Authors: R. J. Koreto
Tags: #FIC022060 Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Historical
Death on the Sapphire
R. J. Koreto
This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, organizations, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real or actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by R. J. Koreto
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
Crooked Lane Books and its logo are trademarks of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.
Library of Congress Catalog-in-Publication data available upon request.
ISBN (hardcover): 978-1-62953-776-4
ISBN (paperback): 978-1-62953-816-7
ISBN (ePub): 978-1-62953-817-4
ISBN (Kindle): 978-1-62953-818-1
ISBN (ePDF): 978-1-62953-819-8
Cover design by Andy Ruggirello
Crooked Lane Books
34 West 27
New York, NY 10001
First Edition: October 2016
To my wife, Elizabeth, truly a woman far above rubies
al took a step back to contemplate the flesh tones on the canvas, the lovely pinks and peaches of his model’s skin, the copper sheen of her hair lit to flame by the afternoon sun as it poured over the white robe that left one shoulder tantalizingly bare. He smiled in satisfaction and resumed painting.
“I know we’re going for a classical ideal, not historical accuracy,” she said. “But as I’ve said before, it’s hard to believe anyone thought ancient Greek shepherdesses would dress like this.”
“I agree. And speaking of ideals, Greek shepherdesses had modest, doe eyes—not your disconcertingly frank ones, my dear Franny, to say nothing of your impudent smile.” He grinned at her and she grinned back.
“My friends like you,” she said.
“Really?” he asked. She looked at him, his pale green eyes, the slightly ruffled hair that was usually slicked back to perfection, the wrinkled shirt splattered with paint.
“Yes, really,” she said. “You sound surprised.”
“I guess I am surprised. I didn’t expect . . .” He searched for words. “They are artists and poets and musicians. I didn’t expect them to like me—or for me to like them.”
“You’re an artist too,” she said.
Hal didn’t say anything for a while, but Franny didn’t mind. She had become used to the way Hal carefully thought about
what he was going to say. On most days he was Henry Wheaton, Esq. Dressed in a black coat and gold-rimmed spectacles, he managed the legal and financial lives of some of the most distinguished men in London—including Frances’s brother Charles, the Marquis of Seaforth.
But on days like today, when she could lure him away for a short holiday, he was an artist—and a most devoted suitor.
“I’m not a real artist, Franny, although it’s sweet of you to say so,” he eventually said. “I’m a solicitor who dabbles. And my successes are due to a most lovely muse.”
“Flatterer,” she said. “But as a solicitor, aren’t you worried about what your fellow members of the Law Society would say if they heard you were painting Lady Frances Ffolkes—sister of a noble client—practically undressed?” She gave him a challenging look, but he didn’t get upset.
“Not at all, my dear. They’d slap me on the back and take turns buying me drinks.”
“You’re a beast. All men are beasts.”
“But you’re a very good model. And in a little while I’ll be done.”
“Can I see it then?” she asked, full of excitement.
“Of course.” He painted in silence for about another fifteen minutes, then stepped back. It was as good as he could make it.
“Come, Franny. Have a look.” She jumped off her perch, adjusted her shepherdess dress, and quickly padded over on bare feet to see what Hal had created.
“Oh!” she said, then fell silent as she stared. Hal smiled. Franny robbed of speech was a rare occurrence.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Is that what I really look like? It’s just . . . marvelous. I’m . . .” She said no more, but gave him a kiss.
“It’s what you look like to me—as much as my poor skills can make it. I’m not quite at the level of Sir Joshua Reynolds.” He was the great portraitist of a previous generation, whom Hal much admired.
“Oh Hal, never mind Reynolds. I met the most unusual artist when I was last in Paris, a Spaniard, and I saw some of his creations. His way of painting—it took my breath away. I can’t even describe it. A completely fresh way of looking at people. His name was Picasso. Pablo Picasso.”
“I shall keep an eye open for his work in London and someday we shall travel to Paris and see his paintings together.”
“Of course,” said Frances, laying a hand on his arm. “But my point was not about following Reynolds or Picasso. I think you’re wonderful just as Hal.”
