Adventure, romance, danger, war, murder, high finance, and a leavening of humour--
Now out, my Rothschild trilogy reprinted in paperback in the UK. Also available as e-book for Nook, Kindle and others.
Seattle Mystery Bookshop hopes to get the paperbacks for sale in the US.
Frank Ingram, badly wounded at Waterloo, is taken to Lord Roworth's family estate to recuperate. Roworth's sister Lady Constantia is an angel of mercy to the invalid, but a penniless artillery officer has no business raising his eyes to the daughter of a peer.
Then an unexpected inheritance makes everything possible--until someone tries to stop Frank enjoying his good fortune, someone who won't stop at murder.
The landau jolted to a halt before a large house in the most fantastical Gothic style. Towers and turrets, battlements and buttresses, arched windows and oriel windows, even gargoyles leering down from the roof parapet, nothing was missing.
Heedless of the rain, Vickie jumped down from the carriage, not waiting for the footman to descend from his damp perch to let down the step. "Oh!" she breathed in an ecstasy, "isn't it heavenly? Does it not bring to mind mad monks and persecuted maidens? I'm sure you must have a ghost, Captain, or even two!"
Frank went off into peals of helpless laughter. Constantia eyed him uncertainly, wondering if he were more tired than she had supposed and growing hysterical.
With a gasp, he stopped laughing and said, "To think I expected to retire to an unobtrusive life in a modest country manor! Anyone residing in that must surely be destined to figure as either an ogre or a sorcerer--or possibly a mad monk."
"Or an enchanted prince, or an Arthurian knight," Constantia proposed. "It is certainly neither unobtrusive nor modest. Vickie, you will be soaked to the skin. Run to the porch at once. I cannot wait to see inside."
Vickie scampered across the potholed, weed-grown gravel to the shelter of the porch, the open-arched ground floor of a tower superimposed on the façade of the central block. There she seized in both hands a massive iron door-knocker in the form of a dragon's head. With it, she beat a zestful tattoo.
By the time Thomas had escorted the rest of the travellers under his black umbrella to the porch, the iron-studded and banded door was slowly creaking open. A small, balding man in a rusty black coat peered at them myopically.
"Us wasn't expecting so many," he quavered in a voice full of doubt.
Frank looked as if he was about to dissolve in laughter again, so Constantia took charge.
"I am Lady Constantia Roworth," she said briskly, moving forward so that the butler--if such he claimed to be--was forced to retreat. "You must have received the letters regarding our coming, and in any case I am sure my brother and Miss Ingram have arrived already. They were well ahead of us upon the highway."
"They'm come," he conceded grudgingly.
"Are there dungeons?" Vickie demanded.
"For heaven's sake, Vickie, the dungeons can wait. Miss Bannister is unwell, and I for one want nothing so much as a cup of tea."
"And tea you shall have," Fanny promised, emerging from an archway, "if you don't mind drinking it in the kitchen. The drawing-room is all in holland covers, and goodness knows what is under them. Frank, are you...yes, you look well but you ought to sit down. My dear Miss Bannister, pray come and see if a cup of tea will not revive you. The kettle is on the hob."
Before following the others through the archway, Constantia threw a glance around the chamber they had entered from the porch. To her delight, it was a Tudor Great Hall, smaller than Westwood's had been, but with all the proper appurtenances: elaborately carved panelling, chimneypiece, and staircase; high, vaulted ceiling; and a gallery around three sides. On either side of the entrance tower, tall, leaded windows under pointed arches admitted a minimum of dull daylight through their grimy diamond panes. The woodwork was dingy, sadly in need of polish, and cobwebs hung from the gallery and ceiling beams, but that could be put to rights.
Frank was waiting for her by the archway under the gallery at one end of the hall. "I'm sorry," he said, chagrined, as they proceeded along a dusty corridor. "I'd not have dragged you here for the world had I known what a shocking state the place is in."
"I'd not have missed it for the world. The Gothic façade must be a quite recent addition since the hall is undoubtedly sixteenth-century, and just what I particularly like."
"Is it, truly?" he asked, gratified. "It looks deuced--dashed--grim to me. Not that I haven't been in some odd lodgings in my time, but I daresay Westwood and Nettledene have raised my expectations! To have to invite you to take tea in the kitchen is mortifying, to say the least."
She touched his arm consolingly. "You will need to hire servants, that is all. There are bound to be women in the village who will like to earn extra money by coming in to help put everything in order to start with."
"Mackintyre did warn us there is no one but an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Biddle, as caretakers. I had not realized, though, just how much care a house needs. I'm glad you are come, for Fanny won't have the least notion how to go about hiring servants."
Constantia was pleased that he took it for granted she would assist his sister, but she said doubtfully, "I will do what I can. Our housekeeper and butler hire most of our indoor servants. Though Mama had me attend several interviews, some years ago, so that I would know how to go about it, the only servant I have ever chosen myself is my abigail, Joan."
