Authors: M.C. Beaton
M. C. Beaton
is the author of the hugely successful Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, as well as a quartet of Edwardian murder mysteries featuring heroine Lady Rose Summer, several Regency romance series and a stand-alone murder mystery,
The Skeleton in the Closet
– all published by Constable & Robinson. She left a full-time career in journalism to turn to writing, and now divides her time between the Cotswolds and Paris. Visit
for more, or follow M. C. Beaton on Twitter: @mc_beaton.
Titles by M. C. Beaton
The Poor Relation
Lady Fortescue Steps Out · Miss Tonks Turns to Crime · Mrs Budley Falls from Grace Sir Philip’s Folly · Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue · Back in Society
A House for the Season
The Miser of Mayfair · Plain Jane · The Wicked Godmother Rake’s Progress · The Adventuress · Rainbird’s Revenge
The Six Sisters
Minerva · The Taming of Annabelle · Deirdre and Desire Daphne · Diana the Huntress · Frederica in Fashion
Edwardian Murder Mysteries
Snobbery with Violence · Hasty Death · Sick of Shadows Our Lady of Pain
The Travelling Matchmaker
Emily Goes to Exeter · Belinda Goes to Bath · Penelope Goes to Portsmouth Beatrice Goes to Brighton · Deborah Goes to Dover · Yvonne Goes to York
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death · Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener · Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage · Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death · Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam · Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came
Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate · Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance · Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor
Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye
Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison · Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body · Agatha Raisin: As the Pig Turns Agatha Raisin: Hiss and Hers · Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble
Death of a Gossip · Death of a Cad · Death of an Outsider Death of a Perfect Wife · Death of a Hussy · Death of a Snob Death of a Prankster · Death of a Glutton · Death of a Travelling Man Death of a Charming Man · Death of a Nag · Death of a Macho Man Death of a Dentist · Death of a Scriptwriter · Death of an Addict A Highland Christmas · Death of a Dustman · Death of a Celebrity Death of a Village · Death of a Poison Pen · Death of a Bore Death of a Dreamer · Death of a Maid · Death of a Gentle Lady Death of a Witch · Death of a Valentine · Death of a Sweep Death of a Kingfisher · Death of Yesterday
The Skeleton in the Closet
The Agatha Raisin Companion
M. C. Beaton
Constable & Robinson Ltd.
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First electronic edition published 2011
by RosettaBooks LLC, New York
First published in the UK by Canvas,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013
Copyright © M. C. Beaton, 1981
The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978-1-47210-119-8 (ebook)
Printed and bound in the UK
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Cover design copyright © Constable & Robinson
For Sally and Michael Murphy
and their sons, Conal and Gavin,
The Honorable Miss Matilda Burningham paced the smooth lawns of her family estate on all the perfect glory of an early spring morning and bitterly envied the peace of nature. Blossoms frothed in a sea of pink-and-white waves in the orchard, daffodils blazed gold under the old trees on the lawns, and the sweet, heady exotic smell of hyacinth floated on the slight breeze. A blackbird at her feet cocked its glossy head, looking for worms. All was as it had been—on the outside at least.
King Edward, accompanied by his stupendous retinue, had departed, leaving Jeebles, the rambling ancestral home of the Burninghams, to relapse into its usual rural torpor. But inside, Matilda—Tilly to her few friends—were stirring faint, uncomfortable prick-lings of unease. She was
to get back into
her customary dress of old riding breeches and jersey, she told herself. The royal visit had forced her into fashionable clothes for the first and, she hoped, the last time in her life.
Tilly was only just seventeen years old and still carried around a layer of puppy fat that was slow to melt because of Tilly’s fondness for nursery teas. But she had done her best to please her father, Lord Charles Burningham, who had nearly had an apoplexy over the excitement of the king’s visit.
A lady’s maid had been hired specially to try to turn Tilly into a swan. Tilly’s skin still itched at the memory of the layers of clothes she had had to put on.
To begin with there was a garment known as a “combination,” a kind of vest and pants in one piece, made of fine wool with legs reaching to the knee. Over this had gone a corset made of pink coutil with busks fastening down the front and tight lacing at the back to produce a fashionable swanlike figure. To accentuate the bust and hips, silk pads were attached under the arms and at the hips. Then came a camisole or petticoat-bodice that buttoned down the front and was trimmed with lace around the neck and had diminutive puffed sleeves. Then came the
knickers that had lace frills at the knee and buttoned at the waist. Then the steel-gray silk stockings that were clipped to the corset, and then the vast and rustling petticoat.
