On Sale! On Sale!

Apologies to those outside the UK, but it’s out of my hands…

For those of you who do live in the UK, though, Amazon currently has the hardback of The Tin God for £4.30. That’s actually £6 cheaper than I can buy it with an author discount from my publisher. The Kindle ebook is £4.14.

I don’t generally advise people to buy fromAmazon, but this is too hard to refuse. Go here for all the details (and I hope one or two of you will buy).

Not only that, but the Kindle version of The Crooked Spire is currently 99p – right here.

Thanks.

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Elegy – A Richard Nottingham Story

Richard Nottingham rarely makes an appearance these days. Right now, at least, my focus of Tom Harper (and The Leaden Heart is just out – please buy a copy!) However, eighteen months ago Richard was in Free From All Danger, the first book in several years to feature him. Yet people still seem to love him. They ask if there will be more. A few weeks ago I had a spate of requests that me me back into things I’d written about him. I came across this, a story I’d started and never finished.

This time I completed it, looking back into the far past, to Cold Cruel Winter, a pivotal novel for me. The second with Richard, my first for Severn House, one that was named one of the 10 best mysteries of the year by Library Journal in 2011. It established him and it helped establish me.

Hopefully, this story – and it’s small, it’s personal (although longer than I expected) – does Richard justice.

 

 

Leeds, August 1736

Two years. It always surprised him. It should be longer, he thought. It felt longer. Time past, time passing. But not so quickly now, as if someone had slowed the hands of the clock. A chance to keep memory close. To hold on to ghosts.

Richard Nottingham stirred. The dog days of summer, brilliant light through the cracks in the shutters. He’d woken before first light, just lying in bed and letting his thoughts wander. He heard his daughter Emily leave to go and teach at her school. Then Rob Lister, her man, now the deputy constable in Leeds, had gone with his clank of keys and the solid tread of his boots across the boards. Lucy the servant moved around downstairs, opening the door to the garden and tossing the crumbs for the birds.

Life went on.

He poured water in the ewer and washed, then dressed in old breeches and thin woollen stockings.

 

The road was dusty and rutted, the hot air tight in his lungs. Sun flickering through the leaves onto the water of Sheepscar Beck. He crossed Timble Bridge and walked along Kirkgate to the Parish Church, then over the path he knew so well.

Two years, eight months, and thirteen days since she’d been murdered.

 

 

He went to visit his wife, to talk to her, the way he did every single day, thinking of nothing in particular. Just a few minutes of conversation, a chance to hear her voice in his head, to try and make amends once more, although he already knew she forgave him.

And then he saw it. The pieces smashed and scattered across the grass.

For a moment he couldn’t move. It had to be a dream. Then he was on his knees, scrabbling around all the pieces, the fragments, and piecing them together on her grave until her name was Mary Nottingham once more. Beloved. Died 1733. Beside it, the memorial to their daughter Rose was intact.

Why? Why would anyone do that? He looked around and saw that a few others had been damaged. But he didn’t care about them. Only this one.

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‘You must have heard them.’

Jeb looked after the ground, sleeping in a small shed at the back of the burying ground. He was tall, like a long streak of water, a man in his fifties, back bent, straggly hair grey and thin.

‘I din’t,’ the man insisted. ‘I told you.’

He stank of ale, eyes rheumy.

‘For God’s sake, Jeb, someone took a hammer to that stones,’ Nottingham said in disgust. ‘And you were so drunk you never stirred.’

His mind was raging and he strode away to the jail. The smells in the building were so familiar. But there was another man behind the desk where he once sat. Simon Kirkstall. The new constable.

‘Visiting old glories?’ The man had a politician’s face, smooth and shiny, the periwig clean and powdered, his long waistcoat colourful in sharp reds and yellows.

Prissy. Exact. That was how Rob had described his boss. Fractious, a know-nothing who knew everything. Nottingham had listened and commiserated, glad to be gone from the job. He’d chosen to walk away from being Constable of Leeds and never regretted his decision. The corporation had given him the house and a small pension, enough for the little he desired.

‘I’m here to report a crime, Mr. Kirkstall.’

The constable picked up a quill, dipped it in the ink and waited.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Someone’s been destroying gravestones at the church.’

Kirkstall put the pen down again.

‘I see.’

‘My wife’s was one of them.’

The man chewed his lip.

‘I’m sorry to hear that. But…’ He gave a helpless shrug. ‘You know how it is. Too few men and too much crime. A murder, robberies, a young man missing for a week. I’ll make sure they ask around and try to find something. But that’s all I can promise for now.’

Nottingham stood for a moment, staring at the man and seething.

‘I see. I’ll bid you good day, then.’

 

He wandered. Down to the bridge, watching carts and carriages lumber along in the heat. Past the tenting fields with all the cloth hung to dry and shrink, through the rubble of the old manor house and around, back to Lands Lane.

Sadness, anger, emptiness.

Why?

Up on the Headrow, as he walked by Garraway’s Coffee House, a sharp tap on the glass made him turn.

Tom Finer sat at the table, his hand resting against the window.

‘You look like a man with the world on his shoulders,’ he said as Nottingham settled on the bench across from him. ‘Would a dish of tea help? Coffee?’

‘Not today.’

Nor any other day; he’d never developed the taste for them. Ale was fine for him.

After almost twenty years away, older and claiming to have left his crooked past in the capital, Finer had returned to Leeds. Nottingham had still just been a constable’s man when he first knew him. Finer had a finger in everything, but nothing was ever proven against him before he vanished one night.

He seemed smaller than the last time they’d met, as if he was slowly withering away with age. In spite of the warmth Finer was well wrapped-up in a heavy coat, with thick breeches and socks.

‘You must have been to the churchyard.’

Nottingham looked up sharply.

‘Why? What do you know?’

‘Not much more than you. I heard talk first thing so I went down there. I’m sorry.’

‘Do you have any idea who…?

Finer shook his head.

‘If I did, I’d tell you.’ He paused. ‘But did you notice which ones they were?’

‘My wife’s. Why? Who else?’

Finer was silent a few moments, chewing on his lower lip.

‘Go back and look again,’ he suggested. ‘Look outside your own pain.’

‘Why?’ Nottingham asked. ‘What is it?’

Finer stared at him.

‘You’ll see.’

 

He stood by Mary’s grave, resting his hand on the broken stone, and let his gaze move around. He understood what Finer had been trying to tell him. If he’d been thinking he’d have noticed straight away.

One was the memorial to Amos Worthy, the man who’d kept Leeds crime in his fist until the cancer rotted him and pulled him into the ground. Someone he’d hated and liked in equal measure.

The other was the stone for John Sedgwick, Nottingham’s deputy, beaten and killed in his duties.

Messages for him. From the past.

He gathered the remains, puzzling them whole again on the grass.

Why? Why would someone come crawling out of history now? He was no one these days. No longer the constable, not a man of note. Nobody.

 

Nottingham walked the courts and yards, asking his questions. He had no position any more but folk remembered. But all his talking brought nothing. No one knew, no one had an answer. Not even a hint. The closest he came was at the White Swan, when the landlord said someone had been asking for him.

‘Who?’

‘He wasn’t much more than a lad.’ The man shrugged. ‘No one I knew. Looked like a Gypsy, if you ask me. Left his lass and bairns standing in the doorway.’

Strange, he thought. Were the two things connected?

Morning became dinnertime. He pestered men as they ate. Nothing. Over the bridge and south of the river, into the streets that led off the London Road. No Joe Buck to ask these days. He’d left Leeds, searching for something more, the black servant Henry gone with him.

