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3-Book Victorian Crime Collection: Death at Dawn, Death of a Dancer, A Corpse in Shining Armour

3-Book Victorian Crime Collection: Death at Dawn, Death of a Dancer, A Corpse in Shining Armour
3-Book Victorian Crime Collection: Death at Dawn, Death of a Dancer, A Corpse in Shining Armour Caro Peacock HarperCollins CARO PEACOCK 3-BOOK VICTORIAN CRIME COLLECTION: Death at Dawn, Death of a Dancer, A Corpse in Shining Armour COPYRIGHT (#ulink_013ae69d-94cc-5365-be95-493b55a07db3) This is entirely a work of fiction. Any references to real people, living or dead, real events, businesses, organizations and localities are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. All names, characters and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental. HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2014 Copyright Caro Peacock 2014 Caro Peacock asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Ebook Edition MARCH 2014 ISBN: 9780007554973 Version: 2016-09-12 CONTENTS Cover (#u7878db24-2333-5752-a321-e1840fc3d810) Title Page (#ud1931759-b0ff-549d-944f-faada890e9b4) Copyright (#u79dc1be6-e9e2-5ca3-8bc2-f146d4adf0bd) Death at Dawn (#u3c4d31b2-d2c5-56df-914d-7a02636a8505) Death of a Dancer (#litres_trial_promo) A Corpse in Shining Armour (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Also by the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) (#ulink_0a580cb7-1d38-5855-8779-d03d1ac2a40d) CARO PEACOCK Death at Dawn COPYRIGHT (#ulink_1c529d51-5583-5b70-8797-819cb57c6381) This is entirely a work of fiction. Any references to real people, living or dead, real events, businesses, organizations and localities are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. All names, characters and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental. HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2009 Copyright Caro Peacock 2007 Cover layout design HarperCollinsPublishers 2007 Cover photographs Gregor Schuster / Getty Images Caro Peacock asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebook HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780007244171 Ebook Edition SEPTEMBER 2008 ISBN: 9780007279340 Version: 2016-09-12 DEDICATION (#uc43273aa-559b-5536-8c24-fa5846dd0e55) To Caroline Compton CONTENTS Cover (#u3c4d31b2-d2c5-56df-914d-7a02636a8505) Title Page (#uf56c205b-9b1a-57b0-9e06-3248e14e725b) Copyright (#u6f7b9f68-9688-57d8-afac-ba3b88f6cdb9) Dedication (#uc09a0401-a022-5b2c-b21b-3c9ddccb48a6) Chapter One (#u11eeca89-4ee6-5822-af68-26476911b127) Chapter Two (#u5d265a13-8071-56cc-9dc7-4d62ca719ffb) Chapter Three (#ue90eff3a-5820-5a50-85b9-5571f0cac67b) Chapter Four (#u1d33b8dd-3ab7-558d-afcf-73869073c911) Chapter Five (#u3a4c3836-4bdf-559c-a4aa-90a46746af1e) Chapter Six (#ucf50560f-3102-5dc1-8b07-9ad89d975f37) Chapter Seven (#ue41f4d4d-f44f-58b1-8aeb-30d52a82033d) Chapter Eight (#u3e069cef-151f-5d27-917d-990f5cb34e92) Chapter Nine (#u076d845a-4601-5bc6-8ac1-f068b7883865) Chapter Ten (#ub65d1fc1-a494-5641-b755-c43e9608062f) Chapter Eleven (#u5496060f-3b1c-589b-aea2-cbf196e7ed0d) Chapter Twelve (#uf97ed64e-9e6b-56b8-8dcd-4249fde477ec) Chapter Thirteen (#ufc949c11-e05f-5b7a-816f-15009451b905) Chapter Fourteen (#u6b2b419d-82b8-504b-bdf4-342914cae942) Chapter Fifteen (#u9bd37d4b-e833-5976-ad4b-00916d1358fc) Chapter Sixteen (#ufb984259-a410-5fee-be30-a2517c430a88) Chapter Seventeen (#u17ac515e-0f2f-5417-8dc8-d8987b76814c) Chapter Eighteen (#u07cf72f9-5573-5b9d-b07b-3e67276b3459) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Seven (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE (#ulink_a53e141e-1b71-59ff-b017-626d881d113c) Would you be kind enough to tell me where they keep peoples bodies, I said. The porter blinked. The edges of his eyelids were pink in a brown face, lashes sparse and painful-looking like the bristles on a gooseberry. Odd the things you notice when your minds trying to shy away from a large thing. When he saw me coming towards him over the cobbles among the crowds leaving the evening steam packet, he must have expected another kind of question altogether. Something along the lines of How much do you charge to bring a trunk up from the hold? or Where can I find a clean, respectable hotel? Those kinds of questions were filling the air all round us, mostly in the loud but uneasy tones of the English newly landed at Calais. Id asked in French, but he obviously thought hed misheard. You mean where people stay, at the hotels? Not hotels, no. People whove been killed. A gentleman who was killed on Saturday. Another blink and a frown. He looked over my shoulder at his colleagues carrying bags and boxes down the gangplank, regretting his own bad luck in encountering me. Would he not be in his own house, mademoiselle? He has no house here. Nor anywhere else, come to that. He would have had one soon, the tall thin house he was going to rent for us, near the unfashionable end of Oxford Street when we Dont think about that. In church then, perhaps. I thought, but didnt say, that he was never a great frequenter of churches. If an English gentleman were killed in in an accident and had no family here, where might he be taken? The porters face went hard. Hed noticed my hesitation. The morgue is over there, mamselle. He nodded towards a group of buildings a little back from the seafront then turned, with obvious relief, to a plump man who was pulling at his sleeve and burbling about cases of books. I walked in the direction hed pointed out but had to ask again before I found my way to a low building, built of bricks covered over with black tarry paint. A man who looked as thin and faded as driftwood was sitting on a chair at the door, smoking a clay pipe. The smell of his tobacco couldnt quite mask another smell coming from inside the building. When he heard me approaching he turned his head without shifting the rest of his body, like a clockwork automaton, and gave me a considering look. Its possible that you have my father here, I said. He took a long draw on his pipe and spoke with it still in his mouth. Would he be the gentleman who got shot? Possibly, yes. English? Yes. She said his clothes had an English cut. Who said? Without answering, he got up and walked over to a narrow house with a front door opening on to the cobbles only a few steps away from the morgue. He thumped on the door a couple of times and a fat woman came out in a black dress and off-white apron, straggly grey hair hanging down under her cap. They whispered, heads together, then he gave her a nudge towards me. Your father, oh, you poor little thing. Poor little thing. Her deep voice was a grieving purr in my ear, her hand moist and warm on my shoulder. Her breath smelled of brandy. May I see him, please? She led the way inside, still purring Pauvre petite, oh pauvre petite. Her husband in his cloud of pipe smoke fell in behind us. There were flies buzzing around the low ceiling and a smell of vinegar. The evening sun came in through the slats of the shutters, making bars of red on the whitewashed wall. Three rough pinewood tables took up most of the space in the room but only one of them was occupied by a shape covered in a yellowish sheet. The woman put her arm round me and signed to the man to pull the sheet back. I knew almost before I saw his face. I suppose I made some noise or movement because the man started pulling the sheet back over again. I signed to him to leave it where it was. Your father? Yes. Please He hesitated, then, when I nodded, reluctantly pulled the sheet further down. Theyd put my father in a white cotton shroud with his hands crossed on his chest. I took a step forward and untied the strings at the neck of the shroud. The woman pulled at my arm and tried to stop me. Trust your own eyes and ears, hed said. Never let anybody persuade you against them. Hed been talking at the time about the question dividing some of his naturalist friends as to whether squirrels were completely hibernatory, standing in some beechwoods with Tom and me on a bright January day. I tried to keep the sound of his voice in my head as I lifted up his right hand, cold and heavy in mine. I pulled the shroud aside with my other hand and looked at the round hole the pistol ball had made in his chest, right over the heart, and the livid scorch-marks on his skin surrounding it. No blood. Theyd have sponged his body before they put it in the shroud. That probably accounted for the vinegar smell. It would have been done by the same plump, liver-spotted hand that was now pulling at my arm, trying to make me come away. The thought of that hand moving over him made me feel sick. I pulled the shroud up, crossed his right hand back over his left and watched while they covered him up again. His clothes? I asked. She looked annoyed and left us, wooden clogs clacking over the cobbles. The flies buzzed and circled. After a minute or two she was back with an armful of white linen, streaked with rusty stains. Breeches, stockings, a shirt. On the left breast of the shirt was a small round hole. I bent over it and smelled, through the iron tang of blood, a whiff of scorched linen and black powder. I think the woman imagined I was kissing it, holding it so close, because her arm came round me, sympathetic again. The man was repeating some question insistently. You will need an English priest? I dont think Oh, I see. For the burial. Yes. He produced a dog-eared calling card from his pocket. I heaped the linen back into the womans arms and took the card. Shed tried to be kind to me so as I left I slid some coins from my bag into the pocket of her apron. It struck me as I walked away that they were English coins and of no use to her, but then in Calais she could find somebody to change them. It came to me too that she hadnt shown me his outer clothes, shoes, hat or jacket. One of the perquisites of her job, probably. Some lumpish son or cousin of hers might be wearing them even now. There should have been rings as well. I made myself picture the crossed hands against the shroud. Theyd let him keep the narrow silver ring on his left hand that he wore in memory of my mother. He usually wore a gold one with a curious design on his right, but I was certain that the hand Id held had been bare. The thought of somebody else wearing his ring made me so angry that I almost turned back. But that was not sensible, and I must at all costs be sensible. I walked by the sea for a long time, watching the sun go down. Then I found a pile of fishing nets heaped in a shed, curled myself up in them and alternately slept and shivered through the few hours of a June night. In the shivering intervals, every word of the note that had jolted my world out of its orbit came back to me. Miss Lane, You do not know me, but I take the liberty of addressing you with distressing news. Your father, Thomas Jacques Lane, was killed this Saturday, seventeenth June, in a duel at Calais CHAPTER TWO (#ulink_13748437-7795-5fee-909e-0893760ff4e3) Everybody knows the place in Calais where gentlemen go to fight duels, the long stretch of beach with the sand-hills behind. People point it out to each other from the deck of the steam packet. By the time the first grey light came in through the doorway of the fishermans hut I knew that the one thing I wanted to do was follow the route my father would have taken three days before, at much this time of the morning. I unwrapped myself from the nets, brushed dry fish scales from my dress and walked along the harbour front, past shuttered houses and rows of tied-up fishing boats. Eventually the cobbled road runs out in a litter of nets and crab pots, just above the fringe of bladder wrack and driftwood that marks high tide line. They would have left their carriage there. No carriage this morning, nothing but a fishermans cart made of old planks, bleached silver by the wind and sea, with shafts just wide enough for a donkey. No pony, even the most ill-used one, could be so thin. The owner of the cart probably lived in one of the little row of hovels built of rocks and ships timbers, so tilted and ramshackle they looked as if some especially high tide had dropped them. The windows were closed with warped wooden shutters. There was nobody looking out of them so early in the morning, not even a fishermans wife watching for her husband. In any case, a fishermans wife would know there was no use looking out for boats with the tide so very low, almost at its lowest, the silver strip of sea hardly visible across the wide sands. Would it have been so low at first light three days ago? I thought I must buy or borrow an almanack when I go back into the town. It might be of some importance to know. Anything might be of some importance, it was simply a matter of knowing what. Later, Id come back and try to talk to the fishermens wives. Its easier, usually, to talk to women than to men. I am sorry for disturbing you, madame, but can you recall a carriage drawing up there where the road runs out, three mornings ago? Just as it was getting light, it would have been, or even while it was still dark. They might quite easily have arrived in the dark, perhaps waited in the carriage until that first strange, flat light that comes before sunrise, when they could see to walk along the beach. Im sure if he had met a fishermans wife that morning, hed have raised his hat and wished her good day. But almost certainly he did not meet her, the morning being so early. And even if she had met him or seen the carriage standing there, I dont suppose for one moment shed tell me. The men and women who live in that ruckle of cottages must be used to seeing carriages drive up in the early morning, dark silhouettes of gentlemen against the pale dawn sky walking across the sands, but Im sure they dont talk about them to strangers. These gentlemen and their purposes have nothing to do with the fishermens world, any more than if theyd come down from the moon, and the fishermen will know there is no good in whats happening, nothing but harm and blame. So I should ask, but nobody would tell me. It was simply one of those things which must be done. Now that I considered, there should have been two carriages, not one. But then, he might not have come by carriage. It was only a short walk out here from the town and he was never one for taking a carriage when he could go on foot. He might have slipped out of the side door of an inn while it was still dark, the horses asleep in their stalls, only the dull glow of a fire through the kitchen window, where some poor skivvy was starting to poke up the fire for coffee. I dare say hed have liked a cup of coffee, only he couldnt wait. So he might have walked here and seen the other carriage drawn up already and gone on without pausing over the sand. Alone? He shouldnt have been alone. There should have been a friend with him or at least somebody he called a friend. In that case, they would have stayed the night together in an inn. If I asked around the town somebody surely would have seen the two of them together and be able to describe the other man. Id do that later, when I come back from my walk. The sand was firm underfoot, only I wished Id brought stouter footwear. But then my escape from Chalke Bissett had been so hurried Id had no time to go to the bootroom and find the pair I keep for country walking. Besides, when I escaped I had no notion in my head of walking over French beaches. A day or two on English pavements was the very worst Id thought to expect. Still, the shoes were carrying me well enough. The ramshackle cottages were already a mile behind me, the sand dunes and the point at the far end of the beach in sight. Nearer the tideline, there was a gloss of salt water over the sand. My foot pressed down, making a margin of lighter sand, then the footprint filled up with dark water behind me. Salt water and sand were splashing up to the hem of my skirts, making them drag damply round my ankles. From here, if there were figures on the point youd be sure to see them. He would have seen them three of them with the sun rising behind them. They would have to pay attention to that sun, be quite sure it didnt get in their eyes. The figures would be waiting there, just where the gull has landed, and my father and the man he called his friend would have walked over to them, not slowly but not too fast either, like rational people who have business together. Theyd have shaken hands when they met, I know that, and serious words would be spoken, a question put, heads shaken. Since your principal refuses to offer an apology, then things must proceed to their conclusion. Would you care to choose, sir? And the black, velvet-lined case would be snapped open. As the man challenged, my father would have first choice. So hed take a pistol, weigh it in his hand and nod, and the other man would take the other. How do I know? The way that anybody who reads novels knows. I confess with shame that ten years or so ago, around the age of twelve when much silliness is imagined, the etiquette of the duel had a morbid fascination for me. I revelled in wronged, dark-haired heroes, their fine features admitting not the faintest trace of anxiety as they removed their jackets to expose faultless white linen shirt-fronts over their noble and so vulnerable breasts, shook hands with their seconds (who not being heroes were permitted a slight tremor of the fingers) then strode unconcernedly to the fatal line, as if Oh, and any other nonsense you care to add. Write it for yourselves and thank the gods that no girl stays a twelve-year-old for ever. But thats why I knew enough to imagine how it would have happened three days before, at very much this time in the morning. The two pistol shots, almost simultaneous. Then the frightened seabirds wheeling and crying unless the seagulls on the Calais sands are so blas by now that they are not in the least alarmed by duellists shots. A figure flat on the sand, the two seconds bending over him, the doctor opening his bag. A little further off, the survivor with his left arm over his eyes to shield out the dreadful sight, pistol pointed to the sand, anger drained out of him; Oh my God, what have I done? It really is the most appalling nonsense, my father said. I wish you would not read these things. Back to being twelve, and my father who was so rarely angry with anything or anybody much annoyed with me. I had just twirled into the room in my new satin shoes and a fantasy of being a princess carelessly mislaid at birth trilling that I hoped one day men might fight a duel for love of me. Hed caught me in mid-twirl, plumped me down in a chair and talked to me seriously. Some day another man besides myself and your brother will love you. But hear this, daughter, if he proves to be the kind of fool who thinks he can demonstrate that love by violently stealing the life of another human being, then hes not the man for my Liberty. But if he were defending my honour, Papa Honours important, yes. But theres wise honour and foolish honour. I wish to say something serious to you now, and I know if your mother were alive shed be in utter agreement with me. Are you listening? I nodded, looking down through gathering tears at my new satin shoes and knowing the gloss had gone from them forever. He seldom mentioned our mother, whod died when I was six years old and Tom four, but when he did, it was always in connection with something that mattered very much. If you ever may the gods forbid get yourself into the kind of scrape where your honour can be defended only by a man being killed for you, then you must live without honour. Do you understand? I said yes, as firmly as I could, hoping the tears would not fall. He crouched beside the chair and put two fingers under my chin, raising it so that my eyes were on a level with his. Dont cry, my darling. Only, duelling is wasteful, irrational nonsense and Im sure when you think more deeply about it, you will be of the same opinion. Lecture over. Now, shall we go out and feed the goldfish in the fountain? So thats how I knew, you see knew for sure that Id been told a black lie. It was there in my mind as I looked down at his body, although it didnt take clear shape until I walked across the beach. The duel never happened. My father was dead, that was true enough, even though not a fibre of my mind or body believed it yet. But it was impossible that he died that way, no matter what the note said or what the couple at the morgue believed. I was as sure of that as the sun rising behind the point, turning the rim of sea to bright copper. That rim was closer now and the tide seemed to be on its way in. I followed my own footsteps back over the sand, making a slow curve to the line of fishermens cottages. It looked as if the people in them must have started their days work, because there was a figure in front of the cottages looking out to sea. It would be a fine day for him, I thought. The sky was clear blue, with only a little breeze ruffling my bonnet ribbons. When I got to the town Id drink some coffee and plan what questions to ask and where to ask them. Who saw him? Who were his friends in Calais? Who brought his body to the morgue? Above all, who wrote that lying and anonymous note to me at Dover? Insolent as well as lying, because the unknown writer had added a command: Remain where you are for the present and talk about it to nobody. People who are concerned on your behalf will come to you within two or three days. As if I could read that and wait tamely like a dog told to stay. The man Id noticed was still standing by the cottages. Closer to, he didnt look like a fisherman. His clothes were black, like a lawyers or doctors, and he was wearing a high-crowned hat. He was thin and standing very upright, not looking out to sea now but back along the sands towards the point. Almost, you might think, looking at me. But of course he had no reason to look at me. He was simply a gentleman admiring the sunrise. Something about the stiff way he was standing made me think he might be an invalid who slept badly and walked in the sea air for the sake of his health. Perhaps he came there every morning, in which case he might have been standing just there three days ago, watching whatever happened or did not happen. I raised my hand to him. Of course, that was over-familiar behaviour to a man Id never met, but the rules of normal life didnt apply any more. Either he didnt see my gesture, or he did and was shocked by it, because he turned and walked away in the direction of the town, quite quickly for a supposed invalid. Strange that he should be in such a hurry after standing there so long, but then everything was strange now. CHAPTER THREE (#ulink_5176bbbd-82e1-59a3-90ff-8a37608a0411) Two mornings before Id woken up on a fine Sunday in the inn at Dover, with nothing in the world to cause me a moments anxiety. Nothing, that is, beyond whether my aunt might have sent one of her servants or even a tame curate to recapture me. It was a small side room, the cheapest they had, looking out over the stableyard of the larger hotel next door. I remember standing barefoot at the window with my woollen mantle round my shoulders, looking down at the sunlit yard and the grooms harnessing two glossy bays to a phaeton, feeling well satisfied with myself and the world in general. My escape from the dim, sour-faced house at Chalke Bissett had gone entirely to plan. Even before the servants were up I was on my way across the field footpath to the village, knowing the area well enough by then to guess that thered be a farm cart taking fruit and vegetables into Salisbury. The driver said hed take me there for a kiss, but I bargained him down to one shilling and insisted on sitting in the back, along with withy baskets full of strawberries and bunches of watercress. From Salisbury, I took a succession of stage and mail coaches, much as Id planned from the road book giving coach routes and times in my aunts small library. Her road book was out of date, like everything else in the house, so some of the times were wrong and I had to wait for hours in the street outside various inns, trying hard to be inconspicuous in my mantle that was too heavy for a warm June day and the battered leather travelling bag that I would not allow anybody else to carry because I was unsure how much to tip. Salisbury to Winchester took four hours and two changes of horses. At Winchester I managed to secure the last outside place in another coach that took me all the way across Hampshire. It was a glorious evening, flying along on the top of the coach behind four fast horses with the scent of hay and honeysuckle in the air, haymakers out late with their scythes and rakes and the sun sinking in the west behind us, throwing their long shadows out over the shorn fields. I felt like singing, only it would have drawn the attention of the other outside passengers, a clerical-looking man with a cough and a farmer and his wife, loaded with packages that included a live duck in a basket with its head sticking out complacently, as if it too were enjoying the sweet air. We arrived at the changing point of Hartfordbridge in the early hours of the morning, when it was already getting light, so that spared me the worry and expense of a room in the inn. I simply sat on the edge of a horse trough, wrapped my mantle round me and ate the last slice of bread and butter Id taken from my aunts kitchen. From Hartfordbridge it was a long and expensive days journey into Kent and Tunbridge Wells. In this fashionable place, spending the night on the edge of a horse trough was out of the question, but luckily Id made friends with a lady on the journey, travelling to meet her husband from a boat at Chatham. We shared a room and a large but lumpy double bed at a modest inn. Over a supper of cold beef pie and two pots of tea we were thirsty because the roads were dusty from the dry weather she glowed with happiness at the idea of seeing her husband again. And Ill soon be seeing my father, I said. Now Id put two good days travelling between myself and my aunt, it seemed safe to talk about myself. Has he been away long? Only since September. It seemed longer. I remember that my companion asked the waiter if he had any news of the king. He shook his head gravely, implying that it was not good. King William was elderly and ill, probably dying, but that was not causing any great outbreak of grief among his subjects. I thought he was probably one of the dullest men ever to sit on the throne of England and in any case our familys sympathies were far from royalist. But I said nothing for fear of offending my companion, who was a kind woman. Next morning we breakfasted together on good bread and bad coffee, then she took the coach for Chatham while I passed some time looking round the town, admiring the fashions and waiting for the coach that would take me on the last stage of my journey to Dover. I reached the port in the evening. I knew it quite well, from the occasions when Id crossed to the Continent with my father and Tom, but Id never been there on my own before. I stood at the inn where the coach had put me down feeling for the first time scared at what Id done. Then, determined that my father should not come back to find a feeble young woman, I adjusted my bonnet, slung my mantle over my arm and picked up my bag. I was wearing my second-best dress in plain lavender colour, with tight-fitting sleeves and a little lace at the neck. My bonnet had suffered from travelling outside and my hair felt plastered with dust, but I hoped I looked respectable, though travel-worn. The inns and hotels along the seafront and near the harbour were too expensive and conspicuous. If my aunt sent somebody after me, those were the first places hed try. I walked along a dimly remembered side street, at right angles to the sea, and hit on an old inn called the Heart of Oak that looked as if it catered for the better class of trades-person rather than the gentry. The dark panelled hall smelled of beer and saddle leather. A brass bell stood on a counter. I rang and after some time a plump bald-headed man arrived, wearing a brown apron stained with metal polish. I should like to engage a room, I told him, as confidently as I could. Not one of your most expensive ones. Just for yourself, maam? His voice was polite enough, but his boot-button eyes were weighing me up. Just for myself. Then, losing my nerve a little, I added, Im here to meet my father. Hes coming across from Calais. Which was the perfect truth, even though the look in those eyes made it feel like a lie. How many nights, maam? He may be arriving as early as tomorrow Tomorrows Sunday. or I might have to wait a day or two. I am not entirely sure of his plans. That was true as well, although one thing I was entirely sure of was that my fathers plans did not include having his daughter there to meet him at Dover. His latest letter in my bag and marking my place in the volume of Shelley, which was the only book Id brought with me made it quite clear that I was to wait at Chalke Bissett until called for. The innkeeper grudgingly admitted there was a room on the second floor he could let me have. Ill take supper in my room, I told him. Mutton chop, some bread and cheese, and a jug of barley water. He nodded gloomily and called the bootboy to carry my bag upstairs to a small but reasonably clean room, furnished with bed, chair and wash-stand. I tipped the boy sixpence and, as the door closed behind him, spread out my arms and opened my mouth in a silent but most unladylike yell of triumph. When supper arrived I ate it to the last crumb then slept in the deep featherbed as comfortably as any dormouse. I idled Sunday away pleasurably enough, tipping the little maid a shilling to bring cans of warm water upstairs so that I could wash my hair. When it was dry I strolled along the front in the sunshine, watching families driving in their carriages or walking back from church, and sailors arm in arm with women friends, bonnet and bodice ribbons fluttering in the breeze from the sea. The white cliffs gleamed and the old grey castle on top of them seemed from a distance to have broken out in patches of pink-, green- and lilac-coloured mushrooms, from the parasols of the ladies sight-seeing. In such a busy place, nobody was in the least disturbed by a young woman walking unescorted. I revelled in being alone and the mistress of my own time for once. But on Monday morning I woke at first light with a little demon of anxiety in my mind. Now that I might be meeting my father within hours, it occurred to me that he would perhaps be annoyed because I had disobeyed instructions. I took his letter out of my bag and read it by the window as the horses stamped and the ostlers swore down in the yard. It had been written from a hotel in Paris, posted express, and arrived at Chalke Bissett just the evening before I left, too late to change my plan of escape. My dearest Daughter, I am glad to report that I have said farewell to my two noble but tedious charges and am now at my liberty and soon to be on the way home to my Liberty. I have faithfully conducted His Lordship and cousin around Paris, Bordeaux, Madrid, Venice, Rome, Naples. All wasted, of course, like feeding peaches to donkeys. They pined for their playing fields, their hunters, their rowing boats at home. The stones Virgil and Cicero trod were no more than ill-kept pavement in their eyes, the music of Vivaldi in his own city inferior to a bawled catch in a London tavern. But enough. I have justly earned my fee and we may now set about spending it as we planned. If I had travelled home with my charges I should have rescued you from Aunt Basilisk sooner, but Im afraid my princess must fret in her Wiltshire captivity a week longer. I had business here in Paris, also friends to meet. To be candid, I valued the chance of some intelligent conversation with like-minded fellowsafter these months of asses braying. Already I have heard one most capital story which I promise will set you roaring with laughter and even perhaps a little indignation. You know the dregs of their dull race But more of that when we meet. Also, I have just met an unfortunate woman who may need our help and charity when we return to London. I know I may depend on your kind heart. I plan to be at Chalke Bissett about a week from now. Since even five minutes of my company is precisely three hundred seconds too many for dear Beatrice/Basilisk Im sure she will not detain us. So have your bags packed and we shall whisk away. Until then, believe me your loving father. Then, after his signature, a scrawled postscript. If youd care to write to me before then, address your letter to poste restante at Dover. I shall infallibly check there on my arrival, in the hope of finding pleasant reading for the last stage of my journey. As I re-read it, I was seized with a panic that he might at that very moment be stepping off a boat and posting to Chalke Bissett, not knowing I was waiting for him less than a mile away. I ran downstairs, secured paper, pen and ink from the landlord and lacking a writing desk stood at the cracked marble wash-stand in my room to scrawl a hasty note. Dearest Father, I am here in Dover at an inn called the Heart of Oak. Anybody will direct you to it. I could not tolerate the company of La Basilisk one hour longer. So you need not brave her petrifying eye and we may travel straight to London. Please forgive your disobedient but loving daughter. I didnt tell him in the note, and never intended to tell him, that the real reason Id fled the house of my mothers elder sister was that I couldnt tolerate her criticisms of him. Shed never forgiven his elopement with my mother and used every opportunity to spray poisonous slime, like a camel spitting. Your father the fortune hunter He is not. He had not a penny from my mother. Your father the Republican Hes always said it was wrong to cut off the head of Marie Antoinette. Your father the gambler Do not all gentlemen play games of hazard occasionally? She called me argumentative and said I should never get a husband with my sharp tongue. * I sealed my scrawled note and was waiting on the steps of the poste restante office as it opened. When I handed it over the counter I asked if there were any more letters waiting for Mr Thomas Lane. Three, the clerk told me, so I knew I hadnt missed him. I strolled by the harbour for a while, watching the steam packet coming in and passengers disembarking. The novelty of my escape was wearing off now and I was beginning to feel a little lonely. But that was no great matter because soon my father would be with me and a whole new part of my life would be starting. My father had talked about it back in September, nine months before, as he was packing. Im quite resolved that if I have to leave you again it will be in the care of a husband. I was folding his shirts at the time. Indeed. And have you any one in mind? As yet, no. Have you, Libby? Indeed I have not. Sure? Sure. Then we can look at the question like two rational beings. You agree it is time you were married? So people tell me. You mean the match-making matrons? Dont pay any heed to them, Libby. Theyd have any poor girl married by the time shes off toddlers leading strings. People should be old enough to know their own minds before they marry. Thirty for a man, say, and around twenty-two for a woman. I was twenty-one and six months at the time. So I have six months to find a husband? I said. He smiled. Hardly that. In fact, I am proposing that we should leave the whole question on the shelf And me on the shelf too? Exactly that, until I return next summer and we can set about the business in a sensible fashion. He must have seen the hurt in my face. Libby, Im not talking about the marriage market. Im not proposing you trade your youth and beauty for some fat heir to a discredited peerage. I dont think theyd rate higher than the second son of a baronet, I said, still defensive. He came and took my hand. You know me better than that. Im not a young man any more. (He was forty-six years old.) I must think of providing for you in the future. I shant die a rich man and Tom has his own way to make. Id never be a burden on Tom, you know that. Ive not been as much of a father to you as I should. But I have tried to give you the important things in life. Your education has been better than most young womens. You speak French and German adequately and your musical taste is excellent. That reminds me, Ive broken another guitar string. I was uneasy at hearing myself praised. And weve travelled together. Youve seen the glaciers of Mont Blanc at sunrise and the Roman Forum by moonlight. I was wonderfully fortunate, I knew that. When I was back with my father it was easy to forget the other times, lonely and homesick in a cold French convent, or boarded out with a series of more or less resentful aunts or cousins. It was almost possible, though nowhere near as easy, to forget the glint of my brothers handkerchief waving from the rail of the ship as it left Gravesend to carry him away to India, and the widening gap of dark water. Couldnt we just go on as we are? I asked. Tom will come back one day and I can keep house for him and you. Do I really need a husband? He became serious again. The wish of my heart is to see you married to a man you can love and respect who values and cares for you. I watched the steam packet go out again, arching sparks from its funnel and trailing a smell of coal dust. In three hours or so it would be in Calais, then perhaps bringing my father back with it. Around noon I felt weary from my early start and went back to my room. I took off my dress and shoes, loosened my stays and laid down on the bed. I must have dozed because I woke with a start, hearing the landlords voice at the bottom of the stairs, saying my name. Miss Liberty Lane? Dont know about the Liberty, but she called herself Miss Lane, at any rate. Give it me and Ill take it in to her. As his heavy footsteps came upstairs I pulled my dress on and did up some essential buttons, heart thumping because either this was a message from my father or my aunt had tracked me after all. But as soon as the landlord handed me the note adding his own greasy thumb-print I knew it had nothing to do with Chalke Bissett. The handwriting was strong and sprawling, a mans hand. The folded paper was sealed with a plain blob of red wax, and a wedge-shaped impression that might have been made with the end of a penknife, entirely anonymous. I broke the seal and read: take the liberty of addressing you with distressing Bad news, miss? The landlord was still in the room, his eyes hot and greedy. I gripped the edge of the wash-stand, shaking my head. I think I was acting on instinct only, the way a hurt deer runs. I must go to Calais. Whens the next boat? CHAPTER FOUR (#ulink_c1f946cb-7f4a-5f6e-8288-910cd0fa329e) Was your father a confirmed and communicant member of the Church of England? The clergyman was plump and faded, wisps of feathery brown-grey hair trailing from a bald pate, deep creases of skin round his forehead and jaw giving him a weary look. Id traced the address on the card Id been given at the morgue to a terraced house in a side street, with a tarnished brass plate by the door: Rev. Adolphus Bateman, MA (Oxon). This representative of the Anglican Church in the port of Calais was at least living in Christian poverty, if not charity. His skin creases had drawn into a scowl when Id stood on his doorstep and explained my need. The scowl was still there as we talked in his uncomfortable parlour under framed engravings of Christ Church College and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. He smelled of wet woollen clothes and old mouse droppings, familiar to me from enforced evensongs in country churches with various aunts. It was a late autumn English smell and quite how hed contrived to keep it with him on a fine June morning in Calais was a mystery. Yes, he was. I supposed that, back in his schooldays, my father would have gone through the usual rituals. There was no need to tell this clergyman about his frequently expressed view that the poets talked more sense about heaven and hell than the preachers ever did. Half past three, he said. What? I shall arrange the interment for half past three. The Protestant chapel is at the far side of the burial ground. The total cost will be five pounds, sixteen shillings and four pence. Apparently mistaking my expression, he added impatiently, That is the standard charge. There are the bearers and the gravediggers to be paid, as well as my own small emolument. I assume you would wish me to make all the arrangements? Yes, please. I took my purse out of my reticule and counted the money on to the faded crochet mat in the middle of the table: five bright sovereigns, sixteen shillings, four penny pieces. It left the little purse as floppy as the udder of a newly milked goat. Id had to sell a gold locket belonging to my mother and my grandmothers silver watch to pay for my journey. It had been a nightmare within a nightmare, going round the streets of Dover trying to find a jeweller to give anything like a fair price for them, with the steam packet whistling from the harbour for last passengers. In normal times Id have cried bitterly at parting with them but, turned hard by grief and need, Id bargained like an old dame at market. As I stowed the purse away the clergyman asked, with just a touch of sympathy in his voice, Have you no male relatives? A younger brother. He is in Bombay with the East India Company. I had a suspicion he intended to pray over me, so moved hastily on to the other thing I needed. You must know the English community in Calais well. (He did not look as if he knew anything well, but a little flattery never hurts.) Can you tell me if there are any particular places where they gather. The better sort come to the Protestant Church on Sunday mornings. For the ladies, the Misses Besswell run a charity knitting circle on Wednesday afternoons and there are also a series of evening subscription concerts organised by I let him run on. I could not imagine my father or his friends at any event known to the Reverend Bateman. I left the house, filling my lungs with the better smells outside seaweed and fish, fresh baked bread and coffee. This reminded me that I had eaten and drunk nothing since the message had arrived, back in Dover. I was almost scared of doing either. That message had divided my life into before and after, like a guillotine blade coming down. Everything I did now eating, drinking, sleeping was taking me further away from the time when my father had been living. I still couldnt think of eating, not even a crumb, but the smell of coffee was seductive. I followed it round the corner and on to a small quay. It wasnt part of the larger harbour where the channel packet came and went, more of a local affair for the fishermen. There were nets spread out on the pebbles, an old man sitting on a boulder and mending one of them, his bent bare toes twined in the net to keep it stretched, needle flashing through the meshes like a tiny agile fish. The coffee shop was no more than a booth with a counter made of driftwood planks, a stove behind it and a small skinny woman with a coffee pot. She poured, watched me drink, poured again, making no attempt to hide her curiosity. Madame is thirsty? Very thirsty, I told her. It was a pleasure to be speaking French again. Madame has arrived from England? Yesterday. A pleasant crossing? Not so bad, thank you. The sea had been calm at least. Id stood at the rail all the way, willing the packet faster towards Calais but dreading to arrive. Is madame staying in Calais for long? Not long, I think. But my plans are uncertain. Tell me, where do the English mostly stay these days? She named a few hotels: Quillacs, Dessins, the Lion dArgent, the London. I thanked her and walked around the town for a while, trying to get my courage up, past the open-fronted shops with their gleaming piles of mackerel, sole, whiting, white and orange scallops arranged in fans, stalls piled high with plump white asparagus from the inland farms, bunches of bright red radishes. At last I adjusted my bonnet using a dark window pane as my mirror, took a deep breath and tried the first hotel. Excuse me for troubling you, monsieur, but I am looking for my father. He may have arrived in Calais some time ago, but I am not sure where he intended to stay. After the first few attempts I was able to give a description of my father without any trembling in my voice. His name is Thomas Jacques Lane. In France he probably uses Jacques. Forty-six years old, speaks excellent French. Tall, with dark curling hair, a profile of some distinction and good teeth. But the answers from the hotels, whether given kindly or off-handedly, were all the same. No, madame, no English gentleman of that description. It was