Authors: Ellis Peters
A 3S digital back-up edition 1.0
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THE MYSTERIOUS PRESS
Published by Warner Books
A Time Warner Company
Books by Ellis Peters
The Felse Novels
Fallen into the Pit
Death and the Joyful Woman
Flight Of A Witch
A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs
The Piper on the Mountain
Black is the Color of My True-Love’s Heart
The Grass-Widow’s Tale
The House of Green Turf
The Knocker on Death’s Door
Death to the Landlords!
City of Gold and Shadows
The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael
A Morbid Taste for Bones
One Corpse Too Many
Saint Peter’s Fair
The Leper of Saint Giles
The Virgin in the Ice
The Sanctuary Sparrow
The Devil’s Novice
Dead Man’s Ransom
The Pilgrim of Hate
An Excellent Mystery
The Raven in the Foregate
The Rose Rent
The Hermit of Eyton Forest
The Confession of Brother Haluin
The Heretic’s apprentice
The Potter’s Field
The Summer of the Danes
The Holy Thief
Brother Cadfael’s Penance
PRAISE FOR EDGAR AWARD-WINNER ELLIS PETERS AND THE PREMIER AMERICAN PUBLICATION OF HER MYSTERY CLASSIC
FALLEN INTO THE PIT
“A REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT… The Felse family [is] as significant a creation in my view as the medieval Brother Cadfael who has brought Peters her greatest fame.”
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
“GOOD NEWS NOT ONLY FOR FANS who may have despaired of ever reading about the Felse family, but also for those poor souls like myself who, through mischance or procrastination, have failed until now to discover this talented and prolific author… While Ms. Peters creates a most admirable puzzle, it is her expressive, literate, descriptive style that has earned well-deserved praise for her.”
“EXCELLENT… Felse gets his first American edition with this atmospheric whodunit set in post-WW II Britain. It has my attention. Keep’em coming!”
The Reader’s Review,
The Book Seller’s Network
“EXCELLENT, WELL-WRITTEN… It’s good to read about a situation where murder is rare and the criminal must be identified so the community can heal… For anybody who hasn’t been reading the Inspector Felse series, it’s certainly a perfect place to start.”
“VERY GOOD CRIME FICTION… Her books are clever, inventive, credible, and full of good detail.”
“HER STYLE IS BRILLIANT.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“THERE IS NO MYSTERY ABOUT ELUS PETERS’S INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM AS A MYSTERY WRITER.”
“PURE PLEASURE… Peters’s stories can be said to have everything.”
The Armchair Detective
Ellis Peters was the pen name of Edith Pargeter, the prolific and popular author of the Brother Cadfael medieval mystery series and scores of other books and novels. Although best known for her internationally bestselling Cadfael books, she also produced contemporary mysteries such as the Inspector Felse series, current affairs novels, historical novels such as the acclaimed Heaven Tree trilogy, and translations of Czech classics into English. She received numerous honors during her lifetime: the British Crime Writers Association’s Silver Dagger and Cartier Diamond Dagger awards, an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America, an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth, and an honorary MA from Birmingham University, to name but the most illustrious. She was especially proud of her contributions to Czech literature and the gold medal awarded to her from the Czechoslovak Society for Foreign Relations. Edith Pargeter died in 1995 at the age of 82, at home in her beloved Shropshire.
FALLEN INTO THE PIT
This book was first published by William Heinemann ltd., Great Britain.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
MYSTERIOUS PRESS EDITION
Copyright © 1951 by Edith Pargeter
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Jackie Merci Meyer
Cover illustration by Calhleen Toelke
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A Time Warner Company Printed in the United States of America
First published in hardcover in the United States by The Mysterious Press.
