The Blue Bell Inn
“Are we sure we’re doing the right thing John.”
“Well, my love it’s the wrong time to start getting cold feet now” he replied, “we’ve signed the lease and the keys are in my pocket. We would lose far too much money if we were to back out now.”
John had a tall military bearing presence which was coupled with a down to earth type of personality. He believed that if you couldn’t see or touch it then it didn’t exist. Whereas his wife Eileen, was almost the exact opposite, being small and rounded, a maternal motherly type of person. She believed in the more ethereal things.
John made decisions with his head whilst Eileen made hers mainly with her heart.
Although he would never have openly admitted it, John always listened very carefully to his wife’s intuitions or hunches, and what she had to say for most times she had the annoying habit of usually being right.
Their characters were so different that any marriage dating agency would never have matched them up as compatible. The old adage that opposites attract was certainly true in their case. They had been married now for over twenty years and although they had never been blessed with children it was abundantly clear that they were still very much in love with each other. John would walk over hot coals for his wife and he had no doubts that she would do the same for him.
“I’m sorry for having doubts dear, I’m sure we are doing the right thing it’s just that there’s so much work to be done.”
John was having the same type of doubts as he looked up at the building in front of them, nodding his head in agreement but saying nothing.
Five months ago John Hargreaves had retired from the Army having served twenty two and a half years. After discussing their retirement gratuity and small military pension that would hardly fully support them until their state pensions became payable in around seven years’ time; they had decided to put all their finances and life’s experiences into a small business adventure, buying a pub; or rather the leasing of a pub.
In the twenty odd years they had been married Eileen had happily accompanied her husband in the many countries in which he had served. She was used to having to up sticks from one Married Service Quarter in one country, moving lock stock and barrel to another MSQ at another unit in another country. Moving house and all that it entailed, was nothing new to her, or had presented little problems in the past; but this building was nothing like any MSQ Eileen had ever lived in. At present all the windows of the building were shuttered up and looked as though they had been like that for a number of years.
The Blue Bell Inn was an old, rather large building that had been built at around the turn of the century as a coach house. It originally stood to the side of the main road from Morpeth to the Great North Road, in the village of Windridge. The village custom and the substantial passing trade ensured that the pub, at that time, a profitable venture.
Six years ago a bye pass to the AI had been completed and therefore passing trade was very much reduced, the pubs main clientele became that of only the small village.
Not being economically viable at the time the owners of the pub had ceased trading and closed it down.
Recently a rather large private housing estate was being built near-bye and within the year the pub could, or should, become viable again but the operative word was ‘could’. On that premise John and Eileen had entered into contracts to lease the property for a period of five years. Numerous clauses in their contract with the ownership company stated that the pub had to be brought back to full serviceable standards, after which it would be duly signed over to them, with a building time frame of three weeks.
As they both stood looking up at the old building John said to his wife. “You know, I’m sure we can make something of this place.” Eileen nodded in agreement.
As he was looking skywards towards the roof area out of the corner of his eye John thought he saw movement and his eyes were directed towards one of the four small mullioned dormer windows set into the roof. He felt as if someone was watching them but now looking directly at the window there was no movement. The windows had closed wooden shutters. Obviously it had been a bird flying by that had disrupted his vision.
“Come on then.” John to his wife “Let’s get to work. The workmen should be arriving soon.”
They unlocked the main front door to a rather musty smell and entered a room that had once been the bar area. The stacked tables and chairs in the room were the original furniture. All other furnishings and decorations had been removed to an outhouse storage area.
Originally being shown around the premises by the estate agent they roughly knew the general layout of their new abode. Now they were alone and couldn’t wait to explore a little further. As they walked into the square bar room from the front door the bar counter was on the facing wall. Tables and chairs could be situated on the three sides of the bar counter in a squared horseshoe shape. Walking through to the right of the bar was another exit door which opened out to a corridor with doors to the toilets, kitchen and an outside exit fire door. To one side of the kitchen door were two other doors, one with a sign marked CELLAR and the other marked PRIVATE. Unlocking the door marked private with the keys in his possession he opened the door to a stairwell that lead to the upper living quarters. On the second floor there were five bedrooms, one large bedroom that would be for their own use and one small room that would be used as an office. Three medium sized rooms would initially remain empty but hopefully may come into use at a later time as bed & breakfast accommodation. There was also a reasonably sized kitchen and a medium sized living room. All of the rooms smelt of the same musty smell as that when they had first entered the building. “Don’t worry about the musty smell my love; the painters will soon get rid of that.” John assured his wife
Looking round further they both had expected there to be a stairway leading to a further floor above. From the outside, the building it looked as if it had three floors not two. Small dormer windows had been set into the roof area to give it that impression.
Eileen must have been thinking the same as John for she said “I would have thought that there was a floor above this one.”
“I was looking round for a door leading up to there as well.” He replied. “There must be a very large attic space above.”
“Hope it’s well insulated then.” She observed. “If it’s not, it will cost the earth to heat up this place in the wintertime.”
“Good point love, I’ll make sure the builders do something along those lines.”
A loud banging that was obviously coming from the downstairs bar area interrupted their thoughts.
“That’ll be the builders arriving, at least they are on time, I’d better go down and let them in.” said John.
John opened the pub door to a short stubby man dressed in a bib and brace overall and a flat cap on his head who introduced himself as Ted Smales. He said that he had been contracted by the holding company to carry out the pub alterations and began to explain how numerous differing tradesmen would be employed throughout the coming three weeks. His main job was to organise the whole pub conversion.
Eileen, on learning that Ted Smales was in charge, asked him if it was possible that the upstairs living accommodation could be seen as a priority. She explained that they were at present living in rented accommodation in Morpeth and it was quite costly. They wanted to move into the premises as soon as possible. Ted promised to treat the matter as a due urgency.
“Shall we have a walk around the village?” Eileen suggested to her husband, having handed over duplicate keys and the responsibility to Mr Smales, who had said there was very little for them to do for the present time. John was about to decline and suggest that he was going to explore the beer cellar and frequent himself to its equipment and workings but then realised that the cellar was part of the property renewal and he’d probably be in the way so there was little he could do down there. John agreed to his wife’s invitation to a walk.
The B class road outside the pub descended slightly to a stone bridge that crossed a small river, or rather a large stream, which trickled and tinkled into the distance. Trees lined the footpath alongside both banks. Behind the large pub car-park had been built the houses of the village. All of the homes had been built of natural stone and some of them had even picturesque thatched roofs. Though many of them had been updated with porches, verandas and extensions they had all still been kept to the original period look. The pub, village and surrounding area was very pleasing to the eye and very oldy worldly.
Practically all of the gardens were neat, tidy and very well kept; their owners obviously very house proud.
“I think I’m going to like living in such pleasant surroundings.” Observed Eileen. “It’s so nice and peaceful. If our bar customers are as likeable as the houses they live in I’m sure we’ll get along here.”
