Revenge in a Cold River (5 page)

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“I hope he would have been pleased,” Aaron said in reply to her. He did not bother to gaze around. Did he already know most of these people? Probably not. He was simply too sophisticated to display his interest, or perhaps even to entertain it in the first place.

“And I'm sure quite touched,” Beata replied with what she knew was the right sentiment. Perhaps Ingram would have been. She realized with sadness that she had very little idea of what he believed, or felt, behind the barrier of anger and self-defense. It had become habit, and over the last few years she had gradually ceased to care. It was a matter of keeping the bitterness to a minimum: overcivilized conversations with barbarity just below the surface.

Aaron was smiling at her. He had one hand very gently on Miriam's arm. It was a gesture of warmth, almost of protection. For a brief instant Beata envied Miriam. How could Miriam Clive, of all people, have the faintest idea what it was like to be married to a man you were frightened of, and yet whom you both pitied and were revolted by? She would be imagining Beata deep in grief, as she would have been for Aaron, almost stunned by loss. Whereas Beata was suddenly free, even if freedom was also daunting. No, challenging was the word.

“I hope that we shall see you again,” Aaron was saying. “After your mourning, of course. We have been too long out of touch. Our fault, I'm afraid…”

“Perhaps something suitable before then?” Miriam suggested. “A walk in the park? An art gallery, or photographic exhibition? To be alone too much is…hard.” There was warmth in her eyes, extraordinarily direct, as she had always been. Memories of other times and places flooded Beata's mind: a sharper sunlight, dry heat burning the skin, the sounds of horses, and wheels rattling over rougher, unpaved roads, salt in the wind.

Then it was gone again. She was standing at the church door, alone. Aaron and Miriam had moved on, speaking to other people. They were all drifting slowly toward the graveside. Some of the women chose not to go. The burial would be brief, and in a desperate, physical sense, final. Odd. Women gave birth, nursed the sick, and washed the dead and prepared them for burial; yet often it was not considered suitable that they should be at a graveside, as if they would be too emotionally fragile to behave with decorum.

Beata decided to wait here, at the church door, rather than pick her way through the somber beauty of the graveyard with its crosses and memorials.

Several other people passed her, the women going toward their carriages where they could wait seated, and in some warmth. Beata envied them, but it was right that she should wait here and speak to all those who came.

Then she saw Oliver Rathbone about thirty feet away. It was the late autumn light on his hair that she noticed first, and as he turned she recognized his face. She had thought he would come, but she had not searched for him. Now, as he took his leave of the man he had been talking with, and started to walk toward her, she found herself suddenly short of breath. They knew each other so well—at least in some ways. It was Ingram who had been responsible for giving Rathbone the case that had brought him down, so soon after he had been made a judge himself. Had Ingram known that the circumstances would tempt Oliver to take the law into his own hands, and so bring about his disbarment?

She remembered flashes of conversation, but above all the look in Ingram's eyes. Yes…yes, he knew, and had intended it to happen exactly as it had.

Rathbone had been perhaps the most brilliant lawyer in London, even in England. He was articulate, witty, and unconventional. He dared to take cases others might have avoided. He won even when it had seemed impossible. He was elevated to the bench. And he was in love with Ingram York's wife. Nothing had ever been said, but she knew it.

And Ingram knew it! It was probably that which had provoked his complete loss of control, and the apoplectic fit that had resulted in his being taken to the hospital, paralyzed, and half out of his wits. Beata had been in limbo since then. But now that Ingram was dead, after a suitable period of mourning, she and Rathbone would be free to…what? Marry? Of course! He would ask her. Obliquely he had said as much. At least she thought he had.

But now that they were both free, the reality of the situation might make their feelings different. When things were only dreams, they were so very much safer.

Rathbone had had an unhappy marriage. Ingram had at least created the situation that had ended it—unintentionally, of course. Margaret Rathbone had left Oliver before then, when he had earlier on defended her father the best he could, but failed to save him from conviction for murder. Margaret believed her father innocent, in spite of damning evidence, and blamed Rathbone for his death. Rathbone's open disgrace and disbarment had given Margaret the social excuse to sue him for divorce, which he had not contested.

