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Authors: Edward Marston

Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Historical

Timetable of Death

BOOK: Timetable of Death
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With love and thanks to Judith who helped me with my research in Derbyshire and who enjoyed watching the County Cricket team so much that she encouraged me to weave the game of cricket into the narrative

This is a work of fiction and I have had to bend certain facts to make them fit into the narrative. I had to create a vacancy for the post of chairman of the Midland Railway and take a few liberties with the publication of the
Derby Mercury
and with the policing arrangements in Spondon in 1859. At the time, St Werburgh’s church was known as St Mary’s. It was rededicated to St Werburgh in the early 1890s. When I visited the church, a wedding was taking place. By contrast, the novel begins with a funeral. The murder of Enoch Stone in 1856 was an actual event. The case remains unsolved.


Spondon, 1859

Perched on the top of a hill, the parish church of St Mary looked down on the people of Spondon with the fond and caring eye of a doting parent. When it was built at the end of the fourteenth century it had been an imposing Gothic structure that seemed too large and grandiose for a small Derbyshire village and, even though it now served a parish of over fifteen hundred souls, its pre-eminence, architecturally and spiritually, remained. Among its multiple functions, it was the social centre of the village, the place where the faithful gathered every Sunday in their best attire to mingle with their friends and neighbours, to exchange news, to share confidences and to develop stronger bonds.

The main topic of conversation that Sunday morning had been the untimely death of Cicely Peet, a lady of some standing in the community, cut down cruelly by disease when still short of her fiftieth birthday. As the congregation listened to the handsome tribute paid to her by the vicar during his sermon, her grave had already been dug in the
churchyard and the funeral was already assured of a sizeable number of mourners. There was a pervasive mood of sadness and regret and many a handkerchief was pressed into service. When it was finally over, people came slowly out of St Mary’s to shake the hand of the Reverend Michael Sadler and mumble a few departing words before glancing involuntarily in the direction of the fine house where Mrs Peet had lived for so many years. It was a long time before everyone had dispersed.

A blanket of sorrow lay over the whole village. Respect for the dead was not, however, a universal feeling. On the very next day, it was certainly not in evidence in the behaviour of two of the younger inhabitants.


Lizzie Grindle had pushed her younger brother and made him yelp.

‘Chase me!’

‘Don’t mank abaht,’ he complained.

‘I’m farster than ter.’


‘Carn’t ketch me for a penny cup o’ tea!’

To provide more encouragement, she shoved him so hard this time that he stumbled and fell to the ground. He scrambled to his feet with the intention of striking back at her but she’d already taken to her heels. Sam Grindle gave chase even though he could never outrun his sister. While she was a tall, rangy, long-legged girl of twelve, he was a short, chubby ten-year-old with a freckled face and piggy eyes. Ordinarily, he couldn’t even begin to keep up with her, but the urge for revenge gave him both additional speed and a sense of purpose. Surprisingly, he began to gain on
her. Lizzie was delighted that she’d provoked a response. Tormenting her younger brother was her chief pastime and she was particularly adept at causing trouble then blaming it on him. She was far more guileful and inventively dishonest than Sam. As a result, it was the boy who, more often than not, felt the anger of his father’s hand.

The children of Walter Grindle, the blacksmith, were familiar figures in the village, always arguing, always making a noise, always darting about, always up to some kind of mischief, or so it appeared to onlookers. What they saw early on that Monday morning was a girl shrieking madly as she was pursued by a podgy lad issuing all kinds of dire threats against her. On the day before a funeral, it was unseemly. Tongues were clicked and dark looks exchanged. But they had no effect on Lizzie Grindle. She was in her element, goading her brother and pretending to be frightened of him before turning to give him a contemptuous giggle. While she ran on with the ease of a natural athlete, his legs began to tire and his lungs to burn. Sam was soon reduced to a painful plod.

Lizzie immediately changed the rules of the game. Instead of being a race that only she could win, it became an exhilarating exercise in hide-and-seek. She concealed herself in doorways, ducked under carts and disappeared behind a horse for several minutes at one point. Each time, her brother eventually found her but, before he could grab her, she was off in a flash to her next fleeting refuge. When she reached Church Hill she still had enough strength to run up it and enough devilry to stand there and mock him with rude gestures. Panting audibly and hurting badly, Sam lumbered bravely on, determined to get even with her somehow.

