Yes, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Charles, the sixth Viscount Danvers. In the year of our Lord 1848, 11th in the reign of our glorious and good Queen Victoria, long may she live. If I may be permitted to acquaint you with my family I’ll explain that my father, the Earl of Norville, is at Norwood, his Northamptonshire estate, but will no doubt remove to his London residence when Parliament convenes. My eldest sister, Lady Estella Burroway, has one son and two daughters and lives most of the time in London where Margaret and Eleanor, our younger sisters, make their home with her. Our brother Frederick William, at Oxford, completes the family. As to my own residence, although I keep a house in London no place has been home to me since the tragic death of my beloved Charlotte.
Oh, I’m so sorry. Do you mind talking about her?
The lovely Lady Charlotte Auchincloss was my first love, my only love. We would now be celebrating our first wedding anniversary had not I. . .
Yes? Please go on.
Had I not insisted on taking Charlotte for a picnic on the day of a sudden, drenching rain that produced the pneumonia that caused her death. Let me explain. It began as a day of golden sunshine, and Charlotte, thinking we were merely going to the lake at the end of the park, had instructed her maid to bring only her lightest shawl. But I, idiot that I was, took a notion into my head to visit a picturesque ruined abbey in a far corner of Northamptonshire and then ignored the gathering clouds to walk the extensive grounds. I even took time to sing to her.
So you like music?
My late mother, the countess, had a fine soprano voice. She and my father were always at the opera. As the eldest son it was my fortune to inherit her love of operatic music, if not her talent. Singing favorite arias to Charlotte’s accompaniment— no matter how little my notes may have matched those played on the pianoforte— was been a link to my childhood. But now all music is gone from my life.
Do you have other hobbies?
I have a very philosophical mind, although of late I have assiduously avoided opportunities for introspection as they lead me only deeper into the doldrums. Since outgrowing the youthful religious fancy that had led me at the age of sixteen to consider taking holy orders, in recent years I have taken refuge in the popular philosophers of the day. But since the autumn past, the autumn that was to have brought life’s greatest joy to my life, in wedded bliss, I have found nothing that could bring pleasure or even solace. So I have chosen the only available recourse— escaping in a balloon.
You’re an Aeronaut! Where do you plan to go?
My man Hardy and I shall be flying to Ketteringham Hall in Norfolk, the seat of an old family friend, Sir John Boileau. Jack, the eldest Boileau son is celebrating his coming of age and the do is to be a countywide event with dinners and bonfires, brass band, I don’t know what all else of a brouhaha. As you can imagine, not my sort of event, but family duty and all that.
Is there a story behind that?
Ah, yes, indeed. Sir John and my father served together in the Rifle Brigade in the Netherlands. At Waterloo. At least my father was. Sir John— or John Peter as Father still calls him— was on leave in England. He posted night and day to get back in time for the great battle but arrived twenty-four hours too late. Father still tells the story— I imagine Sir John does too.
As it turns out, it was enormously lucky for my father— Boileau arrived in time to search the battlefield for him and found him wounded— would have died if Boileau hadn’t brought him in. So here I am, the official representative of the Danvers family for the coming-of-age.
Will there be events other than the coming of age celebrations?
Unlikely. It’s a rather quiet corner of Norfolk. But should anything untoward happen— a grisly murder in the neighbourhood or anything of that sort— unlikely as that is— Sir John, as the local magistrate would be the first to be called. And I must say that I have an inquiring mind and a driving sense of justice, so I rather fancy that I could be of some assistance if any investigations should present themselves. I might add that I am insistent for all the details and scrupulously honest— even if the answers are unpleasant. But that’s all conjecture. Nothing will happen.
Do you know who any of the other guests will be?
There’s certain to be a houseful. The Dowager Duchess of Aethelbert who used to dance with my father at Almack’s a generation ago, for one. I’ll admit to a certain fondness for her outspoken ascorbic tongue, although she frightens most people.
And then, I suppose Lady Antonia Hoover will be there. We were childhood friends, but I haven’t seen much of her this past year. Well, to tell the truth, I haven’t seen much of anyone the past year. As the daughter of the third Baron of Breene, Antonia is accustomed to being the belle of every ball— even when there was no ball in progress.
As I said, I’ve known Antonia all of my life. Indeed, we’re acquaintances of such long standing that we call each other by our first names in an informal moment. And yet I barely know her. To the world she’s always fashionably coy and flirtatious, but I’ve at times at times glimpsed flashes of what appear to be a caring, intelligent person underneath. With her copper curls and fragile features she appears as delicate as the roses and lace she’s so fond of, and yet I suspected a strength underneath.
Thank you for stopping by. I do wish you a pleasant journey in your aerostat.
Yes, thank you. There’s Hardy now, come to tell me he’s ready to cast off, no doubt. At least we have a fine fall day. This crisp November air is perfect for flying.
Lord Charles Danvers, still in mourning for his lost love Charlotte, hopes to find escape from his ghosts at the country estate of his oldest friend Sir John Boileau. The events surrounding the coming of age of Sir John’s son and heir have much of Norfolk astir— until the peace of an autumn evening is shattered by a brutal murder.
The police are quick to point to a quarrelsome farmer but Lord Danvers has his doubts. As the local magistrate, Sir John has an interest in the investigation. But is the real connection much closer to home? And does Danvers owe the greater loyalty to an old friend or to the truth?
Then Danvers is even more unsettled by the entrance of the alluring Lady Antonia Hoover.
First in the Lord Danvers Mysteries, this a Victorian true crime novel. The Stanfield Hall Murders were the sensation they are portrayed to be, the elaborate coming of age celebrations and the ensuing dramatic trial are all recorded history. Lord Charles Danvers, his irrepressible man Hardy and their pioneering aeronautical adventures are the novelists’ contribution.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 36 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH is newly released in the UK, and she is at work on book 3 AN UNHOLY COMMUNION scheduled for 2012.
The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue series using literary figures as background: Dorothy L Sayers in THE SHADOW OF REALITY and Shakespeare in A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE.
The Daughters of Courage, KATHRYN, ELIZABETH and STEPHANIE is a pioneer family saga based on the stories of Donna’s own family and other Idaho pioneers in the Kuna, Nampa and Boise area.
Donna and her husband live in Boise. They have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. Donna is remembered by Idahoans with long memories as a former Queen of the Snake River Stampede, Miss Rodeo Idaho and runner-up for Miss Rodeo America. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to: http://www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com.
Her blog is at: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/articles.php
and you can follow her on Facebook at: http://ning.it/eLjgYp