|ALL THAT GLITTERS
a Regency Mystery
by Nene Adams ©2004 – All rights reserved
“Oh, fiend seize it!” Lady Augusta Stapleton threw down her fan in a fit of temper, her beautiful face flushing crimson. Frustration and annoyance made her blue eyes sparkle like gems. “What am I to do, Snowly? I’m in damned low water on account of that accursed, jingle-brained young Vickery.”
“I hadn’t heard about that.” Snowly settled himself on the sofa next to Augusta, obviously prepared to at least lend an ear to her Iliad of ills, even if he could not lend a hundred pounds to pay off her gambling debt. “Do go on, Gussie. I hang upon your lips, eager to absorb every confided detail, after which I intend to offer my inestimable advice.”
Augusta pushed the loose blonde curls off her forehead and scowled. “Bah! You know, of course, that young idiot Horace Vickery – the Duke of Yardley’s youngest son – has recently become engaged to Lavinia L’Estrange.”
Snowly nodded. “I was as astonished as the rest of the London beau monde, my dear. It seems, on the face of it, a veritable misalliance. The L’Estrange family are well-known encroaching mushrooms who aspire to rub elbows with those beyond their natural station. They have actually had the indecency to earn a fortune in trade!” He affected a fastidious shudder. “I was given to understand that the match is being tolerated because the blushing bride’s generous dowry will enable the Duke to reclaim some family lands which were mortgaged by his grand-father.”
“Indeed, and it is also understood that as much as L’Estrange père and mère wish to use their son-in-law’s connections to ingratiate themselves into Society, they are also quite rigid in their moral outlook.” Augusta gave Snowly a grim smile. “Poor Vicky has had to swear off drinking, gambling and… ahem.” She raised her eyebrows and gave him a knowing look. “At least, until after the wedding takes place.”
“Poor Vicky, indeed,” Snowly murmured, knowing all about Horace Vickery’s tempestuous and illicit relationships with certain women of easy virtue.
“Well, Vickery’s oldest brother, who is a lieutenant in the Lilywhite 7th Hussars – do you know Andrew, Snowly?”
“Yes, I am acquainted with his lordship.”
“Andrew decided that before Horace had to embrace virtue for a six-month engagement, he ought to get his fill of vice.” Augusta got up from the sofa and went to the side-table to pour herself a glass of ratafia. She sipped the almond-scented liquor and went on, “It was quite a bash, Snowly. I’m surprised you weren’t invited to the Gilt Feather.”
“I was out of town at my uncle’s estate near Sheffield.” Snowly accepted the glass that Augusta offered him. “Frankly, Gussie, I’m shocked white that Andrew Vickery invited you to partake of such a bawdy bacchanal, and at a notorious gaming hell, no less.”
Augusta shrugged carelessly. “Oh, that!” Her tone was scornful. “I was perfectly safe, Snowly, given that I was escorted by Caroline Peregrine.”
Caroline Peregrine? Snowly’s eyebrows ached from being perched so high on his forehead. “Not quite the well armed escort I would have preferred,” he said noncommittally, toying with the glass of liquor. He would have liked to say more, but Augusta beat him to it.
“Caro is a perfectly respectable personage,” she said hotly, banging her glass on the side-table so hard that it cracked. “In fact, I am quite besotted with her.”
“But Miss Peregrine is a bluestocking,” he pointed out, “a savant, a seeker after nuggets of dust-dry knowledge. I should think she would be more interested in astrolabes and alchemy than dicing at hazard. Is not this attachment somewhat inappropriate?” He did not really know the woman – she was outside his social circle – but Caroline’s late father, Professor Peregrine, had taught the sciences at Oxford until his death five years ago.
“She is actually quite good at hazard – Caro rolled several ‘nicks’ and scooped the stakes, which made the Earl of Penhallow fairly weep in chagrin - and furthermore, it is not an improper attachment,” Augusta insisted, her cheeks flushing a brighter scarlet. “We are quite fond of one another, Snowly. I am thinking of setting up a household with her, like the celebrated ladies of Llangollen.”
