Death Stalks the Singing Bird
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by Nina Coombs Pykare
Category: Mystery/Crime/Historical Fiction
Description: When Artchie takes Kate and her family to Vauxhall Gardens to see the singers, he just wants her to meet his friend's newest 'friend.' Instead he and Kate stumble on another murder. As usual, Kate has to know why, why did someone stab the beautiful singer and leave her in the Dark Walk? [Third in the Kate Ketterling series] Regency Mystery/Romance by Nina Coombs Pykare; originally published by Belgrave House/Regency Reads
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [177 KB]
Reading time: 116-162 min.
This time it was assuredly not my fault. In spite of Papa's oft-reiterated protests that I was always seeking trouble--this time it was trouble that sought me.
I am Kate Ketterling, only child of Charles Kettering, known in theater circles as Blue Ruin Ketterling, and his wife Esther. My line of business is the hoyden and I play breeches parts very well. I am, I have been told, excellent at comedy. I am not, and I do not need to be told this for I know our business quite well, I am not good at tragedy. I am, sadly for the fulfillment of Papa's dreams of glory, not good at tragedy at all.
When we came to Covent Garden last spring Papa and Mama to act small parts where needed, Mr. Kemble took me on to play the hoyden and breeches parts. But I had had, on occasion, to fill in for the tragedienne. I had been satisfactory, but that is the most that could be said for my efforts. Satisfactory, not even good.
Perhaps I should explain that the trouble which continues to seek me out comes in the shape of dead bodies. The first of these appeared right in the theater, in the dressing room next to mine. The second, too. And this occasioned my search for and capture of the killer.
The second case, for I have come rather of necessity to think in terms of cases, happened at Astley's Amphitheatre that same year. I solved that case, too, though I cannot take the entire credit since Archie--Archibald Islington, Viscount Barrington, and my dearest friend--was as instrumental in its resolution as I.
Archie is a dear sweet man--not at all top-lofty, but lordly enough when the occasion warrants. We met over the first body and grew closer as the weeks passed.
Archie wished for us to grow closer still. Early on he'd offered me a neat little establishment. In fact, that was his reason for seeking me out the day we met, to make the offer. But I declined then and had declined every time since that the subject had been raised. In spite of my refusal, though, we remained friends.
I suspected Archie hoped I would eventually change my mind. I did not believe that I would. Not because of any odium connected to having what society with admirable euphemism calls a protector. Certainly many actresses have such and continue to perform. At first I'd said no because of Papa's insistence that my career be my main concern. And because I agreed with him about the necessity for that. But later, during our trouble at Astley's, I came to realize something else. I realized that I loved Archie. And because I loved him I did not want to be his mistress. I wanted to be his wife.
I had even mentioned the subject to him one day in his carriage when taken by surprise, but Archie's reply was no surprise. He could not marry an actress, he said. His mother wouldn't countenance it. I knew this before he told me so, of course. And I wouldn't have mentioned marriage at all if I'd had my wits about me. I have never been accused of stupidity. Well, maybe I have, but I'm not that stupid.
So we were more or less at a standstill regarding the subject of marriage. I believed Archie did love me, but he had come into his title unexpectedly at his elder brother's death, and so he was somewhat tedious, or so I thought, about observing the proprieties. Obviously, no one in the ton, including Archie, thought it improper for a man to take a mistress, unless he flaunted her too openly. Indeed, a man could have both wife and mistress and still be received in the best circles.
That did not sit well with me. At least in the case of Archie. But since he had several times made clear to me that he, too, thought having both a wife and a mistress a reprehensible practice, I did not fear that when he married Archie would keep a mistress.
If he were married to me, that would be quite the best thing I could think of, but since marriage to me seemed the remotest of possibilities, I attempted to keep myself heartwhole and not let my feelings for him run away with me. I was not completely successful at this, but I tried to keep Archie from knowing how much I really cared for him. Not the easiest of tasks, even when one is stumbling over bodies and being besieged by dangerous murderers.
At any rate, I have gone on in this strain long enough. I simply meant to say that this time it was decidedly not my fault.
The train of events began quite casually that summer evening in Archie's carriage on the way to the theater for my performance. "Kate my love," Archie said, calling me that in his usual fashion, as though it were all one word. "You have been working much too hard. On your next night off, let us make an excursion to Vauxhall Gardens. It's quite pleasant there, you know. And there are a couple singers, the Mansoni Sisters, that you might enjoy to hear."
Gardens had a nice sound to it. I thought fanning myself. I had yet to get accustomed to the sometime overwhelming heat of London in summer. Playing the provinces as part of Papa's company of strolling players had been less rewarding financially, but performing in barns and wandering about the countryside had at least given us sweet smelling air to breath, a commodity sadly lacking in a London where the air was rift with a thousand smells, the majority of them decidedly unpleasant. Not the least of these was the rank odor of slops running down the kennels, winter and summer, and at times even landing from a window on the unwary and unsuspecting traveler's head.
