The Mermaid in the Basement (Lady Trent Mystery Series #1)by Gilbert Morris
A wealthy widow of a nobleman, daughter of a famous scientist, and skeptic who only trusts what can be proven.See more details below
A wealthy widow of a nobleman, daughter of a famous scientist, and skeptic who only trusts what can be proven.
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THE MERMAID IN THE BASEMENTA Lady Trent Mystery Book One
By GILBERT MORRIS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Gilbert Morris
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs Clive Newton made his way along Drury Lane headed for the Old Vic Theatre, he felt the rush of excitement that always came when he attended any of Kate Fairfield's performances. As he crossed the intersection, the cobblestones were still gleaming from the light evening rain. He tossed a halfpenny to the crossing-sweeper, a small boy who swept away manure and mud. The boy bit the coin, then gave Clive a snaggletoothed grin. "Thankee, sir!"
A woman wearing a revealing dress, her face painted, appeared out of the shadows. She attached herself to Clive's arm and winked at him. "Come along wif me, husband. I'll show yer a good time." Shaking his head, Clive moved away, followed by the harlot's curse.
Hurrying along the street, he was struck by the fact that all classes of society mingled in London's streets. One expected harlots to be in the Seven Dials district or in the Haymarket, but it seemed odd that on this main thoroughfare, the rich and the poor, the good and the evil, formed a strange confluence. Some of the women, illuminated by the gaslights, were past their prime; most of them were rattle-cheeked and slack-bodied. There were some young women who came from the country to seek their fortune, but most of them sank to prostitution.
The theatre crowds-filled with respectable women of wealth, their jewels flashing in the reflection of the gaslights-stood side by side with the poorest of London. Homeless children, or Street Arabs, no more than eight or ten years old, swarmed the street. Some pulled at the sleeves of men who whispered crude invitations.
Clive moved southward into the Strand. He passed large bills advertising dramas, musicals, concerts, and recitals with names of current favourites in giant letters: Ellen Terry, Isabella Glyn.
Reaching the Old Vic, Clive pressed his way into the crowded foyer. Massive crystal chandeliers threw their blazing candescence over the crowd, and from the hands and necks and headdresses of the women, jewels flashed. Diamonds sparkled in elaborate coiffures, at arms, throats, wrists, and hands. The foyer became a river of activity, pale shoulders gleaming amid the brilliant colours of silk, taffeta, voile, and velvet dresses, while the uniform black of men's dress made a violent contrast. Not all of the crowd that gathered in the Old Vic were wearing diamonds. Intermingled with the wealthy were men and women dressed in plain clothes. Indeed, attending the theatre was one of the few instances of true democracy in England!
Clive hesitated, taking in the scene, then impulsively turned and made his way to a doorway that led from the foyer. He walked down a narrow corridor that opened into a large area backstage. He stopped short, watching the actors, actresses, stagehands, prompters, and others necessary to putting on the production of Hamlet move about. They reminded Clive of a swarm of ants rushing about frantically in aimless activity. Moving toward the row of dressing rooms, he stopped before one of the doors and knocked. A voice called out, and he stepped inside. His features lit up at the sight of the woman who had risen from her chair and held a handkerchief in her right hand. "Clive, what are you doing here?"
Katherine Fairfield, a reigning star of the production, was no more than medium height, but her carriage was so erect that she seemed taller. She was wearing a dress that was not intended to be particularly revealing, being fitted to the fair Ophelia in the play, an innocent young girl, but Kate's spectacular figure could not be concealed even beneath such a dowdy exterior. She had dark red hair, enormous dark eyes, and diaphanous skin the envy of every woman in London. Just the sight of her had an effect that reached across the room, stirring him, but she repeated with a touch of irritation, "What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see you, Kate."
"Well, you can't see me now. The performance starts in a few minutes."
Clive moved forward and put his arms out, but Kate frowned and shook her head. "There's no time for that now."
"But I haven't seen you in four days, Kate."
Kate Fairfield was adept at handling men. It was her stock in trade. She smiled and put her hand on Clive's cheek. "After the performance. Come back then."
* * *
Disappointment swept across young Clive's face, but he knew her well enough to obey, so he left the room, closing the door behind him. Kate stared at the door and then laughed. "Young fool!" Then she turned back for one final look at her makeup. A muffled announcement came to her: "Curtain-five minutes!" She turned and stepped outside. Seeing a tall, dark-haired young man leaning against the scenery, she walked over to him and smiled winsomely. "You'd better be careful, Dylan."
Dylan Tremayne turned to face Kate. He was a strikingly handsome man of twenty-seven. Exactly six feet tall, his athletic form was unmistakable through the tights and close-fitting tunic of his costume for the part of Laertes. A lock of his glossy, coal black hair curled over his forehead. He had a wedge-shaped face, a wide mouth, and a definite cleft chin. His most striking feature, however, was the strange blue of his eyes. They were exactly the colour of the cornflowers that dotted the English countryside, and they made a startling contrast against his jet black hair and tanned complexion. Dylan had served for several years as a soldier in India. Despite his Welsh roots, he was so deeply tanned by the sun that he never paled.
