Fugitive from the Grave - Edward Marston - E-Book

Fugitive from the Grave E-Book

Edward Marston

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Beschreibung

1817. Clemency van Emden receives an anonymous terse message informing her that her estranged father is dead and buried. Confounded by this news and desperate to visit her father's final resting place, she returns from Holland determined to seek answers. A chance encounter on a busy London street leads her to twin detectives Peter and Paul Skillen, who agree to help her unravel the mystery of her father's last days. However, Paul's attention is diverted away from London to Bath, as he seeks to thwart a daring band of highwaymen, one of whom appears to have more than just jewels on his mind.Meanwhile, the Bow Street Runners are struggling to redeem themselves after losing, yet again, the slippery and infamous Harry Scattergood. With mounting pressure from the local magistrate to produce results, they are sent to investigate a spate of bodysnatching from local cemeteries.When the body of Clemency's father is discovered to be missing from its casket, the twins embark on a chase of graverobbers, funerary agents and Good Samaritans to unearth the truth.

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Fugitive from the Grave

EDWARD MARSTON

This one is especially for Judith

CONTENTS

TITLE PAGE DEDICATION  CHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENCHAPTER TWELVECHAPTER THIRTEENCHAPTER FOURTEENCHAPTER FIFTEENCHAPTER SIXTEENCHAPTER SEVENTEENCHAPTER EIGHTEENCHAPTER NINETEENCHAPTER TWENTYCHAPTER TWENTY-ONECHAPTER TWENTY-TWO  ABOUT THE AUTHORBY EDWARD MARSTON COPYRIGHT

CHAPTER ONE

1817

London was awash with beggars. Hardly a road, street, lane or alleyway was free of them. They haunted the riverside, lurked in doorways and descended on St Paul’s Cathedral like a swarm of locusts. Some worked alone while others were members of criminal gangs. Begging was a profession open to all: males and females, children and old folk, the blind, the diseased, the disabled and those returning from the war with hideous wounds. Everyone had his or her favourite pitch, jealously guarded against intruders.

Striding through the heart of the city, the man peered out from beneath his umbrella. His clothing and demeanour suggested wealth, so he raised a chorus of appeals wherever he went. Most of those he passed earned no more than a glance, their pathetic cries scarcely reaching his ears. Pickpockets hid in the shadows but none dared to single him out as their prey. Tall, robust and moving swiftly, he exuded a sense of strength and determination. When he turned down a side street, he saw that the beggars had largely disappeared and that he could actually walk a dozen yards or more without being subject to a desperate plea from some sodden wretch.

It was when he reached the end of the street that someone finally caught his eye and brought him to a halt. Sitting on a doorstep, an old man was staring into space. There was an air of desperation about him. Though his clothing was threadbare and his hat crumpled, he was clearly no ordinary beggar. Gaunt and unshaven, he nevertheless had a strange dignity about him. It was ironic. Having ignored those who’d called out imploringly to him, the newcomer had stopped beside someone who’d remained silent and who seemed to be locked in a private world. He knelt down beside the man, shielding him from the rain with his umbrella.

‘You don’t belong here,’ he said, solicitously.

‘What’s that?’ The old man came out of his reverie and looked up nervously. ‘Am I doing something wrong, sir?’

‘On the contrary, my dear fellow, I believe that something wrong has been done to you.’

‘They keep moving me on. Wherever I stop, someone tells me that I’ve taken his place. They use harsh words and often add a punch or a kick to send me on my way. Do forgive me, sir,’ he went on, struggling to his feet. ‘I hadn’t realised that this spot was reserved.’

‘It should never have been occupied by you in the first place,’ said the other, putting a friendly arm around his shoulders. ‘What brought you to such a condition?’

‘I have no money. I beg or I starve.’

‘What of your family and friends?’

‘My dear wife died years ago and our only child lives abroad. When I had a thriving business, there were many who sought my company. Now that my fortunes have declined, they look the other way. Poverty is the surest way to exile, sir.’

‘You look ill. Why have you not sought a doctor?’

‘They require money.’

‘When did you last eat?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Where do you sleep at nights?’

‘Wherever I can.’

‘Look at you – you’re nothing but skin and bone.’

The man gave a wan smile. ‘That’s what I’m reduced to, sir.’

‘Then the first thing we must do is to get some food inside you.’

‘Thank you, kind sir. This is unexpected kindness.’

‘And we must get you out of that tattered apparel. It’s no longer fit for a man of your breeding.’

‘Oh, I had to forfeit my breeding, alas.’

‘There are some things a man never loses.’ The newcomer glanced over his shoulder. ‘I’ve no time for those wailing beggars with their tales of woe. They were born to this life. You, I can see, were certainly not. Come, sir, lean on me and keep under the umbrella. We’ll stop at the first tavern we come to and let you taste wholesome food again. It’s no more than you deserve.’

The older man was overwhelmed with gratitude. ‘I’m a complete stranger,’ he said in disbelief. ‘Why are you being so good to me?’

‘You need help. It’s my duty as a Christian to provide it.’

Slowly and gently, he guided the old man away.

CHAPTER TWO

When he walked slowly past the house, Peter Skillen appeared to show no interest in it at all. Out of the corner of his eye, however, he made a swift assessment of the building. It was a nondescript three-storey house in the middle of a row of dwellings that were all in need of repair. For most people, there’d only be two possible exits, one at the front of the property and another at the rear. But the man he was after that morning would also have a third means of escape. Notorious for his ability to evade arrest, Harry Scattergood had more than once fled over the rooftops of his latest refuge. Small, agile and fearless, the thief was a master at shaking off pursuit. Peter had resolved that Scattergood would be caught and convicted at long last. It was not only because of the large reward on offer. He had a genuine interest in meeting the man face-to-face.

