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Authors: Murray Pura

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Sean
–her son

Michael Woodhaven IV—
American; pilot; married to Libby

Libby Danforth Woodhaven—
daughter of William and Elizabeth; married to Michael

Jane—
their daughter

Montgomery—
Libby’s maid; American

Ben Whitecross—
pilot; Victoria Cross recipient (WWI); former employee at Ashton Park; married to Victoria

Victoria Danforth Whitecross—
youngest daughter of William and Elizabeth; married to Ben

Ramsay—
their eldest son;
Tim—
their youngest son

Calvert Harrison—
groundskeeper at Dover Sky; married to Holly

Holly Danforth Harrison—
William’s sister; married to Harrison

Lady Caroline Scarborough—
daughter of Danforth family friends Lord Francis and Lady Madeleine Scarborough; longtime friend of Kipp Danforth

Charles—
her son

Tavy—
butler

Skitt—
butler and groundskeeper at Dover Sky

Norah Cole, Sally, Harriet, Nancy, Bev—
servants at Dover Sky

Mrs Longstaff—
head cook

Fairburn—
groundskeeper

Baron Gerard von Isenburg—
Danforth family friend; German

Albrecht Hartmann—
theologian and professor; German

Terrence Fordyce—
Royal Navy officer; serves on
HMS Hood

Tanner Buchanan—
nemesis of Danforth family; MP

1

June, 1924

Dover Sky estate, Southern England

“All right, Father, you can open your eyes now.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“Very well then.”

The older man in the back cockpit of the biplane took a look, adjusted his goggles, looked a second time, and laughed. “I’ve never even seen them by boat!” he shouted. “Never mind by air!”

The pilot turned his head and leaned back. “The gulls see this every day, Father. Not so bad a life, is it? Soar, glide, dive for fish—the white cliffs of Dover for your world.”

“The white cliffs and the blue sea and sky. Thank you, my boy, thank you. This is quite the view.”

“An early birthday present.”

“Is that what this is? It’s very early then. The date’s over a month away.”

The pilot grinned. “I didn’t want to miss this chance. My plan was to do something special for you. It’s not every day a man turns sixty.”

The older man snorted. “I thank God it isn’t or I’d have been a relic by the time I was twenty, Kipp.”

“You look terrific, Dad.”

“Thank you, my boy. For sixty I suppose I’m not so bad off. I can keep up with the grandchildren, and my eyes are still like a hawk’s.”

The plane swooped over the high, chalk cliffs and the wheeling white gulls. Late June sunlight made the whitecaps in the English Channel beneath the aircraft leap with a brightness the older man never saw on land. The blue sky and sea seemed that much deeper by contrast. He took it all in, white on white on blue, thanked God, and suddenly put his hands outside the cockpit, letting his fingers trail through the swift flow of air as if he were dangling them in a stream of water.

“There’s Dover Sky, Father!”

The plane banked over long, green fields and the town of Dover, with its miniature buildings and streets and cars. Further out in the countryside, set solidly on a hill, was a house of windows and verandas and pillars that seemed whiter than the whitecaps and the white cliffs, taking the day’s light into its walls and sending it back twice as strong so that the two men in the biplane had to squint.

The older man reached forward and tapped his son on the shoulder of his leather flight jacket. “I’ve never seen it look so lovely.”

“It’s a diamond from up here, an absolute gem.”

“Whose car is that by the house? Ours is not half so long.”

“I don’t know, but let’s take a closer look.”

Kipp put the plane into a dive.

“My boy, my boy, you are not going to buzz the house?”

“Mum doesn’t mind.”

“But we must have guests if that strange car is there.”

“Well, now we’ll find out who they are.”

They roared over the house. The older man recognized his wife, Elizabeth, his daughter Catherine and her son, Sean, and Norah Cole, their maid. There was also a tall, narrow figure with a sweeping moustache and a ramrod straight back.

“No one ran for cover, Dad. That’s a good sign.”

“I did not expect my family to run…or my servants. They are used to airplanes. And now that I see who our guest is, I wouldn’t expect him to run either.”

“Who is it? The car is a Mercedes Benz 400K, by the way. This year’s model. Not cheap.”

“Yes, the baron would drive a vehicle like that. Or rather, like me, have it driven for him.”

“Baron? Which baron?”

“Von Isenburg. Gerard von Isenburg. A good chap. He gave us our German shepherds before the war.”

“Has he come to bring us new ones?”

“I pray not. Gladstone and Wellington have years in them yet.”

“Right. Here we go. Coming in for a landing. Hang on.”

“Your son still loves the flying, doesn’t he, Lady Preston?”

“Please, baron. I’m Elizabeth to you. It’s a relief to hear someone call me by my Christian name now and then.”

Baron von Isenburg inclined his head slightly. “As you wish. But then I must insist in return that you use my Christian name.”

“I’m happy to do so, Gerard. Yes, our Kipp has never lost his love for airplanes and the sky.”

The two of them watched the biplane land in a field beyond the house.

“William will be surprised to see you,” Lady Preston said as the plane came to a stop, propeller whirling. “Surprised and pleased. It has been altogether too long. The war’s been over for years. We really ought to have had you up to Ashton Park before this.”

