A Death in Sheffield
Hooks was on the watch for Artemis’s return, and quietly let her back into the house. She’d already decided she’d say nothing of the outing unless she was asked, as she was certain Hooks would not betray her. She tried not to dwell on what sort of explanation she could possibly offer, and decided she’d face that test only if the need arose.
After undressing with the aid of a conspiratorial Katy—who was brimful of suppressed excitement—Artemis crept back into her bed to warm herself, and to dwell with delight upon the details of the morning’s adventure. Despite her intention to mentally reenact the moment when Droughm pulled her from her horse to kiss her, she was almost immediately asleep.
She was gently shaken awake two hours later by the apologetic ʼtweenie. “Wake up, miss; Lady Stanhope is asking for you.”
Rubbing her eyes, Artemis concluded that her unauthorized outing must have been unearthed. “Tell her I’ll be down straightaway, Katy. Is she very angry?”
The girl assured her, “Oh—oh no, miss; I don’t think she knows about your ride this morning. Instead, she wants to speak with you before visiting hour starts because Lord Stanhope returned home this morning.”
This did not bode well—that Lord Stanhope had returned and her presence was immediately requested, since it indicated she’d be subject to yet another round of interrogation about Droughm and Uncle Thaddeus, and not necessarily in that order. I am not good at subterfuge, Artemis thought in annoyance; and I am having trouble keeping track of all the various deceptions I must practice.
In fact, after the promising events of the morning’s ride she was positively longing to confess the remaining Three Terrible Things to Droughm; judging by the look in his eyes he’d not abandon ship, and may even arrange matters so that she was not immediately thrown into prison.
Artemis rose and stepped quickly to the wash basin, the floor cold against her bare feet. On some level, she was aware that her inclination to trust Droughm was not necessarily wise; it was clear that his courtship was serving his own ends—indeed, he’d been very candid about it—and what those ends were was as yet unexplained. A notorious bachelor was now publicly making up to a much younger girl who had unexpectedly inherited silver mines in Sheffield—or at least she was the presumed heiress—and as Artemis allowed the water to run through her hands she admitted that anyone else would be forgiven for thinking the whole situation too smoky by half. But not me, she thought a bit fiercely—I am not so young, nor so unseasoned that I do not recognize love when it stares me in the face.
With Katy’s assistance, she donned her yellow day dress and went below to face the enemy—there wasn’t time to dress her hair, but as Droughm did not intend to call, this did not seem a calamity. Mentally girding her loins for the coming interview, Artemis consoled herself with the sure knowledge that Cook will have cooked-up something delicious and fortifying.
When she entered the drawing room, she saw that her aunt was speaking in an intense undertone to Lord Stanhope, who had poured himself a brandy even though it was yet mid-morning. Her aunt’s husband had the red-veined nose of a man who drank over-much, but as he was married to her aunt there was small blame to him.
Upon sighting Artemis in the doorway, they broke off their discussion in a manner that made it very clear she had been its object, and settled into an ominous silence as she approached.
“Welcome back, Uncle.” Artemis curtseyed, and decided to confront matters with direct action. “My cousin Torville tells me you sought word of Uncle Thaddeus—were you able to discover his fate?”
“Unfortunately not,” her uncle replied, eying her sourly. “I have no news—other than the unhappy tidings that on top of everything else, there’s been a major cave-in at the mines, and so all operations have necessarily halted.”
Artemis carefully let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “That is a shame—it all seems such a mystery.”
Her Uncle Stanhope viewed the contents of his glass, unable to contain his bitterness. “A pox on the old fool for thinking he would live forever—no one has any knowledge of a will, and I searched the place top to bottom looking for a safe where he might hide his valuables—but nothing.” He looked to Artemis with little hope. “Are you aware of any hidey-hole he would have used to secret valuables, Artemis?”
“No, Uncle.” Fortunately, he did not ask where Artemis would choose to secret any valuables—not that she would have told him, of course.
He looked with some significance at his wife, and added, “Apparently, I was not the only one to have conducted such a search.”
Lady Stanhope looked away without comment, and Artemis decided that Lord Stanhope was somewhat cowed, despite his show of bravado. After all, this was not a surprise; Lady Stanhope was very much like the Lady Macbeth character from Uncle Thaddeus’ favorite play—strong and unswerving in her ambitions—and therefore her husband necessarily had to be someone who was easily cowed, or they would have killed each other by now.
