The Death-Cap Dancers

Gladys Mitchell

Bradley 59


‘Gladys Mitchell is a wittier and more original writer than Sayers or Christie. She has succeeded in devising a structure which can accommodate the untoward, the ambiguous and the unaccountable; at the same time, many of her novels conform, in outline at least, to a classic detective pattern.’

Patricia Craig in The Guardian

To the long life and happiness of


born on St. George’s Day, 1979

‘…for thou art much too fair

To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.’

William Shakespeare

Sonnet VI



Hermione Lestrange — Hermy One to her intimates — stopped the car, got out and surveyed her surroundings. For the last two or three miles she had been uneasily aware that in taking what she had hoped would be a short cut as well as serving to take her off the main road for twenty miles or so, she must have misread the map and was now in a wilderness of cotton-grass, peat-bogs and heather.

She was on an unfenced moorland track which rose and dipped with the undulations of the landscape, bending away in a direction which she was certain could not be the one she wanted.

She had pulled up at a solitary signpost which to her slightly disordered mind represented nothing so much as a gibbet. It had only one arm and this pointed along an even narrower road than the one she was on and read, tersely and unhelpfully, Wayland Only.

‘Thanks a lot,’ said Hermione aloud. All round her were the Yorkshire moors on their high plateau. In the far distance she could make out a line of blue hills. The autumn evening was coming on and there were pockets of mist in the dips and hollows. The road she was travelling seemed to go on for ever, losing itself on the downward slopes and appearing again on the rising ground beyond them.

She had two chances, as she saw the situation. One was to push on in the hope of striking the main road after all; the other was to reverse the car, return to the little town of Gledge End on whose outskirts she had turned off on to the moors and begin again from there.

Whatever she did she was unlikely to reach her destination until after dark. She was an adventurous soul, but the thought of being benighted on the moors was enough to daunt the stoutest hearted, so she was about to take the sensible course and reverse the car when she was aware of three women emerging from a dip in the moor. Two of them were giving the third a ‘bandy-chair’.

When they saw Hermione and the car the two supporters dumped their burden in the heather and one of them remained beside her while the other ran forward waving her arms. With sinking heart Hermione realised that she was going to be asked to give the three women a lift and she knew that in such a place and at such a time of day there was no way in which her conscience could allow her to refuse such a request.

It was an uphill run to where Hermione was standing and the woman was panting as she came near. She was wearing a yellow woollen cap surmounted by a pom-pom, jeans, a sweater and an anorak and appeared to be about thirty years old.

‘Oh, I say, you’ve got a car,’ she said. ‘If there’s anything of the Good Samaritan about you, would you — could you — give us a lift? My idiot sister has wrenched her ankle and I don’t think we can possibly carry her home.’

‘I’ve got to do another eighty miles or so, and I’ve lost my way,’ said Hermione. ‘I was just going to turn the car and go back to Gledge End. I could take you that far if it would be any good.’

The woman looked back at the other two. The one in the heather was being hauled to her feet. Clutching her companion, she hobbled a step or two and then sank down again.

‘Gledge End would be better than nothing,’ said the woman to Hermione. ‘I daresay we could hire a car from there. Actually where we are staying would be on your way, give or take half a mile or so. Look, we really are in a bit of a spot. Couldn’t you stretch a point for once? Honestly, it would hardly take you out of your way at all, and we really would be damned grateful.’

Mist in the hollows of the moor was rising higher and thickening. There was a dank smell of autumn in the air, the smell of damp, dead bracken and dying heather. A wind had got up and the darkening evening was chilly.

‘Get in,’ said Hermione. ‘The back seat, perhaps, and then the injured ankle can slide in beside me when we pick her up. I’ll run you home and book in at Gledge End. I shall never get to my aunt’s tonight. What do I do when we’ve picked up the other two?’

‘Reverse and then take that turning to Wayland. We’ve got a cabin in Wayland Forest. Only took it over this morning and now this has to happen.’

The woman who had remained with the unfortunate casualty appeared to be of about the same age as the one who had waylaid Hermione. The victim was younger and Hermione surmised that she was a contemporary of her own.

The Wayland turning began to leave the moors behind. The first indication that they were entering the forest was that the wayside verges had become wide stretches of rough grass instead of heather. Beyond them, on the right, was a plantation of young conifers and on the left a thick, densely populated wood of mature trees. The car was on the outskirts of Forestry Commission property.

‘Did you say you might stay in Gledge End for the night?’ asked the woman who had asked for a lift. ‘Do you know somebody there?’

‘No, but there are hotels. They won’t be full at this time of year.’

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