ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 20

 

As Lady Stanhope had not returned, Artemis visited the kitchen to beg a pot-luck dinner from Cook, who wore a black armband to emphasize her state of mourning, since her uniform was already black, and she could not wear gloves.  “I saw a blackbird out o’ my window, yesterday,” that worthy revealed in the tones of the jeremiad. “A portent, it was.”

“Can you predict the weather?” Artemis wound her legs around the stool. “The army would pay you handsomely.”

“None o’ your sauce,” Cook warned. “’Twas a bad omen, and worse to come, I’m thinkin’.”

“I’m not certain what could be worse,” Artemis pointed out reasonably. “Murder is at the top, I think.”

Cook shook her head sorrowfully. “And to be struck down in such a place—”

“I don’t think he was looking for a nice brisket,” opined Artemis.

“That lawman asked me questions.” The woman sniffed, as she dished up a plate of cold ham and tomatoes. “Impertinent.”

“Did he? What did you tell him?” Artemis began to eat, awaiting the answer with interest.

“Asked if I’d heard of his lordship’s goin’ to sech places before—” Cook ducked her chin “—I tole him I had not.”  She slid Artemis a glance. “Asked about ye.”

“Ah,” said Artemis, slicing a tomato. “Then I’m to be arrested for certain.”

The older woman smiled her grim smile. “I stood bluff—ye needn’t worry.”

“Did you reveal that I like my beefsteak rare?”

 “Impertinent, he was,” she sniffed again. “Thinkin’ I’d tell tales.”

“He didn’t strike me so much as impertinent as shrewd,” Artemis admitted, helping herself to the milk jug.  “He’d have made a good reconnaissance scout.”

Before Cook could make a response, they were joined by Torville, who asked Cook to make up a plate as he drew up a stool beside Artemis.  “A thoroughly wretched day; but one must eat, I suppose.”

  Artemis could see he was not his usual self—he seemed subdued, and his usual air of insolence was absent. Spooked, she thought; and small blame to him—he’s the one who does inhabit the brothels. “Is our mutual aunt still from home?”

“Yes, but I’ve been discharged from accompanying her on her errands.” He paused, cutting into the ham and chewing on a bite. “I will admit, though, that she was a bit easier to endure; this has been a humbling experience for her, and she’s not one easily humbled.”

Artemis said frankly, “I thought perhaps she’d fled.”

He slid his thoughtful gaze toward her for a moment, but said only, “No reason to, surely. And no suspect has been identified as yet.”

Apparently, then,  he was going to pretend that this was a random crime, although Artemis was certain he knew as well as she did that this was not the case—perhaps he didn’t wish to discuss the counterfeiting scheme in front of Cook.  “Will you stay in town?” Artemis was a little vague about mourning protocol, but it seemed unlikely that Torville could wander off to engage in his usual pursuits, these next few days.

“For the near future.  I should help out, I suppose.”

This sentiment was unlooked-for, and engendered in Artemis a twinge of guilt, because she was going to leave this vale of tears first thing tomorrow morning, and never look back.  “That’s very kind of you, Torville; I can’t imagine it will be an easy thing, these next few days.”

Indicating with his knife, he observed, “Well, someone should look after you—aside from you-know-who.”

She had to smile. “I can’t imagine that you-know-who requires any assistance.”  

With a sigh, he dropped his hands and regarded her with a touch of exasperation. “Pray do not quash the first glimmerings of a conscience, I beg of you.”

“I will not,” she agreed.  “Instead, I welcome all lookings-after.”

“Good.” Lifting his utensils again, he continued his meal.

“Where is mine aunt now?”

“I left her at the dressmaker’s; she needs mourning-clothes, and she tells me she will have them make-up a dress for you, too.”

With a pang, Artemis realized she’d have to leave her beautiful new riding habit behind—since she couldn’t very well be married in it—but then consoled herself by thinking that Droughm would no doubt conjure up another one as easily as the first.

After taking another bite, Torville added, “I hope a black armband will suffice for me. I imagine I will be asked to say a eulogy, which is weighty assignment, and may be beyond my powers.”

