A Death in Sheffield
Artemis gazed, mesmerized, at the single candle on her bedside table. She thought of the Battle of Vitoria, and of the young lieutenant for whom she’d carried such a tendre, until he was killed crossing the Zadorra River, along with so many others—so very many. The next morning, the blood-soaked battlefield had been shrouded in a heavy fog, making everything so silent, and she could remember watching the cranes as they flew—their wing-tips barely skimming—along the river; and how it had been hauntingly beautiful, despite the horror of it all.
She could hear a ruckus of some sort, downstairs, but she found she could not take her gaze from the candle, lost in the memory of the monochromatic tones of the battlefield, when it was covered by the morning fog. Dimly, she was aware of a violent pounding and muffled curse words, and then footsteps, hurrying up the stairs with some urgency. I should see what is afoot, she thought lazily, and closed her eyes.
“Missy, missy look at me—hold the lamp up, ye old fool!”
With an effort, Artemis managed to open her eyes to see Cook, her thin, anxious face a bit too close—
“Bring the basin, Katy—quick now; help me get this down ʼer gullet.”
“No.” Artemis twisted away from the hands that grasped her. “Quick—sound the alarm!”
“Miss Merryfield,” said Hooks in a firm tone, “You must drink Cook’s potion.”
“Put ʼer on the floor,” commanded Cook. “I’ll kneel on ʼer arms.”
Pinned to the floor, Artemis gritted her teeth and turned her head from side to side whilst Hooks tried to force open her jaw. Opening her eyes, she could see Katy’s frightened face, upside-down, and hovering over hers. “Please hold still and drink it, miss—please.”
“Hold ʼer head between yer knees—ready? On the count of three—”
And then Artemis was gasping and sputtering as she swallowed a vile-tasting liquid, and almost simultaneously began retching miserably. The many hands turned her over, and she vomited and heaved the contents of her stomach into the basin, Katy holding her hair back and Cook saying something unintelligible in a soothing voice.
Spent, Artemis knelt on her hands and knees, gasping for air. Muffled shouting and pounding could be heard from downstairs. “What is the enemy’s position?” she rasped.
After a pause, Hooks answered her. “Torville is locked away in the hall closet, miss.”
Cook said to him, “We’ve got to get ʼer out of the house. Someone’ll be comin’ soon as a witness, and if she’s here in the house alone with ʼim it won’t matter that ʼe hasn’t done the deed—she’ll be ruined, just the same.”
Raising her face, Artemis closed her eyes against the spinning room, and gasped, “There—there is a Lance Corporal, posted out the window—Droughm has him stationed to guard the flank. You—you have only to signal.”
There was a small silence. “Do you think it true?” asked Katy of the others.
“Go see,” commanded Cook, and Katy sprang to the window with the lamp, whilst Hooks and Cook helped Artemis sit up on the floor.
“I am going to be sick again,” Artemis announced, and then suited action to word. Dimly, she could hear the casement window opening, and Katy communicating in an urgent whisper.
“Let him in the servant’s entrance,” directed Hooks. “Quietly, now.”
“Make certain—make certain he knows the password,” Artemis cautioned between retching, and then realized she’d forgot what it was—it changed every day, and she couldn’t remember it—it was so important to remember the password—
But apparently he knew it, because the Lance Corporal was lifting her to her feet and bundling her in the coverlet from the bed. “I have a side-arm,” she told him, struggling to keep her eyes open. “It is under my pillow.”
“I have it, miss,” said Hooks, securing her pistol.
“I’ll take her to his lordship’s,” said the man, “and he’ll decide what’s to be done.”
“Mind the perimeter,” Artemis warned.
“She’s goin’ nowhere without me,” said Cook in a grim tone. “She may need another dose.”
“We’ll all go,” Hooks decided, “That way, there will be no witnesses, and no one will know where’s she’s gone.”
“Secure him in the brig,” suggested Artemis. “There is no time for a court-martial.”
“Here you go, miss.” The Lance Corporal lifted her up, bundled in the coverlet.
“My doll,” remembered Artemis, struggling to stay conscious. “I—I must keep her with me.”
“Here she is, miss,” said Katy, who quickly tucked the doll inside the coverlet.
Artemis leaned her cheek against the Lance Corporal’s shoulder, and closed her eyes, immediately falling into a dream about their camp near the Spanish vineyards, and Happy Jack, the Colonel’s horse, who used to come to the Colonel’s whistle.
* * *
“A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come,” she recited to Droughm.
“We must be away, and quickly,” he said over his shoulder. “Give her your clothes, if you please.”
“Yes, my lord,” said Katy.
With an effort, Artemis focused on Droughm as he searched her eyes, his hand cradling the back of her head. He was in a murderous rage. “Don’t kill anyone,” she cautioned.
“She’ll just sleep, now,” Cook’s voice said. “Strong coffee, when she wakes.”
“I must keep my doll,” Artemis told him, the words careful and distinct.
“I will bring her with us. Go to sleep, Artemis.”
“You can’t send the others back into the ambush,” she pleaded. “Not after they’ve risked their lives.”
“No; they will go to Somerhurst. You must try to sleep, now.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, teasing him, and he pulled her head to his coat lapel and held her close, his breath on her hair.