A bit of a flyby mailing today as we’re about to launch into a weekend of fun, with a virtual raceday followed by an in-house spa day. Mr Cochrane and I will not be providing whale noise while our daughters tone their faces.
Jury of One is now also out in audio book, which makes two of the Lindenshaw mysteries now available for you listen along to.
Free story final part:
Last time, Mrs Beeton had begun to work for the mysterious Messrs Murchison and Quentin (note the initials). Where did that lead her?
I started courting Samuel in those days, although I only revealed to him the secret of what I’d actually been doing the last few years when I discovered that he also knew Mr Murchison and was called on by him, on occasions, to help out via his publishing work. You can imagine the scene as Samuel and I strolled through Kew Gardens together only to come across Mr M admiring some roses. The ensuing conversation was heartening for both of us, removing the load of secrecy we’d both had to bear. I often wonder if Mr M engineered that supposedly chance encounter, although I haven’t asked him directly. Let it be his little secret.
That shared bond made our relationship stronger and closer: it was natural that he should ask me to marry him and for me to accept. It was also natural for me to carry on my work—sometimes in conjunction with Samuel, sometimes on my own. Not all married ladies of my acquaintance were allowed, or expected to enjoy, such a degree of freedom and responsibility that wasn’t bound up with the running of a household.
I continued the practice of sending out messages, via the magazine and so on, although this time it wasn’t sharing information I’d discovered. One of Mr Murchison’s agents, a Mr Basildon, supplied me with the keywords they wanted shared and I weaved them into the seemingly innocent recipes and articles on how best to run a household.
Remember I mentioned:
The white Aylesbury duck is, and deservedly, a universal favourite. Its snowy plumage and comfortable comportment make it a credit to the poultry-yard, while its broad and deep breast, and its ample back, convey the assurance that your satisfaction will not cease at its death.
That was a commission from Mr Basildon, who wanted all his contacts to be on the lookout for Daniel, Stanley and Thea, who usually met on the seat at the end of the road, by the sand. Not that I understand exactly why this sort of information was important, it but I was assured that those who read it would. Samuel suggested it wasn’t really a case of three people meeting to admire the ships passing. He wondered if we were dealing with a code within a code, the words each having a secret meaning which—when combined—formed a coherent and important message. We believe there is about to be an escalation in the Opium War, or some such thing. Beware of foreign agents operating in the Grimsby area.
There are plenty more example, but I won’t bore you with them. Open the book or the magazines and root it out for yourself, like a little sow might root a choice truffle, as Mr Murchison quaintly put it. Perhaps you might be able to interpret the information better than either Samuel or I could. Still, we were paid well and had the satisfaction of knowing we were doing our bit for Queen and country.
If I have one lingering regret about how I discharged my service, it is that my experiences might have left a lasting effect upon my health and the health of my children. All that time I spent with Mr Quentin, playing with substances of one sort or another. No matter how safe we tried to keep ourselves, inevitably I came into contact with chemicals—on occasions I’d walk in and the air would be a perfect fog of noxious fumes. Could that have caused all those problems I had in bearing a child to full term and then rearing it safely? Mr Quentin himself says it is possible, although Mr Murchison always, as so often, kept his own counsel. I have subsequently discovered that another woman who worked alongside me in Paris has suffered in a similar fashion. I dread to think what went on there to cause such an outcome but perhaps, as Samuel says, it’s merely a coincidental run of bad fortune.
That was a certainly a period of our lives beset with its troubles. Mr Murchison called to see us one day, a very unusual occurrence, to say that it might be best if we discontinued the messages for a while. Certain folk had become suspicious and he didn’t want to expose us to any potential harm. By which he would have also meant that he didn’t want to expose Her Majesty’s government to any scandal.
We, of course, agreed to his suggestion, although I did point out that my Household Management book was already out and should we attempt to recall it? Mr Murchison felt that would be unwise—what a stir it would cause, even if we hid it under a cloak of addressing concerns of plagiarism. Simply best to stop hiding the messages and keep our heads down.
