‘No, no I won’t,’ Kitty reassured her. ‘But what are we going to do Sybil? We are at our wits end.’
Sybil looked up as a shadow passed the window followed by a swift rap. She said quietly ‘Don’t worry, we’ll talk later.’
The door opened and William ducked his head through the low door.
‘Sybil? Ahh you’re back then.’
‘Come on in William,’ she called from her arm chair. ‘We were just talking about you.’
‘I wondered why my ears were burning,’ he said and closed the door behind him.
He caught sight of Kitty sitting near the fire, a slow smile spread over his face. ‘Kitty, there you are,’ he came forward to greet her quickly ducking his head to avoid the low beams in the cottage. ‘I’ve been quite worried about you.’
Kitty smiled up at him, pleased to see him but the cat on her lap growled ominously at the old man.
‘Shush,’ Sybil reproached the cat. ‘William doesn’t mean you any harm.’ She stood up and motioned William to her seat. ‘Sit down and I’ll make some more tea.’
He sat down in her vacated armchair and stared keenly at Kitty across the hearth. ‘I’ve been wondering where you both had got to. I called round and the lights were on and the front door was open. Is everything okay?’
‘We had to leave suddenly.’
He rubbed his hands on his knees and half smiled at her. ‘It’s strange but I’ve been feeling very uneasy about you for the last couple of days, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.’
‘Oh William,’ Kitty suddenly felt very guilty. ‘I’m sorry we worried you.’
‘Who’s worried?’ asked Sybil coming back in with a tray and casting a curious look at the pair sat by the fire.
‘Oh.., I’ve made a pot full, I’m sure you could do with another cup,’ she said looking at Kitty. ‘No William stay there,’ she said to him as he stood up. ‘And sit down before you bang your head.’
‘This cottage is just too small Sybil,’ he said stooping to avoid the low beam.
‘Bijou William, bijou,’ she said firmly. ‘And what are you worrying about now?’
‘I was just telling Kitty that I was worried when I saw the lights on in the house and the door open.’
‘Yes, I’m afraid we rushed off last night and forgot to lock up.’
Sybil placed the tray on the table and pulled up a small wooden chair to the fire. She handed him a cup of tea. ‘Here you are William.’
Outside the church bells started pealing.
‘Wow that’s loud.’ Kitty winced. ‘I suppose that is the downside of living so close to the church.’
‘I’m used to it now. When we first came to this house it used to drive me mad, especially on Tuesdays when it was practice night. But I don’t notice it so much now.’
William smiled slightly and winked at Kitty.
‘And no my hearing isn’t going, I saw that smirk William.’
‘I didn’t say anything,’ he protested. ‘Why don’t you go outside,’ he smiled slightly watching her. ‘You’ll give yourself a stiff neck like that.’
Sybil had half raised herself from the chair and was craning her neck to see out of the cottage window at the cars pulling up outside.
‘His parents have arrived, oh I like her hat,’ she exclaimed. She looked at the clock and started to fidget. ‘Well it’s nearly twenty to, I’ll get the coats.’
She hurried off into the small kitchen at the back of the house and came back shortly wearing a bright red duffle coat and carrying Kitty’s jacket. ‘Here you are dear,’ she looked at it critically before handing it over to Kitty. ‘It’s dried quite well. Are you coming outside William?’ she inquired. ‘Hurry up you two, I don’t want to miss anything.’
‘I suppose I’d better,’ he said standing up.
‘Mind your head.’ reminded Kitty.
William grinned ruefully as he rapped his head one of the beams. ‘Bugger!’
‘Sorry Sybil,’ He took Kitty’s coat from her hand. ‘Here let me help you.’
‘Thanks William,’ she hesitated. ‘I really am sorry that we had worried you, we just didn’t think.’
‘Don’t apologise Kitty, it was just me being an old fusspot, I’m not used to having neighbours.’
‘You’re an old worrier William,’ said Sybil looking at him in amusement. She opened the door. ‘Come on, and look at this, it’s stopped raining and the sun has come out. “Happy is the bride the sun shines on”,’ Sybil quoted happily.
Another three cars drove slowly down through the village and turned into the crowded car park.
‘There’s quite a few people turning up, they told me it was going to be a small wedding.’ Sybil said quietly as they walked down to join the group of onlookers gathered around the War Memorial, Kitty following reluctantly. A group of wedding guests walked across from the car park and climbed the stone steps to the church.
‘The groom comes from a large family Sybil so I guess they weren’t able to, look there’s Rose waving at you.’
She came hurrying over. ‘Sybil,’ she cried. ‘You got back in time, I was watching for your daughter’s car but I didn’t see it drive past.’
‘I got home about ten; thank goodness it’s stopped raining.’
Rose turned her attention to Kitty. ‘I’m glad to see you looking better; you’ve got a bit of colour in your cheeks today.’
‘Yes I feel much better today thanks.’ Kitty replied quietly.
‘I was so worried about you yesterday and I knew Sybil would want to know, so I had to call her last night and tell her, didn’t I?’ she said turning to Sybil, who absently nodded while watching more of the guests arrive.
‘What’s the time?’ asked Sybil.
