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Chapter Thirty-Seven

I attempt to recover the body of Oliver Westman



I took myself straight away to the Surgeon who had attended the corpse in our Church of St Paul’s Covent Garden. The March morning was as bright as any. The wind was in the East and the sun glanced off the cobbles and slanted between the shacks and across the piles of potatoes, turnips, and swedes. I thought myself lucky to be alive and living in such a city as London, with the bustle of trade and confusion of people. Even so, I was mindful that my continued freedom relied almost entirely on the munificence of Sir John Fielding, who would soon require a report. As yet, I had little to tell, and no idea of the time I had in which to deliver the killer into his hands. The thought of this gave me cause for concern. I had all but ruled out Lord Appleby, for his reaction to the news of his son’s death appeared to come as a complete surprise to him, albeit he had denied such an event. Oh, but how I wished I could speak with the boy’s mother, for I was sure Lady Caroline would have something to say about the matter. A mother should surely be told of her child’s death.

Of course, the person who had told me that the corpse in the Church was Oliver Westman was the Devil Incarnate. I speak, of course, of William Westman, my good Lord’s brother. Thus far, I had no reason to trust him. I glanced behind. Lucius trailed me. I called him to my side. 

“Friends walk side by side,” I said. 

He gave me the briefest of smiles. 

“What can you tell me about Lord Appleby’s brother, William?” I asked, as we made our way to Long Acre.

“It would not be proper to speak about him,” replied Lucius.

“Come now. You must have an opinion. I will not tell his Lordship, if that is what you are worried about.”

“Mr. Westman is as corrupt a gentleman as any I have met,” said Lucius. 

I stopped in my tracks and gazed frankly at Lucius. His face was a mask. I could not tell what play his emotions made beneath it.

“But I like him immensely,” Lucius went on.

“You do?”

Lucius looked about him at the passers-by.

“I came to London a slave… found my freedom and a home. It is as I told you.” He paused. 

“Go on,” I said.

“Lord Appleby is a good man and I am grateful to him, but I wish for a future where I can take me a wife and have children. You treat me like an equal. For all that I am now free, I am not equal.”

I gave a little laugh. “The aristocracy considers no one to be equal with them. They set themselves above everyone. You are a servant. There is nothing more to it than that.”

“Mr. Westman has promised he will allow me to set up in…” He stopped himself from saying more.

“Set up in what? Business? Is that what you say?”

Lucius nodded and muttered ‘yes’.

“What sort of business and why would he do that?”

“I desire to own a coffee shop. It is a good profession and a person can make much money. Mr. Westman said that when he comes into his inheritance he will give me an allowance for premises.” 

“When he comes into his inheritance, but he has no inheritance. He is the second son… a half-brother at that. Lord Appleby has heirs.”

“Oliver is dead.”

“We have yet to prove it. He has his daughter, Selina.” I considered. “She will not inherit while her uncle lives. So in that respect, I suppose, yes, he has an inheritance. It will be land and ancient properties the family may not sell.”

“Quite,” said Lucius.

We arrived at Doctor William Leake’s narrow house. 

“If Mr. Westman is as corrupt as you say, then can we really trust him, Lucius? Can we?”

“I trust Lord Appleby. He gave me my freedom. Mr. Westman is corrupt, but I must trust him. He wishes me to have a future beyond that of a servant. For all their faults, they are good men at heart.”

I gazed long at Lucius. I hoped he was right, but I feared not.

“You understand my predicament?” I said. “I earn my living the hard way. I think you know something of this?”

He inclined his head.

“Whether I trust either Lord Appleby or his brother, I think I can trust you.”

Lucius said nothing but drew in his breath and stood steadfast before me. 

“Men take advantage of me and think me stupid.” I said. “I am not. I want to know who killed the man found dead in my bed, and I want to know whether this corpse we come to see is that of Oliver Westman. If it is, then we must seek out the murderer. I saw your Mr. Westman with my own eyes, in the Church the day that murder occurred, and it was he who delivered the first man into our hands. He has said as much to me. He denies anything to do with either death, yet it is he who will benefit should Lord Appleby also die.” 

I stopped at this dreadful thought. A dog tore down the street after another. A woman shouted abuse after them. A piss-pot was emptied from the first floor window of the house opposite us. 

“Come. Let’s get this over with,” I said. 

I turned to Doctor Leake’s front door. A plaque on the wall announced that he was both ‘Surgeon and Anatomist’. I had never had cause to use his services, but knew that, with my letter from Lord Appleby in hand and my good servant Lucius at my side, I would be viewed as a lady and not as a whore come to absolve myself of the contents of my belly. (Which situation was now resolved.)

A maid answered the door and I gave my name and asked to see the Doctor forthwith. She put on airs and looked down her nose, but I ushered Lucius forward and when she saw him she consented to let us across the threshold. It comes to something when a black servant gains entry where a whore may not. We were shown into a small parlour that looked out onto the street. I thought it less than commodious and wondered at Doctor Leake’s income. I inspected the picture on the wall, which was of a horse and rider, and generally sported myself as a lady of some means come to visit on matters of importance. It was, of course, all bluster, for the lady of the house discerned my true nature at once, as had the maid. My hope of being taken for a lady was thus, dashed in an instant.

