Read A Death at Fountains Abbey Online

Authors: Antonia Hodgson

A Death at Fountains Abbey

A Death at Fountains Abbey

 

 

Antonia Hodgson

 

 

 

 

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company

 

Copyright © Antonia Hodgson 2016

 

The right of Antonia Hodgson to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 473 61508 3

 

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

www.hodder.co.uk

For my parents, with love

Was any thing like this ever heard of in any Age before? Was ever any Englishman us’d in such a manner?
John Aislabie, 1721
 
Bonfires were made in the citty the day Mr Aisleby went to the Tower.
Thomas Brodrick, 1721

Contents

Prologue

 

The First Day

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

 

The Second Day

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

 

The Third Day

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

 

Afterwards

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

 

Epilogue

Historical Note

Acknowledgements

Prologue

January, 1701
Red Lion Square, London

She never meant for the fire to spread. It was a distraction, nothing more, a trick to keep them busy while she took what she was owed. She had cried, ‘
Fire! Fire in the attic!
’, and laughed to herself as the house woke in panic. They pushed past her on the stairs, running to fetch water, to save what they could, coughing as the smoke caught their lungs.

She saw him too, clutching his daughter Mary to his chest as he carried her to safety. John Aislabie. He didn’t notice her as he passed, close enough to touch. He hadn’t noticed her for a long time.

She joined the flow of servants hurrying downstairs. When they ran out into the square, no one realised that Molly Gaining wasn’t with them any more.

She crept down the empty corridor to Mr Aislabie’s study, tiptoeing her way in the dark. It was the first duty of a housemaid to be silent. Invisible.

He had called her his treasure. He’d murmured promises to her in the deep night, vows he had never meant to keep
. I will cover you with gold; I will wrap you in silks.
She had believed him. She had given him everything he wanted. And when he was done, he’d tossed her aside, no longer his treasure but some sordid piece of rubbish he would never touch again.

She heard muffled shouts, somewhere high up in the house. Here inside his study, all was still, save for the ticking of the clock. She felt her way to the desk with no need for a lamp: she had swept and polished this room every day for the last five years. She opened a drawer, groping past quills and papers to find a key buried in one corner. Moving swiftly to the hearth, she splayed her fingers, searching for the loose floorboard she’d discovered a few days before.
There.
She lifted the board and reached inside, touching cold metal. A strongbox, so heavy she needed both hands to pull it free.

The key turned with a soft click. A shiver of illicit excitement thrilled through her. She must be quick, before the fire was tamed and she was discovered. She threw back the lid.

He had promised her gold, and diamonds. She would keep him to that promise.

She lifted out a handful of jewels, gold chains dangling between her fingers. Touch and memory showed her what her eyes couldn’t see in the dark: long strands of creamy white pearls, gold rings studded with precious stones, a diamond and ruby brooch that she could feel now, cool and heavy in her palm. Bags of gold coins. She tucked them into the wide pocket she had stitched beneath her gown, and reached for more. Enough for the life she had dreamed of. Enough for the life she deserved.

Voices, loud outside the door. She had lingered too long. Cursing under her breath, she threw another fistful of coins into her pocket and straightened her gown just as a young man pushed open the door and strode into the study. His face was handsome in the orange light of his candle, and full of purpose.

‘The account books. Hurry!’

Jack Sneaton: Aislabie’s clerk.
She shrank back, praying he wouldn’t see her, while he gathered up books and papers, throwing them into the arms of his apprentice. Trust Jack. Of all the things to save from the fire, he runs for his precious tally books.

He turned for the door.

‘Sir?’ Sneaton’s apprentice nodded towards the hearth.

She was discovered. Fear pressed a fist into her heart.

Sneaton thrust a sheaf of papers into the boy’s arms. ‘Molly? What are you about down there—’ He stopped and stared in dismay at the coins and jewels glinting on the floor where she had spilled them in her haste. He blinked several times, very fast, as if hoping the scene might vanish before his eyes.

‘Thief!’ his apprentice hissed.

Sneaton winced, as if the accusation caused him physical pain. He took one last, studied look at the empty strongbox. Then he grabbed Molly by the arm and pulled her to her feet.

‘No!’ she cried, as he dragged her from the room. ‘I weren’t stealing, I swear. Please, Jack . . . Mr Sneaton, sir – I was saving them from the fire.’

He pressed his hand against the nape of her neck and pushed her through the house out on to the street. She stumbled on the steps and fell to the ground, crying out as a shard of glass pierced the plump flesh beneath her thumb. There was glass everywhere.

She crawled along the cobbles on her hands and knees, sucking in her breath as she pulled the glass free. Blood trickled down her wrist.

And, looking up, she saw what she had done.

The fire was raging from the top of the house, flames tearing across the roof and bursting through broken windows. Thick grey clouds of smoke billowed high above the flames, choking the night sky. A line of servants passed buckets of water up through the building as neighbours hurried to join them, desperate to stop the fire spreading further along the square.

A footman collapsed to his knees at the doorway, his face black with soot. He gulped a few breaths of clear air, grabbed a fresh bucket, and plunged back inside.

‘It was only a small fire,’ she whispered. She tottered forwards, drawn towards the flames. She could feel the immense heat of them on her face. ‘I never meant . . .’

Sneaton pulled her away. ‘Mr Aislabie. Mr Aislabie, sir!’

He was standing a few feet from them, closer to the burning house, still holding Mary in his arms. Jane, his younger daughter, was clinging to his leg. Both girls were mute with terror.

‘Mr Aislabie,’ Sneaton called again, and he turned, and saw them.

‘Molly,’ he said. ‘Thank God you’re safe.’

Misery and fury closed her throat.
Now you look at me, John. Now you speak my name.

‘Found her in your room, sir,’ Sneaton said. ‘She was stealing from your strongbox.’

He stared at her.

‘I wasn’t thieving,’ she stammered. ‘I was trying to save them from the fire. You know me, sir . . .’

She saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes. ‘We’ll settle this later,’ he said, distracted by the flames. He lifted Mary to the ground and handed both girls to a neighbour. ‘Harry!’ he called out to one of his men, limping from the house. ‘Where’s Mrs Aislabie? Is she safe?’

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