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Chapter Seventeen

I am called to give testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest



By the cold light of Monday morning I was summonsed to appear before the Coroner, Thomas Pritchard and fourteen good men, at The Unicorn Tavern, which is on the corner of Henrietta Street and Covent Garden. It is quite usual for the coroner’s court to meet in the closest place to a death, where people may gather in number. Would that I had not offered my testimony, but it was too late to recant. I had nothing to hide, but I was still anxious. I did not know the gentleman so recently found dead in the Church, but I wanted to find out if Westman had caused this man’s death, or if it was a simple matter of coincidence. I played a dangerous game. 

I had not visited The Unicorn in a while and had quite forgotten how welcoming a place it was, with its dark wood panelling, polished tables, and roaring fire in the grate. The sky was cloud-covered and threatened snow. The landlord had lit the candles and provided all gathered with ale and fine vitals. 

After the jury was sworn in, Doctor William Leake, the Surgeon, gave his statement. He claimed that, at a little after eleven-thirty, the Church Warden visited and requested his immediate attendance. He had recently left the bedside of Mrs. Harwood, an elderly lady stricken with the bloody flux. He had been there most of the night and wanted to go home, so was little pleased when asked to make a detour to view a corpse. 

“And in your learned opinion, how did the man die?” asked the Coroner.

“You understand,” said Dr. Leake. “I had to work under duress. Your man, Refugean, wished to remove the body to the bone-house because, I believe, a wedding was to take place later that day.”

“Yes, yes. Continue.” The Coroner was annoyed. He waved his hand at the Doctor, who peered at his notes through his eye glasses and then looked out over the top of them at the gathered crowd.

“He had a penetrating injury just below the ribs. He had bled quite profusely into his clothing, yet this was not noticeable until I stripped him to his shirt. He had marks about his person… old wounds now scarred. I’d say probably from sword-fighting, but they did not play any part in his demise.”

“It was the knife wound that caused his death? That is what you are saying?” said the Coroner.

“Not exactly Sir. I believe he took some time to die.”

“But he was stabbed in the Church?”

“I do not see how. A service was underway. It is true that The Reverend said the gentleman was already seated when the congregation arrived.”

“Yes. I will come to the Reverend Bullock in due course. Continue.”

“I cannot say when or where he died. He was not cold. He had not achieved full rigour. It is likely he had sought refuge in the Church, perhaps because he knew he was dying and wished to offer himself to God.”

“Hmm. Conjecture. We must stick to the facts,” mumbled the Coroner. “Thank you. Our next witness?”

The good Revered Bullock stood… And so it went on. One witness after another. My attention was drawn to the window. It started to snow. I watched in a daydream as the world outside turned white. 

I was ten years old and the fields beyond my childhood home were covered with snow. My sister and I played outside all morning until our feet were frozen and our noses cherry red. Father had been to market and we saw him coming up the lane to the house. We chased towards him, sending showers of powdery snow up into the cold air. He held us close and called us ‘his big girls’. A year later he fell ill and died. My mother struggled to keep the farm. She hired men to run it for her, but they emptied the coffers and left her destitute. That was the last winter I was truly happy.

“Miss Ives?” Are you with us?” The Coroner called. I started. I had been lost in my own thoughts.

“Yes Sir. I am here.” I stood up.

“You are Miss Kitty Ives of Eleven Russell Street?” The Coroner said.

I put my hand on the Bible, proffered to me by the foreman and spoke thus, “I am. I swear by Almighty God that I will tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. So help me God.”

“Please tell this court what you know of this gentleman’s death.”

“I know very little other than what I saw when I re-entered the Church.”

“You re-entered? You mean you were not present during the entirety of the service?”

“No Sir. I was taken ill. I removed myself to get some air. When I came back the deceased was surrounded by others. I could not tell if I knew him or not, so I waited until everyone had left and spoke with the Reverend Bullock afterwards.”

“Why did you do this?”

My goodness, did he know nothing of my profession?

“I… We meet many men in the course of our business.” A murmur went up. I ignored it. “I thought perhaps it might help if I could identify him.” 

There came another murmur. I felt the need make myself clear. 

“His family would be terribly worried about him when he did not return to them.”

“And you knew him?”

“No Sir. I had never seen him before.”

“Go on.”

“That is all there is to say, save that I searched his clothing for documents that might give a clue to his identity.”

The Coroner raised his eyebrows at this. “You did?”

“Certainly.” I would not make the mistake of misidentification a second time. 

“And what pray tell, did you find?”

I gazed on the assembled gentlemen before I replied. I had not listened when The Reverend had given his statement. I had been in the midst of my dream of home. I had no idea if he had told of the document we found. As a man of the cloth he was unlikely to lie or withhold information. Yet if I did tell, then I would have to be careful; it would be bad for me if Coroner determined that the death was worthy of further investigation. 

“It was a note from a gambling house in Exeter Street,” I said. “There was nothing of any other use, save he wore a signet ring upon his finger.”

“A ring, you say?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do we have this item?” He looked about.

“No sir,” mumbled a Clerk.

“Why not?” boomed the Coroner.

“It appears lost,” replied the Clerk.

“Lost?” said the Coroner. 

