(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores November 2018.)
Compton Chase, Compton-Under-Wood,
Gloucestershire, a Saturday in late August 1924
Once upon a time, Lady Adelaide Mary Merrill, daughter of the Marquess of Broughton, was married to Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme. It was not a happy union, and there was no one in Britain more relieved than Addie when Rupert smashed up his Hispano-Suiza on a quiet Cotswold country road with Mademoiselle Claudette Labelle in the passenger seat. If one could scream with a French accent, it was Claudette, and it was said her terrified shrieks as they hit the stone wall were still heard on occasion by superstitious farmers and their livestock near midnight when the moon was full.
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had him sealed in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard. The unentailed house was hers to do as she pleased, and she had decided to open it up to her family and a few convivial friends for the weekend now that she'd made some much-needed improvements. Rupert had always been stingy with her money, and with him gone on to his doubtful reward, she had employed most of the district's laborers in an attempt to bring Compton Chase into the twentieth century.
True, it was early in her mourning period to entertain, but she made the concession to wear black, even if there wasn't much of it in yardage, thank God, because it was so bloody hot. And her mother was there to chaperone.
When Rupert appeared, Addie was dressing for her house party, and dropped the diamond spray for her hair on the Aubusson.
"That dress is ridiculous, Addie," Rupert intoned from a dim corner. He was wearing the dark suit with the maroon foulard tie she'd had him laid out in, and apart from being rather pale, was still a handsome devil, emphasis on the devil. If he'd been in his uniform, she might even contemplate marrying him again.
Oh, she was going mad. Too much stressing over the seating arrangements in the dining room. Who was billeted next to who. Or was it whom? She'd tried to make it easy for those who wished to be naughty tonight to be successful. Then there was the bother over her sister turning vegetarian and ruining the menus at the last minute. Cook was cross and was apt to get crosser.
Addie was already sitting at her vanity table so she didn't collapse alongside the diamonds. She shut her eyes.
"I'll be here when you open them. And believe me, it's no picnic for me, either."
Addie did open them, and her mouth, but found herself incapable of uttering anything sensible.
"Yes, I'm back. But, one hopes, not to stay. Apparently, I have to perform a few good deeds before the Fellow Upstairs will let me into heaven. It will be a frightful bore for you, I'm sure."
She told the truth as she knew it, feeling absurd to even speak to someone who couldn't possibly be there. "You're dead."
"As a doornail. What does that mean, anyway? The expression dates from the fourteenth century. Langland, Shakespeare, and Dickens all used it. Dickens was of the opinion that a coffin nail is deader, but there you are."
Addie reached for her cup of cold tea and downed it in one gulp, wishing it was gin, brandy, anything to make Rupert go away. But if she were drunk, more Ruperts, like those fabled pink elephants, might actually appear. It was a conundrum.
"I'll try to stay out of your hair as much as possible. Speaking of which, thank God you haven't cut it into one of those awful shingles. I always did like your hair."
Addie's hand went up involuntarily to the golden roll she'd so recently pinned up without her maid's assistance. Beckett was seeing to Addie's impulsive sister Cecilia, who, apart from her sudden conversion to vegetarianism, had cut her hair into a bob that was more or less untamable because of the stubborn Merrill curls. Beckett had her work cut out for her. Cee resembled someone who had stuck their finger in the newly rewired sockets of Compton Chase and lived to tell the tale.