The town he’d known for so long was changing.

 

The church bell rang four as he walked back up Marsh Lane. Head down, lost in his thoughts as the dust rose from his footsteps. He’d go out again later, round the inns and the beershops. Someone knew and he’d find out.

‘I heard about it.’ Lucy the servant eyed him. ‘Who did it, have you found out yet?’

He slumped into the chair and shook his head.

‘I will, though.’

‘There was someone here looking for you earlier. Came at dinnertime.’

Nottingham cocked his head.

‘Just a lad. Not much older than me. Had a lass and little ‘uns with him.’

‘What was his name?’

‘Didn’t tell me, just that he’d come back later.’

‘Did he look like a Gypsy?’

Lucy thought.

‘Aye, happen he did. Who is he?’

‘I don’t know.’ Very strange indeed. He gave the girl a strained smile. ‘We’ll find out if he comes back.’

 

Emily returned home in a fury. She’d been to the churchyard and seen it for herself. Nottingham listened to her, seeing so much of Mary in her face.

‘Why would they do that to mama?’ she asked.

‘To hurt me.’ It was the only answer. Some sweet destruction to shatter his past. Before she could say more, there was a knock on the door. Maybe one mystery would be solved, at least.

Yes, he was young, dark hair hanging straight to his shoulders. Ragged clothes, a bright hoop in his ear. But tall, bulky, already a man from the look on his face. Someone half-familiar, a face he believe he almost knew. A man with a smile on his lips.

‘Hello, boss. How are you?’

With those words, it flooded back. All Nottingham could do was stop and stare. Joshua Forester, the young cutpurse he’d taken on five years before. His girl had died, the lad had been beaten and he’d chosen to go off with a band of Gypsies. But he looked well from it.

‘Come in, lad, come in. Your family, too.’

Soon they were seated around the table. Lucy brought bread and cheese and small beer, standing by the door to catch this glimpse into Nottingham’s past.

‘I don’t remember your wife’s name,’ Josh said and reddened.

‘Mary. She’s dead.’

‘Boss, I’m sorry.’

‘I should tell you that John Sedgwick’s in the ground, too. Someone killed him.’ The boy always had high regard for Nottingham’s deputy constable. Old days, probably best forgotten. ‘And you, what have you been up to?’ He smiled at the children. ‘I can see some of the results.’

‘That’s Frances,’ he said, indicating the girl. The name of his girl who’d died. ‘And the boy’s called John. My wife, Nancy. She’s part of the Petulengro clan. I work with them. I’m a horse dealer now.’ He lifted his hands to show the thick calluses on his palms and fingers. ‘We’re camped on Woodhouse Moor for a few days, on our way down to Buckinghamshire. While we were here I wanted to see you.’

‘And you’re very welcome’

It did make his heart soar to see someone doing so well, the new life amongst all the death and the senseless destruction. They talked for almost an hour until Josh gathered together his wife and family. At the door he saw them off just as Rob Lister was returning. Emily’s man and the deputy constable of Leeds.

‘Company?’ he asked.

‘Someone who worked for me a while ago. Passing through Leeds.’

Lister glanced at the family walking towards Timble Bridge.

‘They look like Gypsies.’

‘They are. And you and I have something to discuss.’

‘Aye,’ Lister agreed. ‘We do.’

 

The night was balmy. It wasn’t hard to keep watch over the graveyard, and he wouldn’t trust Jeb to stay awake and sober. Nottingham never slept much any more. He sat in the church porch, letting the darkness wrap around him. He listened to the soft snuffling of animals in the dark, the last sounds of humans fading, then felt the embrace of the hours.

A few times he stood and walked around, as silent as possible.

But no one came. No more damage.

With first light, he ambled up Kirkgate, smelling the cooking fires the servants had lit in the grand houses. Briggate was beginning to come to life, the butchers in the Shambles under the Moot Hall opening their shutters for early customers. He passed without a word, fading into the background.

Tom Finer was up with the lark, already in Garraway’s, reading the London newspapers and enjoying his coffee.

‘You look like a man who’s spent a restless night,’ he said with a smile.

‘I have.’ He settled back on the bench. ‘How did you know?’

Finer raised a thick eyebrow. ‘Know what?’

‘About the gravestones.’

‘A little bird told me.’

Nottingham wrapped his fingers around the old man’s wrist. It was bony and brittle in his grip, as if it might snap all too easily. He stared into Finer’s eyes.

‘Which little bird?’ When the man didn’t answer, he squeezed. ‘That was my wife’s gravestone.’

‘A young man I pay to gather gossip.’ Finer tried to look unaffected, but his mouth as stretched and the skin was tight over the bones of his face.

‘A name?’

‘You wouldn’t know him.’

Probably not, now he was no longer constable. But Rob Lister might. ‘A name,’ Nottingham repeated.

 

‘I know the lad,’ Lister said as they ate dinner in the White Swan. Stew for him, bread and cheese for Nottingham and mugs of ale on the table in front of them both. ‘I’ll find him this afternoon.’

Rob had grown into a thoughtful young man. Hard when the job demanded, but compassionate, too, and utterly in love with Nottingham’s daughter, Emily. Seeing them together, the tenderness and humour between them, he was always reminded of the way Mary approved of the match: ‘They’re perfect for each other, Richard. Like two halves finding each other.’

Nottingham would go home this afternoon and rest, ready to be out again tonight. What kind of man harmed gravestones like that? And why those three? What grudge, what anger could move someone like that? All through the night, as the stars moved through the sky, he’d tried to come up with names and found nothing that fitted.

Who?

 

He’d been wearier than he imagined, sleeping into the evening to wake disoriented and with aching limbs.

Downstairs he sat with Rob as he ate. A young man’s hearty appetite after a long day of work.

‘He’ll meet you at eight on Timble Bridge.’

‘Does he know who did it?’ Nottingham asked.

‘He wouldn’t say.’

‘He’ll tell me.’ He’d make damned sure of it.

‘Watch out for him. He’s a little weasel. He’ll try to rob you if he can.’

‘But will he tell me the truth?’

Lister considered the question for a moment. ‘If you don’t leave him any other choice. Take your knife.’

 

First, the graveyard. Still full light, the evening warm enough to sweat as he worked, picking up all the fragments. He’d cleaned up Mary’s headstone yesterday. Now he tidied Amos’s and John’s. He’d almost finished when he felt someone kneel beside him and looked across.

Josh Forester, with a sad smile on his face and a colourful scarf knotted at his neck.

‘I went to your house, boss,’ he said. ‘Your lass’s man reckoned as you’d be here. Says you visit all the time.’

‘Every day. It’s all I have left of her.’

‘I understand.’ He ran hard fingertips over the carving in the stone. ‘I don’t know who’d do this, but I’ll tell you something I’ve learned. It’s probably not worth much, but a headstone doesn’t mean anything.’

‘I know.’ Nottingham’s voice was hushed.

‘Frances, she went in a pauper’s grave. No markings. You remember that, boss.’ He tapped the side of his head. ‘But she’s still here. They’re alive as long as someone remembers. This…it’s just trappings, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe it is.’ He pushed himself upright, feeling the creak in his knees. ‘But it means something to me. I have to meet someone. It won’t take long. If you wait, we can go for a drink.’

Josh smiled. Bright white teeth. Young teeth. ‘Aye, I’d like that. I’ll be right here, boss.’

 

He stood on Timble Bridge, hearing Sheepscar Beck burble and flow under his feet. It had been a dry summer and the water was low. The sound was pleasing, musical and rich. It filled his heart. But he was ready as he heard footsteps approaching.

