Excerpt: The Necklace Affair
Book 4.5: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries
On an evening in late March 1817, I climbed to the third floor of Lucius Grenville’s Grosvenor Street house in search of peace, and found a lady, weeping, instead.
In the rooms below me, Grenville’s latest revelry tinkled and grated, Grenville celebrating recovery from a near-fatal injury. The entire haut ton had turned up tonight, Lucius Grenville being the darling of society, a dandy all other dandies aspired to be. The famous Brummell had fled to the Continent, Alvanley grew stout, but Grenville reigned supreme. He was an epicure who knew how to avoid excess, a sensual man who could resist the temptations of sloth and lechery.
I’d enjoyed speaking to a few of my friends below, but the transparent way Grenville’s sycophants tried to exploit my acquaintance with him soon grated on my patience. I decided to sit in Grenville’s private room and read until the festivities died down.
I used my walking stick and the railing, hand-carved by an Italian cabinetmaker, to leverage myself up the stairs. My leg injury, given to me by French soldiers during the Peninsular War, did not affect me so much tonight as did the near gallon of port I had drunk. I could never afford what Grenville had in his cellars, so when he invited me to partake, I took enough to last.
Therefore, I was well past foxed when I at last emerged onto the third floor and sought the peace of Grenville’s sitting room.
I found the lady in it, weeping.
She sat squarely under the scarlet tent that hung in the corner of the room, a souvenir from Grenville’s travels in the east. The entire room was a monument to his journeys–ivory animals from the Indies reposed next to golden masks from Egypt, rocks bearing the imprint of ancient American animals held pride of place near hieroglyphic tablets from Babylon.
The lady might have been pretty once, but too many years of rich food, late mornings, and childbirth had etched their memories onto her face and body. Her large bosom, stuffed into a satin bodice and reinforced with bands of lace, quivered with her misery.
I took two steps into the room, checked myself, and turned to go.
I halted, bowed, and admitted to be he. I had no memory of who she was.
The woman swiped at her wet cheeks with a handkerchief so tiny she might as well not have bothered. “May I make so bold as to speak to you? Mr. Grenville said you might assist me.”
Had he, indeed? Grenville was apt to volunteer my services, as I’d been of some use in solving problems that ran from innocuous misunderstandings all the way to violent murders.
I ought to have walked away then and there and not let myself be drawn into the whole sordid business. I was tired and quite drunk and had no reason to believe I could help this sorrowful lady.
But her red-rimmed eyes were so pleading, her wretchedness so true, that I found myself giving her another bow and telling her to proceed.
“It is my maid, you see.”
I braced myself for an outpouring of domestic troubles. My head started to pound, and I sank into the nearest comfortable chair.
“She is going to be hanged,” the lady announced.
Her blunt statement swept the fog from my brain. I sat up straight as several facts clicked into place.
“You are Lady Clifford,” I said.
She nodded, dejected.
“I read of it in the newspaper this morning,” I said. “Your maid has been accused of stealing a diamond necklace worth several thousand pounds.” The maid was even now awaiting examination by the Bow Street magistrate.
Lady Clifford sat forward and clasped her doughy hands. “She did not take it, Captain. That horrible Bow Street Runner said so, but I know that Waters would never have done such a thing. She’s been with me for years. Why should she?”
I could think of a number of reasons why Waters should. Perhaps she saw the necklace as her means of escaping a life of servitude. Perhaps she had a lover who’d convinced her to steal the necklace for him. Perhaps she bore a secret hatred for her employer and had at last found way to exact revenge.
I said none of these things to Lady Clifford.
“You see, Captain, I know quite well who stole my diamonds.” Lady Clifford applied the tiny handkerchief once more. “It was that viper I nursed at my bosom. She took them.”