What had woken him? Paul Hetherington lay still for a moment, wondering what could have disturbed his deep, dreamless sleep. There was a certain chill to the room that had not been there before, and he glanced over towards the open window. The thick heavy curtains hung unmoving, no wind finding its way in through there to raise the hairs on his arms and to make the skin on the back of his neck crawl. He listened intently. No sound, nothing but the steady ticking of the clock in its ancient oak casing. The springs in the old four-poster creaked and complained as he rolled over and looked towards the fireplace, cold and empty now that it was summer; yet as the temperature continued to fall, he wished that he had laid a fire before retiring. Something was wrong. He did not know what it was, or how he knew, but there was something indefinably different about the room, and he felt a strange uneasiness. He did not want to augment the feeling by naming it fear, yet he knew that the beating of his heart, the knotting in his stomach and the cold which now seemed to reach his very bones, was something beyond the normal, the expected.
Paul sat up, drawing the old patchwork counterpane tightly around his shoulders as he leant back against the heavy wooden headboard and allowed his eyes to search the room, exploring every nook and cranny for … something. What was that deeper shadow beside the door? Had it been there before? He wracked his brain, trying to see in his mind’s eye what had stood there when he went to bed, what it was that could create such a shadow, but he could think of nothing. His hand was shaking as he reached out towards the bedside light, knocking over his glass of water in the process, yet he did not seem to notice, his whole attention was focused on the shadow behind the door. He could swear that it had moved. Was it bigger now? It seemed to be moving across the room towards him, and he switched on the lamp, certain in that second that its light would reveal nothing out of the ordinary and he would laugh at his fears. The warm yellow light flooded the room and the shadow solidified, no longer an indistinct and insubstantial mass, but the form of a woman.
‘Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my room!’ Paul’s cry rent the silence, anger and fear causing the adrenalin to flow as he tensed ready to spring towards the intruder.
The woman stepped forward, the movement causing her long black dress to rustle like tiny creatures amongst dry leaves. Paul found himself shivering uncontrollably as his eyes were drawn to her face. He could not tell how old she was, some indeterminate age between thirty and sixty, her skin lined and cracked as though she had been out in all weathers, yet it did not have the colour of someone who lived their life in the open. Her skin was dark blue, almost black; dark brown eyes bulged from the deep sockets; blue, bloodless lips were stretched in a grim line. Wisps of grey hair escaped from a thick plait which hung over her shoulder. The deep pools of her eyes stared at him and Paul shivered, not with the cold but with fear. His mouth was dry as he struggled to get the words out, to challenge the intruder in his home, his bedroom, his place of safety and security.
‘I said, who are you and what are you doing here?’
The woman frowned as she looked at him, her head tilted slightly to one side as her eyes hungrily devoured his features. ‘Does this house belong to thee now?’ The voice that issued from the blue and seemingly lifeless lips was cold and harsh, as though drawn forth through unimaginable pain and suffering. Somehow she seemed to belong there, in that room, in that house, in a way that Paul felt he did not, and he found himself nodding at her question.
‘Yes. This is my house. Now tell me who you are, and what you are doing here.’
It was as if she could not hear his questions, or chose to ignore them, he did not know which, for she continued with her own relentless train of thought as she stepped closer to the bed and leant forward to scrutinise his features. ‘What is it that they call thee?’
‘My name is Hetherington. Paul Hetherington. Now who the devil are you? You have no right to be here! I’m going to call the police.’ He was beginning to feel more in control of himself as the shock of finding a stranger in his bedroom began to recede before his growing anger. She was only an old lady, for God’s sake! Why was he so afraid to confront her? Throwing back the covers he climbed out of bed and stood before her.
‘Now, you’re coming downstairs with me while I call the police. I don’t know what you’re doing here. Maybe the old owners let you wander around freely, but this is my house now, and you are not welcome.’
He found that he was looking down at her. The woman was small, barely five feet tall, and he felt ridiculous at having been afraid of her, and feeling ridiculous made him angry. He did not like to be made a fool of by anyone. He reached out a hand to take her by the arm and guide her downstairs to the phone in the hall, but the old woman shook her head.
‘Hetherington. Not Hardwycke.’
Paul frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You are not a Hardwycke?’
‘That’s right. My name is Hetherington. Now come with me.’
Paul reached out and placed his hand on her arm, or at least where her arm appeared to be, but there was nothing there. He saw his fingers pass through the air where her body should have been, and a strange icy coldness gripped him to the core. A tingling sensation began at his fingertips and travelled up his arm until he felt every hair on his body standing on end, as though he had experienced an electric shock. With a cry of fear he stepped back, afraid of what he could see but could not feel. The old woman laughed.
‘Do not fear me, sir, for I do not come here looking for thee. I have waited many years for Hardwycke to return to this house and face me. No matter that you are not he, I can wait many more years. As many as it takes.’ A humourless smile twisted her thin lips. ‘He will return, and I will be waiting.’
Paul trembled with fear as he watched the woman turn and walk, no glide, across the room towards the door. He expected her to stop to open the door but she just continued, not even the thick wooden door seemed to be strong enough to stand up to her insubstantial frame as she glided through it and out of his sight.
The temperature in the room began to rise rapidly at the woman’s departure, but Hetherington was unaware of it as he stood shivering in the middle of the room, wondering if buying this house had been such a good idea after all.
The battered estate car pulled in at the side of the road and drew to a halt. Putting the car into neutral, Robert Hardwick wound down the window and breathed the clean fresh air of the countryside deeply, his eager gaze taking in the view which unfolded before him. To his right, a low stone wall bordered lush green pastureland dotted with the white cotton-wool shapes of sheep. The pasture was framed by two broad swathes of trees which swept down to a small lake and beyond, drawing the eye towards the Manor house which nestled in a fold of land just below the brow of the hill. The house was protected on all sides from severe weather, yet open to the views down the valley towards the distant spires of the colleges of Oxford, which punctuated the skyline like so many stalagmites.
The early afternoon sun bathed the facade of the building and reflected from its windows. The warm yellow stone seemed to radiate a feeling of permanence, of a belonging to this place which went beyond time and space. The house was meant to be here, the curve of the hillside and the sweeping trees like the arms of a protecting deity holding it close and safe, its foundations fixed firmly to the bedrock of the land. Rob smiled. The view – the house, the land, the trees, the sheep – this spoke to him of history. This was what he would have seen if he had travelled along this road three or four hundred years earlier. What stories this place could tell! Taking a deep breath he put the car into gear and moved off down the road. He was going to like it here, he just knew it. This was going to be less of a job and more of the fulfilment of a dream.
Half a mile further down the road, the huge iron gates of Marston Manor stood wide in welcome. Rob swung his car onto the sweeping gravel drive which led through the trees of the broad-leaved woodland towards the house, hidden from sight at the moment but still drawing him on towards his destiny. He drove slowly, the only sound the gravel crunching beneath his tyres. So quiet, so peaceful, so beautiful. As the car rounded the first bend Rob stopped, strangely angered by what he saw. In a clearing to his left clustered a group of caravans, lines of washing connecting them like obscene parodies of carnival bunting. Four horses were tethered to one side and grazed the close-cropped grass while a crowd of scruffy urchins ran between them, laughing and screaming. The smoke from a large wood fire in the centre of the site rose lazily into the still summer air, drifting towards the cluster of parked vehicles – powerful cars to haul the caravans, old lorries which had seen better days, dirty vans – and beyond them a pile of rubbish. As he drove slowly past Rob saw old beds, discarded fridges, heaps of metal and wood, old tyres. An ugly scene. The more so after his idyllic view of the Manor house only moments before. This was not right. These people did not belong here, he felt it deep inside with an unshakeable certainty. Surely Paul Hetherington would not allow this? As he pulled away a large, scruffy black dog broke from the trees and pursued his car, barking and snapping, its flag of a tail waving wildly. Rob put his foot down causing a shower of gravel to be kicked up by the wheels. The dog yelped as the stones stung its flesh, veering off into the trees, still barking madly.
Rob felt a tension in his shoulders as his hands gripped the wheel tightly. ‘Bloody travellers.’ He glanced back through the mirror, but the campsite had been lost by the curve of the drive and he was in clean fresh woodland again. He frowned for a moment, then shrugged. He would obviously not be able to complete his job with the travellers there, but that was not his problem. He would concentrate on the house and outbuildings, the old gardens, the core of the estate which gave it its heart. The problem of the travellers was someone else’s, not his, and he would not let it spoil his introduction to Marston Manor.
At last the sweeping drive brought him out of the trees, and he could see the house once more. Breathing deeply, Rob calmed his raw nerves, putting all thoughts of the travellers’ camp out of his mind as he drew to a halt in front of the sweep of steps which led up to the enormous oak door. Leaving his car beside the four-wheel drive vehicle which dominated the driveway, he looked down towards the lake and the road beyond, to the place where he had stopped such a short time before to view the house. He could see now why it had been sited here. The lines of trees were not quite parallel, but widened out as they swept past the lake and on towards the road, opening up a vista of the English countryside which had not changed for centuries. This was permanence, stability. Rob felt a strange feeling of belonging, as though this place drew him to itself, as though he were a part of it already. He felt a rush of adrenalin, eager to get to work, to find out about the people and events which had shaped this place, and which would become his life for the foreseeable future.
Rob turned back to the door and smiled to see an ancient bell pull. Grasping the warm iron work in his hand he pulled, then waited for the sound of the bell which would have called forth the servants in the past. To his annoyance the old bell pull had been connected to a modern electric buzzer which rent the air with its shrillness. He cringed. That would have to go.
