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 (6 page)

Police in dark uniform, top hat, shining buttons and belt; clerks in striped trousers; lawyers wigged and gowned, and bailiffs scurrying to shepherd people here and there. Hester and Callandra were shown into the room where they were to wait until they were called. They were not permitted into the courtroom in case they overheard evidence which might affect their own.

Hester sat silently, acutely uncomfortable. A dozen times she drew breath to speak, then knew that what she was going to say was pointless, and only to break the tension. Half an hour had gone by in stiff awkwardness when the outer door opened, and even before he entered she recognized the outline of the man's shoulders as he stood with his back to them, talking to someone beyond in the corridor. She felt a prickle of awareness, not quite apprehension, and certainly not excitement.

"Good morning, Lady Callandra, Miss Latterly." The man turned at last and came in, closing the door behind him.

"Good morning, Mr. Monk," Callandra replied, inclining her head politely.

"Good morning, Mr. Monk," Hester echoed, with exactly the same gesture. Seeing his smooth-boned face again with its hard, level gray eyes, broad aquiline nose and mouth with its faint scar, brought back all the memories of the Grey case: the anger, confusion, intense pity and fear, the brief moments of understanding each other more vividly than she had ever experienced with anyone else, and sharing a purpose with an intensity that was consuming.

Now they were merely two people who irritated each other and were brought together by their desire to save Menard Grey from further pain—and perhaps a sense of responsibility in some vague way because they had been the ones who had discovered the truth.

"Pray sit down, Mr. Monk," she instructed rather than offered. "Please be comfortable."

He remained standing.

For several moments there was silence. Deliberately she filled her mind with thoughts of how she would testify, the questions Rathbone had warned her the prosecution's lawyer would ask, and how to avoid damaging answers and being led to say more than she intended.

"Has Mr. Rathbone advised you?" she said without thinking.

His eyebrows rose. "I have testified in court before, Miss Latterly." His voice was heavy with sarcasm. "Even occasionally in cases of considerable importance. I am aware of the procedure."

She was annoyed with herself for having left herself open to such a remark, and with him for making it. Instinctively she dealt back the hardest blow that she could.

"I see a great deal of your recollection must have returned since we last met. I had not realized, or of course I should not have commented. I was endeavoring to be helpful, but it seems you do not require it."

The color drained from his face leaving two bright spots of

pink on his cheekbones. His mind was racing for an equal barb to return.

"I have forgotten much, Miss Latterly, but that still leaves me with an advantage over those who never knew anything in the beginning!" he said tartly, turning away.

Callandra smiled and did not interfere.

"It was not my assistance I was suggesting, Mr. Monk," Hester snapped back. "It was Mr. Rathbone's. But if you believe you know better than he does, I can only hope you are right and indeed you do—not for your sake, which is immaterial, but for Menard Grey's. I trust you have not lost sight of our purpose in being here?"

She had won that exchange, and she knew it.

"Of course I haven't," he said coldly, standing with his back to her, hands in his pockets. "I have left my present investigation to Sergeant Evan and come early in case Mr. Rathbone wished to see me, but I have no intention of disturbing him if he does not."

"He may not know you are here to be seen," she argued.

He turned around to face her. "Miss Latterly, can you not for one moment refrain from meddling in other people's affairs and assume we are capable of managing without your direction? I informed his clerk as I came in."

"Then all civility required you do was say so when I asked you!" she replied, stung by the charge of interfering, which was totally unjust—or anyway largely—or to some extent!”But you do not seem to be capable of ordinary civility."

"You are not an ordinary person, Miss Latterly." His eyes were very wide, his face tight. "You are overbearing, dictatorial, and seem bent to treat everyone as if they were incapable of managing without your instruction. You combine the worst elements of a governess with the ruthlessness of a workhouse matron. You should have stayed in the army—you are eminently suited for it."

That was the perfect thrust; he knew how she despised the army command for its sheer arrogant incompetence, which had driven so many men to needless and appalling deaths. She was so furious she choked for words.

