I handed Muriel the check feeling a mass of conflicting emotions—mostly resentment. Things with my new venture had been much slower than I had anticipated, and although I did have some savings, I couldn't really afford to throw away three hundred pounds.
Muriel got to her feet. "I'd better be going."
"Did you want me to run you home?" For some reason my resentment made me feel guilty. "We could put your bicycle in the back of my Golf?"
"No, thank you. I really like riding my bicycle," said Muriel. "I hope you enjoy Fred's jam."
As I saw her to the door, Muriel paused. "Dartmouth Antique Emporium is a good idea. You'll get lots of tourists coming through."
And with that, she waved a cheerful good-bye and left.
As I watched her mount her old-fashioned bicycle and put the canvas bag in the pannier, I thought of two things. First of all, that jam was the most expensive jam I had ever bought. And second, how did Muriel know that I'd been looking at renting a temporary space in Dartmouth for the summer? I hadn't even mentioned it to my mother.
At that moment my mobile rang. The caller I.D. read: "Mum."
"Hello. Speak of the devil—"
"You must come quickly!"
"Are you alright?" Not another drama, I thought. "You sound agitated."
"Eric Pugsley and I are in Cromwell Meadows—"
"You're with Eric? Willingly?" This was a first. Mum's relationship with her neighbor and his "disgusting" scrapyard had always been rocky. With its pyramid of tires, discarded pieces of farm machinery and the many "end-of-life" vehicles in various stages of decay that littered the far end of the field I couldn't say I blamed her. It really was an eyesore. Fortunately, the view was only noticeable from Mum's upstairs office.
"Now, before you jump to conclusions, Katherine, I want to make it clear that this had nothing to do with me."
A familiar sense of dread began to pool in the pit of my stomach. "Do I have to sit down to hear this?"
"Of course not. It's so exciting," Mum trilled. "Eric's dug up a body."
"Eric was digging a trench for a sewer line," said Mum. "He came screaming to the back door in a terrible state—quite hysterical. He's gone to fetch his lordship."
"It's not a body; it's a skeleton, Mother," I said as we peered into a muddy hole. All I could see was the metal top of what looked like a lobster-tailed pot helmet and the upper half of a skull protruding from a thick layer of sludge. "You had me worried for a moment."
"Her ladyship wasn't lying when she said that Cromwell Meadows was riddled with the bodies of the fallen," my mother went on. "Did you know that two hundred thousand people died in the English Civil War?"
"And the whole population of England was only five million at the time."
Suddenly the morning didn't seem so bright. With the smell of summer in the air, hedgerows flush with the frothy white blossoms of hawthorn and blackthorn, purple dog violets, wood sorrel and golden saxifrage it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the site that saw so much death in the battle to save Honeychurch Hall over 350 years ago.
"And to think he might have lain there for a few more centuries if that monstrosity hadn't collapsed." My mother gestured to what was left of Eric's battered old caravan that he had been using as an office. "I'll be glad to see the back of that."
For the past three days Eric had been cutting up the old van with an axe and a chainsaw. Now all that remained were the fruits of his labor in an ugly pile and an iron chassis that resembled a beached whale.
"Perhaps now he'll change his mind and stick his new caravan elsewhere. Shouldn't he have to get planning permission?" Mum continued. "You can't just pick a spot and start digging out a foundation."
"Well, there's no danger of that now," I said. "The forensic anthropologist will have to cordon off the area. This place will be teeming with experts before you can blink."
"I hope it's not just a peasant from the village," Mum grumbled. "It would be very exciting if he was a key member of the family. One more for my tree."