Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White - ebook

Fear Stalks the Village ebook

Ethel Lina White

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Opis

Fear Stalks the Village” will appeal to those who love detective. This novel is mysterious in its plots: people who live in an id? llic village receive anonymous letters accusing them of past mistakes. Secrets are revealed, and people begin to avoid each other, and then mysteriously begin to die. It turns out that this is not such an ideal and calm village.

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Liczba stron: 401

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Contents

I. DRAWN BLINDS

II. BICARBONATE

III. THE HERALD

IV. ANONYMOUS

V. ENTER FEAR

VI. A COUNTRY WALK

VII. THE EXTRA GUEST

VIII. PAYING THE BILL

IX. COVENTRY

X. THE SECOND LETTER

XI. INQUEST

XII. UNDERGROUND

XIII. SICK FLOWERS OF SECRECY

XIV. THE TWITCH OF THE TWIG

XV. ROMEO FROM LONDON

XVI. THE LOST INITIAL

XVII. POSTMAN'S KNOCK

XVIII. THE TRAP

XIX. THE TAIL-END

XX. POSTAL REGULATIONS

XXI. HAPPY DAYS

XXII. LIFE AND DEATH

XXIII. THE LAWYER PULLS UP A BLIND

XXIV. THE SNAKE-HEAD

XXV. NIGHT-SCENE

XXVI. ULTIMATUM

XXVII. THE STAMP

XXVIII. COMPANY

XXIX. THE PHILANTHROPIST

XXX. THE ENVELOPE

XXXI. THE WAY OUT

XXXII. TWO VISITS

XXXIII. IGNATIUS EXPLAINS

I. DRAWN BLINDS

THE village was beautiful. It was enfolded in a hollow of the Downs, and wrapped up snugly–first, in a floral shawl of gardens, and then, in a great green shawl of fields. Lilies and lavender grew in abundance. Bees clustered over sweet-scented herbs with the hum of a myriad spinning-wheels.

Although the cottages which lined the cobbled street were perfect specimens of Tudor architecture, the large houses on the green were, chiefly, of later date. The exception was a mellow Elizabethan mansion–‘Spout Manor’, on Miss Asprey’s printed note-paper–but known locally by its original name of ‘The Spout’. This was the residence of Miss Decima Asprey, the queen of the village–an elderly spinster of beautiful appearance and character, and possessed of the essential private means.

Miss Asprey’s subjects were not only well-bred and charming, but endowed with such charity that there was no poverty or unemployment in the village. The ladies had not to grapple with a servant problem, which oiled the wheels of hospitality. If family feuds existed, they were not advertised, and private lives were shielded by drawn blinds. Consequently, the social tone was fragrant as rosemary, and scandal nearly as rare as a unicorn.

A perfect spot. Viewed from an airplane, by day, it resembled a black-and-white plaster model of a Tudor village, under a glass case. At night, however, when its lights began to glow faintly, it was like some ancient vessel, with barnacled hull and figure-head, riding in the peace of a forgotten port.

It was a spot which was rarely visited. There was no railway station, no floating population, and a stagnant birth-rate. Even Death seldom knocked at its doors, for the natives resented the mere idea of dying in such a delightful place.

But local prejudice, which had discouraged the Old Gentleman with the Scythe, was not strong enough to bar the triumphant progress of the motor-bus. Denied passage through its streets, the reeling green monster dropped its fares just outside the village, before it looped back to the London road.

One afternoon, in early summer, it brought a woman novelist from London–a thin, fashionable, attractive person, who wrote sensational serials, in order to live, although sometimes, when slumbering dreams stirred, she questioned their necessity. Although her high French heels seemed literally wrenched from city pavements, she had made the sacrifice in order to visit a friend, Joan Brook, who was companion to a local lady.

At the invitation of Lady d’Arcy–Joan’s employer–the novelist had been entertained at the Court, a massive biscuit-hued Georgian pile, surrounded with lush parkland, and about a mile from the village. During their tea they had both been conscious of mangled strands of friendship, as they talked of impersonal matters.

Each viewed the other from the detached standard of criticism. Joan thought her friend’s lips suggested that she had been affectionately kissing a freshly-painted pillar-box, while the novelist considered that the girl had run to seed badly. But when they walked back to the village they had been insensibly welded together in harmony, by the waving beauty of the fields, ripening for hay and steeped in the glow of sunset. Joan’s sunburnt face proclaimed the fact that she never wore a hat, but the novelist, too, took off her tiny mesh of crocheted silk, without a thought of the set of her wave. Smoking as they sauntered, they entered the shady tunnel of the Quaker’s Walk, half a mile of chestnut avenue.

“Like it?” asked the novelist.

“Love it.” Joan’s blue eyes glowed. “I know you think I’m buried. But this corpse hopes the Trump won’t sound just yet. I’ve never been so happy.”

“Pray it may last...Any social life?”

“Tennis and garden-parties, later on. The three big houses are the Hall, the Towers and the Court. The Court is ours. The Squire lives at the Hall. The rich people of the neighbourhood live at the Towers, but they’re always away.”

