ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 18

 

Artemis had learned, during the course of her brief life, that there were events over which one had no control, and therefore railing against fate was never a useful option.  A good example was the miserable weather at the Siege of Burgos; just as Wellington was ready to spring the trap, they were forced to wait three days until the mud subsided—otherwise, the cannons would be mired—and with the additional time to prepare, the enemy had held, and lived to fight another day. A stoic acceptance of fate was needful in such a situation, even though one was inclined to swear and drum one’s heels. She took a deep breath and with a conscious effort, unclenched her hands.

She was seated in the subdued atmosphere of the drawing room at Stanhope House, awaiting the Bow Street Investigator’s questions.  It was her wedding day, and after having been awakened by Hooks, she’d silently prepared for her trip to St. George’s in the pre-dawn darkness. In the act of creeping down the stairs, however, she’d been surprised to hear visitors at the door, and Hook’s voice, uncharacteristically alarmed.  Lord Stanhope was dead—murdered; his body had been discovered in the Seven Dials District, notorious for brothels.

Lady Stanhope had held together well, rigidly insisting she had no idea why her husband would be visiting such a notorious neighborhood and disclaiming emphatically that he had any enemies.

“We are not certain it is a random crime, my lady,” the Investigator had said. “After all, your brother in Sheffield has disappeared, and from what we have learned, your husband was an investor in his mining operations.”

“I cannot imagine there is the slightest connection,” the woman had insisted, her lips pale.

The rest of the household had been asked to wait in the drawing room to be questioned, with Artemis trying to decide how much she could withhold in good faith.  Fortunately, she was not to be put to the test, because Droughm came in through the door, and at Hooks’ gesture, strode toward her.  He wore a formal morning coat for the wedding—very handsome and correct, and she felt an uncharacteristic prickling of tears behind her eyes, as he drew a chair close to hers.  Taking her hand, he said, “I am sorry,” and she knew he did not refer to her Uncle Stanhope. “Hooks sent word.”

“What do you know of this?” It had occurred to her that her uncle’s death had scotched the guardianship proceedings and all wedding plans with one ferocious blow—she could be forgiven for feeling very uneasy about this latest turn of events.

“Very little, as yet. You will stay indoors today—remember, my guard is stationed at the back—and we will reschedule our wedding for tomorrow morning.”

Artemis stared at him, the inclination for tears gone as quickly as it had come. “We will?” She felt an inappropriate sense of relief, given the circumstances.   “Oh, Pen; won’t everyone think it very strange?”

“Everyone will assume you are pregnant,” he answered in his abrupt way. “We won’t care—we’ll be in Sheffield.”

“Oh—oh, I see,” she stammered, hiding her alarm. “I didn’t know we planned to go there for our wedding trip.”

“It is important that we proceed to Sheffield with all speed. As your husband, I will have standing to assert control of the mines, pending your uncle’s reappearance.” He bent his head to look into her face, his expression softening. “Once the situation at the mines is resolved, then I promise we will take a proper wedding trip—anywhere you’d like.”

“Anywhere other than Sheffield.” She paused, and pressed her lips together. “And mine uncle will not make a reappearance.”

“Did you kill him?” Based on the tenor of the matter-of-fact question, she was given to understand that he’d already guessed the answer.

“Yes—but it was justified, Pen.”

“Filthy bastard,” exclaimed Droughm with low heat. “I wish I’d killed him myself—”

“Oh,” interrupted Artemis. “No; it was nothing like that—the man was over seventy, after all—but it was indeed self-defense, albeit for another reason; I tried to tell you at the Museum, but you were hungry—”

He drew his dark brows together, at sea. “Something about Vikings?”

“More Macbeth than Vikings. It’s—it’s rather a long story.”

“Then save it for the trip to Sheffield. I’m afraid I must leave you, but you will be safe in the house—there are those who watch. Do not leave for any reason; I will have your promise.”

“Yes, sir,” she teased, feeling considerably better than she had ten minutes earlier. 

“Miss Merryfield?” The Investigator approached; he was a tall, lean man, with shrewd grey eyes that gave away no reaction as he observed her huddling with an Earl of the realm. 

“I am Miss Merryfield,” acknowledged Artemis. And then, since Droughm offered no greeting, she added, “And this is Lord Droughm, come to pay his respects.”

The grey-eyed man bowed. “My lord.” 

Something in the action—a barely discernable irony—told Artemis that the two were already acquainted, and she eyed the newcomer in a speculative fashion, as she could think of no reason why a Bow Street Investigator would be on ironic terms with the aforesaid Earl.

The Investigator continued in a respectful manner, “I believe you were just leaving, my lord; pray do not allow me to detain you.”