Snowly choked, causing the liquor in his glass to spill onto his breeches. His first thought was that his valet, a strict disciplinarian when it came to his wardrobe, was going to be furious at the stain. His second was that Augusta must be mad.
He uttered something to the effect that the conduct of two eccentric Irish females who lived together in a cottage in Wales was, despite their popularity with such individuals as the Duke of Wellington, not quite in accord with the current fashion for gentlewomen to wed gentlemen. Snowly thought he had put his views plainly yet diplomatically – he felt in loco parentis to Gussie Stapleton, given that her parents were dead and her sole relation was a sour-faced spinster aunt - but Augusta remained stubborn.
“Don’t bandy words with me,” she cried, “for you’ve no notion of how I feel for Caro, or how she feels for me. This is no fustian nonsense, Snowly. I am thoroughly smitten. And besides…” Augusta turned sulky. “Until I can pay off the debt I owe James Pelham, I shan’t be able to take Caroline anywhere, let alone Bath.”
Snowly’s head was spinning. He decided to give in on the issue of the Peregrine woman – for now – in order to concentrate on the more immediate business. “Bath? Why should you… wait.” He held up a hand to forestall Augusta’s explanation. “First, tell me how you came to owe Plum Pelham a hundred pounds.”
Augusta flung herself back onto the sofa. “I was telling you about the party at the Gilt Feather.”
“I await further revelations with bated breath,” he said dryly.
She glared at him from beneath her lashes. “Don’t be so frightfully missish, Snowly. I assure you that Caro and I were not the only respectable females at Andrew Vickery’s spree. Miss Allegra Idlewyld and the Honorable Jane Malmsey also attended, as well as Lady Katherine Braddock, Lady Almeria Elphinstone, Miss Penelope Roby, her sister-in-law Mrs. George Roby, her mother Mrs. Edward Roby, and that whey-faced, freckled little thing who belongs to the Pryce clan. And there were abigails a-plenty to act as duennas and see that no one’s reputation suffered a mite.”
“I see.” Snowly made a mental note to have a long, possibly violent chat with Lt. Andrew Vickery on the proper conduct becoming an officer and a gentleman, which did not include involving ladies in a questionable to-do that might yet become the scandal of all London. A gaming hell! Good Lord!
“At any rate,” Augusta continued, “it was James Pelham who entered into an altercation with the Honorable Frederick Maybrick over the high-stepping, bang-up-to-prime blood bay that they both had tried to buy at Tattersall’s, but which was pinched from beneath their very noses by Richard Yarmouth. Both Freddie and Plum swore sour grapes over the bay gelding, claiming it was a broken-winded, sway-backed nag unfit to be slaughtered by the knacker-man. Being a trifle worse for drink, nothing else would do but Richard had to have the bay fetched from the stables, and Freddie had his grey brought, and Plum called for a race to determine whose horse was the better. He made an excellent book, too, and I simply couldn’t resist because I thought it was a certain thing.”
“You wagered a hundred pounds on Freddie Maybrick’s dapple grey? My dear, everyone knows that mare isn’t worth a farthing.”
“Am I a feather-witted baggage? A chuckle-head of the first water? Of course I knew that Freddie’s mare was no good, which is why I wagered a hundred pounds on Richard Yarmouth’s gelding. But devil take it! The bay slipped on a cobblestone and injured his fetlock, which allowed Frederick Maybrick’s miserable bonesetter to win. I am not yet convinced that bamboozler Pelham did not grease the street to effect just such an outcome.”
Snowly rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a case of the megrims coming on. “And so you lost a hundred pounds,” he said, trying to grasp the essential facts. “And dare I ask - what does this contretemps have to do with taking Miss Peregrine to Bath?”
