ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 45

 

“What do you know about laudanum, Katy?” Artemis held the brown vial in her fingers and turned it this way and that, in the fading afternoon light.

Katy paused in sponging off the hem of Artemis’ black dress, which would be seeing a great deal of use for the foreseeable future. “I’ve taken it for a toothache, my lady. Are you needing a dose?”

“How much would it take to put Lady Tallyer to sleep, do you suppose?”

After a surprised pause, Katy offered, “Well, three drops for a toothache, and it makes me sleepy—I suppose ten drops would do it.”

“I’ll need your help, Katy—my wretched arm has cashiered me.”

“We’re putting Lady Tallyer to sleep, then?” Katy’s eyes shone and she abandoned her project without a qualm. “What’s to do?”

Artemis debated, then said with regret, “I’m afraid I’d rather not say, Katy—best you not know the particulars.”

With a smile, the girl assured her, “I’ll stand bluff, my lady.”

“Good. I will invite Lady Tallyer to play cards in the private parlor downstairs, and at my signal you’re to bring us tea, and see to it she has her drops.”

Katy considered the obvious drawback to this plan. “She’ll fall asleep at the table, miss.”

“Leave it to me, Katy; I’ll have the servants help me get her back into her room, and then I will attend to her—it is important that we are not disturbed, once we are in her room, so you’re to return to your own room straightaway.”

“Very good miss—I mean, my lady.”

I’m sure she thinks I’m going to search the wretched woman’s room, thought Artemis, which is as fine an explanation as any.  “Thank you, Katy—you are a trump.”

That evening, Artemis watched Droughm as he pulled the brim of his drayman’s hat low over his face, in preparation for a clandestine night journey.  “What time do you think you’ll return, Pen?”

“My best information is that the Coroner is conducting official business two towns over. I’ll leave quietly, and track him down for a little discussion—preparing the ground, so to speak.  Say nothing—no one should notice, but if anyone asks, you don’t know where I am.”

“I’ll be as subtle as a serpent,” Artemis assured him. “How much does it cost to bribe a Coroner, nowadays?”

Shrugging into his greatcoat, he tilted his head in demurral. “Not so much a bribe as a friendly conversation; a bribe might give the impression you are indeed guilty.”

“I am indeed guilty,” she reminded him, reaching on tiptoe to kiss him goodbye. “You’d best give him the sapphires, so as to outbid the Constable when he offers up his paltry pearls.”

He tugged on the braid that fell down her back, a hint of remorse in his eyes. “I don’t deserve you, Artemis. You are one in a million.” 

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Pen—the Constable’s mother didn’t like me much.”

He began to button up his coat. “Didn’t she? I thought you were slated to be her daughter-in-law.”

Artemis made a face.  “It was ridiculously awkward, actually. She’s a bit addled, I think, and kept making dire predictions, rather like the witches in Macbeth.”

As he pulled on his leather gloves, he gave her a look. “Eye of newt?

Knitting her brow, Artemis tried to remember. “She kept referring to a death in Sheffield, but it didn’t seem that she meant mine uncle, but instead someone else. There was a famous prisoner, too; a Queen.”

He walked over to pause at the door, listening. “Mary, Queen of Scots?”

Artemis brightened. “Yes—that was it. Do you know of her?”

Droughm opened the door a crack, and scouted the hallway.  “She was held prisoner in Sheffield centuries ago—it does sound as though the woman was addled, if she was speaking of her.”

“I don’t know.” Uneasy, Artemis frowned. “I can’t shake the feeling that what she said was important, for some reason.”

Droughm lifted a shoulder in dismissal. “I think it is her son who is addled, to be antagonizing me without fear of reprisal. If he was involved in the counterfeiting scheme, he should be putting some distance between himself and the others, and trying to curry favor; he could easily be hanged for treason.”

“It makes no sense,” she agreed. “Unless he is annoyed with you because you stole a march on him, and carried off my wealthy self.”

Pausing before he left, he threw an arm around her, and drew her to him, holding her a bit too tightly for the comfort of her splint. “I am sorry to put you through this, Artemis.”

“I could say the same to you, Pen.”

His hands on either side of her neck, he drew her apart from him, so that he could look into her eyes, very seriously. “Know that I love you, Artemis; this—episode—with Lisbetta—”  

His voice trailed off as he struggled to decide how much he could say.  Artemis resolved to help him along, being as she wanted him out the door so as to put her counter-plan into action. “I know there’s a cat-and-mouse in play, Pen. Please don’t worry; I understand.”

