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Authors: Anne Perry

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BOOK: A Breach of Promise
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Monk could only wonder. It might well have been. Young blood is hot, and passion and curiosity are potent forces. Perhaps Zillah was not the virgin she claimed. He could not find himself regarding that prospect with horror, only a sadness that the thought, the idea, should be enough to bring this public ruin on both herself and Melville. After all, it was a purely private matter … if, indeed, it was a matter at all.

He left at last to go to Rathbone’s rooms and admit that he had nothing certain, only innuendo which might and might not
be a weapon if used sufficiently skillfully. He turned over in his mind the subjects of marriage and beauty, and the set of values by which it seemed society judged a woman and led her to judge herself. If a girl was pretty and at least reasonably agreeable, unless some appalling scandal attached to her, she was certain of finding a husband. The prettier she was, the wider her choice, until it came to the aristocracy, where only a ravishing beauty could hope to overcome the barrier of poverty or ignominious family background.

So much depended on appearance. Why? One might suppose man was a creature with only one sense, that of sight. Did one acquire a wife merely to look at? Certainly good looks were most pleasing, a clear complexion, lovely hair, fine eyes. Actually, a beautiful mouth was the feature that most woke Monk’s hungers—and his dreams.

But why? Did one imagine that the curve of a cheek or an eyelid actually had meaning? Did a lovely face always indicate a lovely character?

That was idiotic! Any man who still possessed the wits he was born with knew better than that.

In his mind—yes. But in his heart?

What of humor or courage, loyalty, gentleness, and for heaven’s sake, intelligence?

He pushed his hands into his pockets and strode across the busy street between hansoms, drays, a wagon piled with carpets, and a coal cart, and stepped smartly up onto the curb at the far side. Unconsciously, he increased his pace.

Hester had all the latter qualities. And yet when he had become enchanted by a woman in these last years that he could remember—and according to the evidence, before that as well—they had been lovely women with beautiful, vulnerable faces who looked as if they were gentle, pliable, as if they needed him and would lean on his strength: utterly feminine women who complemented his masculinity.

He did not like the picture of himself that that painted.

And yet how many other men were the same? Offered a charming figure that suggested passion concealed but waiting,
a pretty face that seemed innocent, agreeable, easily pleased, not too critical or too challenging, and one was immediately attracted, seeing behind all this a perfect companion.

No wonder girls like Zillah Lambert strove to fulfil that ideal. It was their prospect to social acceptability and financial security: a wedding ring; their own household; children; a change from dependence upon parents to dependence upon a husband who, with judicious management, might be persuaded to love her, cater to her, even indulge her.

He reached Rathbone’s rooms and the manservant let him in.

Rathbone was standing beside the last of the fire, considering retiring for the night. He looked tired and unhappy. His face lightened momentarily with hope when Monk came in, then he saw his eyes and the light in him vanished.

“I’m sorry,” Monk said sincerely. He hated this. He had wanted very much to be able to bring good news, not only for his own vanity but for Rathbone’s sake, and if he were truthful, for Melville’s also. The man who had created so much original and dynamic beauty of form should not be brought down by something so terribly unnecessary.

“Nothing?” Rathbone asked.

“She may have had what amounted to an affair with Lord Tainbridge’s son, but there’s no proof, only speculation. You could try threatening to suggest it in public, but I doubt you’d do anything but alienate the jury, and Sacheverall ought to know that.”

Rathbone stood by the fire, staring into the flames. “I don’t think there’s any point. Melville is ruined. You haven’t read the newspapers, have you?” This was more a statement than a question.

“No. Why?” Monk’s heart sank. He did not know why it should matter so much, but it left him suddenly quite cold. “Why?” he repeated, moving closer to the fire himself.

Without looking up at him, Rathbone told him about Isaac Wolff and Sacheverall’s evidence regarding him.

Monk heard him out in silence. He should not have been
surprised. In fact, he should have found it himself. He should have looked harder at Melville. If he had found it, then he could have warned Rathbone so he would have made Melville withdraw.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I was looking for women. I never thought of that. I should have.”

Rathbone shrugged. “So should I.” He looked around and smiled. “We didn’t do very well, did we?”

They stood together watching the fire die for several moments, until the manservant came to the door again. He opened it and stood in the entrance, his face white, his eyes wide and dark.

“Sir Oliver.” His voice shook a little. “I am afraid, sir, you have just received a message … sir …”

“Yes?”

Monk clenched his fists and felt his body chill.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the manservant went on, now in little more than a whisper. “But Mr. Melville has been found dead.”

Rathbone stared at him.

“I’m sorry, Sir Oliver. I am afraid there is no doubt.” Rathbone closed his eyes and looked for a moment as if he were about to faint.

Monk took a step towards him.

Rathbone put his hands up and waved him back. He rubbed his eyes. “Thank you for telling me. That will be all.”

“Yes sir.” The man withdrew discreetly.

Rathbone turned to Monk, his face devoid of any shred of color, his eyes hollow with grief and guilt.

8

R
ATHBONE ENTERED COURT
on Monday exhausted from one of the most deeply miserable nights he could remember. He and Monk had gone immediately to Melville’s lodgings, where Isaac Wolff, gray-faced, had met them at the door. There had been nothing anyone could do to help. He had called a doctor, who had assumed death to have been caused by some form of poison and had guessed belladonna, but it would require a full postmortem examination to be certain.

