In the court of King George IV, Major Mearns---an old dog of war and veteran of Willington's army---is the guardian of Windsor Castle. Some would call him a spy; he calls himself a "watcher." Working with his close friend, the resourceful Sergeant Denny, the pair maintain a cool facade behind which they go about their duties quietly and unnoticed.
Unnoticed, that is, until the day Mearns receives a parcel containing a gruesome surprise: a pair of severed human legs. The legs belong to a fellow soldier. Casting aside official protocol, Mearns and Denny decide to investigate the murder themselves, also enrolling the help of a precocious young runaway, Charlie. But soon these maverick investigators find themselves up against all manner of obstacles and danger, not the least of which is the Crown Keepers of the Peace---a unit of former soldiers headed by Mearns's nemesis, Felix Ferguson.
With more butchered body parts turning up in parcels and the number of deaths rising, our amateur investigators find themselves up to their necks in corruption and intrigue. Mearns struggles to keep Ferguson at bay, not only during the investigation, but also for the affections of the desirable Mindy, a maidservant in the castle. With the pressure on, can Mearns get to the bottom of the murders and win the heart of his ladylove?
With Dread Murder, Gwendoline Butler delivers a cleverly cunning and old-fashioned mystery that hides a gruesome murder behind its charming facade.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||172 KB|
About the Author
Gwendoline Butler writes under her own name and the pseudonym Jennie Melville. Educated at Haberdashers, she read history at Oxford, and later married Dr. Lionel Butler, Principal of Royal Holloway College. She has one daughter. She is a winner of the Crime Writers' Association's Silver Dagger Award. She was also selected as being one of the top two hundred crime writers in the world by The London Times. She lives in Surrey, England.
Gwendoline Butler lives in Surrey, England and has written nearly 30 mysteries featuring Commander John Coffin. She has received many awards for her writing, including the Crime Writers' Association's Silver Dagger. She was also selected as being one of the top two hundred crime writers in the world by The London Times.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter OneThe town of Windsor was wrapped in mist; it came up from the river to cover the town and the Castle on the hill.In his set of rooms deep in the heart of the Castle, Major Mearns sat over his breakfast, drinking hot tea while he read The London Times.'Drat the dust,' said Mearns, shaking a powder of grey from the papers and, indeed, from his breakfast as well. He could hear the crashing and banging of stonemasons so he knew from whence came the dirt.The Castle was being restored by the new King, who had found the edifice crumbling from a century of neglect; the King, who had a perceptive eye, was determined to return it to grandeur.But for the lesser souls like the Major and Denny who lived in the Castle, it meant noise and dirt. The men worked harder when the King was in residence, as he was at present, so that all the residents were grateful when he returned to Buckingham Palace, which he was also restoring, and the Castle quietened down.The smell of the dust kept bringing back an episode he would like to forget. A woman, of course. 'All the worst troubles came from the female sex' was the Major's view. A duchess, no less. She was strongly suspected, so the message came from Mr Pitt's staff, of having poisoned two people. 'Do not let her do the same in Windsor' was the message that came with her.In this, alas, he had not succeeded. 'She got away with murder,' he said to himself, shaking his head as he always did when he thought of Madame La Duchesse. Then she had curtsied to the old Queen and gone off.But where had she got to? That was the real mystery to interest the gossips.Mearns went back to reading with a sigh, brushing a spatter of dust from his hair with his hands. To be sure all this work might rid the Castle of its bugs - a persistent and prolific population.It was not his copy of the newspaper, as it was an expensive item which he preferred to read but not to buy. Sergeant Denny, his friend and supporter in his business as Watcher in the Castle, read the paper after him. They were both slow, careful readers, so this took some time. Then the paper would be folded, ironed and delivered to His Majesty King George IV - not so long ago his Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, but still a drunken layabout even if a man of excellent taste in clothes and pictures. Not to mention women.Mearns and Denny knew that the King rose late, very late, so that there would be no early call for his newspaper - if indeed he read it at all, which both mendoubted. They were not admirers of His Majesty, although they appreciated his choice in wine, bottles of which sometimes found their way to their table. As soldiers both, they preferred rum or whisky, but wine would do. They had fought side by side in some of the wars against Napoleon, pillaging and sampling the wines as they went through.They had served in Wellington's army in various quiet ways so that when William Pitt looked around for someone to keep a watchful eye on the Royal household (an unfortunate necessity because of Mad King George's illness, his wife's foreign relations and the behaviour of the then Prince of Wales) these two got the task.Watchers, spies, guardians - call them what you will; they did their work quietly and with such tact that they made friends in the Castle household rather than enemies.That is, if they were noticed at all. Somehow they contrived to be just a bit of background furniture.William Pitt was dead, Napoleon was dead, the mad old King was dead; but these two Watchers were still here in the Castle, reporting now to Lord Castlereagh. There would always be someone or something for the Watchers to report on while King George IV and Queen Caroline (only divorced and never crowned, but now on the scene again) lived, and also later, if Mearns and Denny themselves should survive, when the young Princess Charlotte grew up if heredity was anything to go by. The two men did a good job.'And if we hadn't known how to behave ourselves,then we would never have survived the wars. Not noticed is how you want to be in a war if you are to get through it,' Denny had observed sagely as he speared a slice of ham on to his plate.'The one thing we can say about the Castle is that the pay is poor but the food is good.''So it is,' agreed the Sergeant. It was his duty to go to the kitchens, of which there were many, each having their own functions, and bring back their food. He had always done this - in Portugal, in Spain, and through France. He was a natural scavenger. The Major remained aloof from all this as officers do not do such things, but it was his function to point Denny in the direction of the foods they both wanted. Never ask how he got his information; it was part of being a Watcher.'Brew another pot, Denny.' He watched while the Sergeant warmed the metal pot, put in the tea leaves, then waited for them to infuse. In the poor household in which he had grown up, Denny had seen the tea leaves used, and used again. He felt rich now in being able to be lavish. After a minute or two he poured a cup for the Major, waited for Mearns to drink and nod his approval, then drank himself. It was a ritual the two went into every morning.'I read in The Times that the King's health is improving, and that he has had a "peaceful rest". "His Majesty is making a good recovery and we shall soon see him restored to active life." We know better than that. Not while he drinks the way he does. That's his sickness.''Active enough in some ways,' commented Denny.'Too active. You can hear his shouting and swearing down the stairs and two floors away. Screaming like a dog with fits. 'Tis a fit.'Mearns nodded gravely. 'Madness, madness. Like his father.''Mindy says that he is not so violent; not biting the doctors and kicking all who come near him so bad that they have to bind him up in a kind of dead suit.' Thus had the mad old King been treated. His son had a touch of his madness - all his sons had - but mildly, mildly.Charlotte Minden, now more fondly called Mindy by her friends, had come to the Castle as a very young, frightened girl -- not even sure of her own name. She was to act as a maidservant to Miss Fanny Burney, the author, who was then In Waiting upon the Queen. Fanny called her Charlotte, and Fanny's father, Dr Burney, had added the name 'Minden', after a famous battle. As Mindy had taken root in the castle and matured and flourished, she grew into a handsome woman. Meanwhile, Fanny had continued writing her novels, knowing her own success as a married woman. In time Fanny found that the trials of attending on the Queen were too exacting and exhausting, and so she had fled from the Castle. But the sturdier Charlotte had stayed and prospered.Mindy had not married, although she had not wanted for suitors. The Major had watched the girl grow into a woman; he thought of his affection as paternal, but lately he had acknowledged some warmer emotion growing there.Could you fall in love at his age? He was still denying it to himself; but Denny, watching him, knew he had. Sergeant Denny, himself, had a happy and good-natured lover in the town. Twice widowed, she had said that that was marriage and death enough. 