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Books by Catherine Lloyd
DEATH COMES TO THE VILLAGE
DEATH COMES TO LONDON
DEATH COMES TO KURLAND HALL
DEATH COMES TO THE FAIR
DEATH COMES TO THE SCHOOL
DEATH COMES TO BATH
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
DEATH COMES TO BATH
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2019 by Catherine Duggan
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
Kensington and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
First Kensington Hardcover Edition: January 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-4967-0213-5 (e-book)
ISBN-10: 1-4967-0213-1 (e-book)
Many thanks to Sandra Marine and Ruth Long, who read this book for me and helped knock it into shape. I spent two very happy weeks in the city of Bath last summer making sure I walked the routes and visited the places Lucy and Robert would’ve enjoyed. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend a visit to Bath.
Kurland St. Mary
“Robert! Robert, can you hear me?”
Aware that something was vaguely amiss, Sir Robert Kurland attempted to focus on his wife’s face, which appeared to be underwater. Something slobbered noisily on his cheek. He was fairly certain that wasn’t his wife, and was one of his dogs. He blinked hard and pain shot through his limbs with such appalling agony that his back arched in instinctive protest.
In truth, he’d much prefer to sink back into oblivion and leave all the unsettling brightness concentrated around his wife alone, but she obviously needed him, and he could never deny her anything.
Where was he? The last thing he remembered was coming down the main staircase in Kurland Hall intent on taking his two young dogs, Picton and Blucher, for a short stroll down the drive before breakfast. The surface beneath him was hard and cold, which was a damned sight better than being buried up to his neck in the mud at Waterloo, but still uncomfortable.
“Thank you, Foley.” Lucy appeared to be speaking to his butler.
Robert groaned as something soft was placed beneath his head and a blanket was thrown over his torso.
“Dr. Fletcher is on his way, my lady.”
“No.” Robert managed to open his eyes. “Damnation, not him.”
“Robert.” Lucy leaned closer and a tear dripped from her cheek onto his. “Oh, my darling . . .”
He frowned at her. “My dear girl, there’s no need for tears. I’m not dead yet.”
She tried to smile and wiped hastily at her cheek. “I do apologize, but the sight of you on the ground has somewhat affected me.” She turned her head. Robert followed the direction of her gaze and saw several pairs of muddy booted feet approaching.
“We can’t leave you out here in the cold. If you can stand it, James and the other footmen are going to lift you and take you to bed,” Lucy said.
Even though he was hardly in a position to argue, Robert still wanted to object. He tensed as the men gathered around him.
“On my mark.” Foley took charge. “One, two, three . . .”
Even before Robert was lifted off the ground the pain swallowed him whole, and he knew no more.
The next time he opened his eyes he was lying in his own bed with the covers drawn back, and his blasted friend ex-army surgeon Patrick Fletcher was glaring down at him.
Someone had removed all of Robert’s clothes except his shirt, and that was pulled up to expose his left hip and thigh.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Patrick demanded. His strong fingers gently probed the massive swelling on Robert’s thigh.
“So much for your bedside manner, Dr. Fletcher. You will hardly make your fortune with the aristocracy if you shout at your patients,” Robert murmured.
“I’m shouting at you because you are a special case.” Patrick placed his hand on Robert’s forehead. “You also have a fever.”
“I am aware of that.”
“You promised at Christmas that you would allow me to examine you properly.”
“You’re examining me now,” Robert pointed out, and received another ferocious glare in return. “Where is my wife?”
“She is right here, sir.”
Patrick stepped back, and Robert located Lucy sitting in a chair next to the fire, her hands twisted together in her lap around her handkerchief. The dogs were asleep at her feet. She looked remarkably pale but met his gaze resolutely.
“I know you said you didn’t wish to see Dr. Fletcher, but when one’s husband is discovered unconscious on the drive, one is entitled to ignore his wishes.”
“Indeed,” Robert said. “Although one might have considered waiting awhile and consulting the patient first.”
“Lady Kurland did the right thing,” Patrick replied. “I know you don’t want to hear this, Robert, but this swelling on your thigh is hot to the touch. I hesitate to literally reopen old wounds, but I’ve heard of cases like this before from fellow army surgeons, and I’d like the opportunity to drain the swelling and see what’s going on.”
Robert swallowed hard. The idea of a surgeon laying hands on him again made every cowardly impulse in him stir to attention. It was also why he hadn’t mentioned the swelling to anyone, not even his wife.
“If I don’t try something, you will probably lose the leg, and maybe your life if the inflammation spreads,” Patrick continued.
Lucy came to stand beside the doctor and looked down at Robert. “As you might imagine, I would rather you continued your existence.”
He reached for her hand. “Then I must agree to put myself in the good doctor’s hands. When do you want to perform your butchery?”
Patrick shared a glance with Lucy. “Now if possible.”
Robert nodded. “Then give me a moment with my wife, and I am all yours.”
“I need to get some equipment and persuade Foley to give me the best brandy in the house.” Patrick squeezed Robert’s shoulder hard. “I’ll do my absolute best to save your leg.”
The silence left behind by the doctor was broken by the crackling of the fire and the whimper of one of the dogs chasing rabbits in his sleep. Lucy sat on the side of the bed and wrapped an arm around Robert’s shoulders. He drew her close and kissed the top of her head.
“I do apologize for worrying you.”
She cupped his chin. “You have always been a worry, but one that I willingly embraced.” She searched his face. “Do you wish me to assist Dr. Fletcher or would you rather I took myself off?”
“I’d rather you were here.” He hesitated. “Just in case.”
“Then here I shall remain.” She kissed him gently on the lips. “At your side.” She glanced over at the fire. “The dogs, however, will return to the kitchen.” She went as if to sit up, and he held her in place.
“If the worst happens, I’ve made provision for you and protected the estate as best as I can from Paul, but—”
She placed a finger on his lips. “Let’s not worry about that now. I have every confidence in your ability to protect me, and I do not fear the future.” She smiled and he stored the memory away like a precious jewel. Her strength and calmness had never been more vital to him than at this moment.
He kissed her fingers and then her mouth, deepening the kiss until she was molded against him and they breathed as one. Eventually, she eased away from him, her eyes grave, and patted her now disordered hair.
“I must look a fright.”
“You look remarkably pretty to me,” Robert said.
There was a knock on the door, and Silas, his valet, peered in. “Dr. Fletcher asked me to come and assist, sir. I hope that’s all right.”
“Please join us.” Robert pointed at the dogs. “But take these two fine fellows down to the kitchen first and make sure one of the stable boys gives them some exercise.”
“Yes, Sir Robert.”
Foley came in with a bottle of his best brandy and placed the decanter beside Robert’s bed.
“Good luck, sir. We’ll all be praying for you.”
* * *
Lucy pressed her lips tightly together and averted her gaze as Dr. Fletcher used his wickedly sharp blade to cut through the angry-looking flesh on Robert’s thigh. Why hadn’t her husband told her how bad his leg had gotten, and why hadn’t she noticed? If Robert survived the good doctor’s attentions, Lucy would be asking Robert those very questions herself.
“Hold him still,” Dr. Fletcher instructed Robert’s valet as his patient visibly stirred even in his drunken stupor. “Lady Kurland, I’ll need that bleeding bowl positioned beneath the incision.”
Despite being virtually insensible, Robert flinched as a stream of foul-smelling pus gushed from the small cut and eventually slowed to a trickle. Dr. Fletcher pushed gently on the swelling until it started to bleed.
“Ah, wait.” He leaned in closely and used the tip of his knife to draw something out of the hole. “Look at that! Must have stayed in there all this time.”
“What exactly is it?” Lucy inquired through her teeth.
“Looks like a piece of blue fabric from Sir Robert’s hussars’ uniform to me.” Dr. Fletcher laughed, which struck Lucy as particularly insensitive at this particular moment, and typical of a man. “I must have left it behind last time I was in here. I’ll feel around and see if there is anything else. You can take the bowl away, and I’ll bind up the wound.”
Fighting nausea, Lucy covered the bowl and placed it on a tray outside the door. She’d already sent a note to the local healer, Grace Turner, asking her to come and see Robert at her earliest convenience. Lucy had great faith in Dr. Fletcher, but it never hurt to consult an expert in herbal remedies. Grace’s potions had done more to improve Lucy’s well-being during the previous year than any of Dr. Fletcher’s concoctions.
As she returned to the bedchamber, Lucy sent up a quick prayer to the heavens. If Robert could survive the almost inevitable fever from Dr. Fletcher’s attentions, she had high hopes that the sheer stubbornness of his nature would ensure his continued survival.
“And what if I don’t want to go to Bath?” Robert inquired, scowling at his wife as she tidied his pillows. Rain spattered the diamond windowpanes of their bedchamber, and a cold draught whistled down the chimney, making the wood fire send out sullen puffs of smoke. “What if I prefer to stay here in my own bed, and in my own house?”
“You’ve been skulking in that bed for weeks,” Lucy said, pausing in her efforts to straighten the sheets. “Dr. Fletcher believes the hot springs at Bath will be beneficial to you, and I am in complete agreement with him. I’ve rented a house close to the baths and Pump Room where you can drink the waters and take additional treatments as recommended by Dr. Fletcher.”
“You’ve gone ahead and arranged all this without consulting me?”
Lucy met his indignant gaze. “If I had consulted you, you would just have said no. It seemed far more efficient to simply organize everything, and present you with a fait accompli.”
Robert sighed. “What about the dogs?”
“James will remain here, and he has promised me that he will look after them as if they were his own.” Lucy offered Robert a cup of tea. “Foley and your valet will accompany us, as will Betty.”
Robert sipped the tea and studied his wife’s calm features. He had a sense that whatever objections he raised she would have answers for them. After Patrick had doctored his thigh he’d fallen into a fever that had weakened him considerably and he had no memory of the first few days after the operation. He still didn’t have the strength to prevent Lucy from ordering one of his footmen to bundle him up in his blankets and deposit him in his traveling coach.
“Bath isn’t exactly fashionable anymore,” Robert pointed out. “All of society flocks to Brighton.”
“Which is why I thought you would prefer Bath.” She patted his hand. “I doubt you wish to meet the prince regent strolling along the promenade?”
“Good Lord, no.” Robert shuddered. Even though it had been the prince regent himself who had awarded Robert his baronetcy he had no love for the royal buffoon. “That would not please me at all.”
“Then that’s settled.” Lucy took his cup away from him. “We’ll be on our way by the end of the week.”
Robert lay back against his pillows and accepted defeat. If his wife had been a man and of a military bent, he reckoned she would’ve beaten Napoleon in a month. She stood to brush a kiss on his forehead and picked up the tea tray.
“I’m going down to the rectory to advise my father of our decision. Do you have any message for your aunt Rose?”
Robert still found it difficult to believe that his beloved aunt had married Lucy’s pompous fool of a father, but they appeared to rub along very well together.
“Just give her my love.”
Lucy nodded. “Do you wish to speak to Dermot Fletcher about the estate?”
“I’ll do that later today. How long are you intending to keep me captive in Bath?”
She paused at the door. “At least three months.”
