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There was no sign of a breeze; the few golden leaves left clinging to a solitary ash tree hung motionless. Homeostatic mechanisms, of course! This was merely Nature clicking in faithfully after the brisk cycle ride back from a grim all-night stint. None grimmer. Emotionally disturbed, professionally challenged and physically threatened by her case, young Dr. Hartest had expressed her frustrations by vigorously pedalling over country roads in the dark back to Cambridge.

Adelaide was trained never to accept the immediately obvious without question. She made her diagnosis: good old-fashioned fear. Standing almost six feet tall in her silk stockings with a head of hair that impressed by its auburn luxuriance, Adelaide was blessed with a confidence that rebuffed danger. At the sight of her smile and her long stride, Danger crossed the road and slunk past on the opposite side. Danger with a human face, at any rate.


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But what natural cause of terror was there—other than human—that might possibly lie in wait to ambush her? The Market Place, only yards away, was silent. None of the traders had arrived to set up stall yet. No barrows rumbled over the cobbles, no merry banter rang out. Give it ten!

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The crowding medieval rooftops enclosing the tiny square where she was standing were taking on a sharp silhouette against the brightening sky. The ancient church of All Hallows, squat and square, blotched by damp, bore witness to the passage of every one of its thousand years. It conjured up the image of a discoloured tooth shakily attached to decaying roots, but having nerve connections all too vigorous and snaking down to draw strength from some deep past. Adelaide reined in her imagination.

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Fatigue and anger were weakening her defences against fanciful thoughts. She was in the wrong place at an inconvenient time and ought not to be loitering here. Though she had by now identified the source of her unease. The poisonous miasma floating, undetected by the usual senses, all about her—it was All Hallows. The church building itself.


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  4. It was resenting and resisting her intrusion. If there were few willing to penetrate the first defences of evergreen foliage that encircled the ancient stones, there were fewer yet who would enter the dim interior in spite of the enticements advertised on a billboard at the gateway: the skull of Saint Ethelbert, a page from a prayer book of Queen Isabella and an oak lectern once pounded by the fist of a dissenting preacher.

    Adelaide found their lure perfectly resistible. She had other business at All Hallows. She was intent on having a serious word with the Lord. Bearding the Almighty in his den. She reasoned that, just as she listened with care to the patients who made their way into the privacy of her consulting room, confident that they would be telling her nothing less than the truth and expecting nothing less than an honest answer in return, the Lord—if he existed—would show similar good manners.

    Consultation was a game for two players and imposed its own etiquette. In the stillness of a deserted church in front of his own altar, Adelaide had initiated such conversations many times before. God, in her simple estimation, was a Gentleman. She had always left whatever sacrosanct surroundings she had chosen to witness her outpouring of emotion feeling more at peace with herself. There were two responses to fear: flight or fight.

    She had a decision to make, and her selfimposed time limit was almost up. In three hours she would lift the telephone and ask the operator to connect her with a London number. She would wait for the familiar voice, warm and expectant. She would deliver her decision. Her life would change forever. Adelaide never made detours and she never ducked out of any situation. She had playground scars to prove it. She swung the gate open and paused for a moment to take a torch from the pocket of her cape.

    It had been swept clean of leaves. Visitors were clearly expected. Adelaide decided to take this as an omen. She was intent on having a serious word with the Lord. Bearding the Almighty in his den.

    Barbara Cleverly

    She reasoned that, just as she listened with care to the patients who made their way into the privacy of her consulting room, confident that they would be telling her nothing less than the truth and expecting nothing less than an honest answer in return, the Lord—if he existed—would show similar good manners. Consultation was a game for two players and imposed its own etiquette. In the stillness of a deserted church in front of his own altar, Adelaide had initiated such conversations many times before.

    God, in her simple estimation, was a Gentleman. She had always left whatever sacrosanct surroundings she had chosen to witness her outpouring of emotion feeling more at peace with herself. There were two responses to fear: flight or fight. She had a decision to make, and her selfimposed time limit was almost up. In three hours she would lift the telephone and ask the operator to connect her with a London number.

