Read A Dangerous Mourning Online

Authors: Anne Perry

Tags: #Police, #London (England), #Political, #Fiction, #Literary, #Crime & mystery, #Crime & Thriller, #Police - England, #Historical Fiction, #Traditional British, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Police Procedural, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Inspector (Fictitious character), #Monk, #Historical, #english, #Mystery & Detective - Traditional British, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #General, #Suspense, #William (Fictitious character)

A Dangerous Mourning (4 page)

“G'night." Tom appropriated the half mug before any over-zealous barman could remove it.

Evan went out into the rapidly chilling evening and walked briskly, collar turned up, looking neither to right nor left, until he turned into Mincing Lane and past the groups of idlers huddled in doorways. He found the eel pie seller with his barrow, a thin man with a stovepipe hat askew on his head, an apron around his waist, and a delicious smell issuing from the inside of containers balanced in front of him.

Evan bought a pie and ate it with enjoyment, the hot pastry crunching and flaking and the eel flesh delicate on his tongue.

"Seen Willie Durkins?" he said presently.

"Not ternight." The man was careful: it did not do to give information for nothing, and without knowing to whom.

Evan had no idea whether to believe him or not, but he had no better plan, and he settled back in the shadows, chilly and bored, and waited. A street patterer came by, singing a ballad about a current scandal involving a clergyman who had seduced a schoolmistress and then abandoned her and her child. Evan recalled the case in the sensational press a few months ago, but this version was much more colorful, and in less than fifteen minutes the patterer, and the eel stand, had collected a dozen or more customers, all of whom bought pies and stood around to listen. For which service the patterer got his supper free—and a good audience.

A narrow man with a cheerful face came out of the gloom to the south and bought himself a pie, which he ate with evident enjoyment, then bought a second and treated a scruffy child to it with evident pleasure.

"Good night then, Tosher?" the pie man asked knowingly.

"Best this month," Tosher replied. "Found a gold watch! Don't get many o' them."

The pie man laughed. "Some flash gent'U be cursin”is luck!'' He grinned. "Shame—eh?''

"Oh, terrible shame," Tosher agreed with a chuckle.

Evan knew enough of street life to understand. "Tosher"

was the name for men who searched the sewers for lost articles. As far as he was concerned, they, and the mudlarks along the river, were more than welcome to what they found; it was hard won enough.

Other people came and went: costers, off duty at last; a cab driver; a couple of boatmen up from the river steps; a prostitute; and then, when Evan was stiff with cold and lack of movement and about to give up, Willie Durkins.

He recognized Evan after only a brief glance, and his round face became careful.

" 'Allo, Mr. Evan. Wot you want, then? This in't your patch."

Evan did not bother to lie; it would serve no purpose and evidence bad faith.

"Last night's murder up west, in Queen Anne Street."

"Wot murder was that?" Willie was confused, and it showed in his guarded expression, narrowed eyes, a trifle squinting in the streetlight over the pie stall.

"Sir Basil Moidore's daughter, stabbed in her own bedroom—by a burglar."

"Goon—Basil Moidore, eh?" Willie looked dubious. " 'E must be worth a mint, but 'is 'ouse'd be crawlin' with servants! Wot cracksman'd do that? It's fair stupid! Damn fool!"

"Best get it sorted." Evan pushed out his lip and shook his head a little.

"Dunno nuffin'," Willie denied out of habit.

"Maybe. But you know the house thieves who work that area," Evan argued.

"It wouldn't be one o' them," Willie said quickly.

Evan pulled a face. "And of course they wouldn't know a stranger on the patch," he said sarcastically.

Willie squinted at him, considering. Evan looked gullible; his was a dreamer's face; it should have belonged to a gentleman, not a sergeant in the rozzers. Nothing like Monk; now there was someone not to mess about with, an ambitious man with a devious mind and a hard tongue. You knew from the set of his bones and the gray eyes that never wavered that it would be dangerous to play games with him.

"Sir Basil Moidore's daughter," Evan said almost to himself. "They'll hang someone—have to. Shake up a lot of people before they find the right man—if it becomes necessary."

