The King's Judges
by the author.
The aging pickpocket Jack One Eye reached the arranged meeting place in Whitefriars on the stroke of ten. The rising moon flooded the ruins of the former Priory of the Carmelites with a silvery light bright enough to enable the late visitor to find his way without a lantern amongst the scattered rubble and crumbling stonework. Here, one was almost absolutely safe from spying eyes. Only a few beggars who could not find any other lodgings lived inside the draughty ruins. Somewhere in a corner of the choir one of those poor devils was coughing his guts out. One Eye did not take any notice. Impatiently he rubbed his gnarled hands. The times when his deft fingers could cut a purse from a rich burgher's belt unnoticed had long since past. The tools of his trade had become useless, on some days he could not even manage to lift a tankard of ale anymore. The realization that he was slowly but surely becoming a cripple had broken his spirit. In order to save himself from starving he now did any kind of work he could get.
"Have you got the list?" a voice suddenly asked from the darkness of a niche in the wall.
Startled, One Eye spun round and studied the figure clad in a long hooded cloak. "Christ's blood! You creep like a cat. Almost made me wet my breeches!"
"Milksop! Keep that for the day you are hanged. Have you got the names?"
"Give them to me!"
"The money first."
Some coins came flying at him from the niche. He tried to catch them but failed miserably. Cursing, he kneeled down and gathered them one by one from the ground. After examining them he nodded with satisfaction. "You are quite generous. I don't understand you. What do you need me for to find out the names? Surely there are records where you can look them up." The pickpocket grinned sardonically. "Maybe you don't want to be caught snooping around. You're up to something fishy, aren't you?"
"That's none of your business, my friend."
"To be frank, I don't want to know. Here is the list."
One Eye let his hand slip into his tatty breeches, took out a dirty piece of paper and put it into the out-stretched hand. The moonlight was just sufficient to render the writing decipherable.
"It's not complete, One Eye. What about the surgeon?"
"Forget it. The fellow who wrote them down for me couldn't remember his name. It was too long ago. And I think one of the judges has died since."
Without actually seeing it, One Eye sensed that the lips in the shadow of the hood gave a cold smile.
"It doesn't seem to affect you very much," he remarked sarcastically.
"Why should it?" was the unmoved answer. "They only get what they deserve."
a hardened crook like Jack One Eye could not help feeling a shudder run
down his spine when listening to that ice-cold voice. It had a tone of
unwavering resolution about it which gave him the creeps.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The surgeon, Alan Ridgeway, gave his journeyman some instructions before he left his shop. As he stepped outside into Paternoster Row he stumbled over a rubbish heap his neighbour had swept together on the egg-shaped cobblestones, and he uttered a curse. It demanded a certain dexterity to walk about streets which were covered with waste and the manure of strolling pigs without soiling one's clothes, especially when the rain had turned the dirt into a quagmire.
As there was no carriage approaching, Alan carefully dodged the open gutter in the middle of the street and walked into the narrow Ave Maria Lane. At the corner he stopped in his tracks, smiling at the scene in front of him. A buxom milkmaid was about to lift the yoke, which the pails were attached to, back onto her shoulders. While bending down her sumptuous breasts almost hopped out of her bodice. Alan could not resist catching them in his hands. The milkmaid did not flinch, but giggled cheerfully, because she was used to his forthright manner.
"Really, Master Ridgeway!" she chuckled while he gave her a hasty kiss on the cheek.
Though already thirty-six years old and a Freeman of the Company of Barber-Surgeons, Alan still remained a bachelor. Nevertheless he had no intention of living a chaste life. The young milkmaid was just one of several women in the neighbourhood willing enough to make love to him once in a while. In return, he treated them without charge when they were ill.
Alan was just about to continue his way when he heard a familiar voice behind him say: "You are really incorrigible! Still the same skirt-chaser!"
Surprised, Alan spun round and, knitting his brow, eyed the man dressed all in black, who was standing behind him. At first glance he looked like a minister or a merchant with Puritan principles, for his dark solemn appearance was brightened only by a plain white linen collar. This first impression, however, was deceptive. Alan knew that the man was, like himself, a Roman-Catholic, because he recognised him as an old comrade from the time of the Civil War.
"Jeremy! Jeremy Blackshaw! But how is this possible? I believed you dead for a long time. Since the Battle of Worcester thirteen years ago to be precise."
"As you can see, I am very much alive", the other smiled. "But I travelled a lot and only came back to England two years ago."
Alan was beaming with joy and spontaneously took his long-lost friend into his arms. They had both served in the Royalist army as field surgeons. After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when Alan had been captured by the Parliamentarians, they had lost sight of each other. It was like a miracle to him to see his comrade alive.
"Where do you live?" Alan asked curiously.
"I'm staying at the Peacock Inn."
"Then let's meet there tomorrow and take the morning draught together. I'm dying to know how you have fared all this time. Unfortunately, I'm in rather a hurry, or I would have asked you to have dinner with me. But I have to attend a dissection."
Jeremy Blackshaw raised his eyebrows with interest. "An anatomical lecture?"
"No, it's an examination concerning a mysterious death. The Coroner has ordered an inquest."
"I see! Then let's meet in the Peacock Inn tomorrow. I'm sure you will have as much to tell me as I have to tell you."
a furtive smile on his lips Alan hurried away. He had seen curiosity
light up Jeremy's eyes, an expression that was familiar to him, for
there was nothing his old friend loved more than an intricate puzzle.
