Death of a Dancing Master
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by M. E. Kemp
Description: It's 1693, and Boston's dancing master is found dead with a fencing foil through his gut. Two nosy Puritans, Hetty Henry and Creasy Cotton, are asked to investigate. The young minister who found the body has been arrested for the murder but Hetty and Creasy discover there are many other suspects including the town's ministers who preached forcefully against him, the magistrates who harassed him with fines, angry husbands, and jealous women who contended for his affections. Hetty interviews the ladies who willingly confess their love for the dancing master--several confess to causing his death. Unfortunately, none of the ladies know the real means of his murder. Creasy has no luck when questioning the men, either. Later, a tavern wench gives him a note asking for a meeting, claiming she has information about the murder. When Creasy turns up for their midnight meeting he gets an unpleasant surprise. Hetty devises a plan is to set up a trap using herself as bait. She claims to know the killer's secret and demands payment for her silence. The cemetery meeting at midnight becomes a fight for Hetty's life?
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: November 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [193 KB]
Reading time: 125-175 min.
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The young man knocked but no one opened the door to him. Thinking that perhaps his knock was too timid, he balled up his fist and banged. Still there was no response. Evidently the gentleman was too occupied to hear. Perkney said he had an appointment, but the young man assumed Perkney said it in an effort to get rid of him. No matter, the young man felt it his duty to tender an apology for his intemperate words, and apologize he would. He thrust open the door and walked into the long room.
Seeing no one he called out, "Perkney, are you there?" And repeated, "Perkney?" He took two steps forward.
Although the room was one long space, it was divided into three sections, the first being a small antechamber where Perkney greeted guests. There was a round table to the right, with paper, a quill, an inkpot and a silver tray for calling cards upon it. A narrow chair sat next to the table. To his left the wall held hooks for coats and cloaks. Beneath the hooks a small rug covered the floor, with a bootjack for removing muddy footwear. Perkney was quite particular about his guests removing their muddy clogs or boots.
The next section of the room flickered with candles in wall sconces. The candles illuminated wall hangings of bewigged ladies and gentlemen lounging in country gardens. Two gilded armchairs were placed against the wall. Across the room a wooden stool served as a seat for the fiddler, who doubled as Perkney's servant.
The last section was left in gloom, a bare pine floor where the dancing master gave lessons in sword-play. The young man remembered a pile of foils against the wall but he could not quite make out the stack from his position across the room. Nor could he see the door that led to Perkney's private rooms. Perhaps Perkney was asleep in there.
The young man called out across the space: "It's me, Perkney. Jacob Joyliffe. I've come back to apologize to you." His words hung unanswered in the late afternoon air. Joyliffe felt a sense of oppression. Where was the man? He'd left the dancing master for no more than twenty minutes, if that. Perkney hadn't appeared to be going out. He'd said he had an appointment. Joyliffe assumed the appointment was a lesson of some sort. The man taught fencing as well as ungodly dance.
"Perkney?" Really, this was too much. The man must be avoiding him. Here he'd rushed back because conscience scolded him for his rash words to the dancing master and the man hid from him like a naughty child. He'd hurried back on purpose so he would not interrupt the man's lessons, even if he could not approve of the lascivious movement. Court dances. Just because the wicked Louis of France did them, there was no reason for Godly Protestants to mimic the Papist King's example.
There was nothing for it but to cross the room and make himself known at the door to Perkney's rooms. The thought that Perkney might not be asleep there--he might possibly be engaged in wanton behavior--made him wince, but his conscience would not allow him to hesitate. It was his duty to apologize to the dancing master. He straightened his shoulders and strode across the space.
"Perkney. Mr. Perkney, it's me, Jacob Joyliffe." He called out a warning. Frustrated he pounded upon the door.
"Perkney, I know you're in there. Wake up, Man. I have come to apologize to you." He waited. "Perkney?" He knocked to no avail. Frustrated, he turned. The dancing master was arrogant, as he had cause to believe, but he hadn't thought the man a coward. So be it. Joyliffe shook his head, as he turned to the left he spotted the stack of fencing foils leaning against the wall near the far corner. There seemed to be a limb sticking out from behind the foils. Could Perkney be hiding there? Foolish man--hide from his sins he could not. Hide from the eye of God? Yea, even in the belly of the whale did not the Lord spy out the sins of Jonah? And he, Jacob Joyliffe, servant of the Lord, was only come to offer Redemption to this sinner. He felt a moment's pang that he had failed to make clear his mission, that was a sorry fault of his own. He'd been swept away by a spate of angry words. He'd answered in kind. Yet his mission was to reason with the man, not to argue with him.
Joyliffe tiptoed over to the corner. A trifle near-sighted, he peered at the stack of foils. Yes, that was a slippered stocking and a well-formed leg sticking out beyond the stack.
"Ah, Perkney, no need to be afraid. I've come to apologize for my hasty words. It was very wrong of me to lose my temper and I hope you will forgive me." He twisted his upper body around the foils, thin brows raised in questioning. The man appeared to be sitting in the corner. Peculiar place to hide, Joyliffe thought. Nor did the dancing master scramble to his feet upon his discovery. Joyliffe stepped around the foils.
"Perkney?" Joyliffe screwed up his eyes in an attempt to penetrate the gloom. He leaned forward. A sudden buzzing filled his head. His heart thudded like the pounding of a galloping horse. Francis Perkney lay slumped against the corner wall, eyes wide and unseeing, jaw dropped in a silent scream, hands clutching at the foil sticking out of his abdomen. Perkney was pinned to the wall like a butterfly in an insect collection.
Joyliffe grabbed the pommel of the sword and pulled. The foil slid out like a knife in butter. Joyliffe fell back a step in surprise. A great gob of black oozed out of the spot where the foil had penetrated. Joyliffe gazed in horror, unable to turn his head from the sight, unable to move, unable to cry out. His brain was filled with wool, his jaw as frozen as the dead man's. His throat was as parched as desert sand. He wanted to cry out above all things, to call for help, to move legs as stiff as Lot who had turned into a pillar of salt. Harvard Divinity hadn't prepared him for this.
Time was suspended. He could not move. How long he stood there he did not know. Only when the cries penetrated his brain and strong arms pinioned him was the spell broken.
"Ho. Help. Murder!"
Yes, yes, he thought with fervent gratitude, that's it. Thank you, he prayed in silence to the unknown shouter. Ho--Help--Murder. That's just what his soul longed to cry out, that his poor physical body refused to utter.
"Ho. Help. Murder!" He stuttered the words all the way to the jail.