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The Fact of The Matter - Departure

Chapter Text

London, April 1901

Inspector Warren was feeling beleaguered. Looking out onto the Victoria Embankment from his New Scotland Yard office, he felt as if even the threatening rainclouds were putting him under pressure.

He had multiple notes on his desk to check in with the Superintendent – who in turn had been handed notes from the Commissioner, demanding ‘a thorough examination and an early resolution’ to this case. The gentlemen of the press – although the Inspector would hesitate to call them ‘gentlemen’ – waylaid him daily, sniffing at the prospect of scandal. Lately, he had changed his usual route to work, to try and avoid them.

And all for a suspected – emphasis on ‘suspected’, he told his staff – case of foul play. The victim, if it was right to call her that, came from the upper echelons of society. The apparent cause of death was smoke inhalation from a fire that had broken out below her photographic studio. Yet the family, with all their connections, had demanded an autopsy. The results were due, and the Inspector had a feeling he would be coming under more pressure very soon. Just a feeling. There was nothing proven as yet.

………………

After the official news of Charlotte’s death had come, the household fell into deep mourning. Not the official, formal mourning that was due to a distant monarch, but utter grief for the loss of a living, breathing soul who had been abruptly taken from them.

Mrs Gilroy put up black drapes reverentially, until Nathan tore them down again. He was either like this, in a fit of inconsolable rage, or caved in completely: a shell of a man sat in his study, gazing blankly at a sheet of paper as if he wanted to construct a eulogy, but didn’t know where to begin.

Kitty took over the care of Maddie. She intuited that it would be best to take her out of the house as much as possible – especially in the first week, with the flood of visitors who came and spoke to Nathan in hushed tones, or left black-edged visiting cards when told he was indisposed.

So she took Maddie for walks – on the Heath, to the neighbouring parks; even to see the progress of Ernest’s village community – purely so that Maddie wasn’t faced with the immediate loss of her mother about the house, or frightened by her father’s wild mood swings.

Ernest and Gilbert were frequent visitors. Mrs Gilroy even made up a bed for Gilbert, when his head drooped from constantly watching over his friend. Nathan was called in to speak to the Metropolitan police on a number of occasions, and his two friends would accompany him, like sentinels flanking their captain, deflecting the looks from passers-by. Albert became a guard dog, sitting at Ernest’s feet, but then jumping up and growling fiercely if a stranger approached.

Oscar, who had been witness to the fire, took the news of Charlotte’s death extremely hard. He would come to the house often – ostensibly to tend to Nathan, but really seeking an escape from the outside world. Clara said his sadness was due to his ‘sensitive nature’; Kitty and Mrs Gilroy deduced it was due to his unrequited affection for Charlotte – he mourned her with the same blank-faced disbelief and sorrow that a lover would.

………………

The day that the results of the autopsy were due, Kitty had again taken Maddie for a walk, so they could sketch the spring flowers which were now to be found in abundance on the Heath. Maddie asked if they could pick some, ‘to cheer daddy’, and Kitty found it difficult to stop from crying in front of her.

On their return to the house, Kitty was immediately taken to one side by Mrs Gilroy. “They’ve taken him,” she whispered. “The Inspector came. I’ve sent Tom to fetch Mr Fennings and Mr Calvert. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“What did they say, when they took him?” asked Kitty, fearful for what the response might be.

“They said they were formally charging him, but I don’t know what with…” began Mrs Gilroy.

“Where is daddy?” asked Maddie, looking downcast as she re-entered the hall. “I’ve looked all over for him, and he’s nowhere to be found. Is he playing hide and seek?”

Kitty reached down to take the girl by the hand, but then deliberately abandoned decorum, picked her up, and held her tight.

………………

Upon hearing the news, Gilbert and Ernest went straight to Scotland Yard, returning several hours later.

“I cannot tell you this news in any other way, than to say it directly: they have arrested him for suspected murder,” said an outraged Ernest to Kitty, barely able to contain his anger. “They have no damn right. No damn right! I will speak to Nathan’s uncle immediately. We will ensure Nathan has the best representation.”

“Murder. Murder! I have known him for more than twenty years. He is my dearest friend. And he doesn’t have a single murderous bone in his blessed body!” said Gilbert, sinking onto a seat by the parlour hearth.

“It can’t be… how..? On what evidence?” argued Kitty vehemently.

“We know nothing, except that he has been charged. On what grounds, they would not tell us,” replied Ernest, pacing the room distractedly.

“What can we do..?” said Kitty, trembling with outrage alongside them. “There must be something we can do.”

“They won’t let us see him,” said Gilbert abjectly. “At least, not while he is being questioned. We will arrange for legal counsel and then, we will visit him as soon as those damned impudent devils let us in the gates. I tell you, Kitty, if I was a stronger man, I would have taken the desk clerk and…”

“Gilbert,” interrupted Ernest, stopping his restless pacing suddenly. “We need to go to Brighton. Now. I’m sure that Nathan’s uncle will know of someone who will take on the case – he will do anything to help his nephew.” Turning to Kitty, Ernest gazed at her with some concern. “Kitty, you must take charge of the household here. Can you do that?”

“There ought to be more I can do..!” she protested.

Ernest took Kitty by the shoulders and bent down to look her full in the face. “Not now. There will be a time when you may be able to help more. But Maddie has lost her mother, and her father has been taken from his own house. She will need you here. They will all need you here.”

………………

After that, time blurred into one long streak of confusion, rumour and fear for the entire household. Without their mistress or master, the servants had no-one to report to, or make up the beds for, or plan the dinner for, or run errands for. Everyone wondered but didn’t dare say aloud: what would become of them all?

Ernest had been right – Kitty was needed as their single pillar of support. As Nathan’s sequestration grew from a day, to more than three days, Kitty started to wonder what would become of him, and feared for what would happen to Maddie. Not just who would care for her in the short term, but how she would be affected emotionally in the longer term.

Ernest had also been correct to ask Nathan’s uncle to aid them. Nathan’s uncle was related by marriage, but he had taken on overseeing Nathan’s education as a boy, and could not bear to see his favourite nephew in such a terrible predicament. He had travelled from Brighton, where he and Nathan’s aunt now resided, in order to address the household. Kitty liked him on first sight, despite his stern demeanour and old-fashioned stuffiness: anyone who was Nathan’s ally was hers.

“I have instructed Alfred Winstanley of Gray’s Inn to take on the case,” he told the gathered household – aside from Maddie, who was attempting to entertain her great-aunt in the nursery. “I am confident that he will have Nathan released in a matter of hours; a day at most. I suggest you ready the house for his return: prepare him dinner, a warm bed; and then leave him in peace.”

“Sir – what happens if..?” ventured Tom, daring to ask what the others did not.

“There are no ‘ifs’ in this case,” came the firm answer. “They are holding Nathan based on no solid evidence whatsoever. It is a travesty of our legal system, and I will not have my nephew held at the whim of a police Superintendent who wants a tidy end to a particularly upsetting case. That is all,” he ended, as a form of dismissal.

The staff went about their duties again: Kitty rescuing Nathan’s aunt, who was sitting in the nursery nonplussed whilst Maddie attempted to name all her dolls in turn. Only once he was left alone could Nathan’s uncle collapse into a chair and stare at the opposite wall. If only he had the same confidence and resolve that he’d just tried to impart.