A boy? He didn’t know why he was so surprised. The lad looked to be ten or eleven, with suspicious eyes that darted around, dark, matted hair, and dirt ingrained into his skin.

‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you,’ Nottingham said.

It was like coaxing a feral animal. Like the wary boy he’d been himself at that age, living for three years on the streets, surviving by wit and cunning and ruthlessness.

He placed two pennies on the ground and moved away.

‘I only have one question – who’s been damaging the graves?’

‘I’d never seen her before.’

‘Her?’ The word shook him. He couldn’t believe it. It was impossible to imagine any woman doing that. He took a deep breath. ‘Tell me about her.’

‘I couldn’t see much. It were dark and she had a shawl over her hair. And a hammer in her hand. I wun’t going to get too close to that.’

‘Where were you?’

‘Sleeping. There’s a dip in the graveyard near High Court. I were in there and heard her.’

‘Is there anything you remember?’

‘She meant it,’ the boy said. ‘Not just for the sake of doing it. Like she hated those people. She knew which ones she wanted.’

‘I daresay she did.’

‘And she weren’t young. You could see that. She moved slow, like it hurt her.’

‘You’re an observant young man.’

The boy shrugged and scooped the money from the ground.

‘Wait,’ Nottingham told him and brought out his purse. The boy darted for it, knife out to cut the strings. But Nottingham turned away, grabbing him by the hair and pushing him down to his knees. ‘Don’t. You’re too slow. I was stopping this long before anyone even dreamed of you. I was going to give you tuppence more.’

‘I’m sorry, mister.’

‘Maybe you are.’ He pushed the boy away, took out the coins and threw them on the dirt before walking away towards Leeds.

 

‘A woman?’ Josh Forester frowned, cupped the mug of ale and drank. ‘That seems odd.’

They were sitting in the White Swan, a welter of conversation all around their heads. It felt strange to be here with Josh. His memories of the lad were of someone so young, so full of pain. And here he was, grown, filled-out. A man with a life that suited him.

‘It surprised me, too,’ Nottingham admitted. ‘But why not? Women can hurt, too.’

‘Do you think she’ll be back?’

‘I don’t know.’ He leaned back. The woman had done her damage. Why would she need to return?

‘And you’ve no idea who it is, boss?’

‘None at all.’ He gave a weary smile. ‘I’ll be out there again tonight. Maybe she’ll decide she hasn’t had enough yet. Who can tell?’

Josh smiled. ‘Do you fancy some company?’

He stared at the young man. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. We’re going south tomorrow, this will be the last chance.’ He took another drink. ‘You changed my life, boss. I’d like to spend more time with you.’

 

It was a companionable silence. A warm, dry night, with just enough moon to throw light across the graveyard. They settled in the church porch and waited. The last drunks rolled and sang their way home. The nightjars called and turned silent.

A snuffle of animals in the distance. A badger, a fox.

He found himself starting to doze, chin settling on his chest, then quickly sitting upright, stretching his neck and looking round sheepishly at Josh.

It must have happened again. He was aware of the touch on his shoulder, then warm breath and words whispered into his ear.

‘Footsteps, boss. In the churchyard.’

Silently, he stood, ready, feeling the other man stir behind him. But he waited. Impossible to tell yet who it might be. A couple seeking out a private place. Someone with no better place to sleep.

Time seemed to stretch. He breathed slowly, listening for the faintest sound. Then it came: the tapping on steel on stone.

Nottingham pressed himself against the church wall, turning his head, waiting to hear it again, to know where the woman was in the graveyard. Josh had already disappeared, moving like a ghost through the night.

It was unmistakeable. Mary’s headstone once again. Without thinking, he started to run, feeling every stride in his knees. He needed to get there before too much damage was done.

He knew every inch of this ground, moving sure-footed without even needing to look.

But he wasn’t fast enough.

Josh had beaten him to the spot, big hands clamped around a pair of thin arms, stopping her from struggling.

‘She’s not going to cause a problem, boss.’

‘Keep her still. I want to see her face.’

Nottingham pulled the shawl away. A small, faded woman with stringy grey hair. A thin mouth, most of the teeth missing. Eyes filled with hate. She drew back her lips and spat at him. But there was no power. It dribbled down her chin.

He didn’t recognise her. Nothing about her.

‘Who-’ he began, but her rusted voice cut through his question.

‘Abraham Wyatt.’

The years turned away and he groped for her name. Caroline. Something like that.

‘Charlotte.’ The word seemed to come of its own accord and he saw her cold grin.

‘Now you remember, don’t you? You killed him, you and Worthy and that other man.’

They had, and the man had needed to die for all he’d done. Back then he’d let her go, though, never expecting to see her again.

‘Why? Why try and demolish my wife’s headstone?’ He didn’t understand that. But the answer was simple.

‘Because you don’t have one, and I’ve watched you come here and spend time with her.’ Her eyes glistened. ‘I knew this would hurt you.’

She understood too much, he thought. Nottingham tried to picture her as she’d been when he last saw her, but the image refused to come into his mind. All he could see was the woman as she was now, living on the past and her anger. She’d loved Wyatt; that had never been in doubt. She’d remained devoted to him through all the years he’d been exiled, transported to the Indies.

‘What do you want to do with her, boss?’ Josh’s question interrupted his thoughts.

‘Take her to the jail.’

She fought, pulled against him and dragged her feet. But the young man was bigger, stronger, used to wild beasts. A few minutes and the night man had her in a cell.

‘What’s the charge?’ he asked.

Nottingham didn’t know.

‘Ask Mr. Lister in the morning.’ Rob could think of something.

 

Outside, the night was still, heavy with the scent of flowers.

‘Thank you,’ Nottingham said.

Josh smiled and shook his head.

‘The least I could do, boss. I told you, I owe you a lot.’

‘On your way tomorrow?’

‘We pack up first thing.’ He raised his head and studied the sky. ‘In an hour or two. Then south.’

‘When you come through here again…’

‘I’ll stop, boss. I promise. You look after yourself.’

‘You, too. And that family of yours.’

They shook hands. Nottingham stood and watched as Josh strode up Briggate, out towards the Gypsy camp on Woodhouse Moor. Finally he turned and began to walk back to Marsh Lane.

A headstone could be replaced. But the woman could never destroy his memories. Josh was right. Mary was remembered.

A Sale Of Effects – 1919

With five matches left in the season, Leeds United might – just might – make automatic promotion to the Premier. If not, we have the agony of the playoffs.

But that means I’ve picked a football story to finish the week of stories (and each one has the subliminal ad making you want to buy my new book, The Leaden Heart. This is what happened after Leeds City was removed from the Football League. It was the first time they had it in for us, but certainly not the last. Like several others, this is from my collection of short stories based around Leeds history called Leeds, The Biography. And since as you asked, you can buy it here!

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Billy Cartwright moved down King Street, leaning heavily on the crutch so the cast barely touched the ground. After a week he had the hang of it and he could swing along easily, almost as quickly as someone walking.

At the Metropole Hotel he eased himself up the stairs. A sign with an arrow stood on an easel – Leeds City Sale – and he followed along a heavily carpeted corridor to a large room already covered in a fug of smoke. Cups of tea stood on some of the tables, and men in good suits sat puffing on their pipes and talking as they looked through the list of items for sale.

He saw a hand go up and Fred Linfoot waved him over. All the players had gathered together at the back, crowded around three large tables. The auction hadn’t begun yet but the ashtrays were already full, cigarette butts crushed down together.

