Recent Titles by Deryn Lake from Severn House
THE MILLS OF GOD
The Apothecary John Rawlings Mysteries
DEATH AND THE BLACK PYRAMID
DEATH AT THE WEDDING FEASTDEATH AT THE WEDDING FEAST
A John Rawlings Novel
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First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2011 by Deryn Lake.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Death at the wedding feast. â (A John Rawlings mystery)
1. Rawlings, John (Fictitious character) â Fiction.
2. Pharmacists â England â Fiction. 3. Great Britain â History â 18th century â Fiction. 4. Detective and mystery stories.
I. Title II. Series
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-152-1Â Â (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8086-4Â Â (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-384-7Â Â (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
In memory of my grandparents Wilhelm Friedrich Walter Koehling and Petrea Charlotte Koehling, with my love
It was a delicious moment. In fact probably the most delicious moment of his life. And then John Rawlings, with an impish sideways grin, remembered a particularly special occasion in his misspent youth â an incident involving Sukie, his master's kitchen maid â and decided that this was the second most delicious. Be that as it may, nothing could take away from his present triumph. He had at last, after many years of experimenting with water, finally succeeded in carbonating it. The bottle he was holding up to the light and peering at contained sparkling bubbles.
After his father had moved to Kensington John had set up a rather large piece of equipment in his home in Nassau Street. Barrels and vats, boxes and a handwheel, to say nothing of a mass of pipes joining one piece of machinery to another, now dominated the room at the back formerly used for cleaning boots and Sir Gabriel's shoes, together with the knife cleaning area. Sir Gabriel's best pair, worn on special occasions only, had glittering pinchbeck heels; however footwear more ordinary, with shining buckles and bright rosettes, sufficed the great old man for everyday wear.
It had taken John Rawlings, apothecary of Shug Lane, Piccadilly, some years to perfect his bid to get water to sparkle like the heart of a fountain. But now, judging by the bottle he held at eye level, he had finally succeeded. It bubbled, it fizzed, it glinted and gleamed. It was everything he had ever hoped for. Before he allowed himself a wild cheer of joy the Apothecary went to his log book and entered the date.
â19th February, the Year of our Lord 1768, today I succeeded in Carbonating Water.'
Then he let out a whoop of joy and executed a few nimble flights of foot before rushing into the main house holding the bottle on high. Unfortunately there was not a soul in sight to share his celebration. In fact the Apothecary felt a decided shiver at the emptiness of the place. Disconsolately, he went into the library and sat down. But a few seconds later he leapt to his feet again and rushed into the hall.
A footman came hurrying up. âAre you going out, Mr Rawlings?'
âI'm thinking about it. At what time is Miss Rose expected back?'
âMiss Rose is taking tea with Miss Thomas and should be returning at about three o'clock.'
As Miss Rose and Miss Thomas were aged six and seven respectively John gave a crooked smile. âI see. Well, would you be kind enough to tell her that I have gone to see Sir John Fielding but will be back in time to say goodnight to her.'
âVery good, Sir. Will you be walking or shall I get you a chair?'
âThe walk will do me good, I believe.'
So saying, John Rawlings left the house in Nassau Street and strolled through the crowded and noisesome ways towards that tall, thin house in Bow Street where Sir John Fielding held court daily. Tucked in an inner pocket of his greatcoat was a bottle of that saucy, bubbling liquid whose secret he had finally found.
As he walked, John thought. Thought back to his early life and the time he and his mother had begged on the streets of London until kind Fate had brought them into the path of Sir Gabriel Kent. Quite literally because his coach had run them down. But oh what goodness, what gentleness John had felt when Sir Gabriel himself had lifted them up and taken them back to his house. Later, much later, when he had taught her to appreciate the finer things of life, Sir Gabriel had married John's mother. But their happiness had been all too brief for Phyllida Kent had died giving birth to his daughter and all Sir Gabriel's love and affection had transferred itself to John.
Avoiding a group of beaux, walking along and chattering, swinging their great sticks and elevated on heels of a somewhat alarming height, the Apothecary thought of himself when he had been younger and was grateful that he had never been as silly and empty-headed as the mincing little gang he had just passed. Mark you, he had not led an exemplary life, far from it. His love affair with the actress Coralie Clive had caused quite a scandal in its day, not to mention a few other little peccadillos gathered on the way. But then he had reformed at the time of his marriage, only for his sweet Emilia to be snatched away from him and for him to be left â a desirable young widower â in charge of bringing up his daughter, Rose.
