February 14th, 1881:
I know, I know, I should not be writing in this right now, but I have a bit of time before the ceremony starts and I want to go into this with a clear head. I am terribly excited of course, but there is a little terror in that “terribly.” They say it is natural, but it does not feel like it.
Oh, I am being so silly! I mean, how long have I wanted this? I have been courting Ethan nearly six months now, and have known him for years, and he is from a lovely, respectable family. Yet here I am, getting cold feet all over a stupid book!
It was probably a prank, at any rate. One of his school friends must have sent it. Or he picked it up on his grand tour for a laugh and never got around to tossing it away. I mean, it is “Justine,” for God’s sake. I am sure even the Marquis de Sade himself did not really enjoy that disgusting stuff. And it is not as if it was on his nightstand or right next to the Bible on the shelf or something. He left it in the bottom a trunk. I would bet he never even opened it. All is well.
It’s just…oh God, Diary, you hear such dreadful stories sometimes when girls get married right out of school. Most of them are happy, of course, but every so often you hear about girls like Millicent Eastley. She was a few years ahead of me in school. Beautiful, you know, and so bright, you would have thought she would know better. She married this ship captain and…well, I never got a lot of specifics, but I know he did not treat her as a man ought to treat his wife. Especially when it came to, well, duties.
But I am being ridiculous. Everyone knew what a horrid match that was, everyone tried to warn her and she simply would not listen! Whereas Ethan has never been in any trouble and (apart from George) everyone agrees that we are a splendid pair. I am not stubborn or stupid or danger-seeking. I am not some sad little debt-ridden thing who has to take whatever comes her way. I love Ethan, and he deserves that love. I know it, my family knows it, even George knows it, no matter how little he wants to admit it. This is simply cold feet. Completely natural, like everyone says. I shall be fine.
I shall be perfectly fine.
When a girl finds herself in possession of a gentleman friend, there are two things she must eventually introduce him to: her family and her taste. These are excruciating processes even in normal circumstances. The primmest household collapses into vulgarity as soon as a stranger turns up at the table, and the finest artworks seem chipped and faded whenever we try to show them off. Pippa was aware of this, and had spent the whole week leading up to Easter holiday frantically reminding herself that Shekhar would probably get along just fine with her family, and would probably enjoy the show immensely, and she probably wouldn’t have to run away and live as a shamed, spinster hermit out in the woods…probably. It took some effort, but by the time they arrived in London she had convinced herself that there were worse things in the world than being embarrassed in front of a boy. She couldn’t think of any, but there had to be a few.
“Besides, Pippa,” Shekar reminded her as they settled into Oliver’s box at the Pirrocchi Theater, “aren’t you sort of the Queen of the Obscene? I bet there’s nothing left on Earth that can shock you.”
At that moment, there was a blast of trumpets and the curtain rose on the first scene of The Buccaneer’s Ball: Lady Theodora Folley-Cotton, 12th Duchess of Hallsbury, standing center stage in a resplendent red pirate’s hat, a false beard, and a very, very short admiral’s jacket over a pair of scarlet stockings. She was carrying a lovely young mermaid in her arms.
“Oh, Captain Rascalle!” the girl giggled as Folley bent to kiss her. “I just don’t know about this. There’s something rather fishy about you!”
“Well, tha’s not fair, m’dear,” Folley said in a gruff voice. “Fer I reckon I could say the same ’bout ye!”
Raising her head to the audience, she rolled her eyes and dropped the heavy brogue. “Hey, you’re at the Pirrocchi,” she said in her normal, faintly Northern accent, “you get the jokes you pay for.”
The crowd chuckled, but the mermaid scowled.
“Well, I never!” she cried. Quick as a flash, she jumped out of Folley’s arms – and straight out of her tail as well.
Shekhar’s jaw went slack and the audience exploded with cheers as she strutted across the stage, clad in a tight, flesh-colored tunic. “Not so fishy now, eh?”
