by Katie Page
With a deep sigh, Lily mentally shakes herself and returns to the present day, realising she’s been in the attic for nearly two hours, daydreaming of a bygone era – the 1920’s, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. Open in front of Lily is an ancient travel chest, which once belonged to her great-grandmother, Rebecca. Inside are a pair of long, white kid gloves, a lace handkerchief and a black and white photograph, yellowed with age, of a young, couple kissing and very much in love.
The woman in the picture is Rebecca and the man, Stefan Loveridge – converted playboy and often perceived as a confirmed bachelor – that was until he met Rebecca. The story passed through the generations was that Rebecca had been wearing the gloves on the day, in the spring of 1921, Stefan had proposed to her while the lace handkerchief was a reminder of events to come: shortly before their wedding, Stefan had vanished.
Despite rumours that Stefan had abandoned Rebecca in favour of continuing his bachelor lifestyle, Rebecca had never doubted Stefan’s love and commitment to her convinced that something far more calamitous had befallen him. Although Rebecca went on to marry Lily’s great-grandfather, William Harding, she never forgot her first love and these three items remained a lasting memorial to Stefan.
Sitting beside Lily is Rebecca’s ghost, smiling fondly at her great-granddaughter. With the lid shut and Lily firmly back in the present, she looks up at the sun shining warmly through the attic window, the distant scent of smoke from the burning autumn detritus. The golden sun begins to set and leaves a ripple of pure joy through Lily’s heart.
For some reason, Lily has a good feeling about this evening. Checking her watch, Lily realises it’s time to leave for her meeting with Professor Roberts, Head of Archaeology and her boss at the University. Fingers crossed that he will finally have the go-ahead for Lily to investigate some exciting finds at a renovation project in the Cams Hall.
~ Rebecca’s ghost smiles a knowing smile.
Three hours later a beaming Lily pulls her car out of the drive and heads for the 17th Century Lainston House Hotel. Roof down, music blaring she places the pedal to the floor and speeds carefree up the avenue which, unbeknownst to her, will change her destiny.
The twilight leaves a chill by the time Lily pulls into the hotels’ car park. As she walks towards the entrance a man was hurrying out but, on seeing her he waits, holding the door open for her. It seems the age of chivalry isn’t dead after all, thinks Lily, as she squeezes past him and through the door. Glancing back at him to say thank you, Lily freezes in shock as a bolt of recognition passes through her like lightning. Who is he? She’s entirely sure she’s met him before but, for the life of her, can’t remember where, when or even what his name might be. She’s about to smile a tentative hello when the man gives her a brisk nod and hurries off into the night. Lily turns and shrugs and continues.
“How can I help you?” the bored looking foreman of the site asks Lily at 8.05am the next morning.
“Oh, hi, my name is Lily Harding, and I’m from the University’s Archaeology Department. I’m meeting with Calvin Turner this morning to look at the remains you’ve found?”
“Right, well, I’d better take you over there then,” says the foreman, handing her a hard hat and heading off in the direction of the Cams Hall renovation project. Within minutes Lily is staring straight back into the very same green/grey eyes of the incredibly familiar (and truth be known, rather gorgeous) stranger from the hotel last night. Holding out his hand, he says “Hi, Calvin Turner – and you must be Ms. Harding?” without seeming to acknowledge they’ve already met.
When she nods it becomes immediately apparent he isn’t in a particularly friendly or welcoming mood as he points towards the fenced off area where the skeletal remains found just three days before.
“The remains are over to the left. I hope you can determine quickly whether this is a historical find or simply a matter for the police because, historical significance aside, time is money and my client’s budget is, as it is. If there is anything I can help you with, please just ask”.
Calvin strides away, aware of his surprise at the turn of events. Whatever happened to the crumbly old fuddy-duddy archaeologist he’d imagined turning up today? He thinks. Instead, a confident young woman (who is very attractive indeed) now holds the key to this project’s success in her hands. He remembers again how utterly shocked she seemed last night when he kept the door open for her. Judging by her reaction, she’s clearly very independent, Calvin assumes, leaving him to ponder whether she would be offended if he asked her out for dinner.
~ Six hours later, Lily stands up and stretches.
The skeleton is now completely exposed, and one fundamental question has already been answered, namely how long the corpse had been buried. Lily can answer this one with pinpoint accuracy eighty-seven years. Not down to Lily’s incredible archaeological examination skills, this was merely the fact that clasped in the outstretched hand of the skeletal remains is a perfectly preserved, piece of paper and written, in beautiful script, the date 8th February, 1923.
As she heads off in the direction of the site office, Lily realises that she is looking forward to giving Mr. Turner some good news. Maybe, she thinks, even lightens his mood and stop him looking at her as if she had two heads. He can safely expect to resume the renovation project within the next couple of days. Although Lily still can’t place where she knows him from, she’s confident about one thing: she would dearly love to get to know Mr. Turner an awful lot better.
~ Back in the attic, Rebecca’s ghost stops pacing, smiles and then drifts back to the old travel chest, disappearing inside.
At home two days later, Lily thanks the forensic pathologist before putting the phone down and looks again, in amazement, at the photocopy in her hand. You couldn’t make this up if you tried, she thinks while realising this is also the perfect opportunity to ring Mr. Turner (and maybe entice him out to dinner?). Without giving herself an excuse to wimp out, Lily texts Calvin to ask if he’s free to meet her that night for dinner as she’s driving down and has something exciting to share with him. Her phone buzzes almost immediately with a reply “Luv 2 Miss Harding – Chewton Glen @ 8? And you can call me Clf”
Yes, yes, she thought and laughed at the little joke she had of calling him, Mr. Turner!
