A Death in Sheffield
Droughm entered, looking less like a drayman and more like a government official this time—complete to a new black felt hat. The man needs a costumer, thought Artemis, and looked for any clues as to how she was to behave.
“Miss Merryfield.” He bowed to her as though they were already acquainted.
“Sir.” She nodded, having no idea what his name should be.
“Sheriff,” continued Droughm, offering his card. “I am Mr. Hardy, an Inspector for the Treasury Minister, and I understand you have seized a contingent of Portuguese men—”
“I believe they are Spaniards, Mr. Hardy,” offered Artemis quickly. The crowd would never have turned so ugly, if they were merely Portuguese.”
“Ah,” said Droughm. “I stand corrected.”
“I will see your identification, sir.” As the Sheriff’s sharp gaze rested on him, Droughm produced a badge, and after leaning forward to scrutinize it, the other man asked, “Tell me—how does Miss Merryfield’s situation affect the Treasury?”
“Foreign interests seek to sabotage the production of silver coins originating from Sheffield,” Droughm explained in his blunt manner. “It is a complicated scheme.”
The Sheriff drew his shaggy brows together, considering. “And yet this affects Miss Merryfield in some way?”
There’s a good question, thought Artemis, and waited to see how much Droughm would reveal.
Apparently, he’d decided that the truth—more or less—was called for. “Miss Merryfield’s uncle is missing, and presumed dead. She would be the heiress, and whoever marries her has control of the silver mines.”
“More correctly, my great-uncle is missing,” interrupted Artemis. “Not to be confused with my Uncle Pen, with whom I am traveling.”
Turning his attention to Artemis, the Sheriff contemplated her, his expression impassive. “And where is he—your Uncle Pen?”
“We were attacked,” Artemis explained without giving specifics. “And I had to flee—as you saw.”
It was just as well that Droughm interrupted at this point. “The Minister believes that the men you hold in custody are, in fact, responsible for the death of Miss Merryfield’s great-uncle. If given time, I can produce evidence to this effect.”
A master-stroke, thought Artemis in appreciation; I am off the hook for mine uncle’s murder, and these blackguards are now firmly on the selfsame hook—or at least for the time being—and at the same time they are removed from the arena of operations.
“And if they indeed have immunity papers—what am I to do?” The Sheriff spread his hands, and Artemis had the fleeting impression the man was amused, for some reason.
“It would be a mistake to set them free,” Droughm cautioned in a grave tone. “Under diplomatic protocols, if they are guilty of murder—or of crimes against the British Crown—they can be detained, and then forcibly deported. Back to Spain.”
Oh-ho, thought Artemis, dropping her gaze to hide her satisfaction. Another master stroke—although surely someone at some point would realize they were not Spaniards at all. There was no love lost between the Spanish and the Portuguese, and if they were indeed sent to Spain, some rough treatment would be meted out.
She glanced under her lashes at the Sheriff to gauge whether he would cooperate with Droughm’s proposal, and was a bit surprised to see his thoughtful gaze resting upon her. Quickly, she lowered her eyes again.
“I don’t know about all this—I’m only the local Sheriff; how am I to sort out crimes against the Crown?”
But Droughm had a ready answer. “I suggest you hold them until representatives from London can be summoned to determine the extent of their involvement in the murder plot. It would only be a few days delay, at most.”
Thinking it over, the big man nodded. “Certainly a reasonable request, and I have already witnessed their civil disturbance, and their attempt to adduct an English citizen.”
Artemis nodded gravely, hoping that no one would actually try to verify that she was indeed an English citizen.
“Just so,” said Droughm, and Artemis had the impression that it was now Droughm who was amused.
“Will you remain here, Mr. Hardy, to oversee the process?” the Sheriff asked politely.
“Unfortunately not. I must escort Miss Merryfield back to her uncle, and then continue my investigation; there are others to be apprehended.”
“Where did you say her uncle was staying—was it Campine?”
The words hung in the air, and Artemis could feel the sudden shift in the atmosphere as she glanced at Droughm, wondering at it.
“No,” Droughm replied easily. “We plan to rendezvous with him to the south of here—the next good-sized town to the south, whatever it is.”
Decisively, Droughm nodded his head. “Wreay it is, if anyone is asking.”
The other man also nodded, and Artemis felt as though the two had come to some sort of unspoken understanding. The Sheriff then had a deputy fetch letter-writing materials so that Droughm could scratch out a note directed to the Treasury—although Artemis had no doubt it would find its way to the grey-eyed man, instead.
