AS I RODE BACK TO Newgate I reflected anxiously on my watcher. Could the man have some connection with the Wentworth case? I had mentioned the case at Lincoln's Inn the afternoon before and gossip travels faster among lawyers than among the washerwomen in Moorgate fields. Or was he some agent of the State, investigating my dealings with the dark-skinned ex-monk? Yet these days I had no connections with politics.
Chancery stirred uneasily and neighed, sensing my worry or perhaps made uneasy by the dreadful smells that assailed us as we passed the Shambles, a foul trail of blood and fluids seeping down the channel from Bladder Street. The stink here was always bad, however much the City might try to regulate the butchers, but on a hot day like this it was unbearable. If this weather went on I should have to buy a nosegay, I thought, noticing that many of the richer-looking passers-by held posies of spring flowers before their faces.
I passed into Newgate Market, still overshadowed by the great monastic church of Greyfriars, behind whose stained-glass windows the king now stored booty taken from the French at sea. Beyond stood the high City wall and, built into it, the chequered towers of Newgate. London's principal gaol is a fine, ancient building, yet it holds more misery than anywhere in London, many of its inhabitants leaving it only for their execution.
I entered the Pope's Head tavern. It was open all hours and did a good trade from visitors to the gaol. Joseph sat at a table overlooking the dusty rear garden, nursing a cup of small beer, the weak beer drunk to quench thirst. A posy of flowers lay beside him. He was looking uneasily at a well-dressed young man who was leaning over him, smiling affably.
'Come, Brother, a game of cards will cheer you up. I am due to meet some friends at an inn nearby. Good company.' He was one of the coneycatchers who infest the City, looking for country people in their dull clothes who were new to town to fleece them of their money.
'Excuse us,' I said sharply, easing myself into a chair. 'This gentleman and I are due to have conference. I am his lawyer.'
The young man raised his eyebrows at Joseph. 'Then you'll lose all your money anyway, sir,' he said. 'Justice is a fat fee.' As he passed me he leaned close. 'Crook-backed bloodsucker,' he murmured softly.
Joseph did not hear. 'I've been to the gaol again,' he said gloomily. 'I told the gaoler I was bringing a lawyer. Another sixpence he charged, to allow the visit. What's more he had a copy of that filthy pamphlet. He told me he's been letting people in to look at Elizabeth for a penny. They call out through the spyhole and insult her. He laughed about it. It's cruel – surely they're not allowed to do that?'
'The gaolers are allowed anything for their own profit. He would have told you in hope of a bribe to keep her free of such pestering.'
He ran a hand through his hair. 'I have had to pay for food for her, water, everything. I can't afford more, sir.' He shook his head. 'These gaolers must be the wickedest men on earth.'
'Ay. But clever enough at turning a profit.' I looked at him seriously. 'I went to Lincoln's Inn yesterday afternoon, Joseph. I learned the judge sitting at Saturday's assize is Forbizer. That is no good news. He's a strong Bible man and incorruptible-'
'But that's good, surely, a Bible man-'
I shook my head. 'Incorruptible, but hard as stone.'
'No sympathy for a young orphan girl half out of her wits?'
'Not for any living creature. I've appeared before him in civil matters.' I leaned forward. 'Joseph, we must get Elizabeth to talk or she's as good as dead.'
He bit his lip in that characteristic gesture of his. 'When I took her some food yesterday she just lay there and looked at it. Not a word of thanks, not even a nod. I think she's hardly eaten for days. I've bought her these flowers but I don't know if she'll look at them.'
'Well, let us see what I can do.'
He nodded gratefully. As we got up I said, 'By the way, does Sir Edwin know you have retained me?'
Joseph shook his head. 'I haven't spoken with Edwin in a week, since I suggested that Elizabeth might not be guilty and he ordered me from his house.' A flash of anger crossed his face. 'He thinks that if I do not want Elizabeth to die, I must be against him and his.'
'Nonetheless,' I said thoughtfully, 'he might have heard.'
'What makes you think so, sir?'
'Oh, nothing. Never mind.'