Chapter Thirty-Three

I am welcomed home

I did not know what to expect when I re-entered the house on the corner of Russell Street and the Little Piazza. I was somewhat concerned that Mother Shadbolt would treat me in an offhand manner, but I need not have worried over much, for she was as welcoming as if I was one of her best clients. She showed me into the parlour, which was decorated for the evening’s entertainment; the table was laden with food and a trio of musicians occupied the far corner. There would be a cacophony and my head would ache. I did not think I could stand it.

“We are expecting esteemed guests?” I enquired. 

My eyes roved over the bottles and carafes. I snatched up a glass and half-filled it with gin.

“It is in your honour,” said Mother Shadbolt. 

Her smile could not have been more cloying, nor her general demeanour more patronizing. I downed the gin in one and winced.  

“My honour? I have done nothing but bring shame on this house, surely?” I said.

Mother Shadbolt patted my arm and took me across the room to inspect the treats laid out on the side table.

“The aristocracy has come to our rescue and we have you to thank for that,” she said. “I gave Priss your old room, but I have removed her and clothes have been laid out for you. Take yourself upstairs and make yourself ready. His Lordship will be here soon and there is still much to do.”

I cast a glance at Lucius. He stood attendance at the door. His eyes flashed in his handsome dark face, and beneath his livery, I sensed him to be a strong-muscled man. He bowed low. I liked that. I liked it very much. 

“Very well then,” I replied, not a little flirtatiously. I took myself upstairs. Lucius followed. 

“A lady does not like to be interrupted at her toilet,” I said. 

He thought on this. “Then I will await your presence elsewhere,” he said.

I had barely stepped out on the first floor landing, when I was greeted with screams of such magnitude one would be forgiven for thinking I was the Queen of England returned from a long voyage. Daisy rushed out of her room, followed closely by Constance, Lizzie, and Mary. They hung off my arms and kissed my cheeks. Daisy exclaimed that I was thinner of face. Mary, that I would need a bath, and Constance, that my hair had grown and was badly in need of restyling. Our new girls: Charlotte, Carolina, and Annie (whom I had so assiduously coached), could barely contain their excitement, and squealed and cried until they were quite worn out with the exertion. Only Priss was absent from our joyous reunion. I was borne along to my old room. At the door I cast a glance up the second flight of stairs. Priss stood at the top, her nose in the air, her message plain. In my absence she had assumed the highest status in our establishment. She was not about to let it go without complaint. I gave her a brief smile and allowed Daisy to pull me away. 

The tub was full of steaming hot water and the garments laid out on the bed, which itself had been newly dressed with red drapes. I was reminded of the last time I had bathed thus and, for a moment, was quite overcome with woe. However, Daisy was so joyous; I could not stay sad for long. 

“I did not know if you would return to us,” she said, “but I hoped it was so. Not a night passed that I did not look out across Covent Garden for you. Oh but I feared you were dead. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you again.”

I kissed her forehead and lowered myself into the bath.

“You are a dear sweet girl,” I said. She gathered up my petticoat and stays.

“I will have these burned,” she said. “They are pretty but… I will not ask how they came to be so malodorous. Where did you go? Mother Shadbolt looked for you, you know.”

I did not believe it. Mother cared little where her nuns went once they had left her dominion.

“She sent the link-boy to ask for you, but no one had knowledge of your whereabouts. Not even Polly, though she asked all she knew, but gleaned no information. We learned you are married to Jim Craddock.” Daisy gazed on me as I bathed, her eyes wide with consternation.

I sighed. “We do not live as man and wife and never have. It is a matter of convenience, no more. Is that a bottle of gin? Pour me a glass.”

“I thought you preferred ratafee.”

“I don’t care what it is, as long as it keeps me from going mad,” I replied. 

Daisy gave me a concerned look.

“You could have told me where you were going, you know. I would have kept it secret,” she said.

“I didn’t deliberately keep it from you. But listen, dearest Daisy. Lord Appleby took great care of me and nursed me back to health and here I am now.” 

 “It was only when we had word that Mr. Mendoza had been called to parlay with Lord Appleby that I knew for certain you were alright.” She pouted.

“But if that is so, why did no one come for me?” I said. 

“Mother Shadbolt would not allow it,” said Daisy. “She said you’d made your bed, and must lie in it.”

I gave out a laugh. “I don’t doubt.”

“And what of the murdered man?” whispered Daisy. “They have named him! He is…”

“I do not think it wise to speak of him,” I said, swiftly.

“I only…”

“Please, I have suffered much because of…” I lowered my voice. “The murder.” 

It was not entirely true; I had not suffered because of a dead man, but because of a murderer – and that murderer still walked abroad, though now it was clear; both William Westman and Lord Appleby were caught in the intrigue and I was in the middle of it. Either one of them could have killed Elias Monk. Quite possibly, Lord Appleby had killed his son, but how to discern the truth?

Daisy reached for a cloth. I stood in the tub, water dripping from my naked limbs, and allowed her to dry me. She wiped my belly and our eyes met briefly, before she hastened to hand me a clean chemise.

“It was nothing at all, but a bloody mess,” I said. 

“But a child all the same,” she replied.

“Hardly a child. There will be time. I am still young.”

I lifted my arms and allowed her to fasten my stays in place. As she did so she kissed my neck and I leaned back into her.

“I have longed for real love, but it eludes me still,” I said.

“But I love you,” said Daisy. “I have missed you so much. I cannot say.” She choked back a cry. I turned swiftly and gathered her in my arms.

“You are dear to me. You know you are. But my troubles are not yours and I will not have you placed in danger because of me. This house may not be safe for you… or for anyone.”

She frowned. “Not safe?”

“You must be careful. I will protect you if I can, but there may come a time, when the Devil walks unmasked in this house. When that happens, you must not concern yourself with me, but must take care to look after yourself alone.”

“What do you mean?” said Daisy. 

“I cannot explain it. I only know we must be watchful.” Would that I could tell all, but I feared she would not understand the finer points and if I am honest, neither did I.


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