OLD SINS CAST LONG SHADOWS
Normally dead bodies in a graveyard are buried—but not this one. When a woman is found strangled in a North London cemetery with an old newspaper clipping clutched in her hand, Inspector Witherspoon is surprised to find that he and the victim have crossed paths before.
Alice Robinson was a respectable widow who ran a quiet Islington lodging house. None of her lodgers have any apparent motive to murder their landlady. But nagging suspicions are lodging in the Inspector’s mind—only he knows that “Alice Robinson” is not her real name. Now he’ll need the help of Mrs. Jeffries to revisit an old case that has haunted him for years and to get the real story.
About the Author
Emily Brightwell is the New York Times bestselling author of the Victorian Mystery series featuring Inspector Witherspoon and Mrs. Jeffries.
Read an Excerpt
Alice Robinson had almost reached the entrance when she spotted Lavinia Swanson racing toward her. For a split second, she was tempted to dash across the road, but she thought better of it as Lavinia began waving at her. “Blast,” Alice muttered, “I don’t have time to listen to her this morning.” But it wouldn’t do to slight the woman in any way. She was a force to be reckoned with in the local community and Alice needed to stay in her good graces.
So she stopped and forced a smile to her lips as Lavinia, huffing and puffing as hard as a freight train, halted in front of her.
“Oh my goodness, I wasn’t sure it was you. But then I saw that it was and I was afraid you’d not seen me”—Lavinia shifted her shopping basket to the other side of her considerable bulk—“and I want to tell you what Kingston did this morning. I know how you love hearing about his adventures.”
“What’s the clever boy done now?” Alice asked. Oh Lord, the silly cow could natter on for hours about that stupid cat of hers.
“He had a go at Mr. Ashley’s bulldog. Can you believe it, a little thing like my Kingston going after that brute of a dog.” She giggled and pulled the edge of her bronze-colored jacket down.
“He’s always been a brave one, hasn’t he.” Alice forced a short laugh. The brute of a dog was a good twelve years old, blind and so stiff with age he could barely move, and Kingston was the fattest tom in the neighborhood. She edged toward the corner. “I’d so like to hear more, but I’m afraid I must be off.”
Lavinia’s small eyes narrowed behind her wire-framed spectacles. “But where are you going? There’s nothing down there but the entrances to Highgate Cemetery.”
“I’m going to the West Cemetery,” Alice explained, referring to the older, more established section of the burial grounds. She struggled to keep her voice even, but in truth, she was furious. She wasn’t used to explaining herself and found it especially galling that she had to put up with this nosy old woman. But she’d do what she must in order to keep Lavinia thinking that Alice Robinson was a nice, middle-class widow. “My family has a crypt,” she lied. “There’s a crack in the roof tiles. I’m meeting a builder to see what can be done about it.”
“It’ll cost you the earth to get it repaired properly.” Lavinia clucked her tongue. “Now, let me know what your builder’s estimate will be and I’ll have a word with Coleman. We’ve used him for years and he’s a good reputation.”
“That’s very kind of you.” Alice glanced at the sky and saw that heavy, low-hanging gray-black clouds had come in from the west. “I’ll most certainly do that. Oh dear, I must be off now. It looks like it could rain and I need to stop by the chemists once I’m done here.”
Lavinia glanced up and frowned. “Kingston hates the rain and if there’s thunder, he gets in a miserable state. He goes under the maid’s bed and won’t come out. I’ll be off then. Mind you, come see me about that estimate.”
Alice kept her smile firmly in place until Lavinia disappeared around the corner in the direction of the high street. Then she hurried down the road toward the West Cemetery entrance. She went through the main entrance and past the chapel, all the while watching her surroundings to make certain she wasn’t being followed. But as far as she could tell, there was no one on her trail. When she reached the Egyptian gate, she ignored the obelisks and headed deeper into the cemetery proper.
It was a beautiful place, but Alice was in no mood to enjoy the lush evergreens or the barely budding trees planted amidst the tombs and elaborate headstones lining the avenue. A gust of wind swept the area, raising the dead leaves and sending them dancing in the now cold air, but the sudden chill had no effect on her. She simply quickened her pace, determined to get to the meeting place and have this out once and for all. The pathway descended onto a circular space lined by crypts surrounding an ancient cedar tree.
She stopped three-quarters of the way down and surveyed her surroundings. Her gaze skimmed over the ornate grave monuments before moving to the arc of crypts. Squinting, she strained her eyes trying to see if anyone lurked in a darkened entryway or beneath an overhanging lintel. She moved farther down the slope and onto the wide path surrounding the crypts. The area seemed deserted, but her view of it was obscured because the wretched place was circular so she couldn’t see what might be ahead of her. She slowed her pace as she moved farther around the circle and saw that several paths led down this way. Stopping, she looked over her shoulder. For once, she hoped there might be someone close by, a groundsman or a gravedigger or even a ruddy mourner bringing a bouquet of useless flowers for the dead. But she was alone. Her only company was the sound of the wind as it whistled through the trees.
A branch cracked and she whirled about, but there was no one there.
