ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 17

 

Artemis had been called in for a dressing-down, and was fending off the questions as best she could, taking a penitent’s pose with her head bent in shame.  Her aunt was alarmingly agitated, her back rigid and her hands clasped before her as she paced back and forth. “You were instructed—directly!—not to consort with Miss Valdez.”

“I am truly sorry, ma’am; she was going to show me her wedding ensemble, and I could not resist—I should not have disobeyed you.”

“And then she left the Museum with Wentworth—not to return?” Lady Stanhope cast a significant glance at Lord Stanhope, who stood silently by, trying to control his own agitation by making heavy inroads into the brandy decanter.

“Yes, ma’am.  As it turned out, he and Lord Droughm were also visiting the Museum.”  To her dismay, the Stanhopes appeared remarkably well-informed as to the events of the day—although to be fair, any number of persons had observed them, and could have made a report to her. Without the benefit of a briefing, Artemis decided she would hew as close to the truth as possible and accept her lumps; after all, in another day it would no longer matter—not to mention she would then outrank Lady Stanhope.

“Where did they go?” Her aunt paused before her, willing Artemis to give an acceptable answer.

“I do not know, ma’am.”  She decided to add, for flavor, “They seemed very fond.”

Making a strangled sound, her aunt continued her pacing. “And I understand that Droughm was himself very fond—that there was no mistaking his intentions.”

“Lord Droughm was very kind,” Artemis agreed. To throw dust in her interrogator’s eyes, she said it in the tone of a child who had been indulged, but her aunt’s source of intelligence was too thorough.

“I am told there were clear indications that marriage was discussed.”

Alarmed, Artemis could only surmise that someone had seen the exchange of Droughm’s signet ring.  “I received no proposal of marriage,” she said in all honesty.

Pausing for a moment in her relentless pacing, the woman said over her shoulder to Lord Stanhope, “What is happening at the Court? Why on earth does it move so slowly?”

He shrugged, and swirled the brandy in his glass. “Our judge was attacked by brigands, and so the matter has been transferred to another judge, who I hope is more amenable.  The matter should be concluded shortly.”

Letting out a breath, the lady allowed her gaze to rest on her wayward niece. “I am most displeased, Artemis. You will remain in your room until further notice.”

“Yes, ma’am; I am truly sorry, ma’am.” Artemis ascended the stairs, very much looking forward to her escape from this wretched place on the morrow. Unfortunately, it appeared she was destined to be married in her hideous yellow dress, but there was nothing for it. 

After Artemis retreated up to her room, Katy appeared almost immediately, her eyes wide as she softly shut the door behind her. “Are you all right, miss? Her ladyship is that unhappy with you.”

“Small blame to her,” Artemis observed fairly. “I disobeyed a direct order.”

“Cook says she’ll smuggle up some food; she says ye’ll—you’ll need your strength, in all your troubles.”

“Much appreciated, Katy; I do feel as though I’ve gone over rough ground.” She then paused as they heard the front door open and close. “Do you think you could you find out who went where, Katy?”  With all this talk of judge-shifting, it would probably behoove her to keep a weather eye on the comings-and-goings.

“In a trice, miss.” The ʼtweenie slipped out the door.

Artemis had barely removed her shoes and stockings before the doorknob slowly turned and Cook entered on soft feet, carrying a napkin-covered tray.  “Here’s a ruckus,” the woman pronounced sourly as she set it down on the bedside table. “Mayhap they’ll pack ye off home.”

“There’s no place for them to send me,” Artemis pointed out. “Although I suppose I could join Boney on Elba—I hear the weather is very fine, there.” 

After making a sound of disapproval at the tenor of such a jest, the woman removed the napkin, and Artemis settled on the bed’s edge to address the generous portion of sliced lamb with carrots and pudding—Cook knew she was fond of lamb.

“Yer beau is persona non nobody,” Cook pronounced, crossing her arms over her bony chest.  “Ye’d think they’d be congratulatin’ ye, and kissin’ yer hand.”

“They covet my silver mines,” Artemis reminded her, her mouth full.  “I imagine Droughm will not want to share.”

“Will he have ye, then?” The other slid her a speculating glance.

Remembering Droughm’s cautions, Artemis said only, “I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Heh,” said Cook with satisfaction. “It’ll be a nine days’ wonder.”

“I shall steal you away,” Artemis promised.  “I imagine his own cook is a sorry excuse.”

“G’wan wi’ ye,” the other said, very pleased, but pretending to be cross.  “As though the likes o’ me could manage fer an Earl.”

“He will dote on his young bride—and I will insist on your apricot tarts.”

But this was the wrong tack, and Cook shook a bony finger at her. “Ye’d do best to please yer man, and make no unreasonable demands.”

“On the contrary,” Artemis replied in a wicked tone, “I will comply with all his demands—that is exactly why he’ll dote.”

“Missy,” the other breathed, thoroughly shocked. “I’ll hear no more o’ this kind o’ talk.”

But Artemis attacked her pudding, unrepentant. “I thought you told me it was the one thing the men-folk want.”

Cook reconsidered. “That,” she agreed, “and a nice brisket.”

