ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 6

 

That afternoon, Artemis wandered down the servant’s stairway with the intent of inveigling some bread and jam out of Cook; she was reluctant to join her aunt for tea in the drawing room but she was hungry, and a body needed to eat.

As she turned the corner at the foot of the narrow stairs, she came face-to-face with her cousin Torville, who was apparently edging his way out the back entry—no doubt he was avoiding their mutual aunt, also.  Artemis was unsurprised to note that he looked the worse for wear—he’d a bruised area near his eye, and she could see several stitches on his forehead that had been obscured by the artful arrangement of his hair. 

  Upon sighting her, Torville bowed with mock-formality. “Cousin—I have missed you.” There was always a snide edge of mockery whenever he spoke; it was very unattractive.

“Good afternoon, Torville,” said Artemis. “How did you injure yourself?”

Smiling, he slapped the gloves he held in one hand against the other hand. “I’m afraid I had a nasty fall down a flight of stairs.”

Hiding her extreme satisfaction, Artemis offered, “I hope it was not too painful.”

“My only consolation is that I was drunk at the time.”

“A happy coincidence,” she agreed. “Now, if you do not mind, I am headed to the kitchen.”

He stepped back, and then bowed with an overly-elaborate gesture as she brushed by him. There’d been a change in his usual manner, as ordinarily he’d bestow a lingering kiss on her cheek when he greeted her—in his odious, calculating manner.  It seemed clear that he’d been threatened—and with good result—but he was not one to allow himself to be bested, and she’d do well to be wary when it came to Torville.  Completely selfish and spoiled, he wouldn’t have lasted ten days under the Colonel’s command—that, or he’d have been shown the error of his ways in no uncertain terms. It was rather a shame; the army had been the saving of many a spoiled boy.

After deciding that Torville didn’t deserve another thought, Artemis stepped into the happier, warmer climes of the house kitchen. The cook who presided there was a thin, unhappy woman who made wonderful pastries and complained constantly; at present, she was keeping a weather eye on her ovens but looked up to observe Artemis’ entry with a dour eye. “There ye are; I thought ye’d sleep the day away.”

“I’m very sharp-set, and hoping you will have the goodness to feed me, please.” Artemis sat down on a stool at the work table, and wound her feet around the legs.  “And I’m also hoping you have something other than cucumber sandwiches from the tea room, because no one will ever convince me that cucumber sandwiches are anything other than a sorry excuse.” 

With a show of being very much put-upon, the woman used the corner of her apron to serve up two scones that were already warming beside the hearth, and set them before Artemis.  “Hot,” she warned succinctly, and Artemis waited impatiently for the offerings to cool down, gauging with a quickly withdrawn fingertip.

Crossing her arms, Cook rested her thin frame against the edge of the table. “They say ye’ve got yerself a beau.”

“It is the eighth wonder of the world,” Artemis agreed, helping herself from the jug of milk that had been set out for her.

“His nibs’ll be unhappy.” This said with a derisive movement of the head which indicated the departed Torville. “He wants yer fortune.”

“He’ll not have it,” Artemis assured her. “Unless I give it all to you, and you be the one to marry him.”

Pursing her mouth, Cook expressed her extreme disapproval at this attempt at levity. “Best watch yerself, missy—a word to the wise.” She pushed the jam pot a bit closer.

“For two pins, I’d sign the wretched mines over to you,” Artemis declared as she spooned a dollop of jam onto a scone. “You could set-up a bakery for the poor miners, and thus brighten up their dreary days.”

“Yer beau wouldn’t like that,” Cook reminded her. “If it’s yer fortune he’s after, better he have it than Torville.”

“No question,” Artemis agreed through a mouthful, remembering the feel of that gentleman’s warm hand at her waist.

With a casual gesture, Cook wiped the corner of the table with her apron. “Heard he’s a handsome fella.”

“We’re going riding, tomorrow,” Artemis revealed. “Peek out the curtains, and see for yourself.”

But Cook’s brows had drawn together upon hearing this news. “Be wary,” she warned. “There be strange doings afoot.”

Yes, thought Artemis, as she spooned another dollop of jam onto the scone; Droughm is trying to goad someone into doing something—aside from goading me into this courtship, of course.  Unless—unless his goal is not truly a courtship, but some other goal altogether.

With this unhappy thought, she picked apart the remains of the scone, trying not to think about how disappointed she would be if that wonderful awareness she could see in his eyes was all a sham. I hope not, she thought, and tried to console herself by reflecting that the new riding habit in her armoire seemed excessive, if indeed it was all a sham.

“Who was the furrin girl, come to visit?”

“I’ve no idea,” answered Artemis in all honesty. “Perhaps she’s after my mines, too.”

Cook frowned mightily, and considered the opposite wall for a moment. “Strange doings afoot,” she repeated.  “And Old Crotchets is like a cat on hot bricks.”  This was Cook’s derisive term for Hooks, even though Artemis was privately convinced that the spinster had a soft spot for the very correct butler.

“I’ll not hear you disparage Hooks,” Artemis protested, through another mouthful.  “He has promised to give Torville a whipping, if needful.”

The older woman paused in the act of checking her breads. “Has he? More than I would have expected of him.” She sniffed.

Artemis eyed her covertly as she took a swallow from the milk jug. “I think the man has hidden depths; perhaps you should be kinder to him.”

With a thunderous brow, Cook waved a bread-paddle at Artemis. “Ye’ll do best to remember, missy, that the men-folk want one thing, and one thing only.”

“Even Hooks?” Artemis teased.

“Some jest hide it better than most,” Cook intoned darkly. “Mark me.”

“I will respectfully disagree,” Artemis decided, as she licked her fingers. “Mainly, they all seem to want my silver mines.”

“Sauce,” the cook muttered, and turned to address the waiting bread.