Authors: Deryn Lake
Table of Contents
DEATH IN THE DARK WALK
DEATH AT THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
DEATH AT THE DEVIL'S TAVERN
DEATH ON THE ROMNEY MARSH
DEATH IN THE PEERLESS POOL
DEATH AT THE APOTHECARIES' HALL
DEATH IN THE WEST WIND
DEATH AT ST JAMES' PALACE
DEATH IN THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS
DEATH IN THE SETTING SUN
DEATH AND THE CORNISH FIDDLER
DEATH IN HELLFIRE
DEATH AND THE BLACK PYRAMID
DEATH AT THE WEDDING FEAST
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First published in Great Britain by
Hodder and Stoughton 1994
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 1994 Deryn Lake
The right of Deryn Lake to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0076-1 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Henry James
my bright new star
star of an old acquaintance
My grateful thanks are due to Beryl Cross, poet and friend, who helped me during my original search for John Rawlings, and to Mark Dunton, archivist at the Public Record Office, Kew, who also went on the trail with me. Thanks, too, to Major Charles O'Leary of The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, for looking through the Society's records and giving me some further details about John. And to Lyndi Clements Telepneff for filling in the background of Jonathan Tyers, Proprietor of Vaux Hall Pleasure Gardens, from her expert knowledge. Two more people deserve my gratitude: Ros Bacon, for typing the manuscript so beautifully, and Maureen Lyle, who read, approved and enthusiastically encouraged. Thank you all.
It being such a delicate night, all stars and moon and silk soft breeze, John Rawlings, well satisfied with the day's events and having kissed his father goodnight, stepped forth from number two Nassau Street, so named in honour of the marriage of the Princess Royal to the Prince of Orange-Nassau, and hailed a chair to take him to the river.
Gone eight o'clock as it was, the fashionable world had just set out on its nocturnal perambulations and as the swaying sedan made its way through Leicester Fields, past the house of ill repute hidden discreetly amongst the trees, John peered through the small window at the elegant parade which strolled the London streets. Ladies in hooped skirts, some as wide as fifteen feet, minced along beside gentlemen in flared coats, dazzling waistcoats and breeches with silver buckles at the knee. Bows were exchanged and tricorne hats raised as couples, passing one another with difficulty, made their way to the balls, assemblies and gaming houses that provided the beau monde with its nightly entertainment.
John, dazzled by the splendour of it all, stared through his quizzing glass, a patent affectation for someone who only that morning had still been a mere apprentice lad, and called and waved at two beautiful whores who preened through the crowd like a pair of decadent doves.
Unhindered by the antics of its occupant, the sedan continued its journey across Castle Street, down Hemmings Row, then into St Martin's Lane, past St Martin's in the Fields and on to the Strand. Here a maze of alleyways led down to the Thames but as these were the haunt of footpads and cut-throats, the chairmen turned instead into the square of Hungerford market and set their passenger down at his destination, the top of Hungerford Stairs which descended to the very edge of the water.
A faun-like creature emerged from their conveyance, gleaming a grin at them as he searched in his pocket to settle the fare. Of average height and supple build, for all that their passenger gave the impression of possessing a certain wiry strength and this feeling was endorsed by the construction of his face. High-cheekboned, strong-jawed, it was capped by a white wig which barely concealed the thick bush of cinnamon curls beneath, cut short though they might be. A pair of dark quizzical eyebrows which moved expressively when he spoke danced above eyes the colour of fresh-picked delphiniums, eyes which in certain lights could deepen to a tint resembling wild lilac. Shaded by curving lids and a sweep of thick black lash, still the animation in them, the curiosity, the love of living in all its aspects, could hardly be hidden. Yet belying this awareness of every nuance of life, the man's face was composed, tranquil almost, a fact that in the past he had many times used to his advantage. Only his mouth, with its crooked disconcerting smile beneath his long straight nose, endorsed the fact that here stood an imp of intelligence, a wild hare of a being, ready to move off at the slightest whisper of the word adventure.
Already there ahead of John, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, waited a vast windmill of a fellow with a thick thatch of flaxen hair covered by a wig a size too small for his head. On seeing his friend alighting he hurried forward and shook him warmly by the hand.
âWell, is it done?'
âAye, it is. Seven long years successfully over. This morning my Master freed me from my indentures and you are presently crushing the fingers of John Rawlings, Apothecary. And what of yourself?'
