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A Lethal Spectre, Lord Danvers Investigates #5

By Donna Fletcher Crow

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Chapter 1

It was only midmorning and already the heat was stifling. Hot wind seared and scorching sun radiated from the walls of the barracks behind them. The acrid smell of the buildings of the cantonment beyond, now reduced to black smoldering rubble—all their homes and possessions—stung every nose. Emilia Landry stood among the women and children who had been called from their homes in the civilian cantonment and gathered into the military entrenchment on the orders of General Wheeler.
They had been here a week now, hoping for the best; but fearing the worst. No attack had come on the entrenchment, but mutinous sepoys and vandals had ransacked the city, burned the officers’ bungalows in the new cantonment, and, disastrously, seized the magazine where the army treasury, ammunitions and heavy guns were stored.
Emilia closed her eyes against the sight of the black smoke, and saw in her mind the pleasant bungalow she had occupied with her friend Louisa Chalwin and Louisa’s veterinarian husband Edwin. Louisa had planted a lovely garden, complete with English roses that bloomed undaunted in the Indian summer. A magnificent old banyan tree shaded a summer house where Emilia loved to sit and read in the mornings and take tea in the afternoons. All a blackened rubble now.
They had been hearing dire reports for weeks. Revolt of the native troops at Meerut. Then at Delhi. And riots at Lucknow, only some sixty miles to the northeast. But no apprehension had been felt of treachery on the part of their own troops at Cawnpore.
This morning, however, Sunday morning, the seventh of June, Sir Hugh Wheeler, commanding general at Cawnpore, had received a letter from the Nana Sahib, declaring his intention of attacking.
Now everyone on the verandah of the barracks held their breath, as all in the entrenchment seemed to do. The tension of the soldiers, posted with leveled rifles around the circumference of the barricading mud wall, communicated itself to every person.
The mewling of a baby born only a few hours before vibrated on the air. The cry was cut off by the boom of a cannon. Women shrieked; children wailed as the ball struck the barrack behind them.
A bugle call split the air, sounding above the mayhem. The crack of shot was deafening as hundreds of rifles responded. The mutiny had come to Cawnpore.

A moan tore from deep in her throat and Lady Antonia Danvers sat up sharply. She was drenched in sweat, even though the early June night was cold in London. Tonia reached for the carafe of water by her bed and filled a glass to relieve her parched throat. What had she dreamed? How could such vivid horror have come from her own imagination?
She crossed the room and, pushing the heavy drapery aside, raised the sash on her window, letting a fresh breeze bathe her face. She breathed deeply of the blessed, moist air. Still unsettled from the terrors of her dream, Antonia returned to bed. The sky had lightened to silver, however, and the first notes of the dawn chorus rang in the garden before Tonia returned to an uneasy sleep.
She wakened far too late to share her morning tea with her husband as was their custom. When she inquired of her maid she was informed that her lord would be out for the day, involved with his man of business and taking dinner at his club. She would have no opportunity to discuss the nightmare with Charles, although the phantom spectre continued to follow her.
As soon as the diminutive Isabella had finished her lady’s toilette Antonia hurried upstairs to the nursery where she knew she would find the antidote to all her dismals.
The Honourable Charles Frederick Leighton clapped his chubby hands at the spinning top Nurse Bevans had set going for him. Tonia smiled at the sight and scooped her son into her arms, kissing him soundly on each chubby cheek.
“Has he had his airing yet, Sara?”
The nurse started to nod, but Tonia interrupted her. “Never mind, an extra won’t hurt him. It is too lovely in the garden to stay indoors.” The truth was, Tonia felt driven to be out in the reviving English air with her son. She was still feeling parched by the desert scene of what she could only think was an hallucination, for it seemed more that than a mere dream.
She would spend the day indulging Charlie’s every whim. It would be a perfect day. Indeed, she was determined this would be the perfect summer, especially for Charlie. She placed her hand on her abdomen. This would be his last summer to be alone in the nursery. Being a big brother would undoubtedly be an excellent experience for the heir to Norwood, but for these few months, she wanted his time as lord of his realm to be perfect. Soon enough the weight and worries of life would encroach. Such a precious thing, childhood. It must be protected.

