Jenny Maxwell is a bright young child. After an automobile accident leaves her barely able to walk, she retreats into a world of fantasy, devouring novel after novel of steamy romance. Now she has begun to write, and for a twelve-year-old she shows great promise. After she sends her work off to a publisher, the house sends a representative to meet the young woman and guide her. But the stories she tells him are hardly fictional. Trapped in her room for hours at a time, Jenny hears all. She knows about the young woman who disappeared from town, and about the strange young man who works at the nearby military research center. What sounds like harmless gossip could actually be a grave threat to national security—one which only private investigator Miss Silver is capable of unearthing.
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 © 1955 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
ROSAMOND WALKED IN the dark wood. The trees were leafless overhead, and the earth soft and damp underfoot with the thick carpet strewn there by the autumn winds. There had been so much rain in the last few days and nights that the dead leaves no longer rustled as she walked. The wood lay at the bottom of the garden, but once you had passed the two great oak trees which guarded the entrance you might have been a hundred miles away from that, or from the house, or the road which lay beyond the winding drive. Out of sight, out of mind. What the eye does not see the heart does not grieve over. Those were old true proverbs. If you could not see the road, what did it matter who travelled along it? If you could not see the house, what did it matter who lived there? Whether it was the long-ago Crewes who had their time of fame and fortune, or Lydia Crewe who had been born too late for it and spent a grey life mourning for the loss, or whoever was to come after her, whether it was Rosamond and Jenny Maxwell, or another? Once you were in the wood, it didn't matter at all, because there wasn't any house to be compassed with observances and served with bended knees. There wasn't any past or future. There was only the earth which had brought forth the trees, and the sky which made an arch above them. And that was why Rosamond walked in the wood. She could slip out of the everyday life in which she rose at six and worked with hardly any moment free, until at the end of the long day she lay down upon her bed and slept. For which reason she had somehow found the means to hoard or snatch these moments of escape. She had realized long ago that if she did not have them she would not be able to go on. She must be able to get away to where she was no longer just someone who answered bells, wrote letters, did the shopping, gave a hand here, there and everywhere, and generally kept things going. She must be able to get away—
But there was someone whom she could not leave behind her. She could never leave Jenny, because Jenny was in her heart, and you cannot leave your heart behind you however far you go. So now as she walked in the wood, the thought of Jenny came with her and walked there too. A foolish loving picture, because the real Jenny would have hated to walk in a damp wood with only leafless boughs between her golden head and the night sky. Jenny loved warmth and colour and light, Jenny loved voices and music, and the bright glow of the fire. She could never understand why Rosamond left these things to go down through the dripping garden to walk in a lonely wood. But then she had long ago made up her mind that grown-up people did very odd things. Now when she was grownup herself she had quite made up her mind what she would do. She wouldn't stay stuck down in the country – not once she could choose for herself. She would go up to London, and she would live in a flat right on the top of the highest house she could find and whoosh up and down in a fast exciting lift – the sort where you press a button whenever you want to and it's just like flying. And she would write books that would sell for thousands and thousands of pounds, and her back wouldn't bother her any more, so she would go dancing every night and have the most wonderful dresses in the world. Of course she would give half the money to Rosamond, because Rosamond would have to come too. She couldn't do without her. Not yet – not till she was quite grown up, and that wouldn't be for another five or six years, till she was seventeen or eighteen. It seemed a terribly long time to wait.
Down in the wood Rosamond watched the tracery of black branches against the soft deep grey of the sky. She had been standing quite still for a long time. Something small and furry ran over her foot. An owl swooped. It was as white as a cloud and it made no sound. It swooped, and it was gone as if it had never been. Very faint and far away the clock of the village church struck six. She drew in a long breath of the cold, damp air and went out between the oak trees into the everyday world again.CHAPTER 2
SHE CAME IN by a side door and along an unlighted passage to the hall, where a single bulb diffused what did not amount to much more than a glimmer. The big fireplace was a black cave, the stairway plunged in gloom, the door with its massive bolts like something to keep a prisoner in, or a true love out. Jenny used it constantly in the tales she wrote. She had a secret fear of it, as she had of the shadowy ancestors who stared down from their portraits upon the hall where they had walked, and talked, and laughed, and loved, and hated in the old days.
These were Jenny's thoughts, not Rosamond's. Once she had come out of the wood Rosamond had no time for fancies. The hall was dark because electric light cost money, and having spent what she considered a vast sum on putting it in, Miss Lydia Crewe was at some pains to ensure that it should be as little used as possible. How much money there really was, no one had any idea but Lydia Crewe. The house was to be kept up, but there was no money for what she considered the fantastic wages of the present day. The old furniture must be polished, the old silver must be bright, and since Mrs Bolder in the kitchen and the couple of village girls who came in by the day could not possibly achieve the standard she demanded, it was Rosamond who must make good what they left undone.
