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 (28 page)

"She was raped, Mrs. Moidore—taken by force by someone heavier and stronger than herself. That does not stem from immorality. It could happen to any woman."

Romola stared at her as if she had grown horns. "Of course it stems from immorality! Decent women don't get violated— they don't lay themselves open to it—they don't invite it—or frequent such places in such company. I don't know what kind of society you come from that you could suggest such a thing.'' She shook her head a little. "I daresay your experiences as a nurse have robbed you of any finer feelings—I beg your pardon for saying such a thing, but you force the issue. Nurses have a reputation for loose conduct which is well known—and scarcely to be envied. Respectable women who behave moderately and dress with decorum do not excite the sort of passions you are speaking of, nor do they find themselves in situations where such a thing could occur. The very idea is quite preposterous—and repulsive."

"It is not preposterous," Hester contradicted flatly. "It is frightening, certainly. It would be very comfortable to suppose that if you behave discreetly you are in no danger of ever being assaulted or having unwelcome attentions forced upon you." She drew in her breath. "It would also be completely untrue, and a quite false sense of safety—and of being morally superior and detached from the pain and the humiliation of it. We would all like to think it could not happen to us, or anyone we know—but it would be wrong.'' She stopped, seeing Romola's incredulity turning to outrage, Beatrice's surprise and a first spark of respect, and Araminta's extraordinary interest and something that looked almost like a momentary flicker of warmth.

"You forget yourself!" Romola said. "And you forget who we are. Or perhaps you never knew? I am not aware what manner of person you nursed before you came here, but I

assure you we do not associate with the sort of people who assault women."

"You are a fool," Araminta said witheringly. "Sometimes I wonder what world it is you live in."

"Minta," Beatrice warned, her voice on edge, her hands clenched together again.”I think we have discussed the matter enough. Mr. Monk will pursue whatever course he deems appropriate. There is nothing more we can offer at the moment. Hester, will you please help me upstairs? I wish to retire. I will not be down for dinner, nor do I wish to see anyone until I feel better."

"How convenient," Araminta said coldly. "But I am sure we shall manage. There is nothing you are needed for. I shall see to everything, and inform Papa." She swung around to Monk. "Good day, Mr. Monk. You must have enough to keep you busy for some time—although whether it will serve any purpose other than to make you appear diligent, I doubt. I don't see how you can prove anything, whatever you suspect.''

"Suspect?'' Romola looked first at Monk, then at her sister-in-law, her voice rising with fear again. "Suspect of what? What has this to do with Octavia?"

But Araminta ignored her and walked past her out of the door.

Monk stood up and excused himself to Beatrice, inclined his head to Hester, then held the door open for them as they left, Romola behind them, agitated and annoyed, but helpless to do anything about it.

* * * * *

As soon as Monk stepped inside the police station the sergeant looked up from the desk, his face sober, his eyes gleaming.

"Mr. Runcorn wants to see you, sir. Immediate, like."

"Does he," Monk replied dourly. "Well I doubt he'll get much joy of it, but I'll give him what there is."

"He's in his room, sir."

"Thank you," Monk said. "Mr. Evan in?"

"No sir. He came in, and then he went out again. Didn't say where."

Monk acknowledged the reply and went up the stairs to Rnncorn's office. He knocked on the door and at the command went in. Runcorn was sitting behind his large, highly polished desk, two elegant envelopes and half a dozen sheets of fine notepaper written on and half folded lying next to them. The other surfaces were covered with four or five newspapers, some open, some folded.

He looked up, his face dark with anger and his eyes narrow and bright.

"Well. Have you seen the newspapers, eh? Have you seen what they are saying about us?" He held one up and Monk saw the black headlines halfway down the page: QUEEN ANNE STREET MURDERER STILL LOOSE. POLICE BAFFLED. And then the writer went on to question the usefulness of the new police force, and was it money well spent or now an unworkable idea.

"Well?" Runcorn demanded.

“I hadn't seen that one,'' Monk answered. “I haven't spent much time reading newspapers."

