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Authors: Philip Gooden

The Ely Testament

BOOK: The Ely Testament
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available from Severn House

THE ELY TESTAMENT

Philip Gooden

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
 

First world edition published 2011

in Great Britain and in the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2011 by Philip Gooden.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Gooden, Philip.

The Ely testament.

1. Ansell, Tom (Fictitious character) – Fiction.

2. Lawyers – England – Fiction. 3. Lawyers' spouses – Fiction. 4. Murder – Investigation – Fiction. 5. Ely

(England) – History – 19th century – Fiction. 6. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title

823.9'2-dc22

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-167-5 (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8103-8 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-403-5 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Summer, 1645

T
he morning was chill, with the grass and trees still wet from the overnight rain. Yet the first streaks of pink were just visible to the east. She could see them through the leaded window in the gable. Her breath clouded on the little panes and she wiped them clean with the sleeve of her nightshirt. The thick, uneven glass squeaked. She looked back at the warmth of the bed which she'd just left. Her younger sister slept on, unaware that something was wrong.

Anne, standing at the window and peering at the lightening sky, did not know for certain that something was wrong. But she felt it. Had felt it ever since the afternoon of the previous day when two men arrived at the house on horseback. Anne saw them as she came back from examining the progress of the strawberries in the kitchen garden, which she did mostly by picking and tasting samples. The visitors had been riding fast and their lathered horses were led away to be rubbed down in the stables even as Mr Stilwell, Anne's father, welcomed the newcomers. There were heavy clouds piling up on the horizon and she heard the rumble of distant thunder. Perhaps the men were eager to reach shelter before the rain came.

From their clothing and demeanour, they were gentlemen. They gave no sign of noticing the girl standing by the entrance to the kitchen garden. From her father's distracted manner when he waved away one of the household servants, and then his quick disappearance indoors with his guests, Anne could tell that there was some urgent business in hand. She did not think they were anxious because of the approaching weather.

The new arrivals were closeted together with Anne's mother and father for much of the afternoon. That was odd. Anne could not think what might concern her father and her mother equally. It was nothing to do with her, of course. Any question, even had she dared to ask one, would have been met with silence or a rebuke for her curiosity. But she was curious, and, more than curious, she was troubled. She might have asked James, but the old steward was nowhere to be seen.

Later Anne thought that the two men must have left. At any rate she heard the sound of departing hooves and there was no guest at supper, none that she was able to see from her partial viewpoint up in the gallery overlooking the hall. She was sent to bed – indeed, she should have been in bed even as she was standing in the gallery watching her parents dining with Mr Martin – but she could not sleep. Still the rain did not come, though the air was close and the thunder sounded like an encircling army. It was summer and the evening was endless, the thick light seeming to fade from the sky with reluctance. Her sister slumbered on beside her, but Anne could not help hearing strange noises in the house, unaccustomed footsteps and doors creaking; sounds that continued until after it had got dark, and long after the adults in the place usually went off to their beds.

Eventually, and as the rain at last started to batter at the house, she fell asleep. When she woke there was a grey glimmer at the little windows. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and padded towards the gable casement. She still felt something was wrong. She remembered the sound of footsteps and doors. There must have been other arrivals at the house last night. She rubbed again at the window panes, which fogged up almost as soon as she cleared them. She gazed at the line of trees which demarcated the land immediately adjacent to Stilwell Manor from the fenland which lay beyond. Anne saw a flicker of movement among the trees and caught her breath. After a few moments, a deer sprang into view and skittered across the open ground until it reached the safety of another copse of trees in the corner of the grounds.

Anne went back to bed, yet on this early summer's morning she could not drift back into sleep. She would definitely look for James today and ask him what was going on. The old steward was the one person in the household who always seemed to have time for her questions.

It was from him and not from her parents that she had learned something of the history of Stilwell Manor. He'd even told of the hiding places for priests, secret places behind panels, that had been constructed in the time of Queen Elizabeth. From James' description, they would be scarcely big enough to hold her and she wondered how a grown man could have survived inside one of them, not just for hours but days and weeks, as James said they did. Anne asked the steward if he had ever met the Queen and he laughed and told her she was a foolish child. The Queen would not have come to a remote fenland manor like Stilwell. Besides, she was an old lady when James had been not much more than a young lad and her royal days of gallivanting about her kingdom were over and done with by then.

