A Death in Sheffield
The next day looked to rain, and so Droughm asked to use the Inn’s chaise carriage for their trip to the mines. He overrode Artemis’s protests: “Since you cannot use both hands, I would not be easy having you ride horseback over the terrain. You’ve been in that area, and you know how rough it is.”
As though I’ve not seen more rough terrain than smooth, Artemis thought with an inward scowl. But she was trying to find her role as his wife, now that their lives had swung so drastically, and so she did not challenge his stricture. There would be plenty of time for riding—there was precious little to do here, after all.
With a servant accompanying them on horseback, they made their way in the one-horse chaise to the outskirts of the city proper, and then climbed the wooded hill that led to the famous Merryfield mines. A gatekeeper guarded the entrance to the mining area, and at Droughm’s signal, the gate was levered up, and the man tugged his cap respectfully as they passed through. They tied their horse at the tie-rail, and then approached the small wooden building that served as the office for the mining operations. Upon being informed that the Overseer was in the Old Mine, a worker went ahead to fetch him, and they climbed the tiered path, the servant hoisting an umbrella over them against the rain.
On the hill, there were two parallel shafts, the Old Mine—which was not in use, as it had been mined out centuries ago—and the main mine shaft, which continued to produce a rich vein of silver. Droughm greeted the Overseer, and introduced Artemis as they stood in the tunnel’s entrance, out of the rain. Artemis had forgotten the distinctive, musty smell of the place, and resisted an urge to stand out in the rain, rather than within the hewn-rock walls.
“My lady,” the man said, removing his cap with a grave expression. “As I told your husband yesterday, we believe that there was a fire somewhere in the Old Mine—there are new smoke stains on the rock entry—and a fire doesn’t just start in the tunnels without a lantern or such. I’m afraid you may need to brace yourself for bad news, as it seems likely it was old Mr. Merryfield—he did like to come to the mines, when there was no one about.”
“It is indeed grave news, but not unexpected, as we have not heard from him in so long,” Droughm agreed. “We can only presume he met with an unfortunate accident.”
“When will you know for certain?” asked Artemis, doing her best to appear concerned.
“We’re taking the rock-fill out now, and depending on how large a blockage we’re dealing with, it may take a few more days.” The Overseer bowed his head in commiseration. “I’m sorry, my lady—I fear we’ll have bad news.”
“It is fitting, in a way,” Artemis offered. “He did love the mines.”
“That he did,” agreed the man, and gave her a glance that made her think that perhaps he was not unaware of her uncle’s strange obsession.
“What is the status of the Treasury’s contract for the new schilling?” asked Droughm.
The Overseer made a gesture toward the men who were pushing the wheeled hand-carts, piled high with rock. “As far as I know, there has been no change in the plans, and as soon as we remove the rock-fill, we’ll be back at it. The Constable—Mr. Easterby—said we were to keep going, despite Mr. Merryfield’s disappearance, and that the men would be paid, same as before.”
Droughm continued to speak to the Overseer, asking questions about the mining process and the refinery, whilst Artemis listened with only half an ear, having already heard much of it from her late, unlamented uncle. The rain had dissipated, and as she gazed out over the wooded valley, she noted that there was a horseman coming in through the gate, seated upon a very fine chestnut horse. As he came closer, she recognized the Constable himself—this was of interest, as Droughm had been hoping to avoid the man, but it appeared he was well-informed as to their activities.
The Constable dismounted to tether his horse, and climbed the path toward them, greeting Droughm with a nod and taking Artemis’ hand with a dry smile. “We meet again.” He was an in his forties, compact and lean with a perpetually somber expression. “You’ve been informed that we believe your uncle was buried when the Old Mine collapsed?”
Artemis gently extricated her hand from his. “Yes; I suppose the news is not unexpected—his disappearance does not bode well.”
“And you hardly knew him, of course.”
The observation was rather abrupt, and Artemis had the brief impression that the man was hoping to disconcert her. “I’d never met him before my visit here; that is true.”
