ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

  

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 44

 

The Sheffield Constable was questioning Artemis at the station-house, Droughm having reluctantly agreed to it as long as he could be present.   To no one’s surprise, the questioning centered upon the obvious motive the orphaned and penniless Artemis would have had in putting a period to her previously-unknown rich uncle’s existence. 

With a narrow gaze, the Constable pressed, “And you kept a pistol with you, when you were visiting here, I believe.”

“I did,” Artemis agreed. “I still do.”  Put it to good use this morning, she thought with no small satisfaction; certainly surprised that French hussy.

What was unsettling, or at least it was to Artemis, was the fact that her illustrious husband’s extreme displeasure in the proceedings seemed to have little effect on the officer of the law.  There’s little point in marrying an Earl, thought Artemis, if he hasn’t enough influence to intimidate a Yorkshire Constable.  For it seemed apparent that the man was not intimidated, but was instead enjoying the power he held over them—it did not bode well, as Droughm had already pointed out. 

“And his death meant you inherited the mines,” the Constable continued, leaning his hands on the table.

“Not exactly,” interrupted Droughm. “My wife is underage—legally, she could not have inherited without a guardian.”

But the Constable only lifted his sharp gaze to Droughm.  “The mines certainly made for a fine dowry, and she attracted a titled husband in short order.”  

Amazingly short order, Artemis had to agree in all fairness; and the Constable himself was attracted by the self-same dowry.  But if it hadn’t been Droughm, it would probably have been Torville, which would have been nowhere near as enjoyable, because I’d have been forced to punish him for his misdeeds, and then we’d have two corpses to explain away, instead of just the one.

“Next you will accuse Lady Droughm of arranging for the cave-in,” Droughm exclaimed in outrage. “This is intolerable.”

“A man has been murdered,” the Constable countered. “I must make my investigation, my lord.”

“The matter is more properly one for the Coroner, certainly.”

The other man raised a brow in surprise. “Come now; there can be little question the death was by homicide.” 

“An inquest must be conducted,” Droughm insisted.  “The wound may have been self-inflicted.”

This suggestion invoked a mildly derisive reaction. “Unlikely, my lord; there was no pistol at the scene.  If he shot himself, the weapon would be present.”

“Has a thorough search been made through the rubble?” demanded Droughm with narrowed eyes. “Or are you a bit too eager to charge the late Colonel Merryfield’s daughter?”

For the first time, Artemis could perceive a slight wariness in the lawman’s demeanor. “A search was made; however, another canvass could certainly be taken as a precaution.”

“Then do so,” commanded Droughm, at his most autocratic.

With a nod, the Constable conceded. “Nevertheless, I must ask that Lady Droughm step into the next room and write out a statement under oath—setting forth a chronology of her actions on the day her uncle disappeared.”

Hell and damnation, thought Artemis, flushing with embarrassment. But before she could confess that she was unable to write, Droughm interjected smoothly, “My wife writes with her injured left hand—perhaps I could write out her statement as she recites it.”

But the Constable was not to back down again.  “I must insist that you not be present while she completes this task, my lord—surely you understand.  Instead, I will send for a clerk.”

“I cannot be comfortable with such an arrangement—to have my young wife closeted with a strange man,” Droughm countered immediately. “Such a course is unacceptable.”

Amused by this out-and-out mischaracterization of her maidenly sensibilities, Artemis awaited the other’s response with interest.  After a small pause, the Constable offered, “I will fetch my mother to sit with her, then; she lives here with me.”

Unable to think of any further objection, Droughm nevertheless made his displeasure very clear as he escorted Artemis into the holding room next door, pausing at the doorway to assure her that he would await without until she had completed her statement. As he leaned in to kiss her cheek he murmured, “Caliber?”

She murmured in return, “Forty-four.” He then left, presumably to arrange to have a pistol planted at the scene of the crime. A very useful sort of husband, she thought, as she watched him leave; when he wasn’t being tiger-like with annoying Frenchwomen.  Although to be fair, she couldn’t fault him for anything he’d done before he’d met her. Of course, he was currently involved in some sort of plot to trip her up, but she couldn’t really hold it against him—there was little doubt that he was unhappy about it; a haunted look dwelt in his eyes, and he’d not slept well.

“I will fetch my mother to you, and send for a clerk.” The Constable indicated she should be seated at the small table. “I’m afraid I can allow no visitors, but if you have need of anything, you have only to knock.”