‘It’s five to twelve,’ William said checking his pocket watch.
‘She’ll be here in a minute; I’m looking forward to seeing the dress. They had to go to
London to get it.’ Rose fidgeted, staring up the street.
‘Yes I know Rose, I told you.’
‘Did you? I thought it was Edith that told me.’
‘Well I told Edith in the first place.’
Behind them William rolled his eyes at Kitty and grinned. ‘Women and weddings!’
Kitty smiled at him and shyly acknowledged the many friendly and curious smiles and waves of Sybil’s acquaintances in the waiting crowd.
‘Sybil, Sybil,’ William said tugging at her arm to get her attention. ‘The car is just pulling out of the drive. Is it worth hiring a car just for that short distance?’ he questioned. ‘She could have walked down.
The two older women gave him a scathing look.
‘Isobel can’t walk down the road in her wedding dress, honestly, men!’ Sybil said to Rose.
The gleaming car bedecked with ribbons and flowers slowly drew to a halt by the church steps, Colin got and ran round to open the door for his daughter and helped her out.
‘You look lovely dear,’ Sybil called across.
‘Thanks Sybil,’ the young bride blushed and gave the waiting onlookers a little wave.
William smiled and called out ’You look lovely as well Colin, very dapper.’
Father and daughter laughed as he helped Isobel negotiate the slippery steps in her flowing lace dress.
‘Do you know how uncomfortable this get up is?’ Colin said to William.
‘Never mind, you’ll be back in your wellies tomorrow.’
Colin grinned at the crowd as he led his daughter proudly up the church path.
A car drew slowly up behind them, parking across the front of the cottages.
‘Oh dear, somebody’s late’ said Rose peering around William at the car.
‘It’s your husband, Kitty,’ he said.
Kitty started guiltily as Gordon got out of the car, he looked none too pleased and replied gruffly to Sybil’s cheerful greeting.
‘You’ve just missed Isobel going into the church.’
‘What are you doing here? I thought you were at work.’ said Kitty.
‘And you were supposed to be at Eve’s waiting for her to get back,’ he said sharply in a low voice. ‘I thought you were taking Emily to the swimming pool this afternoon, she’ll be very disappointed that you’ve let her down.’
‘It was your idea to take her, not mine. I don’t remember you asking me what I thought about it.’ she replied suddenly feeling guilty.
‘Well I thought you would like to, I just wanted to know that you would be okay today while I was at work. ‘
William looked at the couple curiously. ‘Everything okay Gordon?’
‘Fine,’ he replied shortly and turned back to his wife. ‘You haven’t been up to the house have you?’
‘No,’ she lied. ‘I came to see Sybil.’
Sybil looked around at the mention of her name. ‘Why don’t we go back in the warm and I’ll make some more tea,’ she suggested calmly looking at Gordon’s annoyed face. ‘I’m sure you would like a cup wouldn’t you Gordon?’ Sybil looked at William and smiled. ‘And you won’t say no to another cup, will you?’
William hesitated, aware of the tension between the couple. ‘Well,’ he said slowly. ‘I should be going Sybil,’ he turned to Kitty. ‘I’m glad you’re alright,’ he glanced at Gordon’s stiff face and carried on. ‘I’ll be off now, I’m sure I’ll see you soon,’ he patted Sybil on the arm and turned and walked slowly away up the street.
‘Why are you being so rude to everybody?’ Kitty said crossly, quietly enough that nobody else could hear her except for her husband.
‘I wasn’t being rude.’
Sybil opened the cottage door and ushered them in, she looked at Gordon’s flushed face.
‘Don’t look like that, Kitty was right to come and see me.’ She closed the door behind them and pulled off her duffle. ‘Perhaps it’s just as well William didn’t come in, now we’ll be able to talk freely about your problem. Now who wants tea?’
Kitty shook her head and glanced at her husband.
‘No thanks,’ he replied stiffly.
‘Well sit down Gordon, you too Kitty.’
Kitty sat back in her recently vacated chair and pushed Nero’s warm sleeping body out of the way with her foot, as soon as she had settled back into the armchair the cat jumped into her lap and curled up.
Sybil pushed the tea tray out of the way and laid her address book on the table. ‘I’ll take your phone number, then I can ring you later.’
‘I’m going to call my older sister Queenie, she’ll know what to do.’
‘We’ve already had ‘expert help’ and I’m sure Kitty told you what happened.’ He frowned at Sybil and shook his head angrily at his wife.
‘Yes, yes, I’ve heard all about it, now calm down Gordon. Queenie will be able to help, I promise. I’ll ring her and see if she can come over as soon as possible. Though I don’t expect she will able to today, she lives in Dorchester now so tomorrow will be more likely.’
‘I’m not sure I want any more help, I told Kitty that we’re going to sell the house and that will be the end of it.’ He stared at the old woman and stood up.
‘That’s enough Kitty, you’re not going back into that house, I won’t allow her to hurt you or any of my family.’
‘Gordon!’ said Sybil sharply. ‘Hannah would never hurt Kitty.’
‘You don’t know that,’ he rounded on her.
‘Yes I do,’ she replied firmly. ‘Kitty is Ava’s great- granddaughter.’
