Authors: Deryn Lake
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Death and the Cornish Fiddler
First published in Great Britain in 2006 by
Allison & Busby Limited
13 Charlotte Mews
London WIT 4EJ
www. allisonandbusby. com
Copyright © 2006 by Deryn Lake
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
This book is sold subject to the conditions that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher s prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed upon the subsequent purchaser.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 0 7490 8296 8
Printed and bound in Wales by
Creative Print and Design, Ebbw Vale
is the pseudonym of a popular historical novelist, Dinah Lampitt, who lives close to the famous battlefield of 1066. She is the bestselling author of the John Rawlings Georgian mystery series.
The John Rawlings series
Available in Allison & Busby
Death in the Setting Sun
Death in the Valley of Shadows
Death at St. James’s Palace
Death in the West Wind
Death in the Dark Walk
Death at The Beggar’s Opera
Death at The Devil’s Tavern
Death on the Romney Marsh
Death in the Peerless Pool
Death at Apothecaries’ Hall
Available in Allison & Busby
The Governor’s Ladies
The King’s Women
A lot of people from the West Country helped me with the research for this book. First of all I must mention the excellent staff of the Helston Folk Museum, an intriguing place packed with treasures. They were Janet Spargo, Ieuan Harries and Kate Taylor, all of whom were more than helpful, particularly Janet who dealt with my frantic phone calls. Next I would like to thank Dominique Strover and Zoe Painter of the Cornwell Centre in Redruth, who pointed me in the right direction. Next comes Keith Gotch, retired to Devon these days, who was of great help about the state of one of the bodies. It was my lucky day when I met him all those years ago. Finally comes Moski Carlyle who went with me to Helston and ate haggis! Thank you all.
In memory of Rosemary Holbrow (Big Rose).
An old friend and a good one.
pring had come: the Apothecary knew it as soon as he opened his eyes. The light filtering through the drawn curtains was different from the light of other mornings, for this was radiant and bright with a certain strange, disturbing quality. Raising his head from the pillows, he heard the sparkling notes of a thrush giving voice and was filled with a sense of relief that the long winter had finally ended and that the land was burgeoning with life once more. Moving quickly, John Rawlings got out of bed and, pulling the curtains back, stared out at the magnificent landscape that lay before him.
Far below was the river Exe, winding its way meanderingly through the green fields that banked it on either side. In the distance, to his right, stood the ancient town of Exeter, its steeples reflecting the early morning sun, its cathedral a splendid burst of gold as the rays caught its spires. To his left lay the stable block and the coach house and, peering more closely as he threw the window open, John could see his daughter Rose, fast approaching her fifth birthday, mounting a small but substantial pony. Beside her, assisting with the lifting-on, stood a familiar dark figure, today clad in a midnight blue riding habit. Elizabeth di Lorenzi, widow of an Italian nobleman and daughter of the Earl of Exmoor, was not only up but about to give Rose a riding lesson.
John, watching from his bedroom window, was suddenly taken up with the glory of the morning and experienced a strange surge of excitement which started deep in his blood. For a minute he puzzled as to what it was, then realised that it was his response to the changing seasons, that he was suffering from a wonderful, heady attack of spring fever. Closing the window again he pulled the bellrope, and as soon as the hot water arrived, washed and shaved before putting on his clothes and hurrying downstairs. But he was too late. Elizabeth and Rose had already gone off and he was left to his own devices.
Eating his breakfast solitary, the Apothecary’s thoughts wandered. This was the third occasion on which he had visited Devon since the death of his wife, Emilia. The first had been when he was on the run, accused of Emilia’s murder. The second was when the case had been solved and he had taken Rose with him, despite her lack of years. The third time had been now, drawn back by Elizabeth’s dark ugly beauty which still exerted a fascination for him, to say nothing of his daughter’s enthusiasm for the West Country. It had been the Marchesa who had originally suggested John return to Gunnersbury and try to discover the identity of the true murderer. And so he had, eventually unmasking a person dangerously crazed in his view. But now all that lay in the past. It was April, 1767, and here he was feeling the first stirring of spring, not only in the land but also within himself. Impatiently, the Apothecary laid down his napkin and went outside in the direction of the stables, determined to ride out and find Rose and her intriguing instructress wherever they might be.
