Read Constable & Toop Online

Authors: Gareth P. Jones

Constable & Toop (9 page)

‘What's that mean?' asked Tanner.

‘It means he's good for the tourist trade,' replied Lapsewood.

‘Ah yes, they flock here, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of the man murdered in the foundations of this very building,' said Mr Kerby dramatically. ‘The theatre itself has burnt down and been rebuilt since then, of course, but as my life was taken down in the foundations, this glorious theatre has remained my home.'

‘You were murdered?' said Lapsewood.

Mr Kerby laughed and nodded, then pulled out a dagger and held it aloft. ‘By this very dagger,' he said grandly. ‘Stabbed in the gut and left to die beneath the stage then bricked up in these walls. A death of such drama is in keeping with our dramatic surrounds, wouldn't you say?'

‘I'm guessing you were an actor yourself with the way you talk and all,' said Tanner.

‘An actor?' Mr Kerby chuckled. ‘No, young man. In life I was a book keeper.'

‘What were you killed for, then?' asked Tanner.

‘Ah, well,' Mr Kerby emitted a small, embarrassed cough. ‘My fault entirely. You see, the management at the time had some pecuniary complications.'

Tanner looked to Lapsewood, who translated, ‘Money problems.'

‘Why didn't he just say that then?' asked Tanner.

‘I noticed discrepancies in the books and brought it to light. I went to the then manager who saw to it that I didn't bring it to any more light. Now, hush please, the play is about to start.'

The lights on the great chandelier dimmed and Mr Kerby turned to the stage. ‘Do you know the play?' he asked. ‘It begins with the appearance of a ghost. I've been watching rehearsals and they've done it rather well in this production. Not too much moaning and wailing. I don't know why they always have us ghosts wailing and moaning. Most of the wailers and moaners I have known have been very much alive.'

The large fidgety woman leaned forward and said, ‘Would you please get out of my way? I can't see a thing.'

‘I am sorry, madam,' said the ghost, stepping to the side.

‘Come on. Let's go,' said Tanner, tugging Lapsewood's sleeve.

14
The Blackened Church

Sam chose to take the bus to London then walk the rest of the way to St Paul's church in Shadwell. As he would charge his day's expenses to the Gliddon brothers he could have taken the train, which would have been quicker, but he preferred the slower route. Its bumpy, winding journey emphasised the distance between Honor Oak and London.

Sam recognised the bus driver as Mr Herring, a friendly fellow with wild whiskers and weather-beaten skin, as worn and discoloured as the backside of the horses that he drove. He sometimes took work driving the hearses. Mr Herring insisted that Sam come and sit up front with him for company. As they travelled towards London, he reeled off an endless list of the aches, pains, discomforts, complaints, illnesses and ailments that currently plagued him.

Up the Old Kent Road, the journey was made slower by all the other vehicles. They drove under a railway bridge just as a train rattled overhead, then on to the Elephant and Castle, where Mr Herring stopped in order to relieve himself. The passengers in the back complained loudly at his impertinence, but he paid them no heed. Nor did he rush back, on account of the terrible blisters on the soles of his feet.

Back in the driving seat, he said, ‘They'd have me suffer for the sake of their precious time, that lot, but you can't argue with a man's bladder. The bladder will always 'ave the final say. And I won't go sufferin' any more for them lot than I do anyhow. Life is all sufferin', lad. My hands are cold and broken from 'olding these reins, my insides are joggled around by the ups and downs of this job, my back aches and my eyes ain't what they were, but you don't hear me grumble.'

Over the bridge they passed Monument at Pudding Lane, where Sam spied with his right eye three figures, unseen by the other passers-by, each with blackened clothes and disfiguring burns that covered their skin. They sat by the foot of the monument playing cards. They were victims of the Great Fire. He had encountered them before. They were a friendly enough bunch and always knew everything that was going on in the world of ghosts, but Sam found it extremely uncomfortable to look at their terrible wounds. Besides, he knew from previous encounters that a couple of them were terrible cheats at whist.

