A Room to Die In

Free A Room to Die In by Jack Vance, Ellery Queen

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Authors: Jack Vance, Ellery Queen
Tags: detective, Mystery
Press, specializing in the printing of limited
editions. I may say that they prospered—both became quite wealthy. When
Grandfather died they sold The Oriental, which merged with another magazine and lost its identity. My father
died in 1940, Pearl’s father five years later. Neither I nor Pearl cared to
continue The Pandora Press, and we sold it.
    “This is beside
the point. What is to the point is that, when her father died, Pearl naturally
came into possession of a large number of heirlooms: books, pictures, ivories,
vases, objets d’art. Many
quite valuable.”
    Ann said, “I was
admiring my father’s books yesterday.”
    Edgar Maudley
winced. “Legally, of course, they were his—just as, now, legally they’re yours.”
    Ann nodded in
profound understanding. “And you want me to turn these objects over to you, Mr.
Maudley. Is that it?”
    Maudley said in
a vibrant voice, “Many of these articles have a deep, a very deep, sentimental
value to me. Certain of the books are unique—not of vast monetary value, but I’d
loathe seeing them pass into the hands of unappreciative strangers, or end up
in a secondhand bookshop.”
    “That’s quite
natural.”
    “When your
father came into the estate, I paid him a visit and made more or less the same representations
to him that I am making to you. He was by no means so sympathetic.”
    “Do you drive a
Mercedes?”
    “Yes. How did
you find out, may I ask?”
    Ann smiled. “Village
gossip, most probably.”
    Her visitor
forced himself to smile. “In any event, you now understand the motive behind my
visit.”
    “Not really.
Just what is it you expect me to do?”
    Maudley raised
his eyebrows. “I thought I had made myself clear, Miss Nelson. By a set of
unusual circumstances, you are now in possession of a number of Maudley heirlooms.”
    “Including some
sort of medieval Persian artwork?”
    “Including a set
of medieval Persian miniatures in a carved ivory box inlaid with cinnabar,
jade, lapis lazuli and turquoise.”
    “You want me to
give you this item?”
    “I would
willingly offer you money. But I find it hard to put a price on sentimental
attachment.”
    “My father, I
understand, refused this request.”
    “He was not
sympathetic at all.”
    Ann pictured
Edgar Maudley expostulating with her father, and smiled. Edgar Maudley sipped
his tea. Ann said, “I’d like to be fair about this. I can’t give you any
definite answer now, Mr. Maudley; I’m not yet in a legal position to say ‘yes’
or ‘no.’ Anyway, while I don’t want to be mercenary, these are apparently
articles of considerable value. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why I
should make a gift to you of what will be legally my property.”
    Maudley grew
slightly excited. “But, Miss Nelson, the value of certain of these objects—the
Persian miniatures, for instance—is incalculable. The miniatures have been in
the family since 1729, when Sir Robert Maudley was in Persia.”
    “Unfortunately,
it is precisely the miniatures which I can’t let out of my possession.”
    He seemed
puzzled. “How so?”
    “Weren’t you at
my father’s house when he wrote his will? I understand that he asked you to
witness it.”
    “Oh, that. I
refused to read the will. I knew it contained abuse or disparagement, and I did
not care to be insulted. To be quite frank, I never thought that your father,
as a sensible man, would go through with a document composed in such haste and
high feeling.”
    “He was angry,
then?”
    “I would say so.
My requests appeared to irritate him.”
    “I can’t tell
you anything more until I’ve looked through the estate. Certain of the books I’m
sure you can have—those dealing with metaphysics and Oriental religion, for
example, which don’t interest me in the least.”
    Maudley worked
his lips in and out, as if he wanted to say more but was not sure of the wisdom
of saying it.
    “Let me pour you
another cup of tea,” said Ann. She felt a little sorry

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