Turning back, he crossed the road and approached the house. As soon as he used the knocker, he heard a bedroom window open above him and caught a glimpse of a man’s head popping out before vanishing quickly out of sight. The front door was opened by a middle-aged woman of generous proportions with a powdered face and a startling ginger wig. When she saw the handsome, elegant man on her doorstep, she exposed yellowing teeth in a crooked smile.

‘Good day to you, sir. Can we be of service to you?’

‘Indeed, you can. I need to speak to Mr Scattergood.’

Her smile became a scowl. ‘We’ve nobody of that name here.’

‘My information is usually very reliable,’ said Peter. ‘I believe that, in all probability, he is at present occupying the front room on the first floor. You may, of course, know him by a different name. He has a whole range of them.’

‘There’s no gentleman staying here at the moment,’ she said, raising her voice so that it could be heard throughout the house. ‘I’ve never even heard of Mr Scatter-thing.’

‘His name is Scattergood and he’s certainly no gentleman.’

‘You’ve come to the wrong address.’

‘I don’t think so.’ He lifted a warning eyebrow. ‘Are you aware of the penalty for aiding and abetting a criminal?’

She folded her arms defiantly. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’

‘The magistrate will think differently.’

‘Good day to you, sir.’

She tried to close the door in his face, but Peter stopped it with a firm hand. The look in his eyes was easy to translate. Whether she liked it or not, he was going to come into the house, even if he had to do so by force. There was no way to stop him. With great reluctance, she stood back out of his way.

‘Thank you,’ he said, bestowing a benign smile on her.

 

Harry Scattergood, meanwhile, was listening to the conversation from the top of the stairs. Now in his late forties, he was remarkably lithe for his age and confident in his ability to get out of any awkward situation. One confronted him now. He remained in position until Peter came to the foot of the stairs. Having taken a good look at him, Scattergood then set off like a greyhound, dashing into a room at the rear of the house and barricading it swiftly with every piece of furniture he could lay his hand on. He flung open the window, clambered through it and dropped feet first through the air, landing on the cobbles below with the lightness of a cat. Since discovery had always been a possibility, he’d taken the precaution of leaving his horse saddled in the stable and ready for instant departure. Once again, he congratulated himself that he’d made a miraculous escape. Taking a good run at the hindquarters of the animal, he vaulted effortlessly into the saddle, intending to ride swiftly away from danger.

But there was a problem. The moment he landed on the horse, the saddle gave way completely and he was tipped violently onto the ground. Before he could move, he felt a sword point at his neck.

‘We had a feeling you’d leave this way,’ said Paul Skillen, stepping into view, ‘so I took the trouble of cutting the girth on your mount. You won’t be riding a horse for a very long time, Harry.’

Mouth agape, Scattergood stared at him in amazement.

‘How the hell did you get out here so fast?’ he demanded. ‘I left you standing at the bottom of the bleeding stairs.’

‘That was my brother. Come and meet him.’

Taking him by the scruff of the neck, Paul dragged him out of the stable, then yanked him to his feet. ‘There he is,’ he went on, pointing upwards. ‘You fled from Peter into the arms of Paul.’

‘We always work together,’ explained Peter, leaning out of the window through which the thief had leapt. ‘Strictly speaking, Paul made the arrest, but we always share reward money equally.’

Scattergood looked first at Peter, then at Paul, then back again at Peter. Realisation slowly dawned on him.

‘I’ve heard about you,’ he said. ‘You’re twins.’

‘We’ve heard about you,’ said Paul, grinning. ‘You’re nabbed.’

 

It was the time of day when Micah Yeomans and Alfred Hale were usually to be found at the Peacock Inn, eating a warm pie and washing it down with a pint or two of its celebrated ale. The pub had long ago become the Runners’ unofficial headquarters, the place where they could relax in comfort and from which they could deploy the various patrols they supervised. Yeomans was a big, hulking man in his forties with dark, bushy eyebrows dominating an excessively ugly face. Hale was shorter, slighter and a couple of years younger, enjoying the power his status gave him yet always deferring to his companion. They were on their second pint when a breathless Chevy Ruddock came into the bar and looked around for them. A member of the foot patrol, Ruddock was proud to be involved in law enforcement and to be working with the two most famous and successful Runners in the city. He was a tall, ungainly, ever-willing individual in his twenties. Panting heavily, he sped across to them.

‘I was hoping to find you here,’ he said, gulping for air.

‘Get your breath back first, lad,’ advised Hale. ‘There’s no rush.’

‘Yes, there is, Mr Hale.’

‘Why is that?’

‘I’ve brought you important news, sir.’

‘What is it?’ asked Yeomans.

‘I’ve just come from Bow Street.’

‘That’s not news, you idiot. You go there every day.’

‘But today is different, Mr Yeomans. You’ll never guess what’s happened. A certain person is finally in custody.’

‘Don’t stand there gibbering, man. What’s his name?’

‘Spit it out!’ urged Hale.

After pausing for effect, Ruddock made his grand announcement.

‘Harry Scattergood is finally behind bars.’

‘These are wonderful tidings,’ said Yeomans, leaping to his feet. ‘That slippery little monkey has been caught at last.’

‘Congratulations, Chevy!’ said Hale, getting up to pat him on the back. ‘In arresting him, you’ve done this city a great service.’

‘I wasn’t the person who caught him,’ admitted Ruddock.

‘Well, whoever it was, he deserves our thanks.’

‘There may even be a promotion in this for him,’ said Yeomans, beaming. ‘We’ve been chasing Harry for years without so much as getting a glimpse of the rogue. I’d love to shake the hand of the man who made the arrest. Who is he?’

‘In point of fact,’ said Ruddock, taking a precautionary step back, ‘it was not one person but two.’