She was crossing the hall, when there was a knocking on the heavy door. If the bell had rung, Mrs Bolder might have heard it, or she might not. In the face of a good deal of pressure she retained a strong conviction that it was not her place to answer the front door bell. There should have been a butler to do that, or at least a parlourmaid. That Miss Rosamond should answer it really shocked her. It wasn't what she had been used to, and she didn't know what things were coming to. But as to herself, farther than the back door she wouldn't demean herself, not if it was ever so.
Rosamond, being fully aware of these sentiments, concluded that the bell must have been ringing for some time, and that the now continuous knocking was a last desperate effort to attract attention. As she drew back the bolts she wondered who could be there, since anyone who knew the ways of the house would come round to the west wing where Lydia Crewe kept her state and she and Jenny were tucked away.
She opened the door and saw Craig Lester standing there – beyond him the vague shape of a car. What light there was showed him big and solid in a heavy coat. When for a moment he said nothing, the height and bulk of him began to seem oppressive. There was something strange about the way he just stood there and looked, as if there were things to be said between them and he could not come by the words. The impression was there as she drew in her breath, and gone before she could take another.
And then he was saying in a deep, pleasant voice,
'Is this Crewe House?'
It might be someone asking his way. But apparently it was not, for right on the top of her 'Yes' he was asking for Jenny – Jenny!
'I've called to see Miss Jenny Maxwell.'
'I am not speaking to her, am I?'
He did not think so for a moment – it was the obvious thing to say. Her 'Oh, no,' was what he expected.
As she spoke she turned a little, her hand still on the door, and with what light there was no longer directly behind her, he could see that there was really no mistake. He hadn't expected her to be Jenny Maxwell, and he had no idea who she was now, but that she was the original of the photograph he could not doubt. The tall, graceful figure, the dark clustering hair, the way she held her head – all these had brought conviction even before she turned. Now, looking from the darkness of the porch, he saw her face in the faintly glowing twilight which filled the hall. It was rather like seeing a reflection in water, because he could only guess at the colour which a fuller light would show. The eyes were shadowed. They might be brown, or grey, or a very dark blue. But the brows over them were the brows of the picture, strongly marked, with the odd lift and tilt which gave the face its own decided character. Another woman might have the wide generous mouth, the line of cheek and chin, but those lifting brows could belong to no one else. They certainly didn't belong to the Jenny Maxwell who had written to him. He said,
'It is rather a late hour to call, I'm afraid, but I was passing this way, and I hoped that it might be possible for me to see her. I ought to have been earlier, but I had a puncture, and then lost my way in your winding lanes.'
She took a step back.
'Miss Jenny Maxwell. She lives here, doesn't she?'
Her voice had a doubtful tone. A perfectly strange man coming in out of the night and wanting to see Jenny – it didn't seem to be the sort of thing that happened, and here it was, happening. She said with a simple directness which he liked,
'I am her sister, Rosamond Maxwell. Do you mind telling me why you want to see Jenny?'
He said, 'She wrote to me.'
'Jenny wrote to you?'
'She didn't tell you?'
'No – no—'
'And you don't know who I am?'
He produced a card and held it out. She read, 'Mr Craig Lester.' Under the words a second name was added in pencil – 'Pethertons'.
Rosamond began to understand. She stood back a little farther. He came across the threshold, took the door from her hand, and shut it behind him.
'You mean you are from Pethertons the publishers? Jenny wrote to them?'
'I seem to be betraying a confidence! But she isn't very old, is she?'
'Jenny is twelve – and she should have told me. I am just wondering where we can talk. You see, most of the house isn't used – it will all be dreadfully cold. My aunt has her rooms, and Jenny and I have a sitting-room, but I would rather talk to you first, if you wouldn't mind its being not at all warm.'
He was so much intrigued that he would have accepted an invitation to the Arctic circle. Certainly he would have done a good deal more than follow her across the glimmering hall to a door which opened under the sweep of the stair.
As she switched on a single overhead light, the room sprang into view, small, with panelled walls whose ivory tint had deepened with age almost to the colour of café-au-lait. There were cracks in the paint, and there were worn places in the pale flowered carpet. That was the first effect that struck him, the cool pallor of the room – brocaded curtains and coverings so faintly tinted that they might have been wraiths of their own forgotten beauty – mirrors framed in tarnished gold, the glass too dim to reflect anything more substantial than a mist. But there was no dust on the exquisite old china which graced the mantelpiece, on the William and Mary cabinet, on the elegant pie-crust table between the windows. If the room breathed the very atmosphere of disuse, it was to the eye most beautifully kept. Craig Lester's eye was a discerning one. At a single glance it provided him with a good deal of food for thought.
He saw Rosamond seat herself, took the big winged chair which she offered him, and observed with satisfaction that her eyes were, as he had hoped, not brown or grey, but that very dark blue. But, like the room, she was pale. Her lips should have been redder, and there should have been colour in her cheeks. And she was thin – the delicate line of the cheek fell in a little. He saw that her clothes were shabby – an old tweed skirt, an old blue jumper, thick country shoes. The shoes looked damp, and there was moisture caught in her hair. He felt suddenly ashamed of his own warm coat. If she had been out in those thin clothes, and he was sure that she had—
To her 'You really won't be too cold here?' he found himself replying roughly,
'But it's you. I've got a coat, but what about you? If you've been out with no more on than that—'
There was something about the way she smiled that wasn't like anyone else. It had a quality which eluded him. Afterwards he thought that it was kindness.
