It’s not surprising that adored British opera star, Antonia Byrne, would want her death to be as dramatic as the roles she performed on the world’s great stages. Even so, the existence of a new will surprises everyone—especially the six loved ones gathered at her deathbed in Vienna.
When the mourners’ private plane is brought down by a blizzard, trapping them together in the Swiss Alps, they decide to unseal Antonia’s final testament rather than wait till they’re back home in England. But no one is prepared for what the diva stipulated as her final wishes, especially not her ex-lover, Richard, who has been burdened with a most unwanted responsibility.
And as the storm continues, keeping the local constabulary snowbound and out of reach, the stranded six will now have to struggle to stay alive. Because suddenly it’s not only nature’s fury threatening their survival, but the murderous wrath of one of their own.
The Will and the Deed is at once an intriguing puzzle and a breathtaking survival adventure from the Edgar, Agatha, and Gold Dagger Award–winning author and “cult figure of crime fiction” (Financial Times).
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About the Author
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913–1995), a British author whose Chronicles of Brother Cadfael are credited with popularizing the historical mystery. Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey in the first half of the twelfth century, has been described as combining the curious mind of a scientist with the bravery of a knight-errant. The character has been adapted for television, and the books drew international attention to Shrewsbury and its history.
Pargeter won an Edgar Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman, and in 1993 she won the Cartier Diamond Dagger, an annual award given by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She was appointed officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, and in 1999 the British Crime Writers’ Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award, later called the Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Read an Excerpt
The Will and the Deed
By Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1960 Ellis Peters
All rights reserved.
Let us then lightly meet our fate.
Light must we be,
With spirits light and grasp light-fingered
Hold all our pleasures — hold them and leave them.
The patient, if that was the just word for a cantankerous old woman who was spending her final days on earth in creating chaos all round her, opened her eyes for the last time upon the heavy splendours of her hotel bedroom towards evening, and saw the circle of intent faces stooped over her, agitated even in stillness, like the fantastic decoration of a baroque ceiling. All day they had come and gone like insubstantial wraiths troubling her dreams, but now she saw them clearly, and heard their first murmurs not with the frenzied uneasiness of disorientation, but coolly and intelligently, with the physical ear. No more fever now, only this disinclination ever to move again.
She knew that she was about to die. She would do that, as she had always done everything, with style. If the greatest diva of her generation did not know how to make an exit, who did?
They were all there, Miranda red-eyed and amorphous in the folds of her handkerchief, trying to push the boy forward into a front place by the bedside, and the boy hanging stubbornly back, frowning and sulky as usual, but with a kind of awed fascination in his eyes. He had no close experience of death as yet. The doctor was sitting by the bed, his fingers on her pulse, with Trevor leaning over one shoulder and young Neil Everard over the other; and Susan, withdrawn and silent, stood back from them all, half-hidden by the massive carved post of the bed, markedly separating herself from their mourning rights and their expectations.
There was one more face, the only one Antonia wanted to see now. Richard was close beside her, he must have stayed by her bed all the time she had slept that long, hot, unquiet sleep. He leaned forward when he saw that her eyes were open, and the subdued light gleamed on his bald head, and painted gross shadows into all his wrinkles. He was old, too, he was very old. It was a long time since he'd sung opposite her for the last time, the best, the lustiest, the most irrepressible Baron Ochs ever seen on any stage. In his youth he had been the handsomest Don Giovanni, too, slender and gallant. How few operatic Dons can boast really good legs!
'Send them away, Dick.' The threadlike voice was quite clear and still authoritative, though it seemed to come from a great distance. 'I want to talk to you. The rest of you get out. I'm not going yet, I'm not ready.'
If Antonia was not ready to depart, death himself would hardly have the temerity to try and hustle her. Richard Hellier met Dr Randall's eye in silent enquiry, and received a nod which he perfectly understood. 'Why not?' said the resigned glance. 'She's going soon in any case, let her talk.'