Checking her watch, Lily hurries up to the attic to look inside the travel chest, this time with purpose rather than nostalgia on her mind. Tonight she will wear her great-grandmother’s gold gate bracelet to celebrate one mystery finally solved. As she searches through the chest, the photo falls out onto the floor, but Lily doesn’t notice as she finds the bracelet, closes the lid and heads downstairs to get changed before she leaves. Rebecca’s ghost notices the photo and picks it up, shimmering a little more brightly as she does so.
~ Over dinner, Lily tells Calvin about her fantastic discovery.
“The forensic pathologist promised to send me a copy of the letter clasped in the skeleton’s hand so, when I read it this morning, I was shocked to discover it was written to my great-grandmother, Rebecca” Lily explains. “Sorry, but how could you possibly realise that?” Calvin asks incredulously.
“Because it is a love letter written to Rebecca Miller – my great-grandmother’s maiden name, dated the eighth of February 1923. It’s from her fiancé explaining that he has been trying to arrange a surprise for their forthcoming nuptials. He has just met his wealthy benefactor at Cams Hall to finalise the financial arrangements for their new country house in Purbeck, which will be ready for them to move into as soon as they are married.
He finishes it by telling Rebecca he dearly loves her and hopes to be back in the next few days and to meet him at Swanage Station, when he arrives by steam train. Then he will take her to look at what will be their marital home.” Lily takes a sip of wine and then carries on. “I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain that it was written to my great grandmother Rebecca because the letter was simply signed ‘S’. But when I spoke with the pathologist this morning, she confirmed that she had also found some financial documents, inside a leather case beneath the skeleton, in the name of Stefan Loveridge with the monogram of S”. “Sorry, but did you just say Stefan Loveridge?” Calvin asks quickly. “Yes, that’s right,” Lily answers. “Why?”
“Because my sister has been putting together our family tree and one branch of it was the Loveridge family – the maternal relations of my great-great-grandmother, Rebecca – and I remember my sister showing me her latest research and telling me about a certain Stefan Loveridge. Surely that would be too much of a coincidence?” Calvin starts fumbling in his pocket, looking for his phone before he realises he left it at the office. “Damn, where’s my phone! I was going to call my sister and ask her whether your Stefan and my Stefan is the same person” Calvin says. “Here, use mine” but as Lily passes the phone to him, Calvin glances at her bracelet, exclaiming.
“Now that is too much of a coincidence!”
“What is?” replies Lily, looking concerned. “There’s a family portrait from the late 17th century of one of my ancestors wearing an identical bracelet”.
Calvin continues to explain that the bracelet which was gifted to the future bride of each successive heir, something else dawns on Lily. Calvin Turner is the spitting image of the young man in the photo with Rebecca. “Nobody in the family knew whether the story was true, or just some romantic myth, because the bracelet has been lost for years. If this isn’t just some weird coincidence and they are great-uncle Stefan’s remains, then I’m intrigued to find out what happened to him?”
“Ah, now that’s the sad part. It seems that in 1923 the Cams Hall had been undergoing a similar renovation project on behalf of Stefan’s wealthy benefactor, Maurice Tweed. Although it’s not clear exactly how Stefan met his fate the forensic pathologist is assuming he must have somehow slipped down some crumbling steps into a disused part of the building, hitting his head on the way down.
The one thing the pathologist found curious, though, was that after all these years the letter was still perfectly preserved. Even more curious, however, is that although every care was taken to protect it, the letter almost completely disintegrated as soon as she’d photocopied it. It’s almost as if Stefan was waiting to be found and knew, from beyond the grave, that this letter would help identify him.”
“So, perhaps we were meant to meet then?” suggests Calvin. “Even if we weren’t, I’m so glad we did!” Lily pauses, and then adds, “It almost feels like the hand of chance has played a big part in this.”
~ Sitting at the table next to them Rebecca’s ghost looks at her hands, looks back at the couple busy falling in love, and smiles a delighted smile.
Harry woke up just as the plane landed and started taxiing along JFK’s runway. Checking his watch, Harry was pleased to see the flight had landed on time and, although tired after the long trip, he was raring to go, and he had ten days. Harry was eagerly anticipating a successful conclusion to the assignment he had been working on for the past two years. Harry Harding headed for Manhattan where he fully intended to unmask the notorious ‘White Russian.’
Later, while unpacking his suitcase at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Lane, Harry gave himself a mental pat on the back. Not only was it the perfect location from which to track his elusive quarry, but he would also take great delight in the specific knowledge that his client would be footing yet another enormous hotel bill. Grinning to himself, he remembered their conversation outside Christie’s yesterday. Harry had already waited over an hour before his client, Heathfield – aka the ‘OVC.’ Storming out of Christie’s, he was ranting at some poor person on his latest gadget – a mobile phone the size of a brick. Harry walked over to his petite and meek personal assistant Verity. He asked her what had put the OVC in such a ‘good’ mood. “Oh,” she chirped, “he’s just been outbid for the third time this year.
