It’s been a busy few months for me. On top of work, DIY, decorating and gardening, I have been cracking on with the next few books in the Gertrude Harrington Mysteries series.
Death on the Queen Mary is close to ready for publication this autumn. (More on that later.)
I have now started with the editing of the book that follows, Death upon the Lonesome Wild, which sees Gertrude finally visit her sister Gladys up in the Lake District. Needless to say, this visit doesn’t quite go according to plan when one of the stars of a movie being filmed in the vicinity goes missing and the body of a local turns up dead. It’s a good job Gertrude is on hand to help – but old wounds are reopened, and life might never be the same again for Gertrude and her family.
I am also around two thirds of the way through the follow up to Death upon the Lonesome Wild, Death on the Tracks, which brings Gertrude and death back to County Kingworthy.
With the publication of Death on the Queen Mary drawing ever closer, I thought I’d share with you all the cover – and also a sneak peek at the prologue.
Death on the Queen Mary – Prologue
Gertrude Harrington loved the mornings in Clyst St James. She loved the peacefulness that enveloped her as she struggled to escape the clutches of sleep; she loved the clean fresh air, filled with the scent of flowers and freshly mown lawns in the summer and the smell of fallen leaves and the remnants of last night’s bonfire in the autumn; and she loved the smells from the nearby farms that reminded her how much living in the countryside meant to her.
She had never lived in a town or city and had no desire to do so. Born and bred in Clyst St James, she had lived her entire life in the quintessentially English village and had always – jokingly – maintained that they would have to carry her out in a box.
On this particular morning, the early September rains had washed away the dust of the hot summer, leaving behind only the glorious smell of fresh earth. It was a sign of new beginnings, and Gertrude felt at peace with her recent decisions.
At times she couldn’t fathom the enmity that drove some people to kill. There had been so much killing nearby in recent years that she had contemplated – albeit very briefly – the notion of moving away from the area. But reason had made her realise the folly of such thoughts: there was likely death around the corner wherever she lived. It was just the way of things.
And so, she decided to remain where her heart lay, and carried on with her life amongst the friends and family who meant so much to her.
Gertrude was well liked within the village. She had, for a year or so now, run the village Tea Room, which gave her ample opportunity to inveigle her way into the lives of those she didn’t know and root out the secrets that people might otherwise have told to no-one. Gertrude was an expert at asking all the right questions, making people feel so at ease they might even reveal their guilt of killing someone. There was just something about Gertrude’s manner that people trusted. Her smile never failed to reach her eyes whenever it appeared on her face – which was often. She was, quite simply, the very epitome of a jolly, robustly proportioned spinster who was an exceptionally attentive listener, a woman who enjoyed her food and also the company of others.
Less so in recent times, sadly.
With death all around, it could only have been a matter of time before murder lay itself squarely at her door, and now she had lost a brother as well as a niece. It was hard to bear at times, but life had to go on. She’d overcome the effects of her niece’s murder by immersing herself in normal everyday tasks, and so it was once more now her brother was gone.
As she pottered about her kitchen, having thrown open the top part of the stable door to let in the morning air, she considered her recent decisions. They had been tough to make, but she knew it was for the best.
As much as she felt fulfilled, helping Chief Inspector Lennox to bring to justice several killers, including those who murdered her brother and niece, he had understood completely when she’d told him that she wanted to spend some time concentrating on developing new menus for her popular Tea Room. And then had come the news that her brother Gerald was coming over from America, and Gertrude had asked Lennox not to call on her until after his visit.
Lennox himself had taken the opportunity to return with his wife to Paris, where they had honeymooned a quarter of a century ago, and although he and Adele had been back in England for over a month, he’d been true to his word and not called upon Gertrude’s assistance.
With the Aga stoked and warming nicely, Gertrude was lost in her thoughts as she prepared the breakfast, which she would take up to her sister Glenda and brother Geoffrey.
She slammed down the teapot hard against the butler sink, fighting back tears as for the umpteenth time she forgot that Geoffrey was gone. It was just Glenda and her in Spring Cottage now. She didn’t think she would ever get used to the fact that she would never again see her brother’s happy face as she brought him his breakfast. Life went on for sure, but it was so hard at the moment. He’d only been gone a few months, and the hole he left in Gertrude’s life would never be filled.