Gordon stared at her in amazement. ‘She can’t be, your great-gran was called Mary,’ he addressed Kitty. ‘This is nonsense.’
‘Gordon! Just be quiet and listen for a minute, Mary was her second name, I didn’t realise.’
He rubbed his hand wearily over his face. ‘Look Kitty, let’s just calmly think about this, you would have known if she was called Ava,’ he turned to Sybil. ‘I think you’ve made a mistake, it was a long time ago and things get muddled,’ he said trying to be patient with the old woman.
Sybil looked at him and smiled slightly. ‘No, no mistake Gordon and I don’t get muddled,’ she added firmly.
‘Then how do you explain the messages?’ Kitty asked him.
He shook his head in bewilderment. ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know and why would anybody want to hurt you? Little Emily was in the house Monday night, it was awful.’ he groaned. ‘God, I wish I had never bought that piece of land. What the hell is going on?’
Gordon rubbed his hand over his chin and stared at Sybil in frustration.
‘Sit down and I’ll try to explain, ’she said calmly.
‘Go on then, try and explain this nightmare to me.’
He sat down again in front of the fire and looked at her expectantly. Sybil pulled up the small chair and settled herself, she placed her hands on her knees and began slowly, looking intently at them.
‘Right, Ava, who was Kitty’s great grandmother, worked for Robert Beamish at Castle Farm, he was of course Hannah’s brother- in- law. After Samuel, Hannah’s husband, was killed, she became very ill, I think it was from the shock, she was pregnant with their first child at that time and it came too early.
‘A baby?’ Kitty stared across the hearth at Gordon. ‘Was he called Samuel? Because we found that other Samuel Beamish on the records. Was it hers?’
‘Yes, he didn’t live long, the poor little thing. The shock of Samuel’s death made Hannah go into labour, so,’ she sighed. ‘She lost her husband and her baby within a few weeks of each other. Ava used to go up with food and help nurse her and little Samuel until Robert found out.’
‘How did his brother die?’ he asked curiously.
‘Well I think that’s open for debate, whether it was an accident or it was something far more sinister, I don’t know.’
‘Would he kill his own brother? Was he that evil?’ asked Gordon shocked.
‘I don’t know how far he would have gone. After Samuel died he became obsessed with the land, he offered to buy the cottage back from Hannah and when she refused he started hounding her.’
‘He sounds a right bastard but what has this got to do with us?’ he asked stroking Nero’s ears.
‘His hatred of Hannah spilled out onto Ava, he made the poor girl’s life hell but she didn’t give up on Hannah. She continued visiting her and taking food up to the cottage,’ Sybil paused and stared sadly into the fire.
Gordon looked puzzled. ‘But what about everybody else in the village? They must have known what was going on.’
She shook her head. ‘He could be so violent that they were all terrified of him and I’m sure they thought it would all blow over eventually. And as for thinking that any harm would come to Hannah it would never have crossed their minds, after all, why would it?’ Sybil shook her head. ‘So you see’ she continued. ‘That’s the problem, as far as he is concerned Ava has returned, so to speak,’ she nodded at Kitty. ‘And living on his land again.’
Kitty huddled in the chair clutching the purring cat close to her chest.
‘So the thing that was in the house, that came after Hannah, that was Robert Beamish?’
‘I don’t think there’s much doubt dear but as I said Queenie’s the expert. She’ll be able to tell you more.’
‘That makes sense,’ Gordon said slowly. He hesitated and looked at Kitty. ‘I saw him, the night we left with Eve. Remember there was somebody stood in the lane? And I saw him before on Monday night out of the window, I know I didn’t say anything but I didn’t think it was William then, it looked like him but he didn’t feel right. Oh I know I’m not making sense but I’m sure it must have been Robert.’
Sybil nodded slowly. ‘Well it sounds like it’s him, as I said Queenie will be able to tell you for sure.’
‘Are you sure she will come?’ asked Kitty.
‘Of course she will, she’ll be able to sort this out.’
‘I found an old photo album on Sunday, there was picture of great-granny at the back. She was stood outside The Anchor with her family. I think it must have been a wedding, she looked so happy.’
The grey cat stretched on Kitty’s lap and yawned showing its bright red tongue and sharp little teeth.
‘She was a happy little girl; it broke her heart what happened to Hannah,
‘Of course,’ said Gordon suddenly. ‘She’s the one that stood up at the inquest and accused Robert of murder.’
‘I bet that went down well.’
‘Luckily Ava was living at home then.’
‘And the man that was supposed to be a white witch, what happened to him?’ Gordon asked.
‘He wasn’t seen again, I believe they searched for him for weeks after but it was as if he had fallen off of the face of the earth. People said that he had done it but we knew better, not that it could be proved of course.’
Gordon stood up and took the pen from her hand, he scribbled his mobile number in the book.
‘There,’ he said throwing down the pen. ‘And you’ll ring us tonight?’
‘Yes’ she said firmly. ‘But stay away from the house tonight you two, just to be safe.’
Robert opened the door to the parlour and looked into the dimly lit room.
Evans was slumped in a chair near the smouldering fire, a tankard in his slack hand.
