Lois has always dreamed of being a Latter. The Latter brothers are both so attractive—nearly as handsome as their stately manor, Latter End. After she spoils her relationship with one brother, Lois succeeds with the other, winning his heart with her good looks and a sizeable fortune from her first marriage. But even after they’ve wed, she never quite fits in with the family. Still, she hardly expects them to kill her.
When the psychic Memnon warns her of murder by poison, Lois laughs it off and so does everyone else, but then, like clockwork, she’s dead. The weapon? Poison, of course. Only the brilliant governess-turned-detective Miss Maud Silver can solve this tantalizing case complicated by the bitterness that infests Latter End.
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 © 1949 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
The room had seemed dark to Mrs Latter when she came in, but that was because everything in it was black. The carpet on the floor, the hangings covering the walls, the long straight curtains, were all of the same even velvety blackness. But it was not as dark as she had thought. Through the one unscreened window light shone in. She found herself facing this light, as she faced the man who called himself Memnon, across the table which stood between them. It was quite a small table, covered with a black velvet spread, and seeming smaller because the old man in the chair was so large.
As she took the seat he indicated she looked at him curiously. If he thought he could impress or frighten her by all this jiggery-pokery he could think again. She was a fool to have come. But when all your friends were doing something you did it too. If you didn't — well, what was there to talk about? Everybody was talking about Memnon. He told you the most thrilling things. He told the past, and he told the future. He managed to make the present seem important and interesting instead of rather flat and dull, with the war over and everyone too hard up for words.
She gazed across at him, and could see very little more than his shape, and the shape of the chair against the light. The chair stood symmetrically to the window, outlined against it — high arched back, strong spreading arms. Rising above the back, an old man's head covered with a velvet cap. She didn't know why she was sure that he was old. It wasn't his voice or anything she could see. It wasn't that anyone had spoken of him as old. It was just an impression. With the light in her eyes like this she couldn't distinguish his features, only a pale, blurred oval, so much higher up than one expected. He must be very tall to sit so high. And he must have very long arms. It was a long way to where two pale hands rested upon the jutting arms of the chair.
As these thoughts passed through her mind, she was settling herself, laying her bag across her knees, folding her hands upon it, leaning back, smiling easily. It wasn't every woman of her age who could face the light with so much equanimity. Thirty-seven years had taken nothing from the smooth brilliance of her skin. They had only refined tint, features, and outline, leaving her a good deal more attractive than she had been at twenty. Mistress of herself, of her thoughts, of her life. Very much mistress of Jimmy Latter, Jimmy Latter's thoughts, and Jimmy Latter's life.
The continuing silence gave her a slightly contemptuous feeling. It would take more than a dark room and an old man looking at her to disturb her poise. The situation or the circumstances which she could not dominate were as yet an unknown quantity. She had sailed easily through her life and her two marriages. James Doubleday had left her his money. The unpleasantness about his will had been triumphantly surmounted. She had chosen Jimmy Latter to succeed him, and she was prepared to maintain that she had chosen well. You can't have everything, and the will had been still in doubt. Antony was very charming — when he liked. But you don't take the poor cousin when you can have the rich one — not at thirty-five, when you are old enough to realise that if you are clever you can both eat your cake and have it.
Not that Jimmy was rich — he had far less than she had imagined. But fortunately James Doubleday's will had turned out all right, and Latter End was really the setting of her dreams — small and lovely, untouched by the war, needing only the money she would be able to spend on it now.
If it had only been Antony's ... It might be yet ... The thought passed through her mind like a breath. Antony — she was lunching with him when all this mumbo-jumbo was over. Her smile became a perfectly natural one.
All at once she saw Memnon looking at her. With her eyes more accustomed to the curious lighting, she could see that his were very deeply set. They looked at her from overarching caves of bone. She could see heavy eyebrows blurring the arch. And then she could only see his eyes. She thought they were dark. He said in a deep, whispering voice,
'Give me your hand — both hands.'
Lois Latter hesitated. The voice was a whispering bass. It set up curious reverberations in the room. There was a crystal ball on the table between them. The light from the window struck on one side of it, making it shine like a moon half full. Lois dropped her eyes to it.
'Don't you look in the crystal? I thought you did. That's what I came for.'
He put up a hand and took the crystal away. She didn't see what happened to it. The half-moon went out. When he moved she thought the drapery of a cloak moved too. The crystal ball had gone. He said in that whispering voice,
'Give me your hands.'
She put them out as if she were pushing something away, and he met them with his own, palm to palm, finger to finger, stiffly upright, like hands conjoined in prayer. His hands and hers. Two pairs of hands. There was a tingling contact. It ran up her arms and down through all her body to her feet. Her breathing quickened. She wanted to speak, to draw away. But for once in her life she didn't do what she wanted to do. She sat still and suffered the contact and the tingling. Her eyes were held by his. There was a sense of contact there too, a sense of being probed and searched.
