Authors: Elizabeth Lord
Table of Contents
SHADOW OF THE PROTECTOR
COMPANY OF REBELS
TO CAST A STONE
A SECRET INHERITANCE
ALL THAT WE ARE
ILLUSIONS OF HAPPINESS
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2014 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.
eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Lord
The right of Elizabeth Lord to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Lord, Elizabeth, 1928- author.
The chandelier ballroom.
1. Haunted houses–England–Essex–Fiction. 2. Great
Britain–History–George V, 1910-1936–Fiction. 3. Great
Britain–History–George VI, 1936-1952–Fiction.
4. Paranormal fiction.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8412-1 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-547-5 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
The letter had come from a solicitor he’d never heard of, scaring the living daylights out of him. Now that the initial shock had subsided, it lay open on the coffee table, with Horace Butterfield, known to most as Race, reading it through a second time with only one thought racing around in his head: someone had to be stitching him up.
Reading the letter over his shoulder, his wife Millicent was suspicious too.
‘It’s too bloody good to be true, Race. You’re going to ’ave to phone these people, find out who they are, what they’re up to, who they’re working for.’
a catch,’ he replied slowly, ‘it’s a damned silly one. What do they expect to gain?’
Seeing the name of an unknown law firm on the envelope, his first thought had been that Linkman, the little bastard, had gone to the police after all about the job they’d done just over a week ago. Or maybe he hadn’t, because as yet no police had come nosing around. But you never could tell.
Last week he’d stood over the snivelling Linkman after Race and his two mates had given him a going over. Glaring down at the bruised and bloodied upturned features, he’d warned: ‘You go bleating to the fuzz and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.’
The job hadn’t gone off well. They’d only just made it before the police arrived. Coshing the elderly night watchman on the bonce as he was making the phone call to them, they’d had to leg it quick, but Linkman had been terrified that they’d killed the old boy. He had been pretty ancient.
They hadn’t. The local paper had reported him recovering in hospital. But it had been too much of a close shave. Robbery with violence, all four would have gone down for a long stretch. He was fifty-three. At his age the last thing he wanted was to end up doing fifteen years or more. It hadn’t even been a big job. None of them were these days and he had this feeling he was getting past it.
All his life he’d been only slightly better than a petty thief, dreaming of becoming someone, carrying off the big heist, but somehow never rising very far up the rungs of the criminal world.
‘’Cos you’re too bloody nice, tryin’ ter act the bloody gentleman all the time!’ That would come up every time, Millie scoffing at his efforts to improve himself from a hard upbringing. ‘Yer can’t be nice in your game,’ she’d nag, her harsh Cockney tone grating on his nerves. ‘You need to ’ave a bit more clout.’
He thought he did. Prone to a quick and vicious temper, he wasn’t above giving someone a good hiding – like Linkman. As he’d ripped the letter open he had been sure Linkman had squealed despite his warning.
Now all that was flushed from his mind as he whispered, ‘If this letter’s genuine then it’s a bloody fortune! It can’t be true!’
Millie was gazing down at the legal wording. ‘I ain’t never ’eard of this Robert Sacker person. If this ain’t a set-up then it’s got to be a mistake.’
Race looked up at her with faint irritation. Her acid remarks never ceased, even with money like this staring them in the face. But the remark made him think clearer now that the initial fear had passed.
‘Yes you have,’ he said. ‘He was my dad’s brother. You only ever saw him the once. He turned up at the church at our wedding, right out of the blue, then left – didn’t come back to the house, just left. Not set eyes on him from that day on.’
‘That was twenty-eight years ago.’ She sniffed. ‘Bloody long time!’
It was. They’d married in 1901. Before that he’d only ever met his father’s brother a couple of times as a kid. After the shock of seeing him at their wedding, he’d forgotten all about him until this letter arrived telling him his Uncle Robert was dead. As if he cared. Except that the letter named him as the man’s only surviving relative.
It explained that he’d left no heir, made no will; that after his estate had been sold to settle the usual outgoings, Race himself had been found to be the sole surviving beneficiary. He still couldn’t believe it.
‘I ’ardly remember him,’ he muttered. ‘I only saw ’im a couple of times as a kid when my parents were alive. They died in 1888, leaving me to be shoved into an orphanage. Then he turns up at the church the day of our wedding. I certainly didn’t invite him. I took it that he’d died years ago.’ He gave a chuckle. ‘Of course he is now!’ Then he sobered. ‘The letter says he never married or had any children. His only relative was my dad. Seems he was a bit of a recluse. But to be worth all this much – fifty-odd thousand quid! When most blokes earn, what, thirty bob a week, maybe two quid? There must be some catch somewhere. If there ain’t, then we’re bloody rich!’
