The Masque of a Murderer: New Excerpt

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins is the third historical mystery in the Lucy Campion series set in 17th Century London (available April 14, 2015).

SEE ALSO: Join Susanna Calkins for a lesson in 17th century forensics!

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 her—that 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.

1

“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.

 

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.

Sarah nodded. “I know. I walked a bit through the ruins today, including where St. Paul’s had once stood. How fearful I once was, sitting in those pews, reminded every day of my weak and foolish spirit.” She looked at an old man holding out a tin cup, his eyes rheumy from sickness and the cold. She took out a penny and pressed it into the man’s hands as she passed. “What I mean is that now I see the despair and filth and dirt, in a way I never did before the Inner Spirit moved me.”

Pausing, she turned toward Lucy. “Do you know, I was still in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when we heard tell of the Great Fire. Of course, by that time, it was all over. God’s plan it was, for the Fire to burn away the sinners of London.”

Lucy nodded. The Lord’s will had been done, to be sure. Still, tensions about what had caused the Fire had not dissipated, and she’d seen fisticuffs brought about by a single word on the topic. She’d heard many people speak about the causes of the Great Fire. Some people blamed the French, while many more blamed the Catholics. “Those dirty papists!” she’d oft heard the cry. Many had blamed the confused watchmaker Robert Hubert, who had indeed been hanged for the crime. Lucy thought it was just as likely to have been the Fariners, who might well have failed to bank the coals of their bakery.

“So many have lost so much,” Lucy said. “I hope that they will all one day find justice. I know that is what Adam believes the new Fire Court will accomplish. To help restore order and to ensure that landlords receive their just due when the streets of London are plotted and built.” For a moment she felt so proud of Adam that she did not even realize she was smiling until she saw Sarah glance at her curiously.

“That is the first time I have ever heard thee address my brother in such a familiar way, Lucy,” Sarah said.

A painful flush flooded Lucy’s cheeks. “I meant, Master Adam. Er, Mr. Hargrave. I beg your pardon for the familiarity.”

Sarah waved away Lucy’s consternation. “Hearing thee speak of my brother in such a fashion, I should almost imagine that thou hast feelings for him.” Her tone was sympathetic, not judgmental.

Lucy had heard such sympathy before. Sometimes, as with Sarah, it was heartfelt and well intentioned, although at other times, it rang false and was mocking in nature. Either way, the message was clear. Falling in love with the master’s son—even if she no longer worked for the magistrate—was a pitiful plight for a servant.

Without replying, Lucy simply turned her face so that the bitter wind would cool her cheeks. She could guess what so many people assumed—that Adam had bedded her when she was serving in his father’s household. That she foolishly believed he would marry her. How many ballads had been set to this same tune? Surely, Master Aubrey made many a coin on this very tale. The handsome gentleman wooing the comely maid. Depending on who wrote it, the story became a bawdy joke or the recipe for a young woman’s ruin.

The truth was far different, although Lucy had never told anyone. I am not the besotted fool they all think me to be, Lucy thought. Certainly Adam had never forced himself upon her; such a dishonorable act would have been vile to him. However, during the Fire, when passion and emotion had overcome them both, Adam had declared his love for her and pledged his troth. For a short while, Lucy had lived and dreamed in a happy haze, thinking that all would be well.

Yet even as the shock and aftermath of the Fire continued to numb and overwhelm the people of London, for Lucy the smoke in her eyes had gradually cleared. The old world that she once knew—where servants marry servants and gentry marry gentry—had begun to right itself.

Now, when Adam spoke of marriage, Lucy put him off as new worries and doubts began to surface. What would such a marriage look like? Certainly, he was handsome and good—her breath still caught when she thought of the lengths to which he had gone to right some terrible wrongs. What former servant could ever even hope to wed a man like him? Most women in her position would have dragged him to the church the moment his declaration of love had been made, being assured income, property, and a good name for their children. But for Lucy, therein lay one of the greatest problems.