midday before I came to the last of the big hotels. It was the largest one, newly built, close to the pier and the landing stage for the steam packet, with a busy stableyard. Carriages were coming and going all the time, some of them with coats of arms on the doors and footmen in livery riding behind. It was so far from being a place where my father might have stayed that I almost decided not to try, but in the end I went up the steps into a foyer that was all false marble columns and velvet curtains, like a theatrical set, crowded with fashionably dressed people arriving or leaving. I queued at the desk behind an English gentleman disputing his account. Clearly he was the kind of person who, if he arrived at heavens gateway, would expect to find St Peter speaking English and minding his manners. He was working his way through a bill several pages long, bullying the poor clerk and treating matters of a few francs as if there were thousands at stake. I had plenty of time to study him from the back. He was tall and strongly made, his shoulders broad, the neck above his white linen cravat red and wide as a farm labourers. His hair was so black that I suspected it might owe something to the bottles of potions kept by Parisian barbers. He spoke and carried himself like a man accustomed to having an audience and I imagined him as some rural chairman of the bench, sentencing poachers or trade unionists to transportation. After a while my attention wandered to a young man and woman standing by a pillar and arguing. She was about my age, and beautiful. Her red-gold hair was piled up, with a few curled ringlets hanging down, and a little hat that could only have come from Paris perched on top of it. She wore a rose-pink satin mantle with a square collar edged in darker pink velvet, pale pink silk stockings and pink suede shoes, also Parisian. The man with her was several years older, elegantly but not foppishly dressed in grey and black. He was tall and dark haired with a handsome face and a confident, rather cynical air. They might have been taken for husband and wife, except for the strong family resemblance in their fine dark eyes and broad brows. Except, too, for the way they were carrying on their argument. When a husband and wife disagree in public they do it in a stiff and secretive way, whispers, glances and half-turned shoulders. Brothers and sisters are different. They have been arguing from the nursery onwards and are not embarrassed about it. Although I loved Tom more than anybody in the world except my father, it was the arguments I missed almost as much as all the more gentle things. So it went to my heart to see the way the beautiful young woman frowned at her brother and how he smiled, stretched out a grey-gloved hand and pulled none too gently at one of her ringlets. She batted the hand away. He laughed, said something that was no doubt patronising and elder-brotherly. Stephen, come here. The man disputing his bill turned and called across the foyer. Id been wrong to think his black hair might be dyed because his eyebrows, which joined in a single bar over dark and angry eyes, were just as black. His head could have modelled in outline for one of the Roman emperors with its great wedge of a nose and square jaw, but his lips were thin and drawn inward like a man sucking on something sour. He was looking at the brother and sister. As he turned back to the desk I saw them give each other that rueful grimace children exchange when in trouble with parents, their argument instantly forgotten in the face of a shared opponent. It had been a fathers command, although there was no obvious likeness between the two men. I watched as Stephen crossed the foyer, obediently but none too quickly. Did you really order two bottles of claret on Sunday? I heard the older mans impatient question, saw the younger one bending over the bill, but nothing after that because, shamingly, my eyes had blurred with tears. That look between brother and sister had caused it. I felt suddenly and desperately how I needed Tom and how far away he was. I ran behind one of the pillars to hide myself and bent over gasping as if somebody had punched me in the stomach, hands to my face, rocking backwards and forwards to try to ease the pain. Is is there anything wrong? A soft English voice, with the hint of a lisp. Through my fingers I saw pink satin, smelled perfume of roses. A gentle hand came down on my shoulder. Are you ill? Perhaps if you sat down I stammered that I was all right really. Just a a sudden headache. She was so soft and kind that I had to fight the temptation to lean on her and cry all over her rose mantle. Oh, you poor darling. I suffer such headaches too. I have some powders in my room, if youd let me I straightened up, found my handkerchief and mopped my face. No, its quite all right, thank you. I have I have friends waiting outside. I am grateful for And I simply fled, through the foyer, down the steps and out to the street. I couldnt risk her kindness. It would break me down entirely. I walked around until Id composed myself, then began inquiring at the lodging houses and smaller, less expensive hostelries in the side streets. There was a different spirit to this part of the town, away from where the rich foreigners stayed. The narrow streets were shadowed, shutters closed, eyes looking out at me through doors that opened just a slit and then shut in my face. People here did not care for questions because Calais had so many secrets. Forty years ago those streets would have sheltered cloaked and hooded aristocrats, trying to escape from the guillotine, paying with their last jewels for the secrecy of the same brown-faced men who now looked at me with wary old eyes. Not much more than twenty years ago, in the late wars with Napoleon, spies from both sides would have come and gone there, buying more secrecy from the men of middle years who now leered from behind counters. Their many-times-great grandfathers had probably taken money from spies watching King Henrys army before Agincourt. Whatever had happened to my father was only the latest in a long line of things that were never to be mentioned. A few people opened their doors and were polite, but always the answer was the same. They regretted, madame, that they had knowledge of no such man. And yet my father must have stayed somewhere, or at the very least drunk wine or coffee somewhere. In his last letter, written from Paris, hed said he expected to be collecting me from Chalke Bissett in a week. Allow two days for travelling from Paris to Calais, one day for crossing the Channel, the next to travel on to Chalke Bissett, that meant three days spare. Had he spent the time in Paris with his friends, or at Calais? Was it even true that hed died on the Saturday, as Id been told? How long had his body been lying in that terrible room? I was angry with myself for all the questions I had not asked and resolved to do better in future. A clock struck two. There were roads straggling out of town with more lodging places along them, but theyd have to wait until later. I tried one more hostelry with the sign of a bottle over the door, was given the usual answer, and added another question: could they kindly give me directions to the burial ground? It was on the far side of the town. The sky was blue and the sun warm, seagulls crying, white sails in the Channel, all sizes from small scudding lighters to a great English man-o-war. My lavender dress and bonnet were hardly funeral wear but my other clothes were on the far side of the Channel. My father wouldnt mind. Too little care for ones appearance is an incivility to others: too much is an offence to ones intelligence. Reverend Batemans expression as he waited for me by the grey chapel in its grove of wind-bent tamarisks showed that my appearance was an offence to him. Are there no other mourners? None, I said. An ancient carriage stopped at the gates, rectangular and tar-painted like a box for carrying fish, drawn by two raw-boned bays. They had nodding black plumes between the ears, as was fitting, but the plumes must have done service for many funerals in the sea breeze because most of the feathers had worn away and they were stick-like, converting the bays into sad unicorns. Two men in black slid off the box and another two unfolded from inside. The coffin came towards us on their shoulders. The black cloth covering it was so thin and worn that even the slight breeze threatened to blow it away and the bearers had to fight to hold it down. I refuse even to remember the next half hour. It had nothing to do with my living father. He would have laughed at it. We had our five-pounds-sixteen-and-four-pence-worth of English funeral rites and that is all that can be said. Afterwards the four bearers and two men in gardeners clothes whom I took to be gravediggers, stood around fidgeting. It seemed that I was required to tip them. As I handed over some coins, and Reverend Bateman studiously looked the other way, I realised that the thinnest of the bearers was the man from the mortuary. Id been trying to work up the resolution to go back there with some of the questions Id been too shocked to ask on the first visit. At least this spared me the journey. Were you there when my fathers body was brought in? He gave a reluctant nod. I was as well, said one of the others, a fat man in a black tricorne hat with a nose like a fistful of crushed mulberries. Who brought him in? They looked at each other. Friends, said the thin one. Did they leave their names? A double headshake. How many? Two, said the fat one. Or three, said the thin one. What did they look like? An exchange of glances over my head. English gentlemen, said the fat one. Young, old, fair, dark? Not so very young, said the fat one. Not old, said the thin one. Not particularly dark or fair that we noticed. Did they say anything? They said theyd be back soon to make the funeral arrangements. And did they come back? Another double headshake. What day was it that they brought him in? Three days ago. Saturday, the fat one said. Saturday, early in the morning, the thin one confirmed. Behind them, the gravediggers were shovelling the earth over my fathers coffin. It was sandy and slid off their spades with a hissing sound. Reverend Bateman was looking at his watch, annoyed that I should be talking to the men, all the more so because he clearly didnt understand more than a word or two of French. I have an appointment back in town. I dont wish to hurry you, but we should be going. He clearly expected to escort me back. It was a courtesy of a kind, I suppose, but an unwanted one. Thank you, but I shall stay here for a while. I am grateful to you. I offered him my hand. He shook it coldly and walked off. The four bearers nodded to me and followed him. The raw-boned unicorns lumbered their box-like carriage away. Reverend Bateman assumed, of course, that I wanted to be alone at my fathers grave, but I was discovering that grief does not necessarily show itself in the way people expect. I did indeed want to be on my own, but that was because I needed to think about what the bearers had said. Most of it supported the black lie. Two or three nameless gentlemen arriving with a shot corpse that might be how things were done after a duel. Either it had happened that way, or the two of them had been well paid to say it did. But wasnt it odd even by the standards of duellists that the supposed friends who brought his body to the morgue didnt return as promised to make his funeral arrangements? I began walking to the graveyard gates as I thought about it. I suppose I had my eyes on the ground because when I looked up the figure was quite close, walking towards me. At first I took him for one of the bearers, because he was dressed entirely in black. But no, this man was elderly and a gentleman, although not a wealthy one. His jacket was frayed at the cuffs, his stock clean and neatly folded but of old and threadbare cotton, not stiff linen, and his tall black hat was in need of brushing. A mourner, I thought; probably come to visit his wifes grave. Indeed, his thin and clean-shaven face was severe, his complexion greyish and ill looking. He might have been sixty or more, but it was hard to tell because grief and illness age people. When he saw me looking at him he hesitated, then raised his hat. Bonjour, madam. The accent was so obviously English that I answered, Good afternoon, sir. He blinked, came forward a few steps and glanced towards the gravediggers. Do you happen to know whom they are burying over there? he said. It was not a bad voice in itself, low and educated. But there was something about the way he said it that made me sure Id seen him before, and I went cold. Thomas Jacques Lane. I tried to say it calmly, just as a piece of information, but saw a change in his eyes. So I added, My father. Do I then have the honour of addressing Miss Liberty Lane? You were watching me, I said. This morning on the sands, it was you watching me. He didnt deny it, just asked another question. What are you doing here? As you see, arranging my fathers burial. He said nothing. I sensed Id caught him off balance, and he wasnt accustomed to that. You knew him, didnt you? I said. It was you who sent me that note. Id guessed right about his watching me, so this was only a step further. What note? He sounded genuinely puzzled. That lying note, telling me hed been killed in a duel, ordering me to wait at Dover. I sent you no such note. But if you were at Dover, you should never have left there. Go back. I tell you that as your fathers friend. All my misery and shock centred on this black stick of a man. There was only one person in the world who had the right to give orders to me, and hes lying over there. And you, sir, are lying too only far less honourably. I was glad to see a twitch of the tight skin over his cheekbones that might have been anger, but he mastered it. How have I lied to you? Did you not write me that note? My father would never in his life have fought a duel, and anybody who knew him must know that. He looked at me, frowning as if I were some problem in arithmetic proving more difficult than expected. There has clearly been some misunderstanding. I wrote you no note. Who are you? What do you know about my fathers death? He stared at me, still frowning. I was aware of somebody shouting a little way off, but did not give it much attention. I think it would be best, he said at last, if you permitted me to escort you back to Dover. You surely have relatives who Why dont you answer my questions? They will be answered. Only for the while I must appeal to you to have patience. In times of danger, patience and steadfastness are the best counsel. How dare you sermonise me. I have a right to know Two men were coming towards us along the path from the cemetery gates. A four-horse coach was waiting there, but it didnt look like a funeral coach and neither of them had the air of mourners. One was dressed in what looked like a military uniform buff breeches and highly polished boots, jacket in royal blue, frogged with gold braid although it was no uniform I recognised. The other appeared to be a coachman and had brought his driving whip with him. The man in black seemed too absorbed in the problem I presented to hear their heavy footsteps on the gravel path. Is this man bothering you, missy? The hail from the man in the blue jacket was loud and cheerful, with tones of hunting fields in the shires. I thought he was probably some English traveller who had happened to be driving past. His hearty chivalry was an annoying interruption and I was preparing, as politely as could be managed, to tell him not to interfere, but there was no time. The man in black spun round. You! Introduce me to the lady. Ill see you in hell first. Both the words and the cold fury were so unexpected from the man in black that I just stood there, blinking and staring. Unfortunately, that gave the hearty man his chance. Such language before a lady. Dont worry, missy, you come with us and well see you safe. He stepped forward and actually put a hand on my sleeve. On no account go with him, the man in black shouted. I shook off the hand. It came back instantly, more heavily. Oh, but we really must insist. Laughter as well as hunting-field heartiness in the voice. I tried to grab my arm back, but the fingers tightened painfully. Let her go at once, said the man in black. He advanced towards us, apparently intent on attacking the hearty man, who must have been around thirty years younger and three or four stone heavier. It would be an unequal contest, but at least it should give me a chance to pull away and run. But the hearty man didnt slacken his hold on my arm. He jerked his chin towards the coachman, who immediately grabbed the man in black, left arm round his windpipe like a fairground wrestler, and lifted his feet off the ground. The man fought back more effectively than Id expected, driving the heel of his shoe hard into the coachmans knee. The coachman howled and dropped him and the whip. The man in black got up and took a step towards us, seemingly still intent on tearing me free from the hearty man. But the coachman didnt give him a second chance. He grabbed the man by his jacket and twirled him round. As he spun, the coachman landed a punch like a kick from a carthorse on the side of his bony temple. The man in black fell straight as a plank. He must have been unconscious before he hit the gravel path because he just lay there, eyes closed, face several shades more grey. I hope you havent gone and killed him, the hearty man said to the coachman, still keeping a tight hold on my arm. Let me go at once, I said. Im sure there were many more appropriate emotions I should have been feeling, but the main one was annoyance that my man should have been silenced before I extracted any answers from him. At this point, I still regarded the hearty man as a rough but well-intentioned meddler and simply wanted him to go away. Oh, we cant leave a young English lady at the mercy of ruffians in a foreign country. Well see you safely back to your friends. He assumed, I supposed, that I had a party waiting for me back in town. More to make him release his grip on my arm than anything, I accepted. Well, you may take me back to the centre of town if you insist. My friends are at Quillacs. I named the first hotel that came into my head. Are they now? Well, lets escort you back to them. He let go of my arm and bowed politely for me to go first. The coachman picked up his whip. What about him? I said, looking down at the man in black. His eyes were still closed but the white shirt over his narrow chest was stirred by shallow breaths. Hell live. Or if he doesnt, at least hes in the right place. We walked along the path to the carriage at the gates, the hearty man almost treading on my heels, the coachmans heavy steps close behind him. It was an expensive travelling carriage, newly lacquered, the kind of thing that a gentleman might order for a long journey on the Continent. Perhaps theyd left in a hurry because there was an oval frame with gold leaves round it painted on the door, ready for a coat of arms to go inside, but it had been left blank. The team were four powerful dark bays, finely matched. There was a boy standing at the horses heads dressed in gaiters and corduroy jacket, not livery. The coachman climbed up on the box at the front and the boy pulled down the steps to let us in. The hearty man gave an over-elaborate bow, suggesting I should go first. You might at least introduce yourself, I said. In truth, I was still reluctant and wanted to gain time. I apologise. Harry Trumper, at your service. I didnt quite believe him. It was said like a man in a play. My name is Liberty Lane. We knew that, didnt we? He was talking to somebody inside the coach. How? We knew your father. It seemed unlikely that my clever, unconventional father would have wasted time with this young squire. As for the man inside, I could only make him out in profile. It was curiosity that took me up the three steps to the inside of the coach. The man who called himself Harry Trumper followed. The boy folded up the steps, closed the door and judging by the jolt took up his place outside on the back. The harness clinked, the coachman said hoy hoy to the horses, and we were away. CHAPTER FIVE (#ulink_1f8499b1-a06b-51ae-8b2e-92f5db40ee13) There was a smell about the man inside the carriage. An elderly smell of stale port wine, snuff and candlewax. My nose took exception to it even as my eyes were still trying to adapt themselves to the half-darkness. The man who called himself Harry Trumper had arranged things so that he and I were sitting side by side with our backs to the horses, the other man facing us with a whole seat to himself. As my sight cleared, I could see that he needed it. It was not so much that he was corpulent though indeed he was that more that his unwieldy body spread out like a great toads, with not enough in the way of bone or sinew to control its bulk. His face was like a suet pudding, pale and shiny, with two mean raisins for eyes, topped with a knitted grey travelling cap. The eyes were staring at me over a tight little mouth. He seemed not to like what he saw. Miss Lane, may I introduce Before Trumper could finish, the fat man held up a hand to stop him. The hand bulged in its white silk glove like a small pudding in a cloth. Were you not told to stay at Dover? He rumbled the words at me as if theyd been hauled from the depths of his stomach. The note, I said. Did you write it, then? I wrote you no note. I dont believe you. By my side, Trumper burbled something about not accusing a gentleman of lying. I turned on him. You said you knew my father. What happened to him? He took something that didnt belong to him, Trumper said. I think Id have hit him, only another rumble from the fat man distracted me. I said I wrote you no note. That is true, but if it matters to you, the note was written on my instructions. As soon as I knew of your fathers misfortune, I sent a man back to England with the sole purpose of finding you and saving you unnecessary distress. But there was no concern for anybodys distress in the eyes that watched my face unblinkingly. He hated duels, I said. Hed never in his life have fought a duel. Sometimes a man has no choice, Trumper said. The fat man paid no attention to him, his eyes still on me. That is beside the point. Tell me, did your father communicate with you at all when he was in Paris or Dover? Why I answered his question instead of asking my own, I dont know, unless those eyes and that voice had a kind of mesmeric force. He wrote me a letter from Paris to say he was coming home. There was no reason not to tell him. Even talking about my father seemed a way of fighting them. Trumper sat up, feet to the floor, face turned greedily to mine. The fat man leaned forward. What did your father say in this letter? I was more cautious now. He said hed enjoyed meeting some friends in Paris, but was looking forward to being back in England. Gentlemen friends or women friends? said Trumper, eager as a terrier at a rat hole. The fat man looked at him with some contempt, but let him take over the questioning. Gentlemen friends, I said. Did he mention any women? The eagerness of Trumpers question, practically panting with his tongue hanging out, made me feel that my fathers memory was being dirtied. In defence of him, I told the truth. He mentioned that hed met an unfortunate woman who needed his charity. And realised, from the look on Trumpers face and a shifting in the fat mans weight that made the carriage tilt sidewards, that Id made a mistake. Did he mention a name? Trumper said. No. Youre sure of that? Im sure. Or any more about her? Nothing. What did he propose to do about her? His letter had implied quite clearly that he was bringing her back to London with him. I really dont know, I said. It was only a casual mention of her. Shes lying. The fat man growled it without particular enmity, as if he expected people to lie. He was bringing her back to England with him, wasnt he, miss? It seems you know more than I do, so why do you ask me? He abducted her from Paris. We know that, so you need not trouble yourself to lie about it. My father would not take away any woman against her will. Did he write to you from Calais? No. That letter from Paris was his last. Are you carrying it with you? No! From the fat mans stare, I expected him to order Trumper to search me there and then, and shrank back in the corner of the seat. Did he tell you to meet the woman at Dover? No, of course not. I was waiting to meet him, only he didnt even know it. Do you know where he lodged in Calais? It heartened me that their inquiries round Calais must have been as fruitless as mine. No. Not at any of the big hotels, I know that much. So do we, Trumper said, rather wearily. The horses were moving at a fast trot now, the well-sprung carriage almost floating along. There was something I hadnt noticed until then, with the shock and the questioning. This isnt the way back to Calais. Its a better road, Trumper said. I didnt know enough about the area to contradict him, but I edged forward in my seat, trying to see out of the window. We were stirring up such clouds of dust that I couldnt make out much more than the outlines of bushes. A look passed between the two men. Trumper pulled down the window and shouted something to the coachman that I couldnt hear above the sound of wheels and hooves. The whip cracked and the rhythm of our journey changed as four powerful horses stretched out in a canter. Id never travelled so fast before. Trumper hastily shut the window as a cloud of white dust blew up round us. I reached for the door handle. I dont know whether Id have been capable of flinging myself out at such a speed, but there was no chance to tell, because Trumpers heavy hand clamped mine and forced it down on my lap. Sit still. Were not doing you any harm. Please take me back to Calais at once. You must understand Trumper said. He had both of my hands now and was trying so hard to keep them held down that he was pressing them between my thighs. When I struggled it made things worse. The sweat was running down his forehead. He kept glancing over at the fat man, as if for approval, but the suety face watched impassively. We are only trying to protect you, Trumper pleaded. You saw what happened back in the graveyard. You wouldnt stay in Dover as you were told, so all we intend is to take you somewhere safe until the trouble your fathers stirred up settles down again. Take me where? Theres a nice little house by a lake, very friendly and ladylike, good healthy air. It will set you up nicely. He sounded like some wheedling hotelier. I laughed at him. The truth is, youre kidnapping me. No. Concern for your safety, thats all. Im sure your father would have wanted it. My family will miss me. My brother will come after you. Your brothers in India. You have no close family. This growl from the fat man froze me, both from the bleak truth of it and the fact that this creature knew so much about me. For a while I could do nothing but try to keep back the tears. I suppose Trumper must have felt me relax because he let go of my hands and sat back, though keeping so close to me that I was practically wedged in the corner of the carriage. The horses flew on, sixteen hooves thudding like war drums on the dry road, harness chains jingling crazed carillons. Several times the whip cracked and the coachman shouted, I supposed to warn slower conveyances out of our way. Dust stung my eyes, at least giving me an excuse for tears. Trumper started coughing but the other man seemed unaffected. Then What the hell ? Wed stopped so abruptly that Trumper and I were propelled off our seats and on to the fat man. It was like being flung into a loathsome bolster. Above the unclean smell of it, and Trumpers curses from floor level, I was aware of things going on outside loud whinnying, whip cracks and the coachmans voice, high with alarm, yelling at the horses. The carriage started bouncing and jerked forward several times. Trumper had been trying to claw his way up by hanging on to my skirt. This sent him back to the floor again, but since he still had a handful of skirt, it dragged me down with him. My face was level with the fat mans belly, a vast bulge of pale breeches, like a sail with the wind behind it. There are better uses for your head than employing it as a bludgeon. My fathers voice from fifteen years back, on the occasion of a schoolroom quarrel when Id butted my brother and caused his nose to bleed. I thought, Well, Im sorry, Father, but even you are not always right, closed my eyes, drew my head back, and used all my strength to propel it like a cannonball towards the bulging belly. There is no arrangement of letters that will reproduce the sound that resulted, as if an elephant had trodden on a gargantuan and ill-tuned set of bagpipes. The smell of foul air expelled was worse. The combination must have disconcerted Trumper because he made no attempt to stop me as I stood up and grasped the door handle. From the squawk he made, I may have trampled his hand in the process. As the door began to open I let my weight fall on it and tumbled out into the road. A pain in my elbow, dust in clouds round me, then the front wheel of the carriage travelling backwards, so close that it almost ran over my hand. I rolled sideways. Something in the dust cloud. Legs. A whole mobile grove of short pink legs. Much shouting all round me and other sounds, grunting sounds. A questing pink snout touched my cheek, quite gently, and a familiar farmyard smell filled the air, pleasanter than the one inside the coach. A herd of pigs. By some dispensation of Providence, the flying carriage had met with the one obstacle that couldnt be whipped or bullied aside. Many horses fear pigs and, judging by the way the lead horse was rearing and whinnying, he was of that persuasion. I pushed the snout aside and stood up. The coachman was standing on the ground, trying to pull the horse down with one hand, threshing the butt of his whip at a milling mass of pigs and French peasantry, shouting obscenities. I took one look, turned and ran into the bushes beside the road. More shouting behind me, Trumpers voice from the direction of the coach, yelling to me to come back. I ran, following animal tracks through the bushes, with no sense of direction except getting as far away as I could. After some time I stopped, heart beating, expecting to hear the bushes rustling behind me and Trumper bursting through. Miss Lane. Come back, Miss Lane. His voice, but sounding breathless and mercifully coming from a long way off. I judged he must still be on the road, so I struck off as far as the tracks would let me at right angles to it. It was hard going in my heeled shoes so I took them off and went stocking-footed. After a while I came on to a wider track, probably one used by farm carts, with a ditch and bank on either side. I scrambled up the bank and saw, not far away, the sun glinting on blue sea. From there, it was a matter of two or three miles to the shore, with Calais a little way in the distance. I thought a lot as I walked along the shore towards the town, none of it much to the purpose, and chiefly about how strange it was when pieces of time refused to join together any more to make a past or future. I realise that is not expressed with philosophic elegance, in the way of my fathers friends, but then Im no philosopher. A few days ago I had a future which might have been vague in some of its details but flowed in quite an orderly way from my life up to then. I also possessed twenty-two years of a past which although not entirely orderly accounted for how I had come to be at a particular place and time. But since that message had arrived at the inn at Dover, Id been as far removed from my past as if it existed in a half-forgotten dream. As for my future, I simply did not possess one. Futures are made up of small expectations tonight I shall sleep in my own bed, tomorrow we shall have cold beef for supper and Ill sew new ribbons on my bonnet, on Friday the cat will probably have her kittens. I had no expectations, not the smallest. I didnt know where or when I would sleep or eat or what I would do, not then or for the rest of my life. I walked along, noticing how large the feet of gulls look when they wheel overhead, how far the fishermen have to walk over the sand to dig for worms when the tide goes out, how the white bladder campion flowers earlier on the French side of the Channel than on the cliffs back home. It was only when I came to the first of the houses that I remembered I was supposed to be a rational being and that, if a future was necessary, I had better set about stringing one together. Small things first. I sat down on the grass at the edge of the shingle and examined the state of my feet. Stocking soles were worn away, several toes sticking through. I put my shoes back on, twisting what was left of the stocking feet round so that the holes were more or less hidden. The bottom of my skirt was draggled with bits of straw and dried seaweed, but a good brushing with my hand dealt with that. My hair, from the feel of it, had reverted to its primitive state of tangled curls, but since there was no remedy for that until I regained comb and mirror, all I could do was push as much of it as possible under my bonnet. All the time I was tidying myself up, my mind was running over the events in the carriage and coming back to one question. Who was this woman they wanted so much? In my fathers letter, shed been not much more than a passing reference, an object of charity. If she was so important, or so beautiful, that she could be the cause of all this, why hadnt he given me some notion of it? But I had to tear my mind away from her and decide what I was going to do with myself. I reasoned it out this way. My father, without meaning to, had bequeathed me two sets of enemies, one represented by the thin man in black, the other by so-called Trumper and the fat man. The second set hated the first set so much that they were prepared to commit murder since for all I knew the man in black might have died from the blow to his head. Both sides had wanted me to stay at Dover. Now the man in black wanted me to go back there, while Trumper and the fat man were planning to carry me off to some unknown destination by a lake. Geneva? Como? Or perhaps they had in mind the mythical waters of Acheron, from which travellers do not return. Stay in France or return to England? I feared the fat man and Trumper more than the man in black, though I hated all of them equally. If I stayed in France, they might capture me again. Quite probably they were looking for me already. So Dover seemed the safer option, and as quickly and inconspicuously as possible. Footsore and hungry, I started towards the harbour to inquire among the fishing boats, thinking my enemies would be less likely to find me there than in the crowds coming and going around the steam packet landing place. Then, when Id gone halfway, I told myself I was being a fool. Among the fishing boats and obviously not a fishermans wife or daughter I might as well carry a banner marked Foreigner. If Trumper came looking for me, hed find me in minutes. If there was any safety for me, it was in numbers. I turned back for the centre of town, queued at a kiosk and milked my small purse almost to its limits to buy a ticket to Dover on the steam packet. The quay was already reassuringly crowded with fellow passengers, most of them English. There was a wine merchant with a retinue of porters, clucking over his boxes and barrels, several families with children and screaming babies, even a troupe of Gypsy dancers and jugglers who were collecting a few francs by entertaining the crowd. There was no sign of Trumper or the fat man. I bought a tartine and a cup of strong coffee from a man whod set up a stall near the gangplank and found a refuge on the edge of the harbour wall, behind packing cases that looked as if they hadnt been moved for some time. I sat with my back to a bollard until puffs of steam came out of the funnel of the packet and a shrill whistle blew. That was the signal for the carriages with the richer passengers to set out from the hotels. I watched from the shelter of the packing cases as three of them arrived in a line, with liveried footmen at the back and hotel carts with piles of trunks and boxes following. Still no sign of Trumpers coach. The gentry from the carriages went on board, fashionably dressed and obviously proud of themselves for surviving their tours of Europe. Their servants followed, arms full of blankets, sunshades, shawls, umbrellas and large china bowls in case the sea turned impolite in mid-Channel. I was on the point of leaving my hiding place when another carriage came rattling up in a hurry, drawn by two greys, with a hotels initials on the door. A tall, dark-haired young man was first out. I recognised him as the brother of the girl whod been kind to me at the hotel. She followed him out, in a different Parisian hat and a travelling cloak of sky-blue merino, the sun glinting on her bright hair, and they crossed the wharf towards the gangplank. I dodged back out of sight, not wanting her to notice me again after my weakness in the hotel. The man I took to be their father had stopped to say something to the coachman nothing grateful, judging by the expression on his face as he followed them over the cobbles. I waited until the three of them had disappeared on board, then, as the steam whistle blew a last long blast, pushed into the middle of a final rush of people one of the families with a crying baby, a porter with a trunk on his back, a juggler with his sack of clubs over his shoulder. Most of the fashionable passengers had gone below. I made my way to the stern and stood by the rail, watching sandy water churning between us and the quay. Ashore, the carriages that had brought passengers were manoeuvring round each other to go back to the hotels. The little crowd that had watched the steam packet depart was drifting away. A man in a royal-blue jacket was walking slowly towards the town, head bent and hands in his pockets. My heart pounded like a steam engine. There was no mistaking, in that air of a person whod be more at home with a pack of hounds at his feet, the man who called himself Harry Trumper. I got myself as quickly as I could to the far rail. When the first shock had passed, I marvelled at my luck. Trumper had got there in time after all and only my embarrassed wish not to be seen by the girl had saved me. Without meaning to, shed done me another kindness. I stayed on a bench at the stern for most of the crossing. The smoke from the funnel blew back over it, dropping a rain of ash and smuts, but it was worth the smuts to know that none of the fashionable passengers would walk there. Strangely, though, one came quite close. It was towards the end of the crossing, dark by then, with some travellers standing at the rails to watch as the lamplit windows round Dover harbour came closer. A woman in a travelling cloak walked slowly in my direction, though not seeing me. Her head was bent and she seemed thoughtful or dejected. Then a shower of red sparks came out of the funnel and a man called from behind her. Be careful, Celia. Im quite all right, Stephen. Why cant you leave me alone? A voice with an attractive lisp. In spite of her protest to her brother, she turned obediently, still without seeing me. When she was safely gone I whispered into the darkness, Thank you, Celia. CHAPTER SIX (#ulink_70082b44-f562-55d2-b23d-0b89a2f1ea11) Wed slowed down for some reason towards the end of the journey, so the packet didnt tie up at Dover until the dark hours of the morning. Tired passengers filed down the gangplank into a circle of light cast by oil lamps round the landing stage. A two-horse carriage was waiting for Celia and her family. It whirled away as soon as they were inside, so they must have left servants to bring on the luggage. With no reason to hurry, I disembarked with the last group of passengers, ordinary people with no carriages to meet them. Beyond the circle of light was a shadowed area of piled-up packing cases and huge casks. I felt as wary as a cat in a strange yard, half expecting Trumper or the fat man to step out and accost me, not quite believing Id managed to leave them on the far side of the Channel. I walked along the dark seafront, listening for footsteps behind me but hearing nothing. There were very few people about, even the taverns were closed. When I turned into a side street, a few sailors were lying senseless on the doorsteps and my shoe soles slipped in the pools of last nights indulgence. An old woman, so bent that her chin almost touched the pavement, scavenged for rags in the gutter, disturbing a great rat that ran across the pavement in front of me into a patch of lamplight from a window. It was holding a piece of black crepe in its teeth. The old woman made a grab for it but missed and the rat darted on, trailing its prize, a mourning band from a hat or sleeve. The lamplight fell on the arm of one of the horizontal sailors, and I saw that he too was wearing a mourning band. Has somebody died? I asked the rag woman. I had to stoop down to hear her reply, from toothless gums, The king. She was adding something else, hard to make out. Itty icky? I made sense of it at the third try. Oh yes, so its Little Vicky. Williams niece, Victoria Alexandrina, a round-faced girl of eighteen, now Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and a large part of the globe besides. So a reign had ended and another begun while Id been in Calais. It seemed less important than the coldness of my toes through the stocking holes. I walked, sat on the sea wall then walked again, until it was around six in the morning and I could show myself at the Heart of Oak. It had a new black bow on the door knocker. You again, the landlord said, bleary eyed. I collected my bag that Id left in his keeping, secured my cheap side room again and requested a pot of tea, carried up by the same maid whod brought me water to wash my hair on that Sunday morning, when Id been so pleased with myself, not quite three days ago, but another lifetime. I slept for a couple of hours then put my head out of the room as another maid was hurrying past and asked for more tea, also writing materials. The pen she brought me was the same crossed nibbed one with its ink-stained holder that Id used to write that foolish, light-hearted note to my father. It now served to write a very different letter to my brother Tom. I wrote on the top of the wash-stand, with my travelling mantle wrapped round me for a dressing gown. Dear Tom, I am sorrier than anything in the world to be sending such grief to you. I have to tell you that our beloved father is no more. He was killed in an accident in Calais, on his way home from escorting his charges on their Grand Tour of Europe. I was present at his burial. I know that when you read this, the first impulse of your kind heart will be to come home to me, whatever the cost to your career. I am certain that I speak with the authority of our father in saying that you must do no such thing. I am as well as may be expected in the face of such news, and as you know we have relatives who while they may not be over-brimming with the milk of human kindness towards our fathers children are much aware of the demands of Family Duty. May God bless you, my dear, dear brother and help you to bear your grief. I am at present at Dover, and shall write again as soon as I am more settled, with an address. Your loving sister Libby Are you blaming me? If so, read it again and admit that there is not one lie in it. Accident? Well, murder is an accident to the victim, is it not? And suppose I had written Dear Tom, Our father has been murdered would he have waited tamely in Bombay? No, he would have been home on the next ship and all our sacrifice in parting with him for the sake of his future would have been wasted. Surely there had been enough waste already. And the relatives? That was no lie either. Three or four aunts would have indeed taken me in from cold Duty. I was not bound to write in my letter what I felt that I should sooner put on pink tights and dance in the opera or ride horses bareback in a circus than accept the wintery charity of any of them. I should have had to pay dearly for it in endless days of criticism of my father. Theyd be all too eager to believe the lie that he had been killed in a duel, hugging it to their hearts under their yellowed flannel chemises. Over the years, Id dwindle to the grey and dusty poor relative in the corner of the room furthest from the fire, doling out physic in careful teaspoons, combing fleas from the