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Authors: Patricia Wentworth

The Dower House Mystery

BOOK: The Dower House Mystery
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The Dower House Mystery

Patricia Wentworth

Chapter I

Amabel Grey was hemming the new curtains for Daphne's room. She sat on a low chair, and the bright orange-coloured stuff lay across her knees and was heaped upon the floor beside her. Daphne had chosen the stuff, but she was not helping to make the curtains.

“I suppose I ought to make her help,” was the thought that slipped into Amabel's mind, only to be pushed out again. “You can't
make
people take an interest in things; but if only Daffy would—”

A little foolish blur of tears came between Amabel and her sewing. It cleared in a moment, but after a few more stitches she let her needle rest, and looked across at Daphne sitting idle in the window seat. Outside the rain was coming down gently, unremittingly. There was an open book on Daphne's knee, but it was at least half an hour since she had turned a page. The rain came down, and Daphne stared at it.

“She ought to interest herself in things—she ought, but I can't make her.” The same thought, the same distress which it always brought. “After all, she's more Agatha's child than mine—it's Agatha's world that interests her, and Agatha's friends. I suppose it's natural enough—and of course Little Middlebury
is
dull, and the weather's been too dreadful.”

Amabel took another stitch or two. Then she said, speaking rather quickly:

“Daffy dear, do come and help with this hem. It would be done in no time if you would.”

“There's no hurry,” said Daphne. She spoke without turning her head. Her voice, as clear and pretty as Amabel's, was a half tone deeper.

“But, Daffy, don't you want to see what they look like up?”

Daphne made a restless movement. Her book fell on the floor.

“I know what they'll look dike. The stuff was too cheap. It was stupid to get it, really. It ought to have been linen. Amber's curtains were linen.” She spoke rather jerkily.

A wave of unhappiness swept over Amabel. Daphne was her only child, and such a pretty child. She looked at her and thought, for the thousandth time, how pretty Daphne was in spite of the shingled hair which she hated. Daphne had had such lovely hair—the silky, black hair which goes with blue eyes and a very white skin. Agatha had encouraged Daphne to have her hair shingled; but then Agatha was nothing if not modern.

Amabel wondered whether she would have let her sister Agatha have Daphne to educate if she had known what would come of it. Well, what had come of it? There was Daphne at nineteen, as pretty and charming as any mother's heart could desire.

“You can't say I haven't turned her out well, Amabel.” That was Agatha's comment; and she had added, “You must move with the times, my dear. You're absolutely mid-Victorian. I always expect to find you in a crinoline, and your room full of antimacassars, and crochet mats, and daguerreotypes, and Family Bibles.”

There were no antimacassars in the little brown room. It was a shabby room, but very comfortable. Some of the things in it were really old. The row of brightly coloured birds on the mantelpiece, for instance, and the miniatures of Professor Grey's great, great grand-parents which hung on the wall above. A little wood fire burned upon the deep, old-fashioned hearth. There was a great bowl of bronze chrysanthemums on the rather battered oak table at Amabel's elbow.

Agatha was certainly without justification. Agatha, when told so, had merely laughed:

“My blessed Amy, I'm not talking about
outsides
. In your true inwardness you are simply clothed in antimacassars.”

Amabel was half laughing as she remembered this conversation.

“Daffy—” she began. But Daphne had sprung up, and was flying to the door. The postman's knock sounded, and she came back with two letters in her hand.

“Yours is from Agatha,” she said, and tossed it lightly on to the orange folds that covered Amabel's lap. Then, sinking down upon the window seat, she tore impatiently at the tough linen envelope of her own letter.

Amabel heard a smothered “Damn!” She moved to get a better light on Agatha's illegible scrawl, and was in the middle of disentangling a long sentence in which the words Amber Studland and Jimmy Malleson occurred, when a sudden cry from Daphne made her drop the sheet and look up.

“Mummy, they want me to go to Egypt with them—to Egypt—just think of it!”

“Daffy, who?”

“Amber—Amber Studland. It's a party of eight. She says I
must
come.” Daphne laughed. It was a laugh of pure, tremulous excitement. “I know what that means jolly well. Jimmy won't go unless I do—that's what it means. Amber would have seen me at Jericho otherwise; but—‘I
must
come.'” She laughed again. “Oh, my dear Amber, I'm not such a fool as not to see through you!”

Amabel pushed the orange stuff away, and stood up.

“Daffy!”