'It was only to the bottom of the garden. There's a wood there – I like to walk in it.'
'In the dark?'
'Oh, yes. It's so restful.'
He knew then how tired she was. She was pale because she was tired. An extraordinary fierce anger sprang up in him. It left him astounded at himself, and with the feeling that what had started out as a momentary whim was about to turn, or had already turned, into a dangerous venture. He said nothing, because there was nothing to say, unless he said too much. To have come here at all was an act of incredible folly. Or the wisest thing he had ever done in his life.
She looked at him, a little surprised, a little doubtful. The impression she had had of him when she opened the door was borne out now in the lighted room. Some of the bulk was accounted for by the heavy tweed coat, but there was breadth and strength beyond the common. His features too were broad and strong, and very deeply tanned under thick dark hair so closely cropped as almost to defeat a vigorous tendency to curl. Almost, but not quite. Dark eyes, dark eyebrows, and, at the moment, a dark angry look. She did not know how it was possible for her to have offended him, but it certainly seemed as if she must have done so. Yet she had only spoken of the room being cold – and of walking in the wood. Now why had she done that? The wood was her secret place, the only place where she could think her own thoughts and be alone. She did not know why she had spoken of it to Craig Lester, or why it should have angered him. Her thoughts showed in her face – doubt – a shade of timidity just touched by surprise. And then she was saying,
'You wanted to talk about Jenny. You said she wrote to you?'
The dark look vanished. Laughter sparkled in his eyes. She liked the way they crinkled at the corners.
'She sent us some of her work.'
'Oh—' The soft sound breathed dismay.
'She wrote – a very precise and grown-up letter. She didn't say how old she was – after all, one doesn't in a business letter. It was rather on the lines of, "Miss Jenny Maxwell presents her compliments to Messrs Pethertons and begs to submit the enclosed manuscripts for their consideration".'
Rosamond's eyes widened, her lips twitched. She said,
'Oh dear!' And then, 'That's rather the way my aunt writes business letters. She is my great-aunt. She dictates to me. There was one a little while ago about a lease – the last bit sounds as if it had come out of that. She was writing to her solicitor, and she begged to submit it for his consideration.'
He threw back his head and laughed. She said at once in a tone of distress,
'You won't laugh at Jenny – not when you see her, will you, Mr Lester? She's proud and sensitive, and her writing means a tremendous lot to her. It would upset her dreadfully if you were to laugh at it, and it's bad for her to be upset. You see, she was in a very bad motor smash two years ago. At first they thought she would die, and when she didn't, they thought she would never be able to walk again.'
He saw the muscles of her face tighten and the moisture come to her lashes. He began to speak, but she put out a hand to stop him.
'I don't know why I said that – they don't think so now. My aunt offered to take us in, and Jenny has got on so wonderfully here. She can walk a little now, and they say she is going to be perfectly all right, only she must have a quiet, regular life, and she has got to be kept happy. If she is worried or upset she slips back again, so she mustn't be worried or upset. And the chief thing that keeps her happy is her writing. You see, it's dull for her. There aren't any other children, and if there were, she wouldn't really be up to playing with them, but when she writes it's like going into another life. She can make her own companions, and she can do all the things which she hasn't been able to do since the accident. You don't know how thankful I've been—' She broke off and looked at him, her colour risen, her eyes dark and bright with tears. 'You won't laugh at her, will you, or say anything to discourage her?'
He said, 'No, no, of course not. But I am afraid—'
'I didn't mean anything about publishing what she sent you. Of course you can't do that – she's much too young. But if there is anything you could say—'
Excerpted from Vanishing Point by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1955 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
First published in 1955, Vanishing Point is still a fun read. In fact, I really like these old mysteries. They have lots of suspects, lots of motives and are really good in the detecting department.In this installment of the series, Miss Silver is asked to go and do some surreptitious investigating in a small town where 2 women have disappeared and some spying is being investigated. Whether the two are related is what Miss Silver is to find out. When she gets to the little village of Hazel Green, Miss Silver meets the various townfolk: Mr. Craig Lester, a publishing agent, Florrie, a maid who seems to know all the gossip in the town; Miss Rosamund and Miss Jenny Maxwell, two sisters whose parents died leaving them to be raised with their domineering aunt, Lydia Crewe, the Cunningham family and the list goes on and on. As Miss Silver knits, the facts of the case become clearer to her until she is at last able to solve the mystery.If you want an easy read, don't pick this one up; it is written in the old classic mystery fiction style, so can get rather winded, but if you want to read a good mystery novel, then try it. I enjoyed it very much, but then again, I tend to like the older mystery novels more than the current ones!