‘Then I’ll buy a pint of ale for both heroes. Who are they?’

‘Peter and Paul Skillen.’

Yeomans blanched. ‘What did you say?’ he growled.

‘It was the Skillen brothers who tracked him down, sir.’

‘I thought you’d brought us good news, damn you!’

‘These are the worst tidings possible,’ said Hale.

‘Credit where credit is due,’ said Ruddock, reasonably. ‘The two of them did something that we couldn’t manage, even though we have far better resources, not to mention an army of paid informers. Those twins have a knack that we somehow don’t possess.’

‘Shut up!’ barked Yeomans.

‘We should learn from them, sir. I believe that—’

The rest of the sentence became a gurgle as Yeomans grabbed him by the throat and lifted him bodily from the ground. A former blacksmith, the Runner had immense power. It was usually reserved for malefactors but, on this occasion, the hapless Ruddock felt its full force. When he was dumped back down on the floor, he shuddered.

‘We are the official guardians of law and order,’ said Yeomans.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘The Skillen brothers are mere interlopers.’

‘But they’re remarkably clever ones,’ said Hale.

Yeomans glowered at him. ‘Don’t you start as well.’

‘What Chevy said was good advice, Micah. We ought to wonder why it is that Peter and Paul Skillen are better thief-takers than we are. What’s their secret?’

‘They have outrageous good fortune, that’s all.’

‘How did they find Scattergood when we didn’t get so much as a sniff of that little toad?’

‘We’d have caught him in due course.’

‘It’s too late now,’ Ruddock pointed out. ‘He’s already caught. The Skillen brothers have stolen our thunder.’

‘They’re trespassing on our territory,’ said Yeomans, angrily. ‘I’ve warned them before about that. They need to be stopped.’

‘You tried to stop them once before, sir.’

‘It’s true,’ said Hale. ‘We arrested one of their friends in the hope that it would teach them a lesson. All we got in return for our efforts was a stern rebuke from the chief magistrate and a demand that we release the prisoner at once. Jem Huckvale walked free and we ended up in disgrace.’

Ruddock was rueful. ‘You made me swear I’d seen him stealing a leg of mutton in the market,’ he said, ‘and I was very uneasy about doing that.’

‘I know,’ said Yeomans, shooting him a disdainful glance. ‘Had you given your evidence with more authority, Huckvale would have been convicted and the Skillen brothers would be devoting all their time to saving him from transportation. Jem Huckvale is vital to them. He’s their intelligencer. He hears things.’

‘So does my wife, sir,’ said Ruddock, sighing, ‘and it’s always in the middle of the night. She’s convinced a burglar has got in. Some nights I’m in and out of bed three or four times.’

‘There’s one sure way to stop her from hearing noises at night.’

‘Is there?’

‘Stuff something in your wife’s ears – if not elsewhere in her anatomy.’ He and Hale shared a ribald laugh. ‘But I return to my point. The Skillen brothers would be helpless without Huckvale. He always seems to be in the right place to pick up information. It’s quite uncanny.’

 

When he was dispatched with a message to deliver, Jem Huckvale had been offered the use of a horse but he preferred to run to and from Covent Garden, maintaining good speed and threading his way expertly through the crowds. He was a diminutive figure in his twenties, but his stature belied both his strength and his ability to defend himself. Having handed the letter over, he began the journey back to the gallery where he lived and gave instruction in shooting, boxing, fencing and archery. Huckvale reached the edge of the market when he noticed a striking young woman and her male companion. Looking around in dismay, they were clearly lost. Because their attire marked them out as visitors from abroad, Huckvale stopped to offer his help.

‘Are you lost?’ he asked, politely. ‘I was born and brought up in London, so I can give you any directions you need.’

‘That’s very kind of you,’ said the woman, appraising him for a moment before deciding that he could be trusted. ‘I, too, was born here but I’ve lived in Amsterdam for many years. To my shame, I’ve forgotten my way around. We’re looking for Bow Street.’ She gave a hopeless shrug. ‘At least, I think that we are.’

‘Don’t you know?’

‘I thought I did but, now that we’re here, I’m not at all sure that we’d be going to the right place.’

‘Wherever you wish to go, I’ll be happy to conduct you. My name is Jem Huckvale,’ he explained, ‘and I’m at your service.’

There was something about his open face, his soft voice and his pleasant manner that appealed to her. For his part, he was delighted to be able to help a beautiful and well-spoken woman so obviously in distress.

‘I’m Mrs van Emden,’ she said, then indicated her chaperon, ‘and this is Jacob, my footman. He speaks very little English.’

Huckvale grinned. ‘I don’t hold that against him, Mrs van Emden,’ he said. ‘I can’t speak a word of Dutch. It always sounds such a difficult language to learn.’

‘It is,’ she agreed with a smile. ‘It’s taken me years to get my tongue around it. Fortunately, I have a very patient husband.’ She became serious. ‘My dilemma is this: I returned to England because I heard that my father had died. I’m desperate to learn the circumstances of his death. That’s why I thought my search might start in Bow Street.’

‘Do you suspect that a crime might have taken place?’

‘No, no, I’ve no reason to think that. I just need someone to find the information I want. My immediate thought was a Runner.’

‘Why not begin your search at the church where he was buried?’

‘I don’t know where it is.’

‘Someone in your family will surely tell you.’

‘It’s not as simple as that, Mr Huckvale,’ she said, looking around at the jostling crowd. ‘If you don’t mind, I’d rather not discuss my private affairs out here in the street.’

‘Then you have a choice,’ he told her. ‘You can either turn to the Runners and hope that they have a man who’ll take an interest in your plight, or you can engage the best detectives in London.’

‘Who are they?’