lapdog. Besides, if I went to any of the aunts Id have no freedom, hardly allowed to walk in the garden without asking permission. They would certainly not permit me to do the only thing in my life that made sense discover who killed my father and why. I addressed my letter by his full name, Thomas Fraternity Lane, care of the Companys offices in London. They should send it on by the first available boat, but it would still be weeks or months before it came into Toms hands. I drew the curtains across the window and started to dress myself to take it to the post. The stockings Id walked in were beyond mending and had to be thrown away. This reminded me that most of my clothes and possessions were in a trunk at Chalke Bissett. When I left them there I had assumed it would be only a matter of days before wed be sending for it from our new lodgings in London. I unpacked my bag, picked up the pen again and made a list: 1 merino travelling mantle with wide sleeves 1 straw bonnet with lavender ribbon 1 pair of brown leather shoes for day (scuffed and soles worn thin) 1 day dress (lavender cotton) 1 day dress (blue-and-white cotton print) 1 white muslin tucker embroidered with lilies of the valley 1 silk fichu pelerine trimmed with Valencienne lace 1 cotton petticoat 1 pair stays, blue satin covered 1 pair garters 1 pair white silk stockings 1 pair blue worsted stockings 1 pair white cotton gloves (soiled with smuts from the steam packet) 2 ribbons (blue, white) At that point, the maid came in for the tray. She looked so tired and was so shy that I couldnt refrain from tipping her sixpence, which reminded me of the thinness of my purse. I shook the coins out on the bed and counted those too: 1 sovereign 7 shillings 3 pennies 2 halfpennies Total: ?1 7s 4d. This was not inspiriting. Id have to make my rounds of the jewellers again, this time selling the last thing I had, a gold-mounted cameo ring my father had bought for me at Naples. I put on the lavender dress, packed the rest of the clothes into my bag and went out to take my letter to the post. The streets were crowded, full of carts and carriages coming and going from the harbour, an Italian playing a barrel organ with a monkey collecting coins in its hat. The tunes were jaunty, but the monkey had a black bow round its neck in concession to our supposed national grief. I kept glancing round, wary of anybody who seemed interested in me. It was worse when I reached the office and had to stand in a queue behind several others. The fat mans agent had come looking for me in this place. The only way he could have known to deliver the note to the Heart of Oak was by intercepting the letter to my father Id left there. I looked at the old clerk, sitting on his high stool with his pen behind his ear and ledger open on the counter in front of him, wondering, Are you in their pay? When it came to my turn he blinked at me short-sightedly through his glasses, with no sign of recognition, and accepted my letter. Is there anything poste restante for Mr Thomas Jacques Lane? I said, trying to make my voice sound casual. There had been three letters when I first inquired. The clerk blinked again and went over to a bank of pigeonholes. My heart thumped when he took out just one sheet of folded paper. Whod taken the others? You have his authority to collect this? Yes. I am his daughter. He gave me a doubtful look, asked me to sign the ledger, then handed it over. I hurried out with my prize, looking for a quiet place to read, already puzzled by the feel of it in my hand. It was thick, coarse paper with a smell about it, oddly familiar and comforting. I touched a gloved fingertip to my nose. Hoof oil, memories of stables and warm, well-tended horses. I took refuge in the doorway of a pawnbrokers shop with boarded-up windows and unfolded it. With Ruspect Sir, We be here safly awayting yr convenunce if you will kindly let know where you be staying. This in big, disorderly writing and a signature like duck tracks in mud: Amos Legge. I couldnt help laughing because it was so far from what Id been expecting. Certainly not from one of my fathers friends, yet hardly from an enemy either. Neither the man in black nor the one who called himself Trumper would write like that. I went back to the office, paid tuppence for the use of inkwell, pen and paper, and left a note for Mr Amos Legge, saying that I was Mr Lanes daughter and Id be grateful if he would call on me at the Heart of Oak. I strolled back to the inn taking a round-about route by way of the seafront. As I passed a bakers shop, the smell of fresh bread reminded me that I was hungry and had eaten nothing since the tartine on the other side of the Channel. I stood in the queue behind a line of messenger boys and kitchen maids and paid a penny for a small white loaf, then, with a sudden craving for sweet things, four pence more for two almond tartlets topped with crisp brown sugar. I carried them back to the Heart of Oak, intending to picnic on them in my room and spare the expense of having a meal sent up. As bad luck would have it, the landlord was in the hall. His little eyes went straight to my paper parcel, calculating profit lost. How long are you planning to stay here madam? The moments pause before madam just stopped short of being insulting. Tonight at least, possibly longer. We like payment on account from ladies and gentlemen without proper luggage. In other words, I was not respectable and he expected me to bilk him. Biting back my anger, telling myself that I couldnt afford to make more enemies, I parted with a sovereign, salving my pride by demanding a receipt. As he went away, grumbling, to write it, the door from the street opened. Scuse me for troubling you, maam, but be there a Miss Lane staying ere? I stared. The door-frame of the Heart of Oak was high and wide, but he filled it, six and a half feet tall at least with shoulders in proportion. His hair was the shiny light-brown colour of good hay, topped with a felt hat which looked as if it might have doubled as a polisher, his eyes blue as speedwells. The clean tarry smell of hoof oil wafted off him. You must be Amos Legge, I said, marvelling. Then, I am Mr Lanes daughter. He grinned, good white teeth against the brown of his face. I thought you was when I seed you back there, only I didnt like to make myself familiar, look. You do resemble im. E be here then? For an instant, seeing and feeling the cheerfulness of him, I was back in a safer world and I think I smiled back at him. Then it hit me that the world had changed and he didnt know it. I think we had better go in here, I said, indicating the snug. His grin faded but he followed me, stuffing the felt hat into his pocket, dipping his head to get through the lower doorway of the snug. I left the door open to the hall, otherwise the landlord would have put the worst interpretation on it. Had you known my father long? I asked him. His speech might be slow but his mind wasnt. Hed already caught a whiff of something wrong. Nobbut ten days or so, miss, when he helped me out of a bit of a ruckus in Paris. We was to go on to Dover and wait for im ere. Yesterday morning we got in. We? Id put my parcel of bread and cakes down on the table and the wrapping had fallen open. Unconsciously, his big brown hands went to the loaf and tore it in half. It would have been unforgivably impolite, except he did it naturally as a bird eats seed. He chewed, swallowed. Rancie and me. Rancie? Thats right. Is e not here yet, then? He ate another piece of loaf. Hes dead, I said. His eyes went blank with shock, as if somebody had hit him. He shook his head from side to side, like an ox troubled by flies. When e said goodbye to me and Rancie, he was as healthy as any man youd ever see. Was it the fever, miss? He was shot, I said. He blinked. Amazingly, his blue eyes were awash with tears. Oh, the poor gentleman. Those damned thieving frogs Excuse me, maam, but you cant trust them, whatever they say. He shouldve come back with Rancie and me. Id ave seen im safe. I dont know that he was shot by a Frenchman. Id decided to trust him. I had to trust somebody, and he was as unlike Trumper or the man in black as any person could be. The fact is, theres some mystery about it, and I need to find out everything I can about what happened to my father over the past week or ten days. I told him about the black lie and what had happened in Calais. As he listened, he engulfed first one then the other of the almond tarts, not taking his eyes from my face. How did you and my father meet? I said. You mentioned something about a a ruckus. He wiped crumbs from his mouth with his sleeve. I got in a bit of disaccord with a frog on account e was driving a horse that was as lame as a three-legged dog, only e didnt speak English and so there was no reasoning with im, look. So the frog took a polt at me, only I fetched im one first, and arder. No great mishtiff done to im, but is friends were creating about it and I reckon theydve ad me in prison except Mr Lane saw what appened and made them see sense. Of course my father would side with the defender of a lame horse. I imagined that he must have slipped some money to the Frenchman to save Amos Legge from having to explain himself to a Parisian judge. So you see, when Mr Lane mentioned e was puzzled ow to get Rancie back to England, I was glad to be of use. So you brought her back for him? I said. It amazed me that while the fat man and his agents were scouring Paris and Calais for this mysterious and fatal woman, this well-meaning giant should have escorted her across the Channel, apparently without fuss. But my heart was heavy and resentful because she whoever she was had survived and my father had not. Is she here in Dover? He nodded. Ive got er here safe, yes. Then I suppose Id better come and see her. Just what I was going to suggest myself, miss. The landlord was lurking in the hall, probably listening. Your receipt madam. I tore it out of his hand. He looked up at Amos Legge then down at me with a greasy gleam in his eyes that made me want to kick him. I wanted to kick the entire world. I stalked out of the door, Legge behind me. I more than half resented him for bringing this female and when he came up alongside me, walking respectfully on the outside of the pavement, I kept as much space between us as I could. He must have sensed my mood because he uttered no more than Left, miss, or Across ere, miss, taking us towards the landward side of the town, away from the crowded streets. Who was this Rancie person? Badly treated servant girl? Wronged wife? Betrayed sweetheart? Any of those could have appealed to my fathers chivalrous and romantic instincts. Hed eloped with my mother and they lived ten years blissfully together until fever took her. He grieved all his life, but there is no denying that his nature inclined to women. He loved their company, their beauty, their wit. In our wandering life together thered been Susannas, Rosinas, Conchitas, Helenas I do not mean that my father was a Don Juan, a ruthless seducer. If anything, quite the reverse. Far from being ruthless, hed do almost anything to help a woman in distress. His purse, his house, his heart would be open to her, sometimes for months at a time. Undeniable, too, that some of the Susannas, Conchitas and Rosinas took advantage of his chivalrous nature. Theres no great urry, miss. She wont run away, Amos Legge protested. I suppose I was walking fast. We were clear of the town now, only a farm and barns on one side of the road, a broken-down livery stable on the other. Well, if it had happened like that, it wouldnt have been the first time. But it had been the last. Violent husband or bullying father had resented it, caught up with him. For the first time, my unbelief in the black lie wavered. Suppose, against his will, that he had been forced into a duel after all. Nearly there, miss, Amos Legge said. We were level with the farm. I expected him to turn in at the gateway. Perhaps my father had instructed him to lodge this Rancie hussy out of town, for her protection. But we walked past the farm gateway and turned in under the archway of the livery stable with its faded signboard, Hunters and Hacks for Hire. There was a groom sweeping the yard. Amos Legge nodded at him and took my arm to keep me from treading in a trail of horse droppings. I drew the arm away. Seeming unoffended, he walked over to a loose-box in the corner, letting out a piercing whistle. A horses head came over the door, nostrils flared in curiosity, eyes bold and questioning. What ? I was caught off balance, assuming that our journey was not yet over and we would have to ride. Amos Legge stroked the horses nose, whispered something then turned to me, the grin back on his face. Well, miss, eres Rancie for you. Then to me, alarmed, My poor little maid, what be you crying for? CHAPTER SEVEN (#ulink_1b2342bf-1e19-500a-bc61-6322170e364b) I had the story of Rancie from Amos Legge, sitting in a broken-down chair in the tack room, saddles and harness all round us and flakes of chaff floating in the sunbeams that pierced the curtain of cobwebs over the window. He stayed respectfully standing at first. You see, miss, it all starts with a Hereford bull, look. Red Sultan of Shortwood is name was in the erd book, only we called im Reddy. He was clearly one of those storytellers who liked to take his time. I suggested he should sit down. He settled for a compromise, hitching a haunch on to a vacant saddle tree. Ill abandon my attempt to record his accent because in truth the broad Hereford he talked is the hardest thing in the world to pin down. Those dropped hs, for instance, are nowhere near the carelessness of the Cockney, more like the murmur of a summer breeze through willow leaves over a slow-flowing river. Reddy belonged to this farmer I used to work for, name of Priest. Well, there was this Frenchman at a place called Sancloo, just outside Paris, decided he was going to build up a herd of Herefords. They do well anywhere, only you cant get the same shine on their coats away from the red soil at home, no matter how But Rancie and my father? Im getting to them, miss. Anyways, this Frenchman got to hear about Reddy and nothing would content him except he should have him. He offered old Priest a thousand guineas and all the expenses of the journey met, so we made Reddy a covered travelling cart fit for the sultan he was, and off to Sancloo we went, old Priest and Reddy and me. It took us four days and ten changes of horses to get to the sea, then another six days once we got to the French side, but we got Reddy safely to the gentleman, Old Priest pocketed his thousand guineas, and what do you think happened then? You met my father? Not yet, Im coming to that. What happened was the old dev, excuse me He just took off for home and left me. He said all that travelling had brought on his arthritics, so he was going home the quickest way by coach. I was to follow him with the travelling cart and hed give me my pay when I fetched it safely back to Hereford. So there I was in a foreign country, not knowing a blessed soul. So I took myself into Paris, thinking Id have a look at it after coming all this way, and thats when I met your father. After hed settled my bit of trouble, he mentioned he had a mare he wanted to bring back, and it came to me that if the cart had been good enough for Reddy, it would do for the mare, as long as I washed it down well to take the smell away. Did he tell you how he came by the horse? Amos swatted a fly away from his face. Won her at cards, from some French fellow. Did he say if the French fellow was angry about it? No. From the way he told it, the mare had already changed hands three times on a turn of the cards. Your father was thinking of selling her in Paris, only he looked at her papers and decided to keep her. Papers? Oh yes, shes got her papers. And he wanted you to see her. He said so? He said hed got a daughter at home with an eye for a horse as good as any mans, and it would be a surprise for her. I had to blink hard to stop myself crying again. My father loved a good horse as much as he loved music or wine or poetry, and I suppose I caught it from him. Was my father to travel with you? No. He had things he wanted to do before he left Paris, he said. Me and the horse were to start right away and hed probably go past us on the road, because wed be travelling slowly. But if we didnt happen to meet in France, I was to wait for him at Dover and leave a message, which I did. How was he, when you saw him? How do you mean, miss? Well or ill? Harassed or anxious at all? Blithe as a blackbird, miss. Did you talk much? I told him I didnt think much to France, and he laughed and said it was the best place in the world, apart from England. Hed missed England, and you, and he was glad to be going home and settling with a bit of money in his pocket. Quite open about that, he was, and paid me expenses for the journey. Did you meet any of his friends? Yes, I did. When hed finished sorting out my bit of business it was late so I had to stay the night in the same hotel where he was. He had friends there and they were up all hours talking and playing music. I looked into the room at midnight to say did he want me any more or could I go to bed? He said to sit down and take a glass of punch to help me sleep, which I did. These friends, how many would you say? He thought, rubbing his head. Half a dozen at least, maybe more. English or French? Mostly English, but a couple of Frenchmen. Your father was jabbering away to them in their lingo, easy as Im talking to you. Did they seem angry? Not in the world. They were as comfortable a crew as youd see anywhere; bowl of punch, pipes going, some books open on the tables quite a few books, I remember and fiddles and flutes and so on all over the place. It rang true. My father had a knack of finding friends wherever he happened to be. As children, manys the time Tom and I had crept out of our beds and looked through keyholes at exactly the scene Amos was describing. Were there any women there? Not one. All gentlemen. Do you remember what any of the men looked like? Not to describe, no. Truth was, I was dog-tired by then. Was one of them a thin, elderly man with a greyish face, dressed all in black? I dont recall any elderly men there. They were mostly about your fathers age. Or a very fat man? A couple of them stoutish, I wouldnt say very fat. Or a young fair-haired Englishman in a blue jacket? I dont recall a blue jacket, no. A blank. If my fathers convivial party had included a snake in the grass, I was no nearer to him. Can you describe anybody there at all? Amos thought hard. There was this little black-haired gentleman, played the fiddle like he was possessed by Old Nick. Not much taller than I am? He nodded. In his mid-thirties, and very thin? Thin as a peeled withy. With his hair coming to a point like this? I sketched a widows peak on my forehead with my finger. Yes, thats the gentleman. You know him, miss? Daniel Suter. I felt myself smiling as I said the name, it brought back so many good memories. Daniel Suter was one of my fathers dearest friends, although around ten years younger than he was. He had ambitions as a composer but had to earn his living as a musician, playing everything from a piccolo to a cello. It was not surprising that he should be in Paris or that, being there, he and my father should have found their way to each other. It was my first step forward, that at least I knew the name of someone whod shared part of my fathers last week on earth. Daniel was witty, observant. If anything had happened in Paris, hed know about it. The only drawback was that he was presumably still in Paris. Did you see any of them again? No. Next morning your father met me downstairs at the hotel and took me round the corner to where the horse was kept. It was just daylight. He was wearing the same clothes hed had on the night before, so likely he hadnt gone to bed. It was indeed quite likely. And there seemed nothing strange about him? Nothing at all. Happy as a lad on a days holiday, and pleased with himself on account of the horse. So we went to the stables and I took her off to where the cart was waiting. And that was the last you saw of him? Waving us on our way, yes. He asked if I wanted a proper look at the mare. My tearful reaction had clearly disappointed him, and indeed it was poor recompense for having brought her so far. We crossed the yard to the corner loosebox and he put a headcollar on her and walked her into the sun. Well, miss? No tears this time, but precious little breath to answer him. You know sometimes when you see a special picture or hear a few bars of music you feel a shock to the heart, as if youd just breathed in frosty air, a delight so intense that it feels like fear? Well, that was the way I felt seeing the mare. She was a bright bay, not tall, no more than fifteen and a half hands at most, clean legs and a long build suggesting speed, broad chest for a good heart. Her eye was remarkably large and intelligent, ears well shaped and forward pricked, small white blaze shaped like a comma. Above all, from the way she was standing and looking at me, she was used to admiration and knew she deserved it. Ton, the French call it, the highest praise for a fashionable lady or a dandy. The mare had ton enough for ten. She moved a step towards me, took the fabric of my sleeve very gently between flexible lips as if testing it, seemed to approve. I took off my glove and ran a hand down her neck, over her firmly muscled shoulder. Who is she? It seemed fitting to ask it that way, as if she were a person. The papers are here, if you want to see. When Amos had gone for the headcollar hed also fetched an old leather saddlebag. There were two papers inside. One, dated the day before my fathers last letter to me and written on a leaf torn from a pocket book, made over the mare, Esperance, to T. J. Lane Esq, in quittance of all debts incurred. The other was her pedigree. Now, as far as human lineage was concerned, my father was the least respectful person in the world and would sooner take off his hat to a crossing sweeper than a royal duke. Horses were a different matter. His friends joked that he could recite the breeding of any racehorse that ever ran, right back to the two that Noah took into the Ark. I unfolded the paper and Oh Lord. Something the matter, miss? Shes a great-great-granddaughter of Eclipse. And theres the Regulus Mare in there, and shes half sister to Touchstone that won the Ascot Gold Cup last year and oh Lord. The more I read, the more my head reeled. I looked at the mare, half expecting a pair of silver wings to sprout from her withers. She looked back at me, gracious and affable. He reckoned she was a good horse, Amos said. The flies were gathering and he said hed better take her back inside. I followed slowly, trying to get back some composure. We were standing in the shadowy box, watching her nosing at the hay in the manger, when a dark shape came hurtling out of nowhere so fast I felt the wind of it ruffling my hair, making straight as a lance for the mare. I shouted, moved to protect her, but the thing was too fast and landed on her back. Amos laughed. Dont worry, miss. Its nowt but her cat. A cat like a miniature panther, sleek black fur, golden eyes staring at me as she stretched full-length along the horses back. Rancie hadnt moved a muscle when she landed. Now she simply turned her head as if to make sure that the cat was comfortable and went back to her hay. The cat set up a purring, surprisingly loud for a small animal, that made the inside of the loosebox vibrate like a violin. Wont go anywhere without that cat, Amos said. We tried chasing her out of the cart when we left Paris, but they made such a plunging and a caterwauling, the two of them, we had to bring her into the bargain. I ran a hand along the cats velvet back. Whats she called? Lucy, I calls her. We watched horse and cat for a while, then went out into the sunshine. A man with white hair and a red face was standing outside the tack room, pretending to saddle-soap a pair of long reins on a hook, but looking our way. The owner, Amos said, with a jerk of the head and a grimace. Id been thinking hard. That money my father gave you to bring her over I suppose its spent by now? He looked unhappy. I can account for every farthing of it, if it hadnt been most of it foreign, that is. But it was all spent on her. Im sure it was. But its gone? He nodded. And the owners watching us in case we flit with the mare? Another unhappy nod, along with a look of surprise. Amos didnt know it, but it wasnt the first time in my life Id seen that look halfway between obsequious and hostile of a man doubting whether hell be paid. My father always did pay, though, as soon as the cards came right. So we owe him for her keep. How much? Two pounds three shillings, he says. He reckons it would have been more, only Ive been helping him out a bit. I slid the cameo ring from my finger and put it into Amoss large palm. Would you please sell that in the town for me and pay him whats owed. If theres any over, keep it for your trouble. He looked at me doubtfully. Please, I said. I should be most greatly obliged if you would. His reluctant fingers closed over it. What do you want me to do with Rancie, then? I said Id let him know as soon as Id decided, as if there were a world of possibilities open to me. He insisted on seeing me back to the door of the Heart of Oak, touched his hat and walked away. I went straight up to my room, took off shoes, dress and stays, and lay down on the bed. Well, I said to myself, so what are you going to do with her? Instead of answering that very reasonable question I fell into a day-dream, thinking of the way shed looked at me and soft-lipped my sleeve, murmuring the syllables of her lovely French name, Esperance. I thought of what Amos had said about my father wanting me to see her. He hadnt mentioned her in his letter, so as not to spoil the surprise. Then shed turned out to be the last of his many presents to me. Esperance, meaning Hope. And then a hard little bit of my mind, not daydreaming at all, said, At least a thousand guineas at Tattersalls. There was no ignoring it. I was quite sure that my father having nothing in the way of property would have left no will. Therefore all his possessions would go to his only son, Thomas Fraternity Lane. Only Tom was many thousands of miles away, not yet twenty-one, so I was, in effect, his agent. (A lawyer would probably have told me otherwise, but I did not intend to consult one.) Therefore I could solve some of my problems at a stroke by instructing Amos to take the mare for sale at Tattersalls, along with her papers and the note transferring ownership. Once sold, I could give Amos something handsome for his trouble and he could return to his county of red cattle, hops and apples. Most of the money would go into the bank. (Would it be enough for Tom to come home? No, dont even think about that, yet.) But some of it fifty pounds, say Id keep to find out the truth about my father. Having decided that, my mind felt clearer. The thing to do was talk to Daniel Suter, the last friend I knew of to see him alive. Id return to Paris and, if necessary, inquire at every opera house or theatre until I found him. I took my fathers letter out of my bag to re-read. My dearest Daughter, I am glad to report that I have just said farewell to my two noble but tedious charges I had business here in Paris That was not surprising. One of the ways in which my father earned enough money to keep us was by acting as a go-between for objects of art. His excellent taste, wide travels and many friends meant that he was often in a position to know who needed to sell and who was aching to buy. Some classical statue or portrait of a Versailles beauty was probably his additional business in Paris. also friends to meet. To be candid, I value the chance of some intelligent conversation with like-minded fellows after these months of asses braying. Hed been long enough in Paris to pick up some gossip: I have heard one most capital story which I promise will set you roaring with laughter and even perhaps a little indignation. You know the dregs of their dull race It had puzzled me when I first read it, and still did. Why indignation as well as laughter? As for the quotation from Shelley, I knew it, of course. It came from the poets tirade of justified indignation against His Majesty George III and his unpopular brood of royal duke sons: Old, mad, blind despisd and dying King, Princes, the dregs of their dull race mud from a muddy spring. A fine insult, but King George was seventeen years dead. I might never hear the story, unless Daniel knew it. Still, I was making some progress. The mare to Tattersalls and I to Paris. I should have to set about it carefully though, sail from somewhere other than Dover and avoid Calais. I had no wish to see ever again the gentleman in black, or the toad-like monster, or the person who called himself Trumper. (Unless, I thought, side by side on the gallows for killing my father.) Soon after that, I fell asleep. The decision had been made and I was mortally tired. For the first time since hearing that my father was dead I slept deeply and dreamlessly. When I opened my eyes, the jug and ewer were making a long shadow up a wall that had turned copper-coloured in the light from the setting sun. The buzz and clinking of people at dinner and drinking came up from the floor below. The strange thing was that although I woke unhappy there was a little island of warmth in my mind, where before there had only been cold greyness. I saw, as vividly as if they had been in the room with me, the generous eye of Esperance, Amos Legges kind but puzzled look, even the golden stare of Lucy the cat. I had family of a kind after all, three beings who in some fashion depended on me. And I was going to sell them. Id decided that quite clearly before going to sleep. Now, quite as clearly, the thing was impossible. Sell my fathers last gift to me, for a hatful of greasy guineas? Use as my agent in this betrayal the good giant whod brought her to me so faithfully (and so far at no profit to himself)? Even the cat had shown more loyalty than that. I jumped out of bed and opened my purse. My small store was now seven shillings and four pence, not even enough to pay the rest of my score at the Heart of Oak. And yet here was I, proposing to make a trip to Paris and pay board and lodging indefinitely for an equine aristocrat. I heard myself laughing out loud. Somebody else heard too. I froze, aware of a board creaking just outside the door. But there had been no footsteps since I woke up, so whoever it was must have been there while I was sleeping, quite probably looking in at me through the keyhole. I seized my travelling mantle and wrapped it round me. There was a knock at the door, knuckle against wood; quite polite sounding, if I hadnt guessed. The landlord, I thought, come to make sure of his money and, in addition, spying on me in my chemise and stockings. Youll have to wait, I said. I moved to be out of sight of the keyhole and dressed, taking my time, then put back the money in my purse. No need to let the fellow spy out the nakedness of the land in every sense. Then I went to the door and opened it, expecting to be looking into boot-button eyes and a pudgy face above a stained apron. Instead there was the gentleman in black, as straight and severe as when Id last seen him at the Calais burial ground, although this time he was vertical, not horizontal. You might have taken him for his own spectre, except that he spoke like a living man, though not a happy one. Good evening, Miss Lane. I have a proposition to put to you CHAPTER EIGHT (#ulink_f000e9f3-3259-5158-b489-23ba3639b072) His high white cravat was the brightest thing in the shadowy passageway, the face above it grey as moonlight on slate. He held his hat in hand, as if making a social call. I thought you might be dead, I said. Admittedly it was hardly a cordial greeting, but when Id last seen him he was barely breathing. In the half light, I could see no sign on his temple of the blow that had felled him, so perhaps there was not enough flesh and blood in him to bruise. It might be best if you would permit me to come in, he said. I came close to slamming the door in his face. My reputation was low enough with the landlord, without entertaining gentlemen in my room. But something told me that my virtue was in no danger, though everything else might be. The man had as much carnality as a frozen dish-clout. Even though he had been spying on me through the keyhole, it was for something colder than my charms en chemise. I opened the door wider. He walked in, looking round. I might have invited him to sit down, but with only one chair in the room, that meant I should have to perch on the bed. We stayed on our feet. He put his hat on the wash-stand. Our last conversation was interrupted, I said. I was asking you what you knew about my fathers death. And I believe I counselled you to have patience. As before, his voice was low and level. An over-rated virtue. Were you present when he died? No. But you know what happened? He raised a narrow black-gloved hand in protest. Miss Lane, that is not what I have come to speak to you about. Do you know what happened? He looked straight at me, as if he wanted to stare me down. Anybody with a brother has practice in that trick. I held his look. He sighed and walked towards the window, sliding a hand into his coat pocket. Miss Lane, do you recognise this? He was holding something small in the palm of his hand. I walked over to him and picked it up. When I saw it close, I felt as if somebody had caught me a blow. Its his ring. A signet with a curious design of an eye and a pyramid. The one that should have been on his hand in the morgue. Yes, he said. You robbed it from his body. It was taken from his body. Not by me. Who, then? By persons at the morgue in Calais. The fat drunken woman and her husband? The slightest of nods from him. I thought so, I said. But what concern was it of yours? He must have been at the morgue before me, touched my fathers hands as Id done, and he had no right. I bought it from them, he said. It should have stayed on his hand and been buried with him, but theyd only have stolen it again. So youve come to return it to me? I was trying to bring myself to thank him, but could have saved myself the effort. No. I show it to you only to convince you that I knew your father. That in some measure I speak with your fathers authority. He pulled off his right glove and stretched out his hand to me. On his middle finger was a ring identical to my fathers, only the design was worn flat by time. Then he turned the hand over, palm up. If you please. He expected me to give him my fathers ring back. Instead I dropped it down the front of my stays. It was cold against my hot and angry skin. The shock in his eyes was the first human reaction Id had from him. We stared at each other and he drew another long sigh. I had heard that you possess an excellent understanding, Miss Lane. I fear you are not using it rationally. The only understanding I care about is how my father died. Who is this woman he was trying to bring back to England? For a second, he couldnt hide the surprise in his eyes. Who told you about a woman? The man who kidnapped me in the graveyard and a fat man in the carriage. You know who they are, dont you? You did well to escape from them. The fat man said my father had abducted a woman from Paris. They thought Id know where she was. I dont. I know nothing about her. Thats good. You must continue to know nothing. No! Shes the reason my father was killed, isnt she? Dont I at least have the right to know who she is? Im not sure myself who she is. But there is a woman, you admit that? I have reason to believe that your father left Paris in company with a woman, yes. He wouldnt have taken her away against her will. Very well. I accept that. So, whoever she is, she went with him of her own accord. But Trumper and the fat man found out about that and wanted her back. A reluctant nod from him. So they chased him from Paris to Calais? Not chased, exactly. I understand that it took them some days to connect your father with the womans disappearance. Were you in Paris at the time? No. So how do you know about this? I have no obligation to tell you how I know about anything. You must accept that I have been doing my best to observe these people for several months. There was a hint of weariness in his voice. The day they tried to kidnap me, they were still looking for this woman, I said. Did they find her? I dont know. As you may remember, I was indisposed for a while. You mean knocked senseless by the fat mans coachman. Who are these people? Why are they doing this? He didnt answer for some time. We stared at each other. There were chalky rings round his grey pupils, a sign of bad health. He sighed. Miss Lane, your father became involved in something that was nothing to do with him. You are probably right in thinking that it cost him his life. When I met you in Calais, my wish was to protect you. By ordering me to go back to England and forget about it? I never said forget. But its true that I wanted to keep you away from them. And now? Since then, I have discovered two things about you. One is that you are, unfortunately, not on good terms with those whose natural duty it should be to shelter you. In fact, you are alone in the world and without means of income. Yes, I thought. You watched me counting every last penny. The other is that you are a young lady of some resource. Those two men in the carriage did not wish you well. I have heard some of the story of how you contrived to escape from them How? From the toad-like man, the peasant with the pigs ? and it suggests resolution and quick-wittedness. If it were not for these two discoveries, I should have had no hesitation in restoring you to some relative and counselling you to mourn your father and ask no more questions. You have no rights over me. All I want from you is to know what happened to him. In due course, you shall know everything. Only you must have Patience? Whats to stop me opening this window and shouting to people to fetch a magistrate, that my fathers murderer is in this room with me? He didnt move a muscle. Two reasons: one, that it would be untrue; the other, that it would be ineffective. I had my hand on the window latch. If he had moved to stop me I should have opened it. He stayed where he was and went on talking in that same level voice. I did not kill your father. If I could have prevented his death by any means, I should have done so. As for the magistrates, I should be able within a few minutes to convince them that your accusation was untrue. And you, Miss Lane, would appear a young lady driven out of her senses by grief. Is that a desirable outcome? I let go of the latch. If hed knocked me to the floor he couldnt have defeated me more thoroughly, because what he said was true. I could imagine the cold, official looks and what would follow: my aunt sent for and my return to Chalke Bissett as a captive. Or, worse than that, strait-jacketed to a common asylum, fighting and screaming, spending the rest of my life among squalid gibberers. In this new world Id fallen into, it could happen. He must have seen from my face that hed won the round, because his voice became just a shade more soft. Miss Lane, I did not come here to threaten you. I came, as far as I may, to assist. I kept my back turned to him, looking out of the window. A drab in a doorway was beckoning to two sailors. They were taunting her, pretending to push each other in her direction. I give you my promise that, when it is possible, I shall tell you more about what happened to your father. But the time is not yet right, and there are more things bound up in this than the fate of any single man or woman. Your father was a good man on the whole On the whole! but of an impulsive temperament, as you clearly are. That, above all, was what led to his death. The two sailors were walking away, the drab shouting something after them. When she came out of her doorway you could see she was no more than a girl, perhaps fourteen or so. I turned back into the room. You said you had a proposition to put to me. He made it, standing there with his hand on the edge of the wash-stand. I sat down after all, because my legs were trembling from shock and anger, and I did not wish him to know it. I let him talk without a word of interruption and tried not to show what I thought. There is a small part which you may play in a great cause which I believe your father would approve. It may even in some measure help to put right the harm to that cause which your father unintentionally has done. How can I defend him, when I dont even understand what youre accusing him of? I hate you, as much as Ive hated anybody in my life, but you possess something I want, so I must listen. So here is the proposal which I ask you to consider. It has the merit that it would meet, for a short time, your need for sustenance, a roof over your head, while permitting you to be of some service to a greater cause. Am I intended to assassinate somebody, like Charlotte Corday and Marat? I suppose Id have a roof over my head until they hanged me. Or does he wish me to put on a mans uniform and go for a soldier? I am proposing that you apply for the post of governess. What? That ended my silence, all this secrecy and drama leading to the most commonplace of conclusions. You invade my lodgings, spy on me, insult my father to tell me that? I could have come to that conclusion myself, without your valuable counsel. I threw his own word at him, bitterly. The fact was, for a woman like myself with some education but no means of support, becoming a governess was the only respectable alternative to the workhouse, and only slightly less miserable: an underpaid drudge, ignored by gentry and servants alike, neither the one nor the other, condemned to a lifelong diet of chalk dust and humble pie. Yes, it was probably my only prospect, but I hated him all the more for hurrying me towards it. Not just any governess, he said. There is a particular family Friends of yours, I suppose. No, anything but friends of mine. Enemies, then? Opponents. So am I expected to put ground glass in their stew and saw through the brakes on their carriage? Nothing so deleterious. You have merely to observe certain things and inform me, by means which shall be arranged for you. In other words, to spy? Yes. Honest, at least. My fathers ring was now warm against my chest and I kept my hand on it through my stays to help me think. This family are they something to do with why my father was killed? We think so, yes. How long should I have to stay there? A few weeks, probably. Months at most. And what are you in all this a Government spy? Far from it. The reverse, rather. The reverse? No government has any reason to love me. I waited for him to enlarge on that, but he just stood there looking at me in that arithmetical way Id noticed in the churchyard. He was a miser with information, giving out as little as possible. You must tell me more about this family, I said. Their name is Mandeville. They claim descent from one of William the Conquerors knights and hold a baronetcy, conferred on them by Charles II. The present holder, the ninth baronet, Sir Herbert, is a very wealthy man and until recently was a Conservative MP. Until recently? Do you mean he was one of those who lost their seats through the Great Reform? Theyd been a huge joke to my fathers circle, those lost Members of Parliament. They were mostly country squires and their friends who thought they had something like hereditary rights to seats in the House of Commons. For centuries theyd owned pocket boroughs, consisting of a mere half-dozen easily bribed or bullied electors. The Reform Act of five years before had swept them away, and not before time. I was laughing at the thought of it, but the man in black didnt smile. Great Reform, you call it. I should have thought it a singularly small reform. Did it give a vote to every working man? No, but Did it do anything to help the tens of thousands toiling in the workshops and factories of our great cities? No. Did it take away a single shilling from the rich to give to children hungry for bread? Sadly, no. His eyes were glittering, his thin body swaying to the rhythm of his words. So, I thought, the man is an orator. That explained his sparing way with words, like an opera singer guarding his voice. Perhaps he realised the effect he was having, because he smiled a thin smile. I am sorry to become warm, Miss Lane. You suppose, correctly, that Sir Herbert lost his seat because of the Reform Act. Until then, there had been Mandevilles in the House of Commons