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Chapter Five

I fall foul of Jim Craddock and buy a hat



On Drury Lane I spied Jim Craddock outside Perdue’s Coffee Shop and so turned and slipped down Wild’s Passage, between that place and the next house. I had no desire to come face-to-face with one the Garden’s most notorious thief-takers turned Bow Street Runner. Craddock had a way of twisting your words until you knew not what you were saying. I fastened my gaze on two girls at the end of the passage and prepared to be as haughty a wench as I knew how, given that my faculties were sorely tested. 

“This ain’t no place of yorn,” said the younger. She spoke with a West Country brogue. I thought her recently from that place. She would be easy to deal with. Her sister in arms was older and meaner of face, with a black beauty spot on her chin and much whitened face. She might prove more difficult if I did not offer her due respect.

“Be a dear,” I said to the queer mort, and pressed a coin into her hand. “I cannot let the thief-taker find me. Let me pass and you can be about your business.”

The old girl tested the coin between her blackened teeth and gave me much consideration. 

“Let her by,” she said to the other.

The younger wench pushed me most roughly as I squeezed by them, but I paid her no mind and hurried through the filth to the other end of the passage.

Craddock caught me by the arm as I ran out into Wild Street. 

“You think you can outrun me Kitty?” 

He was a great bear of a man. Once in his grip there was no escape, save to allow him time to say his piece. If he had a mind, he could crush a woman with one hand. I smiled prettily.

“Now Jim, what do you want with me? As you see, I’m not about my business this morning.”

“Nah, but if I know you, you’re about some kind of business. What is it?”

“I’m just taking the air. Got the fog in my lungs. Thought I’d walk it off.” He must not know. He must not. 

Craddock pushed me back into the passage and pressed me hard against the wall. I threw a glance back the way I had come, but the sisters had gone. Craddock began to loosen his buttons, one hand round my neck, the weight of his body preventing my escape. 

“You got time for this haven’t you?” he said. 

He relaxed his grip hoist my petticoats. 

“You bastard, Jim Craddock. You bloody bastard,” I said, and spat in his face. 

He grinned broadly and licked my spittle from his lips, whilst at the same time pressing home his advantage. 

“Nah Kitty love. Not me.” He slammed me against the wall and raised me up from the ground so that I could not fight my way out. 

I have been taken on many occasions with the utmost haste and displeasure by men who claim to love women, but who in fact hate us most vehemently. Yet I had never, until that moment, experienced such utter revulsion as I felt for Jim Craddock.  Though I hit him about the head, scratched his face, spat and clawed at him, I could not escape. I blocked out the sounds of the street, his hard breathing and my own cries. I closed my eyes and turned away from his rancid breath. He came in a great shudder, dropped me to the ground, straightened his attire, looked down and offered his hand that I might stand up and go about my business. I scowled at him and refused his kindness, such as it was. My hair had descended from its neat pinned curls; my shawl lay in a puddle; my white kid-skin gloves were blackened and worthless.

“You took me without my say so,” I said. It was, it has to be said, the least of my worries. I will be plain – I am a whore. Many would say I deserved it. Besides, I had a particular relationship with this man, which disinclined me to make much of the attack. There was also the matter of the murder, the thought of which played on my mind and paled every other difficulty into inconvenience.

Craddock shrugged and flicked me a coin. It jangled on the cobbles.

“There, I’ve paid you now. You have no cause for concern.” 

He walked off, whistling. I glanced at the coin, brushed down my petticoats, set my hair straight, tore off my gloves, and moistened my lips. My shawl was ruined. I left it in the puddle, but snatched up the coin. I would deal with Craddock later. 

Wild Street had seen better times, but there were still pockets of respectability to be found. The name “Sedgewick” was over the milliner’s door. The property on one side belonged to a soap-boiler and the other was a private house. Between the two lay a short court, where stood a cart loaded with goods. I took Westman’s lodgings to be in the private house. I watched from across the street. A couple argued noisily, in the court. I glanced up and down the street. Could I bring myself to knock on his door? What if his wife opened it? Then what should I do? 