This time it was an original 1920s art deco diamond encrusted black and white cocktail shaker which he’s obsessed with adding to his collection. He even promised the new girlfriend she’d be making cocktails in it this evening. And now he’s the laughing stock of the London auction house. When he realised he had outbid yet again, he lost it and started screaming and shouting at the auctioneer, accusing him of fixing the auction. This scene continued for a full fifteen minutes until security intervened and escorted off the premises. He’s now on the phone with his lawyer, determined to sue them because convinced there’s a conspiracy against him. What a muppet! Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer person!” Harry hastily stopped chuckling as Heathfield strode towards him, jabbing his finger obnoxiously in Harry’s face. “You’re late, as per usual!” he spat “I’ve got better things to do with my time than wait around for you to show up. My sources in Manhattan’s Upper East Side tell me she’s living there now. Your flight leaves Heathrow, tomorrow morning at 6.20am, landing at JFK at about eleven o’clock in the morning. A taxi will take you straight from the airport to Times Square, and I expect you to get started straight away. Your tickets, Visa, and currency are all in this envelope. I’ve booked you into a motel near JFK for ten nights and expected you to report back to me at five o’clock daily. Let’s see if you can put the information to good use for a change!” Taking the envelope from Heathfield, Harry checked the contents. Knowing geography wasn’t one of Heathfield’s strongest points in the intellect department, Harry asked: “Why’ve you booked me into a motel at JFK when you want me to search Manhattan?”
“No shit Sherlock, but the Waldorf is the only hotel with any availability in Manhattan at this short notice. Do you think I’m going to foot the bill while you sit around on your bum eating fancy salads all day? I want answers! I want my money back, and I want that woman taught a lesson” Heathfield responded, getting steadily more belligerent. “But surely Manhattan’s the most sensible place for me to stay? JFK’s an hour’s taxi ride each way, whereas the Waldorf Astoria’s on Park Avenue which, according to your information, is where I should be focusing my efforts.” Harry explained patiently “The more local I am, the more effective I can be.”
Unable to resist winding Heathfield up a further notch, Harry added “And because the White Russian’s been so successful, she’s probably quite flash with her money too. Where better to flash it than Park Lane or the Waldorf Astoria? I can talk to the staff, ask questions, do a bit of digging with the longer-term guests and maybe even bump into her. She’s bound to be throwing her money around. She has expensive taste!”
The missile launched, target hit, resulting explosion impressive. Heathfield’s reaction was pure joy to watch “MY MONEY” Heathfield was now shouting, spittle flying out of his mouth and landing on Harry’s cheek. “Nobody gets one over on ME, particularly some stupid little bitch.
I don’t care where you stay, just get me a result. Now get out of my face!” shouted Heathfield, puce with rage and as disgusting as his sexist insults. Before Harry could arrange his face into what he considered a genuine look of empathy, Heathfield was gone, and Harry gave himself a big tick in the “How-to-wind-Heathfield-up” box. Harry’s client was Heathfield Debonnaire, a wealthy investment banker who, much to his vast professional and personal embarrassment, had become the latest victim of the infamous ‘White Russian’ two years earlier when he had been relieved of some $5million from various bank accounts. As vice president of a highly regarded private investment house, Heathfield was, in truth, little better than a dodgy car dealer made good.
He had become a city trader at the start of the 80’s when shouting the loudest, playing the dirtiest and gambling the hardest was masked as a serious talent. Heathfield surpassed on all three counts and had quickly worked his way to the top. Despite the fact that all this Heathfield was, in fact, an obnoxious, vile creature – which was the reason for his nickname the OVC. He was as thick as two short planks and haunted with some of the worst traits a man could possess. He was an utter coward who given enough rope would eventually hang himself.Unfortunately, he was also Harry’s ex-brother-in-law, and Harry was in hock to him up to the eyeballs.
Nine days later Harry was thoroughly dispirited. Time was running out, and he still found no trace of the mysterious ‘White Russian.’ Deciding to forego the pleasure of his daily update with the OVC, Harry headed out for a drink instead. Taking a seat half an hour later at Mancini’s Bar, he reflected that every cloud had a silver lining. The third evening running Harry had been to Mancini’s Bar, and Harry now knew that the cocktail waitress was called Anna, she was twenty-eight years old, and she seemed to like him just as much as Harry wanted her.
She was also the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. The evening had been a quiet one and at 11:30 pm Anna’s boss told her she could leave early. So she took her bag and walked passed Harry who sat at the bar. “Hey Anna, can I buy you a drink before you head off?” Asked Harry.
“Oh why not – it’s my day off tomorrow, so I don’t have to rush off” Anna replied “Fantastic! Now, what would you like to drink – a cocktail?”
“Umm, a nice, please. I only ever drink cocktails when I have something to celebrate.”
“Are you saying that being the most beautiful woman in the whole of Manhattan isn’t something you celebrate at every available opportunity?” Harry asked with a huge grin and a twinkle in his eye. “Oh my God, that’s the worst chat up line ever!” replied Anna, laughing.”
It would be if it were a chat up line but I only ever speak the truth, and the truth is I also think I’ve fallen head over heels for you.” With her fingers in her ears and slightly blushing, Anna was laughing “stop with the awful chat up lines!” Hands up, as if in defeat, Harry asked her how long she had been working at Mancini’s and whether she enjoyed her job. “Ah, long story I’m afraid, and I’d feel terrible if I unburdened my sorry tale of woe on to you.”
