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Authors: Jo Beverley

The Stanforth Secrets (23 page)

BOOK: The Stanforth Secrets
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“The only people who want it destroyed,” replied Justin, “are the French. To the best of our people’s knowledge they are still frantically searching. Let’s consider the options. If George got it, he could have destroyed it for some insane reason no one would ever understand. As that would get us nowhere, we’ll ignore the possibility. If he behaved half rationally, he would hand it over to the nearest authority. Did he?”
Chloe answered. “If he received it the night Stephen died, no. He didn’t travel at all at that time and no one visited him until Humphrey Macy came. Would George have given it to him?”
“That was weeks later, surely,” said the Duchess. “What did he do in the meantime?”
“Marry Belinda,” said Chloe taking the question literally.
Everyone looked thoughtful and puzzled.
“There’s something there,” said Chloe at last. “But what? It’s possible Belinda and Frank managed to inveigle the package from the sailor, or even steal it from George, but then why didn’t they sell it, if profit was their motive, and marry?”
“They may not have known how to dispose of it,” said Justin. “After all, it would be a chancy business, trying to trade with the French. Did either of them make a journey?”
“No. I’m certain they didn’t,” said Chloe. She sighed with exasperation. “This whole thing is like an out-of-focus eyeglass. It needs to be twisted. But how?”
Justin ran a hand over his face. “It is certainly a puzzle. The matter is urgent. Every day, doubtless, brave men die because of traitors still at large. On the other hand, the package has been mislaid for over a year. It is unlikely to be destroyed tomorrow.”
Chloe wondered. “You know,” she said, “I have this unreasoning feeling that matters are coming to a crisis. I don’t know whether Frank’s death was a symptom of this or its cause, but things have changed.”
Justin nodded. “I can’t speak for change exactly, but I am aware of something in the air. An interview with Belinda is even more important—first thing in the morning. If she had any contact with the package we must find out.”
“But Belinda could not possibly be a spy,” pointed out Chloe. “She has a brother in the army and worries about him constantly.”
“I feel that way too, but she may know something, however innocently. Frank was quite likely the villain.”
“And his death?” asked Chloe.
“I admit I don’t see any reason for it. Perhaps it
an accident. If he had the package, however, his death makes it less likely we will find it.”
“I think it must have been an accident,” said Chloe, wish stronger than logic. “Belinda is not a murderess.”
She trailed off, remembering Belinda’s words. “I am not sorry for anything I’ve done.” Said so fiercely. Thrown in the face of fate.
“I hope not,” said Justin calmly, “for if she is, it’s quite possible that she killed George as well.”
“Good God!” exclaimed the Duchess. “She’s a regular Lucrezia Borgia, and she brought me some medications today!”
Chloe defended Belinda. “She’s very skilled, Grandmama. I’ve never known anyone to suffer from her remedies. George was ripe for a seizure,” she said to Justin. “You should have seen him. His face was red, he was always wheezing for breath.”
The Duchess reconsidered. “That embrocation did my hip a world of good,” she said at last. “Have a look and see what you think. My woman put it back in the dressing room. Smelly stuff.”
Chloe fetched the earthenware pot, and unscrewed the wide lid. Now she knew where the smell came from! Turpentine, camphor, goodness knows what else. It was the same mixture Belinda had given to the Dowager. She tilted the jar. The stuff was runny, like oil.
“The Dowager has been using this mixture for days, Grandmama. Besides, I’m sure something rubbed on you couldn’t do harm.”
Justin took the pot and shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. But all Chloe’s reasonings are good, Your Grace. I wouldn’t worry. I think we’ll have to think of a reason for a thorough search of the house, though. If those papers are here, we must find them. I don’t know what Macy is up to, but I prefer to keep an eye on him, or to keep Randal’s eye on him, in fact.”
“Do you not think he’s a government man?” Chloe asked.
“I’m a government man,” pointed out Justin. “They told me about the Duchess, but no one mentioned Macy. It’s possible they’re being extra cautious and I’ve written to inquire. He’s probably just what he claims to be, but until I’m sure, I want him watched. Chloe, can you try to keep track of Belinda tomorrow?”
“Of course.” She then mentioned Belinda’s suspicious behavior, and her attempt to follow the young woman that morning.
“If there’s a clue to Frank’s death outside, I am not that concerned,” said Justin. “It may seem heartless, but the lives of hundreds of men hang on these papers, not just one, already lost. But try to keep track of her. If she did kill Frank, it might have been to get the papers. She may panic and destroy them.”
With that, he left, and Chloe checked to make certain her grandmother had everything she needed.
“What have you and Justin been doing to yourselves now?” asked the old lady.
“Nothing,” said Chloe firmly.
“Must be frustration eating at you both then,” was the retort, making Chloe blush.
“I am not going to make any decision about Justin until all these alarums are over, and I have peace and quiet away from here to consider matters.”
“It’ll do no harm,” said the Duchess, “as long as you keep your mind straight. Good night, my dear,” she said, kissing Chloe’s cheek. “Have sweet, or at least interesting, dreams.”
Chloe left before her grandmother could say something even more outrageous.
HLOE HALF HOPED her grandmother’s words would come true. The unconscious mind, however, ever a trickster, served her instead with dreams of Stephen at his most delightful, engaging in a mad search for apples and potatoes through her old schoolroom at home. She awoke confused and unsettled and chose to breakfast in her room.
She couldn’t hide forever, though. Justin sent a message asking her to go to the study. She knew it was time to confront Belinda.
Deliberately Chloe dressed in her least becoming half-mourning gown, a mushroom color which achieved the nearly impossible and made her look sallow. She also dallied a little, hoping Belinda would be there ahead of her.
