A Death in Sheffield
The Postmaster identified himself as Mr. Rayburn, and escorted them down the road to the nearby home of Mr. MacLeod, the area’s livestock doctor. As it turned out, MacLeod’s quarters were located in a loft above a barn, and it was apparent to Artemis that both men were bachelors. “Roddie,” shouted Rayburn from the barn floor, “Rouse yourself; we have visitors.”
Once duly roused, the horse doctor proved to be a burly, taciturn man who did not seem at all surprised to find his evening interrupted by Rayburn’s arrival with an English girl who required a bone to be set. “Let me have a look, then,” he said, washing his hands at the pump.
Rayburn dusted off a joint stool and then went to fetch an additional lantern, as Artemis was invited to sit. “Off wi’ yer sleeve,” said MacLeod, brandishing a formidable pair of shears.
Droughm placed a cautionary hand on the man’s arm. “Be careful; she is in a great deal of pain.”
The doctor shot him a look under bushy brows, and nodded. “I will indeed, sir.”
A novel experience for him, thought Artemis, hiding a smile. I imagine his usual patients do not have Dutch Aunts. As the man applied the shears, she assured him, “You may do your worst; this riding habit belongs actually belongs to another lady, and I am not fond of it.”
Rayburn exchanged a glance with MacLeod, and Artemis belatedly realized how it sounded. She hastened to add, “I had to steal away in disguise, you see.”
This explanation only inspired another space of surprised silence. “We are to be wed,” Droughm revealed, “And were required to leave in haste.”
“There were exigent circumstances, you see,” Artemis explained.
Since the other men now looked embarrassed, Artemis quickly corrected, “Not that exigent circumstance, another one.” I should just stay quiet, she decided; before they throw Droughm in gaol.
“I see,” said the Postmaster, doing only a fair job of hiding his confusion. “My sincere best wishes, then.”
“Ah,” Artemis gasped as the doctor manipulated her arm—she was not paying attention, and had been taken by surprise.
MacLeod leaned back and grunted in sympathy. “Won’t be a treat, lassy. I’ll fetch the laudanum, t’ease ye summat.”
Droughm stayed him with a hand on his shoulder. “No laudanum, I’m afraid. I cannot allow the possibility that she was not in her senses when we conduct the ceremony.”
“No drugs,” Artemis agreed firmly. “I had a bad experience, once.”
Rayburn stared in surprise. “You mean to marry tonight?”
Artemis saw an opportunity to regain his good opinion, and offered with maidenly modesty, “I’ve been alone in the gentleman’s company for most of the day, sir. We must wed immediately.”
“Of course—of course,” agreed the Postmaster hastily. “Quite right. If you will permit, I can conduct the ceremony and draw up the papers; I do, on occasion.”
To Artemis, this seemed a godsend, but Droughm cautioned, “You are certain the ceremony will be valid? It is very important that every legality be observed.”
“As long as the lass is sixteen, and we have a witness, all’s right and tight,” explained Rayburn. “Roddie will bind the lass’s arm, and then I will bind the two of you.” He smiled his thin smile, pleased with this little joke.
“If I may, I’ll be needin’ a bit o’ help with the arm,” interrupted MacLeod, impatient with the talk of weddings. He nodded at Droughm. “Ye’re the stronger—I’ll show you what to do.” He then cocked a brow at Artemis. “Best look away, lass.”
Artemis looked away, and tried not to listen to the doctor’s instructions as Droughm took a firm grip on her left hand and the Postmaster awkwardly patted her other. “There now, lass. It will all be over in a trice.”
On the doctor’s command, Droughm pulled hard and the doctor’s strong hands manipulated her upper arm. Unable to control her reaction, Artemis cried out in agony as the Postmaster made inarticulate sounds of sympathy, and after a few long moments it was over.
Artemis gasped for breath as the doctor held her arm in a firm grip and gave instruction to Droughm as to how to tie the wooden splint in place. With cautious relief, she realized that her arm almost immediately felt much better.
The doctor nodded in approval after the splint was secured. “A braw lass, y’be. We’ll be needin’ a sling o’ sorts—I’ll fetch a length o’ rope.”
“Now, Roddie; we can’t have the girl wearing a rope on her wedding day. Let me find something more suitable when I go to the Post to fetch my papers.” Self-importantly, the Postmaster hurried away.
“Could you fetch a brush, also?” called Artemis after him.
Crouching before her stool, Droughm placed a gentle hand alongside her face, his gaze warm upon hers. “Are you ready for this? Tell me honestly.”
“I am. I’ve been ready from the first, Pen.”
They shared a moment of mutual awareness that the time was finally here, and then Droughm rose and spoke to MacLeod. “With your permission, I’ll bed down the horses here.”
The doctor nodded, and Droughm went over to settle them into the stalls. Rather than offer to assist, however, MacLeod turned on his stool to face Artemis, and said in a low voice, “We’ll have some plain speaking, lass, if ye don’t mind.”
Surprised, Artemis nodded. “By all means.”
MacLeod glanced toward Droughm, his expression intent. “Is this what ye wish? If ye’d rather nowt marry this man I’ll see to it—ye can stay with m’ mother and there’ll be no questions asked.”
Touched, Artemis assured him, “You are diligent to inquire, Mr. MacLeod, but I would ask for nothing more in this world than to marry him—truly.”
The doctor studied her, his brows drawn together. “He’s a fair bit older; mayhap he’s turned yer head.”
With a smile, Artemis replied, “I am not one to have my head turned, I assure you. We are very well-suited.”
The man persisted, “He’s Quality—and no mistakin.’ What’s t’ emergency, if I may be askin’?”
Artemis shook her head slightly. “I’m afraid I am not at liberty to say. But we marry in all honor, I promise.”
The man nodded, and they both watched Droughm brush the horses down for a moment, the rhythmic strokes the only sound in the quiet barn.
Artemis hoped the man was not embarrassed by her rebuff. “I do appreciate your concern, Mr. MacLeod. I have no one to stand in as a parent, unfortunately.”
But her companion confessed in a gruff voice, “I feel an interest, I s’pose. My grand-dam had eyes t’ color of yorn.”
“Did she?” asked Artemis with interest. “I’ve never known of another.”
“A Frenchwoman, she was; met my grandfather during the French and Indian War.”
With mixed emotions, Artemis looked at the horse doctor for a long moment, wondering if perhaps they were distant kin. Softly she said, “I suppose we are lucky, your grand-dam and I.” It is true, she realized; I am lucky because Droughm thinks my eyes are beautiful, and couldn’t care less where they came from. She looked over at her bridegroom, who smiled at her from the other side of Trajan as he methodically applied the brush. I believe the time has come to let go of all past grievances; it is time to begin the rest of my life.