for four hundred years. But you would be mistaken to see him as simply a buffoon from the shires. He is a man of ability and ambition. In fact, he has held ministerial office under both Whig and Tory governments. A turncoat, then. Certainly a man of hasty and arrogant temperament. Since hes rich, couldnt he simply buy himself another constituency? For the present he prefers sulking in his tent, so to speak. Sir Herbert has become something of a focus for other men who think the country is going to the dogs. But what does that have to do with how my father died? This baronet can hardly go round shooting everybody who favoured the Reform Bill. Even old King William had to support it in the end. Besides, how did they know each other? My father did not cultivate the friendship of rich Tories. I doubt if your father and Sir Herbert Mandeville ever met. There is no reason to think so. I repeat the question: what does he have to do with how my father died? Quite probably nothing personally. Your father, unfortunately, blundered into something mortally serious that touches many people. You keep criticising him and not telling me why. He said nothing. I could feel him willing me into doing what he wanted and tried to play for time. They are very rich, then, these Mandevilles? They own substantial estates in the West Indies. The seventh baronet had profitable dealings in slaves. I shall hate them. Governesses cant afford hate. Nor spies? No. Do they live in London? They have a house there, but their main estate is at Ascot in Berkshire, not far from Windsor. If successful in your application, you would probably spend most of your time there. Ascot. A picture came to my mind of heathland, horses galloping across it. An idea began to form. I may not be successful. If they are opponents, you can hardly recommend me. That will be attended to. They are advertising for a governess, so an application would not be unexpected. The sun was down, the room almost dark. I stood up to light the candle on the wash-stand. My legs had stopped trembling and the idea was growing. Very well, I said. I shall apply for the post I am glad of that, Miss Lane. But on two conditions. One, you must tell me what I am looking for. I cant be expected to guess. Is it this woman again? No. Put the woman out of your mind. The main thing required of you will be to communicate to me news of any guests or new arrivals at Mandeville Hall. In particular, I have reason to believe that they will be holding a reception or ball in the next few weeks, and it would be very useful to us to know the guest list in advance. You will also inform me of the comings and goings of Sir Herbert himself and his family. How am I to inform you? Wait here for two days. Either I shall come and see you again, or instructions will be sent to you. As the candle flame steadied, I saw satisfaction on his face and was pleased to be able to erase it instantly. I said there were two conditions. What else? I have inherited a mare from my father. If you can arrange and pay for her stabling at some place convenient to Ascot, I shall do as you suggest. If not, then I refuse your proposition. A governess with a horse? He almost lost his self-possession. You could see him grabbing at the tail of it like some small animal bolting, and wrestling it back under his black jacket. A spy with a horse, I said. Thats different. He thought about it for half a minute or so. Very well, I accept your condition. If you will let me know where the mare is, I shall arrange No. Find a stables and Ill make the arrangements. We glared at each other. Then he said, Three days, in that case. Do not move from here. For necessary expenses He picked up his hat from the wash-stand, clinked something down in its place, and went. As the door closed behind him I saw a handful of coins glinting in the candlelight. Ten sovereigns. I sorely needed them, but it was some time before I could bring myself to pick them up. * Three days passed. When hed ordered me not to move, I dont know whether he meant the town of Dover or my room at the inn. It didnt matter in any case, since I had no intention of staying imprisoned. I slept, ate, walked by the sea, slept and ate again. The landlord had become polite now that Id paid my reckoning to date and let him see the flash of sovereigns in my purse. Chops and cutlets, eggs, ham and claret were all at my disposal, so I made the best of them. I was like somebody cast up on a sandbank, with stormy seas in front and behind; it may have been only a short and precarious rest, but it was precious for all that. In my wandering round the town I kept an eye open for Trumper but saw no sign of him and hoped he was still on the far side of the Channel. Several times I was tempted to take the road out of town and visit Esperance and Amos Legge, but made myself defer that pleasure until I had news for them. It came on Saturday evening. A knock at my door and the landlords voice. Letter for you, miss, just come. I opened the door only wide enough to receive it and took it over to the window. The paper and the writing were stiff and formal, like the man whod sent it, the message very much to the point. Miss Lane, The mare may be sent to the Silver Horseshoe livery stables on the western side of Ascot Heath. The manager of the stables, Coleman, has agreedto pass on your letters to me, which should be addressed to Mr Blackstone, care of 3 Paper Buildings, Inner Temple. You will present yourself at 16 Store Street, near the new British Museum, on Monday. Ask for Miss Bodenham and act according to her instructions. Early on Sunday morning I walked to the stables in sweet air between hay fields, with choirs of skylarks carolling overhead. Amos Legge was looking in at Esperance, leaning over the half door. He turned when he heard my step and gave a great open smile that did my heart good because it was so different from the man in black. Just given Rancie her breakfast, I have. She was munching from a bucket of oats and soaked bran, the black cat looking down at her from the hay manger. Ive found a place for her, I said. Id expected him to be pleased, but his face fell. Wheres that then, miss? The Silver Horseshoe, on the west side of Ascot Heath. You can take her there in the bulls cart, then youre on the right side of London for getting home to Herefordshire. He still looked unhappy, and I supposed he was calculating how little profit his long journey would have brought him. You wont go home quite empty-handed, I said. This is for the expenses of the journey, and whats left over you are to keep for yourself. I put five sovereigns into his hand. He deserved them, and being reckless with Blackstones money was some consolation for having to take it. He looked down at the coins and up at me. Im sorry it isnt more, I said. I am very grateful to you and hope I may see you again some day. The sovereigns went slowly into his pocket, but his hand came out holding something else. My cameo ring? But you were to sell it. We managed after all, miss. She do resemble you somehow, the lady on it. Tears came to my eyes. That was what my father had said when he bought it for me. I drew out the ribbon I wore round my neck with my fathers ring that the black one had so reluctantly given me and knotted the cameo beside it. I thought my good giant might have gone hungry. His cheeks looked hollow. Thank you, Mr Legge. That was a great kindness. He murmured something, then ducked into the box to pick up the empty feed bucket and went away across the yard. I spent some time with Esperance, stroking her soft muzzle, watching the way her lower lip drooped and twitched, sure sign of contentment in a horse. I shall come and see you at Ascot when I can, I told her. It occurred to me that, by sending her ahead, Id committed myself to winning the governess post. Until then, Id been priding myself on my cleverness, but now I was beginning to see how thoroughly Id got myself enmeshed. And I suppose youd better go too, I said to the cat Lucy. She gave a little mipping sound in answer and jumped lightly down to her place on the mares back. I left them there. In the yard, Amos was filling buckets at the pump. I held out my hand and wished him goodbye, but again he insisted on escorting me back to town. We didnt speak much on the way and he seemed cast down, but perhaps that just reflected my own sadness at having to part from him. The London Flyer drew out on Monday, prompt to the minute. Id arrived early and secured a seat by the window and when I looked out there was Amos Legge, taller by a head and a faded felt hat than the crowd of grooms, ostlers, boys and travellers relatives come to see our departure. I waved to him as we clattered away, but if he waved back I didnt see it for the cloud of dust we were raising. CHAPTER NINE (#ulink_9580b4cd-9d8a-5f77-8d2e-471beb2e5e87) Store Street is not in a fashionable part of London. It lies, as Blackstone had said, near the British Museum, off the east side of Tottenham Court Road. Theyd been building the new museum for almost my entire life and were still nowhere near to finishing it, so the streets around it were dusty in summer and muddy in winter from the coming and going of builders wagons. It was an area I knew quite well because, being cheap, it provided rooms for exactly the kind of musicians, writers, actors and wandering scholars who tended to be my fathers friends. So when I got down from the Flyer on Monday afternoon, I had no need to ask directions. In other circumstances it would have delighted me to be back among the London crowds, on this sunny day with the season at its height, the barouches whirling their bright cargoes of ladies to afternoon appointments, the shouts of the hawkers and snatches of songs from ballad sellers, the smell compounded of soot and hothouse bouquets, whiffs of sewage from the river and crushed grass from the parks, baked potatoes and horse dung, that would tell you what city of the world youd arrived in if some genie dropped you down blindfold. Even now, my heart kept giving little flutters of delight, like a caged bird that wanted to be let out, only the bars of the cage were the memory that this was not how I was meant to come back to London. I should have been walking at my fathers side, laughing and talking about the people wed soon be meeting again, the operas and new plays we were planning to see. Another reason for sadness was that there seemed to be more beggars in London than when I was last there: not just the usual drunkards or boys holding out hands for halfpennies, but men who looked as if they might have been respectable once, in workmens clothes with hungry faces. My progress was slow because of the heavy bag and I had to keep stopping to change arms. I suppose I should have paid a boy a shilling to carry it certainly there were enough of them around but the slowness suited me. It was evening by the time I got to Store Street. Many different families or solitary individuals found living space in the terraces of houses, like sand martins nesting in a river bank. The sound of a guitar and a man singing in a good tenor voice drifted from an open window. From another window on a first floor, a womans laughter rang out over a green-painted balcony with pots of geraniums and a parrot in a cage. I couldnt help smiling to myself. According to one of my aunts, the combination of green balcony, geraniums and parrot were unmistakeable signs of what she called a fie-fie a fallen woman. Well, that woman sounded happy enough and even her parrot looked more cheerful than my aunts. Number 16 was blank and drab by comparison. I knocked and the door was opened by a thin, frizzy-haired maid, chewing on her interrupted supper. I gave her my name and said Miss Bodenham was expecting me. Second floor left. The bag and I had to bump and stumble up the two flights, so it was hardly surprising that Miss Bodenham heard us coming. Miss Lane? Come in. An educated voice, but weary and rasping, as if her throat were sore. She held the door open for me. It was hard to tell her age. No more than thirty-five or so, Id have guessed from her face and the way she moved, but her dark hair already had wide streaks of grey, and her complexion was yellowish, her forehead creased. She was thin and dressed entirely in grey: dark grey dress with a kind of cotton tunic over it in a lighter grey, much ink-stained, and grey list slippers sticking out under her skirt. The room was almost as colourless, dominated by a large wooden table piled with sheets of paper covered in small, regular script, with stones for paperweights. A small, cold fire grate overflowed with more paper, screwed up into balls. Apart from that, the furniture consisted of two upright chairs without cushions and a shelf of well-used books. The floor was of bare boards and even the rag rug, which is usually the excuse for a little outbreak of colour in even the dreariest homes, was in shades of brown and grey. The place smelled of ink and cheap pie. Please sit down, Miss Lane. Have you eaten? I hadnt. The smell came from half a mutton pie, wrapped in yet another sheet of paper and left down by the grate, as if she hoped that even its fireless state could give a memory of warmth. If so, the hope failed. The pie was as cold as poverty and mostly gristle. There is tea, if you like. The tea suited the rest of the room, being cold and grey. I have your letter of application, she said. You will need to copy it out in your own hand. She went to her bookcase, moved some volumes aside and brought out more written sheets of paper. By then I was so tired from the long day that I could have put my head down on the table and slept, but tea and pie seemed to be Miss Bodenhams only concession to human weakness. She cleared a space for me among the papers, put written sheets, blank sheets, a pen and an inkwell down in front of me. I looked at the letter I was to copy and recognised the severe and upright hand from the note hed sent me. Is this by Mr Blackstone? I said. She had already sat down on the other side of the table and started writing something herself. She looked up, annoyed. Who? The gentleman who sent me to you. It is not necessary for you to know that. Why not? Do you know? She bent back to her writing. She was copying something too, although the hand was different. Is Mr Blackstone his real name? Only the scratching of her pen for an answer. What did he tell you about me? I said. That I was to lodge you, assist you in applying for this post, and instruct you in your duties. As a governess? I meant or spy?, wondering how much she knew. The expression of mild irritation didnt change. As a governess, what else? I understand you have no experience of the work. No. Then we should not waste time. Copy it carefully, in your best hand. The address was given as 16 Store Street, the date the present: 26th June. Dear Lady Mandeville, I am writing to make application for the post of governess in your household. I have recently returned to London after being employed for three years with an English family resident in Geneva and am now seeking a position in this country. The reason for leaving my former position, in which I believe I gave perfect satisfaction, is that the gentlemen who is head of the family has recently been posted to Constantinople and it was considered best that the three children who were my charges should be sent back to school in England. I enclose with this a character reference which my previous employer was kind enough to furnish. As well as the normal accomplishments of reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, use of globes and Biblical knowledge, I am competent to teach music, both keyboard and vocal Should I mention that I could also teach them guitar and flute? I said. She didnt look up from her writing. The flute is not considered a ladylike instrument. Keep strictly to what is written there. plain sewing and embroidery. If I were to be fortunate enough to be offered the position, I should be able to commence my duties as soon as required. Yours respectfully, Elizabeth Lock Must I use a false name? I said. Apparently. So even my poor fathers name was denied to me. With so much else gone, I should have liked to keep one scrap of identity. Could I not still be Liberty at least? Who in the world would employ a governess named Liberty? Miss Bodenham stood up, flexing her fingers, and lit candles on the table and mantelpiece. Outside a summer dusk had settled on Store Street. Have you finished? Put it in the envelope with the character reference. Youll find the address on the back of the letter. I thought it was as well to read the reference before I sealed it. It seemed that I had given perfect satisfaction to my previous employer for three years, that my manners were ladylike and my three young charges had become perfect paragons under my instruction. They had parted from me with great regret and could most warmly recommend me to any gentlemans household. The phrasing had all Blackstones stiffness, but it was copied in a flowing and feminine hand. The thoroughness of his preparations scared me and I tried one last attempt. Does Mr Blackstone often perform this kind of service? Please dont plague me with questions. Ive neither the knowledge nor the time to answer them. Seal it up and Ill deliver it first thing tomorrow. She opened a drawer in the table with her left hand and threw me a stubby piece of sealing wax, her right hand still writing. It was all brutally clear. My poor father was judged to be an impulsive blunderer so his daughter was to be used but not trusted. The address was St Jamess Square, so presumably Lady Mandeville was at her town house. I lodged the application on the mantelpiece and, with nothing else to do, sat and watched Miss Bodenham copying. She was amazingly sure and quick, like a weaver at his loom. I noticed the pages she was copying from were a horrid mess of scratching out and over-writing, some lines travelling at right angles down the margins, others diagonally into corners. When, around midnight, she paused to mix some more ink, I risked a question. Is it a novel? Not this time. Political economy. After a while it doesnt matter much whether its one or tother. Words, words, words. For the first time she risked a smile, a little roguish twist to her lips that made her look younger and friendlier. You are copying it for a friend? I am copying it for money. Printers are very clever on the whole at deciphering an authors intentions, but there are some writers whose hands are so vile the printers wont take them. The publishers send them to me to make sense of them. The fingers of her right hand seemed permanently bent, as if fixed for ever in the act of holding a pen. Once shed mixed the ink she yawned and said the rest would wait for tomorrow after all. Nearly unconscious with tiredness by now, I expected to be shown into a bedroom, but she bent down and pulled out from under the table two straw-stuffed pallets with rough ticking covers and a bundle of thin blankets. You can put yours by the fireplace. Ill go nearer the door because Ill be up earlier in the morning. Quite true. Around four oclock in the morning, just as light was coming in through the thin curtains, she was up and out, taking with her my letter from the mantelpiece and the cold teapot from the grate. I rose soon afterwards, tidied our pallets and blankets back under the table, and found a kind of cubbyhole on the first landing with a privy, a jug of water for washing and a piece of cracked mirror. With nothing else to do, I looked round her room trying to find some clue to her connection with the man in black, but it was as barren in that respect as the stones she used for paperweights. Her bookshelves were interesting though, old and well-used books, mostly from reformers and radicals of previous generations: Tom Paine, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, even Rousseau himself in the original French. If they were her choice, then Miss Bodenham and I had views in common. It might even account for her caution, since reforming views were no more popular at present than when Tom Paine was threatened with hanging as a traitor. Before six oclock she was back with the teapot, a small loaf and a slice of ham. Your books I said. Are my own business. She pushed papers aside and we had our breakfast at the table: fresh white bread, half the ham each and cups of blessedly hot tea. She ate delicately in small bites, relishing every mouthful, so perhaps my arrival had brought a little luxury for her. But as soon as wed finished, that was an end of softness. Ive delivered your application. She will probably want to see you tomorrow, Wednesday. We have a lot of work to do. All that long summer day, with the scent of lime trees and coos of courting pigeons drifting in through the window, Miss Bodenham coached me in my part. The family lived in Geneva, down by the lake. You know Geneva? Yes. We stopped a week there on our way back from the Alps. Keep to yes and no whenever possible. She will not be interested in you and the Alps. Your charges were two girls and a boy: Sylvia who is now twelve, Fitzgeorge, nine and Margaret, five. Repeat. Sylvia, twelve, Fitzgeorge, nine, Margaret, five. Was I fond of them? It is unwise for a governess to express fondness. The mother may be jealous. You found them charming and well-behaved. Were you ever a governess? Yes. But you must cure yourself of asking questions. Governesses dont, except in the schoolroom. Is it very miserable? How old is Fitzgeorge? She seemed pleased, in her gruff way, with my speed in getting this fictional family into my head. Less pleased, though, when it came to my accomplishments. She will probably ask you to show her a sample of your needlework. I dont possess one. Not even a handkerchief? I eventually found in my reticule a ten-year-old handkerchief which the nuns had made me hem. She looked at it critically. The stitches are too large. Thats what Sister Immaculata said. She made me unpick it nine times. It will have to do, but you must wash and iron it. She issued me with a wafer of hard yellow soap. I washed the handkerchief in the basin on the landing, hung it from the window sill to dry, went downstairs to beg the loan of a flat iron from the frizzy-haired maid and the favour of heating it on the kitchen range. I was ironing it in the scullery when somebody knocked at the door. The maid had gone upstairs, so I went to answer it and found a footman outside in black-and-gold livery, powdered wig and hurt pride from having to stand on a doorstep in Store Street. I have a letter for a Miss Lock. Scented paper, address written in violet ink, seal a coat of arms with three perched birds. Inside, a short note hoping that Miss Lock would find it convenient to call at eleven oclock on Wednesday, the following day, signed Lucasta Mandeville. I told the footman that Miss Lock would keep the appointment, then fled to the scullery from which a smell of burned linen was rising. Handkerchief totally ruined with a flat-iron shaped hole in the middle. Miss Bodenham sighed as if she hadnt expected anything better and found me one of her own. It was more neatly stitched, but I had to go through the whole laundering and ironing process again. In the evening, Miss Bodenham put on her bonnet, bundled together a great sheaf of papers, and said she must go and deliver it to the printers in Clerkenwell. Ill come with you. My head felt muzzy from a long day of study. No, you stay here. Ill bring back something for a supper. I watched from the window as her straw bonnet with its surprisingly frivolous green ribbon turned the corner, then caught up my own bonnet and hurried down the stairs. I was tired of being obedient. Blackstone and Miss Bodenham might think theyd taken control of my life, but I had my own trail to follow. It took me southwards down Tottenham Court Road towards St Giles. It was the busiest time of the evening with the streets full of traffic; at the point where Tottenham Court Road met Oxford Street there was such a jam of carriages that I could hardly find a way through. Wheels were grinding against wheels, drivers swearing, gentry leaning out of carriage windows wanting to know what was going on, horses whinnying. It seemed worse than the usual evening crush so I asked a crossing sweeper who was leaning on his broom, watching, the cause of the commotion. He spat into the gutter. Layabouts from the country making trouble as usual. From further along Oxford Street, above the grinding wheels and the swearing, came the funereal beat of a drum and voices chanting, Bread. Give us bread. Bread. Give us bread. I went towards the sound and saw a procession of working men in brown and black jackets and caps, mufflers round their necks in spite of the warmth of the day. They were walking and chanting in perfect unison, keeping time to the beat of the drum. Some of them carried placards: No Corn Laws, Work Not Workhouse. Their faces were pinched, their boots falling apart, as if theyd come a long way. Some of the spectators looked quite sympathetic to them, but the London boys as usual were taking the opportunity to shy stones or bits of vegetable at anything that moved. Then, above the chanting, a shrill cry from one of the lads: The Peelers are coming. A line of about a dozen Metropolitan Police came pushing past me at a run in their top hats and tail coats with double rows of gleaming brass buttons. They carried stout sticks and their treatment of political demonstrations over recent years had shown they werent slow to use them. Ordinarily, Id have stayed to see what happened, but now I couldnt afford to be caught up in a riot, so I pushed my way back through the crowd, dodged among carriage wheels and got safely into St Giles High Street. From there it was an easy journey to Covent Garden. I reached the theatre, as Id hoped, just before the interval. Carriages were waiting at the front of the house for fashionable people whod decided that one act of an opera was quite enough. I went round to the stage door, confident that it would only be a matter of minutes before I met somebody I knew by sight. There was not a theatre orchestra in London without a friend of my father in it, and on such a warm night some of them would surely come out to take the air. The first were three men I didnt recognise, making at some speed for an inn across the road, brass players, by their hot red faces. Long minutes passed and more musicians came out, but none I knew. I worried that the interval would soon be over and wondered if I dared go inside on my own. Then a group of men came out slowly, talking together. I recognised one of them and stepped in front of him, trying to drag a name up from my mind. Good evening, Mr Kennedy. He stopped, obviously racking his brains, then said, in a soft Irish accent, Well, its Jacques Lanes daughter. How are you and how is he? Foolishly, it hadnt occurred to me that I should have to break the news. Because it filled my heart, I was sure the whole world knew it. Im afraid hes dead, I said. His face went blank with shock. He asked how and I told him that my father was supposed to have been shot in a duel, only I didnt believe it. There were a lot more questions he wanted to ask, but already sounds of instruments re-tuning were coming from inside. Im hoping to send a message to Daniel Suter, I said. He was in Paris, and I think hes still there. I knew he was going to Paris, Kennedy said. He disagreed with the conductor here about the tempo of the overture to The Barber and took himself off in a huff. He should be back soon though. Yes, Daniel never huffs for long, and then only about music. Will you ever come in and wait, if I find you a seat? We can talk afterwards. Im sorry, I must go. When you see Daniel, or anybody who knows him, could you please ask him to write to me urgently at at Mandeville Hall, near Ascot, Berkshire. The other men were going inside. The brass players came back, wiping their mouths. You must go too, I said. But you will ask him, if you can, wont you? Kennedys hand went to his pocket. Are you all right for ? Yes, thank you. Friends of yours, these people at Ascot? I nodded. The truth was too complicated, and somebody was calling from inside for the damned fiddles to hurry up. He squeezed my hand and departed, still looking shocked. I headed back at a fast walk, calculating how long it would take Miss Bodenham to get back from Clerkenwell. Luckily, Oxford Street was clear. All that remained of the unemployed mens procession was a broken drum, trampled placards and two men squatting beside a country lad in the gutter, binding up a leg that looked as if it might be broken. Back at Store Street, I just had time to take off my bonnet and wipe the dust from my shoes before I heard Miss Bodenhams footsteps coming wearily up the stairs. Although my interview with Lady Mandeville was not until eleven oclock on Wednesday morning, we were up at dawn for more coaching. Where were you educated? Nearly everywhere. We kept moving quite frequently, you see, so Lady Mandeville will not wish to know that. You should say you were educated at home by your father, a country clergyman. Another lie, then. Thats for your conscience. Do you want this position or not? Several times, bored and rebellious, I came close to shouting, No, I did not! and walking out. If it had been simply a matter of my bread and butter I should have done just that, but I was not so rich in clues that I could afford to throw this chance away. Where did you learn French? In Geneva, with the family who employed me. Some German, too. Should I mention Spanish? Only if asked, and I dont suppose you will be. And dont speak so loudly. Youre a governess, not an actress. Also, you should look down more, at your hands or at the floor. If you try to stare out Lady Mandeville like that, youll seem impudent and opinionated. These Mandevilles have you ever met them? No, of course not. But you know something about them? A little, yes. How? She hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision. I am acquainted with a young woman who was formerly a governess with them. You mean I am taking the place of a friend of yours? I wondered if she had been my predecessor as Mr Blackstones spy. She was dismissed last year. I believe there has been another since then. Two in a year. Are they ogres who eat governesses? Another fleeting twist of her lips. Sir Herbert Mandeville has a black temper, and his mother-in-law, Mrs Beedle, has strict standards. Just as well, I thought, that Mr Blackstone only expected me to stay for a few weeks. I might be wrong in telling you this, she said, but you do not seem to me a person easily dismayed. I guessed that she was going beyond the limits set for her by Mr Blackstone and even offering me a kind of wary friendship. How many children shall I be teaching? He has three from this marriage, two boys and a girl. The elder boy, the heir, is twelve. So there were other marriages? One. Sir Herberts first wife had several miscarriages and died in childbirth. He married his present wife, Lucasta, thirteen years ago. She was then a young widow with two children of her own, a boy and a girl. They are now both of age, live in the Mandeville household, and have taken his name. And this Lucasta, Lady Mandeville, she will be the one who decides whether to hire me? Its possible that Mrs Beedle will decide. Her daughter relies heavily on her opinion. Why? Surely as the mistress of the house she may engage a governess for herself? Youll see. Was she rich when Sir Herbert married her? No, but she was regarded as a great beauty in her time. He needed to father a son to inherit the property and title. And shed proved she could bear a son. How like an aristocrat, to choose a wife by the same principles as a brood mare. That is a most inappropriate sentiment for a governess. Later, we turned our attention to my appearance, which caused her more anxiety. She discovered my particular curse, that my hair is naturally crinkly and no amount of water or brushing will make it lie smoothly or stop it popping out of pins. In the end, we managed to trap it under my bonnet with the strings tied so tightly under my chin that I could hardly speak. Good, Miss Bodenham said. It will keep you quiet. We had decided that my lavender dress, worn with the white muslin tucker at the neck, was the more suitable one, though she insisted I must remove the bunch of silk flowers from the waist. My shoes were scratched from scrambling around at Calais, but would have to do, so I must tuck them away under my skirt as far as possible. You cant wear those stockings. Why not? I was pulling them on carefully. They were my only good pair. Governesses dont wear silk stockings. Very well. Ill wear my blue thread ones. Blue stockings are even worse. They suggest unorthodox opinions. Youll have to borrow a pair of mine. White cotton gone yellowish from much washing, darned knubbily around toes and heels. I had to garter them tightly to take out the wrinkles and what with that and the bonnet strings felt as thoroughly trussed as a Christmas goose. Miss Bodenham looked at me critically. It will have to do. Be careful of stepping in gutters on the way and make sure you arrive ten minutes early. Then she added, unexpectedly, Good luck. The house in St Jamess Square had the elegant proportions of old King Georges time, an iron arch over the bottom of the steps with a candle-snuffer beside it, stone pots of blue hydrangeas with a thin maid watering them. She couldnt have been much more than twelve years old and stepped aside to let me up the steps as if she expected to be kicked. As instructed, I was precisely ten minutes early. A footman the same one who had resented the doorstep in Store Street opened the door to me and led me to a small drawing room overlooking the square, where I was to wait until summoned. If I had been, as I pretended, a timid applicant for a much-needed post, it would have unnerved me thoroughly. In truth, it almost did. I got back some of my self-possession by reminding myself that I was a spy and that this family, this very house perhaps, could tell me something about my fathers death. I must keep my mouth shut, my eyes and ears more wide open than theyd ever been. The drawing room told me nothing that I didnt know already that the Mandevilles were rich and proud of their ancestry. For evidence of wealth, the room bulged and writhed with marquetry, carving, inlaid work and gilding as if the sight of a plain piece of wood were an offence against society. Swags of golden flowers and fruit, probably the work of Chippendale, surrounded a great oval mirror over the fireplace. Golden, goat-footed satyrs gambolled up the edges of two matching cabinets in oyster veneer with veined red marble tops supporting a pair of large porcelain parrots in purple and green. The chairs, gilt-framed and needlepoint embroidered, looked as comfortable as thorn hedges for sitting on, so I stood and stared back at the Mandeville family portraits that encrusted the silk-covered walls. Hatchet-like noses and smug pursed mouths seemed to be the distinguishing features of the men. There was the first baronet, with his full wig and little soft hands, and his lady who, from her expanse of white bosom and complaisant expression, was probably the reason King Charles gave the family their title. An eighteenth-century baronet stared at the world from between white marble pillars with palm trees to the side, presumably the Mandeville West Indian plantations. One portrait near the door clearly belonged to the present century and seemed more amiable than the rest. It showed the head and shoulders of a beautiful golden-haired woman in a blue muslin dress, hair twined with blue ribbons and ropes of pearls. She was young and smiling, eyes on something just out of the picture. The lightness of her dress suggested the fashion of twenty years or so ago. Puzzlingly, she seemed familiar, but I couldnt think why. I was still staring at her when the door opened and the footman told me to follow him. CHAPTER TEN (#ulink_5a7b85d9-85de-54a6-a8d4-326d60a3041f) Two women sat facing me, side by side in gilt-framed armchairs, their backs to a window draped with heavy curtains in peacock-blue brocade. The older woman, in her late sixties, wore a ruffled black silk dress and a white lace cap with lappets framing a sharp little face. The other was the girl from the portrait, twenty years older. The realisation of that, and the feeling that Id seen her before, made me forget Miss Bodenhams tuition and stare at her. She was handsome still, but the twenty years had not been good to her. Even with her back to the light, her complexion was sallow, with unmistakeable circles of rouge on the cheekbones. Her eyes met mine and looked away. Please sit down, Miss Lock, the older woman said. A plain chair had been placed facing them. I took a few steps across the Turkey carpet and sat down, aware that every move I made was reflected in large mirrors on the walls to left and right. Behind me as well, for all I knew. It made me feel like a specimen in a scientists bell jar. The younger woman Lady Mandeville, presumably had a dainty pie-crust table at her elbow with my letter of application and character reference on it. I see you have worked abroad. Her voice sounded tired. She picked up the character reference and stared at it, as if having trouble in focusing. It trembled in her hand. It all seems satisfactory enough, I should say. The older woman, whom I assumed to be Mrs Beedle, fired a question at me. Whats nine times thirteen? One hundred and seventeen, maam. She nodded. It was Lady Mandevilles turn, but she seemed to find it difficult to gather her thoughts. You are accustomed to teaching boys? An edge of uneasiness in her voice, as if playing a part she had not learned entirely. But why should she be uneasy, mistress in her own grand house? Yes, maam. I had charge of Master Fitzgeorge from six to nine years old. What is the Fifth Commandment? Mrs Beedle again. Honour thy father and thy mother, maam. We went on like that for some time; Lady Mandeville, with that same distracted air, asking questions about my past that I found it easy enough to deal with after Miss Bodenhams coaching. Her mother was another matter. It wasnt so much the questions themselves, although they covered everything from the Old Testament prophets to the rivers of America. Her eyes were what made me uneasy. They were dark and shrewd and took in every detail of my appearance from bonnet ribbon to scuffed shoes. When I was answering Lady Mandevilles questions, I was aware of those eyes on me, as if Mrs Beedle saw through me for the impostor I was. Did your previous employer expect you to darn the childrens stockings? Something amiss there. The harmless domestic question came from Mrs Beedle, when Id expected something more scholastic. With those eyes on me, I faltered for the first time in the interview. Miss Bodenham hadnt foreseen this and I didnt know what the answer should be. I I always tried to do whatever Did Mrs McAlison expect you to darn their stockings? Shed even remembered the name of my fictitious employer. I felt my face turning red. No, maam. Mrs Beedle nodded, though whether in approval or because her suspicions had been confirmed, I had no notion. Lady Mandeville murmured something about Betty always seeing to that sort of thing. The two women looked at each other. Well? said Lady Mandeville, fingers pressed to either side of her forehead, as if for an aching head. Wait outside, please, Mrs Beedle said to me. I went into the corridor leading to the front door, staying just far enough away to prove I wasnt eavesdropping. A door opened at the far end of the corridor. It must have led to the servants quarters because the footman appeared and held it open for a maid with an armful of dust covers. The two of them were whispering and giggling together, obviously good friends. I caught what the maid was saying. Just wish theyd make up their blooming minds, thats all. Get it all uncovered, then have to cover it up again. When are they off back down there? First thing tomorrow she is, and the old lady. Supposed to be the day after, only a letter came from over the water this morning and her ladyship was running around like a hen with its head cut off. New curtains, complete set of new silverware, six dozen of champagne, all to go down in the old coach after them. They noticed me in the corridor and went quiet, casting curious looks at me as they passed by on their way to the front drawing room. Soon after that a bell tinkled from Lady Mandevilles room, which I took as my signal to go back inside. My legs were shaking. I was half-expecting to be denounced as a fraud and handed over to the constabulary. This time they didnt invite me to sit down. Lady Mandeville was making a visible effort to be businesslike. I understand from your letter that you are free to take up your duties immediately. We are living in the country at present. Yes, maam. Your wages will be forty pounds a year Payable six monthly in arrears, Mrs Beedle added sharply. Yes, maam. You will please make your own way to Windsor. You will be met at the White Hart, near the Castle, at two oclock tomorrow. Have you any questions, Miss Lock? No, maam. So I found myself going down the steps, engaged as a governess, within half an hour of entering the house. Id known women take longer to choose a pair of gloves. And what, if anything, had I discovered in that half-hour? One, that Lady Mandeville was unhappy. Two, that her mother, Mrs Beedle, was a woman to be treated warily. Three, the household was confused and on edge because of changes of plan. Four, and probably most important, her footman attributed the latest change of plan to a letter from over the water. When people said over the water they usually meant the Channel. Therefore it was possible at least that the letter had come from France and Yes, you see where I am headed and are no doubt saying to yourself that hundreds of letters come to England from France every day and there is no logical connection at all with the fact that my father died there. Bear in mind, though, that Blackstone had said that my post as spy in the household was somehow connected with his death. Still no logical connection? Very well, I admit it. But then, logic is a plodding horse and now and then you need one which will take a leap. As I turned the corner into Store Street I added a fifth fact to my list: judging by the silverware and the champagne, the Mandevilles were preparing their country home for entertainment on a grand scale. Presumably this was the ball or reception that interested the black one. How had he known? Perhaps I was only the latest filament in a whole web of spies, but if so, what made Sir Herbert Mandeville and his household so interesting to Blackstone? No point in asking Miss Bodenham. Shed made it clear that Id get no information from her. Indeed, she hardly looked up from her copying when I climbed the stairs and told her Id gained the position. I spent the afternoon booking a seat on the first stagecoach I could find leaving for Windsor next morning and shopping for necessities. Of the money that Blackstone had given me, I had three pounds, two shillings and a few odd pence left after paying my coach fare. By the end of the day my purse contained only two shillings, three pennies, a halfpenny and a farthing. My battered bag was plumper by a plain green cotton dress, a pair of black shoes that were serviceable but unlovely, two white collars, a white muslin chemise, two pairs each of cotton pantaloons and white thread stockings. It went to my heart to spend the last of my money on clothes so dull. My farewells to Miss Bodenham early on Thursday morning did not take long. I shook her hand and thanked her and she said, You have nothing to thank me for. By the time Id pushed my bag through the door, shed gone back to her copying. I hired a loitering boy to carry the bag and arrived in plenty of time to take up the seat Id reserved on the Windsor coach, only to find the vehicle surrounded by a crowd of people pushing, trampling on each others toes, waving pieces of paper. sent my man to reserve seats three days ago Quite imperative that I arrive in Windsor by three oclock or travel outside if need be, but I must get to Windsor A couple of harassed ostlers were trying to hold them back, while the coach guard slowly spelled out names on a list. For some reason, half London seemed possessed of a desire to travel the twenty miles or so to Windsor. It was only when Id claimed my place, after some unladylike elbowing and shoving, and we were going past Hyde Park Corner that I recalled the reason for this migration of people. They all hoped for a chance to see the new queen. As far as anybody knew, she was still in London, but