life because of the ensuing disgrace. Their mother had died within the month. Her heart had been weak, and the grief and distress so soon after the loss of her younger son in battle had been too much for her.

Looking at Charles now, Hester’s similar fears for him returned with a force that took her by surprise. They had seen each other very little since Hester’s marriage, which Charles had found difficult to approve—after all, Monk was a man without a past. A carriage accident six years ago had robbed him of his memory. Monk had deduced much about his past, but the vast majority of it remained unknown. Monk had been in the police force at the time of his meeting with Hester, and no one in the very respectable Latterly family had had any prior connections with the police. Beyond question, no one had married into that type of social background.

Charles looked up, expecting her to fetch the tea. Should she ask him what troubled him so profoundly, or would it be tactless, and perhaps put him off confiding in her?

“Of course,” she said briskly, and went to the small kitchen to riddle the stove, loosen the old ashes and put more coal on to boil the kettle. She set out biscuits on a plate. They were bought, not homemade. She was a superb nurse, a passionate but unsuccessful social reformer, and as even Monk would admit, a pretty good detective, but her domestic skills were still in the making.

When the tea was made she returned and set the tray down, poured both cups and waited while he took one and sipped from it. His embarrassment seemed to fill the air and made her feel awkward as well. She watched him fidget with the cup and gaze around the small, pleasant room, looking for something to pretend to be interested in.

If she was blunt and asked him outright, would she make it better or worse? “Charles . . .” she began.

He turned to look at her. “Yes?”

She saw a profound unhappiness in his eyes. He was only a few years older than she, and yet there was a weariness in him, as if he no longer had any vitality and already felt himself past the best. It touched her with fear. She must be gentle. He was too complex, far too private for bluntness.

“It’s . . . it’s rather a long time since I’ve seen you,” he began apologetically. “I didn’t realize. The weeks seem to . . .” He looked away, fishing for words and losing them.

“How is Imogen?” she asked, and instantly knew from the way he avoided her eyes that the question hurt.

“Quite well,” he replied. The words were automatic, bright and meaningless, as he would answer a stranger. “And William?”

She could bear it no longer. She put down her cup. “Charles, something is terribly wrong. Please tell me what it is. Even if I cannot help, I would like you to trust me at least to share it.”

He was sitting forward, his elbows on his knees. For the first time since he had come into the room he met her gaze directly. His blue eyes were full of fear and absolute, total bewilderment.

She waited.

“I simply don’t know what to do.” His voice was quiet, but jagged with desperation. “It’s Imogen. She’s . . . changed . . .” He stopped, a wave of misery engulfing him.

Hester thought of her charming, graceful sister-in-law, who had always seemed so confident, so much more at ease with society and with herself than Hester was. “How has she changed?” she asked gently.

He shook his head. “I’m not really sure. I suppose it must have been over a while. I . . . I didn’t notice it.” Now he kept his eyes down on his hands, which were knotted together, twisting slowly, knuckles white. “It seemed just weeks to me.”

Hester forced herself to be patient. He was in such obvious distress it would be unkind, and on a practical level pointless, to try to concentrate his mind. “In what way has she changed?” she asked him, keeping the emotion out of her voice. It was extraordinary to see her calm, rather pompous brother so obviously losing control of a situation which was so far merely domestic. It made her afraid that there was a dimension to it beyond anything she could yet see.

“She’s . . . unreliable,” he said, after searching for the word. “Of course, everyone has changes of mood, I know that, days when they feel more cheerful than others, anxieties, just . . . just unpleasant things that make us feel hurt . . . but Imogen’s either so happy she’s excited, can’t keep still . . .” His face was puckered with confusion as he sought to understand something which was beyond him. “She’s either elated or in despair. Sometimes she looks as if she’s frantic with worry, then a day later, or even hours, she’ll be full of energy, her eyes bright, her face flushed, laughing at nothing. And . . . this sounds absurd . . . but I swear she keeps repeating silly little actions . . . like rituals . . .”

Hester was startled. “What sort of things?”

He looked embarrassed, apologetic. “Fastening her jacket with the middle button first, then from the bottom up, and the top down. I’ve seen her count them to make certain. And . . .” He took a breath. “And wear one pair of gloves and carry an odd one that doesn’t match.”

It made no apparent sense. She wondered if he could possibly be correct, or if in his own anxiety he was imagining it. “Did she say why?” she asked aloud.

“No. I asked her about the gloves, and she ignored me, just spoke about something else.”

Hester looked at Charles, sitting in front of her. He was tall and slender, perhaps a little too thin now. His fair hair was receding, but not much. His features were regular; he would have been handsome if there were more conviction in his face, more passion, even humor. His father’s suicide had wounded him in a way from which he had never recovered. He was marked with a pity he did not know how to express, and a shame he bore in silence. He would have felt it a betrayal to offer explanations of such a private grief. Hester had no idea what he had shared with Imogen. Perhaps he had tried to shelter her from it, or imagined it would be helpful to her to see him as invulnerable, always in control. Perhaps he was right!

On the other hand, Imogen might have wanted passionately to have shared his pain, to have known that he trusted her with it, that he needed her kindness and her strength to bear it with him. Perhaps she had felt excluded? Hester would have, she knew that absolutely.

“I suppose you have asked her directly what troubles her?” she said quietly.

“She says there is nothing wrong,” he replied. “She changes the subject, talks about anything else, mostly things that neither of us care about, just anything, a wall of words to keep me out.”

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