WHILE SHE SLEEPS (A Thriller Novel) - Ethel Lina White - ebook

WHILE SHE SLEEPS (A Thriller Novel) ebook

Ethel Lina White



This eBook edition of "While She Sleeps" has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Miss Loveapple has always had an unusual belief in her incredible luck. However, her luck is about to run out when she becomes a target of a cruel serial killer. Unaware of the danger, she goes through a number of insane situations escaping the death by a mere wonder. How long will she last? Ethel Lina White (1876-1944) was a British crime writer, best known for her novel The Wheel Spins, on which the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes, was based.

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Ethel Lina White


(A Thriller Novel)

Published by


- Advanced Digital Solutions & High-Quality eBook Formatting -
2017 OK Publishing
ISBN 978-80-272-0128-0

Table of Contents

Chapter I. Hail Happy Morn
Chapter II. A Vacuum Cleaner
Chapter III. The Invisible Player
Chapter IV. The Empty House
Chapter V. Gloves
Chapter VI. The Appointment
Chapter VII. The Listener
Chapter VIII. All Cats Are Grey
Chapter IX. The Cards Talk
Chapter X. White Heather
Chapter XI. Calais-Interlaken Express
Chapter XII. The Real Miss Loveapple
Chapter XIII. The Paragon
Chapter XIV. Long Distance Murder
Chapter XV. Mountains
Chapter XVI. Kleine Scheidegg
Chapter XVII. The Jewel-Case
Chapter XVIII. Face Value
Chapter XIX. Nocturnal
Chapter XX. Nightmare
Chapter XXI. Match-Point
Chapter XXII. A Cup of Coffee
Chapter XXIII. 'When She Sleeps'
Chapter XXIV. A Dose of Salts
Chapter XXV. The Underworld
Chapter XXVI. Screen Magic
Chapter XXVII. The Vigil
Chapter XXVIII. The First Bit of Luck

CHAPTER ONE. Hail Happy Morn

Table of Contents

Miss Loveapple awoke with a smile. She had slept well; her digestion was good—her conscience clear; and she had not an enemy in the world.

There was nothing to warn her that, within the next hour, she would be selected as a victim to be murdered.

As she threw aside the sheets and sat up in bed, she looked beautiful. Just as every dog has his day, every woman has her hour. Since Miss Loveapple's dress allowance was shaved to the limit, she triumphed when she was in undress.

Her low sleeveless nightdress revealed the whiteness of her skin which had not been exposed to the sun. Her fair hair fell over her shoulders in thick plaits. As she stretched out her arms in a yawn, she seemed to be welcoming the gift of life.

It was a blue windy day in late summer. The sun shone brightly upon her toilet table, striking through the cut-glass trinket set in rainbow gleams. She could hear the welcome rattle of china which told her that the maid was mounting the stairs with her early tea and the Times.

Birds were singing in the beech-tree which shaded her window, as though to celebrate good news. It had come, the night before, by the last post, in a letter from a London house agent. He had told her of an unexpected chance to let her town house, which would enable her to take a rare holiday abroad.

'Switzerland,' she said aloud. 'Mountains. You lucky me.'

Miss Loveapple believed in her luck. She was positive that Providence had drawn up a schedule of beneficent events for her special benefit. If any sceptic doubted that she was under the direct protection of an unseen Patron, she could offer proof of her claim.

To begin with, out of millions of hopeful gamblers, she, alone, was chosen to draw a certain horse in an Irish Sweep and consequently to realise the supreme ambition of her life.

In addition to this spectacular slice of good fortune, she could produce a long list of minor examples of her luck. Royalty died after she had bought a black hat, to justify an extravagance. On the nerve-racking occasion when she had forgotten to provide cakes for her At Home day, it rained heavily, spoiling the hay harvest, but keeping every visitor away.

Little things like that.

Each year, when her vegetable marrows or her gladioli received the coveted blue ticket—First Prize—at the local flower show, she would inhale the hot mashed-grass and fruit-laden atmosphere of the tent, as though it were incense compounded for her.

'My luck again,' she would declare to her disappointed competitors. 'Not your fault. Too bad—when you tried so hard.'

And then her hearty laughter would ring out, for she was genuine rather than tactful.

