‘Well, what do all mysteries have?’ said Aunt Isobel. ‘Money, mistresses, and murder.’
1783 – and Lichfield society is enthralled by the arrival of dashing ex-officer Orville; he charms his way into the salons, grand houses and even a great inheritance from extrovert Sir Morton.
1927 – and detective writer Julia Warren returns to her home in Lichfield to work on her next novel. Initially she hopes to find plot material from the past and set it in the present. Aunt Isobel, while making preparations for the annual midsummer ball, has managed to root out an old journal from 1783 which might prove a source of inspiration. Once Julia starts reading her ancestor’s journal she becomes absorbed in solving the mystery surrounding officer Orville. Detective fever takes over, and she moves from reality to legend as events from the past seem set to re-enact themselves in the present, and she finds herself unravelling more than just the one mystery. Who was Orville? Who was the agent, Oddman, set to spy on him? And who is helpful Mr Grenall ?
Pagan gods don’t walk away just because you stop looking at them. The Gronny Patch sleeps. Perhaps it dreams. Or perhaps not …
A complex, multi-layered story unlike any other, full of whimsy, horror, and mystery, shifting between the centuries and from source to source, until all the threads are finally drawn together by the imperturbable Miss Warren.
Isn’t it beautiful? Want an excerpt? Well, keep reading.
‘Where is Bunty?’
‘Collecting some friends of hers from London, she said,’ supplied Aunt Isobel. ‘I hope they aren’t those rather noisy young people she brought up last time, but still, it is meant to be a party.’
‘Oh I should think they are I mean Bunty only likes noisy people: saves her doing a lot of the talking.’ Charlie could produce a lot of nothing verbally for a good deal of the time and then suddenly come out with a perceptive line when you least expected it.
The leaves of the weeping fig began to tickle Julia’s neck; she shifted, and glanced back at the journal. ‘And you mentioned a mystery about one of the two sisters . . . I don’t remember ever hearing about that before.’
‘Yes, I wish I could be more helpful; I probably wasn’t paying enough attention at the time—it was something to do with the Journal, however, I do recall that much.’
‘I wonder what that could have been.’
‘Well, what do all mysteries have?’ said Aunt Isobel. ‘Money, mistresses, and murder.’
‘Goodness—murder as well? That would be handy.’
‘Oh well, I don’t know in this case in particular—although, come to think of it, an unexplained death did play a part, I believe . . . but as I say, I wasn’t all that attentive as a girl.’
Julia looked at the journal again. More and more it beckoned her to steal away with it and open its pages. ‘Did you say there were some more letters as well?’
‘I’m sure there must be. We can have a look this afternoon if you like. Do you need paper, by the by? I think I put some in your room, but it may not be sufficient.’
‘You did. It’s plenty to be going on with. If I need anything I can pop down to the village.’
Julia returned upstairs as soon as it was socially acceptable to do so. She enjoyed Aunt Isobel’s company enormously, but the little leather-bound journal kept slipping into view every other second. She made the honourable excuse of getting ready for the evening. It wasn’t anything grand, some old friends and relatives—notably, cousins Crewe (Anne and Richard from Fradley), and distantly related Frank from Morton Manor, with a few extras thrown in. She still puzzled over the inclusion of Mr Grenall, but put it down to her aunt’s ardent appreciation of anything or anyone connected with roses and peonies; together with her anxiety always to mix with locals as much as possible.
She sat down on the bed and opened the journal to look at the first entry.
“March 25th 1782
A cloudy, sullen day; everyone much out of spirits, and disinclined to be entertained; a little improved towards evening, when a game of piquet was suggested. Robert returned late from the Warringtons and enlivened us with the latest news and gossip. There is to be a performance at Blufflap Manor soon, it seems likely we shall be invited—a comedy of sorts; Mrs Gently is failing fast and is not expected to see out the spring, and Mr Warrington has bought a new horse. Aside from this, little of any consequence was said.”
