Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter Twenty-Two

"Hush Widow.  I don't want to wake the house."

I nodded and then nearly rounded on him with a smack but he caught my hand.  "I suppose I did tell you that you could throw something at me but perhaps you wouldn't mind waiting for a little longer to collect.  Besides, I brought you back that fang I took while we were in the rail car."

I took it from his hand and then backed away, quickly strapped it to my wrist and pulled my cuff back down to conceal it.  He silently asked me to come with him.  We passed out of the staff area and then out into the grounds before he said, "I want you to carry that fang with you at all times and stay alert.  I'm going to escort you to the Dower House tonight but unfortunately I may not always be available to do so."

"I assure you Sheriff I'm not nearly as helpless as you seem to insist on thinking."

"If I thought you helpless you'd already be moved lock, stock, and barrel into the Hall proper and hang tradition, propriety, status, and everything else.  This situation is growing preposterous. We've enemies and yet they give no real clue why they feel so."

"Your brother is The Linder and he is the Guardian, for some that will be reason enough.  And right now, pardon my bluntness but you are, as a whole, projecting a weakness."

"What the hell do you mean by that?"

"A wise man reminded me not too long ago that pride goeth before a fall.  Do not let your pride blind you to reality the way I was doing with Fan and Rom.  You may be temporarily projecting weakness but that does not need to mean that you are.  I know it is frustrating."

"To put it mildly."

"Look at this as an opportunity.  If it is indeed the case that my husband brought weakness to the Guardianship, use this time to ferret it out, clean out the infection, and heal the wound.  Not only is that your brother's moral obligation but the whole of Tentuckia will be stronger for it and strength will bring greater opportunities for all to prosper."

After a moment he said, "You should have made a strong Guardian's wife."

"I was nothing but a child."

"You're not much older now."

"I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  Perhaps the pages in the calendar have not turned that often but there are days when I feel ancient."

Quietly he said, "I'm sorry I haven't made any headway in the concern you brought to me earlier."

He surprised me by bringing it up.  "Actually Sheriff ... though I know how it is going to sound ... I have some information on that for you."

He stopped and scowled.  "What?"

"I relayed the Doctor's condition to the staff who were waiting up ... and there were more than a few of both established and new staff which lets me know as nothing else can that he is well regarded ... when I noticed Mr. Holman in their number."  I continued the telling, ending with Alyce's innocent revealing of who brought the tonic each day.

At the Sheriff's scowl I said again, "I know how it sounds.  Mrs. Kinsey and I did not get off on the right foot but ..."  I shook my head.  "Perhaps I am simply tired and jumping at shadows."

The Sheriff remained a silent, scowling statue.  Then he growled.  "No, but whether Mrs. Kinsey is the viper or not she is a place to start."

"I'm sorry."

He glanced my way and asked, "For what?"

"I know she was a long time staff at your father's holding."

"Long time?  No ... well ... about ten years I suppose but the Housekeeper we had before her was with the family for nearly thirty.  She was efficient and Dwen appreciated that as her position sometimes made things difficult.  Kinsey isn't anyone I had much dealings with as I was at university and training and beyond that was in the Guards."

"I hesitate to ask but is there any way to check her background?"

"Already in progress after the way she behaved this morning.  When I spoke to James about it he insisted.  And I will speak to John but ..."

"I understand.  Thank you for taking the time ... and for taking the time to walk me here. Watch your feet.  The woodpile is a mess.  I ..."

A shadow loomed up and I saw it raise something over its head.  I screamed and pushed the Sheriff to the side and ducked and the club narrowly missed us.  The Sheriff was up and on the man in an instant and that's when I saw the second one coming.  I stumbled backwards doing the exact thing I had warned the Sheriff not to and trod on the hem of my skirt.  I heard it tear as I tripped and to catch my balance I grabbed at what was close.

What was close was the handle of the axe I had buried in the stump by the woodpile.  I wrenched it out and began defending myself.  The man came too close and got caught by the blade.  He screamed as blood poured from the jagged cut in his arm.  I swung again, unwilling to give up the advantage but the man scrambled back and ran away.

Or should I say tried to run away.  Several Regional Guards showed up on the run, brought by my scream.  At about that same moment the Sheriff landed a satisfyingly crunchy right hook to the other man's jaw and he fell as hard as a hammer.

"Widow!  Are you alright?"

"Yes, yes but if you will excuse me I believe ..."  I ran to the bushes and barely made it in time not to embarrass myself though what I did was bad enough.

I almost refused to turn around but when he put my hand on his arm I allowed him to escort me inside.  He tried to light the gas lamps but they wouldn't come on.  "Damn."

"I don't need the light."

"Well I do.  I'll make sure someone comes over and finds out the reason for this."

"The valve outside has rusted.  I saw it this morning.  I've already placed a work order but told them it wasn't an emergency.  I've lived with candles and oil lamps my entire life except for the few months I was here.  Not even the college had gas lights."  I knew I was blathering and so did he but he was kind enough not to point it out.

"Allow me to send for someone from the Hall.  I'll ..."

"No.  The last thing most of the staff need is to be running around in the damp and cool night.  There has been quite enough upset for one evening."  I stood up, lit a taper, and used the taper to light a branch of stubby candles on the kitchen table.  "There."

I looked up to find him staring.  "And you ask me which side my insanity comes from?"

"Nat showed me a book once that had written in it something to the effect that to view the world as sane we must all be insane."

"You need to find your bed Widow.  I believe you have what is diagnosed in past cases as overset nerves."

He insisted on looking through the house and then checking all the windows and doors before leaving.

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