Snow had started falling again, now covering everything in sight around Oakdean Place, a 17th century manor house. The morning was dark and overcast, and it had been snowing on and off for two days. A pathway on the driveway had been cleared to the front door yesterday but there was now a dusting of snow covering it. The snow was deeper in places where the wind had blown it into drifts against walls and trees. Giving a shudder from looking at, and sensing the coldness of the snowy scene outside, Edward Marley turned away from the window of his study. He looked over towards the warming log fire crackling and popping in the large ornate hearth, and at the moving flames, which threw shadows around the room, giving the appearance of moving beings waiting to devour anything in their path. His manservant Dobbs had lit it early that morning before he had woken from a restless night sleep brought about by his concern at the news he had received the night before.
Travel in 1856 was difficult in such weather conditions, but a determined, and hardy dispatch rider had made it to his door with the message that his trading company was on the verge of bankruptcy, brought about by the loss of a merchant sailing ship that had foundered and sunk in the Bay of Biscay. It had been carrying a large consignment of goods which would have made him a very rich man had they arrived. The worst part of this was that he had convinced another businessman to invest in the venture. This was Sir Trevor Grimwald, a ruthless businessmen known to wreak revenge on men who caused him heavy business losses. So he had every reason to be concerned.
‘Oh there you are Edward, I need to speak to you urgently?’
Edward’s wife Virginia had just walked into the room.
‘Er.. oh good morning dear. Let’s go in for breakfast and you can talk to me while we eat.
Edward hadn’t told her last night what the dispatch rider’s news was. He hadn’t wanted to upset her and cause her to worry before going to bed.
After choosing their meal items from the dishes on the sideboard they sat down at the well-laid table that Mrs Ruddock, their cook had laid. She was a marvel, and as always had done them proud this morning.
‘I want to go to visit Ruth today, but I am worried about the weather conditions….. Oh Edward do listen, you look miles a way.’ said Virginia seeing that her husband was obviously not concentrating on what she was saying.
Edward had been staring into the distance still worrying about the bad news.
‘Sorry dear.’ Then suddenly he decided he needed to tell her about his problem.
‘Listen Virginia before we discus anything else I have some bad news to tell you and it could mean we lose everything, including the house.’
After he had told her about the lost merchant ship Virginia looked shocked and was quiet and thoughtful for a few seconds before saying;
‘Don’t we have enough savings to pay off Sir Trevor?’ asked Virginia.
‘No; I have put everything into the venture.’
‘It’s a pity you involved him; knowing his reputation, he will wipe us clean, and then we will be debt ridden on top of that. We have to think of something Edward.’
‘I know, but what. I have thought and thought but without a solution.’
‘Then you will have to die Edward.’ said Virginia; as an idea suddenly flashed through her mind.
‘WHAT! ‘ Edward was shocked at Virginia’s solution, and broke out into a sweat.
‘Well once he gets his hands on you, and after breaking us completely you might as well be dead anyway.’ was her reply.
Edward couldn’t believe what his loving wife was saying. This was a side of her he hadn’t seen before. Was she only thinking of herself to suggest such a thing?
‘Not for real my darling, just until I sort him out.’ and she took a piece of toast, buttered it, and added jam to it.
Edward looked puzzled. ‘How do you propose that I die and come back to life? And what do you mean sort him out?’
‘Just leave Sir Trevor Grimwald to me my darling man.’ was her reply.
Virginia knew Sir Trevor Grimwald very well. Unknown to Edward she had been forced by him into an assignation when she and Edward had stayed at his mansion after a celebration ball. He had tricked her into going to his private rooms, and then he had forced himself on her. Not wanting to cause Edward any problems at the time she had decided not to tell him. Now she must go and see him again, but on a purpose this time to save them from a financial disaster. Her pretext for doing this had to be a genuine one and she had a plan which she hoped she could pull off. Knowing his nasty devious ways she guessed that he was telling Edward lies about the sailing ship sinking. If it was true he would have come himself to brow beat Edward to compensate him. Edward was too trusting with people and believed anything people told him. Sir Trevor was obviously after all the spoils of the ships cargo.