“Stop being such a ninny,” she muttered as she reached into her pocket and felt for the handle of her derringer. It was safely there, and though she was sure she wouldn’t need it to take care of this niggling little problem, experience had taught her to keep it close. The gun gave her courage. She was tired of dancing to someone else’s tune, so instead of moving, she stood where she was. “Is anyone here?”
But there was no answer. Again, she heard a noise from behind—this time, it sounded like running footsteps. She turned again, but the pathway was empty. “If you don’t answer me, I’m going to leave,” she yelled. This was absurd. She’d been taken in by a silly note because that half-wit she’d caught snooping through her things had made a lucky guess. Well, she’d see who had the last laugh. Nobody made a fool of her. Nobody.
Fuming and muttering the most unladylike utterances imaginable, she stalked farther around the circle, heading for the nearest path leading to the highest point. She was out of breath by the time she reached the top. The graves here were newer, gaudier, and more extravagant than the crypts. The headstones were topped with statues of cherubim, seraphim, and saints with hands folded in prayer. Alice stopped for a moment to get her bearings and realized to get back to the main gate she’d need to skirt around the circle again or slip through a section of raised, flat grave markers used to house entire families.
A drop of rain hit her face, and that made up her mind; she was wearing a new skirt under her cloak, and she bloody well wasn’t going to ruin it because of this wild-goose chase. She plunged ahead, turning sideways to pass between two massive slabs of what looked like concrete. She came out onto another path lined with smaller mausoleums and headstones and started toward the gate. But as she went past the first one, an elaborate carving of a giant angel with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other, a figure suddenly appeared in front of her. It stood on the raised base of the headstone. Surprised, she stopped, her eyes widening as she looked at the familiar face. “You’re going to be sorry . . .”
But those were the last words she ever uttered, as a cord was looped around her throat, the two ends crossed beneath her chin and then yanked hard.
Alice tried to scream as she clawed at her killer’s hands but they were encased in heavy workman’s gloves. Panicking, she forgot about her derringer as she bucked and threw her body frantically every which way. Her attacker was not only strong, but had taken the precaution of bracing against the angel and had the added advantage of being above Alice by a good six inches. Her lips worked frantically as she gasped repeatedly in a vain effort to force air into her starved lungs. Her arms flailed out as she tried to hit at her attacker, but it did no good as her killer merely pulled the cord tighter and tighter around her throat.
Alice couldn’t believe this was happening, not to her. But it was happening, and when the life had gone from her eyes and her knees buckled, her murderer finally let go. She flopped, rather heavily, onto the now damp pathway.
Making sure there was no one about before kneeling next to the corpse, the killer searched Alice’s pockets and then put a neatly folded paper in her lifeless fingers before tucking her hand safely beneath the cloak.
Alice Robinson’s expression was such that even the policemen who responded to the loud screams of the widow who’d almost stumbled over the body when she’d come to put flowers on her late husband’s grave remarked that they’d never seen a corpse that looked so surprised to be dead.
* * *
Mrs. Goodge, cook to Inspector Gerald Witherspoon of the Metropolitan Police, put a bag of flour on her worktable and looked at Mrs. Jeffries, the housekeeper. “I can’t believe it’s already the middle of March. Where does the time go? I tell you, Mrs. Jeffries, the older I get, the faster it flies.” The cook was a portly woman with gray hair neatly tucked under her white cap, and spectacles that frequently slid down her nose.
“You’re not old,” the housekeeper protested.
“Of course I am, but I don’t mind one bit. I’m one of the lucky ones, you know.”
Mrs. Jeffries looked up from the household account book she’d spread on the kitchen table and stared at the elderly cook. “What do you mean?”
“By the time you reach my age, most people are so set in their ways they’re incapable of change, but thanks to you nudgin’ us to do our bit for justice, I’ve not only done something useful, but I’ve completely changed how I think about this old world of ours. You remember what I used to be like. I thought everyone should kowtow to their betters, stay in their place, and be grateful for a crust of bread. But thanks to our investigatin’, our workin’ for the cause of justice, I’ve changed how I think, and that’s what makes me so lucky.” She leaned down and yanked her big bread-making bowl out from under the worktable. “When my time comes and my Maker asks me to account for my life, I can honestly say that I did my best to make the world a better place.”
Mrs. Jeffries frowned. Mrs. Goodge was generally of a practical nature and not given to speaking at any length about the nature of life or its changes. But two days ago, Mrs. Goodge had gone to see her doctor. Was there something wrong? Was there something the cook wasn’t telling? “Is everything alright? Are you ill?”
“Ill?” she repeated. She looked surprised. “What makes you say that? Is my color off?”
“No, no, you look fine, just fine. But you went to see Dr. Holt, and you didn’t say much when you came home and, well, considering you’ve mentioned going to meet your Maker five times in the last two days, I was a bit concerned.”
The cook eyed her curiously for a long moment and then burst out laughing. “Oh my gracious, I’m so sorry. I’d no idea I was wittering on about such a thing.”
“So you’re alright?”
