When you move in high circles, opportunities are presented to you.
The morning after the salon dinner, a polite knock on her door revealed to Berthe a footman bearing an invitation to lunch with Lord Ponsonby. Immediately deciding to run with the invitation, which was for her alone, she passed on a message of acceptance to the footman and then set about readying herself: a long hot bath to relieve the muscle soreness from all that dancing; strategically-placed perfume; powdering her face and reddening her lips; a dress with appropriate décolletage; and dainty brocaded slippers.
Christine and Francois had planned a promenade along the port area and an al fresco lunch. They were surprised when they checked with Berthe and found her in full regalia.
“I received an invitation to lunch with Lord Ponsonby – you know, that young Englishman we met last night – the one with the red coat with braids – very distinguished” said Berthe.
“Do you know the purpose of his invitation?” enquired Christine suddenly thinking the worse.
“No, ma cherie, but whatever it is, it will surely be to my advantage” said Berthe with an air of flippancy. But, on seeing Christine’s look of concern, Berthe added: “Don’t worry, I’m a big girl now.”
Engaging a cab, Berthe showed the Lord’s address to the driver and, with his customer comfortably seated, flicked the reins and the horses obliged by gracefully moving into a steady trot.
Berthe luxuriated in the plush leather seat of the cab and happily let her mind drift into the world of possibilities. She was a beautiful young woman, unattached, in a new country, with a cache of Calvados as collateral. She realized for the first time that she was a free woman: free of Christine and Francois, free of France, and, most importantly, free of her past which had mired her in its cloying depression.
Christine and Francois too were enjoying their freedom – alone together at last, unencumbered by their travel companions. As they strolled arm-in-arm along the dockside, there was a lightness in their step. The sun shone, the seabirds sang, and masts of ships swayed to the rhythm of the waves.
On her arrival at Lord Ponsonby’s address, the same footman opened her cab door with a deep bow and ushered Berthe towards the already open front door. The footman indicated he would fix the fare and after doing this, scurried after Berthe offering an encouraging: “Please enter mademoiselle” and “Lord Ponsonby will be with you directly, please take a seat”.
On seeing Lord Ponsonby enter the entrance hall, Berthe rose and, as she had seen other women of standing do last night, offered her right hand for the Lord’s attention. Lord Ponsonby stopped in front of Berthe, and stiffly bowing from the waist, lowered his lips to her hand where he lingered to inhale her perfume. “Such a strong yet delicate hand” he thought.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation, Mademoiselle” said the Lord lowering Berthe’s hand and rising from his bow simultaneously.
“The pleasure is all mine, Lord Ponsonby” said Berthe, politely.
“Please, please call me Peter” he said ushering her into the Dining Room and then holding her chair until she was seated. Lord Ponsonby then sat opposite her and raised his hand indicating he wanted service.
Within 10 seconds, a bowing figure appeared.
“Perhaps champagne would suit your taste, Mademoiselle?” said Lord Ponsonby but Berthe didn’t know – she had heard of it but never tasted it. She paused, nodded her acquiescence and soon she heard the hissing pop of a freshly chilled Dom Pérignon.
Back portside, Christine and Francois’ rare moment of beauty was interrupted by the clattering of horses’ hooves and the opening of a cab door.
“Ah, Christine, Francois – good morning to you – where’s Berthe?” enquired Christophe with an edge of worry in his voice.
“She’s fine” said Christine.
“She’s just taking lunch with Lord Ponsonby” explained Francois.
“Chacun son goût” said Christophe slipping into French with a studied shrug of his shoulders in a vain attempt to hide his concern. In his mind, his concern was certainly warranted given Lord Ponsonby’s proclivities.
As Berthe sipped on her second glass of Dom Pérignon the delicious champagne was having a pleasant relaxing effect. She was enjoying the attention of this handsome and distinguished young man but most of all she was revelling in her new life, one which was so different to her previous existence. Now she was treated with respect and admiration which was the complete opposite to her situation in Yonville less than one month ago. “How quickly can life turn around for the better” she mused, “but the bubble could burst at any time. There are no guarantees”.
A sumptuous lunch was served consisting of tender roast pork with honey-coated crackling, lightly-salted baked potato and pumpkin, and fresh asparagus. Simply delicious.
Lord Ponsonby was puzzled to see that Berthe had suddenly changed from being light-hearted and effervescent to being serious and contemplative. He wondered what had he done wrong?
“Is everything all right, Mademoiselle? You look sad”.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Peter” replied Berthe quietly. “I was just remembering how my life was so miserable only a short time ago. My whole life has been a torment and now it is wonderful, but who can see into the future? It seems to me that life is fragile and can break at any time.”
“Ah, well, mon petite. My philosophy is to live in the moment. Enjoy each and every minute as a gift. We do not know when tragedy will strike so we just have to get on with life as best we can. Even my friend Christolphe had a tragedy late last year when his young wife Maria died suddenly only two weeks after their marriage. They had attended a large celebratory dinner-party at the grand home of Albrecht Torrance and his wife Juliette with the cream of Jersey society including Harbourmaster Henri Duxelle, Monsieur Jean-Paul Robillard and his wife Yvette, Mary Halkett, myself and a number of other well-known people. After the meal Maria collapsed and died within the hour with what appeared to be food poisoning. No-one else was affected at all so it is a mystery. The next day an autopsy revealed that Maria had traces of rat-poison in her system which caused her death and so the Senior Constable interviewed everyone who attended the function plus all the staff present on the night. His intense and detailed investigation revealed nothing and the case is still open.”
“Mon dieu” breathed Berthe with a gasp as she visibly paled. “How can life be so cruel?”
“May I change the subject completely to happier subjects as I want to show you something which you may be interested in?” enquired Peter wanting to break the sombre atmosphere.
“Oh, yes please” replied Berthe trying to compose herself.
They went out into the beautiful formal garden with its manicured hedges, roses and a myriad of other flowers all laid out precisely in neat straight rows. “A bit too rigid for my way of thinking” thought Berthe but admiring the spectacle nevertheless. Peter opened the solid door of the old storehouse next to the back of the house to reveal crates of empty bottles.
“My family owns a glass factory in England and they specialise in all kinds of bottles in a variety of shapes for different wines and other liquor such as for your calvados. Might that be of interest to you?
Berthe tried desperately to conceal her excitement and put on her business demeanour. “Maybe, I guess, it all depends on the price.”
Peter burst out laughing “You are a superb business-woman, Berthe. Who would have thought that such an attractive young woman could have such natural skills as this? You can have as many bottles as you want for the lowest price possible. We even have this unusually shaped long-neck bottle which would particularly suit calvados.” He picked up one of the bottles and handed it to Berthe for her to have a look at. As Berthe carefully grasped the bottle Peter ran his hand down her arm and gave her hand a little squeeze while looking directly into her eyes with a meaningful gaze. Berthe froze and thought “These bottles may be attractive but may come with unwanted conditions” as she handed the bottle back without reacting and saying in a measured tone :
“If the price is right we would be interested in taking delivery of an initial twelve crates of these bottles, and if everything goes to plan then we would place more orders.”
The surprise on Peter’s face was so obvious : he realised that his advances had been firmly rebuffed and that Berthe was not an easy mark. All his conquests with numerous women had been successful without much effort until now. He had now met a woman who was tough if not tougher than himself and who commands respect. Nevertheless he would not give up hope altogether although, he thought, “there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
As Lord Ponsonby’s chauffeured carriage conducted Berthe back to St Aubins, she cogitated on the fruits of her meeting with her host. She felt a rising sense of excitement about the way destiny was falling into her lap.
Firstly, the potential for supply of bottles for their Calvados from a bottle specialist owned by her hosts family.
Secondly, because she had so artfully recognised the play Lord Ponsonby was making for her seduction and deflected it diplomatically, without causing him loss of face, by the simple artifice of turning to business.
Thirdly, she had gained valuable intelligence about the death of Christophe’s wife by rat poison at a Torrance dinner party. There was much she wanted to know about Christophe.
Fourthly, she could see Lord Ponsonby was the more smitten with her because she had fended him off. She cared not for him but noted the sweet lesson that, with women, men respect a conquest hard won.
Perhaps these were the skills of her mother which had so attracted her lovers. She would take care not to fall victim of her mother’s weaknesses, but she recalled her mother saying, “a man pursues a woman until she catches him”. Would she need such coquetry with Christophe? She shivered at the thought.
Arriving back at St Aubins, Berthe was greeted with concern by all three of Christophe, Christine and Francois. “My dear friends” Berthe smiled teasingly “why such long faces? I have been to lunch with Lord Ponsonby, not his funeral”
Christophe spoke first “My dear. We were perplexed because you do not know of his reputation as a seducer of young women, principally by plying them with champagne, and we knew you were unaccustomed to such intoxicating bubbles. We would have preferred you were accompanied by a friend to ensure you did not fall prey to Lord Ponsonby’s lechery”
A smile of perception crossed Berthe’s face as she realised that Christophe cared for her more deeply than he had previously intimated. “Oh yes’ she rejoined, “Lord Ponsonby did produce the champagne and it did make my head spin a bit. He made an opening gambit at seducing me, but I fended him off by raising the business he offered, – supplying bottles for our Calvados; made by his family’s factory in England. I think we can do business with him without complications”
“Christophe, he also told me how your wife Maria had collapsed and died at a dinner party at the home of Albrecht Torrance, only two weeks after you were married, that food poisoning was first suspected but rat poison was found on autopsy. I am so sorry that Maria suffered so horribly and you lost your lovely wife in that way. To add to it, investigation has led nowhere”
“Rat poison?” interrupted Francois. “Was Mary Halkett at the dinner party?”
“Yes, why?’ asked Christophe.
Francois replied, “I was at Mary Halkett’s salon when the ladies went to buy dresses. I went to the kitchen to help Mary make cups of tea. She asked me to bring down the sugar from the 2nd shelf, 3rd canister. I reached up and brought down exactly that canister, but to my horror, it was rat poison. She dissembled that I had taken it from the 3rd shelf, but I’m sure I did not.
“Well, that is interesting” murmured Christophe in grim contemplation. “I knew she had been obsessive in her attention to me before I was engaged and married to Maria. So, she might have a personal motive in rendering me a widower, not that I have or ever would pay her the slightest attention.”
“But everyone here keeps rat poison. We are invaded by rats. They come in visiting ships.”
Francois observed “Well she certainly was looking daggers at Berthe when she saw you paying charming attention to her after she fainted before going into the shop.
Berthe blushed demurely and said “Well, even if she has that motive, there is nothing to connect her except her presence at the dinner party. We will just have to be on our guard until there is clear proof.”
In the back-street shadows of a deserted St Helier laneway, a female figure was secretively meeting with two bulky men. She said in a hushed tone, “Now listen up Rufus. I know you and Xavier have been affronted by the wickedness of those two upstart girls who put El Torro on your back. I’m not surprised you refused his demeaning offer of oyster work. But I also know Constable Plod and the rest are looking for you about the death of Old Roger who did not drown but died of a savage beating. Got your signatures all over it.”
“I have a proposition for you. Those two women deserve what is coming. I want you to start a fire in their liquor warehouse at night. Just enough to have them come running when you call “Fire, Fire” from a hidden place. When they come to douse the flames, knock them unconscious and accelerate the fire so they are consumed and no-one knows they were knocked out. Make it look like they died fighting the fire. Then come straight back to this place for payment”
“What’s in it for us yer lady” asked Xavier Hoggard
“That witch Berthe Bovary is trying to steal my man. I have already stopped that witch he married and I won’t hesitate to stop any other who tries.
“Ow much will yer pay us” asked Rufus
“One hundred pounds, 20 now and 80 when you have earned it” replied Mary Halkett
“We want 300 quid lady” rasped Xavier “We’ve got urgent travel arrangements to make afterwards.
“I’ll give you 150” said Mary
“250 or we’re off” Xavier threatened.
Mary groaned “O.K. 250 it is. 50 now and 200 when you have done the job”. She dipped into her handbag and produced 50 pounds in notes. As Rufus grabbed it, he leered:
“Do yer wan’ a receipt? Ha ha ha!
Mary fixed him with a piercing gaze and through clenched teeth said “Just do the job properly and come to this spot here with proof that you have succeeded. Bring their jewellery which you can keep and locks of their hair. Then you get 200 more.”
“As good as done lady” boasted Rufus, and the men and Mary departed in opposite directions.
Mary Halkett stood watching the dark shapes of the Hoggard brothers disappear in the dark gloom of the alley. Mary was already feeling uncomfortable with the deal she had struck. She did not doubt that the Hoggard brothers were capable of killing without flinching, but they also had a reputation for double-dealing. Mary had a queasy feeling that the Hoggard’s would try and extract far more than the two hundred and fifty pounds agreed before the deed was done.
Yet she had no option. Rat poison was her method of choice for killing. Everyone on the island had rat poison. Even when what passed for a police force on the island suspected rat poisoning in a suspicious death just about everybody could be a suspect and rarely had anyone been convicted of murder. Even so, Mary had chanced her arm once too often with rat poison with one successful murder and one botched job to show for it. She was linked to both occurrences and the risk was mounting that some bright spark might put two and two together.
Whether she liked it or not she needed the Hoggard brothers to place distance between where she planned Berthe and Christine would perish and where she would be. She would make sure that her alibi was watertight. Quickly she thought through how events might pan out and what she needed to do. At the time the fire took place she would need to be highly visible and in company who would vouch for her. She would need to be in St.Helier when the fire occurred, well away from St. Aubin.
But when would the fire occur? She cursed herself for not pinning down the Hoggards on when the fire might occur. All she could do was guess. Even the Hoggards would need to plan the event and she guessed that would take at least a day or two.
That would give her just enough time she thought for the other urgent matter she must attend to on the far west coast of the island at St. Ouen’s Bay and a meeting with the feared but respected Crone St. Ouens. Mary had developed a deeply disturbing feeling over the past few months that her passion for Christophe was not matched by his passion for her. Berthe’s appearance on the scene had confirmed how easily Christophe’s head could be turned by a pretty face.
Much as Mary hated to admit it, she needed help to beguile Christophe. Mary had heard whispers of the potions provided by the Crone of St. Ouen that had brought the most unlikely couples together. The only problem was that the Crone lived among the wild folk who scavenged livings on the wide western bay facing the wild Atlantic Ocean. It was no place for decent folk, but Mary was desperate. She needed the Crone’s help and it was best she made the perilous journey immediately so that she could be back in St. Helier well before the Hoggards could start their fire.
Rufus and Xavier were well pleased with their meeting with Mary Halkett, but now they needed to take themselves somewhere private and amongst their own type to ensure they could plan what to do next. They also had fifty pounds and the promise of much more to come.
About the same time as Mary was guiding her favourite horse Bess out of the stables for a clandestine, if circuitous ride through Trinity, St. John, St. Mary and on to St. Ouen, the Hoggard brothers were riding the quicker southerly route west around St. Aubin’s Bay through St. Aubin and on towards St. Brelade and the Smugglers’ Inn. At the Smugglers’ Inn they nodded acquaintance to the landlord and made their way to the private snug at the back. They barely sat down and the landlord brought in a jug of best Jersey ale and a wooden platter with cheese and bread. The Hoggards waited until the landlord had left them.
“Now brother”, Xavier exclaimed “how do we get more money out of that stuck-up bitch?”
Even though it was pitch black Mary knew the tracks through to St. Mary very well. The last stretch to St.Ouen was new territory and she guided Bess gingerly. She also had the uncomfortable sensation that she was being watched. The darkness of the early hours of the morning made her panicky and she wished that dawn would break soon. At last the blackness around her started to become less inky. Shapes became more defined. She could see the edges of the track more clearly. The shapes of the hedgerows on either side of the track were better defined and ahead she could see the looming oblong shape of an ancient church steeple.
Thank God, she thought, that must be St. Ouen’s, I must be almost in the village. As she turned the the last corner of the lane entering the village her heart sank. Standing in the middle of the track straight in front of her were at least seven unkempt men armed with staves and pitchforks. One among their ranks, a huge brute of a man with long hair and a bushy beard, stepped forward and shouted,
“What are you doing here at this ungodly hour. Your type have no business here. Explain yourself and it had better be good or believe me you will regret it”.
Mary’s apprehension grew as she slowly took the measure of this bearded hulk of a man. Mothers kept their wayward children in line with frightening stories of these brutes and their wicked ways. She’d only half believed in their existence but, real or not, she’d hoped her early arrival would avoid any untoward meeting.
“My name is Mary Halkett,” she said strongly. “I am seeking the power of the well and come at dawn to consult the Crone. Are you the guardians?”
“We know who you are woman, we’ve been expecting you. You bring the stench of evil with you.”
Mary’s attention was fixed on the face before her and she was startled by a new voice, deep and authoritative, coming from the shadows. “Enough,Mauger!”
A tall woman wearing a long-sleeved shift of colourless woven fabric stood to one side slightly in the shadows. Her silver-grey hair was plaited and coiled on her head and to Mary, for just a moment, it looked for all the world like a coronet. Mary’s heart skipped a beat – The Crone, she knew it.
“Mary Halkett, we are not pleased to see you here,” the Crone’s voice was stern and unyielding. “At another time and in another place, you came to the well. Thrice times three you followed the ritual as decreed, and you had your answer. You looked into the well and were told the man was not for you, but you took no heed. If you had accepted the decision, the well may have been kinder with a second choice. But the well demands respect and your actions put you beyond the pale. Leave now and never return.”
