Marian Halcombe’s journal (continued)
I stood in the drawing room, the lamp in my hands, visions of murder filling my head. But then our housemaid Ellen came into the drawing room. “Miss Halcombe, is something wrong? Do you wish the lamp to be lit?”
“Not until the usual time, thank you.” Hastily I set the lamp back down upon its doily. “Come upstairs with me, Ellen, and show me Mrs. Camlet’s things.”
The mistress of the house had her own chamber, but when I had been his wife I had happily shared a bedroom with Theo, using my bedroom next door only for dressing. His room was the largest bedchamber in the house and dominated by an enormous old-fashioned four-poster bed with crimson curtains. The heavy bureaus and chests were also of the last generation, giving the chamber a solid masculine air. Last night I had moved back into this room again and slept deliciously, surrounded by the male scent of him on pillows and covers. Now I went across to the connecting door. When I had been in residence this door always stood broad open. “Odd,” I said, turning the knob. “It’s locked.”
“The missus always kept it locked from her side,” Ellen volunteered.
“How long have you been in service here, Ellen?”
“I was third housemaid with old Mr. Henton Camlet, Mr. Theo’s grandfather, Mrs. Youngblood being first housemaid. The old gentleman had a great barrack of a house in Wiltshire. And when Mr. Theo married we both came with him here.”
I considered her—a prim woman in her late forties, her fading hair neat under a lace cap. “I find it difficult to believe that Mrs. Camlet was slain by burglars,” I said slowly. “And if she was not, then who would kill her, and why? The answer must lie in the family’s past. And you, Ellen, must have seen a good deal of it.”
“I would do anything to help Mr. Theo,” the good woman replied. “Surely to goodness you should lie down a bit, Miss Halcombe. Suppose you put your feet up and I bring you a cup of tea, and then I’ll tell you what you like about the missus.”
“Bring a cup for yourself, and it’s a bargain.” And in no time I was comfortably disposed on top of the coverlet and Ellen on a hassock, the tray of tea on the bed between us.
“I don’t want you to tell me anything that would make Mr. Theo uncomfortable,” I began. “But I do want to hear about Mrs. Camlet. Did she visit in Wiltshire, before they married?”
“Only once, miss, during the hunting season. We were all struck by her beauty and spirit. She carried her own gun and went out with the old gentlemen, and they brought back six pheasants. Such a lovely lady, with that curly golden hair! She was like an angel in a church window. He should have been very happy. But for some reason they didn’t suit at all.”
“From the very beginning?”
“Even before,” Ellen said, shaking her head. “Mr. Theo went and begged his grandfather to call it off. The old gentleman—Mr. Henton was a great sportsman—he said that a horse sometimes refused the fence, but eventually got over.”
It struck me that the elder Mr. Camlet had had an unpleasantly agricultural view of the whole business. He might have been breeding cattle, selecting a likely-looking cow for his bull. “And that did not happen.”
“She disliked it as much as he.” Ellen tipped her head at the locked connecting door.
I considered this. My poor darling man! “But there were the children.”
“Both the old gentlemen looked for an heir, and insisted to him it was his duty.” Ellen hesitated. “She blacked his eye.”
“That was poor Master Micah’s beginning,” Ellen recalled, “and she never could abide the poor mite.”
This was horrifying. That men sometimes beat their wives is sadly not unknown, but the reverse—I remembered how Margaret Camlet had towered nearly a head taller over me. Younger and smaller, Theo had never had the mastery. And Margaret herself deserved no less sympathy. Harried by greedy and selfish relatives into a repugnant union—alas, that she had never lived to meet Laura, for there is much they could have said to each other. But . . . “What of little Lottie?”
“That was all on account of the Reverend Angier.”
“Indeed? How does he come into it?”
“Why, it was his pastoral duty, he said, to foster a reconciliation between man and wife. He had them over to St. John’s, together and separate, regular-like, for months. And in the end they did agree to try again, and all went well—for a week or two.”
So in addition to the pressures of family, the Church had been called in. All to rivet together a shattered...