“That’s what Dr. Fletcher recommends.” She smiled at him, and it occurred to him that it was the first time he’d seen her look happy in days. He was not an easy man at the best of times, and being an invalid made him ten times more cantankerous.
“Thank you,” Robert said gruffly.
Lucy raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
She had the gall to laugh. “Now I know that you are still unwell. Normally, you would be standing toe to toe with me arguing the matter out.” She opened the door and left the room, leaving her warm amusement surrounding him.
It was good to see her laughing again—even at him. There was a time during the previous year when he’d thought she would never smile again. But she seemed much healthier now, and far more herself. Even if that self was somewhat exasperating . . .
* * *
After speaking to Foley, Lucy walked down the drive of Kurland Hall and took the shortcut beside the church that brought her out opposite the rectory. It was a brisk, cold morning that required a person to keep moving. The fact that Robert hadn’t ordered her to cancel the trip to Bath had surprised her immensely. Perhaps despite his objections to leaving home he was as bored as she was staying put for three months since Christmas.
She was convinced that the change of scenery and the hot springs at Bath would help aid his recovery. Dr. Fletcher and Grace Taylor, the local healer, both spoke very highly of the notion, and that was enough for Lucy. She would never forget Dr. Fletcher’s skill in preserving Robert’s life and leg yet again, and would be forever in his debt.
At the rectory gate, she paused and decided to use the front door. The golden stone was now covered in reddish ivy, which softened the harsh lines of the ten-year-old exterior. The new building didn’t impress Robert, but secretly, after living at the Elizabethan Kurland Hall for three years, Lucy rather appreciated the rectory’s warmth and symmetry. But she no longer lived there, and her father had a new wife who should be offered every courtesy. She waited as the bell clanged in the depths of the house, and was surprised when her father opened the door himself.
“Goodness me, Lucy. How very pleasant.” He pinched her cold cheek. “You look very well today, my dear. I was just about to go out for a ride. Did you wish to speak to me?”
Lucy followed him into the hallway as he shut the door. “Sir Robert and I will be leaving for Bath at the end of the week as planned.”
“Excellent news, my dear.” The rector rubbed his hands together. “I wish Sir Robert a full and vigorous recovery.”
“Thank you. I assured him that you would offer Mr. Fletcher your assistance in estate matters if required.” Lucy removed her bonnet and gloves and placed them on the hall table.
“Of course, of course.” The rector surreptitiously checked his pocket watch, picked up his riding crop, and put on his hat. “May I take you through to the back parlor? Rose and Anna will be delighted to see you I’m sure.”
Lucy allowed herself to be escorted down the corridor as her father opened the parlor door wide enough for her to step past him.
“Ladies, here is our Lucy to see you.” The rector smiled at his new wife. “She is leaving for Bath with Sir Robert at the end of the week. I have assured her that we will render Mr. Fletcher any assistance necessary.”
He bowed and stepped back, but Lucy touched his sleeve.
“There is one more thing I wished to ask you, Father.” She smiled up at him. “Would you permit me to bring Anna to Bath? I would value her companionship enormously.”
The rector looked over at his new wife. “What do you think of this scheme, my dear? Can you manage without Anna for a few months?”
Rose smiled at Lucy and Anna. She was an attractive woman with Robert’s dark blue eyes and a lovely smile. “It’s about time I stopped relying on Anna to solve every domestic crisis large and small in this house, and took on the responsibilities of my new position.” She patted Anna’s hand. “If you wish to accompany your sister, I will gladly give you leave.”
Anna glanced uncertainly from Lucy to Rose. “I’m not sure . . .”
The rector cleared his throat. “And I must be off. If you wish to accompany your sister to Bath, Anna, I give you my blessing and hope that this time you’ll meet some young man you will be pleased enough with to marry.” He bowed and departed whistling loudly to his dogs as he went out to the stables behind the house.
Rose patted the seat beside her. “Do come and sit down, Lucy. How is Robert faring? I am very glad that he decided to go to Bath to recuperate.”
Anna chuckled. “I don’t think Robert had much to do with it, Rose. Lucy organized everything and sprung it upon him at the last possible moment.”
“Not quite the last minute,” Lucy defended herself. “Although I did consider dosing him with a sleeping powder and loading him into the coach while he was unconscious if he disagreed.”
Rose laughed. “My nephew is not an easy man to command, but you seem to have discovered the knack of it.”
“Lucy is used to managing difficult men,” Anna said. “Between my father, Anthony, and the twins she usually emerged victorious.”
Rose rang the bell and ordered fresh tea before settling back in her seat. Despite her very recent and surprising decision to marry the rector, she looked quite at home in the rectory. Even more remarkably, perhaps, she seemed genuinely delighted to be married again. Her adult children from her first marriage had refused to attend the quiet wedding ceremony, but seeing as she was at odds with the lot of them that hadn’t bothered her at all.
Anna poured the tea and offered Lucy a slice of cake. She’d arranged her blond hair in ringlets in a casual style Lucy could never have pulled off and wore a modest blue gown that still accentuated her exceptional figure. It was a shame Anna was not married yet. Despite Anna’s objections, Lucy was determined to give her sister another chance to meet the man of her dreams. Bath was not London, but from what Lucy had discovered there was still a smattering of polite company, which might include any number of eligible gentlemen on the lookout for a wife....
“I think you should accompany your sister, Anna.” Rose accepted her cup of tea. “You have done nothing but look after me for the last three months.” Her smile was full of genuine affection for her newly acquired stepdaughter. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without your guidance. You deserve to enjoy your freedom for a few weeks.”
Anna bit her lip. “I’m quite happy here . . .”
“Please come.” Lucy leaned forward and took her sister’s hand. “With Robert taking treatments every day I will be very much on my own. We can explore the shops, and libraries, and attend the theater together.”
“That does sound appealing,” Anna acknowledged. She turned to Rose. “Are you quite certain you can manage without me?”
“No, but I’ll do my best,” Rose said. “I’ll have to learn how to be a good wife to the local rector at some point. It’s not something I anticipated happening to me so late in life, but I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.”
“Then I will accept your invitation, Lucy,” Anna said with a smile. “And now I must go and consider the state of my wardrobe. I doubt I have a thing to wear!”
“We can purchase new gowns in Bath,” Lucy encouraged her sister. “I certainly intend to.”
When she’d finished her tea, Anna walked with Lucy through to the kitchen where Lucy spoke to the staff, and then out into the garden.
At the back gate Lucy stopped to consider her sister.
“Are you really reluctant to come to Bath? I have sometimes wondered recently whether life at the rectory has become. . . difficult for you.”
“Please don’t think that Rose has been unkind to me,” Anna hastened to reassure her sister. “She is as lovely as she seems and works wonders with Father’s somewhat difficult temperament.” She sighed. “It’s just that sometimes I feel a little de trop. They are so happy together, and after running the house all by myself I find myself resenting being expected to revert to the lowly status of unmarried daughter-at-home.”
“I quite understand your sentiments.” Lucy nodded. “I felt the same frustration.” She kissed Anna’s cheek. “Perhaps spending some time away from Kurland St. Mary will offer you the opportunity to reflect on your future.”
“Perhaps it will.” Anna shivered and gathered her woolen shawl more closely around her. “Now I really must go and decide which garments I can bring that won’t make me look like a hideous dowd.”
“I doubt you could ever manage that,” Lucy said as Anna retreated into the house.
Satisfied that she had accomplished everything she had set out to do that morning, Lucy walked back toward Kurland Hall with a smile on her lips, and a spring in her step. Some people might call her managing. She preferred to consider herself as a woman who accomplished the impossible. Robert would regain his strength, and Anna might finally meet her match. Perhaps at some point, both of them would be grateful to her.
As she turned onto the Kurland Hall drive a horse and rider came toward her and drew to a stop.
“Good morning, Lady Kurland.” Dr. Fletcher doffed his hat. “I understand that you have persuaded my most difficult patient to take my advice and retire to Bath to recuperate?”
“I believe I have, Dr. Fletcher.” Lucy looked up at the doctor, who was smiling down at her.
“Excellent news. I will join you there for the first week and stay until I find a physician of worth in Bath to carry out the regime I wish Sir Robert to follow.”
“You are welcome to stay with us, sir. I rented a whole house, and there is plenty of space.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Dr. Fletcher touched the brim of his hat. “That would certainly make life easier. My new apprentice here in Kurland St. Mary should be capable of dealing with any medical issues that arise while I am away.”
“That is good to know,” Lucy confessed. “I hate to deprive the whole village of your services.”
Dr. Fletcher shrugged. “If it wasn’t for Sir Robert, I wouldn’t even have a community to serve. Not many landowners would willingly provide room and board for a Catholic Irishman—even one who served in the recent war.”
“How is Penelope, Dr. Fletcher?” Lucy asked.
The doctor grinned. “You know my wife, Lady Kurland. She isn’t one to suffer quietly, and the ‘indignities of pregnancy’ haven’t sat well with her.” He sighed. “In truth I’d better be off home before she comes looking for me.”
Lucy stood back to allow him to turn his horse and head off toward the village where he and his wife lived in a modest house between the school and duck pond. She considered sending her carriage down for Penelope to bring her back to the manor house for afternoon tea, but she had rather a lot of organizing to do, and Penelope wasn’t one to take a hint when it came to helping out.
Lucy entered Kurland Hall through a side door and left her muddy half boots in the scullery before heading up the stairs to the main part of the house. The pleasant smell of beeswax polish and potpourri greeted her as she traversed the ancient medieval hall. She encountered Dermot Fletcher, the physician’s younger brother and the agent of the Kurland estate, going up the stairs.
“Good morning, my lady,” he said, bowing. “I hear you are going to Bath.”
“Yes, on Friday,” Lucy said.
Dermot nodded. “I’m just going up to see Sir Robert to discuss his plans for the months he will be away.” He hesitated. “Unless you wish me to return later?”
“Please, go ahead,” Lucy said. She had plenty to do before she saw Robert again. “And tell him I will join him for afternoon tea.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Dermot bowed and continued up the stairs, leaving Lucy to walk through to her study. She sat at her desk and considered the daunting list of tasks still required to move half a household to a new location for an entire three months. Refusing to be disheartened she reminded herself that the biggest obstacles had already been vanquished.
Robert had agreed to the trip, and Anna was coming as her companion. On that thought, she took a new sheet of cut paper and readied her pen. There was one last letter she needed to write to a naval acquaintance in Bath....
“Well, it isn’t quite up to my standards of cleanliness, but I think we can contrive to make it comfortable enough for Sir Robert, don’t you agree, Foley?”
Lucy brushed down the skirt of her sadly crumpled traveling gown and looked at Foley, who had accompanied her on the tour of the rented property.
The town house, which was faced with mellow Bath stone, comprised of five floors, a basement, and attics, which meant that after climbing many staircases Lucy was breathing quite heavily, and Foley was positively wheezing. She’d left Robert on the couch in the drawing room on the first floor, which overlooked the street, and walked through the top floors of the house with the butler at her side.
Foley nodded. “I believe we will manage, my lady. I will set our staff to cleaning the place before they depart on the morrow.”
