Read The Shroud Maker Online

Authors: Kate Ellis

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General

The Shroud Maker (41 page)

Wesley looked up. ‘Charlotte complains to Letitia that her husband keeps her prisoner and that she hears strange noises in a locked room, presumably the one upstairs.’ He opened another of Charlotte’s letters and studied it before speaking. ‘Yes. In this one she says she’s found a girl called Jessie imprisoned up there.’ He shook his head in disbelief.

‘That fits with the newspaper reports I found,’ said Neil. ‘One of the missing girls was called Jessie Allson.’

‘Charlotte’s begging her sister for help and she asks her to contact someone called the Reverend Johnson.’

There were more papers in the trunk; mostly notes Josiah Palkin-Wright had made for his book on the life of his illustrious ancestor. Then Wesley spotted a notebook with a marbled cover and pulled it out. It was filled with Palkin-Wright’s cramped handwriting and he began to read, flicking through the pages.

Once he’d finished he passed the book to Neil who read in silence, frowning with disgust. Eventually he looked up. ‘He persuaded prostitutes to come to the house then he held them prisoner in the attic. He tied them up and watched them die and his housekeeper, Maud Cummings, helped him. Bloody hell, Wes. This is sick.’ He turned another page. ‘He says he buried them under the boathouse by the water. There’s our confirmation. As far as I can make out it was Jane and Nelly who were buried there.’

‘So it was probably the third girl, Jessie, who ended up in the cellar with Charlotte and Letitia.’

‘Do you reckon Josiah was sick or evil?’

Wesley considered the question for a few seconds. ‘In the past they often couldn’t tell the difference.’

‘Do you think this is where Carthage got the idea of locking up that poor girl?’

‘It wouldn’t surprise me.’

Neil pointed to a large brown envelope. Compared to the rest of the documents in the trunk, it looked new and out of place. ‘What’s that?’

Wesley picked it out, opened it and extracted the contents – a wad of A4 sheets covered in close neat handwriting. He examined them a while before speaking. ‘These are story outlines. No, they’re more like instructions. “The Lady Morwenna must be held in the Cave of Adron. Feed her the Shroud Maker’s potion so that she will slumber.”’ He selected another. ‘“The Shroud Maker will lure the Lady Morwenna to the cave with the promise that her beauty will be immortal. She must not suspect that he wishes to preserve her loveliness for himself.” There’s another here. “The Lady Alicia is dear to Palkin so she must be kept safe. Her beauty must be recorded lest the Shroud Maker captures her.”’

‘So Carthage couldn’t tell fantasy from reality.’

Wesley studied the papers in his hand. ‘I’ve seen his handwriting and this is completely different.’ He pushed them back into their envelope. ‘I’m going to take these to the station. I need to compare this writing with some of the signatures on our statements.’

‘Fine,’ said Neil, his mind on other things.

Wesley wanted to get out of that house where so many bad things had happened. He told Neil he’d leave it to him to arrange for the ancient document in the trunk to be taken to Exeter. He knew his words seemed distant but there was a lot on his mind.

Journal of Josiah Palkin-Wright

22nd March 1895

Women are betrayers and deceivers and my so-called wife is the most perfidious of all. When Maud, who has ever been loyal to me – more loyal than my own mother who betrayed my father with another – found that Charlotte had discovered the whore Jessie in the attic I knew she deserved the harshest of punishments. How angry I was when I dragged her up to the attic by her hair and bound her. If she wishes to share Jessie’s punishment, I shall let her have her will.

I wrote a missive to her sister, the one she would have revealed all to, had I not had the foresight to intercept her letters. I have invited her to visit her sister here and when she comes I will deal with her. As I will deal with my wife and the whore Jessie. As I dealt with the other whores who required chastisement.

28th March 1895

Today I went up to the attic room and placed my hands around the throat of the whore Jessie while my wife watched, her eyes bulging with terror, too weak to scream. When I had finished I chastised Charlotte in the same way for her deception. I felt such pleasure as I squeezed the life out of their frail bodies and such ecstasy at the power I held and the rightness of my vengeance.

