An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1)
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Neither Adam nor the other two had noticed Mr. Ushant slip quietly away. Now, however, he stood by in silence, holding the reins of what must be Mr. Jempson’s mount. ‘I have your horse, sir. She’d not gone far and those wicked men were too frighted by our dashing hero to think to steal her or what she carries.’

‘Dashing hero is right,’ Jempson said. ‘Thou hast saved my life, I believe, Dr. Bascom and I thank thee most heartily. Now, let me delay thee all no further.’

‘Nonsense,’ Adam said, more roughly indeed than he had intended, being much embarrassed by the praise laid on him. ‘Come, my friends. Let us set Mr. Jempson to lie in the bed of your cart, if that is convenient to you, Mr. Ushant.’

‘By no means, doctor,’ Jempson interrupted. ‘I am sure I can ride. But let me raise myself from this hard ground…’

When he did so, his groans showed that he was hurt more that he had admitted.

‘Be led by the doctor,’ Parson Domble said. ‘It is still a good way to Aylsham. He will lead your horse and Mr. and Mrs. Ushant will find space for you beside them, if you will not consent to lie. I must leave you by and by to turn northwards towards my home, but Mr. Ushant’s farm is on your route a little further on.’

‘I will take Mr. Jempson to my house,’ Adam said. ‘I have not yet examined him for further hurts and it is not seemly to do so by the roadside, where any might pass. Now, sir,’ he added, turning to Jempson, ‘be but patient to ride in the cart until the farm is reached. Then you may try your hand at riding again, for it will be scarce two miles to my house and I will be there to support you.’

After a little more protesting – for he could see the good sense of what was being suggested – Mr. Jempson agreed and they set out again. Two or three miles further on, Parson Domble left them, first having secured promises the others would call upon him whenever they might again be in the area. Another two miles and Mr. Jempson left his seat on the bench of the cart. He had been wedged somewhat tightly between the burly farmer and his well-padded wife. Now he climbed painfully onto his own horse.

Once again, hearty farewells were said and Adam and Jempson moved slowly on. Adam still led Jempson’s horse so that he could hold fast to the creature’s mane to steady himself.

T
hus it was
that they reached Adam’s house. William the groom took both horses, though not without a muttered reproach. Betty had been brought home flecked with foam after the excitement of the chase. Mrs. Brigstone, Adam's housekeeper, had been looking from a window an hour and more, anticipating her master’s return. Hannah, the parlourmaid, was therefore sent at once to bring food and drink, while Mrs. Brigstone bustled around Mr. Jempson. She found him a comfortable chair and then hurried to the kitchen for water to bathe his wounds and wash the dust from his face and hands.

Since they were now alone, Adam examined his patient. As he expected, he found him badly bruised, but not seriously hurt. He gave him five drops of laudanum from his medicine chest to ease the pain. Then he sent him to his bed with a cup of warmed wine in which he had dissolved a little sugar with tincture of valerian and hops. The man needed sleep more than food. In contrast, Adam's own stomach was growling in the most insistent way.

When, half an hour later, Mrs. Brigstone brought him a most welcome supper, Adam was content. Nor could he restrain himself from describing how he and Betty had put the footpads to flight.

If he expected praise, he found himself disappointed. Mrs. Brigstone knew her master too well to indulge him in this self-congratulation. When he ended his tale, she looked at him a moment, then gave her verdict. ‘I am not surprised they ran off. They must have thought a madman was on the loose with a pistol. What sane person would risk staying?’

Then she called out to Hannah to help her clear away the dishes and douse the candles. At the doorway, she paused for a moment. ‘It is time for your bed, master. Even heroes need their rest. You have done a brave deed. I only hope the other gentleman is as grateful as he should be for it.’

And she was gone.

9
Messages from Mrs. Ross
Wednesday, 9 May 1792, Aylsham, Norfolk

A
dam arose early
the next morning, expecting to find Mr. Jempson still abed and possibly in need of his help to leave his bed. He was therefore surprised, on entering the small parlour, to see his guest already at the table, where Hannah had laid a plentiful breakfast.

The merchant rose as he entered, but slowly and with several sharp intakes of breath. He had the look of one who suffered pain and sought, if he could, to cope stoically with the extent of his hurt.

