A Death in Sheffield
In short order, Artemis bathed with Mrs. Tittle’s assistance, and then was bundled in Mr. Rayburn’s robe to sit on a chair before the kitchen fire so that her hair could dry.
“I’m not one to be criticizin’ others,” Mrs. Tittle noted as she brushed out Artemis’ hair, “but I think that new husband of yorn could do a sight better than to leave ye alone in a strange house and with no clothes.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Having her hair brushed reminded her of Katy, and Artemis wondered where she was, and how she did, and whether Lady Stanhope had ever returned or had simply fled, once the plot to ruin Artemis had run aground. A good riddance, she thought sleepily, her head pulled back with the force of the brushstrokes. A thoroughly detestable woman.
The door opened, and Rayburn poked his head in, tentatively. “I smell stew; may I come in?”
“You may, Gerry,” said his sister. “The bride had need of your robe, is all.”
“Mrs. St. John.” He nodded in greeting, his cheeks pink. “How does your arm?”
“Very well,” said Artemis, who privately wished everyone would quit asking. “Thank you again for offering us your home; you are very kind.”
“Ach—it was only fitting, after all. Your husband should be along soon—me and Robbie sent him to fetch Dr. McIntosh.” He sat at the stool, and his sister began serving his supper.
“A fine doctor.” Mrs. Tittle brought a steaming bowl to Artemis by the fire, and carefully balanced it in her lap for her, so that she could eat with the one hand. “He’s from over the way, in Annan.”
“I’m afraid I know little of the local geography,” Artemis confessed, her bare feet propped up on the hearth as she tasted the stew. “Or any geography, for that matter. I’ve followed the drum all my life.”
“Is that so?” Mrs. Tittle straightened up, very much surprised. “And you so well-mannered.”
“Oh, I can be as rowdy as any half-pay officer,” Artemis assured her.
“Did you see any action?” asked Rayburn, and Artemis had the impression he was a bit wistful—too old to fight, he had probably followed the war avidly, and from a distance.
“I was with the Third Division, and we saw a great deal of action.” In the event they were unaware, she concluded with spirit, “We were the best.”
“The ‘Fightin’ Third,’ under Picton,” Rayburn agreed with a show of keen interest. “You were in the thick of it, then. Did you travel with the artillery?”
“Infantry,” she declared, her mouth full. “The First and Foremost, for King and Country.”
He was all admiration, as he crumbled the bread into his bowl of stew. “Then you have some tales to tell; you should write your memoirs—or at least the dates and the battles, so that you do not forget.”
Artemis was amused by the very idea. “I can’t imagine I will ever forget anything—and I never learned how to write, anyway.”
“Didn’t ye?” exclaimed Mrs. Tittle in surprise. “Fancy that.”
But her brother found this particular fact only one more piece to the puzzle that was Mr. and Mrs. St. John, and he regarded Artemis covertly from under his brows whilst he continued with his meal. “If I may ask, how did you meet your husband, lass?”
Hiding a smile, Artemis said only, “We met at a dance, in London.”
“Isn’t that nice?” Mrs. Tittle folded her hands under her apron. “It just goes to show—you never know.”
“Never,” agreed Artemis.
“Have you known him long?” Rayburn ventured, still probing.
“Gerry,” his sister admonished with a small frown. “You mustn’t pry.”
“We danced, and then he came to call the next morning,” Artemis reminisced, gauging the dryness of her hair with her fingertips. “It is rather a simple story.” She thought it would be best to omit large and horrifying parts of it.
“Where will you settle?” asked Mrs. Tittle as she rose to gather up Artemis’ bowl. “Is he training in a trade?” Apparently, she’d resisted her own impulse to pry as long as she was able.
“His family is from—” She frowned, trying to remember the name Droughm had given her. “Lamb—something.”
“He’s not one to have a trade,” commented Rayburn dryly.
Misconstruing the remark, Mrs. Tittle turned to admonish him. “Now, Gerry; he has a wife, now, and responsibilities, and I am sure he’ll do right by her.” With a significant look, she sent him a clear message not to dishearten the new bride.
Suppressing a smile, Rayburn mopped up the remains of his bowl with a crust of bread, and made no further comment.
“Ye’re welcome to stay as long as you like, until you find your feet,” Mrs. Tittle assured Artemis. “It’s no easy thing, just startin’ out.”
