The Shadows of Rutherford House
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Darkness lies at the heart of this family…
Christie is still coming to terms with the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her mother, over twenty years ago, leaving her unable to move on. Through her work as a psychiatric nurse, she becomes drawn to a troubled patient, Lillian, similarly haunted by the loss of her own mother.
As she tries to help Lillian leave the hospital and return to her stately childhood home, Christie finds herself fascinated by the mysterious Rutherford-Percy clan. Why is Lillian so terrified of Rutherford House? Why is she so reluctant to embrace her aristocratic legacy?
The more Christie learns about the family and their dark, ancestral past, the deeper the secrets seem to run - until she finds a clue that could help uncover what happened to her own mother. Desperate for answers, Christie puts her job, her family and even her very life on the line. But how much of the truth does she really want to know?
Praise for CE Rose:
‘What an emotional, twisty, rollercoaster of a novel! It kept me guessing all the way through.’ Alice Hunter, author of The Serial Killer’s Wife
‘This book drew me in… I loved it. Totally would recommend this to friends. Amazing.’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I loved it. Every time I thought I had worked out where the author was going, another twist would be thrown in.’ Reader Review
‘A novel that gradually creeps under your skin… suffocatingly claustrophobic with an ‘oh my goodness’ finale!’ Carla Kovach, author of The Next Girl
‘You’re taken through the many twists, turns and secrets that Ramsay Hall has hidden in its walls. I would highly recommend this novel.’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Loved how the secrets started to unfold…With one final unexpected revelation at the end, this left me open mouthed.’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Loved this one!… Lots of twists and turns along the way. Definitely one I recommend.’ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: November 10, 2022
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The Shadows of Rutherford House
THE SHADOWS OF RUTHERFORD HOUSE by CE Rose (out 10 November 2022)
It’s heavily raining tonight, the wind whipping the windows behind the closed shutters. As ever, the midnight darkness is inky black, but that makes no odds to me. I know every inch, nook and cranny of this old manor like the back of my hand; even with my eyes closed, I could find each remnant of its former glory in seconds, the oil paintings depicting the haughty Percy line, the exquisitely shaped standard lamps, the Romanesque pillars and busts, the ornate marble hearths, brass grates and antique fire tools.
It wouldn’t be appropriate to be seen wandering Rutherford House as though I owned it, so I like this quiet time to explore the ancient corridors and chambers, to take in the aromas, the textures and vibrations, and tonight is no exception. I trace my fingers along the walls and feel the nap of velvet wallpaper, ridges of stucco trim and knots in fine hardwood. The panelling hasn’t been polished for years, and yet I know each room’s distinctive, waxy smell. I know which floorboards creak, which chairs have broken springs, which handsome tables have woodworm, the crystals missing from the showy chandeliers, the locks and latches which no longer work.
Remembering a spring ball I once watched from the wings, I dance across the marbled floor of the domed hallway. The worn carpet of the sweeping staircase is rough beneath my toes, yet it still has the elegance, the grandeur of the past, especially when I pause to listen to the rock ’n’ roll echoing from the dance floor below. Humming at the memory, I sashay up the steps, and when I reach the open landing, I stop again to new noises which pierce the silence. Babies, of course, the joyful bleats and shuffles of all the newborns brought into the world under this very roof. I brush by the balustrade and make my way through the shadows towards the warmth and the sound, but as ever, a hand slips into mine, insubstantial but undoubtedly there. And though I long to turn back the clock and wipe out my one and only guilt, history can’t be changed, so I pull away and cover my ears to block out the inevitable.
Yet I still hear it. A thud and the crack of broken bones.
I had no intention of going into service like my mother, Maggie Shaw. All that fawning and servility, the bowing and scraping I’d watched from a distance. Not that she would see it that way. As housekeeper, she liked to think she was a cut above the other staff, a friend of the family, almost.
I was left with my gran, and she wouldn’t half laugh when Mother deigned to visit us in the village with her ‘airs and graces’.
‘The worst type of fool is one who fools themselves, Maggie. Mark my words, if the going got tough, the Percys wouldn’t give you the dirt beneath their finger- nails,’ she’d say.
As it happened, the going had got tough. Like many country manors during the Second World War, Rutherford House had been requisitioned by the government as a maternity home for evacuated pregnant women. The exquisite furniture was stored in the east wing, the paintings and paraphernalia removed, the velvet-lined drawing room and library boarded up, and provision made for a dormitory of thirty in the west wing. My mother astonished Gran by not only embracing her new role of midwife-cum-nanny, but growing a ‘bun’ of her own, namely me, Millicent Shaw. She never did disclose the identity of the father, but Gran had her own sucked-in- cheek theories.
