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 (5 page)

This evening Hester simply wished her good-night and walked out, leaving her surprised, and the lecture on morals and duty pent up unspoken inside her. It was very unsatisfying. It would be different tomorrow.

It was not a long journey from the infirmary to the lodging house where Hester had taken rooms. Previously she had lived with her brother, Charles, and his wife, Imogen, but since the financial ruin and death of their parents, it would be quite unfair to expect Charles to support her for longer than the first few months after she returned from the Crimea early in order to be with the family in its time of bereavement and distress. After the resolution of the Grey case she had accepted the help of Lady Callandra Daviot to obtain the post at the infirmary, where she could earn sufficient to maintain herself and could exercise the talents she possessed in administration and nursing.

During the war she had also learned a good deal about war correspondence from her friend Alan Russell, and when he died in the hospital in Scutari, she had sent his last dispatch to his newspaper in London. Later, when his death had not been realized in the thousands of others, she did not amend the error but wrote the letters herself, and was deeply satisfied when they were printed. She could no longer use his name now she was home again, but she wrote now and then, and signed herself simply as one of Miss Nightingale's volunteers. It paid only a few shillings, but money was not her primary motive; it was the desire to express the opinions she held with such intensity, and to move people to press for reform.

When she reached her lodgings, her landlady, a spare, hardworking woman with a sick husband and too many children, greeted her with the news that she had a visitor awaiting her in the parlor.

"A visitor?" Hester was surprised, and too weary to be pleased, even if it was Imogen, who was the only person she could think of. "Who is it, Mrs. Home?"

"A Mrs. Daviot," the landlady replied without interest. She was too busy to be bothered with anything beyond her duties. "Said she'd wait for you."

"Thank you." Hester felt an unexpected lift, both because

she liked Callandra Daviot as well as anyone she knew, and because characteristically she had omitted to use her title, a modesty exercised by very few.

Callandra was sitting in the small, well-worn parlor by the meager fire, but she had not kept on her coat, even though the room was chill. Her interesting, individual face lit up when Hester came in. Her hair was as wild as always, and she was dressed with more regard for comfort than style.

"Hester, my dear, you look appallingly tired. Come and sit down. I'm sure you need a cup of tea. So do I. I asked that woman, poor creature—what is her name?—if she would bring one."

“Mrs. Home.'' Hester sat down and unbuttoned her boots. She slipped them off under her skirt with an exquisite relief and adjusted the worst of the pins in her hair.

Callandra smiled. She was the widow of an army surgeon, now very much past her later middle years, and she had known Hester some time before the Grey case had caused their paths to cross again. She had been born Callandra Grey, the daughter of the late Lord Shelburne, and was the aunt of the present Lord Shelburne and of his younger brother.

Hester knew she would not have come simply to visit, not at the end of a hard day when she was aware Hester would be tired and not in the best frame of mind for company. It was too late for genteel afternoon calling, and far too early for dinner. Hester waited expectantly.

“Menard Grey comes to trial the day after tomorrow,'' Callandra said quietly. "We must testify on his behalf—I presume you are still willing?"

"Of course!" There was not even a second's doubt.

"Then we had better go and meet with the lawyer I have employed to conduct his defense. He will have some counsel for us concerning our testimony. I have arranged to see him in his rooms this evening. I am sorry it is so hasty, but he is extremely busy and had no other opportunity. We may have dinner first, or later, as you please. My carriage will return in half an hour; I thought it unsuitable to leave it outside." She smiled wryly; explanation was not necessary.

'' Of course.'' Hester sank deeper into her chair and thought of Mrs. Home's cup of tea. She would have that well before she thought of changing her clothes, putting her boots on again, and traipsing out to see some lawyer.

