Baldwin 1 Refuge for Masterminds A Stranje House Novel By Kathleen Baldwin
Baldwin 2 Dedication My dearest daughter I often find you walking in the pages of my books It delights me to discover your traits hidden inside my characters Why wouldn t they be, when I admire you so much ? You are my very own beloved unusual girl. Thank you for your priceless help and lasting inspiration.
Baldwin 3 Chapter 1 Lady Jane Moore The oil lamp flicker s and hisse s It i s late, very late. The oil w ill run out soon. Even though it is long past midnight I continue work ing at my desk in the library listing possibilities, drawing lines from one hypothesis to another, scratching out those lines and mapping new ones t rying to calculate which o f the many options our enemy will take next In my mind, t he players line up before me like pieces on a chessboard, and it keeps coming back to this to Lady Daneska. Evil qu een take s knight. Checkmate. We lose. Except she isn t a queen S he was once one of us, one of Miss Stranje s students. Now she s Napoleon s clever little troublemaker, and paramour to Ghost, codename for the British traitor who leads the emperor s secret Order of the Iron Crown. I set down the quill and massage my forehe ad. The knight is in danger. Alexander Sinclair, nephew of the American inventor, Robert Fulton has been
Baldwin 4 hiding at Stranje House. He s slated to leave in three short days. Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt plan to help him sail the prototype of his steam powered warship to London where they ll demonstrate its capabilities to the British admiralty. Everything hinge s on Alexander and his war ship arriving unscathed in London. They shouldn t risk that journey Not yet, not until we have more safeguards in pla ce but I ve been overruled. They insist there isn t time Why can t they see what will happen? Lady Daneska wants that steamship for Napoleon and she does n t care whose throat she has to cut to get it. She proved that when she tried to steal the plans a few days ago and nearly killed Tess and Madame Cho And i f Napoleon gets that warship, England will lose this war S he ll try to steal it I can predict exactly how it will play out. Their men will attack at sea, pirate the ship and capture Mr. Sinclair or send him and the others to graves at the bottom of the ocean. Mr. Sinclair scoffed at my warning yesterday You fret too much Lady Jane. The Mary Isabella is highly maneuverable. He and Georgie a re exceedingly proud of their prototype of Fulton s remarkable invention That vessel can outrun any other ship because she can sail against the tide and winds. Their boastful assurances are all well and good, but my misgivings remain Have you forgotten we ve been infiltrated ? I protested Stranje House ha s a traitor. They shrugged off my objections. The Iron Crown has fake plans. Georgie tried to placate me. That buys us the time we need. We survived Lady Daneska s last attack and sent her away with fals ified plans so
Baldwin 5 now e veryone is convin ced we finally have the advantage. Wh en in truth, the temporary advantage we may have gained slips away with every deadly tick of the clock There must be a way to make them listen to reason I slump over my desk, weary and troubled well aware there is another less altruistic thought vexing me. Even i f by some miracle we succeed in getting Mr. Sinclair and Fulton s remarkable warship safely to London, Mr. Sinclair will then most likely make a hasty departure to the United States. Of course, he will W hy shouldn t he? W hat does it matter? I sit ramrod straight hoping proper posture w ill alleviate the pinch in my neck He is nothing to me. Less than nothing To be frank, t he golden haired inventor i s the most maddening young man of my acquaintance, and that s saying a great deal considering my two plague y older brothers and their wastrel friends. My head beg ins to throb abominably I st an d slid e my papers beneath the blotter, and extinguish the lamp. Mr. Sinclair i s a sharp tongued fellow with boorish manners and he is not even an Englishman. T he idea of p arting with him ought to be a relief. Ought to be but isn t The thought of his leaving twist s my stomach into a Gordian knot. S ome warm milk might ease it out of its mi sery. Yes, that i s exactly the tonic I need, a calming cup of warm milk I pad silently out of the library and head down the dark hallway toward the kitchen. Stranje House is an odd place at night when everyone is asleep It s as if the old Tudor manor is alive the way it creaks and the windows shudder A young lady given to flights of imagination might feel as if t he walls are lean ing in as she walks through the
Baldwin 6 unlit hallways I however, do not indulge in such far fetched thoughts I m quite certain that moaning sound is nothing more than wind breathing through the secret passages. I ve no need of a candle. Even in the deep of night, I kn o w my way around Stranje H ouse well enough and prefer to forego the wobbly glare of a flame. Besid es, the heavy darkness suit s my mood. The last stairs leading down to the kitchen are wide stone steps with no banister They can be a trifle thorny to navigate in the dark F ortunately thin gray moonlight whiskers up from the downstairs windows and I glide my hand along the wall for added guidance Stepping into the spacious room I breath e deep the smell of baked rye bread and onion soup that still linger s. But something yank s my attention to the window above the baking table It might ve been a wisp of fog, or an owl soaring by to catch a mouse in the garden e xcept it had seemed bigger and more human. If I were prone to fanciful ruminations, I might ve thought a phantom flitted past Fortunately, I do not entertain such notions No, m y suspicions r u n in an entirely different direction. I rush to the window and lean up on my toes to peer out I n the distance, I spot the creature cloaked in grey, who passed by the window and s he wears a dress. Most decidedly not a ghost Although, she may be working for one U nless I miss my guess, this particular phantom is going about her duplicitous duties reporting our plans to Ghost s cohorts I press closer to the window hoping to see her more clearly rubbing the glass I squint, straining to identify her, watching as the clever minx leads the dogs to their pen and shut s them in.
Baldwin 7 This has to be our betrayer our traitor T he person responsible for all our slanted looks and unspoken suspicions. The sneaky girl who is ripping apart the bonds of friendship here at Stranje House. At least when Lady Daneska betrayed us we d kn own who she was and she didn t hide the fact that she ran off to join Napoleon s cause This traitor move s in secret slowly stealing away the confidence we ha ve in one another s loyalty. She is a disease, rotting us from the inside out. For what a re we without trust? Naught but a group of misfits and outcasts. Trust i s the foundation of our strength. Without it, we will surely crumble and leave the path clear for Napoleon to sail in and conquer England. W hich of us would commit such a crime ? I intend to find out. Pulling my shawl around my shoulders I hurr y to the bench beside the kitchen door and slip on cook s pattens, the wooden clogs she wears to go out into the muddy garden. Her mud shoes are three sizes too big but they will have to do. I leave the door unlatched so I can return easily, and sn ea k out to follow our poisonous little turncoat. Last week I cu t holes in the right side pockets of my dress es I slip my hand through the opening and reach for the dagger strapped in a sheath to my hip Ever since Tess taught me how to wield a knife in a close fight, I ve kept it on my person. I breathe easier once I feel the hilt in my palm. Without a coat and bonnet, I am not properly dressed for an outdoor excursion, especial ly one in the middle of the night, but at least I m suitably armed. I ke e p to the shadows, as does our traitor We skir t through the trees alongside the drive all the way to the towering gates that guard Stranje House. She open s the ancient iron sentinels just wide enough to slip through. They creak. S he pull s her hooded cloak
Baldwin 8 tight er and glance s over her shoulder as if she sense s she s being watched. I h o ld back, crouching in the undergrowth, not daring to get any closer lest the culprit might see me and pretend she is simply out for a late night stroll. The misty night hangs over us in a swirling fog and I am too far away to make out her features. I wait until she scurrie s on her little rat feet far enough down the road that she won t see me pass through the open gate behind her. Unlike Tess, I am not skilled at creeping through the woods and undergrowth. Each branch that crack s and every pile of leaves that crunche s under foot causes me to hold my breath expecting to be discovered. I n truth I am nothing like the other girls at Stranje House. They all have extraordinary talents and skills. Tess is a warrior who has the advantage of prophetic dreams. Sera takes notice of every detail, no matter how miniscule and draws conclusions based on the smallest thread of evidence. Georgie is a brilliant scientist, and Maya s voice is magical she can soothe tempers with a few well spoken words. I have none of those skills As my brother s so delicately phrased it I am an overly opinionated female who refuses to mind her own business That s why they packed me up and hauled me off to Stranje House, to keep me out of their way. I have absolutely no idea why Miss Stranje allows me to stay. She says it is because I am a mastermind. Stuff and nonsense! I m no mastermind. A mastermind is a strategic genius. I'm n othing of the kind. Oh, I admit I am a bit managing a nd I have a rather strong bent toward the practical but only because I easily grasp the facts of a situation, much the way one does when playing chess. It s a simple thing, really, anticipating an opponent s next few moves, and it s only natural to devise and imple ment a sensible course of action. After all, it s my duty to
Baldwin 9 protect and care for the people I love. T hat s all there is to it. Nothing extraordinary Well, I suppose I do have a knack for organizing the players in my plans, and I like to think I do so with quiet efficiency. Occasionally m y friends tell me I m not as subtle about organizing them as I imagine myself to be They sometimes tease me about that Tess in particular likes to needle me by saying I would ve made a splendid governess. Although w hen it comes to teasing, none of them holds a candle to Alexander Sinclair. What would they have me do? Sit back and twiddle my thumbs when trouble is brewing? Not ruddy likely Not when people I care about are in danger. I was born an earl s daughter. I t s only natural that when difficulties arise, if no one steps up into the driver s seat, I will do what must be done and take the reins in hand. That is the very reason I m out here in the middle of the night, slogging through mud and rotting leaves, str uggling to keep from knocking cook s clunky pattens against rocks and fallen branches in the underbrush. I may not excel at this sort of activity but I m certainly not going to allow this villainous creature to escape. S he is threatening all of us at Stra nje House my friends, England, and even my annoying Mr. Sinclair. Truth is, I would wade through a snake filled bog if need be. Stranje House is my refuge, my sanctuary. I ll protect it or die trying. My no account brothers will never know the favor they did me by bringing me here to Miss Stranje. She allows me to experiment with crop rotation and animal husbandry to my heart s content and this is the perfect place for me to hide. As long as no one outside of our little circle learn s I am here a t Stranje House there i s a chance, or the hope of a chance no one will discover my secret. For now, though, it is Stranje House s secrets that need protecting, not mine. I tuck
Baldwin 10 my shawl tighter and press forward. The traitor stop s up ahead in a small clearing off to the side of the road. She looks around as if expecting to find someone lurking in the trees up ahead. Where i s that blasted moon? Why must it drift behind clouds when I so desperately need its light to see our betrayer. I hid e behind a wide oak and h o ld my br e ath hoping she won t see me peer ing around the edge as I try to catch a glimpse of her face If only I could see the color of her hair, or the pattern of the dre ss she w ears beneath her cloak, anything that might give me a clue as to her identity. The sound of chirping insects and piping tree frogs fills the night A shrill whistle cut s through the noise of the woods a poor mimic of a hawk screech. The traitor answer s with a light trill meant to sound like a less like a predatory bird, more like an innocent sweet songbird Ha! There is nothing innocent or sweet about our Judas At the edge of the trees furthest from me, a man emerge s cloaked in a brown greatco at wearing a dark hat pulled low over his brow She approaches him and mumble s a greeting. I dr a w my knife and clasp it tight. The weight of it in my fist ma kes me feel a little stronger, a little braver. I press against the tree, straining to hear. If I can catch a clear snippet of her voice I ll know who it is b ut the dead leaves and the foliage seemed to swallow up the sound. What ve you learned? He speaks low as if he fear s being over heard. Her voice is higher mu ch softer making it far more difficult to hear than his I only catch a word here and there. I think I heard her say Ship. When ? he demands Where ? Her answer i s impossible to distinguish S he speaks rapidly and gestures toward the
Baldwin 11 coast. I cringe when he asks To London ? She nods. T wo day s He rubs his chin. Doesn t give us much time. It s wretchedly dark and I m too far from the spies. A smaller tree stands directly in front of me, a narrow alder I t is an enticing two yards closer to them I hunch low preparing to dart forward unseen S omeone grab s me from behind He claps a hand over my mouth Don t he whispers in my ear Instinct takes over W ithout a second thought I move into the training I ve practiced with Tess a nd our defensive arts master Madame Cho. I jab backward with my elbow and str i k e him squarely in his ribs Extending my leg I clamp hold of his arm and heave him over my shoulder. I mmediately I pounce on the villain with my knife at his throat. Alexander Sinclair It can t be I blink, unable to believ e my eyes. I t i s him. Those a re his disorderly blond curls his broad chest I ve pinned to the ground his rumpled shirt and worn coat. What in heaven s name i s he doing here? M y breath catches He must be in league with the traitor I should never have trusted him. Never. I let my guard down and what happen s the blighter turns out to be a common spy. I dig my elbow into his ribs. What are you doing ? He says under his breath as if I am the one making a blunder. Me? I press the knife closer to his treacherous throat What are you doing here? F ollowing you he whisper s heatedly. I don t believe his innocent act. You grabbed me.
Baldwin 12 Yes, because you were about to give yourself away. I ease up with the knife and glance over at the traitor and her accomplice. T oo late I groan. The y ve seen us. Her accomplice curses roundly. Fool! You ve been followed. He shove s her away and takes off like a stag crashing through the underbrush Our sneaky betrayer follows suit, except she bolts in a different direction. I t s my turn to curse something I never do Dash it all! She s getting away. I scramble up spr i ng ing after her, dodging trees and bound ing over fallen logs. Behind me, I hear Alexander scrambl e to his feet He quickly passe s me in pursuit of the traitor. M y heart hammers like a war drum as I follow them blindly through the moonless woods slapping branches out of the way My foot lands in a puddle of fetid water and it sloshes across my dress T h e stench makes me cringe. S aplings scrape at my face and arms as if trying to entrap me, but I keep going. We must catch this culprit. The crescent moon peeks out for a few silvery seconds, only long enough for me to see we are still on her heels T hen it disappears behind clouds and I feel as if I am drowning in ink. I can scarcely catch my breath. We turn I ve no idea what direction we are heading now, but it is heavily wooded and a downhill slope. C ook s pattens are not made for running and it is dark too dark to see where I m going. I barely make out Alexander s broad form a few yards ahead of me when I stumble over a root and pitch head first over a rise. The fall startles a cry out of me. I t umbl e downhill snapping branches, bashing against rocks and mounds Finally, I land with a loud crash, s tartling birds who squawk and fly from their slumber.
Baldwin 13 Jane Alexander shouts Jane A re you hurt ? Only my pride I ve landed in a pile of wet muck and leaves My hair is full of twigs a nd judging by the stinging sensation, I ve skinned both my elbows and forearms. My shawl is lost No doubt, it will make a dandy addition to some creature s lair and t his work dress will need a long soak before it will ever be wearable again I m all right. I reassure him Keep after her We ve got to catch her. T oo late I can hear h e has stopped running He s tromping toward me charg ing through the underbrush, breathing hard I sigh, guessing what he will say before he says it. It s no good. I ve lost her. I can t help myself I grab a handful of decaying leaves and crush them in my fist. No No. N o! A fraid so. Sounded like all hell breaking loose when you fell Worried you d broken your neck. He squats beside me and brushes clumps of mud off my shoulder When I turned back, she d disappeared I moan not because of the bruises I am beginning to feel, but because I can t bear the thought of having lost her. We were so clo se Are y ou planning to lie there all night Lady Jane ? F lippant as ever If it weren t so dark, I would make the effort to glare at him. This is your fault you know I would ve had her if you hadn t interfered Maybe. Maybe not. He pulls several twig s out of my tangled hair. There s another possibility. The way I saw it t hat fellow had a pistol tucked inside that great big coat of his I f there hadn t been two of us, I figure he would ve pulled it out and blown your pretty little brains out all over the forest floor. Mr. Sinclair has a point, but I refuse to credit it. Don t be ridiculous. I cough up
Baldwin 14 something that must ve flown in my mouth during the tumble. M y brains aren t little Right. He tugs another twig out of my hair. So, i nstead of blaming me for all this trouble, my lady, what do you say you put th ose large devious brains of yours to work finding another way to catch our traitor ? Won t she have to pass through the gate to get back to Stranje House? W e could try heading her off there Or we could lock it so she can t come back through. I sit up knowing full well I am plastered in mud and debris Not caring because after all it s not Beau Brummell the dandy of Mayfair, here with me It s Mr. Alexander Sinclair and he i s accustomed to sloppy dress. I wipe off as much grime from my person as is possible. No u nfortunately, our weasel ly little traitor can easily by pass the gate by going through hedgerows in the back pasture Or, she could make her way down to the shoreline and come up by way of the bluffs For that matter there a re a hundred ways she can get back to Stranje House without going through the gate. He tosse s the twig away and stand s, holding out his hand to help me to my feet. Not much use then, that big iron gate. It stops carriages well enough. I defend my beloved Stranje House, and busily shake a clump of mud off my skirts. Now that I think on it, there may be another way to catch her. I look up at him with excitement. Come We hav e to hurry back. N o sooner do I say this than I realize I h ave absolutely no notion which way to go. I glance about the pitch black woods and scan the clouded sky struggling to get my beari ngs. Lost are you, my lady? Alexander chuckle s under his breath. Of course not, I huff wishing desperately for some landmark by which I might set my direction I see nothing to point the way, nothing not one blessed thing. I beg i n
Baldwin 15 hik ing uphill having decided to retrace my steps. O ne of cook s c logs flew off during my tumble so I proceed with a rather lopsided gait doing my best to dodge pointy sticks and other hazards. You re certain this is the right direction? Alexander follows close behind me and I hear a mocking smile in his Yankee twang rippling through his innocent question I will not allow him to dampen my confidence. You may thank you r lucky stars that I do Considering I tumbled halfway down this hill it is a wonder I ve any sense of direction left at all. A miracle I sh all notify the church. I ignore his sarcasm. You may play the skeptic if you wish, but I m certain if we retrace our steps we will come out very near the clearing in which we began. F rom there it will simply be a matter of following the road back to the house. Not a bad plan, as plans go. Excepting, th e gal we were chasing was c lever as a fox. Seemed quite familiar with these woods. Did you happen to notice she didn t run in a straight line? By my reckoning she led us a merry looping chase Looping ? I stub the toe of my clog less slipper against a rock I m hard pressed not to yelp audibly but I suck in the pain and limp forward as if nothing has happened And you noticed this how ...? You r e hurt. He grabs my shoulders and t akes stock of me. You ve lost your shoe Only cook s patten I shall make do with my slipper. Balderdash. He heaves out a deep breath. I ll have to carry you. I back away from him. You shall do no such thing. That would be highly improper. Begging your pardon, my lady b ut I don t see how there s any way around it. If you proceed with nothing but that flimsy excuse for a shoe, you re bound to put a thorn
Baldwin 16 through your foot, or worse. That little bit of silk and felt isn t g oing to stop a sharp stone. Much as I am loathe to admit it, he s right. I stare down at my offending appendage, which is already soaked with muddy water. Any wound I incur will no doubt become infected Nevermind I will be fine. You re not stubborn i n the least are you, Lady Jane? I hobble forward ignoring his latest insult He follows on my heels, so close I feel his breath on my neck as he lets out a n exasperated sigh We can do this one of two ways. I can sling you over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes or you can ride as my nephews like to do p iggyback style Piggyback! A sound rumbles in my throat, half indignant squawk half harrumph Certainly not! We shall go on as we are. Have it your way. It will be easier to carry you over my s houlder anyway. I whip around He stops only a few inches from me and I crane my neck to look up at him giving him my most ferocious glare Mr. Sinclair, we will observe the proprieties. The fact that you and I are out here in the wilderness alone is d isastrous enough. If anyone finds out, m y reputation wi ll be in t atter s I absolutely refuse to return to Stranje House hanging over your shoulder as if I am a common tavern wench And may I remind you I am not above using my knife on you if the need arises. I plant my fists on my hips and do my best to look imperious. He says nothing to that, and well he shouldn t. I hope I am at least as intimidating as Tess would be in the same situation. Mr. Sincla ir is prone to slow lazy smiles and moonlight catches on the curve his lips. H e does not seem worried about me running him through with my blade S o I switch tactics and the subject hoping to distract him
Baldwin 17 from carrying me Now if you will be so kind as t o explain your theory on the traitor s circuitous route. How did you notice? M ore to the point do you think you know the fastest way back to the road? His smirk vanishes and h e stares down at me steadily, unnerving me enough that I drop my arms and take a step backward Haven t done much hunting at night have you Lady Jane? What has that to do with anything? I frown. Do I look the sort of young lady who hunts at night ? He laugh s At the moment I wouldn t take a wager on it one way or the other. You re full of surprises I wouldn t have thought you capable of cutting my throat either, and yet a few minutes ago you seemed ready to do exactly that. I didn t know it was you, I mumble. Not until after Yet, here you are threatening me again. Mr. Sinclair am I to gather from this roundaboutation that you cannot actually guide us back to the house ? Is all your talk about looping routes and shortest distances merely bragging on your part? I don t brag He glances up at the clouded s ky as if reorienting himself. Provided you don t stand here jawing me dead too much longer, and those clouds don t change shape any faster than they are now, then yes I will be happy to show you the quickest path home my lady. Unless of course you pref er to take the long way? I know how much you enjoy my company and I wouldn t want to deprive you but it seems to me we ve a fairly serious matter to attend to this evening Good heavens Mr. Sinclair! Do you make a study in how to annoy me? For pity s sake, let s be on our way. I roll out my hand indicating he should take the lead.
Baldwin 18 Instead, he bows, overdoing it on purpose. While I am cast ing my gaze heavenward in a silent plea for patience, he swoops me up in his arms cradling me like a helpless inf ant. Put me down this instant! I slap my hand against his chest. We are in a hurry, Lady Jane. I haven t time to humor you. His long legs are covering the hillside in strides that far outpace anything I could do. First off, t here isn t one single solitary soul out here in the black of night to observe your sacred proprieties Second, if you injure yourself it will slow us down even more. Do you want to catch this traitor or not? I say nothing, brooding because he is right again. The wretch And I cannot believe he is carrying m e holding me against his chest as if he has every right to such an intimate act What s worse, what i s even more inexcusable, is that I do not altogether dislike it. In fact, I begin to feel self conscious because I stink of rotting leaves and moldy muck I am about to open my mouth and apologize when he cut s me off. Save your lectures, Lady Jane. When we get to the road I will set you on your feet s o no one will think you are a tavern wench He looks irritated for some reason. N ot that anyone ever would. One look at you put s that idea to rest once and for all There is nothing about you nearly so comfortable or amiable as a tavern wench. Normally his remarks set my teeth on edge. Normally, I have a quick rejoinder. Or, if I am at a loss for words I sometimes feel an overwhelming urge to pummel him Normally But the fact that he finds me less amiable than a serving wench wounds me in unexpected places I find I m unable to speak. It s as if he slapped me. He shifts me in his arms as he w e nds his way sideways across the hill. It would help if you could lower your standards enough to hang onto my neck he says rather gruffly
Baldwin 19 trying to maneuver us between t w o tall trees. I wrap my a rm up over his shoulder still keeping mum wishing I were someone else. Someone sweet and kind like Sera. Or someone adorable and clever like Georgie. Anyone else E ven a tavern wench.
Baldwin 20 Chapter 2 Cold Hard Facts Mr. Sinclair marches on without speaking a word a rare thing for him The way he is stomping through the underbrush I worry he may startl e an adder hunting for mice beneath the bushes T here s no point in alarming him, so I keep it to myself. H e stop s to adjust his grip on me and glance s up at the heavens as if getting his bearings even though there is nary a star to be seen Curse this wretched silence between us I can t stand it another second How is it you re able to use the sky as a compass when it is completely overcast ? It s a perfectly reasonable question not insulting in the least I ve no idea why his jaw buckles so tight. He pushes through a bank of scrub oak and finally decides to answer. I t s an old woodsman s trick One I learned from my pa when he took me hunting. A trick ? I ask using my most congenial tavern wench voice. Wearing a narrow expression, h e glances down at me as if he suspects me of laying a trap for him. I strive to keep my countenance as innocent as possible, as much like a trollop y innkeeper s d aughter as I can manage.
Baldwin 21 He still looks like he doesn t quite trust me, but explains anyway. When I first started out on this little adventure of yours, I noticed the wind was blowing east There were also some distinctive formations in the clouds I took note of those as well. So long as the wind doesn t send them sailing too fast or switch direction too rapidly they ll do for a landmark a lbeit a moving one. It s a matter of keeping track of the wind direction and speed. Clever I say and n od, truly meaning the compliment. It is a handy tool O ne I catalogue in the back of my mind for the next time I must chase someone on a dark moonless night. An other, even more important question needles at me What possessed you to follow me in the firs t place? I feel the muscles in his chest stiffen If you must know, I c ouldn t sleep. Why I want to demand, my imagination flaming up and racing in all sorts of directions. It is all I can do to ask him as if it is an insignificant question, You c ouldn t sleep? No So I stepped out into the garden for some air, thinking it would clear my head. That s w hen I saw you creeping past I suppose I was curious as to what sort of mischief you were getting up to at that hour. I wasn t creeping I bite my tongue, endeavoring to keep from let ting him goad me into another argument. Ladies do not creep. Did n t you see the traitor stealing out in front of me ? Regrettably no M y breath comes out in a long tired exhale and I sag against him. A pity. It would ve been handy if you d seen something to help us identify her. As we trudge through tall grass, h e seems more relaxed, as if he s no longer
Baldwin 22 annoyed and stares at me, taking my measure. I swallow suddenly feeling awkward I m normally contented with my appearance. I m quite ordinary and that suits my purposes. Pretty enough to get by but not so much that anyone ever stares I haven t Georgiana s extraordinary red curls or Sera s silken white hair I have plain features, brown hair and nondescript hazel eyes I suppose I a m a little above average in height, but other than that, there is nothing about me to attract attention T hat s why I fidget uncomfortably when Alexander s gaze skim s over me I m not accustomed to anyone staring at me I nervously push back a strand of muddied hair stringing across my cheek before hold ing on to his shoulder again. With an indecipherable sigh Alexander looks away and focuses his attention on climbing over a large fallen log He shift s me in his arms w hich b y now must surely be aching Y et he doesn t complain not even a tiny groan So much nobility on his part makes me want to apologize for not being a more agreeable person. H ow does one goes about doing that ? I m sorry, I start to say but it catches in my throat and only half of it escape s out into the night air It does so at the same moment we startle an owl from a branch directly above our heads Alexander ducks instinctively and I cling to him tighter. T he enormous creature flaps away shrieking like a cat whose tail has been stepped on. W e grin at each other embarrassed at being surprised It takes a moment for our heartbeats settle. H is lips curve into that half cocked teasing grin of his. Y ou started to say something didn t you ? I shake my head. You did he insists. I would swear I heard you say the word sorry Couldn t
Baldwin 23 believe my ears. Yet, I distinctly heard that very expression pass over your lips. Sorry f or what, my lady? Jane. You may call me Jane. I thought you forbad e me such informalities. He sounds irked N evermind your title l et s g et back to this remarkable sorry ness of yours. What are you sorry about Lady Jane ? I cannot prevent the indignant swell of my breast. I have just granted him permission to use my given name and he glosse s over it as if it is of no consequence I am no longer sorry not in the least I sniff. It was nothing. I m sorry you have to carry me all this way. That s all. I might ve said anything. I could ve said I was sorry for smelling like a putrid bog I wish I had, rather than diminishing the one thing I actually admired him for doing. W asn t your decision your highness now was it? It was mine. And a great burden it has been I assure you Yet somehow out of sheer force of will, I managed to haul you uphill and across the countryside, back to our starting point Look about you, your majesty W e have arrived in the clearing. I m amazed at the speed with which he has gotten us here The traitor must ve indeed run us in an indirect route. Who could have run so fast and so sure? O nly one possibility occurs to me The very thought strikes my stomach with the force of a cannonball I sink against Mr. Sinclair s arms. It can t be Tess. I refuse to think it. She would never do such a thing. It defies logic She wouldn t But if not her ... Who could ve run like that? I don t intend to say it aloud but it sli ps out unbidden Not Tess. It c a n t be Tess.
Baldwin 24 Alexander stri des to the road and sets me on my feet, still holding me closer than he ought. I suppose, he s simply making certain I m steady enough to walk. As if reading my mind, he speaks my question aloud. I f not her, than who? It unsettles me that he sounds so sincere almost sad and sympathetically rubs my shoulder with his palm. Not her. I bow my head. Tess has risked her life for us. Several times. It can t be her Mr. Sinclair lends me his arm so I can limp along beside him as he starts walking up the road Well then, let us proceed on that assumption. The gravel beneath my slipper still digs into my foot but I do my best to hide the discomfort. Let us sort through your list of possible suspects and el iminate them until we find the culprit. Alexander approaches this predicament like an engineer A s if this problem breaking my heart can be solved as easily as a mathematic equation If only it w as that simple a tidy column of numbers that on ly need ed adding up in order to arrive at the right answer. In this case no matter what the answer is it will hurt like the very devil. Who else could it have been? H e jars me from my brooding thoughts Miss Fitzwilliam has been practicing her running occasionally with Miss Aubreyson, perhaps she No Never. I say, and it flies out too harshly. I did n t mean to snap at you. It s just that these are my friends T hey re the near est thing to sisters I ve ever had. I cannot imagine one of them betray ing us in this manner. I understand It s a difficult matter. He pats the hand I am resting on his arm. Perhaps if we approach the conundrum from a different direction it will be less painful Perhaps. I sincerely doubt it.
Baldwin 25 Who among you, at the pro spect of getting caught, is capable of running with the speed and agility of a scared rabbit ? That s it! I tug him to a dead stop in the middle of the road struck by a most compelling realization. Mr. Sinclair you re absolutely brilliant. Brilliant ? He tilts his head quizzically. Yes. When frightened anyone might ve run with that kind of speed. Anyone at Stranje House could ve done so. Fear produce s that added increase of speed and evasiveness H e ponders this for a moment and we resume walking But you ve not decreased t he number of suspects, my lady, you ve increased it Yes. Any of us. My chest heaves. I am relieved it might not be Tess or Georgie. J ust as a frightened rabbit knows better than to run in a straight line so would a desperate frantic girl. Her life would depend upon it. Treason is a capital offense in Britain a nd heaven knows they hang women and children in London for far less grievous offenses H m m, he scratches his chin. I s n t there anyone we can rule out? No one Well, except me of course. Of course. And me He sounds as if his innocence is a forgone conclusion. We must be practical about this, Mr. Sinclair. I m not altogether certain we should scratch your name from the list. You could ve been there in the woods tonight to protect the traitor. Perhaps you were supposed to watch from behind and tackle any one spying on the ir rendezvous Which is, I might add, exactly what you did. You ve a point. He kicks a stone and sends it bouncing down the road ahead of us Very well l et s not rule me out just yet
Baldwin 26 Alexander s back stiffen s and he walks on for a few paces but then he slows and l ooks down at me with more sincerity in his face than I have ever witnessed ther e before A sk yourself, Lady Jane, what earthly good would it do for me to expose our plans to the Iron Crown ? M y plans I might add p lans to take my prototype steam ship to London ? Because that is exactly what th is traitor has done. You saw her point to the shore. You heard that fellow mention London You know what all this means. His lips press tight and he stares hard down the black road ahead of us W e continue walking but more briskly than before. It s true His plans are ruined. His odds of escaping Britain cut severely I knew it the m inute the traitor pointed at the coastline. I have nothing to say for myself. I let my frustration about whoever is betraying us cloud my judgment. I ought to apologize, but ap ologies never seem to go well with Mr. Sinclair In a roundabout way of making amends, I ask, Why couldn t you sleep? I pose this question in a solemn respectful tone, a tone he may have never heard from me before. My change in attitude doesn t seem to astonish him as much as I d thought it would It s as if he always suspected I might be capable of speak ing to him without biting his head off at least once in a while His answer too, is devoid of sarcasm I couldn t stop thinking about leavin g Oh I say, wonder ing whether happiness or sadness about leaving had troubled his sleep I dare not ask so personal a question. I t would be presumptuous and forward. Instead, before I can stop myself I tease him. There You may have just confessed to a possible motive. You were so distraught at the thought of leaving all of us at Stranje House you sabotaged your own plan s He does not laugh as I hoped he would. His lips curve up into a wry half smile I
Baldwin 27 wait for the stinging barb he is sure to fli ng at me b ut Alexander does not parry with a sharp witted reply Instead, h e let s my teasing words drift on the night breeze floating along with us like the last savory notes of a violin sonata Several moments pass before he breaks our companionable silence. We re nearing the gates. Kindly explain this scheme of yours to catch the traitor when we get back to the house No scheme, Mr. Sinclair. I lift my chin, pleased with the simplicity of my approach. It all comes down to a matter of boots and beds Whose walking boots are clean and whose are not ? Who is in bed asleep and who is not ? A pothole in the road causes me to stumble and I nearly fly of cook s remaining clog. Alexander keeps me from landing on my face but tripping diminishes the confident effect I d hoped to achieve. I pretend not to have lost my footing and continue to explain The traitor will have worn her half boots out on a murky night like this. Those boots will be soiled with the same muck you see crusted o n our... I glance down at my feet C ook s big wooden patten is a scuffed mud caked mess and my silk slipper is completely demolished. It will have to be thrown into the fire. Yes. That might do He stares down at my mismatched footwear. His shoes do not seem nearly so badly soiled and I wonder how that can be. Perhaps he is able to avoid the boggy spots better than I. I hope you are right. He opens the iron gate s for me to pass through I am You ll see. He latches the gate behind us and t he closer we get to the house the faster I limp along beside him. We re going to catch her. We have to. We see no sign of movement in the garden or near the pens. Drat! She must ve beaten us back to the house.
Baldwin 28 S eem s likely He guides us in to the house through the side garden door explain ing he left it unlocked C ook s patten cl unk s against the wood floors louder than an old man s cane. I take it off and set it by the entrance but my slippers squish out scum and muddy w ater as we go. I yan k the useless sodden things off and toss them back beside cook s lone clog. We climb the stairs, and while we do I ponder what I should say when I barge into the dormitorium and find the betrayer. I cannot settle on what words to use but I know this, I m ust go in alone. You won t be able to enter the room with me, I whisper to Mr. Sinclair No, of course not. I ll wait outside the door in case you need me. I m afraid you must wait d own the hall way a few pace s It is a girls dormitorium after all and w e must observe the P roprieties Right. But if you should need me He brushes his fingers through his unruly hair as if he means to spruce him up for a momentous event such as this. I ll shout for you if I do. He nods grimly. W e reach the landing and turn into the upstairs hallway. I indicate where he should wait and tiptoe on, but he grabs my hand. I m sorry, he whispers. That it should come down to this. He means it. He is grieve d for me that I must point the finger at one of my dea rest friends. His pity unnerves me. If I speak it might let loose the sorrow I am dam m ing up I give him a curt nod and ease my fingers out of his grasp. Five paces I walk f ive soul twisting paces to the door. Five pace s and each one press es heavier and heavier upon me until I can scarcely breathe My hand trembles as I reach for the doorknob I am terrified to learn which of my friends I will be sending to
Baldwin 29 the gallows In one burning gasp for air, I grab the handle and turn, wishing I could close my eyes to what I must discover on the other side Instead, I keep them open, fixed on one purpose. Identify the traitor. The old oak door is well oiled and glides open without a noise. Our room is even darker than the hall. But my eyes have grown accustomed to the absence of light and my ears at tuned to every suspicious rustle every stirring in the sheets They are all sleeping. All except Tess. She sit s hunched on her bed. Jane? She twists to look at me as if she is not sure wheth er she s in the middle of a dream or if I am actually here. What s wrong ? I strike a flint and light a lamp. What s wrong, indeed. You are up and I do not want to think what that might mean. Except, surely, if she had been the one running away she would pretend to be asleep. For that matter, any of them could be feigning sleep. Heaven knows we ve practiced doing it nearly every night, in order to fool Madame Cho when she comes in to check on us in the evening. Georgie moans as if she doesn t l ike her slumber being disturbed. Wake up I turn up the lamp and say it louder. You must all wake up. Sera sleeps nearest to the lamp. She pokes her head out from under the covers and swipes back a lock of her white blonde hair squint ing up at me blinking against the light What happened to yo u? Sh e sits up fully. Is t hat blood ? It is You re hurt Nevermind I wave away her concern All of you get out of bed I issue this command in m y sternest voice the same tone my governess used to emp loy to make me jump to her will Sera studies me making assumptions about the night s events by surveying my bare
Baldwin 30 feet, the rip s in my dress the mud, and the disarray of my hair She piles out of bed and inspects the abrasion s on my arm. Sera, is my closest friend in the whole world. It was s he who helped me fool Lady Daneska and Ghost with the false plans we created for the warship. She couldn t possibly be the traitor. Not Sera. But then once upon a time Lady Daneska had bee n Tess s closest friend and look how that turned out. You ve fallen, she mutters. Badly. T here s mud in these wounds. She frowns at me as if I m being extremely foolish, but hurries to the pitcher and ewer to pour water over a cloth Whether I like it or not she begins w ash ing my elbow. Maya groans and tugs a pillow over her head. I don t see how she could be the traitor I was wrong, earlier. Maya is the one girl among us who would never be able to run like a frightened rabbit. She s far too grac eful. Rather than try to scamper away, I think she would simply turn and allow herself to be captured. I wonder if Maya even knows how to run. She rarely participate s in our self defense classes. On several occasions, s he has tried to explain her religion to us. She believes in being at peace with everyone, even her enemies D eath she says, is but a new beginning. Nevertheless I must perform my test. Each and every one of them must be cleared of this offence. Maya and Georgie, get up I demand louder. Now! Why? Is something wrong? Georgie rolls out of bed and stumbles toward me. Are those leaves in your hair ? Have you been outside at this hour ? Of course she has. Look at her. Sera untangles a dried ragwort bloom lodged in the lace of my collar She s covered in dirt. We must clean these wounds We ll need warm water. Sera reach es for my other arm so she can dab at it with the cloth and turns to Georgie. Run down and put a large kettle on the fire. I grasp Sera s shoulders Not now. Not yet.
Baldwin 31 Tess stares at me as if I ve lost my mind and maybe I have. Everyone please listen, I stand as tall as I can in my bare feet I need to look at your half boots y our walking boots a ny shoes you might wear outside. D o it now. And, please, n o questions. I add this last command for Georgie in particular. Otherwise, she will pummel me with a thousand inquiries. They all gape E ven Maya sits up in bed and studies me They re beginning to understand this is serious. Please, I add softly. Sera tosses the bloodied cloth into the ewer, goes to her wardrobe fetch es her boots and w ithout a word, she holds them out to me. I see no sign of fresh mud on them and exhale with relief Maya slips out of bed, pads to her closet, hunts for a moment and pulls out a pair of walking boots that scarcely look worn. I don t see what this is all about, Tess crosses her arms. You will I promise. Grumbling s he stalks off to her wardrobe and Georgie follows suit. They both re turn with their half boots. Tess thrusts hers at me. I swallow hard and pull one of them from her hand There s mud on these. Of course there is. Have you forgotten i t rained this afternoon? I wore them when I went to let the dogs run loose this evening. What difference does i t make? I test one of the glob ules of caked mud. It has a thin dry crust and doesn t feel like fresh mud nothing like the muck on cook s patten sitting by the garden door. Tess grows impatient with my silen t inspection W hy are you fussing about our boots in the middle of the night ? She plants her hands on her hips You do know it s
Baldwin 32 3:00 in the morning, don t you ? Yes but w hen I came in you were already awake. Why? I force myself to look at her to scour her face for deception. I would know it if Tess ever tried to lie. She has many gifts, but the ability to lie effectively is not one of them. You know why. She meets my gaze squarely and frowns fuming that she must answer to me I am younger than Tess She dislikes it when I take the lead. So much so, that I am surprised when she finally confesses what I have already guessed. I was awakened by a dream. She exhales and leans close, narrowing her gaze at me as if I was the cause of her latest nightmare W ithout a doubt, Tess has n o t been outside running this morning. If she d had t he gloom of her nightmare would not still be hanging over her features like a mourner s veil I hand the boots back to her. Georgie hides her s behind her back. When I hold out my hand waiting she hesitates F inally she surrenders them to me M y heart sinks. Her boots are caked with mud and the clumps are still soft and damp Georgie I practically sob her name. Not her I trusted her In France, even though I am terrified of heights I climb ed aboard a silk kite with her a kite we built together, and we flew across the rooftops of Calais. Together It feels as if my heart will thunder apart Why? I gasp and sink to my knees How could you do this ? Don t tell Miss Stranje. Please she begs. I know it was wrong But h e s going away again and I was desperate to see him in private You ve no idea how hard it is to be apart I don t know how I ll bear it when he leaves. It was my idea not his. He warned me that we shouldn t meet in secret, but I insisted You mustn t blame him.
Baldwin 33 I struggle to follow her disjointed explanation. Even in that poor light I see she s blushing H ope slows down my galloping heart Try to understand she pleads, and reaches for me but I cannot focus on her outstretched hand, not now. I must be certain of her answers. It was y our idea to do what ? Exactly. To slip out and meet Lord Wyatt along the cliffs She backs away, f olding her arms as if she s chilled. I as sure you nothing untoward happened. We just talked. Lord Wyatt I nearly collapse with relief. Tess scoffs under her breath. What, no kisses ? And if we did? Georgie rounds on her What matter is it of yours? You ve no right to throw stones She would ve kept going but I interrupt. And y ou met him o ut by the cliffs? Nowhere else? Yes by the cliffs. Isn t that the reason you re asking all these questions? You ve caught me out. I hand back her incriminating boot and lower my head into my hands shaking my head. Sera clasps my arm and tugs me to my feet guiding me to the bed. I think it s time you told us what s happened. I look up at them at the four of them staring back at me so intently. T he feeble oil lamp seems to glow a hundred times bright er I press my hand against my chest and take a deep breath, one that fills my lungs with glorious clean air I know now what I knew in my heart all along none of my sisters have betrayed us Tonight I chased our traitor.
Baldwin 34 Chapter 3 Traitors and Friends T raitor? You mean t he monster who let Ghost into Stranje House ? You went out in the middle of the night, and chased him? Georgie clasps my shoulders and I can tell she s itching to give me a hard shake The person who helped Ghost and Lady Daneska attack Madame Cho and kidnap Tess? That traitor ? Have you lost your wits ? What if someone else from the Iron Crown had been out in th os e woods ? Her I say. Our traitor is a her And you re right, she did me et an accomplice. Tess crosses her arms and nods as if she has already guessed what took place I suppose it s safe to assume both the accomplice and the traitor got away? I wouldn t be checking your boots if they hadn t escaped now would I? I tell the story as quickly as possible The instant I stop speaking they bombard me with questions faster than I can answer. Wait! I hold up m y hand to slow them down Lady Jane? Mr. Sinclair poke s his head in the doorway. Anything amiss ? They all turn in astonishment and gape at him Sera spins back to me. He was out there with you wasn t he ? Georgie s spine stiffens with indignation. You sneak! You made me feel guilty for
Baldwin 35 meeting Lord Wyatt and here you were gadding about in the middl e of the night with him She points a condemning finger at poor unsuspecting Mr. Sinclair. I am not a sneak I admit I have secrets, secrets I must keep hidden at all costs but that is where I draw the line on deception I did not sneak. Georgie wants to argue, but I hold up my hands warding off her anger I admit I m ay have left a few minor detail s out of my narrative Minor ? she says with a huff. Tess lift s her eyebrows sardonically and nods in Mr. Sinclair s direction O ne rather large detail I should think. Maya hide s a sudden burst of laughter behind her hand Sera frowns at Alexander and turns to me. How could you? It isn t what you think. I grimace and give them a rather abbreviated account of his role in the adventure When I relate the part where I threw Mr. Sinclair to the ground and pounc ed upon him with my knife Tess almost smiles. It is not easy to win a smile out of her. At least you did that much correctly. He edge s into the room and I prickle up at him for intruding. Mr. Sinclair I gave you strict instructions to wait down the hall. He fillets me with that impudent look of his, the irritating expression that always makes me think he thinks I m a slowtop. Yes, your highness Y ou ordered me to s tay put, but only u ntil you discovered which of these lovely young ladies is our culprit. You ll have to excuse me for figuring you d have accomplished the task by now. I refuse to let him ra ttle me, and lift my chin to prove it I m delighted to report, none of them are the traitor Not only that but I m quite certain I know exactly who has betrayed us
Baldwin 36 At those words everyone s attention snap s back to me. A nd i f I am correct w e must act quickly to circumvent their plans. But i n the meantime Mr. Sinclair, you really must wait in the hall. Y ou simply cannot be in a girls dormitorium It isn t at all proper. It certainly is not! Miss Stranje marches up and stands directly behind him. He shuffles to attention as if he is a s oldier in the presence of a general What is the meaning of this appalling breech of etiquette, Mr. Sinclair? She glares at him. The other four girls snap to perfect posture as rapidly as did Mr. Sinclair. She sweeps in and levels all of us with one of her fiercest stares. This is disgrace ful. I am shocked at you young ladies entertaining a gentleman at this hour and in such an appalling state of undress They are all cloaked every one of them head to toe in heavy night dresses that cover far more of their person than even the most conservative day gown I sit calmly on the bed as our headmistress continues to ring a peal over our heads. I ve a good mind to take Madame Cho s cane to all of you. She marches up and sown our ranks. This is an outrage Madame Cho if she were well enough to be here would be livid I consider myself a tolerant woman, but t his sort of behavior is outside of enough, completely unacceptable Miss Stranje who is not actually as tolerant as she just claimed, freezes in her tracks and frowns at me. There is a magnificent ferociousness about our headmistress a trait I hope to master one day. I d wager a considerable sum she is able to stop a person s heart from beating simply by applying that cold hard gl are of hers. I f she can t make a heart stop
Baldwin 37 altogether she is certainly able to make it a skip a few beats. I want to be just like her someday Today, however, I have fallen a wee bit short. What in blazes hap pened to you? Miss Stranje never curses or uses strong language. She claims it is a device only employed by individuals with minds too weak to command suitably descriptive speech. I excuse her verbal lapse on account of it being such an extraordinary hour of the night or morning, depending upon your perspective. I smile serenely, as if I have merely been out for a Sunday stroll, and say I chased our traitor. I pause, allowing her a moment to digest this intelligence. I caught said traitor delivering in formation to a rather unsavory gentleman who I can only presume must be affiliated with the Iron Crown Well, I didn t actually catch her, I observed her. More importantly, it is my considered opinion that u nless we take action within the next few hours Mr. Sinclair s steam ship will fall in to enem y hands She sighs and massages her forehead. I see She turns to Mr. Sinclair. Am I to assume you were party to this disturbing turn of events? He does his best to smooth down the front of his ru mpled shirt. I m afraid so. In that case, w e shall reconvene in the workroom in a half hour s time. Mr. Sinclair you may be excused to go and tidy yourself up before we meet. You will require clean clothing. R ing for Mr. Greaves and he will see to your needs I am filled with positively sinful pride that our headmistress doesn t question my judgment on th e matter of our impending disaster Not even for a moment But p oor astonished Mr. Sinclair stands there like a man caught in the path of a cyclone, n ot certain which way to bolt. Run along, young man. Miss Stranje shoos him out and he takes off down the hall.
Baldwin 38 She turns back to us Now then, I will send Phillip to the dower house with a note apprising Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt of this turn of events In the meantime, one of you must fetch warm water so Lady Jane s wounds can be properly cleaned Maya come with me to retrieve my medicinal kit. I wi ll leave it to you to tend to those ghastly abrasions while I see to writing the note She waves her hand at my scraped arms as if I am an inanimate object rather th an her most devoted understudy. A t the last moment before she hurries away Miss Stranje turns and presses two fingers to her temple as if something pains her Lady Jane, I ought to hav e inquir ed, are any of your injuries serious? I draw in a gratified breath. Not in the least. Miss Stranje leaves and Georgie dresses quickly so she can run down to the kitchen to get the warm water Sera resumes wiping away dirt and plucking thorns and gravel out of my wounds. But Tess wheels on me bothered by the problem of the boots. I understand why you thought one of us was the traitor. Given the events of the last few days, w e ve all been suspects. What I don t understand is this. You thought you d uncover the traitor by checking our boots, and since it isn t one of us, how can you be so certain you know who it is? The traitor was female. Sera glances up from her work. After ruling us out t hat only leaves the two maids. Tess paces the floor in front of us I don t see how either of them could out run Mr. Sinclair Fear does remarkable things to one s speed. I explain. She stops and gallops her fingers on the bedpost. Do you think it might ve been our footman, Phillip dressed up to look l ike a girl?
Baldwin 39 Doubtful. I say trying not to wince, as Sera digs out a tiny stone lodged in my elbow. I considered that but Phillip is much taller than the person I followed and she had a high pitched voice. Sera blots blood from a lengthy scratch on my forearm. Phillip would only have adopted a disguise if he thought he might be followed A t that hour I imagine the traitor would ve assumed he or she was free to move about unobserved. Just so I stand and Sera helps untie the tapes in my gown We know it can t be C ook. The woman is a veritable mountain, taller than most men and even though the traitor wore a hood ed cloak even a strand slipping loose of C ook s white hair would gleam like silver in the moonlight. A s Sera said that only leaves Alice and Peggy and of course Miss Stranje and Madame Cho. Tess glares at me as if she might draw her knife and come after me for even suggest ing either of her beloved mentor s might be the perpetrator of such treachery Madame Cho is still convalescing f ro m the blow Daneska dealt her. As it is, she s barely able to conduct our defensive arts lessons. For pity sake, s he still has to take laudanum at night for the pain I m well aware of that It can t be either of them. I snap. Which explains how we know exactly who it is. Tess plops down on the bed. Well, it can t be Peggy She s been here forever, and she s plump enough you would ve recognized ... With a groan, Tess sinks back against the pillows. Alice She exhal es loudly. Has to be Alice. Exactly. Tess slaps the coverlet. That s why s he kept peering over my shoulder when I was working on the maps And here I had excused her behavior thinking she was simply
Baldwin 40 nosy Sera inhales sharply. You know what this means. Her arms drop to her sides and her voice lowers to a mournful whisper. They ll hang her Probably, Tess says softly. It ll be up to the courts. We ve no say in the matter. Sera presses her hand over her own throat I can t bear the thought of it We can t turn her in. We can t Poor Alice. Hanging would be too horrible Poor Alice? Tess sits up suddenly I shan t like to see Napoleon come charging up the shore leading an army of Frenchmen with their swords drawn and mu skets aimed at us either. T hat would be even more horrible. She jumps up hands on her hips. N ot only for us but for all of England a nd that is precisely what will happen i f little Miss, Double dealing, Two faced, Alice gives our plans and secrets to Lady Daneska. Think Sera, i t will mean all of our necks. Tess makes the sign for slitting a throat. Not just Alice s. I step between them hoping to stave of f Tess s anger. I don t think it will come down to that. I ve an idea Won t come down to what? Georgie carries in two kettle s of steaming hot water. Hanging Alice or Napoleon s soldiers shooting us Tess opens her wardrobe and pulls out her running dress We shouldn t make these assumptions without proof. I m going to find Alice s boots so we can be certain Sera heads for the door. Wait! I grab her arm. I ve got a plan. W hether it is Alice or not, w e mustn t let the traitor know we are on to her. Everything depends upon her believing she has gotten away with it. There i s a chance i f this works she might be spared the hangman s waltz. Georgiana hefts the two kettles reminding us that we are in a rush. We can discuss
Baldwin 41 it later. Your water isn t going to stay hot much longer and Miss Stranje won t like it if we re late. Miss Stranj e is not one to let innovations pass her by. O ur indoor privy has one of those newfangled water closet s and also a glorious bathing apparatus called the Feetham machine This miraculous contraption is one of my favorite things about S tranje House. Many members of the aristocracy are convinced bathing is detrimental to the ir health Miss Stranje insists the exact opposite is true that c leanliness is a healthful practice I hope she is right, because i t is an absolutely heavenly thing to bathe under warm running water Georgie climbs a step stool and pour s the kettle s of hot water into the basin at the top of the apparatus She use s the hand pump to circulate the water while I st an d under the fount allowing hot water to sprinkle down atop my head an d soothe my bruises I close my eyes and droplets trickle over my lashes and cheeks. All too soon, the water raining over my head begins to chill and I know the extravagance of this bath must end. Maya rustl es around outside the bathing tank and knocks on one of the pipes I have prepared a salve for your wounds. Whatever time providence al lotted me is spent Evil will not stop and wait for me. I step out of the bathing machine and wrap myself in warm linen towels I dry quickly and slip into the comfort of a fresh chemise and gown Sera does her best to towel off my wet hair I close my eyes as s he plaits it into a braid You re fretting, she scolds. I a m not. I lie. M aya chuckles to herself b ut it s Sera s gentle silence that makes me confess. How did you know? You re here but your mind seems to be elsewhere Y ou must be thinking about
Baldwin 42 what the Iron Crown will do next and what we ought to do as a countermeasure. I twist to look up at her. Aren t you doing the same? She shake s her head and tugs my braid back into place. I can only see what is. Pondering what might happen would overwhelm me. You would do well to learn this from Sera. Maya wipes something that s tings over the cuts on my arm and I blow on them to reduce the burn. You worry too much. These burdens are not yours alone to carry She s right, I tell myself. Miss Stranje and Captain Grey are capable and clever and far m ore experienced than I am Why then, does it still feel as if a twelve stone weight is crushing my shoulders? It s him I m worried about Alexander N o, it s more than that. I m worried about Stranje House, about my friends about England. Millstone about my neck or not, I must march forward. She s right I am not alone. We must march on. We must do what is required No one will ever know the things we at this school do for England. No one will ever know what we have done to keep our countrymen free from Napoleon s ravages. Maya daubs a thick soothing paste over my scrapes an d binds them with a soft linen cloth. There. That should heal quite well. M y nose crinkles at the strong smell coming from the bound up concoction. It smells like one of cook s soups She smiles I am not surprised. The salve has onion, garlic, and wine in it. Georgie dries her hands after draining the Feetham machine for me Are you ready to go down? Ready? No
Baldwin 43 My ideas are not perfected yet I can only see a short way ahead. It s so much better when the whole board is visible and I can see mor e of the possibilities If only we had more time to make certain of the details R eady. I nod with more confidence than I feel Georgie and Sera head out of the bathing room. Maya rests her hand on my shoulder You must trust that wisdom will come when you need it You were made for a time such as this. Made for a time such as this Her voice is so unusual, it seems to vibrate from some place deep in her chest, almost like a cat s purr A cat s purr is perhaps a childish way to describe such an extraordinary gift All I know is w hen Maya speaks the warmth and depth of her pitch causes something to ease inside me Thank you I say and before I realize it, she has walked me half way downstairs We move quiet as monks through the old house, winding through the dark corridors to the main floor. O nly two oil lamps light the workroom and without speaking, the five of us take our seats around the large table and await our headmistress.