“My money is still held in trust by that horrid old dog’s wife of an aunt of mine until next year, when I turn twenty-five,” Augusta said. “She has me on a strict allowance; no amount of Banbury tales or girlish tears will wring a further shilling out of her. I lost the rest of my year’s allowance on that silly wager, when I had counted on winning, you see, and then I’d have the blunt to pay for a visit to Bath for myself and Caroline. It isn’t to be.” She sighed. “Instead, I can’t make good my debt to Plum until next year, and everybody knows he’s desperate for the ready on account of his debts, which if he can’t pay he’ll be sent down from Oxford in disgrace, and his father will no doubt fit him up for a career in the Church.”
Augusta picked at a loose thread on the sleeve of her lavender muslin dress and sighed again. “And that, my dear Snowly, is why I wanted to borrow a hundred pounds from you.”
“I see.” Snowly sat back and stared at the ceiling for a long moment. “My dear Gussie,” he said as an idea occurred to him, “how is your inamorata at solving puzzles?”
“Oh, Caro’s terrifically clever,” Augusta answered with such confidence, Snowly felt the tentative plan firm at once into a concrete scheme.
“Allow me to offer you a proposition,” he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him, glossy Hessian boots crossed at the ankle. “As you know, my uncle Hieronymus Nash died two months ago, leaving me his entire estate as I was his only heir.”
“Yes, and I still don’t understand why you’re so poorly in the pocket,” Augusta said. “Wasn’t Mr. Nash as wealthy as Croesus?”
“Not quite, but his fortune was, by all accounts, tolerable. I use the past tense because, hang it, I haven’t been able to find Uncle Nash’s fortune a’tall!”
“Oh? Has his banker done a moonlight flit?”
“Uncle Nash did not trust banks,” Snowly said. “When Old Boney began terrorizing Europe, my uncle converted his cash into gold and hid it somewhere on the grounds of his estate. Or possibly inside the house, which is a labyrinthine experience, I must tell you, having been added to over successive generations and subsequently filled with all manner of rubbish.” He laced his fingers over his stomach. “That branch of the family is a touch eccentric.”
“Have you looked for the gold?”
“Of course I have, you wearisome chit! My uncle’s manservant, Jenkins, has been helping me search but thus far without result. Now here’s my proposition – you and Miss Peregrine come to visit the Sheffield estate; we can put it about that you’re actually paying a call on my sister, Elizabeth, which ought to quell any scandalmonger’s tongues.”
“You’ve intrigued me sufficiently,” Augusta said, a gleam in her eyes. “Go on.”
“If your beloved Miss Peregrine can determine where my uncle hid his gold, I shall not only give you the hundred pounds to pay your debt to James Pelham, I’ll double it as a finder’s fee. But it must be done within a fortnight, as I’ve been invited to visit my friend Eustace Darby’s country house in Devonshire for the shooting season.”
Augusta nodded, then thrust out her hand. “Done and done!” she said, a huge grin creasing her pretty face. “Will you drive us in your carriage or must we go by the infamous Yellow Bounder?”
“In my own carriage, madam! I’d not trust two young and tender ladies to a hired post chaise where you will no doubt be set upon by ruffians and forced to endure rapacious landlords at roadside inns.” Snowly returned her grin and sat up, uncrossing his legs. He took her hand and shook it. “A fortnight, mind you – not a single minute more!”
“You sound like my aunt,” Augusta complained, but her smile did not fade. “Prepare to be dazzled, dear Snowly. Caroline Peregrine is no ordinary lady.”
“Good Lord, I hope not!” Snowly replied. “If she cannot provide a solution to this conundrum, I don’t know where to turn next. I’ll be brought to Point Non Plus, indeed.”
“O vain petitioner! beg a greater matter/Thou now request'st but moonshine in the water.” Augusta said nothing more after quoting Shakespeare but her expression was very sly.
