ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 15

 

Artemis stood inside the entry doors of the British Museum, and looked around her with a great deal of interest.  The marbled floors echoed with the footsteps of many visitors, but the atmosphere was nevertheless hushed, and serious with the weight of history.  She had to suppress an inclination to step out into the crowd and wander about—it felt so liberating, not to be constrained by watchful chaperones. She was alone, as Katy had left her at the door on the understanding that Artemis was to have an unauthorized meeting with Droughm, and that the girl was to be tortured rather than confess to Artemis’ misdeeds.

It was still a bit early for her rendezvous with Miss Valdez, and so whilst she waited, Artemis considered what she knew—and didn’t yet know—about the present situation. That Droughm was setting up some sort of trap seemed evident; presumably, he sought to extricate his heir from whatever leverage the others had over him. I wonder whether Wentworth’s scandal trumps mine, she thought. I doubt it—and it only means that I must make my confession soon, and hope that Droughm can resolve all problems.

Idly, she ran a finger along the handrail and tried to avoid thinking of a notion that had crossed her mind; that his involvement in these matters was not just personal—because of Wentworth—but in some sort of official capacity.  Her hand paused. After all, he seemed to be privy to information which—one would think—would be closely guarded; Napoleon’s plans, for instance, and the Colonel’s marital status.  And he’d come from Algiers without mentioning what it was he did there; with the situation being what it was in that area of the world, it seemed unlikely that it had been a pleasure trip. And he knew that Miss Valdez was a spy—although how she was involved in the Stanhopes’ counterfeiting plot remained unclear.  If Droughm was engaged in diplomacy on behalf of the Home Office, why wouldn’t he openly admit it?

With a troubled brow, she stared unseeing toward the Great Exhibition Hall, shying away from her uneasy conclusion. He couldn’t be a spy, for heaven’s sake; he was an Earl—a belted Earl, whatever that meant.  Artemis had a soldier’s natural aversion to spies—not to mention such a role would create a major conflict of interest with respect to her own troubles.  She’d been hoping that he’d be willing to help her outfox the authorities, but if he was the authorities, then it might be foolish to trust him, no matter the depth of his affection for her.    

“Miss Merryfield—here I am.”

Breaking away from her unhappy reverie, Artemis turned to greet Miss Valdez, who was dressed in a dashing bronze gown that was slashed at the sleeves and trimmed with gold braiding.   I should attempt a bit more dash, myself, if I’m to be a Countess, she realized. Up until now, her clothing had always been practical linsey-woolsey, and usually smelt of cannon smoke.  Smiling, she said, “Bom-dia.” 

Miss Valdez laughed her pretty, trilling laugh. “You speak Portuguese,” she exclaimed in that language.

“Only a little,” Artemis demurred. “Mainly curse words.”

With another chuckle, the other girl wound her arm around Artemis’. “I am so happy to see you again; you are very amusing, and it is a good thing for me to be amused, in my troubles. Come—let us go.”

Artemis willingly fell into step beside her. “Have you found your missing gift?”

“I have not,” the girl admitted. “It is of all things annoying. What shall we see?”

  Artemis allowed the other girl to take the initiative, mainly because she was not certain what it was that Droughm had planned. “It truly doesn’t matter to me; I am happy just to be out of the house.  You must choose.”

“This way, then.” Their arms firmly linked, Miss Valdez led Artemis in the direction of the Parthenon display, with its massive marble ruins rising nearly to the ceiling. With a sly glance, Miss Valdez offered, “Lady Tallyer is jealous of you, I think.”

“Surely not,” Artemis protested. “She has no need to be jealous of anyone.”

But the other girl shook her head, making her dusky curls dance. “No—I think it is true.  Should she be? Tell me of Lord Droughm—what does he say to you?”

Artemis teased, “I am afraid to speak of him to you; he features as the ogre in your own romance, after all.”

The girl frowned in confusion.  “Quel est ‘ogre’?”

“A monster,” Artemis explained. “Like the ones in the fairy tales.”

Nodding in agreement, her companion exclaimed, “Yes; Droughm is the ogre. I must convince you to flee from this ogre—he is not at all what he seems.”

“Is he not?” Artemis asked in a mild tone.  “Then again, it seems that no one is.”  She’d noted with interest that when the Portuguese girl had asked about the unfamiliar English word, she’d accidentally lapsed—only for a moment—into French. “How does your father feel about your engagement?  Is he another ogre, or does he approve of Wentworth?”

“He approves—very much so,” the girl confirmed happily. “Although I think he wishes I would marry a Portgueso.”  With a knowing look, she added, “But the fathers, they do not object if the family is rich.”

With a small smile, Artemis acknowledged this universal truth. “He hopes his son-in-law will pay for his horses, I imagine.  Your father is famous for his Lipizzaners, and they are expensive to maintain.”

The girl tossed her head, laughing. “Yes, indeed—they are his pride.  Why, I believe he loves them more than he loves me.”

Artemis added, “Even the enemy knew of them; they spared the town of Guarda, so as to avoid injuring his horses.”

