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Authors: Felicity Young

The Scent of Murder

BOOK: The Scent of Murder
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To my soul mate, Mick.

As always …


Here’s to the fox
In his earth below the rocks!
And here’s to the line that we follow,
And here’s to the hound
With his nose upon the ground,
Though merrily we whoop and we holloa.


Then drink, puppy, drink,
And let every puppy drink
That is old enough to lap and to swallow;
For he’ll grow into a hound,
So we’ll pass the bottle ’round,
And merrily we’ll whoop and we’ll holloa.
(Repeat refrain)


G J Whyte-Melville, ‘Drink, Puppy, Drink’, 1874
















































They found the skull first, its cranium pressing through the sludge like an emerging mushroom, eye sockets and nasal orifice caked with mud. Then the mandible, slippery ribs, vertebra, long bones, tiny wrist bones and everything in between; each bone carefully prised from the trench and placed with reverence into the picnic hamper.

Tristram balanced the skull on top of the pile and tried, unsuccessfully, to close the basket’s hinged lid. ‘This will have to do. I’ll ride in the back of the cart and hold it all in place. Can one of you drive?’

‘Of course we can drive,’ Florence said, adjusting the rounded dome of her fox-fur hat, ready for action. Her face was smeared, her gloves were sodden and the hem of her coat was thick with mud. Dody had not seen such a combination of filth and high spirits in her sister since Florence and her suffragette division had sabotaged the sewage plant, the summer just gone. Nineteen twelve had been a busy time for Florence and the sisterhood and Dody was glad that, with the advent of winter, things appeared to be calming down. ‘We’re not much good at riding, but we can certainly drive a pony and cart, can’t we, Dody?’

It seemed that since their arrival at Fitzgibbon Hall the previous afternoon, practically the only topic of conversation (other than bones) had been the McCleland sisters’ lack of riding ability. Florence had been taking lessons and was feeling confident enough to join Sunday’s hunt, but the discovery of the skeleton in the dry river bed now meant that Dody could bow out with dignity. What a relief! There was only one person with whom she cared to ride, one person in front of whom she didn’t mind looking foolish — and he was goodness only knew where.

‘Have you any idea how old the bones are, Dody?’ Florence asked, tearing Dody away from warming thoughts of Chief Inspector Matthew Pike and back to the cold reality of old bones and mud. ‘Might they really be as old as the Piltdown skull? That is, I mean, if those remains really
old,’ she added, looking at Tristram.

‘You see, Dody,’ Tristram clarified, ‘I have my doubts that the Piltdown bones are as old as they are claimed to be. I’m banking on these bones being older.’

Florence’s eyes sparkled almost as much as Tristram’s.

Dody did not wish to throw cold water over the pair’s excitement; she knew how desperate Tristram was to make his mark in the archaeological world and hoped he might be satisfied with medieval remains, which she suspected was the oldest the bones would be. As for the Piltdown bones — no, fragments, she corrected herself — she had no idea what to believe. Not only had she not seen them — they had been whisked off to London under a shroud of secrecy — but they were also far from her area of expertise. ‘I’m afraid it’s impossible to tell right now,’ she said.

‘But aren’t autopsy surgeons supposed to know this kind of thing?’ Tristram asked.

‘It’s not that simple. I can’t even hazard a guess until I have cleaned the bones and examined them in decent light.’

It was just past four o’clock, but the winter gloom was already descending and a chill wind blew from the High Weald. Dody’s behind felt as dead as the lichen-covered log she had been sitting on for most of the digging. She had blocked her ears to Florence’s many false alarms, and absorbed herself in
Hugh’s Manual of Anatomy
, a recent purchase, hoping it might increase her insight into the decomposition of bones. If she was going to be stuck in this far-flung corner of East Sussex, she might as well take the opportunity to catch up on her studies. Who could tell, there might even be a paper in it.

According to Florence, Tristram had been fruitlessly scratching around the stream bed for some months now, giving Dody no reason to believe that their amateur dig would be any more successful. The unearthing of the skeleton had surprised her more than anyone.

She crouched to help Florence gather up their picnic paraphernalia, now displaced by the rook’s nest of bones in the basket. They wrapped up the dirty knives and forks, crockery, glasses and empty champagne bottle in the red gingham tablecloth and piled it into the back of the cart with the buckets, sieves and shovels they had used for the excavation.

Tristram jumped aboard the cart and promptly leaped off again. ‘Wait a minute. Just one more look,’ he said.

‘Like a child with a new toy; he can’t leave the trench alone,’ Florence whispered to Dody as they watched him slog back through the mud to have one last poke around.

‘Anything?’ Florence asked as he climbed back into the cart, long legs dangling, arm draped over his precious basket.

He wiped his hands on his coat. ‘No, nothing. A truly ancient grave wouldn’t contain much. I’m glad, really.’

Dody looked over her shoulder at him; he did not appear glad. The smile he returned looked strained and lacked its usual exuberance. ‘No traces of jewellery or weapons?’ she asked.

‘I’ll return tomorrow for another look when the light is better.’ He clapped his hands, as if to snap himself from a sudden melancholia. ‘Now we’d better get a move on. We’ve quite a lot to do before Aunt and Uncle’s guests arrive.’

