, quite off her head, and Mrs Woodley says if she doesn't get away she'll be going queer herself and that's a fact. So if you do want anyone ...'
They couldn't afford to have Mrs Woodley every day, and Miss Pimm knew it as well as Althea did herself. She didn't mean to be unkind, but she had a darting, probing way with her. She believed in frankness. People oughtn't to mind saying if they were hard-up. Althea could say so, couldn't she? And then she could sympathize and say how dreadfully dear everything was, and she would go home and be able to tell Mabel and Lily that the Grahams really did seem to be hard up, and what a pity it was. The fact that everyone on the bus would be listening did not trouble her at all. Neither she nor her sister had anything to hide, and why shouldn't everyone be as open as they were? There was, of course, no answer to that. Althea at any rate did not seem to have one. She leaned back as far as she could in her seat and said in a tired voice,
'Thank you – we have Mrs Stokes.'
'But only one day a week, I think, and I have never considered her really thorough. Now Mrs Woodley is first-class, and you would find her such a comfort. And you really do look very tired. You can't afford to neglect yourself, or what would happen to your dear mother? Now with Mrs Woodley ...' It went on until Althea got out at the top of the High Street.
She concentrated on doing her errands. That was something she had learned to do in the last five years. If you made yourself think about what you were doing, not just with a surface attention but as if each thing really mattered, it did help you to get through the day. She got the embroidery silk, refusing a near match at Gorton's and finding what she wanted at the little new shop in Kent Street. She bought fish and she changed the library book, and made the long detour to the hairdresser who sold the Sungleam preparations. There was just a moment when the drilled routine of her thoughts was broken through. She inquired about the shampoo for her mother.
'It's not a dye, is it?'
'Oh, no, madam. Is it for yourself?'
'No ... no ...' She was surprised at the sound of her own voice. It was just as if she was pushing something away. She went on hurriedly. 'It's for my mother. She has fair hair with just a little grey in it – really not much at all.'
The new salesgirl was a good saleswoman. She said she knew just what madam wanted and produced it.
'It's really good,' she said in a pretty, friendly voice. 'People keep on coming back for more. Now why don't you try it for yourself? I'm sure you'd be pleased. It's wonderful how it brings up the lights in the hair. Makes it ever so soft and pretty too.'
It was the girl's 'Why?' that pushed its way in amongst Althea's ordered thoughts. It hadn't any business there. It just gate-crashed and stayed – a determined and shameless fifth-columnist. Before she knew what she was going to do she heard herself say, 'Oh, I don't know ...' in the kind of tone which is a positive invitation to the enemy to come in.
The girl smiled up at her. She was an engaging little thing with dimples.
'You'd like it really – I'm sure you would.'
Althea came out of the shop with two bottles of Sungleam, one for fair hair and the other for brown. The girl had also sold her a pot of vanishing-cream, and had tried to persuade her into lipstick and rouge, but she had come to with a jerk and made her escape. Locked away at the back of her mind there were things which must on no account be allowed to push their way out. She was aware of them there, stirring, rising, struggling. Something in the hot scented air of the shop, the whirr of driers in the background, the rows of bottles, the creams and lotions, the vivid scarlet of nail-polish, the whole array of all the frivolous things that minister to beauty, encouraged them to struggle. It was years since she had had her hair done at a shop. It was years since she had stopped using make-up. It was years since she had stopped taking any interest in how she looked.
Five years, to be exact.
She walked on a little way, and then stood still. You can't just stand still in a crowded street. There has to be a reason for it. She turned and stared into a bookshop which was displaying about twenty-five copies of a book with a jacket where a scarlet skull grinned from a bright green background. It might have been twice as bright and Althea wouldn't have noticed it. If anyone saw her, she was just looking in at the window. No one was to know that it was because she could no longer turn her face to the street. Civilization has not destroyed the primitive emotions, but it insists that they should function in private. The extremities of happiness, pain, despair, and shame must not affront the public gaze. It was shame, burning and overwhelming shame, that had come upon Althea.
As she walked away from Burrage's with her shopping-basket heavy on her arm, two things came together in her mind. She had not consciously connected them, but suddenly she saw them in their true relation. Nakedly and plainly, there they were, inextricably linked. Nettie Pimm said that Nicholas had come home – he had come home, and she might meet him at any street corner. So she had bought face-cream and a brightening wash for her hair. If she had stayed in that shop for another five minutes she would have come away with lipstick and rouge as well. She hadn't thought of it that way, but that was the way it was, and she was shamed right through to her bones. It was like one of those dreams in which you find yourself stripped and bare in the open street.
She took hold of herself with an effort. The open street was here, and she had got to face it. And catch a bus, and go back to Belview Road. She became really conscious for the first time of the twenty-five scarlet skulls glaring at her from the shop window. Once you had seen them it was quite impossible to lose them again. They insisted on being seen and disliked, they forced their way in amongst your thoughts and occasioned an extraordinary revulsion there. Here was murder and sudden death. Crude violence violently displayed. And she was letting herself be worried about a hair-lotion and a pot of vanishing-cream! All at once something in her kicked and it seemed damnably silly. To start with, she probably wouldn't see Nicholas at all. People in the suburbs go up to town, but no one comes down from town to a suburb unless there is something to bring him there. There was nothing to bring Nicholas to Grove Hill. The aunt with whom he used to come and stay had gone to join a sister in Devonshire. There was very little likelihood that Althea would meet him round any street corner. But if by any chance she did, why should he see her looking as if she had been feeding an empty heart on ashes for the five longest and loneliest years of her life? It was true, but the naked truth could be a terribly shaming thing. She would never see Nicholas again, but if she did see him she would contrive to fly a flag or two.
Excerpted from The Summerhouse by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1958 Patricia Wentworth. 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series. Real British cozies and this one is one of the best . Get a cuppa and a scone and settle in for a great read.
The Gazebo is a very light feel-good murder mystery by Patricia Wentworth, where Althea¿s ex-fiance whom she hadn¿t seen for five years turns up and still cares about her, her mother whom was completely opposed to the marriage and had squashed the life out of Allie was murdered, and (semi-SPOILDER ALERT) they all lived happily ever after.I like this, but I'm under no delusions that it is brilliant.