Baldwin 44 Chapter 4 Plans and Pirates One oil lamps sits on the table and another casts its amber glow from the sideboard Our shadows float like grim grey phantoms against the wall s A n 18 11 map of Britain and Europe rests in the center of our table S everal sheets of velum are tacked over it with new lines marking where Napoleon has altered Europe s many borders I lean forward calculating the distance it will take to travel by sea from here to the mouth of the Thames the river Alexander will need to navigate in order to reach London A rustle at the door draws my attention Mr. Sinclair steps hesitantly into the room and my breath stands still in my lungs It is an unbearably early hour of the morning and yet Greaves has done something extraordinary to our quirk y American inventor I cannot decide whether to call it a miracle or a tragedy Alexander is wearing a new set of clothes, his shirt is clean and neatly pressed, the cravat articulately tied rather than hanging in a haphazard loop, and even his hair is freshly combed. He he looks like a gentleman
Baldwin 45 I find this unsettling in the extreme. He ought to look like our rough unpolished Mr. Sinclair. Not this pattern card Adonis. I have a nearly irresistible urge to go and mess him up, to rumple his shirt, to tousle his hai r and to muddle up his cravat Georgie s mouth hangs open, as astonished as I am. I know H e gestures at his attire. A bit much, isn t it? I look like a great galloping gadfly. Nothing of the kind. Georgie points him to a chair at the table. Y ou look quite handsome, very respectable. You shall be a credit to us in London. He looks to me to confirm this opinion Despite the room being chilly, heat singes my cheeks and I look away, find ing myself at a loss for words. Alexander tugs at the sleeves of his coat. Mr. Greaves said we ought to try it out, seeing as all t he ladies would be present A nd, as he put it, the maids would need a month of Sundays to get the stains out of my other clothes Again, h e wait s for some sort of response from me. It is impossible to gather my thoughts into a coherent string of words His expression transforms in to a challenge. I take it you do not approve? No i t s not that I I Devil take it. I am stuttering like a toddler in leading strings. Lad ies do not stutter I swallow a fur ball of confusion and struggle to master my useless tongue Agitated in the extreme, I blurt It i s satisfactory. Th e compliment lands on the table like a two day old gutted fish. So, I try again. Miss Fitzwilliam is right. I wave my hand at his ensemble. It will do for London. I see. Satisfactory H e gives me a curt bow before taking his seat. High praise coming from your ladyship
Baldwin 46 Oh, for pity s sake, do stop mixing up your forms of address. I m not a duchess. Could ve fooled me, he mutters. I have excellent hearing Mr. Sinclair I f you mean to deliver me a slight under your breath you must endeavor to do so more quiet ly. He open s his mouth undoubtedly intending to toss out another insult but at that very moment Miss Stranje walk s in, so he stands as is required of a gentleman You may be seated. She shuts the door and waves him back to his chair. Good, you are all here. We ve no time to waste. Except s he stops and squanders two perfectly good seconds appraising Alexander s attire Splendid The new clothing suits y ou Mr. Sinclair. Do give Greaves my compliments. He has outdone himself. Alexander slants a quick gloat in my direction, one bursting with righteous indignation Then he turns to Miss Stranje and i nclin es his head accepting the compliment as if he were born to the role of a London gentleman. I fiddle with the knot on one of my bandages fighting some dark er part of my nature Some untam able part of me wishes to vigorously shake the lordly Englishman nonsense out of him. Mr. Sinclair is a rustic an American, and he ought to have the decency to maintain his proper role Miss Stranje taps Tess s shoulder and glances suggestively at the tapestry hang ing high up on t he far wall. Secure the room, if you would please, Miss Aubreyson. Th e antiquated needlepoint depicts King Henry hunting deer along with his entourage of lords, ladies, and royal hounds. More importantly, i t hides an opening to one of the school s many secret passages. That particular eavesdropping perch, is a leftover from bygone Tudor era when everyone spied on everyone else and i s the only vulnerability in this particular room.
Baldwin 47 Georgie follows her gaze and pales. She once fell from that very spyhole but she quickly composes herself. I don t think the servants are familiar with that passage. I can assure you it is no longer frequented. It s crumbling, and covered in spider webs and so much debris as to make it nearly impassabl e. I only stumbled upon it by accident. Merely a precaution. Our headmistress takes her seat. Tess moves silently through the shadows to do our headmistress s bidding she lifts a measuring stick from one of the drawing tables. Georgie gives her a nod a nd fixes her eyes on the tapestry. With a quick jab, Tess runs the rod up beneath the heavy cloth and flings the hanging open. A gust of chilled air wafts into the room, but there is no other movement from within the black gaping spyhole. Not even a rat s rustle. Georgie signals the all clear, and Tess closes the tapestry. At least for the moment, it appears we have some privacy. Miss Stranje gestures for me to get on with it I glance sideways at the tapestry I doubt Alice would be so bold. Not after almost getting caught tonight. Miss Stranje winces at the mention of Alice s name. You caught her in the act ? No I ve no solid proof. But we know who it isn t and that leaves little doubt it is one of the maids W e can t very well report her based o n mere conjecture. Not to mention the awkward position such a grave accusation would put us in. Miss Stranje wears a shrewd I d already thought of that expression she drums her fingers waiting for me to say more. I believe we would be better served by exploiting her betrayal for our purposes. Ah, v ery good. Miss Stranje relaxes a fraction of an inch. Now then, Lady Jane l et us hear this proposal of yours for keeping the warship prototype out of the Iron
Baldwin 48 Crown s hands. I take a deep breath careful not to even peek in Alexander s direction. We must assume b y now Lady Daneska and Ghost will have discovered the drawings they stole from us of the steamship are hoaxes S o soon? Maya seems genuinely taken aback It has only been two days She s right. Mr. Sinclair agrees with me, something he so rarely does A ny competent engineer, if he were to stud y those drawings for more than an hour or so ought to be able to sniff out the deception. T hank you. I am careful to avoid looking at him, while acknowledg ing his contribution. Which means we must presume Lady Daneska will have immediately sen t a pigeon or a courier to alert her cohorts in our region Why else would the traitor have ventured out this evening so soon after They figured it out and summoned Alice out of the nest. Georgie balls up her fists atop the table. Lady Daneska saw the Mary Isabella the night they kidnapped Tess and fled with the plans. She ll want the prototype. Tess sits back and crosses her arms. How much do you think they know? Mr. Sinclair and I saw the traitor point toward the cove and s he must ve told him when we planned to sail the steamship to London. We overheard him complain that two days didn t leave much time. Sera touches my arm to draw my attention W hat do you suppose they ll do ? Miss Stranje lifts her chin indicating I should go ahead and share my speculations T hey only have a few choices I tick the possibilities off on my fingers. T hey must either attempt to steal the steam ship waylay it on its voyage, or abduct Mr. Sinclair and beat the actual plans out of him.
Baldwin 49 Even in the poor light I notice Mr. Sinclair draw in a steadying breath and clamp his jaw tight His pallor makes me regret m y callous tone In a feeble attempt to reassure him I say, You needn t worry Mr. Sinclair A bducting you is the least advisable of their choice s Highly impractical. They tried that and it didn t work and more importantly, doing so would fail to keep the steamship out of Britain s hands. At best, it would only give Napoleon a chance to build one to compete with ours. Tess grumbles. Don t underestimate Lady Daneska s vindictive streak. She will be furious at having been trick ed Doubly so for also having lost you. Sera glances pointedly at Tess. You were to be her gift to Napoleon his own private dreamer Georgie clasps her hands even tighter. Tess is right. We cannot depend upon logic in this case. Lady Daneska may be so angry she abando n s common sense in favor of revenge. T hat would be true if it were not for one thing I tap the table calling us all back from the nightmare we so recently experienced The trauma of our last encounter with Lady Daneska and Ghost is still too fresh We almost lost both Tess and Madame Cho. One thing? Georgie is skeptical. I can t see how any one thing would influence Lady Daneska to behave within the boundaries of reason and common sense. Time is crucial I explain. It i s imperative for Napoleon to strike Britain while our armies are pinned down in northern Europe and we re vulnerable Lady Daneska will do anything to increase her standing with the emperor W e need only ask ourselves, which of the alternatives would prove most beneficial for Napoleon ? T hat s the thing she and Ghost will order their men to do.
Baldwin 50 She ll send them to steal the ship Tess says with quiet conviction. I m i mpressed N o one here knows Lady Daneska better than Tess When? Sera leans in beside me and repeats the question, this time loud enough for everyone to hear. W hen do you think they ll try to steal it ? That depends I pick up the compass and use the point to indicate France where it is possible Lady Daneska is at this very moment conferring with Emperor Napoleon If their spies here in England wait for orders from Ghost or Lady Daneska, I expect it will be tomorrow night. If they act on their own volition, it is my considered opinion they will come for it today before the sun rises. Then what are we doing here ? Mr. Sinclair stands abruptly Daybreak is only a few hours away Before anyone can answer, the door swings open and bangs against the wall The unmistakable silhouette of Lord Ravencross stands in the doorway. What the devil is going on? He strides into the room looming over all of us like the long shadow of a giant. Tess jumps up from her chair and is half way to him but Miss Stranje blocks her path. My lord. You should not be out of bed. The d octor gave strict orders By my reckoning neither should any of you. His voice is more of a low growl than the civil tone s of a gentleman. Now I won t ask again, why are you all sitting here in the dark lik e druids at some sort of midnight sacrifice ? Tess steps around Miss Stranje He r words are a scold but her manner is gentle and soothing. My lord, your house is across the park. When last I checked you are not authorized to issue orders here. If you mean to bark commands we will have you carried home on a litter She takes his arm and guides him to the settee If those stitches in
Baldwin 51 your chest rip out again, I shall be quite cross with you Shall I summon t he doctor? I thought he gave you laudanum to help you sleep At Tess s touch, he softens, and allows her to situate him on our worn workroom settee. S he prop s a cushion beneath his head and he complain s at her. I can t very well sleep with girls and footmen and every one else in the county stomp ing around as if it is noonday. No one has been stomping, my lord. She tucks a crocheted afghan around him. He refuses to settle in and sits back up, frown ing particularly hard at Mr. Sinclair. Wh y re you here? How come you re slicked up like a dandy on his way to court ? As a matter of fact, I was just leaving. Mr. Sinclair bows curtly to us. Ladies, if you will excuse me I must go protect my ship. Wait I spring to my feet. You must listen to the plan first. Mr. Sinclair does not turn back, neither does he answer because Lord Wyatt and Captain Grey burst into the room. We came as soon as we got word. Georgie bolts out of her chair, and I feel the need to scream at all the se intrusions Instead, I sigh loudly. We have very little time. Please! Everyone stop and think. I stab my finger at the map right beside the red pin marking the location of Stranje House If the Iron Crown is n t able to steal the steam ship here in the cove ask yourselves, what will be their next move ? Alexander turns and gives me a quizzical sideways frown considering my question Captain Grey, who can always be counted on to keep a level head in a crisis strides to the map He stares at it thoughtfully and points to a spot beyond the mouth of the Thames where the river begins to narrow If I were them I d try to stop the Mary Isabella here where the current is weakest. I d chase her up one of these tributaries.
Baldwin 52 Here at Holehaven O r better yet, here where the Hadleigh Ray empties into the Thames He raps the map with his knuckles Right here, ju st as the Mary Isabella comes steam ing toward Canvey Island. You re right. Alexander rakes a hand through his hair and leans over the map With two or three boats t hey might be able to pin me in there leaving me no room to maneuver except up the waterway, where I d be trapped Precisely It is the ideal place to seize the prototype They have confirmed the worst of my scenarios. I struggle to moderate my voice to a ladylike calm Drawing in a deep breath I press forward with the rest of my strategy Which is why we must make the Iron Crown think that is exactly where you are going. They all look at me as if I m daft. Alice must be convinced you have fled with the steamship this very night. I try to make them understand. Everything depends upon it. What are you saying? Mr. Sinclair turns a bleak expression on me. The ship i s still there. I f they find it hidden in the cove there won t be any need for them to lay in wait for me at the Thames. They ll have already captured it Lord Wyatt holds open his coat and reveals a side arm pistol and a sword. We won t let them take your ship Yes, you could go down to the cove, I say rather loudly, worried all the gentlemen in the room will gallop off to battle before hearing me out. You could wait for Ghost s men to arrive and shoot them all dead. I m quite certain the magistra te and his curious son will be delighted to wrestle with the problem of more dead bodies floating up around our school. T hat does n't change the fact that you still need to get the steamship to London Which means you will still face the problem of more men from the Iron
Baldwin 53 Crown pirating it on the Thames. Or for that matter, attacking you at sea I f shooting the thieving scoundrels is not the answer, what do you have in mind? Lord Wyatt crosses his arms, vexed, and Mr. Sinclair follows his lead. E veryone in the room stares at me expectantly, even Lord Ravencross rises up on his elbow, and th at heavy millstone returns to my neck E xcept this time, it feels like it weighs thir ty stone instead of twelve. This had better work I propose we go to the cove right now and dismantle t he steamship and then hide the parts Mr. Sinclair groan s and tosses up his hands Dismantle it ? The lamp flickers as I lift my hands pleading with him Hear me out. Before I can say more Georgie pushes in. Where could we possibly hide those pontoons and all the mechanisms so the traitor w ould n t discover them? It surprises me when Lord Ravencross clears his throat. You could carry it to my barn s and cover the pieces with hay. Lord Wyatt rubs his chin considerin g this idea. Most generous, my lord. Miss Stranje thanks him but whirls back to me. H ave you forgotten ? Lord Castlereagh expect s the ship to arrive in London next week We will not disappoint him I answer with a confidence I wished I felt more deeply Captain Grey studies me. If it is dismantled, how do you propose we get it there ? I meet his forthright gaze and confirm what he has already deduced We ll transport it by road. T hat makes no sense. Mr. Sinclair shakes his head. The Mary Isabella is just as
Baldwin 54 defenseless against attack on the highway as it is at sea M ore so Not if it s disguised. I say, turning a piece of graphite over in my fingers. Disguised? Maya who rarely speaks up in these meetings sits forward intrigued. How do you intend to disguise a n entire ship? Those pontoons are longer than this table. Sera is deep in thought, but she glances up, her eyes alight and I think she has guessed what I am about to say. I toss down the graphite and place my hands on the table leaning forward to explai n Your tenants have already begun shear ing sheep, Captain Grey. They re doing it before summer to prevent flies from laying eggs in their coats t hat way t he wool will be higher quality The ups ho t is very soon they ll need to cart the wool to market. Ah. He nods approvingly. Y ou re thinking of hid ing the ship and her boilers under the bags of wool fleeces. Just so. I smile broadly. Recalling the measurements, I believe if we angle it, one pontoon will fit at the bottom of a farm wagon. So, we ll require two wagons and I rather thought we might want to stuff the mechanical parts i nside the bags with the wool to conceal them better. Clever, Captain Grey admits. We will dress ourselves as farmers and ride along to protect the wagons during the trip. It might just work. I ll send word to Mr. Digby and a few of the others to come and help us guard the wagons. Lord Wyatt slaps Alexander on the shoulder Ch in up, Sinclair. You and your ship will as tonish the Admiralty. You ll see. All will be well. Georgie chafes her hands nervously against her hips If all of us work together we ought to be able to take the Mary Isabella apart in an hour or two but we must hurry
Baldwin 55 and all of us will need to help Lord Ravencross is stretched out on the couch and even though his eyes are closed he issues more orders Miss Stranje, s end that footman of yours to fetch MacDougal. I ll instruct him to lend you two or three of our local lads out of the militia encamp ed at my house. M en we can trust They can help carry the pieces of Mr. Sinclair s ship up the bluffs and in to my barn. Thank you my lord, she inclines her head That will speed things along I need their attention for one more point. T he moment Mr. Sinclair finishes oversee ing the dismantling we should hide him so Alice assumes he has sailed away with his ship. Hid e him w here? Georgie turns back to me. I suppose the dungeons might work. Can t. Tess shakes her head. That s the first place Alice would check. Miss Stranje pushes back from the table and stands. Indeed I suspect Alice may have s nuck down to see Lady Daneska when we had her house d there last week. I twist the nut on the bow compass. True, and if she sees us going downstairs with food, she s bound to suspect something. There s one place she would n t look for him Georgie exchanges a conspiratorial glance with Sera Sera catches the corner of her lip as does when something alarms her I know exactly where they are thinking of hiding him and brighten at the thought. Miss Stranje sharp ens her beak in our direction Don t tell me, y ou re thinking of housing Mr. Sinclair in the garret above the dormitorium ? Alexander looks from our headmistress to me. What g arret? Her brow furrows. I have long suspected Miss Stranje is aware of our secret meeting place in the attic Now, there is no doubt. I think not. That would be h ighly improper
Baldwin 56 No, a bsolutely not, she declares with finality It stretches the bounds of proprieties to o far Captain Grey reaches for her hand to reassure her My dear Miss Stranje, t here s no need to trouble yourself. Mr. Sinclair will be our guest at the dower house. We ought to have moved him there last week My heart sinks at the thought of Alexander spend ing his last day s in our vicinity hiding a half mile up the road instead of here at Stranje House. I risk an impertinent question. That is a very kind offer Captain, but can you be certain none of your serv ants will gossip with ours? Captain Grey straightens the hem of his coat sleeve and grants me, not a smile, but his steady forthright assurance They are handpicked for their discretion As were mine Miss Stranje bristles H m m yes, s o they were. Captain Grey thinks for a moment and brightens I have it. I sha ll arrange for both men servants to remain inside until Mr. Sinclair departs. I ll assign them the onerous task of inventorying the entire contents of the household. T hat should require thei r attention the entire day, leaving them no time for venturing to the market public house, or anywhere else where they might gossip. That seal s it After tonight, Alexander will be gone from our lives. Forever I make one last attempt to keep him here with us. Yes but what if someone sees him while traveling the road to your home ? The traitor s accomplice was hiding in the woods along that very road. Miss Stranje forestalls him from answering. Lady Jane, yo u forget yourself. Captain Grey is very successful at what he does You need not worry. H e and Lord Wyatt are more than capable of concealing Mr. Sinclair while on the road They do that sort of
Baldwin 57 thing all the time. And now so they will have an early start traveling that road, it is time we went and took apart the steamship Alexander i s leaving N othing I can do to stop it. Indeed, I ought to wish him Godspeed. This is the very thing we set out to accomplish. But I don t. I set the writing instruments in order, make sure the map sits squarely on the table, and place a lo o se tacking pin in the box. I take a long sad look at Alexander s broad back and his golden hair as he walks away Lord Wyatt clasps Alexander s arm st opping him and frowns Hold on, Sinclair Y ou ll want a change of clothes Those new togs are bound to get ruined taking apart the boiler.
Baldwin 58 Chapter 5 A Ship in Sheep s Clothing I am not given to foolish sentimental ity I turn away not wanting to watch him leave the workroom meaning to attend to another matter of business Except, the specter of his shadow drift ing across the wall stops me Instead of the Mary Isabella it feels as if m y heart is coming apart Which is complete a nd utter foolishness. Folly Sentimental nonsense. Nevermind him My lips move but no sound comes out. I take a deep breath and tell myself to get on with the plan. Tess and Miss Stranje lag behind to assist Lord Ravencross back to his room. However, t here is another crucial element to this scheme I hesitate to burden Tess with this particular task, but it is vital I tag her arm. There s one more thing. There always is Tess leans in and I quickly and quietly explain another piece of the puzzle She n ods agreeing, and they head out the door. Miss Stranje calls to me over her shoulder. Get some sleep Lady Jane. We can
Baldwin 59 handle everything else You look done in. Done in ? I frown at the empty room. Me ? I m not done in. I m as fit and able as anyone else Mr. Sinclair need s every available pair of hands to take the Mary Isabella apart I t is my right to be there. A fter all, I helped draw up the plans for his ruddy steamship. They shall not leave me out. I turn the wick knob, dousing the last lamp, and darkness swallows me up. I fully intend to follow them but this time before venturing out into the night, I intend to be properly prepared. I dash quietly up the stairs and fetch proper walking boots and a pelisse to keep off the chill Getting down the cliffs proves a tad more treacherous than I d expected It does seem like I am not as sure footed as normal Unwilling to admit Miss Stranje may be right, I blame it on the blackness of the night Once I reach the beach I slog through the damp s and behind the rocky shore, wending my way toward the cove I am nearly upon them before I see that they have limited themselves to one small lantern Wise of them Otherwise Daneska s thieving henchmen might spot them working MacDougal and two farm lads have come to help carry parts up the cliff They all work in a wordless flurry It reminds me of chickens pecking at a small pile of grain. I stand off to the side watching until Georgie hands me two connecting rod s to lug up t he bluffs I take a deep breath and sally forth on my assignment. Half way up the steep path I attempt to bolster myself by muttering stern lectures to myself You can do this, Lady Jane. Only see how Tess bounds up this narrow trail ahead follow her lead. But Tess outpaces me and disappears into the inky night. Now, except for the heaviness of my breathing, I plod uphill in silence. The tide is
Baldwin 60 coming in slapping against the shore, lacing the air with a fine mist y spray. I slip on a wet patch and ca tch myself by clinging to a tuft of grass with one hand while hanging on to the rods with the other. It is a near thing. All too easily I imagine myself dashed to bits on the rocks below. Do not look down, I warn myself sternly and keep climbing until I reach the top Level ground is a mercy, but my task is not yet over. Sera passes me on her way back down greets me with an encouraging smile and points out the path I should follow Just as I begin regretting the very long way it is to Lord Ravencross s barn a young militiaman greets me. He s there to relieve me of my load and carr y it the rest of the way. MacDougal has set up a brigade. How very foresighted of him. Grateful, I hand the connecting rods to the soldier, and head back down the steep path to the beach I stand aside when I cross paths with Captain Grey who has Mr. Sinclair s boiler in his arms. Upon returning to the cove I stand awaiting the next bit of the prototype to be ferried to the barn Ale xander stops work and peers at me You are near dead on your feet Lady Jane. Take yourself off to be d I t won t do to have you collaps ing in a heap. His voice echoes weirdly in the cove and just when I think he is expressing genuine concern he goes and spoil s it all. We ve too much to d o to be carrying you up the hill, as well That is no hill, I argue. Exactly, he mutters. He s right Jane Of course, Georgie would say that, she always agrees with him. You ve been up all night. T he boiler and the steam cylinder are apart now All that s left is the paddle wheel the decking and the pontoons.
Baldwin 61 I thought I might sit here and un lash the decking Alexander grumbles about my being stubborn but I refuse to give him any heed. It s easy enough to help dismantle the decking. With so many of us working the ship comes apart much faster than I d calculated. The paddle wheel collapses into a stack of lumber two wheels and a rod. Suddenly the Mary Isabella is no longer a ship Sh e has decomposed into the sum of her parts and I find I am feel ing much the same. When the last plank of the decking is loosened I settle against a nearby rock and slide down until I am sitting rather unladylike on a pile of stones I ease back and w atch him work, noting the way he moves in the dark so sure and confident He tru ly is brilliant It pleases me that he is once again wearing his shabby old cloth es I remember being so appalled at his attire when he first arrived at Stranje House. Funny how quickly his comfortable ways grew on me. The moon comes out and t hrough the thin cloth of his worn cambric shirt I notice the muscles flex in his shoulder. His curls catch rare bits of lamp light and glint like buttery silk ribbons They flop in his eyes and he brushes them back without a thought for the d ir t or moisture on his hands If he were mine I would relish washing those golden locks until they gleamed. But he isn t mine, and he never will be I m absurdly tired or I would never have indulged in these reckless thoughts about a foreigner who has no place in my life I turn away and listen to the lap of the waves as the sea rushes in and flows out again Miss Stranje and Sera are each carrying up cook s pickling barrels, our makeshift life preservers, the very ones that helped save Lord Ravencr oss and Tess from drowning. Maya carries the coalscuttle and shovel. Georgie holds the lantern, lighting the way for Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt as they hoist the
Baldwin 62 last pontoon on their shoulders and head up the cliff. Alexander stands on the shore watchin g them wind up the bluffs. That s it then. Yes I suppose it is. I throw a stone out into the sea and it sails into the dark. W aves roll in and splash against the rocks The stone is lost to me I ll never hear it plunk into the water. Give my regards to your u ncle when you see him. Robert Fulton is a man ahead of his time As opposed to his slipshod nephew Alexander mu mble s and digs the toes of his already grimy shoe into the sand I sha ll tell him he says aloud and with more conviction than h e ought for we both know he won t. Why would he tell his beloved u ncle about the annoying English girl who was so outspoken and obnoxious? Captain Grey signals to us from the cliffs avoid ing calling aloud so as to not alert potential thieves. Come along then Mr. Sinclair offers me a hand up. He doesn t let go even though I am standing next to him, but in the dim light of the waxing moon I see his lips slant into that wicked sly smirk of his. Admit it, Lady Jane. Y ou ll miss me. I will I sniff and pull my fingers out of his grasp. A s much as a toothache Exactly He hikes up the shore line behind the rocks so as to avoid the worst of the rising tide. Who will you practice your insults on? You ll be hard pressed to find anyone as tolerant and charming as I am I will miss sparring with him, but I mustn t let him know. You have a point. I say airily. I suppose I will simply have to sling insults at Harold, the mannequin in our ballroom. Ballroom Ha! You mean your training room, and Harold must be that poor fellow stuffed with cotton wadding. The one you kick, punch, and stab with knives.
Baldwin 63 We dance with him on occasion He s quite tolerant of abuse and can be nearly as charming as you TouchÂŽ See there Y ou a re in fine form ready to slay any gentleman who comes within a mile of you. You ought to thank me for allowing you to sharpen your sword on me True. But what of you, my dear friend? As I make my way up the narrow path, I glance over my shoulder at him, attempting to gaug e his response Except, Alexander remains as inscrutable as ever I don t think there are very many young ladies who will put up with that barbed pitchfork you call a tongue Not even in the colonies Oh, but that s where you are wrong. He sounds positi vely cheerful. T here are any number of young ladies lining up to do just that Hundreds It is still dark and I take a small misstep H is hands are instantly on my waist helping me regain my balance. Hundreds? I ask. Did I say hundreds? I meant t housands I huff and it is not because of the steepness of the climb. You may not wish to admit it Alexander Sinclai r, but you will miss me as well I ve given that considerable thought He sounds pensive and for once I think he might not jibe me. Considerable thought? I coax, wondering if that is what had kept him from sleeping. Well perhaps not as much as all that The tide is coming in and a particularly big breaker crashes against the rocks and mists us with salt water. Perhaps it is bec ause I ve had so little sleep but I find I am chilled to the bone and shiver. He hands me his coat. Put this on before you catch
Baldwin 64 pneumonia. As we balance on the narrow sliver of a path, he helps me sli de my arms in to his coat and flips the collar up to keep my neck warm I am unnerved when he continues to gaze at me, holding my arm to keep me from falling Good thing because standing this close to him makes me feel as if I might melt and flow straight down th is ridiculous cliff. The co at is warm and smells of him, of welded copper, of spilled hot chocolate and pencil shavings of late night candle wax and the forest we ran through together of spice cake and clotted cream I do so adore clotted cream As if the scoundrel has read my tho ughts, his eyebrows lift. Y ou truly are a trial, Lady Jane. H e speaks these words the way another man might confess his undying admiration Thank you I lower my lashes afraid that even in the dark he ll notice the heat rushing into my cheeks. He sighs heavily. I suppose you re aware of the fact that you would try the patience of a saint. I ve no idea why that makes me grin, but it does. So I ve been told. Luckily you re no saint. W ell, no, there is that. Suddenly he frowns and clasps my shoulders. Who? Who else says you try their patience ? He demands this, as if no one else on earth has the right to say such things to me except for him A s if he will call out the blackguard, not because I don t deserve the statement but because I am his and his alone, to insult. Hundreds of men I say, impishly Thousands I watch him battle a smile. Finally, h e is able to twist it into a smirk. Jane, he murmurs, correcting himself shaking his head ever so slightly Lady Jan e.
Baldwin 65 I confess I have never liked my name so well as I do when it falls from his lips. He s still holding my arms but he leans closer and his grip lightens I ve a good mind to kiss you just to teach you some proper manners. Oh, no I feign alarm. H ow sha ll I ever survive such a harsh lesson ? He grins mischievously and draws me close My arms naturally reach up and wind around his shoulders his lips brush mine, feather soft, a tantalizing promise of more, my heart whirls dizzily, I lean into him, a nd Jane ? Georgie calls to us in a hushed voice from farther up the path. The sound echoes through the night and crash es against us blasting the moment apart like cold sea spray. My arms fall away. Regret washes over his features and h e says softly I expect it will be me who ha s difficulty surviving this particular lesson His whispered words tease against my lips, sending my heart winging unsteadily off the bluff. Or plummeting to the rocks below I m not sure which, because his words are confusing, no matter how intimately he delivered them Georgie calls for us again. Lady Jane? Mr. Sinclair? Are you there? We re waiting for you. Her lantern glints off Alexander s face as he pulls away from me and straightens. On our way, h e says loud enough for Georgie to hear Still stunned, I stand unable to move softened into a useless pudding by the merest touch of his lips to mine A t the same time his cryptic remark bewilder s me I try to puzzle it out D oes he mean kissing me would ve been an ordeal? Surely not He hadn t come toward my mouth like a man about to suffer pain for the cause Is it possible he meant our kiss would devastate him more than it did me ? W hy would he think such a
Baldwin 66 thing ? Perhaps it sadden s him that this first kiss will also be our last our only kiss I shake my head, unable to fathom a sentiment like that coming from him the glib Mr. Sinclair I think not Not him. More than likely it was a nother of his meaningless jest s I am vexed now Quite vexed And to think I almost let him kiss me. Well, if I am to be perfectly honest I did let him. Heavens above what was I thinking. Instead of observing the proprieties, I practically threw myself in to the rascal ly American s arms. What a fool I am som etimes Alexander turns me around so I am facing the right direction on the path and with a steadying hand he guides me upward It is completely unnecessary. I am quit e capable of stomping my way to the summit on my own. At the top Miss Stranje meets us carrying a satchel with Alexander's belongings. Captain Grey will be along shortly to conduct you to the dower house. Lord Wyatt is this very moment scouring the woods to make sure there are no spies watching along the road. She says this last p art pointedly to me. I shrug out of Mr. Sinclair s jacket and hand it back to him. Thank you for the loan of your coat I say formally and extend my hand I expect, even though I m not a man he will give it his vigorous American style shake. Good luck to you Mr. Sinclair. I wish you a pleasant journey. The scoundrel breaks from his habit and bows over my hand as if we are in a proper English drawing room. He bows low, taking advantage of the darkness of the hour, and dares to press a kiss on my k nuckles. He looks up with the most impudent grin in all of Christendom. Farewell, Lady Jane, until we meet again. I snatch my hand away. I doubt we ever shall.
Baldwin 67 He straightens and manages to appear far more imperious than he ought in those shabby clothe s. He stares down at me as if from a great height. We shall see. Captain Grey approaches and stops beside our headmistress Get some rest, my dear. He leans closer to her ear. We may be in for some rough days ahead. She says nothing to that, but looks up at him with her eyes warm and h er lips resting in a kinder softer line than she normally wears I have studied her long enough and well enough to know Captain Grey is the only person who will ever be privy to that sid e of Miss Emma Stranje. She looks away uncomfortable with his concern for her. She is, after all, a woman who can look out for herself quite efficiently. Captain Grey places his hand over hers as it rests on his arm and gives it a gentle pat before turn ing his attention to Alexander. We d best be off T he sun will rise soon. He s right, the black horizon is beginning to leak with gray and early morning fog is rising up from the sea Mr. Sinclair and the captain walk toward the road while Miss Stranje and Georgie head for Stranje House. J ust before Alexander disappears forever he glances back and tips the brim of his nonexistent hat sending me a final salute
Baldwin 68 Chapter 6 The Play s the Thing We shall see What a preposterous thing for him to say. We shall see nothing That i s how this works. You re going away and I m staying here. There s an end to it. Finito That s what I would say if Mr. Sinclair were still standing here beside me. Only he isn t Alexander Sinclair disappear s into the gray mist and a profound sadness steals around me rolling in as thick as the fog O ff in the distance, bobbing l ike a firefly in the wind Georgie hurries back carrying her small lantern. Are you coming Jane ? She loops her arm around mine and tugs me along. Miss Stranje wants me to remind you, i f this plan of yours is to work, we have to hurry back to the house before Alice wakes up and starts lighting the fires I nod and let her tow me along. I can t keep from stewing over Mr. Sinclair s inscrutable comment s What s wrong? Georgie raises the lantern examining my face. You seem troubled. It s nothing, I say and force my heavy feet to take longer strides. Ah, I see. She chuckles softly. With men, it never is.
Baldwin 69 She is acting as if she is the older and wiser of the two of us, when she is younger than me. I nudge her shoulder. When did you become so all knowing ? She keeps pace with me, and responds with far more civility than I deserve. You re just not used to being on the receiving end of advice. I suppose not I grumble. I have a beau. I understand how difficult falling in love can be You can talk to me. It is nothing like that. Mr. Sinclair is not my beau and I m certainly not fa lling in love with him or anyone else. She laughs. I m quite serious. Of course you are. Georgie ignores me and prattles on spout ing romantic nonsense There will never be beaus, or sweethearts, or falling in love for me. I can t tell her why not without revealing my secret. This night is nearly gone and I m so tired that if Georgie wheedles hard enough I might accidently confide in her So I clamp my mouth shut and nod attentively as she advises me on the nature of men and how to cope with their peculiar behaviors. W hile she proses on about love and other equally unhelpful subjects, I think of other things O f Alexander s feather soft kiss O f the last vexing grin he saluted me with O f strong cheekbones that belong on a Greek god A nd the laughable sound of his cocksure American twang These are dangerous musings when what I ought to be doing is forgetting about him Soon, I promise myself, I will forget B ut for now, a ll the way to the house and tiptoeing up the stairs to the dormitorium I allow thoughts of Alexander Sinclair to
Baldwin 70 haunt me As I lay my head on the pillow and close my eyes the last thing I see are his lips right before they brushed against mine I fall asleep to the sound of him daring fate. We shall see. The next day I s it up in a panic. Good heavens! It is no longer morning. The curtains are open T he dormitorium is empty. I hear the clock chime twelve times. I ve slept all the way through breakfast. The day is half gone and we still have a critical step in the plan to perform Tess and Miss Stranje agreed we should carry out this next bit of theatrics at breakfast, but it is too late. B reakfast is over. They ll be wondering what is keeping me. I rush through my morning ablutions fling on a workaday dress and patt er down the stairs. Dashing through the entry I turn into the hallway, nearly colliding with Greaves. The elderly butler winces as if I have actually knocked into him. Begging your pardon, m lady, he says in a nasal tone obviously annoyed at me for rush ing about like a hoyden. Terribly sorry, Greaves. I m running late, you see. Would you be so good as to ask Alice to bring some tea to the workroom for me? Perhaps a morsel or two from breakfast if there is anything left. Wouldn t you rather I sent the footman That i s the proper thing, and Phillip is far less l ikely to spill N othing formal. A simple tray. A simple tray and Alice It has to be Alice Alice will do I m sure Lord Ravencross is keeping Phillip busy fetching and carrying for him With a disapproving sniff, he inclines his head. As you wish, m lady. Thank you, Greaves. And do, please ask her to hurry. I m famished.
Baldwin 71 I continue to the workroom at a much more sedate pace. The door is shut and I lean against it for a few moment s preparing myself and giving Alice time to ready a teapot and tray Their voices are subdued and I cannot make out what they are discussing. Time for my performance, I turn the knob and open the door wide, leaving it ajar as I glide into the room. Miss Stranje glances up. Good afternoon, Lady Jane H ow very gracious of you to join us A mild scold from a headmistress who normally demands promptness. I bob a curtsey. No one bothers to inquire after my health They are all studiously engaged in a c ode breaking assignment. I am well, thank you I answer the unasked question, which is rather cheeky of me Miss Stranje lets it pass with nothing more than a narrowing of her expression, not that one such glare from her isn t enough to make a grown man qu ake in his boots. When I lower my proud chin to a respectful level she relents and gives me a subtle nod indicating we should proceed You look the very devil Tess carps. You ve gray smudges under your eyes The others look up from their work, and a twinge of remorse pinches at me. I wish we had been able to tell all of them about this part of the plan. Fine words coming from you. I say, accusation drip ping from every syllable. Seeing as it is your fault. Tess s fault? Sera sets down her quill. You heard me. Y esterday was trying. W e shall all sleep much more soundly tonight Maya tries to make peace even though I have not yet declared war. I mimic our headmistress s most imperious glare and level it straight at Tess. I
Baldwin 72 doubt I sha ll sleep soundly I doubt any of us wi ll. Not if she is still in the house. Tess glances up from deciphering one of Miss Stranje s code breaking tests What are you going on about? Have I do ne something to offend you? Oh don t come all mewling and innocent with me I cross my arms. You know exactly what you ve done. No, I don t. Tess shoves back her chair and rises to her feet. And for your information, I have never mewled in my life. T he fearsome way her shoulders square and her fists double, makes my knees quaver. But there s no back ing down now the play is under way Miss Stranje stands. Ladies, in my house you will address each other with civility. Civil? Y ou expect me to remain c ivil when we have a criminal in our midst ? I point at Tess. It s her fault Mr. Sinclair had to flee in the middle of the night. What are you talking about? Georgie rises to Tess s rescue. You know perfectly well Tess ha d nothing to do with it How can you say such things? I would trust Tess with my very life Trust her ? I d sooner trust a stewed prune. I ball up my own fists and press them against the table, leaning forward with as much venom as I can muster to make this performance convincing She s the traitor Georgie is beside herself. But that can t be. L ast night you said I was wrong. Blinded because I couldn t see past the person I thought was our friend. I jab my finger through the air again accusing Tess. She isn t the first person to betr ay us. Sera glances from me her best friend, and back to Tess, who she adores as an older sister T he stricken look on her face slays me. T hen s he squints at me studiously, a split
Baldwin 73 second passes, her face br ighten s and I know she has figured it out. I take a deep breath. No one but Tess could ve run as fast as the traitor di d last night. Not only that but Lady Jane! That is enough Miss Stranje p uff s up like a cobra about to strike. No. I stand my ground. I don t care if you lock me in the discipline chamber and throw away the key I ll say my piece. Mark my words Tess is the traitor I notice Alice hesitating in the doorway. She carries in the tea tray sheepishly obviously she s been standing out in the hallway eavesdropping before she decided to enter the room You ve gone mad. Tess stands back brooding. I huff up and clench my fists until I must surely be red in the face. Don t bother to deny it. I know it was you. No, Jane t hink what you re saying. You know better Georgie pleads with me and I feel genuinely sorry for what I am about to say next I have proof. I saw her put Phobos and Tromos in the pens before she went to meet the spy. That s how I know she s the one who is betraying us I talk so fast even Georgie can t interrupt. She s the reason Mr. Sinclair ran away She forced his hand. He had to save his ship somehow Now he s gone and who knows what will happen with him trying to sail the prototype to London by himself Georgie tilts her head blinking I know what she s doing. She s t rying to add up what I m saying and no matter how she tries to calculate it she keeps com ing up with a different sum. La dy Jane! Sit down this instant. Miss Stranje lifts her chin in Alice s direction, giving u s the stern warning frown the one that means we ought to mind our tongue s
Baldwin 74 when the servants are around. It is a brilliant touch and I admire her more than I ever have. But now I must defy her. It has to be Tess I open my hands pleading with them. Listen to me. You know no one else can handle the wolf dogs like she does. That is not enough proof to make an accusation Sera comes to stand next to me and I m impressed she would risk it. I ha ve taken them to their pen s S o have you. So have we al l. Think this through it could be anyone. Yes, any of us Georgie agrees too quickly. My heart lurches uncertain whether she has figured it out or not I f she hasn t, I worry she might say too much in an attempt to protect Tess. She presses her argument. You ve got no proof None It might ve been m e. Or Sera. She pauses for a heartbeat. O r e ven Alice We all turn to the maid. Alice flushes and her hands shake as she sets the tea tray on the side table. Don t make me laugh. I say. Alice could no more have run through those woods in the dead of night than a rooster could lay an egg. Could you Alice? Run ? Our normally loquaciou s maid stands tongue tied for a full second before she lands upon a suitable reply. I don t know what you mean m lady. She bobs a curtsey to me and turns to Miss Stranje. Will that be all, miss? Yes, thank you You may go, Alice. I ve one more nail to pound into this coffin. The minute the real traitor is barely out of the room, I roar at Tess I may not have proof N ot yet B ut I will get it A nd when I do I ll see you hang for betray ing us like this How dare you! You Te ss rushes around the table as if she is about to strangle me. You poisonous bunch back d toad!
Baldwin 75 Bunch back d Toad ? I hop e Alice hasn t read Shakespeare because Tess is cursing me with lines straight out of Richard III. Miss Stranje rushes to the door, flings it open and startle s Alice We need help. She orders the wide eyed maid to fetch the footman and Mr. Greaves straight away. Hurry! Miss Stranje adds with a feigned desperation that deserves applause. She wheels back to us and shouts Jane! Tess! Stop before you kill one another. For pity sake don t just stand there, Georgiana, give me a hand. You too, Sera. We hear Alice s heavy shoes clatter down the hall, running away to summon help. Tess s hands are wrapped around my throat, but she s not applying any pressure. I smirk. Really Tess, Richard the Third ? She lets go and shrugs. I couldn t think of anything else. You were so late coming down Lady Jane w e d nearly given up on you. Miss Stranje starts in on me, her hands on her hips. At least you came through in the end. Admirable work, both of you A little over dramatic for my taste, but it will do. Georgie gapes at Miss Stranje. You knew all along ? Naturally Sera chuckles softly, because she d figur ed it out from the start. Georgie shakes her head. I didn t realize what you were doing, until you mentioned Mr. Sinclair sailing the prototype. She turns to Maya. And you, did you guess, too? I was not certain. Maya shrugs. As far as I m concerned, you English all run mad from time to time Only look at your poor King George. I m sorry for the deception. I put my arm around Georgie s shoulder. We had to do it this way. None of us are practiced thespians. We were afraid i f we told you your reactions would not be as genuine. You did splendidly, Georgie. I was quite moved by
Baldwin 76 how nobly you defended Tess. Tess mumbles her thanks and bestows one of her rare smiles on Georgie. I plop on the couch. But I must say, you scared me senseless when you pointed out Alice Hush. T hey re coming, Miss Stranje warns. Tess and I take our places in chairs across from each other, as if we ve been forcibly separated. Tess crosses her arms and broods. I put my chin in the air and glare at the faded wallpaper in the corner near the ceiling. Phillip gallops in to the room, breathing hard, staring at the scene before him like a man who d expect ed to find murder and mayhem strewn across the Turkish carpet. When he sees there is no blood on the floo r he straightens. You called for me, miss. Alice and Greaves arrive h ard on his heels and out of breath I do apologize for having troubled you. Miss Stranje hurries forward in an effort to hide her warring students from the servants view Her bombaz ine skirts rustle like autumn leaves and even though she is a slender woman the black silk seems to widen with every step the way a raven might puff out its wings We had a small mishap earlier, but I am happy to say, it s all under control now. Thank you for coming to our aid so quickly but you may go The disbelieving servants stare at her, mouths agape and peek around her edges at Tess and me All is well now. She claps her hand together as if that marks the end of the matter Please don t let us keep you from your work. She show s them the door. Phillip departs in a daze, shaking his head. Alice walks out behind him but keeps glanc ing back over her shoulder as if she expects flames to erupt in the workroom.
Baldwin 77 Greaves is the last to leave. The poor beleaguered butler pinches up his wrinkled brow and glares at us as if five of Satan s spawn have infested his beloved Stranje House.
Baldwin 78 Chapter 7 Big Fat Fly in the Ointment Your pardon, miss. I nearly forgot. Greaves turns back before leaving the work room and pulls a formal looking letter out of his coat pocket This arrived for you right before the, uh, incident Disapproval o oze s out of his every pore. In my hurry because of the, er, mishap I neglected to bring a tray on which to present it. He holds the letter on his gloved hand and extends it out to her as if it sits on an invisible silver salver Miss Stranje stares at the address and eyes the letter as if it is a serpent about to bite her After a n uncharacteristic hesitation, she takes it from him turns it over examines the wax seal and grimly deposits it in her pocket. Thank you, Greaves. That will be all. He leaves, clos ing the door behind him O ur headmistress consults her timepiece and taps it The clock is ticking, l adies I suggest y ou return to your deciphering work In the real world the swiftness with which you are able to decode a message may be a matter of life or death. Surely, you intend to subtract twenty minutes to account for the time when Jane interrupted us ? Georgie tries to bargain even though I peek over her shoulder and see she is nearly finished puzzling out her code
Baldwin 79 It was only seventeen minutes, Miss Fitzwilliam, a nd no I will not deduct the time I nterruption s are part of life. They are bound to occur especially when you are in the midst of an actual situation are they not ? Miss Stranje turns to me and gestures to the tray of food Alice left for us Lady Jane, you may be excused from this exercise. I expect you require some nourishment. My stomach rumbles eagerly at the invitation and I rise to peruse the tray Our headmistress withdraws to a wingback chair across the room. Out of the corner of my eye I watch her take o ut the letter and turn it over and over before breaking the seal. A dmit tedly, I am curious but I m also ravenous Cook sent up a generous plate of scones accompanied by a bowl of fresh strawberry jam another filled with clotted cream, and a steaming pot of tea. It briefly crosses my mind Alice might ve poisoned it, although I doubt she s that daring. I inhale the fragrances emanating from the tray searching for a scent out of place and find nothing but deliciousness One whiff of the clotted cream and I m whisked straight back to the warmth of Alexander s coat and those last treasured moments with him I break open a scone and spread it with a handsome amount of jam and a dollop of cream W ith the first bite I close my eyes and the aromas bring his face back into bittersweet focus. When I open my eyes I notice Miss Stranje sitting rather limply in the chair the letter clutched in her fist and her complexion abnormally pale. Something is wrong. Very wrong I drop the scone on a plate, blot my mouth and rush to stoop beside her chair What is it? I nstead of answering, she presses her lips tight S he corrects her posture and
Baldwin 80 composes herself. I ve had a letter from Lady Pinswary. Georgie groans and lifts her head up from solving her code Not Lady Daneska s irksome a unt ? The very same. Tess comes out of her chair as if she s been jabbed with a pin. What does it say? She hurries to stand beside Miss Stranje Sera scoots back from her work and stares in our direction Maya calmly keeps writ ing and says, It will not be cause for rejoic ing I can promise you that much Lady Pinswary is not inclined toward the happiness of others and certainly not ours. She sets down her pen. There. It is f inished S he proudly holds up her deciphered code Maya often surprises me. In this case, I had fully expected Sera or Georgie to finish first. Well done Miss Barrington. Miss Stranje grants her a strained smile Georgie looks from her paper to Maya s How did you finish so quickly? Maya shrugs not being the boastful sort I had a minor advantage t hat is all What advantage? Sera takes the paper from Maya and examines her work Maya waits until Sera stops studying their assignment and gives her full attention. W hen Jane came in and accused Tess of betraying us I found myself growing tense, and more and more agitated and confused Angry, even. I did not want to give in to these distressing feelings Nor did I want them to muddle my thinking, so I chose to concentrate on breaking the code Well done Miss Stranje stands and her color returns to normal. I would like all of you to tak e a lesson from Miss Barrington s calming technique today. In the middle of an emotional crisis, you might try focusing on a demanding task to aid you in organiz ing your thoughts.
Baldwin 81 Tess shifts from one foot to the other during this brief lecture edging closer to Miss Stranje, leaning to peek at the letter Curiosity and concern are gnawing at me too. Are you going to tell us what Lady Pinswary s letter say s ? Clearly it is troubling news. Miss Stranje nods. We gather closer, like children awaiting a tale of ghosts and goblins. She fro wns at Lady Pinswary s scrawl as if she is having difficulty reading it I know it is a ploy to buy time so that she can find the right way to tell us the bad news written on that piece of foolscap. Lady Pinswary boasts about her niece s connections to Prince George Upsetting, of course, but there must be something else troubling o ur headmistress Sera draws the same conclusion. We knew Lady Daneska was well connected W hy is Lady Pinswary bragging about that ? Oh, she has a very good reason. Miss S tranje gazes steadily at us She tells me Lady Daneska plans to arrive in London within the week. London? Georgie gasps. Daneska wouldn t dare show her face there Sera comes and stand s next to me S he would if s he s up to something She s always up to something I say. The question is what ? It doesn t matter. Georgie bounc es up and down on her toes excitedly. Lord Wyatt and Captain Grey are there T hey can have her arrested for being a traitor Then Lord Castlereagh will order her to be locked away in the tower of London and we need never see her again Ever Maya rests her hand on Georgie s arm. Lady Daneska is no t a gentle dove to be easily caught and locked in a cage. She is more like a daring tiger strolling into a village Hunting. She is in London to d o the catching not to be caught She will have contrived a way to stay safe.
Baldwin 82 E xactly right Miss Stranje inclines her head approvingly at Maya. S he has done so in spades. Lady Daneska received an invitation to Carlton House She is to be a n honored guest of the Prince Regent himself What? Tess growls. How did she manage that? With a deep sigh, I explain the sad truth. We know her for the murderous traitor she is, but we can not forget Lady Daneska wa s the daughte r of a Duke. Her standing in European courts is of the highest order. S he is young exotic and beautiful. Tess grumbles at my words and Georgie bites her bottom lip but I press on. We all know Prince George likes to surround himself with the crÂme de la crÂme of the beau monde the beautiful people in high society. Daneska i s exactly the sort of ornament he likes to have decorating his court. Just so. Miss Stranje holds up the letter. So, you see the problem Of course. I sigh Lord Wyatt and Captain Grey can t very well march into the Prince George s palace and charge Lady Daneska, the renowned Countess Valdikauf with criminal acts against the crown acts that for all public purposes have never even occurred It was one thing w hen we held her in custody here at Stranje House and threaten ed to turn her in. We would ve done so quietly through private diplomatic channels One simply cannot drag a foreign dignitary, a guest of Prince George, out of Carlton House and accuse her of treason Precisely Miss Stranje acknowledges my analysis but the situation is too grave to warrant a smile Too much of our work is done in the shadows behind the curtain. Still, it begs the question. W hat is she doing in London? Sera rubs at her chin mulling over possibilities. Georgie is always quick to leap to a conclusion. I should think i t s fairly obvious.
