Authors: Sarah Waldock
Death of a Fop
Sarah J. Waldock
Copyright 2011 © Sarah J. Waldock
Dedicated to all my fans on various fanfiction sites who have read, reviewed and been supportive. This is the revised and upgraded version – enjoy!
Mrs Jane Churchill knew she should not feel relieved that her husband was dead.
She should definitely not feel relieved when she was being told that he was not only dead but that he had been murdered. She stared at the man who had brought the news, who seemed to fill the whole room with his presence. Maybe it was just the news that was filling the room.
“My husband is
?” she repeated the words, trying to take it in; hoping perhaps that by saying it out loud it would really make it so. . She clenched and unclenched her fists in the folds of her golden brown kerseymere morning gown.
“Yes ma’am; I’m sorry for your loss.”
He was remarkably well spoken for a Bow Street Runner; she had heard they could be rough men.
He was clean too.
The indeterminate blondish hair had no grease to it; the colour not quite pale enough to be blonde was natural, not a patina of dirt on naturally lighter hair.
He was tall and looked faintly uncomfortable, as though he felt too big for her little parlour, standing there, favouring one leg. Yes, he had limped as he came in.
“Won’t – won’t you sit down and tell me all about it?” she indicated a chair.
He looked surprised.
“Well…. It is remarkably civil of you Ma’am” he said, sitting gingerly on the edge of the chair. There was a passing flicker of relief across his face.
His aquiline nose had been broken at some point and his eyes were very blue, she noticed, now he was at a level for her to see better.
“Does it not impede your work?” she asked “Your leg?”
“Only when it’s been a long day, ma’am; it’s a little reminder of Corunna.”
“You were a soldier?”
“Yes ma’am; invalided out. They said I’d never walk without crutches again” there was pride in his voice that he had proved them wrong. “About your husband….”
“Who killed him? Why? How did it happen?” the questions came tumbling out.
“Ah. That’s why I’ve been sent to talk to you, ma’am; to see if you knew any enemies he had” he said.
“My husband was a charming man; I believe everyone he knew liked him very well” she said.
“One of them didn’t” said the runner, dryly.
“No. Apparently not” she stared at her hands, clasped in her lap. “I suppose if you see violent death regularly you learn to treat it with a degree of levity.”
“I beg your pardon Mrs Churchill” he said.
“I understand that it makes your task easier to look upon it lightly. I have not taken offence; some might.”
“Begging your pardon ma’am, few would have picked up the slight levity of my reply.”
“Perhaps you are correct; my reading of nuances of tone has always been acute….. in most cases. I can think of no enemies my husband has made; I know that one of his father’s friends does not like him; but that had a degree of reason now defunct.”
“Perhaps you will tell me about it Mrs Churchill?”
She gave a slight shrug.
“My husband was raised by his aunt and uncle since his father was widowed when Frank – Mr Churchill – was a baby. He took their name. His aunt was opposed to him marrying; we held to a secret engagement. To cover our intimacy he flirted with a girl living in the same village as his father, and where I had grown up for some of my life. The man who disliked him is now married to that girl; a straightforward story.”
“I see. That seems hardly relevant; but thank you for your candid explanation” he said.
“Are you in charge of finding out who killed him? What is your name? And should I not ask to see your occurrence book?” asked Jane.
“I am; my name is Caleb Armitage; and you are indeed a peevy mort – I mean an astute lady – to ask” said Mr Armitage, removing a notebook from his pocket and showing her his name on it.
She nodded. The words ‘Occurrence Book’ were printed on; possible for someone to duplicate but hardly worth bothering. His name was filled in with block capitals and a signature beneath them. The brief description ‘height: six feet three inches; hair: light brown; eyes: blue; complexion: fair’ described him well enough. There were no comments under ‘any other remarks’; presumably his leg was not noticeable enough unless he was tired. It would be a lot of trouble to go to for anyone to match so tall a young man with a stolen occurrence book; and what would be the point? It was wrong to be suspicious; though Mr Armitage seemed to approve as she checked the details with care.
“Anyone after all might say they were from Bow Street; and anyone might then ask for access to the house when they could pilfer in the guise of searching” said Armitage as he retrieved his small notebook from her “As well to always check. Did you want me to sign my name to compare signatures?”
“”That won’t be necessary” said Jane “I think it would be hard for anyone to forge your inches.”
“I am a distinctive height” he admitted. “I expect you have questions for me too?”
“Where was my husband found and how had he been killed?” she asked.