“How long before it’s off?” John Sampson asked.

“A week,” Billy answered. The broken leg was stretched out, the crutch lying on the floor, out of the way. He glanced around. There were men here from every club in the league, older businessmen with serious faces and brass in their hearts. Prosperous men who sat straighter as the auctioneer approached his lectern. It was time for business and that was why they’d come to Leeds.

A Sale of Effects, the notice had read. Only four words. Billy had seen the advertisement in the Yorkshire Post, scarcely believing four words could take in so much. Metropole Hotel, 17th October, conducted by S. Whittam and Sons. He’d looked at it again and again before he’d pushed the paper across the table. Another hour or so and it would be as if Leeds City had never existed. Even the goal netting and the balls would be sold off. The players auctioned like they were slaves.

He knew who’d fetch the best price – Billy McLeod. He was the best player by far, the one everyone would want. He sat quietly, listening to the conversations around him.

It was all a stupid bloody mess and if it hadn’t been for Charlie Copeland they wouldn’t be here today. The way he understood it, if Charlie hadn’t reported the club to the FA for paying players during the war, none of this would have happened. Or if Leeds had been willing to produce its books when it was asked. Instead, the chairman had refused and they’d all paid the price. Kicked out of the League, wound up, everything must go.

There’d be more to it, Billy thought. There always was, wheels within wheels, and someone would have made something. They always did, although none of it would come down to them on the sharp end.

The auctioneer banged the gavel and the room was suddenly silent and alert. He was going to start with the players, the club’s most important asset, he said, some short speech about how sad this occasion was, the end of an era.

Billy’s mouth was dry. Everything rested on this. He’d be happy if someone offered two hundred pounds for him. Even a hundred or just fifty. Anything to keep him playing.

The problem was that he’d never run out for the club. He only turned eighteen during the summer and signed for the club in September. Then, during the second week of training there’d been the tackle. As soon as it happened, he knew. It was all he could do not to yell and start crying like a kid. A broken tibia, that was what the doctor said after they’d driven him to the Infirmary. Eight weeks in plaster. And after that it’d be a good three months before he’d be fit again, the muscle built back up and ready. By Christmas – if he was lucky.

They’d been the worst six weeks of his life. Cooped up at home every day, just his mam for company while his father and his brothers went off to work. No brass in his pocket. Just down to Elland Road for the home matches, wishing for time to pass until it could be him out there.

He was good enough. He had to believe he was. He’d played inside right for Leeds Schoolboys until he left when he was fourteen, and then he’d been in the works team at Blackburn’s, the Olympia Works up on Roundhay Road. Saturday mornings off, paid, to play up on Soldiers’ Field. It hadn’t been a bad life. The old factory that had once been a roller-skating rink was fun, a good bunch to work with.

But he’d known he wasn’t going to stay. At fifteen he tried to join up, to follow his brother into the Leeds Pals. A worn-out sergeant told him to come back when he was old enough. He did, a year later, birth certificate tight in his fist. A week later he was in Catterick, learning what it meant to be a Tommy.

By December of ’17 he’d been in France for six weeks. He was already scared, sick and dirtier than he could have believed. Half of those he’d known in training were already dead, He was numb inside, just living from hour to hour. After a week in the trenches he’d wondered if he’d ever feel warm and dry again. After three weeks, he didn’t care, just as long as he lived to the end of this war and he could know some silence again.

Come Armistice Day he didn’t know where he was. It was simply another muddy hole in another muddy, lifeless landscape. It could have been in France, Belgium or Germany. He didn’t know and it didn’t matter. The important thing was they could put down their guns and not worry about being killed.

He could look forward to a hot bath, Billy thought, and going home. Looking around, he could see the same thought in every pair of eyes.

 

He ended up walking halfway to the coast. Their transport never arrived and after waiting for three days the brigadier gave up and ordered them to start on foot. It was a slow march. They were all eager to be back in Blighty, but they were weary, half-fed creatures. The leather of Billy’s boots had rotted away in places, he had trench foot; each step took effort. The further they travelled from the front, the more they seemed to be walking into a dream of green fields and houses that hadn’t been demolished by shells. The type of places they’d almost forgotten.

He wasn’t home for Christmas. He’d spent that in hospital while they tended his feet. He hobbled home in January, his mother’s arms around him as soon as he was through the front door. Not his oldest brother, though. He’d never come back.

Billy was still thin, still weak. He wasn’t even eighteen yet and he’d seen enough death for seven lifetimes. His ma made him beef tea three times a day and forced as much food as he could manage down him. He started back at Blackburn’s and began training for the works team again. He ran after work and cut down on to ten Park Drive a week.

Before the end of the season he was the first choice for inside right again, more reckless now, as if he knew there was nothing in the game that could scare him. He tackled hard, he ran and he scored, three goals in five games.

The summer, with no matches, left him restless, too full of energy but with nothing to do until his birthday and his trial for Leeds City. He kept up the running, taking off after work for a circuit of Roundhay Park, along by the big lake, through the gorge and back before catching the bus home. Saturday afternoons, when Leeds were playing away, he’d try to cajole workmates into a kick around, something to keep his skills sharp.

Until the trial he’d been confident. For too long people had told him he was a good footballer. He was always the best in any team. But the others there were his equals. Some were better, he had no doubt about that. They made him sweat, made him play, made him think. And when it was over, for the first time he had to wonder if he was good enough.

For the next three days he was on edge, going straight home from work to see if there’d been any post for him. When it finally arrived he let it sit in his hand, as if its weight might tell him what was inside. It took courage to open the envelope, and he had to breathe hard before unfolding the letter.

Dear Mr, Cartwright…

He read it through twice to be certain he was right. They were taking him on at three pounds a week. For the rest of the evening he couldn’t stop smiling, then couldn’t rest in his bed although he had to work in the morning. He gave his notice, and before the end of September he was training every day at Elland Road, seeing the men he’d only cheered from the terraces. More than that, he was playing against them and just beginning to understand how much he had to learn. He wasn’t good; he’d barely even started.

The divot shouldn’t have been there. They all said that later. But he’d been chasing down a long pass, watching the ball, not the pitch. His studs caught and he went down awkwardly. Barely two weeks into his professional career and he’d broken his leg.

 

Each club offered a sealed bid for the players they wanted. Billy wasn’t surprised when McLeod went for £1,250. He outclassed everyone else in the side. Glancing over, he could see the mix of pride and relief on the man’s face. Then it was Harry Millership and John Hampson, a thousand each. And then it was down the line – eight hundred, six hundred, five – all the way to Frank Chipperfield, off to Wednesday for a hundred. That left seven of them looking worriedly at each other. The auctioneer coughed. Four had new clubs. No fee. No one for Mick Sutcliffe, Charlie Foley. Or for him.

By the time he was listening again, they were selling off the goal posts and the nets. He pushed himself up, leaning heavily on the crutch, and made his way out, threading through the tight spaces between tables. None of the men from other clubs bothered to look up at him.

Out in the corridor he stopped to light a cigarette. As he was about to move off again, he heard the man say,

“Billy.”

He turned. The manager was there, Mr. Chapman, the one who’d picked him out from the trial. Just like Leeds City, he’d been banned from football, that was what Billy had heard, although the rumour was that he was going to appeal. He was growing heavy at the waist, the start of jowls on his face. He gave a sad smile.

“Yes, boss?”

“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry, lad. I had a word with them, said you had potential. But they didn’t want to take a chance.” He shrugged slightly.

“Thank you, boss.”

“Don’t give up. You have talent. Keep trying, all right?”

