Saturday December 24th 1814
Sir Thomas was as good as his word and arrived at the Rectory early the next morning. He was shown into the Rector’s study where he found Dr Grainger and his son polishing the church plate.
“So was any of it damaged?”
“The chalice was bent sir, but I have been able to straighten it out enough to use tomorrow, though it will need to be sent to a silversmith. The worse damage was to the flagon, the lid has come off.”
Sir Thomas patted his future son-in-law on the shoulder.
“My great grandmother gave the plate to the church nearly a hundred years ago, and I will happily pay for the repairs, after all the damage was caused in a very good cause.” He patted James again, “in fact the best of causes.” He then sat down in one of the chairs by the fire and turned to the Rector.
“Is there any news of that blaggard Scott?”
“No, Sir Thomas, I had the constable carry out a search in the village but nothing was found, thought in this weather there are several barns and outbuildings it was difficult to get to last night, they will search again today.”
“Well he made no attempt to return to the Manor to fetch his things, and I have got the groundsmen searching the park. Do you think he is still here?”
“He hasn’t left on the turnpike either, neither of the toll keepers saw a single rider yesterday.” He picked up a newspaper, “This was the paper you gave me the other day. There is an item in it which may be significant, a robbery in London, did you notice it?”
“Only vaguely, what is it?”
The Rector put on his glasses and began to read.
‘Mysterious Robbery. A most strange occurrence has been reported at the house of Beddoes and Smyth, East India Merchants, Henrietta Street. Mr John Smyth, junior partner, returned to the house on the 15th inst having been the previous month in Paris, visiting several merchant houses in that city which is now open following the much longed for peace. He was much surprised to find his partner, Mr David Beddoes absent, and his clerk unaware of his current location. According to the clerk Mr Beddoes had left the office at the end of November, intending to visit relations in the country, and had not returned, not having the address of these relations he had been unable to contact him. Mr Smyth now entered their joint office, which was locked and to which he and Mr Beddoes had the only keys. All seemed in order, but on opening the strongbox, banknotes to the value of £110 were found to be missing. Whilst Mr Beddoes could have taken them, Mr Smyth was concerned and, on communicating with his bank, discovered that one of the notes had been cashed in Bristol at the beginning of this month. As the firm has no business in that city, Mr Smyth communicated the facts as he knew them to the Magistrates at Bow Street. A search is now under way for Mr David Beddoes.’
“Beddoes, do you think it is anything to do with our Miss Beddoes?”
“Well they did say their cousin was called David. Why don’t we ask them?”
“Good idea.” Sir Thomas paused and then said, “Where did you say the banknote was passed?” Dr Grainger, picked up the paper, “Bristol”, he said.
“That’s strange.” Replied Sir Thomas, “I am sure I saw something from Bristol in Mr Scott’s bags when he arrived.” He thought for a moment, then said.
“James, will you ride to the Manor and bring back Mr Scott’s bags, whilst your father and I go and see Miss Beddoes and her sister.”
James had just set off, Sir Thomas smiling to see him go.
“I think he will be looking for excuses to ride to the Manor all the time now.”
Dr Grainger bent to pick up the newspaper then said suddenly “DB”
“DB?” said Sir Thomas puzzled.
“Yes the buttons, the buttons that appeared on the snowman, they had a monogram on them. I cleaned one, it’s here somewhere.”
He turned over various papers on his table, eventually pulling out one.
“I cannot see it now, but here is a tracing I did of the button. Look at the pattern doesn’t it look like an interlaced D & B.”
“I see, we had better bring that too, see if the Miss Beddoes can identify it.”
Wrapped up in their coats they walked across the green, they stopped by the snowman.
“Those are the buttons I was talking about.” Dr Grainger pointed, then gasped.
“What is it?” asked Sir Thomas.
“The buttons, there were eight and I removed one. There are eight now, where did the other one come from.”
Sir Thomas bent and looked at the buttons, then he gasped.
“Look at the bottom one, it is clean. It is as though the one you took and cleaned has come back.”
“Magic, just like Miss Fanny said.” The Rector paused, then said, “Good Lord. Michael Scott, I wonder.”
“What is it?”
“Your daughter said she had read the name Michael Scott in a story by Sir Walter Scott, I wonder if your guest had read the same book.”
“You mean it was an alias?”
“Perhaps, but no more now.”