"I don't want you reading the newspapers, damn it," Run-corn exploded. "I want you doing something so they don't write rubbish like this. Or this." He snatched up the next one. “Or this." He threw them away, disregarding the mess as they slid on the polished surface and fell onto the floor in a rattling heap. He grasped one of the letters. "From the Home Office." His fingers closed on it, knuckles white. "I'm getting asked some very embarrassing questions, Monk, and I can't answer them. I'm not prepared to defend you indefinitely—I can't. What in hell's name are you doing, man? If someone in that house killed the wretched woman, then you haven't far to look, have you? Why can't you get this thing settled? For heaven's sake, how many suspects can you have? Four or five at the most. What's the matter with you that you can't finish it up?"

"Because four or five suspects is three or four too many-sir. Unless, of course, you can prove a conspiracy?" Monk said sarcastically.

Runcorn slammed his fist on the table. "Don't be impertinent, damn you! A smart tongue won't get you out of this. Who are your suspects? This footman, what's his name— Percival. Who else? As far as I can see, that's it. Why can't you settle it, Monk? You're beginning to look incompetent." His anger turned to a sneer. "You used to be the best detective we had, but you've certainly lost your touch lately. Why can't you arrest this damned footman?"

"Because I have no proof he did anything," Monk replied succinctly.

"Well who else could it be? Think clearly. You used to be the sharpest and most rational man we had." His lip cuiied. "Before that accident you were as logical as a piece of algebra—and about as charming—but you knew your job. Now
l\n
beginning to wonder."

Monk kept his temper with difficulty. "As well as Percival, sir," he said heavEy, "it could be one of the laundrymaids—"

"What?" Runcorn's mouth opened in disbelief close to derision. "Did you say one of the laundrymaids? Don't be absurd. Whatever for? If that's the best you can do, I'd better put someone else on the case. Laundrymaid. What in heaven's name would make a laundrymaid get out of her bed in the middle of the night and creep down to her mistress's bedroom and stab her to death? Unless the girl is raving mad. Is she raving mad, Monk? Don't say you couldn't recognize a lunatic if you saw one."

"No, she is not raving mad; she is extremely jealous," Monk answered him.

"Jealous? Of her mistress? That's ludicrous. How can a laundrymaid compare herself with her mistress? That needs some explaining, Monk. You are reaching for straws."

"The laundrymaid is in love with the footman—not a particularly difficult circumstance to understand,'' Monk said with elaborate, hard-edged patience. "The footman has airs above his station and imagines the mistress admired him—which may or may not be true. Certainly he had allowed the laundrymaid to suppose so."

Runcorn frowned. "Then it was the laundrymaid? Can't you arrest her?"

"For what?"

Runcorn glared at him. "All right, who are your other suspects? You said four or five. So far you have only mentioned two."

"Myles Kellard, the other daughter's husband—"

“What for?'' Runcorn was worried now.”You haven't made any accusations, have you?'' The blood was pink in his narrow cheeks. "This is a very delicate situation. We can't go around charging people like Sir Basil Moidore and his family. For God's sake, where's your judgment?"

Monk looked at him with contempt.

"That is exactly why I am not charging anyone, sir," he said coldly. "Myles Kellard apparently was strongly attracted by his sister-in-law, which his wife knew about—"

"That's no reason for him to kill her," Runcorn protested. "If he'd killed his wife, maybe. For heaven's sake, think clearly, Monk!"

Monk refrained from telling him about Martha Rivett until he should find the girl, if he could, and hear her side of the story and make some judgment himself as to whom he could believe.

"If he forced his attentions on her," Monk said with continued patience, "and she defended herself, then there may have been a struggle, in which she was knifed—"

"With a carving knife?" Runcorn's eyebrows went up. "Which she just conveniently chanced to have in her bedroom?"

"I don't imagine it was chance," Monk bit back savagely. "If she had reason to think he was coming she probably took it there on purpose."

Runcorn grunted.

"Or it may have been Mrs. Kellard," Monk continued. "She would have good reason to hate her sister."

"Something of an immoral woman, this Mrs. Haslett." Runcorn's lips curled in distaste. "First the footman, now her sister's husband."

"There is no proof she encouraged the footman," Monk said crossly. "And she certainly did not encourage Kellard. Unless you think it's immoral to be beautiful, I don't see how you can find fault with her for either case.''