Folley circled her, stroking her beard in thought. Finally, she lifted the mermaid’s back leg with a dubious frown. “Ya sure about tha’, lassie?”
Pippa groaned and sank as low as she could in her chair. “I think I’ll take that bet,” she muttered.
Thankfully, the play went uphill from there, and by the end Pippa and Shekhar were leaning against each other in fits of laughter.
“So,” she said, finally catching her breath, “what do you think of the famed English theater, now that you’ve seen it for yourself?”
He put on a critical face, though his lips quivered with the effort. “Impressive,” he said with a nod. “Very layered, very moving. Touches of Milton around the edges.”
Pippa smirked. “There certainly were a lot of touches around edges, weren’t there?”
“Can’t say I noticed,” Shekhar said in a lofty voice, then grinned when Pippa smacked his shoulder with the back of her hand. “I must say, when you said wanted me to see your aunt, I wasn’t expecting to see quite so much of her at once.”
A pair of arms folded across the back of his chair, making him jump. “Well, I won’t tell my husband if you don’t,” Folley purred, patting him on the head.
Shekhar’s eyes widened in panic, but Pippa just shook her head. “Quit torturing the poor man,” she said, giving her aunt a playful shove before getting up to embrace her. “You’ll scare him off.”
“I do believe that is our job,” Oliver said, following his wife into the box. “Something about preserving innocence and shielding you from the wicked world or what have you. Can’t ignore our responsibilities.”
Pippa raised an eyebrow. “Clearly,” she said. Gesturing at each of them in turn, she said, “Uncle Oliver, Aunt Folley, this is Mr. Shekhar Deshmukh. An acquaintance of mine from school.”
“Charmed,” Shekhar said, giving them each a deep bow before shaking hands.
Folley shot Pippa a sly look over his shoulder. “I’m sure you are.”
Her niece tipped her head in warning. “You did marvelously, Folley,” she said, trying to steer the subject away from her guest. “Though I do think the burning beard is a bit much, especially since the smoke kept going out on the one side.”
“Good Lord, I forgot about that prop,” Oliver said (though his wife, stroking her singed chin, clearly had not). “Useless thing, we meant to take it out ages ago because nobody could see the smoke in this lighting. I am rather tempted to leave it in now, just to see if you can catch it again – but I won’t,” he said quickly, catching sight of the look on Folley’s face, “of course, of course I won’t. Still,” he said, turning back to Pippa with a note of pride in his voice, “good eyes as ever!”
“It is a little difficult to make out,” she demurred, silently begging her guardians not to trot out her party trick in front of Shekhar. Show-off though she was, there is a time and a place for looking like a freak of nature, and this was not it. “It was just luck really, it would have been hard for anyone to catch it.”
“Not for you though, is it, pet?” Folley said, poking her in the ribs. “Careful with this one, she’s a sharp tack, a regular Sherlock Holmes! I should know,” she added, a little haughtily, “his nephew’s an old friend. Best man at our wedding, actually.”
“By ‘best man’, she means the only one who knew how to barricade a church,” Oliver said, but Folley shushed him.
“Please, I know at least four people who’ve done that. Anyway, Pippa, you remember Pierce, right? He always said you reminded him of his uncle, and I think it’s more than a fair comparison!”
Pippa definitely remembered Pierce Darney – one didn’t meet many cat-burglars in one’s life – and she wasn’t entirely sure he meant that as a compliment, but she decided not to press the point.
Mercifully, Folley seemed to notice the embarrassment in her niece’s eyes, and pulled on Oliver’s lapel. “Anyway, darling, why don’t you show Mr. Deshmukh around for a bit? Introduce the rest of cast or something, there’s a good test of nerves. Go on, Pippa and I haven’t had a proper girl talk in ages!”