‘With a house full of women and only a couple of men on leave, it wasn’t Greek to work out,’ she’d say. Whatever that meant.
I didn’t have the honour of being born at Rutherford in 1943. It seems Mother hid the pregnancy beneath her stern smile and layers of white aprons, then eventually pushed me out in her childhood Scawsby bedroom with a stick for the pain and Gran’s ‘told you so’ eyes. Gran agreed to house and feed me but said if anyone asked ‘There’d be no lies’, especially as my grandad had died many years before in the 1926 Thorne Colliery shaft accident. She didn’t think it fair for folk to believe she had a fella on the side when it was actually ‘Pure as pure flaming Maggie’. But nobody did ask. I was one of those quiet and studious children no one noticed, save for Gran, and my invisibility continued at school. Unless the alpha kids were bored and needed someone to pick on, of course, and what better reason than a face full of freckles and the colour of my hair.
Rutherford House was – and indeed still is – the seat of the Rutherford-Percy family. Back in the day it was a splendid, bustling Palladian-style manor with a hefty gaggle of employees. The female staff ranged from a variety of maids to a cook, a head nurse, a governess and a nanny, not to mention the dependable, prudent, sensible and honest housekeeper, who was then a fiery woman in her eighties. The male line-up included a butler, a valet, a groom, a coachman, a gardener, a gamekeeper and an estate steward. The numbers inevitably dwindled as a result of conscription during the war, but after it ended and the evacuees finally left, the staff pyramid slowly crumbled due to ‘finances’. Apparently the ‘weak and witless’ Henry Percy had left matters of money entirely in the hands of his steward, who’d managed to leak or steal or imbibe a huge chunk of the family fortune. Thank- fully, on Henry’s early death at the age of fifty-three, his widow Honora was a little more savvy. She dismissed the ‘hangers on’ and rewarded her loyal staff with the honour of promotion rather than an increased salary. As a consequence, Cook became ‘Chief Cook’, and my mother was upgraded to ‘Mrs’ Shaw, housekeeper. In return for the rather magnificent hunting lodge, Watkins was given the role of gamekeeper, groom and gardener and any other ‘male’ role the poor man was allotted, which included managing the sixty-acre estate.
Around this point my mother called upon me to perform my daughterly duties. I didn’t know the ins and outs of it – indeed I had no interest in the Percy family at all – but apparently the son and heir, Theo, had found a wife. The fiancée was of good stock – with money presumably – so Honora decreed that it wouldn’t do for her to start married life at Rutherford without a lady’s maid. According to the ‘housekeeper’, I was the perfect candidate: I’d turned sixteen, Gran was frail and the cottage tenancy would go with her when she died; I didn’t have any suitors on the horizon and, needless to say, I was guaranteed by her to be a cheap employee.
I’d always been a clever girl and had hoped to stay in education to take the Higher School Certificate, so the thought of tending to the whims of a spoilt, posh princess-type, like my mother had before me, was frankly abhorrent. I tried to rail against it as much as was possible when Maggie’s mind was set, but even Gran was all for it.
‘I haven’t much time left, love. Seems you prefer books to boys, so how else will you get a roof over your head? Do it for me, love. When I’m not here to fret about you, you can do as you please.’ She peered at me with milky eyes. ‘And as for learning, I’m told Rutherford’s library is the best in all the land, let alone South Yorkshire, so it wouldn’t be all bad...’
So, in 1959, I duly packed a small case and veritably stomped across the long driveway that cleaved the walled parkland of my new residence. I’d never visited before, but I was determined not to gush or have my head turned like my mother. Yet as Rutherford House came into sight, I couldn’t help but stop and stare in awe. Surrounded by immaculate lawns and flanked by its two wings, the white elevations and handsome windows wouldn’t have been out of place in ancient Rome. And far from Gran’s description of it being a ‘trophy home’ built with tasteless wealth, it looked graceful, understated and classical. But I soon reset my jaw, made my way around the back to the servants’ entrance, pushed open the heavy door to the scullery, and entered the warm, sweet-smelling kitchen.
Cook glanced over her shoulder. ‘You must be the girl from the village,’ she said. She looked me up and down. ‘Mrs Shaw runs a tight ship here and doesn’t put up with any silliness. Let’s hope you’re up to the task.’