“Honestly, Anna, after the week I’ve had – I think I can handle it. But let’s make it fair – why don’t we both unburden our sorry tales of woe and see whose is worse?” Harry answered. “Okay, but promise to stop me if you get bored?” Taking a sip of her drink, then a paused thought as she placed the glass down, she began her story.
Aged years old, she had left Russia with her parents, arriving penniless in New York. Over the next few years, her parents worked tirelessly, making beautiful lingerie by hand and selling it locally to the various boutiques in Manhattan. By the time Anna was nineteen years old both her parents had died and, over the next five years focused her grief into energy and turned the venture into a highly successful boutique. Now Anna was catering to the wealthy wives, mistresses, and girlfriends of upper east side Manhattan. She also met and fell in love with a man seventeen years her senior.
“One day he came to me with an idea. He said that he and four of his friends were interested in investing in my business and wanted to help me expand. In return for their investment and business advice, I would give them each a twelve percent stake in my company and pay a small monthly interest payment. As soon as I could afford to, I was offered the chance to buy each investor out, regaining complete ownership of my company.
Two years later, my small lingerie enterprise had become a $multi -million global turnover brand with shops in every major city around the world. However, when I started enquiring about how to repay the individual investors, they each refused and instead gradually increased the interest rate on my outstanding loan until my payments were ten times the original amount. I soon ran up huge debts and, with nothing in writing, it seemed I had little choice but to try and keep up with the repayments. I’d naively trusted them all. Eventually, I could no longer keep up with the repayments and the four investors forced me to sell my stake in the business for $10,000.
Six months later they sold the lingerie chain for $1million, became multi-millionaires overnight while I was broke”. There was me feeling sorry for myself and my situation, Harry thought.”
But what did your boyfriend do about it? Surely, with his stake added to yours, he could have stopped them swindling you? Where was he when they forced you to sell?” he asked.”
Back with the wife I never knew existed. It seems he was on a two-year secondment to his company’s New York office. After selling his stake to the other investors, he left without a word, and I was utterly heartbroken.” Anna shrugged.
“That’s such a shocking story! How on earth do you cope? If it were me, I would want to get revenge on every one of them” Harry was getting progressively angrier by the minute “What goes around comes around. They will get their comeuppance at some point” Anna said with a wry smile.
“That’s very philosophical of you,” Harry said, “But now I feel guilty because I’ve made you sad!”
“Oh I’m fine – trust me. I’ve more than gotten over the whole thing – what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger… Anyway, it’s your turn now”.
“Let me start by telling you about my client, aka the OVC?”
“He also used to be married to my eldest sister until they divorced about three years ago. Unfortunately, I had just borrowed $15,000 from them to cover the start-up costs of a new enterprise. When she left him, he turned quite nasty and started demanding I repay him immediately which, of course, I couldn’t! Then, two years ago, he came to me with a proposition. He wanted someone found and, if I were successful, he would write off my entire debt. I couldn’t refuse and, if I’m honest, at the time I thought it would be the synch! The trouble is, two years on, I’m no further forward and still in debt to him. All the time I’m working for him I’m not working for anyone else, and my own business is dead in the water. Catch twenty-two. It wouldn’t be so sorry if it weren’t for him – my expenses are paid in full, I get to travel the world and even meet the woman of my dreams.” Shaking her head and smiling, Anna said: “I thought we’d stopped with the dreadful chat up lines!”
“I can’t help it, honestly. But what if I promise to stop if you’ll agree to have dinner with me tomorrow night at the Waldorf Astoria?”Anna pretended to take some time mulling over her decision before she eventually looked at him and, with a twinkle in her eye, she said: “Okay – it’s a deal as long as you first tell me about this assignment of yours?”
“Well, two years ago he was contacted by this woman claiming to work for a firm of international headhunters. It was all very hush-hush, but a public investment house was in the process of sacking their current CEO, and she had flown to London individually to persuade him to take over the role. They met, she fluttered her eyelashes and pretended to be super -impressed by him, and the OVC’s ego went through the roof. Over the course of a few short weeks, all talk of the new job went out of the window, and his entire focus went into getting the beautiful headhunter into bed ASAP.Here, she boxed clever. She explained she was deeply religious and some things in life were only for marriage. Of course, the OVC had no intention of getting married again but thought he could move the process along with a bit of cunning.
He proposed, she accepted, and he suggested they throw a huge engagement party at The Savoy, London. On the day of the party, she invited him to her hotel first, promising to make the evening the most memorable of his life. Convinced his plan had worked, he arrived at her room where she greeted him with her favorite cocktail to toast their engagement. That was the last thing he remembered. When he woke up the next day, it took him a while to realise he was alone in the room. He quickly discovered there was no firm of international head-hunters, the chief executive role at the investment house she’d told him about didn’t exist, and she’d disappeared off the face of the planet.
Worse was to come. By the end of the day, he discovered all his bank accounts had been emptied, and she’d stolen just over $5 million from him. He also had to explain to all their guests why there had been a no-show at this own engagement party and the one thing about the OVC is that he can not bear to think anyone’s laughing at him. Therefore, he decided he couldn’t tell anyone what had happened – not even the police. If word got around that he’d been duped, his reputation would be in tatters which would mean the end of his glittering career because, in the city, status is everything. So he decided to take matters into his own hands. He came up with many leads by tracing some of the money; enter Harry Harding, the private detective”. “That’s you, right?”