Struggling not to laugh, Artemis said solemnly, “I will keep it to mind, then.”

“My lady is that angry at Torville—but he’ll not come near ye.”

“Torville is craven,” Artemis pronounced in scorn, spearing a carrot with her fork. “A good riddance.”

“I’d not trust any of ʼem as far as I could throw ʼem,” the other warned.

“We are agreed, then.”

Katy returned to close the door softly behind her and report, “His lordship left to go confer with someone about the mines.”

Artemis thought this over. “Do we know who?”

“No, miss. But my lady said to him, ‘You’d best let them know, and come up with some way to prod the Court along.’”

This information, Artemis surmised, was courtesy of Hooks, who had his finger on the pulse of the household.

Self-consciously, the girl added, “My grand-dad asked me to give you this, miss.”  Solemnly, Katy unfolded her handkerchief to expose a silver tuppence, nestled therein. “He said it was my grand-dam’s.”

“Thank you,” said Artemis politely, taking it between her fingers.

Cook exclaimed impatiently, “Ye’ll have to explain it to ʼer, ye gowk—she doesn’t know what it is, bein’ as she’s from heathen parts.”

“Oh—right.” Katy leaned in earnestly. “It’s a lucky tuppence, miss.  You put it in your shoe on your wedding day; it’s a tradition.”

Touched, Artemis closed her hand around the tuppence.  “You must thank your grand-dad, Katy—and I will thank him myself, when I get the chance.”  That chance would come before dawn tomorrow, as she crept out of Stanhope House for the last time, wearing her second-best day dress and with a tuppence in her shoe. It was a shame she couldn’t enlist Katy to dress her hair, but she imagined her bridegroom wouldn’t care, being as how they were heading straight to bed for a week.  

Katy couldn’t suppress a smile. “It would be something like, miss—to have a grand wedding to such a grand lord.”

The only thing Artemis cared about at this point was to be bound to Pen and start her new life; to this end, the quick, private ceremony already planned sounded perfectly adequate. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a grand wedding, Katy; the only weddings I’ve ever been to were field weddings, where the Chaplain would marry the couple because the bridegroom was facing a battle the next day.” She didn’t add that most of the time the bride was pregnant, and the main concern was the soldier’s pension.

“It’s a shame your papa is no longer with us—he’d be that proud.”

“Yes—it is a shame.” Artemis had a sudden memory of the last conversation she’d had with the Colonel, as the rain poured down on their bivouac in San Pablo. He was never one to be afraid, but there was no question he’d exhibited a heightened concern as he helped her ready for her trip, packing her few belongings in the kit.

“I’ll send for you when matters have righted themselves, Artemis.  I’m certain you’ll rub along with my Uncle Thaddeus—he’s a bit odd, don’t let it throw you—and try to learn what you can about the mines; after all, they’re slated to be mine, and I don’t know the first thing about mining.”

“A shame they’re not yours now,” Artemis had pointed out. The Colonel was at low water, due to the fact that—ever since Napoleon’s surrender had been signed—he now had a great deal more idle time to spend in the new gambling kens that had sprung up in the area.  “Perhaps he will give you an advance on your inheritance—shall I put it to the touch?”

  The Colonel had laughed his deep laugh, but Artemis was not fooled, and knew he was troubled. “Not a chance; he’s a miserable old miser.  But feel free to try to sweeten him up—if anyone can do it, you can.”

He had cautioned her about the importance of the minting plates. “Thaddeus is under contract with the Treasury to mint the new silver schilling, and production is already underway.  The minting plates need to be replaced, every now and then, and these will be needed very soon, to make certain the production continues apace.  Give them to Thaddeus and no one else, and don’t let anyone know you have them—we can’t let them fall into the wrong hands.”

Artemis had examined the delicately engraved plates in the candlelight. “Shouldn’t they be making the minting plates in England?”

“The engraver is here, on the Continent; not just anyone can do this kind of work.”

Artemis may have been young, and she may have been eager to finally see the homeland that all the soldiers had fought so hard for, but she nevertheless knew the situation did not bear scrutiny.  She could think of no legitimate reason why the Colonel would be smuggling printing plates to his odd uncle in Sheffield. Therefore, when she was informed that the Colonel had been killed, shortly thereafter, she was almost unsurprised.

Katy’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “It’s like a fairy story, it is—you an orphan, and his lordship coming to take you away from your cruel relations. “When did your mum die, miss?”

Bringing herself back to the present, Artemis replied, “I was ten.”   

Cook made a sympathetic sound with her tongue. “Sech a shame.”

Artemis lifted her head to smile at them. “It truly didn’t seem so—we managed, the Colonel and me; I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Katy offered, “No, indeed—it brought you here to us, and to your beau.”

“I’ve told Cook that I’ll have Droughm steal her away,” Artemis declared as she folded her napkin on the tray. “I’ll need an ally.”

Her eyes dancing, Katy cautioned, “But if you do, miss, who’ll play cribbage with my grand-dad o’ nights?”

“Never ye mind,” advised the older woman in a gruff tone. “ʼTis a means to pass the time, is all.”

“I hear he likes a good brisket,” Artemis offered slyly.