Authors: Maggie MacKeever
Tags: #Regency Romance
“No.” Giuseppe touched his throat. “But I’ve heard one was found in Lady Margaret’s Garden. What now,
“Crump suspects you remained in the neighborhood. Now you hide yourself.”
“I’m no man to cower behind a woman’s skirts,” sneered Giuseppe. “What says your damned man-milliner to all this?”
“A great deal; he’s not mealy-mouthed.” Jael caught Giuseppe’s arm in her strong fingers. “Understand this. Should you in any way try and interfere with my fine fribble, I will settle your accounts myself.”
Though her grip must have been painful, Giuseppe didn’t wince. “You would betray your own?”
my own.” Jael released him and bent to repack the basket. “Swear to me that you will say nothing until I give the word.”
“I will wait until the time is ripe for
Jael grasped the basket’s handle, and rose. “You have waited this long; you may—”
Giuseppe raised his hand, silencing her. Jael shuttered the lantern and joined him at the hothouse door.
Two people stood near the garden gate, a woman and a man. Jael recognized Ned. Impossible to hear their words, they were too far away. But first the woman wept, and then Ned shook her, and then she slapped his face.
Ned said nothing. The woman ran toward the Hall. He turned, walked into Lady Margaret’s Garden, and closed the gate.
Giuseppe’s breath was warm on Jael’s cheek. “What was all that about?”
“I couldn’t say.” Jael knew what she knew, and not necessarily by means of crystal balls and Tarot cards and tea-leaves. “Now, let me go.”
Giuseppe released her. Jael slipped away into the night. He gazed thoughtfully along the pathway that led into Lady Margaret’s Garden, then settled back to wait.
Whereas Lady Bligh’s houseguests might not rub along excellently together, the residents of Halliday Hall were at outright daggers drawn. Or so it seemed to Crump, although in this moment they had clearly closed ranks against the intruder in their midst.
Rosamond was enthroned in a stiff mahogany chair. Barbary was seated near her husband on the duchesse. Cade had stretched out his long legs and crossed them at the ankle, his hands laced on his lean belly. Barbary sat so erect she might have had a board strapped to her spine.
Only Amanda remained standing. “You are becoming quite one of the family, Mr. Crump,” she said.
Crump had no desire to belong to a family whose members were sticking their spoons in the wall with such alacrity. “Ah, now, you’ll be having your little joke, Lady Halliday. You haven’t seen hide nor hair of me for upwards of two days, due to the fact I’ve been away from Greenwood. Having been dispatched on errands of a confidential nature, as you might say.”
Rosamond leaned forward in her chair. “And those errands were?”
Crump glanced at Amanda, who was standing by the tea table. Discreet inquiries undertaken in Bath had revealed that young woman was exactly what she’d claimed. Amanda’s relatives were both impecunious and spiteful; they made no secret of their resentment toward the daughter who’d married wealth and then behaved toward them with less than open-handed generosity. Nor should it have surprised them that she did so, he thought; the whole purpose of her existence had apparently been to feather their nest. Some would have said they were well-served when she married a gentleman old, wealthy, and shrewd enough to enable her to distance herself from the lot of them.
Crump flicked open his Occurrence Book. “We’ve encountered no small difficulty in verifying certain details. Such as your marriage, Mrs. Halliday. A fire destroyed the records, and the gentleman who performed the ceremony expired several years ago. I believe you claim to be an orphan, ma’am.”
Rosamond looked disappointed, Amanda curious, and Barbary annoyed. “You sound as if you doubt me, Mr. Crump.”
Tempted as he was to take up this gauntlet, Crump let it lie. To claim no family was a logical step for someone who didn’t want her background checked.
Cade said, impatiently, “What difference does it make if there are no records? You have my word for the marriage, along with my wife’s.”
“You recall your marriage, sir? Encouraging, since you’ve forgotten so much else.” Crump flipped through the pages of his little book. “Everything from the boating accident in Brighton when you cracked your head until several days past when you were set upon by footpads, who obliged you with another wallop on the head. Do I have it right?”
Cade looked even more bored. “You do.”
