Sunday, 27 October 2013

Her Saving Grace, Chapters 1-3

Sample time! Here comes the book blurb.

Countess Damaris Wellesley has suffered more loss in her 25 years than most people suffer in a lifetime and to protect her shattered heart, has closed herself off from Society and taken refuge in her books. When the remains of her long missing father are discovered though, she is determined to see justice for him and ventures out into the world once more.

As Justice of the Peace, Nathaniel Copley views it as his duty to discover what befell her late father but she is too wary of his intentions to help. 

Thinking him arrogant and superior, she flatly refuses to cooperate with his investigation. Finding her behaviour to be impertinent and abrasive, he tries to dismiss her from his thoughts. 

It doesn’t take Nathaniel long to realise that she is something special and worth fighting for but even although she agrees to help him investigate, her heart proves far harder to secure than her help. 

*Links to buy at the end of post.

Chapter One
As Nathaniel Copley surveyed the shallow grave before him, he had the distinct feeling that solving this murder wasn’t going to be easy. Enough time had passed to reduce the body to bone, which would make simply identifying it difficult and finding witnesses to such an old crime, would be almost impossible.
“Dig the rest of the remains up carefully and have them transported to Dr Worthington,” he told Constable Smyth.
“Are you sure that’s necessary?” Smyth asked. “It could just be that he had an accident and wasn’t able to get help.”
Nathaniel did his best not to sigh. Smyth was a good person but far from the brightest of men, so Nathaniel wavered between firing the man and hiring someone who was at least able to apply reason and logic to a situation, and not wanting to put him out of work. As Justice of the Peace, it was within his remit to do so but Smyth had been appointed by his predecessor and without this job, he and his family would likely starve. He was getting on in years and unlikely to find employment elsewhere.
“Then assuming that it was an accident and not foul play, that rather begs the question, who buried the body and why?” Nathaniel asked.
Smyth’s cheeks coloured. “I’ll get the bones to Dr Worthington.”
Nathaniel had brought two of his stable lads to help and the three of them began to dig carefully around the remains. A sheet had been laid out beside the grave, upon which the body, such as it was, could be placed.
“Good man.” Nathaniel turned away and surveyed the scene. He knew that any evidence left at the time of burial would be long gone but it couldn’t hurt to look and get a feel for the scene.
They were in a wooded area, on a slight incline and about one hundred yards away from the road. Assuming that the buried man had been killed before being brought here, the killer would have to be relatively fit to carry a dead weight such a distance. The grave wasn’t very deep however, perhaps two to three feet, enough to keep animals from scavenging the remains and accidental discovery, but shallow enough to be uncovered by the uncommonly heavy spring rains.
So was the grave digger perhaps not as fit as first assumed? The body could have been brought up the hill on horseback and given the depth of the grave, whoever had buried him would need to be reasonably robust in order to dig in the heavy clay soil at all, but not as strong as a labourer. The stable lads he had brought with him for example, could easily dig six feet of soil in an hour or two. Constable Smyth on the other hand, was already breathing heavily.
Nathaniel made his way up the hill but he was unable to see any reference points through the trees. Still, if he wasn’t very much mistaken, this body was on Wallace Sondham’s land.
Sondham was new money, having made his fortune in trade and his estate was new, built perhaps ten or fifteen years ago. The truth was that Nathaniel hadn’t had many dealings with the man but just because the body had been discovered on his land, was no reason by itself to suspect him of murder. He would have to be questioned of course, but Nathaniel wanted to hear what the doctor had to say before he spoke to anyone.
The journey from Bellchester to Lanford took two days but it was worth it to Damaris Wellesley. When the letter arrived by express, to say that a body had been discovered, she had left immediately, compelled to discover if it was him.
She had been waiting for news for the past seven years and the idea that she might be close to finding out what had happened to her father, was making her rather agitated.
She felt bad for wishing that the remains discovered belonged to her father but he simply wasn’t the type to run away, as many had suggested, so she had always known in her heart that he was dead, even if she didn’t want to believe it.
Finding his body also meant that they had a chance to find his killer.
As soon as she arrived in Lanford, she headed for the constable’s office in the town hall; her companion and driver leaving her there at her insistence, while they journeyed on to her childhood home.
She knocked on Constable Smyth’s door but there was no reply, so she tried the door handle, but it was locked.
“Excuse me,” she stopped a passing clerk. “I’m looking for Constable Smyth.”
“I think he’s gone to see the doctor,” the clerk answered.
“We had a body show up a day or two ago, and Dr Worthington is trying to find out how he died.”
“Do you know when Smyth might be back?”
“Sorry, Ma’am, but I don’t. You’re welcome to wait.”
Damaris nodded. “Thank you, I think I will.”
So she headed back to the foyer and took a seat on one of the bare, wooden benches, prepared to wait for as long as was necessary.
Dr Worthington was a rather fastidious man and while in general, Nathaniel found that to be a good character trait, his assertion that the skeleton must be slowly and gently removed from the soil that it had been shrouded in, had annoyed Nathaniel somewhat, since it delayed any findings.
Layer by layer, Worthington was removing the dirt, almost as gently as if the bones were some kind of treasure, that might break if handled too roughly. Finally however, Nathaniel had got him to promise that the remaining soil would be removed by today and that, after he had seen to his patients, he should be able to examine the bones.
The newspaper had already printed a story about the gruesome find, albeit with very few details, and a handful of people had come forward, believing the body may be a friend or relative of theirs. At Nathaniel’s behest, Smyth had collected details from each of them; age, height, general description, any jewellery they might have been wearing when they disappeared, as well as what they were last seen wearing, if known.
