Fortune Favors the Wicked

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Authors: Theresa Romain
“There’s a joint of mutton at nine o’clock to you, and a fish at three.”
    On she went, describing the vegetables, and Benedict did a creditable job serving his own dinner just as the others did. Once he missed the dish of peas and scrabbled for nothing, but someone pushed the dish toward him without a word.
    It was a simple dinner, but well-cooked. And it was rather nice to be taken care of. On board a ship, one had nothing fresh to eat, little leisure, and even less space. Nothing to oneself save one’s thoughts.
    When Benedict had consumed about half the contents of his plate, the vicarage door opened. The usual fumblings ensued: greatcoat removed, hat stowed, boots scraped. Then came a heavy thump, as of a piece of furniture being moved. Quiet words, then the shutting of the door again.
    A few seconds later, the light tread of the Reverend John Perry entered the dining room. “Oh—you have begun your meal without me.”
    â€œEverything was hot, Vicar,” said his wife. “You wouldn’t have wanted us to waste the good work of the cook, I’m sure.”
    â€œRight, right. No, of course not. Frost, a servant brought your trunk over from the Pig and Blanket.”
    That explained the thump. Benedict offered thanks, then added, “How is . . . Nance?” He realized he didn’t know her last name.
    â€œShe’s at peace now, poor girl.” The vicar settled himself in the empty seat at the head of the table. “There will have to be an inquest. The coroner is convening a jury. I shall be called as a witness.”
    No one could have missed the strain in his voice.
    Or in Maggie’s. “Are you in trouble, Grandpapa? Will you have to leave us?”
    â€œNot in trouble, my girl. My help is needed with answering questions.” The vicar collected a plateful of food along with his thoughts. “I can’t think what the coroner will want to know, though. I’ll describe the scene, I suppose. The prayers—will they want me to remember the prayers I said, Mrs. Perry? I do not recall . . . I was agitated, you know, and I might have stumbled over the words.”
    â€œI cannot imagine your exact words relevant, Papa,” said Charlotte quietly. “They will want to know only that you were there at the time of her passing.”
    â€œBut her hands—Potter wanted me to fold her hands across her breast once she expired. Can it matter? I hesitated—but I should not have, to offer Potter comfort. I did so, of course. He was right.”
    â€œHer family will have to be notified,” said Mrs. Perry.
    â€œShe has no family,” said the vicar. “She was orphaned three years ago, and that was when she began her work serving at the inn.”
    â€œHer family is Strawfield,” said Charlotte. “She will be greatly missed by the habitués of the Pig and Blanket.”
    â€œOne of them likely did the . . . the act.” The vicar chose his words carefully. “The terrible act. Nance had little to say about that—she had weakened and fallen out of her wits. I couldn’t make sense of what she said.”
    What did she say? Benedict wanted to ask, though he supposed it would be callous.
    â€œI wish I had gone with you to translate, then,” said Mrs. Perry.
    â€œIt was not another language,” corrected the vicar. “No, she only said ‘cat eye’ and ‘cloak’ a few times, and she shivered. Cold, I suppose, as the life drained from her . . . .” He trailed off.
    Charlotte broke in. “You must be hungry for your dinner, Papa. We’ll talk of it later.”
    â€œMust we?” The reverend sounded tense, reluctant.
    â€œNo, not if you don’t wish to.” Charlotte paused; when she spoke again, the color of her voice was warmer. “Maggie, would you care for peas or potatoes?”
    â€œI want to pet Captain.” This, Benedict had gathered, was a

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