"O'right!" Willie said grudgingly. "G'right! Chinese Paddy was up there last night. 'E din't do nothin'—din't 'ave the chance, so yer can't bust 'im. Clean as a w'istle, 'e is. But ask ‘im. If 'e can't 'elp yer, then no one can. Now let me be— yer'll gimme a bad name, 'anging 'round 'ere wi' the likes o' you."

"Where do I find Chinese Paddy?" Evan caught hold of the man's arm, fingers hard till Willie squeaked.

"Leggo o' me! Wanna break me arm?"

Evan tightened his grip.

"Dark 'Ouse Lane, Billingsgate—termorrermornin', w'en the market opens. Yer'll know 'im easy, 'e's got black 'air like a chimney brush, an' eyes like a Chinaman. Now le' go o' me!"

Evan obliged, and in a minute Willie disappeared down Mincing Lane towards the river and the ferry steps.

Evan went straight home to his rooms, washed off the worst surface dirt in a bowl of tepid water, and slipped into bed.

At five in the morning he rose again, put on the same clothes and crept out of the house and took a series of public omnibuses to Billingsgate, and by quarter past six in the dawn light he was in the crush of costers' barrows, fishmongers' high carts and dray wagons at the entrance to Dark House Lane itself. It was so narrow that the houses reared up like cliff walls on either side, the advertisement boards for fresh ice actually stretching across from one side to the other. Along both sides were stacked mountains of fresh, wet, slithering fish of every description, piled on benches, and behind them stood the salesmen crying their wares, white aprons gleaming like the fish bellies, and white hats pale against the dark stones behind them.

A fish porter with a basket full of haddock on his head could barely squeeze past the double row of shoppers crowding the thin passageway down the middle. At the far end Evan could just see the tangled rigging of oyster boats on the water and the occasional red worsted cap of a sailor.

The smell was overpowering; red herrings, every kind of white fish from sprats to turbot, lobsters, whelks, and over all a salty, seaweedy odor as if one were actually on a beach. It brought back a sudden jolt of childhood excursions to the sea, the coldness of the water and the sight of a crab running sideways across the sand.

But this was utterly different. All around him was not the soft slurp of the waves but the cacophony of a hundred voices: "Ye-o-o! Ye-o-o! 'Ere's yer fine Yarmouth bloaters! Whiting! Turbot—all alive! Beautiful lobsters! Fine cock crabs—alive O! Splendid skate—alive—all cheap! Best in the market! Fresh 'addock! Nice glass o' peppermint this cold morning! Ha'penny a glass! 'Ere yer are, sir! Currant and meat puddings, a ha'penny each! 'Ere ma'am! Smelt! Finny 'addock! Plaice—all alive O. Whelks—mussels—now or never! Shrimps! Eels! Flounder! Winkles! Waterproof capes—a shilling apiece! Keep out the wet!''

And a news vendor cried out: "I sell food for the mind! Come an' read all abaht it! Terrible murder in Queen Anne Street! Lord's daughter stabbed ter death in 'er bed!''

Evan pushed his way slowly through the crowd of costers, fishmongers and housewives till he saw a brawny fish seller with a distinctly Oriental appearance.

"Are you Chinese Paddy?" he asked as discreetly as he could above the babble and still be heard.

"Sure I am. Will you be wantin' some nice fresh cod, now? Best in the market!"

"I want some information. It'll cost you nothing, and I'm prepared to pay for it—if it's right," Evan replied, standing very upright and looking at the fish as if he were considering buying it.

"And why would I be selling information at a fish market, mister? What is it you want to know—times o' the tides, is it?" Chinese Paddy raised his straight black eyebrows sarcastically. "I don't know you—"

“Metropolitan police,'' Evan said quietly. "Your name was given me by a very reliable fellow I know—down in Pudding Lane. Now do I have to do this in an unpleasant fashion, or can we trade like gentlemen, and you can stay here selling your fish when I leave and go about my business?" He said it courteously, but just once he looked up and met Chinese Paddy's eyes in a hard, straight stare.