'I'll be in the next room with Everard,' he said aloud, and led the way out, marshalling them after him. They grudged going, some of them. Miranda bridled like the horse she so much resembled. These country gentlewomen should never shed tears, even horses would do it more becomingly. However, she went, with some hopeful backward glances in case she was recalled. The boy was glad to go, he knew he would not be wanted at the end. What could Antonia Byrne, dying at seventy-six, want with his twenty-five years and sparse experience? This was one performance for which she needed no accompanist.
It was blessedly quiet in the room now, and for a while she was quiet, too, her hand in Richard's hand on the dark-red silk of the coverlet. The curtains were not yet drawn, and there was still light enough outside to show her the bare branch of a tree shivering in the frost, and one filigree spire of the Votivkirche white against the dull leaden grey of the sky.
'Would you believe it, the first time she came here with me Miranda must have sent away at least a dozen postcards of that place, under the impression that it was St Stephen's.'
'It's what I should expect of her,' said Richard. 'I expect she still thinks the plump lady on the Burg Ring is Queen Victoria.'
She laughed. Her laugh had been famous once, it was a travesty now. The slack cords of the pale old neck tightened and jerked painfully above the foam of lace and brushed nylon, the fallen cheeks twitched, their high, gaunt bones stained with small discs of scarlet. The gentian blue of her eyes had faded to a livid grey, and her scalp shone through her thinning silver-white hair. All the gallant erection of her ageing elegance had crumbled between December's fingers like thawing snow. She saw how he studied her, and smiled maliciously.
'Am I still beautiful, Dick?'
'I stopped telling you you were beautiful when we were both in the forties,' said Richard. 'You stopped enjoying it. It was always a lie in any case. What you had wasn't beauty.'
'But what I had is gone – whatever it was.' She watched his face, and it looked as it had looked when she had told him she was coming out of retirement and returning to the concert stage. He had not tried to dissuade her, but she had felt his disapproval and disquiet with every mile of every journey away from him. 'I should never have done it, should I?'
'No, you shouldn't. Why did you? You didn't need the money. I'm sure you didn't need the adulation.'
'I was bored,' she said in a dry whisper, still smiling. 'Being old, being seemly, being sensible – I was no good at those things. I didn't know when I retired how dull it was going to be staying on a pedestal. If falling off it was the only way to get down, I'm glad I fell. Now boredom isn't going to be a problem any more. I'm dying, Dick.'
He knew it, and he did not argue. All he said was: 'I shan't be long after you. Leave me a Boy Scout sign here and there.'
'I've got something for you. Something to remember me by. I want to give it to you now.' She would have liked to press his hand, but her own had no strength. 'In the bottom drawer of that cabinet – I want you to take it now.'
To please her he crossed to the elaborate rococo cabinet, and stooped to open the drawer. Behind him the rustling whisper, clear and faint, said: 'Everything else is taken care of. I made a new will, and young Everard will see to everything. A nice boy. Efficient, too. But he'll never make the lawyer his father was. His heart isn't in it. The box under my writing case, Dick – you see it?'
'Yes, I have it.'
'The case is inside it.'
He knew what it was. He came back to the bed with it in his hands, and stood smiling at her over it. No one else, in all her long and brilliant career of triumphs and gallantries, had ever smiled at her like that. She had had three husbands, and none of them had been Richard, and at least seven lovers, and none of those had been Richard, either; he was something apart and permanent, outlasting them all. She would never have jeopardised their relationship by marrying him.
'You'll keep them safe, won't you? Put them away now, and sit by me. I always wanted you to have them. Nobody but you knows how much they meant to me.'
'I'll keep them safe,' he said.
'To remember me by,' she said again, and smiled.
'You know I shall never forget.'
He slid the leather case into his briefcase, which lay upon the table by the window, and turned the key upon it. The tower of the Votivkirche had faded from sugary white to leaden grey, and withdrawn into the falling dusk. Her voice was failing with the light and chilling with the onset of frost.
'Shall I call them back?'
'No. Why?' She was content as she was. What could they do for her but disturb her? 'Dick, do you remember that hundredth performance?' Her thread of a voice drifted into silence. He remembered everything, his Ochs to her Marschallin, his Almaviva to her Countess, even, once, his Papageno to her Astrofiammante. Why had he failed to appreciate himself in that difficult and lovely part? No one else had ever graced it as he did.