Wiping away her tears, Gertrude checked the teapot and was annoyed to find she’d caused a great big crack from the base to the lid. Cursing, she displayed an inherently uncharacteristic show of anger and threw the teapot against the far wall, where it shattered into dozens of sharp china shards.
Within moments she regretted her actions and proceeded to clear up the mess, wincing as her back protested. You’re not getting any younger, Gertrude Harrington, she mused ruefully. Age had all too quickly caught up with her, and she suddenly felt every one of her sixty-plus years.
She was just tipping the remnants of the teapot into the bin when Glenda came rushing downstairs, rubbing her eyes to eradicate the residue of sleep. ‘I thought I heard breaking glass,’ she said, slightly out of breath. ‘Have we had another break-in?’
Gertrude offered her youngest sister an apologetic smile, shaking her head. ‘I had an argument with the teapot, that’s all. I was annoyed with myself, actually.’
Glenda tied the rope belt of her dressing gown and ran a hand through her sleep-rumpled brown hair, stifling a yawn as she did so. ‘Why? Are you now regretting your decision to stop helping the Chief Inspector?’
Gertrude continued preparing the breakfast. ‘It’s only a temporary break, Glenda. Just for a moment I forgot that Geoffrey is no longer with us. I was going to prepare three cups of tea.’
Glenda came over and hugged her sister, eliciting an appreciative pat on her hands. ‘It’ll be all right, eventually. It’s just going to take time, that’s all. Anyway, Gerald will be here soon enough, so best not to get out of the three-cup habit just yet.’
Gertrude picked up on the emotional timbre to Glenda’s voice and sensed that her sister was on the verge of tears, so she changed the subject. ‘I was thinking perhaps I might take Gerald to go and visit Gladys.’
Glenda’s intake of breath caught Gertrude off guard. She hadn’t expected Glenda to be against her decision, but that was the impression she garnered from her sister’s reaction. ‘You disapprove?’
Glenda shook her head. ‘No, of course not. It’s just, well, none of us have been to visit her since she left – not even when Mabel died. We should have, but we didn’t. Don’t you think she’ll resent your visit?’
‘Not in the slightest, Glenda, especially if I take Gerald. I haven’t told you this before, but I’ve been corresponding with Gladys for years. Less so, admittedly, since Mabel died, but several times a year I write to her – on her birthday and on Mabel’s. She has a young son, you know.’
Glenda’s face displayed her surprise at this news. ‘I wasn’t aware of that. Gertrude, if you’ve been in touch with her all these years, why didn’t you tell the rest of us? Why keep it a secret?’
Gertrude sighed, placing two cups of tea on the table. ‘Careful, there’s loose tea in the cup,’ she said as Glenda grabbed one and took a sip. She remained tight lipped about her sister’s question, but she knew Glenda’s tenacity wouldn’t let it go. ‘What do you want me to say, Glenda? Do you want me to say that I feel guilty about keeping in touch with Gladys? Well I’m sorry, but I don’t. She’s my sister – she’s our sister. What she went through was abominable. She should never have been made to feel that she should leave.’
Gertrude peered close into Glenda’s face, searching for any sort of response. She wasn’t at all surprised to see the shock in Glenda’s eyes. ‘Yes, Glenda, I know everything. I know what happened to Gladys, and I know what you did. I’m amazed that you’ve managed to keep it secret for so long. I imagine it must have been so difficult, living with the guilt of fratricide. It must have been eating you up inside, but you never let on.’
Glenda’s bottom lip trembled as she fought to find the right words to express her regret, but even before she spoke, Gertrude silenced her. ‘Perhaps I should have eased that burden by letting you know I was aware of the events, but somehow I couldn’t. Gladys told me everything before she left. She made me promise not to let on that I knew, or that we were corresponding. She felt guilt, you see. She thought everything was her fault, and she wanted to avoid a scandal. I kept my promise to her, for better or worse.’
Glenda’s face remained cold. ‘It was for the better, but you’re wrong about one thing. I wasn’t eaten up with guilt about my actions. I haven’t once lost any sleep over it. What kind of person does that make me, Gertie?’