Mary’s eyes closed to hold back tears of frustration and when she opened them the Crone and her vanguard had turned their backs and were walking away.
Dismayed but defiant, Mary mounted her horse for the ride back, consoling herself with the thought that she would use every feminine wile in her arsenal to make herself more desirable to Christophe, while the Hoggard brothers would take care of the opposition.
Sitting in the snug at the Smugglers’ Inn at St Brelade, beer in hand, money was the only thing the Hoggard brothers were thinking about – in particular, how to get more of it from their little pigeon. Blackmail was the obvious way, and it suited their talents, but wouldn’t it be good to hit on a plan that would pay out for years and years.
“Listen brother,” Xavier exclaimed, “how about you marry her? Have a shave and a haircut, give her a bit of sweet talk in the moonlight. Once you’re hitched you’ve got access to her bank account and we’re in clover.”
The landlord poked his head round the door, shaking it slightly at the sight of Rufus snorting beer across the table and Xavier doubled over laughing.
“Does our landlord look a bit on edge to you, brother?” asked Rufus. “Wonder what’s bothering the old fool?” Then calling to the man, “Ho there mine host, you’re looking a little nervous, what’s bothering you? Not the gendarmerie, eh?”
The landlord looked around – the place was still empty – before launching into a flow of words that had been waiting too long for an outlet. “Well, you outsiders might call us superstitious, but the wraiths and spirits speak loudly here on Jersey. There’s trouble afoot, lads, and I have to tell you shivers ran down my spine when I saw two horsemen looming up through the early mist. I crossed myself three times before I saw ’twas thee.”
Rufus smirked at Xavier and gave a wink.
The publican rubbed his chin and continued. “Had a message from Lord Hayes himself, straight from Jermine his groom. Lord Hayes is worried and if Lord Hayes is worried, that’s a very bad sign. Jermine says the giant black dogs have come down from Buoulay – now who am I to say that’s just a fancy? Shape-shifters on the prowl, waiting for midnight, he says. We all feel something’s amiss – there’s evil in the wind, murder in the air.”
He took a breath and looked each of the men in the eye before delivering his final evidence, “And last night we heard the footsteps on the stairs.”
“The what?” asked an incredulous Rufus.
“Footsteps, man. In the night. ’Tis the Woman in Black, mark my words. Oh, there’s trouble coming for sure, Lord Hayes is never wrong.”
“You silly superstitious fool,” Rufus abused him. “Your ancestors made up these tales to scare the children and keep their women at home. Don’t tell me you believe in fairies and wicked elves as well?”
Xavier, who was sitting opposite his brother, thought it time to change the subject or they’d be stuck with this garrulous old man for hours. He sipped his beer and looked around; then, catching sight of a woman standing in the shadows on the staircase, he turned to the publican and asked, “And who is that delightful-looking woman on the stairs? Seems to be dressed in mourning?”
The publican looked up to where Xavier was pointing, then gasped and let the jug slip from his hand as his legs crumpled and he slumped to the floor.
The Hoggard brothers seemed to have lost track of the notion that John Plod and his men were actively searching for them in connection with the death of Old Roger. Complacent and comfortably at leisure the two dullards sat drinking ale at the Smugglers’ Inn, discussing how to divide Mary Halkett from her money and trying to ignore the rantings of Marcel Gaudron, the talkative innkeeper behind the bar. The smugness they felt was about to change. The twins had grossly underestimated the ambitions of the Senior Constable of the St Helier Paid Police. John Plod was the antithesis of what his name suggested. He was a quick thinker, had a scrupulous eye for detail, an uncanny ability for lie detection and was keen to impress the Centenier of the Parish by making a swift arrest of Old Roger’s killers.
Plod had initiated a clandestine operation to locate and arrest the Hoggard brothers. He knew their regular “haunt” and earlier that evening had created a diversion away from the Inn by using a fallen tree to block access to the St Brelades road. Plod had many friends and was able to muster covert operatives to assist him and on this dark night his secret army had the Inn surrounded. Marcel had been wondering why the Inn was empty that evening; he just brushed it off as the Island folk being frightened away by alleged sightings of the black dog of Bouley Bay.
Marcel was extremely superstitious and afraid of anything connected to the spirit world. However, it was more likely the fungus growing on his mouldy bread that triggered his hallucinations. He had overheard parts of the conversation between the Hoggard brothers and was able to glean that skulduggery was afoot and that nothing good would come of it. As he counted ale bottles behind the bar, he recalled his conversation with Lord Hayes’ groom, Jermine, and this provoked an overwhelming sense of foreboding. There was a local legend that a “Lady in Black” often appeared just before someone was to die. When Xavier pointed to the shadowy figure on the staircase it was more than Marcel could bear. A chilling sensation of fear overcame him, and he fainted. It was at that very moment that Plod’s army rushed in. The Hoggard’s were surrounded and outnumbered. They swiftly brandished their pistols. John Plod cried out to them,
“Throw down your pistols and give yourselves up!” but the Hoggards were ready for a showdown. Xavier took aim but Plod was too quick for him. A single shot rang out and Xavier Hoggard fell to the floor, stone dead, a patch over one eye and the other frozen in a ghastly death stare.
“Spare me!” shouted Rufus, “My pistol is not loaded.” He threw the pistol to the floor in an effort to save his life and Plod instructed his deputies not to fire. Rufus began to sob as he knelt over the body of his dead twin but was quickly led away by the deputies. Plod went to the aid of the unfortunate innkeeper. Marcel took a few deep breaths and slowly regained his composure and the use of his lungs. He began to rant and ramble in his usual fashion.
“I knew something would happen!” he shouted. “Lord Hayes told me that there was death in the air, and she came to warn me, I know it was her; it was Maria, she came to warn me!” Tears of anguish moistened his leathery skin.
“I doubt you will get any customers tonight.” said John Plod as he left the Inn with his intrepid band of men. “Close the inn Monsieur Gaudron and get some rest.”
By the time the clock had struck noon the next day, the news of Xavier Hoggard’s death and his brother’s capture had reached the ears of the Robillards and their guests at the Auberge D’Aubin. “One Hoggard dead and the other behind bars facing trial.” It was the tittle tattle of the day everywhere on the island.
Christophe was alarmed when he heard about events at the Smugglers Inn. He seemed upset and decided to take a solitary stroll in the Auberge garden. After a few moments he encountered Berthe; she was taking a leisurely walk around the lily pond and admiring the carnations.
“Such beautiful colours.” she remarked as he caught up to her. He looked into her eyes and spoke softly,
“Mademoiselle Berthe, can you please give me a few moments of your time? There is something I must tell you.”
Berthe responded, “Of course, let’s sit by the old oak tree.”
Christophe began, “You may already know that I was married to a young lady. Her name was Maria; we met at the home of Lord Hayes; his groom Jermine used to give us riding lessons together. Maria was poor but paid for her lessons by reading to Lady Hayes, an invalid. Maria’s father, Marcel Gaudron, is the Innkeeper at the Smuggler’s Inn. His wife died giving birth to Maria. Over time my friendship with Maria grew strong and I began to look upon her as a sister and confidante. By the time Maria was 16 years old she had grown into a very beautiful young woman and Marcel was fearful for her safety and virtue. He wanted to guard her from the roughnecks and pleasure seekers who frequented the Inn. I felt a need to protect her and settled on a plan which I considered to be an act of chivalry. I asked her to marry me and she agreed, she saw the marriage as a means of escaping the dangers of the Inn. We were not lovers, not in the way that a man and wife should be. Maria was too young and innocent for such a commitment. We were wed for just two weeks and then she was gone. Her cause of death was allegedly food poisoning. It happened at the Torrance’s house; I blame myself for her death, if only I had not taken her there that night.”
Why are you telling me this now?” interrupted Berthe.
“I wanted you to hear the truth about Maria and our marriage from my own lips; not from the idle gossips who continually pity me. I admire you Berthe; you have strength and ambition and I want to help you and get to know you better. I want to put Maria’s death behind me.”
Berthe’s heart skipped a beat; she blushed, she blinked and lowered her head to avoid his gaze. Christophe had opened his heart to her, and she felt admiration and affection for him as he unravelled the truth about why he married Maria Gaudron. It seemed undeniably clear to Berthe that Maria was murdered and that the person hoping to gain the most from her death was the demon dressmaker.
As Mary Halkett sat in her Gorey mansion looking out to sea her mind was in turmoil. Xavier’s death and Rufus’ arrest had foiled her evil plans. What if Rufus decided to tell the Jersey police about her wicked schemes? A tidal wave of hate and despair came over her. Once again, she headed for the “second shelf, third canister” and this time, unlike the day she returned the soup stained cook’s dress to the Torrance house, she knew that her malevolent resolve would not desert her.
Marcel Gaudron did exactly as he was instructed; he shut the Smugglers’ Inn and after a medicinal snifter or two retired to his bedroom. With thoughts of the goings on that night he slept fitfully and was easily awoken by the diabolic howling outside his window. He put his head under the pillow and mentally put it down to a dream. Then, there was the scratching at the windowpane. With great trepidation he moved towards the window with lit candle in hand and there it was: almost the size of a bull, smoothly furred with ears flat like a hound and huge eyes as yellow as gold. Tendrils of fog curled away from its face as it peered into the window with evil intent.
“Sacré bleu!” he exclaimed, “the black dog of Bouley Bay!”
Marcel did what any self-respecting Jersey man would do – he pulled the shutters and went back to bed. He lay there with his heart racing.
“There’s still more evil afoot”, he thought, and he prayed to the Almighty that it was not going to be him involved again. Already he had lost his beautiful daughter Maria, and now a slain body had been dragged out of his Inn. What was next?
The Jersey General Hospital served as the Morgue for St Helier. So, it was the first port of call for Plod and his band of law enforcers. For many years it was used as a hospital poorhouse for dependent and needy people so it tended to be a depressing place even at the best of times – after the witching hour, it took on a whole new countenance. With the one-eyed death staring body lying on the stone slab, Plod and his crew used the room next door without windows and a heavily bolted door to temporarily house Rufus Hoggard, then happily headed for their houses with Plod musing that he would have to deal with the Centenier in the morning.
Already Leo Le Feuvre, the Centenier of the Parish, knew about the shooting and the arrest and he hadn’t even reached his office; such was the efficiency of the Jersey word-of-mouth.
So, it was no surprise to see John Plod knocking on his office door.
“Come” said Le Feuvre in a somewhat perfunctory manner.
“Sit” he said, and Plod sunk into the deliberately lower chair in front of his desk.
“Well?” said Le Feuvre, looking down at Plod.
“We had a successful encounter with the Hoggard Brothers last night”, ventured Plod.
“You call a dead body a success, Plod? If you keep that up, there’ll not be an Islander left by Christmas” said Le Feuvre with an air of derision.
“But Sir, he had a bead on me – it was me or him” explained Plod self-righteously.
“You didn’t think of wounding him?” probed Le Feuvre.
“It was a spur of the moment thing, Sir. In our Paid Police training we are taught to shoot to maim” explained Plod trying to gain some respect for the newly-formed police force.
“Well, I suppose the Magistrate will make the decision on that. But let me warn you Plod – you’re on shaky ground.”
“Yes, Sir” said Plod lowering his eyes.
“What about the other Hoggard?”
“He’s in custody, Sir and I seek your approval to charge him with the murder of Old Roger the seafarer.”
“I thought that we were waiting to interview Captain Bates and the crew of the Janvrin,” said Le Feuvre with a quizzical look. “What evidence do you have to support this wildly speculative arrest?”
Inwardly, Plod rolled his eyes. “This was going to be a long morning,” he thought, “this old fogey was going to go out of his way to poke holes in my case.”
Le Feuvre held up his hand.
“I’ll give you 48 hours to build your case – if not successful, Rufus Hoggard will go free.”
Plod walked from the Centenier’s office in low spirits. Putting words on paper was not really his thing. He needed someone with erudition.
“What about that seamstress on the main street, Mary Halkett?” he thought “She’s said to have excellent written skills and……she’s very pleasant on the eye. I’ll drop into her shop right now.”
Mary had not slept well – all sorts of thoughts were milling around her head: defensive and offensive. Without any resolution she headed off to work, with canister in hand, and opened her shop at the normal hour.
With little requiring her attention, she sat behind the counter and thought through her resolve: to use every feminine wile in her arsenal to make herself more desirable to Christophe. “Maybe one of those new perfumes from Paris. Perhaps a new couturier creation that showed off her features in such a way that she would be irresistible. After all, she’d heard that Christophe’s union with Maria Gaudron had not been consummated and, surely, at this early stage, he had not had his way with Berthe. So, he must be a man with a lot of pent-up emotion.” A sweet smile crossed her lips as she let that particular thought roll around her head.
But that smile soon faded as she saw Senior Constable Plod striding towards her shop door.
“Oh no, that Hoggard has spilt his guts” thought Mary.
“Good morning Miss Halkett” said Plod with an engaging smile.
“A Good Morning to you too Senior Constable. What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” enquired Mary expecting the worst.
“I’m delighted you regard it as pleasure Miss Halkett for you certainly are a sight for sore eyes.”
“A compliment” thought Mary “what’s he up to?”
“Let me get straight to the point” said Plod having used up all his pleasantries.
“I need someone to write up a case for me and I’ve heard you have a fine turn of phrase. Can you help me?”
Mary Halkett’s guilty conscience gave way to a feeling of jubilation. Not only had the Senior Constable, in charge of the inquiry into Maria Gaudron’s death by poisoning, not raised this subject or any accusations by Rufus Hoggard, here he was compromising himself and willing to be indebted to her for her assistance in writing up a case for him.
“Of course I will, for you” Mary flirted with Plod. “Anything to help you bring criminals to justice, you clever man.
The Senior Constable was flattered with such an enthusiastic response and produced a copy of the witness statement which said that two large men were seen to be arguing with old Roger down near the harbour warehouses and that Roger had received such a severe beating that his poor heart gave out. There was no reference to either man having had an eye patch or a hook instead of an arm, or that one man was taller than the other. Mary realized immediately that the statement would not be enough to convict Rufus Hoggard with murder but decided to play along with Plod to get him to be so grateful that he would be deeply indebted to her. She sat down and within a short time had written up a persuasive case which impressed Plod who thought that it would gain approval from the Centenier for the case to proceed. He thanked Mary profusely and headed off to the Centenier’s office with a spring in his step, full of confidence.
Meanwhile, in St. Aubin, twelve crates of bottles were delivered to Berthe and Christine’s warehouse from Lord Ponsonby as arranged, and Peter had also thoughtfully provided 144 corks of the correct size. Berthe and Christine were there to direct the two young delivery men to place the crates next to the barrels of calvados and near a long wooden bench against the far wall. Christophe and Francois had come along to see the unusual bottles that Berthe had described with such enthusiasm. Seeing an opportunity Berthe asked the delivery men to help get one of the barrels up onto the bench. They heaved but the barrel was too heavy to lift. Using two sturdy timber planks to form a ramp and with Christophe and Francois on one side and the two delivery men on the other they grunted and sweated and finally managed to roll the barrel up and onto the bench. Mission accomplished. The four men laughed loudly and patted each other on the back for their combined successful effort.
Berthe was truly grateful to the young delivery men and asked for their names.
“Victor Boucher” replied the red-headed broad-shouldered youth, and “Louis Granger” said the brown-headed scrawny young man, still puffing and smiling proudly after their achievement.
“Well Victor and Louis, how would you like a paid job to help fill some of the wonderfully shaped bottles that you have brought?”
The two young men did not have any other commitments that day so readily agreed and started to unpack the bottles onto the bench.
Being the son of a publican, Christophe knew how to tap a barrel but he needed one of the special liquor taps from the Auberge D’Aubin so he departed saying that he would return quickly. In the meantime Berthe, Christine and Francois tidied up the area with an old broom and some cleaning cloths that were in a cupboard.
In a very short time Christophe returned panting as he had obviously run to the Inn and back. He deftly tapped the barrel and, placing one of the special bottles under the tap, he turned it on and out came the liquid gold – calvados. He invited Victor and Louis to have a try and supervised them filling the first few bottles and then squeezing a cork into the top of each of the full bottles in turn. It required a certain amount of skill and there was quite a bit of spillage of the precious liquor while they were learning. Victor was big and strong but clumsy, whereas Louis was thin and gawky but very skilful, and together they formed a good team.
“Christine, would you be happy to design the label?” asked Berthe. “What shall we call our liquid gold? How about ‘Maison d’Auguste’ or ‘Chateau d’Or’? Everyone laughed and came up with lots of suggestions but eventually settled on ‘Chateau d’Or Calvados’. Christine started to image her design of the label with the image of an apple tree laden with red and green apples and a pretty young girl with a basket full of the luscious fruit in front.
Suddenly they could all smell pungent smoke and then they heard a loud commotion and spine-chilling screams of terror coming from the adjoining warehouse.
At the sound of the screams from the adjacent fishmonger’s warehouse, Louis Granger, the scrawny lad, spun around and leapt forward like a greyhound released at the start. He was followed in immediate, but slower, pursuit by the redheaded Victor Boucher. Christophe and Francois brought up the rear. Louis opened the closed but unlocked door. Smoke billowed out. Louis grabbed an armful of jute bags from a pile and called behind him, “Quick. Dowse these in the horse trough, wear one over your head and bring the rest to smother the fire’’.
All four groped their way through the pungent, acrid smelling smoke until they saw a portly man with clothes ablaze and a quantity of bulging produce in jute bags on fire. Louis ran forward and smothered the flames on the man and began to lead him outside to the water trough where he commanded “Get ready. This will help your burns” He half lifted and half pushed him into the trough, where the man gasped and let out a shriek.
