Chapter Six 

Wherein I rescue a poor woman and gain entrance to the lodging house

I glanced at the lodging house. The milliner had confirmed that a young gentleman had taken up residence. Could I knock the door and ask for him, directly? Or should I maintain my subterfuge and ask Mrs. Trencher if she had room to rent? I had yet to make up my mind, when a young woman ran screaming from the court, fell down at my feet and grabbed hold of my petticoats. She was bloodied about the face.

“Help me, please. Help me,” she said. “I have cut him and he is as mad as anything. He will kill me. Please, don’t let him touch me. I beg you.”

She offered me a short knife covered in blood. I shrank away from it and attempted to disentangle myself from her clutches. I had seen too much blood that morning and did not want to find myself embroiled in someone else’s drama when I had one of my very own to contend with.

“Please,” she came again, casting looks behind her into the court, “please, fetch my aunt.”

“Your aunt?”

She nodded wildly and pointed at Mrs. Trencher’s door. 

“Oh, but I have killed him, or worse,” she said.

“What can be worse than death?” I replied. 

We stood on Mrs. Trencher’s steps and I knocked on the door. The girl leaned heavily on me. She smelled of drink. She offered the knife again, but I pushed it away. I knocked the door again.

“Open up. Please. I have a poor woman here who needs your assistance.”

“I am beat black and blue, that’s what I am,” said the woman.

At that moment the door opened and Mrs. Trencher recoiled in horror at the sight of us. 

“Listen,” I said. “We wish you no harm. This poor woman has seen much abuse at the hands of an assailant. She says you are her aunt and she would gain sanctuary. Will you call the Constable or perhaps the surgeon?”

Mrs. Trencher, who was an older woman, dressed for keeping house and not for show, regained her composure somewhat and ushered us into the drawing room, whereupon the rescued woman fell to her knees.

“She is Sally, my nephew’s wife,” said Mrs. Trencher. “What has happened this time?”

When Sally did not reply I said, “she claims to have cut someone. I dare not go look for fear of violence.” 

It was no lie. I did not think I could cope with much more terror this morning. My mask of control was slipping. Mrs. Trencher nodded. 

“I know of it. They argue continually. Will you wait with her? I will see what kind of state my nephew is in.”

“Surely,” I said. “But the knife? Is it possible that she has rendered him an injury?”

“Oh, I doubt she’s done anything. She was probably cutting up the meat for dinner when he came upon her unawares. She does so make much of nothing.” 

Mrs. Trencher left us then and I turned to the young woman.

“Sally?” I said kindly. 

She nodded violently. “He is dead isn’t he?” she said.

“I do not think so, but your aunt has gone to see.”

Sally looked up at me. Tears ran down her face. She wiped them away.

“He is not such a bad man as would kill me, but I may have killed him,” she said, shakily. I knew something of that feeling, though I had killed no one… or at least… I could not even begin to think that I might have murdered poor dead William Westman. Had I done something in my drunken state and… No. It was not possible. How could it be? I brought myself back to the present.

“But he beats you, yes?” I said.

Sally nodded. “He loses his temper when he’s been drinking. I too,” she howled. “He would not harm me though. He would not.”

“But he has. You said as much.”

“Yes, but he does not mean it and I love him.” Here Sally burst into a fresh bout of tears. “I love him, so I do. I love him.”

Oh, but I had heard this a thousand times from women whose husbands beat them senseless one night, only to beg forgiveness the next. I have had my fair share of torment, but I would not remain under the same roof as a man who beat me, though they may treat me kindly in many other respects. 

“You won’t leave me, will you?” Sally said. I could not stay. I must go about my business. But what, exactly, was my business? To find out about my dead cully - to determine if he would be missed by a wife, lover or… or even aunt.  Now was the time to search the premises, while the landlady was absent. 

“You do not need my aid,” I said to Sally. “You have the good Mrs. Trencher. She will return ‘ere long and you will doubtless, be reunited with your “loving” spouse, where you may start the argument all over again.” I turned away from her.

“Please, don’t go,” she implored.

“I must.” I thought only of how long I would have to complete my search. I must think on my feet.

“Let me see if there is a maid who might bring you something to drink,” I said.

Sally nodded again and stifled a cry. I hesitated, but could not wait any longer.

“Good,” I said, and left her on her knees in the front parlour.

Subterfuge comes easily to a whore, but I was both fearful and teary-eyed from the morning’s events. Thus, I could barely stomach the thought of being caught in another’s house with little explanation other than I was… well, what was I doing? Certainly, not looking after Sally. No. Not for the first time that day I conjured up my resolve and acquainted myself with the layout in quick time: the dining parlour, a kitchen, and scullery. There being no maid to be had, I ascended the stairs smartly, taking care to tread lightly for fear I might rouse the interest of others, as yet unknown, in the house. 

I cannot even begin to explain my feelings of trepidation as I pushed open the door to the first floor drawing room. It looked out onto Wild Street and had an adjoining bed-chamber. I took this to be Mrs. Trencher’s private domain. To the rear of this floor was another, very small room, given over to a closet and dressing room. I shut the door softly and continued up to the second floor. Here I found a further two doors, both tightly closed. I listened at one, but heard nothing. I turned the handle. It was very dark inside. No one had opened the shutters, or the curtains. I listened again for fear someone may be asleep in the bed, but on hearing no sound save that of a longcase clock ticking sonorously, I crossed to the window and cracked the curtains a portion. Gently, I unlatched the shutters to allow some light on the proceedings. As I turned I fully expected someone to ask me what I thought I was doing, but there was no one. 

The room was untidy. Clothes were strewn across the bed and over chairs. It was obvious that a man lived here, though I did not know if it was Westman. Neither did I know what his association was with Mrs. Trencher, other than her being his landlady. I made a quick perusal of the private things I found on the dressing stand: a pocket watch, a pair of silver-framed glasses, a silver comb with ivory teeth, and a small leather case, which when I opened it, contained tobacco and a pipe. There were two books discarded on a chair: Abraham De Moivre’s The Doctorine of Chance and Edmund Hoyle’s A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. So our man was a gambler. 

Beneath the bed I kicked a small trunk, which I pulled out. It was not locked. Inside there were many bills and receipts, notebooks and pamphlets. Hurriedly, I rummaged through the contents. The man was a gambler indeed and here was evidence of his tricks. I shut the trunk and pushed it back under the bed. 

I threw back the sheets. A red ribbon peeped out from beneath the pillow. Either this man used it to tie his hair, or he had enjoyed lately, the company of a woman. I searched the room for further hiding places. A large leather bag was hidden behind the chair. Inside, a single kid glove, a bundled dirty shirt, and beneath this, a parcel of letters tied with a cord. I checked for sounds from below. Had Mrs. Trencher returned? I did not think so, but I must hurry. The cord gave, easily. I took out the first letter. It was addressed to W. Westman Esquire, care of Mrs. Trencher, 15 Great Wild Street, London. I had found him!

I read on – Sir, Your brother is most displeased with your behaviour… etcetera, etcetera… and orders you to return forthwith… etcetera, etcetera… the poor girl has fallen on the mercy of her mother and brothers and will have nothing of the matter… etcetera, etcetera…

I heard the door bang downstairs. My heart leapt. My time was up. Without reading to the end, I pushed the letter beneath the dirty shirt and stuffed the leather bag back behind the chair. I gave the room one last glance and slipped down the stairs as quietly as possible. I could hear Sally talking to Mrs. Trencher in the drawing room and, unwilling to involve myself further in the melodrama of their lives, I slipped out of the house unnoticed.


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