'You mustn't worry, Dick – about the funeral. I've told young Everard – he'll arrange it. I want to be buried here – at least in the same city as Mozart. Though they didn't deserve him – it should have been Prague —'
'Poetic justice,' said Richard, holding both her motionless hands in his, 'they lost him.'
'If they forget where they've put me, too,' she whispered complacently, 'I shan't mind, I shall be in good company.'
'You?' said Richard, smiling. 'I know you better than that. You'll be coming back to read the obituaries.' He saw the last wild gleam in her eyes, and the faint flash of a smile that hardly stirred her features, and then a sudden convulsion of life seized her and she was laughing aloud, and some recovered fire from her youth cast a miraculous bloom upon her aged, sick, shrunken face and made her wonderful again. 'And throwing tantrums if the flowers aren't fine enough,' he pursued. 'And wanting Everard to sue some columnist or other for getting his facts wrong about the affair with Carl Ludwig Rupprecht the Third —'
The breath stopped in her throat, the laughter rattled suddenly off-key, and halted in a deep, indrawn gasp. He sprang to his feet, bending over her with his palms framing her face, calling her softly by name.
The others came crowding in and converged upon her bed. The doctor leaned over her from one side, the young solicitor from the other. Her lips moved, forming soundless words, but the faded eyes were no longer conscious even of looming shapes, even of light.
'— for Richard — to remember me by —'
The curves of laughter grew fixed and still upon her face. She died laughing.CHAPTER 2
What curious adventures may befall a man – Not all are to my taste. Here one is far too much the sport of fate.
The charter aircraft took off from Schwechat in the afternoon of December the 23rd, in light, still frost, under a ceiling of cloud so thin that the hard, silvery-grey sky shone through it, and by night there would almost certainly be a clear heaven and stars. But by then, thought Susan Conroy, they would be in London, and the whole distressful business would be over. There would be a quiet Christmas with the family for her instead of a strenuous round of theatres and parties in Mrs Byrne's train and the murky pavements of London instead of the glittering cold and sparkling air of Vienna; and after the festival, the sobering business of finding another job. She could hardly expect another Antonia; the most she dared hope for would be, perhaps, a minor novelist or a literary agent, preferable at any rate to the finicky old solicitor who had been her first boss.
Not all solicitors, however, are sixty-eight, bald and old-maidish in their ways. She made a careful sidelong examination of Neil Everard, reclining in the seat beside her. Thirty was more his mark, and within an inch either way of six feet, with a shock of reddish-brown hair, and shoulders like a Rugby player. His features were strongly marked, and the look of severe gravity they had worn ever since he arrived in Vienna sat uneasily upon them. She felt that almost anything, a sudden, unexpected incident, one flash of temper among his ill- assorted companions, might crack the façade and let out a totally different and infinitely more attractive young man.
She was well aware that he had slid unobtrusively into this rear seat in order to separate himself as widely as possible from Miranda Quayne and her son, and was now leaning cautiously out into the gangway to reassure himself that there was no risk of the lady attacking him even across the two empty seats between. And certainly she had looked round for him two or three times, vexed that he had not come forward to take the seat opposite, beside Richard Hellier, as she had expected him to do; but Laurence had seated himself squarely beside her, hemming her in, and the black-toqued head, redolent of family mourning, revolved in vain.
'Relax!' said Susan. 'Her gentility won't let her shout at you from there. You're safe until Zurich.'
She had been wanting to make him jump like that ever since the funeral. He was the only one with whom she felt any affinity, or could share a single thought. Richard was remote from them all, withdrawn so far into his memories and his loss that it would have been impious to try to follow him. Dr Randall and Trevor Mason, both old friends of Antonia and proud of their long association with her, were held together in a feverish tension by their mutual jealousy, and like angry children outbidding each other swapped endless stories of their intimacy with the old goddess. Trevor held one ace, for as her business manager he had been with her throughout this last long concert tour, whereas the doctor had merely been summoned in haste after her collapse, along with her solicitor. But as the doctor pointed out, there were perfectly adequate medical men in Vienna, if she had wanted nothing more than competent treatment, and Richard, beyond question her oldest and most intimate friend, had been sent for at the same time, and flown in by the same charter plane. The odious Quayne pair, greedy and anxious, had their eyes fixed on the quarter-million or so Antonia was said to be worth, and could hardly keep their mouths from watering as they uttered their pious tributes to the dead kinswoman who had led them such a dog's life. Only Neil Everard stood apart, like Susan, from the ruthless scramble for the old woman's incalculable favour.