He had always possessed an extraordinary talent for solving problems
with the help of logical deduction.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The dead man was laid out on a roughly polished wooden table near the windows. Alan and the other surgeon undressed him and were beginning to wash him when the judge appeared in the doorway. Trelawney was an exceptionally tall man with strong bones. He was also very slim, which made him seem even taller. The marked features of his face, with its bright blue eyes and fleshy lips, gave the impression of strength of will and intelligence. A blonde periwig encompassed it like a lion's mane.
Sir Orlando Trelawney avoided looking at the body, instead fixing his gaze on the four men, who had been waiting for him.
"Are you sure you want to watch, my lord?" Turner asked.
Trelawney nodded. He had never been present at an anatomy before and felt a slight shudder at the thought of it. Unlike on the Continent, where the Penal Code of Emperor Charles V, the "Carolina", decreed that forensic examinations had to be performed, in England dissections to verify the cause of death were not customary. It was left to the Coroner, who usually had neither medical nor legal knowledge, to decide whether a crime had been committed. And as this badly-paid official received no additional compensation for conducting an inquest he only held one if there was already a murder suspect in custody. On his conviction the Coroner got a share of his goods and chattels.
Being a Judge of the King's Bench, Sir Orlando deplored the backwardness of the English coronership. The number of murders by poisoning alone, which thus remained undetected, was impossible to estimate. In the case at hand Trelawney had a personal interest in a thorough investigation, because the dead man on the table was not a stranger but a friend and colleague: Sir Thomas Peckham, Baron of the Exchequer.
"You may begin!" Sir Orlando said, throwing his hat and cloak over a stool.
Looking at the men, he caught Alan Ridgeway's doubtful gaze. The surgeon had known the judge for some years and was aware that Trelawney was going through hard times at the moment. Only a few weeks ago his wife had died after a miscarriage. She had left him childless. During the fifteen years of their marriage they had buried one sickly infant after the other. Now, he had no one left but his niece, a nagging spinster, whom he had for some time been trying to marry off and who reluctantly kept house for him.
For the already grieving Sir Orlando the news of Peckham's death had been an even more devastating blow. A week ago the Baron had fallen ill with a mild colic and had been treated by a physician. Although he had been feeling better shortly afterwards, one morning he suffered a severe attack and died in terrible agony the same evening. The suddenness of his death made his wife suspicious and she turned to Trelawney for advice. She feared that the physician had given her husband the wrong medication and wanted to find out the truth. The judge informed the Coroner, who had his doubts as to whether a dissection would produce an unambiguous result. Yet Trelawney was determined to get to the bottom of the matter and decided to be present at the anatomy to make sure that it was done thoroughly even though neither the Coroner nor the surgeons really knew what to look for.
Sir Orlando forced himself to cast a glance at the dead man's face, which looked as if it was made of wax. Its lifeless features made it difficult for the judge to recognise his former colleague or maybe he did not want to. Involuntarily his gaze wandered towards Alan Ridgeway, who was carefully inspecting the corpse. Trelawney knew the young man as a talented surgeon who performed his trade with devotion but who was also frustrated by his insufficient medical skill and knowledge, as he was powerless to deal with most diseases.
In order to avoid looking at the corpse Sir Orlando forced himself to study Alan Ridgeway's profile, to follow the line of his short straight nose and the thin-lipped mouth that was able to produce the most charming smile. Pitch-black hair, slightly threaded with silver at the temples, fell on the surgeon's shoulders, and there was a shadow on the lower part of his face contrasting with his pale skin even though he had had a close shave that morning. He turned the body over inspecting it with a watchful eye to make sure that he did not miss anything. Yet there was nothing suspicious except that Peckham's fingers and toes were curled up, evidence of the convulsions he had suffered before his death.
Trelawney gave a heavy sigh. Again he noticed a worrying look in Alan's grey-blue eyes. And again he nodded, stubborn as a child determined to prove himself against all better judgement.
Shaking his head disapprovingly, Alan took a small knife into his slender hand and bent over the dead man. First he made an incision in the peritoneum. Then he put two of his fingers into the hole and separated the abdominal wall from the intestines, so they would not get damaged by the tip of his knife. The gaping cut revealed the yellow-coloured layer of fat beneath the skin. Alan then made another horizontal cut across the abdomen. He removed spleen, kidneys, duodenum and stomach and incised each organ. The inside of the stomach was inflamed and there was the residue of a grey substance. Next, Alan cut open the throat and the gullet, which were also affected. The physician and the surgeons agreed that the Baron had without doubt died from a poison, although they could not identify it. Alan took a sample of the residue found in the stomach, before putting the organs back into the body and finally sewing it up.
Trelawney had watched silently without getting involved in the discussion. Under his blond periwig he had become as pale as the dead man.
Alan could not help wondering why the judge had insisted on witnessing the dissection of a friend although it was not part of his duties. Yet Sir Orlando was known for his conscientiousness. Rather than relying on the testimony of others he usually looked into a matter himself. He was a man of high principles and he stayed true to them even in difficult times. Son of a country gentleman from Cornwall, Trelawney was educated at St. Paul's School in London and at Emanuel College in Cambridge. Eight years after being admitted to the Inner Temple to study law he was called to the bar, but the outbreak of the Civil War between King and Parliament put an early end to his legal career. He served two years as lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Army before he was taken prisoner and sent to the Tower. Some time after the execution of Charles I he was released. As a Royalist, however, Trelawney could not accept the legitimacy of Cromwell's government and therefore confined himself to chamber practice during the interregnum. After the Restoration this loyalty was rewarded by Charles II, who engaged him as one of the counsels for the king in the trials of the regicides. Afterwards Trelawney was sworn in as a Judge of the King's Bench and knighted. Since then he had gained the reputation of being an incorruptible judge, who was not indifferent to the fate of the accused men and women who appeared before him - a rarity in their time!
was for this reason that Alan held him in high esteem.
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