She shooed the men out of the box, then, when they were out of sight, held up a finger at Pippa. “Just a tick,” she said, ducking around the corner in the opposite direction. After a moment, she returned and took Pippa breezily by the arm, leading her to the edge of the box. On the floor below, Oliver and Shekhar were talking with the mermaid (who, Pippa jealously noted, had not yet changed out of her tunic).
“So,” Folley said, cocking her head at Shekhar and winking, “who’s your pretty friend? You looked cozy.”
Pippa willed herself not to blush. “Just a friend,” she said in as dignified a voice as she could manage. “One of the Cambridge students who live nearby. I’ve been showing him around, that’s all.”
Her aunt grinned. “Showing him around where, I wonder?”
“Don’t be crude.”
Folley made a noise like a startled horse and mimed writing on her hand. “Dear Diary,” she said in a singsong voice, “today Pippa told me, of all fucking people, to not be crude. Suspect serious head injury.”
“Oh alright, alright,” Pippa said, swatting her hands, “point taken.”
“Well, what’s he like, this man of letters?” Folley asked, leaning over the ledge and eyeing him curiously.
Pippa, meanwhile, was trying her best not to eye him, no matter how well those trousers fit. Close as she and Folley might be, there is nothing worse than a relative prying into your love life, and Folley had turned prying into an art form.
“He’s a bit conceited, to be honest,” she said, “and shiftless too. Vain as anything, as you can clearly see, and more condescending than he really has any right to be, you wouldn’t believe the things he says sometimes -”
“Okay, you are trying far too hard,” Folley laughed, still watching the young man mill about on the floor below. A squat porter squeezed through the crowd in his direction, waving a slip of paper in the air.
“It’s true, though,” Pippa mumbled, but her aunt dismissed her protests with a wave.
“I’m sure it is,” said Folley. “But that’s not what you want to say.”
She spared her niece a knowing smirk before turning back to the scene below. The porter was pressing the paper into Shekhar’s hands, but Shekhar was trying just as hard to avoid it. He bent low to the porter’s ear for a moment, then, clapping him on the back, shoved him lightly but deliberately into the crowd. “I can tell when a girl wants to gush about a boy, so g’wan! Gush already, for Chrissake!”
Pippa was only too happy to comply, but was also too happy to notice the porter raise his fourth finger at the box. “Alright, and he’s very charming and clever and sweet-tempered and -”
“ And married,” Folley said.
“Yes, and – wait – no – wait, he’s what?” Pippa stammered, her ears finally catching up with her mouth. “Married?”
Folley shrugged apologetically. “Yeah. Happens to the best of us. Surprised you didn’t catch it, actually, brains like yours.”
Pippa riffled through her memory in a panic. “But his ring finger isn’t discolored, from what I can remember,” she said, “so he’s not hiding a band or anything! No signs of recent weight gain, no stress lines from what I could see!” She scratched her head, feeling slightly dazed. “How do you figure?”
“Told the porter he had a telegram from his wife,” Folley said. “He seems a nice fella, so I really hoped his answer would be ‘What wife?’”
“And it wasn’t?” Pippa said, crestfallen.
Her aunt gave her a horribly pitying look. “’Fraid not, pet. Still, it’s not the end of the world. I ‘spect it’s arranged or something, so you could still give him a shot.” She shrugged. “Lots of folks make it work, I guess. Just know what you’re getting into.”
Pippa shook her head and flopped into one of the seats in a huff. “Thanks but no thanks,” she said. “There aren’t many lines I haven’t crossed, but I’d rather not cross that one. I just can’t believe he – God, I’m so – ugh!”
She lay back, clapped her hands over her face, and screamed into her palms.“Folley, why is love so hard?” she asked.
“Dearie, I was smuggled into my wedding in a casket,” Folley said. “Don’t ask me to make sense of this shit.”
Normally Pippa would have laughed, but the mention of Folley’s wedding reminded her of Farrier, of his dark voice and his darker questions. She hesitated. She loved Oliver dearly, and didn’t want to get him in any trouble. Besides, it wasn’t her business what he told his wife. But she loved Folley too, the woman who had practically raised her. Considering all the chaos Folley put up with during Pippa’s childhood, both as her governess and guardian, the least Pippa owed her was some honesty.
