The clatter of wheels and hooves over the cobblestones rose to the second-story window of 11 Harley Street where Ivy Marwood sat at her large mahogany desk in the front room of her flat writing the conclusion of her latest murder case. When she had penned the last few lines, she picked up the sheet of paper by the corner—Ivy only used the finest writing stock—and waved it in the air a few times to dry the ink before placing it atop a stack of pages that already lay neatly on the desk. She sat back and admired her handiwork. As a coroner, writer, and detective, Ivy found nothing more satisfying than a project completed, be it a conclusive inquest, a finished manuscript, or a murderer’s execution.
The momentary sense of triumph fled. The last words Ivy had written on the page were: To be continued. This latest case, “The Curse of the Ruby Dagger," was not yet finished: although the murderer had been caught, the famed jewel remained missing. It rankled Ivy that her work was not yet done, but personal matters had intervened. Barely a week ago, her adoptive father William Marwood had passed away.
From his perch on the windowsill, Lucifer, a desultory old tortoiseshell, turned at the sound of rustling paper and watched Ivy with disinterest for a moment before turning back to survey the bustling street below. Following his gaze, Ivy observed the horse-drawn carriages and men in capes and top hats that crowded the street. She heard the dull lash of the whip and the curses of the drivers as they jockeyed for right of way in the busy thoroughfare. The bustle of an ordinary morning had a calming effect. The sky was clear after days of rain, and colorful leaves littered the sidewalks. Ivy cracked the window and the smell of crisp autumn air wafted into the study.
Ivy took the stack of pages, wrapped them in sturdy brown paper, tied the bundle with string and set it aside to be sent to the journal by courier. Sitting back in her velvet upholstered chair, she looked around the room, which was so familiar and yet now seemed so foreign.
A large painting on the opposite wall particularly held her attention. Vanitas by David Bailly had been her father’s favorite painting. “Reminds us of where we’re all going,” he used to say. Musical instruments, a skull, wilting flowers, and crumpled sheet music sat atop a wooden table, as bubbles floated languidly in the air. Standing behind the table, almost lost in shadow, stood an African servant holding a miniature self-portrait of the artist.
The painting had always made Ivy uneasy; she wondered why the black servant was a harbinger of death. Or perhaps he was just another luxury object to be left behind. Today, however, Ivy looked at the painting with nostalgia; it reminded her of her father.
The caretaker, Mrs. Beele, startled Ivy from her reveries.
“Time for your tea,” said the white-haired woman, placing a tray on the coffee table. Mrs. Beele smiled at Ivy, whom she had raised since Ivy’s adoption fourteen years ago. She poured the steaming tea into a china cup and placed a biscuit on the side of the saucer. At the clinking of china, Lucifer leapt from his perch and sprang onto the settee next to Ivy. Ivy placed a biscuit on another saucer and set it in front of the cat, who began crunching on it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Mrs. Beele smiled. It was something Ivy had done ever since she was a child.
“I know, dear,” Mrs. Beele said as if continuing Ivy’s thoughts. “It is strange.”
“What is strange?” Ivy asked, sipping her tea and watching Lucifer.
“Why, William not being here. Before I came in, I fancied I heard him coming up the stairs. I almost put two cups on the tray.”
“He always did like his tea after an execution,” Ivy said. Then, reaching for the parcel on the desk and handing it to Mrs. Beele: “Here is ‘The Curse of the Ruby Dagger,’ ready to send off to The Shopkeeper.”
Though Ivy was aloof to the outside world, she had always doted on her father, who in turn was an old cudgel to nearly everyone except for her. Even when she was young, they would sit, have tea, and discuss William’s work. The morbid details of his profession as London’s executioner made Mrs. Beele cringe, but Ivy found them fascinating. When Ivy enrolled in Queen’s College at the age of twelve, she reported on her studies to her father, and every day they spent long hours poring over her books.
“The Ruby Dagger” had been Ivy’s first case since William’s death, and it had distracted Ivy from her grief. Stanley Filcher, a man desperate to pay off his gambling debts, murdered his wife Josephine in order to sell her jewels. Ivy caught him while he was attempting to disinter her body after learning that she had been buried with her famed ruby necklace instead of the paste replica that he had prepared. Curiously enough, after Ivy caught Filcher, she discovered that both the necklace he stole and the one adorning the corpse were fakes. The Ruby Dagger, a jewel so named for its large, sharp teardrop cut, was shrouded in myth, and it was known to bring misfortune to its bearer. Both Filcher and his wife had met unfortunate ends, and whoever had stolen the necklace might have a similar fate.
The lingering mystery irritated Ivy; the second fake and the disappearance of the original were loose ends she could not abide.
Even as Stanley Filcher had stood on the scaffold preparing to hang, he swore he had only made one copy of the necklace. His insistence told Ivy that there had been more at stake than his debts. It wasn’t the first time something seemed off about a murder she had solved. The details were always minor, and the authorities wrote them off. But to Ivy, this was the first firm clue that a larger, more sinister plot might be at work, and she was determined to follow the trail wherever it led.
Ivy always attended her murderers’ executions to hear the criminals’ last words. All of the wardens had known her father and granted her access to the prison grounds where the hangings took place. Ivy made a study of criminal psychology; a pursuit Scotland Yard dismissed. What could be gained from knowing a murderer’s thoughts? After all, the current wisdom went, criminals had naturally lower intelligence. They had no control over their actions, operating on animal instinct alone. Even their skulls were shaped differently; the low brow and protruding jaw found among the lower classes—as well the lower races—always gave them away. And when those of a better class committed crimes, they were found to be mentally flawed. Whether from low intelligence or moral insanity, criminals’ acts were foreordained. It was science.
Ivy disagreed. She found much value in a man or woman’s last moments as they stood on the gallows, the inevitability of death upon them. They had one final chance to make a statement before witnesses. They knew those words were the last they would ever speak. In that terrible moment, what would they choose to say?
In Filcher case, he swore he had only made one copy of the ruby necklace. He said it with conviction, repeating himself with rising desperation until the hangman put the black hood over his head. The ferocity of his denial and the fear in his voice confirmed Ivy’s suspicion that the second necklace betokened ill. She wished she could question him further, because in the time between his sentencing and his walk to the scaffold, Filcher’s attitude had changed. He had been indifferent at the trial, expressed no remorse, and did not seem concerned with the appearance of the second necklace. Now there stood a man who feared something worse than death, and Ivy yearned to discover his secret.
Recently, rumors had surfaced about a figure many considered to be a myth. “The Ghost” was a name informants whispered in backrooms and dark alleys, but when Ivy pressed, they always recanted, pled ignorance, and quickly disappeared.
After Filcher’s death, Ivy had inspected the body. She found nothing remarkable except for a small tattoo of an inverted triangle on his chest. She had never seen such a tattoo and was unsure of its significance. At the time, she had catalogued the detail and put it aside.
At the execution, Ivy had disliked seeing an unfamiliar face place the noose around the condemned man’s neck; that had always been her father’s duty. She noted his technique; the new hangman performed the operation correctly but lacked her father’s elegance.
Though it was not unusual for a hangman to become famous, William Marwood had gathered a tremendous following for his development of the “long drop” and the split trap door. Marwood’s method guaranteed death in under a minute, a selling point for his services and far more humane than the slow, writhing strangulation—and often decapitation—that the older “short drop” method caused. Marwood would fondly say of his predecessors: “They hanged them. I execute them.” Aside from revealing Marwood’s vanity, his distinction between hanging and execution demonstrated a desire to mitigate the punishment’s barbarity. He believed that properly meted justice could advance society’s morals far better than religion ever could and that using true science, unlike the pseudoscience of phrenology, would ensure that justice was done. He instilled these beliefs in Ivy, and they remained the chief motivators of her work.
“You need to get out more,” Mrs. Beele had told Ivy after the funeral. “You no longer have the old man’s health as an excuse.” Mrs. Beele shivered. “It’s so morbid in here. Let me clear out the office while you go to a music hall or the theater.”
“That is terribly common,” said Ivy. “I have no desire sing songs or be entertained by trapeze artists and minstrels.”
“The circus is coming to Covent Garden,” Mrs. Beele continued. “I hear they can shoot a lady from a cannon. Can you think of anything more wonderful? Why not find a young a man to go with?”
Ivy gave her a look.
“I don’t mean to sound indelicate,” Mrs. Beele said, noting Ivy’s reaction, “but you are twenty-six. Rather late to be single.” She paused. “You are just the picture of beauty. What young man could resist?”
Ivy was indeed the picture of beauty. Her features recalled Jean-Étienne Liotard’s Portrait of a Young Woman: warm brown skin, dark almond-shaped eyes, a fine rounded nose, full lips, and a delicately regal bearing. Her coiled hair fell to the middle of her back. Through trial and error, Ivy had learned to style it on her own, that having been Mrs. Beele’s one shortcoming. Today it was slightly puffed in the front and arranged in thick loops in the back. The coiffure was topped with a satin bow and gold pin.
At Mrs. Beele’s urging, Ivy had learned to be meticulous about her appearance. Today she wore a myrtle green silk dress that flattered her warm skin tone. Buttons and pintucks adorned a high-necked bodice trimmed with bands of striped plush. The lace collar and cuffs accentuated her graceful neck and strong wrists. The bodice fit attractively over her layered skirt, which gathered at the hip and cascaded over the bustled, pleated silk skirt beneath. Perhaps the caretaker knew Ivy attract more scrutiny than other girls, or perhaps she wanted to indulge Ivy’s childhood games of dress-up. Either way, Ivy’s love of Parisian fashion remained her only vice.
“Thank you for the compliment,” Ivy replied, “but the young men of whom you speak have only courted me to experience an illicit thrill or acquire an exotic souvenir. And of course there are the foreign businessmen who would like a pretty feather in their caps.”
“What about finding your old school friends?” Mrs. Beele continued, undeterred. “I remember one girl in particular. She was such a darling when the two of you studied at Queen’s together. What was her name?”
“Francine Atakaye Joubert,” Ivy said, annunciating the A-ta-ka-ye for Mrs. Beele’s benefit. “Her father was a French soldier and her mother was a local freedom fighter.”
“That’s right!” Mrs. Beele clapped her hands to her chest. “The stories she had. Never a dull moment in the Congo!”
“I’m afraid I haven’t seen Frannie since we graduated five, no six, years ago,” said Ivy. “She returned to Mpala to help fight the slavers. I believe she now commands a small army.”
Ivy recalled the broad-shouldered young woman who spoke English with a French accent peppered with Swahili. Most of their classmates had assumed they were sisters. Secretly, Ivy wished they had been.
“Regrettable that she decided not to study mathematics at the Sorbonne,” Ivy continued. “But then Frannie was never as good with a theorem as she was with a rifle.”
Though Ivy was born in the East End, most people assumed that she from some exotic locale like Frannie. The papers reported news of her exploits with headlines such as “Egyptian Detective Ends Vicar’s Viscous Spree” and “West Indies Woman Foils Foul Five in Mayfair.” The novelty of having a black woman as a public figure made Ivy something of a curiosity, and rumors about her origins abounded. Some whispered that she was the escaped child bride of an Indian prince, others, that she was the lovechild of an English plantation owner and his Jamaican mistress. Still others had it on good authority that she came from a long line of wealthy Spanish Moors. It was fashionable to invite Ivy Marwood to dinners and soirees, in part for the thrill of seeing a negress speak and dress in a civilized manner. Ivy maintained her mystique and sanity by declining most of those offers.