‘Well?’ he inquired. ‘How is it all going?’
The drunk roused himself and looked blearily at the figure standing over him.
‘Everything’s going well sur,’ he slurred staggering up.
Robert smiled slightly. ‘So the witch will soon be gone I hope?’ he stared at the bubbling pot on the hearth. ‘And you think that foul potion will do the trick?’ he questioned.
‘Oh yes sur, that’ll certainly do the trick, that’ll drive the evil harridan out of her cottage for good, yes sur for good.’ he swayed as he spoke.
Robert smiled in satisfaction. ‘Soon?’ his cold eyes flicked over the man.
‘Oh yes sur any day now.’
‘Yes, I think this is going to work out very well,’ he opened the door and paused. ‘I’ll get Rose to bring you some more ale.’
‘Thank ‘ee sur, most kind of ‘ee.’
Outside in the passage Rose was hovering; a pile of linen over her arm. She stared grimly at her master.
‘How long is he going to be in there? I need to get into the parlour to clean,’ Rose’s lip curled in disgust. ‘And it stinks in there, what is he doing?’
‘That’s none of your business Rose, just fetch another jug of ale for him and stay out of his way.’
Rose turned away from him and started walking towards the scullery.
‘Where’s that girl?’
‘If you mean Ava, she is in the dairy; she’s busy scouring out the butter pans.’
‘Well make sure she does her work properly, I’ve had enough of her running off up that hill.’
He paused and stared at the plump servant. ‘I’m just stepping out for a while; I’ve business in the village and don’t forget the ale.’
He pulled out his blackthorn walking stick from the stick stand and opened the front door.
‘I’m looking forward to getting into some clean clothes,’ said Kitty, pulling out a long sleeved T shirt from the carrier bag. She tugged at the plastic tags. ‘Have you got a pair of scissors or something? These labels won’t come off.’
Gordon looked up from the bag he was opening. ‘Throw it over,’ he said holding out his hand.
‘I don’t know why they make the tags so hard to get off,’ she complained.
‘That’s the idea isn’t it? To deter shoplifters,’ he put the label into his mouth and nipped it off with his teeth. ‘There,’ he said handing it back.
‘Can you do this one as well?’ She pulled out a thick jumper from the bag and tossed it onto the bed next to him.
‘God, how much did you spend in that shop?’ he complained, looking at the price tag.
‘We needed clean clothes Gordon.’ She held the jumper up to herself and looked in the mirror on the dressing table. ‘I think this will fit, it looks nice doesn’t it?’
‘Hmm,’ he sat quietly on the bed and watched her pull out various pieces of clothing from the store bags. ‘Kitty, I’ve been thinking.. .’
She looked up and lowered the blouse she was holding. ‘About what?’
‘Well, at the weekend I’d like to go to Lyme and buy a new rod and reel.’
Kitty stared at him confused. ‘Why? You have loads of rods and reels, what do you want another one for?’
‘For you, a small light weight one, I thought I could teach you how to fish.’
‘It’s just that I’ve been thinking it would be nice to spend more time together, I’ve been so busy lately with work and then of course getting the house sorted. We haven’t had enough ‘quality time’ I’d think you call it.’
Gordon sat on the end of the bed, his shoulders slumped and Kitty noticed suddenly how tired he looked. He stared blankly at the shirt he was holding. ‘What do you think?’
‘But you like having peace and quiet when you’re fishing; well that’s what you always said.’
‘I know but that was when the children were smaller, it’s different now,’ he looked up at her. ‘It would be nice, we could go fishing together or you could bring a book. I could even get you a comfy chair to sit in. Just a bit of time together...’
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘We could take a picnic as well.’
He brightened. ‘Or stop for lunch somewhere. We’ll get this sorted and then we will go shopping for a rod,’ Gordon said decisively.
‘Alright if that’s what you would like.’
Kitty dumped the rest of the clothes on the bed. ‘There you are, clean undies and socks.’
‘Thanks dear, I say these are jazzy,’ he said picking up a pair of red and yellow striped socks.
‘I thought you could have a change from black.’
A quiet buzzing came from the pocket of his coat that was lying on the window seat.
He pulled it out and looked at the number displayed on the screen.
‘I don’t recognise this number, I wonder if it’s Sybil. Hello? Yeah, she is great, so what time do you want us to come? Alright... no that’s fine... Where? Your place? OK and you’re sure she will be able to help?’ there was a long pause ‘Really?’ he said surprised looking quickly at Kitty. ‘Well then we’ll see you tomorrow.’
Gordon flicked the phone shut and threw it down on the bed. He stared blankly out the window, the rain had started again and was beating against the glass.
‘That was Sybil; she wants us to come to her cottage about six.’
‘What did her sister say about it?’
Gordon rubbed the stubble on his chin and looked worried. ‘Sybil said she has been expecting this and is all prepared.’
‘Expecting it, why?’
‘Sybil didn’t say.’ Gordon picked up the shirt he had dropped. ‘I could do with a shower.’
‘So we have to wait until tomorrow?’
‘Yeah ..., look Kitty are you sure you want to do this?’
‘I think we have to,’ she said quietly.
