approached. At twenty minutes to twelve, liveried footmen and hired waiters
began moving like a silent army through the Great Hall, wielding trays filled
with glasses of Uncle Cornelius’s finest champagne. In the confusion, I lost
sight of Neily. I spotted Grace’s rich, bejeweled coif across the room, but
only briefly. Then she, too, disappeared from view, though she might merely
have been obscured by the crowd. If the two were up to something, Aunt Alice
would have to catch them at it herself. I had more pressing concerns.
Alice herself fueled my unease when she appeared at my shoulder. “We’re nearly
ready to toast Gertrude and I can’t find Cornelius anywhere. Did you see which
way he went?”
no. I’d been so concerned with Neily, Reggie, and Katie, I’d let Uncle
Cornelius slip away. With less than twenty minutes now before midnight, surely
he’d return any moment. But if he didn’t . . .
might just then be making his way up one of the service staircases. Should I
try to warn him that Uncle Cornelius was nowhere to be found? But how could I
do that when I had no idea which room marked Brady’s destination? I thought
back to what he’d told me that morning. He wished to return something he’d
taken . . . borrowed . . . stolen . . .
something to do with railroad business. Then it had to have come from
either of two places: Uncle Cornelius’s office, or his bedroom, both on the
might have gone running up the grand staircase to search for Brady, but the
second-floor rooms all opened onto a gallery that looked down over the Great
Hall. I couldn’t risk being seen and followed, especially by a family member.
Alice gave me the perfect excuse to leave the Great Hall and devise a plan.
“Emmaline, be an angel and check the billiard room. Tell that husband of mine
if he doesn’t come at once he’ll spoil Gertrude’s night.”
set off at nearly a run, my haste raising numerous eyebrows. Several men
occupied the billiard room, but Uncle Cornelius wasn’t one of them. Instead of
seeking him elsewhere on the first floor, I slipped quickly out through the
double doors onto the rear piazza and then down the steps onto the lawn. The
day’s rain had left the grass sodden, and moisture instantly soaked through my
embroidered dancing slippers. They’d be ruined, but I hadn’t time to lament the
fact. Toes squelching, I circled the side of the house, looking up as I neared
the front. The second story was dark except . . . there! A beam of light passed
across the windows of Uncle Cornelius’s bedroom. Brady must be inside.
was about to hoist my skirts, scamper around to the front door, steal inside
and up the service stairs when the light suddenly went out. I waited, staring
into the darkness, my ears pricked. “Brady,” I whispered