St John is riding home after dark when he comes across a coach accident. The driver and woman in the vehicle are dead and he finds a well dressed youth unconscious at the side of the road. He takes him to Senara Loveday at Boscabel for her to tend.
The Tudor house at Boscabel was in darkness when he arrived and banged on the door. A young serving boy, who slept by the fire in the kitchen, rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he answered his demand for entrance. St John pushed past him carrying the injured lad.
‘Fetch your master and mistress,’ he ordered. ‘There has been an accident on the road. This boy’s mother was killed and he needs immediate attention.’ He strode up the stairs towards the bedrooms.
Woken by the raised voices Adam appeared from the master bedchamber in a long velvet night robe carrying a candle. The feeble light elongated his shadow on the wooden panelling covering the walls. Senara was wrapping a robe over her nightgown a few paces behind him.
‘Did I hear you say there had been an accident?’ Adam queried. He showed no surprise that the shorter, stockier figure of his twin with the same dark hair and features as himself, had appeared in the dead of night. They led far from conventional lives and took the unexpected in their stride.
‘A coach overturned. The driver is dead and so is a female passenger. Her body is outside on my horse.’ St John was breathing heavily from his exertions. ‘This boy was unconscious when I found him, which was about an hour ago and has not stirred since.’
‘Put him on the bed in here,’ Senara led the way to a guest chamber and threw back the embroidered covers of a tester bed. ‘I shall need more candles to examine him and the fire lit.’ She turned to the hovering servant lad. ‘Rouse a maid to assist me.’
‘You’ll need to send men to collect what possessions there are from the coach and set it upright,’ St John told his brother. ‘I doubt it can be moved. The axle was broken and one of the wheels.’
Adam called after the disappearing serving lad. ‘Wake Eli Rudge and Billy Brown, then hitch up the farm wagon.’
Senara had bent over the boy and was expertly running her hands over his body to discover if there were any broken bones or internal injuries ‘His wrist is broken and I do not like the look of that cut to his head. His pulse is very weak and he is starting a fever. You did right to bring him here, St John. If a fever takes hold it could kill him.’
Feeling his duty was done St John backed out of the sickroom accompanied by Adam. St John said, ‘There’s the woman’s body. It could be his mother. She’ll need burying. I’ll send word to Uncle Joshua tomorrow.’
‘That is for her family to deal with,’ Adam stated.
‘Unless there are papers in the coach, I’ve no idea who she is.’ St John snapped. His headache lingered and he was bone weary from his exertions. ‘The lad will tell us when he regains consciousness. I still have to ride back to Trevowan.’
‘Why not stay here? Or is Felicity expecting you? The hour is very late. Are you not interested to learn the boy’s family?’
St John shrugged, infuriatingly indifferent and did not meet Adam’s gaze. ‘I have done all I can for the lad. You can deal with his family. And my wife will expect me when she sees me.’
The callousness of his twin’s remarks did not surprise Adam. His brother was indolent by nature and had never liked added responsibilities. The responsibility of a sick, possibly orphaned boy, whose family had to be found and notified, was not something St John would wish to undertake. Though he was disturbed that his words also showed that his brother was discontent in his marriage.
As they passed the carved stone fireplace in the entrance hall, the thickset figure of Adam’s bailiff, Eli Rudge, appeared. The shorter figure of Billy Brown who managed the livestock sleepily rubbed his eyes. Adam explained the night’s events. Then added, ‘Take the wagon to collect all luggage from the coach and bring it here. If you find the horses they should also be stabled.’
St John had slumped down on a wooden settle and leaned his head back against the oak panelling, his eyes closing. He mumbled brief instructions where to find the coach. When the servants left, Adam put a hand on his brother’s shoulder and insisted, ‘Sleep tonight in the chamber above the porch. We will decide what to do about the woman in the morning.’
‘Do what you think best?’ St John yawned and rose unsteadily to reclimb the stairs. ‘Send a maid up with a bottle of claret; there’s a good fellow. It has been a long day.’
And Adam suspected that his own day after working ten hours in the shipyard and another two on the estate farm was far from over. He carried the dead woman into the old hall and laid her on the long Jacobean table. St John was right in saying she was a stranger. Her clothing was expensive, her only jewellery apart from a wedding band, a simple gold pendant containing a miniature of a handsome blond man and a lock of blond hair. It was a mourning locket often worn by widows. So the boy upstairs could indeed be an orphan.
Adam did not like mysteries and there were so many surrounding this night’s events. When later he looked in on Senara, who had bathed the lad’s head wound and fashioned a splint for his wrist, the candlelight showed his face crimson with fever.
His wife’s face was drawn with worry as she regarded Adam from across the bed. She had braided her dark hair into a plait, which hung over her shoulder to her waist. ‘I shall stay with him all night. You need your sleep, my love.’
‘I cannot rest. Though I passed St John’s door and he is snoring loudly.’ He grinned. ‘Anyone would think he had a clear conscience. He looked rather sheepish this evening. He’s probably been gambling again and lost, or he would have been bragging of his winnings. He’s ducked his responsibility by bringing the lad here. He could have summoned Dr Chegwidden to tend the boy at Trevowan.’
‘Do not condemn him so harshly.’ Senara replied. ‘His actions may have saved the lad’s life.’
Adam placed a hand lovingly on his wife’s shoulder. ‘You have duties enough with our four children and the village and shipyard patients. One of the maids can watch over him. They will call you if he gets worse.’
She shook her head. ‘He has lost so much this night. He will need love and comforting when he comes round.’
He knew he would never dissuade her. ‘I will work on estate business until Rudge and Brown return. Then I shall go through the lad’s belongings to discover his identity and where his family can be contacted.’
Two hours later Rudge stood uneasily inside the door of Adam’s study. ‘We found the coach and the dead driver, Cap’n Loveday. But that were all. There was no sign of any luggage or possessions. Nothing inside the coach either.’ He finished ominously, ‘Someone got there afore us. There were fresh horse tracks. Looks to me like some smugglers got an extra haul this night.’
‘In the morning I want those tracks followed,’ Adam gave vent to his rage. ‘Those goods may be all that lad has in the world.’
‘Won’t do no good, Cap’n. I followed them some ways and they were headed to the moor. There be no way anything of value will be found. There’ll be hidden in a secret place with the contraband.’
Adam knew the bailiff was right. ‘But there may be important papers the boy will need. And his family could be witless with worry over what could have happened to him if he and his mother failed to return to their home. The woman must be buried in a day or so. The family need to be notified. We must hope the lad recovers quickly to give us the information we need. What about the driver, was there any identification on him?’
Rudge shook his head. ‘T’were an outrage. They’d stripped him of his clothes. Bain’t right taking the clothes off the back of the dead and leaving ‘im naked and indecent.’
‘I’ll have one of the carpenters in the yard measure them both for coffins. Gilly Brown will lay them out and they’ll be interred at Trewenna Church tomorrow.’
Adam had an uncomfortable feeling about the incident. He did not begrudge the boy the hospitality of his home but there was a pressing need to discover the identity of his family, if the woman was not to lie in an unmarked grave.