So far they had sixteen missing people, eleven women and five men. Right now however, they didn’t even know the sex of the victim. He had expected the list to be longer, especially given that they didn’t know when the victim had died but in many ways it was good, since it would make finding the identity of the victim, easier.
When he and Smyth arrived at Worthington’s office however, his nurse, a Mrs Hyde, informed them that the doctor hadn’t returned from seeing a patient, so Nathaniel sent Smyth back to his office. Most of the time the constable’s presence was just an impediment to logic anyway, so Nathaniel wasn’t sorry to be able to send him away.
The nurse (cum housekeeper, since Mrs Worthington had died) made him tea and plied him with cake, so he was in a relatively good mood when Dr Worthington returned.
Worthington hung up his coat and without any pre-amble, showed Nathaniel through to the front rooms of the house, where his surgery and workshop were.
As well as being a healer, he considered himself something of a scientist and kept a room where he could conduct experiments, although he was loathe to call it a laboratory. That was also where he conducted autopsies (when necessary) and wrote papers for various medical and scientific journals.
The skeleton was laid out on a central table and beside that, another smaller table had been placed, as well as a large dustbin, which was now full of dirt.
The body was almost completely desiccated but looked not at all as Nathaniel had been taught to think that bones should look; they weren’t chalk white, nor were they easy to identify, many having small remnants of flesh still attached, and probably some other organisms that Nathaniel couldn’t identify, such as moss or fungi.
“It’s a good job that I sifted through the excess dirt, as a few of the smaller bones had detached from the rest of the skeleton. I also found these items,” Dr Worthington explained, gesturing to the small table.
Nathaniel stepped up to the table and looked at the items that had been neatly laid out. There were some scraps of cloth, what looked like a pair of misshapen and badly damaged shoes, a leather bound notebook, a gold ring, a very small key and a few coins.
“Most of the clothes appear to have rotted away; I found only a few remnants, and not enough to gauge the quality of the garments. The shoes fared better and appear to be mostly intact, if rather damaged.”
“They look like quality leather,” Nathaniel observed, picking one up and examining the style and stitching.
“I agree. This too.” The doctor pointed at a glove and Nathaniel picked it up.
“It looks like a man’s.”
“There’s something embossed inside but I can’t make it out.”
“Neither could I.”
“You didn’t find a second one?” Nathaniel asked.
“No, I'm sorry. It could still be at the site, or it could have fallen out during the struggle, or while carrying him there.”
“Struggle?” Nathaniel asked.
“Yes. I haven’t had a chance to clean the bones but it’s seems obvious how this man died.”
“So it is a man?”
“Without flesh on the bones, how can you tell?”
“Couldn’t it be a tall woman?”
“No,” Dr Worthington smiled. “Even a tall woman can’t hide the size of her pubic bone, which is wider than a man’s to accommodate childbirth. This specimen is definitely not built for that.”
Nathaniel was impressed.    
Worthington went to the head of the table and picked up the skull. “If you look here, you can see that he took quite a blow to the head, and didn’t remain alive long enough for the bone to heal, so there was definitely a struggle of some kind.”
“Couldn’t he have fallen down the stairs, or tripped and hit his head on something?”
“Possible but unlikely. There are no other breaks consistent with a fall, and the blow is to the back of the head, on the crown.”
“As if something struck him from above?”
“Is that what killed him?”
“It’s too soon to say for certain; I need to clean the bones and examine the rest of the skeleton, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if an injury like this killed him. It takes quite some force to crack a skull.”
Nathaniel bent over to better see the skull and had to admit that it must have taken quite a blow to create the spider’s web-like cracks on the bone.
“Given the grave, I was leaning towards this being pre-meditated but is there any chance it could have been accidental?” Nathaniel asked.
“A clout like that is hardly an accident.”
“No, but death might not have been the intention. It could have been a brawl that ended badly?”
“I hardly think that a man with those shoes, not to mention the gold ring, is the type to be brawling.”
“In my experience, temper can get the better of everyone.”
Dr Worthington shrugged but didn’t argue. “The fact is, even if I can tell you definitively what killed him, we may never know how he died. I do admire you for keeping an open mind however.”
Nathaniel smiled, pleased with the other man’s praise. He had a great deal of respect for the doctor.
“He was obviously married.” Nathaniel picked up the gold ring from the small table and got his handkerchief out to polish it up, then held it up to the light to examine it. “There’s something engraved inside the band… 1794. The wedding date, perhaps?”
“Quite probably.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“Some. He is definitely European and while I can’t be exact on height or age until I’ve examined the bones more closely, I can give you brackets to work within for the time being.”
He handed Nathaniel a sheet of paper and as he looked over it, he could see that if the victim was among the five missing men on their list, this would definitely help narrow down which of them this might be.
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, Lord Copley.”
“Please, there’s no need to stand on ceremony, not when you’ve known me since I was a boy. Nathaniel or Nate is fine.”
“As you wish.” Dr Worthington smiled.
“Do you know when you might have a chance to examine the body in more detail?”
“I shall start cleaning and bleaching the bones now. If you come back tomorrow, I should have a lot more to tell you.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Smyth rolled his eyes as the the clerk in reception explained who the lady waiting was, but Damaris strengthened her resolve as she got up and approached him.
“Lady Wellesley, it’s very nice to meet you.”
She knew from his exasperated expression that he was lying. “I presume you can guess why I’m here?”
“Of course but please, I don’t have time for this today.”
“But you have discovered a body, have you not?”
“Yes, Ma’am, we have, but your father isn’t missing, he’s in the Americas.”
“And my detectives have already proven that he didn’t take that journey. Someone else did, in his name.”