“Any men?”

“Two. The parson and Major Blair. The Major’s a manly man and he belongs to Vivian Sheriff, the Squire’s daughter. Vivian and I are the only girls here.”

The novelist raised her painted butterfly brows.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “There’s the Vivian-girl and the biological specimen. That leaves you and the padre. What’s he like?”

“Rather a thrill. Big and black, with a voice like a gong. You should hear him hammer and bellow on Sundays. But I believe he’s the genuine thing.”

“Going to marry him?”

Joan was conscious of a slight recoil, so that she had to remind herself of her former standard of modern frankness.

“If he doesn’t break away, I may,” she replied. “After all, I’ve had to submit meekly to employers all my life, and I’d like to do some bossing myself, for a change. Purely, can’t you see me telling the cottagers to boil their potatoes in their skins, and not to have any more babies?”

“I’d believe anything of you, Brook,” remarked her friend. “By the way, what’s your Lady d’Arcy like?”

“Big and vague, and drifts about aimlessly. I’ve nothing to do but to act as some sort of anchor. I get a big salary which I can’t spend here. But it’s not wasted at home. They’re nearly sunk, bless ‘em.”

The novelist’s face was not painted to be revealing, but she nodded to show her sympathy with the prevailing economic depression as she studied Joan through her monocle. The girl was tall and strong, with a face expressive of character, and fearless eyes. She wore a sleeveless white tennis-frock and silver slave-bangles on her brown arms. Although she had grown more solid, she seemed to be of compact virtues and charm.

“Well? The verdict?” asked Joan.

“Guilty!” replied her friend. “You’re a last year’s model. You’ve put on weight. Your lips look indecently like lips. And–darling, I’m jealous as hell.”

“I know I wouldn’t swap jobs with you.” Joan gave a contented laugh. “This is really a marvellous place, Purley. Everyone has a pedigree and a private income. Everyone’s kind. And, my dear, everyone’s married.”

“I get it. No love-babies, no drains. Gosh, what a picture!” As the two women emerged from the gloom of the avenue they saw the village with its ancient cottages and choked flower-gardens, all steeped in the carnation glow of sunset. At each step they seemed to turn a fresh page of a fairy-tale, with illuminated borders jumbled with box-edging, sage, damson-trees, beehives and a patchwork quilt of peonies, pinks and pansies. Golden girls and boys skipped in the street, while cats were growing mysterious as they awaited the herald–twilight. Soon their real life would begin.

The novelist surrendered herself to the enchantment, although her lip curled at evidence of the survival of the Feudal System, for all the children bobbed to the ‘quality’.

As they lingered on the green, Joan pointed to a solid house of buff stucco, adorned with a clock-tower.

“That’s ‘Clock House’,” she said. “The Scudamores live there. I hope we’ll meet them, for they’re types. They’re terribly nice and terribly happily-married. I call them ‘The Spirit of the Village’. You’d find them ‘Copy’.”

The novelist stifled her groan, as Joan proceeded to do the honours of the village. She waved her cigarette towards a grey stone house which was backed by the Norman church.

“The Rectory. My future home.” She forced the note of impudence. “Just behind us is the doctor’s house, but the walls hide it. It’s Queen Anne and rather sweet. He and his wife always play tennis after dinner. You can hear them.”

As they stood, listening, the dull thuds behind the rose-red bricks mingled with the faint laughter of children and the cawing of rooks in the elms. Suddenly, the novelist fell prostrate before the cumulative spell of the village.

“It’s perfect,” she declared. “I wonder if I could rent a cottage for the summer.”

“If you did you’d never go back to London,” Joan told her. “Nobody ever goes away, not even for holidays. Look out. Here are the Scudamores.”

She guiltily hid her cigarette behind her back, as a middle-aged couple advanced, arm-in-arm, over the cobbles. The man had a clean-shaven, long-lipped, legal face, to proclaim him a lawyer with the best County connection, together with a nose which had been in his family for centuries.

His wife was also tall, and possessed of bleached beauty and elegance. Her luxuriant fair hair was fast fading to grey, and her draperies were indefinitely grey-green in colour, like a glacier-fed river.

She greeted Lady d’Arcy’s companion with a gracious bow, but did not even glance at her companion.

“She didn’t really like me,” murmured the novelist when the Scudamores had passed. “Do I look like a fallen woman? Tell her I’m respectable, if painted.”

“My dear,” gurgled Joan, “she’s so charitable that she would not take a chance of disliking you. That’s why she wouldn’t look. She’s a bit overwhelming, but a real Christian...I say, Purley.”

As Joan paused and regarded her friend intently, the novelist braced herself to meet the inevitable question.

“Can’t you make a story out of this village?”

“You would say that.” The novelist’s tone was acid. “But, my good woman, what possible copy could I find here? Jane Austen’s beaten me to Cranford. The truth is, my child, if there’d been no Fall, there’d be no Publishers and no Lending Libraries.”

“But there must be a story everywhere,” persisted Joan.

“Not for me.”

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