Silk & Scarlet Chapter Five

Miss Webster was examining him. She did it covertly, glancing his way every now and then only for her gaze to dart away, lashes lowered and expression demure.

Nathaniel kept his gaze trained out the window. While she was subtle, she wasn’t subtle enough to fool him. Her skill, for that’s what it was, had no doubt been honed by her employment, where he knew it to be a requirement to be both unobtrusive and observant.

The carriage continued its rumble toward Faringdon Abbey. As soon as they pulled up to the entrance, Miss Webster disembarked before he could offer his hand. She stood to the side on the driveway, shaking her skirts subtly as she awaited him to follow.

He did so, shunning the hand the footman offered. He could manage to exit a carriage on his own merit. The Faringdon butler greeted them, a warm smile for Miss Webster and a polite one for him. Lady Caroline did not greet them. Curious. Had she no desire to see how her employee fared the previous evening, seeing as she had taken lodgings at the public house upon her direction? Miss Webster looked tired, though she disguised it well with a placid demeanour.

The butler led them to a well-appointed room, one that must have been a study or an office in another life but clearly no longer in use. The room was huge, easily twice the size of his own study at his lodgings, and grand enough that it must have been once used by the master of the house. Now that a mistress presided, the room had been abandoned in favour of the airy, open room in which he’d met Lady Caroline the previous day.

Miss Webster made for the heavy desk at the opposite end the room, then stopped awkwardly when he did not take a place behind it. Ignoring her puzzled look, he instead assessed the room. The desk was flanked by empty bookshelves, poorly situated in front of large bay windows. Anyone with half-decent marksmanship would find it no challenge at all, the spot between his shoulder blades itching at the thought.

Instead, he turned on his heel and sat in an armchair opposite a chaise lounge, perpendicular to the fireplace. Steepling his fingers, he announced, “The first interviewee may enter.”

Miss Webster did not comment on his choice, instead acceding to his directive. He kept his gaze trained ahead, and disguised he was excruciatingly aware of her as she approached the door, opening it to converse quietly with the footman on the other side.

Lord William Faringdon blustered into the room as if he owned it, a scowl set on his once-handsome face. Now, he was florid, his stout demeanour speaking of a life spent in excess. “You’ve kept me waiting ten minutes at least. I am never kept waiting. Others wait for me.”

“We were unavoidably detained,” Nathaniel lied smoothly. Not five seconds in this man’s vicinity and already he was tired.

Miss Webster quietly moved a chair to the side of his armchair, making herself again as unobtrusive as possible.

Impressed by her stealth, Nathaniel waited for the man to seat himself, grumbling all the while, before starting. “What is your relationship to Sir George Carring?”

Lord William scowled. “You don’t know your place, sir. You have not introduced yourself, nor asked me to do the same.”

“We both already knows these things. You are Lord William Faringdon. I am Nathaniel Evans. I thought to dispense with the niceties. You did say your time was valuable.”

“Yes. Yes, indeed. Quite right,” Lord William said, somewhat mollified.

Nathaniel waited but Lord William remained silent. “What is your relationship with Sir George Carring?” he repeated.

“None whatsoever. He was Caro’s fiancé.”

“And your relationship to Lady Caroline Faringdon?”

“She’s my cousin’s girl. Inherited his title and all was entailed, if you can believe it. A female inheriting. It isn’t right. Should have come through to the next male of the line.”

Nathaniel didn’t comment. Clearly, Lord William was the next male in line and, just as clearly, he resented the inheritance laws of the Faringdon line.

“Caro left us with all the responsibility while she traipsed all over Europe. Thoughtless girl, thinking she can emulate a proper man’s Grand Tour. She’s always had strange ideas, that girl. Thought she’d finally got her head on strange when she returned with a fiancé. Sir George’s steadying hand would have been the best thing for her. Shame he couldn’t make it to the wedding.” Lord William’s gaze slid to Miss Webster. “Why is Caro’s girl here?”

What tedium. Attempting to demean Miss Webster and Lady Caroline both with one query. Already Nathaniel knew the sum-total of this man. “Miss Webster is assisting me. She has taken a temporary leave of absence from Lady Caroline’s employ. Where were you when Sir George’s body was discovered?”

“Breakfasting, along with everyone else. Spilled my tea when some upstart servant came rushing in, screaming her fool head off. Before you could say codswallop, the constabulary had been called and we were confined to the estate.”

“You don’t believe Sir George was murdered?”

“Probably ate some bad clams. Mountain out of a mole hill, if you ask me.” Clearly, this man believed his opinion to be the correct one and was not shy about stating such an opinion.

“The constabulary has ruled his death suspicious,” Nathaniel said.

“What do they know? Bunch of amateurs. Times past and in my grandfather day, this would have dealt with by the lord and we would have been about our business in less than a day. Now, we are not to leave the estate and the constabulary have threatened us with imprisonment if we do leave. I had a mind to go to London, you know. I have friends in London, friends who would be very interested to know of how the constabulary have overstepped. It is an outrage, sir. An outrage.”

Nathaniel ignored his tirade. “When was the last time you saw Sir George?”

Lord William scowled at Nathaniel’s lack of interest in his perceived woes but did not protest. “The night before. After dinner. I’d stepped out of the drawing room where we had all gathered, females and men both, and saw him with Caro. She was hanging off his arm, whining something about promises and whatnot. He pulled her off him, stormed down the hall, and that was the last I saw of him. Before he was dead, of course.”

“And Lady Caroline? What did she do?”

“Snivelling, she was. Managed to stop herself, and then she saw me. Smiled, said there was nothing to worry about, and had me escort her back to the others in the drawing room.”

“What time was this?”

“I don’t know. Why would I know what time it was?”

