home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



PROLOGUE

Late in the reign of Queen Victoria

She did not dare turn up any of the lamps for fear that some passerby would notice the light and remember it later when the police came around asking questions. The fog was thickening outside in the lane, but there was still enough moonlight slanting through the window to illuminate the tiny parlor, not that she needed the cold silver light. She knew the cozy rooms above the shop as well as she knew her own name. This small space had been her home for nearly two years.

She crouched in front of the heavy trunk in the corner and tried to insert the key into the lock. The task proved incredibly difficult because her hands were shaking so terribly. She forced herself to take a deep breath in a futile attempt to slow her pounding heart. After three fumbling tries she finally got the trunk open. The squeaks of the hinges sounded like small screams in the deathly silence.

She reached inside and took out the two leather-bound volumes she had stored there. Rising, she carried the books back across the room and placed them in the little suitcase. There were dozens more books downstairs in the shop, several of which would have fetched nice prices, but these two were far and away the most valuable.

She had to limit the number of books she took with her; books were heavy. Even if she could have carried several more it would have been unwise to do so. A large quantity of valuable volumes missing from the shelves downstairs might arouse suspicion.

For similar reasons she had packed only a minimal amount of clothing. It would not do for the police to discover that a supposed suicide had taken most of her wardrobe with her into the river.

She closed the bulging suitcase. Thank heavens she had not sold the two volumes. There had certainly been times during the past two years when she could have used the money, but she had been unable to bring herself to let go of the books her father had treasured the most. They were all she had left, not only of him, but of her mother who had died four years earlier.

Her father had never really recovered from the loss of his beloved wife. No one had been greatly surprised when he put a pistol to his head following a devastating financial loss. The creditors had taken the comfortable house and most of its contents. Mercifully, they had deemed the vast and distinguished library of little value.

When she had found herself facing the customary career choices available to women in her positiona miserable life as a paid companion or a governessshe had used the books to do the unthinkable and, in Societys opinion, the unforgivable: She had gone into trade.

In the eyes of the Polite World, it was as though she had magically ceased to exist. Not that she had ever been acquainted with anyone from that world. The Barclay family had never moved in Society.

Her knowledge of book collecting and collectors, garnered from her father, had made it possible to begin turning a small profit after only a few months in business. In the two years that the shop had been open she had succeeded in establishing herself as a small but successful dealer of rare books.

Her new life, with its sensible wardrobe, journals of accounts, and extensive business correspondence, was a long way from the comfortable, genteel world in which she had been raised, but she had discovered that owning and operating her own shop was deeply satisfying. There was a great deal to be said for having control over ones finances. In addition, as a shopkeeper she had at long last been freed from many of the stultifying rules and restrictions that Society placed on well-bred single ladies. There was no denying that she had gone down in the world, but the experience had allowed her to take command of her own destiny in a way that had never before been possible.

Less than an hour ago, however, the dream of a bright, independent new future that she had begun to fashion for herself had been destroyed. She was now in the midst of a nightmare. She had no choice but to flee into the shadows, taking only a handful of personal items, the days income from book sales, and the two precious books.

She must disappearshe understood that quite clearlybut she had to ensure that no one would feel compelled to search for her. Her feverish inspiration came from a report in the press that she had read a few days earlier.

For the second time in less than a week the Polite World mourns the shocking loss of a socially prominent lady. Sadly, the river has claimed another victim.

Mrs. Victoria Hastings, said to be overcome by one of her recurrent bouts of despondency, threw herself off a bridge into the cold, merciless depths of the Thames. The body has not yet been recovered. Authorities speculate that it was either washed out to sea or else became tangled in some sunken wreckage. Her devoted husband, Elwin Hastings, is reported to be distraught with grief.

Readers will recall that less than a week ago, Miss Fiona Risby, the fianc'ee of Mr. Anthony Stalbridge, also cast herself into the river. Her body, however, was recovered

Two ladies who moved in the Polite World had thrown themselves into the river in the same week. In addition, each year desperate and depressed women from far less exalted stations sought the same escape. No one would think it peculiar when it was discovered that an unimportant bookshop owner had committed suicide in a similar fashion.

She wrote the suicide note with trembling fingers, concentrating hard to find the right words, convincing words.

I despair. I cannot live with the knowledge of what I have done this night, nor can I face a future that offers only the humiliation of a public trial and the hangmans noose. Better by far the ultimate oblivion of the river

She signed her name and put the note on the small table where she had been in the habit of taking her solitary meals. She anchored the piece of paper with a small bust of Shakespeare. It wouldnt do to have it fall to the floor and perhaps go unnoticed by the police.

She put on her cloak and took one last look around the sitting room. She had been content here. True, the loneliness was sometimes hard to bear, especially at night, but one became accustomed to it. She had been thinking of getting a dog for companionship.

She turned away and picked up the heavy suitcase. Once again she hesitated. There were two hats hanging on hooks in the wall: a summer bonnet and a large-brimmed, feather-trimmed affair that she wore when she went out walking. It struck her that it might be a very good thinga very convincing thingif the feathered hat turned up floating near a bridge, perhaps snagged on a rock or a bit of drifting wood. She seized the hat and clapped it on her head.

Her gaze went to the curtain that concealed the bedroom. Another shudder slammed through her at the thought of what lay on the other side.

Clutching the suitcase, she hurried downstairs and into the back room. She opened the door and stepped outside into the dark alley. There was no reason to bother with a key. The lock had been shattered less than an hour ago when the intruder had forced his way inside.

She went cautiously along the alley, trusting to her memory of the narrow passage behind the row of shops.

With luck it would be a few days before anyone started to wonder why Barclays Bookshop had remained closed for an extended period of time. But sooner or later someoneher landlord, most likelywould become alarmed. Mr. Jenkins would pound on the door for a time. Eventually he would grow angry. He would take one of the keys from the ring that he always carried and open up the shop, demanding the rent.

That was when the body in the upstairs room would be discovered. Shortly thereafter, the police would begin their search for the woman who had murdered Lord Gavin, one of the wealthiest, most distinguished gentlemen in the Polite World.

She fled into the night.


The River Knows AMANDA QUICK | The River Knows | c