The Wench is Dead

The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter Read Free Book Online

Book: The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Colin Dexter
theatre handbill was printed at his own expense to herald his appearance at the City of Nottingham Music Hall in early September
    ‘Mr DONAVAN, citizen of the World and of Ireland, most humbly and respectfully informs all members of the upper and the lower nobilities, folk of the landed gentry,
     and the citizens of the historic district of Nottingham, that in view of his superior and unrivalled excellencies in MAGIC and DECEPTION, he has had conferred upon him, by the supreme
     conclave of the Assembly of Superior Magicians, this last year, the unchallenged title of EMPEROR of all the Illusionists, and this particularly by virtue of the amazing trick of cutting off
     a cockerel’s head and then restoring the bird to its pristine animation. It was this same DONAVAN, the greatest man in the World, who last week diverted his great audience in Croydon by
     immersing his whole body, tightly secured and chained, in a tank of the most corrosive acid for eleven minutes and forty-five seconds, as accurately measured by scientific
    Three years earlier Donavan had written (and found a publisher for) his only legacy to us, a work entitled The Comprehensive Manual of the Conjuring Arts . But the great
man’s career was beginning to prove progressively unsuccessful, and no stage appearances whatsoever are traceable to 1858. In that year, he died, a childless and embittered man, whilst on
holiday with a friend in Ireland, where his grave now rests in a burial-plot overlooking Bertnaghboy Bay. Some time afterwards his widow, Joanna, met and fell deeply in love with one Charles
Franks, an ostler from Liverpool.
    Like her first, Joanna’s second marriage appears to have been a happy one, in spite of the fact that times were still hard and money still scarce. The new Mrs Franks was to find
employment, as a dressmaker and designers’ model, with a Mrs Russell of 34 Runcorn Terrace, Liverpool. But Franks himself was less successful in his quest for regular employment, and finally
decided to try his luck in London. Here his great expectations were soon realized for he was almost immediately engaged as an ostler at the busy George & Dragon Inn on the Edgware Road, where
we find him duly lodged in the spring of 1869. In late May of that same year he sent his wife a guinea (all he could afford) and begged her to join him in London as soon as possible.
    On the morning of Saturday, June 11th, 1859, Joanna Franks, carrying two small trunks, bade her farewell to Mrs Russell in Runcorn Terrace, and made her way by barge from Liverpool to Preston
Brook, the northern terminus of the Trent and Mersey Canal, which had been opened some eighty years earlier. Here she joined one of Pickford & Co.’s express (or ‘fly’)
boats 1 which was departing for Stoke-on-Trent and Fradley Junction, and thence, via the Coventry and Oxford Canals, through to London on the main
Thames waterway. The fare of sixteen shillings and eleven pence was considerably cheaper than the fare on the Liverpool–London railway line which had been opened some twenty years
    Joanna was an extremely petite and attractive figure, wearing an Oxford-blue dress, with a white kerchief around her neck, and a figured silk bonnet with a bright pink ribbon. The clothes may
not have been new; but they were not inexpensive, and they gave to Joanna a very tidy appearance indeed. A very tempting appearance, too, as we shall soon discover.
    The captain of the narrow-boat Barbara Bray was a certain Jack ‘Rory’ Oldfield from Coventry. According to later testimony of fellow boat-people and other acquaintances, he
was basically a good-natured sort of fellow, of a blunt, blustery type of address. He was married, though childless, and was aged 42 years. The fellow-members of his crew were: the 30-year-old
Alfred Musson, alias Alfred Brotherton, a tall, rather gaunt figure, married with two young children; Walter Towns, alias Walter Thorold, the 26-year-old

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