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Chapter Eight

Of the Brown Bear



Reckless indeed is the woman who dares to challenge the might of the Bow Street Magistrate, Sir John Fielding, and his red-waist-coated Runners. I had no intention of placing myself in danger, or of arousing suspicion, but I needed to know what the Runners knew of the matter, if anything. All manner of persons find sport at the Brown Bear, for it is ever a den of iniquity and vice, yet, at one and the same time, it is used by the Runners as a lock-up and as a place of interrogation, being immediately over the road from Number Four Bow Street, where the aforementioned magistrate holds court. 

I dallied in Bradley’s and took a tot of Madame Geneva to fortify myself against the rigours ahead of me. You may think me foolish, and it is true, I was much afraid. That said, I had a secret, and one I thought, for the moment at least, might keep me safe. For you see the man Craddock, who did so foully use me earlier, was in fact, my husband, though we did not live together, or even broadcast the information widely. No man wishes it to be known he is married to a whore. No whore wishes it known she is married to a Bow Street Runner. 

As I entered the Brown Bear, the blacklegs and bullies, thieves and thief-takers alike, turned to stare, but I paid them no mind and made straight for the bar. A covey of Runners sat in the corner, awaiting instruction as to their next pursuit. Jim Craddock had his back to me. I ordered a glass of ratafee and sipped it slowly. Ragged pieces of conversation came to my ears, but nothing of the dead man. A rough-hewn beast of a man fell into argument with his compatriot. At the table where Craddock held court, the Runner, Charles Jealous, glanced up. The arguing men laughed; their friendship rekindled. Jealous caught my eye. He was a noted thief-catcher and had stood as witness on many occasions at The Old Bailey. I smiled at him and raised my glass. Craddock now turned towards me.

“You,” he thundered.

I cocked my head and smiled at him. Craddock took a long drink from his jug, slid back his chair, stood up, placed his hand to his pistol and nodded to the door at the rear. This was where prisoners were locked in irons when the watch-house was full. Very graciously, Craddock held the door open and I passed through in a genteel fashion, as befits the finest lady. 

The room we entered was set about with rough benches and a bare board floor. A pail in the corner did for a jordan and the window was barred and bolted. In this crude place I turned to Craddock and immediately grabbed his manhood and twisted my hand such that he doubled in pain and pushed me away, though not forcefully. He sat down with a thump on one of the benches.

“I suppose I deserve that,” he said.

“You deserve a lot more,” I replied. I folded my arms and observed him.

“I wanted to remind you that you are still my wife and I am still your husband.”

“I am not your wife.”

“I have papers that say otherwise.”

“You married me to keep me from debtor’s prison and from other men. When that failed, you dogged my every footstep. You made it difficult for me to go about my business and you called Mother Shadbolt’s a disorderly house, though you know we keep the best of company and never give trouble to any.”

“What d’you expect?” spat out Craddock. 

“Bah. You keep me on a tether, but do not provide for me. I have no other means of support and you, I hear, have taken up with another woman who has borne you a child. I have taken matters into my own hands.” I was so angry with him.

“Lilly is gone from me and the child is no more. I would rather see you dead than working in that bawdy house you call a home,” Craddock shouted. He came up off the bench and threatened me close.

I screamed at him. “Then why have you not killed me yet?”

We stood face to face, our anger set against each other, our hearts beating hard, our teeth and fists clenched. I could see the veins in Craddock’s neck standing proud in his skin… and then we were on each other; kissing and sucking at each other’s lips, and giving free rein to our passions. I felt his strength bearing down on me and tasted his hot breath. Craddock tore at my bodice and ripped my stays wide open. My breasts fell forth like ripe puddings. He cupped each in his hands and buried his face therein. I sank to the floor and allowed that he slide beneath my petticoats, raising them up so that the air reached my privy parts and moisture dampened my skin. I felt the clench of his buttocks as he entered me and heard the slap of our bodies as we coupled fast and furious on the dirty wooden floor. For some time he held back from his pleasure, but in the end he could contain himself no longer and I too felt that rush that comes with such an exertion.

When he pulled himself free, he wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve.

“If you are carrying a pox, then I’ll come after you for the money to pay the apothecary,” he said.

“’Tis something you should have thought of earlier today.”

“Ah Kitty, Kitty, Kitty. You stir me up. What am I to do? Tell me? What?”

Craddock sat back on the bench and closed his eyes. He looked like a beaten man. Gone now was the bluster and brutish behaviour. I sidled up to him and took one of his hands in my own.

“Jim. I do not ask anything of you. I have never asked anything of you.”

“You want something now I’ll wager.” He knew me too well.

“No. There is nothing.” 

Craddock wrapped a hand around my neck and squeezed. 

“Oh, I think there is. You never sets foot in here, save there is something going on. Tell me or I will force it from you,” he said.

“I swear there is nothing to tell.” Why had I not kept away from here? There were other ways to learn the gossip. 

“You didn’t come here just to pay me a kindness now did you?”

“I came for a drink. I came…. I came to right this morning’s wrong.” He squeezed and the words caught in my throat. “Let me go.”

“No Kitty, no. What is it you want?”

Tears welled up in my eyes. For a moment I believed he would choke the very life from my body, but as suddenly as that thought came, he released his grasp and threw me away from him.

“I should have sent you to the gallows.” He referred to my return from transportation. It was a hanging offense after all. 

“But you didn’t.”

