“The haunted-house theme is one of the most venerable in the genre, and Rayne has given it new life in this series, drawing again and again on the secrets contained within structures built originally to keep us safe”
Booklist Starred Review
A 400-year-old crime continues to menace the present in this spine-chilling tale of supernatural suspense.
When Nell West starts extending her Oxford antiques shop, she is not expecting to uncover strange fragments of its past: fragments that include a frightened message scribbled on old plasterwork, dated 1850 and referring to someone called Thaisa.
She also uncovers a mysterious link with a village on the Dorset coast – a village with an ancient bell tower and dark memories of a piece of music known locally as Thaisa’s Song. The sea is gradually encroaching on the derelict tower, but the old Glaum Bell still hangs in the lonely bell chamber and although it was silenced after an act of appalling brutality during the reign of Henry VIII, local people whisper that its chime is still occasionally heard.
As Nell and Michael Flint discover, the tower is mysteriously entangled with the story of Thaisa and a 400-year-old tragedy that has echoed down the centuries.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Series:||A Nell West and Michael Flint Haunted House Story Series , #6|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Sarah Rayne is the author of novels of supernatural suspense, including the new series featuring Michael Flint and Nell West. She lives in Staffordshire.
Read an Excerpt
The Bell Tower
By Sarah Rayne
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Sarah Rayne
All rights reserved.
Corby & Sons
To: Mrs Nell West, Nell West Antiques, Quire Court, Oxford
cc: Dr Michael Flint, Oriel College, Oxford.
Dear Mrs West and Dr Flint
QUIRE COURT SHOP
Enclosed is a copy of the new lease for your present shop and the adjoining shop, which is being assigned to you.
Could you read through this carefully, with particular attention to page three, which sets out the work you are proposing to carry out, to make the two shops into one unit.
This isn't the full lease, which goes back over several hundred years and is fairly lengthy. This is more in the nature of an abstract; however, these are the relevant extracts.
Do please let me know if there's anything that isn't clear.
Yours sincerely, J. L. Corby
'I didn't realize,' said Nell West, studying the lease sent by Corby's, 'that Quire Court was so old. But according to this, four of the shops – including this one – date back to the early fifteenth century. It was known as Glaum's Acre then.'
'And,' said Michael, turning over the pages, 'in the sixteenth century it was apparently owned by a monastic order.'
Nell watched him, thinking this would be exactly how he looked when he was about to lecture to a group of students. Serious and absorbed, and utterly endearing.
'In those days,' said Owen Bracegirdle, who was having supper with them, 'the monasteries and the Church owned half of England between them. Is there any more chilli con carne, Nell? Thanks.'
'It's difficult to tell the age of a place like Quire Court,' said Nell, spooning chilli on to Owen's plate. 'All that stonework and the mullioned windows and whatnot.'
'And the stone arch that leads through to Turl Street.'
'Can I see the reference to the monastery?' asked Owen.
'It was in Dorset. A place called Rede Abbas.' Michael passed the relevant page across the table. 'I should think this whole document would originally have been in Latin, wouldn't it?'
'Yes, but they'd translate it for the benefit of later leaseholders. Probably modernized the language a bit at the same time.' Owen bent over the photocopied page. 'Did you see this clause?' he said, after a moment. 'I don't know how it got into a document dealing with Quire Court, but the oddest things were sometimes interlinked. It says the monks asserted their right to hold what they called St Benedict's Revels – "exactly one month after Michaelmas Quarter Day".'
'Revels sound quite lively for monks,' said Nell.
'It'd hardly have been sex, drugs and rock and roll, but I daresay a bit of frivolity went on. I'll look it up when I get back to College,' said Owen. 'I think it's time I wended my way back to Oriel, anyway. I've got an early tutorial tomorrow morning with an anxious final year, and I suspect I've had about half a bushel of wine tonight. Michael, you've probably had the other half, so are we sharing a taxi back, or ...? Oh, wait, is it one of those "What's for breakfast, darling?" nights. Yes, I see it is. Nell, you're blushing.'
'I'm not,' said Nell, who was.
'A nice, old-fashioned custom, blushing,' said Owen. 'But, in any event, I'll say, "Bless you, my children," and wend my way back to my solitary bed.'
'So Quire Court's got Tudor roots,' said Michael, some considerable time later. He was sitting on his favourite window-seat in Nell's bedroom, looking out over the shadowy old stonework. 'I didn't know that.'
From the bed, Nell could just see the old arch that led to Turl Street. The stones were bleached to silver by the moonlight.
'You've occasionally talked about it being haunted,' she said.
'I've never been entirely serious, though. And I was only meaning a very mild, gentle kind of haunting, anyway.'
'The serenity of undisturbed ghosts,' said Nell, half to herself.
'Did I say that?'
'Once or twice.'
'But before tonight, if I did think there were ghosts here, I saw them as vague, and even scholarly,' said Michael, still staring out at the darkness. 'Amiable, absent-minded old gentlemen searching for a mislaid fragment of a book. Or craftsmen lovingly fashioning silver objects. And writers and poets, scratching away with quill pens by candlelight.'
