George cleared his throat as the bus pulled away from the Book Nook. “Good morning and welcome to Author Tales & Trails, the newest offering from Cotswolds Tours.” He motioned to the dark-haired man sitting beside me. “I know this area like the back of my hand, but until I read Dave’s book, I had no idea how many authors had visited here. I’d say we have a rich literary history.”
He held up a copy of Barrie & Friends. “As part of today’s tour, you’ll all receive copies of the book, and I have it on good authority that the author will sign them for you. Do you recognize the image on the cover?”
Behind me, Peter chuckled. “Most of us do, mate, but then we’re locals. It’s the cricket pavilion that J.M. Barrie donated to the village of Stanway. We still use it today. Is that one of our stops?”
Dave stood and took the mic from George. “Perfect segue, Peter. Yes, we’ll visit the pavilion as well as the Broadway field where the Allahakbarries played several matches. Who would have imagined that so many authors were mad for cricket—not necessarily any good at it—but mad for it?
“George has outdone himself with the itinerary. We’ll tour Stanway House where J. M. Barrie summered in the 1920s up until 1932, and we’ll see the corner bedroom where he suffered his bouts of insomnia. Rumor has it that he tried mightily to keep his author friends awake with him—A.A. Milne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and P.G. Wodehouse, to mention only a few. And as a special treat today, we’ll visit Sunshine Cottage.”
I turned in my seat to smile at Belle who sat next to her son Peter. When Dave handed her the mic, she beamed. “That’s right. George tried to convince me my cottage should be a regular part of the tour, but I’ll not have tourists wandering my garden and traipsing through the house. Only this special group will get to see the cottage that Uncle Jim gave my mother, the place I’ve called home all my life.”
“And the grave where little Tinker is buried, right Mum?” Wendy asked.
“Yes, love.” She gave Dave a questioning look. “Shall I explain that now?”
“It’s quite a story, Belle, but we’ll save it for when we get there. Now, I’ll hand the reins back to George to give us the history of Stanway House, our first stop.”
As Dave and George conferred, I glanced at the passengers on today’s inaugural tour. There were the usual suspects from the village. Ellie, who was hosting the launch party tonight at Astonbury Manor, sat across the aisle with Beatrix, the owner of the Book Nook. Peter’s twin, Wendy, sat behind her mother and brother. The twins resembled each other in their blond coloring, but Peter towered over his petite sister.
Seated next to her, Toby gave me a thumbs up. His teashop on the High Street was hosting a light lunch for our group after the tour. He’d left Jill, his barista and decorator, in charge. I couldn’t wait to see what she’d done with the shop for this special occasion. In addition to keeping the outdoor planters going, she was forever coming up with clever indoor displays, and I wondered whether there would be a book theme today.
Except for Lucy, who was photographing today’s tour, the remaining guests were from Harris House, the firm publishing Dave’s book. I’d met Claire Harris, his editor, on one of our trips to London, but had only been introduced to the others as we waited to board the bus. Claire shared a seat with Simon Bowen, the PR manager who had organized Dave’s book signing schedule and overseen the creation of the promotional materials.
The others were scattered around the bus and seated on their own. Edith Harris, the CEO of the family-owned business, appeared to be deep in thought as she stared out the window. Her son Michael clicked away on his phone several rows behind her, and further back sat her daughter, Vanessa, studying her reflection in a small mirror and applying lipstick. People-watching could be so entertaining.
Lucy, standing near the back with her camera, caught my eye and tilted her head toward Vanessa who was now fiddling with her hair. I knew when she rolled her eyes that we were probably thinking the same thing, “Vanity, thy name is woman,” or something to that effect. Funny, that thought made me reach self-consciously to straighten my red beret.
Other than Claire and Simon who were fully engaged in George’s presentation, the other members of Harris House seemed oblivious to the details about the history of Stanway House, a Jacobean manor house that had been lived in by the same family since the 16th century.
A view of the Stanway Fountain, the tallest in Britain, greeted us as he explained that Stanway House, thought to date to 715, was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey until 1533 when Oliver Cromwell suggested the abbey lease the land to the Tracy family. His descendants had lived in it ever since, and it was now the home of the 13th Earl of Weymyss.