Of the sixteen other houseguests at the wedding, apart from my brother and myself, I knew only three couples. The Graingers, the Hambletons and Reverend and Mrs Whistle were well known to me.
The bride Suzannah Grainger and her fiancé Michael Hambleton, I had heard of but never met.
Suzannah brought two of her friends who were to be her bridesmaids, while Michael had two cousins attending him.
The other four guests whom we knew, were Andrew, the photographer and his girlfriend Patsy, and two friends of the Graingers.
We were all accommodated in luxury in the hotel, which had long ago been a monastery. During the days prior to the wedding, we arrived singly and in pairs. My brother and I were among the first to arrive. I love old buildings and spent much of my time exploring. The Graingers and the Hambletons were extremely wealthy people and had booked the entire hotel for three days before and three days after the wedding.
Of course, there were to be more than us eighteen at the wedding, but the other guests had been invited to stay for up to two nights only after the ceremony and the banquet.
The day of the wedding dawned sunny, warm and fine, with a brilliant blue sky. The caterers arrived, the dressmaker had been to attend to the final details and had gone, and there were innumerable people bustling round, all attending to their functions in making the day perfect and memorable.
I was surprised to see Mrs Grainger wandering around as if she were looking for someone, then I suddenly realised Mr Hambleton was acting similarly. Both looked slightly confused and puzzled. They met and exchanged words, obviously both concerned about something.
Suzannah met her mother near the archway at the front of the main building and a moment later Rev. and Mrs Whistle joined them. I saw Suzannah pull out a mobile phone and carry on a brief conversation, then she put it away and spoke reassuringly to her mother.
What, I asked myself, was going on? I approached the little group in time to hear Suzannah say,
“We can’t find them anywhere. I haven’t seen Father since breakfast, and Michael says his mother went for a walk early and hasn’t got back yet.”
Aha! I thought to myself. What was going on? My mind explored the possibilities.
Maybe the bride’s father and the groom’s mother had run off together? Such events have been known to happen. Maybe there had been an accident? A murder? All sorts of possibilities … what was the truth?
Of course it could have been entirely innocent and coincidental, I thought. That would be a bit of a let-down, thought.
The time of the ceremony was planned for 4 pm in the central courtyard.
By 3.30 pm, Mr G. and Mrs H. were still missing and unaccounted for. No one had seen either of them since morning. Suzannah and her bridesmaids were understandably twitchy, Mrs G. was having hysterics and Mr H had spent most of the morning and early afternoon in the hotel bar. Rev. and Mrs Whistle were trying to soothe everyone.
By 4.20 it was decided to wait no longer. The wedding took place; the bride’s mother gave her away and the groom’s father wobbled unsteadily into the courtyard to oversee his son’s marriage. The bride was careful to avert her perfectly made up face when her father in law decided to embrace her heartily.
The banquet afterwards was far too good to miss and the hundred or so guests swallowed the tale of ‘unavoidable absences’ etc that Suzannah and Michael had put about. Her mother became a little maudlin at the toast to ‘absent friends’ but the groom’s father displayed no such sensitivity. He swilled down his champagne and held out his glass for another.
I sipped my own champagne and whispered to my brother,
“There’s something decidedly odd going on here, Charles!” to which he replied,
“Without a doubt, Agnes. What so we do a bit of snooping, hey?”
No one noticed as we both withdrew from the great hall where we had been dining, separately so as not to raise any suspicion. In the entry hall I turned to Charles.
“I really am worried, you know. I had my concerns about holding a wedding ceremony and banquet in this venue in the first place.”
He frowned at me.
“I do recall you mentioned something, but I put it down to female susceptibility on your part. Do tell me again about it, Agnes… and forgive my prior dubiousness.”
“Yes, yes,” I said hurriedly. “But it’s my feeling that something – and I mean something bad – is going to happen unless we can bestir ourselves. I have the feeling there isn’t any time to be wasted.”
“What do you suggest, Agnes?” he asked.
“There’s a secret room in this monastery – “
“I’d be surprised if there were only one,” he interrupted and I glared, then nodded.
“You’re probably correct. In any case, when we received the invitation, I took advantage of one of the tools of my research – “
“Google, I presume?” he suggested. I gave him a dirty look; he subsided and I continued.
“There is a legend attached to this place, and it’s not nice. We need to find where that secret room is. It’s probably accessed from the abbot’s quarters – “
“Aha! The bridal suite!” Charles chortled and I sighed.
“Quite. I do believe we should investigate. And preferably before the bride and groom decided to retire for the night.”
“Lay on, MacDuff.” We made our way towards the ornate staircase and found the bridal suite without much trouble. At the doorway we paused. There were giggles coming from within. Charles raised his eyebrow but I shook my head. They were female giggles, and from several females. I flung the door open and the two bridesmaids jumped and turned from where they were busily pouring rice and confetti into the bed.
