A doctor insists that Lord Augustus’s death was natural. But as far as the police are concerned, there’s certainly nothing natural about any of this gristly aftermath. Inspector Pitt is determined to unearth the truth–even if the digging puts his own life at perilous risk.
About the Author
Hometown:Portmahomack, Ross-shire, U.K
Date of Birth:October 28, 1938
Place of Birth:Blackheath, London England
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By Anne Perry
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Anne Perry
All rights reserved.
The fog swirled thick and sour down the street, obscuring the distances and blurring the gas lamps above. The air was bitter and damp, catching in the throat, yet it did not chill the enthusiasm of the audience pouring out of the theatre, a few bursting into impromptu snatches of song from Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera, The Mikado. One girl even lilted from side to side in imitation of the little Japanese heroine, before her mother told her sharply to remember herself and behave with the decorum her family had a right to expect.
Two hundred yards away Sir Desmond and Lady Cantlay were walking slowly in the general direction of Leicester Square, intending to hail a cab; they had not brought their own carriage because of the difficulty of finding a suitable place to meet afterwards. On such a January night one did not wish to keep the horses standing or roaming the area to pick one up. It was too hard to come by a really excellently matched pair to risk their health in such an unnecessary fashion. Cabs were plentiful enough and naturally gathered at the coming out of any theatre.
"I did enjoy that," Lady Gwendoline said with a sigh of pleasure that turned into a shiver as a swirl of fog wreathed her and the damp touched her face. "I must purchase some of the music to play for myself; it really is delightful. Especially that song the hero sings." She took a breath, coughed, and then sang in a very sweet voice, "A wandering minstrel I, a thing of rags and patches—er—what was next, Desmond? I recall the tune, but the words escape me."
He took her arm to draw her away from the curb as a cab swished by, splashing manure where the street sweeper had gone home too early to clear it.
"I don't know, my dear. I'm sure it will be in the music. It really is a miserable night, it is no pleasure at all to walk. We must find a cab immediately. I can see one coming now. Wait here and I'll call him." He stepped out into the street as a hansom loomed out of the mist, its slow hooves muffled in the blanketing damp, the horse dragging head down, almost directionless.
"Come on!" Sir Desmond said irritably. "What's the matter with you, man? Don't you want a fare?"
The horse drew level with him and raised its head, ears coming forward at the sound of his voice.
"Cabby!" Desmond said sharply.
There was no reply. The driver sat motionless on the box, his greatcoat collar turned up, hiding most of his face, the reins slack over the rail.
"Cabby!" Desmond was growing increasingly annoyed. "I presume you are not engaged? My wife and I wish to go to Gadstone Park!"
Still the man did not stir or steady the horse, which was moving gently, shifting from foot to foot, making it unsafe for Gwendoline to attempt to climb into the cab.
"For heaven's sake, man! What's the matter with you?" Desmond reached up and grabbed at the skirts of the driver's coat and pulled sharply. "Control your animal!"
To his horror the man tilted toward him, overbalanced, and toppled down, falling untidily off the box over the wheel and onto the pavement at his feet.
Desmond's immediate thought was that the man was drunken insensible. He would not be by any stretch the only cabby to fortify himself against endless hours in the bitter fog by taking more alcohol than he could handle. It was an infernal nuisance, but he was not without a flicker of understanding for it. Were he not in Gwendoline's hearing he would have sworn fluently, but now he was obliged to hold his tongue.
"Drunk," he said with exasperation.
Gwendoline came forward and looked at him.
"Can't we do something about it?" She had no idea what such a thing might be.
Desmond bent down and rolled him over till the man was lying on his back, and at the same moment the wind blew a clear patch in the fog so the gaslight fell on his face.
It was appallingly obvious that he was dead—indeed, that he had been dead for some time. Even more dreadful than the livid, puffy flesh was the sweet smell of putrefaction, and a crumble of earth in the hair.
There was an instant's silence, long enough for the in-drawing of breath, the wave of revulsion; then Gwendoline screamed, a high, thin sound smothered immediately by the night.
Desmond stood up slowly, his own stomach turning over, trying to put his body between her and the sight on the pavement. He expected her to faint; and yet he did not know quite what to do. She was heavy as she sank against him, and he could not maintain her weight.
"Help!" he called out desperately. "Help me!"
The horse was used to the indescribable racket of the London streets, and it was barely stirred by Gwendoline's scream. Desmond's shout did not move it at all.
He cried out again, his voice rising as he struggled to prevent her sliding out of his grip onto the filthy pavement and to imagine some way of dealing with the horror behind him before she regained her senses and became completely hysterical.
It seemed like minutes standing in the wreaths of coldness, the cab looming over him, silent except for the breathing of the horse. Then at last there were footsteps, a voice, and a shape.
"What is it? What's wrong?" An enormous man materialized out of the fog, muffled in a woolen scarf, coattails flapping. "What happened? Have you been attacked?"