He stared at her. ‘Right, one last go at this and if it doesn’t work for whatever reason, that’s it! Okay?’
‘It’s a deal?’ he asked again.
‘Yes it’s a deal. One last go.’
‘I think,’ said Gordon pushing his plate away. ‘That we should have a nose around Axminster this morning and see what we can find about the coroner.’
‘Where?’ asked Kitty, spreading butter on the last piece of toast.
‘We’ll start in the museum, then there is the library, I expect we’ll be able to use the internet there. We can ask about Hannah, if she is as famous as the landlord seemed to think, I’m sure they will have some information about her.’
Kitty looked at him in surprise. ‘Aren’t you going into work today?’
He fixed her with a firm gaze. ‘No, I think I will stay with you today.’
She half smiled at him. ‘Don’t you trust me dear?’
‘Not at all,’ he said grimly. ‘After yesterday, you’re just daft enough to go back to the house on your own.’
‘No I won’t,’ she said flatly remembering her visit to the house the day before. ‘Not on my own.’ Kitty hesitated and then asked ‘Are you going into the estate agent as well?’
Gordon threw his napkin down on the table. ‘No, we’ll see what happens with Sybil’s sister later.’
He looked up as Angela came into the dining room.
‘Was everything alright with your breakfast?’ she asked.
‘It was lovely thank you, and give our thanks to your husband for cooking it,’ Kitty half smiled at Gordon. ‘We are going to get used to being waited on, aren’t we?’
‘That reminds me,’ he said. ‘Is it alright if we stay another night? I can pay you now if it would be easier.’
Angela smiled at him while collecting the dirty plates. ‘No, you can settle up tomorrow that will be fine. How is the move going? she asked curiously.
‘Fine,’ lied Gordon. ‘We’re just getting everything sorted, carpets, that sort of thing.’
‘Oh I see, now would you like some more tea or coffee?’
‘No we’re fine; we’ve got some things to do in the town so we’ll be off in a minute.’
‘Then we’ll see you later, have a good day,’ said Angela carrying the tray of dirty china back to the kitchen.
They parked in the car park next to the supermarket and walked up the steep hill to the centre of the small market town. The church of St Marys sat square in the middle of the green encircled by the streets and lanes of the town.
‘Where is the museum?’ asked Kitty staring up and down the street, she stepped to one side to allow an elderly man to pass on the narrow pavement.
He slowed, overhearing her. ‘The museum you say? It’s there through the arch,’ he pointed up the road. ‘Through the arch, it’s the door on the right and up the stairs.’
‘It’s only small though,’ he warned.
‘That’s alright; we just want to do some research on Medbury.’
‘Oh Medbury, nice little village. That witch used to live there, I remember my dad telling me about her. Now what was her name?’ he stared off into the distance, his rheumy old eyes blinking, ‘Oh yes, Hannah Beamish, that was it.’
‘That’s right,’ Kitty said surprised.
‘Aye, my old dad used to tell me she was terrible, cursed crops, killed cattle, stuff like that.’
‘How did he know her?’
‘Oh you know how it is, people gossip, and I think his mother used to scare him with stories about the Witch of Medbury. Probably tried to get him to behave himself,’ he chuckled and stared at them thoughtfully. ‘Why are you interested in her then?’
Gordon took Kitty’s hand and squeezed it. ‘Well we’ve just moved to Medbury, curiosity really,’ and started to move towards the arch. ‘Thanks for the directions.’
‘That’s alright, pleased to help, oh,’ he said, leaning on his walking stick and staring after them. ‘If you don’t find anything there perhaps the Tourist Information Office will be able to help.’
‘Thanks,’ repeated Gordon and pulled Kitty up the street towards the museum.
‘How strange that everybody remembers her as being an evil witch.’
‘Well dirt sticks, Kitty, and it makes a more interesting tale than if she was just a normal woman who was good with herbs.’
‘I suppose,’ Kitty sounded doubtful.
They walked under the stone arch, and just as the man had directed, a doorway opened up into a set of stone stairs that led up to the museum on the second floor.
‘This must be it,’ she said climbing slowly up.
At the top a door to the right led into a small room which held an exhibition about the local Axminster carpets, while the door to the left opened into a large lofty ceilinged room filled with display cabinets. There were two women volunteers inspecting the display of Victorian jelly moulds set up on the tables running the length of the room. They looked up as Gordon and Kitty entered the room.
‘Morning,’ said Gordon looking around the room. ‘Hey, look at this,’ he pointed to a piece of paper pinned to the side of one of the cabinets. It was a list of ‘Notable Ghosts’ and halfway down was Hannah’s name.
Kitty read it. ‘Is that it?’ she whispered. ‘Anything else?’
They wandered along the cabinets, peering in through the glass at the displays of First World War memorabilia and an eclectic mix of items of ‘local significance’.
‘Do you have any information on Hannah Beamish?’ Gordon asked one of the elderly volunteers.
‘The Witch of Medbury.’
She looked doubtful. ‘I’m not sure that we do,’ she moved towards a pile of books in the window. ‘There might be something in one of these; there is lots of information
on Devon villages but whether there is anything on the witch, I’m not sure.’ She looked up from the book she was flicking through. ‘What year would it have been?’
