SERIAL The Mystery Of Anna Grace by Louise Mcivor
If only Charlie could find out what happened to the missing journals
ON Sunday afternoon, Charlie tried to put all thoughts of Robin and Harriet to the back of her mind.
She rang her mother, giving her an edited version of life at Anna Grace, omitting any mention of her recent feelings for Robin, as she didn’t want her mother to worry that she was on the verge of another unwise romance.
“What are you doing with your time off?” her mother asked.
Charlie explained about the project to research Anna Graystone and her frustration over the gaps in the diaries.
“That sounds right up your street,” her mum said. “Why not treat Anna’s life as you used to treat your research projects at uni? Go to the library to see if you can uncover anything else.
“Talking of lost things, did you ever think that guests might have taken things over the years? It used to happen in hotels all the time, when folk made off with towels, bathrobes and all sorts.”
“You’re a genius, Mum,” Charlie told her.
“And don’t work too hard,” her mother warned before she rang off.
On Wednesday after work, Charlie drove into town to investigate the library.
“We close at seven,” the librarian informed her.
“Thanks,” Charlie said, then explained what she
was looking for.
The librarian took her to a shelf towards the back of the room, where Charlie selected a book called “Country Houses In Bygone Days”.
There was a black and white picture of Anna Grace in about 1950, before the big barn had been built, with a short history.
Another book in the local history section gave the history of the town, rather than of the house.
“I’ll take these, thanks,” Charlie said, handing over her library card.
Back at the cottage, Charlie pored over the library books.
There was a long section on John Graystone, who would have been Anna’s eldest son. John seemed to have inherited his mother’s business brain and warm heart, as the writer of “Country Houses In Bygone Days” noted.
John Graystone also distinguished himself by his fondness for women who were not his wife, it said rather coyly.
She read on. John’s mistresses seemed to have caused all sorts of bother, and there were a few illegitimate children as well, which ate into the Anna Grace coffers.
Charlie started to make a few notes in her notebook, but the books were rather shy on facts about Anna herself, just referring to her as the silk weaver’s daughter.
So Charlie sat down and wrote down everything she knew about Anna Graystone. As she wrote her list, she again felt a real connection to Anna.
Charlie had done enough reading to know that many women in Anna’s time died during childbirth, and Anna had hinted that she was expecting a fourth child in her journals. However, the lack of a grave was something else.
Anna’s journals so far had made no mention of travel; possibly the family had used up all their money, and perhaps all the inheritance, on the improvements to the house.
If only she could find out what had happened to the missing journals.
On Friday afternoon, Charlie managed to catch Robin as he was coming in from work.
“Robin, you know what you were saying about lost things? You know, guests ‘borrowing’ stuff over the years? How about I post something like this on the website?”
She handed him a printout of what she had just written.
We are delighted that guests feel at home when they stay. If you have borrowed anything over the years – such as a book from the library – we would be happy if you would return it. The Anna Grace library is looking rather forlorn.
The normally cautious Robin smiled. It wasn’t an everyday occurrence and Charlie thought how handsome he looked.
“I think you’re a genius,” he said. “Go and post that on the website now.”
Over the next few weeks, a wide variety of objects came in the post.
“What have we got today?” Harriet asked. To Charlie’s surprise, she had got into the spirit of things.
“Two bone-handled butter knives and a monogrammed napkin ring,” Charlie replied.
“What’s the monogram?” Harriet asked. “T.M.,” Charlie read. “So not family,” Harriet said, and Charlie thought she was going to make a cutting remark.
“Why don’t you photograph them and put them on the website?” Harriet suggested. “It’s good publicity.”
“Good idea,” Charlie agreed, and between them they arranged all the items that had come in over the last few days, while Charlie snapped them with her mobile phone.
There were callers to the house, too. A man, who wouldn’t be persuaded in for a cup of coffee, turned up with a set of golf clubs.
“I think my father borrowed these in the 1970s. He always meant to give them back.”
Other callers came to the house with wellies and old coats, most of which were still serviceable enough to be used for the artists’ weekend if the weather turned wet again.
Charlie got back from town one morning, where she had been handing out flyers for the artists’ weekend, to find Katarina serving coffee and almond cake to a couple in the morning room.