Just as Ivy was finishing her tea, there was a knock at the door.
She sensed unpleasantness. Lucifer must have too, because he slunk off the settee and hid beneath the table.
Mrs. Beele led a woman in deep mourning up the stairs and into the sitting room. The woman stood for a moment, awkward in the unfamiliar room, aware that it was unseemly for a woman in mourning to make house calls. Her gloved hands held each other for support.
Ivy noted the woman’s ensemble; expensive, but altered from an older style. The garment was nearly a size too big, and Ivy could see that the woman’s once robust figure had shrunk due to a sudden change in health.
“Mrs. Henry Nevillethorpe,” Mrs. Beele said, presenting the woman to Ivy and then disappearing to arrange another tea tray.
“Please, sit,” said Ivy, motioning toward a velvet damask armchair. The woman hesitated. She seemed so bewildered that Ivy thought she might need to lead her by the arm. Finally, the woman came to her senses, and the women sat facing each other across the coffee table.
“Would you kindly remove your veil?” asked Ivy. “I like to see the person with whom I am conversing.”
“I apologize,” said the woman, but again, she hesitated. It seemed to Ivy that the woman was reluctant to face her.
“I can assure you that anything we discuss will remain in strictest confidence,” Ivy said. “No matter how we proceed, no one will know of your visit.”
The woman hesitated another moment, then lifted the veil to reveal a face framed by brown curls and large, exhausted eyes. Though her cheeks had sunken and her skin had paled, Ivy recognized her immediately.
“Maud?” she said, breaking with her usual formality. “Maud Dickerson?”
For an excruciating moment the woman avoided Ivy’s gaze. Mrs. Beele’s audible gasp broke the silence as she brought in the tea tray.
“Why, Maud, is that you?” Mrs. Beele said with a cautious half-smile. She set the tea things on the table. “I was just telling Ivy she should get in touch with her old school friends.” T
The statement did little to ease the tension. “Well, I’ll let you get to work then.” Mrs. Beele said and took her leave.
In the silence, Ivy set about pouring the tea. She passed a cup and saucer to Maud, which the latter took with shaking hands. Meanwhile, Lucifer had perched himself on the back of the settee behind Ivy and was scrutinizing the visitor.
“I hate to come to you like this,” Maud said, looking aside. “You cannot know how much I hate it.”
“As I said, whatever you have to say will be held in strictest confidence. You have nothing to fear from me.” They were pointed words, and Maud winced at hearing them. Ivy’s tone was warm, but her eyes were steel. Since leaving Queen’s College, Maud’s was a face Ivy had hoped never to see again. The bullying had started early. Ivy and Francine had entered Queen’s College when they were twelve, the earliest one could attend. Maud Dickerson was one of their older classmates and the leader of a band of girls who didn’t want “darkies” at their school. The beatings went far beyond hair pulling and scratching, and the teachers turned a blind eye whenever Ivy and her “sister” turned up for lessons bruised and bloodied. Things have a way of coming full circle, Ivy thought, watching the bereaved woman. Maud’s life, it seemed, was in Ivy’s hands. Ashamed though she was at her reaction, Ivy derived a bit of pleasure from it.
“Mrs. Nevillethorpe,” Ivy began.
“Please, call me Maud. I do so hate that surname.” Ivy noted that this was the third time Maud had used the word “hate” in their brief conversation. She wondered whom else besides herself and Maud’s late husband (she knew without Maud saying it that it was a husband she mourned) had been the target of as Maud’s rage.
“My daughter Lizzie has been kidnapped,” Maud said, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief and handing Ivy a photograph. The girl in the photograph looked to be about eight years old. She wore a white satin dress with lace trim, white ruffled socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. Her golden ringlets fell to her shoulders and were tied with a silk bow. On the back of the photo the inscription: Elizabeth Anne Nevillethorpe, 8 yrs., written in Maud’s hand. Even though many had passed, Ivy could still recognize the elegant penmanship that belied her rival’s vicious nature.
In the photo, Lizzie looked like any other child of wealthy parents, but Ivy noticed something in the girl’s eyes that gave her pause. The child’s expression was soft and sweet, but there was a hardness, a loneliness behind her eyes that seemed out of place. Ivy thought she had seen that look somewhere before.
“I left her with her nurse yesterday morning,” Maud continued, “and when I returned in the evening she was gone.”
“Have you been to Scotland Yard?” Ivy asked.
“I went to the police as soon as I realized she was missing, but when they heard the name Nevillethorpe, they refused to hear me out. None of them wanted to risk a scandal.”
“And the nurse?”
“I could barely get a word out of poor Felicity for her hysterics. She said she had left Lizzie in the kitchen while she went to clean the upstairs bedrooms and when she came back, Lizzie was gone.”
“Forgive the impropriety,” Ivy said, “but your child’s nurse also cleans the bedrooms and, presumably, cooks?”
Maud lowered her eyes. “Ever since my late husband abandoned us, Felicity is the only help we can afford.”
“I see,” said Ivy. Changing tack, she asked, “Is it possible that Lizzie got lost in the house or outdoors?”
Maud nodded as though she had already thought of this. “I searched the whole house last night, the back yard, up and down the street, but a mother knows. Even as I searched, I could feel that Lizzie was not lost but had been abducted.” Maud paused. “Do you have children?”
Ivy remained silent.
Maud held a packet in her hands, and she passed it to Ivy.
“It arrived this morning,” she said, handling the packet as if it were a live snake.
Ivy reached into the large brown envelope and pulled out a letter. It was written on good, thick stock, but not of the highest quality. The same could be said for the ink in which the letter was written. The penmanship was excellent, and Ivy saw no spelling errors, but the letters were formed carefully, deliberately masking any particulars of style, such as gender or handedness. The disguised writing had a mechanical quality, as if it had been written by a machine. Clever, Ivy thought. But everything, and everyone, leaves a trace. She read the letter aloud:
As you no doubt know by this time, your daughter has been kidnapped. She is at present well and safe. You need fear no physical harm for her, provided you follow carefully the instructions herein…
The wording was cumbersome, the instructions convoluted. Ivy suspected the letter was meant more as misdirection than as a means of actually obtaining a ransom.
Out of the packet fell a strip of blue fabric torn from the girl’s dress. At the sight of the fabric, for the first time during their meeting, Maud wept.
“Now you must certainly call Scotland Yard,” Ivy said. If the letter had been a feint, the strip of fabric was authentic proof.
“But the letter,” Maud said.
“I know a constable,” said Ivy. “He is a capable man and someone I trust.”
“Not a detective?” Maud asked.
“They are too in thrall to the peerage,” said Ivy. And the underworld, she thought, but this she kept to herself.
Ivy waited for Maud to respond, but she did not. Ivy’s patience was wearing thin.
“Maud, I despise you, there is no reason for me to pretend otherwise.” Lucifer flicked his tail in agreement. “And I suspect you feel the same way toward me. If I agree to help you, know that I am doing so not for your sake, but for your daughter’s.”
“If?” Maud repeated. “There is no if. My daughter is missing! You are obliged to help me—it is your job!”
“Perhaps you are unclear on the nature of my work,” Ivy replied. “Potential clients bring me their concerns, I hear them out, and then I decide if the case merits my attention. I am not a crusader, nor do I dole out personal favors. I am a professional.”
The comment silenced Maud.
T“My question,” Ivy continued, “is why the kidnappers believe that a woman who—forgive me—is wearing last year’s fashion and cannot afford domestic help would have £50,000?” She paused. “Family name notwithstanding.”
TMaud took a steadying breath and placed her hands in her lap. “Then I think I had better tell you my story.”
“I was luckier than most girls like me,” Maud began.
Maud Dickerson was a farmer’s daughter. She vowed that she would become the first female lecturer at Queen’s College. Though Queen’s was the first school in the world to offer secondary education of women, since its founding in 1848, men had governed and taught exclusively. Maud was an exceptional student and, despite her cruel streak, a teacher’s pet.
A failed harvest forced Maud to leave her studies to become a governess to support her family. She was sixteen. Ivy had not known why Maud had left, and frankly had not been not curious. All she had known was that the girl who had tortured her and her dear Frannie was gone, and without their leader, the other bullies had shrunk away, giving Ivy and her friend a peace that lasted until graduation.
That was ten years ago. Now Maud, two years older than Ivy, was twenty-eight.
“Because I had an education, I did not have to work in the fields, the market, or worse. My younger sister was not as fortunate.” She lowered her eyes. “With a reference from Professor Rushton I was hired as a governess in the household of Sir Julius Nevillethorpe to tutor his young daughters.”
The eighth Baronet of Blackwell, Ivy thought. Their family seat was Blackwell Hall in the countryside, a grand, imposing Elizabethan house that stood like a fortress on the wide green. Ivy had thought Maud’s surname had sounded familiar, but after reviewing Maud’s attire and comportment, Ivy had dismissed the possibility that she belonged to their clan.
Sir Julius and his wife Olivia, Lady Nevillethorpe, were scions of high society, known for their impeccable reputations and taste. A scandal in their family was quite unthinkable. Ivy had heard that Sir Julius’s younger brother had left England to start a venture in India or the West Indies, as second sons often did, but the details were vague. Maud’s arrival as Mrs. Nevillethorpe suggested a different story.
“I had only been in Sir Julius’ employ for a few weeks when his younger brother Henry came to visit. Henry was the typical black sheep, handsome and rakish.” Maud smiled for the first time during their meeting. “He was fun, and he paid me attention. Stupidly, I fell for him.
“His father, the previous Sir Julius, did not disown him, but they kept our marriage secret. Henry’s father offered him a large sum to go abroad, but Henry refused. He did not want to leave London and knew I had to support for my family.” Maud shook her head. “It feels strange to recall a time when he actually cared for me. Of course, his family assumed I was out for his fortune. They thought I had snared him with a pregnancy, but we hadn’t even been together before we were married.” A glassy sheen rose in Maud’s eyes and she blinked away a few tears. “We were just young people in love.
“The rest of the story is as you might expect. When Henry refused to go to abroad, his father cut him off and Sir Julius turned a blind eye; his only concern was to keep his family’s name out of the papers. With his income gone, Henry’s gambling caught up with him. He became sullen and distant. I wanted to help him, but I soon discovered that a wife in a noble family could not work, no matter her origins. I had always dreamed of being a lecturer, and I had rejoiced after marrying Henry because I thought I could support my family and realize my dream—but nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I secretly found work outside the city, and over the next two years, without his knowing it, I repaid Henry’s gambling debts. At first, it brought harmony to back to our marriage. That was the year little Lizzie was born.” Maud looked at the photograph on the table. “But it wasn’t long until Henry began gambling again.
“With a daughter to raise, I was desperate. I went to Henry’s brother and told him the whole story. I was so naïve that I thought he might take pity on us, especially because Henry had a daughter. Alas, I could not have been more wrong. Sir Julius confronted Henry and told him everything, from my shameless request to the fact that I had worked as a country governess to pay his debts.
