Under the Sign of the Black Raven – Part II
by Timothy J Jarvis
Part II of ‘Under the Sign of the Black Raven’. The first part can be found here.
Soundtrack: Black to Comm, ‘Void’
Martin’s investigations into the strange handbill turned up nothing. But then, in late 2006, entirely by chance, while researching witch trials in early Jacobean London, he found, among an archive of worn seventeenth-century broadsides, one that told a tale that struck him cold:
[The quality of this reproduction isn’t good, and the text is hard to make out. It reads:
THE MOST VILE AND BLOODY MVRHTERS COMMITTED BY A VVITCH
of Highgate, called Rachael Camlet, who was executed at Tyburn the 16th of Februarie laſt paſt. 1608.
LONDON Printed for William Firebrand and Iohn Wright, and are to be ſold at Chriſts Church dore. 1608
On the 16th of Februarie laſt paſt a young woman Rachael Camlet of Highgate most worthily ſuffered death for Witchery and Black Murder. The harlot pleaded Innocence at her Arraignement, but the Opinione of the Court was of her Guilt, and ſhe was Convicted and Sentenced to be Hanged.
Witnesses related to the Court that Rachael was founde, in Januarie this Year, by a Neighboure, who, hearing a Deviliſh Tumulte, entered the Houſe of Rachaels Husbande, Walter Camlet, a Mercere. The Neighboure found Rachael in the Library of that Houſe, inſenſible, weltering in the bloode of her Husbande, Walter, and of their three Servantes. The Neighboure, ſtricken with horror at what he ſaw, called for aſsiſtance. Others were alſo diſtreſsed. There weere cleare Signs of Witchery and foulneſs and the Murders were moſt vile.
Rachael was taken to the Village Lock-up, for her Incarceration. When ſhe came againe to herſelf, ſhe raved about murderous Goode Folke. The manie who ſaw her in her cell ſpoke of Diabolic Poſseſsion.
At the Triall the Court was told, by Walters Mother, Marjorie Camlet, how Rachael had committed Adulterie with a fallen Prieſt, during one of her Husbandes long trade voyages, and got with child. Walter, a compaſsionate Man, returning to finde his Wife ſwolt, did not caſt her out, but let her ſtay on with him, at his Houſe. After the birth, during Rachaels Confinemente, the Child was given to an Orphanage, and Walter, a goode man, ſuffered his wife to ſtaye on with him.
Theere was one who ſpoke in defenſe of Rachael, a Mary Pepperhill, friend of the accuſed, a looſe woman certainly, and mayhap another Witch. She ſtated ſhe had been at the Froſt Faire on the Thames with Rachael the weeke before the murders, and that they had ſeene a Faerie Child theere, and that Rachael had become excited, certaine the Changeling was in ſooth the Child her Husband had taken from her, ſwore to get it back. She thought Rachael had acted on this Oathe, and that the Charlatans ſhewing the Changeling might be behinde the Murders. Marys teſtimony was diſcredited though, by her railing againſt the virtuous Walter and Marjorie, whom ſhe called Inceſtuous.
The Court did not pauſe before declaring Rachaels Guilte.
A curiouſe Appendix was provided by Locals of Highgate. It was tolde how Something was Wrong with the Houſe of Camlet after theſe Happenings, Something moſt Dreadful and terrible Strange, with the Proportions or the Shadowes, and no man could abide the place. Hence, in March, it was burn’d to the grounde by diſtract Villagers.]
For some time after discovering the newssheet, Martin continued his enquiries. He learnt nothing further, as far as I’m aware.
In the summer of 2007, I lost contact with Martin. I learnt, during the winter of that year, from mutual friends, that no one had seen or heard from him for some months, not even his family or long-term girlfriend, Ruth. Then, on the 13th March, 2008, during a hailstorm, I happened to look out the window and saw him, outside my building, huddled beneath an old oak. I went to the front door of the block, called him over, took him up to my flat. He told me he’d been waiting for me, then began raving about ‘the Folk’ and eldritch terrors, said he was going to destroy ‘the cursed handbill’. I asked him if, instead, he would be prepared to sell it to me. A look of cunning fleeted across his face and he agreed, naming a small sum.
He went away, returning about an hour later with the flyer and a photocopy of the broadside he’d found. I paid him, and he left again. The next day, he rang me and, frantic, snivelling, begged me to burn the handbill. When I asked him why I should, he abruptly hung up.
Three weeks after that desperate phone call, Ruth and her parents were found, in her flat, brutally slain. Martin could not be located, was the main suspect in the killings. After his research field became known, the press troped the scene of the killings as the bloody climax of a Jacobean revenge tragedy. I don’t therefore know how many of the reported details were exaggerated or partially invented – the eyes scooped from their sockets, the breasts hacked off, the genitals mutilated, the tongues torn out at the root – but certainly the victims died gruesomely.
Two days later, Martin came to my building again. This time he pressed the buzzer for my flat. Wary, I did not let him in, but spoke to him on the intercom. He pleaded with me. I was the only one, he said, who knew the truth, that he wasn’t a killer, that it was the Fair Folk who’d made a shambles of Ruth’s flat. He bitterly cursed the day he discovered the handbill; it was his investigations, he claimed, that had drawn the Folk’s notice.
‘They meant no particular malice, though,’ he whined, then stifled a frenzied laugh. ‘They were just revelling, were encouraged by our screams.’
The police had frozen his bank account; he asked if he could borrow some money.
I went downstairs, opened the front door to my apartment block. Seeing him huddled, cowering, in the porch, I was shocked – he looked ravaged, feral. I took him to a cash machine, got some money out for him. Baring his teeth in thanks, he took it from me, then turned, loped away.
I never saw him again.
There are two brief epilogues to this tale. In the summer of 2009, I was involved in a project studying the earliest ‘corantos’, or printed newssheets, circulated in Britain. In one, from May 1621, I found a brief item reporting the deaths of a pair of swindlers:
Then, about four months later, ascending the escalator at Southwark underground station, I found a folded piece of paper in the pocket of my overcoat, put there, I suppose, by someone under the cover of the press of the crowd on the tube. On it was scrawled some bizarre verse: