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Authors: M.C. Beaton

Penelope

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M. C. Beaton
is the author of the hugely successful Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, as well as a quartet of Edwardian murder mysteries featuring heroine Lady Rose Summer, several Regency romance series and a stand-alone murder mystery,
The Skeleton in the Closet
– all published by Constable & Robinson. She left a full-time career in journalism to turn to writing, and now divides her time between the Cotswolds and Paris. Visit
www.mcbeatonbooks.co.uk
for more, or follow M. C. Beaton on Twitter:
@mc_beaton
.

 

Titles by M. C. Beaton

The Poor Relation

Lady Fortescue Steps Out • Miss Tonks Turns to Crime • Mrs Budley Falls from Grace Sir Philip’s Folly • Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue • Back in Society

A House for the Season

The Miser of Mayfair

Plain Jane

The Wicked Godmother

Rake’s Progress

The Adventuress

Rainbird’s Revenge

The Six Sisters

Minerva

The Taming of Annabelle

Deirdre and Desire

Daphne

Diana the Huntress

Frederica in Fashion

Edwardian Murder Mysteries

Snobbery with Violence

Hasty Death

Sick of Shadows

Our Lady of Pain

The Travelling Matchmaker

Emily Goes to Exeter

Belinda Goes to Bath

Penelope Goes to Portsmouth

Beatrice Goes to Brighton

Deborah Goes to Dover

Yvonne Goes to York

Agatha Raisin

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden

Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House

Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon

Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor

Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison

Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride

Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body

Agatha Raisin: As the Pig Turns

Agatha Raisin: Hiss and Hers • Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble

Hamish Macbeth

Death of a Gossip

Death of a Cad

Death of an Outsider

Death of a Perfect Wife

Death of a Hussy

Death of a Snob

Death of a Prankster

Death of a Glutton

Death of a Travelling Man

Death of a Charming Man

Death of a Nag

Death of a Macho Man

Death of a Dentist

Death of a Scriptwriter

Death of an Addict

A Highland Christmas

Death of a Dustman

Death of a Celebrity

Death of a Village

Death of a Poison Pen

Death of a Bore

Death of a Dreamer

Death of a Maid

Death of a Gentle Lady

Death of a Witch

Death of a Valentine

Death of a Sweep

Death of a Kingfisher • Death of Yesterday

The Skeleton in the Closet

Also available

The Agatha Raisin Companion

Penelope

M. C. Beaton

 

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd.

55–56 Russell Square

London WC1B 4HP

www.constablerobinson.com

First electronic edition published 2011

by RosettaBooks LLC, New York

This edition published in the UK by Canvas,

an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013

Copyright © M. C. Beaton, 1982

The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in

Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-47210-129-7 (ebook)

Cover copyright © Constable & Robinson

For Harry Scott Gibbons
and Charles David Bravos Gibbons,
with love.

      Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter One

M
ISS
A
UGUSTA
H
ARVEY
let out a long sigh of satisfaction which ended in a discreet belch. In front of her the waxed floor of the ballroom mirrored the feathers and silks and jewelry of the
haut ton
.

“I have arrived,” she said to her shivering companion, Miss Euphemia Stride. “I have indeed arrived. You have done well, Euphemia.”

And Miss Stride, a faded spinster in her fifties, felt she had indeed done well. It was not everyone who could secure an invitation to the Courtlands’ ball for the vulgar and pushing Augusta Harvey who had managed to alienate practically all of London society since her arrival in town a mere few weeks before.

Euphemia would hardly have dared risk society’s displeasure by thrusting such a mushroom as Miss Harvey on them had it not been for the generous bribe offered her by that lady. Even then she had not found the courage to inform the Courtlands of the name of the “friend” she was bringing to their ball. Perhaps it would not be so bad. Augusta looked quite the thing in a heavy crêpe evening gown with a vandyked hem and a fine row of pearls embellishing her fat neck. If only she would keep her mouth shut!

It was then, as Euphemia surveyed Miss Harvey’s gown, that she noticed the first disaster of the evening.

“My dear Augusta,” she whispered desperately, “you have
straw
clinging to your hem. Do but remove it before anyone sees.”

