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"Come
in, sit down," Lord Kerring said, waving the relieved apprentice out the
door. "Is this that young wizard you found last year? Introduce me."

           
"I'll
be happy to, when you give me a moment's breathing room," Mairelon said.
"Kerring, my ward and apprentice, Kim.
Kim, this is
Lord Kerring, one of the senior wizards of the college."

           
"Enchanted,"
Kerring said, and bowed with unexpected grace. His eyes twinkled as he added,
"Though not in the literal sense. Why haven't you brought her before? Will
you be coming out this year, Miss Merrill?"

           
"Just Kim.
I don't think so."
Or
rather, when hell freezes over.
She had a momentary, dazzling vision
of herself whirling across the dance floor at an elaborate ball,
then
shook her head.
Even if I got an invitation, I'd end
up sitting out. The Society toffs agree with Mrs. Lowe.
"Mr. Merrill
has been very kind, but I don't really belong in Society."

           
Kerring
gave her a sharp look, as if he knew exactly what she had been thinking.
"Nonsense, my dear.
A wizard is the social equal of
anyone."

           
The
beginnings of a frown vanished from Mairelon's face. "You're quite right,
Kerring, and it's a solution I hadn't thought of. Thank you."

           
"You're
welcome. I think." Kerring looked at Mairelon blankly; when this was not
enough to produce an explanation, he opened his mouth to continue. Mairelon
forestalled him.

           
"Now,
if you'll just give me a hand with this other matter, we'll leave you to your
books." Mairelon drew a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to
Kerring. "Can you tell us anything about these books? What they might have
in
common,
or why anyone might want them?"

           
Kerring
studied the list, frowning. "It's an odd assortment. What is it, someone's
collection that you're thinking of buying?"

           
"Part
of my brother's library, actually," Mairelon said.

           
"They
don't seem much like his kind of thing," Kerring said. "I wonder. . .
. Wait here for a minute." He disappeared behind one of the bookshelves,
and Kim heard the sounds of drawers opening and closing, and paper rustling.
Finally Kerring reappeared, carrying Mairelon's list and a little sheaf of
documents.

           
"Found
it!" he said triumphantly. "I thought these were familiar. They're
part of a collection your father had me assess about, oh, fifteen years
ago."

           
"Only
part?" Mairelon said.

           
"The
part I recommended he
buy
." Kerring waved the
sheaf of documents. "The whole collection was much more extensive. It
belonged to a Frenchman, an
emigre
who ended up in debtor's prison. De
Cambriol, that
was his name. His wife was a French wizard,
one of the group they called
Les Griffonais;
she was just beginning to
make a name for herself when she died. That's why your father was interested in
her books."

           
"Her books?"
Kim said. "I thought you said
they belonged to her husband."

           
"He
inherited them," Kerring said. "It was quite a nice little
collection, actually, but he wasn't a wizard himself and had no interest in
magic, so when he fell on hard times, he sold them off. Didn't do him much
good, I'm afraid. Too many gambling debts; the proceeds from the sale didn't
even begin to buy him out."

           
"And
my father bought them," Mairelon said in a thoughtful tone.

           
"Some
of them," Kerring corrected him. "Madame de Cambriol's magic
collection, to be precise, plus one or two others he thought looked
interesting. I thought he'd bought her
livre de memoire
, too, but I
don't see it on your list. Pity; there's a deal of interest in the
Griffonais
these days. Your brother could have gotten a nice price for it."

           
"What's
a . . . a
livre de
thingumy?" Kim asked, at the same moment that
Mairelon said, "Interest?"

           
Kerring's
beard split in a grin.
"One at a time.
A
livre
de memoire
is a sort of book of notes that a lot of French wizards keep. A
memory book, we'd call it."

           
"Just who is interested in
Les Griffonais?
"
Mairelon said. "And why?"

           
"Everybody,"
Kerring replied, gesturing expansively. "Because of the restoration of the
French monarchy, you see. Now that they've finally gotten rid of that pushy
little Corsican they let take over the country, there's a lot of curiosity
about things under the old regime."

           
"I
believe there was rather more to Napoleon than that," Mairelon murmured.
"Thank you very much for the information, and if you hear of anyone asking
specifically about
Les Griffonais
or Madame de Cambriol, do let me know.
Andrew might be interested in selling off some of the books."

