“I am so sorry! How can you ever...”
Constance waves her hand, her voice choked. “Hush!”
I sit with bowed head.
“We try, Arthur.” Her hands reach towards me. Tears
fall from her eyes. “I always knew Ronald and I would not
be together. Not in this life.”
As we sit, the fragrance of the vines above caressing,
caring becomes mixed with nothingness.
She stares at me: “You do not believe the whispers that
spirit gives has validity! Plans! Plans! It matters not what
we hear, we have to make plans! Knobs and I, we had
such plans!” She holds up an envelope. “The tickets came today! Our voyage!” More tears gathers. She brushes them away. “I’m sure this is part of some greater event. I have to believe this. That Ronald’s soul was in agreement. Was mine?”
I turn to peer through the plants to the outer window.
“I do believe, Arthur. I do believe him or Annabell, one
of them had to go.
Her hands fold together. “We choose not to know the
details, our mind. I could not have faced it. Mr. Morton,
there was a strangeness about the young man, I knew that! Did I make sense of it! No! I could not! Could I?”
Constance reaches again to touch me, “I do need you.”
“Henrietta, I believe she is here to help,” I murmur.
“Yes!” Constance presses my hand.
. . .
Mr. McBride standing stove side of the kitchen table clears his throat, gazes at those seated, then somewhat helplessly down at Missy.
“Monday already, three days since Squire Bexfield was killed. Some details you know. But you might not have heard all, and this past hour we have received welcoming news, if you can call it that. So it’s good to have you all here now.
“Constabulary have informed that the body of Squire is being released and will be able to be viewed at the funeral
parlour as soon as the funeral parlour announce.” McBride waits but no one comments. “Mr. Moffit, the funeral service owner with agreement with Mr. George will bring the casket to the manor Thursday at ten. Casket will be placed in the study, surrounded by lit candles and available at all times for those who wish to spend time in prayer.
“Mr. George has set this Friday as the funeral day. All
notifications are being handled by Mandalmane. A carriage
from the estate has already taken the list we have given
McBride begins to totter for a moment, but grabs hold
of Missy’s chair.
“Would you like me to stand with you, Woolly?” Mrs.
“I’ll be right, soon as this is over, Missy.” McBride pulls
himself up straight. “Mr. Moffit has already arranged much
of the details that I will tell you now:
“The Biddiford court will notify court dignitaries and
clericals who worked with Magistrate. Judges from south
counties, even some from London we think will attend.
“For Weatherby and surround, a notice of Friday for the
funeral is being posted by Vicar Stanley on St. Brannoc’s
church board, and upon the village board.
“The Dog and Gun, and Stogg farm pub in Atherton, will receive notices. Mandalmane is handling the funeral meal to be
held in Weatherby. I have been told by Mrs. Coulter that
several marquees will be on the green due to the number of
The butler, exhausted, decides to sit in the empty chair
pushed out by Missy. “Funeral cortège will depart Manor
for Weatherby Church at 1:00 P.M.
“Driveway carriages will hold Lady Middleton and Mr.
George, Miss Annabell and Mr. Edward, Mrs. Coulter, Mr.
Hews, Miss Adams, Miss Hooper,” the butler takes a long
breath before he emphasises, “and those employed here at
Stonebridge.” His voice quietens, “the two farmers and
families. Others to station themselves on Oath Highway
where they will follow the driveway carriages.
“This is somewhat not of custom as family members,
distant but family, and dignitaries would be expected to
proceed from manor door. But due to such large numbers
expected to be in the procession, Mr. George Bexfield has
requested this arrangement.
“Seats have been reserved for all of you here present
at St. Brannoc’s. This seating behind the Squire’s pew.
Church will be more than full so a companion service will
take place on Weatherby Green by deacon Æthelred, with
a special message written by the Squire’s brother.
“Vicar Stanley is to conduct the church funeral service
which will begin at 2:00 PM. Bishop we understand will be
sending a message. Vicar Stanley and the Squire were very
“As to running of manor during this time, Mrs. Coulter
is sending extra people from the estate for bedrooms and
to work in kitchen on Friday.
