In today’s blog I would like to share with you another excerpt from my published novel ‘The Lady in Red.’ In this one the grave robber turned murderer Jack Farley has become a grave digger. He has realized the net could very easily be closing in on him and he needed to remove himself from any suspicion. It is while he is hard at work in his new vocation that an elderly couple come upon him seeking his assistance. Here is the scene:
Body snatcher turned gravedigger. Yes, Jack could see a certain irony in this change of vocation. Indeed, he was mulling over this aspect of his new-found station in life as he dug some room for another waiting corpse. He whistled contentedly to himself as a smile played around his lips. It is doubtless true that, at that moment, not a happier employed fellow could have been found the length and breadth of the country.
“Excuse me, Mr. Farley. I wonder if you could be of assistance to us.”
A middle-aged couple now stood before Jack as he rested his shovel in one hand, while passing a handkerchief over his forehead. This grave digging business could be strenuous work at times. Looking up at these new arrivals from his lowered station in life, he asked, “What can I do you for?”
“Well,” replied the man who had just addressed him, while his wife stood quietly by his side. “My name is Charles Crabtree and this is my wife Eleanor. We recently had the misfortune to lose our only daughter. The poor girl was the apple of our eyes. It was indeed an untimely passing. One minute she was full of the joys of spring, the next…”
“I asked you how I could help,” grunted Jack in a surly tone. “I’ve no wish to hear your life’s history. What possible interest could that be to me?”
“Well, really!” sighed Eleanor in disgust. “I never heard such rudeness. Our dear girl has passed on and there you stand treating us with base discourtesy. Why, it’s almost more than the heart can bear!”
“I’m not much interested in what your heart can bear, neither,” added Jack. “Can you please tell me what it is you want doing and have an end of it? For, as you can see, I’ve got my hands full just at the present. I’ve no time for idle chatter.”
“Hmph! Idle chatter, indeed!” huffed the still aggrieved Eleanor.
“Easy, Ellie,” calmed her husband as he put a protective arm around her shoulder. “It’s like this, Mr. Farley,” he continued. “We require a plot in which to lay our dear daughter to rest. The parson sent us in your direction as he thought you could provide assistance to us in our time of need. My wife and I wish to know whether you can suggest a possible locale within the boundaries of the graveyard where this can be achieved.”
“I see,” said Jack in a more conciliatory way. Climbing out of his pit, he glanced near and far to locate a possible home for the recently departed. “Yes, well, as to a ‘locale,’ there you might have a problem…”
“And in what way may it be considered as such?” asked Charles.
“Well, look for yourself: space is at a premium. There are tombstones in every conceivable corner of this here graveyard. Where, then, to put your daughter? Now that’s the question. Unless…”
“Yes, I think I have the solution to this little puzzler, if you’ll just follow me, the both of you.”
Jack was soon off on his way, picking up his shovel as he walked with stately, purposeful strides towards the far west side of the graveyard. Standing next to a shabby looking tombstone, he stabbed the shovel into the ground as if he was marking his territory. “Right in this very spot: this can be your daughter’s final resting place.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow you,” said Charles, who seemed perplexed by Jack’s remark. It was evident from his wife’s expression that she was of the same mind.
“But it couldn’t be easier to follow me,” returned the indefatigable Jack. “Look here: I’ll show you so there can be no further confusion on the subject.”
Without a further moment’s delay, Jack got down to work. Digging into the ground, he went further and further down until he reached the coffin underneath. “Out you come, me little fellow,” cried Jack as he tossed the coffin out of its pit.
“Dear God, man!” Charles glared disbelievingly at both Jack and the recently cast-aside coffin. “You can’t do that.”
“Why ever not?” asked Jack. “Don’t be so overcome, man. It’s only a coffin with some human remains inside. Where’s the harm in dispensing with one such item which long ago outlived its usefulness so that your own dear girl can find a home in which to rest her earthly remains?”
“Where’s the harm?” Charles almost coughed out. “Why, it’s immoral, it’s blasphemous, it’s unchristian. Where’s your respect for the dead, man? Where’s your compassion for human life?”
“Ah, so that’s it,” sighed an unimpressed Jack. “Well, as it so happens, I’ve never been that way inclined. I’m no Christian, I’m no great churchgoer and as to my morals, well I never had any. You ask around: everyone will tell you the same.”
“But this is beyond reason,” spluttered out a deeply shocked Eleanor. “How on earth could you have been employed as a gravedigger when you have no Christian feeling for those who have passed on, and no understanding for the relatives the dead leave behind?”
“I was employed, Mrs. Crabtree,” eyed Jack with a look of disdain. “Because the church needed a gravedigger and they needed one quick. I was close at hand when the position became vacant and so here I am. They weren’t looking for a saint to dig holes, you know: just a normal, everyday fellow like myself who was in need of ready cash and who was willing to do a hard day’s graft for a set wage.”
“Well I never!” Eleanor seemed to be on the verge of collapse as she staggered back a few paces. Charles held her in his arms as he tried to stop her from falling.
“Are you all right, my dear?” he asked with concern.
“I will be,” she said, “just as soon as we get ourselves away from this place. Why, it’s the Devil’s Den! Let us go, Charles. I do not wish to spend another second in such an infamous retreat.”
