Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #General, #Mystery & Detective
The Matthew Bartholomew Series
A Plague on Both Your Houses
An Unholy Alliance
A Bone of Contention
A Deadly Brew
A Wicked Deed
A Masterly Murder
An Order for Death
A Summer of Discontent
A Killer in Winter
The Hand of Justice
The Mark of a Murderer
The Tarnished Chalice
To Kill or Cure
The Devil’s Disciples
A Vein of Deceit
The Killer of Pilgrims
The Thomas Chaloner Series
A Conspiracy of Violence
Blood on the Strand
The Butcher of Smithfield
The Westminster Poisoner
A Murder on London Bridge
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public
domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely
Copyright © 2011 Susanna Gregory
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior
permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Hendrick Berends
My Dutch consultant
Early June 1664
The marriage of Thomas Chaloner to Hannah Cotton in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster transpired to be an occasion few of
their guests would ever forget. It was not because the ceremony took place during one of the fiercest storms in living memory,
raining so hard that the roof was unequal to it and began to leak. Nor was it because the ship bringing the bridegroom home
from Holland was a week late, and he arrived at the church with only seconds to spare. Rather, it was because Philip Alden
was murdered during it.
Alden was a man down on his luck. He had been a Royalist spy during the Commonwealth, and at the Restoration the King had
rewarded him handsomely for his courage. Unfortunately, Alden loved to gamble, and the money had slipped through his fingers
like quicksilver. Now, four years on, he could not remember when he had last eaten and he had no proper home. He was cold,
hungry and feeling very sorry for himself as he slouched past St Margaret’s. Then he happened
to overhear the name of the man who was to be married there that day.
He could scarcely believe his luck! Chaloner had also been an intelligencer, albeit one who had worked for the opposition,
but even so, he would not see a brother officer starve. He would invite Alden to the wedding feast, and perhaps even slip
him a few shilling afterwards, to see him back on his feet. Grinning in anticipation of his problems being solved, Alden brushed
himself down, pulled back his shoulders and marched boldly into the church.
The wedding was a grand affair, far grander than Alden would have expected for a reticent, unassuming fellow like Chaloner,
but eavesdropping soon explained why: Hannah was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and she had invited not only Her Majesty,
but a number of high-ranking courtiers, too – such as the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Clarendon and members of the Privy
Council. Alden’s spirits rose further still: with such august guests, the feast was likely to be sumptuous.
Afraid his shabby clothes might see him expelled before he could corner the bridegroom, Alden selected a seat at the very
back of the nave, and settled down to watch and to wait.
Sitting a few rows in front of him were a wealthy brothel-keeper named Temperance North, and Richard Wiseman, the Court surgeon.
They were an unlikely pair, but Alden had seen them together on several occasions – although no longer active in espionage,
old habits died hard, and he made it his business to know who was sleeping with whom. To pass the time, he listened to their
‘There was no sign of Tom’s ship again this morning,’ Temperance was saying. ‘Do you think it will arrive in time? Or do you
think he has had second thoughts, and has paid the captain to be late deliberately?’
‘No!’ exclaimed Wiseman, clearly shocked by the notion. ‘The ship is late because of these terrible storms. I cannot tell
you how many patients I have tended because of them – broken limbs from being blown over, cuts and bruises from flying objects
been windy,’ agreed Temperance, and as if to give credence to her words, the bright sunlight that had been streaming through
the windows was suddenly dimmed as black clouds scudded across the sky. The inside of the church grew dark.
And then it began to rain. At first, it was just a light patter, but it quickly became a roar, and water splattered furiously
to the ground outside from overtaxed gutters. The racket it made drowned out the discussion between Wiseman and Temperance,
but it did not matter, because a sudden flurry of activity at the door heralded the bridegroom’s eleventh-hour arrival.
There was a collective sigh of relief from the congregation when he took his place at the altar rail, although Hannah only
smiled serenely, as if she had known all along that raging seas and gale-force winds would not keep him from her that day.
As soon as Chaloner was in position, Rector White began the service, eyes fixed firmly heavenwards, although it had nothing
to do with piety – he was concerned for his roof. His was not a wealthy parish, and could not afford costly repairs.