“Charlie, these folk are here for you.”
“How may I help you?” Charlie said.
“We saw your query on the website about borrowed stuff and we thought we would drive up. It’s a nice day and . . .”
Charlie got the impression that the couple were embarrassed.
“You’ve kindly brought us something?” she prompted gently.
“Yes!” the woman said, breathing a sigh of relief. “It was my aunt. She never married and used to stay here all the time. She was always interested in books and libraries, and when she died last year we found these in her things.”
The woman handed over a bundle of letters and papers, neatly packaged up in a clear plastic folder.
Charlie took a quick glance at the envelopes. The stamps were old and the addresses were written in black ink.
Might this be another missing piece in Anna’s story?
“Thank you so much for bringing these back. I know Robin Graystone will be delighted. Perhaps you would be interested in having a tour of the house while you’re here?” she offered.
“Oh, yes, we would,” the man said.
Charlie gave them a quick tour while Katarina bundled up a few slices of almond cake for their journey home. They ran a cake shop and promised to put the flyers for the artists’ weekend in their window.
As soon as the couple had left, Charlie went to find Robin.
“I didn’t want to look at these yet, as they are family papers, so I thought you should see them first,” Charlie explained.
Robin was looking at some legal contracts.
“Anything would be a welcome break from this,” he said, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Let’s have a look, then.
“Well, by the looks of the dates and addresses, they’re old letters to Anna,” Robin said after a while. “I’ve got a big meeting with a client tomorrow and he’s a tricky customer. It means I’ll have to leave these to the weekend. Why not take a snap with your phone and post it on the website?”
It was a few days before Charlie could get anywhere near Anna’s journals again.
She had spent a busy morning setting up a blog for the website, but this had taken longer than expected, owing to Harriet vetoing every idea, and only relenting when Robin approved them.
Eventually, Charlie had posted a brief entry on how Ghillie the cat had got his name.
He was found as a kitten shivering by the lake. His fascination with the fish in the lake has never diminished, despite this rather traumatic start, and he can often be found at the water’s edge, staring longingly at the darting shapes. As a ghillie is an assistant to an angler, it’s an appropriate name.
She uploaded a picture she had just snapped of a sleeping Ghillie and linked the blog entry to social media sites. It was
hardly a comprehensive history, but often it was the little details which piqued people’s interest.
She had copied the link to Robin’s e-mail, as he was seeing his tricky client and was staying overnight in a hotel there.
Charlie was tired and hurried back to her cottage at half past five, before the phone could ring again.
Katarina had given her a big helping of shepherd’s pie, and when she had finished that she made a cup of tea and turned back to Uncle Tom’s manuscript of Anna’s journal.
This section contained all sorts of meticulous details and Charlie was reading it in conjunction with the household ledger from the library, which contained the accounts and details of the servants’ wages.
Anna made economies wherever she could, but was generous to her servants, while still retaining her father’s business brain.
There was a reference to a poor girl from the village – not yet ten years old
– who was given good boots and a dress so she could go to school. On Saturdays, the little girl seemed to come up to collect eggs and do a few other little jobs.
Charlie suspected that Anna did this to ensure that the wee girl got a few good meals and perhaps a bath.
Yet the Anna from the journal was sharp as well. A labourer was dismissed for being a “good for nothing” as Anna was wise enough to see that they could not afford to be taken advantage of.
There were also lines of demarcation, and Anna would make reference to wishing to change the tradesman who delivered the fish as Mrs Fanshawe did not trust him.
There were references to the child Anna was expecting, too.
The maid asked if she might let out the waistband on my dove-grey skirt. My, but she is sharp. I simply asked if she would be able to do it next week. I still have two dresses I kept from when I was expecting Eva.
I must confess that part of me was hoping that I would not have to make use of the old dresses again. Eva is now five, after all, Lottie is seven and John is ten. Her remark put me in something of a temper. I was hoping to keep the news to ourselves for a little while longer. No doubt it will be all over the village by teatime.
Here the diary stopped. At least, Uncle Tom’s erratic typing did.
Had the project been abandoned because World War II had intervened, Charlie wondered. She felt a growing sense of frustration.
Just then, she heard Robin come through the back door.
