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The Return Chapters 13-15 – the Conclusion

Posted on August 21st 2023

Chapter 13

The manorial court rolls in medieval times mentions Jacob’s Acres as common land used by villeins to raise cattle, sheep and grow cereals. Under the feudal system they paid dues every year to the Lord of the Manor.

When the Enclosure Act came into being in the early 1700s land was parcelled up, and if times were hard parts were sold off to other landlords and neighbouring farmers. Jacob’s Acres was part of a large tract of land first owned by the Neville de Huntwyke, gifted to him by King William, spoils of the Norman Conquest. The ownership remained in the same family until 1757 when it was purchased by a London courtier along with other lands nearby which abutted the Huntswick estates. The reason for the sale was never established, probably to pay off gambling debts. The eighteenth century Huntswicks, who had made fortunes in the sugar trade, were a dissolute, free-living family.

Lord Minchworth of Upper Wibbenham had family titles stretching as far back as his neighbour, Sir Shackleton Huntswick. Over the centuries his ancestors had been shrewd investors of their wealth which involved banking, brokerage and real estate. A distant relative made a fortune investing in the Equitable People’s Society in the early Victorian times. The family still held shares in the Society which after many decades had been absorbed into one of the UK’s leading high street banks.

Minchworth had one son who died age twenty one of a brain tumour, and a daughter, Elizabeth. He invested his fortune wisely in gold and other minerals. He was also a generous philanthropist and donated large sums to brain cancer research. But he did not forget his only surviving heir, Elizabeth, and ensured his daughter would never have to be concerned with money by setting up investment trusts for her benefit.

Elizabeth was a kind-hearted young woman drawn to the church from an early age, her father secretly fretted she may became a nun. She was plain in looks but jolly in nature, which outweighed any lack of physical attractiveness. Boys never seemed that interested in her, or her in them. Her father and mother died within eighteen months of one another. Unexpectedly, Elizabeth found her self alone in the rambling Wibbenham Hall.

Now that her controlling parents were no longer looking over her shoulder, she enjoyed free rein. She decided to fulfil a long-held ambition of utilising the spacious house as a retreat for religious groups and as a sanctuary for abused women. She created meeting rooms, overhauled the fourteen bedrooms and installed ensuite facilities and kitchens that could cater for large groups of people. She found she possessed her father’s skills as good organiser and an energetic manager. She  employed staff to clean, cook and handle administrative matters and invited professional counsellors and psychologists to organise courses and therapies. She was a sympathetic host and her enterprise thrived, her fortune allowing her to run the organisation at a small loss, never denting her substantial capital.

With Christmas approaching, Wibbenham Hall is festively decorated with a large Christmas tree and fairy lights in the garden, in preparation for the annual diocesan thanksgiving dinner to be held in the largest reception room. All the clergy of the county were invited and despite their busy Christmas schedules this event was must for all to attend. Elizabeth’s hospitality was legendary with plentiful food and drinks.

This large gathering is scheduled into days time and Elizabeth is taking a well earned rest in her private snug. All the staff have left save for the caretaker who lives

in a cottage on the estate. She is sipping a mug of hot chocolate and nibbling a chocolate biscuit watching the ten o’clock news on the television.

Suddenly, the screen flickers and goes blank. Oh blast, she thinks a power failure, just what I need right now, but the lights in the room are still on if somewhat dimmer. The TV flickers back to life but instead of the normal BBC newsreader an old fashioned gentleman appears wearing a top hat which he removes and bows as if addressing her.  She can make out four other strangely clad men crowding behind, they are wearing equally old fashioned attire and appear grey, decrepit and very frightening. The picture is no longer in colour.

  ‘Good evening Elizabeth,’ the top hatted man says with old fashioned courtesy.   ‘I’m sorry to interrupt your evening but I have an important message…’ The man now removes his hat and begins to speak. Elizabeth can only see this head and shoulders and what he says does not take long, but the implications shake her to the core. Elizabeth remains mesmerised in her chair, unable to fathom whether this was some form of prank. The man is very specific in what she is being asked to do. She feels powerless, unable to utter a word in reply, so astounded by what he is telling her. In desperation she tries to  pick up the TV remote at her side but her arms feel frozen. She would love to rid herself of the images and stop the man talking. He is very polite but at the same time threatening if she does not fulfil his wishes. As the man speech draws to a close the camera pulls back and she can see the people in the background staring sternly over the man’s shoulder. She can make out a man in a checked suit, another in a long cloak, but rest of the image is blurred, indefinable.  Eventually, the man stops talking, bows again, puts his hat back on and the screen dissolves. The television flickers for a moment, and then the  reassuring figure of the newsreader reappears discussing the same news story as before the interruption. It is if nothing has occurred, time has been stopped during the period of the top-hatted man’s air time instructions. Her chocolate is still warm and the lights have returned to normal brightness.

