Mystery of the Marsh

J.F. Smith’s Mystery of the Marsh — Recap

I’ll keep good the promise made by the 1883 newspaper sources for this reconstructed penny blood mystery, by providing their mid-way summary. The author of the novel is the Englishman John Frederick Smith, the most popular writer of the mid-nineteenth century — but in later years all but forgotten. The annotated instalments include contextual notes along with glimpses of the life of this intriguing writer.


In order that new readers may begin with the following installment of this story, and understand it just the same as though they had read it all from the beginning, we here give a synopsis of that portion of it which has already been published:

Two girls, clad in male attire, one evening appealed for help to William Whiston, nephew of Farmer Hurst, of Deerhurst. William — who was accompanied by two friends, Goliah Gob and Benoni Blackmore — gave the fugitives refuge in his uncle’s red barn. Soon afterwards a tramp, named Bunce, took refuge in the barn, and two ruffians came there also, in pursuit of the girls. Bunce defended the girls against the ruffians, till Goliah Gob, a young fellow of gigantic size and strength, came to his assistance. The ruffians were overpowered and bound.

Isaac Israëls (1865-1934), Bois de Boulogne (1904). Public Domain. Source: 1stdibs.com

Goliah then summoned William and Benoni, and after consultation William and Goliah set out in a waggon for London with the girls, who proved to be Lady Kate Kepple, an heiress, and her maid Martha. Lady Kate was fleeing from Clarence Marsham, an officer in the Guards, who attempted to force her to marry him. They arrived safely in London, where Kate went to the protection of her aunt, Lady Montague.

William called on his uncle, Lawyer Whiston, and told him the story. The old lawyer was Lady Montague’s legal adviser, and was delighted to find what part his nephew had played in Lady Kate’s escape.

Benoni had been left in charge of the bound ruffians in the red barn, with directions to hand them over to the authorities in the morning, but he set them free, and told such a story to Farmer Hurst that Mrs. Hurst insisted on having William and Goliah arrested for stealing the farmer’s horse and waggon. This was done, but Lawyer Whiston came down from London, rescued them, and overwhelmed the Hursts and Benoni with exposure and shame.

William, who was half-owner of the Hurst farm, then went to London with his uncle.

Goliah loved Susan Hurst (William’s cousin), and Mrs. Hurst hated him for it. Lawyer Whiston, to whom Bunce showed some old family papers, provided handsomely for the wanderer, and Lady Kate Kepple sent William and Goliah each a handsome watch as a token of her gratitude.

Clarence Marsham, the persecutor of Lady Kate, was a step-son of an unprincipled nobleman, Lord Allworth, who, after the death of his wife, married Clarence’s mother for her money. Lord Allworth had a son of his own — Egbert, Lord Bury — whom he had swindled out of an estate called Chellston, that Egbert had inherited from his mother. Sir George Meredith, Egbert’s uncle, had bought Chellston.

Clara Meredith, sole child of Sir George Meredith was a beauty and an heiress. Egbert — Lord Bury — was on a visit to Chellston. Clara felt piqued at Lord Bury, who was an officer of the Guards and noted for his exclusiveness, because when she was on her first visit to London the season before, he did not call upon her. For this reason she snubbed him, reminded him how he had fallen into the duck pond when he was a boy, and requested him to make her a drawing of the scene.

At the May Day festival Lord Bury defended the May Queen, Phœbe Burr, from a ruffian named Burcham, until her lover, Tom Randal, came upon the scene, and claimed the right to act as her champion. Farmer Randal, Tom’s father, was so incensed at his son for avowing his love for Phoebe that a quarrel ensued and Tom ran away. Clara was a friend of Phœbe’s and resolved to help her to marry Tom despite his father’s opposition.

This is the state of affairs at Chellston when the following chapter opens …


Next instalment will be Chapter Eleven. All the previous chapters are available at Furin Chime website. 

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