Authors: Kate Ellis
Kate Ellis was born and brought up in Liverpool and studied drama in Manchester. She has worked in teaching, marketing and
accountancy and first enjoyed literary success as a winner of the North West Playwrights competition. Keenly interested in
medieval history and ‘armchair’ archaeology, Kate lives in north Cheshire with her engineer husband, Roger, and their two
Kate Ellis was nominated for the CWA Short Story Dagger 2003 for her story ‘Les Inconnus’.
The Bone Garden
is the fifth Wesley Peterson novel.
The Merchant’s House, The Armada Boy
An Unhallowed Grave
The Funeral Boat, A Painted Doom, The Plague Maiden, The Skeleton Room, A Cursed Inheritance
The Marriage Hearse
are also published by Piatkus.
For more information regarding Kate Ellis log on to her website:
The Merchant’s House
The Armada Boy
An Unhallowed Grave
The Funeral Boat
A Painted Doom
The Plague Maiden
The Skeleton Room
A Cursed Inheritance
The Marriage Hearse
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2001 by Kate Ellis
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
With many thanks to Ingrid Wood for all her help with the West Indies connection.
Also thanks to Olly for sharing his cricketing expertise, and to Tom for creating
Also by Kate Ellis
Near Bordeaux, France
The man stared at the shape lying beneath the faded cover on the ancient iron bed and took another sip of wine. Château des
Arbres, last year’s vintage: full bodied with a hint of oak, just as a claret should be. It tasted good. The fact that he
had been party to its creation – that he had tended the vines and had picked the plump grapes with his own hands – gave him
a glow of satisfaction. He rolled the wine around his mouth and swallowed. This year’s vintage would be even better, he thought.
But this time he wouldn’t be there for the grape picking. He would be gone well before the hectic days of the harvest.
He drained the dusty glass and listened to the sounds of the night: the low hum of the château’s generator in the outhouse
across the courtyard, the insistent noise of the crickets and the occasional screech of a hunting owl. Then he stood, walked
to the bed and looked down at the prone figure for a full minute before summoning the courage to touch the face. He brushed
the back of his rough, calloused hand against the cheek and found it to be as cool and lifeless as marble, despite the warmth
of the evening.
He looked around the sparsely furnished room with its whitewashed stone walls and its ill-made second-hand furniture. The
outhouse roughly converted into workers’ accommodation by the owners of the château had been his home for the past two years
and he had some good times there: he recalled the lazy summer evenings of wine and lovemaking and the drunken bonhomie of
the grape harvest. But now he was leaving the château for good. He picked up the hold-all that contained all his worldly possessions
that he had everything he needed before stepping outside into the cobbled courtyard, shutting the flaking wooden door carefully
behind him. The inexhaustible crickets still chirruped in the warm, lavender-scented air, but otherwise all was silent – just
as he had hoped it would be.
A door creaked open near by: probably one of the other workers emerging from his room to head for the primitive lavatory in
the corner of the courtyard. The man pressed himself against the stone wall, hardly daring to breathe. But the velvet darkness
of the night shielded him and he watched, statue still, as the man he recognised as Jacques staggered across the cobbles,
too preoccupied with his bladder to look about him.
He relaxed as Jacques disappeared round the corner. Then he picked up his hold-all and scurried towards the great poplar-lined
drive that led away from the château, thinking of the lifeless figure on the bed and hoping desperately that it wouldn’t be
discovered until the morning.
Devon, England – A Year Later
The lost gardens of Earlsacre had been stripped of the weeds and briars that had choked them and hidden their form. The work
had begun two months before, and over the long midsummer weeks rude mechanical diggers and buzzing strimmers had intruded
into the gardens’ secret places and laid bare the walls and the gatehouse that had guarded them from the eyes of the world
for so many years.
Jacintha Hervey, poet in residence to the Earlsacre Project – as it was called in official circles – sat on the crumbling
terrace overlooking the gardens, pen poised, perched on the canvas stool that she had brought especially for the occasion,
and watched the workers below, hoping for inspiration.
A line about the awakening of Sleeping Beauty in her impenetrable castle flitted through Jacintha’s head but, other than that,
she could think of nothing to write. She chewed the end of her cheap ballpoint and stared down into what remained of the walled
garden, now a mess of holes and trenches as the archaeological team went about their work.