By this time, having extinguished the fire in the sacks, Christophe appeared and called to Berthe “Get me scissors and a clean linen sheet quickly. We need to get this man to Jersey General Hospital” As the four men waited, the fishmonger, about 60 years old, gasped “Mes Amis. You have …. saved me. I owe you ….. my life. ….. I am fishmonger Frederico Famagusta. A candle fell ….it fell onto the sacks ….. sacks of smoked herring. Very oily ….. I try to put it out …….. My clothes are oily ….and caught alight…… I am deeply indebted to you. ….. You have been very brave …. How can I ever …. repay you?”
The items arrived and Christophe cut off all the man’s clothes, except his unburned underwear, and wrapped him in the sheet. Then he and Louis helped him into Christophe’s carriage which Christophe drove to Jersey General while Louis supervised beside the man.
Christophe returned to Berthe’s warehouse to find her alone, Christine and Francois having gone to the hospital to see what they could do about notifying Frederico’s family. He said, “I am so pleased to have a few moments with you alone. I have some matters of importance to discuss” Berthe’s heart began to race and she felt light-headed.
“As you know, my family have commercial interests in many places, both here, in France and in England. My father has recently taken a substantial interest in Okell’s Brewery on Castle Hill, Douglas, Isle of Man. His friend and its founder Dr William Okell is a Cheshire surgeon and needs people on the ground on Man, to manage his business. It has five hotels on the island and more in England – Liverpool and Chester and Aberystwyth in Wales. My father requires me to become the Manager of the brewery operations and sales.
I am telling you this because I have fallen in love with you and will not be parted from you. I have already lost one woman. I will not lose you. The fire which just occurred has re-enforced the uncertainty of life. I must not delay”
“I have been carrying in my pocket for some days, this box, hoping to have a quiet time with you alone”. He produced from his pocket a small purple velvet covered box and opened it as he bent to his right knee. The box revealed a glittering solitaire diamond ring with rubies and emeralds mounted on the shoulders.
“My dearest Berthe, I am asking you to be my wife if you will and come with me to the Isle of Man where I hope you will bear our children.”
Berthe was overwhelmed and fighting faintness. She had only been on Jersey less than two months and the man whose face she faintly glimpsed in the Yonville mill, that love-at-first-sight moment which had started her on this extraordinary journey, was now asking for her hand in marriage.
Noticing his uncertainty at the delay in response, Berthe mustered all her resolution and replied “My dearest Christophe. I have loved you from the moment I first saw you, but scarcely dreamed this moment would ever come. I will be delighted to be your wife and to go wherever you go. My only questions are, what about Christine? She has been such a true friend to me. And Francois too? And our business, which we have grand plans to expand into other liquors?
Having stood up, Christophe said tenderly, “All that will be resolved to the complete satisfaction of you, Christine and Francois. Now I want you to accept this ring which has a wonderful history. When I told my parents I intended to propose, they gave me their full blessing and confirmed my own view that you are not only beautiful, but possessed of common sense, wisdom, commercial intuition, tact, kindness and good judgment. My mother brought out the ring which had been her mother’s and saw my grandparents through 60 years of marriage. She said “Let it be Berthe’s, to see you both through a long time together.”
Berthe burst into tears of joy, though Christophe was unsure. She thought if only my mother had such a ring, might it have given her a lasting marriage with only one lover – her husband. But then Berthe’s life may have been different, and she may never have met this man who will be the love of her life. Seeing his uncertainty, she rushed to him, embraced him and kissed him for the first time, passionately, saying “let us share our good news with Christine and Francois and sort out the details. Perhaps we can plan a celebration party.”
Christine and Francois were almost the last people on Jersey to hear the news of Christophe’s plan to ask Berthe to marry him. The evening a few days before when Christophe had approached his parents to ask their permission to allow him to ask Berthe to marry they were too enthralled to notice Beatrice their parlour maid unobtrusively adding wood to the fire in hearth as she did every evening in the cooler months regardless of who was in the parlour at the time. Servants going about their required duties were unseen by their superiors for the most part. They were just there.
Beatrice was accustomed to hearing chatter in the parlour and because most of it was so dull, she forgot what she heard almost as soon as she heard it. The chatter among her superiors this evening, however, was far from dull. The young master about to propose to the beautiful mistress Berthe. This was news that made her body tingle and she could hardly wait to share it with her best friend Maisie, the parlour maid serving Madame Le Blanc next door.
Beatrice had to be up out of bed at 5.00am every morning. The routine was always the same. First set the fire in the big stove in the kitchen to allow cook to prepare breakfast. Then set the fire in the parlour and dining room. Then go to the well at the bottom of the kitchen garden to draw enough water for morning cooking and ablutions.
Maisie’s early morning routine next door was almost identical. It was while drawing water at the well that Beatrice and Maisie had the opportunity to talk. The two wells were either side of the long high border wall separating the two kitchen gardens. There was a small hole in the wall near the two wells that allowed the two maids to chat about this and that at the start of their long days.
Beatrice could hardly contain herself, mouth cupped against the hole in the wall “Maisie – you will never guess what is going to happen”.
Maisie sensed Beatrice’s excitement. “It must be important. Don’t hold back Beatrice. What is it?”
“Master Christophe is going to propose marriage to that Mistress Berthe who arrived here a few weeks ago. What do you think of that?”
Maisie knew what she thought of that. It was news that her employer, Madame Le Blanc, would love to know and as quickly as possible.
Madame Le Blanc found life on Jersey so parochial and tedious. Life was only made tolerable by good gossip and she was the most talented gossip on the island. When Maisie brought in her breakfast tray and told her what she had heard from Beatrice Madame Le Blanc knew that this would be a splendid day. The most eligible young bachelor on Jersey about to propose and she could let her friends know before it happened. How wonderful.
Madame Le Blanc wasted little time on breakfast and hurried Maisie to help her get dressed. She also wanted Adam the footman and the sulky ready by the ungodly time of 10.00am! She wasn’t going to waste time spreading the news around St. Aubin. Instead she was going straight to St.Helier.
It was just after 2.00pm that same day that Louise Frobisher entered Mary Halkett’s shop looking for gloves. Mary showed her several pairs and they chatted about this and that while she was serving and then Louise said “and have you heard the latest, that young Mr. Christophe Robillard from St.Aubin is about to propose to that young lady who fainted in front of your shop the other week”.
Mary froze “would you excuse me one moment madam”. Disappearing to the workshop behind the main store Mary screamed – seized the nearest set of pinking shears and hacked repeatedly at a poor, hapless tailor’s dummy wishing for all the world that it was Berthe Bovary. The sight of the much hacked and scarred dummy calmed her and she returned to the shop as if nothing had happened.
“Would you like those gloves in pink or white madam?” she asked in a quiet voice that belied the images flying through her mind – death by rat poison; death by fire; death by sudden accident and innumerable other options for how Berthe might meet her end.
Mary Halkett wasn’t the only person on Jersey wishing Berthe ill. A newcomer from France was sitting in a bar on the waterfront drinking wine to calm his stomach after the unpleasant sea crossing. His younger brother Auguste had sent him on the voyage. Unlike his drunken sot of a brother Giscard was a hard man, an ex-soldier and someone who would do almost anything to earn a living.
It was by chance that he had run into his brother and heard the story about how his brother was beginning to think he had been cheated out of a cargo of calvados. Giscard had no time for his brother but the promise of half of the calvados if he could track it down and punish those who had taken it appealed to him. The gossip in the bar was all about one of the people he was seeking, Berthe Bovary, and how she was about to marry into one of the best families in Jersey. “Not if I can help it” thought Giscard.
Unaware of the fact that most of St Helier and St Aubin knew of the planned proposal, Berthe and Christophe waited impatiently for Christine and Francois to return from the hospital with news of the injured fishmonger. Berthe had been adamant her friends should be the first to hear their good news, but whatever could be keeping them?
The first flush of excitement at declaring their feelings for each other had subsided a little and now they were anxious to share their happiness, particularly with Christophe’s family.
“My dear, I can’t imagine what is taking Christine and Francois so long to return. Victor and Louis have finished for the day, there is nothing to keep us here at the warehouse. And I must say my parents will be thinking you refused me and wondering if they should start looking for me in all the ale-houses,” Christophe said, adding a wink to make her smile.
“Oh, Christophe, they know you better than that surely – or are you keeping secrets?” Berthe tried a light-hearted reply. “But you’re right. Let’s lock the doors and share our happy news. Christine and Francois will know where to find us.”
Picking up the files from the bench, Berthe made her way to the row of cabinets to lock them away, only to find Christophe blocking her way. He took the files and turned his body easily to stack them away, then turned back and looked deep into her eyes. “You know Berthe, we may not have another chance to be alone like this for some time, let’s not waste the opportunity,” he whispered as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. Berthe lifted her face expectantly for his long and lingering kiss and nestled close, her arms tight around him and her fingers moving across his back. She sighed deeply as they finally pulled away, and the expression on Christophe’s face was all the proof she needed of his love.
Hand in hand, they walked to the front of the warehouse where a pair of double-height solid timber doors marked the entrance. Through the clerestory windows high along one wall, the first signs of evening streaked the darkening sky with purple and pink. They looked at each other and smiled, acknowledging the magic of the night. All was right with the world.
The warehouse had stood strong and secure for longer than even the oldest of current inhabitants could remember. And for as long as the building had been in existence, the huge padlock that secured the two long door-bolts had hung on an equally huge hook, five feet from the floor. Everyone in town knew that for a fact. Tonight, her mind on other things, Berthe reached up automatically for the padlock but her hand found only the hook.
Berthe looked questioningly at Christophe, who frowned and said, “that’s odd. Who would move the padlock? It’s a local institution.” A thorough search inside the warehouse turned up no sign of the padlock. Perhaps it had been left outside – Christophe offered to look.
When there were people in the building, the huge doors were only ever pulled to, so a good push was enough to open them. Christophe pushed the right-hand door but it didn’t budge. Then he tried the door on the left with no better luck. He tried both again, then looked at Berthe and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s very odd. I don’t know how, but I think we may have been locked in.”
A little less than 6 miles away, in a pretty little cove favoured by local fishermen, Francois and Christine had also had the opportunity to admire the evening sky, though at the time the pink and purple streaks were at their most impressive, they were just regaining consciousness and the sunset barely registered with either of them.
Now fully awake, but very groggy and with pounding heads, they were none too happily taking stock of their situation. Tied back to back on opposite sides of a craggy rock, they were starting to feel the chill and Christine was beginning to feel a little annoyed with Francois’ attempts to look on the bright side. “There is no bright side,” she wanted to scream.
“Well, it’s good weather,” Francois reasoned, “so there are sure to be fishermen along soon enough and they’ll untie us and help us get home. I’ll bet Berthe and Christophe are looking everywhere for us right this minute.”
Christine sighed, “It may take them quite a while to think to look here.” She didn’t want to call attention to the rising tide, so once again she started trying to work out how they came to be in this predicament.
“My brain is pretty foggy, but I seem to remember we met Mary Halkett, the dressmaker and she pestered us to have tea with her,” Christine forced herself to concentrate but it wasn’t easy with her head pounding. “She wanted us to try some new blend she’d imported but neither of us liked it much. Then I think there was a man with a very ugly grin, but by then my head was swimming so maybe I’m imagining it.”
Wanting to please Christine, Francois made a greater effort, “Yes, it was the dressmaker we met. Lord, I wonder what happened to her. She’s a tiny defenceless thing, no match for that grinning brute that she introduced us to. There was something else, something important but I just can’t get a grasp on it. I think I might be sick, hope you’ll pardon me Christine.”
Lord Hayes was in a jubilant mood, the ‘Clarence’ carriage had arrived safely from London and it was every bit as stylish as he had anticipated. He was anxious to take a ride in his new acquisition but Jermine insisted that it first be inspected after its long journey by ship and that the two younger horses in the stable, Elucreh and Esprit, become well-schooled in the task of hauling this handsome new mode of transport. Consequently, Lord Hayes was persuaded to be patient for a few days while Jermine set to work with his two favourite equine companions. Several days of hard work passed quickly and Jermine became more assured that the horses were confident enough to move on from the farm track and tackle some of the Jersey lanes and roads. Lord Hayes was filled with anticipation; it was a fine day and he invited Jermine to join him for some lunch in the shrubbery garden.
“Harbin.” said Jermine (Lord Hayes liked to dispense with formalities of address when they were alone together). “I think that Elucreh and Esprit are ready for their first venture outside of the farm, they seem to have adapted very well to hauling the Clarence”.
“What a splendid idea,” remarked Lord Hayes. “We could go via the East Road through to Five Oaks and then travel out to St. Catherine’s Bay. It’s such a lovely day, we should make the most of it and the sunsets over there are spectacular. On the way back we can call at the ‘Captain’s Rest’. I have promised to give the landlord a couple of pheasants next time I am there, in return for the excellent Pointer pup he has given me”. It was agreed that they would set off mid-afternoon and make the journey slowly and carefully.
Lord Hayes was more than happy for Jermine to take the reins; so Jermine gave the horses an affectionate pat and jumped up into the driver’s seat with his Lord upfront beside him. The two horses were of sound Jersey breeding stock and Jermine felt privileged to have the honour of trotting them out with the new carriage. They followed the tree-lined lanes to Five Oaks and after some time the road opened to wider vistas and they admired the magnificent play of the early evening sunlight on the blue sea. It was a splendour to behold. Jermine slowed the horses to a walking pace as the two men relished the view and the fresh sea air. The tide was coming in at the bay and the sea water foamed in fury as it crashed against the rocks.
“Let’s stop for a moment and take in all this beauty before us”, said Jermine, “and, I want to check the horses for any chafing from the new harnessing.” Lord Hayes agreed. He jumped down from the Clarence and moved towards the coastal path overlooking the bay. As he looked out across the bay, he thought he heard someone calling for help. He signalled to Jermine, “Look, down there, there are people on the sand by the rocks. How silly, it’s too dangerous to be there, it will soon be high tide”.
“Stay here with the horses”, said Jermine, “I’ll go and investigate”. Jermine sprinted off towards the two distant figures on the sand. As he got closer, he realised that they were indeed crying out for help. François and Christine had begun to think that their fate was sealed but as Jermine ran towards them they realised that their prayers had been answered. “What the devil is happening here?” cried Jermine. He hastily pulled out his pocket-knife and cut them free from their bondage. The newly unfettered couple were muttering grateful thanks but Jermine urged them to follow him quickly to escape the incoming tide. They promptly scrambled up the grassy ascent to the coastal path and were met by a bewildered Lord Hayes. They hurriedly introduced themselves and Jermine grabbed a couple of rugs from the carriage as they both appeared to be shivering from their distressing experience.
Jermine ushered the couple into the carriage and Lord Hayes joined them. He enquired as to how he could be of service. François blurted out the whole story and Lord Hayes stared at them both in amazement. They told him that they were both anxious to be in St Aubin to meet Christophe and Bertha. Jermine was immediately instructed to get them there as quickly as possible. It was at least a thirty-minute journey to St Aubin, but this afforded Lord Hayes an opportunity to learn more about the couple as they explained the reasons for their extended stay in Jersey, their most recent encounter with Mary Halkett and the puzzling question surrounding the ugly brute she appeared to be in cohorts with.
“I am somewhat of a predictor of events,” said Lord Hayes. My given name is Harbin and Jermine often jokes with me that it stands for ‘Harbinger’, a foreseer of things to come. How lucky for you two that we ventured out today with the new carriage and chose to come by this way.” François and Christine nodded in agreement. “I know of this Mary Halkett that you speak of. She has managed to ingratiate herself with a good many people of Jersey Society but on the occasions that I have met with her I have sensed an overwhelming aura of malevolence. She might have some people spellbound by her feminine charms, but I am certainly not one of them. However, now we must press on with our journey. Our first duty now is to get to the warehouse and find your friends, to let them know that you are safe.”
The Clarence pulled up outside the warehouse. Jermine tethered the horses and by the light from the lamps now lit on the side of the carriage they were able to see that the warehouse was locked. “That’s odd!”, declared François, “It’s all locked up, where can they be?”. At the end of a dark lane next to the warehouse two shadowy figures were walking towards the party of four. As they came into the light Christine called out, “Bertha, Christophe, oh heavens above, we have such a tale to tell you!” Jermine immediately recognised Christophe and embraced him as if long lost brothers. “It’s been a long time my friend; I heard of your engagement, and this must be your lovely young lady.” Bertha smiled sweetly but said nothing. Her first focus of concern was the dishevelled appearance of François and Christine.
“We were drugged, kidnapped and left to die.” uttered Christine, in a distressed voice. “Thanks to these good people here we were saved.”
“Somebody locked us in.” said Christophe. “Fortunately, I’ve known this place since I was a boy and knew we could escape. Bertha and I moved some of the wine barrels to uncover the hidden trapdoor into the old smugglers tunnel that runs down to the harbour wharf. That’s how we managed to get out.”
“Come along all of you, let’s not tarry here with explanations, get in the carriage;” said Lord Hayes, “ I have to call in at the Captain’s Rest to deliver some pheasants and whilst we are there I think we could all do with a stiff drink. We can try to get to the bottom of these unfortunate events later.” They all climbed aboard the Clarence and made their way to the Captain’s Rest Tavern.
