Rosalind Denny, the American-born widow of the under secretary for Foreign Affairs, is still grieving for her husband. Eighteen months ago, Gilbert Denny threw away a happy marriage and a promising political career by ending his life. But Rosalind doesn’t believe that Gilbert’s drowning was a suicide.
In London, Foreign Office agent Benbow Smith is visited by Bernard Mannister, a distinguished member of parliament and president of the British Disarmament League. A confidential letter that could destroy lives and disrupt the precarious balance of Western power is missing. Mannister, like Denny and others before him, is being driven from public service—but why?
With an intriguing cast of characters, including a talking parrot, a sleepwalker, and a psychic, Walk with Care is both a top-notch historical thriller and a revelatory glimpse into the inner workings of British intelligence.
Walk with Care is the 3rd book in the Benbow Smith Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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
Walk with Care
A Benbow Smith Mystery
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1933 Patricia Wentworth
All rights reserved.
ROSALIND DENNY CAME BACK to London on a clear January day. There was a pale blue sky overhead. The air was sweet. A faint haze softened everything. The sun shone upon it and made it golden.
Rosalind was grateful for the beauty of the day. She was coming back as a stranger to the place that had been her home. Eighteen months ago she had been Gilbert Denny's wife, and Gilbert was Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, with a career before him. Now she came back alone. She was Gilbert's widow and a stranger. It was eighteen months since Gilbert had thrown away his career and his life, and during those months she had been in the depths of the country nursing a tiresome old woman whose claim upon her was simply that she was Gilbert's Aunt Agatha, who had known Gilbert as a boy. She would talk of him sometimes, and she was old and poor, and by reason of a bitter tongue friendless. At first it had not mattered to Rosalind where she was. Since Gilbert was gone, nothing really mattered. She too felt friendless. Except for one distant cousin, she had not a relation on this side of the Atlantic. Her mother's second marriage had brought her to England, but her first fifteen years had been spent in a dearly loved Virginian home. She stayed in England now because that home had passed to strangers and because at first she was too crushed to make plans. Later, it was a relief to be busy, to have tasks in a sick room, to be grumbled at, to be awake for so many hours in every night that weariness numbed her. Now the old lady was gone and she was going to take up her life again. Janet Fortescue offered her flat until Easter. That would give her time to look round.
She stood at the window and watched the trees in the little square with their naked boughs reaching up out of the haze. At the sound of the telephone she turned. It might be Jeremy Ware — he would have had her letter.
Jeremy's voice came to her along the wire.
"Mrs Denny — is that you?"
The receiver shook in Rosalind's hand. Jeremy's voice brought everything back so vividly. He had been more like a young brother than a secretary in their house. She had not been so near breaking down for months. She said,
"Yes, Jeremy. How are you?"
"Oh, going strong. I got your letter this morning. I couldn't ring up before because the nose has been on the grindstone. As a matter of fact there's practically nothing left of it."
She heard Jeremy's half embarrassed chuckle.
"No — the nose."
"Oh, Jeremy dear — and it was such a beautiful nose!" Her voice laughed. There was a horrible pain at her heart. She couldn't call up Jeremy's square, blunt features without seeing Gilbert's eyes and Gilbert's smile. She had the oddest jealous pang at the thought of Jeremy as Bernard Mannister's secretary. He belonged to Gilbert and to the life on the other side of that eighteen months' gap. She said quickly,
"Are you alone?"
"What's left of me. Old Mannister's gone out, and Dean — he's the other secretary — has been on the sick list and doesn't come back till to-morrow. That's why I've been having such a doing."
"Have you? What about?"
"Some blighted letter that's gone missing. Oh, I say — perhaps I oughtn't to have said anything! Forget it, will you?"
"It's forgotten. When am I going to see you?"
It was going to hurt, so get it over — do everything, go everywhere, meet everyone — get the worst of it over — no good shirking —
Jeremy's voice, quick and eager,
"I thought perhaps you'd dine with me and do a show. What about to-morrow?"
There was a pause. Then she said,
"Will you dine with me here, Jeremy? I'll go out with you afterwards if you want me to."
Jeremy always understood. He said at once,
"I'd like that awfully."
Rosalind hung up the receiver.
She hung up the receiver, but for a moment she did not move. A clear, bitter voice in her mind said, "Why — why — why?"
Why had Gilbert flung away his career?
Why had he flung away his life?
Why had he left her?
Was perfect happiness so common that, having it, you should throw it away? The compulsion must have been very great. What was it? The tragic lines which Gilbert had written to her on the morning of the day which for him had had no end came before her eyes. She saw them with a deep, inward gaze, and saw nothing else.
"I'm going out because it's better for you. It's better for you to be free. Rosalind, don't let me spoil your life. You've been everything in mine. I'm in a trap and I can't get out any other way — they've been too damned clever for me. Burn this, or they'll make you show it at the inquest."
