In the quiet English village of Rushton, in the county of Warwickshire, there is a small church, a local pub, a village green and, down an overgrown lane, a derelict mansion. This is part of the story of Tremaine Hall and the people who lived there.
In 1922, a rich businessman bought the estate of an old landed family, crumbling to ruin after the first World War. The long line of Tremaines ended when the only son of the house was killed at the Somme, and on the death of his widowed father, the estate had passed to a sheep-ranching second cousin in New Zealand. After three centuries, what was left of the once-considerable estate, now consisting of a graceful Jacobean mansion and small home farm, was put on the market.
Nathaniel Baxter was the son of a coal miner. He’d made his fortune during the war, turning his manufacturing concern to munitions early on and sticking both hands heavily into the black market. He’d always fancied to live on a big, old estate, and as soon as he saw the dignified house in its stately gardens, Tremaine Hall was as good as his. Of course he drove a hard bargain, pointing out that the buildings, grounds and adjacent farm were in poor condition and would require a fortune to restore. The cousin, half a world away on his sheep ranch, accepted the offer with a shrug, glad enough to get anything in such strapped times.
Baxter’s wife was a notoriously beautiful woman. She’d been an actress, very briefly and very badly, and he fell in love with her across the stage lights. He wasn’t a particularly attractive man, but had plenty of charisma as well as plenty of cash. They were married in 1922, shortly before he bought the Hall.
The roaring twenties were good to the Baxters. Elise Baxter entertained on a lavish scale, throwing Gatsbyesque weekend house parties costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, hosting the rich and famous and aristocratic. Baxter continued to make money hand over fist, somehow evading the ever-increasing taxes and always coming out on top in every deal. They had one child in 1925, a little girl, who spent all her time at the Hall with a nanny before being sent to boarding school.
In the spring of 1938, Baxter lost half his capital on a bad speculation. The Inland Revenue had finally begun a serious and ruthless investigation of his holdings, and Elise left him for a young American millionaire. Unable to see any other way out of his troubles, Baxter shot himself in the study of the house on April 27, 1938, leaving no note. His daughter, Sarah, was at school in Switzerland, being at that time thirteen years old. She remained in school until early 1939, when her mother was killed in a railway accident in New York. Sarah then returned to England to learn that at twenty-one she would inherit what remained of her parents’ estate, consisting of some fairly valuable jewelry and Tremaine Hall.
Sarah continued to live in the Hall through the Second World War and after, never marrying, growing vegetables and flowers to sell. In March of 1968, she disappeared. The lovely old house was left as it was, rooms still full of Sarah’s slowly rotting belongings, vines winding through broken windows, small animals nesting in once-elegant furniture, the gardens overgrown. No one knew what happened to her, no one had bothered to prove her death or track down any living relatives. To this day, Tremaine Hall remains abandoned, just outside the village of Rushton.
What happened to Sarah Baxter?
Adapted from the upcoming release An Empty House, book 10 in the Strangers on This Road series. Available for pre-order October 16 on Amazon Kindle.