Authors: Kerry Tombs
A Victorian Crime Story
For Samuel and Zoe
– With love, for they are
‘Thirty minutes past eleven, my dear sir.’
‘Confound it!’ exclaimed Mr Ganniford, pacing up and down before the roaring log fire in the snug of the Hop Pole Hotel.
‘I find that time always goes at a far slower pace when one is eager for it to proceed at a greater rate,’ replied his companion, removing his spectacles from his thin nose and blowing sharply upon them.
‘The trouble with you, Jenkins, is that you never allow yourself the opportunity to rise to the occasion. You have spent far too many days reading uninteresting ancient historical journals in that drab little London club of yours, instead of sampling the pleasures that life presents to one,’ pronounced Ganniford, throwing his bulky frame into one of the well-worn leather armchairs.
‘And the trouble with you, my dear Ganniford, is that in all the years I have known you, you have never shown the slightest
inclination of mastering that impatient nature of yours – and you seem content to indulge in too much over-dining at other men’s tables and gambling your inheritance away at Brooks’s,’ reprimanded the older man removing a large handkerchief from his pocket and applying it vigorously to the lens.
‘Better to have lived an impatient life full of optimistic expectation than to have died after a lifetime of boredom and sobriety.’
His companion allowed himself a brief smile. ‘Caution and moderation in all things, Ganniford – caution and moderation.’
‘Nonsense, my dear fellow, you need to push aside your ancient dusty books and indulge yourself more.’
‘Human life is everywhere in a state where much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.’
‘And I suppose that was said by one of your ancient Greeks?’
‘Samuel Johnson, actually.’
‘You made sure you paid that man to meet us there?’ said the other, ignoring the last remark and changing the subject.
‘At twelve, as agreed, outside the main entrance.’
‘I suppose he will be there?’
‘If the fellow wants a further ten shillings,’ replied Jenkins, lifting up his spectacles at arm’s length so that the light from the fire was reflected in the glass.
‘You think there may be others?’ asked the other anxiously.
‘The letter did not imply that there would be.’
‘But there must be others. He had seemed to indicate that there would be others?’
‘I do not know whether there will be anyone else there tonight, or not,’ said Jenkins, with a note of indifference as he replaced his spectacles on the end of his nose.
‘Bound to be others. Can’t see how it could be otherwise,’ muttered Ganniford before taking another sip of his ale.
The older man shrugged his shoulders and stared into the flames.
‘What do you make of the town?’ asked his companion after a few moments of silence.
‘It appears to have some fine buildings, although I must admit that I could see little from our cab as we entered the place.’
‘Dull, provincial little backwater!’ exclaimed Ganniford shifting about uneasily in his armchair.
‘Rather a rash, and no doubt, unfounded conclusion, if I may say so. You have spent far too much of your time in London. There is another world you know, my dear Ganniford, which lies outside the confines of the metropolis, waiting to be discovered.’
‘Then it can be savoured by others. That is rich coming from a man who has spent a lifetime in dusty libraries. As soon as this business has been bought to a satisfactory conclusion, I will be more than pleased to return to the pleasures of the great city, at the earliest opportunity,’ protested Ganniford, before taking another drink from his tumbler.
‘As you wish.’
‘And why you would insist on stopping off at Oxford for the day, when we could have come directly here by express train, I shall never know.’
‘I thought you might have appreciated the opportunity of visiting the university town to view the college buildings. There were one or two artefacts I wished to see at the Ashmolean,’ replied Jenkins, leaning forward and moving one of the logs in the hearth with the brass poker.
His companion said nothing as he rose from his chair and walked over to the window.
‘I suppose your room is not to your liking?’ asked Jenkins, regretting the words as soon as he had uttered them.
‘Dull, my dear sir! Dull beyond description. Drab curtains,
decaying wooden furniture, cracked wash bowl, uncomfortable bed, horrible wallpaper, dreadful coloured bedspread, and the smell of onions and decay everywhere! I hardly know where to begin. But I suppose that is what one must expect in such a town as this.’
‘I am sorry for it.’
‘I’m afraid we shall not have a good night for it. I believe the rain has not ceased since our arrival, and shows little promise of improvement,’ sighed Ganniford, pulling a long face before returning to the hearth and standing once more before the flames. ‘What shall we say, Jenkins, if anyone enquires as to the nature of our business here?’