A blouse and skirt had been deemed suitable day wear for Tilly and proved to be an added torture. The junction of the skirt and blouse was concealed by a stiffened belt that fastened at the front with a clasp and at the back was pinned to the undergarments so that never an unladylike gap would show. Going to the lavatory had been turned into a full-scale military operation, reflected Tilly with a sigh.
She had been placed next to King Edward at the dining table. She had been told that the king liked to listen rather than talk, and Tilly had tried hard. But she was unused to making social conversation, and a cloud of boredom had soon settled over the royal brow. “Old Tum-Tum,” as the gourmand king was called, began to peevishly rattle his cutlery and drum his fingers on the table, a familiar sign that he was displeased with his partner. So poor Tilly had been supplanted by a dazzling charmer who had not even had her first Season, Lady Aileen Dunbar.
Tilly had always been rather scornful of frilly, fussy, and twittery girls like Lady Aileen,
but she had to admit that she did envy her during the royal visit. And not only because of the king’s flattering attention to Lady Aileen, but because of the interest shown to the silly girl by none other than the Marquess of Heppleford. The marquess was designed like a Greek god with thick fair hair, sleepy blue eyes, and a classic profile. He was just over six feet tall and was accounted to be the finest shot and huntsman in all of England. Tilly, who was a keen huntswoman herself, longed for the handsome marquess’s notice. But, no. He only had eyes for Lady Aileen. Rats!
Tilly moodily kicked at a piece of manicured turf and turned her mind away from that particular worry to another. How on earth had her father managed to
for all this magnificence. An extra wing had had to be built to house the royal servants, the library had been wrenched apart and rebuilt as a bowling alley to pander to the current royal fad, and then there was the food—the lobster, the quail—and the rare vintage wines, the champagne!
Since the departure of King Edward, her father had been closeted for long hours with his steward, only emerging from the estates office for meals, and each time he seemed to
have grown older and more worried. But to all Tilly’s anxious queries he would only conjure up a thin smile and ruffle her carroty curls and say, “Don’t worry, my son. We shall come about.”
Lord Charles could be forgiven for often forgetting that Tilly was not a boy. She had faithfully dressed and behaved like the son he had always longed for, with the sad result that the marriageable young men of the county referred to her as “a good sport,” and her former girl friends, who had lately blossomed into ribbons and bows and whispers and giggles, now shuddered and said Tilly smelled of the stables.
Tilly set off on her rounds of her tenants, trying to banish the feeling that she had woken up on this spring morning to find that she was, well, somehow
She briefly wondered what her mother, who had died when Tilly was a baby, had been like and then pushed that thought aside as she headed for the South Lodge to inquire after the lodge keeper, Mr. Pomfret’s, weak chest.
Mrs. Pomfret looked none too pleased to see Tilly, as she was surrounded by stacks of clothes waiting to be ironed and had three small children clamoring and clutching at her skirts, but nonetheless she dropped Tilly a
low curtsy and replied politely that Mr. Pomfret was “coming along remarkable.”
“I told him he shouldn’t have been out in that damp weather we had,” said Tilly. “I shall bring him some of my own medicine from the stillroom.”
“Well, I don’t know but that what the doctor’s given Fred ain’t the best thing—”
“Nonsense!” said Tilly brusquely. “I know what’s best for him. I’ll bring it along tomorrow. Goodness, I’m parched. Any chance of a cup of tea?”
“Of course, miss,” cried Mrs. Pomfret. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
Tilly stretched out a booted foot toward the hearth with a sigh of satisfaction. Mrs. Pomfret made very good tea indeed. It never crossed Tilly’s mind that Mrs. Pomfret had more to do with her time than make tea. Tilly had been treated like visiting royalty by the tenants and the servants for as long as she could remember. Like many of her peers, she had fallen into the habit of believing that she alone knew best what to do for them.
She enjoyed living her tenants lives for them and genuinely believed she was bringing a little glamour and excitement into their mundane existences by her frequent visits.
There was the rattle of carriage wheels on
the gravel outside the lodge and Mrs. Pomfret turned around with a cluck of dismay, wiping her hands on her apron. “I’d better go open the gates, seeing as how Fred is poorly,” she said.
“I’ll go,” said Tilly, bounding to her feet and surprising both herself and Mrs. Pomfret. “You attend to the tea.”
Thrusting her hands in her breeches pockets, Tilly strolled out to the massive iron gates. Her bright-red hair was shoved up under a boy’s riding hat and she screwed up her eyes to see who was in the carriage, a mannerism she had caught from her father, which dully prevented the world from finding out that the Honorable Matilda had an exceedingly fine pair of large blue eyes.