Keeping her motions small and quick, Rosalind drew off her mask and unfastened her cape. Underneath, she wore a plain black dress. The addition of a white collar and plain cuffs made the garment
originally designed for mourning into a passing imitation of a lady's maid's severe dress. She had pulled her golden hair into a simple knot at the back of her neck, and left off even the most modest pins or jewels. Instead of a reticule, she carried a plain work bag for holding thread and scissors, scraps of lace, and other
Presto! thought Rosalind to herself as she smoothed the cloak over her arm.
It was not as easy to imitate a servant as one might be led to believe from stage plays and three-volume novels. In addition to the thousand highly specialized forms and skills that a life in service demanded, there were habits of motion and attitude that were as difficult to assume without training and continual practice.
Therefore, Rosalind had waited until after midnight to make her attempt. By now, the majority of the guests were quite drunk. The rest were concentrating on getting drunk, or taking advantage of others' drunkenness. Under these circumstances, the finer details of her dress and demeanor ought to pass unnoticed.
Rosalind slipped into the very edge of the crowd and let herself be carried by mutual motion up the stairs. If anyone asked what she did here, which was unlikely, she could say she was taking the silk cloak to her mistress, who wished to leave without delay.
Rosalind reached the first floor. Clarence blue carpets softened the floors. More gilded statues in the style of those downstairs guarded the entrance to a hive of galleries and salons. Music and laughter filled the whole building as men and women danced and drank and crowded around the tables. The new game of la roulette was also on full display and, to judge by the cheers thundering through the gaming rooms, was proving a magnificent success.
Rosalind turned her face away from that gaudy door. Fortunes would be lost tonight. Women as well as men would be swept up by the excitement, and they would commit sin and folly to be allowed to continue to play. It was that sort of folly which brought her here tonight, and what she needed was not to be found on this floor. Rosalind breezed past the gaming rooms, making her way to the plainer stair at the end of the passageway.
I am at my wits' end, Miss Thorne. You must help me. Mrs. Percival Devery, née Lucille Allenby, had cried as she sat in Rosalind's small parlor and poured out her story.
Rosalind Thorne had a reputation as what society called "a useful woman." Usually, this referred to some gently bred woman in distressed circumstances who managed to keep a kind of position in the fashionable world by helping her better-off sisters organize their visiting lists and entertainments, as well as running those errands that these more fortunate women found too fatiguing.
But recently and singularly, Rosalind had enlarged upon her occupation. She had begun to help women with their more serious problems. The problems that could affect lives, marriages, and families.
Rosalind listened to Mrs. Devery's halting description of how she had come to this city as a new bride and how her husband had introduced her to society. Society, in its turn, had introduced Mrs. Devery to cards. She quickly took to the games, and enjoyed them enough that she found herself playing deeper than her income allowed. In order to keep playing, she had borrowed money from a man named Russell Fullerton.
He was so charming. So understanding, Mrs. Devery told Rosalind miserably. If I had known what kind of man he was, if I had any idea...
But no one among her new acquaintances had thought to warn her. Not even when Mr. Fullerton had asked her to give him her cameo brooch as a promise that she would repay his loan. But although she did repay him, the brooch had not been returned. Then, the letters had started to come, and the demands for more money began.
And you have been paying?
I have, or at least I have tried, but he wants so much, Miss Thorne.
Rosalind mounted the narrower, quieter stair that led to the club's second floor with a firm step.
My advice, Mrs. Devery, is that you tell your husband the truth. If he cares for you, he will forgive you.
Mr. Fullerton has threatened to take the story to the papers. My husband is in the House of Commons, Miss Thorne. The scandal would destroy his career. He would not forgive that.