The Mistletoe Mystery by Caroline Dunford by Caroline Dunford - Read Online

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The Mistletoe Mystery - Caroline Dunford

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The Mistletoe Mystery

I

‘I will not go home for Christmas!’ Mr Bertram’s tone was petulant to the extent that I would not have been surprised if he had stamped his foot and made his bottom lip tremble.

‘With respect, sir, all I said was I considered Christmas a time for family.’

Mr Bertram ignored my calm interjection and continued to stride around the breakfast room. White Orchards, Mr Bertram’s newly-built and newly-bought estate, boasted most ample accommodations. The breakfast room had extensive views out onto the Fens on one side and on the other the famous White Orchard. I noticed the floor, a blonde oak, had been brought to perfection by the administrations of the maid, Lee, and I resolved to remember to praise her. Though the Fens here were beautiful, and the sunsets most amazing, our staff was necessarily drawn from a small pool of either local people or servants willing to be outcast from the rounds of society most large houses enjoyed.

‘Euphemia, are you listening to me?’

My head jerked up from admiring Lee’s handiwork. ‘Really, sir,’ I said still using my calmest tone, ‘now I am your housekeeper you should address me as Mrs St John.’

 Bertram’s eyes blazed.

 ‘Well, Miss St John, at least,’ I conceded.

‘Stop being so damnably calm!’ shouted Mr Bertram. ‘There is no point in having an argument if one party refuses to participate!’

I smiled inwardly. ‘Indeed, sir, it is not my place to argue with you.’

‘Euphemia, if you don’t stop being so wretchedly annoying I will throw aside all social protocol and shake you heartily by the shoulders!’

‘Wouldn’t by the neck be more satisfying?’ I asked, in the full knowledge that Mr Bertram would never lay a finger upon me.

My comment drew from my master an unwilling crack of laughter, and he sat down once more to his breakfast.

‘I fear the eggs, kippers, and toast will no longer be at their best,’ I said. ‘Shall I ask the cook to make more?’

Mr Bertram wiped his hand across his not unhandsome face and regarded me ruefully. ‘No, Euphemia, you will not. I do not wish to acquire the reputation among my servants of making more work for them due to my bad temper.’

‘The staff are more than aware that you have had much to deal with the – er – issues in the house. I do believe they find you a kind and generous master under difficult circumstances.’

‘And now you upbraid me for rushing in to purchase this house without checking how well it had been built!’

I sighed inwardly. It seemed nothing I said this morning would be taken well. I decided to take one last gamble.

‘Sir, if you are set against returning to the family seat of Stapleford Hall, perhaps we should have some festivities here.’ My intention had been to mention a small party for our staff, who were already agitating to know if they would be required over the festive period and hopeful that as a bachelor, Mr Bertram, would be shutting up the house for a time. Unfortunately, he took me all awry. His eyes lit up and he cried, ‘Excellent idea, Euphemia! We shall have a grand house party here! It shall be a combination of housewarming and Christmas Tide celebration.’

My heart, normally a most reliable organ, turned to lead and sunk to the bottom of my well-polished boots. And so it was