She watched as the crouching, soil-caked young diggers worked in their rectangular trenches, sometimes chatting, sometimes
lost in their task. Surely their earnest activity would inspire a poem of some kind, even a few lines about the young uncovering
the old. But still no words came. Jacintha reached for her Thermos flask. It was time for an inspirational coffee … laced
with something stronger to get the creative juices flowing.
As she sipped the reviving liquid she sensed that the calm, absorbed atmosphere in the garden had altered. The change was
subtle at first – urgent whispered words, a flurry of activity here and there. Then the archaeologists who had been working
in other parts of the gardens downed tools and converged on the walled garden, crowding around the centre. One of them produced
a tiny mobile phone from an inside pocket and began to talk into it urgently. Something was happening. Something had been
found. Jacintha stood up and strained to hear, but she was too far away to catch any telltale words.
A young man was running towards her. He was about to rush past, but she put out a hand to stop him and gave him her sweetest
‘Jake.’ Her eyes met his. ‘What’s going on? Have they found something exciting?’
Jake glanced towards the ruined house, torn between duty and potential pleasure. He eyed Jacintha’s ample curves appreciatively
and chose pleasure. ‘They’ve uncovered a human hand in the middle of the walled garden, buried underneath that stone plinth
we lifted this morning.’ Their eyes met again and Jake made no effort to move. ‘I’m going to tell Martin. We weren’t expecting
to find human remains on this dig so we’ll have to inform the authorities – he won’t be best pleased. We can’t afford a hold-up.’
Jake stood still, his eyes on Jacintha’s breasts, clearly visible beneath the thin cheesecloth of her white top.
‘Hadn’t you better go and tell him, then?’ Jacintha said with a sly smile. ‘And if you’re free at six o’clock tonight why
don’t you join me in the King’s Head. You look as if you could do with a drink.’
‘Why not?’ He gave her a knowing smile. She was at least twenty years his senior, but what did things like that matter nowadays?
Jake turned and ran towards the house, and Jacintha watched the back view of his tight faded jeans appreciatively. Then she
strolled down the steps towards the walled garden. The crowd had dispersed, leaving a solitary archaeology student squatting
on the brown earth, staring at the ground.
Jacintha approached slowly. ‘What’s everyone so excited about?’
The young man looked up at her. ‘Looks like we’ve found human remains – it’ll be another hold-up we can’t afford.’
Jacintha looked down at the ground. The bones stood out stark against the darkness of the soil. A skeletal hand protruded
from the earth, the bony fingers scratching, grasping, as though trying to escape.
‘It looks as if he’s trying to get out, doesn’t it? Clawing his way to the surface – just like he’s been buried alive.’
Jacintha turned away and shuddered. Then she took her notebook from her bag and began to scribble. Inspiration had come at
Good gardens at Earlsacre but not as the mode now is. Walled garden with shell grotto and fine parterres and a curious sundial
at its centre. I liked not this garden, the place being somewhat cold. The other gardens fine with shady walks and arbours,
fruitful trees and odiferous herbs. The house is also fine in its way but the furnishings are not of the latest. The hospitality
of Sir Richard Lantrist is somewhat rough, as one might expect of one who has never known good society
From Jacob Finsbury’s Account of His Travels around the Houses of England, 1703
Brain Willerby, partner in the firm of Blake, Willerby and Johns, Solicitors, sat staring at the file on his desk, his heart
pounding and his mouth dry.
He put his hand up to his balding head as though trying to run his fingers through some imaginary luxuriant mane. What was
the best course of action? What was the right thing to do? Should he involve the authorities? Or was he overreacting? Perhaps
there was some perfectly simple explanation. There must be. The alternative was unthinkable.
Willerby stared down at the file again. He needed proof, solid proof one way or the other. He stood up, walked over to the
window and looked down on Tradmouth’s bustling High Street. It was one of the advantages – or disadvantages – of having an
office on the first floor above the Morbay and District Building Society that distraction was always there on tap in idle
He spotted a young woman in the crowd. She was dark and slender and wore a tight Lycra top which displayed her assets to best
advantage. His eyes followed her down the street longingly until she disappeared into a shoe shop. He swallowed hard. Then
he noticed two policemen in shirtsleeves ambling through the crowd and an idea came to him. If he could speak to someone unofficially,
off the record … someone who would guide him as to the best course of action.
