God Save the Queen!by Dorothy Cannell
Flora was raised at gloomy Gossinger Hall because her grandfather, Hutchins, was the butler there. When Sir Henry announced that he was changing his will to leave the Hall to Hutchins, he upset several people. But then Hutchins was found dead under curious circumstances. Coping with her loss, Flora moved to London, followed by Vivian Gossinger, the heir apparent. Was… See more details below
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Flora was raised at gloomy Gossinger Hall because her grandfather, Hutchins, was the butler there. When Sir Henry announced that he was changing his will to leave the Hall to Hutchins, he upset several people. But then Hutchins was found dead under curious circumstances. Coping with her loss, Flora moved to London, followed by Vivian Gossinger, the heir apparent. Was he trying to protect her—and from what? British Cozy Mystery by Dorothy Cannell; originally published by Bantam
A farcical fairy-tale, written in determinedly Wodehousian style, that overplays its wry tone, silly plot, and likable characters to the point of tedium.
- Belgrave House
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From her childhood days in the flat above her parents' secondhand shop, Mabel had yearned to be part of Britain's upper crust. With this commendable goal in mind she had taken to wearing dowdy tweeds, lisle stockings, and pudding-basin hats. She had applied herself to elocution lessons with a dedication that would have pleased Henry Higgins no end and gave her sister Edna, who still lived in Bethnal Green, a sad little pang. But what does a woman whose idea of personal fulfillment is an evening spent at the dog races know about bettering oneself? Shortsighted Edna would not have bet a fiver that on that visit to Gossinger her sister's schoolgirl dreams of moving up a class would be amply rewarded. But fate has been known to pull a few strings. For outside the garderobe, which was locked and had a "Keep Out" sign posted on the door, Mabel Bowser collided with Sir Henry Gossinger himself.
With a somewhat awkward bow, the baronet introduced himself. Sir Henry wasn't a man designed by nature to bend at the middle. And being a true aristocrat, he spoke to her in a voice that sounded as though he had a mouthful of hot plum tart.
"Frightfully sorry, m'dear. Shouldn't be let out on m'own without a Seeing Eye dog."
What address! What savoir-faire! Mabel couldn't make head nor tail of what Sir Henry was saying, but she knew instantly that he was everything she had ever wanted in a man. Stout, balding, and three inches shorter than herself.
"It was my fault," she assured him. "I wasn't looking where I was going." A simple apology, but one elevated to operatic proportions by the throb of passion in her voice.
Sir Henry said something she couldn't follow, to which she responded with a series of heartfelt nods. Within moments Mabel discovered that if she watched his lips closely she could understand his every other word. It was miraculous! Like going to France and realizing you didn't need the phrase book to get off the ferry.
Smiling kindly at her, Sir Henry explained that the garderobe was kept locked because a shift in Gossinger's foundation had enlarged the (Sir Henry got extra-mumbly here) seating area to the point of making it dangerous. A toilet by any other name is not the same. Mabel Bowser was captivated by Sir Henry's chitchat on the subject of his twelfth-century loo.
Perspiration bathed her face in dewy luminosity. For all she was a sizable woman, she felt herself grow fragile. Was she dreaming, or had Sir Henry just offered to personally escort her around his historic abode? She didn't go so far as to imagine he had fallen in love with her at first sight, but she did wonder if the baronet recognized in her a person of his own kind. Mabel Bowser trembled in her brogue shoes when Sir Henry put his hand on her elbow to guide her across the great hall.
Less than half an hour later, Sir Henry showed her Gossinger's remarkably fine collection of eighteenth-century silver, which was displayed in glass cases in the former buttery. He assured her that Hutchins, the butler, was responsible for the silver's cleaning and of course she would not be expected to so much as dust this room were she to accept his offer and make Gossinger her home.
Admittedly, it wasn't a lengthy courtship. But times have changed since Lady Normina was betrothed before she was fully out of the womb (she was a breech birth) to Thomas Short Shanks in 1172. Emotion may have wrought Sir Henry more than usually indistinct, but Mabel Bowser had no trouble making it crystal clear that she would marry him without waiting to get her best frock back from the cleaners.
The wedding took place several weeks later at St. Mary's Stow. It was a tastefully small affair with only Sir Henry's nephew Vivian and Miss Sophie Doffit, a third cousin who strongly resembled the Queen Mother, in attendance. It didn't do, of course, to count Hutchins, his seventeen-year-old granddaughter Flora, and Mrs. Johnson, the current housekeeper, seated respectfully at the back of the church. Mr. Tipp, the elderly stable lad, didn't come because someone had to stay behind in case burglars stopped by and took the huff at the lack of hospitality. And Edna couldn't come up from Bethnal Green to witness her sister's triumphal walk down the aisle, because she was in hospital having an operation for piles, as she insisted on calling them. But that was all for the best. Edna would have had trouble saying the minimum and trying to look educated.
With nothing to cast a blight except a fleeting regret that she had not married Sir Henry when she was of an age to provide him with a son and heir, the fledgling Lady Gossinger had every anticipation of living happily ever after. In the ensuing years she grew ever more tweedy. No one would stamp her as nouveau riche, thank you very much! Lady Gossinger's concept of life as lived by the gentry was based on certain novels written in the 1930's and 1940's--in particular, those by Dame Agatha Christie.
To the former Mabel Bowser, the Golden Age meant a time when breakfast was laid out in a grand parade of silver-domed dishes on a twelve-foot sideboard. Gentlemen went fox hunting, or busied themselves doing nothing in their libraries, while their wives concentrated on their herbaceous borders. And the discovery of a corpse on the premises was not permitted to delay mealtimes by more than one hour, even though the cook's favorite carving knife was stuck up to its handle in the victim's back.
It goes without saying that Lady Gossinger, née Bowser, never seriously expected anyone to be murdered under her nose. Her married life moved contentedly forward until came that ill-fated day five years later when Sir Henry dropped his bombshell and the rose-colored scales fell from her eyes. Afterward, Mabel was to remember with bitter clarity how very chipper she had been feeling only an hour before her brave new world was blown utterly to smithereens. And she would reflect with a pinched and sour smile, very much like the one worn by Lady Normina on her marble tombstone, that she would never have guessed in a thousand years that a girl as seemingly unimportant as Flora Hutchins would have to be dealt with, one way or the other.
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