Read Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery Online

Authors: Andrew Pepper

Tags: #Crime & mystery

Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery (23 page)

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
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After another five minutes, the crowd thinned out and then it was just him and the vendors on the platform, with a lone couple loitering at the far end. Pyke went to check the carriages but there was no sign of his son. He had another look at the letter, to make certain he hadn’t misread it, but there it was. Felix had said he’d arrive on the twenty-second. If that was the case, then where was he?

As he looked up and down the empty platform it struck him that perhaps Felix hadn’t travelled to Wales after all.

SIXTEEN
SUNDAY, 31 JANUARY 1847
Dundrum, Co. Tipperary

K
nox had slept rough in a deserted crofter’s hut, with nothing but a blanket for protection against the cold. He hadn’t eaten a meal for two days, which meant he felt weak and light-headed. The walk from Cashel had sapped his strength: an arduous, cross-country trek as he tried to remain hidden from the road. He hadn’t wanted anyone to warn Cornwallis of his likely presence in Dundrum. The rain had petered out some time in the night and the clouds had moved on, but that meant the temperature had plummeted. Knox tried not to think about Martha and James, what they would be doing. It upset him too much. Father Mackey would insist they accompany him to mass and he pictured his wife and son sitting on one of the rock-hard pews, staring up at a statue of Christ. Would she take the sacraments?

The sun had been up for an hour by the time he reached the outer edges of the village. He’d already skirted around Oughterleague and the perimeter of Castle Killenue and had passed the police barracks and the school. It was early on Sunday and both places were locked. He heard horses’ hoofs in the distance and hid in the hawthorn bushes. It was about eight o’clock, perhaps half-past eight. Knox knew his parents and brothers attended the ten o’clock service and the walk to the church from their new home would take about half an hour. But he was close by now, less than ten minutes away, and already he could feel the blood pumping in his veins.

Knox had walked this road a thousand times but today it felt unfamiliar, threatening in a way he couldn’t put his finger on. Sunlight filtered through the branches of the trees and cast shadows across the track. Ahead the road swept around to the left and he
could see the Gatlee mountains in the distance. He was nearing the house now and could see a thin plume of smoke drifting up from the chimney. They would all be there; Peter, Matthew, their mother and father, a family shielded from the ravages of the famine because of the man they worked for.

Knox took off the blanket, wrapped the daguerreotypes inside it, and left it in front of the cottage. Opening the door, the first thing that hit him was the warmth.

Knox’s father, Martin, was sitting by the fire. His mother was hanging up clothes. There was no sign of his brothers. He hadn’t knocked and his parents’ surprise was palpable. Knox saw his father’s expression change. His mother said something but he didn’t hear. Instead, he walked straight past her towards his father, who was struggling to his feet. Knox threw a punch, caught him on the jaw, then threw another punch with his other fist, this time grazing the man’s cheek. The first punch had done the damage, though. Wiping saliva from his mouth, he saw the light disappear from Martin Knox’s eyes, heard the breath rush from his lungs. Knox hit him again, this time on the nose, and felt the bone crunch, his father staggering blindly, hands cupping his nose. Knox punched him again, even though the man was about to fall over, then he felt someone pinning his arms from behind. Struggling free, he turned and saw Matthew. Somewhere in the room Peter was wailing. Over the sound of his sobs, his mother was screaming at Knox to stop. Knox looked around the room, aware for the first time of what he had done, what he’d become, no better than the man he’d just beaten and whose face was now a bloody mess. He felt a sudden stab of shame.

Knox staggered to the door, pulled it open and stumbled outside. He hadn’t gone far when he felt someone tug on his sleeve.

‘Dear God, Michael, what have you done?’ His mother’s voice was shaking.

Knox tried to gather himself. ‘He signed a statement to the police against me.’

She stared at him, not blinking. Something in her expression had changed. She let out a long sigh.

‘I’ve been dismissed from the constabulary and we’ve been forced out of our home. I had to watch while my landlord and his men reduced the cottage to rubble.’

‘Oh, Michael.’ Instinctively she reached out and touched him.

