- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Used Mass Market
Ships in 1 to 3 days
This title in other editions
Other titles in the Legacy series:
The Nightingale Legacyby Catherine Coulter
ST. AGNES HEAD, CORNWALL
FREDERIC NORTH NIGHTINGALE looked down at the huddled
woman at his feet. She was bowed in on herself, her knees
drawn nearly to her chest, her arms over her head, as if she’d
tried to protect herself as she fell from the cliff above. Her
once stylish pale blue muslin gown was ripped violently
beneath her arms, the bodice and skirt stained and filthy.
One blue slipper dangled by twisted and torn ribbons from
her right foot.
He came down to his knees beside her and gently pulled
her stiff arms away from her head. She’d been dead for
some time, at least eighteen hours, for her muscles were
beginning to slacken again, the rigor lessening. He lightly
pressed his fingers to her dirty neck, where the collar of her
gown was ripped away. He didn’t know why he was feeling
for a pulse, perhaps he was hoping for a miracle, but of
course, there was no beat, just cold flesh and death.
Her pale blue eyes stared up at him, not calm with acceptance,
but bulging with the terror, with the knowledge
that death was here and this was her last instant of life. Even
though he’d seen too many men die in battle or after battle
from infection, this touched him differently. She wasn’t a
soldier wielding a sword or a musket. She was a woman,
thus frail by a man’s standards, helpless in the face of a fall
as violent as this one. He closed her eyes then pressed
against her jaw to close her mouth, open wide on a last
scream. It wouldn’t close, and her terror was there to see if
not to hear. It would remain there until she was no more
than stripped white bone.
He rose slowly and stepped back, not too far back or else
he’d go careening off the narrow ledge into the Irish Sea
some forty feet below. The smell of the salt water was
strong, the sound of the waves striking against the ageless
tumbled black rocks was loud, but the rhythmic tumult was
still curiously soothing to him. It had been since he’d been
a boy, bent on escape.
She was no stranger to him. It had taken him a moment
to recognize her, but he’d soon realized it was Eleanor Penrose,
the widow of the now long-dead Squire Josiah Penrose
of Scrilady Hall, just three miles or so north, very near the
Trevaunance Cove. He’d known her since she’d arrived in
the area from somewhere in Dorset and married the squire
when North had been a boy of ten years or so. He remembered
her as a laughing young woman with big breasts and
a bigger smile, her soft brown hair falling in ringlets around
her face that bounced about when she jested and poked the
staid squire in his ribs, drawing a tortured smile even from
that pinched mouth. And now she was dead, drawn in like
a baby on a narrow ledge. He told himself she must have
fallen. It was a tragic accident, surely that was all that it
was, but he knew in his belly that it wasn’t possible. Eleanor
Penrose knew this land as well as he did. She wouldn’t have
been strolling out here by herself, far from home, and simply
slip and fall over the cliff. How had it happened?
He made his way slowly back up the cliff, some thirty
feet to the top, his fingers fitting into the familiar handholds,
his feet slipping only twice. He pulled himself over the top
onto the barren jagged edge of St. Agnes Head, rose and
looked down as he dusted off his breeches. From this height
she again became the patch of bright blue that had caught
his attention and drawn him down in the first place.
Suddenly a clod of loose earth crumbled beneath his
booted feet. He jerked back, arms flailing. His heart thudded
madly until he was back a good three feet from the cliff
edge. Perhaps that was what had happened to Eleanor Penrose.
She’d walked too close to the edge and the ground had
simply given beneath her and she’d not fallen all the way
to the spuming waves below but onto that protruding ledge
instead. And it had been enough to kill her. He dropped to
his knees and examined the ground. Only the chunk he’d
just dislodged seemed to have broken off. He just looked at
the ground, then down at the ledge, barely visible from his
vantage point. He rose and dusted off his hands.
North strode to his bay gelding, Treetop, a horse that
stood over seventeen hands high and thus his name, who
was standing motionless, watching his master’s approach.
Treetop didn’t even look up at the flock of lapwings that
wheeled low over them. A dragonfly lighted on his rump
and he gently waved his tail. North would have to ride to
see the magistrate. Then he realized he was the magistrate.
This wasn’t the army, no sergeants to do what he told them
to do, no rules or protocols. ‘‘Well,’’ he said as he swung
easily onto Tree’s broad back, ‘‘let’s ride to get Dr. Treath.
He should look at her before we move her. Do you think
Tree didn’t snort but he did fling his mighty head from
side to side.
North said slowly as he looked back at the cliff where
she’d gone over, shading the brilliant noontime sun from his
eyes with his hand, ‘‘I don’t think she did either. I think
some son of a bitch killed her.’’
* * *
‘‘Lord Chilton! Good God, my boy, when did you return?
It’s been over a year since you’ve come home. Just here for
your father’s funeral, then back again to the interminable
war that’s finally over, thank God. Now all our fine English
lads can come home again. Come in, come in. You always
did knock at my surgery entrance, eh?’’
Dr. Treath, tall and straight as a sapling under a bright
sun, and slender as a boy of eighteen, and as smart a man
as North had ever known, pumped his hand and ushered
him through his small surgery replete with its shining metal
instruments and cabinets filled with carefully labeled bottles.
