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Southampton Row (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Novels)by Anne Perry
"I'm sorry," Assistant Commissioner Cornwallis said quietly, his face a mask of guilt and unhappiness. "I did everything I could, made every argument, moral and legal. But I can't fight the Inner Circle."
Pitt was stunned. He stood in the middle of the office with the sunlight splashing across the floor and the noise of horses' hooves, wheels on the cobbles and the shouts of drivers barely muffled beyond the window. Pleasure boats plied up and down the Thames on the hot June day. After the Whitechapel conspiracy he had been reinstated as superintendent of the Bow Street police station. Queen Victoria herself had thanked him for his courage and loyalty. Now, Cornwallis was dismissing him again! "They can't," Pitt protested. "Her Majesty herself."
Cornwallis's eyes did not waver, but they were filled with misery. "They can. They have more power than you or I will ever know. The Queen will hear what they want her to. If we take it to her, believe me, you will have nothing left, not even Special Branch. Narraway will be glad to have you back." The words seemed forced from him, harsh in his throat. "Take it, Pitt. For your own sake, and your family's. It is the best you'll get. And you're good at it. No one could measure what you did for your country in beating Voisey at Whitechapel."
"Beating him!" Pitt said bitterly. He's knighted by the Queen, and the Inner Circle is still powerful enough to say who shall be superintendent of Bow Street and who shan't!"
Cornwallis winced, the skin drawn tight across the bones of his face. "I know. But if you hadn't beaten him, England would now be a republic in turmoil, perhaps even civil war, and Voisey would be the first president. That's what he wanted. You beat him, Pitt, never doubt it . . . and never forget it, either. He won't."
Pitt's shoulders slumped. He felt bruised and weary. How would he tell Charlotte? She would be furious for him, outraged at the unfairness of it. She would want to fight, but there was nothing to do. He knew that, he was only arguing with Cornwallis because the shock had not passed, the rage at the injustice of it. He had really believed his position at least was safe, after the Queen's acknowledgment of his worth.
"You're due a holiday," Cornwallis said. "Take it. I'm . . . I'm sorry I had to tell you before."
Pitt could think of nothing to say. He had not the heart to be gracious.
"Go somewhere nice, right out of London," Cornwallis went on. "The country, or the sea."
"Yes . . . I suppose so." It would be easier for Charlotte, for the children. She would still be hurt but at least they would have time together. It was years since they had taken more than a few days and just walked through woods or over fields, eaten picnic sandwiches and watched the sky.
Charlotte was horrified, but after the first outburst she hid it, perhaps largely for the children's sake. Ten-and-a-half-year-old Jemima was instant to pick up any emotion, and Daniel, two years younger, was quick behind. Instead she made much of the chance for a holiday and began to plan when they should go and to think about how much they could afford to spend.
Within days it was arranged. They would take her sister Emily's son with them as well; he was the same age and was keen to escape the formality of the schoolroom and the responsibilities he was already learning as his father's heir. Emily's first husband had been Lord Ashworth, and his death had left the title and bulk of the inheritance to their only son, Edward.
They would stay in a cottage in the small village of Harford, on the edge of Dartmoor, for two and a half weeks. By the time they returned the general election would be over and Pitt would report again to Narraway at Special Branch, the infant service set up largely to battle the Fenian bombers and the whole bedeviled Irish question of Home Rule, which Gladstone was fighting all over again, and with as little hope of success as ever.
"I don't know how much to take for the children," Charlotte said as if it were a question. "How dirty will they get, I wonder . . "
They were in the bedroom doing the last of the packing before going for the midday train south and west.
"Very, I hope," Pitt replied with a grin. "It isn't healthy for a child to be clean . . . not a boy, anyway."
"Then you can do some of the laundry!" she replied instantly. "I'll show you how to use a flatiron. It's very easy-just heavy-and tedious."
He was about to retaliate when their maid, Gracie, spoke from the doorway. "There's a cabbie 'ere with a message for yer, Mr. Pitt," she said. " 'E give me this." She offered him a piece of paper folded over.
He took it and opened it up.
Pitt, I need to see you immediately. Come with the bearer of this message. Narraway.
"What is it?" Charlotte asked, a sharp edge to her voice as she watched his expression change. "What's happened?"
"I don't know, he replied. "Narraway wants to see me, but it can't be much. I'm not starting back with Special Branch for another three weeks."
Naturally she knew who Narraway was, although she had never met him. Ever since her first encounter with Pitt eleven years ago, in 1881, she had played a lively part in every one of his cases that aroused her curiosity or her outrage, or in which someone she cared about was involved. In fact, it was she who had befriended the widow of John Adinett's victim in the Whitechapel conspiracy and finally discovered the reason for his death. She had a better idea than anyone else outside Special Branch of who Narraway was.
"Well, you'd better tell him not to keep you long,"she said angrily. "You are on holiday, and have a train to catch at noon. I wish he'd called tomorrow, when we'd have been gone!"
