Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
‘There is a rumour that Jolye was murdered by the hostels, too,’ Michael went on.
Bartholomew regarded him askance. ‘The boy who fell in the river after Trinity Hall did that clever balancing act with Chestre
Hostel’s boats? I thought you had decided that was an accident.’
told me it was an accident,’ countered Michael. ‘I was led by your expertise.’
In addition to teaching medicine and being a physician, Bartholomew was also the University’s Corpse Examiner, which meant
he was obliged to supply an official cause of death for any scholar who died, or for any townsman who breathed his last on
‘I said there was nothing to
foul play,’ he corrected. ‘No suspicious bruises or marks. However, I also said that a lack of evidence did not necessarily
mean there was no crime.’
‘Well, Jolye’s fellow students agree with you. They have declared him a College martyr.’
Bartholomew was alarmed. ‘Do you think they will retaliate with a murder of their own?’
‘Not if I can help it,’ said Michael grimly. ‘My beadles
are ever vigilant, and so am I. But eat your apples, Matt. We cannot sit here all day.’
Bartholomew followed him outside, and back on to the High Street. He looked around uneasily, searching for signs of unrest.
He was horrified to see some immediately: the lads of Essex Hostel were enjoying some unedifying jostling with Clare College’s
law students. They desisted sheepishly when they became aware that the Senior Proctor was glaring in their direction.
‘You see?’ asked Michael, continuing to scowl until both groups had slunk away. ‘At first, the rivalry was light-hearted and
harmless – amusing exercises in resourcefulness and intelligence. But then Kendale sent the crated bull to King’s Hall – he
denies it, of course, but I know it was him – and now the competition will turn vicious.’
‘There he is,’ said Bartholomew, nodding to where Chestre’s Principal was yelling at one of the town’s burgesses. Kendale
was a large, handsome man, who wore his thick, fair hair in a braid that made him look like a Saxon pirate. By contrast, John
Drax, the town’s wealthiest taverner, was small, dark and unattractive. Both had lost their tempers, and their angry voices
were accompanied by a lot of finger-wagging.
‘Kendale leases his hostel building from Drax,’ said Michael, watching intently. ‘They are doubtless quarrelling about the
rent. It is a pity they are not gentlemen enough to keep their disputes private, because if they carry on like that, others
will join in and we shall have a brawl.’
As if he sensed Michael’s disapproving gaze, Kendale grabbed Drax’s arm and hustled him down an alley. Drax resisted, but
Kendale was strong, and they were soon out of sight.
‘Good!’ said Michael, relieved. ‘Why could they not have done that in the first place? But we had better visit Emma
de Colvyll, or she will be wondering what has happened to you. Did you know she currently owns more than fifteen houses in
the town, not to mention estates and manors all across the Fens?’
‘I know she owns Edmund House, near the Gilbertine Priory,’ said Bartholomew. ‘The canons are eager to buy it from her, to
use as a student hostel, but she refuses to sell it. I cannot imagine why she is so determined to keep it. It is not an especially
‘She will have her reasons,’ said Michael. ‘And they will be concerned with profit, you can be sure of that.’
Bartholomew knocked at Emma’s door, shivering as he did so; the wind was biting, and he wondered whether it might snow again.
A servant answered almost immediately. The fellow was white-faced and trembling, and Bartholomew supposed he had been given
a dressing-down for not being on hand when a thief had invaded his mistress’s domain.
‘She is waiting for you,’ was all he said.
Bartholomew and Michael followed him along a short corridor and into the solar Emma used for business. It was a luxuriously
appointed room, with tasteful hangings on the walls and a plethora of thick rugs. As she was wealthy enough to afford the
best, her glass window panes had been fitted in such a way as to exclude draughts. A fire blazed in the hearth, and an appetising
selection of nuts, sweetmeats and dried fruits sat on a table nearby. They were clearly for Emma’s consumption only, and even
Michael, a shameless devourer of other people’s treats, was sufficiently wary of her to refrain from descending on them.
Emma’s family was with her that morning. Her daughter Alice, who was sewing by the fire, was a heavy, sullen woman who rarely
spoke unless it was to voice a complaint. Her husband was Thomas Heslarton, a powerfully built soldier
with a bald head and missing teeth. He was a ruffian, but there was a certain charm in his quick grin and cheerful manners,
and Bartholomew found him by far the most likeable member of the clan.