“When Henry returned from the meeting, he told me that I had destroyed any shred of manhood he had left. Let a man gamble and lose, he had said, but let him be a man! A woman of our class working to pay her husband’s debt was a disgusting, unforgivable crime. But then you were never really of our class, were you? The words stung. I had married him for love, not a title. Even though his father was a baronet, as the second son, I knew Henry would always be Mr. Henry Nevillethorpe, and I wanted nothing more.
“Henry moved out of the house, but since we were already exiled from society, it didn’t matter. I went back to work, and our maid and nanny, Felicity, watched over Lizzie while I was away. I sold off almost everything in the house, the furniture, paintings, tapestries, the few gowns and pieces of jewelry I had left. In that way, Lizzie and I have lived for the past eight years.”
“I see,” said Ivy. She had been listening intently to Maud’s story, but more importantly she had been watching her tell it. Every time Maud mentioned her late husband, her eyes narrowed a little, but they became black with hate whenever she spoke of his older brother. There was something else Ivy found disturbing. Ivy was expert at reading facial expressions and body language. Twitches and winks, dilated pupils, a nervous clasping and unclasping of hands. These gestures told Ivy more than what a person said. She could tell if they were lying, afraid, or hiding something. The moments she found most troubling were those in which the client was unreadable. It was rare, but Ivy encountered people whose faces became so expressionless that even the keenest observer could draw nothing from them.
Such was Maud’s face when she talked about her daughter, Lizzie. Maybe it was the shock of the kidnapping, or maybe it was her fatigue after years of hardship. Ivy recalled the tremble in Maud’s hands as she handed her Lizzie’s photograph and the tearful tone in which she had told Ivy about the kidnapping. Where were those tears now? Maybe Maud was marshaling her strength—and pride—to avoid breaking down in front of a woman who used to fear her. Or maybe there was another reason.
“Your husband was a young man,” said Ivy, regaining her focus. “How did he die?”
“It was stranger than you could imagine,” Maud said. “Just a few weeks ago, the elder Sir Julius passed away. He had been ill, and the family expected it. But it seemed the old man had a change of heart before he died. To everyone’s chagrin Henry inherited. His brother was furious but kept the news private.
“I was not present for these proceedings, and even after Henry’s death the family did not contact me. I heard through Felicity, who is friends with their maid, that they held the funeral at Blackwell Hall and that Henry was buried on the estate. Except for a few loan sharks and gambling hall lowlifes, no one outside of the family knew that Henry Nevillethorpe had lived—or died.”
“My condolences,” said Ivy, “but how exactly did he die?”
“A blow to the skull, according to the police report. The same night his father’s will was read, Henry went straight to the gambling hall. Witnesses said he bragged of his windfall but refused to pay his debtors. A brawl ensued, and he was bashed over the head, most likely with a bottle or some manner of club.”
“How did you come by this information?” Ivy asked. As London’s chief coroner she should have performed Nevillethorpe’s autopsy and testified at the inquest, but she had heard nothing about his death.
“A sympathetic constable at Scotland Yard took pity on me,” Maud said.
“Do you remember his name?”
“Peter Nesbitt, if I recall.”
Ivy nodded. “He is the trusted colleagues of whom I spoke earlier. Could he not help you with Lizzie’s abduction?”
“I asked for him last night at Scotland Yard, but he was not there.”
“We shall find him,” said Ivy. “Now, I am sure he can help us.” Ivy realized she was already plotting her course of inquiry. She had wanted to subject Maud to uncertainty a bit longer, but in the end, her curiosity about the Nevillethorpes and her sympathy for the girl had won.
“With Henry’s death, the Nevillethorpe fortune or some part thereof has passed to you?” she asked.
“It should have done, but Henry did not have a will, and now the family is disputing my right to inherit.”
“By law a widow should inherit her husband’s property,” said Ivy. “The elder baronet made his wishes clear, so the inheritance should be yours.”
Maud looked at Lucifer, now asleep on the cushion beside Ivy. “What power does the law have over the aristocracy?”
Despite Ivy’s dislike for Maud, she sympathized with her position. Like so many old families in England, the Nevillethorpes believed that society’s rules did not apply to them, and they were usually right.
T“Has the family ever met Lizzie?” Ivy asked.
T“No,” said Maud. “I hate that I must grovel before them and plead for help.”
TThat word again, Ivy thought. Maud’s loathing for the lordly Nevillethorpes was clear, and she could have staged her daughter’s abduction, hoping to compel them to release the sum. Would she risk her daughter’s safety out of spite or desperation? It was an avenue Ivy would consider as they moved forward.
T “The kidnappers have given you twenty-four hours to produce the ransom, and two of those hours are already gone. Our best course is to find your daughter well before then. We must begin at once.”
T“You will help me, then?”
TIvy took a deep breath. “I suppose I will.”
Ivy instructed Maud to head straight for Scotland Yard and ask for Constable Peter Nesbitt with a letter that explained their situation. Meanwhile, Ivy headed to Maud’s home to begin her investigation. Maud had received the ransom note at eight o’clock that morning and the kidnappers had given her 24 hours. Ivy was still not sure who was behind the abduction; “George Johnson” was an obvious pseudonym, and Ivy had not ruled out Maud’s involvement. Ivy had instructed Maud not to approach the Nevillethorpes. Maud had seemed anxious as Ivy described the plan, but she did as Ivy instructed her.
A stately white house with a stucco façade and slate Mansard roof greeted Ivy upon her arrival at Maud’s address. The neighborhood was respectable but remote, far from the more fashionable districts. It ensured social invisibility but did not imply disgrace. Ivy saw the choice as Sir Julius’s calculation. The three-sided bay windows on the first and second floors, the third-story windows with balconies, white columns, and an intricate wrought-iron fence surrounding the property made Ivy wonder if Maud had exaggerated her penury.
Once Ivy got closer, however, she noticed the façade was chipped and not a few tiles were missing from the roof. The lawn was dry and untidy, as if a gardener had not been on the premises for some time. The trees were overgrown and the windows dark.
Ivy saw no footprints on the lawn; in its present state it would be easy to see where grass had been crushed. The first-floor windows and front door showed no signs of tampering. One of the panes in an attic window was cracked but given the house’s state of neglect, it did not arouse alarm.
By the time Ivy arrived at Maud’s home, the wind had risen and clouds were traveling fast across the sky. Ivy wore a long, fitted black wool coat and a black hat crowned with feathers that ruffled in the wind. She carried an ebony cane topped with a silver lion’s head. Her buttoned kid shoes clacked smartly on the pavement as she approached the front door. With a gloved hand, Ivy grasped the knocker and gave three quick raps.
A thin girl in a cotton cap and apron opened the door. With her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, the girl seemed preoccupied, but when she saw the smartly dressed foreign-looking woman, she gasped.
“I have come at the behest of Mrs. Nevillethorpe,” Ivy said, seeing the girl’s hesitation.
“My apologies, ma’am, but the mistress is not in,” the girl said, stumbling nervously over her words. Ivy handed her the letter Maud had written explaining Ivy’s presence. Ivy had looked at Maud doubtfully when she proposed writing a letter to the maid, but Maud had replied, “The girl has basic letters.”
The girl scanned the letter quickly, most likely looking only for Maud’s signature, Ivy thought. “Yes, ma’am, my apologies,” she said. “Please come in.” She made way for Ivy to enter the foyer and gave a quick glance out the door before closing it.
The girl took Ivy’s hat and gloves—she had insisted on keeping the cane—and disappeared down a cavernous hallway.
High ceilings and a sweeping spiral staircase framed the entryway, but like the house’s exterior, the interior was in disrepair. Where Ivy expected to see Persian rugs, marble statuary, delicately carved tables and porcelain vases, there was nothing but a threadbare rug and empty walls. The dark, discolored wallpaper gave off a mildewed smell.
In the sitting room stood only a table covered by a lace doily on which sat a chipped tea set. Next to it stood two chairs with worn upholstery. A rocking chair sat forlornly in the corner, and Ivy could see the outlines on the walls where mirrors and paintings had once hung. The house had an air of loneliness, and Ivy thought about how Lizzie must have felt growing up with no one but her overworked nanny for company. Lizzie would have been alone most of the day, playing in the dark rooms of the empty house. As Ivy thought about Lizzie, an eerie sensation overtook her. Something about the place, its loneliness, the mildewed smell, felt familiar. Annoyed, Ivy banished the thought from her mind, but the discordant feeling it aroused lingered.
Ivy returned to the entryway as she heard the nanny’s steps approach. When the girl returned, she had rolled down her sleeves and adjusted her cap. She looked more composed but somehow sadder.
“Please forgive state of things, ma’am,” she said, practicing her diction. “My name is Felicity. The Missus says I’m to show you around the house.” So she can read, Ivy thought.
“Would you like some tea?” Felicity asked, pressing her hands to her apron.
“No thank you,” said Ivy. “I would prefer to get straight to work.” Ivy noted that Felicity had not mentioned Lizzie or the abduction. Ivy had expected hysterics or questions, but instead she found Felicity remarkably composed.
Felicity led Ivy down the hall. When they arrived at the kitchen, Ivy glimpsed the first signs of life she had seen since entering the house. The side window was open, letting in a thin ray of sunlight. A kettle boiled on the stove, and a crumbling cake was laid out on the table.
Ivy noticed a doorway and a short hall at the back of the kitchen. The door led to the yard, and a staircase opposite led upstairs to the servant’s quarters. Ivy went through the door. She had to push hard to get it open, and it groaned as she did so. Tall pines and a high stone wall encircled the overgrown yard. The only point of ingress was a wooden side gate with a loose handle. It would have been easy for someone to enter unseen.
Tall weeds and rowdy shrubs obscured the remnants of the garden. Brambles enveloped an old wheelbarrow and snaked around what used to be a rose trellis. Ivy poked around with the cane but felt nothing but rocks and damp earth. A pile of rotting firewood leaned against one of the vine-covered walls that enclosed the yard, and for a moment, Ivy felt the same uncanny feeling she experienced in the drawing room. That moldering smell, the unkempt yard, the sparsely furnished rooms, the image of a lonely child. Why was it all so familiar?
Ivy took a deep breath, tasting the fetid air in the back of her throat. She tried to suppress the thoughts again, but the effort only magnified them, clouding her focus. She was uncharacteristically agitated. This is neither the time nor place, she said to herself. Her job, no—her mission—was to find the kidnapper and save a little girl. Ivy had no love for Maud, but her daughter was innocent.
An unpleasant tingling sensation rose in Ivy’s throat, and this time it was not from the refuse in the yard. She was becoming emotional. Agitated, she returned to the house. Before she closed the door, she noticed the dark figure lurking in the corner. Even in her distracted state of mind, her powers of observation did not fail her. With this knowledge she felt restored.
She pulled the door closed. Even if Felicity had been upstairs or in the cellar on the day Lizzie was taken, she would have heard the heavy door.
When Ivy came back inside Felicity seemed more eager to speak.
“This is where Lizzie played while I took care of the cooking and housework,” she said, indicating corner of the kitchen.
“I don’t see any toys,” said Ivy, surveying the room.
“Lizzie had a favorite doll with blond curls, just like her.” Felicity’s voice broke. “She had it with her when she was taken.”