Baldwin 83 She plans to scuttle Mr. Sinclair s ship or steal it from him. Or worse yet, she ll take it from him and murder poor Mr. Sinclair to kee p England from being able to build one Sera shakes her head. Maybe, but I m not certain that s all of it. She could be up to something even worse At the Prince Regent s palace she ll be in the company of key members of parliament and the House of Lords There s bound to be foreign heads of state and even Lord Castlereagh You re right Tess heaves a sigh. This i s Daneska we re talking about A nd Ghost I say with a sinking feeling in my stomach. N ot to mention t he Iron Crown. Tess waits for our speculations to cease before naming the thing which we dared not spea k She might try to assassinate the Prince Regent W e all stare at Tess Her words hover over us like a spike winged gargoyle with terrifyingly sharp teeth. Maya, whose voice normally bathes us with joy, tiptoes in solemn tones of mourning That would not bode well for England. Miss Stranje smooths the corner of the letter, waiting for us to tumble to all the same conclusions she did, and now I understand why she paled I plunk down in the nearest chair. Assassinating the Prince is a brilliant strategy. The ensuing chaos would provide the perfect distraction to cover Napoleon s attack on Britain. Goo d heavens! S he can t do that. Not the Prince Regent. Georgie shoves back a handful of her coppery curls. F or all intents and purposes he is the king. She wouldn t dare Wouldn t she? Tess scoffs. Have you forgotten ? T he Iron Crown didn t shy away
Baldwin 84 from assassinating Louie the X VIII and h e was about to be crowned king of France. There you have it. Miss Stranje tucks the letter back in to her pocket I sit drooping under the weight of these specu lations but she stands with out even the tiniest sag in her shoulders and addresses us squarely as if she is about to send us in to battle L adies, the moment is upon us. I believe it is time for us to take an excursion to London. London If I wasn t white before I m certain all color has now completely drain ed from my face. London? It comes out as an inaudible squeak. The few bites of scone I d taken earlier tumble like jagged stones in my stomach and m y palms turn to sweat I cannot go to London I force a brave smile because that is what is expected of me. I must be Lady Jane, the girl they have come to rely on. I must not be afraid. Above all, I must not show the concerns warring inside me. T wo main thoughts clash with one another In London there is a strong chance I will have the opportunity to see Mr. Sinclair again. Elation On the other hand ; i f I go to London and we move in the circles Miss Stranje proposes, it will be impossible to keep my secret My foolish infatuation with Mr. Sinclair will explode into nothingness. M y life here at Stranje House will end my future will be plucked from my grasp and tossed on the fire like a summer flower. Devastation
Baldwin 85 Chapter 8 London Conundrum Do you mean all of us will go to London ? Maya stands very straight with her hands clasped behind her back I f she weren t so delicate, her stance might be almost soldierly. The reason she asks this question saddens me She s worried that because of the color of her skin Miss Stranje might not be comfortable presentin g he r in high society. Maya s English step mother hid her away as if the girl s Indian heritage was an emba rrassment. It s one reason she s here with us, rather than in her father s house. Miss Stranje responds as if it is an outlandish question Why y es my dear, of course all of us will go And you will all attend various balls and social functions. Are you sure that is wise? Maya bravely asks will ing to accept the humiliation of being left behind rather than cause Miss Stranje any discomfort. W ise ? Miss Stranje appears to ponder her question for a moment. Yes, it is wise Miss Barrington, over the years I have discovered w isdom is seldom found on the easy path. All of us are going and that i s my final word on the matter. All of us ? Impossible Not me I cannot risk certain people in London seeing me I sit in the
Baldwin 86 armchair silently ramming my thoughts against a hundred foot brick wall, while t he others bombard Miss Stranje with questions. Tess sna g s my attention with a particularly key question for our headmistress H ow do you expect us to keep the Prince Regent safe from Daneska given the fact that we move in far less exalted social circles than either of them ? Miss Stranje s left eyebrow raises just enough to make it appear as if she finds Tess s question amusing. Are you quite certain you know the circles I run in? Tess opens her mouth to ask something else, but before she can Sera poses a different question. W hat pretense sha ll we use to explain our being in London? We don t need a pretense. Miss Stranje strides purposefully across the room to our worktable. I intend to hold a coming out ball for you young ladies Sera blanches so intensely her skin turns almost as white as her hair. You needn t do that. Not for me. My mother would never approve, surely and I don t really want one anyway Nonsense. Most girls your age beg for a proper debut. Your mother and father gave me carte blanche to do as I please and it pleases me to hold a coming out for all of you. Sera is spiraling into a panic. But i t s May The London season is nearly over. Miss Stranje does not give her any quarter. With all the trouble mounting in Europe parliament has a great many things yet to settle. T he S eason is bound to last until the end of July or longer Miss Stranje sits down, squares up a sheet of paper and begins a list. Now let s see, w e will need the appropriate gowns, slippers fans and fripperies we can buy in town, and Poor Sera, sits down beside Miss Stranje with her head in her hands and even from here, I can see she s shaking
Baldwin 87 I can t go, I say flatly having decided I can t risk being seen in London T hey all stare at me with mouths agape Why not? Georgie marches toward me It will be marvelous. We can visit London Tower and Vauxhall Gardens. Y ou have to come with us. We need you. Who will order us about and make certain we are doing our part ? I don t answer. They ll have Miss Stranje for that. I pretend to inspect my fingernails. Tess crosses her arms leans against the wall and frowns. What if we need a lock picked? She has a point. L ock picking i s something I do exceptionally well but it is not a good enough reason for me to jeopardize my entire futur e. You ll be attending balls, not sneaking into the Iron Crown s fortress. There won t be any locks to pick. Tess is not appeased. If anyone is to stay behind, it ought to be me. I need to look after Lord Ravencross. Oh for pity sake. Miss Stranje plunks down her pen. Y es there s a fine idea. Why didn t I think of that ? I ought to leave you here Tess, un chaperoned with a gentleman who only two days ago I caught you kissing We smother grins at this even me It is impossible not to. The word kissing sounds so peculiar on Miss Stranje s lips as if it is an objectionable activity. A musing considering I m quite certain she kisses Captain Gr ey on occasion. Y ou ll come to London with us both of you Miss Stranje waves her hand at Tess. Oh do sit down and stop glowering before you give yourself frown lines. If I know Lord Ravencross, he ll pack up and follow you to London. I daresay, the man would chase after you even if it took him to Hades and back. Tess doesn t sit, she p aces I don t see how I leave Phobos and Tromos, not when
Baldwin 88 any day now Tromos is about to have her pups. We ll bring them with us. Miss Stranje dismisses Tess s argument with a flip of her hand. Wolves don t belong in the city. Neither do I Tess mumbles but Miss Stranje merely shakes her head Whether Tess goes or stays I must remain here I say this quietly, not in an argumentative way, in a sad I wish I could go b ut I can t way. Sera turns in her chair. How will I bear being around all those high society people without you? I shrug. I m sorry I truly am M ore than she could ever know I want to be there for her, and I would dearly love to see Alexander one last time Georgie turns cross. She never gets cross. Why ever not? I c an t tell you T rust me, though, I have very good reasons If you want us to trust you, you must trust us enough to tell us your reasons why Sera stands and I m afraid she will come closer and read too many clues in my face. Very well, i f you must know. I have hundreds of reasons. I spray excuses at them. Someone must stay and attend to matters here. There is the rest of the sheep shearing to oversee I ve planned a new breeding program to increase our wool yield T his is the only time of year those experiments can be carried out. If I leave it would be the same as taking money from Captain Grey s pocket I have to make certain the f ields are furrowed using the new methods to facilitate drainage Spring is our busiest time. I grab a quick breath. I simply cannot go. Miss Stranje pierces me with one of her I know you re not telling me the truth looks. My dear Lady Jane, I appreciate you lending your expertise to Captain Grey s
Baldwin 8 9 steward However, it is Mr. Turner s duty to manag e the estate That s wh y we pay him More importantly, I am not training you to be a steward. I fling my hands open I ll be of no use to you in London. I can t possibly stop an assassin. I m only middling good at close range with a dagger. You have Tess for things like that and now Georgie, too. I can better serve you here. I pull in my wildly gesticulating hands and cross my arms tucking them tight around me. Besides, someone must stay and keep an eye on Alice. You are coming with us Lady Jane Miss Stranje turns back to writing her list. And so is Alice. Alice!? Georgie practically chokes Of course. Miss Stranje dips her quill and begins writing again She s a perfectly adequate housemaid and s omeone has to carry our misinformation to Lady Daneska. Who better to do it than her own spy? There s a scratch at the door. Miss Stranje glances up from writing her list Enter. Greaves carr ies in his silver tray and on it rest s one a small calling card. The younger Mr. Chadwick is in the foyer M iss. He specifically requested the company of Miss Wyndham. Sera who is already flustered beyond her ability to cope, groans. What can he want? I ve no idea, M iss beyond the fact that t he young man carries a bouquet and would not allow me to relieve him of it. Greaves turns back to our headmistress. He also asked me to mention he has information which may be of concern to you, Miss Stranje Thank you, Greaves. Miss Stranje takes the card without reading it, and flips it end over end, as she thinks Show Mr. Chadwick to the blue drawing room.
Baldwin 90 Shouldn t we tell him we are not at home ? Sera pleads No, Miss Wyndham I t s best we listen to what the magistrate s son has to say. I suggest you take the back stairs and make yourself ready for our guest Eager to escape the room I offer to accompany Sera Lady Jane! Miss Stranje arrests me at the door. You and I will discuss the trip to London later. My stomach clenches, she ll want answers answers that must stay hidden Sera and I hasten upstairs to the dormitorium She fusses with her stockings. Why must Mr. Chadwick pay a visit today of all days? I laugh. M en are rarely convenient. I suspect they pride themselves on being inconvenient. I smile to myself thinking of how Mr. Sinclair always seemed to do With a wistful sigh I add, But they can also be rather wonderful in their own way. I thought you like d Mr. Chadwick. Why does it fluster you so much that he should call on you? I have no idea Sera rifl es through her wardrobe. Oh, for pity s sake, what s hall I wear? There s nothing here. Piffle Y ou have several very pretty gowns. Y ou ll look lovely in any one of them Sera has neve r understood how beautiful she is. She pulls out a yellow morning gown, and promptly thrusts it back in to the closet. Why is it you never fret about what you will wear? Why should I? I shrug. I am simply me plain brown wren Lady Jane. I strive to look clean and presentable I f I achieve that much I m quite pleased How can you think such a thing Jane ? You re anything but ordinary or plain She frowns at me before turning back to her wardrobe. By society s standards you are a classic beauty extremely pretty.
Baldwin 91 Only to you my dear friend and that s because your eyes are colored by affection. I put my arm around her shoulders because she is so kind hearted What about this dress, it s one of my favorites I pull out a dainty aqua blue mor ning gown. Th e color highlight s your porcelain complexion While she changes, I go to the window and aim the spyglass across the park at Ravencross Manor To see all the way to the barns I must open the window and lean out. I adjus t the glass and spot several men working From here, they look like small figurines moving in a shadow box. Sera hurries to the window beside me Are they loading the prototype yet ? Yes. I expect t hey ll be leaving for London soon b ut I don t see Mr. Sinclair I doubt t hey would chance having him there I know this, and yet I lean further out and refocus the telescope in the faint hope of catching a glimpse of him Sera adjusts her collar and tucks in a lace fi c hu I m sure t hey ll keep him hidden until the wagons reach the road. She s right of course and I m behaving like a silly besotted schoolgirl. I pull back in side the window and collapse the spyglass I help tie the ribbons on her back. You look beautiful, like a fairytale princess. Now who se vision is colored by affection? I look a frightened mouse. Mr. Chadwick makes me so very nervous. W hy ? He s your friend Sera Someone who genuinely appreciate s your extraordinary mind He understand s you H e can t. How can he understand? She shakes her head. Mr. Chadwick s family has always approved of him. They even hired tutors for him. He s had every advantage. I m quite certain his family never locked Mr. Chadwick in the attic for drawing a portrait
Baldwin 92 of his dead grandfather. I doubt they accused him of being possessed. Do you think anyone slapped him for notic ing details he ought not ? O r for asking questions about things he should not have seen ? Sera sinks onto the bed her hands folded meekly in her lap. I tried so hard to keep out of trouble. I thought if I ke pt quiet if I painted or drew pictures to pass the time, no one would get nervous or upset at me may be I wouldn t frighten them so much. I missed m y grandfather He had been fond of me Granpapa called me his bright little angel. I should ve hidden the pictures I drew of him. How was I to know it would upset my mother and my aunts You have a peculiar family, Sera. I brush her silky white hair and pin it up in a bun. They re foolish and supers titious. You mustn t judge the rest of the world by them. Her hands ball into fists My mother said she wishes I hadn t been born She didn t mean it. If you had n t been born the world would have been robbed of one of the kindest dearest girls I know. I finish tying a ribbon in her hair. She is fine and delicate but her mind rival s that of any man in England. I clasp her shoulders and look at her squarely. Listen to me, Seraphina Wyndham. As beautiful as you are, your brain is your most impressive f eature. She blushes rosy pink, and I feel an over powering urge to take a horsewhip to the cruel people who made her feel so timid about her intelligence. Come. We mustn t keep Mr. Chadwick waiting any longer. Admit it. Aren t you the tiniest bit curious to find out what he has to say? No. Well, maybe a little. At Sera s request, I accompan y her and Miss Stranje into the blue drawing room
Baldwin 93 Tess and Maya are spying on us from behind the Chinese silk painting We saw them slip into the under stairs passag e as Sera and I enter Mr. Chadwick springs up from his chair I have to admit there is something cheering about his broad smile as if his features were specially created for happiness He hid es a rose colored flush by bowing rather long to us. Finally, he straighten s and thrust s a bouquet at Sera It s a cheery collection of hyacinths, daffodils, and a few cowslips with charming purpl e bells. F rom my mother s garden He runs a finger around his high collar and cravat in a vain attempt to loosen his neckwear. What I mean to say is I thought you might enjoy er They re lovely Mr. Chadwick. Miss Stranje walks into the room and spar es him any more stumbling. S pring flowers are always so heartening. Yes T hat is to say, I hope Miss Wyndham like s them too H e risks a direct glance at Sera She hold s the flowers in her arms as if they are as fragile and dear as a newborn infant. He swallows and turns a brilliant shad e of red again. L aughter threatens to bubble up in my t hroat so I busy myself by going to Sera s aid. I ll have Greaves put them in some water for you, shall I? She nods even more tongue tied than he is. I extract the flowers from her, plunk them in a nearby Chinese vase and hand them over to Greaves O ur butler heads for the door holding the vase of blooms out from his person as if it is something repugnant the dogs tracked in Before he can escape, Miss Stranje stops him Greaves, do send Phillip back with a tea tray if you would, please As you wi sh miss. H e shuts the door on his way out. Miss Stranje turns to our guest. How very kind of you to call Mr. Chadwick H ave a seat won t you? Greaves tells me you have information of particular interest to me.
Baldwin 94 Yes, I do Mr. Chadwick waits for Sera to sit, and chooses the chair nearest her. I m intrigued. Miss Stranje smooth s out her skirts and laces her fingers in her lap Pray, do tell us your news. His face lo ses some of its jubilance and turns serious O n my way here I c a me by way of the beach I confess I had hoped to have a nother look at that extraordinary steam vessel you have in your possession Although, given its small size I suppose one wouldn t call it a steamship would one ? Is it a steam powered raft ? Miss Stranje does not betray even the slightest concern about the direction his conversation is taking We call it the Mary Isabella she says brightly. Yes, well, I went to have a closer look at the Mary Isabella and you can imagine my surprise at finding it missing. Not missing, Mr. Chadwick. The ship is on its way to London. I say this quite pleased with myself for offer ing a completely honest response H is face twists up as if that is a perplexing piece of news. Are you quite certain ? Y es, of course, I am After all a few minutes ago I saw them loading up the wagons Any minute now, they ll be on the road to London. I n fact, I bid Mr. Sinclair farewell myself. That sound s a wee bit too personal so I add, We all did. Miss Stranje tilts her head studying the young man Why ? W hat is troubling you Mr. Chadwick ? He answer s her bluntly as would a student confessing difficulty adding up his sums. W hen I entered in the cove I noticed a great many footprints along the shore Since you were all on the beach bidding him farewell that explains that. However, I also noted impressions of various pieces of equipment and long flat prints which could only have been made by planks, almost as if the vessel had been taken apart He searches our
Baldwin 95 faces. Dismantled, and carried ashore. How very peculiar. Miss Stranje stands goes to the door and opens it to peer out into the foyer. I wonder where our tea tray is ? Miss Stranje isn t concerned about the tea. She s worried Alice might be in the hall eavesdropping Making certain there is no one outside the drawing room s he wanders to the wall beside the fireplace and leans down to check the grating grating that hides another listening hole. I assure you Mr. Chadwick w e were all there this morning to see Mr. Sinclair off as he departed Yes, I rush to corroborate her statement It was a sad moment. Truly I do not have to feign my downcast look. He shakes his head. I felt certain there had to be more to it than that. I wish we could tell him the truth. A frown o n Mr. Chadwick s countenance looks so terribly out of place. C onfusion does not rest easily on his features. He bounces his palm against the arm of his chair as if he can drum answers out of thin air You see, not only did I find impressions of gears and machinery in the sand but I also noticed several men hiding behind the rocks at the top of the bluffs spying on my movements At this, Miss Stranje s atten tion whips to him. Men? What sort of men? I cannot believe they were a good sort. When they saw I d spotted them they took off as if they d been caught in the act of doing something criminal. That s the very reason I m doubly concerned about the missing ship. How many men did you see? Sera s shyness vanish es He sits straighter, respond ing eagerly to her question. F rom that distance and angle, at first I only notice d movement It wasn t until they stood to run away, that I had a better look at them. I gave chase, but b y the time I ran up the bluffs they were gone
Baldwin 96 T heir footprints overlaid one another so I could only clearly identif ied three distinctive sets of footprints Given the quantity of prints though, I suspect there may have been a fourth man You understand, g rass and foliage ma k e it impossible to be sure Of course. Sera nods You would only have a clear print if they stepped in mud or dirt. While they discuss foot prints, I worry Daneska s spies will have seen the wagons on the road and add two and two. How long ago did you see those men Mr. Chadwick? He consults his pocket watch. Nearly an hour. It took me a half hour to hike back to my horse and ride here Then, er, I waited here for twenty three minutes An hour That means the boat thieves fled from Mr. Chadwick while the wagons were still being loaded Daneska s henchmen will have run straight back to report the steamship has already sailed. I exhale with relief. The wagons won t have been on the road yet This is most upsetting Mr. Chadwick. Miss Stranje d oes n t look very upset Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention. Greaves come s quietly through the door carrying the vase of flowers properly arranged. He places it on the side table so the flowers completely obscure Mr. Chadwick s view of Sera Phillip comes in behind him carrying a tea tray. Miss Stranje indicates Sera should pour for her guest As soon as the servants leave the room, Mr. Chadwick leans forward warming to his subject Given the circumstances, you can understand why I wonder if th at unfortunate incident two weeks ago involving Miss Aubreyson and Miss Fitzwilliam might have something to do with the arrival of your American cousin Mr. Sinclair and his extraordinary steamship.
Baldwin 97 Sera very nearly spill s the tea. My cousin? Miss Stranje draws his attention away from Sera. What can his arrival have to do with that horrifying attempt to kidnap one of my students? I thought your father and the coroner settl ed all that. Yes, yes, they did. The matter is officially closed. The problem is, I m not altogether satisfied with their findings And now, today after see ing those men sneaking around the bluffs, spying on the very place you d stored Mr. Sinclair s steam ship I have more question s than ever He accepts the cup and saucer from Sera, and even though words form on his lips, it isn t until he clears his throat that he make s them audible Don t you ? He directs this last to Sera She quickly looks away, as if he hadn t sought her opinion. I m cer tain there must be a connection. He leans his head nearly sloshing his tea in an attempt to observe her response. When that fails he sinks back in his chair and studies the ripples in his teacup. T oo man y missing pieces. Sera takes a bite of dry cookie and stares intently at the Chinese painting behind which she knows Tess and Maya are watching You re an exceptionally clever young man, Mr. Chadwick. I m sure you will find the answers, if there are any to be found. Miss Stranje waves her hand, the way a magician misdirects his audience, and draws his attention to the flowers How is your mother? I see by th e se lovely flowers that her garden is as spectacular as ever. I t must be magnificent with all the spring blooms He sets down his cup. I m certain s he would enjoy showing it to you. You ought to come for a visit. Yes, you should come and bring all the young ladies. He glances sidelong at Sera.
Baldwin 98 Miss Stranje calmly sips her tea. Thank you. We w ould like that except the young ladies and I are leaving for London in the next few days to attend the remainder of the season. London? For the season I see. Mr. Chadwick looks as if s he clobbered him with a pike. In one fell swoop Miss Stranje has robbed him of a most intriguing puzzle and, in all likelihood, the only young lady in the entire universe with which he is suited. Must you? The words come tumbling out and he turns red. Yes. Miss Stranje nods politely, even though she must realize sh e has just dashed his hopes to pieces I m pleased to say, Miss Wyndham along with the other young ladies are to be pres ented to society I m planning a coming out ball for them A ball. I see. He tugs at his collar again, this time with more force. Poor fellow he knows what this means. Sera will be on the marriage mart and he will be out of the running. She is as good as gone. He sets down the cup of tea, and silently taps his finger on the arm of the chair. Suddenly, as if finding a solution he s tands P ardon my boldness Miss Stranje but if I might impose upon your friendship with my mother, I should very much like an invitation to your ball You would? Sera s lips part in surprise. Yes. Yes, I would Very much so He takes a deep breath and straightens his cuff s Now, s adly, o ur fifteen minutes have flown and I must not overstay my welcome I bid you adieu and wish you all a safe journey He bows to me and Sera and stiffly approach es Miss Stranje. In a quiet voice he adds, As to the invitation, I m aware it was presumptuous of me to ask Y ou must of course do as you see fit. I shall be delighted to send you an invitation, Mr. Chadwick. Miss Stranje smiles
Baldwin 99 at him warmly. Thank you stopping in and alerting us about the intruders on our property. As to that, I give you my promise I sha ll continue to investigate Perhaps we might discuss this further when we are all in London. As you wish, s he says with sinking enthusiasm, and gives him a curtsey in return for his bow.
Baldwin 100 Chapter 9 Preparing for Battle The next few days whirl by in a flurry of activity as we prepare for the journey to London. With all the uproar, anyone would think we were preparing for Armageddon. Like all of the servants, Alice is extremely busy. So far, she hasn t found time to meet with anyone from the Iron Crown. We know, because we ve been keeping watch on her movements. Breakfast is no longer a pleasant conversational hour. I t s a beehive with ser vants running to and fro delivering messages and gathering instructions from the que en of th is swarm, Miss Stranje. This morning the queen bee and Madame Cho are arguing According to Tess, Madame Cho is actually Miss Stranje s adopted sister and today they are bickering as if it is true Madame Cho no longer ha s a bandage on her head, and she s adamant about making the trip to London with us. I will not allow you to face Lady Daneska without me. She smacks her hand on the table to emphasize her point. Personally, I think she wants revenge for the brutal whack on the head Lady Daneska gave her, and the long scar etched on her throat Miss Stranje prunes up. You nearly died. I do n t want anything to compromise your
Baldwin 101 health. London is noisy and we are perfectly capable of Greaves holds out his silver tray containing several letters. dealing with Lady Daneska on our own. Miss Stranje glances at the top letter and draws a quick breath. I m not certain you re up to the rigors of the journey Rigors Do you think me a cripple? Madame Cho stands. Come to the mats today. I will show you rigors. I can best any of these young sprouts. She sweeps a hand at all of us, and crosses her arms imperiously. Rigors B ah! I m going. It surprises me, when Miss Stranje relents so easily Very well, i t will be a comfort to have you with us. Obviously distracted, she picks up the letter and breaks the seal. What is it? Madame Cho shifts in a flash from annoyance to concern. Miss Stranje scan s the co ntents. It s f rom Captain Grey. The wool wagons arrived safely in London. A question pops out of my mouth before I can stop it. And Mr. Sinclair? She rubs the bridge of her nose for a moment. Yes. There s a letter from him enclosed for you, Lady Jane She hands the sealed note to me with two fingers, as if Mr. Sinclair painted the parchment with rat poison. This is highly improper. You must not encourage this sort of thing from a gentleman to whom you are not engaged She thinks it s a love letter Heat blazes into my cheeks. I didn t encourage him Not in the least. I m sure he merely has a question about his ship s notes, or some other business matter. She shakes her head at me, as if I m responsible for Mr. Sinclair s breach of etiquette, and heaves a sigh. I suppose one must excuse his manners. Mr. Sinclair is, after all, an American T hey can be so very uncivilized. She sends one last frown in my direction. And brazen.
Baldwin 102 Miss Stranje never said a word, nothing at all when Georgie received several notes and letters from Lord Wyatt, and they re not engaged either. I hoist my chin in the air and stuff the uncivilized American s letter into my left pocket, the one that doesn t have an opening next to my dagger and sheath. It s difficult pretend ing the parchment i sn t mak ing my fingers itch to tear it open. Is there any other news ? Sera leans forward drawing our attention back to Captain Grey s letter Lady Daneska has not yet arrived in London. Her sh ip is expected in port tomorrow Miss Stranje s shoulders stiffen, as if the next sentence makes her uncomfortable. What? I demand. What s wrong ? She pinches her lips together before answering. Captain Grey has heard rumors that Ghost will arrive incognito on the same ship as Lady Danesk a. A monstrous claw reaches up and clutches my stomach. I can hardly breathe as she continues speaking. She continues reading. O ne of his men observed several fast moving sloops armed with guns anchored in the Thames near Canvey Island. Pirates Georgie nearly knocks over her water glass. You were right, Jane. T he Iron Crown sent them to take the Mary Isabella Miss Stranje inclines her head in my direction. Well done, Lady Jane. Your plan kept Mr. Sinclair and his prototype safe thus far. Th us far. Small comfort. Ghost is coming Possibilities for disaster gnaw my composure to shreds. I can t stand the uncertainty
Baldwin 103 a second longer. Does he say w here they re staying? Are they well hidden? Do they have men standing guard at their quarters? It is not like me to barrage her with such desperate questions. For now they a re safe. That s all we know. Miss Stranje folds the letter primly and glances pointedly at me, a silent scold for my outburst. I turn away as she addresses the others. We will be altering the departure date for our journey. I should like to arrive in London as soon as possible. How soon? Maya s tone is buttery smooth, but I detect a peppery hint of nervousness, highly irregular for her. We shall leave in the morning. Miss Stranje claps her hands and rises. Attend to your sewing today, ladies, and pack your things this evening. A collective groan rises among the Georgie, Sera, and Maya. Changing the schedule means they have hems to finish, lace to add to collars, sleeves to stitch in place, bonnets to trim, ribbons to match, and slippers to dye. Tess and Madame Cho head to the ballroom for morning practice, but the rest of them hurry off to the yellow parlor. The same day Miss Stranje decided we should make this trip to Lo ndon, she turned her upstairs parlor into a massive sewing room and hired a dozen women from the village as temporary seamstresses. There are more comings and goings from th e upstairs parlor than from a field marshal s tent. High pitched chatter floods the hallways B arked orders ricochet off the walls Pass the scissors. This seam puckers t ear it out. Hand me the pink thread. Stand still! That hem is crooked Thank goodness, m y wardrobe is already ample and I m spared the aggravation of fitting s pinning s and hemming s I dash into the library and close the door, shutting out the clamor and fuss I want a quiet place where I might read my brazen American s
Baldwin 104 letter The library is my favorite room at Stranje House. M y safe harbor. I relish the smell of oiled leather bindings and lemon waxed shelves, and the way all the books soften the noise of the world. I wander to my private desk beside the window, running my hand over the smooth oak. Everything on it stands in per fect order, the blotter is squared and everything in its place. Grateful for this haven of peace, I sink into one of the overstuffed chairs by the fireplace, and stare at Mr. Sinclair s highly improper letter Lifting the folded paper to my nose, I expect to find a whiff of something that will remind me of him, perhaps the musty tang of welded copper, machine oil, or anything Except there s nothing, only the scent of paper, ink, and sealing wax. I break the seal and read: My dear Lady Jane, The Mary Isa bella arrived in London without incident Your ingenious idea to hide the smaller parts in bags of wool worked admirably. Now, however, little tufts of sheep s fuss are stuck to everything. I anticipate hours of cleaning ahead. Wool and grease seem to be a ttracted to one another despite their drastic differences. Does that remind you of an equally cock eyed relationship? Enough sentimental drivel on to more important points. Cock eyed Drastically different H e means us It s another of his absurd American expressions I t conjures the image of a half blind rooster tilting its head stupidly w hich must be his opinion of our relationship.
Baldwin 105 Sentiment drivel indeed. I feel a sudden urge to punch something. I read the paragraph again, and squelch a low growl ris ing in my throat. Ladies do not growl. It s unbecoming. A small rumble escapes. His fault And to think, Miss Stranje was worried he might ve written me an improper declaration of his affections. Ha! I lower the letter and glare across the room I d o n t see the oak paneling or the fireplace. Oh no, he stands before me. Alexander Sinclair, leaning casually against the mantel, his tousled blonde hair catching sunlight from the window, his unpredictable e yes sparking with mischief, and, of course, his customary smirking grin. A hallucination sent to mock me. Or humiliate me. Or both. I ve half a notion to wad up his ruddy note and throw it through my hallucination into the fire Instead, I give way to cur iosity and continue reading his cock eyed note. You will be delighted to learn I arrived in London without a scratch on my person other than those you left etched in my heart. I passed myself off as a sheep farmer quite easily The question is can I pass for a gentleman? Lord Wyatt tells me the admiralty and the Prince Regent himself intends to inspect the steamship once we get her put back together. Lofty company indeed. I wish you were here to guide me. My mouth curves in to a soft smile and my shoulder s relax melting towards him. Not all the way mind you, I'm only t hawing a bit
Baldwin 106 I have a request Lord Wyatt tells me Miss Stranje is bringing all of you to London for a visit. M ight I impose upon you to teach me the steps to one or two of your English dances ? Before you roll your eyes and wrinkle up that adorable little nose of yours, allow me to explain. The Prince Regent requests my attendance at a soirÂŽe wherein I m to be introduced to a number of key navel dignitaries. Naturally, there s to be danci ng at this gathering and several young ladies whose fathers are men of influence and I m told they are eager to make my acquaintance. Does he mean their fathers wish to meet him or their daughters? I believe the rascal left it intentionally vague. To be perfectly frank, I would rather not dance at all, but Captain Grey says refraining may be considered ungentlemanly. I don t wish to disappoint the Prince or his esteemed guests Therefore, my dear friend, I m relying upon you to keep me from making a cake of myself. What do you say, Lady Jane? Will you teach me to dance? With deepest regards, Alexander Sinclair The letter wobbles in my fingers Mr. Sinclair s apparition still stands across the room, only now he wears a fine set of clothes. The black of his coat sets off his halo of curls as he innocently smiles at dancers in the ballroom at Carlton House He does not
Baldwin 107 see Lady Daneska waltzing toward him. Does not see her concealed dagger until it is plunged into his ribs. She whirls off, carefree and laughing. He crumples to the floor. I flinch even though it s only a mirage a f igment of my imagination a f ear. A p erfectly rational fear Lady Daneska will be at the Prince s soirÂŽe I pace to the window. Alexander is in danger and I don t see how can we protect him and the prince? H ow can we truly protect either of them when Daneska is so stealthy ? It seems impossible. T hink ing this way does no good. There is always a way That s what I tell myself in times like these. There s always a way, I murmur, hoping it s true. A copy of the London Times sits on the side table. Picking it up to distract myself from morbid worries, I smile remembering how Mr. Sincla ir spoke to me of using his uncle s ingenious design to create a steam driven press for newspapers. Mark my words, he said. Someday, t he London Times will be printed using a steam engine. The world is racing forward and Alexander Sinclair is precisely the sort of man who will be holding the reins as it gallops into the future. I must make sure he survives to do it With a sigh, I scan the news S everal items catch my eye. The Duchess of Oldenberg is staying in London at the Pulteney Hotel, and last Saturday afternoon the Prince Regent introduced her to The Prince of WÂŸrttemberg. How very odd The Prince of WÂŸrttemberg is the duchess s cousin, they hardly n eeded an introduction. The paper report s that the duchess also received a letter from her brother, Emperor Alexander I, who is rumored to be visiting in Paris. I wonder if the Prince Regent is trying to broker a marriage between the Russian duchess and his ally the Prince of WÂŸrttemberg ? If that s the case, why is the Duchess s
Baldwin 108 brother in Paris visiting Napoleon Bonaparte? I ll wager it has something to do with Lady Daneska s visit. Plots and possibilities swirl through my mind and send my thoughts spinnin g. I fold the corner of the page intending to discuss this matter with Miss Stranje later, and scour the rest of the gossip column for clues. Two paragraphs later, one name grabs my attention by the hair and gives it a painful yank A name that rings in the destruction of my future. Lord Harston. It is the very name I feared T he one man I must avoid at all costs. His name traps the breath in my lungs. Nay, it stops my heart, and squeezes until I am cold and shivery. He ll find me It will be impossible to dodge him in London Lord Harston, the paper says, was seen riding in the park this afternoon with the Prince Regent L ater in the evening the Prince Regent was observed entering White s Gentlemen s Club in the company of Lord Harston, Lord Alvanley, and Sir Lumley Skeffington. According to reliable sources, Lord Harston is currently the Prince s guest at Carlton House. I drop into a chair Can fate be this cruel? As if I have not been kicked in the teeth enough one paragraph below Lor d Harston, the paper mentions my two good for nothing brothers. Blast! Once again, the wastrels have disgraced me. Breath comes shuddering back in furious heaves They at least, are not guests of the Prince. I ought to be grateful for that one small blessing instead I groan under the weight of my humiliation. The report says my eldest brother, the notorious Earl of Camberly and his younger brother, Bernard Moore, caused a riot at the Royal Theatre in Drury Lane. It began
Baldwin 109 innocently enough, w ith Francis and Bernard throwing rotten fruit during a performance of Othello. In and of itself, throwing fruit at the stage would not have been newsworthy. After all, vendors sell rotten apples and moldy pears in the theater for that very purpose. The Ti mes explain s that my brothers, in an extremely drunken state, purchased two entire baskets of moldy oranges. Reeling, as they must ve been, their aim was sadly off. Many of their throws missed the stage entirely. F ruit flew every which way, and my siblings began amusing themselves by aiming at several distinguished members of the audience, some of whom were visiting dignitaries from Vienna and Russia. When audience members decided to return fire, disrupting the performance altogether m y ne er do well broth ers were forcibly removed and tossed into the street. The Times goes on to comment on the disgraceful behavior of some members of the nobility, and castigate s my brothers by name noting their shameful examples, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera My attention whi ps back and forth between my brothers' embarrassing public reprimand and the paragraph about Lord Harston. The tighter m y jaw clenches the blurrier the words get All I can see are names I wish did n o t exist. The news paper trembles in my ha nds, until I give up and crumple it in my lap. I m done for. I cannot go to London. Mr. Sinclair will need to find a different dance instructor. Miss Stranje can teach him. Yes, and Tess is far more capable of protecting him than I am. It s true. She s ten times the fighter I am. And yet, I dread leav ing his care to anyone else. What choice do I have?
Baldwin 110 My heart crashes against my chest as if it s a rock tumbling down the cliffs toward the sea. A ppropriate, considering it feels heavier than a millstone. H ead in hands I curl over my knees I m tired of these millstones. Go ahead, toss me in the sea. Let me drown. No that s foolish thinking I slap my legs and straighten. There s an obvious solution. I won t go to London That s all there is to it. Tess and Lord Wyatt will protect Mr. Sinclair. T hey ll do as good a job or better than I could do. If I go, my brothers will bring shame upon me and everyone connected to me, Mr. Sinclair included a nd Miss Stranje. Everyone The sco undrels are bound to be in debt up to their eyeballs. They will undoubtedly try to find some way to b ilk money out of my being there. Their rotten problems will become my rotten problems simply by proximity. Even worse, if they should me e t Lord Harston a nd discover the truth No. No. No! I simply can t go. Not with my money grubbing brothers prowling about. And especially n ot with Lord Harston in town and running in the same circles with the Prince Regent and Lady Daneska. The entire trip reeks of disaster. I can t go. I won t. The d ecision is made I take a deep breath, smooth out the newspaper, fold it neatly, and set it on the table exactly where I found it. I arrange the blotter on my desk so it is perfectly squared. I close the desk drawer turn the key and lock away my emotions
Baldwin 111 Chapter 10 Truth Tess broods all during dinner not silently as I do she fumes noisily, huff ing and grumbl ing and thumping down her glass When she stabs her roast beef a little too viciously, Sera tries to draw her out. Are you upset because t he doctor gave Lord Ravencross permission to go home today ? No. Why should that upset me ? I m not upset, I m angry. He thinks he s fully recovered. Stubborn man he insists he s going to go to London, to o. I ve obligations in the House of Lords, he says. Folderol He s going because he s worried about me. I ve tried to make him see reason. Nothing I say will make him change his mind. Of course not. Georgie smile s Whither thou goest Don t sermonize me. Tess bristles up like one of her beloved wolf dogs. It s too dangerous for him in London. With Daneska coming to town, you know perfectly well his brother Ghost, will be there, too, lurking in the shadows. I want Gabriel to stay home and r ecuperate where it is safe Yes, but how can he, if he is worried about you? Georgie makes the mistake of trying to argue with her. He s a man. It s only natural that he wants to be close by to
Baldwin 112 protect you. Don't be absurd. She leans into Georgie holding her fork at a dangerous angle I can take care of myself. Georgie backs away. Of course you can. Everyone knows that. At least, Sera s voice cracks nervously as she tries to disrupt their fuss Y ou needn t worry about Punch and Judy. Phill ip promised me he would take scraps to them now and then. Tess s only answer is to shuffle food around her plate s omething we are both doing. Maya offers light conversation by asking how many books she might bring T he y spend the rest of the dinner discussing which maps to bring, and how many gowns and bonnets to pack. Miss Stranje finishes her dessert course, sets down her spoon and turns to me. You re very quiet this evening Lady Jane Are you ill? No. I stab a spoon at my half eaten custard Are you certain? You don t look yourself. Quite sure. She waits with an unrelenting hawk on the hunt stare. "Very well then." I set my spoon down carefully beside my bowl and face her. I considered pretending to be sick, but decided it would be better to be frank. I simply cannot go with you to London What?! Georgie springs out of her chair. Miss Stranje holds up a silencing finger You are all excused from the table. I would like a moment alone with Lady Jane. She ge stures for them to leave. Our wily headmistress doesn t say a word until the dining room door closes behind Tess.
Baldwin 113 I wish there was a way to avoid this conversation. You know they ll be listening. I expect so, but if you speak soft ly enough they won t b e able to hear. She scoots her chair closer to me What is troubling you about this trip? Is it the prospect of seeing Mr. Sinclair again? I shake my head. N othing to do with him. That s not entirely true. In some respects, it has everything to do with him. Suffice it to say if I go to London it will spell disaster for me. Disaster? She raises one eyebrow skeptically A strong word. How so? For one thing i t will result in my being taken from your school. I evade her scrutinizing gaze, and trace the ornate pattern on the spoon handle One sympathetic glance, one well placed word, and she might unravel me and discover my secret. Is it because your brothers haven t paid your tuition this year? They haven t? Good grief! I should ve guessed I shove the spoon handle away and huff loudly. Those dirty rotten scoundrels. I m astounded they would imprison me here and then fail to send money for my upkeep. Imprison you? That s not what I meant. My brothers think Stranje House is a prison N ot I. I like it here. You know I do. I m delighted to hear it. My headmistress s shoulders twitch and her mouth quirks up at the corner. Leave it to her to find mirth in this situation. In that case, y ou will be pleased to know, I sent a letter to your eldest brother concerning your welfare here Lord Camberly wrote back and suggested I allow you to stay in exchange for you serving as a tutor or a ladies maid to one of the other girls. How very thoughtful of him. I groan and bury my face in my h ands.
Baldwin 114 You needn t worry on that score my dear I required him to pay quite handsomely when he first brought you to me. I don t require any more tuition from you, if that s the cause of your distress If only it were that simple. Realizing I must giv e her at least a partial explanation, I take a deep breath. Let us just say, certain parties in London would remove me from your care if they learned my whereabouts. Her mouth purses up. Let us say a bit more than that, shall we ? You don t understand. My brothers didn t tell anyone that they sent me here. I ve no idea what Banbury tale they spread abroad to explain my absence but I m quite certain no one knows I m here. Which is exactly how I prefer to keep it. This sounds rather snappish of me, so I try to soften my tone. There is someone in London who absolutely must not find out where I am. Someone, other than your brothers? She digs for an answer. I swallow and hold my ground with a curt nod saying noth ing. Miss Stranje utters an exasperated sigh and I make the mistake of looking up. If you explain the matter to me, she says. In more detail. Perhaps I can help you. I a m not without connections, you know. Not even you can dissolve a legally binding c ontract. No one can help me. My insides tighten up at the thought of telling her the sour stinking truth. T he familiar sting of my parents betrayal burns me. Hot tears well up in my eyes. I squeeze them back down where they belong. This is not a crying matter. There s nothing you can do. It s too late. Humph I blink. You don t believe me?
Baldwin 115 I ve no idea what to think Lady Jane You say it s too late In my opinion, o nly a thimble ful l of situations in life are that dire Death begins and ends the list. Everything else is simply an obstacle that must be dealt with. She sets her custard bowl to the side and folds her hands You do not appear to be dead. So, unless you are in the process of dying, I sincerely doubt it is too late. I exhale with frustration. It would make things considerably easier if I were dying. Her eyes narrow disapprovingly. There is only one way around this particular obstacle. I cross my arms to hold in my turmoil I must remain at Stranje House instead of going to London. That won t do, Lady Jane. She lifts her chin. Stop shilly shallying and tell me the problem so we can solve it together. I m tempted. Heavens above, I would dearly lov e to confide in her. Trouble is, I know Miss Stranje. If I tell her, she ll make me keep the wretched bargain my parents made. She lectures to us often enough about loyalty, honor, and duty. Besides, e ven thinking about telling her what happened, causes me to hang my head. If I tell her the disgraceful truth, she ll never look at me the same. It s hard enough to admit to myself the ugly thing my parents did. How can I bring myself to tell her? Shall I say Allow me to introduce the real me. I am Lady J ane and here i s the truth behind my noble title, my proud heritage, and my aristocratic parents. I am an earl s daughter, and worth less in this world than a horse at auction. It s the plain puking truth. And I hate it My parents traded me to pay their gambling debts. I was thirteen when they
Baldwin 116 paraded me in a scandalously revealing dress in front of Lord Harston. Lower your eyes, my mother warned at the time, as if at that raw age I could triumph over my red faced embarrassment Do your duty. It s this or we lose everything. Lord Harston had been drinking when they closed the door to his drawing room and left me alone with him. Alone The cad lounged on a couch with a tumbler of whiskey in his hand and allowed his gaze to linger rudely over me. You re a passable filly. He slurred his words and spoke into the crystal cup, swirling the amber liquid. I s pose if I must marry, you ll do as well as any of those other whey faced debs. He lifted his glass in a toast. What say you, Lady Jane? W ant to be my wife? I was too angry and shamed to say anything He chuckled to himself. No, I don t suppose you would, would you. How old are you? Twelve? Thirteen? Fresh from the nursery, I ll wager. Still playing with dolls, aren t you? That much I could answer. I had never played with dolls. No. A mistake. He gave me his full attention then, and I wondered if he was half as drunk as I d originally thought. He rubbed his chin. Tell you what, my girl, let s flip a coin to decide. What do you say, heads or tails? How dare he ask me to chance my future on the flip of a coin? I stood as straight and disapproving as I could in that foolhardy dress I do n o t gamble, sir. My lord, he corrected angrily. I am Lord Harston. Didn t they even tell you that much? My mistake. But my answer remains the same my lord I don t approve of
Baldwin 117 gambling. Oh you don t, do you? He laughed mockingly You are Camberly s brat, aren t you? He got to his feet and strolled toward me. You do know your father and mot her are famous for betting on everything. Everything From the color of coat the Prince will wear to dinner to which race horse will come in dead last Harston wasn t as ancient as I d feared he would be, but he was old, at least thirty five, and his bre ath smelled of cigars and whiskey. There isn t a hazard table in town they haven t played at He lifted a lock of my hair as if inspecting the color comparing it to the whiskey in his glass And lost I backed away tugging my hair out of his fingers I m only too aware of my parents vices. He chuckled I suppose you would be. He raised his glass to me again. Thing is, my dear Jane Lady Jane. Yes, well, Lady Jane, your brothers don t seem to share your scruples either The oldest, what s his name? Francis, I answered, searching for something to hit Harston with if he came one inch closer. I noticed a candlestick on a nearby table, and edged in that direction. Aye, that s the lad. I watched young Francis toss away three hundred quid at piquet last Tuesday The misbegotten whelp didn t bat an eye. Lord Harston tossed back the rest of his drink and slammed the tumbler on the table. I reached for the candleholder. He grinned mischievously. What s the matter, Lady Jane, afraid of the dark ? No. I hoped there was enough warning in my voice and eyes. My parents would be
Baldwin 118 furious if I struck him. I didn t care. I would do what I needed to do to protect myself. Let them beat me for it later I hated being alone with this dog of a man I hated him gawping at me. Most of all I hated them for valuing me so cheaply. Bartering my future against their debt was mortifying enough but p arading me in front of this stranger like a plucked goose at the butcher shop was more humiliation than I could stom ach. I refused to endure one minute more. I gripped Lord Harston s silver candlestick ready to smash it over his head if he took another step closer. I was no fool, not even at thirteen. I knew what he might try to do. I d overheard my brothers talking enviously about Hars ton s exploits with lightskirts and married women. He was an unscrupulous rake. Y et, my parents would saddle me with him for life. This paragon of depravity had two virtues my parents coveted above all else. Luck and money Where papa a nd mama lost at hazard tables, Lord Harston won. If they bet at a cockfight, his rooster lived, and theirs ended up roasting on a spit. If he sat at their card table, he ended the night with a stack of their shillings. It didn t matter if it was Baccarat, Whist, or Piquet, he may not have won every hand, but he won often enough they offered him vowels to keep playing. Eventually their IOU s mounted so high that to pay him the money they owed they would have to sell off the better part of our estate. Or mak e a bargain with the devil. The latter suited them best. So t hey had rushed home from London, and ordered the maid to dress me in that indecent frock and stuff cotton wadding into my chemise in certain places. My father, still flushed with gambling fever inspected the servant s work. She ll do. My governess pleaded with my parents to reconsider. S he begged them to reconsider saying I was too young to make such a decision. Don t be daft. My father
Baldwin 119 shoved her aside. The l aw says a girl can marry at twelve. When she dissolved into tears h e ordered her to pack her bags and go F ind another house to plague. We ve no money left to pay you with anyway We ve no choice. My mother explained without looking me in the eyes. She pinched my cheeks and fussed at the maid about pinning up my hair properly. We owe Lord Harston a king s ransom. In that case, how am I to be payment enough? S he pinched my arm for mouthing off, and whispered heated instructions. You re to smile at him and none of your smart talk. Do you hear me, Jane? Keep a civil tongue in your head. T wo hours later there I stood in Lord Harston s drawing room armed with a candlestick while obediently keeping my tongue in chec k. Calm yourself Lady Jane I m not going to steal your virtue today Lord Harston grinned at me. I ll say this though you ve got pluck I like a girl with pluck Too skinny by half, but y ou ll do for a wife. Not today, mind you, but maybe in three or four years when I can no longer stave off my nagging relatives and The cur ran his finger down the sensitive curve of my neck. After you ve filled out. I flipped the candlestick so the heavy end was up and raised it in warning H e laughed. And when you re a little less frightened of me. He gently wrested the candlestick from my hand. And not so eager to bash me over the head with my own silver. I m not afraid of you. I stuck my chin in the air and wished my shaky voice sounded more convincing. If my parents were going to force me to marry this beastly excuse for a man, I needed to establish my ground from the start.
Baldwin 120 Yes, you are Lady Jane As well you ought to be. Lor d Harston set the candlestick down with a plunk, and strolled back to the couch. He flopped down and sprawled out in a lazy ungentlemanly way. My soon to be fiancÂŽ lounged back and closed his eyes. With a wave of his hand, he shooed me away. Now run along and send your parents in to finish negotiating our deal. Thus, my parents signed promissory marriage agreements with this drunken gambler bartering me away as if I was nothing more than a goat at a county fair. I try very hard not to remember the acidic detail s of that day. Because when I do, they burn a hole in my heart. I find it difficult not to be furious with my mother and father for spending my freedom so cheaply, for tossing my future away on a throw of the dice and the turn of a card. T oo late to be furious with them Irony of ironies, my illustrious parents are no longer here to receive my fury With their debt to Lord Harston settled, they raced back to London eager to attend Lady Archer s exclusive evening of dining and gaming. Of cour se, they did. How can I forget their excitement that night? The memory makes bile rise in my throat. Free of their debt s the two of them returned home from Lord Harston s bouncing like jubilant children toasting their good fortune, pouring through their invitations For them it was a night for celebration F or me it felt like an early grave. D ressed in their finery they prepared to leave I sat at the top of the stairs, still wearing that dreadful dress F orgotten They didn t even wave farewell. Later that night our household awoke to loud banging on the door. Apparently, i n their giddy haste, my parent s carriage overturned Strangers hauled their battered
Baldwin 121 bodies into the house M y father had been killed instantly but m ama was still alive. T he doctor came but shook his head warning us she was past help. A few days later she, too, died And now here I am S it ting in Miss Stranje s dormitorium with a contract hanging over my unlucky head. A contract forcing me to fulfill my parent s obligation and wed an equally contemptable gambler. No, that s not true, they re not his equal. Lord Harston is worse than they were. Not only i s he a gamble r h e s also a care for nothing womanizer. What are the odds I will be able to find happiness with him, I wonder? A thousand to one? A million to one? No chance at all. I f I were the wagering sort, I m not, but if I were, I d bet Alice, the maid, Alice, the traitor, stands a greater chance at happiness than I do. A joyless laugh catches in my throat and nearly strangles me. I clench the tablecloth until my knuckles bulge white. Miss Stranje covers my tight fist with her hand. I can see that whatever is worrying you is painful. She s not the demonstrative sort, so I feel this quiet show of compassion more deeply than its face value. Except, I don t deserve it and pull my hand away. Very well. I ll not press you, Lady Jane, but I will say this. She stands. Troubles that lurk in the darkness of our own thoughts often feel gigantic. It s not until w e expose these shadowy monsters to the light by telling our friends, that they shrivel to a more manageable size. Whatever your problem is, you ll not be free of it by hiding. She rests her hand on my shoulder. You may choose to let me help you or not, but you will come with us to London. Suddenly her hand feels as if it weighs forty stone. I bite my trembling lip. You don t know what you are sentencing me to.