Knox bit back the urge to weep. ‘That man I brought here. Davy McMullan. He’d been caught stealing blood from one of Moore’s cattle. You saw him. You heard what he’d suffered. So I let him go.’ He pointed at the cottage. ‘And that man signed a statement saying I’d put our family at risk, bringing a criminal into his home.’

There were tears in his mother’s eyes. ‘Michael, it’s me you should be angry with. I’m the one you should have struck.’

Knox tried to comprehend what she’d just said. ‘You?’

‘His Lordship summoned me. He gave me an ultimatum. Either I agreed to his demand or he would evict us from our home.’ Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

‘You made my dad sign that statement against me? Your own flesh and blood?’

His mother tried to grab his wrist but Knox pushed her away. ‘God, Michael, please don’t make this any harder for me. You know our family’s circumstances. You know Peter wouldn’t last a night if we had to sleep rough, not in this weather.’

Knox could see Matthew out of the corner of his eye. His younger brother was standing by the door, Peter next to him, mute and shivering.

‘All along I’ve just tried to do the right thing, be good as you taught me. We’ve always stuck together, you and me, Mam. But now even you’ve turned against me.’

‘I had no choice, son. Don’t you see? Don’t you see the position I was in? Please. I did the only thing I could. Cornwallis would have dismissed
all
of us, me, your father, your brother, then driven us from our home. I couldn’t let that happen.’

‘And so we’ve been forced out of our home instead. Me, Martha and James. We’ve lost everything. Is that what you wanted?’

‘No. Dear God.’ His mother wailed.

‘Moore’s used us – you and me – from the start. Don’t you see that? He asked for me, a novice, someone who’d never investigated a murder before. Why? Because he thought he could tell me what to do. And why did he think that? Because of the power he wields over you, over my family here.’

His mother stared him, dry-eyed now. Perhaps she understood the logic of what he had just said.

‘You’ve always defended him, Mam, but he’s a monster. A cold-hearted monster, with no qualms about forcing a baby out of his home.’

This time his mother offered no defence of her master.

‘What is it that he’s so afraid of, Mam? Who was that dead man? Why was Moore so keen to bury the whole matter?’

Through her sobs, his mother said, ‘I don’t know, son. All I know is that people like us should never try to interfere in the business of men like Cornwallis.’

‘I showed you the daguerreotype and something registered in your expression. You know something, don’t you, Mam?’ Knox was clutching her wrists and staring into her terrified face.

‘Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said, Michael? I love you, always have done and always will. I’ve never said so but I’ve always felt closer to you than anyone. But I have to put Peter’s needs first. What I did was terrible, unforgivable even. I know that, but I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t put Peter’s life at risk.’

Knox felt as if his innards had been scooped out. ‘Moore’s turned the whole of Cashel against us, Mam. No one will rent us a room, we’re finished. My only hope is to find out what Moore is afraid of and use it to get back what’s rightfully mine, what’s been taken from me. To do that, I need your help.’

‘I don’t know anything, Michael. I’m just a servant. I know my place, do as I’m told.’

‘And what about doing what’s right?’

His mother wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her dress. ‘This is no time for principle, son. Not now, while death is so close.’

The crowd at the counter of the New Forge in Dundrum village was two deep, men in their best clothes, fresh from the Sunday service. Some would know him, know who he was, but Knox no longer cared. These were the lucky ones, still in work, who could afford a mug or two of stout. In his civilian clothes, no one paid him much attention. Knox waited at one end of the counter for the landlord to notice him: the news of his dismissal wouldn’t have travelled this far.

His mind turned back to what had just taken place, the fight with his father and the argument with his mother. Knox had always felt
different
from his family. The ten-year age gap between him and
Matthew didn’t help but it was more than that. His mother had always loved him with a fierceness he couldn’t quite comprehend – which was why her rejection of him was so bewildering. His father had always treated him with caution and, if he’d been drinking, with undisguised hostility. Knox could still recall a night when his father had returned from the pub. This would have been before Matthew was born, and Knox had been asleep in his mother’s arms. His father had woken him up and had taken a leather strap to him, hitting him over and over, stopping only when his mother jumped on his back and toppled him to the floor.

‘What can I do for you, Constable?’ The landlord stood there, arms folded across his apron.

