NextPrevious



Chapter Fourteen

Something of my young apprentices and the mysterious Mr. Westman



Matters have a habit of returning to a state of equilibrium, once the heavy burdens we each carry are resolved in one way or another. So was life in Mother Shadbolt’s nunnery. No one came for me. No one asked after the mysterious murdered gentleman. Indeed, it was as if the whole affair had never happened. I took over the training of our young acolytes, who until now had been servants to the older sisters, and put all thought of the dead man and his mysterious shadow-self to the back of my mind. 

Mother Shadbolt provided a new mattress and sent me for a dress fitting. She lavished so much attention on me, I wondered what I had done to deserve her kindness. Of course, I should have known she was merely safeguarding her investment and creating even further debt on my part, for each must pay for the items provided by the house. Mother Shadbolt had wanted to send me away, but after I persuaded her of the folly of this action, she kept me ever close to her and trusted me with more and more tasks, which ordinarily she would have taken for herself.

Thus, I was distracted by daily life and the antics of my young charges. Charlotte was seventeen and had come to us via the auspices of Mr. Mendoza, who told he had rescued her from the clutches of a washer woman, who apprenticed young girls to do her bidding and kept them locked up at night in the cellar. Carolina did not know her age, but I guessed her to be much the same as, or perhaps a little older than, Charlotte. I know not of Carolina’s past. She simply appeared one day at the kitchen door. Deaf Tom took a liking to her and said she could stay to serve Mother Shadbolt her afternoon tea. Mother Shadbolt did no more than take one look, before declaring that she was a very fine, strong girl and she could have a home if she worked hard and did as she was told. 

My final charge, Annie, arrived in the city on the coach from Hertford. She had a few pennies in her pocket and a letter of introduction to a fine house in Holborn. She thought she was to obtain work as a maid, but Mother Shadbolt intercepted her destination and persuaded her that life as a drudge was not for her - Annie being a pretty little thing and innocent of the ways of the world. Annie agreed that she would far rather be dressed in finery and attend masquerades than scrub floors and serve at table. Of course, for two years, Annie has done just that, yet she has been surrounded by the constant excitement of visitors and has been promised that she too will join our ranks, if she is a good girl and completes her study of etiquette to our satisfaction.

So it was that I had high hopes for all three of my girls. I accompanied them to the dance instructor, to the singing tutor, and to lessons on deportment and etiquette - as well as to the milliner, to the dress maker, and to the shop of Mrs. Chewle in Maiden Lane where we buy supplies for our particular trade.

There are few matters more delicate than servicing the needs of the gentlemen who visit our establishment. In order to provide safe copulation (though to little effect, I hasten to add) and to provide for our client’s every delight, Mrs. Chewle sells the accoutrements of sex. In short she can supply cundums of sheep’s intestines, tied up with silk ribbons, birch sticks, paddles, restraints, and all manner and variety of implements for the giving and receiving of pleasure.

One of my first tasks in preparing our young sisters for the world into which they now entered, was to visit Mrs. Chewle and introduce them to the products. Of course, this was not without some titillation and much giggling on their part, particularly when Charlotte found what can only be described as a ‘mother’s comforter’. It was a full ten inches in length, carved from the finest of wood and burnished deep brown. I told Charlotte she would have little need of it once she started seeing cullies on a regular basis. She made a rude gesture with it, as if to mimic copulation.

“Sex is a serious matter, particularly in Mother Shadbolt’s house. You would do well to remember it.”

All three girls said: “Yes Miss Kitty,” in unison.

I then placed an order for three dozen cundums and Mrs. Chewle wrapped them discreetly, to keep them from prying eyes. The parcel was not very heavy and the girls offered to take turns to carry it. As we left the shop (which had no frontage in the usual way, but was hidden behind a very proper house façade), I thought I saw the mysterious man whom Bozzy claimed to be William Westman. That said, I could not be certain and so indicated to the three Venuses-in-waiting to attend as I followed him. 

Westman’s path took him along Tavistock Street and out into Bow Street. We followed discreetly, but it is ever difficult to keep three maidens silent when they believe they are on an adventure; they giggle and squeal at every delight. 

We crossed into York Street. I watched Westman walk crosswise at Bridge’s Street, where I realised he was en-route to his lodging. Safe in this knowledge I dismissed all three girls. True to their nature, they did not want to return home, but I told them that Mother Shadbolt was waiting for the parcel and that it was vitally important she receive it before the lunchtime trade. I told them not to stray, for they surely must know what would come to them if they disobeyed. My pretty misses fixed pouts on their faces and did my bidding in a sulk. I watched them until they reached the corner and then turned back to my quarry. 

I hurried across Bridge’s Street, rounded the corner into the eastern end of Russell Street and thence onto Drury Lane. I looked both ways. The lane was high in filth, the detritus of the previous night having been disposed of into the path of oncoming traffic. I prayed it would rain to clear some of the muck and crossed to the other side. I had lost sight of Westman, but thought nothing of it. I knew where he lodged and I could make up a story about checking on the poor woman I had rescued from the clutches of her violent husband (though at the time, it was she who seemed the more violent). I trusted that Mrs. Trencher would remember me. Failing that, I would pay another visit to the milliner and lay in wait for Westman. I made the assumption that, as I had found the evidence of gambling in his room, he was the lodger at Mrs. Trencher’s and was not the unknown dead man.

As I passed the watchmaker’s shop I slipped on some horse muck and put a hand out to steady myself against the wall, but instead came in contact with a person who did no more than close a gloved hand over my mouth and press a pistol into my back. I was forced into a tumbledown court.

 “I pray you will not scream,” my attacker said. I nodded, the pistol still at my back. “Why are you following me?” he said. He removed his hand.

“I… I am not following you.” The identity of my attacker dawned on me like a thunderbolt from the heavens. William Westman!

“Yes,” he said. “You know who I am, or at least you think you know.”

How to play this game? 

“Sir. You have found me out.”

I felt him withdraw the pistol. I dared to turn around. He was taller than I and wore no wig upon his head, but instead had his hair pulled back into a tail. His tricorn had fallen to the ground. He was handsome of face, with a scar across his left cheek. He had coal black eyes that burned with a fire my intuition told me had been with him since birth. He reached inside his coat and placed the pistol in his belt. 

“I do not like being followed,” he said. He bent down to pick up his tricorn.

“I do not like being threatened with a firearm,” I replied. 

“Then we are in agreement. You don’t follow me. I won’t draw my pistol on you.”

Defiantly, we faced each other. I thought he might wish to know why I followed him, but no, he did not enquire further and, having no wish to anger him, I remained silent. His black eyes undressed me in the most unnerving fashion. He need not lay a hand on me to cause me pain - he reached inside my very soul to seek out my most private thoughts.  

“It is good we have met,” he said, eventually. 

He tipped his tricorn and turned away. I was left all alone in the court.

Close

This is a web preview of the "The Finish: The Progress of a Murder Uncovered" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App