    She would wait for the familiar voice, warm and expectant. She would deliver her decision. Her life would change forever. Adelaide never made detours and she never ducked out of any situation. She had playground scars to prove it. She swung the gate open and paused for a moment to take a torch from the pocket of her cape. It had been swept clean of leaves. Visitors were clearly expected.

    Adelaide decided to take this as an omen. An invitation. Steadily she moved towards the west door.

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    In the English tradition, the House of the Lord was always left unlocked. When she lifted the latch of the heavy oak door and pushed, there were no metallic squeaks to break. It swung open with ease on oiled hinges. Adelaide hesitated, her attention caught by a postcard pinned neatly to the door at eye level. It was handwritten in scholarly calligraphy. Sweeting for admission. Well, they were just looking for trouble, and she rather thought she was better qualified to comment on the four Ds than any academic sensation seekers.

    Something about the wording of the announcement struck her as strange. No times were given for the service. Just: Vespers. The evening service. But this was the house of God, open to all at all times, not a private chapel where invitations might be issued to the specially chosen. When she met him, Adelaide would have a question or two to put to the reverend.

    Crossly, she tugged the card from its moorings and put it in her pocket. Someone should hear about this. Bursting in on a coterie of depressed souls further debilitated by a night of philosophising in a minor key was not a tempting prospect. All was silence and she risked peering in. Signalling to her through the musky darkness, a solitary candle flickered a welcome. Soft as a sigh, a breath of air lightly scented with incense invited her inside. Police Constable Risby thoughtfully buttoned up the flies of his uniform trousers and listened to a cracked college bell sounding the hour.

    A good, quiet spell of duty it had turned out to be. There was a craziness that got into folk these dark evenings after the clocks went back an hour. Even the governor had thought to remind him of the date. Witches, ghoulies and longleggety beasties—you may expect a selection of various frightful apparitions about the town tonight.

    Put a spare pair of handcuffs on your belt and stand no nonsense. A few. She was going at quite a lick on her Raleigh tourer, he noticed. Returning to base after working the night shift? Risby wanted to know how anyone could think that was acceptable. It was no duty to give a woman! He had a fellow feeling for anyone grafting through the small hours and watched her as, abruptly, she turned off the main Parade and dived down the snicket into Peas Passage.

    Now why would she do that, at this time of night—or was it day? Risby was uneasy. A rum place, that little square by the church. Bad feeling to it. He always found himself patrolling at a quickened pace through those little alleys surrounding. All Hallows! That was it. Making the connection, Risby was suddenly alert. Load of superstitious codswallop, but PC Risby reckoned that if—if! And on this night of all nights, his duty was to check the church surroundings, open the door and take a quick look inside.

    They still kept valuables in there, trusting to the sanctified aura to protect them. He vaulted over the wall into the Parade, pulled his truncheon from his long pocket and, grasping it firmly in his hand, crossed the road. Be it Old Nick the Devil or Old Dave the Dosser—anyone he found causing mayhem or offence would feel the weight of twelve inches of English oak across his skull.

    Barbara Cleverly: List of Books by Author Barbara Cleverly

    No Reverend Sweeting shimmered forward. As colours and shapes began to emerge, she stepped over the threshold, sensing a soft carpet under her feet, her focus on the east window ahead of her. The Last Kashmiri Rose is the first of the series. Harry is on temporary loan to India. He is more than eager to return to his London apartment, the day of departure is finally here, his bags are packed.

    A note arrives from the Governor requesting his presence before he is able to hot foot it out of town, Joe reasons no good is going to come of this and he is right. The Governor has arranged to keep the handsome policeman a while longer in India. He has a little project for Joe. His niece, Nancy, is married to the Collector of Panikhat, a remote outpost. Wives of the Bengal Greys stationed in Panikhat are suffering a high mortality rate.

    Nancy does not believe her death was suicide, she thinks someone is bumping off the wives of the Bengal Greys. Joe is going to have his hands full with this one! Is the Governor going to be finished with Joe when he solves the mystery?