“Well in some ways, I guess. I’m so private I have only one client and, so far, I haven’t done much detecting! Whoever she is, the ‘White Russian’ is undoubtedly adept at keeping one step ahead of me at all times!” “Why do you call her the ‘White Russian’?” Anna asked.
“Oh, that’s because she gave the OVC a White Russian laced with sleeping pills – he was out cold within five minutes of drinking it. Every time I mention the 'White Russian' it’s like lighting a fuse, and all I have to do is time exactly how long it takes him to explode.” Gasping, Anna suddenly looked at her watch “Speaking of the time; I must dash before my babysitter explodes. See you tomorrow at seven?” And with that, she was gone.
The following evening, Anna put the finishing touches on her makeup and checked her appearance in the mirror before going through to say goodnight to her daughter.”Right, young lady, you be a good girl while Mommy’s out,” Anna said, smiling at the babysitter. “Sorry again for staying out so late last night, Eden, but I’ll try not to be quite so late tonight.”
“Oh, it’s no problem at all” Eden replied, “She’s always as good as gold.” Kissing her baby Sophia on the top of her head, Anna picked up a parcel from the table, tucked it into her bag, and left for her date. Arriving at Harry’s hotel a little while later, Anna went through to the lounge bar where he was already waiting for her with a bottle of Champagne chilling in a bucket of ice. Kissing her enthusiastically on both cheeks, he said: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already ordered some Champagne as I’ve got something to celebrate.”
“I love Champagne – what are you celebrating?” Anna replied linking glasses, Harry answered with a twinkle in his eye “Oh, just finally the end of me working for the OVC.”
“My goodness – but I thought you were repaying your debt to him by working for free! What on earth happened?”
“He sacked me – probably because I’m, quote, “the most useless private detective who ever walked this planet, a lazy, good -for -nothing loser and my parents should have done the world a favour by putting me down at birth.” It may have been something to do with my latest failure to find the ‘White Russian.’ He went into meltdown when I explained that, given two more months and a bit more money, I could follow up another lead in Dubai. I think that was the final nail in the coffin. He’d just received my bill from this place and thought $900 for a 10-night stay was a tad on the expensive side”. “But what about the money you owe him?”
“Written off, current balance zero on the complete understanding that he never has to see my ugly face again. Tough new assignment, I know, but I just might be able to stick with it!”
“Do I get the feeling, Harry Harding, that you’ve somehow manoeuvered yourself into this position?” Anna asked, smiling. “Now, how could you possibly think I would be as devious as that?” Harry asked with an answering smile. “Oh, I don’t know. So, what are your plans now?”
“Firstly I plan to spend a lovely evening with you. I think dinner and a quiet stroll through Central Park followed by a nightcap back here – how does that sound to start with?” Three hours later Anna and Harry arrived back at his hotel, arm in arm, laughing as Harry finished telling Anna the story about the OVC’s run of bad luck at the auction house. “Will you help me with one final celebration, Anna?” Harry asked “Of course I will – what are we celebrating this time?”
“Why, finding the ‘White Russian’ of course!” Harry answered. Anna looked at Harry in surprise. “But you said you’d been sacked because you’d failed to trace her?”
“Ah, now, what I tell the OVC and what is, in fact, the truth, are two very different things.”You see, I’ve worked out that the ‘White Russian’ is, in fact, you. I did some digging today and found out that your lingerie business was called ‘Trinket’ the OVC, and the man you fell in love with are the same people – Heathfield. I know that you’ve only worked at Mancini’s for four months, probably using it as a cover while I was here looking for you. Having gone through the sums, I’ve also calculated that you only took back what was rightfully yours. Finally, I think your daughter, Sophia, is presumably Heathfield’s, right? Shocked, Anna answered “Yes, she is, but he never wanted to know. He’s so wrapped up in himself that he never even recognised the ditzy, blonde American head-hunter as the dark-haired Russian girl who he ripped of almost four years ago? I took my revenge on all five of them, and they only got what they deserved – a financial hit and a bit of comeuppance. Heathfield was the last one. Are you going to tell him?” Anna asked.
“I’m pretty good at keeping secrets although I think I have to ensure the ‘White Russian’ doesn’t cause any more trouble. Therefore, Harry Harding’s Private Detective Agency has today relocated to Manhattan to undertake comprehensive, daily surveillance of Anna Raskova, aka The White Russian” Harry asked, grinning cheekily. “Well, that sounds like another cause for celebration. Here, I’ve brought you a present” replied Anna, delving into her bag and retrieving the package she’d brought with her.
Carefully unwrapping it, Harry gasped in surprise. Nestled inside white tissue paper was the diamond-encrusted black and white art deco cocktail shaker. “I don’t believe it. I always thought you were one step ahead – but you were, in fact, a million miles ahead of me!”
“I bid against Debonnaire for it in the hope that we would eventually meet properly and I’d be able to give it to you. I’ve known you were following me for the past two years and we’ve ever met on a couple of occasions. I liked you immediately, however as I was always in disguise, you never realised who I was. I also did some delving and found out about Debonnaire’s hold over you. I hoped, last night, which you’d guess my identity. I bought this tonight in the hope that, once all the truth was out, you’d understand my side of the story. I also hoped you felt the same about me as I do you”.
“Well, for once it seems, we’re both in the same place!” Just then the bartender arrived to take their orders. Harry and Anna looked at each other, smiled, and then answered simultaneously “two White Russians, please?”
