I am Jennet Jaffrey, housekeeper to Lady Appleton of Leigh Abbey in Kent. Since Elizabeth Tudor came to the throne of England in 1558, my mistress and I have been involved in solving more murders than I wish to count. She and I both deserve to take our ease. In another year, when she has seen fifty summers come and go, she will be considered, by some, to be “an old body.”
I do not know who decides these things. Another bit of common knowledge claims that a youth is someone aged fourteen to twenty-five and middle age encompasses the ages twenty-five to forty-five. By this same reckoning, one is “aged” from forty-five to fifty six and “old age” lasts from one’s fifty-sixth name-day until death.
It is true neither of us is as young as we once were, or as nimble, but in spite of the fact that I am nearly as round as I am tall and suffer from shortness of breath, I am far from ready to meet my maker. Nonetheless, I have been well content to live in peace, my daily routine consisting of supervising the household, spending time with my husband and children and their children, and conversing with my mistress. No freshly dead bodies had interrupted us for fully six years when, in October of this year of our Lord fifteen hundred and eighty-three, Lady Appleton was once again called upon to help prove an acquaintance innocent of murder.
That stretch of time was not uneventful. Lady Appleton’s late husband’s illegitimate daughter, Rosamond, saw to that. She made a runaway marriage—to my son. It was a misalliance of staggering proportions and led, in short order, to an estrangement between Rosamond and Lady Appleton, who had raised her and loved her as if she were her own child. This rift between them had not yet been resolved when Godlina Walkenden arrived at Leigh Abbey. She told a garbled story about being accused of killing her brother-in-law. Lady Appleton sent her to bed with a soothing posset of her own making and turned, hoping for illumination, to the rough-looking lad Lina had hired to escort her from London into Kent.
He tried to ingratiate himself by addressing my mistress as Lady Susanna. She has always found this practice, although common, to be excessively annoying. Even the most ignorant local villager knows to call her Lady Appleton, not Lady Susanna. I do not understand why so many people have difficulty understanding the difference. As the widow of a knight, she is Lady Appleton. To be “Lady Susanna” she would have to have been born the daughter of an earl or a duke. Lady Appleton’s father, like her husband, was of the gentry—a knight but not a nobleman.
But I digress. We were both amazed that Lina, a young woman who had been in Lady Appleton’s care for a time when Rosamond was a girl, had managed the two-day ride from London without coming to harm. She had never shown herself to be resourceful before. Lady Appleton soon discovered that the man who brought her was bound for Dover and did not intend to return to England for some time. This was fortunate, for it meant that no one knew Lina was at Leigh Abbey. A charge of murder is not to be lightly dismissed.
It soon came out that it was Rosamond’s help Lina sought, not Lady Appleton’s at all. As Lina did not know where to find her old friend, she came to us. Once she’d heard Lina’s story, it did not take Lady Appleton long to decide that Rosamond was, indeed, in the best position to render assistance. I do not much care for my daughter-in-law, but I breathed a sigh of relief when Lady Appleton sent for her. I approve, too, of the content of the note Lady Appleton penned. Enigmatic but urgent, the most obvious interpretation will be that Lady Appleton is at death’s door. If that does not bring Mistress Rosamond Jaffrey to Leigh Abbey in all haste, I will know the reason why!
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About the author
Kathy Lynn Emerson’s Murder in the Merchant’s Hall is the second “Mistress Jaffrey Mystery” featuring Rosamond Jaffrey, Jennet’s much despised daughter-in-law, as an amateur sleuth and part-time intelligence gatherer. Kathy won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for The Blessing Witch. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn Dunnett and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries, starting with Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, as Kathy. The Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries are a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and are set in Elizabethan England. Kathy’s website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com