Paddy hesitated.

"The alternative is I arrest you and take you to Mr. Monk

and he can ask you again." Evan knew Monk's reputation, even though Monk himself was still learning it.

Paddy made his decision.

"What is it you're wanting to know?"

"The murder in Queen Anne Street. You were up there last night—"

" 'Ere—fresh fish—fine cod!" Paddy called out. "So I was," he went on in a quiet, hard tone. "But I never stole nuffin', an' I sure as death and the bailiffs never killed that woman!'' Ignoring Evan for a moment, he sold three large cod to a woman and took a shilling and sixpence.

"I know that," Evan agreed. "But I want to know what you saw!"

"A bleedin' rozzer goin' up 'Arley Street an' down Wim-pole Street every twenty minutes reg'lar," Paddy replied, looking one moment at his fish, and the next at the crowd as it passed. "You're ruinin' me trade, mister! People is won-derin' why you don't buy!"

"What else?" Evan pressed. "The sooner you tell me, the sooner I'll buy a fish and be gone."

"A quack coming to the third 'ouse up on 'Arley Street, an' a maid out on the tiles with 'er follower. The place was like bleedin' Piccadilly! I never got a chance to do anything."

"Which house did you come for?" Evan asked, picking up a fish and examining it.

"Corner o' Queen Anne Street and Wimpole Street, southwest corner."

"And where were you waiting, exactly?" Evan felt a curious prickle of apprehension, a kind of excitement and horror at once. "And what time?"

" 'Alf the ruddy night! "Paddy said indignantly. "Fromten o'clock till near four. Welbeck Street end o' Queen Anne Street. That way I could see the 'ole length o' Queen Anne Street right down to Chandos Street. Bit of a party goin' on t'other end-footmen all over the place.''

"Why didn't you pack up and go somewhere else? Why stick around there all night if it was so busy?"

" 'Ere, fresh cod—all alive—best in the market!" Paddy called over Evan's head. 'Ere missus! Right it is—that'll be one and eight pence—there y'are." His voice dropped again.

"Because I 'ad the layout of a good place, o' course—an' I don't go in unprepared. I in't a bleedin' amacher. I kept thinkin' they'd go. But that perishin' maid was 'alf the night in the areaway like a damn cat. No morals at all."

"So who came and went up Queen Anne Street?" Evan could hardly keep the anticipation out of his voice. Whoever killed Octavia Haslett had not passed the footmen and coachmen at the other end, nor climbed over from the mews—he must have come this way, and if Chinese Paddy was telling the truth, he must have seen him. A thin shiver of excitement rippled through Evan.

"No one passed me, 'cept the quack an' the maid," Paddy repeated with irritation. "I 'ad me eyes peeled all bleedin' night—just waitin' me chance—an' it never came. The 'ouse where the quack went 'ad all its lights on an' the door open and closed, open and closed—I didn't dare go past. Then the ruddy girl with 'er man. No one went past me—I'd swear to that on me life, I would. An' Mr. Monk can do any damn thing 'e can think of—it won't change it. 'Oever scragged that poor woman, 'e was already in the 'ouse, that's for certain positive. An' good luck to you findin”im, 'cos I can't 'elp yer. Now take one o' them fish and pay me twice wot it's worth, and get out of 'ere. You're holdin' up trade terrible, you are."

Evan took the fish and handed over three shillings. Chinese Paddy was a contact worth keeping favor with.

"Already in the house." The words rang in his head. Of course he,would have to check with the courting maid as well, but if she could be persuaded, on pain of his telling her mistress if she was reluctant, then Chinese Paddy was right— whoever killed Octavia Haslett was someone who already lived there, no stranger caught in the act of burglary but a premeditated murderer who disguised his act afterwards.

Evan turned sideways to push his way between a high fishmonger's cart and a coster's barrow and out into the street.