Snowly wondered if he had perhaps made the situation worse. He shrugged inwardly. What was done was done. If the plan succeeded, he would be rich and Augusta’s immediate problem would be solved. As to what he might still do regarding the attachment Gussie was evincing towards Miss Peregrine… well, there were ways to discourage young misses and the objects of their wayward affections.
At the very least, he would have a chance to assess Caroline Peregrine for himself.
She was not quite beautiful, but neither was she plain, although like Augusta she was past her first bloom. Her dress was ordinary but showed excellent taste. Caroline’s dark curly hair was cropped short in the style known as à la Titus and worn swept back from a high white brow. Her gloved hand clutched Augusta’s, but that was the only sign that betrayed anything of her nerves. Otherwise, she remained mostly silent during the trip, politely avoiding Snowly’s attempts to include her in the conversation.
As the barouche rolled in stately fashion over the long crushed-stone drive that meandered through an artificial wood towards the Nash residence, Caroline glanced up the hill and surveyed Hackworth House calmly through big brown eyes. All at once she asked, “Was your uncle fond of you, Lord Snowly?”
The unexpected question made him jerk back in surprise. “Why, er, yes, I believe so, Miss Peregrine,” Snowly replied, blinking, “given that I was his nearest relation and he had no children of his own.”
Caroline subsided against the carriage seat, a distant expression on her face. Snowly exchanged a glance with Augusta, who shrugged. He, too, sank back into the cushioned seat but he did not relax. His thoughts were busy with the riddle that was Caroline Peregrine. On the surface, she was very different from the usual Society woman – full of thoughtful silence instead of lively chatter, for example, but not sullen or spoiled. Despite being an academic female with no fortune or connections to recommend her to the fashionable set, there was nothing vulgar or commonplace about her. Snowly had yet to see any evidence of her supposed intelligence, however, and he found himself wondering what Augusta saw in Caroline. Thus far, he himself had found her quite dull.
Jenkins was waiting for them outside the house. When the carriage halted, the man opened the door and flipped down the steps. Snowly exited the conveyance and gallantly assisted the ladies in alighting as well. “Is my sister Elizabeth at home?” he asked the servant.
“Yes, milord,” Jenkins answered.
A miniature whirlwind in white-on-white embroidered cambric erupted from the front of the house and scrambled down the steps. “John!” cried Miss Elizabeth Snowly, a glad smile lighting her pretty face.
Snowly embraced his younger sister and kissed her brow in brotherly fashion. “Lizzie, my dear, how was your journey from Brighton?”
“Our aunt Phillips sends her felicitations,” Elizabeth replied. Her frankly curious gaze transferred to the two women waiting beside the carriage.
Taking the hint, Snowly said, “May I present Lady Augusta Stapleton and her companion, Miss Peregrine. Lady Stapleton, Miss Peregrine, allow me to present my sister, Miss Snowly.”
The women murmured greetings to one another. Augusta quickly turned her charm on Elizabeth and soon the two chattered together like old friends. Caroline’s attention was fixed on the servant, Jenkins.
“Where was your master’s forge?” she asked him.
Jenkins ducked his grizzled head. “In the library, miss,” he said. “Master Nash converted the fireplace with brick and mortar into a small forge with an anvil and bellows and everything needed for blacksmithing work.”
“Thank you,” she said, and followed Augusta and Elizabeth into the house.
Snowly remained behind, issuing orders on the matter of their trunks. Jenkins was the only male servant at Hackworth House, his uncle Nash being a notorious pinch-purse who would skin a flea for its hide and tallow. His own valet was away, visiting an ill relative. Accordingly, Snowly had to order the carriage driver to assist in the disposition of the luggage, which made the fellow surly until his lordship offered a handsome gratuity for the additional service.