There was that detective sergeant he’d met at the police station when he had been called there to represent one of his less
salubrious clients. Brian had noticed him particularly; a young black man, a rare representative of the ethnic minorities
in the local force. And it wasn’t only the colour of his skin which had marked him out as different from his colleagues: he
had been well spoken, obviously well educated; an unassuming young man with a sympathetic manner. Brian wrinkled his brow
in an effort to remember the sergeant’s name. Patterson? No. Peterson. Wesley Peterson.
He picked up the phone and dialled the number of Tradmouth police station.
‘How can people be so gullible?’ Detective Constable Rachel Tracey said to nobody in particular.
Wesley Peterson looked up from his paperwork. ‘What do you mean?’
‘A report’s come in from Morbay. An old man told a tourist he’d lost his wallet and claimed he couldn’t get home to some faraway
place. The tourist lent him fifty quid which the man said he’d return by first-class post as soon as he got home. This was
ten days ago and the tourist hasn’t seen hide nor hair of the money since.’
Wesley shrugged. ‘The man might have lost the address.’
Rachel smiled as if she thought Wesley was being particularly naïve. ‘It sounds like a clever scam to me … playing on people’s
‘Any similar incidents been reported?’
‘Not yet. Give it time.’
At that point DC Steve Carstairs walked into the office and, ignoring Wesley, sat down and tried to look as though he was
Rachel walked over to Wesley’s desk and leaned over his shoulder. He could smell her perfume, feel the warmth of her breath
on the back of his neck. ‘Now there’s someone who keeps his better nature well hidden,’ she whispered.
Wesley smiled and looked over at Steve, who rewarded him with
a blank stare. But there were some things it was best to ignore, and Steve Carstairs was one of them.
The telephone on Wesley’s desk began to ring. He picked up the receiver and recited his name.
The voice on the other end of the line sounded nervous. ‘Sergeant Peterson. I don’t know if you remember me but we have met
at the station. My name’s Brian Willerby of Blake, Willerby and Johns, Solicitors.’
‘Hello, Mr Willerby. What can I do for you?’ Wesley racked his brains, wondering which of the constabulary’s not-so-valued
customers the solicitor was ringing to discuss.
‘I’d like your advice,’ Willerby began.
‘About one of your clients?’ His furtive tone had aroused Wesley’s curiosity.
‘Er, no. Actually it’s a personal matter. You see, I’m in rather a quandary about … In fact I’m very worried and I really
need to …’
Wesley heard a door open in the background and a muffled voice. Then Willerby’s voice again. ‘I’m sorry, Sergeant. Something’s
just come up. We’ll have to talk another time. Goodbye,’ the man concluded with businesslike confidence. Willerby obviously
hadn’t wanted whoever had entered his office to overhear their conversation.
Rachel looked across at him. ‘Everything all right, Wesley?’ she asked quietly.
‘I don’t know.’ He shrugged and returned to sorting through a pile of witness statements. It was probably nothing.
But he found he couldn’t concentrate on the paperwork and after a while he stood up and marched over to the inspector’s glass-fronted
office. After a token knock he let himself in.
Detective Inspector Gerry Heffernan sat at his desk, his sleeves rolled up to reveal a fine pair of nautical tattoos, relics
of his days in the merchant navy. He looked up at Wesley, grinned and scratched his head. ‘Hi, Wes. What can I do you for?
Everything all right out there, is it? No armed robberies? Serial killings?’
Wesley smiled at his boss. ‘Looks like we’ve hit a quiet time. All the local villains must be on holiday.’
‘So all’s quiet on the mean streets of Tradmouth.’ Gerry Heffernan sat back and his standard-issue inspector’s chair creaked
dangerously under his weight. ‘Let’s make the most of it, eh, ’cause I can’t see it lasting for long.’
‘It’s giving everyone a chance to catch up on their paperwork.’
Wesley paused for a moment. ‘But it could just be the calm before the storm.’
‘You know what you are, Wes? A born pessimist.’
Wesley grinned. ‘Actually, I wanted to ask you something.’
‘Do you know a solicitor called Brian Willerby?’
‘I’ve met him a few times. Not a barrel of laughs,’ Heffernan said dismissively. There were some who didn’t appreciate the
inspector’s sense of humour: Willerby was probably one of them.
‘He rang me just now and said he wanted to discuss a personal matter; something he was very worried about. Then he was interrupted
by someone and he put the phone down. He sounded …’ Wesley searched for the word. ‘Furtive.’
