This Duchess of Mine Page 6

Muffet appeared at his shoulder. “Your Grace, a carriage tried to back through Aldgate and the fool hit the wall and shattered his undercarriage. The way out is entirely blocked. You’ll have to climb the barricade. You’ll be safe on the other side, and the grooms and I will defend the coach and horses.”

“Absolutely not,” Elijah said. “I won’t leave my men or horses behind. Given the situation on the street behind us, there’s likely to be a riot started by this very blockade, if for no other reason. There’ll be blood at some point.”

“They’ll never take down that blockade to let us in,” Muffet said.

“They won’t—and they can’t,” Elijah said, examining the complicated maze. It held everything from chairs to dining room tables, all bound together with rope in a haphazard way that looked as if it would take days to untangle.

“Take the horses out of the leads. I’ll be damned if I allow them to be lost in whatever riot is about to happen. Pull the carriage over against that building. It’ll probably burn, but I don’t mind that so much. How many grooms do we have? Two? Send them together. Tell them to climb over that barricade and wait for the horses.”

“We can’t get the horses through,” Muffet protested.

“I can defend them, Your Grace. I have my pistols.”

“I won’t leave you,” Elijah said. “And I must be on the king’s yacht within the half hour. Take the horses from the coach and we’ll get them to the other side.”

“You can’t mean to jump them!”

“Galileo will have no problem with the barrier, so you’ll take him over. I’ll go first with Ptolemy.”

“It’s too dangerous, Your Grace! Neither horse is trained for jumping. What if Ptolemy stumbles?”

“Nonsense,” Elijah said. “I don’t have time to quibble about it, Muffet. I have to ensure that these horses and yourself are safe, and then get to the yacht before she launches. If Ptolemy makes it over, you should have no problem; Galileo is the stronger horse.”

A moment later the coachman returned with both horses. “James grew up in Limehouse,” he said, “and he can talk his way through. I’ve sent him over.”

“Good man.”

“Your Grace—” Muffet began desperately.

But Elijah was already slicing the leads, cutting them to the length of reins. Then he was swinging up on Ptolemy. “I’ve an appointment with the duchess,” he shouted down at Muffet. “Follow me.”

He began backing Ptolemy, to give them enough space to gain speed. He felt like a boy again, riding bareback with Villiers through the meadows behind his estate, leaping anything they could find, turning around, and leaping it again.

Ptolemy was trained to draw a carriage, not be ridden, let alone bareback. He pranced madly, trying to pull his head free. Elijah wound the leads around his right hand and calmed the horse with his left. Once he’d backed as far as he could, he turned the horse’s head back toward the barricade. It rose, a tangled maze against the houses, lit by leaping flames.

Ptolemy tried to buck again, but Elijah brought him down. Both horses were beloved and expensive, and he’d be damned if he would sacrifice them to a riot, let alone expose his men to the danger of trying to protect them.

“Steady,” he whispered. “Steady.”

Then he loosed the reins and Ptolemy leapt forward, obediently dashing straight for the barricade. Elijah judged the distance, accounting for possible defects in his abilities due to the shifting light, reached the exact spot, signaled—

Ptolemy leapt up, powerful rear legs throwing them into the night air. For a moment it seemed as if the snarled furniture was rushing toward them instead of the other way around; Elijah caught sight of a brass pole sticking out at an angle that could impale a horse’s stomach. And then they were clearing the furniture, coming down with a hard jolt, a rush of wind, and a sharp snap of his teeth.

James was there, reaching up for the leads. Elijah tossed him the reins. “Keep them safe,” he told the footman, who was quickly pulling Ptolemy out of the way so Muffet and Galileo could join them.

“It’ll be no problem, Your Grace,” he said, tugging his hat. “There’s a mews just two streets over.”

“I thought they were blocking a square?”

“Oh no, sir. They’ll be barricading all of Limehouse, with a good eight thousand souls inside. Limehouse doesn’t welcome strangers. It’s known for that. Everyone who lives here knows that it’s safe. See, there’s the Watch.”

Sure enough, London’s finest were warming their hands over a fire. “I need to get to the Thames,” Elijah told James, just as Muffet landed behind him, Galileo having sailed over the barricade with no problem at all. “I don’t have the faintest idea where we are.”

James chewed on his lower lip. “You’ll have to go out by the barricade at Bramble Street,” he said. “I’ll give the horses to Muffet, Your Grace.”

“You needn’t—”

“You’ll never make it without me,” James said.

“These streets aren’t like the ones you’re used to, Your Grace. They’re scrambled up and people like it better that way. It’s not far, but it’s messy.”

Elijah followed the footman from one knotty little street to another. There was a holiday spirit inside the barricades. The windows were all open, and people spilled out of the narrow tip-tilting houses, singing songs in a cant dialect that Elijah couldn’t follow, shouting things to each other. They fell silent when they saw him, but not in a unfriendly way.

For the night, their enemies were not the rich, like himself, but the violent. The riot held everyone’s attention, from the old men sitting outside boasting of foregone days and foregone barricades, to the young women frying up sausages in a lively trade.

Elijah had a strange, sudden wish that Jemma was with him. His expensive, delicious duchess would enjoy this strange evening. She would love to be following him through these streets.

The barricade at Bramble Street was a better one than the first. It was intricate but ordered. Men were handing up long pointed objects.

“What the devil are those?” Elijah asked.

“Spears,” James said, weaving his way through the excited crowd toward the looming barricade.

“Spears? Spears?”

“They’ll have a few guns, but in the dark, spears are a better deterrent. Though no one has attacked a Limehouse barricade in some twenty years. You’d have to be mad to do so,” James said. “Stark mad, so most rioters hove off in other directions. It makes the men around here quite disappointed, really. They keep extending the barricade, in the hope that someone will prove foolish.”

“How are we going through?”

The footman grinned, his face wild in the leaping firelight. “You’ll see,” he said.

It wasn’t until they were in the shadow of the barricade that Elijah realized that there was, in fact, a small trickle of people making their way through a man-shaped hole in the bottom. “They’ll only block the hole when they get word that the riot has started,” James said, worming his way through the people. “Make way!” he shouted. “It’s a duke here. Make way!”

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