A Night Like This

Page 79

“Frances!” Lady Pleinsworth shrieked.

Daniel turned around just in time to see Frances come tearing through the hall and hurl herself at her mother. She was dusty, and dirty, and her dress was torn. But she did not appear to have been injured, at least not deliberately.

“Oh, my dear girl,” Lady Pleinsworth sobbed, clutching Frances to her with frantic hands. “What happened? Oh, dear God, have you been hurt?” She touched her arms, and her shoulders, and then finaly showered her small face with kisses.

“Aunt Charlotte?” Daniel said, trying to keep the urgency from his voice. “I’m sorry, but I realy do need to talk with Frances.” Lady Pleinsworth turned on him with furious eyes, shielding her daughter with her body. “Not now,” she snarled. “She’s been through a fright. She needs to bathe, and eat, and—”

“She is my only hope—”

“She is a child!”

“And Anne might die!” he nearly roared.

The hall went silent, and from behind his aunt, Daniel heard Frances’s voice. “He has Miss Wynter.”

“Frances,” he said, reaching for her hands and puling her toward a bench. “Please, you must tell me everything. What happened?” Frances took a few deep breaths and looked to her mother, who gave her a terse nod of approval. “I was in the park,” she said, “and Nanny had falen asleep on the bench. She does that almost every day.” She looked back up to her mother. “I’m sorry, Mama. I should have told you, but she’s getting so old, and she’s tired in the afternoon, and I think it’s a long way for her to walk to the park.”

“It’s all right, Frances,” Daniel said, trying to keep the urgency out of his voice. “Just tell us what happened next.”

“I wasn’t paying attention. I was playing one of my unicorn games,” she explained, and she looked at Daniel as if she knew he would understand. “I had galoped off quite a ways from where Nanny was.” She turned to her mother, her expression earnest. “But she would still have been able to see me. If she were awake.”

“Then what?” Daniel urged.

Frances looked at him with the most bewildered expression. “I don’t know. I looked up, and she was gone. I don’t know what happened to her. I caled for her several times, and then I went over to the pond where she likes to feed the ducks, but she wasn’t there, and then—” She started to shake uncontrolably.

“That is enough,” Lady Pleinsworth said, but Daniel shot her a pleading look. He knew this was upsetting for Frances, but it had to be done. And surely his aunt would realize that Frances would be far more upset if Anne were kiled.

“What happened next?” Daniel asked gently.

Frances swalowed convulsively, and she hugged her arms to her small body. “Someone grabbed me. And he put something into my mouth that tasted horrid, and the next thing I knew I was in a carriage.”

Daniel shared a concerned glance with his mother. Next to her, Lady Pleinsworth had begun to silently cry.

“It was probably laudanum,” he said to Frances. “It was very, very wrong for someone to force it upon you, but it will not hurt you.” She nodded. “I felt funny, but I don’t now.”

“When did you first see Miss Wynter?”

“We went to your house. I wanted to get out, but the man—” She looked up at Daniel as if only just then remembering something very important. “He had a scar.

A realy big one. Right across his face.”

“I know,” he said softly.

She looked up at him with huge, curious eyes, but she didn’t question him. “I couldn’t get out of the carriage,” she said. “He said he would hurt Miss Wynter if I did. And he made his driver watch me, and he didn’t look very nice.”

Daniel forced down his rage. There had to be a special place in hell for people who hurt children. But he managed to remain calm as he said, “And then Miss Wynter came out?”

Frances nodded. “She was very angry.”

“I’m sure she was.”

“She yeled at him, and he yeled at her, and I didn’t understand most of what they were talking about, except that she was realy, realy angry with him for having me in the carriage.”

“She was trying to protect you,” Daniel said.

“She was trying to protect you,” Daniel said.

“I know,” Frances said softly. “But . . . I think . . . I think she might have been the one to cause his scar.” She looked over at her mother with a tortured expression. “I don’t think Miss Wynter would do something like that, but he kept talking about it, and he was so angry with her.”

“It was a long time ago,” Daniel said. “Miss Wynter was defending herself.”

“Why?” Frances whispered.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said firmly. “What matters is what happened today, and what we can do to save her. You have been very brave. How did you get away?”

“Miss Wynter pushed me from the carriage.”

“What?” Lady Pleinsworth shrieked, but Lady Winstead restrained her when she tried to rush forward.

“It wasn’t going very fast,” Frances said to her mother. “It only hurt a little when I hit the ground. Miss Wynter had whispered to me to curl up like a ball before I hit the ground.”

“Oh, dear God,” Lady Pleinsworth sobbed. “Oh, my baby.”

“I’m all right, Mama,” Frances said, and Daniel was amazed at her resilience. She had been kidnapped and then tossed from a carriage, and now she was comforting her mother. “I think Miss Wynter chose the spot she did because I wasn’t very far from home.”

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.