Written before the Hunting Act 2004 was passed
Several dozen hooves
crunched over the frosted ground. Some distance ahead, hounds bayed
as they followed the scent of the fox.
Suddenly there was silence, then whimpering as the
beagles turned tail and fled back along the track, through the hooves
of the horses.
“Hunt saboteurs!” bellowed the master of the
hunt. This was unlikely as he had managed to get the protesters' ringleaders
jailed for criminal trespass weeks ago. But he was in a fury and spurred
his horse forward to give any interloper the taste of his riding crop.
Before they could catch up, the rest of the hunt
heard an indignant whinny, terrified yell, and dull thud as sixteen
stone of retired bank manager hit the frozen ground.
There was a ghostly figure blocking their way. By
its flowing white robe it might have been some Glastonbury hippy on
a quest to find the Holy Grail.
The hunt closed in. There was no one else watching,
so they could get away with giving the trespasser a good hiding. However,
when they could see beyond their cloud of anger, it transpired that
the interloper was a tall, elderly woman wearing the robes of some religious
order. She was surrounded by an eerie halo. All the same, she was trespassing:
there was only one way to deal with poachers and trespassers. The hunt
might well have trampled the holy woman into the ground if she had not
raised her hands and formed a shimmering arch in the cold air.
More horses panicked and unseated their riders.
The arch filled with light that crackled and spat
like a living creature.
Terrified horses and bruised hunters fled.
The apparition faded and a lucky fox continued on
its round of the local rabbit warrens.
On the hill above, despite the barking of dogs and
whinnying of horses, Gillian ignored the commotion. She had seen it
all before and was more interested in wrapping her remaining sandwich,
putting on her mittens, and climbing down from her perch on the crumbling
Somebody was walking through the ancient tombstones
in the graveyard with a businesslike stride. The woman had a large key
in her hand and was heading towards the crypt - she must have been going
to open it!
Gillian knew she wouldn’t get a chance like
this again. That crypt had been out of bounds to visitors for years
and the woman with the two wave radio chattering somewhere inside her
quilted jacket was obviously going inside.
Gillian tried to appear casual as she strolled past her line of sight,
peering intently at the inscriptions on each gravestone and jotting
down the odd note in her pad.
The woman had an air of officialdom about her and
looked at the 10-year-old as though she were at risk of becoming lunch
for the peregrine circling high above them. "Hello."
Gillian was used to adults looking at her as though
she was out of place. "Hello,” she replied with an engaging
"Are you up here all by yourself?" There was
a schoolmarmish authority in those firm tones.
“It’s alright.” Gillian pulled a mobile
phone from her pocket. “I only live in the estate down there and
have to check in every hour, and Harry always comes as soon as I call.”
“He’s got a mobile phone?”
“No ... I didn’t mean ...”
The woman laughed and the sternness evaporated. “It’s
alright. I know what you meant.”
Gillian couldn’t contain her curiosity any
longer. “Are you going into the crypt?”
"That’s why I’ve got the key."
“They don’t let anyone in there as a rule -
that’s what the museum curator told me.”
“I’ve got special permission. One of the perks
of my job."
“Who are you then?”
“Detective Sergeant Jardine.”
Gillian’s face lit up. “Police! Are you
investigating the white lady?”
DS Jardine looked puzzled. “What white lady?”
“The one that leaves the crypt every time there’s
The detective looked at the iron gate securing the
crypt, then at Gillian. “Tell me about her?”
“Let me come inside with you then?”
The 10-year-old looked and sounded mature for her
years, and obviously had a keen interest in local knowledge which might
DS Jardine unlocked the gate and took out her torch,
beckoning Gillian after her.
They went down a dark passage and into the crypt
where there was enough light coming through the gratings high in the
outside wall to see without the torch.
Gillian enthusiastically examined every tomb and
inscription. If the police officer wanted to find a body here, she was
spoilt for choice.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m not sure. We had to bring charges against
the hunt saboteurs for criminal trespass and some were sent to prison.
But their leader claimed that the land had been bequeathed by the Abbess,
‘For the good and well being of God’s creatures and the
people.’ So I decided to check on the story just to confirm that
those who claim the land actually have title to it."
