Episode Twenty – ‘Corpses & Corporeality’, Part Eight

     At Reverend Miller’s weekly card party on Thursday my mind was so far from the business of the cards that I actually managed to lose a hand to Mr Duncan without even trying. He puffed and preened over his triumph with such unwarranted satisfaction that I then felt obliged to trounce him for the next three hands in a row before I excused myself, giving up my place at the table to Mrs Godwin. Ignoring the disapproving glare Mrs Godwin gave me as we passed, I went over to join Michael where he was hovering by the tea table.

     From where he stood there was a good view of a table in the corner around which sat the Waltons, Mrs Somerton and, the chief cause of my distraction, Emily. I’d naturally been worried about the poor girl ever since she had sloped off home on the night of Mrs Grant’s party but in the succeeding days there had been few opportunities to talk to her. Michael and I had called round to the Somertons’ lodgings on a couple of occasions but had always been met by a polite but firm rebuff from the maid, explaining that neither Miss nor Mrs Somerton were feeling up to receiving visitors just now. There had been a brief sighting of the pair of them at Captain Crowley’s funeral (which, with the Captain’s body still officially missing, had eventually been obliged to go ahead with an empty coffin carried up the aisle) but that was hardly the location for a heart-to-heart.

     So naturally I had been relieved when word came through from the kindly Reverend Miller that he had at last been able to persuade the two women to attend his regular card party. I’m sure nothing else would have persuaded me to brave Mr Duncan’s condescension and Mrs Godwin’s disapproval for a whole evening. But on arrival Emily and her mother had slipped quickly and quietly onto the most distant table in the room and there they had remained, mechanically doling out the cards without much sign of enthusiasm.

     “You been able to make contact yet?” I asked Michael who, preferring not to play himself, had been keeping watch on them for the best part of the evening.

     He shook his head sadly. “I think the Waltons have settled in for the night – his gout’s playing up so he’s unlikely to give up his seat – and Emily has barely looked up from the table.”

     “I feel rotten about the whole thing,” I declared. “She looks so miserable, it’s like we kicked a puppy.”

     “I don’t feel any better about it than you do,” said Michael, “but I’m not sure what else we could have done. We weren’t to know that our little night out would lead to a revelation like that.”

     “We should never have let her get involved in the first place,” I stated firmly. “It was too risky for someone in her position. And it’s not like it’s worked out any better for us. All that sneaking around and what do we end up with? A story that, for various reasons, we can’t possibly reveal in polite society and a smell from that cellar that’s still lingering in my hair despite three baths in three days. We can forget any invitations from Lady Swannage now.”

     “It does look like a new plan is required,” Michael ruefully conceded.

     “I say sod the invitation – let’s just break into the house,” I suggested. “We can probably find the hidden door without Lady Swannage showing us round.”

     “You do realise that they hang people in this era for breaking and entering?” noted Michael. I blanched slightly. “Although I suppose if we waited till the season was over,” Michael mused, “and the house was empty it might be worth the risk.”

     “How long does the season go on for?” I asked.

     “I’m told things begin to tail off from around the end of July,” said Michael.

     “July!” I exclaimed.

     “Although the baths apparently stay open through to September.”

     “I think I’d rather face the noose.”

     I was still inwardly debating this pair of equally unpalatable alternatives when Sir Robert Farleigh suddenly strolled up out of nowhere to greet us both.

     “I didn’t know you were a regular at Reverend Miller’s card evenings,” I suspiciously remarked. “I certainly don’t remember seeing you here before.”

     “Oh, I can’t bear these things usually,” Sir Robert airily declared, “but I thought I would show my face this once, if only for the opportunity to get an account of your adventures at the Saracen’s Head.” He gazed at us with a gleam in his eye. “I’ve had the bare bones from Tom Bailey of course. I gather there wasn’t much left of old Crowley by the time you found him.”

     “He was not a pretty sight,” said Michael with feeling.

     Sir Robert chuckled. “I daresay it serves young Crowley right for leaving such a delicate business to a man like Turnbull.” He cast a mildly disapproving eye over the delicacies laid out on the tea table. “Scones and jam? Is that really the best Miller can do? No wonder this event is usually so sparsely attended. Anyway, I thought young Crowley seemed to be taking the whole thing rather well at the funeral. If it were me I should have been too busy wringing Turnbull’s neck to sing the hymns.”

     “I believe some neck-wringing may have been contemplated,” I said, “but I’m told that after a day or two John Crowley was able to see the positive side of the situation.”

     “I’m jiggered if I can see what possible positive side there could be to losing a fortune like that,” retorted Sir Robert.

