NextPrevious



Chapter Twenty-Three

I am followed



There are those moments when all I wish to do is sleep, yet I cannot, for I have spent too active a night and my emotions are as flammable as touchwood. This was one such occasion. I resigned myself to spending the day dealing with Mother Shadbolt’s domestic vexations. Immediately, I checked the stock of candles, indicated the need for fresh meat, and supervised the maid as she cleaned the grates. I thought this might allay any anxieties Mother Shadbolt might have about the disappearance of John Bradley. Certainly, it helped to soothe mine. 

I was stupid. Of course Mother Shadbolt knew exactly what had happened, but she, being as discreet as I about these matters (and a cussed individual at the best of times), chose not to say anything until she could snatch ten minutes for herself. At which point, she called for me and shut the door to her room so that we might be private.

“News is you have been busy,” she said. She sat in her damask-upholstered chair and curled a hand over the worn cover of her Bible. I wondered if she really believed it would aid her passage to Heaven. Was she not destined for hell like the rest of us?

“There is nothing to report that you don’t already know,” I replied.

“The body is found. John Bradley is taken away. Jack Sprue, too.”

“They will return,” I said.

“But if they do not? Will you give yourself up?”

“I did not do anything.” But that was not true was it? I had done and said much since the fateful morning I had discovered the dead man. 

“Hmm, matters seem to have come to a head. I should have put you away to Islington like Mr. Mendoza wanted, but no… I allowed you to finesse me into letting you stay.”

I clenched my teeth. My God, but she made me angry sometimes.

“I assume we have Mr. Craddock to thank for remaining untouched,” Mother Shadbolt went on. 

She gave me a pointed look. If, just like Sprue, she had known all along that I was married to Craddock, why had she never said anything? What gossip had she heard? Did the girls know? Did Daisy know? 

“And what of this damned child?” she said, I thought more tenderly. What a fool I had been. To think I could hide such a thing from Mother Shadbolt.

“I… I wish to keep it.” 

Yes, I had told Lord Appleby there was no child, but this only because I had not been ready to admit to my condition. No, some good must come from this nightmare. Perhaps Mother Shadbolt was right to wish me gone from Covent Garden. Perhaps I could make a new start elsewhere, though when all the facts were known it would look as if I was the guilty party. Oh, what confusion. 

Mother Shadbolt gave me a brittle smile. 

“You will not keep it. You will take yourself to the apothecary and purchase something for your disorder.” 

She reached inside a box on a table at her side, drew forth several coins and offered them to me.

“If I refuse?” I said. She called my child a ‘disorder’. What an unkind heart she had.

“Then I care not where you go, but wherever it is, remember that you still owe me money and you can be sure I will send someone for it.” 

Her face was stern. My situation was hopeless. Life had become unbearable. I could expect no help from my so-called husband. I did not know who the father of the child was and Westman’s words about it being the spawn of the Devil still rang in my ears. I held out my hand. Mother Shadbolt dropped the coins into my palm.

“Be careful to make sure you follow the instructions. You must not lose a day’s work.”

“No Mother,” I mumbled.

I hid the money in my pocket, curtsied, and thanked her for her kindness, though in truth, she had not been so very kind at all. I went to my room, changed my clothes, washed my face and hands, and combed out my hair. It was a little past eleven o’clock. The noon-day trade would begin soon. 

I supposed I ought to do as Mother Shadbolt said. Come the following day, my blood would flow. I would not lose work. Menstruation has never been a particular deterrent for some men. I say ‘ought’ because I had no intention of ridding myself of the poor babe. That said, I did not yet know how to deal with the situation. I was joined outside our house by Daisy. I made a play of going to the apothecary, just in case Mother Shadbolt should quiz Daisy about it later. My dear friend skipped beside me all the way. 

“You must tell me about the masquerade and the Lord. Oh, but I saw his carriage when you returned,” she said.

“You were awake?” I said.

“I had just said goodbye to someone.” Momentarily, she looked sad. Perhaps she had been ill used.

“Did he hurt you?” I asked.

“No, nothing like that.”

“What then? Mother Shadbolt is pleased with you, is she not?” 

I stepped over a pile of turnips that had fallen from a cart.

“I suppose.”

“Then all is well.”

We stopped outside the apothecary. I had to find a way to get rid of Daisy, or be forced inside to buy the accursed herbs. Perhaps I ought to tell her I wished to keep the child.

“You cannot do it,” Daisy said, as if reading my mind.

“It is nothing,” I replied. I hesitated. She was such a dear friend. It seemed wrong to keep my secret from her. I glanced at the door to the apothecary and then away again. 

“I have done it before,” I said, somewhat absentmindedly.

Daisy squeezed my hand and gave me a knowing look. She had guessed my intention. She would say nothing. She did not even ask me to explain. Instead, she turned from me and picked her way across the Garden, back to our house. When I was sure she was gone, I observed the stalls and the piazzas, the shops and the inns, the Church and the thoroughfare, and I disappeared into a throng of people heading for Long Acre. I would not visit the apothecary today. Not for the purpose of ridding myself of a child, at any rate.

