Authors: Daphne Coleridge
Tags: #Traditional British, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
|The Claresby Collection: Twelve Mysteries|
|Tags:||Traditional British, Fiction, Mystery & Detective, General|
The complete collection of all twelve mystery stories set at Claresby Manor. Clues to the whereabouts of treasure lost since the time of Oliver Cromwell, the death of a famous artist and the disappearance of a valuable work of art are all investigated by the amiable Rupert Latimer.
Stories include “The Black Widow of Claresby” in which the new vicar is followed by strange rumours from her previous parish. Veronica Dahl is dark, voluptuous and beautiful - but what was the real reason for her younger husband’s mysterious death? Who is the odd, reclusive man who lives in a caravan but visits the vicarage at night? And why do parishioners start to disappear?
An intriguing collection of English mystery stories with Rupert and Laura Latimer.
The Treasure of Claresby Manor
Pickled Toad with Diamonds
An Uninvited Guest
The Claresby Mystery
The Black Widow of Claresby
The Claresby Ghost
Death of a Clarinettist
The Floods Murder
Rupert Investigates: A Cambridge Mystery
The Coach House Mystery
The Curious Legacy
The Twelve Days of Christmas Mystery
The Claresby Collection
The full collection of Claresby mystery stories with Rupert and Laura Latimer.
By Daphne Coleridge
Copyright © Daphne Coleridge 2011
For Alan, with thanks for all his ideas
The Treasure of Claresby Manor
Laura took a bottle of wine out of the fridge and made her way to the study. It was a longish walk, down the chilly corridors past dusty suits of armour, through the Great Hall with its high beams and carved musicians’ gallery disappearing in the darks shadows above, and into the panelled room beyond. Had not every inch of the house been familiar to her, it might have felt eerie so empty and gloomy it was as the last beams of evening sun made their reluctant way through the mullioned windows, barely reaching the furthest corner. Her study, however, was warm and welcoming with a fire burning to ward off the chilly late summer nightfall and her favourite pieces of furniture in comfortable abundance about the place. She set the wine down and took a couple of glasses from an ornate oriental cabinet. As she did so, a bell rang from the front door. Again a longish walk until she could swing open one of the creaking double doors at the entrance. A tall, slightly gangly man with light hair and strong features stood waiting. He too held a bottle of wine.
“Ooh, more wine,” commented Laura happily. “I just unearthed something from the cellar, but half the stuff is undrinkable, so it is just as well to have a backup.”
The man bent to peck her fondly on the cheek and followed her in. Once back in the study, Laura sat down in a red, plush chair of great antiquity which oozed a greyish stuffing from one corner. She would not have considered the fact, but the dim light enhanced the attractions of her pale, oval face, delicate features and lustrous auburn hair. The man, turning to pass her some wine, cast a glance at her which suggested that he, at least, was not oblivious. Laura sipped the wine with some trepidation.
“Well, it’s not corked.” She observed the golden liquid in the cut glass with a critical eye. “It’s not cloudy either. I think it is a dessert wine; I hope it’s not too sweet for you? I can’t tell you what it is as the label had dissolved.”
“It’s lovely,” replied the man, sitting down opposite her. “Now, tell me how you are today?”
Laura crinkled her nose, “Well, happier for seeing you Rupert, but I’m really having to face up to things now, and I can’t say that I like it. I preferred being an ostrich, but I have bills I can’t pay and they sit there ugly and insistent and I’m going to have to deal with them.”
“Do you have a plan B?”
Laura shook her head. “Everything saleable had been sold to cover debts; starting with grandfather’s death duties and ending up with the inheritance tax when father died. I have inherited this wonderful house, but it has swallowed itself up. The only thing I could sell is the title.”
“You mentioned that before: I still don’t quite understand,” replied Rupert, sipping his wine with appreciation.
“Well, there is a title that goes with the Manor – Lord of Claresby Manor or Lady of Claresby Manor in my case. It is a property and can be conveyed in the same way as any other property: in other words I could sell the title,” she explained, seeing Rupert looking vague.
“I thought I read somewhere that titles could not be sold – despite the number of websites promising you a certificate that makes you Lord or Lady Something-or-Another at inflated prices.”
“Well, that is pretty much true,” conceded Laura. “You cannot buy or sell the right to any title in the peerage, nor pay to become a Lord or Lady. There are only two titles which can be legitimately sold: that of a Scottish Feudal Baron or Lordship of the Manor. Lordship of the Manor does not make you Lord anything. Father was James Mortimer, Lord of the Manor of Claresby – not that he would have ever styled himself as such. He wasn’t Lord Mortimer. Anyway, the point is that I can sell that title – and there are people who buy such things. With the title goes certain historical rights such as a monopoly on holding markets and fairs in the Manor – oh, and fishing rights in the river; for all the good that may do anyone.”
“Doesn’t the title go with ownership of Claresby Manor?” inquired Rupert.
Laura shook her head, taking another sip of the wine. “No; the two are separate properties and I can sell either one without the other. As a matter of fact I think that they should stay together, but only for sentimental reasons. In any case, I don’t think I can afford to retain either. I will have to sell the house even if it breaks my heart. Did you know that it has been in my family, give or take a few changes down the female line, since before 1066? I feel like I am letting down a whole host of ancestors, most of whom glare down at me from unsaleable, second-rate portraits whenever I make my way down the Gallery to bed at night!”
