P. S. Gifford
© Copyright 2006 by P. S. Gifford
Perched across the banks of the Cam River in the idyllic town of Ashwell in the very heart of Herefordshire is an old bridge. It had for many decades been the ideal place to take a few moments and rest upon ones stroll and take in the delightful calming riparian vista afforded to it.
Late one evening a party of two ladies and two gentlemen walked contently along those very river banks. It was a pleasant August and they were enjoying their exercise in the warm air as well as invigorating conversation. They had dined and it had been suggested that a serene jaunt in the fresh air would be pleasant diversion prior to enjoying a night cap. Reaching the bridge, they were proceeding across it when one of the ladies stumbled upon, and almost fell over, something lying directly in the parties’ path. Upon lighting a match they discovered, to their utter horror and disbelief, that it was in fact the body of a well dressed elderly woman lying in a distorted position and apparently quite dead. Aghast, the two men warded their female companions promptly back to the restaurant that they had dined in, and then after catching the eye of a passing policeman returned with all haste back to the location of the gruesome discovery.
By the aid of the police officers lantern they ascertained the fact that the old lady had been apparently strangled. The policeman, in addition, was easily able to identify the body, as it was none other than Lady Edith Winslow, widow of the very distinguished Lord Alfred Winslow. She still inhabited the large manor house set upon his vast family estate less than half a mile from that very spot.
After much fuss and confusion the local doctor, Doctor Harrington, was summoned also to the scene to thoroughly examine the body. Silently the men gathered around as the medical man with deft and skillful hands made his assessment.
“She’s been dead no more than two hours,” he said at the end of the examination, “and as you quite accurately surmised the cause was indeed strangulation, the bruising around her neck is indubitable, as is her face being that peculiar blue hue…In my opinion there is only one reasonable conclusion…As it is particularly obvious that these injuries were not self inflicted I can only draw one somber conclusion…Lady Edith Winslow has been murdered.”
Thirty minutes later an ambulance arrived and swiftly carried the body off into the night, as the men watched in shaking there heads in dismay. Never before had such a horrendous deed been committed in their idyllic hamlet.
The following day there was more hoopla in Ashwell than the town had perhaps seen in its entire history…Three days later however another body was found not five hundred yards from the scene of the first one, and this is where I come into actual contact with the story, as it was I who discovered this particular body. I had been out walking my hunting dog, as I so often do, before I retire for the evening. My dog suddenly began barking uncontrollably, as I had never seen him act so peculiar before or indeed since. I had hurried over to see what the cause of his reaction was and to my complete bewilderment, I discovered, directly on the footpath, a body of a petite young lady. Before racing off to inform the authorities I took the liberty of examining the body myself, having acquired an interest in the previous case. I discovered, just as I had suspected, anomalous markings about her neck…Evidently she had indeed met the same terrible fate as Lady Edith Winslow.
The following day I eagerly read the account in the evening Telegraph. The police were completely baffled by the course of events….I too was baffled. Was there really a mad strangler on the loose in Ashford as the police now suspected? I was not completely convinced. As I sipped on my gin and tonic I continued to read my newspaper, nothing too memorable. It was then, however, that a small story happened to catch my attention… Apparently a certain Major Reginald Perry, a recent retiree from the British army, had a short time ago returned back to England, to his house on the river Cam. Apparently he was rather distressed, as recently his pet, Herbert had gone missing. In fact he was so concerned that he was offering a handsome award for his return. As my eyes scanned over the account, I raised an eyebrow…You see Herbert was his pet python…All at once everything became astoundingly clear.
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