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Authors: Anne Perry

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There was a look of immeasurable satisfaction on Odelia’s face as she regarded Fitzherbert sitting forward on a stool a yard away from her feet, his elbows on his knees and his attention upon her. Possibly he was the more graceful of the two of them, because his pose was effortless.

Charlotte hesitated before intruding, they were so obviously absorbed in each other, but she had to remind herself of her duty to Emily. In the distance she could hear the band begin the Highland Schottishe. She wished she were free to dance, and someone would ask her, but the role she had been invited here to play was quite different.

“Good evening, Miss Morden,” she said cheerfully. “I am so pleased you were able to come. I have been looking forward to meeting you. Mr. Fitzherbert.”

Fitzherbert rose immediately and bowed, and as a younger, unmarried woman Odelia rose also, but far more slowly, and her smile was polite but cool. If Fitz had not recalled that Charlotte was Jack Radley’s sister-in-law, Odelia certainly had, and she was ambitious.

“Good evening, Mrs. Pitt. It was most kind of Mrs. Radley to invite us. It is a charming event, and I hope we shall meet at many more, most particularly if poor Mrs. Radley’s health does not improve. She has my deepest sympathy. It is a most unfortunate time to be unwell.”

It was a series of remarks with many edges, and Charlotte was aware of all of them. She looked Odelia straight in the eye and joined battle.

“Of course it is,” she said with a radiant smile. “But the bounties of nature are frequently heralded by a certain discomfort, as I hope you will be blessed to discover for yourself, eventually. And perhaps it is more fortunate to be unwell now than later on when running for Parliament. Election times are so short, and one cannot so easily explain to the general public as one can to friends.” Again she smiled with absolute directness, and no candor at all. “And Emily is fortunate, she takes a confinement very well.”

“How agreeable for her,” Odelia murmured. “But the timing!”

“Mrs. Gladstone had eight children,” Charlotte said sweetly. “And cared for them all herself, refusing even to have a wet nurse. She taught them all their lessons and heard their prayers at night, and did endless charitable work as well. It does not seem to have hampered her husband from being the best prime minister this century.”

“Good gracious!” Odelia’s eyes opened wide. “Does Mrs. Radley fancy to be a prime minister’s wife?”

Charlotte ignored the sarcasm as completely as if she had failed to perceive it.

“I have not asked her, but it seems a noble ambition. Do you not?” She turned and smiled briefly and with some sympathy at Fitz. There was a spark of humor in his eyes.

“I wish to be Fitz’s wife,” Odelia said sweetly. “And to do that to the best of my ability. Of course if he is successful to that degree, I shall aim to do everything possible to excel equally, and not quite as eccentrically as Mrs. Gladstone. I hear her entertaining was most erratic, and offended many.”

Charlotte was caught off guard. She knew nothing about it.

“Then it would seem the offense was of no importance,” she replied hastily. “I have heard nothing but admiration for her, and Mr. Gladstone must surely be the most politically successful man in the last half century.”

Odelia changed her point of attack.

“I do admire your gown, Mrs. Pitt; such a—a robust shade! So fashionable. I shall not forget it.”

Charlotte translated in her own mind, knowing precisely what Odelia meant. “Let me warn you, Mrs. Pitt, the color is too loud, verging on the vulgar, and it is so up to the minute that next month it will be out of date, and I, for one, will be acutely aware if I ever see you in it again—and will probably say so at the most inconvenient moment.”

“Why thank you, Miss Morden,” Charlotte said with an even wider smile. “Your own gown is most delicately suitable, both to the occasion and to yourself.” To be translated: “Your gown is insipid and entirely forgettable. If you wear it on every other occasion this entire season no one will notice, or care.”

Odelia’s face froze.

“Most kind,” she muttered between her teeth.

“Not at all.” Charlotte nodded to Fitzherbert, and excused herself, sweeping back into the ballroom to accept an invitation to dance the Highland Reel with Peter Valerius.

At half past one, after the last cotillion, the guests adjourned to take supper, and Charlotte was completely occupied with making sure that the maids were on their toes; that the footmen waited upon everyone; and that there were none but the most civilized of unpleasantnesses.

By half past two the party was still in full swing, and at three people were still dancing, a certain sign that the whole venture was a success.

The first high wing of false dawn was glimmering faintly in the sky above the garden, the ferns and the Chinese lanterns, when Charlotte observed the encounter which gave her the most food for thought of the entire evening. She was leaving the room beyond the ballroom and walking towards the balcony and the garden for a breath of air. She was beginning to feel tired and her attention was less sharp than it had been. She passed a bower of white flowers and hesitated a moment to enjoy the cool perfume of them, when her eyes were caught by a gleam of light on a white shirt front and the scarlet splash of a sash of some order, the sparkle of the star.

She hesitated in case she should intrude on someone; such meetings were often more in the nature of assignations between young couples otherwise unable ever to be alone together.

Then she saw that the second person was not a woman but a man. It took her a moment to focus her gaze and recognize Lord Byam. He was standing well beyond the first man and staring out at the garden, the dark web of the trees across the eastern sky, the fancy lanterns still lit and far above them the faint wing of the reflected light over the horizon where in a short while the true dawn would come. She moved a step forward soundlessly.

