- 26 . At Bowerly Hall-26
- 27 . At Bowerly Hall-27
- 28 . At Bowerly Hall-28
- 29 . At Bowerly Hall-29
- 30 . At Bowerly Hall-30
- 31 . At Bowerly Hall-31
- 32 . At Bowerly Hall-32
I AM most sorry to find that my suspicions are true,” he said, bending down to touch the heavy gilt frames of the paintings. “Hand me the candle, please.”
He looked more closely at the picture. It was a bland landscape with fields and hedges and a few bored-looking horses.
“I have seen this painting adorning the dining-room at Whitehaven Castle. It is priceless. I will be very glad to be able to return it to the family.”
It was hard to hide my surprise. It was such an ugly painting.
Charles turned and smiled.
“It is not to your taste?”
“Well, I can’t say that it is. But I’m not an art expert, of course.”
“You don’t fancy this on your wall?”
“Not at all,” I said firmly. “I don’t care one whit if it is priceless.”
He gave me a strange look then.
“You are a very interesting person, Amelia.”
There was nothing I had to say to that. I wasn’t sure what he meant. Then he smiled again and stood straight.
“We should go,” he said. “It’s getting late outside and we must not get caught by the tide or the dusk.”
“Wait.” I caught his arm, feeling the fine fabric of his jacket under my touch. Reluctantly, I let go. “You know who the culprit is. You must tell me.”
He hesitated. I stood my ground. I wasn’t leaving until I knew the answer. He must have sensed my determination for he gave a sigh and began to speak.
“I am not one hundred percent certain. Until I am, I will not go to the law. That would be shameful to the one I suspect.”
“And that person is…?”
“My cousin Francis.”
Hearing it said out loud was rather shocking. It made sense and fitted with my own suspicions but still, where was the logic?
Francis Williams was gentry! He lived in a fine house with his mother. What on earth stimulated him to steal?
“I know that Francis has a love of gambling,” Charles explained. “His father was the same before him. I also know that Francis has run up huge debts in London. Several of the gentlemen he owes money to have approached me for help. With some threats, too, if Francis fails to pay up!
“I have paid what I can, but I cannot pay more. I have Bowerly Hall to consider. In addition, I have my own mother to shelter from the truth. Bowerly must not pay for Francis’s sins.”
“So you think he has stolen all this to pay off his debts? How does he manage to gain entrance to the estates and houses?”
“I believe he has inside help. In the case of Bowerly, I know it. You were right when you said someone had unbolted the kitchen door to allow the thief entry. It was Mrs Bell. She confessed all when I challenged her.”
“But she hasn’t lost her job?”
“There are mitigating circumstances. Francis had a hold on her. Her cousin’s husband is a no-good scoundrel, by all accounts. Francis threatened to have him put in prison if Mrs Bell didn’t help him.
“As an incentive, he also offered her money. She needs money to support her cousin, apparently.” Charles sighed. “Besides, she is an excellent cook and has been with our family for many years. She is extremely contrite. Lastly, how can I let her go without explaining to my mother why I have done so?”
The cousin would be Mrs Smith, Mary’s nanny, who had lost her job when I arrived as governess. What a twisted web of lies and deceit and treachery.
I shook my head.
“I don’t understand why you haven’t told the constable all this.”
“I only have Mrs Bell’s word that Francis is to blame. I owe it to my cousin, to my aunt and my own mother, to prove it before I accuse him of these awful deeds.”
We had reached the fresh air and the shore. Charles went in front of me and leaped to the sand.
He offered his hand and I stepped more gingerly down. Long skirts are quite a hindrance to exploration and climbing.
“How are you going to prove that it’s Francis?” I asked.
“By setting a trap,” Charles said.
Charles’s plan was put into action the very next day. A letter of invitation to dinner was sent to the Williams, explaining that Bowerly Hall was now free from fever and how delighted Lady Anne and Charles would be to entertain their relatives that evening.
The footman returned with an acceptance. Francis was delighted to accept their kind invitation and looked forward to dinner and conversation at eight p.m. Unfortunately, his dear mama was out of sorts and would not be joining them. .
Mrs Dane found plenty of extra work for the staff in preparation for the event. The housemaids were set to dusting the house. A footman was sent to the village to procure the largest ham possible for Mrs Bell. Peggy complained she’d never seen such a mountain of vegetables to be peeled for the evening meal.
“You’d think it was royalty coming!” she said. “His Lordship sent a special message for Mrs Bell to make sure it was a fine meal tonight. She didn’t half sniff at that. Said she always cooks the finest meals and it won’t be no different tonight!”
“I’m sorry it’s so much work for the kitchen staff.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that, I’m just having a moan on behalf of Edna and Lil. It’s them what’ll have to bear the brunt of the work. Once that veg is done we’ll all be happier − although the dessert is some kind of fruit and meringue construction and it looks like it might explode if touched!
Charles clearly wanted his cousin to be contented that night. Then he’d set his trap.