'Never ask me to marry you,' she had said to Denny. 'For I'd say "No".'It might be a lie, but Denny told the odd lie himself, and in fact had a wife in Cripplegate, London, whom he had not seen for years (and possibly some others elsewhere). For all he knew, she was looking for him. Not dead, for she had vowed to haunt him if necessary and he had never seen her ghost - although there were so many ghosts in the Castle that he might not have noticed one more.Mindy, of course, was different, as was the Major. Not liars, either of them, although they might be haunted.What was doubtful was Mindy's own feelings. She loved them both, but was it the love that the Major wanted? As for himself, Denny had no hopes.In these same years, a revolution had swept over France while, without a revolution, the nature of society in Britain was changing too. Britain was slowly turning into an industrial nation with new riches in new regions: Wales and the industrial north of England, rich in coal and iron, and busy with weaving cloth for the workers and for the new markets across the seas.Political life, too, had changed, with the sickness of the old King, and the disinclination of the young one to be King - a factor which, together with the rising wealth and power of the middle classes, served to enhance theHouse of Commons while slowly depreciating the importance of land and farming.Not much of this was felt in Windsor Castle, except for the illness of the mad old King - which had troubled the whole household, including Mindy whose closeness to the old Queen and the unmarried Princesses showed her their troubles at close hand.'She's grown into a handsome woman,' said the Major, dwelling fondly on Mindy.'Oh, you would notice that,' said Sergeant Denny to himself.'She will catch someone's eye and be off to be a wife.''I daresay,' Denny replied to the Major.'In fact I've heard that one of the coachmen, Joe Hilly, has his eye on her.''He's only got half an eye,' said Denny.'Aye, his left eye does move around a mite,' agreed the Major.'She deserves better than Hilly; he smells of horses.''So she does, so she does.''I reckon Mindy knows her own value.'Mearns nodded, before going back to his breakfast. 'He is a warm man, is Hilly. You can do well in the stables if you know your business.'It was true that a man with his eyes open could make a profit out of being a royal servant in the household of King George III, and his successor for that matter.The subject of making money reminded him of a friend. 'Mr Pickettwick is back today,' he remarked to Denny.'So he is.'Samuel Pickettwick was a retired businessman experiencing good circumstances who divided his time between London and Windsor. He himself never mentioned money; he had no need to do so, for he exuded comfort and prosperous living. In any case, the Major -- who had his own way of checking - had found out that he owned a manufactory in Manchester as well as several emporia in the poorer parts of London that sold any cotton or silk that failed in the richer world. A sensible arrangement, thought Mearns: sell to the poor what the rich don't want.Mr Pickettwick's business was now run by his nephew who remained in London, living in Gray's Inn Road. Major Mearns had his own reasons for believing the nephew not to be a nephew at all, but a bastard son.Mr Pickettwick was one of the Major's sources of London gossip, all of which was grist to his mill. There was a tacit agreement between them to exchange information: London items from one side and Court and Cabinet tips from the other. Probably neither party trusted the other completely but, that said, they enjoyed each other's company.'Nice to see the old boy again,' said Denny, who licked no one's boots and had his own notion of 'Mr P', as he called him. 'We must give him a din-din. He likes his grub.''And his drink.''That's right, Major,' said Denny with a grin. Mearns had an officer's rank, won in war, and Denny was aSergeant, but there was an equality of status between them - Denny was the Major's other self.There was a sharp double rap on the door.'Could be Tommy Traddles ... I heard he was around looking for you the other day, but couldn't find you.''He could have found me fast enough if he'd really looked,' said the Major. 