Any response was interrupted when, with a preemptory knock at the door, Droughm entered, carrying the saddlebags over his shoulder and bringing another gentleman with him. Scrambling to her feet in surprise, Mrs. Tittle rendered a respectful curtsey to the newcomers. “Dr. McIntosh; Sir.”
With a twinkle, Artemis called out from her perch by the fire, “Allow me to introduce my husband, Mrs. Tittle; Mr. St. John.”
After an astonished moment, the woman pulled herself together and bobbed another curtsey, slanting Artemis a sidelong look. “I am that pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.”
“Indeed,” said Droughm abruptly. “What is that I smell?”
Whilst Droughm sat at the kitchen table and put away two bowls of the stew in short order, the doctor sat next to Artemis to remove her splint, and examine her arm. “Sound,” he pronounced. “Roddie knows his work.” He regarded her with his brows drawn together as he immobilized the arm in the splint once again. “It must hurt—I’ll give ye a vial of laudanum for the pain. Take a few drops at a time; it should ease in a few days.”
“No thank you,” said Artemis firmly. “I’ll manage without.”
The doctor shook his head. “Take it at least to sleep, then. You can’t be sleepin’ well.”
“That is true, I am not getting much sleep.”
She heard Mrs. Tittle chuckle, as Droughm walked over to accept the vial and secure it in the saddlebags without comment. “Is there more bread?” he asked.
“I’ll make scones,” offered Mrs. Tittle, and happily rose to commence this task.
Addressing Rayburn, the doctor remarked, “I told Mr. St. John that the nearest place to secure a carriage is Gretna, or even Carlisle—he’ll not want what old McElroy has to offer.”
“There’s the right of it,” agreed Rayburn. “Break-downs, mostly.”
“Do we need a carriage?” asked Artemis in some dismay. She could hardly imagine a worse fate—carriages were for paltry civilians.
Droughm met her eyes to convey a message that she would not prevail on this particular subject. “I’m afraid we’ve little choice; I’ll not risk further injury.”
At Artemis’ unhappy silence, the doctor added his own caution. “Come now, lass; ye can’t risk another fall.”
“Oh—did ye fall from a horse?” Mrs. Tittle clucked her tongue from her station at the counter. “Big, nasty things, horses.”
Nonplussed, Artemis could make no reply.
“Gretna, then,” said Droughm, pulling his map from an inside coat pocket. “We’d like to avoid Carlisle.” The men gathered to pore over Droughm’s map, and then discussed the most expedient route from Gretna to Sheffield in the common language of men everywhere.
Whilst they were thus occupied, Artemis signaled to Mrs. Tittle to bring over the saddlebags. “I have a dress packed away, and my hair is nearly dry. Could you help me, ma’am? I suppose we’ll have to cut off the sleeve.”
“A wee dolly,” declared Mrs. Tittle, removing Artemis’ rag doll from the bag, and holding it fondly in her hands. “Brings me back, it does—my Janey had one similar.” She tucked the doll in Artemis’ sling, and then pulled the day dress from the depths of the leather bag to shake it out. “Sech fine quality; I’d hate to ruin it—we can pin the sleeve on the inside, mayhap.”
“It is not one of my favorites,” Artemis assured her. “Feel free to slice it up.” Lady Tallyer had indeed been generous in her choice—the dress was a very pretty green. On the other hand, the neckline was modestly high.
“’Twill need a pressin’,” noted Mrs. Tittle. “Let me heat up the iron.”
Artemis turned to watch the fire, as the aroma of scones filled the kitchen and the men debated the merits of various posting houses. Out of habit, she pressed her doll’s midsection to feel the edges of the minting plates within, and then stilled her hands, suddenly wide awake. Glancing quickly under the doll’s threadbare dress, she verified what she’d suspected—the abdomen had been re-stitched. Over the course of the war, she’d learned to sew a fine seam, and she could feel that the repair in the doll’s midsection was not her handiwork.
Careful to give no indication of her discovery, she thought about it for a moment and then came to the only logical conclusion—Droughm. She’d wondered why he’d not brought the saddlebags in with them last night, and this must have been the reason; he had planned to use some of his time away from her today to open the doll and then re-stitch it—although his stitching was not as fine. The plates were still within, though; she could feel them. Perhaps he wished to see them for himself, but it seemed strange that he hadn’t simply asked her—unless he didn’t quite trust her, at least not yet. The thought was a bit disturbing, and she tucked the doll back into her sling, wishing she hadn’t made the discovery.