Home > A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(6)

A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(6)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“Her uncle, Professor von Stein, was my guardian but he passed away recently and Elizabeth took me in. I’ve the paperwork to prove it.” I glanced back at the carriage. “We’d be obliged if we could stable the horses in the barn during the storm.”

The girl begrudgingly jerked her chin toward the eastern side of the house. Montgomery led the horses off, leaving us alone. She opened the door wider for us to enter, then shut it with a groan of hinges. I jumped at the sound. Lucy’s eyes were wide as she stood in the center of the grand foyer, dripping rainwater onto the stone floor. The foyer was Gothic in style, ancient by the look of it. Fading tapestries collected dust on the walls. A grand stone staircase led to an upper landing where a chandelier flickered and dimmed. It was surprisingly bright. With a start, I realized the light wasn’t coming from a flame—how on earth did Elizabeth have electricity all the way out here?

The young Romany woman stepped forward, her shoes scuffing on the floor.

I raised a frozen hand to my hair, pushing the soaked locks out of my face. “My name is Juliet Moreau, and this is Lucy Radcliffe. Let me show you the letter of introduction from Elizabeth. . . .”

I tried to unfasten my buttons to pull out the damp letter, but my fingers were too numb. The fire in the main hall wasn’t enough to chase away the chill. As I fumbled with my many layers of clothing a clock ticked from some unseen room, highlighting the silence. I glanced at Lucy. I hadn’t expected such a sullen welcome to Ballentyne and for Lucy’s part, she looked ready to run back outside and take her chances with the storm.

Another door slammed from deep within the manor and I whirled to the entryway. The Romany girl turned slowly to a back corner, where low male voices and heavy footsteps approached.

Montgomery and Balthazar entered, hands clasped behind their necks like prisoners of war. A gray-haired manservant with a thin face like a starved fox followed, pointing a rifle at the back of their heads.

“Wait!” I cried. “We’re friends of Elizabeth!”

The manservant ignored me. “I found two pistols on ’em and this rifle. They’ve a man wrapped in chains in the carriage. A prisoner, most like. We should alert someone in Quick to telegram the police.”

My heart fluttered wildly.

“He’s not a prisoner!” My words were sharp enough to shock them. The man cocked his head toward me and I saw he was missing his left ear; there was only a jagged scar in its place. Lucy shrank closer to me.

“His name is Edward Prince and he’s gravely ill,” I continued. “We’ve only chained him so he doesn’t harm himself in his delirium. He isn’t a threat and neither are we, so you can lower that rifle and drop this talk about sending for the police.” I tore at my damp layers until I found Elizabeth’s letter and thrust it at the girl. “It’s from Elizabeth. It says—”

“I can read,” she said coldly, opening the letter.

Lucy clung to my side. She was normally so much bolder than I, but she was mistress of the tearoom and salon. Here, in this last bastion of civilization before the upper wilds of Scotland, was the first time I’d ever seen her rendered speechless.

The maid finished the letter and exchanged a glance with the manservant. “It is as they say it is,” she said. I’d expected the letter to ease her suspicions, but if anything, her voice sounded even colder. Regardless, he lowered the rifle.

Montgomery took off his hat and wiped his wet hair back. “Balthazar, fetch Edward and our trunks, if you’d be so good.” Balthazar shuddered like a wet dog and turned to go. Thunder crashed outside and the chandelier dimmed, plunging the foyer in low light before the howling wind let up and the chandelier flickered back to full power.

“My name is Valentina,” the maid said curtly. “I’m second in charge after the housekeeper. This is Carlyle, the gamekeeper. We aren’t used to Elizabeth sending guests, certainly not wards.”

“Yes, well, here we are dripping all over your floors,” I said with an uneasy laugh. “Is there a place we might dry off and warm ourselves? I think we’re all nearly frozen through.” I couldn’t stop shivering, and it wasn’t just on account of the cold.

Valentina nodded toward the roaring grand fireplace. “Wait here. I’ll tell McKenna you’ve arrived.” She exchanged another unspoken glance with Carlyle, who followed her out of the foyer.

We were left alone in the silent hall. Watery old portraits hung high above our heads, looking down on us with eyes that seemed all too real. My skin rippled like the house had eyes and ears, and all were trained on us.

At last Lucy broke her silence to stomp off toward the fire. “Would it kill them to offer us a towel?” she hissed under her breath. “Some tea? You’d think we were lepers.”

I was glad, at least, that she’d found her voice again. We huddled around the fireplace, holding our hands toward the flame. Montgomery hung his oilskin coat on a hook by the fire.

“Elizabeth warned me they were out of practice with polite society,” I offered.

Lucy scoffed. Behind her, a faded threadbare boar loomed in the heavy tapestry. “Out of practice? More like they were both raised by wolves. I can’t imagine, if Elizabeth were here, she’d tolerate their behavior. A rifle to Montgomery’s head!”

I rubbed my hands together in front of the fire and thought of the first time I’d met Elizabeth. She’d dragged me through a kitchen window and dumped me on a hard stone floor. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by our reception after all.

“Well, we are imposing on their good will,” I said. “I’m just grateful to be out of that carriage. Besides, Elizabeth should arrive in a few days—”

A door slammed again and Valentina returned, though without any sort of towel or blanket for us to dry ourselves. If she noticed that we were all soaked to the bone and shivering, it only seemed to give her perverse satisfaction. “Carlyle will help your associate unload the carriage and carry the sick gentleman upstairs. McKenna said to bring you down to meet the rest of the staff. You’ve arrived at an unfortunate time. We’re in the middle of a funeral.”

Lucy’s face went white. “Who died?”

Valentina’s mouth quirked, the first flicker of emotion we’d seen other than sullenness. “The last group of strangers who came to this door.”

I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

 

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