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Bedford Square, страница 1

 

Bedford Square
 


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Bedford Square


  “FASCINATING.”

  —San Francisco Examiner

  “An Anne Perry novel is a delight to read as much for its Victorian-era details as for the mystery it unfolds …. [She] captivates readers with her vivid descriptions of a time that often has been thought virtuous but in reality was plagued with problems and scandals. She intertwines characters and their lives—their daily routines, hardships and emotions—into a suspenseful tale that always tackles a social issue.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Anne Perry is deliciously at it again …. Perry’s style is expressly gracious and fluid, as impeccable as Victorian manners. And she will keep you guessing right up until the final pages, when everything suddenly, violently, falls into place, revealing yet again the depths to which people will sink in order to keep their proprieties and public facades intact. Perry’s seamless surface reveals a seamy underside, and the shock is swift and sure.”

  —The Providence Sunday Journal

  “A RIVETING READ YOU DON’T WANT TO PUT DOWN.”

  —JILL JACKSON Hollywood

  “Perry, as always, excels at portraying the richness, poverty, and class distinctions of Victorian England. However, she achieves brilliance in palming the ace which would give the whole game away to a reader alert enough to spot it.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times

  “History, social commentary, and suspense blend artfully … [The] reader … will be swept along by the narrative’s rush and engaged by its attention to period detail. Aiding Pitt is a cast of smart, well-drawn female characters …. Yet again, Perry delivers an astute and gripping examination of life behind Victorian England’s virtuous facade.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Anne Perry, who critics and fans agree writes Victorian mysteries better than anyone else, explores high and low London society in Bedford Square.”

  —St Paul Pioneer Press (Pick of the Week)

  “TANTALIZING … HER SLEEKEST, FASTEST-MOVING BOOK IN YEARS.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “The Pitts investigate a dark phenomenon not limited to the Victorians: the destruction of reputation through nothing more than innuendo …. [Perry] uses the era’s quaint and often bizarre trappings to frame concerns for social issues that have relevance today.”

  —The Seattle Times

  “Bedford Square is a multilayered novel about deception, love, murder, and, ultimately, the meaning of honor. The setting is so vividly drawn, it’s almost as if the reader is swept back into late Victorian times.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Perry’s popular mysteries are scathing exposés of hypocrisy and corruption in the English Victorian era …. The mood and pace of the tale are exemplary.”

  —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  By Anne Perry

  Published by Ballantine Books

  Featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt:

  THE CATER STREET HANGMAN

  CALLANDER SQUARE

  PARAGON WALK

  RESURRECTION ROW

  BLUEGATE FIELDS

  RUTLAND PLACE

  DEATH IN THE DEVIL’S ACRE

  CARDINGTON CRESCENT

  SILENCE IN HANOVER CLOSE

  BETHLEHEM ROAD

  HIGHGATE RISE

  BELGRAVE SQUARE

  FARRIERS’ LANE

  THE HYDE PARK HEADSMAN

  TRAITORS GATE

  PENTECOST ALLEY

  ASHWORTH HALL

  BRUNSWICK GARDENS

  BEDFORD SQUARE

  HALF MOON STREET

  THE WHITECHAPEL CONSPIRACY

  SOUTHHAMPTON ROW

  SEVEN DIALS

  LONG SPOON LANE

  BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS

  Featuring William Monk:

  THE FACE OF A STRANGER

  A DANGEROUS MOURNING

  DEFEND AND BETRAY

  A SUDDEN, FEARFUL DEATH

  THE SINS OF THE WOLF

  CAIN HIS BROTHER

  WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE

  THE SILENT CRY

  A BREACH OF PROMISE

  THE TWISTED ROOT

  SLAVES OF OBSESSION

  FUNERAL IN BLUE

  DEATH OF A STRANGER

  THE SHIFTING TIDE

  DARK ASSASSIN

  EXECUTION DOCK

  The World War I Novels:

