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The Ullswater Undertaking


With thanks to Pat who almost single-handedly saw me through the horrors of 2020


Title Page



Author’s Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

About the Author

By Rebecca Tope


Author’s Note

The villages and towns in this story are real but the individual houses and the saleroom in Keswick are invented. I do not entirely vouch for the accuracy of the bus schedules.

Chapter One

Four in the morning in the middle of April was not at all a bad time to be awake, Simmy was discovering. At the age of eighteen days, little Robin was adamant that he had to be fed at this very hour and his mother had no wish to disappoint him. The hours when he was asleep felt like wasted time to her, in the first flush of euphoric disbelief at his very existence. The birth had been ridiculously quick and easy, reaching the hospital in Barrow with barely ten minutes to spare, before sliding him out with scarcely a yelp. ‘Classic second labour,’ said the midwife knowingly. Simmy had flinched at this reminder, sorry that these would be the first words the new baby was to hear.

A boy! A living, breathing, flourishing boy, weighing nine pounds and apparently pleased to find himself in the world. Christopher, his father, had been almost as incapable as Simmy was of believing he was real. ‘Well, the Hendersons are good at boys,’ he said. Two more ghosts joined that of Simmy’s first baby – the new child would have no Henderson grandparents.

It took them all day to select the baby’s name, and then it seemed destined and obvious and permanent. Not only a subtle homage to the Winnie-the-Pooh books, but other agreeable associations. ‘A robin’s a lovely little bird,’ said Simmy.

‘Not to mention Robin Goodfellow,’ said Simmy’s father, when the decision was conveyed to him. ‘That should ensure that he keeps you on your toes. I believe he was actually a hobgoblin.’

‘Thanks, Dad,’ laughed Simmy.

‘Basically it’s just a really nice name,’ said the new father. ‘And we do owe my friend Robin several favours. He worked his socks off trying to find us somewhere to live. He’ll think we’ve named our son after him.’

‘“Our son”,’ Simmy repeated with a soppy smile, quashing the flicker of regret at having the man for ever connected to the baby. She’d forgotten all about Mr Robin Stirling, the estate agent.

Now Christopher was asleep, Simmy was settled into the cosy nursing chair her father had bought her and Robin was placidly suckling. Saturday would be under way before long, and Chris would have to spend a long day auctioning off 750 lots at his workplace in Keswick. The auction house had survived its moment of notoriety the previous year when it sold a piece of Tudor embroidery for a headline-making sum, and was hurtling from one success to another, with income from commissions rocketing up. People from all over the world were spending incredible sums on quality antiques and random collections of memorabilia from house clearances – a situation, Christopher insisted, that would only get bigger and better in the coming years.

Even if the Chinese economy floundered, there were Americans, Japanese, Indians and even newly affluent Africans eager to buy goods that had originated from their countries. They wanted them back and were willing to pay whatever it took.

Outside it was windy. The building was not yet quite weatherproof in some parts, having been built as a large stone barn some two hundred years previously. There had been a very hasty conversion undergone over the winter months, creating an upper storey, staircase and fully fitted kitchen and bathroom. Other rooms were still a work in progress, with walls unplastered and floors uncovered.

Robin the elder, friend of Christopher, had valiantly handled the sale of Simmy’s Troutbeck cottage, selling it for more than the original asking price, two weeks before Christmas. It had been on the market a mere ten days. ‘Of course, he’ll get a good share of the commission,’ Simmy reminded Christopher when he showed signs of going overboard with his gratitude. Try as she might, she wasn’t entirely able to like the man. Giving her baby his name had been an accident, on that first day. She’d been thinking almost entirely about cheerful little birds. And Robin Stirling had not after all found them a place to live. The barn had been – incredibly – just given to them by a woman in a rush to escape the area and all it meant to her. As a result they had more money than Simmy had ever thought possible, just sitting in a pathetically low interest bank account.

Dawn was breaking, pink-tinged clouds racing across the fells, driven by the wind. Outside was the tiny settlement of Hartsop, a few miles south of Patterdale, itself another short distance from Ullswater and Glenridding. Simmy had never before seen it in spring, and the experience was intoxicating. She was working up a routine of bundling the baby into a sling and walking a mile or two along a rough track that ran alongside the beck to the southern tip of the lake. The first such walk had been on Robin’s eighth day, and Simmy had managed almost a mile, feeling light-headed with responsibility for the little life tied on her front, as well as exhilaration at this new phase of her life. She had repeated the walk three more times since then. Christopher worried that she would slip and fall, with Robin altering her centre of gravity. Before they’d moved here he had repeatedly insisted they get a dog. Now, with all this walking, it made even more sense. ‘A golden retriever,’ he begged. ‘Or an Irish setter.’

‘I can’t cope with a dog just yet,’ she always prevaricated. ‘Maybe in the summer.’

The walking was growing more important

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