Authors: Donna Lea Simpson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Cozy, #Historical, #Supernatural, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #werewolf, #paranormal romance, #cozy series, #Lady Anne, #Britain, #gothic romance
As she pondered such a cheerless necessity, Jamey stood back from the door and she entered his room. It had been designed by her father to answer every need that the sometimes restless, often thoughtless fellow could have. One entire wall was glass, and had a glass door; beyond the glass Anne could see his garden room, a large sunny enclosure with a wild proliferation of plants, vines climbing in profusion, flowers pressed to the glass, berries ripening already in the hothouse environment. She turned to her brother. “How are you, Jamey?” she asked, searching his face.
He nodded, but still looked troubled. He was a big fellow, stout, with a paunch that attested to his love of Mrs. Jackson’s jam-filled cakes, scones, and puddings. Today, unlike his usual attire, he was jacketless and his shirt was stained, his thinning hair in disarray, and his scrubby beard unshaven. It brought back to her how much they depended upon the tiny but tough Mrs. Jackson and her excellent influence on Jamey. He adored her, and she could do almost anything with him, ensuring his good behavior, and even more important to Anne, his happiness.
Mr. Jackson, a small, stooped fellow, came to the door of Jamey’s suite and squawked in dismay, clasping his hands together and wringing them. “Oh, the master is not yet dressed. I’ve been trying to get luncheon prepared, and for my poor ladywife, trying to make a broth …” He trailed off, tears in his eyes.
“Mr. Jackson, please don’t worry. Jamey will do just fine,” Anne said, one hand on his shoulder to pull him aside, while Jamey went bumbling around still looking for his “lens,” the strong magnifying glass with which he examined everything and anything. “If you will go out to the stable, you will find Sanderson tending to things there. Please tell him to have Mrs. Aylesworth,” she continued, naming the Harecross Hall housekeeper, “send down her best girl to help here. Someone sturdy and unlikely to be frightened by my brother. Dorcas, I think, would be best. She should be prepared to stay for a time. Sanderson must bring back some of Mrs. Macey’s mutton broth, too, for your wife, and any aspic or delicate foods, and … oh …” She shook her head in dismay, seeing his panicked look. He would never remember it all. “Just have Sanderson come here and let me tell him all of this myself.”
Mr. Jackson stammered, but then rushed away.
“Jamey,” Anne said, following her brother, careful to keep her tone neutral. “Mrs. Jackson is ill. Shall we go and make sure she is all right?”
“All right, Annie,” he said, happy enough since he had found his lens.
Mrs. Jackson was very ill with what seemed to be the same as what Robbie and Madam Kizzy suffered from. The odor of sickness lingered, though Mr. Jackson had clearly tried to clean it up. Anne swallowed back her own revulsion at the smell, pushed up her sleeves and began to tidy the room, opening a window and letting in the fresh air.
Her brother was a surprisingly good helpmeet once she had calmed him at the sight of Mrs. Jackson in bed. The lady had always been indefatigable, so to see her, so small and frail, in the couple’s bed, was a shock even to her. When Sanderson attended her in the dark room, she told him all she needed, and asked him to have a message sent to Dr. Davies to attend Mrs. Jackson.
What was going on? Why were so many falling ill, so far apart, but with the same symptoms? Robbie and Madam Kizzy had been together and possibly ate the same thing; the connection there was clear. But no one from Farfield Farm had been near the gypsy camp, nor had anyone from the gypsy camp been to the farm. It was beginning to frighten her rather badly, but she would need to maintain a calm façade, for both Jamey’s sake and that of Mr. Jackson.
Darkefell slipped away, deciding not to wait for his mother before traveling south. He left word for her to follow as soon as she was ready and set out early the next morning with Osei, riding toward a small parish near Ecclesfield, close to Sheffield, where Theophilus Grover, despite his father’s assertion that he was headed for a bishop’s appointment, toiled in obscurity as a country parish vicar. It was a long ride, but finally, road weary and increasingly uneasy, they came upon the place.
The vicarage was a tiny stone cottage in a village of about ten houses, hard by the small church. Darkefell and Osei first visited the church, but an elderly woman who was cleaning the nave floor said that the vicar was at home taking his midday meal, so they proceeded to his cottage. Judging by the size of the church and village, Grover’s parish must be one of the smallest in England, and likely the poorest compensated.
