Gathered around the fire at the Maypole Inn, in the village of Chigwell, on an evening of foul weather in the year 1775, are John Willet, proprietor of the Maypole, and his three cronies. One of the three, Solomon Daisy, tells an ill-kempt stranger at the inn a well-known local tale of the murder of Reuben Haredale which had occurred 22 years earlier on that very day. Reuben had been the owner of the Warren, a local estate which is now the residence of Geoffrey, the deceased Reuben's brother, and Geoffrey's niece, Reuben's daughter Emma Haredale. After the murder, Reuben's gardener and steward went missing and were suspects in the crime. A body was later found and identified as that of the steward, so the gardener was assumed to be the murderer.
Joe Willet, son of the Maypole proprietor, quarrels with his father because John treats 20-year-old Joe as a child. Finally having had enough of this ill-treatment, Joe leaves the Maypole and goes for a soldier, stopping to say goodbye to the woman he loves, Dolly Varden, daughter of London locksmith Gabriel Varden.
Meanwhile, Edward Chester is in love with Emma Haredale. Both Edward's father, John Chester, and Emma's uncle, the Catholic Geoffrey Haredale - these two are sworn enemies - oppose the union after Sir John untruthfully convinces Geoffrey that Edward's intentions are dishonourable. Sir John intends to marry Edward to a woman with a rich inheritance, to support John's expensive lifestyle and to pay off his debtors. Edward quarrels with his father and leaves home for the West Indies.
Barnaby Rudge, a simpleton,  wanders in and out of the story with his pet raven, Grip. Barnaby's mother begins to receive visits from the ill-kempt stranger, whom she feels compelled to protect. She later gives up the annuity she had been receiving from Geoffrey Haredale and, without explanation, takes Barnaby and leaves the city hoping to escape the unwanted visitor.
The story advances five years to a chilly evening in early 1780. On the 27th anniversary of Reuben Haredale's murder, Solomon Daisy, winding the bell tower clock, sees a ghost in the churchyard. He reports this hair-raising event to his friends at the Maypole, and John Willet decides that Geoffrey Haredale should hear the story. He departs in a winter storm taking Hugh, hostler of the Maypole, as a guide. On the way back to the Maypole, John and Hugh are met by three men seeking the way to London. Finding that London is still 13 miles off, the men seek refuge for the night. Beds are prepared for them at the Maypole.
- Publication Date:
- 11 / 06 / 2019
- 152 x 229 x 25mm