When Chloe saw Matthew going into the dining room to clear the breakfast table, she thought of Cedric’s revelations, and followed the footman.
“Yes, Your Ladyship.”
He was a well-enough-looking young man, she thought. His features were rather sharp, and he lacked the height for a footman in a great house, but she could see why Sally Kestwick might be enamored.
“I understand you are seeing a young lady from Sir Cedric’s estate,” said Chloe.
The man colored uncomfortably. “Yes, Your Ladyship.”
“I have no objection,” she reassured him, “though I cannot speak for Lord Stanforth. I understand she was here on Tuesday morning at about the time of Frank’s death.”
He looked slightly anxious, but surely he would appear more so if he had committed murder that day. “Yes, Your Ladyship. But only to bring me a shirt,” he assured her. “I didn’t take time from my duties. It was the time we normally all have a cup of tea.”
“So I understand. But it was about the time that Frank died, was it not?”
“Yes, Your Ladyship. I saw Lady Stanforth—Lady George—coming into the kitchen garden as we left. So it must have been just before.”
Perhaps, thought Chloe. “Left?” she queried. “Where did you go?”
He reddened even more. “I just walked with Sally aways down the drive. It was instead of the tea, Milady.”
Chloe felt rather guilty at upsetting him. Many employers felt the duty to regulate their servant’s personal lives, but Chloe tried to avoid it. They were all part of large local families, after all . . . except Matthew, she remembered. He had fit in so well, she was inclined to forget. He had come from Preston way. Humphrey Macy had found him for George with excellent references from previous employers there, but she wondered if she should make inquiries all the same.
She assured him she would not interfere in his courtship as long as his duties were performed, and then made her way to the study, thoughtfully. In the matter of Frank’s death, Chloe had been so obsessed by Belinda that she had forgotten the rumors of ill-feeling between Matthew and Frank. Matthew had been out of the house at the time of the groom’s death. She’d go odds the staff had concealed that fact from Cedric and Justin. They always stuck together when necessary. His sweetheart would doubtless cover for him, but there was no guarantee they had been together all the time.
What possible reason, though, could Matthew have for killing Frank, and was he even capable of it? He was inches shorter and a stone lighter. He was hardly an active type either, more effete than anything.
Matthew, however, had been introduced to Delamere by Humphrey Macy. Perhaps he too was a government man, but that made no sense. If he had killed Frank to obtain the missing papers, they would now be safe in official hands.
What if Matthew and Macy were working for Napoleon, she wondered. Humphrey Macy? Impossible. Some French
had switched allegiance to Napoleon, hoping to gain back lands and titles lost in the Revolution, but someone like Macy would have nothing to gain and everything to lose. He could not possibly support Napoleon’s rampaging conquest of Europe.
Matthew alone? It seemed too great a coincidence that he would have been innocently brought to Delamere if he were a spy.
She sighed in frustration. It was like a
roman à clef
and she lacked the key. George was the most likely person to have been given the papers; Frank was the most likely to have stolen them. Belinda seemed the prime suspect for Frank’s murder, if he had, in fact, been pushed, but no one had any clear motive for the deed unless it was to regain possession of those papers. If the papers had changed hands, no one had showed any sign of having done anything with them.
And, Chloe thought as she approached the study door, where on earth had the papers been for a year, and why had Frank, if he had stolen them, not used them to his own advantage? Perhaps the interview with Belinda would shed some light.
Belinda arrived just as Chloe opened the door and looked even more disturbed than during the last few days, with an air of distraction that was very unusual.
“Chloe. Justin. What can I do for you?” she said with a busy air. “I have many other duties.”
“Please have a seat, Belinda,” said Justin firmly. “I’m sure there’s nothing so important it can’t wait a little while.”
She sat in a swirl of black. “Very well. What is it?” Her eyes were frightened.
Justin looked at Chloe briefly then said, “Belinda, on the night before George became the viscount, you were seen talking to a sailor near the village. The man’s name was Samuel Wright. Do you recall this?”
“Talking to a sailor at night?” queried Belinda with heightened color. “What in heaven’s name are you implying?”
“No impropriety, with him at last. In fact you were with your lover, Frank Halliwell, at the time.”
Chloe glanced at Justin. That was a bludgeoning tactic. Belinda had turned white.
“So?” the young woman asked faintly.
“So what passed between you and the sailor?”
Belinda made a gallant recovery. “I really couldn’t say. It’s over a year ago. If I spoke with a fisherman, it would doubtless be to talk of the weather and the tides.”
“Not a fisherman, Belinda. A sailor. He wasn’t from these parts. He was staying in the village with a package to deliver to Stephen. You must remember him.”
Belinda had regained a superficial calm, but was looking down at her hands. “I do, now you mention it. We don’t have so many strangers here. I don’t recall a meeting with him, though.”
“The package he had. He didn’t mention it to you?”
Belinda looked up. “I said I don’t recall the meeting. How could I recall what he said or didn’t say?”
Justin looked stumped so Chloe spoke up. “This is very important, Belinda. Please try to remember. We think you came up to the Hall that evening to visit Frank, and then he walked you back down to your home. The sailor came up here that evening too. Did you see him?”
Belinda obvious felt less intimidated by Chloe. She visibly relaxed. “I don’t remember the night even. I don’t ever remember seeing a sailor up at the Hall. There, does that help?”
“Not really,” said Chloe, wanting to shake the girl, who was clearly concealing something. “This was the night before George became the viscount. People seem to remember it. Don’t you?”
“What was all that to me, then?” asked Belinda, rather pertly.
“But within four weeks,” interrupted Justin, “you and George were married. How did that come about, then?”
BOOK: The Stanforth Secrets
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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