Chasing Cassandra

Page 8

“Fortunately not, sir. The range fire has been put out, and the pipe valve has been closed. Regrettably, the master plumber is on holiday, and the nearest one is in Alton. Shall I send a footman to—”

“Wait,” Severin interrupted brusquely. “Which valve? The one to the cold water supply pipe or the one to the water-back?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, sir.”

Devon looked at Severin sharply.

Severin’s mouth curved with grim amusement. “If something were going to blow up,” he said in answer to the unvoiced question, “it would have by now. But you’d better let me take a look at it.”

Grateful that his friend was an expert in steam engine mechanics and could probably build a boiler while blindfolded, Devon led the way downstairs.

The kitchen was a ferment of activity, with servants rushing to and fro with baskets from the gardens, and crates from the icehouse and cellar.

“We’ll make German potato salad,” the grim-faced cook was saying to the housekeeper, who took notes. “We’ll serve it with cuts of beef, ham, tongue, and galantine of veal. On the side, relish trays with caviar, radishes, olives, and celery on ice—” Catching sight of Devon, the cook turned and curtsied. “My lord,” she exclaimed, visibly fighting back tears, “it’s a disaster. Of all times to lose the cooking range! We’ll have to change the dinner menu to a cold buffet.”

“As the weather has been so warm,” Devon replied, “the guests would probably prefer that. Do your best, Mrs. Bixby. I’m sure the results will be excellent.”

The housekeeper, Mrs. Church, looked harried as she spoke to him. “Lord Trenear, the kitchen boiler supplies hot water to some of the first- and second-floor bathrooms. Soon the guests will want to bathe and change before dinner. We’ve set up pots to boil on the old kitchen hearth, and the servants will carry up cans of hot water, but with such a large crowd and so many extra chores, they’ll be pushed to their limit.”

Severin had already gone to inspect the boiler, which still radiated heat even though the fire had been put out. The cylindrical copper tank was set on a stand beside the range and connected by copper pipes.

“The part that shot through the air was the safety valve,” Severin said over his shoulder. “It did exactly what it was supposed to do: relieve built-up pressure before the boiler ruptured.” Picking up a rag from the long kitchen worktable, he used it to open a range door, and lowered to his haunches to look inside. “I see two issues. First, the water tank inside the range is producing too much heat for a boiler this size to handle. It’s straining the copper shell. You’ll need to install a larger boiler—eighty gallons or more. Until then, you’ll have to keep the oven fire lower than usual.” He examined a pipe connected to the boiler. “This is the more serious problem—the supply pipe leading into the boiler is too narrow. If hot water is drawn out of the boiler faster than it’s refilled, steam will build until it eventually causes a rip-roaring explosion. I can replace the pipe right away if you have the supplies.”

“I’m sure we do,” Devon replied ruefully. “Plumbing work never ends in this house.”

Severin rose to his feet and took off his coat. “Mrs. Bixby,” he said to the cook, “would you and your staff be able to stay clear of this area while I do the repairs?”

“Will your work be dangerous?” she asked apprehensively.

“Not at all, but I’ll need room to measure and saw pipes, and spread out the tools. I wouldn’t want to trip anyone.”

The cook looked at him as if he were her guardian angel. “We’ll keep to the other side of the kitchen and use the scullery sink.”

Severin grinned at her. “Give me five or six hours, and I’ll have everything back in working order.”

Devon felt more than a little apologetic about putting him to work when all the rest of the guests were relaxing. “Tom,” he began, “you don’t have to—”

“Finally,” Severin interrupted cheerfully, unbuttoning his shirt cuffs, “there’s something interesting to do at your house.”

Chapter 5

ALTHOUGH CASSANDRA WAS TIRED after the excitement and bustle of Pandora’s wedding, she couldn’t seem to relax sufficiently to take a nap. Her thoughts were restless, her mind running in place. By now, Pandora and Lord St. Vincent had probably reached the Isle of Wight, where they would spend their honeymoon at a fine old hotel. Tonight, Pandora would lie in the arms of her husband and experience the intimacies of the marital relationship.

The thought caused a twinge of something that felt like jealousy. Although Cassandra was glad Pandora had married the man she loved, she wanted her own forever to begin. It didn’t seem entirely fair that Pandora, who’d never wanted to marry, now had a husband, whereas Cassandra was facing the prospect of yet another London Season. The thought of meeting the same people, dancing the same dances, all that lemonade and stale conversation … God, how dismal. She couldn’t fathom how the outcome would be any different the next time around.

Hearing the laughter and shouts of the younger guests playing lawn tennis and croquet, Cassandra considered going outside to join them. No. The effort of pretending to be cheerful was more than she could manage.

After changing into a yellow day dress with airy pagoda sleeves that ended at the elbow, she went to the family’s private upstairs parlor. The family dogs, a pair of small black spaniels named Napoleon and Josephine, saw her in the hallway and trotted after her. The parlor was comfortably cluttered with heaps of colorful cushions on the furniture, a battered piano in the corner, and piles of books everywhere.

She sat cross-legged on the carpet with the dogs, smiling as they bounded in and out of her lap excitedly. “We don’t need Prince Charming, do we?” she asked them aloud. “No, we do not. There’s a patch of sun on the carpet and books nearby—that’s all we need to be happy.”

The spaniels stretched out in a bright yellow rectangle, wriggling and sighing in contentment.

After petting and scratching the dogs for a while, Cassandra reached out to a stack of books on a low table, and sorted through them idly. Double Wedding … The Secret Duke … My Dashing Suitor, and other romantic novels she had read and reread. Much lower in the pile, there were books such as History of the Thirty Years’ Peace and Life of Nelson, the kind one read in case one was called upon to make insightful comments at dinner.

She came across a novel with a familiar title stamped in gilt on green leather: Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne. She and Pandora had especially liked the novel’s hero, a wealthy and adventurous Englishman named Phileas Fogg, who was something of an odd duck.

As a matter of fact … this would be the perfect recommendation for Mr. Severin. She would make a gift of it to him. Lady Berwick would say it wasn’t appropriate, but Cassandra was intensely curious about what he would make of it. If, of course, he bothered to read it at all.

Leaving the dogs to nap in the parlor, she headed to the grand double staircase that led to the main floor. She kept to the side of the hallway as one of the footmen, Peter, approached from the opposite direction with two large brass hot-water cans.

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