Gossip in the Garden
A heartwarming cozy mystery series about losing everything, taking a chance, and starting again.
After suffering a personal tragedy Abby Sullivan buys a huge old seaside mansion she has never even seen, packs up her life in San Francisco, and moves to Holiday Bay Maine, where she is adopted, quite against her will, by a huge Maine Coon Cat named Rufus, a drifter with her own tragic past named Georgia, and a giant dog with an inferiority complex named Ramos. What Abby thought she needed was alone time to heal. What she ended up with was, an inn she never knew she wanted, a cat she couldn't seem to convince to leave, and a new family she'd never be able to live without.
In book 10 in the series, Abby works with Lonnie and Lacy to uncover secrets long buried in the mansion on the bluff Lonnie is refurbishing, Georgia meets a mysterious woman with a secret of her own, and a new group of guests check into the inn each with a story of their own.
Release date: June 16, 2020
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 167
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Gossip in the Garden
The house on the bluff had enchanted my mind and my imagination the first time I’d seen it. Built as a summer home for a rich shipping magnate named Oswald “Ozzie” Chadwick in eighteen eighty-four, it had been passed down through the generations until Baron Chadwick inherited it from his grandfather, Conway Chadwick, earlier this year. Prior to inheriting the house, Baron hadn’t visited since he was a child. His father, Richard, died from complications associated with pneumonia when Baron was eight, so his mother, Sarah, who wanted nothing to do with the Chadwicks or the house on the bay, raised him.
I supposed if not for circumstances beyond his control, Baron might have had the chance to visit while his grandfather was at the property, but Conway Chadwick was even less enamored with the house than Sarah. There are those who say the reason Conway never visited the property had more to do with his wife’s infidelity than anything else, but there are some who believe the real reason Conway stopped coming around had everything to do with her death.
The official cause of Olivia’s death was ruled an accident after she fell from the cliff behind the home, but there were family members, including Conway and Richard, who were certain she was pushed. They were equally certain that the man who pushed her was the cousin by marriage she’d been suspected of having an affair with, a man I knew only as Will.
Whatever the cause, the trauma associated with the fall resulted in a long period of vacancy during which time the structure had been subjected to the strong wind and bright sun that could be found along this particular stretch of Maine coastline. After Baron inherited the property, he decided to renovate the old gal in an attempt to return her to her prior glory, which is where my good friend, Lonnie Parker, came in.
Baron hired Lonnie to oversee every step of the renovation, which provided me with a unique opportunity to tag along and explore the dozens and dozens of rooms contained within the large structure. The house, in a word, was amazing. It was a single story with a footprint of more than twenty thousand square feet. It was laid out like a spider with a maze of hallways haphazardly connecting wings and rooms. When you walked into the main entrance, there were hallways to both the left and the right, as well as a shorter hallway immediately in front of you. The hallway directly in front of you when you entered the home led to a huge living area, from which additional hallways spidered off toward the kitchen and formal dining area. The hallways to the left and right led to bedrooms and bathrooms, the library, an east and west parlor, an atrium, the pool room, gym, and other rooms too numerous to mention.
Somewhere along the way during the months that I’d spent wandering through rooms that had been lived in by six generations of Chadwicks, I’d decided to fictionalize the house and the family by writing a mystery set in a town similar to ours. It would feature a family similar to the Chadwicks, living in a house similar to the mansion on the bluff. Of course, names, dates, and specific details would be changed to allow for an element of fiction, but the house that had occupied my dreams seemed to demand a footnote in time, and I, after much consideration, planned to give it the storyline it deserved.
My task for today was to begin to gather notes about the actual Chadwick house as well as the Chadwick family. After having snooped around over the past few months, I already knew quite a bit about the house. I knew a few things about the family based on my own research to this point, as well as the journals I’d read which had been written by family members from the past, but before I began to fictionalize the home and the family who would live in it, I wanted to know more about the real Chadwick clan. I planned to begin my education with a trip to the local historical society.
The Holiday Bay Museum and Historical Society was located on a small hill overlooking the harbor at the edge of town. When I first arrived at the gray stone building, I found a sign in the window letting visitors know that the museum was open to the public Thursday through Sunday, nine to five. Since today was Tuesday, I was about to turn around and head back to the car, when I noticed a tall man with a mop of white hair standing in front of one of the display cases inside. I assumed he was either cleaning or rearranging the items inside the case since he was picking each piece up, looking at it closely, and then either returning it to the case or setting it to the side. I knocked on the window and waved. He looked up, waved back, and then headed in my direction.
“Can I help you?” he asked, opening the door just enough so we could communicate but not stepping aside to let me in.
“My name is Abby Sullivan. I’m an author living in Holiday Bay, and I’m researching the Chadwick house down the coast near Bar Harbor. I stopped by today in the hope of chatting with someone who might know something about the home and the family who lived there, but I see you’re closed.”
“Yes. We’re closed every Monday through Wednesday.” He glanced behind him. “I’m here alone, but I happen to know quite a bit about the family. If you want to come in, we can talk while I pack up the pieces that are going to be sent to storage to make room for a new shipment we’re expecting next week.”
“Really?” I grinned. “That would be awesome.”
He stepped to the side, allowed me to enter, relocked the door, and then pulled the blinds. “I wouldn’t want others to see you inside and decide they should be allowed to join us,” he said.
“Of course. I understand completely.”
“My name is Patrick, by the way.”
“As I said, Abby.” I held out my hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, and I really appreciate this.”
“No problem. It was boring being here by myself today. So how exactly can I help you?”
I settled onto one of the stools that had been placed around a tall table near where the man was working. He was a nice-looking man, tall and thin, wearing a blue shirt that matched his eyes almost perfectly. It was hard to tell how old he was, but based on his white hair and slightly wrinkled skin, I’d have to say at least seventy, maybe even older. He had a way of moving that seemed deliberate to the point of methodical, as he listened to me and continued with his task.
“It all started a few months back,” I began. “My friend, Lonnie Parker, has been hired to renovate the Chadwick house now that Baron Chadwick has inherited it from his grandfather, Conway, and being that I’m good friends with both Lonnie and his wife, Lacy, they’ve allowed me to tag along when they’re at the house working. I’m not sure if you’ve had the opportunity to visit the property, but it really is amazing. So many rooms laid out in a sprawling, haphazard fashion. It certainly has captured my imagination.”
“So, you plan to write about the house,” he said, picking up an emerald necklace and placing it into a blue duffle bag he’d set nearby.
I nodded. “Sort of. I plan to write a fictional story set in a location based on the house. I won’t use actual names or specific details that will identify the property in my story as the Chadwick house, but I do think it will help my process if I know as much about the family and the property as I can before I get started.”
“I see.” He held up a silver knife with colorful gems on its handle, which he slid out of a sheath. He angled it to the light and then turning it first to the left and then to the right, he narrowed his gaze and took a closer look. “Would you say these gems are real?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not an expert on gems, but I imagine they might be given the fact that the knife and sheath are displayed in that locking case. If the gems weren’t real, the knife and sheath would probably be on that table with the other weaponry.”
He chuckled. “I suppose you make a good point.”
“It’s a gorgeous piece. Where did it come from?”
Patrick slid a finger along the blade as if testing for sharpness. “This area of the museum is dedicated to items recovered from the Santa Anna. The Santa Anna was a Spanish ship that sank off the coast of Maine in the seventeen hundreds.”
“If the knife came from that ship, then I imagine the gems are real.”
He took out a jewelers’ eyepiece, which he’d apparently brought with him and took a closer look before putting the knife in the sheath and placing both in a duffle bag he had sitting on the counter near where he was working. “I would say that your logic is sound, but in this case, the gems are fakes. Really good fakes, but fakes just the same. If I had to guess, the emeralds and rubies started off real, but at some point, someone replaced them with glass.” He picked up the next item, looked at it, and then set it in the duffle bag alongside the other items he’d gathered. “So, about the Chadwick clan. What would you like to know?”
“I suppose I’d like to start with the family. I know Ozzie Chadwick built the house as a summer home for his family in eighteen eighty-four, so I guess a good place to start is to talk about Ozzie, his life, and his family.”
Patrick paused for a moment and then spoke. “Ozzie Chadwick was born William Oswald Chadwick, but as far as I know, he dropped the William at an early age and just went by Ozzie. He was the oldest son born to a shipping magnate living and working in London. When Ozzie was twenty-five, he married a woman of Spanish descent named Ariella. Ozzie and Ariella moved to the States when Ozzie was around thirty in order to establish an American branch of Chadwick Shipping. They settled in Boston, where they raised three children: Santiago, Fernando, and Isabella.”
“I’m going to take notes on my phone. I hope that’s okay.”
“That’s fine. There is a lot of Chadwick family history to remember, but I’m fairly sure there’s a book in the library that will provide much of this information to you.”
