ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

 

A Death in Sheffield

Chapter 9

 

Artemis sat with her hands folded in her lap as she underwent an uncomfortable debriefing at Stanhope House.  She’d returned home only to find that Lady Stanhope requested a moment of her time, and was then led into the dining room with no further ado.

“I am informed he was quite particular in his attentions,” her aunt said, as she regarded her niece from beneath hooded eyes.

“Lord Droughm was very kind.” Artemis presented a guileless expression, and hoped to get over this rough ground as lightly as possible. Belatedly, she realized that she was ignorant of Droughm’s strategy—whether she should openly admit his attentions to her aunt so as to trigger whatever reaction he was seeking, or whether she was supposed to pretend to be unaware of his pointed interest. A pox on the man, for forgetting to strategize with me, she thought; I suppose it best to pretend to be unaware until I hear otherwise. To this end, she recited as though she were ten years old, “He showed me the Serpentine Pond; there were all variety of ducks.”

Her aunt made no reply, and Artemis had the uneasy conviction that she’d overplayed her hand.  Retrenching, she added, “And Lady Tallyer joined us for a time.”

“Did she indeed?” Her aunt’s thin brows rose in surprise. 

That should confuse the issue, thought Artemis with satisfaction, and then heard the entry bell ring. She paused, hoping that the visitor meant an end to her debriefing; perhaps luncheon would be served soon—it had been hungry work this morning, sorting out the rest of her life.  

But instead of a reprieve, Artemis could hear Hooks speaking with Torville in the foyer. It wants only this, she thought with resignation, and prepared herself for further interrogation. 

“Aunt,” her cousin greeted as he entered the room. “I am looking to be fed.”

Artemis rose to curtsy, and he greeted her with a cynical smile. “Cousin.” 

Aunt Stanhope pulled the bell cord. “I am so happy you’ve joined us, Torville; Artemis is relating her experiences from this morning.” This said with some meaning.

“Oh?” the gentleman asked as he moved over to the sideboard. “Which experiences are these?”

“Lord Droughm took her riding in the park.” The older woman paused. “On a mare he brought especially for her.”

As the servant brought in the cold-meat platters, Torville turned to regard Artemis with some surprise. “Did he? Am I to wish you happy, cousin?”

“Great heavens, Torville—he cannot think to marry her,” her aunt interjected with a tinge of exasperation. “The man is a belted Earl.”  This being said, her aunt then turned to address Artemis in awful tones. “Did he indeed speak of marriage?”

Artemis did her best to appear bewildered. “We spoke of horses, ma’am—and gardens.”

Her aunt subsided, and thoughtfully sank into her chair. “He plays a deep game, then.”

But Torville had other concerns to raise.  “I understand you entertained a visitor here at the house, cousin—the Ambassador’s daughter.”

“I did,” Artemis readily admitted, turning to her aunt. “I forgot to mention it, ma’am—she came by yesterday to leave a note for you.”

If it were possible, Lady Stanhope’s expression became even more basilisk-like. “Indeed?”

Since it seemed clear that this was very unwelcome news, Artemis decided to do a bit of probing. “We met at the ball, you see. Miss Valdez would like to stand as my friend, here in London.”

“Artemis,” her aunt scolded; “you must not entertain visitors when I am from home—you are no longer with the army, and must make an effort to behave with propriety.”   

“Yes, ma’am—I am truly sorry.  I wasn’t certain what I should do in such a situation.”

“If neither I nor Torville is at home, you must not entertain visitors—I will inform Hooks.  At your age you must be very circumspect.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Artemis decided that she probably shouldn’t mention she’d been discussing the best way to dismiss a mistress with Droughm. “Miss Valdez did mention a potential shopping expedition—would such an outing be permissible?”  

Her companions regarded her with mutual, silent consternation. “I would be remiss to allow such an expedition, Artemis,” her aunt declared firmly. “I am afraid the young lady runs with a fast crowd, and I could not be easy.”

“Do not leave the house with her,” Torville advised bluntly. “Your reputation would suffer.”  He gave his aunt a covert glance of alarm, but she’d sunk her chin to her chest, and was lost in thought.

