August, 1582. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, has ordered Ursula to keep an eye on her new neighbour, Giles Frost, who is rumoured to be spying for King Philip of Spain. Arriving at Knoll House on the pretext of teaching his two daughters embroidery, Ursula’s secret mission is to feed false information to Frost to pass on to the Spanish.
Walsingham has assured Ursula that she’ll be in no danger. But events take a decidedly sinister turn when a body is found in the woods near Ursula’s home, a stained glass window is smashed and a bridal dowry is stolen.
What secrets are contained within the Knoll House … and is Ursula being lured into a lethal trap?
So far our night’s adventure had been easy, but this was not. We did have light, but there were still misleading shadows. Furthermore, not only was the width of the stairs narrow but they had narrow treads as well, and in these restricted circumstances the chest seemed to grow in size and bulkiness, tilting wilfully and slipping a little because my fingers were sweating. I had thought that Dale would have had sweaty fingers, but I seemed no better. We descended gingerly one step at a time, with a certain amount of whispered acrimony.
‘It’s leaning to the left, straighten it up . . . My left, madam, please!’
‘I can’t! My thumb’s caught against the wall . . . Ow!’
‘Don’t make such a noise! Hoist it up a bit . . .’
‘It won’t . . . Yes, got it! Now it’s steady . . . Oh, God, where’s the next step down . . .?’
‘Don’t lurch! I’m being thrown off balance.’
‘I’m not lurching on purpose! Brockley . . .?’
‘What is it? Why have you gone rigid?’
‘I’m sure I heard something!’ I whispered. ‘Up the stairs, behind us.’
For a few breathless moments we stood absolutely still, but there was no sound beyond a creak as a gust of wind swept round the house. And then, distant now because we were almost at the first turn, there came a faint snore and after that a scuttle of rodents’ feet.
‘That’s what you heard, rats and snores. Here’s the turn. Put your end down, madam, and move the lantern.’
‘There’s no point in addressing me as madam while you’re giving the orders!’
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