Find out what secrets lurk within the walls of Chatswood Manor in this in this first book of a historical fiction mystery series that explores a family’s secrets throughout generations.
The Chatswood family tree has many branches—and even more secrets. It’s the summer of 1914 in England, and Beth Etheridge, great-granddaughter of the original Elizabeth Chatswood, can’t wait for her twelfth birthday to arrive. That’s when she’ll receive her family’s heirloom “Elizabeth” necklace: one half of a heart encrusted with beautiful sapphires. (The companion necklace, encrusted with rubies, will be given to Beth’s American cousin and pen pal, Kate, later in the series.) But when family from France visits Chatswood Manor for the occasion and another family heirloom goes missing, Beth finds herself on a quest to clear the name of her lady’s maid and friend, Shannon. Her search for answers leads her to a hidden diary with clues to a much larger family mystery that dates back generations. What secrets are hidden away in Chatswood Manor?
Bridget, where are you?” I exclaimed. My hand hovered over the bellpull. I’d never had to ring for my lady’s maid more than once. It seemed frightfully demanding to ring a third time, but I couldn’t begin to get ready until Bridget appeared. And our chauffeur, James, had already left for the train station to pick up my French relatives, the Trufants. If Bridget didn’t come to my aid soon, I would never be ready to receive them when they arrived!
I paced the length of my bedroom, brushing my auburn hair so that its waves tumbled softly around my shoulders. My hair, at least, I could fix by myself if I had to. But for everything else—from wriggling out of my billowing nightgown to fastening the tiny pearl buttons on my dress—I would need help. I glanced at the ticking clock on the mantel and realized that I had no choice but to summon Bridget yet again. If I wasn’t dressed and waiting in the great hall when the Trufants entered Chatswood Manor, it would be a social catastrophe!
I yanked on the bellpull with all my might. Since it made no noise in my room, I had to trust that the bell to summon Bridget rang down in the servants’ quarters. My hand had scarcely released the silken pull when I heard a soft knock. “Do come in!” I called without turning around. “Thank goodness you arrived,” I continued as I began to rummage through a small drawer in my dressing table. “We have very little time, but if possible, I would love for you to weave the little pearls into my hair. Do you know where they might be?”
It was then that I looked up and saw, not Bridget, but Shannon, one of the housemaids who tended the upper floors, standing in my room. Her arms were brimming with peonies, lilacs, and the first June roses.
“Good morning, Lady Beth,” Shannon said. “I’ve been filling the guest rooms with fresh flowers for the Trufants, and I thought you might like some for your room as well.”
“Oh, Shannon, I’m in a terrible state!” I cried. “What am I going to do? The Trufants will be here any moment!”
Shannon’s green eyes grew as wide as saucers. “But, milady! You’re not ready to receive! Where is Bridget?”
“Please, Shannon, you’ve got to help me,” I begged. “I’ve rung the bell three times, and Bridget has yet to arrive.”
“I’ll go downstairs and fetch her myself,” Shannon promised. Then she rushed out of the room.
I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to calm my nerves. Surely Shannon would not fail me. Ever since she’d come to Chatswood Manor two years ago, Shannon had been my favorite housemaid. The other housemaids tended to their work with little more than a hurried curtsy if I was in the room. Shannon, though, always had a smile or a kind word for me. She was so friendly that she never minded when I chatted with her while she cleaned. I knew that I could count on her to help me now.
I tried to pass the time by searching for my pearls, but the truth was, I had little idea of where Bridget stored such things. As the clock ticked away with no sign of Bridget or Shannon, I started to worry again. What could possibly be keeping them? I wondered. Should I follow Shannon to find out for myself? Of course, I could never go downstairs to the servants’ quarters—such a thing would be unthinkable. But perhaps I could wait just outside the staircase, or even ask another housemaid to help me find Bridget.
I paused before the portrait of my great-grandmother Elizabeth. “What would you do, Great-Grandmother?” I whispered.