“I’m fine. I saw Dr. Holt because my knees have been aching something fierce, and I was hoping he’d be able to give me something stronger for the pain. But there isn’t much he can do but give me the same old prescription I’ve been taking for years now. Although he did recommend a nice shot of whiskey before I went to bed, saying it might help me sleep better. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the taste of that stuff.”
“Why don’t you have a glass of sherry—you like that,” Mrs. Jeffries suggested. She’d buy her friend a case of it if it would ease her misery.
“Hmm, maybe I’ll try that.” She smiled at the housekeeper. “But not to worry, though, there’s nothing wrong with me but old age.”
Relieved, Mrs. Jeffries smiled. “He actually used that phrase?”
“He was a tad more tactful. I can’t remember his exact words but that was the gist of it. Our investigations are keepin’ my mind young and sharp, but they’re not doin’ a thing for my agin’ joints. But I’m not bothered, as I said. I’m grateful for the chance I’ve had, especially as it came so late in my life. When I first applied for a position here, I thought workin’ for a policeman was almost shameful, but coming to this house was the best thing that ever happened to me. It let me spend the last years of my life doin’ something important.”
The cook was referring to the fact that her employer, Inspector Gerald Witherspoon, had solved more homicides than anyone in the history of the Metropolitan Police Department. Of course, what neither he nor his superiors knew was that he had a great deal of help: namely, his servants. Under the leadership of Mrs. Jeffries, the widow of a Yorkshire policeman, the entire household and their friends used their considerable resources on each and every case. They dug up gossip, followed suspects, and hunted down clues with the tenacity of hounds on the scent. But that wasn’t the only reason Mrs. Goodge considered herself blessed, for not only had the Almighty given her a chance to do something useful in the later years of her life, but he’d also given her something she’d not had since she’d gone into service at the tender age of twelve—she’d found a family. Her parents had died when she was a child and she’d not been blessed with siblings. Over the years, she’d devoted herself to learning her craft, to becoming the best cook she could possibly be, and to all intents and purposes she’d achieved that goal. But she’d missed having a family, having people she knew she could count on no matter what happened in life. She had that now. She had people who cared about her, and she no longer worried about the future.
Brought together by Mrs. Jeffries, who’d cleverly pushed and prodded to get them out and about whenever the inspector had a new case, the group was an odd lot. It had been Smythe, the coachman and the father of Mrs. Goodge’s own precious godchild, Amanda Belle, who had first figured out what Mrs. Jeffries was up to. But it hadn’t taken long for Wiggins, the footman, and Betsy, the former housemaid and now Smythe’s wife and the mother of her darling, to suss it out as well. Then Phyllis had come along and joined the household, and at first, she’d been a bit skittish about joining in, but she’d eventually got on board as well and now she was one of them. They weren’t related by blood, but they’d become family.
“Justice is important,” Mrs. Jeffries agreed. “And we were all lucky to end up here.” The clock struck the hour. “Gracious, it’s already past noon. I thought Wiggins would be back by now.”
“There might have been a long line at the chemist shop,” the cook replied. “And Mr. Waldman is very slow in fixing the prescriptions. It was good of the lad to offer to get my medicine for me.”
“I wasn’t being critical,” Mrs. Jeffries said quickly. “But I do tend to worry when one of them is gone longer than I think they ought to be gone. Oh, you know what I mean, Mrs. Goodge. I’ve seen you glancing at the clock whenever Wiggins or Phyllis is ten minutes late getting back from an errand.”
“That’s true enough.” She sighed. “But considerin’ how close we get to the kind of evil that some are capable of doin’, it’s only natural we’d worry when one of the chicks is out of our sight.”
Mrs. Jeffries laughed. “I don’t think Wiggins would appreciate being thought of in those terms; he considers himself a fully grown man.”
“He’ll always be one of my chicks,” the cook declared. “Just like Betsy and Phyllis and for that matter, even Smythe, though he’s now got almost as much gray in his hair as I do.”
* * *
“I still can’t understand why Chief Superintendent Barrows sent for me. Why should he want me to consult?” Inspector Gerald Witherspoon asked as he and Constable Barnes got down from the hansom cab. “This isn’t our division, and from the message we received, it seems as if the victim isn’t someone of great importance—not that any one human being is more worthy than another when it comes to murder. Oh dear, that sounded dreadful and it’s not what I meant at all.” He stopped, took a deep breath, and pushed his spectacles up his nose.
Gerald Witherspoon was a pale-faced man of late middle age with thinning brown hair under his bowler, a rather bony face, and deep-set hazel eyes. He wore a heavy black overcoat with a bright red and green striped scarf dangling around his neck.
“You’re making perfect sense, sir,” Constable Barnes said. He paid the hansom driver and nodded his thanks. He was a tall, older copper with a ruddy complexion and a headful of wavy, iron gray hair under his policeman’s helmet. But despite his years, his back was ramrod straight, and he could still bring down a fleeing criminal or break up a nasty fistfight if the need arose. “We only get called to another district when it’s a case the Home Office wants solved quickly, and that generally means the victim is someone rich or connected to the powers that be. I’ve no idea why we’ve been told to come here, sir, but I expect there’s a good reason.”