Mrs Gilroy, at a loss what to do since she’d completed her chores before noon, returned to her stronghold in the kitchen. She held her hands out into the sunlight that streamed down from the basement window. Her hands had seen a lifetime of care. As much as she wanted to believe their visitor’s reassurances, the awful leaping feeling that kept on returning to her chest told her otherwise. She prayed that, this time, such a foretelling would be wrong.

………………

Mrs Gilroy’s strong premonition came true – for Nathan did not return that evening. His dinner went uneaten, his bed grew cold from lack of use, and the servants grew evermore uncertain of what was happening.

The house was to have another formal visit the following day, from Nathan’s counsel. Initially, he had asked to speak to Ernest and Gilbert privately at his chambers, but upon Ernest’s entreaty, had come to the house to meet with the two men there, begrudgingly allowing Kitty to remain with them.

Alfred Winstanley, QC, whose chambers were at Gray’s Inn, looked like a hawk with his large head and sharp looks. Kitty could imagine that look had quelled many a witness on the stand in court. He spoke quickly and clearly, as if he could not afford to waste any more time or emotion on a subject than the hour-long spans he allotted his clients. If he was perturbed by the family’s tutor being included in strictest confidence, he did not immediately betray it.

“It needs to be said that the facts and conjecture I am about to tell you should not be spoken of outside of this room. Are we clear?” Mr Winstanley told the three of them, not waiting for an answer to what was a rhetorical question. He stood in front of the hearth, dominating the space. He looked like a man who was used to holding forth, and doing so uninterrupted.

“They are charging Mr Appleby based on what is circumstantial evidence – that is; inferred rather than proven beyond doubt. The post-mortem examination ordered by Mrs Appleby’s maternal family showed the cause of death to be a broken neck, above the uppermost spinal vertebra, rather than from smoke inhalation as was at first presumed. The fire brigade has also uncovered remnants of kindling material soaked in paraffin oil, stuffed into the fireplace in the store below. Ipso facto – ”

Here he gave a brief pause and looked straight at Kitty, as if he expected her to be all at sea with his academic explanation. “Ipso factothe greatest minds of New Scotland Yard,” he spat out those words, “have deduced that Mrs Appleby was hit, or pushed. She duly fell and broke her neck. Whether through shame, remorse or the threat of exposure, the perpetrator panicked and tried to fake the cause of death, by starting a fire.

“However, they gave themselves away in one rash act: they placed Mrs Appleby in a position on the floor of her studio” – and here he paused again, to bend and rake his hand with a flourish along the parlour floor, tracing the foetal position she had been found in “ – from where it was clear she could in no way have fallen and sustained such an injury. Ergo, Nathan is the prime suspect. He is without an alibi – not having found you at home that day, Mr Fennings, he said that he decided to wander the Heath and its environs until dark. We will attempt to find witnesses to his whereabouts.

“Aside from the lack of a concrete alibi, the evidence is slight and based on precedent: people are killed by those who are known to them. Husbands kill their wives. Wives murder their husbands. It is being considered as a crime passionnel – whether through jealousy, or an extra-marital affair.”

Here, he looked at Kitty yet again, fleetingly. Kitty returned his gaze unflinchingly.

When they realised that Mr Winstanley had finished, none of them spoke immediately. Eventually, Ernest asked the most sensible questions: “Given all of this – which you must understand Mr Winstanley, is catastrophic news to all our ears – what can we do now? The police have not allowed any of Nathan’s friends or family to visit him – surely that can be overturned? He needs medication, for example. And more than that; he needs the support of his closest friends at this terrible time.”

Nathan’s counsel inclined his head slightly. He clearly saw Ernest as his equal, and spoke to him accordingly: “If I have not managed to obtain Nathan’s release within the next day, I will campaign for you to visit. I agree completely that he should not be left in solitude. As for his medication…” here he paused, looking at Kitty, as if questioning again why she was party to all of this, “the police doctor has been made aware and will treat him. Although that will not help his case at all, I am afraid. The drug he was being prescribed is a potent anti-psychotic. The side-effects are known to include periods of despondency and a tendency towards anger. That will undoubtedly be fuel for the prosecution’s case.”

He seemed mildly surprised that neither Gilbert nor Kitty had any questions. They were both sitting dumbfounded, trying to process all of the information he had just imparted. Ernest showed the barrister to the door, the man exiting quickly as if his hour was already up and he had other business to attend to.

After that, there was nothing they could do but sit and wait. Upon leaving, Mr Winstanley’s suggestion to Ernest was for them to list out possible character witnesses, who would come forward and speak well of Nathan.

“There must be a multitude,” said Ernest, rallying the others round. They found it easy to write out the names of a number of friends, colleagues and professional acquaintances; it gave them a necessary distraction from morbid thoughts. “What about Oscar – or is he too broken to stand?”

“Oscar. Oscar… Where was he?” asked Kitty suddenly. “If it’s a crime passionnel, then it could just as easily be Oscar.”

“Kitty – we must be careful not to…” remonstrated Ernest.

“No Kitty, you’re right,” said Gilbert, immediately imagining the scene in all its horrific details. “We must set Mr Winstanley to work on uncovering other possible suspects. Oscar administered the drug to Nathan, knowing its potential side-effects…”

“It was administered to help his illness. You cannot argue that our friend wasn’t ill. Charlotte confided to me that Oscar was a much-needed helpmate in that respect,” warned Ernest, ever the voice of reason. “We all want to help our friend. Desperately want to help him. Yet we will need to glean hard evidence if anyone else is to take the blame. Otherwise we swop one innocent man for another.”

Kitty nodded her head, to appease Ernest. Privately, she began to think of how she could uncover Oscar’s wrongdoing and ensure Nathan’s release. She pondered what tale she would have to relate to Maddie, Mrs Gilroy and the others, given the expectation of silence as to the true details of Nathan’s ongoing confinement. Maddie most of all: she was still in the centre of the storm, in the calm heart surrounded by turbulence, but she would be overturned by the maelstrom sooner or later.

Chapter Text

Another few days passed. Kitty had done as requested, and not confided in the others as to the details of Nathan’s arrest. However, there were enough rumours and reportage now leaking through to the public, so it was like trying to contain a surge of water behind a dam already covered in spreading cracks.

She asked both Mrs Gilroy and Tom, in a quiet moment, to look out for any details that would link Oscar to the scene of the fire, and his movements just before that. Why, for example, was he the one to have been so near the building when the fire was at its fiercest?

They had both nodded solemnly, neither of them even asking why – suggesting they had similar suspicions. Tom had been particularly subdued in the last few weeks, as if losing his mistress and master in quick succession was akin to losing his own parents.

“Tom – you must not breathe a word of this to anyone,” she warned. “Especially to Clara.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” replied Tom, looking offended. “I knows how to be stealthy.”

She hadn’t needed to say the same to Mrs Gilroy. Her lifetime of loyalty to the family was a bond held above all others. If sworn to secrecy on behalf of the Applebys, she would take it to her grave.

………………

When it became clear that, despite his counsel’s best efforts, Nathan still would not be released, Nathan’s uncle took on the household as if it were his own. This intervention was much needed, in Kitty’s view. On her daily walks with Maddie, she had noticed the whisperings behind carefully placed hands and strangers regarding them with uncommon interest.

So Mrs Gilroy, Maddie and Kitty were displaced to Brighton, to join the existing household there, like spare parts from a brighter jigsaw picture that did not fit with the whole.