‘Their names are Peter and Paul Skillen, seasoned men who’ve solved murders, caught endless criminals and tracked down dozens of missing persons. They’ll certainly take on your case.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘I have the honour of working for them, Mrs van Emden.’ He could see her hesitating. ‘Why not at least speak to them?’ he suggested. ‘It will cost you nothing. If you have any doubts about their abilities, you can go to the Runners instead.’

‘Well …’

‘What can you lose?’ asked Huckvale, with a reassuring smile. ‘This is no chance encounter. I believe that fate guided our footsteps today. We were meant to cross each other’s paths. Don’t you feel that?’

‘No,’ she replied. ‘In truth, I don’t feel that at all.’

CHAPTER THREE

Having chased Harry Scattergood without success for so many years, the Runners couldn’t resist going to see him in custody. The infamous thief was being held in a dank cell at the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. Mindful of the man’s reputation, Eldon Kirkwood, the chief magistrate, had ordered that he should be kept in handcuffs. Yeomans and Hale went to satisfy their curiosity. Expecting to find the prisoner cowed and resentful, they were surprised to see him sitting cross-legged on the floor with a contented smile on his face. It turned into a broad grin when he saw the Runners.

‘Good day to you, gentlemen,’ he said, breezily.

‘I’d have thought it was a bad day for you,’ said Yeomans. ‘Your miserable career has just come to an end.’

Hale was sarcastic. ‘We feel so sorry for you.’

‘Save your sympathy for Welsh Mary,’ said Scattergood.

‘Who’s she?’

‘Mary Morris from Wales is the sweet little darling who was about to enjoy the moment of a lifetime when I was rudely plucked from between those wondrous thighs of hers.’

‘So that’s it. You were caught in a brothel.’

‘I was tricked by those damnable brothers. When one of them banged on the front door, I had to leave Welsh Mary high and dry so that I could quit the premises. No sooner had I done that and mounted my horse than I was lying on the ground with a sword at my neck. Paul Skillen, the cunning devil, had cut the girth so that the saddle gave way beneath me.’

Hale guffawed. ‘I’d have loved to have seen that.’

‘Well, I wouldn’t,’ said Yeomans, malevolently. ‘Don’t ask me to praise the Skillens’ handiwork. This flea-bitten wretch was ours.’

‘Except that you couldn’t catch me,’ taunted Scattergood.

‘We got close many a time.’

‘But I always escaped your clutches.’

‘It remains to be seen if you’ll escape the hangman. At the very least, you’ll be shipped off to Australia with the scum of London. If the voyage doesn’t kill you, the hard labour certainly will.’

‘We’ll see,’ said Scattergood, airily.

‘How can you be so cheerful?’ asked Hale.

‘I have Welsh Mary waiting for me.’

‘Your days with the trulls of the capital are over.’

‘I paid her in advance. I want my money’s worth.’

‘Forget her, Harry. You’ll never see her again.’

Scattergood became pensive. ‘What I want to know is this,’ he said, ‘how did those brothers know where to find me?’

‘They’ve got noses like bloodhounds,’ said Hale, enviously.

‘But I never leave tracks.’

‘Someone must have betrayed you.’

‘They wouldn’t dare,’ said Scattergood, eyes glinting. ‘Yet those clever twins picked up my scent somehow.’

‘So can we,’ complained Yeomans, turning his head away in disgust. ‘You stink to high heaven.’

‘Who was your stall?’ asked Hale. ‘Who always got in our way whenever we tried to chase you?’

Scattergood was insistent. ‘I work alone.’

‘We don’t believe you. I’ll wager you had a lookout.’

‘I didn’t need one when I was up against fools like you two. I’ve been buzzing all my life, you see. I started off as a snakesman, then a mutcher, then a dipper, then a dragsman, stealing from carriages. When I learnt how to break a drum,’ he boasted, ‘there was no stopping me. I’ve been burgling houses ever since. Nobody could touch me.’

‘The Skillen brothers did.’

‘I’ll get even with them somehow.’

‘How can you do that from Botany Bay?’ asked Yeomans.

‘Oh, I’ve no intention of being transported.’

‘There’s no way to prevent it.’

‘You’ll see – and so will Welsh Mary.’

‘What’s she got to do with it?’

‘She owes me fifteen minutes of paradise,’ said Scattergood, with a smirk. ‘That’s what I paid for and that’s what I intend to get.’

 

Even when they’d reached the shooting gallery, Clemency van Emden was still undecided. Though she’d been persuaded to go there by Jem Huckvale, she was unimpressed by the shabby exterior of the building and wondered if she should bother to go inside. After thinking it over for a few minutes, she agreed to enter and was shown into the room that was used as both an office and a place for storage. To her amazement, she was welcomed by Charlotte Skillen, a poised, handsome woman of her own age who seemed out of place in such surroundings. After formal introductions, Jem explained how the visitors from abroad came to be there, then left them alone with Charlotte, confident that she would soon remove any doubts they might have.

When she’d taken a seat, her footman stood behind her. Clemency started with a confession.

‘I have to tell you that I’m to blame for all the confusion,’ she said, penitently. ‘The fact is that my father and I have been estranged for a number of years because … he disapproved strongly of my marriage.’

‘Why was that?’ asked Charlotte.

‘He disliked my husband and he disliked the idea that I’d be taken off to live in Amsterdam even more. When I defied him, he told me that he no longer had a daughter. That was very hurtful, Mrs Skillen.’

‘It sounds to me as if there was pain on both sides.’

‘Oh, there was – intense pain.’

‘Were no efforts made towards reconciliation?’

‘None were made by my father,’ replied the other. ‘I yearned for his forgiveness but the steady stream of letters I sent to him went unanswered and, I fear, probably unread.’

