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The Mourning Bells, April 2015

Fourth in the Lady of Ashes historical mystery series.

One of Victorian London's most respected undertakers, Violet Harper has the new duty of accompanying coffins from various undertakers on the London Necropolis Railway for respectful funerals and burials in Surrey. But on her fateful first trip, the mournful silence of the train is shattered by the shrill ringing of a coffin bell - a device that prevents a person from being buried alive.

Inside the noisome coffin, Violet finds a man wide-eyed with fear, claiming he was falsely interred. When a second coffin bell is rung on another trip Violet grows suspicious. She voices her qualms to Inspector Hurst of Scotland Yard, only to receive a puzzling reply that, after all, it is not a crime to rise from the dead. But Violet's instincts are whispering that all is not well on the London Necropolis Railway's tracks. Is this all merely the result of clumsy undertaking, or is there something more sinister afoot?

Determined to get to the heart of the matter, Violet uncovers a treacherous plot and villains who will stop at nothing to keep a lid on her search for the truth.




     The man tried to grope about, except that it was impossible to do much more than scrabble his fingers along the sides of the coffin, what with the lid being mere inches from his body.

    Why is it that everyone always talks of how the passing over from life to death takes a mere painless instant, but neglect to tell anyone about the horror of being confined inside a coffin?   the man wondered from his unfortunate vantage point.

     Why donít the ministers, during their dignified and dull sermons, warn congregants that the worst part of death isnít the looming specter of hell but the endless journey from dining room table to graveside?

     He knew where the lid was only because he had hit is face on it, trying to rise from his confines. It was darker than a crowís wing in here, which only heightened his great fright.

     He had shouted several times to whoever might be near him, but to no avail. His body rocked back and forth now, and the increased clattering below him signaled that the funeral train had picked up speed and was making haste for the cemetery.

     Surely someone would hear him once they arrived at the cemetery and would unhinge this unholy slab of wood that was like a raised drawbridge, separating a knight pursued by arrows from the safety of the castle.

     Dear God, what if I expire again before we get there?

     Despite the lack of air and his terrifying situation, this irony was not lost on the man, and he even choked out a guttural laugh that sounded strangely like a sob in his ears. He might die a second time and no one would ever know.

     How had this happened? What had he done to deserve this wretched situation? Was there even the remotest possibility that he would be discovered here before he was buried, with spadefuls of dirt ensuring that his shouts and gasps would be silenced forever?

     He felt a tear leak from the corner of his right eye. Why, he hadnít cried in more than twenty years, since he was a young boy and his favorite dog had died after being bitten by one of Fatherís horses. He would offer a thousand of the brainless pups now as a sacrifice to escape this vault of doom.

     Someone help me. Please.


Unedited contracted excerpt, Copyright 2015 Christine Trent.