Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Historical
‘There is a flaw in your reasoning, Brother. Deschalers had the key to the mill, so he must have arrived at this meeting first,
not Bottisham. Deschalers would not have stood by and watched Bottisham murdered without doing something.’
‘He was mortally ill,’ argued Michael. ‘Weak. He might have been too feeble to help Bottisham. But you are quibbling. The
point is that this case has taken a new turn, and
Lavenham is mysteriously missing. We should at least ask him why. Will you come with me to St Mary the Great?’
‘What for?’ asked Bartholomew, who longed to lie down and rest. He was desperately tired, physically and mentally, and wanted
time to allow the weariness to drain from his muscles.
‘For two reasons,’ replied Michael. ‘First, Redmeadow is in your room and is waving at you in a way that suggests he wants
some text or other explained. You will have no peace there. And second, I want to ensure the Hand of Justice has not attracted
some large and hostile post-fire crowd that might cause mischief when darkness falls.’
Reluctantly, Bartholomew followed the monk up St Michael’s Lane and on to the High Street. The sweet aroma of roses wafted
around them as they walked, almost, but not quite, masking the stench of sewage from a blocked drain and the sickly-sweet
reek of a dead cat that had been tossed on top of a roof, possibly by the cart that had killed it. Bartholomew started to
think about Thomas Mortimer and his reckless driving, and wondered whether Lenne had returned to Thetford now that his mother
had been buried.
The town had an atmosphere of unease that was so apparent, it was almost physical. People looked around warily, and the yelling
that had accompanied the fire, had dropped to whispers and low voices. The High Street was unusually quiet, with only the
rattle of carts and the thump of horses’ hoofs on compressed manure breaking the silence.
‘I do not like this,’ muttered Michael, unnerved. ‘It feels as if something is about to happen.’
‘It is odd,’ agreed Bartholomew. ‘But there are no apprentices or students massing on street corners, so it does not seem
that folk are spoiling for a fight.’
‘But there is an aura,’ declared Michael, gazing around him.
‘Meaning what?’ asked Bartholomew sceptically.
‘Meaning that I shall have every one of my beadles on duty tonight, and that any scholar seen on the streets after dusk can
expect to be detained in my cells until morning. I shall recommend that Dick takes similar steps with the townsfolk.’
‘Do you think it is something to do with the Hand of Justice?’ asked Bartholomew. ‘I do not mean literally, since we both
know it is no more holy than that rosewater you hurled all over yourself. I mean do you think people might be waiting for
it to do something?’
‘Such as what? Sprout wings and wend its way to Heaven in front of our sinful eyes? Burst free from the tower in a spray of
stone and mortar, and slap anyone who has committed a crime? It will have its work cut out for it, if it intends to do that.
It will be busy from now until dawn.’
‘Jest if you will, Brother, but what
think is irrelevant. It is what its followers believe that is important now.’
The small crowd that was usually present outside the University Church had swelled to a gathering of impressive size, just
as Michael had predicted. Most folk were kneeling or standing quietly with bowed heads, and the mood was more reverent than
threatening. Michael tended to disapprove of any large assembly when the sun was about to go down, but there was little he
could do about this one – people had a right to pray where they liked, and no one was actually doing anything wrong. Even
the pickpockets had ceased trading for the day, and were sitting harmlessly in the churchyard.
The two scholars eased through them, careful not to jostle anyone who might take offence, and entered the church’s shady interior.
This, too, was full, and a number of people knelt on the flagstones or leaned against the sturdy pillars of the nave. A mass
was in progress, led by Chancellor Tynkell, and the High Altar was bathed in a
golden light from dozens of candles. The aroma of cheap incense that wafted along the aisles competed valiantly with the stink
of Michael’s rosewater. William, who had been near the back of the nave, spotted the monk and hurried to join him, religious
‘Have you heard?’ he asked without preamble. ‘Thomas Mortimer is dead.’
‘Dead?’ asked Bartholomew, shocked as he listened to the Franciscan friar’s bald pronouncement. ‘But I saw him not long ago,
loitering in Milne Street while the Commissioners met.’
‘Well, he is in the Lady Chapel now. Come and see for yourself.’