‘We shall say we are pilgrims.’
‘Pilgrims?’ asked the younger man.
‘Pilgrims, come to see the holy relics in the abbey.’
‘What holy relics?’
‘The Duke of Clarence and his wife.’
‘And who precisely was Clarence?’
‘The Duke of Clarence was the younger brother of King Edward IV, and elder brother of King Richard III. He is believed to have drowned in a butt of malmsey,’ said Jenkins, adopting that dry matter-of-fact tone which his companion had long been acquainted with.
‘That sounds a most interesting, but unfortunate way to die, implying a degree of carelessness on his part. You must tell me more when we are faced with an evening when we have little else to entertain us. Anyway, I thought that people did not go on pilgrimages any more these days.’
‘Far from it, my dear Ganniford. Many people visit Canterbury each year in remembrance of Thomas Becket, and some more adventurous souls still undertake the arduous journey to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain to see the
shrine there dedicated to St James.’
‘Whatever for?’ inquired Ganniford, regaining his seat before the fire.
‘The pilgrims believe that by undertaking such a journey their sins will be cleansed. Some are also afflicted by various ailments and hope that they may be cured.’
‘And are they?’
‘I believe that in some cases they are, although I must say I have never had the first hand experience of witnessing any such miraculous cure.’
‘Hum. Stuff and nonsense! People often believe what they want to believe.’
‘We live in an enlightened age, Ganniford, and as such must be open to all possibilities and suggestions. It is only a closed mind which fears that which it cannot understand,’ said Jenkins leaning forward and warming his hands in front of the flames.
‘If I had closed my mind, I would not have been sitting here tonight in this draughty old inn in this dreary old town, waiting for the time to approach twelve o’clock, so that I could enter a cold uninviting abbey looking for the grave of this old Templar fellow of yours,’ muttered Ganniford.
‘Ah, but the promise of what such a visit may yield, you must find intriguing to say the least.’
‘That remains to be seen.’
‘Excuse me, gentlemen, for intruding upon your conversation.’
Startled by the words, the two men turned round to see who the voice belonged to, and were surprised to find a middle-aged lady dressed in a plain beige coloured coat and bonnet standing before them. ‘I’m sorry, I did not mean to startle you.’
‘Not at all, my dear lady,’ replied Ganniford, as he and his
companion started to rise from their armchairs.
‘I could not help hearing part of your earlier conversation, gentlemen, seated as I was around the corner. I believe we may share the same common purpose tonight.’
‘I told you there would be others, Jenkins!’ exclaimed Ganniford, feeling the satisfaction that his premise had proven true.
‘You must forgive my colleague’s over enthusiasm. Allow me to introduce myself, Thomas Jenkins, antiquarian and scholar of London – and this is my companion, Mr Nathaniel Ganniford,’ said the older gentleman giving a short bow in the stranger’s direction.
‘Gentlemen. My name is Miss Eames, from Ludlow.’
‘Eames. The name seems familiar, but I cannot place it at the present. So you, too, have travelled far to be here tonight, Miss Eames,’ said Ganniford smiling.
‘Yes indeed, gentlemen.’
‘Your journey must have been arduous?’ enquired Jenkins.
‘I broke my journey at Hereford yesterday evening, before travelling onward today. The train was rather slow.’
‘I have heard good things about Ludlow, Miss Eames,’ continued Jenkins, indicating that the new arrival should accept his place before the fire.
‘No, thank you, I would rather stand. Ludlow is indeed a fine place. It is a pretty town with a fine castle. I have lived there all my life, with my late father who has recently died, and would want for no other.’
‘I am sorry for your loss,’ said the older man sympathetically.
‘You are very kind, sir.’
‘Look here, Jenkins, the clock must be fast approaching twelve. What say I go and secure a lantern from the landlord, so we can light our way across to the abbey? Miss Eames, perhaps you may permit us to escort you, as you also appear to have an
interest in this case?’ inquired Ganniford.
‘That is most kind of you, gentlemen.’
