The Mapmaker’s Apprentice – C.J. Archer

How are your acting skills, India?” my employer Matthew Glass asked me. We sat at diagonal opposites in the brougham, our knees bumping when the coachman took the corners too fast, something he did at regular intervals. Matt had hired the fellow after winning the brougham in a poker match only a week before. We’d ridden in it every day since, visiting watchmakers throughout the city, but today we were on our way to the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street. “That’s an odd question,” I said. “They’re adequate, I suppose, as long as I’m not asked to remember entire Shakespearean soliloquys. I never was very good at memorizing the classics. Why do you ask?” “Can you play the part of a concerned granddaughter?” “Ah. I see, now. What a clever idea. I’ll try my best, but I can’t promise I won’t be tripped up by a clever clerk.” We were heading to the Bank of England in an attempt to find out if a watchmaker named Mirth continued to collect the guild allowance that was paid regularly into his account. He could be the watchmaker called Chronos, whom Matt needed to fix his lifegiving watch—a watch that he required more frequently every day to restore his health. Although Abercrombie, the master of the Watchmakers’ Guild, had assured me that Mirth wasn’t the right fellow, I didn’t trust him. The horrid man had tried to have me arrested on false charges of theft, and refused to allow me into the guild.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he had lied about Mirth to detract us from our search. Aside from Mirth, we’d not learned of any other watchmakers who were the right age and had been overseas five years ago, when the mysterious Chronos had teamed up with a magical doctor to save Matt’s life in America. We couldn’t rule him out yet. Not until we’d seen him. “I’m sure you’ll be up to the challenge,” Matt said with a small smile that didn’t quite reach his tired eyes. Despite the tiredness, he looked particularly handsome in a new charcoal gray suit, delivered yesterday by his tailor. He cut a fine figure with his long legs, broad shoulders, and dark hair framing a face made up of strong angles and smooth skin. I often found myself studying his intriguing features and wondering how much more handsome he would be if tiredness didn’t plague him. “Just remember Mirth’s personal details, and you should be believed,” he assured me. “Oliver Warwick Mirth,” I recited from memory.

“Date of birth, April ninth, eighteentwenty. Recently residing at the Aged Christian Society on Sackville Street, however he went missing and we, his family, are very concerned.” “And your name?” I frowned at him. We hadn’t been given names of his family members by the Society. A staff member there had provided Mirth’s personal information, after Matt passed him some money, but he’d not mentioned family. No one had visited Mirth at the residence. We knew from Abercrombie that Mirth had a daughter, however. I could be that daughter’s daughter. “Jane,” I announced. “Jane Bland.

Will that suffice?” He studied me with a wry twist of his mouth. He had an easy countenance and an expressive face, one that made his thoughts clear. Usually. There were times when he schooled his features to keep his thoughts to himself. He was as good at that as he was at making people feel comfortable in his presence, when he chose. “You don’t look like a Jane Bland.” “Oh? What does a Jane Bland look like?” “Small.” “You do realize that women like to be considered small and that you have just insulted me.” I added a smile so that he’d know I wasn’t hurt by his observation. Truly, I wasn’t.

I may not have the tiny waist of many females, because I didn’t lace my corset to painful extremes, but I had a generous bosom and was tall enough that I could reach the top shelf in the pantry, yet short enough that a man like Matt towered over me. At twenty-seven, I’d become used to my proportions and accepted them as being as much a part of me as my straight brown hair and greenish eyes. “Let me rephrase that,” he said, a pink tint blooming on his cheeks. “Jane Bland sounds like someone who blends into the background. You do not. Let’s call you Jane Markham.” “And who are you? My brother?” “Lawyer.” “You? A lawyer?” I laughed. He bristled. “What’s wrong with being a lawyer?” “Nothing, but you don’t look like one.

” “What do I look like?” Handsome. Intriguing. Charming. “A gentleman of means who has lived an interesting life. Your accent makes you sound like a man who has never settled in one place long enough to consider any particular country his home.” His smile faltered before returning. “You’re very observant.” “Those are facts you told me yourself, Matt.” “Only the part about moving a lot. I never mentioned that I consider myself a foreigner wherever I am.

” “Oh.” The coach suddenly swerved, sending me sliding across the leather seat to the other side. Matt reached for me with both hands, but wasn’t quick enough to stop our knees smacking together. He did manage to stop me slamming into the side of the cabin. “Are you all right?” he asked, helping me to sit up straight. His hands relaxed on my arms but didn’t let go. For one brief yet fierce moment, our gazes connected, propelling my heart into my ribs. His fingers gently squeezed before releasing me. “Thank you.” I righted my hat, taking my time so as to hide my hot face.

“Your new coachman seems to always be in a hurry.” He pulled down the window and shouted at Bryce to slow down. The brougham dutifully slowed to a walking pace. “So,” Matt said, settling on the seat once more, “if I don’t look like a lawyer, who should I be?” “We should say we are both Mr. Mirth’s grandchildren since no one knows otherwise.” “We hope.” We’d not found any records of Mirth’s descendants beyond his only daughter. According to Abercrombie, that daughter had fled to Prussia, beneath a somewhat scandalous cloud, but we didn’t know for certain if she’d subsequently returned to England or if she had children of her own. Hopefully the bank wouldn’t know either. The coach pulled to a stop and we alighted in front of the colossal Bank of England building.