“That’s an excellent idea. At least we know they will do the job properly. I see nothing wrong in the quality of the furnishings.” Lucy took off her bonnet. “Perhaps you might ask the kitchen to bring up some tea and sustenance to the drawing room?”
Foley bowed. “Of course, my lady. Cook seems an amiable person. Let’s hope her cooking skills match her appearance.”
Lucy made her way down the main staircase and went into the drawing room where Robert was standing. He turned when she came in, and she noted the dark circles under his eyes.
“There isn’t much of a view, is there?” Robert said.
“Not much.” Lucy joined him at the window and studied the grassy center of Queen’s Square, and the identical houses opposite. “I decided it was better not to be directly facing any of the major attractions in the city because of the noise.”
“Ah, good point.” Robert shifted restlessly from one foot to the other and went to sit down. “I am delighted not to be in the carriage. I’d begun to fear the journey would never end.”
Lucy sat beside him and smoothed his sleeve. “It did seem somewhat interminable. But we’re here now, and I’ve set Betty and Silas to unpacking our boxes. Dr. Fletcher will be here tomorrow with Anna, and then we will all be settled.”
She found a footstool and deftly slid it under Robert’s left boot. “I’ve ordered some tea, and I intend to interview Cook properly before we attempt to eat dinner.”
“Poor woman,” Robert murmured with a smile. “I do hope she doesn’t leave in a huff.”
“She came highly recommended by your aunt Rose so I doubt she will be an issue.” Lucy frowned. “I wonder if we should ask Jeremiah and Benjamin to stay with us instead of returning to the hall. With all the stairs in the house, you might need some assurance getting around.”
“I’ll manage perfectly well, my dear. From what I understand the master bedchamber is on this floor, which means if I do wish to go out I only have to navigate one flight of stairs down to the hall.”
Lucy glanced doubtfully at his leg but decided not to comment. She could only hope that he wouldn’t rely on Foley to help him, and accidentally crush the old man if he fell.
A knock on the door announced Foley with the tea tray. Lucy thanked him and poured herself and Robert a cup. She also sampled the fruitcake Cook had sent up and discovered it was both moist and flavorsome, which gave her great satisfaction.
“How far from the baths are we?” Robert asked as he ate a large slab of cake and finished off his tea.
“Within a few minutes’ walk I believe.” Lucy poured him another cup. “I was told that there is very little point in bringing a carriage and horses to Bath when walking or hiring a sedan chair is much quicker and far less expensive.”
“I won’t miss having my own horses around,” Robert admitted. “Although the notion of entrusting my person to two hulking lads in this town of hills does somewhat worry me.” He touched his knee. “Dr. Fletcher told me I should attempt to walk as much as possible and take the air.”
“That reminds me,” Lucy said, putting down the teapot. “I must prepare an additional room for Dr. Fletcher.” She fidgeted with her cup. “I wish I’d brought one of our housemaids with us. I can hardly expect Betty to manage three rooms.”
“As you have already observed, the staff here came highly recommended by my aunt Rose so I should imagine they are perfectly capable of dusting a room for Dr. Fletcher.” Robert finished his tea, found his spectacles, and opened the newspaper Foley had somehow already acquired for him.
Knowing from experience that conversation would be limited from this point onward, Lucy rose to her feet. “I’ll go and speak to Cook and the rest of the household, and then make sure our bedchamber is ready for occupation.”
Robert nodded but didn’t take his gaze away from the Arrivals column in the local newspaper. After one last glance at his serene expression, Lucy congratulated herself on arriving in Bath with her husband not only in one piece, but also in good spirits. She had worried that the jolting of the carriage would set off his fever again, but he had survived the long, tedious journey with its many stops unscathed.
Lucy peered into the master bedroom where her maid, Betty, and Robert’s valet, Silas, were busy making the bed with the Kurland linen, and then went down to the kitchen, which was below the ground level of the street. She was welcomed by Mrs. Meeks, the cook, and took a seat at the kitchen table where her fears as to the staff’s competence were swiftly laid to rest.
Mrs. Meeks had dealt with many invalids and even had suggestions as to which of the many resident physicians in Bath were men of good character as opposed to charlatans. Lucy made a list she intended to give to Dr. Fletcher on his arrival.
After discussing the details of their dinner, Lucy climbed the stairs again, peeked into the drawing room where Robert had fallen asleep over his newspaper, and took herself off to bed for a nap before dinner.
* * *
Lucy jumped up to look out of the drawing room window as a carriage drew up outside their door. Dr. Fletcher got out and turned to assist Anna’s descent.
“Robert! Anna and Dr. Fletcher are here!” Lucy spun around with a smile as Robert looked up from his newspaper. “I’ll go down.”
They had both slept well despite the slight noise generated by being in the middle of a town and enjoyed a hearty breakfast together. Lucy had already planned out her schedule for the next few days and was feeling remarkably optimistic.
“There’s no need, my dear. Foley will dispose of their luggage and bring them up to us momentarily.” Robert folded his newspaper and set it on the seat beside him. “In fact, I can hear them coming up the stairs right now.”
He slowly got to his feet leaning heavily on his cane and faced the door as Foley opened it.
“Sir Robert?” Foley bowed. “Miss Harrington, Dr. Fletcher, and Mrs. Fletcher.”
Lucy’s mouth fell open as Penelope Fletcher elbowed her way past Anna and came over to shake Lucy’s hand and press a kiss to her cheek.
“Dear Lucy, it is so kind of you to offer Dr. Fletcher and myself a place to stay in Bath. As you know, our situation is not as it should be, and with a baby on the way my dear husband insists that we be even more cautious with our finances.”
Lucy looked past Penelope to Anna, who raised her eyebrows and shrugged.
“It is indeed good to see you, Penelope, and it was very kind of you to accompany Anna to Bath.” Lucy glanced over at Dr. Fletcher, who was talking to Robert. “Although, I have to admit, I was not quite expecting you.”
Penelope seated herself on the couch with a flourish. Despite being pregnant she still looked her beautiful self-composed self.
“I could not allow Anna to travel by herself.” Penelope fanned herself with her gloved hand. “It would’ve been quite shocking.”
It was on the tip of Lucy’s tongue to ask Penelope whether she trusted her own husband, but for the sake of being polite, she restrained herself. If Penelope wished to spend a week in Bath at the Kurlands’ expense, then Lucy would not deny her the treat. It wasn’t easy being the wife of a local country doctor, especially when Penelope had once dreamed of marrying a duke.
When Penelope turned to greet her former fiancé, Robert, Anna sat beside Lucy and lowered her voice.
“I didn’t ask her to come to protect my virtue. She was just there in the carriage when Dr. Fletcher came to collect me.” Anna chuckled. “Although we were given the best treatment at all the inns because Penelope looked down her nose at everyone and they thought she was royalty.”
“I can imagine,” Lucy murmured.
“Dr. Fletcher did tell me that he was worried about her health and thought a change of air might suit her,” Anna said.
Lucy sighed. “Then I suppose I will have to put up with her. It is only for a week, and we owe Dr. Fletcher so much.”
“That’s the spirit.” Anna patted her hand. “I must say that I am looking forward to my visit with you. I’d forgotten how much I missed all the excitement of being in town.”
“Tomorrow I intend to obtain a subscription to the Assembly Rooms and write our names in the visitors book so that any acquaintance of our family knows we are in town and can come to call,” Lucy said. “And then there are shops to visit, dresses to purchase, and the theater!”
“I am glad to see you in better spirits as well, my dear sister,” Anna said, smiling at Lucy. “Perhaps this trip will do us both good.”
While Anna talked to Penelope, Robert came over to Lucy, touched her shoulder, and murmured, “What maggot in your brain made you invite Penelope Fletcher?”
“I didn’t invite her,” Lucy whispered back. “In her usual highhanded manner, she just decided to come along with her husband and take advantage of my offer of accommodation.”
Robert sighed. “As that sounds just like her I forgive you.”
“You won’t see much of her while you are busy with Dr. Fletcher at the baths. That task will fall on Anna and myself,” Lucy pointed out.
“Indeed.” He winked at her. “I suppose I will manage, and I have no doubt that you will emerge the victor in any skirmish.”
Foley reappeared and offered to escort the Fletchers and Anna to their respective bedchambers, leaving Lucy and Robert alone in the drawing room again. Penelope hadn’t brought a maid so Lucy directed the girl she’d asked to look after Anna to share her efforts with the doctor’s wife.
Within a few minutes, Foley reappeared with a calling card on a silver platter.
“There is a gentleman in the hall who wishes to pay his respects to you, Sir Robert.”
Robert picked up the card and frowned. “Do we know anyone by the name of Benson, my dear?”
“I can’t think of anyone.” Lucy looked up from her embroidery. “Do you wish to see this gentleman or would you prefer it if he returned at a more convenient time?”
“Send him up,” Robert commanded Foley. “The day is already full of unexpected visitors so what’s one more?”
Foley retreated to the door, a frown on his face. “He is an elderly gentleman, sir, so it might take him some time to ascend.”
In truth, Lucy had begun to believe their visitor had run away before he eventually appeared at the doorway. He wore an old-fashioned wig and frock coat and was exceedingly large around the middle. A younger man in livery who was bearing most of his massive weight accompanied him.
“Let me be, Edgar,” the older man bellowed as he pulled free of his servant’s grip and managed a creaky bow, his round face glowing with exertion. “I’m not dead yet, lad!”
Lucy hid a smile as Robert inclined his head. “Good afternoon, Sir William. I’m Sir Robert Kurland and this is my wife, Lady Kurland.”
“Pleasure to meet you both.” Sir William nodded affably at Lucy. “I saw the carriage on my return from the baths and thought I’d step in and pay my respects.”
“That was very kind of you, sir,” Lucy said. “Would you care to sit down and take some tea with us?”
Sir William winked. “I’d much rather a glass of port than more tea to curdle my insides.”
Lucy turned to Foley, who had remained by the door. “Perhaps you might bring a variety of refreshments for our guest, Foley?”
“As you wish, my lady.”
Sir William slowly lowered himself into a chair, which creaked ominously, and set his walking stick against the fireplace. “I’m renting the house next door to yours.”
“Ah, and how are you enjoying Bath, sir?” Robert asked.
“I’d much rather be at home. I’m only here because my wife and my damned physician insisted upon it.”
“You have my sympathy, Sir William.” Robert glanced over at Lucy, one dark eyebrow raised.
“I assume your wife and family brought you here because they were concerned for your health and well-being, Sir William,” Lucy said. “I should imagine they only wanted the best for you.”
“That’s true seeing as they all depend on me to make them money,” Sir William chuckled. He had a strong northern accent with a rich rumbling tone. “I’m not one of those namby-pamby gentlemen who likes to sit about doing naught—present company excepted, of course.”
“Are you in the business of manufacturing, Sir William?” Robert asked. “My maternal grandfather made his money that way, which gave me the opportunity to live my life in relative comfort as a landowner and farmer. Whereabouts are you situated?”
“Yorkshire, lad. I made my first fortune in coal and then dabbled in building canals, and other local industries.”
“My grandfather lived in Halifax in Yorkshire. I wonder if you knew him?” Robert asked. “His name was Samuel Milthorpe.”
