Read A Dangerous Mourning Online

Authors: Anne Perry

Tags: #Police, #London (England), #Political, #Fiction, #Literary, #Crime & mystery, #Crime & Thriller, #Police - England, #Historical Fiction, #Traditional British, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Police Procedural, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Inspector (Fictitious character), #Monk, #Historical, #english, #Mystery & Detective - Traditional British, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #General, #Suspense, #William (Fictitious character)

A Dangerous Mourning (12 page)

BOOK: A Dangerous Mourning

Monk had a brief vision of what it must be like to be a woman on her own, obliged to work at pleasing people because your acceptance, perhaps even your financial survival, depended upon it. There must be hundreds—thousands—of petty accommodations, suppressions of your own beliefs and opinions because they would not be what someone else wished to hear. What a constant humiliation, like a burning blister on the heel which hurt with every step.

And on the other hand, what a desperate loneliness for a man if he ever realized he was always being told not what she really thought or felt but what she believed he wanted to hear. Would he then ever trust anything as real, or of value?

"Mr. Monk."

She was speaking, and his concentration had left her totally.

"Yes ma'am—I apologize—"

"You asked me about Octavia. I was endeavoring to tell you." She was irritated that he was so inattentive. "She was most appealing, at her best, and many men had called upon her, but she gave none of them the slightest encouragement. Whoever it was who killed her, I do not think you will find the slightest clue to their identity along that line of inquiry."

"No, I imagine you are right. And Mr. Haslett died in the Crimea?"

"Captain Haslett. Yes." She hesitated, looking away from him again. "Mr. Monk."

"Yes ma'am?"

"It occurs to me that some people—some men—have strange ideas about women who are widowed—" She was obviously most uncomfortable about what it was she was attempting to say.

"Indeed," he said encouragingly.

The wind caught at her bonnet, pulling it a little sideways, but she disregarded it. He wondered if she was trying to find a way to say what Sir Basil had prompted, and if the words would be his or her own.

Two little girls in frilled dresses passed by with their governess, walking very stiffly, eyes ahead as if unaware of the soldier coming the other way.

"It is not impossible that one of the servants, one of the men, entertained such—such ludicrous ideas—and became overfamiliar."

They had almost stopped. Romola poked at the ground with the ferrule of her umbrella.

"If—if that happened, and she rebuffed him soundly— possibly he became angry—incensed—I mean..." She tailed off miserably, still avoiding looking at him.

"In the middle of the night?" he said dubiously. "He was certainly extremely bold to go to her bedroom and try such a thing."

The color burned up her cheeks.

"Someone did," she pointed out with a catch in her voice, still staring at the ground. "I know it seems preposterous. Were she not dead, I should laugh at it myself."

“You are right,'' he said reluctantly. "Or it may be that she discovered some secret that could have ruined a servant had she told it, and they killed her to prevent that."

She looked up at him, her eyes wide. "Oh—yes, I suppose that sounds . . . possible. What kind of a secret? You mean dishonesty—immorality? But how would Tavie have learned of it?"

"I don't know. Have you no idea where she went that afternoon? '' He began to walk again, and she accompanied him.

"No, none at all. She barely spoke to us that evening, except a silly argument over dinner, but nothing new was said."

"What was the argument about?"

"Nothing in particular—just frayed tempers." She looked straight ahead of her. "It was certainly nothing about where she went that afternoon, and nothing about any secret."

"Thank you, Mrs. Moidore. You have been very courteous." He stopped and she stopped also, relaxing a little as she sensed he was leaving.

"I wish I could help, Mr. Monk," she said with her face suddenly pinched and sad. For a moment grief overtook anxiety for herself and fear for the future. "If I recall anything—"

"Tell me—or Mr. Evan. Good day, ma'am."

"Good day." And she turned and walked away, but when

she had gone ten or fifteen yards she looked back again, not to say anything, simply to watch him leave the path and go back towards Piccadilly.

* * * * *

Monk knew that Cyprian Moidore was at his club, but he did not wish to ask for entry and interview him there because he felt it highly likely that he would be refused, and the humiliation would burn. Instead he waited outside on the pavement, kicking his heels, turning over in his mind what he would ask Cyprian when he finally came out.

Monk had been waiting about a quarter of an hour when two men passed him walking up towards Half Moon Street. There was something in the gait of one of them that struck a sharp chord in his memory, so vivid that he started forward to accost him. He had actually gone half a dozen steps before he realized that he had no idea who the man was, simply that for a moment he had seemed intimately familiar, and that there was both hope and sadness in him in that instant—and a terrible foreboding of pain to come.