“Now is soon enough. I have much to share. And to tell you the truth, I prefer visiting at Dover Sky.” He reached down and scratched behind the ears of the two blonde German shepherds who sat on their haunches beside him, tails slowly swishing as soon as he touched their heads.

“Should I be insulted at that remark, Gerard? What on earth is the matter with Ashton Park?”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I simply find it too, well, baronial. I see so much of that in Germany. Dover Sky is quite different—clean, white, shining like jasper. I much prefer it to your Lancashire estate.”

“I see. So did you time your visit so it would coincide with our summer escape to Kent?”

The baron laughed and leaned on a cane with a silver pommel. “I am not so much of a schemer. I had a person to visit at Westminster, and a friend asked me to accompany him to England.”

“I only see your chauffeur with you.”

“No, Albrecht is not with us today. He hopes to come by later in the week, if you can spare a room.”

“Spare a room?” Lady Preston glanced back at the manor. “What room can’t we spare? Only Catherine came down for the summer with her boy. The others are too busy up north with their work and their families.”

“A shame.”

“We’ll see them all for William’s sixtieth birthday celebration at the end of July. Until then it shall be rather quiet…too quiet. We shall be glad to have a visit from your friend.”

“I’ll wire him. He’ll be most grateful. He’s wanted to meet your husband for some time.”

“Really? Is he in politics?”

“Not at all. Albrecht is a theologian. He admires William’s Christian convictions.”

“Ah.” Lady Preston waved as the biplane took off without her husband in it. “There goes Kipp. I’m sorry you two couldn’t meet. He was just a boy when you last saw him. He has the Royal Mail for Liverpool and Manchester to deliver today.”

The baron watched the plane grow smaller and more distant. “Another time. I am sure of it.”

“Ah, Gerard! I spotted you when we flew over the house,” William said before kissing his wife on the cheek. “We circled the cliffs, Elizabeth. It was marvelous.”

“The way you came at us here on the ground, I’m glad you didn’t fly into them.”

“Ha!” William said with a smile.

“Lord Preston.” The baron clicked his heels together. “It’s wonderful
to see you again after so many years. Yes, I thought you meant to pluck the hat off my head, your plane dove in so low.”

“I very nearly could have done it.”

The two men smiled and shook hands vigorously.

“What brings you to England, Gerard?”

“As I was telling your wife, Lord Preston, I had a person to see in—”

“William,” interrupted Lord Preston. “You know I wish you to continue to call me William…or
Vilhelm
, if you prefer. I hear Lord Preston quite enough.”

The baron bowed. “As you wish. I congratulate you on your new title Marquess of Preston.”

Lord Preston nodded. “Thank you. Your cable of last summer was much appreciated. But now tell us why you are here. And how did you get that long, black Mercedes across the Channel?”

“Well, I have my own boat—a barge, really—and it could probably carry three of these. As for my visit, I had a man to see in Westminster.”

“Westminster? Someone in the government?”

The baron held up a hand. “Over brandy and cigars?”

Lord Preston snorted. “You and your brandy and cigars. I’ll have my tea while you make smoke.” He smiled and knelt to pet his dogs. “So, just a man in Westminster to see, is that it? A mystery man?”

“Well, as I was telling your wife, I accompanied a friend here by the name of Albrecht Hartmann. He is a professor at Tubingen…a theologian.”

“Is he? Wonderful, wonderful! Has he written anything I may have read?”

“He has written several books that have been well received. Alas, only one of them has been translated into English—and American English at that.”

“I can tolerate American English. We now have a Yank in the family, you know. Married my daughter Libby. Do you remember little ginger-haired Libby? The pair are in the United States right now, though we hope to see them back here this fall or winter.”

“Splendid. If you wish I can give you a copy of the book and you might be able to read some of the chapters before Albrecht arrives.”

Lord Preston stood up. “He is coming to Dover Sky?”

Lady Preston put her arm through his. “I assured Gerard we had plenty of room.”

“Plenty of room? I should say we have since our children and their spouses have abandoned us…but for Catherine.” Lord Preston glanced about. “Have you seen her yet, Gerard? She was so young in 1911.”

“He’s only just arrived, William,” said Lady Preston. “Catherine’s off on a walk with Sean. She can meet Gerard at the evening meal.”

“Why, I saw her from the plane. She was close by.”

“I expect she was, but she’s probably drifted since then. You know her moods.”

“Yes, of course.”

The baron’s face behind his moustache grew somber, his eyes darkening. “My condolences once again. Her husband’s death was a shock. Civil wars are always the worst for shedding blood.”

Lady Elizabeth put a hand on his arm. “The flowers you sent were beautiful, Gerard. Quite the largest arrangement we received. Even the king noticed them.”

“A small thing. One always wishes one could do more.”

“Catherine will be glad to see you. I have no doubt of it. But she is a bit lost these days. She left Belfast to live at Ashton Park, but she doesn’t seem content with us there either. Perhaps it’s too lively for her with so many of her siblings having houses nearby. We are hoping a peaceful summer at Dover Sky will help.”

“I pray so.” The baron stared at the apple trees at the side of the manor. “You never stop worrying about your children. No, never. So much can happen in a lifetime.”

“I know, Gerard.” She gently squeezed his arm. “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through.”

BOOK: Beneath the Dover Sky
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