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Authors: Mairelon the Magician (v5.0)

Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01 (20 page)

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01
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"So?"

           
"So
I want to know how Shoreham's secret information on the whereabouts of the
Saltash Platter managed to reach so many people in so short a time,"
Mairelon said. "Also, I'm worried about Renee. She was supposed to meet me
at the druids' hill over an hour and a half ago, but she never arrived. I'm
going to
Bramingham Place
to see if I can find out why."

           
"I
thought you didn't want that Lord St. Clair seein' you," Kim objected.
"Ain't--isn't that why you sent me over there yesterday?"

           
"It
is,
which is why you're coming with me. Don't argue, Hunch;
you've had a long ride and you should rest. Keep the shotgun handy in case that
Stower fellow turns up again. I'll set up the warding spells when we get
back."

           
"Now,
see 'ere, Master Richard!" Hunch said. "You ain't a-going to take that
girl with you, not if I 'ave anything to say about it. Like as not, she's
working for that Mr. Laverham."

           
Kim
scowled fiercely at Hunch to hide a sudden, strong inclination to cry. Stower's
accusations hadn't gone unnoticed, after all, and she had no way of proving
that he was wrong. "I ain't!" she said, but she had little hope of
being believed.

           
"Really, Hunch."
Mairelon's tone was mild, but
Hunch stiffened and sat back, eyeing his master warily. "You forget,"
Mairelon went on, "I questioned Kim myself, with the Saltash Bowl to
compel her to be truthful. Or do you remember that, and doubt my skill?"

           
"I'd
forgot
," Hunch said, plainly chagrined.
"But--"

           
"No,"
Mairelon said in the same mild tone. "No buts. Spell or no spell, Kim has
earned the right to be trusted. You owe her an apology."

           
"No,
he don't," Kim said hastily. Hunch looked at her in surprise, and she
hurried on, "I'd forgotten about that spell myself. I thought sure you'd
take Stower's gab for truth. I would have. So he
don't
owe me nothin'."

           
"Doesn't,"
Mairelon said.

           
"What?"
Kim said, momentarily at sea.

           
"Hunch
doesn't
owe you
anything.
We'll leave it at that."

           
Hunch
nodded, still wearing a faint expression of surprise. Mairelon looked at Kim
and added in a severe tone, "You have been doing well with your lessons,
but you tend to fall back on cant phrases and poor grammar when you get excited
about something. Try to be more careful."

           
Kim
fought down a desire to laugh in relief. She felt positively lightheaded and
didn't trust herself to say anything, so she simply nodded.

           
"Good.
We'll be going, then." Mairelon paused and looked at Hunch, who was
chewing on his mustache but wisely refrained from commenting. Mairelon smiled.
"I'll send Kim back if I need you for anything, but I doubt that I will.
And perhaps you'd better pack while we're gone; we might want to move the wagon
in case Stower takes it into his head to come back with a friend or two.
Assuming, of course, that he
has
a friend or two.
Don't forget the shotgun."

           
"I
won't," said Hunch. "And don't you forget to watch for that there
Stower, neither
. '
E might follow you instead of coming
back 'ere."

           
Mairelon
nodded and beckoned to Kim. With some caution, he opened the wagon door, but
there was no sign of Jack Stower. "Come along," Mairelon said to Kim,
and started briskly for the road. Kim stared after him for a moment, realizing
suddenly that she had let herself in for another two-hour walk out to
Bramingham
Place
and back. Cursing mentally, she ran to catch
up.

19

           
The walk
to
Bramingham Place
was
every bit as long as Kim remembered. To make matters worse, Mairelon decided
that Kim needed more practice with her speech lessons and drilled her
mercilessly as they hiked along. He stopped only when an approaching rider or
cart distracted his attention, but as they saw only three during the entire
trip this did not give Kim much respite.

           
At the
edge of the manor grounds, Mairelon turned down a narrow side lane along a tall
hedge. Kim followed, relieved by the end of the lessons and equally glad that
she would not have to face the long trudge up the formal drive. All those rows
of trees and carefully positioned shrubs made her uncomfortable.

           
"There
ought to be a gap along here somewhere," Mairelon muttered a few minutes
later. "I didn't think it was this far."

           
"Maybe
they've plugged it up since you were here," Kim said.

           
Mairelon
looked at her, then at the hedge. "You know, I think you may be right.
Well, we'll just have to push our way through, then."

           
"Couldn't
we go around?" Kim asked without much hope. When Mairelon took a notion,
he was stubborn as a hackney coachman wanting full fare in advance. "This
ain't--isn't the way we came the other night."

           
"It
isn't dark now, either," Mairelon pointed out. "Unless Bramingham has
replanted the entire grounds since I was here last, there's a wood on this side
that will screen us from the house. The other way, there's a vista from the
South Lawn. We'd be seen at once."