‘I didn’t know you knew old Willerby.’
‘I don’t. That’s the point. I’ve only met him a couple of times and then only in the company of the villain he was representing.
I’ve no idea why he picked on me. I just wondered what you knew about him.’
‘Nothing much. He’s been a partner in Blake, Willerby and Johns ever since I can remember. Him and his wife come to divisional
dos from time to time.’ Heffernan thought for a moment. ‘That’s all, really. He’s just your average solicitor; turns up at
the station when a villain asks for his services. “Keeps himself to himself”, as the neighbours always say in a murder inquiry.
I’d file him under B for boring.’
‘Wonder what was worrying him.’
‘No doubt you’ll find out eventually.’
Wesley left Heffernan’s office, shutting the door quietly behind him. He looked around the main CID office. There was a subdued
holiday atmosphere and his colleagues seemed more relaxed than usual, enjoying the brief ebb in the normally relentless tide
of criminal activity.
But as Wesley sat down at his desk he felt a nagging unease. He remembered Brian Willerby’s nervous voice and his instincts
told him that something was wrong. And he kept wondering why Willerby had chosen to confide in him, a comparative stranger.
But no doubt, as Gerry Heffernan had said, he would find out eventually.
Neil Watson ran his fingers through his long brown hair and looked around the newly modernised room in what had once been
stable block. He noted the freshly painted walls, the brand-new office furniture and the stainless-steel sink in the corner
– perfect for washing the finds – and smiled with approval.
‘Not bad,’ he said to Jake Weston, who had been given the task of showing him round the Earlsacre Hall dig. ‘All the latest
computer equipment as well, I see. Most digs I’ve been on we’ve been lucky to get a glorified garden shed. Nice. How far behind
schedule are you?’
‘The grand opening is in five weeks and all the archaeological work has to be completed well before then so that the gardening
experts can move in and recreate the old gardens. The problem is that we’ve been short staffed and reliant on inexperienced
volunteers. We were well behind before this skeleton was found and now things are even worse.’
‘Yeah. It – or rather she – was buried in the middle of the walled garden underneath a stone plinth. The coroner accepted
my verdict that it was probably a few hundred years old and said we could carry on with the work, but it still slowed us down
for a day or so. I suggested we call in more professional help so the director agreed that I could see if anyone was available
from the County Archaeological Unit. An American foundation has put a lot of cash into the project.’
‘So we’ve arrived like the US cavalry … just in time to save the day,’ said Neil with satisfaction. ‘It’s worked out well,
as a matter of fact. We’re just finishing off a dig at Stoke Beeching: Anglo-Saxon farmstead with an en suite Viking burial,
no less. Two of my colleagues are tying things up there and they’ll be along here tomorrow.’
Jake looked relieved that his workload was about to be shared. ‘I’ll take you to meet Martin Samuels,’ he said, making for
‘The trust director.’
‘What’s he like?’
‘Enthusiastic,’ said Jake simply. ‘This whole project was his idea. He raised the money to buy the place from the last owner,
set up a trust, even got lottery cash for turning it into an arts centre when it’s all restored. It’s very much his baby.’
Neil followed Jake out of the stone building and they began to walk towards the house, passing through what remained of an
ancient gatehouse that led into a large walled garden. The walls had been
rebuilt or repointed very recently: the mortar between the rough stones looked fresh. A new-looking doorway set into the wall
to their left stood open to reveal another garden where figures in hard hats were working industriously with spades and wheelbarrows.
Neil stopped and looked around. The walled garden had been partially excavated, and he recognised the decorative cobbled paths
running around its edge as late sixteenth century in style. A network of gravel pathways had been exposed, weaving between
rectangles of rutted earth which, in happier days, would have been decorative parterres full of fragrant beauty.
Neil noticed that a large stone plinth was carefully propped against one of the garden walls. The holes at its centre suggested
that something had been secured there in days gone by; probably a sundial or some other focal point at the garden’s heart
that had been the last word in horticultural fashion in some bygone century.
‘You should have seen this place when we first started work,’ said Jake. ‘The whole area had been grassed over in the nineteenth
century so you wouldn’t have known this lot was underneath. The entire garden had gone to rack and ruin – self-set trees,
weeds, brambles, the lot – and we had to clear it all before we could assess it, but when we saw the geophysics results we
knew we had found something pretty spectacular in historical garden terms. You could see the layout clearly on the print-out;
typical Renaissance walled garden.’