I had not mentioned my feelings on this matter to Papa. He's the head of the family, after all, and we do what he thinks best. But sometimes I thought with regret of those bygone days of innocence when I had not yet been set upon by murderers and helpless people wishing my aid in finding them.
Of course, if I were young again, well, I was only nineteen, but the events of the last months had made me feel much older. If I were young again and still on the road, I would not know Archie. And that was something not even to be thought about.
I fanned myself again. "Perhaps it is cooler there in the Gardens," I said, though Archie appeared not to expect an answer from me.
"I believe so," he said. "These sisters, the Mansoni Sisters, are reputed to be quite lovely." He squeezed my hand that didn't hold the fan. "Though not as lovely as you, of course."
I had gotten used to Archie thinking I was lovely, though I did not think so myself. Curly red hair and freckles, green eyes, and a figure that makes playing breeches parts easy, are not my idea of what constitutes beauty. But I listened as Archie went on talking with enthusiasm. "I understand they're singing some of the old songs, especially 'Pitti Pattie.'" He smiled sheepishly. "My mother used to sing it to my brother George and me. It was a favorite of mine.
"My friend Reggie is enamored of the one singer, Teresa." Archie grinned. "Says she sings like a veritable angel."
I nodded, thinking that an angel was probably not what Reggie was looking for. No doubt this Teresa Mansoni was of Italian extraction and as amply endowed about the bosom as Isabella Larabini, of whom, most fortunately, we had seen nothing since the end of the affair at Astley's. Most of the time I was relatively content with what the Good Lord had given me in the way of looks. But I had lived long enough to know that those women with sable locks, dark brooding eyes and amply-endowed bosoms were admired by a great many gentlemen. Fortunately Archie was not among them, at least not yet.
"Reggie's been wanting to meet you," Archie went on, oblivious to my thoughts about bosoms, ample and otherwise. Often he senses my moods and thoughts, but this time he was caught up in plans for a festive evening. "I've been wanting to take you there," he said, his eyes gleaming with happiness.
"Do they not sometimes have masquerades?" I asked, remembering that once during rehearsal my friend Lavinia had mentioned such to me.
"Yes," Archie said, "they do. Though they seldom wear masks to them these days, just costumes." He squeezed my fingers tenderly. "Do you think a masquerade would be amusing?"
"Yes." I had never said so to Archie, but part of my pleasure in being in the theater came from the chance to dress up and become someone else. My on-stage costumes, however, were seldom very romantic. Playing boys or serving maids didn't allow me to wear beautiful gowns. But a masquerade would.
"May I pick the costumes?" I asked, giving Archie a smile.
He grinned. "As long as you let me help." He pulled me close in a great hug. "Oh Kate love, this will be a most amusing outing. I can show you the fireworks and the cascade." He grinned cheekily. "And the Dark Walks."
I grinned back. I had been in London long enough to hear about Vauxhall's famous Dark Walks and the goings-on that occurred there. They were most definitely not things Papa would approve of.
"Reggie may take his singer there," I said, with a little pretend sniff, "but I do not think that I shall want to venture there. Even with you. Papa would not approve I'm sure."
And that brought us to another question. "Oh dear, Archie, how are we to procure Papa's permission for such an excursion?" True, Papa had become somewhat friendlier to Archie after the affair at Astley's Amphitheatre was concluded, but it didn't seem likely that he would approve of me going off with Archie to a pleasure garden. It was as much as he could handle to see me go off to rehearsal and performances in Archie's company. But the fact that Papa didn't have to hire a carriage or walk me there himself doubtless helped. Papa was always one to consider the practical side of things. But what could be said to be practical about such an outing as Archie proposed?
Archie considered, his forehead puckering into a frown. He ran his fingers through his blonde hair, thoroughly disheveling the work of his valet, though I must say that it looks quite charming rumpled. "Ah," he said, his eyes lighting with mischief. They are grey eyes and usually quite warm when he's looking at me. "I think I have found a solution."
"What, Archie?" Papa was not an easy man to move. I couldn't imagine how Archie could do it or what his solution could be. "How can you get Papa to say yes to such a thing?"
"We shall make it a family outing," Archie said, his grin returning. "Your Papa and Mama shall come along. As my guests."
"I don't know," I began. "Papa does not usually care for outings."
Archie pressed closer and took my hand in his. "But your Mama would enjoy it. You know she would. And I shall stand all the expense. I believe I read that there's a masquerade Wednesday next. And you do not have a role that night. Come love, say yes."
Archie's enthusiasm was infectious. Besides, Mama could persuade Papa of just about anything, though he would never have admitted it. And as she had been working very hard lately, a little excursion would be good for her.
So I said yes and trouble had a chance to find me again. But it was not my fault.