Read A Jane Austen Encounter Online

Authors: Donna Fletcher Crow

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Mystery, #British mystery, #Suspense

A Jane Austen Encounter

BOOK: A Jane Austen Encounter
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PRAISE FOR DONNA FLETCHER CROW

The Elizabeth and Richard Mysteries

“I’ve always been a fan of the traditional cozy murder mystery such as Agatha Christie wrote, or Dorothy L. Sayers, or Margery Allingham—the sort of story portrayed on A & E or PBS Mystery Theatre. So I was excited to discover a modern-day voice that has captured that fast-paced and snappy dialogue that you would find in a Tommy & Tuppence whodunit. That voice is Donna Fletcher Crow, award-winning novelist.”

—Christine Lindsay, Twilight of the British Raj Series

“A charming page-turner that will keep readers on edge to the very end.”

—Kathi Macias,
People of the Book

“Entrancing moments and plenty of suspense. Crow provides plenty of suspects in her twisty murder plot, and the killer’s identity remains in doubt until the very end. Crow’s descriptions are delightful.”

—Susan Fleet, Frank Renzi Mysteries

“An enjoyable read that will activate your ‘little gray cells’.”

—Janet Benrey, The Royal Tunbridge Wells Mysteries

“Excellent, lighthearted, easy reading.”

—Dolores Gordon-Smith, The Jack Haldean Mysteries

“Looking forward to more in this series.”

—DeAnna Julie Dodson, The Drew Farthering Mysteries

“A delight!”

—A J Hawke, Cedar Ridge Chronicles

“Delightfully English.”

—Sheila Deeth,
Divide by Zero

“An enjoyable read, with just enough plotting to keep the action going and the reader just a bit off guard. For a few hours, one plunges into another world, and an enjoyable and believable one it is.”

—William Shepard, Robbie Cutler Diplomatic Series

“Highly recommended for those who enjoy the game of mystery solving.”

—Glenda Bixler

“Because of Donna’s great knowledge and experience with England and Englishmen and travel in the UK, her story flourishes and almost dances on the page.”

—Mary Ann Robinson

“Extremely well done and my evening of reading was very well spent.”

—Clark Crouch,
Rustic Ruminations

“This book will keep your brain active as you follow the complex plot and interesting characters.”

—Hannah Alexander, The Healing Touch Series

“Engages the reader with a lively dialogue between the two protagonists in a complex dance of relationships.”

—Gwyneth Bledsoe,
Death Before Breakfast

ALSO BY DONNA FLETCHER CROW

The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries:

The Shadow of Reality
, Elizabeth and Richard at a Dorothy L Sayers mystery week high in the Rocky Mountains

A Midsummer Eve’s Nightmare
, Elizabeth and Richard honeymoon at a Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon

Watch for:

The Flaming of the Torch
, Elizabeth and Richard explore letters from the beloved romantic novelist Elswyth Thane

The Monastery Murders

A Very Private Grave

A Darkly Hidden Truth

An Unholy Communion

A Muffled Tolling,
coming soon

The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime Mysteries

A Most Inconvenient Death

Grave Matters

To Dust You Shall Return

A Tincture of Murder

The Daughters of Courage Family Saga

Kathryn, Days of Struggle and Triumph

Elizabeth, Days of Loss and Hope

Stephanie, Days of Turmoil and Victory

Virtuous Heart Inspirational Romance

All Things New

Roses in Autumn

Arthurian Epic

Glastonbury:
A Novel of the Holy Grail

To Rosamund Bayes

With appreciation for her gracious hospitality

guiding me through Jane Austen country

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

THANK YOU ALSO TO the real-life Arthur Langton, my longtime reader and encourager, and to Stav, Nilay, Jack, and Sahil from the SET school in Ashland, MA, for their enthusiastic support for this project; to Greg Ellis for his tour of Godmersham Park; and to Carole Stokes for her careful reading.

Jane at Prayer

We thank Thee with all our hearts for every gracious dispensation,

for all the blessings that have attended our lives,

for every hour of safety, health and peace,

of domestic comfort and innocent enjoyment.

We feel that we have been blessed far beyond any thing that we have deserved;

and though we cannot but pray for a continuance of all these mercies,

we acknowledge our unworthiness of them

and implore Thee to pardon the presumption of our desires.

Incline us, oh God! To think humbly of ourselves,

to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct,

to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness,

and to judge all they say and do with that charity which

we would desire from them ourselves.

For Thine is the kingdom

the power

and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Amen.

CHARACTERS

Dr. Elizabeth Spenser
, Head of English Department, Emeritus, Rocky Mountain College

Dr. Richard Spenser
, Professor of English Literature, Rocky Mountain College

Dr. Muriel Greystone
, lecturer, St. Fridewise’s College, Oxford

Geraldine Hammersley
, postgraduate student and assistant to Dr. Greystone

Arthur Langton
, writer and researcher

Claire Cholmley
, Director, Jane Austen Centre

Robert Sheldrake
, Assistant Director

Paul Exeter
, publisher, Albion Press

Beth Collins
, crime and education reporter,
The
Bath Chronicle

Brian Woodhouse
, freelancer

Rosemary Seaton
, librarian, Chawton House

Frances Whipple
, Canterbury bookseller

Walter James
, estate manager, Godmersham Park

Stav
,
Nilay
,
Jack
, and
Sahil
, choristers

Chapter 1

“AH, BATH!” ELIZABETH SIGHED deeply and ran her fingers through her cap of mostly still-black hair. “Twenty years! Can you believe it took us so long to get here? Where did the time go?”