At the end of the line Sam paid Mr Herring and got off, taking the rest of the journey on foot. He walked past the Tower of London as quickly as possible. He couldn't stand the place, with its turrets packed with dead kings and queens, bickering with one another and hurling abuse at everyone. While visitors paid sixpence to walk around its grounds, its previous inhabitants screamed and hollered of the injustices that had befallen them in life. Here could be found the city's most gruesome ghouls, many of them carrying their heads separately from their bodies. Sam couldn't bear to look at the two murdered sons of Edward IV, nor the Countess of Salisbury, who had been hacked to pieces by the executioner and remained so in death.

Local guides liked to talk about London's rich history, but as far as Sam was concerned it was a tapestry of violence and death.

Thankfully, once Sam had passed the Tower, things were much quieter. He followed the High Street, past the docks of Wapping, with its drowned sailors and swearing pirate ghosts, embittered by their inability to claim the hidden treasure they had amassed in life.

St Paul's of Shadwell was just off the High Street. By no means as magnificent as the cathedral that bore the same name, it was still an impressive bell tower that Sam spotted over the tops of the trees. As he got nearer he realised there was something wrong with it. A plaque on the front gave the date of its completion as 1820, and yet Sam would have taken it for much older. The edges of the brickwork were blackened and decaying. Only when he covered his left eye did he see that this was not from age or soot from the factories across the river. It was as though a supernatural substance was slowly devouring the church, eating away at its substance from within. It hummed with disease. He had never seen anything like it.

Sam gazed up at the church and wondered what was wrong with it. Hearing the click of a door, he turned round. Standing in the doorway of a rectory opposite the church was a red-faced man wearing a clerical collar.

‘Can I help you?' asked the man.

‘Are you the rector?'

‘Yes. Bray is my name. What business have you here?'

‘I have travelled from Honor Oak on behalf of a gentleman who wishes to be buried in your churchyard.'

‘I take it you have travelled up on behalf of this gentleman's family rather than the man himself, unless you are in a habit of running errands for the dead,' said the rector. ‘You'd better come in.'

Sam followed Rector Bray inside, where he was offered a glass of whiskey to ‘ward off the winter cold'. Sam declined the offer but could tell from the rector's breath that he had already begun warding himself.

‘I'm afraid it's quite impossible to accept new internments,' said Rector Bray. ‘We have not had a new burial here in many years. We have cemeteries for that purpose these days.'

‘It was the man's dying wish that he be buried here, alongside his own father,' said Sam.

The rector drained his glass of its contents and poured himself another. ‘You were looking at the church in a strange way just now,' he said.

‘Yes. Is there something wrong with it?' asked Sam.

The rector pushed the cork back into the bottle. ‘There is something very wrong with it, but I know not what. People no longer want to enter. A darkness has descended upon it. I even fear stepping inside myself.'

Rector Bray's hands had started to shake so much that he had to place his glass down on the arm of his chair to prevent him from spilling it.

‘A spirit, perhaps?' ventured Sam.

Rector Bray took a deep breath. ‘Our spirit was expelled.'

‘Expelled?'

‘A reverend by the name of Fallowfield performed the exorcism.'

Sam didn't believe in exorcisms. He had personally witnessed ghosts stand by, watching as priests waved their arms around dramatically and spoke in tongues. And yet, it was impossible to deny that something had happened to this church. ‘Tell me about the ghost,' he said.

‘They say his name was Sercombe,' replied Rector Bray. ‘He was a bell ringer. A simple soul, but a man devoted to God. However, when the woman he loved ran off with a sailor, not even the bells would drown out his sorrow. He hanged himself on the rope that rings the bell.'

Sam was used to hearing stories of deaths, either from those who came into the shop or from the victims themselves, but something about this story sent a shiver down his spine. ‘Did you ever see the ghost?'

‘No, but I heard him. He would ring the bell at night when the church was empty.'

‘So you had him exorcised?'

‘I had not intended to, but this Fallowfield turned up and offered his services to rid me of the ghost. He said a spirit had no place in the house of God.'

‘But it didn't help?' asked Sam.

‘It is only since then that the church has grown so . . .' Rector Bray searched for the right word. ‘So cold,' he said. ‘So dark.'

‘And the bell?'