Would Adam come to be embarrassed by her humble upbringing? Could he overcome the fact that she had been a chambermaid, cleaning up his own family’s slops? His mother had served Queen Henrietta, as a young lady-in-waiting in the court of King Charles I. Her parents had been poor tenant farmers, and before that, in service. Adam claimed he did not care about such differences, but it was hard to believe that one day he would not wake up and resent her for her low station. His father, the magistrate, had even given his blessing, but surely that, too, could change when everyone’s senses were restored.

And what of Lucy’s newfound occupation? Adam had said that he would not want her to give up her training as a printer and bookseller, but surely she would have to, once a babe or two came along. Indeed, many servants and tradesmen she knew waited to get married and have children until their midtwenties, for precisely this reason. At twenty-one, Lucy had hoped to wait a few more years before getting wed, so that she could build her dowry and develop her livelihood. Of course, the gentry married earlier, and Adam was a few years older than she was already. He was eager to marry and get their lives in order.

That was the worst part about it. If Lucy was to be completely honest, she was not even sure whether it was Adam she wished to marry. Certainly Lucy had adored him almost from the moment they met, and indeed their love had flourished during a time of terrible stress. Yet as she had come to realize, Adam was also one of the only young men she had ever spoken with at length, and she had had no opportunity to meet other potential suitors.

That had changed, however, when Lucy left the magistrate’s household and became better acquainted with Constable Duncan, a man who also seemed to respect and admire her. Though she had not seen him recently, the constable occupied her thoughts in a way that both pleased and distressed her.

Sarah continued on, unaware of Lucy’s musings, speaking now about the Fire Court. “For my part, I do not put much stock in earthly courts, or the men that use the law to better their own ends.” She looked at Lucy. “How I have shocked thee. Thou art thinking that I have impugned the vocation of my father and my brother.” Her laugh was more sorrowful than bitter. “Perhaps I have. They will never understand the suffering that the law of this earthly realm has caused my spiritual brothers and sisters.”

Her words disturbed Lucy, causing an unexpected lump to form in her throat, as she thought of how the magistrate and his son revered the law and the pursuit of justice. Sarah’s words seemed to tarnish what they cherished. She did not know what to reply, and so remained silent for the remainder of the walk.

*   *   *

A short while later, Lucy took a deep bite into a piece of meat pie, savoring the well-seasoned meat, leeks, and potatoes. Indeed, the warmth of Master Hargrave’s kitchen embraced her, and she looked about in pleasure. Cook and her husband, John, the master’s all-around Jack, had worked for the magistrate for nearly twenty years. Cook’s niece, little skinny Annie, had come to them only a year and a half before, after Lucy had found her half starved, begging on the streets. In time, she had taken on Lucy’s old duties as chambermaid. Right now, Cook and Annie bustled about while John sat in the corner, sharpening knives. For an instant, Lucy felt as if she had never left Master Hargrave’s employment. Sarah seemed to be enjoying herself as well, her earlier discontent forgotten.

As Lucy had expected, the magistrate did not join the servants for their meal, but given what Sarah had said about their strained relationship, perhaps that was for the best.

Annie was now plying Sarah with questions about her travels. She had pulled out a pamphlet that Lucy had given her called A True Narrative of the Splendors of the New World.

“How terribly exciting this must have been for you!” Annie said.

Sarah looked at the piece, her expression unreadable. “Exciting? Yes, I suppose thou couldst say that.” A shadow passed over her face. “Crossing the Atlantic was no easy feat. On many occasions, I thought for certain that I would die. Indeed, some of my dear companions did not survive the ordeal. My spirit was much nourished by the grace of the Lord, and I thanked him mightily for sparing my life.”

Lucy and the others murmured a quick prayer as well.

“I did meet some true Indians, though,” Sarah said, then fell silent when her father, the magistrate, entered the kitchen.

Master Hargrave was not a tall man, nor was he heavyset, but his stately presence seemed to fill the small room. Under one arm, he carried a well-thumbed book with a blue-and-gold-checked binding.

With a slight thrill of anticipation, Lucy wondered whether he was planning to read a passage or two to them. Master Hargrave had always honored his duty as head of the household to instruct his servants in the Bible. In addition, he had sometimes passed the long hours at home reading passages of other works aloud to his servants. Lucy remembered those moments fondly, thinking of how she had hung on every word, even when she did not understand all that he said. The first time she had asked him a question, she did not know who had been more stunned, but he had answered it regardless. From then on, he would ask her questions about what he read, regarding her with approval as she puzzled through an idea. Indeed, Lucy suspected that it was from those moments that she had developed some of her own peculiar notions. Right now, the magistrate’s stern face relaxed when he saw her.

