Chapter 7

Written by: Ray Stone

Why Mr. Kirkman had not tried to find me and deliver my mother’s letter was puzzling. In fact, when he consulted my friend, Elliot, and had seen a picture of my mother, he said nothing of such communication or Elliot would have informed me.

“I think it best you rest until the day breaks, Wilber. There be no closed coach back this night, and the one to Ipswich leaves the village at eight or thereabouts. It might be prudent to carry a shilling too. Mr. Kirkman is, in my opinion, an honest and hardworking man but one who lives frugally and a shilling will be welcomed for his services.”

I sat long into the night looking into the fire. There were decisions to be made about a murder and a wrongful hanging. Joshua Snipes sat alongside me and there being nothing else to say, we kept our thoughts to ourselves and spent a sleepless night wrapped in his ragged blanket.  

The morning saw us walk along the cliff path to the village.

“You know where I be should you seek me, Wilber,” said Josh. 

He stood, bent over with hunched shoulders, a sad and dejected looking figure, seeing my coach off without waving goodbye. 

***

Harper Fields Hospital was uninviting and without any redeeming qualities. It lay back at the end of the gravel driveway, hidden behind the Norman church of St. Bartholomew. The building spawned ugliness, decay, and abandonment. There was something about it that filled one with a helpless feeling of futility and yet the visible signs of cleanliness and order showed. Masses of chipped red brick, blackened with age, covered the walls but the ground around the building was clean. A grassed area smelling freshly cut to the rear of the church was fenced high, it being the only outdoors the patients were allowed to use.

“You are welcome here, Mr. Wainright, but for privacy and should your sensitive nature be offended at the sight of leprosy, I suggest we talk in the church.”

Mr. Felton Kirkman was a robust and kindly gentleman in middle age. Of ruddy complexion, his gray-green eyes peered at me through thick lens pince-nez glasses balanced near the end of his bulbous nose. His worn but smart plain black suit and frayed shirt collar confirmed Joshua’s opinions. With introductions over, he swept some stray hair back over his balding head with a quick hand motion and ushered me toward the church entrance.

“A note from Doctor Hume-Frobishire informed me that you were visiting Joshua Snipes and I assume Joshua told you of your mother and that his love for her betrayed his calling here.” He shook his head slowly as we sat. “A sad affair. That said, I have your mother’s letter…and a surprise I kept secret from your doctor. I had no idea how to find you until I went to see him.”

I breathed deeply. “A surprise?”

“Yes, you have a sister.”