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Come the Fear
A Richard Nottingham Novel
By Chris Nickson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2012 Chris Nickson
All rights reserved.
It was the last day of March and the sun had risen bright and pale. There was a crispness in the early morning air; Richard Nottingham felt it cold against his face as he walked and it cut sharply through the old wool of his breeches, a reminder that spring hadn't fully arrived yet.
Last night there'd been a large full moon that hung low over Leeds. He'd stood at the window and watched its light spread across the fields.
It had been a damp, chill winter, a time of aches and pains, agues and rheums. He'd felt enough of them himself with sniffles and coughs that hadn't wanted to leave. Now, though, there was new life in the air, and not before time. In the city the last of the season's understanding and compassion had been scraped dry. Tempers frayed quickly and violence fired all too readily in words and fists.
He crossed Timble Bridge, seeing the light shining like sparks on the water and feeling the strange clarity of the air, his boots clattering flatly over the old wood, before walking slowly up Kirkgate towards the jail. He glanced at the churchyard as he passed, and his eye rested on the headstone for his older daughter, Rose, buried a year before. Loved in death as she was cherished in life, it read. Last month, once the earth had finally settled enough, it had finally been put in place. He'd knelt at the graveside and traced each single letter, feeling the clear marks of the chisel and thinking of the girl who'd grown so fast, and had been barely married when the fever took her away. In time the inscription would wear and weather to nothing and the stone might split or crack. But by then he'd be long dead, along with Mary and Emily and all who might have held the girl in their heads and hearts. By then she'd just be another fading, forgotten entry in the parish register.
He shook his head to clear the memories and strode on. It was still early enough for the air to smell fresh, before the night soil was thrown out and the ripe press of humanity filled the streets. All around him Leeds was coming alive, servants chattering quietly in the yards, and behind the closed shutters of big houses, the smoke of kitchen fires pillowing up into the blue sky, the soft sounds of grumbling and laughter. The poor were coming from their tenement yards for another day of work. On Briggate the weavers would be starting to set up their trestles for the cloth market, laying out their finished lengths of wool and warming their bones with a hot Brigg End Shot breakfast of roasted beef and ale.
Nottingham opened the door and walked into the jail. Rob Lister was sitting at the desk completing the last of the night report. He looked weary, and his red hair stood out wildly from his scalp where he'd run a hand through it.
'Nothing much, boss.'
So far 1733 had been an uneventful year, and as Constable of the City of Leeds, Richard Nottingham was grateful. There had been the usual robberies and killings, rapes and fights. The poor suffered while the wealth of the rich grew until all that anchored some of them to earth was the weight of their purses. But that was how the world had always been, the way it would remain until the end. The crimes had been easily resolved, the product of drink, rage or desperation that would leave men to hang or spend years transported across the ocean. It had been normal business.
'Go home and sleep,' he said, though Lister seemed in no hurry to stir. He knew the boy would wait, glancing eagerly out of the window, his eyes searching for Nottingham's younger daughter Emily, as she walked to her position as an assistant teacher at the dame school. They'd been courting for half a year, and Nottingham approved of the match. He liked the lad, he was quick and clever, and in his short time as a Constable's man he'd learned the fine difference that separated law and justice. He'd changed, grown deeper into his skin.
Finally Rob smiled and dashed out into the sunshine. He'd barely been gone a moment when the door opened again and John Sedgwick, the deputy constable walked in laughing.
'I thought he was going to run right through me to catch up with your lass.'
'Come on, John, you remember what young love's like,' Nottingham said with a smile.
'Was always young lust with me,' the deputy snorted, taking off his battered tricorn hat and tossing it on the bench against the wall. He looked drawn, his face pale, ringed and deeply shaded under the eyes, but that was hardly surprising, Nottingham reflected. In February his woman had given birth to a pair of girls. One had died before the day was through, but the other was healthy enough, growing and hungry and keeping them sleepless.
'Go down and keep an eye on the market,' Nottingham told him. 'We had that cutpurse there a fortnight ago, we don't need any more of that.'
'Yes, boss.' He poured a mug of small beer from the jug on the desk and drank. 'By the way, someone was telling me there's a new pimp in the city.'
'Another one?' Nottingham asked in quiet exasperation.
Sedgwick nodded. Since Amos Worthy had died the previous autumn, too many others had scuttled into Leeds, eager to establish themselves and their girls and become king of the trade.
'Do you have a name for him?' Nottingham asked.
The Constable sighed.
'I'll find him later and have a talk.'
In his time Worthy had been untouchable, supplying girls and loans to the city's merchants and members of the Corporation in return for their protection. He was violent and unscrupulous, yet he and Nottingham had enjoyed a strange relationship, a mix of hatred and curious affection.