  NO GRAVES AS YET

  SHOULDER THE SKY

  ANGELS IN THE GLOOM

  AT SOME DISPUTED BARRICADE

  WE SHALL NOT SLEEP

  The Christmas Novels:

  A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY

  A CHRISTMAS VISITOR

  A CHRISTMAS GUEST

  A CHRISTMAS SECRET

  A CHRISTMAS BEGINNING

  A CHRISTMAS GRACE

  A Ballantine Book

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group

  Copyright © 1999 by Anne Perry

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  www.ballantinebooks.com

  eISBN: 978-0-307-76769-1

  v3.1

  FOR MY MOTHER

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by this Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  1

  PITT LEANED OUT of the bedroom window in his nightshirt and looked down into the street below. The police constable was standing on the pavement staring up at him. The constable’s face, yellow in the gaslight from the street lamps, was tense and unhappy, and it was for more reason than simply having woken the commander of the Bow Street police station at four o’clock in the morning.

  “Dead, sir,” he answered Pitt’s question. “An’ I can’t see as ’ow it could a’ bin an accident, not ’ow ’e is, an’ w’ere I found ’im. An’ I oughta be gettin’ back, sir. I darsen’t leave ’im there by ’isself, sir. Someone might move ’im, like … mess wif evidence.”

  “Yes, of course,” Pitt agreed. “Go back, Constable. You did the right thing. I’ll get dressed and I’ll be there. I presume you haven’t had a chance to call the surgeon or the mortuary van?”

  “No sir, I come straight ’ere, seein’ as w’ere ’e is.”

  “I’ll call them. You go back and stand guard.”

  “Yes sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

  “Don’t be. You did the right thing,” Pitt repeated, pulling his head in and shivering involuntarily. It was June—at least nominally summer—but in London the nights were still chilly, and there was a faint mist hanging over the city.

  “What is it?” Charlotte sat up in bed and fumbled for a match. He heard it scrape and then saw the flame as it caught the wick of the candle. It lit her face softly, gleaming on the warm, dark color of her hair, which was falling out of its long braid. She looked worried.

  “They’ve found a body in Bedford Square,” he answered. “It seems as if he was murdered.”

  “Do they really need you for that?” she protested. “Is it somebody important?”

  Since his promotion Pitt had been asked to concentrate on those cases which were of political significance or threatened scandal.

  “Maybe not,” he replied, closing the wi
ndow and walking over to where his clothes were hanging across the back of the chair. He took off his nightshirt and began to dress, not bothering with collar or cravat. There was water in the ewer, and he poured it into the basin. It was cold, but there was certainly no time to light the kitchen stove and heat it so he could shave. Unfortunately, there was also no time for a cup of tea, which he would have liked even more. He splashed his face and felt the sharp tingle of coldness, then with his eyes shut, felt for the towel.

  “Thank you.” He took it from Charlotte’s outstretched hand. He rubbed his face vigorously, feeling the rough cotton stir the blood and warm him. “Because apparently he was on the front doorstep of one of the big houses,” he replied.

  “Oh.” She understood the implications. London was peculiarly sensitive to scandal just now. In the previous year, 1890, a scandal had occurred at Tranby Croft. Now the trial was rocking the entire country. It was all very regrettable, a matter of gambling at a country house party, an accusation of cheating at baccarat, an illegal game, and of course an indignant denial. But what could not be hidden or excused was that the Prince of Wales had been involved and was now to be called to the witness stand to give evidence. Half of London opened the daily newspapers with bated breath.

  Pitt finished dressing. He put his arms around Charlotte and kissed her, feeling the warmth of her skin and pushing back the heavy hair with his fingers, enjoying its softness with an all-too-fleeting pleasure.