“What can you tell me about that day?” Ivy asked. She sat down at the table, and Felicity poured her a cup of tea. When the girl remained standing Ivy motioned for her to sit down as well. Felicity seemed uncomfortable but complied.
“The Missus was in town giving lessons,” Felicity. Ivy saw her nervousness return.
“What were you doing when Lizzie was taken? Ivy asked.
“I was here, ma’am. Lizzie went outside to play, and when I called her in for lunch she was gone.”
T“Did Lizzie play outside often?” Ivy asked, remembering the wretched state of the garden.
TFelicity was silent.
T“How long have you been with the Nevillethorpes?” Ivy thought it strange to refer to Maud now as a Nevillethorpe, but with her marriage to Henry that was indeed what she was.
T“Since Lizzie was born, ma’am. I was her nanny. The rest of the staff left, one by one, after Mr. Nevillethorpe moved out, but I couldn’t leave that child.” Felicity explained that after the rest of the staff had gone, she had taken on the serving, cooking, and cleaning as well as looking after the girl. Maud was seldom home, and Felicity was alone with Lizzie most of the day.
T“I raised her like my own daughter, ma’am.” She paused. “But it’s been hard to keep up with it all.”
“What is your annual wage?” Ivy asked.
Felicity looked aghast but saw that Ivy was waiting for an answer. “It’s supposed to be £25, ma’am,” Felicity said, coloring, “but I haven’t been paid in months.” She looked away.
Ivy dipped her hand into the reticule that hung at her hip and placed a few pound coins on the table. “Tell me what happened, in every detail
Through tears Felicity admitted that a man had come to the back door the night before Lizzie was taken. She confessed that the man told her to prop the back door open at one o’clock the next day. Felicity opened the door at the appointed time and went about her chores, leaving Lizzie alone in the kitchen. When she came back not an hour later the girl was gone.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do, ma’am,” she sobbed. “He gave me five quid. How could I refuse?”
“Were you not afraid he might harm the child?” Ivy asked. It seemed to her that Felicity’s tears were more from shame than concern. “Since you now know the man is a kidnapper, aren’t you afraid he might come back for you, the only witness?”
“I hadn’t thought of that, ma’am!” Felicity sobbed. She could be in on it, Ivy thought. A disgruntled servant made to work too hard for too long; she could have resented her mistress and the child she had been forced to raise. She could have staged the abduction with an accomplice, a lover, perhaps, and agreed to split the ransom. Felicity was one of the few people who would have known about the inheritance. Then again, maybe she planned to take Lizzie and the money. I raised her like my own, she had said.
“What did he look like?” Ivy asked. “Can you remember his face, his voice, his smell? Was he a tall man?”
“I couldn’t see him, ma’am, on account of the dark. His voice was husky, and he smelled of varnish, like a carpenter.”
Or an artist, Ivy thought. She had read in the Times that Lady Nevillethorpe had recently sat for a portrait by the Royal Academy artist Rudolph Huxbolt, and the exhibition of the painting was tonight.
Just then Ivy heard the front door open and Maud’s quick footsteps followed by the careful, heavy tread of her companion. Felicity looked at Ivy pleadingly, and Ivy assured her that Maud would not know about their interview.
The disparity between the two figures who entered the room was great. The constable towered over Maud, who looked even more shrunken and haggard than she had that morning.
Constable Peter Nesbitt stood six feet tall, with broad shoulders, dark blond hair, blue eyes, and a Dublin accent. He wore his patrol uniform, a dark blue tunic buttoned at the waist with silver buttons down the middle, dark trousers and shiny black boots. A scar running down the right side of his face made him look older than his twenty-two years, but only barely. Ivy found the innocence in his eyes remarkable.
Peter removed his custodian helmet, emblazoned with a silver Brunswick star, and set it down on the sitting room table. A man in uniform with broad boyish features, he cut quite a prepossessing figure, and his presence seemed to put the ladies, tense as they were, at ease.
He smiled when he saw Ivy, and she smiled back.
“Thank you for coming, Constable,” she said, addressing him with more formality than usual. “Your skills will be of great assistance in this case.”
“At your service, ma’am,” Peter said with a slight bow of his head, putting his hand to his chest.
Ivy turned to Maud and Felicity. “Constable Nesbitt has a keen eye and a keener instinct for discerning both character and culpability. He is my trusted colleague, and you may put your faith in him.” Peter tried not to blush at the praise, a change only Ivy noticed.
Ivy knew Peter was from Dublin and that he aspired to rise through the ranks of the Metropolitan Police. They had helped each other more than once, and despite interacting in only a professional context, he was the closest thing she had to a friend. Peter had aided Ivy in apprehending Stanley Filcher, and it occurred to her that she had a question for him regarding that case—but she decided to save it for another time.
Maud excused Felicity, who eagerly disappeared down the hall.
Turning back to Ivy and Peter, she said, “I am afraid I have a terrible headache. I must go lie down.”
“Of course,” said Ivy. “I will call on you when we conclude our investigation.” Maud’s fatigue was genuine, though Ivy noted an equally genuine desire to avoid scrutiny. Maud withdrew, the heavy black train of her mourning gown trailing behind her.
Peter and Ivy sat down at the table. He picked up his helmet and held it in his hands as they talked.
“I couldn’t get the report on Henry Nevillethorpe, but I’ll go back for it during the shift change this afternoon,” he said.
“Good. What else?”
“I found our old friend Buddy Boy.”
“Always willing to squeal for a few bob,” Ivy smirked.
“After I get the records, we’ll meet him at the Dockside Inn.”
“You know I hate that place,” Ivy said with a wave of disgust.
“And you know it’s the safest place for us to question Buddy Boy.” He smiled at her with his blue eyes. “Trust me.”
Ivy and Peter began their tour of the Nevillethorpe house.
“What happened here?” asked Peter.
“Mrs. Nevillethorpe’s husband gambled away his fortune and got himself killed.”
“He was a peer, then.”
“Not exactly. Second son of a baronet.”
Peter shook his head. “I’ve never understood the gentry, the way they rank their children.”
“Don’t pity Henry Nevillethorpe too much,” Ivy said. “In the end, his father left him a sizable inheritance.”
“I suppose that’s how the wealthy mark their affection.”
They walked until they reached the kitchen; everything was as it had been during Ivy’s earlier visit. They descended into the cellar, which was empty, except for a reserve of fresh potatoes.
“What is it?” Ivy asked, noting Peter’s focus in that direction.
“This would have been a sight for sore eyes back home,” Peter said.
“You mean in Ireland?”
Ivy was about to tell Peter to focus on the investigation. They had a professional rapport, and although they felt comfortable with each other, their conversations never veered into the personal. For now, Ivy let it go.
Ivy took Peter to the back yard and told him about the figure she saw.
“Do you know who it was?” he asked.
“I must wait to learn more, then I can confirm my suspicion.”
They found nothing more of note on the first floor. The spiral staircase led to the second with a bathroom, toilet, and four bedrooms, in one of which Maud and Lizzie had slept. Peter remained in the hallway while Ivy knocked at Maud’s slightly opened door and then entered the room.
A canopy bed dominated the space and Ivy noted two packed suitcases in the corner. Maud lay in bed, sunken in the heavy sheets. Her mourning dress hung in the wardrobe, but the train spilled out like a black pool of ink onto the floor.
Seeing Ivy glance at the suitcases, she said: “I planned to take Lizzie to America as soon as the bank transferred the inheritance. I want my daughter to grow up in a society free of class or rank. The Nevillethorpe name means nothing there; we could finally live our own lives.” She sat up as she spoke, revealing a heavy cotton nightgown.
Present tense thought Ivy. Perhaps Maud wasn’t giving up hope, or perhaps she was secure in her scheme.
“Please, remain in bed,” said Ivy. “I came to tell you that Peter and I would examine the third floor and then be on our way.”
“Let me escort you,” said Maud, getting out of bed with sudden energy. She covered herself with a long, woolen shawl, stepped into a pair of slippers and walked past Ivy into the hallway. When Peter saw the petite woman in her shawl and nightdress, he turned aside, flustered.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” he said. Ivy looked at him and smiled.
“Come along,” said Maud, ignoring Peter’s bashfulness and pulling the shawl tight.
Well, thought Ivy, noting the change in Maud’s demeanor. She was curious about what had sparked it.
Maud led Ivy and Peter to the third floor. Four more bedrooms, all abandoned, with pieces of furniture draped in white. Ivy peeked beneath the shrouds but saw only dust and a rat that scurried to a hole in the wainscoting.
A child could get lost in this house, Ivy thought. “Did Lizzie like to play hide and seek?” she asked Maud.
“Lizzie knows not to enter these rooms,” Maud said. “The doors are not locked, but they are always closed. Sometimes she goes into Felicity’s room,” Maud gestured to a small bedroom next to the back stairs, “but never on her own.”
Again, Ivy noted Maud’s use of the present tense. “Children do not always behave,” she pressed. “Did Lizzie not disobey from time to time?”
“What do you know about raising children?” Maud snapped. The remark caught Ivy off-guard. There you are, she thought. The real Maud.
Inspecting the attic proved equally fruitless. Ivy noted the cracked windowpane she had seen from the street but found no evidence that anyone had been there. Peter concurred. Like the rest of the house, the attic floor was covered in dust. Only a ghost could have crossed the room without leaving a trace.
By the time they finished, another two hours had passed. Ivy returned with Maud to her bedroom and helped her back into bed. A feverish flush had appeared on Maud’s cheeks and it occurred to Ivy that Maud could be seriously ill.
“What happens next?” Maud asked.
“I have two leads, but I cannot act on either of them right away. I need to gather more. In the meantime, rest. From what I observed today, someone has been watching you. Send word if you receive another letter.”
Maud’s eyes widened. She looked like a child now herself, pink-cheeked in wide-eyed in that enormous bed. With that strange image lingering in her mind, Ivy took her leave.
Outside, she recounted her suppositions to Peter. The man smelling of varnish that Felicity had spoken of was likely the abductor, and Ivy had an idea of where she might find him. The figure in the back yard proved that even if Maud was involved in the kidnapping, someone else was keeping track of her movements. Now that the watcher had seen Ivy and Peter, Ivy expected Maud would receive another message.
“What’s that?” Peter asked, motioning toward Ivy’s cane. “I’ve never seen it before. Looks like something from a museum.”
“It was my father’s.”
“It’s funny,” said Peter, donning his helmet. He seemed not to have heard Ivy’s response. “The way Mrs. Nevillethorpe changed when you entered her bedroom.”
“What do you make of it?”
“She’s afraid of you,” said Peter. “Did you hear how she lashed out?”
“I suppose,” said Ivy, trailing off. Maud had always acted aggressively toward her, but Ivy never put it down to fear.
“Why would she be afraid of me?”
“That I don’t know,” said Peter, “but she has felt that way for a long time.”
“How could you possibly...” Ivy had not told Peter about her history with Maud. He frightened her sometimes with his ability to read people. Ivy could read ticks and movements, but Peter seemed to be able to read their souls.
Peter put his hand on Ivy’s shoulder. Another unprecedented show of familiarity. She was wearing a heavy coat but could feel the warmth of his hand beneath the fabric. Before she could shrug it off, he said: “You don’t have to be afraid either.”