‘I thought you would stay in bed, sir,’ Adam said. ‘You were sore hurt and it would be much to your benefit to rest as much as you can. I may, perhaps, be able to ease your pain somewhat, but healing is more a matter of time and patience than any skill I may have.’

‘I do not deny that my old body aches a great deal, friend,’ Mr. Jempson said. ‘Nor that it besought me to let it lie in idleness longer. Yet I have trespassed enough on thy great kindness and should be about my business with the small community of Friends in this town. I will manage well enough. I know of one who will stable my horse until I come again. I am also sure I will find some who will provide a carriage to get me back in safety to Norwich. Our religion is not kept for Sundays. When we see a brother or sister in need, our duty stands plain before us. Whatever help we can give we give freely, as our testimonies exhort us.’

‘I am ashamed to say that I have little knowledge of your religion, Mr. Jempson. Only what is commonly spread abroad: that all live and speak plainly and observe no ranks or hierarchies,’ Adam said. ‘In our imperfect world, many must find that an affront.’

‘Indeed so. In the past, our little movement has been persecuted most cruelly. Thus we have perforce learned well to avoid controversy and keep ourselves to ourselves for the most part. There are even some who would prevent marriage outside the Society, believing it essential to maintain the vision of our founders. I am not such a one, but I do not deny their honesty in their fears.’

Adam nodded. In his own profession, there were those who so feared change that they would halt all progress and discovery. Happily, it was not possible. ‘You said you are a merchant, I believe?’

‘I am. We, like all those who stand apart from the Church of England, find the universities closed and the professions barred to us,’ Jempson replied. ‘We provide our own schools, so that our children may learn to read and reckon. We offer apprenticeships, so that useful knowledge can be passed on. Sometimes our members attend the Dissenting Academies in search of the higher levels of learning. Mostly, we focus our energies where the law allows us to earn our bread. I trade in grain, malt and, now, timber. Others excel in all the harmless trades. Some are iron-masters or brewers. Others engage in manufacturing and the production of food and medicines. There are even those who now devote most of their wealth to banking.

‘We believe in the truth and in integrity in all aspects of life,’ he went on. ‘What we promise, we undertake, needing no oaths to bind us. The price we ask is the one the customer must give, since haggling is possible only if the first price men state is not the true one. As I told thee, I have just purchased a half share in a fine ship. The man from whom I bought it is one of our community. He asked a fair price, which, since it was one I could afford, I paid without artifice or attempts to drive him lower. Is that not the right way to do business, friend? For we were both happy with the outcome and will remain as good friends in the future as ever we were in the past.’

‘An admirable way,’ Adam agreed. ‘So, in that same spirit of plain speaking, let me tell you this. You must spare yourself as much as you can in your journey to your home. Nor must you by any means over-exert yourself for some weeks to come. I mean what I say, sir. You are no longer a young man. Even the old may heal, though somewhat more slowly than those still blessed with the resilience of youth. I will send you on your way with enough medicine for your journey. Also some receipts you must take to a reputable apothecary or chemist to have prepared for you.’

‘For this, as for all else thou hast done for me, thou hast my deepest thanks,’ Jempson said. ‘I will not insult the hospitality of thy house by offering to pay for my bed and board. Yet I charge thee to tell me honestly the extent of your fee and the cost of the medicines thou hast given me.’

‘There is no fee,’ Adam said. ‘I did not offer my help in any mercenary spirit, nor were you in any position to choose whether or not to accept. As for the medicines, five shillings will cover the cost in full.’

‘Thou art a fine physician, friend, and, what is still more valuable, a good man. If I cannot offer thee of my goods, thou shalt have most freely of my esteem and friendship. Now I must depart indeed, for thou hast thine own business to look to, I am sure, as I have mine.’

Adam called to Hannah to tell William get Mr. Jempson’s horse ready, while he prepared the medicines he promised and wrote out the receipts. It did not take long. When William stood at the door, Adam told him to go with Mr. Jempson, both to help him along his way and to lead his horse to its temporary home. Adam and Jempson now shook hands warmly and Mrs. Brigstone was called to add her own farewells and good wishes for a speedy recovery.

Mr. Jempson smiled down at her and praised both her housekeeping and her kindness to a stranger, which made her blush somewhat. ‘My dear friends. Farewell again. When I am come to live in this town, I hope you will make as free of my poor dwelling as you have made me of yours.’