The churchyard offered a whole range of hiding places and Lizzie went skipping between the headstones in search of the best one. She quickly found it. The open grave of Cicely Peet beckoned. It was perfect. Her brother would never dream of looking in there. Untroubled by any thoughts of the impropriety of using someone’s last resting place as a source of childish fun, she hared across the grass and jumped happily into the grave.

It was only then that she discovered it was already occupied.

Lizzie’s Grindle’s scream of terror could be heard half a mile away.

The invention of the electric telegraph had been a boon to Scotland Yard. Messages that might have taken several hours to deliver by other means could now be sent in a matter of minutes. A national network was slowly being set up along the routes taken by railways and canals. Communication had therefore quickened by leaps and bounds. There was, however, an element of frustration for the recipient because the information transmitted by telegraph was often terse.

Edward Tallis voiced his usual complaint.

‘Why can’t they give us more detail?’ he asked.

‘We must accept the limitations of the service, sir,’ said Robert Colbeck, tolerantly. ‘By its very nature, a telegraph encourages abbreviation. We should be grateful for what it
do and not criticise it for being unable to send an exhaustive report of a particular crime.’ He glanced at the missive in Tallis’s hand. ‘From where did this one come?’


‘What’s the name of the victim?’

‘Mr Vivian Quayle. He was a director of the Midland Railway, hence their call for immediate assistance.’

They were in the superintendent’s office. Wreathed in cigar smoke, Tallis was seated behind his desk with the telegraph in his hand. It would have been easier to give it to Colbeck so that he could read it for himself but a deep-seated envy made Tallis draw back from that. What the inspector was not told was that there was a specific request for him to be sent. Because his record of solving crimes on the railway network was unmatched, the press had dubbed him the Railway Detective and it was a badge of honour that Tallis resented bitterly. It grieved him that Colbeck invariably collected praise that the superintendent felt should instead go to him.

Tallis was a solid man in his fifties with short grey hair and a neat moustache. His spine had a military straightness, his eyes glinted dangerously and, when roused, his rasping delivery could penetrate the walls of his office with ease. Colbeck, by contrast, was tall, slim, handsome, lithe, soft-spoken and twenty years younger. He was also something of a dandy with an elegance that Tallis thought inappropriate in one of his detectives. Since the two men could never like each other, they settled for a mutual respect of each other’s considerable virtues.

‘May I see the telegraph, please?’ asked Colbeck.

Tallis put it in a drawer. ‘There’s no point.’

‘Who sent it?’

‘Mr Haygarth – he’s the chairman of the company.’

‘The headquarters are in Derby. Sergeant Leeming and I will go there at once.’ Colbeck gave a non-committal smile. ‘Do you have any instructions, sir?’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Tallis, ominously. ‘First, I expect you and the sergeant to maintain the high standards that I set for all officers in the Detective Department. Second, I’m counting on you for a speedy solution to this crime. When there’s so much work for them here in London, I can’t have my men tied up in the provinces for any length of time. The capital takes priority. Third,’ he went on, rising to his feet and brushing cigar ash from his sleeve, ‘I insist that you send me a full report at the earliest opportunity and keep me informed at every stage of the investigation. Fourth and finally—’

‘I think I can guess what that is, sir,’ said Colbeck, interrupting him. ‘Fourth and finally, if we don’t make rapid progress, you’ll come to Derby in person to take charge of the case.’

‘I will, indeed.’

‘Yet a moment ago you said that the capital must take priority.’

‘And so it must.’

‘Then it will surely be foolish of you to desert London in order to devote your energies to a murder investigation in Derbyshire. You’re needed here, Superintendent. When you are at the helm, the underworld quivers.’

Tallis glared. ‘Do I detect a whiff of sarcasm?’

‘Your senses are far too well tuned to make such a mistake.’

‘Don’t you dare mock a superior, Colbeck.’

‘I’m simply acknowledging your superiority,’ said the other, seriously. ‘The commissioner, after all, is largely a figurehead. In reality, it’s you who bears most of the responsibility for policing the capital and – since you do it
with such exemplary style and effectiveness – that’s why you should remain here.’

Edward Tallis was unsure whether to be flattered by the praise or irritated by the smoothness with which it was delivered. By the time the superintendent made up his mind, it was too late. Colbeck had left the room.