'Isn't that what you think now?'
'No. It's as if reading that lease – even the few pages that Corby's sent – has opened up a deeper level.' He looked across at the bed. 'Am I romanticizing?'
'Yes, and in rather a dark way. It's not like you to do that. Come back to bed and romanticize in a different way.'
I'm assuming you'll pick up this email today – that you're back in your rooms at Oriel by now, it being ten in the morning.
I've found St Benedict's Revels. The idea was to celebrate the life of St Benedict by holding a two-day fair with music and pageantry – mummers and musicians and jugglers, and a performing bear as well, I shouldn't wonder. Then a feast to round it all off. It does strike a slightly peculiar note, considering Benedict himself was a hermit, much given to preaching and practising strict discipline and obedience, not to mention chastity; in fact on one occasion the old boy is said to have thrown himself into a briar patch to banish tempting visions. Still, as somebody said since (John Lennon?): Whatever gets you through ...
Reports say that on one occasion the monks caroused so enthusiastically most of them became 'myse-dronck'. I love that expression – I might try to reintroduce it into common usage, possibly starting in the Senior Common Room after the Dean's Christmas lunch.
But to return to our muttons. After one of the feasts, several of the monks reportedly treated the company to several rousing songs with the most astonishingly irreligious titles. 'Cuckolds All Awry' seems to have been the mildest, and there was another called, 'The Knight's Lusty Lance'. There's apparently an eyewitness account somewhere, written by one Brother Cuthwin, so I'm going to try to track him down.
It seems, though, that the present-day council (Arts, Rural, or even Privy for all I know) have recently decided that it was a pity the Revels had ended and the insubstantial pageant had faded, and there's to be all manner of Tudor caperings at the end of next month. The date is vaguely around Michaelmas, so it sounds as if they're trying to keep to the monks' original requirement of providing 'feasting of roast meats and mead'. I daresay only a cynic would wonder if they have an eye to the tourist trade as well.
Have you found out, yet, that Wilberforce wrought havoc in that flowerbed near the Senior Library last night? I don't know the details, but I believe a newly planted rose bed was involved, and somebody said Mr Jugg – who I always think sounds like a character from Happy Families; not that he is, for a more glum individual I've yet to met – anyway, Jugg is plotting revenge in his potting shed, because he doesn't think cats should be allowed in College, and certainly not cats who dig up newly planted rose bushes that were presented by somebody from the Ben Jonson Society, and were the first set of cuttings (shoots? saplings?) to be named for him.
'Ruined, Dr Bracegirdle,' he said to me this morning. 'Shredded all over the quad as if a flock of wild beasts had rampaged everywhere.'
I believe Jugg is currently fashioning lengths of wire hung about with wind-chimes to crisscross the bed in question and thwart any future feline mayhem. There were, however, worrying rumours in the SCR this morning about dishes of fish laced with arsenic being put out. So I think you'd better keep Wilberforce incarcerated until Jugg has calmed down.
Michael, having read this, forwarded it to Nell, who would enjoy hearing about the Rede Abbas revels. He thought the rose-bed disaster might make a good episode for the current Wilberforce book he was writing, so dashed off an email to his editor at the children's publishing house with the idea, then set out on a pacifying mission to the affronted Jugg. This last took far longer than he had expected, and he supposed that somewhere between writing Wilberforce's fictional adventures for seven- and eight-year-olds, soothing injured gardeners, and writing an apology to the Ben Jonson Society – as well as paying for a new consignment of rose bushes – he would find time to tutor a few students.
'I've found the website for the Rebe Abbas Revels,' said Nell, the following evening. 'And it looks quite interesting.'
'Street stalls, dancing, music, and drama,' said Michael, reading the printed list of events. 'And a couple of morality plays – that's a nod to the days of the original monks, presumably. It looks as if they're staging a jazzed-up version of the Seven Deadly Sins. That was a common theme in those medieval romps. I should think they'll play down Lust, don't you?'
'It coincides with Beth's half-term and also her birthday,' said Nell, 'so it could make a good birthday treat for her. She's keen on the idea – in fact, her teacher is keen as well, and they might make a school trip out of it. They can book the kids into a local Ramblers' Hostel, apparently. They're already planning a midnight feast in the dormitories to celebrate Beth's birthday.'
'God help the ramblers. How far is Rede Abbas?'
'About two and a half hours – right on the Dorset coast. It looks quite an easy drive, though. Could you come with us?' said Nell, eagerly. 'We could book into a local B&B or a pub for a couple of nights.'
'I'd like to if I can,' said Michael. 'I'd certainly like to see what today's performers make of a medieval morality play. I'll see what I've got on at College. What about the shop?'
'It looks as if it'll be around the time when the builders will have reached the most disruptive part, so I'll have to close the shop for about a week anyway. It might be a good idea to be completely out of the way.'
Beth was entranced at the prospect of the Rede Abbas Revels.
'The programme says they might be performing something that hasn't been heard for nearly five hundred years.'