There were no sounds from the house. Perhaps no one was home. He looked at his watch. 1.30. Admittedly he was a little early, but surely there should be someone there to meet him? Ringing the bell again, he turned his back to the building to drink in the view once more, and was unaware of the door opening. He started at the sound of the voice.
‘Hi. You must be Rob Hardwick. Come in.’
Rob turned to peruse the man who had greeted him. He was about the same age as Rob, possibly a little older. Thirty-four? Five? Taller than Rob, he had mousy hair and grey eyes which smiled a welcome though held deep within them a hint of flint as though this was not a man to be crossed. Broad shoulders filled the dark blue polo shirt worn with a pair of faded jeans and Reebok trainers. Rob smiled.
‘Yes. That’s right. I’m here to see Mr Hetherington. Is he home?’
The man held out his hand and grinned. ‘I’m Paul Hetherington.’
Rob took the proffered hand, the grip strong and sure. ‘Sorry. I was expecting someone…’
‘Older? More conservative?’ Paul smiled, and Rob found himself responding.
‘Well, maybe. It’s good to meet you, Mr Hetherington.’
‘Paul, please. Now do come in.’ He led the way into the hall as he spoke, and Rob allowed his gaze to wander over the old paintings, antique furniture, suits of armour. An unusual collection, he thought, something would definitely have to be done about them; but he did not have time to view them properly as Paul led him through to the library which opened off of the hall.
‘Please sit down, Rob. I may call you Rob?’ He indicated a comfortable leather chair as he spoke, and Rob sat down with a nod of acceptance at the use of his name. ‘What do you think of the house so far?’
‘Well, from the outside it’s magnificent. It’s rare to find a place like this which hasn’t been changed and altered over the years by successive generations. Looking at it, you can imagine what it would have looked like during the Civil War. And this library is incredible.’ He allowed his gaze to wander over the shelves of books, their faded leather bindings speaking of their age. ‘There’s a wonderful atmosphere in here which can be utilised.’
‘So you think my idea will work?’ Paul’s eyes were lit with excitement as he seated himself opposite Rob, who nodded his agreement.
‘Yes. I’ve read your proposal in detail and I think it has great potential, but there will be lots of things which will need changing in the house if it is to truly work.’
‘Well, the hall for a start. You have some fine antiques in there, but they’re from all sorts of periods and don’t go together. If this is going to be a re-creation of a Manor house during the period of the Civil War then it needs a more cohesive identity. Take a look at this library, for instance.’
Paul perused the room. ‘I thought you liked it?’
‘Oh, I do,’ Rob agreed, ‘but look at it. Old leather bound books and a few paperbacks on the same shelves. If it’s going to work, everything must fit in. We have to be careful to ensure that nothing is out of place.’
‘That’s your job, if you still want it.’
Rob beamed. ‘Yes. Definitely. The Civil War has always been the period of history which grips me; it was my specialism at university. To be able to work on something like this is a dream come true for me.’
‘Good. That’s what my sources said, and why I approached you in the first place. I’ve got so many plans for the place, but to do something like this is way out of my league.’ He grinned. ‘I made my money on the Stock Market, which enabled me to buy this place with plenty left over for any work that needs doing. It needs to be good, Rob, if we are to attract all the different kinds of people I want to come here.’
‘Well, your bog-standard tourist for a start. Someone who is interested in history but doesn’t know much, so needs it all laid out for them on a plate. I want them to be able to see and feel and hear and smell a Manor during the Civil War. I want characters in costume about the place to make it feel real to them. Then I want to re-enact battles. That should draw the crowds. Roundheads and Cavaliers fighting out there in front of the house.’ He waved a hand in the general direction of the lake as he spoke, his enthusiasm spilling from him. ‘Then there are the educational opportunities. We won’t get so many tourists out of season so I want to set up an educational facility to encourage school visits, to let the kids dress up and do things, to feel that they are living in the past.’
‘You really have a passion for history, don’t you, Paul, wanting to pass it on to others like that. That’s how I feel too.’
Paul shook his head. ‘Not quite. I am interested in history up to a point, but this isn’t about what others can get out of it. It’s what I can get.’
‘Money. This is a business venture, Rob. That’s why it needs to be so true to life. It’s the best way to attract the crowds. Who knows? Maybe we can even encourage some TV or Hollywood directors to film here. That would really put us on the map.’
Rob frowned. ‘Money is all well and good, Paul, but it can’t stand in the way of authenticity.’
‘Oh, I agree. That’s why the historical aspect is yours, and I won’t interfere. I shall be focussing on the business side of things.’
‘How much freedom will I have in my work?’
‘As much as you like. You come up with the ideas, cost them, present them to me. If they’re viable then you can go ahead with them. You come highly recommended, Rob. I will trust your judgment. But don’t let me down.’
Rob noticed the steely edge to the voice. This was a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. But as long as he did not dictate to Rob then he could work with him. ‘I won’t let you down.’
Paul grinned as he stood and held out his hand. ‘You’ll not regret this, Rob. Welcome aboard.’
‘The historian seems okay. I think he’ll be able to give me what I want.’
The older man turned his weather-beaten features towards Paul. ‘He knows his stuff then?’
‘Yes. He recognised a lot of the irrelevant furniture which has been collected over the years and needs replacing. And he seems very keen on the educational aspects.’
Jim Brand scratched at his short-cropped hair. ‘So what’s he up to now?’
‘Oh, he’s put his stuff up in his room and is taking a look around the house. Getting the feel of things, he says. Obviously there’ll be rooms that won’t be on display, private areas where I’ll stay when I’m in the area. It will be fun to have friends over for the odd weekend when we are closed to the public. We can have some themed parties.’
Jim laughed. ‘Not much money in them.’
Paul was silent for a moment, then grinned. ‘Could be, Jim. Could be.’
The two men made their way down towards the barn and outbuildings, empty now of life but peopled in Paul’s imagination with costumed figures and farm animals.
‘How long since these buildings were last used?’
‘The previous owners used the barn as a garage and storage area, so it’s in pretty good condition. The rest of the buildings haven’t been used for some years, but it won’t take much to get them back into order. Then there’s the stables, of course. As you know I’ve got a couple of horses in there, so they’re well kept.’
Paul turned to his estate manager. He knew what was what, he knew the estate like the back of his hand and, more importantly, he lived in the twenty-first century and was open to new ideas. Paul was glad he’d kept him on when he bought the Manor, his experience working for the previous owners would be invaluable.
‘As I said, you can keep your horses there for as long as you like. They’ll make good additions to the stock once we open.’
Jim laughed. ‘There had to be an ulterior motive there! Seriously though, I don’t see why you don’t ride one of them some time, you’re more than welcome.’
Paul shook his head ruefully. ‘No, the closest I get to nature is on the golf course!’ He was thoughtful for a moment. ‘I wonder if Rob rides? It might help him to get to know the area better.’
‘Well, he can ride my horses any time he likes; they could do with the exercise. Ask him. If he wants an early ride, I’ll be going out at about six tomorrow morning.’
‘Six!’ Paul laughed. ‘I’ll see what he says, but don’t hold your breath!’
‘It’s strange his name being Hardwick, isn’t it?’
Paul turned to his companion. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, what with the Hardwycke’s owning the place for so long.’
‘Didn’t you know? The Hardwycke family built this place and were here during the Civil War. It just seems strange that the man you hire to research it all is a Hardwick too.’
‘Hardwycke.’ Paul shivered. ‘Do you know anything about their history?’
Jim shrugged. ‘Not much. Me, I’m more interested in the land and the animals. Estate manager and gamekeeper. Not much interested in history.’
Paul chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. Perhaps Jim was the one to ask. He was pretty down to earth and wouldn’t say anything to anyone else, even if he thought Paul a little strange. Coming to a decision, he stopped beside the barn door and turned to face his companion.
‘Any history of ghosts in the house?’
He expected Jim to laugh and say no, there were no legends of hauntings. Instead the older man frowned. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Well, is the place haunted or not?’
Jim shrugged. ‘I’ve never seen anything, but there are stories about an old woman being seen wandering about the place at night. Some of the locals swear that she is searching for revenge, but they don’t know from whom or why. Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it.’
‘I’m not one for the paranormal either,’ Paul began, ‘but I don’t think it would be hard to convince me. On my first night in the house I woke up to find a little old woman in my room. She asked me my name and when she found out it was Hetherington she said I wasn’t the one she was waiting for, but she could wait as long as necessary.’ He shivered. ‘I think it must have been the ghost.’
Jim laughed. ‘How can you tell? Did she walk through a wall or something?’
‘Shit! Maybe the old place is haunted after all! Did she say who she was waiting for?’
‘And you’ve just hired a Hardwick? Interesting. Are you going to tell him?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe it was just a dream; you know, moving into an old house, feeling tired, affected by the atmosphere. Perhaps I dreamt the whole thing.’ He was quiet for a moment, then smiled. ‘I might tell Hardwick, though; it should fuel his historian’s curiosity. I think I’ll…’
‘What the hell is that!’
‘Over there!’ Jim was walking swiftly towards his old battered land rover as he spoke. ‘See, above the trees by the road?’
Paul looked. Clouds of oily black smoke were beginning to rise above the trees in the still summer air, hanging there like a portent of evil. ‘It’s those bloody travellers!’ Paul climbed in beside Jim as he spoke. ‘Come on, let’s get down there!’
The car bounced down the drive, taking the corners at speed, then screeched to a halt on the edge of the camp, waves of gravel being thrown up by the wheels. The vehicle had barely come to a halt when Paul climbed out.