John nodded his head in agreement
Within the week Mr Smales was a man of his word and the upstairs living accommodation was completed; the new Landlord and Landlady were now able to take over their new living quarters.
Both John and his wife Eileen were delighted in their new abode. The main bedroom, living room, kitchen and office had been cleaned and decorated to high professional standards. The other spare bedrooms would only need attention at a later date.
As they snuggled up in their new bed on their first night in their newly decorated room they contemplated the shape of things to come. The work on their pub, because now they were getting used to calling it their pub, was on schedule and within ten days or so the pub would be opened proper to the public. They discussed their feelings and their fears but both were looking forward to their new life ahead.
“John… John” His wife was shaking him awake.
“Whatsa matter?” he mumbled.
“What’s that noise?”
“I can’t hear anything.” John was awake now and trying hard to listen intently.
“There it goes again it sounded like someone crying.”
“Just contraction of the building as it cools down for the night love. Nothing to worry about go back to sleep.”
All that John had heard had been a very minor creak.
John assurance to his wife eased her worry’s somewhat and she snuggled further into her husband and was soon fast asleep.
John however was wide now wide awake and listening to the many sounds of the night.
The next ten days went like a blur with electricians, plumbers, carpenters, decorators and cleaners all doing their bit to bring the pub back to life.
Two days before opening John was about to take his first delivery of his beers, lagers, wines, spirits order and all the other paraphernalia that was to be retailed in the pub. He and his wife had already taken and passed their BIIAB course exam which now legally entitled them to retail alcoholic beverages.
John had also taken and passed a further bar cellar management course.
The cellar in the Blue Bell pub was, as it describes, a room that is sub ground level.
Whenever John went down to the cellar it took some getting used to for it always felt very cold and damp. The thermostat had been set at 12°C/53°F which he had learned is the ideal temperature for the storage of beers and lagers.
Looking around the cellar, alongside the left side wall were fixed the electric beer pump valves. Plastic lines would be fixed from the barrels to the individual pumps and from there up to the beer dispensers in the bar. Along the facing back wall at just above eye level were fixed the cooling systems and the soft drinks, colas, lemonades etc. dispensers. Below these arrangements lay a stone gantry. The gantry level was about two foot high from the ground by about a yard width. Half of the gantry looked original and built of natural stone; the other half looked as if it had been amateurish built at a later stage and was of common house brick.
The third right hand wall had an inlet with a locked trap door to the surface
As the delivery draymen pulled up outside of the pub, John was ready for them and indicated that he was going down to the cellar to unlock and open up the trapdoor to enable the barrels of beers to be dumped from ground level to cellar level. Although John had never done the task before he was aware how draymen operated.
Once down in the cellar John pulled a thickly padded nylon mat to the middle of the floor of the trapdoor inlet. John shouted to the drayman that he was ready and they replied “clear” and then allowed a full 36 gallon aluminium keg of beer to free fall down to the cellar level, a drop of about a six feet. The mat took up the barrel’s fall without damage and John rolled it away to storage before shouting that all was clear and ready to receive the next barrel. John took delivery of four 36s and six 18 gallon barrels of beers, lagers, ciders and Guinness.
Coupling all the supply lines to barrels were quite straightforward and before long John could go up behind the bar ready to pull his first pint. Eileen joined him for what was for them a momentous occasion and suggested that they invite all the workmen still working on site to have a drink with them, the first drink of their tenancy.
Tomorrow at six pm was to be the pubs official opening.
Eileen and John went to bed that night both full of excitement for the coming day.
“John.” His wife was shaking awake again.
“What’s up now?”
“What do you mean some ones crying?” John was awake now but couldn’t hear anything untoward.
“A child is crying.” Pleaded Eileen
John was listening intently now but still he couldn’t hear sound, let alone anyone crying. He realised his wife must be dreaming and sleep talking.
“John, please do something the child needs our help she must be in distress.” His wife’s pleading was now more pressing.
“Eileen.” John gently shook his wife. “Wake up Eileen.”
“I’m not asleep John.” His wife replied. ”But surely you can hear the child crying?” There it goes again now! I’m sure I can hear a little girl crying.”
John was straining his ears to hear what was disturbing his wife but could hear no sounds other than the slight murmuring of the wind outside in the night.
“Purely to calm his wife John rose from his bed and padded out to the hallway. He could still not hear any untoward noises.
Opening each and every spare bedroom in turn, all were empty and devoid of furniture of any kind. They had yet to be re-decorated. He further searched the kitchen, living room and office, all to no avail.
“Who was it John?” His wife asked “What did you do? The crying seems to have stopped now.”
“It was just the wind rustling in the trees outside of window in side spare bedroom. Someone had left the door open” He explained. “I’ve got to admit it did sound like a child’s cry. I’ve now shut the bedroom door now so you won’t be disturbed again.”
“Thank you my love, you’re my hero.”
He silently studied to himself; the bedroom door hadn’t been open nor had there been any real rustling of the trees outside. He’d only explained that to placate his wife.
His wife snuggled up to him and was soon sound asleep again. His, when he managed that is, became a fit full sleep.
They awoke on the morning of their new pubs opening. Neither of them mentioned to the other of the events of the night before. Had Eileen remembered it? John certainly had.
There was much to be done that day. Eileen had already advertised in the local press of the grand re-opening of The Blue Bell and numerous flyers had been circulated in and around the local Town of Morpeth.
The old tables and chairs had all been re-sanded and varnished; they now looked in perfect condition but still retained their old fashioned style. The Bar counter had been professionally sanded and numerous coats of French polish applied. The shelves, mirrors and glasses had all been cleaned to perfection and shiny horse brasses and other paraphernalia adorned the roof beams and walls. The beer pump dispenser’s and optics were all old fashioned looking but were really modern and brand new.
Eileen had earlier advertised the position for a pub cleaner and after interviewing four applicants had decided on Mrs Jackson, an older comely widow who ideally lived in the village.
The pub was now in a pristine condition and both John and Eileen were proud of their achievement and a raring to go.
At the appointed hour of Six pm John disengaged the lock and two bolts of the front door and proudly opened it… Two customers walked in.
To say that Eileen’s face was one of disappointment was an understatement. All that could be said was that John’s face registered the same forlorn look. Each unbeknown to the other, were asking the same question to themselves, had they made a mistake in taking the pub on?
“Yes Sir. What can I get you?” John asked his first customer.
“Two pints of John Smiths please.” The older of the two men had ordered for them both.
“Come far?” John asked seeking to open up a line of conversation.
“Just from the village.” The younger of the two said. This is my father George Harrison, I’m Steven. We used to be regulars in here before it closed down six or more years ago.” Looking around he said “You seem to have made a good job of the renovations, good luck in your new enterprise.”