Tom remained as custodian of the house in Hampstead, although he shivered at the prospect, saying to Clara: “I can stop the vandals from tearing down the place, but I can’t stop the ghosts from appearing. Do you remember when I was left on my own, when you all went to Cornwall? Well, I wish that was happening again. I wish I could return to last year, and bring you all back home at the end of this summer, as if Mrs Appleby wasn’t…” He stopped then, and Clara didn’t answer him. She had many other things on her mind.

Clara herself declined the invitation to take up a post in Brighton: “I’m needed in London, to look after Oscar,” she told them. “I’ll find a position elsewhere, where I can be close by him.”

Kitty wished she could do the same for Nathan; who she had not yet been allowed to see. However, she knew that her place was by Maddie’s side. From what she had seen so far of Nathan’s uncle and aunt, she predicted their household would be far more conservative and restrained than the one Maddie was used to.

………………

Sure enough, they found it difficult to adjust to the strictures of their new environment. Maddie cried for her old nursery, her father and her mother. Mrs Gilroy took one look at the basement kitchen and thought it poky and austere. Kitty missed the library, and worried about Nathan.

Nathan’s aunt, who did not appear to have much to occupy her, was given to liberal gossip. Within a week of their arrival, Kitty had overheard her say loudly to her husband:

“The newspapers are calling him Mr Hyde now, do you know? They are featuring illustrations that compare him to Dr Jekyll… the doctor whose hidden self became a monster! I don’t think I can take it. What will become of our family, and our reputation?” she wailed selfishly.

Nathan’s uncle gave a steely response: “All scurrilous gossip. It is merely fodder for the barely literate, to satisfy their appetite for scandal. The press will undoubtedly be speaking ill of another person tomorrow. They are saying similar libellous words about poor Charlotte – they have suggested that she had many lovers; and that Nathan acted out of jealousy.”

“And did she?” asked Nathan’s aunt, unreasonably excited by the thought that the scandal was due to Charlotte – another family’s offspring, albeit related to them by marriage.

“Of course not! Did you ever observe them together? They were two halves of a perfect whole.” Nathan’s uncle rebuked his wife. “No – we must rise above it and remain resolute. Nathan can in no way be held responsible for this crime. I have every confidence in…”

He saw Kitty in the hallway, frozen in mid-step, then came over and firmly shut the door, so she heard no more.

………………

Gilbert’s visit during the start of their second week in Brighton was much welcomed; he brought a reminder of the life and the company they had enjoyed in London. Yet even Gilbert, normally so effusive and conversational, was finding it hard not to let the strain show on his face.

He sat in the front room of the house, its large bay window looking out onto a seafront panorama. Gilbert perched a porcelain cup of tea awkwardly on his knee and tried to entertain Nathan’s aunt, who was agog for news from London. It was only towards the end of his visit that he was left alone with Kitty briefly.

Not knowing when Nathan’s aunt would return, she asked him directly: “How is he?”

“Not well,” replied Gilbert simply. For Gilbert, who would normally talk at length on any matter, this was tantamount to saying nothing at all.

“I would like to visit him,” said Kitty, speaking her thoughts out loud.

“That is why I came. I have been at pains to relay it since I arrived,” grimaced Gilbert, looking back towards the open doorway, where he expected Nathan’s aunt to re-appear at any moment. “He has asked to see you. I will come with you – ” seeing Kitty’s look, he continued – “that is a statement, not a suggestion. It will be considered more seemly if you do not visit him alone.” Gilbert was nigh on tipping out the most recent rumours about Nathan, as a pre-emptive warning to Kitty, when Nathan’s aunt returned.

“I have found the parlourmaid and she will bring us more tea,” she said to Gilbert, clasping her hands happily at the idea of him staying for longer and preventing her boredom.

When Gilbert finally left, over two hours later, he managed to whisper hurriedly to Kitty: “I will arrange a time for our visit. You mustn’t expect him to be…” before he was ushered out the door.

Kitty didn’t know what to expect. However, despite preparing herself on the train to London – having told a disbelieving aunt that she needed to visit sick relatives – she did not anticipate the strange combination of utter desolation and the brighter sparks of gentility and coherence that she found in Nathan. It was like he was containing two selves in one person – one self had given in to despair, while the other fought against it and prevailed.

………………

Meeting Gilbert at Victoria train station, they took a hansom cab to the Metropolitan police headquarters at New Scotland Yard, where Nathan was being held. The day was bright and fresh, but as soon as they entered the station, Kitty felt a sense of foreboding as they walked a long, dismal corridor and trod down bare concrete steps to the basement cells.

The holding cell was long and thin, the walls painted a pallid shade of green. The ceiling was lit by a single gas lamp that was well out of reach. Despite the space, the whole impression was eerily claustrophobic. In the middle of the room, there was a small desk and a thin chair on one side, where Nathan sat slumped.

Again, Kitty didn’t know what she’d expected to see – a change, perhaps? Yet while he looked the same bodily, there was desperation in his countenance that gave him away. She ached to draw him out of his misery.

He hardly looked up when they entered the cell and sat on the chairs opposite him, the metal rails squealing along the floor as they pulled them in as close as they dared without inviting the censure of the police guard, who stood blankly in the far corner.

“Nathan… you are looking better than I expected,” began Kitty, quietly.

“Better? How, better? How can it be worse! How many people can I continue to grieve for, until it is too much? I can’t live without her,” groaned Nathan, taking no care to conceal his torment. “Yet this is what they said would come to pass. They called me a murderer. Now, here I am, charged with committing that very act. And I cannot bear it!” He heaved an unearthly moan, and pitched forward in his seat.

The guard remained in his place, but nodded briefly to Gilbert, as if to say ‘you may help him’.

“Yes, you can bear it,” implored Gilbert, moving to his friend’s side and taking hold of Nathan’s shaking, bowed shoulders. “You must bear it. And you will. Think of Maddie. Think of her life, all that life to come – and what it would be if she lost you. You have to hold on.”

Gilbert could not abide seeing his dearest friend in such a miserable state, yet feel so powerless to help. Kitty found it hard to restrain herself from dragging away the small desk that lay between them, so she could embrace Nathan’s abject form with all her might.

Nathan looked up and saw Gilbert’s pleading expression. He tried to right himself and wiped the tears from his cheeks, before placing both hands palms down on the desk in front of him, as if that stabilised him. “You are right. I must bear it,” he murmured, scratching the backs of his hands absent-mindedly, leaving faint red marks where his nails had touched the skin.

Then Nathan suddenly started, as if he remembered why he had asked Kitty to be there. He spoke in a rush, like he’d memorised everything he needed to say and was reproducing it verbatim: “Gilbert, Kitty: I need both your help. I have entreated Ernest too. My counsel thinks that you may be called by the prosecution as character witnesses during the court case – for cross-examination. He wants to prepare you, in the event that happens: like some kind of hideous dress rehearsal. Can you do that?”

“Of course Nathan,” said Gilbert, without hesitation.

“Anything,” agreed Kitty.

“Thank you both,” said Nathan gladly, absurdly grateful for their support. He shifted in his seat: “Kitty, might I have leave to talk to you alone, before you go?”

Gilbert looked nonplussed, but nodded, gripped his friend by the arm in a gesture of support, and said to Kitty: “I’ll wait for you outside.”

“Whatever you want me to do Nathan, I’ll do,” said Kitty, as soon as Gilbert had departed.