‘What the hell is going on here?’
‘Surely that’s bloody obvious, even to a toffee-nosed git like you.’
Paul perused the man who had spoken. He was in his mid-forties with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, two days’ stubble shadowing his cheeks and chin. An old tyre was clutched in his hand, and there was a pile of others beside him. Paul looked at the fire. Flames licked at the heap of black rubber, causing clouds of black smoke to roil into the air, leaving an acrid taste in his mouth. He looked back at the man with the tyre.
‘And who the hell are you?’
‘My name’s Patrick Cowan, if it’s any business of yours. My friends call me Paddy, but you can call me Mr Cowan.’
The group of travellers who had gathered around him began to laugh as he swung his arm and flung the tyre onto the fire.
‘I don’t give a shit what your name is.’ Paul moved to stand between the man and the fire. ‘This is my land and you have no business to be here. I’ve tried to ignore you for the past couple of days since you arrived, but this is going too far. You’re polluting my land with this and I’ve had enough. I expect you, and all your rubbish, to be gone by first thing tomorrow.’
Cowan looked him up and down. ‘So you’re the new owner, are you? We’d heard that the old lot had gone. Well, for your information we stay here every year and we ain’t movin’ just ’cause you take a dislike to us.’
Paul turned to Jim, who had climbed out of the car and was standing in a carefully relaxed manner beside the driver’s door. ‘Jim?’
‘A group of travellers camped here last year. I recognise some of them, but not this bloke. The lot we had last year only stayed a week or two then went. They caused no trouble and left no mess.’
‘And we’ll be no trouble. As long as you leave us alone.’
‘Then put the fire out.’
Cowan grinned. ‘I said there’d be no trouble if you left us alone. Tellin’ us what to do ain’t leavin’ us alone now, is it?’
This raised another laugh from his audience and he turned to them with a mock bow.
‘This is my land and you have no rights here. I want you gone by tomorrow. Understand?’
Paul stepped towards Cowan, who raised his fists and adopted a fighting stance. ‘Want to take me on, nancy boy?’
‘Paul, I wouldn’t recommend it.’ Jim’s voice was soft, and when Paul turned to face him he indicated the rest of the travellers with a nod of his head. The women and children had stepped back, leaving a row of men in a semi-circle around Paul and Cowan. Paul had to admit to himself that this was neither the time nor place to confront Cowan.
‘You just go on back to your big posh house and leave us here.’ Cowan grinned. ‘Come on you lot, let’s get on with it.’
As Paul retreated towards the land rover the travellers began to throw more tyres onto the fire. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth in an effort not to lose control. No one spoke to him like that and got away with it. Cowan may have won this round, but Paul Hetherington would be victorious in the end. Opening the door of the land rover he muttered at Jim.
‘And where were you when I needed you?’
The older man inclined his head towards the bed of the vehicle where his hand rested on a shotgun. ‘Providing back-up.’
Once Paul was in the car Jim joined him, revved the engine and swung round to head back up the drive to the house.
‘They can’t get away with this!’ Paul’s voiced hissed angrily between his teeth. ‘When I get back I’ll phone the police and get them thrown off.’
Jim shrugged. ‘You can try, but it’s not that easy. Their sort always seem to have the law on their side these days.’
‘We’ll see, Jim. We’ll see.’
Rob found himself back in the library. The old house certainly had an atmosphere, and the rooms which Paul said he wanted for public display had great potential. This was going to be a very enjoyable job. Running his hands over the cracked leather spines of some of the books on the shelves he felt their age, as though they were talking to him. He took one down at random. He loved the texture of the binding, the smell of the old paper; there was so much here that could tell him of the past and he hoped that he would have time to study it all. As his gaze wandered around the room his eyes fell on the bulk of an old family Bible displayed on a small lectern beneath the window. Crossing the room, he laid his hands on the warm leather, feeling its age. The leather was cracked and worn from exposure to the sun through the window. He determined that it should be restored, then kept safely away from the sun’s harmful rays. The brass bindings of the enormous book were shiny with age, the once beautiful engraving now worn thin by the touch of devout hands over the centuries. He smiled to himself. If only people realised how much history was contained in a Bible like this. Undoing the clasps which held it shut, he lifted the heavy cover and let out a satisfied sigh as he saw the delicate writing in ink, once black but now faded to grey-blue with age. The handwriting changed every few entries as the head of the household came and went. This was what history was about. Rob touched the page almost reverently. Real families. Real people. Here was the record of their births and deaths, their loves and marriages; this was what the past was really about.
A word caught his eye and he leaned forward to have a closer look. No, he had not been mistaken. This was the Hardwycke family Bible. With a dry mouth and heart beating wildly, he began to read.
Thomas Hardwycke married Mary Sutter this day 24th October 1623.
This Bible shall be the record of our family over the generations. I pray God’s blessing on our marriage and our future life together.
Rob began to read eagerly. The beginning of a family history, what more did this book have to tell? The next entry spoke of the building of a new Manor house for the family, and he realised that this gave him the date for the building of Marston Manor, begun in 1623 and completed in 1625. He smiled at the entry recording the first-born son of Thomas and Mary.
Although the house is not yet complete, it is our wish that our children be born here. For that reason we lived in the finished rooms for some weeks until the good Lord blessed us with the safe birth of a son and heir.
Thomas Hardwycke born this day 15th January 1625.
The Lord be praised for his goodness.
Rob continued to read. Two more sons, Charles and Simon, and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Little Mary only lived for two days, and Charles for a brief four and a half months, but the others reached adult hood. As he read on, Rob charted their history and that of their children and grandchildren down through the years, the centuries, until he read one entry and his heart missed a beat. Taking a deep breath he read it again, but there was no mistake.
Charles David Hardwycke born this day 9th April 1843
He read the remaining entries. Then read them again. There was no further mention of Charles David Hardwycke in the Bible. No marriage. No death. He seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
Rob found that his heart was beating wildly as he rested his hands on the table and breathed deeply in an effort to regain control. Charles David Hardwycke. He had searched for that name in the records of Oxfordshire for years, and now here it was. With a sudden grin that lit his face he took out his mobile phone and dialled swiftly.
It rang, and rang.
‘Come on. Come on.’
He was about to give up when finally there was an answer.
‘Caroline, it’s me.’
‘Rob? What are you doing calling me at this time of day? I’ve got patients waiting. Can’t this wait till tonight?’
‘No. Sorry love, but this is important.’
‘It had better be.’ Caroline was obviously annoyed, but Rob did not recognise the tone of voice, he was so wrapped up with his news.
‘You’ll never guess what I’ve found! It’s brilliant!’
There was a lightening of the tone on the other end of the line. ‘Okay Rob, I’ve got five minutes. What is it this time?’
Rob had the decency to grin.
‘Sorry love, I do tend to go a little over the top with my finds, don’t I. But this is something special. You know I’ve researched my family history and can’t get back beyond the marriage of Charles to Sarah Bell in Faringdon? The only clue was that Charles came from Oxford, and I’ve searched all the records there. But I didn’t search all of the villages outside.’
‘So, I’m at Marston Manor and guess what! The house was built by the Hardwycke family, and there’s a Bible tracing their family history. There’s a Charles David Hardwycke, spelt with ‘y’ and an ‘e’ on the end, who was born on 9th April 1843 then disappears from the family record. My ancestor was Charles David Hardwick from Oxford, who was 22 when he married Sarah Bell on 1st June 1865.’
‘What are you trying to say, Rob?’
‘It must be the same person. It’s too much of a coincidence.’
‘What about the spelling?’
‘Hardwycke with a ‘y’ and an ‘e’. You don’t have them.’
‘Oh, plenty of mistakes like that were made when records were written in the past. They didn’t put the letters in the register, so the family stopped using them. Isn’t this brilliant! I think I’ve found the branch of my family that I’ve been looking for. And can now trace it right back to 1623! The research I do about this house in the Civil War will be about my own ancestors! Isn’t that great!’
‘Yes, darling, it’s great. Now can I get back to work?’
Rob laughed. ‘Sorry, love. Of course. I’ll call you again later.’
‘And preferably not at work.’
‘Okay, okay. I’ll try to control myself in future and not call you at work.’
It was Caroline’s turn to laugh. ‘You’ll never stick to it. But that’s what I love about you, you’re so impulsive!’
‘And I thought it was my charming bedside manner.’
‘I’m the doctor here, not you. But your manner in bed is pretty appealing. Now, let me get back to work!’
‘Okay. I’ll call later. I love you.’
‘And I love you too.’
Rob switched off and pocketed his phone. Charles David Hardwick! Paul Hetherington was never going to believe this!
As Rob ran his hand over the Bible once more he felt a sudden chilling of the air. Somewhere behind him he could have sworn that he heard someone whispering the name Hardwick, but when he turned there was no one there.
Rob was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee in his hand as he perused the plans of the house. The door behind him slammed. He turned to see who it was.
‘Anything wrong, Paul?’
‘Anything wrong? You should see the mess they’re making down there. Burning tyres. I ask you. What’s the point? I’m sure they’re doing it just to annoy me.’
‘They seem to have succeeded.’
Paul proceeded to make a mug of coffee, banging kettles and mugs around in his anger. ‘Of course they’ve pissed me off. What gives them the right to camp on my land? I was fairly lenient about that. Thought they’d be gone in a week or two. But now they’re creating a mess that will take ages to fix. And it’s right on the drive. We can’t have that when this place opens.’
‘But you’ve got plenty of time, Paul. You won’t be able to open up before next year, so you’ve got time to get rid of them.’