'I'm glad he didn't find me - wanted to borrow some money, I expect. And you never get it back.' The Major went back to his reading.'He spat at me last time I saw him,' reminisced Denny. 'And dang me if I know why.''No, he's not a nice man,' said Mearns, 'but he has sent more felons that deserved it to the gallows than you and I have.' Traddles was a Watcher and a Searcher who worked for the most important London Magistrates. He worked for anyone who would pay him; he had certainly worked for Mearns, identifying and bringing in those suspected of crimes.There came another rap on the door.The Major raised his eyes from the paper. 'Open it, Denny ...'But even as the Sergeant moved towards the door, it swung open and, not Traddles, but Charlotte Minden stood there, a long, striped shirt hanging over one arm.'You were long enough opening the door.'Denny shot towards her.'Here, Denny, here is the shirt I mended for you, and it is time you got another.' Denny murmured that he could not afford it.'Well, get that Mr Pickettwick to give you one cheap- he sells them, I believe. He sent one to the King and the King said it would do as a nightshirt, but no more.' Mindy gave a huge sigh and sat down. 'If there is tea or coffee there, give me a cup. Such a night we have had of it.'A cup, as big as a bowl, blue and white, was filled and handed to her.'The King?' queried Major Mearns. 'Bad with the drink again, is he?' Mindy took a long draught of tea. 'He has never been well, takes no notice of the doctors; he'll go like his father, but this night was beyond anything.' She finished her tea then put the cup down where Denny refilled it.Taller now, slim and handsome, she was hardly the girl any more who had come to Windsor to work with Miss Fanny Burney (with whom she still corresponded). She wore a simple shift-like dress with an apron tied around it; but it became her, as she well knew it did. She slipped her shawl from her shoulders.'I believe the Queen, his mother, will leave Windsor and go to Kew. She is so cross with her son and he does not make her welcome.''Will you go?''I don't know yet. I may stay to be with Princess Adelaide. Lady Severn will stay. But the other Princesses will go with the Queen if she goes.''And his Majesty?''He will stay behind with his six keepers - or "Men" as they are called.'Denny leaned against the window which looked outupon a covered way and then down to a small courtyard. 'His Majesty was very noisy again all yesterday.''He attacked his wife again last night,' said Mindy bluntly. 'Everyone in the Castle will know, so it's no secret ... He does not want to take up his part as a husband, but thinks he should be with her to get a son. Queen Charlotte says she has a disgust of him.''Understandable,' said Mearns.'Now when the old Queen retires, two of her German ladies and several of the Princesses go with her and stay with her until the King leaves ... But last night, divorced or not, he wouldn't have any of it, or tried not to, and he attacked her. She should not have come back to the Castle. She liked Blackheath, but she was tempted.''You saw him?''Heard the screams and the noise ... Lady Lorimer saw. And the doctors - they rushed in. Lady Lorimer says that Dr Willis and his helpers wrapped him up again in a kind of shroud so that he couldn't move - not a finger. They did it with the old King, you know. To think of it all happening again.''Henry VIII would have had their heads off for that,' remarked the Major.Mindy finished her drink. 'I must go.' She wrapped her shawl around her. 'You must never say. All is secret.'Except from Lord Castlereagh.'It looks cold out there,' said Denny from his window perch.Although it was still early morning, he could see people moving around in the courtyard. He knew mostof them by sight, men and women both. This was one of his uses to Major Mearns; he never forgot a face.He watched Mindy's graceful, strong figure swing out of sight. She had learnt how to bargain for a good wage from the Queen's household since Miss Burney had departed. The Queen could be generous, even handing on clothes that had served their time. The shawl, for instance, that Mindy was wearing that morning had probably started life over Royal shoulders.He turned to the Major. 'Looks peaceful out there.' 'That's how I like it.' Like most old soldiers, they preferred a quiet life. 