Panic had seized the village of Spondon. The shocking discovery of a murder victim in their churchyard had unsettled everyone and set off fevered speculation. Though he did his best to reassure his parishioners, the vicar was unable to quell the mounting alarm. Michael Sadler was a short, slight man in his fifties with the remains of his white hair scattered in tufts over his pate. What made him so popular with his congregation was his kindness, his lack of condescension and the merciful brevity of his sermons. More discerning worshippers also admired the soundness of his theology and the sheer breadth of his learning. Qualities seen at their best inside the church, however, did not fit him for heated confrontations. When he found himself caught up in one that morning, he was clearly out of his depth.

‘I insist!’ yelled Roderick Peet.

‘So what?’ retorted Bert Knowles.

‘Do as you’re told, man.’

‘I done it already.’

‘Don’t be so exasperating.’

‘Now, now, gentlemen,’ said the vicar, trying to intervene. ‘There’s no need for discord. I’m sure that this matter can be settled amicably.’

‘We’re talking about my wife’s funeral,’ said Peet, shaking with rage.

Knowles pointed a finger. ‘Then theer’s ’er grave.’

‘Damn your impudence!’

‘Please,’ chided the vicar, a hand on his arm. ‘Let’s moderate our language, shall we, Mr Peet? Never forget that we’re on consecrated ground.’

Peet bit his lip. ‘I do apologise, Vicar.’

do well to remember that this is a churchyard, Bert.’

Knowles shrugged. ‘Aye, ’appen I should.’

But he was clearly unrepentant. Knowles was a sturdy man in his sixties with a gnarled face, a farm labourer who supplemented his low wages by digging graves and doing odd jobs in the village. He was not a churchgoer. Peet, on the other hand, was a pillar of St Mary’s and one of its most generous benefactors. He was a tall, lean man in his seventies with great poise and dignity. He was wearing funereal garb. As a member of the local gentry, he expected the common people to defer to him at all times and most of them did. Knowles was the exception. The gravedigger hated any sign of aloofness and called no man his master.

Sadler understood the positions of the two combatants all too well. Horrified that an interloper had appeared out of the blue in his wife’s grave, Peet wanted a new one to be dug instantly. The original, he felt, was contaminated beyond redemption. For his part, Knowles argued that he’d done exactly what he was told to do and that was the end of it. He saw no reason why his grave could not receive the body of Cicely Peet as planned.

‘There was a murdered man in there,’ howled Peet.

‘Well, ’e’s not theer now,’ countered Knowles.

‘It’s a bad omen.’

‘I don’t see as ’ow it is, Mr Peet. A grave’s a bleedin’ grave.’

‘Bert!’ shouted the vicar in dismay.

Knowles raised a grubby palm. ‘Sorry.’

‘So you should be.’ His voice softened. ‘Mr Peet’s request is very reasonable. He wants a fresh grave for his dear, departed wife.’

‘Dunna axe me to dig it.’

‘You’ll get paid. I’ll happily provide the money myself.’

‘There’s no need for you to do that, Vicar,’ said Peet. ‘I’ll meet the cost.’

Knowles folded his arms. ‘No.’

‘Then we’ll find someone else.’

‘No,’ repeated the other, gruffly. ‘Nobody steals my job.’

our official gravedigger,’ admitted the vicar. ‘We never had the slightest cause to complain about his work in the past. As you see,’ he added, indicating the open grave, ‘he does an excellent job.’

‘Then let him do it again,’ said Peet, struggling to hold in his temper. ‘Doesn’t this idiot understand an order when he’s given one? I’m not making a polite request. What I’m issuing is a demand. And it must be obeyed.’

‘Matter o’ principul,’ said Knowles, stubbornly. ‘If my grave en’t good enough for ter, bury the missus somewheer else.’ He pulled out a pipe and thrust it in his mouth. ‘Gorra bit of bacca abaht thee, Vicar?’


It was too much to expect Victor Leeming to enjoy a journey that took him away from his wife and family, but at least he didn’t launch into his standard litany of objections to steam locomotion. Settling back in a seat opposite Colbeck, he suffered in silence. The train to Derby had set out from King’s Cross station, the London terminus of the
Great Northern Railway. Because it had no terminus in the capital, the Midland Railway had been forced to come to an agreement with one of its chief rivals, making use of the latter’s tracks between London and Hitchin. Beyond there, trains ran on lines owned by the Midland. As a company it had endured some very difficult times but, although he was well aware of them, Colbeck saw no point in trying to interest the sergeant in the vagaries of running a railway company. Instead, he pointed out the benefit of their present assignment.

