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The Companion

The Companion

Did she or didn't she? An immersive gothic thriller

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 352+ 5-Star Reviews

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Did she, or didn't she?

In 1855 New Hampshire, Lucy Blunt faces the gallows for a double murder. Is she a murderer or a victim? Only Lucy knows the truth. 

As she awaits her fate, Lucy reflects on her journey from seeking employment and hope at the Burton mansion to the gruesome events that led to her downfall. In a household filled with secrets and forbidden desires, Lucy finds solace in the shadows, believing her past sins will remain concealed. But when her newfound status threatens the mistress's companion, loyalties shift, unleashing a storm of betrayal and suspicion.

With her execution imminent, Lucy's allies strive to overturn her sentence, yet doubts linger about the veracity of her tale, for Lucy has a reputation for bending the truth.

Click to Read the Synopsis

🟠 The Companion

Lucy Blunt faces a death sentence for murders she claims she didn't commit. As she awaits execution, Lucy reflects on her life, from her beginnings as a housemaid to her unexpected romance with the house mistress and her wrongful accusation. The novel explores themes of injustice, gender oppression, and forbidden love, with Lucy serving as both narrator and enigma. Blakemore skillfully portrays the complexity of human nature, leaving readers to question Lucy's truthfulness and their own judgments. Set against a backdrop of historical gothic atmosphere, "The Companion" captivates with its immersive prose and realistic characters, though the narrative's time shifts may require careful attention. Ultimately, this dark and haunting tale lingers in the mind long after the final page, earning it high praise and a recommendation for readers who appreciate complex and compelling storytelling.

🟠 Read Chapter One excerpt

New Hampshire State Prison

1855

Count the bodies.

One. Two.

Three if we count Mary Dawson.

Four if we count my Ned, who breathed and suckled three days and nights before succumbing to the ague.

All blamed on me.

It is cold here. The last of winter. Wednesday, I think. Matron has brought another blanket but not lit the stove. Fingers of cold claw my collar; the mist cuts my lungs. Knives of ice.

Mary Dawson died in winter. Maybe Mary should be blamed. She was found face down in a frozen brook, on her way home from the Burtons’ after finishing the laundry and washing up. The men chipped her out of the ice, carried her like a board on their shoulder, her overcoat and skirts frozen in the patterns of the water’s ripples and flows.

It was to be her last day at the great house. She had been promised to Thomas Rogers in Peterboro. He was a cooper, though that has no bearing on her unhappy death. I’ve heard she was of fine character. She gave her wages to her family and was deemed good-natured. People called her “sweet” and “helpful” and “cheerful.” Drop those words in a pot and stir and they might congeal into the word “thick.”

Cook called me rude when I said that, though she did not deny it.

Mary Dawson was nothing to me then but a story. She was dead and the Burtons required a maid.

It was deep winter. The snow banked against the trunks and limbs of bare trees. It cracked under my boots, clicked and rattled in my hair. It rested in the seams of brick on the great house before me. The oil lamps flanking the wide stone staircase hissed and fluttered. They lit nothing, their glow meek in the purpling afternoon light. The curtains were closed on the tall windows, and the only sign of life came orange and warm through the thin slits of fabric.

I was not meant to call there. I was meant for the back entrance. I weaved around the carriages waiting in the drive between the stable and the house. Steam lifted from the feed bags twined round the horses’ nostrils. I pressed into the shoulder and neck of a chestnut mare, thankful for the warmth, wondering if I would make the last steps.

The door to Josiah Burton’s kitchen was thick. I could not coax the glove from my frozen fingers, my knock a dull thump against the wood. There was a squeal of metal, a lock tumbled, a door opening. The fat hand of the woman holding the handle connected to a round shoulder. Her jowl swung in disapproval, and her skin was gray from winter, red from kitchen heat. Colorless eyes ticked. I could tell she didn’t like my features. Steam floated off her, as her stove-warmed body met the February air.

“Yes?”

My lips felt clumsy, heavy as lead. “Lucy Blunt, mum.”

“And?”

“I’ve come in place of Mary, mum.”

She said nothing. Her eyelids fluttered and then lowered, her lips moving as if sending a silent prayer.

“Mr. Beede hired me. This morning.”

“Did he?”

“I’ve got excellent references,” I lied. Who’s to know? I had letters in my pocket, letters of reference extolling my virtues. I had made sure to find three different types of paper, used three different pens and ink.

“Give them over.”

I took them from my satchel.

She did not read them. Just pocketed them in her apron instead.

“You’re old for a washer-up.”

“Twenty-two.”

