Deryn Lake: Death at the Wedding Feast

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Deryn Lake Death at the Wedding Feast
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    Death at the Wedding Feast
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Deryn Lake


Death at the Wedding Feast

One

It was a delicious moment. In fact probably the most delicious moment of his life. And then John Rawlings, with an impish sideways grin, remembered a particularly special occasion in his misspent youth — an incident involving Sukie, his master’s kitchen maid — and decided that this was the second most delicious. Be that as it may, nothing could take away from his present triumph. He had at last, after many years of experimenting with water, finally succeeded in carbonating it. The bottle he was holding up to the light and peering at contained sparkling bubbles.

After his father had moved to Kensington John had set up a rather large piece of equipment in his home in Nassau Street. Barrels and vats, boxes and a handwheel, to say nothing of a mass of pipes joining one piece of machinery to another, now dominated the room at the back formerly used for cleaning boots and Sir Gabriel’s shoes, together with the knife cleaning area. Sir Gabriel’s best pair, worn on special occasions only, had glittering pinchbeck heels; however footwear more ordinary, with shining buckles and bright rosettes, sufficed the great old man for everyday wear.

It had taken John Rawlings, apothecary of Shug Lane, Piccadilly, some years to perfect his bid to get water to sparkle like the heart of a fountain. But now, judging by the bottle he held at eye level, he had finally succeeded. It bubbled, it fizzed, it glinted and gleamed. It was everything he had ever hoped for. Before he allowed himself a wild cheer of joy the Apothecary went to his log book and entered the date.

‘19th February, the Year of our Lord 1768, today I succeeded in Carbonating Water.’

Then he let out a whoop of joy and executed a few nimble flights of foot before rushing into the main house holding the bottle on high. Unfortunately there was not a soul in sight to share his celebration. In fact the Apothecary felt a decided shiver at the emptiness of the place. Disconsolately, he went into the library and sat down. But a few seconds later he leapt to his feet again and rushed into the hall.

A footman came hurrying up. ‘Are you going out, Mr Rawlings?’

‘I’m thinking about it. At what time is Miss Rose expected back?’

‘Miss Rose is taking tea with Miss Thomas and should be returning at about three o’clock.’

As Miss Rose and Miss Thomas were aged six and seven respectively John gave a crooked smile. ‘I see. Well, would you be kind enough to tell her that I have gone to see Sir John Fielding but will be back in time to say goodnight to her.’

‘Very good, Sir. Will you be walking or shall I get you a chair?’

‘The walk will do me good, I believe.’

So saying, John Rawlings left the house in Nassau Street and strolled through the crowded and noisesome ways towards that tall, thin house in Bow Street where Sir John Fielding held court daily. Tucked in an inner pocket of his greatcoat was a bottle of that saucy, bubbling liquid whose secret he had finally found.

As he walked, John thought. Thought back to his early life and the time he and his mother had begged on the streets of London until kind Fate had brought them into the path of Sir Gabriel Kent. Quite literally because his coach had run them down. But oh what goodness, what gentleness John had felt when Sir Gabriel himself had lifted them up and taken them back to his house. Later, much later, when he had taught her to appreciate the finer things of life, Sir Gabriel had married John’s mother. But their happiness had been all too brief for Phyllida Kent had died giving birth to his daughter and all Sir Gabriel’s love and affection had transferred itself to John.

Avoiding a group of beaux, walking along and chattering, swinging their great sticks and elevated on heels of a somewhat alarming height, the Apothecary thought of himself when he had been younger and was grateful that he had never been as silly and empty-headed as the mincing little gang he had just passed. Mark you, he had not led an exemplary life, far from it. His love affair with the actress Coralie Clive had caused quite a scandal in its day, not to mention a few other little peccadillos gathered on the way. But then he had reformed at the time of his marriage, only for his sweet Emilia to be snatched away from him and for him to be left — a desirable young widower — in charge of bringing up his daughter, Rose.

Not that that, he thought as he swung into Long Acre, had seemed to stem the ladies’ interest. But the Apothecary, being such a contrary creature and by nature loving that which always seems a little unobtainable, had declared his passion for a totally unsuitable female. A woman older than he was, a woman titled in her own right, a woman of decided views and wayward beliefs. In other words the beautiful and capricious Marchesa Elizabeth di Lorenzi.

The very idea of her stopped the Apothecary dead in his tracks. Pulling out his fob watch he stared at the date which ran inside the minute hand in a small but clearly marked ring, enclosing, in their turn, a blaze of stars, a moon and an exceedingly grumpy-looking sun.

‘My God,’ whispered the Apothecary, under his breath, ‘she’s due very soon. I must get to Exeter as soon as possible.’

For the fact of the matter was that he had left the Marchesa well and truly pregnant, getting very large and moving much more slowly than usual about her great house. But for an hour or two he must devote his thoughts to Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate, the powerhouse who brought law and order to the city of London as best he could. Patting the bottle of sparkling water that nestled in his pocket, John made his way to the Public Office in Bow Street.

Being somewhat late in arriving, John was surprised to hear the sound of loud laughing coming from the courthouse. Pushing his way through the crowd of members of the beau monde, who had made it the height of fashion to see criminals brought to justice, he found a seat in the second row of the gallery and peered to see what was causing the merriment.

Standing at the bar, pertly dressed and with a fashionable hat tipped over one eye, was a soncy lass standing all of five feet tall and most attractively rounded, her mass of blonde hair cascading down in ringlets from beneath the brim. She had obviously said something to Sir John — who sat in a high chair at the far end, the space between being occupied by John’s friend Joe Jago, who sat at a writing-desk, bewigged and with a snow-white cravat at his throat, at the shorter end of the bar also facing the prisoner. He was grinning broadly, the Apothecary could see.

‘Well, Sir John,’ the young woman was saying, ‘he was handsome like, though not as well set-up as yourself, Sir.’

The magistrate, clearly in a good mood, retorted, ‘I hardly think that that is the point at issue, Miss West. You are charged with visiting the Covent Garden theatre and there relieving a gentleman of the contents of his pockets. What have you to say to that?’

‘I say that I might have pushed against the gentleman — accidental like — but take something from him? Why, Sir John, I’d as soon jump from a cliff.’

So saying she curtsied to the gallery as if she had been making a great speech. They whistled and catcalled back at her — John included — forcing the magistrate to call for silence.

‘Miss West,’ he said severely, though John knowing him as he did, could not help but notice a slight rumble of laughter beneath the ferocious tone, ‘would you be so good as to turn out your pockets.’

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