By force of will, Tonia managed to push her nighttime angst to the back of her mind, and the entire day couldn’t have been calmer or more surrounded by beauty. Her spirits were quite restored by the time Isabella had her attired for the evening’s social engagement. Tonia made one last detour to the nursery to give a final kiss to the soft cheek of her sleeping son and run her fingers gently over his silky, blond hair. How fortunate they were—such a joy after she had believed for so long that she would be unable to bear a child, and then almost losing him in that dreadful fire last year. She gave a final, smoothing tug to his coverlet and, with a nod to Nurse Bevans, crossed the room and closed the door softly behind her.
The flounced skirts of her blue silk evening gown rustled as Lady Danvers swept down the curving main staircase. She found her feet moving faster with each tread, knowing every step brought her closer to Charles. She felt her mouth curve into a smile.
Lord Charles Danvers, awaiting her in the hall, returned her smile, then took the ruffle-trimmed mantelet Isabella was holding for her lady and put it around Antonia’s white shoulders, fully bared as current fashion dictated. Antonia knew that if her maid had not been standing by, her lord would have kissed the back of her neck in the process, and she gave a slight shiver of delight at the mere thought.
Danvers escorted her out the Doric-pillared porch to the waiting barouche with his viscount’s coronet on the side. As soon as they were comfortably settled against the maroon squabs of the carriage, and the pair of chestnuts were stepping smartly down Grosvenor Street under the steady hand of Jarvis, Danvers’s coachman, Tonia gave a sigh of pleasure. “I can’t tell you how I am anticipating this evening, Charles. I have never met the guest of honour, and yet her mother and I were the closest of friends in our girlhood. It’s very odd, really.” She lapsed into a brief memory of days long ago, laughing with her friend—Emilia’s dark curls bouncing as they romped in the garden. How could they have allowed the years to make such a distance?
“Yes,” Charles said. “I had an impression of mystery about this evening. Why ever is Aunt Aelfrida doing something so uncharacteristic as bestirring herself to give a Drawing-room for half of London?”
Antonia laughed. “And you accuse me of exaggerating, my love. Surely less than a quarter of London will be there. And only the top quarter at that. One could hardly expect anything less of the Dowager Duchess of Aethelbert.”
“Still, I can’t recall her having done such a thing in living memory. And who is this Miss Sophia Landry we are summoned to meet? I’m certain I can’t have heard of her before.”
Tonia saw again in her mind the flowing script of the engraved invitation fighting for space on the library mantelpiece amidst a veritable throng of stiff white cards summoning the Lord and Lady Danvers to the most brilliant events of the season: The Dowager Duchess of Aethelbert requests the pleasure of your company at a Drawing-room on Monday, eighth June, at eight o’clock of the evening to meet Miss Sophia Landry. “Aunt Aelfrida doesn’t send invitations, she issues summons.”
Danvers smiled. “Exactly. I wonder how many others have spotted that disparity? I expect most of the recipients will be so flattered to receive an invitation they won’t stop to wonder if there is a skeleton in the closet.”
“No skeletons, certainly. Aunt Aelfrida would not countenance that. Although it had occurred to me to wonder why she had undertaken such a charge.”
“What do you know of Aelfrida’s connection to the girl?” Danvers asked.
Tonia paused to think as the carriage turned toward Berkeley Square Gardens. “A rather sad tale, I only heard it once myself and that years ago—it’s not the sort of thing children pay much attention to. Sophia is granddaughter of Aelfrida’s oldest friend. Dore, my father called her when he recounted the tale to me. Staveley was the family name. Apparently this lady disgraced herself in her first season by marrying beneath her—a runaway match, no less.”
“Aelfrida’s friend ran off with a ne’er-do-well? That would have raised the eyebrows.”
“I believe he was quite wealthy, but in trade. Something with the East India Company, maybe. At any rate, Dore was disinherited—with the Staveley fortune to go to a descendant who married according to their station.”
Danvers shook his head. “I can only imagine what Aelfrida must have thought of the whole affair. And yet she has apparently kept touch with the family?”
Tonia’s voice filled with nostalgia as she recalled days long past. “Dore died giving birth to a daughter. On the same day that my mother gave birth to me.” She was quiet for a moment. “And my mother died shortly after that, too.” Tonia paused. “That was how Emilia and I came to grow up together. You know, my love, I had never considered this before. Children simply take things so for granted, and Emilia came into my life when we were very young. We were enchanted by the fact that we shared a birthday…” She paused again, long-forgotten memories flooding her mind.