Jermine brought the Clarence to a stop in a small courtyard behind the Tavern and they entered through the back door and made their way into the main salon. To François’ astonishment, he immediately noticed Captain James Bates from the ‘Janvrin’ who beckoned them all over to join him. Captain Bates spoke in a low tone, “What a fortunate twist of fate Monsieur François, and you lovely ladies, ‘twas hoping to run into you. Let me warn you, Auguste is not a happy man, he thinks you are trying to cheat him so has sent his brother Giscard to Jersey to ‘deal with you’. You must be on your guard; he won’t hesitate to harm you in pursuit of his bounty.” Lord Hayes sensed the gravity of the warning to the young people of his most recent acquaintance, and his benevolent heart told him that he had found a new cause to champion.
James Bede Hayes, or Lord Hayes, as he was known, had made his money from road building in England in the early 19th century. When he had a brief respiratory scare he reasoned a change of climate would suit his sunset years and he made the move to Jersey mainly because of the climate, but also because of the cost of living and its close political affiliations with Britain. That it was free from any taxation, and imported goods were free of excise were also considerations but really it was the state of the roads which drew him to Jersey.
The population of Jersey had steadily grown and more and more land had been taken over by farmers and an extensive programme of road improvement and building would allow them to more readily take their produce to the markets of Europe.
In England his uncanny knack of seeing what others could not see, had reaped huge rewards and he could see that a continuation of his activities could be easily accommodated in Jersey.
Lord Hayes was an advocate of the Macadam System of road building, developed by the canny Scot, John McAdam. While this system had been used in Jersey by the Constable of St Brelade, John Le Couteur, Lord Hayes had perfected this construction method which relied on cambering and elevation of the road above the water table which enabled rain water to run off into ditches on either side but the real trick was the sizing of rocks used in the roads, especially the stones used in the top layer which needed to be a maximum of 2 inches so that the carriage wheels could ride smoothly over the surface. On top of that Lord Hayes introduced the English refinement of using finely crushed stone as the compacting filler between the 2 inch rocks. On any construction day, the workers, usually from Scotland and Ireland could be seen breaking the rocks by hand and testing their size by seeing if they could fit into their mouths – it was very scientific.
Now, having taken his new Clarence, with its superior springing, on roads he had built, gave Lord Hayes immense satisfaction. “Smooth as an inner thigh” he had said to Jermine and, being a man of the world, Jermine nodded with a glint in his eye.
And his mystical powers? Well, no one has been able to explain them and even Lord Hayes himself is quite oblivious to them. It’s just that he would suddenly get a feeling and invariably he would be right.
As they relaxed with glasses of cold Vouvray made from Chenin Blanc grapes with just a hint of sweetness, Christophe recalled discussing Lord Hayes’ mystical powers with his invalid wife, Lady Hayes. She was equally stumped as to an explanation. “Let’s just put it down to providence” Lady Hayes had said “and, I can tell you, it is the most difficult thing to have a husband who is always right.” There was much nodding in the group, especially the women. But Lord Hayes seemed to be in another world as though he was thinking on a level above everyone. “We must find this Giscard quickly and knock this one on the head since there are so many dangers which lie in your paths, my young friends” and he immediately finished his glass with gusto and encouraged everyone to follow suit. Having passed on their thanks to Captain Bates, they assembled outside the Captain’s Rest Tavern.
“Let’s head for the docks area and meet this Giscard” said Lord Hayes. “You four go inside the Clarence and Jermine and I will ride up top.”
It was a short ride to the docks and with the tide still quite full, a skittering of clouds streaked the blue sky indicating a change was in the air. Jermine urged his horses to pull up outside The Trafalgar Inn at the bottom of High Street, famed for its daily lamb and mutton. Lord Hayes was sure he would would find Giscard there.
To check out a strategy, Lord Hayes opened the carriage door, peered in and said: “So, you have a 50:50 deal with this Auguste?” and Christine and Berthe nodded. “And Giscard has a 50:50 deal with Auguste” he said as his mind rolled through the possibilities. So, if Giscard gets his share, yours is not diminished.” He stated. “Of course, I’m assuming that honourable ladies like yourselves were, of course, going to honour your deal with Auguste.” Berthe and Christine exchanged a glance and said in unison: “Of course!”
“Okay” said Lord Hayes “leave this to me” and he entered the tavern and immediately noticed a swarthy-looking Frenchman with mutton grease glistening on his chin.
“Giscard, brother of Auguste, I assume?” Lord Hayes questioned the unkempt slightly drunk Frenchman with a menacing tone.
“Yeah, but what’s it to you?” replied Giscard rising to the unspoken threat.
“Well, you have a choice of immediately returning to France with a message to Auguste that he will be paid in full in due course, or you being arrested by the Senior Constable for an attempted double murder. What’s it to be?”
Giscard did not hesitate and in a split second lunged at Lord Hayes with a razor-sharp silver dagger. Lord Hayes was a former boxer and with lightning speed deflected the arm holding the dagger, and smashed his large fist into the face of the unfortunate Frenchman knocking him out cold. As Giscard lay on the rough tiled floor groaning and oozing blood from his broken nose, Lord Hayes called for some rope and proceeded to tie Giscard’s hands behind his back.
“The Janvrin is due to sail in one hour’s time and I am sure that my friend Captain James Bates will not mind taking an extra passenger back to Barneville-Carteret. He owes me one anyway, for a favour that I did for him last month” laughed Lord Hayes, dragging the hapless still unconscious body out the door and down to the dock where the Janvrin was being loaded up for the return journey.
The next day Berthe and Christine were up early to supervise Victor and Louis continue to fill and cork the numerous bottles of ‘Chateau d’Or Calvados’ which now had the attractive apple-tree labels on them proudly designed by Christine. Berthe and Christine were absolutely delighted to receive their first order for the calvados from the Old Revere Inn, the largest hotel in St. Hillier – a crate of a dozen bottles, and they arranged for Victor and Louis to deliver them that very afternoon and also take a thank-you card and a complimentary gift of two bottles to Lord Hayes in St Brelade for his gallant assistance. Once the word gets around Jersey about the good-looking bottles and delicious calvados, they hoped that the orders would start to flood in. The sooner they had the money the sooner that they could pay Auguste and reassure him that they wanted to have a long-term successful and trusted business relationship.
With all the bottling and packing, the day went in a flash and Victor and Louis departed to make the delivery to the Old Revere Inn where they were warmly received by the publican. They declined his offer of a free beer as they were still officially working and had to make their way to St. Brelade.
After delivering the thank-you card and the gift of two bottles of calvados to the residence of Lord Hayes and as it was late in the afternoon, they decided to call into the Smugglers’ Inn for a quiet ale or two. They were alarmed to hear a commotion coming from the Inn and when they entered they found the Innkeeper Marcel Gaudron on his knees wailing in fear.
“Rufus Hoggart was here this afternoon. He had been released from custody because there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the murder of old Roger, the crewman from the Janvrin. Rufus offered me exorbitant insurance for the Smugglers’ Inn and said that if I did not pay for it then something very bad would happen to me, as he tapped a knife held in his right hand against the hook on his left arm. After he left I saw the Woman in Black again coming down the stairs and you know what happened last time. It means that someone is to die. Help me! Please get the Crone of St.Ouen to come and get rid of this demon.”
Victor looked at Louis who had visibly paled, and said “Of course. We will be back as soon as we can”, pulling Louis outside. They jumped up onto their cart and eased Dobbin, their trusted horse, out onto the cobbled road. It took them less than half-an-hour to arrive at St.Ouen where they were stopped by two rough-looking sentries, in the middle of the road, who wanted to know their business. They explained their request in detail and the older sentry listened carefully and then said to wait while he conveyed the message. Under the guard of the other sentry they waited nervously a long ten minutes before the huge bushy-bearded Mauger turned up looking sinister in the misty twilight.
“Return now to the Smugglers’ Inn and the Crone will come within the hour”, he grumbled in a deep voice.
Victor and Louis did not need any encouragement as they nudged Dobbin to quickly turn the cart around and head back to tell Marcel that help was on the way.
As promised, the old Crone of St.Owen with Mauger and an entourage of four dishevelled escorts arrived at the front door of the Inn and entered in a procession carrying an ancient black cast-iron cauldron and brazier. Mauger carefully lit the black pieces of charcoal in the brazier under the cauldron to boil up the magic brew near the bottom of the timber stairs leading up to the dark bedrooms from whence the Woman in Black appears. The Crone with her deep mystical knowledge of alchemy used a powerful potent combining a quintessence of hemlock, deadly nightshade, snakeroot and ragwort, in a dark oil. As the brew began to boil the Crone commenced the black-magic ritual of exorcism to rid the Smugglers’ Inn of the Woman in Black and other demons. Marcel, Victor and Louis were spell-bound watching the spectacle and listening to the chanting of the Crone who was waving her hands and arms over the magic brew. It was almost midnight when the ritual was over and as the mysterious group departed the old Crone said quietly to Marcel that he would never see the Woman in Black again.
The next morning Victor and Louis returned to the Smugglers’ Inn to see whether Marcel had recovered from his misery. They banged on the locked front door but no-one answered. They tried the back door still without success and started to become worried when they saw that the kitchen side door was broken and wide open. Upon entering they walked through the kitchen into the bar area, and there was Marcel, at the bottom of the stairs, lying in a pool of blood with his throat cut from ear to ear.
As Victor and Louis left the Smugglers Inn on their mission to bring The Crone to him, Marcel Gaudron fidgeted, paced the floor and came to a sudden resolve. This man Rufus was a thug. The Police knew it. How he got off the homicide of old Roger, he did not know, but he was not going to stand over Marcel Gaudron.
Sending his serving girl home, he closed the Inn, hung up a “back soon” notice and rode off to St Helier Police Station to make a complaint to Senior Constable Plod. He was too preoccupied to notice the solitary figure in the shadows of a laneway across the road observing him as he had the hurried departure of Victor and Louis.
In the early hours of the next morning, a swarthy figure broke the glass of the kitchen door, let himself in and lay in wait. At 6 am as Marcel Gaudron reached the foot of the stairs, he was seized from behind, and in two seconds, his throat was slashed from ear to ear, making a gurgling sound as he collapsed.
“Stupid old codger. He should have just paid up. Now it has cost him a lot more than a measly premium!” the figure muttered.
He departed the way he came, mounted a horse and rode towards St. Helier, through Longueville reaching Gorey where Mary Halkett’s beautiful home overlooked Royal Bay of Grouville. Tethering his horse some 300 yards away he walked in the early morning light at 7 am to the rear door of Mary’s house and banged on it repeatedly until Mary came to the door without opening it. “What do you want at this time of day Rufus”.
He replied through gritted teeth, “Yer and me’s got history together. I want yer to alibi me for last night, see. You can say you had me ‘ere last night at 7 o’clock to do some labourin’ the next day. Yer can say I slept in yer gardener’s shed”
“What” she exploded as her eyes narrowed. “How dare you suggest such a thing. I am a respectable woman and I have a valuable reputation in Jersey. I would never have a man sleeping overnight at my home. Be on your way”
“Oh yeah,” Rufus came back “and how will yer friends in Jersey think if I spread it around that yer wus plannin’ a fire to consume them Frenchy women in St Aubin. Well, I’ve got a bit o’ proof of our dealin’s together and yer know how mud sticks round here. A whiff of scandal would ruin yer and anyway I’ve got a guarantee ‘ere” he leered, flashing his long knife.
Mary’s eyes narrowed again. She did not know what he was running from, but he must be desperate. He could be bluffing about proof of dealings, but scandal would ruin her in Jersey. She needed time to plot a safe course. “You can stay in the gardener’s shed. There is a paillasse there you could sleep on. I assume the Police will come looking for you some time. What do I say?”
“Like I said, just say I was here last night to do labouring, slept in the shed and started work at 6 am this morning. I need some old clothes to wear. And I will start now” He got tools from the shed. Mary gave him the gardener’s shirt and trousers and took his removed clothes to be washed. Rufus then busied himself in the garden.
Senior Constable Plod was at the murder scene an hour after Victor and Louis discovered Marcel’s bloodied corpse. Surmising there was a connection with Marcel’s stand-over threat by Rufus Hoggard he immediately looked for witnesses. The serving girl Lucia de Mestre, who was due to start work at 6 am, had arrived late at 6.05 in time, as she told Plod, to see Rufus leave the kitchen and ride off towards St Helier. After finding her butchered boss’s body, she was so terrified she would be next, she ran back home and hid until Plod came looking for her.
Plod promptly rode back to St Helier looking for anyone who could report seeing Rufus. He talked to a number of hotel patrons first without result. At midday he went into the Cock and Bottle where the wealthier patrons were dining. A resident of Gorey, one Bill McKendrey, said “Yes. I thought it was Rufus Hoggard. He’s someone I know to steer clear of. He tethered his horse to a tree outside my house. It was in a lather – been ridden hard. Then he walked down to Mary Halkett’s house a quarter mile down the road and went around the back. That’s all I saw.”
Taking his probationary constable Tomas Mercier with him, Plod rode first to Mary’s shop in St. Helier and found it closed, without an explanatory notice on a weekday. “Most unusual” he remarked to his probationer.
Together they rode out to Mary’s house and were greeted by her in a high state of agitation, blurting out “That wicked man has come here demanding I bear false witness for him or he will tell a pack of lies that will destroy my reputation. He threatened to kill me if I didn’t. I agreed I would say he came here last night, but really, he didn’t come until after 7 this morning. Please help me” she said gazing wet-eyed as a damsel in distress into John Plod’s eyes. “He is working in the back garden now. He gave me his clothes to wash, but they have a lot of blood on them”
Aware of Mary’s look of admiration, Plod checked his pistol and commanded his probationer “Tomas, be ready with your truncheon. We can expect stiff opposition from this man”. They went warily down the side of the house until they saw Hoggard. “Rufus” Plod called out in as casual manner as his nerves would allow. “I’d like to talk to you about a recent event” he called out as he approached Hoggard who speared his shovel into the soil and waited for Plod. “Yea, Mr Copper. How cin I help yer”
“You were seen riding away from the Smugglers Inn this morning just after 6 am when Marcel Gaudron was murdered by slitting his throat”.
“Must be someone’s mistake Copper. I bin ‘ere since last night. Slept in this ‘ere gardener’s shed. Ask Miss Halkett”
“I have, and I have heard the truth” Plod snapped as he produced his pistol and Tomas grasped his truncheon. “You are the villain responsible for old Marcel’s murder. You are under arrest.”
In an instant, Hoggard withdrew the spade from the soil and swung it hard against Plod’s head felling him. With the return swing he felled the probationer. Reaching into his legging, he pulled out his knife and advanced on Plod, knife raised, roaring “You rotten copper grub. This will even the score for you murdering my twin brother.”
A rifle shot rang out. Rufus Hoggard looked stunned, then collapsed, mortally wounded.
Mary heard Plod call out to Rufus Hoggard and she quickly slipped inside the front door of her house. Just behind the front door inside was an umbrella stand. Hidden among the umbrellas was a loaded American Sharps Rifle, a beautiful weapon and the pride and joy of Mary’s late father Charles. Mary had been allowed to fire the rifle when she was a child and had become an expert shot.
Mary had hidden the rifle among the umbrellas in the wee hours of the morning hoping to use it and despatch Rufus Hoggard. She also knew that when she shot Hoggard it would need to be in self-defence and preferably with sound witnesses to swear that it was self-defence. The arrival of Plod and probationary constable Mercier was perfect. Mary was also acutely aware that Rufus was an unpredictably violent man. There was more than an even chance that Rufus would attack Plod and the probationary constable.
Much better than self-defence, Mary thought, I can be a hero defending the constabulary. She grabbed the rifle and returned outside just in time to hear the double thwack as Rufus knocked down Plod and then Mercier on the return swing of the spade. She saw Rufus reach down for a knife. She took aim at Rufus’ chest. Rufus lunged the knife towards Plod. She fired and saw Rufus pushed back off his feet onto his back on the path. Then Mary saw the pleasing spread of crimson on Rufus’ jacket near where his heart should be. She smiled.
You picked the wrong lady to try and blackmail, Rufus Hoggard, she thought. “Now my secrets are safe”, she murmured.
At that moment she saw Plod try to raise himself on hands and knees, before groaning and collapsing to the ground. Needs must, thought Mary. She rushed to Plod’s side and feigning great concern said, “Oh poor John, poor John you were so brave” and she cradled his head in her arms while thinking “I hope this is going to be worth the effort”.
The world was spinning around in John Plod’s head and it hurt to open his eyes. Eventually he managed to screw one eye open without pain and saw the ample swell of Mary Halkett’s bosom.
I must be dreaming, John thought, he shut his eye and opened it again. The bosom was still there and clearer and he could see Mary’s face too, wracked with concern. John Plod thought he must have died and gone to heaven. “Am I with the angels” he whispered.
Mary tried to keep the concerned look on her face but inwardly was thinking, “this man’s a moron, the sooner this little charade is over the better”.
She whispered back, “not in heaven my dear. You and your probationary constable were attacked savagely by Rufus Hoggard he nearly,” best let out a little sob or two at this stage she thought, “very nearly stabbed you to death”.
“Fortunately, I was prepared for Rufus to turn violent. I had my dear papa’s rifle nearby and somehow, I managed to shoot Rufus. There was blood. So much blood. It was terrible”. Sob. Sob.
Plod’s senses were fast returning. “You were very brave Mary and you undoubtedly saved my life and I think you probably saved probationary constable Mercier too”. At that moment Mercier groaned and struggled to sit up.