“No. I didn’t.” He turned on me then.

“What game is it you play Kitty? You were dressed in your finery this morning and in a rush. Where was it you was going, eh? Where? What is it you’re about? Got a new beau? Got someone to take care of you at last?”

“No. You know I do business only at Mother Shadbolt’s.” I cosseted him then with kind words. I told him he was the only man I had ever loved – though this was not true and he knew it. I said he was as vigorous a lover as any (and that is an amount too numerous to count). I promised that one day I would come to him and we would be happy, but that I could not do it until I had made my fortune. Of course, he knew the game I played. He had heard it on too many occasions. Oh, but though I feared retribution at the hands of this man, I was powerless to stop myself from acting or speaking thus. 

“You say you love me?” 

“Yes,” I said.

“You lie.”

“No, I do not.”

He growled at me.

“Tell me now what business you have coming to the Brown Bear, or I will take you to Newgate Prison this very minute.”

What could I do? He would not let it go – not until I had told him at least some of the story. It had never been my intention to say anything to Craddock of Westman, but I knew that attack was often the best form of defence and I must know what they knew. It only remained for me to decide how much I should tell without incriminating myself. My heart fluttered in my breast. I could not back out now. I would have to trust him.

“Promise you will not act rashly, nor dispatch anyone to my door?” I had but a faint hope of this.

“I promise I will hear you out. I presume it is of a criminal nature. Why else would my whore of a wife come to me? If I need to make investigation I will do so, but I will not help you if you are guilty.”

 “Very well. I will tell you, but you must promise…”

Craddock grunted. 

“There is a man, come lately to Mother Shadbolt’s,” I said. “He suffered a great injustice.”

“What kind of injustice?” Craddock folded his arms and viewed me as if from a long way off.

“Oh, he is dead,” I said, quietly. I inspected my nails. I waited. The silence grew between us.

 “You would have called the clergy had it have been a natural death. So we speak of murder.” Craddock sneered. “I’ll wager, in telling me, you have done what that bitch Shadbolt told you to avoid at all cost. You have brought the wrath of the law down on your house and everyone in it.”

“No! No. There is no murder,” I lied. “There is only a death of a poor man and I would know if anyone looks for him. That is why I came here. I wanted to listen. I wanted to know what you knew.”

“When did this happen?”

“Last night.”

“Last night! And you have told no one but me? And no one in your house has spoken out of turn?”

“That is so,” I replied.

“Then it is too soon for word to be broadcast of this man’s demise, surely?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know.” What had come over me? Why had I told Craddock? I had vowed to remain silent, but he had wheedled the truth from me. 

“Who is it?” said Craddock.

“I cannot say.” 

“Cannot say because you won’t say, or because you don’t know?”

I fell silent. I had told him too much. It had been a bad idea to come here. This morning I had been beside myself with fear and now, here I was telling all to the very man I should have stayed away from at all cost. I turned my back on him. He shook me by the arms and whirled me round. 

“I cannot help you if you do not tell me,” he said.

“Help me?”

“Yes, help you, you stupid bitch.”

I am afraid,” I hissed. “I am afraid.”

“You have nothing to fear if you are innocent.”

I pulled away from him. It was true. I was innocent. I had nothing to fear. Oh, but I was mortally afraid, for good men twist your words and make much of a woman’s ignorance. 

“His name is… was…William Westman,” I said.

“Westman?”

“Yes. He has a lodging place in Wild Street. I do not know anything more of him.” I had betrayed Mother Shadbolt’s trust. Surely, now I would suffer.

“And what happened to him? Tell me exactly,” said Craddock.

“He just died. That is all,” I said. 

“How? Of what cause?”

I sighed. I could not keep the knowledge from him forever. Better he find out from me than others who would twist the facts to suit their own ends.

“His throat was cut,” I muttered.

“What?” shouted Craddock. “You said it was not murder. His throat was cut? By whom?”

“I do not know. It is true, I do not. But you… you will think I did it. You and the rest of Fielding’s men. You will hunt me and I will live my days out in Newgate until I am hoist on the gallows. I should never have come here. Never.” I covered my face. I could not look at him. Craddock prised my hands away roughly, and held me fast.

“If you tell me you did not kill him, I will believe you, but if you lie and tell me you did not do it and yet you did, then yes, you will suffer.”

I stifled my cries, though I felt my face wet with tears. What is a poor woman to do in these circumstances? I had no family. No means of support save that which I earned by dire means. 

“I did not do it. I swear. I did not.”

“And where is he now? And do not talk in riddles.”

“He is gone. It is the truth. No one knows where,” I said.

“Someone knows. The one who hid him. Is that bully Sprue? Has he done your dirty work?”

“No.” 

Craddock shook me hard. “You lie.”

“No.”

He threw me away from him.I fell against the wall and crumpled down. As much as I hated Jack Sprue, I would not see him taken from us. For all he was a dirty, thieving old man, I would not see him treated badly.

“Go home Kitty,” Craddock said.

“What will you do?” I said.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“Nothing?” I was incredulous.

“What can I do without a body and an accuser? You knew I would do nothing or you would not have come here at all. You would have remained in your dirty hovel and opened your legs to the next cully.” His voice was dead. His eyes cold. 

I shivered. “Then we will say no more of this,” I said.

Craddock turned away from me then and departed the room. I sat for a long time on the floor, my back to the wall. My life, Craddock’s gift.

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