A Death in Sheffield
Hooks put a black ribbon on the door in place of the knocker, and they were not at home to visitors. Artemis spent a desultory day with her own thoughts, which were as subdued as the atmosphere in this house of mourning. Lady Stanhope had retired to her chamber, not to emerge, and since Katy had been sent to deliver mourning announcements, Artemis did not even have the distraction of playing spillikins for imaginary stakes—not that such a pastime would have been at all appropriate.
Idly, she knelt on the settee and parted the curtains a few inches to watch the people pass by on the street. With forlorn hope, she watched for Droughm to come visit again, even though she knew he wouldn’t—he wouldn’t risk raising the alarm that his courtship of her hadn’t, in fact, been thwarted by Lord Stanhope’s sudden death. But—and here was a thought that lifted her spirits—by this time tomorrow—this time, without a doubt—they would be married, and she need never long to see him again. Except, perhaps, for those times when he traveled, to serve the Home Office as a spy.
With a long sigh, she idly admired a grey roan that passed by—a very fine horse, and with all the right points, as the Colonel would say. She’d carefully thought it over, and decided there was nothing for it; she would marry Droughm, even though she was now certain he was allied in some secret way with the Inspector. The same instinct that had told her Miss Valdez was some sort of spy—a French one, apparently—told her the two men operated in the same sphere. The clincher had been the Inspector’s casual confirmation of her mythical adoption, which only verified the suspicion she’d entertained when she’d watched the two men interact.
So—she was now knee-deep in some plot that appeared to involve French spies, the Treasury, the Portuguese and—of all things—tin mining, if she read the man aright, today. Meanwhile, she had secrets of her own which she’d planned to reveal to Droughm before they were married, but this course now appeared foolhardy, if indeed he worked in some capacity for the Crown.
Not to mention there was the added complication that Droughm had his own mysterious scandal brewing—a scandal that tied his hands in some way, or at least the Stanhopes seemed to think so. Of course, Lord Stanhope was now dead, and Wentworth and his French-spy betrothed had been spirited away, so perhaps all counter-checks had now been eliminated.
In any event, it seemed clear there were various forces ferociously working against each other with the object of controlling the mines in Sheffield, and this object was connected somehow to the last war, and the potential war to come. Her supposed adoption by the Colonel was only the latest foray in the behind-the-scenes war over the mines; each side was attempting to stymie the other, and she very much feared that things would look a bit bleak for her, once they discovered her own role in these events.
Leaning against the back of the settee, she rested her chin on her hands so as to watch the lucky passers-by, who went about their business without having to worry about murder, or abduction, or a healthy dose of treason. And—now that she’d no doubt of his role in this unfolding drama—Artemis also had to face the very real possibility that Droughm’s appearance on the scene as her eager suitor was mere playacting, both to inveigle her secrets and to lay a husband’s claim to the mines.
Indeed, to a dispassionate observer, this would make much more sense; men like him did not fall instantly in love with girls like her. Except he did love her—she would stake her life on it—and apparently, she would be called upon to do just that.
She watched another horse go by—a bit too short in the back—and reluctantly recalled Droughm’s declaration that some things were more important than the truth. The present situation could easily be one of those things; he’d willingly lie to her if it meant exposing those who were plotting to betray England. Perhaps he’d been reluctant to give her any details about what was going forward because he was unsure of her allegiances.
With a mighty effort, she raised her head and righted her ship. It might be true that she was young in years, but she was not young in experience, or in gauging the character of others—whether it was her tormented mother, or the Colonel, who would stake anything on the next turn of a card, or those—the many, truly—who sought their own gain at the expense of the greater good. She was a fair judge of people, and her instincts had been proven sound, time and again. If I know nothing else, I know he loves me, she concluded; and I love him. For the first time, she examined this aspect, as—aside from the Colonel—she’d never transferred her allegiance to another person. It is true, she decided; I do love him. And so I shall simply have to trust him.
Hooks knocked discreetly on the doorjamb. “A message for you, miss.” In his stately way, he approached and held out a silver salver that contained a plain envelope, unaddressed.
This was of interest, as Artemis was certain no messenger had come to the door. “Thank you, Hooks.” She opened the note to reveal a card upon which was drawn a small bouquet—perhaps lilacs, although the artist was clearly not over-talented. Smiling, Artemis held the card to her lips for a moment; she would not have been able to read a note of encouragement, and so Droughm had done the next best thing.
Tomorrow, she thought, holding the card between her hands and wondering where all those ridiculous doubts had come from; tomorrow we shall be wed, and I will bare my soul, and he will come up with a plan—I have the feeling he is a prodigious planner, which is to the good, because I am currently at a standstill.
Artemis looked up to observe that Hooks still hovered near the doorway, and surmised that he was minding her. “How does mine aunt, Hooks—is she lying down?”
“Her ladyship has found it necessary to visit her physician so as to seek a physic, miss.”
With some surprise, Artemis observed, “She does not seem the sort to resort to physicking.”
Bowing his head slightly, the butler replied in his diplomatic manner, “I cannot say.”
Artemis turned to look out the window again, resting her chin on her fist. “All I know is that if I were her, I would flee this place with all speed.” With a pang, Artemis remembered that this, in fact, had been Lord Stanhope’s expressed preference—a pity that he hadn’t followed his inclination. “Where is Torville?”
“I believe he accompanied her ladyship to her physician.”
She turned to stare at him. “He is offering her his support? I wouldn’t think he was capable of such a thing.”
The butler, of course, would not betray any like-minded thinking, but instead offered, “I believe a funeral is planned for the day after next, miss.”
“Oh.” Artemis hadn’t considered the funeral plans, and could only imagine the awkwardness of having to publicly mourn a husband who’d been found murdered in a low brothel. With a teasing light in her eye, she ventured, “I’ll be very sorry to miss it, Hooks.”
Hooks did not miss a beat, and bowed slightly. “Every happiness, miss.”
She smiled warmly at him, now that he had spoken of it. “I thank you for the tuppence; I’ll be certain to return it to Katy, pending her own need of it.”
Further conversation was curtailed by the entrance of Katy herself, back from her errands. “I’m here, grand-dad.”
With some relief, Artemis turned from her post at the window. “I suppose spillikins is out of the question, Katy, but do you think we could play a quiet game of lottery? I am bored to flinders.”
With a measured pace, Hooks retreated to the kitchen, whilst Katy retrieved a deck of lottery cards from the secretary desk. “Have they found out who killed Lord Stanhope, miss?”
Artemis knit her brow. “The Investigator didn’t say, but I believe he suspects Lady Stanhope.”
Aghast, the girl turned to stare at her in shock, and Artemis laughed. “I am teasing—for heaven’s sake, Katy.”
The ʼtweenie leaned forward to confide, “I shouldn’t be surprised, miss.”
“Nor would I,” agreed Artemis. “Now, deal.”