ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 31

 

“We are in Scotland?” She could scarcely believe it—it seemed such an anticlimax, after all they’d been through.

He pulled back to ride beside her, since the sandy track had widened. “There should be a village called Dunby, up ahead six or seven miles—far enough within the border to make a search difficult. We need only to find some soul willing to marry us, and then we can retire someplace quiet.”

“Can you stay quiet?” she teased. He was not one to suppress the extreme pleasure he took in the coupling.

He smiled, his teeth flashing in the moonlight. “Fie, Artemis; do you think I have no self-control?”

“No.”

He conceded, “Perhaps not. Fortunately, we’ll be married, and no longer subject to shame or scandal.”  They walked a few minutes in silence. “ I’m afraid the ceremony will be cursory at best; when we are settled at Somerhurst, we’ll throw a wedding breakfast to make up for this hole-in-corner affair.”  

But she assured him with all sincerity, “I would not change a single moment of this hole-in-corner affair for the finest wedding at St. George’s, Pen.  Truly.”

Apparently, her words inspired a heart-felt accolade. “You are the only woman in the world for me—the silver mines be damned.”

“No point in wasting the silver mines,” she observed in a practical manner. “Someone’s got to have them, and it may as well be us.”

“I imagine they will end up belonging to the Crown,” he warned.

But she was unsurprised. “That’s a relief, actually—I didn’t like Sheffield much, and I positively hated the mines.”   In the grip of elation, she spurred Callisto ahead of him. “Watch this—I think she has been trained to gavotte.”

“Careful—the path is uneven.”

“Hush, my Dutch Aunt,” she laughed, trying to convince the mare to lift her legs in a prancing motion. Suddenly, she felt the horse drop, and saw the ground come up hard to meet her. Artemis had taken many a fall, but her reactions were slower after her long day, and she tumbled in an awkward heap whilst the mare scrambled to regain her feet. In a haze of pain, Artemis slowly pulled herself upright to sit on the path.

“Artemis,” Droughm’s voice was rough with concern as he crouched down beside her. “You are hurt?”

Indeed she was. Cradling her left arm, she fought nausea and began crying uncontrollably—she’d heard a sickening snap.

“Hush, my darling; you must tell me where it hurts.”

“My arm is broken,” she gasped, trying to take herself in hand. “I am so sorry.”

“Allow me to feel, all right? I’ll be careful.” His fingers probed gently, and she flinched, then allowed him to continue, trying to stifle her sobs.  “Anywhere else?”

Assessing, she answered in a halting voice, “No—no, I think it is only my arm.”

He took her carefully into an embrace, his cheek atop her head. “All right then.  We will find someone to set your arm.”

She drew a shuddering breath. “We must be married, Pen—”

“First things first.  Can you stand, do you think?”

With his assistance, she found that she could, but her knees were weak. “Is Callisto all right?”

He turned to observe the mare, who had taken the opportunity to graze on the undergrowth.  “She looks to be sound. I’ll tie her to Trajan, and you may sit before me—let me find something to serve as a mounting block.”

Carefully, she steadied her left arm in her right whilst he gathered up the horses’ reins, and they walked along the rough path for a short distance, until they came to an outcropping of shale.  Murmuring a command to Trajan, Droughm helped her to climb up the outcropping, and then lifted her onto the gray’s saddle. Mounting up behind her, he jarred her arm in the process, so that she bit her lip to contain a gasp of pain, and the tears started afresh. “Sorry, sweetheart; lean back against me, we’ll go slowly.”

“I am such an idiot, Pen; I am so sorry.”

“No more, if you please. Are you comfortable?”

“Quite,” she lied. 

He pulled her gently against his chest as they walked forward, the steady grey stallion picking his way along the track in the moonlight, with Callisto following behind them. Artemis could feel Droughm lift his head to consider the stars, and she dared not think of what would be the result if they became lost here, at the end of beyond.

“We’ll go slowly,” he said by her ear.  “Are you warm enough?”

“I am—truly.” She was shivering with reaction, and ashamed of her weakness.

The journey seemed interminable, and although she was cushioned within Droughm’s arms, every time Trajan took a hard step on the uneven ground, pain shot through her arm. Castigating herself for her foolishness, Artemis could not find the wherewithal to be brave, and instead wept silently, hoping Droughm wouldn’t notice.

“I love you,” he whispered, his mouth near her ear. “We’ll come about.”

“I know it.” She wiped her face with the back of her free hand, and resolved to stop weeping like a paltry civilian.

“Although now that you have a broken arm I may reconsider; shall I take an inventory?  Have you ever broken anything else?”

She offered a watery smile. “No—nothing else.  How about you?”

“My nose,” he admitted. “And a finger or two, when I was a boy.”

This piqued her interest. “Your nose? It doesn’t look it.” 

“It is a bit crooked. Fortunately I am not a vain man.”

“You won’t wear your spectacles,” she reminded him.

“If I begin wearing spectacles, everyone will assume I am your father.”

“You are not old enough to be my father, Pen, and I am not the type of girl who cares two pins what anyone thinks—recall that I danced with you in front of everyone, when I didn’t even know how to dance.”

He kissed her temple.  “I can still remember how it felt when I held you that night; I was completely undone.”

She smiled at the memory, her misery forgotten for a moment. “I told you to hush.”

“Indeed you did; it wasn’t so long ago.”

“No, but it seems so, doesn’t it? So much has happened.”

He rested his chin on her good shoulder for a moment. “The first of many dances.”

She cautioned, “I need practice dancing, too.”

  “I was already planning to bring you to this, our wedding day.  I went home from Ballantine House and told my valet that I’d met his new mistress.”

Smiling, she replied, “And I went home to worry about how I was going to confess to the Four Terrible Things.”

He chuckled and she chuckled, feeling much better. He was right; they would come about—only see how far they’d come, already.  His arms tightened around her, and they continued their journey in silence, the horses’ footsteps on the track the only muffled sound.

At long last, Artemis could see a light up ahead, and Droughm said, “That will be Dunby, with any luck. There’s an Inn, I believe, but I’d rather stay somewhere less obvious. Let me make an inquiry—perhaps the place boasts a physician.”

Droughm carefully slid off Trajan and then led the horse with Artemis atop him toward the nearest structure, a stone residence which displayed a sign indicating it was the Post. “Ho,” he called. “Is there anyone about?” It was dark, but not yet late.

A light appeared near the door, and a man’s voice could be heard. “Who’s out?”

“I require medical assistance.”

The door opened and a slight, bespectacled man appeared, holding a lantern aloft and squinting. “Medical assistance, you say?”

Droughm indicated Artemis. “My companion has broken her arm. Is there a physician nearby?”

The man came toward them and lifted the lantern aloft to survey Artemis. “Hallo,” she greeted him in a friendly fashion.  As they intended to marry, Droughm could pose as neither uncle nor husband, and their arrival together must seem strange at this time of night.

  “Poor lass,” the man said, shaking his head. “The doctor is from town, attending his niece’s wedding.” There was a pause, whilst Artemis digested this latest bit of bad news. Brightening, the man added, “It’s naught but a bone, though—will the horse doctor do?”

“Let us visit the horse doctor, and solicit his opinion,” said Droughm. 

“Bones are bones,” pronounced the other man. “Hold for a moment, and I’ll fetch my coat.”