was expected any day to travel to her castle at Windsor. I was wedged in between a lawyer-like man with an umbrella and an Italian confectioner with of all things a large cake on his lap. In spite of the crush, with two extra passengers crammed inside the coach, he couldnt resist unwrapping it to show us all. It was marzipan-striped in red, white and blue, with gilt anchors, bells, and a tiny sugar replica of Westminster Abbey. For Her Majesty. Has Her Majesty asked for it? the lawyer-like man said. Poor little Vicky, said a man in the corner, who seemed at least three parts drunk. Such a weight on such young shoulders. From the murmur of approval round the carriage, he did not mean the cake. Their voices mingled like pigeons in a loyal cooing: so young, so beautiful, so alone, so dignified. All the men in the coach were wearing black cloth bands on their sleeves in mourning for the king and the lawyer had a black streamer round his hat, but grief for William seemed lost in excitement over little Vicky. I said nothing. Even if my own world had not fallen apart, I could have raised no great enthusiasm about a grand-daughter of mad King George succeeding to a thoroughly discredited crown. Of course, that was the kind of thing said by my fathers friends, but even to hint at it in this patriotic coachload would bring down on my head accusations of republicanism, atheism, treason and revolution. Well, that explains the six dozen of champagne, at any rate, I thought. Lady Mandevilles haste and anxiety, the disruption of her household, were no more than symptoms of royalty fever. Any person of consequence living within an easy drive of Windsor Castle would be expected to entertain housefuls of guests drawn by the mere chance of seeing Her Majesty riding in Windsor Great Park. The advantage was that, in the middle of such a stir, nobody was likely to pay attention to a new governess. The disadvantage, from a spys point of view, was that one of the puzzles had such a simple explanation. We reached Windsor half an hour late because of the amount of traffic on the outskirts and unpacked ourselves from the carriage. The confectioner strode away through the crowds carrying his preposterous cake like the Holy Grail. I hoped the flunkey who received it would treat him politely at least. There is no getting away from the castle at Windsor. Its old grey walls tower above the little town like the slopes of the Alps. The narrow streets were crowded with people in their best clothes, most of the respectable sort looking hot and uncomfortable in black, but with a carnival sprinkling of parasols and brightly coloured frocks. I stood outside the inn where the coach had put us down, wondering how I was to recognise the vehicle from Mandeville Hall in the confusion of broughams, barouches, fourgons, cal?ches, landaus and every other type of conveyance that clogged the centre of town. You Miss Lock, the governess? A phaeton drew up beside me, drawn by a bay cob with a grey-haired coachman in the driving seat. It was crowded with packages and parcels, a large fish kettle, crates of bottles. Where you got to? the driver grumbled. I been looking for you an hour or more. Now well be back late and theyll say its my fault as usual. It was no use pointing out that it wasnt my fault either. I managed, without his help, to find a gap for myself and my bag between a box of wax candles and a large ham, and settled back for a ride through the Berkshire countryside. For much of the journey we went through Windsor Great Park, with cattle grazing under oak trees old and gnarled enough to have seen Queen Elizabeth out hunting. Every time I looked back, there was the castle, silver in the sun, dwindling gradually into a childs toy castle as we trotted in a cloud of our own white dust between hedges twined with honeysuckle and banks of frothy white cow parsley, though in that royal county it probably goes by its country name of Queen Annes lace. The smell of strong tobacco from the drivers clay pipe mingled with the chalky dust, flowers and ham. Id thought that once we got clear of the town he might turn and speak to me and I could ask him about the family, but he never once looked back. We came out of the parkland alongside an area of common land that I guessed must be Ascot Heath. The horse races had been run earlier in the month, while the old king was still alive, but a string was at exercise in the distance, stretching out at an easy canter. I thought of Esperance and longed to see her. The racing, and the nearness of Windsor, had clearly attracted the gentry, because there were some grand houses close to the heath. I thought any of them might be Mandeville Hall, but we trotted on past various walls and gatehouses until we came alongside a park railing. The uprights of it flickered into a blur in the sunshine and it was a while before my eyes cleared. They focused first on the railings themselves, newly painted, topped with gilt spearheads. Three men were at work with pots and brushes, re-gilding the spearheads. As we went past, one of them shouted at the driver and looked angry, probably because our dust was spoiling their work. He took no notice. Behind the railing an expanse of parkland sloped upwards, with oaks like Windsor Castles but much younger. At the top of the slope was Good heavens, another castle. I said it aloud, to the ham and the fish kettle. At second glance it wasnt quite a castle, only a very grand notion of an Englishmans country house. It had enough towers and turrets for a whole chorus of fairy-tale princesses and was bristling with battlements and perforated with arrowslits as if ready to take on an army. In reality, an army of boys armed with catapults could have done it mortal damage because the front was more glass than stone. Three storeys of windows dazzled in the sun, most unmedieval. The whole thing was a perfection of the modern Gothic style, as much antiquity as an ingenious architect could pile on without sacrificing the comfort of the family who were paying his fee. We slowed to a walk, approaching two open gates. They were wrought iron, twenty feet high, freshly painted and gilded like the railings. Cast-iron shields, as tall as a man, with the device of three perched birds were attached to each gate. A small lodge stood beside the right-hand gate, built like a miniature Gothic chapel to match the house. Is this Mandeville Hall? I asked the driver, appalled at this magnificence. He nodded, without turning round. Built on slavery, I whispered to the ham, desperately trying to keep up my spirits. I knew the Mandevilles lived in some style, but had expected nothing as bad as this. The memory of my fathers body in the morgue came into my mind and I felt a black depression. I was wasting my time. How could his life or death be connected with all this pomp? A man in a brown coat and leggings came out of the lodge, through an arched gateway between two haughty stone saints. He glanced at me, simply registering my presence, and then away. The driver leaned down from his seat and gave him something in a twist of paper, probably a roll of tobacco. They seemed like old friends as they filled their pipes and started muttering together. I caught the words new governess and a moan about the traffic in Windsor. The driver jerked his head towards the house and asked, They back, then? She is. He isnt. Whens he expected? No telling. I havent slept these two nights past, listening for him. You know what hes like if he has to wait while the gates are opened. The driver nodded and tapped out his pipe on his seat. Seeing as theyre open, might as well go up the straight way. Better not. What if her ladyship sees you? See two of me, if she does. The driver made a tilting motion with his elbow and they both laughed. He jerked the reins and the cob, tiring now, went trotting slowly up the steep drive towards the castle. We hadnt gone more than a few hundred yards when a shout came from the gate lodge behind us. I turned round and there was the gatekeeper, waving his arms and pointing back the way wed come. The driver turned too and his face went slack. Thats done it. A great cloud of white dust was coming along the road from Windsor, a much larger one than wed made. At the centre of it was a travelling carriage drawn by four horses, coming at a fast canter. At that point they must have been a half mile away, but we could already hear the harness jingling, the thudding of their hooves and a whip cracking. My driver seemed frozen, irresolute. Then he swore and jerked at the cobs head, as if intending to go back down to the gate lodge. But it was too late. The carriage was thundering between the gates, at a trot now but still fast. The gatekeeper had to jump aside. There were two men on the box, one in a plain caped coat, the other in a burgundy-coloured jacket, with whip and reins in hand. My driver tried to pull our phaeton off the drive and on to the grass. The wheel must have stuck in a rut because it lurched and wouldnt go. He struck at the cob with his whip, swearing. By now the carriage was so close the air was full of the sweat of the four labouring horses. The face of the man driving it was red and sweating, his black eyebrows set in a bar. Oh God. It was the gentleman whod disputed his bill in the hotel at Calais. He must have seen that the phaeton was stuck in his path, but he was still whipping up the horses. I dont know why I didnt jump out. Perhaps I believed that the driver of the carriage must swerve at the last minute. But he didnt. The phaeton lurched and juddered as the cob, writhing under the drivers lash, tried to drag us clear. Then the world came apart in a confusion of whinnying, swearing and splintering wood, and I was in the air with a great downpour of wax candles falling alongside, making splintering sounds round me as I landed with my face on the gravel of the drive and my knee on the fish kettle. When I managed to get to my feet I found that the cob had saved us at the last second by managing to drag the phaeton out of its rut and far enough on to the grass for the carriage to give us no more than a glancing blow. But the blow had been enough to tear the nearside wheel from its axle and throw the phaeton sideways. The cob, trapped in the shafts, had gone with it and was threshing on his side. The driver was slashing at the harness with a knife, trying to release him, letting out a torrent of obscenities. I limped over to them. Sit on his head, for gawds sake, he yelled at me. As instructed, I sat on the cobs head. That kept him still enough for the driver to release him. When he told me I could get up, the cob scrambled to his feet. His face and neck were grazed, his eyes terrified. Hell live, said the driver, after running his hands down his legs. He could have killed him. He could have killed all of us. I was boiling with the anger that follows terror. The driver felt in his pocket for his pipe, found it broken, threw it down on the grass. Shouldnt have been coming up that way, should we. Only its another mile round by the back way. At least our danger had made him more conversational, though depressed. But he must have seen us, I said. Oh yes, he saw us all right. Is he a guest here? Surely Sir Herbert will be angry that He was staring at me as if Id said something stupid. What are you talking about, girl? That was Sir Herbert. CHAPTER ELEVEN (#ulink_faf250f9-8088-5acb-a6be-a32580075abf) My hot anger turned to something colder and harder. Until then, Id had misgivings about entering any mans house as a spy. Now I knew that if there was any way I could find to repay Sir Herbert for treating my life (and the horses and coachmans lives) so lightly, I would find it. I looked for my bag and found it in the wreckage. Where are you going, then? the driver said. To the house. Im allowed to walk on their sacred drive, I suppose. In that case, you can go through to the stableyard and tell them to send a man down. The bag was heavy and my knee hurt, though I hoped it was nothing worse than bruising. I walked slowly up the drive, my eyes taking in the place like any sight-seer while my mind was otherwise occupied. A broad terrace stretched from the row of windows on the ground floor dotted with marble statues Apollo, Aphrodite, Hercules, Minerva looking out at the grazing cattle in the park. Gleaming white steps ran down from it to a formal garden with yew bushes clipped into pyramids and box hedges in geometric shapes. It did not match the Gothic architecture of the house, but it must have cost a lot of money, so perhaps that was the point. A ha-ha divided the formal garden from the pasture, and a bridge large enough to span a good-sized river carried the drive across it, decorated with more marble mythology: Leda and her swan at one end, Europa and the bull at the other. I felt very conspicuous, as if the hundreds of window panes were eyes watching me. Theyre not the spies though, I said to myself. I am. I gloried in the word now because I thought that Id found my enemy at the very start. A man who could deliberately run down his own groom driving one of his own vehicles was surely capable of anything, murder included. Blackstone had only told me part of the truth when he said the Mandeville household had something to do with my fathers death. He surely meant Sir Herbert himself. Id seen for myself that hed been in Calais three days after my father died and might well have been there for some time. What my father had done to earn the hatred of this money-swollen bully I didnt know, but Id find it out and tell the world. He could do what he liked to me after that, I didnt greatly care. * On the far side of the bridge the drive divided itself into two unequal parts. The broader, left-hand one passed through a triumphal stone arch to the inner courtyard of the house. I glanced inside and there was the carriage Sir Herbert had driven. Evidently this was the entrance for the Mandevilles and guests, not limping governesses. I stopped at the point where the drive divided and put my bag down to change arms. Before I could pick it up again, the carriage wheeled round and came towards me, this time at a slow walk, with only the coachman on the box. When I moved out of the way to let it pass, he didnt even glance down at me, but the footman standing at the back of it gave me a look. The poor man was so plastered with dust from the road that he could have taken his place among the statues on the terrace without attracting notice, apart from a few glimpses of his gold-and-black livery jacket. His wig must have come off somewhere on the journey because he was clutching it in his hand and his muscular stockinged calves were trembling. I let them go past, then picked up my bag and followed. The side of the house was on my left, with fewer and smaller windows than the front. To the right, a high brick wall probably enclosed the vegetable garden. There was a brick wall on the other side as well and a warm smell of baking bread. We had come out of grandeur, into the domestic regions. I followed as the carriage turned left and left again, through a high brick archway with a clock over the top of it, into the stableyard. A dozen or so horses looked out over loosebox doors as their tired colleagues were unharnessed from the carriage, flanks and necks gleaming wet as herrings with sweat. A team of boys with mops and buckets had already started cleaning the carriage. The footman was walking stiffly away through an inner arch and the coachman was having a dejected conversation with a sharp-faced man in gaiters, black jacket and high-crowned hat who looked like the head stableman. I put my bag down by the mounting block, picked my way towards them over the slippery cobbles and waited for a chance to speak to the man in gaiters. The driver of the phaeton asks will somebody please come down and help him. And who may you be? Im the new governess, but that doesnt matter. The phaeton is quite smashed and the cob He clicked his fingers. Two grooms immediately appeared beside him. Bring in the cob and phaeton, he told them. Then, to me: Beggs can he walk? I was pleased by this evidence of humanity. The driver? Yes, hes not badly hurt, he Cutting me short, he turned back to the men. So you neednt waste time bringing Beggs back. Tell him from me hes dismissed and to take himself off. If theres any wages owing, theyll go towards repairing the phaeton. But it wasnt his fault, I said. Sir Herbert He walked away. I went and sat on the mounting block with my bag at my feet. After a while an older groom with a kindly face came over to me. Anything wrong, miss? Im Im the new governess and I dont know where to go. He pointed to the archway where the footman had gone. Through there, miss, and get somebody to take you to Mrs Quivering. He even carried my bag as far as the archway, though he didnt set foot into the inner courtyard on the far side of it. The driver, I said, it isnt at all just Theres a lot thats not just, miss. The courtyard I walked into was sandwiched between the stableyard and the back of the house. A low building on the left was the dairy. Through a half-open door I could see a woman shaping pats of butter on a marble slab. The smell of bread was coming from a matching building on the right, its chimney sending up a long column of sweet-smelling woodsmoke. The back of the house itself towered over it all, with a line of doors opening on to the courtyard, one with baskets of fruit and vegetables stacked outside. The dust-covered footman was standing by another door, talking to a woman in a blue dress and white mob-cap. When he went inside, I followed him into a high dark corridor. Excuse me, I said to his back. Can you please tell me who Mrs Quivering is and where I can find her? He turned wearily. Housekeeper. Straight on and last on the left. He disappeared through a doorway. The passage was a long one and the door at the far end was green baize, marking the boundary between servants quarters and the house proper. At right angles to it, another door marked Housekeeper. I knocked, and a voice sounding harassed, but pleasant enough, told me to come in. Mrs Quivering reminded me of the nuns. She looked to be in her thirties, young for somebody holding such a responsible position, and handsome, in a plain black dress with a bundle of keys at her belt and smooth dark hair tucked under her white linen cap. But her eyes were shrewd, twenty years older than the rest of her. She looked carefully at me as I explained my business. Yes, you are expected, Miss Lock. I understand there was an accident on the drive. Id hardly call it an accident. What happened You are unhurt? Yes, but Im sorry that I cant allocate you the room used by your predecessor. We are expecting a large number of house guests shortly and I am having to set rooms aside for their servants. You might share with Mrs Sims, or there is a small room two floors from the schoolroom that you might have to yourself. I had no notion who Mrs Sims, might be. I said Id take the small room two floors up, please, and she made a note on a paper on the desk beside her. Im sure Lady Mandeville will want to talk to you about your duties, but shes occupied at the moment. I shall let her know youve arrived. She rang a bell on her desk and a footman appeared, not the one from the carriage. His wig was perfectly in place, the gold braid on his jacket gleaming. Patrick, this is Miss Lock, the childrens new governess. Please show her to the schoolroom. He bent silently to pick up my bag. Wed gone no more than halfway along the corridor before he dropped it like a terrier discarding a dead rat and gave a low but carrying whistle. A boy appeared from nowhere. Patrick nudged the bag with his foot and the boy picked it up. It was clearly beneath the dignity of a footman to carry servants bags. The boy looked so thin and exhausted that Id have spared him the burden if I could, but he followed us through a doorway and up two flights of uncarpeted stairs. There was no lighting on the stairs, except for an occasional ray of sunshine through narrow windows on the landings. It reminded me of the times Id been allowed backstage in theatres when calling on my fathers actor or musician friends. Out front, palaces, moonlit mountains and magic forests; behind the scenes, bare boards, dim light and people scurrying quietly about their business. I tried to keep note of where we were going, aware that much might depend on knowing my way round this backstage world. On the second landing, a maid with a chamber pot stood aside to let us past. How many servants are there? I asked the footman. Fifty-seven. He said it over his shoulder, adding, Thats inside, not counting stables or gardens, of course. We went from the landing into a carpeted corridor with sunlight at last, streaming through a window at the end. The footman knocked on a door halfway along it. Its the governess, Mrs Sims. The door was opened from the inside, on to one of the most pleasant rooms Id seen in a long time. It wasnt as grand as Id feared, much more on a normal domestic scale. A square of well-worn Persian carpet softened the polished wood floor. The windows were open, letting in the mild air of a late summer afternoon. A doll with a smiling porcelain face lolled on the window-seat, alongside an old telescope. A dappled rocking horse stood on one side of the window and a battered globe on the other, next to a cabinet of birds eggs. Three small desks were lined up along the wall, blotters, pens and inkwells all neatly ranged. Three children, two dark-haired boys and a yellow-haired girl, were sitting at a table with bowls of bread and milk in front of them, a vase of marigolds and love-in-a-mist in the middle of the white tablecloth. Overseeing them was a grey-haired woman in a navy-blue dress and white cap and apron. She turned to me, smiling. Youll be Miss Lock. Im right glad to see you. Im Betty Sims, the childrens nursemaid. Her accent was Lancashire, her welcome seemed genuine. And these are Master Charles, Master James and Miss Henrietta. Now, stand up and say good afternoon to Miss Lock. The children did as she told them, obediently but with no great enthusiasm. The older boy, Charles, at twelve years old, already had his fathers black bar of eyebrows and something of his arrogant look. His brother James was three or four years younger and more frail, glancing at me sidelong as if weighing me up. The girl, Henrietta, was between them in age, masses of fair ringlets framing a round face with plump babyish cheeks. Betty Sims told them they could sit down again, so they resumed spooning up the soft paps of bread, though not taking their eyes off me. Did anyone offer you a cup of tea? Betty asked. I shook my head. My throat was parched and I was so hungry that I even envied the children their bread and milk. She told me to take the weight off my feet and keep an eye on the children and went out. I sank into a chair by the window, upholstered in worn blue corduroy. Thats my chair, Henrietta said. But you can sit in it for now if you want to. Thank you. Do you know Latin? Charles said. Yes. I dont suppose you know as much of it as I do. Do you know about Julius Caesar? Yes. He was the greatest general who ever lived, apart from Wellington. Did you ever meet the Duke of Wellington? No. Papa met the Duke of Wellington. James dropped his spoon with a clatter and wailed, Wheres Betty? I feel sick. He doesnt really, Henrietta said. Hes a terrible liar. Did you know youve got dust all over your shoes? I have fifteen pairs of shoes. Youre a lucky girl. A red leather pair, a green leather pair, pink satin with bows, pink satin without bows, white brocade She was still reciting her wardrobe when Betty came back carrying a tray with tea things and half a seed cake. I feel sick, James said. I want some cake. Unperturbed, Betty cut thick slices for herself and me, thin ones for the children. When theyd finished them, she said they should go to their bedrooms and be quiet. Shed come along in five minutes and help them change. Change for bed? I asked her, when theyd filed out of the room. It wasnt yet six oclock. No, changed in case their mother and father want them downstairs before dinner. They usually do, but they might not this evening because of Sir Herbert only just getting back. Getting back from where? It felt mean, commencing my career as a spy on a person whod been kind to me, but I had to begin somewhere. London, I expect. Hes always up and down from London. Sir Herberts an important man in the government. She said it with simple confidence, but if Blackstone and Miss Bodenham were right, any importance he might have had was in the past. So he has a lot of business to attend to? I said, finishing my second cup of tea. Yes. But her attention was on something else. She was staring at the draggled and dusty hem of my dress. If the children are sent for, their governess and I usually take them down together when there is a governess, that is. She was hinting gently that I wasnt fit for company. My heart lurched at the thought that I might soon be standing in the same room as Sir Herbert Mandeville. But you do look tired out, Miss Lock. If you like, I could make your excuses for you She sounded worried about that. Thank you, but of course I must come down with you. Ill go and change at once, only Did Mrs Quivering say you were to share with me? She was obviously relieved when I said Id opted for the little room two floors up. I hope theyve got it ready for you. Its through the door at the end and up past the maids dormitory. Shall I ring for a boy to take your bag? I refused out of pity for the over-worked boys, so my bag and I made the final stage of our journey together, up two steep and narrow staircases. The room was small, no more than eight steps in either direction, with a tiny square of window at shoulder height looking on to the back courtyard. It was clean and simply furnished with a chair, a table, a wash-stand with a large white china bowl, and a bed made up with clean sheets. I had to go down to the maids floor to find a cubicle with a privy and water to wash myself. Water pails stood in a line, but most of them were empty. I found one quarter-full, carried that upstairs, stripped off my dress and stockings and sponged myself as well as I could. The green cotton dress Id bought in London would have to do, along with my lace-trimmed fichu pelerine for a modest touch of style, and the stockings and black shoes. There was no looking glass in the room, so I couldnt judge the effect, but it was good to feel clean again. I went down to find the children changed into their best clothes boys in breeches, waistcoats and short blue jackets with brass buttons, Henrietta in white-and-pink striped silk with frills and a ribbon in her ringlets. Shed reclaimed her chair and was whispering in her dolls ear, the boys looking at a book. Betty Sims was on the window-seat, eyes on the little bell on its spring over the door. She seemed nervous. They usually ring about now if were wanted. Do the children always have to dress up, even if theyre not wanted downstairs? Oh yes. So if theyre not, they just have to get undressed again? Theyre wanted more often than not. When did the last governess leave? Three weeks ago. Ive been trying to teach them a bit on my own since then, but I cant keep all the tables in my head, and if I make a mistake Master James goes running to Mrs Beedle. Mrs Beedle seems a holy terror, I said. Id overstepped the mark, I could see that in her face. Mrs Beedle might have her funny ways, but she takes more notice of the children than anybody else does. Several times a week, shell be up here hearing them recite their lessons. They have regular times for their lessons, I suppose? Yes. I get them up in the morning and washed at half past six, and they have a glass of milk, then an hour with their governess for prayers and reading. Then, if its fine, we usually take them out for a walk in the flower garden or the orchard. Breakfast is sent up for all of us at nine oclock, then its studying from ten oclock till two. Their dinners at half past two, then Master Charles usually has his pony brought round. Master James hasnt cared for riding since his pony bit him, so he and Miss Henrietta play or work in their gardens. Theyre supposed to be in bed by half past eight, but its not easy these light evenings. And then we have the rest of the day to ourselves? I was secretly appalled at the amount of work demanded. I usually mend their stockings and things of an evening. Lady Mandeville sometimes calls the governess down to play cards if they need an extra hand. But she There you are. The bell over the door had started ringing, bouncing up and down on its spring. Betty Sims expression was precisely that of a nervous actor about to make an entrance, and perhaps mine was as well. The children stood up obediently at the sound of the bell, but I couldnt help thinking they didnt look overjoyed at the prospect of seeing their mother and father. No backstage this time. The Mandeville children belonged for these occasions, at any rate in the other world on the publics side of the backdrop. So the five of us went quickly along the corridor, through a proper varnished wood door instead of green baize, down a flight of carpeted stairs. We paused on the first-floor landing outside another grander door, painted white with gilt mouldings, while Betty checked the boys neckcloths and re-tied Henriettas ribbon. When she was satisfied, she tapped quickly and nervously on the door and it opened inwards, apparently of its own accord. It seemed at first like magic, but there was a footman on the other side of it a different one, the fourth Id seen so far who must have been standing there waiting for the signal. Betty gave Charles a nudge on the shoulder and he walked through it, with his brother and sister following him, then Betty, then me. I was reciting in my mind, A mans a man for a that, to remind myself that I was my fathers daughter. In spite of that, I was dazzled and breathless. We were standing at the top of a double staircase, level with a chandelier that sparkled rainbows in the sunlight coming through a glass cupola several storeys above our heads. The staircase curved down in a horseshoe, left and right, to a circular hallway. The floor was white and blue mosaic, the family coat of arms with its three perched birds by the far door. A carved stone fountain played in the centre of the floor, surrounded by real harts tongue ferns. Orange and lemon trees alternated in bays round the walls, their scent rising round us as we went down the left staircase, treading an aisle of soft carpet between expanses of white marble. We crossed the hall. James wanted to linger to watch the fountain splashing into its bowl, but Betty urged him on. On the far side was another white-and-gilt door, with yet another footman waiting to open it to us. It led into what they called the small drawing room, as I found out later, the one the family used when there were few or no guests in residence. Still, it was at least twice as large as any room I was accustomed to, at the front of the house overlooking the terrace and parkland. Plaster oak leaves and acorns flourished across the ceiling and grew down in gilded swags to frame the many mirrors round the walls, so that everything in the room was enclosed and reflected in a kind of frozen glade, beautiful in its way. The furniture looked mostly French of the previous century, not a straight line anywhere, all curves and gilding and ornate gold hinges. Lady Mandeville was sitting on a sofa by the window, with her mother Mrs Beedle sewing on an upright chair beside her. Lady Mandeville smiled when she saw the children. James went running to her and buried his face in her chest. Charles followed at a slow march over the blue-and-red Turkey carpet. Henrietta stood just inside the doorway, very much aware of her own reflection in the mirrors. Good evening, Papa. She dropped a grand curtsey. Sir Herbert Mandeville had been standing by the fireplace, talking to a grey-haired man I hadnt seen before. He broke off what he was saying when he heard Henriettas voice, smiled and kissed his fingers at her. I had to fight the impulse to go straight over to ask him if he knew hed nearly killed me that afternoon and whether he made a habit of killing. Say good evening to your father, James, Lady Mandeville said, gently pushing the boy upright. He glanced towards his father and mumbled, Good evening, sir. Sir Herbert nodded but hardly looked at him. What about you, Charles? he said. Cat got your tongue? Good evening, sir. Charles stood stiff and straight, as if for inspection. His father looked him over and gave a more approving nod, as if hed passed muster this time, and turned back to his conversation with the grey-haired man. I saw Lady Mandeville blow out her cheeks in a look of relief. There was only one other person in the room. She wore a pink and grey satin dress and was standing close to Mrs Beedles chair but with her back to the company, looking out over the terrace, and hadnt turned when the children came in. Her red-gold hair was swept up and held with a pearl-studded comb. Would Celia recognise me from the hotel at Calais? Possibly not. Servants are invisible. Lady Mandeville was looking in my direction, signalling with a lift of the chin that I should come over and speak to her. Good evening, maam, I said. Good evening Mrs Beedle. I could see Lady Mandeville struggling to remember my name. Good evening Miss Lock. I hope you had a pleasant journey. Yes, thank you. I was tempted to add that it had been well enough until I encountered her husband. From the way Mrs Beedle was looking at me, I guessed shed heard the story of the phaeton, but perhaps she hadnt told her daughter. I was trying to look over her shoulder at Celia Mandeville. She still had her back turned, but she seemed tense, as if it took an effort of will not to turn round. Then, while I was looking at her, she did turn and our eyes met. There wasnt a shade of doubt about it. Shed recognised me, possibly had known from the time I opened my mouth. Mrs Beedle turned. Celia, this is Miss Lock, the new governess. Miss Lock, my grand-daughter, Celia. Celia murmured something, gracious enough, I think, and I suppose I replied in kind. I was looking at her eyes, seeing first puzzlement, then the dawning of a question. She opened her mouth to say something else, closed it again. If she had thought of saying, in front of the family, But I met you at Calais, the thought died in that second. Henrietta came bouncing across to her mother. Mama, may I have a pearl comb like Celias? When youre older, darling. Her mother ruffled her ringlets with a hand that trembled slightly. Have you been a good girl today? For the next few minutes the children clustered round their mothers sofa, more relaxed now that their fathers attention was not on them. Betty and I stood out of the way near the door. Mrs Beedle went on sewing something white and ruffled and Celia stood staring down at a book on a small pie-crust table, not turning the pages. Sir Herbert finished his conversation and announced that it was high time to go into dinner. Lady Mandeville gently put the children aside and stood up. You must go, darlings. Sleep well. See you tomorrow. Betty hurried forward to claim them and I followed more slowly. The family began filing through a door on the opposite side, presumably to the dining room, while we went towards the hall. I was almost through the doorway when I felt a hand gripping my arm. Miss Lock? Celias voice, with its little lisp. I turned. I need very much to speak to you, she whispered. Now? No. Tomorrow. Will you meet me and not tell anybody? When? Early, very early. I hardly sleep. Six oclock in the flower garden. Celia? Mrs Beedles voice, sharply, from the drawing room. You will, wont you? Please. I nodded. She put a finger to her lips and turned away. I followed Betty and the children back up the horseshoe staircase, still feeling the pressure of Celias fingers on my arm. CHAPTER TWELVE (#ulink_bdbf503e-30b6-5595-8ddf-e4d189887a5b) Later, when the children were in bed and Betty Sims and I were sharing supper in the schoolroom, I asked her where the flower garden was. Right-hand side of the house looking out, behind the big beech hedge. She showed no curiosity about why I wanted to know, because by then Id asked her a lot of other questions about the house and the Mandevilles all perfectly reasonable for a new governess. Shed been there thirteen years, from a few months before the birth of Master Charles, but her time of service with Lady Mandeville went back longer than that. She wasnt Lady Mandeville then, of course, she was Mrs Pencombe. I came to her as nursemaid when her son Stephen was six years old and she was confined with what turned out to be her daughter Celia. So youve known Celia from a baby? I wanted to know everything I could about Celia. It might help me decide how far to trust her. From the first breath that she drew. What was she like as a child? Pretty as a picture and sweet winning ways. But headstrong. She was always a child that liked her own way. What happened to Mr Pencombe? He died of congestion to the lungs when Celia was six years old. We thought wed lose Mrs Pencombe too, from sheer grief. It was a love match, you see. With her looks, she could have married anybody in London. And yet she must have married Sir Herbert quite soon afterwards. Betty put down her slice of buttered bread and gave me a warning look. Two years and three months, and I hope youre not taking it on yourself to criticise her for that. Indeed not. What would anyone have done in her place? Mr Pencombe hadnt been well advised in the investments he made and he left her with nothing but debts and two children to bring up. She was still a fine-looking woman, but looks dont last for ever. Did she love Sir Herbert? A womans lucky if she marries for love once over. I dont suppose theres many manage it twice. May I trouble you to pass the mustard? That was her way of telling me I was on the edge of trespassing. It might also have been a gentle hint that shed made a comfortable little camp for herself and the children in this great house and that it was kind of her to let me into it. At first I took her achievement for granted and it was only when I began to learn more about the household that I appreciated her quiet cleverness. The fact was that we should not have been enjoying our ham, tea and good fresh bread in the schoolroom at all. For all her long service, Betty as nursery maid was only entitled to a place about halfway down the table in the servants hall well above kitchen maids but a notch below the ladies maids. I as governess stranded somewhere between servant and lady would have been permitted the lonely indulgence of eating in my own room. Over the years, patient as a mouse making its nest, Betty had built up such a network of little privileges and alliances that the nursery area was hers to command. We had our own tiny kitchen with an oil burner for making warm drinks and a bathroom for the childrens use, grandly equipped with a fixed bath, water closet, piped cold water and cans of hot water carried up twice a day by Tibby, the schoolroom maid. Betty was bosom friends with Sally the bread and pastry cook, so tidbits arrived almost daily from the kitchen, in exchange for Bettys sewing skills in maintaining Sallys wardrobe. All this I found out later and was ashamed of my readiness to take its comforts for granted. On that first evening, the tea and candlelight were so soothing I could scarcely keep my eyes open. Youre for your bed, Betty said. Take that candle up with you, but remember to blow it out last thing. You can sleep in tomorrow, if you like. Ill see to the children. In spite of my tiredness I must have slept lightly because I was aware of the rhythms of the house under me, like a ship at sea. Until midnight at least the sounds of plates and glasses clinking and the occasional angry voice or burst of laughter came up from the kitchens four floors below, as scullery staff washed up after family dinner. Later, boards creaked on the floor immediately below me as maids shuffled and whispered their way to bed in the dormitory. Then the smaller creakings of bedframes and the sharp smell of a blown-out candle wick. After that there was silence for a few hours, apart from owls hunting over the park and the stable clock striking the hours. By four oclock it was growing light. An hour after that the floorboards below creaked again as the earliest maids dragged themselves back downstairs. I got up too, folded back the bedclothes and put on my green dress and the muslin tucker. There was still nearly an hour to go before my meeting with Celia but I was too restless to stay inside. I tiptoed past the maids dormitory so as not to wake the lucky ones who were still snoring and crept on down the dark back stairs, with only the faintest notion of where I was going. I had a dread of going through the wrong doorway and finding myself on the familys side of the house, onstage and with my lines unlearned. But I need not have worried because it was mostly a matter of keeping bare boards underfoot and travelling on downwards by zigzagging staircases and narrow landings towards the sounds coming from the kitchen. The last turn of the staircase brought me into the light, a smell of piss and a glare of white porcelain. Chamber pots, dozens of them, clustered together like the trumpets of convolvulus flowers. They must have been gathered from bedrooms and brought down for emptying. I picked my way carefully through them and out into the courtyard. A kitchen maid was carrying in potatoes, a man chopping kindling, but they took no notice of me. There was an archway with an open door on the far side of the courtyard. I walked through it and the parkland stretched out in front of me, glittering with thousands of miniature rainbows as the sun caught the dew. I bent down and bathed my face and eyes in it, breathing in the freshness. On the other side of the ha-ha, cows were already up and grazing. Nearer to hand, a narrow flight of steps led up to the back of the terrace, with a stone nymph guarding them. At right angles, a freshly mown grass path stretched to an archway cut into a high beech hedge. I followed it and found myself in an old-fashioned kind of garden, not so grand and formal as the rest of the grounds and to my eye all the better for that. Four gnarled mulberry trees stood at the corners of the lawn, with an old sundial at the centre. Hollyhocks grew at the back of the borders, love-in-a-mist and mignonette at the front, with stocks, bellflowers and penstemons in between. The whole area, no more than half an acre or so, was enclosed by the beech hedges with a semicircular paved area on the south side, a rustic bench and a summerhouse dripping with white roses. I sat down on the bench and made myself think how to manage the conversation with Celia Mandeville when she arrived. I was reluctant to do it because, instinctively, I liked her. But she wanted something from me and although she didnt know it I badly wanted several things from her. The most important by far was confirmation that Sir Herbert had been in Calais the day my father died. I could hardly expect from her proof that Sir Herbert had killed him. Surely she couldnt know anything so terrible and be in the same room as the man? It wasnt a great wrong I was doing her, after all. Her stepfather was an arrogant, cruel man and she surely could not love him. At the very least, she must be ready to go behind his back, or why should she want this meeting with me? She was late. Ten minutes or so after the stable clock had struck six she came running through the archway in the beech hedge, face anxious and hair flying. Oh, here you are. Thank you, thank you. She was wearing a rose-pink muslin morning dress, thrown on hastily with only the most necessary buttons done up and, I couldnt help noticing, no stays underneath. Her feet were stockingless in white satin pumps, grass-stained and wet from the dew. Perhaps I should have stood up, since she was my employers daughter, but it never occurred to me. She sat down beside me and took my hand, panting from her run. Last night I couldnt believe it. What are you doing here? Your mother was kind enough to engage me as governess. But when we met in Calais, I thought I think she might have been on the point of saying that shed taken me for a social equal. She glanced at me, then away. I suppose youve had some misfortune in life? Yes, I said. Another glance at my face. She seemed nervous, poised to run away. But she, if anybody, should feel at home on this stage and sure of her part. I liked you, you know, she said. Liked you at once. And you were kind to me. Part of me wanted to reassure her, but