"And what is it that I need to be careful about, Kate?" he asked. He turned and watched the woman carefully, with something guarded in his manner. "And, by the way, why are you tormenting young Newton like that?" His voice was smooth, and his choice of words gave evidence of his Welsh blood.
"He likes it, Dylan."
"In love with you, ay?"
"Of course he is. Every man is-except you." Kate studied Dylan carefully. He was the one man she had encountered who had resisted her charm. He had become, in effect, a challenge to her womanhood. It amused her to toy with men, but Dylan had resisted her advances-and this piqued the ego of the actress. Actually, Kate did more than "toy" with men. Her mother had been abused by a series of men, and she made it her burning ambition to see that this never happened to her daughter. She'd set out to instill in Kate from the beginning that a woman must conquer men. "Draw them by your beauty, then use them! Take what you can from men and laugh at them when you cast them off! "was the advice she gave Kate-who learnt her lesson well.
"You shouldn't torment the young fellow, Kate. I think it's green as grass, he is."
"It amuses me." She suddenly smiled, took his arm, and pressed her body against him. "You'd better not give a good performance tonight. Ash won't like it. He's jealous enough of you as it is."
"I'll be as bad as I can, me." Dylan grinned.
Kate reached up and pushed back the lock over his forehead. "Why don't we go to my place after the performance?" she whispered. "We could get to know each other better."
Dylan could not miss the sexual overtones of the invitation, nor the edacious look in her eyes. He shook his head, saying, "Not into that sort of thing anymore."
Kate Fairfield's eyes glinted with anger. "I don't believe you're as holy as all that."
"It's only a Christian I am-and not the best in the world, either."
"Everyone knows you're preaching, or something, down on the waterfront in some sort of mission work."
"It's what the Lord wants me to do, though I don't know why. There's plenty can preach better than I."
Kate Fairfield stared at him, and she wasn't smiling-indeed, Dylan saw a small stirring of sadness in her eyes. She did not like to hear talk about God or religion, and releasing her grip on Dylan's arm, she shook her head. "You're a fool, Dylan Tremayne!"
* * *
The play fascinated Clive, but his eyes were fixed on Kate while she was onstage. He knew the drama well and followed it almost unconsciously. All the rest of the actors seemed drab and pale compared with the luminous quality that Kate possessed. Her hair caught the lights, and the clean bones of her face were ageless, a hint of the strong will that drove her visible in the corners of her lips and in her eyes.
Clive had seen Hamlet many times, returning night after night, always for the sole purpose of watching Kate. There was something in her that he had never found in any woman, and she created in him a desperate loneliness and a devastating sense of need so that he ached for her.
Finally the play ended with the stage littered with corpses, and the curtain calls began. Clive applauded until his palms hurt when Kate took her bows, but he couldn't help but notice that Dylan Tremayne received much more appreciative applause from the audience than did the star of the play, Ashley Hamilton. He did not miss the angry looks that Hamilton shot at Tremayne and muttered, "Dylan makes the star look bad. I wonder if he knows that."
The crowd began to file out, and Clive passed through the side door, then made his way backstage. He saw Kate surrounded by the usual crowd of admirers and shook his head impatiently.
"Hello, Clive. How are you tonight?"
Clive turned to see Dylan beside him. The two had become friends of sorts. Clive had chased after Kate for weeks now, haunting the dressing rooms and the theatre. Dylan had invited him to a late supper on one of those nights when Kate had gone off with someone for dinner, and the two men had continued to dine together when Kate fobbed young Newton off. Dylan had a fondness for the young man and had gently tried to warn him about Kate, but to no avail. "I'm waiting for Kate," Clive said, hopefully.
"A bit of fatherly advice I have for you," Dylan said. He had a smooth voice that could show power at times, but now his tone was merely confidential. "Put Kate out of your mind, yes? It's a nice young woman you need. Court her and marry her."
"I can't do that."
Dylan shook his head. "You are naive, Clive. Don't you know Kate Fairfield eats innocent young fellows like you?"
"I don't want to hear talk like that-" Clive was interrupted as Ashley Hamilton walked up to them. The actor was half drunk, and he glared at Dylan. "Well, you ate up the scenery again tonight, Tremayne. You'll do anything to upstage me, won't you?" Ashley was a fine actor-or would have been-but he had a drinking problem that cut the edge off his fine talent.
Dylan said mildly, "You're twice the actor I am, Ash. Sad it is to see you waste your talent. Why don't you stop drinking?"
Ashley glared at him with red-rimmed eyes. "You're nothing but a hypocrite! Why don't you go down to the docks and preach instead of cluttering up my stage?" He turned and walked away unsteadily.
