Chapter Twenty-Six

I fall low indeed

Sprue’s dirty hole looked no more inviting by scant daylight than it had when I bargained with him. That occasion seemed an age ago, though it was only the previous day. I lay for a moment, gathering my senses, then I sat up, stretched and scratched my leg. Something had bitten me. I did not doubt Sprue’s bed was crawling with lice. The thought drove me out into the room. I doubled over and ran my fingers through my clothes and hair to shake loose the insects and remnants of sleep both.

I could not stay here. Though I had fallen on hard times, I would not become a beggar. Very well. I would knock Mother Shadbolt’s door, apologise, and trust she would take me back. First though, I needed a coat or some such garment to keep me warm. I could find only an old thing upon the peg. When I put my arms through the sleeves and felt inside the pockets I found a tobacco pouch of such fine leather I knew Sprue must have stolen it. 

It contained three pipes, accoutrements for cleaning, and tobacco. The inside of the flap had been stamped with the initials E.M. Could it have belonged to Elias Monk, the man Captain Somerville had told me about? Certainly these were not Sprue’s initials, nor anyone else’s I knew. Sprue must have taken the item even as Monk’s body cooled atop my bed linen. 

I stuffed the pouch back into the pocket and took myself out into the cold morning. I was glad to see the stallholders in Covent Garden and hear their cheery patter. Bradley’s gin shop had not yet opened, so I had no recourse but to knock the Russell Street door. I waited in the cold; my arms folded, my toes frozen inside my flimsy house shoes. No one answered. I knocked again. A window opened above. I glanced up. Someone thrust out a piss pot and upturned the contents. I narrowly missed being deluged by the stinking mess. I stepped back up to the door and banged again, as hard as I could. 


I backed off and turned back into the Garden. The dull air was sharp and all around were wrapped in layers. The vegetables were shrunken and frozen hard; turnips and parsnips, potatoes and carrots, and cabbages like cannon. A woman drove a flock of geese across my path. Smoke rose in fine threads from the shacks. I had to get out of the cold. I crossed to The Finish. The door was locked. I banged and waited. No one answered. God damn them to hell. After my previous night’s resolution, it pained me, but I had only one recourse - I would ask Craddock to take me in.

I hurried to reach Bow Street. I could no longer feel my toes and my fingers were blue and stiff. I had not brought the key. It was on my table in my room, which was now not my room. It would be given to another. Probably, Priss. 

I knocked the door. No answer came. I shouted Craddock’s name, but there was still no answer; like as not he was already at work. I considered my options – Captain Somerville had recently re-made my acquaintance. I ought to deliver the tobacco pouch to him, but I could not go as a common strumpet fallen on hard times. He might think I had kept information from him. My Lord, but he might think I had killed Elias Monk.

Although I had many admirers and more than a few regular cullies, I could think of no one who would render me assistance to the extent that I now required. If I did not find accommodation soon, I would surely die. I was half frozen, dirty and hungry, but I could not allow myself to descend into total depravity. If I had been sensible I would have taken up Polly’s offer, but I did not wish to involve her in the machinations of my life. 

My only option was to walk to Cavendish Square and throw myself on the mercy of Lord Appleby. He had, after all, offered his assistance. I could only hope he would take me in and allow me time to regain my composure such that I might consider my future. There was the child to think of, after all. 

With a heavy heart I began my long walk. I had only the vaguest idea of where Cavendish Square lay.  I knew it to be in Marybone, where the plague of modernity gives way to fields, but it was not as far as Tyburn where the gallows stand. I do not know how long I walked. I only know I must have appeared like a dead woman to all I encountered. I had only Sprue’s coat to keep me warm, yet an eternal flame of hope burned in my breast and urged me on. I met many an unkind person on that road and I can say with all honesty that I thought I would never reach my destination. When I could go no further I fell against a wall. A weak sun had risen in the pale blue sky and the frost lay thick all around. A link-boy found me. I stared into the child’s eyes and mouthed ‘Cavendish Square’. He pointed down the street. 

“At the end,” he said. His blackened toes poked through the leather of his boots. He must have been as cold, if not colder than I, but he gave no indication that it affected him so. I tried to get up, but could not. The boy helped me. 

“What you want there? They is all swells, they is,” he said.

“Yes, but there is one I seek in particular,” I said. “Perhaps you know which house is his?”

“What’s ‘is nibs called?”

“Lord Appleby,” I muttered. I leaned heavily, on the boy.

“Oh, ‘im.” 

We reached the corner. Here were built fine houses, set about a most commodious garden square. It was a world away from the rookeries of Covent Garden. 

“Come on, a few steps more,” the boy said.

We walked the western side of the square until we reached the Northern corner. Here the boy stopped.

“This one,” he said. He pointed up a flight of stairs to a grand doorway under a portico. “You don’t look well.”

“No,” I muttered. I did not feel well.

“You be careful,” said the boy. “He’s a nob o’ the first order he is. He won’t take kindly to seein’ you on ‘is doorstep. Not without an appointment. You got one o’ those?”

“It will be all right,” I said. “Go.”

I watched as the boy walked back across the square. He was a ragged little urchin, but wise and kind, after a fashion. I knocked the door and sank to my knees. A fog of exhaustion took me. I have no knowledge of how I came to be taken inside.


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