Not that that, he thought as he swung into Long Acre, had seemed to stem the ladies' interest. But the Apothecary, being such a contrary creature and by nature loving that which always seems a little unobtainable, had declared his passion for a totally unsuitable female. A woman older than he was, a woman titled in her own right, a woman of decided views and wayward beliefs. In other words the beautiful and capricious Marchesa Elizabeth di Lorenzi.
The very idea of her stopped the Apothecary dead in his tracks. Pulling out his fob watch he stared at the date which ran inside the minute hand in a small but clearly marked ring, enclosing, in their turn, a blaze of stars, a moon and an exceedingly grumpy-looking sun.
âMy God,' whispered the Apothecary, under his breath, âshe's due very soon. I must get to Exeter as soon as possible.'
For the fact of the matter was that he had left the Marchesa well and truly pregnant, getting very large and moving much more slowly than usual about her great house. But for an hour or two he must devote his thoughts to Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate, the powerhouse who brought law and order to the city of London as best he could. Patting the bottle of sparkling water that nestled in his pocket, John made his way to the Public Office in Bow Street.
Being somewhat late in arriving, John was surprised to hear the sound of loud laughing coming from the courthouse. Pushing his way through the crowd of members of the
, who had made it the height of fashion to see criminals brought to justice, he found a seat in the second row of the gallery and peered to see what was causing the merriment.
Standing at the bar, pertly dressed and with a fashionable hat tipped over one eye, was a soncy lass standing all of five feet tall and most attractively rounded, her mass of blonde hair cascading down in ringlets from beneath the brim. She had obviously said something to Sir John â who sat in a high chair at the far end, the space between being occupied by John's friend Joe Jago, who sat at a writing-desk, bewigged and with a snow-white cravat at his throat, at the shorter end of the bar also facing the prisoner. He was grinning broadly, the Apothecary could see.
âWell, Sir John,' the young woman was saying, âhe was handsome like, though not as well set-up as yourself, Sir.'
The magistrate, clearly in a good mood, retorted, âI hardly think that that is the point at issue, Miss West. You are charged with visiting the Covent Garden theatre and there relieving a gentleman of the contents of his pockets. What have you to say to that?'
âI say that I might have pushed against the gentleman â accidental like â but take something from him? Why, Sir John, I'd as soon jump from a cliff.'
So saying she curtsied to the gallery as if she had been making a great speech. They whistled and catcalled back at her â John included â forcing the magistrate to call for silence.
âMiss West,' he said severely, though John knowing him as he did, could not help but notice a slight rumble of laughter beneath the ferocious tone, âwould you be so good as to turn out your pockets.'
Miss West curtsied again, this time in the direction of the magistrate who obviously could not see and had to lean forward to hear what it was Joe Jago whispered to him. He smiled to himself as he heard the words and the Apothecary, observing, thought the Blind Beak might have a soft spot for his naughty defendant.
From the back of the court Beak Runner Smallwood stepped forward.
âIs the arresting officer present?' boomed Sir John.
âHere, Sir,' Smallwood replied.
âAnd the complainant?'
âHere, Sir,' answered a smartly dressed gentleman who had been sitting on the end of the front row of spectators.
âNow, Miss West,' said Sir John deeply, âyour pockets, if you please.'
These particular articles of clothing were carried underneath the skirt and Miss West drew them out with a glimpse of garter and bare thigh which she allowed to remain on display for a few seconds before lowering her dress once more. A terrific whistle rose from the gallery and Sir John banged his gavel.
âSilence!' he roared, but the
were in no mood to be hushed and continued to murmur softly one to the other.
Aware that she now had the full attention of everyone present, Miss West slowly fished in her pocket and drew out a guinea, some silver and, finally, a white carnelian stone.
âThat's mine,' called Mr Wilson, the complainant.
Miss West flounced her skirt prettily and exclaimed, âWhy no, Sir. I think you must be mistaken. That stone has been in my possession for the last three months.'
Mr Wilson went very red and turned to the magistrate. âI swear to you, Sir John, that that is my carnelian.'
Fielding's black ribbon, concealing the useless eyes that were beneath it, turned in Wilson's direction. âYou have a witness here who can swear to that?'
âNo, Sir, but I can bring along such a person tomorrow. The lapidary who cut it and would know it anywhere.'
âThat should prove excellent.' The blind gaze turned towards the saucy Miss West who was blowing kisses to the gallery. âYou must spend a night in the cells, Miss West. The rest of your case will continue tomorrow morning.'
âOh I don't mind at all, Sir John,' she chirruped. âThey're nice and clean compared with some others I could mention. Besides, you're treated like a human being there.'