A Death in Sheffield
Artemis was young but she was no fool; upon her arrival, she’d shrewdly assessed the inhabitants at Stanhope House and almost immediately decided that the better part of valor was to listen at doors. The snatches of conversation she’d overheard whilst walking about soft-footed had featured Droughm’s name more than once; usually pronounced by her aunt in tones of loathing when the older woman was closeted with Torville, trying to deal with the dire emergency that had arisen when Artemis’ great-uncle Thaddeus had mysteriously disappeared.
Artemis had made the acquaintance of her Stanhope relatives when they came to fetch her from Thaddeus’ manor house in Sheffield, and at the time she’d been willing to flee the area with all speed, unaware that she’d leapt from the boiling pot into the fire. Well, she thought fairly; not exactly—it was mine uncle who tried to set me on fire, after all, so it was more like I leapt from one blaze to the next.
That some terrible crisis had arisen due to Uncle Thaddeus’ disappearance seemed evident, and that the particulars could not bear the light of day also seemed evident; behind her cold manner, Artemis’ aunt behaved like an enemy general under siege—all frustration and barely-concealed rage. Almost immediately after Artemis arrived in London, Lord Stanhope had departed for parts unknown, and the tension at Stanhope House was so thick that one could cut it with a bayonet.
Listening at the keyhole, Artemis had pieced together the nature of the crisis: “I am at my wit’s end, Torville; we cannot allow any type of disruption—if the Treasury Inspector catches wind—”
“Wentworth will do as he is told, madam; be easy. And Droughm is half-way around the world in Algiers.”
“You must marry the chit, and as soon as possible.”
“—don’t know if she holds title until we know for certain that he is dead—”
“Be reasonable, madam—who can give consent? She is underage—”
Yes, thought Artemis, assessing the situation thoughtfully as she crept back into her own little room; I am underage, and there is literally no one to give the needed consent for my marriage, even if they assume mine uncle is dead, which they cannot—or at least not yet. And as they have need of my cooperation, it does not appear that they can seize the fortune against my will—which perhaps they could have done in the Middle Ages, but surely is frowned upon nowadays.
In sum, it appeared that everyone was stymied and she was safe, so long as no one knew what had happened to Uncle Thaddeus. Or at least she’d thought she was safe, until recent days when—with the silence from Sheffield becoming more and more ominous—Torville had begun pursuing her aggressively, with the apparent aim of taking all choices away from her; if she was ruined, even the authorities would reluctantly hand her over to him.
Matters had not yet progressed to where Artemis felt compelled to either flee or shoot him, but she was in a rare tangle because there seemed to be no way out of this mess—or at least no simple retreat route. She had her own reasons to keep the authorities away from the strange circumstance of her missing uncle, so she couldn’t approach them. She couldn’t disappear into the night because she had—quite literally—no one to flee to, not to mention there would be an immediate hue and cry because she was the sole heiress to her uncle’s silver mining fortune.
Therefore, it was with no little relief that she welcomed Droughm’s appearance on the scene, and for more reasons than one. Her aunt’s greatest fear, as far as Artemis could determine, was that Droughm—for reasons which were as yet unclear—would come and seize Artemis for himself. Now that she’d met the gentleman, Artemis thought this an excellent strategy, and was more than willing to encourage him in this aim.
To this end, she volunteered to sit for Katy so as to allow the young maid to practice arranging her hair. Katy was not fazed by the fact she’d been relegated to the lowly task of waiting on Artemis, and was instead unswerving in her ambition to become a real lady’s maid. Artemis had little doubt the girl would succeed—she was as determined as Wellington, when he’d sworn to re-take Badajoz.
“Try to make me appear older,” Artemis suggested thoughtfully, watching the ʼtweenie’s ministrations in the mirror. Artemis’ hair was long, black and thick, falling nearly to her waist. She had invariably worn it in a long plait down her back, but now decided it would appear too school-girlish to continue with this habit.
“For the gentleman who danced with you,” Katy remarked matter-of-factly. “They’re all abuzz about it, downstairs.”
Apparently, there was little of which the servants were unaware. “I waltzed,” Artemis confessed with a smile, watching the girl in the mirror. “You would have been proud of me, Katy.”
