ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 16

 

As though nothing untoward had occurred, Droughm steered Artemis back into the Main Exhibition Hall.  “The boy’s a fool—he was expressly instructed not to allow her to use you as a hostage.”

“It truly wasn’t his fault—she had a grip on me from the moment I entered the building.”

Looking down at her, he was silent for a moment, and then said abruptly, “God, how I’ve missed you.”

Gratified by this observation, she nevertheless noted, “It’s only been two days, Pen.”

“Too long.  I’ve not the patience to be a suitor—no wonder I’ve never made the attempt before.”

“Well, it would be hard to find a less-likely suitor than Wentworth,” Artemis observed. “How did he get tangled up with someone like Miss Valdez? Is the betrothal a ploy, of some sort?”

“No—the betrothal is genuine. She told him she was pregnant.”

This was plain-speaking—even for Droughm—and a bit taken aback, Artemis considered this news for a moment. “I doubt it.”

“As do I; but the mere fact that it could be true is a problem in and of itself.”

They stopped to admire the ancient Greek frescoes, but Artemis could cast only a cursory eye over the exhibit, thinking of the hapless Wentworth, who clearly did not have half the mettle Droughm did—Droughm would never allow himself to be caught in such a way. “She is so obviously a temptress; was he so foolish that he couldn’t see it?”

“Unfortunately, yes.  I was out of the country, and the boy is far too naïve.  But in his defense, very little tempting is necessary for most men.”

This was inarguably true, as Artemis had seen firsthand—time and again—amongst the troops.   Perplexed, she observed, “It seems the height of foolishness, to be constantly subject to such a weakness.”

“As my opinion would no doubt shock you, I shall withhold it.”

She laughed, as he’d intended, and then belatedly realized that she probably shouldn’t be discussing this particular topic with him—not when she was positively longing to go someplace private so that he could have his way with her. Firmly changing the topic, she offered, “Miss Valdez is not Portuguese; instead, I believe she is French.”

“Yes. Or more correctly, she is from Martinique.”  He frowned slightly, as he bent to review a placard next to the carvings.

As it was a delicate subject, Artemis decided to plunge in. “There is a history between you, I think; was she another mistress?”

There was a pause, whilst she could see that he debated what to reveal. I believe we are wandering into the subject of his mysterious work, she thought, and I am of two minds as to whether I truly wish to know the truth.  “Not a mistress,” he finally said. “More along the lines of a brief liaison.”

“Ah—then her seduction of Wentworth held a measure of revenge, too.”

He made no response, and she squeezed his arm. “Should I not speak of it? I have lived my life amongst men, remember, so you must forgive me if I am too outspoken.”

But his reaction was unexpected, as he turned to hold her gaze with his own, the expression in the green eyes intent. “I will confess that there have been more than a few women, Artemis—but no more, my promise on it.  I would never dishonor you in such a way.”

“I appreciate it,” she replied with mock-gravity. “Being as I don’t think I could temper my actions, and I am considered quite a good shot.”

But instead of responding to her teasing, he ducked his head for a moment, gathering himself. “I love you,” he offered in a gruff voice. “I should have said, before I mauled you about.”

He was not well-suited for soft words, and she touched his arm gently. “I know it—I do not need constant reassurances, or poetry dedicated to my eyes.”

Her eyes the brightest stars the heavens hold,” he recited, looking a bit self-conscious at having been caught thinking of such things.

“Oh; oh—Pen,” she breathed, nearly undone.  “Do you suppose we could go visit your residence?” She was in a fever to reward his poetry-reciting, so that he would be encouraged to persevere.

“No,” he replied bluntly, and began moving her along the display again. “I am not going to dishonor you—remember?”

“I was right; you are a Dutch Aunt,” she teased. “For two pins, I’d elope with Wentworth, myself—he’s not one to operate under any such restrictions.”

He lifted a corner of his mouth, amused. “You mustn’t, though; if Wentworth ended up with control of the mines, we’d be right back where we started.”

This was of interest, and as he seemed willing to speak of it, she asked, “Why did Miss Valdez entrap Wentworth—what was her aim?”

He gave her a glance. “It is complicated.”

But Artemis decided to press—after all, she was now a player in this little drama, and there was a dagger-hole in the bodice of her ivory day dress, to prove it. “Give me a quick debriefing, then; I have it on good authority that I am too shrewd by half.”

He thought about it for a moment. “I’d rather not; not just yet.” With an apologetic gesture, he covered the hand tucked in his elbow, briefly.

The mysterious scandal, she thought. The reason the Stanhopes feel emboldened to hold their course despite their fear of him—although now Droughm has arranged for Miss Valdez’s abduction so as to spike their guns, in some undisclosed way. Why would any of it matter to the counterfeiting plot, though? It must indeed be complicated.

They exited the Greek exhibit and he paused, looking over the murmuring crowds. “Where shall we go next?

“I know there is a famous Egyptian Exhibition, upstairs.” Artemis nodded toward the staircase. “The Colonel was very interested in the Egyptian discoveries.”

“Then by all means.”

At a sedate pace, they proceeded up the stairs to the second floor, fielding covert glances from several curious women who passed them by.  It seemed apparent that Droughm’s aim was to openly court her in yet another public place, absent a chaperone and with her hand resting in the crook of his arm—therefore making it difficult for the Stanhopes to claim they had her best interests in mind when seeking to marry her off to Torville.  More guns spiked, she thought; a very clever man—hopefully he’ll not spike my guns just as easily.