‘Edward, we must put out the news that you are seriously ill. I will make sure that Sir Trevor finds out that it could be life threatening.’
‘Do you think that will work dear? After all there is no history of my life threatening complaint.’ replied Edward, now looking really ill at the thought of the deception.
‘Yes I’m sure it will. I am going to see Ruth and James today, which is what I was going to tell you before you told me your bad news. James knows Sir Trevor well and he will pass on the news.’
Two hours later after the coach and horses had been made ready, Virginia started her journey, hoping the weather didn’t get any worse. But what Edward didn’t know was that she was going straight to Sir Trevor’s home. She told the coach driver not to say anything, as it was to do with a secret celebration party she was arranging for Edward.
‘Virginia, it’s lovely to see you? My you look ravishing, as always. And what do I owe the pleasure of your visit to?’ said Sir Trevor after she was shown into his sitting
room and kissing her on the cheek.‘
‘I have come about the news that the rider brought last evening Trevor. I know it’s lies and just like you to report such a thing. Don’t you have enough possessions and money that you would deceive Edward?’
Sir Trevor looked at her and threw his head back and laughed.
‘My little scheme worked then my dear Virginia. I always knew you were the clever one; and beautiful with it. Now listen, my dear; I aim to make you rich beyond you dreams. Join me in my plans and all will be ours, including the Oakdean estate.’
Virginia realised she must now go along with what plans he had so that she could fulfil her own master plan. Part of the plan was sitting in her handbag.
‘That sounds intriguing Trevor, you have my interest, but first I must tell you that Edward is seriously ill and may not last three months.’
‘Even better my dear. So he will be the late Edward Marley then. That will simplify everything.’
Much against her will she went over and kissed Sir Trevor, leaving her intoxicating scent on him to delight in.
Sir Trevor was hooked on her beauty and stuttered slightly as he said;
‘We…e will make a dynamic couple Virginia.’
Virginia stepped back and said;
‘This must be a business partnership Trevor and as such we must have a signed agreement.’
‘Is that necessary my dear. After all we will eventually be more than just partners and everything will be shared.’
‘Yes we must Trevor, I had anticipated this was going to happen so I prepared a document for you to sign. It will cover us both in any event.’ said Virginia, placing it on the table.
‘What does it say my darling Virginia.’
‘Only that should one of us die then the other will inherit everything. Including both estates.’
Sir Trevor thought a moment. He liked the idea. He now had plans to marry Virginia as Edwards’s was at deaths door so it would ensure he got everything if anything happened to Virginia before their union. He was after all in this for the money, and making money was his main aim in life. He did really want it all and this could be the way to get it if Virginia died prematurely.
‘If I sign this do I get more pleasure in my bedroom Virginia,’ asked Sir Trevor.
‘Of course my darling, I can’t wait.’ and she pushed the document towards Sir Trevor brushing his hand as she did so.
Two hours later she was in her carriage on the way back to Oakdean Manor. As the carriage passed over a river bridge, below which was a fast flowing river, she threw a small bottle out of the window and saw it splash into the water below.
A week later, news came of the death of Sir Trevor Grimwald. He had died of an apparent unknown sweating illness brought about, the doctor said, of probably eating contaminated food. When the news reached Edward at Oakdean Manor he told Virginia. She looked surprised and looked even more surprised when Edward learnt that the Sailing Ship which was supposed to have sunk turned up at London Docks without a scratch on it.
When Sir Trevor’s will was read a document was discovered stating that in the event of Sir Trevor’s death, because he had no surviving relatives his estate and the ships manifest had been left to him. Edward was amazed saying to Virginia;
‘Can you believe it Virginia, what a true gentleman he was to leave everything to me. Sad though that he never found out that the ship survived the Bay of Biscay. Oh and another thought, It’s no longer necessary for me to be the late Edward Marley is it.’
Virginia agreed, and thought the contaminated sewage water she had placed in his drink while in bed had worked well, the small bottle she had used to carry it was now safely on the way to the sea. Also it was a good job Sir Trevor never read the document she had got him to sign; and also hadn’t realised that she had placed it in his bureau after leaving his bedroom with him snoring loudly as she crept out of the room. Mind you it wasn’t all-bad.