“I don’t need you to do anything. I just… I just wanted you to be aware… there are now certain malign rumours surrounding my case; none of them holding an ounce of truth. If you think that your own reputation is being tarnished, I would like you to retreat. At any point.” Nathan looked at her beseechingly, wanting her to fully understand his words. “Do I need to speak more plainly?”

“I have built no ‘reputation’ that I can lose. If so: how can my reputation be tarnished?” she replied firmly. Without thinking, she reached out to try and take his hand in a gesture of solidarity. She saw the guard shake his head from the corner of the room, and immediately took her hand away.

Nathan, still wholly disconsolate, hadn’t noticed her breach of social etiquette. “I mean it, Kitty. I want to ensure that you will be able to continue as a tutor, if by chance…” He didn’t dare state what the worst possible outcome was, although they both knew it. “Although I am not surprised by your fortitude. ‘Sois fort. Sois courageux.’ Remember?”

Kitty smiled at his deliberate recollection of Madame Stappes’ advice: “I remember. And I will be.”

………………

After they had left the police station and were walking back along the embankment to take advantage of the spring air, Gilbert asked what Nathan had wanted to speak to her about. All that Kitty would say was: “He suggested that I didn’t need to stand in his defence. I declined his suggestion.”

They walked for another minute in silence: Kitty thinking that just walking here, in liberty, wasn’t something she would take for granted again. Gilbert glanced across at Kitty and a swell of underlying emotion came back to him – from when he was silently in love with her, just as she was with Nathan. Stopping momentarily by Westminster Bridge to gaze at the broad river, an always majestic sight, Kitty broke the silence.

“What did Nathan mean: about the people who had called him a murderer?” she wondered out loud. “How could anyone even think..?”

Gilbert hesitated before replying: “He confided in me about a recurring dream – which he was convinced was a premonition – about people who had appeared to him at Shepzoy. Nathan swore they were not spirits, but had the substantiality of living souls. He said they accused him of killing his wife, and gave him the appellation ‘notorious’. I always thought it was his disturbed fantasy, produced by living in that damned superstitious place with all of its memories. And yet…”

“And yet now, he is in that exact predicament,” said Kitty, trying to stop her superstitious inclinations. A premonition was by no means a fact. “We must instruct Mr Winstanley to advise him against revealing anything of the sort.”

Gilbert nodded in agreement. Despite his literary, fanciful bent, he did not believe in premonitions or self-fulfilling prophecies. “And I will visit Mr Winstanley’s chambers this afternoon, and arrange for our ‘dress rehearsal’, as Nathan so aptly called it. Yet I believe there is still more we can do. There must be.”

As they looked out over the water, the sun broke through the gathering clouds, and for a moment, the Thames was lit up by the shafts of bright light that had broken through. They both stood and watched the play of light on the dark ripples of water, each of them thinking what else they could and would do, to save the person they loved.

Chapter Text

London, May 1901

After her initial visit, Kitty found it nigh on impossible to see Nathan again, although she dearly wanted to aid him. Nathan’s aunt was far too vigilant, and kept far too much of a restraint on her household staff, for Kitty to invent another family illness. Gilbert and Ernest tried to send her word, but that wasn’t the same as seeing him.

Instead, she concentrated her efforts on trying to find out more about Oscar’s whereabouts when the fire broke out. Mrs Gilroy, keeping watch for any news, had heard from an acquaintance that Clara and Oscar were now engaged. This seemed strikingly odd in the sad circumstances, and given how distraught Oscar had been upon the news of Charlotte’s death. Kitty suspected that Oscar might be closing ranks, ensuring that Clara would be united with him in any eventuality.

………………

After another week, the Brighton household received a late evening, clandestine call from Tom at the basement kitchen door, who had brought with him a bedraggled urchin by the name of George. Mrs Gilroy took them in and sat them down, giving them some warming cocoa, without once asking why Tom had left his post in London.

“George,” said Tom, “has some very interesting information.”

George took off his cap, revealing unruly, matted hair. “Ma’am,” he said, bowing to Kitty. “Ma’am,” he said, raising his cup to Mrs Gilroy. George thought they were high society, as he was from the lowest ranks on the poorest streets of London.

“Tell ’em, George,” urged Tom, when George had almost drained his cup. George clearly wanted to finish drinking and to warm up next to the kitchen hearth, so Tom started his story for him: “You knows that Oscar has a cast-iron alibi – that he says he was with Clara that entire afternoon at The Regent pub in Muswell Hill. And that some fair, upstanding customers, and the publican, have sworn on their mothers’ lives to that.”

“Yes,” said Kitty, trying to urge him on to the important part of the tale. They knew this already.

“Well. No-one’s said, but Oscar and Clara wanted a bit of privacy, like any young couple would. So they sat in the snug, which has frosted glass all around. And… tell ’em, George!” Tom looked at his companion again, to break his silence.

“Well, ma’ams,” began George, sweetly innocent that this wasn’t a form of address. “I sees Mr Oscar leavin’ the pub. And I sees him coming back again a bit later.” He looked down into the cup, wondering if he could scrape out the sweet remnants of liquid chocolate that lined the base.

“Tell us more!” demanded Kitty. “What time did he leave, and what time return?”

“I thinks just after three – because the church bell had sounded, see? – and then he comes back before four o’clock. And I remember when, and who, because he has a look on his face like a thunder clap had smote him… right… here…” George pointed to his forehead. “And he stomps and kicks the ground, like this, see?” He mimed a pawing and scraping motion with his foot.

“Did anyone else see him?” asked Kitty.

“Not that I know of. Thems that were in the bar at The Regent though, they thought he was there all along, in the snug. But I knows better.” George stuck his grimy finger into the cup and extracted a lick of chocolate.

Kitty couldn’t contain herself. “Well done, Tom! And thank you, George. That is vital information. I must tell Gilbert and Ernest of this – and Nathan’s counsel. It means that Oscar could have visited the photography studio that afternoon.” She gave the ever-grateful George a penny, and Tom too. “Tell no-one else what you saw, George. And if you need anything, anything at all, just visit Tom – he will give you what you ask for.”

When the boys had left, Kitty looked at Mrs Gilroy and saw what she was thinking, written in her face. Both of them were wondering if Clara was now engaged to a murderer.

………………

Kitty pondered how best to proceed with the knowledge George had imparted, and decided to tell Mr Winstanley first of all – he would know how to treat the new witness and take it forward via official channels. She was due to meet him the following day, at his chambers in London, in order to go through the ‘pretend court’ questioning.

Prior to meeting with Mr Winstanley, Kitty had had to tell Nathan’s aunt the truth, in order to secure a day release for her trip. As expected, she had been faced with a barrage of questions – whyever would Kitty be cross-examined by the prosecution foremost among them.

Nathan’s aunt was privy to all of the scandal and gossip surrounding the case, and she was fully aware of the rumours surrounding Nathan and the girl. All scurrilous lies, no doubt, but she had to admit that Kitty was very comely, and that Nathan’s eye, like any gentleman, might find an appeal in such looks. She didn’t think for a single second that Nathan would be attracted by the girl’s bookishness or forthright attitude – both so unbecoming in a woman.