           
Lord
Kerring gave Mairelon a sharp look. "You're up to something, Merrill, and
don't think I don't know it. I expect a full account for the archives once it's
over, whatever it is."

           
"If
you insist," Mairelon said. "I believe we have what we came for. Good
day; perhaps I'll see you at the club next week."

           
"No doubt.
Good day, Miss Merrill. I expect I'll see
more of you when you start your journeyman's work. And I assure you that it
will be a pleasure." Kerring bowed.

           
"Thank
you, my lord," Kim stammered, and managed to curtsey without losing her
balance. Kerring gave her an avuncular smile, and a moment later she and
Mairelon were outside the library once more.

           
Mairelon
was frowning slightly as they started down the hall.
Thinking again,
Kim
told herself.
Well, he can just think out loud where I can hear it.
"Now what?" she asked him.

           
"Mmm?
Kerring is an old reprobate at times, but he's a
sound man and there's no denying he knows his work."

           
"Fine
for him," Kim said. "But what do
we
do now?"

           
"We
go back to the house and see whether we can turn up Madame de Cambriol's memory
book. If it's not there, we'll know our burglar got what he was after."

           
"But
you don't even know whether it was in the library to begin with," Kim
said.

           
"If
Kerring thinks my father bought it, I'm willing to wager he did," Mairelon
said. "There might even be an inventory around somewhere. We'll have to
check. Come along; we haven't time to waste."

4

           
Mairelon
was extremely cheerful all the way home, but he refused to tell her anything
more and she could not think of a way of questioning him that was likely to get
a useful response. Not when he was in such a fey mood, anyway. When they
reached
Grosvenor Square
,
the opportunity was lost; Mrs. Lowe was hovering by the door, and took Kim in
hand at once.

           
"You'll
have to hurry, or we'll be late," she said as she
bustled
Kim up the stairs. "I've sent for Sally to do what she can with your hair.
It ought to have been in papers all morning, but that can't be helped
now."

           
"It
wouldn't have helped then," Kim muttered.

           
"What
did you say?"

           
"Nothing."

           
"I
hope you don't intend to be difficult about this," Mrs. Lowe said.
"Mrs. Hardcastle has gone to a good deal of trouble to arrange this
meeting, and it is probably the best opportunity you will have to settle
yourself comfortably."

           
As if
that's the reason I came back to London,
Kim thought, frowning.
Fortunately, Mrs. Lowe had stepped forward to open the bedroom door, and did
not see Kim's expression. Mrs. Lowe's maid, Sally, bobbed a curtsey as they
entered. A pair of curling tongs
lay
heating in the
fire, and a pale yellow walking dress waited on the bed. Kim rolled her eyes.
"You mean I have to change clothes, too, as well as having my hair fussed
with? What's wrong with what I have on?"

           
"Mrs.
Hardcastle informs me that Mr. Fulton is partial to yellow," Mrs. Lowe
said coldly. "Now, sit down and let Sally fix your hair. We have barely
half an hour before we must leave."

           
Kim
considered briefly,
then
sat. She could, she supposed,
delay their departure if she worked at it, but delaying or avoiding this call
would only make Mrs. Lowe more determined to arrange another. She had to think
of a way to put an end to the matter once and for all, or she'd fall in the
soup sooner or later.

           
"You
have lovely hair, Miss, though it's a bit short," Sally ventured as she
wound the first strand around a curlpaper. "I dare say it'll look that
nice when it's all done up proper."

           
"That
will do, Sally." Mrs. Lowe studied Kim for a moment, and then she and
Sally went to work. With considerable effort and ingenuity, they produced a
passable arrangement of curls from Kim's dark, unruly hair. At least, Mrs. Lowe
said it was passable, but even to Kim's unpracticed eye the coiffure bore no
resemblance to the elegant styles worn by real ladies.
I look like a
fishmonger's daughter trying to ape Quality,
she thought gloomily.
I bet
it'll be all straggly before we've gone three blocks.
If it
stays up that long.
She shook her head experimentally, and Mrs. Lowe
clucked at her.

           
Getting
into the gown without disarranging her hair was an effort, and Kim was glad
that Sally was there to do most of the work. When Mrs. Lowe was satisfied with
Kim's appearance at last, they descended the stairs once more.

           
Mairelon
was waiting in the hall. "There you are at last! I thought you were in a
hurry. I've had the coach waiting for half an hour." He picked up his
gloves. "Shall we go?"

