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Authors: Dodie Hamilton

Fragile Blossoms

Fragile Blossoms

By Dodie Hamilton

Copyright 2015 Doreen Hamilton
This is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used factiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from Author’s Name.

This story, a glance into Edwardian English life, is dedicated with love and respect to my sister, Audrey Little Night Hawk, and her Family and her People.

Thanks to my wonderful friends all over the world on Face book and Twitter. What did I do before I met you? You are a life-line and a never ending source of support and not just to me, to thousands of people. Every day no matter the situation there’s always someone who wants to make you feel better.

As for this book and the writing of it a special thank you to John and Josie Lewin, founders of Spirit Knights Paranormal Investigation, and to Pat Jay and Poppa Lee in Spain for their endless generosity. To Ingka Charters, the Artist, and last but never least my friend Julie Whitton Dexter whom I love most dearly.

God Rules Okay! He will bless you all.

Other books by Dodie Hamilton

A Second Chance

The Spark

Prequel to The Light House Keepers

The Light House Keepers

Perfidia

the Sequel to A Second Chance

Contents

Prologue: Kill or Cure

Book One: Daisies

One: Needed and Necessary

Two: Something for Nothing

Three: A Grudge

Four: The Opera

Five: Too Late

Six: Gifts from the Dead

Seven:The Nuance

Eight: The Right One

Nine: Old Wives Tales

Book Two: Tainted Flower

Ten: One of Those Things

Eleven: Elliptical Eve

Twelve: Cats and Kings

Thirteen: Telescopes

Fourteen: Continuing

Fifteen: The Kiss

Book Three: Thistles

Sixteen: Beloved Strangers

Seventeen: Sparkling Dust

Eighteen: Warm but Unwilling

Nineteen: Séance

Twenty: A Big Question

Twenty One: A Sinner

Twenty Two: Hope

Twenty Three: The Right Hands

Twenty Four: Nativity Plays

Twenty Five: Many a Slip

Twenty Six: Last Christmas

Twenty Seven: Cup and Lip

Twenty Eight: The Slip

Twenty Nine: Beloved Lie

Thirty: Shadow Man

Thirty One: Morse Code

Thirty Two: A Soul Saved

Thirty Three: Whispering

Thirty Four: Epilogue

Kaiser

Prologue
Kill or Cure

A dainty little china cup was the first to go, a pretty thing, so fragile and fine one could see candle light shining through.

She ran to the shed and finding the biggest, heaviest hammer, went back to the cottage. A sun-beaten arm across the door he tried barring the way.

‘What are you going to do?’

Scornful, she ducked under his arm. ‘I’m going to rid myself of a problem. I’ve borne the damned things long enough.’ She set the cup on the table and swung the hammer. Always a good shot, Daddy used to say she could’ve played Hurling for Ireland, the cup exploded costly porcelain flying.

Next to go was a triple cake-stand, a delicious thing, rose-sprigged with gilt edging. Plate, hammer, and table, she weighed up distance.

‘Oh don’t, madam!’ the maid wailed. ‘You surely can’t do it!’

‘I surely can and I will and if you don’t want to watch I suggest you leave!’

The maid ran, weeping, her apron over her head.

One blow and the cake-stand disintegrated and the gold metal pegs used to support the plates lethal bullets flying every which way.

Eyes as green as the seas he travels he leant against the door-jamb, so handsome and so perfidious. ‘What you’re doing is dangerous as well as foolish. You should cover your eyes.’

‘And you shouldn’t be here!’ she said. ‘The cottage may be on your land but since I am in possession, as it were, you are trespassing.’

‘It’s not my cottage.’

‘Whose is it then?’

‘Yours.’

‘Is it so?’

‘It is. It was this morning willed it to you.’

‘Why would you do that?’

He shrugged. ‘I am a sailor, madam, my life in the hands of a ship’s crew and Lord God Almighty. I thought to make you more secure.’

‘And am I supposed to thank you?’