“Milthorpe?” Sir William patted his perspiring face with his handkerchief. “Aye, I knew a man called that. He owned a pottery or two, and mayhap a mine?”
“That would probably be him. He died when I was quite young, but I remember being taken to meet him when he visited London. He was a large man and quite terrified me with his booming voice.”
“Now that I look at you, I do see a likeness,” Sir William acknowledged. “What happened to his business interests after his death?”
“My uncle Wilfred ran the business for some years, and now my cousin Oliver is in charge,” Robert said. “I receive a percentage of the profits through his settlements on my mother, and I attend as many board meetings as I can.”
“Good for you for taking an interest.” Sir William favored Robert with a firm nod. “Some of my own sons are not so diligent. They enjoy the money, mind, but don’t care to get their hands dirty.”
Foley came in with the drinks tray followed by the parlor maid with tea. Lucy poured herself a cup, and Robert helped himself and Sir William to a glass of port. She didn’t question Robert’s unusual decision to join their guest in a drink this early in the day because it was such a delight to see him so interested and engaged.
She had no recollection of Robert’s maternal grandparents visiting Kurland St. Mary when she was a child. She would surely have met them in church if they had. Had they stayed away not wishing to embarrass their daughter in her new aristocratic life, or had they simply not been interested enough to travel such a great distance? It was something to ask Robert when they were alone.
“And why are you here, Sir Robert?” Sir William asked. “Is your lady taking treatment?”
“No, it is for myself.” Robert touched his thigh with his cane. “I injured my leg during my service in the war and have dealt with a few complications ever since which necessitated this trip.”
“Which regiment were you in, Sir Robert?”
“The Prince of Wales Tenth Hussars.” Robert shrugged. “A somewhat showy-looking cavalry regiment, but a damned fine one.”
“Sir Robert was wounded at Waterloo and almost lost his leg,” Lucy added as Robert poured their guest another substantial glass of port. “Our physician, Dr. Fletcher, recommended he convalesce here in Bath to recuperate from his fever and regain his strength after complications in his recovery.”
“My fool of a physician believes I need to rebalance my humors or some such nonsense.” Sir William snorted. “Never had a day’s illness in my life until I turned seventy. I fell down the steps in my house and banged my head, and you’d think the world had ended the caterwauling that ensued from my womenfolk. At least that numbskull has stopped bleeding me, and I can’t complain that I haven’t enjoyed floating up to my neck in that nice hot spring water in the baths.”
He finished his port and set the glass on the side table with a definite thump. “Well, I should be going. I’ll send my butler around with a dinner invitation in the next few days, and I’d be obliged if you’d accept it. I’m sick and tired of staring at my own family’s faces, I’ll tell you that.”
Sir William heaved himself out of his chair with some difficulty and accepted his footman’s proffered arm. “A pleasure to meet you, my lady.”
“Indeed, sir. Thank you so much for coming.” Lucy curtsied as Robert walked with their guest into the hallway.
He returned relatively quickly having allowed Foley to offer his help rather than risk the stairs himself and sat down by the fire.
“What an extraordinary old gentleman,” Robert remarked.
“He was certainly forthright,” Lucy agreed.
“I liked that.” Robert stoppered the port decanter. “He reminded me of my grandfather. I didn’t expect to meet anyone in Bath who might enliven the experience, but it appears that I was mistaken.”
“Perhaps you should ask Dr. Fletcher to speak to his physician so that you can join Sir William at his treatments,” Lucy suggested.
“I might just do that.” Robert retrieved his newspaper. “Have you any plans for the remainder of the day?”
“I shall see if Anna and Penelope wish to accompany me on a walk to get our bearings in this particular location.”
“In other words, you intend to go shopping.” Robert smiled at her. He was looking remarkably relaxed, making Lucy glad that the unconventional Sir William had decided to call on them.
“If we come across any interesting shops, we might be tempted inside,” Lucy acknowledged. “There is very little to admire or purchase in Kurland St. Mary.”
“Thank goodness, or you might bankrupt me.”
“I have almost a year’s worth of my pin money saved, so I doubt I shall need to call on you to finance my excesses,” Lucy pointed out.
Robert lowered the paper. “You are remarkably financially prudent.”
“Unless I take up gambling . . .”
“And expect me to tow you out of the river tick?” He chuckled. “I’d do it just for the pleasure of watching you attempt to explain yourself.”
Satisfied that her husband was in a far better humor than she had anticipated, Lucy rose to her feet.
“I must go and speak to Cook about the new arrivals for luncheon and check that Anna is settled.”
“What about Mrs. Fletcher?” Robert asked.
“I shall leave Penelope’s comfort and well-being in the capable hands of her husband,” Lucy said firmly.
Despite the fact that Bath was no longer a fashionable place, Lucy found it remarkably charming. There were excellent shops in Bond Street and Milsom Street that rivaled those in London and offered her opportunities to purchase all kinds of fripperies from milliners, glove makers, mantua makers, and haberdashers. Due to the excellent allowance Robert gave her she no longer had to turn her gowns or scrimp and save to buy a new one.
Still delighted by his recent marriage and acquisition of his new wife’s extensive fortune, the rector had given Anna a handsome gift of money to bring with her to Bath, so the two sisters were able to enjoy the excitement of their new purchases together. Penelope’s budget was somewhat limited, but she made sure to give her opinion about everything Lucy and Anna bought—oftentimes with herself in mind.
Knowing that Penelope was only staying for as long as Dr. Fletcher was made putting up with her much easier for Lucy, who did have some sympathy for Penelope’s straitened circumstances.
“That blue would suit you very well, Lucy,” Penelope stated.
“It’s not really a good color for me.” Lucy turned to Penelope. They were in their favorite haberdashery looking at dress lengths of fabric.
Penelope shrugged. “Then if the gown didn’t suit you when it was made up, you could always give it to me.”
Behind Lucy, Anna concealed a snort. It wasn’t the first time Penelope had made that suggestion.
“The blue might look well on me.” Anna fingered the fine fabric.
“With your pale complexion?” Penelope shook her head. “I doubt it.”
“I think I prefer the rose-patterned muslin.” Lucy showed it to Anna. “What do you think?”
“I like it,” Anna said in support of her sister. “Buy a length and we can take it to Madame McIntosh to make it into a day gown for you.”
Penelope raised her chin and walked away to the other side of the shop to look at some hat trimmings. Lucy hesitated beside the ice blue satin.
“Leave it,” Anna whispered to her. “You’ve already bought her two things, and she can’t fit into her regular gowns anyway at the moment.”
“I do have some sympathy for her,” Lucy admitted. “She was supposed to marry Robert at one point, and all his fortune would’ve been hers.”
“She chose not to marry him, and he has done much better with you. Penelope would have made him very miserable,” Anna said firmly. “Let her pout.”
The bell above the door tinkled, and a new group of people entered the shop. Lucy went to the counter to pay for her purchases and to give them the address for delivery. She engaged the girl in conversation while the fabric and trimming were wrapped in brown paper.
When she turned back toward the door Anna was standing with a group of people including a tall man in the uniform of the Royal Navy. Something about Anna’s stillness caught Lucy’s attention, and she moved swiftly toward her sister.
The naval officer saw her first and quickly stepped back with a bow, as a flustered Anna put her hand on Lucy’s arm.
“Lucy, this is Captain Harry Akers and his family,” Anna said. “Mrs. Akers, may I present you to my sister, Lady Kurland?”
A small, rounded woman with a pleasant face curtsied to Lucy.
“Good morning, Lady Kurland. It is a pleasure to meet you. I believe my son made the acquaintance of your sister while he was in London.”
Lucy smiled. “How lovely. Do you reside in Bath or are you visiting this fine town as we are?”
“We live out in the countryside, my lady, and came to buy clothing and other necessities for my daughter Rosemary’s upcoming wedding.”
The third member of the family was blushing, so Lucy assumed she was the bride-to-be.
“A wedding is always a joyous occasion in any family. I wish you much happiness,” Lucy said kindly.
“Thank you, my, my lady,” Rosemary stuttered, and curtsied again.
Lucy glanced over at Anna, who was conversing quietly with the young captain.
“Perhaps you might consider joining us for tea one day, Mrs. Akers? I’m sure my sister would be delighted to renew her acquaintance with you all.”
“That’s very kind of you, my lady.”
“We are staying at number twelve Queen’s Square. Do you know it?” Lucy asked.
“Indeed.” Mrs. Akers nodded. “It is a fine address, and very easy to find.”
“Then may I hope to see you and your family very soon?” Lucy said. “We intend to invest in a subscription to the Assembly Rooms, so we might also encounter you there, or in the Pump Room.”
“Indeed, my father is quite elderly, and we often accompany him to the Pump Rooms so that he can take the waters and meet with his various acquaintances,” Mrs. Akers said. “My son is awaiting a new command from the navy so we are delighted to have his company as well.”
As Lucy stored this interesting information away in her head, Penelope came over with Lucy’s wrapped parcel and raised her eyebrows.
“Lucy, if we wish to visit Godwin’s Circulating Library before it closes, we really should be on our way.”
Mrs. Akers smiled at them both. “Then we will not detain you. It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Kurland.”
She moved away with her daughter, and Anna rejoined them, her color still somewhat heightened.
“I . . . was not expecting to see Captain Akers here in Bath.”
“Did he not mention that his family lived near here?” Lucy allowed Penelope to precede her out of the shop door so she could speak to Anna. “His mother said he is waiting for new orders.”
“Yes, that’s what Harry, I mean Captain Akers, said,” Anna replied. “His last command was scuttled by a storm with the loss of many lives.” She pressed her gloved hand to her bosom. “He only survived by the Grace of God.”
Lucy waited for a carriage to pass before she crossed the street. “I invited his mother to call on us in Queen’s Square.”
“That was very kind of you.” Anna hesitated. “Although I’m not sure what purpose you have in doing so. I have already made my feelings very clear to Captain Akers.”
“Feelings about what?” Penelope interjected. “Have you met this man before, Anna? Did your father’s family in London allow such a thing?”
Lucy met Anna’s gaze. “Perhaps we should talk about this matter when we have more privacy?”
Anna nodded as they entered the bookshop and were engulfed in the smell of ink, old parchment, and leather. Despite Anna’s reservations, Lucy knew her sister well enough to judge that whether she admitted it or not, her feelings were still engaged with the young man. Whatever came of the matter, Lucy intended to ensure that Anna was given every opportunity to follow her emotions to a logical and natural conclusion.
* * *
When they returned to the house, Robert was absent with Dr. Fletcher, so Lucy ordered tea to be served in the drawing room and settled down to read the local newspaper. When Foley appeared in the doorway with a silver salver containing two visiting cards she told him to bring the visitors up.
“Lady Benson and Mr. Arden Hall, my lady.”
Foley stepped back to allow the visitors to enter, and Lucy tried not to stare. She’d expected Sir William’s wife to be quite elderly, but the woman in front of her was a fragile, ethereal beauty who looked far younger than Lucy.
“Lady Benson?” Lucy went forward to greet her guests. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Lady Benson’s lip trembled. “Sir William insisted I come.” She waved a languid hand at the tall youth by her side, who was in danger of being strangled by the height of his own collar. “This is my son Arden.”