With such hefty parents, their daughter Odelina was not going to be a petite beauty, and nor was she. Her fashionably tight
kirtle revealed an impressive cascade of bulges, and her hair was oddly two-tone, as if she had attempted to dye it and something
had gone horribly wrong. She was twenty-four, and had so far rejected the suitors her family had recommended, because a fondness
for romantic ballads was encouraging her to hold out for a brave and handsome knight.
But by far the most dominating presence in the room was Emma de Colvyll herself. Extreme age had wasted her arms and legs,
although she still possessed a substantial girth, and she never wore any colour except black. There was something about her
that always put Bartholomew in mind of a fat spider. She had beady eyes, which had a disconcerting tendency to glitter, and
she had been known to reduce grown men to tears with a single word.
‘You took your time,’ she snapped, when Bartholomew and Michael were shown in. She thrust out a hand, all wrinkled skin and
curved nails. ‘Give me the box.’
‘What box?’ asked Bartholomew, bemused.
Emma glowered. ‘The box that yellow-haired villain stole – the one I sent you to retrieve.’
‘He did not have it,’ said Bartholomew. ‘It would have slowed him down, so he must have—’
‘It was a small one,’ Emma interrupted harshly. ‘I imagine he tucked it inside his tunic, so it would not have slowed him
down at all.’
Bartholomew raised his hands in a shrug. ‘I did not see a box. Are you sure he took it?’
‘Of course I am sure,’ hissed Emma. She eyed him coldly. ‘I assume from your replies that not only did you fail to recover
my property, but you failed to lay hold of the scoundrel, too. How did that happen? You were only moments behind him.’
‘He could run faster than me.’ The reply was curt, but Bartholomew disliked being spoken to like an errant schoolboy. ‘And
he had a horse saddled ready in the Griffin.’
‘It was unfair to send a scholar after a felon,’ added Michael, also resenting her tone. ‘We are forbidden to carry weapons,
and Matt might have been injured had he—’
Emma sneered. ‘Everyone knows he fought at Poitiers, where he was rewarded for his valour by the Prince of Wales. A mere felon
could not best him, armed or otherwise.’
Bartholomew stifled a sigh. He had spent eighteen months overseas, when bad timing had put him in Poitiers when the English
army had done battle with the French. He had taken up arms, but it had been his skill in treating the wounded afterwards that
had merited the Prince’s approbation. Unfortunately, his book-bearer Cynric, who had been with him, loved telling war stories,
and the physician’s modest role in the clash had been exaggerated beyond all truth.
Emma turned to Heslarton. ‘That box is important to me, Thomas. Would you mind …’
Heslarton beamed amiably. ‘Of course, Mother! I would have gone immediately, but you said Bartholomew could manage.
will get your property back, never fear.’
She smiled, and Bartholomew was reminded that, despite their disparate personalities, she was fond of her loutish son-in-law,
a feeling that seemed wholly reciprocated. In fact, Emma and Heslarton seemed to admire each other a good deal more than either
‘Do be careful, Thomas,’ said Alice snidely, watching the exchange with barely concealed contempt. ‘Cornered thieves can be
Heslarton pulled an unpleasant face at her on his way out, and Odelina did the same, before going to talk to someone who was
sitting by the window. Bartholomew started: he had not known anyone else was in the room, because his attention had been on
Emma and her kin. The visitor was Celia Drax, the taverner’s beautiful wife. She had been Bartholomew’s patient until rumours
began to circulate about his penchant for unorthodox medicine, when she had promptly defected to another physician. He wondered
what she was doing in the Colvylls’ company.
‘I will pull my mother’s hair out one day,’ muttered Odelina sulkily. ‘She has a cruel tongue.’
‘Now, now,’ admonished Celia mildly. ‘Come and sit by me. We have our sewing to finish.’
‘Thomas will catch the villain,’ said Emma confidently to Bartholomew and Michael, watching the younger women huddle together
over their needles. ‘By this evening, I shall have that dishonest rogue locked in my cellar.’
‘You must hand him to the Sheriff,’ Michael reminded her. ‘It is his business to deal with felons, not yours. And if, by some
remote chance, the culprit is a scholar, then he comes under
jurisdiction. You cannot dispense justice as you see fit.’