Again he shrugged. ‘It wasn’t done with gratitude in mind.’

‘Good because I’m not grateful. I don’t want the cottage and I don’t want you. You are here at your own invitation. Please leave! In staying you do as you have done, you take advantage of your position.’

‘And what is my position?’

‘Where I am concerned it is nothing and nowhere.’

It’s warm the evening sultry. What they need is a storm to clear the air. She is aware of another watcher peering through a spy-glass, a girl, a would-be woman, who brought the village screaming to this door and who can now do no worse. I’ll give them a storm, she thought. I mean mercy’s sake, why waste time taking items down one-by-one when every shelf on the dresser is full.

Lace tearing she pushed back the sleeves of her gown. ‘If as you say this is dangerous you’d better stand back,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t want to hurt you.’

‘Wouldn’t want to hurt me?’ He laughed. ‘You hurt me every second of every minute of every day. You stab me through the heart and then you stab me again. Go ahead! Do your damndest! Kill the Meissen as you are killing me.’

She gazed at him. Unshaven and great coat travel-stained he looked weary. Back from the farthest reaches of the earth, ship duly docked in Southampton, it’s likely he’s travelled all day to Norfolk, the horses sweating out in the yard.

‘You called here first?’ she said. ‘You didn’t climb the Rise?’

‘I always call here first, don’t you know,’ he said his mouth tight. ‘It’s the rules of the game, the beloved first and the family second. I thought you knew that. Indeed, I thought it was what you wanted.’

It was too much. That bitter tone and the seeing of himself as the injured party was the last straw. How dared he blame her for this? How dared he!

Screaming she ran at the dresser. The hammer a lot heavier than thought she mistimed the shot catching the middle shelf whereupon it leapt up in the air, tipped and struck the top shelf which also began to slide plates falling and smashing on the stone floor like a deck of brilliantly painted playing cards.

Weeping at such destruction she struck again and again until there was nothing but razor sharp porcelain and the knowledge that even as she struck the shards would pierce her heart throughout this lifetime and the next.

Book One
Daisies

One
Needed and Necessary

March 1897, Bakers End, Norfolk.

‘Mr Simpkin?’ Julia gazed about looked about her. ‘Why is the cottage known as the N and N?’

August Simpkin, of Simpkin & Simpkin, Solicitors of Law, Bakers End, laughed. ‘That was the writer chap Charley Dickens! The Newman sisters who lived here called it Pleasant Cottage. And it was pleasant. You could get a decent cup of tea there and the odd knickknack. Then Mr Dickens wrote them into a book. He called the cottage the Needed and Necessary Tea-Shop. Next thing you know the world is heading this way, carriages and hansoms bowling down the road, rich and poor knocking on the door. Over time needed and necessary a bit a mouthful it became the N and N. And that’s how you find it today.’

‘Fascinating.’

‘Aye, it was and it still is. You could see why he wrote about them. They weren’t what you’d call every day people. Miss Justine and Miss Clarissa were clever. They were society people. It makes you wonder why they would have a tea-shop. It can’t have been lack of brass.’

‘They didn’t marry?’

‘Not that I know of. There were rumours of romance but when aren’t there.’ He sighed. ‘I see it now, ladies smiling through hazy light, fluted parasols, the scent of cinnamon in the air and Miss Clarissa’s green Macaw squawking. I was a lad then with my life before me. I thought it a magical place. I daresay every child in Bakers thought it the same.’

Julia smiled. ‘I do like the name.’

‘Everybody does, it’s why it’s stuck.’ He gestured. ‘These front bay windows were the tea room and the middle room a trading place for whatever those dear gentlewomen could find. Silk thread, pills and potions, bibelots and plants from their garden, if they couldn’t get it, it couldn’t be got. Then in the autumn of ‘76 Miss Clarissa fell down among her beloved roses. She lingered a couple of years and then passed away by which time Miss Justine was a recluse. She died in ’81. This is how it was left. I apologise, Mrs Dryden. Had I known it this much of a mess I’d have tried clearing it myself though in terms of the Will the cottage and contents are yours and not to be meddled with.’

