The Chandelier Ballroom: Betrayal and murder in an English country house in the 1930sby Elizabeth Lord
A tale of heartache and drama with supernatural overtones
1929. On receipt of an unexpected inheritance, small-time crook Horace Butterfield splashes the cash on a large house in rural Essex, and sets about turning it into his dream home. Buying an enormous antique chandelier in order to enhance his brand-new ballroom, he is intrigued by the dealer/b>/i>
A tale of heartache and drama with supernatural overtones
1929. On receipt of an unexpected inheritance, small-time crook Horace Butterfield splashes the cash on a large house in rural Essex, and sets about turning it into his dream home. Buying an enormous antique chandelier in order to enhance his brand-new ballroom, he is intrigued by the dealer’s story behind its provenance: a young woman who lost all her money in the Wall Street Crash and was forsaken by her lover is said to have hanged herself from it. For the next five years, Horace enjoys telling the story at every party he hosts.
But tragedy is set to strike. Horace’s marriage collapses when he embarks on an ill-advised affair with a pretty young fortune-hunter: an affair which is destined to lead to murder and suicide.
Over the next two decades, tragedy, violence and heartbreak befall all who move into Crossway Lodge – from bright-eyed young newly-weds Mabel and James to hardened soldiers billeted there during WWII. Is the house really cursed – and who is the mysterious, shadowy young woman seen lurking in the ballroom?
- Severn House Publishers
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First World Publication
- Product dimensions:
- 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Chandelier Ballroom
By Elizabeth Lord
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2014 Elizabeth Lord
All rights reserved.
The letter had come from a solicitor he'd never heard of, scaring the living daylights out of him. Now that the initial shock had subsided, it lay open on the coffee table, with Horace Butterfield, known to most as Race, reading it through a second time with only one thought racing around in his head: someone had to be stitching him up.
Reading the letter over his shoulder, his wife Millicent was suspicious too.
'It's too bloody good to be true, Race. You're going to 'ave to phone these people, find out who they are, what they're up to, who they're working for.'
'If it is a catch,' he replied slowly, 'it's a damned silly one. What do they expect to gain?'
Seeing the name of an unknown law firm on the envelope, his first thought had been that Linkman, the little bastard, had gone to the police after all about the job they'd done just over a week ago. Or maybe he hadn't, because as yet no police had come nosing around. But you never could tell.
Last week he'd stood over the snivelling Linkman after Race and his two mates had given him a going over. Glaring down at the bruised and bloodied upturned features, he'd warned: 'You go bleating to the fuzz and it'll be the last thing you ever do.'
The job hadn't gone off well. They'd only just made it before the police arrived. Coshing the elderly night watchman on the bonce as he was making the phone call to them, they'd had to leg it quick, but Linkman had been terrified that they'd killed the old boy. He had been pretty ancient.
They hadn't. The local paper had reported him recovering in hospital. But it had been too much of a close shave. Robbery with violence, all four would have gone down for a long stretch. He was fifty-three. At his age the last thing he wanted was to end up doing fifteen years or more. It hadn't even been a big job. None of them were these days and he had this feeling he was getting past it.
All his life he'd been only slightly better than a petty thief, dreaming of becoming someone, carrying off the big heist, but somehow never rising very far up the rungs of the criminal world.
"Cos you're too bloody nice, tryin' ter act the bloody gentleman all the time!' That would come up every time, Millie scoffing at his efforts to improve himself from a hard upbringing. 'Yer can't be nice in your game,' she'd nag, her harsh Cockney tone grating on his nerves. 'You need to 'ave a bit more clout.'
He thought he did. Prone to a quick and vicious temper, he wasn't above giving someone a good hiding – like Linkman. As he'd ripped the letter open he had been sure Linkman had squealed despite his warning.
Now all that was flushed from his mind as he whispered, 'If this letter's genuine then it's a bloody fortune! It can't be true!'
Millie was gazing down at the legal wording. 'I ain't never 'eard of this Robert Sacker person. If this ain't a set-up then it's got to be a mistake.'
Race looked up at her with faint irritation. Her acid remarks never ceased, even with money like this staring them in the face. But the remark made him think clearer now that the initial fear had passed.
'Yes you have,' he said. 'He was my dad's brother. You only ever saw him the once. He turned up at the church at our wedding, right out of the blue, then left – didn't come back to the house, just left. Not set eyes on him from that day on.'
'That was twenty-eight years ago.' She sniffed. 'Bloody long time!'
It was. They'd married in 1901. Before that he'd only ever met his father's brother a couple of times as a kid. After the shock of seeing him at their wedding, he'd forgotten all about him until this letter arrived telling him his Uncle Robert was dead. As if he cared. Except that the letter named him as the man's only surviving relative.
It explained that he'd left no heir, made no will; that after his estate had been sold to settle the usual outgoings, Race himself had been found to be the sole surviving beneficiary. He still couldn't believe it.