‘Well she died in 1841.’
‘It’s a shame Chris isn’t in today, he’s the expert on local history. Of course you could try the library.’
‘That’s where we’re going next,’ commented Gordon. ‘But thanks for the suggestion.’
‘Do you know where they would have held inquests in Axminster during the 1800’s? We found a report of the inquest but it wasn’t clear where it was held,’ asked Kitty.
The woman looked around the room. ‘This is the old Court House so any inquests would have been held in this room.’
Kitty suppressed a shudder. ‘ Fancy being a fly on the wall that day.’
Gordon agreed ‘Yes,’ he turned to the woman and asked ‘Do you know anything about the coroner for that inquest?’
‘Sorry,’ she shook her head. ‘I don’t know anything about that, as I said you’re best bet is the library.’
Kitty put a few coins in the collection box on the way out and walked carefully down the worn steps to the street. Outside the early morning mist had gone and the sun had just broken through and was shining just enough to raise Kitty’s spirits. There were still a few holiday makers wandering around the narrow streets of the town enjoying the last few warm days of the year.
‘Right we’ll go to the library first and then a coffee,’ he looked up the street past the museum. ‘I think it’s up this way. Huh! Where’s that old man when you need him.’
Kitty tucked her hand under his arm and fell into step next to him. ‘What a coincidence though,’ she said. ‘Bumping into somebody who knew about her, people have long memories around here. I wonder if it’s something to do with the slower pace of life?’
‘I think it’s more likely that generations of family are still living in the same area, and the family talk and gossip gets handed down, or talked down I should say,’ He looked at her as they walked slowly up the street. ‘Your mum’s just the same, she still talks about all your old family members as though they are still alive and kicking. What she did in the war and what her father used to say and do, she goes on for hours.’
‘Do you know she still has letters from her grandmother, she keeps them under the bed in the spare room. It’s strange isn’t it,’ Kitty went on. ‘We’re probably the first generation that doesn’t write letters anymore, we just pick up the phone and talk, and now of course it’s all e-mails. It’s a shame really all that, I don’t know, personal information, knowledge all just lost somewhere in internet heaven.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Yes,’ she said surprised. ‘It does matter, when I read those letters and can see great grandmother’s handwriting it brings her closer, it also gives a feel of what her life was like.’
Gordon opened the door to the library and stood back to allow Kitty to go in. ‘Well there are other things to make up for it, like film, photographs, that sort of thing.’
‘But it’s not the same,’ she said firmly. ‘A letter is so personal; I don’t think I’ve ever written a letter to the children. I’ve sent birthday cards and Christmas cards of course and they always go in the bin within a few days. Don’t you think that’s a shame?’ she persisted.
‘No, not really,’ he replied. ‘Come on let’s go and use some of this modern technology to find out about our coroner. Do you know,’ he said staring at her fondly. ‘I think you must have been a Luddite in a previous life.’
‘I think I was born too late,’ she replied feelingly. ‘And he’s not our coroner and I don’t think I’m going to like him.’
The librarian looked up from her desk and smiled. ‘Good Morning.’
‘Morning, can we use one of your computers?’
‘Are you a member of the library?’ she asked. ‘If you are, the first half an hour is free otherwise I’m afraid its two pounds eighty.’
Gordon took out his wallet from his jacket. ‘Well we are but I think we’re going to need longer than half an hour.’
Kitty nodded. ‘After all we don’t know what we’re looking for yet. Do you,’ she asked the librarian, ‘have a local section? We’re looking for information on Medbury.’
The woman pointed to a small section of books opposite the desk. ‘That’s the Local Interest section and if you look there,’ she pointed to the floor under the shelves where there were a pile of blue box files. ‘All that is the Domesday Project, it has information collected from all around the area. Medbury will be in one of those.’
Kitty left Gordon at the desk paying for the computer use and hurried over to the stack of files. She knelt on the floor in front of the shelves, pulled out the box marked Medbury and opened it. Inside it was crammed with brown manila folders. The top one was the Medbury folder, inside it was full of photocopied records and a few black and white photographs of the village.
Kitty looked up at Gordon, who had followed her. ‘It’s going to take ages to wade through all of it.’
Gordon pulled up a chair to the nearby table and sat down. ‘Well we’ve got until six so bring it over and we’ll start looking through it.’ He looked at the folder she placed on the table.
‘What’s in there?’
‘Well,’ she hesitated. ‘I’m not sure; it’s just copies of different articles about the village, lists of the inhabitants, forms, reports from the Vicar, anything that ever happened in the village. And it’s all muddled,’ she complained. ‘This bit is from the 1860’s and this is 1920.’
Gordon emptied the folder and spread it out on the table. ‘Let’s be methodical and work our way through it bit by bit,’ he put on his glasses and peered at the blurred photocopies.
‘A lot of this isn’t going to be of any help.’ he said after a few minutes of reading. He leafed through a few more pages and put them to one side. ‘These pages are the right date, but nothing of any interest in them.’
He put them on the discarded pile and pulled another sheet towards him. Gordon paused, ‘Well this looks more interesting.’
