Authors: Maggie MacKeever
Tags: #Regency Romance
These ruminations, inconclusive as they were, brought him at last to Halliday Hall. Stiffly, Crump slid off his horse. He left the animal at the stable, followed the pathway to the house, rapped on the front door. The elderly butler stated in tones as cool as the weather that he would ascertain whether either Mrs. Halliday or Miss Fellowes were at home to Bow Street.
“You do that, laddie,” Crump said genially. “And I’ll come on in and warm my toes by the fire.”
Rosamond Fellowes wasn’t long in joining him in the morning room, a small chamber furnished with an abundance of bamboo and chintz. “You again,” she remarked in an unfriendly manner. “What do you want now?”
Gypsy Joe’s doxy had had better manners. Crump tucked his thumbs in his waistcoat and rocked forward on the balls of his feet. “All in good time. This being official business, as it were, do you think we might sit down?”
With obvious reluctance, Rosamond gestured toward a couch. Crump seated himself instead on a bamboo-backed chair, withdrew his Occurrence Book and placed it on his knee. “First of all, I must tell you I’ve learned the contents of Sir Wesley’s will.”
Rosamond glowered. “That ungrateful man! Had Margaret anticipated that he would behave so shabbily—”
“Had she known, then what?”
“Nothing. A mere figure of speech.”
“What can you tell me about Janthina Halliday? I already know that she was Sir Wesley’s illegitimate daughter. Got on his wife’s abigail.”
“We don’t speak of
” Rosamond snapped. “Margaret was a saint to keep a servant’s bastard. I told her she’d regret it at the time.”
The sainted Lady Margaret had been dead too many years to merit Crump’s attention. “The servant died in childbirth. Her daughter was raised at the Hall. Why did she leave?”
“Bad blood will tell.”
Better bad blood than no blood. This black-clad besom was as coldhearted a female as Crump had encountered for some time.
Was she coldhearted enough to commit murder? Rosamond Fellowes was a noted horsewoman and familiar with the land. “That the girl was Sir Wesley’s daughter wasn’t common knowledge hereabouts?”
“Common knowledge? I should hope not!” Rosamond sat down stiffly on the couch. “I warn you, Mr. Crump. I won’t have that old scandal dug up.”
“ ‘Tisn’t me you should be warning,” Crump retorted. “And speaking of warnings,
shouldn’t go around threatening representatives of the law. As for this Janthina, the details of Sir Wesley’s estate will be common knowledge soon enough. You haven’t told me why the girl left Greenwood.”
Rosamond said nothing. “She
leave?” Crump asked.
“So we assumed at the time.” Rosamond leaned toward him. “If I confide in you, Mr. Crump, will you promise to keep the information to yourself?”
Replied Crump, without the least intention of so doing, “If I can.”
“I’ve long believed Connor and Janthina were behind Cade’s disappearance.” In case he’d missed her point, Rosamond added, “In other words, Mr. Crump, foul play.”
“Ah, you’ll be having your little game with me,” Crump said genially. “The thing is, Miss Fellowes, this Janthina hasn’t been as forgotten as you’d like to think. There’s those that remember which of the brothers she favored, and it wasn’t Connor. So it doesn’t seem likely she’d suddenly do an about-face and help Connor do away with Cade.” He paused, but Rosamond didn’t comment. “Moreover, if Cade was murdered all those years ago, he’d hardly have a widow now.”
“That brazen adventuress!” Hectic color stained Rosamond’s cheeks.
Since this was the same opinion Rosamond held of Sir Wesley’s widow — in the process of avoiding certain topics, Abel Bagshot had been most forthcoming about others — Crump paid it little heed. “How does Mrs. Halliday say her husband died?”
“In a boating-accident. Our solicitor has encountered some difficulty in verifying the tale. Meanwhile, we’re saddled with the creature. I’ll wager anything you like, Mr. Crump, that Madam Barbary isn’t what she claims.”
Though Crump was not a betting man, he would have made a wager of his own: Rosamond was furious that Barbary Halliday was attempting to thrust her fingers into the family purse. It was a curious reaction from a woman who had no claim on the estate. Even more curious was the fact that, in spite of her years of service to Sir Wesley, Rosamond had been left not even a pittance in her brother-in-law’s will. “Who was the woman in London that Connor went to visit?” he asked.
Rosamond sniffed. “You can’t expect me to keep track of Connor’s lightskirts.”