Then all at once it was over. He dropped his lids, withdrew his hands, leaned back, and said,
'You will have to be very careful.'
Something startled her — something in the way he said it, the very deep voice muted to the verge of inaudibility. She lifted her hands from the table and folded them in her lap before she spoke.
'What have I got to be careful about?'
The word came whispering into the air. Mrs Latter felt it vibrate somewhere deep in her mind. She waited for the vibration to die away. Then she said,
'What do you mean?'
'That you must be careful.'
'Do you mean that someone is going to try and poison me? Is that what you mean?'
His voice was rather louder as he said, 'It might be —' There was a considering note in it.
She thought, 'He doesn't know anything really — he's guessing. It's nothing.' Aloud she asked,
'Is that all? What is the good of telling me to be careful if you don't tell me any more than that?'
He took a long time to answer.
'Each of us has to guard his own house of life. I cannot tell you how to guard yours. I can only tell you it is threatened.'
'What kind of poison?'
'That is more than I can say. There are many kinds. Some threaten the mind, and some the body. You just guard yourself. I can only warn you.'
Lois sat up straight. Her voice was tinged with contempt, but under the contempt something jerked. She kept her tone steady, but she could feel fear twitching at it under the control.
'You must tell me a little more, I think. Who is threatening me?'
'Someone very near.'
'Man, or woman?'
'Man — woman — I think — I am not sure. It might be you yourself. It is very near — you are mixed up in it.'
Lois laughed. Her laugh had always been admired. It rippled sweetly through the room now.
'I assure you I have no intention of poisoning myself.'
He said, so low that she could only just catch the words,
'There is more than one kind of poison.'CHAPTER 2
Anthony Latter stood against the pillar and watched Lois come in through the swing-door and make her way across the anteroom to the inner lounge of the Luxe. He was in no hurry to go and meet her. It was always a pleasure to see Lois come into a room — she walked so well, and she looked as if she had bought the earth. The earth and Jimmy Latter. His mouth tightened a little. Poor old Jimmy. What did it feel like to be thrown in as a make-weight? Not too good, but heaven doesn't help you unless you help yourself. Anyhow here was Lois, as fresh as paint in a slim black suit which showed off her figure and flattered her skin, the white camellia of a blameless life at the newest, smartest angle, and the latest bit of nonsense adorning the auburn waves of her hair. As he went to meet her he reflected that he had never seen her with one of those waves disturbed. Other women got hot and untidy, their hair straggled and their noses shone, but not Lois. Ben Jonson's verse flitted ironically through his mind:
Still to be neat, still to be drest
As you were going to a feast.
Still to be powdered, still perfumed—
As he shook hands with her he wondered whether he dared quote the lines to Lois, and whether she would know how they ended if he did.
Lady, it is to be presumed ...
All is not sweet, all is not sound.
In fact, Ben liked 'er untidy.
He laughed, and thought he had better be discreet. He and Lois had done some hard hitting in their time, but this was another time, and — she was Jimmy's wife.
As they moved towards the dining-room, one of the great mirrors reflected them side by side. Lois thought they made an excellent pair. Antony was distinguished — that tall, light figure, and the way he moved. He was better looking than he had been two years ago. He was twenty-nine — a man was at his best at twenty-nine. Eight years between them, but nobody would have guessed it. She was still at her best. No one would take her for more than twenty-seven. No one would dream that she was older than Antony.
She was still pleasurably occupied with these thoughts when they arrived at their table and sat down. They persisted under the light give-and-take of talk. Was he really quite fit again? What did it feel like being out of the army after five years? Was he going to like being in a publishing firm?
'You — and books? A bit dry-as-dust somehow!'
A dazzling smile made the words a compliment.
Antony said coolly, 'I happen to like books — a good deal.'
It went through his mind how eagerly he would have poured out all his plans two years ago. It seemed incredible now.
She was saying, still looking at him, still smiling,
'I'm sure you'll make the biggest success of it, darling.'
The word jarred. Common small change of her set though it was, it jarred. He said,
'I shall undoubtedly discover best-sellers right and left.'
'You haven't changed a bit!'
'Haven't I? Let me return the ball. You look marvellous. But then you always did.'
'Thank you, darling! But a little less of the always, don't you think? Rather dating, I'm afraid.'
'You don't need to mind about that.'
She said, 'Don't be stupid,' in quite a natural voice.
That was the worst of it — it was too easy to be natural with Antony. It always had been. However much she struggled against it, there was the temptation to let go, to relax, to stop being what she wanted people to think her and just be herself — the self which she never allowed anyone to see — a self which Antony would probably not admire at all.
She laughed her pretty laugh.
'My dear, if I look like anything at all I'm a marvel. I've just had the most shattering experience.'
