I gave him a hard look. He’d kept his distance the past few days since our argument, and his sudden warmth seemed out of place.
“Your wedding dress!” Lucy said. “He makes a good point, Juliet. You’d get married in a burlap sack if it were up to you. We can talk to the seamstress and . . .” Her face fell, and she bit her lip. “Oh, but we couldn’t possibly leave Edward here.”
She gave me a glance filled with meaning. Edward hadn’t woken from his delirium again since that night three days ago, but the experience had shaken both of us.
“Balthazar and I will keep an eye on him,” Montgomery answered quickly. “We’ll fetch you straightaway if anything changes.” He nudged my shoulder. “Go on. Think of all the girls you’d disappoint, wanting to see a real bride in a white lace dress.”
Montgomery, playful? Now I was outright suspicious of his motives. I leaned in to whisper, “What about the police?”
“I asked around on the way in,” he whispered back. “There aren’t any police in Quick, only an old man with a telegraph. It’s a tiny village. The sheep outnumber the people.”
I studied him closely, wondering why he was so anxious to get me out of the house. If I had to guess, he was planning on doing some investigation into the strange happenings at the manor—and I wasn’t sure I should let him, certainly not with Edward’s state so precarious. On the other hand, I couldn’t deny that I was curious to know what he would find. Not that I suspected Elizabeth of anything, but it was impossible to ignore that between the bodies in the cellar, a son we never knew about, and deadly secret passages, there was more than met the eye at Ballentyne.
I made a show of rolling my eyes. “Fine. For the sake of my poor taste.”
But I gave Montgomery a hard look while the others weren’t watching. When we returned, I’d prod him with questions until he revealed whatever he found.
WE HEADED OUT JUST after breakfast. The fresh air did brighten our spirits, particularly Lucy’s. Once she got thinking about the idea of the wedding she couldn’t stop talking about dress patterns and cakes and how on earth we were going to get a proper wedding bouquet so far from London.
“I can’t imagine it,” she said. “You married before me. I’d have thought the world would end first. Who will give you away?”
“Carlyle, I suppose.”
She made a face. “But he’s so dour.”
“Yes, but he’s the only man on the estate.”
We came over a hill, chatting lightly, but paused. The burned-out shell of the oak tree came into view, still smelling of ash. It brought back the terror from that night nearly a week ago, fleeing the police and the storm. We’d been so desperate then.
The smile fell off Lucy’s face. “I do hope Elizabeth returns soon. Each day that Edward remains ill, I fear I’ll fall asleep and find him dead in the morning. I keep thinking, with her medical skills, there must be something she can do.”
She slipped her arm between mine, clutching it tight. I could feel desperate hope pulsing within her. “There are medical books in the library,” I said. “I’ll do some research into the diseased-brain condition he described. Once Elizabeth returns, I’ll speak with her straightaway.”
Lucy didn’t press the point, but her thoughts turned in to herself, unsatisfied by my answer.
We arrived in Quick in late morning and shopped around the few scattered stores, then ate a meal at the tavern and went to the dressmaker’s. It was a small operation sharing the back half of the general store. The dressmaker had a few bolts of yellowing lace she was ashamed to even pull out in front of a girl as stylish as Lucy. We flipped through books of patterns and fabric samples. Sometimes my eyes would catch on a beautiful dress and images would flash in my head of potentially happier times, Montgomery wearing a suit and me wearing the gown in a chapel with all our friends and family gathered. But those images soon faded. All my family was dead. Montgomery’s only blood relation was a boy wrapped in chains.
I closed the pattern book, sending dust into the air. Lucy looked up from the fabric samples. “What do you think of this lace?”
The sample she held out was beautiful. A single row of scalloped edges simple enough for my taste. When I brushed my fingers over the fabric, I could practically feel it draped around me.
I’m getting married, a voice inside me said. I was happy and yet unsettled at the same time. Would things be easier once we were married? Would our secrets matter as much? Would Montgomery forget, over time, how I’d killed those three men in cold blood?
Would I ever forget?
“It’s perfect,” I said, trying to smile.
Lucy drew a handful of paper bills from her purse and exchanged a few words with the dressmaker, who stumbled over promises that I’d be the most beautiful bride north of Inverness. I’d have settled for the plainest, if it meant a peaceful future for us.
“I can hardly wait until the dress is ready,” Lucy said, pulling on her coat outside. “We’ll comb your hair into a chignon like that actress at the Brixton. I’m sure Elizabeth has some pins we can borrow. . . .”
Lucy kept talking, but I only half paid attention. My eyes had fallen on a stack of old newspapers crumpled in the street outside the tavern. A GENTLEMAN’S THOUGHTS ON THE CHRISTMAS DAY MASSACRE, the headline read in bold black ink, like an accusation. My thoughts went to that bloodstained room in King’s College where my water-tank creatures had murdered three men. I took a step closer, read the byline, and nearly died of shock.
The article was written by John Radcliffe.
“There’s Carlyle with the mule cart.” Lucy’s hand clamped onto mine, and I jumped. “He must be headed back to Ballentyne. I’m sure he’ll give us a ride and save our boots the wear. That mud was something awful.”
I twisted away from the newspaper so she wouldn’t see her father’s name. Lucy waved Carlyle down, and the old gamekeeper steered the mule toward us, pulling it to a halt.
“Not much room, but you can squeeze in there, lassies.” He jerked his head at an empty place between huge baskets of vegetables.
I glanced back at that newspaper.
“You go,” I said, pushing Lucy toward the cart. “There’s only room for one of us to ride comfortably. I’ll walk. I’d like the time alone, anyway. Getting married, you know, so much to think about.”