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Chapter Thirty-Nine

My meeting with Captain Somerville



Whosoever wishes to find a gentleman at a certain hour may do so by frequenting a coffee house in the City, and not just any coffee house, but one which is particularly associated with the business this gentleman has undertaken. Such is the Jerusalem, in Exchange Alley, which caters for the needs of merchants and Captains whose business sees them trade with India and China. This much I had learned from Captain Somerville and others who sail the high seas in search of their fortunes. Why then, my good Captain wished to meet with me in the Church of St. Mary Woolnoth, and not the Jerusalem, or indeed, any other coffee house thereabouts, was beyond my comprehension. However, I made my way there: first by sedan chair along The Strand and thence by foot from the Mansion House, along Lombard Street.

St Mary Woolnoth is a fine, flat-fronted Church occupying the corner between Lombard Street and Swithin’s Lane. It is small, but has a pleasing strength to its walls. I observed the general business of the street, and noted there were few women of my kind hereabouts, for I was in the heart of the City, and though the back alleys and courts doubtless could yield their fair share of dirty morts, I saw none plying their trade from doorways or on corners. A wind had got up and I was glad of the sanctuary the Church offered, from the cold.

The quiet interior yielded nothing but the echoes of my footsteps on the tiled floor. I saw neither Clergy, nor parishioners; the place was deserted. I was about to sit in a pew when I heard a voice and whirled round. Captain Somerville came out from behind an ornately capped pillar.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” he said in a low voice. His eyes spoke of the desire he harboured for me. A Church was not the place for intrigue of that nature. I pulled my cloak close.

“It is cold. Could we not find a coffee house and discuss matters in the warm?” I said.

 “I think not. I would not wish anyone to overhear what I have to say.” He indicated a pew, and we sat in close conspiracy. “I have discovered that Lord Appleby is embroiled in a scheme to defraud the East India Company of its business in the Far East.”

“That much we knew already. And he has but one ship. It is hardly a fleet. Surely it can do nothing to dent the might of your company?” I replied. 

“You may know of only one ship, but in truth he has shares in many and means to threaten trade. He has set up a rival company.”

I shook my head. I knew nothing of business, save that a man may pay me for my time. I wished rather, to know how Lord Appleby and his brother might be embroiled in murder.

“What do you tell me? Your man, Elias Monk, died in my bed – in my arms. Am I to believe that Lord Appleby crept into our house and murdered him because Elias found out about his plans? Is that what you say?”

Captain Somerville stroked my hair and whispered, “you have intuited the truth.”

I dipped out from under his touch.

“But it is no truth. Any man may set up a company and hope for it to flourish. The East India Company does not have the monopoly on trade. Why would a man of Lord Appleby’s standing lower himself to sneak about in a brothel at the dead of night in order to kill a man? And, tell me this… why would he kill his own son?”

“I cannot answer for personal grievances, but I would have thought it obvious. He argued with the boy and ran him through. It is easily done.” 

His words were like poison on his breath. I gasped. That he should say such a thing and with such venom. 

“And what of Westman? Where is he in this plot to defraud your illustrious company?” I said.

“His name appears alongside that of his brother in most of the transactions.”

“So, he is a shareholder, and either man could be the murderer.”

 The Captain bent in close. 

“You know much for a woman,” he said. 

“I spend my time listening to the verbal outpourings of men who would be best advised to keep quiet.”

“Indeed. It is possible they acted in collusion.”

“Yes, that is so,” I said. “But we still have no physical evidence. Sir John Fielding will not allow me my freedom for much longer without I bring him the perpetrator.” 

My position seemed most dire. I did not know how much longer I could walk the tightrope between parties. I now felt my old fear redouble its efforts on my resolve to see an end to the matter.

“When will you next see Lord Appleby?” asked the Captain.

“Tomorrow. We go to Tottenham, though why, I do not know.”

A shadow fell across his face. “Ah… you go to Bruce Castle,” he said.

“Bruce Castle? I have not heard of it.”

A door opened and closed. There were footsteps on the flagstones. The Reverend glanced towards us, nodded and, finding us unwilling to come forward in conversation, occupied himself at the altar. Captain Somerville turned his back on the gentleman and spoke in a hiss.

“It is the seat of James Townsend, a lackey for William Petty, the second Earl of Shelburne. Shelburne is the Foreign Minister in Grafton’s government. He is also a major shareholder in the East India Company. Townsend is a Member of Parliament. Some say that one day he will be the Lord Mayor of London.” 

“And you think Lord Appleby has business with him?” I said.

“I can think of no other reason for Lord Appleby to go to Tottenham. There is nothing else there but a few good houses, and much water. It may be Lord Appleby wishes to recruit Townsend to his scheme. If so, then it would be a major coup. Come, we cannot stay here any longer.” 

He took me by the hand and led me to the door. Before we reached it, he pushed me into an alcove and kissed me hard. I barely had a chance to respond before he pulled me through the door and out into the scouring northwest wind. I clutched at my hat as my petticoats billowed like the sails of a ship about my legs. 

“There is much to do,” the Captain said. “I will come to you tonight.”

“No. Not tonight.” I replied.

“I thought we had an understanding?” 

He leaned in close, to shield me from the worst of the wind. In that moment, I discerned a certain obsession on his part.

“Lord Appleby tells me he is not a wealthy man. Truly, I do not know what to believe any more. He has secured my position and my home, but I cannot expect more from him. He has not given me much money so far, though doubtless Mother Shadbolt has profited.”

“I understand,” said the Captain, dryly. “Then slip away later and meet with me in The Finish, as before.”

“No.” I held him at arm’s length. “I will speak with you on my return from Tottenham,” I said. 

I had no intention of making The Finish a regular meeting place. The lowest of drudges entertained therein and, whilst I did not mind gracing George Carpenter’s dirty shack with my presence from time-to-time, to do so more often would brand me a slattern.

“Very well. I will await your instruction.” 

The Captain held onto his tricorn as he bowed. I watched him walk away, and a thought came to me: Captain Somerville was in love with me.

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