Baldwin 122 No, and I can t unless you tell me Let me be cle ar, Lady Jane, I have plans for you. Grand plans and none of them include you hiding yourself away here at Stranje House. Grand plans? I can t bring myself to ask her what they are. A more pressing obstacle stands in the way of any plans she might have. If I go to London, your plans will come to naught Y ou won t be able to save me. I glare up at her, powerless to stop a lone tear from leaking out and burning a salty trail down my cheek. Even if your connections extend all the way to the Prince Regent himself, you cannot keep me from disaster. She pulls her hand from my shoulder but the terrible weight remains. Perhaps not b ut in my long life, I have found we must face the demons that haunt us. Running and hiding, merely staves off the inevitable. Lady Jane, you may count on me to give you whatever assistance is within my power to grant, but I cannot help you if you will not trust me. Trust has nothing to do wit h it, I snap. She smiles softly and tilts her head narrowing in on me with birdlike shrewdness. I believe you ll discover it does. I shake my head, denying her words, but this burning truth she has spoken singes me. She s right. I don t trust her I m a hypocrite I claim to hold loyalty and trust above all other virtues and yet I don t trust her. The most trustworthy person I ve ever met. I nearly scream and an even more agonizing realization scorches through my mind. I don t trust anyone. Not a single living soul
Baldwin 123 I draw in a quick breath and look up, my cheeks blaz ing with shame stinging from a heat far worse than any fever Th at errant tear sliding down my cheek now scalds into ash. Miss Stranje brushes back a lock of my hair that has straggled across my brow and I risk meeting her gaze. When you re ready to confide in me, she says. I will be ready to listen. There s kindness in her face, and tenderness. If I were ever going to trust anyone, it would be her. I f only she had been my mother I wouldn t be in this fix. Except, i t s wrong to think ill of the dead so I brush those tumbling thought s aside I lower my head barely able to speak, and mumble, I m sorry Unsure of what I m apologizing for, a hundred things maybe, or nothing at all Rest well, Lady Jane. We leave for London in the morning. Thus she seals my fate.
Baldwin 124 Chapter 1 1 Road to Ruin Before sunup the next morning, I climb obediently into the coach an d head toward the disaster await ing me in London I contemplated running away, but that would m ost likely end in an even bleaker future than a loveless marriage to a scoundrel I chose to face the known evil rather than hazard the unknown. O ur caravan of three coaches and a wagon, packed to the gills bump s up the rutted road to London. From his perch, t he coachman curses the fact that it rained last night I sit inside, praying another storm will blow in and delay this ruinous trip indefinitely. Once again, the fates align against me. Morning dawns a rosy pink with nary a cloud in sight T he sun dries the road and we speed on our way to London. Whenever one wishes a journey to pass quickly, the road is bound to be plagued with detours mud and fallen trees Conversely, when one is gall oping toward destruction the trip seems shorter than it ought, and the road miraculously free of trouble In our case, there s n ot even so much as a pothole to break a wheel spoke. I sleep along the way, having laid awake most of the night, mulling over various
Baldwin 125 ways to avoid Lord Harston and different disguises I might adopt Not until we hit the cobblestones and cross Westminster Bridge, am I jarred from slumber. We are here. Lond on. St. James S quare. When our coach finally stops, I stare out the window and my mouth falls open. We are in Mayfair! The heart of London s most elite addresses. Never in a thousand years did I dream Miss Stranje could afford a mansion such as this. I d thought I might be able to hide, to remain outside of Lord Harston s social circles T his i s not the address from which to do that. T h ere will be no anonymity here. How in the world did she land us in Mayfair ? I d assumed Miss Stranje would rent modest lod gings on the outskirts of town. Never this a mansion in the center of everything that is fashionable. As if in a bizarre dream, I climb out of the coach and stand on the cobblestones gawking. It s f ive stor ies tall, with a sixth level below stairs. Do close your mouth, Lady Jane. Miss Stranje walks up beside me. Why are you gaping as if you ve never seen a townhouse? Not just any townhouse. This is how did you ? My mouth works but I struggle for a complete sentence, until finally I blur t, The window tax alone must cost a small fortune I shake my head. I suppose we all have our secrets. She smiles to herself. Surely, you didn t expect I would hold a come out ball for you young ladies in a rustic cottage up in Islington I have a reputation to uphold. I continue to stare at the towering facade, and soon realize there is something decidedly off. Unlike the neighboring townhouses, the windows on our house are
Baldwin 126 shuttered tight; and those that aren t are draped with black cur tains Sera edges in next to me and g estures at the second story Those shutters haven t been opened for quite some time. Do you see the debris collected on them? This is a house in mourning, and it has been so for a considerable amount of time. Nonsense. Miss Stranje sniffs. Houses can t mourn W hatever tragedy may have occurred here, a year is long enough for idleness. I won t have you spouting superstitious drivel A house is nothing more than bricks and mortar, a place to hang our hats, a roof over our heads that s all there is to it. She delivers this unwarranted tirade, fluffing out her black skirts like an annoyed raven. D o you ladies intend to stand here all day? I for one would prefer to unpack. She marches up the front steps and turns to frown at us. Tess, do please settle those dogs. And f or pity sake a ll of you stop ga p ing like yokels You are making an unfavorable impression on the neighbors She raps the knocker smartly. Indeed, several neighbors are peering discreetly from their windows, and I note the curtains drawing back across the street and next door. Sera whispers, Something is amiss I agree But I can t admit it aloud I must remain stalwart for all of us. Miss Stranje is right, we ought to remove ourselves from the street. Come along, whatever it is we ll simply have to deal with it. I loop my arm through hers, and tug her forward. Everyone else follows us inside The household staff stands in a formal line i nside the large foyer a waiting inspection. Miss Stranje s heels click smartly against the black and white marble flooring as she marches in. An elegant spiral stair case winds up beside us, and a glass dome in the ceiling provides the only light filtering i nto the foyer. Despite the opulence, a dark
Baldwin 127 stillness weighs heavily on us as we enter perhaps because most of the furniture is still under covers and the windows are shuttered Tess comes in with our two snarling wolf dogs in tow, and t he butler backs against the wall What are those? She doesn t stop to explain. Which way to the gardens ? He points to the back and signals the fir st footman to show her the way. Our dogs are normally well mannered Mr. Peterson Miss Stranje assures him. As soon as they accustom themselves to their surroundings they will be as meek as lambs Mr. Peterson doesn t look convinced. He adjusts his black coat and solemnly introd uces the staff to Miss Stranje. T here s a s mugness about Mr. Peterson, as if he thinks himself above serving our headmistress. If Greaves were here, he would grab the insolent man by his ear and call him to task. Mrs. Creevy, the housekeeper seems pleasant enough, as do the housemaids and footmen. When Mr. Peterson learns we are adding to his staff our maid Alice and our cook, Magda the man acts as if we have kicked him in the shins. But, Madame, we have a cook Miss Our headmistress takes a brusque gunshot step toward the butler. It s Miss Stranje As to the other matter, I am aware y our cook s excellent reputation and she will of cou rse have command of the kitchen Mrs. Elderberry is n t it? Yes, miss. The apron clad woman next to the housekeeper bob s a curtsey. Miss Stranje smile s at her I m sure Mrs. Elderberry will appreciate the extra hands in the kitchen when she is preparing supper for our upcoming ball. A ye miss that I would Mrs. Elderberry stare s up at our enormous cook and does
Baldwin 128 her best to smile. A ball ? Peterson puffs up indignantly, his nose twitching out of joint. I was not told there would be a gathering of that sort. I m not certain it is entirely appropriate given the tragic circumstances of Mr. Peterson I rented this house intending to hold a coming ou t ball for my young ladies, and that is exactly what we shall have. Miss Stranje is not gigantic like Magda, but neither is she a short woman. When she stretches up to her full height and brandishes that stern expression of hers, any man s knees would kno ck Mind you, n ot just any ball. Our s will be a splendid affair, the highlight of the season. You and your staff are to remove these dreary draperies and dust covers immediately, and begin the task of restor ing this house to the land of the living. Do we understand one another? Mr. Peterson blink s, and blink s again. The changes in his situation seem to settle on him with a painful thump. His countenance sag s and his chin loses some of its supercilious height. As you wish miss Miss Stranje set s the s ervants to work hauling in our luggage and t he housekeeper leads us upstairs to show us to our rooms. Six fine bedrooms she declares as we wind up the staircase. An d that doesn t count the servant s quarters. Haversmythe House was once a grand residence If I may say so the grandest on our street, until It is lovely. Miss Stranje exclaim s more exuberantly than normal. Let s have a look at th o se rooms shall we? S ervants trudge up the stairs behind us toting stacks of bandboxes and luggage B efore we are able to settle on who i s to sleep where, Mr. Peterson arrives on the third floor landing huffing and puffing. He stops to catch his breath and prunes up as if someone tracked in dog droppings and announces You have guests Miss Stranje
Baldwin 129 T he corner of our headmistress s mouth quirks to the side Thank you Mr. Peterson W ho are these mysterious guests ? Three gentlemen He says, as if this makes his news even more repulsive Miss Stranje calmly asks, Perchance, did these mysterious gentle men give you their names? Or cards? Yes, miss they did She waits patiently as Peterson squares up t w o cards in his white gloved fingers and reads, One Captain Grey, Lord Wyatt a v iscount, a nd another young man a Mr. Sinclair, who offered us no card, miss. No card Peterson hands her the calling cards and sniffs disapprovingly. I ll send them away shall I ? Surely we are not ready to receive guests No Mr Peterson w e shall not send them away. S he smiles to herself happiness flam ing into her cheeks S he studies the calling cards even though exactly what s written on each of those small ivory rectangles These gentlemen are our dear friends. You may s eat them in the first floor drawing room, and tell them we will be along shortly. Mr. Peterson goes off to do her bidding looking a s if he just swallowed a lemon. Georgie slips out behind our new butler and follows him as far as the balustrade overlooking the foyer and I admit I wander quietly behind her and peek over the railing too S ervants are still unloading our trunks, t he front door stands wide open spraying sunlight across the marble foyer. T here they stand all three gentlemen alive and well, still wearing their hats and coats. As if Lord Wyatt knows Georgie is gazing at him, he glances up. When he sees her, Sebastian whips of f his hat and smiles up at her with pure unadulterated adoration. I find it difficult not to sigh with envy.
Baldwin 130 Mr. Sinclair stands beside Lord Wyatt and the unruly rogue leaves his hat o n and grins bro adly at me, waving his hand as if he intends to flag down a cabriolet. I cover my mouth, doing my best not to smil e at his odd behavior But if a small grin accidently slips out i t is merely because I cannot resist how ch armingly provincial he is. He doesn t care one whit about what is proper or improper, nor what anyone else thinks of him. Alexander Sinclair is everything I am not. Come along. Miss Stranje orders us away from the balustrade and guides us up to the third floor Lady Jane, you will share that room with Maya and Sera Georgie you ll be with Tess in this bed room. She sweeps her gaze over our spacious third floor. P erfect. W e will all be here on the third floor together exactly as we are at home No need to make the staff run up and down to the fourth floor. That s a mercy Mrs. Creevy unlocks Georgie s bedroom door. Especially considering the fourth floor is Exquisite I m sure. Miss Stranje aims a warning glance at her but it is lost on the housekeeper. Oh yes, it s quite fine M rs. Creevy throws open the door to Tess and Georgie s bedroom. B ut what I was about to say is That it must be a great relief you won t have to run up and down all these stairs ? Miss Stranje is not the s ort to interrupt anyone. In fact, she would scold us if one of us did so, b ut she is certainly doing her share of it today. Mrs. Creevy pinches up with confusion and shakes her head The g ray curls poking out from her mobcap spring up and down No, miss You needn t worry yourself on that score we re all quite accustomed to the stairs W hat I was about to tell you is the fourth floor is
Baldwin 131 Off limits. Miss Stranje says sternly as if it s a command to us. No, it s w here the murder s happened M rs. Creevy blurts. Gives me chills We will not discuss the With a slow deliberate in hale, Miss Stranje straightens to her scariest posture. Your former employers. Mrs. Creevy rocks back on her heels. As you wish, miss. Good Miss Stranje nods curtly Kindly inform your staff I ll not have anyone filling my young ladies heads with tales of what may or may not have occurred Right. Mrs. Creevy ducks out of the room mumbl ing under her breath S he strides rapidly down the corridor and unlock s our bed room and I hurry beside her in time to catch the very end of her muttered rant Tale, my arse I know what I saw. I ll coax the story out of the servants soon enough b ut I enter the spacious blue bedroom and the entire matter wafts out of my mind like a scrap of paper tumbling across the cobblestones. No time for that now. I m far more interested in chang ing out of my traveling clothes and hurry ing down to see Mr. Sinclair Oh, and the other gentlemen too. O f course
Baldwin 132 Chapter 1 2 Visitors I tap my foot impatiently. Sera and Maya are still overseeing their unpacking. M y things are unpacked and tucked away in under fifteen minutes No, where shall I put this business for me I have a simple orderly system. Stockings and underthings in their own little boxes G owns are hung as they ought to be, according to type and color, as are my ribbons. Five more minutes pass and they re still directing maids and putting things away. I ha ve already changed and washed my face so I excuse myself to go downstairs I step out into the hall just as Georgie bursts out of her room and nearly collides with me I grab her arm and stop her from scamper ing down the stairs like an unruly child We are not street urchins I tuck her to my side Nor do we want to appear over eager. T his is a golden opportunity to practice descending these stairs with the elegance they deserve. P hfft. She ruffles air over her lips. I don t give a fig for elegance. Besides I don t have your patience. I am not now nor will I ever be elegant. I simply haven t got it in me. Georgie reluctantly matches her steps to mine
Baldwin 133 Elegance is simply a state of mind. I realize I sound like a governess, and she will tease me ab out it later. Think of it as a performance anyone can master like learning the steps of a dance. She groan s That isn t much encouragement, considering the fact that I don t dance well either. If you had any interest There you have the root of the problem, I don t Mightn t we walk a wee bit faster Lady Jane ? I do have an interest in getting to the drawing room sometime before I reach old age. I f you wish to surrender your dignity and dash your feminine mysti que to pieces go ahead run after him. I let go of her arm, and Georgie hurr ies down the stairs ahead of me I sigh, envying her unabashed affection for Lord Wyatt, and wishing I had her trusting view of the world. On the last flight of stairs, t hough, I notice Georgie slow s down. When I finally enter the parlor, the gentle men are hatless and already standing. I m surprised to find that somehow Miss Stranje pr e ceded us into the room. There you are. Alexander strides forward and takes m y hand. I stare at his hand s grasping mine and nearly miss what he is saying. I was just telling Miss Stranje about our plan s for you to teach me how to dance. Our plans ? Georgie chuckles. Oh yes, Lady Jane is first rate at teaching other people how they ought to dance She is paying me back for my scold on the stairs. Perturbed I withdraw my hand from his. You must be m istaken, sir. I m un aware of any such arrange ment
Baldwin 134 A muddled expression fleets across his features and his brow pinches up Didn t you get my letter? Yes, but I ha ve not yet replied. Oh, well, that s easily remedied. His customary sunny expression breaks forth What do you say Lady Jane? Will you teach me one or two of your English dances, and perhaps that new fangled waltz everyone is talking abo ut? Bear in mind this is a matter of national importance, no less than your duty to k ing and country Governments may topple should you refuse to carry out this grim task. The wretch has me flustered. I catch my bottom lip in my teeth I know he s jesting with these ridiculous assertions about it being my obligation s to king and country. A nd yet it troubles me that Alexander has unwittingly stumbled upon the most effective way to coerce me. At least I think he stumbled upon it. Surely, he can t have already figured out how I am helpless to say no in the face of a duty or responsibility. At my failure to agree he appeals to Miss Stranje You ll tell her to do it won t you? She must teach me to dance, mustn t she? Miss Stranje watches me closel y. I f she agrees, Mr. Sinclair, I have no objection My only concern is that you should not take time away from your more urgent and important tasks How is your ship coming along? Quite well, Mr. Sinclair straightens with pride Captain Grey secured a dry dock for her in the Woolwich naval yards W e should have the Mary Isabella back together in a few day s Georgie tips up on her toes eagerly. We would be happy to help with the reconstruction. S plendid idea. Mr. Sinclair whirls back to me We would be glad of your
Baldwin 135 assistance too, Lady Jane Ahem. Lord Wyatt clears his throat. The naval yards are no place for At a warning glance from Captain Grey he change s tactics. Thing is, I m concerned about how the sailors and shipwrights will react to young ladies working in the dockyard s He notes Georgie s frown and swallows hard. You must understand your presence there would be hi ghly distracting to say the least. Lord Wyatt is correct. Miss Stranje says to Georgie with surprising sym pathy. This is London, Miss Fitzwilliam. I t is one thing for you to be hammering metal and up to your elbows in grease and grime when we are at home in our secluded country estate. It is quite another to perform such tasks at the naval yards in full view of the dockworkers and sailors. Members of t he beau monde are bound to hear of it. But I do n t like these restrictions any more than you do my dear. B ut you must heed my advice on this. If we were not embarked upon such a sensitive and crucial undertaking, I would not mind testing the limits of social strictures As things are we cannot take that chance. It rests on us to un cover and stop Lady Daneska s deadly scheme Which means it is essential we guard your reputations. She glances o ver her shoulder a t Tess, Sera and Maya, who slip quietly into the room. All of your reputations Otherwise we risk los ing entry into the very gatherings we must be allowed to attend. That, then, i s that Georgie s face, ever readable, collapses into a frustrated funk Miss Stranje turns a rare approving smile on Captain Grey. I t s a marvel you were able to secure a berth for the Mary Isabella in the naval yards on such short notice Well
Baldwin 136 done! The Captain is handsomely tanned from his hours in the sun. E ven so, I detect a slight pinkness bloom ing on his cheeks as he acknowledges her compliment I cannot accept all the credit The naval yards are excessively busy and the credit must go to Lord Castlereagh Although he is Secretary of Foreign Affairs, he has excellent connections with the admiralty otherwise we would still be waiting Mr. Sinclair scuffs at the thick Turkish carpet. If ladies are not allowed, I suppose we ll have to muddle along without you. Somehow He promptly brightens. However, i f reconstruction goes as well as it has so far we plan the unveiling and demonstration to be on Thursday He angles his next comment at Miss Stranje. Surely, on so momentous an occasion ladies will be welcome in the naval yard ? I t s bound to be all right because his majesty, t he Prince Regent and several of his foriegn guests plan to attend Sera blurts the thought that snap s into all of our minds Lady Daneska will be there. I suppose so, Alexander continues un deterred by the fact that our murderous enemy will attend his unveiling even though she may plan to end his life. Lord and Lady Castlereagh will be there as well Begging your pardon m iss Mr. Peterson s huffles in the doorway and stammers, You have m ore guests. Lady de Lieven, Lady Cas Yes, yes, my good man. A short plump matron swishes in, dismissing him with a flick of her wrist. S he knows who we are. Three women glide into the drawing room I recognize them immediately Indeed, a ll of London s high s ociety knows these women
Baldwin 137 The butler extends his leg and bow s low as the three ladies parade past him Leading this procession is Lady Castlereagh, herself. G rayish bronze curls stick out around the edges of her pearl en crust ed plum satin turban and bounce gaily with each of her exuberant steps. She has on the most decorated silk pelisse I have ever seen with lavish embroidery, gold frog closures and a standing collar. She has girdled this elaborate ensemble with a dia mond studded sash Who are they the ? Georgi e s whisper trails off in a gasp Yes. I answer quickly and discreetly. The Patronesses. Georgie mouths a silent Oh, and nervously inches closer to me F or good reason. These are the arbiters of London s high society. Yo ung ladies making their debut must petition for an audience with one of these reigning queens of the Beau Monde in order to obtain vouchers for Almack s Assembly Rooms exclusive meeting place for the haut ton the pinnacle of highly fashionable people No one is admitted through the hallowed doors of Almack s without a voucher card, and th o se coveted cards must be signed sealed and issued by one of the seven illustrious Patroness es of Almack s Keepers of the social gate. Guardians of the aristocra cy s matrimonial mart. F inal judge and jury as to who is up to snuff and who is not. A debutant hoping for an advantageous marriage might wait weeks or even months for an audience with one of these formidable ladies Or she may not be granted an audience at all. Y et to my utter astonishment, here we are our very first afternoon in London, and three of the P atronesses are converging in our drawing room. Did I hear my name mentioned ? Lady Castlereagh strides toward us, smiling with
Baldwin 138 an impish glint Should my ears be burning? The gentlemen bow. Tess, Sera, and Maya, drop into polite curtsey s I nudge Georgie and we follow suit. Miss Stranje hurries forward holding out both hands Lady Castlereagh she cries with girlish delight I m stunned I have never seen such behavior from our headmistress before. I hardly know what to think. Is this artifice of some sort ? No, Miss Stranje seems genuinely overjoyed As are our three guests, who surround her in a tight circle. My de eee ar girl The second lady exclaims, and even though she slowly draws out all her vowels in a most pretentious way she is nearly in tears D earest Emma I t has be e a n fa aa r too o lo o o ng. She blots her eyes with a silk handkerchief I recognize her instantly of course. Anyone would. This paragon is the incomparable Lady Jersey, epitome of elegance and fashion. Tall statuesque and strikingly beautiful, the lady wears a jaunty velvet hat topped with the longest, most luxurious white ostrich feather I have ever seen. It s so long it curls and drapes down over one shoulder of her ermine collared coat On Emma s other side standing at graceful attention is a woman tastefully gowned but in comparison to her companions reserved in dress and manner T his dark haired woman is none other than the legendary Lady de Lieven, a Baltic Princess in her own right and married to a count in line for the Russian throne Her husband has served for many years as ambassador to Britain Rumor has it that this lady is friend and confidant to so many heads of state, that Tsar Alexander considers her a diplomat in skirts and often entrusts her with messages for foreign dignitaries I can see why. She has the gentle bearing of someone in whom men m ight confide their secrets.
Baldwin 139 I wouldn t and not merely because I don t trust anyone mind you. I sense a craftiness hidden be neath her pretty innocence. She may look soft on the outside but inside I suspect this woman is sharp er and more honed than a corsair s blade. I might not trust her, but I do respect her. In the presence of these distinguished guests, I struggle to remember to breathe normally Lady Jersey turns on her heel her tears suddenly dry. Ge e a ntlemen. She holds out her hand to them. Captain Grey, a pleasure as always A oo nd Lo o rd Wyatt, I daresay you grow more dashing every time I see you. T he young ladies shall be fa a lling o oo ver themselves. She gives him a particularly shrewd smile. What must we doo to persuade you to attend one of o o ur little evenings at Almack s? Not much, my lady. Lord Wyatt bows politely over her hand. A loaded musket at my back ought to do the trick Rascal She laughs gaily and raps him on the shoulder with her fan. Ver y well. I shall have Lord Jersey load one for me next Wednesday She moves on to scrutinize Mr. Sinclair, who as luck would have it, is dressed somewhat better than he normally is, and yet his hair is a tousled mess and not in the artificial windblown style that is so popular with dandies. No, h is actually is windblown. A s Lady Jersey scrutinizes him, he presents her with a broad forthright grin. She responds with a lift of one brow. I take it this is our curious American inventor Fulton s nephew ? The very same. He bows. Pleased to make your acquaintance Merciful heavens! He i s supposed to wait for an introduction and I know, I just know he is going to
Baldwin 140 complete that sentence by calling her ma am Then he will stick out his big paw so he can vigorously pump her hand up and down the way he always does. I nwardly I am cringing and holding my breath, sending silent pleas to the angels above Mr. Sinclair s glance fl i ts from Lady Jersey to me and back to her again My lady In a ragged gasp, I exhale Captain Grey performs formal introduction s and Lady Jersey studies Mr. Sinclair for a moment At last, s he chuckles and extends her hand Judging by that audacious grin I ll wager you re a proper young rogue aren t you? He bends over her hand with an even more mischievous expression. Begging to differ, my lady. I ve been told there s nothing proper about me. La. She bestow s upon him the same anointing fan rap she delivered to Lord Wyatt. You ll do oo, young maan, even if you are an American. You ll do. Lady Jersey bears down upon us wearing a deadly serious expression. Apparently, her examination of us requires a quizzing glass, which she produces and raises to her eye as if we ar e not clearly visible, even though we stand not more than three feet away from her. Aoond these must be ooour young ladies. Our young ladies? Why should these ladies, these pillars of society, lay claim to us? We, who have never belonged to anyone? How can this be, when even our families are loathe to acknowledge us? Lady de Lieven and Lady Castlereagh leave off reminiscing with Miss Stranje, and cast sharpish gazes in our direction. Advancing upon us like thie ves on a mark, they close ranks beside Lady Jersey. I stand in the center of our line, holding our ground, knocking shoulders with Georgie so she won t back up. I wish I could silently shout a command to my sisters, show them no fear. Tess understands. Sh e stands on the end, tall and straight, shoulders
Baldwin 141 squared, not budging an inch. I have never been prouder of her. Lady Castlereagh elbows Lady Jersey. Are they not exactly as I described? I wish you d met them that dreadful night when Lord Wyatt was near ly lost to us. Speaking of which She spins abruptly toward Captain Grey, and the skirt of her ornate pelisse splashes against the furniture. Gentlemen, would you be so good as to excuse yourselves? We ve much to discuss with the young ladies. Private ma tters. I m sure you understand. Certainly. the Captain Grey inclines his head to Miss Stranje. If it is acceptable to you, we shall return this evening for Mr. Sinclair s lessons. She agrees and t he gentlemen promptly bow in farewell. Who dares argue with the Patronesses? Heavens the gossip column s claim Lady Castlereagh has even turned the famed Lord Wellington away from Almack s, and all because he arrived three minutes after the closing of the doors. Nothing more is said while the gentlemen collect their hats and coats. Not a word. Introductions are not even performed. We stand in grave silence. From the hallway, Mr. Sinclair hangs back and gives me a jaunty salute as the men take their leave I do s o wish I could escape with him. In the omin ous silence we five girls edge closer together. Georgie reaches anxiously for my hand. I hope she doesn t notice my fingers are trembling, too. It will be all right, I mouth, with far more confidence than I feel. Close the door. Lady Castlereagh flick s her wrist as if her hand is a wand that makes things magically happen. I ll not have the servants peeping in while we do this. Madame Cho closes the door with a deafening click and stands in front of it, grim as a Roman sentry.
Baldwin 142 What, exactly, are they planning to do? I swallow nervously.
Baldwin 143 Chapter 1 3 The Test It i s rumored Lady Castlereagh keeps a small menagerie at her estate. S he has an Australian kangaroo, a flying squirrel, and even an African tiger. The Patronesses scrutinize us so intently that I know exactly how Lady Castlereagh s caged animals must feel Finally Miss Stranje attempts introductions. Allow me to present No, no, my dear, it will be far more fun if we guess. Lady Jersey waves her off, drops her quizzing glass which dangles from a chain around her neck. You ve written so much about them I feel as though I know them Yes! Let s make a game of it. Lady Castlereagh claps. Go on, then. She tugs Lady de Lieven along. The two of you must try to guess. Only think how vexed Lady Cowper and Lady Sefton will be at having missed meeting Miss Stranje s notorious young ladies. She puckers for a moment. W e shall simply contrive another private meeting when they return to town. S ome sort of conspiracy is at work here Lad y Jersey stares at Georgie. You are surely o ur clever little barn burning
Baldwin 144 chemist. Miss Fitzwilliam, isn t it? Georgie winces and blushes all at the same time. Lady Jersey laughs to her friends. Lady Sefton will adore her. Look at those eyes. So lively. So alert. She chucks Georgie under the chin, and elongates her vowels even more than normal Don t loook so forlorn, my deaar. Your ink is helping o o ur effoorts considorably. You re to be coommended. Lady Castlereagh extends her fingers in greeting to Georgie. We met at my diplomatic ball, Miss Fitzwilliam. I m sure you remember. Not an evening any of us will soon forget. Indeed. Georgie holds Lady Castlereagh s fingers and performs a deep curtsey. Yes, my lady. Thank you for your forbearance that night. Well done Georgie I cannot hide my pleased smile. Lady Castlereagh s shoulders bunch up in what looks to be a combination of delight and a carefree shrug. Nonsense. T was the least I could do. It is we, who wish to thank you, Miss Fitzwillia m. Lady de Lieven inclines her head. Your ink is pure genius. I have relied upon it a number of times. As have I, and my husband. The dear man in alt over it. Lady Castlereagh fans herself with a handkerchief and turns to Miss Stranje. Speaking of that terrible night. You ve heard, of course, Lady Daneska arrived and she is ensconced at Carlton House. Miss Stranje stiffens, gone is her girlish relaxed posture. Yes, Captain Grey told me Daneska is n o lady She does not deserve the ti tle. Lady Jersey purses her lips and her haughty accent disappears. That spiteful little cat had better not try to assassinate our prince.
Baldwin 145 Miss Stranje tilts her head acknowledging the sentiment. We will do everything within our power to prevent such a calamity. What of Ghost? Lady de Lieven asks quietly. Do we know his whereabouts? Miss Stranje shakes her head. Captain Grey s men haven t spotted him yet. H e may have stayed aboard rather than risk being seen. Or he may have adopted a disguise. He was seen board ing the ship in France. Which means he s on our side of the channel, but we ve no clue as to where he is, or his intentions. Whatever they are, it cannot be good for England. Lady Castlereagh says somber ly Lady de Lieven places an arm around our headmistress s shoulders. This is a difficult task set before you, Miss Stranje. Y ou have our full support. If we can be of assistance, you need only send word. Frankly, I don t see how it can be done at all. Lady Castlereagh fusses from sid e to side, much the way a hen does after laying an egg. We ve warned Prince George about the rackety crowd he surrounds himself with at Carlton I swear, Lady Daneska could strangle him in broad daylight and there wouldn t be a sober head in the bunch to stop her. You mustn t say such things. Lady Jersey clucks her tongue. Well, it s true and you know it. Lady Castlereagh sniffs with annoyance, but swiftly regains her jovial countenance and pats Miss Stranje s arm. A fter your letter arrived, Lord Ca stlereagh requested an increase in the prince s guards and some, er less obvious protection. But I ask you, what defense does a man have against the wiles of a cunning young woman like your Lady Daneska? Miss Stranje tightens up and sucks in a loud breath. Lady Daneska is not my
Baldwin 146 anything student or otherwise. She never truly was. H mm, I suppose that s true enough. Lady Castlereagh waves her hand, sweeping away Miss Stranje s objections and paces down the line, studying the rest of us. But these young ladies are a different matter. T he formidable Patronesses of Almack s inspect the five of us as if we are recruits for the King s army and they are generals. Lady Jersey stops squarely in front of Maya. Ah! And here is Lord Barrington s half English daughter. Maya s eyes widen. Don t be rude, Sally. Lady de Lieven nudges Lady Jersey aside, and focuses in on Maya. I ve heard about you. You re Indian nobility as well. Your mother was a maharaja s daughter, was she not? Yes, my lady, she was. Maya presses her lips together but does not meet Lady de Lieven s gaze. I ve never seen her this disconcerted. F a aa scinating. Lady Jersey prods Lady de Lieven aside and resumes her position interrogating Maya. Tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up in the wilds of India? Were you educated, here or in India? I sense she contrived this list of question s with some ulterior purpose in mind. All three women stare intently, awaiting Maya s response Maya s eyes close briefly. I know what she is doing. Sh e s pretending they re not standing so close. Her tranquility returns and n o princess has ever had as much grace as our Maya. She takes a cooling breath and her calm seems to fall upon all of us too She begins. My earliest memories are of living with my mother and father in the Governor s house in Calcutta... We cannot keep from leaning in to listen. Even Madame Cho takes a small step forward from where she is guarding the door.
Baldwin 147 It is impossible to describe Maya s voice adequately. It begins as a soft low hum, a vibration from somewhere deep inside her, and flows out as a velvety river of sound, wafting gently against our ears, plucking at our emotions as if our hearts are her harp strings. Hers i s unlike any other voice I ve ever heard. S pellbound, we listen as Maya weaves the story of her youth. One summer, a terrible sickness came to Calcutta We all draw back. Not because of her words alone. Something in her tone arouses a sense of for eboding that circles round us like wailing wraiths from the underworld sent to drag us down to their dark realm. Many died. Maya shakes her head warding off the dismal spirits suffocating us. My mother too, contracted the fever. They would not let me near her. Two days later she died. She draws in a deep breath. It may have been Cholera, I am not certain. Father will not speak of it He fell ill you see, of the same plague that ravaged her H is attachÂŽ sent me to stay with my mother s family, far aw ay from the spreading sickness. I lived in a farming village with my grandmother and my aunts and cousins. Those were happy days with naanii my grandmother. She and the women of the village trained me in the ways of my people. Maya s lips rest for a m oment in the gentlest of smiles, honoring those women of her former life. We all feel it. Even me. With fondness I remember my governess, to whom I owe my education but I cannot help but think of my mother, too O f spooning broth into her mouth during he r final days, of hearing her mumbled regrets, and the expression in her eyes as she lay dying. Not until then did I realize I mattered to her. My mother felt
Baldwin 148 something for me, after all. That fragile ember of her affection still flickers in a place deep in side me, locked away where it can never be extinguished. Not even by me. I press my lips tight, struggl ing to put aside these thoughts. When I glance up, I see a similar melancholy mirrored on Tess s face, and on Miss Stranje s, and on. All of us Even the Patronesses are not immune. It is more than Maya s magic wringing out our hearts. Can it be that all mothers possess th e power to both break and mend the souls of their children ? I swallow hard against the tightness rising in my throat. Maya pluc ks another note, this one higher less mournful more strident Instantly, we are back with her in India. War broke out a few years later. Father did not send for me, not yet Perhaps he felt it was safer for me with my mother s people. I remained in our village, until his governorship in India ended, eight years later. Here, she pauses and I see pain bit e into Maya s features. All those years we had not seen each other. W hen he returned to England h e brought me with him. She doesn t have to tell us t hat he ripped her away from the warmth of her homeland and carried her away to a cold damp land, to live among unwelcoming strangers. Her cadence says it all for her. I had no formal education in your English ways until he sent me to live at Stranje House She stops, this is all she will tell us, even though we would ve have listened the rest of the day and long into the night. It takes us a moment to break free of her mesmerizing spell. Lady Jersey turns to Miss Stranje. Your letters did not do her jus tice. She is divine and that voice. She whirls back to Maya. You sing, don t you? Yes, of course
Baldwin 149 you do. That s it! Prinny has asked me to serve as his hostess for a soirÂŽe at Carlton House tomorrow night I have devise d a musical to entertain his guests after supper. Miss Barrington, you shall be our surprise performance. Maya shakes her head vigorously. I have never sung in public, my lady. I have played the flute and the hand harp for my village, but this is S he shakes her head. I am a foreigner, they are an English audience, and singing singing is a different matter entirely Lady Jersey takes no notice. Nonsense. I have ears. Your tongue is so melodic you re practically singing now. Aside from that, this is a perfectly splendid way to introduce you into society. Think of it, child. If I have invited you to sing for the Prince Regent, the Beau Monde will have no choice but to accept you into the fold. Ah, yes, that will work. Lady de Lieven nods her approval. Make her stand out, instead of trying to slip her in unnoticed. A brilliant strategy, my lady. There, you see? Lady Jersey sweeps her palms wide, her gloved fingers sparkling with rubies and diamonds. I m certain your headmistress agrees with me, too. Don t you, Emma, dear? Maya turns to Miss Stranje hoping for a reprieve. But Miss Stranje inclines her head to Lady Jersey. Yes, of course. Thank you, my lady. Miss Barrington will be delighted to sing for our prince if you can secure invit ations for us in time for his gathering. Secure them, my dear? Lady Jersey chuckles. Why of course, darling he put me in charge of the guest list. Consider it done. Maya practically dissolves into the Turkish carpet. Lady Castlereagh pats Maya s a rm. It will be all right, Miss Barrington. You ll do quite well, I m sure of it. She leans closer. By the by, I met that stepmother of yours.
Baldwin 150 Didn t care for the woman at all. Not one little bit. You may be interested to know, we denied her entry to Alm ack s. While Lady Castlereagh whisper s to Maya, Lady Jersey is sizing up Tess. The look on Tess s face makes me nervous. I know that expression it s the one she gets right before she tosses me down on the mats in our practice room. You re the young lady from Wales aren t you? Lady Jersey raps Tess s shoulder with that darned fan of hers. She s lucky Tess doesn t snatch it away. Tidenham, Tess corrects. Close enough. Lady Jersey tilts her head to the side, and her ostrich plume scoots forward almost touching Tess s cheek Tess doesn t flinch. Lady Jersey stare s as if she s a magistrate about to pronounce sentence I ve heard stories about you. They say you re the youn g lady who finally lured Lord Ravencross out of his cave. Tess stands toe to toe with Lady Jersey, saying nothing for far too long. Miss Stranje presses her lips together apprehensively. Finally, Tess answers. I should think Ravencross manor is a trifle more accommodating than a cave. H a Lady Jersey grants her a wry smirk. I suppose it is. I can see why the young man likes you. A pretty thing, aren t you? She says this with authority, both of them possessing the coveted dark hair and porcelain skin She leans closer searing Tess with a warning gl are. Mark my words, young lady. It takes more than looks to survive You ll need wits, too, if you re to swim in these waters. Careful my lady. Miss Aubreyson has wits enough. Lady de Lieven calmly urges her friend to step back. I ve heard this one is capable of climbing in through your bedroom window and cutting your throat. Tess s attention whips to Miss Stranje, who stands nonchalantly behind the
Baldwin 151 Patronesses. Can she real ly? Lady Jersey s face lights up with new found respect. I must say, that would be handy. What else can you do? Lady Castlereagh answers for Tess She dances very prettily. I daresay she had all the young men at my diplomatic ball eating out of her pa lm. Quite the lion tamer, our Miss Aubreyson. Very well Lady Jersey steps back, knocking into a side table. She quickly recovers and casts a speculative gaze from me on one end of the line, back to Sera on the other Tapping her chin with one fing er, and approaches Sera. Only two left. Y ou are either Lady Jane Moore or Miss Wyndham. Sera sinks into a curtsey. Miss Wyndham, my lady. Though I think you already guessed as much. So, I did. Very good, Miss Wyndham. Now then, tell me, what do I hav e behind my back? Lady de Lieven and Lady Castlereagh close in on each side of Lady Jersey. Begging your pardon, my lady? Sera blinks rapidly H er shyness causes her shoulders to curl inward I feel a nearly irrepressible urge to rush to her side and p rotect her from this inquisition. Unable to stand it another second, I step forward, but Miss Stranje sends me a silent warning to stand down. Lady Jersey does not relent. Humor me, child. I ve been told you re rather clever at observation. Can you tell me what I have behind my back, or not? A test. This is all a test! My hands ba ll into fists. It s cruel of them to put Sera on the spot like this. Not just
Baldwin 152 her, it is wrong of them to quiz all of us as if we re children in the schoolroom. Think of it li ke a parlor game. Lady Castlereagh coaxes Sera. Sera st ares down at the carpet, a shock of her white blonde hair fall s across her cheek. I worry she s going to freeze up and refuse to answer. I take another step forward, but Sera beats me to it and bravel y speaks up I cannot see through blood and bone, my lady, but I will do my best to give you an answer. Remarkable Sera actually seems to be enjoying their test I t dawns on me finally someone outside of Stranje House is interested in her uncanny abilit y to observe. There are many things behind you. The ermine head from your fur collar dangles do wn your back near your waist. I suspect you have a fondness for a large gray haired dog because your pet rubbed up against you before you set out today. A number of his hairs remain on the back of your skirts where you did not brush them away. And I m fairly certain you re holding your fan behind your back along with the small Grecian urn you snatched up from our side table. Lady Jersey extends her closed fan to Sera. Looped over the end, dangling by its handle, is a small decorative Grecian urn. Well done. Lady de Lieven pat s her gloved hands together in muffled applause Admit it, Lad y Jersey. She even guessed about that hairy monster you call a dog. Fredricko is not a monster, he s a dear Lady Jersey twists to brush stray dog s hairs off her satin skirts. Do another, she demands, still brushing away hairs. Tell us what Lady Cas tlereagh has in her reticule? Yes, do. Lady Castlereagh quickly whisks her purse behind her back. Sera plays along with their game As I said, I m no soothsayer. Lady Castlereagh s bag is thick velvet and well lined, which means I cannot possibly see through it.
Baldwin 153 However, I noticed square corners protruding on each side. Which leads me to believe, that among other things, Lady Castlereagh carries a book with her. Sera glances at Lady Castlereagh and att empts a hesitant smile. Brava Lady Castlereagh triumphantly exclaims. She opens her reticule and pulls out a small polished leather journal. It s our record book for Almack s. A list of who we ve sent vouchers to this year, who we ve declined, those w e ve banned, and, of course, the rules. She flips it open and reads. No alcohol, except for weak ratafia. No gentleman admitted unless properly attired in knee breeches, white neckcloth, a dark long tailed coat so on and so forth. You are a marvel Miss Wyndham. She pats Sera s shoulder. Naturally, we shall send Almack s vouchers for all of you, straight way. Miss Stranje breathes a deep sigh of relief. Thank you, my lady. That is most generous. Generous ? Lady de Lieven stands directly in front of me, staring at me with undisguised shrewdness. I should think it is rather necessary for the work we do. Isn t that right, Lady Jane? Work we do Then it is true, we are part of a larger sisterhood of spies. P olitical intriguers Or, as Miss Stranje prefers to phrase it, diplomatic aides So, it would seem, my lady. I curtsey and return Lady de Lieven s intent gaze. It makes sense now, all the rumors about these women. Lady Jersey holding political discussio ns in her drawing room. Princess de Lieven with her deep connections to so many heads of state in Europe. Lady Castlereagh married to one of the most powerful men in England. T he other two Patronesses they mentioned, Lady Cowper and Lady Sefton, are both are from powerful families.
Baldwin 154 A slow smile twists the corners of Lady de Lieven s mouth. So, you re the one. The one? My face must ve given me away. Lady de Lieven glances over her shoulder to Miss Stranje. You haven t told her. Her tone is accusat ory. Not yet, my headmistress replies. Lady Castlereagh laces her hands across her broad middle and taps one finger. I suppose you think it is a trifle too soon? I thought it best you meet her first. Miss Stranje joins them as they close ranks aroun d me, speaking of me as if I am not staring straight into their faces. Lady Jersey slaps her fan against her palm. Of course, if you re right about her she ll put two and two together. Daresay, she already has. Haven t you, Lady Jane? I lower my eyes. Wh at should I say? That I believe you influenc e England s politic s That you are puppet masters, pulling strings from behind the throne? S ee there S he s already tumbled to what we re about. Question is, does she know the part she s to play? Lady Jersey chuckles softly. Ooo, l ook how coolly she plays her hand. Not a flinch. Not even so much as a maidenly blush rising up her neck. You d be a formidable card player, my dear. U sually win, don t you? I ve no idea, my lady. I never gamble, I s ay this, because it s what I always say. I hate gambling. Nonsense. I knew your mother and father. You have gambling in your blood. I see it in you. No! It isn t true. I am nothing like them. I abhor cards and dice. Cards. Dice B ah! What do they mat ter? She pokes my shoulder with her dratted
Baldwin 155 fan Life is a gamble, my girl. And this business we re engaged in this is the ultimate gamble. Lady Castlereagh nods gravely. She s right, my dear. Of course, I m right. Lady Jersey leans in close. Too close. Her rose water is suffocating me, and her blue eyes shimmer with disturbing intensity. Never forget it, my girl. We don t stand to lose a few coins in this game. Oh, no. It s our lives. Our hearts. And our country o n the table. We are risking everything. She steps back. Her chin elevated higher than ever. Everything
Baldwin 156 Chapter 1 4 Wolves and Men Very unorthodox The Patronesses do not take their leave of us in the excepted manner. No, Madame Cho opens the door and, without so much as a by your leave, they all stroll out of the room, heads still bent in conversation with Miss Stranje. I m determined to hear what they re saying. All this business about what I do know and what I don t know, has me willing to risk being rude. So I follow close behind, eavesdropping. Sera tries to tiptoe behind me, but I wave her back. You ll need to explain the rest to her soon. Lady Castlereagh counsels Miss Stranje. Lady de Lieven glances over her shoulder and sees me spying on them But she only lifts her eyebrow mischievously, as if the two of us are in on a grand secret. They stand in the foyer and their conversation echoes quite readily to where I m hiding behind the door, peering through the gap by the hinges. Miss Stranje rubs at her temple. Yes, but I cannot tell her, until I am certain she is fully committed to the work. Lady Jersey s ostrich feather bobs up and down. Ah, so there s the real reason.
Baldwin 157 Does she have entanglements? I suspect so. She has n t conf ided in me. Either way, it is a lot to ask of a young woman. She must be willing to give up so much, and as you say risk everything. The sacrifices are many. Lady Castlereagh sighs heavily. Madam Cho glances sideways at our headmistress. Many. Lady J ersey loops her arm through Miss Stranje s. Speaking of sacrifices, isn t it time you put poor Captain Grey out of his misery, and gave him his long awaited answer? Miss Stranje rubs her temple I can t. Not yet, not until he retires from the war office Madame Cho nods gravely, is if as she agrees with this plan. Lady Jersey stops abruptly in the middle of the foyer. But my dear, that is putting it off dangerously long. By then you may be too old for children. Listen to her, Emma. Lady de Lieven moves to Miss Stranje s side. You know I m devoted to our work And I love the thrill of running errands for the Tsar and Prince George, but I must confess, I love nothing so well or dear ly as my children. Stop pressur ing her. Lady Castlereagh pats Mis s Stranje s arm. She knows the costs. Some of us are called upon to make these grave sacrifices. At her stern glance the other two look away. I have my girls. Miss Stranje swings her hand back, indicating us still in the drawing room. I flatten agains t the wall out of her view Tess and Georgie crouch behind the other door and Maya and Sera are sitting on chairs nearest the foyer pretending to read books. Miss Stranje protests against their pitying expressions. It is enough.
Baldwin 158 Is it Emma ? I do hope so Lady Jersey s tone is kind, even so, one cannot help but hear notes of skepticism and concern. You look more drawn than I have ever seen you. It s this latest ploy of Lady Daneska s. Miss Stranje lowers her head and I can hardly hear he r. As soon as we get to the bottom of it I shall feel greatly relieved. As will we all. Lady de Lieven sighs. The four of them seem lost in their own thoughts for a moment, s taring at the floor until Lady Jersey g lanc es up at the fourth floor balcony and points. This is where it happened you know. She draws her finger down to the marble near her feet. Lady Haversmythe landed right here. I fancy there s still some of her blood curdled between the stones. What a grotesque thought Lady de Lieven w rinkles her nose. I m sure the poor woman s blood was scrubbed away long ago. But Emma, darling, why didn t you encamp with one of us? Yes. Lady Castlereagh sounds genuinely wounded. I would ve adored the company. All seven of us? Miss Stranje laughs. Not to mention, the servants and our dogs Lady Jersey perks up. Do y ou still have your father s wolves? Miss Stranje glances around to see if any servants are nearby. A ny day now Tromos will have pups. Wolf puppies! Lady Castlereagh squeaks with delight. I could ve kept them in my menagerie. Phfft. Lady de Lieven waves away this suggestion. They d be miserable. My dear Lady Castlereagh, one does not cage wolves. Tigers perhaps, but not wolves. They d never survive the captivity. Wolves a re like men. They must, at least, be allowed the
Baldwin 159 illusion of freedom. Enough of wolves and men. Lady Jersey shrugs off this discussion. I suppose it is for the best you rented a house W e ought to keep our connections som ewhat ambiguous. The less anyone understands about us the better. You are too kind all of you. Thank you. I appreciate your offers. Of course. Lady Jersey bats away the compliment. But this place why this place? In answer, Madame Cho chuckles. It is a rare sound. If a cat could snicker, that i s what it would sound like. Miss Stranje employs the same tone she uses when quizzing us. Can you think of a more suitable situation? Oh, but of course! Now I see. Lady de Lieven joins Cho in snickering. H ow very clever. Curiosity will make them attend to your ball. There isn t a soul in the beau monde who wouldn t come, simply because they are curious about the grisly crime that took place here. Morbid curiosity. Lady Castlereagh shivers. I don t suppose you ve seen No thing out of place Miss Stranje does not allow her to go on. We d only been here an hour before you arrived, my lady. You know as much as I do. In that case, we ought to leave you to your unpacking. Lady Jersey bestows a kiss on Emma s cheek The girls are remarkable You r e do ing a splendid job. They re s o young. Lady Castlereagh tilts her head and glances back at the drawing room. They remind me of us not so many years ago. Ah yes. Lady de Lieven grins and prods Lady Castlereagh Do you r emember that night in Hamburg? It s a wonder any of us survive d Who can forget? Lady Jersey laughs and clutches Miss Stranje s arm I was afraid
Baldwin 160 your father would find out and be furious at us Miss Stranje shakes her head and a smile escapes Looking back, I can t believe we dared such a thing You and your ideas. Lady Castlereagh nudges Lady Jersey and cluck s her tongue. It was a terrible risk. Y ou were as reckless then as you are now Think what might have happened if we d failed? But we didn t Lady Jersey waves away her scold. Life is full of risks. Not risks that could topple governments. Lady Castlereagh brushes out her skirts even though they are perfectly fine F iddle fa ddle Lady Jersey snaps. You know perfectly well, w e had to do something that night And so we did. Lady de Lieven urges her friends toward the front door Let us hope our young ladies never face waters as troubled as those. Lady Castlereagh bobs along in front of her. I daresay, from what Emma told us about Calais some of them already have. I slip out of the shadows to watch them go. Lady de Lieven glances over her shoulder and grants me a swift wink
Baldwin 161 Chapter 1 5 Cl ocks and Cobras We gather in the second floor library to work It is no surprise when Alice comes peeking in, and offers to bring us a tea tray Miss Stranje doesn t look up from the letter she is composing No thank you, Alice. We shall wait for dinner S he peeps nonchalantly at the table. I fold the map obscuring her view Very well, miss. If you change your mind I ll be just down the hall. Alice glances around the room as if simply passing the time. When do they intend to serve dinner ? Georgie gl ances at the clock It s already five and I m famished. I shall never get used to these town hours. Me, neither, miss. Torture, they is. Alice sways nearer to our worktable. My stomach is always a rumblin Mr. Peterson tells me they don t usually serve dinner until s even o clock. I says to him, that you all will be wishing it earlier rather than later. I expect he ll be along any minute to announce the hour. Alice, you are not to advise Mr. Peterson as to our wishes. Miss Stranje addre sses her in a stern tone. Mr. Peterson is head of the household staff. Remember, y ou answer to him and Mrs. Creevy while we are in residence here.
Baldwin 162 Alice s face pinches up. Yes, miss. Begging your pardon, miss. Thank you, I ll do my best to remember, sh e says this in an irritating singsong I m a good girl manner and turns to go, but not before an ugly splash of resentment dashes across her features. I were only makin a suggestion. We return to studying maps, until Mr. Peterson steps into the libr ary to hand Miss Stranje a letter from Lady Jersey A word, miss, if I may? Miss Stranje looks up from her correspondence What is it Mr. Peterson? It s about your dogs He aims a prickly glare in Tess s direction. They appear to be digging up the garden. Oh! She s making her den. Tess shoves a map of London rookeries at me and stands. Tromos must be going to whelp soon. She flies out of the room. A den? Mr. Peterson does not look happy But, miss, what about the shrubberies? Nature, Mr. P eterson. Miss Stranje smiles at him pleasantly. A force beyond our control is at work. Unless you would prefer to lend Tromos your bedroom so she can have her pups in privacy, I m afraid nature must take its course. He draws back so indignantly, anyone might think she d told him to go hang himself. Rest assured, Mr. Peterson, we shall have the damage repaired before we vacate the house. This seem s to mollify him somewhat. Very good, miss. Do you wish me to serve dinner at half past six ? That will be fine S he opens Lady Jersey s letter. As Mr. Peterson leaves the room my stomach growls in protest. Half past?