“Did you remember not to watch your feet, miss?” Katy frowned in concentration as she experimented with a twisted style.
“No, but he didn’t seem to mind—he was very kind.” Artemis winced when Katy tugged too hard. “Although everyone was staring.”
“Cook says he’s twice your age, and only did it to pull on her ladyship’s tail.”
Smiling at herself in the mirror, Artemis admitted, “I cannot disagree—which only made the experience that much more enjoyable.”
Katy laughed. “Will he call upon you today, miss?” According to the complicated protocols of the ton with which Artemis was not very familiar, a lady’s dance partners were obligated to make a visit the following day.
“I honestly don’t know—it may come to blows, if he does.” Thinking she’d do a little probing, Artemis asked, “Do you know why mine aunt dislikes him so?”
Katy met her eyes in the mirror and shrugged, speaking around the pins she held in her mouth. “I only know it has something to do with the mines in Sheffield—it is grand-dad’s opinion that they fear being ruined, and that Lord Droughm is the one to do it.”
Katy’s grand-dad was Hooks, the butler of the establishment, and so it could be assumed he knew of what he spoke, being best situated to listen at doors.
“Yes,” Artemis agreed thoughtfully. “They are very much afraid of something—but mainly, they are afraid of Droughm.”
Her hands pausing for a moment, Katy met her eyes in the mirror and offered, “My grand-dad said to tell you that if you need him to take a whip to Torville, he’ll do it even if he gets the sack.”
Touched, Artemis replied, “Tell your grand-dad I will keep it to mind, and thank him for me.”
Katy resumed her work, arranging ringlets and then stepping back to consider the result with a critical eye. “He says you’re well-able to take care of yourself, but he’s worried you might be taken by surprise.”
I have such champions, thought Artemis with a small pang; I wonder if I deserve them.
Katy continued, “We’ll have to make up some blacks for you, if it turns out your uncle is dead—I think you would look very nice in blacks, with your complexion, and your eyes.”
“Perhaps we’ll never know what happened to him,” suggested Artemis hopefully.
Misinterpreting her response, Katy lowered her hands and apologized. “Oh—I’m that sorry, miss; I shouldn’t have spoken so. He’ll turn up, don’t you worry.”
But Artemis only shrugged a shoulder. “I was only with him for two months, Katy—and I can’t say I was very fond of him. He was a mean old miser.”
Surprised, Katy paused to stare. “Is that so? And him leaving all his money to you—it’s a wonder, it is.”
“It was not so much he left it to me as there is no one else to claim it,” Artemis explained. “The Colonel was his only nephew, but he was killed on the Continent.”
The girl nodded in sympathy. “I’m that sorry, miss; it’s like one of those fairy tales—all the terrible things that have happened to you.”
A Grimm’s tale, thought Artemis; and I am afraid the worst part of this tale is yet to be told.
“What’ll you wear for the visiting hour, miss?” Katy ruthlessly pushed the last pin in place, and then walked over to survey Artemis’ scant wardrobe with a critical eye. “A shame that you aren’t allowed to wear colors yet.”
Artemis could only agree—Droughm seemed the sort of man who would take notice of such things, and pale colors only reinforced the fact that she was of tender years. “The ivory, perhaps? The yellow looks hideous on me.”
“There is nothing to prevent me from threading a cherry ribbon through your hair,” the maid suggested with a touch of defiance. “That will turn his head.”
“He doesn’t seem the sort to have his head turned,” Artemis remarked. “But I would like to wear a ribbon, if you have one.”
After this artifice was complete, the two girls gazed in satisfaction at Artemis’ reflected glory. “Just the thing,” said Katy. “Best get ye downstairs—I mean, best get you downstairs.” Katy was keenly aware that a lady’s maid needed to speak like a lady, and was carefully cultivating her vocabulary. “Visiting hour is upon us, and your gentleman may be first in line.”
Privately, Artemis thought her gentleman was more likely to seize her on the street and sling her over his shoulder rather than comply with polite protocols. With this agreeable scenario in mind, she thanked Katy and descended the stairs.