“Thanks. I’ll check it out, but I appreciate the personal perspective.” I typed out the names Patrick had just rattled off in the notes app on my phone.
Patrick continued. “Santiago died at sea when a storm caught him and his crew by surprise. He was just twenty-five, and the voyage that turned out to be his last was also the first one he captained.”
“Oh, wow. That’s so sad.”
Patrick bobbed his head slightly. “Santiago had not yet married nor did he leave behind offspring, so it was Fernando, the second-born son, who inherited the family business, as well as the family’s home in Boston, and the Chadwick summer house in Maine.”
“Did Fernando work for Chadwick Shipping too?”
“He did, but as an accountant and not as a sea captain.”
“Was he married?”
Patrick nodded, as he locked the cabinet he’d been removing items from and moved to the next one. “Fernando married an Englishwoman named Emallia, who bore him three children: Oxford, Barrington, and Elizabeth. While all three children were left enough assets to make them wealthy adults, Oxford inherited Chadwick Shipping as well as the majority of the family estates, including the summer house here in Maine. Oxford married a woman named Helena, and they had three children: Conway, Caroline, and Cecilia.”
“Conway was Baron’s grandfather,” I said. “I know he recently passed, leaving the summer house to Baron, so his name has come up on occasion.”
Patrick closed the cabinet he’d been working on and moved to a row of glass cases at the back of the room. “That’s correct. You probably also know that Conway married a woman named Olivia, and they had two children: Richard and Catherine.”
I shifted slightly to turn toward the glass cases where Patrick was now working. “Actually, I didn’t realize Richard’s sister was named Catherine. I’ve read some of her journals. They are very entertaining, but at no point is her name mentioned, and Lonnie wasn’t sure what the sister’s name was. He said that Baron has never mentioned his aunt, and in fact, Lonnie didn’t even realize there was an aunt until I discovered the journals and went snooping.”
“Catherine’s story is tragic. She fell in love with a man she could never have when she was still a teenager, and despite her parent’s objection, she continued to love this unobtainable man well into adulthood.”
“Why was this man unobtainable?” I asked. “Was he married to someone else?”
“Married no, but he was a common laborer from a poor family who worked for Catherine’s father as a deckhand. Conway had been brought up in an upper-class environment and was very class conscious. He expected his children to find mates from within the upper class of Boston society, but it seems that Catherine met Sebastian while staying at her summer house, where he’d been assigned by Conway to tend the gardens for the summer. Despite his simple ancestry, it appears he made quite an impression on young Catherine, and while she resisted at first, they eventually fell in love.”
“It seems so unfair.”
“Perhaps, but that is the way it was in certain families back then. Based on what I’ve been able to find out, Catherine did try to do as her father wanted and find a suitable mate, but once Sebastian was on her radar, there was no turning back.”
“I understand that Conway might have preferred that Catherine marry a man within her social class, but surely he couldn’t force her to do anything she didn’t want to do.”
Patrick shrugged. “I suppose that is true to a point, but keep in mind that Conway was a rich and powerful man, and Sebastian was his employee. Conway eventually assigned Sebastian to a ship headed to England. Catherine hoped Sebastian would return when the journey was complete, but he never came back. Based on what I’ve read, poor Catherine waited and waited, but all she was left with were her memories of the man she would never replace.”
“So, the father sent Sebastian on a one-way trip.”
“That’s what I suspect. I have to believe that Conway was certain that once Sebastian was gone, Catherine would move on, but she never did. In fact, the story goes that after Sebastian left, Catherine sank into a deep depression that she was never able to work herself out of. I understand that Conway continued to care for his daughter well into her adult years, but he eventually decided to have her institutionalized. I imagine she’s dead by now. She’d be well into her eighties if she were still alive, although Conway lived to be a hundred and one, so I suppose it can be said that Catherine comes from a strong gene pool.”
My hand flew to my heart, which ached for this poor woman. To have loved so deeply only to lose that love due to strict societal mores seemed inhumane. “Why didn’t Conway bring Sebastian back when he realized how his departure had destroyed his child?”
“I don’t know. Based on what I know of the fellow, he was a hard man who ruled with an iron fist. From the time he was a young child, he’d been raised to believe that others would and should bend to his will. I suppose he simply couldn’t tolerate his daughter’s unwillingness to do as he dictated even after he realized that forcing the issue would be the end of her.”
