Today's Reading

They made their way carefully down New Bond Street, stopping in at every third or fourth shop. Jane was very canny, while Lenox shopped almost at random; at the confectioner, as she was remonstrating with Mr. Pearson over the price of an order of six dozen marzipan cakes she wanted for a garden party she was having, Lenox decided with little prompting to order a cake to be sent to Lady Berryman, who had invited him to the country for August.

"That reminds me," Jane said to the baker. "I have an odd request. Could I order an eggless cake from you? Vanilla. It's for my husband's aunt. I wrote down the recipe she gave me. She's lord-terrified of eggs, I'm afraid."

"Why on earth?" said the baker, so moved by this horrible information that he forgot himself.

"Can you think I have asked her, Mr. Pearson?"

"Blimey," he said. Then amended himself. "Blimey, my lady."

She raised her eyebrows. "I know. Imagine being married to her."

"I couldn't," said Pearson fervently, which was true for several different reasons.

Lenox was just about to interject that he knew the lady in question, a larger person, and that he would stand on his head if she had ever refused a dessert in her life. But as he was about to speak, Jane threw him a look, and he knew to keep mum.

In the street again, after they'd gone, she explained that she had read a recipe for an eggless cake from Germany and wanted to try it, but didn't dare insult the baker.

"You could have made it at home."

"No—no. He has the lightest hand in London, Mr. Pearson," she said. "Speaking of which, how is Lancelot?"

He made an irritated face at her, and she laughed. Lancelot was a young cousin of Lenox's on half-term from Eton and therefore in the city for two weeks of what his family had optimistically called 'seasoning'. "I would prefer not to discuss it."

"Does he still want to come with you on a case?"

"Ha! Desperately."

"Has he gotten you with the peashooter again?"

"Please leave me in peace."

They proceeded past the cobblers, then the book stall—back in stock, EXCLUSIVELY IN ALL OF LONDON, Uncle Tom's Cabin! a sign declared excitedly—before arriving at the dressmaker. Here Lady Jane went inside alone to have a word, as Lenox skulked outside, feeling like a schoolboy. Soon, though, he was meditating on the upcoming meeting.

The Duke of Dorset!

He thought of the title with a tightening in his stomach, and then of the letter that contained the entirety of his knowledge of the case thus far: His Grace has discovered that a possession upon which he places high value is missing. He would appreciate your advice regarding its potential recovery.

He checked his watch and saw that it was ten past eleven. They were near the end of their ramble, and he felt a quick flicker of melancholy. When he was with Lady Jane, he generally forgot himself; just at the moment, a welcome oblivion.

If Lenox's first year in London after moving down from Oxford had been characterized by his tenacious, mostly fruitless search for work as a detective, the subsequent eighteen months had been more complex and difficult. In part it was still to do with the scorn his profession drew from his peers, as they advanced steadily onward in their fields—and in part it was to do with the lonely feeling that all around him his friends were marrying, having children even, while he was still by himself.

But most of all, of course, it had to do with the death of his father. At first he had borne up under this misfortune well, he thought. Fathers were supposed to die before their children, he supposed, and he knew any number of friends who had been orphaned long ago. But recently, especially in the last six months, his grief had shown itself in odd, unexpected ways. He found himself losing minutes at a time on train platforms and in gardens, thinking; he found himself dreaming of his childhood.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that they had never been especially close. He had loved and revered his father, but the easier friendship had been with his mother. Had he assumed there would be time, later on in life, for their relationship to grow? His father had been only sixty-one when he died; for his second son, it had been, surprisingly, not as if some venerable building in London disappeared, which was what he had always imagined—Parliament, for instance—but as if London itself had.

This past year he felt the loss more keenly with each month, not less, and he was sure that was unnatural. For the first time in his life, he woke each morning with a sense of dejection—a sense that, well, here was another day to be gotten through—rather than happiness.
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