'The operative word is might,' said Nell. 'That sounds more as if they're trying to find stuff that nobody's heard for hundreds of years. It's most likely a marketing ploy.'
'Still, it'll be a really good weekend, won't it?'
'It sounds very good. I'd like to research the history of Rede Abbas while we're there if I can. But I'll probably be staying at one of the pubs with Michael, which means I won't be around too much while you're with your friends. So you won't be embarrassed by the presence of a parent.'
'Um, you don't embarrass me,' said Beth, in an awkward mumble. 'Michael doesn't, either. Most people at school think he's pretty cool. Good- looking and stuff like that, I mean.'
'Well, yes,' said Nell, momentarily disconcerted.
'I think,' said Beth, reaching for the programme again, 'that the Dusklight Concert with the five-hundred-year-old song will be the coolest, wickedest thing of the whole weekend.'
'So do I. And isn't it time you were in bed?'
Having chased Beth up to bed, Nell stood at the downstairs window looking across at the rear of her shop. She was looking forward to having the new premises and to living in the huge flat that was being created across the first floors of both buildings, and she was looking forward to arranging antique weekends and workshops in this house as well. She liked this house. She liked looking out of this window late at night, seeing the moonlight silvering the old stonework of the shops. It almost made it possible to subscribe to Michael's views about gentle, inquisitive ghosts. Nell did not really believe in those ghosts, but if they were to appear they would be soft, blurred figures, their outlines slightly fuzzy because they had lived their lives by flickering candlelight and lamplight.
A light was showing from under the eaves of her shop. It was probably just the reflection of a streetlight from beyond the Court, although streetlights had never reflected on the windows before. She leaned forward, to see better.
The light was reflecting because one of the upstairs windows of her shop was open. There was no doubt about it; it was one of the small attic rooms. It was not much of a security risk to leave it open – the shop had a good alarm system, and any enterprising burglar would have to set up a very long ladder to get up to that window. Even so ... She glanced at the time. Quarter to ten. Not so very late. She went up to Beth's room.
Beth was reading by the bedside light. Nell said, 'I've just seen there's a window open at the shop. It's one of the attics, so I expect the builders left it open – they were up there earlier today. But I'd better close it – it might rain or birds could get in. I'll only be ten minutes – will you be all right?'
'Mum, I'm not going to vanish in ten minutes,' said Beth.
'I'll lock the door.'
'Well, all right, but don't fuss.'
'I'm not. But put the bedroom light on, and sit on the windowsill where I can see you from the garden,' said Nell, and Beth sighed with exaggerated emphasis, and said, Oh, well, she s'posed so.
Nell ran down the stairs, snatched up the keys, and sped along the garden. Halfway along she looked back at the house. Beth was sitting in the windowsill; she had switched on the bedroom light, and she waved to Nell and made a goldfish face and swimming motions with her hands, which was something she did in traffic jams to disconcert other motorists. Nell grinned, waved to her, and unlocked the shop door, reaching for the panel to deactivate the electronic alarm.
The faint light was in the main part of the shop as well. Quire Court had several Victorian-style wrought-iron streetlamps, and one was immediately outside. But as she went up the stairs, the light flickered and then dimmed, as if a lamp was being quenched. The narrow stair began to feel slightly scary, and the shadows seemed to be filling up with sounds and movements. Nell reminded herself that the sounds would be nothing more than birds scrabbling in the eaves, and traffic and people in the streets around the Court. Someone nearby was even singing. It was a bit early for raucous songs or drunken revelry from students, although this did not sound very raucous, and it did not sound drunk either. It was a single voice: a girl's, high and cool and quite sweet. The words did not sound English and Nell did not recognize the language, which had an unusual cadence. It could be anything, though; Oxford teemed with all races and creeds.
She was about to continue up to the attic, when she realized that the singing was not outside the shop at all. It was inside. She stood still, listening. Was it coming from the attic floor, with that open window? No, it was downstairs. Had someone followed her in? Or had someone already been in here, crouching in the darkness? The alarm had been on when she came in, but could someone have climbed through the open window? But it was on the second floor, and it would have meant using a long ladder and squeezing through an impossibly tiny space. And where was the ladder now? And what burglar would sing like this?
Nell began to make her way back down the stairs as quietly as possible. The open window would have to wait until tomorrow. There was someone in here, hiding somewhere in the dark corners of the empty building, and she was going to get the hell out of here and beat it back to the house and to Beth, then call the police.
As she reached the foot of the stairs, the light flared up, casting moving shadows across the walls, and this time Nell realized with new horror that a faint smell of oil was coming from Godfrey's half of the shop. A new image scudded into her mind – of papers being crumpled together, then doused with oil or petrol before a match was struck. This was so alarming she forgot about burglars who sang strange, sad songs and went towards the sounds, trying to remember where the fire extinguisher was, and if it had remained inside the building while the work was going on.
Excerpted from The Bell Tower by Sarah Rayne. Copyright © 2015 Sarah Rayne. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series. Ending was a surprise. If you like mysteries and ghost stories, this is the series to read. Intelligent and grabs you right from the start.