His whole being thrilled to the prospect of success. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly dawn. He walked through the laboratory, turning down the lamps.
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His whole being thrilled to the prospect of success. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly dawn. He walked through the laboratory, turning down the lamps. Then he picked up the lantern and entered the crypt. He had learned that there were two secret entrances to the laboratory. The iron cage that descended from the ancient abbey overhead was useful, but he did not like to employ it frequently because he was concerned, as his predecessor had been, that oft-repeated use would invite the curiosity of those who lived nearby.
True, most people in the vicinity feared the abbey, believing it to be haunted. But some bold person might be tempted to overcome his dread if he happened to notice a fashionably dressed gentleman coming and going from the chapel every night.
Therefore the killer reserved the iron cage for those occasions when he was in a hurry. The lost river was the safer if more tedious route for his regular nightly trips to the laboratory. At the rear of the crypt, water lapped at the secret underground dock. He got into one of the small, shallow-bottomed boats he kept there. Balancing carefully, he set the lantern on the bow and picked up the pole. A firm shove sent the little boat into the current of the long-lost river.
The vessel floated gently in the dark, foul-smelling water. The killer was obliged to crouch now and again to avoid the ancient stone footbridges that arched overhead.
It was an eerie, unsettling journey. Although he had made the trip many times now, he did not think that he would ever become accustomed to the oppressive darkness and the foul odor. But he took a thrilling comfort in the knowledge that his predecessor had come and gone to the secret laboratory countless times along this strange route. It was all a part of his great destiny, he thought. One of the ancient relics that littered the riverbanks came into view.
The lantern light danced across a marble relief partially submerged in the mud. It depicted the scene of a strange god wearing an odd cap. The figure was shown in the act of slaying a great bull.
The killer averted his gaze the way he had learned to do whenever he came upon one of the old statues. The accusing stares in those sightless eyes always made him uneasy. It was as if the old gods could see that place inside him where the strange energy that fueled his genius seethed and simmered; as if they understood that it was not entirely under his control. The chamber was ablaze with lights from the pendulous chandeliers. Mirrors lined one entire wall, reflecting the glow of the dazzling scene.
Brilliantly gowned ladies and gentlemen dressed in the height of fashion laughed and gossiped. Elegant couples floated across the dance floor. Music poured down from the balcony where the musicians were ensconced.
A small army of servants in blue livery made their way through the throng carrying trays of champagne and lemonade. She had decided immediately upon meeting Bennett Fleming that she liked him very much.
One look at his sturdy frame and earnest eyes and she had understood why Arthur trusted him. Bennett Fleming gave the impression of being one of those rare, good-hearted, steadfast people that one knew one could rely upon in a crisis. Whoever he is, he has the power to make you instantly fashionable. One learns things when one is married to an expert. She reached into her reticule and took out a small pad of paper and a tiny pencil. Bennett frowned. She wondered what Bennett would say if he knew that Margaret was doing research for her new novel.
He took a swallow of champagne and assumed the air of a man preparing to go into battle. Makes it all sound quite intriguing, does it not? Bennett evidently decided not to respond to that question. Instead he turned his attention back to the dance floor. Quite suddenly he brightened with obvious relief. Elenora followed his gaze and saw a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman in a blue coat standing near the French doors that opened onto the gardens.
He appeared to be in his late fifties. He was engaged in conversation with another man. Something about his stance and expression made it clear that he was unutterably bored by the colorful scene going on around him.
His wife died two years ago without giving him an heir, and it is understood that he is in the market for a new bride. A turn on the dance floor with him will draw a good deal of attention. Every other man in the room will be eager to discover what he sees in you. In short, Hathersage can bring you into fashion. Even from this distance, I can see that he is likely one of those gentlemen who suffer from a surfeit of ennui. What sort of favor? Six months ago there was a flurry of interest in a mining venture in Yorkshire.
Arthur knew the project was likely a swindle that would end in disaster. He heard that Hathersage was about to purchase a share in the project and sent him a note warning him that it was probably not a sound invest ment. The entire scheme fell apart a short time later, and everyone involved lost their money.
Then again, Jones had never been one to listen to good advice. Bennett looked at her. Once you are out on the floor with Hathersage, you must try to come up with something witty in the way of conversation. If you can amuse him, even for a moment or two, he will be pleased.
Five minutes later, Elenora found herself on the dance floor. She smiled up at her tall, gray-haired companion. Hathersage was all that was polite, but it was clear that as far as he was concerned he was merely repaying a favor.
This close, the ennui in his expression was unmistakable. She wondered that he had not expired long ago of his severe case of boredom.
How on earth was she supposed to carry on a conversation with a man who obviously wished to be somewhere else? I, on the other hand, am in the position of having to endure an endless string of silly young misses fresh out of the schoolroom. I assure you, it can be mind-numbingly difficult to make conversation with a man who is old enough to be your father when you would much rather dance with a handsome young poet. Then he frowned.
One certainly cannot imagine her rushing home to write any romantic reminiscences in her journal about such a dance partner, can one? A reluctant spark of genuine interest gleamed in his eyes.
Merryn find you, Miss Lodge? He naturally applied his talents for analysis and sound reasoning to the task of finding a suitable bride. When one comes right down to the nub of the matter, husbands and wives are, in essence, companions, are they not? At the agency he was provided with an extensive selection of well-educated ladies who all possessed the most excellent references and reputations above reproach. Rather than being obliged to dance with all of them and endure a series of potentially dull conversations, he was, instead, able to conduct detailed interviews.
The candidates for the position he offered were, in turn, able to question him as well. For a terrible moment Elenora thought she had miscalculated badly and had initiated a complete disaster. Then Hathersage threw back his head and laughed uproariously. Every head in the room turned.
Every eye was riveted. By the time Hathersage returned Elenora to Bennett and Margaret, the line of gentlemen waiting to request a dance extended from the potted palms all the way to the entrance to the card room.
It was after midnight, and he was not in a good mood. He had just concluded another night of inquiries that had yielded few results. Granted, he had discovered more information concerning one of the mysterious snuffboxes that he sought, but so many other questions remained unanswered.
He had the inexplicable sensation that time was running out quickly. It took him a few minutes to spot Elenora. When he did catch a glimpse of her gleaming dark hair on the far side of the ballroom, he finally realized why it had been so difficult to find her: She was surrounded by a sea of males, all of whom appeared to be vying eagerly for her attention.
She was chatting in an extremely familiar manner with a circle of gentlemen she could not possibly have met before tonight. Not only that but her high-waisted, emerald-colored gown was cut far too low, revealing too much of her soft bosom and gently molded shoulders. She glowed like some exotic jewel, one he was certain that every man in the vicinity coveted. Where were Bennett and Margaret? They were supposed to be keeping an eye on the situation. As he watched, one of the gentlemen near Elenora bowed over her gloved fingers and escorted her out onto the dance floor.
The Paid Companion
No doubt making for Gretna Green. All talk stopped. No papers rustled; no glasses moved. It was almost midnight and the club was full.