‘It makes you someone who loves their family enough to want to protect them from harm.’
‘But I killed someone, and I don’t feel any remorse. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. If I had, then Gladys would still be part of this family.’
Gertrude sighed sadly, her mind drifting to other events from the past: another death, another time – another guilty party who deserved everything they got. But did their guilt assuage hers? ‘Everything happens for a reason, Glenda, even the dreadful things. I feel guilty sometimes about being the one who got Mabel the job up at the Hall, but if I hadn’t, even though Mabel might still be alive I’d most likely still be Lavinia’s cook instead of running the Tea Room, and our lives would all be drastically different – and not necessarily better. Gladys is a part of our family, Glenda. Do we see or hear any more from Gerald or Gretchen than we do from Gladys?’
‘That’s different. They’re on opposite sides of the world.’
Gertrude nodded. ‘Travelling the world is becoming easier, but it’s still very expensive and time consuming, and communication by anything other than letter is just as bad. I feel that the time has come to mend our fractured family, so I’m starting with Gladys, and Gerald’s imminent arrival is most fortuitous.’
An impatient sounding knock upon the front door interrupted their conversation, and since Gertrude was dressed and Glenda was not, the elder sister went to find out who it was. Gertrude was surprised to find herself signing for a telegram, which she opened with haste once she’d closed the front door again.
‘Who was it?’ said Glenda as Gertrude returned to the kitchen. She glanced up to see her eldest sister holding the opened telegram, and immediately sensing bad news, she stood up sharply. ‘What is it? What’s happened?’
Gertrude held out the piece of paper. ‘We shall have to change our plans. We’re to expect more visitors.’
Glenda grabbed the telegram and read the words contained within. She emitted an unhappy groan. ‘Gerald’s bringing his wife and her grandchildren!’
Gertrude nodded ruefully as she recalled vividly the first and only time she had met Gerald’s American wife. ‘It would seem we’re in for a bumpy ride.’
It’s been a while since my last post. Apologies for that.
The year has been tumultuous, to say the least. The coronavirus has taken its toll on so many of us in so many different ways – time being just one of them. It’s hard to believe as I write this that we are now well into August. It’s almost as though everything from mid-March onwards hasn’t existed – a blink and you missed it year. But let’s be honest – is 2020 a year we would want to look back on with any fondness?
But, it’s not all gloom and doom. Maid for Murder, my new novel, is finally done and dusted. I had hoped to have it ready much earlier this year, but a whole lot of my time has been taken up on the front line with my other job, the regular one that currently pays the bills, and so I’ve not had a great deal of freedom for writing.
I am excited to announce, though, that Maid for Murder, the First Gertrude Harrington Prequel (and the 4th Gertrude Harrington Mystery overall) will be out at the end of the week.
This novel tells the story of how Gertrude came to meet the then Inspector Lennox for the first time, and how she came to leave the employ of Lavinia Rushbrook. More importantly, it includes the truth about how Gertrude’s niece Mabel died, and how this tragic event shapes Gertrude for the books that have already been released.
I am now in the throes of writing once more. Following on from Maid for Murder, next year’s Gertrude Harrington Mystery is already written and is currently being proof-read and critiqued, and I have one more book in hand after that, which requires editing and a few tweaks here and there. But for the moment, I am now diving back into an unfinished murder mystery which once again features Gertrude.
I will hopefully begin updating this site a little more frequently now as life slowly drags itself back to some vague semblance of normality.
Watch for more details on the release of Maid for Murder over the course of this week.
The promotion for free kindle editions of Master of the Scrolls and Death on Swift Wings has now ended.
This morning, the second books in the Sawyl Gwilym Chronicles and The Gertrude Harrington Mysteries series are available on kindle at half price until Friday.
So head on over to the pages on this website for The Master of Prophecy and Murder by the Book, then follow the links to take you to their relevant Amazon UK & US pages where you can pick up the e-books for 99p/99c. But only until Friday.
As promised, there will be a ‘weekend’ promotion for two of my books.
From 8am on Friday 24th April until 8am on Monday 27th April, both Death on Swift Wings and Master of the Scrolls will be available for free on kindle from Amazon US & UK websites. Head on over to the relevant pages for these books here on this website for links to get your free e-books during this limited time offer.