     “Mostly the fact that although he hadn’t got his hands on the treasure, he could at least be sure the widow wouldn’t get a penny of it either,” explained Michael.

     Sir Robert chuckled again. “Ah yes, the widow did look mightily peeved in church, didn’t she?” He paused to regard the tea table again before, with the air of a man driven to desperation, he finally helped himself to a scone. “Still, it’s a damn shame to think of all that booty lying beneath the soil somewhere nearby and nobody to claim it. Are you absolutely certain that there was nothing left on the body to give even the slightest clue?”

     “Quite sure,” stated Michael firmly.

     “Oh well,” said Sir Robert, biting into his scone. “C’est la vie.”

     “I wonder what they did with the remains,” I mused.

     “Oh, that I do know,” said Sir Robert. “It seems Mrs Turnbull’s brother is a fisherman who, for a small consideration, was persuaded to take what was left of the body out on his trawler and bury it at sea. I think John Crowley was satisfied that this would have suited his father as well as anything.”

     “That’s something, I suppose,” I remarked.

     Before any more could be said I was distracted by the first sign of action finally occurring at the Somertons’ card table. Rev Miller had gone over and, after chatting for a couple of minutes, had persuaded Emily to give up her place for him. I watched as Emily came towards the tea table with some trepidation, seeming uncertain as to whether to approach our little gathering or not. I determined to make up her mind for her by calling out brightly, “Hello Emily.”

“Hello Emily”

     Emily hesitated just a moment longer before stepping forward to greet us. “Hello Natasha. Good evening Mr Redgrave, Sir Robert,” she said, summoning up what cheer she could.

     “We’re very glad to see you here,” said Michael. “We’ve tried calling on you recently…”

     “I know and I’m sorry to have seemed so discourteous,” replied Emily quickly. “I’ve just been a little under the weather, that’s all.”

     “There’s no need to apologise,” said Michael. “We were just worried about you.”

     “Are you sure you’re alright?” I said, giving her a piercing look.

     Emily put on a brave face. “I will be,” she insisted firmly. “It’s just been rather a shock, I’m sure you understand.”

     Both Michael and I nodded sympathetically. Sir Robert, not quite grasping the nature of Emily’s ‘shock’, cheerfully remarked, “Ah yes, quite an evening you had at the Saracen’s Head by all accounts. I’m almost sorry I missed it.”

     “It was quite an adventure,” said Emily with a soft smile, seemingly glad to let the misunderstanding pass.

     “We were just saying what a shame it is to think of all that treasure lying untouched,” Sir Robert continued.

     “It is rather a pity, isn’t it?” said Emily. She spoke in such an oddly wistful tone that we all looked sharply at her.

     “Do you know something of it?” asked Sir Robert sharply.

     “No, not really…” replied Emily in a rather distant voice.

     “Did you see something down in the cellar?” asked Michael curiously.

     “Not in the cellar,” said Emily hesitantly. “Besides, I suppose if anyone were to locate the treasure now it would all belong to John Crowley anyway, wouldn’t it?”

     “I don’t see that that’s necessarily the case,” returned Sir Robert stoutly. “John Crowley’s gone back to London. I say he’s had his chance. From now on it ought to be finders keepers.”

     Emily looked torn. “But he is the son and rightful heir. It wouldn’t be right to deprive him, would it?” She turned to Michael and I in search of clarification.

     There was a brief pause whilst we all considered the ethics of the thing.

     “He may be the heir but I suppose you could argue that the treasure isn’t technically part of Captain Crowley’s legacy,” noted Michael thoughtfully. “It wasn’t mentioned in his will, after all.”

     “That’s a good point,” I agreed. “I’d be inclined to say it’s up for grabs.” I looked at Emily. “Do you really have an idea where it might be?”

     Emily flushed slightly. “Well, I was thinking it over and something did occur to me,” she said hesitantly.

     “Don’t hold back,” urged Sir Robert. “You can rely on us. We’ll go into it as a partnership. A share to you, a share to Mr Redgrave and Miss Everingham and a share to me. That’s fair, isn’t it?”

     “Perhaps,” admitted Emily. “It certainly would be nice to be able to have a little put by, not to have to worry about the future so.” She hesitated. “But if my hunch proves correct there is someone else we would need to involve.”

     “Really? Damnation!” declared Sir Robert more vehemently than I might have expected. “Must we involve others? I’m sure there’s nothing that we couldn’t handle between the four of us, don’t you think?” He turned to Michael and I for support.

     “I don’t suppose an extra share would make all that much difference, would it?” said Michael with a shrug.