He could imagine Monk's face when he learned—and Runcom's. This was a completely different thing, a very dangerous and very ugly thing.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Hester Latterly straightened up from the fire she had been sweeping and stoking and looked at the long, cramped ward of the infirmary. The narrow beds were a few feet apart from each other and set down both sides of the dim room with its high, smoke-darkened ceiling and sparse windows. Adults and children lay huddled under the gray blankets in all conditions of illness and distress.

At least there was enough coal and she could keep the place tolerably warm, even though the dust and fine ash from it seemed to get into everything. The women in the beds closest to the fire were too hot, and kept complaining about the grit getting into their bandages, and Hester was forever dusting the table in the center of the room and the few wooden chairs where patients well enough occasionally sat. This was Dr. Pomeroy's ward, and he was a surgeon, so all the cases were either awaiting operations or recovering from them—or, in over half the instances, not recovering but in some stage of hospital fever or gangrene.

At the for end a child began to cry again. He was only five and had a tubercular abscess in the joint of his shoulder. He had been there three months already, waiting to have it operated on, and each time he had been taken along to the theater, his legs shaking, his teeth gritted, his young face white with fear, he had sat in the anteroom for over two hours, only to be told some other case had been treated today and he was to return to his bed.

To Hester's fury, Dr. Pomeroy had never explained either to the child or to her why this had been done. But then Pomeroy regarded nurses in the same light as most other doctors did: they were necessary only to do the menial tasks-washing, sweeping, scrubbing, disposing of soiled bandages, and rolling, storing and passing out new ones. The most senior were also to keep discipline, particularly moral discipline, among the patients well enough to misbehave or become disorderly.

Hester straightened her skirt and smoothed her apron, more from habit than for any purpose, and hurried down to the child. She could not ease his pain—he had already been given all he should have for that, she had seen to it—but she could at least offer him the comfort of arms around him and a gentle word.

He was curled up on his left side with his aching right shoulder high, crying softly into the pillow. It was a desolate, hopeless sound as if he expected nothing, simply could not contain his misery any longer.

She sat down on the bed and very carefully, not to jolt the shoulder, gathered him up in her arms. He was thin and light and not difficult to support. She laid his head against her and stroked his hair. It was not what she was there for; she was a skilled nurse with battlefield experience in horrific wounds and emergency surgery and care of men suffering from cholera, typhus and gangrene. She had returned home after the war hoping to help reform the backward and tradition-bound hospitals in England, as had so many other of the women who had nursed in the Crimea; but it had proved far more difficult than she expected even to find a post, let alone to exert any influence.

Of course Florence Nightingale was a national heroine. The popular press was full of praise for her, and the public adored her. She was perhaps the only person to emerge from the whole sorry campaign covered with glory. There were stories of the hectic, insane, misdirected charge of the Light Brigade right into the mouths of the Russian guns, and scarcely a military family in the country had not lost either a son or a friend in the carnage that followed. Hester herself had watched it helplessly from the heights above. She could still see in her mind's eye Lord Raglan sitting ramrod stiff on his horse as if he had been riding in some English park, and indeed he had said afterwards that his mind had been on his wife at home. It certainly could not have been on the matter at hand, or he could never have given such a suicidal command, however it was worded—and there had been enough argument about it afterwards. Lord Raglan had said one thing—Lieutenant Nolan had conveyed another to Lords Lucan and Cardigan. Nolan was killed, torn to pieces by a splinter from a Russian shell as he dashed in front of Cardigan waving his sword and shouting. Perhaps he had intended to tell Cardigan he was charging the manned guns—not the abandoned position the order intended. No one would ever know.

Hundreds were crippled or slain, the flower of the cavalry a scatter of mangled corpses in Balaclava. For courage and supreme sacrifice to duty the charge had been a high-water mark of history—militarily it was useless.

And there had been the glory of the thin red line at the Alma, the Heavy Brigade who had stood on foot, their scarlet uniforms a wavering line holding back the enemy, clearly visible even from the far distance where the women waited. As one man fell, another took his place, and the line never gave. The heroism would be remembered as long as stories of war and courage were told, but who even now remembered the maimed and the dead, except those who were bereaved, or caring for them?