“The mistress is particular.”

“So am I.” I felt the wind against my neck. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to shove my way in and throw myself directly against the stove. “I have strong hands. She won’t find anything wrong with my work.”

The air in the room waved with heat. It was so close—a step away.

“Please, mum.”

The woman’s sigh filled with pity, rumbly and moist. “Then get in the door before my fingers are frozen to it.”

I slid past her. The door was shut, a key lifted and pressed, the lock turned.

“Clean those pots,” she said. “The master’s having a party and you’d better know what you’re doing. I’ve got chicken coming out and potatoes to fry, and I need that pot for a stock. Water for cleaning’s on the left range near you. And I’ll need you to clean the serving platters and I mean with a gleam.”

“Where do I put my satchel, ma’am?”

“Give it here. And it’s not ma’am. Nor mum. Cook will do.” She tossed my bag into the low-ceiling pot room. “Have you lodging tonight?”

“Not yet.”

“You’ll sleep here, then.” She stared at me, as if assessing my worth. “If you’re good, you’ll stay on.”

There it was: the great cast-iron stove, all filled with food. Boiling, frying, baking. Sputtering and warm and lovely. Close by sat the pump and sink, and Lord, already too many pots. A thick pine table ran down the middle of the room. The white shelves along the inner wall were filled with plates and glasses, dainty and fine.

“What are you staring at?”

“Nothing, Cook.”

“Exactly, stupid. The serving trays are in the cabinet below the shelves. The towels are on the rungs. I need five oval servers set on the table—in a line so I can dish this all out.”

Then or never. I slung off my coat, threw it on a chair. Wiped the serving plates and lined them up. Watched Cook fill each with mound upon mound of chicken and leeks and mutton and rice and muffins. She was quicker than she should have been with the heft of her. Not even a second to sneak something in my pocket.

Behind me came a clatter on the stairs. Black polished boots first, then the man. He was thin with very long fingers that wrapped round the rail. Long legs like a heron’s. His vest was tufted and padded, but the effect only emphasized his spindliness. He stopped at the bottom, peering at me with faded gray eyes. “Ah. Miss Blunt. You are sent.”

It was Mr. Beede, the man who had hired me that morning at the intelligence office.

“It’s our new Mary,” he said to Cook.

“Where’s Jacob?” Cook’s voice echoed in the open stove as she pulled out the last of the roast.

The door at the top of the stairs swung wider. A boy barely in facial hair took the step above Mr. Beede. He wore black polished boots and white stockings and some silly blue frock like a toy soldier.

“Jacob!”

“Here here here, Cook.” He cut his eyes toward me. “Who are you?”

“This is the new washer-up. And there’s no time for this. Food upstairs. Now.”

The old man stepped down to the table. He set his hands on his hips, bent over a plate and sniffed. “Good.” He side-stepped to the next and the next, each with a bend and a sniff and a “Good.”

“No fish tonight?” he asked.

“It’s off.”

“Well, I suppose the Bostoners would look down on our river fish anyway.” He nodded to the boy. “Ready?”

“Yes, Mr. Beede.” Jacob grabbed a tray of leeks near me. “You’re not as pretty as Mary,” he whispered.

Mr. Beede ascended the stairs, holding the door for Jacob. A flurry of laughter and men’s voices tumbled down. “Adieu.” He clicked the latch shut behind him.

We stood in the sudden silence—Cook at the stove, me at the sink to continue my work.

“Go to it, girl.”

The night played the same for hours. Dishes cooked and platters taken, and sounds from above. Ale and brandy and wine replenished. All the while, I stood at the sink and scrubbed. Content for the pump in the kitchen and an ever-warm pot of water nearby. Big tin tub under the sink to empty the dirty water. I washed and dried and followed Cook’s pointed finger to the correct spots in the pot room where the things should hang.

I’m fast at learning. I refused to be sent away.

Through the window came the jingle of harnesses as the horses and sleigh transports were called back to service. Each time the door opened to the upstairs, the voices grew less until there was finally no sound at all.

“They don’t stay?”

“Thank God, no one stays,” Cook said. “I’d need three of myself and two of you, to boot.”

Jacob threw himself akimbo in a chair. “Jesus, Mary, and Creation. You should have seen them, Cook. Bet if one of them cuts himself, it’ll be brandy he bleeds.” He stared at the stove. “That’s a good smell.”

“There’s plenty for all. I’ve made a nice stew.”

The boy rubbed his face. He was as thin as Mr. Beede, but not sunken. A blond-thatched sapling growing every which way. He crossed a leg and removed a boot.

