It's the early 1920s in England--the country is still recovering from the Great War and undergoing rapid social changes that many are not quite ready to accept. During this heady and tumultuous time, the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, the daughter of a Viscount, makes a decision shocking to her class: rather than be supported by her relations, she will earn her own living as a writer. Landing an assignment for Town & Country magazine for a series of articles on country manor houses, she travels to Wentwater Court in early January 1923 to begin research on her first piece. But all is not well there when she arrives. Lord Wentwater's young wife has become the center of a storm of jealousy, animosity, and, possibly, some not-unwanted amorous attention, which has disrupted the peace of the bucolic country household.
Still, this is as nothing compared to the trouble that ensues when one of the holiday guests drowns in a tragic early-morning skating accident. Especially when Daisy discovers that his death was no accident....
In a series debut that is sure to delight fans of the classic British cosy mystery, Death at Wentwater Court brings readers old and new back to the "golden age" of mystery.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
May 14, 1994
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
Death at Wentwater Court
He'll come to a bad end, mark my words, and she won't lift a finger to stop him. It's the little ones I'm worried about." The stout lady heaved a sigh, her old-fashioned mantle, a hideous yellowish-green, billowing about her. "Four already and another due any day now."
Daisy Dalrymple was constantly amazed at the way total strangers insisted on regaling her with their life stories, their marital misfortunes, or their children's misdeeds. Not that she objected. One day she was going to write a novel, and then every hint of human experience might come in handy.
All the same, she wondered why people revealed to her their innermost secrets.
When the plump lady with the drunkard for a son-in-law left the train at Alton, Daisy had the 2nd Class Ladies Only compartment to herself. She knelt on the seat and peered at her face in the little mirror kindly provided by the L&SW Railway Company. It was a roundish, ordinary sort of face, pink-cheeked, not one calculated to inspire people to pour out their souls. A confidante, Daisy felt, ought to have dark, soulful eyes, not the cheerful blue that looked back at her.
Near one corner of a mouth of the generous, rather than rosebud, persuasion dwelt the small brown mole that was the bane of her existence. No quantity of face-powder ever hid it completely.
The scattering of freckles on her nose could be smothered, however. Taking her vanity case from her handbag, Daisy vigorously wielded her powder-puff. She touched up her lipstick and smiled at herself. On her way to her first big writing assignment for Town and Country, blase as she'd like to appear, she had to admit to herself she was excited--and a little nervous.
At twenty-five she ought to be sophisticated and self-confident, but the butterflies refused to be banished from her stomach. She had to succeed. The alternatives were altogether too blighting to contemplate.
Was the emerald green cloche hat from Selfridges Bargain Basement a trifle too gaudy for a professional woman? No, she decided, it brightened up her old dark green tweed coat just as intended. She straightened the grey fur tippet she had borrowed from Lucy. It was more elegant than a woollen muffler, if less practical on this icy January morning.
Sitting down again, she picked up the newspaper the woman had left. Daisy was no devotee of the latest news, and on this second day of January, 1923, the headlines she scanned looked very much like those of a week ago, or a fortnight: troubles in the Ruhr and in Ireland; Mussolini making speeches in Italy; German inflation raging out of control.
Opening the paper, she read a short piece describing the latest wonders unearthed from Tutankhamen's tomb, and then a headline caught her eye:
Scotland Yard Called In
Daisy had been at school with Lord Flatford's daughter, though not in the same form. Shocking how the merest mention of an acquaintance was more interesting than the most serious news from abroad.
In the early hours of the New Year, thieves had walked off with theFlatfords' house-guests most valuable jewellery, not yet returned to his lordship's safe after a New Year's ball.
She had no time to read more, for the clickety-clack of the train over the rails began to slow again and the next station was Wentwater. Wrestling with the leather strap, Daisy lowered the breath-misted window. She shivered in the blast of frosty air, heavy with the distinctive smell of a coal-fired steam engine, and wondered whether a cold neck was not too high a price to pay for elegance.
At least the knot of honey brown hair low on her neck, out of the way of the hat, provided a spot of warmth. For once she was glad she had indulged her mother by not having her hair bobbed.
The train rattled and shuddered to a halt. Leaning out, Daisy waved and called, "Porter!"