'I 'ardly remember him,' he muttered. 'I only saw 'im a couple of times as a kid when my parents were alive. They died in 1888, leaving me to be shoved into an orphanage. Then he turns up at the church the day of our wedding. I certainly didn't invite him. I took it that he'd died years ago.' He gave a chuckle. 'Of course he is now!' Then he sobered. 'The letter says he never married or had any children. His only relative was my dad. Seems he was a bit of a recluse. But to be worth all this much – fifty-odd thousand quid! When most blokes earn, what, thirty bob a week, maybe two quid? There must be some catch somewhere. If there ain't, then we're bloody rich!'
He glanced around the untidy room: a pile of Millie's undies and other stuff on a chair still waiting to be ironed from last week, a stack of old newspapers that should have been thrown out ages ago, used plates left from last night's supper still on the dining table next to the remains of this morning's breakfast, the room undusted and badly in need of new wallpaper when he got around to it, the ceiling brown from years of cigarette smoke, the net curtains likewise.
Millie had never been one for extreme cleanliness, tidiness, elegance. She had been once. When they'd first met she'd been a real doll, but the sparkling blue eyes were now faded, the once platinum blonde hair now mousy grey, the slim, supple figure now thickened. She had turned many a man's head those days, but he'd been the one to claim her.
Even her attitude had changed since then – the scintillating young thing now a carping middle-aged nag. He'd altered too, of course, but not like her; he'd never put on weight or developed a pot belly, still had his looks to a certain degree. He flattered himself he still looked young, though lately there were times, becoming ever more frequent, when he felt old, past it, out of sorts.
She was looking at him. Now convinced of the validity of the letter, her pale eyes had lit up at the prospect of the life they could have from now on.
'What are you going to do with it all?' she asked in a whisper.
'Do with it?' he echoed, staring back at her.
All this time, fighting to make a buck or two, hoping to hit the jackpot. All his life dreaming of making it big! He could put it behind him now. Since leaving that orphanage, unequipped for the world, having hardly been taught to read or write, he'd found a natural grasp of figures and easier pickings helping himself to things belonging to others.
He'd learned to be sly, manipulative, and by the time he was in his twenties had a small following of like-minded mates whom he controlled. He was tough and quick tempered, brutal when need be. But luck had never been on his side and he'd done time, a couple of years here and there.
This last job was to have been big. But the business with the night watchman had been a bit too much for him, and that little crap Linkman had threatened to bleat to the police to save his own skin. He'd had the bugger cringing on the floor at his feet, face battered by the kicking he'd given him. Knowing there'd be a knife in his guts next, the snotty little sod had understood.
He wouldn't talk. Race knew that now. But the letter had frightened the life out of him and he suddenly realised how sick he was of it all, jumping at every knock on the door, plotting, planning, but never quite making the grade. He was a small-time crook, always would be, and getting too old – not exactly old, but his mind tiring of trying to achieve that big job that never came.
With this money he could become legit, live the life of a gent, looked upon as respectable. He knew how to pull the wool over people's eyes. He'd surround himself with fine friends instead of the crap he now went around with, leave behind the life he'd led all these years. He had visions of buying a nice large house not too far out of London, throwing huge parties for posh new friends, dabbling on the stock exchange, going to the races, taking trips abroad.
Filled with these dreams, he said brightly, 'I'm getting in touch with this solicitor right away – today!'
'Beats me 'ow yer uncle made enough fer you to spend on a place like this,' Millie said as they stood outside their new home.
'Probably doing the same thing I did.' He didn't smile as he said it. To make that much cash his uncle'd had to be up to some caper all his life. If so, he'd been a damn sight cleverer at it than Race had ever been. 'Well it's mine now,' he added gruffly. 'So shut up and appreciate it!'
She was starting to get on his nerves, standing here doing nothing but moan. A whole year it had taken to find a place he wanted. Maybe it was a bit of a way from London, too far as she insisted on pointing out, but far enough to stop those he'd known from popping down, trying to get him to do a job with them, feeling it would go smoother if planned by someone with the money to carry out something stylish. He was well out of it and intended to keep it that way. He had no need of more money, at least not by dishonest means.
He'd thought Millie would have been thrilled with this place. With the impressive name of Crossways Lodge, its imposing frontage set well back from the road behind a sturdy hedge, it was more like a mansion. Yet here she was, pulling a face at the place as if she'd just eaten a sour apple.
'What's it supposed ter be?'
'What d'you think it is?' he answered sarcastically. 'It's a house.'
'But it's miles from anywhere and it's far too big. What d'yer need one this big for, just us two?'
He fought to keep his temper. 'So as I can entertain people.'
'Who fer Gawd sake? Them mates what you knock around with? Do a bit of showing off ter let 'em see 'ow bloody well off you are now?'
'No,' he said slowly, trying to curb his irritation at the way she spoke. Since finding this place in a village called Wadely, he'd continued to improve his speech. Not far from the Essex town of Brentwood, people here had money, spoke nicely, and the last thing he wanted was to be shown up. But she had made no effort to improve herself. The moment she opened her mouth she would let him down. 'I mean to find better friends here,' he went on. 'And if you don't like it, too bloody bad. You can like it or lump it!'