He gazed up at me and for a moment I thought he would accuse me of having stolen the item. I held my breath. He continued.

“So, it is as we have learned.” he said. “He was a gambling man. Well, there are plenty of those hereabouts.”  The Coroner and jury laughed in unison. 

I made a soft tour of the small room with my eyes. People had crammed in to listen to the proceedings. They would take the pronouncements and turn it into gossip and rumour. I thought I spied a face I had rather not see again. Was that Westman? Did he lurk in the shadows? Was he here to spy on me? The Coroner knocked his gavel on the table top. 

“Miss Ives,” bellowed the Coroner. I turned to him. “Your attention please.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Did you see anything more this Court should know about? A suspicious character? Someone who should not have been there perhaps?”

I glanced across the room. The man had gone.

“No Sir. It is a Church. Any might visit.”

“This is so, but this would be a man carrying a knife, or covered in blood perhaps?”

The crowd murmured.

“No Sir. No one like that,” I said. I could not tell him about Westman. I could not tell anyone. To do so might bring suspicion onto me for the earlier crime. I had already compromised myself by telling all to Craddock. It would not look right for him if I muddied the waters with Westman’s name.

“Thank you. You are to be commended, Miss Ives, in coming forward in this way, particularly as you are… well, we know what kind of a woman you are.” 

The Coroner waved me away. I thanked the Court and sat down. In an instant the attention of all assembled left me and fell on the Coroner. All that remained was the verdict. The jury consulted each other and decided they did not need time elsewhere to discuss at length. They were in agreement; they had no perpetrator, therefore the matter was simple. The Coroner bent his head towards the foreman, who muttered under his breath. Then the good Mr. Thomas Prichard, Coroner for the county of Middlesex and Westminster, straightened in his seat, adjusted his eyeglasses and peered at the assembly.

“It is the decision of this Court that on the nineteenth day of February 1769, a person unknown was found dead at the Church of St Paul’s Covent Garden.  Marks of violence were found on his body, being one stab wound. How, or by what means, he came to be injured thus, no evidence thereof appears to the Jurors. Have the body sent for dissection to...” He leaned over to ask something of the clerk. “Send the body for dissection to Dr. William Leake’s establishment. Dismissed.”

He banged his gavel and the proceedings came to an end. I waited while the Jurors ordered more ale, watched the Coroner make his way out of the room and noted that the Reverend Bullock was nowhere to be seen. It was over. The poor dead man had no name and would suffer a final ignominy at the hands of the dissectors.  I had done my duty and no one was any the wiser about the earlier crime. I took myself out of there.

The snow had settled on the cobbles and covered the ruts. I could not see whether I stepped on refuse or solid ground. I pulled my cloak tight and made out across the Garden. I had not gone more than a few steps when I felt a hand grip my arm. 

“What of this man murdered in the Church?” Craddock pressed his face close to mine. I could see the veins standing proud at his temple.

“I told the Coroner. I did not know him.” Craddock suspected otherwise or he would not have come upon me thus.

“Not like you to deliberately put yourself in the path of the law,” he said.

“Tis not like you to accost me in full view of everyone else.” I threw a glance behind to the doorway of The Unicorn. No one there would come to my aid. I thought of Lord Appleby. Perhaps he might, but he was not to be found in Covent Garden this morning. He would be at his Cavendish Square home, or perhaps visiting Church with his daughter Selina. 

“Are you keeping something from me?” said Craddock.

“There are many things I keep from you.”

Craddock sneered and released me. I continued on my way, but he dogged my footsteps. I wished him gone from this world. Sadly, men such as he have a way of surviving even the most terrible events. 

“It was not him then?” he said.

“Who?” I knew to whom he referred.

“The one you told me about.”

I stopped. Whilst, I was scared of this man, I now felt anger rising inside. What did he mean by assaulting me like this in broad view of all?

“If the man we found in the Church was one and the same as the man in my bed, do you not think he would have been all putrefaction?” 

I continued on my way, this time with purpose. God, but I would find a way to rid myself of Craddock if it be the last thing I do on this Earth.

“Convenient you being there though, wasn’t’ it?” said Craddock.

“It was most inconvenient. Do you wish for anything in particular? Or are you here simply to cause vexation?”

“Come to me tonight.”

I stopped again. 

“I cannot,” I said with exasperation. “I must earn my keep. You do not give me money. You do not give me anything but a hard time.”

“I give you your freedom,” he said. He screwed his face up in anger. 

“If you truly wish to give me my freedom then you will stop bothering me.”

“Your life is in my hands Kitty. It can get worse for you. Much worse.”

I turned away from him. He was an evil man pretending to occasional kindness. It would always be like this unless… I could do away with him… but I could not do that. I could not take a life. Oh, what misfortune. I needed a protector; someone with money and power. Lord Appleby perhaps? No, our relationship was in its infancy. I could not rely on his assistance. If I found myself in Newgate like as not he would abandon me. Life is ever unkind to unfortunate souls like me.

I crossed between the stalls and narrowly avoided being hit by a sedan chair. I reached our corner to find John Bradley sweeping the portico clear of slush. I looked out over the Garden, but could not see Craddock. He had slipped back into the slime from whence he came. Good riddance to him, I thought. Good riddance.

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