“Egypt! Just think of it, Mummy—oceans, and oceans, and oceans of sunlight, and—and a frightfully jolly party.”

“But, Daphne—”

“There isn't any ‘but.' It's simply the best thing that ever happened.”

“It hasn't happened yet.” There was a shade of dryness in Amabel's voice. “Is Mrs. Studland asking you to go to Egypt as her guest? Even so—Daphne dear,
don't
count on it; it's bound to cost a lot, and I don't see—”

“I must go.” The words came quick and hard. “You're always thinking about what things cost. Why, it's simply the chance of my life, and she says—”

“Who's the letter from? You haven't told me—you really haven't told me anything yet, Daffy.”

“It's from Amber of course, and she says—here's the place—she says it'll be quite a cheap trip. So you see—”

“Daffy, quite a cheap trip might mean almost anything. Does she say how much?”

“I expect she does. Amber's quite businesslike, that's one comfort.”

She turned the page; and Amabel, watching, saw her face change. “She says”—the defiant note went out of Daphne's voice; it shook and fell to a whisper—“two hundred pounds—two hundred pounds—oh!”

There was a moment of dead silence; Amabel, distressed, seeking for words; Daphne, rigid, the letter in her hand.

“I was afraid,” Amabel began.

Daphne turned on her like a wild thing.

“You always are. It's always ‘No' to everything I want to do—no, look here, I was a beast to say that, I know it's the money. There must, there simply must be some way of getting it—there simply must.”

Amabel put her hand on the girl's shoulder. She got an impression of something tense, of an excitement beyond her comprehension.

“My dear, let's sit down and talk about it quietly. You really don't think that I can find two hundred pounds! Why, it's a whole year's income—you know that, don't you?” She sat down on the window seat as she spoke, and tried to draw Daphne down beside her; but with a jerk the girl drew back.

“You could borrow it.”

“Daffy darling!”

“You could.”

“And how should I ever pay it back? Ducky, do be reasonable.”

Daphne retreated a step.

“I am being reasonable. I was excited at first, and I thought you'd understand.” She paused, drew a long breath, and went on in a low, carefully controlled voice. “You didn't, so I suppose I must explain. It's not an ordinary visit. It's my chance—my one chance.”

“I don't understand.”

“No, I know you don't. It's—it's Jimmy,” said Daphne defiantly.

“Yes, Daffy?”

“Jimmy Malleson, He's Malleson's Mustard, you know. The old man died last year, and Jimmy simply doesn't know how much money he's got.”

“Yes, Daffy?”

There was a pause. Daphne tapped with her foot.

“He's flirted with lots of girls, so I wasn't sure. He's—he's frightfully run after, of course. I tell you, he simply doesn't know how much money he's got; and I thought he was just flirting till I got Amber's letter.”

“Yes?”

“Well, then I knew there must be something more in it, because Amber would give her eyes to catch Jimmy herself—I know that well enough—she's got a jolly soft corner for him. So when she says that Jimmy is going to Egypt with them, and that I
must
come too”—she laughed and tossed her head—“I know that Amber must think that Jimmy won't go if I don't. If she saw half a chance of getting him to herself, you bet she'd be on to it. I know Amber.”

Amabel straightened herself.

“I dislike Mrs. Studland very much,” she said. “Why on earth do you want to be friends with a woman like that?”

“Oh, Amber's not too bad. You can't blame her for playing her own hand. She's not a bad sort really. Why don't you like her? You only saw her once.”

Amabel laughed—she had a pretty laugh. A whimsical expression came into her grey eyes.

“It's odd of me, I know,” she said, “frightfully odd.”

“But you must have a reason.”

“Must I? Well, I expect it was her magenta lips. You know, Daphne, I don't think you need really worry about Mrs. Studland's attractions. I can't imagine any young man falling in love with a woman who makes up magenta,”

Daphne looked pityingly at her mother.

“But you don't know very much about men, do you?” she said. She spoke quite simply, from the heights of superior knowledge. “Of course Jimmy's rather old-fashioned; but men do admire what's smart and up-to-date—and Amber's simply nothing if she's not smart. Why, she told me we were going to wear things like drain-pipes
at least
a month before anyone else had the slightest inkling. Of course Jimmy's not in the least in love with her; but she's an awfully fascinating woman, and if he goes to Egypt and I don't—” The words came slower. Daphne took a step forward and went down on her knees at Amabel's side. “Mummy, I must go, I
must
. Manage it somehow!” The last word quivered.

BOOK: The Dower House Mystery
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