The Surety 

Chapter One

Once more accused

It began as the sun rose over our seraglio. On the previous evening, besides a stream of incorrigible lechers, I serviced a Member of Parliament with a penchant for being laid across my knee and beaten until his fundament was quite raw. Thus, I was exhausted, yet I breakfasted in my usual manner, at my table in the window of the parlour, with Lucius, my Blackamore servant, at my elbow. My fellow whores were still asleep and I had just taken delivery of a letter, when glint of sunlight caught my eye and caused me to look out across Covent Garden. Four military men in close formation, the buttons on their livery reflecting the sun’s rays, marched towards the Great Piazza. They presented a very fine sight, but I dismissed them from my mind until I heard the tread of boots on our stairs. They made such a noise it could be none other than this militia. They burst into my parlour with all the might of an army charging their enemy.

“Mistress Ives?” 

The man who spoke was their Officer. Though my parlour was a large room and could accommodate a great many people, these soldiers now occupied the better part of it. I sipped my coffee like a lady and feigned disinterest, while all the time wondering what on earth they wanted with me.

“Orders are to bring you with us.”


“Blackwall Yard, Ma’am.”

“You must convey my condolences to your commanding officer,” I said. “If he wishes for my company, he may come here in the afternoon. I do not make house calls.” 

This was not entirely true. For the right price I would travel almost anywhere. The right price however, had not been discussed as yet.

“He was most insistent, Ma’am. We cannot leave without you.”

Oh, but this was so annoying. My morning disrupted. They were not even the King’s soldiers, but those of the… damn it, the East India Company. I was intrigued. These men were destined to lead Sepoy troops in the Far East, and yet they had been dispatched to capture a Covent Garden whore? Whatever next?

“Understand this,” I said. “It will not be a cheap excursion. Lucius?” I beckoned my servant forward.

“Begging your pardon Ma’am. We are to bring you and you alone,” said the officer.

How very irregular. I had grown used to Lucius’s ministrations when abroad in the city. That said, I wished to know more of the man who sent troops to procure my service. He must be very wealthy. The Lord only knew that we needed the money.

“Very well. Lucius, tell Mother Shadbolt I will be gone for the best part of the morning. Watch her closely. I do not want to hear of her dipping her fingers in the purse.”

Poor Mother Shadbolt. In her time, she had taken care of a great many doxies, but with the loss of her establishment on the corner of Russell Square, she had become more than a little disconsolate. We gave her a home with us only because, if we did not, then she would be a wretched, vagrant creature let loose on the streets. Besides, she still had her mind on the money and her blessed Bible. When tested, she would threaten all with that tome. No man would risk her wrath.

I thus accompanied the soldiers to a coach, which had pulled up on the cobbles beyond the portico. I must say, I was quite glad of the excursion. I had spent too long cooped up in my gilded cage - a pretty bird for a pretty master. 

We turned into The Strand, and thence onward to the Tower and beyond. We passed along the Ratcliffe Highway, and took in Limehouse and Poplar both. Vessels of all sizes: fishing ships, slave ships, cargo ships, packets and sundry smaller vessels, their masts thrusting upwards into the brightening sky, were much in evidence along the Thames’ bank. Hereabouts, men of all castes and creeds pursued commerce. Cargoes were off-laden; carts rolled the muddy streets; men hauled and heaved, and the sounds and smells were overpowering even for one such as I, used to the noise and aromas of Covent Garden. Fine houses soon gave way to old timber-built properties and low dives, punctuated by inns and taverns. I spied the usual ragged trade: dirty morts with no more than the clothes on their back and a dark hole in which to do the deed. I shuddered. Thank goodness for my saviour, the dark-eyed devil, William Westman. But for him, I too, would be on the street like these sad does.

Eventually, we came to a flat place of marshy fields. The sky was bird-shell blue and the wind gusted warm. Our road cut south for a short distance, through this watery land, past rope and sail-makers, mast-makers and smiths, until we reached the Blackwall Yard (no yard at all but both dry and wet docks, and many sheds where I suppose, honest men labour in the fine craft of ship-building). We drew up alongside one of the sheds, and the officer showed me from the carriage. My feet sank immediately into the soft earth. Why had I allowed myself to be brought here? What foolishness was I engaged upon now? 