But Oliver Rathbone was not "some lawyer"; he was the most brilliant advocate practicing at the bar, and he knew it. He was a lean man of no more than average height, neatly but unremarkably dressed, until one looked closely and saw the quality of the fabric and, after a little while, the excellence of the cut, which fitted him perfectly and seemed always to hang without strain or crease. His hair was fair and his face narrow with a long nose and a sensitive, beautifully shaped mouth. But the overriding impression was one of controlled emotion and brilliant, all-pervading intelligence.

His rooms were quiet and full of light from the chandelier which hung from the center of an ornately plastered ceiling. In the daylight they would have been equally well illuminated by three large sash windows, curtained in dark green velvet and bound by simple cords. The desk was mahogany and the chairs appeared extremely comfortable.

He ushered them in and bade them be seated. At first Hester was unimpressed, finding him a little too concerned for their ease than for the purpose of their visit, but this misapprehension vanished as soon as he addressed the matter of the trial. His voice was pleasing enough, but the preciseness of his diction made it memorable so that even his exact intonation remained with her long afterwards.

"Now, Miss Latterly," he said, "we must discuss the testimony you are to give. You understand it will not simply be a matter of reciting what you know and then being permitted to leave?"

She had not considered it, and when she did now, that was precisely what she had assumed. She was about to deny it, and saw in his face that he had read her thoughts, so she changed them.

"I was awaiting your instructions, Mr. Rathbone. I had not judged the matter one way or the other."

He smiled, a delicate, charming movement of the lips.

"Quite so." He leaned against the edge of his desk and regarded her gravely. "I will question you first. You are my witness, you understand? I shall ask you to tell the events of your family's tragedy, simply, from your own point of view. I do not wish you to tell me anything that you did not experience yourself. If you do, the judge will instruct the jury to disregard it, and every time he stops you and disallows what you say, the less credence the jury will give to what remains. They may easily forget which is which."

"I understand," she assured him. "I will say only what I know for myself."

"You may easily be tempted, Miss Latterly. It is a matter in which your feelings must be very deep." He looked at her with brilliant, humorous eyes. “It will not be as simple as you may expect."

"What chance is there that Menard Grey will not be hanged?" she asked gravely. She chose deliberately the harshest words. Rathbone was not a man with whom to use euphemisms.

"We will do the best we can," he replied, the light fading from his face.”But I am not at all sure that we will succeed.''

"And what would be success, Mr. Rathbone?"

"Success? Success would be transportation to Australia, where he would have some chance to make a new life for himself—in time. But they stopped most transportation three years ago, except for cases warranting sentences over fourteen years—" He paused.

"And failure?" she said almost under her breath. "Hanging?"

"No," he said, leaning forward a little. "The rest of his life somewhere like the Coldbath Fields. I'd rather be hanged, myself."

She sat silent; there was nothing to say to such a reality, and trite words would be so crass as to be painful. Callandra, sitting in the corner of the room, remained motionless.

"What can we do that will be best?" Hester said after a moment or two. "Please advise me, Mr. Rathbone."

"Answer only what I ask you, Miss Latterly," he replied. "Do not offer anything, even if you believe it will be helpful. We will discuss everything now, and I will judge what will suit our case and what, in the jury's minds, may damage it. They did not live through the events; many things that are perfectly clear to you may be obscure to them." He smiled with a bleak, personal humor that lit his eyes and curved the corners of his abstemious mouth. "And their knowledge of the war may be very different from yours. They may well consider all officers, especially wounded ones, to be heroes. And if we try too clumsily to persuade them otherwise, they may resent the destruction of far more of their dreams than we are aware of. Like Lady Fabia Grey, they may need to believe as they do."

Hester had a sudden sharp recollection of sitting in the bedroom at Shelburne Hall with Fabia Grey, her crumpled face aged in a single blow as half a lifetime's treasures withered and died in front of her.

"With loss very often comes hatred." Rathbone spoke as if he had felt her thoughts as vividly as she had herself. "We need someone to blame when we cannot cope with the pain except through anger, which is so much easier, at least to begin with."

Instinctively she looked up and met his gaze, and was startled by its penetration. It was both assuring and discomfiting. He was not a man to whom she could ever lie. Thank heaven it would not be necessary!