It takes Elizabeth some minutes to recover and lever herself out of the armchair . She walks around the snug, looks at the back of the television to see if she can see any strange wiring, and then goes into her kitchen and stands next to the Aga to warm, herself up. Eventually, she retires to her bedroom and lies on her bed fully clothed. She wonders if she has experienced some terrible child-like nightmare. But the messages are as clear as daylight.

Eventually she undresses and brushes her teeth, she can’t wait to get into the sanctuary of her bed and snuggle down with her toy Panda, a comfort from her childhood. It is over an hour before sleep eventually overcomes her, the bedside light remains on until morning when her alarm clock startles her awake.

Chapter 14

Simon Padfoot is still seething about the damage to his car, he had ‘phoned the police who appeared disinterested in his complaint. No, they would not send a constable around to the garage to inspect the damage. ‘Car vandalism is a regular occurrence,’ said the desk sergeant, ‘lucky they didn’t torch the vehicle, sir, that’s what they normally do, especially something expensive, you said a Porsche, count yourself lucky it was no worse.’

Padfoot slams the phone down in frustration. His phone on his desk rings. ‘The Cayman Island Trustees’ solicitors are on the line, can I put them through,’ says Linda.

‘Okay.’ Padfoot’s mood lifts, this will be about the sale of Jacob’s Acres. ‘Good morning,’ he says, ‘everything proceeding okay?’ Padfoot listens intently, the phone receiver jammed to his ear. He switches his desk phone to open speak so he can hear the lawyer from London more clearly. ‘You what? They can’t…why the hell are they  withdrawing the land for sale, it was a fair price.’

’The client has had a change of mind.’

‘Is there another bidder, I thought it was a closed bid. I’ll sue.’

‘From what I can tell I don’t think it is a money matter.’

‘Offer them more money.’

‘How much?’

‘Another one hundred and fifty thou.’

‘Mr Padfoot, I don’t think they’ll accept if you offered another million pounds, they’ve had second thoughts about the land usage. ’

‘For what, a cinema?’

‘I can’t really say, but I have had specific instructions to withdraw the land for sale, I must comply with my client’s wishes.’

‘Make them another offer anyway. I’ll leave it with you. Please come back to me as soon as you have any news.’

Padfoot presses the mute button, slams down his phone, jumps up from his seat and rages around his office shouting expletives. Linda on reception can hear him downstairs, must be having a bad hair day, and smiles to herself.

When Padfoot stops shouting at the carpet and the tasteless but expensive works of art that adorn his office walls, he locks his office door and rummaged in his desk draw. He pulls out a small linen bag and pours a thin line of white powder onto his teak desk. Next, he extracts a twenty pound note from his wallet and rolls it into a cylindrical shape and places the end of the note up his left nostril and breathes in the powder, he follows the same procedure snorting with his right nostril. He lifts his head as the cocaine hits his bloodstream in a rush, he sits back in his chair and savours the rush as calmness and well being flows over him. After a few moments, fired up with renewed adrenalin he runs downstairs. ‘I am off out,’ he shouts to Linda as he darts out the front door.

‘When will you back?’ But Padfoot is already heading towards his hired Porsche. He roars out of the car park, tyres screeching. Padfoot is not sure where he is heading, too early for lunch, he needs time to think, a fast drive will get his mind working. The Jacob’s Acres deal is too important to fail, pivotal to his expansion plans. He calls up his pal at County’s head of planning on the car phone to see if he has any ideas. He was on percentage, and will not be happy about this news either. The phone clicks to the answering service, as he is about to leave message, suddenly out of nowhere Padfoot spots what looks like a horse and trap approaching him on his side of the road, he blows the car’s horn. The road is long and straight ahead, he can’t understand what he is seeing it must be the coke. He is travelling about eighty miles an hour when he starts braking


heavily, by now the horse and top-hatted driver is nearly on top of him oblivious to the danger. At the last moment, Padfoot swings the powerful car to the right to avoid a collision, the Porsche careers across the road and catapults over a drainage ditch and ploughs into a thick oak and beech wood.