It dwarfed its surrounds and the men coming and going like busy ants. There wasn’t a woman in sight, except for me. “Come, Sister,” Matt said, extending his arm to me. “Let’s find out if our dear grandfather is still with us.” Inside, earnest young men stood behind the long polished counter, their fingers working swiftly to dole out bank notes to their customers. The swish swish of paper underlaid the hushed voices, punctured occasionally by the decisive thunk of stamps. We approached a clerk and Matt stated our names and business, but when the clerk said he couldn’t help us, I decided a more feminine approach might be in order. “Please, sir,” I said, clasping my gloved hands on the counter top. “We’ve just returned from Prussia, where our mother recently passed, and wish to know if our grandfather is still alive.” I injected a measured dose of desperation into my voice.

Hopefully that would be enough. If not, I would increase the dose to hysteria levels. Causing a scene in public tended to move even the most conservative man into action. “The staff at the Aged Christian Society were not helpful. Apparently he just walked out, but no one knows where he went. Please, are you able to help my brother and I? We’re quite at a loss as to where to go next.” “The police,” the clerk said, sounding bored. “We’ve made inquiries there,” Matt said. “They claim they can’t help.” The clerk spread out his hands and shrugged.

“We only wish to know if he’s still drawing from his account.” I pulled a handkerchief from my reticule and dabbed the corner of my eye with it. “If not…” I pressed the handkerchief to my nose and sniffed. “If not, then I’m afraid we’ll need to notify the police that he’s not missing, he’s…he’s dead.” Matt put his arm around my shoulders. “There, there, Jane. We’ll get to the bottom of this, one way or another.” He cast a forlorn look at the clerk. “If you can’t help us, perhaps your superior can.” The clerk sighed.

“Prove to me that you are who you say you are and I’ll see what I can do.” We gave him our false names again, as well as Mirth’s personal details. He wrote them down and handed them to a spotty-faced youth who disappeared through a door behind them. Three minutes later he returned and gave the clerk a file. “According to our records,” the clerk said without looking up from the file, “your grandfather is still drawing on his account. He comes in every Wednesday afternoon, in fact.” My heart lifted. Mirth was alive! “Is there a current address for him?” Matt asked, trying to peer at the documents. The clerk snapped the file closed. “According to this, he still resides at The Aged Christian Society.

” Matt gave the clerk a sad smile. “Thank you for your time.” We climbed back into the waiting carriage, and Matt thumped the ceiling once we’d settled. The coach lurched forward and drove off at speed. It would seem Bryce had already forgotten his instructions for a more sedate journey. Matt stared out the window, his gaze distant. He must be terribly disappointed. We were little better off than we had been before we entered the bank. “I’m sorry we didn’t learn anything more useful,” I said quietly. “It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

” He gave me an encouraging smile. I admired his optimism. He rarely showed frustration for our lack of progress in the search for Chronos. Few people in his predicament would be able to maintain such unwavering optimism. “We know he’ll be in the bank next Wednesday afternoon.” Today was Thursday. Only six more days to go. It felt interminable. “You plan to wait for him at the bank?” “I do. I’ll know Chornos when I see him.

If Mirth is Chronos, I’ll recognize him.” I smiled, hoping to prove that I too could be optimistic. “It’s progress.” “It is.” Neither of us sounded particularly convincing, but our smiles didn’t waver. Bryce let us out at the front of number sixteen Park Street, Mayfair, then drove off to the mews behind the row of townhouses. Duke and Cyclops met us at the door. “Well?” Duke asked before we’d even removed our coats. “Is he alive?” “He is,” Matt said, assisting me out of my coat. “But we don’t have a current address.

” Duke swore under his breath. “Another dead end,” Cyclops muttered with a shake of his head. “Not quite.” Matt told his friends about Mirth’s regular Wednesday afternoon visits to the bank. “I’ll watch for him next week.” The lack of response was an overwhelming indication of what both men thought of that. “In the mean time, India and I will continue visiting the watchmakers in the city,” Matt said. We’d already been to many, perhaps most, and there were only a few remaining Clerkenwell factories to search now. “We’ll continue after lunch, shall we?” I suggested cheerfully. He merely grunted.

Although I used the excuse of lunch, he must have noticed that I avoided mentioning his need to rest and use his watch. If there was one thing Matt disliked intensely, it was being reminded of his weakened state. “Duke,” Cyclops said with a jerk of his head toward the back of the house. “What’ve we got to eat?” “Why is the cooking always left to me?” Duke whined. “Because no one else likes cooking.” “Because you’re good at it,” Matt said with a glare at Cyclops. Cyclops’s good eye beaded with humor. It was at odds with the ugly, ragged scar extending from beneath the patch over his other eye. He was a frightening looking man with his gigantic height, solid girth and scar, but I’d quickly learned that he was quite the gentle soul. Like Duke and Willie, he was also fiercely loyal to Matt.