He stood for another thirty minutes in the wind and fitful sun trying to bring back the face that had flashed on his recollection so briefly: a handsome, aristocratic fece of a man at least sixty. And he knew the voice was light, very civilized, even a little affected—and knew it had been a major force in his life and the realization of ambition. He had copied him, his dress, his manner, even his inflection, in trying to lose his own unsophisticated Northumberland accent.

But all he recaptured were fragments, gone as soon as they were there, a feeling of success which was empty of flavor, a recurring pain as of some loss and some responsibility unfulfilled.

He was still standing undecided when Cyprian Moidore came down the steps of his club and along the street, only noticing Monk when he all but bumped into him.

"Oh—Monk." He stopped short. "Are you looking for me?"

Monk recalled himself to the present with a jolt.

"Yes—if you please, sir."

Cyprian looked anxious. "Have you—have you learned something?"

"No sir, I merely wanted to ask you more about your fern-fly."

"Oh." Cyprian started to walk again and Monk fell in beside him, back towards the park. Cyprian was dressed extremely fashionably, his concession to mourning in his dark coat over the jacket above the modern short waistcoat with its shawl collar, and his top hat was tall and straight sided. "Couldn't it have waited until I got home?" he asked with a frown.

"I just spoke to Mrs. Moidore, sir; in Green Park."

Cyprian seemed surprised, even a trifle discomfited. "I doubt she can tell you much. What exactly is it you wish to ask?"

Monk was obliged to walk smartly to keep up with him. "How long has your aunt, Mrs. Sandeman, lived in your father's house, sir?"

Cyprian winced very slightly, only a shadow across his face.

"Since shortly after her husband died," he replied brusquely.

Monk lengthened his own stride to match, avoiding bumping into the people moving less rapidly or passing in the opposite direction.

"Are she and your father very close?" He knew they were not; he had not forgotten the look on Fenella's face as she had left the morning room in Queen Anne Street.

Cyprian hesitated, then decided the lie would be transparent, if not now, then later.

"No. Aunt Fenella found herself in very reduced circumstances." His fece was tight; he hated exposing such vulnerability. "Papa offered her a home. It is a natural family responsibility."

Monk tried to imagine it, the personal sense of obligation, the duty of gratitude, the implicit requirement of certain forms of obedience. He would like to know what affection there was beneath the duties, but he knew Cyprian would respond little to an open inquiry.

A carriage passed them too close to the curb, and its wheels sent up a spray of muddy water. Monk leaped inwards to preserve his trousers.

"It must have been very distressing for her to find herself suddenly thrown upon the resources of others," he said sympathetically. It was not feigned. He could imagine Fenella's shock—and profound resentment.

"Most," Cyprian agreed taciturnly. "But death frequently leaves widows in altered circumstances. One must expect it."

"Did she expect it?" Monk absently brushed the water off his coat.

Cyprian smiled, possibly at Monk's unconscious vanity.

“I have no idea, Mr. Monk. I did not ask her. It would have been both impertinent and intrusive. It was not my place, nor is it yours. It happened many years ago, twelve to be precise, and has no bearing on our present tragedy."

"Is Mr. Thirsk in the same unfortunate position?" Monk kept exactly level with him along the pavement, brushing past three fashionable ladies taking the air and a couple dallying in polite flirtation in spite of the cold.

"He resides with us because of misfortune," Cyprian snapped. "If that is what you mean. Obviously he was not widowed." He smiled briefly in a sarcasm that had more bitterness than amusement.

"How long has he lived in Queen Anne Street?"

“About ten years, as far as I recall.''

"And he is your mother's brother?"

"You are already aware of that." He dodged a group of gentlemen ambling along deep in conversation and oblivious of the obstruction they caused. "Really, if this is a sample of your attempts at detection, I am surprised you maintain employment. Uncle Septimus occasionally drinks a little more than you may consider prudent, and he is certainly not wealthy, but he is a kind and decent man whose misfortune has nothing whatever to do with my sister's death, and you will learn nothing useful by prying into it!"

Monk admired him for his defense, true or not. And he determined to discover what the misfortune was, and if Octa-via had learned something about him that might have robbed him of this double-edged but much needed hospitality had she told her father.

"Does he gamble, sir?" he said aloud.