Plod gingerly rose to his feet and went over to the collapsed heap that was Rufus Hoggard. There was a large spread of blood on Hoggard’s jacket near the area of his. Plod didn’t worry about checking for any vital signs, Hoggard must be dead. A small crowd was starting to gather and old Jim had stopped his cart nearby to take a closer look.
Plod decided the macabre sight must finish. “Old Jim” Plod called “Can you get some help to put this body on your cart and take it to the morgue at the hospital. Ask the morgue attendants to contact the Coroner. I will make sure you are well rewarded for your efforts”. Old Jim and another bystander put the body in the cart.
John Plod then turned to Mary and said “it is clear what has happened here Mary but I must take your statement”. Mary thought now how can I gild this lily even more.
Old Jim’s cart had Rufus Hoggard’s body transferred to the morgue in less than half an hour. The morgue attendants were busy and they asked Old Jim and his companion if they could place the body on one of the slabs and it would be attended to later.
Rufus Hoggard had regained consciousness about the time he was being heaved onto Old Jim’s cart and he thought “best I stay dead for the time being”. The bullet from the rifle had gone through a small ledger in Hoggard’s breast pocket and had slowed considerably as it pierced his chest stopping short of his heart. Plenty of blood but no lasting damage. Hoggard was now on the mortuary slab with a sheet over him. He heard the two mortuary assistants chatting and then leave the room. “Time for my resurrection” Rufus thought “and revenge on Plod and that bitch Mary Halkett”.
On his first attempt to sit up, Rufus swooned and fell back. He’d done a fair reconnaissance in a blurry sort of way and when he saw the open back door just 8 or so steps away, he knew he was going to make it. OK, he told himself, let’s take it easy now. Supporting himself on his elbows, he managed to sit up. A few seconds later he was able to stand, despite the pain and the pounding in his head. God, it hurt and the bleeding had started up again. He grabbed the sheet from the gurney and wrapped it around his chest, securing it over his shoulder. He’d find more clothes along the way, thank God they hadn’t removed his trousers or boots. One deep breath, then another, a quick look around and he was on his way across the room, down three steps, then into the woods. That last 20 yards nearly did him in and he leaned against a tree to steady himself. He was in no hurry – today, tomorrow, next week, it was all the same to him; however long it took, Mary Halkett would pay, and Plod would get his too.
It didn’t take long for word of the affray at Gorey to reach St Helier and with every telling the story grew that little bit more fantastic.
Doctor Hovis, however, was one of the first to hear the news and he got the plain and simple version as he was about to depart from Five Oaks, just outside Gorey. Old Jim stopped as he had passed on his way to the mortuary with Hoggard and he gave the doctor a brief account, adding Rufus was beyond help but Senior Constable Plod and PC Mercier might be pleased to have his services. It sounded a little messy but the doctor was a great admirer of Miss Halkett and had spent many a lonely evening with a bottle of Irish whisky rehearsing witty lines of conversation that might impress the lady if he ever got the chance.
The doctor found PC Mercier sprawled against the trunk of a tree, and hurried to the house for water and clean cloths. Through the open door he spied Senior Constable Plod seated at a table, making notes in an exercise book, with Mary opposite. His shoulders fell as Mary reached out her hand and placed it on the Senior Constable’s wrist, saying, “You can’t imagine how terrified I was when I saw Hoggard attack you, John. And just think, if he could overcome two strong, experienced police officers, what hope did a defenceless woman have against him?” She looked into Plod’s eyes and squeezed his wrist.
John Plod opened his mouth but no words came forth. The silence was broken by the doctor clearing his throat loudly to announce his presence.
Plod hurriedly picked up his journal and pencil saying, “Well, thank you for the statement, Miss Halkett. I may need to speak to you again in a day or so.”
“I look forward to it John,” smiled Mary, all the time wishing he’d just go away, and take that bumbling doctor with him.
With the doctor’s help, Plod got Mercier into the police cart for the trip to Five Oaks where the doctor would patch him up. But before leaving, he counselled Mary, “Miss Halkett, Rufus Hoggard may be laid out in the mortuary, but I suggest you take a few precautions. Who knows what cut-throats he may have been associated with? Be sure to keep your doors and windows locked.”
Mary waved, and stepped indoors, saying aloud, “That fool Plod – lock the doors, indeed; doesn’t he realise the horse has not only bolted, it’s dead and about to be buried.” A smile lit up her face and her eyes gleamed.
Like everyone in St Helier, the Robillards were stunned as news came through from Gorey. Madame Robillard poured a second cup of tea for her husband and shook her head as she addressed him, “Jean-Paul, that poor Halkett girl must be scared to death out there alone. How will she feel when night falls? I can’t imagine why Plod didn’t think of it.” Few people ever dared dispute Mme Robillard and none did now. “Christophe and Francois must go and bring her here. We have more than enough room and she will have friendly company.” Seeing no immediate enthusiasm for the idea, Mme Robillard used her sternest voice, “It is the right thing to do.”
M Robillard sighed and looked at his son, “Christophe and I will go, my dear.” He swallowed the last of his tea then jerked his head at Christophe, who rose and followed his father to the door, shrugging his shoulders and blowing a kiss to Berthe.
Madame Robillard had misjudged Senior Constable Plod’s lack of attention to Mary. His return to St Helier was totally preoccupied with thoughts of her. Each time he tried to focus on Hoggard’s post-mortem or the timeline of events he would have to compose, his thoughts drifted to a vision of Mary squeezing his wrist, Mary looking into his eyes, addressing him as Dear John. Surely he couldn’t be wrong. Brave and independent Mary, who seemed to hold herself apart, was trying to tell him she shared his feelings of affection. There could be no other explanation for the tender touches and warm feelings she expressed. The revelation made his heart beat faster. His head cleared as if a bright light had been switched on. He knew what he must do: he would return to Gorey, profess his love and ask Mary for her hand in marriage.
Senior Constable Plod was expected at the mortuary to hear the results of the autopsy on Rufus Hoggard, but it had been an uncommonly busy morning and the medical examiner was working at his usual slow and steady pace, so they were an hour or two behind.
Finally, they were ready for Rufus and an orderly was sent to bring the body through. The medical examiner began to relax. A bullet through the heart should be cut and dried, they would be headed home in half an hour and he would be on his first gin within the hour. The orderly returned at a run and the medical examiner raised his head looking for the body.
“Well, where is my cadaver, man? Come on, don’t stand there tongue-tied.”
“Well, sir,” the orderly squeaked, “Um, the body seems to have disappeared, sir.”
Madame Robillard’s insistence that poor Mary Halkett be offered the protection of the Robillard family was characteristic of her kind and considerate nature. Christophe balked at the very idea of it. Out of great respect and affection for Madame Robillard, and considering Mary’s unfortunate predicament, Berthe kept her thoughts to herself and exhibited no emotional reaction to the proposal. Christophe and his father harnessed and hitched two horses to the carriage and headed off to Gorey to the Halkett house. After their departure Berthe, Christine and François sat around a small table with a bottle of ‘Brulliacus Beaujolais’ to talk over the recent events, while Madame Robillard busied herself preparing a room for her new guest. Christine and François felt especially uneasy about Mary’s impending arrival but agreed to be polite towards her as a courtesy to Madame Robillard.
Earlier that evening, over at Gorey, news of the disappearance of Rufus Hoggard’s ‘corpse’ had reached Mary Halkett. Mary was afraid. Chilling thoughts occupied her troubled mind. “What if he’s alive?”, she thought. As she scurried around the house wondering what to do, she heard the rumble of carriage wheels approaching along the lower road, so she ran down to investigate. It was dark but in the slivers of moonlight and shadow she was able to make out that it was the Robillard carriage. Monsieur Robillard explained the reason for his calling on her and had no trouble convincing her to accept the offer of safe lodging at the Auberge D’Aubin. Her heart began to thud inside her chest. A thousand pleasant visions of being near to Christophe began to form in Mary’s mind and she hastily packed some clothes and other essential items in a large bag.
“May I bring my horse and carriage? she asked. “I don’t want to leave Betsy here alone; she will need to be cared for.” It was arranged that Monsiuer Robillard would drive Mary’s carriage with her beside him and the luggage would follow with Christophne driving the Robillard carriage. Christophe tactfully explained that the roads could be more difficult to negotiate at night, but in truth it was a ruse to foil any plan of Mary’s to be alone with him. They arrived back at the Auberge D’Aubin in the early hours of the morning. Everyone had retired for the night except Madame Robillard who had waited up to welcome her new guest. Mary was tired and relishing the thought of a safe night’s sleep. She quickly settled herself in her room but before sleep there was one pressing thing she had to attend to, and that was to find a hiding place for her precious diary. Everyone at the Auberge slept soundly, but Rufus Hoggard shuddered in the cold woods outside St. Helier and with little chance of sleep through the night, his bitterness towards Mary festered and flourished in his evil heart.
The next morning, Berthe and Christine entered the breakfast parlour early and Beatrice, the parlour maid sheepishly approached them.
“Pardon me Mademoiselle Berthe, this note has just arrived for you and your friends. It’s from Lord Hayes; his groom Jermine said he will wait for a reply to take back to his Lordship.” The letter was duly opened. It was written on beautiful notepaper in exquisite handwriting; Berthe read the letter.
“To my dear young friends, Christine, François, Berthe and Christophe,
I was pleased to make your acquaintance recently, albeit through the unfortunate circumstances that nearly took the lives of Christine and François.
You are cordially invited to lunch with me today at my home, Bellevue de Mer. I apologise for the short notification of this invitation, but it is prompted by the occurrence of recent events and I feel an obligation to share my deliberations with you.
If you are willing to join me, please inform Jermine and he will collect you in the Clarence at 12 noon.
At your service, discreetly and sincerely,
Berthe asked Beatrice to wait for a few moments so that she could speak to Christophe and immediately despatched Christine to speak to François. Within minutes it was settled and Berthe handed Beatrice a written response to be given to Jermine. The response read:
“Dear Lord Hayes,
Thank you for your kind invitation. Our party of four would be delighted to join you today.
With sincere appreciation and regards,
The four friends were abuzz with curiosity and hastened to finish breakfast to attend to their attire. Lord Hayes was a man of good breeding and wealth and they intended to dress for the occasion. Jermine returned promptly at 12 noon and they were soon on their way. There was no sign of Mary Halkett that morning, so they assumed that she was tired after her recent ordeal and most likely enjoying an extended rest.
Lord Hayes’ home was exquisitely furnished, and it was obvious to them that he was educated, a lover of art and books and a man of quick wit and humour. Lady Hayes was genteel and kind and seemed delighted to share her husband’s interest in ‘his young friends’; he had often referred to them as such in his discussions with her. Lunch was superb. Coffee was served afterwards, and Lord Hayes indicated that he was eager to try Berthe’s kind gift of the bottle of Calvados she had brought with her. Christine blushed as Berthe remarked that the pretty label was Christine’s handiwork. The Calvados was poured, was declared to be the best he had ever tasted and then Lord Hayes began an earnest conversation with the four.
“I do not believe in coincidences; what I look for in a comparison of unfortunate events is the common element and as I proceed, I am sure you will follow my train of thought. I knew old Mrs Halkett quite well as she often made dresses for my dear wife. I used to give her some of my cook’s apple dumplings, they were her favourite. I gathered from Mrs. Halkett that Mary had been a difficult child who liked to get her own way and sometimes had an uncontrollable temper. Mrs. Halkett developed consumption and Mary ‘seemed’ to dutifully care for her but then her mother’s health declined very rapidly, and her sudden death took me by surprise. Not long after that, and I am sorry Christophe if this is painful for you, there was the death of young Maria. It happened at the Torrance’s Ball; Mary Halkett was there and not bearing it too well that Maria’s beauty was being much admired. I saw the envy in her eyes, it was undeniable. Maria was happily dancing away and was suddenly struck down; within minutes she was gone, apparently from food poisoning. Just recently I saw Madame Torrance in St. Helier, and she appeared to be very distressed. She told me that her darling cat ‘Celeste’ appears to have been poisoned and it occurred on the same day that Mary Halkett returned the Torrance’s cook’s dress after the ‘soup’ incident. Christine and François, you took tea with her on the day you were drugged and found yourselves tied up and left to perish on the beach at St. Catherine’s Bay. Lastly, there is the question of who locked Berthe and Christophe in the warehouse? Mary’s Dress Salon is not far from the warehouse.”
François chipped in, “I remember how coarsely she rebuked me in the backroom of her shop when I picked up the ‘wrong canister’. There was something odd in her manner, almost as though she had let her guard slip and then instantly tried to cover it up.” Berthe made a comment at this point, “I think that she operates behind an elaborate façade of pretence.”
Lord Hayes concluded, “The villain Rufus Hoggard holds the key to this; what was he doing at her home, how are they connected and why is his corpse missing? It is my belief that Mary Halkett is the common element in a series of ill-fated events and now that she is living at the Auberge I urge all of you to exercise extreme caution.” The four friends gulped down another glass of Calvados and nodded in agreement.
The sun percolated softly through the ivy framing the window of Mary Halkett’s first floor bedroom. For a fleeting moment, Mary’s eyes opened through squinting lids and then dreamily they closed again as her vision of the handsome square jaw of Christophe brushed gently against her cheek and she felt the soft fullness of his lips pressed gently, and then firmly, against hers. A warmly exquisite feeling spread throughout her body and she snuggled further into the down-filled covering she had slept under in her disturbed night. In this world of warm wonder she would happily live forever and she felt a frisson run through her body and end with a toe-curling shudder. Blissfully and deeply she drifted back into the warm enveloping arms of sleep – oblivious to the sound of horses’ hooves on the gravel below her window.
Leo Le Feuvre, the Centenier of the Parish, was seething with anger. If Plod had walked through that door at that moment Le Feuvre would need to be restrained from violent action. He knew such emotions never did achieve anything and he quickly regained his composure. He called for his carriage and made his way to the mortuary. “How do I approach the sensitive matter of another dead body with Plod involved?” thought Le Feuvre “he must be the most ham-fisted policeman he had come across.”
All of those thoughts were wasted when he was told by the medical examiner on his arrival that the body had disappeared.
“Where the hell is he?” shouted Le Feuvre.
“We don’t know Sir – the body was there last night” said the orderly.
“No, you fool. Where’s Plod?” he said apoplectically as the man in question appeared at the examiner’s office door.
“We need time alone,” said Le Feuvre ushering the examiner and the orderly out of the office.
“Take a seat Plod” said Le Feuvre pacing around the room.
“I arrive here thinking I need to deal with another dead body with you involved and now I find that the body has disappeared” seethed Le Feuvre through gritted teeth.
“What?” said Plod in disbelief “disappeared?”
“Yes, disappeared – escaped, evaporated, as evanescent as the morning dew. Plod there is no body” said Le Feuvre abandoning poeticism for a more matter-of-fact delivery.
Plod hung his head as though preparing for the guillotine to drop.
“In your new-fangled police training, what is the first thing you are supposed to do when someone is shot?” asked Le Feuvre.
“Well Sir, you must establish if there is still life in the body” said Plod remembering the first rule.
“Exactly Plod. Did you check for a pulse?” inquired Le Feuvre with incredulity.
“Can you explain why?”
“Well Sir, perhaps if I hit you over the head with a shovel you might begin to have an understanding” ventured Plod in an exasperated voice.
Le Feuvre grabbed Plod by the shoulder spinning him around to face him.
“Insolence may give you a fleeting victory Plod but you will quickly learn that you will be a wiser person if you show respect to your superiors.” Le Feuvre turned and walked towards the door calling back “I suggest you find the body or the wounded Hoggard as soon as possible….before it or he finds you.”
Plod sat there still taking all this in. He was sure that Hoggard was dead – true, he had not checked for a pulse but the blood was profuse and right over the heart. Many times he’d heard stories about strange goings on in these parts: the black dog of Bouley Bay; the sinister Vioge of Crack Ankle Lane, and, of course, the Woman in Black whose home had again been violated by another obscenely vicious murder. As his mind absorbed the possibilities, he felt a presence and a sensation of a cold breeze rushing past him.
After his humiliating dressing-down from Le Feuvre, Plod dejectedly left the mortuary and walked slowly back towards the Police Station in Nelson Street. An eery and fearful sensation went through the whole of Plod’s body as he shuddered to think that someone or something invisible was watching him. Coming in the opposite direction was old Jim who stopped him in his tracks and tearfully whimpered
“My faithful horse was stolen last night and my dear wife said that she saw a ghostly figure covered in a sheet riding off after grabbing a shirt from our clothes line. It must be the ghost of Rufus Hoggard who is haunting us and my wife is now so terrified that it will return that she is refusing to leave the house.”
In the meantime at St.Aubin, Berthe, Christophe, Christine and Francois had been driven back by Jermine in the Clarence from the enjoyable and informative lunch with Lord Hayes. During their journey they had excitedly discussed the possible date of Berthe and Christophe’s wedding – Saturday 15th June, some six weeks away. Christophe suggested that the ceremony take place at St. Aubin on the Hill Anglican Church which had been built in 1747 and had beautiful stained-glass windows. His mother had said that the reception could be held at the Auberge D’Aubin and that up to fifty guests could be accommodated. Afterwards the married couple could have their honeymoon in the family farm cottage at Le Mont des Vignes which is a short distance away from St.Aubin but would give them total privacy.
