"Why are you so sure?" I asked as we walked out of the surgery and I looked up at the stars, wishing that I were back on Britannic Britannic and none of this had ever happened. But no, I couldn't wish that, for Peregrine would still be shut up in a madhouse. and none of this had ever happened. But no, I couldn't wish that, for Peregrine would still be shut up in a madhouse.
"You're a damned good judge of human nature," he said.
We had started toward the police station just as the ambulance arrived to carry the wounded and the dead to Cranbrook.
I helped to settle Peregrine on the stretcher, although he regarded the attendants with suspicion, and small wonder.
At the last, he put out a hand, and I took it, knowing it was a promise between us that all would be well. He didn't say anything, he didn't need to.
We were watching the ambulance make the turning at the church, in the direction of Cranbrook, when we heard someone calling for Dr. Philips. It was the rector, running toward us with coattails flapping and his hat gone. He was ashen in the ambulance headlamps as they swept over him, and we hurried to meet him, Dr. Philips, Simon, and I.
"It's Mrs. Graham-" I began. She'd been on the verge of collapse. And I was fairly certain the rector would be hopeless in the face of that.
But I'd misjudged him.
"I was on my way back to the rectory," he said disjointedly. "Susan had taken Mrs. Graham to her room-Mr. Douglas is with her. Timothy-I went to comfort him and couldn't find him-and just now-he's-Timothy is hanging from a tree in the churchyard!"
One of those ancient trees that stood by the wall. Where I'd seen Robert Douglas bring Mrs. Graham the news that Peregrine had escaped from the asylum.
We rushed to follow the rector, and then Simon was there with his knife, and we could cut Timothy down. It was too late. He must have gone out as soon as he saw his mother return home with the news about Jonathan.
My first thought was for Mrs. Graham and Robert. And then for Peregrine.
Dr. Philips said, "My God-" as if echoing my thought.
We took Timothy to the doctor's surgery, and then the rector and the doctor went together to hand a grieving mother the final blow.
And Robert Douglas? How would he face the death of his own child? As he had always done in a crisis-with silence.
I couldn't go with them. I didn't think Mrs. Graham would want to see me now any more than I wished to see her. Instead I stood there in the room where Jonathan had died, looking down into the face of his brother. A murderer. Yet it was unmarked by anything he'd done. As if his conscience had always been clear.
He'd worn a coat-rather like an officer's greatcoat-to the tree, to throw the rope over a heavy bough and tie the end to the bole of the tree. He'd even brought a stool with him to stand on. And then he'd folded his coat and set it aside before putting the noose around his neck. I'd brought the coat back to the surgery with us, and reached for it now to cover his face.
It was then that I saw the tear in the sleeve near the shoulder. I touched it gently. A bullet had passed through the thick fabric just there. I opened Timothy's shirt and looked at his arm. Here was a bloody crease where the shot had grazed the skin as well. It had hurt, but it would have healed on its own without anyone else the wiser. Now it was proof that he'd been on the road near Barton's tonight.
Simon had come in and was saying, "There's something in his hand."
I looked down, praying it was a note, a message, something-but it was too small, only a square clenched in his palm, hardly noticeable.
When I took it out to unfold it I saw with shock that it was nothing more than a list of names, and at the top was Lily Mercer. Lily Mercer. At the bottom, just below At the bottom, just below Ted Booker, Ted Booker, was scrawled in anguish was scrawled in anguish My brother. My brother.
I refolded the note and put it back where I'd found it.
Simon nodded. "Best that way," he said. "The police..."
"There's something I must do first," I said. "It's important. Will you wait?"
I walked alone toward the church. As I came to the west door, in the distance, carrying on the quiet night air, I heard one of the owls call from the wood that had given this place its name.
It was cold as the grave inside, and dark as death. I could just see my way. I remembered Mr. Montgomery, in the organ loft, repairing his precious church. He would be on a ladder tomorrow, looking for new tasks to keep his mind off the suffering he'd witnessed.
I came to a halt in front of the memorial to Arthur. This time I put my fingers out to touch the brass plaque, running them along the words engraved there, feeling the sharp edges of letters that spelled out the dates of a man's life and death, but not the sum of the man himself.
He had tried once to visit Peregrine in the asylum and been turned away. It was more than anyone else had done. He'd told the staff to allow Peregrine to have books, because as the oldest of his three brothers he remembered a time when Peregrine was normal and bright. He had lied for his mother's sake, but at the end of his life, he couldn't go on lying. And yet he'd trusted to Jonathan to see matters right. He hadn't put his plea on paper to be shown to Lady Parsons or the police. He hadn't had the courage to stand up for Peregrine in the face of family loyalty. But he'd hoped that Jonathan might-Jonathan, the unfeeling brother, who might find it easier to step forward on his behalf.