“You were paying them, Ma’am, so they told you what you wanted to hear. We found the receipt in his study and confirmed that the ticket was used.”
Although she knew that she shouldn’t expect anything more from Smyth, his outright dismissal still upset her. They had a body now, something tangible that she could point to and prove that her father hadn’t run away, but he wouldn’t even look into the possibility.
She knew that she was wasting her time here and with a sad farewell, she left. Just because Smyth wasn’t going to help her, didn’t mean that she was giving up.
“Ma’am, please, I'm begging you, don’t do this.”
Damaris turned to her lady’s maid, cum companion.
“Lilly, I have to do this, I must know if this is my father.”
“I know you’ve been waiting forever, but this isn’t the way.”
“I’ve tried the right way but the authorities aren’t interested. Besides, it’s not as if I will be doing any harm.”
“Why not employ some detectives again?”
“Because as much as it pains me, Smyth might be right about them, or some of them; they tell me what I want to hear, or will give me false hope so that I keep paying them. No, Lilly, it is best if I do this myself.”
“Well, you shouldn’t go out wearing those clothes either, Ma’am, what if someone sees you?”
“No one will see me, it is far too late for that and even if they do, they won’t recognise me.”
“That is enough!” she said sharply.
She didn’t like to snap at Lilly after all; the woman was more than just her lady’s maid, she was more like a mother to her. She had begun her career in the family as a governess to Damaris’ older brothers but while they went away to school at 11, Lilly taught Damaris until she was 15. When it became clear that there would be no more children forthcoming, Damaris had begged her father to keep the woman on, and she had been employed as Damaris’ companion.
Upon Damaris’ engagement, she had trained as a lady’s maid, since a wife does not need a companion but now that Damaris was a widow, Lilly resumed both roles. Damaris wasn’t much for socialising these days however, and her wardrobe needed less care than many ladies, so Lilly still had time to act as companion on the few occasions when it was needed.
Lilly had once had a family of her own, but her husband and three children had all perished in the Great Lanford fire, some twenty odd years ago.
Despite the age difference, and while Lilly was lower middle class and Damaris an aristocrat, they were good friends. Damaris was technically Lilly’s employer however, and so, the older woman had little choice but to defer to her on occasion, despite her sometimes grievous misgivings.
“Very well, Ma’am, just be careful, please?”
“I will, I promise.”
Damaris turned to the mirror and examined her outfit. She wore black trousers, shirt and scarf, and black work boots, of the type a servant girl would wear. She had pinned her hair up under a flat cap and to give her feminine figure more bulk, she added a black greatcoat to the ensemble.
She headed out of the family home through the front entrance and true to her prediction, the streets were empty.
Chapter Two
Dr Worthington’s surgery had a small painted sign out the front, so she was certain that she had the right place. She tried the door but it was locked and while she had the tools to pick it, it was time consuming so she went around to the back, where fortune favoured her with an ajar casement window. She unhooked the stay, pulled it wide and climbed through.
The second door that she tried proved to be the one she wanted and she was almost overcome when she saw the bones on the table, the pale moonlight reflecting off the remains.
She closed her eyes, strengthened her resolve and entered the room, closing the door behind her.
As expected, there were oil lamps in here so she took a taper, ignited it from the dying fire and used it to light one of the lamps. Then she turned the handle which pulled the wick up, creating a larger and brighter flame.
The bones appeared to have been boiled in baking soda already, which had removed all the flesh, but they had not yet been bleached.
She headed for the desk and began to rifle through the papers she found there. One pile seemed to be devoted to living patients, while the other, much smaller pile, documented the doctor’s findings on the bones and what procedures he had performed on them.
194 bones had been discovered, meaning that twelve were missing and the good doctor had listed them. Damaris felt that they were inconsequential bones, such as the phalanx bones of the hands and feet, and two carpal bones from the left wrist, which were small and unlikely to hold any clues or evidence related to the death. The doctor posited that they had been washed away by the recent flooding which had revealed the bones, and Damaris had to agree that it was a very real possibility.
The skeleton was male and the estimated height of the victim was 5’6” to 5’11”, aged approximately 40-60. The notes said that those details would be refined once the bones were cleaned.
The next entry detailed the skull fracture; to the temporal bone, just above the superior temporal line, had been broken with a long, straight instrument, approximately two inches in diameter.
Worthington then went on to detail how he had removed the remaining flesh (with baking soda) and his intention to bleach the bones further.
Despite her unease, Damaris picked up a magnifying glass and approached the table, where the remains lay. They were roughly laid in their correct anatomical positions and bringing the lamp close, she could see more detail. She could clearly see where the skull had been fractured and she was almost overcome with grief again.
Still, the details that she had weren’t enough to prove that it was him, so she moved onto the rest of the bones, painstakingly looking at each one. She noticed that the hyoid bone had been snapped in two and wondered how that was related to the head injury.
As far as she could remember (and that was usually very well) the hyoid was a hard bone to break, due to its position in the neck. Just about the only thing that could break it was strangulation from the front, where the attacker’s thumbs would press on the bone, snapping it.
Was he bludgeoned and strangled? Why use two different methods to subdue him?
She set those thoughts aside for now, knowing that she had to make haste. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for but when she examined the right leg, she knew that she had found her proof. She continued to examine the remaining bones, making her way up the left side of the body, just in case she found something else pertinent but before she had made it past the left knee, a scrape outside the door alerted her to the fact that someone was coming.
The lamp must have given her away, she realised, either to someone on the street, or the good doctor, who might have seen the light emanating from under the door.
She blew out the oil lamp and placed it on a table as she ran to the windows, but she hadn’t placed it well enough and the lamp fell, the fount and glass chimney shattering as they hit the tiled floor.