“Then I take leave to tell you that your story has as many holes in it as a certain boat. Before you get on your high ropes, I’ll also tell you the third man in that boat
drowned. His body was recovered, days later than the others. That detail never appeared in the newspapers, being of little interest to anyone but the authorities.” Crump pulled a pencil from his pocket. “It’s a foolish fellow who tries to mislead Bow Street, because he’s bound to be caught out. Now, what
you been up to, guv’nor?”
“Cade didn’t lie to you,” Barbary interjected. “He merely endorsed my story, which I will admit I made up out of thin air. I did not set out to complicate your investigation, Mr. Crump, though I don’t expect you to believe that.”
“Stubble it, Barbary,” said her husband. “If you must know, Crump, I sent my wife here. I’d heard of my brother’s death and wanted to discover the lay of the land. I was involved with urgent business elsewhere at the time and didn’t care to interrupt it at a crucial moment, unless absolutely necessary, to return to Greenwood.”
Crump found this tale little more watertight than the first. “That business was?”
“Personal,” said Cade.
“Personal business connected with a missing heiress, mayhap?”
“Janthina? You may relieve yourself of that notion. I don’t have her tucked away.” Cade’s swarthy features were almost amused.
Crump was of the opinion that if the Halliday heiress was tucked away anywhere, it was six feet underground. Had Cade been the one who put her there, he was bound to claim she was alive. “You must be aware, guv, that your refusal to explain yourself looks strange. We have certain bits of evidence that can be interpreted in several ways. One of those ways, combined with your lack of cooperation, could lead to your being taken for a criminal offense.”
“But Cade has just returned to Greenwood!” Amanda protested. “How could he be involved?”
“And there’s what you might call the crux of the matter,” Crump said approvingly. “
he just return? Or has he been skulking about all this time, up to some particularly nasty tricks?”
Barbary uttered a soft cry of distress. Crump continued, “I don’t say that’s what
happen, mind. It’s merely what we call a hypothesis. Mr. Halliday’s refusal to explain his actions gives ample ground for suspicion of himself.”
“I’m not in the witness-box yet,” Cade growled. “You may save your questions until I am.”
Crump had not been so optimistic as to hope that he’d be presented with his villain on a silver platter, neatly bound with rope. He
sufficiently optimistic, however, as to believe that he was treading close on that villain’s heels. “Not a single one of you,” he said sternly, “is being as helpful as you might. The law is not kindly disposed toward those who obstruct justice. It might go easier if one was to surrender himself — or herself — as King’s evidence.”
Cade looked bored, Amanda bewildered, and Barbary dismayed. Rosamond huffed, “What an extraordinary remark.”
“That brings me to another point,” continued Crump. “It’s come to my attention that Connor Halliday wasn’t the only one who rode his horse.”
Amanda stiffened. “So now you are suspicious because I sometimes borrow Connor’s horse? It is the best horse in the stable, and I don’t see why I should not.”
“Since Connor was riding his own horse on the morning of his murder,” put in Rosamond, “it hardly signifies whether you borrowed it or not. And no, Mr. Crump,
do not ride Connor’s horse, having a perfectly good mount of my own. So many pointless questions! This seems to me an odd way of chasing down a murderer, but you must know your own business best.”
“Aye.” Here was another oddity, Rosamond coming to Amanda’s defense. “Tell me, how close
the resemblance between Connor and Cade?”
Rosamond replied, “As close as could be. Few could tell them apart, especially when Cade didn’t want the difference remarked. Impersonating his brother was one of Cade’s favorite tricks, although why he should have pretended to be a scoundrel, I could never understand.”
Rosamond Fellowes had truly disliked Connor, realized Crump. She couldn’t bring herself to speak kindly of the man, even after his death.
“About this pistol,” he said to Cade, as he removed that article from his waistband. “I believe it’s one of a pair you owned.”
Cade rose to inspect the firearm. Behind him, Barbary murmured, “I told him that I believed you sold them in Town some years ago.”
“So I did.” Cade named a London pawnshop. “I don’t know if it would be possible to discover who bought the thing.”
“Queer, isn’t it, that the pistol should find its way home to Greenwood?” marveled Crump. “I don’t suppose anyone would care to offer an explanation of that circumstance.”
Crump was correct. No one did. He tucked away the dueling pistol. “Should any of you change your mind, or happen to recall what’s been conveniently forgot, you may find me at the Four Nuns.”
