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Authors: The Painted Veil

Susan Carroll

THE PAINTED VEIL

SUSAN CARROLL

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 Susan Carroll

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PROLOGUE

 

“Nine of the clock and a foggy night.”

The ancient charley's voice rang out with
cheerful assurance. The only other sound disrupting the stillness
was a carriage rattling by, its team of horses clopping along the
rain-wet cobblestones.

The old watchman stepped with confidence
along Clarion Way, the street so serene it might have been no more
than an architect's sketch of fashionable London. At the head of
the square stood the Countess Sumner's brick mansion, the oldest
house in the district. It loomed like an imposing matriarch over
the row of recently built townhouses. With their gleaming
colonnades and brass door knockers, the modern structures appeared
almost smug in their prosperity, candleshine spilling through the
windows into the murky street below.

Most of the occupants had likely dined by now
and were in the process of attiring themselves for the evening.
Soon the street would become a hive of noise and activity, doors
opening and closing, coaches coming and going, gentlemen and ladies
dressed in their silks whisking away to some round of entertainment
a rout, a ball, or the theatre.

But for now, the old watchman paused to savor
the quiet. Obadiah set down his lantern upon the pavement, flexing
his gnarled fingers. Only a few hours more and he could go home to
his mutton and pint of porter. He would be mighty glad of it, too.
He was more tired than usual this evening, feeling his years, he
supposed.

It was unseasonably warm for an early April
evening, the sudden shift in temperature causing mists to rise from
the pavement. The far end of the square was all but lost in fog,
the faint glow of the gas lamps providing little illumination.

The damp settled into Obadiah's bones,
aggravating his rheumatism, but other than that, he scarce minded
the haze blanketing the street like a gauzy coverlet. Far better
fog than rain.

There were some as might think it made his
task of patrolling the streets more dangerous. But whatever
happened amiss on Clarion Way? Perhaps there was the occasional
attempt at housebreaking or bout of fisticuffs between a footman
and some pert delivery boy. But for the most part the square
remained as orderly and dignified as the facades of the houses.
Obadiah had little to do but call out the passing of the hours and
the state of the weather, his watchman's rattle for summoning aid
mostly unused.

Now it would be a far different tale tonight
in Bethnal Green or that tumbledown area behind Westminister. The
fog would bring out the pickpockets, the thieves, and the footpads
in droves. Obadiah did not envy his fellow charleys who patrolled
those areas, especially poor old Adam Nash working the streets of
Cheapside. They'd been having a spot of trouble there of late with
one notorious cutpurse, known only as the Hook.

More daring and swift of foot than the rest,
no one had ever gotten a proper look at the villain, other than to
note he had only one hand, the other sleeve ending in a wicked bit
of curving steel. The rascal grew bolder every day. Most recently,
he'd robbed a plump baronet bare yards from the houses Of
Parliament. When that gentleman had objected to parting with his
purse, the Hook had spiked his victim's shoulder like a butcher
cleaving into a fat haunch of mutton.

Obadiah shuddered at the mere thought of it.
Picking up his lantern, he shuffled along again, feeling fortunate
to be far removed from the vicinity of the Hook and other such-like
murderous fiends. His most hazardous duty lay in checking the locks
and windows of Number 32. The house hadn't been let this season and
might offer a great temptation to some knowledgeable cracksman.

By the time Obadiah had completed his circuit
around the dark, silent house, the traffic on the street had picked
up some. Gentlemen who had chosen to dine at their clubs returned
home to change their attire.

Obadiah watched as a hackney cab set down
Nicholas Drummond, a congenial young gentleman with an arresting
smile. Mr. Drummond wore a coat with several shoulder capes and a
high-crowned beaver hat perched upon waves of tawny hair. He often
called in the square to visit his married sister, or his cousin who
lived several doors down.

After paying off the cabbie, Drummond strode
away whistling a tuneless song. Upon spying Obadiah, he nodded by
way of friendly greeting.

“Evening, Obadiah.”

Obadiah swiftly doffed his own soft-brimmed
cap. “Good evening, sir.”

“How goes it tonight?”

“All's quiet, sir. Naught to complain of but
the damp.”

“Indeed, the fog does seem to be getting
worse. Well, have a care for yourself, Obadiah.”

With another wave, Drummond sprinted up the
steps and was admitted into his sister's house. The exchange had
been brief, but Obadiah felt as warmed by it as if he'd taken a nip
of rum. A real kindly gentleman was Mr. Drummond. There weren't
many like him. Few of the Quality would take any heed of a lowly
watchman, let alone bid one to take care of oneself.

Certainly not Mr. Drummond's cousin, the
marquis of Mandell, who lived at the farthest end of the street.
Very high in the instep was the marquis. His lordship took no more
notice of Obadiah than he did the gatepost. But perhaps that was
just as well. Obadiah trembled at the thought of Mandell's gaze
turning his way. Very hard intent eyes had the marquis of
Mandell.

Obadiah supposed it was not his place to be
studying the ways and characteristics of the Quality on his street,
but the tedium of his job often left him little else to do. He
trudged down the length of the pavement, going so far as the next
square, then turned to come back again.

It was nearly quarter till ten and Mr.
Drummond had been correct. The fog did seem to be getting worse.
When the door to Number 17 opened, Obadiah was far enough away that
he could scarce make out the figures of two gentlemen stepping down
into the mist. But he did not need to. He knew full well who lived
there.