No one mentioned suicide, but it hung unspoken like a darkness over them all. One does not take belladonna by accident, and Wolff was too naked in his grief to make any pretense at lying. Melville had had excellent health, better than most people’s. He took no medication of any sort.

Naturally the police had been called. There must be certainty. Even this could not be allowed to pass in private. Suicide was a crime.

Now there was nothing left but loss, not only personal but of one of the greatest, most luminous creative minds of the age. For Rathbone there was also shame for his own failure to have prevented this, a weighing down of guilt, and the last legal formalities of closing the issue. And there was also a colossal rage. He was clenched up inside with it. As he strode up the steps and along the hallway of the courthouse, he scarcely saw the colleagues he passed, the clerks and ushers, the litigants.
His feet were loud and sharp on the stone of the floor, his back rigidly straight, his fingernails dug into the palms of his hands.

He entered the courtroom just as they were beginning to consider him overdue, and there was a buzz of attention and disapproval. Sacheverall swung around, his fair face with its protruding ears serenely triumphant. He did not even consider it a possibility that Rathbone had found a weapon against him. A part of Rathbone’s anger turned to hatred, an emotion he was very unused to. He noticed Sacheverall smile at Zillah and her uncertain look back at him. There was no question that Sacheverall was pursuing her himself. There was no mistaking the nature of his interest, the eagerness in his eyes, the energy, almost excitement, when he spoke her name or had even the slightest contact with her.

He was moving too quickly, not perhaps for Delphine, but certainly for Zillah herself. There was something indecent in it. Zillah was a charming girl, but the first thought that came to Rathbone’s mind was Barton Lambert’s money. Perhaps that was unjust, but he was too raw to care.

Sacheverall faced Rathbone and nodded, his eyes bright. If he read anything in Rathbone’s expression, he must have assumed it was defeat. He showed no sign of apprehension.

“I apologize, my lord, if I have kept the court waiting,” Rathbone said swiftly to the judge. “I was detained by circumstances beyond my control.”

Sacheverall let out a slight sound, no more than an audible sigh, but the disbelief in it was obvious.

McKeever caught some sense of Rathbone’s emotion.

“What circumstances were those, Sir Oliver?” he asked.

“I regret it profoundly, my lord, but my client is dead.”

There was an instant’s utter silence. No one moved, not even a creak of wood or rustle of fabric. Then suddenly there was uproar. A woman shrieked. Several people rose to their feet, although there was nowhere to go. The jurors looked to each other, eyes wide with shock, unable yet to grasp the full significance of what they had heard.

“Silence!” McKeever said distinctly, looking around the
room, then frowning at Rathbone. “I will have order! Sir Oliver, will you please explain to us what happened? Did Mr. Melville meet with an accident?”

“It is not yet possible to say, my lord.” Rathbone found it difficult to find the right words, although he had tried to formulate them all the way there. Now, standing in the long-familiar room in which he had fought numberless cases, he was lost to express what he felt.

Press reporters had been expecting a quiet collapse of the struggle and were there only to learn the damages, and perhaps to watch the human ruin as a man’s personal life was torn apart. Now they were scrambling for pencils to write something entirely different.

In the gallery a woman gave a little squeal and stifled it with her hand.

“Mr. Melville was found dead last night,” Rathbone began again. “At present the cause is not known.”

The buzz in the gallery rose.

“Silence!” McKeever ordered sharply, his face darkening with anger. He reached for his gavel and banged it with a loud crack. “I will clear the court if there is not silence and a decent respect!”

He was obeyed reluctantly, but within seconds.

Rathbone looked across at Sacheverall, waiting to see how he would react, if he was as horrified by his own part in this as Rathbone was. Rathbone saw surprise, but not amazement. He thought in a flash that the possibility had occurred to him. If the prosecutor was distressed or ashamed, he hid it well.

Barton Lambert, on the other hand, sitting behind him, looked devastated. His blunt, rather ordinary face was slack with horror, mouth open, eyes staring fixedly. He seemed almost unaware of anyone around him, of Delphine at his side looking embarrassed, caught by surprise, but not grieved beyond her ability to control with dignity. Her head was high, her lips firmly closed, her gaze resolutely forward. She would not satisfy the curious in the gallery by meeting their looks.

Zillah, on her father’s other side, had slumped forward and
buried her face in her hands, her hat askew and her bright hair shining in the sunlight from the windows. Her shoulders were hunched and she shook, not yet with weeping but with the deep shuddering movement of horror and disbelief. She seemed hardly able to catch her breath. Her father was still too deeply stunned and overwhelmed by his own emotions to help her, to offer any kind of comfort.

Sacheverall, who so often had his attention upon her, now stood up and went from his table around to stand beside her. He spoke to her, leaning close and putting his hand on her shoulder. He repeated whatever it was he had said, and she sat up slowly, her face ashen, her eyes hollow, burning with tears.

“Go away!” she said quite clearly.

“My dear!” Sacheverall began urgently.

“If you touch me again I shall strike you!” she hissed, and indeed if he had looked at her face at all he must have known she truly meant it.

BOOK: A Breach of Promise
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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