‘It no longer rings. I wonder sometimes if this exorcism didn't let something worse in. No one will enter the church. What is a church without people? What is a rector without a congregation?' Rector Bray stared at his whiskey as though hoping for a response, but his questions remained unanswered.

Sam had not set out with any intention to use his gift, but seeing the desperation in the rector's eyes he realised he had an opportunity to strike up a deal. ‘I will go inside and find out what is wrong with your church if you agree to this internment,' he said.

Rector Bray's eyes flickered up from the glass to Sam, peering at him with intense curiosity. ‘You have the gift, don't you?' he said. ‘You can see Them.'

Sam left the question unanswered, having no desire to discuss his abilities with this drunk rector. ‘I will enter that place and tell you what I find if you grant permission for Mr Gliddon to be buried here,' he said firmly. ‘But I can make no guarantees.'

Rector Bray gulped down another mouthful of whiskey. ‘My son,' he said, his eyes alight with desperation and hope, ‘if you can rid me of whatever demon inhabits my church, your Mr Gliddon will be buried here even if I have to claw the dirt away with my own fingers.'

15
The Death of a Ghost

Lady Aysgarth sat at her desk in the gloomy attic. It was the only item of her furniture that hadn't been sold, broken or thrown away when the Tiltmans made the house their own. From the sound of Mrs Tiltman's sister, Hetty, hooting with laughter downstairs she knew the dinner party to be in full swing.

When Lady Aysgarth was younger she had enjoyed a good party, but she had no desire whatsoever to venture downstairs and watch this frightful freak show. Other ghosts in her position might have applied for a polter-licence and delighted in causing all sorts of amusing havoc, but the whole business of active haunting seemed excessively uncouth to Her Ladyship. She wanted nothing to do with her new tenants. Scare them? She didn't even want to speak to them.

Approaching footsteps brought Lady Aysgarth's attent­ion immediately back to the present. Someone was climbing the stairs. Probably Hopkins, needing an extra chair for the party, she thought. But when the door opened, it was Clara Tiltman who appeared.

‘Lady Aysgarth?' she said.

‘Yes?' said the ghost, inwardly chastising herself for the idiocy of replying.

‘Lady Aysgarth,' said Clara. ‘I think you're here. I think you can hear me.'

‘I'm sure I don't know why you would think such a thing, child.'

‘I think you've always been here,' continued Clara. ‘I know I might be talking to myself, but if so then it doesn't matter as there's no one here to mock me, is there?'

‘Mocked? I would have you beaten for such insolence. Leave me alone,' ordered Lady Aysgarth sternly.

‘You see, I saw what you did when Father talked of chopping down the willow. The curtain rail coming loose. That was you, wasn't it?'

‘Don't go blaming me for the inadequacy of your wall fittings.' Lady Aysgarth folded her arms defiantly.

‘You were angry because your husband planted that tree in memory of your son,' said Clara.

Lady Aysgarth took a sharp intake of breath. ‘How could you possibly know such a thing?'

Clara held up a small black book.

‘My diary?' said Lady Aysgarth. ‘How dare you read my personal thoughts? How dare you?'

‘It's sad,' said Clara.

‘This is inappropriate . . .'

‘You must have loved him so much.' Clara's voice wavered. Lady Aysgarth stepped into her eyeline so that Clara was unknowingly staring straight at her. ‘He should have carried on the family name. He should have lived here, not us.'

‘Please stop,' begged the ghost. She tried to knock the diary from Clara's hand to scare the impertinent girl away, but self-pity wasn't strong enough an emotion to affect the physical world.

‘You must resent my family so for coming into your home and treating it like our own,' continued Clara. ‘I'm sorry.'

‘Why are you doing this?' whispered Lady Aysgarth.

Clara walked to the desk, unaware that she was stepping straight through the ghost. ‘I've come now because of what they're doing downstairs. I'm worried that tonight might be your last here.'

‘I only wish it were,' said Lady Aysgarth.

‘They're downstairs now,' said Clara. ‘I've been watching them through the keyhole. You need to find somewhere to hide. Can you leave the house? I don't know how it works. But if you stay here I think they'll send you back.'

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