The Crimson Garter is available at Amazon.com and at Kobobooks.
Vittorio Rosetti has been successful at auction, beating Sir Robert Marsh for the manuscripts he sought. Upon returning to the Cringley Arms, Sir Robert has found that Grace has disappeared from the lodgings. Chapter 10 of The Crimson Garter, by travel editor Stanley Moss, writing pseudonymously as Lovejoy, opens
In a wild manner Marsh precipitated himself out the door of the tiny hotel room, into the narrow hallway, clumsily down the uneven stairs, bounding into the dining room of the Cringley Arms, where he nearly toppled Simon, the footman.
‘Where is Cringley?’ Marsh demanded, flailing his arms.
‘Uh, ah, uh,’ Simon stammered. ‘The master is indisposed at present!’ In fact, Cringley was fast asleep, easily overheard snoring loudly on a bench hidden behind a table in the dark closet which sat only steps away, through a shadowy door.
‘Well, wake him, then.’ Marsh ordered in an unmistakable voice, thick with panic. Even Simon could not misinterpret Marsh’s urgent tone. Moments later Cringley appeared before him, rubbing his eyes, reeking of spirits, wiping at his nose, his ill-cut hair an unruly mess.
‘Your business was successfully concluded,’ the innkeeper mumbled. ‘Turned beastly wet, hasn’t it? Your eminence requires more coal?’
Marsh ignored the comment. ‘Do you know the whereabouts of my wife?’
Cringley and Simon exchanged puzzled looks. ‘She left early this morning, shortly after your magnificence. She returned around noon’—looking at Simon, who nodded mechanically—‘and left an hour later.’
‘With her valise,’ Simon chimed helpfully.
‘You are sure it was my wife?’
‘Without a doubt, your worship, for one could not mistake such beauty.’
Pushing the men aside, Robert Marsh forced his way into the dark street, rain pelting him, and began to race furiously toward he knew not where, elbowing people of all stations as he went, having no sensation of the elements which harshly prevailed. He appeared in such a mad state that no citizen chose to challenge him or attempt to halt him. Finally he caught sight of a copper-buttoned, blue-jacketed constable, standing watch on a corner.
Out of breath, drenched, hatless, his garments in disarray, Marsh stepped impatiently in front of the uniform. ‘My wife,’ gasped Sir Robert. ‘She has left me.’
The constable, observing Marsh’s agitated state, made an attempt at comforting the man. ‘Aye, ’appens to the best of us. You’ll get over it.’
‘I do not know where she is,’ Marsh blurted out, looking frantically in all directions.
‘’Tis often the case,’ the constable clucked reassuringly. ‘But they always comes home, and things is just as they were before. She’ll run away, wander about for a while, call on a few friends, and then she’ll be back, don’t you worry.’
Marsh grabbed the constable by the shoulders. ‘You don’t understand! She has left me!’ The constable felt his patience begin to lessen.
‘I do understand,’ the constable attempted compassionately. ‘For it happened once to me, just as it seems has happened to you. We quarrelled about some little thing, my wife went back to her Mum, who advised her to come home, which she did, that was years ago, and we are still happily married. Now we has four lovely children.’
‘This was sudden!’ Marsh shouted, shaking the man. ‘You do not take my meaning. I fear she has done herself some harm.’
‘Now what kind of harm might that be?’ the constable asked in a suspicious way, stiffening his shoulders.
‘Of that I am uncertain,’ Marsh insisted. ‘Read this letter!’ He pulled from his pocket the printed catalogue from the auction, which he thrust at the constable.
‘I am not much with the written word,’ the constable admitted. He had some experience with the demented, and knew enough to attempt humour before he needed to apply restraint. ‘This appears to be some catalogue or tract, sir. Perhaps you could read to me the important parts.’ Marsh looked down at the catalogue stupidly, reconsidering showing the letter to anyone.
‘I demand to see your superior officer. Who is the chief of the watch?’
‘That would be Lieutenant Dawson, but let’s not bring him into this …’
‘I insist you take me to him immediately,’ Marsh ordered, sweeping his hair back and shaking the water off his hand. The constable saw clearly the direction things were going and decided to pursue the course of least resistance.
