Another short story using Shafali’s beautiful pen and ink drawings as a prompt. Please visit her site to see her wonderful drawings.
It was exactly one week since Jane Meadows had moved into the ground floor flat of a lovely old Victorian house, and six more days before she had to go back to work. During the past week she had steadily worked through the pile of packing boxes, which held all her earthly possessions, and found every item a place in her new home. It was time to tackle the garden, or forest as she termed it which, she had been delighted to learn, belonged to the downstairs flat – her flat. No-one else had access to it so it was hers to do with as she liked.
Stepping out of the French doors, which led from her sitting room to the outside world, she stood and surveyed the rest of her territory. The grass was at least three feet high in places whilst there was a massive laurel bush which had run rampant over the years and taken over most of the end of the garden. This would certainly have to come out as it blocked the light which, in turn, failed to reach the lovely sitting room. Jane had plans for her garden: a patio where she could sit of an evening sipping a glass of wine or two, a border round the edges of the garden, a small fish pond and eventually a summer house where she was planning to write her novel when the muse eventually spoke to her. But first she had to clear the site. Jane, not one for standing around looking at work which needed to be done, had already organised a team to help her. Her two brothers, Jeff and Kevin, were due to arrive in the next ten minutes and she’d decided that they could make a start on the laurel bush.
Three hours later the laurel bush had been hacked to the ground and Jeff was making headway with the roots whilst Jane and Kevin were stacking the lopped branches to one side of the garden. Returning to grab yet another branch or two for the growing pile, Jane noticed something poking out between the roots. Bending down she could see that it was a box. It must have been buried for years as Jeff had already dug down a fair way already. Calling a stop for the moment, Jane prised the box out from between the roots and carried it indoors to her kitchen, closely followed by her intrigued brothers. It was more than time for a break and Jane had already prepared the lunch so the three sat down to salads, bread and tea whilst looking at the box.
The three of them were curious as to what the box contained, why it was buried and who put it there, and they all knew there was one sure way to find out at least one of the answers. ‘Shame it’s locked though Jane’, remarked Jeff, ‘we’re going to have to break it open if we want to know what’s inside. Good job we’ve got the tools with us’ he grinned. Five minutes later the box was open and its contents had the three siblings totally shocked.
Inside the box the first item that could be seen was a gun, underneath the gun was a piece of paper with something attached to it. Without thinking Jane reached into the box, took out the gun and retrieved the piece of paper which she opened up to reveal a handwritten letter – a letter dated 16th March 1874.
The handwriting was, at first, difficult to read but once Jane had got used to the writing style, and the old fashioned terminology used, she realised it was the confession of a murderer.
On the 24th September 1873 Edward James Prowse aged 23 years, the letter’s author, had met with his cousin, Amelia Elizabeth Grey, 18 years of age, and asked her if he could call on her father to ask for her hand in marriage. He told her he had long been in love with her and wanted her for his wife, they had always got along well and were well suited. She, unfortunately, had not felt the same way about Edward and had told him that she wanted to marry someone else. Edward, feeling cold with rage, had talked her into walking through nearby Clifford woods with him so that she could tell him all about the man who had stolen her heart.
Edward, in his confessional letter, described how Amelia had agreed to walk with him, looking relieved that he had taken her news in good humour. They walked to the end of the road and entered the woods, walking almost in a straight line to a wall which separated the wood from a farmer’s field. There they stopped and sat down to talk as cousins talked. But Edward couldn’t contain his rage and disappointment. While Amelia was happily recounting to him how much her future intended meant to her and how happy she was, Edward was fingering the gun he carried in his pocket. It was loaded, he knew that, and this part of the wood was a long way from the nearest houses. Moreover, the farmhouse was a couple of miles over to the right. No-one would hear the gun go off and, if they did, they would think it was the farmer scaring off vermin or something. While Amelia had her head turned Edward slipped the gun from his pocket, readied it and fired – straight through the side of Amelia’s head.
He hadn’t reckoned on the mess created by an exploding head, nor had he thought about what he was going to do with the body. In fact, he hadn’t thought at all, just got down to digging a deep hole at the bottom of the wall and put Amelia in it. He covered her body with the soil, leaves, clods of grass and whatever else had come out of the makeshift grave and then headed calmly home where he stripped off his clothes and burnt them, took a bath and went to bed.
The following day the talk was all about Amelia’s disappearance. It was so unlike her, where could she have gone? Had anyone seen her? Has anyone called the police? All this Edward described in his letter. He mentioned that Amelia’s disappearance had been all over the local newspapers for a couple of weeks, but no clues were ever found and Amelia never made contact with her family. Edward, in a fit of remorse, had eventually decided to write everything down in a letter and bury it, together with the gun and the bullets he had left, at the back of his garden. He had buried it deep so that no-one would accidentally come across it in the near future, and the following summer had planted flowers at the bottom of his garden in memory of Amelia. He realised that some day the box would be found, but he hoped he would be long dead by then. He just wanted someone to know what had happened to the woman he loved, and that he would be sorry to the end of his days. The letter was signed Edward James Prowse. Attached to the top right was a photograph of a woman with the name ‘Amelia’ written underneath.
The three of them sat there in total shock. Jane looked at the address at the top of the letter, of course it was this house – she realised it had to be, but seeing it made it all so very real.
The next day she went to the local library and asked for microfilm copies of any local papers they held dating back to September 1873. It didn’t take very long to find what she was looking for, the disappearance of Amelia had indeed been reported constantly for a couple of weeks. One local newspaper even had a copy of Amelia’s image – the same one that was attached to the letter. Asking the librarian if there was anyone with the surname Grey living locally, she was rewarded with a copy of the phone book to look through. Working her way to the ‘G’s’ she found three families with the surname ‘Grey’ still living in the immediate area. She took a note of their telephone numbers and rang them once she got home. All three of the families were related to each other and were descended from Amelia’s brothers.
The next step was the police – perhaps it should have been the first but Jane had been too wrapped up in the mystery to think that clearly. With the evidence she could present to them, and the extant families’ knowledge of the missing Amelia, the police agreed to search the wall at the top of Clifford woods. Within 24 hours they had found some remains buried beside the wall. A locket found in the makeshift grave was engraved with the name ‘Amelia Elizabeth Grey’ which helped with her identification, as did the bullet hole through her skull, exactly as the letter had described.
Two months later Amelia was given a proper funeral and Jane had planted her border with drifts of blue, pink and white flowers, in memory of the woman whose secret had lain buried in her garden for over a century. She had also started writing, not a novel but the history of the house and the tragedy which had unfolded around it.