“Mrs. Coulter has asked me to inform you that those at estate employment are available to take care of all your duties for
any number of days that you wish, both after the funeral
and from now.
“The Squire’s brother has made special mention for me
to remind you that any wishing to take time for solitude
during this period are requested to do so.”
McBride brushes a tear from his eyes. “We all here at
this table are special friends of the Squire. He always said
“He did indeed, love,” calls out Mrs. Minton. “Always
made known to us we are family. Mr. George, he ain’t no
“Yes!” answers Mr. McBride, shaking.
“Now I don’t have to tell you, Squire was well liked
through Devon and surrounding counties. Many calling in person both at the police station and at the funeral parlour.
“Rented carriages will be all booked and carriages from
as far away as London brought to provide transportation
from Biddiford for those arriving by train.
“People in Weatherby as well as Biddiford will be told
of the service given on the Green, that church will be more
than crowded, overflowing. Thursday evening fellows from
the Coulter estate will station themselves overnight to keep
the driveway here clear and keep places reserved. Distant
family staying as guests at Mandalmane, special friends
attending, have reserved places behind the seven mourning
carriages as they leave the driveway.
“The constabulary will be on duty in Weatherby from
nine o’clock in the morning they have informed me. All
travel along Oath Highway from Weatherby out to moors
will be prevented as of noon hour to allow unobstructed passage of the cortège to the church. From early, nine o’clock,
constabulary will be halting any carriages not living out
here or attending the funeral procession.
“With regard to the pallbearers, mutes, feathermen and
the Squire’s heraldic bearer, Mr. Moffit has instructed that
service carriages after first bringing the accompaniment here
to the manor, will station a quarter mile past driveway. Those walking will then ride to the Mason farm where they
will take their positions for the walk to church.
“At the kindness of Farmer Mason and his wife, empty
service carriages will remain on the Mason farm driveway
until the complete cortège with all vehicles has passed the
farm. There will likely be a short waiting time while the
full walking accompaniment proceed at distinguished pace
before the hearse as it enters Weatherby to St. Brannoc’s.”
The butler takes out his pocket watch, looks at it. “I’ve
been informed police will be keeping Mr. Morton’s body.
“As you know Miss Stanton is a guest of Mr. George.
Miss Stanton had no knowledge of that which was about
to take place. Miss Stanton is in mourning at the Squire’s
death as we are.
“She is also in mourning for Mr. Morton who she most
dearly had affection.
“Miss Stanton at her own request will remain at the
manor during the funeral.
“Lady Middleton has suggested Miss Stanton take care
of the Chinese dog, which she has accepted. Miss
Hooper will now attend the church service.
“It may be that a policeman or two will be seen at the
manor. This is routine procedure.
“That is all I have to say. I do need to get some air for
these words have been a toll upon me. I think I will take
a walk, call Skyler to accompany me, as the Squire was so
Mr. McBride rises from the chair, smiles at Mrs. Minton
who nods at him. Striding from the table to the back
kitchen door, the butler opens it, takes a long, deep breath.
Scent of wild flowers blowing from the surrounding fields
come to him. Exiting into the servant’s cobbled courtyard,
the kitchen door is closed.
. . .
The days that Constance spends up to the funeral is a confusion of tangled anger. They are to be married. Ronald and she have found their love.
They should be together. He is gone.
With Percy she had forewarning. Leukaemia of the
Blood the doctors gave his illness name. A weakness he
began to feel, night sweating, a constant sense he wished to
be sick. His not wishing to eat. Thin and wasted, extremely
in the end, he died peacefully in his bed.
But this, not being able to say goodbye, how could They,
whoever They are.
Constance never has accepted the religious God. She has no idea what that notion is about. It is always They to her beings looking down upon the foolish. Pulling the strings, a better elucidation. Now They have done this and she is angry. But not angry, how can you be angry. She is empty.
Ronald has been lost to her. She has lost herself.