The new pretenders didn't have his power and the Constable was determined they'd never get the chance to take his place. Whenever one surfaced, trailing his whores like treasure, Nottingham would talk to him. Men were going to buy prostitutes; that was simply the way of the world and no laws or punishments would ever change it. But he'd give his warning; with the first trouble, the slightest complaint or whisper, the pimp would be gone, banished from the city.
So far there had been no problems. The men kept an uneasy, watchful truce while the girls befriended and helped each other. As sure as tomorrow, though, it would change. Sooner or later the violence would begin and then they'd have to spill blood to keep order. But the longer the inevitable waited, the happier he was.
'Anything after the market, boss?'
'Just look around. You know what to do.'
John Sedgwick walked down Briggate at his usual lope, greeting some of the weavers with smiles. The merchants stood together in small groups in the middle of the street, some in their finery and best powdered periwigs, some subdued, and the Quakers apart in their plain coats. But all of them gave off the distinctive smell of money, he thought. He watched as they passed idle time until the bell rang and the earnest business of Leeds began.
Thousands of pounds changed hands at every Tuesday and Saturday market as coloured cloth was bought, ready to be finished then shipped to Spain or Italy or America, anywhere the merchants could sell it at a profit. It had gone on for centuries, first on Leeds Bridge and now here. It had become the biggest in England, they said, so large they'd built a grand hall for the white cloth sales, as imposing and beautiful as any church. Trade had made wealthy men of the merchants, with money to spend to insulate themselves behind thick walls in large houses. They ran the Corporation and ruled the city.
Trestles lined the road all the way to the bridge over the Aire, and the deputy moved his gaze from side to side, eyes wary for pickpockets or the cutpurse who'd struck before. He stopped by the river, feeling the sun beginning to warm his face, and leaned against the parapet, watching the water flow.
He was tired to his marrow. Isabell was a bonny babe, but Christ, did she cry. He doubted he'd had a full night's sleep since she'd been born. She'd come out screaming, as if she hadn't wanted to leave Lizzie's womb, and sometimes it seemed as if she'd barely stopped since. At least she was alive, better than her sister, stillborn and quickly put in the ground.
James, the son from his marriage, left by his wife when she vanished with a soldier, had never been like that. He'd been a tender baby, quiet, pliable. But having a little sister had changed him. He'd been used to all their attention, and now he didn't have it the boy had turned wilder, sometimes gone all day and rarely heeding what they told him. Even the belt had little effect. It was one more thing to tear at his soul. But Lizzie was blossoming with it all, motherhood shining from her face even when she had precious little rest.
He started back up the street after the chimes had rung, long legs carrying him quickly, fascinated as ever by all the dealing done in whispers, the brief handshakes, the swift folding of a cloth to be moved to a warehouse. The bargain made, the merchant would move on, flitting from clothier to clothier like a bee at the flowers.
He stood and watched for a while, knowing he was seeing riches far beyond anything he'd own, and that the weavers would have little of it. Enough for more wool and to feed their families, to keep them working on the next cloth and the next. Most of the money would stay in the merchants' strongrooms.
Finally he moved away, cutting through to the Calls to begin a circuit of the city, picking his way through the rubbish and the stink and listening to the raw, urgent voices of the poor.
'I can walk you home once you've finished today,' Lister offered. Emily smiled. She was dawdling outside the school, and he was making the most of their brief morning time together.
Finally she nodded her agreement, and he grinned.
'You make sure you get enough sleep, though,' she told him. 'You know Papa, he won't be happy if you're too tired to work tonight.'
'I will,' he promised, holding up his palms in surrender. Rest would be no problem. As soon as he reached home he'd fall into his bed. The night had been so quiet that the hours had dragged like creaking ghosts; it had been all he could manage to stay awake.
He stood looking at her, filled with joy at the laughter in her eyes, the gentle curve of her mouth. He could trace her face in his sleep, feeling the soft down on her skin against his fingertips, the taste of her lips from their kisses.
'I need to go in,' she said. He nodded, reached out and stroked her hand for a moment.
'I'll be waiting for you this afternoon,' Rob said, then turned before glancing back to see her vanishing through the door.
He made his way back down Briggate, easing through the crowds of servants and mistresses that moved between the trestles and the buildings until he reached the house a short way up from the bridge. The ground floor was his father's business, filled with a large, cluttered desk, the printing press for the Leeds Mercury and bundles of paper. The dark smell of ink seemed to seep from the walls; he could still smell it after climbing the stairs, as if it had become a part of the building.
The rooms were empty, his mother out, his father busy somewhere, the servants working down in the kitchen. He closed his door, struggled out of his clothes and lay on the bed. He didn't even care that the sun was shining full in through the window.
The Constable finished his daily report for the mayor, pushed the fringe out of his eyes, and strolled up to the Moot Hall where the business of Leeds was done. The building stood firm as a castle, right in the middle of Briggate, the Shambles on either side, filled with the hard iron tang of blood from the butchers' shops, carcasses hanging in the windows, stray dogs clamouring and snapping for offal.