First U.S. Paperback Printing: June, 1996
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and the survival
his memory and ideas
through his friends
The war ended, and the young men came home, and tried indignantly to fit themselves into old clothes and old habits which proved, on examination, to be both a little threadbare, and on trial to be both cripplingly small for bodies and minds mysteriously grown in absence. Things changed overnight changed again next day. Nobody knew where he stood. Even the language was different. At the Shock of Hay you could hear good-nights flying at closing-time in two or three tongues besides English. Blank-eyed, blond youths with shut faces worked side by side with the hard old men in the beet fields, and the sons of the old men, coming home laboriously with the distorted selves they had salved from the blond youths’ embraces all over the world, wondered where they had been, and to what country they had returned. But they had known for some time, the most acute of them, that if England meant the country they had left, and Comerford the village, this would be neither Comerford nor England. Fortunately the names meant much more than their own phases, and the lie of the land, obscured behind many changes, remained constant even at this pass. Those who came back first had the easiest time. Those who had still to linger a year or more of their time away in the tedium of suddenly purposeless armies, or adjust themselves to the fluid situations of other people’s crumbling countries, limped home with more bitter difficulty, to find the fields full of displaced persons, and the shops of a new lingua franca evolved for their benefit, the encrustations of pits suddenly congealed into the nationalized mining industry, whole hills and valleys torn out by the roots under the gigantic caresses of surface mining machinery, and in the upper air of the mind every boundary shifted and every alignment altered. It was all a bewildered young man could do to find his way around this almost unrecognizable land. The old did not try; they sat in the middle of it in contemplation, waiting for the eyes to adjust their vision, and the legs to acquire the mastery of this new kind of drunkenness. Only the young had so short a time before them that they could not afford to wait.
They tried, however, to cram themselves back into the old round holes, and mutilated their unaccountably squared personalities in the process. Time eased the fit for some; for some, who had sent their minds home ahead of their bodies, the adjustment was neither long nor unwelcome, though it could not be without pain; to some the whole of Comerford seemed now only a green round hole, not big enough to hold them. They despised it both for what had changed in it and for what had remained the same, because they had lived too long enclosed in the changes and monotonies of their own natures, and could no longer distinguish great from small.
If day-to-day life could halt at such a time, and give all the lost people time to get their bearings, things would be easier; but it went on steadily, or rather unsteadily, all the time, full of all the old snags and spiteful with new ones. Colliers’ sons went back to the pits, and found themselves working side by side with Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians, Letts, whose wartime alliance was just falling apart into a hundred minor incompatibilities; and soon came even the few screened Germans out of their captivity to fester among their ex-enemies without being able to reunite them.
Nice-looking, stolid young men, hard workers, a good type; but they did not always remember to keep the old “Heil Hitler!” off their tongues; and the leftward-inclined youngster with Welsh blood in his veins and a brother dead in some Stalag or other was liable to notice these things. Maybe he picked a fight, maybe some older and cooler minds broke it up, maybe he just got his room at the hostel rifled and his books shredded, or maybe some evening in the dark, pepper found its way into his eyes. No one knew how. No connection with the war, of course; the war was over.
Meantime the topsoil of two small fields and an undulation of rough pasture and furze was scoured off and piled aside in new mountain ridges, and the grabs lifted out the stony innards of Comerford earth to lay bare the hundred and eighty thousand or so tons of shallow coal which the experts said was to be found underneath. As if the earth cried, instant outcry broke out over the issue, one faction crying havoc for the two fields, a smaller and less vociferous group welcoming the leveling of the furze mounds, and tidying of the ground long ago mauled by shallow dog-hole mining. But the small army of weathered men swarming over the site, performing prodigious surgical operations with uncouth red-and-yellow instruments, took no notice of either party in the controversy. They assembled about them every conceivable variety of weatherproof and wearproof ex-Army clothing, making their largeness larger still under leather jerkins and duffle coats, and so armored, they busied themselves in making hills and valleys change places, the straight crooked and the plain places rough. But when they moved on they left a level dark plain, and though inimical voices clamored prophetically of soil made barren for a lifetime, and drainage difficulties had to be stabbed at twice after an initial failure, in one year grass was growing delicately over the whole great scar. Poor grass beside that which formerly grew on the two small fields, but beautiful, improbable grass over what used to be furze, bramble and naked clay.