Maud helped me to wrap the carcasses and shut them in a room that is never used. Maybe I will bury them with the others at the boathouse, at the place where my ancestor built his great warehouse.

Now I must prepare for the arrival of Letty for she has sent word that she will be arriving on the afternoon train. I am become the destroyer of those who would betray me. Those who deserve death.

 

Extract from the
Tradmouth Echo
4th May 1895

 

Tragedy of Drowned Curate

The body of a young man found drowned in the River Trad has been identified as that of the Reverend Charles Johnson. The Reverend Johnson was visiting Tradmouth when he is believed to have met with a tragic accident, there being no witnesses to this unfortunate event. His family and friends say that he was a fine and devout young man who will be sadly missed by those who knew him.

Astrid took the BMW to the meeting place. It was an empty cottage with half its roof missing some fifteen miles from Tradmouth, overlooking the sea near Monk’s Island. It was a place where nobody went, standing on the edge of a tall cliff separated from neighbouring farmland by woods and brambles.

Miles had always been a strong swimmer. He’d often swum in that cove as a child and the sea held no terror for him. But Astrid had told the police that he couldn’t swim. She had lied to them.

Once Miles had recovered a little and his clothes were dry, he’d ventured up from the tiny cove where he’d come ashore and found a working phone box on the edge of a village. He’d called her, reversing the charges, and she’d found the hiding place and provided him with the necessities while she decided on the best course of action.

She’d loathed those women, the ones Chris had betrayed her with, hated them with such a passion that she’d longed to see them punished. Poor, unworldly Miles had always been under the spell of his big sister so it had been easy to make him do whatever she wanted. And when he had started to work on the Shipworld website, her plan had come together.

She fed him the storylines, planting the seeds in his head, always pointing the way, using her husband’s creation against him without his knowledge. Obsession had always been in Miles’s nature and all she’d had to do was whisper her orders in his ear to tip him over the brink. She’d told him they had to be kept secure so that he could keep their beauty to himself and capture it for eternity on canvas and paper, just like the Shroud Maker in Shipworld. She’d convinced him that they didn’t suffer, or if they did it was for beauty’s sake. Hatred and envy had consumed her like a poison. She had punished them through Miles. And Chris had known nothing about it.

She stood outside the cottage on the edge of the cliff. Even on a perfect day like this there was a strong breeze blowing off the water, sending her scarf fluttering behind her like a pennant.

She felt a hand on her shoulder.

‘I need to send the last illustration to Palkinson.’

Astrid took his hand and gave it a squeeze. ‘I’ve got to work out how we’re going to get you out of here first. I need to think.’

‘I didn’t do anything wrong, did I? I looked after them.’

‘Of course you did. But it’d be best if you went away for a while until the fuss dies down.’ She kissed her little brother on the cheek, as she used to do when she was comforting him after the nightmares that plagued him throughout his childhood.

‘When I come back I’m going to tell them I didn’t hurt them. I’m going to say that you made me do it.’

Astrid flinched. ‘No, you mustn’t do that, Miles.’

‘Why not? I left my pictures at the house. I need to go back to Tradmouth.’

‘It would cause trouble if you turned up there now. If you stay here for a while until I can arrange things, everything will be fine.’

 

The body, later identified as that of Miles Carthage, had been washed up near Monk’s Island. This mystified Gerry as he was sure the tides wouldn’t have carried him that way. Colin Bowman was also puzzled about the time of death which he estimated to be at least a week after his disappearance. But, as there were so many factors to take into account, he admitted that these things weren’t always easy to calculate.

The signs of violence on the body could have been due to rocks and tides. Even so, Colin wanted to do more tests.

Wesley would have to be patient.

 

Chris was out. He’d been out a lot recently. He’d told her he had meetings in London, but she didn’t believe him. He was at it again, seeing some woman. While she’d had ways of dealing with it before, now things were different. She didn’t have Miles any more.

She was sure she knew who his latest woman was – that bitch from the TV archaeology programme. Sacha Vale. Long auburn tresses. Beautiful. His usual type. However, it was when he persuaded them to be tattooed that she really had to worry and Sacha looked as if she had a mind of her own, so she might not be willing to play his little games.

