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Authors: Catherine Winchester

Her Saving Grace

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Her Saving Grace

by

Catherine Winchester

 

Her Saving Grace

by

Catherine Winchester

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments or events is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © Catherine Winchester 2013. All rights reserved.

British English Version

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

Cover photograph copyright © HotDamnStock.com

Cover design © Catherine Winchester.

All rights reserved

Chapter One

As Nathaniel Copley surveyed the shallow grave before him, he had the distinct feeling that solving this murder wasn’t going to be easy. Enough time had passed to reduce the body to bone, which would make simply identifying it difficult and finding witnesses to such an old crime, would be almost impossible.

“Dig the rest of the remains up carefully and have them transported to Dr Worthington,” he told Constable Smyth.

“Are you sure that’s necessary?” Smyth asked. “It could just be that he had an accident and wasn’t able to get help.”

Nathaniel
did his best not to sigh. Smyth was a good person but far from the brightest of men, so Nathaniel wavered between firing the man and hiring someone who was at least able to apply reason and logic to a situation, and not wanting to put him out of work. As Justice of the Peace, it was within his remit to do so but Smyth had been appointed by his predecessor and without this job, he and his family would likely starve. He was getting on in years and unlikely to find employment elsewhere.

“Then assuming that it was an accident and not foul play, that rather begs the question, who buried
the body and why?” Nathaniel asked.

Smyth
’s cheeks coloured. “I’ll get the bones to Dr Worthington.”

Nathaniel
had brought two of his stable lads to help and the three of them began to dig carefully around the remains. A sheet had been laid out beside the grave, upon which the body, such as it was, could be placed.

“Good man.”
Nathaniel turned away and surveyed the scene. He knew that any evidence left at the time of burial would be long gone but it couldn’t hurt to look and get a feel for the scene.

They were in a wooded area, on a slight in
cline and about one hundred yards away from the road. Assuming that the buried man had been killed before being brought here, the killer would have to be relatively fit to carry a dead weight such a distance. The grave wasn’t very deep however, perhaps two to three feet, enough to keep animals from scavenging the remains and accidental discovery, but shallow enough to be uncovered by the uncommonly heavy spring rains.

So was the grave digger perhaps not as fit as first assumed? The body could have been brought up the hill on horseback and given the depth
of the grave, whoever had buried him would need to be reasonably robust in order to dig in the heavy clay soil at all, but not as strong as a labourer. The stable lads he had brought with him for example, could easily dig six feet of soil in an hour or two. Constable Smyth on the other hand, was already breathing heavily.

Nathaniel
made his way up the hill but he was unable to see any reference points through the trees. Still, if he wasn’t very much mistaken, this body was on Wallace Sondham’s land.

Sondham was new money, having made his fortune in trade and his estate was new, built perhaps ten or fifteen
years ago. The truth was that Nathaniel hadn’t had many dealings with the man but just because the body had been discovered on his land, was no reason by itself to suspect him of murder. He would have to be questioned of course, but Nathaniel wanted to hear what the doctor had to say before he spoke to anyone.

***

The journey from Bellchester to Lanford took two days but it was worth it to Damaris Wellesley. When the letter arrived by express, to say that a body had been discovered, she had left immediately, compelled to discover if it was him.

She had been
waiting for news for the past seven years and the idea that she might be close to finding out what had happened to her father, was making her rather agitated.

She felt bad for wishing that the remains discovered belonged
to her father but he simply wasn’t the type to run away, as many had suggested, so she had always known in her heart that he was dead, even if she didn’t want to believe it.

Finding his
body also meant that they had a chance to find his killer.

As soon as
she arrived in Lanford, she headed for the constable’s office in the town hall; her companion and driver leaving her there at her insistence, while they journeyed on to her childhood home.

She knocked on
Constable Smyth’s door but there was no reply, so she tried the door handle, but it was locked.

“Excuse me,” she stopped a passing clerk. “I’m looking for Constable Smyth.”

“I think he’s gone to see the doctor,” the clerk answered.

“Doctor?”

“We had a body show up a day or two ago, and Dr Worthington is trying to find out how he died.”

“Do you know when Smyth
might be back?”

“Sorry, Ma’am, but I don’t. You’re welcome to wait.”

Damaris nodded. “Thank you, I think I will.”

So she headed back to the
foyer and took a seat on one of the bare, wooden benches, prepared to wait for as long as was necessary.

***

Dr Worthington was a rather fastidious man and while in general, Nathaniel found that to be a good character trait, his assertion that the skeleton must be slowly and gently removed from the soil that it had been shrouded in, had annoyed Nathaniel somewhat, since it delayed any findings.

Layer by layer, Worthington was removing the dirt, almost as gently as if the bones were some kind
of treasure, that might break if handled too roughly. Finally however, Nathaniel had got him to promise that the remaining soil would be removed by today and that, after he had seen to his patients, he should be able to examine the bones.

T
he newspaper had already printed a story about the gruesome find, albeit with very few details, and a handful of people had come forward, believing the body may be a friend or relative of theirs. At Nathaniel’s behest, Smyth had collected details from each of them; age, height, general description, any jewellery they might have been wearing when they disappeared, as well as what they were last seen wearing, if known.

So far they had sixteen missing people, eleven women and five men. Right now however,
they didn’t even know the sex of the victim. He had expected the list to be longer, especially given that they didn’t know when the victim had died but in many ways it was good, since it would make finding the identity of the victim, easier.