  “Go back to bed,” he said gently. “I’ll be home when I can, but I doubt it’ll be for breakfast.” He tiptoed across the floor and opened the door quietly, not to waken the children and Gracie, the maid, asleep up on the top floor. The landing gaslight was always left on very low, and it was sufficient for him to see his way downstairs. In the hall he picked up the telephone—a fairly recent acquisition in his home—and asked the operator to connect him with the Bow Street Station. When the sergeant answered, Pitt instructed him to send the police surgeon and mortuary van to Bedford Square. He replaced the receiver, put on his boots and took his jacket from the hook by the front door. He slid back the latch and stepped outside.

  The air was damp and chilly but it was already beginning to get light, and he walked quickly along the glistening pavement towards the corner of Gower Street and turned left. It was only a few yards into Bedford Square, and even from that distance he saw the unhappy figure of the constable standing alone about halfway along the pavement. He looked immensely relieved to see Pitt striding towards him out of the gloom. His expression brightened visibly and he waved his bull’s-eye lantern.

  “Over ’ere, sir!” he called out.

  Pitt neared him and glanced where he was pointing. The dark figure was easy to see lying sprawled on the front steps of the large house immediately to their left. It seemed almost as if he must have been reaching for the doorbell when he fell. The cause of death was apparent. There was a deep and bloody wound on the side of his head. It was difficult to imagine how he could have come by it in any accident. Nothing that could have occurred in the roadway would have thrown him so far, nor was there another wound visible.

  “Hold the light for me,” Pitt requested, kneeling down beside the body and looking at it more closely. He touched his hand gently to the man’s throat. There was no pulse, but the flesh was still just warm. “What time did you find him?” he asked.

  “Sixteen minutes afore four, sir.”

  Pitt glanced at his pocket watch. It was now thirteen minutes past. “What time did you come this way before that?”

  “Abaht quarter afore three, sir. ’e weren’t ’ere then.”

  Pitt turned around to look up at the street lamps. They were off. “Find the lamplighter,” he ordered. “He can’t have been here long ago. They’re still lit on Keppel Street, and it’s barely daylight enough to see anywhere. He’s a bit sharp as it is.”

  “Yessir!” the constable agreed with alacrity.

  “Anyone else?” Pitt asked as the constable took a step away.

  “No sir. Too early for deliveries. They don’ start till five at the soonest. No maids up yet. ’Nother ’alf hour at least. Bit late fer partyers. Most o’ them’s ’orne by three. Though yer never know yer chances, like. Yer could ask ….”

  Pitt smiled wryly. He noticed that the constable had abandoned doing it himself and considered Pitt the one to work the gentry of Bedford Square and ask them if they had happened to notice a corpse on the doorstep, or even a fight in the street, as they returned from their revels.

  “If I have to,” Pitt said dourly. “Did you look in his pockets?”

  “No sir. I left that fer you, sir.”

  “I don’t suppose you have any idea who he is? Not a local servant or tradesman, suitor to one of the maids around here?”

  “No sir, I in’t never seen ’im afore. I don’t reckon as ’e belongs ’ere. Shall I go an’ find the lamplighter, sir, afore ’e goes too far?”

  “Yes, go and find him. Bring him back here.”

  “Yessir!” And before Pitt could think of any more questions for him, he put his bull’s-eye down on the step, turned on his heel and strode off into the broadening dawn light.

  Pitt picked up the lantern and examined the dead man. His face was lean, the skin weathered, as if he spent much of his time outside. There was a faint stubble of beard across his cheeks. His hair had little color, a dark mousy brown that had probably been fair in his youth. His features were pleasant enough, a trifle pinched, upper lip too short, eyebrows wispy, the left one with a pronounced break in it as if from an old scar. It was a face easy to see and forget, like thousands of others. Pitt used his finger to ease the collarless shirt back an inch or two. The skin under it was fair, almost white.

  Next he looked at the man’s hands. They were strong, lean, with fingernails chipped and far from clean, but they did not look like the hands of a manual worker. There were no calluses. The knuckles were torn as if he had been in a hard fight very recently, perhaps only moments before his death. The bleeding was slight in spite of the ripped skin, and there had not been time for bruising.

