Anne Perry

Cater Street Hangman

Chapter One

Charlotte Ellison stood in the centre of the withdrawing room, the newspaper in her hand. Her father had been very lax in leaving it on the side table. He disapproved of her reading such things, preferring to tell her such matters of interest as he felt suitable for young ladies to know. And this excluded all scandal, personal or political, all matters of a controversial nature, and naturally all crime of any sort: in fact just about everything that was interesting!

All of which meant that since Charlotte had to obtain her newspapers from the pantry where the butler, Maddock, put them for his own reading before throwing them out, she was always at least a day behind the rest of London.

However, this was today’s paper, 20 April 1881, and the most arresting news was the death the day before of Mr. Disraeli. Her first thought was to wonder how Mr. Gladstone felt. Did he feel any sense of loss? Was a great enemy as much a part of a man’s life as a great friend? Surely it must be. It must be the cross thread in the fabric of emotions.

There were footsteps in the hall and she put the paper away quickly. She had not forgotten her father’s fury when he had found her reading an evening journal three years ago. Of course, then it had been about the libel case between Mr. Whistler and Mr. Ruskin, and that was a little different. But even last year when she had expressed interest in the news of the Zulu War, reported in person by those who had actually been in Africa, he had viewed that with equal disfavour. He had refused even to read them selected pieces such as he considered suitable. In the end it had been Dominic, her sister’s husband, who had regaled her with all he could remember-but always at least one day late.

At the thought of Dominic, Mr. Disraeli and the whole matter of newspapers vanished. From the time Dominic had first presented himself six years ago when Sarah had been only twenty, Charlotte herself seventeen, and Emily only thirteen, she had been fascinated by him. Of course, it was Sarah he had called on; Charlotte was only permitted into the drawing room with her mother so that the occasions might be conducted with all the decorum suitable to a courtship. Dominic had barely seen her, his words polite nothings, his eyes somewhere over her left shoulder, seeing Sarah’s fair hair, her delicately boned face. Charlotte, with her heavy, mahogany-coloured hair that was so difficult to keep tidy, her stronger face, was only an encumbrance to be endured with good manners.

A year later, of course, they had married, and Dominic no longer held quite the same mystery. He no longer moved in the magical world of someone else’s romance. But even with five years of knowledge of each other, of living under the same spacious, well-ordered roof, he still exerted the original charm, the original fascination for her.

That had been his footstep in the hall. She knew it without conscious thought. It was there, part of her life: listening for him, seeing him first in a crowd, knowing where he was in the room, remembering whatever he said, even trivial things.

She had come to terms with it. Dominic had always been out of reach. It was not as if he had ever cared for her, or could have done. She had not expected it. One day perhaps she would meet someone she could like and respect, someone suitable, and Mother would speak with him, see that he was socially and personally acceptable; and of course Father would make the other arrangements, whatever they were, as he had done with Dominic and Sarah, and no doubt would do with Emily and someone, in due course. It was not something she wished to think about, but it remained permanently in the future. The present was Dominic, this house, her parents, Emily and Sarah, and Grandmama; the present was Aunt Susannah coming to tea in two hours’ time and the fact that the footsteps in the hall had gone away again, leaving her free to take another quick look at the newspaper.

Her mother came in a few moments later, so quietly Charlotte did not hear her.


It was too late to hide what she was doing. She lowered the paper and looked into her mother’s brown eyes.

“Yes, Mama.” It was an admission.

“You know how your father feels about your looking at those things.” She glanced at the folded paper in Charlotte’s hand. “I can’t imagine why you want to; there’s very little in them that’s pleasant, and your father will read those things out to us. But if you must look at it for yourself, at least do it discreetly, in Maddock’s pantry, or get Dominic to tell you.”

Charlotte felt the colour flood her face. She looked away. She had had no idea her mother knew about Maddock’s pantry, even less about Dominic! Had Dominic told her? Why should that thought hurt, like a betrayal? That was ridiculous. She could have no secrets with Dominic. What had she let herself imagine?

“Yes, of course, Mama. I’m sorry.” She dropped the paper behind her onto the table. “I shan’t let Papa catch me.”

“If you want to read, why don’t you read books? There’s something of Mr. Dickens’ in the bookcase over there, and I’m sure you haven’t read Mr. Disraeli’s Coningsby yet?”

Funny how people always say they are sure when they mean they are not sure.

“Mr. Disraeli died yesterday,” Charlotte replied. “I wouldn’t enjoy it. Not just at the moment.”

“Mr. Disraeli? Oh dear, I am sorry. I never cared for Mr. Gladstone, but don’t tell your father. He always reminds me of the vicar.”

Charlotte felt disposed to giggle.

“Don’t you like the vicar, Mama?”

Her mother composed herself immediately.

“Yes, of course I do. Now please go and prepare yourself for tea. Have you forgotten Aunt Susannah is coming to call on us this afternoon?”

“But not for an hour and a half, at the soonest,” Charlotte protested.

“Then do some embroidery, or add some more to that painting you were working on yesterday.”

“It didn’t go right-”

“Grammar, Charlotte. It didn’t go well. I’m sorry. Perhaps you had better finish the comforters so you can take them to the vicar’s wife tomorrow. I promised we would deliver them.”

“Do you suppose they really comfort the poor?” It was a sincere question.

“I’ve no idea.” Her mother’s face relaxed slightly as the thought occurred to her, obviously for the first time. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone really poor. But the vicar assures us they do, and we must presume he knows.”

“Even if we don’t like him very much.”

“Charlotte, please don’t be impertinent.” But there was nothing harsh in her voice. She had been caught in an unintentional truth and she did not resent it. She was annoyed with herself, perhaps, but not with Charlotte.

Obediently, Charlotte left the room to go upstairs. She might as well finish the comforters; it would have to be done sometime.

Tea was served by Dora, the kitchen maid, in the withdrawing room. Tea was the most erratic affair. It was always at four o’clock, and always (when they were home) in this room with its pale green furniture and the big windows onto the lawn, closed now, even though the clear spring sun was slanting onto the grass and the last of the daffodils. It was a small garden, only a few yards of lawn, a patch of flowers, and the single delicate birch tree against the wall. Climbing the old brickwork were the roses Charlotte loved best. The whole summer from June till November was glorious with them, old roses, rambling undisciplined in showers and fronds, shedding carpets of petals.

It was the company that was erratic. Either they called on someone, perching on unfamiliar chairs in some other withdrawing room and making self-conscious conversation, or one of them received callers here. Sarah had

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