Lucy stood up hastily, wiping her mouth on a cloth. “Sir,” she said, giving him a quick bob.

“Good afternoon, Lucy,” the magistrate said, nodding at her. “I’m glad my old friend Horace Aubrey was able to give you some time off today, to celebrate my daughter’s return. She was quite intent to have you join us.” He gave his daughter a stern glance. “Next time, daughter, I expect that you will have Annie or John accompany you. There are many wretched sorts about who might prey on a young girl alone.”

It was one thing to let a female servant—or, for that matter, a bookseller—travel alone. It was quite another matter for the daughter of a magistrate to do the same. Lucy could see that this restriction did not sit well with Sarah—after all, hadn’t she traveled halfway around the world with few companions?

Seeing an angry retort rising to Sarah’s lips, Lucy jumped in hastily. “Thank you, sir. I do so appreciate being able to see Miss Sarah. I am quite looking forward to hearing more about her travels in the New World—”

“That’s fine, Lucy,” Master Hargrave said. His voice, though kind, had the effect of stopping her little speech. “It is good to have my daughter home again,” he said to Lucy. He turned back to Sarah. “I daresay I should like to get used to seeing you at my table again.”

Sarah’s lips tightened. “I will not be staying long, Father. I came back only to ensure the well-being of my brother, and of yourself, of course.” As she spoke, Lucy noticed that she no longer used her adopted Quaker thees and thous. “As I am now assured of both, that you are in good health and good spirits, I must soon continue to follow the path the Lord has set for me.”

The magistrate frowned. “Daughter, I cannot in good faith allow you to continue this traipsing about the earth, putting yourself in heaven knows what predicaments and travails.” He stopped short, seeming to recall that he was in the presence of his servants.

Cook and John had busied themselves with other things, and after a bewildered look around, Annie did the same.

Lucy bent her head. Oh, why had Sarah not given her father the gift? Perhaps if she had, these terrible tensions might not have flared so fiercely.

“I am sorry for having spoken of this subject in such a way,” the magistrate said to his servants. He seated himself at the end of the table. To his daughter he added, “This conversation is not over.”

Sarah, however, did not seem to care that the servants were all in attendance. “Father,” she said, tears in her voice. Once again she resumed her Quaker speech. “I love thee, but I obey only the will of God.”

The magistrate was about to say more, but thankfully they were interrupted by an insistent knocking at the door. As he was closest, John pulled the door open, revealing a man dressed in somber clothes.

“I am here for Sarah Hargrave,” the man said, without offering any greeting.

Lucy caught Cook’s eye. She could tell by her scandalized expression that Cook was as taken aback as she. How odd that someone of Sarah’s acquaintance would call at the servants’ and tradesmen’s entrance.

With silent decorum, John stepped aside, allowing the man to step into the room. In the brightness, Lucy could see the man was panting heavily, as though he’d just been running. He was perhaps in his thirties; his face was long and drawn, and his cheeks slumped a bit, as if he did not smile very often. At a middling height, his frame was lean. His clothes were worn and heavily mended. Another Quaker.

Lucy looked at the magistrate nervously. She could tell by the tightening of her former master’s jaw that he had reached the same conclusion.

The Quaker’s eyes immediately fell upon Sarah. “I must speak to thee,” he said, without offering any greeting.

“Sam?” Sarah asked. “Why ever hast thou come to my father’s home?” She emphasized the last three words, nodding in the direction of her father. The magistrate was sternly regarding the man as if he were a criminal awaiting his judgment.

Sam’s eyes widened when he saw Master Hargrave, and Lucy could tell that the man had come to the servants’ entrance with the hopes of avoiding the magistrate.