“Yes, boss. Thank you.”

He turned and hobbled away.

Jingling James – An Annabelle Harper Story

It’s a week on stories on the blog. Maybe because The Lean Heart has been out for a fortnight and I want to remind you all to buy it. Or I like revisiting these pieces.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t an Annabelle Harper story. Before she met Tom, Annabelle was married to Harry Atkinson, who owned the Victoria public house on Roundhay road. He died in 1887, leaving her a widow to look after the place alone. This is what happened that Christmas…

victoria-pub

Leeds, December 1887

 

Annabelle Atkinson didn’t want Christmas to arrive this year. She didn’t feel any of the joy or the goodwill this December. It was barely three months since her husband Harry had died; the earth had barely settled on his grave.

They’d had a few good years before the heart attack took him. Now she had to look after the Victoria public house as well as the two bakeries she’d opened. On her own, sometimes she felt like she was drowning.

On Christmas Eve, once the last customer had gone, she’d bolt the door, close the curtains, and keep the world away until Boxing Day. She’d never been one to wallow in sadness; if you had a problem you took care of it and carried on. But the last few weeks…she’d been slowly sinking and she knew it. She felt like one of those jugglers in the music halls, trying to keep all the plates spinning in the air. Too many of them.

‘Come on,’ she said to Willie Hailsham, taking the empty pint pot from his hand. ‘You’ve had enough. Get yourself off home so your wife can remember what you look like.’

The same with Harelip Harmon, Donald the Steel Man, and Jingling James, always moving the coins around in his pocket. They’d stay drinking all night if anyone would keep serving them.

‘Don’t you have homes to go to?’

It was the nightly routine, almost a comedy act after so long. They drained their glasses, said their goodnights and then the bar was empty. She locked the door, drew down the bolts and let out a long sigh. Glasses to wash, woodwork and brass to polish.

Better get started, she thought. The work’s not going to do itself.

 

Up a little after three to supervise the baking in the kitchen at the other end of the garden. The last day before Christmas, orders to fill, plenty of demand; the two bakeries she owned would be little goldmines today. And the Victoria would be full from the moment the factories closed.

Gossiping with the girls as they all worked together, mixing, kneading, baking, the smell of fresh loaves filling the air and making her hungry. Back in the rooms over the pub she made breakfast.

This was what hurt most: the silence. There used to be so much laughter when Harry was alive. It seemed like there was always something to set them off. Now just being here was oppressive, all the weight of ghosts around her.

 

Dan the barman and Ellen the servant were already working hard with polish when she went downstairs. Sleeves rolled up and plenty of elbow grease, they’d be done soon enough. Nothing for her to do. The dray from the brewery was due at ten, but Dan could take care of that.

Annabelle put on her cape and picked up her purse. Go into town and have a poke around the shops. Happen an hour or two away would perk her up. But there was no magic in December this year. The pavements were full of people jostling around, weighed down by packages and bags. She felt removed from it all. The displays in the windows of the Grand Pygmalion didn’t make her want to part with her money. She was low, she knew it; a lovely gown or a good hat could usually tempt her. Today, though, there was nothing. No cheer.

Even a stop at the cocoa house for something warm to drink and a slice of cake didn’t help her mood. She trailed back out along North Street, through the Leylands and past Jews’ Park, back along to Sheepscar.

Soon enough the Victoria was busy. She took her place behind the bar, smiling, flirting the way she always had, and for a few minutes at least she could forget why she hurt inside.

‘Give over,’ she told one man who insisted he’d make a good husband. ‘I’d wear you out in one night, then I’d have to send you home to your missus.’ It brought laughter. As she walked around, collecting glasses, she brushed hands away, giving the culprits a look. It was all part of running a pub. A game; if you played it well, you were successful.  And she had the knack.

Annabelle promised old Jonas free beer for the evening if he played the piano in the corner, and soon half the customers were singing along the favourites from the stage. It gave her a chance to breathe and Dan could look at the barrels.

By eleven she’d had enough. The pub was still busy, the till was overflowing. But all the noise made her head ache. She wanted peace and quiet for a while. She wanted the place empty.

‘Come on.’ She rang the old school bell she kept under the bar, next to the cudgel for sorting out the unruly. ‘Time for you lot to see your families. They probably don’t believe you exist.’

Slowly, the crowd thinned. Another five minutes and it was down to the usual four still standing and supping. Donald the Steel Man, Willie Hailsham, Jingling James, and Harelip Harmon.

‘That’s enough,’ she told them. Her voice sounded weary. She knew it and she didn’t care. They were regulars, they’d probably been coming in here since they were old enough to peer over the bar. ‘Let’s call it a night, gentlemen, please.’

James slipped off to the privy while she was ushering the others out, wishing them merry Christmas and accepting beery kisses and hugs until they’d gone and she turned the key in the lock.

Then James was there, looking bashfully down at his boots. He was a gentle soul, a widower with grown children. Fifty, perhaps, his hair full white, jammed under his cap.

‘Are you seeing your family tomorrow?’ she asked.

‘Not this year.’ He gave a small shrug. ‘They all have their plans. It’s different now, everyone’s so busy. Are you going to your sister’s?’

‘A quiet day.’ Sometime before the new year she’d slip over to see her sister and the wastrel husband she had. Take some presents for their children. But she wouldn’t pop over to Hunslet and see her brother. He could take a running jump; she’d told him that a few years before. ‘Maybe it’s better that way.’

‘When my Alice died I carried on, same as I always had. The bairns were grown and gone but I still had to work and put a roof over my head.’

‘I know,’ she agreed. The everyday tasks that carried on like a machine. Without thinking, he jingled the coins in his pocket.

‘Then her birthday came around. We never made a fuss when she was alive, well, who could afford to? First we had the little ‘uns, then it didn’t seem to matter so much.’

‘We were the same,’ Annabelle said. ‘Harry’s birthday or mine, there was still the pub to run.’

‘Any road, the year she died, on her birthday it suddenly hit me how alone I was. Not just then, but for the rest of my days. Because no one could replace Alice. I had all them years in front of me.’

‘What did you do?’ she asked.

‘I sat there at the table and made myself remember all the good things. How she looked when she smiled, how she sounded when she laughed. The way she were pretty as a picture when we got wed. I said it all like she were sitting there and I was talking to her.’

‘Did it help?’

‘It did. But I can tell you’re feeling that way. I can see it in your eyes. I just thought it might help.’ He gave her a smile and bussed her cheek.

‘You said you’re not going anywhere tomorrow?’ Annabelle said.

‘That’s right.’

‘Come round for your tea. It won’t be anything special, mind.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes,’ she said with a smile. ‘I’ll probably be sick of my own company by then anyway.’

She locked the door behind him, hearing the jingling of his coins as he walked down the street.

Little Alice Musgrave – A Leeds Story

I’ve decided to put up a short story every day this week. Most have been on the blog before, years ago. Some, like this, are published in my collection Leeds, The Biography. This takes its inspiration from the plague of 1645 in Leeds, which lasted for nine months and killed over 1300 people here – quite a percentage of the citizens. Alice lived on Vicar Lane, then a very poor area, and was the first to catch the plague and die. She was 11 years old.

The illustration is from the parish records, the names of some of those who died. Plague cabins were built on Quarry Hill (I’ve heard there were more in Holbeck) to quarantine victims.

Oh, if you’re all very, very kind and buy copies of my new book, The Leaden Heart, this week, then next week I shall post a brand-new Richard Nottingham short story. You know what to do!

scan0001

 

Little Alice Musgrave, lying in her bed,

Little Alice Musgrave with plague in her head,

All the prayers for Alice that all the preachers said,

Little Alice Musgrave, buried and dead.