“My lady.” Arden Hall bowed elaborately but looked even more reluctant to be there than his mother, which was quite a feat. “A pleasure.”
Lady Benson sank into a chair as if she no longer had the energy to stand upright. Her gown was composed of several layers of thin muslin that clearly displayed the lines of her body and her generous bosom. Her very expensive shawl was artfully slipping from her shoulders in a way that Lucy envied but had no intention of emulating.
“May I offer you some refreshment?” Lucy inquired.
Arden glanced at his mother. “A glass of brandy would be nice, and I suspect Mother would like some tea.”
Lady Benson pressed a hand to her brow. She wasn’t wearing a bonnet, but had pinned a lace cap to her silver blond hair. “I have a headache. A tisane would be better.”
“I’m not sure if Lady Kurland has such a thing, Mama.” Arden laughed. “Pray excuse my mother. She believes the entire world should serve her needs.”
There was a note of disrespect in his voice that made Lucy sit up straight. “As I sometimes suffer from headaches myself, sir, I can only appreciate how your mother feels.” She addressed Lady Benson. “Perhaps you would be better off at home in bed, ma’am?”
“I’ve spent most of the day in bed,” Lady Benson sighed. “But William insisted that I get up and pay my respects to you.” She shuddered. “He actually raised his voice to me!”
Lucy stood and went over to the door. “Then consider your duty done, my lady. It was a pleasure to meet you, and your son.” She opened the door. “Perhaps when you are feeling more the thing you can visit me again.”
Lady Benson rose from her chair, her tragic expression visibly brightening. “And you will tell Sir William that I did as he commanded?”
“Of course, ma’am.” Lucy nodded. “I’m sure he wouldn’t wish you to suffer.”
“You might be surprised about that,” she sighed. “He lives to humiliate me.”
Arden Hall took hold of his mother’s arm and guided her toward the door. “My mother is quite correct, Lady Kurland. We all live in fear of the old man.” He nodded to her as he went past. “Thank you for receiving us, and good day.”
“Oh!” Lady Benson pressed her fingers on Lucy’s wrist. “My husband asked me to invite you to dinner on Friday. Is that convenient?”
“I believe so,” Lucy said cautiously. “I will consult with Sir Robert and send you a message if we can attend.”
“Thank you for your kindness.” Lady Benson’s smile was almost tragic.
“And please don’t tell my husband that I almost forgot to invite you after all.”
Lucy watched the odd couple descend into the hallway and tried to make sense of their somewhat unconventional visit. The current Lady Benson was obviously not the first wife of Sir William. She also had children from a previous marriage, which meant she wasn’t as young as she looked.
Was Sir William really a tyrant who had forced his wife out of her sickbed merely to pay a call on her new neighbors, or was Lady Benson exaggerating somewhat? Lucy already knew whose side she was on but attempted to give the lady the benefit of the doubt.
She sat down in her favorite chair that overlooked the square and finished drinking her tea. Lady Benson was a very beautiful woman. Had Sir William fallen in love with her charms and then discovered she wasn’t quite what he expected? Lucy would have to see them together to make any sense of the state of their marriage, but she already had her doubts.
“Good afternoon, my dear.”
She turned as Robert limped into the room, and went over to him. He looked rather tired and smelled strange. She sniffed his coat.
“What have you been rolling in?”
He snorted. “You’ll have to ask Patrick. He insisted I was slathered in hot mud today and wrapped up like a mummy from one of those Egyptian tombs.”
Lucy pressed her mouth against his lapel to stifle her laughter.
He put a finger under her chin so she had to look up at him. “It was quite the scene. I suspect Patrick was hoping they’d cover my mouth and stop me from expressing my opinion of such a ridiculous waste of time.”
“Perhaps you should take another bath,” Lucy suggested.
Robert walked over to the couch. “The thing is . . . I actually quite enjoyed it by the end. The heat from the mud seeped into my bones and had a remarkably invigorating effect on me.”
“Really?” Lucy stared at him wide-eyed. “I’m so pleased that you derived some benefit from such an outlandish treatment and are willing to admit it.”
“Indeed.” Robert pointed at the teapot. “Is there any tea left? I am rather thirsty. Patrick told me to drink lots of hot spring water, but I’ve had enough of that foul-smelling brew for one day.”
Lucy poured him a cup of tea and resigned herself to the strange aroma surrounding her husband. If it were helping him, she would willingly put up with it, and it was no worse than when he visited the pigsty at Kurland St. Mary home farm.
“I had visitors today,” she remarked as she handed him the cup. “Lady Benson and her son.”
“Was she as forthright as her husband?” Robert inquired as he thanked her for the tea.
“No, she wasn’t what I expected at all.” Lucy fought a smile. “She was extremely beautiful, much younger than Sir William, and insisted that her husband had made her get up from her sickbed merely to pay a call on me to invite us to dinner.”
Robert paused, his cup halfway to his mouth. “She sounds quite odd.”
“The son who accompanied her was from her first marriage, and not Sir William’s.”
“Was he pleasant?” Robert inquired.
“No, he was as unconventional and rude as his mother. She invited us to dine with them on Friday.”
“Then we should definitely go.” Robert finished his tea in one long swallow. “It sounds as if they might be quite entertaining.”
Lucy had to agree. She drank her own tea and placed the cup back on the tray.
“We also met the family of a naval officer Anna was acquainted with in London. I invited them to call on us. If they do come, I would very much like to further our acquaintance with them.”
“Are you meddling again, Lucy?” Robert raised an eyebrow.
“Hardly.” Lucy met his amused gaze. “Anna mentioned this man to me last year. I got the impression that she had started to care for him before he left to carry out his duties.”
“Ah, so you are meddling, but with the best of intentions.”
“Or attempting to help my sister find a man who will love and cherish her for the rest of her life.” Lucy held his gaze. “What is wrong with that?”
“Nothing, my dear. Just remember that Anna is old enough to make her own decisions.”
“I am well aware of that.” Lucy nodded. “I would never force her to do anything she disliked.”
Robert leaned forward to kiss her cheek. “I know, but sometimes you can be a little managing of those you love.”
“With the best of intentions,” Lucy stoutly defended herself.
“Agreed, but you also told me that Anna is somewhat reluctant to be married at all.” He looked into her eye. “I can’t fault your desire to make sure she is happy, but I still urge caution.”
“I will do my best not to interfere,” she promised, even though her interventions were usually quite successful. “But I will not stop their acquaintance from progressing if they appear to be getting along.”
“Fair enough. I trust your good sense.” He nodded. “With all these new friends I have so much to look forward to I can barely contain my excitement.”
Foley cleared his throat in the doorway. “Excuse me, Sir Robert and my lady. You have another visitor.”
“Good Lord.” Robert held out his hand for the calling card and read the name aloud. “Mr. Edward Benson.”
He raised his eyebrows at Lucy. “Send him up, Foley. It appears that our interesting day is not yet over, my dear.”
The man whom Foley ushered in bore a passing resemblance to Sir William and wore the sober uniform of a successful businessman.
He bowed to Robert.
“Sir Robert Kurland? It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. My father speaks very highly of you.”
His accent held a hint of the north but was overlaid by years of attending a public school that had refined his vowels.
Robert stood and held out his hand for Lucy to rise. “Good afternoon, sir. May I introduce you to my wife, Lady Kurland? She just spent a delightful few minutes this morning meeting Lady Benson and her son.”
Edward frowned. “So I heard, which is why I hastened over here myself to correct any unfortunate impression my stepmother might have left with you.”
Robert concealed a smile. “As I did not have the pleasure of meeting Lady Benson myself, and my wife only mentioned she had called to ask us for dinner, I cannot comment on this matter.”
“My stepmother can be a little . . . eccentric sometimes,” Edward said gruffly. “But the invitation comes directly from my father and is sincerely meant.”
“And we intend to honor that summons and will present ourselves at your abode at the appointed hour with great anticipation,” Robert added, and gestured at the couch. “Will you stay for some refreshment?”
“I fear I must depart. My father is waiting to speak to me.” Edward bowed stiffly again. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Sir Robert, and you, Lady Kurland. I look forward to furthering our acquaintance at dinner on Friday.”
He turned and left, leaving Robert staring at his wife.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Robert said. “Did Sir William send him to repair his fences? What on earth did Lady Benson tell him occurred here?”
“I have no idea and the whole family is giving me a headache.” Lucy pressed a hand to her forehead. “I will retire for a nap, and maybe when I wake up some sort of order will have been restored in this society.”
Robert frowned. He was so busy worrying about his own health that he forgot his wife had been ill herself the previous year.
“Are you all right?” he asked bluntly.
“I’m fine.” She smiled at him. “I’m worn out from shepherding Penelope and Anna around the shops in Milsom Street. I’ll be perfectly capable after I’ve had a nap.”
He went over to take her hands, searching her face.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I would tell you if I was feeling unwell.” She frowned. “In truth I have no idea why I suddenly feel tired, but a restorative nap makes everything better.” She patted his cheek. “Perhaps you might consult with Dr. Fletcher and ask him if you can take a bath to get rid of all that mud? I’d rather it didn’t end up on my bedsheets.”
He shuddered. “I’ll ask him. Now go and rest, and I will see you at dinner.”
Robert stood up as Lucy entered the drawing room. Despite his initial skepticism, after two weeks of treatment at the baths he was feeling much improved. He’d also enjoyed spending time with Sir William, who had somewhat similar views to his about the state of the country, and the nature of politics and politicians. Sir William had no compunction in sharing his opinions in the most forthright manner, which, much to Robert’s amusement, had soon scared off other listeners.
“You look very nice this evening, my dear.” Robert considered Lucy’s gown in his favorite blue.
“Thank you.” She smoothed down the silk. “It is new.” She touched her hair. “Anna did my hair for me. Do you like it?”
He studied the profusion of ringlets. In truth he preferred it when Lucy simply braided her long hair in a coronet on top of her head, but he had been married long enough to know not to disappoint her.
“You look lovely. Is your sister ready to accompany us to the Bensons?”
“Yes, she is just coming.” Lucy came over and straightened the folds of Robert’s cravat. “You look very handsome this evening.”
“I do not,” he demurred. “I have it on the best authority that fierce-looking gentlemen such as myself only appear dashing when wearing uniform.”
“Did Penelope tell you that?” Lucy asked.
Robert grimaced. “Seeing as how quickly she wished to get out of our engagement once I was wounded and retired from the hussars, you might imagine so.”
“Her loss was my gain,” Lucy said.
“Yes, but somehow we have also gained her.”
Lucy chuckled. “That has more to do with your doctor’s choice of a wife than anything we did. Has Dr. Fletcher found you a new physician in Bath yet, or is he content to leave your care in the hands of Sir William’s man?”
“He hasn’t said. I will ask him for his opinion tomorrow.” Robert picked up his cane.
“He doesn’t intend to join us?” Lucy asked with a frown.
“Seeing as he has just arrived back from Kurland St. Mary, he intends to spend a quiet night at the theater with his wife.”
Lucy fought a smile and Robert held up his finger. “I know those two hopes seem somewhat incompatible.”