When he and Smyth arrived at
Worthington’s office however, his nurse, a Mrs Hyde, informed them that the doctor hadn’t returned from seeing a patient, so Nathaniel sent Smyth back to his office. Most of the time the constable’s presence was just an impediment to logic anyway, so Nathaniel wasn’t sorry to be able to send him away.

The nurse (cum housekeeper, since Mrs Worthington had died)
made him tea and plied him with cake, so he was in a relatively good mood when Dr Worthington returned.

Worthington hung
up his coat and without any pre-amble, showed Nathaniel through to the front rooms of the house, where his surgery and workshop were.

As well as being a healer,
he considered himself something of a scientist and kept a room where he could conduct experiments, although he was loathe to call it a laboratory. That was also where he conducted autopsies (when necessary) and wrote papers for various medical and scientific journals.

The skeleton was laid out on a central table and beside that, another smaller table had been placed, as well a
s a large dustbin, which was now full of dirt.

The body was almost completely desiccated but
looked not at all as Nathaniel had been taught to think that bones should look; they weren’t chalk white, nor were they easy to identify, many having small remnants of flesh still attached, and probably some other organisms that Nathaniel couldn’t identify, such as moss or fungi.


It’s a good job that I sifted through the excess dirt, as a few of the smaller bones had detached from the rest of the skeleton. I also found these items,” Dr Worthington explained, gesturing to the small table.

Nathaniel
stepped up to the table and looked at the items that had been neatly laid out. There were some scraps of cloth, what looked like a pair of misshapen and badly damaged shoes, a leather bound notebook, a gold ring, a very small key and a few coins.

“Most of the clo
thes appear to have rotted away; I found only a few remnants, and not enough to gauge the quality of the garments. The shoes fared better and appear to be mostly intact, if rather damaged.”

“They look like quality
leather,” Nathaniel observed, picking one up and examining the style and stitching.

“I agree. This too.”
The doctor pointed at a glove and Nathaniel picked it up.

“It l
ooks like a man’s.”

“Yes.”

“There’s something embossed inside but I can’t make it out.”

“Neither could I.”

“You didn’t find a second one?” Nathaniel asked.

“No, I'm sorry. It could still be at the site, or it could have fallen out during the struggle, or while carrying him there.”

“Struggle?” Nathaniel asked.

“Yes. I haven’t had a chance to clean the bones but it’s seems obvious how this man died.”

“So it is a man?”

“Indeed.”

“Without flesh on the bones, how can you tell?”

“Measurements.”

“Couldn’t it be a tall woman?”

“No,” Dr Worthington smiled.
“Even a tall woman can’t hide the size of her pubic bone, which is wider than a man’s to accommodate childbirth. This specimen is definitely not built for that.”

Nathaniel
was impressed.              

Worthington
went to the head of the table and picked up the skull. “If you look here, you can see that he took quite a blow to the head, and didn’t remain alive long enough for the bone to heal, so there was definitely a struggle of some kind.”

“Couldn’t he have fallen down the stairs, or tripped and hit his head on something?”

“Possible but unlikely. There are no other breaks consistent with a fall, and the blow is to the back of the head, on the crown.”

“As if something struck him from above?”

“Exactly.”

“Is that what killed him?”

“It’s too soon to say for certain; I need to clean the bones and examine the rest of the skeleton, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if an injury like this killed him. It takes quite some force to crack a skull.”

Nathaniel
bent over to better see the skull and had to admit that it must have taken quite a blow to create the spider’s web-like cracks on the bone.

“Given the grave, I was leaning towards this being pre-meditated but
is there any chance it could have been accidental?” Nathaniel asked.

“A clout like that is hardly an accident.”

“No, but death might not have been the intention. It could have been a brawl that ended badly?”

“I hardly think that a man with those shoes, not to mention the
gold ring, is the type to be brawling.”

“In my experience
, temper can get the better of everyone.”

Dr Worthington shrugged but didn’t argue.
“The fact is, even if I can tell you definitively
what
killed him, we may never know
how
he died. I do admire you for keeping an open mind however.”

Nathaniel smiled, pleased with the other man’s praise. He had a great deal of respect
for the doctor.

“He was obviously married.”
Nathaniel picked up the gold ring from the small table and got his handkerchief out to polish it up, then held it up to the light to examine it. “There’s something engraved inside the band… 1794. The wedding date, perhaps?”

“Quite p
robably.”

“Is there anything else you can tell me?”

“Some. He is definitely European and while I can’t be exact on height or age until I’ve examined the bones more closely, I can give you brackets to work within for the time being.”

He handed
Nathaniel a sheet of paper and as he looked over it, he could see that if the victim was among the five missing men on their list, this would definitely help narrow down which of them this might be.

“Thank you, Doctor.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, Lord Copley.”

“Pl
ease, there’s no need to stand on ceremony, not when you’ve known me since I was a boy. Nathaniel or Nate is fine.”

“As you wish.” Dr Worthington smiled.

“Do you know when you might have a chance to examine the body in more detail?”

“I shall start
cleaning and bleaching the bones now. If you come back tomorrow, I should have a lot more to tell you.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

***

Smyth rolled his eyes as
the the clerk in reception explained who the lady waiting was, but Damaris strengthened her resolve as she got up and approached him.

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