âJust the same. Greet Samuel Swann, future Goldsmith of the City of London. My apprenticeship ended last week and my Master there and then gave me leave to apply to the Guild for Freedom.' With those words Samuel threw his hat in the air, failed to catch it, and watched in dismay as it floated down over the wall and landed in the river.
âThen it's time for celebration,' John answered joyfully, slapping him on the back. âWine, women, I'm ready for it all.' And he, too, removed his hat, though more cautiously keeping fast hold of it, and, pushing his wig to one side, tugged a lock of the springing hair which grew beneath.
Several boatmen were moored by the stairs and, engaging the services of a likely fellow who had ingratiated himself by rescuing the sodden headgear, the two young men stepped aboard his bobbing craft and gave orders to proceed down river to Vaux Hall Gardens. Thus settled, they sat down back-to-back, leaning upon one another companionably, taking sips from a flask of brandy which Samuel had secreted in the pocket of his best satin coat. In this state of high contentment they watched the banks of the great waterway lit clearly by the beams of the moon, and thought of nothing but the delightful evening that lay ahead of them.
Having left behind the houses of the city as they passed Millbank Terrace, the landscape became rural, the trees and market gardens of Tothill Fields giving way to rolling meadowland. As they caught sight of the lights of the Pleasure Gardens distantly reflected in the water, the faint sound of music suddenly became audible. But the gentle mood created by this romantic mirage was rudely shattered by the scene on arrival at Vaux Hall Stairs. For here was moored a positive flotilla of craft, all of varying sizes, including a confusion of wherries and one private barge, very grand and superior, with a crew of liveried oarsmen who looked down their noses at the watermen. People attempting to land were bawling and swearing at one another, quarrels were breaking out, and despite the presence of the Vaux Hall beadles, there to keep order, a parcel of ugly fellows were running into the water to pull people violently ashore. Thankful that Samuel Swann's size prevented any angry approaches, John and his companion managed to negotiate their way onto dry land.
At the top of the stone staircase lay a walkway, visible from the river, leading directly to rather an unimposing entrance. This consisted of an austere brick wall joined to a windowed three-storeyed house, the doorway of which contained half doors, like those of a stable, which swung to and fro.
Attached to these somewhat unattractive buildings and completing the complex was the Proprietor's private residence. Yet here all semblance of reality ceased, for having paid their shilling and gone down the dark passageway that lay beyond the swing doors, the friends found themselves in the full blaze of the Gardens, lit with its thousand lamps. This was the greatest moment for any visitor to Vaux Hall and the couple simply stood there, thunderstruck, and gazed about them.
Before them lay the Grand Walk, planted on each side with elms, extending about nine hundred feet, the entire length of the Pleasure Gardens, to the pleasant meadows of Kennington beyond. At the far end of this walk stood a huge gilded statue of Aurora, glittering in the light of the sparkling lanterns, while running parallel to it was another incredible boulevard, even more exotic â if that were possible. This last, known as the South Walk, was spanned by soaring triumphal arches and allowed a distant glimpse of a large painting of the ruins of Palmyra. Connecting these two major promenades was the Grand Cross Walk, which ran from one side of the Pleasure Gardens to the other and also contained a representation of ancient Gothic decay. Thinking that only a romantic and complex mind could have planned such a fantasy, John sauntered into the Grand Walk as if he had been perambulating there all his life.
To his right, the Grand Cross Walk terminated in a long shadowy avenue known sometimes as Druid's Walk but more frequently as Lovers' or The Dark Walk. Here a verdant canopy towered overhead in which nightingales, blackbirds and thrushes built their nests and sang, while sweethearts sported in its shady seclusion, hidden from prying eyes by the leafy dimness.
Turning his head to look left, John saw that the Grand Cross Walk crossed the Grand Walk at right angles and then ended in the Wildernesses and the Rural Downs. In this part of the Gardens the theme was natural and springy turf covered the ground, interspersed at intervals by firs, cypresses and cedars to break the flatness. Narrowing his eyes, John tried to catch a glimpse of the leaden statue of Milton, seated and listening to music, but was unable to do so. Smiling to himself, he recalled that in this area of Vaux Hall were the famous Musical Bushes where a band lay concealed, playing fairy tunes and frightening the maidens â and also coming off the worst of it when gentlemen chose to relieve themselves, unaware of the hidden musicians.