From the canvas, Great-Grandmother Elizabeth smiled as she always did, with her lips closed and her eyes full of secrets. The Elizabeth necklace, a stunning piece of jewelry set with sapphires as blue as the sea, sparkled around her neck. Just looking at it made my heart flutter. Ever since Great-Grandmother Elizabeth had worn it, the Elizabeth necklace had been passed down to each Elizabeth in the family on her twelfth birthday. And it would be my turn to receive it on my birthday—in only two days’ time! For as long as I could remember, I had dreamed about my twelfth birthday. There were so many exciting festivities planned: a picnic with my mother and grandmother, a formal family dinner, and my debut as the guest of honor at the grandest ball my parents had ever thrown. But receiving the Elizabeth necklace, the very same one that had been captured in the portrait, would be the most special of them all.
My great-grandmother’s portrait had been painted when she was eighteen years old, just six months before she married . . . and six months before her twin sister, Katherine, left Chatswood Manor forever, taking with her the ruby-studded Katherine necklace. As the older twin (by all of five minutes), Elizabeth would’ve known for years that she would marry Cousin Maxwell Tynne in order to keep Chatswood Manor in the family. Her destiny had been set from the moment of her birth. But could anyone have guessed that Katherine’s heart would lead her across the ocean to America, never to return? I longed to ask my great-grandmother how she had managed without her beloved sister by her side. I longed to see if my hair really was as wavy as Elizabeth’s had been. And I wished to learn all the secrets that danced in her beautiful blue eyes.
But that was not meant to be. Great-Grandmother Elizabeth had died two years before I was born, so I had never even met her. Having her portrait in my room was a small consolation; I loved going to sleep each night feeling as if she was watching over me. Initially, Mother had objected to moving the portrait into my room, saying it was hardly proper decoration for a young girl’s room. But I had begged and begged until she relented.
Katherine was still alive in the far-off state of Rhode Island in America, where she lived with her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter, my cousin. Lucky Cousin Kate, to live with her great-grandmother! I’d never met Kate either, but we wrote long letters to each other every week. That’s how I knew that my American cousin had an adventurous spirit. What, I wondered, would courageous Cousin Kate do in a situation like this? Surely she would take action, and not stay caged in her room like a pet songbird.
I pressed my fingers to my lips to blow a kiss to Great-Grandmother Elizabeth, as I always did when I passed her portrait. Then, with my decision made, I strode from my bedroom. Mother was surely in the middle of getting dressed, and I was almost certain that Father was in his study, so I wasn’t worried about being seen on my way to the servants’ staircase. And, of course, there was no real harm in waiting outside it. It was, after all, just a few steps outside my room!
I hovered at the top step, straining my ears for any sign that Bridget was on her way. The sounds from downstairs were muffled, but I could faintly hear the hum of voices. Perhaps Mrs. Morris, the housekeeper? Or Mrs. Beaudin, our French chef? Then I noticed another pair of voices, approaching from behind me.
“Not a moment’s peace until after the birthday—”
“Ha! There won’t be any peace until the Trufants leave. I remember when Lady Beatrice—”
It was Jennie and May, who must have just finished sweeping last night’s ashes from the fireplaces. Their conversation ended as soon as they saw me, and I of course pretended I hadn’t heard a thing. With a quick curtsy and a murmured, “Milady,” they descended the stairs. I watched them go, wishing that I could’ve heard just a bit more. What did Jennie remember about my aunt Beatrice?
At last, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I moved closer to the stairwell to see if it was Bridget, but it was Mr. Harrison, the butler, who crossed the threshold. And he was not alone; Mrs. Morris, the housekeeper, followed behind him. Then came Shannon and a gaggle of housemaids—Jennie, May, Nora, Peggy. But where, where, was Bridget? From the troubled look on Shannon’s face—and the crowd of servants behind her—I could tell that something must have happened.
Mr. Harrison and I spoke at the same time, but of course he let me finish first.
