Authors: Maggie MacKeever
Tags: #Regency Romance
“I did.” Abel busied himself polishing glasses. “The word is that he tumbled head-over-heels at first glance. And a good thing it was because it took the gentleman’s mind off the recent war, him having served in the Peninsular campaign, and as a result being damaged in the head. A terrible business that was. To my way of thinking, we have been a great deal too lenient with Bonaparte.”
Crump didn’t care to discuss Bony. “There must be a large house party at the Castle.”
“Not so large as has been.” Abel provided Crump with a list of guests: the sporting gentleman who’d stumbled on a corpse; the gentleman’s young son and his wife, who was increasing
a dandy of the first water, who had a fondness for fine ale; the dandy’s particular, who was rumored to have had a most colorful past; and a third gentleman recently revealed to be the Chief Magistrate of Bow Street. “Family, for the most part,” Abel concluded. “No great goings-on for the Baroness this year.”
As Abel’s accounting had progressed, so had Crump’s suspicions grown. His host’s final words struck him with the force of a fist to the gut. “The Baroness,” he said.
Abel eyed his guest, who was looking very much as if
had seen a ghost. “Greenwood Castle came into possession of the Bligh family centuries past.”
Some Runner he was, thought Crump; not looking beyond the end of his own nose. He should have realized that Bow Street’s Chief Magistrate wasn’t a man to abandon his duties for something so trifling as a family house-party.
Sir John hadn’t seen fit to inform Crump of the identity of his hostess. This omission wasn’t surprising, in light of the Runner’s previous encounters with Lady Bligh. He was familiar, though he would rather not have been, with the sporting gentleman and the dandy as well.
The Runner glanced gloomily out the window. Coal-smoke billowed from the village chimneys and lent a grey cast to the cold day. He spotted another familiar figure, tripping daintily over the cobblestones toward the inn.
Crump brightened. He had a fondness for Lady Dorset’s abigail. Quoits and conversation alike were abandoned as the red-haired, pug-nosed, freckled damsel entered. Aware of her effect, Mary strolled demurely across the room.
“Her ladyship,” she explained to Abel, “is wishful of some of that ale you served Master Hubert two days past. Things being topsy-turvy at the Castle, I came for it myself.” Abel murmured his appreciation of her enterprise, and Mary cast around for further conquests. Her brown eyes lit upon the Runner. “Mercy! If it isn’t Mr. Crump.”
Crump doffed his hat. “So it is. A rare treat it is to see you again, lass.”
Mary beamed at him. “Likewise. What brings you to Greenwood, sir? Surely you haven’t trailed some desperate criminal
? I know! You’ve come about the murder? Oh, shouldn’t I have said?”
So thick was the silence that Crump could have sliced it with a knife. He was torn between vexation at this abrupt unmasking, and a wish to ease Mary’s obvious embarrassment. “What’s this?” Abel Bagshot inquired suspiciously. “Just who
There was nothing for it but to flourish his identity card. “Crump of Bow Street, here in discharge of the law.” Sensing no further information was likely to be offered from that quarter, he turned to Mary. “Mayhap I can assist you with the transport of that ale.”
She curtseyed, prettily. “I thank you kindly, sir.”
Crump accompanied Mary out the door. Since she clearly expected him to scold her, he merely teased and flattered until she was chattering easily. Crump was not averse to a spot of flirtation with a lively lass. There was, after all, more than one efficient method by which to pluck the feathers from a goose.
The entire village of Greenwood turned out for Connor Halliday’s funeral. Livvy, who was also present, found the pious expressions of her fellow mourners hypocritical indeed. Few enough kind words had been spoken about Connor Halliday while he was alive. But, with the simple act of murder, old resentments had been set aside, or otherwise hushed up, lest they come to Bow Street’s ears.
She was grateful when the service ended, and a little melancholy. A man should have someone to regret his passing. Connor Halliday, it seemed, did not. This didn’t surprise her. Livvy recalled his cavalier treatment of herself.
Recollections of cavalier treatment reminded Livvy of her spouse. What a fool she’d been, to think that with their marriage Dickon would drop connections of a less proper sort. In all fairness, he
dropped them, but now showed every sign of wishing to pick up where he’d left off.