“I certainly hope so.” Witherspoon tossed his scarf around his neck. “I told Mrs. Jeffries I’d be home early today and I don’t like to be late. Mrs. Jeffries never says anything but I can always tell she worries when I’m tardy.”
“Considering how many killers you’ve put away, sir, I’m not surprised she’d be concerned. Even murderers have family and friends that might want a bit of revenge against you, sir. But Mrs. Jeffries won’t fret today. When we got the message we were needed here, I sent a street lad over to your house to tell her we’d been called out.”
“That was thoughtful of you, Constable. But what about your good wife—won’t she be upset if you don’t show up in time for supper?”
“No, sir, I told the boy to go on to my house when he’d finished at yours. Mrs. Barnes will pop my plate in the warming oven and work on her knitting until I get home.”
Barnes moved onto the broad path leading to the wrought iron gate under the archway of the broad, two-story stone building. “Shall we go in, sir?”
Witherspoon started toward the imposing entrance to Highgate Cemetery. There was a small crowd of people milling about. Some were nicely dressed and holding bouquets while others were obviously workmen and gardeners. All of them stared curiously at the two policemen as they walked toward the gate.
“Let’s hope someone has thought to send a constable to meet us,” Witherspoon said. “This is a huge place, and if we’ve got to find the body on our own, it might take quite a long time.”
“Someone has thought of it, sir.” Barnes pointed to the two constables waiting on the far side of the entrance.
The taller of the two came toward them. “I’m Constable Housman, sir. I’m to take you directly to the body.”
“I’m Constable Shearing, sir, and I’m to stay here and keep everyone out,” the second, shorter constable offered.
“It’s this way, sir.” Housman gestured toward the broad path leading out to the cemetery proper.
“Do we know that this is definitely a murder?” Witherspoon asked as he and Barnes fell into step behind the young man.
“Yes, sir, she’s been strangled.”
“That’s a dreadful way to die,” the inspector murmured.
“Who is the officer in charge?” Barnes asked. He knew that Witherspoon was sensitive to the fact that some officers thought it was unfair that the two of them were often called in to take over. No one would admit it, but when it came time for promotions to be handed out, the publicity from a quickly solved homicide definitely helped move men up the ladder, and the more ambitious coppers were understandably resentful when they lost their case to outsiders from another district.
“It’s Inspector Rogers, sir,” Constable Housman replied.
Barnes glanced at Witherspoon and saw the relief on his superior’s face. Rogers was known as a down-to-earth, reasonable fellow who followed the rules and was a good policeman. He’d been on the force a long time and Barnes was fairly sure he’d heard the man was going to retire soon. Good. That might make things easier for them. Barnes wasn’t naive enough to think they’d been sent to another district so the inspector could merely “consult” on a case.
“He’s the one that found the clipping in the lady’s hand, sir,” Constable Housman continued as he turned off the broad avenue and onto a narrow path bordered by closely spaced headstones. “As soon as he saw it, he sent word to the Yard, and they sent a runner back with the message that you were to be called in straight away.”
“Clipping?” Witherspoon asked. “You mean from a newspaper?”
“That’s right, sir. But I’ll let the inspector tell you about it himself,” he replied. “I’d not like to speak out of turn, sir.”
Barnes smiled wryly. He knew that the young constable was afraid he’d get into trouble with his guv if he said too much about the case. Which meant that even though Rogers had a reputation as a reasonable fellow, he didn’t want his men taking too much initiative. Barnes was grateful that Witherspoon wasn’t like that. His inspector didn’t set too much importance on the command structure and encouraged everyone who worked on a case with him to not only ask questions, but to feel free to offer opinions. To Barnes’ way of thinking, one of the reasons for Witherspoon’s success was that he was prepared to listen to his men. Witherspoon had only one rule and that was that no one was to speak to the press unless specifically authorized to do so.
“It’s very quiet here,” Witherspoon murmured.
Housman led them around a headstone and onto a narrow patch of dead grass. “As we said, sir, Inspector Rogers has put constables on all the gates. He didn’t want people tramping about while we investigated.”
“What about the ones that were already here?” Barnes glanced at a grave that had fresh flowers on it. “This is a huge place—surely there were already people paying their respects and whatnot when the body was discovered. What happened to them?”
“Inspector Rogers cleared them out, sir.”
“That explains the crowd at the gate,” Barnes murmured. “I’ll bet that made him popular.”
“Not really. Several of ’em were real put out. But you can speak to him yourselves. He’s just over there with the others.” Housman stopped and pointed straight ahead to a chubby, gray-haired man wearing a brown tweed coat and flat cap. He stood with three constables in a semicircle on the path. They were looking down at a body sprawled on the ground. Another man, wearing a black greatcoat and old-fashioned top hat, stood a good ten feet away from them, leaning against the wall of a crypt.
Rogers glanced their way. “Ah, good, you’re here.” He broke away from the group and came toward them, his right arm outstretched toward Witherspoon. “Inspector Witherspoon, I presume. I’m Inspector Rogers,” he said as they shook hands. “It’s a relief you’re finally here. We’d like to get this sorted out and the victim moved to the morgue as soon as possible.”
