Sick of Shadows

By: M.C. Beaton

Edwardian Murder Mystery #3

2010, EN

Captain Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose Summer have entered into an engagement of convenience-convenient for Rose, who wants to avoid being sent to India with all the other failed debutantes. Despite her considerable good looks, Rose’s sharp intellect and radical ideas have served to repel her would be suitors. Rose’s parents, unaware of the deception, are hardly thrilled that their only child is marrying a man in trade, but Harry comes from a good family, and at the very least, they hope he will keep their troublesome daughter out of mischief.

Unfortunately, even a pretend engagement cannot save Rose from trouble. Bored with endless parties, teas, and balls, she befriends Dolly Tremaine, a beautiful young girl newly arrived from the country and overwhelmed by the demands of the Season. Rose is delighted to have a protégée but their friendship is cut tragically short when Dolly is found floating in a river. Harry is summoned immediately to help solve the mystery of Dolly’s death, and to keep Rose from being the murderer’s next victim.





One


“I am half sick of shadows,” said

The Lady of Shalott.

– ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON





The aristocracy lived in a closed world protected by a shell of wealth and title, as hard and as glittering as a Fabergé egg. The vast outside world of England where people could die of starvation barely caused a ripple in their complacency.

Then, horror upon horrors, the unthinkable happened. A Liberal government was elected, proposing old-age pensions and health insurance and other benefits for the lower classes. They further proposed eight-hour days, workers’ compensation, free school meals and free medical services. Even that aristocrat, young Churchill, had turned Liberal and was saying, “We want to draw the line below which we will not allow persons to live and labour.”

With a few exceptions, the aristocracy closed ranks as never before. The old idea that the House of Commons was an assembly of gentlemen had passed.

Admittedly these winds of change were at first regarded as irritating draughts, such as were caused when a lazy footman had left the door of the drawing-room open. But with the newspapers heralding the reforms every morning, high cultured voices could be heard exclaiming over the grilled kidneys at breakfast tables. “Who is going to pay for all this? Us, of course.”

Many blamed the fact that free elementary education had been introduced in 1870. The lower classes should not have been taught to think for themselves.

So the aristocracy hung grimly onto the snobberies and rules of society which kept the hoi polloi outside.

But the Earl and Countess of Hadfield felt that the enemy was within the gates in the form of their daughter, Lady Rose Summer, who had cheered the result of the election. At first they thought she had reformed. She had become engaged to Captain Harry Cathcart. Admittedly it could be said that the captain was in trade because he ran his own detective agency, but he came from a good family and had enough money to support their daughter in the style to which she was accustomed.

Nonetheless the couple showed no sign of setting a date for the wedding, nor, for that matter, did they see much of each other.

Rose’s parents did not know that her engagement was one of convenience, thought up by the captain to prevent Rose being shipped off to India with the other failed débutantes.

Then Rose had made a companion out of Daisy Levine, a former chorus girl whom she had first elevated to the position of maid and then to that of companion.

Rose, with her thick brown hair, delicate complexion and large blue eyes, was still considered a great beauty, but she repelled men with her encyclopaedic knowledge and radical ideas.

Her parents would have been amazed, however, if they had guessed that Rose went to considerable pains to please them. She suffered seemingly endless days of parties and teas and calls and balls, all of which bored her, but she felt she owed her parents some dutiful behaviour for having failed at her first Season and cost them a great deal of money.

One evening in late spring, Rose and Daisy were preparing to attend yet another ball. Rose was relieved because on this one rare occasion the captain had promised to escort her. This would be at least one evening free from the pitying looks and sniggers of the débutantes who kept asking slyly where her fiancé was.

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