The scalding tears rushed into Rosalind Denny's eyes. Gilbert was dead. Gilbert had been murdered. What was it but murder to trap a man so that he could never get free alive? Gilbert had been murdered. Who had murdered him?CHAPTER 2
MR BENBOW COLLINGWOOD HORATIO SMITH stopped scratching his parrot behind the ear and glanced over his shoulder. The heavy-gust which had just shaken the uncurtained windows had left them streaming with that cold January rain which may at any moment turn to snow. It wanted an hour to sunset, but the strip of sky between the tall London houses had a darkling look, and over the way windows showed drawn curtains edged with light.
"Not a nice afternoon, Ananias."
Ananias swore in Spanish. He articulated clearly and with zest.
"Quite so," said Mr Smith.
He drew the brown curtains across the wide bay and turned to survey a long room, pleasant in the firelight.
Ananias clapped his grey and rose-coloured wings and uttered a loud and raucous "Awk!" He detested the dark, and had no affection for even the warmest dusk. He loved bright lights, violent colours, and loud noises. He had his own way of making these preferences felt. When his master put on the light in the ceiling, he rose on his toes, bobbed up and down, and declaimed at the top of his voice:
"Three jolly admirals all of a row, Collingwood, Nelson, and bold Benbow!"
"Ssh, Ananias!" said Mr Smith in the perfunctory manner of long habit. Ananias repeated the rhyme in a whisper as far as the middle of the second line, when he suddenly unfurled a wing and devoted himself to his toilet.
Mr Smith came forward to the long table with claw feet which held neatly arranged rows of papers and periodicals. He picked up one of the latter and stood there turning the leaves — a tall, thin man with a forward stoop and an absent, peering gaze. A pair of large horn-rimmed spectacles were pushed well up on to his brow. His finely cut features, his ivory pallor, and the thick mass of his iron-grey hair combined to give an impression of extreme distinction. When his parents had bestowed upon him the names of three famous admirals they had doubtless intended him for the Navy — there was naval interest on both sides of the family — but by the time that Benbow Collingwood Horatio had entered his sixth year it was already apparent that whatever else he might become he would never make a sailor. To this day he detests the sea, spends his holidays out of sight and sound of it, and if forced to a Channel crossing, endures it in a recumbent position. He is best known as the author of The European Problem. This book, published some fifteen years before the war and translated into ten languages, displayed the accurate observation of the scientist combined with the daring of the prophet. It was discussed, abused, and criticized by some of the ablest pens in France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. In it Mr Benbow Smith forecast not only the war itself, but the post-war problems. He has ample means, a taste for desultory rambling, and in other than political circles is respected as a connoisseur of such matters as Russian ikons, early German woodcuts, and French colour-prints. For the rest, he is believed to have some undefined connection with the Foreign Office. He is a bachelor. He spoils Ananias, and at least two young women, his niece by marriage Susan Warrington Smith and her sister-in-law Loveday Ross have described him as a lamb. They are both good judges.
His room is the room of a scholar and a man of taste. Books cover the walls. The chairs are deep and comfortable There are Persian rugs. There is a capacious hearth on which a fire of logs burns for ten months in the year. Ananias has his perch in the window because he likes "to watch the traffic. Loveday Ross says that the road is too quiet for him, and that some day he will manoeuvre Mr Smith into a flat overlooking Piccadilly Circus. That day has not yet come. Some of Mr Smith's friends prefer to visit him without being seen. He was expecting one of them now.
He turned the pages of The English Review and listened to Ananias murmuring to himself: "Mumbo-Jumbo — Mumbo-Jumbo —"
"Awk!" said Ananias on a loud scream.
Mr Smith looked over his shoulder and prompted him: "Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo —"
The parrot listened with his head cocked. A beady eye glistened. One foot lifted from the perch. The claws were slowly expanded and retracted again. A very slight hissing sound came from a half open beak.
And then in a minute the front door slammed, and there came in Colonel Garrett, a little sandy man with bottle-brush hair and small grey eyes like points of polished steel. As he entered, he flung hat and coat into Miller's hands and advanced, wiping his face with a red bandanna. Lindsay Trevor, who had served under him in the Secret Service during the war, and once again, used to say, "When Garrett wants to disguise himself he has only to leave his bandanna at home and buy a neat gent's suiting." He had a faculty for acquiring awful clothes, and on this January afternoon wore a suit of mustard-coloured tweed and a green tie decorated with crimson horse-shoes. He made Mr Smith look almost incredibly distinguished.
"Ah!" he said briskly — "a fire! You always have good fires." He planted himself before it and thrust the bandanna back into an already bulging pocket. All his pockets bulged.
Mr Smith put down The English Review, drifted over to him, and leaned upon the mantelpiece.
"Beastly afternoon," said Garrett, rubbing his hands together. "Foul climate — disgusting weather."
Mr Smith gazed mildly at Ananias, who was moving stealthily along his perch with a wary eye on the visitor.
"Did you come here to talk to me about the weather?"
Garrett made a forcible movement.
"No, I didn't."
"I thought you said you were bringing someone to see me."
"Not bringing. Meeting here. Wanted to see you first."
"Yes?" said Mr Smith gently.