“So why have I never met this bosom friend of yours? Or even heard of her?”
Tonia shook her head. “Emilia and I made our come-outs together. Both under Aunt Aelfrida’s sponsorship. We could have been twins, except for her black hair and my red. And then our lives took such a divergence. Emilia married in her first season.”
“And so gained the inheritance?”
Tonia shook her head. “We all thought it would be so. She was pursued by a marquess. But Emilia amazed us all by eloping. A love match, apparently. But there was little money. He was in the East India Company like her father. They went out to India.” She shook her head again. “We simply lost touch. I did hear she had a daughter, in the first year after her marriage. And then her husband died sometime later. I think Emilia returned to England with her daughter and lived with her people in Yorkshire or somewhere, but I was far too busy with my social whirl to give it all much thought.”
Danvers laughed. “Le ne plus ultra, you were—how well I remember. Truly, there was never anyone like you, my love.”
Tonia smiled, but her mind was still on her long-lost friend. “You know, it’s the oddest thing, but I received a letter from Emilia only last week. It seemed so out of the blue, and now I’m to meet her daughter tonight. It’s so hard to believe that Emilia’s daughter is of age to enter society—when our own child is still in the nursery. The years go with such frightening speed.”
“And so Aunt Aelfrida has undertaken to launch the granddaughter of her oldest friend.” Danvers still sounded puzzled as to the motivation, but Tonia could give no more explanation. “Is the girl presentable, I wonder?”
“Her mother was a beauty. And since Emilia, like her mother, married beneath herself, the Staveley fortunes are waiting for Sophia.”
“Oh dear, a noted beauty and an heiress—assuming she marries well. Aelfrida will have her hands full. This should prove a most interesting evening.”

The carriage drew up before the Dowager Duchess of Aethelbert’s Palladian house at the end of Berkeley Square Gardens. Torches flared beside the pillared doorway and lights gleamed from every window. The dowager duchess’s liveried footman handed Antonia out of the barouche before Danvers’s own footman could spring down from the back of the carriage to perform the office.
A pair of bewigged footmen, in the knee breeches and silk hose such as servants would have worn when the dowager duchess herself was making her come-out, held the double front doors open, a maid took Antonia’s wrap, and they ascended the wide staircase to the first floor reception room where the butler Soyer announced, without even glancing at the card Danvers handed him, “The Viscount and Viscountess Danvers,” in a carrying voice that made all the heads in the already full room turn toward the newcomers.
They were barely into the room before Soyer announced the next arrivals, “The Baroness Burroway and The Honourable Alfred Emory Rannoch, The Honourable Miss Rannoch, and The Honourable Beatrice Rannoch.”
Since they were staying with the dowager duchess, Danvers was surprised his elder sister and family hadn’t already entered. His groan was audible only to Antonia as Agatha Estella cut a beeline straight to him, barely acknowledging greetings from any of the other guests.
“Charles, you must put a stop to this nonsense.”
Danvers raised his eyebrows and surveyed the magnificent room fairly seething with the cream of London society. “Do you refer to Aunt Aelfrida’s Drawing-room? What do you propose I do—yell, ‘Fire’?”
Agatha’s deepening frown did nothing to improve her already severe appearance; nor, indeed, did the unfortunate choice of the pea-green gown she wore. “Charles! I do wish you would be sensible. I refer, of course to Aunt Aelfida’s proposal to introduce this—this nobody to London society. We shall all be quite sunk if she persists in this madness.”
“My dear Agatha, I had no idea your standing in society was so precarious. Nor did I entertain any notion that my standing with Aunt Aelfrida was so certain that I could dictate her undertakings to her. I will admit to a certain curiosity, however. Perhaps you can enlighten me as to why Aunt Aelfrida should be going to so much trouble for the granddaughter of an old friend? It sounds highly unlike her.”
Before Agatha could respond the great lady herself bore down upon them, demanding their attention with two raps of her ebony walking stick. Danvers bowed deeply. “Aunt Aelfrida, how fine you look. You are in health?”
“I am always in health.”
