The Ice House – A mystery for the New Year – part 2

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, December 20th 1779

NO! I am not going to marry Mr. Markham. I don’t know how you might have got the impression from my previous letter, he is a friend of my brother’s that is all. Though I must admit that your misapprehension is apparently shared by most of the household here!

I discovered it this morning, I have taken to using a small room on the ground floor for writing letters, doing my sewing etc. It has a pleasant prospect of the park, looking beautiful in the freshly fallen snow, and a very good fireplace. I was about to go for a short walk on the terrace when I discovered I had left my gloves somewhere, Mrs Rogers was in the hall at the time and said to a maid. ‘I saw them in the Mistresses Parlour, go and fetch them.” Curious I said to the housekeeper, ‘I didn’t think this house had ever had a mistress?” at which she got flustered and admitted that there hadn’t been, but that most of the servants thought that I was going to marry Mr M. So – within a week of arrival in a house I have not only been married off but also acted as godparent to the very rooms, what could be more ridiculous.

But you will wish to hear of the progress of our, I was going to say my, investigations. I visited Mrs Croft the vicars wife and easily brought Mr W into the conversation. I discovered he was well liked during the short time he was here and there was no indication of any indiscretion with the local maidens. I mentioned this at dinner tonight, and found that not only were my brother and Mr M surprised that I was taking a part in the investigation but they had discovered the same from the tenants. However the result is that I am to be permitted to assist.

One other discovery is that Bramlingham has a ghost! Mrs Rogers told me with some embarrassment that two of the maids have claimed to see a lady in a white dress in the tower, and that they will not enter it unaccompanied. I laughed, and suggested that if they wished to be accompanied they must take another woman in and definitely not a manservant.

 

Journal of David Markham,

December 25th Christmas day

At church today I was surprised to find the entire parish lining the path to the church, this being the custom on special feast days. Mr & Mrs Croft to dinner, the matter of our ghost was mentioned by someone, Charles I believe, which shocked our worthy vicar. He stated that there has never been any mention of a spectre here before my arrival. From his disparaging comments on modern novels he seemed to imply that the idea of a ghost had been suggested to my servants by Miss Bingham, who had been talking to Mrs Croft about the lack of fiction in the library here.

 

December 26th

I have seen the ghost! I was walking down the corridor that links the house to the tower and distinctly saw a woman in a pale dress in front of me. I didn’t think it was a servant and thus assumed it to be Miss B, at the end of the corridor she turned into the steward’s room, which was my goal as well. I entered and to my surprise found the room empty. I climbed the tower but there was no one in any of the rooms. On returning to the main house I found Miss B serving tea to her brother, she had been there for the past hour.

On relating my story I described the room as I had found it, then Charles said in surprise. ‘You say there was an estate map spread on the table, but I was in the room but an hour ago and there was nothing on the table but an old book of accounts.’ We immediately returned to the room and found the map spread out, it was an old one showing the park, a crude circle had been drawn round a clump of trees. On looking closely Charles said, ‘Ice House’, at this Miss Bingham commented, ‘Oh I didn’t know you had an Ice House?’

The ghost was forgotten in this discovery and I had to admit that I had no idea there was an Ice House on the estate, then to promise I would see about its condition and arrange for it to be filled with snow and ice this winter. I must admit I am surprised at finding that Miss B is becoming such an admirable chatelaine.

 

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, December 29th 1779

Bella

I have made a great discovery, perhaps the first clue as to the fate of Mr W. I mentioned in my previous letter of the lack of any lighter reading matter in the library here. Old Mr W seems to have considered that sermons, histories and geographies were all a library needed, not one poem or novel! After Mr M’s encounter with our ghost I decided to have a closer look at the stewards room, Nancy, my maid, insisted on accompanying me to protect me from the spectre. The room was as you will imagine, lined with shelves whilst in the middle was a large table where account books or maps could be spread out for examination. The only interesting feature was an ancient fireplace covered in heraldic carvings, on examining it I saw several books on a shelf, with their backs to the room, turning them round I found they included two volumes of poetry. Delighted with this discovery I returned to my parlour, and made the discovery. The first volume seemed to have no endpaper, but on feeling the cover I realise that the endpaper had been stuck down to form a pocket. The glue was weak and easily opened with a bodkin, inside was a sheet of paper. Opening it I read it twice before I realised what it was, it was a special licence, to allow the marriage of Mr George Williams to a Miss Dorothy Walgrave, dated just before the disappearance of Mr W. Does that mean a runaway marriage? Is he living in matrimonial bliss with his new wife?