‘Yes, you’d best come with me,’ he agreed, detecting signs of real dementia in the agitated eyes of Sir Robert Marsh.
Sometime later, after a confused walk through the maze of London streets, Robert Marsh found himself seated at a desk across from a very suspicious officer. He was a corpulent man, wearing thin white sideboards, and his ink-stained fingers were plump as sausages. An ample belly peeked through the gaps of his bursting blue jacket. He was normally possessed of a jovial air, and had a reputation as a man both clever and witty. He had been posted at this very desk for nine years.
‘Now what’s all this about?’ said the lieutenant, who had seen everything from brutal strangulations to tavern brawls to inconsequential disputes among hysterical aristocrats. Very little surprised him. ‘First things first’—pulling a large bound book from the desk and opening it to a fresh page, then carefully inking a quill pen—‘I will need to know your name and where you are staying.’
‘I am Sir Robert Marsh, laird of Marshmoor, Scotland. We are staying at the Cringely Arms.’
‘And what is your business in London?’
‘I am here to attend an auction,’ Marsh stammered. ‘What has that to do with …’
‘An auction,’ interrupted Lieutenant Dawson. ‘And what might you be buying so far from your home?’
‘I am not here to buy anything, I am simply here to attend the auction.’
‘Here to attend auction,’ Dawson repeated absently as he wrote. ‘So I am to record you came all the way to London to attend an auction where you are not buying anything.’
‘To also purchase medicine for my mother,’ Marsh protested. ‘And then my wife …’
‘Just a moment,’ Lieutenant Dawson said, reinking the pen. ‘What type of medicine?’
‘Laudanum!’ Marsh shouted. ‘Of course! That is all mother will take.’
‘Your mother cannot buy laudanum in Scotland?’ Dawson muttered disinterestedly, writing down more words.
‘It is much cheaper in London,’ Marsh said in an exasperated way. ‘But that is not why I am here to speak with you.’
‘And what’s this about your wife? Your wife is with you?’
‘She was with me,’ Marsh answered. ‘But apparently she has left.’
‘Wife has left,’ Dawson said unconsciously as he wrote. ‘When was it you last saw her?’ he asked, looking up over his snow white eyebrows.
‘This morning,’ Marsh told him. ‘Before I left for the auction. I gave her specific instructions to return to the hotel by 4 p.m. sharp.’
‘She didn’t return to the hotel?’
‘She did return to the hotel, for God’s sakes,’ Marsh answered in exasperation. ‘But she left again. She left me a note.’
‘May I see the note?’ Here the constable, who had thus far stood aside silently, cleared his throat, leaned over and whispered something inaudible to Dawson, which Sir Robert could not hear. It was at that very moment Marsh realized she had signed the note ‘Grazia Rosetti’, and the one thing he did not want was Grace’s original name connected with him, or to be bandied about in the papers as he knew it would be if it was ever released to the police.
‘The note is unnecessary,’ Marsh said.
‘It is only necessary if it contains a clue as to where she went. Did she say where she was going?’
‘She did not.’
‘She has been missing for how long now, Lady Marsh?’
‘Why, for more than two hours.’
‘Good sir, that is not long at all. Surely it does not warrant such a degree of overwroughtness. Perhaps she missed her carriage.’
‘She was on foot,’ Marsh responded. ‘She would not take a carriage.’
‘Says wife would not take carriage—heavy rain,’ Dawson wrote. ‘Perhaps she encountered friends,’ he suggested.
‘She has no friends here.’
‘She has no family.’
‘Maybe she became lost. London is a big city.’
Sir Robert paused, rethinking the situation. ‘I told her not to go to Covent Garden,’ he admitted. Lieutenant Dawson scratched his head in puzzlement. Impossible that the wife of a noble would run away to join a troupe of players. Stranger circumstances had presented themselves in the past, though.
‘I recommend that you go home, have a beverage, and try to compose yourself. I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation. Has she ever run off before?’
Marsh admitted she had not. ‘But the note …’ he began.