When the happy group entered the Entrance Hall of the Auberge D’Aubin they were warmly greeted by Monsieur and Madame Robillard who handed Berthe a letter from France. The previous excitement disappeared as Berthe nervously opened the envelope, unfolded the paper and slowly read the contents out loud. It was from Auguste in Bayeaux who demanded his money for the calvados “or else”. Berthe visibly blanched and began to tremble, and then was quite surprised when Monsieur Robillard started to laugh and said to his future daughter-in-law not to worry about it as he was going to France the following day for business and would pay Auguste whatever was owing in full. He was sure that the calvados would be making a good profit in the near future and that it was a safe investment. Berthe was so taken aback and relieved that she rushed to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek which Monsieur Robillard received graciously and it was given a nod of approval from his wife.
Listening unnoticed at the back of the Entrance Hall, Mary Halkett, who had gone quite red in the face, spun around and went back upstairs to her room in a state of fury.
“There is one thing that you can do for me, Berthe” said Monsieur Robillard.
“Yes, yes, anything, please.” replied Berthe without hesitation.
“Would you be willing to lend me your fiancée for three days as I need Christophe to come with me to France?”
Berthe was shocked at the short notice and was sad to think that her loved one would be away in France for three whole days, but she felt that she really had no choice in the matter, so she stoically replied
“But of course, provided that you bring him back safe and sound” putting her arm around Christophe and giving him a squeeze.
Early the next morning Berthe, Christine and Francois went down to the docks to farewell Christophe and Monsieur Robillard, and bid them bon voyage for the trip. James Bates, the Captain of the Janvrin welcomed them and said that it should be a quick uneventful voyage toBarneville-Cateret provided that the weather held up. Even though the sun was out and shining brightly there were dark clouds in the distance over the ocean and Berthe felt a sense of foreboding, especially after their previous experience on the way over. Christophe gave Berthe an extra big hug and kiss and told her not to worry as he will be back in her arms again in three days.
Nevertheless, Berthe could not help crying as the Janvrin sailed out of the harbour onto the high seas and bound for France. They all waved until the Janvrin could no longer be seen in the distance as the dark clouds began to roll in and it started to rain. Christine held Berthe’s hand as they ran with Francois back to the Auberge D’Aubin arriving sopping wet and then retreating to their rooms to get changed into some dry clothes.
About the same time the ever-diligent Plod had rounded up two volunteers plus old Jim and PC Tomas Mercier, and they all set off on horses to search Rufus Hoggard’s farm-house.
After changing out of their wet clothes, Yvette Robillard and Berthe were sitting in the withdrawing room of Auberge D’Aubin before a cosily warm fire. A south-easterly wind howled outside and drove rain in sheets against the windows, rattling them.
Madame Robillard began “I have asked Francois and Christine to wait upstairs. First, I must tell you that the planned move to the Isle of Man is no longer necessary. Dr William Okel with whom our family owns Okel’s Brewery on Castle Hill, is ill and his family wish to sell all liquor business. We will join in the sale and use the proceeds to advance our interests here in Jersey and elsewhere. As you and Christophe will in time, we hope, bear little ones” here she beamed at Berthe “Jean-Paul and I would be glad if you both were nearby.”
Second, I want to tell you”……her conversation stopped and she looked startled as Mary Halkett entered the room, saying “May I join you”. After a few moment’s reflection Madame Robillard said in a formal tone “You may dear”, but she was clearly on edge. She regretted offering Mary the protection of the Auberge, after Christophe had told her about Lord Hayes’ suspicions and counsel to exercise caution.
Madame’s cool response was not lost on Mary, who sensed trouble. “Am I exposed”, she thought. “I was in the clear with Hoggard dead,” but she suppressed the fear and composed herself, saying “I am so grateful to you Madame Robillard for your shelter and protection while this brute Rufus is abroad doubtless looking to avenge himself on me.”
“Of course my dear. Think nothing of it.” There! That same cool edge thought Mary.
Yvette Robillard decided Mary’s presence was advantageous. “Second, one of the reasons Jean- Paul and Christophe are going to Paris is to acquire a wedding dress for you using the measurements of one of your dresses they have taken.”
Mary Halkett gasped audibly “But Madame, I would have thought I would have that honour. I have all the skill of a Parisian couturier”. Mary’s mind raced. “I am out of favour. My plan to line the dress with a slow acting poison cannot happen”. Madame responded “Men will be men. Once they get an idea on board you can’t dislodge it”
Mary rose saying “I am disappointed. Please excuse me”. She departed upstairs to her bedroom.
That night Mary tossed and turned for hours unable to sleep. When she slept, she dreamed she was standing in a cart, a tumbril, pulled by two men in lieu of horses. She was standing, lashed to a pole with her hand outstretched lashed to railings. The two men turned and leered at her. They were Rufus and Xavier! The driver was a woman who turned and glowered at her. It was Maria Robillard! Walking alongside the cart in funeral dress were Christophe, Monsieur and Madame Robillard, Berthe, Christine and Francois with grim looking visages. A hangman’s noose was around her neck. Crowds of Jersey locals lined the streets yelling abuse and calling “hang her high!”
Mary woke in a bath of perspiration, stifling a scream. “I need a new plan” she thought. “It is hopeless pursuing Christophe. Perhaps it always was. I need a protector now that they suspect me. Senior Constable John Plod! With my help he can become the chief of the Paid Police and I can show him how to supplement the measly income. He adores me not only for saving his life. He will be putty in my hands. Christophe Robillard he is not, but it is time to make a new plan and cement new respectability as wife of the future chief of the paid Police.”
In the morning Plod came and proudly announced “We have caught Rufus Hoggard.. He is now in the lock-up in handcuffs and manacles.” Addressing Mary he said “You are safe now.” “Oh, you are so wonderful Constable John.” Plod flushed scarlet, but Mary gazed adoringly into his eyes. “Can you escort me back to my home at Gorey? As soon as I have Betsy hitched up to my carriage?”
Plod stammered “Iiiiit wwwould be mmmmy pleasure Mademoiselle Mary.”
“Just call me Mary, John.”. After thanking her hostess she drove off following Plod’s horse.
“Huh! What next!” muttered Madame Robillard. Berthe rolled her eyes upward.
On board the ‘Janvrin’ James Bates was struggling to hold the vessel on course. The south-easterly gale was howling around the deck and the superstructure. The waves were huge. Christophe and his father were alarmed as they and the two crew and three other passengers hung on for dear life. “How far” yelled Christophe above the gale. “Close now” Bates yelled back.
Just then as the boat fell down a wave, there was an ear-splitting crunch of timbers as a long pole drove up through the keel into the boat’s bridge. Water rushed in. “It’s flotsam from a cargo ship” Bates yelled. “We’re sinking! Done for! Must abandon ship! Five cork life preservers in that chest for passengers! Crew will grab floating wreckage. May God save us all!” The panicky passengers, under stern direction from Monsieur Robillard, donned life preservers and with crew, swam over the sinking gun-whales into the raging sea, thrashing away from the doomed vessel.
Christophe had no time think. Just managed to grab a cork life preserver and then the cold sea surrounded him. Down, down he plunged. All tactile senses cut off but his mind active and churning so many thoughts.
Must hold my breath at all cost, Christophe thought.
Damn the heavy money belt full of gold coins that his father and he both wore when travelling on business. The weight is dragging me down faster but too late to cast it adrift he thought.
And then the most painful thought of all, I will never see Berthe again.
As that painful, terrible thought speared through his heart Christophe sensed that he was no longer sinking but starting to rise. His lungs were burning with the effort of holding his breath but he must kick his feet and try and rise faster.
Every second seemed like an eternity, but he was rising faster and through bubbling, churning water and then he could see and hear and most blessedly breath as his head burst above the sea surface.
Christophe fought to keep his head above the water but it was a ferocious task amid the huge peaks and troughs of the waves around him. The cork life preserver provided some assistance but he doubted it would be enough in the rough sea.
Several times he was pushed beneath the waves and he lost count whether it was the fifth or sixth time when he bobbed to the surface and saw the large piece of wreckage straight ahead. It looked like entire wheel-house from the Janvrin. He grabbed for a rim of it and clung on for dear life.
Christophe was so absorbed fighting for life, he had not noticed two other limp nearly lifeless figures clinging to the wheel-house. When he did notice, he uttered a quick prayer of thanks to the Almighty. One of the two men clinging to the wreckage was his father and the other Captain Bates. Both seemed barely alive and Christophe hoped they had the strength to continue holding on.
Anne-Marie was anxious and excited in equal measure. The storm had battered mercilessly all day the farmhouse on the sea-shore where she lived with her father. Her father said the storm was the worst he could recall and that when it eased, he would take her down to the beach to see what might have been washed up. Bad storms often meant rich pickings on the beach for Anne-Marie and her father. You never knew what might turn up.
The wind was easing and her father was as good as his word. “Get your oil-skin on Anne-Marie. We are off to the beach to see what providence has provided”.
They took the familiar path through the back pasture and into the sand dunes. The last set of dunes before the beach proper was the largest set. As they worked their way to the top, at last they could survey the vast expanse of beach and the crashing, foaming waves beyond.
Anne-Marie tugged on the sleeve of her father’s oil-skin. “Look father, over there where the waves are breaking on the beach. It looks like a small shed and people lying nearby”.
They rushed as fast as the clinging sand would permit to the spot and noticed three men face down in the sand on the water’s edge. Anne-Marie’s father was quick to roll each of them on there sides and expertly pumped furiously below their shoulder blades. He was rewarded three times in succession by coughing, gagging spurts of sea water. God be praised all three were alive!
Life slowly returned to each of the three men in front of the fire in that small seaside farmhouse just three miles from Barneville-Cateret. Ten-year old Anne-Marie played the perfect hostess and charmed them with stories of the wonderful finds she had made on the beach – although today’s find of three men taken from the watery jaws of death was her best.
When each of the three had recovered sufficiently they thanked their rescuers profusely and set off to walk the three miles to Barneville-Cateret. They arrived in the early evening and caused quite a commotion at the Inn where the Robillards had pre-booked. The story was already around town that the Janvrin from Jersey had sunk at sea with all lives lost. A boat had already set off for Jersey carrying the bad news.
Auguste was also at the Inn where the Robillards had booked. He was pointed out sitting in the bar and the Robillards approached him. “Monsieur, we have not met before but we are acquainted with three people you have had business dealings with and some barrels of calvados shipped to Jersey”. Auguste was about challenge these newcomers when Monsieur Robillard tipped at least 100 English gold sovereigns on the table.
“All yours, Monsieur, full payment and a little extra for the calvados. If you can be here in four weeks time with twice as many barrels we will be pleased to be your partners in trade. You must forgive us if this business talk is brief. We must return to Jersey as quickly as possible and ease the pain of our loved ones mourning our untimely deaths”.
Senior Constable John Plod hadn’t been expecting any arrivals, and he was a little unsettled as he watched the Marguerite from Barneville-Cateret enter the harbour. One of his duties was to meet arriving vessels to check the manifests and passenger lists. He knew that recent rough seas would keep most ships in port and he had an uneasy feeling of something amiss as he hurried down to speak to Captain Loucas, who he knew quite well.
The Captain beckoned Plod aboard and led him to the salon where a decanter and two glasses were set on the table. Plod‘s sense of foreboding was about to be explained, but the news the Captain imparted was far worse than anything he might have predicted. The Janvrin sunk at sea with all lives lost. It had weathered many a savage storm, and it was hard to believe it had met its match. All crew and passengers lost.
Plod’s heart sank as he thought of those who had been on board. Captain Loucas understood the burden he’d passed on to Plod and his unenviable task of informing the families of their loved ones’ demise. “Aye, the ocean can be cruel,” the Captain said, solemnly shaking Plod’s hand as the Constable set off to fulfill his duty.
Bad news travels fast, and it had a half-hour start on Senior Constable Plod. By the time he’d farewelled Captain Loucas, it had already spread through the dockside tavern and was rushing into the town. It reached Mary Halkett’s ears about the same time Plod was knocking on the door of the Auberge D’Aubin.
Jessie, the housemaid, opened the door to the Constable with a wide smile that vanished quickly as she noted the sombre way he asked to speak to Madame Robillard and Mademoiselle Bovary. She nervously ushered him into the parlour and left to find the ladies, who were enjoying the sunshine in the garden with Mademoiselle Christine and Monsieur Francois. Jessie hovered outside the closed door of the parlour, twisting her apron in her hands and straining to catch any words that might hint at the drama unfolding on the other side.
“I refuse to believe it,” Madame Robillard’s voice came through strongly causing Jessie to jump back a little, and she was sure the weeping in the background came from young Mademoiselle Bovary.
Senior Constable Plod departed to deliver his message of sorrow to other households, but at Auberge D’Aubin the tears and the refusals to believe the tragic news continued through the night. Jessie made pots of tea and sandwiches, but they were mostly ignored.
Mary Halkett also spent a sleepless night in the small room behind her showroom. In the dark hours of the early morning her wracking sobs gave way to a wild fury and, barely knowing what she was doing, she wielded her scissors on the mannequins, destroying them and the gowns they wore, all the while screaming that it was Berthe Bovary’s fault. Christophe would have been safe and happy in Mary’s arms if Berthe hadn’t chased after him. She would pay, oh yes, the bitch would pay.
A watery dawn gave way to a brighter morning. Tears spent, Berthe had passed the early hours agreeing with Yvette Robillard that they wouldn’t give up hope without solid evidence. Sailors had been known to return after weeks and months, but Berthe was finally persuaded by Yvette’s argument that her husband was her soulmate and he could not possibly pass from life without her feeling it in her very soul.
Their hearts less heavy, Yvette proposed a walk along the seafront and they set off arm in arm supporting each other. From the cliff above the town they would commune with the ocean and keep watch for their men.
John Plod watched the women as they took the upward path and decided to give them a 10-minute start before following. They’d almost reached the top when he noticed Mary Halkett hurrying from her shop, her hair wild around her face and dressmakers shears clutched in her right hand. Plod was alarmed to see Mary almost run up the hill and he took off after her, panting heavily as he tried to catch up. He could see Berthe and Yvette at the edge of the cliff, gazing out to sea, arms around each other’s waist supporting each other.
His legs felt like lead and he could go no faster. Then Mary called out and the two women turned in surprise. He watched in horror as Mary brandished the shears and ran towards Berthe. He was sure they’d all go over the cliff together but quick-thinking Yvette pulled Berthe sideways onto the ground out of Mary’s path.
Plod held his breath and for a moment the world stood still, then Mary hurtled silently over the cliff.
As Christophe and Jean-Paul Robillard were hastily wrapping up their business matters with Auguste at the “Blue Whale Inn” in Barneville-Carteret, Captain James Bates had hurried off to seek out his old friend Bruno Laurent, a Jersey born man who ran a shipwright and chandlery business. Bates sought to engage Bruno’s help in obtaining an urgent passage to Jersey. As Bates approached the lower end of the harbour, he spotted Bruno working feverishly to remove barnacles from the hull of a small fishing boat. Bates called out to his friend. Bruno responded and ran excitedly to meet him, “Mon Dieu, quelle surprise!”, cried Bruno as they engaged in a hearty embrace. The two had not seen each other for quite some time. After expressing the pleasure of their unexpected reunion, Bates explained the purpose of his sudden appearance and his old friend listened intently as he related the story of the loss of the “Janvrin”. It was clear to Bruno that Bates was desperate to return to Jersey with his two friends and Bruno indicated his readiness to assist.
“We have no time to lose.” exclaimed Bruno. “I will gather some provisions and we will leave for Jersey tomorrow. Be here at four o’clock sharp in the morning; it is essential that we make an early start. My new ship, the “Lisette”, has a longer keel and extra ballast; she can handle anything that “Madame La Manche” can throw our way. The journey will be slower, but much safer. Trust me James, my good friend, I designed and built this vessel myself and she has never let me down.
Bates had every faith in his friend and with a lightened heart he sprinted back to the “Blue Whale Inn” to inform the Robillard gentlemen that a passage to Jersey had been secured.
While Bates was getting things organised in Barneville-Carteret, Plod was fearing reprisals from Le Feuvre, Centenier of the Parish. He could almost hear him saying, “Yet another death in your jurisdiction Plod!” This fear prompted Plod to think quickly. He hastily despatched his orders to the constables he had brought with him. “Gervais and Dupain, go directly to Fisherman’s Point where you must arrange a vessel to scour the bay below for Mary Halkett, be she dead or alive. Tell the fishermen that you have my authority to engage their services and that they will be paid. Lacroix, you wait here with me, I need you to take witness statements.”
Mary Halkett was wearing a very capacious petticoat that day, making the skirt of her crimson dress rather voluminous. As she plunged over the edge of the cliff the petticoat and skirt had ballooned causing her to almost “glide” before becoming entangled in some bushes growing on a narrow ledge on the underside of the cliff. The inflation of her dress had slowed her descent, but she still hit the ledge with a thud; she was winded and could hardly draw breath. Mary was battered, bruised and breathless but not bereft of life. Minute by minute she slowly regained her senses and it dawned on her that she had survived the fall. There were several gashes on her body, oozing blood as crimson as the dress she was wearing. The shears had survived the fall and were hooked on the branches of a bush just a few inches away. Mary Halkett may have been in the throes of madness and jealousy a few minutes earlier, but now she was a fighter, and a very resourceful one. She set to work cutting strips of cotton fabric from her underskirt to bandage her wounds and pondered her distressing predicament.
Mary felt the pressure of being wedged between two dreadfully challenging choices. If she were rescued, she would be arrested. If she were not rescued, she would surely die. The bitterness of her feelings began to overwhelm her once again. She made a pledge to herself. “I will destroy Berthe Bovary if it is the last thing I do, and I do not intend to spend my last hours on this ledge.” Making use of the shears she proceeded to cut as large a square as she could from the silk skirt of the red dress she was wearing. Then she cut a long stick from one of the bushes on the ledge and created an improvised flag. She resolved to wave the flag to attract the attention of any boats in the bay below and hoped that someone would see her. She doubted that anyone could see the ledge from the clifftop.