Baldwin 163 The sooner we accustom ourselves to life in London, the better. Miss Stranje instructs as if I have complained aloud Our invitations for the Prince Regent s soirÂŽe arrived, She holds them up. A nd Lady Castlereagh will send our vouchers for Almack s tomorrow _________________ We dine on a light supper of roast chicken and vegetables. It is a silent affair as most of us are quite hungry Only Tess drags her fork around her plate probably because s he s missing Lord Ravencross or worried about Tromos Finish your dinner, ladies. The gentlemen sent a note saying they will call at eight to proceed with Mr. Sinclair s dancing lessons. Miss Stranje drops these tidings into our plateful of silence. A fork full of chicken potato and carrot arrests half way to my mouth They re really going to take time for dance lessons ? Miss Stranje looks directly at me. Do not underestimate the usef ulness of proper dancing skills Lady Jane She takes a bite of carrots and green beans Miss Wyndham I noticed a pianoforte in the grand salon perhaps you and Miss Barrington would be so kind as to provide the music for this endeavor. I would offer to do it but t his evening Captain Grey and I will have much to discuss regarding the P rince s protection at the upcoming functions I ought to be there for those discussions except I can t very well teach Mr. Sinclair to dance at the same time. Perhaps given the circumstances, we might postpone lessons for tonight No, the soirÂŽe is tomorrow. He needs instruction. Moreover, I believe it is just the tonic we need. She spreads butter on a roll and tips her knife subtly in Tess s direction,
Baldwin 164 poin ting my attention to the fact that Tess is still dragging her fork halfheartedly around her plate. Despite the seriousness of the situation, i t is important we keep up our spirits and go on as if nothing is amiss. To that end I have invited Lord Ravencro ss to join us for dancing this evening He agreed to come? Tess looks up and blinks with disbelief. He hates dancing. Of course he did Miss Stranje s mouth curves up on one side. H e settled in at his town house, and says he is looking forward to y our company. Tess flushes and makes quick work of her chicken. _________________ After dinner, I make the rounds to each of the clocks, checking to see if they re wound correctly and are actually ticking. They are Can a second actually be that slow? Fi nally, eight o clock arrives. Thanks to me, all the clocks in the house chime in perfect unison. Do sit down, Lady Jane. Your pacing mak es my head spin. Miss Stranje is sitting with us in the grand salon, which serves as a ballroom. I sit, as ordered, b ut my leg jiggles up and down. Three minutes after the hour, Mr. Peterson ushers Lord Ravencross into the ballroom. He stands in the doorway running a finger around his collar, looking like a man trapped in a dress shop. Tess laughs, and strolls to him. You re the first one here So it would seem. I can go and come back later if you wish. Courage, my lord. It is only dancing. She holds out her hands to him. He takes one of them and bows over it. I would trade it for a battlefield any day of the week.
Baldwin 165 I don t doubt that She smiles Since we are making confessions, I ll admit I would trade everything I own for an empty field to run in. I wasn t aware you owned anything. Didn t you know ? I m heiress to a large estate in Tiddenham He stops mid floor. Are you? She draws back with a grin. I m jesting. Poor as a church mouse. Not a farthing to call my own. W ell then, at least there s that He seems relieved. If you want a field to run in it l ooks as though you ll have to marry me after all. Now does this ballroom have a balcony? I confess I d like some air. The candles in the chandelier sputter when they open the balcony doors and step out into the night. A few minutes later, they return and Tess is blushing. At quarter past the appo inted hour, Miss Stranje sets down her sewing and rises to greet the rest of our guests. Mr. Peterson announces Captain Grey, Lord Wyatt, and finally, Mr. Sinclair The grand salon at Haversmythe house is painted an elegant soft blue with lavish white mold ings Queen Anne chairs upholstered in a matching blue velvet are arranged along the walls. Two enormous chandeliers hang from the ceiling One is lit for this evening and it glitters with fifteen brightly glowing candles. The floor is smooth and waxed to a brilliant shine. But t he most notable feature, is how perfectly this room sets off Mr. Sinclair s features. He is clad in his new Corinthian black coat and navy blue breeches I will not remark on how his hair glows in the candlelight, n or how the blu e walls are a perfect foil for his angelic features The effect is somewhat marred by the fact that he is smiling at
Baldwin 166 me like a roguish pickpocket. He bows over my hand and one might almost think him a gentleman. I run through all the things I should like h im to say. I m yours to command, Lady Jane. You look perfectly stunning in that gown, my lady. My dearest Jane, I ve been counting each tortuous minute until this moment. To all these compliments, I plan to offer a lady like laugh, and playfully scold him the way Lady Jersey would. I will say, mind your tongue Alexander Sinclair and then smile coyly. He rises from his bow, and I perform a slow languid curtsey. All right, Lady Jane, what are you up to? He stares down his nose at me. Which, by the way, looks as if it was broken at one time or another, because there is a decided knot in the fine lines of the bone. I see those cogs turning in that dangerous little head of y ours. Dangerous Not pretty. Of all the things he could ve called my head lovely or even clever, he chooses to say dangerous What s worse I am completely innocent of plotting at the moment. I was merely enjoying looking at him. I m not up to anything. I cross my arms. Why should I be? Because you always are. He says this with a modicum of respect, as if it is not entirely an insult, even though it is. Craftier than a mongoose chasing a cobra, you are. I never know what to expect. A mong oose? Suddenly, I want to punch him. My fists are balled and I have half a mind to actually do the deed, except that would not be lady like, and fortunately for him Captain Grey
Baldwin 167 and Miss Stranje are approaching, otherwise I might fling caution to the wind and smack him properly, right there on his angelic cheek. Mongoose, indeed. Miss Stranje greets Mr. Sinclair, and says, Lady Jane, we will leave you and the others to instruct Mr. Sinclair on the finer points of our English country dances. Mind you, the gentlemen have an early morning tomorrow. So, you only have an hour and a half before they must take their leave. Mr. Sinclair bows to her and holds out his arm to me. I am ready for your instruction, my lady. I m surprised you would trust a mongoose. With my life, your majesty With my life. He adds a jaunty smile. But his flippant remark with my life jolts me back to the cold cruel fact that his life may indeed rely on whether or not I can catch the cobra. My fists uncurl.
Baldwin 168 Chapter 1 6 Wal tzing with Danger Maya plays the flute beautifully and Sera s fingers dance over the pianoforte keys with admirable fortitude considering it is in dire need of tuning. Meanwhile, Georgiana and Lord Wyatt, Tess and Lord Ravencross, and I, are doing our ut most to teach Mr. Sinclair, the most obstinate man on earth, steps to a simple country dance called La Boulangere. After cajoling and prodding, we managed to teach him how to weave in and out among the other couples. At least we do our best, considering th ere are only six of us and it really requires at least eight. No, no T hat is not it at all I stop and gesture vehemently at Mr. Sinclair s long lanky legs. Your knees must rise higher. Like this. W hat do you mean? He waves his hands at my gown. I can t see a thing. Your skirts are in the way. I raise them, so he can see how to do a proper twirl and hop. He shakes his head. Still ca n t see it. Do it again. I repeat the step, but this time Lord Wyatt sputters into a guffaw. I whirl around and see Alexander, the scoundrel grinning and indicating I should lift my skirts even higher.
Baldwin 169 Wretch. I drop my skirts. Y ou ve seen more than enough. Now, you try. I can't believe you expect me to hop He crosses his arms. Lord Ravencross doesn t pran ce around like a giant flapping goose. Well, but I sputter, not sure how to answer appropriately. H e was wounded in the war, which excuses him from such exertions. Lord Ravencross grumbles something I can t quite hear over the music. Alexander remains unmoved. And what s Lord Wyatt s excuse? Lord Wyatt waves away t his line of defense. Oh n o, you cannot lay blame on me, my friend I m only doing this for your sake. I usually avoid dancing at all costs. I m not about to leap around t he ballroom like a ruddy gazelle. Georgie laughs at Lord Wyatt s quip, which does not assist me in teaching Mr. Sinclair the proper forms of skipping and leaping. It is meant to be danced enthusiastically Annoyed, I wave my hand s to explain With vigo r The higher a gentleman jumps the more impressive he is thought. He remains skeptical. Very well, I m done cosseting you, Mr. Sinclair. I cross my arms and lift my chin. Do you wish to learn the steps, or not? The piano and flute fade to a stop. Cosseting? His mouth falls open as if I have shocked him. My dear Lady Jane, that is not cosseting. Wolverines have more patience than you do. How very flattering. First, you liken me to a mongoose, and now I m a wolverine. I m not sure if you have elevated me or demoted me in the animal kingdom. Oh it s a step up to be sure. Alexander may not be willing to gallop around the ballroom floor, but mischief is always doing a spirited jig in his eyes. S peaking of high
Baldwin 170 stepping, he says. I find it h ard to believe that in a civilized country such as yours, requires gentlemen to hop and skip around like a bunch of silly schoolboys. He squints hard at me as if there is a smudge on my nose. I brush the bridge of my nose. What are you looking at? You. You re playing a joke on me, aren t you? I ll look like a right fool in front of everyone at the soirÂŽe and you ll have a good laugh over it. That s what you re up to, isn t it? He appeals to the other gentlemen. She s jesting about this hopping and le a ping business, isn t she? Lord Ravencross shrugs. Dunno. I do my utmost to avoid balls. No help at all. Lord Wyatt glances sideways at Georgie, and the two of them grin as if they are sharing some private joke. I press my hands against my hips to keep from flinging them in the air with exasperation. How can you think I would play such a mean trick on you? Although, now that you mention it, I wish I had thought of it. Tell him, Sera. Tell him I m not making this up. Sera plunks the out of tune G on the pianoforte. She s telling you the truth, Mr. Sinclair. English gentlemen jump and twirl, and prance across the ballroom floor. It is the nature of our country dances. She leans back over the keyboard. Perhaps we should try a waltz. It might be more to his liking. No. I stomp my slipper against the floorboards. Not until he s proficient with La Boulangere. Sera shakes her head. He knows the steps. He simply doesn t want to do them. She ripples her fingers over the keys and launches into the opening strains of a waltz.
Baldwin 171 I purse my lips at Sera. I thought you were my friend. I am. She smiles to herself and continues playing. Maya joins in the one two three, one two three, soothing tempo of a waltz. I am outnumbered. Overruled. Mr. Sinclair holds out his hand. Come, Lady Jane. Complete my education. He uses a rakishly seductive tone. Don t be impertinent, I refuse to look at him. I m not at all certain this is proper. Young ladies aren t supposed to participate in a waltz until one of the Patronesses has granted permission. I glance around the room, and without regard of the rules, the others are already waltzing. He moves closer. From what I saw in the parlor yesterday, my lady, thos e high and mighty Patronesses would do more than grant you permission. They would command you to do so immediately. So, if you want to do what is right and proper Oh you! You heedless American. What do you know about what is proper? Heedless? Me? Yo u wound me. I m a very considerate fellow. Not heedless at all. He leans close and whispers, Didn t I carry you when you lost your shoe He straightens. Oh, I see. You meant to call me a heathen The heathen stretches out his hand, awaiting mine No doubt, you are a heathen. I study the ceiling briefly, then glance to the floor, anywhere but at his eyes. I know what I ll find there, and I know how it will dissolve whatever is left of my resistance. I exhale loudly. I daresay, you are the most persistent gentleman I have ever met. Persistent, yes. But a gentleman ? I m surprised to hear you say so. His melt butter
Baldwin 172 grin renders me helpless to resist. His hand still awaits mine, open and inviting. If he were not six foot tall and golden haired, I might think him a devilish imp sent to lure me into misbehaving. I place my hand in his palm. Glove to glo ve. And yet, the heat of his hand warms me through. I make the mistake of looking up to see if he feels it too. Alexander is staring at my fingers clasped in his hand, his lips part gently as if it surprises him too. I forget how much I crave the inviting lines of his mouth. A litany of warning spring to mind This is too great a risk. I m contracted to marry someone else. You will leave soon. You ll sail off to America and forget all about me. And break my heart what little there is left of it. I ought to run from the room. But I don t. Instead, I watch as he swallows, and savor the slow uneasy bob of his Adam s apple. Now what? he asks, in far too husky a voice. Now I don t care if you a re leaving soon, I want you to kiss me. I gulp down a hot b last of bashfulness that singes my cheeks. Now you must pay careful attention. Not that you aren t already paying too close attention s t udy ing me as if you wish we were alone. I nervously place my other hand on his shoulder and do my best to play teacher. Your right hand is supposed to rest lightly on my upper back, just beneath my shoulder. His palm slides into place on my back and my breath catches. Like so?
Baldwin 173 I can only nod. A blotchy scarlet flush crawls up the inside of his neck and floods his cheeks. And, um what do we do now? He inhales deeply, squares his jaw, and tugs me closer. I cannot look up at him, I m afraid of what I might do. I glance down at our feet and struggle to breathe evenly. It s a box st ep. You step forward, one. Two, to the side, and three, backward. One. Two. Three. Like this? He takes over from there, with none of the hesitancy he d shown on La Boulangere Exactly. If you would like to do a more sweeping turn, we simply take a wid er step like I make the mistake of trying to guide him. We tangle and nearly stumble. He clutches me tighter and corrects our misstep. I glance up. Which proves an even graver error. Our mouths are perilously close. My lips part, and suddenly it is as i f the ocean is roaring in my ears, and smell the tang of salt in the air. M emories of that night wash over me It feels as if we are back on the cliff s when we He leans nearer, and I know he, too, is remembering that night and the softness of our lips touching. Except we are not on the cliffs of Stranje House. We are in Mayfair. In a room surrounded by onlookers. We cannot we must not kiss here. There is a scandalously narrow distance between us. As we move into the next step, I ease further away from him. The Patronesses have rules about the waltz. There must be two feet between us. Two feet, he mutters, as if it grieves him. And do these Patronesses bring a measuring rod to their balls? He does that thing again twists his features into su ch
Baldwin 174 overdone earnestness, that I can scarcely keep from laughing. I press my lips together to keep from bursting into a very unladylike laugh, and pretend not to notice. I cannot say, Mr. Sinclair. I learned the steps with the other girls, of course, but u ntil now I have never actually danced the waltz with a gentleman in public. Never? A slow smile spreads across his wretchedly enticing lips. I m glad to hear it. Not until this moment do I realize Alexander has waltzed us around the perimeter of the r oom without so much as one single blunder or any other difficulty. He spins us in a surprisingly competent whirl. There can be only one conclusion; he s not nearly as unpracticed in the art of dance as he pretended earlier. I thump his shoulder. You, Mr. Sinclair, are a charlatan. A charlatan ? His steps falter ever so slightly. I am a great many things, Lady Jane, but never that. I m baffled. What can you mean? That you know perfectly well how to dance. You have been pretending ignorance. To what end I cannot presume to know. Oh that. He shrugs and performs another proficient whirl. I m a quick study. Do not try to gammon me. No one learns the waltz this well in one short lesson. Hmm. I suppose you have a point. He does a reverse turn and now I have no doubt he has been pulling the not so innocent sheep s wool over my eyes. I say nothing I ve a mind to step on the rascal s toes, except he s wearing great bi g shoes and I have on these flimsy silk slippers. Come, my lady, there s no point in brooding. He tries to pull me closer, but I keep my distance.
Baldwin 175 I m not brooding. I never brood. He smirks as always. You do realize this particular dance is extremely popular in France, don t you? Of course. I sound cavalier, but I m not. I see where he s going and I don t like it. I don t like it all Too easily, I envision Alexander holding some coquettish French girl in his arms the way he is doing now with me. W e dip into another turn and my stomach sinks low. So low, it feels as if I m dragging the darned thing behind me along the ballroom floor. He clears his throat to get my attention. So naturally, I I do not want to hear about your exploits in France. I intentionally look away from him as we go into the next turn. Exploits ? You make it sound sordid. It is, I snap. Doesn t he know he is supposed to be my fair haired innocent American boy? I cannot bear the thought of his arms around anyone else. I ve heard all about those forward French girls. He laughs. Why, Lady Jane. I do believe you re jealous. Never. I lift my chin as if I m giving him the cut direct. You are. I refuse to say anything. It is time for this infernal waltz to end. I try to s natch my hand out of his. He wraps his big fingers around mine trapping them. Trapp ing me I level my sternest stare at the scoundrel. Need I remind you, I have a dagger and I will not hesitate to use it? I should think I know it better than anyone He does a quick turn which force s me
Baldwin 176 to hold onto him. Reckon you ll stab me with that toothpick sooner or later, my lady. Before you do, let me explain. I was a lad of sixteen, when my uncle s lady friends taught me to waltz. Ladies, I might add, who wer e old enough to be my mother. I stop trying to tug free. The rogue ought to keep his tongue still now that I am mollified, but of course, he can t leave well enough alone. Mind you, he says. They were very pretty ladies. I flick his shoulder with my upper hand the hand which had been free to escape all along. Finally, he stops talking. I see by his smirk he is still laughing inwardly at my expense, but at least he s quiet. We float around the ballroom in companionable silence. This is pleasant, almost heavenly, with his arm firmly around me, and our tongues not at war with one another. I confess I feel quite contented. Almost happy. Almost Until he tears apart our peace. I suppose you heard about the fellow from the Iron Crown prowling around t he docks today? It is as if the music screeches to a halt. It didn t, but it may as well have. What?! My arms jerk away from him. Forget I mentioned it. He tries to scoop me back into his embrace. I shouldn t have said anything. Well, someone shou ld ve said something. Why wasn t I told? I grip his shoulder, my fingers trembling with both fear and anger, and fight my way back into the rhythm of the waltz. I suppose because they were afraid you d react like this. It s nothing to trouble yourself about, my lady.
Baldwin 177 Nothing ? It is not nothing It is a very dangerous something A life or death something. You must be careful, Alexander. It s your life as well as others hanging in the balance. I m so shaken I accidently used his given name. I don t c are. He s my Alexander, annoying or not, and I mean to keep him alive. You must tell me exactly what happened, every last detail. He takes a deep breath. I shouldn t have mentioned it. There ve been so many messengers between the captain and Miss Stranje today, I thought you already knew. Well, I didn t. And now, you re going to tell me. All right, but only if you promise not to make more of it than it is. His jaw flexes. It s not like him to tense up. He is normally so relaxed and carefree. I nod my assent. Lord Wyatt noticed some fellow poking about the yards while we were working on the Mary Isabella He wasn t one of the regular men from the dock, so Captain Grey had him followed. Sure enough, after he left Woolwich he headed straight alon g the Thames past the London Bridge, and then he turned north and went into the Drowning Sow tavern. My heart sinks a little, guessing what he will say next. And? I ask impatiently. Alexander shrugs. He went in and disappear ed Near as we can figure he must ve snuck out a back way You must be careful. Stay alert at all times. Stop fretting. Trust me, I can take care of myself. Can you? I don t fret. That is a bold faced lie I wish I didn t fret Desperate to change the
Baldwin 1 78 subject, I say, Speaking of trust why did you pretend you didn t know how to waltz ? For this. He caresses my back with his hand, holding me much closer than the regulation two feet. For this, my lady. He leans close to my ear and whispers. And may I say, it was wor th it. The music finishes, but he doesn t release me for a moment. When he smiles at me the way he is doing now, I am helpless. Captivated I would be quite content to gaze at him all night. He bows because that is what one does at the end of a waltz. I take a quick breath and remember to curtsey. He offers his arm so that he might guide me back to the others. Admit it my lady You find me h andsome and charming. His audacity is boundless In our country Mr. Sinclair, it is customary for the gentlemen to bestow compliments upon ladies, rather than the other way around. I plaster on a smile because Miss Stranje and Captain Grey are standing beside the pianoforte clapping, and watching us closely. Exactly what I aim ed to do G iv e you a chance to show your good judgement s o I might compliment you on it. Nonplussed, m y mouth falls open. I close it and shake my head. Words fail me. High praise indeed my darling wolverine.
Baldwin 179 Chapter 1 7 Misleading Alice That night as we prepare for bed Alice carr ies a tray into our bedroom. Sera frowns at the three glasses of creamy liquid. What is this ? It doesn t smell like milk. No, miss. These here are warm brandies a n cream Miss Stranje sent me with em, sayin as how the se ll help you sleep, what wi this being your first night in London an all. We each take a tumbler from her tray. Before we left Stranje House Madame Cho gave us a lesson on detecting poisons I n case the little traitor laced our drinks with a sleeping draught or something worse, I sniff the brandy and cream before taking a small sip Not detecting any bitterness, I take a deeper swallow and the smooth mixture warms my throat. Alice helps us out of our gowns, while Maya, Sera, and I talk among ourselves as we normally would. Except tonight is different. Acting on orders from Miss Stranje, we make certain Alice overhears us discussing Lady Daneska. We speak low enough she ought to recognize it is a private conversation, but with enough volume she s bound to hear a word or phrase here and there.
Baldwin 180 Georgie pretends to argue and raises her voice. If you ask me Lady Daneska is here to kill Mr. Sinclair, or at the very least recapture him. Alice edges closer and takes an inordinately long time hanging my day gown in the nearest wardrobe. Maya shakes her head. Perhaps not. She is staying with the Prince Regent. Surely, he is her target. She wouldn t dare Georgie flings down her petticoat She wou ld never take such a chance T oo many people watch over the Prince. If Lady Daneska tried anything, she would be caught in the act, and they would hang her for it. Or worse Georgie shudders quite convincingly. Oh, but she is that daring I don t need to pretend the anger I feel Have you forgotten what she did to Madame Cho, and how she took Tess captive ? Her recklessness is precisely what Miss Stranje is counting on. We re one step ahead of her and t his time she ll fall into our trap. I slam my fis t into my palm. This time, she won t get away with it. Alice is easier to read than a nursery rhyme. She gives off telling clues when she is eavesdropping. She stands there folding Maya s long scarf, but at the mention of Lady Daneska s name, she pauses overlong and catches her bottom lip. You may go now, Alice. Maya thanks her for folding her sari. And you must make one of those wonderful brandy and cream concoctions for yourself. They are very soothing and it has been a very long day for you, too. I t sounds as if she is genuinely concerned for our traitorous maid, knowing Maya, she probably is hoping the girl will change course. Alice has never liked Maya. She refuses to look at her directly and her curtsey is only
Baldwin 181 half hearted. Thank you, miss. I will. She won t change. People don t. My parents didn t. My brothers won t. Late that night we gather, the way the five of us normally do in the attic back home at Stranje House O nly tonight, Miss Stranje and Madame Cho stand with us in the bedroom Georgie and Tess share. The window provides enough light that we can forego a candle Tess checks the door making sure we re alone, and makes her way to our circle. Sera scoots sideways. Alice left the house, didn t she? Tess squeezes in next to her an d whispers Yes, I heard Phobos and Tromos yip. She m ust ve sneaked out the back way past them. Georgie pulls her dressing gown tighter. It could ve been anybody disturbing them, another servant or a passerby. No. Had to be Alice, Tess says flatly. If it was a stranger, or one of the other servants, Phobos would ve raised a bigger alarm. It wa s her. Sera turns to me with her earnest, you believe me don't you expression. I heard her sneak ing down the stairs a few minutes ago. Our servants are assigned bunks in the attic, because the Haversmythe staff require s all the rooms in the basement below stairs. How can you be sure? Georgie shivers as if she s chilled. I m surprised you can hear anything at all. Even at this hour of the night there a re so many blasted carriages rattling through the street I doubt I shall ever be able to sleep Sera shrugs. There are noises, and then there are noises. Too many. Madame Cho grumbles.
Baldwin 182 Georgie turns her attention to our traitor Has Captain Grey assigned someone to follow Alice? At Miss Stranje s nod, Georgie poses another question. What do you think Alice will tell Lady Daneska s men? Tess crosses her arms and answers for our headmistress. She can only tell them what she knows, which isn t much. She turns to Miss Stranje frowning. I thought you said we were keeping Alice on so we could mislead Daneska? Nothing you told them to let her overhear will trick her It was only the truth. Isn t that what I ve always taught you to us e? The truth. Miss Stranje does not scold Tess for her irritable tone but s he does veil her features with a stern lecture mask. Alice will serve us in several ways. First, and most importantly, she may help us ferret out Ghost if her contact reports dir ectly back to him. At the very least, we should discover where their London quarters are located. We already have an idea of their general direction. Past London Bridge They think it s somewhere in Spitalfields. I relate what Alexander told me about the man they followed Yes. Miss Stranje continues. Secondly, Alice will tell Lady Daneska that we have guessed what she is up to, and that we are laying a trap to catch her. T his should force Lady Daneska to proce ed cautious. It might even force her to delay her plans. Or hasten her into action. I take a deep breath, wishing, I needn t make this observation, but it must be said. Sera glances sideways at me and nods. You re right, of course. Miss Stranje sighs That is the risk. However, I suspect because Lady Daneska s schemes went so badly awry last time this time she will act with more prudence to avoid rushing into another failure.
Baldwin 183 A low rumble in Tess s throat turns all of our heads in her direction. When has Daneska ever acted prudently? Madame Cho grunts a short terse thing that sounds like an uncomfortable blend of a chuckle and choking growl. We all know the answer to that. Miss Stranje peers down her nose at Tess and Madame Cho. But we also k now something else Lady Daneska has always acted in her own self interest, and this time her neck is in a noose if she fails. I have a suggestion I divert them from the bottomless pit of analyzing Lady Daneska s character. Since we are to be gues ts at Carlton House what if I were to slip into Lady Daneska s bedroom while Maya distracts everyo ne with her musical performance ? I could bring lockpicks in my reticule. She s bound to have some sort of correspondence, a letter, or perhaps a note from Gh ost, sketches, or maps something must be hidden in her room that will help us figure out exactly what she s planning. Miss Stranje tilts her head and I am privy to one of her seldom seen smile s of approval. Hmm. She crosses her arms contemplating my suggestion. Yes, it might work. But it s a grave risk. You do understand, don t you ? Y ou will have to work alone If more than one of us disappears from among the guests, Lady Daneska will guess what we are doing, an d you ll be caught. Yes. And if you are caught. We cannot rush to your aid. You will be labeled a thief and we will have to distance ourselves from you. It grieves me to say, but y ou will be on your own It s a risk I must take
Baldwin 185 Chapter 1 8 Carlton House Everyone s n erves teeter on edge as we prepare for the soir ÂŽ e. Maya won t stop meditating even though it is time to leave Miss Stranje keeps popping into our room with last minute instructions. Sera sits on the bed, staring blankly. A ring of tiny white rosebuds decorate her hair a perfect complement to her blue silk gown and nearly transparent overdress She wears a n angelic ensemble, and yet she seems to be staring into a dark unseen chasm. Stop worrying Sera. Everything will be all right. You ll see. I finish hiding my lockpicks inside the hollow quills of two ostrich feather s C ome help me arrange these in my hair I can t very well ask Alice to do it. Miss Stranje ordered me to devise some way, other than my reticule for transporting the lockpicks in to Carlton House. You won t want to be weighed down by your purse all night. And i f the picks slip out of their pouch the clinking might arouse suspicion. We do n t want people to think you re absconding with the silver. I have a bad feeling about all this Sera sighs, and rouses herself to come help me. What if Alice told them something that tips Daneska to tonight s plan ?
Baldwin 186 Last night as planned, Captain Grey had Alice followed and they saw her talking with an agent of the Iron Crown. Captain Grey s men followed her contact past London Bridge north of the river near Spitalfields Unfortunately, the fellow entered a small public house called the Drowning Sow and they lost sight of him, surmising that he exited the tavern through a rear door Alice can t have overheard our plans She wasn t here. I sit in a chair and hand my disguised picks to Sera I know. B ut no one can predict how Daneska will react to hearing we intend to trap her Sera studies the feather s T hat s not the only problem with this dreadful evening Think of it Jane t here will be dozens and dozens of guests at the palace and I won t know anyone You know all of us I twist in the chair and smile up at her. She isn t convinced. Hold still. Tonight will turn out fine you ll see Besides, Tess hasn t had a bad dream about it. I secretly cross my fingers, hoping that s true. It s going to be a lovely evening How often do we get to dine with the prince? I w ould be perfectly contented to never have that honor. Sera secures the last feather in my hair and arranges the curls fall ing over my shoulder. There. Your picks are tucked in and no one will guess what they are. I hug her It s time for us to go down Gently tug ging Maya back to the real world, I hand her the flute case You will amaze everyone May I offer you a trade ? You sing and I will break into Lady Daneska s rooms. I laugh nervously. It would be unkind of me to torture the Prince s gues ts
Baldwin 187 I think you mean you would rather face Daneska s ire than sing for these strangers. Daneska will do more than show me her ire if she catches me going through her papers. I swallow hard, and the three of us descend the stairs silently, to join the others in the carriage. ___________ Carlton house is magnificent every room is a masterpiece. Here in the grand conservatory, g ilded columns and arches span the length of the glass walls. O rnate golden fretwork on the ceiling dazzles the eye, making it a sumptuous feast of gold and red satin. The Prince Regent s soirÂŽe is a maddening crush. There are so many people here I can scar cely turn around. Which, of course, means this evening is a raging success. Lady Jersey greets everyone with her lavish high pitched elongated vowels. While t he Prince himself is a gracious and welcoming host, friendly to all. He even greets Miss Stranje as if they re dear friends He seems to have invited every Lord and L ady who ranks above a viscount, and w e are surrounded by royalty from Russia and Austria and several other countries. Around every corn er, I hear yet another language being spoken. He s here. Sera presses up behind one of the golden columns. Do you mean Mr. Sinclair? Yes, I think I see him. No. Mr. Chadwick. What s he doing here? I have no idea. I look around, but for the life of me, can t see Mr. Chadwick. His family must ve been invited. I m going to find some place to hide until dinner You stay here and distract him.
Baldwin 188 How am I to do that when I can t even see him? I turn back to ask Sera where he is, but she is gone When she disappears there s no finding Sera unless she chooses. I m adrift in a sea of brightly colored satin gowns black coated gentlemen and distinguished military men Indeed, there are more a dmirals floating through Carlton House than there were at the battle of Trafalgar. Nearly t wo hundred people fill these rooms but only one face grips my attention He draws me as if we a re tethered by an invisible cord I drift without thinking in his direction. We meet in the center of the swarm When he takes my hand the shuffle and push of the crowd disappears For a moment, I forget the risks I must take tonight. T he plots and counter plots whirling around us seem unimportant For one blessed moment there is only Alexander Sinclair holding my hand to his lips. Lady Jane, he says His greeting is not decorated with compliments or gushing praise He does not compar e my beauty to that of the stars or the moon or some rose that will one day wilt. I t s just my name but the way he says it floods my cheeks with warmth A s if mine is the one name he has waited all night to say. Mr. Sinclair. I curtsey. He places my hand on his arm. There are g enerals here tonight, and kings of countries I didn t even know existed. Shall I introduce you to Admiral Elphinstone ? H e is Commander in Chief of the English Channel Perhaps you know his daughter Lady Margaret? I haven t had th e honor. Charming young lady I m sure.
Baldwin 189 There you are Lady Castlereagh rushes up and greets me as if we are dear friends. She presses a piece of paper into my palm as I rise from my curtsey. My dear girl. She leans forward to kiss my cheek and whispers. It s f rom Lady Jersey. D irections to a certain room You ll have fifteen minutes. No more. Delighted to see you again, young man. She smiles broadly at Mr. Sinclair. T hat reminds me. Lady Jane, you must come with me. There s a gentleman I wish to introduce to you. Oh there he is. When I see who she s waving at, my heart thrashes around my lun gs and liver in a hopeless effort to find a place to hide. I take a step backward knocking into Alexander s chest Come along, child. Don t be shy. Lady Castlereagh tugs me forward, steering us toward the one man in all of London I most want to avoid. You really must meet him He s the one you know She leans into my ear again. The one we trusted to watch over Prin ce George Good Heavens You ca n t mean Lord Harston? My feet stop cold, frozen solid. Mr. Sinclair bump s into me and Lady Castlereagh nearly stumbles. She catches herself on my arm. Why yes, dear. Do y ou know him? B efore I can answer Lord Harston strides to us. Lady Jane? It that really you ? I stand, too panicked to answer wondering briefly if I might deny knowing myself. Except that seems a rather futile exercise since Lady Castlereagh intends to introduce us Lord Harston, I mutter and remember to dip in a curtsey.
Baldwin 190 I t is you. He seems as startled to see me as I am to meet him. He bows and I stare at h is reddish brown hair. When I was a child, he seemed so very old. Now I see he is actually not much more than thirty and fairly handsome. Clean shaven not overly tall, but exceptional ly well proportioned his cravat is tied to perfection, and h e has an easy athletic manner that bespeaks a natural confidence. Lady Castlereagh smiles as if she finds this all highly amusing How very intriguing. Am I to assume you two already know one another ? Yes W e, uh Egad What am I to say? Alexander clears his throat and I remember my manners. Lord Harston, may I present Mr. Sinclair from the Coloni from the United States. Lord Harston extends his hand. So you re the American inventor. I ve heard a great deal about you. The Prince Regent is lookin g forward with great anticipation to the demonstration of your steamship. Mr. Sinclair gives him a firm handshake. Thank you, but i t is my uncle, Robert Fulton, who is the inventor. I m merely his apprentice. Lord Harston smiles. Your humility is comme ndable. But I ve been told you constructed this prototype for Fulton s warship entirely on your own. Obviously you paid close attention while working with your uncle. Thank you, but I didn t do it entirely on my own. I had help. Alexander glances sideways to me I think h e i s about to credit me and Georgie for helping but his expression twist s to consternation He stands straighter, rising to his full height which forces Lord Harston to look up. May I ask how you are acquainte d with Lady Jane? Mr. Sinclair asks this brash question the way a father might charge a young man for over stepping his bounds with his daughter.
Baldwin 191 Oh my Lady Castlereagh fans herself, and remains riveted to our conversation I take a deep steadying bre ath dreading his answer. Lord Harston tugs at his high pointed collar and cough s She and I we are He adjusts his coat sleeves. What I mean to say is, I was acquainted with her parents. Acquainted. Ha! That is one way to put it. Mr. Sinclair looks to me for a further explanation. I can t very well say, yes, meet Lord Harston. He owns me. Mum and dad owed him a rather large gambling debt so naturally they trad ed me off in payment Instead I stand there m ash ing the toe of my slipper i nto the Prince Regent s marble floor ashamed and terrified Lord Harston will tell Alexander the humiliating truth Silently, I scream nay, I shriek and plead Please, don t tell him Please, please, please, don t say it. I see Alexander nods sagely So, y ou are acquainted His intonation makes my association with Lord Harston sound positively scandalous Alexander squints at me and I know that look. It means he knows we are hiding something. Somewhat acquainted, I mumble. I m surprised to look up a nd see a crimson blush streaking up Lord Harston s cheeks Or maybe the candlelight is playing tricks. T wo seconds later a hard coolness washes over his features, and he rises to Mr. Sinclair s stance. His chest puffs out and I know, I just know what he i s going to do. He intends to put this impertinent American pup in his place and tell him we have a marriage contract More than anything, I want to drag Alexander away, or cover his ears with my hands, or tell him to look over there, one of the four horse m e n of the apocalypse ha s
Baldwin 192 just trot ted into Carlton House Except there is no horsem a n. Only an apocalypse. The kind that ends my life. I have to say something anything I need to keep Lord Harston from telling him the truth. Lovely to see you again, Lord Harston. I tug on Mr. Sinclair s arm, all but dragging him away, but he doesn t budge. Come along, Mr. Sinclair. I order. Oh look, I see Miss Barrington waving at us. We must go and greet her at once. I pretend to wave back. Lady Castlereagh turn s to look. I don t see her. We? Lord Harston squints at my hands wrapped possessively around Mr. Sinclair s arm challenging my familiarity with the American My legs turn to sand. He takes a frightening step closer to us, almost nose to nose with Alexander. And how are you acquainted with Lady Jane, Mr. Sinclair? Oh dear. I murmur. Equally terrified as to what Alexander might say. The two men stand ther e, neither of them backing down, each of them taking the other s measure. Lady Castlereagh watches this interchange with all the delight of a child at a puppet show. Mr. Sinclair stands his ground. Lady Jane is my particular friend. She assisted me on th e steamship project. As a matter of fact, she drew up all the notes for the Mary Isabella My heart stops trying to waddle up my throat. His answer sounds fairly reasonable, not too terribly out of bounds. There s no mention of kissing on the cliffs by St ranje house, or carrying me through the woods in the middle of the night. I feel it is safe to take a breath.
Baldwin 193 Your particular friend? Lord Harston tilts his head, narrowing his expression to a sharp point, the end of which is aimed straight at Alexander Yes, sir. Very particular. I cringe. So many gaffes in those four words. I briefly consider diving through the glass window to escape the red hot burn of embarrassment. My lord, Harston corrects sternly. I am a baron. In this country you re to addr ess me as my lord Your pardon, my lord Alexander acquiesces, but he uses that tone the one which borders on the razor s edge of insolence. Very particular eh? Lord Harston no longer appears to be on the verge of running Mr. Sinclair through with his dress sword. Instead, he turns to me with a great deal of warmth and a surprisingly fond smile. Ah, yes, I think I understand. A s I recall Lady Jane was exceedingl y particular Even as a child. Lady Castlereagh gurgles with barely contained laughter. I swallow and glance at the floor to ceiling windows again. Truly if the shattering glass wouldn t hurt innocent bystanders I would throw myself out that window tr uly I would. Oddly enough, Lord Harston s comment seems to appease Mr. Sinclair. Oh, you knew her as a child. Y ou re a family friend, then? Lord Harston laughs. As well, he should. At least he doesn t say, Lord Camberly and his wife, my friends? Heavens no. I merely swapped their stack of IOUs for their daughter Instead, he bows slightly to me. I certainly hope the lady considers me a friend. After all, we are Oh no! He s going to say it after all.
Baldwin 194 Except there s no time. There you are, Lord Harston! I wondered where you d disappeared to, and who is this you re with? I m spared humiliation by a most unlikely source. In a flash, things go from mortifying to dangerous. Lady Daneska. I growl, and reach through my pocket and clutch the hilt of my dagger. She sidles up beside Lord Harston, but her eyes remain fixed on Mr. Sinclair. I wedge myself between her and him. Unfortunately, this also closes the distance between Lord Harston and me. The bounder lets his gaze drift lazily down to the neckline of my gown. Appraising, I m sure, whether I have filled out adequately. Lady Castlereagh puts he r nose in the air and walks away snubbing Lady Daneska with an obvious cut direct. Lady Danesk a doesn t seem bothered in the least. Lady Jane She and I both dip in short perfunctory curtseys. Nevermind that she may plan to murder Alexander on the spot. Nevermind that I am wedged between my fiancÂŽ and the man I love most in the world. We perform these social niceties, she and I, without thinking, because we must, because centuries of breeding make it an instinct. Like breathing I glance up and see Lord Harston is still staring where he ought not. Mr. Sinclair tugs my elbow possessively and we both step back. Lady Daneska smiles charmingly. Lord Harston, I see you have met our extraordinary American engineer. She fans herself and I find myself wondering if she has laced the sharp tips of her fan spindles with a deadly poison. She claps it together and instead of piercing Alexander with a deadly barb, she tosses him a compliment.
Baldwin 195 Your little steamship is the talk of the town. I daresay everyone is vying for an invitation to the unveiling. She says all this, as if she is completely unaware that only a few weeks ago the Iron Crown tortured Mr. Sinclair in t he hope of forcing him to build a similar craft for Napoleon. What brings you to England ? I ask without the least degree of friendliness. She laughs, a high pitched titter that threatens to break the window glass without my jumping through it. Ma chÂre I am here for the season of course What else? To attend all the festivities, soirÂŽes like this, a nd to enjoy your fine English weather. She s lying. I m not sure what she s up to but she has no interest in English festivities and London weather is far from fine She s probably hoping for an opportunity to shove one of her beloved daggers in to Mr. Sinclair spleen o r the prince s. Alexander says nothing, but I feel his grip on my arm tighten. I can almost taste the hot tang of anger flowing from his fingertips. Lady Daneska is unable to say anything more, because trumpets blare and announce dinner. The Prince has a flare for the dramatic. Lady Daneska takes Lord Harston s arm You ll escort me in to dinner, won t you my lord. But of course, I woul d be honored. Lord Harston bows to me. I look forward to conversing with you later, Lady Jane. Mr. Sinclair tilts his head. Later ? I try to urge Alexander forward, and say in a hurried a whisper, It was a formality. He won t actually At dinner Lord Harston raises his hand in salute. I stroll ed through the dining room earlier and was surprised to see your name on the place card next to mine. I
Baldwin 196 thought it must be a mistake until I saw you with Lady Castlereagh. Oh snake s eggs I moan inwardly. Alexander s ja w is working harder than a coalminer, as he grabs my hand claps it on his arm and tows me toward the dining room. What is that fellow to you? What? D o you mean who is he ? He is the 2 nd Baron of Harston, a close friend of Don t dodge the question, Lady Jane? What is it you would like to know? There s something I see it in your face when you look at him. Something you aren t telling me. I don t see how it s any concern of yours. You ll be sailing off to America in a week or two if Lady Daneska doesn t kill you first. There s a happy thought. The line to the tables is getting shorter by the minute and I don t want him to leave with such a sour thing having fallen off my tongue. I didn t mean it like t hat. You never do. Alexander I turn to him genuinely sorry. Mr Sinclair, he corrects and hands his card to the footman who directs us to opposite sides of the table.
Baldwin 197 Chapter 19 Dinner and Disaster Lady Jersey devised the most perverse seating chart in the history of mankind. Sera is seated beside Mr. Chadwick and the two of them are blushing in turns and looking perfectly awkward She knock s her fork off and he swoops to catch it for her. On Sera s left sits M r. Chadwick senior our magistrate from back home who is boisterously trying to engage her in conversation If I know Sera, she is considering crawling under the table and curling up in a tight ball. I smile encouragingly at her. I am seated next to Lord Harston. To avoid discourse with him I turn to a very talkative naval Lieutenant by the name of Baker, seated on my left. The officer takes my hand in greeting and inclines his head graciously Ah, the fair Lady Jane. I had hoped to make your acquai ntance. You have been highly praised by several of my acquaintances. How fortuitous that we should be seated next to one another. Blah, blah, blah, and so on and so forth. I nod dutifully as he dithers on. Directly across from me sits Mr. Sinclair. When I say directly across, I do not mean it is a short distance N o it s not an arm s length or even a meter. The p rince s table is enormous. It is well beyond the width by which anyone with good manners may talk
Baldwin 198 across the table. To make matters even more mad dening, on either side of him are two young ladies of dubious intellect. Proof is in the fact that he glazes over whenever the young lady on his right chatters at him. It is only when she giggles monstrously loud that his eyes open with pure attention. Th e other lady does not seem to bore him nearly as much, but I question her intellect because she relies upon the low cut neckline of her dress to engage him rather than employing actual words. She is full of coy looks and suggestive batting of the eyes. I ve half a notion to pelt her with peas. My brothers taught me how to fire peas from a spoon and look the other way afterward so no one would be the wiser. Perhaps, given the circumstances, it might be more prudent to simply lend the little trollop my shawl Curse this misbegotten seating plan If Lady Jersey were anywhere near my end of the table, I should very much like to run her through with my fork. My meat fork, mind you. Not the dainty dessert fork. As soon as the partridge course is served Lieutenant jabber mouth Baker occupies himself gobbl ing down his bird. Lord Harston leans in and speaks quietly. I am glad we have this opportunity to speak I m not You are ? I wish to discuss our arrangement. The peas and fish soup begin to spin in my stomach. You do? Just when I fear the fish will leap back up my throat, a happy thought occurs. Maybe he wants out of the arrangement because of my brothers appalling behavior at the theatre the other night I would, if I were him. Anyone would. Bu t if he does want out am I obliged to pay back the money my parents owed him?
Baldwin 199 I cover my mouth and earnestly whisper, I don t have the money to pay you back. I may never have the money to pay you back. He looks positively mystified. What in heaven s name are you talking about? I assume you don t want me for a wife. Can t blame you for that, but He draws back as if he s affronted. No, that s not it. Oh horse feathers Of course not, a gentleman cannot go back on his word. I merely want you to know why. Because m y parents owed you wheelbarrows full of cash I know why. Do you? He stares at his curried partridge. Your parents came to me with that hare brained scheme to contract you for marriage in exchange for their IOUs. I knew if I didn t agree to it they d find someone who would. I decided to meet you before determining whether I should leave you to your fate or not. Thing is, I expected you d be as foolhardy as they were. In that case, my conscience would be clear. I d let them move on to the highest bidder. A silly minded girl would do just as well with a rummy old goat as long as he had bags of money. Trouble was I met you I remember that night well He cuts apart the partridge and doesn t take a bite. You were no t what I expected. You were fine and good and I couldn t bear the thought of well, you know. He finally takes a bite. Oh I m astonished. All these years I d thought the worst of him. When in truth, he d agreed to the whole arrangement to spare me a worse fate I set my fork down having suddenly lost my appetite. But all that money IOUs. Not money. He shrugs. I wasn t out anything except my time.
Baldwin 200 Accounting sheets stack up in my mind s eye. And now I suppose my idiot brothers have ticked up additional debt to you He nods, and my insides still. Every pulse feels intentional. Every breath a choice. I owe this man too much to default on my contract with him. I ll let them out of it, if that s what you would like No. You mustn t I want them to learn to be responsible and make better decision s If you forgive their debt, they ll only run up more. Besides, why should you let them out of it on my account? It doesn t seem right to make my brothers in law pay. Since we re to marry, that is. The minute he mentions our marriage I can t help it, my gaze snaps to Alexander. To golden hair and irresistible lips l ips which are not smiling To hazel eyes which normally flash with mischief, but tonight stare at me with fire. Is he angr y? Or worried? His beautiful jaw buckl es and unbuckl es and even though the giggling debutante on his right, tugs on his arm, he remains fixed on me. H e does paus e now and then to glare daggers at Lord Harston. Oohh. I see. Lord Harston sets his wine glass down with a plunk. I m still watching Alexander, but I hear a smile in Harston s voice when he says, You re in love with the American inventor. No. My attention whip s back to him. No, that isn t true. Lady Jane, I m not blind. I m not I can t be. The words ring false even to my own ears. Lie to me, my lady. But don t lie to yourself. He lifts his glass again in a mock toast.
Baldwin 201 I shake my head. The truth is, I don t know. Oh, fiddlesticks I suppose you might be right. I may love with him. I turn back to the inventor in question. He is brushing the debutante s fingers off his arm and scowling at Lord Harston and me Not that it matters whether I do or not. Nothing can come of it. I m promised to you and he plans to return t o America. Are you certain? He doesn t look like a man who would easily surrender you to the competition. I m sure of it. H e ll return to America. Why wouldn t he ? It s where he belongs. It s the safest place for him. I stare at my plate and stab a pi ece of carrot and a parsnip. I can think of a very good reason why he might stay. Lord Harston sits back swirling his goblet of wine. I know you don t like to gamble Lady Jane B ut I m willing to bet you that young man will be staying in England. He lifts his cup to me. Care to lay odds? I told you before Yes, I know. You don t gamble. Tell you what, my lady, I ll make it easy for you a one sided wager. If he stays here in Britain, you don t have to marry me. If he goes, I ll hold you to ou r original bargain. But he is going. I ll lose. Lord Harston shakes his head, laughing, and stabs a forkful of partridge and parsnips. Haven t you noticed by now, my lady? I m not in the habit of losing. Especially to anyone in your family. He has a p oint there Lord Harston washes down his bite with another generous gulp of wine. I should have mentioned I never place a bet unless I m certain of winning. He taps his finger on
Baldwin 202 the table between us. You can tell what cards are in someone s hand, by reading your opponent s face, my lady. The answers are right there if you know how to read them. He takes another drink and raises his glass in a mock toast to Mr. Sinclair. My dear Lady Jane, I haven t felt this happy since the day I signed that confou nded agreement. I m free Do you know what that means? You ought to it means you re free, too. I frown at him. I m delighted you re so pleased to be rid of me. But you haven t won your bet yet, my lord. To which he laugh s out loud, really loud. Rude as horse snot Shouldn t you be sitting next to the Prince, I ask. Tasting his food in case it s been poisoned, or something? The wretch laughs again. A Trojan, Lady Jane. You re a regular Trojan. I have no idea what that means. He picks up his fork and cheerfully survey s his food. A beautiful amazing woman with the backbone of a warrior. I suppose that s all right then I m so happy I could kiss you. He loads his fork with a gingered parsnip and a bite of glazed ham. Yes, because you think y ou re finally free of me. I m flattered. I would do it, too, if I didn t think Sinclair over there would jump across the table and beat me senseless. I glance across at my intrepid inventor and see he is indeed beginning to seethe. I don t believe I ve ever seen Mr. Sinclair s nostrils flare before. Nonsense! I say, even though Lord Harston spoke the truth. My lord, I believe
Baldwin 203 you ve had too much wine. I lift my shoulder, as if I m annoyed with him, and turn to Lieutenant Baker, having neglected him long enough. Lieutenant Baker drones on and on about how thrilled he is to have been invited to assist Admiral Gambier at the unveiling Saturday of Mr. Sinclair s steamship. I point out we are fortunate to have the steamship engineer himself seated across from us Lieutenant Baker squints hard at Mr. Sinclair. T hat s him ? Odd looking fellow. I don t think he s odd at all. Quite handsome, in fact. I have no more use for the pompous, Lieutenant. Maya sits a cross the table and several seats down The youn g man next to her speaks to her with great animation. He makes her laugh which is no small feat. I instantly like him for putting her at ease. Something about him looks very familiar. I study him while taking a bite of a stuffed pastry It dawns on me he looks so much like Lord Harston they must be brothers. I didn t realize you had a younger brother. I don t. Lord Harston sets down his knife and fork. Oh, you mean Ben. He smiles in Maya s direction. Lord Kinsworth He s m y nephew. P ain briefly crumples his features but he quickly recovers And my ward as well Last year my sister passed. He s a good lad. Lady Jersey is a gem to seat him next to that particular young lady He s fascinated with India. Wants to sign on to the East India Company a s soon as he s of age. I have other plans for him They seem to be enjoying each other s company. Yes, I will step in later and put an end to it. I saw the young lady with Miss Stranje. Which means she s one of those girls. Those girls? I ask, ready to stab him with my fork.
Baldwin 204 I've heard Miss Stranje runs a school. Not just any finishing school, one f or t roublemakers. He fills his mouth with apple and pork pastry. Yes, I m well aware of her school I m one of her students. And Miss Barrington is one of my dearest friends. Lord Harston s eyes open wide and his lips part until he remembers to continue chewing. I smile pleasantly and turn away. The dessert course arrives and we eat in relative silence. At the end of apples and cheese, Egyptian dates and nuts, custards, creams, tarts, and an endless array of sweet delicacies, the Prince Regent rises at the head of the table. He lifts his cup to us and we all raise ours. A shout goes up. Long live the Prince Regent! Long live the Prince. Huzzah! After several more huzzahs and a hearty round of applause, the prince announces that we shall retire to the grand blue salon for an evening of music, after which there shall be dancing in the ballroom Another cheer echoes round the dining chamber. M y stomach b egins to quiver with excitement and nerv e s. The ostrich feathers are making me itch where the picks stick out and rub against my scalp. I bob a farewell curtsey to Lieutenant Baker I shall look for you at the steamship demonstration. Lord Harston offers me his arm to promenade to the salon where Maya and a number of others are to sing. As we pass out of the dining room Alexander brushes against us and turns as if surprised to have collided with someone he knows. There you are, Lady Jane. I see yo u enjoyed dinner. He bows his head with only scant civility to Lord Harston. Lord Harston answers him. We had a splendid time. Didn t we, my lady? An
Baldwin 205 illuminating conversation. I wonder, Mr. Sinclair, if I might impose upon you to escort Lady Jane to the music. I m afraid my duties to the Prince require me to be elsewhere this evening. Alexander looks from Lord Harston to me, suspicion tightening h is features. He holds out his arm. It would be my pleasure. Alexander starts to guide us toward the middle rows of chairs. Lady Daneska is sitting toward the front, not far from the Prince Regent. She glances over her shoulder at us, and for one fleeting second I feel her cold blooded hat red Like lightning, her expression shifts, and she smiles as if she is pleased to see me. Lady Castlereagh brushes past me and furtively reminds me, Fifteen minutes. No more. S he and Lord Castlerea gh take seats toward the front. I glance around the room, worried Ghost might be here among the crowd disguised. Watching all of us. Except, all I see are the faces of the Prince s guests, the beau monde, the beautiful people. I press softly on Alexander s arm back and whispe r, I need to sit toward the back of the room, near the side door. The one I plan to slip through later He frowns. You re up to something? A small task I must attend to for Miss Stranje. I edge him backward to the seat I need to occupy. Might we sit h ere? He allows me to take the chair of my choice and grumbles as he sits down. You re not planning to sneak out and meet him are you? Him ? You mean Lord Harston? Heavens no! What do you take me for? A complicated woman. He crosses his arms. Lord and Lady Dunbar sit down next to us, which puts an end to the vehement
Baldwin 206 whispering going on between us. I cross my arms and sit back frowning, exactly like he s doing. Darned ostrich feathers are itching my head again. Alexander brooding beside me doesn t m ake my task tonight any easier. I go over the plan in my head, as I ve done a hundred times this evening. I remain in my seat throughout the first singer s performance and wait until Maya has the audience properly transfixed before slipping out to go to D aneska s rooms. The first performer is Miss Dorothea Twilling, a broad chested young lady with a head full of bright blonde curls, a prominent nose that certainly allows for a great deal of resonance. The young lady chooses a song which repeatedly hits hig h C and displays her tonsils at their warbling best. Suffice it to say, Miss Twilling could shatter crystal at forty paces. I fear for the windows. The minute she begins singing I comprehend Lady Jersey s ingenious plan. This high pitched soprano will soun d like a shrieking barn owl when compared to Maya. At last, Miss Twilling operatic showpiece comes to a glorious frighteningly loud conclusion. When she takes her curtsey, I wonder if some of the clapping is to thank her for relinquishing the floor. Lady Jersey continues to applaud Miss Twilling as she rises to introduce Miss Barrington. Maya glides out and stands before us with her head down, half hidden by a veil draped elegantly across her thick black hair. As she slowly lifts her head and faces the au dience. I see several heads tilt quizzically. Who is this? they say behind their hands. Maya s dress is a brilliant combination of the French empire style, except one shoulder is draped with a long flowing length of saffron muslin that matches her veil It is embroidered along the edge in a pattern harken ing back to her homeland P erfect The gown itself bespeaks her origins and yet conveys her nobility in both lands.
