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23

Louisa Bryce had mistaken her for a street whore. Rage, hot as steam, scalded her senses. She longed to go back to Arden Square and kill the stupid woman, but gradually common sense prevailed. She began to breathe more deeply. The white-hot fury receded. She would deal with Louisa Bryce in her own good time.

She walked swiftly, making her way toward a street where she could find a carriage. Night always brought back memories.

The effects of the chloroform were wearing off, leaving her disoriented and slightly queasy. She was vaguely aware of a sense of motion. At first she did not comprehend. Then it dawned on her that she was being carried in a mans arms. She lacked the strength to struggle. Perhaps it was for the best. Some murky instinct told her it would be safer to remain limp and lifeless.

Nevertheless, she could not resist opening her eyes partway. It did no good. She could not see anything. Her face was covered by a heavy cloth. A tarp, she decided. She was suddenly aware that the constricting canvas swathed her entire body. She could not move, even if she wanted to.

Despite the cloth covering her face, however, she could smell the dampness of fog and the river. Panic surged through her.

The man carrying her grunted with effort. She wanted to scream, but she could not summon her voice.

The next instant she was falling, plunging straight down. Striking the water was like striking a stone wall, the protection of the tarp notwithstanding.

She was aware of the deep, bone-chilling cold as she sank beneath the surface. The shroud in which she had been wrapped had evidently not been well secured. She felt the canvas drift free

It was only much later that she realized why Elwin had not bound her hands and feet before throwing her off the bridge. He wanted everyone to believe that she had committed suicide. Such a charade would not have worked if her wrists and ankles were tied when she was pulled from the river.

Luck had been with her that night. Unbeknownst to Elwin, who had fled the scene as soon as he had rid himself of his victim, there had been a witness to his work. A lunatic who made his home in a rickety hovel on the edge of the river had watched the bulky bundle plunge into the water. Curious, he had rowed his boat out to see if anything of value could be salvaged.

She had managed to claw her way to the surface, grateful that in her youth she had learned how to swim. It was a rare skill among women. Even given that ability, she knew she likely would have drowned had she not been dressed in her nightgown. She had been asleep when he had come for her with the chloroform. If she had been wearing one of her fashionable gowns when she tumbled into the water the weight of her skirts and corset would have pulled her under.

The first thing she saw when she surfaced was the outline of a small rowboat. Someone stretched out an oar. She seized it with both hands.

The other bit of good fortune was the fact that her savior had been a madman who claimed to hear voices in his head. People avoided him, and he, in turn, rarely spoke to anyone. The result was that no one knew he had pulled her out of the river that night.

The lunatic, convinced that she was some sort of magical creature given into his keeping, had treated her with reverence. He had cared for her in secret until she had recovered from the ordeal. She had stayed with him for a few weeks, letting him provide her with food and shelter while she contemplated her future and made her plans.

To be safe she had taken care to poison the old fool with arsenic before she left his care. She could not afford to take chances, after all. There was too much at stake. Nothing could be allowed to destroy her grand scheme of vengeance

She pulled her thoughts away from the past. There was an empty hansom in the street. She got into it and gave the driver her address. Ladies who cared about their reputations took care not to be seen in hansoms; the vehicles were fast and the women who rode in them were considered to be the same. In her widows gown and veil, however, she was anonymous. No one who had known her when she was Elwin Hastingss wife would ever recognize her.

She sat back, gloved hands clenched fiercely together. How dare Louisa Bryce assume that she was a cheap street whore?


| The River Knows | c