'Have you? Look here, I've ordered lunch — will you just take it as it comes?'
'Yes, please. You ought to know what I like — if you haven't forgotten. But really, darling, I meant it about the shattering experience. I've been to see Memnon.'
He gazed at her placidly.
Before she could answer, the waiter was bringing them fish. It was a curious moment to feel, as she did then suddenly feel, that she had been every kind of damned fool to let Antony go.
When the waiter had gone away she rushed into telling him about Memnon, because not for the world must there be one of those silences. Something in his look, in his dry, light tone, had got under her guard and shaken her as she had not been shaken for years. She must talk, make a good story of her visit, regain her cool direction of events.
When Antony said, 'That charlatan!' she was ready with a laugh.
'Perhaps. But, darling, such a thrill! It was worth every penny of what I paid him.'
Antony's brows lifted — odd crooked brows, black, in a dark sardonic face. Under them his eyes looked black too until the light struck them and showed them grey.
'And what did you pay him?'
'Ten pounds. Don't tell, will you. We're frightfully hard up and everything to do to the house, but everyone's going to him, and one might as well be dead as out of the swim. Actually, I suppose, one's been dead for years — the war and all that. But now' — she let her eyes meet his — 'I'm coming alive again.'
'Very interesting feeling. What did the magician say to you?'
She drew back. No good trying to rush him, he always hated it. Better go on talking about Memnon. She said with a catch in her voice,
'He was — rather creepy.'
'Part of the stock in trade.'
'No, but he really was. He very nearly rattled me.'
Antony looked politely surprised.
'He must be pretty good. What did he do — or say?'
He was looking at her with some attention. The clear, natural colour in her cheeks had ebbed. The women who refused to believe that it owed nothing to art would perforce have been converted.
Antony Latter made a mental note of the fact that the charlatan had really frightened Lois. He hadn't thought it could be done, but Memnon had evidently done it. It didn't occur to him then that her change of colour had anything to do with himself.
They were being served again. When their waiter had come and gone she said quite low,
'It was rather horrid.'
'Don't tell me he got fresh! But I'm sure you were more than equal to the occasion. Snubbing a magician would be a new experience — and what else does one live for? You're not going to tell me you lost your nerve?'
'It wasn't anything like that. And I'm serious — it was horrid.'
His eyebrows rose.
'Don't tell me he raised the ghosts of all the unfortunates whom you have stabbed with a glance or frozen with a frown!'
She said very low,
'I'm serious. I told you so.'
'And you expect me to encourage you, put straws in both our hairs — they'll spoil your wave — sit on the floor and moan to the appropriately barbaric strain which the orchestra is at present discoursing? We shall be in all the gossip notes, if that is what you want — "Major Antony Latter, who has just joined the publishing firm founded by his famous great-uncle Ezekiel —"'
She interrupted him in a gentle, hurt voice.
'I want to tell you about it. Won't you listen?'
She was pale and appealing. He hadn't ever seen her like that before.
'What on earth did the fellow say to you?'
She dropped her voice until he could only just hear the words.
'He said — I've got to be careful — about poison.'
Antony sat back in his chair.
'What an extraordinary thing to say!'
'Yes, wasn't it? Not very nice.'
'Not a bit. What made him say a thing like that?'
Her colour was coming back — the pure, bright colour which was her greatest beauty. Yet without it she had been younger.
Antony thought, 'That's curious.'
Lois felt an odd sense of relief. He was really looking at her, really listening to her now. She told him more than she had meant to tell — to him or to anyone.
'He said most extraordinary things. He said someone was trying to poison me — he really did.'
'The food here isn't really as bad as all that.'
'Don't joke about it. It was horrible. I'm not very easy to frighten — you know that. But he — almost — frightened me.'
'He was out to make your flesh creep, and apparently he succeeded.'
She shook her head.
'Not quite. But it isn't exactly pleasant to be told that someone — very near — is trying to poison you.'
'He said that?'
'Yes, he did — someone very near me. But he wouldn't say whether it was a man or a woman. He said he didn't know. Why, he even said it might be I myself!' Her laugh was not quite steady. 'And I told him I was the last person in the world to take poison. I like my life a great deal too much to throw it away.'
'Yes — I think you do.'
She had taken out a cigarette, and leaned towards him now for a light. When the tip was glowing red and a little haze of smoke hung on the air between them, she said in a puzzled voice,
'He said such a very odd thing — he said there was more than one kind of poison.'
'How trite — how true!'
'It didn't sound trite — not when he said it.'
'The man has glamour, or women wouldn't be paying him tenners to turn it on.'
Those lightly sketched brows of hers drew together in distaste.
'He was quite old — there wasn't anything like that. Let's talk about something else.'
Excerpted from Latter End by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1949 Patricia Wentworth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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