That strategy, I’m afraid, didn’t work. While we no longer played an active role, our past activities carried long-lasting repercussions. Just as long lasting as I suspected my playing at science with Mr Quentin had proved to be. We’d been party to enabling communications to take place, communications that had ultimately led to people being killed. Casualties of war, Mr Murchison called them, necessary deaths that had happened for the ultimate benefit of the British nation. If Britannia were to continue to rule the waves—as well as many parts of the land—then we had to accept there would be casualties. On both sides.
It is an unusual set of circumstances in which one gets to read one’s own obituary and tributes, although one might do so with a degree of trepidation if one felt they might not be universally complimentary. I didn’t bother with mine, with one exception, being too busy trying to establish my new life in a way that would be convincing to my neighbours, distant as they were. Folk are far nosier in the countryside than they are in a city such as London or Paris.
Mrs Beeton was dead, of puerperal fever, the day after giving birth to a son. She was buried at West Norwood. She most definitely wasn’t recovering from her labour in a house just outside Romsey and the coffin certainly hadn’t contained large lumps of stone bound together to feel like a body. The tears on the face of my husband undoubtedly weren’t the result of one of Mr Quentin’s chemicals, cunningly applied to a handkerchief to dab near one’s eyes.
Samuel, bless him, played his part beautifully, I’m told. Such a tribute he produced for me.
Her works speak for themselves; and, although taken from this world in the very height and strength, and in the early days of womanhood, she felt satisfaction—so great to all who strive with good intent and warm will—of knowing herself regarded with respect and gratitude.
Over and above those heartfelt words, I was delighted to see the message he had slipped in there for me, using words we had planned the connotation of beforehand. Fort, as in hold the fort, be strong for us. Host, meaning thank your hosts for being such a help in our need. Other things which are purely private between a man and wife.
After my “death” I stayed at Embley Park, a lovely house with delightfully spacious grounds. Mr Murchison had arranged it all, of course, having connections to the family in a similar way to us. One of the daughters in the family, with whom I corresponded frequently, served her country—and her fellow beings—in many ways, some of which could only be discussed by those who had experience of such things. I believe she found it useful to confide in me.
For the next twelve years, Samuel and I conducted our marriage in a circumspect way, not wishing to draw suspicion upon ourselves or the family whose guests we were. I settled in one of the lodges, where Samuel would visit me when he was “Down in Hampshire for the fishing.” Sometimes he brought young Mayson and Orchart to see me and they would stay for a few weeks, enjoying the country life. He’d told them I was their aunt, a fiction we maintained until they were old enough to be told the truth and understand its context. Of all the sacrifices I made in the greater cause, that was the most painful.
While the lives we led hardly represented an ideal situation, it was better than the alternative of carrying on as we had been, but constantly in fear. Besides, as we reminded ourselves, others had made greater sacrifices for their country. Eventually, though, our past began to catch up with us again: we had perhaps underestimated the tenacity of our enemies and their net drew in around Samuel. When it became plain that we could no longer carry on our life without becoming under suspicion—and perhaps also risking the safety of my host’s daughter, whose fame was spreading—Mr Murchison felt he had to move to the second part of his plan.
There must have been no end of laws broken in both Samuel’s case and mine—surely it’s a crime to forge a death certificate?—but, naturally Mr Murchison smoothed over all that side of things. From something Mr Quentin mentioned, Mr M was quite used to dealing with such irregular matters.
So now there were two coffins full of rocks in the cemetery at West Norwood and a simple country couple living in the lodge at Embley, one of whom enjoyed making pastries and who both took care of their “nephews”. We played host as well to the daughter of the family and I hope that our frank and well-informed conversations were of benefit to her. While we no long played an active role in serving our queen, we could act as mentors to those to whom we passed on the baton.
You will find in my book the line, “Dine we must and we may as well dine elegantly as well as wholesomely.” Let me rephrase that and apply it to the world rather than to the table. “Live we must and we may as well live usefully as well as safely.”
Which, reader, we did. A household who had been stirred by many events, but never shaken.
And finally – a mystery. Seen on the golf course (ignore the smiley face). What can that metal thing with the rivets be? Any ideas, please let me know.