Authors: Rebecca King
Tags: #romance, #thriller, #literature, #suspense, #adventure, #intrigue, #mysteries, #romanticsuspense, #historicalromance, #general mysteries, #regencyromance, #romanticmysteries
THE GALLOWS BRIDE
The Cavendish Mysteries
by Rebecca King
TABLE OF CONTENTS
heavy thump of a cell door somewhere in the dark recesses of the
gaol, followed by the metallic clanging of the gaoler’s keys, rang
through the claustrophobic cell of the condemned. Despite the thick
stone walls, they could hear the mournful cries of pleading from
other prisoners echoing hollowly through the large building that
housed the prisoners of Derby.
curled her knees tighter into her chest, rested her head on her
knees, and began to pray. She didn’t know what she was praying for,
but she did know with certainty that, on this occasion, all her
prayers would remain unanswered.
all, there was no absolution for the condemned.
would be no respite from the daily hell of living in the squalid
cesspit that was so dark that she couldn’t even see her hand
resting on her own nose. The inky blackness of the condemned cell
was the closest thing to hell she had ever imagined possible. The
small room was approximately twelve feet long and four feet wide,
and was packed with eight other men, all waiting for their turn on
the gallows. There was no window, and only one heavily fortified
door that didn’t even let in a sliver of light.
day of their arrival, Jemima had been the first one roughly pushed
into the blackness. As the other inmates had been pushed behind
her, she had been shoved to the darkest corner at the back of the
room, where she sat on the hard wooden bench, locked into a world
of fear. The pervasive darkness that had swept over them as the
door slammed shut was cloying; teasing sanity with its relentless
grasp. If it wasn’t for the clanking of the manacles as they
shuffled around in search of a more comfortable spot on the
unforgiving wooden benches, Jemima would have thought herself the
only person in there.
nobody within the condemned cell had sought to vocalise the
unfairness of their trials, and judgement, as verbally as others
within the gaol, and had instead lapsed into a morose silence that
was just as heavy as the atmosphere. Jemima wasn’t sure which was
worse; the silent desolation within the room, or the pitiful howls
of denial from other prisoners that echoed hauntingly throughout
the stone walls.
knew, just as well as everyone else, that there was no way out.
Their only escape from their misery was via the gallows.
been tried very quickly by a court that hadn’t been interested in
full judicial process. Clearly intent on issuing swift judgements,
it had sought to stem the rising tide of public unrest, whatever
the cost. Jemima knew that, even if they had been given full
judicial process, they would still have been found guilty. After
all, she had been found standing by the magistrate’s body holding a
bloodied knife, and his pouch of coins. The only people around her
who could vouch for her innocence had been found guilty of the
brutal murder of the coachman; and the mayor’s wife, and were now
sitting alongside her in the cell.
image of the judge resting the black piece of cloth on his head,
followed by his cold intonation, “May you be hanged from the neck
until the life leaves your body,” loomed over her like a sinister
spectre waiting to claim her soul.
was nobody to save her. She was stuck in a hellish situation that
would ultimately result in her being put to death, in front of a
crowd of strangers who had travelled to Derby just to watch the
spectacle of not just seeing a woman hang, but the woman who was
responsible for murdering the Mayor of Derby.
people she held close to her heart, thankfully, didn’t even know
she was there. While sitting there with nothing to do, and even
less to look at, she had thought about writing them a note to plead
for their help. Turning the options over and over in her mind led
her to only one conclusion. Even if she could get a note out to
Peter, hoping for rescue was futile. If he learned of her fate, he
would undoubtedly try to help her, but there was little even he
could do. Although he was titled, and had connections in high
places, even he wouldn’t be able to overturn a court of law, and in
all conscience she couldn’t ask him to publicly associate himself
with a condemned, unmarried woman. There were no grounds to request
a stay of execution, even. Writing a note to them to plead for
their help; would achieve nothing but bringing untold distress to
the two people she held most dear to her heart.
tried her hardest to blank out the image, but his handsome face
swam before her anyway. Her heart clenched tightly in her chest, as
the memories of him came flooding back. Over the past few months
she had managed to keep her memories tightly locked away by busying
herself with work and Eliza, but now she was helpless before the
emotions that roiled through her.
couldn’t do it. They were currently ignorant of her plight and, as
such, were free of the ordeal of watching her die. If they did ever
learn of her fate, then it would be too late. They would most
probably grieve for her, but their grief would be free of the
memory of watching her being put to death in such a publicly
it to them to remain on her own and accept that this time, there
was no way out. Nobody could get her out. At dawn tomorrow, she was
going to the gallows and there was nothing she could do about
jumped and turned fear-filled eyes to the door as it swung open.