Baldwin 207 Maya lifts her flute. She plays a short melodic piece that leads us on a merry dance. It fills the air with joyous passages that reminds us of Bach, and yet she blends in stanzas that make us think of the exotic spices of India. How clever of Lady Jersey to have included a curried partridge in her supper. When Maya stops playing it takes a moment or two before her listeners are able to abandon the dream she has led us on. Maya lowers her flute and moves hesitantly beside the piano where she sits down in a chair on the raised platform. She lifts a small flat harp into her lap and plucks the s trings and begins to sing. Her voice is so low, and round, and rich, that I hear gasps. She is a singing a ballad we all know, and yet it has never sounded like this. She falters at the sound of their gasps. I cannot leave yet. What if Maya cannot distract them. I wish there was a way to spare her their indignities. I mouth the lyrics. If I had a pleasant voice I would rise and sing it with her. S he regains a little of her confidence, not as strong and sure as when she started, but nevertheless it is sweet and beguiling. Even so, some callous listeners lean toward each other and whisper behind their hands. Critical louts How can they dare whisper, when every note she utters is so exquisite. I am on the point of abandoning my task for the evening by standing up to sing with her, when I see him, walking up from the back of the room, Lord Harston s nephew When Maya breaks into the chorus, he joins in, his rich baritone blends magically with her contralto. When her notes raise, his follow, like a musical chase. Their voices waltz through the air around us Now the whispers from the audience have changed to gasps of awe. This is a feast for the ears. Their voices twirl around one another, melding at the exact right moments, until they both lift in a glorious cres cendo as the song ends. The room falls deathly silent
Baldwin 208 for a split second, and then erupts in joyous clapping and cries of more, more I ve stayed too long. Time for me to go. I slip out of the side door and sneak down the staircase to Lady Daneska s room s From the grand staircase, I hear them start another song together. No one will be leaving that room anytime soon, not even Lady Daneska. I scurry down to the section of the palace where Lady Daneska s apartments are. The light here is dim but I pul l out Lady Jersey s sketch and count seven doors and test the handle on the eighth. It opens, but I find the inner chamber locked. Listening for the sound of servant s footsteps and h earing none, I pull out my lock picks. I need only scoot them half way ou t of the feathers in order to use them. I squat down to the lock checking for traps she might have left. A ribbon or a thread left to warn her if the room has been breached Ah. There it is, a short scarlet thread draped over the catch. Easy enough to r eplace on my way out. I drape it over the handle and set to work on the lock I love picking locks. It feel s as if I possess the one key to unlock ing any one s secrets I push the spring aside with one pick and us e the other to turn the latch. VoilÂˆ! The lock clicks and the door opens. I smile, shove the picks back to their hiding places, and stick the feathers in my hair. That s done. I whisper. In the distance, I still hear the faint strains of music. In my head, I count each remaining second. Each and every pesky tick Twelve minutes left. Now, to find where Lady Daneska hides her important papers. I close the door and light a small oil lamp. Daneska s room is a disorderly mess. She must ve dismissed the housemaids. Of course, she would. She k nows how traitorous servants can be. Although, t he chaotic
Baldwin 209 clutter of bandboxes and clothing strewn everywhere may also be part of her evil genius. It certainly make s it difficult to locate pertinent papers. I must find something that explains what she and Ghost are planning. I head straight for the wardrobe. Earlier today, Miss Stranje suggested Daneska might roll up her papers and hide them inside a boot. That s the first place I check. Nothing but empty shoes. I run my arm beneath her mattre ss, look inside every vase in the room. She has a large trunk. It makes me nervous to tap the sides, but I must check for secret compartments. I find one but it holds a sapphire necklace and a jewel handled dagger. No papers. I check under the liner on th e wardrobe shelf, behind the curtains, beneath the washstand. I hunt for false bottoms in every drawer and bandbox in the room. There s a small pistol hidden in one drawer, but that s all. I remove the sear spring, rendering the pistol useless Where would she hide her sensitive papers? The ticking in my head won t stop. Only eight minutes left. I sit down to think. A small escritoire stands against the wall. It can t be that easy. Lady Daneska would never leave important correspondence in a desk. Not in a palace like this, where everybody is inclined to spy on everybody else. Would she? Is she so clever that she would hide her secrets in plain sight? I open the lid. There, innocent as lambs, sit a half dozen letters. I grab the stack and quickly thumb thro ugh them, carrying them with me as I go to listen at the door, making sure I still hear the faint sound of music. Sorting through them, I stop by the lamp. One letter in particular draws my interest. It bears the royal seal. I do not need to decipher a cod e to read what s in it. The words in the short letter knot my stomach into a monkey s fist. I flip over a second parchment holding it above the heat of the lamp to see if they ve
Baldwin 210 used one of the old methods of invisible ink. When it looks clean, I move on to a third letter. The sentences are contrived and stilted, which means this one is definitely employing a code. I try counting the fourth word in every sentence. No good. The capitals in every sentence. Still no luck. The third letter of every fifth wo rd. Closer. It s a sentence code. I can almost see it. My heart drums. I hear the music upstairs has stopped, and the crowds are shuffling. I hurry to the door and listen. No footsteps outside, but my time is running out. O ne more minute and maybe I can cr ack this wretched code. I hold it closer to the lamp, struggling to concentrate while still staying alert for footsteps. The door flies open. Lady Daneska! Bon chance, Lady Jane. I m surprised to find you here. Are you? Of course I am, ma chÂre. In my experience, the mouse seldom prowls through the cat s lair. There s your mistake. You think me the mouse. I toss the letters onto her bed and reach for my dagger. She already has hers out. She kicks the door shut behind her and laughs. You are full of bravado today, aren t you? I ignore her false compliment and we circle one another. Not as growling wild dogs might do, but as two wary lions. Slowly. Calmly. Calculating when to strike, or if to strike. What is your game, Lady Daneska? We both know you intend to assassinate the Prince Regent. The only question is when and how.
Baldwin 211 This is what you truly think? She chuckles, her posture appears relaxed and languid, but I sense alertness prickling beneath the surface. One wrong move and she will sprin g. You malign me, Lady Jane. I would never do such a terrible thing. Why else would you be here, instead of in France with your beloved Napoleon? Lady Daneska s smile is as coy and false as a harlequin s mask. Perhaps I missed your company. It s my turn to smirk at such an absurdity. Oh come now, we both know you ve always disliked me. Yes, well, I may have underestimated you. Turns out you re a tiny bit more entertaining than I d thought. I doubt that. I m still just plain Lady Jane. It do esn t take a genius to figure out what you re up to. Plain ? Ah yes, I see what you mean, physically the dull hen. As poisonous as ever, I see. Her nostrils flare and I expect her to lunge at me. Except she doesn t. She buttons down her hatred and pre sses her lips into a conniving curve. Why this pretense of humility? she demands. Do you think I haven t heard what they whisper about you? Whisper? She anticipates my question. You are Miss Stranje s pet Her protÂŽgÂŽ. Her young mastermind in training No one says anything like that. I raise my blade and point it at her. Except they had. I d heard the Patronesses suggesting it but I hadn t believed my ears How could I? Miss Stranje is my beacon, my hero. I want to be like her. I hope to be like he r. But the idea that it might ever actually happen is
Baldwin 212 Impossible Daneska blinks. She draws back in surprise. You did not know? She laughs, breaking up my thoughts with the grating sound. She snaps into form again. How very amusing Lies. You re making all this up. I accuse her of this, even though I know she s telling the truth. She s baiting me. Trying to make me lose focus. I can t think about these things. Not right now. My mouth turns dry. I lick my lips and ready my knife. She ll att ack if I show weakness. Fah! She dismisses me with a flick of her wrist. Miss Stranje is wasting her time with you. In my country, we have a name for fools like you. What is it you call such a person here? I block out her words. They mean nothing. D eadly games. Diversions. Ah yes, now I remember, a cabbage head She sneers at me and points her dagger at my skull. Thick. Stone. I aim my silver point at her black heart. Isn t that what it takes to be an assassin? Mon D ieu You truly think th is? An assassin? Moi ? You give me too much credit. You miss the boat for the trees. Forest, I correct. Forests. Boats. What does it matter? You have misjudged me. I am not like you and your sneaky Miss Stranje, I have no hidden purpose. No secret plot
Baldwin 213 Ha! I force a laugh. You always have a scheme. Think what you will. She juts her chin. I am here by the invitation of his Royal Roly Poly ness. I can show you the letter. Or did you already find it? I had, but I m not about to admit it to her. How you tricked him into that, I d like to know. Silly girl. She waggles her knife at me with a scolding frown. I did not have to trick him. If you read the letter you will know I am here as an emissary of his highness, the Emperor of France. Emper or of the world, if Napoleon has his way. Mais oui Ask yourself, would that be such a bad thing? Think on it, Lady Jane. There would be peace. No more war. No more bloodshed. She says this while shifting the dagger to a dangerous angle, the perfect ang le for cutting my throat. You re wrong. I edge out of her reach. There would still be war. One man cannot rule the world. It is impossible. She draws back, as if she doesn t intend to slit my throat after all. Oh but, ma chÂre that is where we come i n. Don t you see? Emperor Napoleon will do what he always does. He will place his loyal subjects in positions of power. You? He ll put you i n power? My blood churns at the thought. M en like Ghost ruling over us? Tyrants who have no love for the people they govern. That is precisely why Napoleon must be stopped. We already have a king. We don t need you, or your emperor. That s where you are wrong, my dear cabbage head. You don t have a king. She sneers and I know she is once again gauging how best to carve my throat. Have you forgotten? Poor King George is out in the pasture chewing grass and running mad. One
Baldwin 214 wonders if he even knows his own name. And now? Who sits on the throne of England? His son. A spotty fat man with more gout than brains. I hope she comes at me. I would like nothing more than to put a stop to her wicked tongue. Be that as it may, Prince George is our sovereign, and we mean to protect him. Protect your royal dumplin g all you want. I told you, I didn t come here to kill Georgie Porgie. Why should I? When he is so very receptive to Napoleon s invitations. Invitations Suddenly the code for the second letter snaps into place. Enticements, you mean? My stomach does an unsuccessful somersault and lands in a twisted worried mess. It can t be what I think it is. Surely not. Prince George would never ally with Napoleon Would he? Enticements. Offers. C est la vie It is all the same. She spreads her arms wide, darin g me to make a move. Bribes. I forego her opening. It is a tempting gambit b ut I resist, even though I need this dance to end. Every fiber of my being wants to turn and run to find Prince George, and give him a violent shake and shout at him, whatever Lady Daneska is telling you to do don t! For mercy s sake, don t do it Either way his fat goose is cooked. Lady Daneska moves into attack position again. Mark me, plain Lady Jane. If I wanted your pudding headed prince dead, he would already be laid out in his funeral clothes. There! That is the Lady Daneska I know cold, beautiful, and threatening. Hell bent on murder and destruction. If he doesn t agree to parley with Napoleon she will kill him. My world tips back into balance and I see a way to stop her. Or, at the very least, a way I can slow her down.
Baldwin 215 The cost is minimal. What is my one life against the thousands of lives in an entire nation? I straighten to my most dignified posture and slip my dagger back into its hidden sheath. If you intend to kill me, do get on with it. Her gaze narrows. What game are you playing? Game ? How ironic that she should say that. I sigh, remembering Lady Jersey s prediction. The pa troness is right. I do gamble. Except these stakes are much higher than anything my parents ever wagered. Here are the cards in my hand If Lady Daneska kills me in her bedroom, she will come under heavy scrutiny. True, she might claim I was thieving, but who would believe her? She may be a guest of the Prince, but she is also a foreigner. I am the daughter of an earl and a guest of Lady Je rsey. It will be difficult to explain my death. At minimum Daneska will be detained for questioning. My murder will throw a smelly blanket of scandal over her visit. The upshot is, the charming Lady Daneska will be kept away from Prince George, and her ov ertures from Napoleon will be received with considerably less cordiality. I lace my fingers and await my fate. Do you intend to stand there all day gaping like a slow witted baboon, or are you going to get to work and stick me with that hat pin you call a knife? She hates me now more than ever. Lady Daneska doesn t even bother to disguise her vicious expression. With a bark of anger, she throws the dagger. Daneska s blade is fast. Too fast. I m unable to dodge even an inch before it cuts through the slee ve of my dress, slices the edge of my arm, and plunges into the door. The quivering thwang of the blade as it sticks in the wood, rings in my ear. Stunned. I slump back against the door.
Baldwin 216 You missed, I whisper. I never miss. Daneska sneers. D o you thi nk I c a n t see what you re doing? Playing the martyr You little fool. I m surprised she hasn t thrown another knife. She already has it drawn. She would like to cut me again I see it in her But not kill me. That w ould be too inconvenient. As if I wou ld be so foolish as to kill you here. Elsewhere is a different matter. A shadow moves over her left shadow. Suddenly the air freezes in my lungs. What took you so long? Daneska asks without turning. Didn t you see my signal? Ghost steps into the light and I suck in my breath. I d seen him once before, but he seems so much taller here. Taller than Lord Ravencross, same dark hair and broad shoulders but that i s where the resemblance ends. This man is as cold as a grave His shrewd eyes are like thos e of an adder, dark and pitiless. Yet there s something spellbinding about him. I cannot look away. He doesn t respond to her question. Clearly, he is a man who never answers unless he chooses. Daneska yammers away, but his presence is so commanding I can scarcely hear what she s babbling about You see, my cabbage witted mouse. We were expecting you. The minute you snuck out of the musical, I knew you had taken the cheese. A trap I slowly reach into my pocket for my knife. Lucien, are you going to do it or not? She offhandedly points her dagger at me. Oh, and mind her right hand, dear est Lady Jane carries a blade these days. The corner of Ghost s mouth curls. He s hoping for a fight, and I intend to give him
Baldwin 217 one. I whirl away from the door, knife d rawn. But before I can complete my turn, he grabs my throat. Fast. He s blazing fast I thrust my blade backward aiming for his thigh, but he clamps hold of my knife hand and holds my wrist in place like an iron vise. In one powerful movement yanks me against his chest. His hand on my throat presses the tender place at the base of my jaw. M y knife clatters to the floor. Don t kill her! Not yet. Daneska orders him, but he doesn t let up on my throat. I tug frantically at his arm. He presses harder. Blood throbs in my ears. Slow. Too slow. I feel the need to vomit. The room spins. Still he squeezes. Sleep well, Lady Jane. His rough rumbling whisper frightens me more than any knife ever could. Daneska s annoying titter fades. I can no longer hold onto my thoughts. The world darkens to a d eep suffocating black.
Baldwin 218 Chapter 20 Trapped I awaken, bound and gagged, in the back of a small horse drawn wagon. Training I recite my training. If captured, first, determine where you are. Second, assess the best way to free yourself. I try to orient myself, but there i s a tarp thrown across the bed of the wagon blocking my view I hear hooves and wheels clacking. We re still on cobblestones but seem to be angling downhill. I envision the maps we studied, but they don' t help me figure out i f we are going east or west, only that we must be heading south toward the river. There s a slender gap at the corner of the wagon bed and I wriggle sideways so I might see something through it. Occasionally we pass a street lamp or a light ed window ; othe rwise it is wretchedly dark. T here s still traffic on the road. I hear t he clop of carriages drawn by teams, and the fast clip of high perch phaetons whipping past us. The farther we go the fewer I conveyances I hear. We meet a large vehicle and the drayman shouts at the driver of my wagon to move aside. Maybe he will hear me if I make enough noise. I wedge myself sideways s o I can try
Baldwin 219 to kick the side of the wagon. Shouting as loudly as I can through my gag, I slam my feet against the sideboard. Our wagon b olts forward and we take a sudden turn. I slam my feet against the side again hoping someone will notice, but t here are no longer sounds from other vehicles. The wind is blocked and I feel the closeness of building s. W e ve turned down a narrow stre et or alley. The wagon stops. It creaks as my driver climb s down. He throws the cover back. Am I to be let go? Or killed? I lift my head, struggling to adjust my eyes to the dark. Ghost s broad shape block s out the weak light of the London night. His fist slams into my jaw The blow sends me sprawling against the floor of the wagon. Whatever indignities I may have suffered in my life I ve never been punched in the face. I hate him for it. My jaw throbs, b ut pain isn t what makes these tears F ury and indignation burn through my veins That s what makes me cry. I do not want to. I want to be like Tess, brave and tough But I m not At least no one will see these wretched sobs I clamp my lips around the gag so he won t hear. I don t want him to know he brought me to this weak place S hameful angry tears soak my cheek s they seep into the gag and make me want to spit Then they dry. I will not cry again. The faraway sound of laughter and music seeps under the tarpaulin. We must ve passed a tavern and now the way grows steeper. We leave t he cobblestones and his wagon tilts and sways over a n uneven rutted road until we come to a small stone bridge. It might be a canal or sewer crossing
Baldwin 220 I wish I d studied those maps harder. T he wagon soon levels off and we hit the hollow sound of wooden slats. A pier W e r e on a pier. When the wagon comes to a halt terror chokes me worse than this wretched sodden gag. If he throw s me into the Thames bound and gag ged like this, I will drown. Nevermind that even untied I would still drown because I don t know how to swim. Count that as one more thing I wish I d done learned to swim when Tess was teaching Georgie. I d foolishly thought I d never have any use for it. Ghost yanks the tarp back and slings me over his shoulder as if I m nothing more than a sack of rice H e carries me up a gangplank onto a ship At least I m not going to drown. Small comfort If we set sail my friend s will never find me. I tr y to fight h im but with my arms and feet bound, all I can do is thrash about uselessly on his shoulder and bang my head on the hatch as he climbs down into the ship s hold. Ghost wordlessly dump s me on floor. Its pitch dark down here. Even so, t here s no mistaking Ghost s presence. He sucks away the light and drains hope from the air around him I strive to recapture the anger I d felt a t him earlier anything is better than the fear which haunts the void around him Except I can no longer summon anger. My lips turn dry as dust and all I can remember is how to be afraid. He lights an oil lamp and hangs it on the center beam This must be his lair. H e stayed aboard ship. Wise of him. Less likely to be found that way. I do battle with my fear by studying the contents of his room He s more orderly than Daneska. His cot is made his washstand is strewn with a towel and shaving equipment but the slops have been changed. P apers sit in organized piles on the table chests and boxes are stacked against the walls as well as several coils of rope, a barrel of black powder, three metal
Baldwin 221 canisters, and a box of tools. I leave off cataloging when a nother man climbs down the steps a burly sailor Not a man who bathes regularly judging by the smell. Ghost kicks a chair in to the center of the room. Tie her to it Aye. The man jams his rough leathery hands under my arms, and lifts me to my feet dragging me to ward the chair. I sweep my feet out to the side knock ing it over. Ghost rears like a wild stallion B efore I know what s happened he rights the chair jerks me out of the other man s hands and slams me onto the wooden seat He leans near to my face giving me no choice but to s tare wide eyed at my captor One more stunt like that and I ll leave the room Meaning I ll let Jack do whatever he wants to you. Understand me, girl? I nod and sit meek as a little lamb while Jack wraps cord around my middle ci nching it tighter than he needs to W hen he kneels down to tie my ankles each to a leg of the chair, I make not a peep Even though his grimy hands linger too long on my legs I say nothing Maybe he won t notice I ve locked my heels down directly in front of the chair legs so that later I can shift my feet back beside the legs and the bindings will be loose S oon h e will finish tying me and leave. Soon I tell myself tick ing the seconds in my head. Ghost is sharpening a knife. It will be over soon I could hold er for you Jack runs his fingers around my neck and I can t repress a shudder. Hi s mocking snigge r brings back to life my anger Anger that demands I escape I will kill you on my way out I think Jack snatches his hand away as if he hear s my thoughts and it startle s him.
Baldwin 222 Go. Ghost orders. Aye, m lord. Jack sulks out as if he has been robbed of a prize. He would ve enjoyed watching me die. Close the hatch. It bangs with the startling finality of a coffin lid slamming shut Idiot feathers. It surprises me when Ghost yanks one of the ostrich plumes out of my hair. Perhaps he finds it difficult to murder a woman wearing something so absurdly innocent as white feathers. At the plume s unexpected weight he carries it to the light and discovers the lockpick lodged inside His gaze snaps back to me, an d something akin to respect flits through his eyes. An instant later, whatever appreciation he felt vanishes He jerks the other feather and is n t surprised to find the second pick. He tosses both on the table, and comes at me with his knife. It will all b e over soon I turn my head and close my eyes not wanting to see him cut my throat. I feel a swift and unexpected tug on my hair It s over in a blink. I m still alive. I open my eyes My curls d angl e from his fist Those are my ringlets the ones Sera had so lovingly draped over my shoulder. He slaps my hair down on the table beside the feathers and returns with his knife. Make one m ove and I ll cut you deeper. I bite down on the gag, preparing for the worst. H e grabs up my skirts, and I suck in my breath holding in a whimper. His knife rips through the cloth, slicing away a section of my ballgown and a sizeable hunk of my petticoat including the lace Why? What is he doing?
Baldwin 223 What d oes it matter? I m still alive. A ir trapped in my lungs whooshes out, and I close my eyes in relief. An instant later, they open wide I gasp, feeling the hot burn of his knife slash ing thru the flesh of my leg. The gag only muffles part of my scream. Ghost watches my face as if my pain f ascinates him. I clamp my lips tight struggling to deny him my moans of pain He presses closer s o close his breath fills my nostrils, suffocating me with spe nt air and the smell of brandy. Then I realize what he is doing. He s sopping up my blood with t he rag he made of my underdress. Finally he backs away and holds my petticoat up to the light I ntriguing i n a way the spreading pattern of all that bright red blood set against the white fabric and delicate lace. Almost beautiful Almost It s unbalanced Too little white. Too much red. Too much blood. My blood S uddenly the sight sickens me. My neck tightens and the corners of my vision explode with fireworks Not good As the spots whirl faster, I chastise myself. You re not going t o let a lit tle blood make you woozy are you? Keep your wits Jane T oo late. No matter how hard I try to cling to consciousness, t he light dims and the room spins away.
Baldwin 224 Chapter 21 Interrogation I wander in and out of a murky consciousness, struggling to find my way to the surface. When at last I awaken, it is t o the terrifying sound of Ghost s voice You shouldn t have come. You worry too much m on ami Lady Daneska sounds flippant and not at all shaken by his tone I made certain everyone saw me at the ball I danced with Prinny himself. The fat prince and I made l e grand spectacle He slams his hand against the table. Stop pretending you re French. It annoys me. You could ve been followed. No I was not followed sweeting The way she drawls out sweeting nauseates me No doubt, s he says it that way to annoy Ghost further. I would never be that careless. I m never followed unless I wi sh to be. She trails her fingers over the front of his shirt. He brushes off her flirtation. Do they know she s missing? Poor lovesick Mr. Sinclair tried to tell them Did you send him the package? I cringe. Package M y hair and that darned bloody petticoat I picture them in a parcel tied up with
Baldwin 225 brown paper and string. Arriving on Alexander s doorstep. He s hould ve gotten it t wo hours ago. Wha t happened when he raised the alarm? They lied to him of course. Miss Stranje and her brood insisted Lady Jane went home with a headache. They couldn t very well say she disappeared while pilfering my rooms Oh my dear it was delicious. You should ve seen Miss Stranje on the hunt. She even sn uc k back in to my rooms in search of her precious Lady Jane G ratifying to watch the high and mighty Emma Stranje stoop so low as to pick a lock herself. I left the lamp burning so she c ould see the blood. All the more reason you shouldn t have come. Lady Daneska pouts. I want to interrogate our prisoner. Why should you have all the fun? For pity s sake Daneska. Take something serious for once in your life. This is England we re playing for. Oh look our little cabbage head is awake. She clasp s her palms together. Isn t it near ing the time you and Jack ought to go and retrieve our wayward American? Don t make a mess Ghost stomps away from her and climbs up to the hatch. I m not the one who left that pool of blood beneath her chair. T he minute the hatch closes behind Ghost I try to talk around the gag. Mr. Sinclair isn t going to give you th ose plans. What makes you think I only want his plans? I want much more than that I want everything. Him. His boat. Everything. I hear banging on the upper deck, and the rattle of chains, as if they re lowering a row boat. A row boat? Why isn t he taking the horse and wagon? I remember Jack s putrid stench and the puzzle pieces slide into place. They re rowing up a sewer.
Baldwin 226 She digs through Ghost s open tool chest. You saw those plans didn t you? M ay have The gag muffles my answer O nce or twice. It s then that I notice the tool case is sitting in a different spot. Ghost has been tinkering with something at his worktable The powder keg is moved too, and one of the metal cylinders sits atop the table A pity. S he pulls out a hammer and rubs her thumb over t he head and grimaces I think he already used this on someone. S he flips it back into the box and pulls out a huge hunting knife Ah, now this is promising You say you only saw the plans once or twice? W e both know that is not true. Y our handwriting is on the list of materials. She hefts the knife in her palm and slides it between my cheek and the gag slicing through the cloth. The gag falls away and I open and close my stiff jaw. Yes, all right. I help ed with the list Good S tart there. Give me the correct list of materials. Not that phony one you embarrassed me with. She runs a whetstone over the blade. Is this the knife he used on you? Not like him to leave a dull blade. No. He used a different one. The sight of which, I will never forget You expect me to remember the entire list ? She continues to sharpen the blade with expert strokes. The mind is an amazing thing, Lady Jane. It will recall almost anything given the right stimulus. Folderol We both know that isn t true. Panic makes people forget. What is it you really want? I told you. Everything. Starting with Mr. Sinclair a nd you re going to deliver h im to me She flips the knife. O ne way or another. Q uestion is how much fun are we going
Baldwin 227 to have in the meantime ? I ve lost patience with her subtle threats. Don t pretend to be a sadist Daneska We both know you re not a killer She turns on me, furious. And h ere I thought I d given her a compliment. You don t know anything about me! she screams. Not one thing. How could you? Y ou never cared two farthings for me. True enough I meet her furious gaze with anger of my own. B ut Tess did She s the one who insists you re not a murderer that you have a soul after all. Daneska slaps me. Her face is a raging storm. She walloped me on the same cheek he punched, but I press my lips together and pretend it doesn t hurt. Don t lie to me she snarl s. It s all I can do to speak without groaning. I m not. But now I do lie. I lie to her employing every ounce of deception I can summon. My life depends upon it. Alexander s life depends on it. Tess has a contingency plan if I turn up missing. She s going to sneak back into your rooms at Carlton House in the small hours of the morning and ask you where you ve taken me. That i s a stupid plan Why would she do something so foolish ? She has some demented idea that b ecause you care about her, you would tell her I tried to talk her out of it But I don t! I don t care about her. I tried to kill her. She doesn t think so. According to her if you d aimed to kill her that night at sea you would ha ve. She says, Daneska i s a better shot than that That much is true. I am a good shot. You mean to say you did let her go? I didn t believe her, but if you say so
Baldwin 228 I didn t say that. She shakes the knife at me. I shake my head as if Daneska disgusts me. That part isn t fake. Y ou cut Madame Cho. I didn t think Tess would ever get over that There! See, t hat shows you must be lying. She knows if I would hurt Cho I would not hesitate to kill you. Because I hate you. Except you didn t kill Madame Cho. You could ve but you d idn t. I temper my disgust with a hint of optimism An oversight. That s what I thought. Tess insists it was intentional. Lady Daneska huffs resentfully. She loves that old woman. I mirror her same indignant to n e. Apparently she still cares about you too Foolish. We all warned her. Miss Stranje i s the only one who urged her to forgive you. You re lying. Emma Stranje would never do that You re wrong. She did. Ask any of the other girls We all sat at breakfast and heard them talk about it. That s the absolute truth And Tess later told us she forg a ve you I couldn t believe it, but she did. For some stupid reason she still cares about you That s why she has this idiotic idea she can persuade you to let me go. Lady Daneska shakes her head and pac es up and down I hate you Jane You know that don t you ? I almost laugh. I d be a fool to think otherwise. So get it over with k ill me and prove Tess wrong. She draws her knife and holds it next to my face. Maybe I ll just make you ugl y. Then everyone will stop loving you. She presses the blade against my cheek. Don t be ridiculous. No one loves me
Baldwin 229 because I m pretty. I m plain. Yes. Yes you are. Plain with those no color eyes Hazel. What kind of color is h azel ? Boring just like your hair. And your thin lipped mouth. My lips aren t thin. Plain. S he draws back the knife. Why do they love you? It is the sincerest question I ve ever heard her ask. Then she has to go and ruin it all Tell me what it is they love about you I ll carve it out and send it to them in a teeny tiny box. She looks down at me with disgust. Where did he cut you ? She pulls up my dress and stares. Then she yanks it aside so I can see. Look! He bandaged you He does n o t do that. He does not ever bandage people She presses on my wound and makes it ooze afresh. Does it hurt? She pokes it again just to see me wince Tha t s going to leave an ugly scar. Her gaze shifts to his cot. T hat i s his blanket around your shoulders. Mein Gott h e tucked you in Ghost did this ? I wouldn t know. I was unconscious. She flings down my skirts snatches his blanket away and throws it in a wad on to his cot, stomps back, and kicks my chair. She points the tip of the knife straight at my nose. What is it you have over people? Careful not to move or even breathe I say Nothing. I suspect he was just keeping me alive so you can force Mr. Sinclair to do your bidding. True. She backs away an inch or two. He does want you alive. She mocks his commanding t one. W e wil l get more out of Sinclair if the girl is still breathing She
Baldwin 230 waves her arm encompassing the whole room. Tell me, what it is they all love about you ? This Mr. Sinclair Miss Stranje A ll of them. Why do they care about you? I don t know. That is the pure truth What is it you give them? I try to shrug as much as possible with my ribs tied to a chair That s when I notice Ghost must ve loosened the ropes Jack tied so tight around my midsection, probably so I could breathe. I have no id ea. I suppose they feel gratitude because I try to take care of them. I plan and advise What ? Are you mad? No, no, no. This is not the answer. She waggles the knife at me as if it is her finger. No one above the age of seven wants a nanny. Then I have no idea Maybe it s simply because I love them. Maybe. She sulks at me hands on her hips Is Tess really going to come and plead for your life? I can t believe it. She bends close the point of Ghost s knife digging in under my chin. Swear on your mother s grave I swear T hrough clenched teeth and with a clear conscience, I make the vow Tess and I di dn t actually make a plan A t first, I was lying to Daneska buying time, trying to distract her B ut after saying it aloud, I reali ze it is true. I know Tess well enough that I can predict exactly what she will do I f I don t show up in the next few hours, she and the others will hunt for me first T hen s he ll use the wolf dogs to try to track me When that fails, she wil l go to Daneska and plead for my life You re telling the truth. She growls and gives what i s left of my hair a vicious yank as punishment That little fool! That is what she will do. Daneska paces across the room r oaring with frustration Ach! She stops and hurls t he knife at me. I nstinctively I try to duck Not that it would've done any good. The knife lodges in
Baldwin 231 the center post right beside my head It a good thing you never miss, I mutter. Tess will be too late. Sinclair will already be ours Lord Wyatt and Captain Grey t hey will try to stop him b ut he will sneak out and give himself over to us to save you Daneska stops pacing and leans in to scold me. Th i s is what happens when people make the mistake of loving someone It turns them weak and makes them vulnerable I tried to tell this to Tess but she would no t listen. You understand though d on t you? Yes. Sadly I do It s true, l ove leaves us vulnerable But no, I don't believe it makes us w eaker. L ove makes us stronger inside Braver It gives us something to live for. And the strength to face death if we must. Not strong er f oolish You will see Your lovesick American, he will come straight to us like a mindless little puppy lost without his master. W e wil l have him then H e will do anything we want to keep you alive. One small problem with your theory Mr. Sinclair doesn t love me. Not really. Not that much. He likes me, yes. But love? She laughs. Liar. I watched him during dinner. He looked so jealous I thought he might leap across the table and rip Harston s heart out. He wil l come. You will see. I say nothing sinking into my ropes, dreading the fact that she is right S o will Tess. She curses in her native language. Which means I must go back to the palace and pretend to be sleeping. The picture of innocence. This is your fault. I hate you Lady Jane.
Baldwin 232 Chapter 22 Daring Devices You won t need this. Daneska turns out the oil lamp and snickers because she s leaving me in the dark. S he stubs her toe on the ladder and curs es me roundly in several languages I w on t miss that lamp or the stink of the cheap burning oil. D ark is not my enemy. I memorized Ghost s hold the position of every pole, every beam, every box and barrel and more important ly I know exactly where she left that knife stuck in center post. I set straight to work, wriggl ing my ankles to ward the inside of the chair legs I mmediately my ankle bindings loosen I tip the chair to the left side, leaning against the post to keep from falling over, and shake the ropes on my right ankle until they slid e off the bottom of the chair leg. My right foot is free, but I can t risk tipping the chair the other way because there s no pole to brace against. Only one thing to do. I inch my left fo ot up through loops, twisting and pointing my toes but remembering to relax the muscles. Rigid muscles do no t pull through ropes as easily as soft relaxed ones I use t he toes of my right foot to help move the ropes shifting them one by one over the heel until my left foot is free.
Baldwin 233 It s eas y now, to scoot t he chair until it faces the center beam and the knife. While Daneska lectured me on the pitfalls of love, I managed to loosen only one of the knots bi nding my hands. Ghost tied a double sheepshank with a secondary complex double constrictor around my wrists Because I can't get out of it, I m more frustrated than a plucked hornet. Obviously, he must know Miss Stranje requires us to learn how to untie ourselves. I managed to undo the sheepshank but that secondary cinch is brutal. He shrewdly employed a smaller rope which makes it even more difficult With the sheepshank out of the way, at least I have a two inch gap between my hands. Not very helpful With my hands still incapacitated and my ribs strapped to the chair back I need that knife I position myself squarely beneath it B ecause my feet are free, I m able to tip the chair up just enough to get my mouth over the handle. I bite down trying not to think of how it tastes like years of filth There s no time for squeamishness. I quickly work the knife free of the post N ow comes the tricky part. Pressing my chin against my chest I lean forward push ing the tip of the knife into the ropes aroun d my midsection. I tr y to isolate one of the cords. This is difficult to do in the dark. As soon as I can tell I ve wedged the blade between two cords, I twist so the cutting edge is out, and saw up and down. Jack on ly tied one knot in the back. If I can cut through one cord all the bands wi ll uncoil I work the knife as fast as I can. T he whisper soft pop as each small strand gives way is a victory. I keep my teeth clamped tight around the hilt, even though my jaw is aching and the wretched thing tastes like greasy palms, fishy salt water oakum and ship s tar. I suppress a tremor of disgust.
Baldwin 234 With a snap, the band springs apart All I need to do now is shift from side to side until the whole pile loosens I stand up, finally free of that drat ted chair I continue holding the knife in my mouth and I lower my arms so I can step over the ropes binding my wrists I slice the ropes apart over the blade M y hands are free at last! I take the knife from my mouth, spit out the disgusting residue, and with cords still dangling from each wrist, climb the ladder I lift the hatch and peek out expecting Jack or some other sailor to send up the alarm but the ship is quiet It s still dark outside. Not as dark as midnight close r to four in the morning. S t ill it s dark enough to provide some cover. I slip out through the hatch, careful to close it silently. I stoop low and skitter across the upper deck staying close to the railing, aware I m leaving a trail of bloody footprints on the deck. The gangplank ha s been drawn up, leaving me no easy way down. I lean over the gunwales judging the distance to the dock We sit ten or twelve feet above it and about two feet away. If my leg wasn t injured, I might consider jumping A s it is, I would either land in the river or knock myself out cra s hing against the deck on the pier. Oye! Who s there? It s a sailor or one of Ghost s men. I ve no idea which. It s not Jack or I would throw the knife. I spot the anchor line off the bow and dash for it I grab what s left of my skirts t hrow a wad of silk over the thick rope and jump over the side I hold the silk and slide down the line landing w ith a thud against the docking post. I find my footing and run up the pier The man shouts obscenities at me from the upper deck, where he s sliding down a gangway to give chase. Ghost and Jack took the ship s rowboat and unless my nose mis led me, Jack has rowed him up and down a sewer more than once. I m willing to bet that sewer leads directly beneath the drowning Sow Tavern. The same tavern we must ve passed on the
Baldwin 235 way here. There isn t a tunnel leading to Spitalfields as we d imagined. It s a simple trap door to the sewer canals, which run underground throughout parts of the city The closer to the river the bigger the sewer s are. W hat better way for smugglers to transport in French wines, brandies and cognac. An ingenious way for spies to move in and out of the city without being seen. Clever man our Ghost and he ll be dropping Mr. Sinclair down that trap door any minute i f I don t get there in time I dash up the pier, p raying for darkness and fog to stay with me an hour or two more. Ghost horse and wagon must be tied nearby He or one of his men had to have used it to deliver the package. I reach the end of the dock and scurry up the embankment. There The horse and wagon stand u nder a tree. The harness and rigging are still on the poor creature. He should ve been brushed and properly tended. I had expect ed to find him unhitched and anticipated I d ride bare back. Faster that way, but t his will have to do. I release the brake and back the gelding up. The gentleman from the boat is thu nder ing down the pier toward me I clamber up on to the driver s seat and s tartle the poor horse with a shake of the reins. Go horse! Go! He takes a plodding step forward. I give the reins a harder shake. I know you can trot darn you. You trotted last night. I grab the whip and smack him good T he ornery horse rears and bolts forward at a full run bouncing up the road so fast we re bound to break a wheel I don t care. Ghost s man is running after us shouting for me to stop As if I would What kind of fool does he take me for ? I wrap the reins around my palms as I d b een taught as a girl. Except that had been a little buggy and a smallish pony. This horse, who I decide must be named Harold for numerous reasons, is not smallish he s full size. A nd even though the wagon is not very
Baldwin 236 big it s not nearly as agile as a buggy. The blasted thing rebounds over a bump and nearly throw s me off I am hang ing onto my seat with one hand, and praying the horse has some idea where we re going T h is fog makes it nearly impossible to gauge what s up ahead more than a few yards. Fort unately t he hill is steep and Ghost s man only has two legs he s slowing, whereas my trusty horse has four and Harold gallops up the slope as if he has a demon driving his wagon I look back and see the man throw his hat on to the road as I disappear into the mist Harold stops running quite so fast and I steer us toward a small bridge that crosses the sewer and angle up the road to Lower Thames Street. W e re finally on cobblestones and I allow my poor horse to slow to a trot. Good boy Harold I croon wishing I had Tess s way with animals. Keep going, I add quietly The street is empty at this hour. Each clack of Harold s shoes against the stones startles me with its loudness, but the fog swallows the sound as surely as a snake gulping down a mouse The world is silent and a sleep except for us and I wonder if Ghost has already captured Mr. Sinclair. Concentrate. Timing is the key. Unlock the scenario, Jane. Hurry It all tumbles out before me the players in the game, a map o f possibilities, and probable options. They will have been looking for me, all of them including Alexander, Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt. At the end of the first hour and a half, they ll have subtly scoured all of Carlton House. They ll have found clues that make them think it is a lost cause. Miss
Baldwin 237 Stranje will tell Georgie and the others about the blood she saw in Lady Daneska s room. They ll think the worst. I m dead. Ghost made his move. The package arrived and they wil l have realize d I m alive. It s Mr. Sinclair the Iron Crown is after, not me. I m just the bait. What will they do? They won t give in. They ll expand their search, broadening it to the streets around Carleton house, hunting for a clue, any clue lead ing to my whereabouts. Tess will have Phobos out with her; she ll set him on my scent. They may find something that leads them to the docks or they might not. Tess won t give up. Not yet. Captain Grey will order Mr. Sinclair back to their rooms and send him with an armed guard to keep him sa fe. They ll tell him he s in too great a danger to be out on the streets. Lady Jane is all right, they ll tell him. They won t hurt her. It s you they want. Alexander won t believe it. He saw all that blood, and my hair H e won t believe I'm all right He ll be frantic knowing they re hurting me on his account. His heart will tell him he must do something. My eyes begin to water. I dash away the tears. Think, Jane, think When will he make his move? How will he make his move? Of course! When everyone else was at the soirÂŽe Ghost had someone slip a note into Mr. Sinclair s room, beside his pillow, on his washstand, somewhere only he would find it. T hat means Alexander will sneak out as soon as the guard they have placed to protect him falls asleep. I tick the minutes and hours since this game has been in play. My jaw tightens. It s now.
Baldwin 238 Now! Any minute Mr. Sinclair will find his way to the meeting place. I urge Harold into a faster trot, studying the street for any movement. Up ahead on the corner, I see the dim flicker of a light in a window. The only light on this street. I slow the wagon w ishing Harold s shoes didn t echo like gunshots D angling from the signpost is a carving of a n ugly boar with tusks The Drownin Sow. I pull up not daring to drive the cart past the window. If Ghost is inside, I don t want him to come out to check the street. I turn down the narrow street next to the crumbling brick building and climb down. There s nothing to tie Harold to, so I pull on the brake. The squeak ag ainst the wheels nearly makes me jump out of my skin. I climb down and pet Harold s nose. H ush I s ay when he n ickers. Wait here and be a good lad. I tiptoe around to the front window and peek in through the corner. Ghost and Jack are right there sitting at an otherwise empty table. I jump back and flatten myself against the wall. They re still w aiting. Alexander isn t here yet. I press against the crumbling bricks my hand clapped over my chest, and close my eyes trying to catch my breath. The fo g. That s why I didn t see him. T he darkness of the night. The rudeness of the oil lamp flaring from the dirty tavern window. These are excuses. H ow did I not see someone on the street ? He blend s with the night, clad entirely in black except for his hair a shock of gold peeking out from under his hat as Alexander Sinclair reaches for the tavern door. No! I cry out to stop him. On the empty street the sound of my voice echo e s louder than I d expected.
Baldwin 239 Jane? One quick glance through the window and I s ee Ghost is out of his seat. I lunge for Alexander s arm and tug him toward the wagon Run! I scramble up into the driver s seat and str u ggle with the jammed brake Giving it a vicious shove, the blasted brake finally disengages. I snap the reins. Go horse! Run Harold Go, lad. Harold moseys nonchalantly forward. I see you ve done this before. Alexander smirks. Ghost dashes around the corner behind us and roars my name. Jack skids out beside him. Alexander stops smiling. He grabs the reins from m e clucks his tongue and flicks the whip against Haro ld s backside. Get up Harold s ears twitch and he lurches into a trot. One flick of the whip and Harold flies into a canter I look back and see Ghost aiming a gun. First he points it at me Then he shifts it to Mr. Sinclair. I t must ve occurred to him that he might not want to kill the one person he needs alive, so he aims the barrel back to me. I duck. The shot skims past my shoulder. If I hadn t anticipated it and ducked Ruddy hell He meant to put me in the ground with that shot. Know how to use one of these ? Alexander hands me a pistol out of his coat Loaded Impressive. I m a quick study I turn and take aim. Seeing Ghost tamping down for another shot, I fire. A nasty fluff o f smoke obscures my vision for a second I wave it away and see I' ve merely grazed Ghost s arm but the bullet struck Jack in the shoulder. Ghost looks up from the blood dripping down his sleeve to me. A ngrier than ever h e takes aim
Baldwin 240 and this time he won t miss. Turn I scream to Alexander Tu rn! Mr. Sinclair seems to be rather adept at handling the obstinate horse He swerves left onto a new street Ghost s bullet splatters brick s on the corner of a building instead of my skull. Wi th a flick of the whip we are ga lloping east. Racing t oward Haversmythe House Toward safety.
Baldwin 241 Chapter 23 Unlocked Turn right at the next street, Mr. Sinclair I f you would please He complies without saying a word. He s still breathing in hard heaves. And up there, turn l eft onto Fleet Street I point. You may rest easy Mr. Sinclair. They won t catch us now. Perhaps you might want to slow Harold to a trot. He s had a rather exhausting night. I realize I am giving orders. Tha t s what I do when my nerves are stretched beyond their limit. Oh pig sw allup That s not exactly true I t s what I always do. Do this d on t do that. I daresay I am probably the bossiest female in all of England. A street lamp flickers up ahead and Alexander swerves toward it. Whoa. That is the first word he ha s said in ten blocks and I m not certain if he s giving a command to Harold or ordering me to be quiet. He must ve meant Harold because the horse is the only one of us who obeys. What are you doing ? I demand. You must s tay on Fleet Street until we c ome to the Strand, and You re a mess He pulls on the brake and tucks the reins under his leg.
Baldwin 242 I m well aware, thank you. Delightful of you to notice. I stare at him indignantly. Although if you had followed Captain Grey s instructions, this race for our lives would ve been completely unnecessary How d o you know I disobeyed Captain Grey s orders? A bit obvious. Y ou re here aren t you? Alexander is staring at me assessing the bruise on my jaw. He hurt you. Nothing worth mentioning. I wave away his attention. We really should be going He hit you. He cups my cheek in his palm The brute hit you. I was being rather noisy and uncooperative, you see. I can imagine. He strok es my cheek so softly it a ctually begins to hurt less I a m sorry His fingers tremble You ve nothing to apologize for. And your hair y our beautiful curls I t wasn t beautiful. I want to hear him say it again, and I don t mind at all that he s threading his fingers through what s left of my hair I ve been meaning to whack it off. It s the new style you know All the rage. Caroline Lamb bobbed hers. It s called: Âˆ la Titus His gaze drifts down to my lap and the bloods stains all over my skirts. Even in the dim light I see him suddenly turn pale. Judging by his grimace, I think he might be sick any minute. It s not as bad as it looks. Now it s me reaching for him, patting his shoulder reassuringly. Really, it s not. Where did he He swallows. W here did he stab you ?
Baldwin 243 He didn t Not a stab really more of a nick or a cut Mr. Sinclair grow s impatient with my half explanations Where? He s reaching for my skirts and I think he might pull them up in search of t he wound himself. I clap my hand over his. He cut my leg. He takes a shuddering breath. How bad ? He glances around the street as if he s searching for something. There must be a doctor or a surgeon somewhere near here. How bad is it, Jane? I don t need a doctor. A re you telling me the truth? He clamps both of my shoulders in his hands. I nod and look down. Ashamed I have lied to him so often that he doesn t trust me I m all right. Truly. He still holds me as if I might slip out of his grasp at any moment. You could ve been killed. Don t you see? And i f you had I m not dead, Alexander, and I m not dying I simply look a little ragged that s all. I flick my rough shorn hair and muster up my best smile Thank God H e takes in a breath and clasps my face in his hands. So help me Jane, I I have no idea what he was about to say because I stopped him with a kiss Or maybe he kissed me. I m not sure which. It doesn t matter It was pure heaven and I almost cried. I pressed my lips against his and the next thing I know both his arms wrap around me H is divine lips are not nearly so gentle as they had been on the cliffs of Stranje House. I am not complaining. They are warm and good, and the tender way they work again st mine fills me with
Baldwin 244 wonder. I wind my arm s around his neck and kiss him back hiding nothing, opening my heart to him The s weetness of his mouth makes me forget the gash on my leg, and even Ghost and Daneska. His kiss is pure and good and it melts away all the evil in the world. I don t want him to stop. Except he does He draws back and peers at me with soul melting eyes. That is the exact moment I know I have picked the locks of his heart. The latch clicked open. H is secrets are poured out before me. I blink up at him, amazed. You love me. He laughs. My lady, it s supposed to be the gentleman who says that. Not you. Oh. I try to sound suitably chastised. It s just that I m so surprised to discover it. You mean to tell me, even with that giant sized brain of yours, you re only now tumbling to that fact? He releases the brake and pulls the reins out. With a cluck of his tongue, the horse obediently takes to the road I dive into a lecture on the subject. Perhaps you failed to notice, I m not t he lovable type. You do realize I m managing I order everybody about whether they wish to be or not. I m also stubborn, and according to my brothers, my tongue is sharp enough to slice a man s skull at thirty paces. He has the decency to laugh. Aye, my lady. I know all those things. Y et you still love me. I m astonished A pity you re going back to America after the admiralty signs the papers for the warship design. He has no retort A swallow. An uncomfortable jog of his Adam s apple. Nothing Suddenly all the lightness and joy I felt vanishes into the darkness of the night.
Baldwin 245 Silence is sometimes as killing as knife blades. As we pass Drury Lane headed for St. James I ask him to slow down. "No." He objects. We need to take you to Haversmythe H ouse and care for your injuries But w e have to find Miss Stranje and the others first and they're not at the house. Not yet Especially Tess. If we wait too long she ll go to Daneska They re still out looking for me. They ll be in pairs or threesomes. Tess and Georgie will be with Phobos. They ll have gotten this far and if Phobos picked up any scent at all, they ll be concentrating the ir search near the river ." We drive slowly down tow ard the Thames and then up again, and down the next street. It s still so blasted dark. I strain to see into the shadow and past the fog rolling up from the water This is no use, Jane. It s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There! I point. Stop. Stop! I scramble down from the wagon. Tess! She runs for me, Phobos on a lead gallops beside her. It's not Georgie, it's Sera running behind her. In seconds, Tess's arms are around me. She lets go and grabs my head pressing her forehead against mine. You re alive. I d almost given up. I was about to go back to Carlton house and I know. I know. Thank you. Finally, it s okay to let some of the water welling up behind my eyes leak out. Sera throws her arms around both of us clinging to me as if I d return ed from the dead. I can t believe y ou re walking. All that blood. I thought for certain he must ve cut your leg so bad ly you d be unable to move. I wish she hadn t mentioned it. The darn thing is burn ing like the very fires of hell
Baldwin 246 and it feels as if it s starting to ooze again. Where s Miss Stranje? Or Captain Grey ? There re things I must tell them immediately Phobos yips and sniffs my palms. Sera points. The next street over. We have a signal if we find something. Tess puts two fingers in her mouth and issues a shrill whistle. Phobos adds his high pitched howl to it, and sniffs the blood near my bare feet. You re bleeding. Sera stoops down to inspect. Mr. Sinclair, we need to get Jane home. Quickly. That s wha t I ve been telling her. He puts on the brake and climbs down to lift me into the back of the wagon and help Sera up beside me. Tess waves us on. Go! I'll meet Miss Stranje and Captain Grey at the top of the street I have Phobos with me. I ll be fine. Sera sits beside me holding my hand. How did he find you? She tilts her head in Mr. Sinclair s direction. She means, how could he have found me Mr. Sinclair, an engineer, not trained in this sort of thing, when they could not. He didn t. I found him. Ah. She nods, as if this is a perfectly logical answer, and begins to figure out exactly what I ve been through tonight by observing every mark, bruise, missing shoes, rip and tear on my person. I think short hair will look quite charming on you.