‘That’s beside the point. I don’t want bastards like that Cowan on my land.’
‘Patrick Cowan. He seems to be their leader. No-one, and I mean no-one, speaks to me like that and gets away with it.’
Paul’s anger was palpable, and Rob wondered how he could calm him down.
‘Have you tried calling the police?’
‘Yes. They say that there’s nothing they can do. It’s my land for God’s sake, and they’re trespassing on it and making a mess, but there’s nothing the police can do. The police will only get involved if they cause a great deal of damage. But how do they define that? Something has to be done, Rob. I don’t know what, but I’ll think of something.’
Rob sipped his coffee as he watched his employer filling a mug. The man was obviously very tense; the best thing he could do at the moment would be to distract him from all thoughts of the travellers.
‘I found something very interesting in the library.’
‘Yes?’ Paul turned towards him as he spoke. ‘Valuable?’
‘Not financially, no. But valuable to me.’
‘Well, I found out that this Manor was built by the Hardwycke family.’
‘Funny you should mention that. I was talking to Jim, my estate manager, about that and was going to tell you this evening.’
‘Well, it’s not just a coincidence that my name is Hardwick.’
‘What do you mean?’
Rob grinned. He still could hardly believe that what he was about to tell Paul was true, but all the evidence pointed to the fact.
‘Well, the Bible in the library records the family history up to the end of the nineteenth century. It mentions a younger son called Charles David who seems to have disappeared.’
‘So, I can trace my family back to a Charles David Hardwick from this area who was born in the same year as the younger son of the family.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘I think, no I’m ninety nine point nine percent certain, that I’m descended from the Hardwyckes who built Marston Manor. The family we are researching is my family. This house is my ancestral home.’
‘You’re not planning to claim it back, are you?’
Rob laughed. ‘Good Lord, no! It’s just that it’s all so personal now. I can’t wait to find out more about them. When we set up this place as a Civil War Manor, I will actually be able to see how my ancestors lived. Isn’t that something?’
‘It should at least ensure that you do a good job.’
Paul sat down at the table and grinned. ‘Sorry. It’s just those damned travellers who’ve put me on edge. Do you really think that you are related to these Hardwyckes? Only…’
Paul frowned at Rob’s question. ‘Well, it’s a bit difficult really. You see I saw, or dreamt I saw, an old woman who said she was looking for Hardwycke. Jim thinks it might be the Manor ghost.’
Rob laughed. ‘I don’t believe in ghosts! What did this ‘ghost’ want Hardwycke for?’
Paul shrugged. ‘I don’t know. The local legend is that she’s seeking revenge. Perhaps for something your family did in the past?’ He grinned suddenly. ‘Are you sure you want to stay here? She might visit you in your bed, like she did me.’
Rob laughed. ‘Just my luck, then, that it’s an old woman. Why couldn’t it be someone young and nubile?’
Paul joined in the laughter. ‘You’re right. Why is it that ghosts are always old and wrinkled, and seeking revenge? I must have been dreaming when I saw what I thought I saw, so don’t worry about anything. This house is as safe as they come.’
‘Who said I was worried!’
The two men laughed and turned their attention to the plans once more, all thoughts of the ghost searching for Hardwycke banished from their minds.
Rob placed his book on the bedside table and turned out the light, lying back with a contented sigh. The social history of the Civil War period was like a maze, with its mixture of puritan simplicity and Royalist decadence. He would enjoy unravelling the threads and weaving them into a tapestry of his own, peopled with characters in authentic period costumes, each with their own stories to tell. He could already see in his mind’s eye the rich splendour of the Cavaliers at the Manor, and the poverty of the workers on the estate, some of whom no doubt must have been Roundheads, who would have hoped for a change in their circumstances if the king should lose the war.
Rob looked towards the open window, drinking in the peaceful scene of the stables and outbuildings bathed in moonlight. He smiled as he closed his eyes and drifted towards a sleep which he knew would be visited by dreams of his ancestors living in the Manor, sleeping in this very room, seeing this very scene through the open window.
Rob was not sure if he had slept at all, for the moon had barely moved in her course across the heavens when he became aware of a cool breeze blowing across him. He shivered as he pulled the counterpane over his body, curious at the sudden change in the temperature. He could see through the window that the sky was still cloudless and there was no wind to move the branches of the trees, and he wondered where the breeze had come from. Maybe the fireplace? If so it would need blocking off if he was ever to get a good night’s sleep.
Rob turned over to see if there was any evidence of a draught from the fireplace, then froze at the sight which greeted him. Standing in the far corner of the room was a woman. She was small and bent, giving the impression of years of toil. The dark pools of her eyes gazed at him from a face creased with age, the creases augmented by the deep frown which furrowed her brow. More startling was the colour of the face, a deep bluish purple, as though the woman was suffocating, struggling for oxygen. Then she spoke.
‘So, thou hast returned.’
Rob felt icy fingers of fear course down his spine at the sound of the cracked voice issuing from her bloodless lips. He shook his head.
‘I don’t know who you are, but I’ve never been here before.’ He licked his dry lips. Was this the apparition that Paul had seen? Was he seeing a ghost for the first time in his life? He fervently wished that it was not so, and that she was just some mad intruder who had found her way into the house.
The old woman stepped a little closer, still frowning; then her eyes cleared and she nodded. ‘Oh, I know thee, Hardwycke. How could it be that I would ever forget thy face.’
‘You must be mistaken.’ Rob inched further up the bed as he spoke, wanting to put as much distance as possible between himself and the old crone. ‘I told you, I’ve never been here before.’
‘Truly it was long ago, but thou cannot have forgotten, Hardwycke.’
‘How do you know my name?’
‘The Hardwycke family did us a great wrong.’ Slowly she raised a hand and pointed a bent and arthritic finger accusingly at him. ‘We were innocents, but because of thee we endured the punishment for crimes which we did not commit.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’
‘Thou must remember, Hardwycke, or thou must fervently seek out and learn the truth of my words. For it is thee who will pay for the crimes of thy family. And for thine own.’
Rob’s mind was in turmoil. Was he dreaming? Was this all real? If so, was she a living breathing person, or a ghost from the long distant past destined to forever haunt this house and this family? He wanted to get up, to run from the apparition, but he would have to pass her to get to the door and his fear held him still. He decided that she must be some local madwoman roaming the place; he could not accept that she was a ghost seeking revenge for something which he knew nothing about. He forced all the confidence which he could muster into his voice as he confronted her.
‘What crimes? What are you talking about? You’re nothing but a crazed old woman!’
The temperature in the room plummeted, as though his words had angered her and caused her to lash out in some strange supernatural way. Rob was frozen to the core and shivered as her voice rose in anger.
‘If I am crazy then the fault is thine!’ She stepped forward, her finger still held unwaveringly pointed at Rob’s chest. Her words were filled with venom, and Rob cowered before her anger. ‘No-one could endure what was done to us by thee and remain sane! Thou wast there at the end, Hardwycke. Did it amuse thee? Didst thou laugh to see the handiwork of thy family?’
Robs mind was filled with a terrible confusion. He wanted to clasp his hands over his ears to shut out the sound of her voice, but found that he could not move. He cried out despairingly. ‘I don’t understand!’
‘Oh, thou wilt before the end, Hardwycke. And when thou doth understand, and when thou doth remember, I shall have my revenge on thee. And all thy family.’
‘Revenge for what?’
‘For what thou didst to me. But most of all for what thou didst to her!’ The woman’s eyes hardened as she spoke, and Rob saw a deep pain reflected in the impenetrable depths.
It was as though the ghost had not heard him as she cried out with all the pain and anguish of centuries of waiting. ‘She was the brightest and best of us, the heart of me. She … we will be avenged when thou burnest in hell!’
With that the woman turned and walked away. Rob’s heart missed a beat as he watched her pass through the wall as though it were not there. With fumbling hand he turned on the bedside light and sat shivering, although the temperature in the room had now returned to normal. He had never known such fear in his life. Somehow, deep in the depths of his soul, he knew that what she said was connected to him in some indefinable way, and that the only way for him to rid himself of the ghost was to find out how, and why, their lives were inextricably linked over the centuries.
Drawing up his knees to his chest, Rob wrapped his arms around them then rested his chin on his arms. Slowly calming his fears, he stared at the place where she had disappeared, and settled down to wait for morning.
Rob gently stroked the muzzle of the tall bay gelding. He had always found being with horses soothing, and that was what he wanted this morning. He supposed that he must have slept during the night, for he had been woken by the sound of birdsong coming from the yard. He had lain for some moments nursing a headache reminiscent of a hangover, although he had drunk nothing the night before. Then he had remembered and sat up with a jolt, swiftly scanning all corners of the room, fearful that the ghost might have returned. But the room was as he had first seen it – bathed in the gentle glow of dawn and with an atmosphere of calm and peace. Rising swiftly, Rob had quickly dressed and made his way down to the stables.
There was the sound of footsteps crossing the yard and Rob turned to see Jim Brand approaching.
‘Morning, Rob. I must admit that when I said you could take one of the horses out for an early ride, I didn’t expect you to be up this early!’
‘Morning, Jim.’ Rob smiled ruefully. ‘I hadn’t intended to be up this early, but I didn’t sleep too well last night so it seemed like a good idea. There’s nothing like an early morning ride to blow away the cobwebs.’
‘You’re right there, but I’m sorry I can’t join you today as I have to be in London early this morning on business. Do you feel confident enough to go out on your own? Tully here can be a handful for inexperienced riders, but if you know what you’re doing and let him know who’s in charge he’s as gentle as a lamb.’