Rupert laughed, even though her wit was of the dour, resigned type. They both sat drinking the venerable golden liquor from their glasses in the firelight for a few moments until Laura spoke again.
“Of course, there is one hope – but it is a very forlorn and worn out hope.”
“What is that?” asked Rupert.
“Well, I’ve not mentioned this before, because it has been tried by my ancestors down the centuries whenever they have hit hard times and never amounted to anything. It’s just a story that has been passed down verbally, so it is probably apocryphal.”
“Well?” prompted Rupert, when she became silent again.
“Oh, it’s just so silly it’s probably not worth mentioning.” Laura shook her halo of auburn hair before rushing off the tale in an almost embarrassed, off-hand tone. “Well, it is back to the sixteen hundreds and Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War and all that and of course my family were romantic and loyal and all the things it wasn’t clever to be – in other words, they were royalists and supported King Charles, even though they didn’t think much of him personally as far as I can tell. The practical upshot of all this was that, at some point, a group of roundheads were deployed in this direction to loot the place and generally teach the Mortimers a lesson. The Lord of the Manor at the time was one Gerald Mortimer who, rumour has it, took all the silver and gold and prudently stashed it away in a safe place. Luckily for him his cousin, Henry Mortimer, was on good terms with Cromwell - my family has been historically very good at hedging its political and religious bets - so nobody was killed at Claresby Manor. I think the soldiers tore some tapestries and roughed up a few of the servants, but all in all we got off lightly. As for Gerald, who was elderly at the time – he died of perfectly natural causes a few months later leaving the house to his daughter, Elizabeth, who had the good sense to marry her cousin, thus retaining the family name. Anyway, amongst the upset, furore, illness, marriage and dynastic changes, old Gerald entirely failed to tell anyone where he had actually put the treasure. On his deathbed, Elizabeth’s diary tells us, he told them that “the treasure is in the pictures”, but no one has ever made the slightest sense of this enigmatic comment. Hence the rumour of hidden treasure – and if ever the Mortimer family was in need of it to rescue their fortune, now is that time.”
“The treasure is in the pictures...” mused Rupert. “I like a conundrum. Did he mean that some of the paintings were valuable?”
“Well, we only have two paintings of that era left. Gerald was painted with his wife, Margaret, by Peter Lely, the fashionable portrait artist of the day. He was, by the way, the artist who famously painted Cromwell “warts and all”. He must have been a shrewd man as well as a great artist as he served Charles the First, painted Cromwell and was still around to serve the restored monarchy. Anyway, that painting was sold ages ago and the profits swallowed up by this greedy estate. There were some exquisite miniatures as well, painted by Samuel Cooper, but they too have gone. There are only two paintings left from Gerald’s time, both very inferior works by person or persons unknown.”
“Well we had better start with those,” replied Rupert enthusiastically, “if we are going to find that treasure.”
Laura sighed and put down her glass. “Well, by all means take a look, but I can promise you that every effort has been made to decipher them and various demolitions and diggings have taken place and yielded nothing.”
“Yes, precisely because I was not there to decipher the pictures: show a little faith in me, Laura!” Rupert’s face was lit with enthusiasm. He was not a handsome man, his nose being too large, his mouth having a suggestion of the lopsided about it, but it was a pleasant face and Laura had been fond of him since they had shared an unhappy, dispossessed, first term at Cambridge. She rose reluctantly to her feet.
“Very well; they are pushed to one side in a junk room upstairs, not being deemed worthy of display.”
The two of them walked through the chilly, dimly lit but nonetheless beautiful rooms of the medieval Clarebsy Manor, up the grand oak staircase and down a narrow corridor to one of the undistinguished back rooms. There were discarded objects old and new: brass bedsteads, boxes of books, folds of heavy curtains.
“All of it junk,” commented Laura despondently. “My family have long since ravaged the place for anything of value.” She picked up two paintings and set them up against a wall and sat on the threadbare carpet to look at them, shivering a little in the cold of the evening. Rupert hunkered down beside her to study the paintings.
One painting was a heavy work in oils set in a cumbersome gilded frame. It depicted Gerald Mortimer looking rather smug in the foppish clothes of a royalist; long hair, lacy cuffs and large feather in his hat. Behind him was Claresby Manor.
“It really is a very bad painting,” commented Rupert, examining it carefully. “It must have been painted by a student or an amateur.”
“Family history suggests that he might have painted it himself. Anyway, it has been studied for clues and codes and suchlike. There is one obvious anomaly and perhaps a statement of intention; I’ll be kind and let you have the satisfaction of spotting those for yourself.”
Rupert duly studied the details of the picture. The first thing that inevitably drew his eye was the scroll of paper that Gerald held. “Sollicitae tu causa, pecunia, vitae,” he read aloud. “Hmm, I wish I hadn’t dozed through Miss Taylor’s Latin classes.” Rupert screwed up his light blue eyes, making his nose look even more pronounced on his pleasantly ugly face. “I make it something like – You, money, are the cause of an anxious life; am I close?”