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Lydia watched, unimpressed, and waited, ready to say "I told you so." A
sodden jacket was the first thing to surface. It was impossible to tell
its original color. It now looked black.
"Someone lost his coat," she said. Before she could have her laugh, a
bonnet bobbed up. It had once been an elegant chapeau. Its high poke
drooped, but one could still determine its original shape and color.
Red--hardly a lady's color. The feathers were waterlogged and bedraggled,
which did not conceal either their length or excess of numbers.
"How strange!" she cried, staring at Beaumont as a shiver scuttled up her
spine. She was familiar with all the stylish bonnets in the parish. She
had never seen this one before. Beaumont was frowning at it and still
reeling as hard as he could. The bonnet moved sluggishly, then slowly
turned over. Beneath the gliding water, a ghastly white face appeared,
with its eyes open and its mouth wide, as if frozen in a cry of anguish.
"Oh my God!" she gasped, and turned as pale as the face in the water. She
quickly averted her gaze, then slowly turned back to see if she recognized
the woman. She had never seen her before. Beaumont waded into the water up
to the edges of his top boots to haul the body out by the shoulders. The
head fell back like a rag doll's. He laid the corpse carefully on the
grass and arranged the dripping skirts around the black kid slippers.
"Do you know her?" he asked, staring in bewilderment at the awful
spectacle on the ground.
Lydia was determined not to display any feminine weakness. Beaumont was
behaving just as heought, and she could do no less. She willed down a fit
of nausea and forced herself to study the face. In a tightly controlled
voice she said, "No, I have never seen her before. She is not from these
parts. She hasn't been in the water long. Who could she be?"
"I have no idea."
Water dripped from the woman's eyelashes and rolled down her cheeks,
giving a ghoulish semblance of life, as if she were crying. "For goodness'
sake, can't you cover her face?" Lydia said.
He drew out his handkerchief and placed it over the woman's face. "I'll
stay here. You'd best go for help, Miss Trevelyn. My place is closer."
She took one last look at the covered face and the bonnet, noticing the
limp red hair that hung out beneath it in sodden clumps, before running up
the hill on trembling legs.
Beaumont remained behind, wondering how a lightskirt had ended up in his
river. When Lydia was gone, he lifted the handkerchief and studied the
pale face. He didn't recognize this woman, but he knew her calling by her
clothes and the faint patches of rouge still visible on her pallid cheeks.
Ladies did not wear red bonnets with such a superfluity of gaudy feathers.
They did not wear such low-cut gowns in the daytime, and it was a muslin
afternoon frock the woman wore. The bonnet and slippers, all her toilette
suggested she was dressed for afternoon. He guessed her age to be in the
thirties. Not in the first blush of youth, but not hagged either. Her face
was a pretty heart shape with a slightly retroussé nose. She must
have been pretty when she was alive. The state of the remains suggested
she had not been in the water for more than a day.
How had she come here? At least there was no sign of foul play. She had
not been strangled or stabbed or beaten. She could not have come in a
carriage or her driver would have reported her missing. The outfit, those
kid slippers, said she had not ridden. Had she walked, stopped to look at
the river, and slid down the bank? But the water was not deep enough to
drown her. It was not over her head. Perhaps she had bumped her head? He
hadn't the stomach to remove her bonnet and examine her scalp. Let the
sawbones do it. It was odd that her body had been so firmly lodged beneath
the water. Almost as if someone had tried to wedge her under a rock or
He looked down at the slippers and noticed the left one was badly scraped,
the silk stocking torn. How was it possible, if she had accidentally
fallen in? Perhaps she had not died here at all, but her body may have
been brought here to conceal it. But why? If he had not happened to catch
his hook in her jacket, she might have remained there for weeks or months,
even years, until any hope of identifying her was gone.
He was sorry Miss Trevelyn had been exposed to such a horrific discovery.
Not that she had seemed very upset. Any normal lady would have pitched
herself into his arms, sobbing and swooning, but not that cold wench. "She
hasn't been in the water long," she had said, as if it were a dead fish
she was looking at and not a woman. Who could she be?
His gaze drifted across the river, to the soaring walls of Trevelyn Hall.
Sir John's mistress was said to be a redhead. No, it was impossible. The
poor girl was some transient who had met with a mishap. It was ridiculous
to think for a minute that this was his neighbor's mistress. What the
devil would she be doing here? Although it was odd that Sir John had been
home for a week. . . .