Livvy would never forget the horror she’d felt when Sir John returned to the Castle wearing blood-stained clothing and announced that someone had been shot. But the victim hadn’t been Dickon, and she’d gone from fearing he’d been injured to wishing she might shoot him herself.
She wouldn’t, at least not yet. First, per Dulcie’s instructions, she accompanied the other mourners to the Hall.
“Dear Lavender!” cried Amanda, and limped forward to embrace her. “I’m so glad you’re here. I swear I shall become quite hysterical if I can’t speak frankly to someone. It is all so dreadful, and Rosamond holds
responsible for everything, including Connor’s brother’s disappearance. I don’t know what I could have had to do with
, since Cade vanished long before I arrived in Greenwood, and furthermore I couldn’t have been more than five years of age at the time! And when Rosamond isn’t holding me responsible, she’s predicting that I’ll be the next victim of the ghost.
is to be exempted, you understand, because she’s not a Halliday.”
Livvy envied Amanda her animation. She felt weary to her bones. “Shouldn’t you be resting your ankle?” she asked.
been resting it.” Amanda clasped Livvy’s arm and guided her to a couch. “The doctor said that it is healing nicely. Rosamond insisted that he take a look. She was annoyed to discover that I wasn’t shamming it, though I’ve no notion why she believed I should.”
Livvy studied the painting hung above the fireplace, portrait of a dark-haired grey-eyed youth, austere of feature, clad in a scarlet hunting jacket, breeches, and tall boots. “Is that Sir Wesley? I didn’t notice the portrait on my previous visit.”
Amanda, too, surveyed the likeness of her deceased spouse, “I don’t know how you could have, since it wasn’t there. Rosamond had the painting brought down from the upper hall. I suspect she means the sight of Sir Wesley to inspire me with guilt, for what, I cannot say.”
Livvy couldn’t find it in herself to dislike this pretty ninnyhammer, much as she wished she could. “Connor didn’t resemble his father,” she observed.
“Sir Wesley’s sons looked like their mother, or so I’m told. Although that may be more of Rosamond’s nonsense, because there is a portrait of Lady Margaret in the upper hallway, and one can see even beneath her powder that she didn’t have red hair.” Amanda crumpled up the delicate square of lace that she clutched in one hand. “You must think me a poor sort of creature, and I can’t blame you for it, but anyone would be in a pucker if Rosamond was forever ringing peals over her, and calling her a perfect block.”
“I think nothing of the sort,” protested Livvy, feeling mildly guilty, because she thought that very thing. “Do try and compose yourself. I doubt you wish to give Miss Fellowes the satisfaction of seeing you overset.”
“I wish the ghost
haunt her,” Amanda said bitterly. “I can’t escape the horrid woman, no matter how I try.”
Livvy wondered if Rosamond sought to curtail Amanda’s indiscretions, or if she was by nature spiteful and mean. Thanks to the village gossips, most of the people in the drawing room were probably aware that Amanda was in the habit of stealing away from the Hall. Livvy had heard it from Mary, who’d struck up a friendship with the gardener’s lad. Instructed by his superiors to give Lady Margaret’s Garden a wide berth, the boy had naturally been curious, and had jumped halfway out of his skin when he interrupted not a ghost but what appeared to be a lovers’ tryst.
Amanda misinterpreted her silence. “Rosamond accused me of casting out lures, and I suppose that’s how it must have seemed, but truly I did not mean— And now Ned is playing least-in-sight. Oh, why must I have such wretched ill-luck?”
Livvy hadn’t the energy to try and answer that question. “Let us have the word with no bark on it. You have a
Amanda looked indignant. “How can you think otherwise? I may be flighty, but I am not
“I didn’t mean to imply that you were.” Livvy’s head began to throb. “This is a storm in a teacup, surely. You were, er, with Ned a mere two days past.”
“On the morning of Connor’s accident.” Livvy raised a brow. “That is, Ned told us he had been out riding, and so we assumed— But I’ll understand if you do not care to speak of it, and you must know your own business best. If Ned is avoiding you, it will be because he realizes the delicacy of your situation and won’t wish to make matters worse. You must strive for patience. I’m sure he is acting as he believes best.”