Meanwhile, the ladies had removed bonnets, gloves and pelisses, and adjourned to the sitting room, where Elizabeth offered a glass of sherry and a seat by the fireplace. Augusta’s corded mulberry muslin carriage dress and lilac satin shawl were much admired by Elizabeth, while in her turn, Augusta praised Miss Snowly’s willow green morning gown. Caroline’s sprigged India muslin dress with its simple lace fichu was diplomatically deemed unworthy of mention but she did not seem to mind. Instead, Caroline remained quiet, absorbing the chatter and observing everything with her big brown eyes. The talk between Augusta and Elizabeth turned to politics, the weather, mutual acquaintances and family gossip.
Snowly joined the women in the sitting room in time to catch Elizabeth exclaim, “I do not understand why one’s own relations must prove so pernicious as to prevent their heirs from easily claiming what is theirs under the law.”
“Do not speak ill of the dead, Lizzie,” Snowly admonished, bowing to the ladies and going to stand near the fireplace. “I’m sure our beloved Uncle Nash did not mean to leave us without a sixpence to scratch with.”
“Did your uncle die unexpectedly?” Caroline asked, earning herself an astonished glance from Elizabeth – who might have been forgiven for supposing the other woman was completely dumb - and another surprised look from Snowly.
“Well, he was ill for nearly a year before the end,” Snowly said. “He made arrangements for the coffin down in Hackworth village; a local man made it cheaply, which was all that Uncle Nash desired.”
Caroline folded her hands in her lap and gazed at him steadily. “So the gentleman was cautious with his money?”
This time, Elizabeth answered. “Morbleu, Miss Peregrine, and sink me to the devil! You’ve struck the nail squarely on the head.”
Snowly winced at his sister’s vulgarity.
Elizabeth continued unheeding, “Uncle Nash was the most notorious pinch-purse in Sheffield. Aye, in all of England, I dare say! Nothing new would do when he could get it second-hand – including his waistcoats and small-clothes – and he would never make a purchase if the article could be mended, preferably by his own hands to save the fee. My uncle was an amateur blacksmith, too; he used to shoe his ancient and toothless pony himself rather than pay the village ‘smith for the chore.”
Caroline’s glance became as keen as a razor’s edge. Her features sharpened. Snowly felt a chill invade his blood; goosebumps rose on his flesh and the small hairs on the back of his neck sprang to attention. Something important had just happened, but he could not have said what. He cleared his throat.
“My sister is correct in her assertion that my uncle was careful not to be a spendthrift,” Snowly said, “but perhaps she states the case too strongly.”
“Does she?” Caroline arched a brow in his direction.
Snowly felt a touch of color creep into his cheeks. At that moment, Caroline Peregrine reminded him of his childhood nurse, a stern, stout woman whose ideas of child-rearing had included watery porridge and religious sermons in equal measures. He realized that he was steeling himself to endure a lecture from Mr. Fordyce’s edifying tome, and stifled a laugh at his own folly.
“Miss Peregrine, I must admit to my family’s eternal shame that Uncle Nash was, indeed, a sober and miserly individual,” Snowly said, propping a booted foot on the hearth and leaning his elbow against the mantelpiece. “He believed in getting value for money; profligate wastrels were not welcome beneath his roof.”
Caroline considered this statement gravely. At last, she asked, “May I see the household accounts for the past two years?”
This apparent non sequitur had the effect of once again setting Snowly back on his pins. There was a method to her madness, he supposed. He risked a glance at Augusta, who was looking insufferably proud of her inamorata’s presumed cleverness. Indeed, his friend was almost preening. Could this Peregrine creature actually solve the puzzle of his uncle’s missing wealth?
And if she did, would he not feel obliged to withdraw his objections to Augusta and Caroline’s liaison?
Snowly determined that he would take things as they came and not borrow trouble.