As he mounted the large, skittish, black stallion which Elizabeth had chosen for him when he first arrived, John found that today particularly he could not get the Marchesa out of his thoughts. Even though several years had elapsed since he first set eyes on her she had still refused to share his bed, telling him that he was merely seeking Emilia and that she was no substitute for his dead wife. With that he had been forced to content himself and in the sixteen months since Emilia’s death had led a blameless and celibate life. But now, with spring’s awakening - not only in the land but within himself - he was going to find this situation difficult to contend with.
Digging his heels into Jet, the dark horse’s sides, the Apothecary set off rather faster than he had anticipated. Though he kept his seat well enough, he was not the world’s best horseman and it had seemed to be his fate that wherever he went he was given some mettlesome mount, either that or one painfully slow. The compromise, the kindly, gentle horse who could go at a pace, constantly eluded him.
Reaching the edge of the high plateau on which Abbotswood Place - Elizabeth’s fine house - was built, John looked down into the valley below. There, trotting along, were Rose and the woman with whom he was preoccupied. The Apothecary waved but they did not see him.
“Rose,” he shouted, for some reason not wanting to call to the Marchesa.
She looked up. “Hello, Papa. Come down and be with us.”
The Apothecary motioned his horse downwards, leaning back in the saddle, wishing that he cut a more dashing figure, horribly aware of Elizabeth’s amused stare following every move he made. Praying that he wouldn’t fall off, he finally reached the bottom and gave Jet a thankful pat on the neck. Rose came forward to meet him and John looked at her, at her fine colour enhanced by the tumbling red of her hair.
“Hello, gypsy girl,” he said.
She smiled at him. “Why do you call me that?”
He put out his hand and ruffled her curls. “Because of your hair.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“You know I love it. What do you think, Madam?”
Elizabeth had come to join them, sitting easily on her mount which today she rode side-saddle. She looked at Rose critically, treating her, as always, as a small adult.
“I would say that it is your finest feature. And when you grow up I believe it will break hearts.”
“What do you mean?” asked Rose, fractionally anxious.
“I do not speak literally. I mean that when you are seventeen there will be a queue of admirers which your father will have to send away.”
“What? Every one of them?” John’s daughter burst out, and the two adults could not help but laugh at her earnestness.
“I promise I’ll let the best of them stay,” the Apothecary answered. He changed the subject. “Where are you two off to?” He addressed Elizabeth.
“I thought we might ride over in the direction of Wildtor.”
“Won’t it be a bit rough for the pony?”
He actually meant for Rose but was too kind to say so in front of her. Fortunately the Marchesa understood, as she understood much about the Rawlings family.
I didn’t mean to the Grange itself. I shall turn back as soon as the going gets heavy.”
“Good. Then I’ll come with you. You know I’m not much of a rider.”
I think you are improving greatly. Another few months here and you would be as good as anyone in the county.”
“Ah yes, I need to talk to you about that,” John answered in an undertone.
The Marchesa shot him a look from her brilliant dark eyes. “This afternoon perhaps. While Rose is resting.”
“Very good, Madam.” He trotted forward, catching up with his daughter who had pulled slightly ahead of them.
Everywhere he looked there were signs of the newly arrived season. The banks of the river glowed green as mint and randomly growing in the valley were clumps of wild daffodils, while primroses cascaded in abundance down the sides of the craggy pathway. Above him, grazing on the steep escarpment, were mild-mannered sheep, lambs suckling beneath them or running or leaping and generally behaving as all young, carefree creatures do. John thought of Rose and how happy she was in this habitat, letting the loss of her mother slip from her mind, enjoying the freedom of her life, the riding and walking and playing. He felt he could hardly bear to take her back to London, though he knew that that time was drawing near. For soon he would tire of being idle and want to pick up the threads of his life once more.
Again he caught up with Rose. “My darling, do you miss London at all?”
“I miss Grandpapa, of course. But I don’t miss Nassau Street.”
“We shall have to return soon, I fear.”
“Must we really?”
“Yes, my sweetheart. I’m afraid we must. Papa must see to his shop.”
“But Pa, could you not open a shop down here?”
“One day perhaps.”
But the Marchesa, who had been busy inspecting the swans on the Exe, had come to join them and the Apothecary, knowing that Rose would understand, had motioned the child to be silent.
Elizabeth looked at the two of them. “Are you ready?” she asked.
John could not resist it. “For what?” he answered.
The sensational glance swept him. “That depends.”
He caught her eye. “On what?”
“Who knows,” came the reply as she wheeled her mount and went off at a thundering pace across the valley.