“I can’t antagonize Lisabetta; not just now.” His thumb reached up to brush her cheek.  “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to explain.”

This seemed a veiled reference to the French girl’s insistence that Artemis turn over the doll, to save Droughm from having to do it.  “So many crossings and double-crossings to keep track of,” Artemis observed in a mild tone.  “I can’t help but think that an honest dose of pound-dealing would not come amiss.”

“I can’t antagonize her,” he repeated more firmly. “It is damnable, but there it is.”

“I understand,” she repeated, and didn’t mention that she was never one to hesitate in antagonizing the enemy, and had even excelled at it, on occasion. But first, she needed to find out what was what—no need overset poor Pen’s careful plans, after all.  With a final kiss, she bid him goodbye.

Lady Tallyer appeared promptly upon Droughm’s departure, and Artemis recited an abbreviated version of the day’s gruesome discovery to her, concluding, “But they need to call in the Coroner to determine the exact cause of death.”

“Oh? I thought the cause of death was clear.” The woman slid her gaze to Artemis.

Matter-of-factly, Artemis informed her, “Apparently, the possibility of suicide has been raised.”

After considering this, Lady Tallyer nodded. “Suicide would certainly be the best conclusion for everyone concerned.”

“Definitely best for me.”

“For everyone—not just you,” the other woman emphasized. “If it was determined that you murdered your uncle, you would not be eligible to inherit the mines—under the law, a murderer cannot inherit from the victim.”

“Oh.” Artemis had not considered this aspect of the tangled plots and counter-plots that were currently in play. “Then who would inherit, if I were determined to be the murderess?”

“I think it is not certain, the lady said. “Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Soberly, Artemis remembered there was more at stake than keeping the new-minted Countess out of prison; the mines could not be allowed to fall back under the control of Napoleon’s evildoers.  Small wonder Droughm was moving heaven and earth to clear her name.

Artlessly straightening her sling, Artemis suggested, “Shall we go downstairs and play cards to pass the time? I am weary of these four walls, and that way we could have tea and cakes brought in from the kitchen.”

“Very well,” agreed the lady with little enthusiasm, as she turned toward the door.  “What would you care to play?”

“Piquet? We could play penny-a-point.” Artemis had played cards all her life with the savvy Colonel, and was certain she could thoroughly trounce her companion.

This was agreed to, and as they descended the stairs, Artemis remembered to ask something that had been niggling at the back of her mind, ever since her visit to the station-house. “You must be familiar with the Bible, if your parents were missionaries.”

“Very true,” the other responded, and offered nothing more.

Artemis persisted, “Wasn’t Delilah a Bible character?”

  “Yes,” the other answered absently as they settled in the private parlor, the proprietor fussing to make them comfortable. “She was infamous for betraying her husband to the enemy.”

As they called for cards and candles, Artemis considered this information.  “And there was another woman—I think her name started with an “R.”

With an amused smile, Lady Tallyer suggested, “Ruth?  Rachael?”

Frowning, Artemis tried to remember, as she dealt the first hand. “It had to do with stealing a birthright.”

“Rebecca, then.”

Artemis looked up. “Yes—that’s it. Who was Rebecca?”

The other woman absently spread her cards. “Rebecca schemed to steal one son’s inheritance, so as to give it to another.”

Thinking it over, Artemis made a discard.  “I’m asking because the Constable’s mother was spouting off dire warnings, and seemed to be very pleased that I was about to meet my comeuppance.  I had the impression that I was the foul Delilah—going down into the pit—but there was someone else who was the Rebecca, and the Rebecca was going to steal the birthright and bring riches and honor to the Constable.”

Lady Tallyer paused, and lifted her gaze with an unreadable expression.  “Who was saying this to you?”

“The Constable’s mother—she’s a horror. Do you know what she meant?”

“No,” said her companion thoughtfully as she made a discard. “But I should find out. I’ve been meaning to ask you if I could borrow your mare, while we are here.”

Hiding her dismay only with a mighty effort, Artemis felt she had no choice but to politely agree. “Of course; Callisto does need the exercise, and I’ve been unable to ride her.”

“Thank you,” the other replied, and returned her attention to the game.

Katy poked her head in the door. “Would you care for tea, my lady?”

“Definitely,” said Artemis with relief.