And watch out on Sunday for news of a further promotion next week.
I hope you are all keeping well during our enforced Lockdown during this Coronavirus pandemic.
I am working my way through the final proofs for Maid for Murder, and it’s well on track for publication in September. In the meantime, I thought I’d share the first few pages with you to whet your appetite.
Also, watch this space as later this week I will announce a promotion for some of my other books, making the kindle editions Free for a short period to those who don’t have Amazon Prime. So stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, here is the prologue and first chapter from Maid for Murder.
MAID FOR MURDER – THE FIRST GERTRUDE HARRINGTON PREQUEL
There was silence in the room, save the ticking of the clock above the mantel. Tasteful floral curtains remained resolutely closed against the sunshine, and the resultant darkness matched the bleak mood of the room’s sole occupant.
Gertrude Harrington wept silent tears into her handkerchief as she awaited her sisters. If today they hadn’t been burying their recently departed brother, then she mightn’t have even made the effort to climb out of the warm and comforting embrace of sleep.
She hadn’t slept at all well in the days since Geoffrey’s murder, so it came as something of a surprise to her this morning when her alarm clock awakened her at eight o’clock with its incessant ringing. The irony of her restful slumber wasn’t lost on her: today was the day she would lay to rest the past and begin anew – again. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to start her life afresh. She’d lost more than her fair share of relatives to untimely death, of whom Geoffrey was the latest victim of murder.
As much as she preferred not to dwell on past events, Gertrude couldn’t help thinking back to the last time that someone in her family was cruelly robbed of their life.
As her mind began to drift once more into melancholy, the sound of knocking from the front door brought her back to reality. With a sigh she dabbed her eyes as she stood, then straightened her black crinoline dress and made her way across the small sitting room. She could always rely on her sisters to be punctual.
Opening the door, Gertrude was somewhat surprised to see Lavinia Rushbrook standing in the morning sun, resplendent in black silk and with a coordinated wide-brimmed hat and veil obscuring most of her face.
It was typical of her really, Gertrude thought with a trace of bitterness. Mrs Rushbrook managed to bring all attention onto herself at any occasion.
In spite of her surprise, through her grief Gertrude managed a reticent smile. ‘Mrs Rushbrook, this is a surprise.’ she said in a neutral voice, ‘I was expecting my sisters.’
Lavinia lifted her veil, revealing her steel grey eyes, which were unusually warm with kindness and affection. ‘I sent them on to the church. I wanted an opportunity to talk with you privately before the funeral, if you’d permit it?’
Gertrude stepped aside to allow her unexpected guest entry to her home. She closed the door with a soft click and followed Lavinia into the sitting room. She drew back the curtains allowing sunlight into the room, then turned to watch as her former employer removed her gloves whilst surveying her surroundings.
‘Your home is very – cosy,’ Lavinia said as she turned to Gertrude once more.
Gertrude managed a smile, indicating that her guest should sit. ‘It’s exactly the cottage I always longed for.’
‘Well then I’m pleased that I was able to buy it for you.’
‘And the Tea Room,’ Gertrude added softly, chuckling as she watched Lavinia dust the chair before seating herself upon it.
‘This chair is a little lumpy,’ Lavinia muttered irritably, shifting to get more comfortable.
With a sigh, Gertrude sat upon the small sofa beneath the front window. ‘It is what it is, and it happens to be my chair and I find it comfy, Mrs Rushbrook. Usually no-one sits in it but me.’
Too late Lavinia realised her insensitivity and blustered an apology. ‘I really didn’t come here to be rude to you, Gertrude.’ She paused for a moment, and then looked Gertrude directly in the eye. ‘I never really thanked you properly for your help, all those years ago, and I have come to regret that.’
Gertrude leant back on the sofa but remained silent, determined not to make any forthcoming apology or thanks an easy task.
‘You could have revealed the truth about what happened that weekend at any point in the past – what is it, five years?’ Lavinia stared up at the ceiling as she clucked, shaking her head in disbelief. ‘Six years, isn’t it?’ She returned her gaze to Gertrude’s inscrutable face. ‘My, doesn’t the time just fly by? Anyway, I know I came away from that experience worse off – and not just financially. But your continued silence has preserved my family’s good name, and for that I shall always be grateful. I just wanted to say thank you, Gertrude.’