  They walked along the mezzanine level, Droughm deigning to nod to an occasional acquaintance, although no one dared halt his progress. Artemis decided it was very pleasant to spend this time with him—even though there was every chance she would suffer for it, later—and resolved not to dwell any more on those matters that he would rather not speak about.  In the end, I do trust him, she decided, although I need to make my confession, at some point. Only not just yet—not when we are having such a fine outing, and I am not yet certain whether he is truly some sort of spy

Searching for an innocuous topic, she asked, “How is Wentworth your heir, if I may ask—what is the relationship?”

He smiled slightly as he gazed though his quizzing glass to review a placard. “He is my great-nephew.”

She laughed aloud. “As amusing as that is, Pen, even you are not that aged. How did this come about?”

He straightened up, and they moved along to the sarcophagus display. “My father had two families; with his first wife he had a daughter—my half-sister Maria. With his second wife he had me. Wentworth is Maria’s grandson.”

Artemis nodded, making a mental note that his father must have married a much younger woman the second time—there was a precedent, then.

Pausing to admire a golden sarcophagus, Droughm studied the placard that described the artifact, lifting his quizzing glass and frowning slightly.

Artemis smiled. “I think that spectacles may be needful.”

“No,” he said shortly, as he straightened up. “They are not.”

Laughing softly, she shook her head. “You are very vain, I think. Do you use spectacles when you are at home?”

“For the reading of very fine print,” he admitted. “But nothing more—I can see perfectly well from a distance.”

She readily confessed, “Then we are well-matched; I cannot see as well at a distance as I can up-close.”

“Is that so?” Intrigued, he looked around the room and then indicated a placard that was suspended from the ceiling, across the room. “Can you read that sign?”

She pressed her lips together for a moment, but there was nothing for it. “I’ve another dreaded confession, I’m afraid.  I have never learned to read.”

He turned to stare at her.

“I can write my initials,” she assured him, coloring up with embarrassment under his scrutiny.

His expression very serious, he said slowly, “It is nothing short of extraordinary, that you have become who you are.”

Her brow knit, she considered this observation for a moment. “I think I have always been who I am.”

He turned abruptly and steered her to a less crowded alcove, between two glass display cases. “Thank God for it.  I must marry you, Artemis, and take you to bed for at least a week.  I will arrange for a private ceremony at St. George’s.”

While gratifying, this course seemed a bit rash, considering the dire but unknown situation whereby all participants seemed to be holding each other in check. “Despite having no guardian’s consent?”

But he was adamant, and hardened his jaw. “The devil with a guardian’s consent—I will present a special license, and no one would dare challenge it.”

“As you wish,” she agreed. “If I’d known my failings would make you so—so avid, I would have told you days and days ago.”

With a bark of laughter, he took her hands in his. “It is not illiteracy that makes me avid, Artemis. And if you’d rather not learn to read, you needn’t—it doesn’t matter a whit to me.”

After hesitating for a moment, she confessed, “I would rather like to learn, so as to read Shakespeare—if it is not so very difficult.”

His expression softened. “Then I will teach you—in between those times when we are abed.” 

“Slow going, then.”

But he was too busy making plans to respond to her jest.  “We will go for an early morning wedding, tomorrow. Until then, you must give no indication to anyone that such is the plan—I will enlist Hooks.”

For a moment, she toyed with the idea of pointing out that she hadn’t actually agreed to marry him, but decided she shouldn’t tease him—not so close upon his labored declaration of love; one step at a time, with this man. 

As they paused before another display, he glanced around them, then removed the signet ring he wore on his little finger, to slide it on her ring finger, and gauge the size. “A bit too large,” he noted, and then replaced it on his own.  

“Yes,” she agreed, and could not suppress a smile. I believe, she thought cautiously, that everything is actually going to work out—once I get the remaining Two Terrible Things out of the way, that is; I can’t very well marry him before I tell him the truth.

To this end, she waited until they were near the Roman antiquities display to broach the next subject. “Have you ever been to Sheffield, Pen?”

“No,” he replied. “Are you hungry? I’m rather hungry.”

“Well,” she persevered, “There were Vikings in Sheffield.”

“Did you meet any?” He was in a light-hearted mood, she could see—having vanquished Miss Valdez and determined on marriage in one fell afternoon.

“No—it was a long time ago.  There was a big battle near the hills, where the mines are located. They know that it happened because the Vikings left their weapons lying about.”

He regarded the ancient Roman coins on display through his quizzing glass. “Did they? Seems rather careless of them.”

“That is exactly what I thought,” Artemis agreed, distracted from her theme. “And yet everyone seems to think they were so formidable.”

“They lost to the English,” pronounced Droughm, as though this disposed of the subject.

“Yes—yes, they lost at the big battle that I spoke of,” Artemis persisted.  “The Vikings were aligned with the Scots, and apparently Macbeth—from the play, you know—Macbeth was based on a real person, who took his title from a vanquished Viking.”

With every indication that he wasn’t much interested, Droughm straightened up to face her. “Is there any chance we could discuss the Vikings over luncheon, Artemis?”

Seizing on this excuse, she willingly abandoned the topic for a later time, and took his proffered arm. “Lay on.”