‘Tell me about this skeleton that was found,’ said Neil.
‘Just there, slap bang in the middle of the garden.’ Jake pointed to the plinth. ‘That great lump of stone was over it. It
had probably held a sundial and it didn’t look as if it had been moved for years, if not centuries.’ He turned to Neil, his
blue eyes twinkling like those of one about to tell a particularly terrifying ghost story. ‘And the curious thing is that
the skeleton looked as if it was clawing its way out. A pathologist had a look at it and said that the poor woman had probably
been buried alive then had that great slab plonked on top of her. What a way to go, eh?’
‘Which pathologist was this?’ Neil asked, trying to sound casual.
‘I think his name was Bowman. Nice chap. Very chatty. You wouldn’t think someone’d be so cheerful in that line of work.’
‘I know him. He’s helped me out a few times when human remains have turned up unexpectedly.’
‘Well, let’s hope we don’t need his services again.’
‘Too right,’ said Neil with some feeling.
They had arrived at the house. In its day it had been a desirable country mansion; not large, but probably home to generations
of comfortably off Devon gentry. But now it was a shell. The outer walls stood solid, stripped of the ivy that had covered
them and the rendering that had hidden the sturdy stone construction. The ivy had been replaced by scaffolding and the roof
was a skeletal framework of new timbers.
‘Martin’s restoring it,’ said Jake as Neil studied the building. ‘It’s being done up and turned into an arts centre.’
‘Interested in the arts, is he?’
‘Oh, yes. We’ve even got a poet in residence who floats round the place watching us dig and writing bad poems about it. She’s
quite a lady is Jacintha,’ Jake said with a significant grin. Neil suspected there was a story there somewhere. ‘You’ll enjoy
it here, Neil. Never a dull moment.’
‘So how did this Martin Samuels come to buy the place?’
‘He’s always had a passion for old gardens. The owners of this house had abandoned the place for something more modern years
ago and put tenants in. Martin visited it back in the 1980s, saw what was left of the gardens and got quite excited. When
the tenants moved out in 1986 the place went to pieces and the house was badly damaged in a fire. Eventually Martin set up
a trust and raised the money to buy the estate from the family who owned it. He’s very single-minded – a man with a mission.’
‘How did he manage to raise the money?’
‘Donations from locals, various heritage charities, the lottery – and an American foundation has been extremely generous.
Funding’s not a problem at the moment but time is. That’s why we’re glad to see you here,’ Jake added as they passed under
an archway and walked up a wide flight of stone steps leading on to a high raised terrace in front of the hall. From here
Neil had a good view down into the walled garden below.
‘I’ve not done much garden archaeology,’ he said modestly. ‘It should be an interesting experience. How long have you been
working for the trust?’
Before Jake had a chance to reply a man emerged from the once impressive main doorway of Earlsacre Hall. He was probably in
his early sixties, tall, with steel-grey hair which peeped out from beneath the hard hat he was wearing. There was something
in his upright
bearing which suggested that he might once have been a military man.
‘Martin, this is Neil Watson from the County Archaeological Unit. He’s come to give us a hand. Two of his colleagues will
be arriving tomorrow.’
Martin Samuels’ eyes lit up and he shook Neil’s hand heartily. ‘Splendid. You’ve arrived in the nick of time. Jake’s been
our only archaeological expert, along with a couple of postgraduate archaeology students, and they’ve had to organise a horde
of volunteers with little or no experience of a dig, so things have fallen behind. Perhaps you and your colleagues could tackle
the area around the gatehouse that leads to the walled garden – there’s also the area near the centre of the wall on the east
side of the garden where there’s evidence from old paintings that there was a grotto or summerhouse of some kind built against
the wall. Our volunteers have cleared the vegetation for you so …’
‘That sounds fine. I’ll have a look at the geophysics results right away to get an idea of what’s down there,’ said Neil.
Martin Samuels’ passion for the project was infectious.
Neil turned to go. The secrets of the gatehouse and the grotto awaited him and he would lose no time in getting started.
‘I hope you’re not superstitious, Neil,’ said Martin unexpectedly. Neil turned round, curious. ‘A few people who’ve worked
here have been put off by some strange stories attached to this place. The walled garden has a reputation with the locals
for being haunted, apparently.’
Neil shrugged. ‘Doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe in that sort of rubbish.’