Jim grinned. ‘Yep. After Jethro Tull – and before you say anything, I do not mean the band!’
Rob laughed. ‘Of course not. With your love of the land I would guess he’s named after Jethro Tull, inventor of the seed drill, among other things.’
‘You certainly do know your history.’
‘Tull was around during the period I’m interested in. A fascinating time.’ He continued to stroke the horse as he spoke. ‘I’m sure Tully and I will get along just fine.’
‘Well, there are plenty of footpaths and bridleways around here, mostly on Paul’s land, so just feel free to ride and explore.’
‘Thanks, though I won’t go too far this morning. Tully and I need time to get to know each other. Don’t we boy?’ The horse whickered and the two men laughed.
‘Sounds like he agrees with you! Well, I must be off or I’ll miss my train. See you later, Rob. And enjoy your ride!’
‘Thanks, Jim, I’m sure I will.’
Half an hour later, Rob rode Tully at a gentle walk through the orchard. The apples on the trees were small and green, still months away from ripeness, but he could see that it would be a good harvest. He looked closely at the trees – mainly high-yielding modern varieties – it would be fun to try to find some of the older English types and replant the part of the orchard closest to the house, where the visitors would go. In a few years they could be walking beneath Ashmead’s Kernel apple trees, just as the locals had done back in the seventeenth century. There was certainly some scope for developing other fruit trees from the period as well. Rob smiled at the prospect of the research that lay ahead. Tully suddenly shook his head and began to prance skittishly sideways, bringing Rob swiftly back to the present.
‘Settle down boy. What’s upset you?’ Rob spoke gently to the horse as he steadied his seat and softly played the reins. Tully settled quickly and stood still, head held high, gazing intensely through the trees. Rob turned to look in the same direction and saw a young woman walking slowly through the orchard, emerging from a low mist which quickly dissipated behind her. Her hand was held out to her side so that her fingers brushed the warm bark of the trees as she passed. Rob had the strangest feeling that she belonged there. Maybe it was her clothes, the bodice and the long brown skirt from under which her bare feet trod gently in the dew dampened grass. Or maybe it was her long brown hair, the same shade as a newly ripened chestnut, which fell over her shoulders in waves. Rob guessed that she came from the travellers’ camp. Many of the New Age travellers liked to dress in old-fashioned clothing. They often seemed incongruous in the busy streets of English towns, but here in the woodland, with no sound save the birds and the restless movement of Tully’s feet in the long grass, it seemed as though he had stepped back in time to a bygone age.
The young woman looked up, her hazel eyes meeting his of a deeper brown hue. For a moment they looked at each other and Rob felt a tightening in his chest, a strange breathlessness, a light-headedness, along with a clarity of vision which enabled him to absorb every fine nuance and detail of her being. Then she smiled.
A smile came unbidden to Rob’s lips as he unthinkingly turned the horse and urged him towards the young woman. For a moment Tully resisted, then suddenly all resistance was gone and he stepped eagerly forward, light footed and nimble, towards the girl who waited beneath the trees.
‘Hi. You’re out early!’ The words sounded banal to Rob’s ears and he cringed, but the girl just smiled.
‘As indeed art thou.’
Rob laughed. ‘True. It’s been a long time since I was able to ride out and enjoy a morning such as this.’
‘It has also been long for myself. Overlong.’ There was a wistfulness in her expression which Rob found endearing. The young woman could not have been much more than sixteen or seventeen years old, and Rob smiled.
‘Time can pass slowly for someone of your age.’
His comment was greeted with laughter, a light delicate sound which seemed so unique, yet so familiar, to Rob. ‘Yes, time does indeed pass slowly for one such as myself.’
‘Are you from the camp?’
‘The travellers, in the woods?’
‘My home is indeed in the woods, sir.’
‘For goodness sake, don’t call me sir! I’m not that much older than you!’ Rob found himself dismounting as he spoke. ‘If you are to call me anything, then my name is Rob. Short for Robert.’
‘Robert.’ Her eyes were thoughtful, then she smiled again. ‘Robert. I like that.’
‘Then you can call me Robert if you like, though no-one apart from my mother has done that since I left school!’
‘Thank you, Robert. It is an honour.’
‘You’re welcome … ?’
Rebekah! Why did that name sound so familiar? He had never known anyone by that name before, but he knew in some unfathomable way that the name belonged to her, was a part of her in the same way that the sun was what it described, or a rose, or the sea. Rob frowned at the unaccustomed way his thoughts were drifting. He was not usually one to go all mystical like this. What was it about this girl that affected him so? It was as though he had known her all his life, yet they had only just met. Unsure of himself, Rob inclined his head towards the travellers’ camp.
‘May I walk some of the way with you?’
‘Indeed you may, Robert. If that is your wish.’
Rob found her unique turn of phrase and the unusual accent, which he could not quite place, strangely endearing. He smiled as he led Tully off through the trees, Rebekah taking her place on the other side of the horse as though she belonged there. As they walked, she lifted a hand to stroke the powerful neck. The horse nickered softly.
‘He likes you.’
‘I have always had a love for animals, for the outdoors, for plants and for all that the Good Lord has given to us.’
‘Animals recognise that affinity, and respond to it.’
‘That’s a strange thing to say.’
Rebekah was quiet for a moment, then sighed. ‘Not so strange, Robert. Do the people up at the big house feel an affinity for the people living in the woods?’
‘Well no, I suppose not. But then the travellers in the woods have hardly been very friendly.’ He was silent for a moment, then ‘I’m sorry if I’ve offended you or your family.’
‘No, Robert. I am not offended for it is ever the way. People do not seek to know that which they do not understand. If they did, then the problem would be insignificant and of no concern to anyone.’
‘You may be right there.’ He stopped walking and turned towards Rebekah, gently pushing Tully away so that his eyes could meet hers. ‘You have a pretty wise head on those young shoulders.’
‘Wisdom comes with experience, not with age, Robert.’ She frowned at him. ‘You do not know of what I speak?’
‘No, I’m afraid I haven’t had much experience with travellers, although the troubles between them and the locals where they settle are always in the news.’
‘Perhaps one day I shall talk with you of my experiences, but not now.’
‘Why not?’ But as he spoke Rob realised deep inside that she was right, he was not ready for what she had to tell him. He felt a shiver of apprehension. How did he know that?
‘This is going to sound strange, Rebekah, but I feel that I know you from somewhere. And that’s not a pick-up line!’
‘A pick-up line?’
‘Yes, you know, I’m not trying to ask you out or anything. I’m much too old for you.’
The captivating laugh rang out again. ‘It is not the body which tells the age, Robert, it is who we are inside. Be you but twenty years or fifty…’
‘Fifty! God I hope I don’t look that old! I’m thirty, Rebekah!’
‘It is a manner of speech only, Robert; be you twenty or fif…’ she inclined her head and smiled ‘thirty, your character is the same and any outward sign of age insignificant.’
‘If everyone thought like that the cosmetics firms would go out of business overnight!’ Rebekah frowned in puzzlement and Rob looked sheepish. ‘Sorry, here you are giving me mature advice way beyond your years and I’m the one acting like a seventeen…’
‘Sixteen year old. Although…’ Rob smiled ‘you certainly look more like eighteen or nineteen.’
‘Age means nothing, Robert.’ Rebekah turned and looked into the trees as she spoke. For a moment Rob thought he saw someone else there, but then realised that it must have been just a shadow cast by the early morning sun. Tully tossed his head nervously and tried to back away, pulling strongly on the reins so that Rob had to struggle to hold him. Rebekah reached out a gentle hand and the horse quietened, although his ears lay back against his skull and Rob knew that something had frightened him.
‘I must go, Robert. May I speak with you again sometime?’
Rob nodded. ‘I would like that.’
Without another word Rebekah turned and disappeared into the trees. Tully stopped his restless and frightened prancing and began to graze quietly as Rob laid a comforting hand on his withers.
They stood like this for minutes, the horse grazing contentedly and Rob lost in his thoughts. Who was this woman, girl really? And why did she seem so familiar to him? With a sudden movement Rob gathered the reins together, swiftly mounting Tully and galloping away through the trees in an attempt to clear his confused thoughts.
Rob stood at the library window, gazing out across the parklands to the distant spires of Oxford while, unbidden and unnoticed, his fingers caressed the warm leather of the great Bible on the table beside him. He was deep in thought, wondering about the young woman he had met in the orchard. She seemed too grounded, too pacific, to belong to the travellers; yet she had said that she came from the camp. Rob wondered how she had managed to keep her naturalness among such people. He found himself hoping that he would see her again.
‘So Rob, where do we go from here?’
With a start, Rob pulled his thoughts back to the here and now as he turned to face Paul. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Plan of action. Business plan. You know.’
Rob nodded. ‘Sure. I guess the question is what do you want to do first, and how authentic do you want it to be?’
‘Well, does that mean antique furniture? That will cost a small fortune, if you can get everything, and it would be prone to damage in some of the public areas.’
‘I get your point. There should be some authentic stuff, particularly in the display rooms which will be “look but don’t touch”.’ He frowned. ‘Can you get fake furniture for the period?’
Rob’s nod was reassuring. ‘Yes, of course. There are skilled craftsmen out there if you know where to look. Some carpenters and furniture restorers could make what you want in a way that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It would still be costly, but not as much as the authentic stuff.’
‘You know I want to set up some sort of educational centre. What about in there?’
‘It should be easy enough to find someone who can make fakes for kids to use.’
‘Good. Make a list of what you want, and the costs, and I’ll look at it.’
‘For which rooms?’