He was in front of Beata now, slender, elegantly dressed as always, and suitably in black for the funeral of an eminent judge. He was possibly the only person who knew how Ingram had really died, isolated in the horror of his own mind.

“Please accept my sympathies, Lady York,” Rathbone said gravely. His eyes met hers, searching to know how she was, to give her support and a warmth he could not show. “It must be a very difficult day for you.”

“Thank you, Sir Oliver,” she replied. “Everyone has been very generous. It is something to be grateful for.” She had imagined this meeting, when Ingram was gone and it was the beginning of the future. She had thought it would be easier. She was a very accomplished woman, gracious with everyone, able to wear a mask of dignity—and, more than that, charm—no matter how she felt inside. In fact, she was certain that her composure had never slipped. If it had, someone would have commented, and sooner or later it would have come back to her.

With Rathbone, she had always been in control, beautiful in her own way, unattainable to him. Why on earth was she stumbling inside now, and so afraid? Please heaven, people would put it down to the occasion. Ingram's death had been expected for more than a year, yet the reality of it was different. There was no surprise, but still there was shock, a kind of numbness.

“He was greatly respected,” Rathbone was saying.

Was he respected? Or did at least some of his colleagues know what he was really like? Did he tell stories about what he had done to her? Men did—some men. She was not completely naïve.

Rathbone was looking at her, waiting for her to answer, however meaninglessly. Had
he
heard stories? The blood flamed up her face, as hot as fire.

“I…I believe so,” she said abruptly. “But people are generous at such times….”

Now Rathbone smiled. “Of course they are,” he agreed wryly. “Either they thought well of him, or they are secretly highly relieved that he has gone.” He gave the slightest shrug. “Or else, of course, they have the deepest respect for you, and would go to considerable lengths to offer you whatever comfort or support they can. Why would any of us speak ill of him now? It cannot harm him, and it would be an unforgivable rudeness to you.”

“Is that why you are here, Oliver? To offer support for…” She had been going to say “a man you despise,” but that would be appalling…and pathetic! Tears stung her eyes. She was behaving like a fool. Was she in love with Oliver Rathbone? Yes. Yes, she was. This waiting, this pretense was ridiculous, and yet now that the time was here, or almost here, her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She should be quiet, or she would end up embarrassing them both. She had so much to conceal, at least for now.

“Of course,” he answered. “This must be very hard for you. You look so perfectly composed, but you cannot be finding it easy.”

She made a very slight gesture with her black-gloved hands. “It's necessary.”

Lord Justice Savidge approached. He was alone, and she remembered that he was a widower of a few years.

“Please accept my condolences, Lady York,” he said gravely. “Good morning, Sir Oliver.” He glanced at Rathbone with mild interest. He had to be aware of at least some of the history between Rathbone and York, but if he was curious, he kept it from his expression.

“Thank you, my lord,” she replied. “I am grateful that he is not suffering anymore.” Perhaps she should have said that she missed him, but it was a lie she could not speak.

A flicker of acute perception crossed Savidge's face and she knew that Rathbone saw it as well. Did they know what Ingram had been like? Had they swapped stories over brandy at one of their clubs? The thought was unbearable. She lifted her chin a little.

“Were I in his place, it is what I would wish,” she added.

“You would never be in his place,” Rathbone said instantly. He seldom spoke without thinking, but in this occasion he had, and the knowledge of it was in his eyes immediately.

Savidge looked at him, then at Beata, his brows just a fraction higher.

“I think we would all prefer to go quickly,” she said, filling in the silence, glancing from one to the other of them.

“I hope it will not be for many years, Lady York,” Savidge responded. “But we shall miss Ingram, both personally and professionally.”

“Thank you, my lord.” She allowed her tone to suggest that the conversation could come to a close.