Once Caroline was settled in the library with the requested account books, Snowly and Elizabeth accompanied Augusta on a tour of the grounds. Uncle Nash’s apple and pear orchards would be ready for harvesting soon, but the glass-paned pinery and orangerie had both fallen into gross disrepair. The herb garden planted by Snowly’s great aunt was a riot of yellowing foliage and seed-heads. From the view afforded by a gap in a rampant hedge, Hackworth House was just as much of a sprawling mess, with a Tudor main residence that had a classical portico (stuck on in Snowly’s great-aunt’s day in a willy-nilly way), and a yellow-grey limestone wing on either side, each sporting a round tower with a pointed slate roof like a witch’s hat.
Hackworth House was not even charming, although one of the towers was virtually smothered in ivy, which lent that particular wing a rustic air that was not altogether unpleasant. Snowly had already decided that, if he could but raise the cash, he would like to renovate Hackworth’s aspect into a more tolerable one. That thought raised another and he said aloud, “I wonder how Miss Peregrine is getting along.”
“Quite well, I assure you,” Augusta said. The day being cool despite the late afternoon sunlight, she had wrapped the lilac shawl around herself but foregone her pelisse. “Trust in Caro, my dear Snowly. She will provide.”
“Like the Lord Our God?” Snowly asked in a lazy drawl.
“For shame, to blaspheme the Church! Or is this an example of Modern Piety?” Augusta laughed and quoted Mrs. Elizabeth Beverly, who had published the poem the previous year:
“Two ladies fair, in lively chat;
Elizabeth continued the poem:
“Dear friend,” cries Ann, “you quite mistake--
“Excellently done, Miss Snowly!” Augusta proclaimed.
Elizabeth gave her a graceful curtsey. “So, is Miss Peregrine here to ferret out uncle’s secret?” she asked, her eyes sparkling in delight. “How wonderful!”
“One can only hope,” Snowly said, pressing a hand to his shirt bosom. “Come along, ladies. It’s nearing the dinner hour. Let us return before Mrs. Sickert the housekeeper sends Jenkins to beat the bushes in order to scatter us from cover.”
Caroline proved difficult to pry away from her study of the accounts but Augusta managed by a combination of browbeating, pretty pleading and perhaps other persuasive activities that were not witnessed by Snowly or his sister, but the evidence of flushed faces and swollen lips told his lordship the rest of the story. He said nothing, however, merely indicated that dinner was waiting. Caroline, at least, had the grace to blush at his knowing glance but Augusta – always a troublesome, bold-faced wench – faced him with chin held high and a tiny, secret smile wreathing her cupid’s bow mouth.
Mrs. Sickert proved a capable cook as well as an assiduous housekeeper. Lord Snowly, his sister and their two guests ate baked eggs in the Florentine manner with béchamel sauce, pigeon pie, roast ribs of beef, a fricassee of turnips, pike in court bouillon, a sallet of endive and cabbage-lettuce, a ragoo of celery with wine, and pyramid creams for dessert. Afterwards, Snowly enjoyed a glass of port while the ladies indulged in an excellent Madeira. It was while the diners were lingering over the nuts and sweetmeats that Caroline made a polite cough to gain Snowly’s attention.
“Your lordship, I believe I know what your uncle Hieronymus Nash did with his money. Shall we repair to the library?”
Snowly’s eyes were as round as dinner plates, he was certain of it.
Augusta shot him a triumphant look. “Shall we, dear Snowly?”
Elizabeth squealed and clapped her hands together in excitement. “This is so very thrilling, just like a Gothic romance!”
Caroline led the way, a tall wiry figure in plain blue jaconet, her cropped dark curls restrained by a bandeau twisted around her head. The light from candles and lamps in the library gave her sallow skin a further golden cast that made her seem exotic and strange, almost otherworldly. Snowly found his spine straightening, his breath catching in his lungs. Elizabeth was right – it was exciting, waiting for the dénouement.