The officer bid me follow him down a narrow alleyway. This I did, mindful of the mud, which squelched underfoot and threatened to fix me in my tracks. The alley opened onto a yard. On the far side was a low built shed, open on one side and with a sawpit cut into the ground. A rough-hewn man stood at one end of the pit. He looked up as I approached. The briefest of smiles crossed Jim Craddock’s face before he indicated to me to come closer. I picked up my skirts and teetered on the boards lain either side of the sawpit. I looked down. It was empty save for a puddle of water.

“Why am I looking at a hole in the ground?” 

I was not best enamoured with my husband, the infamous Bow Street Runner, Jim Craddock. As one of the Sir John Fielding’s foremost detectives, he was party to all kinds of intelligence, and could travel the length and breadth of the country, if needs be, to apprehend suspects. It is not for this reason though, that we had not spoken for nigh on six months. No, it was because of the death of my dear friend Daisy. He thought I blamed him. He was wrong. Even before this though, we did not live together. It was a marriage of convenience, no more. 

“I thought you’d want to see where we found him,” he said. 


“Come with me. I’ll show you.”

Craddock led the way back across the yard, pushed a door open, and stood aside to admit me. Inside, the atmosphere was redolent with the aroma of wood - sweet, like old wine. Three finely dressed gentlemen, albeit with muddy feet stood around a workbench, while a fourth hung back in the shadows, his features indistinct. Craddock pushed me forward. The men parted to admit my company. A newly dead corpse lay before us. One side of his face was but a bloody mess of flesh and bone. The other was still intact, but was as white as the shroud they would surely soon wrap him in. For a moment I did not know whether I should recoil from the horror or not. 

“He’s dead?” I said.

“State the bloody obvious woman. Yes, he’s dead. He was in the pit.” 

Craddock placed a hand on the back of my head and forced me to look.

“What were you doing last night?” he said.

“What do I always do?” I hissed. I pushed him away. “You bring me here to show me a corpse? Why? You could have told me when next you snatched your conjugal rights.” 

He had not done that in a long time.

“Mistress Ives,” said one of the attending gentlemen. “Are we to understand you can identify this person?”

“Of course I can. His name is Julius Somerville. Captain Julius Somerville.”

The man who had addressed me placed a hand on my arm and drew me close. A vague smell of rose water hung about him. 

“Would you be so gracious as to explain in what capacity you knew Captain Somerville?” he said.

My eyes made a soft tour of the expectant faces.

“He was in love with me,” I said, “but I haven’t seen him in six months.  Overall, he was not to my liking.” 

The men grunted and one whispered loudly, “she’s a whore, you know,” to another. 

“Are we to believe you rebuffed his attempts at lovemaking?” said the man who had first addressed me. 

He wore a yellow waistcoat of the finest silk and a maroon jacket of a similarly delicate weave. He came from money. I took him in, as only someone in my position can; I assessed his ability to pay, and determined his sexual preferences. He would wish me to playact the chaste virgin. He would take great delight in deflowering me, though if presented with a genuine innocent, he would be quite flustered. Oh yes, he would be easy to charm.

“On the contrary,” I said, “he enjoyed my person on many occasions.” 

I dropped my head, twitched a smile and looked up at him, flirtatiously. He responded by taking my hand and kissing it. Again, there came a grunt from the men. A second ventured his opinion.

“We must not be enticed by Mistress Ives, gentlemen. The question is, do we think her capable of wielding the weapon that felled this man?” 

He looked on me as if I was the Whore of Babylon herself.

“What devilry is this?” I cried. “You think I killed him?” 

I was horrified at the thought. I cannot deny I was pleased that Captain Somerville had passed from this world. He was given to great subterfuge and cruelty, but he had not died by my hand.

“He bought your time,” said the third. He sneered.  “Perhaps you bought a ruffian’s so he might murder him for you.”