           
"Right,"
said Kim gloomily. "What are you plannin' to do when we get up by the
house?"

           
"I'll
work that out when we get there," Mairelon said. "I think the bushes
are thinner here,
follow
me; and mind your head."

           
With
considerable difficulty and more than a few scratches, they forced their way
through the thin spot in the hedge. When they emerged into the little wood on
the other side, Mairelon's clothes were covered with leaves and twigs, there
were several snags in the previously smooth surface of his coat, and one sleeve
sported a long smear of mud that ended in a small tear. Kim had fared little
better, but she hadn't been wearing
gentry
togs.

           
"Hunch
isn't going to be happy when he sees what you've done to them clothes,"
Kim said.

           
"Do
you think so?" Mairelon said. He brushed the leaves and twigs from his
shoulders, ignoring the ones caught in his hair, and studied his mud-flecked
sleeve. "It is a little extreme, I suppose. Well, there's no help for it
now. I think the house is--"

           
The echo of a shot from somewhere nearby cut Mairelon off in
mid-sentence.
His head whipped around and his eyes widened. "That
was a pistol," he said, and started running in the direction of the noise.

           
Kim
choked back a shout of dismay and ran after him while her mind listed in a
remarkably clear fashion all the reasons why this was intensely foolish. Shots
were something you ran
away
from, not toward. Someone else might have
heard and roused the house. They would be taken up for poachers. They should
sherry off while they had the chance.
She
should sherry off while she
had the chance.

           
The list came
to a sudden end as she broke out of the woods into one of the tree-lined alleys
she so disliked. Mairelon was several steps ahead of her, slowing to halt
beside an anonymous figure in a dark blue coat that lay sprawled on the ground
at the edge of the woods. As Kim skidded to a stop next to him, she caught a
glimpse of someone running off through the trees. The distance was too great
for her to get more than a vague impression of a dark shape, but Kim didn't
care. What mattered was that he was going in the right direction: away.

           
Mairelon
went down on one knee and reached under the collar of the blue coat with one
hand. "He's dead," he said. He shifted and bent to grip the corpse's
shoulders, then gently turned it over.

           
"Fenton!"
said Kim. She felt very odd, looking down at the empty, staring eyes and slack
face. She had seen dead men before, and even robbed a few, but a fresh corpse
in a shadowy
London
alley, wreathed
in yellow fog, was somehow very different from the same sight in the calm green
countryside.

           
"Get
back, Kim," Mairelon said sharply, as though he had just remembered her
and was not at all pleased to find her standing next to him.

           
Nothing
loath, Kim backed up a few paces and looked around. A large canvas bag lay on
the ground a few feet away. She stared at it with a sinking feeling, then went
over and picked it up. It was much heavier than she expected, and she frowned
as she tugged at the strings. If it wasn't another platter, what
was
it?
She got it open at last, looked inside, and made a strangled noise.

           
"What's
that?" Mairelon asked, looking up.
"Another
platter?"

           
"No,"
Kim said. "It's two of them."

           
"
Two
of them?"
Mairelon stood and came over
to her. He took the sack and put his left hand inside for a moment, then shook
his head.
"And both fakes.
Well, at least now we
know who was responsible for making them."

           
"We
do?" said Kim.

           
"Well,
nearly. It has to have been either Fenton or the man who shot him,"
Mairelon said. "One of them brought that bag here, and who would have two
false platters except the man who's been making them?"

           
"You
do," Kim pointed out. "Or you did until just now. Now you've got
four."

           
"Yes,
well, that's different. We've been collecting them, not making them."

           
"Why
couldn't Fenton do that, too?"

           
Mairelon
sighed. "True. It doesn't seem likely, but it's possible." He stared
into the trees for a moment,
then
shook his head
again. "There's no help for it. I shall have to send you back to get
Hunch."

           
"
What?
No! I ain't goin'!" Kim barely stopped herself from shrieking. Leave
Mairelon alone for over an hour with a dead body and a killer lurking in the
woods, more than likely? Leave without having any idea what Fenton had been
doing--or what Mairelon was going to do next? Leave now, and have to pry the
story out of Mairelon later?

           
"I'm
afraid you must," Mairelon said. "In case you had forgotten, there is
a man around with a pistol. Once he's had time to reload, he'll probably
recover his courage, and when he does I would like to have Hunch--and the
shotgun--near at hand."

           
"Then
you better go to the wagon yourself," Kim advised. "It ain't goin' to
take an hour for the cove to reload, and it'd take that long just for me to
walk back."

           
"True,"
Mairelon conceded. He frowned down at the bag. "I don't like leaving bodies
lying around, but I can't very well march up to the door of
Bramingham
Place
and explain matters, can I?"

           
Kim
stared at him, amazed that he would even consider such a foolish action.
"With the Runners after you?
Not
hardly
!"