“Pooh! What does it matter?” said Miss Harvey, plucking off the offending straw. But with a sinking heart Miss Stride noticed several of the chaperones had already noticed the straw and were whispering together, turbans and feathers nodding. The damage was done. Straw on one’s skirt meant that one had arrived in a hack, which was exactly what the cheeseparing Augusta had done, instead of renting a carriage as Euphemia had earnestly advised.

In fact, reflected Miss Euphemia Stride bitterly, Augusta could well afford to keep her own carriage. Goodness knows, the way Augusta had gained her wealth was disgraceful and scandalous enough without attracting the added censure of society.

Augusta Harvey had been nurse and housekeeper to a wealthy mill owner whom she had bullied into an apoplexy. He had conveniently died from it, leaving her sole heir to his great fortune. His relatives had unsuccessfully tried to contest the will and had claimed that Augusta had poisoned the old man. But the triumphant Augusta had left them to their fury and had travelled to London to realise her lifelong ambition—to become a society lady.

But society had been strangely reluctant to allow her past their doors; Miss Stride had been the only one who would even take a bribe. And luckily for Augusta, the woman was a distant relative of the Courtlands, whose ball, two weeks before the official opening of the London Season, was held to be a great event.

Augusta’s gooseberry green eyes surveyed the ballroom. She had arrived late in order to make an entrance and had just realised that by so doing she had missed being received by her hostess. She accordingly urged the shrinking Euphemia to present her to Lady Courtland.

Miss Stride looked to right and left like a trapped animal, but since she desperately needed the money Augusta was to pay her, she stiffened her threadbare velvet spine and led Augusta towards where Lady Courtland was standing.

An extremely tall woman, the Lady looked down at Augusta’s crocodile smile with eyes that were as hard and sparkling as her diamonds. Miss Stride gave an apologetic cough and made the introductions. Lady Courtland haughtily held out one finger for Miss Harvey to shake. Augusta, however, seized Lady Courtland by the whole hand and wrung it fervently.

“So pleased,” she simpered awfully. “ ‘Tis so kind of your la’ship to invite me on this montrous genteel occasion.”

“I did not invite you,” snapped Lady Courtland. “I was under the impression that Miss Stride was bringing a
friend
.”

“And so she did, Lor’ bless her,” said Augusta, putting a fat arm round the cringing Euphemia Stride. “Me and Euphie is the
dearest
of friends.”

Now Miss Harvey was a prey to flatulence, and her embarrassing malady suddenly decided to overtake her. A sound worthy of Wellington’s artillery at Salamanca rattled from beneath her skirts and slowly raising a perfumed handkerchief to her nose, Lady Courtland turned and walked majestically away. Euphemia dragged Augusta to the side of the ballroom.

Miss Stride resolved to make the best of things. She would suffer the evening, take Augusta’s money, and never,
never
set eyes on that repellent woman again. But first she had to earn her money. She set herself to please by pointing out various notables. There was my Lord Alvanley and there was the Countess Lieven and that very handsome man was the Earl of Hestleton. And there was little Miss Parsey …

“Parseys are in trade. Merchants,” said Miss Harvey. “How did she get here?”

“Because,” explained Miss Stride, “Miss Parsey is engaged to young Lord Wellcombe and
that
makes a difference. One can often get entrée to the best families through marriage. Now if you were younger …” Miss Stride’s voice trailed off, and she allowed herself the luxury of a malicious titter.

“Well, I ain’t,” said Augusta slowly, “but Penelope is.”

“Who’s Penelope?”

“Niece of mine,” remarked Miss Augusta, staring at the dancing figures. “She’s working at some seminary in Bath as a governess. Beautiful girl. An orphan. Do you think she …?”

“Oh, of course! What a good idea!” exclaimed Euphemia Stride, who privately thought that Miss Harvey would need a great deal more than a beautiful niece to make even the smallest crack in the social world.

“I’ll see,” said Augusta. “I’ll see. Meanwhile I may as well move about and meet these grand folks.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” exclaimed Miss Stride in dismay.

“Why not?” said Miss Harvey. “You saw how civil Lady Courtland was with me.” And to Miss Stride’s horror she wandered off in the direction of the row of chaperones.

“How do,” said Augusta cheerfully, smiling her widest until her teeth seemed to stretch to her ears. “May I present myself? I am a great friend of Lady Courtland.”

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