“I did not.”

“She is a strong enough wench. I say she could have done it easily,” he continued.

“Not so. When did he die?”

The gentlemen conferred. The man in the yellow waistcoat plumped out his breast like a cock bird.

“’T’would have been late last night. Certainly, not this morning, from all appearances.”

“Then it could not have been me, for last night I was with…” My voice trailed away. I was with a man who would never speak on my behalf for fear of giving his proclivities away to the gutter press. He would not wish to become a laughing stock, though I suspect he has become that since. 

“Enough,” came a voice from the shadows. 

The fourth man stepped forward. He wore black from head to toe, save for the ruffles about his throat, which were as white as summer clouds. His periwig was clean. His face unlined. One hand rested on the top of a silver-capped stick. He wore his sword as if he knew how to use it (unlike the others, who wore theirs for affectation alone). He brought forth his pocket watch, opened it, observed the time and snapped it shut.

“She is a thief, a whore and now, a murderess. We have played this game long enough,” he said. “Mr. Craddock, kindly place her under lock and key.” 

What consternation I felt. I had done nothing. I was innocent of all charges (save that of being a whore; I could not deny it).

“You cannot,” I cried. “Captain Somerville was by no means an innocent man, but I would neither kill him, nor have him killed. How did you know to come for me? Was it on Mr. Craddock’s instruction?” 

It would have been a low trick indeed, if my own husband accused me of this murder, however little we saw of each other.

The first gentleman thrust a sheet of paper at me.

“This is addressed to you, is it not?” he said. 

It was a letter. I attempted to take it from him. He withdrew it and made a play of reading, though I was quite sure he had already done so. The letter had once been sealed, for I saw the red wax upon the rear side, but now it was quite unfolded. 

“Where did you get that?” I said.

“It was in his waistcoat pocket. Next to his heart. He had not yet sent it, but clearly intended so to do.” 

 I stared at the letter, disconsolately.

“Addressed to me? Will you tell me what it says?” 

“It is of no importance,” said the black-garbed man. 

He gave me a long look, which was interrupted by Sir John Fielding’s entrance. The Bow Street Runner, Charles Jealous, followed close on his heels. Sir John knocked the table leg with his stick and came to a standstill. He adjusted the blindfold across his sightless eyes and cocked his head. His temper was even, his presence a comfort to me. He had been kind to me in the past, though at the time, I thought him cruel. He would describe it as being expedient. Such is the way of the law.

“Mr Trevelyan,” said Sir John. 

The black-garbed man bowed, and stepped back into the shadows. Truly, he was an enigma. The letter disappeared into the pocket of the gentleman in the yellow waistcoat. Polite discussion then took place between the assembled cast as to the clemency of the weather, as if no corpse lay before us and this was a day out to take the air. Eventually, Sir John turned to me.

“Madam, you are once again in something of a predicament.” 

I had no doubt that Sir John believed in the dualistic nature of mankind; we are at once both good and evil, rich and poor, happy and sad. In short, I was grateful he had made the journey to Blackwall, for how else would I escape the punishment these men surely had in mind for me? The Bow Street Runners were formidable detectives and with Sir John at their helm, they had done much to rid London of the meanest of ne’er-do-wells. 

He touched the corpse, and I imagined the sensations his fingertips experienced: bruising, blood and bone. He ran a hand over the face - I supposed to better acquaint himself with the manner of death. He signalled for a cloth. One was brought forth and he wiped himself clean. That done, he drew in a great breath and exhaled the same, before he turned to me and took both of my hands in his own.

“So, what can you tell me of this?” 

“Nothing. I was not here. I tell you the truth when I say I do not know how he met his death.” My accusers trumped their disapproval.

“He was found in the sawpit?” said Sir John.

“Yes,” said Craddock. “At a little past six this morning.”

“What say you, Dr. Cluff?” said Sir John, to the yellow waistcoated gentleman.

“Other than that the corpse is well advanced in rigor, he appears to have been struck about the head,” he said. “I will need to make further investigations to know more.”

