Candleshoe by Michael Innes, 1953.
I own the movie version of the book, which was originally named Christmas at Candleshoe (although it’s not about the holiday). It contains the text of the original story, but the picture on the front cover is from the movie. The Disney movie is very different from the original book. For one thing, the hero of the story is a boy (Jay), not a girl (Casey/Margaret), and unlike the movie version, the child’s identity is established for certain by the end of the book. The book has a happy ending, and so does the movie, but part of the movie’s point was that the idea of family isn’t dependent on blood relations alone, so it isn’t important whether Casey is really Margaret or not (although there are strong hints that she is). The book is a bit hard to follow at first because it jumps back and forth between different places and different sets of characters, although it all takes place during the course of a single day and night. Actually, I’m not sure this can really be called a children’s book, but I included it here because of the movie tie-in. Because of the difficulty level of the book, I’d really recommend it for older children or adults. Personally, I have to admit that I liked the movie better.
The story takes place in the mid-twentieth century, after WWII. There are two manor houses involved, Benison Court and Candleshoe. Benison Court, the newer of the two, is owned by the Spendloves, and Candleshoe, the older one, is owned by the elderly Miss Candleshoe. The two families are related, and neither one of them has as much money as they used to. The Spendloves take in some extra money by offering tours of Benison Court and showing people paintings and antiques owned by the family for generations. To raise some additional money, they decide to sell a couple of the paintings by Titian. To their surprise, the expert they call in to evaluate the paintings tells them that the paintings are forgeries.Archdeacon, who cares for the antiques and library at Benison, reminds the Spendloves that during the war, the paintings were sent to Candleshoe for safekeeping.
Meanwhile, a couple of American tourists, the wealthy Mrs. Feather and her son Grant, having seen Benison, stop by Candleshoe. Mrs. Feather is fascinated by the old place, in spite of its state of disrepair, and Mrs. Candleshoe invites them to have dinner there and spend the night. Mrs. Feather has an interest in purchasing Candleshoe for herself and fixing it up. She and her longtime friend, the retired chaplain, Armigel, know that there is not enough money for them to fix up Candleshoe, and they like the idea of traveling. This plan does not sit well with Jay, the orphaned son of Miss Candleshoe’s housekeeper, Mrs. Ray.
After Mrs. Ray died, Miss Candleshoe cared for Jay, and now, with Miss Candleshoe and Armigel showing signs of senility, Jay has been handling much of the practical running of Candleshoe. On this particular evening, Jay is worried about more than the possible sale of the property. He has been noticing strange people paying unusual attention to the house. He suspects, correctly, that they intend to break into the house that night, and he has assembled a small army of local children, armed with antique weapons, to defend the place. Grant, befriending Jay, admires the boy’s practical turn of mind but worries that they are not up to the task of facing up to the siege that is coming to this isolated country house. As the danger presses closer, the Spendloves, Archdeacon, and the art expert are heading toward Candleshoe in search of the missing paintings.
The answer to all of these problems may lie in the strangest feature of the house: the Christmas box, a stone monument in the gallery made by Gerard Christmas and dedicated to the memory of an ancestor of the Candleshoes, who may have been a pirate. According to the lore of Candleshoe, the box will open at a time when Candleshoe is in crisis and will save the day.