As soon as they had all gathered together, Caroline gestured for the others to take a seat. She remained standing, her hands clasped together behind her back. Around her were heavy wooden shelves that rose from floor to ceiling, crammed full of books; there were also a number of tables that were piled high with papers, and more stacks of papers littered the corners of the room. After a moment, Jenkins entered and unobtrusively made his way to the fireplace, which as he had said was converted to a small forge. The anvil was missing, however – Snowly had had it hammered apart by the village blacksmith in case the missing gold was hidden within – and the bellows wrecked for the same reason.
“Before we begin, there are one or two trifling details which must be clarified,” Caroline said. Her gaze settled on Jenkins. “I presume that your master applied the wallpaper himself,” she said, gesturing at the lurid green paper with its printed puce swags that adorned the sole wall that was not cluttered with shelves.
“Yes, miss, he did so at night,” Jenkins replied. “He had thought of doing the whole house up in the paper, for he had taken a fancy to it, but did not like to do the work after he finished the library.”
“Did your master sleep in the library as well?”
“He did, miss, towards the end.” Jenkins nodded at a large clear space in a corner of the room next to the makeshift forge. “The master had us bring his bed and mattresses here. He had a fear of thieves, miss, and slept with loaded pistols under his pillow. Milord Snowly ordered that the bed be moved back upstairs to the master’s chamber.”
“And how did your master discharge his monthly debts?”
“Why, the tradesmen in the village sent up their bills, which I entered into the accounts book,” Jenkins said. “Then I brought the accounts to the master in the library and the next day, he gave me the money to pay them.”
“Thank you, Mr. Jenkins.” Caroline’s keen gaze now swept over Snowly, who said facetiously, “I had no intention of sleeping in the library, Miss Peregrine. You may accuse me of nothing more than that.”
“I knew that a bed had been here because of the four distinct scuff marks made on the floor here,” Caroline said, going over to the area in question to point at the floor. “This old varnish is quite susceptible to damage if treated roughly.”
She glided back to her previous place. “Upon checking the household accounts, I found two curious entries. The first was made two years ago, when Mr. Nash sent to Leadenhall Street in London to purchase a volume called Metallurgy.”
“Not so very curious,” Snowly said, “for as you know, he was an amateur blacksmith.”
“True, milord, but this was a new book.” Caroline’s eyes glittered. “An astonishing thing for a renowned miser to purchase, but this particular volume had just been published and was, no doubt, impossible to obtain second-hand. It also cost twenty shillings.”
Snowly shrugged. “A princely price indeed.”
“The second entry is even more curious. Mr. Nash sent to a French firm in order to acquire a number of rolls of heavy, very expensive wallpaper, as well as this.” Caroline bent and retrieved a sheet of paper from the stack near her feet. “It is vellum, milord, and exorbitantly costly. One’s purse must be quite plump to afford such ostentation.”
“Fiend seize it, why should Uncle Nash purchase such costly rubbish? I can see no sense in it!” Elizabeth cried. “Surely he did not spend all his fortune on paper.”
“No, he did not, Miss Snowly.” Caroline tossed the paper back down. “These are the facts,” she said, ticking off each point on her fingers.
“One: Mr. Nash applied himself to amateur blacksmithing, even going so far as to cause a forge to be built inside the library;
“Two: When he became ill, Mr. Nash stayed in the library because he feared thieves, having a bed installed herein;
“Three: Despite his predilection towards second-hand goods and a well-known reputation for miserly behavior, Mr. Nash not only purchased an expensive new book on metallurgy, he also bought vellum and costly wallpaper; furthermore, he put up the wallpaper himself, at night, without witnesses.
“Four: Mr. Nash converted all his cash into gold.”
Caroline looked at each of them in turn, a tinge of pink creeping into her sallow cheeks. “Do you agree that these are the salient points?”
“If you say so,” Elizabeth replied. Snowly shrugged again.
“I do not see how this solves the matter, Miss Peregrine,” he said.
