Authors: Don Gutteridge
Tags: #mystery, #history, #politics, #toronto, #widow, #colonial history, #mystery series, #upper canada, #marc edwards, #political affairs
Published by Bev Editions at Smashwords
Copyright 2015 Don Gutteridge
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“Hold still, please, Mrs. Edwards, or I’m gonna
stick you with the needle.”
This warning was delivered by Etta Hogg, the
live-in, all-purpose servant at Briar Cottage.
“It’s only a small tear,” Beth Edwards said,
twisting about to get a frontal image from the mirror that Marc had
set up in the parlour to aid the fitting of the ball gown.
“You don’t sound all that enthusiastic,” Marc
said from his chair by the fireplace.
“You know what I think of fancy-dress balls,”
Beth said. “Ouch!”
“Sorry, Mrs. Edwards, but I did warn
“Please, call me Beth, as I’ve asked you a
“Yes, Mrs. Edwards.”
“Remember that we’re doing this for charity,”
Marc said. “Look on it as a personal sacrifice or a form of
“I know the proceeds all go to the Hospital
Fund,” Beth said, “or else I wouldn’t’ve agreed to go.”
Each couple at the Charity Ball at Rosewood,
Humphrey Cardiff’s palatial home on Front Street, had to contribute
to the Hospital Fund, an annual rite that drew the largest crowd of
the season. Old money and new, the established and the hopeful –
all attended the Attorney-General’s extravaganza.
“Just a lot of stuffed shirts and ladies in
evenin’ gowns they have to be squeezed into,” Beth said, only
half-seriously. “A lot of old Tories, too.”
“Robert and Francis will be there,” Marc
pointed out reasonably.
Robert was Robert Baldwin, a leading
Reformer, colleague and good friend of the Edwards. Francis was
Francis Hincks, another political associate and editor of the
left-wing paper, the
“Then we’ll have people to talk to,” Beth
said, nodding her thanks to Etta, who had finished her repair
“And Louis will be there, too, remember.”
Louis LaFontaine was the leader of the
party, the Reform group in Quebec, who had joined in
an alliance with their Canada West counterparts. He had been
defeated in the Quebec riding of Terrebonne in the April elections,
but was about to run in a by-election in the fourth riding of York.
Robert Baldwin had won seats in both that riding and one in the
eastern part of the province. He had conveniently resigned the York
constituency in order to make way for Louis’ second attempt at
securing a seat in the new united Parliament that had opened in
Kingston in May.
“And his shadow, too,” Beth said,
“Yes, I’m sure Gilles will be there.”
Gilles Gagnon was Louis’ secretary and
constant companion. They had come to Toronto from Montreal a week
ago to prepare for the nomination meeting and the subsequent
by-election. They were staying with Robert at Baldwin House on Bay
“There’s gonna be a shortage of ladies,” Beth
“Then you’ll get to dance the whole night
through,” Marc said.
“As long as you don’t get to talkin’
“No politics,” Marc said. “Not a single
“Oh, don’t you look lovely,” Etta enthused as
Beth twirled in front of the mirror.
“I look like a farm girl in a duchess’s
dress,” Beth said.
“There’s many a duchess who would like to
look like you,” Marc said.
Beth smiled, accepting the compliment.
“Now I gotta see to the little ones,” Etta
said, and started for the hall and the children’s bedroom, where
one-and-a-half-year-old Marcus Junior and two-and-a-half-year-old
Maggie were supposed to be asleep. She paused at the window and
said, “Donald has the horse and buggy ready for you.”
Donald Meigs was a neighbour lad who came
once or twice a day to cut wood, haul water and take care of the
Edwards’ horse. Beth herself insisted on taking care of her garden,
despite spending three days a week at
, her ladies
dress shop and seamstress’s business on King Street near Bay. She
was a farm girl at heart, having run a farm by herself for several
years down near Cobourg.
“Well, I guess we can’t put it off any
longer,” Marc said, getting up and placing a shawl around Beth’s
bare shoulders. It was cool but pleasant September evening.
Beth leaned back against him. “Let’s go and
do some dancin’,” she said.
Rosewood was a pretentious, two-storey mansion on
Front Street, two doors west of Bishop Strachan’s ‘palace’ and
facing the picturesque bay. Its façade was marked by four
pseudo-Doric columns, and its tall, narrow windows and soaring
chimney-pots reminded its residents of medieval Gothic. Not to be
outdone, the tiled roof was framed by a gingerbread fringe
reminiscent of an earlier rococo era. The broad street in front of
the edifice was alive with arriving coaches and less ornate
vehicles. Grooms and footmen scurried about looking after the
horses and assisted begowned ladies down from their precarious
perches. It was a quarter to nine on a dusky September evening, and
the air was cool and refreshing. A sympathetic moon was just
arising in the south-east, somewhere over the lake.
Marc and Beth arrived in their buggy amidst
the mêlée. Marc steered the horse towards an anxious-looking
“I’ll take that, sir,” the groom said, taking
note that the gentleman himself was driving the vehicle in lieu of
a proper driver and footman.