Sailing through the air, black hair flying behind her, Rose didn’t think she’d laughed so much in her life, nor had she ever felt so free. Holding on tight, her horse soared up into the air again, higher and higher and then back down still, the air all around cold, the passing lights a blur in the background. All too soon, however, her horse started to slow, bringing Rose back from her adventure and returning her gently to the healthy existence.
Alighting from the steam carousel, the star attraction at the fair, Rose hurried over to her father, cheeks glowing, grinning from ear to ear. “So, my dear, what do you think of this year’s carousel?” asked her father, tucking his arm protectively through hers.
“Oh, it was truly the best one yet! Wait until I tell Mamma!”
“Perhaps you had better not, young Rose. You don’t want her taking to her bed again. Remember last time?”
“I can’t help it if I don’t conform to Mamma’s vision of the perfect lady. How could she expect me to prefer the endlessly boring rigmarole of afternoon tea and discussing which of the town’s most eligible young bachelors would be best suited for me? I am determined to get her make her realise there’s more to life than marriage, babies and afternoon tea. Honestly, Father, you’d think we were living in 1798, not 1898!”
“Yes, but suggesting that studying medicine and becoming a doctor was a better use of your time than finding a suitable husband – no wonder she took to her bed for a week! I know I have tried to treat you more like an equal on occasion, but that was one argument too far” her Father said, wearily aware that his feisty young daughter was warming up for yet another heated discussion about Women’s Rights.
“I just want to make sure I don’t end up being some vapid nobody when I get married. I’m sorry Mama took it so badly, but I am quite determined to have a career, and a marriage based on some equality.”
“Well, be that as it may, I don’t recommend you tell your Mother about going on the carousel –you know her views on etiquette and how young ladies ought to behave at the fairground. Now, tell me, how did it feel? Was it fast? Why nobody before Savage thought to add a steam engine to the carousel, I don’t know”. Gently steering the conversation away from Women’s Rights and back onto familiar territory, father and daughter resumed their debate on the various pros and cons of this year’s latest carousel technology.
They both shared a love of the Annual Sloe Fair, an event held every October in Burley since 1107, and looked forward to the various attractions each year, much to the disapproval of Rose’s mother.
Being an only child Rose had, at nineteen years old, grown into a very single-minded young woman who was determined to lead a completely different life from that of her mother and her various, undeniably dull, female friends. This year alone she had to gently, but firmly, extricate herself from the attention of at least five suitors, all of whom were equally as parochial as the next. It wasn’t that Rose never wanted to get married or have children. Indeed, she’d already decided her son and daughter would share her favourite grandparents – no, the problem lay in the fact that nearly all her suitors were dullards who could not conceive of a woman having a mind of her own, let alone money, property or even some kind of a career.
Rose had helped out at the local cottage hospital - and her experience had opened her opened her eyes to a whole new world where illness brought equality of suffering but which only served to highlight further the inequalities between rich and poor.
Fortunate enough to be the daughter of the local wealthy factory owner, Rose understood there were others far more disadvantaged than she. The one thing she admired the most about her father was his ability to treat everyone with fairness and compassion. She felt she had a similar disposition and wanted to help the poor as much as she could and that, for Rose, meant studying medicine and putting the knowledge to good use.”
“Now that we’ve visited all the attractions I think we ought to make our way home before your Mother suspects where we’ve been this afternoon. With the evenings drawing in, you know how she frets when we’re out past dark”. As her father started guiding them towards the exit, Rose noticed that a man walking past them had dropped a piece of paper. Rose bent to pick it up and was about to hand the piece of paper back to him when an enormous shire horse came thundering out of nowhere. The last thing Rose saw was the startled look of horror on the man’s face before she was knocked flying and lost consciousness.
John Shaw stretched, yawned, and stretched again. Trying to get more comfortable on the steam train from London was always a difficult task, but today it seemed even more uncomfortable than ever. Checking his pocket watch for what seemed like the hundredth time this hour, John picked up his medical journal and continued reading the notes he’d made after yesterday’s lecture at the Cambridge School of Medicine.
A widower for three years, John had immersed himself in his work as a doctor since the loss of Gabrielle, intent on making medicine available to everyone, not just the rich, which meant regular trips to London by steam train. Instead of returning home, however, this time John was on his way to see his best friend, Lawrence Robertson, a wealthy landowner, to try and garner his financial support for a new cottage hospital in Chichester. An hour later he was met at the station by Lawrence’s groom and gratefully settled into the front seat of the trap.
Shortly into the journey, however, disaster struck. The two men had just crossed a narrow wooden bridge at when head-on they were met with four highly decorative gypsy caravans coming from the opposite direction. As one started crossing the bridge there was a compelling cracking sound and, quite suddenly, half of the bridge fell away into the swollen stream below, taking one of the gypsy caravans with it. Chaos broke out with horses breaking free, women and children screaming and panic setting in. John jumped down from the trap and hurried back to the bank. “Can I help? I am a doctor” he yelled across. Someone replied “No thank you, sir, we’ll be fine,” but John could hear a small child wailing frantically.
Peering down the bank, John could see two men working furiously to release the frantic horse from its harness and the overturned caravan. Then he noticed a small boy trying to push against a large wheel, beneath which a figure lay trapped. John raced down the muddy embankment towards the stream and immediately saw that the person trapped was a young gypsy girl who was in urgent need of help. The small boy was squeezing her while crying “wake up, wake up!”
