Authors: Chris Nickson
Table of Contents
THE BROKEN TOKEN
COLD CRUEL WINTER *
THE CONSTANT LOVERS *
COME THE FEAR *
AT THE DYING OF THE YEAR *
FAIR AND TENDER LADIES *
available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2014 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
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Street New York, N. Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by Chris Nickson.
The right of Chris Nickson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Nickson, Chris author.
Fair and tender ladies. â (A Richard Nottingham mystery; 6)
1. Nottingham, Richard (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. MurderâInvestigationâFiction. 3. Leeds (England)â
Historyâ18th centuryâFiction. 4. Detective and mystery
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78029-055-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-468-3 (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
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For Lynne Patrick With gratitude
But I'm not a little sparrow
I have no wing with which to fly
So I sit here in grief and sorrow,
To weep and pass my troubles by.
If I had known before I courted
That love was such a killing thing
I'd have locked my heart in a box of golden
And fastened it up with a silver pin.
Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies:
he rain fell gently at first, a whisper that slowly grew louder as thick clouds rolled in from the west. By midnight it was a storm, the sound loud enough to fill the world. He watched it from the window, wind rattling the panes so hard it seemed they might shatter. He closed his eyes, welcoming the noise that drowned out his sadness.
The darkness was when he missed her the most. The ache for her hadn't gone; it felt stronger than ever, still filling his mind every day. Finally he lay on the bed to let the thunder and lightning take him away.
Before dawn it had all passed, the air clean and calm, with a soft breeze from the south and the puddles in the roads already beginning to dry up. In the half-light of a Saturday morning, Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, stood in the graveyard outside St John's church, deep mud clinging to his boots.
âRob,' he said, âyou go round the other side to the vestry door. Be ready in case he comes out.'
Rob Lister, in charge of the night crew, ran off and dis-appeared around the building. A crowd had gathered outside the lych gate, their voices angry and busy, kept back by two of the Constable's men.
Nottingham checked the load in his pistol and unsheathed his sword. âAre you ready?' he asked, and John Sedgwick, the deputy constable, nodded as he swung his blade in the air.
At the church door, the Constable took a deep breath and turned the handle. âRight,' he said.
The man was inside; they knew that. A carter had spotted him climbing over the wall and passed the word. They were ready to take him for murder, stabbing someone in the night for no reason. Nottingham had been pulled from his bed to lead the hunt, and for the last hour folk had pursued the man around Leeds, down by the Bridge, along Boar Lane, all the way up to Burley Bar then through the dark, stinking courts behind Briggate until they'd ended up here.
Pale light came through the church windows, catching dust motes in the air. The Constable took three paces; his footsteps boomed and echoed through the high building. Too many shadows, he thought, too many places to hide. He gestured to the deputy, then began to walk slowly to the aisle on the far side, alert for any sound or movement.
He felt the sweat on his palms as he gripped the hilt of the sword, and fear prickled at the base of his spine. He breathed softly and looked around, moving then stopping again, gazing and waiting. He heard the sharp click of the deputy's heels on the flagstones.
Something at the corner of his sight made him spin to his right. A dark blur rose from one of the box pews on the other side of the church, the man's voice a growl that became a scream.
They brought him out between them. He was battered, bruises rising, the blood still flowing heavily from a cut on his face. The Constable let him fall to the ground, gesturing for two of the men to take him off to the cells.
He watched them leave, the mob following close behind, their voices strident and angry.
âNo damage?' he asked.
âDidn't even cut me. It was a good thing you shouted, though, boss.' Sedgwick sheathed the sword and grinned. âI'll tell you what, that's left me parched. I could use something to drink.'
âThere's a jug back at the jail.' He waved Rob over as he emerged from the far side of the church. âIt's all over, lad, you missed it.'
Then, from somewhere down Briggate the Constable heard a roar. Without even glancing at the others he took off at a run, hearing their boots clatter behind him. By the time they reached the bodies on the ground the people had already dispersed, not a soul to be seen on the street.
He knelt, checking his men first. One was slowly coming to, moaning, while the other was dazed, clutching his stomach. Sedgwick held his hand against the prisoner's neck.
âBoss,' he said. âHe's dead.'
A blade had found the man's heart. In the cold cell the Constable ran his fingertips over a thin line of blood under the ribs. Old bruises blotched his skin and he was so thin that his bones protruded. Whoever he was, it had been a long time since he'd eaten well. None of them knew his face and there was nothing in his clothes to show who he'd been or what name he'd carried. The only thing to mark him out was a large patch of deep red flesh, the colour of a ripe raspberry, on his neck. There'd be little chance of finding his killer. Every question they asked would bring a denial. Nottingham sighed, wiped his hands on an old piece of linen and went back to the desk.
âHow are the men?' he asked.
âThey'll be fine,' the deputy told him. âI gave them a rollicking.'
âI doubt there was much they could do. How many were in that crowd? Twenty?'
âMore, probably, boss.'
âGo and see the undertaker later, John. We'll get this one in the ground today.'
n the first light of a spring Monday in 1734, Richard Nottingham, Constable of the City of Leeds, walked down Marsh Lane towards Timble Bridge. Over in the fields the sheep were bleating, mothers and lambs together, the first calls of the shepherds in the distance and the faint lowing of cattle up on the hills.
He stopped and leaned over the parapet, gazing down at the water burbling through Sheepscar Beck. From the corner of his eye he saw something move and for a fleeting moment he thought it was Mary. He turned, drawing in his breath. But it was nothing more than a bird rising from a tree into the pale sky.
Rob Lister sat at the desk in the jail, writing up the night report. Since he'd become a Constable's man, working under Nottingham and his deputy, John Sedgwick, the elegant hand he'd been taught at school had grown cramped, the letters uneven and quickly scrawled across the paper. But as long as it was legible that barely mattered; few would read the words anyway. He dipped the quill back into the ink and glanced up as the door opened.
âWe pulled a body from the river not long after two. The coroner's seen him. I put him in the cold cell.'
âI'll wager Coroner Brogden wasn't too happy to be dragged from his bed at that hour. Who was it? Anyone we know?'
Rob chuckled softly. âTom Hardwell, so you can be certain it was the drink. Not a mark on him.'
The Constable nodded. Every year a few fell into the Aire when they were deep in their cups, to be found an hour or a day later, washed up against the bank.
âWhat about the prisoner we took Saturday? Has anyone managed to find out his name yet?'
Lister shook his head.
âYou might as well go, then.'
Rob stood and stretched. âYes, boss.'
The lad had been courting Emily, Nottingham's daughter, for almost two years, and since Christmas he'd lodged at the Constable's house. It was an arrangement to satisfy everyone: respectable enough for the city, yet still allowing the young lovers to be together under a responsible eye. But once the candles were blown out at night, Nottingham's gaze turned wilfully blind.