Revenge in a Cold River (4 page)

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Then just as suddenly it was over. He lay perfectly still and his hand slipped off hers at last.

She let out a sigh of relief and pulled away, gently, forcing herself not to flinch.

The doctor moved forward beside her. He put out his fingers and touched York's neck.

Beata looked at the cloudy eyes and knew that he saw nothing, not her, not the room. They were completely blind.

“Lady York,” the doctor said quietly, “he is gone. I'm…I'm so sorry.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “You've been…very good.”

“I'm so sorry,” he said again. “It must be terrible for you. He was such a fine man.”

The doctor stared at her, afraid she was going to become hysterical. She could have. He was so wildly wrong she wanted to laugh, long, crazily, on and on. Ingram was dead! She was free!

She must take hold of herself. This was disgraceful. She could not stand here beside a dead man…laughing.

She put her hands up over her face. The doctor must be made to think she was shocked, distraught, anything but desperately relieved. She covered her eyes with her fingers, and smelled the scent of his hands on her own. The antiseptic, medical smell made her stomach clench and for an instant she thought she was going to be sick.

She put her hands down again and forced herself to breathe deeply.

“Thank you, Doctor,” she said calmly, her voice wavering only very slightly. “I am…I am quite well, thank you. If there is nothing that you require of me, I would like to go home. Of course I shall be at your disposal, should you…” She did not know how to finish. She had been preparing for this day for months, and now that it was here all the things she had thought to say flew out of her mind.

“Of course,” he said gently. “No matter how one is prepared, it is always a great shock. Would you like to sit down in my office for a little while? I can send a nurse to be—”

“No, thank you,” she said, cutting him off. “I will have a great many people to inform…and…I think a memorial service to consider. There will be…I must inform the lawyer…the Bar…his colleagues.”

“Of course,” he agreed. She heard the note of relief in his voice. He had many things to attend to himself. There was nothing more he could do for Ingram York. He must turn his mind to other patients.

She walked alone out of the hospital and found the footman waiting at the curb beside her carriage.

She did not meet his eyes; she did not want him to see her expression when she told him. Perhaps it was cowardly, but her own emotions were so mixed between relief and pity. He had been pitiful in the end, in spite of his last words. It was pitiful for the last thing that you say on earth to be dirty and degrading. There was also anger for all the years, and great relief, as if finally she had been able to take off a heavy garment that had weighed her down, at times almost frozen her movement altogether.

There was also a new freedom, wide, beautiful…frightening! What would she do with it, now that she no longer had an excuse not to try for…anything she wanted? There was no one to stop her. No excuses…all mistakes would be her own fault. Ingram was gone.

The footman was waiting for her, still holding the door open.

“Sir Ingram has passed away,” she told him. “Quite peacefully.” That was a lie. She could still hear the hate in his voice.

There was a moment's silence.

She had not meant to look at the footman's face but she did so, and, the second before appropriate pity overtook it, she saw relief.

“I'm very sorry, my lady. Is there anything I can do for you?” There was concern for her in his voice.

“No, thank you, John,” she said with a very slight smile. “There will be people to inform, letters and so on. I must begin to do so.”

“Yes, my lady.” He offered her his hand to steady her as she stepped up into the carriage.

She spent the time of the journey home thinking about what sort of service she should request for him. It was her decision. He had died in circumstances it would be preferable were not made public. She had told those who asked that he was in the hospital. She had allowed it to be presumed that he had had some kind of apoplectic fit, a stroke. No one she knew about had referred to the fact that he had lost his mind. Certainly Oliver Rathbone had told no one that York had attacked him, except possibly Monk.

Did people lie about the cause of a noted person's death? Or simply allow people to draw mistaken conclusions? Some people did die in embarrassing circumstances, such as in the wrong person's bed! This was at least in a hospital.

If he did not have a formal funeral it would raise speculation as to why not. He had been a very public man, a High Court judge of note. Everyone would expect it. She had no choice.

No one else knew what he was really like in his own home, when the doors were closed and the servants retired for the night. How could they? Did any decent person's thoughts even stretch to imagine such things? Certainly hers had not.

Beata wondered how many other women might have experienced the same fear, humiliation, and pain that she had—and told no one.

She imagined being gowned in black, modest and beautiful with her pale, gleaming hair, the perfect widow, exchanging quiet, sad condolences, and looking into the eyes of someone who knew exactly what he had done to her—and she had not fought back!

For a moment as the carriage swung around a corner and slid a little on the ice, she thought again that she was going to be sick.

—

E
VENTUALLY IT WAS A
very formal funeral, very somber, and within the shortest time that could be managed. Ingram had grown up on the south side of the Thames and had requested in his will to have his funeral held at St. Margaret's in Lee, on the outskirts of Blackheath. Edmond Halley, after whom a comet had been named, lay in the same graveyard. Ingram had mentioned that often. She would arrange that for him; it was the honorable thing to do. It was a relief to have it over as soon as possible, as it turned out, barely more than a week.

She had, of course, informed the few members of Ingram's family still alive, including his two sons from his previous marriage. It was a courtesy. He had not kept in touch with his relatives, nor they with him, and his sons had grown distant over the years. Still, she expected to see one or two, as a mark of respect if nothing else. Their neighbors would know.

The weather on the day of the funeral was pleasant and Beata arrived early at the splendid old church, built in the Gothic Revival style, with soaring towers reaching upward in solemn glory, and an ornate towering steeple. A few ancient trees softened the outlines and added to the beauty.

She was greeted by the minister and led to her seat inside. In other circumstances she would have taken more notice of the vaulted ceilings, great stone arches over the doors, and a rich array of stained-glass windows. The church smelled of age and reverence, as if the odor of prayer could be a tangible thing, like that of flowers long since dead. It should have been a comfort, and yet she struggled to find it so.