Farrier’s voice jabbed at her like a pebble in a shoe. Reexamine your loyalties.
“Speaking of which,” she managed at last, “um, some people were, uh, asking about that. Your marriage.”
Folley chuckled. “Reporters again?”
“No, erm…the police, actually.”
Folley’s head whipped around so fast Pippa half expected it to fly off. “What did you say?”
“I’m sure it was nothing, just the extended family taking another swipe at my inheritance. You know how much they hate the idea of Uncle signing over Merrimore to a woman,” Pippa said. “Anyway, I told the detective off.”
The color drained from Folley’s cheeks. “You what?”
“Well, nicely, I mean. Sort of nicely, anyway. I didn’t curse him blue or anything, we should be fine.”
“What did he say? Why was he there? Pippa, what did you tell him?” Folley said, advancing on her with every word.
Pippa backed away, holding up her hands. “Look, it was nothing, just some nonsense about well, why you got married when you did, why Grandfather didn’t disinherit Uncle for it, your past, all the same guns they’ve fired at us before, and…er…”
She was rambling, but to her relief, the terror faded from Folley’s eyes. “Right, right,” the actress said, nodding along. Her shoulders relaxed and for a moment Pippa thought she was out of the woods.
But then, of course, came the dreaded, “And what else?”
Pippa swallowed hard and pulled at her fingers as if expecting to find the right answer folded between her knucklebones. “And my parents,” she mumbled. “How they died and all.”
Folley blanched, and it was her turn to ramble. “Lord, how dreadful of them. Can’t believe the school let them harass you like that, I’ll be sure to lodge a complaint.”
Suspicions curled like smoke in the corners of Pippa’s mind, but she beat them down. “Folley, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have talked to him. I shouldn’t have even brought it up, it got you worried for nothing,” she said, hugging her around the waist.
When Folley didn’t respond, she squinted up at her with a frown. “It is nothing, right?”
Her aunt had been staring off into space for the last few seconds, brow furrowed, but she dropped back to Earth as soon as Pippa spoke.
“Of course it’s nothing, lovey,” she said, ruffling the girl’s hair. “Peelers just give me the heebie-jeebies, and I’d like ’em to stay as far away from me and mine as possible. That’s all.”
Pippa wasn’t sure it was. A knot grew in her stomach, but she could see no safe way to get rid of it.
Thankfully the door opened and her own beautiful, two-faced, philandering outlet walked back into the room.
She bounded over and took Shekhar by the arm. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” she said, wheeling him out the door before he could respond.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, barely keeping up with her as she plowed through the halls in the direction of the front entrance. “You seem tense. Did something happen with your aunt?”
They descended the stairs into the lobby and she yanked her arm out of his so hard he flinched. “Ouch! Pippa, why on Earth did y-”
“When were you going to tell me you were married?”
He froze mid-word, and for a brief, glorious moment Pippa thought Folley had been wrong. But his shock quickly gave way to sheepishness, making her shake her head in disgust. “You are! God, I don’t believe this!”
“Only technically!” he said, then backpedaled when he saw the look on her face. “I mean, yes, I am, and I should have told you about that from the start. I am sorry. Truly, I am!” he insisted as she rolled her eyes. “Please believe me, Pippa, I have never been more ashamed. I will do anything to redeem myself. Please.”
There was such sincere longing in his voice, a crack in the gloss at last, and for a second she was willing to forgive him everything.
But only for a second.
“And I’m sure you’d have told me this all soon, hm?” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “You’d have unburdened your soul, just as soon as you’d unburdened your -”
“Pippa, I swear that was not my intention!” he said. “I would never stoop to such a vile trick! Believe it or not, I do care for you.”