“But your lordship, I have given you every fact necessary to solve the puzzle,” Caroline replied, spreading her hands apart. For the first time, a hint of mischief shone in her brown eyes. “My father, the professor, taught me the same methods of logic and deduction that must have formed part of your own university curriculum, Lord Snowly. Can you not deduce the answer yourself?”
Snowly was hard-pressed not to show his amusement at Caroline’s challenging stare. “Do go on, Miss Peregrine,” he said. “I should not like to deprive you of an evening’s entertainment when you seem to be conducting matters most brilliantly on your own.”
Caroline inclined her head in acknowledgement of the compliment. “Very well, your lordship. Allow me to elucidate the matter as I see it.”
She began to pace back and forth in the small space – four steps left, turn, and four steps right. “Fearing the encroachment of Napoleon Bonaparte upon England, Mr. Nash – who did not trust banks – converted his cash into gold bullion some years ago, which I presume he hid somewhere in the library, since according to Mr. Jenkins’ testimony, the money to pay his bills came from this room. However, at some point, he worried that the precautions he had taken to conceal his fortune would come to naught.
“It was then, I believe, that he formulated a scheme to make his hiding-place much more secure.” Caroline regarded her audience steadily. The play of shadow and candlelight flickering about her face, highlighting her cheekbones and chin and the sharpness of her nose, lent her an eldritch aspect. She might have been some wise woman of old, proferring advice and prophecy to a Saxon thane.
“He purchased a book on metallurgy; at the same time, he ordered the thick wallpaper from France, as well as the vellum," Caroline went on. "Toiling night after night, Mr. Nash was here at his forge, utilizing his blacksmithing skills for the purposes of that concealment which he felt was necessary. Toiling night after night, he put up sections of wallpaper by himself so that anyone entering the room on the next day would be unaware of his efforts.”
Caroline paused and stalked to the papered wall. Lifting a long silver letter opener, she slashed at the wall like a woman possessed. Snowly let out profane exclamation, while Augusta chuckled and Elizabeth stared at him, scandalized. Short dark curls standing around her head like a wild halo, Caroline continued her destructive work on the green-and-puce stuff and did not acknowledge his oath. She finally grasped a torn edge of the paper and pulled sharply, ripping a large, jagged section away from the wall…
Which glinted shiny gold in the lamp and candlelight.
“He beat his gold into a rough sort of leaf between the sheets of vellum, which are used for that purpose in the metallurgical industry,” Caroline said, reaching out to run a finger across the sheet of solid yellow metal that had been, Snowly realized with frozen shock, nailed to the panelling beneath. “Afterwards, Mr. Nash used the thick wallpaper with its busy pattern to hide the fact that this wall was slightly thicker than the rest.”
She turned and tossed the letter opener on the desk. “I believe I have answered your challenge, Lord Snowly. Here is your inheritance.”
And strangely for an erudite man, Snowly could not think of a thing to say.
“I’ll not hear a thing against Caro, you know that,” Augusta sniffed, tucking the piece of paper into the reticule whose strings were knotted around her wrist. “I told you she was brilliant and so it has been proved.”
“Indeed, I can hardly cavil at so handy a solution to both our problems,” Snowly said. He sat back in the chair; sunlight streamed through the open window behind him. “I shall have my driver convey you to Bath in the barouche box, if you wish.”
Augusta twirled a blonde curl around her fingers and gave him a sly look. “Does this mean that you approve of my liaison with Miss Peregrine?”
“It means, you minx, that I cannot, in good conscience, object to your scheme to live as a celebrated virgin with the female partner of your choice.” Snowly grinned. “I must, however, raise my concerns regarding the clever Miss Peregrine, who will surely suffer some ruination of her intellect in your company.”
“Brute! Beast! Bully!” Augusta said, but she smiled, too, to take the sting out.
And Caroline Peregrine closed the study door and tip-toed away, pleased that the plan to win Lord Snowly’s approval had been handled so successfully.
Oh! She could hardly wait to visit Bath with the lady that she loved.