  Pitt slipped his hand into a jacket pocket and was startled to close his fingers over a small metal box. He pulled it out and turned it over under the light. It was exquisite. He could not tell at a glance whether it was gold-plated or solid, or possibly even pinchbeck, that brilliant imitation of gold, but it was intricately modeled like a tiny cathedral reliquary, the sort used to house the bones of saints. The top was decorated with a tiny reclining figure, relaxed in death and wearing long clerical robes and a bishop’s mitre. Pitt opened the box and sniffed gently. Yes, it was what he had supposed, a snuffbox. It could hardly have belonged to the man who lay dead at his feet. Even if it were pinchbeck it would be worth more than he had seen in a month, perhaps in a year.

  But if he had been caught stealing it, why was he left here on the doorstep, and above all, why had whoever killed him not retrieved the box?

  Pitt felt to see if there was anything else in the pocket, and found only a short length of string and a pair of bootlaces, apparently unused. In the man’s other pockets he found a key, a piece of rag for a handkerchief, three shillings and four pence in small change, and several pieces of paper, one of which was a receipt for three pairs of socks purchased only two days before from a shop in Red Lion Square. That, if diligently followed, might possibly tell them who he was. There was nothing else to indicate his name or where he lived.

  Of course, there were thousands of people who had no homes and simply slept in doorways or under railway arches and bridges, or at this time of the year in the open, if tolerant police did not disturb them. But looking at this man, Pitt deduced that if such misfortune had happened to him, it must have been recent. His clothes were all hard worn; there were holes in his socks—these were not the new ones! The soles of his boots were paper-thin in places, but he was dry. He had not the inlaid grime or the musty, moldy smell of someone who lived outside.

  Pitt
stood up as he heard footsteps along the pavement and saw the familiar, awkward, angular figure of Sergeant Tellman approaching him from the Charlotte Street direction. He would not have mistaken Tellman even in the lamplight, but the dawn was now whitening the eastern sky.

  Tellman reached him and stopped. He was hastily dressed, but it was noticeable only in his jacket, buttoned one hole crooked. His collar was as tight and straight as usual, his cravat as plain and neat, his hair wet, combed back from his lantern-jawed face. He looked dour also, as usual.

  “Some gentleman too drunk to avoid being run down by a hansom?” he asked.

  Pitt was used to Tellman’s opinion of the privileged.

  “If he was a gentleman he was on extremely hard times,” he replied, glancing down at the body. “And he wasn’t hit by a vehicle. There isn’t a mark on his clothes other than where he fell, but his knuckles are grazed as if he put up quite a fight. Look at him yourself.”

  Tellman eyed Pitt sharply, then bent as he was told and examined the dead man. When he stood up again, Pitt held out his hand with the snuffbox in it.

  Tellman’s eyebrows shot up. “He had that?”

  “Yes.”

  “Then he was a thief ….”

  “So who killed him, and why here on the front doorstep? He didn’t go in or out that way!”

  “Don’t reckon as he was killed here either,” Tellman said with a hint of satisfaction. “That wound on his head must have bled a good bit … heads do. Cut yourself and you’ll soon see. But there’s not much on the step around him. I’d say he was killed somewhere else and put here.”

  “Because he was a thief?”

  “Seems a good reason.”

  “Then why leave the snuffbox? Apart from its value, it’s the one thing that could trace him back to the house he stole it from. There can’t be many like it.”

  “Don’t know,” Tellman admitted, biting his lips. “Doesn’t make sense. I suppose we’ll have to start asking all ’round the square.” His face reflected vividly his distaste at the prospect.

  They both heard the clatter of hooves at the same time as a hansom came from the Caroline Street corner of the square at a brisk clip, followed immediately by the mortuary van. The van stopped a dozen yards along the curb and the hansom drew level with them. The frock-coated figure of the surgeon climbed out, straightened his collar and walked over to them. He nodded greeting, then regarded the dead man with resignation. He hitched the knees of his trousers slightly, to avoid stretching the fabric, and squatted down to begin his examination.

 
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