           
Mrs. Lowe
stared at him, for once bereft of speech.

           
"You're
coming, too?" Kim said with relief.

           
"Oh,
yes." Mairelon smiled seraphically at his dumbfounded aunt. "After
all, Aunt Agatha said only this morning that she expects me to pay more attention
to my social duties. I thought I had best begin at once, before I forgot."
He signaled the footman, who opened the door wide, and offered his arm to his
aunt. By the time Mrs. Lowe recovered from her shock, they were in the carriage
and on their way. Mrs. Lowe could hardly rip up at Mairelon as long as Kim was
present, so the journey was accomplished in silence.

           
They
emerged from the carriage in front of a sturdy brick townhouse of modest
proportions. Two of the lower windows had been bricked over. An iron railing
enclosed a yard or so of space in front of the house, where an extremely ugly
pottery urn stood empty. Three slate steps, freshly scrubbed, led up to the
wooden door. An impeccably correct butler opened the door and led them up the
staircase inside. Kim, noting the empty candle sconces on the wall and the
half-hidden darns in the linen drape covering a table in the upstairs hall, was
not impressed.
Mrs. Hardcastle may be bosom bows with Mrs. Lowe, but she's
not as full of juice. This place wouldn't be worth the time--let alone the
risk--to a decent cracksman.

           
They
found Mrs. Hardcastle in the saloon, a dark and austerely furnished room whose
narrow windows did little to lighten the atmosphere. Mrs. Lowe checked briefly
in the doorway, and when Kim entered close on her heels, she saw why.

           
Mrs.
Hardcastle had more guests than they had expected. Not only that, the young
woman shaking her golden-guinea curls at the offer of a slice of cake was a
diamond of the first water. From the top of her high-crowned hat to her
heart-shaped face and perfect complexion, to her slender figure, to the
elegantly turned ankles and dainty feet set off by neat kid boots, she was
everything that current fashion demanded of a Beauty.
No wonder old
poker-back's nose is out of joint
, Kim thought with satisfaction.
She
didn't bargain for any competition, let alone a regular out-and-outer.

           
Beside
the Beauty sat an undistinguished girl, also turned out in expensive (though in
her case, unbecoming) fashion. A sober-looking gentleman and their middle-aged
hostess completed the company.

           
Though
Mrs. Lowe must have been annoyed, she gave no sign of it beyond that initial
hesitation. She greeted Mrs. Hardcastle with the warmth due an old friend, and
acknowledged the necessary introductions with perfect aplomb. The Beauty was a
Miss Letitia Tarnower; her companion, Miss Annabel Matthews. The sober
gentleman was, of course, Mr. Henry Fulton.

           
As the
newcomers seated themselves, Kim studied Mr. Fulton. He looked to be in his
mid-thirties, which was considerably younger than she had expected. His
morning-dress was neat and correct, but lacked
a certain
elegance.
He's a Cit, and well enough off for Mrs. Lowe to think he's
"reasonably respectable," but he doesn't follow Society fashion.
Well, most Cits don't.
She wondered whether he had been informed of the
purpose of their meeting.

           
Then Mr.
Fulton caught her eye, reddened slightly, and looked away.
He knows.
And
if he had come intending to inspect a potential bride, then she could no longer
simply dismiss Mrs. Lowe's maunderings about marriage and her opportunities in
London.

           
She
glanced at Mr. Fulton again. His face was pleasant enough.
I ought to jump
at him. There can't be very many well-to-do Cits willing to take up with a girl
off the streets, even if I am the ward of a gentleman now. So why is the idea
so . . . repellent?

           
"Tea,
Miss Merrill?" Mrs. Hardcastle said.

           
"Yes,
thank you."

           
Mrs.
Hardcastle beamed as if Kim had said something clever. Kim blinked,
then
accepted the teacup with a noncommittal murmur. This
earned her an encouraging nod and a not-too-subtle significant look in Mr.
Fulton's direction.

           
Kim chose
to ignore the hint. She sat sipping at her tea, in the faint hope that a polite
lack of interest would discourage any more attempts to draw her into
conversation with Mr. Fulton. There was also a slim chance that sitting quietly
might keep her from committing any of the social solecisms that would earn her
a trimming from Mrs. Lowe once they returned home.