“We got here as quickly as we could,” Witherspoon said, but Rogers ignored him and kept talking. He jerked his chin toward the man leaning against the crypt. “That’s Mr. Abbot. He’s in charge here and just at the moment, he’s a bit put out with us.”
“I’m not surprised,” Barnes interjected. “He’s going to get lots of complaints from the people you made go and from the lot that’s hanging about by the gate waiting to get in to pay their respects.”
Rogers drew back slightly, his eyes narrowing as he looked first at Barnes and then at Witherspoon. “Couldn’t be helped. We can’t have people walking about disturbing evidence. But back to Mr. Abbot. He’s been nagging me to get a move on so he can reopen the gates. He seems a bit squeamish about corpses. Odd, really, as one would assume a man in his occupation would be used to them. But then again, most of the ones he deals with are already nicely sealed up in boxes.”
Witherspoon didn’t blame the fellow for staying back; he didn’t like corpses, either, especially those that had been strangled. “Is he the one who found the victim?”
“No. Mrs. Rivers discovered the dead woman. She’d come to put flowers on her late husband’s grave. She comes every week at the same time. As you can imagine, she’s quite upset so I’ve sent her home. We’ve got her address so you can interview her when you see fit.”
“You don’t think she had anything to do with the murder?” Witherspoon deliberately kept his gaze on Rogers’ face. Examining the corpse would come soon enough.
Rogers shook his head. “She’s eighty years old and far too frail to have done the killing, and Mr. Abbot verified that she’s here regularly.” He waved at the body. “But you have a look and come to your own conclusions. Everyone on the force knows you have your own methods, Inspector. I’ll leave you some men and be off. Our division is at your disposal, sir.”
“But the Yard hasn’t said that I’m in charge,” Witherspoon protested. “I was sent here to consult, sir, not to take over the case.”
Rogers lifted an eyebrow. “Let’s not be coy. You don’t have to mind my feelings—we both know that you’re in charge here, Inspector. This is now your case. I’m retiring this summer, but I’m vain enough to admit that solving this murder would have been a feather in my cap and a good way to end my career. But I’m a realist and once I saw that clipping, I knew they’d give it to you.”
Witherspoon winced inwardly. He’d once been accused of “hogging the limelight” by another officer, and it had stung. He knew there were people who resented him, but there was nothing he could do about it. It wasn’t his fault he kept getting assigned to murders in other districts. The one time he’d broached the subject with Barrows, his superior had been markedly unsympathetic and had told him not to be “so ridiculously sensitive to the opinions of others” and that if the Home Office wanted him on a specific case, so be it.
“We were ordered here, sir,” Barnes said quickly. “Inspector Witherspoon didn’t ask for this.” He wanted to make it perfectly clear that his superior was innocent of any backstabbing or manipulating. They were going to need the cooperation of the lads in this division, and Rogers having a dog-in-the-manger attitude wouldn’t benefit anyone, least of all the victim.
“I never said he did,” Rogers shot back. “But that’s neither here nor there—it’s his case now.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to Witherspoon. “You’ll understand why I contacted the Yard when you read this.”
The inspector opened it carefully and drew out a yellowed newspaper clipping. He held it up to the light and squinted at the small print. Barnes leaned in closer so he could read it as well. The article had been ripped from a paper and only a few of the lines were visible.
Today the Metropolitan Police announced the arrest of Carl Christopher of West London for the murder of the Reverend Jasper Claypool. Inspector Gerald Witherspoon apprehended the man at his West London home. A female accomplice to the crime was said to have escaped from the home, but the police have assured the public that they are confident the accomplice will soon be caught.
Witherspoon took a deep breath but said nothing. Barnes was also uncharacteristically silent.
“Now do you see why we notified the Yard and they sent for you?” Rogers said. “You arrested Christopher so I doubt that the chief superintendent sent you here to ‘consult.’”
“Carl Christopher was deservedly hung. He murdered two people,” Barnes muttered. “But what I don’t understand is why this was in the dead woman’s hand.”
“Do we know who she is?” Witherspoon asked softly.
“Her name is Alice Robinson. She was identified by Constable Pierpoint.” He nodded toward a pale-faced lad with sloping thin shoulders and freckles.
“She’s known to the police?” Barnes asked sharply.
“Not at all, Constable,” Rogers said smoothly. “It was only happenstance that the constable was able to identify her. A few days ago, there was a break-in at the house across the road and he spoke to Mrs. Robinson as a possible witness. But she’d not seen anything.”
Witherspoon nodded. He’d deliberately kept his attention focused on Inspector Rogers. He was in no hurry to examine the corpse. “Where did the victim live?”
“Mrs. Robinson owns a lodging house on Magdala Road. It’s about a quarter mile from here.”
“Have you sent anyone there, sir?” Barnes glanced at the three constables. They weren’t doing anything except standing over the body.
“Not as yet.” Rogers crossed his arms over his chest. “When I saw the clipping, I decided to do nothing until Inspector Witherspoon arrived. Now that he has, he can handle the investigation in any way he sees fit.”
“I take it that means you’ve not started a search or looked for witnesses?” Witherspoon asked.
