Authors: Chris Nickson
Tags: #General Fiction
The Richard Nottingham Historical Series by Chris Nickson
THE BROKEN TOKEN
COLD CRUEL WINTER *
THE CONSTANT LOVERS *
* available from Severn House
A Richard Nottingham Mystery
First world edition published 2012
in Great Britain and the USA by
CrÃ¨me de la Crime, an imprint of
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Chris Nickson.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
The constant lovers.
1. Nottingham, Richard (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
2. Constables â England â Leeds â Fiction. 3. Leeds
(England) â History â 18th century â Fiction. 4. Detective
and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-518-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-525-1 (trade paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-226-9 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Thom Atkinson,
The best writer I know, a good, true friend.
Just because, dammit.
And now every night at six bells they appear
When the moon is shining and the stars they are clear
These two constant lovers with each other's charms
Rolling over and over in each other's arms.
Traditional broadside ballad
Richard Nottingham crossed Timble Bridge as the bell in the Parish Church chimed seven. The morning air was July warm, and the low water in Sheepscar Beck slipped quietly over the rocks. He stopped for a moment, feeling a gentle joy in life. For a few small minutes at least, everything could be right with the world. No crime, no anger, just the sound of the stream and the quiet chatter of birds up in the trees that shaded the bank.
All too soon, once he walked past York Bar and up Kirkgate, Leeds would envelop him and life would return. The noise and the full, heady stink of the city would rush in like a wave. Once again he'd be Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds. After such a long winter of cold, ice and deaths, this summer of 1732 was exactly what people needed, placid and peaceful. He lingered, loath to go, his hands resting on the wood of the trestle, letting his thoughts wander. Finally he turned, pushed the fringe of hair back from his forehead and walked into the city.
As he passed the Parish Church his eyes flickered to the graveyard, immediately picking out the spot where they'd buried his older daughter, Rose, in February. The grass grew thick and green over her bones; next spring the earth would have settled enough to put up the headstone that waited in the mason's yard.
He carried on past the White Cloth Hall where the wool merchants would be adding to their fortunes later in the day, and the jumble of houses, new and old, that lined the street, to the jail at the top of the street. He unlocked the heavy wooden door, opened the window to release the stifling heat that already filled the room, and settled at his desk.
Spring had been quiet, just small crimes and the minor everyday violence of life. But as June arrived they'd caught a thief. It was fortune, sheer good luck rather than skill that had reeled him in. The man had been dead drunk at the Rose and Crown, and his tools and the carefully packed gold coins had tumbled from the pockets of his waistcoat when Nottingham tried to rouse him.
The trial had been short and the sentence the only one possible. A week later the man had been taken up to Chapeltown Moor in the back of a cart and hung from the gallows. The event had drawn a good crowd, pulled in by the spectacle and the glorious weather. For a short time it had almost felt like a fair, with jugglers and fiddlers and a hastily printed broadside, everything building to the climax of the noose.
But in the end it had proved to be a poor business. The man had been heavy and no sooner had he been put to swing, the cart leaving him jerking and dangling, than his neck had broken. It was over in an instant.
The hundreds gathered hadn't been happy. They'd been drinking, anticipating the cheap enjoyment of long minutes of suffering and it had been snatched away from them. For a short time they swayed on the edge of mayhem and riot and the Constable had tensed. Then the hangman had cut down the body and they'd roared towards it, pulling at clothes and hair, women rubbing their babies against thick dead fingers for luck.
Once the dangerous moment passed he'd been able to leave, walking back to the city, bowing his head obediently to the aldermen and mayor as they passed in polished coaches or on sleek horses, chattering away earnestly about markets and profit with no mention of the life that had just ended.
And now it looked as if some false servants had come to Leeds, taking work and then robbing their new masters â a service lay. Just the day before, Morrison the chandler had reported that the maid who'd been with him barely a week had vanished. Five shillings had gone with her, along with three fine lace handkerchiefs that belonged to his wife. There'd been a similar incident a fortnight earlier, this time a male servant who worked for a merchant. He'd only been employed for three days and had run off with ten shillings in coins and some silver plate.
Nottingham had barely sat down to write his daily report when the deputy arrived, breezing in on his long legs and tossing his battered old hat on to the chair.
âMorning, boss.' He was smiling, happy. John Sedgwick had grown into his position, a long way from where he'd started out as a rough, raw lad, lanky and awkward, all too aware of the pox scars across his cheeks. He'd blossomed to become an ideal deputy Constable, resourceful, persuasive, and willing to put in the long, aching hours the job demanded.
âDid you talk to Morrison?' Nottingham asked.
Sedgwick shrugged. âAccording to him it was his wife who hired the girl. She says the lass knocked on the door one day looking for work. Claimed to have arrived from Knaresborough.'
âAnd she took her on just like that?'
âIt was lucky timing, her maid had left the week before. And there was a reference, evidently. But Morrison's wife doesn't remember the name on it. Of course.' He snorted.
âNothing worth having. She sounds like half the girls in Leeds â dark hair, small, quiet and polite. Went by the name of Nan, but you can wager good money that's not what she's really called. Morrison thinks she might have had blue eyes. From the look on his face I reckon he'd been hoping to tup her.'
âDo you think he did?'
âJust wishful thinking, most likely.'
They knew no more about the male servant. Dark hair, obedient, middle height; he could have been anyone. It could be a pair working together, or there might even be more of them. The last time they'd had this problem, three years before, it had been a gang of five, three women and two men, and they'd proved slippery to catch. The Constable sighed.
âPut the word out. She'll probably try to sell the lace somewhere. I'm going to check the market.'
The trestles for the cloth market lined each side of Briggate, the main street of the city, winding all the way from Boar Lane down to the bridge over the Aire. Each Tuesday and Saturday morning the clothiers brought their goods in from homes, the dyed lengths they'd woven that were the product of weeks of work, and with the brief tolling of the bell the business of buying and selling drew underway.
Nottingham walked slowly down the street, as amazed as ever at the silence of the transactions. The merchants and factors would move from table to table, inspecting the quality and comparing the dyes against the swatches in their pockets. As soon as they found what they wanted, all it took was a few whispered words. A matter of seconds and the bargain was sealed.
He'd lived here all his life, but the ceremony of it all never ceased to surprise him. It had all the sanctity, the quiet holiness, of church. It was the lifeblood of the city. At each market thousands of pounds quietly changed hands. There was more wealth here than most people could imagine.
The Constable exchanged greetings with some of the merchants. They were dressed in light suits of good worsted, advertisements for their products, waistcoats flowing long and gaudy to their knees, hose brilliant white in the sunlight, shoe buckles shining silver and gold to flaunt their riches.
In his old work coat, stock untied and breeches worn shiny, Nottingham offered a contrast They had their periwigs, short and lovingly powdered or full-bottom and glossy, while he kept his hair long and pulled back with a ribbon on his neck. They had the money and the power in the city. He kept them safe to enjoy it.
Within ten minutes more than half the boards were empty, the material moved away to be carried to warehouses later. Then the clothiers would lead their packhorses back out to the villages across the West Riding, coins jangling in their pockets, ready to start weaving all over again.