Victoria Thompson

Murder On Mulberry Bend

The fifth book in the Gaslight Mysteries series, 2003

To my grandparents,

Salvatore and Carmelina (Pizzuto) Straface,

who came to America as children.



Sarah Brandt turned toward her companion, even though he was merely a shadow in the dark coach beside her. “It was lovely. I can’t remember when I was last at the opera.”

Indeed, she felt more than a little like Cinderella. Dressed this afternoon in finery borrowed from her mother. Dinner at Delmonico’s. Then the theater, with its glittering performers singing soul-shattering music and the magnificently garbed patrons who were more interested in being seen than watching the performance. Now she was riding home in a carriage that was going to deliver her, if not back to her place among the cinders, at least back to ordinariness again.

“There’s no reason you couldn’t go out like this frequently,” Richard Dennis said, amusement in his voice.

They both knew her present life on Bank Street, working as a midwife, usually allowed little opportunity for an evening like this one. “Ah, I see it all now. My mother bribed you to tempt me back into the world of the idle rich, didn’t she?”

He sighed theatrically. “I thought I was being so discreet. How did you guess?”

“Because she tries it with everyone,” Sarah assured him without rancor. Her mother only wanted what she thought was best for her child, and Sarah’s birthright entitled her to a life of leisure. The kind of life Richard enjoyed. “What did she offer you as a reward for rescuing me?”

“Why, your hand in marriage, of course. Nothing less could have satisfied me.”

Sarah smiled in the darkness. “Then you should be grateful that I am proof against your charms. My last suitor came to a very bad end.”

“I’d be faint-hearted indeed if I allowed that to deter me,” he insisted. “Most men would only consider it a challenge to be overcome.”

“I hope you’re more sensible than most men, then,” she said.

“No one has ever accused me of that,” he replied with mock outrage, making her laugh. “And how about you, Sarah Brandt? Are you more sensible than most women?”

Her amusement faded. “I’m afraid I am. Too sensible to marry again, at least.”

Although she couldn’t see his expression in the darkness, she sensed the change in him. As the coach continued bouncing gently over the cobbled streets, they sat in silence for a few moments while they both remembered their lost mates. The three years that Tom Brandt had been gone seemed like only as many days. Her companion’s wife had been gone longer, but she was just as sorely missed.

“How do you bear the loneliness?” he asked finally.

“I don’t. I just try to fill my days so I’m too busy to think of it.”

This time his sigh was weary. “But we still have the nights, don’t we?”

Yes, they did still have the nights. The darkness that sometimes seemed endless when you had no one to hold you. Sarah wanted to reach out to him, to tell him she understood, but that would be a mistake. Lonely people could make terrible mistakes if they weren’t careful. She’d been careful for too long to risk it now.

“Richard,” she said, calling him by his given name in spite of their brief acquaintance, “you don’t need to be lonely. You must know you’re attractive, and you’re certainly eligible. You could have your pick of women in this city.”

“And what about you, Sarah?” he asked, taking the liberty of using her first name as well. “You could have your pick, too, starting with that policeman. What’s his name?”

“Malloy?” she asked in astonishment.

“Oh, well done!” he teased. “Anyone would think you had no idea how he feels about you.”

Sarah had no intention of discussing Malloy’s feelings for her. “I’m happy with the life I’ve chosen, Richard, even though I am lonely sometimes. But you don’t seem happy at all, which is why I don’t understand why you haven’t found someone else.”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he tried, but she wasn’t fooled. She could hear the wistfulness in his voice.

“Your wife would want you to be happy, Richard.”

“Is that what you tell yourself, Sarah? Do you really think your husband would want you to be with another man?”

She almost said it was different for men, but she caught herself. She had no idea if it was or not. “I never knew your wife. What was she like?” she asked instead.

“Was she jealous, do you mean?”

“I’m not sure what I mean,” Sarah confessed. “You were obviously devoted to her, so you must have loved her very much.”

“Is that what you think? That I was devoted to her?”

She couldn’t quite read the expression in his voice. “You still miss her,” she reasoned. “And you haven’t been able to find anyone who could take her place in your life.”

“So you assume I’m still grieving for her.”

“Aren’t you?” she asked, although she was no longer certain she wanted to know the answer.

“Grief isn’t the only emotion that keeps people in mourning.”

Something Sarah knew only too well. She thought of her parents, who still mourned the death of her sister Maggie, although they rarely spoke her name. Their guilt would never allow them to forgive themselves enough to truly let her go. “You can’t think you were responsible for your wife’s death,” she said. “She died of a fever, and even the doctors couldn’t do anything for her. You told me that yourself.”

The glow from a passing streetlight briefly illuminated his face, and Sarah saw the kind of pain felt only by those suffering the torment of the damned. He must have seen her reaction, because he turned away quickly.

“I have no right to burden you with my sins. I never should have…”

“You never should have what?” she prodded when he hesitated.

He didn’t reply, but she was afraid she already knew. “You didn’t invite me out just because you wanted the pleasure of my company, did you?”

“You are very pleasant company, Sarah,” he insisted. “I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met such a charming lady as yourself, and – ”

“Stop that nonsense,” she snapped. “I know exactly what I am, and charming isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe myself. Something else drew you to me, and if you don’t tell me what it is, I shall never speak to you again.”

“How heartless you are, Mrs. Brandt,” he tried in a feeble attempt at levity.

“I have many other undesirable qualities, too, and if you wish to see them, then by all means continue lying to me.”

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