It did not occur to anyone who had witnessed those moments of Mary’s madness that she could have survived such an ordeal or that after such a close brush with death she could still harbour such bitter resentments. As Mary sat on the ledge holding her red flag, an alarming prospect entered her mind and her inner voice grew louder, “If the Jersey police believe that I have perished they will surely search my house for a last Will and Testament. What if they find my “Livre de Poisons”, or worse still my “Journal Personnel?” As Mary stabbed the shears into the ground, she let out a mournful cry, “The devil be damned Berthe Bovary!”
Lord Hayes was in the Gentlemen’s Outfitters shop in central St. Aubin. He’d tried on the jacket, felt the warp and weft and paused to read the description on the label: 100% wool sport jacket. Notched lapel with luxe felt under the collar. Modern cut with fitted waist darts and subtle shoulder pads. A compelling array of external pockets including the angled-welt pocket on wearer’s left chest, welt pockets with flap at left hip, and the double pocket at right hip. Several interior pockets for your essentials. Lined in Bemberg taffeta.
“Perfect,” said Lord Hayes, “don’t wrap it – I’ll wear it.”
“Excuse me sir,” said a puffing Constable Lacroix as he entered the shop, “you’re needed up at the headland. There’s been a terrible accident. Mary Halkett has fallen over the cliff and landed halfway down. We need a method of getting her back to the top – can you help?”
Lord Hayes prided himself in being able work out an engineering solution to all situations so, resplendent in his new jacket, he followed Lacroix to the cliff top and surveyed the scene. There was Plod lying on the grass looking down the cliff and shouting words of encouragement to the distressed damsel wedged on the ledge.
Plod looked up at Lord Hayes and said “What do you think? Can she be saved?”
Lord Hayes’ initial reaction was to “let her rot” but his engineering and justice instincts kicked in. “I’ll be back,” he said quickly climbing into his carriage.
Forty minutes later, he arrived back at the cliff top. This time with a cart instead of the carriage and strapped to it was a wooden structure with a pulley wheel at the top – a miniature version of what you would see atop a mine shaft. Inside the cart was a large coil of rope and tethered to the back of the cart was a black draught horse named Hercule.
Within minutes, Lord Hayes and Jermine had erected the structure near the cliff edge and had driven wedges into the ground to secure it. Now they proceeded to feed the rope through the pulley groove and then, upon releasing Hercule from the cart, tied one end of the rope to a yoke around the horse’s neck.
“Right,” said Lord Hayes, “we need a volunteer to go down. The rope and structure will only take one person at a time.”
Senior Constable John Plod stepped forward like a moth to a flame. “I’ll do it,” he announced.
“Okay,” said Lord Hayes, “a bowline around your girth should do the trick. Do you know how to do it?”
“The “rabbit” comes up the hole, goes round the tree right to left, then back down the hole – of course I know how to do it!” said Plod with indignation.
“But what about when you’re down on the ledge? Hanging on the end of the rope? The loop that suits you will be too big for Mary. Are you sure you can manage that?” Plod nodded impatiently and sent the rabbit up the hole.
With the knot secured and the loop under his bottom and hands on the rope, Jermine guided Hercule to take up the slack and then gradually move backwards as Plod backed over the edge which was thankfully sloping slightly towards the sea.
As Plod inched his way down, there was a change in the air: clouds started to gather to the north and grumble their way towards St. Aubin.
Mary felt a small rock roll past her and she looked up from her frantic flag waving to see the rear end of John Plod approaching her from above.
“Oh John, you’re so brave. Thank you for coming to rescue me,” said Mary as Plod arrived at the grassy outcrop that had saved Mary from certain death. He took her proffered hand, gently kissed it, and then they hugged each other as little spots of rain began to fall.
Plod explained how only one could go back at a time as he undid the bowline and, reaching around her bottom, sent the rabbit back up the hole. With the knot secured, he gave Mary instructions on how to hold on and walk her way up the steep slope. Plod gave the signal and Hercule, with some distraction, edged his way forward with Jermine’s hand on the harness to guide him.
Plod watched, with great interest, the nicely rounded bottom of Mary Halkett get smaller and smaller as she ascended and he felt a warm glow throughout his body.
At 4-15 am, Bruno Laurent edged his new ship, “Lisette” out of the Barneville-Carteret Harbour with Captain Bates and the eager-to-return Robilliards on board. They were in darkness on a glassy sea for the first two hours but as first light peeped through massing clouds to the north, tell-tale ripples of wind appeared on their starboard side and Laurent and Bates exchanged knowing glances.
Rain was now falling and Plod was relieved to see the rope being lowered back down to him. He grabbed it eagerly and re-tied it around his thighs, then gave a signal to be pulled up. The wind was becoming stronger and the rain was now becoming torrential turning the steep slope into a muddy and slippery surface. At the top of the cliff Jermine guided Hercule to take up the slack of the rope and then gradually move forwards pulling Plod slowly up the slope.
Hercule had only been on Jersey for two weeks as Lord Hayes had bought the big strong Ardennais draft-horse because this particular breed of horse was good at hard work and pulling heavy loads. Lord Hayes had arranged through a friend to buy the horse from a fellow called Auguste Macron in Barneville-Cateret. Apparently Auguste had run-up quite a debt for accommodation, meals and liquor at the Blue Whale Inn where he was staying and did not have any money because someone had taken his twelve barrels of calvados and had not yet paid for them, so he had to sell one of his two horses to raise some necessary cash. If he had only waited two more weeks…., but timing is everything in business which can be tough and unforgiving.
What Lord Hayes did not know was that, for some unknown reason, Hercule did not like water and as the rain pelted down puddles were beginning to form in front of him. Suddenly, as Plod was about half-way up the muddy cliff, Hercule took fright and shied around one large puddle jerking the rope, making Plod loose his footing and plough straight into the thick slippery mud. The more Plod struggled to regain his balance the more he spun around and around getting more and more covered in the thick black mud. By the time he arrived at the top he looked like a mud-monster – he had mud in his mouth, his eyes, his hair, and his neat police uniform was not recognisable. He looked around for Mary to come and give him some comfort but Mary had strangely disappeared.
Everyone was keen to get out of the rain so Jermine and Lord Hayes quickly packed up the wooden structure with the pulley wheel and put them into the back of the cart, re-harnessed Hercule, jumped in and took off leaving Plod to make his own way back to the Police Station.
The Lisette was a new ship with a long keel and extra ballast and had no problem with the large waves which were developing as the wind increased in velocity between Barneville-Cateret and Jersey. Bruno Laurent and Captain James Bates laughed loudly as the heavy rain poured down and their guests retreated from the deck to the large spacious waterproof cabin. Christophe and his father Jean-Paul had turned green and were not so confident as their weathered sea-faring companions but were happy to see the two sailors apparently enjoying themselves together in their familiar environment. Nevertheless they were all relieved to see Jersey gradually come into sight in the distance as the storm-clouds retreated and the sun started to come out. As St Aubin harbour came into view in full sunshine Christophe’s heart jumped as he could see two petite figures waiting patiently on the wharf.
The Lisette sailed smoothly into the Harbour and Captain Bates began to lower the sails. The ship slowed to almost a stop as Laurent threw a rope around a bollard on the wharf securing the stern as Bates secured the bow. Christophe leapt off the now stationery ship onto the wharf and into the open arms of Berthe who had tears of joy flowing freely down her rosy-flushed cheeks. Yvette was too quick for Jean-Paul as she clambered aboard to give him a big hug and kiss. She knew in her heart that he had not drowned and that he was alive and would come home and so it was, as it was meant to be – he was safe, back home and in her arms. She then turned and gave both the sailors a hug of gratitude for bringing her husband and son home safely and said
“Please come back to the Auberge d’Aubin for a happy homecoming celebration. We will have a grand party as we have a lot to be grateful for.”
Finally after the long walk back to the Police Station Plod changed out of his wet mud-encrusted uniform, had a well-needed shower, and put on his street clothes. He had an urgent mission to find Mary to get an explanation as to what happened and why? He was in love with her but now things were complicated and he was mystified. Was she trying to hurt Berthe, and if so, why? Was it all a big mistake of some sort that they could resolve? He saddled up his horse and rode to Mary’s shop but it was closed and locked up, so he continued and rode to her house at Gorey with its fine views of the ancient castle and harbour. He knocked on the front-door but no-one answered. The curtains were drawn and it was apparent that no-one was home. He went around the back and found that Mary’s horse Betsy and her carriage were nowhere to be seen.
Mary Halkett ruminated as she soaked in a large bath of hot water at her Gorey home, her sodden clothes and apron thrown down on the floor. As she lathered her alabaster skin with perfumed soap, she mused:
“I’m not stopping now. I will pay out that Frenchie slut for stealing my man if it’s the last thing I do! When I have avenged myself, I will escape to France and become a couturier there.”
After her rescue, she had slipped away to her shop behind which she had tethered Betsy and her carriage. She went straight home, where her Gorey friend Mme Delloraigne was waiting for her, looking alarmed. “I came to let you know Constable Mercier was here to warn you that Rufus Hoggard has escaped gaol and stolen a horse in Hellier. You should be careful.” Mary was shocked, but desperate for a bath and change of clothes after which she would decamp. She arranged to lodge Betsy and carriage in Mme Delloraigne’s stables so that they would not be a sign she was at home.
After a long soak, she rose and stepped out of the bath, onto her discarded clothes. Her left arm reached for a large soft bath towel. As she did, the bathroom door burst open and the hook which replaced the left hand of Rufus Hoggard, grabbed her arm and dragged her naked body to his. Malevolence blazed from his eyes. His breath stank of cheap alcohol and tobacco smoke. Mary screamed in horror. “Get out of here at once” she shouted. Rufus produced a long kitchen knife in his right hand and held it to her throat.
He leered through broken and rotting teeth “Yer gunna pay fer shootin’ me n’double crossin’ me. I’m gunna have my way wit yer first and then I’m gunna have it agin and maybe agin. Don’ yer move or this knife’ll end yer days here and now.” With a quick twist of her left arm she was on the floor face down on her discarded clothes. Mary was screaming “Help me! Help me!” continuously, all the while groping in her clothing for the shears which she had returned to the large pocket of her apron. Rufus unfastened his trousers and slid them, and his underwear, down his legs. He put down the kitchen knife momentarily to lower himself.
Before he could force her, Mary found the shears with her right hand and swivelled on her left side to plunge the shears deep into her attacker’s right thigh. With a howl of dismay and agony, Rufus fell back on his haunches, allowing Mary to swivel onto her back and stab him in the stomach. He had already picked up the kitchen knife with his right hand as Mary was withdrawing the shears for another blow. He plunged the knife into her throat, partially decapitating her. The shears fell from her hand, her right shoulder slumped back to the floor and her pale body went limp, gushing blood from her neck. Rufus attempted to stab her again but fainted and expired as he fell forward on top of Mary’s prostrate body.
Plod returned to Mary’s home after being stopped by Mme Delloraigne, who told him of stabling Mary’s horse and carriage because of her fear of Hoggard’s return. As the front door was locked, he went to the rear and found it had been jemmied. Drawing his truncheon, he called out repeatedly “Mary, are you there?” until he came to the bathroom and discovered the egregious scene of Hoggard, naked from the waist, slumped over Mary’s inert body. He burst into cathartic tears of grief and rage. His love had been cruelly murdered!
Shuddering with emotion, he remembered the lesson learned last time and felt for Mary’s pulse. There was none and she was cold. Hoggard was in the same condition. Mary had obviously fought back and paid the supreme sacrifice. Plod laid his boot into Hoggard’s corpse again and again and again. “Filthy rotten cowardly bastard” he muttered through gritted teeth. He staggered out of the house and rode to the police station to alert the Centeniere and the medical examiner’s cart.”
Two days later he and PC Mercier returned to search for Mary’s Will and examine the house for his report. He discovered, as Mary had feared, her ‘Livre de Poisons’ and her ‘Journal Personnel’ in which she had recorded full details of her obsession with Christophe, her methode criminale to murder Maria Robillard and her plots to murder Berthe and Christine. Plod was a desolate man. How could he have been so duped? He would never allow himself to fall in love again.
After initially feeling shock and sorrow for the manner of Mary’s death, until they learned of her evil ways, the Robillards, Berthe, Christine and Francois breathed a sigh of relief that she would no longer threaten their safety. So much had happened since the supposed loss at sea of the Robillard men, the cliff rescues on 7 May, the violent deaths of Mary and Rufus later that night, and the return of the Robillard men the next day, that any thought of the Wedding had ceased.
Now, they turned to plans for the Wedding on 15 June 1852.
Mary Halkett’s demise was a shock to Berthe and Christophe but the removal of a constant and unpredictable threat meant that they had for the first time in their relationship the chance to really get to know each other. Berthe was keen to quiz Christophe about other people in his family who she had not met but who might be attending the wedding.
“You know just about everybody dear Berthe. We are not a big family. The only person you have not met who may come to the wedding is my Uncle Louis, my father’s older brother. He is a confirmed bachelor and has been living in London the past two years trying to expand the Robillard family business and trading interests”.
Louis Robillard was usually a confident man. He could sell anything to any man alive and was never flustered in anybody’s company. But today, standing in the grand entrance hall of Buckingham Palace he could feel his knees knocking. He was sure if he had to say a word he would stammer uncontrollably. He had only been waiting 10 minutes or so but it felt like the longest hour of his life. Any time now he could be ushered in to see Prince Albert, husband and consort of Queen Victoria. God, how should he address him, Your Highness or just plain Sir.
As Louis pondered this finer point of royal etiquette, the large doors swung open and Prince Albert strode towards him arm and hand outstretched. “My dear Mr.Robillard, or is it Monsieur Robillard, as you can see from my greeting I know nothing of Jersey or its customs, but I want to know so much more. It is a special interest of mine to find out as much as I can about the industries of Great Britain”.
Louis was perplexed. “Your Majesty”.
“Plain Sir is fine” Prince Albert interrupted with a broad smile.
“Sir I am not sure I can help you with all the industries of Great Britain” Louis replied hesitatingly “but I can help you with the industries of the Channel Islands, especially my native island, Jersey”.
“Splendid” replied Prince Albert “That is exactly why I invited you to see me. I can imagine my invitation was a surprise”.
It certainly had been. Louis had wracked his brain to imagine any connection he had had with anyone connected with royalty and the only connection he could think of was a chance conversation at the Admiral Ben pub. A young man who had drunk too much was telling anyone within hailing distance that he was an equerry to Prince Albert. Nobody believed him. Then he started complaining about the ruinously high price of fine brandy. If only all the fine brandy did not come from France with the high taxes imposed on French liquor Englishmen could enjoy the best brandy in the world at a price to match whisky and gin.
Louis remembered talking to the young man and boasting that he had a source of fine brandy produced on the British island of Jersey. The young man had been very interested before he passed out. Louis knew that what he had said was not quite true. He had heard only in a recent letter from his brother about his nephew’s new young lady who had come to Jersey with a stock of calvados. Still, calvados was apple brandy and why not tell a small lie and say that it was produced in Jersey and therefore not subject to the ruinous excise duty imposed on French produce.
“My equerry informs me that fine brandy is produced on Jersey, Mr. Robillard. Is this true?”
“It is true, Sir.” Louis stated proudly”. We do not produce a grape brandy but something far finer, an apple brandy. My family has control of production and distribution and my nephew’s fiancée, Miss Berthe Bovary is the distiller, a true genius”.
“Absolutely splendid” exclaimed Prince Albert. “A fine British brandy and who knows the start of a new British industry”.
“The Queen and I would very much like to sample your fine British apple brandy. If it is as good as you say I am sure we might consider allowing you to use “By Royal Appointment” on your label. When can you have a bottle delivered Mr. Robillard. Also the remarkable lady who distils the brandy, I am sure the Queen would like to meet Miss Bovary was it?”
Louis stood stunned. How could he get a bottle of the Jersey Calvados to the palace quickly? He hoped his family had given the calvados a good patriotic British name and label. He had never met Berthe. What would she say when his first conversation was to issue an invitation to meet Queen Victoria!
Berthe and Christophe were having breakfast in the Dining Room of the Auberge d’Aubin when the maid placed a gold-edged letter on their table and curtsied. Christophe opened the wax-sealed envelope which was addressed to him, read the contents and frowned.
“Oh dear. My cavalier Uncle Louis in London wants a bottle of your Calvados, with ‘a good patriotic British name and label’ to avoid the exorbitant excise duty, for Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert also apparently thinks that Queen Victoria would like to meet you.
Berthe burst out laughing “That is so funny. There is no way that we are going to become tax avoiders smuggling French brandy to England, but there may be an alternative. Do you remember when you very kindly showed me your family’s farm cottage at nearby Le Mont des Vignes where we are going to spend our honeymoon? There is a property next door with lots of apple trees and a large barn with oak barrels inside visible from where we were standing. Who owns the property and what is in those barrels?”
Christophe thought for a minute and replied “That property is owned by Joseph Islington who went crazy when his house burned down killing his wife and children some seven years ago. He is known as the ‘Madman of Bounty Hill’ and has become a recluse, but he still sells apples in the local markets to make a living.”