     But Sir Robert appeared ready to fight for every penny. “We don’t want to have to spread the loot too thinly if we can help it,” he insisted. “We don’t even know how much of it there is in the first place.”

     “Look, if it bothers you that much you can count us out,” I told him wearily. “Money’s no use to us.”

     Sir Robert glared at me suspiciously. “Nonsense! Money’s useful to everyone. What were you doing hunting around for Captain Crowley’s corpse in the first place if it wasn’t in the hope of some kind of reward?”

     “Well yes, I suppose we were hoping for a reward,” I admitted, “just not a financial one.”

     Sir Robert’s eyes narrowed even further. “What other kind of reward could you possibly hope for?” he demanded.

     There was an awkward pause.

     “If you must know we were hoping to gain enough renown to score an invitation to Lady Swannage’s house,” Michael finally admitted, somewhat sheepishly.

     “An invitation to Lady Swannage’s?” repeated Sir Robert doubtfully.

     “We just really want to have a look round her house, that’s all,” I said. “You understand?”

     “Not really,” replied Sir Robert. “But if you are so desperate for an invitation to Lady Swannage’s home then I can get one for you.”

     “You can? How?” Michael demanded to know. “She’s made it quite clear she’ll receive no visitors this season.”

     “Oh, she’ll receive people if I ask her,” replied Sir Robert airily. “She’s a cousin of my mothers, I’ve known her since I was a babe. She’ll always make an exception for me.”

     “But that would be perfect! You really think you could swing us an invitation?” I said, scarcely daring to hope.

     “I should think so,” replied Sir Robert. He paused and raised an eyebrow. “In exchange for your relinquishing any share in Captain Crowley’s treasure, that is…”

     “Consider it relinquished,” Michael hurriedly agreed.

     “An equitable arrangement,” declared Sir Robert with satisfaction. “Now it only remains to be seen if the treasure can truly be found.” He turned to Emily. “So, are you going to explain to us who this mysterious person is and how they can help us locate the treasure?”

     “Well, it was something that occurred to me at the funeral,” said Emily thoughtfully. “I couldn’t help but notice how irked Mrs Crowley seemed and I thought to myself how she was probably ruing the fact that she hadn’t been more intimate with Captain Crowley when he was alive for then she would have every clue to where the treasure was buried.” Emily paused and looked anxiously at us, afraid she might have been too vulgar. But everyone was far too interested in where her musings might be going to bother about propriety. “And I got to thinking that surely there must be someone else who had seen the Captain’s tattoo when he was alive, someone who perhaps didn’t realise the significance of it. And as I looked around the funeral it occurred to me that there is perhaps someone who was close to him, closer than might generally be admitted amongst polite society. Someone who might very well have an intimate knowledge of every part of his anatomy.” At this last sentence Emily flushed a red so deep she matched the jam on Sir Robert’s scone and promptly fell into an awkward little coughing fit.

     We all looked at her, breathless with expectation. “Well, who is it?” Sir Robert demanded. “Where do we find this person?”

     Emily finally recovered and smiled an embarrassed little smile. “It’s quite simple really. In order to find the treasure I think all we need to do is pay a call on Mrs Rosscommon.”

****************************

                                                     12 Gay Street,

                                                     Bath,

                                                     11th April 1818

Dear Lucy,

               I received this morning your letter of the 9th, letting me know that you are finally ready to travel and intend to arrive here in Bath on Monday afternoon. I regret to say that I will not be able to receive you for afternoon tea that day as you suggest. The reasons for this are twofold.

        Firstly, I should let you know that the true circumstances of Uncle Talbot’s will and your malicious, letter-writing part in my failure to receive any inheritance has finally been revealed to me and under such circumstances I’m sure you’ll understand that I wish to spend as little time in your company as possible. Knowing you as I now do, I’m also sure that your first reaction upon reading these lines has been to fear for how society might receive you now that your secret is out. Well, on that score at least I can reassure you. For the moment, as far as I know, nobody but Mama and I (and, by the by, Rev Miller) know of your actions and we do not intend to tell anyone else. I agree with Mama when she says that the spread of malicious gossip, no matter the provocation, is always bad for the soul and I am convinced that, in time, your conscience will provide far greater punishment for your misdeed than society ever could.