As it happened, Gran outlived her daughter and held onto her tenancy until she was ninety-three, but ultimately that didn’t matter one jot. Between general dull chores, I spent the first weeks at Rutherford stealthily exploring every nook and cranny of the house – the domed Venetian-style hallway and elegant parlours, the lofty, well-stocked library, stately rooms and chambers, their opulent furnishings, gilt-framed oil paintings and crystal chandeliers. Then, when the housekeeper was distracted by her projects and plans to ensure everything was ‘shipshape’ for the new Mrs Percy, I’d escape outside. I explored the stable block and gardener’s bothy, the walled and flower gardens, the orchards, the meadows and woods beyond, and gradually, very gradually, my hostility thawed.
After I’d had a month of waking at dawn in a fusty attic room and dreading the prospect of a mistress and a life of subservience, Theo and his new bride returned from their honeymoon. Though only a handful of staff, we duly lined up by the steps of the twin perrons and watched Theo’s convertible approach. Grinning and waving at his mother, he propelled his new BMW around the circular driveway several times. But of course, we had no interest in the foppish heir to the throne; our eyes were on his princess. Apparently unperturbed by the centrifugal force of her new husband’s ridiculous driving, she smoothed back her blonde hair, opened the door and slipped out her long legs. Then, greeting each servant with a graceful, gloved hand and a stunning smile, she asked who we were.
When it came to my turn, I was almost holding my breath, yet I could still smell her delicate scent. ‘Millicent. Or Milly,’ I managed to mutter. ‘Lady’s maid.’
‘Milly it is. What a lovely name.’
My emotions didn’t take long to adjust this time. In truth, I was instantly smitten.
‘Morning, Lillian. How’s tricks?’
Her arms folded, Lillian doesn’t reply. She’s still in bed and picking at what’s left of her nails. I ignore her stubborn silence, open the curtains and peer at the misty February morning outside.
‘The sun’s trying for a smile. We could venture out for a walk to the village if you fancy? Buy some sneaky ciggies?’
It’s a dance we have played over the few weeks I have worked at the Devonshire. We connect, and we chat, and we smile like good friends, then I break for a holiday, the weekend or change shifts, and she retreats to her room, refusing to come out or cooperate with any of my colleagues.
‘Madam has been playing up and refusing to join in for meals,’ Sunia commented the moment I arrived this morning. ‘Her grandma came yesterday and brought the usual goodies, but that’s pretty much all she’s eaten.’
Sunia finds Lillian draining, and I really don’t blame her. Nursing staff are the core of the caring profession, and central to their role is the development of effective relationships with the individuals they support. Yet it isn’t always that easy in the mental health sector. Sure, we start the day by doing nurse-type things, such as talking to them to see how they’re doing, checking their medication and filling reams of paperwork. But close observation, where patients need to be kept within sight, or even at an arm’s reach at all times, doesn’t make for an equal partnership. We don’t like to term it ‘suicide watch’, but that’s what it is.
I didn’t work here when Lillian was first sectioned, but I don’t believe she is a suicide risk any more – if, indeed, she ever was. After boarding school from the ages of ten to eighteen, her sixteen-hour days on the investment bank floor, then her six months with us, I think it’s more a case of being so institutionalised that she’s afraid to leave here, that she’ll grasp at any loophole or grounds to persuade us she should stay. Any reasons other than the actual truth, I suspect. Which is why she intrigues me so much.
Perhaps a new face has helped, but it seems I have managed to ‘click’ with Lillian where others have failed, to slowly open the clamped shell and peek inside. But she’s still intensely private. Her granny travels from Doncaster to visit every Sunday, and she’s a mystery too. Though clearly well into her seventies, she sports a black Mary Quant bob that surely is dyed. Petite, slim and yet somehow sturdy, she’s the polar opposite of her fair, willowy granddaughter. My attempts to engage with the woman have been wholly unsuccessful, but when I’ve hovered outside Lillian’s door, her clipped, authoritative tone has softened, and occasionally my patient’s laughter has echoed out.
The prospect of cigarettes usually animates Lillian, but I’ve been off for a week, visiting my dad, who decided to ‘retire’ to his childhood Scottish village at the ripe old age of fifty-five. Though I’m thirty-one, his leaving – or perhaps his wanting to leave Yorkshire and me – has hit me far harder than I’d thought. Is it single child syndrome, like Lillian? Perhaps, but over the years, my dad and I have been through a lot.
‘I guess it’s a final closure thing,’ he explained when he made his surprise decision. ‘I think a clean start some- where else will help.’