“Which I’m sure your wife would be thrilled to hear,” she spat.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “It is an arranged marriage,” he said, “which, despite what your family may have convinced you, is simply a fact of life, both for your people and mine.”
“Ooh, insulting my family now, are we?” she said, letting out a low whistle. “My, this pit just gets deeper and deeper!”
“I did not mean it like that! I only meant that most men can never expect to have a say in our wives. Pippa, please, wait!” he said, catching her by the hand as she turned to go. Her breath caught in her throat as he pulled her close, and she hated herself for it.
“My heart is still my own to give,” he said, his thumb softly circling the back of her hand. “And if you will still have it, I’d like to give it to you.”
Pippa tried to stay cold, but his eyes burned like fresh embers, and she could hear the ache in his words. His breath was warm against her cheeks. “I swear, Pippa, I swear to you, on everything that is good in this world, I will never deceive you again.”
Her heart fluttered, but after a while she shook her head.
“’Again’ is a hard word to put your trust in,” she said with a sad smile, “and I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can.”
She pulled her hand out of his and started up the grand staircase. There was a long silence behind her, followed by the slow click of shoes on tile, and for a moment she assumed that was it. He would walk out the front doors and out of her life. It’s for the best, she told herself as she climbed. You don’t need that sort of headache. You don’t need him.
But she turned around with embarrassing speed when he called her name.
Shekhar had his hat in his hands and pinched the brim anxiously as he spoke, circling it through his fingers. “I genuinely enjoy your company, you know. Even if you cannot love me, can I at least have your friendship? I will not try for more, don’t worry.”
Pippa scrutinized him for a moment, then nodded. “Of course. Friends. But just friends,” she added, holding up a warning finger. “I will hold you to that promise, understand?”
Shekhar beamed at her in relief. “Of course,” he said, bowing and putting his now slightly-crumpled hat back on his head. “Until next time then, Pippa.”
He swept through the front doors and Pippa continued up the stairs and back to her family’s box, her heart battered but at least a little lighter than before. Her peace was short-lived, however, for as she approached she heard her uncle’s voice emanating down the hall.
“ – couldn’t stop it, she has the legal right to ask for an exhumation, as do the Fairboroughs.”
“But why now?” Folley said. “They must have found something, somebody must have talked! They were badgering Pippa at school, for God’s sake, they wouldn’t be doing this kind of stuff if they weren’t sure!”
“And who could’ve possibly talked?” Oliver countered as Pippa paused at the edge of the archway, out of sight. “Father is dead, and Pierce and Mattie are chopping through the jungle in God-knows-where. Nobody in England knows what happened. Nobody except you and me.”
“Your grandmother has always suspected us, though,” Folley snapped, “and she would like nothing better than to watch us hang! If you think for one second I will let her do that – if you think I’ll let him take us from beyond the fucking grave – you are sadly mistaken!”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Folley. They’re not coming for you. I’m sure of it.”
Folley gasped, and Oliver added, “I mean they’re not coming for us. They have no proof, not enough for a conviction. We can ride this out, that’s all I meant.”
“Bullshit,” Folley said. “Bullshit, that’s what you meant.”
There was a long pause. “If the worst should come to pass,” Oliver said at last, “we must do what is best for -”
He was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass and Folley cursing. “Don’t,” she said. “Please, if you love me. If you love our children, don’t do this. Let me.”
“No,” Oliver said, horrified. “No, you can’t. Stop – stop, get up, I won’t hear it! This will all be for nothing if you aren’t safe.”
“You aren’t nothing!”
“I’ll be fine. We had every reason to act, they are bound to take that into account.”
“You think they’ve never hanged an honest man before?” She let out a low, cold laugh. “Please. I know how this works. You don’t – no, darling, you just don’t. I can figure my way out better than you can, please –”
“I watched you die, Folley!” he shouted, so loudly it made Pippa flinch. The box was silent for a moment before he spoke again. He was quiet now, tender, but more determined than Pippa had ever heard him. “I will not do it again.”