“Don’t take those off in here. You can offend the floors of your own room later. Take this plate to Mr. Friday and empty the dirty tub water. It’s practically overflowing and it’s hard enough to clean the floor.” Cook turned and stared. Empty sink and not a pot in sight. “It seems our new Mary has worked a house or two.” She handed Jacob a towel-covered pot.

He turned to the door and waited. “Key, missus.”

Cook reached for the ring of keys on her waistband, found the right one, and turned the lock. Closed and relocked the door after him. She dabbed a towel to her forehead to mop the sweat.

“The stew, missus.”

“What?”

I pointed to the pot and the froth that bubbled and threatened to spill out.

“The stew.” She picked up a ladle and stirred. Shifted the pot to a cooler place.

There came a knock on the door. Cook stared at it. She glared at the stew, her lower lip pushed out. Then she handed me the ladle and attended to the door—Jacob.

“Mr. Friday sends his thanks,” he said.

Plates, food, fuel. Four of us around the table. Cook in the seat nearest the stove, Jacob across from me, Mr. Beede at the other end. No one spoke; the only sound was the slide of metal forks against plates. I hadn’t eaten so well in days.

“Divine. To a divine stew, Mrs. Cook.” Mr. Beede rose from his chair and lifted his wine glass. “And to a startling good claret. Or what’s left of it.” He sipped as daintily as a child would sniff a flower then tilted his head. His eyes were watery, as if he were perpetually on the verge of tears. But I knew it most likely meant he was a habitual imbiber. The fine threads of red on his nose and cheeks confirmed it; my father’s looked the same. He took a pipe and bag of tobacco from his coat. “A bit of claret, Cook?”

“Don’t mind if I do, Mr. Beede.”

“And for our new Mary?”

“Lucy. I’m Lucy. I don’t take spirits.”

“Good of you not to,” he said. “Sinful thing.” He uncorked the bottle sitting hard by him and filled a small glass. “The master’s got the contract for the new timber.” Mr. Beede sighed and rubbed his nose. “They’re speaking of building a rail line to the mills.”

“Lord, no, they’re the worst sort of men.”

“Progress, Mrs. Cook. Business and progress hand-in-hand. The master knows his plan. The navvies would be temporary. And would stay in their own camps. You shouldn’t worry yourself over them. Just think, though, our little spot in the world grows. Harrowboro, New Hampshire—manufacturing capital of the world.”

Jacob glared at me, his elbows resting wide on the table. “Mary drowned.”

“Did she?” I swallowed and gave a slow nod. The hiring agent only stated the girl deceased. An “unfortunate passing.”

“God rest the girl. It’s Lucy’s turn now.” Cook lifted the spoon and bowl from in front of me and set them in the sink.

“Are there only the three of you, then? For this large a house?” I didn’t say how queer it was to find such a place in the middle of wilderness and villages and sheep. I couldn’t imagine Cook on her knees sweeping ash from a fireplace, though I could see her gathering and throwing out the piss and shit from the chamber pots. She had the arms for it. “Are there children?”

“None.” Mr. Beede lifted an eyebrow then let it rest again. Said nothing more, though plenty of thoughts traveled his forehead.

“Who does the maiding?”

Cook pressed against the table and slid the claret bottle closer. “That would be yourself. Jacob will help. And Rebecca dusts when the fancy takes her.”

“Rebecca?”

“The mistress’s companion.” Mr. Beede reached for the claret, tipping it to his glass, waiting for the last splash to land. “I suppose if one counts Rebecca above and John Friday in the stalls, there are five of us. Six with you.”

“But it’s such a big house. How in the world—”

“We know our ways.” Mr. Beede sucked in the last bit of wine. “How many does one need?”

Later, I lay on my pallet, a nub of candle casting light on the irons and coppers, my satchel tight between me and the wall. Oh! Not much to be watchful of, really. Nothing but an extra shift, an apron, a tortoiseshell comb. And my secret treasure, folded into a square of paper: a lock of hair white as the summer sun and smoother than silk. My baby’s. Ned. All I had left of him.

The house slumbered: master and mistress dreamt in one room. Down the hall past the larder, heavy snores. Could be Mr. Beede’s or Cook’s. A sleepy cry and then silence from Jacob’s. I snuffed the candle, curled under the blanket. I was to be the new maid in a new house with a new life. I’m good with lies. Lucky me.

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Meet the Author

Kim Taylor Blakemore writes historical novels that feature fierce, audacious, and often dangerous women. She writes about the thieves and servants, murderesses and mediums, grifters and frauds - the women with darker stories, tangled lies and hidden motives.

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