‘That must have been a very sad state of affairs. How did you hear of his death?’

‘I received an anonymous letter. It gave no details, merely stating that my father had died and that the funeral had taken place. Since my husband was unable to come to England, I set off without him. From the moment I arrived in London, I’ve met with quite an alarming series of discoveries.’

‘That must have been disconcerting for you.’

‘It’s frightening,’ said Clemency. ‘When I went to the house where my father had lived for most of his life, I was told that he’d left there several months ago when he became bankrupt. Yes – think of that – bankrupt. How could that possibly be true? He was a successful engineer and draughtsman. How could he possibly have got into dire financial straits?’

‘What about his solicitor? Did you contact him?’

‘I went straight to the man who used to act for him, but I learnt that they’d fallen out and parted company. He had no idea who’d replaced him as a legal advisor.’

Clemency explained that she’d visited a number of her father’s friends and discovered that nobody had seen him for months. Such as it was, his social life had ceased to exist. All that she heard were rumours that he’d taken to drink and been seen begging in the streets. Charlotte felt profoundly sorry for her. It was clear that she blamed herself for the rift with her father and felt that her disappearance abroad had robbed him of any purpose in life. Having left him in good health and in constant demand for his skills, she’d come back to hear of his rapid decline into penury.

‘If only he’d told us he needed money,’ Clemency wailed. ‘We’d have sent it at once. My husband is a wealthy man and as eager as I was for an amicable reunion. It can never take place now.’

She lapsed into silence and Charlotte let her brood quietly on the sorrowful events. Then, without warning, Clemency was suddenly jerked out of her reverie by the sound of a gun being fired in the room directly above them. She jumped to her feet, but Charlotte didn’t turn a hair.

‘Someone is receiving instruction in the shooting gallery,’ she said.

‘How can you bear such a noise?’

‘One gets used to it, Mrs van Emden.’

‘That helpful young man we met earlier, does he really work here?’

‘Oh, yes, Jem is an important part of the enterprise. So, for that matter, are my husband, Peter, and his brother, Paul. Between them, they’ll quickly solve the mystery of your father’s death.’

‘Do you really mean that?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘I simply must know the truth, Mrs Skillen.’

‘That’s only natural.’

‘I’ll understand if you place all the blame on me.’

Charlotte was surprised. ‘Why on earth should I do that?’

‘You must think I acted wilfully in disobeying my father.’

‘I think that you followed your heart, Mrs van Emden, and I’d never criticise any woman for doing that.’

 

While his wife was talking to their visitor, Peter Skillen was hearing from Jem Huckvale how the woman came to be there in the first place. The two men were in the long room reserved for archery practice. As they chatted, Jem was whitening the target. Peter was perplexed.

‘I’d have thought it was very easy to find out where her father is buried,’ he said. ‘All that Mrs van Emden has to do is go to the church where he attended services on a Sunday.’

‘On the walk back here, she told me that she’d done that.’

‘And what was the result?’

‘The vicar had no idea that her father was dead. It seems that George Parry – that’s his name – stopped going to church altogether when his daughter left. Wherever the funeral took place, it wasn’t in his parish church.’

‘Oh, I hadn’t realised that.’

‘I promised her that you and Paul would come to her rescue.’

‘We’ll be happy to do so, Jem. Most of our assignments involve great danger so it will be a welcome change to deal with a case entirely devoid of jeopardy. It’s so straightforward.’

‘It may not be that straightforward,’ said Huckvale.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Mr Parry was so upset at what his daughter did that he cut off all links between them. What if he left instructions in his will that he was to be buried in a place where she was least likely to find him?’

‘In other words,’ said Peter, thinking it through, ‘he may not even be here in London.’ Huckvale nodded. ‘That could complicate matters. I like that. Our job has suddenly become more interesting.’

‘Mrs van Emden hasn’t hired us yet.’

‘Leave that to Charlotte. She’ll persuade the lady to engage us.’

‘Her father used to be an engineer. He designed a bridge once.’

‘Then he’ll have had lots of business associates. One of them is bound to be able to shed light on what actually happened to him.’

‘They didn’t step forward when he lost all his money.’

‘There must be a reason for that, Jem.’

‘Mrs van Emden is desperate to know what actually killed him.’

‘From what you’ve told me about her father, there are lots of possibilities. He wouldn’t be the first person who drank himself to death. If he was forced to beg on the streets, he’d have been vulnerable to attack from one of those predatory gangs that smell a weakness instantly. Then again, he could simply have withered away from starvation. It’s even conceivable,’ Peter went on, ‘that he actually wanted to die.’

‘That’s Mrs van Emden’s greatest fear.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yes, Peter. She didn’t say it in so many words, but I could guess what she was thinking.’

‘And what was that?’

‘Because of what she did,’ said Huckvale, sadly, ‘Mrs van Emden believes that her father died of a broken heart.’

 

Paul Skillen could still not believe his good fortune. Sharing his life with Hannah Granville, the finest actress of her generation, he woke up every morning with the most extraordinary feeling of joy and fulfilment. There were, however, some disadvantages. Superb onstage in any part she played, Hannah could, in private, be volatile, demanding and headstrong, requiring Paul to read her moods and exercise considerable tact. Then there were the hordes of male admirers who competed for her attention, showering her with gifts and offers of a more intimate alliance. When he’d first met her, Paul had enjoyed the thrill of escorting her from the stage door of a theatre through a melee of devotees, but that pleasure had soon evanesced into annoyance at the brutal fact that most of them simply wanted another conquest.

But the major disadvantage of being her chosen partner was that Hannah was always in demand by theatre managers in London and elsewhere. Her latest engagement was at the Theatre Royal, Bath, where she was due to play Rosalind in As You Like It. While he was excited by her unwavering success in a highly precarious profession, Paul hated being apart from her. As her luggage was being taken out to the waiting cab, they were about to exchange farewells. Hannah could see the sadness in his eyes.