Elise Cuvier had stopped long enough to watch the encounter between Hamilton and Tremayne. She was a small woman but well formed, with bright blonde hair and enormous brown eyes. The bony structure of her face made strong and pleasant contours. She served as Kate's understudy, and she had a dissatisfied look on her face. She said, "You were wonderful tonight, Dylan."
Dylan shrugged. "Thank you, Elise."
Elise turned to Clive and said, "Mr. Newton, I hope Dylan's giving you good advice about Kate."
Clive frowned at the actress, then wheeled and moved away.
"Trying to warn him, I was, about Kate."
"He seems like a nice young man. He needs to find another woman."
"So I told him."
"Kate enjoys destroying men." An unhappy expression crossed her face, and Dylan said gently, "You'll get your chance, Elise. It's a fine actress you are. Don't get discouraged."
Her eyes seemed to glow with a sudden inner fire, and her lips drew into a thin line. Her voice was no more than a whisper as she said, "Not unless Kate dies."
"Don't be saying that, Elise! She's bad, but the good God loves her."
"I could strangle her, Dylan! She's got everything, and I've got nothing!"
Dylan reached out and put his hand on Elise's shoulder. "It's a hard world, the theatre."
"It's dog-eat-dog! Actors and actresses will do anything to get a better part-lie, cheat, steal!"
"There's more to life than acting, yes?"
"Not for me," Elise said, and a vehemence scored her tone. She suddenly looked up at Dylan and gave a strange, harsh laugh. "If I believed in prayer like you, Dylan, I'd pray for Kate to die."
Tremayne stared at the young woman, and words of rebuke came to his lips. But he saw the adamant cast of her features. She was a beautiful young woman, but there was a hardness in her that he hated to see. He was a compassionate young man, and for a moment he stood there wondering if he might say anything that would mollify Elise's obvious hatred. Finally he said gently, "When you hate someone, Elise, it doesn't really hurt them. It's yourself will bear the hurt."
"I know that's what you believe, but I don't."
"Hatred makes people ugly."
Suddenly Elise laughed. "You're preaching at me, aren't you, Dylan?"
Dylan grinned, which gave him a boyish look and made him seem even younger than his years. His lips turned up at the corners, the right side more than the left, and he admitted ruefully, "Right, you! But you ought to be used to it by now."
"Don't you ever give up on anyone? I think you've tried to convert everybody in the cast. As far as I can tell, you haven't made any progress whatsoever. We're all headed for the fiery pit, Dylan. I don't think it's possible for anybody in our world to live a godly life."
"I'd hate to think that, because that's exactly what I want to do."
Elise stared at him, a mixture of wonder and disbelief on her features. "Have you always been like this, preaching and reading the Bible and talking about God?"
"No, indeed not. I grew up rough, Elise. Rougher than you can imagine. As a matter of fact, I was practically reared by a family of criminals."
"I don't believe that."
Dylan shrugged. "True enough it is. My father was a coal miner in Wales. He and my mother died of cholera when I was ten. I was turned over to an uncle whose chief fun in life seemed to be beating me. He made me go down to the coal mines when I was no more than a boy. I stayed there until I couldn't stand it, then I ran away and came to London."
Elise stared at him. "What did you do? Did you have friends here?"
"No friends, me. Mostly I starved. I wandered the streets and stole food and slept in alleys and under bridges. Then a family named Hanks took me in. I didn't know they were criminals at the time, but I soon enough learnt. They taught me how to survive. I stole with the rest of them. I was the smallest, so they'd put me through a small window in a house, and I'd go open the main door for the rest of the family to come in. We'd steal everything we could."
Elise stared at the young man. "How long did that last?"
"Until I ran away when I was seventeen. Went into the Army, I did. Then when I came out, I was almost starving again, and somehow I got a job working in the theatre. Tried out for a part." He laughed ruefully. "And here I am rich and famous." He gave Elise a warm smile, and the young woman understood why women flocked to him.
"I think you will be succesful. You've got whatever it is that makes people look at you. Some actors are like that. When they're onstage, the audience can't look at anybody else."
"Oh, I don't expect I'll be doing this forever."
Elise shook her head. "Well, I will be! It's my whole life, Dylan." She glanced over at Kate and said, "Look at her toying with that poor young fool! Doesn't he see that she's nothing but a carnivore?"
"I think the old saying that love is blind is true. In for a fall, that boy is!"
* * *
Kate had let Clive into her dressing room. She changed clothes behind a screen, and when she came out wearing a gown of apricot-coloured silk with delicate lace a shade or two deeper, Clive went to her at once. "I have something for you."
"Really? A present for me? What is it, dear?"
Excerpted from THE MERMAID IN THE BASEMENT by GILBERT MORRIS Copyright © 2007 by Gilbert Morris. Excerpted by permission.
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