Antonia made a slight curtsy. “Your diamonds are stunning, your grace.” If anyone had doubted the dowager duchess’s determination that the evening would make a splash in society, the fact that she had chosen to wear the Aethelsham diamonds would make matters quite clear. It should have been enough to quell even Agatha.
The dowager duchess was not interested in discussing her adornment, however. She turned to her eldest niece. “Agatha, keep your puppy away from Sophia. I have much better things in mind for her.”
Agatha’s strong features mirrored her dilemma between defending the heir to the Barony of Burroway’s position as being unsurpassed and her horror at the prospect of her son dangling after a positionless miss. “I… I… How dare…” But the dowager duchess had turned her back and moved on to greet the Earl of Ellenborough whom Soyer had just announced.
Antonia pondered. It was clear that the idea of Agatha’s son dangling after Aunt Aelfrida’s protégé had never entered her sister-in-law’s mind. So why did she object so strongly to Aunt Aelfrida bringing her out? Agatha would normally encourage any opportunity that offered a chance for her to present her daughters to the cream of society, especially since the painfully plain Alice, who had the misfortune to take after her mother, was now in her mid-twenties and would soon be on the matrimonial shelf. On the other hand, Beatrice, like her brother, had inherited their father’s round blue eyes and curling black locks. The fact that a somewhat florid complexion was also part of the package was more attractive on Bea than on Alfred Emory.
The room, lavish with flowers and candles, and echoing with conversation, was rapidly becoming somewhat stifling. The dowager duchess, who had returned after greeting the earl, was well into ringing a peal over her viscount nephew’s head on her favorite subject of family loyalty, so with a mere nod to her hostess, Antonia turned with relief to accept a glass of lemonade from a passing footman bearing a silver tray of drinks, and took the opportunity to continue across the room toward the guest of honour.
As she walked toward the small cluster of young people, of which Sophia was the center, Tonia couldn’t help smiling when she saw that the scene before her displayed the validity of Aunt Aelfrida’s concern. The Honourable Alfred Emory stood as if frozen in the circle of swains vying for Sophia’s attention. His mouth slightly ajar, his eyes unblinking, he appeared to be mesmerized by the sight of Sophia’s shining golden locks arranged with a fluff of ringlets over each ear and topped by a circlet of pale pink rosebuds.
Tonia stopped just short of the group to observe their interactions. She noted as well how accurate Agatha’s calculations regarding her daughter had been. Indeed, Alice was sadly put in the shade by Sophia’s radiance. Antonia considered whether the situation would be made better or worse in Agatha’s estimation by the fact that Beatrice, who was permitted most social activities although her come-out wouldn’t be official for another year yet, was such a perfect foil for Sophia’s golden beauty. Bea, with her gleaming black side ringlets almost brushing her ivory shoulders, didn’t appear to lack for attention in the circle of gallants clamoring to pay their regards.
Two young men, striking in their scarlet regimental uniforms amply adorned with gold braid, stood out among their rivals who were all dressed in the strictly correct evening habit of black tail coat and tight trousers with white silk waistcoat, and white linen shirt and cravat. Antonia did not know the older, quieter one, a captain if she read the stripes on his sleeve correctly, who stood at the back of the circle looking on. She was fairly certain, though, that she recognized the taller one as Lieutenant Thomas Anson, an acquaintance of Alfred Emory. This evening, however, the two young men appeared to be more rivals than friends as they vied for Sophia’s attention. The young lady, though, looked to be more intent on visiting with Beatrice as the two young women sat with their heads together.
“I say, you ladies must come to the regimental parade in Hyde Park—” the lieutenant began.
He was cut off, however, by Alfred Emory who had obviously been badgering his brain for something to say. “What a topping idea, Anson. I shall escort the ladies.” He had the grace to include both of his sisters in the invitation. “The dowager duchess ain’t going to find it exceptional if my sisters come along.” The footnote, directed to Sophia, received a scowl from Anson.
The dowager duchess might not have, but it was clear that the Baroness of Burroway, who arrived at her son’s left shoulder in time to hear the invitation, found the idea entirely unacceptable. “Alfred Emory, I will thank you to secure me a glass of lemonade.”
The young man had no choice but to obey.
The space left by his departure was filled by the dowager duchess who had led Danvers across the crowded floor to present her ward to Lord and Lady Danvers. “And you shall give a ball,” she pronounced as Danvers was midway through acknowledging the introduction.