‘How did the Will come to light?’

‘Hand of God I’d say. There was a fire, a gas mantle left on and a row of shops, and Geddes Law Firm in Surrey Street, Kings Lynn, burnt to the ground. Thanks to a constable on watch some of the files were saved, the last Will and Testament of Justine Newman, your mother’s Great-Aunt, among them.’

‘So this house has been empty for almost twenty years?’

‘It has, locked and barred. ‘He passed his hand over a table dust clinging to his fingers. ‘This dust is of another age.’

Two hours they trudged about the house and garden, the lawyer apologetic and Julia weary. It’s as well she didn’t bring Matty. Mildew and mess mean nothing to him. Three years-old he’d only see the beauty of the place, tissue-paper leaves of a copper beech down by the gate glowing in the evening sun.

When the letter arrived telling of the bequest so soon after Owen’s death, a home of their own and no one hammering on the door demanding payment of bills, it felt like a miracle. Now having seen it the miracle seems a little tarnished. ‘If the house were on the market d’you think anyone likely to buy?’

Simpkin fingered his hat. ‘That question takes some answering. As I told you there’s a clause in the Will that should you decide to sell gives first refusal to a named party. It was added the day Miss Justine died.’

‘Might I ask the name of the interested party?’

‘I don’t have a name. Only Geddes has that and after the fire they don’t know their hand from their elbow. The place was gutted, what didn’t go up in flames was smoke spoiled. It will take years to sift through. That’s why it came to me to handle.’ He sniffed. ‘As they say it’s an ill wind that blows no one any luck. I shouldn’t worry. The clause is valid only if you decide to sell. Do you know the history of this place, Mrs Dryden?’

‘Only what was said in the letter it once belonged to the Lansdowne family.’

‘Aye, gate-house to the estate. Some time in the 1700s the Big House was passed to a cousin of the family, Edgar Lansdowne. He and his wife had children and their children had children and all lived in the Big House. Then the railway came and a chunk of the land was sold off. The House and the Park all are that remain.’

‘So the cottage is part of the Lansdowne Estate.’

‘Not any more. It was gifted outright to Miss Justine.’

They stood in the parlour, a resting place for dust and moribund spiders.

‘It’s a pretty place and a good location for a tea-shop, the road to Cambridgeshire passing close by, though....’ Mr Simpkin glanced sideways, ‘being a delicate lady I wouldn’t have thought a cafe quite your style.’

Julia smiled and tried not notice layers of dust and the distinct odour of mouse droppings. ‘Delicate or not, Mr Simpkin, one must survive.’

‘Indeed so.’ Mr Simpkin stared and then colouring tapped on the window. ‘Good glass this, ma’m, even when crusted with dirt.’

The windows are beautiful the sun low in the sky turning the double bays of bottle-glass into a dozen miniature sunsets. Julia would have liked to ask more of the previous owners but hadn’t time. Mrs Roberts, the proprietor of the Lord Nelson Inn where they are lodged, is minding Matty.

‘Do you know what plans the interested party has for the house?’

‘I imagine it would be returned to its original state.’

‘You mean a gatehouse?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wouldn’t that mean rerouting the avenue?’

Mr Simpkin smoothed his hat. ‘Possibly.’

That ‘possibly’ and the smoothing of a hat told Julia there was more planned for the N and N than August Simpkin was willing to tell.

The gardens are a blaze of colour and the orchard heavy with summer promise. ‘The gardens here are wonderful.’

Mr Simpkin poked about with his cane. ‘Looks like you’ve trouble with moles.’

‘If there is trouble it’s not with moles,’ said Julia. ‘Moles don’t usually carry a trowel and leave the surrounding plants undamaged ‘

‘You think it a thief! Nay, that’s not likely. Why would anyone steal plants?’

