"I'm sorry," Assistant Commissioner Cornwallis said quietly, his face a mask of guilt and unhappiness. "I did everything I could, made every argument, moral and legal. But I can't fight the Inner Circle."
Pitt was stunned. He stood in the middle of the office with the sunlight splashing across the floor and the noise of horses' hooves, wheels on the cobbles and the shouts of drivers barely muffled beyond the window. Pleasure boats plied up and down the Thames on the hot June day. After the Whitechapel conspiracy he had been reinstated as superintendent of the Bow Street police station. Queen Victoria herself had thanked him for his courage and loyalty. Now, Cornwallis was dismissing him again! "They can't," Pitt protested. "Her Majesty herself."
Cornwallis's eyes did not waver, but they were filled with misery. "They can. They have more power than you or I will ever know. The Queen will hear what they want her to. If we take it to her, believe me, you will have nothing left, not even Special Branch. Narraway will be glad to have you back." The words seemed forced from him, harsh in his throat. "Take it, Pitt. For your own sake, and your family's. It is the best you'll get. And you're good at it. No one could measure what you did for your country in beating Voisey at Whitechapel."
"Beating him!" Pitt said bitterly. He's knighted by the Queen, and the Inner Circle is still powerful enough to say who shall be superintendent of Bow Street and who shan't!"
Cornwallis winced, the skin drawn tight across the bones of his face. "I know. But if you hadn't beaten him, England would now be a republic in turmoil, perhaps even civil war, and Voisey would be the first president. That's what he wanted. You beat him, Pitt, never doubt it . . . and never forget it, either. He won't."
Pitt's shoulders slumped. He felt bruised and weary. How would he tell Charlotte? She would be furious for him, outraged at the unfairness of it. She would want to fight, but there was nothing to do. He knew that, he was only arguing with Cornwallis because the shock had not passed, the rage at the injustice of it. He had really believed his position at least was safe, after the Queen's acknowledgment of his worth.
"You're due a holiday," Cornwallis said. "Take it. I'm . . . I'm sorry I had to tell you before."
Pitt could think of nothing to say. He had not the heart to be gracious.
"Go somewhere nice, right out of London," Cornwallis went on. "The country, or the sea."
"Yes . . . I suppose so." It would be easier for Charlotte, for the children. She would still be hurt but at least they would have time together. It was years since they had taken more than a few days and just walked through woods or over fields, eaten picnic sandwiches and watched the sky.
Charlotte was horrified, but after the first outburst she hid it, perhaps largely for the children's sake. Ten-and-a-half-year-old Jemima was instant to pick up any emotion, and Daniel, two years younger, was quick behind. Instead she made much of the chance for a holiday and began to plan when they should go and to think about how much they could afford to spend.
Within days it was arranged. They would take her sister Emily's son with them as well; he was the same age and was keen to escape the formality of the schoolroom and the responsibilities he was already learning as his father's heir. Emily's first husband had been Lord Ashworth, and his death had left the title and bulk of the inheritance to their only son, Edward.
They would stay in a cottage in the small village of Harford, on the edge of Dartmoor, for two and a half weeks. By the time they returned the general election would be over and Pitt would report again to Narraway at Special Branch, the infant service set up largely to battle the Fenian bombers and the whole bedeviled Irish question of Home Rule, which Gladstone was fighting all over again, and with as little hope of success as ever.
Excerpted from Southampton Row by Anne Perry Copyright 2002 by Anne Perry. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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