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Prudence Pinsent, the independent single daughter of the master of Cambridge University’s fictional Prince’s College, lives amid academics, including her distant cousin, toxicologist and poisons expert Francis Temple. Just before making a visit to the country, Prudence learns that a destructive new drug is being smuggled into the area and that both Cambridge University and Wellende Old Hall, her destination, are suspected distribution points. Initially skeptical, she becomes sure that something is amiss at the remote coastal home of the unpretentious Lord Wellende. Its fabled ghost has grown suddenly noisy, two senior men from Scotland Yard make ostensibly social visits, and Lord Wellende falls ill immediately after Francis unexpectedly ends their long-standing estrangement.