I hated that this story had taken such a sad turn. The young girl whose words I’d read had been opinionated and saucy. She’d seemed to be energetic and full of life with a slightly twisted sense of humor. The fact that she ended up the way she had was hard to take.
“So, do we know when Sebastian was sent away?” I asked. “I’ve only read part of the journals, but in the ones I’ve read, Sebastian is mentioned but only in passing. I assume she fell in love with him after that point.”
“I don’t know exactly when Catherine fell in love with Sebastian, but I do know that Catherine was around sixteen when her mother died. After Olivia’s death, the children never returned to their summer house, where it appears they had a lot more freedom than they had at their home in Boston. Sebastian worked for Catherine’s father, so it’s possible she ran into him from time to time even after she went home, but if I had to guess, it was right here in Maine where she was free of her father’s watchful eye that she fell in love with the man that would never be hers.”
“What happened to Richard after Olivia died?” I found the subject of Catherine much too depressing to continue at this point, although knowing what I did, made me want to find the rest of her journals more than ever.
“Richard attended private school, where he was being educated to take over for his father. He married a woman named Sarah, and they had one son, Baron. As we’ve discussed, Richard died when Baron was eight. After Richard’s death, Sarah took Baron and moved to New York. Baron returned to Boston after college but didn’t take a job with his grandfather until many years later. I don’t know a lot about this youngest heir since he was out of the picture for most of his life, but from what I understand, Baron is married with children of his own.”
I nodded. “I do know that Baron’s wife is named Ainsley, and they have three grown children: Sophia, Harper, and Henry.” I finished adding the names to my list in my phone app. I wasn’t certain how much help it would be to have all the names, but giving names to these long-ago Chadwicks did help me to fill in a few of the blanks. I paused and looked at the man who appeared to be ending the task he’d set out to do given the full duffle bag he’d been putting objects into. “How is it that you can recite six generations of Chadwicks from memory?”
“I’m a historian and have written several volumes detailing the history of this area. I did an entire chapter on the Chadwick family a couple of decades ago, so I guess you could say I am a bit of an expert.” He closed the cabinet he’d been sorting through and zipped up his bag.
“Do you teach history?” I wondered.
“I did until I was forced to retire due to my age.”
“They forced you out? That seems wrong.”
His eyes flashed with anger. “It is wrong. I might not be able to climb Mount Everest any longer, but I can still stand in front of a group of students and give a lecture.”
I raised a brow. “You’ve climbed Everest?”
“Twice. When I was younger, and my body had fewer aches and pains. I realize I’m getting old, and I know I can’t do what I once could, but I’m still fully in charge of my mental faculties.”
Patrick seemed like a proud and intelligent man. It was sad that he’d been reduced to looking back on his life. “I can see that you’re still very much in control of your mental faculties. There is no way I would be able to remember all those names even if I had researched the family decades ago. Have you climbed other mountains?”
“I have. But mountain climbing isn’t my first love.”
“What is your first love?”
“Uncovering ancient ruins.”
“So, you’ve participated in archeological digs.”
He nodded. “Too many to mention. My favorites were those in Egypt, although there was one dig in Guatemala and another in Campeche, Mexico, that were quite interesting.”
I had to admit I was impressed. Very impressed. “That’s really amazing. I can imagine how fascinating it must be to participate in such a thing. And to work out there in the desert with only echoes from the past to keep you company.”
He smiled. “You really are a writer.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess echoes from the past is a flowery way to indicate memories amid silence, but it must be amazing to be out there in the middle of nowhere knowing that while ancient cultures used to live in the very location where you are standing, now all that is left are cactus and tumbleweeds and a few stone buildings.”
“It is amazing,” he agreed. “Although the digs I’ve helped out on have been handled by teams of archeologists and graduate students, so I was never really alone. But I will admit that standing under a night sky with no lights from the city to dull their brilliance is one of the most perfect experiences of my life.”
“It seems the experience would be somewhat surreal.”
“It is. But it’s also hot and dusty, and the work is back-breaking. Water is limited, there’s even less shade, and at times, the days can seem endless. It is definitely a young man’s game.”
“I suppose that’s true. I’ve been fascinated poking around in the Chadwick house. I suppose that might be a bit like going out on a dig. The house has all these rooms that seem to be connected, and yet they aren’t. And there is the mystery of the secret room.”
That seemed to have gotten his attention. “There appears to be a space on the blueprints behind the bookshelves in the library. It isn’t a space that appears to be accessible from within the house. At least we haven’t found access, although there has been speculation that a secret door or entrance might exist.”
