would be most embarrassing for you.”

“Mr. Forbes has misled you, sir,” Pitt said relentlessly. His voice was trembling, but he made it loud enough for the whole room to hear him. Was he ruining himself and his family? “He has expressed his belief that such a railway would be injurious to Africa and its peoples, and his own personal fortune is invested in shipping. He wishes to lead the project only in order to sabotage its success. Also, regrettably, he was responsible for a murder in Africa, and for the murder that His Royal Highness sent for Special Branch to solve. I am deeply sorry, sir.

Could a resolution have been found earlier, you would not have been troubled at this late date.”

The Prince’s face was gray but for two spots of hectic color in his cheeks. “What the devil are you talking about?” he hissed. “He wasn’t even in the Palace when the woman died, you nincompoop! What murder in Africa? Have you taken leave of your wits entirely?”

“His own son, sir,” Pitt said as levelly as he could. “Eden Forbes.

Tragically, he was mentally unbalanced, and murdered a half-caste prostitute in Cape Town. Rather than have him publicly tried and hanged for it, and knowing that it was a compulsion he would continue to follow, Mr. Forbes took him to a lonely place and executed him himself.”

The Prince stood paralyzed.

Watson Forbes swung round and took a step toward Pitt. Liliane interposed herself between them, facing her father. He looked at her eyes, and saw grief, and rage, and loyalty to her husband.

There was utter silence in the vast, glorious room. Every man and woman in it stood like figures in a painted tableau, gorgeous, lifeless.

Gracie’s nails dug into Pitt’s arm.

Pitt felt the sweat break out on his body and the instant after he was cold again.

Narraway was the first to move. He stepped up beside Pitt and bowed deeply to the Prince. “The matter is entirely closed, Your Royal Highness. The innocent have been vindicated and the guilty discovered and will now be arrested. I regret profoundly that it had to be done in your presence. We would all much rather you had not had to be distressed by it.”

The Princess of Wales stepped forward at last, linking her arm in that of her husband, and then she turned to Pitt, her eyebrows raised.

“I am deeply sorry, ma’am,” Pitt apologized humbly. “But I could not stand here and lie to His Royal Highness, and thus cause him to approve someone, in ignorance of their nature, and then be embarrassed later.”

“Your timing is unfortunate, sir,” the Princess said drily. “But I suppose your information is better late than not at all. You may go and finish your business. His Royal Highness is obliged to you.”

Pitt bowed again. “Ma’am.” Then he turned and withdrew as commanded, knowing that the Prince of Wales’s eyes followed him all the way to the great doors. He would neither forgive nor forget this wound, dealt in the throne room, in front of his court and his future ministers.

“ ’E in’t gonna get over that,” Gracie said in a hoarse whisper when they were back in the anteroom. “But yer done right.” She took a deep breath and smiled up at him. “I knew yer would.”

“Thank you, Gracie,” he said shakily. He thought of putting his other hand over to loosen the fierce grip of her fingers on his arm, but then decided not to. Perhaps it was enough.

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