Jane and the Stillroom Maid

Jane and the Stillroom Maid by Stephanie Barron Read Free Book Online

Book: Jane and the Stillroom Maid by Stephanie Barron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephanie Barron
girl’s murder spread so quickly?”
    “Recollect that it was market day, and all the countryside gathered in town,” Sir James replied. “If there is a resident within twenty miles of Bakewell yet in ignorance of the events, I should be greatly surprised.”
    “Is Mr. Tivey so little to be trusted?”
    Sir James hesitated. “Michael Tivey is well enough in his way—a good surgeon, and a better blacksmith—but he is also a native of this country, reared in all the superstition and ignorance for which these hills are known.”
    “And what does superstition argue, Sir James?” I enquired.
    “Tivey would have it the girl was killed in sacrifice—that she was butchered like a spring lamb to appease a vengeful god. He is crying out in every publican’s house against the heretics who walk among us—against infidels, and idolators, and destroyers of respectable faith. In short, Tivey would have it that Tess Arnold was murdered by Freemasons.”
    “Freemasons!” I cried. And was bereft of further speech.
    A Freemasons’ lodge is so much a part of life in a country village—a gathering place for local gentlemen, and a focus for their benevolent works—that it might rival the Church in sanctity. Indeed, not a few of the most distinguished clerics in the Church of England espouse the Brotherhood’s Christian principles; to be a politician is almost synonymous with membership; the Prince of Wales has lent the order an air of Fashion; and advancement in the world of the professions, whether in London or the counties, might well turn upon the influence of one’s fellow Masons. In short, the lodgeis the most powerful of gentlemen’s clubs—than which, in England, little else is
more
powerful. The idea of a surgeon-blacksmith inciting public opinion against such a creditable institution strained the bounds of belief.
    “Freemasons,” Sir James repeated with a hint of irony in his voice. “I suspect the local lodge has rejected Tivey as a member. However excellent his hands with horses and broken sinews, he is not what our Derbyshire gentry would like to call
one of ourselves;
and so he seizes this opportunity to paint us all with a grisly brush. He shall certainly do some damage, to be sure—there are many enough among the Bakewell rabble who are willing to believe the rankest sort of nonsense.”
    “But Masons have long been regarded as pillars of respectability,” objected my cousin Mr. Cooper. “I do not mean to say that this was always the case; there was a time, indeed, when God-fearing folk understood the Brethren to have formed a dark cabal, a sort of heretical sect, and the Masonic affection for obscure symbols did not recommend their cause. But such ignorance must be a thing of the past. To be a Freemason is to be recognised as a decent and benevolent fellow—and one who moves in the first circles. Even so exalted a gentleman as my esteemed patron, Sir George Mumps, is not above joining a lodge. He pressed me most flatteringly only last winter to become a member; but, however, I could not spare the time from my parish duties. It is impossible that a Mason should be connected with so disgraceful an affair as the maid’s murder—and if such accusations were to reach Sir George’s ears, I am sure he would refute them most indignantly!”
    “But as Tivey has seen fit to point out, there is a ritual execution prescribed for traitors to the lodge,” Sir James replied, “and the maidservant’s case is very like in nearly every particular. Tivey has published the nature of the girl’s wounds in Bakewell’s streets, and many are now crying revenge against the Secret Brotherhood.”
    “In what way does the maid’s case appear similar, Sir James?” I enquired.
    “When a man betrays his brother Masons, he is to be executed in a rather grim and unhappy manner. His throat is slit, his bowels cut out, and his tongue torn from his mouth. You see the resemblance to Tess Arnold’s case.”
    “But for the

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