Darkefell left Osei holding the horses and walked up to the vicarage, rapping smartly on the door. After a moment a little maid, a girl not more than thirteen or so, opened it and stood gaping at the marquess. “Is your master at home?” he asked.
She gaped for a moment more, then curtseyed and rushed away, leaving him standing on the step like some kind of tradesman. He looked back at Osei and shrugged.
A moment later Theophilus Grover appeared at the door, bowing. “I am so sorry, my lord, that Judy left you waiting like that. She has been sent to us for training, but I really despair of ever making her know how she should treat guests. Please come in, my lord.” He hesitated as he looked out at Osei, then bent toward Darkefell and murmured, “Would Mr. Boatin deign to come in?”
“Do you have a lad about to take care of the horses?”
“Yes, yes, of course, my lord,” Grover said, his balding head perspiring and his pale eyes wide. He retreated into the cottage and shouted, “Boy! Boy, see to the horses.”
His nervousness made Darkefell suspicious. Once inside and ushered to Grover’s cramped and dreary study, where religious books filled the shelves and heavy draperies kept out any rays of natural light, Darkefell watched Theophilus Grover.
“Now, what brings you back here, my lord?” the fellow said, after ordering the nervous maid to serve a weak cordial, some homemade berry abomination, in tiny glasses.
“When we last spoke, Theo, I was under the impression that your father had died in his fall from Staungill Force.”
The other fellow’s eyes were watchful and either he was not enough of a deceiver to cover the fact that he was not surprised by the marquess’s line of conversation, or he did not intend to deny it. But he stiffly said, “Has something occurred to give you another opinion?”
As Grover raised his glass of cordial to his lips, one small beam of light pierced the gloom through a break in the curtains and lit a ruby on the fellow’s thick index finger, a ruby set in a signet ring, one that Darkefell had last seen on Hiram Grover’s finger the very night of the denouement, when he accused Grover of Cecilia Wainwright’s murder. How had Theophilus gotten it, if it was missing along with the body of his father? And why had the fellow not mentioned contact if he had no feelings of guilt?
Darkefell glanced at Osei and raised his eyebrows, then looked directly at the ruby ring. Grover was more perceptive than Darkefell had given him credit for being, and caught the look. He flushed a deep red and jerked his hand down, spilling the cordial and dropping the glass.
“When did you last have contact with your father?” Darkefell asked, knowing the time was right to catch Grover out.
“M-my father?” He cleared his throat and whipped out a handkerchief, sopping up the cordial from his embroidered waistcoat. When he looked up again, his face had regained its normal color, and he stiffly said, “I have not seen my father since before his dreadful fall on your estate.”
Osei immediately followed up what appeared to be an honest, if evasive, statement, saying, “But he has written to you, Mr. Grover, that is clear.”
The man’s eyes widened but he stayed silent.
“There’s no need to evade our questions, Theo,” Darkefell said, keeping his tone even with some difficulty. “If you had not heard from your father you wouldn’t be wearing that family ring. Grover had it on his finger the night he fell.”
Though the man trembled, he nodded.
“He wrote to you?”
Sighing heavily, Theo passed one hand over his balding pate and said, “In a sense. All I received was the ring, and a note, in his handwriting, recommending Deuteronomy five, verse sixteen.”
Osei said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Grover stared at him wide-eyed.
Irritated by what he interpreted as Theo’s astonishment at Osei’s erudition, Darkefell said, “Yes, Mr. Boatin knows our Bible probably better than I. And has read a translation of Alcoran, and is attempting to learn the Mandarin language by using Varo’s study so he can translate an ancient scroll brought back from Cathay by my grandfather.”
Grover looked blank.
Osei shifted in his seat, uneasy as he always was when his employer mentioned his intellectual achievements. But he spoke up. “What did you make of the letter, Mr. Grover? Do you still have it?”
Grover nodded, his pale eyes full of misery, and turned his back as he rustled through his desk. He turned and held out a single sheet of paper with a short note scrawled on it. “I received this two weeks ago with the ring. Nothing else.”
“False witness,” Darkefell mused, staring at the sheet of paper. “Is he saying we are lying about him killing Miss Wainwright?”
“I have come to believe he could not have done such a thing,” Theo said, his voice trembling. His eyes watered. “To kill a young woman in such a brutal way? My father would
commit such a heinous crime. It makes no sense to me.”