She didn’t dare turn to look and as she climbed up onto the bench table by the window and undid the latch, the door burst open, clattering against the wall.
“You there, halt!”
She didn’t, instead she flung the window wide and scrambled through. For one heart stopping moment, she thought that she had been grabbed, but she jumped anyway and the tension gave way as her coat tore, having only been caught on the latch stay. She landed awkwardly on her left side, her shoulder jarring painfully. Her hat came loose but she crammed it back on even as she got up to run.
She ran to the end of the street, then slowed to a walk so as not to appear suspicious. She kept her head down as she walked and with each step, she expected to hear the sound of a whistle but to her eternal gratitude, none came. She made it back to the house, entering through the servants’ entrance at the rear. She didn’t need to worry too much about waking the staff; the driver was sleeping over the stable, the caretaker and his wife were elderly and sound sleepers, and Lilly already knew that her mistress was up to no good.
The caretaker and housekeeper were the only full time employees at this house, since no one lived here anymore. Maintaining and cleaning the house were their only duties usually, but the housekeeper could stretch to cooking simple meals for visitors.
The townhouse was a decent size for a professional family but not massive, as some were. As such, and with dust sheets protecting the surfaces and furniture in most rooms, it didn’t need an awful lot of day to day upkeep.
Damaris made her way to the main staircase, since it was carpeted and would be quieter, and she wasn’t at all surprised to realise that Lilly was sitting by her fireplace, dressed in her nightgown and clearly agitated. She jumped as her mistress entered.
“Oh, thank the Lord, you’re all right.” She let out a long breath.
“I’m fine,” Damaris assured the other woman. She didn’t mention the pain in her shoulder from falling from the window. “Now go to bed; it’s gone two in the morning and we have had a long journey.”
Lilly nodded and got to her feet. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I think so,” she said, her voice filling with emotion. “It’s him.”
“Oh, my dear.” She took her employer in her arms and held her as Damaris finally began to cry. “There there,” she crooned. “It will be all right.”
“No, it won’t.”
“But it’s better to have an answer, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is.” Damaris pulled away and wiped at her eyes. “I thought that knowing would be a relief but…”
“Hush, this is only natural, child. These things take time, as well you know.”
Damaris nodded and did her best to reign in her emotions. “Thank you, now go to bed.”
Lilly gave her a gentle smile. “I will, if you will also.”
“I will, Lilly, I’ll change now.”
“Very well. Good night.”
Damaris went into her dressing room, where Lilly had laid out her things, and changed into her nightshirt. She sat at her dressing table to brush out her hair and Lilly came in, as suspected, to check that she was preparing for bed.
“Good night again, love. Come and wake me if you need to.”
Damaris smiled, as memories of Lilly saying this very thing to her when she was a child surfaced. “Thank you, Lilly.”
She left but Damaris continued brushing her hair, giving it 100 strokes, to be sure that the other woman wouldn’t return. When she didn’t, Damaris made her way downstairs and into her father’s study, where she began composing a letter, which she would ask to be delivered to Dr Worthington first thing in the morning.
“Nathaniel, come in, come in,” the Doctor said, and stepped back from the door to allow the other man to enter.
“Have you discovered anything else about the body?” Nathaniel asked eagerly.
“No, I intend to take a closer look later today.”
“Then what is so urgent that you asked me to attend first thing?” Now he was slightly irritable.
“I was burglarised last night.”
“Are you all right?” His annoyance fled.
“Yes, yes I'm fine, and I don’t believe that anything was taken.”
“Not that I can see.” The doctor led Nathaniel to his workshop.
Nothing had been moved since the night before, save for the remains of the broken oil lamp, which had been cleared up.
“The papers on my desk were disturbed and the lamp broken, but that is all.”
“And you’re sure nothing was taken?”
“I am.”
“Why would someone break in and not take anything?”
“I disturbed them, perhaps they didn’t have time. I came in just as the blighter was jumping out of that window.”
It was logical but Nathaniel didn’t quite believe it. He went over to the window and peering out, found a scrap of cloth caught on the frame, clearly having been torn off.
“Did you get a look at him?”
“Not much,” Worthington admitted. “He was dressed all in black but slight, short, like a youth.”
“I doubt a youth would be our killer, so what did he want here? I suppose he could be working for someone else, doing their dirty work and trying to discover how much we know.”
The front door bell interrupted them and they both made their way there.
“It’s a little early for patients,” Worthington noted, checking his pocket watch. “Mrs Hyde isn’t even here yet.”
Nevertheless, he opened the door.
“Good day.” The elderly gentleman there said. The quality of his clothes indicated that he was in service but he kept them in pristine condition. “Is one of you Doctor Worthington?”
“I am.”
“I have a message for you.” He handed the letter to the doctor.
Worthington reached into his pocket for a tip but the man held his hands up. “I'm not a messenger, Sir, simply doing an errand on behalf of my employer. No payment is necessary.”
The accent was refined, Nathaniel noticed. If he had to bet money, he would say that this man was a butler, only he was too old and hunched in the back to be a butler any longer.
“Good day, Sirs.” He tipped his hat and turned to leave.
Worthington closed the door and broke the seal on the letter, frowning as he began to read.
“What has you so interested?”
Worthington glanced at the second page, then handed the letter over.
Dear Doctor Worthington,
I apologise for writing to you in this fashion but the local constable refuses to believe that this man could be my father. In fact, he doesn’t even believe that my father is missing.
However, I know that he would never willingly leave his family and I strongly believe that it is his body that was discovered.
My father’s name was Charles Howard, he was a respected lawyer who worked for the War Office, and he disappeared in April 1814. He was 5’10” inches tall, of stout but not overly large build, and had grey and white hair.