Kitty leaned forward in excitement. ‘What?’
‘It’s a copy from a book,’ he turned the sheet over. ‘But it doesn’t say which, look Hannah Beamish,’ he read. ‘Was a well known figure in the village, very neat and clean about her appearance and kept her house in good order. She was also well known for the excellence of her cooking. Her dumplings were renowned for being the best and whitest made in the village. Hannah was also called upon regularly for her knowledge of healing and was a frequent visitor to the homes of the sick.’
‘What book did it come from?’ interrupted Kitty pulling the piece of paper from Gordon’s hand and peering at it excitedly.
‘It doesn’t say, I told you.’
She laid it back on the table and they both bent over it again.
‘Look,’ said Gordon pointing to a paragraph on the second page. ‘The first inquest held the day after her death had to be abandoned,’ he sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. ‘I wonder why?’ he said slowly and he reread the paragraph. ‘It also says that there is no record of her death anywhere.’
‘Well that explains why we couldn’t find it on that Family Search site,’ said Kitty turning to look at her husband.
‘How strange,’ he mused. ‘It’s looking more like somebody hushed it up very quickly.’
‘Who would have or could have done that?’ questioned Kitty. She continued to read until the end of the article. ‘Well there’s nothing more about it, just a mention of her being buried at the crossroads.’
Kitty pulled the pile of papers towards her and leafed through the remaining copies.
‘Damn,’ she said despairingly. ‘There’s nothing else about it in here.’
‘Well that was worth finding anyway, it shows that not everybody considered her to be an evil woman.’ He gathered up the pieces of paper and pushed them back into the folder. ‘Put this back and let’s get on one of the computers.’
Kitty tucked the box file back under the shelves and followed Gordon down the room to the row of pc’s.
He called over to the librarian at the desk ‘Is it alright to use this one?’
She nodded. ‘Come and see me if you need more than an hour.’
Gordon nodded and sat down at the desk. ‘Kitty, pull up that other chair and let’s see what we can find.’
‘Where are we going to start?’
‘What was his name? The coroner? I can’t remember.’ asked Gordon.
‘Edward Foulstone,’ replied Kitty. ‘That’s a name you can’t forget.’
‘I can,’ he joked. ‘Now what shall we look for? Coroner’s reports perhaps,’ he typed it into Google and scanned the results that came up.
‘This doesn’t look very helpful,’ he grumbled opening a few of the links and scanning through the contents of the sites. ‘It says here that Coroners reports weren’t kept and the reports put into the newspapers were only summaries and not the full proceedings, damn! I can’t believe that,’ he added sounding puzzled. ‘There must be copies somewhere, I bet if we visited the County Record Office we would find them, but I don’t think we have time to do that and get back in time for six.’
‘How about trying coroners for the 1840’s Axminster?’ suggested Kitty.
‘That will throw up loads of rubbish.’
‘Try anyway,’ she urged looking at her watch. ‘Our hour will soon be up.’
Gordon glanced at the time. ‘What already? Doesn’t time fly.. .’
‘When you’re having fun,’ she finished.
‘No, I was going to say when you’re trying to find something on the internet,’ he sighed after reading the results of his next search. ‘No, nothing.’
‘Try Edward Foulstone then add coroner.’ She leant forward and peered at the results coming up onto the screen.
‘Nope, no good. We could try the 1841 census records again.’
‘Yes but we don’t know where he lived or what year he was born or anything.’ Gordon was beginning to get irritated, he ran his hand over his face and sighed in frustration. ‘There must be some information out there somewhere.’
‘But his name is quite unusual and he must be local, don’t you think?’
‘Okay let’s try it, I can’t think of anything else to try,’ he paused. ‘What was the site called?’
‘I think it was called Family Search or something like that.’
Gordon found the site and as soon as he had clicked onto it recognised it as the one that Eve had recommended. He typed in the coroner’s name. ‘It wants his date of birth, what shall we do?’
Kitty stared at the screen. ‘Well we left that box blank when we were looking for Hannah, so do the same for him.’
‘Okay and I will put in Devon for place of birth and see what happens.’
The site found details for five Edward Foulstones in Devon, three of which were not the right age to be the man they were after.
‘Well that counts those three out and we’re left with just these two,’ Gordon sighed. ‘At least I have enough credit left to look at both of these, which shall we look at first? So,’ he looked at Kitty. ‘Pick one, dear, which Edward do you choose?’
Kitty smiled. ‘You’re making it sound like a game show, what do I win if I pick the right one?’
‘A house,’ he replied half seriously.
Kitty squeezed his arm. ‘I’m sure this is going to work out you know, I have faith.’
‘In what?’ he asked.
‘Everything,’ she said firmly. ‘Let’s try the younger one.’
‘Now are you picking him for any logical reason or is it just a wild guess?’
‘No, I just think as he is the younger of the two then he might be inclined to be involved in any funny business.’
‘Funny business? Is that the technical term for tampering with evidence, etcetera, etcetera?’
‘Yes, now just get on with it Gordon, we’re running out of time.’
‘Well here goes,’ he clicked on the view more box and the younger Edward Foulstone’s details popped up.