“Robert, you are impossible . . .” Lucy reached for his hand just as Anna came through the door.
She also wore blue, but her gown was patterned with flowers, and free of the fancy Honiton lace that edged the bodice and sleeves of Lucy’s gown. Even Robert had to admit that it didn’t matter what Anna Harrington wore when one’s gaze was inevitably drawn to her beautiful face. Unlike Penelope, who had also been an acknowledged beauty, Anna’s loveliness went far beyond the perfection of her person.
“Lucy, you forgot your shawl.” Anna carefully draped a paisley shawl around her sister’s shoulders. “I know we are only going next door, but I don’t want you to catch a chill.” She smiled at Robert. “And how are you feeling today, sir? You look much better.”
“As I am now capable of getting down the stairs without assistance, I am obviously improving.” Robert held the door open for his ladies to precede him. “Who would’ve thought that floating up to one’s neck in a murky pool of yellowish boiling water with a group of complete strangers would make a man healthier?”
Anna’s laughter floated back to him as he carefully navigated his way down the steep staircase. He was enjoying himself far more than he had anticipated in Bath and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. In truth, he felt better than he had in years.
It took them all of two minutes to knock on the Bensons’ door and be ushered through into the warmth. Robert hadn’t yet met Lady Benson. He’d only gotten to know Sir William at the baths and was looking forward to finally meeting the rest of the Benson family. He found the climb up the stairs slightly more laborious than the one down, and was the last to arrive in the drawing room where Sir William was holding court.
Robert’s gaze was immediately drawn to the willowy young woman languishing at Sir William’s side. From Lucy’s description he realized that the beauty must be his elderly host’s wife, and not one of his children. Behind her chair were two young men barely old enough to shave, and gathered protectively around Sir William were three older men who all had his distinctive nose.
The stark division between the two sides was obvious to even the most casual observer. Sir William stood with some difficulty and held out his hand to Lucy.
“Good evening, Lady Kurland. May I present you to my wife, Miranda, my sons, Edward, Augustus, and Peregrine?”
While Lucy curtsied, and made Anna known to Sir William, Robert noted the disgruntled expressions of the two younger men who hadn’t merited an introduction.
“Sir Robert.” Lady Benson didn’t get up and offered him her limp hand. “A pleasure indeed. May I introduce my two sons to you as my husband did not see fit to do so himself?” She waved at the boys. “Please make your bow to Sir Robert, Arden and Brandon.”
“Ah, a lover of Shakespeare I see.” Robert bowed in return.
“It was an affectation of my first husband’s.” Lady Benson shuddered. “I had no say in the matter at all.”
She turned to view Anna, who was almost surrounded by the three older Benson sons. “Is this your sister, Sir Robert? She is very beautiful.”
“Anna is my wife’s sister,” Robert replied.
Lady Benson tittered. “Yet you chose to marry the other one. How . . . unusual.”
Robert met her gaze. “My wife’s value is far more than just a pretty face, my lady. Beauty fades, but character and goodness remain.”
Lady Benson touched her cheek as if checking she was still beautiful. “Indeed. A lesson for us all.” She stood and tapped Sir William on the shoulder. “Shall we dine?”
“When I haven’t even had a chance to speak to Sir Robert or offer anyone refreshment?” Sir William frowned at her. “There is no need for such haste, my dear.”
Lady Benson sighed and sat down again. “As you wish.”
She made no effort to speak to Anna or Lucy, and instead spoke exclusively to her sons, who looked as if they’d rather be anywhere than at a family dinner.
“Good evening, Sir Robert.” The shortest of the Bensons bowed to Robert. He wore the plain black garb favored by clerics. “I am the Reverend Augustus Benson. I oversee several parishes just outside of Bath.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.” Robert inclined his head. “Do you reside in Bath or at one of your properties?”
“I have a curate who ministers to the souls of my parishioners. I prefer to spend my time here where I can gain valuable benefactors for my congregation and godly work.” Augustus paused. “Do you support your local church, Sir Robert?”
“Seeing as I am married to the eldest daughter of our rector in Kurland St. Mary, you might say that I do.”
Augustus raised his eyebrows. “Lady Kurland and Miss Harrington’s father is in holy orders?”
Robert paused. “Well, sometimes I’m not so sure about the holy, but he does live in the rectory and take the odd service when he has no other choice.”
Now Augustus was staring at him in horror, and Robert remembered that his dislike of some of the practices of the church was not universal.
“Mr. Harrington is a good man,” Robert said firmly. “He was educated at Cambridge, I believe, and is the younger brother of an earl.”
“Indeed!” Augustus cast a speculative glance back at Anna, who was smiling up at Edward Benson. “I must further my acquaintance with your wife’s sister. Finding a partner who is familiar with the task of running a vicarage is remarkably difficult. We probably have a lot in common.”
Robert went over to reintroduce himself to Edward and met the youngest Benson, who looked nothing like his brothers but had a distinct look of Sir William.
Eventually, the butler came in and loudly cleared his throat. “Dinner is served. Please proceed into the dining room.”
Unlike the house the Kurlands were renting the drawing room led straight into the dining room, and the master bedrooms were on the floor above. Sir William insisted that Robert and Lucy sit on either side of him as the rest of the family, with Anna on the arm of Edward, filed into the other seats.
Sir William bowed his head and said grace, and then the footmen left the guests to serve themselves. There was no shortage of rich food, which perhaps explained why Sir William had failed to reduce his considerable weight or improve his health during his sojourn in Bath.
* * *
Robert looked across the table at his wife and winked, and Lucy raised her eyebrows. Her husband appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, whereas she was still attempting to navigate the somewhat peculiar family around her. Peregrine, the youngest of the Benson sons, sat beside Lucy and immediately poured them both a glass of wine.
“Drink up, my lady. You’ll need it,” he murmured. “My father’s been consuming port all day as if it will go out of fashion. I suspect we’re all going to be in for a tongue-lashing tonight. It’s his favorite blood sport.”
Lucy blinked at him, but he continued to smile. He was the only member of the Benson family with dark coloring, and was the most outrageously fashionable and handsome. His hair was lavishly curled and smelled strongly of pomade, giving him the look of an erstwhile poet.
Lucy took a cautious sip of her wine. “Thank you.” “You are most welcome.” Peregrine continued to regard her. “Your husband has made a remarkably good impression on my father.”
“I believe they have much in common,” Lucy replied.
“One wouldn’t think it to look at them, but I suspect you are correct. Sir Robert is something of an anomaly for his class, is he not?”
“My husband is a man with forthright opinions,” Lucy agreed. “Some of which are not in step with the current political climate.”
“He’s just like my father then. No wonder they get along.” Peregrine picked up a platter. “Would you care for some goose, my lady?”
The meal progressed without further incident, but Lucy was aware that Peregrine was correct as to the level of his father’s alcohol consumption and growing anger.
“You.” Sir William pointed his finger down the table at Arden, one of Lady Benson’s sons. “I had a note from my tailor this morning that you haven’t paid his bill in six months.”
Arden shrugged. “So what? Throw it in the fire, that’s what I do. Bloody tradesmen shouldn’t be bothering you with it.”
“That ‘tradesman’ has to pay his own bills and feed his family,” Sir William barked. “I pay you an allowance. Why aren’t you paying your bills in a timely manner?”
“Here we go,” Peregrine murmured in Lucy’s ear, and finished his whole glass of wine in one swallow. “This won’t end well.”
Arden raised his chin. “The allowance you pay me is far less than that you give Edward, Augustus, and Peregrine.”
“They are sons of my blood. You are merely—”
“An inconvenience that you put up with so that you could marry my mother?” Arden didn’t back down. “We understand our position in this family all too well, sir, never doubt it.”
Sir William leaned forward, one hand clenched around his glass of port. “If you’re that ungrateful, whelp, perhaps you’d do better with no money at all.”
“Please leave the boy alone, Sir William,” Lady Benson intervened. “You will make me ill.”
The glare Sir William cast his wife made Lucy wish she could think of a way to politely extricate her family from the table. The only person who seemed to be enjoying himself was Peregrine.
“Perhaps Lady Benson has a point,” murmured Augustus. “One must show Christian charity to one’s family, eh sir?”
“Christian charity?” Sir William rounded on his second son, who sank into his chair like a deflated pudding. “For those lazy do-nothings who suck off the cow’s teat and wouldn’t know one end of a shovel from the other? Your affairs, Augustus, are in no better order than that young rapscallion’s!”
The angrier Sir William got the more pronounced his northern accent became.
“And that goes for all of you.” Sir William’s contemptuous gaze swept the table. “I’ve never seen a bunch of more bacon-brained useless ne’er-do-wells in my life.”
“Steady on, Father,” Edward murmured. “I work for you.”
“And you ignore my advice at every turn!” Sir William snapped. “With your ridiculous ideas to cut up my peace and ruin my business . . .” He took another slurp of port, which Lucy thought was perhaps unwise. “I grew up without a sixpence to scratch my arse with! None of you would survive a day down the pit. None of you.”
Peregrine cleared his throat. “That’s remarkably unfair, Father. Your hard work and determination created enough wealth to bring your sons up to be gentlemen. Wasn’t that the whole point? Why berate us for becoming what you wanted us to be?”
Lucy held her breath as Sir William turned toward Peregrine. He was breathing heavily like an enraged bull and his complexion was purple. Peregrine didn’t flinch from the contact and looked more relaxed than ever.
“Aye. More fool me,” Sir William grumbled. “I thought to better myself, and what do I have to show for it? Three caper-witted sons, and two . . .” He glared down at the end of the table where Lady Benson sat flanked by her sons. “Two ungrateful fools. Mark me well I’ll rewrite my will and disinherit the lot of you!”
Lady Benson rose to her feet, her voice trembling. “I think I’ve heard enough for one evening, Sir William. I will retire with the ladies and hope that you manage to mend your manners before you appear in my drawing room!”
Lucy and Anna hurried to leave the room behind Lady Benson, who was moving at some speed. To Lucy’s mortification, Robert appeared to be enjoying the fracas immensely. When they reached the drawing room, their hostess collapsed onto the couch and covered her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Oh, the mortification! I am quite undone!”
Lucy went to her side. “Shall I send for your maid, my lady?”
“Yes, because I am set to swoon away at the discourtesy shown to me by my own husband.” She shuddered. “My nerves are shredded! My composure ruined!” She laid her head back on the arm of the couch. “While you are finding my maid, ask her to find Dr. Mantel. He will soothe me, I know it!”
Anna went to ring the bell while Lucy patted the distraught lady’s hand and murmured reassurances. It wasn’t the first time she had dealt with a woman of such dramatic tendencies, and she doubted it would be the last. She did have some sympathy with Lady Benson. Sir William had behaved very badly indeed. If Robert had berated his family in such a way in front of guests, Lucy would have considered walking out herself, or something even more shocking.
The door opened, and a young woman rushed in and curtsied to Lady Benson.
“Do you want your smelling salts, Lady Miranda?”
“Why didn’t you bring them with you, Dotty?” the lady complained, her high-pitched whining setting Lucy’s teeth on edge. It crossed her mind that if Lady Benson became hysterical she would not object to being the person forced to administer a timely slap. “Why do you all torment me so?”
