The butler had been moping ever since the stable-boy had left. I’d been rather puzzled as to why I was paying for the employ of a stable-boy when I had no stables, so when he announced his desire to move on to a horse-farm I had congratulated him on his determination to pursue his career and offered him a month’s garden leave. He accepted, looking suddenly happy, and that was the last I’d seen of him. Judging by the butler’s ill-temper it was the last the butler had seen on him as well, but I was avoiding thinking about that and the implications.
It was beautiful outside, at least as far as I could tell by looking out of the window, and I had decided that a walk might be good for my health. I was dressed to go; I had on my best walking coat and had located my grandfather’s swordstick and my father’s favourite huntsman’s hat and was pulling on a pair of boots that I didn’t recognise but appeared to be my size when I realised that I couldn’t possibly leave the house without some idea of what might befall me when I did.
I finished tying the bootlaces and then pulled a book down from the bookshelves. I opened it without looking, jabbed a finger on to the page, and then looked to see what was written there:
She’d attended his funeral a year ago – seen his casket being lowered into the ground.
I mused for a moment that seeing a casket being lowered into the ground was no guarantee that anyone was in the casket, or that any body in there was the intended one, and then I tried to remember where the front-door was. The house was so large, and I left my suite so infrequently, that it usually took a moment or two to remember where I was going. Then the memory returned, I allowed myself a small chuckle of triumph, and I started off.
As I closed the front-door behind me I caught sight of the butler watching me from the upper landing window. He still looked morose, perhaps even forlorn, and I wondered if I should buy him a pet of some kind. I recall that my father had his butlers shot when they stopped being able to manage their day-to-day duties, but I had a feeling that times might have changed since then, and I wasn’t in the mood for entertaining the police and their enquiries.
There is a long, gravelled drive that leads out of the house and down to the main road and I was half way along that when the spire of the church hove into view. I thought for a moment, and remembering the words from the book decided that I was probably intended to go and view a funeral today, so I clambered over the two-bar wooden fence that stopped cars randomly driving into the fields, and waded through knee-high grass in the direction of the spire. It was tough going at first, but slowly the grass became lower and lower and the walking became easier, and then it turned into something that was neatly mowed and maintained and the churchyard was just across a low stone wall.
There was a funeral going on as I approached, with a large crowd of black-clad mourners gathered around a hole and two caskets, side-by-side on a large blue tarpaulin, presided over by the vicar who I recognised as the son of the man who had buried my father. I managed to get over the wall, though it was harder work than the fence, and avoided falling over when I landed on some fresh flowers on a grave on the other side. Some people in the mob… I mean, mourners, turned when they heard me swearing as I tried to keep my feet, but I ignored them. There was a flash of pain on the vicar’s face and I wondered if he had his father’s problems of gout, vanity and avarice.
A woman broke away from the crowd and confronted me.
“This is a private funeral,” she said. Her eyes were red and her lipstick appeared to have been put on in a moving vehicle in the dark. She was old enough to be my sister, and she held her arm stiffly as though it had been broken and never set properly.
“This is private land,” I replied.
“It’s a church,” she said. She still looked annoyed, but her tone had come down a notch as though she suspected I had something to say she wasn’t going to like.
“My church,” I said. “I’m the landowner here.”
She looked like she was chewing a mouse as she tried to work out what she could say to that.
“My sons are both dead,” she said finally. “We are burying them. You may stay and watch if you wish.”
“Whose funeral were you at a year ago?” I asked, the bibliomantic words burning in my head now. She’d been turning away, but now she turned back again.
I nodded, though I had no idea what she was talking about. Tears welled in her eyes. “She said you never knew,” she said. Her voice cracked and became a whisper. “She said she was trying to protect you.”
“Who?” I prompted. The vicar was staring over at us, clearly waiting for one or both of us to join the mob.
“Your mother,” she said, starting to sob.
Now that was interesting, since I was under the impression that father had shot mother as well when she stopped being able to produce children.