She was fortunate even over the circumstances in which she was orphaned. Her parents thoughtfully went on living until she was twenty-one and had finished her education and received proper dental attention. She was therefore spared the restrictions imposed upon a minor when they both died of epidemic influenza, just as the Local Authorities had passed the plans of a new by-pass road.

As these involved the sacrifice of the old family home, she received, in compensation, a sum higher than she could have hoped to get had the property come into the open market.

She was on the fringe of the leisured class and had a small private income; so she bought a well-built and comfortable residence—Pond House—which was too large and ambitious for her needs, and settled down to life in a select residential village in Kent.

Soon she was accepted as a fixture, together with her maid, her cat, her dog and everything that was hers. She was popular, for she entered into the social spirit of the community; and although she was younger than the majority of the residents, gardening and housework gave her the exercise she might have missed.

Yet, while she was friendly to all, she was intimate with none. In spite of her breezy good-nature, no one asked her personal questions, or called her by her Christian name. It was doubtful whether any one knew it, for she remained Miss Loveapple, of the Pond House.

On the sole occasion when she burst her sheath of reserve, it was a voluntary impulse. The revelation took place on a warm, wild All Hallows E'en, when a few ladies came to tea with her. Among them was a visitor from London, who brought with her a passport to popularity—a planchette.

She was a dark, skinny woman with the remnants of beauty and a suggestion of parched passion still lingering in her eyes. She wore an artistic gown of nasturtium-hued velvet and a long string of amber beads. Her personality was magnetic, so that the other women were excited to confidences as they sat in the firelight.

The windows of the drawing-room were open to the blue October twilight. Fallen beech-leaves rustled as the wind whirled them over the lawn, covering the violet-border. Witches and wonders were abroad.

'Ask the thingummy if I will get married,' invited a masculine-looking woman wistfully.

The planchette, although plainly anxious to please, had its record for accurate prediction to consider. It hesitated for a little time before it advised her 'not to give up hope.'

The inquirer, whose name was Miss Pitt, laughed in proof of sporting spirit.

'Optimistic beggar,' she said. 'But tactless. The standard of face value in the Spirit World seems much the same as ours.'

It was then that Miss Loveapple asked her question. 'I don't believe in it,' she declared positively. 'But—shall I get my wish?'

The London lady looked at her fine legs—generously displayed in the firelight—her admirable colouring and the firm moulding of her face. When she attempted to convey her own impression to the super-sensitive planchette, it proved instantly responsive.

'Yes,' it wrote firmly. Taking a chance, it added: 'Soon.'

'Wish I could bank on that,' said Miss Loveapple.

'Someone you know, or still a stranger?' hinted the London lady.

'My wish?' Miss Loveapple laughed heartily. 'It isn't a husband...No. I want to have three houses. One town, one country and one seaside.'

As the others stared at her, she spoke breathlessly in her excitement.

'I can't explain it, but it's been my great ambition ever since I can remember. Mother used to tell me about the Royal residences, so perhaps they set me going. Do you know I was furious when I heard that the family had given up Osborne House. Somehow it seemed to break the sequence, like losing a quin or quad...If ever I get hold of a lump sum, I shall have my three houses...Sounds mad, doesn't it?'

'Merely border-line,' said Miss Pitt generously.

All Hallows E'en...The wind blew down the chimney and burst through the window, in gusts of moist earthy air, faintly perfumed with violets. A slip of a moon—panic-stricken—dodged wildly amid the celestial traffic of racing clouds. Spirits drifted like mist from opening graves. The living mingled with the dead...

Not long afterwards, Miss Loveapple drew her horse in the Sweep. After her windfall had been duly pared, she received the sum of four thousand odd pounds. This was promptly put back into circulation by her purchase of two more houses—one in London and a bungalow on the south coast.

While her action was locally criticised, no one was authorised to offer advice. Only her lawyer hinted at the disadvantages.

'This property will prove a white elephant. Besides Rates, Insurance and upkeep, you have all these monthly instalments to pay on your furniture. You will be definitely crippled.'

'No,' said Miss Loveapple, 'my income will be as much as it is now. I've figured it all out. But I shall not cut my Charity list. That might be unlucky. My only worry is whether I am anti-social, having all these empty rooms when people are overcrowded in slums.'

Apparently she came to some working agreement with her conscience, for her three houses made her completely happy. She was now free from the restrictions of environment. Whenever she was bored with the landscape, she could exchange it for the spectacle of waves rolling over the beach. If she grew tired of looking at the wallpaper in her London bedroom, she had only to return to the Pond House.

