“Did you ever see him?”
“What did Digweed say about him? Was he from the West Country?”
“Jack said he had the accent sir, yes. Why?”
“When the men kidnapped Jenny, she was screaming about a traitor. Violet from next door heard her, but the following day a man with a West Country accent came to speak to her—to warn her not to tell anyone what she’d heard.”
West Country. Betty had blanched, I saw. “What?” I snapped. “What have I said?”
“It’s Violet, sir,” she gasped. “Not long after you left for Europe—it could even have been the day after—she met her end in a street robbery.”
“They came good on their word,” I said. I looked at her. “Tell me about the man giving Digweed his orders,” I said.
“Nothing. Jack never said anything about him. That he meant business; that if Jack didn’t do as they told him then they would find his children and kill them. They said that if he told the master then they’d find his boys, cut them and kill them slowly, all of that. They told him what they were planning to do to the house, but on my life, Master Haytham, they told him that nobody would be hurt; that it would all happen at the dead of night.”
Something occurred to me. “Why did they even need him?”
She looked perplexed.
“He wasn’t even there on the night of the attack,” I continued. “It wasn’t as if they required help getting in. They took Jenny, killed Father. Why was Digweed needed for that?”
“I don’t know, Master Haytham,” she said. “I really don’t.”
When I looked down at her, it was with a kind of numbness. Before, when I’d been waiting for darkness to fall, anger had been simmering, bubbling within me, the idea of Digweed’s treachery lighting a fire beneath my fury, the idea that Betty had colluded, or even known, adding fuel to it.
I’d wanted her to be innocent. Most of all I’d wanted her dalliance to be with another member of the household. But if it was with Digweed then I wanted her to know nothing about his betrayal. I wanted her to be innocent, for if she was guilty then I had to kill her, because if she could have done something to stop the slaughter of that night and failed to act, then she had to die. That was . . . that was justice. It was cause and effect. Checks and balances. An eye for an eye. And that’s what I believe in. That’s my ideology. A way of negotiating a passage through life that makes sense even when life itself so rarely does. A way of imposing order upon chaos.
But the last thing I wanted to do was kill her.
“Where is he now?” I asked softly.
“I don’t know, Master Haytham.” Her voice quavered with fear. “The last time I heard from him was the morning he disappeared.”
“Who else knew you and he were lovers?”
“Nobody,” she replied. “We were always so careful.”
“Apart from leaving his boots in view.”
“They were moved sharpish.” Her eyes hardened. “And most folk weren’t in the habit of peering through the keyhole.”
There was a pause. “What happens now, Master Haytham?” she said, a catch in her voice.
“I should kill you, Betty,” I said simply, and looking into her eyes I saw the realization dawn on her that I could if I wanted to; that I was capable of doing it.
I stood. “But I won’t. There’s already been too much death as a result of that night. We will not meet again. For your years of service and nurture I award you your life and leave you with your shame. Good-bye.”
14 JULY 1747
After neglecting my journal for almost two weeks I have much to tell and should recap, going right back to the night I visited Betty.
After leaving I’d returned to my lodgings, slept for a few fitful hours, then rose, dressed and took a carriage back to her house. There I bid the driver wait some distance away, close enough to see, but not close enough to draw suspicion, and as he snoozed, grateful for the rest, I sat and gazed out of the window, and waited.
For what? I didn’t know for sure. Yet again I was listening to my instinct.
And yet again it proved correct, for not long after daybreak, Betty appeared.
I dismissed the driver, followed her on foot and, sure enough, she made her way to the General Post Office on Lombard Street, went in, reappeared some minutes later, and then made her way back along the street until she was swallowed up by the crowds.
I watched her go, feeling nothing, not the urge to follow her and slit her throat for her treachery, not even the vestiges of the affection we once had. Just . . . nothing.
Instead I took up position in a doorway and watched the world go by, flicking beggars and street sellers away with my cane as I waited for perhaps an hour until . . .
Yes, there he was—the letter carrier, carrying his bell and case full of mail. I pushed myself out of the doorway and, twirling my cane, followed him, closer and closer until he moved on to a side road where there were fewer pedestrians, and I spotted my chance . . .
Moments later I was kneeling by his bleeding and unconscious body in an alleyway, sorting through the contents of his letter case until I found it—an envelope addressed to “Jack Digweed.” I read it—it said that she loved him, and that I had found out about their relationship; nothing in there I didn’t already know—but it wasn’t the contents of the letter I was interested in so much the destination, and there it was on the front of the envelope, which was bound for the Black Forest, for a small town called St. Peter, not far from Freiburg.
Almost two weeks of journeying later, Reginald and I came within sight of St. Peter in the distance, a cluster of buildings nestled at the bottom of a valley otherwise rich with verdant fields and patches of forest. That was this morning.
We reached it at around noon, dirty and tired from our travels. Trotting slowly through narrow, labyrinthine streets, I saw the upturned faces of the residents, glimpsed either from pathways or turning quickly away from windows, closing doors and drawing curtains. We had death on our minds, and at the time I thought they somehow knew this, or perhaps were easily spooked. What I didn’t know was that we weren’t the first strangers to ride into town that morning. The townspeople were already spooked.
The letter had been addressed care of the St. Peter General Store. We came to a small plaza, with a fountain shaded by chestnut trees, and asked for directions from a nervous townswoman. Others gave us a wide berth as she pointed the way then sidled off, staring at her shoes. Moments later we were tethering our horses outside the store and walking in, only for the sole customer to take a look at us and decide to stock up on provisions another time. Reginald and I exchanged a confused look, then I cast an eye over the store. Tall, wooden shelves lined three sides, stocked with jars and packets tied up with twine, while at the back was a high counter behind which stood the storekeeper, wearing an apron, a wide moustache and a smile that had faded like an exhausted candle on getting a good look at us.