“It was quarter past nine of that evening,” Miss Webster interjected softly.

Lord William’s startled gaze found her, and then he scowled. “How would you know?” he said rudely.

She looked at Nathaniel, silently asking if she should answer. Impressed that she thought to do so, he inclined his head.

“A footman saw this incident as well. He noted the time.”

“And you take the word of a footman?” Lord William sneered.

“He corroborates your story,” she said simply.

Lord William’s scowled darkened as he turned back to Nathaniel. “If you can believe the words of servants, it was after nine. I’m sure their betters, should they be asked and who were also in that drawing room, can attest to that.”

Nathaniel stood. “Thank you for your time, Lord William. We will probably speak again.”

Disbelief marking his face, Lord William looked up at him. “That is it?”

“Thank you for your candour. As I said, we will probably speak again.”

Grumbling, Lord William left. Miss Webster closed the door behind him. She turned, an look of amazement on her face. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen someone deal with him so deftly.”

He ignored how much he liked that his action had caused her to display a genuine expression and a degree of admiration. “The man is a boor and an imbecile. He’s lucky I was polite.”

Her lips twitched. “You were being polite?”

His gaze stuck on her mouth. Her lips were pink and full and he wanted to know if they were as soft as they looked.

He blinked. What nonsense was he thinking? “Yes, I was,” he said, forcing his mind back to the case at hand and that Miss Webster was to assist, not for him to wonder about the tatse of her lips. “Please bring the next person in.”
 

***

 
Lady William was a delicate woman, bird-boned and thin. She sat on the chaise her husband had recently vacated, a handkerchief held to her eye. “I did not know him well,” she sobbed. “But it is all so dreadful, so perfectly dreadful.”

Nathaniel watched her helplessly. They had sat here for a good ten minutes, and every time he’d fielded a perfectly logical question, Lady William broke down into sobs. He had no idea how to proceed.

Standing, Miss Webster put her notebook on her chair and joined Lady William on the chaise. “I understand you are upset,” she said, putting her arm around the lady’s thin shoulders. “We are all devastated.”

“Yes.” Lady William grasped Miss Webster’s hand. “We are devastated for poor, dear Caroline.”

“Do you think you can answer some questions? For Caroline?”

Lady William’s grip visibly tightened on Miss Webster’s hand. “For Caroline.”

Nathaniel’s gaze darted between the two. Somehow, Miss Webster knew he stumbled and, efficiently and effortlessly, sought to assist. Gratitude, an emotion he did not often court, suffused him.

“Do you recall the last time you saw Sir George?” Miss Webster said gently.

Lady William’s eyes watered again. “Oh. Poor Sir George.” She dissolved again into tears.

Miss Webster waited patiently. “Lady William?” she prompted.

“Yes. Of course. It was the evening before.” Lady William took a tremulous breath. “Sir George was by dear Caroline’s side, whispering into her ear as she blushed. They looked so happy. So in love. Oh, this is all so horrid.”

Miss Webster’s eyes flickered. Nathaniel made a note to ask her of that reaction later. “That is the last time you saw him?” she asked Lady William.

“Oh, no. The last time was later that evening.”

When she didn’t elaborate, Miss Webster asked, “And what happened?” The slightest edge had entered her tone.

“It was late, after we had all retired. I couldn’t get to sleep. My nerves, they plague me so, keeping me up all hours of the night. I thought a book might soothe me. The library here is well stocked. My doing, you know. I have done so much to improve Faringdon Abbey, but I am sure my efforts go unheralded though Lord William and I have presided here for years.”

Miss Webster’s expression remained sympathetic, but the corner of her eyes had tightened slightly. “So you wished a book.”

Lady William nodded. “My favourite had been returned to the library’s shelves not three days past, so I lit a taper and made my way to the library.”

“You felt comfortable walking the halls at night?”

“Why should n’tI? This is my home. Dear Caroline will no doubt flit off to the Continent again, and Lord William and I will be lord and lady of Farindon Abbey as always. In dear Caroline’s stead, of course.” She smiled sweetly

Ah. So. Not as delicate as she seemed.

Miss Webster said nothing, but Nathaniel saw her fingers curl slightly.

“As I was descending the stairs, I saw Sir George,” Lady William continued, oblivious to the tension her words had caused. “Skulking in the dark, he was, his cravat askew and his hair a mess. I thought to ask him what he was about, but he disappeared as quickly as I noticed him.”

“Do you recall what time it was?”

“Not at all. I would think, though, it was not before two in the morning.”

Miss Webster nodded. “Thank you, Lady William.”

“Of course. Anything for dear Caroline.” Again, she smiled sweetly, but Nathaniel had already seen the cunning woman beneath.

After Lady William departed, Nathaniel said, “Why did your eye twitch when Lady William mentioned Lady Caroline’s emotion for Sir George?’

Miss Webster, who had regained her seat and reviewing her notebook, paused. “Pardon?”

“Did you object to her phrasing?”

Deliberately, Miss Webster closed her notebook. “This is in regards to her describing Sir George conversing with Lady Caro?

Nathaniel nodded.

Miss Webster sighed. “Lady Caro was not in love with Sir George.”

“No?”

She shook her head. “She liked him. She esteemed him greatly. She enjoyed his company and thought they would make a good marriage. She did not, however, love him.”

“And you know this…”

“She told me.”

“She tells you such things?”

Miss Webster lifted her chin. “Yes. She does. I am not just a servant to her.”

He studied her. She met his gaze unwaveringly. “No,” he finally said. “Lady Caroline seems to possess the intelligence to know you are not just anything.”

Lips parting, she stared at him, clearly startled.

Again, his gaze drew to her mouth. Clearing his throat, he said, “Shall we interview the next person?”

 

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