“No, thank you.” Narraway declined the offer, but sat down comfortably. “I don’t want to keep you longer than I need to. It is gracious of you to spare me the time.”

“Old habits,” Tregarron said drily, sitting in the companion chair opposite him and leaning back, crossing his legs. “How can I help you now? You said something about the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pretty good shambles, especially after that awful business in Mayerling.” He pulled his face into an expression of regret and a certain unmistakable degree of disgust. “Emperor’s only son, heir to the throne, commits suicide with his mistress in a hunting lodge. If that’s what it was, of course.” He let his words hang in the air. “Maybe it was just the best interpretation they could put on it, under the circumstances.”

“I think it’s rubbish,” Narraway said briefly. “Unless he was insane. No royal prince takes his own life because he can’t marry his mistress. His wife might have been any kind of a bore, or a harridan-even then, you just live separately. It’s been done by more kings than I’ve had good dinners. The old emperor himself has a mistress, in spite of having married for love.”

Tregarron smiled widely, showing strong teeth. “My father spent years in Vienna. He said Franz Josef was supposed to marry the empress’s elder sister, but he fell madly in love with Sisi on sight and wouldn’t have anyone else.”

“Yes. And your father probably would’ve been the man to know,” Narraway agreed. “But that makes it even more unlikely that Rudolf would have taken his own life. Simply because he couldn’t possibly make her empress, when the time comes? I don’t believe it.”

“Was it the Mayerling business you wanted to speak to me about?” Tregarron asked curiously. “How does that concern our government, or Special Branch, for that matter?”

“No, it has nothing to do with Mayerling, or Rudolf,” Narraway said quickly. “It goes back much further than that, possibly thirty years or more, forty, even fifty.”

“Good heavens!” Tregarron looked startled, and amused. “How old do you think I am?”

Narraway smiled. “I was actually thinking of your father. You said he spent years in Vienna …”

There was a brief tap on the door and, without waiting for a reply, Lady Tregarron came in. She was in her mid-forties but still extremely attractive in a quiet, comfortable way. Her features were unremarkable, her coloring quite ordinary, but she carried with her a kind of serenity. It was impossible to imagine her troubled by any sort of ill temper.

“Good evening, Lord Narraway,” she said with a smile. “How pleasant to see you. May we offer you something? Perhaps a fresh cup of tea? I assume you have dined already, but if not, I’m sure Cook could find you a good sandwich, at the very least.”

“A cup of tea would be excellent,” Narraway accepted. “It’s a miserable night.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” she asked with concern.

“I don’t want to disturb you for long. In fact, I can come to the point rather more quickly than I have been doing.” He turned to Tregarron. “Have you heard of a woman named Serafina Montserrat? Perhaps in some connection with Austrian affairs?”

There was a slight flicker across Tregarron’s face, but it was impossible to read. “Montserrat?” he repeated. “No, I don’t think so. It’s the kind of name one would remember. Italian? Or Spanish, perhaps?”

“Italian,” Narraway answered. “From the north, Austrian-occupied territory.”

Tregarron shook his head. “I’m sorry, I have no idea.”

Lady Tregarron looked from one to the other of them, then excused herself to ask the maid to bring tea.

Narraway knew Tregarron was lying. The expression in his eyes, the repetition of the name to give himself a moment to consider before denying, gave him away. But there was no point in asking again, because he had already chosen his position. He could not go back on it now without admitting he had lied. And what explanation could there be for that? If Narraway had asked him with Lady Tregarron not present, would the answer have been different?

Was Tregarron’s denial due to a desire to remain uninvolved in something? Surely anything Serafina knew was too old to affect anyone now, and certainly couldn’t affect any current government concern. But could it affect someone’s reputation? Or a friend?

Or was it simply that since Narraway was no longer in Special Branch at all, let alone head of it, Tregarron did not trust him, but did not want to say so? That thought was peculiarly painful, which was ridiculous. It had been months now since his dismissal. He should be over it. He should have found some new passion to consume his energy. There were years of spare time stretching ahead of him.

He forced his voice to sound light, free from emotional strain.

“I don’t suppose it matters,” he said lightly. “It was an inquiry for a friend. Something to do with informing those who might wish to contact her before it’s too late. Apparently Mrs. Montserrat is getting very frail.”

Tregarron did not move at all. “Do I take it from your remark that Mrs. Montserrat is dying?” he asked.

Narraway shrugged. “That was what I gathered. I think she is of very advanced years.”

Tregarron blinked. “Really? I suppose it was all a very long time ago. One forgets how the years pass.” He smiled ruefully, but the expression stopped far short of his eyes.

Narraway hesitated. Should he let Tregarron see that he had observed the slip, or might he learn more if he let it pass? He decided on the latter.

“Yes,” he agreed with a sigh. “We were all a lot younger, with dreams and energy that I, at least, no longer possess.”

Tregarron appeared to relax, easing further into his chair. “Indeed. Matters are always more complicated than the young suppose them to be. Perhaps that’s just as well. If they grasped all the reasons why things won’t happen, or can’t be made to work, nothing would ever be tried. It’s certainly a hell of a mess now. We don’t need firebrands of any sort, especially in Austria. They have got little enough grip on their crumbling empire as it is, without harebrained idealists running amok.”

He shifted a little and recrossed his legs before continuing. “The emperor’s son died in one of the ugliest scandals of the century, and God knows, there have been other bad ones. We’ve had the odd few ourselves. Now his nephew, the only heir left, is wanting to marry a woman the old emperor considers beneath the position that will be thrust upon her. The Hungarian situation is bad, and growing worse. Most of Europe recognizes that the poor devils are second-class citizens in their own land. Italy and the Balkans are increasingly restless. And I’m afraid all of that is to say nothing of the chaos in Russia, and the very considerable rising power of Germany, which, united, is now tasting its own strength.”

He bit his lip and stared gravely at Narraway. “We have more than enough to worry about. Let the past lie in whatever peace it can.”

“It wasn’t important,” Narraway lied. “A passing kindness I might have been able to do.” He smiled apologetically. “I’m a trifle bored with listening to their lordships in the House. Perhaps I should find myself a country pursuit, except I am not a countryman, apart from the odd weekend.”

“Perhaps you should remain in London and listen more closely to their lordships. I’m sure you could find something to argue about, concentrate their minds now and then on a useful issue.” Tregarron frowned slightly. “I … I hate to ask this, but are you confident in this fellow Pitt that they’ve put in your place in Special Branch? I know he was a good policeman, but this is not quite the same thing, is it? He’ll need judgment, a keenness of perception that police experience won’t have taught him. He might be brilliant at solving mysteries and be able to unravel criminal activity and tell you exactly who’s involved, but can he see the larger picture, the political ramifications? Has he actually mastered anything beyond the art of solving crime? Does he understand anything deeper than that?”

Narraway knew exactly what Tregarron meant, but he affected a slight confusion to give himself time to think.

Tregarron leaned forward, filling the silence in an abrupt way, as if worried that he had offended Narraway. “I know he’s a good chap, and probably as honest as the day is long, and after that disaster with Gower, we’ll destroy ourselves without honesty. But for God’s sake, Narraway, we need a little sophistication as well! We require a man who can see ten jumps ahead, who can outwit the best against us, not just put a hand on the shoulder of the actual perpetrator of a crime, the fanatic with a stick of dynamite in his pocket.”

“I think one of Pitt’s greatest assets will be that men who think they are clever will always underestimate him,” Narraway replied.

Tregarron’s eyebrows shot up and a faint humor lit his face. “Should I consider myself suitably rebuked?” he

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