‘Detective work is not merely fascinating in itself,’ he said. ‘It gives us a geography lesson each time.’

‘I’d prefer to stay in London, sir.’

‘I don’t believe it, Victor. Even you must have been uplifted by the wonders of Scotland, the scenic delight of Devon and the novelty of all the other places we’ve been taken to in the course of our work. And what you’ve seen and experienced you doubtless pass on to your children, so they are getting an education as well.’

‘I never thought of that,’ confessed Leeming. ‘And you’re right about the boys. Whenever I’ve been away, they always pester me for details of where I’ve been. So does Estelle, for that matter.’

‘Madeleine is the same. In her case, of course, she has been able to join us from time to time. My dear wife is still talking about our adventure in Ireland.’

‘Let’s hope that the superintendent never finds out about that. If he realised that we had the help of a woman during a murder investigation, he’d have a fit.’

Since they occupied an empty compartment they were able to talk freely. Leeming was a stocky individual of medium
height with the kind of unsightly features more suited to a ruffian than to a detective sergeant. Indeed, though he wore a frock coat and well-cut trousers, he still contrived to look like a villain on the run from the law. Years of being teased about his ugliness as a boy had served to toughen him and he’d become so proficient at punching his detractors that they’d learnt to hold their tongues. Colbeck admired him for his strength, tenacity and unwavering loyalty.

‘Why can’t the police in Derby handle this case?’ asked Leeming.

‘Someone clearly thinks it’s beyond their competence.’

‘That means we’ll get a frosty welcome. Nobody likes to be told that detectives are being brought in over their head.’

‘We’ve coped with that situation before,’ said Colbeck with a sigh. ‘Some constabularies have been extremely helpful but we do tend to meet with jealousy and suspicion as a rule. It’s understandable.’

‘The railway police are the worse, sir.’

‘I agree, Victor. They never accept that they have no power to investigate major crimes on the network. Some of them always try to do our work for us. There’s no knowing what we’ll face when we get there but we’d better brace ourselves for resistance of some sort. One thing is certain,’ he said, philosophically. ‘There won’t be a brass band waiting to greet us at Derby station.’


Donald Haygarth walked so quickly up and down the platform that his companion had difficulty in keeping up with him. Haygarth was a big, barrel-chested man in his fifties with an expensive tailor, paid to conceal his customer’s spreading contours. For all his bulk, he moved at speed and
exuded self-importance. Trotting beside him was Elijah Wigg, the cadaverous Superintendent of Derby Police, the brass buttons of his uniform gleaming like stars and his boots brushed to a high sheen. Wigg’s side whiskers were so long and luxuriant that they threatened to join forces under his chin and blossom into a full beard. Weary of trying to have a conversation on the hoof, he put a skeletal hand on Haygarth’s shoulder and pulled him to a halt.

‘There’s no need to wear out the soles of your shoes,’ he said, spikily. ‘It won’t make your famous Railway Detective come any sooner.’

‘He’ll be here any minute,’ said Haygarth, fussily. ‘I know the train that he caught because he had the forethought to inform me by telegraph. If it’s running on time, as it should be, I expect him to be only a mile or so away from us.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. The next train to London arrives here in twenty minutes. Inspector Colbeck can go straight back where he came from.’

‘And why on earth should he do that?’

will be handling the investigation, Mr Haygarth.’

‘I’ve called in an acknowledged expert.’

‘An acknowledged expert on
?’ demanded Wigg. ‘He doesn’t know this part of the country, he doesn’t understand the people and he won’t be able to make head or tail of the Derbyshire dialect. Why have a complete stranger blundering around when we have a police force equipped with local insight?’

‘Be honest, Superintendent,’ said Haygarth. ‘This case is too big for you.’

‘I deny it.’

‘It’s a complex murder inquiry.’

‘We can handle it better than anyone.’

‘That’s patently untrue.’

Wigg bristled. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that you already have one unsolved murder on your hands. Need I remind you that it’s three years since a man named Enoch Stone was killed in Spondon and that nobody has yet been brought to book for the crime?’

‘That investigation continues. We’ll find the culprit eventually.’

‘I want a quicker result in this case,’ said Haygarth, acidly. ‘That’s why I’ve turned to Scotland Yard. I don’t have three years to wait for the arrest and conviction of the man who murdered Mr Quayle. You keep chasing your tail over the Enoch Stone case, Superintendent. I need Inspector Colbeck to take charge of this one.’

BOOK: Timetable of Death
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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