William Monk 04 - A Sudden Fearful Death
HEN SHE FIRST CAME
into the room, Monk thought it would simply be another case of domestic petty theft, or investigating the character and prospects of some suitor. Not that he would have refused such a task; he could not afford to. Lady Callandra Daviot, his benefactress, would provide sufficient means to see that he kept his lodgings and ate at least two meals a day, but both honor and pride necessitated that he take every opportunity that offered itself to earn his own way.
This new client was well dressed, her bonnet neat and pretty. Her wide crinoline skirts accentuated her waist and slender shoulders, and made her look fragile and very young, although she was close to thirty. Of course the current fashion tended to do that for all women, but the illusion was powerful, and it still woke in most men a desire to protect and a certain rather satisfying feeling of gallantry.
“Mr. Monk?” she inquired tentatively. “Mr. William Monk?”
He was used to people’s nervousness when first approaching him. It was not easy to engage an inquiry agent. Most matters about which one would wish such steps taken were of their very nature essentially private.
Monk rose to his feet and tried to compose his face intoan expression of friendliness without overfamiliarity. It was not easy for him; neither his features nor his personality lent itself to it.
“Yes ma’am. Please be seated.” He indicated one of the two armchairs, a suggestion to the decor of his rooms made by Hester Latterly, his sometimes friend, sometimes antagonist, and frequent assistant, whether he wished it or not. However, this particular idea, he was obliged to admit, had been a good one.
Still gripping her shawl about her shoulders, the woman sat down on the very edge of the chair, her back ramrod straight, her fair face tense with anxiety. Her narrow, beautiful hazel eyes never left his.
“How may I help you?” He sat on the chair opposite her, leaning back and crossing his legs comfortably. He had been in the police force until a violent difference of opinion had precipitated his departure. Brilliant, acerbic, and at times ruthless, Monk was not used to setting people at their ease or courting their custom. It was an art he was learning with great difficulty, and only necessity had made him seek it at all.
She bit her lip and took a deep breath before plunging in.
“My name is Julia Penrose, or I should say more correctly, Mrs. Audley Penrose. I live with my husband and my younger sister just south of the Euston Road….” She stopped, as if his knowledge of the area might matter and she had to assure herself of it.
“A very pleasant neighborhood.” He nodded. It meant she probably had a house of moderate size, a garden of some sort, and kept at least two or three servants. No doubt it was a domestic theft, or a suitor for the sister about whom she entertained doubts.
She looked down at her hands, small and strong in their neat gloves. For several seconds she struggled for words.
His patience broke.
“What is it that concerns you, Mrs. Penrose? Unless you tell me, I cannot help.”
“Yes, yes I know that,” she said very quietly. “It is noteasy for me, Mr. Monk. I realize I am wasting your time, and I apologize….”
“Not at all,” he said grudgingly.
She looked up, her face pale but a flash of humor in her eyes. She made a tremendous effort. “My sister has been … molested, Mr. Monk. I wish to know who was responsible.”
So it was not a petty matter after all.
“I’m sorry,” he said gently, and he meant it. He did not need to ask why she had not called the police. The thought of making such a thing public would crush most people beyond bearing. Society’s judgment of a woman who had been sexually assaulted, to whatever degree, was anything from prurient curiosity to the conviction that in some way she must have warranted such a fate. Even the woman herself, regardless of the circumstances, frequently felt that in some unknown way she was to blame, and that such things did not happen to the innocent. Perhaps it was people’s way of coping with the horror it engendered, the fear that they might become similar victims. If it were in some way the woman’s own fault, then it could be avoided by the just and the careful. The answer was simple.
“I wish you to find out who it was, Mr. Monk,” she said again, looking at him earnestly.
“And if I do, Mrs. Penrose?” he asked. “Have you thought what
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