In Susanna Calkins's next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies' maid in the local magistrate's household, has now found gainful employment as a printer's apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate's daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man's last utterances, but she's unprepared for what he reveals to herthat someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.
Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate's son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man's background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.
In The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins has once again combined finely wrought characters, a richly detailed historical atmosphere, and a tightly-plotted mystery into a compelling read.
About the Author
SUSANNA CALKINS became fascinated with seventeenth-century England while pursuing her doctorate in British history and uses her fiction to explore this chaotic period. Originally from Philadelphia, Calkins now lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two sons. The Masque of a Murderer is her third novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Masque of a Murderer
By Susanna Calkins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Susanna Calkins
All rights reserved.
"Let me tell you!" Lucy Campion shouted, trying to make her voice heard against the rising wind. She scrambled onto the overturned barrel outside of Master Aubrey's printer's shop. "Of a murder most absurd!"
A few passersby on Fleet Street stopped at her words, eager for a story, despite the bitter chill that had marked the long winter months. Huddled together, they looked up at her, waiting. Taking advantage of the gathering crowd, another woman took down a heavy earthenware pot that she'd been balancing on her head and began to sell hot cooked pears to the freezing people around her.
"Go on, lass! Haven't got all day!" a man called to Lucy, shifting a dead chicken from one gloved hand to the other.
Over her head Lucy waved a ballad that Master Aubrey had recently printed. Taking a deep breath, she began to half sing, half chant the song as the printer had taught her. "A cheesemonger, tired of his cuckolding wife, did end her life with his sharpest knife!"
Lucy looked about. Good. A few more people were moving toward them. Ever since the Great Fire had beset them some six months before, Londoners had sought out any entertainment they could find, hoping to dispel the dark mood that had descended upon them during the long gray winter.
She continued, adding a flourish here, a flourish there, using the little tricks she had learned to keep her listeners enthralled to the very end of the tale. With any luck, the people would throw a coin or two into the small woven basket resting against the barrel, or better yet, buy a penny piece to take back with them to share with their family or neighbors.
Reaching the end of the ballad, Lucy delivered the last jest with a chuckle. "Had he been more cheese than whey, she'd not have cozened him that day."
Satisfied, the crowd guffawed and pressed in toward her, coins in hand. She and Lach, Master Aubrey's other apprentice, scrambled about, selling their ballads. She sold a few recipe books as well—they had found the story of the murderous cheesemonger always left people longing for delicious fresh cheese.
As the small crowd dispersed, someone stepped forward, quietly murmuring her name.
Lucy stood stock-still, squinting at the young woman standing before her. Clad in a Quaker's gray gown and cloak, the woman was pale and drawn, her brown hair pulled back severely under a white cap. Looking straight into the woman's blue eyes, Lucy stiffened in shocked recognition. "Sarah!" she croaked, a flood of emotion filling her.
It was Sarah Hargrave, the daughter of the magistrate, Lucy's former employer. For several years Lucy had worked as a chambermaid in Master Hargrave's household, emptying pots, scouring bowls, and making beds. There, she'd also learned to read and write, as the magistrate did not approve of dull-witted servants. She and Sarah Hargrave, while not friends exactly, had been companions of sorts. Later, after several tragedies befell the Hargrave family, their bond had been further solidified.
Staring at Sarah now, Lucy could scarcely recognize the girl she had once known. Dressed completely in gray, unrelieved by a single ribbon or flash of color, Sarah Hargrave was nothing like the merry girl Lucy remembered. This young woman looked drawn and serious, more like a wren than a blue jay. Nearly two years had passed since she'd last seen Sarah, during those terrible days before the plague had cast its vengeance upon London. The magistrate had sent his only daughter far out of harm's way, only to discover too late that he'd sent her to live among Quakers and that she had taken up their convictions.
They'd all been a bit shocked, saddened truly, by Sarah's decision to join the Quakers. She'd always seemed a bit silly, more interested in silks and laces than in pursuing a path to God. Master Hargrave, in particular, seemed to have been devastated by his daughter's decision, rarely speaking her name. As a magistrate, he had prosecuted a number of Quakers and others who violated the Conventicle Acts, a fact that must have added to his deep disappointment in his daughter's choices. Her family knew very little about what she'd been doing. From the few letters they had received from her, they learned that she'd been traveling through Barbados and the colonies, seeking to share what she called her Inner Light with others. Beyond that, they knew little else.
Now, as they regarded each other uncertainly, Lucy did not know whether she should curtsy or embrace her. Although she was no longer Master Hargrave's servant, Lucy's years of training won out. "Miss Sarah," she said, doing a little bob. "I am truly glad to see that you are well."
"Lucy, my dear. Thou dost not need to bow to me." Sarah spoke in the odd manner of the Quakers, all thees and thous. The plain speech, they called it. From some Quakers she had once known, Lucy knew that the Friends, as they called themselves, used the more familiar form of speech because they did not recognize one man as having authority over another.