But Droughm was not to be ousted, and placed a hand on the back of Artemis’ chair. “Miss Merryfield has been the recipient of upsetting news, and I would ask that she be treated very gently.”

“I shall treat Miss Merryfield with the utmost respect, I assure you.” This said with another ironic bow.

“See to it,” said Droughm as he took his hat from Hooks. “Else I will speak to your superiors.”

Artemis lowered her gaze, alive to the undercurrents in their conversation.  If it was possible, the day became even worse than it already was. Hell and damnation, she swore to herself, but I am in a fix.

Taking Droughm’s seat, the grey-eyed man began, “I confess I have prior knowledge of you, Miss Merryfield—although we have never met. I was at Bussaco, and remember that you rode the post when the Field Marshal’s messenger was struck down.”

Artemis recalled it well. “It was no hardship, sir; I stayed out of the range of fire, and the Colonel needed every soldier he had on the front. Were you stationed on the flank, with Captain Venables?”

“In a manner of speaking,” was the oblique reply.  “Tell me of your uncle.”

Artemis was very much disinclined to cooperate, and wished Droughm had stayed behind to assist her through this minefield.  In an even tone, she replied, “I have no uncles, but instead two great-uncles.  To which one do you refer?”

The Inspector corrected, “You mean that you had two great-uncles.”

“That is true,” Artemis acknowledged. “Although it is not yet known if mine Uncle Thaddeus is dead.”

The other regarded her for a long, silent moment, and Artemis had the impression he was hoping she would starting speaking out of sheer nervousness. He would be disappointed; she waited in silence.

“How did Lord Stanhope seem, when last you saw him?”

She thought about her interrogation in the drawing room, when the man had needed the aid of a strong dose of alcohol to hear of Artemis’ visit to the Museum. “He was very unhappy with me; I was consorting with Lord Droughm, and there was a fear I would marry my silver mines away from the family.”

“Do you intend to marry Lord Droughm?” the other asked abruptly.

“That is none of your business,” she answered evenly.

“Do not trifle with me,” he warned.

“No, sir.”

In the ensuing silence, he bent his head, thinking, and took a different tack.  “Are you aware your uncle’s silver was being mined for the Treasury?”

“Yes,” she answered readily.  “The George the Third shilling—mine uncle was very proud of his contribution to his country.”

The grey eyes watched her. “Sheffield is perhaps more famous for its tin mining, than its silver mining.”

Artemis regarded him calmly. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t know.”

“Yes—I forgot,” he agreed, leaning back. “You were only in Sheffield for a brief time.”

Again, she had the feeling he was waiting for her to start speaking to fill the silence, but she declined, and sat quietly.

“Did Colonel Merryfield speak of Lord Stanhope?”

Artemis thought about it. “I don’t recall—he spoke of Uncle Thaddeus on rare occasions, but I don’t remember hearing him ever speaking of the Stanhopes.”

“Do you think there was a falling-out?”

She shook her head. “I honestly don’t know.”

The Investigator shrugged his shoulders. “Well—as you were adopted rather late, you may not be familiar with the Colonel’s family history.”

Artemis had already determined that she should not shield the truth about her parentage, because to do so might contribute to the theory that she was a murderess, hoping to inherit some silver mines.  “I am not certain that I was ever adopted by the Colonel,” she confessed in a steady voice.

The grey-eyed man lifted his brows in surprise. “On the contrary, the Colonel’s military records indicate you were formally adopted in ought-nine.  He never mentioned it?”

Artemis dropped her gaze to study her hands, clasped in her lap. “No—he was rather lackadaisical about such things.” With stoic patience, she waited for whatever blow was to fall next; it could not be more evident that this man had been consulting with Droughm behind the scenes.

“Colonel Merryfield also met with an untimely end.  If I were a suspicious man, I would wonder that you seem to leave a trail of dead men, in your wake.”

“Yes, sir; it is alarming, indeed.”  There was another pause, and she met his gaze with her own steady one, bracing herself for the next, inevitable question. 

“Tell me about the Colonel’s death—had he any enemies? Any weaknesses that may have been exploited?” The grey eyes were sharp upon hers.

Lifting her gaze, she focused on the curtains, which had been drawn over the front window, so that only a small sliver of daylight filtered through. “He was a wonderful man; a bit reckless, but I think men in his position did not survive, absent a reckless streak—he had to trust his instincts without hesitation. He had a quick wit, and a generous heart—his men loved him, and would have died for him, as would I. There will never be another like him.” To her horror, the prickling of tears returned, and she opened her eyes wide, so as not to cry.

He watched her for a moment, and even though she hadn’t answered his question, he did not pursue it. Unexpectedly, he leaned forward, and briefly closed his hand over hers in her lap.  “To better days,” he offered.

“To better days,” she agreed, nearly undone by the show of sympathy.