Anne Perry

Paragon Walk


Inspector Pitt stared down at the girl, and an overwhelming sense of loss soaked through him. He had never known her in life, but he knew and treasured all the things that now she had lost.

She was slight, with fair brown hair, a childish seventeen. Lying on the white morgue table, she looked brittle enough to have snapped if he had touched her. There were bruises on her arms where she had fought.

She was expensively dressed in lavender silk, and there was a gold and pearl chain around her throat-things he could never have afforded. They were pretty, trivial enough in the face of death, and yet he would like to have been able to give such things to Charlotte.

Thoughts of Charlotte, safe and warm at home, brought a sickness tightening in his stomach. Had some man loved this girl as he loved Charlotte? Was there someone right now for whom everything clean and bright and gentle had gone? All laughter snatched away, with the breaking of this fragile body?

He forced himself to look at her again, but his eyes avoided the wound in her chest, the stream of blood, now congealed and thick. The white face was expressionless, all surprize or horror ironed out of it. It was a little pinched.

She had lived in Paragon Walk, very rich and very fashionable, and no doubt also idle. He had nothing in common with her. He had worked ever since leaving the estate that had employed his father possessing nothing but a cardboard box with a comb and a change of shirt and an education shared with the son of the great house. He had seen the poverty and the despair that teemed just behind the elegant streets and squares of London, things this girl had never dreamed of.

He pulled a face as he remembered with a twist of humor how horrified Charlotte had been when he had first described them to her, when he was merely the policeman investigating the Cater Street murders, and she a daughter of the Ellison house. Her parents had been appalled even to have him in the establishment, let alone to address him socially. It had taken courage for Charlotte to marry him, and at the thought of it the warmth burst up inside him again, and his fingers clenched on the edge of the table.

He looked down at the girl’s face again, furious at the waste, the wealth of experience she would never know, the chances gone.

He turned away.

“Last night after dark,” the constable beside him said glumly. “Ugly business. Do you know Paragon Walk, sir? Very ’igh class neighborhood, that. Most of it is, around there.”

“Yes,” Pitt said absently. Of course, he knew it; it was part of his district. He did not add that he knew Paragon Walk especially, because Charlotte’s sister had her town house there and so it had remained in his mind. As Charlotte had married socially beneath her, so Emily had married above and was now Lady Ashworth.

“Not the sort of thing you’d expect,” the constable went on, “not in a place like that.” He made a slight click of disapproval with his tongue. “I don’t know what things is coming to, what with General Gordon killed by that there dervish, or whatever, in January, and now we got rapists loose in a place like Paragon Walk. Shockin’, I call it, poor young girl like that. Looks as innocent as a lamb, don’t she?” He stared down at her mournfully.

Pitt turned round. “Did you say raped?”

“Yes, sir. Didn’t they tell you that at the station?”

“No, Forbes, they did not,” Pitt was sharper than he meant to be, to cover the new misery. “They just said murder.”

“Oh, well, she’s been murdered, too,” Forbes added reasonably. “Poor creature.” He sniffed. “I suppose you’ll be wanting to go to Paragon Walk now it’s morning, like, and talk to all them people?”

“Yes,” Pitt agreed, turning to leave. There was nothing more he could do here. The means of death was obvious, a long, sharp-bladed knife at least an inch broad. There was only one wound, which had to have been fatal.

“Right,” Forbes followed him up the steps, his heavy feet loud on the stone.

Outside Pitt gulped at the summer air. The trees were in full leaf and already at eight o’clock it was warm. A hansom cab clopped by at the end of the road, and an errand boy whistled about his business.

“We’ll walk,” Pitt said, striding out, coat flapping, hat jammed on the top of his head. Forbes was obliged to trot to keep up with him, and long before they were at Paragon Walk the constable was distressingly out of breath and wishing fervently his duty had landed him with anybody but Pitt.

Paragon Walk was a Regency road of great elegance, facing an open park with flowerbeds and ornamental trees. It curved gently for about a thousand yards. This morning it looked white and silent in the sunlight, and there was not even a footman or a gardener’s boy to be seen. Word of the tragedy would have spread, of course; there would be huddles in kitchens and pantries and embarrassed platitudes over the breakfast tables upstairs.

“Fanny Nash,” Forbes said, catching his breath for the first time as Pitt stopped.


“Fanny Nash, sir,” Forbes repeated. “That was ’er name.”

“Oh, yes.” The sense of loss returned for a moment. This time yesterday she would have been alive, behind one of those classic windows, probably deciding what to wear, telling her maid what to lay out for her, planning her day, whom to call on, what gossip to tell, what secrets to keep. It was the beginning of the London Season. What dreams had crowded through her mind such a little while ago?

“Number Four,” Forbes prompted at his elbow.

Inwardly Pitt cursed Forbes for his practicality, though he knew that was unfair. This was a foreign world to Forbes, stranger than the back streets of Paris or Bordeaux would have been. He was used to women in plain, stuff dresses who worked from waking to sleeping, large families living in a few, overfurnished rooms with the smell of cooking everywhere and the intimate usage of faults and pleasures. He could not think of these people as the same, under their silks, and their rigid, stylized manners. Without the discipline of work, they had invented the discipline of etiquette, and it had become just as ruthless a master. But Forbes could not be expected to understand that.

As a policeman, Pitt knew it was customary for him to present himself at the tradesman’s entrance, but he would not now begin something he had refused all his life.

The footman who came to the front door was grim and stiff-faced. He stared at Pitt with unaffected dislike, although the superciliousness of the look was somewhat spoiled by the fact that Pitt was several inches taller.

“Inspector Pitt, of the police,” Pitt said soberly. “May I speak with Mr. and Mrs. Nash?” He assumed assent and was about to go in, but the footman stood his ground.

“Mr. Nash is not at home. I will see if Mrs. Nash will receive you,” he said with distaste, then backed half a step. “You may wait in the hall.”

Pitt looked around him. The house was larger than it had appeared from outside. He could see a wide stairway with landings leading from it on either side, and there were half a dozen doors in the hall. He had learned something of art from working on the recovery of stolen goods, and he judged the pictures on the walls to be of considerable value, if too stylized for his own taste. He preferred the modern, more impressionistic school, with blurred lines, sky and water merging in a haze of light. But there was one portrait, after the manner of Burne-Jones, that caught his attention, not for its artist, but for its subject, a woman of exceptional beauty-proud, sensuous and dazzling.

“Cor!” Forbes let out his breath in amazement, and Pitt realized he had not been inside a house such as this before, except perhaps in the servants’ hall. He was afraid Forbes’s gaucheness would embarrass them both, and perhaps even handicap his questioning.

“Forbes, why don’t you go and see what you can learn from the servants?” he suggested. “Perhaps a footman or a maid was out? People don’t realize how much they notice.”

Forbes was torn. Part of him wanted to stay and examine this new world, not to be shut out of anything, but a larger part wanted to escape to the more familiar and do something he was confident in. His hesitation was brief

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