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It was a model English village, filled with flowers, Tudor cottages, and cobbled streets. Joan Brook loved working there as a companion to Lady d’Arcy, living in the huge mansion with its surrounding park. And small though the village was, it was not too small for Joan to have found a man there whom she could love. Suddenly the peaceful surface of life there is shattered as a poisonous letter is received by the town’s most saintly citizen. It is followed by others; no one is safe from the anonymous letter writer. And the letters bring death. In the anguished days that follow, Joan realizes her own danger. For to receive on of these letters could mean the end of her love - and her life!
320 pages, with a reading time of ~5.0 hours (80,006 words), and first published in 1932. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2017.
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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.”
“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?”