I realise that neither this description, nor the sketch of him that I have enclosed, will help you discover if the remains that you have, belonged to my father, but it might help you to know that my father had a few distinguishing marks.
A scar over his left temple that went into the hairline.
He was burned on the back of his right hand as a child and as well as scarring, the surrounding tissue is puckered.
There is a brown mole on his neck, under his left ear, perhaps a quarter of an inch in diameter.
Finally, he suffered a bad fall from horseback when I was a child. He fractured his right leg and although the limb was saved and splinted, it never healed properly and he suffered pain for the rest of his life.
I do hope that this information helps you identify the remains you have.
Fondest regards,
Damaris Wellesley,
Dowager Countess of Bellchester
Nathaniel wondered who this Damaris character was. He remembered Charles Howard who, although not titled, was from an aristocratic family. As the fifth son, there wasn’t much wealth for him to inherit, especially as the eldest son would inherit the title and lands. As such, he had trained as a lawyer and worked for much of the year in London. He didn’t earn a fortune but he earned enough to keep his family in good circumstances, and his aristocratic ancestry ensured that he was still accepted in society.
It was unfair that the first son inherited everything, while younger sons were left to felt mostly for themselves. As such, High Society was always ready and willing to help such a man, especially one who did his best to help himself.
Nathaniel had met Mr Howard a few times, but he could not recall meeting his daughter.
“Shall we have a look?” he asked Worthington.
“I thought you’d never ask,” the Doctor smiled.
The skin blemishes the letter writer had pointed out were useless, as so little skin had been left but the right leg did indeed show signs of a healed break. The bone was slightly thicker where it had mended and no longer straight, but very slightly angled outwards below the break.
“Looks to me like he used his leg before it healed,” Worthington explained. “The pain would have caused him to walk with an uneven gait, perhaps like this.” He demonstrated, walking a few paces while holding his right leg to the side. “Under the constant pressure of walking, even with a splint, the healing bone was pushed outwards and finally healed that way. No wonder he suffered pain.”
“So you believe this is Charles Howard then?”
“I would like another piece of evidence before declaring that but yes, I think it’s highly likely that this is he.”
Nathaniel picked up the wedding band. “Smyth is collecting all the marriage records from 1794 and if Mr Howard is among them, I think that we can safely say that we have identified him.”
Worthington nodded. “Now I need to bleach the bones in order to properly examine them under a magnifying glass.”
“How long will that take?”
“Oh, a few hours, I’ll leave them to soak while I see my patients. If you come around this afternoon, I should know more.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Nathaniel unlocked Smyth’s office at the town hall, and quickly found the missing person reports. The women who had been reported missing had already been removed from the pile and Charles Howard wasn’t among the remaining five men.
Instead Nathaniel went to the filing cabinets, hoping to find a file on Charles Howard. The records weren’t kept alphabetically however, but according to the date that a crime was reported.
Nathaniel pulled the letter from his pocket and as he thought, the writer had given the date of her father’s disappearance; April 1814.
He quickly discovered the drawer for 1814 and after a little hunting, found a file marked ‘C Howard’. He pulled it out and sat at Smyth’s desk to peruse its contents.
There was hardly anything in the file. The first page was the report, made by the wife and daughter. It contained few details but it did say that the last time the family had seen Mr Howard, was when he ventured to London on horseback for business. When he did not return at the end of the week, they became worried.
The next page revealed that Smyth had searched Howard’s study, and found a ticket receipt for a journey booked on a cargo ship to the Americas; the receipt was included in the file. The next item was a letter from the ship’s owner, dated thirteen months after Mr Howard had gone missing.
The owner seemed to be replying to Smyth and informed him that after speaking with the captain, he could confirm that a gentleman by the name of Charles Howard had indeed sailed on their cargo ship.
Given that he was fairly sure that the body they had found was Mr Howard, he would be willing to bet that whoever sailed to the Americas gave a false name. Smyth should have looked deeper; at least got a description of the person who sailed, if nothing else.
Nathaniel closed the file and paced the length of the office as he waited for Smyth to return with the marriage records, pondering the case.
If Charles was last seen journeying to London, then how did he end up buried in Lanford? Either he never made it to London, or was waylaid on his journey back. Nathaniel would contact his employers in London to discover which was the case, and it irked him that Smyth hadn’t already done so.
London was only twenty or so miles south, a two hour ride on one of his faster horses, so he could probably be back by nightfall.
Then again, Smyth could be hours checking the records and he needed to confirm that this was Charles Howard before he went dashing off to London. Turning back to the file, he noted Mr Howard’s address and made his way there.
Mr Howard had a large townhouse near the centre of Lanford but it was far from the largest. Obviously he was well to do but not rich. He knocked on the front door and it was opened by the elderly gentleman who had delivered the letter that morning.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“I’m Lord Copley, and I’m looking for Mrs Howard or Lady Wellesley.”
“Mrs Howard now resides with her eldest son in France, Sir, but Lady Wellesley is in residence.”
“Might I see her?”
The butler opened the door further and Nathaniel stepped inside.
“Wait here, Sir.”
He shuffled off up the stairs and Nathaniel took the chance to look around.
The house was well cared for but it appeared that it was not very well lived in. No coats hung on the rack, no calling cards lay on the tray, no flowers graced any surface and the sounds of life that one would expect in a house of this size, were absent.
The man appeared at the top if the stairs but out of respect for his age, Nathaniel held his hand up to stop him. “I’ll come to you,” he said, making his way up the stairs.
The butler nodded and once he had reached the landing, led Nathaniel into a parlour.
“Lord Copley, the Marquess of Lanford, Ma’am,” he announced to the room’s occupant.