 

The children sang it for years afterwards, long after most people had forgotten who Alice had even been. At first I’d chase them away and cuff at their heads, yelling through my tears, shouting at them to shut up. But it didn’t help. They’d keep on singing and every word cut deeper and deeper into my soul until I couldn’t cry out any more.

Last week I heard it again. A pair of girls, neither of them more than six, were using it as a rhyme for skipping ropes. The good Lord alone knows where they’d learned it. Alice has been dead these twenty years now. Maybe they’d heard their mother one day.

I was walking along Call Lane with my granddaughter, her hand tight in mine, and the words just made me stop, frozen as winter. I thought my heart might never beat again.

“What is it, Grandmama?” Emily asked. “Why are you crying like that?”

I had to draw in my breath slowly before I could answer her.

“It’s nothing, child,” I told her. “Just a memory that flew past.” I tried to make my voice light but it was filled with the weight of all the tears I’d shed. “Come on, let’s get ourselves home. Mama will be wondering where we are.” I clutched her hand tighter and we hurried away.

The words wouldn’t go away. In the darkness, when I lay alone under the blanket, they came back, singing and taunting. It was as if God wasn’t going to give me the peace of forgetting, as if He’d uncovered all the jagged edges of the past again.

 

The Roundheads had come here once more in 1644, so loud that we cowered in the house and prayed they wouldn’t come in and kill us. Leeds had been buffeted like a feather in the wind, from King to Parliament and back again so often, with more men dead each time.

But these troops stayed. It felt like a year of mud, when every colour was brown or black and the rains just came and came. The men in charge put up notices for everything – church attendance, how we had to behave, what we could wear. They forbade us from celebrating the birth of our Lord in the old way. That was sinful, they told us.

We’d been poor before, desperate for every penny and every bite. But now they took all our joy, too. Snow fell to herald the start of 1645, only the pikemen with their shining leather boots and glittering weapons allowed on the streets after dark.

We tried to make ourselves into mice, scurrying unnoticed lest the cat see us and pounce. Sometimes they’d come and drag one of the menfolk away with accusations of supporting the king. If he ever came home again it was as someone broken and quiet.

I feared for my husband. He’d been a clerk to lawyer Bolton before the attorney had fled. Now Bolton’s grand house on Briggate was a ruin, a burned-out gap in the street and there was a fine waiting against his name if he returned. I kept thinking they’d arrived one day and take Roger off.

He had no work. No one needed a man who knew his letters. The law was whatever the soldiers said, not something to be argued in a courtroom or written into books. And the cloth trade had dwindled so far that even some of the merchants went hungry. Once it would have been a marvel to see a grand man begging his bread. Now it happened every day.

We had three girls to feed, Alice, Hannah and Anne. They often went hungry, but we gave them something before we took anything to eat ourselves. When Alice woke one night in March, moaning with pain, at first I thought it was nothing more than an empty belly.

“Hush, love,” I whispered. “Just go back to sleep now.”

But she didn’t stop.

“It hurts, mama.”

I knelt by the bed she shared with her sisters, no more than a sheet over withered old straw. Her skin was so hot I thought it could burn my fingers and her shift was soaked with sweat. I bathed her face with cold water and stroked her damp hair, softly singing every lullaby I could remember. And I prayed. The first of so many prayers to rise from Leeds that year, but God blocked His ear to them all.

By morning she was cold, shaking and shivering. Nothing I did could help. I sent Roger to fetch the wise woman who lived on Kirkgate. She looked, poking my beautiful little girl with her fingers so that she gave a scream as deep as Christ’s agony.

Outside, where a bitter breeze came out of the west, the woman put her arms on my shoulders and looked at me with wise, ancient eyes.

“Your daughter has the pestilence,” she said softly.

I opened my mouth. I wanted to scream no, to shout, to cry, but nothing came. All I could think was why was He judging her like this? What had she done? She was only eleven, she had no evil to her name.

“I’ll bring something in a little while,” the woman continued. “It’ll help her rest and ease the pain a little.” Then she was gone and I stood out there, alone as the cold whipped around me.

The word passed quickly, as if the wind had carried it around the town. The soldiers’ doctor arrived in his neat, clean uniform to examine her, then shake his head. A pair of troopers were placed outside our door to force folk away. We were kept inside. Roger tried to amuse Hannah and Anne, to distract them, while I tended to Alice. The wise woman delivered her glass bottle, something clear and sweet-smelling inside, and it worked. My beautiful girl slept. Little Alice Musgrave with plague in her head. But it was on her body, the lumps growing so quickly under her arms and between her legs, the stink growing stronger with every hour, as if death was consuming her inch by inch.

The army left food outside our door, kindling and blankets. For the first time in a year we could have lived like human beings if we’d wanted. But who could have an appetite with this? I tried to keep Alice warm when the cold racked her, hugging her close to give her my heat. Weariness pierced all through my bones but I couldn’t sleep. I only had hours left with my daughter and I couldn’t let any moment of them slip away.

I heard later that they held a service in St. John’s to pray for her. For her soul and her salvation. What good is that when the Lord has turned away, I wanted to shout? But I never said a word.

After a day she’d moved beyond speech, only able to make noise like a baby, each one full of pain and fright. Her swellings turned black, the change coming in the blink of an eye. I kept hold of her hand, letting her know that we loved her. All I wanted now was for her suffering to end.

Alice lasted until the shank of the day. She wasn’t fighting, not even aware, just waiting. Then she gulped in a breath and it was over. I sat, still clutching her fingers and felt life leave her.

 

They took her body away quickly, the first to go into a plague pit. No coffin, no more than a winding sheet and a covering of quicklime. They wouldn’t even let us go to watch her being placed in the earth. All we were allowed were the four walls of our room and a heaven full of sorrow in our hearts.

Two mornings later it was Roger who began to sweat and by dinner Hannah was ill. I tended to them as best I could, moving like a ghost from one to the other as Anne became a silent, frightened child in the corner, too scared to move in case death might catch her.

I hadn’t had any time to grieve for my Alice when the others fell ill. All I could do was exist, snatch rest when I could, lying next to a body with the stench of decay, waking to another scream or a moan.

At least it was quick, less than a day each. And then it was just Anne and I, waiting and wondering how long before it came for us, too.

But it never did. After a week I walked outside. People talked and went about their business, trying to pretend nothing had happened, that Alice and Roger and Hannah were still alive. Yet I could see the terror in their eyes and the way they shunned me, as if I carried the pestilence like a shadow around me. Then I heard the rhyme for the first time, a group of children playing down the road, throwing a ball from one to the other. Little Alice Musgrave, lying in her bed. I ran towards them screaming and saw them scatter in surprise. My arm caught one boy and I started to hit him over and over as the tears tumbled down my cheeks.

Spring came, sunny, bright and fertile to mock us all. I knew what it meant. With the warm weather the plague would remain. While others held their Bibles close, I prayed it would take me and Anne, that it would lift the weight in our hearts. Each week there’d be fewer faces I knew on the streets. More than one thousand three hundred were buried before the winter turned cold again and the appetite of the pestilence was sated. But death kept denying me.

 

The soldiers left in the end. I’d lost track of how long they stayed; sometimes it seemed as if they’d always been there. Now the years have passed and we have a king again in London; that’s what they say. It makes little difference to our life in Leeds.