But far stronger than the satisfaction obtained by scenic change, was the inflation of her sense of ownership. Whenever she moved, she opened her own front door—trod on her own carpet—broke her own china. The knowledge filled her with a consciousness of dormant power and placed her in the small company of maiden queens, dictators and hospital matrons.

At the same time, it endowed her with definite spinster status. Although the news of her engagement would create no real surprise—since she was of eligible age—no one in the village expected her to get married.

On the day when she was chosen for future newspaper publicity—consequent to a nasty experience in order to qualify as 'the victim'—Miss Loveapple was still on the right side of thirty. Those whose taste had not been impaired by the rationed beauty of the Screen would have considered her attractive. Fair-haired, with good features and colouring, she could have posed for a poster of a Britannia who had dieted sufficiently to compromise with modern dress.

On this special morning, after she had reminded herself of the luck of the London offer, she went over the list of her static blessings.

'I am well and strong. I don't owe a cent. The sun is shining. And I have my three houses.'

On the chair beside her, the blue Persian cat, David, lay asleep in his basket, clasping his Woolworth furry toy in his great paws. He was not a year old, but was so enormous that he resembled a lion-cub, while spoiling had kept him in the kitten class.

As Miss Loveapple beamed maternally at him, the maid entered the room, followed by the Aberdeen terrier, Scottie. Elsie was about the same age as her mistress, but she looked older. She was supposed to be delicate, so she did all the lady-like jobs—cleaning silver and arranging flowers—while Miss Loveapple scrubbed and polished.

'Good-morning madam,' she said, speaking in a low, muffled voice. 'I hope you slept well. Here's your young gentleman come to see you.'

Miss Loveapple assisted Scottie to scramble onto the low divan-bed before she spoke.

'I am going to London to-morrow, Elsie.'

'Yes, madam.'

Elsie laid down the tray carefully on the bed-table, poured out a cup of tea, placed a cigarette between her mistress' lips and struck a match to light it. Then she took David from his basket and cuddled him so that his great sleepy head drooped on her shoulder.

'David says,' she remarked, speaking in a loud, coarse voice to prove that she had assumed David's identity, 'David says he doesn't want his mistress to go away from the nice cool country. He says it doesn't make sense to go up to that blinking hot London.'

'Then you can tell David,' said Miss Loveapple, 'that if his mistress doesn't snap at her chance to make some money, there might be no cool country for him and no nice Elsie either.'

Elsie still looked resentful as she nursed the cat in silence while her mistress fed Scottie with biscuits.

Presently Miss Loveapple asked her maid a direct question.

'What have you got against London, Elsie?'

Elsie's pale face grew red. 'Because—Oh, madam, I always feel it's unlucky.'

'Unlucky?' Miss Loveapple's voice was sharp. 'Why?'

'I mean—if you'll excuse the liberty—it was coming the way it did, with gambling and breaking the law.'

It was characteristic of that household that Elsie should refer to luck. But the fact remained that if Miss Loveapple had not acquired a London address, at that moment she would have been secure in her Zone of Safety.

CHAPTER TWO. A Vacuum Cleaner

Table of Contents

During the early hours, Miss Loveapple never forgot that she was mistress of three houses. Later on, she might become supplementary Staff and cheerfully do the heavier work for which Elsie was less adapted by nature; but she always made her toilet at leisure and breakfasted in dignity.

When she came down the shallow stairs, she wore a full-skirted house-coat, pale yellow in colour and patterned with brilliant flowers. It enhanced her natural opulence and suggested prosperity allied with bounty. As the sun—shining through the window behind her—gilded her hair to the semblance of a halo, she might have been a seasonal goddess, bearing her largesse of floral trophies, but also open to a deal with the market gardener.

As usual, she paused on the half-way landing, in order to appreciate the beauty of the property to which she was most attached. Although it had cost more to furnish her London house, she had sunk most money in the Pond House, by installing central heating and remaking the garden.

It was a pleasant Georgian building, panelled in white wood and spaciously but wastefully planned, with broad landings and superfluous steps. There were only two reception-rooms and three bedrooms, but all were large and finely proportioned. None of her houses contained an official maid's-room to mitigate her standard of perfection. She and Elsie chose their sleeping-quarters—and changed them again—according to season and caprice.