The wind had picked up and gray clouds blanketed the sky. Ivy pulled her collar closer to her chin and adjusted her hat. Her eyes teared in the wind. When she didn’t respond, Peter carefully removed his hand and let it fall by his side.
“She has a point, you know,” he said, changing the subject.
“What do you mean?”
“Mrs. Nevillethorpe’s talk about America. A classless society.”
Ivy shook her head. “Every bit the republican.”
“Well,” said Peter, “what do you think? Should we let their lord- and ladyships do as they please? Should their birthright place them above the law?” He was staring intently into Ivy’s eyes, his expression more serious than usual.
“A little girl is counting on us,” Ivy said, pulling on her gloves. “The revolution can wait.”
Around noon that day, a Jamaican nun was escorted into the palatial drawing room of Sir Julius Nevillethorpe, eighth Baronet of Blackwell. It was a disguise Ivy often used when approaching the upper classes. The British were proud of their missionary work in the colonies saving the heathens from superstition, and it was the easiest way for a black woman to be escorted into their homes.
“Another bloody charity,” Sir Julius said under his breath as he entered the drawing room and saw Ivy. When she stood up to greet him, he said. “I believe this is a matter for Lady Nevillethorpe. Lemmings,” he said, calling the butler who stood in the doorway, “inform Lady Nevillethorpe that she has a visitor.”
“Sir, I would like to speak with you personally,” Ivy interjected. “If you would grant me the indulgence.”
Sir Julius remained standing and did not offer the nun a seat. “Speak, quickly,” he said, looking over her shoulder.
“Your late brother, Mr. Henry Nevillethorpe, was extremely generous to the Sisters of the Daughters of the Holy Mother and said we could count on the same assistance from his dearest relative, who has been so generous to him and his family.”
“I have not spoken to by brother, Mr. Nevillethorpe, in years,” Sir Julius said with scorn. “And he was more likely to patronize a gambling house than a Christian charity.”
“Sir,” the nun continued, “Mr. Nevillethorpe told me to appeal to your benevolence should any misfortune befall his family.”
Sir Julius looked at Ivy skeptically.
Ivy hung her head and fingered the rosary in her hands. “I am sorry to say that such a misfortune has befallen your poor sister-in-law and her daughter.”
“I know nothing of this matter and have no part in it, do you understand?” Sir Julius said. Ivy noticed him growing tense. She knew his patience would not hold out much longer.
“Perhaps I should speak with Lady Nevillethorpe after all,” the nun said.
“Lady Nevillethorpe is indisposed,” Sir Julius said rather curtly. “Lemmings!” he called again, and this time there was an edge to his voice. “Lemmings, escort this woman out,” he said as he stormed away.
“The Sisters of the Daughters of the Holy Mother thank you, sir!” the nun called after him.
As Ivy sat in the carriage on her way to meet Peter, she reflected on her interaction with Sir Julius. He had seemed genuinely unaware of the “misfortune” of which she spoke, but his manner had turned defensive when Ivy asked to speak with Lady Nevillethorpe. Did he suspect her of having some hand in what had happened? The baronet had retained Maud’s inheritance, so he would have no motive for abducting the girl and, worst of all, risking scandal. But perhaps Sir Julius was unsure if Lady Nevillethorpe would have the same scruples. Ivy had never met the woman, though she knew her reputation, like her husband’s, to be impeccable. Now Ivy suspected there was something more she needed to discover about the baronet’s genteel wife, and she would do so at the Royal Academy of Art’s exhibition later that evening.
While Ivy was en route to her meeting with Peter, it began to rain. At first, the rain pattered against the carriage in a lulling sort of way, spreading a quiet over the city as pedestrians left the streets or disappeared beneath black umbrellas. Soon it came down with force, streaking the windows and flooding the streets. Ivy’s veiled hat, high boots and tasseled umbrella protected her from the worst of it. She had brought a change of clothes, a rather gaudy dress she only wore when circumstances demanded it, and this she donned in the carriage.
The Dockside Inn was a stone tavern in the Port of London, far from the world of the so-called better classes. Ramshackle apartments alternated with trade shops and inns catering to sailors, and a public house stood on every corner. Sailors, dockworkers, and tradesmen milled in the streets, heralded by women looking for a night’s pay. In such areas a black woman might be seen with a white man, since working women came in all stripes. Let onlookers believe what they must, Ivy thought, as long as it let her conduct her investigations.
Washerwomen carried baskets to and fro, and children with streaked faces and matted hair splashed in the puddles. The women cursed at them, but with their hands full, they posed no threat; the children shrieked with glee and ran away.
Ivy noticed a woman carrying a bushel of burlaps sacks. Her back was bent, her clothes stained, and she walked with pained determination. Her dark skin was slick from rain and dock water. A red kerchief covered her hair. Ivy watched the woman cross her path, her body rocking with an uneven gait. The woman glanced sidelong at Ivy, but never broke stride. In that immobile gaze, Ivy sensed something more terrifying than indifference. The next moment, a cart and ass rumbled in front of Ivy, cutting the woman off from view. When they passed, the woman was gone.
Why did the woman in the red kerchief make Ivy uneasy? She felt as if a hand were reaching out to her from a dangerous, distant place. The dank, empty halls of her memory, part of that shadowy world that was forcing its way into Ivy’s rational mind. A shiver, like death, ran through her, and yet she felt a primal longing. Did these slatternly streets bring about urges she couldn’t understand? Like her father, Ivy believed in the civilizing effects of science. As far as she could tell, there was no reason here; only fumbling vice and chaos.
Dim lights, low ceiling beams, and crowded tables met her in the tavern. Dark, discolored walls. Tobacco smoke thickened air. Canvas-clad workers huddled around the bar, their rough voices rising. Wet boots trod muddy straw as sailors shuffled in from the rain. Mingled aromas of ale and sweat filled the air, or what was left of it.
Ivy noticed other women in gaudy red and purple satin with low beaded necklines and black lace trim. Their ringlet coifs bedecked with pins and feathers. Corsets extra tight. These women flirted jovially with the customers, guffawing when they guffawed, and raising their glasses in unison. They laughed at the pinches and slaps they received, and Ivy wondered how they really felt. Once, Ivy had gone so far as to ask a woman she used as an informant that very question. The woman had looked at her as if she were a child. “Ya don’t feel nothing, dearie,” she said with a smile, “tis part o’ the job.”
Ivy squeezed her way to a table in the back, hoping to escape notice until Peter arrived. She fended off the hands that grabbed at her and ignored the curses that followed. At least her fascinator’s jeweled veil covered her face; a thin layer of protection against the onslaught. She opened her black lace fan and waited.
Finally, she saw Peter. In his dark coat and cap, he looked like he had just come from the docks. His tousled dark and broad shoulders helped him blend into the crowd. The scar down his right cheek added to the effect, making him look rougher than Ivy knew he was.
Peter waded through the crowd with two pints of ale and set them on the table. Foam dripped down the sides of the mugs, to Ivy’s distaste. She made a face, but Peter didn’t seem to notice.
“What do you have for me?” she asked, putting her fan aside. Peter was drinking his ale, and his eyes met hers over the glass. He finished quickly and pulled a few papers out of his knapsack.
“Is this the police report?” Ivy asked.
“Yes,” said Peter, “and you’ll never guess who’s listed as a suspect.”
Ivy scanned the page, then nodded. “Finn McKinney. He must have been Henry Nevillethorpe’s creditor.” She looked at the next page. “Why wasn’t he arrested?”
“They couldn’t find him,” Peter said. “They rounded up a few of his cronies, but no one would talk. Either they didn’t know or wouldn’t snitch.”
Ivy guessed it was the latter. Finn McKinney was the boss of London’s underworld and his gambling ring was an open secret.
“Good news, though,” Peter continued, eyeing the second pint. “I found our old friend Buddy Boy. He’s over in the corner,” he gestured toward the far side of the room. “I told him you’ll give him a worse time than I will if he runs.” Ivy craned her neck and saw, huddled in the back corner of the pub, Buddy Boy’s rat-like countenance. Greasy black hair fell over his brow, and his eyes darted nervously. Even from across the room, Ivy could see he was sweating.
“I’ll go get him.” Peter stood up and waded through the drunken throng until he disappeared from Ivy’s sight.
Talking to Peter, she had forgotten the stale fog of the barroom. Now the choked heat fairly knocked her backward, and she had to pause to catch her breath. The raucous cheers made her head swim. The women’s shrill, forced laughter and vinegary perfume. The fish and brine of the harbor. As Ivy fought the urge to flee, Peter returned, dragging Buddy Boy by the collar.
Peter pushed him down into a chair and motioned for him to drink the ale, which Buddy Boy did, nervously. Ivy noted that Peter could be gruff when he needed to be, though he was never like that with her. Professional and courteous. Even a little silly sometimes, like a younger brother. Peter must have seen Ivy appraising him because a sly smile crept to the corner of his lips.
Buddy Boy sputtered as he drank the ale, most of which washed down the front of his oilskin. He wiped his mustache with the back of his hand, and Ivy had to keep from retching.
“I have little time and less patience,” she said, not hiding her repulsion. “Where is McKinney?”
Buddy Boy’s eyes darted around, but Peter kept a firm grip on his shoulder.
“Don’t say you don’t know,” said Ivy. “My associate has even less patience than I.”
“Answer the lady,” Peter growled, tightening his grip.
“I don’t know,” Buddy Boy stammered. “But—”
“He told me to pick up a package.”
“What package?” Ivy asked. The ransom money was due in the morning, so it couldn’t be that. Perhaps the girl? Was he to move her somewhere?
“I don’t know now, do I,” Buddy snarled.
“Well, what do you know,” Peter asked, yanking him by the collar.
This time, Buddy shook Peter’s hand off. He pulled up his chair and leaned threateningly close.
“I know where and when,” he said.
Ivy waited for the next phrase, but Buddy said nothing. She reached into her reticule and threw a few pound coins on the table. Buddy scooped them up, then dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. “The old mill house on the Lea. At midnight.”
“Will McKinney be there?” Peter asked.
“Don’t know, do I,” said Buddy with mounting irritation. He sententiously arranged his oilskin.
“Did McKinney tell you this in person?”
“You can believe me or not,” Buddy said. “I think I’ve said enough for today.” He looked at Peter. Peter looked at Ivy then grudgingly dug a few more pounds out of his pocket. With the rest of his bounty, Buddy scampered away.
“Stay with him,” Ivy said to Peter, rising. Her skin felt damp. She despaired to think of her shoes. If Mrs. Beele could not clean them, she would have to throw them away.
“Are you still with us?” Peter asked when he saw Ivy lost in thought. She gave him a reprimanding look.
“Do you have the other document I asked for?”
Peter reached into his bag and found the papers.
“I will keep these for now,” she said, and Peter nodded. She folded them and tucked them into her cloak.
“See you at midnight.”
Mrs. Beele’s broth had calmed Ivy somewhat, but the day’s events, the empty study and the news of Frannie’s letter had left her disquieted. When she fled the room, the strange visions she had been experiencing that day returned: the lonely child in the empty house, the woman at the docks in the red kerchief. In the visions, the child was always turned away. Who was she? Were they premonitions? Memories? Something worse?
Like William, Ivy had always eschewed superstition. Dreams were simply arbitrary thoughts, fancy the consequence of an undisciplined mind. Achieving a disciplined mind had been Ivy’s main pursuit in life, and the feature which had endeared her most to her father. What would he think of her now, displaying such messy, inexplicable emotions? What would he say if she told him that her focus kept slipping into impressions she could not decipher? For the first time since her father’s passing, Ivy was relieved that he wasn’t there. But the realization only made her feel ashamed that she was floundering so much without his guidance.
“Well, Lucifer,” Ivy said to the feline sitting on the coffee table, “you will be my interlocutor for the time being.” Ivy sat back with the tea Mrs. Beele had prepared for her. Mrs. Beele always withdrew at these moments, Ivy suspected, so as not to be drawn into a grizzly dialogue.
“Let us consider the suspects,” Ivy said, while Lucifer focused intently on his bath. “Maud is the most likely suspect, as the ransom would secure her inheritance. She knows McKinney; she secretly visited him to pay off her husband’s debts. But McKinney is dangerous; would she have given him her daughter, whom she genuinely seems to love? As a woman, Maud cannot open a bank account, so she would need a male partner. What would stop him from taking all of the ransom money once it was deposited? Ivy thought it unlikely that the Nevillethorpes would give Maud a box containing £50,000. Maud had motive, means and opportunity, but there is no guarantee that she would achieve her aim; in fact, it is likely, that she would not.
“Felicity could be involved, but she could not have carried out the kidnapping on her own. She could not have written the ransom note in its elegantly mechanical hand; who could she find to do that for her? Lizzie trusted Felicity, so she could have persuaded the child to leave with a strange man; both Felicity and Maud said that Lizzie was well-behaved. Felicity was overworked and underpaid, perhaps for years. She resented Maud as much as she cared for Lizzie. Was the man who smelled of varnish a relative or lover? Was her description a feint? She could have spirited Lizzie away herself, but a servant would never be bold enough to ask for such a large sum.
“McKinney could have done it on his own. He knew about Henry Nevillethorpe’s inheritance and killing him could have been the first step. He could surveille Maud’s household; the shadowy figure in the garden could very well have been one of his men. Then there was Buddy Boy’s errand at the old mill house.”
Ivy closed her eyes, satisfied with her chain of reasoning, but a possibility, slim though it was, remained. Lucifer had finished his bath and now slept soundly on the rug in front of the fireplace.
“This will not do,” Ivy said when she opened her eyes and spied the sleeping cat. She needed a confidant who could talk back, challenge her, give her insights, make her better—the way her father used to.
As if sensing that Ivy’s speculations had concluded, Mrs. Beele quietly entered the room.
“I’ve found something in William’s office,” she said cautiously. She held a red leather-bound box in her hands. The leather was worn smooth from years of handling. “I will leave it in the study if you would like to look at it later.”
“Yes, thank you,” Ivy said. She was lost in her thoughts and only half heard what Mrs. Beele had said.
The exhibit hall of the Royal Academy glittered with golden columns, moldings and panels that soared above the crowd. The attendees were no less dazzling, arrayed in London and Paris’s latest fashions. Ivy knew their names and titles, and even their secrets, from her work and the society pages. The event was not only an exhibit of art, but also of wealth, status, and marriageable daughters.
In her Parisian evening gown, Ivy outshone even the hall’s golden splendor. The dress had a heart-shaped neckline and was made of shimmering golden gauze trimmed with silk and fastened with pearl buttons. A silk rose surrounded by golden leaves ornamented her right sleeve, and the back of the bodice was laced and pleated, finished with a silk bow that hung to the ground. Ivy’s coiffure was arranged in a looped chignon and fastened at the top of her head with a wreath of tiny golden flowers. She wore a three-strand pearl choker, long ivory satin gloves, and carried a white feathered fan with a mother-of-pearl handle.
Ivy’s presence at such events always caused a stir. Even among the elite, she was recognizable, and because she seldom appeared in society, the detective’s presence made others nervous. Whom or what was she investigating? A tide of whispers rose and fell as she entered the gallery. She knew her profession was not the only reason she drew nervous stares; in any crowd, Ivy could not help but stand out.
The blond mustachioed Lord Mayhew was the first to approach her.
“Please tell me there is not a murderer among us,” he said, offering Ivy his arm. “Although it would liven things up a bit. So dull, these affairs.”
Choice words, thought Ivy. A year ago she had investigated Lord Mayhew on his wife’s behalf. Once she presented her results, however, Lady Mathew chose to ignore them. Lord Mayhew was one of the wealthiest men in London, and in the end, Lady Mayhew preferred her husband’s wealth to his fidelity.
“Nothing of the sort,” said Ivy. “I am here to congratulate my good friend Charlotte Wilks on her Academy debut. I do love the pre-Raphaelites.”
“They are all the rage,” said Lord Mayhew. He eyed Ivy. “You look like one of the Greek goddesses yourself. Cassiopeia, the queen of Ethiopia.”
Ivy lifted her elbow, which Lord Mayhew had grasped rather firmly, and excused herself. She knew he would never touch any of the other women there, as such a gesture was highly inappropriate. Apparently he thought Ivy was a goddess for the taking.
Ivy waded through the sea of rustling silks until she saw a red-haired beauty standing amid a throng of admirers beside a gilt-framed portrait that bore her likeness. Rudolf Huxbolt had depicted the fair-skinned, red-lipped Lady Nevillethorpe as a Roman goddess, draped in emerald fabric, surrounded by lyres and roses. Auburn hair fell in waves around her shoulders and her wistful eyes gazed into the distance.
The onlookers praised Huxbolt for capturing his subject’s timeless grace, but Ivy noticed something different in the painting. The woman’s neck was bent at an unnatural angle and she plucked the lyre with contorted fingers. Her parted lips curled at the edges and the look in her eyes was not wistful, but vacant. These details were easily overshadowed by the romantic scene, but it seemed that beneath the painting’s sensuality, the artist had revealed his contempt.
The real Lady Nevillethorpe looked every bit the goddess in the painting, although not as scandalously dressed. Her pale blue gown revealed ivory shoulders and delicate collarbone. It reminded Ivy of a wishbone, and she idly wondered how much force it would take to snap. The baronet was not in attendance, nor did Ivy expect him to be, but his invisible influence hung in the air like a shroud; no matter how Lady Nevillethorpe behaved, she received nothing but the highest praise from all quarters.
Beside Lady Nevillethorpe stood her daughters, who seemed less attention-hungry than their mother but pleased by the attendance of a group of young men. Eighteen-year-old Celine was willowy, with strawberry blond hair and limpid eyes. She wore a frothy white gown, a feather hairpin, diamond earrings and diamond necklace. She was the spitting image of her mother. Fifteen-year-old Bernadette had a more womanly figure. A silver band held her dark hair, and her brown eyes and olive skin shone against her navy gown. Ivy thought Bernadette the more beautiful of the two, but all the young men flocked around Celine.
Ivy spied Huxbolt, with his bushy red hair and round frame, standing at a remove from Lady Nevillethorpe. Though he spoke to those around him, he seemed to monitor the baronet’s wife with his peripheral vision. To buy time until the throng around Huxbolt subsided, Ivy went to find the young artist Charlotte Wilks.
Charlotte was not so much Ivy’s friend, as someone who would be compelled to act as her friend in public. Not long ago, Ivy had prevented a scandal involving the young artist from making the papers. The incident involved Charlotte’s discovery in an opium den, and though artists were allowed certain liberties, a young woman of status cavorting in Chinatown was a bridge too far.
“Here’s our future Academician,” said Ivy, kissing Charlotte’s cheek. The golden-haired, red-cheeked young woman returned Ivy’s greeting with a wary smile. After a quick glance over her shoulder, Charlotte led Ivy to her paintings of women languishing nymph-like in blooming gardens and enchanted forests.
“I do so love your romantic tableaux,” Ivy fawned. “Would you give me a tour of your new work?”
“Of course,” said Charlotte and she began to discuss the pre-Raphaelites’ themes of Greek mythology. In the background of one of her paintings, half-obscured by trees, stood a dark-skinned servant who proffered an overflowing bowl of fruit and flowers to the alabaster woman lounging on satin cushions in the foreground. As Ivy listened to Charlotte’s quite competent discourse, a thought popped into her mind.
“And what is your opinion on vanitas paintings?” she asked.
“I find them dreadful,” Charlotte said. “Art should celebrate life, not death.” Nodding thoughtfully, Ivy praised Charlotte’s work again and took her leave. By then, the crowd had died down, and the Nevillethorpe women had departed.
Ivy found Huxbolt as he was about to leave.
“If I could have a word,” she said. She led him to an anteroom and asked, “How long did it last – your affair with Lady Nevillethorpe?”
Huxbolt looked at Ivy with confusion and then dread. “I swear, it was nothing,” he whispered. “Less than nothing! There is no reason to tell the baronet.”
Ivy knew that Huxbolt was well sustained by his aristocratic clientele and could not afford a mark on his reputation. He was commissioned almost exclusively to paint the nobility’s wives.
“I am not here on behalf of Sir Julius,” Ivy said. “As long as you answer my questions, that is.”
“Yes, anything!” said the artist, looking about the anteroom. In a hushed voice he explained that the affair began when he was commissioned to paint her portrait. Most of the sittings took place in the Nevillethorpes’ home, but a few times she came to his studio. “She is a woman in her prime,” Huxbolt said with a leer. But soon the mood changed, he said. “After her brother-and-law’s death, Olivia spoke of nothing but keeping ‘that peasant’, as she called her sister-in-law, from getting the inheritance. She became petty and unpleasant. She began to bore me.”
“Did she speak of doing anything to keep the inheritance out of her sister-in-law’s hands? Did she propose you—help her in any way?”
“I think not,” Huxbolt said, insulted by the insinuation. “Then again, if she had, I probably was not listening.”
“Was there anyone else in your studio?” Ivy asked.
“I suppose we were alone,” Huxbolt said. His vagueness irked Ivy. Artists, she thought. “Perhaps my assistant Franco was there,” he said after some consideration. He is in and out of the studio.”
“And at the Nevillethorpe home?”
“We never spoke of such things there. Not that I recall.”
“Where can I find Franco?”
Huxbolt paused. “It’s the strangest thing; he disappeared two days ago. Even his—well, friends from Chinatown have not seen him.”
Ivy let Huxbolt go, and he scurried away like a big red beetle. By now the gallery was empty. Ivy’s steps echoed through the hall, and European countenances stared down on her from the walls like so many enshrined gods. It seemed that Lady Nevillethorpe could indeed have arranged the abduction, perhaps with Franco’s help. That would explain the varnish Felicity smelled. But Sir Julius already controlled the fortune. The Nevillethorpes already had Maud at arm’s length. Perhaps, as Huxbolt said, and the matter of the inheritance simply brought out her ladyship’s spiteful nature.
There was no time to look for Franco, and Ivy suspected that if he had aided Lady Nevillethorpe in some way, he would be long gone by now.
Outside, the cool night air revived her. Even in the empty hall she had felt suffocated. Now, wrapped in her black velvet cloak and standing under the indigo sky, she felt herself relax into comfortable invisibility. She walked from the Royal Academy’s grounds to the high street, where lighted windows and streetlamps shown warmly, and heels and canes clicked on the sidewalk. Young ladies on their way to a soiree peeked out of their lace-curtained carriages to watch the gentlemen in the street, who tipped their top hats gallantly and smiled beneath waxed mustaches. Hosts and shopkeepers hailed passersby, coaxing them into their establishments. A white-aproned restauranteur opened his brasserie, and savory waves of boeuf bourguignonne, garlicky escargot, and coq au vin wafted to the noses of hungry revelers. The smell brought back to a trip to Bordeaux, where Ivy had resolved a delicate matter for a wealthy expatriate. She remembered dining at her client’s château with a select group of guests that included a textile merchant from Martinique and his wife. They had shared Ivy’s complexion, and Ivy realized she had never known the strength of her yearning for a friendly face, a look of recognition, a mirror, rather than a wall. She realized, as she dined on magret de canard and drank sumptuous Bordeaux, how heavy the weight of isolation had been and how luxurious the relief. What if she moved there, she had thought, to Martinique? She could disappear into any crowd, be no more exotic and vulnerable than anyone else. But what would she do there? Show up at the textile merchant’s door and ask—What?
On the journey home she had felt the familiar burden descend until thoughts of escape were no more than that; idle thoughts. With something like defeat she understood that there was no place for her other than right where she was.
As Ivy walked the high street, she watched the groups and couples and carriages all headed for some gathering where they would laugh, exchange stories, and know one another. They would know and be known. And whatever trifles or tragedies the evening brought, the knowing would nourish them and mae them whole.
A carriage pulled up, depositing two young men on the sidewalk. Without waiting for the footman, Ivy hopped in and closed the door. The interior still smelled of the young men’s cologne and sweat. Strange intimacy with strangers. But Ivy was grateful for it and saddened at her gratitude. She thought of Peter’s hand on her shoulder and what he might have meant when he told her not to be afraid.
As the carriage rolled to the outskirts and into the silent countryside, Ivy refocused her mind on Finn McKinney, who was definitely involved in the abduction. Whether he was working alone or on someone’s behalf was the only question. If Ivy could find Lizzie tonight, she would have her answer.
The bell in the church tower had struck eleven by the time Ivy arrived at the mill house on the Lea. The driver had hesitated when Ivy told him her destination but drove on with the practiced restraint of all those who served the upper class. When Ivy alighted, she heard the sounds of the country night, the chirpings and stirrings in the grass, the crickets’ chirring and the bullfrogs’ groan. Birds rustling in the trees.
The air was still. The black hulk of the abandoned mill with its angled rooves and tall chimney stacks rose across the water. Ivy glanced around for Peter but did not see him. There was no sign of Buddy Boy either. Carefully, she approached the gangway that connected the mill to the shore. She could see the mill house, separate, dark, smaller than the main buildings. She would have to walk along a narrow concrete pathway past the mill to arrive at the old mill house. The mill sat high above the water, and the current rushed beneath the pier where boats had once docked.
Ivy navigated the pathway careful not to make a sound. Every few steps she stopped to listen for movement—whispering, shuffling footsteps, even a little girl’s cry—but she heard nothing. Only the sound of water slapping against concrete. When she got to the mill house, she stuck close to the wall. The door was long gone, and the darkness inside seemed impenetrable, endless. A rank smell emanated from inside.
Stepping carefully around some fallen timber, Ivy made her way inside. She heard a frenzy of squeaking and skittering as she entered. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she saw the room was empty, but for some broken boards and planks and the carcasses of a few small animals. At the far end of the room was a doorway that led to the upper floors. To keep a girl in a place like this, Ivy thought. As she pictured Lizzie, scared and cowering in a corner, a wave of fear rose again. Was she afraid for Lizzie, or someone else? There was no time to waste; once again, she brushed the disquieting thoughts aside.
A shuffling behind the doorway startled her. She braced for a confrontation with McKinney. When she entered the building, Ivy had removed something easily hidden in the voluminous folds of her evening gown, and now she held the small revolver in her gloved hand. Using both hands, she aimed gun at the doorway, ready to fire at whoever emerged from around the corner.
“Ivy?” A familiar voice came from the dark, followed Peter’s tall, broad silhouette.
Ivy lowered her revolver. “You are a lucky man,” she said, as she approached him.
“Don’t I know it,” he said. Though Ivy could not see his face, she could tell he was smiling.
“Have you checked the upstairs?” Ivy asked.
“Not yet,” Peter said. I heard footsteps behind me and waited to see who it was.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“I doubt McKinney or Buddy Boy wears delicate heeled boots.”
Ivy flushed and was glad for the dark. She was indeed wearing satin evening boots. Since when is Peter an expert on women’s clothing, she thought. She was embarrassed that her tread had given her away. After her embarrassment subsided, she acknowledged—to herself—that Peter’s observational skills had impressed her.
“Let’s go upstairs,” she said, walking past Peter, careful to minimize the sound of her heels on the concrete.
The upstairs was divided into two large rooms. Faintly, Ivy heard the town’s church bell strike midnight. If Buddy Boy were coming, he would be there soon. If Lizzie were there, they would surely find her. Ivy’s trepidation grew as they moved further into the dark.
Ivy could see a low, long shape at the far end of the room. She could feel Peter behind her, only advancing when she did. She stopped, listened. Only the faint skittering she had heard before. As they advanced, a dull dread rose in Ivy’s stomach. She kept her revolver at the ready, though something told her she may no longer need it.
When they reached the far side of the room, the shape came into focus: a wooden framed cot. It was covered with a sheet from which came a strong metallic odor. Ivy’s heart sank.
“Lantern,” she whispered to Peter.
He opened the panel and lit the candle, and the darkened lantern began to glow. In the light, Ivy saw the blood-soaked sheet covered something. She did not want to pull it back, but she knew she must. Lifting the corner, she recognized the golden curls of the girl in the photo. Later, in her role as a coroner, Ivy would assess what had happened, in what manner the girl had been murdered, when the murder had taken place. Measure the depth of the wounds, catalogue signs of trauma on the small body. She would do these things just as she did with every other body. For now, though, the grisly scene was enough.
The room faded from view and the lonely girl in Ivy’s vision stood in the spot where the bed had been. She faced away from Ivy, and this time she was holding the hand of a woman in a long black dress. A cold terror washed over Ivy and she squinted to make out the features of the apparitions before her. As hard as she strained her eyes, the figures remained blurry, just out of view. I’m not afraid, she thought.
“What’s that?” Peter whispered. Ivy realized she must have said the phrase aloud. She shook her head. Nothing.
A cry from the adjoining room brought Ivy back. Peter put his hand on Ivy’s shoulder before she moved, as if to stop her from going into the room. He seemed to know her intention before she did. That warmth again. Maybe he’s startled, Ivy thought. In all the cases she had worked with Peter, none of them had involved the death of a child.
Ivy shrugged his hand off and stepped quietly into the next room. As the lantern lit the scene, another grisly sight met her eyes. The cry had come from a rat, and a throng of them skittered and squeaked over Finn McKinney’s body that lay in a pool of blood.
“It’s fresh,” Ivy said, squatting next to the body. She noticed that the light from the lantern remained where it was; Peter had not ventured beyond the threshold after seeing McKinney’s body.
Ivy looked up at Peter. “Bring the light here,” she said.
With the body illuminated and the rats scattered, Ivy could see that McKinney had been stabbed in the chest. He lay face up with his mouth agape.
“Who would McKinney let stab him in the chest?” Peter asked.
Ivy had wondered the same thing. He was the most feared criminal in the East End. Lowlifes scurried like rats when they saw him coming. If Buddy Boy had come to get the jump on McKinney, McKinney would have fought him off. And if Buddy Boy had tried to stab McKinney, he surely would have tried to stab him in the back. Could Maud have done this? Why? Some third, unknown party, had found McKinney and stabbed him and— probably—Lizzie, judging from the amount of blood on the sheet.
Ivy was about to rise and leave the scene, when something dawned on her. She turned back to the body and removed one of her long satin gloves. Carefully, she pulled down the collar of McKinney’s shirt. Just as she suspected: a triangle tattoo. Ivy looked closer, and another shape emerged from beneath the smeared blood: a second inverted triangle.
“So they are ranks,” Ivy said.
“Never mind.” That meant Stanley Filcher and Henry Nevillethorpe had been low-ranking grunts. Ivy suspected that Buddy Boy’s chest would also reveal one such tattoo. McKinney was something like a major general—but who was above him?
“He’s the top of the food chain, isn’t he?” Ivy asked.
“Sorry?” Peter was confused by the question.
“In the underworld. He was it. The top.”
“I reckon so,” said Peter. Then, mostly to himself: “Who could have done this?”
Who indeed, thought Ivy. Now Filcher’s scaffold confession began to make more sense. He had been involved in something far more sinister than a gambling ring. There were levels Ivy knew nothing about. Even the back alleys must lead to darker, narrower passages, the opium dens to secret airless warrens.
As Ivy released McKinney’s shirt, she noticed the corner of a note sticking out of his pocket. The words were illegible, smeared with blood, but Ivy immediately recognized the hand; it matched the inscription on the back of the photograph Maud had brought to Ivy’s home. Ivy folded the note and put it in her cloak pocket.
“Let’s go,” she said, rising.
“What about the bodies?”
“There’s nothing we can do here.”
Peter extinguished the lantern and followed silently.
Ivy and Peter walked for a long time along desolate lanes until they met the high road that would take them back to London. The church bells struck one, then two. There were no carriages out at this time, so they continued walking.
“Let me escort you to an inn,” Peter pleaded. “You need to rest.”
“You can go if you like,” said Ivy, stone-faced. She didn’t care about McKinney now. All she could think of was how she had gambled with Lizzie’s life—and lost. Should she have pressed Maud harder for the truth? Shaken her until she confessed? Ivy wanted to do that now—throttle something, someone, for answers.
“I want to stay with you,” Peter said.
Ivy barely heard him and walked on. Her feet ached and her body was stiff. At least her thick cloak protected her from night chill. Peter walked beside her. Sensing her uneven tread, he offered his arm, but she pushed it away.
Three bells had struck by the time they reached Harley Street. The first signs of dawn lightening the horizon.
Ivy turned to Peter at her door.
“Come on,” she said.
Once inside, Peter helped Ivy peel off her cloak. When she turned to take it, she noticed him staring.
“What is it?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing, forgive me.” But his eyes didn’t leave her gown.
Ivy brought a blanket out of the linen cupboard. “You can sleep in the study,” she said, handing it to Peter.
A letter was waiting on a tray in the front room, embossed with the golden Nevillethorpe seal. Sir Julius was no fool, and now Ivy knew who had been watching Maud.
Ivy awoke to the sound of the doorbell at 7 am. Mrs. Beele, a long, fringed shawl wrapped around her shoulders, answered the door to discover a footman in impeccable livery. Behind him in the street, a grand black carriage.
“For Miss Marwood, at her convenience,” he said.
Mrs. Beele nodded and closed the door. When she turned around, Ivy stood before her in a gray carriage dress and coat, black button boots, black gloves, her black cane, and a veiled silk-trimmed hat.
Picking up the letter, Ivy said, “I already know what it will say. I have been summoned.”
Peter walked sleepily out of the office and looked around.
“Go to Scotland Yard and tell them about the bodies,” Ivy said without turning.
At the mention of bodies, Mrs. Beele clutched her shawl to her chest. She looked at Ivy. “I don’t suppose you will have a cup of tea before you go?”
“I am afraid not.”
Peter nodded and, still half asleep, headed toward the door. He was about to open it, when he turned back to Ivy and asked: “Are you sure you I can’t accompany you?”
Her look told him everything. Peter opened the door and disappeared into the sunlight.
As Ivy stepped toward the open door, Mrs. Beele stopped her. “I don’t dare ask what has happened,” she said, “but promise me you will come home after this affair is finished and have a hot breakfast and some strong black tea.”
Ivy smiled and touched Mrs. Beele’s arm. “I promise.”
Half an hour later, the carriage stopped in front of the Nevillethorpe’s house. Grand but understated, just like London’s arbiter of propriety himself. The footman helped Ivy out, and she ascended the stone steps. Ivy did not care what awaited her as much as she wondered if Maud knew what had happened to Lizzie. Killing Lizzie served no purpose, even to someone as cruel as Maud. The girl’s death could not have been the point of Maud’s plan.
Lemmings, the Nevillethorpe’s butler, met Ivy at the door.
“This way,” he said, indicating the drawing room. It was the same as Ivy remembered from her previous visit, but now, a rigid tableau met her entrance: Sir Julius stood before a gathering that included Maud on the settee in her mourning dress and veil; Lady Nevillethorpe, sitting alone on a silk-upholstered couch in a house dress of delicately embroidered green silk; and a tall man in a brown plaid suit with glasses, dark hair and a dark mustache, whom Ivy did not recognize. Celine and Bernadette were absent. The man looked to be about forty; his eyebrows arched intelligently, and his slim frame looked at ease in the otherwise tense room. He sat on a chair away from the ladies with his long legs crossed, and Ivy could swear that he looked at her with a self-satisfied sneer. Lemmings guided Ivy to a seat.
“I will stand,” she said, looking directly at Sir Julius.
“Now that all present,” the baronet began, looking past his guests, “One has the misfortune of adjudicating the current unpleasantness.”
“Are you a judge, Sir?” Ivy asked, never taking her eyes off of him. “Is your drawing room a court?”
“Mrs. Nevillethorpe,” Sir Julius said, addressing Maud. “Your child is dead.”
Maud had been stone-faced until this moment, but on hearing the baronet’s words she collapsed with a wail, crumpling into a pile on the floor. Lemmings did not move to help her.
How did he know? Ivy thought. No one else had been at the mill house when she and Peter discovered the bodies. Had someone followed her? Or worse?
Maud continued to sob, a most vulgar display, judging from the looks on the faces of those in attendance. Except for Lady Nevillethorpe; she looked like the cat that ate the canary. Ivy seethed at the privilege exuding from her. It wasn’t new; she had dealt with the gentry before. Except in the most egregious circumstances, they could cover up any crime. But did this not count as an egregious circumstance? Whatever Ivy thought of Maud or the wretched Nevillethorpes, a child’s life had been lost and there must be some justice in bringing those responsible to account. At the very least, Ivy would know more when she examined the bodies. She did not relish the thought of performing Lizzie’s autopsy, but she would rest easier when she had answers. Those answers could lead her beyond the Nevillethorpes, just as McKinney’s body would yield a veritable history of London crime. Imagine, performing an autopsy on the city’s most notorious criminal! Ivy smiled inwardly. She would surely learn more about the tattoos, putting her one step closer to discovering…
“A man was also found with Mrs. Nevillethorpe’s daughter,” Sir Julius intoned, snapping Ivy back to the present. Turning to the man in the plaid suit he said, “Dr. Elias Stonecastle will see to their bodies. There will be no inquest, and they will be buried in unmarked graves.”
Maud wailed even louder.
“But, Sir,” Ivy said before she could stop herself, “I am the chief coroner, and those are my bodies!” She stood aghast at her own words, and everyone in the room, except for Sir Julius and Lemmings, turned to stare at her. Elias Stonecastle’s smug eyebrows arched even higher, and Maud even stopped her wailing for a moment. Her ladyship sat with her hands demurely clasped in her lap and demented joy in her eyes.
“As for you,” Sir Julius said, ignoring Ivy and addressing Maud, “no one can prove your involvement in this affair, but you will pay for your husband’s and child’s deaths.”
“Sir, how am I responsible for Mr. Nevillethorpe’s death?” Maud sobbed.
“He was dead the day you married him, as was your daughter, the day you bore her.” He kept his gaze above Maud’s head. “You have brought nothing but scandal and ruin to our family, and this escapade will be your last.”
Maud prostrated herself at his feet, but he stepped back, as if avoiding a puddle of dirty water.
“Mrs. Nevillethorpe, you will accompany us to Blackwell Hall where you shall henceforth reside in the empty east wing.” Maud’s tears quieted to a whimper as she received her judgment. “To atone for the deaths you have caused, you will remain in deep mourning until the end of your natural life. For the rest of your life, the mirrors and windows will be draped in black and the clocks will be stopped. A woman will see to your necessities. Henceforth, you shall wear widow’s weeds and a weeping veil at all times. You shall never leave the wing or interact with any member of the household. You will never know the location of your child’s grave.”
“Please, Sir,” Maud groveled like a beggar. “I will do whatever you tell me, only bury Elizabeth in the family cemetery so that I may at least pray for her there.”
“Though she bears the Nevillethorpe name, she is not family. Fret not; some day in another unmarked grave, you will be buried beside her.”
Lemmings lifted Maud from the floor. She stood unsteadily, dazed. A stern young maid approached and stood before Maud. She lifted the heavy folds of Maud’s veil and laid them over Maud’s face. The thick crimped fabric reached almost to the floor. Ivy knew that the black dye in mourning veils bled and that their adhesives irritated the skin, eyes and throat. Women who wore deep mourning for the customary two years after their husbands’ death often developed skin, eye, and respiratory conditions. Ivy knew that Maud was already ill. If Maud wore the veil for the rest of her life, that life would be short.
After Prince Albert’s death, Her Majesty the Queen vowed to wear morning for the rest of her life, though not to the extent Sir Julius described. Ivy supposed that if it was good enough for the queen, it was good enough for Maud. She had to give Sir Julius credit; he was more imaginative in his punishment than Ivy had supposed. Ivy thought he might disown Maud, take away her Nevillethorpe status, have her locked up or hanged. His sentence was much crueler, since Maud would spend the rest of her life locked away with the people and name that she hated and be separated from the one thing—her daughter—that she seemed to love. Ivy suspected that when these events concluded, Sir Julius, Lady Nevillethorpe and their daughters would retire to Blackwell Hall and not return to London for some time.
Suddenly, Sir Julius turned to Ivy. “And if you, Miss Marwood, ever darken my door again, I will see you hang by one of your beloved nooses.”
Ivy gave a slight curtsey and turned toward the door without waiting to be excused. Nobody stopped her departure. Lemmings was ready with her hat and cane. She refused the carriage offered to her, preferring to end her dealings with the Nevillethorpes on her own terms.
As Ivy walked into the cool morning, she wondered what Lady Nevillethorpe’s role in all of this might be. Sir Julius had protected her from the beginning and was protecting her now. Could she have really been spiteful enough to have Lizzie and McKinney killed for nothing? Could she have wielded the knife herself? Ivy wished she could dig through her ladyship’s dressing room for the bloody shoes and gown that would soon be burned by a faithful servant. Who had been lurking in Maud’s yard? Only heaven knew of what the good lady was capable.
The intolerably arrogant Stonecastle irked Ivy to no end. That Sir Julius kept a coroner on retainer was macabre, even to Ivy, and she wondered if the practice had begun with Henry’s death, or if the baronet had regular need of Stonecastle’s services. Ivy would confront Stonecastle one day—she knew there would be no police report or inquest statement to consult on these deaths—but that errand would have to wait.
When Ivy opened the door to 11 Harley Street, the aromas of hot coffee and frying sausages flooded her senses. She knew that Mrs. Beele would entreat her to eat the large breakfast Ivy had promised before she left for the Nevillethorpes. But the strong smells turned her stomach, and Ivy hoped she could beg her way out of Mrs. Beele’s solicitude.
Mrs. Beele met Ivy at the top of the stairs. When she saw Ivy, her eyes took on a sheen. “Oh, my dear,” she said. “I cannot imagine what you have been through.” She took Ivy by the arm and led her to the dining room.
“Thank you,” said Ivy, “but I’m afraid I cannot stomach a large breakfast.”
Mrs. Beele brought out a tray of tea and porridge. “This is for you, dear,” she said, placing the modest fare before Ivy. “With everything that has happened these past few days, the coffee, beans and sausages are for me.”
Ivy slept for the rest of the day. She knew she would never see or hear of Maud Nevillethorpe, née Dickerson, again. She slept fitfully. In her dream, Ivy was trapped in the moment she approached the cot with the blood-soaked sheet. Her hand reached out. This time, when she pulled the sheet’s corner, the hair beneath was not blond, but dark, with a texture like her own. Suddenly, she looked down; the bloodstain on the sheet was still expanding, blooming like a flower of evil. A stirring: The girl was still alive! Ivy froze. She could not bring her hands to remove the sheet, her body to lean forward and lift the girl who still clung to life, even as her lifeblood pooled on the dirty floor. Neither could she turn away; she was paralyzed, body and eyes rooted to the horror of the spreading blood. The bigger it bloomed, the more the girl stirred, softly at first, then whimpering, then thrashing beneath the blood-soaked sheet. Just…die, Ivy whispered, willing both of their sufferings to end. The girl only thrashed harder until Ivy opened her eyes and, covered in cold sweat, stared panting into the night.
Ivy walked downstairs with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She could not sleep, not yet. Mrs. Beele had long retired. Lucifer looked up from his bed by the fireplace, in which embers still glowed.
The office was cold and silent. On the desk, illumined by moonlight, sat the red leather box and Frannie’s letter. Ivy knew she would have to open them both in time, but at the moment, she could only muster the courage to open one. She looked at the box and shuddered. She knew that if she opened it, she would find the girl thrashing beneath the red sheet, the girl who had haunted her thoughts ever since her search for Maud’s daughter began. Ivy looked at the couch where Peter had slept. It bore his body’s imprint. She could have used his grounded presence to pull her out of the ghost realm into which she had drifted. She wished he were there to put his hand on her shoulder and tell her not to be afraid. She tried to shake herself free of these thoughts, as she had during the investigation, but with no goal, no purpose before her, she was at the mercy of shadows.
The envelope glowed white on the table. Even with all that had happened, Ivy knew she needed to face this message from her past. For whatever or whoever Frannie was now, she was calling to Ivy from the moment the SS Utopia had sailed away, from the moment she had rent Ivy’s heart in two. When she had taken the only friendly face Ivy knew, the only mirror, and ground it to dust.
A few embers were left in the grate. Letter in hand, Ivy pulled the blanket close and headed toward the study.