by Julius Falconer
‘With fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed.’
Percy Bysshe SHELLEY
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty lines 51-52
Nothing was established from the early facts, although these were reconstituted in finest detail, except that the discovery made by the owners of the Hounslow Heath was difficult to explain. That Sunday – 2 August 1964 – it had started to rain heavily in the afternoon, and it was still raining. There were a number of boats in the pound above lock 38: two narrow-boats going down-stream, a cruiser and a wooden barge-cum-butty going upstream. A little after nine-thirty, as night was closing in under a leaden sky, a metal barge announced its arrival and entered the pound. The lock-keeper was none too helpful, as he had relatives visiting. With a wagging of his index-finger, he indicated that he would not open the gates. He had hardly gone back indoors when the skipper, whom he knew, knocked on his window.‘Can we go through?’ he shouted. ‘I’m anxious to get to Worcester by tomorrow morning.’
‘You can if you like, but you’ll have to operate the gates yourself.’
The rain was getting heavier and heavier. From his window, the lock-keeper saw the skipper’s stocky silhouette as he went heavily from one gate to the other, tying a rope to the bollards and checking the water levels. The barge sank gradually below the walls. His wife was at the rudder, a large woman with bottle-blond hair and a shrill voice.
The customers in the pub were few – not surprisingly in view of the weather. The rain fell steadily, but inside was cosy enough, even without a fire. By eleven, the little settlement was quiet. The lock-keeper accompanied his relatives as far as Lower Gumbolds Lane – a matter of a few hundred yards - and saw, in so far as one could see anything in the steady rain, nothing unusual. On his way back, passing in front of the pub, he looked in through the open window and was hailed by one of the only two remaining customers.
‘Come on in: have a night-cap on us,’ the customer shouted – it was Cedric Kavanagh. ‘You’re wet through.’
He went in and accepted a rum, which he drank standing at the bar, with a nod of thanks to his benefactor. The Kavanaghs left the pub with him, not exactly tipsy but with enough drink inside them to ensure a sound sleep.
By seven in the morning, some people were already stirring. The Daisy Bell betrayed noises of life within. Then, with a spluttering of the engine, it was off. The publican was also astir, and he too heard the noises that accompanied the departure of the Daisy Bell. Not much time elapsed before the owners of the Hounslow Heath made their discovery. There, under the trees growing on the bank next to their narrow-boat, was the body of a woman.