‘You could always come with me,’ she said.

‘I have work that keeps me here, my love.’

‘Then I’ll write to you every day.’

‘Make sure that you do,’ said Paul. ‘It was torture when you went to Paris. Your letters took an age to reach me and they contained only the merest hints of the terrible problems you were facing there. Had I known the truth, I’d have set out for France at once.’

‘Thankfully, you did come in due course.’

‘That episode ended happily, as it was, but it could easily have had appalling consequences. At least Bath is easier to reach than Paris.’

‘I hope that you’ll come to see my performance.’

‘If it were left to me, I’d be there every day.’

‘And every night …’

Hannah gave him the smile that had first enchanted him, then went into his arms for a final embrace. When he pulled away, he looked at the beautiful opal necklace she was wearing.

‘Whenever you’re travelling, Hannah, you really shouldn’t have any valuables on display.’

‘This was a gift from the dearest man in the world,’ she said, one hand to the necklace, ‘and I can’t thank you enough for it. When I’m wearing this, I’m reminded of you, Paul.’

‘I’d feel happier if you kept it out of sight during the journey.’

She snapped her fingers. ‘I’d never dream of it. When you have something wonderful,’ she went on with a grand gesture, ‘you’re entitled to flaunt it, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.’

CHAPTER FOUR

After their visit to see the prisoner, Yeomans and Hale returned to the Peacock Inn to drink more ale in a futile bid to dispel the feeling that they’d been thoroughly humiliated. The Skillen brothers had surpassed them yet again and Harry Scattergood had mocked them. It was the thief who unnerved them most. Since the protection of property was one of the cornerstones of British justice, Scattergood was facing the prospect of execution. Anyone else in his position would be showing fear and begging for mercy, yet he did neither. Scattergood was sitting blithely on the floor of his cell as if he were a guest at a hotel. When the Runners went to see him, he’d actually taunted them.

‘I don’t like it, Micah,’ said Hale.

‘Neither do I,’ agreed the other. ‘He was far too sure of himself.’

‘He could just be trying to bluff us.’

‘I doubt it. Harry knows something that we don’t and that worries me. It’s almost as if he’s certain of escaping.’

‘Nobody can escape from the cells in Bow Street.’

‘That woman did,’ Yeomans reminded him. ‘Don’t you remember? We had Miss Somerville safely locked away then Captain Hamer came to her rescue by holding a pistol to Chevy Ruddock’s skull. We had to let her walk out of there.’

‘They didn’t get clear. Thanks to Chevy, we stopped them.’

‘Ruddock was irrelevant.’

‘Be fair, Micah. He was a real hero that day.’

‘It was our heroism that foiled the escape, Alfred,’ said Yeomans, unwilling to let the younger man enjoy any of his deserved praise. ‘But the case is different here. Harry Scattergood is no beautiful young damsel about to be carried off by a dashing soldier. He’s a hideous little runt without a true friend in the world.’

‘What about Welsh Mary?’

‘She’s not likely to rescue him, is she?’ He quaffed his pint and brooded for a while. ‘All the same,’ he admitted at length, ‘he disturbs me. It’s one thing to fail to catch him. To let him slip through our fingers when we actually have him in custody would be unforgivable.’

‘So what do we do?’

‘What I’d like to do is strangle him with my bare hands. It’s no more than he deserves. Since I can’t do that, unfortunately, we need to take extra precautions.’

‘Do you want him in leg irons?’

‘I want him watched day and night, Alfred.’

Hale was alarmed. ‘Do you mean that we have to stand guard over Harry for twenty-four hours?’

‘No, you fool. This is work for an underling – someone who is ideal for slow, simple, boring, undemanding work.’ He sipped more ale. ‘I know just the man for the job.’

Hale chuckled. ‘So do I,’ he said. ‘Chevy Ruddock.’

 

After tapping gently on the door, Peter let himself into the room where his wife had just finished her conversation with Clemency van Emden. Charlotte introduced her husband to the two visitors then summarised the situation so concisely and accurately that she took the other woman’s breath away.

‘What a memory you have, Mrs Skillen!’ said Clemency.

‘It’s only one of my wife’s many attributes,’ said Peter, fondly. ‘Charlotte has a vital role in the service we offer.’

‘I’m beginning to see that, Mr Skillen.’

‘In essence, then, the situation is this: in your search for details of your father’s death and burial, you’ve come up against what appears to be a conspiracy of silence. Old friends deny any knowledge of what actually happened and, since he was forced to sell the house, there are no servants you can question. The one person on whom you think you can rely,’ said Peter, ‘is this gentleman from Norwich.’

‘Mr Darwood was my father’s best friend.’

‘Then why didn’t he send you his condolences on your loss?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Clemency, ‘but the obvious explanation is that he was unaware that Father had died. I wrote to him from Amsterdam, asking if he could possibly meet me here in London. I gave him the name of the hotel where I intended to stay.’

‘And did Mr Darwood reply to your letter?’

‘I’m afraid that he didn’t, Mr Skillen.’

‘There was no message waiting for you at your hotel?’

‘No. It was very disappointing.’

‘It’s more than that,’ said Charlotte. ‘You told me that you’d always been on good terms with Mr Darwood. If he and your father were so close, you’d have thought he’d be anxious to help you.’

‘Since he clearly is not,’ said Peter, ‘I may have to go to Norwich to ask him why.’

Clemency gaped at him. ‘You’d do that for me?’ she asked in disbelief. ‘You’d go all that way?’