With an inward sigh, Artemis settled in to wait in the sparsely-appointed holding room—Droughm had instructed her to tell a fish tale, and she would follow orders, even though she didn’t much like all the dishonesty. Although in this case, the truth would probably sound more like a fish tale than a fish tale.

  Within a few minutes, the Constable returned, escorting an elderly woman with greying hair who leaned on a cane to assist her progress. As he saw her settled into a chair, the Constable said in clear tones, “This is Lady Droughm, mother. You must stay with her while she gives her statement to the clerk.”

The man then left, closing the door and leaving Artemis in the small room with the older woman, who was regarding her with over-bright eyes as she sucked on her teeth.

Artemis ventured, “Good afternoon,” raising her voice so as to be heard. 

Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death,” the woman announced in a malevolent tone.

“I see,” replied Artemis with a twinge of pity—the woman was clearly a bit addled.  “That is alarming.”

“A just death—and then my Danny will have riches and honor.” The claw-like hand gripped the head of the cane with such strength that it trembled.

“Yes—mine uncle has died,” Artemis explained. “Great-uncle, actually.”

But the older woman continued as though Artemis hadn’t spoken, narrowing her red-rimmed, rheumy eyes. “The Rebecca, she will steal the birthright by her evil deeds. But it matters not; the other is a foul Delilah, and will descend into the pit. In the end, my Danny will be glorified.”

Thinking this a rather disjointed outlook, Artemis ventured a smile. “My name is Artemis; have you any grandchildren?” She had little experience with the elderly, but had heard they could not resist discussing their grandchildren.

  There was a small pause, and then the woman continued with some heat, stamping her cane on the wooden floor. “Back! You’ll not inveigle me—not with your pretty eyes, and your sweet way.  No; not since Mary Queen of Scots will Sheffield hold such a prisoner—my Danny will be the talk of the kingdom.”

“The Queen of Scotland?” Artemis wasn’t at all clear on this reference. “Are you from Scotland, then? I have only just now returned from there.”

  But the woman paid no attention, and seemed to be lost in her own reverie. “It will be the talk of the kingdom.  My Danny—my Danny will be glorified. Wealth and riches shall be in his house.”

Artemis hadn’t the heart to argue with the poor woman, who seemed to be rejoicing in Artemis’s anticipated imprisonment.  “I think it is all a misunderstanding—my uncle may have shot himself.”  May as well start laying the groundwork for Droughm’s falsified evidence.

“No; no. They’ll have him dead to rights.” Malevolently, she eyed Artemis and cackled, as though amused.

A small alarm sounded in Artemis’ mind. This is important, she thought. Pay attention, Artemis.  “Him? But isn’t the murderer a woman?  A Queen, I think you said.”

“A death in Sheffield,” the other repeated, allowing the syllables to roll off her tongue like a portent. “And a good riddance to the foul Delilah, with wealth and riches to my Danny.” 

Nonplussed, Artemis decided that further conversation was futile.  “Well, I hope no one will be injured.”

The woman covered her mouth and cackled, as a young man entered only to pause on the threshold, taking in the strange scene. 

“The Constable’s mother,” Artemis explained. “Come to chaperone.”

“I see,” he said, although it didn’t seem as though he did, and for the next half hour he took down Artemis’ false recitation of events the day her uncle died. The Constable’s mother made no further remarks, which was a relief, as Artemis needed to keep her story straight without the distraction of dire warnings.

The clerk looked over what he’d written down. “So; you stayed in the empty house during the day without going out-of-doors, and you did not wonder what had happened to your uncle until dusk began to fall, and he had not returned.”

Artemis nodded unhappily. “Yes—I suppose that’s the brunt of it.”  I cannot be honest because too much is at stake, she thought. If it weren’t for the French, and the treason, and my having the stupid plates, I could simply explain that the man was insane and tried to murder me. But I cannot be honest because—to quote Droughm—some things are more important than the truth.

  Suddenly struck, she raised her gaze to consider the opposite wall for a long moment. Droughm was miserable for the same reason; too much was at stake for him to trust his new bride, even though he was inclined to do so.  I believe I can alleviate this dilemma for him, she thought, her mind turning over a new-hatched plan; I cannot like all this deception, and I believe—at least in this instance—that honesty may well be the best policy.

“Thank you, my lady,” said the clerk in a respectful tone.

Repent, in dust and ashes,” pronounced the old woman in a malicious tone.

“Hush,” said Artemis absently. “You are annoying.”