Despite her funny Quaker speech, the smile Sarah gave to Lucy was kind and loving. Extending her arms, Lucy found herself caught in a warm embrace. As they hugged, Lucy could feel Sarah's slight frame beneath her wraps.
"When did you return?" Lucy asked, stepping back to study Sarah more carefully. Clearly, Sarah had lost weight, but there was a sturdiness to her demeanor that kept her from seeming frail.
"I have only just returned to London," Sarah replied. "My companions and I arrived in Bristol ten days ago, and it has taken us that long to walk from there to here."
Lucy's knowledge of geography was scant, but she knew Bristol was a good distance away. Her amazement must have shown on her face, for Sarah laughed slightly. "Yes, it was about one hundred miles we walked. I am well used to traveling such distances. 'Tis the Quaker way." She hesitated. "My father, thou mayst know, wrote to me bidding me to return home." She shivered as a gust of wind blew against them.
"Pray, let us go inside," Lucy said, opening the door to Master Aubrey's shop. As they stepped inside, she asked, "Is that why you have returned?"
Following her in, Sarah shook her head. "No, 'twas the letter that thou sent me that compelled me to return. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I received it, although I was quite pained by thy news."
Lucy nodded, understanding. Last November, Sarah's brother, Adam, had been hurt, and Lucy had taken it on herself to inform his sister of the strange events that had led to his injury.
"I would have returned when I first received thy letter," Sarah said. "Few ships will traverse the ocean during wintertime, though. So I was not able to book passage for several months." She paused. "Home is different now. Everything is different."
Lucy nodded. The Hargraves had moved shortly after the Great Fire. "That is to be expected," she replied. "Your father—Master Hargrave—must be so pleased that you have returned home."
"I suppose," Sarah said, craning her head this way and that as she took in the details of Master Aubrey's shop. Lucy tried to see the printer's shop through Sarah's eyes. Two printing presses in the middle of the room. A few tables and shelves, all holding the boxes and trays containing different fonts and types of letters and woodcuts. Tied leather bags stacked side by side under the benches, containing older pamphlets and tracts. All manner of strange tools hanging from pegs on the walls. A great stack of common-grade paper that Master Aubrey used for the cheaper pieces. The finer paper used for the occasional special printing.
"I can scarcely believe that thou art a printer's apprentice now," Sarah said. "My father's letters have been few. However, he did inform me of thy grand new occupation. A printer! Father is so very proud of thee." A funny look crossed her face then. Hurt? Confusion? Lucy couldn't tell.
Nevertheless, Lucy patted her hand. "I am but a simple apprentice. Truth be told, not even that."
"Well, now, the lass speaks the truth," Lach interrupted, moving his stool over to the long wooden table. "'Tis not likely you will ever be recognized by the guild."
Lucy frowned at the gangly redheaded youth. Lach's dig reminded her again of the tenuous nature of her current employment. She scrambled to explain her odd position to Sarah. "I started working for Master Aubrey shortly after the Great Fire. The printer was looking for something special to print, and, well, I provided it to him. A story that had emerged from the ashes—I promised it to him and he agreed to take me on." She paused. The tale that had come from that discovery had been very strange indeed. "I could not pay the full apprentice fee, you see. So I agreed to take on many of the household duties, though a washer-woman does the heavy work. In exchange, Master Aubrey has been teaching me the trade. I have learned much about printing books, and selling them, too."
It was also true, as Lach had said, that Master Aubrey had not introduced her to the Worshipful Company of Stationers, nor, she suspected now, did he intend to. Lucy guessed the printer was not sure how the guild would respond if he put forward a female apprentice, although Lord knew that since the plague and the Fire, there'd been few enough able-bodied men interested in joining the trade. "Thus my brother, Will, and I have leased rooms above the shop," Lucy concluded, pointing at the stairs that led to their chambers, "and Master Aubrey pays me a smallish wage." For now, she thought. She smiled at Sarah, hiding the tingle of worry that flickered over her every time she wondered how long the printer would keep her on.
"Still, it is wonderful that thou hast found such an occupation," Sarah said. "I can see that it agrees with thee well."
Again Lucy caught that same note of longing. "I should very much like to hear more of your travels," she said. "Alas, now I must return to work. Master Aubrey is not one to beat us, but I should not like to anger him by larking about." She began to take the type letters out of the press and return them to their appropriate cases, since Master Aubrey wanted them to be ready to set and print The Lady's Lament in two days' time.
"Oh, but that's why I'm here. Father said I might invite thee to dine with us. Cook has the most delicious meal planned."
Lucy smiled at Sarah doubtfully but did not speak. The magistrate had always been gentle and courteous to her, and would on occasion take a meal with his servants. Nevertheless, it was very unlikely that even a man of Master Hargrave's sort would formally extend an invitation to dine with his former chambermaid. She gently said as much to Sarah.
