Disenchanted & Co., Part 2: His Lordship Possessed
Half an hour after giving myself to my worst enemy, and daftly imagining myself to be falling in love with him, I paced round the confines of the bedchamber in which he had imprisoned me. I knew for my foolishness I deserved nothing more than to spend my remaining days there, a wretched captive, an illegally freeclaimed woman, alternately forced to attend to satiating Lucien Dredmoreâ€™s lusts and left to pine in solitude for the life I had so thoughtlessly thrown away. This was what women like Lady Walsh endured.
But I was not Diana Walsh, and Iâ€™d cut out my own heart before I allowed Lucien Dredmore to ever touch me again.
A thorough search of the chamberâ€”which despite its sumptuous trappings was little more than a prison cellâ€”turned up no exit or the means by which I might create one. The only entry had been locked in three places from the outside by his minion, Connell. Masonry had replaced the glass panes in the single window frame on the opposite wall, too. As I poked at the brick, I wondered how many other women had suffered this fate, and what had happened to them once Dredmore had tired of them.
â€œHe probably buries them under the rose hedges,â€ I muttered, absently clutching at my pendant for comfort. â€œPlease God, if youâ€™ll get me out of this Iâ€™ll never glance at another man again. I swear it.â€ I looked down at the dark stone and realized otherworldly intervention was right in my hand. â€œBloody hell. Harry.â€
My eager fingers fumbled a bit with the clasp, but at last I released it and dropped the pendant on the floor, backing away from it quickly.
My grandfatherâ€™s specter materialized instantly, and as soon as he looked round he shouted at me. â€œDo you know where you are? Do you know who he is? Have you lost your tiny mind?â€
â€œIâ€™m happy to see you, too,â€ I said. â€œWeâ€™ll catch up once I get out of here.â€ When he didnâ€™t reply, I added, â€œYou keep saying youâ€™re Harry Houdini, the worldâ€™s greatest escape artist. Well, then hereâ€™s your chance to prove it.â€
â€œOh, shut up.â€ He went to the window and poked at the brick. â€œAfter what youâ€™ve done, it would serve you right if I left you here to rot.â€
â€œHow do you know what Iâ€™ve done?â€
â€œA guardian spirit knows everything. Watches everything, whether he wishes to or not.â€ He eyed me. â€œRomping with that bastard in the dirt like some scullery wench. If I were your father, Iâ€™d give you the thrashing of your life.â€
He was right, but I refused to cringe. â€œI suppose you never lost your head in a moment of passion.â€
â€œOf course I did. If I hadnâ€™t sired your mother, you wouldnâ€™t be here.â€ He searched along the baseboards before testing the door. â€œI was fortunate in my choice of wives. Bess forgave me my dalliance and took me back.â€
â€œBut Iâ€™m not named Bess.â€
â€œNo. Youâ€™re named after my best mateâ€™s wife. I comforted her after his untimely death, rather more than I should have.â€ He sighed and rubbed his eyes. â€œThe result was your mother.â€
â€œYou did have a forgiving wife.â€ I sat on the bed. â€œDid this Charmian raise my mother, then?â€
â€œShe had to think of her family and her other children,â€ he snapped. â€œShe remained secluded in the country for her confinement, and even kept your mother for a time after her birth. Her family grew suspicious, however, so she sent Rachel to me as soon as she was old enough to travel.â€
It had never occurred to me that there would be someone else I hated as much as Dredmore, until Harry began haunting me. â€œHow did you persuade my mother to name me after the adulteress who abandoned her?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t, not directly. I merely insured that Rachel heard the name in a dream just before your birth.â€ Harry glanced at me, and his anger faded into weariness. â€œDonâ€™t judge your namesake so harshly, lass. Charmian never forgave herself for giving up our child. It broke her spirit as well as her heart. She died only a few years after sending your mother to me.â€
â€œIâ€™ll give her the benefit of the doubt,â€ I said, â€œif youâ€™ll agree to overlook my lapse in judgment tonight.â€
â€œPray you donâ€™t end up in the same condition as your grandmother.â€ He eyed my belly before he turned round to inspect the rest of the room. â€œThe door and window are impassible from the inside of the room. Even if you could get at the locks, there is nothing you can use to pick them.â€ He turned about one last time, studying my prison. â€œIt will have to be a possession, then.â€
â€œStay here.â€ He floated out through the door.
â€œHarry!â€ I went over and pounded on the door. â€œCome back here.â€
The door opened, but in came Connell, who slammed the door behind him. I shuffled back, unsure if I should try to dodge round him or kick him in the unmentionables.