‘It never used to bother me either,’ said Martin with a secretive smile. ‘Until I came here. And then we discovered that skeleton
that had been buried alive …’ He didn’t finish the sentence.
Neil made no comment. He considered himself immune to ghost stories. And he had work to do.
He and Jake took their leave of Martin Samuels with no further mention of the supernatural. They had begun to walk back to
the walled garden in amicable silence when they saw a plump, dark-haired girl running towards them.
When she spotted them she stopped and bent double, trying to catch her breath, her eyes wild with panic. Eventually, when
she had regained her composure, she stood up and looked Jake in the eye. ‘Andy said to find you. There’s another one.’
‘Another skeleton … buried underneath the first one.’ She bent down again, still gasping for breath.
‘I suppose we should really let the police and the coroner know again,’ sighed Jake, resigned to another delay.
Neil extracted a small mobile phone from the pocket of his tattered jeans. ‘I’ll do it. I’ve got a mate who’s a detective
sergeant at Tradmouth. He did archaeology with me at uni. He knows the score,’ he told Jake reassuringly.
‘It was a couple of constables from Neston who came last time. They trampled all over the bloody site like a herd of elephants.
So if your mate’s available …’
As they strolled towards the walled garden, now filling up with the ghoulish and the curious, Neil dialled Wesley’s number
and waited for him to answer.
Craig Kettering, having lost most of last week’s wages in one of Morbay’s seafront amusement arcades, was financially embarrassed
and in need of some ready cash.
Caravans were the easiest. No decent locks, no burglar alarms, always a window open. People got careless when they were on
holiday. Craig wandered through the Bloxham View Caravan Park at three o’clock in the afternoon, trying to look casual, as
if he had every right to be there. Three o’clock was a good time. Everyone was out at the beach or sampling the attractions
Craig strolled from caravan to caravan trying the doors. At first he had no success. But half an hour later he struck lucky.
On one of the smaller caravans kept for rent in the top field the handle turned sweetly and the door swung open without a
sound. The floral curtains at the windows were shut. Craig hoped this didn’t mean it was empty and unlet.
He knew he had to be careful. There was always a chance that someone might be inside. There was no need to go into the bedroom
at the end – just grab any money and valuables from the living area, then leg it. He eased himself carefully up on to the
single metal step. The interior was dark: the curtains must have been thicker than they looked.
Something was wrong. Craig could sense it. He could hear the steady, low-pitched buzz of flies. Then the smell hit him and
his hand shot up to his nose.
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he could just make out a shape lying on the floor next to the upholstered seat opposite
the door. A human shape giving no sign of movement, no sound. There was just the relentless hum of the flies. With his breath
held, Craig squatted down and touched the shape. But he withdrew his hand sharply when the tips of his fingers came into contact
with ice-cold, waxy flesh. The thing was dead – naked from the waist up and dead.
He saw the eyes, vacant and staring, and felt he ought to cover them; to find a towel or something to hide them so that they
couldn’t watch him reproachfully as he intruded into the private world of the dead. But there was nothing to hand so he just
looked away. He could smell blood: the smell of meat just on the turn. And when an angry fly buzzed at his face, he leaped
to his feet again.
Craig backed away. His eyes half registered some cash on top of a cupboard but his heart was pounding and nausea rose in his
chest as his nostrils were filled with the stench of decay. He had to get out of that metal box, that swollen coffin. He opened
the door again and slammed it behind him, inhaling the fresh air and looking around to make sure that nobody was about, that
nobody had seen him leaving the caravan.
After spitting on the ground to expel the taste of death from his mouth, he began to run down the sloping fields towards his
parked van. And as he drove back to his bed-sit in Morbay, exceeding the speed limit by a good fifteen miles per hour, he
couldn’t stop his hands from shaking on the hard, cold steering wheel.
I took me to the inn in the village of Earlsacre (the conversation with Sir Richard being somewhat strained) and found the
ale there to be of most excellent quality. At the inn – which was named the King’s Head – I was afforded the best seat by
the fire and the landlord’s best pie which, like the ale, was fine enough for the most particular palate in London. At the
inn I heard many tales, some doubtless true, some fanciful, as is the way in such establishments. Sir Richard, I discovered,
did in 1685 join the Duke of Monmouth in his fight for the Crown – as did many men of the West Country – and was transported
to the West Indies to be sold as a slave (as were eight hundred of his fellow rebels) for his dissenting ways. He had found
his way home but four years since to claim the estate of his late father. Perhaps Sir Richard’s suffering in his years of
enslavement accounts for his taciturn ways. I heard other tales regarding Earlsacre Hall of a more sinister nature which I
shall set down in due course
From Jacob Finsbury’s Account of His Travels around the Houses of England, 1703
‘Nice, this, Wes. A day out in the country. We should have brought a picnic.’ Gerry Heffernan sat back in the passenger seat
with a beatific smile on his chubby face as Wesley steered the car carefully through the narrow, high-hedged lanes. ‘What
did you say it was? A skeleton?’