Emma inclined her head, although it was clear she intended to dispense whatever she pleased. Bartholomew glanced around the
room, taking in the gold ornaments and jewelled candlesticks, and wondered what was in the box that meant so much to her.
‘Things my late husband gave me,’ she replied shortly. ‘Incidentally, did Michaelhouse say those masses for his soul that
I paid for? When I die, I shall be furious if I arrive
in Heaven and find he is not there, just because your College has not kept its side of the bargain.’
Michael raised his eyebrows, amused. ‘You seem very certain that you are upward bound.’
Emma regarded him askance. ‘I am generous to priests and I support worthy causes – like paying to mend your College’s roof.
Of course I shall have a place in the Kingdom of God.’
‘I think you will find it is not that straightforward,’ said Michael dryly. ‘You cannot buy your way into Heaven.’
‘Actually, you can,’ countered Emma with considerable conviction. ‘And my great wealth will secure me the best spot available.
Although, obviously, I will not be needing it for many years yet.’
Michael was spared from thinking of a reply because a sudden clatter of hoofs sounded in the yard outside. Emma told Alice
to open the window, so she could see what was happening. It revealed Heslarton astride a magnificent black stallion. He had
assembled a posse of about ten men, and his horses were far superior to any of Michaelhouse’s nags. His retainers were tough,
soldierly types, and Bartholomew felt a pang of sympathy for the thief.
‘Do not stay out after dark, Father,’ called Odelina worriedly. ‘It is not safe.’
Heslarton grinned up at her, clearly relishing the opportunity for a spot of manly activity. ‘Do not worry, lass. This villain
will be no match for me.’
‘I was thinking of other dangers,’ said Odelina unhappily. ‘Such as not being able to see where you are going, and the fact
that it might snow.’
‘You may break your neck,’ added Alice sweetly. ‘That would be a pity.’
‘I will return by nightfall, Odelina,’ promised Heslarton,
pointedly ignoring his wife, and then he and his men were gone in a frenzy of rattling hoofs and enthusiastic whoops.
‘We should go, too,’ whispered Michael to Bartholomew. ‘The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary is tomorrow,
and there is a lot to do before then.’
‘You mean teaching?’ asked Bartholomew, thinking of the huge classes Michaelhouse’s Fellows had been burdened with after the
Master had enrolled twenty new students the previous year, in an effort to raise revenues.
‘I mean making sure the cooks do not stint on food,’ replied Michael tartly. ‘I have not had a decent meal in weeks, and the
Purification is one of my favourite festivals.’
Bartholomew suspected it was one of his favourites because a former Fellow had bequeathed funds to provide a post-church feast.
It was not a large benefaction, however, and there were more mouths to feed than in previous years: the monk was likely to
be disappointed. Still, Bartholomew thought, surveying the ample bulk with a professional eye, it would do him no harm. Michael
had lost some of his lard over the previous weeks – a combination of being busy, and the College’s dwindling resources – and
was much healthier for it.
‘Are you coming?’ asked Michael, when the physician made no reply. ‘We have delivered the bad news, so you are free to leave.’
going, Doctor?’ demanded Emma, when the scholars aimed for the door. ‘Your chasing criminals on my behalf did nothing to
relieve the agonies in my jaws, so we shall finish the consultation we began earlier. The monk can leave, though.’
‘I cannot stay,’ said Michael, determined to give the impression that he was leaving because he wanted to, not because he
had been dismissed. ‘I am far too busy. Good morning, madam.’
‘I am going to the kitchen,’ announced Odelina, when he had gone. ‘The cook is making marchpanes, and you may share them,
Celia. Mother may not – she needs to watch her figure.’
As Odelina was a good deal portlier than her dam, Bartholomew expected a tart rejoinder, but Alice merely rolled her eyes
and followed her daughter out. It was not many moments before Bartholomew and Emma were alone.
‘My torment is getting worse,’ said the old lady, putting a gnarled hand to her face.
‘Well, yes, it will,’ said Bartholomew. ‘As I have explained before, you have a rotten tooth, and the pain will persist until
it is taken out.’
‘But you have also informed me that the procedure will hurt.’