'Well, well!' said Neil, startled out of his gravity. 'She was right, you're not as demure as you look.' It was nice to find that he could produce such an unaffected grin.
'She? Miranda? I can hear her saying it!'
'Mrs Byrne. And it sounded quite different from what you're hearing. She liked you. "She doesn't kowtow to me," is how she put it.'
Susan's eyebrows went up. 'You're telling me she didn't like being kowtowed to?'
'Maybe she did, I don't know. I'd seen her only two or three times before, it was always my father who dealt with her affairs, until he died, last year. My uncle didn't fancy a long trip just at Christmas, so I came in for the job whether I liked it or not. Maybe she did enjoy having people jump when she ordered, but if she did she despised them for doing it. I should say she needed you as a corrective to Miranda. My God,' he said, keeping his voice low, for it had a carrying quality of which, as a solicitor, he had good reason to be wary, 'if I hear "as her only close relatives" just once more!'
'You surely will,' said Susan with sympathy, 'unless you can manage to keep out of range from here to London, and that's going to take some doing.'
'Though to be absolutely fair,' added Neil honestly, after a moment's thought, 'I've never actually heard the son say that, or anything in the same line, for that matter.'
'Why should he, when she's there to do it for him? But they're tarred with the same brush, that pair,' said Susan, with supreme confidence in her own judgment. 'Still, I suppose after being a poor relation for so long, it must be a little demoralising to feel a quarter of a million practically in your hands, and not to be able to get at it. Why didn't you do what they all wanted, read the will immediately after the funeral, and get it over?'
It was a tactless as well as an unnecessary question, she realised it as soon as it was out of her lips. He had insisted on deferring the occasion until their arrival in London because he was the junior partner, and the important clients' affairs were in his uncle's hands, not in his. But he was hardly likely to admit that he had simply been acting under orders. He had withdrawn perceptibly and was threatening to put on his official face again. 'I'm sorry, I can't discuss it.'
Excerpted from The Will and the Deed by Ellis Peters, Karl Kotas. Copyright © 1960 Ellis Peters. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/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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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER I Let us then lightly meet our fate. Light must we be, With spirits light and grasp light-fingered Hold all our pleasures — hold them and leave them.,
CHAPTER II What curious adventures may befall a man — Not all are to my taste. Here one is far too much the sport of fate.,
CHAPTER III The statutes are precise. No way is known of circumventing them.,
CHAPTER IV But why think of death? 'Tis far from hence!,
CHAPTER V And who asked you to meddle, in the name of mischief?,
CHAPTER VI Is all this scurvy crew Plotted to do me mischief?,
CHAPTER VII In this one hour, by heaven, I do Penance for all my sins!,
CHAPTER VIII Then hold your peace, withdraw, And wait in patience till I need your evidence.,
CHAPTER IX They all have double faces! All of them together!,
CHAPTER X 'Tis sport for brazen rogues like you.,
CHAPTER XI Help, help! A surgeon! Murder, murder, murder!,
CHAPTER XII Has bitter wrong, a sinful deed been done?,
CHAPTER XIII So strangely I'm perplexed. I would know all things, yet I fear to know the truth.,
CHAPTER XIV As the hours that go, as the winds that blow, So we twain will pass away.,
CHAPTER XV Fear naught, whatever may befall! To save you now must be my one endeavour, And yet I know not how.,
CHAPTER XVI Who was it called for help? Who was it broke the peace?,
CHAPTER XVII How the world's joys cheat and elude us, How empty all things are that we deem precious.,
About the Author,