There was a mortar and pestle on the scrubbed table just
beneath the cabinets. He led North into the drawing room
of Perth Cottage, a cozy, warm room with a fireplace at one
end, too much furniture throughout and messy with strewn
newspapers and journals and now-empty cups on every surface
that, North remembered, had held tea liberally laced
with smuggled French brandy.
North smiled, remembering that when he was a boy Dr.
Treath had seemed a giant of a man. The doctor was very
tall, but now that North was a man full grown, Treath’s
height no longer seemed so extraordinary. Of course, North
was bred from a line of tall men, of a height to intimidate
if they were of a mind to do so.
Dr. Treath’s smile was warm and welcoming.
‘‘It has been a long time, sir. But now I’m home again,
to stay this time.’’
‘‘Sit down, North. Tea? A brandy?’’
‘‘No, sir. Actually I’m here as the magistrate to tell you
that I just found Eleanor Penrose on that outcropping ledge
beneath St. Agnes Head. She’s dead, and has been for some
time, at least a day, for her limbs were still rigid but were
Dr. Benjamin Treath became rigid as Lot’s wife, becomTHE
ing pale and paler still until his face was as white as his
modest white cravat. He suddenly looked immeasurably
older, all the vitality sucked out of him in that single instant,
then, just as quickly, he was shaking his head. ‘‘No,’’ he
said, ‘‘no, that can’t be right. You’ve forgotten what Eleanor
looked like. No, not Eleanor. It’s some other woman who
resembles her. I’m sorry for the other woman but it isn’t
Eleanor, it can’t be Eleanor. Tell me you’ve made a mistake,
‘‘I’m sorry, sir, but it was Eleanor Penrose.’’
But Dr. Treath was still shaking his head, violently now,
his eyes darkening, his pallor more marked. ‘‘Dead, you
say? No, North, you’re mistaken. I just dined with her two
evenings ago. She was in fine fettle, laughing as she always
does, you remember that, don’t you? We ate oysters at Scrilady
Hall and the candlelight was very soft and she laughed
at my stories about the Navy, particularly the one about how
we stole that bag of lemons from a Dutch ship in the Caribbean
near St. Thomas because our men had scurvy. No,
no, North, you’re wrong, you must be wrong. I can’t let
Eleanor be dead.’’
Damnation, North thought. ‘‘I’m sorry, sir, truly. Yes,
Benjamin Treath turned away and walked slowly to the
French doors at the back of the sitting room that gave onto
a small enclosed garden, flowering wildly now in middle
August, roses interlaced with bougainvillea and hydrangeas,
the colors vivid reds and pinks and yellows. One old sessile
oak tree was so thick, its heavy leafed branches covered one
entire corner of the garden, and its trunk was wrapped round
and round with ivy. Blue agrion damselflies hovered over
the ivy, making it appear to shimmer and shift in the lazy
sunlight. North heard the croak of a bush cricket.
Dr. Treath just stood there, his shoulders rising and falling
Catherine Coulter 6
quickly, and North realized he was fighting down tears.
‘‘I’m very sorry, sir. I didn’t know you and Mrs. Penrose
were close. You must come with me, sir. Also, there’s
something more you must know.’’
Dr. Treath turned slowly to face him. ‘‘She’s dead, you
say. What else is there? Come, North, what is it?’’
‘‘I don’t think she just fell from the cliff. I think someone
pushed her. I didn’t examine her or touch her except to feel
for her pulse. You should do that.’’
‘‘Yes,’’ Dr. Treath said at last. ‘‘Yes, I’ll come. Wait,
what did you say? Someone pushed her? No, that’s not possible.
Everyone liked Eleanor, everyone. Oh Jesus. Yes, I’ll
come.’’ He called out, ‘‘Bess! Come down, please. I must
go out. Jack Marley is coming soon. Bess? Hurry, woman.’’
Bess Treath appeared suddenly in the doorway of the sitting
room, out of breath, her hand clutched to her chest. She
was a tall woman, slender, with hair darker even than
North’s. There was a great resemblance between brother and
sister. She saw North, quickly curtsied, and said with pleasure,
‘‘My lord, you’re home. How like your papa you look,
but then all Nightingale men resemble each other from father
to son and so it’s always been, at least that’s what Mrs.
Freely says and what her mother before her said. Oh dear,
something’s wrong, isn’t it? Why are you going out, Benjie?
What has happened? Someone at Mount Hawke is ill?’’
Dr. Treath just looked at her, actually beyond her, gone
from Perth Cottage, from his sister and North, who stood at
his side. He shook his head, as if to give himself direction.
‘‘Jack Marley has a boil on his neck. See to it if you want
to, if not, then tell him to come back. Be sure to use the
carbolic liberally to clean him up first. He never washes his
neck, you know.’’
‘‘Yes, I know, Benjie. I’ll deal with him.’’
North said only, ‘‘There’s been an accident, Miss Treath.
We must go now.’’
‘‘An accident? What happened? What’s wrong, Benjie?’’
Dr. Treath just kept shaking his head. He pushed past his
sister, head down, North following.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like