"That's more than Fanny's ever done. Where does one start?"
"With the vicar's wife. She will know of respectable people in need of work."
"Let's hope the vicar is married, then. Oh Lord, I've just thought: if Mackintyre judges this place habitable, what condition do you suppose the house at Heathcote is in?"
At that moment they reached the kitchen. The spotless cosiness of the large room suggested that the Biddles spent most of their time there, but just now they seemed to have vanished. Miss Bannister was already seated at the well-scrubbed whitewood table, where Anita knelt on a chair with bread-and-jam in her hand and jam on her face. Vickie wandered about exclaiming over bright copper pans, wooden spoons, and other kitchen equipment unfamiliar to the daughter of an earl. At the wide fireplace, Fanny was swinging a hook bearing a steaming kettle off the fire.
The young footman, also steaming by the fire, sprang to help her. Felix was there first, potholders in hand.
"Do you remember, Fanny," he said, lifting the kettle, "how once in Brussels I went to the kitchen to ask Henriette for tea and I claimed to be domesticated? You told me I must learn to make the tea for myself. The moment has come. What do I do next?"
Fanny laughed, plainly not in the least dispirited by her surroundings. "The teapot is already warmed and the tea-leaves measured into it, so all you need do is pour on the water. Connie, Frank, do sit down. Are you hungry? I can offer bread and jam."
"So we see," said Frank, grinning at Anita.
"It's good jam, Uncle Frank." Catching a drip, she licked her hand.
Soon they were all seated about the table with cups of tea, except Thomas, who bashfully accepted a mug but continued to stand steaming at the fire.
"Well," said Frank, regarding his guests with a rueful air, "what can I say but welcome to Upfield Grange? I believe I can safely promise you all an unusual visit."
They were laughing when Biddle reappeared. He was accompanied by a little old woman, bent with rheumatism, in a white cap and a grey gown with the wide, quilted skirts of a former age. Peering around the company, he spotted Frank and marched up to him, his wife in tow.
"You be Cap'n Ingram, the new master, sir?"
"Us can't do it, sir, not nohow." He made a helpless gesture at the horde invading his haven. "Us be caretakers, sir, me and the missis, not butlers and housemaids and cooks and such."
Mrs Biddle nodded her crooked head and a tear trickled down her wrinkled cheek.
Frank took her hand in his. "My dear Mrs Biddle, you shan't be expected to do anything beyond your strength. I hope you and Biddle will consent to stay and help as you can until I'm able to hire a proper staff, but whenever you choose to go, you shall have a pension."
Constantia, sitting beyond Frank, saw the light of hope enter the old woman's faded eyes. "Us'll help, sir, to be sure." She faltered. "'Ee won't bawl at un, like his grace do? I han't made up but two beds yet, sir."
"Fanny," Constantia exclaimed, eyeing the twisted hand engulfed in Frank's, "surely you and Vickie and I can make up the beds ourselves?"
Frank's look of gratitude was reward enough for any amount of unpleasant labour.
"Oh yes!" Vickie appeared to regard the whole situation as a splendid adventure. "You'll have to show us how, Fanny."
"It won't take long."
"Joan should be here soon, too," said Constantia, "with the luggage, and your man, Felix."
"I shouldn't dare ask Trevor to make beds," her brother declared.
Fanny wrinkled her nose at him. "No, he is quite the most disobliging person. Mrs Biddle, have the linens been aired?"
"Oh, aye, miss, that they have."
"Excellent. Thomas, if you are nearly dry, pray carry--" She stopped as the kitchen's back door opened.
The Westwoods' coachman and Felix's new groom came in, the former with a decidedly grumpy expression. Though he seemed a trifle abashed to find the kitchen full of gentry, he addressed Felix in no uncertain terms. "Beggin' your pardon, m'lord, but them stables is fit for neither man nor beast."
Felix grimaced, then gave Frank an apologetic look. "I know," he said to the coachman, "but you are to return to Westwood tomorrow with the landau. Dutton, have you managed to make my pair reasonably comfortable?"
Before the groom could answer, young Thomas stepped forward. "Please, my lord," he cried, "Don't make me go back to Westwood. My lady!" He turned to Constantia and begged, "Let me stay. I asked special to be let come to serve you. I'll do anything, honest. I'll make beds or...or even clean out the stables."
Astonished, touched, even a little flattered, Constantia said, "Yes, you may stay, Thomas. Felix, did not Mama say Fanny and Vickie and I must take a footman to wait upon us?"
"She did." He grinned. "However, I believe what she had in mind was your consequence, not my horses' comfort."
Frank groaned. "If anything is certain," he said, "it's that Lady Westwood would never have let you come, Lady Constantia, if she'd had the slightest notion of the state of things at Upfield Grange."
Constantia smiled at him. "So we can only be grateful, Captain, that she did not know."
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