Today's Reading

"Holloway. You." She pointed a long, aristocratic finger at a sturdy youth who'd paused to take in the drama. "Help us carry him into the house. Where have you been?" She snapped at a gangly man in knee breeches and heavy boots who came running around the corner. "Take the rig to the mews. 'Wait' until we heave this man out of it."

The thin man, who appeared to be a groom—indeed, he would prove to be the head groomsman for Lord Rankin's town stables—climbed onto the box and took the reins, sending Lady Cynthia a dark look. His back quivered as he waited for the youth and the burly man to help me pry the hurt man out of the phaeton.

I looked into the youth's face and nearly hit my head on the phaeton's leather top. "Good heavens," I said. "James!"

James, a lad of about fifteen or so years with dark eyes, a round, rather handsome freckled face, and red-brown hair sticking out from under his cap, shot a grin at me. I hadn't seen him for weeks, and only a few times since I'd taken the post in Richmond. James didn't move much beyond the middle of London, as he made his living doing odd jobs here and there around the metropolis. I'd seen him only when I'd had cause to come into London and our paths happened to cross.

James, with his father, Daniel, had helped me avoid much trouble at the place I'd been before Richmond, and I'd come to count the lad as a friend.

As for his father...

I could not decide these days how I regarded his father. Daniel McAdam, a jack-of-all-trades if ever there was one, had been my friend since the day he'd begun deliveries in a household I'd worked in a year or so ago. He was charming, flirtatious, and ever ready with a joke or an encouraging word. He'd helped me in a time of great need last autumn, but then I'd learned more about Daniel than perhaps I'd wanted to. I was still hurt about it, and uncertain.

After James and the burly man worked the injured man from the carriage, I pulled myself upright on the phaeton's step and scanned the street. I have sharp eyes, and I did not have to look far before I saw Daniel.

He was just ducking around a corner up Park Street, glancing behind him as though expecting me to be seeking him. He wore the brown homespun suit he donned when making deliveries to kitchens all over Mayfair and north of Oxford Street and the shapeless gloves that hid his strong hands. I recognized his sharp face, the blue eyes over a well-formed nose, the dark hair he never could tame under his cloth cap.

He saw me. Did he look abashed? No, indeed. Mr. McAdam only sent me a merry look, touched his cap in salute, and disappeared.

I did not know all Daniel McAdam's secrets, and I knew he had many. He'd helped me when none other would, it was true, but at the same time he'd angered and confused me. I was grateful and could admire his resolve, but I refused to let myself fall under his spell. I had even allowed him to kiss me on the lips once or twice, but that had been as far as 'that' went.

"Drat the man," I said.

"Ma'am?" the groom asked over his shoulder.

"Never mind." I hopped to the ground, the cobbles hard under my shoes. "When you're done in the stables, come 'round to the kitchen for a strong cup of tea. I have the inkling we will all need one."

* * *

A doctor came and looked over the man Lady Cynthia had run down. He'd been put into one of the rooms in the large attic and pronounced to have a broken arm and many bruises. The doctor, who was not at all happy to be called out to look at a mere laborer, sent for a surgeon to set the arm. The surgeon departed when he was finished, after dosing the man with laudanum and giving Mrs. Bowen instructions not to let him move for at least a day.

The man, now able to speak, or at least to mumble, said his name was Timmons and begged us to send word to his wife in their rooms near Euston Station.

At least this is what Mr. Davis related to me. I had scrubbed my hands and returned to my brioche when the hurt man had been carried upstairs. I needed to carry on with my duties if I was to have a meal on the table when the master came home. Lady Rankin had said he returned on the dot of eight and expected to dine right away, and it was after six now. Sinead, though curious, obediently resumed her kitchen duties.

As Sinead and I worked, Mr. Davis told us all about the doctor's arrival and his sour expression when he'd learned he'd come to see to a working-class man, and the fact that this Timmons would have to spend the night. One of the footmen had gone in search of his wife.

By that time, I had shaped my rich bread and was letting it rise in its round fluted pan while I turned to sorting out the vegetables I'd chosen from the larder—plump mushrooms that were fresh smelling, asparagus nice and green, a firm onion, ripe tomatoes.

"Lady Cynthia is beside herself," Mr. Davis said. He sat down at the kitchen table, propping his elbows on it, doing nothing useful. My chopping board was near him, and I thumped the blade menacingly as I cut through the onions Sinead had peeled for me. Mr. Davis took notice. "She's a flibbertigibbet but has a kind heart, does our Lady Cynthia," he went on. "She promised Timmons a sum of money for his trouble—which Lord Rankin will have to furnish, of course. She hasn't got any money. That's why she lives here. Sort of a poor relation, but never say so."

This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition. ...

What our readers think...

Contact Us Anytime!

Facebook | Twitter