Today's Reading

Since I had no idea, I could not answer. "Has something happened?"

The lady shoved the chair from the table and banged to her feet, her color rising. "Good God, yes. Where the devil is everyone? What if I've killed him?"

"Killed whom?" I asked, holding on to my patience. I'd already decided that the ladies of this family were prone to drama—one played the delicate creature, the other something from a music hall stage.

"Chap outside. I was driving a rig, a new one, and he jumped out in front of me. Come and see."

I looked at my dough, which could become lumpy if I left it at this stage, but the young lady was genuinely agitated, and the entirety of the staff seemed to have disappeared. I shook out my hands, wiped them with a thick towel, laid the towel over the dough bowl, and nodded at her to lead me to the scene of the problem.

Fog shrouded the street onto which we emerged from the scullery stairs, Lady Cynthia—for that was Lady Rankin's sister's name— insisting we exit the house through the servants' entrance, the way she'd come in.

The fog did nothing to slow the carriages, carts, delivery wagons, small conveyances, and people who scurried about on whatever business took them through Mount Street, which was situated between Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square. London was always a town on the move. Mud flew as carriage wheels and horses churned it up, droplets becoming dark rain to meld with the fog.

Lady Cynthia led me rapidly through the traffic, ducking and dodging, moving easily in her trousers while I held my skirts out of the dirt and dung on the cobbles and hastened after her. People stared at Lady Cynthia in her odd attire, but no one pointed or said a word—those in the neighborhood were probably used to her.

"There." Lady Cynthia halted at the corner of Park Street, a respectable enough place, one where a cook should not be lurking, and waved her hand in a grand gesture.

A leather-topped four-wheeled phaeton had been halted against the railings of a house on the corner. A burly man held the two horses hitched to the phaeton, trying to keep them calm. Inside the vehicle, a man slumped against the seat—whether dead or alive, I could not tell.

"Him," Lady Cynthia said, jabbing her finger at the figure inside the phaeton. "He popped out of nowhere and ran in front of me. Didn't see the bloody man until he was right under the horses' hooves."

I was already moving toward the phaeton, pressing myself out of the way of carts and carriages rumbling through, lest I end up as the man inside. "Did you summon a doctor?" I asked Lady Cynthia when we reached the phaeton, raising my voice to be heard over the clatter of hooves and wheels.

"Why?" Lady Cynthia gave me a blank stare with her pale eyes. "He's dead."

I opened the phaeton's door to study the man slumped in the seat, and let out a breath of relief—he was quite alive. I'd unfortunately been witness to those brutally and suddenly killed, but one thing I'd observed about the dead was that they did not raise their heads or open eyes to stare at me in bewilderment and pain.

The burly man holding the horses called to Lady Cynthia. "Not dead, m'lady. Just a bit bashed about."

"Good," I said to him. "Send someone for a doctor, if you please. Perhaps, my lady, we should get him into the house."

Lady Cynthia might wear the clothes of a man, but she hesitated in the fluttery way young ladies are taught to adopt these days. Cooks, I am pleased to say, are expected to be a bit more formidable. While several passersby raced away at my command to summon a physician, I had no compunction about climbing into the phaeton and looking the fellow over myself.

He was an ordinary person, the sort one would find driving a cart and making deliveries to Mayfair households, though I saw no van nearby, nothing to say who his employer was. He wore a plain but thick coat and a linen shirt, working trousers, and stout boots. The lack of rents or stains in his clothing told me he was well looked after, perhaps by a wife, or maybe he could afford to hire out his mending. Or perhaps he even took up a needle himself. But the point was he had enough self-respect to present a clean and neat appearance. That meant he had work and was no ruffian of the street.

I touched his hand, finding it warm, and he groaned piteously.

Lady Cynthia, hearing him, looked much relieved and regained some of her vigor. "Yes, inside. Excellent idea, Mrs....Mrs..."

"Holloway," I reminded her.

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