‘—and keep her in sickness and in health,’ he bellowed, struggling to make himself heard over the storm. ‘And,
forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?’
Any response Chaloner might have made was lost amid a rippling roll of thunder.
‘Did he say he would?’ asked Temperance of Wiseman.
The surgeon shrugged. ‘The vicar is asking him to repeat himself.’
Next, it was the roar of rain that drowned out Chaloner’s reply. There was a sharp squeal as some hapless lady found herself
standing directly under a leak, and Alden smirked. This was far better entertainment than the gaming houses! Rector White
indicated Chaloner was to try again.
‘I will,’ shouted Chaloner for the third time.
Unfortunately, his yell coincided with a lull in the storm, and his words reverberated around the building like a challenge.
Hannah beamed at him, then prodded White, who reluctantly dragged his attention away from his ceiling and back to the Book
of Common Prayer. The respite did not last long, though, and the elements were soon battering the church with renewed ferocity.
A loud crack from above had the congregation gazing upwards in alarm, and almost immediately, water began to ooze through
the ancient timbers. People edged towards the aisles, and the shuffle turned into a stampede when there was a second snap
and the trickle became a deluge. The scene was illuminated by an eye-searing flicker of lightning, and Alden laughed openly
at the sight of elegant courtiers making an undignified scramble for shelter.
Rector White continued valiantly, but the storm was directly overhead, and the thunder now sounded like
crashing booms from a whole field of cannons. Alden noticed that Chaloner’s hand was on the hilt of his sword – an instinctive
reaction from a man who had seen more than his share of fighting. The racket was so intense that Alden doubted the bridal
couple could hear the vicar’s words, while their guests were more interested in staying dry than in the ceremony.
Alden was so diverted by the spectacle that he did not sense the presence of the killer behind him until it was too late.
There was a searing pain in his back, and he started to topple forward, but strong hands fastened around him, holding him
upright. They continued to support him until his heart finally stopped beating, and then they arranged him so he was slumped
in the pew with his hat over his eyes.
The storm abated the moment White hollered a final blessing. Immediately, sunlight shafted through the stained-glass windows,
painting a mosaic of bright patterns on the wet floor. The rector gripped the newlyweds’ hands in a sincere but brief gesture
of congratulation, and then dashed away to inspect the damage to his tiles.
Dodging the ribbons of water that continued to flood through the roof, Hannah and Chaloner made their way up the aisle. When
they passed Alden, Chaloner paused, frowning. The battered hat and grubby coat were in stark contrast to the finery worn by
the rest of the guests.
did not invite him,’ said Hannah, regarding the shabby figure in distaste. ‘I was careful to keep the guest-list respectable,
because the Queen is here. He must be a vagrant.’
One of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, Judith Killigrew, had been leaning idly against the pew in which Alden was slumped,
but when she straightened, there was a vivid blot of red against the pale yellow of her gown. She gazed at it in horror, then
screamed. Her husband regarded the mess dispassionately: as Master of the Savoy Hospital, Dr Henry Killigrew was used to bloodstains.
He touched Alden’s neck, to feel for a life-beat, but shook his head.
‘Dead,’ he announced to the people who were hurrying to see what was happening. ‘But there appears to be a letter pinned to
his back by a knife. How very peculiar!’
There were exclamations of revulsion when he grabbed the dagger and tugged it out. Then he removed the paper from the sticky
blade, and scanned it quickly before passing it to Chaloner.
‘“Do not interfere”,’ Chaloner read, looking around to assess whether the message might mean something to one of the guests,
but he was met by blank stares and puzzled frowns. And it could not be for
, because he had been in the country for less than an hour after an absence of four months – he had not had time to do anything
to warrant grisly warnings.
‘Interfere with what?’ asked Hannah unsteadily. ‘And who is he, anyway?’
‘His name is Philip Alden,’ supplied Killigrew. ‘Onetime Cavalier spy and inveterate gambler. He has been loitering around
my hospital recently, begging for money. A bit of a scoundrel, but not one who should warrant execution.’
‘He must have been killed during the ceremony,’ declared Wiseman. ‘I am a surgeon, and I am good at
spotting corpses – he was certainly not dead when I saw him earlier.’