"You always did have some strange ideas of right." Runcorn was disgusted—and confused. The ugly headlines in the newspapers threatened public opinion. The letters from the Home Office lay stiff and white on his desk, polite but cold, warning that it would be little appreciated if he did not find a way to end this case soon, and satisfactorily.

"Well don't stand there," he said to Monk. "Get about finding out which of your suspects is guilty. For heaven's sake, you Ve only got five; you know it has to be one of them. It's a matter of exclusion. You can stop thinking about Mrs. Kellard, to begin with. She might have a quarrel, but I doubt she'd

knife her sister in the night. That's cold-blooded. She couldn't expect to get away with it."

"She couldn't know about Chinese Paddy in the street," Monk pointed out.

"What? Oh—well, neither could the footman. I'd look for a man in this—or the laundrymaid, I suppose. Either way, get on with it. Don't stand here in front of my fire talking."

"You sent for me.''

"Yes—well now I'm sending you out again. Close the door as you go—it's cold in the passage."

* * * * *

Monk spent the next two and a half days searching the workhouses, riding in endless cabs through narrow streets, pavements gleaming in the lamplight and the rain, amid the rattle of carts and the noise of street cries, carriage wheels, and the clatter of hooves on the cobbles. He began to the east of Queen Anne Street with the Clerkenwell Workhouse in Farringdon Road, then Holborn Workhouse on the Grey's Inn Road. The second day he moved westward and tried the St. George's Workhouse on Mount Street, then the St. Marylebone Workhouse on Northumberland Street. On the third morning he came to the Westminster Workhouse on Poland Street, and he was beginning to get discouraged. The atmosphere depressed him more than any other place he knew. There was some deeply ingrained fear that touched him at the very name, and when he saw the flat, drab sides of the building rearing up he felt its misery enter into him, and a coldness that had nothing to do with the sharp November wind that whined along the street and rattled an old newspaper in the gutter.

He knocked at the door, and when it was opened by a thin man with lank dark hair and a lugubrious expression, he stated immediately who he was and his profession, so there should be no mistaking his purpose in being here. He would not allow them even for an instant to suppose he was seeking shelter, or the poor relief such places were built and maintained to give.

"You'd better come in. I'll ask if the master'll see yer," the man said without interest. “But if yer want 'elp, yer'd best not lie,'' he added as an afterthought.

Monk was about to snap at him that he did not, when he caught sight of one of the “outdoor poor'' who did, who were reduced by circumstance to seeking charity to survive from

one of these grim institutions which robbed them of decision, dignity, individuality, even of dress or personal appearance; which fed them bread and potatoes, separated families, men from women, children from parents, housed them in dormitories, clothed them in uniforms and worked them from dawn until dusk. A man had to be reduced to despair before he begged to be admitted to such a place. But who would willingly let his wife or his children perish?

Monk found the hot denial sticking in his throat. It would humiliate the man further, to no purpose. He contented himself with thanking the doorkeeper and following him obediently.

The workhouse master took nearly a quarter of an hour to come to the small room overlooking the labor yard where rows of men sat on the ground with hammers, chisels and piles of rocks.

He was a pallid man, his gray hair clipped close to his head, his eyes startlingly dark and ringed around with hollow circles as if he never slept.

"What's wrong, Inspector?" he said wearily. "Surely you don't think we harbor criminals here? He'd have to be desperate indeed to seek this asylum—and a very unsuccessful scoundrel."

"I'm looking for a woman who may have been the victim of rape," Monk replied, a dark, savage edge to his voice. "I want to hear her side of the story.''

"You new to the job?" the workhouse master said doubtfully, looking him up and down, seeing the maturity in his face, the smooth lines and powerful nose, the confidence and the anger. "No." He answered his own question. "Then what good do you imagine that will do? You're not going to try and prosecute on the word of a pauper, are you?"

“No—it's just corroborative evidence.''

"What?"

"Just to confirm what we already know—or suspect."

"What's her name?"

"Martha Rivett. Probably came about two years ago—with child. I daresay the child would be born about seven months later, if she didn't lose it."

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