“I'm sorry,” Rathbone said as soon as Savidge was out of earshot. “I get so tired of polite nothings I forget who knows anything close to the truth, and who does not.”

“As far as Lord Justice Savidge is concerned, I look straight into his face, and I still have no idea,” she told him. “Do you think anyone…?” Then she changed her mind. It was unfair to ask him. What would he say if in fact Ingram had spoken of her disparagingly? But surely he would not wish his colleagues to hear him use the kind of language he had used to her, at his worst times? The explicit vulgarity of it made her cringe. Why had she never found the courage to fight back, to threaten to expose him, or even to leave him?

But then who would believe it of him? That is what he had said to her. He had taunted her with it. Such filthy language, such ideas! Who would have thought a beautiful woman, so calm and dignified on the outside, would ever have submitted herself to such bordello practices?

“Beata?” Rathbone said anxiously. He put out his hand and took her arm, holding her strongly. “Are you all right? You look very pale. Perhaps you have done enough, and it would now be perfectly acceptable for you to go home. It must have been a great strain….”

Not in the way he imagined. “No, thank you, Oliver,” she said gently, but not pulling away from his grip. She liked the warmth of it, the strength. “It is my duty, and I will feel better if I complete it. It won't be more than another few minutes.” She glanced to where she could just see, beyond the trees, the group of solemn figures beside the grave, heads bowed, men with hats in their hands, wind ruffling their hair. “I think they are very nearly finished.”

“Then you have done all you need to,” he reassured. “I'll take you as far as your carriage. Come.” He put his other hand over hers and she had little courteous choice but to go with him. She was actually pleased to be looked after, and she realized just how cold she had grown standing still.

“Are you all right alone?” he asked with some concern. “Is there someone who can be with you for a while? A relative, or a friend?”

“Thank you, but I will be quite happy alone. The hardest thing was listening to all those tributes, and wondering what they would have said if they were honest,” she admitted. She avoided meeting his eyes.

“They're mostly lawyers, my dear,” he replied, turning the corner on the path. “They are used to putting up a convincing argument for whoever they represent.”

She wanted to laugh, but if she did someone might see her, and no decent woman laughed at her husband's funeral, no matter what she felt. And it would be too easy to end up sounding a trifle hysterical.

They passed Aaron and Miriam Clive, walking along a path almost parallel to theirs. They were close together; he was leaning toward her, listening to what she was saying. Again, for a moment Beata envied her. She had not really known Miriam's first husband, and Miriam had spent almost all her adult life with Aaron. He was clearly still as much in love with her as he had been in the beginning. What was it like to be so loved, so admired? So—so safe!

She wanted to be safe with Oliver Rathbone. But did he see her as a calmer woman than Margaret had been, gentler with him, even loyal? Had he even the faintest idea of the turbulence inside her, the woman she was, and the woman she wanted to be? Would he despise her, if he knew what she had permitted Ingram York to do to her, without fighting tooth and nail to stop him? Was she wise, obedient, loyal…or just a coward? Perhaps Oliver would understand and sympathize, but still be revolted by the picture the words would paint in his imagination. The thought that it would stain her forever in his mind—even in reality—was unbearable.

Rathbone had both prosecuted and defended some vile cases. He must be familiar with the dregs of life, the ugliest and the most brutal. But words about cases, professional matters, were nothing like the actuality, and letting it into your own home.

Many men were outraged that a woman should be raped. They had fury for the perpetrator and pity for the victim. Yet when their own women were assaulted, they felt them to be soiled, even ruined. It was a strange, complex, and yet bone-deep passion.

Of course, as Ingram had reminded her many times, you could not rape your wife. She was yours to do with as you pleased. You could kill her spirit, as long as you left her body breathing. The injuries he had left her with had no visible marks.

But Oliver never needed to know. She was being foolish even to remember it now. Ingram was dead. He was lying in a nailed-up coffin under the earth, a couple of hundred yards away, beyond the yew trees.

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