Today's Reading

The furrow in his brow conveyed the unwelcomeness of this visitor. Charlotte, too, rose. The lamp on the wall flickered. One of the carriage horses snorted, its tail swishing. Her hand clenched around the edge of the folding table, its surfaces pitted and rough beneath her skin.

Knocks came, three taps in rapid succession, followed by two louder thumps spaced farther apart.

She had thought it possible that it was Livia, coming to speak a few words to Mr. Finch on the eve of her departure, since she had relied on and trusted him to help her, without knowing that he was their brother. But this was not Livia.

The knocks came again, in exactly the same pattern.

The letters S and M in Morse Code.

"I might know who this is." Charlotte drew out her double-barrel derringer, which she'd carried on her person ever since the day her father attempted to abduct her. "You hide behind the coach, just in case."

He did as she asked.

Charlotte opened the door of the carriage house a crack and in slipped a woman. No, not a woman: Stephen Marbleton in a dress and a purple summer cape.

She'd last seen Mr. Marbleton a week ago, when he and his injured sister had stayed overnight at 18 Upper Baker Street, to avoid being captured by Moriarty's minions. Then he had sported a full beard; but now he was shaven, and his features possessed a delicacy that was further emphasized by the enormous pouf of violet-and-cream ribbons on the velvet-lined traveling hat that completed his disguise.

"Mr. Marbleton. Did you follow me?"

Immediately she knew that hadn't been the case. When they'd last met, she'd just discovered that he had been impersonating Mr. Finch. They'd had no idea then, either of them, who or where the real Mr. Finch was. "You were following my sister."

Did he flush? It was difficult to tell in the barely adequate light.

"I have not been following you, but I believe others were. If you are meeting with Mr. Finch, he had better leave right now."

Mr. Finch came out from behind the carriage. Mr. Marbleton's eyes widened. More proof that he had been following Livia: He recognized the coachman who drove her around town.

"Where are they stationed now," asked Mr. Finch, "the men who have followed Miss Charlotte here?"

"One in front of her parents' house. One at either end of the carriage lane."

Mr. Finch returned Charlotte's derringer and indicated a knapsack he carried, which earlier had been hanging on a peg beside one of the stalls. "I have a loaded revolver in here. I should be all right."

"Wait a second," said Charlotte. She turned to Mr. Marbleton. "Where were you? Did those men see you come in here?"

"I was in the house next door—the tenants have already left town. And more likely than not, the men in the carriage lane saw me. But that couldn't be helped."

"No, it's good that they saw you. There might be a way for Mr. Finch to reach safety unseen, but I will need your help, Mr. Marbleton."

He grinned. "Will you put in a good word for me with your sister?"

"Absolutely not. But if you wish to prove the sincerity—and capability—of the Marbletons to Mr. Finch, there is no better way."

Mr. Marbleton glanced at Mr. Finch, then back at Charlotte. He grinned again—he really was quite attractive with that seemingly lighthearted expression. "Well, then, what are we waiting for?"

"Mr. Finch, will you be disappointed not to use your revolver?"

"Not at all. I dislike both blood and loud noises."

"You will be pleased with my plan, then," said Charlotte. "First, let us disrobe."

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