SHANNON MUIR’S THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF for Horror and Thriller Fridays in October!
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Guest Post by the Author
The Knutsford Highwayman
Ghosts can turn up in all sorts of places and, when they were alive, can have come from any – and all – backgrounds. In my novel, Damned by the Ancients, Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, while he lived, was an archaeologist. Hardly the kind of occupation you would think someone so evil would have indulged in. His home, in a wealthy suburb of Vienna, was the last place you would expect to find demons, ancient gods and curses.
The same observations could be made of today’s subject. Edward Higgins – known as “Squire” Higgins to his friends – was a member of the gentry of Knutsford, an ancient small town some fourteen miles from the major city of Manchester, and lying in the gentle Cheshire countryside. His home, for a time, was in Heath House, just a few doors from the house that would become Victorian novelist’s Elizabeth Gaskell’s home. She even wrote about him in a short story called The Squire’s Tale.
Higgins moved from Manchester to Knutsford in around 1756 and was regarded as a man of means. A gentleman in fact. He paid a considerable amount for his new home so was clearly not short of funds. But Edward Higgins had a shady past. Details are sketchy but, without a doubt, he was convicted of housebreaking in Worcester in 1754. He was sentenced to transportation to the American colonies for seven years but that was never going to happen. As soon as he arrived in Boston, he stole a fortune from a rich merchant whose house he broke into. This funded his passage home and no doubt his future lifestyle.
On April 21st, 1757 he married Katherine Birtles whom he kept in blissful ignorance of the true source of his wealth. As far as she was concerned he earned money from rents he charged on properties he owned.
Higgins led the life of a country gentleman, riding to hounds and owning several horses. He fathered five children and, by all reports, was a good father and husband. He and Katherine dined out a lot with neighbours yet Higgins remained of fit and athletic build. He would need to be.
His dinner engagements afforded him the opportunity to familiarise himself with the layout of his neighbours’ houses. Then, at a future date, he would return to rob them.
He was also never one to miss an opportunity. Out walking in Chester city centre late one night, he saw a ladder, leaning against the wall of a house. He climbed up it and let himself into a bedroom where a young woman lay sleeping. Evidently she had arrived home late after a ball and had left her jewellery scattered all over the dressing table. Higgins quietly pocketed it and then froze. The young woman turned over in bed. Many years later, he said. “Had she awaked I would have had no choice but to murder her.”
But it was not sufficient for him to rob neighbours. Higgins was after much larger fry. Late at night, he would muffle his horse’s hooves and set out along the dark and treacherous Chester Road, holding up coaches. He found his highwaymen activities easier and far more lucrative as travellers at that time would carry a few guineas with them in case of being held up. It saved a lot of unpleasantness!
The Royal George Hotel – at the time a coaching house – served as the base of his operations. It afforded excellent opportunities to size up the quality of valuables being transported. His career was short-lived as his luck began to run out. When he decided to hold up the carriage of wealthy Lady Warburton she recognised him as a man she had seen leaving a ball earlier.
Higgins began to work further from home. He returned from Bristol with hundreds of Spanish dollars which he proceeded to use but the circulation of so much Spanish money in such a confined area arose suspicion, including that of a local gossip to whom Higgins is supposed to have told of a man being robbed in Bristol. The gossip soon became suspicious of the real identity of the robber and word spread.
In 1764, Higgins robbed a house in Gloucester and was traced back to his home in Knutsford. Police came to arrest him but naively gave him leave to go upstairs to pack a few things. Needless to say, the ever-resourceful Higgins saw his chance and escaped. The police did not recapture him. He got word to his wife to sell the house and join him – ironically instructing her not to lose the board that hung over the dining room fireplace. On it, in gold letters, were painted the words, ‘Do Not Steal’.
Now reborn as Edward Hickson, Higgins and his family set up home in French Hay, Bristol where, yet again, he lived as a gentleman. Then, in 1767, his career ended abruptly when he was seen by two butchers breaking into a house in Carmarthen, Wales. Caught with valuable items from the house, he was arrested and this time could not escape. Not that he didn’t keep trying to evade conviction and imprisonment. He was identified as escaped prisoner Edward Higgins but handed over a fake pardon he alleged to have been granted;. When the authorities exposed the paper as a forgery, his fate was sealed and he was sentenced to death. He begged for compassion for his ‘poor disconsolate widow and fatherless infants,’ insisting they knew nothing of his crimes.
Higgins was hanged at Carmarthen on 7th November 1767, but his story does not end there.
The sound of muffled hooves and the sight of him riding his horse through the streets of Knutsford have been reported by a number of people. Other have recorded sightings of him searching for a likely coach to hold up and, late at night, a phantom coach has been seen and heard moving outside the Royal George Hotel. This is also said to be Higgins. For a ghost, he is pretty busy.
In Damned by the Ancients, Quintilllus doesn’t have to travel far to find his victims. They are already there.
charismatic archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. Only too late does
she realize his true designs on her. He is obsessed with resurrecting
Cleopatra and has retained the famed artist Gustav Klimt to render
Gabriele as the Queen of the Nile, using ashes from Cleopatra’s
mummy mixed with the paint. The result is a lifelike portrait
emitting an aura of unholy evil . . .
Dürnstein. In its basement they find an original Klimt masterpiece—a
portrait of Cleopatra art scholars never knew existed. But that’s
not all that resides within the villa’s vault. Nine-year-old Heidi
Mortimer tells her parents that a strange man lives there.
rest until he has brought her back from the netherworld. Even if he
has to sacrifice the soul of a child . . .
Quintillus, on the archeological dig to uncover Cleopatra’s tomb.
Her presence is required for a ceremony conducted by the renowned
professor to resurrect Cleopatra’s spirit—inside Lizzie’s body.
Quintillus’s success is short-lived, as the Queen of the Nile dies
soon after inhabiting her host, leaving Lizzie’s soul adrift . . .
owned by Dr. Quintillus. Within the mansion are several paintings and
numerous volumes dedicated to Cleopatra. But the archeologist’s
interest in the Egyptian empress deviated from scholarly into
supernatural, infusing the very foundations of his home with his dark
fanaticism. And as inexplicable manifestations rattle Paula’s
senses, threatening her very sanity, she uncovers the link between
the villa, Quintillus, and a woman named Lizzie Charters.
Eminent archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber
of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of
the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred
and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and
flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert
sands . . .
Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr.
Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the
pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman
convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within
the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena:
strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of
Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry.
Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy . . .
Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of
paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short
stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror
Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which was
featured in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows.
Cat’s novels include The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine,
and Dark Avenging Angel. She lives with her
long-suffering husband and black (trainee) cat. They divide their
time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.
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