Apparently catching Sarah’s intonation, Sam moved his hand to his head, as if to remove his hat. His hand hovered near the brim before he let it drop back to his side, his hat still squarely on his head. ’Twas the Quaker way, Lucy knew, to show no deference to earthly authority. Still, that deliberate breach of etiquette had not come easily to him. Though he kept his eyes steadily on Sarah, Lucy could see that he had flushed deeply and that his hand was trembling.

Nor had the slight gone unnoticed by the magistrate. Lucy could see that his jaw had tightened as he rose from his bench. “Pray tell us, sir,” he said, coldly emphasizing the word “sir.” “Who are you, and why have you come to see my daughter?” Though he was civil, Lucy could hear the taut anger beneath his words.

“I am Sam Leighton,” the man said, regaining his sense of purpose. Again, Lucy could tell, he very nearly added “sir” at the end, but caught himself in time. “’Tis Jacob Whitby,” he said softly, looking again toward Sarah. “Last night he was struck by a great ailment, and I fear he has little time left on this earth.”

Sarah drew her breath in sharply. “No!” she exclaimed. All color drained from her already pale face. “Not Jacob!”

Lucy dimly recalled Jacob Whitby. A friend of Adam’s from Cambridge, Mr. Whitby had been one of the several handsome young men who had on occasion dined at the magistrate’s table. Other than this vague recollection, she could not remember any details of the man’s countenance or character, having not seen him in several years. She did remember, though, that the Whitbys were people of means. Not the sort one would expect to become a Quaker. Still, one could say the same of Sarah.

Sam Leighton continued. “I’m afraid ’tis true. He said he knew thy daughter. Thy son, too.”

The magistrate looked sorrowful. “Jacob Whitby. His is a name I’ve not heard for some time.” Sighing, he added, “This is a tragedy indeed. I thank you for letting us know. I will inform my son when next I see him.” He moved toward the man, as if to escort him out.

To their surprise, Sam did not move. “His wife, Esther Whitby, I fear, is in great need of womanly solace and a spiritual outpouring of strength and love. Jacob asked for our Sister Sarah to attend to her.”

The magistrate stiffened. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I will not permit my daughter to attend a sickbed.”

On this, Lucy heartily agreed with the magistrate. She did not want Sarah venturing into a house of sickness. They’d both seen firsthand the horrible effects of the plague. Lucy had some knowledge of the physick and the healing, having read several of Nicholas Culpeper’s household remedies.

Although it was not her place to speak, Lucy did anyway. “What is wrong with Mr. Whitby?” she asked. “From what ailment does he suffer?”

The man smiled down at her in a grave, kindly way. “No need to be a-frightened,” he said. “Brother Jacob was run over by a cart. The two horses did stomp upon him greatly. I am aggrieved to say that his injuries are within his internal organs. The physician was called in, but assured us that there is too much damage, too much bleeding inside his body. There is nothing more that can be done for his physical body. Soon he will be in heaven, flooded with the love and light of God.”

“Sarah!” the magistrate said sharply. “What are you doing?”

His daughter had retrieved a heavy, nondescript gray cloak from a hook by the door. “’Tis the Quaker way, Father. To give solace to those in need.”

“How well do you even know this man?” her father asked, in his quiet dignified way. Because Lucy knew the magistrate so well, she could hear the deep anger—or was it fear?—in his voice as well. “I cannot allow you to accompany a man with whom I have no previous acquaintance to visit the deathbed of another.”

“Please, Father,” Sarah said. She then repeated what she had said before, with more urgency this time. “’Tis the Quaker way!”

Seeing that her father had not relented, Sarah turned to Lucy, her eyes pleading and serious. “Lucy could accompany me, could she not? Wouldst thou, Lucy?” In an instant, Lucy was thrown back three years, when Sarah pleaded with her father to see the wondrous sites at Bartholomew Fair. This time she had none of her wheedling ways.

Lucy glanced at the magistrate but remained silent. She had no wish to step in between father and daughter.

The magistrate studied his daughter’s now-resolute face. “All right,” he consented. “So long as Lucy does not mind.”

“Indeed, sir, I do not,” Lucy said, despite her mouth watering for the last few bites she had left on her plate. Tugging her cloak into place, she followed Sam and Sarah into the unpleasant winter sleet.

Copyright © 2015 Susanna Calkins.

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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.

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