Death Rides a Pink Horse
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by Nina Coombs Pykare
Description: Kate Ketterling, one of a strolling players troupe, has Archie Islington, Viscount Barrington, take her to Astley's Amphitheater to meet the star, Phillipe Ducant. They learn that Angelique de la Reina has been found dead--and Bow Street will decide her horse is to blame. Kate instead considers all the other suspects--and refuses to be intimidated when more people are attacked. Regency Mystery/Romance by Nina Coombs Pykare; originally published by Five Star and second of the Kate Ketterling mysteries
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [221 KB]
Reading time: 140-196 min.
It all started when I asked Archie to take me to a performance at Astley's Amphitheatre. It's not that I was fond of horses. To tell the truth, I found horses fearsome beasts, unreliable. If you must know, actually frightening.
It wasn't that I wanted to study my art, either. At least, not exactly. I was just curious. At Covent Garden Theatre my line of business is the hoyden. I also play breeches parts, at which I'm good, and tragedy, when I'm forced to it, at which I'm not good.
I would never play tragedy at all, except that Papa--Charles Ketterling, known in the theater as Blue Ruin Ketterling--still dreams that I can become a tragedienne like the great Mrs. Sarah Siddons. But I'm afraid that Papa dreams in vain. No matter how many tragic parts I attempt, he will never see Kate Ketterling touted for her great tragedy portrayals. Unfortunately, I can't make him believe it.
In any case, Astley's doesn't perform legitimate theater, no tragedy, just horse dramas, hippodramas they're called. I'd heard rumors that Mr. Kemble was being urged to bring animals onto our stage, but I didn't think he would do such a thing if he could possibly avoid it. He was too strong a proponent of legitimate theater. Still, it wouldn't hurt to know more about the hippodrama. I wasn't going anywhere near a horse, though. Not even for my art.
However, my fear of horses had nothing to do with Archie. He didn't even know about it. That's why I couldn't figure out why he was being so obstinate about taking me to Astley's. Usually Archie does anything I ask. I've asked him to take me to some pretty awful places, too, like the Cock and Bull Tavern, about the meanest dive in London, patronized by the filthiest, hulking brutes. Or the Robson-Thickett fight, where I accidentally started a riot by hinting the match had been thrown.
Both those places I'd gone dressed as a boy, to Archie's great distress. I didn't want to go to either of them ever again. Not if I could help it! But Astley's was a family place. Women attended the shows there all the time. Mothers took their children. Nursemaids took their charges. So it couldn't be propriety that was bothering Archie.
Still, it was plain something was bothering him. Every time I brought the subject up, he had some reason we couldn't go. Finally, as he was taking me to rehearsal one drizzling May morning, I asked him directly. "Archie, whatever is wrong with you? Why don't you want to take me to Astley's?"
"Ah ..." Red crept up Archie's fair cheeks. He blushes like a girl sometimes, and he's not arrogant like many aristocrats. But Archie's top-of-the-trees, the best there is.
"Ah," he repeated. "It's ... ah ... rather a delicate matter."
I raised an eyebrow. "Delicate?"
"Yes, Kate my love."
Archie called me that often. I'd declined his offer to set me up in a little establishment, but I really depended on him as a friend. So I allowed him to call me love. Actually, he was becoming more than a friend to me, quite a bit more. His kisses were becoming more and more passionate. So were mine. And though I liked that, it rather posed me a problem. I did not want to go into keeping. I didn't care for the role of fallen woman, though plenty of actresses had played it in real life. I wasn't even sure I wanted to get married. Well, not yet, at least. And anyway, Archie had never mentioned that possibility. But I did want Archie to stay in my life. So I went on, trying to remain friends, but knowing that in our hearts we were more than that.
"Archie," I wheedled that morning, "just tell me why you don't want to take me to Astley's. Please?" Since we were in his carriage, we were already quite close to each other, but I leaned a little closer. I've noticed that Archie is susceptible to my touch.
"It's ... it's most embarrassing," he muttered, avoiding my glance by pretending to peer out the window at the crowded street.
But I don't give up easily. I continued to stare at him fixedly until he knew I had no intention of letting the matter drop. Finally he sighed and shook his head in surrender. "All right, all right. It's Isabella Larebini, the female star of the hippodrama."
Now I stared at him for a different reason. Archie had never mentioned another woman to me. "Isabella Larebini," I repeated slowly. How exotic the name sounded. "Is she from Italy?"
"I guess she's Spanish-Italian," Archie said, looking sheepish.
"What is her appearance like?" I asked, not really sure I wanted to know.
"Dark hair," Archie mumbled, as though he'd rather I didn't hear, "big doe eyes, flamboyant looking."
I pulled in a deep breath. "I suppose she's well-endowed," I said, unable to keep a certain sharpness from my tone.
Archie nodded, his expression carefully blank. I swallowed a sigh. This Isabella sounded like just the kind of woman I'd always wanted to be. And instead God had made me short, with curly red hair, freckles, and a figure that easily suited breeches parts.