Baldwin 247 Chapter 24 Reports and Alterations Mr. Sinclair carrie s me upstairs at Haversmythe House. Our frantic butler Mr. Peterson in his nightcap and wrapper follow s him carrying an oil lamp, stopping to mop up droplets of blood and complain I don t see how this could ve happened at Carlton House. Most unusual. Mr. Sinclair is always honest so what he says is true, incomplete, but true The young lady was set upon by criminals. Hold that light steady Peterson o therwise we ll all go stumbling down the stairs. He order s Peterson to get the maids out of bed to help A nd send for a doctor Are you deaf? Don t stand there gawking, man. Go. Two minutes later Mrs. Creevy and Alice rush into our bedroom. Dear heavens! You poor child. Mrs. Creevy clap s her hand over her throat. We ll take it from here. She dismisses Mr. Sinclair. He stands by the door looking dreadfully worried "Shoo, young man. We've got to undress her." She pushes him out of the door. If you need me, I ll just be downstairs, waiting for Captain Grey and Miss Stranje. Run along. I say as if he is a nuisance, rather than the one person whose arms I
Baldwin 248 wish were still holding me. These soiled clothes make it look worse than it is. I ll be right as rain in no time. Never have understood what s so right about rain, he mutters as Mrs. Creevy closes the door Sera and Mrs. Creevy do a splendid job of cleaning up my wound and dressing me for bed. Alice help s peel off my destroyed undergarments Oye m lady, that s a horrid looking cut. I c an tell Sera want s to rip into Alice for having sid ed with our enemy, an enemy who woul d do this to her dearest friend, but at my warning glance she resists. By the time, Miss Stranje arrive s I am sponged off and tucked u p in bed with a towel around my leg. Our headmistress look s drawn when she c omes and s its on the bed. I was afraid we'd lost you. She smooth s her hand over my brow even though Sera ha s already brushed my hair back from my face. I lean up on my elbow I ve urgent news to report. I m sure you do. She takes a deep breath. However, you must rest. Sera told me your injuries are quite severe You need to rest If you bring me a map I can show you where Ghost s ship is docked. He s not hiding in Spitalfi elds. He s staying aboard an old galleon anchored about a mile past London Bridge. That s all well and good b ut think Lady Jane By now h e will have moved the ship or gone to ground somewhere else I sigh and sink back into the pillows. You re right, of course. I suppose it was wishful thinking on my part. I hoped if we were fast enough.
Baldwin 249 He is called Ghost for good reason. He i s a master at hiding and vanishing And he always has secondary plans. Yes, and sometimes more than that. In any case, he always has an escape plan. The man s a genius. If only he hadn t turned for Napoleon. She shakes her head. I believe he may be building a bomb of some kind At least I think he s making a bomb. He had black powder and some odd shaped cani sters Good heavens Mrs. Creevy scratches on the door and peeks in The doctor s arrived, miss Shall you be needin me, do you think? Miss Stranje stands. No, I ll assist him, Mrs. Creevy, thank you. Doctor Meredith is his name and the man is a sadist. N eeds stitch ing he grumbles, as if he s irritated with me. It isn t my fault Ghost decided to make such a deep cut. I ve dosed her with laudanum but it ll still take two strong footmen to hold her down Legs are the worst. Even young lad ies can kick like mules when I m doing the stitching I am not a mule, I say groggily. Something sneaks into the corner of my mind, tiptoeing just beyond my reach. What is that? Oh yes, the letter The letter I saw in Daneska s room. Miss Stranje, there s something else I needed to tell you. Something important. Miss Stranje presses me back against the pillow. Later, my lady. Later. Close your eyes. There s a good girl. She turn s and speaks to the grumpy doctor who thinks I m a mule. No, Dr. M eredith I will not allow footmen to view any part of this young lad y s anatomy. I ll get the other girls to help me hold her steady. It s her thigh, Miss Stranje, not her
Baldwin 250 No Absolutely not I drift into a distorted nightmare. Hands. Hundreds of hands hold me down while Dr. Meredith sew s me up. I scream. I think I m screaming, but it echoes oddly. S uddenly it i sn t Miss Stranje and the doctor it s Ghost and that awful Jack jabbing me with needles. Go away. Go away But it s me who goes away. Tra pped in a dark malignant forest, I wander aimlessly. Any minute Jack will spring out from behind one of these misshapen trees. _________________ A heavenly light awakens me Either I am dead, or i t is day. I blink My eye s feel dry as hearthstones. My tongue is so sticky I wonder if th at sadist Dr. Meredith, coated it with glue to keep me from screaming. M y leg is tender but I can move it without causing undue pain. S omeone is lifting my head to help me take a drink. It s Maya. Her hands are soft and s oothing as she lifts me toward the glass. I swallow greedily. How looong has she been unco oo nscious ? Galloping Goats That sounds like Lady Jersey. I tug the covers up and struggle to focus. My vision clears. It is her. Either that or I m hallucinating. And i t looks as if Lady Castlereagh is standing behind her Nine and a half hours. Miss Stranje answers Well, I mu uu st say young lady. You certainly added some excitement to the evening. Lady Jersey has on purple gloves and sh e sweeps them in my ge neral direction. You ll have to do something about her hair. What time is it? I manage to ask. S ince my mouth is open Maya spoons broth into it.
Baldwin 251 Sera leans down and whispers, Three in the afternoon. Where s Mr. Sinclair? I rasp. He s all right. Georgie stands back by Tess who looks like she didn t sleep all night. Went home with Captain Grey after the doctor assured them you d be all right Miss Stranje stands by the bedpost. Do you feel well enough now, to tell us what you found ? Yes. I cough trying to clear the dryness in my throat. But I would thank you to never give me laudanum again. At Miss Stranje s signal, Madame Cho goes out to check the hall and stand sentry. She closes the bedroom door The room feels crowded with the other girls and the two patronesses. Maya fortifies me with another spoonful of broth. Lady Castlereagh practically vibrates with curiosity. You found Lady Daneska s letters didn t you? Yes. It s not good news. One of you must spea k to the prince as soon as possible. What did you find? Miss Stranje sits on the foot of the bed Daneska isn t here to kill the Prince. Not yet anyway. Napoleon sent her to persuade Prince George to parley with him. She is supposed to tell him Napoleo n wants peace and present with an offer to place Prince George as supreme ruler over England. Supreme No more meddlesome parliament. Good gracious! Lady Jersey fans herself with a lace hand kerchief. Judging by the way Prinny was talking about Napoleon at dinner, he s well on his way to agreeing to it Here, I thought he d simply had too much wine again. I reach out to her. Then you ll speak to him?
Baldwin 252 She draws back. Is that how you think it s done? Lady Jersey gapes at me as if I ve ju st sprouted a second nose Lady Castlereagh cl i cks her tongue in a wordless scold, and shakes her head. Anyone would think I had suggested we give the prince a spanking. No, no, my dear child. Never. Lady Jersey stuffs the kerchief back down her sleeve. O ne does not simply march in to a king or a prince who s playing at being king, and say, begging your pardon, Your Royal Highness, but you mustn t listen to Lady Daneska. She s filling your ear full of poisonous twaddle A nd whatever you do, don t meet with Napoleon privately to negotiate peace. The Emperor is a bad fellow and you simply can t trust him She says this in a mocking little girl s voice. Lady Castlereagh chuckles silently See. She understands. She wouldn t even dare do that with her husband and he adores her. Lady Jersey pats Lady Castlereagh s arm. You simply can no t handle men that way It takes kid gloves, my deaaar. Kid gloves And you most certainly do no t handle a ruler in that manner She smacks the bed to emphasize her point. If Prince George hasn t come to that rational conclusion on his own, nor listened to his trusted advisors, he certainly isn t going to come around on your say so Or mine No, my dear, it must be ha ndled with more finesse than that. She exchanges a pointed grimace with Miss Stranje. Duly chastised, I fiddle with the sheets, preferring not to look into her disappointed face. There was another letter from Napoleon written in code I didn t have time to decipher the entire thing b ut he authorized her to offer Prince George a bribe. A monetary prize he called it. How much? Lady Jersey s accent disappears.
Baldwin 253 I was trying to figure that out when Lady Daneska caught me. I don t tell her I noticed Mr. Sinclair s warship mentioned and was frantically trying to decode that part first. The sum looked substantial. Lady Castlereagh lace s and unlace s her fingers Dear me, the money will sorely tempt him Nevermind that Parliament paid his debts to get him to marry Caroline, now that he s regent he s draining the coffers. His expenditures at Brighton and Carlton are outrageous. Despite all that I think Napoleon s offer to rid Prinny of the House of Commons will hold the greatest allure Come Lady Jersey, I must go home and warn Lord Castlereagh. Poor man, as if his hands are full enough. The Patronesses leave and Miss Stranje accompanies them out. Maya raises another spoonful of broth to my lips. "You must eat to regain your strength." Thank you. You've been very kind, but I can finish it myself What I would like is something more hearty than soup. Very well. She hands me the bowl and spoon. I wobble one spilling spoonful to my mouth and give up. The darned laudanum has p layed havoc with my coordination. I set the spoon on the side table and gulp down the rest of the broth straight from the bowl. Lady Jane! Georgie scolds laughingly and takes the bowl from me. Where s all that elegance you re so fond of ? I suppose I had it beaten out of me. I meant it as a joke, but her face falls. Sera bites her lip and turns away Tess paces and finally flings the door open she doesn t look back at me, but stops in the doorway. I have to go check on Tromos. She s about to whelp any day now.
Baldwin 254 Silence hangs in the room like a rotting carcass until Georgie asks the question they all wonder Was it bad? No. I reach for her hand. I m sorry I shouldn t have tried to joke about it It was unpleasant and frightening, but nothing like what happened to Lord Wyatt or Mr. Sinclair. She doesn t look convinced. None of them do. I m fine In fact, I would dearly love to get out of this bed and if one of you thinks you can improve upon this hairstyle Ghost gave me I would be m uch obliged. It s as if the sun suddenly beamed straight into the room. Their faces flush with enthusiasm. Maya is already tilting her head this way and that viewing me from different angles I have long wished to change your hair. Y ou always pull it back so tight. Georgie is fairly jumping up and down. Oh yes, you ll look adorable with short hair. Uh oh Their eagerness worries me. I laugh tensely. I ve given them carte blanche to do as they please and that may be a mistake Adorable ? I question their objectives. That s setting the mark a bit high don t you think? I shall be delighted if you achieve passable Sera s eyes glitter with excitement. Oh, w e ll do much better than passable She holds up the scissors and gives them an unnerving snap. She has an idea and I feel uneasy as I take the chair. Maya grins and wraps a sheet around my shoulders For the next thirty minutes my hair is the center of much discussion and scrutiny. Cut t hat piece shorter Oh look how this wave swoops beneath her jaw line. If we cut it shorter here, these locks will fall in charming little curls around her face Not shorter, I plead, but they ignore me. I am no longer master of my own hair.
Baldwin 255 They ar gue about what should be done with the back. There is far too much snipping and evaluating to suit me. Must they stand back to check the results of each clip ? Sera survey s their handiwork. Imagine it without that purple bruise on her cheek. Maya nods sagely. Perhaps if we contrast it with a yellow ribbon. No W hite I think. Sera pulls one out of my drawer. She ties it around my head and stands back. All three of them smile. I m beginning to feel like a one eyed toad H ave done with it Am I presentable or not? Presentable? Georgie laughs. Oh, f or pity s sake. I stand and head for the mirror. Wait. Maya pulls my hand. First a dress. So you can see the full effect. She pulls a sprigged muslin morning dress from my closet. I pull i t on noting that the bandages on my leg look dry and clean, which means the wound is knitting properly. There s even a bandage around my arm where Daneska nicked it with her knife. Now, c lose your eyes. Georgie orders and I limp beside her to the mirror. All right. Look! It takes me a minute to recognize the girl in the mirror. She looks younger somehow sweeter, less austere far more innocent When the exact opposite is true. I changed last night Aged beyond my years. I feel centuries older and far more knowing I have been knifed, shot at and thoroughly kissed. Y et the girl in the mirror really is me. E ven with that ugly bruise there s something there I like Pretty. I say it without thinking It isn't quite the right word, so I turn away from the new Lady Jane, t o my friends My friends who have the uncanny ability
Baldwin 256 to find something in me that I w ould never have found on my own. More than passable Thank you. Tess and Miss Stranje come in the room talking in hushed tones M iss Stranje looks up and stops H er mouth opens for a moment before she speaks What s this? I think you mean who i s this. Tess says, with a broad grin I think she might have even laughed, except a loud disturbance downstairs sends all of us hurrying out into the hall.
Baldwin 257 Chapter 25 Intruders We peer over the railing and see Mr. Peterson down below. "Keep your socks on. I'm coming." Someone is pounding on the door as if they mean to take a battering ram to it. Mr. Peterson ope ns the door. "State your business." Two gentlemen push their way into the hall. "Sirs! Step back." Mr. Peterson scolds and tries to push the interlopers back. "What is the meaning of this?" "Intruders." Tess draws her knife. "No." I whirl away from the rai ling and press up against the wall. "I know those gentlemen." I hesitate to call the intruders gentlemen I know better. From the look of them anyone might mistake them for scoundrels or dandies. It's worse, far worse They're my brothers. I peek around the wall and cringe. My eldest sibling flips a card in our poor butler's face. "That's Lord Camberly to you." "Stay here." Miss Stranje hisses to me. "Don't come down till I send for you." She marches down the stairs. "Lord Camberly, you will mind your manners when in my home. Or I shall personally take you by the ear and toss you out." She could do it, too
Baldwin 258 "You have no right to barge in and bully my servants." Francis, the slightly less than honorable Earl of Camberly is sufficiently cowed by her tone and takes a step back, remembering to remove his hat when speaking to a lady indoors. H is chin lifts proudly, and I know he is remembering he is a tough fellow and a rebel to boot. I can almost hear him thinking; I am an Earl, by George, and I answer to no one except the king and debt collectors "We a re here to see our sister," he states flatly. "We've a perfect right to do that." It isn't a question Miss Stranje doesn't seem moved by his plea "I'm pleased to see you are finally tak ing a familial interest. However, I'm afraid that due to your lack of payment your dear sister must first attend to her duties as lady's maid before she is at liberty to visit with you. Perhaps you would care to wait for her in the drawing room. Mr. Peterson will show you the way." Miss Stranje flounces back up the stairs leaving my brothers gaping in the foyer. She bustles the lot of us into our bedroom and shuts the door. "We will make them wait a good long time, and then I shall go down with you." "They ll want money." I confess with a dismal sigh. "I don't know how they suppose they will get it from me. But they will have some scheme wherein they think they can pick whatever I have in my pockets. Or perhaps even yours." She does not seem troubled by this in the least. "You may rest easy on that score. They shan't be picking anyone's pockets today." I feel bad for them. I shouldn't, because they are the ones who abandoned me to my fate with Miss Stranje. Granted, it turned out to be the b est thing that ever happened to me, but had she been another sort of woman it might have been a perfectly horrid
Baldwin 259 situation. "Are you listening?" Miss Stranje taps me on the shoulder. "Put on your worst frock, something you might wear working in the garden Your hair is so lovely and it grieves me to ask it of you, but muss up your hair Georgie groans. "But it looks so perfect." "Charming." Miss Stranje smiles at Sera and Maya guessing whose handiwork it is. "Too charming for this situation. S mudge your unbruised cheek A little coal dust here and there ought to do." Sera frowns. "She's not supposed to be a char woman. Lad ies maids don't look like that. They're usually quite tidy." "Yes, but her brothers don't know that, do they? Miss Stranje's eyebrow s arch. She doesn't like to be questioned. "Lady Jane must appear as downtrodden as possible." "I'll wear the frock I wore the night I chased Alice through the woods. The hem is still frayed and I haven't been able to entirely remove the stains." "Perfect ." She checks a small watch she keeps in her pocket. "We will make them wait forty minutes before going down ." As soon as our headmistress leaves the room. Georgie starts teasing If you're to be a lady's maid, you ought to have some practice. I need he lp unlacing my walking boots." "Oh very funny." I smirk back at her. Sera grins You must wait your turn Miss Fitzwilliam I need our maid to plait my hair first." It is not like Sera to tease, but I'm happy to see her give it a try. I sit down on the bed. "What about you, Maya. How may I serve you?" "You appear to be quite loaded down with tasks. I shan't trouble you. But when you get a chance you might tell me what you know about Lord Harston
Baldwin 260 "Oh, him You don't want to know him. His comment about those girls rings in my ears. I wave my hands through the air banishing him. Lord Harston is a first rate rascal." Maya's bright expression dims. I am a cabbage head H is nephew though, seems to be cut from a n entirely different cloth What did you think of Lord Kinsworth ? He seemed quite taken with you. She edges back toward me hiding a shy smile. I found him...intriguing. I cannot find his, his, oh what is the English word for this? The atmosphere around a person the colors the light "Aura?" Sera suggests. "P erhaps. His hides from me. Just when I think I am on the verge of seeing it poof I t runs ahead of me to somewhere else. Illusive. I struggle to comprehend what she is saying. I see no light or atmospheric colors around my friends Maya must have skills I don't possess. Did you keep trying? "I did. T hat part of him seems to laugh at me and dash away I sq uint, struggling to see anything surrounding her or Sera or Georgie. Nothing I'm baffled. We live in the same world and yet hers must appear so different from mine When he sang with you "Yes." Her attention snaps in my direction afire with delight You heard it too? Now I feel even more lost but I don't want her to know I want to learn more about what she' s saying. I heard a beautiful duet. The music, the sound of your voices together, it was magical D ivine. Her shoulders slump You did not hear it, then ? The notes."
Baldwin 261 I puzzle out what she s trying to say. "What d o you mean? You sang notes I didn t hear ? She catches her lip for a minute, and I know she must be struggl ing with the language differences. "T he notes in between H is voice touched them when he sang. I sit back astonished wondering what our world mus t sound like to Maya I turn to Sera. Did you hear ? She shakes her head as mystified as I am Maya laughs softly, easing a way our confusion. It s nothing. Think no more about it. I m sure I will never see Lord Kinsworth again. There's grief in her voice and it makes me sad. Maybe I can persuade his uncle. Suddenly I need them to smile to laugh. After my nightmarish night I cannot bear anymore heaviness. "You ladies are working me to the bone. I declare, this lad ies maid busines s is exhausting." They laugh and I pick up a hairbrush "Sera, if you would like I'll be happy to braid your hair for you." "I wasn't serious, but if you are truly offering." She hands me a ribbon. Sera has the softest, most silken hair imaginable. It is as if the strands are spun from gleaming white pearl dust. I take my time brushing it and weaving it into a thick plaint, finishing the braid off with a blue ribbon. "I wish I had hair like yours." I sigh, and hand the back the brush. "You only say that because it isn't yours. Mine is straight and unmanageable, it never stays in the pins. Even the hot iron can't coax it into behaving. Whereas your hair curls simply because you coil it around your finger." "Yes, but mine is plain brown ."
Baldwin 262 "Be grateful." Geo rgie is sitting by our window reading. She looks up from the book she has her nose in. "Brown is exactly the color every debutante in London wishes she had." "Not me. I'd rather have something exotic, red like yours, gleaming black like Maya's, or white li ke Sera's." She scoffs at me and goes back to reading. I check the clock. It's time for me to dampen and flatten out my curls, and smear coal dust on my face. _________________ I limp down the stairs with Miss Stranje and we enter the drawing room to find Francis pacing in front of the fireplace and Bernard milling about the room investigating the decorations, probably looking for something small enough to slip into his pocket. Francis whirls toward us. "About bloody time." Miss Stranje huffs up in h er best impression of a raven about to peck out his eyes. "Lord Camberly, I will thank you to watch your language. You may talk like that when you are gadding about with dandies but t here are ladies present here and you will conduct yourself accordingly. Francis has the good grace to look at least somewhat chastised. "Here now. Mustn't start out on the wrong foot. Not my intention." He approaches me, gives my shoulders a quick pat, and greets me with a Judas kiss on the cheek. Bernard does exactly the same thing because that's what Bernard always does, whatever Francis does
Baldwin 26 3 My elder brother appraises me while elegantly propping up his chin with his finger even though his enormous collar should've done the trick. "Must say, Jane, you look a fright." "Lovely to see you, too, Francis." He is wearing an exquisitely tailored coat, a shiny gold brocade waistcoat, and a pair of buckskin trousers that must have cost him more than my first year's tuition. "Do be seated gentlemen," Miss Stranje takes the larg est most comfortable chair. "Yes, do be seated," I say, intentionally taking the other arm chair so that they are forced to sit together on the divan or else pull chairs from the wall. They brush their tails aside and plop on the divan together, sitting there like a pair of school boys called in to see the headmaster. "What brings you to Mayfair?" Miss Stranje comes straight to the point. "Wanted to see how our sister is getting along. Wh at else? Imagine our surprise to read you were in town via the news paper You were seen at Carlton. They reported it in The Times Jane. For shame. You didn't have a moment to pen a letter to your own brothers ? And here we are ever so worried about you. Aren't we, Bernard." E ver so worried." Bernard pipes, but at least his grin i s genuine. "Think about you now and again, Janey. How've you been?" Miss Stranje answers for me. "She is an outstanding lady's maid. Thank you for asking. We are quite satisfied with her service." "Thank you, miss." I say earnestly, and all but pull on my nonexistent forelock to emphasize the pretense that I have been forced into servitude by my brothers' neglect. "I say, Miss Stranje, I rather thought you'd let her earn her keep as a tutor. The Earl of Camberly looks down his thrice broken nos e at her. You know, put her in a more
Baldwin 264 respectable position a teacher or some such ." "Yes, I see your point." Miss Stranje turns her wrist indicating me on her left. "You wished me to put her to work doing something suitable for the daughter of an earl. Or in this case, the sister of an earl." Miss Stranje clucks her tongue. "Unfortunately, I have no need for a teacher or a tutor, and you did mention lady's maid in your letter." I press my hand over my heart, "Yes, Francis. I will admit I was wounded whe n you decided to put me into service. I supposed you had fallen on hard times B ut bless my soul, isn't that coat you're wearing tailored by Mr. Weston himself? It is very fine." His nose juts into the air. "You don't understand these matters, Jane. After you left, I'm sorry to say, Mr. Applegate, the steward you remember him don't you the dastardly f ellow ran our estate into the ground." Francis makes a fist and thumps it on the arm of the divan. "Into the ruddy ground." Bernard cocks his head sideways, as if he's trying to sort the lies from the facts. He combs his fingers through his side whiskers trying to figure out exactly what Francis is saying, but I know how to get to the bottom of it. "Didn't Mr. Applegate keep t o the schedules I left? I was very clear about when the sheep ought to be sheared and Francis waves away my question. "No, no, we sold off all the sheep ages ago. Too expensive to feed them in the winter, don't you see." He taps his temple. "Have to econ omize, you know. We men understand these things." "That's right," Bernard nods sagely. "Haven't had any sheep for two years." "Hmm." I purse my lips and clamp my jaw tight to keep from screaming at the dunderheads. If my leg weren't throbbing like the ve ry devil I'd like to run over there and kick him in the shins. How very odd. There should've been plenty of fodder and
Baldwin 265 hay if the fields were tended properly." Francis doesn't look at me. He draws circles with his forefinger on the arm of the sofa, and I get a sinking sick feeling in my belly. "Afraid the fields had to go, too. Sold em off." Bernard pipes up. "Had to, Janey. Otherwise, how would we pay "Your gambling debts." I all but growl. "Yes, I can guess how that went. So, you've nothing left exc ept the house and the grounds, then?" Bernard shakes his head. "We let the house. We get a tidy sum from the rents each quarter day, too." Francis gives Bernard a stern shut your big mouth warning. "Let me see if I understand this clearly. You've lost ev erything. Does that about sum it up?" "Not everything," Francis says defensively. "Still have our horses, and the house is let not sold." "No, because you can't sell it. The house i s entailed." Francis sits forward and I remember how he would try to bull y me when we were younger. "I can sell it. And I will." He says. "We're going to see our man of business about that tomorrow." He clamps his mouth as if he has said too much. My brother takes a breath and lowers his voice. "But now that you mention it, we' ve had an idea. An idea that will remove you from this awful school. You should be happy about that." "Fascinating." I stifle a groan. This should be a rare treat. Tell me about this brilliant plan you've concocted." "Just this. If we were to put a pretty enough dress on you, you might do for some merchant fellow, or a banker."
Baldwin 266 Bernard nods eagerly, as if this is a splendid solution to all our problems. "Oh, yes a banker, that would be a fine match." Francis waves him to silence. "That is not to say a duke might not take an interest." He looks me over and wrinkles his nose. Maybe i f he s old enough. Or a marquis. Well, really, anyone will do, so long as they have enough money." A duke. Or a marquis. No, an old duke. A doddering old rich marquis. Marvelous plan My brothers have truly run mad. It's a lucky thing they don't know about mum and dad's agreement with Lord Harston. I am speechless Miss Stranje is not, she manages to bristle even while sitting. "I'm afraid gentlemen, your proposal is completely out of the question As you know, Lady Jane is deeply indebted to me for her board and tuition. Consequently, she is obliged to continue serving as a ladies maid. Unless you can afford to pay for her last two years with me, she must remain in service to me for the foreseeable future." The Earl of Camberly leaps to his feet. "You can't do that." She remains calmly seated. "Oh, but I can." "Take heart, Francis," I say in my most calming voice. "I do believe you have stumbled upon a solution to all your money troubles." He turns to me, his face screwed up tighter than an old lady with the vapors. "And what is that pray tell?" "My dear Francis, you still have a title. And while you may not have a feather to fly with, titles are still very much in demand. I pause and scratch at my mussed up hair.
Baldwin 267 So, you see, rather than marrying me off, which sadly seems to be out of your reach, I suggest you find a wealthy young lady who would like to pay for the privilege of being an earl's wife." "By George! Capital idea." Bernard smacks his hands against his thighs. "Well done Janey. What do you say, Francis? Make some young thing your countess and bail us out of the River Tick all at the same time." Francis turns a sickly shade of white. "Marry? Me?" "Yes, my darling brother." I smile pleasantly, emulating my unflappable headmistress. "I suggest you find a rich merchant's daughter, or a banker's daughter. Well, anyone will do, really, so long as she has pots and pots of money and is willing to put you on a leash." Francis turns decidedly sour. "You think this is funny, don't you? I'd nearly forgotten what a wretchedly sharp tongue you have." He stands and tugs down his waistcoat. "Well, my girl, I hope you enjoy being in service, because even if I do find a way out of this mess I have half a mind to leave you working as a maid. See if I don't." "I've no idea how you'll acquire half a mind." "Jane!" Miss Stranje scolds me for being rude. Francis marches out of the drawing room and snatches his hat from Peterson. Bernard hops up from the divan and gives me a quick kiss goodbye. "He don't mean it, Janey. Really We've just had a run of bad luck, that's all. Creditors buzzing around us like bees." Suddenly, I'm truly sorry for my wretc hedly sharp tongue. "Oh Bernard." I grab my brother and hug him. "Be good, Bernie, my dear Do try to stay away from the tables." He grins broadly. "No need for that A ny day now our luck's bound to turn around.
Baldwin 268 You'll see. Tell you what, if I marry a rich gel, I'll come and get you. I promise." He accepts his hat from Peterson and gives Miss Stranje a parting nod. "Be kind to our Janey, Miss Stranje. Nevermind that wicked tongue of hers. She's a good hearted girl underneath." I stand, watching Francis and Bernard bluster out of the door and feel every inch a wretched heel. And so sad I feel like mopping the floor with my soul. "I do love them, you know. They're ." Foolish. Ridiculous. And even though they're completely useless, "They're my brothers." "Of course, you love them. I wouldn't expect anything less from you." She puts her arm around me. "But they're grown men, Lady Jane. It is difficult thing but there comes a time when we must let those we love fend for themselves."
Baldwin 269 Chapter 26 Puppies and Dreams Night time Every time I turn in bed, I bump my leg and the p ain jars me awake I'm drifting in and out of sleep when a mournful howling awakens me. A second loud howl catapults me out of bed, but Maya and Sera are still sound asleep. I pull on my dressing gown and hear Tess scurrying down the hall. The yellow glint of a lantern flashes beneath our door as she goes past. I put on my shoes and quietly slip out after her. "Do you think Tromos is whelping?" "I don't know." She frowns at me You shouldn't be out of bed." "She howled." "I heard. I don't understand why she would howl even if she's whelping Usually they keep quiet when they're giving birth." We were wrong Tromos had already whelped an hour ago, maybe longer. The mess was gon e and her pups were licked clean. Two black puppies not much bigger than my hand cling to her teats, suckling.
Baldwin 270 "Oooh," I gasp. "They're so tiny." I notice Phobos nudging a third pup toward Tromos, this one is a tiny silver ball of fur. "Oh no," Tess lam ents softly. It 's crippled." Tromos lets out another plaintive howl this one softer and obviously directed at Tess. Tess kneels down beside the makeshift den and utters a string of ancient Welch I can't begin to understand, but I hear the strains of comf ort in the old words. And sadness "How can you tell it's crippled? What's wrong with it?" Tess holds the lantern closer to the silver cub as it squirms helplessly. Phobos picks it up and dangles the third pup in his mouth. I see one of its little paws i s shriveled and misshapen. Phobos drops it closer to its mother. The poor thing wriggles but then flops sideways, its little sides heaving. Tess explains, "Cubs are all born blind and deaf, but they can smell their mother. It should be crawling toward Tromos." I scarcely listen. The helpless little waif sprawled in the dirt captures my heart. Except I do hear the next cruel words Tess says, "If the cub doesn't latch on soon, Phobos will have to put it out of its misery." "No!" My heart pounds in protest. Tromos lifts her head at my cry and bares her teeth. I don't care if Tromos is angry at me. I kneel beside Tess. "Do something. Push it closer." Tess sits back and stares at me as if I've run mad. W on't help. This is t he way of things. It's how they know which cubs will be able to fend for themselves in the wild." I grab her shoulder. "Look around you. We aren't in the wild." I swing my arm out
Baldwin 271 indicating the garden and walls around us. I see that silver lump of mewli ng fur and my heart refuses to let it go. I growl almost as threateningly as Tromos did. "Push that cub closer." "I'm as sad as you are." Tess frowns and comes at me with a heated whisper. "Why do you think Tromos is howling? It's breaking her heart, too. After she lost her last litter, she grieved so hard she wouldn't eat for days. Neither of them did. Wolves grieve whenever one of their pack dies. Even if it's a lame cub. But this is how it is in nature. We can't interfere." Nature ," I grumble staring at the tired hungry helpless puppy I don't care. This one is not going to die. I'm not going to let it." I start to reach in and Tess grabs my arm. "Reach in and you'll lose a hand, or worse. Tromos won't let you touch one of her puppies." We stare at o ne another both of us breathing hard. Both of us sad. S he s probably right. Both of us have seen enough death to understand. Except, this is different. This tiny sliver of moonlight made flesh, this little lost girl cub, I simply can 't bear it. I can't sit here and watch it die without doing something. I can't. We are sisters, Tess and I. Not always friends, but always sisters. I know her heart. I know she aches for that baby wolf as much as I do. "She won't let me, I pause waiting for her to follow my me aning. "B ut Tromos would let you help her. You're one of her pack." Tess lets go of my arm and s he pulls the lantern back so the wolves den rests in dim shadows. "I'm not sure. She might. On the other hand, she might take a bite out of my throat if I dar e do such a thing." Tess does not accept closeness easily. Neither do I, for that matter. Nevertheless,
Baldwin 272 there in the faint amber of the oil lamp it seemed right to put my arm around her shoulders. There is a language every sister knows, a language tender beyond words and rarely spoken. It runs like a string between two hearts, and we only pluck that string and in times of trouble. This night, even though I do not know ancient Welsh we speak as sisters. "Tess, she called you here. Tromos howled for her pac k, and we came. We're here because she needs us. She needs you ." We stare at one another heart to heart. I hug her tight and let her go. "Now, either you must do something to save that little dog, or I will. I don't care whether Tromos bites my hand off, o r not." Tess's shoulders heave. "All right, but you need to stay back. If either of them attacks me, don't run. D on't do anything except back slowly away. Do you understand?" I nod. "I mean it. Don't do anything. They might bite me, but I don't think the y'd kill me. You, on the other hand ." "They would kill me I understand." Tess scoots closer to Tromos murmur ing I've listened to her speak to them in ancient Welsh before, but never like this. The strange language is full of grief and empathy With a plaintive whimper, Phobos moans and lays down beside Tess' s knee They are mourning, the three o f them. Tess reaches for Tromos and softly strokes her fur. I watch from the shadows, in awe of the compassion in Tess's voice, as she slowly lifts the dying cub to one of Tromos swollen nipples. I watch in amazement as Tromos lowers her head and closes he r eyes. Hope floods the garden Hope as palpable as a mist rising in the morning. A mother's last hope. And
Baldwin 273 if wolves can pray, I swear, I hear the wolf mother's prayer lifting around us. "Live," I whisper, pleading with the stars above us. Tess edges back, and I ignore the pain in my leg and kneel up, to look over her shoulder. There in the moonlight I see the tiny silver cub has latched on to her mother and is feeding. _______________ We return to our beds, and sometime before morning, I fall into a fitful sleep. A scream startles me awake. I know that scream. I've awakened to the sound nearly a hundred times in the past few years. Tess! I bolt out of bed. Maya and Sera barely stir. I hurry barefoot down the hall and burst into the next room. Georgie stands beside Tess, trying to console her. Tess, wild eyed and shuddering, pushes her away. "What is it?" I demand, half expecting the answe r to be that Tess had a dream about Ghost or that beastly Jack "What did you see?" Georgie shakes her head, warning me not to press the question. "Who cares what I saw?" Tess moans and tugs at her disheveled hair. "It's the same old thing I always see. Death. Meaningless destruction None of it makes any sense." She glares at me, her chest rising and falling in ragged heaves. "What happened?" Madame Cho and Miss Stranje rush in behind me. Was it a dream ? I nod. Madame Cho closes the door and lights an oil lamp. Tess presses her hands
Baldwin 274 against both sides of her head as if she might squeeze away the horrors of her nightmare. When that fails, her arms fall limp and she drops onto the bed. Defeated "How can I run away from it, here in London?" Her voice s hifts to a plea. "Where can I go? I need to run." I hate seeing Tess like this. She, who is the goddess of strength, slumped and reduced to beaten shivers. "Be brave." Madame Cho orders. I lean against the bedpost, my leg aching. "Maybe it will help make sense of it, if you tell us what you dreamed She doesn't look at me. Instead, she fidgets with her fingernail. "I'd rather not." We don't press her. We wait. Finally, she slams her fists against the bedding. "Very well. If you must know, it was an explo sion. I saw half the admiralty blown to bits, and ." She winces and glances hesitantly toward me. and Mr. Sinclair." Blood rushes from my head. I clutch the bedpost. I must hold tight or my knees will collapse under me. "Not Alexander? I say, h oping she misspoke. I must've said it too softly for anyone to hear. Not him Miss Stranje presses a bolstering hand on my shoulder and we exchange glances. I shake my head subtly, indicating I hadn't told Tess my suspicions about Ghost making a bomb. "It's just a dream." Georgie says, as much to me as to Tess. She sits on the bed and puts her arm around Tess's shoulders. "Dreams are just dreams. You said so yourself."
Baldwin 275 "True." Miss Stranje pulls her dressing gown tighter. "However, I think perhaps you h ad better tell us a bit more about this one." "Yes. Speak it aloud, and it will not have as much power to hurt you." Madame Cho says this, even though she is the most tight lipped of any of us. "There's nothing to tell. The whole thing is useless. One min ute I see Mr. Sinclair on the Mary Isabella Then ." She covers her ears. "My ears are still ringing. That sound it was horrible. A thunderous crack. Deafening. A s if the whole sky broke in two. The dock shook. Everything shook. A ball of fire swallowe d us, and rushed everywhere. Smoke so thick it hurt to breathe. I cough. She tells it so vividly I can almost feel the smoke burning my nostrils. "Splintered wood. Body parts." Tess hides her face from us, burying it in her hands, shaking her head. "This isn't helping. There's no point in telling you." "There is." I urge her forward, desperate for more details, searching for anything we might use to keep this massacre from actually happening. "Where were you in the dream?" "Where was I?" Tess looks up, and her brows pinch together in puzzlement. "Oh, I see what you mean. I didn't die in this one. How did you know?" "A guess." I grip the bedpost still trying to steady myself. I don't have horrifying dreams like she does, but there is that darned game boar d in my head. I can't help but see the players moving into position, knocking key pieces off the board. Pieces we need to keep in play if we're to win this war, people we must not lose. One player in particular, one man, one piece of my heart that I refuse to surrender. "Can you remember where you were standing? Anything? Tess shuts her eyes. "In front of the blast. Heat from the explosion scorched my
Baldwin 276 face. It knocked me down. I remember falling backward. Ugh. And the smell of burnt flesh." She stands up, shaking her head. "No, no more. It's too much. I don't want to remember any more. I can't. I need to run. Where can I run?" Georgie stands. "What about the garden, if you jog next to the stables and make a circuit "To small." Tess paces. "I can't run h ard enough there or fast enough" Georgie turns to Miss Stranje and me. "We have to think of some where she can r un off the fright." I have an idea ." Miss Stranje rubs her chin. "Tess, what if you were to ride in the park? This early in the morning, you can even gallop. Would that be vigorous enough?" Tess stops pacing and blinks. "Might work. Except how can I? You only have carriage horses." Miss Stranje heads for the hallway. "Lord Ravencross brought his mounts. Get dressed. I'll send word to him r ight now." Madame Cho follows Tess into the dressing room to help her change, and Georgie plops down hard on the bed. "If half the admiralty gets blown up, you know what her dream means, don't you? The explosion is probably at "The naval yards. Yes." I s it beside her. "At the unveiling of the Mary Isabella ." "Exactly." Georgie gnaws on her bottom lip for a moment. "Might not happen, though. Her dreams don't always end up the way we expect. It could be symbolic." True enough. Tess's dreams are enigmatic at best, and often figurative. "I suppose B ut this time I saw Ghost with black powder and canisters. This time it's real. "She said the sky cracked open. That might symbolize something." Georgie takes a deep breath and purses her lips. "Maybe it's a warnin g from beyond that the boiler isn't
Baldwin 277 stable." "Maybe." Except I see what a perfect move this is for the Iron Crown. Too perfect "Tell me, Georgie, can a boiler like the one on Mr. Sinclair's ship explode arbitrarily?" "Not arbitrarily, no. There's always a reason." Georgie rubs the soft flannel of her nightgown between her thumb and forefinger, thinking. "What reasons?" "Too much pressure builds up in the boiler. A blocked steam pipe. Impure coal. Any number of causes. Only ." She turns to me, her ey es wide with alarm. "None of those reasons explain a blast as large as the one Tess described." "That's what I was afraid of." I sigh, and lean forward, head in my hands. A bomb ." Georgie barely says the word aloud. "I believe so." I lace my fingers throu gh the hair at my throbbing temple. "It's a horrifyingly logical strategy. Lady Daneska and Ghost would rid themselves of a key players in the war, important members of the admiralty, and they'll have their revenge on us all at the same time." "Players? s he snaps. "They're not players Jane These are men. Yes, they're soldiers and sailors, but they're also fathers. Brothers Husbands And ." She says all this as if I'm not painfully aware of who they are. Her voice drops. "Our friends." People we love "They'll be murdered." She clutches my arm and gives it a rough shake. "We have to warn Lord Wyatt and Captain Grey. They must call off the unveiling." "We will. We will warn them. But calling off the unveiling won't keep it from happening." I clamp my hand over hers, not just to stop her from squeezing my arm, but to reassure her. "First, we have to figure out where Ghost intends to hide that bomb."
Baldwin 278 She eases her grip. "Georgie, you know Mr. Sinclair's steam ship as well as anyone. If you wanted to plac e a bomb, where would you "That's easy." She sits straighter, and without realizing it, her hands describe the shape of the boiler. "If Ghost is clever, and we know he is, he'll have his men lodge it into the boiler stack. A large metal cylinder the size of the stack, if packed with black powder A bomb that size would create an explosion as devastating as the one Tess dreamed about." The canisters on Ghost's work table would be the exact right shape. She tugs at the flannel of her nightdress again working it furiously between her fingers. "That's not the only advantage of hiding it there. If they put it in the smoke stack it won't explode until Mr. Sinclair fires up the boiler and the tank gets hot enough. All they have to do is hide it. The heat would ignite the fuse for them, and that would happen right about the same time he begins his demonstration of how the Mary Isabella operates." I close my eyes for a moment, trying to banish the thought of Alexander grinning and talking excitedly to his gu ests on the dock, and seconds later, his innocent face blown to bits. I try not to think of it, but I can't keep from seeing him swallowed up in a burst of flames. There is no escaping that cruel image, no stopping it from making my heart trip and fall, no way to keep it from suffocating me. No way, except by focusing on the strategy, the stakes, the game. I gasp for air, forcing myself to draw in enough to allow rational thought. If this happens, T his will come next, a nd then, this
Baldwin 279 Sometimes seeing the possibilities makes everything worse. It's worse than I realized I slump against her shoulder my leg aches, I'm exhausted but if I had an ounce of strength left, I'd go hunt down Ghost and shoot him between the eyes if I could find him. Y ou see wh at will happen don't you ? I f they succeed. Not only will there be all those tragic deaths, everyone will blame Mr. Sinclair's steam engine for the catastrophe. O h no! She straightens, dislodging me from her shoulder "It's not his fault, but they might think so." The navy is already skeptical about using fire to propel a ship. Aside from us, I doubt whether more than one or two engineers would believe the explosion to be Ghost's handiwork rather than the fault of the steam engine. Britain will lose the advantage the warship might've won for us. And if Napoleon's engineers are able to construct their own steam powered ships, we will most certainly lose this war." T hen the rest of Europe will crumble It's only a matter of time. For a moment, the room fades and I see the rest of the world falling from their positions, knocked into a defeated heap ; bishops, queens, and rooks swept from the board after our British king is taken, and the game is lost. "Jane?" Georgie nudges me. "Lady Jane." She stops wh en Tess emerges from the dressing room wearing a new riding habit, a long skirt with a flowing train to drape over the sidesaddle and matching jacket. I blink, returning to the here and now. "Tess!" Georgie's hand goes to her mouth. "You look beautiful. Madame Cho looks on with pride, as if Tess is more of a daughter than her student.
Baldwin 280 A diamond of the first water I do my utmost to smile despite the throbbing in my leg and the cruel chess match playing in my head. "That wine colored velvet looks stunn ing on you." Tess waves away our compliments. It doesn't matter Ravencross won't notice. I could dress like a scullery maid and he wouldn't take any heed." Georgie scoffs. "Lord Ravencross would have to be blind not to notice you in that ." "That's not w hat I meant." Tess almost smiles. "He'll notice me just not the finery. The man doesn't give a fig about velvet versus wool, and frankly neither do I. Miss Stranje needn't have gone to all this expense." I feel quite certain our headmistress didn't give T ess a proper wardrobe for Lord Ravencross's sake. She intended for us to blend into high society, so we might do our job. None of us fit in well in society, not really. We are all oddities, each in our own respect. Nevertheless, we can learn to play the p art. A fter all, a good spy must hide in plain sight. Urgent banging on the front door knocker echoes throughout the house and at the same time the clocks in the house chime five. "Can that be him so soon?" Tess's face already looks less drawn and, at his i nsistent knock, infuses it with more color. "Of course, it is," I chuckle. "He would race here in his bed clothes if he thought you needed him." Madame Cho clucks her tongue at me, in a wordless scold. "Don't be silly." Tess pulls aside the curtain and stares down into the street. "See there, he's completely dressed." Tess scoops up her train and hurries out."
Baldwin 281 After seeing Tess and Lord Ravencross off, Miss Stranje returns to the bedroom. "What did you think of her dream?" Georgie and I explain our the ory. She listens attentively. "And what do you suggest ought to be done?" she asks this pointedly at me "We lay a trap. Proceed as if we have no idea of their plan. We'll have someone watching for when the bomb is placed in the stack. At that juncture, w e have several alternatives. We could capture the henchman sent to do the dirty work. Interrogated properly, we may be able to ascertain the location of Ghost's lair but I doubt Ghost would risk revealing his hideout to one of his paid henchmen I f his ma n is reported missing Ghost will resort to placing the bomb another way and we will know nothing about it ." Miss Stranje watches me as I explain, her eyes gleaming with something I dare think might be respect I gulp down a sudden shyness. Which is why I think we should let the henchman go, but follow him to see where and to whom he reports. This may lead us to Ghost or it may not." We could kidnap her ." Madame Cho grumbles, and I know she means Lady Daneska. Of course, that is out of the question. She 's under the prince's protection. If we secretly remove the bomb and proceed with the unveiling. Ghost may sneak into the ceremony so he can be there to witness his handiwork. We may be able to capture him there Failing that at least if we remove the b omb, the Admiralty will see the ship, proceed with plans to build it, and no one will get killed. Miss Stranje considers my strategy for a moment without speaking. Finally, she takes a deep breath and nods. She stands and peers down her nose at me with an
Baldwin 282 expression I can t quite interpret. She seems pleased, I think. I see respect. Pride maybe. But there is also a distinct hint of sadness. Why is she sad for me? Does she think it will fail? That Alexander will die? "You don't think it will work?" Her lips press into a thin flat line resembling a s mile, but still edged with inexplicable sadness. "Quite the contrary, Lady Jane. I believe it is our very best hope for a good outcome." Madame Cho rises to stand beside our headmistress. No sadness or pity in her eyes, only fire and night. Madame Cho is a volcano and even in this dim light, her black pearl eyes flash with danger. I generally expect her to erupt at any time but this morning she grants me a grudging nod and pats me on the shoulder Miss Stran je brings her hands together in a soft clap, a habit she has that usually signifies the end of a discussion. "Wake the others. Make certain Alice isn't lurking nearby when you tell them what has happened. I know it is early, but it is time we all dressed. The unveiling will be in a few days. We've much to accomplish before then ." She turns and both women leave. Georgie and I stare at each other for a moment. "What do you make of her response ?" I ask Georgie shake s her head. "I can never quite tell what sh e is thinking." Exactly, and I want to be just like her
Baldwin 283 Chapter 27 Secrets Exposed I start fading at breakfast W hen I catch myself falling asleep over my plate of kippers, Miss Stranje order s me back to bed Doctor grumpy bones Meredith w akes me up late that afternoon to check on my stitches. No sign of festering. Good. Keep it clean and dry If you follow my orders, you should be fit as a fiddle in a day or two. I 'll pull out the stitches next week. He folds u p his spectacles and closes his kit. I will tell you this much. I t's going to leave a nasty scar." "So, I've been told." I don't appreciate him quoting Lady Daneska. The following day Lord Wyatt, Captain Grey, and Mr. Sinclair join us for dinner. I'm not allowed even two minutes alone with Mr. Sinclair. It is agony. All I want to do is stand close to him and hold his hand and well, maybe a bit more than that. They report the Mary Isabella is completely re constructed and ready for the unveiling on Thursday. Captain Grey has been appris ed of Ghost's plan to place a bomb in the boiler stack. H is men are watching around the clock, waiting for Ghost to make his move.
Baldwin 284 That night I sneak out to see the puppies. Tess is already there and hand feeding Tromos some scraps of meat cook salvaged fo r her from the kitchen. The pups are snuggled against Tromos, their little tummies bulging because they've just finished nursing. Even the silver cub who I've named Moonlight must've eaten because her belly is round, too. Tess talks quietly, not so much to me, just talking to pass the time. "In the wild Tromos would go without eating for days. Until she felt she could leave the cubs in Phobos's care and go hunt." "How is she supposed to feed her young if her own belly is empty?" Tess shrugs. "I don't k now." Tromos stops eating and licks Moonlight, bathing the silver pup with her tongue. She looks up at me and nudges the baby in my direction. Tess frowns. "Look. She's acknowledging you. She remembers you helped save the lame cub." Tess turns a curious e xpression on me, one mixed with amazement and respect. "I think she wants ." Tess stares at the way Tromos is nudging the cub. "See if she'll let you pet the gray one." "Moonlight," I say. "Her name is Moonlight. What if Tromos won't let me?" Tess sh rugs. "Then she'll bite you." The helpless ball of fuzz mews softly when her mother's nose tickles her. I lean closer and Tromos doesn't growl Slowly, I reach out and lightly brush my fingers over Moonlight's downy fur. Tromos licks the baby where I have touched it. S he may only be washing off my scent, but her tongue continues to flick against my fingers as I stroke the cub 's fur and I'm awed she s allowing me to share her love for the little one.
Baldwin 285 I draw back and dash away a tear that has escaped. "She loves Moonlight even though she' s lame, doesn't she?" Tess frowns at me. "Of course she does, it's her pup." "But Moonlight won't be useful. To the pack, I mean." "Why should that matter," she says s harply and Phobos growls. Tess's mouth twists in a teasing smile. "You're lame and yet we still love you." I blink. I hear Lady Daneska echoing in my head, why do they love you? "I'm not lame." I mumble. Except maybe Tess thinks I am. S he said, we love yo u I didn't think she did, not me, not really. "I'm useful." I protest. "Phfft." She snorts and turns away. I don't know why Tess said that. I don't know if it is a mean thing to say, or sweet, or completely upside down. I clench my teeth. "Sometimes I j ust don't understand you." I know the reason they keep me around. I'm useful, that's why. I'm collateral for debts. I can repair dilapidated estates and turn them into productive ones. I solve problems. I organize. I plan. The tiny crippled sliver of moonlight wriggles closer to Tromos, to sleep cuddled by her mother. I'm Useful S urely t his is the reason they love me, isn't it? ________ ________
Baldwin 286 The next morning Miss Stranje orders me to remain at home resting while everyone else gets to go shopping. I could've gone. I'm able to walk now without significant pain. "I should like to see that it remains so," Miss Stranje says, restricting me to the house. They return home with various treasures. Tess found gloves roomy enough to hide an extra dagger. Maya purchased a packet of herb s from India, which if ground fine ly and placed in a glass of wine, will induce instant aneous sleep. The dosage is apparently somewhat critical T oo much and the victim will never awaken. This inspires Miss Stranje to march us all up to the library for a lecture on various antidotes for poisons. The quiz afterward is blindingly difficult. "This could mean the difference between life or death," our headmistress warns In the middle of the test, Mr. Peterson scratches on the door. "Lady Jersey and Lady Castlereagh ." The patronesses march in to our inner sanctum as if they belong there. Lady Jersey picks up Tess's paper and snorts. "Poisons? Dreary business poisons." She plunks the paper down and t aps her finger on one of the answers. "That one is wrong, m'dear Your toes will curl up and fall off if you try that remedy ." She makes a shooing motion with her fingers which means we a re to go away M iss Stranje excuses us from the room and posts Madam e Cho in the hallway as a sentry. "We're not to be disturbed." She shuts the door and we turn to leave, but a second later, she pokes her head out in the hallway again. "Lady Jane, your presence is required. Gather your notes and join us if you please." T he other girls look at me as if I am in grave trouble. I hurry to the bedroom to
Baldwin 287 retrieve my notebook out of the false bottom in my hatbox and Georgie quizzes me. "What do you think they want?" "I have no idea." That's not true I have a hundred ideas. The y've found Ghost. Something happened to Mr. Sinclair. Maybe they've found a way to imprison Lady Daneska The possibilities are endless. I' ll have to find out." "Be careful," Sera warns. "I think Lady Jersey is hiding something." W ouldn't surprise me." I imagine they' re all hiding things. Miss Stranje certainly has her secrets. And me Aren't we all hiding something? That is what spies do. But I am the finder of secrets, I will figure out theirs and only mine will remain. I open the door to the Library with my note papers tucked under my arm. They re speaking in hushed voice s "Speaking of innocents." Lady Castlereagh smiles at me. "There you are, my dear." She and Lady Jersey are wearing curious smiles to hide the fact that they are studying me as if I'm to be tested again. "We've a few questions." Miss Stranje invites me to sit. "We're interested in your opinion as to when you think the bomb will be planted. Captain Grey's men have seen no movement thus far." An easy enough question "I should think i t will be Wednesday night or before dawn Thursday morning." They glance at one another as if this is exactly what they had surmised. I explain my reasoning. "Ghost won't want it exploding prematurely. He'll want to do as much damage as he can with one blo w. To do that, it must detonate when the admiralty and government dignitaries such as Lord Castlereagh and Prince George are present It will serve two purposes, killing key officials and demonstrati ng Napoleon's reach into Britain.
