It was dusk by the time Freddie returned to Foxgrove Park. At this same hour yesterday, they’d found Toby dead. Instead of entering the house, he walked a little way down the drive toward the Vixen and let himself in through a latched iron gate in the garden wall. He wasn’t ready to face anybody yet.
The garden was quiet, seemingly abandoned, but as he wandered the shrubbery, he heard the sound of someone sobbing. Freddie traced the sound to the pavilion. The decorative lanterns that had been hung up around the lawn remained unlit, but there was enough light cast from the Vixen’s windows for him to see Amelia weeping in the bower they’d made for her.
She lifted her face from her handkerchief. “Freddie?”
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine… as well as can be expected. I had to get away. Everyone means well, but I can’t bear to hear one more person tell me how lucky I am to be free of Evvy. I don’t feel lucky! I’m sorry about the flowers,” she added nonsensically. “You worked so hard on this silly bower and now it’ll have to come down before they wilt and turn brown.”
Freddie ventured a few steps closer. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”
“No,” Mellie answered after a moment. “Since you’re here, you might as well stay.” She patted the wooden bench as an invitation to join her. “Are you still investigating?”
“Yes,” he said as he sat down.
“You needn’t continue on my account. You’ve done what I asked you to. I’m glad that Evvy won’t be arrested, even if-” She took a deep breath and said deliberately, “Even if we won’t be married after all. I’ve loved Evelyn since I was six years old, Freddie. I never wanted anyone else. I thought he felt the same about me.”
“I think,” Freddie told her, “that if Evvy doesn’t have the decency to apologize for the way he’s treated you and beg you to take him back, he’s a greater fool than I already believe he is.”
Amelia laughed. “Oh, he’s a great fool! After the things he said this morning, it’s hopeless.”
“Did you know about Evelyn and Toby before that?”
“No. I wouldn’t have wanted him to marry me if I’d thought there was someone else. I wouldn’t have kept him to his promise. It wouldn’t have been much of a promise, would it, if he were still meeting his boyfriend in secret?”
“But Toby’s gone now.” In spite of himself, Freddie couldn’t help thinking of what Deffords had said. No one could verify that Mellie had been in her room. She could easily have left the Vixen without being seen. She had more than enough reason for wanting to be rid of Toby: Toby was her rival. He had no intention of letting her be happy with Evelyn; he’d threatened to spoil their wedding.
Mellie was clutching her handkerchief in her left hand, and Freddie suddenly recalled how the governess who taught her to write had often switched the pen to her right hand until Mellie learned to hold it properly. Did people who preferred the left revert in moments of crisis?
It was too dark within the bower for Amelia to see his face, but she must guess his thoughts. Drawing away from him, she said, “Don’t you dare think it, Freddie Babington! It was bad enough you suspected me of committing murder once–I won’t stand for it again. Must I be careful of every word I say to you? Are you offering a friend’s sympathy, or this is an interrogation?”
“I’m sorry,” Freddie said, immediately ashamed of himself. “It was meant to be one, but turned into the other. I didn’t plan it–please, Mellie, you must believe that. The worst part of these investigations is that you have to consider everyone as a possible suspect, even the people dearest to you. You do suspect them, like it or not. I am sorry.”
Amelia accepted this. “No, I didn’t know,” she said firmly. “I’d met Toby. Evelyn introduced us when I first came here, but he hardly ever spoke to me. I wondered if he might be jealous because Evvy didn’t have much time for his old friends, but I never thought- I mean, even if it crossed my mind that he and Evvy were more than friends, I assumed that it was over and done with as far as Evvy was concerned. Most boys grow out of that sort of thing once they’re out of school, don’t they?”
“You know about that?” Freddie asked.
“I’m not so innocent, Freddie! Do you imagine anyone who’s grown up in the same house as Kell Marsh can be ignorant of what goes on?” She crumpled her handkerchief between her hands as she confessed, “When I came here in the spring, I thought that Evelyn and I might, well, that we might go on ahead of the wedding night. That’s not unheard-of when you’re about to be married,” she explained quickly. “In these modern days, some of my friends have told the most shocking stories about what they’ve been up to. I thought that as long as we were both living in his father’s house and had only a few weeks `til the wedding, we needn’t be old-fashioned and wait. I let Evvy understand that I was willing, if he wanted to.” She laughed again. “Evvy didn’t want to. He said we ought to wait. I thought he was considering my reputation or my maidenly virtue or some such nonsense. I know better now.”
It was embarrassing to listen to such extremely personal confidences, but Freddie had learned enough about girls to realize that even the nice ones had these natural desires. Evelyn truly was an enormous fool.
Amelia turned to him suddenly. “Have you ever been in love, Freddie?” she asked.
“I think I might be,” he confessed. “At least, I’ve only just realized how very dear someone is to me.”
Amelia was quiet for a long while; he could see the glint of her eyes in the darkness as she regarded him. At last, she said, “You’re very sweet, Freddie. I never realized…” She kissed him.
After pressing her lips to his for a few seconds, she stopped.
“Oh, I-” she said. “I’m sorry. I-” and she burst into tears.
What else could he do, but put his arms around her and hold her while she sobbed?