‘In which case, I would be prepared to accept as little as four hundred.’

‘You’re a man to be reckoned with, aren’t you?’ Edmonton’s laugh was without warmth. ‘Perhaps you could furnish me with the name of any true-born Englishman of good stock who might agree to such an offensive fee?’

‘I could intimate there are no such persons, but my final offer would still be four hundred.’

‘A thoroughgoing cad as well as a rascal.’ Edmonton addressed his brother in a manner that suggested he was almost enjoying himself. ‘Can you believe I am being spoken to in such a manner?’

‘I’d wager you make more than double that figure in the rents you collect every week of the year.’

‘You see what I mean?’ Edmonton slapped his brother heartily on the back and turned to face Pyke. ‘Since I’ll admit you have amused me with your show of youthful temerity, I will offer two hundred.’

‘Three hundred or you can find yourself another man.’ This time Pyke folded his arms. He sensed Edmonton’s resolve weakening, which surprised him. Pyke had planned to settle for as little as a hundred.

‘You know how long it would take a skilled worker or a manservant to earn that kind of money?’ Edmonton said, not quite mollified.

‘Perhaps three years. In the case of your staff, nearer to six, I would fancy. You could get a man for less money, but not one who might be able to recover what was stolen.’

‘Of course, I forget that recovering stolen items is a particular skill of yours.’ Any trace of amusement disappeared from his expression. Pyke wondered how much he knew about their previous business arrangement.

‘Are we agreed upon two and a half?’

Edmonton stared at him for a while without saying a word.

‘Then if we’ve nothing left to talk about, perhaps you would have one of your servants inform my driver that I intend to leave at once.’

‘By God, man, will you stop being so damn hasty?’ Edmonton took out a handkerchief and wiped his mouth. ‘I’m persuaded that a fee in the order of two hundred and fifty guineas might be appropriate in these very exceptional circumstances. Of course, it goes without saying such a fee would only be paid on successful completion of the task. Should you fail, you would receive nothing.’


‘Good,’ Edmonton said, shaking his hand. ‘Now, perhaps, I can tell you about this rascal Swift. My brother, I am afraid to say, made the mistake of hiring this man six months ago and put him in charge of security for the Cornhill office. I am told he served with the duke in Spain. He is the only man apart from my brother and the branch managers who knows where and when any monies are to be transported. Since the managers only have knowledge of their own affairs, and the two carriages robbed thus far hailed from different banks, we can safely rule them out. That’s why I suspect this Swift fellow. He’s your man, I would lay my life on it.’ Edmonton spoke as if his life was worth a great deal. ‘Follow him from the bank’s Cornhill offices. My brother can furnish you with the address. That scoundrel will lead you to the money or at least to the brigands who took it. It will be the easiest fee you’ve ever earned.’

In the entrance hall, while Pyke waited for his coat, he witnessed an encounter between Edmonton and his daughter that made him reassess his first impression of her. In fact, he heard as much as he saw; raised voices swelled into full-blown shouts, Emily’s as well as her father’s. Pyke was sufficiently intrigued by their argument to approach the half-closed doors behind which their altercation was taking place, but before he could determine what was being argued about, Emily flew through the doors and almost knocked him down. He had no choice but to fend her off with his hands, but his touch seemed to provoke her to further outrage. Brusquely she pushed him away and, gathering up her skirt, ran past him without uttering a word.


After an hour spent trawling the numerous taverns and alehouses surrounding St Paul’s Cathedral, Pyke found his uncle, Godfrey Bond, in the Boar tavern on Fleet Street across the road from Middle Temple Gate. The old man was slumped back in his seat in the corner of the taproom. Since there was no natural light and the room was illuminated only by candles and the reddish flame of occasional grease lamps, it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell who anyone was. This suited most of the customers, who appeared less interested in social activities than in pouring gin down their throats.

The exposed brick walls and the low ceiling, covered with begrimed, grey-patterned wallpaper, augmented Pyke’s fear of confined spaces. He had suffered from the condition for as long as he could remember. Or rather ever since, as a ten-year-old boy, he had watched his father lose his footing in a stampeding crowd and disappear under their feet. Forty thousand people had been gathered outside Newgate prison to witness the execution of Holloway and Haggerty, two robbers who had been convicted of stabbing a London botanist and leaving him to die at the side of a turnpike in Hounslow. The crowd had been too great for the space they had been herded into and chaos had ensued. Pyke had seen women and children suffocating to death as they were pressed against walls and barricades. Later, once the crowd had finally dispersed, he had found his father lying battered and not breathing in a ditch. His face had been crushed and his clothes were dirty with other people’s shoe and boot prints.

Pyke pushed his way through the mass of bodies gathered in the tiny room and chose to ignore the stares of ill-concealed antipathy from those who either recognised him or simply disliked being watched by a stranger.

Collapsed between empty pewter ale pots and gnawed pork chops was the unconscious frame of his uncle’s drinking companion. Pyke recognised the Reverend Foote, Ordinary at Newgate prison. Godfrey often plied Foote with drink in exchange for stories of woe and despair that Foote collected or overheard from the prison’s condemned men and women. It was Foote’s task to compile an account of their lives. For a small fee, he would pass these details to Godfrey, who would then print and sell them for a penny to the assembled crowd on the day of the execution.

As far as Pyke could tell, these stories carried several contradictory messages: on the one hand they suggested crime did not pay, that it was a sin against God, and that the most heinous crimes were still punishable by death; and on the other hand they made it clear that crime was exciting and heroic, and that criminals acted as they did because society left them no other option. Pyke thought all these explanations were too simple. For him, crime was simply a means to an end. If stealing was the only available means to achieving one’s freedom and well-being, then it made sense to steal.

In his earlier life, Pyke’s uncle had been a respectable publisher of radical political pamphlets and as a much younger man had counted figures such as Paine, Wollstonecraft and Godwin as his friends. He had long since abandoned such lofty inclinations, and for the last twenty years had scraped a living publishing sensational tales of criminal wrongdoing which he cobbled together from the annals of old Newgate calendars and from confessions sold to him by Foote. His editorial policy was to concentrate on tales that were especially gruesome and dwell upon specific instances of deviance. In each case, he would try to remove attempts by previous writers to impose moral judgements on the stories. The published sheets were cheaply reproduced and sold for a penny, mostly to the working poor. Godfrey would often tell Pyke that his readers found more of their own lives reflected in his stories than in tales penned by Jane Austen.

Godfrey was the closest thing Pyke had to a father. But theirs had always been an ambivalent relationship that reflected their shared desire both to remain independent and to cultivate familial support and companionship. It was a bond that had finally found its own equilibrium. While they no longer shared the same living space or felt any compunction to intervene in one another’s lives, a certain degree of warmth had begun to emerge in their dealings.

As a surrogate parent, Godfrey had never imposed even a modicum of discipline on him. Rather, he had provided Pyke with a small room in the attic of his Camden Town apartment and allowed him to come and go as he pleased. It was an arrangement that had suited Pyke, and one that permitted him to gain his education in the ways of the street, in such a manner that if things ever got too dangerous or intimidating, then the door of his uncle’s home was always open.

‘Oh, it’s you, dear boy. You know Arthur, don’t you?’ At the mention of his name, Foote did not actually move but, for a moment, stopped snoring. ‘All he can offer me these days, it seems, are dreary tales of common thievery

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