“Robin, do you know what happened to Uncle Tom? Anna’s diaries have stopped rather abruptly and I’m trying to work out if there are more hidden away somewhere.”
“He grew vegetables during the war,” Robin said, flicking through the typewritten pages.
“Oh, yes, you did tell me,” Charlie replied.
“The area near the summerhouse was a croquet lawn. That was ploughed up and Uncle Tom supervised the growing of vegetables. The croquet lawn was given over to potatoes, then they put cabbages in the meadow, and the entrance to Little Wood was full of beds of onions and carrots.
“There was a bunch of evacuees staying,” he went on. “My grandfather used to receive Christmas cards from them. The old iron gates were taken away and there possibly wouldn’t have been time to research a family history project. After the war, Uncle Tom went to live in France.
“He lived out his days in a flat in Lille and never returned to Anna Grace,” Robin finished.
“So the project was simply unfinished?” Charlie asked, looking through the sloping, looped writing in the original journals.
“Yes. Anna may have written more journals, but they weren’t transcribed by Uncle Tom. And where they are is anyone’s guess. Uncle Tom learned to be a little more organised during the war, but with everything else, haphazard was possibly his middle name.”
Charlie thought for a moment.
“So there may simply be more journals, but we don’t know where they are and no-one’s looked at them in years.”
“Exactly. I’d better get myself together if I’m to make the train. I liked your post on Ghillie, by the way.”
High praise indeed, Charlie thought, wondering why she was always on edge when Robin was around, yet missing him when she heard his car pull away, as it did now.
No doubt wise, practical Anna would have told her to pull herself together.
Grant was not what she had expected, Harriet thought a few days later as she made herself a coffee in the Anna Grace kitchen. Charlie was out doing some market research for the artists’ weekend.
For their first date, Grant had taken Harriet out for the day along with her niece, whom she looked after for her ill sister. Rhona had liked him from the moment he pretended to pinch the marshmallows from her hot chocolate.
He had taken them to a little café near the play park so Rhona could have a go on the swings later.
Normally Harriet didn’t date as she was too busy with her job and with Rhona.
It had been a difficult few months, though Harriet’s sister was a little better now and Rhona had moved back home.
Harriet had spent the morning going through the accounts as the auditor was due in a week or two. She was canny enough to see that Anna Grace could not keep going the way it was, but she also knew that Charlie had more than paid for her position in the short time she had been with them.
Harriet spooned coffee into the cafetière. She knew she had to stop seeing Charlie as a rival. She was simply a young woman trying to make a go of things, just as Harriet had been a few years back.
Robin, she knew, wasn’t really a great one for mentoring. He simply hadn’t the time and she knew, with a guilty start, that Charlie really had been thrown in at the deep end.
It was also Charlie who had made sure that Grant Thornberry arrived safely that snowy night.
When Harriet had met Grant, she had felt herself begin to relax. Of course, she hadn’t wanted to let her guard down too soon, but there was something that she liked about Grant.
Harriet had dealt with many wealthy people, especially in her early days at Anna Grace, when some guests would stay for the prestige of it.
She had soon learned which of the guests ignored her when they realised she was not one of the Graystone family.
Yet Grant had turned up for their first date in jeans and trainers and had not been too put out by the snow or having to wear a jumper from the lost property box.
It soon became clear to her that Grant, like all good businessmen, played to his strengths. He had a degree in computer science and ran the IT side of things for his father’s hotel chain. One look at their website was proof that it worked.
Harriet poured the water into the cafetière.
Just then, Katarina bustled in, her arms full of laundry. Automatically, Harriet started to help her fold the dry sheets.
“They do not grow on the trees, you know,” Katarina said.
“What don’t?” Harriet said.
“Good men.” Harriet laughed. “Grant has just taken Rhona and me for hot chocolate a couple of times, that’s all,” Harriet replied. “And he’s taking me out to that new restaurant for lunch. The one near where Denby’s farm used to be.”
She knew that her red face would give her away. “I just like him, that’s all,” she added.
Just then, she heard a car pull up. He was early.
Unexpectedly, Katarina gave Harriet a hug.
“I must go,” Harriet said quietly, hardly trusting herself to speak.