"Kate." Archie laced his gloved fingers through mine and gazed into my eyes, "you know I'd never look at another woman."
I knew what Archie said was true, but still I had to swallow a sudden surge of jealousy. Then, as calmly as I could manage, I said, "Tell me, Archie, what does this Isabella Larebini have to do with you?"
Archie gave me a look that let me know he was feeling much put upon. "She has very little to do with me," he insisted. "It's George. She was George's mistress. Before he went to Spain to fight."
Relief almost made me laugh aloud. I might not want Archie to set me up in keeping, but neither did I want him caught in the clutches of some scheming woman. I cared very much for him. I wanted him to stay in my life. With my free hand I patted his arm. "It's all right, Archie."
Archie's thin blond mustache quivered, a sign he was nervous. "But that's not all, love. It seems that Isabella--" He looked around as if someone might help him out of this quandary, but there was no one there but me.
All I could say was, "Go on."
Finally he did. "Well, when George was killed, Isabella sought me out. You see, she thought--" Archie fumbled with his cuffs, adjusting them several times though they didn't need it. "That is, she wished, she hoped ..." he paused, then rushed on as if in a hurry to get the words out, "she thought perhaps I'd want to take his place."
He scrutinized my face, obviously wondering if I'd be jealous. I was. At least a little. But letting him see it would serve no good purpose. Besides, I didn't want him to know. "And did you want to take his place?" I asked, trying for a light tone.
In spite of my efforts to hide it, Archie must have heard a hint of concern in my voice. A tiny smile curved the corner of his mouth.
"Of course not, dearest Kate." He unlaced our fingers and took my gloved hand in his. "I've never loved anyone but you." He squeezed my fingers. "And if you want to go to Astley's Amphitheatre, that's where we'll go. The first day you have off." He sighed deeply again. "In spite of Isabella."
That sigh convinced me more than anything else that I had no reason to feel concern over this Isabella person. "Good," I said. "That should be Tuesday." I settled my bonnet and leaned back against the squabs. "Mrs. Siddons has returned and I won't have to play Desdemona any more. Thank goodness."
Archie tried not to smile, but I saw the twist at the corner of his mouth. He knew that in tragedy parts I am somewhat less than talented. No matter how hard I try to figure out the why, the reasons tragic characters behave as they do, I'm not successful. Maybe it's because I believe that people ought to give off moaning and groaning about their fate and get on with their lives. Tragedy characters never seem to do that, though. They just keep on moaning and groaning.
Anyway, by that time we'd reached the theater. "I'm coming in to watch rehearsal today," Archie said, helping me descend from the carriage. The drizzle had turned into a fine mist, but like seasoned Londoners we ignored it.
"I still don't like to let you out of my sight." Tenderly he touched my cheek. "I must tell you though, that I'm greatly relieved that Kemble gave Nell's dressing room to the new actress. I didn't like you being in that cursed room. It was--it was most unsettling."
I was relieved, too. I'd never been comfortable in that dressing room, even after the killer was caught. "That's all over now." I patted his arm again, trying to reassure him.
He leaned over to give me a quick kiss on the cheek, a liberty I allow because we're friends. "I sincerely hope so," he said, "but knowing your proclivity for danger, I'm afraid I can not feel so certain."
"Now, Archie," I protested, "that's hardly fair. You know I couldn't help those murders."
"Perhaps not," he said, his gray eyes twinkling, "but you could help poking about as you did."
I tucked my arm through his and we started up the wide steps to Covent Garden Theatre. "You know I had to help Betty's poor mother. Why, after Betty was murdered, her mother would have likely starved. You wanted to help her, too. That was a wonderful idea, engaging her as my seamstress."
"It worked pretty well," Archie agreed. "By the by, shall I send Brinson round tomorrow to pick up more mending for her?"
"Yes, please do. We're playing The Beggar's Opera next. I'll check my costumes after rehearsal today." I grinned. "Maybe I'll loosen a few seams. Just to be sure she has enough to do."
Archie gave me another kiss on the cheek and went into the theater proper while I made my way down the dimly-lit hall that no longer held terror for me. What a fine man Archie was. Though I'd refused his offer of keeping and embroiled him in all manner of trouble, he'd stood by me. He'd helped poor Betty's mother, engaging her to be my standby seamstress, and doing so without the least damage to her pride.
Yes, Archie was a prince. Though, perhaps considering the character of our present prince, the Regent, that wasn't quite the term to describe Archie. Archie was better than a prince, much better. I cared for him very deeply. Truth is, though I didn't dare say so to him, I believed I was coming to love him.
But I couldn't understand why he loved me. I don't have sable hair or doe eyes. Or a figure to make men stop and gape. Certainly I'd gotten Archie into a lot of trouble. But given all he'd done for me, I could hardly doubt his love. It was there. And I was glad.
I hung my cloak on a peg and turned to the dressing room's only chair.
The Beggar's Opera was near the top of the heaped play books. I grabbed it and sank down on the bench to review my lines.