"I am not," she gasped. "The army is made up of men— and those in command of it are mostly stubborn and stupid-like you. They haven't the faintest idea what they are doing,

but they would rather blunder along, no matter who is killed by it, than admit their ignorance and accept help." She drew breath again and went on. "They would rather die than take counsel from a woman—which in itself wouldn't matter a toss. It's their letting other people die that is unforgivable."

He was prevented from having to think of a reply by the bailiff coming to the door and requesting Hester to prepare herself to enter the courtroom. She rose with great dignity and swept out past him, catching her skirt in the doorway and having to stop and tweak it out, which was most irksome. She flashed a smile at Callandra over her other shoulder, then with fluttering stomach followed the bailiff along the passageway and into the court.

The chamber was large, high ceilinged, paneled in wood and so crowded with people they seemed to press in on her from every side. She could feel a heat from their bodies as they jostled and craned to see her come in, and there was a rustle and hiss of breath and a shuffle of feet as people fought to maintain balance. In the press benches pencils flew, scratching notes on paper, making outlines of faces and hats.

She stared straight ahead and walked up the cleared way to the witness box, angry that her legs were trembling. She stumbled on the step, and the bailiff put out his hand to steady her. She looked around for Oliver Rathbone, and saw him immediately, but with his white lawyer's wig on he looked different, very remote. He regarded her with the distant politeness he would a stranger, and it was surprisingly chilling.

She could hardly feel worse. There was nothing to be lost by reminding herself why she was here. She allowed her eyes to meet Menard Grey's in the dock. He was pale, all the fresh color gone from his skin. He looked white, tired and very frightened. It was enough to give her all the courage she needed. What was her brief, rather childish moment of loneliness in comparison?

She was passed the Bible and swore to her name and that she would tell the truth, her voice firm and positive.

Rathbone came towards her a couple of steps and began quietly.

"Miss Latterly, I believe you were one of the several wellborn young women who answered the call of Miss Florence Nightingale, and left your home and family and sailed to the Crimea to nurse our soldiers out there, in the conflict?"

The judge, a very elderly man with a broad, fragile tempered face, leaned forward.

"I am sure Miss Latterly is an admirable young lady, Mr. Rathbone, but is her nursing experience of any relevance to this case? The accused did not serve in the Crimea, nor did the crime occur over there.''

"Miss Latterly knew the victim in the hospital in Scutari, my lord. The roots of the crime begin there, and on the battlefields of Balaclava and Sebastopol."

"Do they indeed? I had rather thought from the prosecution that they began in the nursery at Shelburne Hall. Still— continue, please." He leaned back again in his high seat and stared gloomily at Rathbone.

"Miss Latterly," Rathbone prompted briskly.

Carefully, measuring each word to begin with, then gradually gathering confidence as the emotion of memory overtook her, she told the court about the hospital in which she had served, and the men she had come to know slightly, but as well as their injuries made possible. And as she spoke she became aware of a cessation of the jostling among the crowd. More faces were quickened in interest; even Menard Grey had raised his head and was staring at her.

Rathbone came out from behind his table and paced back and forth across the floor, not waving his arms or moving quickly to distract attention from her, but rather prowling, keeping the jury from becoming too involved in the story and forgetting it all had to do with a crime here in London, and a man on trial for his life.

He had been through her receipt of her brother's heartbroken letter recounting her parents' death, and her return home to the shame and the despair, and the financial restriction. He elicited the details without ever allowing her to repeat herself or sound self-pitying. She followed his direction with more and more appreciation for the skill with which he was building a picture of mounting and inevitable tragedy. Already the faces of the men in the jury were becoming strained with pity, and she knew how their anger would explode when the last piece was fitted into the picture and they understood the truth.