In an almost inaudible whisper Ananias repeated:
"Mumbo-Jumbo, Mumbo-Jumbo —
Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo — "
"I don't know how you can stand that bird," said Garrett. "Can't stick birds myself."
Mr Smith looked past him coldly.
"Who did you say was meeting you here?"
Garrett jerked round and warmed his hands.
"I didn't say — didn't want to say on the telephone. It's Mannister."
"Mannister?" said Mr Smith in a vague voice.
Garrett slapped his knee and gave his short barking
"Oh Lord! I'd like him to hear you! Mannister?" — he attempted Mr Smith's cultured drawl with a conspicuous lack of success — "Mannister? The Mannister. The Bernard Mannister. Our champion peacemaker."
"I have — er — heard of him," said Mr Smith. "More to the point if you'd heard him! But there — you can't laugh at a fellow who can fill the Albert Hall. Or can you?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Smith — "I have never tried." His tone though gentle was dry.
He had never met Bernard Mannister, but in common with the rest of the world he had from time to time read about him in the daily press — an orator with a record as a pacifist during the war; an enthusiast for the improvement of international relations; delegate to half a dozen conferences; Member of Parliament for South Wilston; and president of the British Disarmament League.
With these various activities present to his mind, Mr Smith inquired,
"What does he want?"
"Awk!" said Ananias very loudly and suddenly. Then in a rapid recitatif, "Walk with care — walk with care! Mumbo-Jumbo will hoodoo you." He emitted a sharp hiss and repeated, whispering, "Mumbo-Jumbo will hoodoo you."
Colonel Garrett flung an impatient look over his shoulder.
"Creepy brute! What's he saying? Don't know how you can stand him."
Mr Smith smiled his gentle, distant smile.
"We have been studying the works of Mr Vachel Lindsay. Ananias admires them very much, especially The Congo. That is an excerpt from The Congo. It is displacing some of his favourite objurgations. But let us return to Mannister. Why does he wish to see me?"
Garrett's little eyes sparkled.
"I didn't say he wished to see you — I said he was meeting me here. He's meeting me here because I want you to see him."
"And — er — why?"
Garrett frowned and thrust at the fire with his foot. A blaze of sparks went up, red and gold. Ananias had fallen upon a low mutter.
"It's this way. The man's a public character. It's not so long since he was a public nuisance. He fills the public eye — he fills the Albert Hall. He gets columns in the Press. He's news with a capital N. In fact he's the sort of bloke that you've got to take notice of when he comes and bleats."
"And has he been — er — bleating?"
Garrett slapped his knee.
"My good man, he's been bellowing!"
There is no one else on earth who would dream of addressing Mr Smith as my good man. But there is no respect of persons in Garrett; he says what he likes, and you may take it or leave it. He doesn't care a damn either way. Mr Smith has an affection for him which is reciprocated. They are old allies.
Mr Smith nodded and pushed his glasses up a little higher.
"And what does he — er — bellow?"
"Says there's a plot to drive him out of public life. Says his papers are being tampered with. An important confidential letter gone missing. Says if it's published, it'll rot the Disarmament Conference."
"What sort of — er — letter?" said Mr Smith.
Garrett jerked an elbow.
"That's where he stays vague. Reading between the lines, I should say a good deal of indiscreet correspondence goes to his address. He's a strong persevering letter-writer. Now suppose Signor A. writes him some sweet nothings about the way Monsieur B. has been talking in the Chamber, or Herr X. pours out what he really thinks about the line Mr Y. is taking over reparations — well it would be a bit awkward for Mannister if the remarks came out in full in anybody's gutter press — wouldn't it?" He laughed that short barking laugh. "Mannister thinks it would. Mannister thinks it'd be damn awkward. Mannister says it would rot the Conference. He runs his hands through his hair and bellows."
"Yes," said Mr Smith, "I see."
"I wish I did," said Garrett. "The whole thing may be a publicity stunt, or nervous fiddle-faddle, or plain ordinary persecution mania. Man's a spell-binder. Spell-binders run to nerves. He may be offering us a mare's-nest or trying to sell us a pup. On the other hand he may not. That's why I'm here."
Mr Smith removed his glasses and began to polish them with a fine silk handkerchief. He said,
"Yes?" There was the very faintest possible shade of interrogation in his voice.
Garrett dived into a crowded pocket and brought up a mixed handful which included a calendar, a book of stamps, a bunch of keys, a battered pencil end, several crumpled bits of paper, one of those penknives fitted with corkscrews gimlets wirecutters tweezers and hoofpicks, a frightfully old matchbox, and a couple of odd lengths of tarred twine. He selected the least crumpled piece of paper, crammed the rest of the things back, and unfolded what appeared to be a list. He thrust it upon Mr Smith, who took it delicately, turned it over, held it at arm's length, and inquired,
"What is this?"
"My good man — don't you see?"
Mr Smith put on his spectacles and frowned vaguely at a list of names.
Excerpted from Walk with Care by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1933 Patricia Wentworth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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