The other man half turned. It was Lord Anstiss. His face was set in a most curious expression: his lips smiled as if there were some pleasure involved, and yet his eyes stared into the darkness wide and bright. From the very slight flaring of his nostrils Charlotte could not avoid the sensation that he was angry. His hand rested on the balustrade of the balcony, a short, broad-palmed hand with spatulate, artistic fingers. It was perfectly relaxed, even caressing the marble as if the polished texture of the stone satisfied him. There was no tension in it at all; it was a hand ready to caress, not to strike.

Byam was facing sideways, but his eyes were on the press of guests beyond Charlotte moving towards the head of the staircase on the way down to the waiting carriages. His expression
was one of deep thought, a little wistful, but there seemed both eagerness and pain in him, and his face was curiously vulnerable.

“Too early to tell,” Anstiss said quietly. “Radley’s a bit of a wild card, but I like the look of him. A man who knows people, I think.”

“And Fitz?” Byam asked, still looking past Anstiss towards the stair head.

“Lightweight,” Anstiss replied. “No staying power. Too easily molded, I think. What I might make of him, another might as easily unmake. By the way, what about Mrs. Radley? Is she delicate?”

“Don’t think so,” Byam said lightly. “Expecting a child, that’s all. Used to be Lady Ashworth. Always in society then.”

“Sounds acceptable. Who is this Mrs. Pitt, for heaven’s sake?”

“Her sister, I gather.” Still Byam was facing the open door and the stair beyond. “It hardly matters, she’ll be gone soon enough. Just standing in for these few weeks. Seems agreeable, and she’s certainly handsome, and quick witted.”

Anstiss pulled a face of distaste. “Hope she doesn’t have social ambitions. God preserve me from ambitious women.”

“No idea.” Byam moved in the direction of the far doorway. “I must go—considerable amount to do tomorrow—”

“Of course,” Anstiss agreed with a shadow of amusement in his voice. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Byam replied, and then without turning back he disappeared between the banks of flowers towards the stair head.

Anstiss turned to the false dawn again, now a white fin above the treetops.

3

C
HARLOTTE NATURALLY SLEPT
at Ashworth House for what little remained of the night, so Pitt had not seen her when he left for the Clerkenwell police station the following morning. Nor, of course, had he mentioned the murder of William Weems to her. Not that he would have. Apart from the connection with Lord Byam, which was highly confidential, it was a singularly uninteresting case. Charlotte cared why people did things, not how. The fact that the hackbut did not work, or that no other weapon had been found, would be incidental to her. She might well wonder how a person, especially of Lord Byam’s standing, could wander around unnoticed with a gun large enough to cause such destruction to Weems’s head, but it would be quickly forgotten, because she would not find Weems sympathetic, and his debtors would engage her feelings only too much.

As well as an occasional laundress and a woman who came in twice a week to do the heavy work, the Pitts had a maid, Gracie, who lived in the house, and she cared for the children. Jemima was now a bright and extremely talkative seven-year-old of an endlessly inquiring mind and rather disturbing logic. Her brother Daniel, two years younger, was less voluble and far more patient, but very nearly as determined in his own way.

Gracie made breakfast for Pitt, busying herself discreetly about the kitchen, which seemed oddly empty without Charlotte,
even though everything else was there as usual. The cooking range was blacked and cleaned and stoked, but in this summer weather damped down to do no more than boil a kettle and heat one pan to fry Pitt’s eggs. Promotion to handling the more sensitive cases had brought its rewards, a new winter coat for Charlotte, new boots for the children, eggs every day if they wished them, and mutton for dinner two or three times a week, fires stoked higher in the winter, and a small raise for Gracie, with which she was delighted, not only for the money but as a matter of pride. She regarded herself as a cut above other housemaids in the area because she worked for such interesting people, and from time to time had a hand in affairs of mighty importance. Only a few months ago she had herself actually gone with Charlotte in pursuit of a murderer and seen some sights she could never forget for their pathos and their fear. Other girls scrubbed and swept and dusted and carried coal buckets and ran errands. She did all of these, but she also had adventures. That made her the equal of any woman in the land, and she never forgot it.

She placed Pitt’s breakfast before him, without meeting his eyes. She was acutely conscious that she was standing in for her mistress, and she did not want to spoil it by presuming.

He thanked her, began to eat, and thanked her again. She really was quite a good cook and she had obviously tried very hard. The kitchen was warm in the sun, the light reflected off the china on the dresser and winked on the polished surfaces of the pans. The room smelled of bread, hot coals and clean linen.

When he had finished he rose, thanked Gracie again, and went out into the passage and to the front door. He put his boots on and collected his jacket. A button came off in his hand as he fastened it. He put it in his pocket along with a small penknife, a ball of string, a piece of sealing wax, several coins, two handkerchiefs and a box of matches, and went outside into the sun.

At the Clerkenwell station he was met by Innes, looking bright and very keen, which surprised him since he knew of nothing to pursue today but the people whose names appeared on Weems’s list of debtors. Perhaps Innes thought he
was going to work on the men like the magistrate Addison Carswell, or Mr. Latimer, whoever he was, and the policeman Samuel Urban. He could not have looked forward with anything but dread to investigating Urban, but the other two might be more interesting. If that were so, Pitt would have to disabuse him very quickly. Handling such delicate areas was presumably also why Drummond had taken Pitt from his fraud case and put him onto this. There were not only Lord Byam’s feelings to be considered, but other people’s, especially if a member of the force was involved.

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