Thirty seconds later a delivery van coming in the opposite direction sees the black skids marks on the road and sees a cloud of smoke and thin particles of dust and leaves settling from inside the wood. The remains of the Porsche is wedged between two trees, crushed to half its normal size. It takes the emergency services twenty five minutes to reach the scene. The delivery driver is in shock and is sitting in his lorry cab, he had ventured into the wood to investigate but it is clear that the mangled driver is beyond help.

A later post mortem declares the driver was under the influence of a class A drug and lost control of his vehicle at high speed. There were no witnesses to the accident.


  Dr Kirsty Daventry is walking Jack on the edge of Jacob’s Acres, it is later than normal for her evening stroll but something draws her to the field this late on.

It is a starry, frosty night, ideal for a late night walk with Jack, a slight mist is rising above the meadow. The doctor’s attention is drawn to the point of the field where the ground rises to the burial site and sees what looks like a fire burning, although there is  curiously no smoke. She stops for a moment to take in the scene, Jack pulls at his lead keen to investigate, she would like to get closer but her feet feel pinned to the ground. As she strains her eyes on the fire a group of five hooded figures emerge from nowhere into view, they are holding hands as they parade slowly around the long barrow, every few moments they unlink their hands and raise them in unison to the sky as if in some incantation. They briefly disappear out of view where the land dips away on the far side of the site, when they reappear they are carrying what looks like a litter with a body shaped figure lying horizontal on the pallet, there is a hooded figure holding each corner, their arms are raised high above their heads, while the unencumbered leader of the group heads the procession carrying a tall staff. The doctor is reminded of a book she once read that featured Druids and remembers tonight is December 21st, the winter solstice. They must be reenacting some ancient pagan ritual to acknowledge mid-winter, the shortest day.

Jack sits at her side, equally mesmerised, and she wonders to herself who on earth in Brakehall are secret Druid worshippers? She presumes the sacrificial figure on the litter is a dummy, like a guy on bonfire night. There is complete silence which is puzzling as judging by their movements one would expect to hear prayers and noises from the burning fire; then the litter is raised even higher and pushed towards the flames and placed in the centre of the fire, a moment later a startling blue and green flame leaps high into the night sky. As the flames soar ever higher the silence is broken by a crackling roar followed by a loud roll of thunder, then utter silence. Suddenly, the fire and the figures vanish from view and the doctor wonders if she has imagined the whole spectacle.

The doctor is surprisingly unafraid by what she has secretly stumbled upon, her legs are now free to move and she bends to let Jack off his lead. The little dog bounds off to the summit where the fire was burning with such ferocity just moments ago, the doctor hurries after him. At the burial site she bends down to feel the grass, it is damp and looks untouched, no scorch marks or evidence of fire anywhere.

Jack disappears, panicking he has run, the doctor calls his name, after a few anxious moments Jack returns wagging his tail. He has an old fashioned stove pipe hat in his mouth which he drops at her feet. The doctor picks up the hat and using her mobile phone torch examines the object, the name sewn into the lining is: Sir Arum Hunstwick.

Chapter 15

As Brakehall edges towards Christmas there is a lightness to the atmosphere in the village. Everyone feels it: the children’s St Mary’s nativity is packed and the carol service equally well attended with plenty of hearty singing. The villagers appear keen to seek solace in the simple goodness and continuity of their church, and Rector. Jessica, is even more cheerful than her usual cheery self, she is positively effusive, her faith renewed.

On the morning of December 22 Sir Shackleton receives a phone call from the County planning office informing him that the controversial planning application for Jacob’s Acres has been withdrawn. Shortly afterwards he receives another call from a London solicitor’s office informing him that Jacob’s Acres is going to be gifted to the village in perpetuity. The only caveat is it can never be built upon.

This astonishing good news oddly coincides with the tragic death of property developer, Simon Padfoot, in a car accident earlier in the week. He wonders if the two are connected but cannot understand how. He knows that the developer would never give anything away without some ulterior motive.