“And?” Gillian asked as innocently as she could.
“The ancestral owners allowed us to examine the deeds...
"They were a forgery?"
"If so, a very good one. The key document doesn't
mention Abbess Honoria."
“So those protesters could be set free if you find
"If only it were that simple. If a court decides that
the people do own the land and ruins, they will probably end up with
the National trust." DSI Jardine paused to wonder why she was telling
the 10-year-old all this. For some reason it didn't seem to matter,
so she went on. "But that’s not why I’m here. If this
land doesn’t belong to the current owner, a multi-million pound
fraud is about to be perpetrated."
"Leaving it to the moles and rabbits didn’t
matter before, but this land has now become very valuable to speculators;
valuable enough to make it worthwhile forging a few ancient documents."
“Wow! You shouldn’t really have told me all
that, should you?"
DS Jardine was baffled that she had. The police officer
had the reputation of being tight lipped in the most stressful of situations.
"Not really." She brushed some grime from an inscription,
none the wiser about what she was looking for. “Now Gillian, tell
me about the lady in white?”
“She’s in here now," the 10-year-old announced
"In here..?" The detective tried not to shudder
at the strange change in her young companion and the crypt’s air
pressure. “How can you tell?”
“Look.” Gillian pointed to a tall white shape
forming in the gloom at the far end of the crypt.
The apparition wore a robe that fluttered eerily
in the still icy air and the only features visible were the long severe
face and a hand pointing to a skull in a niche.
Undaunted, Gillian skipped over to lift it down.
“It’s very heavy for bone.”
The figure in white immediately became a ghostly
Before Gillian could hand the skull to DS Jardine
it whirled from her grasp and shattered on the flagstones.
The detective trained her torch on the remains. “Good
grief, it was clay.”
Gillian pulled a large iron key from the shards.
"This must open her coffin.”
“But Abbess Honoria’s remains are in a casket
in the cathedral.”
“Well let’s go before anyone realises we’ve
discovered the key.”
“Now hold on ...”
“The white lady will only let me open it, you know,"
Gillian announced confidently.
The detective had no doubt about that, then an anxious
Alsatian looking for its 10-year-old owner pattered down the crypt passage,
so she decided to let the strange girl hold onto the key.
Once Harry was taken back home and Gillian’s
parents were satisfied that she was in safe hands, DS Jardine drove
her and the key to the cathedral.
Clutching a can of WD-40, the deaconess led Gillian,
DS Jardine, a forensic scientist, and party of interested clerics down
into the cathedral crypt. “It’s such a heavy lock. Even
the recent burglars couldn't get into the casket; they just scratched
the wood. No idea why they thought there would have been anything of
value in it? Only an acetylene torch could cut through those iron bands,
and that would have set off the sprinklers.”
The deaconess and other clerics seemed unaware that
they were caretakers of the evidence that could foil a multi-million
As the party reached the massive steel and wood casket,
the deaconess turned to Gillian. “You do know they’ll be
bones, hair, and such like ... in there?”
“Oh those things won’t bother her,” said
DS Jardine. "After all these centuries, I’ll just be surprised
if she can turn that key.”
The deaconess sprayed the inside of the lock with
WD-40 and Gillian pushed the key home. As she carefully turned it there
was a ‘clunk’ and a sudden gush of the air was released
from the lid.
A faint, eerie sigh echoed through the crypt columns.
The forensic scientist lifted the lid of the casket.
Inside it was a jumble of human bones and decaying white robe. Skeleton
hands clutched a manuscript box. He flicked away the dust of centuries
with a soft brush, and then the deaconess put on her spectacles to translate
the Latin inscription on its lid.
“This is the will of Abbess Honoria, witnessed by
God and her holy order.”
She looked up. “Seems as though the legend might have been true
“Legend? What legend?” asked DS Jardine.
“Didn’t you know? Nobody could prove it because
her mortal remains could not be disturbed on pain of death, but it was
believed the King tried to take her lands for the royal hunt. So she
left her estate to the holy order, God’s animals and the common
people ... on condition no one ever hunted on it."