Folley started to protest, but Pippa leaned on the wrong floorboard and her words were lost in a loud creak.
At once Oliver burst into the hall. “Oh, you’re back!” he said. “Did your friend leave already?”
“Yeah,” Pippa said, “he had to get back to his hotel. Were you yelling? I heard yelling.”
“Pish, there’s always yelling around here, that’s half the fun!” Folley said brightly as she exited the box. She had a huge smile plastered on her face, but her eyes were still red and puffy. “And speaking of leaving, the last train’ll be off pretty soon and we ought to be on it. I’d hate to stick Vaughn with our little terrors any longer than we have to.”
She laughed, but exchanged a strange look with Oliver at the mention of their children.
“Quite right,” he said, taking his wife by the arm and leading the way back to the lobby. “Besides, everyone is impatient to see you again, Pippa. The children do so miss you when you are away. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been lined up at the door all night. Poor Walton probably had to feed them with sticks.”
“They are loyal little buggers, aren’t they, pet?” Folley said, addressing Pippa but keeping her hard blue eyes fixed on her husband. “Can’t imagine what it would do to them if you skipped out one year. It means a lot to them, having all their family home.”
“Good thing they won’t have to worry about that for a long time,” Oliver said, rubbing the middle of his wife’s back as they walked down into the lobby. He said it firmly and with easy cheer; no one overhearing would have called it a lie. Yet Pippa saw the way his hand lingered on Folley’s left shoulder blade, the one she knew had that huge, hideous scar running up and down its length. A falling beam, Folley had always said, a memento of the fire. Until recently, Pippa saw no reason to challenge that. Now she was sure she could. She just wasn’t sure she wanted to.
It was late when they arrived at Merrimore House, and the beautiful, sprawling grounds were bathed in moonlight as the car pulled up the drive. Though Folley and Oliver had refused to even admit to fighting, much less tell Pippa what the row was about, they had at least spent the half-hour’s journey creatively insulting Shekhar, Ashcroft, and everyone else Pippa claimed to have wronged her, right down to the Pope (she didn’t have a reason for that one, but it was great fun all the same). As such, they got out of the car in much higher spirits than they got in. Oliver even cracked a genuine smile as Merrimore’s great oak doors opened and his middle children came sprinting out to greet them.
“You see?” he told Pippa as the twins, Elliot and Elizabeth, tackled their parents and her in turn. “Look how eager they are to see you!”
The towheaded four-year-olds did seem excited, but something in their little blue eyes told Pippa it wasn’t just for her sake.
“Okay, what did you do?” she said, kneeling and narrowing her eyes in exaggerated suspicion. “I won’t get mad. I’m just a little hurt you didn’t wait to include me, that’s all.”
“It’s not them,” said another young voice as the twins giggled, and Pippa looked between their heads to see eight-year-old Kate, the oldest Cotton child, walking quickly towards them, carrying little legless Phineas on her hip and looking stricken.
Granted, this itself wouldn’t have been cause for alarm. Kate had inherited her father’s childhood nervousness as well as his features, so she usually looked stricken. But Walton Vaughn, the family butler, did not. He was a huge, grim-faced man in his early fifties, solid as a table and so flinty you could strike a match off him. It would be easier to rearrange the planets than to distress him, yet he was hurrying after Kate in unmistakable panic.
“What’s going on?” Oliver said. “What happened?”
“Some policemen came over, Papa!” Elizabeth chirped, and her parents went pale.
“Forgive me, my lord, I could not stop them,” Walton said. “It is an Inspector Farrier and two constables. They refused to state their purpose, but are still in the hall, and insist on speaking to you and Lady Hallsbury.”
Kate passed the baby to her mother and huddled close to her side, biting her nails. “They won’t go away,” she wailed, “wouldn’t even let us send a telegram! Mummy, why are they even here? What’s wrong?”