She was greeted coolly by Ingram's sons and his only other relative present, a brother-in-law, a widower himself. They said only what good manners required.

Of course, most of Ingram's colleagues, from his many years in the law, either came in person or sent handsome wreaths. Welcoming people, exchanging grave and courteous words of appreciation, Beata felt as if the long months since his collapse had disappeared. His complete loss of control had been very private. Most of the people who came appeared to have no idea that his breakdown had been anything other than physical. They remembered him from his days presiding over the court. It could have been yesterday.

She offered her black-gloved hand to one dignified couple after another, lords justices from the High Court, from Chancery, from all the legal establishments to which Ingram had belonged. She had met them at formal dinners, exchanged polite conversation, mostly listened.

“An excellent man. Such a loss to the justice system,” Sir James Farquhar said quietly.

“Thank you,” Beata acknowledged.

“My deepest condolences on your loss. A fine man. An ornament to the bench.” Another senior judge gripped her hand for a moment before letting go.

“Thank you,” she repeated. “You are very kind.”

She noticed that the lord chancellor was not present, nor were one or two others she had liked.

She nodded each time as if she agreed, smiled gravely as though her grief held her from doing more than acknowledging their tributes. Her mind was racing, however, afraid to search their faces for honesty. They were saying all the right things, polite things, as they were expected to do, before they walked silently off to find their peers. How many of them believed any of it?

Did they believe what they wanted to? It was a lot easier than looking for the truth. They accepted that Ingram York was exactly what he appeared to be: a clever, articulate, occasionally irascible judge whose private life was unquestioned. Of course it was. His wife was above reproach. What on earth would make anyone wonder if there were more?

“Thank you,” Beata continued to murmur politely. No one attempted conversation. She was supposed to be shocked, grieved. Surely everyone saw what they expected?

They gave generous tributes when they spoke of him from the pulpit. He was a good man, a pillar of society, a scholar, a gentleman, a fighter for justice for all.

Beata looked up from the congregation and listened to their solemn words, and wondered what they would have said if they were free to. Did any of them know him better?

After the service, the exquisite, soaring music, the words of comfort long familiar to everyone, even those who attended church only to be seen, Beata stood in the elaborate carved stone-arched doorway and accepted more tributes and condolences. Some of them were from men who were older than Ingram had been, struggling to stand upright. She was touched that they had made the effort to come. She wondered if their grief was for the fact of death itself, and perhaps for the family or friends they had lost. Their kindness was the one thing that made the tears prick her eyes.

It was then that she noticed for the first time a man and woman together, obviously husband and wife, who were startlingly familiar. She was amazed that she could possibly have overlooked them before. He was well above average height and one of the handsomest men she knew. He had always been so, even twenty years ago when they had first met thousands of miles away in San Francisco, in the early days of the gold rush. It had been another world: raw, violent, exciting, and set on the most beautiful of coastlines.

Aaron Clive, with his fine aquiline features and dark eyes, had drawn every woman's glance then, and he looked to have changed little. There was perhaps a hint of gray at his temples, and the softness of youth had been replaced with a greater strength. He had owned some of the richest of the goldfields on the entire coast, virtually a small empire.

And Miriam was beside him, as always. She was still beautiful in a way few women would ever be. The high cheekbones were the same, the rich mouth, the passion and the turbulence that arrested the eye. Her hair beneath her hat was the same shadowed chestnut with the gleaming lights in it as it had been then.

As far as Beata knew, they had not known Ingram, and yet they came forward now to offer comfort in her supposed grief, as if the years between had telescoped into as many weeks.

“Beata,” Miriam said warmly. “I'm so sorry. You must miss him dreadfully.” She met Beata's eyes more directly than anyone else had done, but that had always been her way. Her eyes were dark gray, so dark some people mistook them for brown.

“How kind of you to come,” Beata replied with an answering smile. “It's wonderful to see you. It really is such a pleasure. I knew you were in London and had hoped to see you at some happier time.”

That was true, not merely a politeness. When the three of them had first known one another, in what now seemed like another life, Miriam had been married to Piers Astley, her first husband. He had died tragically in the far reaches of one of Aaron Clive's goldfields. He had managed much of the vast empire for Aaron. They were wild days. Gold fever gripped a raw, adventurous town. Good men and bad came from every corner of the earth, drawn by the magic of instant, dreamlike wealth.

Beata had not known Piers Astley except to speak to on a few occasions, and regrettably death was far too common at sea, or up on the hills where life was hard and fortunes made and lost in days. But Miriam knew what it was to lose a husband, and her memories could only be painful.

The moment passed and Beata turned to Aaron. Here he was one of many, not unique in his looks and stature as he had been in San Francisco, but she was still startled by the magnetism he seemed to exercise. She was aware of others looking at him also, some perhaps trying to place him, to estimate what his power or position might be. They would try in vain.

Of course the women who were looking at him did so for different reasons: ones that had never needed explaining, and were as old as mankind.

Beata smiled at Aaron, remembering to keep her expression suitable for a woman receiving condolences at her husband's funeral. She must not forget that there would always be someone watching her.

“It is nice to see you again after so many years, even on such an occasion,” she said graciously. “I very much appreciate your coming. I think Ingram would have been surprised at how many colleagues have come to speak well of him.” That was also a total fiction. He would have expected everyone. Not Aaron Clive, of course, because he did not know him. Ingram had never been to San Francisco, or any other part of America. In fact, as far as she knew he had not traveled beyond the coast of Britain. He liked to be where he was known, and had earned his place, his respect, and where those in power recognized him. And, of course, where those without power were suitably afraid of him.

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