“In the Serpentine miss – uh, Mrs Churchill; and at first it was thought suicide, as so many drownings there are; excepting he was not drowned; and very few suicides hit themselves on the back of the neck first.”
“How do you know he was not drowned? Might he not have been assaulted for his purse and fell into the Serpentine where insensibility caused him to drown?” asked Jane. “There are so many desperate lawless people with these dreadful Corn Laws forcing the price of bread up; why one cannot get a quartern loaf for less than two and sixpence…. I am sorry, I did not mean to babble. But is it possible?”
Caleb Armitage scratched the back of his neck.
“Well I don’t say that he might not have finished up the job of dying with a spot of drowning after the blow, Ma’am, but the surgeon as looked at the body said that such a blow would have finished him off in any case. Excuse me ma’am, I ain’t never broke news to nobody before and I don’t mean to use words as cause offence.”
She gave him a thin smile.
“I am not offended; you have to tell me as it is. Frank is – was – tall; so that means a tall strong man must have been his assailant. Do you not think that robbery is a motive then that you ask about enemies?”
A man as tall and strong as this runner.
“As his purse was still on him and a roll of rather damp soft in it I believe that precludes the motive” said Armitage dryly “For no thief would hesitate, even if he fell in accidentally, to fish about for a purse. Besides he did not fall accidentally; the drag marks tell that he was pulled unconscious or dead to the side of the lake and pitched in.”
“How extremely curious” said Jane, frowning. “Mr Armitage, I can only suggest that I shall have to go through my husband’s papers and see if there is any clue in them.”
“I could go through them for you, ma’am” said Armitage.
A curious look crossed her face; it looked like shame. Colour rose to her pale face.
“I would prefer that you did not” she said. “I believe there may be …..personal correspondence …..in his papers that it would be unseemly for anyone else to read.”
“Ma’am, I have to say this” said Armitage. “If you believe he was keeping a light o’ love, and she was seeing anybody else, that is a possible reason for a quarrel.”
“I see” she said quietly. “Then if I furnish you with the name of any such, will that do? I do not wish to be humiliated by having a stranger read any intimate letters my husband may have received.”
“That will do very nicely ma’am” said Armitage, relieved. She had taken it very well. Too well? Might SHE have hired someone? Yet the quiet dignity of the woman impressed him; he did not want to believe that. “Might I call again tomorrow morning? Will that give you time to examine his papers?”
“Indeed yes; at ten. That will give me ample time. I should like something to keep me occupied” said Jane.
When Armitage had left she stared at her hands. What did she feel? Primarily a numbness; and that relief. She and Frank had not been married long before the little attentions started to be eroded; before the year was out he was ordering her about, often shouting at her for being clumsy, not as svelte as she had been before the weight of pregnancy robbed her of her lithe step and worked upon her indifferent health. He had been jealous too as soon as the baby was born; little Frances. And angry that Jane had been sorely pulled by the birth.
She had worked hard to get her figure back though it had tired her, to try to regain his regard; but when she found the letter from the Female that Frank was maintaining, and discovered by a reference in the letter that he had been seeing her at least since they had been married but three months she had stopped bothering; and took a perverse pleasure in answering Frank in as few words as possible in the colourless tone she had used to others to cover their secret engagement.
He had suspected an
and had beaten her; which in light of his own infidelity Jane considered unfair in the extreme.
But one was not supposed to be glad that one’s husband was dead.
It must indeed have been someone big and strong to fell him. There could not be many tall enough to make such a blow; did one suspect the one who broke the news? Somehow Jane could not see the straight-looking Mr Armitage as an assassin with a false blow from behind; there was that to him that recalled to her Mr George Knightley, the man who had married Emma, with whom Frank had flirted. Mr Knightley could never do anything underhanded like hit a man from behind; and somehow instinct said nor could the runner. There were plenty of tall men in London who had been in the army until it was disbanded.
She must therefore do all she might to help this Caleb Armitage to uncover who had killed Frank, and why, in order to assuage the guilt she felt for being grateful that someone had freed her from a petty and unkind husband whose charming façade was as false as some of the handsome Georgian façades on sixteenth century buildings.
And the sooner she got down to work the sooner the shame and humiliation of reading any letters would be over.
Jane regarded the five documents she considered most significant; her thin hands shook slightly as she straightened the creases nervously, arranging them on the table. Mr Armitage really needed to see these; and he would need to see Frank’s account book written in his own hand. None of the documents was very pleasant to contemplate and together they told a sordid story that did not reflect well on Frank at all