'Well -- to work! What is it today?''I will take our tray back to the kitchens and talk to Barber; he always knows what is going on. If the Queen is off to Kew, it would be best to know for sure.''Do so,' Mearns nodded. 'And let him know we are short of ale. After that, if it proves the Queen is on the move, then you might ride over to Kew and make our dispositions there.'Denny nodded. 'And what will you be doing?' he thought to himself. 'Reading the King's paper and smoking your pipe?'Mearns read his thoughts. 'The King can have his paper back. I will deliver it myself.''Not to him in person?''He won't be awake. No - in the tray to his dressing room. And then I will return here to write my report and get it sent off. Lord Tom is Messenger this week and I can trust him to deliver it.'Lord Tom was not a peer, nor the son of one, but arider from the stables who was sent on commissions by the Household. His name was one of those jokes that big households, like big families, spawn; his real name had been forgotten, but 'Duke' came into it somewhere. As the Major knew all the sins and crimes of everyone living in the Royal Household - knew of their lies, thefts, adulteries and even murders - someone he trusted with an important errand was not likely to betray him.He knew in this instance that Lord Tom had killed an officer in the wars recently concluded. An unpleasant officer; a coward and a bully. But it would have been a shot in the head for Lord Tom and no more heard about him if he had been discovered. Even now, with victory and peace declared, it would have prevented him getting a job in the Royal stables, despite his skills with horses and guns.The Major speculated that it had been some letters found in his victim's pocket that had eased Lord Tom's way into the stables, but on this there was silence.'And what do they all know about you, Sir?' Denny had asked humbly at the beginning of their working relationship.'Nothing,' the Major had replied in a sad voice. 'There is nothing to know.'This Denny did not believe.After delivering the tray back to Barber, who, for once, was not informative, Denny took himself off for his usual early morning walk - which was in part a pleasure to him and in part a duty. He did not alwaystake the same path because he must not be expected; but he always looked about him with observant eyes, ever noting and checking. This power of reading a scene had been invaluable to him as a soldier, saving his life more than once.He walked out of the immediate Castle grounds towards the Great Park; then he debated whether to walk ahead or swing left to go through Shaw's Farm and then push into the Park. He must be brisk, anyway, as the Major would be waiting for his daily report. The Major had never got over his military way of expecting a succinct report, and quick too.The park was heavily wooded, reminding him that this was once the hunting ground of the first Norman kings. Not an imaginative man, Denny did not waste much thought on the Normans. They hunted for food - no need for King George to do that; but the monarch enjoyed a ride himself when fit, and he still went out when he could escape his doctors, riding until the men of his Household were exhausted.Denny looked about him, then decided to take a path through dense bushes and trees. He walked down through a leafy dell. He slowed his pace; he sniffed. He smelt death. Pushing his way through the bushes, he stopped suddenly. At his feet was a pool of blood. It was a kind of basin in the ground which was lined with dried leaves so hard and dense that the blood had not drained away.Or not as yet, he thought - but soon it would, becoming thick and sticky.Keeping his feet clear, he circled the bloody area. But there was nothing to see except the blood. He considered what he had seen as he walked back to the Castle.Mearns was in his room, at his table, writing.Denny spoke at once and bluntly: 'I have come across a pool of blood in the Park.'Mearns barely raised his head from his writing. 'The remains of a fox's kill,' he said without interest.Denny rapped on the table and stared Mearns in the eye. 'You and I have seen plenty of blood. We know how it falls. This is no blood from a fox's kill. Too much blood, and it would have fallen in pear-shaped drops, with a smear as the dead animal was dragged away.'The Major stood up. 'We must look around, Denny.'All the time there was a parcel on its way to be delivered to Major Mearns.A dead weight, he joked when it was handed over to him.
The London to Windsor Coach arrived on time in the late afternoon. It stopped in the Market Square in sight of the Castle; the High Street ran into the Square. Here the coach stopped in front of The Royal George, the big inn which was its staging post before going on to Ascot.The coachman climbed down, slashing his whip in the air. 'On time.' Punctual to the half-hour, this was promptness enough. The clock was not watched to the minute. With horse, hills and foul weather, you took what came.The passengers descended from the coach, each one stiff and cold, glad to have arrived. The first to disembark was a woman. She was young and sprightly; she leapt down onto the paving stones, waved goodbye to the coachman and sped away.'Goodbye, Miss Fairface,' the coachman called. She was an actress, about to perform in the new play at the Theatre Royal.The three men who next appeared were slower, especially a plump, well-furred man to whom the others gave way.'After you, Mr Pickettwick.'The coachman touched his hat and pocketed his tip. 'Thank you, Sir.' He shook Mr Pickettwick's hand. Then he began to turn the coach in the direction of the stables where he would change the horses.'Stop, stop,' cried Mr Pickettwick. 'Miss Tux is not out yet.'Miss Tux. Tall, thin, more bone than flesh, bonneted and shawled, she was at the moment being lowered out of the coach by her maidservant who had a firm grip from behind on her elbows. 'Now don't pull away, Miss, or I'll drop you in the mud.''Libby, Libby, handle me gently,' a high, old voice was wailing.Miss Tux was deposited, upright, on the ground, with Libby still holding on.'Come along now, Miss Tux; let me take you in and see you get a little refreshment. A hot one, I advise. Mulled wine is good. And your chair is coming ... Ithink I see the men pulling it up the hill now.'In a low voice to one of his fellow travellers, Pickettwick explained: 'A lady of some substance in the town ...'There was one other passenger on the coach, and as it lumbered round to the stables, he poked his head over the top where he had been sitting.'So you're still there, you little varmint,' growled the coachman.'Coming down, don't you fear. Frozen, I am.' It was a young voice, full of spirit. The lad was small, with a shock of dark hair and an expressive face.'Took a free ride, you did, young 'un. What's your name?''Charlie.''Right, Charlie, so you can pay for your ride by helping me with the horses.' The coachman's voice was gruff, but he was worried about the youngster. 'Do it well and there might be a penny or two for you.''Oh thank you, Sir.' Charlie sneezed, then pulled a grubby rag out of his pocket to blow his nose. A small silver coin rolled out onto the floor.The coachman looked at it, accusation in his eyes. 'Where did that come from, lad?''Miss Fairface gave it to me at the stage in London. She said it would start me off ...she's a kind lady.''And what was you a'doing at the stage in Holborn?'Charlie put his head down. 'Looking for somewhere to go ... Your Windsor coach had no outside passengers to tell on me ...'The coachman grunted, and no more was said while the horses were freed of the harness and led away to be fed and watered, while fresh horses were coupled. Charlie did his bit, proving surprisingly strong and manipulative considering his size and age. Ten or so, the coachman had thought, judging him by the wary, adult gaze. Been at adult work for some time, he assessed. Child and adult all in one.One of the ostlers who was helping muttered to the coachman: 'An old 'umman came in here and left two parcels for the Castle ...asked if I could deliver them. Said she wasn't strong enough.''And you said "Yes".'The ostler nodded.'And she paid you?'Another nod.'And you can't do it?'One more nod.Not a man to talk much, thought the coachman, but he knew the ostler of old. 'I can get it done.' He held out his hand.The ostler passed a few coins across to him.'Is that all?' asked the coachman, still holding out his hand.After a pause, the ostler passed another coin into his palm.The coachman nodded. 'That'll do.' He turned towards the boy. 'Carry them up to the Castle gate.''They are labelled,' said the ostler.'Leave them with the guard.'The coachman sorted out a couple of coins from those he had been given by the ostler.'Two more when you get back.'Charlie picked up the parcels, which were long and sausage-shaped and wrapped in sacking. 'Heave,' he said, hoisting one on each shoulder, then staggering slightly.Slowly Charlie laboured uphill to the gateway with the soldiers on guard. They asked him his business, studied his burden, assessed the weight, and sent him on his way with directions. 'You can do it.'More slowly now, and ever slower as he went down into the Castle. He thought he was lost, and was preparing to dump his burden and depart, when a pretty woman asked him what he wanted and where he was going.'Major Mearns ...bundles to deliver.'Mindy, for it was she, hammered on the door behind an archway. 'This is it.'The Major himself opened the door. 'These are for you,' said Mindy. 'Give the boy a coin ...and a drink; he looks as though he needs it.'The Major studied the boy and the bundles. 'What's your name, lad?''Charlie, Sir.''Well, Charlie, where have these packages come from?''Left for you, Sir. In the inn below.'Silently, the Major handed over a coin and a small beaker of beer.'Thank you, Sir,' said Charlie, drinking gratefully. Then he sped off. He had had enough of those two parcels. Another time, they could walk there, he joked to himself.He ran down the Castle mound and back to the inn in the High Street. The coach was just departing for the rest of its journey.Charlie held out his hand for his second payment. 'Did what you asked. Parcels for Major Mearns - he took them from me himself.'As the coachman paid up, while protesting that it was none of his business and he had been obliging a friend, he said: 'And where will you be tonight?' It was going to be a cold night, and he could not dismiss some feeling for the boy.Charlie hesitated, then said, 'Miss Fairface said to come to the Theatre; she thought she could find me a place.'The coachman nodded; this lad would go far. 'And what about your father and mother, do they know you are on the loose?''I have no one,' said Charlie.