"You do not need to explain to me, Mr. Rathbone," she said with a faint answering smile. "I have been home long enough to be quite aware that a great many people require their illusions more than the bits and pieces of truth I can tell them. The ugliness needs to have the real heroism along with it to become bearable—the day after day of suffering without complaint, the dedication to duty when all purpose seems gone, the laughter when you feel like weeping. I don't think it can be told—only felt by those who were there."

His smile was sudden and like a flash of light.

"You have more wisdom than I had been led to suppose, Miss Latterly. I begin to hope."

She found herself blushing and was furious. Afterwards she must confront Callandra and ask what she had said of her that he had such an opinion. But then more likely it was that miserable policeman, Monk, who had given Rathbone this impression. For all their cooperation at the end, and their few blazing moments of complete understanding, they had quarreled most of the time, and he had certainly made no secret of the feet that he considered her opinionated, meddlesome and thoroughly unappealing.

Not that she had not expressed her views of his conduct and character very forthrightly first!

Rathbone discussed all that he would ask her, the arguments the prosecuting counsel would raise, and the issues with which he would be most likely to attempt to trap her. He warned her against appearing to have any emotional involvement which would give him the opportunity to suggest she was biased or unreliable.

By the time he showed them out into the street at quarter to eight she was so tired her mind was dazed, and she was suddenly aware again of the ache in her back and the pinching of her boots. The idea of testifying for Menard Grey was no longer the simple and unfearful thing it had seemed when she had promised with such fierce commitment to do it.

"A little daunting, is he not?" Callandra said when they were seated in her carriage and beginning the journey back to dinner.

"Let us hope he daunts them as much," Hester replied, wriggling her feet uncomfortably.”I cannot imagine his being easily deceived." This was such an understatement she felt self-conscious making it, and turned away so Callandra would not see more than the outline of her face against the light of the carriage lamps.

Callandra laughed, a deep, rich sound full of amusement.

"My dear, you are not the first young woman not to know how to express your opinion of Oliver Rathbone."

"Perspicacity and an authoritative manner will not be enough to save Menard Grey!" Hester said with more sharpness than she had intended. Perhaps Callandra would recognize that Hester spoke from a great deal of apprehension for the day after tomorrow, and a growing fear that they would not succeed.

* * * * *

It was the following day that she read in the newspapers of the murder of Octavia Haslett in Queen Anne Street, but since the name of the police officer investigating was not considered of any public interest, and therefore was not mentioned, it did not bring Monk to her mind any more than he already was each time she remembered the tragedy of the Greys—and of her own family.

Dr. Pomeroy was in two minds as to how to treat her request for leave in order to testify. At her insistence he had operated on John Airdrie, and the child seemed to be recovering well;

a little longer and he might not have—he had been weaker than Pomeroy realized. Nevertheless he resented her absence, and yet since he had frequently told her that she was eminently dispensable, he could hardly make too much of an issue of the inconvenience it would cause. His dilemma gave her some much needed amusement, even if it was bitterly flavored.

* * * * *

The trial of Menard Grey was held in the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey, and since the case had been sensational, involving the brutal death of an ex-officer of the Crimean War, the public seats were crowded and every newspaper distributed within a hundred miles had sent its reporters. Outside, the streets were crammed with newsboys waving the latest editions, cabbies depositing passengers, costers' barrows piled high with all manner of goods, pie and sandwich sellers crying their wares, and hot pea soup carts. Running patterers recounted the whole case, with much detail added, for the benefit of the ignorant—or any who simply wished to hear it all again. More people pressed in up Ludgate Hill, along Old Bailey itself, and along Newgate. Had they not been witnesses, Hester and Callandra would have found it impossible to gain entry.

Inside the court the atmosphere was different, darker and with an inexorable formality that forced one to be aware that this was the majesty of the law, that here all individual whim was ironed out and blind, impersonal justice ruled.

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