In the car, Harriet told Grant more of her plans to make Anna Grace a wedding venue for guests from all over the county, adding in her ideas for a spa.
Grant listened as he drove through the beautiful countryside.
“I’m afraid Robin’s right, darling,” Grant said as they pulled into the car park.
“Do you think so?” Harriet said.
“Anna Grace can’t have a spa or become a wedding venue, and I think you know that in your heart, as well as in your good business brain,” Grant added.
“Surely it’s only a case of hiring the right interior designer and negotiating competitively with suppliers and –”
She paused, looked at Grant’s handsome, kind face and finally found the courage to be honest.
“I always felt like this place gave me a home when I needed it most, and I just feel . . .”
“That you’re not ready to let go?” Grant prompted gently.
She found she had an unexpected lump in her throat.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “You may find that your debt to Anna Grace was paid long ago, Harriet. Maybe it’s time for a fresh start.”
Harriet took Grant’s hand, looked down at Anna Grace, nestling in the hills, and knew that he was right.
The lemon drizzle cakes were cooling on the wire rack. It was lunchtime so Katarina made herself a good cup of coffee and ate a lunch of smoked salami, avocado and some fresh bread.
She checked the white board by the door to see where everyone was: meetings, work or afternoons off. The phone had been switched to the answering service so she picked up her magazine.
She flicked past the recipes, which were far too fiddly and exotic for her taste, involving ingredients she couldn’t get at the supermarket in town.
She looked at the pictures of actresses at an awards ceremony. Katarina’s favourite film star was Audrey Hepburn, closely followed by Julia Roberts.
Julia Roberts was not in evidence. It was all actresses she had never heard of. One was wearing a dress that left little to the imagination.
Dresses. A bell rang in her head. That was it! She thought there was something in the attic that might fit Charlie.
She put down the magazine and went out to the hall, up the stairs to the landing, then to the next level, where a door opened on to a stone staircase that led to the attic rooms.
She had put her mobile in her pocket, just in case anyone was trying to reach her. Ghillie padded after her, never wanting to be left out of anything.
The stone staircase opened into a narrow hall with a series of doors leading on to the old servants’ rooms with their sloping roofs.
Katarina did not much like coming up here. Although the servants’ quarters at Anna Grace had not been as spartan as in some of the grander houses, she still thought with pity of the housemaids who would have had to grope their way down the stone staircase at five-thirty on a winter’s morning.
It was a fine day and she prised open a few windows, moving from room to room methodically, checking for mould, bad smells and any wildlife.
The last three rooms were full of lumber, and had been like that for as long as she could remember. However, one year, when Mrs Cecilia
was a little more focused than she was now, she and Katarina had come up and attempted to make sense of some of it, and the four big tea chests now each had a neat label on them.
One said, China dinner service, two plates missing,
buttercup pattern, and she looked down to see the china, still wrapped carefully in the newspaper which was now yellowing with age. Another was labelled
Mismatched silver. The thrifty Katarina had a look through this now. This was the old silver – mainly wedding presents for the old Graystones.
It wasn’t practical, but it was beautiful. There were fish knives and silver sugar tongs and a little mustard pot with a tiny spoon.
Katarina didn’t want to get distracted, and turned to the next box. The third tea chest contained a mismatched assortment of toys from various generations: dolls with one leg, a teddy bear whose stuffing was poking through his tummy, and pieces of jigsaw.
Katarina carefully reached her hand into the depths of the chest, but found only two forlorn tennis racquets, still in their presses.
She knew the dresses were here in the wooden trunk, with the name of Robin’s grandfather painted on it in white paint from his time in the Army.
Deftly, Katarina opened it. Mrs Cecilia did not give a fiddle for fish knives, but was particularly careful about clothes. So everything here smelled of lavender, from the lavender bags that Mrs Cecilia used to make herself.
There was the dress, underneath the beautiful wool winter coat Mrs Cecilia could still fit into. She must remind her about it.
They were never quite sure who the dress had belonged to. It was too petite for Mrs Cecilia and too narrow for her formidable mother-in-law, who had apparently been built on more ample lines.
It was an early 1960s black cocktail dress with diamanté straps, a boned bodice and a skirt that was full but not overwhelming.