‘It happens. Botanists have been known to travel the world to do just that.’

‘You mean down south, Cornwall and the like?’

‘I was thinking more China and the Upper Reaches of the Congo.’

‘What? Go all that way for flowers and be paid to do it?’

‘Some look for financial gain others for the joy of the quest. My Uncle William was a keen botanist. He travelled the world in search of orchids.’

‘Chasing a flower?’ Mr Simpkin shook his head. ‘I’d sooner stay home and grow a nice chrysanthemum. But these are good gardens. As I said the ladies were keen gardeners. I understand your mother was the same.’

‘She was. How do you know that?’

‘It’s mentioned in the Will, ‘
the passing of a garden to a gardener
.’ It seems your mother used to visit as a girl and take tea with Miss Justine. It’s all in the Will. Did you not read it?’

‘Not all of it. My husband died in September. My time has been very much taken up with other matters.’

‘I imagined something of the kind, the sadness in your eyes. Was the poor gentleman ill awhile?’

‘Mr Passmore was knocked down by a bullock cart.’

‘A bullock cart?’

‘Yes, in Cairo.’

‘Cairo? Not one of the flowering gentlemen was he?’

Julia smiled sadly. ‘Doctor Passmore hunted Egyptian artefacts, a treasure equally rare but not nearly as sweet smelling.’

Chilled to the bone Julia was glad to return to the inn. The Lord Nelson is a Pipers Coaching House in the centre of the Market Square. A prosperous establishment with first class rooms and a fine kitchen it is a frequent stopover for coaches on route to Cambridge. A hand-painted sign of HMS Victory over the door declares the proprietor as Albert Roberts Esquire and Sons. Another sign invites the onlooker to attest the skills of ‘
A Roberts and Sons,
Master Builders and Property Renovation’
. Mrs Nanette Roberts is the true captain of the ship. Skirts crackling and cap ribbons flying she sails through the many corridors boot boys and guests alike scattering at her approach.

A canvas above the board in the parlour shows an angel breathing life into a drowned kitten, the motto ‘
So Shines a Good Deed in a Weary World
.’ In caring for her visitors Nan Roberts takes the motto to heart.

Sunday evening she tapped on the door. ‘It’s none too warm up here. I’ll get someone to bring more coal. A beautiful child,’ her glance tender Mrs Roberts leaned over Matty as he slept. ‘He’s been ill hasn’t he, poor lamb?’

‘Yes he has but he’s better now.’

‘I see our Tabby cat has found him. Shake her off if she’s a bother.’

‘No let her stay. Matty loves animals. I want to thank you, Mrs Roberts, for taking care of him.’

‘Not at all! It was a pleasure having the lad...not that I saw much of him. He spent the afternoon at the Forge with my son Luke helping shoe a pony.’

‘So Matty told me.’

‘You understand your lad then do you when he makes them sounds?’

‘He talks in his own way.’

‘Luke says he’s bright.’

‘Matty is bright. It’s not lack of intelligence that hampers. Throat surgery left him with problems. He can make himself understood. It’s really about people being patient and listening. Not everyone is as patient as your son.’

‘Phuf!’ Mrs Roberts blew out her lips. ‘I can’t think of Luke as patient, more a thunderstorm waiting to break. He rooms above the Forge. It’s as well he does I couldn’t stand his moody ways. Albert is a placid man. There’s nothing placid about Luke. His temper is as black as his eyes.’

‘And yet he is gentle with my son.’

‘Ah well he likes children well enough. It’s everyone else he doesn’t like. God help the lass that gets him, I say. She’ll rue the day.’

Chilled, a draught blowing, Julia drew her shawl close about her shoulders.

‘Come down to my sitting room,’ said Nan, ‘and I’ll make us a warm drink. You can leave your lad. Nothing will wake him.’