Nathaniel hadn’t realised that the butler knew who he was but being recognised wasn’t unexpected.
As he entered the room, the most beautiful young lady he had ever seen got to her feet and curtseyed to him. “Lord Copley, I'm very pleased to meet you.”
She had hair as black as coal and despite the severe bun that she had pulled it into, strands had escaped around her face, softening her look and framing her face. Her skin was almost porcelain white and she might have looked unhealthy, were it not for the rosy hue of her cheeks.
Her cerulean blue eyes were also framed by thick black lashes, highlighting their loveliness, and her full lips were a healthy shade of pink, slightly darker than her cheeks.
“And I you, Lady Wellesley.” He bowed.
“Please, sit down.” She gestured to an armchair opposite her own and he sat down, facing her.
“Would you like some tea, Ma’am,” the butler asked.
“Thank you, but don’t put Mrs Higgins out on our account.”
“Very good.” He bowed and left.
Nathaniel thought that it was odd that she hadn’t asked him if he wanted refreshments.
“My apologies, but there are only two members of staff in this house at present, Sir, and I try not to put them out too much.”
“No one lives here?”
“Only the housekeeper and caretaker.”
“That seems an unusual arrangement.”
“Well, it was my parent’s house and without my father around, my mother didn’t wish to live here any longer.”
“Why haven’t your brothers sold it?”
“Because they haven’t inherited it.”
He realised that with Charles Howard thought to be missing rather than dead, the estate would be in limbo.
“So your brothers keep a caretaker on staff to care for the property?”
“No, I do.”
He seemed taken aback by that.
“My eldest brother married a French woman and lives there, my mother with them. My youngest brother studied medicine at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, and has remained there. Neither boy was very close to our father.”
“But you were?”
She gave him a tight smile. “Forgive me, Lord Copley, but you are hardly here for my family history. How can I help you?”
“I would like to ask you a few questions, if I may.”
“Very well.” She appeared curious and perhaps slightly amused.
“You are Damaris Wellesley and the daughter of Charles Howard, correct?”
“I am.”
“I was wondering, what year were your parents married?”
He nodded sadly. “Then I’m afraid that I have some very troubling news for you, Lady Wellesley.”
“You’re here because the body recently discovered is my father, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I'm afraid that it is.”
She sighed but didn’t reply; her gaze turned towards a portrait above the fireplace, of a couple and three children. The smallest child looked remarkably like Damaris and he realised that it was a family portrait.
“This must be very distressing for you,” he tried to sympathise.
“Actually, it’s almost a relief.”
He frowned. “Excuse me?”
She turned to look at him. “For years I have been trying to convince the local constable that my father met with foul play, but he insisted that he had simply run away and abandoned his family. Now at least, I might find some answers.”
“Might I ask you some questions about your father?”
Now she frowned slightly. “Forgive me, Lord Copley, but what exactly is your interest in my father’s murder?”
“I am the Justice of the Peace in these parts.”
“I see, but isn’t your job to bind criminals over for trial, not to investigate the crimes.”
“That is true but as you have no doubt concluded for yourself, Constable Smyth is not always proficient at his job.”
“Then why don’t you appoint someone else?”
“Because he is getting on in years and while not an ideal candidate for a constable, serious crimes are quite rare in these parts, and he is able to handle the day to day matters.”
“If that were so, he would have investigated my father’s disappearance years ago. Now, thanks to his dereliction of duty, it could prove a great deal harder to discover what happened. People forget things so easily, and some witnesses may even have died since then.”
“You sound as if you speak from experience.”
Her features took on a haunted air. “Perhaps I do.”
She didn’t seem willing to go into further details so he didn’t press the matter. He got a small notebook and pencil out.
“I read the letter that you sent to the doctor; thank you for taking the time and trouble.”
“It was no trouble,” she assured him.
“I was hoping that you could provide me with details of your father’s job in London; his employers and the address of his offices, perhaps?”
“I know what you’re thinking,” she answered. “He left home on Sunday the 10th of April, but he never made it to London.”
“How can you know that?”
“I wrote to his friends and colleagues at the War Office; they told me. He kept rooms in London at his club but although they were expecting him, he never arrived that evening. Somewhere between here and London, he was waylaid although now, it would seem that he didn’t make it very far from home at all.”
“Might I have the address of his workplace and the names of the friends you wrote to?”
“You don’t trust my information?” she asked, her voice cool.
“Not at all, I simply want to make sure that I have everything correct.”
“Then tell me, Lord Copley, how did my father die?”
“He was struck on the head.”
She regarded him with a cool eye for a moment and he wondered exactly what he had said that had upset her, then she abruptly got to her feet and went to a small, leather bound trunk, which was sitting on an ornamental table. She unlocked it and rifled the contents for a moment, until she returned with a list, which she handed to him before she sat down.
He looked it over and it quickly became apparent that it was a list of names. Most names had a tick beside them but a few didn’t.
“Who are these people?”
“My father’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Those with a tick are ones I have been able to talk to or correspond with. Those without, I have been unable to contact.”
“Might I see the letters that they sent you?”
She regarded him again for a moment and he wondered at her aloof attitude.
“I think not.”
“Might I ask why?”
“Because I don’t believe that you will pay attention to their content; you will think that they lied to me to appease my anxieties, or because they don’t believe that a woman can handle certain information. At the moment, I am far from certain that you are any more efficient than Constable Smyth and until I can be sure of you, I believe it might be better to leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
“Have I said something to upset you?”
“Whatever gave you that impression,” she asked sweetly, with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“Please, Lady Wellesley, I just want to find out who killed your father.”
“And I wish you luck with that.”
Now he was starting to become irritable. “Might I speak with your husband?”
