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Authors: C. J. Sansom

Dark Fire

BOOK: Dark Fire
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The Wentworth Family of Walbrook, London


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47


Chapter One

in Chancery Lane early, to go to the Guildhall to discuss a case in which I was acting for the City
Council. Although the far more serious matter I would have to deal with on my return weighed on my mind, as I rode down a quiet Fleet Street I was able to take a little pleasure in the soft airs of
early morning. The weather was very hot for late May, the sun already a fiery ball in the clear blue sky, and I wore only a light doublet under my black lawyer’s robe. As my old horse
Chancery ambled along, the sight of the trees in full leaf made me think again of my ambition to retire from practice, to escape the noisome crowds of London. In two years’ time I would be
forty, in which year the old man’s age begins; if business was good enough I might do it then. I passed over Fleet Bridge with its statues of the ancient kings Gog and Magog. The City wall
loomed ahead, and I braced myself for the stink and din of London.

At the Guildhall I met with Mayor Hollyes and the Common Council serjeant. The council had brought an action in the Assize of Nuisance against one of the rapacious land speculators buying up the
dissolved monasteries, the last of which had gone down in this spring of 1540. This particular speculator, to my shame, was a fellow barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, a false and greedy rogue named
Bealknap. He had got hold of a small London friary, and rather than bringing down the church, had converted it into a hotchpotch of unsavoury tenements. He had excavated a common cesspit for his
tenants, but it was a botched job and the tenants of the neighbouring houses, which the council owned, were suffering grievously from the penetration of filth into their cellars.

The assize had ordered Bealknap to make proper provision but the wretch had served a writ of error in King’s Bench, alleging the friary’s original charter excluded it from the
City’s jurisdiction and that he was not obliged to do anything. The matter was listed for hearing before the judges in a week’s time. I advised the mayor that Bealknap’s chances
were slim, pointing out that he was one of those maddening rogues whom lawyers encounter, who take perverse pleasure in spending time and money on uncertain cases rather than admitting defeat and
making proper remedy like civilized men.

home the way I had come, via Cheapside, but when I reached the junction with Lad Lane I found Wood Street blocked by an overturned
cart full of lead and roof tiles from the demolition of St Bartholomew’s Priory. A heap of mossy tiles had spilled out, filling the roadway. The cart was big, pulled by two great shire
horses, and though the driver had freed one, the other lay helpless on its side between the shafts. Its huge hooves kicked out wildly, smashing tiles and raising clouds of dust. It neighed in
terror, eyes rolling at the gathering crowd. I heard someone say more carts were backed up almost to Cripplegate.

It was not the first such scene in the City of late. Everywhere there was a crashing of stone as the old buildings fell: so much land had become vacant that even in overcrowded London the
courtiers and other greedy men of spoil into whose hands it had fallen scarce knew how to handle it all.

I turned Chancery round and made my way through the maze of narrow lanes that led to Cheapside, in places scarce wide enough for a horse and rider to pass under the overhanging eaves of the
houses. Although it was still early, the workshops were open and people crowded the lanes, slowing my passage, journeymen and street traders and water carriers labouring under their huge conical
baskets. It had hardly rained in a month, the butts were dry and they were doing good business. I thought again of the meeting to come; I had been dreading it and now I would be late.

I wrinkled my nose at the mighty stink the hot weather drew from the sewer channel, then cursed roundly as a rooting pig, its snout smeared with some nameless rubbish, ran squealing across
Chancery’s path and made him jerk aside. A couple of apprentices in their blue doublets, returning puffy-faced from some late revel, glanced round at my oath and one of them, a stocky,
rough-featured young fellow, gave me a contemptuous grin. I set my lips and spurred Chancery on. I saw myself as he must have, a whey-faced hunchback lawyer in black robe and cap, a pencase and
dagger at my waist instead of a sword.

It was a relief to arrive at the broad paved way of Cheapside. Crowds milled round the stalls of Cheap Market; under their bright awnings the peddlers called ‘What d’ye lack?’
or argued with white-coifed goodwives. The occasional lady of wealth wandered around the stalls with her armed servants, face masked with a cloth vizard to protect her white complexion from the

Then, as I turned past the great bulk of St Paul’s, I heard the loud cry of a pamphlet seller. A scrawny fellow in a stained black doublet, a pile of papers under his arm, he was howling
at the crowd. ‘Child murderess of Walbrook taken to Newgate!’ I paused and leaned down to pass him a farthing. He licked his finger, peeled off a sheet and handed it up to me, then went
on bawling at the crowd. ‘The most terrible crime of the year!’

I stopped to read the thing in the shadow cast by the great bulk of St Paul’s. As usual the cathedral precincts were full of beggars – adults and children leaning against the walls,
thin and ragged, displaying their sores and deformities in the hope of charity. I averted my eyes from their pleading looks and turned to the pamphlet. Beneath a woodcut of a woman’s face
– it could have been anybody, it was just a sketch of a face beneath disordered hair – I read:

Terrible Crime in Walbrook;
Child Murdered by His Jealous Cousin

On the evening of May 16th last, a Sabbath Day, at the fair house of Sir Edwin Wentworth of Walbrook, a member of the Mercers’ Company, his only son,
a boy of
, was found at the bottom of the garden well with his
neck broken
. Sir Edwin’s
fair daughters
, girls of fifteen and sixteen, told how the boy had
been attacked by their cousin,
Elizabeth Wentworth
, an
whom Sir Edwin had taken into his house from charity on the death of her father, and had been pushed by
her into the deep well. She is taken to
, where she is to go before the Justices the
29th May
next. She refuses to plead, and so is likely to be
, or if she pleads to be found
and to go to
hanging day

The thing was badly printed on cheap paper and left inky smears on my fingers as I thrust it into my pocket and turned down Paternoster Row. So the case was public knowledge, another halfpenny
sensation. Innocent or guilty, how could the girl get a fair trial from a London jury now? The spread of printing had brought us the English Bible, ordered the year before to be set in every
church; but it had also brought pamphlets like this, making money for backstreet printers and fodder for the hangman. Truly, as the ancients taught us, there is nothing under the moon, however
fine, that is not subject to corruption.

when I reined Chancery in before my front door. The sun was at its zenith and when I untied the ribbon of my cap it left a line of
sweat under my chin. Joan, my housekeeper, opened the door as I dismounted, a worried expression on her plump face.

‘He is here,’ she whispered, glancing behind her. ‘That girl’s uncle—’

‘I know.’ Joseph would have ridden through London. Perhaps he too had seen the pamphlet. ‘What case is he in?’

BOOK: Dark Fire
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