‘Oh, I’d go much further than that, Mrs van Emden. The truth is that your situation intrigues me. While he was alive, your father was a man of means and prodigious talent. Now that he’s dead, it’s as if he never even existed. Why is everyone so keen to bury and forget all about him?’

‘That question has been troubling.’

‘Who could have sent that anonymous letter, telling you that Mr Parry had passed away?’

‘I wish I knew, Mr Skillen.’

‘Do you still have it, by any chance?’

‘As a matter of fact, I do,’ she said, opening her reticule to take out the missive. ‘It caused me a lot of pain when I first read it, but I felt that I should bring it with me, nevertheless.’

‘I’m glad that you did,’ said Peter, taking it from her. ‘This is the only piece of evidence we have that your father is deceased.’

Unfolding the paper, he read the terse message written in capitals.

 

YOUR FATHER IS DEAD AND BURIED

 

‘There’s no sign of grief or sympathy,’ said Charlotte, looking at it over his shoulder. ‘It’s so blunt as to be … cruel.’

‘When I first read it,’ admitted Clemency, ‘I almost fainted. Not a word comes from England for years then – out of the blue – I get this thunderbolt. It was a dreadful shock.’

‘I can well imagine it, Mrs van Emden.’

‘My husband thought at first that it might be a hoax, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t. What I saw in the message was a definite sense of reproach. It’s as if someone is telling me that this was the result of me defying my father.’ She turned to Peter, who’d been studying the six words carefully. ‘What do you think, Mr Skillen?’

‘I think this person had a reason to conceal his or her identity.’

‘It doesn’t look like a woman’s hand, Peter,’ said his wife.

‘It does and it doesn’t. The gender is indeterminate. That was the intention. What it tells me is that this letter was sent by someone well known to Mrs van Emden, someone whose calligraphy would have been recognised by her.’ He turned to Clemency. ‘May I keep this, please?’

‘Yes, by all means,’ she replied.

‘But I’m getting ahead of myself. You haven’t even had time to decide if you wish us to act for you. We’re more than willing to do so, but you may have reservations about us. Don’t worry about the financial commitment,’ he went on, smiling, ‘because we ask for no money in advance. Until we provide you with everything you seek, you won’t have to pay a single penny.’

‘You surely need some kind of deposit?’

‘We prefer to be paid by results, Mrs van Emden.’

‘That’s always been our policy,’ said Charlotte. ‘And it isn’t only a question of money. We have the additional satisfaction of seeing one or more criminals paying for their crime.’

Clemency blanched. ‘Is that what we have here – a crime?’

‘It’s too soon to say.’

‘But it’s a possibility that’s getting to feel more and more likely,’ said Peter, thoughtfully. ‘Someone wanted you to suffer,’ he added, holding up the letter. ‘This was designed to hurt. By withholding any details, the person who sent this knew that it would cause real distress. That’s wicked, in my view.’

‘What’s your decision, Mrs van Emden?’ asked Charlotte. ‘Do you wish to hire our services or go elsewhere?’

‘Oh,’ said Clemency with passion, ‘I’m begging you to help me. You’ve been so kind and understanding that I couldn’t conceive of finding anyone better able to solve the mystery. It’s strange, isn’t it? Jem Huckvale told me that, in meeting him, my steps had been guided by fate.’ She smiled wearily. ‘All of a sudden, I’m starting to believe him.’

 

It took them some time to run Chevy Ruddock to earth. The younger man was on patrol with William Filbert, a stout, red-cheeked man in his fifties with a drooping moustache that always looked as if it was about to fall off his face altogether. When they’d first worked together, Filbert was the senior man in years and experience, but Ruddock had learnt quickly. He’d become a resourceful member of the foot patrol and, more often than not, Filbert now deferred to his judgement. The two of them had paused on a corner so that the older man could light his pipe, a difficult operation because of his trembling hands and rheumy eyes. When the tobacco was finally ignited, they moved off again, only to find two sturdy figures blocking their way.

‘We’ve found you at last,’ declared Yeomans.

‘Good day to you both,’ said Filbert, touching his hat.

‘Be quiet, Bill. We’re not interested in you. We’re here for Ruddock.’

‘You might as well be on your way,’ advised Hale. ‘You’ll be on your own for the rest of the day.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Filbert, shifting his pipe to the other side of his mouth. ‘Is Chevy in trouble?’

‘No, we’ve got a special assignment for him. He’ll tell you all about it next time you’re on duty together.’

‘Goodbye, Bill,’ said Yeomans, firmly. ‘Keep your eyes peeled.’

After releasing a loud cackle, Filbert ambled off on his way.

‘What’s he laughing about?’ asked Hale.

‘He can’t keep his eyes peeled,’ explained Ruddock. ‘As soon as the light starts to fade, Bill is as blind as a bat. Luckily, his other senses more than make up for his poor eyesight.’

‘Forget about Bill Filbert,’ said Yeomans, dismissively. ‘We’ve come to talk about Harry Scattergood.’

‘Has he been up before Mr Kirkwood yet?’

‘No, he’s being kept as the last case of the day so that the chief magistrate has time to go through the full catalogue of his crimes.’

‘There must be dozens of them.’

‘And the rest,’ said Hale. ‘I’d be amazed if there are not more than a hundred. Harry was a real master of his craft.’

‘You have to admire the man’s skill in dodging us.’

‘I don’t admire any criminal,’ said Yeomans. ‘In my view, they should all be strung up as a warning to others. Thieves like Harry have contaminated this city for too long. They’re like a plague of rats. Our job is to trap and kill the vermin.’

‘In Harry’s case, the Skillen brothers did the trapping.’ Ruddock gasped as he was punched in the stomach by Yeomans. ‘I’m sorry, sir. I promise not to mention them again.’ He rubbed his stomach. ‘What’s this assignment you have for me?’