Her sweet smile widened. “But of course.”
She made no move to summon him and Nathaniel sat forward. “Is he home?”
“He is always home, my Lord.”
“Then where might I find him?” he snapped, getting to his feet. He looked down at her, hoping to intimidate her with his height. It didn’t appear to work.
“Wellesley Hall, just outside of Bellchester.”
“He didn’t come with you?”
“I told you, he is always at home these days, and this is not our home. If you really need to speak with him, you will find him in the family crypt, near the estate church. I’m sure you won’t need to make an appointment, he doesn’t venture very far from his grave.”
“Oh, I- I’m terribly sorry.”
“Yes, I dare say the fact that you can't call on my husband to bring me to heel, does make you sorry but in any event, he was never a very authoritarian sort of man, at least not with his family.” She got to her feet and smoothed her skirts. “Good day, Lord Copley, I trust that you can see yourself out.”
She left the room and Nathaniel watched until she was out of sight, wondering just what he had done to offend her. No doubt she wasn’t happy that she (and her father’s disappearance) had been ignored for six years, but that was hardly his fault. Of course, she might not have liked his defence of Smyth either but what he said was true, the man could handle the day to day duties of his job.
She had given him a list of names as a starting point and, much as she had suggested, he was certain that these people would be much more forthcoming with him than they had been with Charles Howard’s daughter. Men were usually more open with their own sex, much as women preferred the company of other females.
Still, he was curious about what she had learned and he looked to the leather chest she had gone into earlier. What he wanted to know was probably in that box. It was probably locked but he felt that he could easily carry it with him, although he doubted that he would be allowed to take it. He approached and tried the catch, only to find it was locked.
A cough from behind him made him turn and he blushed at having been caught.
“This way, Sir,” the butler said, his voice so disapproving that he only just managed to sound polite.
“Of course.” He followed the elderly man downstairs but it was only once he was out on the street, that he realised how surreal that whole encounter had been.
Damaris was seething. How dare that jumped up want-to-be detective come in here and act as if he were entitled to her help!
She might have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, had it not been for the fact that her father had been strangled, not killed by the blow to the head. But of course, the broken skull was obvious, whereas the tiny hyoid bone was subtle and easy to miss. The problem was, she didn’t want a detective who looked only for the easy answers, she wanted someone who would dig until they had the truth.
Which meant that she had little choice but to do the investigating herself. She had already made a good start over the past few years but now that she knew her father was dead, people might be more forthcoming with her. And if they weren’t, well, she would do whatever it took to find her father’s killer.
Chapter Three
Horse Guards was a large Palladian style building in Whitehall, and home to the War Office. At the front desk, Nathaniel was directed to the Department of the Secretary, and then to the Judge Advocate General’s office, who handled courts-martial.
Since he had been a barrister, it seemed fitting that Charles Howard had worked here. The Judge Advocate General, Sir John Beckett wasn’t available to see him, which wasn’t surprising and by Nathaniel’s reckoning, he had been appointed three years after Charles Howard had disappeared anyway, so was unlikely to be of any help.
Instead, he was directed to a meeting room and told to wait, which he did for perhaps ten minutes, until a gentleman entered. He was middle aged, smartly dressed and had a slightly harassed air about him.
“Lord Copley?” he asked.
“Indeed.” Nathaniel got to his feet and shook hands with the gentleman.
“I'm Peter Jennings. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Not a problem, Sir.”
“I understand that you’re here to talk about Charles Howard?”
“I am and I'm sorry to say, I have some regrettable news.”
They both took a seat at the table.
“He’s dead,” Jennings stated rather than asked.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Charles was a responsible man; even supposing that he did run away with a mistress, he would not have simply walked away from his position here. When I read about the remains being discovered near his home… well, I put two and two together, although I am sorry to have been proved correct.”
“How well did you know Mr Howard?”
“We were friends; I kept rooms in the same club, but our families didn’t often socialise together.”
“It’s nothing sinister.” He smiled. “Charles’ family home was in Lanford, whilst mine is in Northumberland.”
“And you commute to London?”
“Does that not get tiresome?”
“It does,” he agreed. “Being so close, Charles returned home each weekend, but it would take me all weekend to get home, then I’d just have to turn around and come straight back.”
“Quite. Would it not be easier to keep a home in London?”
“Probably, but my wife dislikes Town and prefers to be close to her family. I return home for a few weeks every few months, and the arrangement works well for us.”
Given his eagerness to begin the investigation, Nathaniel now found himself quite stumped as to how to proceed.
“So, are you another one of Lady Wellesley’s detectives?” Jennings asked.
“Not quite, although I am looking into her father’s death. I'm the new Justice of the Peace for Lanford.”
“Well, I can't tell you anything that I haven’t already told her, and her detectives.”
“Since you were friends with the deceased, I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of man he was?”
“I suppose. Well, he was born to an Earl but he didn’t inherit title or lands. He chose law as his profession and studied hard. He met and married his wife for her connections but it wasn’t a love match.
“And what of his personality?”
“Responsible, bound by duty; he took his work very seriously, perhaps too seriously at times-”
“You don’t think his death could have had something to do with his work?”
“No.” Jennings looked amused. “For obvious reasons, I can't go into details about our work here but suffice to say, most of it is administrative.”
 “How did he come to work for the War Office?”
“Through the Duke of Wellington.”
“Are they related?”
“Well they weren’t but they are now, in a roundabout sort of way.”
“Of course, Wellesley is the family name.”
“Quite right. Damaris’ husband was William Wellesley, Earl of Bellchester and a cousin to the Duke of Wellington. Charles arranged the match for her. Unfortunately they hadn’t been married for a year when her father disappeared, then her husband was killed a year later, at the Battle of Waterloo.”