On leaving the old rectory he walks across the lawn towards the gate that leads to the Rector’s house in the old walled garden. He can hardly contain himself with the good news about Jacob’s Acres. As he reaches the gate he finds a pile of abandoned, black clergyman’s vestments, as he bends to pick up the bundle out tumbles a beautiful crucifix on a gold chain. He examines the shining silver item in trembling hands; he immediately knows who the owner is…or was. Looking around, he expects to see the ghostly figure of Fairfax watching him from somewhere in the garden, but his only companion is a robin singing in a nearby cherry tree. As he looks more closely at the stunning icon the sun catches the delicate carving of Christ on the cross. Maybe it is his imagination, but the crucifix seems to irradiate goodness. He throws the black vestments over his arm, and clutching the crucifix in his other hand, he heads towards the new vicarage with a renewed purpose of step.

This morning the Rector is feeling as if a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She senses the darkness surrounding her beloved parish has been lifted. She is chatting in her study with her wealthy friend, companion and tireless helper, Bunty, from Upper Wibbenham Hall. The Rector spies Sir Shackleton striding up the garden path, he is looking positively spritely; thrown over his arm is a black garment and he is clutching a silver object.

‘Happy Christmas, Sir Shackleton,’ says the Rector, opening the front door to let the parish leader inside.


‘Excellent, thank you, white, no sugar.’

‘You know Elizabeth, I believe.’

‘Of course, I knew your parents well.’

‘What have you got there?’ The Rector asks.

‘You might well ask, I suspect you might recognise these items, I have just found them at the rectory gate,’ says Sir Shackleton, handing the vestments to her.

The Rector goes pale. ‘Do these belong to you know who?’ she says, dropping the vestments on the floor as if they were contaminated. The joy she had felt of a few moments before quickly evaporates. ‘Heavens above, I recognise the crucifix from his visitation to the vestry. It is definitely the one the Reverend Fairfax had hanging around his neck.’

‘Golly gosh!’ Says Bunty.

‘I think you are correct,’  says Sir Shackleton. ‘I had an amazing encounter with the same spectre only two nights ago. I was in the old rectory garden returning from our last meeting. Can you believe it, he was asking my forgiveness for past sins from centuries ago. He said he had done bad things to my great, great grandfather. He appeared quite real, although I could not see his face close up. I can tell you he frightened the life out of me when he appeared out of nowhere.’

‘Did you forgive him?’

‘Yes, sort of, I needed to get rid of him.’

‘I told him to meet Arum, his old adversary, and seek his forgiveness.’

‘How did you know where Arum was?’

‘He and his pals were holed up in the closed off east wing of the old rectory.’

‘How did you know?’

‘I had heard voices for days. It was where he used to live.’

‘Do you think he has gone for good, “passed to the other side,” as he put to me.’

‘Yes, I do.’

The Rector picks up the crucifix, turning it in her hands. ‘It feels warm, you would expect It to be cold on a day like to day. It is very beautiful, there is something about it  that feels good. It is full of Grace. This convinces me he’s gone.’ She hands the crucifix to Bunty. And the Rector’s mood lightens, ‘What shall we do with it?’

‘I think you should hang on the vestry wall next to the roll call of past rectors.’

‘Great idea, I will, and I will pray for his soul that he may now have found rest.’

 Bunty makes herself busy preparing the coffee in the kitchen.

‘The real reason for my visit,’ says Sir Shackleton, ‘is to bring the good news that the planning application for Jacob’s Acres has been withdrawn. And what’s more the mysterious Cayman Island Trust owner has offered to donate the land to the village. Isn’t this wonderful?’

‘Yes, it’s fantastic, but I’ve already heard.’

‘How? The planning office phoned me less than an hour ago.’

‘Bunty told me.’

‘Oh!’ Says Sir Shackleton, remaining thoughtful, as he ponders this information.

‘I have good news too, Bunty has promised to make a large donation to St Mary’s to ensure the upkeep of the church’s fabric for decades to come.’

‘Well, what a double bonus for Brakehall. It will be a Christmas to remember.’

Just then Bunty bustles in with the coffee. ‘What have you two been gossiping about?’

‘Just sharing the good news about Jacob’s Acres and your wonderful offer to St Mary’s,’ says the Rector.

‘Good news travels fast doesn’t it,’ says Bunty, looking coyly at Sir Shackleton.

Sir Shackleton smiles and winks at her.

‘And so does bad news, I am afraid. I also heard from the planning office that their head man was taken seriously ill yesterday with a suspected stroke. He is in a coma and not expected to survive. I know I should not speak ill of the dying, but perhaps we might have a more sympathetic hearing from the County on planning matters in the future,’ says Sir Shackleton.

‘Poor man, I will pray for him too,’ says the Rector.