Lamps lit and coal glowing in the hearth it was cosy in the parlour. Nan Roberts took up the patching of linen. ‘How did you get on with Gussie Simpkin? Are you to stay with us or on your way back to Cambridge?’

Julia blinked.

Nan smiled. ‘Bakers End needs no Town Crier, a pint of ale in the public bar and tongues start clacking. I heard you’d been left the N and N. It’s not just idle curiosity that gets folk going. It’s because the cottage is connected to the Lansdowne Estate. The Big House has been empty too long. It needs selling and carriages coming and going not boarded up. Hopefully things are about to change. Someone intends living there. We want to know who.’

‘I’m afraid I can’t help. Oh there’s a hole in my skirt!’ Julia grimaced. ‘I must have caught it on the brambles coming through the lane.’

‘That lane! I’ve been on the council,’ said Nan, ‘but they say it’s not their responsibility. Should you have been on foot, Mrs Dryden? It’s a fair distance to the cottage and you but a slip of a thing! August Simpkin should’ve brought you back. The money he makes he ought to at least offer a hansom cab.’

‘He did. I preferred to walk.’

Mrs Roberts snorted. ‘I bet he was relieved. Squashed up in that growler of his with a beautiful widow-woman is more than his nerves could take.’

Julia smiled. ‘I doubt that’s the case.’

‘I’m sure it is. I was only thinking earlier with your hair you’d best wear a bonnet indoors as well as out. It’ll give the lassies here a fighting chance. There’s a shortage of good men as it is without you setting them in a coil.’

‘You believe in straight talking.’

‘I’m from Yorkshire. I believe in honesty. You’ve secrets, my dear, I can tell. But they’re your secrets and as long as they don’t trouble me and mine they’ll stay yours.’

The room was hushed, firelight glimmering and the muted buzz of male voices in the bar. ‘So shall you sell?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Don’t be too hasty. As Mr Roberts will tell you it’s as good a house as you’ll get anywhere. A dab of whitewash and it’ll be good as new. My Luke will sort it. He’ll put his shoulder to the wheel and unlike some round here he’ll not charge for what he doesn’t do.’

‘I think there are mice.’

‘We’re on the edge of the Wash. If we were to quit on account of mice the village will be empty. Get a dog and cat. A dog will scare off the rogues and a mouser will clear you of everything and offer the odd rabbit for the pot.’

‘Matty would like a dog. He was fond of the college dog.’

‘Where did you live before?’

‘My husband taught at Cambridge. We lived in the college grounds.’

‘A clever man then?’

‘Yes, he was.’

‘And your boy will take after him.’ Nan sighed. ‘Luke’s teacher wanted him to go to college but we weren’t as we are now. We needed him. He resented that. He thought he could do better and to be fair he could’ve. He’s clever. Give him a problem storing shelves in the cellar or how many stones in a wall and he’ll figure it out. It’s him that keeps the wall bottom of your garden.’

If the gardens are a blessing then the wall back of the property is a curse. Julia asked Mr Simpkin if she should be alarmed, was there something on the other side that needed to stay on the other side.

‘There’s nothing sinister that I know of,’ was his reply.

‘Then why build a wall? It casts a gloom over the whole house.’

‘I don’t know why it was built. I only know if you accept the property you accept the wall. It’s in the Will: ‘
Not to come down until the stars fall.’

Julia enquired of Mrs Roberts. ‘Why is there a wall?’

Nan shrugged. ‘People are always asking that. I tell them only Miss Justine knew why it was built and she took the answer to her grave.’

‘Who were the Newman sisters? I mean, where did they come from?’

‘They were Irish, I heard, from County Clare. They were gentry. There was talk of them dining with Her Majesty. I wouldn’t be surprised. I met Miss Justine. It was when we had the Beehive Inn at Coddleston. She was in a barouche, a coat of arms on the door. A trace on the lead horse snapped, Luke fixed it. Miss Justine gave him sixpence. He gave me the sixpence but wouldn’t say what she said. That was twenty years ago, he still won’t say.’

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