Amanda followed him to the door. “I’ll see you out, Mr. Crump.”
“Is there anything more you might want to tell me, lass?” he asked, as they walked down the hall.
On Amanda’s pretty face, even a frown sat nicely. “Not
you, really, because I honestly don’t know. But it seems to me that Cade may be trying to bamboozle us with all this talk about Janthina. Sometimes I don’t think he knows any more about her than the rest of us do.”
Crump was pleased to discover that Lady Halliday was capable, on occasion, of relatively clear thinking. He too sensed that Cade was deliberately attempting to muddle matters. Did Mr. Halliday envision some manner in which he might yet feather his nest?
And did he need to do so? The man’s clothing was superbly tailored, his coat by no less than Weston, unless Crump missed his guess. He supposed Cade might have been living on his expectations, in which case Sir Wesley’s startling will would have left him at point non plus
Connor Halliday had cause to think he would benefit from his father’s death. Had he anticipated the event? But in that case, who had hastened his own? Connor Halliday’s death benefitted no one at all.
At least, no one that Crump had discovered yet.
He had gathered several new pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately he had not yet been able to make them fit.
Amanda’s voice trailed off. The Runner wasn’t listening. Amazing, how many people failed to listen to her these days. A person might start thinking she had nothing to say, which wasn’t at all the case, but there was little point in sharing speculations with people turned deaf as a post. Silently, she accompanied Crump into the front hall. They arrived in time to see the footman open the front door.
On the threshold stood Lord Dorset and the Honourable Hubert Humboldt. The men were arguing. Lord Dorset snapped, “I’ll thank you to keep out of my affairs.”
“If only I could!” Hubert responded. “This business is as repugnant to my feelings as it is to your own. Moreover— Ah, Crump. Just the man we need. Ned has given us the slip.”
“God in heaven,” snarled Lord Dorset, before Crump could speak. “Is the man entitled to no privacy?”
Amanda clutched Crump’s arm. “Ned is missing? What can this mean?”
“We had thought it
mean an elopement,” said Hubert. “Love’s young dream and all that. Obviously, since you are here, Ned isn’t en route to Gretna Green.”
“Gretna Green?” Amanda scoffed. “Don’t be absurd. Even if
would elope — and I probably would, did he but ask me — I haven’t seen Ned since yesterday. We quarreled, and I wish we hadn’t, but that doesn’t matter now. Maybe he’s gone to Lady Margaret’s Garden, although it’s odd he didn’t send a note. But he wouldn’t, would he, if he was cross? Or maybe he did send a note and it was intercepted, which I wouldn’t put past Rosamond.”
Crump detached her fingers from his sleeve. “I’ve a fancy to view this Garden for myself.”
“You haven’t yet done so?” chided Hubert. “The scene of our ghostly manifestations? Shame, Mr. Crump!”
“No, shame to you, laddie,” Crump retorted. “For trying to take a rise out of Bow Street.”
They set out for Lady Margaret’s Garden, Amanda in the fore accompanied by Crump, Lord Dorset and Hubert Humboldt bringing up the rear.
Dickon scowled at his cousin. “Explain to me your tete-a-tete with my wife, if you please.”
“Zounds!” remarked Hubert. “Deuced if I see how you came to be so successful in the petticoat-line, coz. Hopefully, your outburst when you discovered Ned unaccountably missing may have convinced Livvy that you have little interest in Lady Halliday. Of course, it may have done the opposite. She may think you wished to elope with Amanda yourself.”
“Damnation,” groaned Dickon. “If I’d know what queer ideas Livvy’s condition would put in her head—”
Hubert refrained from comment. To say the truth, which generally he didn’t, Hubert sympathized with Dickon’s plight. Hubert’s own heart’s delight was behaving badly. Jael had slipped away from the castle the previous night, wearing, to its detriment, a suit of his own clothing. Hubert was strongly tempted to prevent further midnight excursions by locking her in the Castle dungeons, and pocketing the key.
Crump also was pondering, not ladyloves but horseflesh. Gypsy Joe’s woman had identified the steed housed in Abel Bagshot’s stable as having been sold a couple years before to one of the Halliday twins. She claimed to have seen the man with her own two eyes. Gypsy Joe had told her the buyer was Cade.