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Home > The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(7)

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(7)
Author: Megan Shepherd

The inn was a wooden three-story building, keeling slightly toward its neighbor. I tugged on the heavy iron latch and entered. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. Little sunlight passed through windows coated with smoky residue. I found myself in a dining hall, among sullen patrons murmuring in low voices over their midday meal. The furniture was worn but made of heavy oak that had recently been polished. None of the patrons looked up except a thin man twice my age, face marred with pox scars, who stared at my Sunday dress. It seemed the Blue Boar did not see many young ladies.

A portly woman came out from the kitchen and raised her eyebrows. She wiped her hands on her apron and looked me over, my face that hinted of aristocracy and clothes that spoke of poverty. “Come for a room?”

“No . . . I haven’t,” I stammered. “I’m looking for a man. A doctor.” My heart pounded, warning me not to get my hopes up. “His name is Henri Moreau.”

She peered at me queerly. I must have been the color of ripe tomatoes. “We aren’t in the habit of giving out our patrons’ information. You understand.” It was a command, not a question. Was he there, I wondered, in the same building, maybe right above our heads?

“I mean no trouble. I only need to speak with him.”

Her face didn’t budge. “No one by that name here.”

The ground fell out from beneath me. She was mistaken. She had to be. Or else I’d been a fool, thinking some old paper meant my father was here, in London, the city from which he’d been banished.

The set of her mouth softened. She took my elbow and pulled me away from the diners to a staircase that led into the shadows of the upper floors. “We’ve no one by that precise name, but there is a doctor.”

My heart leapt. “Where is he? What does he look like?”

“Calm down, now. You say you don’t want trouble, and nor do I.” Her gaze slid to the dining hall, nervously. “But if it’s the doctor you’re after, you should know Dr. James has been nothing but trouble since he arrived.”

Dr. James. Not Dr. Moreau. A pseudonym, perhaps? My mind was grasping, trying to form the parts of the equation into a reasonable solution, but there was only one logical conclusion: Dr. James was someone else entirely, one of a hundred visiting doctors in London. And yet my curiosity wouldn’t be satisfied without proof.

“I’m sorry to hear it. Perhaps if I may speak to him . . .”

“Mind you, the young gentleman is gracious enough. It’s that companion of his. Makes the other guests nervous, you understand.”

“Certainly.” I nodded, breathless. No one would describe Father as young. So could the odd companion she spoke of be my father, then?

She turned her attention to my dress, narrowing her eyes, and spoke in a low voice. “I won’t question what a pretty young lady wants with that pair, but I doubt you’re a relation. This is a reputable establishment. I don’t want no trouble, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.” A nervous bloom spread across my cheeks at the realization of what she was implying about a young woman alone with two strange men.

Her chin jerked toward the stairs. “Second floor. Room on the left.”

I dashed to the second-floor landing, gripping the railing to steady myself. To my left was only one door, tucked into an alcove. A tarnished mirror next to the door reflected my face, wide-eyed and flushed. I looked like a madwoman. I paused. What was I doing chasing a whim? I should have been with the other girls from the lodging house, gossiping about the handsomest boys in church this morning.

But here I was. I slid my Bible into my purse and knocked cautiously.

There was no answer. Should I wait? I rapped again, harder. Behind me, low voices and the sounds of clinking glasses floated up from the dining hall.

A wild idea struck me. I tried the knob—locked, of course. It wasn’t a sophisticated lock, though, so any skeleton key might do. I rifled through my bag for the key to my wooden box at the lodging house. At last I found the small bronze key and compared it to the door’s lock. Too small. I knelt, peering into the keyhole. Inside was a small room with an unmade bed and stacks of steamer trunks. I tried the key again, willing it to reach the tumbler, and I almost had it before it slipped out of my hands.

“Blast,” I muttered. I brushed the hair out of my eyes, the movement reflected in the mirror. I looked again at my face, studying the hollows under my cheekbones, the shadow around my eyes, wondering if Father would even recognize me now. Suddenly, a second face appeared behind my own—a dark face covered in a thick beard that obscured a man’s heavy features. His forehead slanted with an odd deformity, leading to a brow that thrust forward, hooding his eyes. I gasped and tried to turn, but his beastly hands dug into my shoulders. The key fell as he forced a cloth over my mouth. The last thing I saw before passing out were his yellow-green eyes glowing in the mirror.

Four

I AWOKE, HEAD THROBBING, the taste of chloroform in my throat. I was on the same wooden-framed bed I’d seen through the keyhole. I bolted upright. Scanned the room for my attacker, for a weapon, for an explanation as to why I was there.

I remembered in flashes. The face in the mirror. The cloth against my mouth.

Drugged.

A rush of panic sent my vision blurring and my ears roaring as I ransacked my clothes, relieved to find no signs I’d been harmed. Regardless, I needed something to use as a weapon—a fire poker or a letter opener. But a wave of nausea knocked me back to the pillows. I squeezed my eyes shut until my foggy head began to clear.

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