Everything looked especially pleasant that sunny morning. The parquet-flooring of the hall advertised her own 'elbow grease.' A vase of second-crop pale-blue delphiniums was reflected in a mirror on the wall. Humming a tuneless melody, Miss Love-apple strolled into the dining-room, which, owing to its superior dimensions—was also the living-room.

The drawing-room looked out on to the front lawn, which was shaded with beech-trees. Here there were only a few flowers—violets under the windows and bulbs planted in the grass. The dining-room, however, ran the entire length of the house and had windows at either end.

In accordance with the general colour scheme, its furnishings were white, relieved with pale green—an extravagant choice which was criticised locally. It had vindicated her by remaining fresh and clean, although even she attributed this to her own labour, rather than luck.

As she crossed to the table, where her breakfast was keeping hot in a chafing-dish, she stared approvingly at the carpet.

'It certainly paid me to get a vacuum,' she reflected. 'I ought to have one in London, too. If I budget strictly over my holiday, perhaps the rent will run to one.'

She cut a piece of bread and threw out crumbs for the birds on the front lawn before she walked to the back windows, to admire the garden. She had transformed it from a gloomy wilderness to its former old-world charm. The pond—which lent its name to the house—had degenerated to a stagnant pool, enclosed with a low railing and shadowed by willow-bushes. Advised by the local builder, and even doing some of the work herself, the hollow had been filled in and the water enclosed in sunken shallow tanks planted with lily-pads. Here, too, was her herb-garden, her famous rose-patch, her perennial-border and the vegetables which won so many prizes.

As she gazed through the window, she sniffed the appetising odour of bacon which Elsie was frying for her own breakfast. The maid was unable to share her mistress' grilled kidneys, owing to a dislike of 'insides'—a disability which Miss Loveapple quoted with a queer pride as proof of Elsie's refinement.

Reminded of her appetite, she sat down at the table and made a large meal, beginning with cereal and ending with toast and honey. When she had finished, she lit a cigarette...

By a strange coincidence, her action synchronized with that of a young man who lay in bed in a darkish London flat. He drained his cracked cup and began to smoke as a prelude to business.

His appearance was typical of the average young man who recognises the value of a good appearance and has conformed to the rules. His voice had the clipped Public School accent—which can be imitated by any one with an ear for vowels and—when dressed—he wore an old school tie, such as can be acquired at its source, or bought in a shop.

His teeth were good, his hair well brushed, his smile pleasant. Certainly his face betrayed nothing of the dark intention in his heart as he stretched out his arm for the Telephone Directory, which lay on the battered bamboo table beside his bed.

It was the red-covered volume and it opened at the 'L' section. Flicking over the pages with fingers which had been recently manicured, he skimmed through the legion of 'Longs.' Occasionally he paused to note a name and then to reject it, but his selections were not so casual as they appeared. Underneath this weeding-out process was a definite purpose.

Although his motive was entirely impersonal, and remote from malevolence, the lady of his choice had to possess certain qualifications before he could be definitely interested. She had to be not only a spinster or widow, but unprotected by any male relative. She had to be of sufficient importance to invite a visit from a burglar, yet not so wealthy as to keep an inconvenient staff of servants. It was essential, too, that she lived in a select but unfashionable locality which was discreetly lit and not over-patrolled by policemen.

In his impatience, he probably passed over some ideal candidates for immortality, as he exhausted the 'Longs' and 'Lords,' on his way to the 'Loves.'

Suddenly his attention was arrested by an uncommon name—'Loveapple.' The prefix was 'Miss,' which encouraged him to notice the address.

No. 19, Madeira Crescent was somewhere in northwest London. It suggested a picture of a solid house, left stranded by the receded tide of fashion, with an imposing flight of steps and a lot of damp fallen leaves on the pavement.

'I'll O.K. her,' he decided indolently. 'Tomorrow will do.'

At that moment, Miss Loveapple felt vaguely depressed and worried. Although she had no knowledge that she had been invited as guest-of-honour to a murder-party, she began to dislike the idea of letting her London house.

The basic idea underlying the acquisition of her three houses was the sense of personal ownership. They must be vacant, swept and garnished, ready for her occupation, whenever she wanted change of scene.