She held the child a little closer. He was no longer crying, and it comforted her in some deep, wordless place in her own spirit. The sheer, blinding incompetence of the campaign had infuriated her, the conditions in the hospital in Scutari were so appalling she thought if she survived that, kept her sanity and some remnant of humor, then she would find anything in England a relief and encouragement. At least here there would be no cartloads of wounded, no raging epidemic fevers, no men brought in with frostbitten limbs to be amputated, or bodies frozen to death on the heights above Sebastopol. There would be ordinary dirt, lice and vermin, but nothing like the armies of rats that had hung on the walls and fallen like rotting fruit, the sounds of the fat bodies plopping on beds and floors sickening her dreams even now. And there would be the normal waste to clean, but not hospital floors running with pools of excrement and blood from hundreds of men too ill to move, and rats, but not by the thousands.

But that horror had brought out the strength in her, as it had in so many other women. It was the endless pomposity, rule-bound, paper shuffling self-importance, and refusal to change that crippled her spirit now. The authorities regarded initiative as both arrogant and dangerous, and in women it was so totally misplaced as to be against nature.

The Queen might turn out to greet Florence Nightingale, but the medical establishment was not about to welcome young women with ideas of reform, and Hester had found this out through numerous infuriating, doomed confrontations.

It was all the more distressing because surgery had made such giant steps forward. It was ten years, to the month, since ether had been used successfully in America to anesthetize a patient during an operation. It was a marvelous discovery. Now all sorts of things could be done which had been impossible before. Of course a brilliant surgeon could amputate a limb; saw through flesh, arteries, muscle and bone; cauterize the stump and sew as necessary in a matter of forty or fifty seconds. Indeed Robert Liston, one of the fastest, had been known to saw through a thigh bone and amputate the leg, two of his assistant's fingers, and the tail of an onlooker's coat in twenty-nine seconds.

But the shock to the patient in such operations was appalling, and internal operations were out of the question because no one, with all the thongs and ropes in the world, could tie someone down securely enough for the knife to be wielded with any accuracy. Surgery had never been regarded as a calling of dignity or status. In fact, surgeons were coupled with barbers, more renowned for strong hands and speed of movement than for great knowledge.

Now, with anesthetic, all sorts of more complicated operations could be assayed, such as the removal of infected organs from patients diseased rather than wounded, frostbitten or gangrened; like this child she held in her arms, now close to sleep at last, his face flushed, his body curled around but eased to lie still.

She was holding him, rocking very gently, when Dr. Pom-eroy came in. He was dressed for operating, in dark trousers, well worn and stained with blood, a shirt with a torn collar, and his usual waistcoat and old jacket, also badly soiled. It made little sense to ruin good clothes; any other surgeon would have worn much the same.

"Good morning, Dr. Pomeroy," Hester said quickly. She caught his attention because she wished to press him to operate on this child within the next day or two, best of all this afternoon. She knew his chances of recovery were only very moderate—forty percent of surgical patients died of postoperative infection—but he would get no better as he was, and his pain was becoming worse, and therefore his condition weaker. She endeavored to be civil, which was difficult because although she knew his skill with the knife was high, she despised him personally.

"Good morning, Miss—er—eh—" He still managed to look surprised, in spite of the fact that she had been there a month and they had conversed frequently, most often with opposing views. They were not exchanges he was likely to forget. But he did not approve of nurses who spoke before they were addressed, and it caught him awry every time.

"Latterly," she supplied, and forbore from adding, "I have not changed it since yesterday—nor indeed at all," which was on the edge of her tongue. She cared more about the child.

"Yes, Miss Latterly, what is it?" He did not look at her, but at the old woman on the bed opposite, who was lying on her back with her mouth open.

"John Airdrie is in considerable pain, and his condition is not improving," she said with careful civility, keeping her voice much softer than the feeling inside her. Unconsciously she held the child closer to her. "I believe if you will operate quickly it will be his best chance."

"John Airdrie?" He turned back to look at her, a frown between his brows. He was a small man with gingery hair and a very neatly trimmed beard.