It could be argued that small boys couldn't have changed what was happening to Peregrine that night in London or here in Owlhurst. Even with the best will in the world. And none of them had witnessed what their mother had done to sear Peregrine's guilt into his mind. They had lied for her sake. That was all they knew. And yet when they were older, when they could understand what their mother had done to Peregrine, they had never questioned her actions or their role in what had happened. They'd simply turned their backs on the truth. They had been well taught to shield Timothy.
What if Arthur had survived the war, and asked me again to marry him, even with one leg? If I'd said yes, I'd have believed, like everyone else, that Peregrine was a murderer. And Arthur would have let me believe that.
That was what hurt the most. That I would have been drawn into the conspiracy of silence, unwittingly and therefore willingly.
He'd had feet of clay after all.
I had been fond of the man I thought Arthur Graham was. I had mourned him with my whole heart. Visiting Kent had brought him closer for a short time, and I'd been grateful for that. Now, being here made saying farewell easier.
I dropped my hand from the memorial brass, standing there for a moment longer.
"Good-bye, Arthur," I said softly, and turned away.
Simon Brandon was waiting for me at the church door. He didn't say anything until we had reached the police station, tucked away on a side street.
"He must have had some good in him, Bess, or you couldn't have cared for him the way you did," he said, offering what comfort he could.
"For a time I wanted to believe that," I answered. "You couldn't help but like him. But Matron was right. We know them for such a brief space. And so they are ours to heal, but not ours to love."
Somewhere in France, March 1917
I HAD COME HAD COME to the conclusion that French rain was worse than any other-barring of course the monsoons of India-and I was feeling a little down at the end of another long day at a forward dressing station. We had had rather severe cases, three possible amputations and one of pneumonia, sandwiched between more trench foot than I ever hope to see again in my lifetime. to the conclusion that French rain was worse than any other-barring of course the monsoons of India-and I was feeling a little down at the end of another long day at a forward dressing station. We had had rather severe cases, three possible amputations and one of pneumonia, sandwiched between more trench foot than I ever hope to see again in my lifetime.
I had been sent back to France, and in some ways I was very glad. I'd been a little uneasy on the crossing, remembering too much. And when my feet touched the solid stone of the quay, I drew a long breath of relief. Too soon to find the sea friendly again, Too soon to find the sea friendly again, I told myself. The memories of I told myself. The memories of Britannic Britannic were still too fresh. were still too fresh.
Slipping and sliding through the mud as I made my way to my quarters, I waved to stretcher bearers huddling under a tent flap trying to smoke. They must be, They must be, I thought, I thought, as tired as I am. as tired as I am.
During the day, someone had brought up the mail-letters were lying on my cot blanket, still damp from the weather, and I pounced on them like a hungry cat on a handy mouse.
Letters from home, letters from the Front, letters from Egypt and India. I hadn't had anything for so long that I'd been wondering if anyone knew where I was-we'd been moved four times in the six weeks I'd been here, and the post was never dependable as it was. Excited, I completely forgot how I'd been longing for a cup of tea to warm me, and I sat there devouring each letter in its turn.
Between a letter from the Colonel Sahib and one from Dr. Philips in Owlhurst, I discovered a small postcard. On the front was a pen-and-ink sketch of the Pavilion at Brighton. I turned it over quickly and saw Diana's bold penmanship racing across the card, just as she raced through life. I hugged it for a moment, glad to know she was well, then read the message.
Dear Heart,This is Brighton, as if you didn't know. I am seeing it through new eyes. The young man with me sends his very best love, and I am green with jealousy. The doctors weren't certain he was ready for France, and so he is being sent to Dover Castle after his training. How clever of them! How convenient for me! He's taking over the Dower House in Owlhurst, and you can write him there.With much love, Diana The Dower House, where the eldest son lived when he married. It was his way of telling me just how much he'd healed already. A nursing sister had written to me for him as soon as Peregrine's name was cleared, adding that he wasn't sure where he would go on leaving hospital-he couldn't bear to set foot in the Graham house, even though his stepmother had been sent back to her family in disgrace.
I picked up the card again. Beneath Diana's signature was a handwriting I didn't know, but a name I did.
God keep you safe out there, dear girl.Ever, Peregrine I looked out at the cold, dismal rain. My heart sang for both of them, and suddenly I wasn't tired any longer, I was crying with joy.
About the Author
CHARLES TODD is the author of eleven Ian Rutledge mysteries- is the author of eleven Ian Rutledge mysteries-A Matter of Justice, A Pale Horse, A False Mirror, A Long Shadow, A Cold Treachery, A Fearsome Doubt, Watchers of Time, Legacy of the Dead, Search the Dark, Wings of Fire, and and A Test of Wills A Test of Wills-and one stand-alone novel. A mother-and-son writing team, they live in Delaware and North Carolina, respectively.
www.charlestodd.com Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.
ALSO BY C CHARLES T TODD
Inspector Ian Rutledge MysteriesA Test of WillsWings of FireSearch the DarkWatchers of TimeLegacy of the DeadA Fearsome DoubtA Cold TreacheryA Long ShadowA False MirrorA Pale HorseA Matter of JusticeThe Murder Stone