â€œYouâ€™ve been ill,â€ he told me as he walked right up to me and studied my face. â€œYou believe youâ€™ve been poisoned. Thereâ€™s blood coming from your lips.â€
â€œWhat are you talking about? Thereâ€™s no blooâ€”â€
My head snapped as he slapped me, hard enough to make my ears hum.
â€œNow there is.â€ Connell handed me the container of scented powder. â€œToss this in the guardâ€™s face. It will blind and choke him long enough for you to get outside. Then lock him in.â€
I stared at him. â€œConnell, why are you helping me?â€
â€œCharm, itâ€™s me, Harry.â€ For a moment I saw the old manâ€™s face appear atop Connellâ€™s, like a half-transparent mask. â€œIâ€™ve taken possession of this manâ€™s body.â€ He glanced down at himself. â€œWhich isnâ€™t all that bad.â€ He stretched out an arm. â€œVery strappy fellow.â€
â€œGet out of there,â€ I almost shrieked.
â€œIf I dispossess him now, heâ€™ll regain his senses immediately and spoil your escape.â€ Harry/Connell patted my cheek. â€œNow remember, give the guard a good dousing with that powder.â€
â€œYouâ€™re possessing a guard, so why donâ€™t you simply walk me out of here?â€ I demanded.
â€œNo time to explain that now,â€ my grandfather said. â€œThereâ€™s a guard in the front hall, and one repairing the door you smashed in the kitchen. Once you get out of here, go to the servantsâ€™ stairs and take the tradesmenâ€™s entrance out.â€
â€œAll right.â€ I gingerly tested the bleeding cut on the inside of my lip before smearing the sides of my mouth with the blood to make it look more convincing. â€œOnce Iâ€™m outside, then what?â€
â€œYouâ€™ll find three horses in the stables,â€ he told me. â€œSaddle the black gelding with the white star on his nose. Ride through the pasturelands, and donâ€™t allow anyone to see or stop you.â€
I stirred the powder with a fingertip. â€œYouâ€™re certain this will work?â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t a hoodlum, you silly twit. I was Houdini.â€ He gave me an awkward, one-armed hug. â€œAnd your lover will not remain in town forever, so you had best get going.â€
â€œFormer lover.â€ I dragged some hair over my eyes and went to stand by the door. â€œDid you become Houdini as a cover for the spying?â€
â€œYou mean you havenâ€™t worked it out yet?â€ Incredibly, he chuckled. â€œI possessed the body of a spy, Charm, and used him as my cover. Being a spy concealed the fact that I was, ah, Houdini.â€
â€œWhy would you have to hide that?â€ I demanded. â€œFrom what Iâ€™ve read everyone adored himâ€”you.â€
â€œEveryone but your parents, and that story will have to keep for another time. Wait.â€ He picked up my pendant from the floor and set it on a table near me. â€œCount to ten after I leave, put this on, and donâ€™t take it off unless you need me.â€
â€œThings have changed now that Iâ€™m . . . never mind.â€ He opened the door and hurried out.
I slowly counted to ten before I put my pendant back on, drew a deep breath, and then bowed over, concealing the powder behind my arms. â€œPlease . . . help me,â€ I called out in a strangled, frightened voice. â€œIâ€™m throwing up . . . blood. I think Iâ€™ve been . . . poisoned . . .â€
I had to keep that up for several minutes until the brute who had brought me to the room from the garden stepped in and scowled at me.
â€œWhatâ€™s all this?â€ he demanded, peering at my face and then straightening. â€œWhere did youâ€”?â€
I hurled the scented powder in his face, shoving him aside and darting past him through the door. As he coughed, I slammed the door shut and engaged the locks.
He began immediately swearing at me and hammering on the doorâ€™s inside panel, but I didnâ€™t linger to hear his poor opinion of me. I ran down the hall to the servantâ€™s stairs then took them to the first floor, where I stood in the shadows until I saw the guard there rushing upstairs. Then I ran round the corner and fled to the deliveries door.
It refused to open at first, but then the knob gave way and I was outside. I scanned the grounds to look for other guards and saw the coast was clear.
Bunching up my skirts and running across the lawn put me in view of the house, but I felt sure I had another minute or two before Powder-face and Dredmoreâ€™s other hooligans came after me. I made it to the stables and darted inside, stopping long enough to listen for a moment and glance out. Lamplight flicked against the side windows of the house, descending from the second to the first floor.