Anne dreamed of those hiding places inside the house, and imagined desperate men subsisting in darkness on crumbs of food and drops of stale water, like mice and rats behind the wainscot, their terror made greater by the awareness that, in the world outside, men were hunting for them.

Anne found that sleep still eluded her. Once more she got out of bed and went to the casement window. The light was stronger now and the sun's low rays dazzled on the wet foliage and grass. Half attentive, she gazed at the line of poplars and willows from which the deer had appeared. And this time, she gasped and her heart began to thud beneath her nightshirt. A group of men was emerging from the trees, a ragged formation of perhaps a dozen armed men.

At the
Funereal Matters
Office

O
ne fine morning in the spring of 1874 two men met in the London office of a periodical called
Funereal Matters
. It was a magazine devoted not just to the business of funerals but to their fashions and etiquette as well, and even to what might be called the ‘philosophy of interment'. The office for
Funereal Matters
, or
F.M.
as it was familiarly referred to in the office and among knowledgeable outsiders, was situated in St Dunstan's Alley in the City, not far from the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666.

The two men were sitting on either side of a desk in a little side room off the principal room where the editor worked. The circulation of
Funereal Matters
was modest but as the editor, Alfred Jenkins, was fond of saying, he preferred it that way. Better to cast one's net not wide but deep. Among his subscribers were influential people like bishops and writers and thinkers, as well as the undertakers and the milliners and dressmakers who wanted to keep up with the latest styles. But a quality readership did not translate into a large income so Jenkins ran
F.M.
with a couple of assistants.

One of the men sitting in the cubbyhole on this fine morning was not a full-time member of staff but an occasional contributor and freelance. He wrote a column of gossip and news under the pseudonym of ‘Mute'. He had come up with the name himself. When he suggested the name to Jenkins, the editor almost clapped his hands in delight. Mute was a first-rate pseudonym for a contributor to the magazine since it not only described a paid mourner at a funeral but also had a tinge of mystery to it.

The man styling himself Mute quickly proved his worth and his column became essential reading for anyone interested in the business of burial. Alfred Jenkins was well aware of this, which was why the editor agreed to provide his columnist with a room, almost a cubbyhole, at the Dunstan's Alley office, even though Mute spent only a couple of days a week there. The two assistants worked from an equally small room on the far side of the editor's quarters but, unlike Mute, they had to pass through Jenkins' room to get out of the building. Mute liked the fact that he was able to come and go as he pleased, without having to explain himself or consult anybody.

The other man in the cubbyhole was called Charles Tomlinson. He and Mute had been at college together some fifteen years earlier but had not seen each other during the intervening period. Mute completed his degree while Tomlinson left before taking his. In fact, he quit Cambridge early to avoid the humiliation of being sent down for an offence which caused outrage among the respectable majority but amusement for those few students who considered themselves to be freethinkers.

Mute was one of those freethinkers who'd been amused by the ‘incident' as they referred to it. Now, many years later, Charles Tomlinson was amused to hear the pseudonym his old friend used for the column in
Funereal Matters
.

‘I think I prefer it to your real name. Henceforth you shall be Mute to me,' said Tomlinson, glancing about the poky space. ‘You seem well established here.'

‘Established?' said Mute, leaning forward to straighten a pen-holder on the desk in front of him. ‘I hope not. I see myself as a gadfly, darting here and stinging there. The funeral trade is frightfully stick-in-the-mud, you know. It needs a good poke from time to time.'

‘Which you provide.'

‘I do indeed.'

‘I met your editor on the way in. Jenkins. A pleasant fellow but long in the tooth. Do you hope to step into his shoes one day?'

‘No,' said Mute. He did have plans but they did not include the editorship of
Funereal Matters
. He changed the subject. ‘Well, it is many years since we last met, Tomlinson. You've been travelling in the East, you say. Certainly you look . . .'

‘Bronzed? Swarthy?'

‘I was going to say burnished.'

‘That sounds better, Mute. You always had a facility with words, despite the silent pseudonym which you have chosen.'

The funereal correspondent was not flattered by the compliment. Charles Tomlinson had been more glib and fluent than any of their college set. Now Mute said, ‘So you've been travelling with a purpose, Tomlinson? To find your fortune perhaps?'

BOOK: The Ely Testament
2.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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