March 26, 2006 at 8:03 am #1936asseropenParticipant
Follows : The Profits of Theives.
I had a dream that was not all a dream.
[Byron : Darkness]
The townhouse was silent when the cab drew up, or so it seemed. Most members of the household were still out and about. Which meant that members of the staff, certain ones at least, had to remain on their toes. The wizened driver jumped down as quickly as his old bones would allow. Opening the door and dropping the steps with a clatter, he lifted what was meant to be a supporting hand and waited for the lady within to emerge.
With his steps echoing in the emptiness of the foyer, Baddeley shrugged into his jacket, fixed his collar. The sound of the carriage had roused him from the faded velvet chair set to the corner of his room. He?d been to the cellar that evening more than once to deal with Hoffman. It was no secret that the butler had taken to the drink after the untimely demise of the young Mrs Hughes. Maids had gossiped incessantly in every corner of the house until the housekeeper Mrs Sharpe put an end on it. There were some, no doubt, that would say Thomas Baddeley was far too lenient on Jack Hoffman. But the house steward had taken pity on the butler; they all had their demons, and the man only took to the claret on particularly bad nights, and those had become more rare as time wore on. Still, if it began to get worse, Hoffman would no doubt have to be let go.
To say that Baddeley was shocked to find Miss Hughes alighting from a cab at this hour would have been an understatement. And a misleading understatement at that. For it was neither the hour nor the lady nor the combination of the two that incited his surprise. Rather, it was the look of the driver and the mark of the cab, which implied that Miss Hughes had traveled hither from a part of London not at all near the home of a sick friend whom she had gone on purpose to visit after dinner.
?Baddeley,? said Miss Hughes by way of greeting as she ascended the few steps to the front door, which he held open for her.
The young woman did not move her gaze much in the steward?s direction, and sensing her uneasiness in the situation, he averted his own eyes. Ligeia was normally one for a steadfast look and a pleasing enough smile, the kind meant for display to the Public World. Her disinclination to either at present spoke volumes.
?Are my father or brothers home??
?No, Miss Hughes. They are all still out at present.?
As she moved past with an absent nod, Baddeley noted a seam was torn on her frock. He would bring this to the attention of Mrs Sharpe and Charlotte later, so that it might be remedied without a word being exchanged with the young lady of the house.
Whatever it was that had happened, wherever it was she had been, she did not appear harmed in any way. Indeed, Miss Hughes seemed to move in something of a daze. As she ascended the steps to her room, Charlotte came scurrying from God knew where. With a hand to her elbow, Baddeley brought her to a pause long enough to warn her about the rip in the dress and that she should not directly address it with her mistress unless her mistress approached the subject first.
Once the lady?s maid was properly dispatched, Baddeley moved back towards the kitchen to see about Mrs Sharpe and Cook getting some tea and cakes brought up to their mistress. He was nothing if not attentive to the needs of every aspect of this household. Indeed, there were times when Thomas Baddeley knew more about its occupants than the occupants knew themselves. But he would never tell.
The next morning?
Ligeia sat at a small writing desk in the front parlour. It was her day and her hour for letters. For a woman such as she there was hardly a day or an hour not meant for letter writing. All the necessary accoutrements were neatly arranged upon the desk. She had begun another letter to Luther, in the vain hope that it would reach him wherever in the country he might be at the time. Her youngest brother was her greatest familial joy and her greatest familial burden. However, she had not gotten past the first line, and had sat as she was, pen dripping ink upon the paper, for the better part of a quarter hour.
?Pardon me, but this just came for you, mum.? It was Alice?s voice that broke her from her thoughts. This particular house maid had not been in service with them for very long.
?Thank you, Alice.? Ligeia?s reply was almost absentminded. Having been drawn out of her wandering thoughts, the ink stain on her letter-to-be received a frown, and so whatever the maid delivered was left unheeded on the edge of the desk for a moment longer than it should have been.
But when she looked, well, if Ligeia Hughes? thoughts had been a bit muddled previously, this delivery was not meant to clear them up. It was a single flower, just a bud really, and a white card. The card appeared to be blank, but as Ligeia turned it over in her hands, she saw the hand-scrawled initials. Just two letters.
The flower, however, was the real message. Flowers had their own language. Each type of flower had its own special meaning, each different color had the ability to change that meaning in subtle yet significant ways.
Ligeia did not yet have a moment to reflect on how he had discovered where she lived, for with a burgundy rose, Mr Jack Corbie had just made a comment about ?unconscious beauty.?
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