And from the returned young men themselves, wise and foolish, willing and unwilling soldiers in their time, proceeded outward through their families and their friends shuddering cycles of unrest, like the tremors before earthquake. They came trailing clouds of tattered and tired glory which they could neither repair nor shake off. The unimaginative were the luckiest, or those whose supposedly adventurous Army career had been spent largely among mud and boredom and potatoes; but some came haunted by the things their own hands had done and their own bodies endured, growths from which no manner of amputation could divide them, ghosts for which Comerford had no room. They had been where even those nearest to them could not follow, and daily they withdrew there again from the compression and safety of lathe and field and farm, until the adjustment to sanity took place painfully at last, and the compression ceased to bound them, and was felt to be wider than the mad waste in the memory. Then they had arrived. But the journey was a long one, and others besides themselves might die on the way.
There was, for instance, Charles Blunden, up at the Harrow. His was a mild case, but even he had fought his way in a tidy, orthodox fashion twice across North Africa and all the way north through Sicily and Italy to his demob in 1946, and had then to become, all in a moment, an upland farmer. Or Jim Tugg, who came home three times decorated, trailing prodigious exploits as a paratrooper before and after Arnhem, and shrank suddenly to the quiet dark shape of a shepherd on Chris Hollins’s farm. Who believed in it? When he went by, double his prewar size, light as a cat, close-mouthed and gaunt-eyed as a fate, the ground under his noiseless tread quaked a little, and small boys expected lightnings to come out of the ends of his fingers and dart into the earth.
Or, of course, Chad Wedderburn, whose legends came home before him, the extremest case of all. Captured in Italy, bitterly ill-used by both Italians and Germans after three attempts to escape, at the fourth attempt he had succeeded, if that could be called escape which smuggled him across the Adriatic from one mortal danger to another. For the rest of the war he became a guerrilla at large all over the Balkans, living from minute to minute, tasting all the splendors and miseries of the mountain life among the Yugoslav patriots, sharing their marathon marches, their hunger, their cold, their sickness and wounds, for which there was seldom medical attention and almost never drugs or anesthetics. He knew, because he had had to use daily during that last year, all the ways of killing a man quietly before he can kill you; and because he had been an apt pupil he was still alive. It was as if an explosion had taken place in Comerford the day he was born, to fling fragments of violence half across the world.
When he came back in 1949, after a year of hospital treatments in many places, and another year of study to return to his profession, it was an anticlimax, almost a rebuff. He looked much thinner and darker and harder than prewar, but otherwise scarcely different; he was even quieter than he had ever been before, and of his many scars only one was visible, and that was a disappointment, just a brownish mark running down the left side of his jaw from ear to chin. The village tried to bring him out of his shell by drawing him into British Legion activities, and he astonished and offended them by replying decisively that personally he had been a conscript, and he thought the sooner people forgot whether they had worn a uniform or not, the better, in a war which had involved everybody alike, and in which few people had had any choice about the manner of their service.
But this fair warning meant little to the boys at the grammar school, when he returned there at length as classics master. They had caught a reputed tiger, and a tiger they confidently expected. They conferred together over him with excited warnings, and prepared to jump at the lift of his eyebrow, and adore him for it. But the tiger, though its voice was incisive and its manner by no means timorous, continued to behave like a singularly patient sheepdog. They could not understand it. They began to test the length of that patience by tentative provocation, and found it elastic enough to leave them still unscathed. His way with them was not so unreasonably mild as to let these experiments proceed too far, but he let them go beyond the point where a real tiger might have been expected to pounce. On a natural human reaction to this disappointment they began to fear, prematurely and unjustifiably, that what they had acquired was merely the usual tame, doctored, domestic cat, after all. But the legend, though invisible, like the potential genie in the bottle, still awed them and stayed their courage short of positive danger. With tigers, with cats for that matter, you never know.