“Now, now, Lady Benson.” Lucy turned as a well-dressed man came into the drawing room and knelt by the distraught hostess. “What is all this? Have I not implored you to rest and not allow such irritation to your delicate spirits?”
Lady Benson dabbed a lace handkerchief over her face and clutched at his sleeve. “My dear Dr. Mantel, how kind you are, how sensible of the horrors of my situation.”
The doctor patted her hand. “You must not worry yourself, my lady. I shall ask Cook to brew you one of my special tisanes, and Dotty will bring your smelling salts to you directly.”
Lady Benson gave another shudder and raised her piteous face to the doctor’s. “Thank you, sir. You are the only person who thinks of my comfort.”
The maid reappeared with the smelling salts grasped in her hand, and with the doctor’s gentle encouragement, Lady Benson applied herself to inhaling the noxious fumes.
Dr. Mantel came over to Lucy and bowed. “I do beg your pardon for such an unusual introduction, but I must assume you are Lady Kurland?”
“Indeed I am.” Lucy curtsied. “And this is my sister, Miss Anna Harrington.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you both.” The doctor moved closer to Lucy and lowered his voice. “I must apologize for Lady Benson’s condition. She has somewhat fragile nerves.”
“So I observed,” Lucy replied. “Although I must say in her defense that Sir William was not being particularly pleasant to his family over the dinner table.”
Dr. Mantel sighed. “He is a difficult man, but also an admirable one in many ways. I have tried to curtail his excesses. I fear to no avail.”
“He was threatening to disinherit everyone,” Lady Benson spoke out, her voice trembling. “He seems to think we are all parasites.”
“Surely not you, my lady?” Dr. Mantel turned back to her and took the smelling salts away. “You are a devoted wife to him.”
“Indeed, I do my best.” Lady Benson nodded. “But sometimes it is hard, especially when he treats my beloved sons so harshly.”
As if she had conjured them with her words, the two young men strode into the drawing room, identical scowls on their faces.
“We’re going out,” Arden snapped. “The old man is drunk, and we’re sick and tired of sitting there listening to him ranting.”
Lady Benson pressed her hand to her fine bosom and implored them, “Please don’t leave. He will not like it. He—”
“Devil take him,” Arden interrupted her. “The old fool. The sooner he dies, the better for all of us.”
Dr. Mantel cleared his throat. “Now boys . . .”
Brandon swung around toward him. “No one asked for your opinion, Doctor. Why don’t you go back to fawning around the man who pays your wages instead of sniffing around our mother?”
Lady Benson pointed a wavering hand at the door. “Don’t speak to Dr. Mantel like that! He is the only person in this household who understands me!”
“Mother’s right.” Arden elbowed his younger brother. “That was uncalled for, Brandon. Apologize.”
“If I must,” Brandon grumbled. “I agree that the old man is the problem. If only he wasn’t so tightfisted with his money.” He nodded at his mother. “He told us to go to the devil, so perhaps we will oblige him. If only there was some way to cut up a lark in this boring town.”
Arden bowed. “Good night, Mother. We will see you in the morning.”
Before Lady Benson could issue another plea they were gone, leaving their mother weeping, and Dr. Mantel looking very embarrassed.
“I think I should escort Lady Benson to her bedchamber,” the doctor murmured. “She is quite overwrought, and is in no state to deal with Sir William.”
“I quite agree, sir.” Lucy smiled at him, aware that he had been put in a very difficult position. “Would you like me to accompany Lady Benson?”
“That is very kind of you, my lady, but Dotty and I will manage the task between us.” He attempted a smile. “I’m sure her ladyship wouldn’t want to ruin your evening.”
Lucy and Anna watched as Lady Benson was tenderly escorted out of the room leaning heavily on the doctor’s arm, and disappeared upstairs.
“Well,” Anna said. “This evening has certainly proved far more entertaining than I anticipated it would be.” She glanced around the room. “Do you think we will be served with tea, or should I ring the bell?”
Lucy sat beside the fire. “Ring the bell. I suspect we’ll be here for a while before I can prize my husband away from such a spectacle.”
Robert shivered as the wind curled around the stone columns and attacked him from all sides. His bones were aching, and he had to pay attention to his footing on the slippery surfaces. It was also possible that he had drunk rather too much port the previous evening when they’d dined at the Benson residence. He turned to Patrick, who was accompanying him to the King’s Bath.
“Why do we have to come so blasted early?”
“Because there are fewer people around for you to intimidate?”
“I hardly look intimidating when I’m up to my neck in boiling water,” Robert grumbled. “At least you haven’t made me wear one of those awful mop hats.”
His doctor had the audacity to grin at him. “At least admit that my treatments have been helpful to you.”
“Indeed they have.” Robert paused at the end of the dark corridor that led toward the King’s Bath. They had passed a few brave souls wrapped up in cloaks and mufflers, but the baths were remarkably quiet today. He could already smell sulfur rising in the steam like a welcome to the entrance to hell. “I will have to consider a way to import such a miraculous invention as hot spring water into Kurland Hall.”
“If the Romans could manage it, I’m sure you will, too, Sir Robert,” Patrick joked. “Now, who’s leaving the baths in such a hurry?”
Footsteps echoed down the hallway coming toward them. Robert had to awkwardly step to the side as a large cloaked figure rushed past him without as much as an “excuse me.”
With a curse, Robert righted himself, and they continued into the baths where Dr. Mantel was just emerging from one of the inner rooms clutching a parcel wrapped in brown paper and string.
“Good morning, Sir Robert, Dr. Fletcher. I am surprised to see you on such a cold day.” He chuckled. “It took all my powers of persuasion to get Sir William out of his warm bed and into the baths today. Only the promise of some conversation with your good self, Sir Robert, persuaded him to rise at all.”
Robert looked idly over at the bath, but it was a gloomy morning, and it was hard to see exactly who was currently in the steaming hot water.
Dr. Mantel bowed. “I must go and attend to Sir William. I will tell him that you have arrived.”
He strolled closer to the baths and then spun around, his face stricken. “Dr. Fletcher! I can’t see Sir William in the water, and I can’t swim, and—”
Patrick was already moving toward the almost deserted bath. By the time Robert caught up his friend was stripping off his coat and boots and jumping into the steaming hot water. There was nothing bobbing on the surface except a linen cap and a small wooden tray containing a natural sponge.
Robert grasped hold of one of the pillars surrounding the bath to stop himself from slipping and looked in vain for one of the attendants. There was another splash in the water as Patrick dived down and emerged with a body in his arms that he towed toward the side of the bath.
Somewhere a lady started screaming, the sound echoing in the cavern as Patrick hauled out Sir William’s body and arranged him on his side.
“Check his mouth,” Patrick shouted. “Make sure he can breathe.”
As Dr. Mantel appeared to be frozen in shock, Robert awkwardly got down on his knees and made certain Sir William’s tongue was in the right place, and that there was nothing untoward in his mouth. Patrick thumped vigorously on the old man’s back, but Sir William was no longer breathing.
“Is he dead?” Dr. Mantel asked anxiously.
“I fear he is.” Patrick sat back, laid the body on its back, and gently closed Sir William’s bulging eyes. “Did you see what occurred?”
“No, dammit, I left to speak to one of the vendors about purchasing a new pumice stone before he even entered the water, and when I came back—” Dr. Mantel shuddered. “I couldn’t see Sir William at all. My God . . . I will never forgive myself.”
“Having observed Sir William over the past weeks, I suspect he suffered some form of heart failure or a stroke and simply slipped beneath the surface of the water,” Patrick said.
“Yes! I would agree with that possibility,” Dr. Mantel said, nodding. “What a terrible tragedy. Lady Benson will never forgive me for not having taken sufficient care of her beloved husband.”
“If he indeed died from failure of the heart or a stroke then there was little you could’ve done about it even if you’d been in the water with him,” Patrick pointed out. “I’m certain you warned Sir William that eating and drinking in excess would cause him problems.”
“I did warn him.” Dr. Mantel sighed. “But he rarely listened to my advice.”
“A common problem for physicians the world over,” Patrick agreed.
Robert rose carefully to his feet. His knee was already complaining at the hardness of the stone, and the dampness of his once pristine clothing.
“Would you like me to send one of the attendants to fetch the magistrate?” Robert asked. He looked around the almost deserted space. “It appears that the rest of the patrons have decided to flee and not indulge in a dip in the baths today.”
A familiar figure came rushing up to them and bowed. “Gentlemen, as the proprietor of these baths, I understand that a tragedy has befallen Sir William Benson. I offer my condolences and offer whatever help you need.”
“Thank you, Mr. Abernathy.” Robert bowed in return. “Perhaps you might consider closing the baths to the public until we can remove Sir William’s body to his house?”
“I’ve already done that, Sir Robert, and ordered a carriage to transport the body back to Queen’s Square.” Mr. Abernathy bowed again.
“I’ll travel with him, Sir Robert,” Patrick said. He was shivering as he put his coat on over his wet clothes. “Mayhap you can walk back with Dr. Mantel and help him deliver the sad news to the Benson family?”
“Yes, of course,” Robert said, his gaze fixing on a trickle of red that appeared to be coming from the body. He leaned in and murmured in his friend’s ear, “Dr. Fletcher, why would Sir William be bleeding?”
As Dr. Mantel turned away to speak to Mr. Abernathy, Patrick gently probed the deceased’s body and then looked up at Robert.
“Perhaps Sir William didn’t drown or suffer heart failure.” He held up his bloodstained fingers. “It’s possible that someone wanted to make certain he never got out of the baths again.”
Robert held Patrick’s gaze. “Please do not speak of this to anyone else yet.”
Patrick raised his eyebrows. “If you insist.”
“I’ll explain when we get back to Queen’s Square.” Robert straightened up. “If anyone was a likely candidate to be murdered, it was Sir William Benson.”
* * *
Robert took an involuntary step back as Lady Benson started screeching like a demented banshee and then collapsed to the floor of the breakfast parlor. He supposed he should have caught her, but Edward Benson had been closer and hadn’t moved an inch.
It was Edward who addressed him now, his face pale.
“My father is dead?”
“Yes.” Robert saw no need to sweeten the news. He’d written many letters to the families of his men who had died in battle, and believed a short, heartfelt response was better received than a lot of balderdash. “My physician, Dr. Fletcher, attempted to revive Sir William when he retrieved him from under the water, but to no avail.”
“Dear God.” Edward sat back in his chair as if unaware that his stepmother was still lying prone on the Turkish rug while her maid and Dr. Mantel attended to her. “He’s been ill for quite some time, but I never really thought he’d die. He was something of a force of nature.”
“Indeed. I enjoyed his company immensely.” Robert bowed. “I offer your entire family my condolences.” He noted that none of the other Bensons or Lady Benson’s sons were at the breakfast table at such an early hour. “If there is anything Lady Kurland or I can do to help, please do not hesitate to call upon us.”
“That’s very good of you, Sir Robert,” Edward said. “And thank you for bringing us this sad news.”
Lady Benson was carried out by one of the footmen moaning piteously, and Robert stepped out of the way.