“Have you tried to find this secret access point?” he asked.
“We have, but so far we’ve been unsuccessful. Lonnie is going to refurbish the bookshelves, and while most of what he has planned is cosmetic, there is one section that has water damage, and he’s actually going to need to remove the wood and replace it. Luckily, for my curiosity, the section he needs to replace is along the wall where we think the secret room might be located. Lacy and I have been working for weeks boxing up the thousands of books on those shelves so Lonnie can do his thing. We’re nearly done, so I have a feeling my curiosity will be assuaged shortly.”
“It does make sense that Ozzie would have built a secret room into his home. He was, after all, a sea captain and a lot of sea captains back then dealt in both legal and illegal goods.”
“So you think Ozzie might have used the house in Maine to store smuggled illegal goods?” I asked.
“It would make sense that he might have. The port in Boston is a busy place, but this part of the coast of Maine, especially back then, would allow a ship to anchor and offload goods without anyone noticing. If this is, in fact, the purpose of this secret room, I think you will find the access on the outside.”
“I looked around and didn’t see one.”
“I’m thinking the access would originate at the water and then tunnel up to the house. An underground passage of sorts.”
I paused to consider this. “I guess that would make sense. The area below the cliff is rocky. If there is an entrance to a cave type system, it probably wouldn’t be noticeable from the sea.”
“You may find the entrance to only be accessible at low tide to further camouflage its location. Are there stairs from the house down to the water?”
“There are. They’re old wooden stairs, in disrepair, so I’m not sure they’re accessible at this point, but it seems as if at one point in time, it was possible to get from the house down to the sea.”
“If I had to guess, the stairs lead to a point near the secret entrance. It would be interesting to poke around sometime and see how everything is laid out.”
I had to admit that Patrick’s theory made a lot of sense. “The mystery of the secret room has really captivated me. There is intrigue, of course, but there is also an element of romance. I’ll let you know what we find.”
“I’d appreciate that. When is the interior wall leading to the room due to come down?”
“Later this week; Thursday, I think. If there is a space behind the wall as we suspect, maybe we’ll be able to backtrack and find the entrance.”
Patrick moved onto the next display case, but he only looked and didn’t take anything. I wasn’t sure how he knew which items to remove and which to leave behind, but he did seem very discriminating as he worked.
“I know you must miss being able to go out on digs and chase your own adventures, but it’s nice that you’re able to volunteer here at the museum where you can talk about your work and help others with their investigations. Do you work here full-time?”
He shook his head. “No, not full-time. I have many interests, so I divide my time.” He paused and looked around. “I do enjoy my time here at the museum, and I’m always thrilled to have the chance to speak with others as interested in history as I am, and while I’m happy we’ve had this chance to chat, I’m done here and really need to go.”
“I understand. You’ve been very gracious.” I handed him my business card. “If you think of anything that might help me, will you call me?”
“I guess I can do that, but if you need additional information, do check out the books on local history in the library. They have a very good reference section, which includes the books I’ve written.”
“I’ll do that, and again, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me even though you were closed today. Maybe I’ll come back when you’re open.”
“Please do. You know,” he added. “I do have something that might interest you. A box filled with old letters. I don’t know for certain that any of the letters were written by or pertain to the Chadwick family, but I would be willing to lend them to you for a few days.”
“Really? That would be awesome.”
“They’re in my car. Follow me out, and I’ll get them for you.”
I got up and headed toward the door, then stopped and turned back. “Just one more question. You said that Catherine sank into a depression from which she never did recover after her father sent the man she loved away. It sounded as if you didn’t know what happened to Sebastian, but I’m curious. Do you know where I might find information relating to the man? It seems to me if he had been truly motivated, he would have found a way to return to his one true love.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know of a source where the man is referenced. Most assume that once he returned to England, he fell in love, married, and had children of his own. Others, however, think he tried to get back to Catherine but was unable to. I suppose at this point, we’ll never know.”
“No,” I said sadly, “I guess not.” I turned back toward the door. Patrick picked up the duffle bag he’d used to store the items he’d selected to take with him and walked me out. He opened his trunk, set the duffle bag inside, handed me the box with the letters, and then closed the trunk.
“Thank you again for letting me borrow these. I’ll take good care of them.”
“I’ve enjoyed speaking to you. Enjoy your research, and please do let me know how things work out with the secret room. I’ll be in touch later in the week.”
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