know, the position may have been filled long since, but this is all I have to offer at the moment.”
Now she was here, and the position had obviously
been filled. Whatever that position was.She had rushed off before thinking to ask for details. Impulsiveness has already got you in a greatload of trouble,
she scolded herself. One day it will be the death of you, my girl.
The parlor door opened with a groan of metal hinges, and Miss Blimpstone stomped out, her
narrow cheeks clenching and unclenching as if she were sucking on a lemon. “Leave now if youknow what’s good for you,” she advised contemptuously. “Spare yourselves the indignity I have justendured.”
Two applicants, including the girl who had spoken to Jane, leapt to their feet and followed MissBlimpstone. Jane crossed her fingers for luck. Only three to go, and then she would have herchance.In the next half hour, Felicia called them in one by one. All emerged whiter than paper orblushing furiously. They shook their heads at Jane as they walked past, a silent warning to escape while she could.She straightened her skirts, waiting eagerly to be summoned.
It’s only the two of us now,
she toldthe mysterious figure behind the door.
Whatever it requires, I must find a way to make you keep me.
Felicia beckoned then, inquired her name, and led her into a large, cluttered room lit only at thefar end by two braces of candles and a flickering fire. Heavy tapestries lined the walls, and curtainsof deep crimson velvet hung over the window. Jane wove among chairs, sofas, and claw-footedtables strewn with knickknacks, following Felicia on shaky legs.Near the hearth was a small figure huddled in a Bath chair. Rather like a spider in its web, Janethought, able to distinguish only a shape outlined by the flames behind it. A long-fingered hand withpainted nails raised a lorgnette.
“Jane Ryder, is it?” The voice rang clear as a brass bell. “Not much of a name, Jane Ryder.”
“No, ma’am. Were it left to me, I’d have chosen better.”
She barked a laugh. “You’re the one who brought her luggage, Felicia tells me. Planning tostay?”
“Only if I meet with your approval, ma’am. I trust you to tell me how I may do so.”
“To begin with, do cease wringing your skirt. I ain’t going to bite you. And come closer, where Ican have a good look at your face.”
Hands straight as sticks by her sides, Jane moved into the circle of light in front of the chair. The woman had arranged the candelabra so that she could see her victims while her own faceremained in the shadows. Jane admired the tactic.
The woman peered through her lorgnette. “Ah. Plain as your name, I see. But just as well. Iprefer to be the most beautiful woman in any room. Now tell me about yourself.”
Jane cleared her throat, wondering what it was this exceedingly odd woman wished to hear. Her work experience, she supposed, and an accounting of her skills. She had acquired a great many inher four-and-twenty years, but few were the sort to be relevant in this place.
“I read and write in Latin and Greek,” she began. “Also English, of course. I am used to taking dictation, have excellent penmanship, and my work habits are exemplary.”
are they?” The woman chuckled. “Hoity
“I also possess an extensive vocabulary,” Jane acknowledged, wishing her knees would cease
“Useful. I wonder if you are acquainted with the specific words you will require for this project.
But never mind that. It appears you lack the ability to answer a simple question. The subject at handis
gel. Who are you, where do you come from, and how came you to land in my parlor?”
Oh, Lord. How can it matter, you atrocious old biddy?
Jane mustered a polite smile. “My life story is atedious one, ma’am.
If you don’t mind, I prefer to keep it to myself.”