Already she had lowered her standard by letting her bungalow regularly for the summer months. In one way she was rather proud of the fact that it was always in keen demand. It was the result of a definite policy—the installation of a refrigerator and the lavish use of white enamel-paint.

But while it was true that she did not care for the south coast during the holiday season, she always felt guilty about the transaction. She had exploited something which was intensely personal—her seaside house. It was almost as though she had profited in a White Paint Traffic.

Apart from her sense of shame, she vaguely felt that those convenient people who so cheerfully overpaid her for temporary accommodation were bound to leave some shred of their personality behind them. The atmosphere of the bungalow was no longer pure undiluted 'Loveapple,' but a compound of 'Brown, Smith and Robinson.'

She frowned in indecision as she re-read the house agent's letter. He advised her that a client wished to rent a furnished family house in a London suburb for about a month. He added that if she were inclined to consider an offer, he believed that this Major Brand would be a desirable tenant.

The clock ticked away momentous minutes while her future hung in the balance. At that moment she was safe. Miss Loveapple, of the Pond House, Highfield, lived in a different world from that of a gentleman in a darkish flat in the Charing Cross Road. So long as she remained where she was, they were divided by the immensity of Space.

The threat was exclusive to Miss Love-apple of No. 19, Madeira Crescent, London, N.W.

Yet there was a time limit to the danger period, even in her case. If the gentleman called at her London address, according to his schedule, on the following day and found it shuttered and unoccupied he was not likely to waste time over a return journey, which might attract attention. One woman was as good as another for his purpose—and the Telephone Directory was full of other names...

Still a million worlds away from him and secure in the sanctuary of her green-and-white dining-room, Miss Loveapple felt the first stir of her instinct to organise. She believed that she had administrative talent, owing to the fact that she always made a quick decision and stuck to it, regardless of consequence.

In this case, it seemed indicated that she should travel to Switzerland direct from London, in order to save a double railway fare. But while this trip was essential—since she would not accept any tenant she had not first seen and approved—it was necessary to cut her visit as short as possible. There was always extra expense involved in running two separate establishments, although it would not pay her to move her family to town for so limited a period.

Taking up her purse-calendar, she began to calculate dates. That day was the eleventh of August. If she travelled up to London on the twelfth, three days should be sufficient to finish her business. Therefore she would be ready to start on her holiday on the fifteenth, which would allow her a full fortnight abroad.

Although she had not committed herself to a resolution, her mind began to function with fatal ease. First she must telephone to the house agent in London and ask him to arrange a meeting with the Major upon the following morning. When she had received the advance payment—for which she always stipulated—she had to wait until she had passed his cheque through the local branch of the London bank where she had a credit account. Afterwards everything would be in order for her to buy her tickets from Cook.

By this time, details had arranged themselves so tidily in her mind that, unconsciously, they assumed the rigidity of a plan. She waited until nine-fifteen before she put through a call to the house agent's office, when she was annoyed to find that only the staff was present.

After she had expressed her wishes clearly and somewhat in the style of a dictator's ultimatum, she strolled into the garden, to find Elsie.

Although it was still early, the dew had dried even in the shade and the hot air was drawing out the perfume of mignonette and heliotrope from the perennial border. Overblown roses shed their petals in a drift of crimson, yellow and pink over the beds. Patches of clear water amid the lily leaves in the tank reflected the sky in gleams of burning blue.

The maid was not visible, but Miss Love-apple could hear shouts of coarse laughter mingled with the excited barking of a dog. Guided by the sounds, she went through a clipped-yew archway to the drying ground, where Elsie was rolling on the grass with Scottie and David.

At her mistress's approach she rose to her hands and knees and peered up through the hair which covered her eyes, like a lion's mane; the next second she was on her feet, with every permed lock in order and not a wrinkle in her artificial silk stockings.

'David's doing the Lambeth Walk,' she said primly.

'Oi,' responded Miss Loveapple mechanically. 'Elsie, I am waiting for a trunk call. If it is favourable, we shall have to be busy. I must pack for Switzerland to-day—and you must make a copy of the London house inventory.'

Although it was a coveted job, for Elsie was proud of her neat handwriting, the girl looked glum.

'Won't you take us with you?' she asked.

'No, Elsie,' replied Miss Loveapple. 'You'd have to go into quarantine.'

'Yes, madam. Will you be away for long?'

