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Chapter Twenty-Eight

I make a recovery



I cannot say how long I remained in a stupor, but one morning the snow had gone and new growth blessed the trees outside my Cavendish Square window.  I sat up in bed and viewed the large room with clear eyes. My bed was placed opposite the fire, with two chairs either side of the grate. The decorations were dark; with wood panelling and the floor covered by a Turkey rug. I was about to slip out of bed when I realised I was not alone. A girl of about sixteen years sat quietly, occupied with her sewing. She was dressed in fine clothes and her hair was all delicate curls. I had seen her before somewhere, but could not remember where. She noticed I was awake.

“I trust you are feeling better this morning Miss Ives,” she said. 

She walked towards me, picked a fine silk gown off the dresser and held the garment out to me. 

“I chose this myself. I hope you like it,” she said. She noticed my furrowed brow and laughed. “You may call me Selina… or Lady Selina, if you wish. Lord Appleby is my father.”

Ah, the coquette of a daughter. Where, I wondered, was the rogue of a son?

“You came to us in quite a sorry state. Clara has been caring for you and I sit with you whenever I can. You have said a great many intriguing things in your sleep. Father will not illuminate me.”

“What kind of things?” I said. 

I took the gown from her and pointed at the stays, which lay on the end of the bed. Selina reached over and gave them to me.

“You cried out in pain, but I thought you suffered only from a surfeit of ecstasy.” She pursed her lips and looked coy. 

She was a tease. I warranted that she had many admirers. I wondered if she had lost her virginity yet. She would make a good harlot.

“Don’t you dream of strange things when you are ill?” I said, pulling the stays tight. 

I had lost weight. I wondered what they had been feeding me, if anything. I fitted the petticoat around my waist. It was too loose, but I could do nothing about it.

“You cried out ‘stay away from me’, and ‘you are the Devil sir’, but then, other times, you would say things I would rather not repeat.”

“Ah, well. I cannot remember what I may have said.” I smiled at Selina kindly. For all her perverse sense of impish pleasure, I liked her.

“Would you comb my hair out?” I asked. “I have been laying abed for too long and it is matted.”

“Of course,” she replied. 

I allowed her to set the fanciest style she could manage. 

“I have no powder here,” she said. “If you will wait, I can fetch some.”

“No need.” 

I pulled on the stockings and tied them around my thighs with silken ribbons, before slipping my feet into the shoes Selina offered. There being no mirror in the room, I could not check my appearance, but the garments were so beautifully stitched and of such fine materials, I felt sure I looked very good indeed, for all my emaciation.

“We must go down and show my father. He will be pleased to see you. He has worried over much.” She leaned in close to me. “You have captured his heart.” 

She held my hand and led me to the door. I was unsteady, but gained strength from little Selina’s guidance.

“What has he told you about me?” I said.

“Oh, I know very well who and what you are,” she said.

“You do?”

“Yes, of course. You are courtesan. You are so lucky. You have men falling at your feet and are wife to none.”

If only she knew. 

We stepped out onto a landing, with wide stairs that led down into an echoing hall. The walls were marked with squares where paintings had once hung. At the bottom of the stairs the hall was broad and dark, with pillars to the ceiling, and plinths where statues had once stood, but which were now empty. Despite the size of the property, it looked to be in very poor condition. We passed through two rooms, which were not furnished well, until we came upon a great long dining hall. Lord Appleby sat at one end of the table, which stretched the entire length of the room. He glanced up at us. Selina ran to his side and kissed his cheek. I did not mind my manners and curtsey. Instead, I walked directly to him and slapped him across the face. He caught my hand and held it fast. I noticed a wry smile play across Selina’s lips.

“I presume you are hungry,” Lord Appleby said. 

I shrugged him off. I was angry with him, but he was right - I was very hungry. He indicated to one side and I sat. Selina took up the chair opposite. A servant brought in a porcelain teapot and rested it on a stand by my left arm. She waited for further instruction, but Lord Appleby waved her away.

“You may pour,” he said to me. 

I did as he instructed and filled our teacups with the warm brown liquid. 

“I am not used to tea,” I said. “I prefer coffee.”

“Tea is a great luxury,” Lord Appleby replied. “I have had to sell almost everything I own, as you can see. I am reduced in circumstances and soon, unless fortune favours me, I will have to sell this property, but I will not refuse myself tea.”