a harder and colder part that had been born only in the last few days told me to wait and see. Your poor head. Is it better now? Head? Yes, oh yes. Thank you. We stared at each other. Her eyes were a deep brown, not the periwinkle sparkle of her mothers in the portrait. Can I trust you? she said. The question should have been offensive, but somehow it wasnt. She seemed to be asking herself rather than me. You see, I do very much need to trust somebody. Perhaps I should have leapt in there and assured her of my total trustworthiness, but I couldnt quite bear to do it. I watched her face as she came to a decision. I must trust you, I think. Goodness knows, theres nobody else. That in a household of what was it fifty-seven people, not counting the family. You have a mother and a brother, I said. She looked away from me. Stephen doesnt always do what I want, and my poor mother is has other things to worry her. Then if he found out that Id confided in her and she hadnt told him, hed be so angry with her He being your stepfather? She looked away from me and nodded. A full-blown rose had dropped down from its own weight so that it was resting on the arm of the bench. She began plucking off its petals, methodically and automatically. Miss Lock, would you do something for me and keep it secret? What? Promise me to keep it secret, even if you wont do it? Rose petals snowed round her grass-stained pumps. I promise. Oh, thank you. She let go of the despoiled rose and gripped my hand. I could feel her pulse beating in her wrist, like a panicking bird. I remembered what Betty had said sweet winning ways. What is it that you want me to do? Take a letter to the post for me. Only that? I felt both relieved and disappointed. Only that, but nobody must know. I cant trust any of the servants, you see. Theyre nearly all his spies. Spies? Im sure my maid Fanny is, for one. Or theyre all so terrified of him, theyd tell him at the first black look. But hed never guess it of you, being so newly come here. This letter is to a friend? Yes. A gentleman friend. Not a love letter, in case thats what youre thinking. She glanced sideways at me and must have caught my sceptical look. Its more important than that. Its She hesitated. Yes? I said, waiting. If if a certain thing happens, my life may be in danger. There was a flatness about the way she said it, more convincing than any dramatics might have been. What certain thing? She let go of my hand. I mustnt tell you, and you mustnt ask any more questions. But youll take the letter for me? Ive already said so. But how am I to get it to the post? Though Celia was not to know it, Id been giving the question some thought on my own behalf. With the amount of work demanded from a governess, I couldnt see how I was to find the time to get to the Silver Horseshoe, let alone make regular reports to Mr Blackstone. There surely must be a way, she said. I let her see that I was thinking hard. There must be some livery stables near here, with carriages that meet the mail coaches, I said. If I could take your letter to one of those Yes. Oh, Miss Lock, how very clever of you. Could you do that? Her eyes were shining. She took hold of my hand again. I think so, yes. Ive heard somebody talking about a place called the Silver Horseshoe, on the west side of the heath. Yes. We pass it in the carriage sometimes. I think they keep race horses there as well as livery. Is it far away? About two miles, I think. If I were to walk there, in the very early morning, say, do you suppose anybody would notice me? You must not be noticed. You simply must not be noticed. Which was hardly an answer to my question. She turned her head suddenly. What was that? A chesty cough came from the far side of the beech hedge. A bent old gardener in a smock limped through the arch into the garden, trug over his arm. He didnt glance in our direction and moved on slowly to a bed of delphiniums. I must go, she said. We must not be seen alone together. You surely dont take him for a spy? I kept a firm hold of her hand. It was strange, wasnt it, meeting in Calais like that? I said. She nodded, but her hand was tense and her eyes were on the old man. Yes. What were you and your stepfather doing in Calais? With an effort, she brought her attention back to me. He had business in Paris. He wanted me to go with him. Does he often travel abroad? Not very often, no. I suppose you stayed several days in Calais? Not even a day. Hed worked himself into such a fume about getting home, we hardly had time to sleep. It was nearly two oclock on Tuesday morning before we got to Calais and we were on the packet out by Tuesday afternoon. She said it so naturally, with half her mind still on the old gardener, that it sounded like the truth. My fathers body was brought to the morgue in Calais early on Saturday morning. So if she was right, by the time the Mandevilles arrived there, he was nearly three days dead. And yet a memory came to me of the foyer of the Calais hotel, and her stepfather disputing a bill several pages long. Youd built up a very long hotel bill in a few hours, I said. She blinked, as if she didnt understand what I meant at first. Oh, that was mostly Stephens. He was there waiting for us. My stepfather frets if he thinks Stephens being extravagant. She let go of my hand and stood up. The stable clock was striking. What time is that? Seven, I said. Fanny will wonder whats become of me. I shall say I couldnt sleep. Lord knows, thats true enough. Ill make some excuse to come to the schoolroom and give you the letter. She took a step or two then turned round. I can trust you, cant I? Yes. Then she was gone through the gap in the beech hedge, a few white rose petals fluttering after her. The old gardener went on cutting delphiniums, not noticing anything. I went through the back courtyard and the backstairs route to my room in the attic. From there, I hurried down to the schoolroom as if Id just got up. Betty had the three children round the table, choosing pictures to paste into their scrapbooks. Say good morning to Miss Lock. They chorused it obediently. Its such a lovely morning, I thought we might all have a walk on the terrace before breakfast, Betty said. So we went on to the terrace through a side door and the children played hide and seek among the marble statues. I let them run wild when theres nobody about, Betty said. Theyre not bad children, considering. After breakfast at the schoolroom table of boiled eggs and soft white rolls with good butter, it was time to start my governess duties. I realised that, with all my other concerns, Id given no thought to the question of teaching, and with three freshly washed faces looking up at me and three pairs of small hands resting on either side of their slates I felt something like panic. Still, we managed. I devoted most of the morning to finding out how much they knew already, and the results were patchy. They were very well drilled in their tables and the Bible (I thought I detected Mrs Beedles influence there), adequate in grammar and handwriting and able to speak a little French, though with very bad accents. Their geography and history seemed sketchy, with many gaps, although they could all recite the kings and queens of England from Canute to the late William. Charless Latin was nowhere near as good as he believed and consisted mostly of recognising a few words in a passage then giving an over-free translation from memory. That possibly explained why he had not been sent away to school yet, although he was clearly old enough. I discovered early on that he had a passion for battles. Problems in addition and multiplication that otherwise brought only a blank stare were solved in seconds if I presented them in terms of so many men with muskets and so many rounds of ammunition. It was a principle of my fathers, following the great Rousseau, that learning should be made a pleasure for a child. I decided that in what would probably be a very short time with the Mandevilles, Id try to put it into practice. After all, whatever had happened was hardly the childrens fault. Around midday, we moved on to poetry. To my astonishment, theyd never even heard of Shelley so I went straight upstairs to get the treasured volume from my bag and read to them. I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them, on The door opened suddenly and Mrs Beedle walked in. She was wearing her usual black silk and widows cap and carrying an ebony walking cane. I stopped reading. She came over and looked at my book. I dont approve of Mr Shelley. If they must have poetry, Mr Pope is best. Mr Pope is sensible. Im sorry, maam. It was no part of my plan to be dismissed on my first morning. She turned to the children. At least they did not seem scared of her. Have they been good, then? Have they been quiet and obedient? Not the occasion either to discuss the educational theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Yes, maam. You must keep them working hard. Henrietta, whats fourteen minus seven plus nineteen? She fired questions at them for several minutes and, from the nod she gave me, seemed reasonably satisfied. Yet, now and again, I caught her looking at me in a considering way. Perhaps it was only to do with my suspect taste in poetry, because at the end of it she simply wished me good morning and went with as little fuss as shed arrived. Our dinner at half past two was shepherds pie and blancmange with bottled plums. In the afternoon I helped Henrietta and James cultivate their plots on the south side of the walled vegetable garden. Henrietta was wrapped in a brown cotton pinafore from neck to ankles to protect her dress. She said she hated gardening because it was dirty. Every time she saw a worm she screamed and one of the gardeners boys had to come running over to take it away. I liked the kitchen garden because it felt warm and secure inside its four high walls of rosy brick, with the vegetables growing in lush but orderly rows and the gardeners hoeing in between them in a slow rhythm that was probably much the same when Adam was a gardener. When the stable clock struck five it was time to take the children back to the schoolroom for their bread and milk and have them washed and changed for their summons downstairs. This time there was no sign of Sir Herbert. Lady Mandeville was on her sofa, Mrs Beedle and Celia sitting by the window sewing. A tall, dark-haired young man was standing looking out of the window with his back to the room and his hands in his pockets. From his manner of being at home and my memory of him in Calais, I knew he must be Celias brother. I stopped a few steps inside the doorway and bent down to straighten Jamess collar, giving myself time to think. There was no reason to fear Stephen Mandeville would recognise me. As far as I remembered, he hadnt even glanced my way in the hotel foyer and it had been dark at our second near-meeting on the deck of the steam packet. The question was whether Celia had said anything to him about seeing me at Calais. I glanced towards her, hoping for some signal, but caught Lady Mandevilles eye instead. She nodded at me to come over to her. Miss Lock, may I introduce my son Stephen. Stephen, Miss Lock, our new governess. It was graceful in her, to introduce us properly. Her sons response was equally graceful, a touch of the hand, a slight movement of the upper body that was an indication of a bow, though not as pronounced as it would have been to a lady. The dark eyes that met mine gave no indication that he remembered seeing me before. Celia glanced up from her sewing. Miss Lock, do you sketch? Should you mind if I consulted you sometimes about my attempts? Her anxious eyes answered my question. She hadnt told her brother. I should be delighted, I said. Soon after that they went in to dinner and we were free to escape to the nursery quarters. The next day, Saturday, followed much the same pattern in the schoolroom. On Sunday we all went to church, the children travelling with their parents in the family carriage a mile across the park to the little Gothic church by the back gates, the rest of us walking in the sunshine. The family sat in their own screened pew up by the altar, at right angles to the rest of the congregation, so I had only a glimpse of Celia, solemn and dutiful in an oyster-coloured bonnet, and Sir Herbert looking stern, as if he were only there to make sure that God and the clergyman did their duty. After church, once the family had driven away in the carriage, there was a rare chance for the servants to linger in the sun and gossip. I strolled among the gravestones and round the old yew trees, catching the occasional scrap of conversation. There were quite a few complaints about being worked too hard, not only the usual burden, but something more. all the bedrooms opened and cleaned, even the ones they havent used for years bringing waiters in from London, just for the weekend. Where theyre going to put them all So I said I didnt think it was very respectful having a ball, with the poor old king not even buried yet. Well, he will be by then, wont he? I think theyre going to announce an engagement for Miss Celia. Theyd never go to all that trouble, would they? I tried to hear more, but the women who were talking saw me and lowered their voices. I wandered away to look more closely at some of the gravestones. The oldest of them went back two hundred years or more and although they looked higgledy-piggledy, leaning at angles among the long grass and moon daisies, there was an order about them. Ordinary folk were on the outside, nearest the old stone wall that divided the churchyard from the grazing cattle, then upper servants at Mandeville Hall, still defined even in death by their service to the family, forty years a keeper, thirty years a faithful steward. Nearest the church, protected by a grove of yew trees, were the big table tombs of the Mandeville family themselves. I was reading the florid description of the virtues of the fifth baronet, as distinguished in his Piety and Familial Duty as in the high service of his Country, when I heard footsteps on the dry ground behind me. He really was the worst villain of the lot of them, a mans voice said over my shoulder. Made a fortune selling bad meat to the army. I turned round and saw Stephen Mandeville standing there smiling in grey cutaway jacket and white stock with a plain gold pin, tall hat in hand. I dare say my mouth dropped open. Id assumed hed gone back in the carriage with the rest of the family. He came and stood beside me. Im sorry. Did I startle you? I tried to compose myself and answer him in the same light tone. Not in the least. I suppose he had some good qualities. Not that Ive heard of. The irreverence for the family surprised me, until I remembered that they werent his ancestors. He strolled on to the next tomb and in politeness I had to follow him. The carving on this one is thought to be quite fine, if you have a taste for cherubim. To anyone watching and I was quite sure that some of the servants would be watching the son of the house was simply being polite and showing some of the family history to the new governess. I knew there was more to it than that. I am glad that youre here, Miss Lock. My sister needs a friend. He said it simply in a quiet voice, unlike his bantering tone when hed been talking about the tombs. I glanced up at him. Im sure Miss Mandeville has many friends. Not as many as you might think. She leads a very quiet life here and we dont visit much in the neighbourhood, owing to my mothers health. If theres anything I can do to help Miss Mandeville, naturally I will, but Thereve been other governesses, of course, but they wouldnt quite do. You seem to be around the same age as she is, if youll permit me to be personal, and I think shes taken a liking to you already. Has she said so? From the lift of his eyebrow I could see he hadnt expected a direct question, but I wanted very much to know if theyd talked about me. She doesnt have to say it. I can read my sister like a book. So, youll be a friend to her? If I can, of course I will. Thank you. Now, if youll excuse me, I must go and join them. He smiled, gave a little nod and strode away. I walked back across the park with Betty and her friend Sally, a cheerful and plump woman with flour from all that bread-making so deeply engrained in the creases of her knuckles that it had even survived a Sunday-best scrubbing. Naturally they wanted to know what Mr Stephen had been saying to me. Talking about the tombs, I said. Betty seemed worried. I dont blame you, Miss Lock, but he should be more careful. Careful of what? The governess and the son. Its not my place to say it, but people do talk so. I assure you, it was nothing like that. I felt myself blushing and was on the verge of defending myself by telling them about his concern for his sister. Betty looked hurt by my sharpness and for some time the three of us walked in silence. I broke it by going back to the talk Id overheard. Theres to be a ball then? Two weeks on, Sally said. A hundred people invited and a dinner the day before. I have reason to believe they will be holding a reception or a ball in the next few weeks So Blackstone had been right. But how did he know and what in the world did it matter to him? He did not seem the kind of man to take a close interest in the social calendar. Is it to celebrate anything in particular? Not that I know of. Dont worry, Miss Lock, Betty said. We shant have much to do with it, except keeping the children looking nice when theyre wanted. Her ladyship looks worn out with worry about it already, Sally said. Betty gave her a look that said some things should not be discussed in front of new arrivals and turned the conversation to a bodice she was trimming for Sally. The rest of our walk back was taken up with details of cotton lace, tucks and smocking, leaving me with plenty of time to wonder why Miss Mandeville should be so much in need of a friend. On Monday afternoon, Mrs Quivering intercepted me as I was bringing Henrietta and James in from the garden. Miss Lock, a word with you. She beckoned a maid to see the children back upstairs and led me into her office. A letter has arrived for you, Miss Lock. My heart leapt. The only person to whom Id given my address was Daniel Suter. Oh, excellent. I held out my hand, expecting to be given the letter, and received a frown instead. Miss Lock, you should understand that if anybody has occasion to correspond with you, letters should be addressed care of the housekeeper and they will be passed on when the servants post is distributed. Is that quite clear? Since childhood, Id never felt so humiliated. When she brought an envelope from under the ledger, I took it without looking at the writing on the envelope, thanked her and marched out. At least dear Daniel had not failed me. It was sweet to have this link with my father so I carried it back upstairs to my attic room at last and turned the envelope over, expecting to see Daniels fine Italic hand. It was like running into a thorn hedge where youd expected lilacs not Daniels hand after all but the upright, spiky characters of Mr Blackstone. Miss Lock, Livery bills will be paid for the mare Esperance at the Silver Horseshoe until further notice. Please let me know of your safe arrival as soon as is convenient. That was all; no greeting, no signature. When I read it a second time I saw that it contained a small threat. I had not told him the mares name. Hed discovered that for himself and used it, I guessed, quite deliberately to show I could hide nothing from him. Well, I was being a good, obedient spy. In my first few days Id found out something he wanted to know and had even seized a chance of getting it to him with the help of the daughter of the house. As for Celia, Id by no means made up my mind about her. Our talk kept coming back to my mind and sometimes I managed to convince myself that she was nothing more than a spoiled young lady with a lively sense of drama. Then Id remember the tone of her voice saying she might be in danger and at least half believe it. In any event, we had her brothers approval of our friendship, though whether that would continue if he knew she wanted me to carry secret letters was another matter. CHAPTER THIRTEEN (#ulink_ec26e5a4-4609-5f28-a717-6e9ea2e54900) Celia paid a visit to the schoolroom just before the end of our morning session. The surprise on the faces of her half brothers and sister showed that this was not a usual event. Miss Lock, may I steal you, please? As it was so close to their dinner time I told the children they could put their books away and joined her in the corridor. She was wearing a morning gown of cream mousseline, with a pale apricot sash. It was so obliging of you to offer to help with my sketching. Its driving me quite distracted. I realised that shed said it loudly for the benefit of Betty, whod come hurrying out of her room to see who the intruder was. I cant claim to be an expert, I said. Youre being modest, Im sure. Im working on something that simply wont come right. Would you come and give me your opinion? Now? Why not? Betty can see to the children, cant you, Betty? I followed her along the corridor and down the stairs to the first floor, where the family had their rooms. The pale green carpet was soft as moss underfoot, the doors deeply recessed into carved and gilded frames. Celia opened a door into a sunny room with a blue canopied bed, blue velvet window curtains, two chairs and a sofa upholstered to match. It was pleasantly untidy, a white dress thrown over one of the chairs, a novel upside down on the sofa, and a canary singing in an ornate Turkish-style cage by the window, seed scattered all round it on the carpet. A half-open doorway showed a dressing room with a screen and a full-length mirror. Wheres your sketch? I said, humouring her. Dont worry, its quite safe to talk. Ive sent Fanny down to the laundry to find my pleated silk collar. It will take her a long time because its at the bottom of my drawer in there. My letters ready. She brought it over to me from her desk. It was plump and scented, addressed to Philip Medlar Esq at an address in Surrey. She dropped a smaller packet on to my lap. Theres some money in there for you to give whoever takes it to the post. Ive tried to think of everything, you see. She was anxious to please me. Perhaps shed caught the look on my face when she gave me the letter. The smell and feel of it had convinced me that it was nothing more than a love letter after all and shed not been truthful with me. Still, it suited my plans and I wasnt being wholly truthful with her. How soon can you take it? Tomorrow? Yes. If I leave at first light, I can be back by the time the children have to be got up. She knelt on the carpet and took my hand between both of hers. Oh, I am so very grateful. I do believe youve saved my life. Not quite as dramatic as that, surely. Oh, you cant know. I said, as gently as I could manage, Are you so very scared of your stepfather? I am scared of him, yes, but that isnt the worst of it. Miss Lock Oh, I cant go on miss-ing you. Whats your name? Lib, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, there are things I mustnt tell you. But do believe that I might be in the most terrible danger of being put in prison or or killed even, for something that isnt my fault at all. I wanted to say that there was no need for this drama because Id carry her letter in any case, but I bit my tongue and slipped my hand from hers. Id better go back to the children. How shall I know youve sent it? she said. That bench we sat on, in the flower garden if Im back safely, Ill pick a flower and leave it there. Yes. I mustnt be seen talking with you too much, specially now Stephens back. He notices more than Mama. Where has your brother been? He stays in London, mostly. Hes studying to be a lawyer. I wondered whether to tell her about my conversation with Stephen. It would have reassured her, of course, but I was still annoyed by her dramatics. Or perhaps I was falling into the spys habit of secrecy. I got back to the schoolroom just in time for my share of minced mutton and green peas. In the afternoon, as a treat for the children, we were allowed the use of the pony phaeton to take them over to the keepers cottage on the edge of the estate to see a litter of month-old puppies. Mrs Beedle had half-promised Charles he might have one for his own, if my reports on his progress in Latin and arithmetic were satisfactory. It was good to see them playing and laughing with the puppies, so much more at ease when they were away from the house. I shall tell her hes doing well, whether he does or not, I whispered to Betty. Yes. Goodness knows, they dont have an easy life, poor mites. Betty was watching Henrietta clutching a wriggling puppy and not caring about her dress for once. It seemed an odd thing to say about three children who lived lives of such privilege, but that evening I had an illustration of what she meant. The bell rang as usual, and we escorted them downstairs. Only the immediate family were present, including Stephen. He was sitting on a chair beside his mothers sofa, showing her something in a book. Lady Mandeville was smiling, more animated than Id ever seen her, as if he were a lover instead of a son. When James went running to her, she hugged the boy as she usually did and spoke to him, but still with half her attention on Stephen. Celia was sitting by the square piano painted with swathes of roses and forget-me-nots, but didnt look as if shed been playing it. She said good evening, mostly to Betty rather than me. Mrs Beedle was by the window, sewing as usual, and Sir Herbert was standing by the fireplace, reading letters and paying no attention at all to the rest of his family. Henrietta, who hated to be ignored, went over and stood beside him. Papa, may I have a puppy too? She said it in a wheedling lisp, so at first I wasnt sorry when he ignored her and went on reading. Papa, may I ? He gestured to her to be quiet. Lady Mandeville called across from the couch. Henrietta, come here and stop bothering your father. Anybody could tell the letter was annoying him. His face was going red, his shoulders rigid. But the child wouldnt budge. Cowards. Miserable, temporising pack of damned cowards! He shouted it at the top of his voice, crumpled the letter and threw it into the empty fireplace. As he turned, his elbow caught Henrietta on the side of the face. He might not have intended it, but when she cried out and went sprawling on the carpet, he made no move to pick her up. Herbert, the children Lady Mandeville protested. James had started to cry and was clinging to her, so she couldnt get up and go to her daughter. Damn you and damn the children. Betty and I ran to Henrietta. Sir Herbert cannoned into Betty and almost knocked her off her feet as he made for the door to the hall. As he went out, I heard him giving an order to the footman about hock and sandwiches in the library. By now Henrietta was howling and even Charles was biting his lip and looking scared. Mrs Beedle was the first of the family to recover. Henrietta, please stop that noise. Celia, see to James. Betty, have you arnica ointment in your room? She wanted the children out of the drawing room, back to the safety of the schoolroom and, in spite of Jamess reluctance to leave his mother, we managed it. We calmed the children, fed them bread and milk and put them to bed. Henrietta had a bruise developing on her jaw where her fathers elbow had struck. Betty and I didnt discuss what had happened until we were sitting at the schoolroom table over a pot of tea. Is he often as bad as that? I said. Hes always had a black temper, but its been worse in the last few months. A lot worse. How does Lady Mandeville stand for it? What can she do? She could leave, couldnt she? She must have family or friends. And lose the children? Children are a fathers property, remember. If she walks out of here, shell never see them again. So what choice has she got? Cant anybody do anything? What about the son? He seems fond of his mother. Betty gave me a look. I had the impression that what had happened downstairs had made a bond between her and me. Mr Stephens part of the trouble. If it werent for him, she might stand up for herself more than she does. Why? Betty took her time deciding whether to answer, finishing her cup of tea and swirling the dregs round to look at the pattern the tea leaves made. After university, he took up with some bad company and got himself into debt. Gambling debts? Mostly. Other things as well. He doesnt have any money of his own, of course, not a shilling. So She hesitated, looking into her cup. He got put into debtors prison. She whispered it, her eyes scared. I was perhaps not quite as shocked as she expected me to be. The fact was, some of my fathers friends had been put into debtors prison from time to time and seemed to regard it as no worse an inconvenience than an attack of fever or rheumatics. Not even the gentlemens part of the prison, Betty insisted. In there with the common criminals without even a blanket to cover himself and rats running over him. And Sir Herbert let him stay there for three whole weeks. I thought of Stephens elegant manners and quizzical eyebrows failing to impress the rats and did feel rather sorry for him. Lady Mandeville was on her knees to Sir Herbert, literally down on her knees, begging him to have her son out, Betty said. He could have settled the debts ten times over and hardly missed it, and everybody knew that. But he wouldnt do it, not until Stephen had learned his lesson, he said. Ever since then, shes been terrified. That was what started you know. She tipped a hand towards her mouth, as if holding a glass. She might have said more, but Henrietta was crying out and we had to go to her. What with that and James wetting his bed, we had a hard night with them, and it was past one in the morning before they were all three sleeping. Betty said shed listen out for them, so I could go upstairs. I didnt sleep because I was too scared about the journey I must make in the morning. At first light, before even the earliest maid could have begun her cleaning duties, I crept down the back stairs to the drawing room and retrieved from the fireplace the crumpled letter that Sir Herbert had flung there. It was the kind of thing that spies did, after all. I took it back to my room to read. It had the address of a gentlemans club at the top and was in small, cramped writing. Dear Mandeville, Yours of the 23rd ult. has only just come to my hand. I am writing in haste to urge you to desist from this most dangerous folly. You are aware of the extent to which I share all the concerns of yourself and others about the deplorable weakness of the present administration and the threat to our dignity, profits and rights of property which must inevitably result if they continue cravenly to appease the masses. But there are remedies which are more perilous than the disease and, if I understand your hints aright (which I am very much afraid I do, greatly though I should wish otherwise), your proposed cure is one such. If in the past my too-great warmth on such subjects has led you to the erroneous conclusion that I might in any way support what you propose, I can only apologise for unwittingly misleading you. Bluntly, I want no part in this. If indeed a wrong was done, then it was done twenty years ago. To attempt to right it in these changed times would be no service to our country or to him you wish to serve. Let him not cross the Channel. If a pension must be discussed, then provided that stretch of water remains for ever between him and England I might be prepared to say a word in certain ears. Otherwise I must ask you not to correspond with me on the subject again. Believe me, your most alarmed well-wisher, Tobias I added a postscript to the note Id written to Blackstone and sealed up the letter along with it. Then I put the note and Celias letter into my reticule and went stocking-footed down the back stairs so as not to wake the maids. CHAPTER FOURTEEN (#ulink_98440fb1-7e1c-56db-8842-573cfe0b0912) Even so early in the morning it was unthinkable to walk down the main drive, with all those windows watching me. The back road was reassuring by comparison. After passing a big, lightning-scarred tree it dipped between high banks crowded with cow parsley, wild geraniums and red campion, the air so sweet after a long time inside that it began to raise my spirits. Once clear of being seen from the house, my mind was free to think about other things, like the letter Id taken from the fireplace. Let him not cross the Channel. The man who had written that was scared, and the reason for his fear as the reason surely for my fathers death came from France. So did the unknown, unfortunate woman that the fat man was hunting. And yet my last letter from my father, hinting at a secret, had not mentioned danger, rather the reverse: one most capital story which I promisewill set you roaring with laughter and even perhapsa little indignation Blackstone could probably make sense of it all, but he wouldnt tell me. Well, I was being his good spy. After only a few days under the Mandeville roof, I was bringing him a fat packet of news. The banks on either side flattened out and the back road joined the main road that Id travelled on from Windsor. Half a mile in that direction were the great gates of Mandeville Hall. They were closed, but a trail of smoke rose from the chimney of the gate lodge into the blue sky. I turned in the opposite direction, making for what I hoped was the heath. For half a mile or so I had the road to myself, then four figures appeared, coming towards me. I fought against the impulse to jump into a ditch and went on walking. They were three haymakers, walking with their scythes over their shoulders, and a boy scuffling his boots in the dust behind them, trailing their long shadows as the sun came up. They nodded to me and the boy gave me a sideways look. If Id had more confidence I might even have asked them the way, because I wasnt sure I was on the right track for the livery stables. After a while a lane went off to the right, deeply marked with hoofprints, and a signboard with a horseshoe pointed to the stables. The heath opened out, with skylarks singing overhead and from far away a vibration of drumming hooves that seemed to come up through my bootsoles and straight into my heart. I envied what must surely be the uncomplicated happiness of the people riding those horses. Then the line of them came into view, pulling up from a gallop to a canter. I stood back from the path. They came towards me, but the lads riding them didnt give me a glance. They had their hands full, bringing the excited horses back to a walk before they came to the harder ground of the path. The air was full of the smell of horse sweat and leather. There were five horses, three of them bunched together, then a calmer, cobby type with a big man aboard. Then a gap and a bright bay mare a little smaller and more finely made than the others. The lad riding her was having trouble slowing her to a walk, but that was because he was so heavy-handed. Hed pulled the reins in tight and was trying to hold her by sheer force so that she was dancing on the spot, fighting the bit. His face was white and terrified. He looked no more than twelve or so and I supposed theyd put him on the mare because he was the lightest. A sideways jerk of her head tugged the reins out of his hands. He grabbed and got one rein, slewing the bit sideways in her mouth at an angle that must have hurt. She reared up and, as her head came round towards me, I recognised the comma-shaped blaze and intelligent eye, now terrified. Rancie. The boy rocketed out of the saddle and landed on his side on the path. Rancie came down to earth and galloped past the other horses. One of them wheeled round to get out of her way and barged into his neighbour, who kicked him. I think Id said her name aloud, but with the shouting, whinnying and groans of the lad on the ground, nobody noticed me. I ran after her, scared that shed catch a leg in the trailing reins and throw herself down. Some way along the path I caught up with her. Shed stopped and was snatching at grass, not like a happy horse eating but a desperate one looking for consolation in something familiar. Scraps of grass were falling uneaten from her trembling lip. She rolled her eye at me and flinched as if expecting punishment. I think a kindly horse feels guilt when it loses its rider. Rancie, girl, its all right, Rancie I put a hand on her sweat-soaked shoulder. Its not your fault. Poor Rancie. With my other hand, I gathered up the trailing reins. By then, the other horses were coming past us. The man on the cob was leading one of them because its rider had dismounted and was looking after the lad whod been thrown. They were coming slowly along the path together, the lad limping and holding an arm crooked across his chest. The man on the cob called out to me as he passed. Well done, miss. Ill take her. If an oak tree could have spoken, it would have been in that deep Hereford voice. Amos Legge, my fair-haired giant. He threw the reins of the horse he was leading to one of the lads and sprang off the cobs back, landing neatly beside Rancie and me. Thought it was you, miss. You be come to see Rancie, then? He didnt even sound surprised. As he ran his hand down Rancies legs, checking for injuries, she bent her head and nuzzled his back with that deep sigh horses give when anxiety goes out of them. No great mishtiff done. Will you lead her in then, miss? We followed Amos and the cob along the lane and through a gateway into the yard, Rancie as quiet as a pet dog. The yard was busy, with the horses coming in from exercise and a pair of greys being harnessed to a phaeton. Amos seemed to sense that I didnt want to attract attention and led us to a box in the far corner. You two wait in there, while I go and see to this fellow. The straw in the box was deep, and good clean hay in the manger. At least Blackstone was keeping that part of our bargain, so perhaps hed keep others. I stayed in a dark corner, talking to Rancie, until Amos came back. He untacked her, plaited a hay wisp and used it in long, sweeping strokes to dry off the sweat. When he put her rug on, he reached under her belly to hand me the surcingle strap, as if wed been working together for months. As soon as the rug was on, the gold-eyed cat jumped down from the manger and settled in her usual place on Rancies back. I thought youd have gone home to Herefordshire by now, I said. No hurry, miss. Theres work for me here if I want it, so I thought I might stay for a bit, see her settled. And it was in my mind I might be seeing you again. A voice from the yard called, Amos. Wheres Amos? I have letters for the post, I said. Could you see they go on the next mail coach? Blackstone had instructed me to send letters through the owner of the stables, but this was the chance of a little independence. Amos nodded, took both letters from me but gave back Celias coins. Im doing well enough, miss, but what about you? Im employed at Mandeville Hall, only they mustnt know about this. Amos. The call was impatient. Amos picked up the saddle and bridle. You wait here till I come. Youll be safe enough. I cant wait. Id lost track of time, but Betty would surely be getting the children up soon and Id be missed. Still, one thing was urgent. Rancie must be exercised properly. Isnt there anybody who can ride her? Im too heavy and the lads are feared of her, miss. Thats the third shes had off. Its because shes light-mouthed. Theyll kill her spirit if they go on like this. Can you tell them youve had word from her owner that nobody should ride her until further instructions? He nodded, but looked worried. Needs a ladys hand, she does. I dont know if he was deliberately putting an idea into my mind. Ill think of something, I said. Ill be back on I did a quick calculation. In four days there might be an answer to one or both of the letters on Saturday. He nodded and went out to the yard, taking his time. When I glanced out, everybody in the yard seemed to be occupied, so I slipped past them without anybody noticing and out of the gates. You look feverish, Betty said. Did you sleep badly? Shed been kinder than I deserved, getting the children up and dressed, taking them for their walk before breakfast. Id almost bumped into them on my way back from the flower garden where Id put a clove carnation on the rustic seat for Celia to find. Id had to hide behind the beech hedge then rush up the back stairs to wash and tidy myself. By the time they came back to the schoolroom, I was tolerably neat in my blue-and-white print dress and muslin tucker, reading from the Gallic Wars. Shes wearing rose-water, Henrietta said, sniffing. Observant little beast. The maids had taken most of the water as usual, and there had only been enough left for a superficial wash, not enough to abolish the lingering smell of stables. It smells just like my rose-water. It was. Desperate, Id gone into her room and sprayed myself from the bottle on her white-and-gilt dressing table. What do nine-year-old girls need with rose-water in any case? It marked the start of a difficult day in the schoolroom. The children were short of sleep and sullen, still shaken by their fathers anger the evening before. I could hardly keep my eyes open, let alone summon up any interest in Julius Caesar or multiplication in pounds, shillings and pence. Towards the end of the morning, when wed moved on to French conversation, Mrs Beedle paid us a visit of inspection. She sat listening for a while, very stern and upright, but from the thoughtful way she looked at her grandchildren I guessed she was trying to tell if they were affected by what had happened. What was more alarming was that I caught her looking at me with a puzzled frown, nostrils flaring. Shed certainly noticed the rose-water and probably guessed where it came from, but had she caught a whiff of horse as well? Miss Lock, I am concerned she said, and paused. Concerned, maam? that you are teaching Henrietta the wrong kind of French. I tried not to show my relief. I hope not, maam. Her accent has improved quite remarkably in a few days. It was my one pedagogic achievement. The child had a good ear and I had coached her to utter some sentences of politeness in a way that would not have caused pain in Paris. Please do not contradict me. I couldnt understand a word she was gabbling. I shall examine her again next week and expect her to be speaking French like an English gentlewoman. The children slept in the afternoon and so did I, so deeply unconscious on my attic bed that I woke thinking I was back at my aunts house, until the clash of saucepans from the kitchens below reminded me. I cried for a while, then dressed and tidied my hair and went down. Betty was laying out Henriettas white muslin frock with the blue sash. Were surely not taking them down tonight, I said. Not after what happened. If theyre sent for, theyll have to go. At first, James flatly refused to change into his best clothes. He wanted to see his mother but his fear of his father was greater. Your papa is a very important man, Betty told him. Hes angry sometimes because he works hard, thats all. But her eyes, meeting mine over his bowed head, told a different story. Henrietta was impatient with her brother. Dont be silly. Papa didnt mean to hurt me. I looked at the blue bruise on her jaw and thought there was a kind of courage in her. James let himself be dressed at last, but began crying when the bell rang for us and clung tightly to my hand as we went down the staircase to the grand hall. There were servants at work, dusting and polishing. This was a surprise because normally cleaning was done early in the morning, before the family were up and about. The reason seemed to be a re-arrangement of the pictures. There were dozens of them round the hall, some of be-wigged Mandeville ancestors and their white-bosomed ladies, others of great moments from British history. Julius Caesar confronting the Druids had been one of the most prominent, next to the door to the larger of the two drawing rooms. Now it had been taken down and propped against the wall and a portrait was being put up in its place. Sir Herbert himself was supervising, with Mrs Beedle, the butler, Mrs Quivering and two footmen in attendance. Since all this was barring the way to the drawing room, we could only stand there with the children and wait. When theyd fixed it in place at last, and Sir Herbert had nodded his grudging approval, the painting seemed a poor substitute for noble Caesar. The portrait was a comparatively modern one of a pleasant though somewhat pop-eyed young woman, dressed simply in white silk with a blue sash, arms bare and hair