Despite my recent contretemps with Craddock and, as I considered myself a fair actress, I thought I might still pass for a wealthy gentlewoman. I would ask at Sedgewick’s. It would not seem unusual for me to interest myself in a new hat. Besides, it has long been known that young girls find work in my particular trade by learning the fine art of hat-making. I felt sure it was perfectly satisfactory for a woman of my obvious talents to enquire therein.

Mrs. Sedgewick greeted me with some apprehension. She too had caught wind of the loud argument in the adjoining court. She twisted her hands and shook her head.

“’Tis a terrible thing when man and wife cannot agree,” she said.

“Yes. You know them?” I replied.

“Oh, but they argue day and night, night and day. They have driven away our custom. Mr. Sedgewick is most perturbed.”

Mrs. Sedgewick seemed a very nervous individual and I did not think that it was simple argument that caused trade to avoid the shop, for there were few on this street who could afford a hat such as those on display. I smiled gently and placed a hand on her arm.

“I am sure if you reported them to the authorities…”

“Authorities? No one cares. No one will do anything. The watchman is drunk most nights. The constable takes money from me but does nothing.  The Runners are too high and mighty to bother themselves unless murder is done, or… at the very least, thievery.” She shook her head again. “No, there’s nothing can be done. It’s the area you see. The area. My poor husband has taken to his bed, he has.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps a sale will cheery his demeanour? I have need of a new hat.”  

“We can of course accommodate your needs. Flowers are in this season,” said Mrs. Sedgewick. She pulled a collection of dried blooms from a drawer. I made pretence of looking at them. They were very beautiful, it was true.

“I prefer feathers to flowers,” I said. I blinked innocently, and lifted a hat from its stand to set it atop my hair. 

“If I were to say I was looking for premises hereabouts for some discreet business, would you be able to direct me accordingly? You have a mirror?” 

Mrs. Sedgewick indicated the countertop, whereon stood a fine looking glass in a wooden mount. She did not reply to my question.

“I hear tell they let rooms in the house next door.” I removed the hat. “I will need a Sunday hat. I cannot be seen at Church without.”

“Oh, of course. Yes. Yes. What did you have in mind?” She opened a box containing a flurry of the softest white feathers and showed them to me.

“Something small and pretty.” I smiled broadly, and sank my hand into the feathers.

Mrs. Sedgewick looked flustered. Could she be the only milliner in town who did not run a flock of nuns?

“Erm, yes. Premises you say?” I believe she caught my meaning.

“Yes. A couple of rooms should do it. A gentleman spoke of rooms he had rented in this area. Perhaps you know him? Young, smooth faced, well dressed, with a knowing way about him.” It was not a very good description of Mr. Westman.

“There are so many young men hereabouts. I wouldn’t know. Perhaps Mr. Sedgewick…” 

I leaned towards her.

“I heard a rumour that you have a neighbour who takes in lodgers.”

Mrs. Sedgewick shook her head. “You mean Mrs. Trencher? Next door? Yes she has rooms. I believe a young gentleman has been staying there, but I would not think it suitable for your needs.” 

“Would there be a… a wife?”

Mrs. Sedgewick gave me a curious look.

“A wife?”

“Yes. Is the young gentleman married?” I lifted a handful of the feathers. They reminded me of the chicks on my father’s farm. 

Mrs. Sedgwick snatched the feathers from me and shut them away in their box. “If there is anything else?”

“No. That is all. If you should hear of rooms becoming available. Perhaps you would let me know?”

“How would I do that?”

“When my hat is ready of course. Ivory. That’s the colour for me. Ivory.  A Sunday hat. Can you have it ready by Friday?”

“I dare say.”

“Good. Then I will take my leave of you.”

Mrs. Sedgewick looked most perplexed. Had I just bought a hat or not?

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