I now sit in Lillian’s armchair and take the next step of our dance. Sharing personal information with a patient is not condoned – indeed it can be dangerous with some mental health conditions. However, I take the view that self-disclosure can have a beneficial effect on therapeutic alliance and treatment outcomes. Besides, patient or otherwise, I’m always careful with what I’m willing to share.
‘So, my hot Saturday night date I told you about...’ I begin.
I sense the tension ease from Lillian’s shoulders.
‘In two words – a disaster.’ I pull out my mobile. ‘Want to see profile pic versus real-life mug?’
She finally looks at me, wide-eyed. ‘You’re joking! You took a photo of him?’
‘On the QT, of course. Come and look.’
She pads over and quietly perches on the desk chair. ‘They’re not exactly Cecil Beaton standards, admittedly,’ I say, showing them to her. ‘But I was checking my phone for messages, as you do, and quickly took a couple.’
‘Sure,’ she replies vaguely.
If Lillian owns a mobile phone, she doesn’t have it here, and I still haven’t learned whether she’s ever had a significant other. From her records, I know that her mother died shortly before she was bundled off to boarding school, that she was a high-flyer, attending university in London, then joining an investment bank under a graduate scheme and staying. I’m also aware that she was a loner who worked all hours and had bouts of severe anxiety but was finally floored by her father’s early death.
‘So what do you think of the hairy beau?’ I ask her. ‘Is he your type?’
Two spots of pink colour her pale cheeks. ‘Not really. For as long as I can remember, I had a crush on someone, and no one else seemed to measure up.’
I try for nonchalance at this surprising reveal. ‘Oh yeah?’
‘We were in the same class at primary school, but he pretty much ignored me there.’
Ah, so a male. I chuckle. ‘As boys do when anyone else is watching...’
‘But he was mad about horses.’ She faintly smiles. ‘So that was my leverage. Ollie.’
I’m not sure if ‘Ollie’ is the boy or the horse, but she clearly went riding. Maybe even had her own pony. More new information. ‘Do you still ride?’ I ask. ‘Well, did you ride until you joined us here?’
Lillian shakes her head, so I try another tack. There’s a photograph album in her bedside table, which she hasn’t yet shared with me. I gesture to the pic of my date again. ‘Your guy doesn’t have a yeard, I take it?’
‘Growing out your beard for an entire year without touching it? Even trimming, grooming, combing it.’ I snort. ‘At least that’s what it looked like on Saturday night.’
She rubs the chair arm. ‘Not that I know of. And at ten, a beard is unlikely...’
‘That’s true. So you haven’t seen him since then?’
‘Only from a distance. I was sent away to St Hilary’s, so...’
‘Ah, of course. What about when you came home in the holidays? Didn’t you meet up then?’
‘That’s a shame. Any particular reason why not?’
She turns to the frost-covered view from the window, and for moments I don’t think she’ll reply.
‘Something horrible had happened, and he wanted to talk about it,’ she says eventually. As though batting the memory away, she sharply shakes her head. ‘But I didn’t.’
I attend Lillian’s session with her new psychiatrist, Doctor Finnegan. Her lilting Irish accent belies her old-school, no-nonsense approach.
‘It’s time for you to stand on your own two feet, Lillian,’ she says. ‘Your mental health has improved, your Section 3 has ended, and you don’t need us any more. I understand this has been your home and safety net, and it won’t be easy, but you’re an exceptionally smart, resourceful young woman.’
She peers at me over her half-moon spectacles. ‘Did we have any Section 17 leave?’
I glance at Lillian and give her a reassuring smile. Despite now being at the Devonshire voluntarily, she has refused all offers to break free from the unit, even for a weekend.
‘Not yet,’ I say.
‘That’s where we’ll start, then.’ The doctor removes her glasses and addresses her patient. ‘Leave of absence is accepted as an important part of your treatment plan. It promotes recovery and helps us assess suitability for discharge.’ She rifles through Lillian’s file. ‘You have Granny in Doncaster, I believe?’
As still as an effigy, Lillian stares at the scars on her arm and doesn’t reply. She hasn’t self-harmed since she’s been in my care, but her notes say past episodes have coincided with the expiry of her Section 2 and Section 3 Mental Health Act orders. Clearly this was a woman who wanted to stay.
‘And she’d be happy to have you for a few days?’ Dr Finnegan rustles her papers some more. ‘At your own childhood home, it appears, so that’s nice. Isn’t it?’ She gazes at her truculent patient, then eventually sighs. ‘Of course, you should be fully involved in the decision but in my clinical view—’
The scrape of Lillian’s chair interrupts her. ‘How very civilised. I had no say about coming here in the first place, but now you want to throw me out, I’ll be consulted, will I?’ She lifts her chin. ‘Well, I’ll politely decline, thank you.’
