ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 10

 

After Artemis returned from her outing with Torville, she retreated into the kitchen but did not find the quiet sanctuary that she sought; Cook was banging the pots around and evidently in a foul mood. “Ye’re lucky he brought ye back, ye young fool.”

“He behaved himself,” Artemis protested. “And anyway, I wanted an ice.”  And I had reinforcements at the ready, she added silently—otherwise I wouldn’t have gone; I may be young, but I am no fool.

Grumbling, the woman produced a fresh lemon tart only with a show of reluctance.  “I’m ready to wash me hands of ye.”

“I still have my beau,” Artemis pointed out, taking a bite. She truly wasn’t very hungry— not after the ice—but she didn’t want to hurt Cook’s feelings.

But this reminder only instigated another bout of pots-banging. “You won’t have ʼim for long, if Old Crotchets has his way.”

Amused, Artemis protested, “Surely, Hooks approves of Lord Droughm? Never say he thinks I can look higher?”

The older woman sniffed. “Lady Tallyer’s housemaid was here, sweetenin’ ʼim up and askin’ ʼim questions—the old fool.”

Oh-ho, thought Artemis, dropping her gaze to the table; very enterprising—not that any information gained by my lady Tallyer will work to change the coming course of events.  Aloud, she proclaimed, “I’ll not believe it; I cannot imagine that Hooks would betray me for a pretty face.”

Cook had the grace to look a bit abashed.  “I’ll not say he would—only that it doesn’t look right—ʼim bein’ put to the touch by such a hussy.” She snapped the lid on the tea kettle, for emphasis.

“Perhaps he is lonely, and craves feminine attention,” Artemis suggested, watching her companion from beneath her lashes. “In the army, I saw many a man fall into female trouble out of sheer loneliness.”

Frowning, the woman considered this, as she tested a cake with her finger. “I could play cribbage with ʼim a’ nights—I think he plays cribbage.”

“It would be an act of kindness.” Whilst the woman was distracted, Artemis folded the uneaten tart into her napkin, unseen.  “And it would help him resist the temptations offered by all the hussies underfoot, here in London.”

“Men,” Cook sniffed, but Artemis felt she’d successfully planted a small seed, and hoped it would bear fruit—although the thought of either Cook or Hooks being romantically inclined boggled the mind; perhaps it would be a good match for that reason alone.

After excusing herself, Artemis retreated to her chamber to lie on her bed and contemplate the extraordinary events of the day, cautiously allowing full rein to the effervescing happiness within her breast.  She thought about the morning’s ride, and reenacted as much as she could remember in her mind—dwelling in particular on her escort’s brusque and spontaneous confession of tender feelings.  He was smitten, she was smitten, and now it only wanted a path to happiness—although the fact that the path was fraught with peril, spies and treason did make things a bit more complicated.

I need more information, she reminded herself, before I can completely trust him. Absently groping for her tattered rag doll, she tucked it into the crook of her arm.

“Are you awake, miss? We’ll have to ready you for tea, soon.” Katy came through the door, balancing a chipped ewer of hot water. “Small wonder you’re weary—the men folk are all plying you with favors, today.”

“It is a wondrous thing, to be an heiress,” Artemis observed. “I highly recommend it.”

“I think his lordship wouldn’t care if you were barefoot and in your shift,” the ʼtweenie opined with no little satisfaction.  “He’s a grand one.”

“He is indeed.” Artemis smiled at the ceiling as she contemplated Droughm’s imagined reaction if she were to appear before him, barefoot and in her shift.  

With a fond gesture, Katy reached to touch one of the doll’s thread-worn braids. “A good friend, miss.”

Artemis lifted her doll between her hands, and could feel the edges of the minting plates, hidden within the rag-filled body. “A very good friend,” she agreed.