Miss Alice Fairface might or might not have expected Charlie to come to the Theatre but, when he came, she greeted him with kindness. He reminded her of her young brother, at present on tour in the north of England. Her mother and father were performing in London at Drury Lane. She would like to go back there herself; she was hopeful - she knew she was good. Butyou needed a bit of luck. Still, you worked where you could and Windsor was a good theatre to which the old King had come. He was mad, of course, but better a mad king than no king at all.She was sitting in the dressing room where she applied colouring for her cheeks and eyes, and then put on her wig. She had blue colouring around one eye and had been doing the other when Charlie arrived.'You should have knocked on the door,' she said mildly. 'I could have been in a state of undress. Who told you where to find me?'Charlie gazed in fascination at her face, one blue eye and one plain. The pink on the cheeks did not quite match either.'No, no. I came through the door on the side street and listened till I heard your voice ... You were talking quite loud.' He looked round the room. 'But there is no one here.''I was running through my lines.'She studied his small, sturdy figure. He was not fat, rather thin and under-nourished in fact, but the sturdiness was of the spirit. He was so young - half child, but half old man. What had happened to him in his short life to split him in two?He was looking at her expectantly, but without trust, as if life had taught him hope, but caution with it.'Yes, I'm sure I can find a spot. But not for long, you know.' She only had an engagement for a month in this theatre.'I will move on.'The door was pushed open. Miss Fairface swung round. 'Oh, hello, Beau.'Beau was tall, handsome and only half dressed.'Alice, flower,' he bellowed, 'the costume girl has given me tights to fit a midget.' Beau was his stage name, taken from the celebrated man of fashion, Brummell. Bertie was his real, never-used name.Hanging over his arm was a pair of white-to-grey tights, meant to be worn with his handsome boots. They did look small.'Oh, put them on, dear - squeeze yourself in, then go to see her. Or put on a kilt - you wore one when you were Robert the Bruce last week.''Good idea, my love ...' He stopped. 'Who's the boy?' Alice Fairface hesitated.'Bring him from London, did you?''On the same coach ... He needs somewhere to sleep.''I can pay my share.' Proudly, Charlie produced his handful of coins. 'I earned them carrying two parcels up to the Castle. Precious heavy they were, too.''You can sleep back-stage ... And help with setting up the scene. So, you've been up to the Castle. Did you go in?''Up to the gate where the soldiers stand guard and then right up the hill to the room where I had to deliver them.''Where do you come from, boy?' enquired Beau.'London,' said Charlie.'That's a big city. Won't some person be looking for you?'Charlie shook his head.'What about your family?''No family.'He was poorly dressed but not ragged, thin but not starved. A mystery here, thought Beau. On the other hand there were many new orphans. Death came easily and quickly.'Follow me, lad, and I will show you where you can sleep.'Charlie bowed to Miss Fairface. 'Thank you, ma'am, for your help.''Come and see me again, Charlie. I am here for the next four weeks.''I will indeed, ma'am.'Then he followed Beau.