On the day of her appointment, Kitty walked up Gray’s Inn Road to the barrister’s chambers with some trepidation. Both Gilbert and Ernest, who had already been through their ‘dress rehearsal’, warned her to expect an unforgiving hour. Gilbert had been typically verbose about his experience, sending her a letter that concluded: “I hope the real court proves a warmer place, because Mr Winstanley’s style of cross-examination is not something to be borne in a cold chambers on a Monday morning.”

She tried to focus on the good that might come of this: that through their endeavours, Nathan could be proven innocent and exonerated from any wrongdoing. If Nathan was concerned about her reputation suffering, then Kitty was far more concerned about his – he had already lost so much, and potentially had so much more to lose.

She walked through the passageway into Gray’s Inn Square, peering at the address card Mr Winstanley’s secretary had sent her. Crossing the courtyard, the trees swaying slightly overhead, she located the door plaque and entered the hushed, reverential world of Mr Winstanley’s chambers. She was ushered into an outer office by a minion who didn’t look at her, but motioned wordlessly for her to sit down and wait.

The office was filled with the lawyer’s paraphernalia: papers stacked on any available space; a multitude of leather-encased volumes lining the walls behind a criss-cross of leaded glass. Kitty sat in an uncomfortable seat and waited for Alfred Winstanley to return from wherever he was. He was a man who didn’t care if he kept others waiting.

After more than thirty long minutes, Alfred finally appeared, striding into the outer office still clad in his barrister’s robes. Without glancing in her direction, he entered his private office and the door swung closed. After another few minutes, he re-appeared without his formal gown, and simply said: “Come in.”

The inner part of the office had the air of a sumptuous gentlemen’s club – a fine chandelier lit the high ceiling, a case of cigars was laid carefully at the edge of the desk, and a wider library of books filled an entire wall; gleaming, gold-lettered titles on their spines.

“Sit here.” Alfred nodded towards a straight-backed, wooden chair that he’d placed in the centre of the room. He didn’t have time for social niceties – there was no ‘how are you?’ or ‘how is the household in Brighton?’ – he was all about business. Kitty restrained herself from immediately asking: how was Nathan?

“Mr Winstanley, I wanted to…” she began, as she took her seat. She wanted to tell him about George’s revelation before he began his questioning.

Alfred Winstanley came to stand directly in front of her, ignoring her words. “Imagine we are in the courtroom. Hard to imagine perhaps, seated there, but imagine it nevertheless. If you have any questions, please save them until after my cross-examination.”

The initial questions he asked were posed as the defence lawyer. As a character witness, these were easy for her to answer – she was able to testify with ease as to the personalities of her employers, Nathan and Charlotte Appleby, and to what she observed was a loving marital relationship. Without rancour, or dissent? asked Winstanley. Some, perhaps, but not often, and certainly not serious.

“And were you treated well?” asked Alfred. 

“Yes. I was treated as one of the family,” she answered unequivocally. “The Applebys were modern. They didn’t distinguish as much between social rank. I was encouraged to use their library, and I was able to join them for dinner and converse with their friends.” She saw Alfred try not to curl his lip at that. He was very attached to the idea of structure and status in society. He had taken on this case out of respect and admiration for Nathan’s father: a dear, departed friend – not because he agreed with the values of his only son.

Alfred paused then, and walked to his desk to pick up some papers, leaving her for another minute in silence. When he finally turned around, he said: “Now, imagine I am the lawyer for the prosecution. Some of what I say to you will be deliberately hurtful, or aggressive. Please do not descend into emotion. Remain calm. Keep your answers clear, and unambiguous.”

Kitty felt terrified, but knew that she would have to face this, and much worse, if she were to be called in court. Nathan’s life was being played for. “I will.”

“In all your time with the Applebys, you said that they argued very little. When they did argue, what did they argue about?” began Alfred. He looked at her pointedly, seemingly without blinking.

Kitty hesitated – what would she say about Nathan’s nocturnal disturbances? “Nathan – Mr Appleby – occasionally had nightmares, and would sleepwalk. It got much better though, during the time I was with them.”

She thought that she’d given a clear answer, that didn’t give too much away, until Alfred’s next question made her realise that she’d been captured in a metaphorical corner: “How did his nightmares get better – with medication?”

“Yes, I think so. That, and rest.”

“And what was he prescribed?”

“I – I don’t know. Oscar Merrill was responsible for his medical care. You should ask him. He seemed to have it under control.”

“‘Under control’? You make Mr Appleby sound like a wild animal. What was there – to control?”

“Nothing. I only meant that Na – Mr Appleby – got much better with Oscar’s prescription.”

“Did you know that the drug being administered was an anti-psychotic, such as is used on patients in mental asylums? Rather strange, don’t you think, for a man who was merely suffering from – as you called it – occasional nightmares and sleepwalking.”

“I don’t – I don’t know…” started Kitty.

Alfred stopped his act momentarily, to remind her: “Don’t hesitate in your responses – it’s a sure sign of weakness. Remember: unambiguous, and clear.” Kitty nodded dumbly.

“You should ask Mr Merrill about the drug. Mr Appleby is a highly intelligent, rational man. He went about his work – under a high level of stress – without interruption.”

“Without interruption, you say? Yet there was an occasion when he had to stop all appointments, all public engagements…”

“For a very short period of time, which I believe was down to his exhaustion. He worked day and night to help his patients. He went on a speaking tour to Canada less than a month later. These are not the actions of a man on the brink.”

“Very good,” replied Alfred. It took her a moment to realise that he was out of character again. “Remember though – keep the emotion out of your voice. You are showing your passion for Mr Appleby’s plight. That won’t do. That won’t do at all.”

“But…!” Kitty began to protest.

“Do you doubt my years in court? Do you presume you know better than I, how witnesses are perceived by the jury? Think of this: the more than the court sees your passion for Mr Appleby, the more they will begin to wonder if this was merely a relationship of employer and employee.”

Alfred let his words sink in for Kitty. It was a delicate subject, but he could not avoid it any longer. He had to ask her. “What would you say was your relationship with Mr Appleby?”

“He was my employer. I respected both him and Mrs Appleby. I saw their relationship as an inspiration.”

“In what way?”

“They were a perfect couple. They gave each other freedom. I aspired, one day, to have a husband as good as Nathan Appleby, and wished that I could live my life like Charlotte Appleby.”

“No, no, no!” cried Alfred, back to himself again. “That is a terrible answer – that you want a husband as good as Nathan? Have you not heard the confounded rumours? Do you not wonder what people might think to that response; what opinions they will begin to form – already have formed?”

“Then I will say: I thought they had a wonderful married relationship that could be a template for others to follow.”

“Better… And what were your feelings about Mr Appleby?”

Kitty looked aghast. Were they going to ask her this, in court, before the judge and jury? “You said I wasn’t to be emotional.”

“Emotional – yes. I didn’t say that you couldn’t talk about your emotions.”

“What were my feelings..? I don’t – I don’t know what to say…”

“Then you had better think of what to say, Miss Eldridge, as otherwise the entire courtroom will be filling in the response for themselves.”

“I will need to consider what to say. I can’t think of how best to phrase it.”

“Phrase it? Phrase it in a way that doesn’t make Nathan look like an adulterer, dammit!” retorted Alfred, losing his patience.

“He wasn’t!”

“And yet the prosecution will have sworn testimony, and witnesses – witnesses to the fact that you attended a moving picture show, arm in arm with him. That he carried you out in his arms when you fainted, and took care of you personally. That you often dined alone with him at the Applebys’ house in Hampstead. And that when you went to visit him at Scotland Yard, the cell guard observed you trying to hold Mr Appleby’s hand.”