Crump was briefly silent. Rosamond had favored Cade, yet she had no sympathy for his widow. Did she resent Barbary Halliday for breaking the news that her favorite was dead?
“What happened in Lady Margaret’s Garden twenty years ago?” he asked. “What caused Sir Wesley to declare the place off-limits to everyone and banish his own son?”
Rosamond pleated the fabric of her dark skirt. Crump would have given much to know what thoughts were scurrying about behind that furrowed brow.
“I’ll tell you,” she said, at length. “But I don’t see what bearing it can have on the present, and you must repeat it to no one. Janthina and Cade were as thick as thieves. Sir Wesley thought nothing of their friendship until he caught them together in Lady Margaret’s Garden that night. In case you fail to take my meaning, they hadn’t just gone out for an evening stroll. I have always believed that Connor directed his father there.”
Crump was startled out of his habitual calm. “Connor sent Sir Wesley to the garden, knowing what he would find?”
“I didn’t immediately realize the implications, not learning until later that Sir Wesley believed Janthina to be his own blood.” Rosamond resumed plucking at her skirt. “For Sir Wesley to have slighted his sons is unconscionable, even if Janthina is his daughter, which I take leave to doubt. Not that it much matters. I don’t know where Janthina went, or what happened to her, but she doubtless met a bad end.”
Crump considered withholding his next remark, then decided his hostess deserved to experience an upset. “Sir Wesley’s last will was drawn up recently. He would hardly have left things as he did, without provision for the estate in the event all his children were deceased, had he not believed both Cade and Janthina to be alive.”
Rosamond turned white as the plaster ceiling. “Alive?”
“Of course, it’s always possible Sir Wesley might have been mistaken. One more question, ma’am.” Crump removed a dueling pistol from the pocket of his coat. “Are you familiar with this gun?”
“The pistol found beside Connor’s body? Aye. Have you seen it before?”
Rosamond didn’t answer. She had fainted dead away.
From Halliday Hall, Crump continued on to Greenwood Castle, where he was privileged to witness an enactment of
with Lord Dorset as Falkland, Sir John as Captain Absolute, and the Honourable Hubert as a lady’s maid. If none of these gentlemen were particularly adept in his
, it hardly signified, for their audience was paying little heed to onstage events. Even young Austen appeared preoccupied.
Crump was curious about what had inspired all this introspection. Since none of his companions was likely to enlighten him, he settled back to enjoy the play.
And enjoy it he did. Mrs. Malaprop and her misuse of the language: ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness’. Young Lydia, enraptured with the notion of eloping with a poor soldier: Crump hoped watching this didn’t give Ned Sutcliffe any foolish ideas, or maybe Lady Bligh meant it should, for she was a matchmaker of no little skill. A buffonish country gentleman; an impoverished Irish baronet; another gentleman who was forever fretting about the fidelity of his ladylove—
Damned if the cast didn’t sound like the Baroness’s house guests. In which case, Crump asked himself, who was the buffoon?
Love notes and gossip. Flowery speeches about true love. Multiple misunderstands, and a sword fight. The play ended with a party, as every good story should, and then came a pantomime.
Crump, despite his enjoyment, did not forget the business that had brought him to the Castle. Harlequin’s antics recalled Lady Bligh’s efforts to assist Bow Street; the appearance of Mother Shipton, with her owl and her cock and her cat, put the Runner forcibly in mind of Lady Bligh’s position in the neighborhood. Plain Mr. Crump of Bow Street might be barred from conversation with Barbary Halliday, but among his acquaintances numbered one for whom all the doors in Greenwood stood ajar.
Not until the appearance of the mummers did Crump find an opportunity to put forth this suggestion. The Baroness listened, at the same time watching King George and the Doctor and Turkey Snipe, bedecked with painted paper and floral headgear, thwack each other with wooden swords.
She turned her dark gaze on him. “How kind of you to recall that, at my age, one must constantly seek ways to stimulate the brain.”
If Crump’s brain was subject to any more stimulation, it might well explode. He smoothed his mustard-colored waistcoat, felt for and located his occurrence book — an item that had a habit of disappearing in the vicinity of Lady Bligh — and then took his leave, not having been invited to join the revelers at the Baroness’s fancy dress ball.
Due to the after-effects of such prolonged merry-making, Dulcie might have been expected to spend a large portion of the next morning tucked up in her bed, as did the majority of her houseguests. Instead, she had Culpepper dress her in an ecru gown, a pelisse of emerald velvet and a bonnet in the highest kick of fashion, and sallied forth to Halliday Hall.
