A Death in Sheffield
They had lost this round of cat-and-mouse; the enemy had out-guessed them. In the course of an instant, Artemis knew one thing; if she allowed Marco to hold her at gunpoint, Droughm would be helpless. Therefore, she sat as though frozen with fear whilst he moved his hand to her bridle, and began to pull the horse toward him, the pistol never wavering.
Choosing the moment when his eyes slid to check on the stable door, she lashed her crop at his face with all her strength, and kicked her mare at the same time, shouting. Marco drew back with a cry, bringing his hand from the bridle to shield his face, as the leaping mare literally ran him down.
Artemis wasted no time, but pelted toward the livery stable to warn Droughm. Behind her, Marco shouted in Portuguese, “Seize her!” and two other riders suddenly burst from the shadows and rushed to block her path. We are outnumbered, she thought, assessing—the Colonel would say that I must try to even the odds.
“Hah!” she shouted at Callisto, and spurred the startled mare directly toward the livery entrance at full speed. The other horses were no match for the initial burst of speed the Arab mare could produce, and so they were unable to head her off, but instead fell into close pursuit, directly behind her. Artemis didn’t hesitate, but galloped straight through the stable doors where the startled patrons stared at her in outraged surprise. She didn’t dare look for Droughm, but instead concentrated on taking the easiest route through the building whilst angry men shouted and dove out of her way. Clearing a stack of baled hay with a leap, Artemis exited out the back doors of the livery, and then spurred her mare to race toward the church spire that rose in the distance, gauging it to be the center of town.
Kicking the mare’s side and pumping the reins, she frantically tried to maintain her breakneck pace, hearing shouts and the drumbeat of pursuing hooves behind her—not as close; she’d managed to open up a lead—and risked a quick glance beneath her arm to gauge the distance.
Thundering at full speed down the Great North Road, Artemis crouched over the mare’s neck and urged her onward, plying the crop from side to side across the horse’s withers as pedestrians scattered and fled. Finally, she spotted what she sought; a throng of men, running out onto the road to observe the commotion. Artemis hauled back on the reins and Callisto slid to a skittering stop, her haunches drawn beneath her and the dust rising around them in a cloud.
“Help!” she shouted, her voice hoarse. “I am being pursued—they seek to force me to marry in Scotland.”
Surrounding her, the men on the ground stared in surprise and then turned their gazes to her pursuers, who’d become wary, now that they were confronted by a gathering crowd. Artemis deemed it wise to dismount, and one of the men reached out for her bridle and asked, “What’s to do, missy?”
“I am an heiress,” she proclaimed loudly. “These—these Spanish men have stolen me from my uncle, and seek to wrest my Sheffield silver mines.” Hopefully when Droughm appeared he would realize he was an uncle, because a husband would make no sense, given her story.
The crowd began to mutter, their natural antipathy toward the Spanish having been compounded by the idea of good Yorkshire silver falling into hostile hands. More bystanders flocked to join the group as word spread, and the hostile mob blocked any attempt at retreat by the Portuguese men.
“Your pardon,” Marco offered stiffly, doffing his hat and speaking in very correct English, despite his disheveled appearance and the livid mark across his face. “We were mistaken, and will take our leave, now.”
“Not so fast,” proclaimed a man, angrily grasping at his reins. “Jem—send for the Sheriff.” Needing no further urging, several men stepped forward to seize the Portuguese horses, as the crowd’s mood turned ugly.
“I was forced to hit him with my crop,” Artemis embellished in a loud voice. “He tried to have his way with me, so that I would be forced to marry him.” This was not exactly an untruth, and so she felt justified in adding this particular fuel to the fire.
As she’d hoped, the revelation of virtue threatened by a foreign menace served to infuriate those assembled, and the foreigners were pulled off their horses and underwent some ill treatment until the local Sheriff waded into the fray, his huge hands pulling the attackers off the accused. “Here, now,” he boomed. “What’s to do?”