‘There was one found a few days ago. Neston dealt with it. Now another one’s turned up.’
‘Well, if Neston dealt with the first …’
‘It was Neil who rang me. Colin Bowman had a look at the other
skeleton and reckoned it was old. This one that’s just turned up was buried underneath it apparently.’
‘Which makes it even older. So we’re just going along for appearances’ sake, are we? There’s no suggestion of foul play?’
‘Not recent foul play, at any rate. But Neil said the first skeleton they found had been buried alive.’
Heffernan shuddered. ‘Nasty. So more bodies might turn up in this garden place. Looks like we might have our serial killer
‘The bodies were buried underneath an early eighteenth-century plinth which probably hadn’t been moved for years, so there’s
not much chance of getting the culprit bang to rights now,’ said Wesley with a grin. ‘But I suppose we can think of it as
an intellectual exercise.’
Heffernan grunted. ‘I tried intellectual exercise once and I pulled a muscle. I leave that sort of thing to you graduates.
Hey, did that Brian Willerby ever ring you back?’
‘No,’ said Wesley, mildly surprised by the sudden change of subject. ‘Whatever was worrying him couldn’t have been that important.’
‘Probably fussing about some client of his. He’s a bit of an old woman is Brian Willerby,’ the inspector said dismissively.
‘How’s your Pam, by the way? I’ve not seen you two in the Tradmouth Arms for a couple of weeks.’
‘She’s been busy getting ready for the beginning of term. Her maternity leave’s come to an end and she starts teaching again
next week. So what with that and her mother …’
‘Having mother-in-law trouble, are you, Wes?’ asked Heffernan with relish. ‘I know a few good jokes about mothers-in-law.’
‘I’m sure you do, sir, but Della isn’t exactly that sort of mother-in-law … quite the opposite in fact. I suppose you could
say it’s a reversal of roles. She’s like a giddy teenager while Pam’s the sensible, disapproving parent. Della’s always been
a bit … but since Pam’s father died …’
Wesley slammed on the brakes automatically. ‘What is it?’
‘That gateway. It says Earlsacre Hall. We’re there.’
Wesley backed the car up and swung it round into the driveway. The drive itself had been resurfaced in the not-too-distant
past. Saplings had been planted along its length and mature trees had suffered the attentions of tree surgeons. Beyond the
trees to his right
Wesley could see what looked like a cricket pitch with a neat white wooden pavilion. It looked slightly out of place, untouched
by the work that was going on around it.
As he continued up the narrow drive Wesley sensed an air of expectation, of preparation, about the place. He drove on slowly
until he saw the house in front of him, swathed in scaffolding with workmen crawling like insects over its ancient walls.
Then he parked his car near what seemed to be a stable block. There was an ancient yellow Mini parked at the end of the row
which wore its rust spots with pride. He recognised it as Neil’s. The two men left the car and picked their way over the uneven
‘Neil did warn me it was still a building site,’ said Wesley. ‘They’re restoring the garden. And they’re turning the house
into an arts centre.’
‘Very nice,’ commented Heffernan. ‘So what’s your mate Neil doing here? I wouldn’t have had him down as a gardener. I can
see him cultivating illegal weeds but little else.’
‘They usually call in archaeologists when they’re restoring ancient gardens. They can turn up all sorts of lost features and
give a good idea of the layout from hundreds of years ago. Take formal Renaissance gardens, for instance …’
‘I’d rather not. Where’s this skeleton, then?’
Ahead of them was what appeared to be an ancient stone gatehouse, flanked on either side by high walls constructed of a slightly
different stone. It was hard to tell its age; it could have been anything from a sixteenth-century status symbol to a Victorian
folly. Wesley and Heffernan looked at each other and, as if by unspoken agreement, headed for the archway. As they passed
through it, Wesley looked down at the ground.