‘Did anyone see or hear anything suspicious?’ asked Chaloner, although without much hope: the storm had provided a perfect
diversion for the crime.
There were shaken heads all around.
‘This will be the work of fanatics,’ said Killigrew with a grimace. ‘Throw their damned note away, Chaloner, because I refuse
to waste time considering it. Especially when we have a feast waiting for us at White Hall.’
But one man stared in open-mouthed horror at the corpse and its grim warning. Rector White knew exactly at whom the communication
what it meant. He staggered to a pew, feeling terror and nausea wash over him in alternate waves. Something dark and deadly
was about to be unleashed, and he was not sure whether he – or anyone else – could stop it.
Ten days later
Willem Hanse carried a terrible secret, and had no idea what to do with it. He was a stranger in a foreign land, and did not
know whom he could trust – not among his fellow Dutchmen, who had travelled to London with him in a final, desperate attempt
to avert a war with Britain, and not among his English hosts. He was also unwell, suffering from an unsettling, gnawing ache
in his innards. He pulled off his gloves – stupid things to wear when the city was in the grip of a heatwave, but they had
been a gift from a friend and it comforted him to don them – and wiped sweat from his eyes.
He glanced behind him as he walked, pretending to gaze across the river at the twinkling lights of Southwark, but really looking
for the malignant Oetje. His heart sank when he saw she was still there: he had not managed to lose her, despite his best
efforts. She had followed him out of his lodgings at the Savoy Hospital – the rambling Tudor palace that had been lent to
the Dutch Ambassador and his staff for the duration of their stay – and then she had lurked outside the Sun tavern while he
had spent the evening with his friend, Tom Chaloner.
Poor Chaloner had been exhausted. He had spent the ten days since his wedding desperately trying to solve Alden’s murder,
while simultaneously struggling to pay court to a new wife and serve a demanding master. He had wanted to go home, but Hanse
had detained him with idle chatter, hoping Oetje would tire of her vigil and leave. Unfortunately, her patience appeared to
be infinite, because she had stood in a doorway all evening, silent and watchful.
Eventually, Chaloner had fallen asleep at the table, which had relieved Hanse of the burden of pretending all was well when
it was not – the vicious murder in St Margaret’s Church attested to that. Hanse had let him doze for a while, then had reluctantly
shaken him awake when he knew he could dally no longer, and would have to leave the safety of the tavern – Oetje or no Oetje.
Chaloner had wanted to accompany him back to the Savoy – London was unsafe for Dutchmen, and one out alone at such an hour
would be an attractive target for English ‘patriots’ – but Hanse, unwilling to embroil him in such a deadly matter, had refused.
In the end,
they had compromised: Hanse had taken a hackney carriage, instead of walking as he had planned. Chaloner had not been happy
with the arrangement, but had been too tired to argue. He had seen Hanse into the coach, tried one last time to accompany
him and, after being shoved away firmly, had turned towards home.
Once he had gone, Hanse had made a spirited effort to lose Oetje, directing his driver on a tortuous journey through a maze
of narrow alleys. In a particularly dark spot, he had scrambled out and paid the man to keep going without him. Then he had
visited several crowded taverns, entering through front doors and slipping out through the back ones, but all to no avail
– Oetje had stuck to him like glue. Now he was all alone in a particularly dangerous, squalid part of the city.
Hanse believed, with all his heart, that the business he had undertaken was worth his life, and he was prepared to do anything
to see it through. Of course, he thought grimly, as he broke into a trot, he could not complete what he had started if he
was killed. Pushing such macabre thoughts from his mind, he blundered on.
A figure materialised ahead, so Hanse jigged down the alley to his left, but there were footsteps everywhere, echoing in his
aching head. Clutching his stomach, he began to run, unease blossoming into full-blown fear as his pursuer gained on him.
Then he tripped over a pile of rubbish in the darkness. He knew he was near the Thames, because he could hear its gentle lap
on the muddy shore. He tried to climb to his feet, but his limbs were like lead. Someone came to stand over him.
‘Please!’ he whispered. ‘Do not—’
His adversary issued a low, mirthless chuckle that turned Hanse’s blood to ice, despite the heat of the summer evening. ‘You
should not have interfered.’