“But I didn’t! I mean, I stopped before… How do you even know?” she questioned him, scared now.

“Because I, like the prosecution, have my spies in many places. Fortunately, the guard was in my pay, not the prosecution’s. You have been lucky, Miss Eldridge, but you must be careful how you act if we are to stop Nathan from appearing an adulterer. Any chink, any flaw that the prosecution perceives will be acted upon, believe me.”

“May I have some water?” she enquired tremulously.

“Yes.” Alfred strode quickly to the door and rang a bell. The same lackey appeared to take the order, then swiftly returned with her drink.

Kitty gulped it down gratefully. Her bravery and boldness had completely abandoned her. Initially, she had thought that somehow, her feelings for Nathan were only visible to her. But over time, the whole household knew her secret, and now the whole world was talking about it, like they were characters in some sordid playscript. It was horrible, horrible.

“Miss Eldridge. I think that Mr Appleby had already warned you of this? He thinks your involvement in his case should be curtailed, precisely because this – imputed aspect – of your relationship, will undoubtedly be a matter discussed in the court. You are well within your right to decline cross-examination, although I warn you, that may appear worse.”

“Worse – why?”

“If you not to submit to the prosecution’s questioning, it may appear as if you have something to hide.”

“I thought the court dealt in facts, not conjecture? This is conjecture of the worst sort.”

“When a man cannot be proven beyond doubt to have committed a crime – and the crime here is most heinous – then the prosecution will attempt to prove it by defaming his character,” shrugged Alfred.

“But I do – I do have proof that it wasn’t Nathan. That’s what I tried to tell you when I first sat down!” cried Kitty.

“By ‘proof’, do you mean George?” asked Alfred, walking back towards his desk, his back to her. He trailed his fingers along the smooth surface as he walked round to his chair. Once seated, he looked at her quizzically, one eyebrow raised.

“How..! Oh… your spies, again.” Kitty’s spirits were suddenly deflated.

“Not exactly. George is known to me. He is known to the London constabulary. He is known for being a liar, a pickpocket, and a thief. He presented me with the same story, and I have investigated with all my might, in the face of police indifference,” said Alfred, with a sigh. “No-one but George saw Mr Merrill in the hour he was presumed to have been away from the public house. On a Sunday afternoon, in busy neighbourhoods of London, that is highly unusual. It cast doubt on George’s claims.

“So, George came to you, with the exact same information, and you gladly paid him for his troubles. Payment for information means that you have compromised the witness. His testimony will be inadmissible in court.”

“I didn’t realise… I’m so sorry!” said Kitty, thinking how little she really knew of the world and its workings. And now she had destroyed their one viable witness through her stupidity.

“Miss Eldridge,” Alfred sighed again. “This witness would not have been much use. We could have put him on the stand, to show that Mr Merrill’s alibi should be questioned. Then the prosecution would show his fallibility as a witness, indicating the number of times George has been in juvenile court; or pointing out the much, much larger number of reliable witnesses, who can attest to the man’s whereabouts that same afternoon.

“You may mistake my stern demeanour for lack of care, Miss Eldridge. Quite the opposite. Do you think that I and my associates are not toiling all the hours that God gives, in order to save Nathan Appleby? Much of my work in preparation for this trial has been in trying to – trying to – uncover other possible perpetrators, and Oscar Merrill is a prime candidate. I believe, as you do, that Nathan is incapable of murder. I knew his father, and his son is the same – they are both truly honourable men. Yet the police seem hell bent on proving the opposite.”

“But – why? Why would they seek to hang a wronged man?” asked Kitty, her voice shrill.

“Scotland Yard has come under scrutiny for the mishandling of some high profile investigations. With this, equally high profile case, they wish to show how adept they are at their jobs. Nathan’s case will become an example of how they can conduct their work – swiftly, and well.”

“And in the face of opposing evidence?”

“In the face of nothing. There is nothing to say that Nathan did not kill his wife, other than the evident good opinion and testimonials of his friends, colleagues – and staff.” Here, Alfred looked at her, musingly. She was far more intelligent than he’d first assumed. “But, other than the lack of an alibi, and his problematic medical history – both of which are circumstantial, rather than hard evidence – there is nothing to say that he did.”

“So, we simply stand by and watch, while he is convicted? That is preposterous!”

“No – we will not stand by. I am speaking to my man at the Yard this afternoon, and will make quite clear that such a miscarriage of justice will cause a scandal at a much higher level. I will take it to the Lords if I have to.”

“What else can I do?”

“Watch and wait, Miss Eldridge. Prepare for court, and pray for Nathan.”

Chapter Text

London, May – June 1901

Inspector Warren wasn’t sleeping at night. He thought it might be due to the stresses of the job. He’d just had a taut, uncomfortable conversation with the accused’s lawyer – totally off the record, of course. Now, he was besieged from all sides. The Commissioner was begging him to solve the case. He’d not said the exact words, but the gist was: make the crime fit the man. Their current track record was well below par, and they sorely needed a victory.

On the other hand, people like Alfred Winstanley made him nervous – excessively nervous. The barrister could extract a confession out of an innocent victim. Winstanley was threatening to create a damaging storm that reached to the Lords. Warren wasn’t entirely sure of the gravity of the threat: his client could not be proven entirely innocent, after all; yet the meeting had left him feeling exposed. Their methods were shaky at best, and Winstanley knew that. The Inspector was falling into a boiling vat of water, whichever way he looked.

And at the centre of it all was that man – that poor, damaged man. Warren had seen the daily reports; Appleby was fading inexorably. Deprived of his wife; and now quite certain to be on trial for his life.

………………

Kitty had left Alfred Winstanley’s office that day, feeling as if a dark shadow was trailing her. She went to meet with Ernest and Gilbert in a discreet café off Russell Square, and shakily confessed to them how she’d compromised their potential witness. They were dutifully understanding and agreed with Alfred – the witness was highly dubious to start with. But it left them with scant options.

Ernest had been to see Nathan that morning, and talked of “a ghost of a man. They allow him to walk for an hour outside each day, but his skin still looks transparent. It’s abominable. We must do more.”

“I will go and see Clara,” suggested Kitty. “She is our gateway to Oscar. If I can convince her to talk about that day, she may divulge something that proves useful.”

“And I will gather Nathan’s former colleagues,” replied Ernest. “They are just as influential as Winstanley. If they can impress upon the police, that the conditions Nathan is being kept in should be bettered, at least that will help to alleviate his suffering. I still feel like we can do more though. If only…”

“If only what?” Gilbert, who had been studying his tea as if it held the answers to life, looked up sharply. “Tell me, my man. I know that look. What are you mulling over?”

“I have the beginnings of an idea,” said Ernest, leaning in. “But it will be highly risky, and will involve being both secretive and at risk of imprisonment ourselves.”

“I would do anything for Nathan,” answered Gilbert, inclining towards Ernest with every word.

“And I,” murmured Kitty. “I don’t care what it takes to save his life.”

“I need to think more on this matter, before I unfold it to you,” whispered Ernest. “Kitty – do you think that you can come to London on a few occasions more? We couldn’t chance any missives going astray, and exposing us.”

“I can try…” began Kitty. “It’s difficult.”

“I will act as your guardian and invent a sorry tale, so that you have to visit town,” Gilbert assured her. “At least my imaginative writing will come in useful, at last.”