Amanda sighed. “I have never been a patient person. It seems as if a great deal more time has passed. Poor Connor! I should be ashamed to be going on about myself when he is dead.”
Livvy reflected that
should be ashamed to be prying for information from the recently bereaved. And so she was. Not sufficiently ashamed as to cease prying, however. “Have you discovered any more? About who might profit for Connor’s death?”
“Rosamond would like to blame me for that
too,” Amanda muttered. “She accused me of being absent from the Hall on the morning of Connor’s death, right in front of that Bow Street Runner — he was here, asking all manner of questions, earlier today. Have you met Mr. Crump? Although I don’t know why you should have. And how Rosamond knew I wasn’t in the house has me in a puzzle, since she claims to have spent the morning in bed. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was absent from the Hall herself. Everyone knows about her early morning rides.”
“At any rate, you needn’t worry,” soothed Livvy. “Since you were with Ned.”
Amanda nibbled at her lip. “Yes, but I didn’t know if Ned would want me to speak of it, since for us to have been together was highly improper. I don’t care a rush for what people may say, but Ned does, which is to his credit, poor boy. So I
speak of it and now I can’t begin to imagine what that Runner must think. Rosamond says it is also my
fault the Hallidays have come to the attention of Bow Street, which they had never done in the past hundred years. Not that there
a Bow Street a hundred years ago. Was there? In any event, Mr. Crump was all that is polite, so there is no reason for anyone to fuss.”
Livvy, having in the past experienced Crump’s deceptive geniality, was not so certain. “What sort of questions did he ask?”
“He wanted to know about horses, of all things. What time of day it was when Connor’s horse returned to the stable, and what condition it was in. You look surprised. I was myself. Mr. Crump also wanted to know if any of the Halliday horses are in the habit of throwing a shoe.”
“Are they?” Livvy asked.
Amanda shook her chestnut curls. “Not to my knowledge. Rosamond told him to ask the head groom.
think Bow Street would do better to try and discover who moved that trap into Lady Margaret’s Garden than to go hunting horses with missing shoes.”
Livvy remembered Dickon mentioning a horseshoe found near Connor’s body. Amanda didn’t know of that, it seemed.
“When I recall I said that I wished Connor might be caught in one of his traps,” Amanda added, “I could bite off my own tongue. Well, maybe I wouldn’t go so far as that, but I still feel bad.” She paused, allowing Livvy an opportunity to appreciate the conversations going on around them, most concerning the nice tone of the recent ceremony and the appearance of the deceased, most particularly the not altogether successful attempt that had been made to camouflage his wound, and the odd circumstance that death caused people to look peaceful, even when they had not been in life.
Amanda touched her arm. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t have blurted out my troubles in that childish way. What must you think of me?”
“Don’t concern yourself,” responded Livvy; what else
she say? “It is natural that you should feel as you do.”
“Natural? At this point, I couldn’t say what is natural and what is not.” Amanda glanced over her shoulder. “May I take further advantage of your kindness? Will you deliver a message to Ned?”
Here was a fine irony. Livvy had come to the Hall at Dulcie’s request, to gather information, but also so that she might try and understand her husband’s most recent infatuation, if infatuation it was and not something worse, only to be asked to bear his rival a
Inconceivable, that Dickon should
a rival. Had he not made his interest known? Was it possible that he had been rebuffed? Cheered by a vision of her beloved rakeshame suffering his disappointment in stoic silence — for all his faults, the Earl was not the sort of man to try and steal a march on his own cousin — Livvy agreed.
Surreptitiously, Amanda withdrew a folded paper from her sleeve. Livvy slipped the note into her reticule. “What will you do now?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” sighed Amanda. “It depends on how things have been arranged. Rosamond vows I shan’t have a penny more than I deserve. I’ll warrant she thinks
should have everything herself, though why she should deserve anything at all, I have no idea. Oh mercy, here she comes! Pray don’t forget to give Ned my note.”
Rosamond Fellowes was indeed bearing down on them, a black-clad battleship with all sails unfurled. “You are neglecting your guests,” she said sternly to Amanda. “Go now and do the pretty, if you can.”