As Crump had foreseen, she was not denied entry. As Crump might also have anticipated, Dulcie did not display any appreciable interest in furthering the progress of Bow Street.
She entered the drawing room, paused to study the wind chart. Ventured the elderly butler, who was hovering at her elbow, “Miss Fellowes is in her room. Shall I ascertain whether she is receiving calls, Lady Bligh?”
“I think not.” The Baroness warmed her hands at the fireplace. “What do
think about Sir Wesley’s will?”
“It is hardly my place—”
“After all your years of service, you are entitled to an opinion, Jenks. You will remember Janthina.”
“Yes, my lady. That is—”
“Never fear,” Lady Bligh said gently. “I shall be admirably discreet.”
“I don’t doubt it, my lady.” The butler’s spine grew marginally less stiff. “I was fond of Miss Janthina. Wild to a fault she was, but a good girl for all that. And as for what’s being said about Master Cade—”
Dulcie cut him off. “Thank you, Jenks. You may inform Mrs. Halliday that I wish to speak with her.”
“Yes, my lady.” The butler withdrew.
Within moments, voices sounded in the corridor. Amanda hurried into the drawing-room, followed by a second woman, who was not among those fortunate females who look attractive in dull black. “Jenks said you wished to speak with Barbary, but I was sure you must have meant me! In case I am mistaken, I have brought her along. Do be seated, Lady Bligh. May I offer you some tea?”
“Not at all and yes you may.” Dulcie settled in a wicker chair. “You may also introduce me to your companion. I am anxious to learn more about Cade.”
Amanda performed a pretty introduction. Barbary Halliday acknowledged it with a slight inclination of her head. Lady Bligh elevated her eyebrows. Hastily, Amanda dispatched the butler in search of refreshment.
“Now we may speak frankly,” said Dulcie, after Jenks had again taken his noiseless leave.
Mrs. Halliday seated herself, but remained silent. “Young people nowadays have no grasp of the art of conversation,” observed the Baroness, who did not subscribe to the theory that widows should be handled tenderly. “Cade is dead, I gather. How?”
Barbary did speak, then, tersely. “A boating accident. Near Brighton. He and his companions went out in inclement weather. My husband’s body was never found.”
“A sad affair.” Dulcie pulled off her gloves. “Had the boat been tampered with?”
Amanda was startled into interrupting her elders — and her newfound daughter-in-law
her elder, by a good ten years. “Mercy! You don’t think that Connor—”
“There were no inquiries,” Barbary said repressively. “It was agreed to be an accident.”
“As I recall, Cade was an exceptionally strong swimmer,” the Baroness remarked.
“Even the strongest swimmer may flounder,” retorted Barbary, “when befuddled with drink. Cade was generally befuddled with drink.”
“Oh!” Amanda gasped.
“Ah,” said Dulcie. “Such are the perils of over-indulging a child. As well as a husband, perhaps.”
For the first time, Mrs. Halliday looked closely at the Baroness. She blinked. Lady Bligh had chosen to celebrate the season in her own inimitable fashion. Peering out from beneath her elegant bonnet was green hair.
“I don’t understand,” Amanda protested. “I was told that everyone liked Cade.”
Dulcie glanced at the portrait of Sir Wesley that hung above the mantelpiece. “So one is led to believe.”
The tea arrived, and with it an assortment of scones and biscuits. Lady Bligh, who had not taken time to break her fast, made a hearty meal. Barbary and Amanda between them consumed no more than a sparrow, and watched with fascination as their visitor emptied her plate.
“Let us continue!’ said Dulcie, as she scooped up the last crumbs. “When did Cade meet with this mishap?”
“Earlier this year,” Barbary replied coolly. “For further details, you must apply to Mr. Crossthwaite. I have already told him all I know.”
Said the Baroness, in no more amiable tones, “You may be assured that I will do precisely that.”
“Goodness!” breathed Amanda. “The two of you are behaving as if you were bruisers measuring each other’s strength for some future bout. Or so it seems to me, though naturally I have never seen a prizefight. But if all this is true, then Cade’s ghost
have been haunting Lady Margaret’s Garden, since he is truly dead.” She frowned. “I have always heard that ghosts haunt the places where they died. Why would Cade haunt the garden if Connor
murder him there? Maybe he wanted to punish his father for sending him away.”