He headed towards the sumptuously decorated chapel before either of his colleagues could ask further questions. A couple of
Mortimer cousins loitered at the entrance, but they stood aside and allowed the three scholars to enter. Bartholomew was surprised
to find the oratory full. Virtually all the Mortimer clan and their womenfolk were present; only those with small children
had been left at home. At the front, Constantine was kneeling before a hastily erected bier on which lay a body. The pendulous
ale-drinker’s gut rising under the covering sheet could be no one’s but Thomas’s.
Lurking by the window was Edward, his face expressionless, while Julianna perched on a stool, looking bored and restless.
Thorpe lounged against a nearby pillar, and his face creased into a sneer when he saw Bartholomew and Michael. Both he and
Edward wore clothes that were dishevelled and soot-stained, although Bartholomew suspected they had done little to help quench
‘This was Mistress Lenne’s doing,’ said Constantine, when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned to face the scholars, and
Bartholomew was shocked by the change
in the man. He seemed small and cowed, and his bristling confidence had been replaced by a crushing grief.
‘She is dead,’ said Bartholomew, thinking the man must be out of his wits. ‘Whatever happened to Thomas was not her fault.’
‘It was!’ cried Constantine, so loudly that his voice echoed all around the church. Tynkell faltered at the High Altar mass,
and the baker struggled to regain control of himself and explain. ‘She cursed Thomas with the Hand of Justice. She asked her
son to carry her to it the day she died.’
‘She did,’ said Bartholomew to Michael. ‘The journey hastened her end by several hours. I wondered why she had insisted on
going to the Hand, when it was clear she did not want to live. I assumed she was making an act of contrition for some ancient
sin that plagued her conscience.’
‘She met Thomas there,’ continued Constantine in a whisper. ‘She looked him in the eye, pointed her finger at him, and declared
he would die horribly for what he had done to her husband.’
‘We assumed the Hand of Justice had seen his side of the story when he was not struck down immediately,’ added Edward, who
did not sound at all sorry that his uncle was dead. Bartholomew wondered if he stood to benefit in some way – perhaps he had
urged his drunken kinsman to sign a document that would see him inherit the mill to the exclusion of more deserving heirs.
‘I see we were wrong.’
‘Mistress Lenne brought about my brother’s death,’ wept Constantine. ‘Poor innocent Thomas!’
‘He was hardly that!’ remarked Julianna from her stool. ‘Your brother
kill Mistress Lenne’s husband, Constantine. We all know that was no accident. I saw it with my own eyes.’
Bartholomew stared at her. ‘You did? But why did you not tell the Sheriff?’
Julianna raised her eyebrows in cynical amusement. ‘You think I should have told Tulyet that I saw my uncle-by-marriage so
deep in his cups that his eyes were closed – I am sure he was asleep – when he drove his cart into that old man? Have you
not heard of family loyalty, Bartholomew?’ Her voice took on a mocking quality, and she glared at Constantine, as if she had
heard these words rather too often since her wedding.
‘Shut up, woman!’ snapped Edward.
‘Why?’ flashed Julianna. ‘Thomas is dead now – cursed by an old woman whose piteous voice was heard by the Hand of Justice.
What difference does it make whether I speak out? Will you kill me, as you murdered Bosel?’
‘You must protect the Mortimer name – your name – now,’ said Constantine in a low, shocked voice. ‘You are our kin. And we
did not kill Bosel. I have no idea who did that.’
‘Marriages can be annulled,’ said Julianna sulkily. ‘I know men who can arrange it, and I do not want Edward any more. He
is disappointing as a lover now he has secured the Deschalers fortune. He prefers the company of his man-friend to that of
his wife.’ She made an obscene gesture in Thorpe’s direction, lest anyone be in any doubt as to what she meant.
‘No, I am just weary of
,’ said Edward unpleasantly. ‘Other women in the town can attest to my manliness, so do not think to tarnish me with that
‘I do not care about your family obligations,’ said Michael sternly to Julianna. ‘You should have told the truth about what
‘I know,’ said Julianna bitterly. ‘I should have denounced the old sot and seen him hanged.’
‘So what stopped you?’ demanded William.