“Thank you. I’m John Hargreave by the way, this is my wife Eileen.” replied John. “I was hoping for a little more custom though.”
“There’s time yet, it’s still only a little after six. Most people are having their tea around now.”
John had to agree with the comments; most customers don’t come out while after seven. Like the man said ‘there’s time yet.’
Slowly but slowly customers did come in. Although John and Eileen were never overwhelmed they were kept busy throughout the night.
Just before ten to eleven John was thinking about ringing his bell to call ‘last orders’ but realised that his customers were slowly beginning to leave anyway, so there was no real need. There was only four people left playing, what looked like to John, a serious game of dominoes at a corner table.
John stood to the side pretending to be interested in the game but at the same time wanting them to finish it and leave. He did not wish to offend his customers for they paid his bread and butter but after all it was his first day and he was tired and wanted the day to come to an end. The game finished and they all bade their farewells and quietly left.
Eileen totted up the till and both were quite surprised how well they had done money wise; the takings were almost three hundred pounds. Certainly not a fantastic sum but it would help pay the bills.
That night as they both lay in each other’s arms, discussing the events of the day they both felt that they, although the experience had been completely different to anything they had done before, had enjoyed it.
As John went to sleep he briefly thought about the disturbance of the night before and hoped it would not be repeated this night.
Tomorrow was another day and as John got up to let the pub cleaner in, Eileen began cooking his breakfast.
Slowly but surely John and Eileen began to work to a routine. Monday to Thursday trade was quite slow and uneventful. The main bulk of their trade was at the weekend. During the 12 to 3pm afternoon session Eileen would tend the bar. This left John to complete many of the other jobs that needed attention. His first priority was to make sure his ales were always in tip top condition, their livelihood depended on it. The cleaning of the plastic beer lines need flushing out with a special cleaning fluid then rinsing out with water at least once a week was a main job. He had learned that protein can build up in the lines if they are not cleaned properly and it would definitely begin to show up in the taste of the beer.
Within two weeks they both felt on top of the job and within reason were happy. Except for one small incident is.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and only two customers were in. One of them came to the bar and ordered a pint of lager. John was outside watering the hanging flower baskets. As Eileen was pulling the lager it suddenly ceased flowing indicating the barrel was empty. She knocked on the inside window to attract Johns attention that she needed help, indicating that the Lager barrel needed changing. After he had completed the task his wife said “Will you show me how to change a barrel sometime?”
John agreed she should be shown how to change a barrel she may be alone sometime when a barrel ran out. It is an easy task when shown how, he said he’d show her when they ceased trading after the afternoon session.
When they closed the pub at three thirty Eileen reminded her husband about changing a barrel. As they both descended the cellar steps they immediately felt the cold 12 degree atmosphere.
It was the first time ever that Eileen had visited a cellar of a pub. The cold, damp and lack of daylight unnerved her somewhat. As John began demonstrating how to anti clockwise disengage the connecter to the barrel and then reconnecting it again his wife was looking furtively around her. “I don’t like it down here.” She declared. “There’s something wrong here.”
“There’s nothing wrong it’s only the cold atmosphere. You’ll soon get used to it.”
“No I won’t. I’ve got a very funny sensation. There’s something not right. I’ll not be coming down here again.”
“I thought you wanted to be shown how to change a barrel?”
“Not anymore I don’t. If a barrel needs changing then you’ll have to do it.” Without any further explanation she quickly walked back up the steps and out of the cellar.
It would have been no good trying to pacify her. Her mind was made up. John began to wonder why his wife had acted so. Yes the cellar was a cold damp dank place. Yes the inadequate lighting cast dark shadows and yes it wasn’t the perfect place to work in but he still couldn’t understand his wife’s rigid stance. He looked around, when I’ve a bit of time, I’ll give the whole cellar a new coat of white emulsion, that should brighten the place up he decided. Eileen said nothing more about the cellar and John decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
Slowly but surely they began to recognise their regular customers and what their individual tipple was. Most or nearly all of their regulars came from the village. John and Eileen began to realise that although sales were only slightly increasing week on week, hopefully when the new housing estate being built nearby was completed, and the residents moved into their houses, trade would generally increase.
One of their afternoon regulars was Tom. He was a tall older gentleman probably in his late seventies, always wearing a clean white shirt and a smart looking tie. He lived in the village and regularly came into the pub at twelve noon, had three pints of Guinness then left on the dot at two thirty.
Tom and landlord John seemed to gel. Tom was an old soldier of the Korean War and loved to reminisce about his good old times: John also being ex-military, always enjoyed listening to the bygone tales of yesteryear.
One conversation John had with Tom concerned the past landlords of the Blue Bell Inn. Tom said there had been numerous Landlords, tenants or just managers of the pub. He said that there had been at least six, in the ten years he had lived in the village, before it had ceased trading.
None of them ever seemingly to make a ‘go’ of the pub, some leaving after only a few months.
He said that from what other people had told him the only landlord who had ever made any success of the pub had been a Daniel Conway and his wife, Elizabeth. Although he professed no first-hand knowledge of them for he had come to live in the village after they had left.
It seems that they took it over sometime in the seventies and had run it for around twenty years. Daniel had been an old ‘salt,’ a Sailor who took over the pub after having retired from the Navy, much like John had retired from the Army.
“Did Daniel and his wife have a young daughter?” John asked him directly. Perhaps sub consciously he was remembering his wife hearing a girl child crying. As soon as he had asked the question he regretted it because by admitting there could have been a child crying he was admitting supernatural forces.
“I don’t know what family they had. As I’ve said I came to live in the village after they had left. Why do you ask?”
“Have you heard anyone say that the pub is haunted? Has anything ever been mentioned?”
“I’ve heard a few tales but nothing definite. I did hear something about a little girl who could sometimes be heard crying. Personally I don’t believe in ghosts or the afterlife so I’m not the one to ask. The rumours seem to have started within the last ten years or so. I think it was Frank Shilton, who had the pub for about a year, who started the rumour probably to drum up trade. For a few weeks after it did increase a little but even that wasn’t enough. He left soon after and the rumour just carried on.”
John was eager to know more but it was almost half past two and Tom was drinking the last dregs of his beer before getting up to go home. “Tom, can I ask you not to mention to Eileen the rumours about the pub being haunted.”
“Nay lad, as I’ve said, I don’t believe the rumours myself so I certainly won’t be repeating them.”
“Did you ever get to ask that building chappie about the loft insulation?” Eileen asked her Husband.
“Completely skipped my mind.” he replied. “There is a ceiling access point in one of the spare bedrooms. Shall I get a ladder and see if I can unscrew it off then we can have a look ourselves.”
An aluminium ladder was soon erected and the screws that held the panel in place were removed. Both climbed the ladder into the loft. They were amazed to find that the roof space that covered almost the whole of the building area, was floor boarded out. Although they were shuttered natural light fed through the four small dormer windows. It was very dirty and dusty but apparent that at some time in the past the attic had been used.