Desmond was still holding Gwendoline, who was at last beginning to stir. He looked at the man and saw an intelligent, humorous face of undoubted plainness. In the halo of the gaslight he was not so enormous, merely tall, and dressed in too many layers of clothes, none of which appeared to be done up correctly.
"Were you attacked?" the man repeated a little more sharply.
Desmond jerked himself into some presence of mind.
"No." He grasped Gwendoline more tightly, pinching her without meaning to. "No. The—the cabby is dead." He cleared his throat and coughed as the fog caught him. "I fear he has been dead some time. My wife fainted. If you would be kind enough to assist me, sir, I shall endeavor to revive her; and then I imagine we should summon the police. I suppose they take care of such things. The poor man is an appalling sight. He cannot be left there."
"I am the police," the man replied, looking past him to the form on the ground. "Inspector Pitt." He fished absently for a card and turned up a penknife and a ball of string. He abandoned the effort and bent down by the body, touching the face with his fingers for a moment, then the earth on the hair.
"He's dead—" Desmond began. "In fact—in fact, he looks almost as if he had been buried—and dug up again!"
Pitt stood up, running his hands down his sides as though he could rub off the feel of it.
"Yes, I think you're right. Nasty. Very nasty."
Gwendoline was now coming fully to consciousness and straightened up, at last taking the weight off Desmond's arm, although she still leaned against him.
"It's all right, my dear," he said quickly, trying to keep her turned away from Pitt and the body. "The police are going to take care of it!" He looked grimly at Pitt as he said this, trying to make something of an order of it. It was time the man did something more useful than merely agree with him as to the obvious.
Before Pitt could reply, a woman came out of the darkness, handsome, and with a warmth in the curves of her face that survived even the dankness of this January street.
"What is it?" She looked straight at Pitt.
"Charlotte," he hesitated, debating for an instant how much to tell her, "the cabby is dead. Looks as if he's been dead a little while. I shall have to see that arrangements are made." He turned to Desmond. "My wife," he explained, leaving the words hanging.
"Desmond Cantlay." Desmond resented being expected to introduce himself socially to a policeman's wife, but he had been left no civil alternative. "Lady Cantlay." He moved his head fractionally toward Gwendoline.
"How do you do, Sir Desmond?" Charlotte replied with remarkable composure. "Lady Cantlay."
"How do you do?" Gwendoline said weakly.
"If you would be good enough to give me your address?" Pitt asked. "In case there should be any inquiry? Then I'm sure you would prefer to find another cab and go home."
"Yes," Desmond agreed hastily. "Yes—we live in Gadstone Park, number twenty-three." He wanted to point out that he could not possibly help in any enquiry, since he had never known the man or had the least idea who he was or what had happened to him, but he realized at the last moment that it was a subject better not pursued. He was glad enough simply to leave. It did not occur to him until after he was in another cab and halfway home that the policeman's wife was going to have to find her own way, or else wait with her husband for the mortuary coach and accompany him and the body. Perhaps he should have offered her some assistance? Still—it was too late now. Better to forget the whole business as soon as possible.
Charlotte and Pitt stood on the pavement beside the body. Pitt could not leave her alone in the street in the fog, nor could he leave the body unattended. He searched in his pockets again and after some moments found his whistle. He blew it as hard as he could, waited, and then blew it again.
"How could a cabby have been dead for more than an hour or two?" Charlotte asked quietly.. "Wouldn't the horse take him home?"
Pitt screwed up his face, his long, curved nose wrinkled. "I would have thought so."
"How did he die?" she asked. "Cold?" There was pity in her voice.
He put out a hand to touch her gently, a gesture that said more than he might have spoken in an hour.
"I don't know," he answered her very quietly. "But he's been dead a long time, maybe a week or more. And there's earth in his hair."
Charlotte stared at him, her face paling. "Earth?" she repeated. "In London?" She did not look at the body. "How did he die?"
"I don't know. The police surgeon—"
But before he had time to finish his thought, a constable burst out of the darkness and a moment later another behind him. Briefly Pitt told them what had happened and handed over responsibility for the entire affair. It took him ten minutes to find another cab, but by quarter-past eleven he and Charlotte were back in their own home. The house was silent, but warm after the bitter streets. Jemima, their two-year-old daughter, was spending the night with Mrs. Smith opposite. Charlotte had preferred to leave her there rather than disturb her at this hour.
Pitt closed the door and shut out the world, the Cantlays, dead cabbies, the fog, everything but a lingering of music from the gaiety and color of the opera. When he had first married Charlotte, she had given up the comfort and status of her father's house without a word. This was only the second time he had been able to take her to the theatre in the city, and it was an occasion to be celebrated. All evening he had looked at the stage, and then at her face, and the joy he saw there was worth every careful economy, every penny saved for it. He leaned back against the door, smiling, and pulled her towards him gently.
The fog turned to rain, and then sleet. Two days later Pitt was sitting at his desk in the police station when a sergeant came in, his face puckered with unhappiness. Pitt looked up.
"What is it, Gilthorpe?"