Gertrude managed a genuine smile, leaning forward to grasp Lavinia’s outstretched hand of friendship. ‘It’s a little late Mrs Rushbrook, but I accept your apology.’
‘Please, from now on you must call me Lavinia – I insist!’
‘Well, that’s most kind of you.’
‘I know you appreciated the money I gave to you, but money doesn’t really say thank you like the words themselves, does it?’
Gertrude shook her head. ‘Indeed not. So, what brought about this sudden act of kindness?’
Lavinia sighed. ‘Your brother’s death rekindled old memories and made me think of the choices I’ve made over the years.’ She leant close to whisper, even though there was no-one else in the room: ‘I wasn’t a nice person back then, was I?’
‘Well, you were my employer, and I can’t say you were ever unkind or rude to me, but I did sometimes bear witness to your other side. It was never my place to pass judgment on you then, and I won’t do so now. However, I would like to go on from this day forward as a friend.’
Lavinia grasped Gertrude’s hand more tightly. ‘So would I. You know, Geoffrey’s death really brought Easter of 1949 back into sharp focus. Your poor niece–’ She broke off, shaking her head sadly. ‘I thought you’d never get over her death.’
‘I didn’t. I think about Mabel every day. Each night, before I go to bed, I say a little prayer for her soul. And I now also say a prayer for Geoffrey each night. But one cannot live in the past. To live a life of regret is to not live at all.’
‘I agree, which is why I’ve decided to contact Simone.’
Gertrude looked up sharply at the mention of the name. ‘Do you think that wise?’
Lavinia shrugged. ‘I don’t know, to be honest. If I see her and she hates me, then I shall be no worse off – she’s not a part of my life at the moment anyway. But if I don’t visit her, then I feel I might regret it for the rest of my life.’ She looked into Gertrude’s eyes, her own filled with pain. ‘I cannot live a life of regret, Gertrude.’
Gertrude pursed her lips thoughtfully. It didn’t matter what she thought of Lavinia’s decision; Lavinia was old enough and perhaps wise enough to know the potential consequences of her actions.
Every action has consequences, not all of them pleasant.
To this day, she herself still had to live with the consequences of her actions that fateful night, six years ago.
Saturday, April 16th, 1949
Gertrude awoke before dawn on the crisp Saturday morning, knowing she had a huge party to cook for over the coming Easter weekend. In her mind she already had the menu mapped out; all the ingredients were awaiting her in the kitchen of Templemead Hall. Her methodical manner had allowed her to plan well in advance, and all provisions had been acquired over the past month, with only the fresh dairy, meat and vegetables due for delivery later that morning.
Mr Bagshawe the butcher and Mr Pennings the grocer had better not let her down. Before the War, Mr Bagshawe had once been late with his supplies and had felt the unexpected wrath of Gertrude’s uncharacteristically acid tongue. It was something he had no wish to experience again, and he’d made certain the other suppliers to Templemead Hall knew the consequences of failure to meet their deadlines.
She might not be averse to dishing out terrible tongue-lashings when required, but Gertrude never dished up anything less than perfect meals. Her reputation had done wonders for Lavinia Rushbrook’s own position in the community.
As she washed and dressed, going over the menu in her mind one final time, Gertrude thought back fondly to when Templemead Hall had been home to Charles and Elizabeth Templemead.
When the couple had fallen on hard times in the years following the Great War – which had resulted in Charles’ death and Elizabeth’s reluctant sale of their home to outsiders – it had been a bitter blow to the villagers who lived in Clyst St James. Rumours concerning Charles’ gambling and suicide abounded, but those who knew and admired the stoic widow could never believe such a thing of her late husband.
For as long as anyone could remember there had been a Templemead at the Hall, but Elizabeth moved out of the main house and into the former lodge back in 1933, and Professor William Rushbrook and his wife Lavinia moved in.
The villagers had disliked the new owners on principle alone.
No-one but a Templemead should live at the Hall – and that was that.
Everything changed during the Second World War, and suddenly all petty animosities were buried along with the dead, and finally Professor and Mrs Rushbrook became a part of village life.