Paul thought for a moment, then, ‘The main hall, at least two of the main living rooms, a couple of bedrooms, all the corridors which people will move along. Then there’s this library of course.’
‘Don’t forget the kitchens. Then there’s the staff quarters to do, the stables and outbuildings, the…’
‘Christ, Rob! I want to open next year! Can we do it by then?’
Rob noticed the edge in Paul’s voice, reinforcing his earlier impression that this was a man who would not take kindly to hold ups. He smiled nervously.
‘I think so. But you can always just open some of the rooms first and go on to do the rest later.’
‘Okay’. Paul gazed thoughtfully at the plans of the building which he had spread on the large oak table earlier. ‘First job for you is to decide exactly what rooms people will want to see, and devise a route between them. Next, look at each of those rooms and start getting the furniture.’
‘I can get that started and have another team working on the outside buildings, if that’s okay?’
‘I told you, money’s no object, as long as it gets the job done. What else will you need?’
‘Obviously we’ll have to re-decorate the rooms, not just put in furniture. Then we’ll have to find our…’ he frowned. ‘I’m not sure what you’ll call them. Staff? Characters? Actors? You know, people to dress up in period costume and play the part of the original inhabitants.’
‘There are probably plenty of out-of-work actors who can do that.’
Rob grinned and nodded. ‘I can get a friend who studied drama to do some workshops with them, and I’ll coach them in everyday life from the period. Costumes should be fairly easy too, maybe a company that makes costumes for films?’
‘Good idea. That would also give us a foot in the door when we’re ready to offer our services as a film set.’
‘Yes, but hold your horses on that one Paul, it’s a couple of years away yet! Let’s get the basics done first!’
Paul laughed. ‘I’m impatient to spend my money, and to make more!’ He looked at the plans again. ‘So, where are you going to start?’
‘That’s easy. While I’m looking at the plans and deciding which rooms to use, I’ll find all the authentic period furniture already in the building and allocate it, probably to the main hall and in here first. So that’s where the decorating will start too. By the time that’s all underway the rest of the planning will be in hand, and we can start on the other rooms.’ He gazed around at the shelves of books. ‘I’ll start by going through this lot. One pile to keep and return here when the room is finished, the rest to be boxed up and dealt with later.’
‘Which books will you keep?’
‘Not too many, even a house like this would have only had a fairly small library back then, so we’ll probably need to remove some of the shelves.’ He frowned thoughtfully. ‘I think there’ll be almost enough books here, if not then we can make some dummies rather than spending time and money looking for originals.’
‘Fake spines of books that are made to look authentic. If they go on the top shelves’ no-one will notice.’
Paul laughed. ‘I like your way of thinking!’
Rob grinned in return. ‘You’d be surprised how often that’s done! We’ll keep all the good stuff, though, and some of it will need renovation work.’
Rob nodded. ‘Yes. Not too many. But there’s this Bible for a start.’ He laid his hand on the book as he spoke. ‘See how it’s been damaged by the sun? We can repair that.’
‘You’ll never get that looking like new again!’
Rob shook his head. ‘I don’t intend to, just some basic repairs and stop it deteriorating more. Books like this are historical documents in themselves and can tell us so much about the family who owned them. The Hardwyckes…’
‘Great’ interrupted Paul. ‘Whatever you say. Look, I’ve got to be away for a few days on business. Why don’t we look at your plans when I get back? But don’t wait on me, okay? Get started on what you can, get things moving.’
Rob nodded. ‘It will be my pleasure!’
‘Great, I’ll see you at the end of the week.’ With that Paul turned and headed for the door, already dialling a number on his mobile. Rob grinned as he reached out to pick up the book. Family Bibles had been used so much more in the past. This one would have been read out to the family and servants by the head of the household and there was evidence of this continual use in the occasional slightly torn page, the worn leather where countless hands had rubbed it smooth. He would get this book to a good restorer; he wanted the binding kept as close as possible to its present condition to preserve the unique history of this family. Rob smiled. His family! The Bible would have to be kept out of the sunlight, preferably in a temperature and humidity-regulated glass case. Perhaps he would display it opened at the front page with its handwritten history, a perfect way to evoke the feeling of a past time and the continuity of history to the tourists who visited the Manor, and the authenticity of the characters in costume who would people the house and grounds.
Rob turned the heavy object in his hands and noticed that the binding was strained and damaged in places by a number of articles placed between the pages. He smiled happily. Family Bibles often contained personal mementos between the pages; there were still more hidden secrets about his ancestors in this book. Rob turned to a section of the Bible where the page edges looked uneven. Opening it carefully he found a postcard, one of the mass- produced ones sent by the troops from the trenches during the First World War. The words on it were faded, telling of a son’s love for his family and eagerness to be home again, but nothing of the horror through which he was living. Beneath the card was a slip of paper, black-edged, a telegram whose words were faded almost to illegibility, but Rob did not really need to read it to know that it was a notification of loss, of a young man’s body left somewhere in the fields of France for ever more.
Rob felt the loss personally, and was more subdued as he retrieved other family mementoes from between the pages – a lock of hair, a newspaper cutting whose increasing acidity with the passing years had left a ghost of itself upon the pages of the Psalms, a dried flower, brown now with age. This was what made history so beguiling to him. The personal, the real everyday life, not just that of the few elite who ruled the land.
Rob continued his inspection of the Bible and found a piece of paper slipped carefully down the spine. He frowned. This was not like the other items he had found, placed in the Bible for safe keeping, this had been deliberately hidden, concealed from prying eyes, and he wondered what its secret might be. He carefully opened the sheet of paper, hoping that it would not tear down the ancient folds, and laid it out before him.
The handwriting was faded but legible, and Rob began to read.
My darling Rebekah…
Rob took a quick inward breath. Rebekah. What a coincidence that he should meet a girl of the same name in the grounds of the Manor! He shook his head and smiled ruefully. Yes, a coincidence, now back to work!
My darling Rebekah, today is that day which I long hast dreaded. Today is the day I should have walked with thee into the church and made thee mine own in front of God and of witnesses. Today is the day on which my life should have begun anew, my life with thee forever beside me through the long years that lie ahead. But those years shall be long indeed, longer than I canst imagine, for I must take another to wife this morn, another shall walk beside me through all my days, and she shall be one with whom I can share nothing of my heart and mind as I have shared them with thee.
Abigail is a good woman, Rebekah, and if I had known thee not then perchance we could have been happy together, but how can I give myself to her knowing that it is thee I cherish? Thee, whom I crave during each long and lonely night?
Oh Rebekah! How my heart weeps! How it breaks! For not only have I lost thee, my one true love, but I know that if not for me thou wouldst still be here. If not for the foolishness of my youth thou wouldst still live close by, we would still be able to share our love, though it be secretive and hidden from the prying eyes of those who could never understand and could only condemn.
I pray that you were able to forgive me my love, for I shall never be able to forgive myself. My guilt will haunt me until the day that I shall meet with my Maker and seek his pardon and forgiveness for my wrongs. But know ye this, every day that I live shall be a penance, every hour I will try to live my life as you wouldst have me do, every minute I shall think of thee.
My darling Rebekah, this is the goodbye I was never allowed to speak. Forgive my past deeds and my betrayal of you as I now take Abigail to wife. There is nothing else that I am able to do and so I shall live the remainder of my days in utter hopelessness…
Rob felt his heart beating rapidly. His mind was full of questions as he walked to the window and gazed out at the gardens. Who had written this? Who were Rebekah and Abigail? Why must he marry one and not the other? What had he done that was so wrong? Rob felt the old familiar excitement at a story from history partially revealed, a story just waiting for him to research, and he was eager to get to work and discover just who these people were and what their story was. He smiled ruefully, the research would have to be a sideline while he was working on Paul Hetherington’s project, but at least it would give him something to do in his spare time – if he had any! But where to start? Rob turned back to the desk and his eyes were drawn to the Bible. If the paper was hidden there then it must have been written by a member of the family. Returning to the desk he opened the Bible at the page containing the handwritten family history, somewhere in there would be the names he was searching for.
There was a Rebekah, born in 1653, and two Abigails. One, the sister of Rebekah, was born in 1657, the other Abigail was mother to both the girls. There were two other mentions of this Abigail, her marriage to Simon Hardwycke in December 1651 and her death in 1672. No other mentions. And the letter had to have been written by someone with access to the Bible. There was a Simon, the fifth child of Thomas and Mary who had built Marston Manor. This Simon had married Abigail and fathered the two girls. So the letter was almost certainly his, and written just after the Civil War ended. Rob could hardly believe his luck. Maybe some of this story would fit into what he planned to do with the house after all! Now he had justification to find out all he could about Simon and Abigail, and the enigmatic Rebekah.
Rob glanced at the table as he climbed into bed. The letter he had found in the Bible was there, where he had placed it after reading it once again. As he switched off the light and lay down he was smiling. Simon. Rebekah. Who were they? Perhaps their families were from opposing sides during the Civil War? Sir Thomas Hardwycke had been leader of the local Cavaliers, his eldest son had fought beside the King; perhaps then Rebekah’s family had been Puritans? That was enough for the families to keep them apart. Rob sighed. If only he knew her surname; ‘Rebekah’ was so little to go on.
The woods were fresh and clean after the spring rains. Sunlight filtered down through the branches of the trees, some already wearing their cloak of fresh spring green, while others showed tiny buds waiting to burst forth with new life. The pony picked its way delicately along the pathway, carefully avoiding the puddles which mired its path. The boy on its back was smiling to himself. How he had hated being cooped up inside the Manor house during the rain. After a long cold winter, this opportunity to be out exploring was not to be missed.