“Where is Bridget?” I asked, wasting no time on pleasantries. “Is she unwell?”
Mr. Harrison cleared his throat and looked purposefully down the hall. “Lady Beth, I regret to inform you that Bridget has resigned her position at Chatswood Manor, effective immediately.”
My mouth fell open in shock. “Immediately?” I exclaimed. “Surely she didn’t just leave—”
“I am afraid she is already gone.”
Mrs. Morris stepped forward with a reassuring smile. “Not to worry, milady,” she said. “Finding Bridget’s replacement will be my top priority. And until then, I will personally assign one of the housemaids to assist you.”
A hopeful murmur passed between the housemaids as my eyes met Shannon’s. There was no mistaking the longing on her face. Suddenly I realized that this unfortunate turn of events could have a happy ending.
“Might I suggest that Shannon take Bridget’s place?” I said.
Mrs. Morris paused. “Lady Beth, I fear that Shannon may not be prepared for the role of a lady’s maid,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “She has served as a housemaid for just two years.”
“I don’t mind,” I replied.
“What about Jennie?” Mrs. Morris suggested. “She is the head housemaid. And she has a bit of experience as a lady’s maid, you know. She stood in for Miss Dalton for two weeks last winter, and your mother was very pleased with Jennie’s service.”
“I would be quite happy with Shannon’s assistance,” I insisted. “We already know that she is ever so skilled at styling hair. Why, just look at those dainty curls!”
Shannon’s hands fluttered up to the fiery red tendrils peeking out from under her white cap. “This is just a bit of vanity,” she murmured as she looked down.
Mrs. Morris and Mr. Harrison exchanged a glance. Since Shannon was still staring at the floor, I made sure to look directly at them. “Really, I can think of no better candidate for the job,” I said firmly.
“Very well, then. It’s settled,” Mr. Harrison finally decided. “She can fill the role on a trial basis. Shannon, your work has always been impeccable, and I expect it will continue to be so.”
“Of course it will,” I said, answering for Shannon, who looked as if she might start crying at any moment. I knew they would be tears of happiness though, and that made my heart swell with joy. As far as I knew, there had never been a lady’s maid at Chatswood as young as Shannon. She was just sixteen, only four years older than me.
I was about to grab Shannon’s hands in my excitement when Jennie murmured, “Right, then,” in the most disappointed voice I’d ever heard. Then she and the other housemaids slunk back downstairs—giving me a chance to stay composed in front of Mr. Harrison and Mrs. Morris. After all, Shannon and I could celebrate her promotion when we returned to my room.
I turned back to Mrs. Morris. “About Bridget,” I began. “Why did she leave? And where has she gone?”
“Milady, you must not trouble yourself with such matters,” she replied.
“But I can’t believe that she wouldn’t even say good-bye!”
Mr. Harrison gave me a pointed look. “Lady Beth, please excuse me. But might I remind you of the time? I expect the Trufants will arrive shortly.”
The Trufants! I had nearly forgotten!
I reached past Mr. Harrison and grabbed hold of Shannon’s wrist. “Hurry, Shannon!” I cried as I pulled her down the hall. “There’s not a moment to lose!”
Adele Whitby wishes she lived in a grand manor home with hidden rooms and tucked-away nooks and crannies, but instead she lives in the next best thing—a condo in Florida with her husband and their two dogs, Molly and Mack. When she’s not busy writing, you can usually find her reading and relaxing on the beach under a big umbrella. She loves getting lost in a good story, especially one set in a faraway place and time.
“Whitby generates a goodly amount of page-turning suspense. . . . The book provides solid closure and ends on a gratifying note. (An) entertaining mystery lite set in a Downton Abbey world.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“(A) delightful first entry in the series. Beth is a likable heroine who is plucky and determined and readers will be sure to sympathize with her. Replete with historical facts, fashion details and customs of the times, this novel is destined to be a hit with fans of the ‘American Girl Mysteries’ and ‘Dear America’ series.”