        The second reason I cannot receive you to tea is quite simply that I will not be here. You see I have, by good fortune, very recently come into a legacy of my own, quite a substantial one in fact, far more substantial than anything that Uncle Talbot may have provided. And with this new found wealth Mama and I have decided that we would like to see a little of the world. So immediately after church tomorrow we will be departing Bath to travel to London, from where we intend to embark upon a tour of the continent. Sir Robert Farleigh, who has decided to take a trip abroad himself, has kindly offered to escort us as far as Paris and introduce us to some of the society there. After that we may head towards Liepzig and Wiemar and visit the romantic lands of Goethe or perhaps we will head over the Alps and travel the length of Italy through Florence and Rome and onto Naples. Who knows? Whichever path we choose, it is a great thing to have the means to decide one’s own future.

        In the meantime, I leave Bath to you and your ill-begotten family. I hope both they and it prove to be worth all the lies and the falsehoods. To be perfectly honest, I had rather begun to tire a little of Bath myself, it really is such a dull and parochial place.

               Yours,

                       Emily.

******************************

     “Now this is more like it!” I cheerfully exclaimed to Michael. “Who knew there was some actual fun to be had in Bath, after all?”

     It was approaching midnight on Saturday and we were standing in Farmer Howard’s barn which had been totally transformed for the occasion of the Servants’ Ball. The place was festooned with paper streamers, garlands of flowers and enough naked candles to give a Health and Safety Officer several heart attacks. Wooden tables were set all around, at which people were knocking back tankards full of the cider which flowed unceasingly from large barrels at one end of the room. At the other end a few planks of wood were knocked together to form a makeshift stage, upon which a local band belted out music far louder and more toe-tapping than it was possible to believe could be produced merely by two fiddles, a flute and a few upturned pots serving as drums.

     “It certainly marks a change of pace from Mrs Grant’s drawing room,” noted Michael as we stood and watched the couples whirling deliriously around the sawdust-strewn dancefloor.

     “It’s amazing what a good time can be had when you no longer have to worry about what society thinks of you,” I said, raising an eyebrow as a breathless couple staggered past us off the dancefloor and disappeared into one of the many discreet nooks that had been formed around the edges of the barn by strategically-stacked bales of hay. “I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.”

At the Servants Ball

     “High society isn’t all bad,” returned Michael. “I thought Lady Swannage was really quite nice once we got to meet her. She was very reasonable about our knocking down that door in her house.”

     “I suppose,” I conceded. I stood and clapped along to the music for a while. “It’s a shame Emily couldn’t have joined us this evening,” I eventually said. “I think she might have enjoyed this.”

     “She must have a lot of packing to do for her journey tomorrow,” observed Michael. “And I’m not sure this is the kind of party Mrs Somerton would approve of,” he added, catching sight of a large farmhand relieving himself in a corner.

     “I think Mrs Somerton is going to have to get used to Emily making decisions for herself from now on,” I noted. “She’s a bit more switched on than her mother realises. After all, it was Emily who recognised that Captain Crowley and Mrs Rosscommon had been lovers all this time. If it hadn’t been for that, Captain Crowley’s treasure would never have been found.”

     “It’s nice to think that his fortune will be put to good use,” remarked Michael with an air of satisfaction. “Emily gets to travel and provide for her mother, Mrs Rosscommon gets to renovate her house and Sir Robert…”

     “And Sir Robert…?” I repeated with a questioning look.

     “Well, alright Sir Robert will probably only use his share to run up more tailor’s bills,” conceded Michael. “But two out of three isn’t bad. The main thing is that Emily’s story has a happy ending.”

     “Of sorts,” I demurred.

     “What have you left to complain about now?” protested Michael in a tone of mild exasperation. “We leave her in a position where she has the fortune to do whatever she wants.”

     “A truly happy ending would be leaving her in a position where she doesn’t need a fortune to do whatever she wants,” I retorted. “She’s still stuck in a time and place that will continue to value a useless tosser like Sir Robert Farleigh higher than her simply because of his sex and birth.”

     “Alright, you have a point there,” returned Michael with a smile. “But I’m afraid the full social revolution will take rather more time and effort to achieve. And I don’t see you hanging around long enough to persuade the likes of Mr Duncan or Mrs Godwin that their fundamental view of the world needs a complete rethink.”

     “That’s true,” I conceded with a slight shudder at the prospect.

     “And in the meantime who would rescue Sturridge?” added Michael.

     “Fair enough,” I said with a shrug. “Best get onto the next set of coordinates then, eh?”

     “After the party,” suggested Michael.

     “After the party,” I agreed.

Michael threw a sly glance over the dancefloor before turning and performing a sweeping bow. “Would you care to dance Miss Everingham?” he asked with exaggerated politeness.

“Care to dance?”

     I grinned and bobbed my very best curtsey in reply. “Why Mr Redgrave, I should be delighted.”

Travels Through An Imaginary Landscape will return…

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