“Very well, my dear.” Charles made to lead his wife away, but stopped short in his tracks. “I have to say, Mr. Farley,” he informed the gravedigger in stern tones. “I do not much care for the way you conduct your business. I wonder what your employers would have to say if I told them what has gone on here today. I do not believe they would be very impressed to learn of your endeavours to create extra space for the dearly departed.”
“Indeed!” smirked Jack malevolently. “So, you now resort to threats, do you? Pah! Many’s the man who’s tried that approach with me and many’s the man who’s found himself buried six feet under as a consequence.”
“What?” roared Charles. “You cannot be serious, surely?”
“Oh, I am what you might rightly call deadly serious. And as to your threats: well, they cut no ice with me. No, Sir. You see space is at a premium these days in graveyards up and down the country. And as to my dispensing with this here coffin so as to make space for your darling girl; well, it’s not what it seems…”
“What on earth do you mean ‘it’s not what it seems?’ Good God, man! You’ve desecrated a gravesite. Have you no sense of what is proper and what is not?”
“Pah!” Jack threw a dismissive hand up as he looked contemptuously at his accuser. “Who is there to complain of my ‘desecration’ as you so self-righteously put it? There is no one.”
“But what about the poor soul’s relatives? They’ll be outraged by your unholy act.”
“No they will not. How can they complain when I plan to place the coffin back where I found it? Since you do not wish your daughter to be buried in this here graveyard, there’s no further need to destroy this coffin…”
“Destroy?” quizzed Charles. “What in God’s name do you mean by that?”
“It’s simple enough. If you had wanted your daughter buried in this plot, I would have placed her coffin in this hole and destroyed the previous inhabitant. A few good blows with this shovel and everything would have been set fair!”
Charles seemed almost speechless with fury at the gravedigger’s lack of Christian virtue. However, he recovered himself enough to reiterate his former question. “But what about the poor creature’s relatives? They would be in uproar once they became acquainted with your shabby treatment of their loved one.”
“Ah, yes!” smiled Jack. “That’s where you’ve mistaken my point. You see I didn’t pick out this gravesite at random. No, Sir! It was a carefully sorted out plan of action, I can tell you that. The fact of the matter is that…” Here he peered at the tombstone next to the burial ground. “…James Bartholomew died some good time past. His kith and kin have all long since left the neighborhood. As such, they are hardly likely to return to examine the gravesite.”
“But what if they were to do so?” asked Charles in horror. “How could you possibly explain away such a sacrilegious act?”
“Because the matter has never cropped up before and seeing as I’ve been employed as a gravedigger these two years past without the situation coming about, I see no reason to…”
“Just a moment,” put in a suspicious Eleanor. “What are you getting at? Why do you say the situation has never come about? What are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to say nothing, woman. Surely my meaning is as clear as spring water. You needn’t think this is the first time I’ve replaced an old coffin with a new model. Bless me, no. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve done it. I’ve always checked beforehand, however, that the deceased’s relatives have passed out of the area before making the exchange.”
“Dear me,” sighed Charles as he shook his head at the admission Jack had made. “I believe, Eleanor, we are in the presence of the Devil himself. You talk, Mr. Farley, as if you were at the market place. So, you were simply exchanging new models for old ones, were you?”
“Yep,” grinned Jack. “That’s about the size of it.”
“Well, you needn’t be so proud of your efforts,” responded a deeply disturbed Charles as he placed his arm around his wife. “Come, my dear: let us leave this scoundrel to his unchristian practices. I do not believe we should risk being contaminated by the pollution of his society for a moment longer.”
“Yes, Charles. It is just as you say.” Then turning to Jack, she offered up a warning to him. “I can only hope, Mr. Farley, that you pay for your heinous acts against the poor unfortunates of this world. You go around desecrating gravesites, casting aside coffins, smashing them into bits and then replacing them with, as you put it, ‘new models.’ Well, I only hope that some of these poor folk you’ve treated this way will one day rise up and gain their revenge on you…”
“Ah! But I’ve already told you, Mrs. Crabtree. All of the relatives of the deceased have moved out of the area. So, I’ve nothing to fear from them.”
“Oh, I did not mean you to infer from my words that I spoke of the living. No, I wish you to understand that my hope and prayer is that the unsettled spirits of these unfortunate souls who have had their rest disturbed will rise up from beyond the grave and make you pay for what you’ve done to them. Eternal damnation will be yours, Mr. Farley: you just mark my words!”
With this parting shot, Eleanor was led away by her husband as they made their way out of the graveyard.
“Pah!” scoffed Jack to himself as he watched the couple retreat into the distance. “So, she believes the spirits of the dead will rise up against me, merely for destroying their resting places. Well, if she is of that opinion, then what would she have to say about the spirits of the many folk I murdered during my Resurrectionist days? What would she have to say about that, I wonder?
“No, Mrs. Crabtree: I have no need to concern myself with spirits coming back to exact revenge. No need at all. Everything is plain sailing for me. I am a law unto myself and I will remain so. And there is not a man, woman or child either alive or dead who is going to stop me. No sir-ree!”