“I trust you noticed that this is not the cause of death?” said Sir John. 

“How do you know this?” I cried. It seemed impossible to me that Sir John was able to detect the very means of death, when he had no sight. 

The good Dr. Cluff barked out a rebuttal.

“I found nothing to prove he died by any other means.”

“Slivers of wood are adhered to his wounds,” said Sir John. He touched his own face to indicate the placement. “But there is a small hole in the cheek bone. It is obscured somewhat by the other wounds. It indicates that someone shot him.”

All were transfixed upon Sir John’s pronouncement. Dr. Cluff peered at the corpse’s cheek.

“Did you find a weapon?” Sir John asked of Craddock.

“There was a bloody plank,” came the reply, “but no pistol.”

“I would expect the assailant kept it upon themselves.” Sir John turned once more to me.

“Exactly, where were you my dear?” he said.

“I have explained to these gentlemen. I was with someone, but I cannot give you his name.” 

“He will not speak in your defence?”

“I will not even ask him.” 

Sir John lifted his blindfold then. His eyes were small, with pinprick pupils, which admitted no light. His appearance unnerved me somewhat.

“I believe you have good reason to want Captain Somerville dead,” he said.

“No,” I replied, cautiously. I cast a look at Craddock and back to Sir John. “I knew the man who died in my bed, and he not well.”

There came a gasp from the gentlemen.

“And Daisy of course. She was like a sister to me,” I said. “The other was…”

“Was the nephew of your present beard-splitter,” said Sir John.

“The poor boy we found dead in the Church was the son of Lord Appleby,” I said. 

“But Captain Somerville here caused your home to be burned to the ground. We have searched the length and breadth of the land for him,” said Sir John. “Why should we now find him dead in a sawpit at the Blackwall Yard?” 

Sir John felt his way to the far side of the table. 

“Were you aware that Captain Somerville was in the pay of the Americans, but that for a while, he was also employed by the East India Company?” he said.

The black-clothed man, Mr. Trevelyan, gave a slight cough. I looked deep into the shadows and caught his gimlet eye. My gaze faltered.

“He told me he worked for the East India Company,” I said. I had to be careful. I was not sure how much I could say in the company of these gentlemen, without incriminating myself in earlier crimes. 

“The sister will doubtless travel to be by her dead brother’s side,” said Sir John. He had a long memory. He knew of my circumstances.

“Mrs. Hobbs,” I replied. I imagined the noose tighten around my neck.

“Aha, she knows the family,” said Dr. Cluff. “There, there. An admission of guilt if ever I heard one.” 

 “Dr. Cluff. Unless your thoughts are of a medical nature, kindly keep them to yourself,” said Sir John. 

Dr. Cluff huffed and muttered, “well really,” under his breath.

“When Mrs. Hobbs arrives, she will probably bring a charge of murder against you. However, it will take a good while for her to reach us. She is in Cornwall I believe?” said Sir John to me. 

This I knew of the law - it was not the Crown that would bring the prosecution, but the victim’s immediate family. I knew of no wife, nor child of the Captain; there was only his sister. If no one came forward to point a finger at the perpetrator, it would be unlikely that a charge be brought. If I was so inclined, I could save myself by having Mrs. Hobbs dispatched from this world. However, murder was not something I would countenance. Sir John re-tied his blindfold. 

 “Despite what these men believe, there is no proof that you killed this man,” he said. “There is no proof that you were ever here before today. It is true you have no one to speak on your behalf, unless you ask someone to lie for you. I assume Mr. Westman would do that much?” 

Sir John was well aware of my situation vis-à-vis the man he called my beard-splitter. Indeed, I have since discovered, he was aware of a great many things about me, which I had not given him credit for, previously.

“I have not spoken with him in several days,” I replied. 

How could I tell Sir John that Westman did as he pleased and cared not a jot for me, whilst I craved his love and attention and often wept myself to sleep for want of him? I could not, for here was my husband, Jim Craddock, and he and Westman were, if not mortal enemies, then at least the bitterest of rivals.