'About three weeks. But I will ask Miss Pitt to call and see if Scottie and David are keeping fit. Captain Brown will advise you about the flowers and if there are any vegetables to spare the rector will be glad to distribute them. You see, you will have no worry. And I know I can trust you to carry on.'

'Thank you, madam.'

Elsie understood the position perfectly. Notwithstanding the fact that her mistress professed perfect trust in her, a village C.I.D. with trained sporting instincts would be on her trail.

Glancing at the maid's gloomy face, Miss Loveapple tickled David on his Prinny-like stomach.

'David says sulking gets you nowhere,' she remarked.

'I don't want to go nowhere,' burst out Elsie. 'But I don't like your going away without me to look after you. All the terrible things happen abroad...You may be murdered.'

'And I may be murdered in England, if that's what you plan for me.'

'Not if I'm there to open the door to strangers and send them away.'

'But why should any one want to murder me? I don't go about in sables and diamonds. And nobody's got a grudge against me.'

'There are criminal lunatics. They aren't particular.'

'But you have to encourage them first. They are usually invited home by the wretched women they murder.'

'Not in lonely places.'

'I'm not going into the woods by myself. The problem will be to find a spot in Grindelwald that's not crawling with tourists...Don't be silly, Elsie. Snap out of it.'

Miss Loveapple spoke in her briskest tone to hide the fact that she was touched by Elsie's devotion. As she looked at the pale face and flat figure, she felt a sudden pang at the thought of separation.

'If I didn't keep up three houses,' she reflected, 'I could afford a good holiday for all three of us.'

Even while she was weakening, she heard the ringing of the telephone bell inside the house. London had come through, to tell her that Major Brand would meet her about noon on the following day at her London address.

It was such convincing testimony to her powers of organisation that she closed her heart against sentiment. She decided to leave Pond House and travel up to No. 19, Madeira Crescent, London, N.W.

CHAPTER THREE. The Invisible Player

Table of Contents

Whether she worked in the house or garden, Miss Loveapple's official wear was shorts. These were ready-made and possessed the discretion of the Boy Scout pattern, rather than the frankness of a bathing belle model. All the same, she paid tribute to local susceptibilities by buttoning a grey flannel skirt over them before she went into the village.

She had grown too used to its old-world charm to see it through the eyes of enthusiastic tourists who arrived in their cars and motor coaches. The raised pavements—darkly arcaded with trees—the numerous flights of steps, the Tudor houses on the green, the stocks and the ancient church were accepted by her merely as environment.

That afternoon, everything looked much as usual as she clumped over the little cobbled square to reach the shade of the lime avenue. It was unusually hot and most people were at home, sleeping in darkened rooms or sitting in the privacy of quiet walled gardens.

Yet, in spite of the dusty golden haze which powdered the air—as though the heat had become visible—there must have been active forces quivering behind the thick blue atmosphere. That intangible quantity—Miss Loveapple's Luck—had been threatened by a blind dive into a telephone directory.

It was on its guard against a malignant intelligence which had taken it unawares. Therefore, although Miss Loveapple met only three persons that afternoon, and in each case the conversation was of a casual nature, every contact was a move in a game played by invisible players and had its repercussion on the future.

She was accompanied by Scottie, who was delighted to take her for a walk. He showed off by covering every stretch of distance three times to her once, but he always returned to assure himself of her safety. In spite of this proof of fidelity, whenever he met another dog he ignored her completely and pretended he was out alone on his legitimate business.

Reluctantly Miss Loveapple left the shade of the leafy tunnel. She crossed the shrunken river by the hump-backed bridge and reached the green which was ringed with white chains swung between posts. It was here she met the masculine spinster of the All Hallows E'en party.

Unaffected by the heat, Miss Agatha Pitt was exercising her dogs. A felt hat was jammed down over her eyes and she wore a tailored suit of green knitwear which reproached Miss Loveapple's home-made jumper and skirt. As she raised her hand in greeting, Miss Loveapple could not keep back her news, in spite of a previous resolution to affect nonchalance.

'My luck again,' she cried triumphantly. 'I'm going to Switzerland.'

Agatha Pitt showed no sign of shock.

'I'm going to Beer,' she said. 'South Devon.'

'Nice name.'

'Isn't it? I could do with some now. But I'd swap it for—wherever it is you're going.'