“It looks as if this attic had been a play area or a bedroom.” John remarked.
“If it’s been used as living accommodation how did they get up here? Surely not with a ladder?”
“They probably had a proper loft ladder fitted then had it removed, when the space was no longer in use.”
“Pity such a large area not being used.” Remarked Eileen
“We could use it for storage I suppose.” Responded John. “But there again, we’ve plenty of space in the spare bedrooms plus the large outbuilding we have. Space we have plenty of.”
“Yes I suppose your right. Let’s get back down then.”
John rummaged around for a while longer looking for anything of value that had been left. All he found was a few old toys and a rag doll. He didn’t show the doll to his wife. No point in setting her imagination alight he thought.
They exited the loft and John re-screwed the ceiling panel back into place.
“Time I was down in the bar preparing to open up.” John said to his wife, who nodded her reply and said “I’ll bring you down a cup of tea just after you open up.”
“Have you ever thought of having real ale’s on tap?” Peter, one of his regular customers asked John
“Well yes, I did think about it.” he replied “A number of passing trade customers have asked if I had it on. I suppose I could easily order a barrel and see if there is any demand for it.”
“Might be a good idea.” Peter agreed.
After the afternoon session John phoned in his order in to his beer supplier. When it had been taken he enquired about real ale. As John had no experience in real ale he asked what the supplier recommended. ‘Snecklifter’ was the suggestion. John ordered a 9 gallon barrel of ‘Snecklifter’ and it was duly delivered the next day.
John had no idea what the word ‘snecklifter’ meant. He asked the delivery van driver if he knew the origin of the word and was told that the old fashioned door catch was called a ‘sneck’ and the thumb button one pressed to lift the catch was called a ‘lifter’. Hence the word ‘snecklifter’. It did not describe real ale but maybe an interesting answer to the question if anyone asked.
Whilst the van driver was with him John inquired if he could be shown how to ‘tap’ the barrel of ‘real ale’.
In the cellar the driver placed the wooden barrel on its base with the soft bung on top. He placed the end of the spigot, which is just a specially designed tap, over the bung; with the spigot over the soft bung hole he hit it with a rubber hammer. The spigot was forced into the bung. Because of pressure inside the cask an initial spurt of frothy beer escaped. He hit the spigot further forcing it fully home. It was now water tight, or rather beer tight. Then he lifted the 9 gallon wooden barrel onto the concrete gantry and spragged wooden wedges to stop it from rolling from side to side. Another wedge was placed under the back so that the barrel was slightly tilted forward and now the spigot was the lowest part of the barrel. He suggested that it be now left undisturbed for at least 24 hours for the beer to settle advising John to test the clarity and taste the beer before connecting the plastic line from the spigot to the hand pump in the bar.
After 48 hours the clarity and taste of the ale was perfect and ‘real ale’ was now an added bar attraction; before long they were selling a 9 gallon barrel a week. Things were looking up.
“John, there’s someone in the loft.” Eileen was in the kitchen preparing their evening meal before opening time at six o clock. He could hear the noise and it certainly sounded as if someone was playing in the roof space. Almost as suddenly as it had started the noise stopped. Both were looking up at the ceiling as if they might be able to see the noise. “What are you going to do?” his wife demanded.
“It’s probably a squirrel.” He suggested.
“Surely, not that loud?”
John silently agreed to himself that it did seem rather loud for such a small animal, but he could not, nor would not accept that it was anything more than a natural noise.
”The bare floorboards do act like a drum skin making any noises sound louder.” He hoped his wife would accept the explanation. If it started again he’d have to get the ladder out of the shed downstairs again and investigate the noise proper.
Over the next few days the noises did re-occur but this time not quite as loud. At his wife’s insistence, John retrieved and re-erected the ladder for a further exploration of the loft space. He was relieved to find evidence, eaten shells of nuts and droppings, that a squirrel and probably its family did frequent the loft. He also discovered a small hole that led to the outside roof. He plugged it hoping that the animals would be denied further access, although he wasn’t confident that they wouldn’t find other holes to gain entry. He reported his discoveries and Eileen seemed to accept them at face value.
Over the next month or so they both settled into a routine. It was a different routine to any that they had experienced before and they made mistakes which they accepted, but all in all life for them was progressing along quite nicely.
A darts and dominoes team was been set up, every alternate Tuesday a visiting team would arrive to hold a series of games. The following Tuesday their team would visit an away pub.
Wednesdays became the ‘General Knowledge Quiz Night’ John donated a £20 cash prize plus all entrance moneys taken. On both games and quiz nights Elizabeth prepared a free running buffet. Customers appreciated her little added touches it made them feel wanted, which of course they were for John and Eileen, at the onset, had soon realised that their lively hood depended on their customers.
The entrance to the pub car park was quite wide. A large oak tree grew in the centre making it a kind of mini roundabout. A small stone wall surrounded the oak and John decided to plant a few flowers to pretty it up. The earth was hard and matted and needed digging to at least a trowel depth before any bedding plants could be planted.
As he was loosening the soil his trowel struck something solid, further digging unearthed a long object wrapped in a decomposing cloth sacking. Undoing the parcel it revealed a short bladed cutlass, probably a naval antique. Further inspection exposed what looked like dried blood on the blade, probably animal blood from a poacher who had used the blade to kill, clean or skin rabbits.
John decided that if cleaned up satisfactory he might it hang it up on one of the walls of the bar, along with all the other curios. Someone might even be able to identify exactly what type of blade it was.
John showed his wife his find and remarked that if it scrubbed up OK he might display it on one of the pub walls.
“I don’t like it.”
“What’s wrong with it? It looks to me like a genuine naval cutlass”
““I still don’t like it.”
When he cleaned John presented it to his wife stating. “I’ve been researching it on the web. If I could find the scabbard it’d be probably worth three to four hundred pounds.”
“There’s still something about it that I don’t like.” She replied
“But we already have swords already hanging on the wall, granted they are ornamental, but this one is real its genuine. It will create conversation within the pub that always helps to the look of the pub and creates conversation. ”
“You cannot just hang it on the wall after all it is a weapon.”
John had to agree with his wife’s fair comment. “No! of course not.” He hadn’t thought of the sword as a weapon only as of an ornament. “Trust me,” he pleaded, “I’ll think of something.”
“If you must you must.” She conceded. “But don’t expect me to like it.”
The pub had two real fireplaces one to the left wall of the entrance and one to the right. John and Eileen had visualised lighting them when the cold weather came on, it would make the pub look and feel warm and cosy in the winter months. The cutlass was mounted in a locked glass fronted case which was securely fastened to the wall above the right fireplace.
Looking back, in hindsight, the hanging of the cutlass in the bar was when John and Eileen’s real troubles began.