Knox took out one of his precious shillings and placed it on the counter. ‘I wonder if you could tell me where I might find the Doran family. The mother, Maria, used to work up at the big house.’

Maria Doran had once been his mother’s closest confidante and, until her dismissal, had been the longest-serving member of the household after his mother. Knox didn’t know the reason for her dismissal – his mother had never talked about it – but as soon as it happened, no one ever mentioned Maria’s name again.

‘Done something wrong, has she?’

‘I just need to talk to her, that’s all.’

The landlord glanced down at the silver coin and licked his lips. ‘Only Dorans I know have a smallholding just north of Ponds Cross Roads, left-hand side.’

Nodding, Knox shunted the coin towards the landlord. ‘And I want to buy some food. A bird, if you have one.’ He saw the man’s expression. ‘I’m not interested in where it’s come from, if that’s what you’re worried about.’

They both knew that any bird the landlord might be able to procure had been poached from the Cornwallis estate.

‘I’ve got a partridge, plucked and ready, but it won’t be cheap.’

‘How much?’

‘Ten shillings.’

Knox took a deep breath. Before the famine, you could have picked up a bird for a tenth of that amount. ‘Eight.’

‘Only one I’ve got. I won’t let it go for less than ten.’

‘Throw in a bottle of porter?’ Knox got out his purse and rummaged around for the coins.

Maria Doran had aged in the two years since he’d last seen her, so much so that he might not have recognised her if they’d passed in the street. She was a few years younger than his mother but now looked ten or fifteen years older. Her daughter had been reluctant to let him into their one-room cabin but Maria had brushed away her objections. Now her children had been banished outside and been told not to disturb them. Maria Doran was sitting on the room’s only chair, as close to the fire as she could get.

‘You’re Sarah Knox’s boy, aren’t ye?’ Maria Doran had spoken to her daughter and son-in-law in Irish but addressed him in English. All of Cornwallis’s servants had to speak English. It was a condition of service.

Knox nodded. ‘Michael.’

‘Come closer, let me have a proper look at you.’

Knox did as he was asked, knelt down next to her, and let her run her bony fingers over his cheeks.

‘I remember ye. Always your mammy’s favourite.’

He decided to let the comment pass, tried not to think what his mother had said to him, what he’d said to her.

‘I don’t know whether you heard about the recent murder on the estate,’ he began. ‘A man in his forties, perhaps, stabbed in the stomach.’

‘She never spoke to me again, after Moore made his accusations.’ Maria Doran stared at him, reproachful.

Knox nodded. He had never before thought of his mother as flawed but now it was hard not to. Of course, he didn’t know the circumstances behind Maria’s dismissal but he was inclined to believe anything that showed Moore in a vindictive light.

‘I’m guessing they weren’t true.’

‘Oh, they were true, all right, I pilfered a little food, but no one stopped to ask why.’

They were silent for a while, both watching the fire glowing in the grate. ‘Just now, I asked about a murder on the estate …’

‘Now I’ve seen ye, satisfied my curiosity, you can get out of my sight.’

‘You want me to go?’

The old woman looked away. ‘Tell your mam I haven’t forgotten, haven’t forgiven either.’

‘Then you won’t be needing this.’ Knox held up the bird he’d been hiding in his coat. ‘Or this.’ He showed her the bottle of porter.

Maria Doran gasped and stared, open-mouthed, at the bird. He could sympathise. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten meat.

While the daughter prepared the bird, placing it on a spit over the open fire, with a pan underneath to catch the fat and juices, Maria Doran told Knox she hadn’t heard a thing about a murder and said she didn’t know why Asenath Moore would be so keen to cover up his association with a policeman from London. She was at a loss to help him, and she seemed to feel bad about it, now that Knox had provided such a feast for her and her family. They talked briefly about the people they knew, the ones who’d died. ‘The lucky ones,’ Maria called them.

‘Moore always treated your mammy different,’ she said, reminiscing. ‘Been with the family longer ’n anyone.’

Knox waited: he wanted to steer her away from the subject of his mother.

‘Can you think of
anything
at all that Moore would want to keep secret?’

The smell of the cooking bird had filled the room, making it hard to concentrate. He swallowed the juices in his mouth.

BOOK: Bloody Winter: A Pyke Mystery
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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