Authors: M.C. Beaton
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
for more, or follow M. C. Beaton on Twitter:
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
The Wicked Godmother
The Six Sisters
The Taming of Annabelle
Deirdre and Desire
Diana the Huntress
Frederica in Fashion
Edwardian Murder Mysteries
Snobbery with Violence
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 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
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
The Agatha Raisin Companion
M. C. Beaton
Constable & Robinson Ltd.
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
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,
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
“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
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
“And so she did, Lor’ bless her,” said Augusta, putting a fat arm round the cringing Euphemia Stride. “Me and Euphie is the
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,
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
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.”
“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.”