All the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. Maybe they’re even grander than they were before, I can’t remember. My Anne is married now, with a girl of her own. She had one before, but little Alice died when she was no more than a month old. I’d tried to tell her it was a fated name, but she wouldn’t listen to me.

I play with Emily, take her to the market and down to the river where men sell the fish they catch. I live with them, accompany them to church on a Sunday, but all I pray for now is to forget.

Ballad Of A Dead Man

A recent discussion with a friend about Fearn’s Island – a place that surprisingly still exists in Leeds, brought this to mind. It’s a short story that appeared in Leeds, The Biography, about the only Lord of the Manor in Leeds who was executed for murder in 1749.

fearns island

Tomorrow they’ll take me from this place in chains and hang me. From my cell I can see them polishing up the mourning coach that will transport me to the gallows at the Knavesmire. I’ve been a Leeds man all my life and they won’t allow me to end it there, the cowards.

But I declare that I, Josiah Fearne, Lord of the Manor of Leeds, am an innocent man. I’ll shout it. I’ll scream it. I killed Thomas Graves, but all I did was in self-defence.

Seven hours the trial took, and no more than a few minutes for the jury at York Castle to reach their verdict. And no matter how I yell injustice, no one will listen. So I must write down my account in the hope that it will clear the good name I own.

My father was a clothier. He had no fine start in life, but he was prudent, putting money aside and investing it wisely. When he died, he owned properties all over Mabgate and Woodhouse, and two more near the top of Briggate, close by the market cross, and I made my home in one of them.

I executed his will, and it was clear. Much went to my mother, to be passed to my sisters, and a little to myself – one of the houses in Mabgate and the place where I dwelt. For my older brother, Nehemiah? £50 and a paddock in Burmantofts. No more than that, which tells you what he thought of the wastrel.

I made my living as a drysalter, selling flax and hemp, cochineal and potash, the things people needed. A fair living it was, but there were those who resented me, who thought I’d come by the little wealth that I possessed too easily. They’d raise my ire and challenge me. How can a man back down from that and still think himself a man? There was Joseph Metcalfe for one, who taunted and insulted until I hit him. Then he ran to the night watch and claimed to be in fear of his life. A fine that cost me when it came to court.

I married, to Sarah Dunwell, whose father owned half of Nether Mills, the fulling mill that lies where Sheepscar Beck meets the Aire. He’d worked there a long time, knew the place in and out. It earned a goodly sum, enough to support the family in handsome style. But old man Dunwell had died, then one of Sarah’s sisters and brothers died, so that half the mill fell to my wife. But her mother, the old bitch, refused to give it up, no matter what the law said. The only way she’d agree was if I bought her an estate worth £500, enough to give her more than she could spend. Aye, and for her to tell everyone she’d put one over on Josiah Fearns.

I paid the money, and it was worth every penny to be rid of her, because along with it came more properties around Quarry Hill and Burmantofts.

We had children, three of them. The first, my boy Josiah, died quick enough, called by the Lord. But then there was John and his sister Sarah. And when my own sister died, all her wealth passed to my John, with me to look after it until he was of age.

The bloody corporation, the ones who ran Leeds, they had no time for me. They were merchants, full of fancy clothes and fine words, their noses high in the air. I was no more than the son of clothier, someone who’d come up in the world by his own wit and toil.

‘You’re an uncouth man, sir,’ one of them told me. All because I’d earned my money and wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. I spoke as I found and that offended those who considered themselves refined. I’d been in court, and my brother, now a woolstapler, had, too. We were too rough and ready for their tastes. But I knew I’d have my revenge on them.

My wife, my lovely Sarah, died in 1731, and my daughter three years after. I couldn’t bear to live in the house where I’d abided with them and rented it out, moving to a place close to the mill. I bought property cannily, and the mill itself was rated at £150 per annum. Only the King’s Mill was valued higher.

They tried to do me down, those who ran things. Twice I was in court for assault, fined sixpence on the first occasion, not guilty on the second, when a jury wasn’t taken in by the lies. There were others – conflicts with my brother Nehemiah, who’d managed to spend his way through his inheritance and thought I owed him a living, and Benjamin Winn, who believed he could insult my honour with impunity.

And then, finally, in 1738, I made sure those on the Corporation couldn’t ignore me. John Cookson put his share of the manor up for sale and I bought it. I had the money and it was worth every farthing. I owned one-ninth of the manor, and folk had to call me Lord of the Manor of Leeds. I’d done my father proud.

Still they tried to do me down. Where all the other owners were called Esquire in the minutes, my name was plain Mister. No matter. They bloody well knew who I was.

I had Tom Grave running Nether Mills for me, just as he did for the other owner, Mr. Greaves. He lived in the house there, it was part of his pay.

But I was an owner who kept up on things. Tom Grave should have known that. He seemed to think he could slip this and that by me, the way he did with Greaves. As soon as I saw it in the accounts, I sacked him and brought in John Crosland, a man I could trust. And I made sure he had half the house where Graves and his family lived. He had a right to it as part of his job.

It all came to a head on Friday, February 24th, 1749. I believed Graves was stealing from the mill to line his pockets and I went to the house to confront him. I’d had a little to drink, but what else should a man do of a night?

He wasn’t there, but that mouse of a wife he had tried to make me leave, the little shrew. I went, but I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had it out with Tom Grave. When I went back again, he was there.

He’ll have you believe he was meek and mild, leading me out by the hand, importuning me to leave, and helping me up when I fell, insensible from the drink.

Lies! All bloody lies!

He was the one who threw me down and threatened me. Anyone who’s seen him knows he’s a brute of a man with the strength of two or three. When he threatened to toss me in the mill stream, I believed him. It runs fast and hard, and anyone falling in there is certain to die. When he picked me up again and told me what he was going to do, I feared for my life. He had the glint of murder in his eye. I took my knife and stabbed him as any man would who feared for his safety. And then I went home, to my bed.

They say in court that I was the one who’d threatened him before, but, before the Lord, there’s nothing to believe in those accusations.

Tom Grave died on March 2nd. The day before he gave his statement and damned me in it, the liar.

At two o’clock on the morning of February 25th the night watch came hammering at my door to arrest me and take me before Mayor Scott. I swear the man was smiling as he ordered me to gaol in York Castle. Then, after Grave died and they held the inquest on him, the charge was murder.

The witnesses colluded. They had to do that, so their stories all fit together against me. And they told them in court, their faces straight in court as they all told their lies.

After that, the jury made their verdict and the ballad makers sent out their broadsheets to sell with the tale and the song.

Aye, the grand men in Leeds will be happy now, and happier still when I’m doing Jack Ketch’s dance in the morning at the end of a rope. But they’ll not forget the name of Josiah Fearns.

 

Josiah Fearns should be better known. After all, he was the only Lord of the Manor of Leeds to be executed for murder. At the time it was a sensation and the proceedings of the trial were published. But for all that, it’s largely vanished from history, and the man called the ‘domineering, villainous Lord of the Manor’ vanished. But, as far as we know, it happens as stated here, although the witnesses called in Fearns’ defence told a very different, largely unbelievable story. I’m grateful to Margaret Pullen’s excellent piece, Josiah Fearns: A Villainous Lord of the Manor of Leeds, published in the Second Series, Volume 24 of the Thoresby Society.

Chance Encounter – An Annabelle Harper Story

You all know that The Leaden Heart has been out for a week and a half. Very soon it’ll be available everywhere as an e-book, and a little later published in the US in hardback. I’m proud of it. It’s a bloody good book.

But I still thought you might like a bit more of Annabelle Harper and that compassion she has.