It had occurred to Artemis that Droughm should have arrived on the scene well before this, and she stifled a sudden fear that he’d been injured, or had been attacked, himself. “These good people have stopped an abduction,” she explained to the beefy law man, in her best imitation of a helpless maiden. “I am an heiress—from Sheffield.”
“She lies! We are not Spanish—we are Portuguese, and with our Ambassador’s staff in London.” Marco’s tone was icy as he scornfully shook off the hands that held him. “We have diplomatic immunity, and your superiors will hear of this outrage.”
The Sheriff considered him, apparently unmoved. “Do you have papers?”
As Marco put his hand inside his jacket to present his papers, Artemis cried out, “Do not believe them; they are Spaniards.” She pointed to the nearest one. “This man helped murder all the little children at Guarda.”
Howling with rage at such an accusation, the Portuguese man lunged toward Artemis and had to be physically restrained from doing violence to her. “Everyone to the station-house,” the Sheriff decided. “We’ll sort it out there.”
“Shall I walk your horse, miss?” the bystander who’d taken hold of Callisto asked. “Give ʼer a blow—she’s a bit wet.”
“Please,” said Artemis.
“A fine horse,” the Sheriff noted in a mild tone. “You rode her here from Sheffield?”
Hell and damnation, thought Artemis; where is Droughm? “Why yes—yes; I am traveling with my Uncle Pen.”
“I see. And where is that gentleman?”
Artemis had the uneasy feeling the Sheriff was not buying what she was selling. “He should be along soon,” she answered vaguely. “We became separated.” She suddenly became alive to the problems that would arise if the local Sheriff discovered that her uncle was not her uncle, that she was underage with no guardian, and that the miscreants indeed had diplomatic immunity. I could always tell him the truth, she thought, but unfortunately, it is more unbelievable than any tale I could come up with.
Once in the station-house, the Sheriff indicated to his deputies that the men were to be taken to a holding cell whilst he questioned Artemis. “Have them relinquish all weapons,” he directed.
“This is an outrage,” countered Marco with barely-suppressed menace. “You cannot imprison us; we have immunity.”
“It’s for your own safety,” the Sheriff explained in a mild tone. “We’ll wait a bit, and let the crowd cool down.”
He then escorted Artemis into his office and offered tea, which she accepted with appreciation, having had little to eat this long and eventful day. She noted that several deputies had filed into the cramped room to observe the proceedings, and concluded that—whilst runaway marriages were probably a commonplace—they usually didn’t involve menacing foreigners and international diplomacy.
The Sheriff took up his pen. “Your name, miss?”
After a moment’s reflection Artemis decided she could not lie to an officer of the law—or at least not without Droughm’s say-so, and so she answered honestly. “Miss Artemis Merryfield.”
One of the deputies leaning against the wall straightened up. “Are you related to Colonel Merryfield, miss?”
Artemis looked at him and smiled. “I am his daughter.” Or at least, that is what the official papers would say. “Were you in the 3rd Division?”
“No, miss—the Light Cavalry. But I knew of the Colonel.” For the benefit of the others, he pronounced, “A true war hero; England’s finest.”
Stricken, Artemis could only nod, thinking of the disgrace that hovered, like a dark cloud, over his memory. Pulling herself together, she offered, “You may not be aware that he died, earlier this year.”
The man’s face fell at having ineptly launched such a painful subject. “I’m that sorry, miss—it is England’s loss.”
Artemis turned to see that the Sheriff was watching her narrowly, and so she added, “Yes—my father’s death is why I was shipped off to Sheffield.”
At this point, there was a knock on the door, and another deputy poked his head in. “There’s a man here says he’s an Inspector from the Treasury—he’s come after the foreigners, and would like a word with you.”
With an air of satisfaction, the Sheriff leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms. “By all means, let him in.”
I hope Droughm knows what he is about, thought Artemis, struggling to present an impassive face; I have the feeling the wretched Sheriff has already reconnoitered the territory, and is ready to roll us up, foot and guns.