Face Down Upon an Herbal
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by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Category: Mystery/Crime/Historical Fiction
Description: Susanna, Lady Appleton, is ordered by Queen Elizabeth to assist Eleanor Madderly with an herbal she is preparing. The queen's emissary failed to mention that a man had been murdered at Madderly Castle--and that part of Susanna's mission is to solve that crime. Traitorous forgery, hidden identities, and secret passages all make her task the more dangerous. 2nd of the Face Down historical mystery series by Kathy Lynn Emerson
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2000
eBookwise Release Date: March 2004
23 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [292 KB]
Reading time: 180-252 min.
"Wonderfully enhanced by herbal lore ... there is always someone lurking behind an arras or scuttling along a secret passage."--Publishers Weekly
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Madderly Castle, Gloucestershire
Startled by a small sound, Magdalen Harleigh looked up from the herbal she was studying. Lord Madderly's two towheaded sons moved with studied stealth among the trunks and aumbrys that furnished their father's private library. Bent on no good, she'd warrant.
"Good day to you, Edward. Philip." Magdalen hopped off her four-legged, joined stool, abandoning the treatise on poisonous plants propped open on the armariola's inclined lid.
Edward, who was ten, stopped short. Philip was so close behind that he barreled into his brother, bumping his nose hard against the stiffened back of Edward's doublet. The seven-year-old managed not to cry, but Magdalen could tell from the tortured workings of his mouth and eyes that it was a near thing.
"Good day to you, Mistress Harleigh," Edward replied. "We needs must fetch a book to the schoolroom."
He was lying. Magdalen knew because he refused to meet her steady gaze and was toying nervously with the black braid at the hem of his dark green doublet.
"What book?" she asked.
Over the years of her service to the Madderlys, officially as Lady Madderly's companion and waiting gentlewoman, Magdalen had assumed many of the duties of librarian. She knew precisely where every volume was stored and could name a dozen more on related subjects when asked. If her expertise made her a trifle territorial about Lord Madderly's collection, no one else in the household minded. She was useful to them. Efficient.
"A Latin book," Edward said, but he did not give its title.
Another lie, Magdalen thought. What did he want in truth? Barely conscious of her action, she began to scratch her left forearm beneath the loose-hanging gray wool sleeve.
Edward rushed into speech, turning quickly away from her as he spoke. "We know where it is kept, Mistress Harleigh. You need not trouble yourself to help us find it."
"Indeed?" She found this claim even more suspicious. The boys had never previously shown much enthusiasm for books. Rough games and practical jokes interested them far more.
High, narrow windows of expensive clear glass provided light to Lord Madderly's library. Two huge fireplaces heated the large, L-shaped room. Between them, fifty large chests and ten small coffers, many of them of cedar, sat on the tiled floor and on top of sturdy tables. They held one of the largest collections of books in all of England. At present it included folios, quartos, booklets, pamphlets, and broadside ballads. Over eight hundred books in all. Five languages were represented: Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and English.
Lord Madderly also acquired maps, which were stored in a long wainscot box. His collection of letters from famous men filled the drawers behind doors in two carved oak aumbrys.
Magdalen paused in front of a tapestry showing the allegorical figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity and watched the boys' progress. First they stopped at the Dutch-made trunk, its exterior painted with landscapes and flowers. They looked at it with real longing but knew better than to try to open that one. Lord Madderly had for a time used it as a sort of family bank and it had a Spanish-style double lock, the springs of which filled the whole of its lid.
They likewise passed by the long trunk and the great chest bound with iron, coming at last to a smaller version of the latter. This had been designed as a traveling chest. Made of leather soaked in oil to make it waterproof, it had been reinforced with iron fittings. As Magdalen watched, Edward lifted the top, which was curved so that rainwater would run off, and quickly selected a slim volume from the linen-lined interior.
Only then did he look over his shoulder and realize he was being watched. Bright color flooded into his face, but he seemed determined to brazen it out. "Come, Philip," he said to his brother. "We will go back to the schoolroom now."
Philip flushed even more darkly than his brother. The color extended up into the roots of his pale hair.
"What book have you selected?" Magdalen blocked their escape route and held a hand out for the purloined volume, noticing as she did so that there were flecks of blood under her fingernails. A stinging sensation along her arm told her she'd been digging at the rash again.
Edward clutched the leather-bound volume to his chest and ignored her outstretched hand. She wondered what she would do if he simply turned his back on her and walked away. She had no authority over the boys, but she was entrusted with the care of their father's collection.
"Are you certain you wish to take that particular book?" she asked.
The books in Lord Madderly's library boasted a variety of bindings. Some had only paper or vellum covers. 0thers were bound in calf, sheepskin, or deerskin. A few had colored Morocco leather, which came in blue, red, and green as well as brown and black, and featured gold stamping and tooling. The volume Edward held was distinctive enough, with gilt on the edges of the pages and a black velvet ribbon holding the dark wine red cover closed, that she could guess which book it was.
"Master Wheelwright recommended that we read it," Edward insisted. His high, piping voice came close to being a whine.
That Magdalen doubted, but the boys' reading material was not her responsibility. The preservation of Lord Madderly's collection was.
"If you wish to read that book, you must do so in this room." She resisted the urge to scratch her itching arm, but a dispirited sigh slipped out before she could stop it.
"Our father is master here," Edward reminded her in haughty tones.
"Aye, and that book is one of the rarest in your father's collection. He'll not be pleased if aught happens to it."
To herself Magdalen admitted that she did have another reason for her objections. The item in question contained nasty French fabliaux full of carnal coupling, profusely illustrated with woodcuts. 'Twas scarce suitable subject matter for boys so young. Almost as shocking as Lord Madderly's copy of Aretino's Postures. The household chaplain would be appalled if he heard Edward and Philip had been exposed to such depravity and Magdalen would no doubt find herself the subject of his next sermon for allowing it.
As she sought inspiration for dealing with this ticklish situation, she suddenly sensed a new presence in the library. A glance toward the entry revealed Niall Ferguson, eighth baron Glenelg, the annoying man who had been Lord Madderly's guest this sennight past.
Scholars arrived at Madderly Castle at regular intervals, invited to study the rare volumes the baron had collected. Sometimes other collectors visited, or booksellers came with stock to sell. Magdalen had been told Lord Glenelg had a deceased relative's book collection to dispose of, but he was taking an extraordinarily long time about completing his business.
Glenelg strode through the library as if he owned it, stopping briefly to stare at the balcony on the second level. That area, about the same size as the musicians' gallery in the great hall, could be reached only by a flight of wooden steps at the southern end of the library. It held storage chests and aumbrys full of material which, while still precious, was used less frequently than the rest of the collection. Lord Madderly's study, the room he'd set aside for private contemplation, was also reached by way of those stairs.
What unpleasantness, Magdalen wondered, was Lord Glenelg plotting? In the short time he'd been in residence at Madderly Castle he had managed to intimidate or alienate almost everyone with whom he'd come in contact.