Julia felt absurdly disappointed by this start, and read on quickly. The next entry involved a walk in the morning and a visit in the afternoon from Mrs and Miss Drayton, where again ‘little of much consequence was said’; the entry after that described the ill-effects of a cold and the tedium of gruel. Julia began reading at random April the sixth, (outing in a carriage) May the 20th, (shopping in town), July 14th, (tea with the Draytons) until she stopped suddenly, feeling slightly nervous. She was looking for something and she didn’t know what it was. Ideas? Situations? That was why she had come home, and why she had been so eager to go through everything in the attic. That was supposedly why she was sitting on the bed, rifling through this little leather book when she should have been getting ready for dinner. But she didn’t feel it was that so much. It was annoying, but she couldn’t define her feeling. Her reviews described her as a perceptive and analytical writer, but these qualities appeared now to have deserted her completely. She decided to take a hold of herself and work her way through until she found what she was searching for. On she raced, turning page after page: Autumn saw chills and common colds in and out, winter was taken up with preparations for Christmas parties, dances and festivities, followed by uncertain weather and the blessed arrival of Spring.
The word came to her as she reached the entry for March 30th 1783. Recognition. She was searching for something to recognise. Finding a word for it only served to make her feel even more unsettled.
“March 30th 1783
Last evening at dinner there was some talk of the efficacy of sleep for certain disorders, Father’s friend Dr Gout making one of the party; this led to talk about dreams, and their meanings. Our brother Robert complained of having slept ill the night before; Mary, ever curious, would ask what he had dreamt of. ‘Oh stuff,’ he said vaguely, and took some time to be drawn out as he holds no great faith in the theory that dreams can have any significance for the life and actions of the sleeper. After many questions however she got it out of him that he had dreamt of trees and wind, and seen a face in a bush with leaves growing out of it. Father said that he must have taken too much cheese at table; the doctor seriously suggested that it foretold a visitor’s arrival. On further describing the kind of trees he had seen, and the general type of landscape, Father cried out: ‘Why, that’s Gronny Patch, Robert—have you been walking there recently?’
‘Not to my knowledge, sir,’ replied Robert, surprised.
‘Not trysting with young maids there? Take a care not to let your secrets out with your dreams!’ continued Father in high spirits, intending to make us all laugh—and indeed the suggestion of Robert taking any such steps for anything of the kind, when he has us girls always so particularly under guard, as it were, like some anxious sheep-dog, really did entertain us a good deal.
Later Charlotte, Mary and I speculated as to what manner of visitor might be expected, if the Doctor’s prediction should prove true, Mary naturally hoping for some young gallant with a good fortune. Charlotte wondered if tidings were to be brought, recalling stories she had heard of premonitions and dreams which portended death and the like, until Mary begged her to stop, as it was past midnight, and put her in mind of a Gothic tale, so she should never get to sleep.
I own to being unsettled as a result, and can only blame myself for the result: a late repose, broken early in the morning by a dream in all its details the double of Robert’s. I was walking in a copse, with wind about me, and, going round a tree, saw directly ahead, a face with leaves and branches growing out of its mouth and ears. I awoke in a great fright as daybreak was slipping through the shutters. I have refrained from asking Robert any more about his own dream today; it is probably best forgotten. However, I have decided to record only such incidents as these in future, and avoid as much dross as possible. This should make a great saving of paper and a more entertaining record.”
Julia read it through twice, feeling she had at least reached the beginning of something. The clock in the corridor outside chimed seven. Drinks, and then dinner. Julia snatched a dress out of the wardrobe.
Interested yet? I sure am!
A Bustle attached to a keyboard, occasionally to be seen floating on a canal …
After studying Early Music in Italy followed by a brief career in concert performance, the Bustle exchanged vocal parts for less vocal arts i.e. a Diploma from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.
Her inky mess, both graphic and verbal, can be found in various regions of the Web, and appendaged to good people’s works (for no visible reason that she can understand).
At present exploring the mysteries of Northumberland, although if there is a place she could call true home, it would be Venice…while the fields of Waterloo hold a certain resonance for her as well…
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