'Huh!' was her response as she followed him at a distance down the extensive gravel driveway. 'Stuck out 'ere in some old village, no wonder it was cheaper than you expected. What do we want with a place like this?'
He ignored her, in a world of his own now. To one used to a two-up-two-down terrace in Stepney Green, the frontage had taken his breath away, the eighteenth-century building having been tastefully added to at the rear in more recent years. There were three acres of grounds attached, but he was a Londoner, not interested in grounds. It was the house that drew him.
Three of the downstairs rooms facing front were absolutely huge, with high ceilings and tall, elegant, narrow windows, the room across the hall having a wider one with a spectacular bay. The moment he'd seen the place an idea had formed. A ballroom! The three rooms knocked into one and the wall of the hall demolished to make one large room, the stairs widened to a grand staircase descending spectacularly from the upper landing to the final result – maybe not as huge as some, but grand enough.
It had taken a lot of work, but the result was now big enough to hold parties and dances. He'd been a good dancer when young, so had Millie. They'd not danced in years, she grown broader and sloppier nowadays, had let herself go, and who'd want to take that dancing? Now he had his own ballroom, expensively papered in gold and blue, highly polished wood floor edged by soft blue carpet, two or three settees, elegant chairs, some small tables, a grand piano, space for a saxophone, double bass, set of drums – it would be a talking point among the fine friends he intended to make here.
Within weeks workmen had demolished the walls and made good, strengthened the ceiling, laid a new floor, the whole redecorated throughout. The narrow passage behind the room dividing the newer part of the house from the older had been renovated to include a cloakroom/toilet and had revealed a small sealed-up door, the handle long since lost.
He had prised it open to discover some four or five steps down to a small basement, dark and stuffy but dry. His first thought had been a priest hole, but there was no other way out, no window, nothing, just a few bits of rubbish, old cardboard boxes, revealed by the gleam of his torch – nothing of interest. Marks on the walls suggested racks had once stood there – an old wine cellar perhaps, but now unsavoury. The door resealed, papered over to hide its unsightliness, he had turned his mind to suitable lighting for his new ballroom. Something grand, spectacular was needed – a chandelier, the bigger the better, would make a huge impression on everyone who saw it, in addition to the expensive wall lights he'd had installed.
Today he'd found one in a London antique dealer's shop, just what he had been looking for. Now he stood admiring it, mesmerised.
'It is not exactly old,' the man was saying with a slight trace of an accent he couldn't place, probably Mediterranean or something. 'But it is of genuine crystal, not of common glass, and this is why it is just a little more expensive. But good quality always reveals itself, Mr Buttyfield.'
Yes it did. Huge, impressive, suspended above him, its many graceful arms of fine brass supporting a double tier of crystal shades and electrified candles half hidden by swathes of glittering crystal drops, he could see it in all its glory gracing the high ceiling with its moulded central rose which matched the room's elaborate cornice. Standing stock still, he continued to gaze up at it. It was absolute perfection.
The man was making an obvious effort to sell it as he beamed, 'There is too an interesting 'istory attached to it. I think you would like to 'ear, Mr Buttyfield?'
Recovering himself, Race overlooked the mispronunciation of his name, eager to glean anything of interest that he might pass on to guests.
'It is from a fine Knightsbridge apartment,' the man went on eagerly. 'It is said the owner, a wealthy middle-aged lady, lost all of her fortune in the very Black Thursday, the Wall Street Crash. At the time she is having a lover very much younger than she.'
He paused, waiting for Race to nod, then resumed, 'Her fortune lost, her lover forsaked her, poor lady, she so devastated wanting only to destroy herself and from this very chandelier she tried to hung her sad body.'
Race couldn't help half smirking. It was a lot of rot. 'I'd have thought it wouldn't have taken her weight,' he said, trying not to sound too amused.
'It did not,' the man supplied eagerly, his customer's scepticism going completely over his head. 'It is quite ironic, for having dragged an armchair on which to stand to do the deed, the chandelier did not take her weight and she fell back on to the armchair and it fell down on top of her, killing her, so the story is told. The chandelier was not damaged at all for the armchair cushioned its falling down, but it killed her.' He gave a small sympathetic sigh. 'The most strange of ironies – the poor lady trying to kill herself, using of this very chandelier, but it is this very chandelier killed her!'
Having ended his lengthy tale maybe with his favourite punchline, he lapsed into silence, awaiting Race's reaction.
For a moment Race gazed back at him then he broke into a loud guffaw. 'A great story if it's true. I could tell that to my guests. They'll be well impressed.'
The man didn't laugh. He looked hurt. 'I assure you, Mr Buttyfield, I swear by the Holy Virgin it is true story.'
The man breathed the name so reverently that Race's laugh of scorn died on his lips. He even felt goose bumps ripple along his arms and heard himself burst out impulsively, 'I believe you. Yeah, fine. I'll take it.'
Excerpted from The Chandelier Ballroom by Elizabeth Lord. Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Lord. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Elizabeth Lord was born in the East End of London but has lived in Essex most of her life. She has a son and two daughters. Ruth Rendell describes her as “a natural storyteller”.
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