Arthur comes to visit her in the solarium. Does she
want his words! Does she want to even speak about this
craziness flowing through her mind!
“Soul, I have never seen Soul,” at last she says to him. “‘Soul lives on,’ they say. Will Ronald live on, Arthur?”
Arthur can feel the anger. “That is what the preacher
is going to talk about in the church,” he replies. He feels the anger himself. Not wanting to deal with anything, not even the hurt! He feels a repugnance for everything life has to offer. Life have to offer!
“What I am going to tell you. I don’t know if it is real.”
Constance stares at him.
“There is something I am in contact with!”
“Something you are in contact with?”
“I think it is Henrietta!” There is excitement in his
tone. His eyes they do not look at her.
“You have spoken to Henrietta? You have found her?”
“They say they come to you after death!”
“I have heard that! Percy, I don’t know if he came to
“I know you are wondering if my mind is disturbed. My
mind is disturbed, but she has come to me. I have heard
her words as I hear you. Not my ears. It is not in my ear.
But I have heard her. I have spoken with her.”
“What have you spoken with her!”
“I have to tell you that I asked why she has allowed
Ronald to die?”
Arthur starts to get up, but she holds him. “No!”
“No! You do not wish me to leave?”
There is silence, long silence.
“Ronald is dead, Arthur.”
“Ronald’s death, They did not stop. God if you like?”
“Did he wish to punish me? Did he laugh and say, ‘I
gave you all this time. You did nothing with it!’ ” Constance
thumps her hand on the chair.
She would brake her arm if she could. “How I hate
. . .
It is Friday, May 11, 1900. One hour past noon to be
precise. The moment for the great procession to Weatherby.
Today, the dear Squire, man and judge, taken from all
in the very heart of his prime, is to be presented to the
church for service and to be entombed.
Fleeting is life. Everlasting death! Only the promise to
be somewhere else!
Across the Manor black drapes hang, dimming all light
to the windows.
Mourning guards, plain black dress, stand against the
seven carriages. Waiting in the first carriage behind the hearse, Mr. Bexfield, Lady Middleton, Miss Samson, Mr. Coulter. In the carriage that follows, Mrs. Coulter, Mr. Hews, Miss Adams, Miss Hooper.
Behind them Mr. Horace McBride, butler of Stonebridge
Manor, Mrs. Augusta Minton, cook and house harbour,
Miss Meg Trenton, Miss Lucy Evans, once servants to the
In the fourth mourning carriage, Mr. And Mrs. Enlem,
stablemaster and wife, Mr. And Mrs. Entwistle, gardener
Next the Appleton family: Mr. Wilfred Appleton, Mrs.
Charlotte Appleton, Miss Ellen Appleton
In the sixth carriage Farmer Hopkins rides, operational
manager of Stonebridge Manor farmlands that lie by the
south east. His wife Mary. His son Thomas.
The seventh mourning carriage Farmer Briggs, manager
operational of Stonebridge Manor land that lie west of Oath
Highway and extensively south, rides with wife Nell and son
As all are seated, pallbearers sombrely pass through the
Manor doors, descend the steps holding firm the casket
upon their shoulders.
A glistening vehicle awaits, shining glass, embellishments
of gold. Foot attendants, feathermen, pages and mutes
stand stiff, silent while the casket, raised by silver handles
designed by Shelley and May, is placed inside the hearse.
An outer casing of elm has this coffer, planks, wide, resistant to splitting in the damp English weather. A thin
lining of lead shelling as a protection against the ages placed
against the elm. Next to the lead, fine English oak, shining
Inside to repose upon, soft white velvet quilting.
The Squire in his finest day suit has his magistrate’s
violet gown upon him. Long wig adorns his head, flowing,
resting about the back. Over the left shoulder court tippet
scarf is placed.
Viewing has been as natural as life, but now, frilled
white puffed lace is draped over the Magistrate’s face. The
casket secured, the pall of black velvet, a design upon it
depicting planet and stars and the firmament above, woven
through with gold and silver thread, is placed.