Baldwin 288 "That sounds about right. Lady Jersey says dryly. "Egad." Lady Castlereagh bows her head in her hand. "I do wish I could talk my husband out of going." Lady Jersey sits back scrutinizing me. "How are you feeling after your ordeal?" "Well enough, thank you. Grateful to b e alive." And d o you still have a taste for this business ?" She drops her accent altogether "This life?" There's no artifice in her question. "Truthfully, my lady, I don't think I'm very good at being a spy I'm probably better suited for the life of a country steward." Lady Castlereagh ch uckl es. "Sounds like me, doesn't she? I would' ve liked living in the country being a simple farm wife." "Don't be ridiculous, Amelia." Lady Jersey waves this sentiment away. "You'd have been miserable rus ticat ing on a farm." "You don't know that." Lady Castlereagh bristles momentarily but stops and turns to tap the table in front of me. B ut my dear child, you do know girls can't be stewards." I'm astonished to hear that sentiment from her. You mean to s ay, w e can dash ar ound in the middle of the night, break into a foreign dignitary's rooms in the royal palace, slid e down a ship's anchor line to escape capture, and shoot at other spies but we're not qualified to raise sheep?" "Exactly." Lady Castlereagh's smile is angelic in the extreme. Lady Jersey breaks into a guffaw. Lady Jane, t he point of all this is that we think you did a perfectly marvelous job at Carlton House. W e would like to discuss your future. There's scratching at the door. Madame Cho opens it but signals Mr. Peterson to
Baldwin 289 stay back. "You," she points at me. "Lord Harston is here to see you." "Tell his lordship I am indispos "Wait!" Lady Castlereagh holds up her hand to stop me from finishing. "What in the world is he doing here ? Why would he be calling on you, I wonder. I'm inclined to say, h e's merely my future husband. Thank you for your interest in my private affairs. Instead, I say, "He was acquainted with my parents." Madame Cho hushes the butler. "One moment." How v ery intriguing. Lady Jersey hides a curious twist to her lips with the corner of her fan. "Tell Lord Harston we will all be down in a few moments." Drat! "Run along and change." Lady Jersey shoos me off. "Put on something prettier. Something green." She h old s a finger against her cheek, looking me up and down. "Yeeas, Greeean will set off your complexion quite well." I sigh. Madame Cho closes the door and shakes her head at me. "You are in trouble now." How does she know? She fusses at me, hurrying me down the hall. You have t oo many secrets." "Me? I don't have half as many as you do." She smacks the floor an inch from my foot with her bamboo cane, sending me dashing on my way. I do own a rather lovely green morning gow n. I almost put on the sky blue silk just to prove to Lady Jersey I cannot be bullied on every decision. In the end though, I reach for the green damask gown, because Lady Jersey is right. Green is my best color. Though why I should try to look my best for Lord Harston is beyond me.
Baldwin 290 Descending the stairs a few minutes later, we discover Maya and Sera are already entertaining our guest and his nephew Maya's laughter rises up the stairwell, a breathy sound as fresh and sweet as wind rippling through the trees. It never fails to make me smile. I'm amazed to see Lord Kinsworth has succeeded in making both girls laugh. Even Sera. The four of them look up at our arrival and the broad smiles on their faces shriv el at the sight of the Patronesses flanking me on either side. Lady Castlereagh takes a surprisingly firm tone. "Lord Harston, I'm surprised to see you here. How fares the prince?" "Sleeping, my lady. Fast asleep, safe in his bed until three or four in t he afternoon as he is most days of late. My nephew was anxious to call on Miss Barrington, and I thought I might spare an hour to call on Lady Jane. We have, um, a small personal matter to discuss." Egad. He's not going to tell everyone, is he? I clear my throat. N othing of consequence, I assure you ." "Nonsense. We are all friends here." Lady Jersey holds out her hand to Lord Harston and allows him to bow over it. "What can possibly be so very private between two of our most trusted young people." Most trusted ?" I accidently ask aloud. Lady Castlereagh spreads her fan and whispers to me. Remember, I told you we have tasked Lord Harston with keeping a close watch over our dear prince." A decision I question. It's Lord Harston. I notice he is often in Lady Daneska's company." Lady Castlereagh brushes one of the ribbons from her enormous Turkish turban
Baldwin 291 over her shoulder and collapses her fan. "Sometimes, my dear, one must run with the foxes in order to keep the chickens safe." Chickens She means th e Prince Regent, the head of our government. I squint at the Lord Harston, remembering the debt I owe him, and feel I ought to try to rescue him from the patronesses. I extend my hand in greeting. "Lord Harston, how very good of you to come. You mustn't t rouble yourself over that other matter. It's of no consequence." It's only my future and yours I curtsey. "There's no hurry. We can discuss it another day." Let's say in, perhaps, twenty or thirty years? "Surely, it can wait for a time when you are not n eeded so urgently by the Prince Regent." He opens his mouth to answer, but there is such a racket out in the foyer that everyone in the drawing room turns to see who or what can be raising such a fuss. We don't have long to wait. One strident voice I insta ntly recognize crescendos a bove that of poor Mr. Peterson. "Swindlers! Crooks, I say! No, sir, you will not keep me standing here with my hat in my hand. I demand to see my sister. Show her to me this instant." Thus, my dear sweet brother charges into the drawing room waving a fist full of papers, and Mr. Peterson tugging on his arm. "Ah! Now I see how it is." He gesticulates wildly at Miss Stranje. "You mean to marry her off behind my back." I glance sideways alarmed to see that behind her fan Lady Castl ereagh has a small lady's pistol aimed at my brother's heart. Turning to my other side, I note Lady Jersey has slipped a small dagger into her palm. Lord Harston has his hand on the hilt of his sword, and Maya seems to be sprinkling some kind of powder int o a glass of port. Sera,
Baldwin 292 bless her, is edging toward the poker on the fireplace. My brother is about to be murdered in five different ways if I don't do something immediately. Miss Stranje steps forward, unarmed, thank goodness. "Lord Camberly how lovely to see you again." She extends her hand. "So soon." Francis rudely eschews her greeting. "I see Jane does own something besides those rags you had her wearing the other day." I find it ludicrous my brother choses this inauspicious moment to comment on my wardrobe of all things. I would laugh if it weren't so humiliating. "What do you want ? I snap and regret it the moment those words slip out Toad garters I have sunk to his level of rudeness which is a testament to how very out of sorts I am. "Sneak th ief!" My brother accuses me and waves his sheaf of papers in my face. "I've been to our man of business and when I mentioned our plan to marry you off, you'll never guess what document he produced." If I ha ve n't already turned pale I'm fairly certain I m a rather spongy color now. M y bad leg weaken s and I must drop into the nearest chair or I will fall down. Francis leans down still forcing the papers at me. "Can't do it says old man Stanton. She's already taken." "Taken?" Lady Jersey slides her dagger back up her sleeve. Fascinating ." "Yes, and by none other than that man, right there." He points at Lord Harston Of course, he points There is no ruder oaf in all of Christendom than my oldest brother. I slump against the arm. Madame Cho is right. I'm in trouble now. "It's all right here." H e swings his point y finger to my signature on the incriminating
Baldwin 293 evidence. "Signed a note along with our parents. They're betrothed, all right. Lock, stock and barrel." "I think you'll find there wasn't actually much stock in that barrel," I mutter. Francis is not finished fuming. In fact, h e's practically foaming at the mouth. I turn to my friends. "Maya perhaps you'd like to offer my brother some of your special port? She looks down at the poisoned cup in her hand, purses her lips, tosses it into a potted plant, and fills it with fresh undrugged port. "Don't want any." My brother waves the cup away and hunches over me so we are face to face. Judging by his breath, he 's obviously had enough port for one day. "You knew all along didn't you ? A nd you weren't going to tell us, were you ? You, my very own sister and you were willing to let us float all the way down the River Tick while you set yourself up with a rich baronet." "Baron," says Lord Harston. "Hear that, Jane? A baron! And a rich baron according to old man Stanton." "Not that rich Harston clears his throat Pardon me, but it s eems to me you boys have been doing a pretty good job of paddling down River T ick all by yourselves without any help from your sister." "You're engaged?" Sera, who is usually mum as a church mouse, squeaks into this quagmire. "And you didn't tell us." Didn't tell a soul. Now the whole world knows. At this point, I can do nothing else but slump over and bury my face in my hands. Bernard, bless him, pats my shoulder. "It's all right, Janey. Chin up. I forgive you. In fact, I think it's fine news. Better than fine. First off, now you won't have to be a lady's
Baldwin 294 maid the rest of your li fe. And second, me and Francis won't end up in the poor house. T urns out your betrothed owns half of our vowels." He says this so cheerily, I just want to shake him. "Personally, I think it's a splendid match." Lady Castlereagh puts away her pistol. "I wi sh you happy." She and Lady Jersey kiss Miss Stranje on the cheek. "We shall leave you to deal with this this Lady Jersey waves a circle with her hand indicating all of us. "Well, I dooon't actually know what to call all of this. But I trust y ou will be ready for Thursday?" "Of course," Miss Stranje kisses her cheek. In the doorway, Lady Castlereagh turns back. "Lord Harston, you mustn't leave the prince for too long. Sleeping or not every minute is a risk." Lord Harston stares at my brothers like a man facing the axe but having no intention of going willingly to the chopping block. He swallows hard and says, in a voice that startles me into sitting to attention "Gentlemen, the terms of my contract do not designate a date for the nuptials You r sister and I will discuss this will discuss and any other potential arrangements at our convenience It may be three months or three years from now. But mark my words, i f you impose upon either of us in the meantime, those IOU's you mentioned will become due and payable immediately. Do I make myself clear?" Bernard nods mutely. Francis raises his wretched finger, "But Lard Harston makes a low warning growl and puts his hand on the hilt of his sword. His n ephew steps up beside him and does the same. The two of them are a matched pair of warriors that make me tremble. Whatever argument Francis might've ventured withers on the vine. He backs away with the contract still clutched in his han d
Baldwin 295 Blood bath in the parlor averted, Miss Stranje moves into the fray. "Thank you, for calling, gentlemen." She gestures toward the door. "Peterson, their hats, if you please." She adeptly maneuvers all of the men out to the foyer, and as soon as they're gone she returns to us in the parlor. Maya stands to be side of the window covertly watching them depart. Miss Stranje joins her. I silently pray Francis keeps his big mouth under control. "They're not knocking swords in the street, are they?" "Going their separate ways." Miss Stranje smiles at me as if I've done something marvelous. Well, my dear, I must say that was a perfectly exhilarating afternoon." Georgie strides into the room with Tess right behind her. "Everyone was so loud, we couldn' t help but over hear "I can't believe you're engaged and didn't tell us." Tess plops on the sofa. I groan. "I knew I shouldn't have come to London. Now my life is ruined. Not ruined ." Miss Stranje crosses her arms. "Altered." "Too many secrets. I warned you." Madame Cho leans in the doorway. They are all staring at me. Sera looks hurt. "I don't see why you couldn't have at least told me." "You still haven't heard the worst of it." "There's more?" Maya looks surprised. "It's a w retched ugly story. One, I'd hoped to take to my grave." "Apparently, you failed to die young enough." Tess crosses her arms and leans back against the sofa. I laugh cheerlessly. "So, it would seem."
Baldwin 296 Georgie sits beside Tess. "We've three hours until dinn er. You may as well tell us." Very well. I don't suppose you could dislike me any more than you already do." Sera takes the chair next to mine. He r blue eyes stab directly into my soul. "I could never dislike you, Jane. You, Tess, Georgie, Maya, you're like sisters to me That's why I don't understand why you felt you had to hide this from us." "You hide things," I say softly toying with the lace on my dress "Not secrets. Not exactly. A s hadow fall across Sera's face. Sometimes I can't find words to explain what I'm thinking. That's different ." I pat her hand. "I don't know what that means. But I believe you." Late afternoon sun glints through the window, washing golden light over all of us, and I see that believing is very like trusting. Trust So, I tell them the whole shameful story, every last disgraceful detail. Afterward, t hey don't look at me as if I'm a creature to be pitied. They don't pull away from me in disgust. They sit quietly beside me, silently mourning with me. Finally, Sera catche s my chin in her hand. "They didn't know you, Jane. Your parents, I mean. They didn't see you. They couldn't have. If they ha d seen how remarkable you are. They would never have traded you. Not for anything ." Sera holds me while I cry, and th e others circl e around us.
Baldwin 297 Chapter 2 8 Plans Inside Plan s By now, Alexander knows I am engaged Someone will have told Captain Grey. Captain Grey will tell Lord Wyatt, and he will tell Mr. Sinclair. Which explains why I have not heard a single word from him. Not one single word Wednesday dawns and I hide under the covers wishing the sun would go away Not that there is any sun today There isn't. N othing but rain and gloom out the window. I throw back the covers. The puppies! They ll be cold and miserable They could die. We throw on our clothes and all of us head down to the garden. Tess is already out there drenched. W ater pools in Tromos s makeshift den and Tess has the pups cradled in her skirts. We have to move them. So much for letting nature ta ke its course I thought to bring an umbrella out and we all huddle under it The gardener s shed, I shout over the clatter of the rain. It ll have to be the shed. Tess nods and we run for the small out building but find the door locked. My tools G eorgie dashes back to the house for my lock picks and towels.
Baldwin 298 The shed door was a very lo o se old lock E asy as pie to pick We pry open the squeaky door and Tromos trots in beside Tess who still carr ies the babies. Immediately the mother wolf shakes the rain out of her fur sending a shower over the rest of us. W hen she' s done, her ruff stands out thick and almost dry There s scarcely room in the shed for both dogs and the five of us I start drying Moonlight first. Tromos circle s around our legs growlin g and uneasy. Phobo s root s through the shed agitated chasing something scurrying through the shovels and buckets. As soon as the cubs are dry, we fold an old vegetable cover for Tromos to lay on and set the babies next to her tucked inside the towel. Except for Moonlight. I h o ld her for a few minutes longer. Sera strokes her little tummy. She s so sweet. Georgie, maybe you could build something to help with her missing leg? You mean like a peg leg for a dog ? Georgie asks. Her mind is a lready cranking with ideas. I love that about her She inspects the pup's hip. It can be done. We'll have to wait a month or two till she s fully grown In the meantime, maybe I can rig a small wheel that straps to her hip. W e could call her Peg or Willa, you know, because it sounds like wheel We most certainly will not. I continue c haffing the cub until it stop s shivering and set her next to Tromos to nurse. Her name is Moonlight." Sera nudges me Who said you could name them? I only na med this one. You can name the rest. Maya kneels next to them. It s hard to believe they start out so small and grow into such magnificent creatures They almost didn t. Tess looks up at me and both of us remember Moonlight s
Baldwin 299 rough start. And t his morning t hey nearly drowned. It l ooks like you nearly did too. You re soaked through. We d better get you in side by the fire. I hold the umbrella over Tess as we leave the shed and head back to the house. How long have you been out her e with them ? S he shrugs. I should ve been out here sooner. Y ou need some hot tea straight way After warming Tess in the kitchen all of us climb the stairs to change in to dry clothes Miss Stranje asks us to gather in the library where s he spreads a sketch of the Woolwich Naval Yards on the worktable for us to study Tess sneez es and Miss Stranje sentences her to spend the rest of the day in bed. Your chilled, and I will not have you getting sick. We need you at the unveiling ceremony tomorrow I m not s ick. I never get sick. Tess sneezes again. Of course not. Nevertheless, we shall keep you warm and tucked up in bed as a precaution. I can t stay in bed all day. Who ll feed the dogs? I will I volunteer Tromos trusts me. Tess glares at me as if I have said something wrong. Well, she does. Tess shivers and Miss Stranje pulls out the finger of doom and points. That's it. Upstairs this instant. I nto bed. We will bring you a tray. This is the warm sunshiny way our day begins. We spend the afternoon studying the layout of the grounds determining where our most vulnerable positions are g oing over various scenarios and d eciding the best course of action if an explosion occurs here or there. We discuss h ow b est to protect the
Baldwin 300 prince, the admirals and the ship. Late that night after the household ha s gone to bed, a messenger arrives with a note from Captain Grey. I slip on my wrapper and follow Miss Stranje to the foyer. The note informs us they spotted a man climb ing over the naval yard wall and saw him plant a bomb on the Mary Isabella According to our plan, Captain Grey and Mr. Sinclair were able to successfully remove the explosive Lord Wyatt and his men followed the perpetrator at a safe distance b ut could not follow him into Spitalfields without being detected I found it difficult to sleep that night. _____________ T he morning of the unveiling dawns fair and clear as a jewel Today we will either succeed in outplaying Lady Daneska and Ghost or we will all be blown to bits Lady Jersey is right I am a gambler. I hate that I am and I hate that the stakes are life and death. We at Stranje House are all gamblers, and w hether I deserve them or not the other girls here are my friends Friends, who for whatever reason, care about me as much as I do them I sit in the garden in the early dawn contemplating the task ahead Tromos allows me to hold Moonlight She s stronger now and scoots a bout quite well despite the fact that she only has three paws. The black cubs are adorable and growing bigger every day I rub my cheek against Moonlight s soft s ilver coat. S he will always be different from her brother and sister, different like me. Unusual Peculiar L uckily, she s a brave little lass Aren t you Moonlight? She mews at me and attempts the tiniest of yips. I laugh. T oday I need to be brave,
Baldwin 301 too A nd I must trust the others, just as you must trust your pack. Her fur is unfathomably soft and she curls against my chest slee ping and squiggling. I know she's getting hungry. The others are inching down from where the y nest on Tromos's side making their way to nurse Courage little one I say as much to her as to myself and place her bac k with her brother and sister watching as she scoots three legged to her mama. Tromos lifts her head to me in farewell. If it goes badly at the ceremony I tell her You and Phobos must take your children and race to the woods. Run as far from London as you can. Phobos stares at me tilting his big head almost as if he understands. It s what everyone should do i f we fail today. Run Hide. Napoleon will be invading The shed door creak s open and I know it is T ess Have you been coddling her again? she scolds, as if she doesn t do the very same thing. Of course I have. A re you ready for today ? I am never read y for days like this. Did you dream anything new? No. She tosses scraps to Phobos and scratches him behind the ears. They found the bomb you know. Georgie told me. She kneels beside Tromos handing her strips of ham and mutton. It s because of you and your dream You saved all those people. Let us hope so. __________ _______ We arrange for an early breakfast, even so it is a two and a half hour carriage ride to Woolwich Navel Yard We spend another twenty minutes passing through the gates.
Baldwin 302 It is well after one o clock when we arrive at the unveiling Tess Sera, and I quietly stroll about the viewing area looking for anything suspicious A raised platform has been specially set up on the pier for the Admiralty and other royal guests. The remainder of the spectators will be seated in chairs which sailors are arran ging for us atop the long stone tiers overlooking the inlet The gates are open and river water is flooding the docking bay in preparation for the launch. By two o'clock, the Admiralty begins arriv ing Lieutenant Baker me a sociable nod as he tromps down the massive stone abutments behind Admiral Gambier Georgie waits down near the Mary Isabella with Lord Wyatt, who p lans to help Mr. Sinclair with the demonstration. Two thirty and most of the government officials have arrived. Lo rd and Lady Castlereagh make their way down the stone risers, genially greeting other dignitaries Sera leans over to me and whispers, Did you notice the bulge in the lady s reticule? It s probably th at pistol we saw the day your brothers barged in. The perverse sun continues to shin e not a drop of rain, not even a cloud in the sky. I d hoped for rain J ust in case Rain would extinguish a fire If there is a fire. If. I mustn t think that way. There s to be no h edging my bets not today. Not when all these lives are at stake. I watch as Lady Castlereagh stays so close to her husband s side it is as if they re bound together. The momentous occasion was supposed to start some time ago. We must wait of course, for the Prince Regent and his guests to arrive T h e seats on the platform are nearly full, f our a dmirals two c aptains, including the famed Captain Maitland, and
Baldwin 303 three l ieutenants including Lieutenant Baker. A trumpet blasts from the guard of the gate announcing the Prince Regent has final ly arrived. Three fifteen H e is only three quarters of an hour behind schedule. This is better than expected. I mark his labored progress from his carriage. He is a large man. The heat must surely be playing havoc with his gout b ut this is the sort of occasion he loves. A military excursion. He is decked out in full military r egalia including sash and cape. I f he were not so rotund, he would be quite a heroic figure. Lord Harston walks beside him along with the Prince's entourag e of foreign dignitaries, including Lady Daneska "It is so very warm. Would n't your majesty be more comfortable here in the shade?" Daneska fans herself A nyone would think the poor girl is positively baking I know better. She's runs as cool as one of Mr. Gunter's ices. She points to the overhang cast ing a shadow over the top of the seating area The view from up her e is quite splendid I m certain Mr. Sinclair would be honored to give you a ride aboard his marvelous little craft aft er the demonstration. Prince George looks from the coveted shade to the glory of sitting on the platform with the Admirals. Stay here, my lady. Be comfortable. He waves his bejeweled finger s in the air, pointing over his shoulder at the shade and tak es a labored breath. We ," he says, referring to himself in the royal plural. "C ame all this way across town W e will jolly well sit with our admirals down below. The g entlemen in the audience all bow down as the prince passes and we ladies drop in to a low curtsey This make s it particularly challenging for the footmen who are striving to place small wooden boxes under the prince's feet to help him descend the enormous stone steps. He generously waves his hand. Up up he commands to those
Baldwin 304 bowing W e are all friends here. He is in good humor expecially considering how early in the day it is for him. Lord Harston keeps him from tumbling several times before our regent stops to greet Lord and Lady Castlereagh He accepts the hand of Admiral Elphinstone and Admiral Gambier and takes his seat. Now then he claps his palms together. L et us see this marvel our yo ung American has created for us. Captain Grey bows, and indicates everyone should be seated. I cannot sit I couldn t bear to sit. My nerves couldn t take it. Questions keep whirling through my head. What if I was wrong? What if they ve hidden another bomb somewhere else ? Sera Tess, and I stand off to one side watching for any false movement. Miss Stranje Maya and Georgie are on the other side. I note Lord Harston sit ting directly behind the Prince Lady Daneska remains seat ed at the top of the risers in the shade. Of course she sits there, Tess growls. She knows she ll be clear of the blast. Lady Daneska is looking around too expectantly and that makes me nervous. Sera turns and whispers to me. Do you see how she sits? So impatient. She s eager to witness the blood bath she s planned I m not certain that s the only reason, but Captain Grey is beginning the unveiling. Ladies and Gentlemen allow me to present the Mary Isabella Captain Grey and Lord Wyatt whisk the sailcloth off, revealing the little steamship. The audience applaud s politely. They ve all seen more impressive ships. Captain Grey continues by introducing my beloved engineer Mr. Alexander Sinclair Mr. Sinclair doffs his hat with a jaunty grin and bows with a flourish, before
Baldwin 305 jumping aboard the Mary Isabella where he waves from the wheel of the ship Lord Wyatt follows him aboard and sh ows everyone how easy it is to throw a shovel full of coal into the already fired up boiler. I can t watch Tess turns and leans into my shoulder. This is exactly what I saw in the dream. I note the smug leer on Lady Daneska s face. Captain Grey points out the various pieces of equipment, and touches on how the ship operates. Put it in gear Mr. Sinclair. With a clank Ale xander engages the wheel and the first paddle slaps the water. Oooh! M urmurs hum through the onlookers as the ship begins t o move. A puff of smoke bursts from the copper smoke stack Lady Daneska sits up straighter in her seat. She leans forward and frowns. Another puff of smoke escapes the stack I watch her face, reading it as Lord Harston taught me It should ve blown up by now she s thinking. Her fist presses against the crest of the chair in front of her. Her jaw clenches. Any minute she expects it to blow up. Now. Now. Now She stares f orward with poker hot intensity and I see the exact moment when she realizes we hav e escaped her snare. Her head whips around N ot to us as I d expected her to do, to mete out her fury at having been beaten to spit angry bile at me or Tess. Instead, she scans the guard wall of Woolwich yard. A sick feeling rushes into my stomach. I follow her gaze We both see it at the same instant a glint of sun light on a musket barrel Ghost Or i t may only be the sentry on the wall. Except it isn t. Both sentries are exactly where they are supposed to be One stands atop th e armory watching the demonstration
Baldwin 306 and the other is making his rounds on the clock tower T he Mary Isabella moves out from the dry dock making an impressive sharp turn From there, it paddl e s straight toward the admiralty s stand "That Lieutenant something isn't right." Sera grabs my arm. She points to Lieutenant Baker. He cast s a worried glance over his shoulder in my direction Why I wonder. He turn s full around in his chair and now he' s looking, not at me but directly at Lady Daneska. She gives him a nod In a lung crushing instant, I comprehend I've made a horrible mistake My hands turn to fists. There s a secondary play. Ghost alw ays ha s a back up plan. And an escape strategy Always Tess !" I shout. "T here s a man with a gun. I point to the far wall. Ghost, she curses and starts running but Ghost or whoever it is is a furlong away. Near enough for a musket shot, too far for her to stop him in time. Lieutenant Baker reach es into his satchel. I can guess what come s n ext. Bomb I scream and point at him. It has to be Baker Only I didn t think my counter play through. No finesse Instead of running for cover the Admirals every last one of them turn in their seats to see what crazed lunatic female is screaming about a bomb. Baker stands It's in his hand a thick iron canister. But everyone is looking at me. Everyone except Lord Harston He is dragging His Majesty backwards in a most undignified way There! I scream. Sera and I are both pointing T oo late Baker strikes the fuse raises it in a spli t second toast to Lady Daneska and
Baldwin 307 tosses it onto the Mary Isabella, which is paddling right beside the admiralty stand The bomb rolls onto the deck next to Alexander. Alex! I take a running leap down those monstrous big stone blocks. Jump! I scream at him Jump! I command. He doesn't jump. I do. I t is me running M e jumping Flinging myself down those stone steps ignoring the stab s of pain in my leg I leap past Lord Harston who has pushed the Prince down and covered him with his own body. Lady Castlereagh and Miss Stranje have similarly buried Lord Castlereagh. Lieutenant Baker shouts, Viva La -" A gunshot cut s short h is victory cry One sharp clap Lieutenant Baker s chest splatters apart with bright red blood. Ghost just killed the one man who could confess Daneska s involvement Th at gunshot sends them all to the deck. Bomb I scream at Alexander. H e sees it. Dive I shout. Jump in the water Does he do that? No! Lord Wyatt has the good sense to leap off the ship onto the platform and dash up the steps toward Georgie. I know what Alexander is thinking He s not about to abandon his beloved Mary Isabella What does he do h e kic ks the ruddy bomb Launches it arcing up into the air. At the same moment, I take a running leap from the bottom stone step and launch myself at Alexander. I smash into him, sending both of us tumbl ing into the water. The bomb blast shakes the earth Everything quakes. Even in the river, the vibrations ripple through my bones Tess was right. It' s as if the sky split in two. The
Baldwin 308 canister explode d in the air over the bow and now blooms like a fiery ch rysanthemum above the Thames. Shards of fire and meta l flecks whistle and spiral toward the onlookers. I bob up and down in the current gulping for air My ears ring ing Alexander! He sputters up to the surface beside me and grabs hold of my collar. I take it you don t swim. Course not. I spit out the putrid river water. Ladies don t he lets me bob under for a second. s wim. That s for ruining a perfectly good suit of clothes. He shoves me up onto the deck of the Mary Isabella. Had to do it I wipe debris off my face. You could ve been killed. He heaves himself up beside me. When are you going to figure out I can take care of myself? Probably never. I flick some horribly indescribable piece of garbage back into the smelly river. I expect that s true enough. Anyway I don t see t hat it matters. I wring the muddy water out of the bottom of my skirt s and use them to swat out an cinder burning next to us. T he admiralty is impressed with your prototype. At least I think they are. Hard to tell since most of them are hiding right now. I glance over. Some are still hiding. Others are nursing wounds, and beating out fires that have started on their clothing, chairs, and decking. The canopy over the ceremonial platform is in flames "C onsidering you saved their lives wh en you kicked that bomb into the air I imagine they ll be more than happy to send your Uncle Robert payment to use his patent and grant you safe passage home I pull a half dead
Baldwin 309 dragonfly out of my hair and set it on the deck to dry out The poor thing f lops from side to side, its sodden wings making frail attempts to fly Fragile things dragonflies. And humans In the distance, I see Tess coming back empty handed. Drat! "Ghost got away." "In all this chaos of course he did." Alexander points to the drooping bandage on my leg that is now brown with slimy river water That s going to get infected I flop my wet skirts over the ugly stitches and give him a trollop y tavern girl smile, the kind he once said he preferred Perhaps you ought to stay in England and nurse me back to health. H mm. He frowns as he pulls me to my feet. Speaking of nurse maids. Isn t that your fiancÂŽ over there brushing off His Royal Highness? I think it would be a grand idea for him to have a whiff of you now, whi le you re in your finest hour. You d like that wouldn t you? For your information, Mr. Sinclair I'm not the only one who smells like a sewer rat. He climbs to his feet and take s a step toward the wheel but falters Blast! What is it? I rush to support him around the middle. Unless I miss my guess He grimaces and limps again I broke a toe or two kicking that bomb. What do you say, Princess help me over to th e wheel and I ll see about sailing this ri g back to the dock. As he leans on me, I smile. See. You do need me after all.
Baldwin 310 Chapter 29 Farewell Several days later Mr. Sinclair does, indeed, receive a reward for saving t he admiralty Not only are they are grateful he saved their lives Admiral Elphinstone and Captain Maitland assure him the Navy intends to build several full size steamship s for use against a Napoleonic invasion force. Lucky for Mr. Sinclair peace talks are stirring between Britain and the United States Admiral Gambier secure s a berth for him on a ship set to sail for the United States in five days Five measly days Three of which I must spend stuck in bed unable to see him, because my leg is infected Miss Stranje summons D octor Meredith who put s leeches on the wound I hate leeches They are slimy despicable creatures and they make me feel weaker than watered down soup. B y the third day I heave one of the vicious little blood suckers at Dr. Meredith and he refuses to ever come back and attend me According to him, I am obstinate and uncooperative.
Baldwin 311 If you die, Lady Jane it will be your own fault. Miss Stranje huffs at me and jerks my pillow out, fluffs it up, and stuffs it back under my head I won t die. I'm determined to see Alexander again before he leaves I ll be perfectly fine if you will put one of those plaster s on it you and Maya are so fond of concoct ing. I d rather smell like garlic stew than allow those vile creatures to suck the life out of me. They la y on several plasters, each more pungent than the last. My leg improve s rapidly By the fourth day I am up and walking as if Ghost had never carved me up. Perfectly able to receive visitors, especially one visitor in particular. See, I was right. About the plasters. Not so much about a slew of other things. Mr. Sinclair c omes to visit this evening so I might show him the wolf puppies. Moonlight knows my scent now I show him how she wriggle s toward my hand. Isn t she the most beautiful thing you have ever seen ? I ask cuddling her. Without a doubt. He smiles at me and strokes Moonlight's fur which now pokes out all over like a frightened cat. What is it you want, Lady Jane ? he murmurs. I want to kiss you No, I mustn t say that. I want a great many things. None of them have any bearing on what s going on in the world I purse my lips for a moment. I don t know how I should answer your question. No, I don t suppose you do. His lips press together and he looks away for a minute When he turns back, I'm surprised at what I see. It isn t like him to look so
Baldwin 312 downcast. Are n t you happy to be going home? I ask. Surely you must miss you r family. I do. He smooths a finger over the cub's soft fur. She wriggles up against my neck as if she is hunting for a place to suckle. I laugh softly, but something about her tiny kisses hurts my heart. Or maybe it is Mr. Sinclair looking so melancholy and asking me uncomfortable questions about what I want I don t want either of us to be sad It s the same as with a wolf cub Moonlight belongs with her pack. You ll be safe at home in Pennsylvania. Happy. Away from all this business with Napoleon. What about you ? I shrug and rub my check against Moonlight s fur. I have work to do. After the explosion, Lady Daneska and Ghost disappeared N o one knows where. And Lady Jersey came by yesterday. She says even though the bomb could ve killed him, Prince George is still conside ring Napoleon s offer of peace. There won t be peace, Alexander s shoulders draw up. Can t be. As long as there are tyrants who love money and power more than life, and men who want to be free of them. Free I remember how happy Lord Harston was when he thought he was rid of me. I watch the way the setting sun turns Alexander's hair a burnished gold You re free Am I? Of course I turn away because it hurts to see how beautiful he is and it hurts even more to see that expression in his eyes as if I've failed him somehow You can do
Baldwin 313 anything you want. You re going home Y ou have a family who loves you and a bright future Most importantly y ou ll be safe from this wretched war. Safe He sighs. I think you should fi gure out what you want, Lady Jane. He stands and so I do too and place Moonlight back with her mother. Do you want to marry Lord Harston? His question jars me. Why must he bring that up? What we w ant has nothing to do with it I don t think he wants to marry me any more than I do him. We will b oth do what must be done. One word from you and I won t go I don t say anything How can I ask him to give up everything for me? That would be the height of selfishness. I stare at his new boots remembering the hideous ill fitting pair he wore that first day I met him at Stranje House B oot s he stole because his captors had kept him barefoot. The thought of his poor feet in those wretched old things chokes me up. My ship sails for New York in the morning Will you come to bid me farewell ? Yes, o f course. I catch my bottom lip, because something is shatter ing inside me. He s leaving _________________ At the end of the pier, a frigate waits. A ship that will take him away forever. I wave. Doing my best to smile. What is this feeling? What cruel fist is this that reaches in, grabs my heart, and squeezes? All it leaves is a feeble grudging drip of blood in my veins. No, t his feeling is not some cruel fist. It is a
Baldwin 314 hot desert wind. One that curls around the stone in my chest and hollows it out, leaving me with an aching emptiness that makes my eyes water. I m not sad. How can I be, h e never belonged to me ? What right do I have to grieve ? I sent him on his way. He s leaving that s all. We knew this day must come. It had to arrive sooner or later. I would ve preferred later. But, of course, it would come. He must go to his home in America, where he belongs, where his family and friends await him. And I Beat heart. Beat. Or stop if you like. What' s the use in beating? I face a gaping pit of emptiness. Years of this hollow thudding. No, that is not true. I have my work. I have the school. I'm supposed to take over one day. Miss Stranje claims it is enough. It has been enough for her. Or so, she says. Therefore, it will be enough for me It has to be. In time, I may grow to believe that. In time Except every limping footstep Alexander Sinclair takes toward that ship echoes like a slamming dungeon door. Locking me away, where there is no golden haired light, no impish irritating grins. No Alexander Suddenly, my own footsteps are pulsing against the pier My soles drum a full on charge. A rush of new fire burns in the former hollow of my chest. I m shouting.
Baldwin 315 Calling his name. Throwing open my prison doors. Wait! I thunder up the pier. Wait! Alexander. Wait! Come back. Don t He turns. His face, a burst of hopeful sunlight against the endless gray clouds. Don t what? In a ragged gasp, I know the answer. Don t leave me. Please, stay I didn t know I had those words in me words to ask for what I so desperately want. To selfishly beg. To plead for something for myself. Something for me alone. No, not something Someone Someone for me. Alexander drops his satchel and waits, arms open. He is as astonished a s I am when I hurl myself into his embrace.
Baldwin 316 Chapter 30 The Coming Out Ball Two weeks later All of us are out in the garden Mr. Sinclair holds up a lamp, and although we are dressed in our finery, we 've snuck out of the house to watch Moonlight take her first steps. The puppies opened their eyes last week, and Georgie has constructed a small wheel to help Moonlight walk. We've strapped it to the wolf cub's hip and placed her on the ground. She looks up a t us with big wary blue eyes. I can almost hear her asking us what have you done to me ? I urge her forward. Try it Moonlight W alk." The cub takes one tentative step but promptly flips to her side and gnaws on the wheel and straps. "I thought that migh t happen." Tess steps back and crosses her arms. "It's not going to work. She'll never be able to resist chewing on that leather." "I should've thought of that." Georgie's shoulders sag. "Maybe if I wrap the straps with tin ." "No, she's just trying to figure it out. It's a brilliant contraption." Lord Wyatt puts
Baldwin 317 his arm around her shoulders. "Besides, the pup is growing so fast you'll need to make a bigger harness in a week anyway." "I agree, Georgie. It's a marvel." I reach down and set Moonlight back on her feet, giving her bum a little scoot. The pup yips as the wheel propels her forward. A moment later, she figures it out and gallops around my feet. "See! Look at her go." I clap, but my glee is short lived. Moonlight twists sideways, snapping and gr owling at the leather straps. She rolls onto her back and wrestles with the device. "There you are!" Miss Stranje calls to us from the garden door. "Time to greet our guests. There's a line of carriages stretching around the block. Mr. Peterson is about to open the doors." Georgie quickly unbuckles the wheel and sets it on a shelf in the gardening shed. Sera kicks a pebble in the pathway. "I'd much rather stay out here." I loop my arm through hers. "Nonsense. You'll have friends who've come to see you. Mr. Chadwick plans to come, and the patronesses. She groans. "Too many people." I try to reassure her. "It's going to be a wonderful evening, you'll see." "That's what you said the night of the soiree at Carlton House and that did not turn out wonderful at a ll." Mr. Sinclair chuckles as he opens the door for us. Our Lady Jane is n ot much of a prophetess is she?" Sera laughs. I' m just trying to encourage her." I sulk. "Obviously, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself without any Banbury ta les from you. Isn't that so, Miss Wyndham?"
Baldwin 318 "Yes." Sera answers with more force than I expected. "I believe so. Thank you, Mr. Sinclair." I squint at her My mouth opens but nothing comes out. Great walloping dewberries! He's done something I have tried to do for years. Sera looks positively radiant simply because he expressed confidence in her. I've no time to digest this alteration because Miss Stranje is busy positioning us in her formal receiving line. She adjusts the ring of flowers in my hair. "You s tand here." She shoos Mr. Sinclair off with instructions for the musicians to begin playing. The doors open and Peterson announces the first set of guests. Before long, Haversmythe House overflows with people, with Admirals, dignitaries, other debutantes and their parents. Lady de Lieven is the first of the patronesses to make an appearance. I cur tsey to her and she pats my hand wearing a mischievous little smile "Welcome to our world Lady Jane I daresay you are already setting a new trend with those short curls of yours." "I did not come by them intentionally, my lady." "So I heard." With a mer ry chuckle, Lady de Lieven moves on to greet Maya on my left. "I understand you and Lord Kinsworth intend to sing for us after supper. Y our first performance was so memorable, I'm thrilled we'll have the opportunity to hear the two of you again." Maya ackn owledges the compliment, but I notice a fleeting pinch of consternation that wafts across her brow. Their practices have been pure heaven for those of us listening, but after each session, Maya is left more agitated and puzzled by him than before. She no l onger complains of not understanding Lord Kinsworth. She now insists the young man intentionally eludes her. "How does he escape me?" she demanded of me
Baldwin 319 one afternoon. "I have no idea what you mean. Perhaps Sera might be of more assist Maya huffed at me. Maya who is the kindest gentlest person in the world, whirled away in a huff. Prince George sent a courier to Miss Stranje yesterday, announcing his plans to attend our ball. I understand the Prince and members of the Admiralty attending our ball becaus e they remember that we are the young ladies who first noticed Lieutenant Baker's bomb that fateful day at Woolwich However, considering the dark reputation of Miss Stranje's school, it astound s me that so many other members of high society are willing to attend. I suppose there is no accounting for curiosity. Lord Harston comes down the receiving line. I greet him as formally as if we are strangers, but he holds my hand a moment longer than necessary. Bowing over it, he looks up with a wry grin. "My dear Lady Jane. I see your young inventor did not board a ship and sail away to America after all." His eyes glitter with humor. "Does this mean I have won my wager?" I cannot stop the corners of my mouth from twisting up with mirth. "Yes, my lord. You won. Mr Sinclair intends to remain in England. I lost. B y now you would think anyone in my family ought to know better than to bet against you." He presses a hand over his heart and drops his chin to his chest. "Then, as we agreed in our wager, you are no longer obligated by our contract." "Oh, pray, do not pretend to be wounded. Not when I can see that you're barely able to keep from doing a jig in celebration of your freedom." He laughs. "You are one of a kind, my lady. I cannot help but wonder if I have not g otten the wrong end of our wager after all."
Baldwin 320 "Whatever the case, I owe you a debt of gratitude for what you did for me all those many years ago. Thank you, my lord." He bows graciously. What I see over his shoulder makes me wince. "Speaking of debts, my br others have arrived. I do hope you will put them to work mucking out your stables to make them pay off their debts to you." "Your wish is my command. Now that you mention it, I could use another groom or two." He chuckles and moves down the line. His neph ew, Lord Kinsworth, is next and bows elegantly over my hand, although his eyes flit eagerly in Maya's direction, so I mercifully pass him on to her. She greets him coolly scarcely meeting his eyes. He tilts sideways to peer beneath her veil. "Would you be so good as to reserve the dinner dance for me? I should like to accompany you into dinner, and continue our previous conversation." I miss her answer because Lord Ravencross stalks down the line looking as if he is about to draw swords with every gentleman in the room. He stops in front of Tess on my right, and bows curtly. "Would you like to ride in the morning?" "I would." Tess curtseys prettily. Please, d o try to smile, my lord. You are frightening away the other girls' beaus." "So long as I frighten an y of yours, I'm satisfied." "You might take a turn out in the garden to see how the wolves are doing. I daresay you are better suited to their company than in here." His voice softens. "I will if you'll meet me out there?" She answers with a coy tilt of he r head as she turns to greet our next guest. His cheeks are still blotching pink as he bows to me and I feel for him. It cannot be easy being in love with Tess. It must be a little like trying to cage the wind.
Baldwin 321 Captain Grey is Miss Stranje 's side, serving as host. Lord Wyatt stands behind Georgie as if he's a footman or her fiancÂŽ and refuses to leave. Earlier I heard Georgie turn around and scold him. "Must you stand there like a sentinel ? We are not engaged. It is not at all appropriate for you to hang over my shoulder." "I don't care. Let them assume what they will. I refuse to abandon you to this riffraff." Riffraff? These people are not footpads and pickpockets. They're the haute ton the cream of the beau monde The next guest in line, a young lie utenant, interrupts her argument. Someone steals up behind me. Instinctively, I make certain my dagger is handy. It's Mr. Sinclair and he leans down over my shoulder. "How long must you stand in line?" "Only a little longer the line is beginning to slow." "Don't forget the waltz belongs to me," h e whispers, tickling my ear. "I haven't forgotten." How can I when I'm counting every second until then? "Good." He straightens and I miss his nearness. "I will be heartily glad when we return to Stranje House next week." I'm as impatient to go home as he is. We are never alone here. Even though when we go back Mr. Sinclair will be residing at Captain Grey's cottage, it's bound to be better than here. Mr. Peterson announces in a booming voice, "His Royal Majesty, Pr ince George." A hush falls over the room. As one, everyone lowers into a curtsey or a bow, even Alexander. I half expect Lady Daneska to flounce in behind him. I wouldn't put it past her, except rumor has it she returned to France. No one is certain we on ly know no one has seen her or Ghost since th e explosion at Woolwich Naval Yard. According to Lady
Baldwin 322 Castlereagh, Lady Daneska packed up and left town that afternoon. She sent a note to Prince George claiming Napoleon requested she return to Paris immediately. My dance card is filled with the names of strangers. The evening whirls by in a flurry of dancing and polite conversation and all the while I am wishing it was Alexander talking t o me, Alexander clapping pressing his palm against mine in the dance. Lord Harston stands up with me for a cotillion while Alexander brood s on the sidelines The last set before dinner is with Captain Maitland who thank s me for crying bomb at the unveili ng. As we circle one another and I ask him something that has bothered me ever since that day. "I ve been told that it might have been more effective if I had cried out hit the deck ." "No." He turns to circle the corner lady. When he returns he assures m e, "I doubt it would've changed the outcome. Having heard the command from a female rather than a seaman, the gentlemen would still have turned to see who was issuing the order." Alexander waits on the sidelines to conduct me in to dinner. Miss Stranje sp ared no expense. The table is spread with a meal worthy of our Prince. During the third course, Prince George rises to offer a toast. "To the brave young ladies of Stranje House. We are graced by your loveliness, charmed by your elegance, a nd most grateful you know when to shout." "Here! Here!" The Admiralty, Lord Castlereagh and all the gentlemen that were on the platform that day, stand to honor us. All men who might have died. Alexander scoots back his chair and raises his glass along with theirs. "To th e young ladies! To their health and long life!" "Huzzah!"
Baldwin 323 When they finally sit, the prince remains standing and lifts his cup again. "And to peace "To peace!" We all raise our glasses. This is no idle wish. No mere whim. All of my life we have been at war. England hungers for peace. Crippled and wounded soldier s haunt us on every street corner. The clinking and cheering subsides, but still the prince stands. Peace ." He stares into the blood colored wine in his cup. "We have been at war with N apoleon B onaparte for eleven long years. Eleven years our men have given their lives It is time to bring it to a close." He lifts his goblet. "I am pleased to tell you that I have agreed to meet with Napoleon and negotiate a settlement. In two weeks' time we may f inally have the peace we have so desperately wanted." Gasps ripple across the table. Peace a t what price? Raised c ups droop to half mast. Only the Prince tosses back the remainder of his wine. A few naÂ•ve debutantes and their mothers follow suit. Suddenly the toast to our good health and long lives feels tainted s ullied by the shock of his wil lingness to meet with Napoleon. Admiral Gambier sets down his cup and rises, wordlessly he bows to Miss Stranje, and stomps out of the dining room. His wife jumps up from her chair hurriedly and rushes after him. Lord Castlereagh, ever the diplomat, holds his cup steady. "To our prince." There are murmurs of agreement, and cups raised out of obligation. His announcement da mp en s the mood. Forks resume working, lifting food to mouths, but at a much slower pace as if the roast beef has lost its savor. My appetite has disappeared
Baldwin 324 entirely. I turn to Mr. Sinclair, "I doubt we shall be returning to Stranje House next week. It may be some time before we have that luxury." He nods solemnly. "I shall remain here, too. S uspect the Admiralty will be pleased to have my assistance for a few more weeks." Our come out ball turns into mournful wake for England's future. M ost of the guests understand the underlying menace beneath Prince George's announcement. Those that don't are left to wonder what the Prince intends to trade in exchange for a treaty with Emperor Napoleon. Everyone in England knows Napoleon will only be sati sfied with complete power. After dinner, Maya and Lord Kinsworth do their best to soothe our bruised spirits with a musical rendition of Romeo and Juliet a clever adaptation of Shakespeare's play put into a ballad. From the very first note, their voices transport us into the hearts and minds of two innocent young lovers in Verona We feel the joy of their first love. We swoon and sigh with the sweetness of their passion. But in the end, t he song's anguished ending, breaks our hearts and leaves us grieving Lady Jersey, stalwart unmovable Lady Jersey br eaks down in shoulder shaking sobs. Lady de Lieven and dozens of other women sniff and blot their eyes with kerchiefs. During Maya and Lord Kinsworth's practices, we'd thought the song so perfect. Divine. Ma gnificent A phenomenally moving piece. Now, following the prince's announcement, it can only be judged a tragic mistake. We enter the ballroom the way most people enter a funeral. All we need are black drapes and a dirge to complete the effect The music ians strike up a lively Boulangere, and I direct Mr. Sinclair's attention to Admiral Elphinstone's daughter. Poor lady has sat against the wall all evening. Mr.
Baldwin 325 Sinclair invites her to join him in the set and I nod with approval. Lord Kinsworth partners me in the same dance. Every time I glance in Alexander's direction, he performs a proper leap. I know he is only doing it to be amusing and to cheer me up, but I can't help but notice he winces when he comes down on his broken toes. The third dance is his f avorite, a waltz. Finally As we promenade, I can't help but detect a slight limp. "How is your foot?" Throbbing like the very devil T hank you for asking ." "We ought to sit this one out. I don't want you to suffer." "Some suffering is worth it." "Be reas onable. It's only one waltz "Take your position," he commands. I sniff my annoyance at being ordered about, and obediently poise my hand atop his shoulder H is gloved hand rest s against my back, grazing the skin above my gown. Shivers race down my arms I make a vain attempt to regain my composure along with my breath. "I f you would prefer to not dance I completely understand." The words come out much wispier than I intended. Not a chance. I would n't miss this for the world. After all, if Napoleon is coming to England this might be our last waltz. I gather up my sternness. Now you 're just being maudlin. Your foot is injured There are empty chairs along the wall I urge him in that direction. He h olds me firmly in place. "Jane, I told you before I do not need a governess ." He leans in menacingly close. "You are far too dangerous to be anyone's governess." He whisper s this in so husky a tone, it sounds almost seductive. "Least of all mine." "Alexand er." I thump his shoulder. "The two foot rule."
Baldwin 326 "You r e blushing. He grins pleased with himself, and sunlight bursts through the funereal fog "See, I told you it was worth it. I have the most scandalous desire to kiss him right here on the ballroom fl oor, in front of the Prince of England, the Patronesses, and everyone else. He stares down at me. "I know what that look means." "W what look?" My uncivilized American whirls us into an efficient turn. "Your kissing look. Isn't that a balcony on the othe r side of those doors?" "Why yes, Mr. Sinclair, I believe it is." H e waltzes us toward the balcony with tiny flecks of mischief doing a most improper jig in his eyes Without breaking a step as he twirls us out into the moonlight. I know what will happen next. It doesn't take a mastermind to guess. Even so, I can barely breathe in anticipation I don't have long to wait The minute darkness cloaks us, his mouth covers mine. He kisses me and I forget all the other games in the world. I forget Napoleon, and Ghost, and Daneska. I even forget to worry about the future. When we re together like this, I believe anything is pos sible. Believing is a lot like trusting. And it's enough.
Baldwin 327 A fterward Dear Reader, I hope you had as much fun reading Lady Jane's story as I did writing it. Alexander Sinclair was a treat to write. Robert Fulton the American inventor who developed the steamship, has always intrigued me I ncluding his fictional nephew Mr. Sinclair, in the story provided an opportunity to showcase Fulton's phenomenal inventiveness However, Alexander's quirky sense of humor came as a delightful surprise to me. Lady Jane mentions his prediction that newspapers would one day be printed using steam. December 1814, The London Times did indeed become the first newspaper printed via a steam driven press While research ing for this story, the Lady Patronesses of Almack's also surprised me. It fascinated me to learn how enormously influential several of these beacons of society were in the political scene. The historical tidbits included in this story about their various backgrounds are all true. The only departure from fact is their friendship with Emma Stranje and my insinuation that Miss Stranje's father trained them in spy craft. Throughout history, young women have served as spies. George Washington found young ladies extremely useful fo r information gathering during the Revolutionary War. The two most important spies in the American Civil War were young African American
Baldwin 328 women who transmitted crucial information to the North. This year a Danish researcher announced she has uncovered a sp y ring consisting of more than seventy women active during the seventeenth century. Historically women have demonstrated an uncanny ability to influence the political landscape from behind the scenes. The more research I do, the more I realize women have b een discreetly altering history since the beginning of time, starting with Eve. Whether you realize it or not, you are changing the world around you, impacting the people in your life You may not understand today the far reaching effect you have. You may not even realize it in your lifetime. It may be revealed generations later when some researcher like me notices that because you chose to do X, Y happened. But your family, friends, brothers, sisters and children they'll know. In fact, t hey feel the gift of your presence now To some degree, we all do. Kathleen Kathleen Baldwin loves hearing from readers. You can contact her through her w ebsite, and also discover other goodies there: bookclub guides, a r egency glossary, excerpts, and historical extras. KathleenBaldwin.com