“Our life is perfect as it is,” said Selina. She really seemed a dear thing.

Lord Appleby wrinkled nose in disdain.

I knew of aristocrats who had lost all, usually through a combination of mismanagement and profligacy. I wondered which had brought Lord Appleby to his present financial circumstance.

“Few people see beyond my title. Yet, all is not as it seems, dear Miss Ives.” 

I supped my tea and was glad of it.

“When you first came to us, you were at death’s door. You were as frozen as a corpse,” he said.

“Yes.” He stayed any further words I might add.

“You were treated kindly. You were given medication and you were nursed back to full health.”

“Yes,” I repeated. “You offered your assistance and I am grateful, save that you kept me incarcerated for longer than was, perhaps, necessary. I would not have come to you, but I had nowhere else to go. My experience was… worrisome, to say the least.” Here I paused. I was not sure of anything, save that I remembered the sound of Westman’s cackle and the brief conversation.

“There was another with you,” I said.

Lord Appleby interrupted. “Has this to do with that which we witnessed at Northumberland House?” he said. 

He was careful in his choice of words. I deduced Selina knew nothing of the corpse and that her father wished it to remain that way. I swallowed a morsel of food. It stuck in my throat. I took another sip of tea.

“I told you about a man I had seen there and now, I think I have seen him here.” I could not remember, at that time, exactly how much I had told Lord Appleby of our murder.

“You did,” he said.

Selina’s eyebrows shot up. Did she know of whom we spoke?

“That is so,” I said. “So you do know him?”

He nodded. “Of course I do.” He appeared to caution Selina with a stern look. 

Selina pursed her pretty little lips. “He visits occasionally,” she said. 

I remained silent.

“He does not visit so very often,” said Lord Appleby. “He is caught up in his business affairs.”

“Which are?” I said.

“You ask a great deal of questions,” he replied. 

“I wish only to know how you have come by his acquaintance.”

Lord Appleby dabbed at his mouth with a cloth. He seemed reticent to explain himself.

“He is an important man. Is he not, father?” offered Selina. She glanced at Lord Appleby.  She wished for his approval. I discerned a certain air of manipulation in her manner. I thought Selina had long had her own way in this house. I frowned. Had not Captain Somerville come to me about a missing writer? And had that not been Elias Monk, whom I believed to be the man found dead in my bed?

“My daughter likes to run away with the truth,” said Lord Appleby. 

I thought this both unkind and hypocritical.

“I thought Mr. Westman was a gambler,” I said.

Lord Appleby barked out a laugh. “Who told you that? He thinks he is a wit.”

I remembered how they had passed in the doorway at Northumberland House. At that time, they said nothing to one another, but it did seem as if there was a thread of allegiance running between them.

“Was he here when I arrived?” I said.

Lord Appleby acknowledged my question with a nod. So, I had not been mistaken; the mysterious William Westman was involved in an intrigue with Lord Appleby. I glanced at Selina. She screwed up her face in annoyance, as only young girls can. I directed myself to Lord Appleby.

“Why will you not give me a straight answer?” 

“Circumstances will not allow me to reveal my hand at this moment,” he said.

Lord Appleby’s manservant, Lucius, cleared his throat. He stood at the end of the table and announced that a visitor had arrived. 

“He gave his name as Mr. Mendoza,” Lucius said. “I’ve shown him into the library.” He bowed. 

Mr. Mendoza? Moses Mendoza? I looked aghast. Had he come for me? And if so, why? Surely, as far as he was concerned, he was well rid of me? Lord Appleby pushed his chair back.

“You will excuse me. Eat, and when you have finished ask Selina to bring you to the library where some of your questions will be answered.” He gave me a curt smile. 

I can say with all conviction, I did not wish to sit and eat while Lord Appleby discussed my fate with the hated Mr. Mendoza. I followed my host with some speed out into the grand hall. 

“How did he know I was here? Did you send for him?” I called after him.

“Yes. I sent for him,” said Lord Appleby. 

He strode away into the mansion’s dim interior. Selina appeared beside me. She took my arm and cradled it as if she was but a small child eager to placate her irksome mother. 

“Let him alone,” she said. “He will act in your best interest.” 

I shook her off.

“No. Any conversation about my future will occur in my presence. I will not be bought and sold.” 

I realise how ridiculous that statement sounds now, given the nature of my occupation, but at that time, I was confused and angry both. I hastened after Lord Appleby.

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