I turned and dashed to the stalls, where five black horses were watching me with some interest.
â€œAll right, which one of you has a white star?â€ I went to the center stalls, avoided a nip from a cranky-looking mare with a white stripe, and then found the gelding, a placid-eyed fellow who nuzzled my fingers looking for a treat.
â€œSaves you for the ladies, does he?â€ I glanced at the saddles hanging on the end wall before I took down a bridle from a post peg and unlatched the stall door. The gelding dipped his head as I bridled him, and only gave me a mild look of surprise when I tossed a blanket over his back.
â€œSorry, no time for anything else,â€ I told him, and climbed up the side of the stall to swing onto him. The only times I rode horseback were when I dressed as a native male, so I was used to sitting astride. For his part the gelding turned his head as if to inspect me. â€œFor Godâ€™s sake, just pretend Iâ€™m a man.â€
I guided him out of the stall and rode him to the double doors, where I reached up for the latch pull. Dredmore had installed a mechanized opener, the wheels of which whirred as four telescoping bars pushed open the big doors. Through them I saw the indistinct shapes of two men halfway between the stables and the house.
â€œNow letâ€™s make a run for it.â€ I thumped my heels into the geldingâ€™s sides, and he trotted out with a sedate, fastidious trot. â€œI said run, my lad, not mince.â€
After two more insistent thumps, the gelding reluctantly stretched his legs and galloped across the lawn away from the manor and across the clearing that led to the cliffs.
I reined in the gelding when I reached a grove of cypress and took cover there to watch for Dredmoreâ€™s men. When the horse became restless, I stroked his neck. â€œI know, George, first time you get a decent rider and now you have to wait. You donâ€™t mind if I call you George, do you? You look like a George.â€
George snorted and dropped his head to crop some grass.
I rode horseback often enough not to be sore, but one already tender portion of my anatomy made me acutely aware not only of how daft Iâ€™d been, but why women were rarely seen in public the day after their weddings.
â€œIâ€™ll wager he isnâ€™t suffering,â€ I muttered to the gelding as I watched several men riding Dredmoreâ€™s other horses gallop past. â€œI imagine heâ€™s swaggering about and bragging of his conquest and feeling quite the master of all he surveys. I should have set fire to that damned hovel of his before I escaped.â€
Once the posse had disappeared over the next hill, George and I came out of the cypress and went in the opposite direction, toward the first spread of pasturelands that surrounded the city. The gelding perked up as soon as we were in the clear, and I eased off the reins to let him have his head.
â€œGo on,â€ I said as he went into that mincing trot again. â€œThis is probably the only chance youâ€™ll ever have to really run.â€
George seemed to understand me and took off in a long, elegant lope that gradually increased in speed until we were fairly flying across the pastures. I glanced back now and then, but no one appeared behind us. Dredmoreâ€™s men were too accustomed to dealing with ladies, I imagined.
I stopped the gelding twice: once to water him at a spring-fed trough in a cow pasture, and the second time just within sight of the cityâ€™s streets. George had proven himself a worthy steed, so I abandoned my initial plan to turn him loose outside Rumsen and instead rode him through the back alleys to Halterâ€™s, a small stable near my flat that I often frequented.
A few minutes after I rang the service bell, John Halter came out of the barn in his shirtsleeves, his penders still hanging round his hips. â€œWe donâ€™t open â€™til dawn, so you can . . . sod me, Miss Kit? That you?â€
â€œNo, John, itâ€™s not me.â€ I handed him the reins and dismounted. â€œItâ€™s just George here. Say hello to my mate John Halter, George.â€
The gelding blew out some air.
â€œMorning, George.â€ John gave his neck a few gentle slaps. â€œSo why is this big fellow getting me up out of bed before Iâ€™ve had mâ€™tea?â€
â€œLast night George wandered away from home and has since become lost,â€ I said. â€œYou can tell by the sadness in his eyes.â€
â€œBugger looks right happy to me.â€ The stablemaster frowned. â€œWhereâ€™s Georgeâ€™s home, then?â€
â€œThat would be Morehaven.â€
John swore softly.
â€œIâ€™ve watered and rested him. Heâ€™ll need a rub and some feed, and his master will pay you when he comes to collect him.â€ I hesitated. â€œHeâ€™ll likely have some questions, John.â€
â€œThen Iâ€™ll let George answer what he can.â€ John sighed. â€œYouâ€™re not here, Miss Kit. Best you go on home.â€