The parcels were left untouched overnight. Denny and the Major had other things to think about - one of which was a trip to Datchet to see a contact.Next morning, back in his rooms in the Castle, Major Mearns was unpacking the two parcels. He used scissors to cut the wrapping. As he did so, he began to frown.'Open the window, Denny,' he instructed.Denny obliged.'By God,' said Mearns. 'This is a leg ... A man's left by the size, weight and look of it. We have been sent a pair of legs.''Is it ...?' began Denny, then stopped.'Yes, of course, they're dead,' said Mearns irritably.'But whether they were cut off when the man was dead or alive I have no means of knowing.'Denny felt sick. 'You better send them to the Crowners' Unit.'The Crowners was a newly-formed unit of men, almost all former soldiers, The Crown Keepers of the Peace in Windsor - another sign of the changing times.Mearns kept quiet. He did not like the Crowners. He particularly disliked Felix Ferguson, a young Scotsman, and the head officer. 'Too cheeky!' was Mearns' comment - 'blandness helps you more.' John Farmer he liked a little better, and sometimes took a drink with him. He was a handsome young man. Felix was less handsome, but exuded power - which was what irritated Mearns.No, in his most honest moments he admitted that he disliked Felix because Mindy liked the man. Also, Felix, unmarried, was showing that he liked Mindy.Jealousy.But it was agreed on all sides that the Unit was doing a good job in Windsor. It was small, but efficient. England was changing. Industry was spreading and cities were growing. The Unit was part of that change. Major Mearns felt that he was part of the past.But he had no intention of going near the Crowners with the legs.
The Unit was at that moment meeting. Felix was laying down the law. His law. He had strong proprietary feelings about the law and Windsor. But what annoyedMearns was that Felix did not look fierce; he had a quiet, gentle face - almost feminine - with big blue eyes and a crest of fair hair. He had a good army record, though - as Mearns knew -- and by all accounts was not one to leave a fight. Otherwise, too confident for anyone's good.Windsor, with the King in his Castle, was a town that needed the Unit to keep the peace, which, as Mearns admitted, it did well.It was an efficient unit, and soon there would be units like it all over the country. England was changing. London was growing. Cities were spreading in the Industrial North.Law and order should be respected. But all the same Mearns had no intention of consulting the Crowners' Unit.DREAD MURDER. Copyright © 2006 by Gwendoline Butler. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first book I have read by Ms. Butler who is a well established British mystery writer. In fact, she has published over 50 novels. This is an historical thriller taking place in the Court of King George the IV. It is an entertaining and easy read but a little on the light side for me and I likely won't seek out any further books by this author.
Having survived the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars, Major Mearns and his battle brother Denny work and live at Windsor Castle as Watchers who insure the safety of the royal residents especially the recently crowned King George IV. Living at the monarch¿s abode may seem regal, but for the likes of Mearns and Denny, it is the dreaded Ds: dirty, dusty, and drafty. Still it is a lot easier and safer an assignment than combat was. --- Meanwhile ten year old former factory worker Charlie stows a ride on a coach leaving London for Windsor. During the ride, Charlie befriends actress Miss Fairface, who is traveling to the city to join the Theatre Royal. In town, Charlie makes some money when he delivers a couple of heavy packages to Mearns at Windsor Castle. However, inside the parcels are the ghastly remains of someone Mearns knew. Stunned, Major Mearns and Denny investigate with Charlie as their sidekick. Their efforts take them to Theatre Royal where a corpse is found and soon other homicidal attempts occur. --- The second Major Mearns (see THE KING CRIED MURDER ¿not reviewed) historical mystery is a delightful early 1820s whodunit in which the intelligent street smart kid steals the story line from the two heroes especially with a delightful final twist. The investigation, enhanced by real persona and places such as the Theatre Royal, is fun to follow as the audience obtains a taste of Regency England especially the royal town of Windsor where for instance a professional police force is a new concept. As with her Coffin tales, Gwendoline Butler provides a fabulous investigative tale. --- Harriet Klausner