That night the noises in the loft returned. Even John had to agree that they were rather loud for such small animals. Eileen awoke to hearing a young girl scream. She immediately awakened John who again had heard nothing. He got out of bed and looking out of the window saw two teenage girls walking bye giggling innocently. They had obviously been out to a party and were walking home rather late. John assured his wife it was one of them who had made the noise. He may have convinced his wife but had he convinced himself?
The same night John had a violent dream and awoke lathered in sweat. He could not remember the whole of the dream but recalled it took place in the pubs loft space where he, or someone, was wielding a cutlass similar to the one hanging on the fireplace wall. Two other persons were in the dream, one was a little girl of about ten years old; but he could not determine who the other was. For the life of him he couldn’t remember further into his dream, what he did with the cutlass and why it was being wielded.
When they awoke the next morning Eileen first words were to begin to tell John about the strange dream she’d had. About a young girl who was cowering away in a corner of a room and man about to attack her.
“How did it end?” John asked.
“I wish I could remember, for the sake of me I can’t.” She replied.
John had the urge to recall his own nightmare to Eileen but realised it would probably upset her further, so decided against it.
As the various held events progressed and the hard work that both John & Eileen put into the pub, trade slowly increased and with it the profitability. It should have been a happy time for them; it wasn’t, the nagging doubts Eileen had about the eerie things that had been happening in the pub were now beginning to rub off on John.
That afternoon John made a point of engaging his new found friend, Tom in conversation. He told him of the strange happenings that seemed to be happening at the pub. The noises and strange dreams, the feelings Eileen had about the cutlass, the cellar. Nothing substantial, John told him that he felt able to handle the physical side of things but was worried that the problem was now affecting his wife’s happiness. John said he would rather walk away from it all than let that happen. It didn’t matter how profitable the pub had, or could become.
Tom listened intently. John somehow had expected him to laugh it off and tell him to pull himself together but he did not; Tom seemed to fully understand his fears and feelings.
I’ve two suggestions to make, one you will probably agree with and one, knowing you, will probably disagree won’t.
“Anything you say I will appreciate and take it into account.
“Well can I suggest that you have a word with Wee Jimmy?
He’s an old mate of Daniel Conway. You remember he used to be the landlord of this pub, years ago. Jimmy and David were bosom buddies at that time. He still lives in the village but is housebound now so gets out of his house very rarely. What he doesn’t know about this pub isn’t worth knowing”
“Can you arrange a visit with him?”
“I’ll do better than that I take you to see him.”
“What’s the next suggestion?”
“Well this is the one you may not like. If you think the pub is haunted and I stress that I don’t by the way; I suggest that you get a priest to exorcise the place?”
“I never said it was haunted.”
“No, but your wife does and I’ve got the feeling that you may also be having serious doubts.”
John reluctantly had to agree with the comments made.
Discussing with his wife about his conversation with Tom and the two suggestions given, Eileen replied that she not only agreed with their friend but that she had already visited the local church and talked about their unexplained problems with the vicar. She said the reverend was only too willing to help and a visit by him had been arranged for the coming morning before the noon opening time.
Reverend Wade the local vicar was true to his word and knocked on the door promptly at nine am.
Both John and Eileen welcomed him in.
As the vicar was donning his vestments he was looking around rather furtively John was a little perturbed that the vicar looked rather young and inexperienced and wondered if this was his first exorcism
From a small leather holdall the vicar produced a gold plated crucifix and placed it upright on its plinth on the bar. By its side he placed a bible and then a candlestick holder and proceeded to light the red waxed candle that it held. From a small flask he poured a little water into a small crucible and began to mutter the Lord’s Prayer over it. When he had finished the prayer, he crossed himself and the water had now become blessed and holy.
He then proceeded to incant;
"Jesus I ask that you cast out any and all evil spirits in, around this place, The Blue Bell Inn.”
He then proceeded to walk around the room sprinkling the holy water that he had prepared and still canting religious prose.
As he neared the right wall fireplace wall he stopped and looked up at the displayed cutlass in its case. A look of uncertainty came upon his face. He seemed unsure how to continue. “In the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit I command the spirit to get out of this place.” This time he shouted loudly. Splashing holy water, quite vigorously this time, at the display case
An amazing thing happened that took them all by surprise. The mounting hook within the case on which the cutlass had been hung, suddenly gave way and the cutlass fell down still inside its case: The case was still secured to the wall and locked.
There could have been a logical reason why the cutlass fell. Its weight may have slowly, over time, been too much for the inside screw mounting. It just happened to give way at this particular point in time a sheer coincidence. John wanted to believe this but both the vicar and Elizabeth looked upon it as a sign that the exorcism was working or conversely it was a sign that it wasn’t.
Nonetheless the vicar carried on with his duties visiting in turn every room of the building even the cellar. John had even unscrewed the attic ceiling panel and erected the aluminium ladder for the vicar to perform his duties in the loft space.
“I feel evil forces have been at work within the confines of this pub.” The reverend stated. “With God’s help, those forces have now been expelled.”
The vicar departed, with a quite hefty donation for the church in his cassock and maybe a little wiser than when he had entered the pub.
When he had gone Elizabeth demanded that John unscrew the case that contained the cutlass from the wall and dispose of it to an outbuilding. He readily agreed with her and complied.
All that day and the next nothing untoward happened and John, although a sceptic that exorcism could actually have worked he was secretly relieved that it appeared to have. Elizabeth was greatly relieved and it showed. Hopefully they could get back to happily run a profitable pub again.
“Hello Jimmy can we come in?” Tom had not forgotten his promise to take John to visit Wee Jimmy. “Jimmy this is John, he’s the new landlord of The Blue Bell Inn.”
John could now see why he was nicknamed ‘Wee Jimmy’. It was because he was very small in stature and bent over forwards so that he appeared to be permanently looking at the ground. He looked to be all of ninety years of age and was obviously house bound.
“Come in both, sit yourselves down.” Invited Jimmy
John reached across and shook Jimmy’s hand and said “pleased to meet you Jim. I’ve heard so much about you from Tom here.”
“Very nice to meet you as well John” Jimmy greeted, “I don’t get many visitors nowadays. Don’t stand on ceremony please sit down. What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“We were wondering Jim if you could tell us something about the Blue Bell?”
“What do you want to know? It’s a long time since I was able to visit the pub.”
“John here is having problems. Tell him John.”
John then went on to relate to Wee Jimmy the unexplained incidents surrounding their tenancy, the noises they had heard the falling cutlass and the refusal of his wife to go down into the cellar. How even a priest had suggested that evil forces had been at work within the pub.
All the time John was describing the events Jim listened intently nodding in agreement that he had understood.
“Yes I fully sympathise what you have just said about the pub, there have always been rumours about strange happening there. What I don’t understand why you have come to see me? How can I be of help?