As he rode he heard a rustling in the undergrowth to his left, and reined in to take a look. Maybe it was a rabbit. He could see the bushes moving; whatever it was, it was too big for a rabbit. A fox perhaps. If so he would tell his father, and they could come hunting this area another day. There was a sudden snuffling and snorting noise to his right and the boy turned in the saddle. Emerging stiff legged from the trees, the ridge of brittle hair at the nape of its neck standing on end, was a wild boar. The smile left the boy’s face as he froze. He knew how unpredictable these animals could be, the slightest movement could make it charge. He hoped that the creature had been hunted before and was afraid of humans, then she might run.
The boy’s hands began to shake and he felt real fear as he looked again at the boar. It was a female. Her udders were full of milk, which meant that her young must be somewhere in the vicinity. She would be aggressive, willing to do anything to protect them.
The rustling in the undergrowth to his left continued and the boy turned his head slowly. As he watched two, no three, young boar emerged from the bushes. He was directly between them and their mother, and knew that his best hope of escape was to remain perfectly still. As he was thinking this, the pony sensed danger and began to prance skittishly, fighting the reins as the boy struggled to control it. With a squeal of fear the pony reared, throwing the boy to the ground before galloping off down the path. The movement of the pony, and the cry of pain from the child as he landed heavily on the ground, finally goaded the sow into action. She bellowed a challenge and ran forwards to protect her young.
The boy tensed as he saw the huge beast charge towards him, tusks protruding from jowls dripping saliva. He knew that one thrust from those tusks could be fatal. He curled up into a ball, minimising his size and trying to look unthreatening. The sow however was not really interested in him; all she wanted to do was get back to her young. All her attention was focused on the piglets, so that when the huge feet came down onto the boy’s ribs it was purely unintentional. As her great weight crushed the air from his lungs and he began to lose consciousness, the boy dimly saw the small family re-united and making off into the trees.
Then everything went dark.
Something cool wet his lips and he opened his eyes. Everything seemed blurred, out of focus. He frowned.
‘Do not move for a moment. Just lie still and regain your breath.’
It sounded like a young girl, and the boy struggled again to focus on the figure leaning over him. Long brown hair framed a small oval face, and brown eyes gazed at him with concern. The boy tried to sit up and cried out in pain.
‘I said not to move, master.’ The voice was gentle, soothing. ‘I do not think she gored you as I cannot see any more blood than that from your cuts and bruises, but I do think she stepped on you. Does your chest hurt?’ The boy nodded. ‘Roll to your side; then use your hands to push yourself up. Here, I will help,’ she said as he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
It was a struggle. The boy was feeling breathless as he sat for a moment, hoping that the world would stop swimming and dancing before his eyes. The girl held a small flask to his lips and he felt again the cool, invigorating touch of the water. He drank gratefully.
‘Thank you.’ The world had stopped spinning, and he was able to focus on his Good Samaritan. She looked younger than him, perhaps seven years old, but she seemed to have a self-assurance beyond her years. He smiled at her concerned features. ‘You have been very kind. Now I must go home.’
She shook her head, setting the brown curls dancing. ‘I do not think so, master. It is too far for you to walk at present, and I do not know where your pony is.’
The boy sat upright and cried out in agony. As the pain finally subsided he was able to speak again. ‘Was she hurt? My pony? Did the boar get her?’
For the first time the little girl smiled. ‘No, master. The speed she was moving, the boar could never have caught up with her!’
The boy laughed, then laid an arm across his aching ribs with a groan. ‘She is a swift pony. But where did she go?’
‘I cannot say, master, but I would think she will find her way home, and then someone from the big house will come looking for you.’
‘From the big house? How do you know…?’
‘I have seen you about, master, riding with your father, or in the village. No doubt you have never noticed me, though.’
He shook his head. ‘No. Sorry.’
She shrugged. ‘It is no matter.’
‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Rebekah.’
‘And I am Simon.’
‘Indeed. As I said, I know who you are.’
Simon struggled to his feet. The pain was subsiding somewhat, but he knew that he was not yet in a fit state for the walk home. He looked at the woods surrounding them.
‘Which is the swiftest way to go?’
Rebekah pointed to what appeared to be impenetrable undergrowth, then Simon saw a narrow track. ‘My home is down there, just a minute’s walk. That is how I saw what happened to you whilst I was picking herbs. If we go there, my mother will be able to give you something for the pain and bind your wounds. It will then be easier for you to go home.’
They made their way down the narrow track to a small clearing where Simon saw a hut, no bigger than his father’s pigsty. To one side a cauldron hung over a fire, wood smoke curling around it as it rose into the air. Simon could smell the aroma of cooking vegetables and something else, maybe rabbit.
A woman was bent over the cauldron, stirring its contents. Her rough homespun skirt was damp about its hem from the grass; the once white blouse was grey from prolonged use, but perfectly clean, as was the cap on her head. The woman straightened as she heard them approach, knowing from the noise that her daughter was not alone; Rebekah moved as silently as a mouse, sometimes startling her mother with her sudden appearance. As she turned her eyes quickly took in the lad, his shiny green breeches and jacket covered in mud, the white stockings torn, the white lace collar slightly bloodied from a small cut to his forehead; one of his white lace cuffs was missing and the other hung muddied and torn. His long wavy locks fell in an unruly muddle on his shoulders.
‘Rebekah, child. What little waif and stray have you found for me this time?’ She was smiling in welcome as she stepped towards the two children. ‘My, my. If it is not Master Simon Hardwycke. What have you done to yourself, young master?’
‘My pony was frightened by a boar and threw me.’ Simon hung his head a little at the admission.
‘Do not worry about that, young sir. Many’s the grown man been thrown by a horse confronted by such a beast. But are you injured?’
‘She trod on his ribs, Mother. I think they are bruised, maybe even broken.’
Simon turned to look at Rebekah. ‘How would you know that?’
Rebekah’s mother laughed. ‘She has learned her healing from me, sir. Usually it is rabbits, or foxes, or perhaps a young bird with a broken wing that she brings to me and asks me to heal. Today she has surely surpassed that! Now, come and sit by the fire and let me take a look at you.’
Simon was happy to comply. ‘Thank you, Mistress…’ He realised that he did not know her name.
‘I am the Mistress Sawyer, young sir.’
‘Thank you, Mistress Sawyer.’
As he was speaking Rebekah’s mother undid the buttons on his jacket and gently helped him out of it, giving him an opportunity to observe her. It was clear to see that she was Rebekah’s mother, the same eyes and hair, although with features some twenty years more mature. The brown eyes were kind and full of laughter, and Simon felt at ease with her. Feeling his ribs with expert fingers, Ann Sawyer nodded knowingly.
‘I fear one may be broken, but the others only bruised. You were lucky, young sir.’
‘I do not feel lucky.’
Rebekah laughed. ‘You are lucky. My mother is an expert in herbs and healing. Everyone comes to her for a cure. She is the best person to help you after your fall.’
‘Indeed I am. So you fetch me some of that willow bark, young Rebekah, whilst I bind his ribs.’
Rebekah disappeared into the hut as her mother took a length of homespun cloth from the clothesline and bound it tightly around Simon’s chest. The child clenched his teeth against the pain.
‘I know it hurts, but it is best to keep your ribs still.’
Rebekah re-appeared with some powdered willow bark, which she set to steep in a bowl of hot water beside the fire. Her mother gently washed the cut on Simon’s forehead, applied a salve and smiled encouragingly.
‘’Tis but a small cut and will not scar your pretty features, young sir.’
Simon found himself blushing as Rebekah laughed gaily. Thankfully the young girl’s attention was distracted from him by the sound of hooves on the path as a man appeared leading a very muddy pony, which nickered in greeting as it spied its master. The man was tall, well-built and obviously strong. Fine blond hair framed a weather-beaten face that spoke of hours out in the sun and wind and rain. There was a look of gentle surprise in his blue eyes.
‘Well, well, what have we here? There I was about to tell you about a mysterious pony I found wandering along the path, a pony with no rider and no one in sight. And what do I find? It looks to me like you have found the rider already!’
‘Indeed we have, Father.’
Rebekah ran to her father and quickly recounted the events of the afternoon. He turned to Simon.
‘I am glad your injuries are no more than they are, young master, and that you are looking somewhat recovered.’
‘That is thanks to your wife and daughter, Master Sawyer. And I must also thank you for finding my pony. I must admit that the thought of walking home was somewhat daunting. Now I can take my leave and ride home in comfort.’
‘You can certainly ride home, but I will not permit you to go alone after such a fall.’ Henry Sawyer smiled. ‘I will accompany you in case you feel faint, or meet another adventure on the way.’
Simon was pleased to accept the offer, and with smiles and thanks to Mistress Sawyer and her daughter he mounted the pony to be led away by Henry. He turned as they entered the trees to see a smiling Rebekah waving goodbye. Simon raised his hand too, glad that his misfortune had brought them together.
Simon made his way gingerly down the staircase. His ribs had been re-bandaged by the doctor who said that they would soon mend, but it would be some time before he would be able to move comfortably. Simon smiled as he remembered his homecoming. His father had been called from the house to see Henry Sawyer leading the pony, and his relief at the safe return of his son was evident. Henry had refused any recompense for the help his family had given, insisting that any pennies which Sir Thomas offered should be placed in the poor box in the church. Simon had thanked his rescuer and entered the Manor house to the tender ministrations of his sister, almost thankful for the injuries which gentled his father’s scolding for riding out alone. After a good night’s sleep, Simon was now feeling somewhat better as he made his way towards the study. Just outside the door he stopped. He could hear his father’s voice raised in anger.