“Did they have any children?”
“The war kept him away a lot but they did manage to have one child, and another on the way. The news of his death hit her hard however; she lost the baby, and the elder child died not long after.”
“How awful.”
“Yes, the poor girl certainly has faced more than her share of tragedy.”
“And how did the child…?”
“The whooping cough; terrible shame.”
“Is someone taking care of her?”
“Oh, her husband saw to that. When his young son died, the title passed to Wellesley’s brother, of course, but almost the entirety of her husband’s estate was bequeathed to Damaris and her children but obviously now, she is his sole heir.”
“So much heartache for one so young.”
“She’s a strong girl but you’re right, it is a terrible shame.”
“After such tragedy, I’m surprised she didn’t go to live with a family member.”
“I wish I could say that I was, but the relationships in that family were always odd.”
“How so?”
“Charles and his wife gave the impression of being in competition, and part of that was that she favoured the boys, while he favoured Damaris. They pitted the children against the other parent, and each other at times, hence she was only close to her father. She has reconciled somewhat with the younger brother but he resides in Edinburgh; not exactly within easy travelling distance.”
“So that’s why the sons don’t look after Howards’ house.”
“Exactly. Her father’s family offered to take her in but she declined. She still writes to me occasionally, mostly at Christmas time, and seems to enjoy living alone.”
“Whatever does she do with herself?” Nathaniel didn’t think she was the type to spend her days sewing samplers.
“I believe she has discovered a fascination with science and spends a lot of time reading about it. I think she even does a few experiments.”
That seemed like an odd hobby for a woman but he supposed that something like botany would interest a lady and whilst unusual, it was harmless.
“Forgive me, Lord Copley, but you appear to have more interest in Lady Wellesley than her father.”
Nathaniel blushed a little.
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed, if I were a few years younger, and single of course, I might very well feel the same but you seem like a nice fellow, so I hope you won’t take offence when I offer you some friendly advice. Don’t set your hat at Damaris; you will be disappointed if you do.”
Nathaniel was surprised by the sinking sensation he felt, almost as if he were falling, but he swallowed his disconcertion down and said, “You sound very… certain about that.”
“She is beautiful, respectable, childless and rich; what man wouldn’t want her as his wife, even if she is a widow and at a rather advanced age? Many have tried to get her attention over the years but she shows no interest.”
“Is she still grieving?”
“Some believe so.”
“Did she really love her husband, then? It sounds as if they didn’t see each other very much.”
“It was the war that kept him away, not distaste. That’s also the reason William’s family wanted him to marry, so that he would have an heir if the worst happened. As for love?” Jennings shrugged. “She cared very deeply for William, I know that, and she respected him but love? Perhaps the love one has for a good friend or sibling, but not romantic love.”
“And what do you believe, about her still grieving?”
“I haven’t set eyes on Damaris since her wedding day so I cannot say for certain, although I feel I know her through my friendship with her father. Personally, I think that she has simply closed herself off from the world at large, to save herself any future pain.”
“I can certainly understand that,” he agreed, and found himself willing to forgive her sharp words earlier. “Back to the real reason I'm here, is there anything you can tell me about Charles that you haven’t told anyone else, perhaps to spare Lady Wellesley’s blushes?”
“I didn’t tell her about her father’s mistress in the beginning, for precisely the reason you state, but her husband had hired detectives and one of them discovered Marissa’s identity. When I realised the game was up, I wrote back telling her all I could remember.”
“That must have been hard for her to hear.”
Peter Jennings smiled. “Hardly. She wrote back expressing her thanks, said that she was pleased to know that her father had found a woman who loved him.”
Nathaniel thought about that and realised that, given the adversarial relationship her parents had, as well as being her father’s favourite, perhaps her opinion would be different to that of most women.
“However you conduct this investigation, Lord Copley, I would advise you not to underestimate Damaris. She is not a typical, high-strung woman, prone to faint at the mere discussion of blood. In many ways, she is as intelligent, brave and stubborn as a man, and she won’t take kindly to being coddled.”
“Thank you, for the advice and your help.”
“Not a problem, dear boy. If there’s anything else I can help you with, please feel free to contact me again.”
“I appreciate that. If I could just ask one last thing?”
“Of course.”
“Is there anyone else you would recommend that I talk to?”
“Your best chance is to visit our gentleman’s club, he had a lot of friends there. I’ll tell you what, if you can wait five minutes, I’ll write you a letter. Members can bring a friend and while that friend going without me would be unusual, given the circumstances and your family, I doubt that they will object.”
“Thank you and if I may, do you know how I can contact his mistress?”
“Me? No. Damaris however, is her new patroness.”
He was stunned for a moment. “You mean to tell me that Lady Wellesley indulges in… well, illicit acts with prostitutes?” He sounded outraged.
“No, my dear boy, of course not, and for the record, Marissa was never a prostitute.”
“Then what exactly do you mean by ‘patroness’?”
“That Damaris pays for her lodgings and gives her pin money. Marissa no longer needs a gentleman to take care of her, so she is free to find herself a husband, if she so wishes.”
“And has she?”
“Not to my knowledge but equally, I haven’t heard of her taking another lover.”
“And would you have been likely to hear?”
“London Society is quite close knit, even more so amongst men, with our gentlemen’s clubs and gambling dens. You must understand, Marissa was an exceptionally handsome woman, and with a large heart. If someone had been lucky enough to find themselves in her affections, I hardly think they would keep it to themselves. As a rule, we gentlemen do like to brag about our conquests.”
Nathaniel nodded his understanding. “Thank you, Mr Jennings, you’ve been a big help.”

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