And with that, he took William’s arm to support himself and departed.

I
f Adam had thought
that he might be free in the following days to mull over what he had learned about the archdeacon’s death, he was disappointed. The number of patients swelled. Mr. Jempson had been prompt in sending some of his friends in the local Quaker community Adam’s way. He was thus busier than he had been since coming to Aylsham. The days had slipped past without leisure to solve any but medical puzzles. Then one morning he received two letters. They rekindled the whole affair of the archdeacon’s death.

What was most baffling was that they concerned the same person: Mrs. Ross, the archdeacon’s widow.

The first came from Mr. Josiah Playley, the Norwich lawyer. It was his clerk who had stopped Adam after the inquest with a request that he should wait on Mrs. Ross as soon as it should be convenient. Shorn of the flowery legal language, this letter's message was simple. Mrs. Ross had decided to remain with her relatives near Cambridge for the foreseeable future. Thus she did not need to trouble him to seek her out. She apologised for bothering him. Mr. Playley offered no further explanation.

The second, which arrived by the same post, was from Mrs. Ross herself. She must have written in some haste, for she had not wasted words. ‘Dear Sir. I do not doubt but that you will soon receive a message from Mr. Playley telling you that I no longer wish to speak with you. Please, I beg you, ignore what he says. My desire in this regard is unchanged. Indeed, it is stronger than ever. As soon as I am able to arrange my escape from the loving but misguided confinement that holds me here, I will contact you at once. Pray then come to me with all dispatch, for I am much distressed and believe you alone can ease my mind.’

Having puzzled over what this might mean, and found no answer, Adam took his bafflement to Peter Lassimer’s shop. He needed another mind to vex.

‘It is a simple matter surely,’ Lassimer said. ‘Someone in her family does not wish her to speak with you. She describes her confinement as loving.’

‘Yet who and why?’ Adam asked.

‘As for who, I cannot say,’ Lassimer responded. ‘Nor can I tell you why, though the alternatives seem quite limited. Perhaps someone is seeking to suppress inquiry, as they did at the inquest. Perhaps the matter on which she desires to consult you is like to embarrass her family.

‘Of course,’ he added a moment later, ‘it may be the lady has lost her wits through grief. If you find her, she is like to burden you with some fancies of a distempered brain. Maybe her family has arranged for her confinement in some suitable place until the fit passes.’

Adam laughed. ‘If anyone’s brain is distempered here, I vow it is yours, my friend, for your imagination has quite carried you away. Nothing in the lady’s letter suggested a sickness of the mind. That she feels grief I don’t doubt, but many a woman loses her husband. If all ran mad as a result, there would not be enough madhouses in the realm to hold them.’

‘Mock if you will,’ said Lassimer, ‘but do not blame me if you find yourself seeking to find sense in the ravings of a madwoman.’

‘You have missed the most important aspect of this letter,’ Adam said. ‘Mrs. Ross has every reason to be most deeply interested in all matters surrounding her husband’s death. Suppose she wants me to investigate further on her behalf. Would I not then have abundant standing from which to try to solve my puzzles?’

‘Oh dear,’ Lassimer said. ‘Now who is getting carried away. Why on earth should she turn to a country doctor for such help? Would she not be better served by paying to employ a Principal Officer from the Bow Street court? Someone who knows what he is doing? Bascom, Bascom, be reasonable.’

‘Now who is mocking whom?’ Adam said, though he could not prevent himself from laughing at the same time. ‘Yet maybe you are right. Perhaps my wishes are getting away from me.’

‘You should consult a reputable apothecary, sir,’ Lassimer said, laughing as much as Adam. ‘I am sure he could sell you a remedy suitable for cooling such inflammations of the brain.’

‘Enough!’ Adam cried. ‘I will not buy any of your witches’ potions, however you describe them. I think we are both quite departed from reason and sanity – and we do no have grief as an excuse. Now goodbye, old friend. It is time to leave before worse descends upon me. Thank you for your counsel, such as it was. But thank you still more for making me laugh. Be sure I will tell you of the outcome when the lady and I can meet. Then we will see which of our fantasies is nearer to the truth.’

BOOK: An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1)
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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