God, it is vicious out there," Phineas Hardheart called, letting
himself in the front door. He blinked, standing in the foyer, letting
the warmth seep through his body.
Carrier, who of course knew Choir's agent, greeted him familiarly
on his way back to inspect the pantry. When he returned, Hardheart
was laying various papers on the credenza.
"His Lordship coming back tomorrow?" Hardheart asked,
not looking up.
"Yes. At Paddington. I had a wire. From Paris."
"As I did. What about Finch?"
"Mr. Finch wired me this morning. From Switzerland."
Hardheart cocked his head, nodding as if that made particular sense.
"What is all this?" Carrier asked, referring to the papers
he was aligning neatly in different piles.
"Agreements awaiting His Lordship's signature. His affairs
are...pressing, at the moment, what with his having been away and
all. Creditors," he said more succinctly. "This latest
development could not have come at a better time. He really has
pulled it off, I must say."
"What are you talking about?" Carrier asked.
"Haven't you seen the Times of two days back?"
"No." There was no reason why he should read the Times
on mornings when he need not, at six AM, purchase and iron its pages
for the gentlemen. Egan had introduced him to a small smudged periodical
that more directly addressed the workingman's needs, though at present
it was available only from a small shop in Brixton. "Was there
something in the Times concerning the Earl?"
"I should say there was," Hardheart replied, and unfolded
the large pages of his copy.
"Ah yes, Crystal Palace has maintained their lead over Manchester
United. That would perhaps be of more interest to Mr. Finch. He
is the one who follows the football scores."
"Not that. Over here."
It was the Engagements column. In the small, yet irrefutable print
of the Times, slightly enlarged and darker to indicate its relative
importance, ran the headline: JEFFREY, EARL OF CHOIR, AND LADY TABITHA
DE BOURNEVILLE TO WED, followed by the briefest of announcements
mentioning only that nuptials were to be held "in Westminster
"You will not be in charge of this happy household too much
longer," Hardheart said, watching Carrier read the text.
"No," Carrier murmured. "I suppose not."
"What will happen, do you think? To you, I mean. You are like
that baby in the bible, the one King Solomon had torn apart,"
"He did not have him torn apart," Carrier said irritably.
"He only threatened that, to see who loved the child more."
"And who loves you more?" Hardheart wondered aloud. "Have
you a preference, Mr. Carrier? Whom should your future master should
"If I had a preference I would keep it to myself." Carrier
thrust the folded-up newspaper back at Hardheart. His gaze returned
to the window, where a group of constables had now gathered around
the dead woman. Thinks he killed her? Carrier asked himself, noting
the initial culprit standing off to the side, apart from the rest,
patting his truncheon still, like a trusty cricket bat. Looks troubled.
Should I go out and tell him? Tell him she was already dead? No.
Best not get involved. Especially after... His hand stole to his
cheek, which, though outwardly healed, still throbbed from the toe
of a well directed boot.
"Mind you, if I was given the choice," Hardheart droned
on behind him, still arranging the many dunning notices and out-of-date
promissory notes, "I would go with Mr. Finch. No matter how
much of a fortune young Choir lands himself, he will run through
it. It is the running through he likes, more than the having."
"I may very well not continue in service at all," Carrier
heard himself say, turning from the scene and briskly resuming his
"What? You, Mr. Carrier? But you are a valet."
"At present, Mr. Hardheart. At present."
He touched the mantle, checking it for dust. Some old invitations
were still ranged along the marble. He replaced them with the more
recently received, including, centrally displayed, a pair of summonses
to the Royal Ball.
"Eight, I think, is the perfect number," the Duchess Middleton
said. She held a small gold pencil, its shaft tilted inquisitively
over a sheet of paper, and waited. Tabitha, however, did nothing.
"An engagement party is expected," the older woman went
on gently, "if you do not want people to talk."