She did not dare to look at Fabia Grey in the front row, still

dressed in black, or at her son Lovel and his wife, Rosamond, beside her. Each time her eyes roamed unintentionally towards them she averted them sharply, and looked either at Rathbone himself or at any anonymous face in the crowd beyond him.

In answer to his careful questions she told him of her visit to Callandra at Shelburne Hall, of her first meeting with Monk, and of all that had ensued. She made some slips, had to be corrected, but never once did she offer anything beyond a simple answer.

By the time he had come to the tragic and terrible conclusion, the faces of the jury were stunned with amazement and anger, and for the first time they were able to look at Menard Grey, because they understood what he had done, and why. Perhaps some even felt they might, had fortune been so cruel to them, have done the same.

When at last Rathbone stepped back and thanked her with a sudden, dazzling smile, she found her body was aching with the tension of clenched muscles and her hands were sore where her nails had unconsciously dug into the palms.

The counsel for the prosecution rose to his feet and smiled bleakly. "Please remain where you are, Miss Latterly. You will not mind if we put to the test this extremely moving story of yours?" It was a rhetorical question; he had no intention whatsoever of permitting such a testimony as hers had been to stand, and she felt the sweat break out on her skin as she looked at his face. At this moment he was losing, and such a thing was not only a shock to him in this instance, but of a pain so deep as to be almost physical.

"Now Miss Latterly, you admit you were—indeed still are— a woman rather past her first youth, without significant background, and in drastically impoverished circumstances—and you accepted an invitation to visit Shelburne Hall, the country home of the Grey family?"

"I accepted an invitation to visit Lady Callandra Daviot," Hester corrected.

"At Shelburne Hall," he said sharply. "Yes?"

"Yes."

"Thank you. And during that visit you spent some time with the accused, Menard Grey?"

She drew breath to say "Not alone,'' and just in time caught

Rathbone's eye, and let out her breath again. She smiled at the prosecutor as if the implication had missed her.

"Of course. It is impossible to stay with a family and not meet all the members who are in residence, and to spend time with them." She was sorely tempted to add that perhaps he did not know such things, and forebore carefully. It would be a cheap laugh, and perhaps bought very dearly. This was an adversary to whom she could give no ground.

"I believe you now have a position in one of the London infirmaries, is that so?"

"Yes."

"Obtained for you by the same Lady Callandra Daviot?"

"Obtained with her recommendation, but I believe on my own merit."

"Be that as it may—with her influence? No; please do not look to Mr. Rathbone for guidance. Just answer me, Miss Latterly."

"I do not require Mr. Rathbone's assistance," she said, swallowing hard. "I cannot answer you, with or without it. I do not know what passed between Lady Callandra and the governors of the infirmary. She suggested I apply there, and when I did, they were satisfied with my references, which are considerable, and they employed me. Not many of Miss Nightingale's nurses find it difficult to obtain a position, should they desire it."

"No indeed, Miss Latterly." He smiled thinly. "But not many of them do desire it, as you do—do they? In fact, Miss Nightingale herself comes from an excellent family who could provide for her for the rest of her life.''

"That my family could not, and that my parents are both dead, is the foundation of the case that brings us here, sir," she said with a hard note of victory in her voice. Whatever he thought or felt, she knew the jury understood that, and it was they who decided, after all each counsel could say.

"Indeed," he said with a flicker of irritation. Then he proceeded to ask her again how well she had known the victim, and to imply very subtly but unmistakably that she had fallen in love with him, succumbed to his now well-established charm, and because he had rejected her, wished to blacken his name. Indeed he skirted close to suggesting she might have collaborated to conceal the crime, and now to defend Menard Grey.

She was horrified and embarrassed, but when the temptation to explode in fury came too close, she looked across at Menard Grey's face and remembered what was truly important.

"No, that is untrue," she said quietly. She thought of accusing him of sordidness, but caught Rathbone's eye again and refrained.

Only once did she see Monk. She felt a tingle of pleasure, even sweetness, to recognize the outrage in his expression as he glared at the counsel for the prosecution.

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