The Masque of a Murderer

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins

Book: The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susanna Calkins
daughter would have run to, should she have felt afraid? Perhaps she just said she was going to see Mrs. Wiggins but then changed her mind.” She paused, trying to think of a way to ask the next question delicately. “Perhaps there was someone else…?”
    Mrs. Whitby looked around the room. “Evie,” she said in a weak voice, “I should like to take the sleeping draught that the physician made for me.” She pointed to a corked vial on a table next to her bed. “Please bring me some rosemary tea, to which I may add a few drops of this bitter stuff.”
    Evie bobbed a quick curtsy. “Yes, ma’am.” She looked at Lucy. “Shall I lead you out, miss?”
    Mrs. Whitby stirred. “No, no. She can stay with me until you return.”
    “Very good, ma’am. I will return in a few minutes with your tea.”
    Evie left, shutting the door behind her.
    Mrs. Whitby sat up. To Lucy’s surprise, she reached for the vial and took two quick gulps. “I do not mind the bitter,” she said, hiccupping.
    “Oh, ma’am!” Lucy cried. “That was quite a lot at once! If the physician said only a few drops, then—”
    “Bah,” Mrs. Whitby said. “The sooner I can forget, the better.” A tear slipped down her face; she brushed it away impatiently.
    “You were asking about my daughter. I do not know, truly,” she said, sniffing. “Julia never had many close friends. Being a spinster … it wasn’t her fault. Her father and I had hopes. She was betrothed twice…” Mrs. Whitby’s voice trailed off. “The first man died of the galloping sickness. We all quite liked him, so it was a bit of a blow. When he died, her bloom began to fade, and her prospects grew slim. We were beginning to despair, until the son of one of my husband’s friends offered for her.”
    Mrs. Whitby’s eyes were looking in an unfocused way toward the ceiling. From her next words, Lucy thought she might have forgotten to whom she was talking. “He broke off the engagement even though the banns had been read. Found out about Jacob. His family would not stand for such heresy.”
    She moaned. Before Lucy could stop her, Mrs. Whitby lifted the vial to her lips again and took another quick swallow. “Oh, why did Jacob take up with those awful Quakers?” she lamented. “He made it worse for her! We were all but shunned ourselves! No one would speak to us! That is why his father cut him off, hoping that her engagement would be resumed. But the damage had been done!” She let out a little sob.
    Lucy waited, feeling helpless, until she continued. “We were so hopeful when Julia renewed her childhood friendship with Elizabeth Wiggins. Well, she was still Miss Stirredge then, before she married Mr. Wiggins of Bishopsgate. She gave our daughter an entr é e back into society. For a while we hoped—” She rubbed furiously at her eyes. “Unfortunately, after Mrs. Wiggins married and moved away, well, I am afraid invitations for Julia dried up.” Mrs. Whitby turned her head to look at Lucy, although her eyes were growing more dilated. “Oh, where could she be? She must be with Elizabeth!”
    “I thought the constable said they’d inquired at the Wiggins home. He said no one had seen her,” Lucy said.
    “Well, perhaps she is having a bit of fun with us. She must be there. She used to hide when she was a little girl, whenever she was upset or angry. She could be very naughty that way.”
    “Was she upset or angry, then?” Lucy asked casually.
    Mrs. Whitby’s voice was growing softer. “I know she was angry at her father for cutting off Jacob.”
    “That happened a while ago,” Lucy said. “Was there something else she was upset or angry about?”
    “What else could it have been?” Mrs. Whitby asked, turning onto her side, clutching a small lace-trimmed pillow to her chest. “Oh, what shall I do? I cannot very well send the constable after my daughter. I do not know what I was thinking when I sent for him in the first place. My husband is right. What

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