‘This lot,’ said Julianna, waving a hand at her assembled in-laws. ‘They kept droning on and on about kinship and
loyalty, and they nagged me so much that I did as they asked, just to shut them up. But justice prevailed in the end. The
Hand and Mistress Lenne saw to that.’
under an obligation to put your new family first, Julianna,’ said Constantine hoarsely. ‘Thomas’s death does not change the
fact that you are married to my son.’
‘Perhaps,’ replied Julianna enigmatically, causing Constantine to look sharply at her, although Edward did not deign to respond.
He smiled, rather unpleasantly, as though he knew something she did not. Bartholomew guessed what it was: Julianna was clearly
under the impression that she could have her marriage dissolved, just as she had done with Master Langelee, but she would
be in for a shock. Marriages were not often annulled, especially not if the husband objected. Julianna’s inheritance represented
a fortune, and Edward was not going to let any part of it slip through his fingers. Poor Julianna was stuck with him, no matter
what she thought.
‘What happened to Thomas?’ asked Michael, looking down at the shrouded figure.
Edward stepped forward and whisked the sheet away so that Bartholomew and Michael could see the extent of the injuries Thomas
had suffered before his death. His clothes were drenched in blood, his face was crushed almost beyond recognition, and his
limbs and chest were unnatural shapes where bones had broken. But if Edward had wanted to shock the scholars, he was disappointed.
Bartholomew had an academic interest in such matters, while Michael, although he disliked the more grisly aspects of his post,
had sufficient self-control not to flinch. Even William had seen enough violent death to be dispassionate.
‘A horse bolted from Lavenham’s stables during the fire,’ said Constantine, sounding as if he was going to cry again. ‘It
collided with Thomas, and he was trampled.’
‘He was drunk when the fire raged,’ said Bartholomew,
recalling how the miller had reeled and slobbered from his wineskin just before the inferno had started. He edged past Michael
to inspect the body properly, and frowned. The injuries did not fit with the story he had been told. ‘But there are no hoof
marks here. Just signs that he was crushed.’
‘Rubbish,’ said Edward. ‘There are hoof marks everywhere and we shall use them as proof.’
‘Proof of what?’
‘Proof that will allow us to sue Lavenham,’ said Edward, casually inspecting his fingernails. ‘He was negligent in the way
he stabled his nags. If he had tethered them properly, they would not have escaped and Thomas would still be alive.’ He exchanged
a grin with Thorpe.
Bartholomew gazed at him, uncertain whether he was making a jest in poor taste, but he seemed perfectly serious. Julianna
saw the physician’s bemusement.
‘He means it,’ she said. ‘He really does intend to make Lavenham pay for the death of Thomas.’
have just said?’ asked Michael, astounded. ‘That Thomas killed Lenne and injured Isnard because he fell asleep at the reins?
Does it not occur to you that suing Lavenham would be a gross injustice?’
Thorpe did his best to be nonchalant, but he was enjoying himself too much to succeed. His smile was triumphant when he saw
the scholars’ shock. ‘We know our rights. The town did not care about justice when Edward and I were ordered to abjure the
realm, so why should we care about it now?’
‘Well, you might take a lesson from Thomas,’ suggested Michael. ‘He thought he could evade punishment for his sins, and look
what happened to him.’
Thorpe had the grace to look uneasy, but Edward did not react. ‘That is different,’ he said.
‘Why?’ asked William.
have not been cursed by Mistress Lenne.’
‘No,’ agreed Thorpe, regaining his confidence. ‘Nor did we crush any old men with carts. The folk
killed two years ago deserved to die.’
Some of Edward’s family looked distinctly uncomfortable with this claim, and one of them collected his wife and aimed for
the door. Two or three others followed, and Bartholomew saw there were fractures in the clan that had not been there before.
A month ago, they would have stuck together no matter what, but Edward’s outrageous behaviour seemed too much, even for them.
Constantine watched the dissenters leave with a troubled expression.
‘The Hand of Justice will never allow mischief to befall
,’ Thorpe continued, ignoring the small exodus. ‘It knows how we have suffered – exiled to places like Albi and Calais.’
‘But even if Lavenham survived the fire, he will be penniless,’ reasoned Michael. ‘The fire deprived him of all he owns. He
will not be able to pay you anything – negligently tethered horses or no.’