“I should be going. Dr. Fletcher will accompany the body back to this house. He should be here very shortly.”
Belatedly Edward remembered his manners. “Would you like to await him here? Can I offer you a drink or some breakfast?”
Robert hesitated. “I would like to wait until Sir William’s body reaches this house so that I might pay my last respects, but I do not require any sustenance, thank you.”
In truth, he would rather like a large brandy, but at nine o’clock in the morning that was asking rather too much of his hosts. He also wanted to speak to Patrick before any of the Benson family began to ask questions as to what exactly had befallen their father.
A commotion on the stairs drew his attention to the door as Lady Benson’s two young sons came into the room. From the disordered state of their dress they had been out all night.
Edward shot to his feet, his expression darkening. “Where in God’s name have you two been?”
Arden, who was propping up his younger brother, belched loudly. “Out. What is it to you?” He glanced around the breakfast room. “Where’s my mother?”
“She’s upstairs in her room after receiving the most devastating news,” Edward said somberly. “Sir William is dead.”
For a moment there was silence, and then the brothers burst into whoops and hugged each other. Robert’s lip curled in distaste. If he’d had the two of them under his command in his regiment he would’ve taught them a few lessons about respecting the dead.
“You’re pitching the gammon,” Brandon said when he finally stopped laughing. “Sir William is an immortal monster.”
Robert intervened. “I can confirm that Sir William is indeed deceased. May I also suggest that you show a little respect!”
Arden faced him. “Why should we? It’s the best thing that’s happened since Mother married that old fool. I’m glad he drowned.” He grinned at his brother. “Now we’ll be rich!”
“Get out,” Edward said, and pointed at the door. “Go to your rooms and reflect upon your appalling behavior in front of our guest, and your complete disregard for your stepfather.”
“We’ll go,” Arden sneered. “But only because we need our sleep.” He half bowed to Robert. “Good riddance, Sir Robert.”
Edward turned to Robert as the pair lurched back into the hall. “I do apologize.”
“There’s no need. Their contempt for Sir William was on display when we came to dinner,” Robert said. “I’m not surprised that they are full of vicious glee at his demise.”
The butler appeared in the doorway. “Dr. Fletcher is here, Mr. Benson, shall I send him up?”
“Direct him up the stairs to Sir William’s bedchamber. I have already alerted his valet.” Edward went toward the door. “Shall we attend them there, Sir Robert?”
* * *
Lucy jumped up from her seat by the window as Robert appeared in the drawing room accompanied by Dr. Fletcher.
“What on earth is going on next door?’ Lucy asked. “There has been a veritable procession of people and vehicles arriving all morning.”
Dr. Fletcher bowed to her. “Sir William is dead.” Lucy gasped and turned to Robert, who nodded. “Sir William was in the King’s Bath and apparently drowned.” He hesitated. “Do you suppose you could ring the bell and ask Foley to bring up the brandy?”
After Lucy had settled Robert and Dr. Fletcher in their chairs and persuaded her husband to eat a few mouthfuls of toasted muffin to accompany his rather large brandy she sat opposite them.
“I assume you went to tell the Benson family the sad news?”
“Yes, I accompanied Dr. Mantel, who was very concerned that he would be held responsible for the tragedy.”
“Why would he think that?” Lucy wrinkled her nose.
“Because he left his patient in the baths and went to speak to one of the vendors, meaning he wasn’t there to see Sir William sink beneath the surface,” Dr. Fletcher explained.
“Why didn’t anyone else help Sir William?” Lucy wondered.
“That’s an excellent question,” Robert said. “To be fair, there were very few people in the bath at that point in the morning, and most of them are either ill or elderly. It’s also possible that they didn’t notice what had happened through the steam and the darkness.”
“Or they chose to ignore it,” Lucy sniffed. “It always amazes me how blind people become when they simply do not choose to see what is happening right in front of their noses.”
“Sir William was a very large man,” Dr. Fletcher added. “I doubt any of them could have got him out of the water. It took all my strength.”
“Well, thank goodness you were there.” Lucy smiled at him. “Were you able to establish why he died? Considering his somewhat choleric disposition I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had a stroke or suffered heart failure.”
Robert and Dr. Fletcher exchanged a long, lingering glance, and Lucy sat up straighter.
“Is there something amiss?”
“There might be,” Robert replied. “Dr. Fletcher had the opportunity to examine the body properly before he returned it to the Bensons, and things might not be as simple as they appear.”
“In what way?” Lucy turned to the doctor.
Dr. Fletcher grimaced. “Just below his ribs there was a wound that looked as if he had been stabbed upward toward his heart.”
Lucy covered her mouth and met Robert’s gaze. “Oh, dear. Did you mention it to the Bensons?”
“Not yet.” Dr. Fletcher looked inquiringly at his employer. “Sir Robert asked me not to say anything.”
“Which was very well done of you,” Lucy said approvingly at her husband. “If none of the Benson family believe there is anything suspicious about the death, then we can question them without fear.”
“With all due respect, my lady,” Dr. Fletcher asked slowly, “question them about what?”
“About which one of them murdered Sir William?” Lucy raised her eyebrows. “It seems quite obvious to me.”
* * *
After Dr. Fletcher left to inform his wife that his departure would be delayed for at least another day, Lucy remained with Robert in the drawing room while he recounted what had gone on at the Bensons on his early morning call. Lucy listened wide-eyed as he described the behavior of the younger boys and tutted in disapproval.
“I suppose they think that now Sir William is dead they can behave in whatever manner they wish.”
“Indeed,” Robert said. “One can only hope that Sir William had the forethought not to give them any money in his will. That should wipe the smiles off their faces. Their contempt for him was appalling.”
“And Lady Benson swooned at your feet?”
Robert shuddered. “Literally. I felt as if I’d been pushed onto the stage of some overdramatic melodrama.”
“You do agree that Sir William’s death might not be due to natural causes?” Lucy asked.
“Yes, I do.” Robert paused. “I liked the man immensely, and if there has been any foul play I intend to ensure that it is brought to light.”
His determination to do the right thing resonated on his face, making Lucy quite relieved that for once she wasn’t going to have to cajole him into joining her in investigating a possible murder.
“I think we should start by talking to everyone who was at the baths this morning,” Lucy said. “You probably knew some of the other bathers. If they are residing in Bath they might frequent the Pump Room, and you can point them out to me.”
“I’m not sure I’d recognize most of them with their wigs on and below the neck, but I’ll do my best,” Robert agreed. “We should also speak to the attendants at the baths.” He frowned. “I noticed that there didn’t appear to be anyone near the actual bath when the incident occurred, and that most of the torches had either not been lit, or had blown out because of the wind.”
“If someone came in after Sir William, and before you got there, it’s possible they might have deliberately extinguished the torches to make it darker,” Lucy said. “It would certainly have made their task easier.”
“As we approached the baths some fool came rushing out and almost knocked me over in his haste to leave,” Robert added. “One has to wonder if he had anything to do with it.”
“Did you recognize the man?”
“Unfortunately not. I was too busy trying not to fall over.” Robert finished his glass of brandy. “If you wish, we can walk over to the baths right now. I feel quite unsettled, and I would prefer not to sit around worrying.”
Lucy cast him a doubtful glance. “Are you quite certain? Would you prefer to rent a chair?”
“I’ll be fine, my dear. Don’t mollycoddle me.”
“As you wish.”
Lucy swept him a curtsey and went to put on her pelisse and bonnet. Her husband was a remarkably stubborn man who did not always take her advice. After three years of marriage she’d learned not to insist that he did, and tried very hard not to remind him when she was proven right.
When she came down into the hall Robert was already awaiting her, his cane in one hand and his hat in the other. He looked her up and down as if she were one of his regiment on a parade ground.
“That is a very fine bonnet, my dear.”
“Thank you. It was just delivered from Milsom Street this morning.” Lucy smiled at him, aware that he was attempting to make up for his earlier snappishness. “It is also remarkably warm.”
“Then we should proceed.” He put on his hat and offered her his arm. “Is your sister to accompany us?”
“She has already gone ahead to do some shopping and then intends to go to the Pump Room with Penelope.”
“Then we can meet up with them there after we’ve concluded our business at the baths.”
It was only a ten-minute walk from the square to the baths, and it was mainly flat, which made it much easier for Robert. Lucy made no effort to rush, pausing to admire the architecture and to study the Theatre Royal as they went by. They threaded their way through Westgate Street past Upper Borough Walls and ended up in Stall Street.
As they entered the baths, an attendant came out to greet them.
“Good morning, Sir Robert. I regret to inform you that the baths are currently closed due to an unfortunate incident early this morning.”
“I am well aware of that. Sir William was a friend of mine, and I was here with him this morning,” Robert responded. “I wish to speak to Mr. Abernathy if he is available.”
“I shall see if I can find him for you, sir.” The man bowed.
“Were you here this morning?” Lucy asked just before the servant turned away.
“Indeed I was, my lady.”
“Were you positioned close to the baths?”
“We were quite shorthanded, and what with the wind blowing so hard most of us were trying to keep warm in the back.” He grimaced. “I don’t think anyone saw Sir William go under the surface. If we had, someone would’ve gone in for him.”
“Has such a thing happened before?” Robert asked.
“Yes sir, with the nature of our clientele being somewhat frail or elderly, people often fall asleep in the baths, or are overcome with the heat of the water, or the fumes. Mr. Abernathy has taught us all to keep an eye out, sir.”
“But obviously not today,” Robert observed. “Thank you for your insight. Perhaps you might find Mr. Abernathy for me now?”
“Yes, Sir Robert, certainly, sir.”
“It sounds as if this morning was particularly appropriate for a murder,” Robert mused as the servant sped off. “Not enough staff, light, nor any interest in ensuring their patrons were kept alive.”
Lucy shivered as the wind howled down the stone corridor. “I can hardly blame them for not wanting to stay out in this weather. How on earth do you stand it?”
Robert patted her gloved hand. “When you get into the water, you forget about the cold. It is quite blissful.”
Robert walked farther into the complex, and Lucy inhaled the noxious odors emanating from the bath. She had no intention of ever disrobing in front of complete strangers and finding out if his words were true. Steam rose from the dark surface and even at this time of the day with the sun at its brightest, there wasn’t much light within the cavernous space. She could quite understand how someone might not notice a body slipping beneath the surface.
She reached Robert’s side and pointed at a woman sitting by the wall with a basket beside her. “Shall we speak to her while we wait for Mr. Abernathy?”
Robert walked over to the woman and tipped his hat. “Good morning, ma’am. Were you intending to bathe today?”
“Not likely.” The grin Robert received revealed the woman had half her teeth missing. “I come here to sell my perfumes and soaps to the bathers, but I won’t be making much money unless that skinflint Abernathy reopens the place.”
“Are you here every day, Mrs. . . . ?” Lucy asked.
“Mistress Peck and aye, ma’am. I was here at the crack of dawn when the large gentleman was fished out of the bath like a stranded whale.” She cackled. “What a sight. He was a kind gentleman though. Often gave me a few pennies when he passed by.”
“Did you see him come in this morning?”
“He arrived with that fancy doctor of his, and another man. I only noticed them because they were