"I don't suppose it's much," he said lightly. He smiled, but the smile was a trifle downturned at the corners. "There've been no bombings lately, and with an election coming at any time there probably won't be for a while."
"Then why can it not wait until you come back?" she asked.
"It probably can." He shrugged ruefully. "But I can't afford to disobey him." It was a hard reminder of his new situation.
He reported directly to Narraway and he had no recourse beyond him, no public knowledge, no open court to appeal to, as he had had when a policeman. If Narraway refused him there was nowhere else to turn.
"Yes . . ." She lowered her eyes. "I know. Just remind him about the train. There isn't a later one to get there tonight."
"I will." He kissed her swiftly on the cheek and then turned and went out of the door and down the stairs to the pavement, where the cabbie waited for him.
"Right, sir?" the cabbie asked from the box.
"Yes," Pitt accepted. He glanced up at him, then climbed into the hansom and sat down as it started to move. What could Victor Narraway want from him that could not as easily wait until he reported back in three weeks? Was it just an exercise of his power, to establish again who was master? It could hardly be for his opinion; he was still a novice at Special Branch work. He knew almost nothing about the Fenians; he had no expertise in dynamite or any other explosives. He knew very little about conspiracies in quarrel, nor in honesty did he want to. He was a detective, a policeman. His skill was in solving crimes, unraveling the details and the passions of individual murder, not the machinations of spies, anarchists and political revolutionaries.
He had succeeded brilliantly in Whitechapel, but that was over now. All that they would ever know of the truth rested in silence, darkness and bodies decently buried to hide the terrible things that had happened to them. Charles Voisey was still alive, and they could prove nothing against him. But there had been a kind of justice. He, secret hero of the movement to overthrow the throne, had been maneuvered into seeming to have risked his life to save it. Pitt smiled and felt his throat tighten with grief as he remembered standing beside Charlotte and Vespasia in Buckingham Palace as the Queen had knighted Voisey for his services to the Crown. Voisey had risen from his knees too incensed with rage to speakâ€”which Victoria had taken for awe, and smiled indulgently. The Prince of Wales had praised him, and Voisey had turned and walked back past Pitt with a hatred in his eyes like the fires of hell. Even now Pitt felt a cold knot tighten in his stomach remembering it.
Yes, Dartmoor would be good: great, clean, wind-driven skies, the smell of earth and grass on unpaved lanes. They would walk and talk together, or simply walk! He would fly kites with Daniel and Edward, climb some of the tors, collect things, watch the birds or animals. Charlotte and Jemima could do whatever they wished, visit people, make new friends, look at gardens, or search for wildflowers.
The cab stopped. "Ere y'are sir," the driver called. "Go right in. Gentleman's expecting yer."
"Thank you." Pitt climbed out and walked across the pavement to the steps leading up to a plain wooden door. It was not the shop in the back room of which he had found Narraway in Whitechapel. Perhaps he moved around as the need directed? Pitt opened the door without knocking and went in. He found himself in a passage which led to a pleasant sitting room with windows onto a tiny garden, which was mostly crowded with overgrown roses badly in need of pruning.
Victor Narraway was sitting in one of the two armchairs, and he looked up at Pitt without rising. He was a slender man, very neatly dressed, of average height, but nevertheless his appearance was striking because of the intelligence in his face. Even in repose there was an energy within him as if his mind never rested. He had thick, dark hair, now liberally sprinkled with gray, hooded eyes which were almost black, and a long, straight nose.
"Sit down, he ordered as Pitt remained on his feet. "I have no intention of staring up at you. And you will grow tired in time and start to fidget, which will annoy me."
Pitt put his hands in his pockets. "I haven't long. I'm going to Dartmoor on the noon train."
Narraway's heavy eyebrows rose. "With your family?"
"Yes, of course."
"There is nothing to be sorry about," Pitt replied. "I shall enjoy it very much. And after Whitechapel I have earned it."
"You have," Narraway agreed quietly. "Nevertheless you are not going."
"Yes I am." They had known each other only a few months, worked very loosely together on just the one case. It was not like Pitt's long relationship with Cornwallis, whom he liked profoundly and would have trusted more than any other man he could think of. He was still unsure what he felt about Narraway, and certainly he did not trust him, in spite of his conduct in Whitechapel. He believed Narraway served the country and was a man of honor according to his own code of ethics, but Pitt did not yet understand what they were, and there was no bond of friendship between them.
Narraway sighed. "Please sit down, Pitt. I expect you to make this morally uncomfortable for me, but be civil enough not to make it physically so as well. I dislike craning my neck to stare up at you."
"I am going to Dartmoor today," Pitt repeated, but he did sit down in the other chair.
"This is the eighteenth of June. Parliament will rise on the twenty-eighth," Narraway said wearily, as if the knowledge was sad and indescribably exhausting. "There will be a general election immediately. I daresay we shall have the first results by the fourth or fifth of July."
From the Hardcover edition.
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