With edges of the pall made fast, the signal to proceed
is given by Mr. Moffit the funeral-undertaker as he steps up
and sits by the hearse driver.
Immediately the Bearer of the Bexfield heraldic sword
strides forward. Holding high the sea-blue handle whose
blade shines startlingly in the mid-day sun, he marches on.
Feathermen follow holding silver trays adorned by black
feathers of ostrich.
Next the pall-walkers, batons raised high above their
Then the mutes, six young athletic men with top hats,
trailing bands, three dressed in gown, three in suit, their
wands pointing to the side, to the front, to the back, now
upwards, scattering as mutes.
Long ready to go, tossing black ostrich plumes adorning
their heads, shivering from their waiting, six black steed,
clip, clopping, as they begin to move along.
“The coffin is coming! The coffin is coming!” cries a
watcher stretching his neck. All who have stepped out of their vehicle hasten upon Oath Highway to return.
From the driveway, first the sword-bearer.
Now the feathermen with their silver trays, turn.
Pall walkers stride next, and in the gravity of the slow
procession as the waiting manifests, in spectacular frenzy
dance the mutes.
Grotesque shapes they form, hands upon the ground,
feet up in the air, whirling, spinning, shielders from evil,
wands pointing everywhere, clambering one upon the other
to fall back upon the roadway. Off to the sides of the hearse,
to the back, protecting the coffin from spirits of evil.
The first morning carriage follows, then the second, the
third to the seventh, then all carriage drivers and horses
Only a momentary delay as a short distance down Oath
Highway the walkers jump into their coaches.
And so the slow awesome clopping in this early summer
And at the far rear, engine noise barely heard, three new
A slowing at the Mason farm while the walking begins
anew. Then to the solemn-eyed stares, those waiting by the
Weatherby milestone, the procession forming again into its
From seven morning has continued the knell ringing,
this tolling ancient mystery surrounding and absorbing the
village. It closes upon the walkers and all those behind the
walkers who approach.
Outside St. Brannoc’s the large carved rear doors of the
hearse opens. Cloth pall removed, the casket slides on its
rails to where the bearers raise it up upon their shoulders.
The bells peel loudly as Reverend Stanley has a hand
outstretched towards the opened door of the first mourning
carriage. “Please allow me, Lady Middleton.”
Into the church following the casket, the Reverend, then
Constance in her silk warp, George in his black morning suit
holding her arm.
Annabell and Emily behind, from neck to foot covered
in black. Annabell’s wedding seamstress working through
the night with Canton silk crêpe for the comfort and look
of the two young women.
Edward in black follows, holding his mother’s arm. Mrs.
Coulter dressed in Henrietta black attire.
Mr. Hews suited in a rushed delivery from his home in
Behind is an aunt, Ronald’s mother’s sister and an uncle, brother of Ronald major. Then the cousins. With the
cousins are their children.
Meg is in her new gown. Miss Hooper dressed in black crepe that arrived only last evening from Crouch End. Lucy and Nelly, Ruby and Beatrice from the estate, all with their new attire purchased on instructions of Mr. George from Stonebridge Manor funds.
Behind, Mr. and Mrs. Enlem, Mr. and Mrs. Entwistle,
the Hopkins, the Briggs. Tom and Jimmy getting
their new black fabrics from London, Biddiford merchants
having to telephone distant proprietors due to the suddenness and
urgency of so many orders.
Judges come next, then the barristers, esteemed wigs
who at some time have taken work with Ronald. Solicitors
have come, those who worked closely, one such specimen
driving his new motorised carriage at the regulated speed
all the way from London to pay his last respect.
Then the Biddiford gentry, then the store owners, then
the work tradesmen who Ronald has had dealings with,
all wishing to pay their respects. All have brought their
From Weatherby and Atherton everyone is here; not a
soul, or almost not a soul, it would be said later, is missing.
The casket, placed at the centre of the aisle beside the
first pews, George stops before moving into the wooden
seating. Taking a long, bewildering glance Constance reads
the silver plate centred upon the lid.