Berthe then asked “Could we possibly visit him this morning and see whether those barrels contain apple brandy, in which case we might be able to have a second supply source and satisfy the request of your Uncle Louis with some fine St. Aubin Apple Brandy?”
Christophe immediately could see the advantageous possibilities of this scenario which may help avoid difficulties with his problematic uncle. “Why, of course my darling, we could not only visit him but we could also take one of my mother’s freshly baked cakes as a gift.”
Within the hour Christophe and Berthe set off in a small buggy pulled by Christophe’s horse Maisy and it took them less than twenty minutes to arrive at Joseph Islington’s humble cottage on Bounty Hill. Christophe knocked on the rustic timber front door which was immediately opened by a depressed-looking bearded middle-aged man who was shabbily dressed in a pair of old overalls and boots.
“Good morning Mr. Islington. We are your new neighbours from the farm next door and we wanted to introduce ourselves. My name is Christophe Robillard and this is my fiancée Berthe Bovary and we are due to be married in a few weeks time and intend to live in the farmhouse. Please accept this cake as a gift from my mother who baked it this very morning.”
Berthe could not help noticing that Mr. Islington seemed to be pleasantly surprised and that the cloud of despair surrounding him seemed to dissipate ever so slightly.
“Come in. Come in. Please call me Joseph” quietly replied the slightly-built man, ushering them in to the dark front-room and through to the brighter kitchen at the back. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Oh yes, please” Berthe politely replied as Christophe placed the plate of still-warm cake on the small timber kitchen table.
Joseph put the blackened kettle on the wood-fired stove, picked up three pretty porcelain plates and put them on the table with a knife and said to Berthe “Would you please do the honours?”
After Berthe sliced three pieces of the cake and placed a slice on each of the plates she looked up and caught the sad blue eyes looking at her. She smiled at him and he smiled back saying “You are the first visitors that I have had in seven years. After my wife and children died I went crazy and no-one has come near me since. I am known as the ‘Madman of Bounty Hill’ and people are scared of me, so I am grateful for your visit and it will be good having you as neighbours”.
Berthe looked sympathetically into Joseph’s eyes and nodded her head without saying anything. There was silence for a few minutes but there seemed to be an understanding without any words being spoken. The kettle had boiled, Joseph made the tea and they all sipped the hot brew and ate the delicious cake.
Berthe broke the silence:
“When we were at the farmhouse last week we could see your beautiful apple orchard and your large barn with oak barrels inside. Do you use the barrels for apple brandy by any chance?”
“Oh, yes” replied Joseph proudly with another warm smile directly at Berthe. “I used to make brandy but have not done so for seven years because I lost my will to live after the fire. Would you like to try some?” He stood up and opened the back door leading to the barn and politely ushered them out into the warmth of a sunny day.
One of the six oak barrels in the barn had already been tapped so it was easy to fill a small jug with the golden liquid, then pour three glasses and hand them out.
Joseph intently watched Berthe as she swirled the liquid around her glass, breathed in the sweet aroma and then slowly sipped the liquid allowing the flavour to be absorbed and tantalise her taste buds before swallowing. Putting down her glass Berthe looked at Joseph and said “That is a fine apple brandy, Joseph. Simply the best.”
It was a foul day to be out, a complete change from the previous day when the sun had broken through the clouds in the morning and shone till late afternoon. The taste of apple brandy lingered in Christophe’s memory. Now beating rain made it heavy going for the horses and both Christophe and Francois were cold and wet despite their long leather coats and wide-brimmed hats. Christophe had been happy to introduce Francois to a prospective customer for the brands of fine French wine he represented.
Francois had done little enough work these past few months and couldn’t continue this way. He’d been in a quandary. He couldn’t face the prospect of returning to France without Christine, but Christine was a partner with Berthe in their growing calvados enterprise and Berthe was about to marry Christophe and settle in Jersey. Rain trickled down his neck adding to his depression, and he considered asking Christophe for advice. They’d soon be home, and glad of it. “Dammit, I will talk to Christophe,” he decided.
Warm and dry and pleasantly occupied back at Auberge D’Aubin, Mme Robillard laughed heartily and nodded her head repeating “very sensible, very sensible” as Berthe and Christine told the story of how they’d sewn their money into the hems of their petticoats before setting out for Jersey. But they very carefully left out the details of where that money had come from.
Mme Robillard was working fine embroidery on a delicate old gown as she enjoyed the young women’s company. Berthe’s wedding dress would arrive from Paris any day, but the surprise invitation to dine with the Queen had sent the women into a tizz. Where would Berthe find a suitable dress at such short notice? The smirking ghost of Mary Halkett hovered for a second, then Mme Robillard took charge.
From the depths of her wardrobe came several gowns but there was only one she considered worthy of a royal outing – a delicate peach silk with flowing sleeves. It briefly reminded Berthe of something but she couldn’t place what. It needed very little alteration, but Mme Robillard was determined to restyle the neckline and that was what she was working on this wet day. As she stitched, she explained its story.
“When I was younger my family lived in France. My grandfather was Vicomte Leon and while he was only a minor royal, his lifestyle was very lavish so we were fortunate to mix with many of the nobility. I remember my parents taking me to a ball at the Marquis d’Andervilliers’ residence, Vaubyessard. They had a wonderful time dancing and mingling, but I grew bored with watching and wandered into an antechamber adjoining the ballroom, where I saw a handsome man talking with a beautiful woman who looked dazzling in a peach gown. I memorised that gown and had it copied, but with a more modest neckline.” She shook her head and sighed, “Of course, it would take more than a copied gown to make me look as desirable as that young woman did, or to interest a man as suave as Rodolphe Boulanger of the famed La Huchette. But you remind me of her in a way and I rather think this gown was meant for you my dear.”
Berthe’s mouth opened to form a perfect ‘O’ and she and Christine exchanged stunned looks, but Mme Robillard continued unaware, “Of course, Rodolphe is quite a favourite of Queen Victoria. She has a soft spot for well-bred foreign men who can turn on the charm. Well, you only have to look at Albert …” She would have continued but the door was suddenly thrust open to reveal Christophe and Francois still in their soaking coats but laughing and clapping each on the shoulder.
“Your son’s a genius, Madame,” laughed Francois.
“That doesn’t mean he can come dripping water all over the rug. Get out of here both of you, stop acting like schoolboys,” Mme Robillard responded.
Berthe and Christine stifled their giggles. “Well,” whispered Berthe, “are you going to marry him?”
“If he ever asks me,” Christine replied, and they broke into peals of laughter.
Berthe was a little disappointed that they wouldn’t be meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, but Victoria and Albert often entertained at the Osborne Estate, their private home away from the court on the Isle of Wight. Monsieur Robillard had assured them that they wouldn’t be alone with the monarchs as it was their usual practice to gather a number of people with various interests that might benefit the Crown and spend a short time with each of them after dinner. Besides Uncle Louis would be there for support.
Lord Hayes’s brother-in-law was an equerry to the Queen and he and his wife had a large villa within the Osborne Estate. Lord Hayes had sent a messenger to his sister and in reply she invited the Robillard household to join their house party for a few days while the Queen was in residence. There were 12 other guests, she wrote, so it would be a bit of a squeeze, but a wonderful opportunity for the young people to make important acquaintances.
The sun shone brightly in a cloudless blue sky as they boarded the small ship that would take them to the Isle of Wight. “Pinch me and tell me I’m dreaming,” Christine whispered to Berthe, who replied, “We’re a long way from Yonville now!”
Chapter 51 Bovarian Britannic Calvados by Helen Grimmett
Queen Victoria’s Equerry, Lord Alfred Paget, was a favourite with her Majesty and he occasionally took liberties with her generous nature. He was summoned to the Queen’s private parlour. The Queen was laughing merrily and teasing Albert about his having lost at croquet the day before. Sensing that her Majesty was in a mellow mood Paget seized the opportunity to use his artfulness on the unsuspecting queen.
“Lord and Lady Braithwaite are in Scotland on a highland tour Ma’am and the Archbishop has gout, so perhaps we could include a few more of the Jersey party at your Summer Soirée. It would add some interesting diversity.”
“Splendid idea Paget, but you must inform Mrs. Witherspoon of your plan and be careful not to ruffle her feathers.” Paget understood completely. He puffed himself up with satisfaction and headed to “below stairs” to inform the indomitable Mrs. Witherspoon of “her Majesty’s” wishes.
Under the blue skies of St. Helier, the sails of the “Cygnet” began to flap gently in the breeze. The bosun boomed out his orders to haul in the anchor, and the ship’s master took his position at the wheel.
“Welcome to the ‘Cygnet’, said one of the crew, “We’ll be dropping anchor at Weymouth before dark and there’s an Inn nearby where you can enjoy a hearty dinner and a good night’s sleep.” The fine weather prevailed and by early evening the “Cygnet” was sailing into Weymouth harbour against the glorious blood orange backdrop of the Dorset sunset.
The next morning the “Cygnet” set off along the coast cutting a calm but steady pace. By late afternoon it was mooring at East Cowes. Louis Robillard was there to meet everyone. He hugged Yvette, Jean-Pierre and Christophe and made his introductions to Berthe, Christine and François.
“The footmen will attend to the luggage.” said Louis as he ushered them into the two waiting carriages that would take them to Osborne House. As they passed through the iron gates of the estate, the beauty of the grounds and the grandeur of the palazzo style architecture took their breath away. Berthe sat smiling at Christophe and was lost in her own thoughts. “Am I really here? Am I that same scruffy urchin who hid beneath the spinning jenny in Yonville? I am going to be married and I will soon meet the Queen of England!” The carriage stopped and Berthe was jostled out of her reverie. The “Villa Serenissima” was also built in an Italianate style. Lord and Lady Paget were in the courtyard and greeted everyone cordially. The household staff swiftly ensconced everyone in their various quarters. That evening the happy group enjoyed an informal supper with their hosts; the other guests were not arriving until the next day.
The next two sunny days were spent exploring the island; they walked everywhere taking in the sea air, the sunshine and the beauty of everything around them. The time flew by and suddenly, it seemed, it was the evening of the Summer Soirée. Lady Paget assigned one of her maids to attend to the dressing arrangements of the three ladies. “Francine” was French and very skilled at attending to the essential details of apparel and coiffure. Everyone finally appeared in the forecourt of the villa and soon they were on their way to the great house.
On arrival they were ushered into an ornately decorated reception room. The Robillard party were given a warm welcome by the other guests. They were duly introduced to lawyers, military gentlemen, artists, architects, and authors. Berthe and Christine stood up well to this social challenge; their first assay into a higher echelon of society. The men in the assembly appeared mesmerised by the beauty of Berthe and Christine. The female guests seemed similarly entranced by the dashing Frenchman Christophe, but he only had eyes for Berthe, and he had never seen her look so lovely.
Christine had made calling cards for everyone, and their names were announced in perfect French as they entered the dining hall. They took their seats at the long banquet table. There was fine china, crystal glasses of all shapes, gleaming silver cutlery and candlesticks, all catching the light of the crystal chandeliers above them. The Queen and the Prince were the last to make an entrance and everyone stood until the Royal couple were seated. The menu was superb.
Consommé à la Victoria
Aspic of Prawns and Lobster Salad
Roast Fowls and Cumberland Ham
Sauté of Fresh Seasonal Vegetables
Wine Jellies and Velvet Cream
Strawberry Angel Cake with Fruits de Liqueur
Sauterne de Sauternais and Bovarian Britannic Calvados
Coffee, Tea, Bonbons
The lavishness of the food and wine was above anything they had ever encountered. When the dessert course was over the guests were directed to another room to partake of the sweet wine and brandy. This is where the Queen could circulate among her guests. Berthe was formally introduced to the Queen and she curtsied gracefully. Her Majesty addressed Berthe in French.
“You are Mademoiselle Bovary, the maker of the Calvados?” she asked.
Berthe answered, “Yes, your Majesty”.
The Queen continued, “I admire a young woman who can undertake such a scheme in a man’s world. My Prime Minister has imposed an excessive tax on French brandy, and we are not amused. Indeed, my dear, your Bovarian Britannic Calvados brings some freshness to our staid old wine cellar. Paget will see to it that henceforth your Calvados will be served at Buckingham Palace.” The Queen smiled admiringly at Christophe as she retreated to talk to the other guests.
Berthe’s heart had never beaten so quickly; she was dizzy with excitement. She felt Christophe squeeze her hand reassuringly. Christine was busy scolding François for putting bonbons in his pocket. She looked lovely in the rose taffeta dress she was wearing, and as he gazed at her beautiful face, he too felt his heart beating wildly in his chest.
“I must have that talk with Christophe.” he thought to himself, “He has to help me, how does a man ask the woman he loves to be his wife?”
Chapter 52 A Frequently Walked Path by Ross Hayes
With an order for a gross of Bovarian Britannic Calvados from Lord Paget in their luggage, the Robillard party headed back to Jersey for the all-important wedding. With Madame Robillard in charge, the wedding went off without any problems: an intimate ceremony at St. Aubin on the Hill Anglican Church followed by a sumptuous wedding feast at the Auberge d’Aubin after which Berthe and Christophe retired to the family farm cottage at Le Mont des Vignes where she had Christophe to herself almost for the first time, and what a first time it was.
Pleasurable as all this was, Berthe had other things on her mind. She had important business in France: among other things, she had to shore up a back-up supply of Calvados. Christophe learnt for the first time in his marriage that his wife was more than just a trophy.
It was not long before the newly married couple was on the road out of Barneville-Cataret, after an uneventful sea crossing, heading for a meeting with Auguste in Bayeux. Auguste, now that he had been handsomely paid, assured Berthe that he was a new man – he was controlling his alcohol intake and he would be a very reliable supplier. He also revealed that his brother, Giscard, would be diverting his physical energy into the Calvados business.
Christine was putting the finishing touches on her new label: “Bovarian Britannic Calvados from the orchards of Bounty Hill, Jersey, by appointment to the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” still with the image of an apple tree laden with red and green apples and a pretty young girl with a basket full of the luscious fruit. As she sat back admiring her work, she felt a pair of hands on her shoulders. She knew from the warmth of these hands that it must be François. This was confirmed by a nuzzling of her neck and then the words whispered in her ear: “My dear, that’s fantastic – you’re so talented and….and so beautiful. I want to wrap you up in my arms and be with you forever.” Christine swooned at this display of affection. “Christine, will you marry me?”
“Oh, my dearest François, of course I will,” and she turned to meet his kiss.
Senior Constable John Plod entered the Centenier’s office and sat in the proffered chair across the desk from Leo Le Feuvre. Le Feuvre did not look up as he continued to study a sheaf of papers.
“Well Plod, it seems like you’ve had a good week – the Jersey population has not diminished.”
“Thankyou Sir” said Plod deliberately side-stepping the irony of Le Feuvre’s statement.
“Well done Plod. Do you fancy a pint after work?”
“Well that came out of the blue,” thought Plod, “that’s the first sign of familiarity he’s ever extended.”
“I’ll see you at the local at 5 o’clock John – I can call you John, I hope?” enquired Le Feuvre.
“Of course, Le…” said Plod trailing off after a withering look from Le Feuvre, “Of course, Sir. I’ll see you at five.”
At the local, John Plod sat parked behind a pint of bitter. At precisely 5 o’clock, Le Feuvre arrived and Plod stood asking: “What can I get you sir?”
“The same would be good, John” said Le Feuvre taking his seat.
They sat quietly sipping their beers, and then Le Feuvre cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to hear how affected you were by Mary Halkett’s death, John. She must have meant a lot to you.”
Plod nodded and took another sip of beer. It was a topic that was still raw with him. There’s no doubt he felt duped – he genuinely felt that Mary had feelings for him but all along she was just using him to continue her maniacal pursuit of Christophe. The fact that everyone in Jersey knew this was particularly galling for him.
“Mark my words John; there’s a girl out there who will sweep you off your feet” said Le Feuvre reassuringly.
“Thank you Sir” said Plod and they both drained their glasses and wandered off into the fading light.
Having left Yonville in a common stagecoach with just the clothes she was wearing and her 200 francs sewn securely in her petticoats, her return was appreciably much grander in a Landau carriage with a liveried coachman and dressed in finery befitting a lady of substance.
Still the two dove-tailed weathercocks stood guard at the La Huchette estate and once again Berthe walked the path her mother had walked. This time it was Berthe who had a spring in her step.
Rodolphe peered out through a side window to see who had come knocking. At first, his eye was drawn to the classy black Landau with the two horses snorting their breath into the cool air, then to the beautifully dressed young lady without. “Oh no” he thought “what does she want now?”
Once again, he was all charm and even more so when her beauty overwhelmed him. Bowing low, he showed her through to the drawing room and offered her a seat. “Obviously, my dear, you don’t need my assistance any more but, of course, I am at your service.”
Having sat at the table she and Christine had occupied only last summer at their eventful visit to La Huchette, Berthe gestured to Rodolphe to also take a seat.
Without any preliminary niceties, Berthe looked Rodolphe in the eye and pushed an envelope across the table. Rodolphe opened the envelope and saw, without actually counting it, 400 crisp new francs – it was almost as though dirty money was being replaced by fresh clean money.
Berthe rose from the table saying “I bid you farewell Sir” and headed for the door with Rodolphe trailing behind to facilitate her departure by opening doors as required.
Again, Berthe walked the same path as her mother, perhaps for the last time. She also walked with an uplifted heart. But the foundations of her high spirits were vastly different: none of the sordid perfidy of her mother’s actions; Berthe felt the closure of being good and doing good – it was as if a chapter of the Bovary story had been firmly shut.