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Death at the Jesus Hospital : A Lord Francis Powerscourt Investigation
Three men are found with their throats cut, and all are connected in some way to an ancient City of London livery company, the Silkworkers. Lord Powerscourt has no shortage of suspects or suspicions. The first victim had shadowy links with the Secret Service. The second had wiped fifteen years out of his own past. The third, a man who collected women at church during Christmas Carol services, had been threatened by angry husbands and disinherited sons.
All the victims had been opposed to the reorganization of the Silkworkers' finances and, interestingly, Sir Peregrine Fishborne, the head of the Silkworkers, was present just before each victim's death. Lord knows that the key to solving the mystery lies in the strange markings found on the bodies, which no coroners can identify.
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March 13, 2012
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Excerpt from Death at the Jesus Hospital by David Dickinson
When there is no moon in January the dawn creeps in very
slowly like the second hand on a clock that is running slow.
By the River Thames at Marlow in Buckinghamshire, some
twenty miles from London, the trees reveal themselves
gradually. The water in the river begins to show its patterns
and its ripples. The screeches of the owls, strident and
imperious, fall away. In the great houses by the water's edge
the housemaids are awake early, cleaning out last night's
fires and preparing new ones. The kitchen staff are beginning
work on the servants' breakfast, always served before
the master and his family in the servants' hall. A couple
of early risers could be seen striding towards the railway
station to catch the first train to the capital.
Some in the Jesus Hospital on the outskirts of the little
town were also awake early on this morning, the twenty-second
of the month. It is neither a church nor a chapel, nor
are the sick healed within its red brick walls. Jesus Hospital
is an almshouse, founded in the early seventeenth century
by a rich London merchant called Thomas Gresham whose
portrait hangs in state in the dining hall, all black cloak and
feathered hat. In shape, the hospital resembles the court of
many a Cambridge college, also built around this time, a
rectangular structure of two storeys whose walls are now
covered in red ivy. Twenty male persons over the age of
sixty are resident here, each man with a small apartment
of his own, consisting of a living room and primitive kitchen
on the ground floor and a bedroom and bathroom above.
There is a simple entrance examination: to gain admission
candidates have to be able to recite the Lord's Prayer and the
Apostles' Creed from memory. Some of the inmates pay no
rent at all for the privilege of living in the Jesus Hospital and
receive a weekly allowance; others who are better off make a
small contribution. The founder, Mr Gresham, was not only
one of the wealthiest men in the City of London, he was
also Prime Warden of the Ancient Mistery of Silkworkers,
one of the oldest livery companies in the City, founded in
the fourteenth century. The Jesus Hospital was run and
administered by the Silkworkers Company. Their officers
selected the future inmates and the warden who ran it.
In Number Four, Bill Smith, known to all as Smithy, who
had spent his working life on a farm near Marlow, was
reading his bible. He began every day in this fashion. This
was the third time Bill had gone through the good book.
Rather like the people who painted the Forth Bridge, a
task that took so long that the workers had to go back to
the beginning once they had reached the end, Smithy had
discovered that once he finished the Book of Revelation at
the end of the New Testament, he had totally forgotten the
Book of Genesis. So he went back to the beginning, thinking
very occasionally that he might, just might, have read this
In Number Seventeen, Josiah Collins was saying his
prayers, kneeling on the threadbare carpet in his room. On
his last visit to the doctor - it was one of the rules of the
hospital that every man had to go for a check-up every six
months - Josiah had been told that he had not very long
to live. He might make it to the spring, he might not, the
doctor had said in the special voice he used for the very
old and the very nearly dead. Every morning now Josiah,
who had found God late in life during a hellfire sermon in
Hackney, said the Lord's Prayer and the collect for the day
and read aloud from the Prayers for the Sick. This usually
left him feeling better until the middle of the morning when
despair returned. Sometimes Johnny Johnston would take
him to the Rose and Crown when it opened just after twelve
o'clock to ease his sorrows, sometimes he walked down
Ferry Lane and stared at the passing river. By two thirty in
the afternoon Josiah was always sleep.
The repose of those still sleeping in the other numbers
between one and twenty in the Jesus Hospital was shattered
by a scream. Or rather, by a whole series of screams that
sounded as though they would never end. Nellie the kitchen
maid was just beginning to lay the tables for breakfast - tea,
porridge, two sausages and toast on this occasion - when
she saw the body lying across the table nearest the kitchen
in the dining hall. At first she thought the body might have
fallen asleep. That would have been unusual but not impossible,
for several of the old gentlemen were known for falling
asleep in the most unlikely places. It was only when she
saw the blood dripping very slowly from the body's neck
to make red marks on the floor that she realized the man
was dead. It was Abel Meredith from Number Twenty. He
had been an inmate of the hospital for less than six months.
Meredith was leaving it in the most dramatic possible style,
lying dead across one of the hall tables, his throat cut from
ear to ear. The less squeamish among the residents realized
that he must have been murdered elsewhere and the body
brought here, for there was not very much blood. If the knife
had passed across his throat in this room the floor would
have been awash with dark red liquid, running down the
slight slope of the floorboards.
The screams alerted all those who were already dressed
to head for the hall. The others peered out of their upstairs
windows and got themselves ready as fast as they could.
In their blue coats with white buttons down the centre, the
official uniform of the silkmen, as they were known, the old
gentlemen gathered inside the main door of the hall and
stared at their late colleague. Those who had served in the
military were the least shocked. A few of them gazed at the
corpse and were suddenly transported back to the battlefields
where they had fought as young men and seen the
bodies of their fallen comrades. For the silkmen whose lives
had been more prosaic, spent in field or counting house,
this was the first murdered man they had ever encountered.
The Catholics among the inmates crossed themselves and
began saying Hail Marys. There was a low murmur from the
watchers as they exchanged views in whispers. One or two
of them looked suspiciously at their colleagues as if they
knew they had a murderer in their midst.