“What?'' But there was a flush of color on Cyprian's cheeks, and he knocked against an elderly gentleman in his path and was obliged to apologize.

A coster's cart came by, its owner crying his wares in a loud, singsong voice.

"I wondered if Mr. Thirsk gambled," Monk repeated. "It is a pastime many gentlemen indulge in, especially if their lives offer little other change or excitement—and any extra finance would be welcome.''

Cyprian's face remained carefully expressionless, but the color in his cheeks did not fade, and Monk guessed he had touched a nerve, whether on Septimus's account or Cyprian's own.

"Does he belong to the same club as you do, sir?" Monk turned and faced him.

"No," Cyprian replied, resuming walking after only a momentary hesitation. "No, Uncle Septimus has his own club."

"Not to his taste?" Monk made it sound very casual.

"No," Cyprian agreed quickly. "He prefers more men his own age—and experience, I suppose."

They crossed Hamilton Place, hesitating for a carriage and dodging a hansom.

“What would that be?'' Monk asked when they were on the pavement again.

Cyprian said nothing.

"Is Sir Basil aware that Mr. Thirsk gambles from time to time?" Monk pursued.

Cyprian drew in his breath, then let it out slowly before answering. Monk knew he had considered denying it, then put loyalty to Septimus before loyalty to his father. It was another judgment Monk approved.

“Probably not,'' Cyprian said.”I would appreciate it if you did not find it necessary to inform him."

"I can think of no circumstance in which it would be necessary," Monk agreed. He made an educated guess, based on the nature of the club from which Cyprian had emerged. "Similarly your own gambling, sir."

Cyprian stopped and swiveled to face him, his eyes wide. Then he saw Monk's expression and relaxed, a faint smile on his lips, before resuming his stride.

"Was Mrs. Haslett aware of this?" Monk asked him. "Could that be what she meant when she said Mr. Thirsk would understand what she had discovered?"

"I have no idea." Cyprian looked miserable.

"What else have they particularly in common?" Monk went on. "What interests or experiences that would make his sympathy the sharper? Is Mr. Thirsk a widower?"

"No—no, he never married."

"And yet he did not always live in Queen Anne Street. Where did he live before that?"

Cyprian walked in silence. They crossed Hyde Park Comer, taking several minutes to avoid carriages, hansoms, a dray with four fine Clydesdales drawing it, several costers' carts and a crossing sweeper darting in and out like a minnow trying to clear a path and catch his odd penny rewards at the same time. Monk was pleased to see Cyprian toss him a coin, and added another to it himself.

On the far side they went past the beginning of Rotten Row and strolled across the grass towards the Serpentine. A troop of gentlemen in immaculate habits rode along the Row, their horses' hooves thudding on the damp earth. Two of them laughed loudly and broke into a canter, harness jingling. Ahead of them three women turned back to look.

Cyprian made up his mind at last.

"Uncle Septimus was in the army. He was cashiered. That is why he has no means. Father took him in. He was a younger son so he inherited nothing. There was nowhere else for him.''

“How distressing.'' Monk meant it. He could imagine quite sharply the sudden reduction from the finance, power and status of an officer to the ignominy and poverty, and the utter friendlessness, of being cashiered, stripped of everything— and to your friends, ceasing to exist.

"It wasn't dishonesty or cowardice," Cyprian went on, now that he was started, his voice urgent, concerned that Monk should know the truth. "He fell in love, and his love was very much returned. He says he did nothing about it—no affair, but that hardly makes it any better—"

Monk was startled. There was no sense in it. Officers were permitted to marry, and many did.

Cyprian's face was full of pity—and wry, deprecating humor.

"I see you don't understand. You will. She was the colonel's wife."

"Oh—" There was nothing more to add. It was an offense that would be inexcusable. Honor was touched, and even more, vanity. A colonel so mortified would have no retaliation except to use his office. "I see."

"Yes. Poor Septimus. He never loved anyone else. He was well in his forties at that time, a major with an excellent record." He stopped speaking and they passed a man and a woman, apparently acquaintances from their polite nods. He tipped his hat and resumed only when they were out of earshot. "He could have been a colonel himself, if his family could have afforded it—but commissions aren't cheap these days. And the higher you go—" He shrugged. "Anyway, that was the end of it. Septimus found himself middle-aged, despised and penniless. Naturally he appealed to Mama, and then came to live with us. If he gambles now and then, who's to blame him? There's little enough pleasure in his life."

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