The heavily garbed figure of a gaoler carrying a flaming torch
appeared in the doorway, a dark scowl of foreboding on his face as
he tried to peer through the darkness within the small room, one
hand resting on a wicked-looking pistol at his hip.
stomach dropped to her toes. She hadn’t thought it was so late, or
early. Surely the time wasn’t already upon them?
You, woman, get out here,” he growled, lifting his light
higher in order to see into the depths of the cell.
heart flipped and she wondered if she would throw up as she stared
at him in horror. She began to shake as she tried to stand, and
found the stiffness in her limbs and heavy weight of the manacles
too much, thumping back down on the hard wooden bench with a cry of
jumped as a great looming figure suddenly leaned over her, lifting
the heavy chains for her. Giving them a rough tug, he effectively
propelled her out of the cell. With little choice, Jemima stumbled
over the prone bodies lying squashed on the floor and found herself
in the wide space of the inner corridor that ran the length of the
gaol as far as the eye could see. She didn’t know how big the gaol
was, but stood looking down into the murky gloom, outlined by
occasional flaming torches protruding from the walls. Their
flickering did little to break the shadows.
stench of urine, faeces, unwashed bodies and boiling potatoes
assaulted her nostrils, and she fought the wave of sickness that
threatened. She swallowed rapidly against the lump in her throat,
and stumbled as her chains were tugged, dragging her
unceremoniously down the corridor. Fear lodged in her chest, and
she stared with horror-filled eyes at the small shaft of light
glowing through the partly open doorway.
Where are we going?” Jemima whispered, too scared to glance
left or right.
didn’t need to turn her head to see the pale, ghostly faces peering
helplessly out through the bars at her as she passed. As she
shuffled, she became aware that the mournful cries had ceased
leaving a watchful silence in their wake. Obviously everyone knew
it was futile to seek help from one of the condemned. They couldn’t
help themselves. Morbid curiosity shone in their faces as they
watched her pass.
twice, Jemima caught a softly issued, “God bless ye, girl.” With
each step she wondered if she was going to be hanged there and
then, and a wave of terror swept through her so strongly that the
cold, black walls of the gaol began to swim around her mockingly,
leaving her wondering if she was going to faint.
The boss wants you,” the gaoler grunted, dragging her
struggled to keep up with his long stride, and was grateful he was
carrying her chains for her. The heavy iron manacles on her ankles
slowed her climb up the steps to what she supposed must be the
gaoler’s office. Luckily the gaoler was sympathetic enough to wait
while she shuffled awkwardly up the steps.
blinked rapidly against the glare of the brightly lit room as the
door was swung open. She didn’t want to go in, but had to follow
her chains as the gaoler dragged her behind him into the warmth of
the brightly-lit room.
the warmth and light within the room, Jemima began to shiver. She
squinted through the light for several moments, shoving the wild
tangle of her unwashed hair out of her eyes with a grimy hand, and
waited for her senses to settle. Only then did she become aware of
the occupants within the room, watching her silently.
stomach dropped to her toes, and she fought to silence a cry of
denial as the realisation of who they were sank in.
Have you forgotten to tell us something?” The harsh rumble of
the gaoler’s voice broke the tense silence within the
stared blankly at him, refusing to turn her head and look at the
one man she really didn’t want to be there. She ached to run toward
him, and beg for his help. She longed to feel his strong arms
around her, just one last time. How had he known? How had he found
she loved, and the very last person she wanted to see. She wanted
to weep with joy, and scream in misery. The very last thing she had
wanted was to see him there, in the midst of such desolation. He
was standing so very tall and proud. The fine cut of his clothing
stood out against the sinister surroundings of the gaol, marking
him as someone special; someone who didn’t belong there. She didn’t
know who the other men were, but their resemblance to each other
was startling. They were all of similar height to Peter, with broad
shoulders and jet black hair. They were a handsome group of men.
Were they the Cavendish brothers, Peter often talked about? Somehow
Jemima knew they were, but for the life of her couldn’t understand
why they were there too.
surge of hope swept through her for one exquisite moment, before
the cold wash of logic and reasoning swept it away.
gaoler – Mr Simpson – sighed deeply and stared thoughtfully at her
for several long moments, clearly waiting for something. Heaving
another sigh, he nodded toward the window encasement where Peter
stood, his face stark.
Are you married to him?”
heart flipped and she immediately realised Peter was trying to get
her out. He was willing to put everything at risk to try to save
couldn’t allow him to do it. She knew her journey to the gallows
was inevitable. Even Peter, bless him, couldn’t overturn the
judgement of a court of law. Clearly he knew that too and had
decided to risk his own future wellbeing in a desperate attempt to
claim her as his wife.