‘Those cobbles are very well preserved. Probably sixteenth- or seventeenth-century.’
‘Look like a load of old cobbles to me,’ the inspector muttered under his breath. ‘Where’s this body, then?’
It wasn’t long before his question was answered. They spotted a group of people in the middle of the garden, staring down
at the ground. Neil was among them. And in the centre of the group, holding court, was Dr Colin Bowman, who spotted the two
detectives and waved them over cheerily.
‘Gerry, Wesley. So glad you could come,’ he said, as though he were hosting a party. ‘Interesting one this. A skeleton was
a couple of days ago; a young woman who had obviously been buried alive … nasty case. Now our friends here have turned up
another complete skeleton buried a couple of feet beneath the first. A man this time, as far as I can tell. There seems to
be a bad head wound which is the likely cause of death; probably the proverbial blunt instrument. So it looks as if we could
have two murders on our hands. That’s the bad news. The good news for you two is that, according to our experts here, the
plinth they were buried under dates from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, so the burials might well be several
hundred years old.’ Bowman stood back, looking pleased with himself, and peeled off his rubber gloves. ‘Naturally, I’ll have
to get the bones back to the mortuary and conduct a thorough examination. But from the evidence it really does look like an
‘Good,’ said Gerry Heffernan. ‘We can all go home and have a cup of tea, then.’
But Wesley stood his ground. ‘I think we owe it to these two people to find out who they were, at least. What do we know about
the history of this place?’
Gerry Heffernan rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Why make work for yourself, Wes? If the burial’s that old it’s not our problem.’
‘I can tell you who lived here at the end of the seventeenth century,’ said a deep, authoritative voice. Wesley swung round
to face the speaker, a tall man with steel-grey hair and a military bearing. ‘You’re Neil’s policeman friend, I presume. I’m
Martin Samuels, Director of the Earlsacre Trust.’ He held out his hand and Wesley shook it firmly. ‘Neil tells me that you’re
an archaeology graduate yourself.’
Gerry Heffernan, standing behind him, muttered something incomprehensible.
‘And this is Detective Inspector Heffernan.’ Wesley decided that his boss was angling for an introduction.
‘Delighted to meet you, Inspector. The constabulary are doing us proud this time. We only got a couple of constables on the
‘Well, if there’s a serial killer on the loose …’ Heffernan was unable to resist a spot of stirring.
‘Dr Bowman’s as certain as he can be that the skeletons are old,’ said Wesley quickly, seeing a look of alarm cross Martin
‘Well, I suppose we’ll have to be grateful for small mercies. I was going to tell you something of the history of the place,
wasn’t I, Sergeant?’
Wesley nodded. Neil and his gaggle of fellow archaeologists had fallen silent and were listening intently.
Samuels took a deep breath, which made Wesley suspect he was about to embark on a long story. ‘The house was built by a Robert
Lantrist at the end of the sixteenth century. Probably a yeoman farmer who’d done well in the reign of Elizabeth: one of the
new middle classes. He was a wealthy man and, in the manner of wealthy men, liked to show off to his neighbours, so he built
a substantial house in the latest fashion and created a series of gardens to match his status. The walled garden here probably
began life as a knot garden but was revamped in the seventeenth century to keep up with the latest trends. Fashion, alas,
is nothing new. The fortunes of the Lantrists fluctuated, however – at one point at the end of the seventeenth century they
were said to be close to bankruptcy – but they eventually recovered and the estate was passed from father to son in the usual
way until the family died out in the eighteenth century and a distant cousin inherited the estate. The line died out again
in the 1940s and the place was inherited by a distant relative in Australia who never came here and let it to tenants. Then
the house was used by the US Army for a while in the war, and in 1946 it was bought by the Wilton family, who lived here until
the sixties. Then a family called Cramer bought it, but they ran out of money and sold it to its last owners, the Pitaways.
They only lived here a few years, then they moved into a modern bungalow in Dukesbridge and let in out to tenants. Eventually
the place deteriorated and was abandoned, and it was Charles Pitaway, their son, who sold it to the trust. Actually he’s moved
back into the area and has been taking quite an interest in the project. Nice chap. He’s set up a garden design consultancy,
so he’s been doing quite a bit of work for us.’
‘So if the plinth has been there since the early eighteenth century, the skeletons probably date from the time of the Lantrists?’
said Wesley. He always like to be sure of his facts.