Leeds, 1896

Annabelle Harper had gone five paces past the man before she stopped. There were beggars everywhere in Leeds, as common as shadows along the street. But something about this face flickered in her mind and lit up a memory. He was despondent, at his wits’ end, but unlike so many, he wasn’t trying to become invisible against the stones, to disappear into the fabric of the city. He might not like he was happy about it, but the man was very much alive. She stopped abruptly, turned on her heel in a swish of crinoline and marched back until she was standing over him, shopping bags dangling from her hands. It was the last day February, a sun shining that almost felt like spring.

‘You, you’re Tommy Doohan, aren’t you?’

Very slowly, as if it was a great effort, he raised his head. He’d been staring down at the pavement between his legs.

‘I am,’ he answered. His voice was weary, a broad Leeds accent with just the smallest hint of Ireland, easy to miss unless you were familiar it. He stared up at her, baffled, with his one good eye, the other no more than a small, dark cavern above his cheek. ‘And who might you be? You don’t look familiar.’

‘Annabelle Harper,’ the woman replied. ‘Annabelle Feeney, when you knew me. Back on Leather Street where we were little.’

His smile was weak. He looked as if the entire weight of the city had pressed down on him and left him small and broken. It had dropped him in this spot

‘That was a long time ago.’

His suit had probably been reasonably smart once. Good, heavy wool, but the black colour had turned dusty and gritty from sitting so long. Cuffs and trouser hems frayed, threads hanging to the ground. Up close, she could see the grime on his shirt, no collar, no tie. The shine had long vanished from his shoes. He was bare-headed, his hair dark, growing wild and unruly. His cap sat upside-down between his thighs. In a rough, awkward attempt at copperplate, the cardboard sign propped against it read: But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.

‘Luke,’ she said. ‘Chapter eleven, verse forty-one.’ Annabelle grinned. They’d been in the same class at Mount St. Mary’s School. ‘The nuns must have rapped my knuckles a dozen times over that one. Sister Marguerite would be happy it finally stuck.’

‘Ah, me as well. Twenty times, at least. But they’d have a harder time doing that now.’ He held up his right arm, the hand missing two fingers and the thumb.

Annabelle took a slow, deep breath.

‘My God, Tommy, what happened?’

‘Just a little fight with a machine,’ he said wryly. ‘I think I won, though. You should have seen the machine when we finished.’

‘How can you-’ she began, then closed her mouth. She knew the answer deep in her bones. You laughed about it to stop the pain. You joked, because if you didn’t you’d fall off the world and never find your way back. ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of tea.’

‘I can’t let a woman pay for me.’

She dropped the bags and stood, hands on her hips, face set.

‘You can and you will, Tommy Doohan. Get off your high horse. You’d have been happy enough if I’d put a tanner in your cap. Now, get on your feet.’ She looked up and down New Briggate. ‘There’s a place over there, across from the Grand. And I’m not taking no for an answer.’

Briggate 1880

For a moment he didn’t move. But her voice had a razor edge, and he pushed himself to his feet, scooping a couple of pennies and farthing from the cap before he jammed it on his head.

He was tall, towering a good nine inches above her. Close to, he smelt of dirt and decay, as if he might be dying from the inside.

‘I’d carry your bags for you, but one of the paws doesn’t work so well.’

‘Give over,’ she told him, and his mouth twitched into a real smile.

 

He cradled the mug, as if he was relishing the warmth, only letting go to eat the toasted teacake she’d ordered for him. When he was done, he wiped the butter from his mouth with the back of a grimy hand, then felt in his pocket for a tab end.

They’d been silent, but now Annabelle said: ‘Go on, Tommy, what happened to you?’

‘When I was sixteen, I headed over to Manchester to try my luck. Me and my brother Donald, do you remember him?’

She had the faint image of someone a little older, tousle-haired and laughing.

‘What could you do there that you couldn’t here?’

‘It was different, wasn’t it?’ he said bitterly. ‘I’d been a mechanic down at Black Dog Mill, I could fix things, and Don, well, he was jack of all trades.’ He smoked, then stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray in quick jabs. ‘We did all right, I suppose. One of the cotton mills there took him on, made him a foreman, earning fair money.’

‘What about you?’

‘Down at the docks. Long hours, but it was a decent wage. Lots of machines to look after. I met a lass, got wed, had ourselves a couple of kiddies.’

‘I’ve got one, too. A little girl.’

Doohan cocked his head.

‘What does your husband do? You look well off.’

‘You’ll never credit it.’ She laughed. ‘He’s a bobby. A detective. And I own a pub. The Victoria down in Sheepscar.’

He let out a low whistle.

‘You’ve turned into a rich woman.’

‘We get by,’ Annabelle said. ‘Anyway, what about your family?’

‘Gone,’ he told her bleakly. ‘About two years back I was working on this crane, you know, hauling stuff out of the boats. The mechanism has jammed. I almost had it fixed when the cable broke. It’s as thick as your arm, made from metal strands. Took the fingers before I even knew it, and a piece flew off into my eye.’ He shrugged. ‘I was in the hospital for a long time. Came out, no job. They told me that since I didn’t have two full hands, I wasn’t able to do the work any more. Goodbye, thank you, and slipped me two quid to see me on my way like I should be grateful.’

‘Where was your wife?’

‘Upped sticks and scarpered with my best mate as soon as someone told her I wasn’t going to be working. Took the children with her. I tried looking round for them for a long time, but I couldn’t find hide nor hair. Finally I thought I’d come back to Leeds. I might have a bit more luck here.’ He sighed. ‘You can see how that turned out. On me uppers on New Briggate. Begging to get a bed.’ He spat out the sentence.

‘Couldn’t your brother help?’ Annabelle asked.

‘Donald was married, and he and his brood had gone off to Liverpool. He has his own life, it wouldn’t be fair. Me mam and dad are dead, but there are a few relatives who slip me a little something.’

She stayed silent for a long time, twisting the wedding ring back and forth around her finger.

‘How long did you work at all this?’

‘Seventeen years,’ Doohan said with pride. ‘Ended up a supervisor before…’ He didn’t need to say more.

‘Do you know Hope Foundry? Down on Mabgate?’

‘I think I’ve seen it. Why?’

‘Fred Hope, one of the owners, he drinks in the pub. He was just saying the other day that he’s looking for engineering people. You know, to run things.’

Doohan raised his right arm with its missing fingers to his empty eye.

‘You’re forgetting these.’

‘No, I’m not. You’ve got a left hand. And your brain still works, doesn’t it?’

‘Course it does,’ he answered.

‘Then pop in and see him tomorrow. Tell him I suggested it.’

‘Are you serious about this?’

‘What do you think?’

‘He’ll say no. They always do.’

‘Happen he won’t. Fred has a good head on his shoulders. He can see more than a lot of people.’ Annabelle opened her purse and pulled out two one-pound notes. ‘Here. It’s a loan,’ she warned him. ‘Just so you can get yourself cleaned up and somewhere decent to sleep. Some food in you.’

‘I can’t.’

She pressed the money into his palm.

‘There’s no saintliness in being hungry and kipping on a bench,’ she hissed. ‘Take it.’

He closed his fingers around the paper.

‘I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I’ll pay you back.’

‘You will,’ she agreed. ‘I know where you’ll be working. And your boss is a friend of mine. Now you’d better get a move on, before the shops shut.’

‘What about…?’ He gestured at the table.

‘Call it my treat. Now, go on. Off with you.’

At the door he turned back, grinning. He seemed very solid, filling the space.

‘Is this what they mean by the old school tie?’

annabellefrom book_3