“Theo, the father you remember from your youth would not have done this, but he changed. You know he did, or you would not have had to break off your filial relationship with him,” Darkefell said.
Grover nodded slowly but did not meet the marquess’s steady gaze.
Darkefell rose, as did Osei, and the three men proceeded out to the gloomy, narrow hall. At the door, Theo appeared to struggle with something for a moment, and then said, “I have reason to believe the letter came from Kent, my lord. Perhaps the town of Ringwould.”
Darkefell experienced a jolt of fear, even though he had already deduced that Hiram Grover was near Anne. “Harecross Hall is nearby.”
Theo nodded, misery in his pale eyes. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he whispered.
Osei and Darkefell exited as a boy brought their horses around the side of the cottage, but as Osei took the reins of his mount, Theo, following them into the afternoon sunshine, blurted out, “Mr. Boatin, would you … would you ever consider speaking to our church group on the abomination of slavery?”
Osei paused and gazed steadily at the other man, but his tone was neutral when he said, “My time is at my Lord Darkefell’s disposal, sir.”
“We’ll see, Theo,” Darkefell said, springing up to his saddle. “Let us speak of this another time.”
As they rode back toward Ecclesfield and their inn Darkefell said, with a side glance at his secretary, “How useful it is to be able to defer to someone else when asked to do something you don’t wish to do.”
“What gave you the impression I would not like to speak to Mr. Grover’s church group, sir?”
Darkefell stared over at his secretary in the slanting sunlight. Osei’s expression was, as usual, unreadable, his eyes concealed by the glint of the rays of the descending sun in his spectacles. “Do you mean you would do it? Such a reticent fellow as you?”
Osei sat his mount perfectly, back straight, hands holding the reins lightly, but with authority. “My lord, I am becomingly reticent for my position, but it has never been a natural part of my character. I was raised to be a warrior. Certainly public speaking cannot be worse than facing an enemy in battle?”
Darkefell chuckled. “Don’t judge that by me. I would rather face a hundred foes than stand up in front of a group of bluestockings and church elders to talk.”
“Then once again we learn we are very different.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever plumb your depths, Osei. Of what would you speak, if you did this thing?”
“I would paint such a picture as would have the ladies fainting and the men staggered in disbelief,” Osei said, his expression grim in the shadowy light. He let a moment pass, then added, “In other words, I would simply tell the truth of my story, the slave ship, the death and contagion in that creaking, damp hold, the hell of it all. I would say how we were treated worse than cattle, and tell how my companion prisoners were tossed overboard into the cold Atlantic like sacks of moldy flour.”
He was quiet for a moment, then continued. “Perhaps I never did make it to my destination, the torment of slavery, but, my lord,” he said, meeting Darkefell’s eyes, “you saved my life for a purpose. The abolition of slave trade is a subject dear to my heart, as you must know.”
“You are completely free, Osei, to accept Theo’s invitation. And I would like to be there when you make that speech,” Darkefell said, with deep feeling.
The marquess thought of a letter he had recently sent to London and wondered if he should share the subject. Osei had lost sight of a sister who had been taken into slavery at the same time as he, and Darkefell hoped to find out where she had been taken. But he didn’t know a thing yet, and didn’t wish to get Osei’s hopes up. It felt odd, to be doing such a thing in secret. It was nothing he had thought of doing for years and he wondered, why now? Was it possible that simply being with Lady Anne Addison, witnessing her active involvement in life, was transforming him into a better person? That only held if one believed that for a man, being more sympathetic was a good trait. He wasn’t sure. He was often uncomfortable with himself now, wondering how he had led a blinkered existence for so long, never noticing that those around him were not happy.
He was becoming anxious to know what had happened to Osei’s sister and if there was any possibility of reuniting the siblings. Perhaps it was that lately, seeing Julius again, knowing him to be alive, had brought back to him the importance of a sister or brother. He feared that Osei had kept hidden his pain for a long time, knowing how little could be done, unless by someone like the marquess.
Inevitably, thinking of Anne brought her back vividly before his eyes. She filled his mind and heart for the rest of the ride back to Ecclesfield. They had quarreled, and since leaving Cornwall he had thought he should try to erase her from his heart, but it was too late. No matter what he did, she would not be uprooted. He loved her too deeply.