 

Journal of David Markham,

December 29th

Charles and I examined the mound shown on the map which had been labelled Ice House. Two of the groundsmen remembered the Ice House being used several years ago, then abandoned. The mound was covered by a clump of trees, on the northern side was evidence of a brick arch, but the door which presumably gives access to the underground chamber is covered with soil and snow. I set the men clearing it, though I doubt the job will be complete until late tomorrow at the earliest.

Miss B has made a remarkable discovery, a special licence between Mr George Williams and a Miss Dorothy Walgrave. She had already questioned the servants by the time we had returned, but none had ever heard of Miss Walgrave. Tomorrow I will question the tenants while Miss B has volunteered to visit Mrs Croft who seems to be a fount of knowledge about the women of the parish.

 

History of the County Thomas Scott first edition 1754

Bramlingham

The current vicar is The Rev. Philip Walgrave A.M. Cantab, who was installed September 10th 1752

 

Journal of David Markham,

December 30th

A very cold day, however the snow kept off and we were able to visit the village. We made no progress, but later Miss B thought to look in a volume of the county history in the library. It was written about twenty years previously and says that the incumbent at that time was a Phillip Walgrave. She also recollected that Mrs Croft had said that there used to be a descendent of an earlier vicar, a widow, who had lived in the village until a few years ago. Perhaps Miss Walgrave was a relation of hers. She has volunteered to return tomorrow to see if she can discover more.

December 31st

The snow began overnight, and in the morning it was blowing a blizzard. Over breakfast Miss B suddenly said, ‘Why hide the licence?’ Charles and I looked at her in surprise. She continued, ‘Why did he hide the licence, the church was here, the vicar would have married them without question, long before his father knew, if that was the reason he wanted to be married in haste.’ This puzzled us, then it came to me – Bateson. I searched through the papers Jaggers had sent me, there it was, the steward was sending regular reports on his son’s conduct to his father. It was being kept from Bateson. Naturally we decided to search the tower again, whilst I decided to go and question Bateson as soon as possible, I was sure a few guineas would persuade him to talk. But it was impossible to leave the house, so we made a further search of the tower, but found nothing. The snow eased by midday then, as Miss B was directing the servants in drawing the curtains and lighting the candles in the great parlour, one of the servants screamed.

‘The White Lady!’ and dropped the spill she was carrying. Miss B told her to be silent and return to the kitchen if she had nothing useful to do, then beckoned me over to the window. Across the snow, just in front of the dark clump that marked the Ice House stood a woman, she was just standing there, in a white dress.

‘Is she real?’ I asked, ‘If she is, then she is very inappropriately dressed for the weather.’ Miss B replied with delightful practicality.

 

From Mary Bingham to Isabelle Rawlins, January 1st 1780

From the window I watched as Mr M walked across the snow towards the woman, she remained still, not moving. Then he suddenly stumbled and fell forward, I gave a cry, at that point Charles entered and asked what was happening. I glanced towards him and when I looked back I saw that the woman had vanished and Mr M was pulling at something in the snow. Charles ran out to help him. I followed to the hall where I waited for the men who returned a few minutes later carrying a body between them.

I was naturally startled, but on examination, now they had light to see, Mr M was able to identify the man as Bateson, the former steward, and to declare that he still lived. Two menservants carried him upstairs and put him in a bed, Mrs Rogers supplied hot bricks to warm him. Later Mr M said the woman seemed to be beckoning him on, and that after he stumbled over the body she vanished.

 

To be continued…..

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