When the door clicks to, Doctor Finnegan wafts me away. ‘If you could encourage her to...’
I stand and nod. ‘Of course.’
Rather than immediately go to my patient, I return to the staff room and allow her a few minutes to gather her thoughts. To assemble my own too. Sure, I’ve witnessed Lillian’s sulky stubbornness before, but this is the first time I’ve seen her eloquent anger, and it feels like a breakthrough somehow. If ‘Granny’ is to be involved in any visits, she’ll have to be consulted, but only if Lillian consents. From her white-faced refusal just now, I know I’ll have my work cut out.
Curious about her resoluteness, I flick through her records. Why is a highly intelligent thirty-three-year-old professional woman so opposed to staying with a grandma she apparently likes? When I take her a coffee, I decide for a more direct, albeit humorous, approach.
‘So, Doncaster,’ I say, blowing on my mug. ‘I’ve never been, but I believe it was voted the worst town in Britain or the like.’
‘So I’ve read.’ Though her expression is deadpan, I detect a twitch around her mouth. ‘It’s the birthplace of Thomas Crapper, the bloke who invented the flushing toilet.’
‘Does your grandma live in a smelly pre-Crapper hovel with no sanitation, then?’
Lillian snorts but doesn’t answer.
‘Ah,’ I continue. ‘I feel I’m getting to the bottom of your reluctance to visit.’ When she makes no comment, I try another tack. ‘As it happens, I still live in my childhood home.’
As ever, she’s intrigued with me as much as I am her. ‘How come?’
I don’t say that me and my dad stayed there in case Mum ever decided to come back. ‘Well, I’m sure that you’ve gathered how rubbish I am at men and relation- ships. I tried living with a couple of guys in my twenties, but ultimately I preferred my dad as a flatmate.’
A shadow passes through Lillian’s eyes and she stands. Berating myself for my insensitivity, I stare at her narrow back, but to my surprise, she steps to her drawer and pulls out her photo book.
She sits cross-legged on the bed. ‘What’s it like?’ she asks me. ‘The house you grew up in?’
I picture my pretty stone-built home. ‘A terrace half an hour away from here,’ I reply, not really giving it the credit it deserves.
She flips open her album and hands it to me. ‘This is mine.’
I gawk for several beats. Set in a manicured lawn, and something between a mini manor and a very large cottage, the beautiful old house is a far cry from the Doncaster hovel I described.
‘Wow. Gorgeous,’ I say. ‘It’s just lovely.’
‘I know. It was once a huntsman’s lodge.’
Goosebumps spreading, I peer more closely. Is that the face of a woman in an upstairs window? But when I blink, she’s gone, just like my mum had always gone before I could catch her, vanished in a crowd, at the playground or in Sainsbury’s.
I take a breath to blow away the usual stab of grief, but Lillian turns the page.
‘And this is the other.’
‘Yup. Growing up, I never knew which one I’d wake up in.’
I gaze, confused. The image is of a three-storey stately house flanked by handsome buildings on either side. It’s clearly a smallish country estate, the sort of pile the landed gentry used to inhabit.
Wondering whether she’s pulling my leg, I turn to look at her. Her expression is odd, but she clearly isn’t joking. ‘This is your home?’
She shrugs. ‘It will be, one day. Both will, I suppose.’
I go back to the photograph. No one, surely, lives in such a huge dwelling these days? The maintenance, the bills, the staff. ‘So has it...’ I begin.
Lillian seems to read my mind. ‘Nope, it isn’t separated into flats or become a museum or a nursing home. My grandmother lives there.’
Hoping I’m not gaping, I simply stare. It’s hard to equate the strident little woman who visits on a Sunday with the mistress of all this. And why, when there’s clearly so much wealth, has Lillian been housed in the Devon- shire, a basic NHS mental health unit on the outskirts of Sheffield, rather than in a private psychiatric facility?
‘There’s no money,’ she says, answering my thoughts again. ‘The two wings were boarded up years ago.’
‘Well, it still looks absolutely glorious. Just those steps to the entrance and the sweeping driveway...’
I inhale to ask my question, but Lillian beats me to it. ‘I’m not going back, Christie.’ She takes a shuddery breath. ‘I won’t go back because it’s... because it’s haunted.’ Her eyes luminous, she looks at me fixedly. ‘It’s haunted by my dead mother.’
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