So—the Portuguese contingency still hopes to abduct me, Artemis thought.  It is strange, though; it takes little imagination to make the connection between counterfeiting coins and the silver mines in Sheffield, but I cannot see why Portugal would take such an interest.  I will have to ask Droughm, next time I see him.

“Perhaps you will escort your cousin to the lending library after luncheon,” suggested Lady Stanhope, lifting her head to fix Torville with a silent message. “You have spent little time together, of late.”

Artemis decided that this idea had merit; it was unlikely that Torville would continue to press his attentions on her—not after having the fear of Droughm beaten into him—and perhaps she could wheedle some information from him about how all this fit together    

And so, Artemis stepped out onto the pavement with Torville, and immediately cast a casual glance behind them.  She saw what she’d expected; Droughm’s man, dressed in workman’s clothes and following at a discreet distance—it was nice to know her flank was protected. She met the man’s gaze for a long moment to make him aware she knew of his presence, and then brought her attention back to her companion. “Are you inclined to tell me what makes our mutual aunt so nervous?”

“Is she nervous?” Torville slid his mocking gaze sidelong to her. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“So—you are not inclined,” she concluded. “It is all very puzzling.  Where is our Uncle Stanhope?”

“I believe he is in Sheffield, trying to discover what happened to your great-uncle.”

Artemis considered this. “Good luck to him.”

His gaze speculative, it was Torville’s turn to press. “What do you know of it?”

But she would not be drawn. “I am as little inclined to tell you anything as you are to tell me.”

Twisting his mouth into a cynical smile, he returned his gaze to the street ahead. “We have a stalemate, then.”

They walked a bit further in silence, coming upon the shops that served this fashionable area of town. “Are we truly going to the library?” Artemis asked. “I’m not much for reading.”

“Your wish is my command,” he replied in a tone that made her long to cuff him.  “What you will.”

“I’d like an ice,” she decided, spying a confectioner’s shop across the way. “I haven’t had an ice since Barcelona.”

“By all means, then.” He escorted her into the establishment, and Artemis settled upon a table near the window, so that her guard would have an unobstructed view.  They ordered dishes of the treat, neither one of them finding it necessary to maintain a conversation, even out of politeness. After scraping the last bit from the bottom of her dish, Artemis thought she’d take a cast, and asked, “What do you know about Ambassador Valdez’s daughter?”

Torville eyed her in amusement. “You are a suspicious little package—why would I know anything about her?” This said in a manner that made it clear he indeed knew something, and was not going to tell her.

Although she realized he was trying to goad her, she continued to press, hoping he’d not miss a chance to feel superior. “Our aunt seem very reluctant to allow me to fraternize with her.”

With his eyes holding hers, her companion licked the spoon in a deliberate and provoking manner whilst he considered his answer.  If Droughm were here, thought Artemis, he would punch him yet again, and I would be happy to hold his coat. 

“She is no doubt afraid that your reputation would suffer.”

Artemis regarded him with a thoughtful gaze. “I think that you are all afraid of Miss Valdez, for some reason.”

A cynical smile on his lips, Torville negligently leaned back. “Heavens no—where do you come by these fanciful notions, little cousin?”

She lifted a brow.  “I suppose it comes of having all manner of secretive relations.”   

Cocking his head, Torville replied, “If you marry me, there will be no more secrets. And I suppose I could do worse than have to look into those eyes of yours, across the breakfast table every morning.”

“And think upon my silver mines,” she added.

“That, too,” he agreed without a qualm.  “Quite the sweetener, they are.”

“No, thank you,” she said politely. She imagined he made the offer so as to be able to report to their aunt that he had done so—no doubt his aunt had commissioned him for this very purpose.  If the Court of Chancery was told she wished to marry her cousin, presumably her guardianship issues would be resolved in short order.

“I am unsurprised that you scorn my suit—you have bigger fish to fry.” This with another sly look.

But she would not be goaded into a response, and they returned to Stanhope House with little further discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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