The Mystery Of Macgregor’s Cove – Episode 11

Cast of characters dressed in 18th Century clothing stand in front of white cottage

“So it’s the first time Simon won’t be with us gathering evergreens and bringing home the yule log,” Amaryllis grumbled while she and her mother were dusting and polishing Kit Chesterton’s spacious corner rooms at the Bell. “This year it’ll be just Noah and me.”

“Don’t forget Flossie and me,” Betsy chipped in indignantly. “We’re coming this afternoon.”

“You’ll be in charge of the picnic basket,” Amaryllis responded, smiling down at the little girl and tugging her pigtails. “Collecting evergreens for Advent wouldn’t be the same without our winter picnic at St Agnes’s waterfall.”

“Too true,” Ethel agreed, helping Betsy steady the heavy stone bottle while she poured the ink. “We need plenty of greenery to deck the church, so you’ll all be kept very busy today.”

Noah Pendleton arrived promptly, driving the heavy cart borrowed from his family’s grain mill. The traditional winter picnic basket was duly loaded and everybody piled into the cart.

Noah broke into an old seasonal song and off they set. Amaryllis and Betsy lost no time joining in with his rich baritone. Their jubilant singing filled the chill December air as the cart rumbled along the cliff-path.

They’d started the final verse when rapidly approaching hoofbeats caused Noah to pause and glance behind them.

A familiar voice hailed him, and Simon Baldwin galloped up alongside the cart, slightly breathless from the hard ride and grinning from ear to ear.

“Simon!” Amaryllis cried joyfully, her excited eyes huge and shining. “You’re back!”

“Fresh from the Liverpool coach,” he answered blithely, sliding from the saddle and tying the sweating horse’s reins on to the mill cart. “Mrs Macgregor told me you’d gone for the Advent evergreens, so I borrowed this nag and here I am.”

Simon didn’t appear to notice the thunderous glare Noah Pendleton threw his way as he leaped aboard, squeezing on to the makeshift seat beside Amaryllis.

*  *  *  *

St Agnes’s ancient woodland lay inland some distance beyond the ruins, and was reached by crossing a narrow stone bridge, skirting around the remains of the cloister and away past the mediaeval priory’s crumbling infirmary.

“We’ll leave the cart in the usual spot,” Noah remarked tersely.

Other than passing the time of day with his boyhood pal, he hadn’t spoken a word since Simon Baldwin had invited himself along on the outing.

“I’ve brought ropes and sacking to haul the yule –”

“What business are they about?” Simon interrupted, pointing towards the ruins. “It’s rare seeing anybody up here, much less a pair of the blighters.”

“The stockier fellow is Gerrard from the Grange. He accompanied Mr Adam back from India,” Noah answered, glancing round to Amaryllis. “I don’t recognise the one with the beard, though, do you?”

Amaryllis shook her head, looking hard at the tall, thin man clad in fisherman’s garb.

“I’m certain I’ve seen him before . . . At the Bell, the night the yawl went down!” she exclaimed suddenly. “He came in on the Isle of Man packet, ordered a huge meal and a whole jug of brandy, then vanished!

“Whyever would a Manx fisherman be at the ruins with the Whitlocks’ new bailiff?” she mused. “What can they be doing up here?”

Noah shrugged, his attention fixed upon Gerrard and the fisherman. They’d emerged from the cloister, and although still some yards away, were effectively blocking the cart’s progress.

Noah had already slowed, and now he drew to a halt.

“Good day, Miss Macgregor. Gentlemen,” Gerrard greeted them cordially, sauntering towards them. “I must request that you turn about and return the way you’ve come. You’re trespassing upon private property.”

“Trespassing?” Simon echoed incredulously, looking down at him. “Don’t be absurd, man!”

“As I daresay you’re well aware,” Gerrard went on, his lilting brogue indulgent, “this is Whitlock land, sir.”

“Of course it is!” Simon retorted angrily. “Look, I haven’t the slightest idea who you are, but my friends and I have visited these ruins and the priory’s woodland since childhood with Mr Whitlock’s full knowledge and consent.”

“That’s as may be, sir.” Although his tone remained civil, the bailiff took several strides nearer the cart before standing fast. “But you are trespassing, and you’re not going a foot further.”

“I demand an –”

“Leave it, Simon!” Noah warned in a low voice, nodding acquiescence to the bailiff. “There’s naught more to be done here.”

“Noah’s right,” Amaryllis murmured suddenly, her arm tightening protectively about Betsy’s shoulders.

From the tail of her eye, she’d been observing not Gerrard, but his silent ally.

The fisherman was standing a few yards aside, appearing bored by the discourse as he chewed tobacco.

Shifting his weight, he spat dark tobacco juice into the coarse marram grass, and in that slightest movement Amaryllis caught the dull gleam of a pistol tucked into his belt.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.