Kitty wondered why she’d ever thought of Gilbert as a weak man. If anything, he was proving far stronger than her.

………………

After leaving her two friends – in her paranoia looking out for Winstanley’s men following her all the while – a subdued Kitty went to call on Clara. Mrs Gilroy had said that she was living in Oscar’s lodgings, and Kitty wanted to be careful not to encounter him. Luckily, he was busy with his work – even more so, she thought begrudgingly, now that Nathan was permanently indisposed.

The house was situated quite close to where the Applebys had lived in Hampstead, but in a much poorer neighbourhood. The window frames were painted white, but were grimy round the edges. The doorstep had been scrubbed, but the door itself was covered in fading, peeling paintwork.

When Clara answered the door, her face showed dismay for a moment, but she quickly re-arranged her expression into a small, slight smile. She looked tired and drawn – certainly not the blooming bride-to-be that should be expected.

“Kitty.” There was no suggestion of her being invited in.

“Clara. I was in London and I…” Kitty hadn’t prepared any words. “Mrs Gilroy told me of your good news.”

Clara glanced at her left hand, the fingers of which were curled around the edge of the doorframe. A thin, tight silver band was around one finger. “Yes, well. Oscar felt that we should make our union more permanent. We’re very happy. In the circumstances, that is.”

“And how is Oscar?” enquired Kitty with mock-innocence.

Clara hesitated before replying: “He’s… reasonably well, I suppose. He was hit very hard by Mrs Appleby’s death, as you know. But he’s managing to continue with his work. It keeps his mind from darker thoughts.”

Clara, noted Kitty, did not ask after Nathan at all. It was as if she’d deliberately dismissed him from her mind.

“May I come in?” asked Kitty, determined.

Clara hesitated again. “I don’t…”

“Just for five minutes,” insisted Kitty. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in an age. I can tell you all about the house in Brighton.”

Clara softened somewhat. She thrived on gossip, and Kitty knew a promise of household news would be a sure way to be invited in.

Once inside, they sat in the dull kitchen, the daylight making little difference to the gloomy interior. Clara didn’t attempt to make them tea, and Kitty didn’t ask. She knew why: Clara wanted this visit to be as brief as possible. For a short while, they talked of inconsequential matters, but there was a silent undercurrent that would break out on the surface soon.

“Clara –” Kitty broached the topic eventually. “The day of Charlotte’s – demise – when you were with Oscar at the pub: did he need to leave for any reason? To run an errand, perhaps?”

“Why do you ask?” fired back Clara, almost immediately on the defensive. “He was with me for each and every minute that afternoon. It was the only day of the week we both have free. We were enjoying each other’s company. I was very sad when the evening descended into…” She looked down at her hands, twisted together under the table. “I’ve told the police all of this. Why do you think to question me further?”

“Because there was a witness, who saw Oscar leave the pub for a time. I just thought… you might have been mistaken.”

“‘Mistaken’?” Clara laughed harshly. “How can I ‘mistake’ if my own fiancé is by my side, or not?”

“Because you love your fiancé. And you will do anything for him,” replied Kitty quietly, selecting her words carefully.

“Do not speak to me of love and duty,” said Clara coldly. “You know what it is to love a man, and be willing to do anything for him.”

“Anything? Yes, truly, anything,” said Kitty without hesitation. “Anything except defend his name, when you know in all honesty and before God, that what you are saying is an outrageous lie.”

The two of them faced each other across the small table, the profound silence only broken by the steady tick of the kitchen clock. Clara looked away, as if she couldn’t bear to face her opponent any longer.

“You need to leave now,” she said, barely audible.

“Please, Clara…”

“You need to leave. Oscar will be home soon.”

“You are condemning an innocent man!”

“You need to leave.” Clara’s voice was rising now.

“I beg you, Clara. If you know anything… anything! Please talk to me. We can protect you; we can look after you…”

“Oscar looks after me. Oscar takes care of me. I won’t have him taken away from me. I won’t.”

“But if you have doubts about him…”

“I don’t. Like I said, he was with me. The whole afternoon. There is no doubt in my mind about that. You need to leave. Now.” Clara stood and smoothed her dress over her hips, looking out of the back kitchen window onto the yard, and again not meeting Kitty’s gaze.

“You are perjuring yourself. You are condemning a wronged man to death. You will be judged in hell, if you do this,” said Kitty forcefully, as she left by the kitchen door. She needed to talk to the others, and soon.

………………

The next time she saw Ernest and Gilbert was a quiet evening in late May, the bright weather at odds with the group’s prevailing mood. Ernest’s house was very well-appointed, as she’d expected, and close to the north Hampstead site – “a skip and a hop to work”, as he’d explained. Albert, languid in the early summer warmth, lolled tongue out by his master’s side.

They all shared their news. Kitty spoke of Clara’s obstinate refusal to condemn Oscar (“People will do anything for those that they love,” reflected Gilbert.) Ernest had been to see Winstanley, and the purpose of his visit soon became clear.

“Winstanley is convinced that they will convict, no matter what. His ‘insider’ has said as much. He says that he’s never seen anything like it, and is prepared to cause a hullabaloo that discredits their investigation,” imparted Ernest. “Yet that may not save our friend. We all know Nathan to be completely innocent. I had chance – as you both did – to observe him and Charlotte, and there was nothing, nothing in their relationship to suggest that such an intent existed.”

“I’ve known him since we were boys,” added Gilbert. “He was rightly entranced by Charlotte from the day that he met her. There was no chance in heaven that he would even consider what he is accused of.”

“I saw them through the prism of their household. They were modern and right-thinking in their relationship. I always deemed it as a model to follow,” agreed Kitty.

“That Nathan is innocent, is beyond doubt,” continued Ernest. “That he will be hanged for the crime he is innocent of, is still a very likely outcome. This is why I talked to Winstanley. I wanted to lay out my plan to him.

“Winstanley told me that he has to act within the law… but that he cannot help it if Nathan’s friends decide to act outside the law, in order to salvage an innocent man. I took that as his tacit consent to my idea. My father was in the army, and he told me that the best advice he was given, when he went into battle, was to always work out your means of escape. There is a kind of heroism in that.”

Ernest outlined his plan. In essence, it was to ensure that Nathan absconded overseas prior to his trial starting. It was intricate, and would require all parts to come together perfectly, like a choir singing in unison. Yet Ernest was adept at planning, and Kitty felt assured that his proposed mechanism would work. Money, said Ernest, would provide the oil in the machine, to ensure the smooth running. Gilbert’s role was to provide watertight alibis – Mrs Gilroy would vouchsafe for Kitty’s whereabouts, she was sure.

They ended that evening with a rare moment of jubilation. Ernest stood and spoke movingly: “Let us vow that we three will do all we can – everything in our power – to ensure that our friend escapes the snare of injustice. Do you swear?”

Kitty stood up and faced Ernest. “I swear.”

Gilbert joined them: “As do I.”

………………

And so it was that, two weeks before the trial date, they all met on the bank of the Thames. They were some way down from the Victoria Embankment, by the tidal estuary out beyond Greenwich. The night sky was thick with glowering clouds. Despite the season, Nathan stood shivering in their midst, Ernest’s greatcoat wrapped round his tall, slight figure.

The boatman had lit a single lamp on the roof of his craft. They were due to meet a larger vessel before dawn, and he was keen to be gone with his sole passenger.