As John knelt beside the waif boy, three more men arrived and managed to the right the caravan back onto its wheels, allowing John to take a closer look at the girl and ascertain the extent of her injuries. Although hurt, he was confident that she had not sustained any wounds which were life-threatening. While he was making the young girl comfortable there was a commotion on the bank and, the next minute, an old lady came barging over, elbowing him out of the way and grasping the boy in her embrace. “What’s ‘happened, Stefan?” she asked, trying to comfort him “Where’s yer sister, Tara?” “Er-hum” John managed to gain her attention “She’s been quite badly hurt but, from what I can see, it’s nothing too serious. I will take her up to my friend’s house where I’m staying so I can make her comfortable and see to her injuries. Please tell everyone they are welcome to come and set up their caravans on the village green and, once she’s settled, I will come and let you know how she is doing”.
Later that evening after John had finished tending to the gypsy girl, he went to check on the rest of the gypsies. When he had finished, he went over to the caravan where the old lady sat with the boy who was lying with his head in her lap, fast asleep in front of their fire. “How are you both?” John asked.”A little shaken, sir, but alright now” she answered “This is me the grandson, Stefan. I’m looking after them now cos their ma and pa are away travelling at the moment. I feel right awful that this’s ‘appened. ‘Ow’s she doing?”
”She’s sleeping now. Your granddaughter sustained a broken arm and a lot of bruising to her arms although I am fairly certain it was the impact of the fall and she just needs some rest. I have put her arm in a special sling and will keep an eye on her for the next few days. If there is anything I can do for you, or you would like to visit her then please, do come up to Mr. ‘s house… Mrs?” he asked, politely. “Loveridge” she answered with a sudden grin, showing a mouth almost entirely devoid of teeth “Lavinia Loveridge – clairvoyant and palmist at your service. Shall I tell yer future? I can do it just by looking at that bit of ‘orse dung yer stood in.” And with that, she picked up some dung and, with a twinkle in her eye said “My way of thanking yer for all yer ‘elp.”
“Err – no, umm, thank you, if that’s alright with you?” answered John, not sure which was worse, the smell drifting up from his feet or the fact that this woman was now holding a steaming lump of horse dung in her hands. “Good night to you both” and, with that, John hurried away from the gypsy campsite. The next morning, as John was eating his breakfast, there was a knock on the door followed quickly by the door opening by Lawrence’s housekeeper. “Yes, Mrs. Brown?”
“There’s a very grubby looking old woman with a small child in tow at the kitchen door. She wants to speak with you” Mrs. Brown sniffed, disapprovingly “What should I do with her”?
“Oh, send her straight through. She was part of the gypsy tribe that was caught up in that dreadful accident yesterday – that little boy is our patient’s brother.”
Minutes later, Lavinia Loveridge and the young Stefan were ushered into the breakfast room. She started speaking straight away. “Mr. Shaw, you were very kind and ‘elpful yesterday, and I wanted to come and fank yer while ‘Stefan sees ‘ow ‘is sister’s doin’. I also wanted to tell yer about a dream I ‘ad – it’s imperative. ‘Stefan, you get back to the kitchen, see if you can’t persuade ‘em to feed you while we’re ‘ere! Now, Mr. Turner, do a white ostrich feather mean anything to you?”
“Err... No. Why?” “Would yer mind if I ‘eld your ‘ands a minute?”...
“So she grabs hold of my hands – (her hands are filthy by the way) then she immediately goes into a trance. I was highly skeptical about the whole thing – especially when she started saying that Gabrielle was there and also wanted to talk to me, through her. But the next moment it was as if Gabrielle was alive and sitting right next to me” John explained “My word, John – this is more like something from a Mary Shelley novel! So, what happened next?” asked Lawrence. “Well, straight away Gabrielle told me off. Why was I still spouseless? Did I not remember the promise I had made before she died about finding someone else so that I wouldn’t end up a sad and lonely widower. Then she went on to say that Lavinia Loveridge had had a vision that she intended to share with me and that she, Gabrielle, had come along to make sure I jolly well listened. Well, I asked her, why wouldn’t I? What sort of doctor would I be if I did not listen to the prophecies of an old woman who uses horse excrement to see into my future? That got me another ticking off from Gabrielle. Apparently, I was overly judgmental and even worse, becoming just the sort of man who thought that everything in life came out of a medical journal.
Apparently, without the softer emotional guidance of a loving wife, my character was probably in mortal danger. I tell you, I could not win. There I was, stuck between Lavinia Loveridge and Gabrielle – stranger still hearing Gabrielle’s beautiful voice coming out of this wizened, toothless, old woman. Even worse, can you imagine if any of the staff had come in to see me holding hands with her? I would have been the laughing stock of the county.”
“So – what was this vision of great importance? Let me guess – it involved crossing her palm with silver while she told you that if you did not, you would die of some mysterious disease, probably covered in warts or something. Am I close? I’m sure I must be because you’re looking a bit peaky today.”
“She didn’t tell me very much at all. Just that I would be receiving an invitation very soon and it was imperative, whatever the invitation was, I follow its instructions. She also said that my fate and the fate of many future generations rested on this so-called ‘White Ostrich Feather’”
“So – an invitation and an ostrich feather? Sounds more like a rather bad game at a club I know in London than a life-changing vision. And where does Gabrielle fit into all of this? “
“Well, she made another appearance, reminding me again to accept this invitation – oh, and to watch my tone in future, please.” “It all sounds truly farcical my dear friend. So how much did this harbinger of disease and future portents charge you for this spectacularly useless piece of information?”