Sir John directed himself to Dr. Cluff. 

“Doubtless the inquest will be delayed while a jury is procured?”

“I expect it to sit in a couple of days or so,” replied Dr. Cluff. 

Sir John turned his back on the doctor.

“Hmm. Nothing will be accomplished by abandoning you to this Godforsaken marshland,” mumbled Sir John. “The lock-up is underwater more often than it is dry.” 

A voice came from the shadows. “I must protest,” said Mr. Trevelyan.

“Protest noted and overruled. Mistress Ives, we will allow you to return to Covent Garden. I will dispatch a messenger post haste to Falmouth to notify Mrs. Hobbs of her brother’s demise. It will take her many more days to get here by coach than my man riding post the other way. That being the case, I would estimate that you have perhaps…. two weeks to bring me the murderer.”

“Me? But what can I do?” I exclaimed.

Sir John leaned in close. I noticed the others also leaning in to catch his words. Sir John intuited that his utterance was of great interest and waved them away.

“You may disperse,” he said. “You have no more business here.”

“Sir,” said Dr. Cluff. He glanced at his colleagues. It was clear; he was greatly put out by Sir John’s demeanour towards them. However, there being nothing more he could add, he uttered, “we are at your service,” and gave Sir John a disdainful look. This, of course, was lost on the blind man. 

As he passed, Mr. Trevelyan spoke loudly, in Sir John’s ear. 

“You will keep me informed?” He cast his eyes in my direction. I caught his inference, but did not react. I would uncover the truth of him later.

“You will doubtless be called upon to give testimony,” said Sir John.

“Then I await your instruction,” said Mr. Trevelyan, and he departed with the others. 

Now we were alone, save for Craddock and Charles Jealous, Sir John gave me his fullest attention. For a while he walked up and down, up and down.

“If I remember rightly, you acted for the Crown on a previous occasion, did you not?” he said.

I nodded and muttered, “yes”.

“And you returned from…” 

“That was some time ago. Jim… Mr. Craddock stood surety on my behalf.”

“By marrying you and paying off the sister, this Mrs. Hobbs,” said Sir John. 


It was true. I had returned from America on a ship captained by the man lying on table before us. Once I had re-established myself in Covent Garden, his sister, Mrs. Hobbs, attempted to ‘save my soul’ by having her brother hunt me down. Craddock came to my aid. He married me in exchange for standing surety against further crimes I might commit. Thus, I was excused from standing trial for returning from transportation. Had I have been brought to justice, I would surely have been found guilty and hanged. 

“My dear,” said Sir John, “you have served us well in the past. Now I ask that you do so again. Understand, I cannot be seen to pay your surety for this offence myself, but I can, and I will, once again, take that surety from Mr. Craddock here, or any other person who will come forward. Forty pounds will suffice. Do we have a deal?”

I did not look at Craddock. I was not sure he would pay such a large sum. That said, he did not venture his disapproval. In fact, he did not say anything at all. I wondered if these two men had already made the bargain, before I had ever been brought here. 

“What do you want me to do?” I said.

“Find out where Captain Somerville has been for the last six months. Perhaps he was sea. Is that why we could not find him? Or perhaps he assumed another identity. It isn’t uncommon amongst those keen to avoid the noose.”

“A man fitting his description took a room at The Plough in Blackwall last night,” said Craddock.

“How did you come by this knowledge?” said Sir John.

“The constable was the first man called to the crime. He reported it.”

“Who found the body?” 

“The foreman of the yard,” said Craddock.

 “Very good,” said Sir John. He turned back to me. “So, I want to know where the Captain was and who wanted him dead. But for the gunshot wound, I would have said it was an accident, or at the very least, a fight. I have faith in your ability to charm even the most black-hearted of men and uncover the truth.  Report your findings to Mr. Craddock or to Mr. Jealous here… or of course, myself. No one else, you understand?”

I nodded. “What of that man in black? Mr. Trevelyan? Who is he?”

“He said he is a husband with East India Company,” said Craddock, quickly. His cheek twitched. I knew that to mean he had discerned my intentions.