That didn’t mean the villagers always made it easy for Lavinia, who so desperately wanted to fit in that she publicly vowed never to change the name of the Hall, even though she and her husband mentioned the notion often in private.
‘Thank God for Mrs Harrington and her marvellous food!’ Lavinia was often heard to cry as she marched around the grand old stone house, dishing out commands as though her very life depended upon it.
Even now, Gertrude still couldn’t get to grips with being referred to as Mrs Harrington. She was a confirmed spinster and believed she would remain so until her dying day, but tradition stated that the head cook of any ‘Big House’ should be referred to thus, and so it was with her.
Tradition be damned!
Gertrude vowed that if she ever left the employ of the Rushbrooks then she would be forever called Gertrude – by everyone.
Her fabulous dinner parties were ultimately what Lavinia Rushbrook became famous for – or more specifically, the food prepared by her head cook.
Gertrude had started out as a kitchen maid under the tutelage of Mrs Lawson, who’d been head cook to Mr and Mrs Templemead, but when Professor Rushbrook and his overbearing wife had moved in Mrs Lawson quit her position. It wouldn’t have mattered if Lavinia was the nicest person on Earth: Mrs Lawson’s loyalty lay with the Templemead family – and she would rather eke out a meagre wage elsewhere than continue under the new owners.
In a way, Gertrude couldn’t blame Mrs Lawson for her reluctance to remain, but when Lavinia had gathered the kitchen staff together and asked if anyone had the experience to take on the mantle, Gertrude had stuck her arm straight up. Never one to turn down an opportunity and make a success of it, she hadn’t regretted it for a day.
It was hard work. She arose at dawn and seldom went to bed much before eleven of a night, and only rarely allowed herself a day off – but Gertrude thrived on the hard work. She had such a passion for cooking that it seldom felt like work to her.
When Lavinia took her to one side and asked her to come up with an exquisite menu for her first lavish dinner party, Gertrude hadn’t disappointed.
Neither Lavinia nor Gertrude had looked back.
The challenge was to come up with ever more intricate menus for each subsequent social occasion, and in the 15 years she had been head cook, Gertrude had never once failed to deliver – not even when rationing had forced her to be ever more creative.
Last month, Gertrude had been given instructions to start preparing for an Easter extravaganza to help celebrate the launch of Lavinia Rushbrook’s debut novel. She was told there would be movie stars, singers, politicians and other dignitaries in attendance, and that she simply must provide her best menu yet.
Gertrude was very glad to have such a lead-in to the occasion. It wasn’t difficult to come up with the menu – but to her chagrin Lavinia ripped into her saying it didn’t pass muster.
Didn’t pass muster?
Gertrude snorted in contempt once Lavinia was out of earshot, and ten minutes later presented a completely different menu at which the mistress of the house took one look, smiled broadly and said: ‘Now that’s a knockout, Mrs Harrington.’
A knockout, however, was not what Gertrude would have called Lavinia Rushbrook’s debut novel.
So proud was she of her literary effort that Lavinia gifted a signed presentation copy to each member of staff. Gertrude read the first few chapters and gave up, branding it drivel. She remained careful not to upset Lavinia, and had so far managed to avoid all mention of the book, stating only that she didn’t have the time to read it whilst preparing for the party and that she would read it at a later date.
No matter how bad it might be, there was no denying the amount of effort Lavinia had lavished upon her work and Gertrude hoped she wouldn’t be dismayed when the obvious book reviews started trickling back down to her.
As she made her way down to the kitchen to start her long day, Gertrude vowed to give Lavinia the best banquet to help soften the blow that she knew was looming.
She passed her young niece on her way down the back stairs. ‘Good morning, Mabel.’
Mabel wiped soot from her nose and smiled at her. ‘Morning, Aunt Gertie. Today’s the big day.’
Gertrude tucked a stray lock of black hair back behind Mabel’s ear, feeling oddly maternal towards the sixteen-year-old. ‘How have you found your first week here?’
Mabel sighed quite theatrically. ‘Jolly hard work, Aunt Gertie, but I promise I won’t let you down.’
Gertrude smiled at her. ‘I know you won’t. We must all do our part to make sure Mrs Rushbrook’s household runs smoothly. You’ll get the hang of things soon enough. How are the other staff treating you?’