John replied. “We have got the idea that the problems started around the time of Dan Conway. We know you were a great friend of his and we thought maybe you can tell us about him. Did they have any family for instance?”
“They had an older son who was in his late teens. You know that Dan died some years ago?”
“Yes we were aware of that.” Tom agreed. “But is there anything unusual you can remember about that time?”
There were a lot of unexplained circumstances surrounding the pub at that time.” He began.
“Dan and his wife Elizabeth had the tenancy of the pub and they were very successful, the pub flourished. They were a likable couple who got on well with all the folk of the village. She became president of the village women’s guild and he was always organising events and raffles and that sort of thing, all for the good of village.
As I’ve said they had a son called Gary, he wasn’t quite right in the head. Gary began having intense fits. In between his violent outburst he would appear quite normal and lucid but as the years went by the number of fits increased and by the time he was nearing twenty he couldn’t be trusted in public and had to be confined in the living quarters upstairs.
Up to that stage I often went upstairs for a chat and cup of coffee but after Gary’s confinement I was never invited up there again. I fully understood of course.
Gary was a big strong youth who probably didn’t know his strength. They had been told by the hospital that Gary may not live much beyond his early twenties and in fact he died in when he was just twenty.”
“Did Dan and Elizabeth have a daughter or a young person who stayed at the pub?” John asked
“No they definitely had no other family, younger or older, other than the son who I have mentioned.” Jimmy replied.
John was a little relieved to hear about no young persons living at the pub, it agreed with his theory that there were no such thing as ghost spirits and that the noises his wife had heard were all in her imagination.
As he got up to leave John shook hands with Jim and said. “Well thanks’ Jim for your time and the information you have given to me. It goes someway to explain a few theories I have.”
“My pleasure.” Replied Jim “Glad to be of help. I did tell you that Dan Conway had died soon after he left the pub what I forgot to say was that his wife is still alive and living in Shell house.”
“Shell house?” Queried John
“It’s an old person’s sheltered accommodation in Ashington.”
“Well thanks again for your help Jim. If you ever get into The Blue Bell the first couple of pints are on me.”
As John and Tom were walking back they discussed John’s next plan of action.
“I wouldn’t mind having a word with David Conway’s wife, Elizabeth. She might be able to throw a little more light on the problem.” John said to Tom.
“I’ll come with you if you want?” replied Tom.
“I’ll think about it and let you know. Now I’d better get back to the pub Eileen with be wondering where I’ve got to.”
John told his wife all about his meeting with wee Jimmy. Discussing it in detail he realised that very little new information had been given other than that the Conway’s only had an elder son who had died, probably in an asylum and that Daniel had also passed away soon after. His wife was now, in a care home in Ashington; very little more had been learned.
Immediately after the exorcism all seemed well and the strange happenings seemed to have ceased. It had been a month past now and Eileen seemed to have forgotten her past experiences, the pub was running profitably and efficiently, things seemed to be looking up. Most important from John’s point of view his wife appeared happy.
One morning Eileen woke up and said to her husband. “I’ve just had a lucid dream happening.”
“A dream happening?” her husband repeated. “I’ve never heard of a dream described that way before.”
“A lucid dream happening is where one knows one is dreaming but is also cognisant that there is a meaning to the dream.”
“I’m not going to pretend that I fully understand what you are saying but if you want to tell me about it I’m all ears.”
“It was about a little Maria who wanted my help.”
“Oh! We are not going down the spooky road again are we? I don’t want you getting upset again.”
“No that’s what’s surprising about the dream it didn’t upset me whilst I was dreaming nor am I upset now talking about it.”
“You say the little girl in your dream wanted your help. In what way?”
“The little girl told me that it was dark where she was and that she was lost. She wanted to go home. She wanted me to help her.”
”And how are you supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know. She said that you would know how.”
“Me! How am supposed to help a dream? Cos that’s what it is, a dream remember, only a dream.”
“The little girl said you’d already started to help.”
“Eileen, I’ll help anybody if I can, you know that but how can I help a figment of your imagination?”
“I knew you would and I also know you will.” And with that last statement Eileen changed the subject and asked what was on the pub agenda today.
John readily accepted the change of subject because how could he discuss a dream seriously. As far as he was concerned a dream was a series of mental images and emotions that occurred during sleep; to his wife a dream was a definite emotional experience. What most concerned him was his wife’s statement that the girl in the dream had said that he had already started to help. How? What had he already done? The more he thought about it the more perplexed he became.
John carried on with the pub tasks of the day Tuesday was line cleaning day and most of his morning would be taken up with that. At least it would take his mind off the enigma that Eileen had presented him with.
That afternoon he struck up conversation with Tom and he brought up the subject of his wife’s dream. “But she actually believes that she has been contacted by a young girl who needs her help. Can you believe that?”
“A believer is a believer and nothing you say or do will change that.” replied Tom. You say that all noises and strange occurrences have ceased now?”
“Yes that’s the funny part. You and I don’t believe in that sort of thing. All occurrence’s, however strange, have a logical reason behind them. But I’m the first to admit that the exorcism we did seems to have done the trick.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“What can I do?”
“You say your wife’s dream was about a young girl?”
“Let me ask about in the village. Meanwhile, might I suggest that if your wife brings up the subject again just agree with what her? It might be easy that way. Anyway got to go it’s nearly half past two and time to be heading home.
“John the John Smiths Bitter has gone off will you change the barrel?”
Eileen’s request brought John back from his thoughts. “Yes I’ll do it now.”
Later that week, Tom called in at his usual time of 12 noon and ordered his usual pint of Guinness. As he was leaving the bar to head for his usual seat he beckoned with his head for John to join him.
When they had both sat down John quietly asked. “Did you find anything out?”
“Well yes and no.” Tom, equally quietly replied. “Nothing seems to be known of any connection of a young girl with the Blue Bell, none of the people I’ve asked anyway; and no one knew of any of the previous landlords having any girl children.”
“Well that’s the ‘no’ answer dealt with what’s the ‘yes’ answer?”
“Years ago, in the mid-nineties, a girl of eight was abducted from the river path a few hundred yards from here. There was a big hue and cry at the time and the police descended on the village in their droves. Everyone in the village became a suspect. Everyone was interviewed, statements taken and alibi’s checked.”
“Was Daniel Conway the landlord at the time?”
“That was the first question I asked as well. The answer is yes he was. Both he and his wife were in full view serving in the bar at the time of the abduction and numerous peoples alibi’s checked with each other and were easily eliminated as suspects.”
“What about Daniel’s son Gary?” John was thirst for knowledge.
“He was reported to be in an asylum so wasn’t even around at that time.”
“So that’s it then? A dead end?”
“Looks that way I’m afraid.”
“What happened to the girl? Did they find ever find out who abducted her?”