“A husband? He is married?”

“He is a manager who answers to the owners of ship,” said Sir John.

“Which owners? Which ship?”

“Perhaps that is something you can find out,” he said.

“He called for me to be locked up,” I said.

“Did he indeed?” 

“Just before you arrived. He will not like it if he encounters me elsewhere.” 

I did not dare to think of his hands on my body or his breath on my skin. 

“I doubt he will even recognise you, my dear,” said Sir John. “You may start your enquiries this afternoon at The Plough.”

“Sir,” I said, and curtsied. “One more thing? Why do you need a surety for me? Do you not think the gallows is threat enough?”

“My dear,” said Sir John, “you are a whore at heart and, despite I believe you will do right by us, you may just as well up and run. I know you do not see eye to eye with Mr. Craddock here, yet you are married to him. It is as much a means of putting him on his guard as you on yours. In short, he will forfeit his money if you make us come after you. That means he will keep you on a very tight rein. Take care, my dear. Take care.”

Craddock grunted at that. Clearly, he did not like the idea any more than I did.

In that moment, the door opened and the officer of the East India Militiamen pushed a blackamore girl before him into the shed.

“Sir,” the officer said. “I found her skulking in the timber yard.”

The girl’s eyes shone like diamonds. She seemed about thirteen years of age. She wore a mud-splattered pink cotton dress. Her hair was neatly set and she was not a bit sickly looking or thin. I deemed her a runaway. There are many such former slaves in our country. Once here, they divest themselves of this sorry status only to seek their fortune as free men and women in much the same way as Lucius. Sad to say, the slave-taker finds them, more often than not, and returns them to the colony in exchange for a finder’s fee. 

“What are you doing here girl?” said Craddock. She kicked him on the shin and twisted out of the Militiaman’s grasp. Craddock grabbed her by the arm and held her fast.

“Answer the man,” said Sir John. He wrinkled his nose and turned to catch the sound of her harsh breath and rustling petticoats.

“Nothin’,” she said. “I wasn’t doin’ nothin’. Let me go.”

“What is your name?” said Sir John.

“Effie,” came the reply. 

Her teeth were pearly white. Her limbs well formed. She would make a fine virgin. There are those who will pay handsomely for a tawny experience. Oh, but what was I thinking? I had vowed never to act as Mother Shadbolt surely had on many an occasion.

“Where was she again?” said Sir John to the officer.

“In the timber yard,” he said.

“Did you see anything of this man?” said Sir John. 

He stepped aside to reveal the better portion of the corpse, which until now had been hidden from the child’s direct view. She gave out a little cry and hid her face in her hands, though she made slightly too much play of it to be believable.

“No,” she muttered.

“Are you sure?” said Craddock. 

“Yes,” she said.

“How did you get here?” asked Sir John.


“Where from?”

“The town.”

“Blackwall? Or the city proper?”

“Don’t know.”

“And you saw nothing of this man or his attacker?” said Sir John.

“No.” She pouted, and turned her head away.

Sir John let out a long sigh. 

“A simpleton perhaps.” He signalled Jealous to take him by the arm and lead him to the door.

“What should we do with her?” said Craddock.

“Let her go,” said Sir John. He paused, turned in my direction and pointed a finger. “Do not let me down,” he said. “Or it will be the worse for you.” 

“No sir. Certainly, I will do my best,” I replied.

Sir John left us then, as did Charles Jealous and the East India officer. I gazed on the corpse and then at Effie. What would she do? Where would she go? Craddock thrust her out into yard and I followed after them. The sun had risen fully and the mud had begun to bake.

“Where is The Plough?” I asked.

“Blackwall. We could take us a room. Make an afternoon of it,” he said. I was astounded at his nerve.

 “We will finish with this business quick sharp, and be back in Covent Garden by nightfall. You may place the child in the carriage,” I said.

I picked up my petticoats and hastened across the boards.

“You want this urchin?” Craddock called after me.

“Until we find out where she belongs. Yes.”


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