“The immediate area has been gone over”—Rogers swept his hand in an arc—“and the constables asked people in the vicinity if they’d seen anyone, but thus far, we’ve found out nothing. You’ll want to conduct your own inquiries, of course. I’ll put some of my men at your disposal.”
Barnes struggled to keep his expression neutral but it was blooming hard. He turned away and pretended to examine the crime scene. But inside he was seething. As the first officer on the spot, Rogers should have immediately started a search of the grounds as well as making sure that potential witnesses weren’t chucked out onto the street without so much as a by-your-leave. The man was doing his best to cock up this investigation before it was even started. The constable couldn’t understand it. Rogers was retiring, and even knowing he might lose the case, he should still have had enough pride to do the job properly.
“I’d appreciate any men that you can spare.” Witherspoon glanced at the constables standing over the dead woman. “These lads would be most helpful. They can point out the people who were actually in the cemetery when you arrived here.”
“That’ll be fine.” Rogers smiled agreeably. “But I can’t spare anyone else. We’re busy. This district has seen an increase in robberies since Christmas and I want to leave it nice and tidy when I retire.”
“We can bring some constables in from our station.” Barnes turned back and gave Rogers a wide grin. “Our lads are well trained in the inspector’s methods.”
Rogers’ smile disappeared and his eyes narrowed in anger.
“Really, Constable”—Witherspoon laughed self-consciously—“I’m sure my methods aren’t very different from Inspector Rogers’.”
“You’re too modest, sir.” Barnes wasn’t going to stop now. He was righteously angry with Rogers. “There’s a reason you’ve solved more murders than anyone in the history of the force. Now, being as Inspector Rogers is so busy, perhaps he’d like to show us the body so that we can get on with a proper investigation.”
* * *
Davey Marsh was only ten years old but he was already an old hand at working the neighborhood around the Ladbroke Road Police Station. There was always a clerk, copper, or criminal who would pay a few coins for a message to be sent or an errand to be run. But of all the places he went, his favorite was Upper Edmonton Gardens. Everyone at that household was generous. Inspector Witherspoon always gave him at least a sixpence when he sent him there to say he’d be home late, and the servants were even more generous, especially the cook. Mrs. Goodge never let him leave the kitchen without a sweet bun or a slice of pie.
His mouth watered as he rapped on the back door. A few moments later, Wiggins stuck his head out.
“Cor blimey, it’s Davey. Come on in, lad.” He held the door open wide. “’Ave ya got a message for us?” The footman, a brown-haired man in his early twenties, had blue eyes and even features.
“Constable Barnes sent me,” Davey said as Wiggins closed the door and motioned for the boy to follow him. “He said it was real important.”
Wiggins nodded and led him into the kitchen. “Young Davey Marsh is ’ere,” he announced, “and ’e says ’e’s got an important message from Constable Barnes.”
“Hello, Davey.” Mrs. Jeffries’ spirits soared. There was usually only one reason the constable bothered to send a message. “You look like you’ve grown a bit since I last saw you.”
“Mam says I’m growin’ so fast she can’t keep me in trousers.” He laughed. He was a skinny boy wearing a secondhand blue jacket that was too big for him, scuffed brown shoes, and dark green trousers that were two inches above his ankles.
“Take a chair, lad, and have a nice slice of brown bread,” Mrs. Goodge ordered. “It was made fresh this morning and I know that boys your age are always hungry.” She also knew that he was generally hungry because his family was poor. He had a younger brother and a mother who struggled to make ends meet by working as a washerwoman.
Davey flew to the table, scrapped back a chair, and flopped down. He pushed a lock of dark blond hair off his forehead as he waited for the treat. “Ta, Mrs. Goodge, your bread is good, not like that stale old stuff Mam buys from the baker.”
Wiggins took the spot next to Davey as Mrs. Goodge put a plate down in front of the boy. His eyes widened as he saw the huge slice she’d cut him. “Put some butter and jam on it, boy,” she ordered. “And I’ll cut another slice for you to take home for your brother.”
Mrs. Goodge wrapped the bread in paper while the lad ate and the other two waited for him to finish. When he’d eaten the last crumb, Mrs. Jeffries said, “Now, what was the message?”
“Constable Barnes said that the inspector was goin’ to be late home tonight because they’d been called out on a murder.” Davey rose from his chair. “And now I’ve got to get goin’ to his house so I can tell Mrs. Barnes the same thing.” He glanced at the paper-wrapped parcel Mrs. Goodge had laid on the end of the table. “Can I take it?”
“Of course.” The cook nodded. “Are you sure that’s all the constable said?”
“I’m sure.” He hurried around the table and snatched up the bundle.
Mrs. Jeffries frowned. It wasn’t like the constable to be so stingy with information. “He didn’t say where they were going?”
Davey edged toward the back hall. “All he said was that I was to tell ya that he and the inspector had been called to a murder site in Highgate so your guv’ll be home late tonight.”
“He didn’t happen to mention where in Highgate this murder site might be?” she persisted.
Davey started to shake his head but then stopped and ran a grubby hand across his cheek as he tried to recall what he’d heard. “He didn’t say it was where he was goin’, but as he and the inspector got into the hansom cab, I heard him shoutin’ up to the driver to take ’em to . . . oh . . . now, where was it? It was, it was . . .”