Before either Charles or Antonia could form a reply, Agatha mastered the conflicting emotions of disgust and aspiration that fought for ascendency on her face and turned to her brother. “Yes, Charles, that’s the least you can do for Beatrice in her first season.”
Antonia smiled at her husband’s wisdom as he merely tendered a simple bow that managed to include all the ladies in the circle and walked away. Deciding to follow his example, she offered her brightest smile to Sophia, whose countenance mirrored the confusion she must be feeling, and retreated in Danvers’s wake.
They had no more left the circle than a tall, middle-aged man with striking features in a slightly swarthy face strode into the room and, after making a bow to several of the ladies, cut a determined path to Sophia’s side.
Antonia grabbed Danvers’s arm. “Charles! Did you see who just came in?”
He gazed around the room. “Upward of a hundred people, I should judge, if the other rooms are as full as this one.”
“No, Charles. There, bowing over Sophia’s hand. How dare he show his face here?”
“Penthurst? I haven’t seen him for more than a year—heard he was involved in some scandal. I wonder what brought him to town.”
Tonia scowled. “It appears obvious to me. He seems to have his sights set on Sophia. Or at least on her fortune. Never mind he’s twice her age.”
Danvers considered. “If I recall correctly, his father died a year or two ago. Perhaps he’s thinking it’s time to do his duty by the family and survey the marriage mart. I would have had him down as a confirmed bachelor. I don’t think he comes to London often.”
“How dare he come at all? If he comes near me I shall cut him, and I’d thank you to do the same. He used my cousin abominably.” But there was time for no more as Danvers moved on across the room.
At the far end of the reception room double doors opened onto a drawing room, likewise filled with small groups of splendidly arrayed, gossiping guests. Lord and Lady Danvers maneuvered their way across the room, stopping only briefly to acknowledge friends and acquaintances. The drawing room gave onto a dark-paneled, red-carpeted hallway. Beyond the hallway was the room Danvers was making for—the library.
The high-ceilinged room was ringed with two levels of leather-bound, gold-embossed books, the upper level reached by a circular stairway in the corner leading to an iron-railed gallery. A low fire burned on the grate of the fireplace at the far end of the room. Over the mantel a fine oil portrait held pride of place. Osbert, His Grace, the Duke of Aethelbert, the dowager duchess’s son who had succeeded his deceased father to the title, displayed in all the finery of his ducal robes.
Beneath the portrait, lounging in a plum-colored plush chair, was the original of the portrait. His grace came to his feet at Lord and Lady Danvers’s entrance. “Hullo, Charles, Cousin Antonia. I trust you are acquainted with the Earl of Ellenborough.”
“Lord Ellenborough,” Tonia smiled and nodded her head. “How agreeable that you could manage an evening away from the Lords.” Aunt Aelfrida had done well, Tonia mused. Lord Ellenborough, who had been Governor-General of India more than a decade before, was well known for his insistent and sometimes fiery speeches in the House of Lords. He would not have left Parliament on a whim before the evening session adjourned.
“And you know Lucie and Alexander, I’m sure,” Lord Osbert continued and gave a sweeping gesture that indicated the newcomers should take a seat on the deep green velvet settee on the other side of the fireplace.
Tonia turned to the elegant, if strong-featured, dark-haired lady dressed in deep garnet satin. “Lucie, how charming to see you.” The ladies brushed cheeks and took their seats.
Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon, only a few years older than herself, had been known to Tonia since girlhood. Lucie was a noted literary figure, having published several biographies and translations of books from the German. She was friends with such luminaries as John Stuart Mill, Tennyson, Dickens and Thackeray, who met frequently at the Duff Gordon home in Queen Square.
Tonia was wondering what could have interested this serious-minded lady in an event as frivolous as the come-out of a young girl of no position, when Lucie turned to Lord Ellenborough and asked, “Now, Edward, you must tell me—I only subjected myself to this squeeze in the hope that you would be here—what is all this brouhaha I hear about trouble in India? Surely it can’t be true. Just the papers stirring up sensation I told Alexander this morning.”