Not to mention, of course, that Lady Stanhope did not seem at all moved by the fact her only brother was missing and presumed dead; instead she was up to her elbows in schemes to maintain control of the silver mines. Perhaps I did not miss out on much, never having had a family, Artemis decided. They all seem mightily inclined to dislike one another.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her uncle’s next comment. “Lady Stanhope tells me that Lord Droughm has been particular in his attentions, Artemis.”
Tired of equivocating, Artemis simply replied, “Yes, Uncle.” She did not add that his attentions this morning had been very particular, indeed.
Her uncle’s brows drew together in consternation at this bald admission, whilst Lady Stanhope remarked in an exasperated tone, “I told you—it is the talk of the town.”
But the gentleman turned aside with an impatient gesture. “He cannot think to marry her—he provokes us, nothing more.” In contradiction of this expressed confidence, he took another healthy swallow of the brandy.
“He is provoking, indeed,” Artemis’s aunt agreed, a bitter edge to her voice. “He called here—bold as brass—and practically taunted me.”
After thinking this over, her spouse mused aloud, “Perhaps we should go abroad, and take the chit with us until it is resolved.” He spoke as though Artemis was not present, which she found rather disconcerting.
But the lady rallied him, “No—we cannot jeopardize the guardianship proceedings by making such a move. Everyone would think it very strange if we did not encourage Droughm’s suit, and I imagine that is his intent; to goad us into doing something to alarm the Court. Instead, we must try to rush the guardianship proceedings, behind the scenes. Very shortly we will have the whip hand, and do not forget that he must protect Wentworth, at all costs. Droughm is stymied—we have only to hold firm.”
She repeated this last with careful emphasis, as it seemed clear that her better half was in his cups.
Lowering her gaze, Artemis hid her alarm at the tenor of the discussion, but was spared having to participate further when Hooks came into the room to announce the arrival of visitors. “The Honorable Ambassador Valdez and Miss Valdez,” he intoned.
Now, here’s a surprise, thought Artemis into the sudden silence that ensued. After a quick glance was exchanged, Lord Stanhope straightened his cravat and advised Hooks to see them in, as Artemis dutifully took up her position next to her aunt.
The visitors were ushered in, and the other girl greeted Artemis with her vivacious smile, settling in beside her even though there wasn’t really enough room on the settee. “Miss Merryfield,” she complained in a teasing tone, “You have not sent me a note so that we may go shopping.”
Before Artemis could respond, her aunt intervened. “My niece has had little free time, I’m afraid—Lord Droughm has been assiduous in his attentions.”
There was a few moments ominous silence. Ah—the answer to my question, thought Artemis, watching her aunt stare down the Portuguese girl. They are more afraid of Droughm, if mine aunt is willing to invoke him as a warning against the Portuguese contingent. I wonder why that is?
The Ambassador drew his brows together and glanced uneasily at his daughter. “Droughm is courting the girl—you are certain?”
“Yes, Papa,” said his daughter in a perfunctory manner that indicated to Artemis he was not her Papa at all. “Miss Merryfield is working to steal the title away from my poor Wentworth—she will undoubtedly have many fine sons.”
Unwilling to be drawn, Artemis only smiled as though at a jest, whilst Lord Stanhope cautioned hastily, “Now, now; it is early days yet—let’s not fill the girl’s head with foolishness.”
Hoping to forestall yet another round of questioning about what-Droughm-said-to-her, Artemis asked in a friendly manner, “How go your own wedding preparations, Miss Valdez? Or is it a sore subject?”
The other drew her mouth into a thin line. “Ah, we’ve had a terrible tragedy; a gift has been misplaced. It is a very valuable gift, and irreplaceable.”
The others in the room sat frozen in dismayed silence. Message received, thought Artemis, who then asked artlessly, “Could you place an advertisement in the newspaper, perhaps? It may have been sent to the wrong recipient.”
Her charming smile back in place, the young woman laid a hand on Artemis’ arm. “That is a very good idea, and I thank you for it.”
“Lady Tallyer,” announced Hooks from the doorway.