Folley stroked her hair with a soothing hush, but nonetheless gave her son a long kiss on the forehead before handing him over to Walton.
“Take the children inside,” she said, “use the servant’s entrance. Don’t let them out of the nursery. Pippa will go with you.”
“I most certainly will not!” Pippa said, ignoring her aunt’s warning look. “I’ve been badgered enough by these people, and the least they can do is tell me why.” Setting her jaw, she marched up the front steps and into the house before anyone could stop her.
Farrier and one of the constables were scrutinizing the staff when she burst in. The second man, to his credit, was standing a little ways off looking embarrassed, and removed his hat as she passed. She dimly recognized him as the one who tried to comfort her at school, and decided to spare him most of the hell she was about to unload on his colleagues.
“What is the meaning of this?” she shouted, her voice echoing in the huge, airy room. “Who do you think you are, telling our people what to do?”
“Ah, Miss Cotton,” Farrier said, turning around and giving her the smallest bow he possibly could. “A pleasure as always.”
“Get out,” she said, pointing to the door. “You have no business here.”
His lip curled and he looked over her head at Folley and Oliver as they hesitantly entered the room. “I’m afraid I do.”
Sidestepping Pippa, he and the constables approached her guardians, their shoes clicking on the marble floor.
“Your Grace the Lord Oliver Cotton, Duke of Hallsbury and Earl of Readham” Farrier said, holding up his badge before Oliver could speak, “you are under arrest for the murder of your brother, Ethan Cotton, and his wife, Christina Fairborough.”
Outraged cries filled the room. Pippa ran to her uncle’s side, and she and Folley converged on Farrier in loud protest, but Oliver soon pulled them away.
“It’s alright,” he said, all evidence to the contrary, “just contact the lawyers as soon as you can, we’ll get this sorted.”
Taking Folley’s face in his shaking hands, he kissed her deeply. “I love you,” he murmured when they finally parted. “And I promise I will come back to you. In the meantime, look after the children, send for Pierce and Mattie, and” – he lowered his voice – “don’t do anything rash.”
Turning back to Farrier, he took a deep breath and steeled himself. “Very well, if I must. Though I don’t suppose we could avoid shackles?” He let out a strange, broken little laugh. “I might not have the highest concern for reputation, but I would still like to avoid being carted out of my own home in chains.”
“Of course, sir,” Farrier said. “There is a carriage around the side. If you don’t mind following Roberts?”
He snapped his fingers and the sympathetic constable jumped to the front of the group, leading Oliver out the door. With a terrible, triumphant look, Farrier tipped his hat at the women, and he and the other officer disappeared after them, slamming the door on the way out.
Immediately Folley snatched Pippa’s hand and dragged her to the other side of the room.
“Come on,” she said, pushing open the door to the parlor, “you need to hear this while there’s still time to tell it. God knows what the papers will have you thinking once they get ahold of this, and we let it go too long anyway.”
“What are you talking about?” Pippa said as Folley flung her towards the chairs and couch arranged around the roaring fireplace. “What were they talking about? What murder? Folley, what is going on?”
Folley bolted the door shut behind them, then turned towards Pippa with a terrified expression. “I am so sorry for this,” she said. “For what I have to tell you.”
Pippa’s blood ran cold. “It’s not true, is it?” she asked, feeling faint. “Oh God, he didn’t…he didn’t really kill my parents, did he? He couldn’t have!”
“You’re right,” Folley said. “He couldn’t. Your mother was a good woman, he never would’ve harmed a hair on her head, nobody decent would have.”
A dark look fell over her face, making Pippa stare at her in dread. “But your father…he couldn’t kill him either. He thought we could trap him, leave him for the police to deal with, like he wouldn’t have weaseled his way out and been eating from our skulls in ten minutes. No, Oliver’s too good a man to fight dirty, even against him. He was too good to kill him.”
She took a deep, rattling breath and raised her head to meet Pippa’s gaze. “So I did.”