"Oh, pfft," she replied, tossing her hair in her old way. Or she would have, had the stern cap not kept her hair in place. "We Quakers do not recognize such divisions among us. We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord."
Her eyes shining, Sarah looked almost as Lucy remembered. Then a new expression passed into her eyes, taking on a distant forlorn quality that made Lucy's heart ache. "Please, Lucy. I know Father respects thee. And truly, I have no other friends now, at least none who would feel welcome in a magistrate's home." She lowered her voice so that Lach would not hear her. "Ever since I returned home, Father has seemed so angry and disappointed in me for not coming home sooner. For traveling to the New World. For being a Quaker." Her eyes were pleading. "I would feel more comfortable if thou wert beside me. Even just for a few hours."
"Even if that were so, I cannot just leave the shop," Lucy protested. She continued to put the letters back in their cases. "I should not like to rile Master Aubrey in such a way."
Lach looked up then. "So you're a Quacker now, hey?" he said to Sarah, apparently having heard everything. He put his hands to his armpits and began to flap his arms like wings. "Quack! Quack! Quack!"
"Lach!" Lucy exclaimed, embarrassed by his antics. "Sarah is a Quaker, not Quacker. Do not call her that ridiculous name."
"So you quake, then?" Lach asked, ignoring Lucy's retort. "You do not quack?"
For the first time, a slight smile tugged at Sarah's lips. Lucy was glad to see that Sarah seemed more amused than anything at Lach's jests. "I don't think I have ever quacked," she said.
Thankfully, they were spared any more of Lach's nonsense when Master Aubrey appeared in the doorway of the shop. Despite the cold weather, the rotund printer was sweating from the exertion of his walk.
Taking off his hat, the master printer greeted Sarah warily. "Miss Hargrave," he said, throwing Lucy a warning glance. "I am glad that the good Lord has seen fit to bring you safely back from your long voyages. I hope that you will extend my best wishes to your father as well." He held open the door and beckoned outside. "However, I should like Lucy to resume her work now, and it is time for you to return home."
"Ah!" Sarah said brightly. "Lucy's work is why I am here." She pulled out a pocket from underneath her skirts. "My father gave me this purse. It is full of coins. Even though I told him I need little in the way of worldly goods."
"Ah, yes," Master Aubrey said, clearly perplexed by the idea of not needing worldly goods. Still, he nodded his head. "I see."
From the corner, Lach bugged out his eyes, pretending to be a madman, before mouthing the word "Quacker." Fortunately, Sarah did not see the gesture.
"So I thought," Sarah continued, "that even if I need nothing, I might purchase a few recipes for Cook—I know that she already has Culpeper's Herbal. Perhaps another of the same sort?"
"Yes, yes," Master Aubrey said, rubbing his hands, his earlier surliness gone. "We have a number of recipes. Lach, you imp!" he shouted, boxing Lach lightly on his ear. "Go bring up the bag of herbals and recipes from the cellar."
Murmuring under his breath, Lach slunk off.
Sarah was not done. "I had thought perhaps to get Father a copy of"—she consulted a piece of paper—"William Dugdale's Origines Juridiciales. My brother told me that most copies were burnt in the Fire, but that perhaps thou wouldst know where one might be found."
"Most, but not all. I happen to have a few in my possession. Leather bound. Very rare! I shall go get the Dugdale from my private collection. Nothing but the very best for your father, naturally!"
At that point, Sarah produced a letter sealed in red wax, which she handed to Master Aubrey along with the coins for the book and tracts. "From Father," she said.
Coins in hand, Master Aubrey had grown jovial. Scanning the note, he chuckled. "Lass," he said to Lucy, "Master Hargrave has asked you to dine with his daughter. I suppose he has paid enough for you to take a few hours off."
"Thank you, sir!" Lucy cried, grabbing her cloak from the hook by the wall. As Sarah pulled her from the shop, Lucy could not refrain from sticking her tongue out at Lach, who, as always, made a disgusting face at her in return.CHAPTER 2
A few steps along the street, their giddiness passed, and once again Sarah took on her somber demeanor. "'Tis a strange thing," she said, stepping aside to let an old woman pass them by. The woman moved slowly, nearly doubled over by the great pack on her back. "To see London. When I lived here before, I did not see what I see now."
Lucy cocked her head, trying to see what Sarah saw. The Great Fire had not reached these streets where they were currently walking. On that fateful day last September, the winds had shifted, and the blaze had turned back upon itself, saving the areas to the west and north of the old city walls.
"The Great Fire stopped before it reached these parts," Lucy said, puzzled. "It was more to the east." She pointed in that direction. Where once all the great church pinnacles had illuminated the skyline, now there was an unusual expanse of gray sky.
Excerpted from The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins. Copyright © 2015 Susanna Calkins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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