“Yes, yes—even when they are at war, the men can always agree about the horses.”

So—not the daughter of the Ambassador, and not Portuguese, deduced Artemis; there are no such Lipizzaners, and the people of Guarda were all massacred. Evidently, she is a French spy—and presumably Droughm already knows this, if we are setting up a trap, between us.

The other girl announced, “You like ices, yes? There is a place for them in the street behind—we must go there.”  Playfully pulling on Artemis’ arm, she steered her toward the rear entrance to the Museum.

 “I believe they also sell ices at the café, here,” Artemis stalled, uncertain what she was supposed to do—trust Droughm not to have briefed her ahead of time.

Miss Valdez drew her mouth into a pretty moue. “But if we go there, then you can come with me to the milliner’s that is just around the corner—I must decide on my wedding hat, and I would hear your opinion.”  The vivacious Miss Valdez swept forward, firmly clasping Artemis’ arm. “Come, it will be very much enjoyable.”

Artemis took a quick survey of the area, and then decided that she should fall in with the other girl’s plans until events indicated otherwise—at least she’d not be caught unaware, if there was indeed to be another abduction attempt.

As they approached the back entrance, suddenly a man’s voice could be heard, hailing them from a small distance. “Lisabetta—my darling.”

Although Miss Valdez paused to smile with delight, Artemis could sense the girl’s chagrin, and looked with interest at the young man who approached them.   

“Wentworth.” Miss Valdez held out her hands to him. “Querido—what a pleasant surprise.”

No discernable resemblance to Droughm, Artemis decided. Wentworth was slim and rather reedy, in his early twenties and not at all what one would consider a match for this vivacious and exotic young woman.  

“This is Miss Merryfield; you must shake her hand, but then we have an appointment to keep, and we cannot be late. Will you come to visit me later, querido?”

“Instead, allow me to escort you, my dear; and Miss Merryfield too.” Wentworth turned to address Artemis with a small bow. “I have heard a great deal about you, Miss Merryfield.”  

  “Fah; you must not encourage her,” the other girl cautioned with a brittle laugh. “She seeks to cut you out of your inheritance. Now, you must go away—we go to choose my wedding dress, and it is bad luck for you to see it before the wedding.”

“Hat,” corrected Artemis. “We go to choose your wedding hat.”

“Either one,” replied the other girl crossly.   “You cannot see either one, Wentworth.”

They’d come to a stand-still in the narrow hallway that led to the back entrance, and Artemis offered, “Perhaps we can postpone our visit to the milliner’s, and instead Lord Wentworth can join us on a tour of the Museum.”

But this was apparently not the correct tack to take, as Wentworth insisted, “No—no; if Lisabetta has such an important appointment, I must not divert her.  Instead, I will provide an escort, and wait outside the shop—I won’t peek, I promise.” With a slightly nervous smile, he moved forward toward the door, so as to open it for them.

Ah—there is indeed a plan afoot, and I imagine I should move away from her, thought Artemis, as she casually began extricating her arm from the other’s grip.     

But with a swift movement, Lisabetta turned upon Artemis, her face inches away as she pressed a thin dagger against Artemis’ breast.   “You will come with me,” whispered the woman in Portuguese. “I do not wish to hurt you, but I will.”

“Understood,” said Artemis with alacrity.  “I am at your command.”

The other girl then turned, her arm tight around Artemis as she pressed the tip of the dagger between Artemis’ ribs.  “No, no; I must insist that you stay behind, querido—I am losing the patience.”

“Lisabetta—darling, please don’t be angry.” Wentworth spoke a bit too loudly, and he cast a quick, nervous glance over his shoulder.

Reinforcements were on the way, then.  Whilst Miss Valdez propelled her out the door, Artemis chose her moment, and then quickly jerked her arm upward under Lisabetta’s, forcing the dagger to lift. With her other arm, she smashed her elbow into the woman’s throat, and then turned to quickly seize with both hands the wrist that held the dagger, bending it ruthlessly backwards. With a choking sound, her captor collapsed to her knees as the dagger clattered to the tiled floor.

Wentworth rushed in to help Lisabetta as though she’d merely fallen, and another man materialized to offer his assistance also, grasping the girl firmly from the other side.  

Artemis was thus not surprised when Droughm strode forward, a worried frown on his brow.  “You are unhurt?”

“I am.” Artemis watched as the other two maneuvered Miss Valdez out the door whilst she continued to rasp and struggle for breath. In the event he was unaware, Artemis warned Droughm, “I believe she has reinforcements, waiting outside.”

“No longer; it is I who have reinforcements, instead.”  

Artemis smiled, enjoying the irony. “The abductor is herself abducted.”

“Not exactly,” he demurred. “Instead, they are eloping, despite parental opposition. No one is quite certain where they went.”

Pen,” she breathed, unable to contain her admiration. “That is diabolical.”

He offered his arm to her. “If you are willing, I’ve a mind to take a tour of the Museum.”

She took it without hesitation.  “I am indeed willing. Is there to be any more hand-to-hand combat?”

“Nothing that you cannot handle,” he assured her.