He walked through the thick wooden doors and up the stairs where the air smelled of polish, beeswax and leather. The deep Turkey carpet muffled his footfalls and the voices behind the walls seemed muted and respectful. At the end of the corridor he rapped on a door, waited and then entered.
John Douglas lowered his quill when Nottingham came in and pulled down on his long waistcoat. As the Constable sat he reached for his clay pipe and a tinder, lighting the tobacco and puffing it to life.
'That's better,' he said with satisfaction, sitting back and watching the smoke rise towards the high ceiling. 'I've been here since six and I'll be here while six tonight. Never let them kid you it's a sinecure, Richard.'
Nottingham smiled. Douglas had started his year in office in September, a man ill-suited for formality. He was in his early fifties, hair stubbled and grey under his wig, body thin as a sword blade; he wore a good suit carelessly, his stock roughly tied at the throat. He looked tired, diminished by the power that should have raised him. The skin sagged under his eyes and his mouth drooped downward in a frown. There was an air of exquisite sadness.
He was a merchant, a man with his coffers full, but he'd started life humbly enough, apprenticed to a draper, all his parents could afford. He'd worked his way up through intelligence and ambition, but he remembered his past.
'You're better off as Constable, believe me.'
'Just not as rich.'
Douglas laughed. 'Aye, maybe,' he agreed. 'Much crime yesterday?'
'Precious little.' He laid the paper on the desk. 'Maybe they're all enjoying spring.'
'It'll change,' the mayor said. 'You know that.'
Nottingham liked Douglas. He was the first in office to treat the Constable as an equal and his sense of ceremony was ramshackle. For all his complaints he seemed to enjoy the work, just not the pomp that came tied to it.
'True,' he admitted wryly, 'but let's pray they're in no rush, eh?'
He ambled slowly back to the jail, savouring the mild warmth of the sun on his skin. All around him people seemed happy, smiling, glad to be out in the weather. But he couldn't help feeling their joy was a brittle one, and could so easily be shattered into fragments.
Maybe he'd done this job too long, he thought as he settled back at his desk. Seeing so much sorrow and pain, it became hard to look beyond that for the good, and for the tiny, simple pleasures of life.
He spent the morning immersed in small jobs, sorting through old papers and cleaning. By the time he finished he felt a small satisfaction and the bell at the Parish Church was tolling noon. Nottingham slipped into his old coat, threadbare at the cuffs, and pulled the stock a little tighter at the neck. At the White Swan next door the ale would slake his thirst and the stew would fill his belly.
Sedgwick was already seated at a bench, a mug half-empty on the table, the remains of a bowl of pottage next to it.
'Quiet morning?' the Constable asked.
The deputy sighed.
'Anyone would think they wanted us out of a job. Someone had his pocket picked up by the Market Cross and that's been it.'
'Did you catch the thief?'
'Long gone, of course. Didn't even have a description.'
'Take a look around on the other side of the river this afternoon. See what's going on over there.'
'Meanwhile I'll go and find this new pimp of yours and make sure he understands how things work here.'
The food arrived and he ate in silence, surprised to find himself so hungry. He wiped the plate clean with his bread and downed the last of the ale.
'We'd better do some work,' he said finally, and they rose together to walk back out into the bright daylight. Sedgwick stopped and sniffed the air.
'Something's on fire.'
'Where?' Nottingham asked urgently. 'Can you tell?' They stood still, listening, then began to pick out a clamour of voices down towards the river. Together they began to run.CHAPTER 2
The noise became louder, people shouting in panic then the frantic, outraged roar of a blaze. As they neared, the Constable could see dark smoke pluming low above the Calls before tailing into the sky. Christ, he thought, running faster. So many of the houses there were built from timber, old, dry and run down, crammed with the poor and hemmed tight between tanneries, dye works and cloth finishers. If the fire took full hold the whole block could catch in a moment.
Close to, he could feel the fierce heat and glow as the ancient wood caught and burned. So far it was just one house. Small tongues of fire flicked out through gaps in the woodwork, like a hunger that demanded to be fed. The sound around him filled his ears and the thick air made his eyes water, tiny crumbs of hot ash floating to leave him coughing and spluttering.
People had gathered at a distance, pushed away by the heat, already speculating on the dead left inside and taking wagers on the damage. Angrily he pushed his way through them and into a ginnel barely wider than his shoulders, darting along it to the thin, dusty ground of Call Brows and the river.
Excerpted from Come the Fear by Chris Nickson. Copyright © 2012 Chris Nickson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“Nickson's outstanding fourth mystery featuring constable Richard Nottingham, delivers an intriguing puzzle, Nickson does a fine job depicting Leeds's underclass”
" Nickson’s fourth title in his superb 18th century-set series lives up to expectations. Clearly written so that the titles can be read out of order, this historical police procedural ends with a cliffhanger, guaranteeing your patrons will demand number five"
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