Mabel leant in close. ‘Simone’s a bit odd. She keeps saying I should feel privileged to work for Mrs Rushbrook like she’s the Queen of Sheba or something!’
Gertrude chuckled. ‘That girl always thought she was a bit above her station if you ask me. She’s never been very good at her job, but for some reason Mrs Rushbrook refuses to dismiss her.’
‘Why do you suppose that is?’ whispered Mabel.
Gertrude patted her niece’s head. ‘We should never question the decisions made by our employers. Now get on with your duties. We don’t want you getting dismissed after only one week. I stuck my neck out, asking Mrs Rushbrook to give you a chance.’
Mabel smiled again as she skipped gaily up the stairs, calling over her shoulder: ‘Like I said, I promise not to let you down, Aunt Gertie.’
Gertrude watched Mabel disappear off into the distance.
She’d never once before asked Mrs Rushbrook for any favours, and when her sister Gladys had sent Mabel down from the Lake District with a letter asking her to help find work for the young girl, it had taken Gertrude the best part of a week to pluck up the courage to speak to Lavinia.
Without a second of hesitation, Lavinia had agreed to employ Mabel as one of the housemaids, stating – without mentioning anyone in particular – that she was finding it hard to find anyone reliable. ‘She’ll have to start at the bottom, mind,’ Lavinia had said.
Gertrude wasn’t about to fawn over her mistress with grateful thanks, but she made her appreciation known by preparing a special breakfast that morning – and every morning since.
Lavinia had asked Gertrude only one question about Mabel’s mother. ‘I have heard you speak of your family often enough, but apart from those in America and Australia, you’ve only mentioned one niece – Juliet. I remember, because she shares the same name as the heroine in my book, who I named after Shakespeare’s heroine from Romeo and Juliet. So why have you not mentioned Mabel before? Whose daughter is she?’
Gertrude couldn’t lie, but could barely bring herself to tell the truth about her fallen sister, Gladys; Gladys who’d apparently slept with so many men that she’d said she didn’t know who had fathered Mabel; Gladys who’d so scandalised the family that they’d paid for her to go to the Lake District and had never spoken of her again.
That was the official version, but Gertrude knew the truth: a secret never to be revealed – to anyone.
Gertrude often wondered what her siblings would think if they knew that from within her room at Templemead Hall she’d kept in monthly contact with Gladys. As far as she was aware, they didn’t even know that Mabel was now working with her.
When Gertrude had spoken briefly but frankly to Lavinia about the accepted circumstances surrounding Mabel’s birth, she had been a little surprised by the look of compassion and understanding on her employer’s face.
She hadn’t asked – such a question would have been too impertinent – but she quietly supposed that such silent understanding could only come from a woman of similar circumstance.
Gertrude firmly believed that there would come a day when Mrs Rushbrook might open up to her, but she knew that day was a long way off yet. And if she ever discovered the real circumstances of Mabel’s birth…?
It was something to worry about another time.
First things first: there was an Easter banquet to prepare.
24th March 2020
Welcome to my new – and hopefully improved – website, dedicated to my writing.
Here I will continue to keep you updated with new releases, promotions and perhaps a few competitions every now and then.
To start with, I’d like to thank all those who have purchased my books over the years. Hopefully you have enjoyed reading them and will continue to enjoy my new books as and when they are published.
September will be an exciting time, as this is when I will be launching my next novel, Maid for Murder. This is the next Gertrude Harrington Mystery, but is also a prequel, revealing the tragic events which led to her departure as Head Cook at Templemead Hall, and how she met Bill Lennox for the first time. Read more about this new book in the ‘Novels’ section.
The first three Gertrude Harrington Books and Seven Steps to Murder were re-released with some lovely new covers last year. Although I loved the original covers, they did not perhaps reflect the cosy crime genre. The Gertrude Harrington Mystery series will continue in the new style, hopefully right up to the final book. At the same time I decided to revamp the Sawyl Gwilym Chronicles and Portrait of Shade & The Five Tors, and they too have evocative new covers. All books are now available in their new covers through Amazon in both paperback and kindle editions.
For those who are interested, I also have a new dedicated Facebook page launching soon.