A second kiss was interrupted as the door flew open and a man entered the makeshift studio. As opposed to Hal, the visitor was very well dressed, even to the point of flamboyance.
“Sorry to interrupt you two,” he said with a mocking tone. Hal blushed.
“I was giving the hardest working artist here a congratulatory kiss for finishing my portrait.”
“You finished it? Good show, Wheaton. You must’ve been working on it before you came here.”
“I was posing for Hal in his home studio in London these past weeks,” said Frances.
“Really? I continually find you more outré than I expect, Wheaton.”
“I assume that’s a compliment,” said Hal.
“Gerry, stop teasing Hal. He’s been working today, which is more than you have. Anyway, what are you wearing? You look like Oscar Wilde. And that’s not a compliment.”
Gerry just laughed. “Well said, Franny. Anyway, we decided to go for a walk, build ourselves an appetite. Coming?”
“That sounds delightful,” said Frances. “I’ll just run up and change and give Hal a chance to clean up.” She skipped out of the room, and Hal watched her retreat. In the Greek-style dress, with her unbound red hair flowing behind her, she really did look like some forest sprite.
Hal began cleaning his brushes as Gerry continued to study the canvas.
“You really caught our Franny,” said Gerry. “You’re a man of many parts.”
Hal just shrugged. The other guests, men and women, came by in a motley collection of outfits. They looked with curiosity at both the portrait and the man who painted it, while doling out compliments tinged with surprise.
But they all turned to stare when Frances came back.
“Well, how do I look?” she said. Hal and the rest of the company were astonished. Franny was wearing a pair of corduroy trousers, hiking boots, a man’s tailored buttoned-up shirt, suspenders, and a wide-brimmed hat. A rough hunting jacket, to keep her warm against the English autumn, completed the ensemble. She was just over five feet tall, so only her nicely rounded figure kept her from being mistaken for a young farmhand.
“So Wheaton,” said Gerry. “What do you think of your lady fair?”
“I think she looks far more fetching than she has a right to in that getup.” That provoked laughter from everyone.
“It is unbelievably comfortable and practical. I am deeply envious of you men for keeping such clothes to yourselves. I’m going to suggest clothes like this at our next women’s suffrage meeting.”
Hal laughed as she took his arm, and the company walked out the door and onto the hills. Franny liked the way the breeze ruffled his unruly black hair, which was usually slicked to perfection. In his office, he looked so . . . correct. Reading spectacles hid his liquid green eyes and made him look older, especially when he hunched his tall, lean form over his desk. Out here the years fell away, especially when a wide grin broke onto his fair face.
After about half a mile, their fellow house party members stretched into a long line, and so the two were mostly alone.
“Where did you even get an outfit like that?” Hal asked, as Frances walked boldly over the rough ground without worrying about full skirts and elegant boots more suitable for London streets.
“I came across donated boys’ clothes when sorting them for the poor box, and it occurred to me one could buy these new somewhere in London. My maid Mallow did the necessary tailoring. I told her that ladies were now wearing such clothes for country rambles, but she did not approve.”
“And speaking of clothes, does Mallow know you posed for me as a classical Greek shepherdess?”
“No,” said Frances, with a rueful smile. That would’ve been too much. “Oh Hal, look at me. Years of behavior that upset my mother, infuriated my father, horrified a slew of governesses, ruined any chance my family had of making an aristocratic match for me—and here I am afraid of offending my maid.”
Hal laughed. “Well, she is a wonderful and unusual maid. With a rather wonderful and unusual mistress. And I want you to know that there is a lovely room for Mallow in my house if her mistress were to become my wife.” Now he stopped and looked at her.
“Hal, if I don’t marry you, I will never marry. But there are a few things I still have to do before I take that step. Just a little patience.”
He said nothing for a few moments, and Frances was suddenly afraid she had pushed his patience too far. But then he smiled at her.
“Oh very well, there’s nothing I can deny you. I will wait. Now let’s walk briskly and work up an appetite, then we’ll cook some dinner. In this servant-free bohemian household, I understand you and I have been assigned to the kitchen detail tonight.”
Frances made a face. “It’ll be a disappointing evening. London solicitors and daughters of peers of the realm aren’t trained to cook.”