As Droughm wrote, she sat quietly, feeling the Sheriff’s thoughtful gaze upon her, but kept her own gaze downcast for fear she would say the wrong thing, and disrupt this unlooked-for deliverance.
As they stepped from the small office and into the hallway, belligerent shouts could be heard from the holding cells located in the recesses of the building. Unable to contain herself, Artemis paused to call out with some heat, “Bastardo!”
As the howls of outrage intensified, Droughm took her arm. “Come along, Miss Merryfield.”
They exited the station house without further incident, and then waited with the Sheriff on the steps for a few moments, whilst the horses were brought around. “Safe travels,” the Sheriff offered.
“Thank you,” said Droughm. “You will be hearing from me.”
The two men shook hands, and then they mounted up, Artemis following Droughm as they trotted out of Carlisle, turning off the main road and onto a tangent by-way. Evening had fallen, and as she wasn’t certain, she asked, “Where do we go now?”
“Scotland. I am taking you across the border, will you or nil you.”
“I will.” She was glad the moon was full—hopefully Droughm knew their route, as it seemed they were not going to travel up the Great North Road, but take an overland route, instead. She followed him closely, as they struck out toward some distant hills. They progressed at an easy canter for a time, then slowed down to walk through an area thick with brush. As it was growing cold, she tightened the hood around her face. “I am heartily sick of Lady Tallyer’s stupid cloak.”
He looked at her over his shoulder for a moment. “Your next will be sable.”
She smiled at his broad back. “Excellent; I shall wear it when I wear my sapphires.”
He made an appreciative sound in his throat, and she laughed. “Well, that turned out well enough—even though we didn’t win the cat-and-mouse.”
“Oh, yes we did. The enemy engaged with the wrong little mouse.”
“It was a close-run thing,” she admitted. “Callisto is a wonder.” She patted the mare’s neck in appreciation. Glancing at Droughm’s back in a speculative manner she added, “And we were fortunate that the Sheriff was so cooperative.”
As he seemed to be in a good mood, Droughm was willing to enlighten her. “During the war, he must have served in some capacity in Flanders, during the French occupation. He recognized me from when I was there, in another guise. I wondered at his complacence—we did not have the strongest story.”
Artemis was fascinated by this glimpse into Droughm’s doings during the war. “You do not recall meeting him? He is huge.”
“No, I do not. But in my defense, there was a riot at the Clothworkers Guild Hall, and I had my hands full.”
“Well, it was a fortunate coincidence that he recognized you. I don’t think he is easily fooled.”
“No,” Droughm agreed. “He should be put to use—his talents are wasted, here.”
Artemis suffered a small pang of jealousy that others were allowed into Droughm’s mysterious world, whilst she was not. “I could be useful, too, you know.”
“No,” he said immediately. “My heart would fail.”
Laughing, she followed him along the sandy path. “I imagine you were surprised to see me charge full-bore through the livery stable, like a winged Hussar.”
“Words cannot convey my extreme surprise.”
“Did Trajan manage to get a new shoe?”
“No; he was called away immediately on an emergency.”
Smiling, she thought over the events of the past hour with some satisfaction, now that the danger was past. “Why couldn’t you be yourself, when you approached the Sheriff? I should think an Earl would hold some sway.”
But his answer was sobering. “We are not yet out of the woods—and everyone would remember an Earl. There will now be others to take up the pursuit.”
Artemis contemplated her horse’s ears, flicking back and forth, as Callisto listened to their voices. “Because the Portuguese are only doing the bidding of the French—I’d forgotten, in the heat of victory.”
It was a daunting thought; hopefully they would have a few days rest, before having to take up the task of saving the world, again. She thought about the coming war, and the Sheriff, and how she was slated to be a Countess despite her utter ineligibility, and ventured, “I am not certain that I can stay home tending the gardens if you are out having adventures somewhere, Pen. I would be like a fish out of water, without you there to damn the proprieties.”
“Then you will accompany me.” Idly, he slashed at the brush with his crop, as they threaded through it.
“I should like that above all things,” she confessed, relieved and rather surprised.
“And I would have no need to take a Spanish mistress.” Teasing, he glanced back at her.
“None at all,” she agreed happily.
He made an appreciative sound in his throat. “I almost feel guilty, Artemis; we need to find you a soft bed somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I allow you to sleep—not after watching you fly through the livery like Artemis, your namesake.”
“I’ll forgive you,” she offered, laughing. “So you will be husband instead of uncle, tonight?”
“Definitely,” he pronounced as he leaned back to gauge the stars. “I believe we are across the border.”