As Katarina held it up to the light, admiring the stitching, she thought it would fit Charlie very well.
It was only when she was chopping vegetables for supper a couple of hours later that Katarina glanced over at the cat food pouches and realised she hadn’t seen Ghillie for a while.
“Oh, that silly cat,” she said and rushed back up to the roof space.
Sure enough, she could hear Ghillie yowling from the upstairs landing and she opened the door to the attic rooms, expecting him to shoot out.
However, though she could still hear the yowling, she couldn’t see any sign of the cat.
She went from room to room and eventually tracked down the noise to where the tea chests were. He had somehow managed to get himself stuck and couldn’t work out how to get out.
He didn’t seem to be hurt, but Katarina carefully slid the first tea chest containing the china out a bit so he had room to squeeze out. He bounded into the hall, then Katarina could hear him thumping down the attic stairs.
Katarina stayed where she was for a moment, thinking that she would get the cleaners to come and give this place a thorough clean.
The dust behind was thick and something had dropped on to the ground when she had moved the tea chest.
She glanced down. It looked like an old pillowcase.
She unfolded the fabric, thinking it would just have more pillowcases inside it, as they seemed to have so much old bed linen lurking around.
Inside there was an old notebook about the size of the visitors’ book that they used to keep at reception.
At first, that was what Katarina thought it was. Then she opened the first page and saw the spidery writing, sloping to one side,
so curly that she couldn’t read it.
She had found Anna’s missing journal.
Charlie let herself into the kitchen and quickly keyed in the code so that the burglar alarm wouldn’t shout at her. She loved the peace of the old house when there was no-one about. Old book on your table,
Katarina had texted her.
Charlie had spent Saturday morning phoning her mother and waiting in for her online grocery delivery.
Now, she thought she would take advantage of a quiet Saturday afternoon to pick up the journal.
Dean and Albert were in the summerhouse, where Albert was showing Dean how to repair the rotten window frames and see what they could salvage of the floor. Robin was seeing an old university friend, who was visiting from America. Katarina had taken Mrs Cecilia to the hairdresser’s.
Charlie didn’t want to take the journal back to the cottage as this was an old family heirloom. She read a few pages, getting used again to the curly, oldfashioned handwriting, making the occasional note in her own notebook of dates and key events.
It made her feel connected to Anna, who seemed to have had the same busy life as folk today.
The other journal she’d found a few weeks earlier was here, too, and she would look at that in a moment and try to get the sequence of events clear in her head at last.
Charlie became so absorbed in the task that she didn’t notice the time passing.
The telephone rang but she let the answering service take it. Anyone important could ring her mobile.
She smiled as she read the words.
Instead of a folly, we started to build a dairy room.
“I knew it was here somewhere,” Charlie said out loud, so delighted at last to find a reference to what had happened to Anna’s husband’s plans.
Rufus the dog took this as an indication to be sociable again, so he got off his floor cushion in the morning room and padded in to be made a fuss of.
It was now pouring with rain outside so Charlie thought she might as well read more then head back to the cottage when the rain eased off. She noted that Anna referred to tapestries, and how at home she felt when they were hanging on the wall in the library.
What a find this latest journal had been! She felt more connected to Anna than ever, as if she were standing at her shoulder.
Rufus suddenly gave a low growl, then a short bark.
“Are they back?” Charlie said to him, expecting to see Mrs Cecilia and Katarina.
Sure enough, she thought she heard a car engine, but it was raining so heavily now that it was hard to tell.
Just then, she heard a squeal of brakes. No-one drove like that around here.
Rufus barked again and this time he wouldn’t stop. Slipping her phone into her pocket, Charlie got up and ran into the hall.
She couldn’t see a car, but there were two men running through the rain. Hoods covered their faces. Still Rufus barked. Quickly, Charlie pressed Albert’s name on her contacts list in her mobile phone.
“Yes?” Albert said in his normal, unflappable way.
“There’s someone here,” she whispered. “Two men, running towards the house. Are you expecting anyone?”
“No,” Albert said more urgently. “Stay there and don’t open the door. Dean and I will be right there. I’m calling the police.”
For the first time since she’d come to Anna Grace, Charlie felt afraid.
To be continued.