Anne Perry

Rutland Place


Charlotte Pitt took the letter and looked at the errand boy in some surprise. He gazed back with round, intelligent eyes. Was he waiting for a financial reward? She hoped not. She and Thomas had only recently moved from their previous house into this larger, airier one, with its extra bedroom and tiny garden, and it had taken all their resources.

'Will there be a reply, ma'am?' the boy said cheerfully, a trifle amused by her slowness. He was generally employed in a wealthier part of the city; people in these streets ran their own errands. But this was the sort of place he aspired to one day in the dim, adult future: a terraced house of his own with a clean step, curtains at the windows, a flower box or two, and a handsome woman to open the door and welcome him in at the end of the day.

'Oh,' Charlotte breathed out in relief. 'Just a moment.' She tore the envelope, pulled out the single sheet of paper, and read:

12 Rutland Place, London. 23rd March, 1886.

My dear Charlotte,

A curious and most disturbing thing has happened here lately, and I would value your advice upon it. In fact, knowing your past skill and experience with things of tragic or criminal nature, perhaps even your help? Of course this is nothing like the unspeakable affairs you have unfortunately been drawn into before, in Paragon Walk, or that appalling business near Resurrection Row, thank heavens-simply a small theft.

But since the article I have lost is of great sentimental value to me, I am more than a little distressed over it, and most anxious to have it returned.

My dear, would you help me in this, at least with your advice? I know you have a maid now who can look after Jemima for you in your absence. If I send the carriage for you tomorrow about eleven o'clock, will you come and take luncheon with me, and we can talk over this wretched business? I do so look forward to seeing you.

Your loving mother, Caroline Ellison.

Charlotte folded the letter and looked back at the boy.

'If you wait just a moment I shall write a reply,' she said with a little smile, and then, after a small interval, returned to hand him her acceptance.

'Thank you, ma'am.' The boy nodded and scampered off. Apparently he had not expected more; his reward no doubt customarily came from the sender. Anyway, he was far too worldly wise not to know precisely who was worth how much, and who would or would not part with it.

Charlotte closed the door and went back along the corridor to the kitchen where her eighteen-month-old daughter Jemima was sitting in her crib chewing a pencil. Charlotte took it from her absentmindedly and handed her a colored brick instead.

'I've asked you not to give her pencils, Grade,' she said to the little maid, who was peeling potatoes. 'She doesn't know what they're for. She only eats them.'

'Didn't know she had it, ma'am. She can reach ever so far between those bars. Leastways, it keeps her from getting into the coal scuttle or the stove.'

There was an abacus of bright wooden beads set into the

railings of the crib, and Charlotte knelt down and rattled them lightly. Jemima was immediately attracted and stood up. Char shy;lotte began to count them out for her, and Jemima repeated the words, concentrating hard, her eyes going from the beads to Charlotte's face, waiting after each word for approval.

Charlotte was only half alert to Jemima. Most of her concentra shy;tion was on her mother. Her parents had accepted it extremely well when she had told them she was going to marry, of all things, a policeman! Edward had prevaricated a little and asked her very soberly if she was perfectly sure she knew what she was doing. But right from the start Caroline had understood that her most awkward daughter had found someone whom she loved, and the trials of such a radical drop in both social and financial status would be far less difficult for her than a politely arranged marriage to someone she did not love and who could not hold her interest or respect.

But in spite of their continued affection, it was most unlike Caroline to send for Charlotte over something as trivial as a petty theft. After all, such things did occur every so often. If it was a trinket, it was probably one of the servant girls borrowing it to wear for an evening out. It might well turn up again, if a few judicious hints were dropped. Caroline had had servants all her life; she ought to Be able to cope with such a matter without recourse to advice from anyone.

Still, Charlotte would go; it would be a pleasant day, and she had been through a time of hard work getting the house into the order she wished.

'I'm going out tomorrow, Grade,' she said casually. 'My mother has invited me to take luncheon with her. We can leave doing the landing curtains until the day after. You can look after Jemima and scrub this floor and the wooden cupboard in the corner. Get some good soap into it. It still smells odd to me.'

'Yes, ma'am, and there'll be some laundry. And shall I take Jemima for a walk if it's fine?'

'Yes, please, that would be excellent.' Charlotte stood up. If she was going to be out for most of tomorrow, then she had better get on with the bread this afternoon, and see what her best day dress looked like after hanging up in a wardrobe over the winter. Gracie was only fifteen, but she was a competent little thing and liked nothing better than caring for Jemima. Charlotte had al shy;ready told her that in six months' time there would be another baby to care for. And it was part of the terms of Gracie's employment that she should do the heavy laundry that another child would entail as well as the usual kitchen and household chores. Far from being daunted by the prospect, Gracie appeared to be positively excited. She came from a large family herself, and she missed the constant demanding and noisy companionship of children.

Pitt was tired when he came in from work a little before six. He had spent most of the day in the profitless pursuit of a couple of dragsmen, thieves who stole especially from carriages, and had ended up with nothing more for his exercise than half a dozen descriptions that did not match. An inspector of his experi shy;ence would not have been called to deal with the affair at all had not one of the victims been a gentleman of title who was loath to have anything to do with the police. The man had lost a gold pocket watch inherited from his father-in-law, and did not care to have to explain its absence.

Charlotte welcomed him with the same strange mixture of excitement and comfort she always felt at the sight of his untidy, skew-collared, rumple-coated figure. She hugged him for several long, close minutes, then presented him with hot soup and his dinner. She did not disturb him with so trivial a matter as her mother's mislaid item.

The following morning she stood in front of the cheval glass in her bedroom and adjusted the lace fichu at her neck to hide the place where she had taken off last year's collar. Then she put on her best cameo brooch. The effect was entirely satisfactory; she was three months with child, but there was not yet any observ shy;able change in her figure, and with the customary whalebone corseting that laced even the most recalcitrant waist into elegant curves-uncomfortable though it was for the more generously made and almost crippling for the plump-she looked as slender as ever. The dark green wool was becoming to the warmth of her complexion and the richness of her hair, and the fichu took away from the severeness of the dress, making it a little more feminine.

She did not wish Caroline, of all people, to think she had become dowdy.

The carriage came at eleven, and before half past it had crossed the city, trotted along the sedate length of Lincolnshire Road, and turned into the quiet, tree-lined elegance of Rutland Place. It stopped in front of the white portico of number 12, and the footman opened the door and handed Charlotte out onto the damp pavement.

'Thank you,' she said without looking around, as if she were perfectly accustomed to it, as indeed she had been until only a few years ago.

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