A few minutes later the party closed the outer door of the Hop Pole behind them, and made their way across the street, Ganniford holding the lantern up high to aid their progress, Jenkins giving his assistance to the recent arrival. Quickly passing by the old almshouses on their right-hand side, and some school buildings on their left, the trio walked quickly up the pathway, through the falling rain, towards the ancient building that gradually came into view before them.
‘It appears that we are expected,’ cried out Ganniford, pointing towards a distant light which appeared to originate from the front entrance.
‘Who is there? Show yourselves!’ shouted a voice as they neared the flickering flame.
‘Three strangers intent on business,’ replied Jenkins.
‘Blazes!’ exclaimed another voice.
‘Wretched inclement weather,’ wheezed Ganniford, as he and his party hastily sought the cover of the porch.
‘I gather we are of a similar intention?’ asked Jenkins, addressing the two figures who stood before them.
‘If you mean seeking out the Templar monument, then we are indeed of a similar tendency,’ replied the figure who had first called out to them.
‘Quite. Allow me to introduce my companions – Miss Eames from Ludlow, Mr Jenkins from London, and I am Mr Ganniford, also from London, at your service, gentlemen.’
‘Doctor Andreas Hollinger, formerly of Baden-Baden,’ said the elderly, grey-haired gentleman, speaking in a pronounced foreign accent, and extending a hand in greeting.
‘Major Anstruther, Her Majesty’s Dragoon Guards at your
service, gentlemen, and lady,’ added the other stranger giving a short bow.
‘Have you been here long, gentlemen?’ enquired Ganniford.
‘Only these past ten minutes,’ replied the doctor.
‘I had thought that our host would have been here to welcome us,’ said Jenkins, brushing away some of the wet from his coat.
‘Probably thought better of it,’ said the military gentleman, running a finger over a red moustache.
‘The night is certainly, how you say, it is wretched,’ remarked Hollinger smiling.
‘I took the liberty, gentlemen, of securing the services of a local man, who, I assume, is the custodian of the building. He declared he would be here tonight to unlock the door for us,’ said Jenkins, in his usual matter-of-fact tone of voice.
‘Then it would appear, sir, that the fellow ran off with your money!’ snapped Anstruther striding up and down.
‘We are a few minutes early, I believe,’ said his companion pulling out a large watch from his waistcoat pocket and examining its hands.
‘Good evening, gentlemen!’
The group turned round to discover that a tall, thin gentleman, dressed in a long black coat and slouch hat, had suddenly entered the porch.
‘And who the devil are you?’ asked Anstruther.
‘Ross. My name is Ross, gentlemen. At your service. I’m sorry, ma’am, I did not observe your presence,’ said the new arrival addressing Miss Eames.
‘I take it, sir, that you are engaged on the same business as ourselves?’ asked Ganniford after clearing his throat, and observing that the speaker had a marked Scottish accent and that his face was partially obscured by his large hat.
‘I believe so, gentlemen.’
‘Your voice suggests that you have, how you say, travelled far?’ said Hollinger.
‘I originate from Kirkintilloch, gentlemen, in
, but now reside near Bredon,’ replied Ross, in a formal, brisk tone that suggested that he was unwilling to engage in further conversation.
‘Then you have had the shortest journey of all of us,’ said Jenkins, giving the stranger a curious stare.
The latest arrival said nothing, as he turned away from the group.
‘Damn cold out here tonight,’ said the major, stamping his feet on the ground.
‘Miss Eames – and gentlemen, as it would appear that neither our host, nor the person you engaged, Mr Jenkins, is here tonight to, er, meet us, then perhaps we should adjourn to one of the nearby inns, and return in, say, thirty minutes’ time?’ suggested the doctor.
‘You can go to the inn if you want to, I will remain here,’ retorted Anstruther. ‘I’ve come a damn long way to be here tonight, and I’m not inclined to forsake our quest now.’
‘I was not implying that we abandon our visit entirely, Major. I was merely suggesting that we return later. I’m sure Miss Eames must be feeling the cold,’ corrected Hollinger becoming somewhat flushed in the face.
‘I agree with the major. If we go away now, and if either our host or this fellow you have engaged, Jenkins, was to turn up in our absence and see we were not here, he might decide not to wait for our return,’ offered Ganniford.