piled in curls on top of her head, surrounded with a wreath of roses, all in the easy Empire style of our parents time. To my surprise, I recognised her from other portraits Id seen, and when James tugged at my hand and whispered, Who is she? I was able to whisper back. Thats poor Princess Charlotte. My father had not encouraged concern about the doings of royalty, but even a republicans daughter may be interested in princesses, especially young ones who ended sadly. So although I was no more than a baby when Princess Charlotte died, I knew a little about her. She was a grand-daughter of mad King George III, the only legitimate child of his son George IV and his unruly and hated Queen, Caroline. Her lack of brothers and sisters was accounted for by the fact that her father, on first being introduced to his arranged bride, had turned pale and called for a glass of brandy. They spent just one night together in the royal matrimonial bed and Princess Charlotte was the result. Charlotte showed signs of being one of the best of the Hanoverian bunch, which to be sure is not saying a great deal. She was, by most accounts, more amiable than her father and more sensible than her mother. They married her before she was twenty to one of those German princelings who are in such constant supply, and she became pregnant with a child who would have succeeded her and become king of England only she died in childbirth and her baby boy died too. Which was why we were about to celebrate the coronation of a different grand-daughter of mad King George, Charlottes cousin, little Vicky. In the circumtances, going to such trouble to commemorate Charlotte seemed another of Sir Herberts eccentricities. Is she the new queen? James whispered to me. No. Im afraid she died. Sir Herbert stood staring at the picture. None of us could move before he did. James fidgeted and gripped my hand even more tightly. He probably needed to piss. What did she die of? An awkward question. I could hardly explain death in childbirth to the boy, especially in such public circumstances. I began, in a whisper, that she had caught a fever, but a higher voice came from my other side. She was poisoned. Henrietta, in that terribly carrying tone of hers, determined to be the centre of attention. There was a moment of shocked silence, then her fathers head swung round, slow and heavy like a bulls, from the picture to where we were standing. After his violence the night before, I was terrified of what he might say or do to the child. I was scared for myself too, certain that I should be blamed for Henriettas lapse both in manners and historical knowledge. The childs lurid imagination and over-dramatic nature would be no excuse. I forced myself to look Sir Herbert in the eye, determined on dignity at least, and the expression under his black brow so disconcerted me that I fear my mouth gaped open. The man was smiling a phenomenon Id never before witnessed. He took a few heavy steps towards us, then, amazingly, bent down until his eyes were level with Henriettas, gently tweaked one of her ringlets and put a finger to his lips. Shhh, he said to her. I think everybody there was as amazed as I was, not believing him capable of such a kindly and humorous rebuke. Henrietta was wriggling and simpering, having achieved exactly what she wanted. He touched her hair again, straightened up and said a few more words, equally surprising. It is a pity you are not ten years older. They were said in an undertone, and I think I was the only one apart from Henrietta who caught them. Then he turned and walked into the drawing room and we followed him with the children. James had his half-hour with his mother, then we managed to get him back upstairs before he wet his breeches. That evening, Betty went to her room soon after the children were in bed. I stayed on my own in the schoolroom with the window open and a lamp on the table, preparing notes on the geography of India for next days lesson. I was dozing over the tributaries of the Ganges when the door opened quietly and somebody came into the room. Is one of the children awake? I said, thinking it must be Betty. I hope not, Celia said, coming over to the table. She was in evening dress, peach-coloured muslin with darker stripes woven in silk, bodice trimmed with cream lace. Her face was pale in the candlelight, eyes scared. You were seen, Elizabeth. She took hold of the back of a chair and pivoted from side to side on the ball of one satin-shod foot, in a kind of nervous dance step. By whom? One of the laundry maids has a sweetheart who works at the livery stables. Why didnt you warn me? Am I supposed to know every servants sweetheart? I only heard about it from Fanny when she was doing my hair for dinner. What did she tell you? The stable boy was sent up here on some message. He told his laundry maid a tale of a woman appearing out of nowhere and catching a horse that was bolting. She wasnt I mean, how did he know it was me? He didnt. Only he described you and what you were wearing and the laundry maid said it sounded a bit like the new governess. They dont know for certain, then? Not yet, no. I was shaking. Fanny must have felt it. Then I had to sit through dinner wondering if Sir Herbert had heard about it yet. Did he give any sign? No, but then he may just be waiting for his time to pounce. I put down my pencil and found my hand was shaking too. What are we going to do? Celia said. I must have the reply to my letter. Oh, theres certain to be a reply, is there? I was nettled at her refusal to consider any problem but her own. Im sure Philip will reply by return of post. I told him to write care of the stables. It should be there by Friday or Saturday at the latest. Is a love letter so important that I must risk dismissal for it? She sat down heavily on Henriettas blue chair. Its more than that. I wish oh, I must trust you. Ive asked him something. I need his answer. She looked down at the map of India, picked up my pencil and turned it over and over in her fingers. Ive asked him to elope with me. Doesnt the suggestion usually come from the gentleman? Im certain Philip would suggest it if he knew. But he cant know until he reads my letter. You see, somebodys coming soon and I want Philip to take me away and marry me before he arrives. This other person, is he the one your stepfather wants you to marry? She nodded. When is he arriving? I dont know. Hes expected any day. But your stepfather surely cant have you married against your wishes, the moment this person sets foot in the house. It would be so much safer in every way if I werent here. I supposed she was referring to Sir Herberts violent temper. I felt sorry for her, but wished she hadnt planted her burden on my doorstep. Your stepfather said something surprising to Henrietta this evening, I said. What? He wished she were ten years older. I wish to heaven she were. It burst out of her, vehement and unguarded. When did he say it? I told her about Princess Charlottes portrait and the rest. All the time she stared at me, as if every word mattered. I hoped at the end of it that shed tell me why it concerned her so much, but she just heaved a sigh nearly as deep as Rancies. So what are we to do about your letter? I said. Whatever happened, I must keep open a way of communicating with Blackstone. I was hoping youd think of something, she said. You know the ways of the household better than I do. She stared down at her silk-stockinged ankles, looking so lost that I pitied her in spite of my annoyance. If I can think of something, will you do it, Elizabeth? If you can, yes. She got up slowly, and took a few steps to the door, as if reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the schoolroom. At the door she turned round. Dont fail me. Youre my only hope. Im my only hope as well, I said, but she was gone by then. CHAPTER FIFTEEN (#ulink_69a878a5-92fc-55cf-a8b9-32fb4348a31f) The next few days were almost calm, probably because Sir Herbert was away in London. I gathered that from Betty, who picked up most of the gossip from the other servants. I say almost calm because even I was aware that the staff were having to work harder than ever. Whenever we left the snug little world of the nursery corridor, maids were flying in all directions, cleaning rooms, carrying armfuls of linen, washing the paint-work round doors and windows. Bettys friend Sally reported that the kitchens were worse than Bedlam. Whenever I saw Mrs Quivering she had a worried frown on her face and two or three lists in her hand. Even the gardens, usually a peaceful refuge, seemed to have caught the panic, with a dozen men trimming lawn edges and clipping box hedges so precisely that we could have used them for illustrations in geometry. Relays of boys trotted from vegetable gardens to the back door of the kitchens with baskets of carrots, white turnips, new potatoes, radishes, spring onions, salsify, artichokes, great swags of feathery fennel, sage, thyme. The appetite of the house seemed endless, but Betty said this was all just practising. They were making sure they had the new recipes right. As a result, the servants hall was eating better than it had for years, which was one blessing at any rate, if everybody hadnt been too harassed to enjoy it. But what are they celebrating? I asked Betty. She shrugged. Sir Herbert was a law unto himself. When we took the children down on Friday evening, he was still away. Stephen was there, talking to his sister by the window. They both looked serious. Celia glanced over her shoulder and soon afterwards came across to me. Miss Lock, my trees simply will not come right. Do look. She said it loudly enough for anybody in the room to hear and had brought her sketchbook with her. Stephen stayed where he was, but gave me a glance and a nod of approval. We bent over the sketch on one of the pie-crust tables, heads together. Her hair smelled of lily-of-the-valley and I was aware that mine was sticky and dusty. Will you be in the schoolroom later? she said, under her breath. When? Around midnight. Will Betty have gone to bed by then? Yes, usually. Ive thought of a way, only You see, they look like cabbages and I promise you Ive tried so hard. This for the benefit of Mrs Beedle, who was coming over to look. The three of us pored over Celias mediocre landscape until it was time for the family to go into dinner. Betty was tired and went to bed early. I waited in the schoolroom with Gallic Wars and a single candle, listening to the stable clock striking the hours. Celia arrived soon after midnight, dragging a blanket-wrapped bundle. Whats that? I said. Some things to make you invisible. Are you setting up as an enchantress? Not of that kind. Open it. When I undid the blanket a tangle of clothes flopped out: plain brown jacket, tweed cap, coarse cotton shirt, red neckcloth, corduroy breeches, gaiters and a pair of that hybrid form of footwear known as high-lows, too high for a shoe and too low for a boot. They were all clean but had obviously been worn before. Mens clothes? Boys. Its the next best thing to being invisible. Boys go everywhere and nobody gives them a second glance. I cant wear these. Its not decent. Why not? Women in Shakespeare are always dressing up as boys Viola and what-was-her-name in the forest and they all of them end up marrying dukes and things. Then why dont you do it? For a moment, in my confusion, Id forgotten I had my own risks to run. Of course I cant. Imagine if I were caught. And what if I were caught? You wont be. In any case, youll make a much better boy than I should. Id never fit into the unmentionables. I picked up the breeches carefully. Theyre clean, she said. I saw to that. Where did you get them? My grandmother collects old clothes from the household for the vicar to give to the poor. She was pleased when I offered to help her. Do the high-lows fit? I slipped my feet into them. They did, more or less. Somehow the touch of the leather against my stockings made the idea more thinkable, as if the clothes brought a different identity. Very well, I said. Ill try it. She put her arms round me and kissed me on the forehead. Oh, you brave darling. Youre saving my life, you know that? I turned away and picked up the neckcloth, not wanting to encourage her dramatics. Youll go tomorrow morning, early? Yes. Therell be a reply for me, I know. Leave a flower on the bench again when you get back, and Ill find an occasion for you to give the letter to me. I must go now. Fanny will notice if I have bags under my eyes in the morning. Luckily there was nobody to notice my eyes when I got up at four in the morning because I hadnt slept at all. The boys clothes were piled on the chair beside my bed and I puzzled my way into them by the first grey light of the day, not daring to light a candle in case the light or smell of it penetrated to the maids rooms downstairs. It took time because my fingers were shaking, but I managed at last to work out the buttons and to pin my hair up under the cap so tightly that it dragged at my scalp. I slid my arms into the sleeves of the brown jacket and put my latest report to Blackstone into a pocket. The lack of a mirror to show me what I looked like was one mercy at least. I went barefoot down the stairs carrying the high-lows and sat down on the edge of the pump trough in the back courtyard to put them on. Though the household would soon be stirring, I hoped the servants would be too bleary-eyed and weighed down with their own tiredness to worry about anything else. And yet, when I took my first steps across the courtyard, the feeling was so exposed and indecent that I felt as if the eyes of a whole outraged world were staring at me. I missed the gentle movement of skirt hems against my ankles, the soft folds of petticoats. The roughness of breeches against my thighs seemed an assault on my softest and most secret parts. The high-lows were a little too large and, since Celia had not thought to steal socks as well, my feet slid around in them like butter in a churn. I tried to work out a way of walking that suited them, kicking one foot ahead and planting it firmly before moving the other. By this method I got myself through the archway and to the point where the drive divided, one part heading towards the bridge over the ha-ha and the front of the house, the other down the back road. I sat down on the bank, plucked handfuls of grass and used it to pad out the high-lows so that my feet didnt slip round so much. After that, walking became easier. I learned to bend my knees and swing my legs less stiffly, although it felt odd to look down and see brown breeches where there should have been lavender or green skirt. After a while, I was almost enjoying it and even pushed my fists into my pockets and tried whistling. When I passed the reapers and their boy on much the same part of the road as Id met them before, the men hardly gave me a second glance, though the boy threw me a hard stare that might have been meant as a challenge. I dropped my eyes until they were well past. It was full light when I arrived at the Silver Horseshoe. I waited by the gate until I saw Amos Legge coming out of one of the looseboxes and walked up behind him. Good morning, sir. Any horses to hold? Id been practising my boys voice as I walked along. A hoarse mumble seemed to work better than a boyish treble. He turned round. Youd best ask Well, Ill be dankered. It issun May Day, is it? May Day? When the maids dress up for a lark. None of them made as good a lad as you, though. Rosalind in the Forest of Arden had poems written for her and stuck on trees. His compliment might not be Shakespearean, but it pleased me. I thought it was in your mind, he said. Only I didnt know youd do it. Ill go and get the tack on her. Tack? All Id intended was to give him my letter for Blackstone, collect Celias reply and go. Before I could explain that a big red-faced man came up to us. Whos that, Legge? Lad come to ride the new mare, Mr Coleman. Recommended especial by the owner. The man gave me a quick glance, then nodded and walked away. Ride Rancie? I said. Thats what you came here to do, isnt it? In a daze, I followed him to her loosebox and helped him tack up. When he led Rancie out to the yard with me following, some of the lads were already mounting. I watched as they faced inwards to the horse and crooked a knee so that a groom could take them by the lower leg and throw them up into the saddle. When it was my turn, my legs were trembling so much that Amos must have felt it, but he gave no sign. He helped my toes into the stirrups and my hands to gather up the reins, and stood watching as the string of six of us walked out of the yard, Rancie and I at the rear. It felt oddly unsafe at first to be riding astride instead of side-saddle, but the mares pace was so smooth that after a half-mile or so I wondered why anybody should ever ride any other way. The fear began to fall away and something like a prayer formed in my mind. Your horse, Father. Your present to me. I know it was not meant to be this way. Id have given my whole heart for it to be different, for you to be riding her on this fine morning and I watching you. But since it cant be different, I have this at least, perhaps for the first and last time. I havent forgotten my promise to nail that great lie they told about you. But this is here and now, and for you too and Oh gods, were cantering. Cantering, then galloping. She stretched out, hooves hardly seeming to touch the cushiony grassland, mane flying. I bent forward as the other boys were doing, the whole world a blur of green and blue and a pounding of hooves. It was the memorial to my father that the wretched ceremony by the grave in Calais had not been, this flying into the morning light, this certainty that in spite of everything it was worth going on living and breathing. For a few minutes fear, confusion and even grief itself were swept away in the sunlight and the rush of cool morning air against my face. I hardly needed to touch the rein because Rancie seemed responsive to my very thoughts. When the others drew up panting at the end of the gallop, her breath was coming as lightly as at the beginning. I found myself grinning with delight at one of the other riders, a red-haired lad with a pale face and no front teeth. He grinned back, saying something about her being a winner. I just remembered in time not to reply, and to pull the cap well down over my hair. We turned back to the stables in a line, some of the horses jogging and fidgeting from excitement, but Rancie walking calmly like the lady she was, between hedges thick with honeysuckle and clamorous with blackbirds. Amos was waiting outside the gate, looking down the lane for us. He walked alongside as we came back into the yard and caught me as I slid down from the saddle. My head only came up to his chest, and I was half smothered in the hay and fresh-sweat smell of him. Best get her inside her box quickly, with all this pother going on. The stableyard was in confusion. A large travelling carriage had arrived, dust covered and with candle-lamps still burning, as if it had driven all night. Four fine bay horses were being unharnessed from it and could hardly walk for weariness. The nearside front wheel was off and leaning against the drinking trough, its iron rim half torn away and several spokes broken. What happened? I asked Amos, as we went across the yard. Hit a tree a mile up the road. Driving too fast, he was, and He went on telling me, but I wasnt listening because Id noticed something on the door of the coach. An empty oval shape, framed with a wreath of gold leaves, waiting for a coat of arms to go inside it. Whats the trouble, lad? I suppose I must have stopped dead. Amos pushed me gently by the shoulder. Once the half-door of the loosebox had closed on us, he was all concern. You look right dazzed, miss. Are you not well? Mr Legge, who does the carriage belong to? Two gentlemen from London, wanting to get to the hall. The fat ones in a right miff because theres nobody to get the wheel fettled. The guvnors sent a boy galloping for the wheelwright, but thats not fast enough for him. Is he a very fat man, like a toad? If a toad could wear breeches and swear the air blue, yes, he is. You know him, miss? I think I might. I was sure of it, cold and trembling at the thought of being so near him again. I dont want him to see me. Where is he? In the guvnors office, last I saw. He was trying to convince the guvnor to take a wheel off one of his own carriages to put on the travelling coach. The guvnor offered him the use of his best barouche and horses instead and said hed send the coach up to the hall later, but that wouldnt answer. Its the travelling coach or nothing. So he could be here for hours. And me trapped in the loosebox in my boys clothes, with Betty and the rest wondering what had become of me, probably being found out and dismissed. All the time, Amos Legge was untacking and rugging up Rancie. Ill have a look for you, while I take this over. If hes still going on at the guvnor, you can slip out like an eel in mud and he wont notice. He left with the saddle and bridle and I cowered back into the dark corner by the manger. Hed mentioned two gentlemen and I assumed the other one was the man who called himself Trumper. I feared him too, but not a fraction as much as the fat man. There was still a lot of noise and activity going on in the yard and a sound of hammering. Hurrying feet came and went on the cobbles by Rancies door, but nobody had any reason to look in. Amos seemed to have been gone for a long time. Id almost decided to make a run for it, when the square of sunlight above the half-door was obscured by a figure in silhouette. Mr Legge, thank good Then I shut my mouth because the person looking over the loosebox door wasnt Amos Legge. He was shorter, not so broad in the shoulders, and must have approached very quietly because I hadnt heard him until he was there. Well, well, well, he said. Why are you hiding in there, boy? Then he slid open the bolt on the half-door and walked a few steps inside the box. The voice was a high drawl. As he turned and the sunlight came on him I knew that Id never seen him before. There was no doubt, though, that he was one of the two gentlemen just arrived from London. He walked delicately into the rustling straw, like a nervous bather testing the temperature of the sea with his toes, looking as if hed just stepped off the pavement of Regent Street. He wore a plum-coloured coat, a waistcoat in plum and silver stripes, a white ruffled shirt and a silver-grey cravat with a ruby and diamond pin, breeches of finest buckskin and beautiful boots of chestnut leather, with soft tops ornamented with plum-coloured tassels to match the coat. He was about my age, soft and plump, with a clean-shaven, pale face as if he spent most of his days indoors, hair clubbed back under a high-crowned grey beaver hat with a big silver buckle. His eyes were pale blue and protruding, his expression vacant, but amiable enough. As he waited for an answer from me, he hitched up a coat-tail, reached into the pocket of it and brought out a round gold box with a diamond on top that flashed when the sun caught it. He opened the box, drew off a glove, ran his little finger round the contents of the box and applied it delicately to his rather full lips, pursing them in and out. Lip salve. The box went back into his coattail pocket. Whats the trouble, boy? Lost your voice, have you? Lucy the cat had jumped up to the manger as soon as he came in, but Rancie was unafraid and turned her head to see if he had a tidbit for her. He stroked her nose cautiously, but his eyes never left me. What are you hiding from? Have you been a naughty boy? Threatened you with a beating, have they? Threatened you with a birching on the seat of your little pants? His affected lisp made it thweatened. There was such a gloating in his voice that I was sure hed discovered my secret and knew I was no boy. In my shame and confusion, I clamped my hands over the front of my breeches. He sniggered, a horse-like sound. Pissed yourself, have you, boy? Is that what your trouble is? Oh naughty boy, naughty boy. I thought he was taunting me. There was a strange greed in the pale eyes. I turned away, trying to cram myself into the dark corner, but he stepped towards me. His hand slid over my haunches, then round towards my belly. I opened my mouth to scream and closed it again, unwillingly gulping in the smell of him: bay-leaf pomade, starched linen, peppermint breath. Then a warmer, earthier smell as Rancie caught my fear, lifted her tail and splatted steaming turds on to the straw. I wriggled away from him and dodged under Rancies neck, putting her body between him and me. He came round behind her, still giggling. Dont be shy, boy. Dont stand on ceremony. He was between me and the door. I was too shamed to even think of screaming and had even taken hold of Rancies mane, wondering if somehow I could manage to clamber up on her back, when a larger shape appeared at the half-door. You all right in there, boy? Amos Legge, a pitchfork in hand. The word boy that had sounded a slithery thing in the fashion plates voice was different and reassuring in his. I said no, trying to make it sound masculine and gruff, but the fashion plates high drawl cut across me, speaking to Amos. Hes been a naughty boy and Im dealing with him. Go away. Amos took no notice. He slid back the bolt and walked in, giving the fashion plate a considering look. He said or did nothing threatening, but the size and assurance of him was enough. Fashion plate took a step away from me and his voice was less confident. Go away. You can come in and clear up later. Best do it now, sir. Amos picked up Rancies droppings with the pitchfork. In the process he let some fall on the toe of fashion plates highly polished boot. The man let out a howl. You clumsy oaf. Im sorry, sir. Mucky places, stables. Fashion plate opened his mouth then looked up at Amos and decided not to say anything. He pushed past us to the door and went, slamming it behind him. You all right, miss? Amos said. I nodded, not trusting my voice. Youd best be off, miss. You just walk along with me as far as the midden and no one will take any notice. We went side by side across the yard, Amos carrying the bundle of soiled straw on his pitchfork. Most of the people in the yard were fussing round the travelling coach and took no notice of us. There was no sign of the fat man. The fashion plate had his boot up on a step of the mounting block and a trim man in a black jacket was wiping it with a cloth, both of them looking as serious as if he were performing delicate surgery. The muck heap was right alongside the gate. Off you go then, Amos said. If youre in any trouble, you get word to me, look. And heres your letters He took a slim bundle out of his pocket and slid it into mine. Until then, Id forgotten, in my fear and distress, the reason for being there. Heres another one for the post, I said, almost dropping it in my haste to hand it over and be gone. I covered the first half-mile or so at a pace between a stumbling run and a walk, fearful all the time of hearing shouts or horses hooves behind me. Fashion plate, once his boot was out of danger, would surely tell the fat man about the woman in disguise, and if the fat man somehow guessed who she was I know the fear wasnt reasonable. Perhaps it should have occurred to me that fashion plate had hardly cut a noble picture in the loosebox so might not be eager to talk about it. The fact was, I credited the fat man with almost demonic powers and wanted to get as far away from him as I could. A stitch stabbed at my ribs and my breath came short, but I would not slow to an ordinary walk until I was on the main road again, within sight of Mandeville Hall. I went up the back road as usual, into the kitchen courtyard, through the room with the chamber pots and up the four flights of wooden stairs to my room. The letters crackled in the pockets as I took off my jacket. There was one addressed to me in Mr Blackstones hand, another plumper one for Miss Mandeville. No time to do anything about them now. The stable clock was striking seven and I was already late for the childrens prayers. I put the letters in my bag, changed, did my hair and ran downstairs. The two boys were already dressed and sitting at the schoolroom table. Betty was brushing Henriettas hair. Theres straw on your dress, Henrietta said. I brushed it off. Betty looked a little disapproving, probably convinced I was a lazy lie-a-bed. Once prayers had been said, I made amends by volunteering to take the children for their before-breakfast walk on my own. The fact was, I wanted to go to the flower garden to leave my signal for Celia. As they ran around among the flower beds, I chose a spray of white sweet peas and wove it into the curlicues of the rustic bench. Why are you doing that? Henrietta said. The child was worse than a whole army of spies. I distracted her by making a crown of sweet peas for her hair. She was delighted and wore it at breakfast, but it didnt stop her noticing things. Miss Lock has eaten four slices of bread and butter. Betty told her a lady never made comment on what people were eating, but I was shame-faced, wondering if Id developed a boys appetite to go with the rest. After that, I yawned my way through the after-breakfast session in the schoolroom. Luckily, Saturdays were less formal than the rest of the week and the children were put into pinafores and allowed to do things involving paint or paste. Charles painted meticulous red jackets on to his lead soldiers, Henrietta attempted a watercolour and James re-arranged his formidable collection of empty snail shells. Seeing them so happily occupied, I was wondering whether I might sneak upstairs and read my letter from Mr Blackstone when there was a knock on the door. Patrick the footman stood outside. Mrs Quiverings compliments, and would Miss Lock kindly go down to the housekeepers room. Betty gave me a look that said, Oh dear, what have you done? and I followed Patricks black-liveried back down the stairs, wondering which of my many sins had found me out, almost certain that in the next few minutes I faced dismissal. I could only hope it was nothing worse than that. CHAPTER SIXTEEN (#ulink_43506eff-b665-57c7-9c72-f3df72aac0ca) She was sitting at her desk with a pile of papers in front of her, cap tilted sideways as if shed been running her hands through her hair. She looked tired and worried, but not especially hostile. Miss Lock, its good of you to come down. Im sorry to take you away from your pupils. Was it sarcasm? If so, there was no sign of it on her face. As you may have heard, Miss Lock, we are planning to entertain a large number of people next weekend, a dinner for forty people on Friday and a ball for more than a hundred on Saturday. I nodded, not sure if I was supposed to know even as much as that. Amongst other things, there is a deal of writing to be done: place cards, table plan, menus and the like. Mrs Beedle has suggested that you might take on the duty. She must have mistaken my look of amazement for reluctance and went on, rather impatiently. I am sure you could accommodate it with your other duties. Mrs Sims could supervise some of the childrens lessons, if necessary. Almost overcome by relief and my good luck, I assured her, truthfully, that nothing would give me more pleasure. Thank you, Miss Lock. I suggest you start this afternoon. I shall have a table brought into this room for you. The first thing I want you to do is make a complete and accurate copy of the guest lists here. She picked up from her desk several pages pinned together. My eyes followed the lists like a dog craving a bone. Then you may use it to work from when you do the place cards. You understand? Perfectly, Mrs Quivering. Im delighted to have an opportunity to be of use. By mid-afternoon I was sitting by the window in the housekeepers room, the precious lists on the table in front of me. There were three of them, the longest, some 120 names, consisted of those invited to the ball on the Saturday night. A shorter one listed the 40 guests who would also be at dinner the night before. An even more select group of 20 would be staying at Mandeville Hall for the weekend, the majority bringing valets or maids with them. I read through the lists, looking for names I recognised. The house guests included one duke, two lords, four baronets and their ladies, and six Members of Parliament. (I refrain from giving their names here because most of them were nothing worse than foolish and easily flattered, and I am sure they would not now want the world to know that they had ever set foot in Mandeville Hall.) I racked my brains, trying to remember what Id heard or read about any of them. The duke was eighty years old or so, and I remembered from accounts of Reform Bill debates in the Lords that he had been a bitter opponent of it. Given his hosts views on the subject, it was not surprising to find him on the guest list. The same applied to two of the Members of Parliament, both to my knowledge die-hard Tories of the old school. Id heard my father talk about them. It was a reasonable guess that the other four, of whom Id never heard, shared their opinions. Have you everything you need, Miss Lock? Mrs Quivering came sweeping into the room, followed by her assistant, who was burdened with a bad cold and an armful of bedsheets. Yes, thank you, Mrs Quivering. I started mixing ink. The ink powder and pens were of fine quality, much better than in the schoolroom. Mrs Quivering took a bedsheet from the pile in her assistants arms and spread it out on her table. They were on the far side of the room from me, so I couldnt hear all of their conversation but gathered that some wretch in the laundry room had ironed them with the creases in the wrong places. Then they started talking about other things. I caught wheel off and didnt get here till nearly midday and stopped stirring ink powder so that I could listen more carefully. blue room all ready for him, then we have to change it because his man must sleep in the room next to him. So Mr Brighton offers to take the blue room, his valet goes upstairs with the others, and Lord Kilkeel has the oak room, which was She unfolded another sheet, muffling the end of what she was saying. I looked at the papers I was to copy. A Mr H. Brighton was at the top of the list of guests who would be staying at Mandeville Hall, with Lord Kilkeel just below him. Which was the fat man and which was fashion plate? Take them back, Mrs Quivering said, sighing. Tell her shes to do them again in her own time, and I dont care how long she has to stay. She heaped the sheets back into her assistants arms. Miss Lock, Mrs Beedle says when you do the place cards you must make your ss the English way, not the French way. Soon afterwards she went out, leaving me alone with the lists. It was clear to me that I must make not one but two copies, one to stay in Mrs Quiverings office, the other for Mr Blackstone. It was an awkward business because my sleeve kept brushing the wet ink and making smudges, so I had to use quantities of blotting paper and the inkwell seemed as thirsty as a dog on a hot day, needing constant replenishing. I was never a tidy worker, not even in convent days, and got blots on my cuffs, smears on my face, the top two joints of my pen finger so soaked with ink I thought it must be black to the very bone. I had no time now to register the names I was copying: they were just words to be harvested. Mrs Quivering came back towards evening and seemed to approve of my industry, even showed some concern. Youll miss your supper, Miss Lock. I think I should like to finish the lists today, Mrs Quivering. The true reason was that I wanted to have a reason not to be there if the children were sent for. The fat man and fashion plate were under Mandevilles roof now and would surely be in the drawing room before dinner. Fashion plate might not recognise the boy from the loosebox, but the fat man would surely remember the woman whod butted him in the stomach. How Id avoid him for a whole week, I didnt know. Mrs Quivering was so pleased by my zeal that she had sandwiches and a pot of tea sent in, proper plump beef sandwiches on good white bread. I tried not to get ink on the sandwiches as I ate, then went back to copying. It was a fine evening outside, but the light inside was past its best and my eyes were tired. I was near the end of the ball guest list when the door opened. It was Celia, in a flurry of pink silk and white ribbons. Betty said you were here. Have you got my letter? Id brought it down with me and had it under the blotter. She went over to the window and read, her hand shaking so much I was surprised she could make out the writing. Oh, thank God. Her body sagged in a swish of silk and muslin. I think shed have fallen to the floor if I had not jumped up and caught her. I put her down in my chair and she still clung to me. Whats wrong? I said. Nothings wrong. Everythings right. Philip will come for me. When? He leaves that to me. Hell come to Ascot and be ready for a word from me. Oh, I cant think. You must help me think. I had no wish to be an accomplice in an elopement my life was too tangled already but I could hardly desert her. When will he get to Ascot? Tuesday, he says. Wednesday at the latest. But how shall I get away? If I as much as walk in the garden, somebody notices. And now Mr Brightons here She said the name as if shed bitten into something bad-tasting. Mr Brighton? Didnt you see him? Oh, I forgot, you didnt come down with the children. She made a face, pushed out her lips and pretended to smear something on them with her little finger. It was exactly the gesture of fashion plate with his lip balm. So the fat one is Lord Kilkeel, I said. Yes. Isnt he the most hideous person youve ever seen? Hes a great friend of my stepfathers, though. I was on the point of telling her how essential it was that Kilkeel should not see me, but before I could get the words out, she was demanding my help as usual. Tell me, Elizabeth, youre clever, how do I get away without them noticing? If there are a hundred and twenty people coming here for a ball, will anybody notice an elopement? I said. But that means waiting until next weekend a whole week. Is that so bad? A lot of things may happen in a week. But Ill think about it. She stood up, rather shakily. Philip says I must write to him at Ascot poste restante. Ill decide tomorrow, so you must take the letter on Monday morning. I thought, Must I? but didnt argue because I knew Id go to the stables in any case to send my copies of the lists to Mr Blackstone. Celia was on her way to the door. If anybody sees me and asks what I was doing here, say I brought you a message from my grandmother. I think she approves of you. She keeps asking me questions about you. What sort of questions? But as before, she went without answering. I finished copying the list and, in the last of the daylight, took the note from Mr Blackstone out from under the blotter and read it. My dear Miss Lock, You have done well. Please do your best to communicate with me every day. In particular, be alert for the arrival of a person calling himself Mr Brighton and let me know at once. On Sunday afternoon I wrote my reply. Dear Mr Blackstone, Mr Brighton arrived Saturday, in the company of Lord Kilkeel. He will be staying at least until the dinner and ball next weekend. They were in the family pew in church this morning, but I did not have a clear sight of him because I was sitting in the back pew so as not to be seen by him. I enclose lists of the guests at the dinner and ball, and also of the house guests. I hope you will consider that I have earned the right to ask why you wish to know about Mr Brighton and how it concerns my fathers death. What is Lord Kilkeels part in it? I wrapped it up with the lists and addressed it, wondering why I had not admitted to Blackstone that I had already been considerably closer to Mr Brighton than the length of a church away. One reason was that I distrusted the man and did not see why I should give him more than our bargain. The other and deeper one was that the memory of Mr Brightons hands on me in the loosebox made me feel so dirtied that I could not face writing it down for another man to read. On Sunday afternoon Celia came into the flower garden when Betty and I were there with the children. Shed brought scissors and a trug with her, to cut some sweet peas for her dressing table. When Betty wasnt looking, she slid a letter out of the trug and into my hands. Ive taken your advice. Im telling him to come for me on Saturday. When shed gone, I watched the children and worried. It was wrong that Celia should depend on me for advice in something so important. Until then, the matter of the elopement had been useful to me, but now I felt guilty. Her position at Mandeville Hall might have its disadvantages, but at least she was provided with a permanent roof over her head, a life that connected one day with the next and the company of a mother and a brother who cared for her. Missing all of those, I valued them more than she did and wondered if this Philip were worth the loss and whether she really knew her own mind. I supposed I should have to speak seriously to her but did not look forward to it with any pleasure. Betty said she was happy to look after the children while I went back to my other work. Now that the lists were done, I turned to a stack of forty blank place cards that Mrs Quivering had set out for me. Shed suggested that I leave them till morning, but they gave me the excuse for missing the childrens visit to the drawing room again and a close-quarters encounter with Kilkeel and Brighton. How Id manage to spin out the excuses for the rest of the week, I couldnt imagine. On Monday morning I woke with my eyes still tired from all that penmanship, body stiff and weary after an uneasy night. The thought of being under the same roof as the fat man had kept snatching me back from the edge of sleep. I fumbled in the half dark with the buttons and buckles of my boys clothes, hating them for the memory of Mr Brightons hands. No ride on Rancie this morning. The delight of that had been lost in what followed it and I had more serious things to do, although how poor Rancie was to be given her exercise was one of the thoughts that had nagged at my brain through the night. I hurried down the back stairs, through the room of the chamber pots and across the courtyard. When I came to the drive and took the turning for the back road, the clouds in the east were red-rimmed, the sky overcast and rain threatening. About a hundred yards down, to the right of the road, was the big dead oak tree. On the other occasions Id passed there had been two or three crows sitting on it, but there were none that morning. I dont know why I noticed that. Perhaps I sensed something, as dogs and horses do. I passed the tree and had my back to it when a voice came from the other side of the trunk. Good morning, Miss Lock. A womans voice. An elderly voice. Even before I turned round I knew who Id see, though it was so wildly unlikely that shed be there in the early hours of the morning. Shed come out from behind the tree and was standing there dressed exactly as she always was, in her black dress and black-and-white widows cap, ebony walking cane in her hand. She stood where she was, clearly expecting me to walk towards her. I did. Well, arent you going to take off your cap to me? Confused, I snatched off my boys cap. My face, my whole body felt as red as hot lava while her cool old eyes took in everything about me, from rag-padded high-lows to disorderly hair. I wondered where those clothes had got to, she said. Where are you going so early, if I might ask? I didnt answer, conscious of the two letters padding out my pockets and sure she was aware of them too. Its going to rain, she said. You are likely to get wet before you reach the Silver Horseshoe, Miss Lock. Oh. So I hope you have those papers well wrapped up. It would be a pity if they were spoilt, after all your careful copying. Oh. I was numb, expecting instant dismissal or even arrest. So you had better hurry, hadnt you? she said. Umm? She gave a sliver of a smile at my astonishment. May I ask for whom you are spying? Is it the Prime Minister? I wrote to him and to the Home Secretary. I was afraid that theyd taken no notice of me, but it seems one of them has after all. Then, when I didnt answer. Well, its no matter and Im sure it is your duty not to tell me. I did not know that they used women. Very sensible of them. You mean ? Only I must impress on you, and you must pass this on to whoever is employing you, action must be taken at once. This nonsense has gone quite far enough, and it must stop before somebody dies. No smile