“Bit of a mystery there. Wee Jimmy, you remember Wee Jimmy? ”John nodded. “Well, Wee Jimmy told me that just a few weeks before the abduction in our village two young girls had already been abducted up in Berwick. The one here in Windridge had made it three and a few days after that a man was arrested whilst attempting to abduct a further child. He was being questioned about the three murders but he hung himself in jail a few days later. The interesting thing is that only two of the three girls’ bodies were ever found. The body of the child abducted here in the village was never found”
“So that child could still be buried here somewhere?”
“That is a possibility of course but it’s just as likely that the murderer took the girl away from here, he lived in Durham. I would assume that any abductor would want to get away from the scene of his crime rather sharpish. It’s just as likely he disposed of her body up there.” replied Tom. “Have you had any strange occurrences of late? Has Elizabeth had any further dreams?
John shook his head and said “No. I think it might be wise if I just let sleeping dogs lie and just get on with running a pub.”
“Might be as good an idea as any.” Tom agreed.
Over the next few weeks, pub life settled down nicely for John and Eileen they heard no more undue noises nor had any unsettling dreams.
Six weeks had now passed since any unexplained events in the Blue Bell; John and Eileen were becoming more experienced in the handling of the pub and its customers and because some of the houses on the newly built housing estate were being occupied, profits were up week on week.
Everything in the garden seemed lovely.
John awoke one morning and realised he had been dreaming but, however hard he tried, he could not remember what about. Maria! The name suddenly came into his head. Why should he remember the name Maria? What was so special about the name? Then it struck him, was Maria the name his wife had called the person who had appeared to her in her so called special dream experience. Why had he remembered the name only now? Why hadn’t he told his mate Tom the name?
As his wife slowly came out of her peaceful sleep she opened her eyes and said. “Morning love.”
“Good morning my dear, sleep well?”
As she was saying, “Yes very well.” Eileen snuggled up to him.
As was usual before they actually got out of bed they began to discuss the coming day ahead. What chores were more important than other ones, and who would do what. John said that he had to go to Smales the wholesale suppliers as their stock of bar snacks needed refreshing and then on to the bank for change.
“Change, we never seemed to have enough of it.” Remarked Eileen. John readily agreed they had often discussed before that a customer’s first payment for a drink order would usually be in the form of a note, more often than not a £10 or £20 note. Change would then be given. Almost every customer left the pub with change in their pocket, usually money given in change from the bar. Someone had to go to the bank as much for change as for depositing takings.
“Maria.” John suddenly changed the subject. “Do we know any one named Maria?” He was secretly testing his wife memory of her previous dream.
“I don’t know of anyone with that name. Why do you ask?” It became obvious with her answer that she had forgotten, as he originally had, the child’s name in his wife’s special happening dream experience. John passed off his question as a customer was asking about someone called Maria.
What had been the name of the missing girl who had been abducted all those years ago from the local river footpath? He asked himself. His mind kept repeated the question to himself as he drove to Smales the wholesaler and then onwards to the bank. Her body had never been found, what would be the odds on her being called Maria?
He had to find out but how? Who would know? The answer then became obvious; the local Newspaper would surely have reported a missing child. The Morpeth Gazette had offices next door but one from the bank. He could easily call in.
John had expected a long search of the many records that the newspaper held for he wasn’t sure what the exact date of the child’s abduction was. He had reckoned without the files held on a modern newspaper’s computer.
When he typed the words ‘Child Abduction Northumberland 1980/1999’ into the computer search engine, sixteen reports of child abduction came up. Most of them bore no resemblance to what he was looking for, two were reports of abduction up in Berwick on Tweed, one was an attempted kidnapping in Morpeth but the main two he was looking for also came up.
Of the sixteen reports he had found, eight of them directly correlated with what he was looking for. They confirmed what Tom had earlier told him, that a man had been arrested and later charged with three counts of abduction and murder and one of attempted abduction.
A later report stated that the man charged with murder had committed suicide whilst in police custody.
The report that really made his hair stand on end was the child’s name, not Maria but Mary. A coincidence? A sign? What?
This discovery had left him with a real dilemma, John thought, who do I tell of my findings? Do I just keep it to myself? There is no way he could tell Eileen she’ll freak out. He wanted to believe it was just a coincidence. OK the names Maria and Mary are similar but they are not the exactly the same.
He obtained Photostat copies of each report and for the rest of that day he was uncertain as to what to do. Part of him wanted to leave it there and treat it as a coincidence. Part of him wanted to take it further but in what direction? Part of him wanted to discuss the matter more fully with his wife but at a risk of upsetting her? No, that part was not an option at this stage. Leave it there? No he had come too far, he needed a full explanation. Had it been a coincidence or was Eileen’s dream a message from the spirit world? If he had been a believer in the afterlife he would be able to accept it and work on that aspect but he was a realist, what you see and feel is what you can really believe in.
Bringing Tom up to date re the similarity in the names of the young girl in Eileen dream and the one abducted he had to agree with Tom that the coincidence was a little close for comfort. Tom had suggested that he contact the police with his findings. John had already thought of that option but realised the police would need a little more direct evidence other than mere coincidence.
Then an idea came to John. “What was the name of the Daniel Conway’s wife and where did you say she is now?” He asked.
“Elizabeth. She’s lives in Shell House, Ashington.”
“I just might go and see her. She may be able to add a little info. Sheltered accommodation you say she lives in?”
“Yes. Do you want me to come with you?”
“No, but thanks for the offer. I rather want to do this by myself.”
“Good morning, Shell House. How can I help?” A lady’s voice answered John’s telephone call
“Good Morning my name is John Hargreave; I am the manager of the Blue Bell in in Windridge. I wondered if it would be possible for me to arrange an appointment sometime to see Mrs Conway. Mrs Elizabeth Conway?”
“Is Elizabeth related to you?” The receptionist asked.
“No, but she will remember the name of the Blue Bell Inn. She was a past landlady before me. I am the new landlord of the pub and I didn’t want to just call in on her unannounced.”
“Elizabeth is usually in all day and very rarely gets visitors I’m sure she will be delighted with a social call from you. Might I suggest that you call on her around ten in the morning, she’ll be up and about by then. I’ll inform her that you are to visit her and it’s not convenient then I’ll phone you to cancel? That’s if you care to leave your number?
“Yes that sounds exactly what I had hoped for, my number is 077735689944.”
“Yes I’ve taken that down and I’ll ring you if anything changes
“Thank you for your help and I’ll call in tomorrow unless you ring me different.”
“Goodbye Mr Hargreave.”
Shell House Ashington was much like the many other sheltered housing's dotted across the country. These accommodations were partially funded by the government, the council and the residing tenant. John rang a bell at the locked door entrance and he was ‘buzzed’ in to the reception office. Introducing himself to the secretary and explaining his reason for the visit he was shown to Mrs Conway’s Room. John was quite impressed by the security, cleanliness and the general all round pleasant surroundings.