Florence groaned. ‘The extended Saturday-to-Monday. I’d forgotten about that.’

‘My dear Florence, need I remind you how important the opening meet is in the country diary?’

‘You’ve told me ad nauseam about the hunting, the house guests, what a privilege it is to be asked for longer than everyone else, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not that we aren’t aware of the customs, Tristram, we just choose to ignore most of them — isn’t that right, Dody?’

Dody nodded wryly. Florence was quite happy to bow to society’s customs when they suited her: having her older sister along as chaperone meant she could remain in the company of this pleasant young man.

‘Where shall we put the bones?’ Dody asked. ‘We can’t very well drag them in through the front door of the Hall.’

Tristram scooted towards the front of the cart, carrying the basket of bones. ‘The old ice house should do, provided I can remember where it is. I haven’t been there since I was a boy. Follow that path through the woods and let’s see where it takes us.’

Florence clicked her tongue at the placid pony, and they trundled off down the rutted path and into the gloaming.

The path was narrow and sunken: just wide enough to take the cart. As far back as Neolithic times, Tristram explained, pigs had been driven along routes such as this to find pannage in acorn-rich clearings called dens, which eventually became settlements. The pony’s hooves barely made a sound as they trod the rich leaf mould. On both sides of the track massive oaks loomed and golden leaves fluttered as if pressed to the ground by a descending sky. Every now and then they came across great clumps of trees smothered in ivy. Dody found herself fighting the same feelings of claustrophobia she felt on the London tube and was glad of Florence’s distracting whisper.

‘Isn’t this exciting! Are you pleased I persuaded you to come?’

‘I didn’t have much choice, did I?’

There were plenty of places Dody would rather be spending the precious days of her holidays than the draughty old hall owned by Tristram’s uncle, Sir Desmond. It was Sir Desmond, in fact, who had insisted that Florence be accompanied by a chaperone. Their mother had volunteered Dody for the job, having no idea about the plans she was disrupting. If only she’d had the courage to tell Mother about Pike.

‘It’s not my fault the Fitzgibbons insisted I be chaperoned,’ Florence shot back. ‘Mother and Poppa would have been quite happy for me to be here on my own.’

‘Mother and Poppa are hardly conventional,’ Dody remarked. Their parents did have their limits, however. They had been most distressed when, at the age of seventeen, Florence declared she had met the love of her life — a poet acquaintance of their mother, and a man twice her age. After a ferocious argument with Poppa, Florence had run away to London to find him. What she had found was an empty garret and a note from the poet to his landlady asking her to feed the cat. He was visiting his wife and children in Blackpool and would notify her upon his return.

Dody smiled and patted her sister’s knee. ‘But of course I’m pleased I came. Someone’s got to make sure you behave in front of Sir Desmond and Lady Fitzgibbon.’

‘Granted. Tristram’s uncle isn’t the type of company I usually seek. In fact, my tongue is quite blistered from all the biting.’

Dody laughed. ‘As is mine.’ I hope your young man’s worth it, she added silently to herself.

The woods began to thin and they found themselves following the course of a dry-stone wall that ended at a lych gate. Through the gloom Dody discerned the boxy outline of a Norman church, then scattered gravestones and stone crosses as skew-whiff and as filthy, no doubt, as the bones in the basket.

‘St Crispin’s Church,’ Tristram announced.

Florence slowed the pony.

‘Built on the site of a pagan place of worship,’ he continued. ‘This whole area is supposed to be haunted.’

‘Of course,’ Dody said, casting her eyes aloft.

‘Oh, do tell!’ said Florence.

‘What? And terrify you with tales of ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggedy beasties? I think not.’

Normally Florence would have bristled at such condescension, but this time all she did was laugh. ‘Tristram!’

‘All right, then, if you insist.’ He looked at her from beneath well-defined brows and drew an exaggerated breath. ‘Once upon a time this path was one of the favourite haunts of a local witch,’ he said, as if he had recited the story countless times. ‘Apparently the old girl took great joy in leaping from the bushes and scaring the daylights out of travellers. Once she appeared to some men in the form of a hare and they set their dogs on her. She tried to escape through the rectory window, but one of the hounds — a great black brute — grabbed her leg and pulled her back out and the rest of the hounds tore her to pieces. Ever since then, when the people of the area hear the ghostly hounds baying at night, the pounding of hooves and the call of the hunting horn, they say it is the Witch Hounds seeking their prey.’

‘The cries of wild geese flying south from Scandinavia,’ Dody countered. ‘I’m sorry, Tristram, but I’ve heard that story before.’

‘Probably something similar, Dody. The Gabriel Hounds are said to roam the north, the Wish Hounds the southwest — you’ll find most ancient cultures have legends involving ghostly packs of hounds or Herne the Hunter type tales. This black dog sometimes makes independent appearances too. We’re travelling along the old corpse way, the route a funeral procession takes to the churchyard. If a black dog appears it is thought to be escorting the dead soul to the afterlife. A black dog sighted without a funeral procession, however, is supposed to foreshadow death.’

BOOK: The Scent of Murder
6.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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