now. Her hand had closed round the top of her cane, as if she were trying to squeeze sap out of the long-dead ebony. Somebody has already died, I said. All the more reason to stop it then. What are you waiting for? Hurry. I went. When I looked back from a bend in the road there was only the oak tree, no sign of her. There was a letter for Celia at the stables that Monday morning, but nothing from Mr Blackstone. On Tuesday, when Mrs Beedle came up to see the children at their lessons, she gave not the slightest sign that she regarded me as anything but the governess. I notice that you havent been coming down with the children, Miss Lock. Im sorry, maam, but there is a great deal to do for Mrs Quivering. In fact, the place cards were all written and she probably knew that, but she gave me a nod and corrected a spelling mistake on Jamess slate that Id missed. Sharp eyes, Miss Lock. Sharp brains are all very well, but theres nothing like sharp eyes. On Wednesday morning I made my usual journey to the livery stables, but the crows were sitting on the dead oak tree as usual and there was no sign of her. There were two letters that day, a thin one for Celia and a thinner one for me. I opened it on the journey back. You have done well, Miss Lock, Your duties are at an end. You need not communicate with me any further. I shall see you again when this affair is over, or provide for you as best I can. I crumpled it in my hand, furious. So Blackstone thought I could be dismissed with a pat on the head, like an unwanted hound. He had a debt to me everything he knew about my fathers death. I intended to collect that debt, however long it took me. Just one phrase of his note interested me: when this affair is over It added to the sense I had of things moving towards a crisis. It increased all through the day as house guests began arriving in advance of the weekend. Every hour brought another grand carriage trotting up the drive and the children wouldnt settle and kept jumping up to look at them. It was a relief when Mrs Quivering summoned me downstairs again. Miss Lock, do you understand music? She had a new pile of papers on her desk and a more than usually worried expression. Understand? There are musicians arriving tomorrow who, it seems, must have parts copied for them. Will they not bring their own music? It is something newly written. Sir Herbert ordered it from some great composer in London and is in a terrible passion I mean, is seriously inconvenienced because the person delivered it late and with the individual parts not written out. Ill do it gladly, I said, meaning it. It was just the excuse I needed for keeping behind the scenes on the servants side of the house for the next two evenings. Id often done the same service for my fathers friends, so it was a link too with my old life. She dumped the score on my desk and left me to look at it. A few minutes were enough to show that Sir Herberts great composer was a competent hack at best. The piece was headed Welcome Home and came in three parts: a long instrumental introduction, rather military in style, scored for woodwind, two trumpets and a side drum. Then a vocal section for woodwind, strings, baritone and high tenor, with pinchbeck words about past glories and future triumphs, followed by an instrumental coda with so much work for the trumpets that I hoped theyd demand an extra fee. I wondered if Mrs Beedle had proposed me for the copying work and, if so, what I was expected to gain from it. As the afternoon went on, I guessed that it had nothing to do with the music, but very much to do with keeping me in a convenient place for spying. Everything in a household, from kitchen maids with hysterics to guests mislaying their toothbrushes, came to the housekeepers room. There was one particular incident that afternoon. The assistant housekeeper came into the room and whispered something to Mrs Quivering, who followed her out to the corridor. She left the door half open and I saw one of the under footmen leaning against the wall, pale-faced, with tears running down his cheeks. I knew him slightly because he sometimes brought coal and lamp oil to the nursery kitchen. His name was Simon and he was fourteen years old, tall for his age but childish in his ways. I believe he owed his promotion from kitchen boy to under footman to the fact that his shoulders were broad enough to fill out the livery jacket. Mrs Quivering gave him a handkerchief to mop his eyes and listened with bent head to what he was saying. I couldnt hear him, but her voice carried better. It is not your fault, Simon, but you must not talk about it. While he is here, you will go back to working in the kitchen, then well see. But if you talk about it, you will be in very serious trouble. Her assistant led the boy away and she came back into the room, heaving a sigh and not looking very pleased with herself. Soon after that, the butler came in, a sad-faced man named Mr Hall. They carried on a conversation in low voices, heads close together, with Mrs Quivering doing most of the talking. I will not tolerate it, Mr Hall. The servants are under our protection. A word must be said. He wont take it well. I am almost past caring how he takes it. I had Abigail in tears this morning too. She said Lord Kilkeel swore at her most vilely when he found her in his room. Shed gone in there to clean and make the bed, and he told her nobody was to set foot in there, for any reason, without his express permission. The poor girl was so terrified shes been quite useless since. And now the other one and Simon. If you wont speak to him about the two of them, then I shall. And if I lose my position through it, there are others. The butler said yes, hed speak to him as soon as he had the opportunity. I could see Mrs Quivering didnt quite believe him, but they parted on civil terms and she went back to her lists. Towards the end of the afternoon, I grew tired of having to draw musical staves with Mrs Quiverings knobble-edged ruler and went up to the schoolroom for a better one. I found Charles and James arguing, Henrietta sulking and Betty so worn out with having to cope with them on her own that it was the least I could do to give her an hours relief by taking them for a walk in the grounds. We went out by a side entrance because they were in their plain schoolroom clothes and not fit for being seen by company. With that in mind, I guided them quickly towards the flower garden, for the protection of its high beech hedges. Celia? Celia, where are you? Stephens voice came from the other side of the hedge. Henrietta stopped. I whispered to her to go on, but she put her eye to the hedge. Hes with Mr Brighton, she said in a loud whisper. I caught Henrietta by the arm and fairly dragged her along a gravel path to the safety of a little ornamental orchard behind the flower garden, with the boys following. It was a pleasant acre of old apple and pear trees with a thatched wooden summerhouse in the middle, too far from the house to be much used by adults. Once we were safely there, I helped Henrietta tuck her skirts up to the knee and encouraged them to play hide and seek. Soon they were absorbed in their game and I sat on the bench in the summerhouse, still uneasy at having come so close to Mr Brighton, even more so in case Kilkeel came to join him. Elizabeth. Celias whisper, from behind me. I spun round but couldnt see her until she hissed my name again. One alarmed eye and a swathe of red-gold hair showed in a gap between the planks that made up the back wall of the summerhouse. Miss Mandeville, what in the world are you doing there? Your brothers looking for you. I know. Would you please keep the children here long enough for them to get tired of looking for me. Why? Because my stepfather wants me to be pleasant to Mr Brighton. She said the name with such scorn and anger that I half expected it to scorch the planks between us. But why should you be ? I was puzzled. She had no reason, as far as I knew, to share my abhorrence of the man. Havent you understood anything? Hes the reason why Philip must take me away. You mean your stepfather wants you to marry that Shh. Yes. My voice must have risen in surprise. Luckily, it was masked by Henriettas shriek of triumph as she discovered James hiding behind a pear tree. My turn to hide. My turn to hide. The boys closed their eyes. Charles started counting. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight Ive been trying to keep away from him all afternoon, Celia whispered. He must surely get tired soon. Eighty-seven, seventy-nine Youre not counting properly, Henrietta protested. She was plunging round among the trees, looking for a hiding place. Then she changed direction and came running towards the summerhouse. No, dont let her, Celia hissed through the planks. I stood up, but too late to intercept Henrietta as she ran behind the summerhouse. Ive found Celia. Ive found Celia. Go away you little pest. But Henriettas voice must have carried over the hedges. Stephen called from some way off in the flower garden, Celia? Two pairs of footsteps sounded on the gravel path, one quick, one slow and heavy. Go to them, Celia said to me. From her voice, she was near to tears. Tell them shes lying and Im not here. By then I was in a fair panic myself. I cant. Why not? Mr Brighton saw me at the stables dressed as a boy. Supposing he guesses? A gasp from behind the planks, then silence apart from Henriettas capering steps on the grass. Stephen appeared at the gap in the hedge. I sat down again, curling into the darkest corner of the summerhouse. As he came striding in our direction I stayed where I was, determined that Celia must solve her own problem for once. Celia, are you there? he called. Celia came out from behind the summerhouse looking far cooler than Id expected, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear. Youre too hot, Henrietta. Youll make yourself ill. Her voice was cool too, but she threw me a glance of pure terror. As far as I could tell, Stephen hadnt noticed me in the summerhouse. Celia, where have you been? Weve been looking for you everywhere. Here, with the children, Celia said. But Henriettas made herself over-excited running about. Im taking her back to the house to lie down. Cant Betty or Miss Lock see to them? Stephen protested. But Celia took a firm grip of her half-sisters hand and began walking towards the hedge. She was almost there when Mr Brighton arrived, flushed of face but gorgeously dressed in pale green cut-away coat with green-and-pink striped waistcoat. He stood staring at Celia like an actor unsure of his cue. Anything less like an ardent suitor Id never seen. Charles, James, come here, Celia said, ignoring him entirely. She collected the boys and shepherded the three children straight past Mr Brighton as if he were no more than another apple tree. When theyd disappeared, he prodded his walking cane into the grass a few times with a vacant look, then his hand went to the pocket in his coat-tail, the gold box came out and his little finger carefully applied pink balm to his full lower lip. He seemed lost. Stephen had to escort him away in the end, much as Celia had done with the children. I stayed in the summerhouse, surprised by her resourcefulness and weak with relief at not having come face to face with Mr Brighton. Something about him was nagging at my mind something apart from what had happened in the stables. When I saw the vacant expression on his face, a kind of half-recognition had come to me, as if Id seen that look before a long time ago, though where and when I couldnt say. I remained there for some time. It was cool and restful and I was in no hurry to return to all the complications inside the house. I think I must have fallen into a half doze, because I didnt hear the footsteps coming back on the gravel path until they were almost at the hedge. They were male steps, but rather uncertain, as if the person didnt know what hed find on the other side. I hoped it was simply a guest taking a stroll and started to stand up, intending to say a polite good afternoon and leave. But it wasnt a guest. Stephen Mandeville was standing in front of me. Miss Lock, I was hoping youd still be here. No, please, sit down. So hed seen me after all. He seemed weary, dark hair disordered, shadows under his eyes. There was nothing for it but to sit down again. He settled himself on the far side of the bench, with a respectable distance between us. I waited, heart thumping. It was in my mind that Mr Brighton might have told him about seeing me at the stables. Im very glad to find you on good terms with my sister, he said. I was right to think shed find you sympathetic. His voice was low and gentle, no hint of accusation in it. Miss Mandeville is very kind. I fear Im not as much help as I should like to be with her sketching. I looked down at our feet his polished brown boots, my serviceable black just as a governess should. In fact, I was feeling too guilty to meet his eyes. Here he was, showing concern for a sister, just as Id hope Tom would do for me, and I was helping her deceive him. My sister knows no more about sketching than my spaniel does, and cares even less. Oh. Im not blaming you in any way, Miss Lock. I suggested you should make a friend of Celia, after all. But weve always been close and I sense sometimes when things are not well with her. Have you a brother, Miss Lock? Yes. I looked up at him and away again. Youll understand what I mean, then. I hope Im wrong, but I sense Celia may be contemplating a step that might be very harmful for her. Harmful? A young womans reputation is easily harmed. My sister is the most warm-hearted girl in the world but, to be frank, without much forethought. Then Ill be frank as well, I said. I looked him in the eyes now, not even trying to talk like a governess but doing my best for both of them. The most important decision a woman makes is who shell marry. Shouldnt she follow her own wishes? Its not always as simple as that, is it, Miss Lock? Especially when families of some note are involved. I was on the point of replying sharply that note or no note, it made no difference to the heart. What silenced me was the thought that he might be thinking of his own mother who had married once for love and once for money. He let the silence draw out for a while. Im not asking you to betray a confidence, Miss Lock. I can only hope if you knew that Celia were on the point of doing something really unwise, youd give a hint to me. In that case, I might be able to convince her to draw back before things went too far and came to other ears. The meaning was plain Sir Herberts ears. I understand. Youll keep that in mind, Miss Lock? Yes. Yes, I shall. He stood up, gave me a brief nod as if something important had been agreed and walked away through the gap in the hedge. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (#ulink_7011467a-a0d7-5b78-a4af-30fe0d1271ae) I waited in the summerhouse until I thought family and guests would be dressing for dinner, then slipped in at the side entrance and returned to my copying. Near midnight, Mrs Quivering found me there and insisted I must go to bed. Crotchets and quavers danced behind my eyes all night and by six oclock in the morning I was back at work. Mrs Quivering rewarded me with a cup of chocolate and warm sweet rolls for breakfast. Just like Lady Mandeville has. Shall we be ready in time? The musicians are supposed to be arriving by midday. Soon after midday, she put her head round the door. Theyve arrived and theyre eating. Then they want to start rehearsing in the damask drawing room. Im just finishing. Ill take them in. There was still a page of the second trumpet part to do, but in my experience, musicians were not readily torn away from free food. I finished the page, blotted it and carried the whole pile of parts to the damask drawing room. It was one of the largest and most pleasant rooms in the house, with wide windows looking on to the terrace, white-painted wall panels, blue damask curtains and upholstery and a beautiful plaster ceiling with a design of musical instruments and swags of olive leaves against a pale blue background. When I arrived servants were putting out rows of chairs on the blue-and-gold carpet and the musicians were trickling in with music stands and cases. I asked a flautist where I might find their director. Just coming in, maam. A dapper little figure came through the doorway, dark hair shining in the sun like a cap of patent leather. Mr Suter, the flautist started saying, theres a lady But he got no further because Daniel Suter and I were embracing like long-lost sister and brother and my carefully copied parts had gone flying all over the carpet. Indecorous, certainly, and goodness knows what Mrs Quivering would have said, but he had been part of my life as long as I could remember and dearer to me than almost all of my relatives by blood. What a miracle, I said, when I got my breath back. What a coincidence. Miraculous I may be, child, but I disdain mere coincidence. Kennedy gave me your message two days ago. Id been in France until then. But how did you manage to be here with the orchestra? An acquaintance of mine had accepted, but was more than happy to pass on the honour when I helped him to three days of more congenial work. Then his smile faded. Forgive me child, running on like this. Your father I want so much to talk to you. And I to you, child. But what are you doing here? I knelt down and began gathering the scattered parts. Im the governess. Why in the world? I cant tell you now. May we meet later? Later, when Ive come all this way to find you? Not at all. But your rehearsal I handed him the score. He looked through the first few pages, eyebrows raised. They were fine, expressive eyebrows. Some people joked that he could direct an orchestra with them alone. They came together as his forehead pinched in artistic pain, rose again in amusement as he flipped to the last few pages. Ah, child, the sacrifice I have made for you. He called out a name and tossed the score across the room to one of the other musicians, who caught it neatly. Take them through it, he said. I dont suppose youll encounter anything you havent met a hundred times before. Sir Herbert informs me that he has no liking for pianissimo or indeed any other fancy foreign issimo so kindly keep that in mind. The other musician smiled, clearly used to Daniel. He took the rest of the parts from me and dumped them on the pianoforte. Now, my dear lady, let us wander in the garden. People might see us. Am I such a disgrace? Guests, I mean. Governesses do not mix with them. Judging from what Ive seen and heard of Sir Herbert, you may be wise in scorning his guests. Please be serious. I should be dismissed if I were seen walking with you. Where is the spirit of Figaro? But very well, we shall hide ourselves among the vegetables. Vegetables? There must surely be an honest vegetable garden where guests dont go. Half a dozen gardeners were at work behind the warm brick walls when we got there, but they hardly looked up from their hoeing. We walked along gravel paths between borders of parsley, oregano and marjoram, alive with butterflies. Daniel Suter offered me his arm in a kind of courtly parody of a lady and gentleman strolling, but it was a good firm arm, and I was glad to keep hold of it. My dear, why did you run away? All of your fathers friends will help you. There was no need for this servitude. I want to know who killed my father. What have they told you? They? Nobodys told me anything, except one man, and I dont know how far to believe him. Who? A man who calls himself Mr Blackstone. I felt his arm go tense under mine. Wed come to the end of our path, facing the wall, and had to choose right or left. There were beans growing on strings up the wall, their red and white flowers just opening and fat furry bees blundering round them. Daniel stood, apparently staring at the bees, but I guessed he was not seeing them. So what do you know? I asked him. Child, please leave it be. Id give my own life, if I could, to bring your father back to you. But since I cant Since you cant, at least do this for him. You know very well he wasnt killed in a duel, dont you? He gave the faintest of nods, slight as the movement of a bean leaf under the weight of a bee. What else do you know? I said. Very little. Im sorry to say hed been dead two weeks before I even heard about it. A few days after he left Paris, I went to Lyon. Somebody wrote to me there Who? A friend. He mentioned a name that meant nothing to me. He said hed been shot, no more. We started walking again, turning left between beds of lettuces and chicory. I told him everything that had happened to me, from the time I left my aunts house. When I came to how I was almost carried off by Lord Kilkeel and Mr Trumper, he said, Damn them! so loudly that a couple of gardeners raised their heads from weeding. You know them? The man Trumper, I think, yes. But go on. It took us three complete tours of the garden. Several times he stopped and looked at me as if he couldnt believe what I was saying, then shook his head and walked on. I stopped before I came to Mr Brightons arrival and the incident in the loosebox. I couldnt quite bring myself to talk about that. So Blackstone sent you here? he said at the end. Yes. He had no right. He had my fathers ring. I brought it out, untied the ribbon and put it into his hand. He held it for a while, then gave it back to me. Blackstone gave you this? How did he get it? He said he bought it from the people in the morgue. He wanted to keep it, but I took it from him. He wears a ring like it. Who is he? Did he have some kind of power over my father? No. He sounded angry, then, more gently, He had no kind of power over your father. But Blackstone is a man involved in many wild schemes, always has been. I think your father may unwittingly have been caught up in one of them. What? I dont know. He shook his head. What youve told me is so new to me, I cant make sense of it. What about this woman who needed help? How does she come into it? Blackstone says he doesnt know who she is, but I think he has some idea. Shes as mysterious to me as she is to you. Your father and I were in Paris together and he said nothing about a He stopped suddenly. Youve remembered something? No. Nothing to the purpose. We were near a stone water trough. He let go of my arm, sat down on the edge of it, and put his head in his hands. Child, if I had the slightest idea, Id have dragged your father back to England, bound hand and foot if necessary. But how could any of us tell? It seemed no more than a joke. He talked about a joke in his letter, then the quote from Shelley about princes. I couldnt understand it, for a long time. Only I think I do now. There was somebody in Paris, wasnt there? Somebody you were laughing at? Yes. He said it reluctantly, head bowed. That person, I think hes here now, in this house. What? His head came up. Hes the reason Mr Blackstone wants me to spy. I think I know now why my father was killed. I knew yesterday. When Id seen Mr Brighton in the orchard, the look on his face, his whole posture, had gathered so many threads together. Daniels large dark eyes were fixed on mine. There was so much sadness in them that it scared me. He took my right hand between both of his. Child, you are coming with me now. Where? Back to London. Dont even go in to collect your bonnet. We shall go to the stables and steal a horse if necessary. I already have a horse and I am not going anywhere. Then I shall carry you. He shifted as if he intended to make good his threat. The thought of neat, ironic Daniel carrying a struggling woman over his shoulder was too much for me and I laughed out loud. Oh my dear, I have already been carried off by my fathers enemies. Spare me the same treatment from his friends. He didnt laugh. So I failed to protect your father and Im to fail again with his daughter? If you owe him anything, isnt it justice at least? I owe it to him to keep you alive. I dont believe Im in danger. Another person may be. Why did you want to find me, if you wont let me care for you? I wanted to know what happened when you were with my father in Paris. But I believe Ive guessed most of it now. There are two other things I need you to do for me. What? Look at a picture and look at a person. His eyebrows went up to his hair-line. The picture is to the left of the big drawing-room door, I said. The person is an honoured guest and will probably be sitting close to Sir Herbert at dinner. If I am right, youll have seen him at least once before. We are to play quartets to them after dinner. If I do this, will you come back to London with me? After the weekend, yes. Tonight. No. Carry out your engagement, play their Welcome Home nonsense, then well go. Whatever happened, I could not desert Celia until either Id talked her out of elopement or she was safely in the arms of her Philip. Id rather play his funeral march, he said. I knew then that Id won my point and gave his hand a squeeze. Ill leave first. We should not be seen together any more. Will you meet me here tonight, after youve played your quartets? For reply, he hummed a few bars from Figaro about meeting in the garden, but his dark eyes were miserable. I left him sitting on the water trough. * Back in the schoolroom, Betty was mending a pinafore. Where did you get to? Miss Mandeville came looking for you. She wants some more help with her sketching. She said to tell you shed be on the terrace. I found her sitting alone on a bench by a statue of Diana the Huntress, sketchpad on her lap, face shaded by a lavender parasol wedged between the slats of the bench. The sketch consisted of a few vague lines that might have been ploughland or seashore. Wheres Mr Brighton? I said. Playing billiards with Stephen. She stuck out her lower lip, moistened her finger on it and dabbed at an imaginary billiard cue. How could anybody think Id marry such a ragdoll of a man? I shouldnt do it if he were Czar of all the Russias. She scored a line across her sketch, so savagely that the point of her pencil broke. Your brother spoke to me about you, I said. She gripped my arm. What did he say? He thinks you might be on the point of doing something unwise. You didnt tell him? Surely you didnt. Her fingers dug into my arm. No, I didnt. She let go of my arm. He said you were close, I said. We were. Until this. It was no more than a murmur. I thought of Tom and how hed feel if I were to elope without telling him. I do believe he cares about you, I said. Perhaps if you were to make him understand how totally opposed you are to Mr Brighton No. Why not? Stephen does care for me, but he doesnt understand. And I think hes scared of my stepfather. He did not strike me as a person easily scared. Sir Herbert bought off his IOUs to get him out of prison. He could use them to put him back, if he wanted. How do you know? Stephen told me that himself. You mustnt tell him, Elizabeth. I forbid you to even think about telling him. She scored another line across the page, splintering wood from the broken pencil. Why did you want to see me? I asked. Philip is coming for me on Saturday night, at nine oclock. Hell have a carriage waiting on the back road. I want you to come with me. Elope with you? Of course not. Just as far as the carriage. I dont know my way down the back road and Ill have things to carry. And we must be so much more careful now, if Stephen suspects. Her fingers picked nervously at the pencil. Its a serious decision to make, leaving your family, I said. Do you think I dont know that? Ill probably never see my mother again, or Stephen, or Betty. Tears ran down her cheeks. Perhaps if you were to speak to your mother What good would that do? Shes terrified of my stepfather too, surely youve seen that. I dread to think what hell do to her after Ive gone. He could hardly blame her. He will. I suppose you think badly of me, leaving my mother in danger. I hope she will not be in danger. I hope so too, with all my heart. But she chose to marry him and shell always be unhappy now, whatever happens. Does that mean I must waste my life too? So you wont speak to either of them? No. If I spoke to anybody it might be my grandmother, but Perhaps you should. I was on the edge of telling her about Mrs Beedles behaviour but stopped myself. It wasnt my secret. No, Ive made my choice and I choose Philip, and thats all there is to it. This Philip, do you know him well? I cared enough for her to hope she wasnt throwing herself away on some worthless man just to escape. Of course I do. A year ago, we were practically engaged to be married. But your stepfather disapproved? No, thats the cruel part of it. What happened? Philip and I met at Weymouth last summer. Sir Herbert was prescribed sea bathing for pain in his joints, so of course we all had to pack up and go. Philips father was there for the bathing too. I think my stepfather approved, as far as he cared at all. It would get me off his hands without having to pay a settlement because Philips family are very comfortably situated. They have an estate in Buckinghamshire and Philip will inherit a baronetcy if his uncle dies before he has any children, and the uncles sixty-three and a bachelor, so She paused for breath. So altogether a most suitable match, I said. She looked sharply at me. I wonder why you have such a low opinion of me. The fact is, I love Philip, he adores me and Id marry him even if he were a pauper. Im sorry. Only Im glad he isnt, of course. I believed her, both about that and loving him, which was a relief in its way. When did your stepfather change his mind? Only in the last month or so. When Mr Brighton came on the scene? She nodded. It would be treason, wouldnt it? She asked the question very softly, looking down at the sketchpad. The paper was damp from her tears. I think so, yes. And my stepfathers trying to drag me into it, for his own ambition. So Ive no choice, you see, no choice at all. Yes, I see. She dried her eyes with her handkerchief and took a deep breath. So now there are just two days and seven hours to live through and Ill be away with Philip and it will be all over. Only theres that terrible dinner to get through first. I know theyll make me sit next to him. Im glad youll be there, at least. I shall be able to look down the table at you and know somebody understands what Im suffering. I? At the dinner? Didnt Mrs Quivering tell you? Youre to fill a gap in the table. Lady Arlen is enceinte again so has cried off the dinner, and that put out the whole table plan because they were a woman short. So my grandmother said you were perfectly ladylike and they could move somebody else up and put you down at the far end. Why are you looking so scared? Hell recognise me. He cant fail to if were sitting at the same dinner table. My panic was about Lord Kilkeel, but she naturally thought it applied to Mr Brighton. How can he? There are forty people, remember, and youll be at the very far end of the table, and by candlelight. The people at the other end wont even see you. I hoped she was right. Mrs Beedle had been clever, seizing the chance to provide her spy with a seat at the dinner. I might have tried again to persuade Celia to confide in her, but two of the house guests, a gentleman and a lady with a little dog, were approaching from the far side of the terrace. Botheration, Celia said. I suppose theyre coming to talk to me. She crumpled her damp apology for a sketch and rose from the bench to face them while I slipped away, down the side steps of the terrace and into the back entrance. Mrs Quiverings assistant was in the housekeepers room, drinking sage tea for her sore throat. Theres a letter come for you, Miss Lock. She handed over a coarse grey envelope. When did it arrive? I dont know. Somebody delivered it to the stables and a boy brought it over. The writing was Amos Legges. I went into the corridor and opened the envelope. Miss Lane, Ther is a thing I heard about the twogentlemen in the travling coach. I will come when I can and ask for you at the back door. Yours ruspectfully, A. Legge If I could, Id have gone straight to the livery stables to find him, but I was needed back in the schoolroom to superintend the childrens dinner and afternoon walk in the grounds. With so many visitors in residence, ladies and gentlemen kept stopping us, talking to the children and petting them. It made them over-excited and above themselves, but at least we were spared the ceremony of taking them down before dinner. Lady Mandeville has one of her headaches, Betty said. That saved me from having to invent a headache of my own as an excuse. We took off their best clothes, supervised their washing and tooth brushing and got them into their beds by half past eight. When wed set the schoolroom straight, I said I needed a walk to clear my head. It was time to keep the appointment with Daniel. The light was fading, the brick walls of the vegetable garden radiating back the heat of the day. The gardeners had gone by then, but they must have watered the plants last thing because warm, damp earth scented the dusk, along with lingering whiffs of carrot, spring onions, bruised tarragon. Pale moths wafted around the bean flowers like flakes of ash blown up from a bonfire and a hedgehog rooted and grunted under the rhubarb leaves. I sat on the edge of the water trough and waited. Liberty. Daniel Suters voice, from the door in the wall. Im here. He came over to me, practically running, tripping on the gravel path. Well? I said. You were right, child. Ye gods, what a situation. He sat down beside me, breathing hard. Id known him all my life, but had never seen him discomposed before. You recognised somebody here who was in Paris? As you thought, the man they call Mr Brighton. My heart jolted, like a salmon trying to leap out of water and flopping back. And you saw the portrait? I said. Yes. Youre right. There is a very strong resemblance. But youd expect that, of course. My father saw it. The dregs of their dull race I should have guessed. It wasnt only your father who saw. They were flaunting it. They were a laughing-stock among the Parisians. The very waiters would bow to him in jest, only he took it in deadly earnest. Tell me, please, everything that happened in Paris. Theres not so very much to tell. It all happened over just two days and nights. Everything you can remember. He took a deep breath. It was pure good luck meeting your father in Paris. He inquired at a few hotels where he knew Id stayed in the past and found me. And, as chance would have it, half a dozen of our mutual friends were there, musicians mostly and And? Lodge brothers. We spent the afternoon in each others company, talking about all the things you talk about when you havent seen your friends for months. Your father was in excellent spirits, money in his pocket, looking forward to reaching home and being with you. He said so? He certainly did. We talked a lot about you. We all had dinner together and your father asked if there was anywhere we might have a hand or two of cards, simply for amusement. I know. Money never stayed in his pockets for very long. This time he was determined it should. We went to a place I knew, off the Champs lyses. He did not intend to play for high stakes, but He won a horse. Indeed he did, from some old marquis whod won her off somebody else and didnt know what to do with her. But how did you know that? From the same person who told me you were together in Paris. So how does Mr Brighton come into the story? The table next to ours were playing high. There were about half a dozen of them, all English. They were already there when our party arrived and theyd been drinking heavily. Mr Brighton was totally drunk and kept yelling out remarks in that terrible high bray of his. It was a small place and the tables were too close together. At one point, Mr Brighton pushed his chair back suddenly and sent your fathers tokens scattering all over the floor. Did my father resent it? No. He had too much good sense to quarrel with a man in drink. We all picked the tokens up and went on playing. It happened a second time and we did the same thing. By the third time, it was obvious that the fool was doing it deliberately. I said something, fairly mild in the circumstances, about taking more care. Mr Brighton went as red as a turkey cocks wattles. He pulled himself as near upright as he could get and said, Do you know whom youre speaking to, sir? Spraying spittle all over me in the process. So, A clumsy buffoon, so it would appear, sir, I said. I will admit it was not the most politic speech, but I was annoyed by then. A man they called Trumper A fair-haired country squire kind of man? Yes, the very same oaf who tried to carry you off. Anyway, he seemed to realise that his friend was making an ass of himself and took him into a side room, where I assume they continued to play. By then the evening had been spoiled for us, so we finished our hand and left. And nothing was said about a duel? Good heavens, no. It had been an unpleasant few minutes, thats all. Nobody thought of duelling. We went to supper and stayed up late over our pipes and our punch talking of this and that. And there it might have ended if we hadnt been joined by some Frenchmen your father knew. My French is nowhere near as good as his and they were talking away nineteen to the dozen. Something they said seemed to amuse your father mightily so we asked him to translate so that we could all share the joke He hesitated. A barn owl flew over the garden, just a few feet higher than the walls. From further off, a fox barked. I can remember all of it, Daniel said. All of the words, that is. Only the tune of it will be wrong, if you understand me. It was still a joke to us then, you see. Please, every word. Your father turned to me, pulling a long face. Daniel, he said, you are in very serious trouble. In fact, you will be lucky to escape with your head. Have you any notion of the identity of our spluttering young friend whom you so grossly insulted? Well, by then we were near the bottom of the punch bowl and we all began imitating the young asss bray, Do you know who youre speaking to, sir? Your father sat watching us, grinning over his pipe, until we became tired of it and silence fell. Well, Daniel, he said, my Parisian friends here tell me it is an open secret. He goes by the nom de guerre of Mr Brighton, but his identity is well known to every pawn shop and gambling hell in this fair city. Young Mr Brighton is none other than Then he couldnt go on for laughing. I played the farce out, pretending to tremble, knees knocking. Dont keep me in suspense, old friend, I said. Who is this gentleman to whom my humble head is forfeit? And your father, just managing to get the words out between gusts of laughter, replied: Only the rightful heir to the throne of England, thats all. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN (#ulink_c73be0ef-6fc9-5cc9-aa9f-e94d68b801b5) Youd guessed, hadnt you? Daniel said. Only Ive no notion how you did. His voice was sad at all that laughter gone sour. Sir Herberts desperate to marry him into the family, I said. His daughters too young, so his stepdaughter has to do, poor thing. She came very near to telling me. Then there was the portrait. As soon as I saw Brighton, he reminded me of somebody. But why should it be poor Princess Charlotte? Ive been thinking about that. Do you remember when the princess died? Of course not. I was only two years old. He sighed. Id forgotten how young you are, or perhaps how old I am. I do remember. I was in my last year at school. Another sigh. You were sorry? I had no more strong feelings about the deaths of princesses than I have now. But shed been popular and people mourned her. Then later there were some ugly rumours going round, so ugly that Im sorry to have to repeat them. Youre cold? I must have shivered. The child Henrietta said she was poisoned. He took his jacket off and draped it round my shoulders, in spite of my protests. It smelled comfortingly of violin resin and candlewax. Yes, that was part of it. Charlotte was a healthy young woman, you see, with the very best of medical attention. She and the baby should not have died. But women do die in childbirth, even healthy ones, I said. So they do. But some years later rumours started that she and her baby had both been poisoned just after the birth. Why would anybody do such a terrible thing? She was Queen Carolines daughter. In some peoples opinion, Caroline was well nigh a lunatic, certainly an adulteress. Certain distinguished persons at court were said to be determined that neither her daughter nor her grandson should ever come to the throne. But to kill a baby! Its like something from the Middle Ages. Royalty is something from the Middle Ages. Did many people believe it? It was a persistent rumour, helped by another unfortunate fact. What? A few months after Charlotte and her baby son died, the gentleman whod had charge of the birth, her accoucheur, shot himself. In remorse for killing her? No, there was no suggestion of that, even in the rumours. But he was an honourable man and, so its said, blamed himself for not foreseeing the plot and preventing their deaths. Daniel, do you believe this? No. I believe their deaths were sheer misfortune. But it seems some people, including Sir Herbert Mandeville, are determined to revive the rumour with one essential difference. Whats that? Child, youve come so far. Can you not see it for yourself? I didnt want to think. Id thought enough and every time it seemed to have made things worse. We sat for a long while in silence. The days warmth had faded from the brick wall behind us and Daniel must have been cold in his shirtsleeves and waistcoat, but he gave no sign of it. Well, Liberty? The baby didnt die after all. Charlotte died, but her baby didnt. And was spirited away by Charlottes friends and brought up safely on the Continent, until the time came to claim what was rightfully his. Yes? No! I agree with you. Its a fairy tale, a horrible, warped fairy tale. And yet its what Sir Herbert and Trumper and all the other greedy fools think they can get the country to believe. Im sorry, Liberty. Im ranting. But their idiocy has killed your father and could do so much other damage. He was trembling now, from anger not cold. But why are they doing it? I said. Why do men do most things? Money and power. Sir Herbert and his like have been running the country since the Conqueror. Now theyre beginning to see some of their power stripped away, and it maddens them. When they knew the poor buffoon William was dying and thered be a mere child on the throne a girl child at that they decided to take their chance. Put in another king, one beholden to them, and no more nonsense about reform. But even if he were Princess Charlottes son, why should they suppose people would support him rather than little Vicky? He is hardly Bonnie Prince Charlie, is he? Daniel laughed bitterly. So-called Bonnie Prince Charlie was a fat, red-faced, drink-sodden wreck, yet men died for him fewer than a hundred years ago. And my father died because of Mr Brighton? Yes. I cant see any other explanation. He must have threatened their plans in some way. But how could he? You said it was an open secret in Paris in any case. As a joke, yes. But he thought it was all a joke too. He said so in his letter. And my father wasnt important, not in that way. He couldnt have made any difference. It puzzles me, I admit. But he must have known something, otherwise why should they have tried to kidnap you? It was a woman they wanted to know about. Daniel, do please think. There must have been a woman somewhere, those last days in Paris. He shook his head. I cant remember him speaking to a woman at all, except the maids at the hotel. And He hesitated. Theres still something youre not telling me, isnt there? I said. No. Nothing that matters. How do you know? Anything might matter. Very well. There was a wine shop on the corner of the street near our hotel. I happened to be walking past and Im nearly sure he was sitting with a woman. You didnt go in and join him? No. There was no reason. Besides Besides what? The wine shop was used quite a lot by the local dames de la nuit. Now, dont rush to conclusions. As you know, your father would talk to anybody and His voice trailed away. It might explain something, I said. Supposing thered been an English girl there, fallen on hard times. He might have promised to bring her home to her family. Yes, he might. Daniel sounded embarrassed and unhappy. But theres a lot it wouldnt explain, isnt there? Why should Kilkeel be so interested in some poor Englishwoman? Why should anybody kill my father over her? . . , (https://www.litres.ru/caro-peacock/3-book-victorian-crime-collection-death-at-dawn-death-of-a-da/?lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .