“Mrs. Gladwell. But she doesn’t know me, and I don’t know how to find her. It’s hopeless. The countess is going to—”

“She won’t know. Not if you hurry.” Eagleton withdrew a calling card and a pencil from his waistcoat pocket and scratched out an address on the other side. “Give this address to the hackney driver, but keep the card to show to the Gladwells’ butler. Fenwick will tell Mrs. Gladwell you’ve come to call.”

“What happens after that?”

Eagleton let go of her shoulders and turned her toward the door. “After that is up to you.”


Bianca nodded her understanding and fled from the library. She took the side door and raced up the rear servants’ stairs to her bedchamber in the attic. Twelve months ago, she’d arrived with everything that could fit inside a large trunk, and it was still standing there in the corner, virtually untouched during the long months since.

The clothing inside didn’t fit inside the tiny servants’ box she’d been given for her belongings. Besides, Bianca hadn’t wanted to ruin the many fine gowns her father had given her by wearing them to scrub floors and wash windows.

The gowns were still there, in pristine condition inside her cedar trunk… and there in the attic they would have to remain. Bianca couldn’t lug about a trunk larger than she was all by herself, nor bang the cedar chest down three flights of stairs—even the servant stairs—without causing undue attention.

She was only going to be able to take whatever she could carry with her. A bag! She needed a bag. There was no bag. Blast. She would have to fashion one from… Aha, her oldest and rattiest dress. Quickly, she tied the bodice end into a knot, then began stuffing clothing into the skirt end. A few practical pieces from her servants’ box, a few impractical pieces from her father’s trunk. There was no way to know what to expect from the future, other than ensuring she was prepared for anything.

A hackney. How was she supposed to pay for a hackney carriage?

Bianca stared about the room blankly. She had no money. She’d never needed any, before. Father had purchased everything she and her mother could ever desire. And then, when Bianca had become Lady Quinseley’s housemaid, shopping had been relegated to a distant memory. Her reticule contained nothing but old smelling salts and a faded handkerchief.

There were no coins with which to pay a hackney driver. But Bianca did own items of value.

She flung the lid of her trunk back open and stared in anguish at the fashionable gowns folded so lovingly inside.

For twelve long months, thanks to the knowledge that her old life wasright there, an arm’s length away from her head as she slept, she had been able to breathe. The cedar trunk symbolized all the best memories of her past, and gave her hope for the future. She had guarded its contents as jealously as a fire-breathing dragon protecting its magical cave filled with gold.

But she couldn’t take it with her. The past was done. The old Bianca was gone. The new Bianca wasn’t the disparate contents of the makeshift bag she was packing, but rather the woman she’d been forced to grow into over the past tumultuous hour.

There was no time for nostalgia. The sand was running out of the hourglass.

With determination, Bianca pulled her fine dresses from the cedar box one by one, yanking off decorative pearls from lacey skirts, and individual stones from bejeweled bodices. In short order, all her favorite dresses were summarily ruined, but her reticule now rattled with beautiful baubles.

Bianca had salvaged enough to be driven right out of London if she wanted… not that anything awaited her out there. Her bits and bobs were worth enough to finance a quick escape, but not the rest of her life. For that, she would need food, shelter, a source of income…

She might end up being a maid for the rest of her life.

Her chest tightened at the realization that what she’d once believed to be a temporary situation might be her future forevermore. A devastating comedown. Father had promised her entrée into Polite Society. He’d promised suitors and outings and holidays to the sea. Acceptance. Comfort. Family. Happiness.

All that was left of those promises rattled in the bottom of her reticule.

Bianca tightened the strings of her reticule and pushed the loops over her wrist. This was no time to wallow. Time was wasting.

She shoved her dancing slippers into her makeshift sack and tied on her leather half-boots. It was too warm for a pelisse, but she shrugged into it anyway. Winter would come soon enough, and she’d be glad for any warmth she could find then.

The novel she’d been reading still lay upon her misshapen pillow. She longed to take it with her. A book was surely a small price to pay for the murder of Bianca’s parents. But it did not belong to her, and she didn’t wish to be beholden to Lady Quinseley at any level.

The countess had given her room and board, which Bianca had more than repaid with labor. At best, she owed Lady Quinseley nothing. At worst… the countess deserved to spend the rest of her days in prison.

Bianca hefted her sack over her shoulder and hurried down the stairs and out the servants’ entrance to the rear garden. Twilight had fallen, leaving the sky a light gray. She walked as quickly as she could without the undue attention breaking into a run would cause, passing behind aristocratic townhouse after aristocratic townhouse until she came to a public street.

In a neighborhood as affluent as this, one might think every household possessed a coach-and-four for each of its residents. Hackneys proliferated nonetheless, in hopes that some of the many wealthy residents would prefer the simplicity of a waiting carriage to the bother of readying one’s stabled horses and summoning a private coach from a queue. Even the servants of the wealthy were likely to have the blunt for a carriage ride.

Bianca had no problem flagging down a hackney and climbing inside. Too nervous to give up the Earl of Eagleton’s calling card even for a moment, she read the direction aloud to the driver.

He nodded and put the horses in motion.

She sagged against the squab in relief. The driver had asked no questions other than where she was going. Nor had he quoted a price. Her fingers worried at her reticule. They would have to barter an appropriate exchange once she arrived.

Tags: Erica Ridley Historical
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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