Mrs. Goodge opened her mouth to shout encouragement at the lad, but Mrs. Jeffries raised her hand for silence as they watched Davey’s forehead wrinkle in concentration.
“Now I’ve got it,” he cried. “Highgate Cemetery. He told the driver to take ’em to the cemetery.”
“Highgate Cemetery?” Wiggins looked doubtful. “Are ya sure? That’s not in the inspector’s district.”
“I’m sure.” Davey looked offended. “It might take me a minute to remember, but I know what I heard. But I’ve got to go now. Constable Barnes and his missus live across the river, and I want to get there and get home in time to give my brother this bread. There’s no food in the house and Mam don’t have another load of wash to do until tomorrow.”
Mrs. Jeffries was already on her feet and heading for the pine sideboard where she kept a stash of coins. She jerked the drawer open and pulled out a handful of coins “Take this, Davey,” she said, handing him the money. “And buy something decent to eat tonight.”
Davey’s jaw dropped as he looked at the coins in his palm. “Ta, Mrs. Jeffries. This’ll buy all three of us a nice supper.” Grinning, he shoved the money in his pocket and headed down the back hall.
As soon as they heard the door close, Wiggins got to his feet. “Should I get to the cemetery?” Good-natured and easygoing, he was nonetheless sharp-eyed and clever when they were “on the hunt.”
“But what about the others?” Mrs. Goodge interjected before the housekeeper could answer him. She glanced at the clock. “It’s only half past one. We’ve enough time to get them here for a meeting.”
“But the only thing we could tell them is that there’s been a murder,” Mrs. Jeffries pointed out. “We’ve no other information. No, I think Wiggins should go to Highgate and see what he can find out. I’ll pop round to Betsy and Smythe’s flat and tell them to be here in the morning for a meeting. Then I’ll stop at Ruth’s to tell her.”
“On the way home, I can let Luty and Hatchet know so they can be here as well,” Wiggins offered.
“That’s probably best.” The cook looked at Mrs. Jeffries. “By then you’ll have had a chance to speak to the inspector. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t come in so late he’s too tired to tell you what’s what.”
* * *
Mr. Abbot dashed toward them as Barnes, Witherspoon, and Rogers turned toward the corpse. “You there”—he pointed at Inspector Witherspoon as he raced up the slight incline—“when can I open the gates again? We’ve a burial scheduled for this afternoon and it’ll be most inconvenient if it’s delayed. I’ve already paid the gravediggers and I don’t want to have to pay them again tomorrow.”
Witherspoon realized that between Inspector Rogers’ attitude and Constable Barnes’ charging ahead like a bull in a china shop, he might as well do what was expected and take over. “We’re moving as quickly as we can, sir, but this is a murder site,” he explained. “I’m not sure when we’ll be finished.”
“I’ve got a hearse and two coaches coming through the main gate in an hour. Will you be done by then?” Abbot waved his hands about, pointing in the direction of the road. “I don’t see what’s taking so long. You’ve been here for hours.”
“And we wouldn’t be delayed if proper procedure had been followed,” Barnes muttered.
Rogers glared at the constable, but held his peace.
“For goodness’ sake, Inspector,” Abbot cried. “This is a cemetery and we don’t just have burials scheduled. There are dozens of people who want to get in to pay their respects to loved ones.”
“The police surgeon should be here any moment,” Rogers said. “As soon as Inspector Witherspoon examines the body and the surgeon is finished, we’ll be out of your way.”
“Examine the body?” Abbot exclaimed. “What on earth for? The woman is dead, dead, dead. Can’t you just get a van in here and move her along to the morgue?”
Before Witherspoon could reply, they heard footsteps, and everyone turned to see a man and two constables coming their way. The man wore a blue overcoat and bowler hat and carried a physician’s bag. The constables carried an empty stretcher.
“It appears the police surgeon has arrived,” Rogers said.
“It’s about time.” Abbot snorted and glanced down at the body. He shuddered and then backed away.
“We’ll be finished in a few moments, sir,” Witherspoon called. “But we’ll need to search this part of the cemetery and we’ll need to question your staff.”
“And that includes the gravediggers,” Barnes added.
“You can do what you like as long as I can open the main gate.” Abbot stopped. “The burial is on the other side of the cemetery.”
“You can proceed about your business.” Witherspoon turned to Rogers as he spoke. He didn’t wish to be harsh, but honestly, the inspector had been a bit remiss in his duty.
Rogers didn’t see the inspector’s disapproving expression, though. He’d knelt down by the body and was waving at the newcomers. “Dr. Procash, we’ll be done here in a moment and then she’s all yours.”
“When was the body discovered?” Barnes asked.
“Half past nine this morning.”
“What time do the gates open?”
“Nine,” Rogers replied. “So she couldn’t have been dead more than half an hour before she was discovered. Now, can we get on with this? I’ve a lot to do today.” He glanced at Witherspoon. “Ready?”