Maybe this time she’d get in early and deal with the situation herself, although she wasn’t quite sure how. Still, there were many ways to punish the wrongdoer – as many punishments as there were sins.

The doorbell rang and when she hurried to answer she was shocked to see that the man standing on the doorstep was holding up a police warrant card for her inspection.

‘Mrs Butcher,’ said Wesley Peterson. ‘I need to talk to you? It’s about your brother.’

 

It had taken courage for Jenny Bercival to face her fears as her psychiatrist recommended, and look at the Shipworld website on the expensive new laptop her estranged father had just bought her.

Once she had stopped shaking, she was surprised to see that Palkin had enjoyed a great victory. He had defeated the forces of the Devil Elves of Bretania. And the Shroud Maker, Palkin’s greatest enemy, was dead.

One of the most noteworthy events in the history of Dartmouth in Devon was a visit to the port by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1373. The author of
The Canterbury Tales
was a trusted customs official of Edward III who was sent by the king to inquire into the seizure by Dartmouth’s mayor and bailiffs of a ship belonging to a Genoese merchant.

Dartmouth had a terrible reputation for piracy at the time and, no doubt, it fell to Chaucer to make sure that the merchant’s property was returned to him. Twelve years later, between 1386 and 1389, Chaucer wrote his most famous work which featured a character called the
Shipman:
a seaman from ‘Dertemouthe’ who was little better than a pirate, stealing ships’ cargos and drowning the prisoners he captured.

It is highly likely that the Shipman was a composite character, based on the many tales of lawless Dartmouth sailors that must have reached the ears of London courtiers. However, over the years some have assumed that the Shipman was a caricature of one of the port’s principal citizens of the time – a man called John Hawley II, a wealthy merchant and shipowner who was among the town’s leading burgesses and served as mayor fourteen times. Chaucer probably met Hawley during his visit but it unlikely that he used him as his model, even though the merchant was almost certainly engaged in what would be considered today as piracy.

This was the time of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France and in 1379 John Hawley was granted a licence to ‘go to sea for a year with seven ships at their own expense to attack and destroy the king’s enemies’ – the standard wording for a privateer. By 1386 he was directing the operations of a fleet of privateers who attacked French and neutral shipping off the coast of Brittany. In 1389 Dartmouth was granted the sole right to the export of tin in recognition that the town ‘has brought great havoc on the king’s enemies in time of war.’

The town also grew rich on the Bordeaux wine trade (Bordeaux belonging to England at that time) and great wooden ships called cogs were the workhorses of both commerce and war. Cogs had one large square sail and were steered by a rudder attached to the stern post. They were also built up at bow and stern into ‘castles’ in which sailors could take refuge and shoot arrows during the frequent sea fights. Even to this day the arms of Dartmouth feature a cog, a potent symbol of the port’s power back in the Middle Ages.

Although my fictional character John Palkin is (like Chaucer’s Shipman) not based on any one person, I suppose there are similarities between him and Hawley. In homage to Chaucer I have named the replica cog that visits Tradmouth during the Palkin Festival the
Maudelayne
after the Shipman’s vessel.

During the nineteenth century there was a huge resurgence of interest in the Middle Ages. Gothic architecture became the height of fashion, both in the domestic sphere and for great public buildings such as the Houses of Parliament, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin who were influenced by the work of their medieval predecessors. The medieval period was widely regarded as a romantic golden age and artistic movements such as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood frequently used medieval art, literature and legend as their inspiration: in this book I have referred to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem,
The Lady of Shalott,
which draws on Arthurian legend.

Perhaps this fascination with all things medieval was a reaction against the increased and dehumanising mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution and the Victorians tended to ignore the fact that life in the distant past was usually, to quote Thomas Hobbes, ‘nasty brutish and short’ for the majority of people. My fictional writings of Josiah Palkin-Wright, therefore, reflect a common preoccupation of that particular time.

As for Shipworld and fantasy fiction in general… well, with the influence of authors such as the great J.R.R. Tolkien going from strength to strength, it’s as popular today as it ever was.

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