“Don’t mind us,” I said reassuringly. “We’re after something else entirely. Carry on.”
They looked at each other and at us. I remembered their names; Lucy and Matilda.
“We’re looking for a secret room,” Charles told them confidingly, and they giggled again.
“Not planning to perve on the wedding night, I hope?” Matilda suggested cheekily and Charles blushed.
“Good lord, no! We’re actually looking for Mr G and Mrs H.”
The two girls looked at each other, worriedly now. Unlike most of the guests, they knew these two had disappeared without trace.
“In here?” Lucy asked.
“I believe so,” I told her. “You see, there’s a tale about this place. Long ago, back in the reign of Henry Vlll – “
“The one with all the wives,” Charles murmured. I ignored him and went on.
“This place was one of the monasteries he had shut down. There had been reports of, ah, shall we say, inappropriate behaviour – “
“Orgies and suchlike,” Charles put in. Really, he totally annoys me sometimes!
“When the King’s soldiers came to close the monastery and toss the monks out, they found the abbot had disappeared. They also found that the abbess from the nunnery half a mile down the road had disappeared. A year later they were both found.” I paused for effect. “In a secret room in the very building. They had been, er, you know – “
”Cohabiting,” Charles said sweetly. I blushed.
“Indeed.” The girls giggled. “The King’s men had been going through the abbot’s quarters and accidentally found the entry to the secret room. By then the abbot and the abbess had died of starvation and thirst. Their mummified bodies were found in a bed in the secret room.”
“They couldn’t get out?” Charles asked and I shrugged.
“Seems not. They could hear the King’s men looting and so on, from inside the secret room, but they couldn’t be heard. Besides, if they had been discovered, as it were, in flagrante delecti – “
“In the act,” Charles elucidated. The girls giggled again.
“ – they would have been severely punished. So they probably waited and hoped to be able to sneak out. That time never came, and no one found the room.”
“Is that all?” Charles asked.
“Oh, no. There’s a curse associated with the place, too.”
“There would be, Go on.”
“No marriage held or consummated within these walls has ever lasted or been successful.”
“Er. Whoops. Bad mistake holding it here, then,” Charles observed.
“Quite. Now, we must find that secret room.”
We went around the rooms carefully. We tapped every piece of woodwork, fingered every carving and moved every item of furniture. Except for the bed. Finally, we all turned and looked at it calculatingly.
It wasn’t large, you know. But it had an elaborate headboard. Charles took his shoes off and climbed onto the bed, checking the carvings on the headboard thoroughly.
Finally, he called out in triumph.
“This one! This carved rose – it turns!”
As he twisted the wooden rose in his fingers we heard a creaking, and a complete wall panel on the opposite side of the room, in the outer wall, swung open to reveal a flight of narrow stone steps. I dug in my handbag – it’s quite a enormous receptacle – and fished out a battery powered torch. Charles chuckled.
“Agnes, you’re always prepared for everything!”
“Of course. I’m a woman. You may lead the way, Charles.”
We descended the stairs carefully; first my brother, then myself, then Lucy and Matilda. They had stopped giggling by now.
At the foot of the stairs was a solid wooden door, studded with nails. There was a key in it and when we turned it the door swung silently open. Beyond it however, we were greeted with cries of relief as Mrs Hambleton and Mr Grainger fell into our arms. They were dirty, dehydrated and terrified, but now their ordeal was over. There were questions to be asked and answered, but these could wait till they had recovered. Water to drink, bathroom facilities, hot water and soap and then food would be their first requirements.
The six of us ascended the stone steps and re-entered the bridal suite in relief and elation.
Of course, there was a less than supernatural answer to what had happened. As usual, sex and money were the motives for a very nearly successful crime.
Mrs Grainger and Mr Hambleton had met when their children were courting. They had fallen in love and decided each to be rid of their current partners. They had discovered, via Google, as had I, the information about the secret room. Under the guise of checking out the hotel, they had fond it and decided it would be perfect for their bloodthirsty plans. It was so easy, the morning of the wedding, for them to lure their unsuspecting spouses to the secret room and lock them in. Then they had played the parts of distraught spouses for the rest of the day.
Had their plan worked, both would have been even more wealthy, the missing bodies would never have been discovered, hence no case of corpus delecti could have been mounted. Like I said, money and sex. They were rich to start off with, but that hadn’t been enough. They would have lived happily ever after.
Of course, they didn’t. They went to jail for a long time instead.
Mr Grainger and Mrs Hambleton had supported each other during their terrifying ordeal and it wasn’t long until they had each divorced their homicidal partners and remarried.
They chose another venue for the wedding, though. Charles and I attended as honoured guests.
As for Suzannah and Michael … well, they’re expecting twins next month, so all we can do is hope for the best for their future together.