‘Now let’s see,’ and he started to read out the details. ‘He’s living at Castle Hill House, Axminster, 31 years old, born Exeter, occupation Doctor, married. His wife is called Belinda, 27 years old born in Honiton. Arthur, son, 5 years old, born Axminster. Harold, son, 3 years old, born Axminster. Mary, daughter, 1 year old, born Axminster. Rachel, sister, 27 years old, born Exeter. Bethan Cox, servant, 35 years old, single, born Axminster. God! He had a houseful, though if he was a doctor I suppose he could afford it.’ he remarked in astonishment.
Kitty stared blankly at the screen. ‘Doesn’t prove anything, does it?’
‘Do you want to look at the other Edward?’ he asked. ‘Or shall we just go for a coffee?’
‘No, let’s carry on now we are here.’
The next details popped up onto the screen.
‘This one was 52 years old, a widower, born in Southampton, occupation journeyman. What the hell is a journeyman?’
‘Travel agent?’ suggested Kitty.
Gordon shook his head. ‘Not in 1841 Kitty! Well he lived in Seaton, with a housekeeper and two lodgers. This doesn’t sound like a coroner to me.’
‘So the Doctor is the most likely candidate.’
‘I think so, so arriving at a verdict of water on the brain and there to be no records of her death makes it even stranger, hmmm,’ he said stroking his chin and looked sideways at Kitty.
‘Hmm,’ she replied thoughtfully. ‘I think the Doctor is our man.’
‘I’m not sure this is going to help us at all but I don’t think there is anything else we can do,’ Gordon sat back in his chair and looked across at his wife. ‘It’s all up to Sybil’s sister now.’
Kitty stared blankly at the screen and said ‘We’re out of time anyway. And ideas,’ she added.
Gordon stood up and slipped his jacket on, he stared down at his wife sitting huddled in the chair. ‘Come on dear, nothing else we can do here. Let’s get a coffee.’
The evening was just drawing in as they drove slowly down the hill into Medbury, a faint mist hung just inches above the road, swirling and breaking away as they drove through.
Kitty shivered slightly when she saw the village lights below.
‘What was her name?’ Gordon asked suddenly breaking the silence.
‘Queenie, Queenie Beresford.’ replied Kitty.
‘Sounds like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. I wonder if she’ll be wearing tweeds and flat sensible shoes.’
‘It was Tuppence Beresford I think, I can’t remember what her husband was called.’
Gordon cast a puzzled look at her.
‘Agatha Christies’ characters in a book.’ she explained.
‘Did she murder her husband or something?’
‘No they were amateur detectives. I don’t remember much about the story. It’s a long time since I read any of her novels.’
They pulled up outside the row of cottages; a small yellow car was already parked rather haphazardly across the front of Sybil’s.
‘Do you think that’s her car?’
‘Probably,’ he replied. ‘Come on let’s see if she’s wearing tweed and looks like Miss Marple.’
The door opened before Gordon could knock.
‘Hello, I thought I heard a car, come in.’
‘Hi Sybil’ said Kitty quietly, walking into the small front room. Sybil’s little dog Nigel pottered over to greet her. ‘Sorry, Nero couldn’t come,’ she said bending and stroking his head.
‘Oh where is he?’ queried Sybil. ‘You could have brought him you know.’
‘We left him with Eve,’ explained Gordon ‘as we weren’t too sure what was going to happen tonight. Is your sister here?’ he questioned glancing around the tiny cottage.
Sybil bustled about taking their coats and pulling chairs up to the fire. ‘Oh yes, she’s just arrived. Queenie is upstairs in the bathroom, it’s a long journey for her now, bladder problems,’ she whispered.
‘Are you talking about me Sybil?’ a voice queried from the staircase.
‘Kitty and Gordon have arrived.’ Sybil moved to the bottom of the stairs and called up.
‘I can hear them.’
‘Well are you coming down then?’
‘Yes,’ the voice said impatiently. Heavy footsteps started slowly down the narrow wooden staircase. ‘God these stairs are so steep Sybil, I wonder you don’t break your neck on them.’
The resemblance between an Agatha Christie character and Sybil’s sister ended with the tweed skirt she was wearing. Queenie Beresford was definitely not a Miss Marple. But her resemblance to Sybil was uncanny, including the pale coloured eyes. But while Sybil had neat greying hair, Queenie’s curls were bright pink and fluffy. Kitty instantly thought of fairground candy floss. A half smoked cigarette hung from her mouth.
‘Queenie I’d rather you didn’t smoke inside,’ Sybil complained. ‘You know I don’t like it and it isn’t good for you.’
‘It’s okay Sybil, I’m not running the marathon this year,’ she grinned and winked at Kitty. ‘Hi, you two.’
‘Hello Queenie,’ said Gordon politely holding out his hand.
‘Yep that’s me,’ she said ignoring his hand and greeting him with a hug. ‘Kitty,’ she said staring at her in surprise before giving her a hug. ‘You’re the spitting image of your great- grandmother.’
‘Sybil said I looked like her.’
‘Yeah you do; peas in a pod.’ She took a deep drag on her cigarette and stared at them. ‘Are you ready for this?’