“Hopefully we’ll have a new cook, soon,” Matt added. “You won’t have to continue with kitchen work. Any of you.” “I don’t mind the work,” Duke grumbled. “As long as everyone pulls their weight.” “Things are done differently here. This is Mayfair, after all. We need staff.” “We don’t. We’ll be going home soon.

” Matt lowered his gaze. Duke’s audible swallow filled the silence. No one knew how long they’d be in London searching for Chronos. And if they didn’t find him here…their next step was unclear. Cyclops shoved Duke’s shoulder. “I’ll help you.” “You? You couldn’t cook toast.” Cyclops’s rumbling chuckle lingered after they’d both disappeared to the service area downstairs. Matt and I had hardly finished removing our hats and gloves when the door to the drawing room burst open and a slender woman strode out, her steps purposeful. Her severe black brows crashed together over a beaky nose.

“I refuse to work in such an immodest and ill disciplined household!” she declared as she stalked past us to the front door. “Americans,” she added in a mutter without so much as a glance at Matt or myself as she threw open the front door and left. Matt shut it behind her, just as Willie, Matt’s American cousin, emerged from the drawing room. “Interviews not going so well?” he asked in a lazy drawl. “That woman!” Willie stabbed a finger at the door and uttered a sound pitched somewhere between a growl and a scream. “Englishwomen!” “Yes?” I inquired with a lift of my brows. “You’re all…” She threw her hands in the air, as if that explained everything. “Missish prudes!” “Is that all?” I said as I swept past her into the dining room. “You had me worried there for a moment, Willie. I thought you were going to say something cruel about my countrywomen.

” I had the great satisfaction of hearing Willie emit that odd noise again as she stomped after me. Miss Glass, Matt’s elderly aunt, touched her ears and winced. “Do cease that infernal racket, Willemina,” she pleaded. “My ears are too old to be subjected to it.” “Interviews definitely aren’t going well, then,” Matt said to his cousin and aunt. “They would be more successful if I were allowed to interview potential housekeepers on my own,” Miss Glass intoned in her haughtiest manner. She was upper class to her bones and managed to convey as much with a mere tightening of her lip, something she generally only reserved for Willie. The two of them clashed terribly. Miss Glass considered Willie crass, unladylike, and working class at best, while Willie considered Miss Glass snobbish, stiff, and selfimportant. They were both right, yet they both had marvelous qualities too.

It would take some time before either of them recognized those good qualities in the other, however. Certainly longer than this morning. They’d rarely been left alone together, but both had wanted to interview potential staff. Matt had hoped it would bring them closer. It would seem he’d misplayed them. Willie folded her arms over her worn leather waistcoat and narrowed her gaze at Miss Glass. “She wants a housekeeper with airs and graces. I won’t be looked down on by the damned help. I won’t be looked down on by anyone!” Miss Glass’s back stiffened. “I am trying to employ someone of upstanding moral character.

Unfortunately, your foul language discourages such women.” “Ain’t nothing to do with my language.” She waved a hand at the door. “That one called me unnatural. Unnatural!” “She was referring to your masculine attire. No normal woman dresses as you do.” Willie hitched up one leg of her trousers and rested her booted foot on the low table. “The one before that said I was immoral. I may dress like a man, but that don’t make me no loose woman.” Miss Glass merely sniffed.

Willie gave her a hard smile. “Got nothing to say on that score, Letty?” Willie had taken to calling Miss Glass the informal version of her Christian name to annoy her. It worked. Miss Glass presented Willie with her shoulder. “Ladies,” Matt groaned. “Can you please stop squabbling? Were there any applicants you both liked?” Willie and Miss Glass looked at one another. “No,” they said in unison. Matt sighed. “Perhaps India can sit in on future interviews.” “Why?” Miss Glass asked.

“Yes, why?” Willie added, lowering her foot. “She can act as intermediary,” he said. “She’s got a calming, no-nonsense nature that will sort the good from bad with minimum fuss.” He thought that of me? That I was calm and no-nonsense? Had he already forgotten our first meeting where I’d railed at my former fiancé, Eddie Hardacre? I’d created quite a scene. So much so that Matt had needed to forcibly remove me from the shop and Cyclops then restrained me. Granted, that wasn’t how I usually behaved, but I’d found the experience so cathartic that I’d not fully returned to my quiet, acquiescent manner. I quite liked speaking my mind now, when the occasion deemed it necessary. “I am calm,” Miss Glass said, smoothing her hands over her black skirt. “And I ain’t got no truck for nonsense,” Willie cut in with a glare at me, as if I’d been the one to make the suggestion that I sit in on the interviews. “We don’t need her.

” “I quite agree.” Miss Glass gave me a friendly nod. “No offence intended, India.” “None taken,” I said. “I have no wish to be involved anyway. It’s not my place.” My answer seemed to please both Miss Glass and Willie, but not Matt. “Prove to me that you can come to an agreement on a housekeeper without a third party’s interference,” he told them. “Otherwise, I’ll hire the next woman who walks in off the street. Is that clear?” “Quite,” his aunt said.

.

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