"You remember that dead cabby you found night before last, sir?"
"What about him?" It was something Pitt would have preferred to forget, a simple tragedy but a common enough one, except for the amount of time he had been dead.
"Well," Gilthorpe shifted from one foot to the other. "Well, it looks like 'e wasn't no cabby. We found an open grave—"
Pitt froze; somewhere, pressed to the back of his mind, had been a fear of something like this when he had seen the puffy face and the touch of wet earth, something ugly and obscene, but he had ignored it.
"Whose?" he said quietly.
Gilthorpe's face tightened. "A Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond, sir."
Pitt shut his eyes, as if not seeing Gilthorpe might take it away.
"'E died just short o' three weeks ago, sir," Gilthorpe's voice went on inexorably. "Buried a fortnight. Very big funeral, they say."
"Where?" Pitt asked mechanically, carrying on while his brain still sought to escape.
"St. Margaret's, sir. We put a guard on it, naturally."
"Whatever for?" Pitt opened his eyes. "What harm is anyone going to do an empty grave?"
"Sightseers, sir," Gilthorpe said without a flicker. "Someone might fall in. Very 'ard to get out of a grave, it is. Sides is steep and wet, this time o' year. And o' course the coffin is still there." He stood a little more upright, indicating that he had finished and was waiting for orders from Pitt.
Pitt looked up at him.
"I suppose I had better go and see the widow and have her identify our corpse from the cab." He climbed to his feet with a sigh. "Tell the mortuary to make it look as decent as possible, will you? It's going to be pretty wretched, whether it's him or not. Where does she live?"
"Gadstone Park, sir, number twelve. All very big 'ouses there; very rich, I shouldn't wonder."
"They would be," Pitt agreed drily. Curious, the couple who had found the corpse had lived there also. Coincidence. "Right, Gilthorpe. Go and tell the mortuary to have his lordship ready for viewing." He picked up his hat and put it hard on his head, tied his muffler round his neck, and went outside into the rain.
Gadstone Park was, as Gilthorpe had said, a very wealthy area, with large houses set back from the street and a well-tended park in the center with laurel and rhododendron bushes and a very fine magnolia—at least that was what he guessed it to be in its winter skeleton. The rain had turned back to sleet again, and the day was dark with coming snow.
He shivered as the water seeped down his neck and trickled cold over his skin. No matter how many scarves he put on, it always seemed to do that.
Number twelve was a classic Georgian house with a curved carriageway sweeping in under a pillared entrance. Its proportions satisfied his eye. Even though he would never again, since his childhood as a gamekeeper's son, live in such a place, it pleased him to see it. These houses graced the city and provided the stuff of dreams for everyone.
He jammed his hat on harder as a gust of wind rattled a monumental laurel by the door and showered him with water. He rang the bell and waited.
A footman appeared, dressed in black. A thought flickered through Pitt's mind that he had missed his vocation in life—nature had intended him for an undertaker.
"Yes—sir?" There was the barest hesitation as the man recognized one of the lower classes and immediately categorized him as someone who should have known well enough to go to the back door.
Pitt was long familiar with the look and was prepared for it. He had no time to waste with layers of relayed messages, and it was less cruel to tell the news once and plainly than ooze it little by little through the hierarchy of the servant's hall.
"I am Inspector Pitt of the police. There has been an outrage with regard to the grave of the late Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond," he said soberly. "I would like to speak to Lady Fitzroy-Hammond, so that the matter can be closed as soon and as discreetly as possible."
The footman was startled out of his funereal composure. "You—you had better come in!"
He stood back, and Pitt followed him, too oppressed by the interview ahead to be glad yet of the warmth. The footman led him to the morning room and left him there, possibly to report the shattering news to the butler and pass him the burden of the next decision.
Pitt had not long to wait. Lady Fitzroy-Hammond came in, white-faced, and stopped when she was barely through the door. Pitt had been expecting someone considerably older; the corpse from the cab had seemed at least sixty, perhaps more, but this woman could not possibly be past her twenties. Even the black of mourning could not hide the color or texture of her skin, or the suppleness of her movement.
"You say there has been an—outrage, Mr.—?" she said quietly.
"Inspector Pitt, ma'am. Yes. I'm very sorry. Someone has opened the grave." There was no pleasant way of saying it, no gentility to cover the ugliness. "But we have found a body, and we would like you to tell us if it is that of your late husband."
For a moment he thought she was going to faint. It was stupid of him; he should have waited until she was seated, perhaps even have sent for a maid to be with her. He stepped forward, thinking to catch her if she crumpled.
She looked at him with alarm, not understanding.
He stopped, aware of her physical fear.
"Can I call your maid for you?" he said quietly, putting his hands by his sides again.
"No." She shook her head, then, controlling herself with an effort, she walked past him slowly to the sofa. "Thank you, I shall be perfectly all right." She took a deep breath. "Is it really necessary that I should—?"
Excerpted from Resurrection Row by Anne Perry. Copyright © 1981 Anne Perry. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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