At the mention of his name her husband, who was a Commissioner of the Inland Revenue and member of Her Majesty’s Privy Chamber, entered and presented his wife with the glass of Madeira he had apparently been commissioned to fetch for her. “Thank you, Alexander. I have just asked Edward to set us straight on all this nonsense about India.”
The wavering flames from the fireplace added a grimness to the serious look already on the Earl of Ellenborough’s handsome features. “Alas, Lucie, I only wish I could assure you that it is nonsense. On the contrary, I fear the situation is much more serious than we know.”
“But surely any disaffection amongst the native troops is limited to those in Bengal—which is hard enough to believe because they have always been so docile. The sepoy regiments in the Indian service have served faithfully and submissively for nearly a century. What could have changed that so suddenly?”
Before Ellenborough could answer, Lucie’s husband continued her theme. “The fellows have always been happy enough to take our pay. And by all accounts they show a real aptitude for military discipline. Impossible to think they would mutiny.”
“Mutiny?” Lord Osbert frowned and swirled the rich red port in his glass. “What twaddle! I read in the Evening Mail only last Saturday that ‘somnolent tranquility, characteristic of the hot season, was brooding over India.’ I believe I have the correspondent’s words pretty much verbatim—quite poetic, I thought them.” He took a sip of port before continuing. “I recall his assuring his readers that the greatest dangers are the risk of cholera and dysentery until the rains have come and gone. Unpleasant that, but hardly the stuff of mutiny.”
The former Governor-General of India shook his head. “Certainly, your grace, I read the same article. Published sixth June, indeed, as you say. But did you note when it was written?”
The duke looked blank.
“I believe you will find that it was written on the eleventh of May. And if you had continued reading to the end you would have discovered a report of a telegraphic message containing intelligence which rather marred that profound picture of tranquility. I refer to the fact that the Bengal Cavalry are in open mutiny. The scoundrels have burnt down officers’ bungalows and several officers and men have been killed and wounded.”
Antonia hid her shiver in a sip of lemonade. Officers’ bungalows. Surely wives and children resided there also? She knew little enough about the vast continent of India from which the British Empire derived so much of its wealth, but she had recently begun to pay more attention to all things Indian since receiving Emilia’s surprising letter. Surely Osbert had the right of it. Emilia had recounted in glowing terms how kind the Indian soldiers serving under British orders were. She recalled a particularly charming story of a sepoy teaching two young sons of a British officer to ride a pony.
But now the talk of trouble in Emilia’s amiable world of military balls and officers’ receptions brought fear to Tonia’s heart. Lord Ellenborough was exaggerating, surely.
“I wish I could be of comfort to you, Lucie.” Ellenborough turned to the lady who had opened this disturbing discussion. “But I fear that you, like most of our English, are too complacent. I much apprehend that the spirit of disaffection in India is widespread. I am privy to a telegraphic dispatch from Marseilles confirming the worst: Seven incendiary fires, sepoy cavalry in open mutiny, English officers shot and killed.”
Alexander Duff Gordon set his glass of wine on the low table by his chair and leaned forward. “Balderdash! What do you mean alarming the ladies like that, man? Keep your warmongering for your speeches in Parliament.”
“That is precisely what I did before coming here. You may read the account of my speech in the press tomorrow. I only hope our journalistic gentlemen report it accurately.”
Lucie, whose features had flared at the suggestion that ladies should not be informed, turned to her husband. “Pray, do not be ridiculous Alexander. I am intensely interested; not alarmed. You know how dear I hold my friends in India. At least I’m persuaded that my charming Azimoolah Khan could never be disloyal. Nor his benevolent master Nana Sahib; ‘The Gentleman of Bithur’ they call him.” She turned to Antonia. “I am so sorry, my dear Tonia, that you were out of London when Azimoolah was my houseguest. Very grand-looking, he was. And you would have been as enchanted with his amiable manners as I was.”
Tonia forbore to reply. She rather considered that she had had a lucky escape. If half the gossip she had heard of the suave Musselman’s conquests in the bedrooms of Belgravia and Mayfair had any basis in fact, she was quite certain she would not have wanted to be placed in a position that would have required her to receive him. Although, she had to admit her curiosity was piqued.