Agatha Pitt wrinkled her nose in doubt.

'It used to be very nice, even in the summer,' she said. 'My aunts went there regularly. But they run so many popular trips now. You'll meet people.'

'I don't mind about them, as long as the mountains are the same shape. I'm going to meet them. But I haven't been there since I was a child. Can you give me any tips?'

Miss Pitt brightened at the opening.

'To begin with, you must travel light,' she advised. 'One suitcase only and a small bag for the night in the train. Have you a passport?'

'Yes, I got one when I went to Brussels, four years ago. What about clothes?'

'Your oldest.' True to type, Miss Pitt was faithful to a tradition which still lingers in select country circles. 'If you have any old rag you want to wear out, or something that's not suitable for home, now's your chance.'

'Suits me,' declared Miss Loveapple. 'The Pond House is wearing my new dress. Have you noticed the white satin curtains?'

'I have. Positively bridal.'

Agatha Pitt's sun-flushed face grew redder as she fought her natural disinclination to offer advice. To her, there was a crazy element in a scheme when the house wore a wedding garment instead of the mistress.

'I wish you'd meet someone nice in Switzerland,' she said, 'and come back engaged.'

'Why? You haven't.'

'Leave me out of it. I've missed it—but it doesn't amuse me particularly to see the other foxes running about without tails. Have you never thought of getting married?'

'Sometimes. It means a hopeful young man will expect me to live in his house and spend my money on a new car, every Olympia, and public schools for the boys. No, thanks.'

'But is it worth it?' persisted Agatha Pitt. 'Keeping up three houses, I mean. What do you get out of it?'

'A lot,' confessed Miss Loveapple. 'It's difficult to explain, but it makes me feel up in the sky. Different from other people. Tomorrow when I'm in the train I can say to myself, "I may be shabby, but I'm the only person here with three houses.'"

'Are you travelling up early, as usual?' hinted Miss Pitt.

'Yes, by the workman's train.' Miss Loveapple laughed with perfect good temper. 'Don't try to be subtle. Leave that to George Arliss. I admit there won't be much competition—but if I were travelling in a Pullman with rich people, I wouldn't mind betting I would still be the only person with three houses.'

Miss Pitt changed the subject, since she felt too prejudiced to argue politely.

'Would you like me to keep an eye on your animals while you are away?' she asked.

'I was hoping you would offer. You are an angel...But please be tactful, because Elsie is so sensitive. Do you know her taste is so delicate she can't eat "insides"—not even sweetbreads?'

'I'll make a note of it for the next time she comes to dinner. "No sweetbreads for Miss Loveapple's maid."...By the way, you will miss the Garden Fête.'

'I know. I'm on my way to the Rectory, to break it to Mrs Bosanquet...Good-bye.'

'Good-bye. Don't forget to travel light and wear your oldest clothes.'

'I shall wear my shorts.'

Agatha Pitt concealed her shudder, for in her code 'cut' ran neck-to-neck with Cleanliness, to come in second to Godliness.

'If I don't see you again, "Good luck,"' she said.

'I shall get that,' declared Miss Loveapple confidently.

Although she had been the herald of personal good fortune, her triumph had proved faintly bittersweet. As she followed Scottie across the green, some residue of doubt kept rising to cloud her satisfaction. She was reminded that the village afforded opportunities for friendship of which she was not able to avail herself. Owing to her constant migrations, she had lost touch with the natives.

For example, there was Agatha Pitt. Apart from an inability to appreciate Elsie properly, she had excellent qualities. She had just proved herself not only free from envy, but cheerfully ready for personal service.

A small scarlet sports car shot by, packed with golf-sticks, dogs, two large young men and a girl who was driving. They all bowed to her with the formality due to a superior adult, instead of greeting her with shouts or waves.

'I can't be much older than that girl,' reflected Miss Loveapple, 'but I'm always paired with Agatha Pitt and her gang...Odd.'

Then the burnt grass of the misnamed green made her think of snow-mountains and her usual happiness returned.

'Rectory, Scottie,' she said.

The small dog immediately led her towards the long flight of stone steps which led up to the church.

Any one who lived in Highfield was qualified to take a postman's job, since much of the village was built on elevated ground and was reached only by climbing stairs. As Miss Loveapple mounted the hollowed treads, on either side of her were picturesque cottages, overgrown with creepers and nasturtiums.