Christie, originally 1942.
The description of Miss Williams, the retired governess, and her flat, reminded me of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver, also an ex-governess. Here is Miss Williams’s “flatlet”:
The walls were distempered an ascetic pale grey, and various reproductions hung upon them. Dante meeting Beatrice on a bridge – and that picture once descibed by a child as a ‘blind girl sitting on an orange and called, I don’t know why, “Hope”.’ There were also two water colours of Venice and a sepia copy of Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’. On the top of the low chest of drawers were a large quantity of faded photographs, mostly, by their style of hairdressing, dating from twenty to thirty years ago.
Henry Holiday’s Dante and Beatrice
And Miss Silver’s flat:
There was a row of photographs in silver frames upon the mantelpiece, and over it a silver engraving of Millais’ Black Brunswicker. On the opposite wall The Soul’s Awakening, and Bubbles. The wallpaper, covered with bunches of violets, put the clock back forty years.
(From Lonesome Road, 1939.)
Millais’s The Black Brunswicker:
James Sant’s The Soul’s Awakening:
Millais’s Bubbles (A Child’s World):
In The Chinese Shawl two other pictures are mentioned:
a number of pictures in old-fashioned frames of yellow maple. The pictures were all reproductions of the more famous works of the great Victorian artists – The Huguenots; Hope, drooping over her darkened world; The Black Brunswicker; The Stag at Bay.
I think “The Huguenots” is probably Millais’s A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge:
Landseer’s The Stag at Bay:
Miss Williams has “authority” so that people must tell her the truth: “they considered fleetingly the possibility of a lie and instantly rejected it”. Miss Silver is the same: in The Watersplash a reluctant witness feels “a quite extraordinary sense of relief … The words which had come with so much effort now flowed like water. In some strange unreasoning way she recognised the presence of kindness and authority and responded to them”.
Miss Silver, as a result of having become a private detective, is much better off than Miss Williams (“the affair of the Urtingham pearls had proved very renumerative” [The Chinese Shawl]). Miss Silver’s office is “cheerful” and usually has a fire going. Miss Williams only has one “room, that was bedroom, sitting-room, dining-room, and, by judicious use of the gas ring, kitchen – a kind of cubby-hole attached to it continued a quarter-length bath and the usual offices”. “The square of carpet was threadbare, the furniture battered and of poor quality. It was clear to Hercule Poirot that Cecilia Williams lived very near the bone.”