He glanced around the untidy room: a pile of Millie’s undies and other stuff on a chair still waiting to be ironed from last week, a stack of old newspapers that should have been thrown out ages ago, used plates left from last night’s supper still on the dining table next to the remains of this morning’s breakfast, the room undusted and badly in need of new wallpaper when he got around to it, the ceiling brown from years of cigarette smoke, the net curtains likewise.
Millie had never been one for extreme cleanliness, tidiness, elegance. She had been once. When they’d first met she’d been a real doll, but the sparkling blue eyes were now faded, the once platinum blonde hair now mousy grey, the slim, supple figure now thickened. She had turned many a man’s head those days, but he’d been the one to claim her.
Even her attitude had changed since then – the scintillating young thing now a carping middle-aged nag. He’d altered too, of course, but not like her; he’d never put on weight or developed a pot belly, still had his looks to a certain degree. He flattered himself he still looked young, though lately there were times, becoming ever more frequent, when he felt old, past it, out of sorts.
She was looking at him. Now convinced of the validity of the letter, her pale eyes had lit up at the prospect of the life they could have from now on.
‘What are you going to do with it all?’ she asked in a whisper.
‘Do with it?’ he echoed, staring back at her.
All this time, fighting to make a buck or two, hoping to hit the jackpot. All his life dreaming of making it big! He could put it behind him now. Since leaving that orphanage, unequipped for the world, having hardly been taught to read or write, he’d found a natural grasp of figures and easier pickings helping himself to things belonging to others.
He’d learned to be sly, manipulative, and by the time he was in his twenties had a small following of like-minded mates whom he controlled. He was tough and quick tempered, brutal when need be. But luck had never been on his side and he’d done time, a couple of years here and there.
This last job was to have been big. But the business with the night watchman had been a bit too much for him, and that little crap Linkman had threatened to bleat to the police to save his own skin. He’d had the bugger cringing on the floor at his feet, face battered by the kicking he’d given him. Knowing there’d be a knife in his guts next, the snotty little sod had understood.
He wouldn’t talk. Race knew that now. But the letter had frightened the life out of him and he suddenly realised how sick he was of it all, jumping at every knock on the door, plotting, planning, but never quite making the grade. He was a small-time crook, always would be, and getting too old – not exactly old, but his mind tiring of trying to achieve that big job that never came.
With this money he could become legit, live the life of a gent, looked upon as respectable. He knew how to pull the wool over people’s eyes. He’d surround himself with fine friends instead of the crap he now went around with, leave behind the life he’d led all these years. He had visions of buying a nice large house not too far out of London, throwing huge parties for posh new friends, dabbling on the stock exchange, going to the races, taking trips abroad.
Filled with these dreams, he said brightly, ‘I’m getting in touch with this solicitor right away – today!’
‘Beats me ’ow yer uncle made enough fer you to spend on a place like this,’ Millie said as they stood outside their new home.
‘Probably doing the same thing I did.’ He didn’t smile as he said it. To make that much cash his uncle’d had to be up to some caper all his life. If so, he’d been a damn sight cleverer at it than Race had ever been. ‘Well it’s mine now,’ he added gruffly. ‘So shut up and appreciate it!’
She was starting to get on his nerves, standing here doing nothing but moan. A whole year it had taken to find a place he wanted. Maybe it was a bit of a way from London, too far as she insisted on pointing out, but far enough to stop those he’d known from popping down, trying to get him to do a job with them, feeling it would go smoother if planned by someone with the money to carry out something stylish. He was well out of it and intended to keep it that way. He had no need of more money, at least not by dishonest means.
He’d thought Millie would have been thrilled with this place. With the impressive name of Crossways Lodge, its imposing frontage set well back from the road behind a sturdy hedge, it was more like a mansion. Yet here she was, pulling a face at the place as if she’d just eaten a sour apple.
‘What’s it supposed ter be?’
‘What d’you think it is?’ he answered sarcastically. ‘It’s a house.’
‘But it’s miles from anywhere and it’s far too big. What d’yer need one this big for, just us two?’
He fought to keep his temper. ‘So as I can entertain people.’
‘Who fer Gawd sake? Them mates what you knock around with? Do a bit of showing off ter let ’em see ’ow bloody well off you are now?’
‘No,’ he said slowly, trying to curb his irritation at the way she spoke. Since finding this place in a village called Wadely, he’d continued to improve his speech. Not far from the Essex town of Brentwood, people here had money, spoke nicely, and the last thing he wanted was to be shown up. But she had made no effort to improve herself. The moment she opened her mouth she would let him down. ‘I mean to find better friends here,’ he went on. ‘And if you don’t like it, too bloody bad. You can like it or lump it!’