"The child," she said with gritted teeth. "He has a tubercular abscess in the joint of his shoulder. You are to excise it.''

"Indeed?" he said coldly. "And where did you take your medical degree, Miss Latterly? You are very free with your advice to me. I have had occasion to remark on it a number of times!"

"In the Crimea, sir," she said immediately and without lowering her eyes.

"Oh yes?" He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. "Did you treat many children with tubercular shoulders there, Miss Latterly? I know it was a hard campaign, but were we really reduced to drafting sickly five-year-olds to do our fighting for us?" His smile was thin and pleased with itself. He spoiled his barb by adding to it. "If they were also reduced to permitting young women to study medicine, it was a far harder time than we here in England were led to believe."

"I think you in England were led to believe quite a lot that was not true," she retorted, remembering all the comfortable lies and concealments that the press had printed to save the faces of government and army command. "They were actually very glad of us, as has been well demonstrated since." She was referring to Florence Nightingale again, and they both knew it; names were not necessary.

He winced. He resented all this fuss and adulation for one woman by common and uninformed people who knew no better. Medicine was a matter of skill, judgment and intelligence, not of wandering around interfering with established knowledge and practice.

"Nevertheless, Miss Latterly, Miss Nightingale and all her helpers, including you, are amateurs and will remain so. There is no medical school in this country which admits women, or is ever likely to. Good heavens! The best universities do not even admit religious nonconformists! Females would be unimaginable. And who, pray, would allow them to practice? Now will you keep your opinions to yourself and attend to the duties for which we pay you? Take off Mrs. Warburton's bandages and dispose of them—" His face creased with anger as she did not move. "And put that child down! If you wish for children to hold, then get married and have some, but do not sit here like a wet nurse. Bring me clean bandages so I can redress Mrs. Warburton's wound. Then you may see if she will take a little ice. She looks feverish."

Hester was so furious she was rooted to the spot. His statements were monstrously irrelevant, patronizing and complacent, and she had no weapons she dared use against him. She could tell him all the incompetent, self-preserving, inadequate things she thought he was, but it would only defeat her purposes and make an even more bitter enemy of him than he was now. And perhaps John Airdrie would suffer.

With a monumental effort she bit back the scalding contempt and the words remained inside her.

"When are you going to operate on the child?" she repeated, staring at him.

He colored very faintly. There was something in her eyes that discomfited him.

"I had already decided to operate this afternoon, Miss Latterly. Your comments were quite unnecessary," he lied—and she knew it, but kept it from her face.

"I am sure your judgment is excellent," she lied back.

"Well what are you waiting for?" he demanded, taking his hands out of his pockets. "Put that child down and get on with it! Do you not know how to do what I asked? Surely your competence stretphes that far?” He indulged in sarcasm again; he still had a great deal of status to recoup. "The bandages are in the cupboard at the end of the ward, and no doubt you have the key."

Hester was too angry to speak. She laid the child down gently, rose to her feet.

"Is that not it, hanging at your waist?" he demanded.

She strode past him, swinging the keys so wide and hard they clipped his coattails as she passed, and marched along the length of the ward to fetch the bandages.

* * * * *

Hester had been on duty since dawn, and by four o'clock in the afternoon she was emotionally exhausted. Physically, her back ached, her legs were stiff, her feet hurt and her boots felt tight. And the pins in her hair were digging into her head. She was in no mood to continue her running battle with the matron over the type of woman who should be recruited into nursing. She wished particularly to see it become a profession which was respected and remunerated accordingly, so women of character and intelligence would be attracted. Mrs. Stansfield had grown up with the rough-and-ready women who expected to do no more than scrub, sweep, stoke fires and carry coals, launder, clean out slops and waste, and pass bandages. Senior nurses like herself kept discipline rigid and spirits high. She had no desire, as Hester had, to exercise medical judgment, change dressings herself and give medicines when the surgeon was absent, and certainly not to assist in operations. She considered these young women who had come back from the Crimea to overrate themselves greatly and be a disruptive and highly unwelcome influence, and she said so.

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