“How may I be of service?” Mistress Leake said, disdainfully. She was a small woman in her middle years, with a whitened face and powdered hair. 

 “I have business with your husband,” I said. I flashed the letter before her.

She held out her hand. I did not like her manner one bit. 

“He is teaching and may not be interrupted,” she said. 

“Teaching?”

“Yes. Anatomy.” She threw back a glance into the interior of the property.

“Here?” I glanced at Lucius. 


“Yes, in our schoolroom. But what has it…” 

I pushed past her and encountered the maid in the hall.

“Where is the schoolroom?” I asked.

“Erm… out there.” She pointed through the room at the end of the hall, where I spied a door leading to the yard.

“You may not interrupt him,” said the Doctor’s wife. 

She hurried to follow me. I was fortunate in having Lucius with me. He made no attempt to come after us and remained instead, in the parlour. Mistress Leake, concerned, I suppose, that Lucius might purloin her possessions while she was absent, returned to watch over him. I could only guess at the uneasy silence that might pass between them, for by that time I had crossed the small yard, entered the schoolroom (which was no more than an outhouse set against the back wall) and encountered a dissection. It was, if nothing else, a distracting sight. Not to mention the smell. 

Four young men turned to the door in unison. Doctor Leake, scalpel in hand, his eyeglasses perched on the end of his nose, peered at me through the gloom. The corpse’s belly was ripped and the flesh laid open like the covers of a book. I searched for my handkerchief.

“Madam?” he said. “To what do we owe this interruption?”

I proffered the letter. The Doctor handed his scalpel to the nearest student and took the letter from me. His hands were bloody. I shuddered.

 “Sir, it is a request from Lord Appleby. It is with regard to a body you attended some time ago in the St. Paul’s Church.” 

I stifled a cough. The students, all virile young men in the peak of health looked me up and down. I fluttered my eyelashes. I was ever mindful of business. 

The Doctor turned the letter over, but did not open it. 

“Which body? I see a great many bodies.”

“Yes. This was a young man who was found dead in most unfortunate circumstances. He had been stabbed in our Church, here in Covent Garden. You will remember, I gave testimony at the inquest.”

“Ah. The harlot.” 

Doctor Leake glanced at his students. For a moment I thought he would dismiss me, but after due consideration, he opened the letter and read its contents. I became acutely aware of the students’ continued interest in me.

“I cannot help you,” the Doctor said. 

He handed the letter to one of the students and took up his scalpel.

“You can’t? I felt sure…” I stepped forward. 

The corpse revolved beneath my gaze. I stepped back again, hurriedly. A titter went up amongst the students. Doctor Leake silenced them with a stern look.

“I cannot help you because he was dissected and buried in a pit of lime in my yard.”

“Is there nothing left of him?” I asked, faintly.

“Possibly, a few bones,” he replied.

I was astounded by his admission and said nothing. What kind of a man simply dissected a corpse without making enquiry as to whether he had a family?

“You found identifying marks on his flesh?” I said. 

Oliver had been a gambler, a rogue, a rake-about-town. No one had come forward at the inquest, that was true, but it did not mean he was unidentifiable. Then again, how long should one keep a body in the vain hope that a relative might claim it? It would putrefy and stink and…

The doctor’s eyes glazed over. “Ah… yes, he had a small red birthmark on his right shoulder, if I remember rightly.”

“Thank you.” 

I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat, took one last look at the amused faces of the Doctor’s students, dipped a curtsey and retreated into the yard. Like as not, he was buried with other poor souls whose bodies had been similarly treated. There would be no Christian burial for poor Oliver Westman. Not unless Lord Appleby wished to have Doctor Leake’s yard dug up. I thought it possible it may yet come to that, but I would not proffer this course of action as a solution to the mystery of Oliver’s whereabouts. Perhaps it would be better if Oliver were considered missing and not dead at all. If so, then no gain would be had by murdering Lord Appleby, and his brother might yet be innocent. One cannot lay claim to an inheritance if you cannot prove the death. Then again, if Lord Appleby had killed his son… but no… it could not be. The mystery confounded me.

I returned inside. Mistress Leake sat in her parlour like a Queen guarding her precious jewels (of which she had none), while Lucius stood, ever to attention. I offered a nod to say we had completed our business. I ignored the lady of the house and bustled through the hall to the street door. As we exited I spied Jim Craddock across the street. His gimlet eyes never left me. I bade Lucius return to our house alone.

“But I must remain by your side at all times,” he said.

“Oh for goodness sake,” I said. “Can you not allow a lady to visit with her dressmaker alone? Or would you have me undress before you?” I pointed to the dressmaker’s shop, a few doors down. As I did so, I winked at Lucius and inclined my head slightly towards Craddock. Lucius caught my meaning instantly.

“What is this man to you?” he said. “He came for you at Cavendish Square.”

“You know who he is. He’s a Bow Street Runner. Tell no one I am meeting with him. You understand? Can I trust you in this matter?”

“I will tell no one.” Lucius bowed and backed away. 

“I will be no more than half an hour,” I said in a loud voice. 

I pushed open the dressmaker’s door. Two ladies jumped up to attend me, but I fended them off and watched through the window. Craddock stepped out from his place and crossed the street.

 “May we be of assistance?” said one of the women. I gave her a terse smile. 

“Do you have a rear entrance?” I said.

They looked from one to the other and pointed in unison to the darkened interior of their shop. I gave thanks. The shop gave onto a small parlour and scullery. The rear door opened into a similar yard to that of Doctor Leake. Here though, instead of a schoolroom, there was a privy and a gate into an alley. I opened the gate slowly and peered through. Craddock clutched me by the arm and turned me back into the yard.

“If you think…” I said.

He put his hand over my mouth and pressed me against the wall.

“Do not speak. Listen,” he said. “You were seen with that bastard who brought you from America. The one I paid off.”

I squirmed. He pressed his hand in firmer. I tasted his dirty flesh. 

“What did he want with you?” 

I could not speak. He would not let me. Noticing my difficulty, he released his hold, but still held me close such that I could feel the firmness of his body against mine. It was not an altogether unwelcome sensation. I was annoyed he could rouse me thus.

“He wanted what all men want.” 

I pushed Craddock away, roughly. He did not retaliate. He simply wiped his face with the back of his hand and flexed his neck.

“What?” I said, angrily. “I have nothing to report as yet, save that we are to take delivery of some equipment. I do not know its purpose.”

“Equipment? What sort of equipment?”

I sighed. “Electrical. I presume for medical purposes. What other use does it have?” 

Craddock sniffed and walked in circles.

“I do not think Lord Appleby guilty,” I said. 

Craddock stopped in his tracks.

“Why not?”

“The dead man in the Church? The one at whose inquest I gave testimony? It was Lord Appleby’s son.”

“How do you know this?” Craddock said. He returned to my side.

“His brother told me.”

“The man you suspect?”

“Yes.”

“And now?”

“And now, I do not know.” 

“Did Appleby ask how his son had died?”

I thought on it. “No,” I said. “He did not. He was overcome with grief.”

“But he did not ask how he died?”

“No.”

“Then he knew already. You have been duped.” 

Craddock stuck a finger under my chin and raised it.

“Watch him,” he said. 

Then, like a mighty beast that has at last felled his prey and must devour it at once, he kissed me passionately. I had no more consented to this assault, when a hand was laid on Craddock’s shoulder and he was pulled from me. Craddock whirled round to meet the aggressor, only to find it was none other than Lucius. Craddock balled his fists and forced Lucius halfway back across the yard. Lucius found his feet and came forward, his hands raised as if he was the finest pugilist. It was all to naught, for Craddock barrelled into Lucius. The Blackamore staggered. I thought all was undone, but Lucius now changed his game. Half bent over, he danced from side to side, all the while waiting for an opportunity to strike a blow. The two men were a frightening spectacle. I retreated to the doorway, where I was joined by the seamstresses.

Craddock took a moment to get his breath back and wipe the snot from his nose with the back of his hand. In that moment, Lucius landed a punch in Craddock’s belly and more to his face. Craddock’s head snapped back, blood flying from myriad wounds. I screamed for them to stop, but neither heard me. Craddock, like the bull that he is, came forward once more and beat Lucius to the ground, his blows raining like an intensity of hailstones. He left the servant in the dirt and turned to make his way out, but Lucius clutched up at the soil and now grabbed at Craddock’s head, twisted it round and mashed the soil into his eyes and mouth. Craddock spat the soil out and, further enraged, drew forth his pistol and pointed it at Lucius’s head.

“Tell me why I should not kill you where you stand,” Craddock shouted.

Lucius offered no reply, but stared at Craddock with hate in his heart and malice on his mind. I ran forward then and hung onto Craddock’s pistol arm.

“You will not kill him. He thought only to protect me. He is my servant and a good man.”

Craddock, still troubled by the soil, spat out a wad of sputum.

“Since when have you had a servant?” he said.

“Since I am protected by Lord Appleby’s interest.” 

Craddock considered my words. He knew their importance. He could not jeopardise the bargain Sir John Fielding had made with me. To do so would be to court Craddock’s own demise. He withdrew his pistol and pushed me aside.

“I will speak with you later,” he said to me.

He was gone in an instant. Only the ladies’ chatter about his lack of manners remained to give lie to his having been there at all. I rushed to Lucius’s side.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I am well.”

“Can I get you something? Water? Ale? Anything?”

He attempted to brush down his dirty jacket and find some semblance of equilibrium.

“I will take a little water, if I may,” he said. 

I indicated to the seamstresses and one of them ran inside. When she returned, Lucius downed the water quickly, pulled out a handkerchief from a pocket, wiped his mouth, his face, and finally his hands, before folding the handkerchief neatly and putting it back from whence it came. We ladies watched with interest. He was an uncommon man indeed.

We left the bemused ladies to their sewing and I thanked Lucius for his kindness in coming to my aid.

“I am ever your humble servant,” said Lucius. 

I deemed I had made a true friend indeed.

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