           
"I
am pleased to find you here, Mr. Fulton," Mrs. Lowe said. "My
nephew's ward was particularly eager to make your acquaintance."

           
"Yes,
it is so nice to meet new people," Miss Tarnower said with a dazzling
smile before Mr. Fulton could respond. "Mrs. Hardcastle's acquaintance is
so very
varied
that one never knows who will turn up. I would not be
astonished to find the Prince of Wales himself at one of her saloons."

           
Mrs.
Hardcastle looked quite struck for a moment,
then
shook her head. "It is kind of you to say so, but I fear that His Highness
is considerably above my touch."

           
"Oh, pooh!
You are too modest. Everyone knows you, and
you know everyone. I'll wager that if I gave you a name, you could tell us all
about that person, no matter who it is! There now, you cannot say it is
untrue."

           
"Ah,
but it would be inhospitable of her to correct a guest," Mairelon said.

           
"That
was not what I meant at all," Miss Tarnower said with a puzzled frown.
"Oh! I see. You are bamming me."

           
"Letitia!"
Miss Matthews said in an urgent
undertone that carried rather better than she intended it to.

           
Miss
Tarnower glanced at her companion,
then
turned back to
Mairelon. "Is your acquaintance as wide as Mrs. Hardcastle's, sir?"
she asked with another dazzling smile.

           
"Oh,
at least," Mairelon murmured.

           
"Richard,"
Mrs. Lowe said softly, in the same warning tone that Miss Matthews had used.
Being more experienced, her pitch was better-chosen; if Kim had not been
sitting next to her,
she
would not have heard a thing.

           
"Mr.
Merrill is well known in
France
,
I believe," Mrs. Hardcastle told Miss Tarnower.

           
"Too
well known," Mairelon said. "Even under the new king."

           
"But
I am not interested in the king of
France
."
Miss Tarnower frowned, as if suddenly struck by a thought.
"Unless
he is to be in
London
this Season?"

           
"I
believe that to be unlikely," Mrs. Hardcastle said.

           
Mr.
Fulton leaned forward. "I take it you were in
France
during the war, then, Mr. Merrill?"

           
"Some
of the time," Mairelon acknowledged with a faint smile.

           
"I
thought your name was familiar," Mr. Fulton said with some satisfaction.

           
"It
is of no consequence," Mrs. Lowe said hastily. "It was a . . .
personal matter."

           
"What,
still?" Mr. Fulton looked from Mrs. Lowe to Mairelon and said
apologetically, "I am very sorry if I have been indiscreet, but since my
brother saw no harm in relating the story to me, I thought--"

           
"Tommy
Fulton!" Mairelon said, snapping his fingers. "Last time I saw him
was in that little French town where Old Hooky set up his, er, coin exchange.
St. Jean de
Luz, that
was it. Good heavens, are you
his brother? How is he?"

           
"He
was badly wounded at
Waterloo
, and
I fear his health has not been the same since," Mr. Fulton replied.
"Still, he does tolerably well."

           
"I'm
glad he made it through." Mairelon's face clouded. "Too many
didn't."

           
Mrs. Lowe
was frowning in a mixture of relief and mystification that Kim found puzzling.
Didn't she know or care what Mairelon had really been doing during those years
when London Society thought he had run off with the Saltash Set?

           
"Tom
speaks very highly of your . . . work," Mr. Fulton said to Mairelon.

           
"No
need to mince words," Mairelon said.
"Not now,
anyway."
He smiled at the puzzled expressions of the two young
ladies opposite him. "I met Tommy Fulton while I was on the
Peninsula
,
spying on the French. He was one of the pickets who made it possible for me to
cross back and forth across the lines when I needed to.
Very
solid."

           
Mr.
Fulton inclined his head. "He will be pleased to know you remember him so
kindly."

           
"Remember
him? I could hardly forget him. Did he tell you about the incident with the
chickens?"

           
Seeing
that the conversation was about to degenerate into military reminiscence, Mrs.
Lowe and Mrs. Hardcastle both hurried into speech.

           
"I
am sure you have many fascinating tales, but--"

           
"Perhaps
Richard can visit your brother some other--"

           
The two
ladies both stopped short and waited politely for each other to continue. Since
Mr. Fulton was also waiting for one of them to finish her speech, this gave
Letitia Tarnower the opportunity to reenter the conversation.

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