Richard’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at her across the teacups, then held up one finger in a wait-a-minute gesture and pulled his calculator out of his pocket. After a moment of keypunching, he said, “I make it 10,000 lectures and 8,000 students between the two of us. That’s approximate, of course.” He started to snap his calculator shut. “No, wait, I forgot summer school.”

“Richard!” Elizabeth grabbed his hand to halt his calculations. “Stop! The question was rhetorical. And you make it sound even worse than I thought. One thing’s clear, though—we’ve certainly earned this sabbatical.”

“Is everything all right?” The soft English voice of their period-costumed waitress in a white mob cap interrupted Elizabeth’s reminiscence. She looked at the floral china tier tray in the middle of their table. The scones were gone, but the tray still held an assortment of finger sandwiches and tiny cakes.

“Everything is perfect.” Elizabeth smiled and gazed around the Regency Tea Room above the Jane Austen Centre. “Well, perhaps we might have another pot of tea,” she amended.

“And how many of those lectures were on the sublime Jane, would you say, my love?” She turned back to her companion.

Richard started to reach for his calculator again, but Elizabeth stopped him. “No, no. I was joking. You can’t reduce Jane to simple numbers. Anyone would think you were a math professor instead of the most popular English literature lecturer Rocky Mountain College has ever had.”

“Who had the good sense to marry his head of department.” Richard raised his teacup to her. “Still, between the two of us, what with my class on the English novel and your Austen seminar, we can hope to have produced our share of Janeites.”

Elizabeth looked at the pale-blue walls surrounding the roomful of tiny round tables where people sat sipping cups of tea and spreading scones with jam and clotted cream. She smiled at the portrait of Mr. Darcy just beyond Richard’s head. “And for all those years, we’ve dreamed of this trip.” She took a sip of her milky tea and leaned back in her chair. “I can’t believe we’re actually here.”

Richard bit into a salmon sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “Twenty years. Any regrets?”

Elizabeth sat forward so sharply she almost sloshed her tea. “Oh, my dear. Not a one.” Then she paused. She had spoken quickly. And from the heart. And yet . . . “Not anymore. Truly.”

She hid her contemplation under the activity of refilling her teacup from the fresh pot their waitress provided. Her words were true. There had been pain, but no regrets. Even the bad times were good because they had made both of them who they were today.

For the first years of their marriage, there had been the grief of not having a child, once repeated losses made it clear that it was not to be. That had been a sharp pain—fear, even, for Elizabeth. Knowing that Richard’s first wife and child had died in childbirth made her want so desperately to make all that up to him. And then she hadn’t been able to, and she was so afraid he would be disappointed. As was she.

And Richard? There had been that student who had set her cap at him. Richard had resisted, but the fact that he could be tempted had left scars. Scars that made them both stronger and wiser.

She gazed at the planes of his strong cheekbones, now softened a bit by time, and his still-rich brown hair, slightly less thick. But the thing that hadn’t changed at all was the burning intelligence behind his grey-blue eyes. Or the way looking into them could make her heart leap.

Still, was Richard truly happy? He had never given the slightest indication that it bothered him that she was the head of the English department while he remained a professor. He never seemed to be the least bothered by the fact that his scholarly articles on Dante and some rather obscure English poets got less attention than her publications on more popular topics. When she was honored as Outstanding Graduate by her California alma mater a few years ago, no one offered more fervent congratulations than Richard. And never once did he indicate feeling neglected at not receiving similar kudos from his university in New England.

Not often enough did she say “Thank you” for this truly good man. Their eyes met across the table. Did she read doubt in his?

* * *

RICHARD RETURNED ELIZABETH’S GAZE. After all these years, he still felt a jolt of surprise at times that this dynamic woman was his wife. He had fallen head over heels in love with her at their first interview when he had struggled so to answer her academic questions instead of blurting out an invitation for her to have dinner with him.

And then, that first year working together and his repeated proposals of marriage—always turned down with such gentle humor that he kept up the courage to ask again. And finally, that cold, wet night at a mountaintop resort and the unveiling of an audaciously wily murderer when she said, “Yes!”

But had she been right? He was a rather dull fellow, he knew—given to prosing on about some abstract subject, always one to play it safe, never to splash out and take chances. Would he have risen higher in his career if he had been more adventurous? Would Elizabeth be happier?

But as the years rolled on at their dizzying speed with their lives so full of students and friends and colleagues and family times as they played aunt and uncle to Elizabeth’s sister Tori’s brood, he had come more and more to value their quiet times together. And suddenly here they were—celebrating their twentieth anniversary with the sabbatical they had always dreamed of, touring all the sites where Jane Austen had lived.

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