“Absolutely nothing! She just said that she would be returning here in precisely two years– and by then I would understand everything.”
“Maybe when she returns she will have had another vision which involves you handing over all your worldly goods in return for your sanity? I can’t believe you’re taking any of this seriously.”
“Well, my cynical friend, I think that’s where you’re wrong. Mrs. Brown’s elderly father was so grateful for the treatment I gave him this afternoon, he’s insisted on giving me his spare ticket to the Annual Sloe Fair on the twentieth of October. It sounded just like an invitation to me. So I accepted.”
The first thing Rose saw when she came round was her favourite white ostrich feather fan being wafted in front of her face by her father. A small crowd had gathered around her with her father and the man, whose ticket Rose still clutched in her hand, both leaning over her with looks of concern etched on their faces. “How are you feeling, young Rose? That’s quite a nasty bump you’ve got on your head” said her father “The Doctor here is going to carry you back to our house so he can take a better look at it.” When Rose finally looked at the handsome stranger, and their eyes met, something quite startling happened. The noise around her faded into the background, and there were suddenly just the two of them, everyone else seems to disappear. A warm flush spread throughout Rose’s body, an answering sheen of sweat appearing on the man’s face. Without quite understanding how, Rose knew she had fallen instantly and deeply in love with this handsome doctor and furthermore, she knew their future destinies would somehow be intertwined from this day forward. Without speaking a word, John bent down and picked Rose up, following her father all the way back to the family home where their manservant stood with the door opened.
Once inside the house, he laid her on a chaise longue in their parlour, calling for the housemaid to fetch towels and warm water. Still, they had not spoken a word to each other. For the next hour, he carefully washed the deep gash on her forehead, suturing the wound before gently bandaging it to keep it clean. Rose and John continued to stare intensely into each other’s eyes. In the background, Rose’s mother and father were engaged in a heated discussion.
“I told you that fair wasn’t the place for a young lady” Rose’s mother was berating her father “I can only guess at the gossip that’s going around the town now. I do hope this hasn’t ruined her chances for a good match”. “She’ll be fine, my dear” answered Rose’s father “although finding a good match and getting married seem to be the last thing on her mind at this moment.”
“Well, she’s just going to have to accept that a young lady in this day and age needs a good match if she’s to continue in society. Can I not believe she wants to go off and study medicine instead of supporting a husband and raising a family? Goodness me, I cannot imagine anything more ridiculous. As I said, I do not think our Rose is the marrying kind, yet. Have you not realised that she always manages to head off any suitor before they get a chance to ask for her hand in marriage?” Replied her father with exasperation “But this argument can wait for another time. Rose has gone quiet. Perhaps we should leave the young doctor to finish what he is doing and then let her get some rest”. And, with that, Rose’s father guided his wife out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind them.
Rose and John continued looking at each other for some time. After a while, it seemed as though John reached a decision. Something changed in his eyes, and suddenly she was roughly pulled towards him, her mouth crushed beneath his in a passionate kiss. Rose was helpless to do anything but respond, matching his passion with hers, reaching up to put her arms around his neck, desperate to draw him in further. As the kiss deepened, both John and Rose felt their instinctual desire for each other rise until they almost couldn’t bear it any longer. Slowly they withdrew from the embrace, still not speaking; a mutual understanding seemed to pass between them.
“I really like you,” he said, gazing at her with new wonder in his eyes “I really like you too” she answered.
Rose and John were married twelve months later, at Cams Hall, celebrating their wedding day, and each subsequent anniversary, with a ride on the Steam Carousel at the Annual Sloe Fair in Burley. Rose did indeed study medicine, becoming a doctor within five years, working alongside John until they both retired in 1945. In 1900, Lavinia Loveridge returned, not only to see Rose and John but also to attend her granddaughter’s wedding. Lawrence had fallen head over heels in love with Tara Loveridge while she was convalescing at his house, although it took him a further two years to persuade her to leave behind her traveling gypsy lifestyle.
When she finally agreed to marry him, Lawrence was so overjoyed he promised from that day forward to fully support her brother, Stefan. Tara and Stefan’s parents never returned from their travels. Lavinia Loveridge, originally Lady Lavinia Chewton, was the youngest daughter of Earl and Countess Chewton. When they discovered her mental skills and unusual practice of speaking with the dead, they forced her to stop, worrying about the future of their strange, and spirited, young daughter. The young Lady Chewton soon realised that this unique gift would help many others and ran away with a group of traveling gypsies, becoming the feisty, and somewhat eccentric, Lavinia Loveridge. The only item Lady Lavinia Loveridge took with her was a family heirloom – a beautiful gold gate bracelet – which, following family tradition, she passed to her granddaughter, Tara, upon her engagement to Lawrence. Sadly, due to the injuries Tara sustained in the gypsy caravan accident, she and Lawrence were unable to have children so, when Stefan and Rebecca became engaged; Tara continued the tradition by gifting the bracelet to Rebecca. Lawrence’s most significant achievement was the building of a new cottage hospital in Chichester, run by John and Rose.
In 1903 Rose gave birth to Rebecca, Lily’s great-grandmother. In 1950 Rebecca’s grandson, and Lily’s father, Harry Harding, was born.