Haunting Violet Page 78

Caroline didn’t look shocked. “She takes laudanum for her nerves. Her uncle’s been giving it to her for a couple of weeks now, because of her sister. She’s distraught. Not surprising, this time of year.”

“Or else he’s keeping her biddable.” I stood up, suddenly unable to be still. I hadn’t suspected him at all. He was Rowena’s uncle and a lord of the realm. There must be some mistake. Mr. Travis must be wrong to suspect him, as I’d been wrong to suspect Mr. Travis. I started to pace, stopped to peer out the window. The gardens were dark and quiet. “It doesn’t make sense. Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know,” Caroline replied, bewildered. “He’s always been jovial enough, likes his wine and his cards, has black moods certainly, but nothing unusual for a gentleman. He’s overprotective of Tabitha, but that’s to be expected. He’s already lost one niece, after all, and he is their guardian.”

“He wants the money,” Mr. Travis said quietly. “Rowena wondered if he was the one who found her letter to her father. We were going to elope. I went off to secure us a hackney in town, one that wouldn’t be recognized. I shouldn’t have left her alone. She wanted to tell Tabitha so she wouldn’t worry. I should have stayed with her.”

“He’s a second son,” I added slowly, “with no land to inherit and money only from the Whitestone estates, which, evidently, is very wealthy.” I couldn’t credit that an uncle would kill his own niece, but I didn’t seem to be able to reach any other conclusion, not now. “We have to get out of here.” I shook Tabitha lightly but she was limp and distracted. “We have to get the opium out of her. Get some water.”

Caroline rushed over with the jug of water from the washstand. I held it up to Tabitha’s lips. She swallowed a couple of times and then pushed it away peevishly.

“Tabitha, you have to drink more.”

“Don’t want to.”

“You have to. We have to flush the drugs out of your system.” I forced her to drink some more, even though half of it dribbled down her chin.

“I don’t understand,” Caroline said, wringing her hands. “What are you two talking about?”

I glanced at her. “Wentworth murdered Rowena because she was going to elope. He knew she didn’t want to marry Peter and would have waited as long as possible to marry, so he wasn’t worried about the betrothal. An elopement is another matter.”

Tabitha started crying again, so abruptly and wildly I feared she’d make herself more ill. She was green under her pallor.

“She needs to keep drinking,” I instructed, handing her the jug and going to the window. I pulled it open, peering out. The ground seemed very far away. “We can’t wait for Tabitha to get better,” I said grimly. “We have to go right now, before he realizes we know.” Mr. Travis and I tried to get Tabitha to her feet but she went limp, curling into herself.

“Tabitha!”

No amount of shouting was going to help apparently. I didn’t know what else to do. We couldn’t very well escape if she was hysterical and drugged.

I slapped her across the face. Caroline shoved me aside. She stroked Tabitha’s arm and made soothing noises, all the while glaring at me. Tabitha, at the very least, had stopped crying. “Leave her be. This isn’t her fault.”

“I know it’s not her fault,” I said with very deliberate patience. “But we have to get out of here. Now.”

Tabitha pushed her hair off her face. “She’s right,” she said with a hiccup, shrugging off Caroline’s hovering.

I knew her lucidity might only last a moment, so I waved them over to where I was standing.

Caroline’s eyes widened. “The window? You can’t be serious.”

“We can’t risk going through the house. He might hear us.”

I had to admit it wasn’t my favorite idea, but it was the only one I had.

Mr. Travis’s hands fisted. “I’ll keep him distracted.”

Caroline looked at him in horror. “He’s twice your size. He’ll kill you.”

“As long as he does it slowly and gives you time to get out of here,” he said. “Rowena would want her sister to be safe.”

“I’m not sure—” There was no point in finishing my argument; he was already gone.

The breeze fluttered the curtains. I could see I was going to have to go first if I expected Caroline and Tabitha to follow me. But I couldn’t climb in my ball gown—it was far too restrictive. I wiggled out of it until I was in my corset, chemise, and pantaloons. Caroline stared at me as if I were mad.

I stuck my head out of the window. The stone ledge was narrow and long, running the length of the building. I might be able to follow it to the balcony, hop out over it, and then shimmy down the trellis on the other side.

Or I might just plummet to the flagstones below.

I took a deep breath to steel myself and stuck one leg over the sill, then the other. I pulled myself out, my grip white-knuckled. Another breeze ruffled the treetops, which were too close to eye level for comfort. An owl flew by on silent wings. I envied him. He wasn’t about to fall to his death.

“I can do this,” I told myself.

“I wouldn’t advise it.”

Sir Wentworth poked his chubby face out to look at me. In the crook of his arm he held Caroline; in his other hand, a knife. She wilted. Rowena wailed, trying to insert herself between them. The air in the room was frigid. My heart pounded in my ears.

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