They had arrived at the cottage where the Miss Beddoes lived, they were welcomed effusively and shown into the tiny, warm parlour. They had to wait until the maid had brought tea before they were able to ask them about their cousin. When they read the article they were shocked.
“What can have happened to cousin David? He is always so careful”
“Have you ever met his partner, Mr Smyth?” asked Sir Thomas.
“Yes, David brought him here last summer. They had been going somewhere on business. Mr Smyth is a delightful young man, he is Scotch and he read Marmion so beautifully. He said we should hear it in a Scottish accent as that is how Sir Walter had written it.”
Miss Henrietta handed the Rector a second cup of tea, he looked at the cup and said.
“This is very fine china.”
“Oh yes,” Miss Henrietta replied. “Cousin David gave it to us.”
“He had it specially made. He sent all the way to China.” Added her sister.
“And two years later the set arrived.”
“It has a special mark, made of his initials.”
Both Sir Thomas and the Rector recognised the design, it was the one on the buttons, now decorating the snowman. It was as they walked back across the green that Sir Thomas suddenly said.
“The hat! You said that Mr Scott was very upset about the hat?”
“Yes, he seemed to think that Miss Frances had done something devious.”
“Well do you remember what Miss Beddoes said at the party, when she said she had thought she had seen her cousin with Mr Scott. She said he was wearing an old hat trimmed with white lace.”
He pointed at the snowman’s head, crowned with the old tricorn.
“An old hat trimmed with white lace.” Said the Rector, he turned to look at the pond.
“I think it ought to be dragged when it thaws.” Said Sir Thomas quietly.
“Until then I don’t think we should say anything of our suspicions.”
Sir Thomas nodded.
As they returned to the Rectory, James was at the Manor house. Charlotte met him with a broad smile.
“James, mama has just told me the most amazing thing. It is about Stanton Lacy.”
“Yes my love, will you like living in the Rectory there.”
“I would live anywhere with you, but it is not the Rectory where I think we will be living but at Stanton House.”
“Yes, Stanton House, you see it is mine, all of Stanton Lacy is mine, or will be when we marry.”
James sat down on a hall chair shocked.
“You see it belonged to my grandmother, she left it to me, to come to me, on my marriage.”
James suddenly smiled.
“You realise that our parents have been planning everything, the living for me, the manor for you.”
It was some time before they went to find Lady Scott.
Michael Scott’s bags were already packed, but the sky was getting dark as James prepared to return to his father. Before he did so the head gamekeeper arrived with news that someone had been seen in the far coverts.
“Do you think it is that villain?” Lady Scott asked.
“Well it is certainly not poachers,” he grinned, “The best poachers in the village are helping us search.”
Charlotte suddenly clutched James’s arm.
“Will you be safe getting back to the village, and will father be safe coming back here?”
“Well, he certainly will have a grudge against the young master.” The gamekeeper smiled approvingly at James. “Can I suggest that Bob Smith rides with him when he returns.”
“Bob Smith?” said Charlotte.
“Head groom, also used to be Corporal in the Militia and went ten rounds with Black William.”
“An old soldier and a prizefighter, a perfect companion in the circumstances.” Said Lady Scott.
The sun was getting low in the sky as they rode into the village, all was peaceful, they had seen no sign of Michael Scott. When Sir Thomas and the Rector looked through his belongings there was no further clue, though a bill clearly indicated that he, or someone called Frank Gifford, had been in Bristol in early December.
“I don’t think there is anything more we can do.” Said the Rector, “We will keep a watch out for Michael Scott, and on Monday write to Bow Street.”
Sir Thomas rode home, accompanied by Bob Smith, and the Rectory family settled down for the evening. Later the singers came round, and they stood in the window to listen to them, after they finished ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’ the Rector sent them round to the kitchen where they were well filled with spiced ale before heading home.
They were still singing the same carol as they left the Rectory, the Rector watched as they walked along the road and around the green, clearly the villagers also feared the snowman. He suddenly realised they were repeating the same verse.
Fear not, then said the Angel,
Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour,
Of virtue, power, and might,
So frequently to vanquish all
The friends of Satan quite.
At that point the moon came out from behind the cloud, it was nearly full and very bright. The snowman had gone, looking around he saw it, on the far end of the green, standing at the end of the drive that led to the manor. That night he checked the locks on the doors twice.