Authors: Caroline Dunford
|A Death in the Family
|A Euphemia Martins Mystery 
|Accent Press Ltd (2013)
The first book in the Euphemia Martins murder mystery series by Caroline Dunford. In December 1909 the Very Rev Joshia Martins expires in a dish of mutton and onions leaving his family on the brink of destitution. Abandoned by her noble grandfather, Joshia's daughter, the eighteen year old Euphemia, takes it on herself to provide for her mother and little brother by entering service. She's young, fit, intelligent, a little naive and assumes the life of a maid won't be too demanding. However, on her first day at the unhappy home of Lord Stapleford she discovers a murdered body. Euphemia's innate sense of justice has her prying where no servant should look and uncovering some of the darker social, political and business secrets of Stapleford family. She is propositioned, locked in cupboards, made to chop mountains of onions, her reputation shredded, accused of murder and frequently put in fear for her life. All Euphemia has to defend herself is her quick wits, sense of humour and the ultimate weapon of all virtuous young women, her scream.
A DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Published by Accent Press Ltd – 2013
Copyright © Caroline Dunford 2013
The right of Caroline Dunford to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, The Old School, Upper High St, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6RY.
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For the boys, M and X, who are in equal parts inspiring and distracting, but always wonderful, and for Graham, without whom so much would not have been possible
In December 1909 England was gearing up for a general election, Russia was rumbling with the undercurrent of revolution, and my father – the very Reverend Joshia Peter Martins – expired, face down, in his dish of mutton and onions leaving Mother, myself and my younger brother Joe at the whim of Bishop Pagget.
Quite in character Mother was more concerned with the immediate rather than long-term consequences. ‘Why did he not call for the dishes to be removed before port?’ she had cried when our housekeeper had summoned us to the fateful table. ‘To be found among such common fare. Oh, Joshia!’ As it was rare for her to use his Christian name I immediately realised this was my mother in deep despair.
‘He looks very peaceful,’ I offered tactfully. In fact, my father looked if anything deeply relieved. He had the aspect of a man who had welcomed death, albeit he had found it among the gravy, and this helped me bear the awful, wrenching pain I felt at his loss.
‘Oh, Euphemia, if only your father …’
‘There was really nothing he could do about it,’ I countered fairly.
My mother lifted a haughty eyebrow at me. ‘Do not interrupt, young lady. It is not at all becoming. I was going to say if only your father had not been a vicar.’
‘I’m sure he didn’t take the decision lightly, Mother.’
‘I have no way of knowing. It was before he met me,’ Mother paused and then shook her head. ‘It really will not do. I will write to your grandfather.’
‘I will be only too delighted if he offers to help us, but you have been writing to that man for most of my life, Mother, and he has never bothered to reply.’
‘He is not “that man”, Euphemia. He is your grandfather.’
‘He has never behaved as one,’ I declared, grief lending my tone a sharpness I did not intend.
‘Just like your father,’ my mother snapped and left.
Despite my glossy, abundant chestnut hair and clear, grey intelligent eyes, I fear at 18 I am not – nor ever will be – my mother’s ideal of a good daughter. Between us lay the not inconsiderable hours I had spent at my father’s side in his study, while he taught me what he could of the world; how to think analytically and what little he had grown to understand of the human soul during his time as a man of the cloth. My mother considered intelligence ‘as much use on a young girl as a pair of hooves and about as attractive’. I once pointed out how this could occasion a very great saving on shoes and Pa had to stand by as I was sent to bed without supper. Mother and Pa were not close, but without Pa all our futures were dangerously uncertain. The eviction letter was sent by his secretary the day after my father’s death.
So while Mother retired to her room to grieve and continue her one-sided correspondence with my grandfather, I took decisive action. I began to write letters of my own to various country houses. I cannot say where the idea came from. It was certainly born of desperation, but I confess at this point it appealed to my sense of romanticism which I have failed to repress despite witnessing the outcome of my parents’ love-match.
Naturally, I took precautions to protect my identity. I directed all answers to the nearby post office and chose a nom-de-plume. I told the post mistress I was collecting letters for my cousin, who was to join us shortly. This blatant falsehood cost me some sleep, but I doubted anything would transpire of the scheme.
So, I was somewhat taken aback when, after a flood of rejections, I received a positive reply. How on earth would I tell Mother?
As it happened it was Little Joe who let my secret out of the bag. I was in my room thinking of what I would take with me, when my brother barrelled through the door and bolted under the bed. ‘I’m sorry, Effie,’ he called. ‘I didn’t mean to give you away.’
My mother’s voice rose up through the hall. ‘Euphemia Martins, come downstairs at once!’
I bent down and looked under the bed. My brother scuttled backwards with the speed of a spider escaping a broom. ‘Joe, what have you done?’
‘I didn’t mean to. Mother kept going on about what were we to do and how you weren’t any help hiding in your room. I didn’t think it was fair, so I might have let slip about your great adventure.’
‘I found one of your letters. I think it’s a grand idea, Effie. You could meet a rich nobleman and he could fall in love with you and give you jewels and a great house and no one deserves it more than you, Effie. You’re quite pretty, you know, for a sister. Maybe you’d even be able to buy me the wooden soldier set Pa had promised me for my birthday.’
‘Oh, Joe! You had no business …’
I heard our creaky stairs moan under the approaching weight of my mother, resplendent in her heavy widow’s weeds.
Mother arrived at my door and paused, dark and looming, on the threshold to make an impression. Mother retains the hereditary ability to make her presence felt despite being a mere whisker over four foot-ten.
‘Euphemia, I will not countenance such disgrace.’
At her tone my brother edged farther under my bed.
‘We need to eat, Mother.’
‘Euphemia! A young girl knows nothing of such things.’
‘Mother, we all get hungry. Especially Little Joe.’
Mother hesitated. Little Joe helpfully popped his angelic, curly topped features out from under the bed. Mother heaved a great sigh and folded herself down onto the mattress like some giant, despairing black velvet fan.
‘It’s not as if I will be using my real name,’ I offered. ‘And you do have to leave the vicarage. I can help with the rent as well as Joe’s schooling.’
Joe pulled a face at me.
‘We have to leave here in two weeks.’ Mother turned on her heel, calling for Joe to come practise his Latin, and left without a backward glance. She knew as well as I how desperate our situation was becoming.
A week later no letter had arrived. My mother’s face closed in upon itself and Little Joe, try as he might, could not conjure up antics to make her smile. Instead she threw herself into the business of packing. Finally, she began to make enquiries no lady should ever have to make – concerning cottages for rent. I, in my turn, made my decision and wrote the letter that would seal my future.
It was early one spring morning when Mother and I met in the hallway, each of us with our own serious news. As usual Mother went first.
‘I have found a cottage, Euphemia. It will not be what we are used to, but it is small and neat with a yard for chickens and space for two pigs and a goat. I believe goat’s milk to be most nutritious. I have taken it on a three-month term and we will take possession next Tuesday. I have made enquiries in the village and have already gained four students for the pianoforte. I expect the number to rise once I am established. Of course, I will have to continue Joe’s education myself, but I hope in time we will again be able to afford a tutor. Perhaps you would be so kind as to select from your father’s study the books you feel will be most suitable?’