I could not go back to Mother Shadbolt’s immediately. She would watch until I had taken the herbs. Whilst I was not averse to plying my trade, I needed to recoup my energy first. I could not go to Lord Appleby’s house. It was too soon after saying goodbye. I did not wish to spend the afternoon in an inn because then I would drink and be in no fit state to work in the evening. I could have gone to the Church. I was sure the Reverend Bullock would not mind me resting awhile, but I did not. Instead, I went back to Craddock’s lodging house. It was not a choice I made lightly, but I knew he would not return until the evening. None would find me there and I would be safe for a while at least. I had no idea what I would tell Mother Shadbolt, on my return. I let myself in, made the fire and sat down to rest. As my feet warmed, the cares of the world began to drop from my shoulders and my eyelids grew heavy. I was soon sound asleep. A commotion in the street woke me. I could not say how much time had passed. It was dark. Just a few reddened coals remained glowing in the grate. Mother Shadbolt would be wondering where I was, but I would say the apothecary made me up the herbs and told me to drink them down there and then. As I was not feeling well, I took respite in a coffee shop and lost track of the time. I would apologise and work twice as hard. Mother Shadbolt’s bark was often worse than her bite, though I did not care to test her. In the few months I had before the child slowed my progress, I would make enquiries about a place in the country. Perhaps I would go home to Norfolk. That is, if I could save myself from the gallows. 

The gallows! The thought sent my hands to my neck. Perhaps I would die long before the child was due. If so, then the problem was solved. 

With a heavy heart, I let myself out of Craddock’s lodging. An icy cold greeted me on the street. I had gone no more than a few feet when I realised I was not alone. Someone followed me. There were plenty of people abroad. The houses and shops were well lit. I glanced over my shoulder. No, there was no one there. I continued on my way, but again, I sensed a presence. This time I took cover in a shop doorway and watched the trade pass me by. It was a little past five-thirty. The sky had cleared and lazy lines of smoke from the city’s many fireplaces drifted aloft. My breath was visible in the frosty air. I could not wait for long. I would surely freeze to death. I was about to step out of my hiding place when I spied my nemesis: William Westman.

He stood in a doorway opposite me. He did not look in my direction, but I knew he watched me all the same. I stepped back into the welcome arms of darkness. It was then that Westman stared straight at me. Even from across the street, with the night drawing in and little by way of illumination, he saw me and I, him. It was as if I was naked before him. I was powerless to escape. I breathed. I waited. I watched. I prayed.

He stepped out - a dark figure, but recognisable all the same. My heart leapt in trepidation. He was no more than ten paces away when a carriage passed and prevented his progress. I took the opportunity to slip from my hiding place. I heard footsteps, but dared not turn round. It was as if I ran from the Devil. I could not turn to look on him for fear of his terrible visage. I rounded a corner and then another. I knocked an old woman aside. She shouted at me, but I did not stop to apologise. I ran until I reached Russell Street. Covent Garden lay before me. I avoided a sedan chair, pushed past a throng of revellers, and bumped up against a cart of potatoes. They rolled across my path. I danced around them. He was close. I could feel him. His presence was all-pervading. There was no rhyme or reason to my fear. I knew I just had to get away from him. I banged the door to our house, but could not wait for it to open. I ran into Bradley’s gin shop (thank God he was returned to us) and through our back entrance, shutting the door tight against all comers. A knock came on the front door. I stifled a scream and took myself upstairs. Here I bolted my door and prayed Westman would not gain entry. A terrible and most fearful anxiety came upon me. How could I entertain when the Devil waited outside to murder me? Who was this man that he could wage war on a woman’s sensibilities in this manner?

I paced. I peeped between my drapes at the street below. I paced some more, all the time wringing my hands and tearing at my hair. Gradually, my breathing calmed and my heart returned to its normal rhythm. I lit a fire in the grate. It would not burn for long, there being nothing but kindling in the scuttle. I sat before it and told myself all would be well. I would be strong. I would master my emotions. I had a new life in my belly and plans to make for its future. Somehow I would extricate myself from this predicament. Westman may have followed me to our house and he may be waiting for me downstairs, but there would be others in attendance; my sisters and Mother Shadbolt, not to mention sundry gentlemen. 

The Church clock chimed seven. It was later than I thought. I washed, changed my petticoats and stays, dressed my hair and painted my face. ‘Tis true, I feared Westman’s presence, but I could not hide myself all night. Mother Shadbolt would expect me to put in an appearance. She would chastise me, of that I had no doubt. I had surely tested her patience to the limit. I replaced my fear with counterfeit confidence and descended to the dining room.

A number of gentlemen callers sat around the table. I was pleased to note that Westman was not amongst them.  Priss sat in one cully’s lap, Lizzie in another’s. Constance and Mary danced as a couple. They were stripped to the waist, but were not in the least embarrassed by their state; nakedness holds no terrors for a whore. A macaroni wearing a very fashionable jacket and a high-combed wig watched them with obvious enjoyment, judging by the size of his tumescence. Our three new misses acted as maids. They giggled and flirted with the company in a most provocative manner. I was pleased with their appearance. They were good girls and, doubtless, would do very well for the house.

“Where is Daisy?” I hissed at Priss. She raised her eyebrows and gave me a haughty look. Her cully kissed her cheek and touched the dusky skin on her neck.

Mother Shadbolt sat in the corner observing all with a cynical eye. She nodded for me to join the revels. I sat next to a man whose back was to me. When he turned, I gave out a gasp. 

“Captain Somerville!”

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