‘For the Lord’s sake, man! He is the King! You know what that means. He was divinely appointed by God to rule over us. How dare a man such as Sir John lead soldiers of this land against him! It is treason! Nothing less!’
Simon opened the door a crack and peered inside. He could see his father, standing beside the window. His tall, slim frame was tense, as though he were ready to fight. The dark brown eyes flashed steel, matching the steely grey which had begun to fleck his black hair when he passed his fortieth year. Opposite him stood his protagonist, shorter in stature but no less athletic, auburn hair framing a pale face which showed a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of the nose. Sir Francis Morrison. Simon frowned. He had known Sir Francis all of his life as the best friend of his father, yet today they faced each other in such anger that no friendship showed in their eyes.
‘Do not be a fool, Thomas! The King was crowned in the name of God, but that does not mean that he was chosen by God to rule us! If that were the case, why have so many kings in the past died at the hand of rebellion? You know how the murderer of princes lost his crown to Henry, the Seventh of that name. If God had placed Richard on the throne as divine ruler, why did he then replace him?’
‘Richard was a murderer; that is a mortal sin. God would allow none with such a stain on their soul to rule.’
Simon slipped silently into the room and stood with his back to the door, intrigued by what he was hearing.
‘If you are right, and kings are divinely chosen and divinely deposed,’ Francis argued, ‘then what is happening now is a sign that God is displeased with the King, and that he must be more accommodating if he wishes to continue his reign in peace.’
Thomas looked horrified. ‘Are you suggesting that we go to war? Yet another bloody conflict to tear this nation apart? How can you want such a thing, Francis? I have always known you to be such a man of peace!’
Francis threw up his arms in exasperation. ‘That I am indeed, Thomas! But a man, and a country, can only take so much! When King Henry defeated Richard and came to the throne he claimed to rule by divine right, but at least he and his children worked with Parliament to achieve their aims, even if they did not always agree. But these Stuarts are a different mettle of men, they use Parliament only to grasp what they want, not for the betterment of the people. How many times has this king, and his father before him, dismissed Parliament so that they cannot help to guide him, and only recalled it again when he wanted more money? That is no way to treat a body of men chosen by the people!’
‘And why did they dismiss Parliament, Francis?’ Thomas had ceased to shout, was trying to explain his views more calmly, more rationally. ‘Each time that Parliament was called to session and asked to raise taxes for the King’s needs, they refused. Look at the Great Protestation! Parliament actually submitted a document to the King to assert their right to debate state affairs, and to advise him!’
‘And why not? The power of the King, and the privileges of his lords, have been protected since the Great Charter was signed in the reign of King John. Over four hundred years, Thomas. Why do these Stuarts believe that they can undo four hundred years of history and the people will do nothing about it? The King has no right to rule this land without Parliament at his side. Yet he took nine of these men, men elected by the people, and imprisoned them because they stood against him.’
‘That still does not give Sir John the right to lead the King’s own forces against him.’
‘Thomas. Why do you not at least try to understand? No one could lead His Majesty’s forces against him if they were not willing to be led. Not only has the King created a rift with his Parliament, but his moves toward the Catholic Church are driving a wedge between him and the common people, too. He must stop what he is doing, Thomas. If he does not then any conflict in this land will be his doing.’
Thomas shook his head. ‘That is not so, Francis. I will admit that the King’s religious practices place him much closer to those of Henry the Eighth than to the Puritans who seem so popular in this land at present, but that does not make him a Papist.’
‘Then why appoint a man who favours the Church of Rome as Archbishop of this land? Of the Church of England? Why force the Book of Common Prayer onto the Scottish Kirk? Surely he should have known that the Calvinists would be opposed? That move has led directly to the troubles we are facing now.’
Thomas nodded sadly. ‘I will not disagree with you on that, Francis.’ He stepped towards his old friend as he spoke. ‘The last thing we needed was another war with the Scots. That we were forced to sign a truce at Berwick was a disgrace, but it would not have happened if Parliament had given the King the funds for war.’
Francis shook his head sadly. ‘How could they? Parliament had not sat for eleven long years because the King forbade it.’
‘He had dismissed Parliament because they would not grant him money. And what happened this time? We had been defeated by the Scots. The King asked for money to re-open that war, but Parliament refused yet again.’
‘They said they would grant the money if he withdrew the ship tax.’
‘But I have been trying to explain, and still you choose not to see, my dear Francis, that they have no right to refuse a divinely chosen king. They left him with no choice but to dismiss Parliament once again.’
‘He did have a choice, Thomas, but he chose not to take it. If he had, then we could have equipped a full army, instead of the sorry lot that were sent north so poorly armed that the Scots took English land. That was a shame to us all.’
‘Indeed it was.’
The two men looked at each other. Thomas smiled ruefully as Francis shook his head in exasperation.
‘Francis, my oldest friend, what is to become of us? I see what happened as Parliament trying to take all that it could from its rightful ruler, you see it as men who had been missused trying to take back what was rightfully theirs. And they got it, did they not? They forced His Majesty to pass an Act allowing them to meet every five years before they would give him the money to push the damned Scots from our land. Perhaps if they had stopped there, things could have been allowed to settle. But to pass the Triennial Act allowing Parliament to meet without the King’s command, and calling illegal the ship money which is so valuable to him, these were bound to raise the temperature of the disagreement.’
‘Those actions were needed, Thomas.’
‘I cannot agree. But even then we could have stepped back from the brink. In God’s name, what made Parliament declare that they should be responsible for the defence of the realm and not the King? That is one prerogative of majesty which has been there from time immemorial. How can you deny a king his right to protect his people and not expect him to react? It is treasonous.’
‘No man who supports Parliament wishes for talk of treason. They wish only for their rights.’
‘But the King did not see it your way, else he would not have charged Pym and the rest with treason. How could Parliament then stand against the Attorney General and spirit those men away? From five men acting in treason, we suddenly moved to a whole parliament behaving in that manner.’
‘But the people agreed; the people who had elected Parliament.’
‘So much so that they have been declaring against His Majesty’. Thomas shook his head sadly. ‘It is a shameful thing indeed that the King was forced to move his family to Hampton Court for safety. For safety from his own people!’
‘It is not the first time that that has happened to an unpopular king.’
Thomas gazed sadly at his friend. ‘Look at us. I am glad that we no longer shout our arguments at each other, that we speak more calmly, but we are still as far apart as ever, and it breaks my heart, my friend.’
Francis nodded. ‘Mine too, Thomas. But I do not know what else to do. The queen has been sent to the Continent to raise money and arms for the King, to be used against his parliament. I do not know how we are going to be able to avoid war.’
‘War is not inevitable, Francis. But you must see that the further parliament pushes His Majesty, the more likely war is. If Parliament does not want to fight, then why have they passed the Militia Ordinance? They have taken over what is virtually the only properly armed body in the country. Surely even you can see that this is a provocative act?’
Francis nodded sadly. ‘I do not say that I agree with everything that Parliament has done, but I do believe that they have been forced into these actions by the King’s intransigence.’
Sir Thomas was silent for a moment as he gazed at his friend, his eyes holding a deep sadness. Finally he spoke. ‘We are on the brink, Francis, and if we do not step back now then there will be war. I cannot see how we can avoid it.’
‘If war comes, I must declare for Parliament.’
Thomas nodded sadly. ‘I know. Every word which you have spoken today has told me so. But I can do no other than declare for the King.’ He walked across the room until he was no more than a pace away from Francis. ‘You are my oldest and dearest friend, Francis, and though I disagree with what you say I call you friend still; and will do so until the end of my days. Is there nothing we can do? God forbid that we shall one day find ourselves face to face on the field of battle, for I have to put my King before all else and I cannot bear the thought of raising my hand against you.’
‘I pray to God that it will not come to that, Thomas. But if we should find ourselves in such an evil situation then I shall not raise a hand against you.’
‘Then that is the best that we can hope for.’ Thomas held out his hand and Francis took it in his own. ‘I wish you well, my friend, and pray that we may meet again in more peaceful times.’
‘As do I, Thomas. But I fear that it may be many a long year before that happens, and I doubt that we shall meet again before then.’
With moist eyes, Thomas closed the final space between them and the two men embraced. As Francis finally stepped back he spoke softly. ‘I will pray every day that God will keep you and yours safe.’
‘And my prayers for your family will always be there. Goodbye, Francis.’
As Francis turned towards the door, the two men spied Simon for the first time. The boy looked shocked, afraid, and Thomas stepped towards him.
‘How long have you been standing there, son?’
The boy frowned. ‘Why is Sir Francis going to fight you, Father?’
Francis crossed the intervening space and fell to one knee in front of the boy. ‘I will not fight your father, Simon. On my honour I promise that. But we disagree on politics and I am afraid that the people we support will be fighting each other, and we will have to fight with them. Do you understand?’
The boy shook his head and looked to Sir Thomas. ‘Will you explain, Father?’
Thomas placed a gentle hand on his son’s brown curls. ‘I will try, Simon, but it is too much for a boy of ten to understand. Indeed, if you have been standing there for any length of time you will know that even Sir Francis and I do not understand.’
Sir Francis rose to his feet. ‘Goodbye, my friend. I pray that this is all over before there is any need for young Simon to understand, or to become involved.’
‘Goodbye, Francis. God go with you.’
At that Francis turned and left the room. Thomas knelt beside his son and enfolded him in his arms for a moment before leaning back and looking him in the eye. ‘Come then, Simon. Let me try to explain…’