The inspector took a deep breath and steeled himself before kneeling next to the dead woman. “Yes, of course.” He focused on her attire. She wore a rust-colored cloak that had slipped open, revealing a striped gray and rust blouse neatly tucked into a gray skirt. Her hands lay across her stomach, and he noticed she wore a garnet ring on her right hand. His gaze traveled up her torso. A red cord, its ends neatly arranged over her chest, lay draped around her neck. Keeping his eyes away from her face, he moved closer and examined the darkened line around her neck. “It looks like she was strangled from the front,” he muttered.
“Either that or the killer rearranged the cord,” Rogers replied.
Witherspoon looked at her face and then gasped. At the same moment, he heard Barnes take a deep, sharply drawn breath.
Rogers, who heard both men, looked at them curiously. “Surely this isn’t the first time you’ve seen a strangulation,” he scoffed. “She’s not a pretty sight, but I’d think that with all the murders you’ve solved and your reputation for not letting anyone touch the body till you’ve had a good look at it would have prepared you for this.”
Her tongue was protruding, her lips were blue, and her mouth was open as if she’d just been surprised. Her eyes stared straight up to the sky.
“Murder is never pretty,” Witherspoon said slowly. He closed his eyes as memories flooded into his mind. Images of a beautiful red-haired woman with ivory skin and sapphire blue eyes flashed through his consciousness. But her hair was now a dark brown under the sensible straw hat that was smashed askew on the ground beneath her head. Her cheekbones seemed rounded and less defined but it was most definitely she. The eyes were still the same color of sapphire blue.
“One of your constables identified her?” Barnes fixed Rogers with a stony stare. A day that had started out bad had just gotten worse.
“That’s right.” Rogers straightened as he realized something was very wrong. “She’s Mrs. Robinson, Alice Robinson. I’ve told you already. She’s a respectable widow who owns a lodging house near here. Constable Pierpoint was certain it’s her.”
“But it isn’t her,” Witherspoon said as he got to his feet and looked down at the woman. “It’s someone else entirely.”
“What are you talking about?” Rogers rose as well. “My constables don’t make identification mistakes. This is Alice Robinson.”
“That may be what she’s been calling herself,” Barnes said. “But this woman isn’t Alice Robinson. Her name is Edith Durant. We’ve been looking for her for years.”
“Looking for her?” Rogers seemed confused. “Why would you be searching for her? What’s she done?”
“She’s a murderess,” Witherspoon said softly. “The only one who ever got away from us.”
“’Ow come them gates is shut?” Wiggins pointed to the entrance of Highgate Cemetery. “And what’s a constable doin’ inside there? Are they plantin’ someone important?” Upon arriving, he’d studied the crowd and picked his spot carefully. On one side of the entry there were well-dressed men and women with bouquets of flowers or bundles of greenery. Most of them were peering anxiously toward the gates and checking their watches. So he’d crossed to the other side toward the locals, the sort of folks who’d not mind answering a few questions, especially if the person doing the asking was a bit of a rough lad and a know-it-all. He stopped in the middle of a collection of housemaids, street urchins, matrons with shopping baskets, and a couple of sullen-looking workmen who Wiggins guessed were either gravediggers or groundskeepers. “I ’eard they’re buryin’ a cousin of the Queen,” he continued. “That must be why they’ve got it all locked up.”
“Don’t be daft,” a dark-haired housemaid said to him. “They’re not burying any royals today. There’s been a murder and the police have got it locked so they can catch the killer.”
A red-haired street boy snorted derisively. “You’re the one who’s daft. The killer is long gone and the gate’s only locked to keep the likes of us out.”
“Murder,” Wiggins cried. “Cor blimey, who was killed?”
The boy shrugged and the maid turned her attention back to the constable pacing behind the wrought iron fence.
“Mrs. Robinson was murdered,” a timid voice said from behind him. He whirled around and came face-to-face with a short, slender, brown-haired girl wearing spectacles. She was dressed in a faded maroon and gold jacket.
Excerpted from "Mrs. Jeffries and the One Who Got Away"
Copyright © 2015 Emily Brightwell.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries: “Enjoyable…Cozy fans will be well satisfied.”—Publishers Weekly “Full of humor, suspense, adventure, and touches of romance…Delightful.” —Rendezvous “A winning series.”—The Paperback Forum “It’s murder most English all the way!”—The Literary Times
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's easy reading, but not boring. Touches on the problems of the lower classes, but not too "preachy" like Anne Perry. Good beach reading.
What is a detective to do, when the victim is someone who got away with murder? This is the problem facing Inspectior Witherspoon and Mrs. Jeffries in MRS JEFFRIES AND THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY. Faced wuith this dilemma, Mrs Jeffries and the others, decide to carry on. One of the best in the series, it comes to an exciting conclusion. Highly Recommended!
Love the adventures of Mrs Jeffries and crew. Each book is like visiting old friends. While the books are very well written, I can't help but wonder if the author is getting lazy as the books are getting so short. *from "Tired of tiny books"
If you enjoyed downtown abbey and like agatha christie you'll love this classiccozy. Get a cuppa and a scone then settle in for a fantastic read.
I love Mrs.Jeffries & the entire household.I have read all the books & eagerly await the next one.