“You cannot speak ill of him,” Artemis cautioned; with Torville, one never knew.

But he only twisted his mouth as he chewed his ham. “It wouldn’t matter what I said—everyone will be thinking of where he died, and what he was doing there.”

“Poor you,” Artemis sympathized.

“Poor both of us; I will rely upon your moral support.”

“Of course,” she lied without a qualm. “Anything to help.”

He turned his speculative gaze to her. “What does your friend have to say—or is he unaware of the tragedy, as yet?”

Artemis did not pretend to misunderstand to whom he referred. “He came by this morning to offer his condolences—he was here when the Bow Street Investigator was here.”

Torville paused, and then asked in an overly-casual manner. “Oh? What did the Investigator have to say?”

“I told him Cook did it,” Artemis offered. “Being as how the deceased had dared to criticize her bread pudding.”

“Sauce,” muttered Cook, as she tended to the hearth.

“We are in for a very uncomfortable few days,” Torville declared, as he pushed away from the table.

  As she was in for a very blissful few days, Artemis made no reply.

He paused at the door. “We should have another ice, cousin, to fortify us for the trials ahead. And you aren’t old enough to share a bottle of brandy—more’s the pity.”

Artemis eyed him in bemusement. “We can’t go have an ice, Torville—only think of how it would look.”

With heavy patience, he explained, “No, nodkin; I will bring it here.  I’ll return in a bit.”  He then sauntered out the door.

Cook watched him go, her hands folded beneath her apron. “All on end, ʼe is.”

Artemis lifted a bread-end from his plate. “It comes of having responsibility suddenly thrust upon him.  He’ll have to stay away from his gaming hells for the foreseeable future, and instead help arrange for mine aunt’s mourning affairs—what could be worse?”

“It’s not like ʼim,” Cook mused, her chin on her chest. “It’s more like ʼim to slip away to Newmarket or somewheres, and leave ʼer ladyship to deal with ʼer own troubles.”

Artemis teased, “Maybe he’ll redeem himself, and live the rest of his life doing good works, and such.”

“Not ʼim,” said Cook succinctly, turning back to her hearth. “Ye’ll see.”

But Torville returned as promised with the proffered treat, and sat with Artemis in the drawing room whilst they partook. Since he’d gone to the trouble, Artemis felt obligated to ask about what he’d done the past week, and so was required to listen to tales of the racecourse, and the perfidy of favorites who threw a splint at the most inopportune time.  

Slouching in his seat, her cousin complained, “It’s ridiculous—I’ve had such a run of bad luck that the bookmakers won’t allow me to punt my bets any longer.”

Holding the empty dish in her lap, Artemis listened with half an ear, staring at the fire that burned in the grate. “You mustn’t gamble, Torville,” she said in disapproval, her mouth having trouble forming the words. “It causes no end of trouble.”

He made some reply, but she wasn’t listening to him, as he wasn’t very interesting, and she was tired of listening.  The officers would race, sometimes, when everyone was waiting for the next deployment, and the soldiers would bet on the races even though it was against regulations—the Colonel was not one to put protocol above morale.  If the weather was hot, the men would race in their shirtsleeves, and everyone would shout, just to have the opportunity to do so; eager for a distraction from the unending hardship of war, and a chance to vie good-naturedly against each another.  She’d always longed to participate, but the Colonel wouldn’t hear of it—he was very protective of her, in his own way.  Captain Venables had an inky-black mare that was unbeatable, even though she didn’t have the stride of a champion; she simply would not allow any other horse to pass her.  Tremendous heart, had that horse. Artemis stared into the fire, and wondered whatever had happened to Captain Venable’s black mare.

With an effort, she lifted her gaze to see that Cook had come to gather-up the dishes, and to wish her good night in a pointed manner.  She doesn’t want me to linger here with Torville, thought Artemis, amused. Thus prompted, she thanked Torville and then mounted the stairs rather slowly, as her legs felt unaccountably heavy.  I must go to sleep, she thought; tomorrow—tomorrow is important, for some reason, but I can’t remember why.