Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol: A Mystery

Free Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol: A Mystery by Gyles Brandreth

Book: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol: A Mystery by Gyles Brandreth Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gyles Brandreth
Tags: Victorian, Historical Mystery
    ‘Warder Braddle,’ I persisted. ‘Is he living?’
    Stokes laughed. ‘He was alive and well when I last saw him.’
    ‘I must see him.’
    ‘You’ll see him soon enough.’
    ‘Where is he?’ I cried. ‘Was he here last night? I will go mad. Where is he?’
    ‘Wandsworth, if you must know. I don’t know when he’s due back, but he’ll be here soon enough.’
    ‘God Almighty—’
    ‘No profanity. You know the rules. Into your cell.’
    Warder Stokes pushed me into the cell. ‘Read your Bible,’ he said. ‘Calm down. The surgeon will come in due course.’
    I stood there, in my grotesque prison garb, clutching my absurd convict’s cap, looking in desperation at the young man with the crooked teeth and the freckled face. ‘You are my only friend,’ I pleaded. ‘You must save me.’
    Stokes stood, bewildered and, I now see, embarrassed. ‘I am not your friend, Mr Wilde. I am your turnkey. If you want to be saved, you’d better see the chaplain about that.’ He stepped out of the cell and closed the door.
    ‘You know my name!’ I called out.
    ‘We all know your name. Warder Braddle has told us all about you.’ He turned the keys in the locks. ‘Be quiet now or I’ll have to report you to the governor.’ With his fist he banged on the back of the door. ‘You know the rules,’ he repeated. ‘Silence must be observed on all occasions by day and night.’
    I heard his steps retreating along the passageway. I leant back against the cold stone wall of the cell, listening. I could hear the sound of the boy in the cell opposite mine. It was the sound of coughing and retching. I went to my door and put my face to the spyhole. I could see nothing. I cupped my hands around my mouth and called out the boy’s name. ‘Tom!’ There was no reply. I called again, ‘Tom! Tom! Can you hear me?’
    From along the passageway, Warder Stokes shouted: ‘Silence!’ I waited, holding my breath. ‘Silence – on pain of punishment.’
    I felt giddy with confusion and despair. I saw the Bible on the wooden chair beside my bed. I went to pick it up and it fell open at the Book of Psalms. I lay on the bed and turned my head to one side and, as I read the words, I spoke them out loud.
Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
    I did not hear the surgeon as he entered the cell. I did not register his presence until I opened my eyes and found a bespectacled man with a bird’s-nest beard and mutton-chop whiskers leaning over me. He had a hand on my shoulder.
    ‘I have kept you waiting,’ he said. ‘I apologise. I had another prisoner to see.’
    There was a Scottish burr to his accent. He spoke softly and I was startled by the power of his walnut-coloured eyes. They appeared like owls’ eyes behind the lenses of his spectacles.
    ‘You are a friend?’ I asked, confused.
    ‘I am the prison surgeon,’ he said. ‘Dr Maurice.’
    ‘You are a friend,’ I repeated. ‘I can tell.’
    ‘No,’ he said, standing up and looking down at me, ‘but I studied at Edinburgh with your friend, Conan Doyle. We were both students of the great Dr Bell.’
    ‘Arthur’s model for Sherlock Holmes.’
    ‘Indeed. Observation is everything – that’s what Dr Bell taught us.’ Dr Maurice looked down at me intently. He was a tall man, bony and angular. He stood at my bedside with his hands in his pockets, jangling keys and coins, contemplating me with a furrowed brow and what appeared to be kindly amusement. ‘And you, I’ve been led to believe, are Conan Doyle’s model for Holmes’s older brother – the brilliant

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