Marc handed him the reins, hopped down, and
went around to the other side of the buggy to help Beth alight.
Beth took his hand, made sure her gown was free of impediments and
stepped down onto the street.
“It looks like the whole town is here,” Beth
“Pretty near, I’d say,” Marc said. “Shall we
make our way through the crush and see how all these folks are
going to fit into Rosewood?”
They joined the line forming at the elegant
front door, and soon found themselves in a spacious foyer with an
inlaid marble floor and a magnificent chandelier reflected in it. A
short receiving line was set up at the entrance to the
“I’m eager to meet our hostess,” Beth
whispered to Marc. “I’ve heard so much about her.”
Delores Cardiff-Jones, daughter and only
child of Humphrey Cardiff, the Attorney-General, was much talked
about in polite, and impolite, circles. She had married a glamorous
major stationed at Fort York, a man of dashing mien and a private
fortune, who had suffered the luxury of a romantic death: he had
been shot dead in a duel fought over a weighty question of honour
(cheating at cards) – leaving Delores a very rich widow. However,
the lady did not set herself up in her own establishment; she
dutifully moved back into her father’s house, and since there was
no other woman on the premises (her mother having died several
years before), she became the
mistress of Rosewood.
Once there, she proceeded to entertain often and lavishly, fanning
the breezes of local gossip from time to time. Rumour had it that
she was much pursued matrimonially.
Marc shook hands with Humphrey Cardiff and
introduced Beth to him.
“Pleased to meet you,” Cardiff said with a
brief bow. He was a portly gentleman of average height with a
fierce pair of mutton chops and heavy eyebrows. His brown eyes and
direct stare looked as if they would be more comfortable in a
courtroom than a parlour, but he smiled as best he could with his
thick lips. “And this is my daughter, Mrs. Delores
“Good evening,” Delores said, extending her
gloved hand to be kissed by Marc. “So you’re the soldier I’ve heard
so much about,” she said to Marc. Beth stared at her. She was
certainly a prepossessing woman, in her late twenties perhaps, but
of a beauty that had little to do with age. She was tall with
regularly defined features and a glorious upsweep of rich, dark
brown hair. Her eyes were pale hazel, almost transparent, and they
sparkled with intelligence and an unsettling candour.
“I was a soldier, once,” Marc said
“And you fought in the Rebellion?” she
“I did. In Quebec.”
“And were wounded, I understand.”
“I was, but I have recovered completely. I no
longer have a limp.”
“That’s too bad. I always think a man with a
limp is more mysterious.”
“But I’m a barrister now,” Marc said.
“And a Reformer, I’m told,” Delores said with
a mischievous grin.
“Well, all are welcome here tonight,” she
said, and stepped back a pace. She smiled. “I’m just imagining you
in your uniform.”
“You’re holding up the line, my dear,”
Cardiff said stiffly.
“We must dance later,” Delores said, letting
Marc and Beth pass into the ballroom.
The ballroom was already half-full. Moonlight
poured in through the tall, Gothic windows on the south and east
walls, and competed with the three chandeliers and wall-sconces. In
the glittering, flickering light moved ladies in resplendent gowns
no more than a year out of fashion, led by men in formal black
suits and polished shoes. From a dais at the far end poured the
gentle strains of violins and cellos, produced by Toronto’s finest
orchestra, hired especially for the occasion.
The Charity Ball was ready to begin.
In the first set, Marc and Beth found themselves
face to face with Delores Cardiff-Jones and her partner. Marc
recognized him as Lionel Trueman, a stalwart member of the Family
Compact who had a patronage appointment in the Customs Department
that netted him only a small, steady income, but nonetheless gave
him access to the corridors of power and influence. He was a
rail-thin man with slicked-down hair, pop-eyes and a razor-sharp
moustache. He had gripped Delores’s hand firmly, as if it might
escape his grasp at any moment. She stared straight ahead at Marc.
The dance began and they moved through its intricate figures. Marc
noticed that Trueman barely touched hands with the other women in
the set, but took every opportunity to squeeze Delores’s hand and
twirl her forcefully. She gave no indication that she had invited
or was tolerating his aggressive behaviour. However, she did give
Marc’s fingers and extra tug whenever they met.
When the dance was over, Trueman and Delores
strolled over to the drinks table.
“Champagne?” Trueman said.
“Half a glass, Lionel.” Delores said.
“You are very cruel to keep me waiting,”
Trueman said as he handed her a glass of champagne.
“Waiting? Whatever for?”
“You know perfectly well what for. I’ve all
but begged you to marry me.”
“Of course that. Did you think I’d forget
“You are a sweet man, Lionel, but I have no
answer yes or no. I’m just not interested in marriage, period. I’ve
told you often enough.”
“But we get on so well – ”
“Of course we do. That’s why I seek your
“But surely you must know a man’s intentions,
if honourable, are always directed at marriage. What will people
“People will think the worst of us. That’s
unfortunate but true. Let them talk. I have my home here and all
the income I’ll ever need. And you make me happy.”