To celebrate the start of another new series for C.S. Woolley and the release of the first book in that series, we are spending some time this festive season posting 12 short stories that she has penned that take place in her new book world.
The series is called the Mysteries of Stickleback Hollow and the first book is called A Thief in Stickleback Hollow. It is available in digital and paperback from a wide variety of retailers. We’ve put the links below the story so if you do enjoy it, consider taking a peak at the first book in the series.
1st Day of Christmas
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Partridge in a Pear Tree
Mr. Alexander Hunter crept silently through the woods that bordered the Grangeback Estate and the village of Stickleback Hollow. There was snow covering the ground and the lake that lay beyond the trees had frozen a few weeks ago. There was a fishing boat that was stuck in the ice, which showed no signs of thawing. Lee and Stanley Baker had gone out fishing during the night and fallen asleep in the boat. When the sun had risen, the two boys had screamed when they discovered that they were stranded in the ice.
Alex had heard the two boys and wandered into Stickleback to fetch their mother, Miss Baker, and Constable Arwen Evans. Constable Evans and Mr. Hunter had walked out onto the ice and carried the boys back to the shore, where Miss Baker dragged the boys home by their ears, giving them the greatest tongue lashing of their life.
The two boys hadn’t been back to the woods or the lake since then. During the winter months, the people of Stickleback Hollow didn’t venture into the forest, except on Christmas morning. There was a tradition in the village that called for everyone to wake up early on Christmas morning and walk through the trees on their way to the chapel that lay in the grounds of the Grangeback Estate. There was a church in the village but the Christmas service was held in the chapel and then everyone was invited to eat Christmas dinner at the Manor.
This tradition went back 400 years, since the Kneelingroach family had first taken possession of the Estate. Before the brigadier retired from the army and returned to England from India, it had been in the hands of his older brother, who had also upheld the tradition.
It was one of Alex’s favourite parts of Christmas, especially as he was responsible for bring the gift to the house this year. Every year, the village gave a gift to the Manor as a thank you for Christmas dinner. The table was always full of food that included geese that were reared on the Estate especially for the dinner. The gift was always something that the household could use, something that was useful, rather than simply decorative. Miss Baker had made gloves, hats and scarves for all the members of the household the year before as the gift from the village, and the year before that, the blacksmith, Mr. James Fletcher, had presented Brigadier Webb-Kneelingroach with new horseshoes for all the horses on the estate.
However, this year, Alex wanted to do something different. He was stalking through the trees an hour before the village of Stickleback Hollow would be stirring in search of the perfect present to take. He checked the traps that he had set in the forest and found that all but one was empty. But the trap that was full, that had exactly what he needed in it.
He stole back to the lodge that he lived in to prepare the gift and then took it up to the house and placed it in the corner of the dining room under a heavy cloth, so that no one would see it until the Christmas dinner began. Grangeback was full of the smell of food already. Cooky had been up all night preparing the feast for the next day. It was ready and placed in the serving dishes before she left for Church so that it stayed hot. The dining room was set the night before by Bosworth and Mrs. Bosworth. The table was covered with fine china, silver, crystal goblets, decanters of wine and space down the centre of the table for the serving dishes. The fireplace had a fire built in it that was ready to light when they came back from church.
Everything was ready, so Alex walked down to the village to be part of the procession to the church. The sound of snow crunching under foot was a welcome sound in the woods, it made them seem almost alive as the people of Stickleback Hollow filed into the chapel. The brigadier greeted everyone at the door and the Reverend Percy Butterfield held the service.
The hymns were sung, the lesson was read and the story of the birth of Jesus Christ was told. It was the same service that was held every year and once it was over, the people of Stickleback Hollow filed out of the chapel and walked towards Grangeback.
The fire was lit in the dining room, the wine was poured, the food was brought to the table and the happy sound of friends enjoying Christmas together echoed throughout the corridors of the Manor house. Once the pudding had been eaten, the table cleared and all the plates washed, everyone waited with baited breath to see what the gift to the household would be.
Alex stood and walked to the corner of the room. He stood next to the cloth that covered the gift and took a deep breath. In a single, smooth motion he pulled the cloth to the side to reveal a large gilded cage that had inside it a tree with a bird sat asleep on one of the branches.
“My dear boy, what is it?” the brigadier asked.
“George, this year the village of Stickleback Hollow is honoured to present you, and the household of Grangeback, with a partridge in a pear tree.” Alex smiled.
A Thief in Stickleback Hollow
When her parents die from fever, Lady Sarah Montgomery Baird Watson-Wentworth has to leave India, a land she was born and raised in, and travel to England for the first time.
Finding it almost impossible to adjust to London society, Sarah flees to the county of Cheshire and the country estate of Grangeback that borders the village of Stickleback Hollow.
A place filled with oddballs, eccentrics and more suspicious characters than you can shake a stick at, Sarah feels more at home in the sleepy little village than she ever did in the big city, however, even sleepy little villages have mysteries that must be solved.
A break-in at Grangeback, the assault on Bosworth the butler, the theft of Sarah’s jewellery and rifling through the possessions of her late father lead Sarah to believe that there is more to the crime than an interrupted burglary and that there is something more nefarious afoot.
The newly formed police force is still finding its feet, so Sarah must investigate on her own to find out what is going on in this new place she might call home.