Mr. Albert Glossop was the bane of the old
charley's existence. Unlike Master Nick, Mr. Glossop displayed no
kindness or polished manners. A high-spirited youth, he and his
cronies derived some of their chief amusement from tormenting the
watch, especially when Mr. Glossop had had a touch too much brandy,
which was not infrequent.

Obadiah had lost count of the number of dead
cats that had been flung in his path, buckets of slops tossed on
his head, hot coals shoved down his back. With vivid recollection
of such past encounters, Obadiah hung back, waiting until he was
sure the two men coming out of Number 17 had gone well on their
way.

By the time they reached the pavement, he was
certain one of them was indeed Mr. Glossop. There was no mistaking
that familiar peacock blue redingote or the jaunty tilt of his
chapeau bras. The gentleman with him was obscured by a dark cloak
and a wide, floppy-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. It was a
plumed hat like Obadiah had once seen in an old painting of one of
those cavalier fellows. Lord, who would wear a thing like that
nowadays? But Mr. Glossop had been entertaining some foreigners of
late and it was well known how queer those Frenchies could be.

The gentlemen summoned neither carriage nor
hackney, but walked off down the street. When the stranger turned,
Obadiah thought he caught a flash of something like the silver head
of a walking stick. He gave it little consideration, feeling only
too relieved to have escaped the notice of Mr. Glossop and his
companion.

Only after the two men vanished into the mist
did Obadiah resume his rounds. The fog-bound silence of the street
began to seem a little oppressive and he would be glad when Clarion
Way clattered with its usual nighttime activity.

Obadiah consulted his timepiece and started
to sing out, “Ten of the clock and—”

His words were cut off by a cry that chilled
his blood. It was like nothing human, an animal howling in pain.
Obadiah whipped around, trying to still the pounding of his heart.
What in the name of God had that been? Perhaps someone's dog
crunched under the wheels of a carriage?

But Obadiah saw no coach, no sign of a dog or
beast of any kind. There was nothing—only the relentless mist.

Then a voice rang out. “Help! Sweet Jesus!
Someone please help me!”

Obadiah froze, making no move to dash to the
rescue. That had sounded too much like Mr. Glossop. Likely this was
only another of Master Bertie's tricks, Obadiah told himself. He
was not about to go rushing forward simply to fall prey to a nasty
bit of Glossop's humor.

But there came another shriek too convincing
to be faked. Sweat beaded on Obadiah's brow despite the chill night
air. Every instinct he possessed told him to flee in the opposite
direction. But he forced himself to go forward, his lantern held
high in his trembling hand. He had not taken many steps when a
shadow rose up from the pavement before him, melting out of the
mist, a figure garbed all in black.

“You there! What are you about? Halt!”
Obadiah attempted to shout, but his voice came in wheezing gasps.
The hooded phantom paid him no heed, In a swirl of dark cloak, the
man vaulted over a wrought iron fence and vanished behind the
marquis of Mandell's house. Obadiah fancied he heard a demonic
laugh.

The Hook was the first thought that popped
into the watchman's panicked brain, but he babbled, reassuring
himself, “No, no! Not here on Clarion Way.”

Perhaps he should seek to pursue the
apparition. The marquis would not take kindly to a caped spectre
creeping about beneath his windows and laughing. But Obadiah
convinced himself that it was more his duty to see who had been
calling for help.

There was no evidence of any other living
soul, but something had been left abandoned on the pavement, like a
bundle of clothes. As Obadiah crept closer and the haze parted, he
saw that it was the form of a man, crumpled upon the paving stones.
A man wearing a peacock blue coat.

“Nay, Mr. Glossop,” Obadiah quavered, “Please
don't be playing any more jests upon me.”

He knew with desperate certainty that at any
moment Bert Glossop was going to leap up, startling him out of his
wits with a bloodcurdling cry or a box to his ear. Indeed, he
prayed Master Bert would do just that, do anything but lie there,
so still.

Standing over Glossop, Obadiah raised his
lantern. He had to make himself glance down at the young man. Bert
Glossop stared back at him, glassy eyed, his mouth hanging
open.

It made him look rather stupid. It made him
look dead. Obadiah's knees buckled beneath him, but he managed to
kneel down. He had some vague notion he ought to check for a pulse.
But when he got up enough nerve to touch the man, Obadiah's hand
came away sticky with blood oozing from a hole torn in Glossop's
throat.

Numb with shock, scarce knowing what he did,
Obadiah tried to wipe his fingers off on the front of Glossop's
coat, but another pool of crimson splashed over the folds of
peacock blue.

A moan escaped Obadiah. He staggered back.
His stomach heaving, he was violently ill. But even with his
scrawny frame wracked by spasms, he groped for the handle of his
watchman's rattle.

Obadiah sounded it harder than he ever had in
his life.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Moonlight poured through the long windows and
spilled over the four-poster bed where the marquis of Mandell lay
entangled in the sheets with his mistress. Even sleep failed to
soften the hauteur of his features, his face all hard angles from
his high cheekbones to the sharp outline of his nose and jaw. Waves
of rich sable-colored hair tumbled over a lordly brow.

But as his dark head tossed upon the pillow,
his lips were twisted with a torment he would never have revealed
in his waking hours.

The dream had him in its grip again and once
more he experienced that sensation of terror and helplessness. He
could feel his tall, powerful frame dwindling into that of a sickly
boy. He was back in the apartement in Paris and the police were
hammering at the door.

Open! Open in the name of the tribunal of the
revolution!

Mandell moaned, struggling against the
sheets. He could feel himself being lifted from the bed into his
mother's anns. Her face seemed to be lost in mist, but he could see
the sheen of her golden hair, sense her fear in the thudding of her
heart.

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