The receptionist introduced John to Mrs Conway and then asked if there was anything more she could do, after receiving a negative shake of Mrs Conway’s head she left the room.
The frail old lady in front of him was seated in an armchair by her bed. She was dressed in a blue housecoat over what appeared to be pyjamas.
“Good morning Mrs Conway can I introduce myself? My name is John Hargreave. My wife and I are the present the tenants of the Blue Bell pub in Windridge near Morpeth. “
“Yes the matron told me that you would be calling but didn’t know the reason you wanted to see me. And I’m asking myself that question now.”
“Mrs Conway, I understand you used to be the landlady at the same pub?”
“Very few people call me Mrs Conway these days, please call me Elizabeth. Pull over a chair and sit down. Now how can I help?”
“Thank you Elizabeth. I wanted to talk to you generally about the Blue Bell.”
“My husband, did you know he’s passed away? I had little to do with the day to day running of the pub you know.”
John nodded his head “Yes, Elizabeth I’m sorry to hear of your husband’s demise but it was you I wished to speak to.”
“How can I help?”
John then went on to describe the surroundings of their tenancy and Elizabeth listened and nodded occasionally seemingly to understand John’s circumstances.
He then went on to describe the unusual noises, strange occurrences and their eventual need to hold an exorcism.
“Are you telling me that the pub is now haunted?” she asked incredulously.
“I don’t believe in anything like that but my wife does,” he replied “so really I’m trying to get to the bottom of all this, more for her sake than mine.”
“Again I’m at a loss how you think I can help.
“Do you remember the young girl being abducted at around that time?”
Elizabeth Conway visibly blanched at his question. She looked away and began slowly shaking her head mumbling but without saying anything.
“Can you tell me anything about that time?” He asked
Again the shaking of her head, and she said. “I don’t remember much about that period it was such a long time ago.”
“But surely you can remember. It must have been such a trying time for yourselves and everyone around the village. It’s not every day that a child gets abducted surely you must recollect that?”
Elizabeth was getting quite visibly agitated, again shaking her head without actually saying anything.
“I believe that the strange circumstances are directly related to the girl’s disappearance and that somehow a naval cutlass is tied in with it.” John was now clutching at straws for there was no logical reason to relate the cutlass with the missing child.
Mrs Conway was now looking around for her panic button situated at the side of her bed and at the same time saying.“ I have nothing more to say I’m tired now, please will you leave” She pulled the red alarm cord.
“But what more can you tell me about the cutlass?” He insisted.
“If you have the cutlass in your possession then you need no more help from me.” She stuttered. “Just leave me alone, please.
A carer nurse knocked at the door and entered.
“Mr Hargreaves is just leaving will you show him out.” Mrs Conway said to the nurse.
John had no option but to get up and leave.
As John was driving back to his pub he discussed with himself whether he should tell his wife of his findings.
Initially he felt as if he had been protecting his wife from any worry she might feel if she had known everything that he had learned. But at the same time he felt as if he was betraying his marriage by withholding what he knew.
Later that day after much deliberating the pros and cons and closing the pub after the afternoon session, John decided to tell his wife all.
He began by apologising as to why he had not told her before and, after her assurances that she would understand, he showed her copies of the newspaper reports relating to the missing child. He went on to tell her about his conversations with Tom and wee Jimmy, then on to describe his visit to the ex-landlady, Mrs Conway, in the care home.
“Why would Mrs Conway’s reply to your question about the cutlass? ‘If you have the cutlass then you need no more help from me.’ The statement doesn’t seem to make sense; on the face of it, it sounds rather an odd answer.”
John agreed “What can a cutlass further tell us?”
Although it was unsaid between them were they both searching for answers that were not readily forthcoming.
The posing question, ‘If you have the cutlass then you need no help from me.’ Kept reoccurring in both their thoughts. Whatever did it mean?
“The cutlass.” His wife asked him. “Where did you say you got it from?”
“I dug it up from the flower bed beneath the oak tree in the middle of the car park.”
“And who put it there?” another pointed question.
Slowly his Eileen’s questions were beginning to make sense. “Well now you come to think of it if Elizabeth already knew about the cutlass then probably then her husband Daniel Conway hid it, I suppose”
“And why would he bury it? You said it was quite valuable probably worth a few hundred pounds.”
“Yeah! That’s right. Why bury something worth money like that? When I dug it up I assumed it had been buried quite some time. But that still does not explain what the significance of the cutlass is.”
“No, but what if there was something else buried underneath the cutlass and because it was on top you dug no further.”
“Eileen! You’d make a great detective. I see where you’re coming from. If there is something else then it’s still buried there!”
“Well we cannot search for whatever it is now we’ve got a pub to open and its nearly six o clock opening time.”
All that evening, whether they were serving customers, washing glasses or just creating conversation to standing bar customers, they were thinking of the coming morning when they could search further.
“Are you sure we doing the right thing John?” It was eight O clock in the morning and Eileen was asking her husband who was busy digging into the Oak tree Flower bed.
“Do you want me to stop searching?” was his facetious reply. John hadn’t meant to be flippant but he was just as nervous as his wife was when she had asked her thoughtless question. “Sorry dear I didn’t mean to be negative it’s just that I’m on edge at what we may find. I don’t want to open a can of worms and then wish I hadn’t.”
“No need to apologise to me my love we are both as tensed up as each other. It was a pointless remark of mine. We both understand that we have a need to find whatever there is down there.”
“If anything at all.” Eileen replied. John nodded in agreement.
“There is something down here.” Digging further John had unearthed a round glass preservative glass jar. The type that had a wire snap on sealing lid. The jar was caked in damp earth and although there was something inside, it was hard to see exactly what. John carried on digging deeper making sure nothing further had been secreted.
Satisfied there wasn’t, John said as he handed the jar to his wife. “You take it inside and wash it down while l fill the hole in and tidy things up.”
The outside of the preservative jar was easily cleaned under an outside running tap and as it was watertight and the mud was washed of it became apparent that inside was a folded brown paper envelope.
The envelope contained two typewritten sheets of paper with a Daniel Conway’s handwritten signature at the bottom.
The sheets read:
“Wow!” John exclaimed.
Eileen was nodding her head thinking about what she had read. “It certainly explains the child’s crying noises the funny dreams I’ve been having and the cutlass falling from the wall.”
John couldn’t agree, his logical mind was telling him that there was a logical explanation to the past events. “Well I wouldn’t go so far as that, I didn’t hear any noises and the cutlass didn’t fall from the wall only the inside of its case and that was only coincidental.”
“What do we do now?” Eileen asked.
“I’m just about to call the police and tell them all we know and then hand over this written confession, let them deal with it now.”
“What about the little girl’s body, how did Daniel dispose of it?”
“I think I can answer that one.”
“Where abouts in this pub do you not like going?”
Word count 13,736