“You do yourself an injustice. I’ve seen you at work.” He had come once to the grim corner of London’s East End where Frances helped run a soup kitchen, slicing carrots and turnips and wrestling vats almost as big as she was. And when a pair of local toughs showed up to make trouble, before Hal could even intervene, she chased them off with language he couldn’t believe she knew.
“Ah, but our fellow guests will be expecting something better than a cauldron of stew.”
“Our efforts can’t be worse than the chicken Gerry and Nora cooked last night. Anyway, you’ll get your reward next week when you travel to Kestrel’s Eyrie. I hear it’s one of the greatest houses in England, and I don’t see the guests of Sir Calleford taking turns cooking.”
“That would be something to see. But no, everything will be just so there, I’m sure. However, this will be a working visit for us. Sir Calleford’s daughter Gwendolyn is making a visit home, so her great friend Thomasina and I are going with her, and we plan to find some quiet time to work on various suffrage projects.”
“Excellent. And Thomasina—that would be Thomasina Calvin, the young woman you call Tommie? I’ve noticed you never mention Tommie without Gwen or Gwen without Tommie, like salt and pepper.”
Frances studied Hal’s face to see if she could find understanding there. “They are like two puzzle pieces that fit only with each other. They love each other very much.”
“No. They love each other . . . like Gwen and Tommie.”
Hal nodded, and Frances saw that he did, in fact, understand. “How remarkable you are, Franny. Suffragist, muse, fashion pioneer—” she laughed at that “—and now, I see, philosopher as well.” They walked a while more and then Hal chuckled. “But I hope you can stay away from investigating another murder. The constables in rural districts tend to be conservative, and they may have less patience with the Lady Sherlock than Scotland Yard does.”
“Are you making fun of me?” she asked, peering from under her hat.
“Of course not. I was, and am, immensely proud of you. I just want you to be safe.”
“Is that advice coming from my solicitor, or my suitor?”
“Let’s say your suitor. If it was from your solicitor, I’d have to charge you a shilling. Now we’ll have to head back soon, to see if a distinguished man of law and a lady of the proud House of Seaforth can somehow figure out how to fry sausages and boil potatoes.”
Charles, Marquess of Seaforth and Undersecretary for European Affairs, slipped into his wife’s dressing room as Mallow was putting the finishing touches on his wife’s dress and making adjustments to her hair.
“You look lovely, Mary. Mallow, I daresay her ladyship’s maid Garritty would not have done better.”
Mallow blushed. There was little doubt in her mind that Lady Frances’s brother was one of the greatest men in England.
“Thank you, my lord.”
He watched his sister’s young maid work. She was helping out this week while Garritty was away assisting her niece with a new baby, since Frances had said she would be spending a few days with some “bohemian” friends in in the country and wouldn’t need a maid anyway.
This was a good opportunity. He knew that those soft brown eyes and face with a childlike prettiness hid detailed knowledge of everything his sister was up to. A lady’s maid knew all her mistress’s secrets. But how to pry them out of her?
“Mr. Henry Wheaton—you know, the family solicitor—dined here recently, Mallow. Lady Frances must see him quite a bit too, doesn’t she? I know they are friends. Do you know if he’s part of the house party Lady Frances is attending?”
Mallow didn’t turn a hair. She smoothed the pleats on Mary’s dress and then turned those quiet eyes onto his lordship.
“I’m sure I couldn’t say, my lord.”
“But then again, she’s probably been too busy with her political meetings to socialize much—women’s suffrage and all that.” He slipped into a jovial tone.
“I’m sure I couldn’t say, my lord.” Not the slightest trace of rebuke. Delivered as smoothly as if she had said it for the first time. He tried another tack.
“Lady Seaforth and I are patrons of the police widows and orphans fund. The commissioner of police will be dining here next week, Mallow. I know Lady Frances often has dealings with the police and I’ll give him her regards—if she’s been wandering the halls of Scotland Yard recently.”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say, my lord.”
At that point, Mary, admiring the results in her mirror, thanked Mallow warmly for her excellent work, and told her she could return to the servants’ hall until it was time to get her ready for bed at the evening’s end.