           
"Yes,
there's that, too," Mairelon said absently. He was still frowning.
"Well, let's finish here first, and then decide." He handed the
canvas sack back to Kim. "Hold this."

           
Feeling a
bit bewildered, Kim took the sack and watched as Mairelon returned to Fenton's
corpse. Her bewilderment deepened when Mairelon began going through Fenton's
pockets with the brisk professionalism of a
London
cut purse. He ignored Fenton's handkerchief, shook his head over a gold
snuffbox and an expensive-looking pair of gloves hidden inside Fenton's waistcoat,
and frowned at a note he found in Fenton's jacket. Then, to Kim's complete
confusion, he began patting Fenton's sides and pulling at the hems of his
clothes.

           
"What
are you doin' that for?" Kim demanded at last.

           
"I'm
checking for--ah!" Mairelon stopped and took a penknife from his pocket.
Carefully, he made a slit along the left seam of Fenton's waistcoat; a moment
later, he pulled a folded paper from inside the lining.

           
"Well,
well," Mairelon said, shaking the paper open. "What have we
here?"

           
"How
should I know?" Kim said. "How did you know to look for it there,
anyways?"

           
"It's
a trick the Frenchies used now and then when they had something important to
send," Mairelon said. "If it comes to that, it's a trick I've used
myself a time or two . . . well, well."

           
"Well
what?" Kim said crossly. "What's it say?"

           
"Unless
someone else finds out about this and gets there before we do, which seems
unlikely, I believe we have discovered the location of the Saltash Platter at
last," Mairelon said with great satisfaction. He refolded the paper and
tucked it into an inner pocket, then
rose
, dusting his
hands.

           
"You
mean he really
was
makin' those fakes?"
Kim
asked, feeling a little chagrined.

           
"Probably,
but it doesn't matter much any more. The important thing is that Fenton knew
where the real platter is, and now we do, too."

           
"Then
we can leave?"

           
"Not
just yet, my dear," said a new voice. "Particularly not if your
friend's most recent statement is true. I have a great deal of interest in the
Saltash Platter, you see."

           
Kim
whirled and felt the blood drain from her face. "Dan Laverham!" she
said.

           
Dan was
standing next to one of the tall, grey-barked trees that lined the avenue. He
held a pearl-handled pistol in each hand, and beside him stood Jack Stower, similarly
armed. Jack's eyes were fixed warily on Mairelon, and as Laverham stepped into
the avenue he said, "Be careful, Mr. Laverham! That there's the frogmaker
I told you about."

           
"Really."
Dan smiled. "Richard Merrill, I
assume?"

           
"The
same," Mairelon said, inclining his head. "May I inquire how you
guessed?"

           
"Oh,
come, now. There aren't many first-class wizards who'd be out chasing after the
Saltash Set. You're far too well behaved to be one of the Sons of the whatever,
and I am . . . familiar with Lord St. Clair's appearance. Who else could you
be?"

           
"You
are uncommonly well informed," Mairelon observed.

           
"It
is necessary, in my business," Dan replied. "Don't try any spells, by
the by. After Jack told me his little tale, I prepared a few odds and ends especially
to take care of that sort of impromptu effort. You wouldn't have a
chance." He gave Mairelon a long, appraising look that made Kim feel cold
inside,
then
said in quite another tone, "Move
over by Kim."

           
Without
comment, Mairelon did so. Dan Laverham took two steps forward and glanced down
at the body. "James Fenton. Dear me, how dreadful. And just when I thought
he was finally going to be of some use to me, after all. Well, it can't be
helped. By the way, why did you kill him?"

           
"I
didn't," Mairelon said.

           
"How
interesting," Dan said. "Jack, go get that bag from Kim, there's a
good fellow, and
see
what's in it. Then I think we had
all better be going. You can't depend on amateurs to do the sensible thing;
whoever shot Fenton might decide to come back and take a shot or two at us, and
that would never do.
Assuming, of course, that Mr. Merrill is
telling us the truth."

           
Jack
stuck one of his pistols into his belt and swaggered over to Kim. Silently she
handed him the sack. If she hadn't been so scared, she would have enjoyed the
way his expression changed when he opened the bag and saw what was inside.

           
"It's
two
of them wicher cheats, Mr. Laverham!" Stower said. "That
there frog-maker's gone and doubled the thing!"

           
"Bring
it here," Dan commanded.

           
Stower
did so, eyeing Mairelon nervously the whole time, as if he thought the magician
might make twins of himself if he were not watched carefully. Dan felt around
inside for a moment, just as Mairelon had, then shook his head. "They're
forgeries. Fenton was probably hoping to pass one of them off as the real
thing. Leave them."

           
Stower
gaped at Dan in disbelief. "
Leave
them? But they're
silver.
"

BOOK: Wrede, Patricia C - Mairelon 01
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