The man who answered her summons appeared to have a wooden leg, doubtless having lost the original in the Great War. Nonetheless, he made good time along the platform, swept clear of snow. He touched his peaked cap to her as she stepped down, clutching Lucy's precious camera.
"Yes, I'm afraid there's rather a lot," she said doubtfully.
"Not to worry, madam." He hopped nimbly up into the compartment and gathered from the rack her portmanteau, tripod, Gladstone bag, and the portable typewriter the editor had lent her. Laden, he somehow descended again. Setting everything down, he slammed the door and raised his arm. "Right away!" he shouted to the guard, who blew his whistle and waved his green flag.
As the train chugged into motion, Daisy crossed the footbridge to the opposite platform. She surveyed the scene. The station was no more than a halt, and she was the only person to have descended from the down-train. Signs over the two doors of the tiny building on the up-platform indicated that one end was for Left Luggage, the other serving as both Waiting-Room and Ticket Office.
The Hampshire countryside surrounding the station was hidden by a blanket of snow, sparkling in the sun. Frost glittered on skeletaltrees and hedges. The only signs of life were the train, now gathering speed, the uniformed man carrying her stuff across the line behind it, and a crow huddled on the station picket fence.
"Your ticket, please, madam."
She gave it to him to clip. "I'm staying at Wentwater Court," she said. "Is it far?"
"A mile or three."
"Oh, Lord!" Daisy looked in dismay at her luggage, and then down at her smart leather boots, high-heeled and laced up the front to the knee. They were definitely not intended for tramping along snowy country lanes, and the station was obviously too small to support a taxi service or even a fly.
"I shouldn't worry, madam. His lordship always sends the motor for his guests, but likely it's hard to start in this weather."
"The trouble is," Daisy confided, "I'm not exactly a guest. I'm going to write about Wentwater Court for a magazine."
The porter-cum-station master-cum-ticket collector looked properly impressed. "A writer, are you, madam? Very nice, too. Well, now, if you was to walk, I can get a boy from the village to bring your traps after on a handcart. Or I can telephone the garridge in Alton for a hired car to come pick you up."
Daisy contemplated these alternatives, one uncomfortable, the other expensive. Her expenses would be paid by the magazine, eventually, but she hadn't much cash in hand.
At that moment she heard the throb of a powerful motor engine. A dark green Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost pulled up in the station yard, the brass fittings on its long bonnet gleaming. A uniformed chauffeur jumped out.
"I reckon his lordship's counting you as a guest, madam," said the porter with vicarious satisfaction, picking up her baggage.
"Miss Dalrymple?" asked the chauffeur, approaching. "I'm Jones, from the Court. Sorry I'm late, miss. She were a tad slow starting this morning, which she ain't usually be it never so cold, or I'd've got going earlier."
"That's quite all right, Jones," said Daisy, giving him a sunny smile. God was in His Heaven after all, and all was right with the world.
He opened the car door for her, then went to help the porter stow her bags in the boot. Daisy leaned back on the soft leather seat. There were definite advantages to being the daughter of a viscount.
Of course, she'd never have got the assignment to write about stately homes were it not for her social connections. Though she didn't know the Earl of Wentwater, she was acquainted with his eldest son, James, Lord Beddowe; his daughter, Lady Marjorie; and his sister, Lady Josephine. Her editor had rightly expected that doors forever closed to any plebeian writer would swing wide to welcome the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple.
The Rolls purred out of the station yard, down the hill, round a bend, and through the village of Lower Wentwater. The duck pond on the village green was frozen. Shrieking with laughter, several small children in woollen leggings were sliding on the ice, nothing but bright eyes showing between striped mufflers and Balaclava helmets.
Beyond the little stone church, the lane wound up and down hills, past fields and farms and scattered copses. Here the snow on the roadway lay undisturbed except for two eight-inch-deep wheel ruts made by the earl's motor on its way to the station. Daisy was increasingly glad she had not had to hoof it.
In the middle of a wood, they came to a brick lodge guarding tall wrought-iron gates that stood open. As they drove through, Jones sounded the Rolls's horn. Daisy glanced back and saw the lodge-keeper come out to close the gates behind them. A moment later, they drove out of the trees.