‘I want you to keep an eye on Scattergood.’

‘But they already have a gaoler in Bow Street.’

‘He’s simply there to lock and unlock the cells,’ said Hale. ‘He’s more of an usher than anything else, taking prisoners into court.’

‘What we want,’ said Yeomans, ‘is someone sitting on a chair outside Harry’s cell and watching him like a hawk. You’ll be responsible for taking him into court and, when he’s convicted, for seeing him safely locked up again.’

‘Am I allowed to talk to him?’ asked Ruddock.

‘No, and you mustn’t listen to him either. He’ll try every trick in the book to bamboozle you. Take no chances. Keep your mouth shut and your ears blocked.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘If you need to communicate with him,’ said Hale, ‘just fart.’

‘We’ve chosen you,’ Yeomans stressed, ‘because we wanted someone alert and reliable. Your task is not as simple as it may look. Whatever happens, Harry Scattergood must not escape.’

 

As the day wore on, there was a lot of coming and going at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. Secure in his cell, Scattergood rarely had more than a few minutes alone. New prisoners were arriving, while those already there were being hauled out in turn to appear in court. The little thief had to wait a long time before there was a definite lull in activity. On his arrival there, he’d been thoroughly searched and all the tools of his trade had been removed from his pockets. What nobody had done, however, was to search his shoes properly. They’d made him remove them in case he had anything hidden inside but, when nothing was found, he was allowed to put them on again. Salvation was still possible.

He moved swiftly. Pulling off one shoe, he twisted the heel sharply so that it swung outwards to reveal a hollow into which a number of skeleton keys had been jammed. He selected one that unfolded to four times its original length, inserting it in the handcuffs one at a time. In less than a few seconds, he heard a satisfying click and the first wrist was free. The second quickly followed. He now turned his attention to the lock on the cell door, probing gently for over a minute until he got it in the right position. Once again there was a positive click. Putting the key back in its hiding place, he twisted the heel into the position, put the shoe on again, then opened the cell door with a flourish.

As he thought of the joy that awaited him, he grinned broadly.

‘Get ready for me, Welsh Mary,’ he whispered. ‘I’m coming.’

CHAPTER FIVE

When Hannah Granville was driven to the Flying Horse, Paul rode alongside her so that he could savour her company for a short while before she quit London. Though he still had concerns about her decision to wear the opal necklace – albeit it was covered by a pelisse – he didn’t challenge her again. The last thing either of them needed before they parted was an argument. He therefore elected to humour her. On reaching the inn, Paul dismounted, then helped Hannah out of the cab. A groom came to take care of her luggage, allowing the couple to go into the hostelry. The first person they saw was Jenny Pye, the short, roly-poly, middle-aged woman who’d been Hannah’s dresser for many years and, in that time, had become a trusted friend. Getting up from her seat, she waddled across to the newcomers and was embraced warmly by Hannah. About to set off on what was a new adventure for them, the two women began to converse excitedly.

Paul, meanwhile, was looking around the room. While he was delighted that Hannah had female company for her journey, he was more interested in the security of her travel. The actress had only agreed to join the company in Bath if the theatre manager could provide a bodyguard to get her there safely. Paul soon picked out the man. He was in his thirties, tall, craggy, roughly attired and reassuringly muscular. Realising that he was being assessed, the bodyguard got up to walk across to him.

‘Are you looking for me, sir?’

‘You’ve been sent from Bath, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, sir, I’m Roderick Cosgrove. My orders are to protect Miss Granville on the journey there.’

‘Have you done this kind of work before?’

‘Yes, sir. I’m very experienced.’

‘That’s good to know.’

‘I don’t foresee any trouble,’ said Cosgrove. ‘We travelled from Bath to London without incident. I trust that the return journey will be exactly the same.’

‘Take good care of Miss Granville.’

‘I will, sir. My years in the army prepared me well for this kind of employment. Nothing that could happen will in any way compare to some of the battles in which I fought. Besides,’ he said with quiet confidence, ‘I carry a pistol, and I’ll not be the only man aboard with a weapon. We can repel any attack, though one is highly unlikely to happen.’

‘I’m glad to hear that.’

Paul took him across the room and introduced him to the two women. They were pleased to meet Cosgrove and struck by his polite manner. When it was time to go, they followed the other passengers out to the stagecoach. The four horses were restive and their harness was jingling as they moved about, hooves clacking on the cobbles. After checking everyone’s name against a list, the driver allowed them to get inside the vehicle or, in Cosgrove’s case, to a seat on the top. Hannah was the first to enter the coach and chose a window seat facing the direction of travel. Paul spoke to her through the window.

‘Write to me the moment you arrive,’ he told her.

‘I’ll be far too jangled to hold a pen,’ she said, laughing. ‘By the time we get there, we’ll have explored every pothole on the way.’

‘I’ll need to know that you reached your destination safely.’

‘You will, I promise.’

‘I’m going to miss you sorely.’

‘You don’t have a monopoly on feelings of loneliness, Paul.’

He grinned. ‘How can you feel lonely when hundreds of people will see you onstage every night?’

‘They mean nothing to me,’ she said, earnestly. ‘You are the only audience I want. When you’re with me, I’m happy. When you’re not, I suffer a terrible sense of loss.’

‘It is the same for me, my love.’

After taking a last kiss, he bade her farewell. Bath was a popular destination, so the stagecoach was full. Hannah was already collecting admiring looks from the male passengers and envious glances from their wives. When everything was ready, the driver cracked his whip and the horses set off. Cosgrove waved to him and Paul lifted a hand in response. He watched the vehicle bouncing and rattling along the street until it was eventually out of sight. Knowing that he wouldn’t be seeing Hannah for some time, he turned away with a sigh.

From now on, his bed would feel painfully empty at night.