‘You must let me see the note then,’ Dawson offered kindly, observing that Marsh had calmed himself greatly. He knew the man would be more easily dealt with now.
‘I cannot,’ Marsh told him. ‘It is too personal.’
‘Then I do not know what more I can offer you. Word has just come of a terrible accident near Kensington, and I must attend to that. If you will not let me see the note—and now I am beginning to wonder why you will not let me see it—perhaps you know more than you are revealing to me.’
‘Look,’ Marsh stammered. ‘All I know is that the library’s been bought, I was unable to learn who the foreign gentleman is, I must retrieve the damned painting, and my wife has left me.’
Dawson’s eyes narrowed. ‘What’s this about a foreign gentleman and a painting? You never mentioned this before. It makes the case all the more interesting.’ He inked the pen and wrote in his careful hand, ‘foreign gentleman, painting.’
Marsh recomposed himself. ‘These things are inconsequential, merely business that occupies my mind, details unsuccessfully concluded, other concerns not related. They have nothing to do with the disappearance of my wife.’
‘Then I heartily recommend you go to your lodgings and wait for your wife. If she has not returned by tomorrow morning you must return to us immediately and we will proceed with an inquiry. At the moment all we have amid your agitation is a note you will not show us to indicate that she has left. And so, my good sir, if that is all for tonight …’
The conversation with Lieutenant Dawson had the effect of sobering Sir Robert, and he began to think about the consequences of Grace’s name exposed to both over-curious inspectors and then the press. He recalled his mother’s repeated warnings regarding his involvement with a person of the theatre, and considered that she might have been right, that from so volatile and Mediterranean a temperament anything might be expected. He recognized the risk of exposing any more facts to the lieutenant, and he began to construct a plan to take care of the investigation himself. Now that his earlier dismay had abated he began to wonder if Grace had returned to Paris to resume her career or her dalliance with the mysterious painter Balthazar, whom he now suspected of being more involved than she had admitted. He began to mistrust his confidence in the Earl of Pinckney. And how to warn Pinckney of this unexpected development? Marsh hurriedly took his leave of Lieutenant Dawson, and ruminated on the walk back, turning over in his mind the tasks which he needed to perform to deal with Grace’s unexpected disappearance. There remained a chance she had acted impulsively, and might realize the folly of her action and return. Yet he found within himself the unsettling feeling that something more was afoot, and that only frustration and unpleasantness could follow.
As the Cringley Arms came into view, Marsh decided that he would await the morning, and if she did not return he would immediately book passage to Paris. There he would intercept Pinckney, and retrieve his errant wife. With each passing moment he believed all the more that she had left him to return to her Bohemian life and her Bohemian lover.
He reached the Cringley Arms, wearily climbed the stairs, but within minutes was interrupted by a frantic Simon who held a letter in his grimy hand. Marsh’s heart lifted in expectation, until he realized that the letter came from Scotland via the express packet and its address bore the ominous hand of his Mother, Lady Dorothea. She had posted the letter one day after his departure from Scotland. In it the Lady Dorothea urgently bade Sir Robert to return with all due haste, not lingering the extra day in London for frivolous expedition. She explained she was in great need of her medicine and feared that her health had taken a turn for the worse. ‘I fear, Dear Son, that this may be my final illness,’ she concluded.
In his room Sir Robert paced with vexation. Here was a fine quandary. He could not go after his errant wife, for his mother required him. If she was as gravely ill as she represented he had no choice but to return to Scotland and to her bedside. There would surely be questions about the estate and business matters to conclude. Sir Robert felt a growing unease, for his name was known to Lieutenant Dawson and the constable, and he feared that if he did not take the investigation into his own hands the situation could easily fly out of control. His family faced the prospect of ridicule, the scandal of Grace’s departure would soon be known, and the painting which remained at large could easily transform him into a laughing stock, fodder for the grist mill of public opinion. He concluded that though he must return to Scotland as his mother had bid him, he needed to find a way he could incite Pinckney to more speedily acquire the painting. In the matter of Grace he feared that he might have to wait too long, and it would prevent any chance to safely or silently spirit her home.
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