Lucie Duff Gordon turned back to Ellenborough. “No, I am absolutely secure that there can be no uprising in Cawnpore, whatever may be happening in some other far-off corner of the continent.” She smiled complacently at Tonia. “Cawnpore has the second-largest European society in India. My friends there assure me it is a most agreeable residence. In consequence of there being so many settled residents, the gardens rank amongst the finest in India. They give the city a very luxuriant appearance.
“And the faith is thoroughly established as well. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel runs a fine orphan asylum in an old palace, and St. John’s chapel, the soldiers’ church, is as fine a stone structure as you would find in England. I am assured as well that shops offer every article of European manufacture necessary for comfort or even luxury.”
Since that pretty well tallied with the impression she had received from Emilia’s letter, Antonia allowed herself to be reassured.
With a snap of her black lace fan Lucie turned back to Ellenborough. “What are you suggesting? There can hardly be trouble in such a place as that.”
“As to Cawnpore I have no immediate information.” The earl inclined his head, the firelight revealing the ample grey in his formerly raven locks. “The immediate intelligence has come from Meerut.”
Lucie considered for a moment. “Ah, that’s all very well then. Meerut must be some three hundred miles from Cawnpore.”
Antonia relaxed as the conversation continued around her. Emilia was safe, then. What luck that her friend was in Cawnpore. She had even mentioned in her letter how kind and obliging the Peshwa Nana Sahib was. Emilia had been among the European women, mostly officers’ wives, to be entertained in his palace. She described “Saturday House,” as it was apparently called: filled with carpets, tapestries, European chandeliers and chiming clocks. The description had made Tonia smile, sounding as it did so much like the Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
Still, the alarming reports Ellenborough had recounted to the others continued to disturb Tonia as Danvers’s barouche carried them back to Grosvenor Square shortly after midnight. “Charles, what do you make of the matter of India?”
Danvers didn’t reply.
“Pray, do not be like Sir Alexander and hold your opinion for fear of alarming me. I have always firmly believed that it is far better to be in possession of the facts of a situation than to be put in the position of imagining something far worse.”
“Quite, my love. I have no intention of dissimulating with you. I simply do not know what to think. I do know, however, that there may be no man in London—in all of England—better informed on India than Lord Ellenborough.”
“And why do you say that?”
“He has served in Parliament since before Waterloo. You’ll realize, of course, he is very near my father’s age. Ellenborough became Lord Privy Seal under Wellington. More to the present question, however, he was four times President of the Board of Control—overseeing the East India Company. That made him the chief official in London responsible for Indian affairs. He was an obvious choice then for the position of Governor-General of India.
“He is well known for his active interest in India.” Danvers paused. “I seem to recall a few years back he agitated for the government of India to come under the Crown rather than the East India Company. Nothing came of that, of course—far too radical.”
Antonia considered. “Does he have a family?”
“No. A melancholy story, I fear. His first wife died after a few years of marriage. My father knew her; said she was a frail beauty.”
“And he never remarried?”
“Well, yes, he married.” The sound of the carriage wheels on pavement and the smart clip-clop of horses’ hooves filled the carriage in his silence.
“Charles, tell.”
“There was a scandal. A son was born, but Ellenborough was not the father. Apparently other affairs followed. When her affair with some Germanic prince became public knowledge Ellenborough had no choice but to divorce her by Act of Parliament.”
“Oh, the poor man!”
“Indeed. Forgive me for sullying your ears with such detail.”
“Not at all, my lord. I thank you for an honest answer.” She took his hand under the rug protecting their legs from the night air and held it in silence for the remainder of the journey.

Hours later, sometime in the small hours of the morning, Antonia jerked awake with a muffled cry on her lips. She held her breath, listening to the silence. What had so disturbed her sleep? She could just hear a faint snoring from her husband’s chamber beyond her dressing room. Her beloved Tinker snuffled in his basket at the foot of her bed. She strained her ears. All was quiet in the nursery above them. If either Charlie or Nurse Bevans had stirred she would hear the footfall on the floor over her head.
Forced at last to breathe, she relaxed, and the images came flooding back: rioting dark-skinned men in turbans running through the night with flaring torches, setting fire to tidy bungalows; gunfire ripping the dark; the screams of women and children. A baby’s sharp cry.
She was on her feet heading for the door when she realized the child’s cry had come not from her own sleeping toddler upstairs, but from the fearful spectre she had conjured from the reports of the uprising in India.

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