Ernest and Gilbert were still loitering, having said their rushed but emotional goodbyes to their friend. They were all aware that Nathan’s safety was paramount, and that a protracted farewell would put him at risk. Kitty was the last to bid him goodbye. She wanted to be brave, but at this point, she felt like she was staring into nothingness. The thought of saving Nathan, but then losing him again in one fell swoop was too much for her.

Nathan approached Kitty, taking her clasped hands and wrapping them in his. The warmth of his fingers – that longed-for touch. She felt as if the wharf was slowly slipping out from beneath her feet.

“Kitty, I cannot speak enough praise… I fail in finding the right words. You are one of the boldest, cleverest women I have ever met. I will think of you with nothing but admiration for a long time to come.”

Kitty couldn’t meet his gaze. She was glad that the darkness shadowed her face: she was trying not to cry. Instead, she swallowed down everything she’d ever wanted to say to him, replying: “‘Bold’ and ‘clever’? My dearest friends have called me worse…”

She could just make out Nathan’s smile in the dark; her words recalling that night – unbelievably, less than a year ago – when they’d talked on the clifftop at Morwenstow. Kitty remembered her gift for him then, and unwillingly letting go of his hands, she gave him the tiny package wrapped in paper. “Something for you. To bring you luck.”

Nathan took it and nodded graciously, stowing it away in his pocket. “Thank you – I’ll need it. Thank you all. I can never repay you for what you’ve done.” They gathered round him as he stepped down onto the boat, and before long he’d disappeared into the darkness – a squid-ink cloud of night that enveloped the boat, the pinprick of lamplight disappearing into the distance.

………………

It was much later, once Nathan had arrived at the anonymous boarding house in Canada, that he opened Kitty’s gift. Unwrapping the miniature parcel, he found one half of a filigree leaf – made of copper, perhaps, but burnished so it shone. There was no note with the gift, and it would be a few more years before he began to understand its true significance.

After the escape, they were all questioned: including others of Nathan’s family and friends, who were thankfully innocent of all knowledge – aside from Mrs Gilroy, who proved a staunch supporter, as Kitty knew she would, and prepared to lie in front of the deity himself, if it meant Nathan was freed from injustice.

The three friends stood firm – although Gilbert needed several brandies after being hauled in. Nathan’s barrister, who had slyly tipped them off at every turn through his associates, would unblinkingly proclaim himself “innocent of all knowledge” when he was interrogated.

Inspector Warren was able to blame the escape on the prison authorities, as the prisoner had vanished on their watch, which suited Scotland Yard. He was happy to be able to sleep the night through again – during the investigation, he’d begun to sleepwalk, and his wife had suffered too as a result of his malady. Although they attempted to find the accused, wherever he had disappeared to, another case soon took over the Inspector’s time, and resources were diverted. They could not continue to comb the globe for one man whose guilt was never proven.

So, the story of the notorious Nathan Appleby, and whether he murdered his wife, became an unsolved mystery. It prompted a number of amateur investigators to try and find out the truth – including, decades later, a group of dinner party séancers at Shepzoy, where time tilted backwards to when Nathan had occupied the house with his wife, Charlotte, all those years ago.

Chapter Text

London, 1901 – 1906

In the five years that followed, much changed, although by increments.

Maddie was taken by her uncle to Canada at the first safe opportunity, to join her father. Her guardian returned via a circuitous route to avoid suspicion, giving out that she had been welcomed by cousins in America.

Ernest completed his great love, the building of the utopian village community north of Hampstead, which in his mind was now a labour dedicated to Charlotte.

Gilbert married an artist who was far more successful than him, allowing them to live in relative comfort while he continued to work on his embattled Great Novel. It was finally published to general indifference, although some readers questioned the plot, pointing out the similarities to Nathan’s infamous apprehension for suspected murder. Gilbert was at pains to point out the long gestation period in writing the book. He was importuned many times to write the ‘true story’ of his friend, the ‘notorious Nathan Appleby’. He politely declined.

Clara and Oscar broke off their brief, argumentative engagement, and she returned to household service, much chastised. Oscar was never held accountable for Charlotte’s manslaughter or murder, but his reputation was permanently sullied, and he was shut out from more civilised circles.

And Kitty? She forged her way in life. After Maddie was taken to Canada, she initially continued as a private tutor, saving money where she could. When the new school in the north Hampstead village was due to open, she was appointed as headmistress, the panel swayed by her employers’ and Ernest’s avowed testimonials to her suitability.

After an extended period of emotional solitude at odds with her professional achievement, Kitty received a letter. The postmark was Canada, but there was no postal address, simply a postbox for return correspondence. She opened that first letter with trembling anticipation.

Vancouver, September 1903

Dear Kitty,

I hope this letter finds you well, and that you gained a better position with Ernest’s assistance. I am sure that there are many families in London that are in need of your teaching and guidance.

Please excuse my protracted silence. I thought it best to leave off contact with my friends for a long while, given the circumstances of my departure.

I am making my way here, slowly. I settled in Vancouver, on the westernmost edge of this country. It has grown into a populous city since the advent of the railroad. Much more than this, I cannot tell you, for of course I cannot practise or lecture as I once did. Instead, I make my living as a general practitioner. You can imagine the complaints of the patients crowding daily at my door! Yet I am glad to be alive and well, and with Maddie at my side.

She is growing apace! She continues with her reading – so voraciously, I cannot keep up with her expanding vocabulary. You would be rightly proud of your former pupil. I cannot encourage her in the sciences though, no matter how many attempts I make.

I am forever grateful for the part you played in my deliverance, and believe you are destined for much greater things, and that you will find a way to achieve them.

Yours truly,

N

Kitty put the letter aside. She could feel her chest expand, like it was the first time she’d allowed air to fill her lungs in the longest time. She hurriedly rummaged in her desk for paper and pen, writing ‘Dearest Nathan’ in an uneven hand, then crossing that out, screwing up her face and crumpling the paper. No, best to leave it until she had composed herself, and could write more fluently, and more formally.

The letter was all that filled her thoughts for the next day. It was late in the evening when she took a guttering tallow candle to her bedside and, the paper balanced on her knees, began to write the first of many discarded drafts in reply.

After many more months had passed, Kitty had a stack of bundled correspondence hidden in her desk, each of their letters growing longer and more persuasive, until the latest of these had ventured to start ‘Dearest’.

At the end of the school year in 1906, and to the consternation of the governors’ board at the Hampstead school, Kitty handed in her notice without regret. She had made her mark at the new school and it was thriving under her care. Yet an echo of Madame’s words continually came back to her: ‘Fight for what you want.’

There would be similar schools in Vancouver, she had no doubt of that, and she had secured testimonials that would guarantee a teaching position once she arrived. She had saved and paid for her own passage – she would be beholden to no-one.

She departed the port at Southampton, clasping her old brown valise firmly in her hands and holding onto the half filigree leaf, hung round her neck for luck. It would be days and days and weeks and weeks later, that Nathan said to her: “I believe I have something of yours to return. May I?” and threaded his half of the leaf back onto the delicate chain – two halves once again making a complete whole.

Kitty smiled – this was coming home: to be with the people that she loved. She could hold Nathan’s hand without fear of rebuke. She could tell him everything she had ever wanted to say, without holding it in, or burying it deep. She could be herself, with someone who wouldn’t seek to contain her boldness. She was finally, truly, happy.