Tradition is the means by which the vitality of the past
enriches the life of the present. T. S. Eliot
Traditions are important, especially during the holidays. However we may celebrate, family traditions give us a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. When I was growing up, three Christmas traditions were central to my mother’s Danish-Norwegian family.
- Systekage, a sweet cardamom bread with raisins that no one else can ever make quite like Grandma Geraldson.
- Norwegian Selbu mittens, sent by our Norwegian aunts who made extra money by knitting for Husfliden, the handicraft stores found all over Norway
- Julehjerter, Danish woven heart baskets in red and white to hang on the Christmas tree.
Speaking of traditions, for the past several years, I’ve written a special short story, just for my newsletter subscribers. This year’s offering, Murder at Holly Lodge, is set in England in 1927 and features Chief Inspector Henry Blackstone of the Metropolitan Police. The Inspector and his wife, Margaret, have been invited to spend Christmas at Holly Lodge, a country house in Gloucestershire. Instead of merrymaking, the Inspector must solve a murder. The problem isn’t motive—the crime has rather too many motives for the Inspector’s liking. Instead, the challenge is a locked room, an invisible weapon, and a crime no one could possibly have committed. Here’s the first chapter:
MURDER AT HOLLY LODGE by Connie Berry
Christmas Eve 1927
A Road in Gloucestershire
Chief Inspector Henry Blackstone of the Metropolitan Police was a patient man, and he loved his wife. Which is why, on the day before Christmas, when he would rather have been sitting by the fire in his snug little house in Fulham, he was negotiating his Riley Saloon along a snowy country road in Gloucestershire.
“You’re a marvelous driver, Henry.” Margaret Blackstone flashed her husband a brilliant smile. They’d left home the previous afternoon and spent the night in an inn near High Wycombe, waking to several inches of fresh snow.
“Slow and steady, my dear,” he said. “Although if the snow keeps up, we may find ourselves stranded at Holly Lodge.
“Snowed in for Christmas?” She laughed. “Wouldn’t that be the most delicious thing in the whole world? Like a snow globe—caught in time. It’s a slippery thing, you know.”
“What’s a slippery thing?”
“Time, silly man. One moment you’re settling in for a dull Christmas at home and the next you’re galivanting off to a jolly house party in the country.”
“You’ll never guess what came in the mail today,” she’d said one evening in early November when he returned home from a long day at police headquarters. She’d taken his hat and coat and stood before him, her pretty face flushed with excitement. “The Woodleys of Holly Lodge have invited us to spend Christmas at their house in the country.”
“Sir Roger and Lady Caroline. You remember—we met them last summer at the seaside.”
“Oh, yes—that unpleasant chap with the outrageous mustache.”
Margaret fluttered her hand. “If you say so, my dear. But Lady Caroline is an absolute darling. Besides, it’s only two nights. So much better than sitting at home, don’t you think?”
“Much better,” Harry agreed while privately thinking that sitting at home with Margaret would be heaven. He headed for his study. “Just the four of us?”
“Oh, no, dear.” Margaret settled him in his leather chair and handed him the latest edition of The Daily Mail. “That’s the marvelous part. Lady Caroline’s invited a houseful. The Mainwarings will be there—you remember the vicar and his wife. We met them at the seaside as well. And Sir Roger’s nephew, Jack, with his wife and two children. Caroline says they don’t really get along, but as Jack Woodley is the heir, needs must. And, oh yes—she’s invited two single gentlemen from London, friends of Sir Roger. One is some sort of banker—from the City, anyway—and the other is a member of Sir Roger’s club. Apparently, he’s just returned from an expedition to the Amazon. I’m sure he’ll be positively bursting with thrilling stories.”
“Yes, I dare say he will be.”
The Riley’s front tyres juddered through the accumulating snow. Slowing his speed, Inspector Blackstone sighed inwardly. They’d met the Woodleys and the Mainwarings in August at the Queen’s hotel in Southend-on-Sea. Margaret had immediately taken to Lady Caroline, an exuberant woman in her early forties, and Emma Mainwaring, the plain-spoken wife of a country vicar. The trio had become fast friends, abandoning their husbands to tedious afternoons of cards and smoking. Inspector Blackstone remembered the vicar, James Mainwaring, as a rather ineffectual man who spoke mostly in platitudes. He remembered Sir Roger as a pompous bully, whose chief interest, besides terrifying the hotel staff, had been complaining about the shocking cost of everything these days.
A signpost emerged from the fog. “That’s our turning.” Margaret squinted at a letter in her hand. ‘Drive through Lower Climping,’ Caroline says, ‘then straight on for four miles. Holly Lodge will be first on the right, just past the tithe barn.’”
The Inspector maneuvered the automobile around the bend and reengaged the clutch.At least Margaret would be happy, and he would have no crimes to investigate.
In this, Chief Inspector Blackstone was quite wrong.
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Do you have holiday traditions from the past or have you begun new traditions yourself? The Miss Demeanors would love to hear about it! Comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.