Almost before she’d finished the sentence, Droughm interjected, “Hardly a surprise, after all; Lady Droughm has followed the drum all her life.” He placed a slight emphasis on her title, and Artemis belatedly realized the other had not used it—although she was not one to notice.
But the other man needed no further prodding, and said to her, “It is a shame your first visit to England has been marred by this tragedy, my lady.” There was the barest undercurrent of irony to the statement.
She nodded, not certain what the appropriate response should be in light of the very evident fact that she’d not hesitated to marry in the midst of the aforementioned tragedy.
Droughm clasped his hands behind his back. “We should discuss the transfer of the mines to my control.” The comment seemed deliberately provocative, and Artemis awaited the other man’s reaction, hiding her trepidation.
But she needn’t have worried, because the Constable offered no protest. “I can’t imagine the transition need be delayed for any reason; it seems a forgone conclusion that Mr. Merryfield is no longer with us.”
“I will need to examine the accounts, of course.”
“Certainly,” the man agreed without hesitation, and indicated the Overseer with a nod of his head. “As soon as we make the recovery of Mr. Merryfield’s remains.”
He excused himself, and walked away to confer with the Overseer, and it occurred to Artemis that she’d rather not be present in the event her uncle’s burnt corpse was indeed recovered. She glanced at Droughm. “Do you know as much as you need to know, Pen?”
“Nowhere near.” He watched the Constable walk away, a frown between his brows.
“Not very friendly,” she observed, watching her husband. “He doesn’t seem to like us aristocrats much.”
Drawn from his abstraction, he smiled—as she’d intended—and tucked her good arm into his so as to support her down the tiered path. “Come along; this particular aristocrat is sharp-set.”
She teased, “Are you hungry again already? If you were in the army, you’d be the bane of the Brigade Cook, and have to be put on the rationing list.”
“I don’t know as I would make a very good soldier.”
“No.” Fondly, she squeezed his arm. “I imagine you are better suited for whatever it is that you do; you’re not one who would follow orders without question.”
“But you are?” He allowed his skepticism to show.
“I am,” she affirmed, a bit stung. “I am a good soldier, Pen.”
“And now you’re a good Countess.” With a gleam, he glanced down at her, and she could see that he was referring to her one task.
She laughed, and he paused for a moment on the dirt step, his thoughtful gaze on the tie-rail. “Have a look at the Constable’s horse.”
Following his gaze, she noted, “I already have; he’s a fine animal.”
“Very fine, indeed.” He helped her down the step, and continued on toward the chaise.
Hearing his tone, Artemis made a wry mouth. “I think the Constable is one of those men who hides a self-indulgent streak—you know the sort.” She’d known a few herself; many of them were the Colonel’s gambling cronies.
“I can only agree; the pearl in his tiepin is also very high quality. And if what we believe is correct, he is indulging himself with purloined silver, courtesy of the British Treasury.”
Artemis admitted, “I wouldn’t know a fine pearl from a paste one.”
“Pearls are paltry,” Droughm pronounced, as he helped her into the chaise. He then came around to climb up beside her, and to gather up the reins. “You are never to wear pearls, and that’s an order.” He nodded to the servant to release the horse.
“What pearls?” she teased. “I’ve yet to see my sapphires. Perhaps it was all a hum, to lure me into marrying you.”
“Too late,” he said bluntly. “You are well and thoroughly ruined.”
“Then I certainly deserve my sapphires,” she insisted.
But instead of replying with a ribald comment, he stilled for a moment, his gaze on his hands. “You deserve far better from me, Artemis.”
The light mood had vanished without explanation, and the atmosphere between them was suddenly thick with undercurrents she did not understand. Nonplussed, she tucked her good hand into his arm, and tried to tease him out of his sudden seriousness. “I do? Your best seemed more than adequate, last night.”
With an abrupt gesture, he slapped the horse with the reins. “Damn your uncle—he did you no favors.”
“No argument here, Pen; and we can only hope he’s been thoroughly damned—although he’s just the sort of person who would haunt me, like Banquo’s ghost.”
“They say blood will have blood,” quoted Droughm.
“I certainly hope not,” Artemis replied.