Home > The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(14)

The Madman's Daughter (The Madman's Daughter #1)(14)
Author: Megan Shepherd

I counted the coins. Enough for the train, but not room or board. I’d have to spend the night in the station, and from there it was a short—and usually forced—leap to the gutter. Had my mother faced a similar dilemma? She’d done what she did out of desperation, and at least it kept us clothed and fed. My father had left with no note, no parting words, nothing. Was he really the kind of man to simply walk away from his family? Was he really the monster they said he was?

The truth was, I knew next to nothing about him. He was little more than a hazy memory and a slew of scandalous rumors. But he was alive. Out there, across the ocean. Living. Breathing. For the first time in my life, I could simply ask him if the rumors I’d heard about him were true.

Lucy glanced across the park. Her mother had caught sight of us and was striding straight through the grass. My stomach tightened. If Mrs. Radcliffe didn’t approve of me before, she must positively detest me now.

Lucy jumped up, her face suddenly white. She pressed her cheek against mine, hard. “Write to me, won’t you?” She was breathless. “Let me know where you’ve gone? I’ll try to send money. I’ll try to visit, wherever you are.”

Mrs. Radcliffe was so close I could see the clench of her jaw, and I pushed Lucy away. “Go. Now. I’ll write. I promise.”

Lucy dashed across the lawn to stop her mother. I grabbed the carpetbag and hurried the other way, dragging its weight along the length of the Thames. Lucy’s mother said something biting, but I swallowed hard and didn’t look back.

I kept walking, past the bridge and Temple Bar, where the archway used to stand. I crossed Cable Street to the main thoroughfare, to an inn with a swinging sign above the door. I pushed my way in, past the crowded dining room, and climbed to the second floor. I knocked. Then I pounded. The mirror beside the door reflected my wild desperation.

I should have told Lucy she couldn’t visit. Where I was going, she couldn’t come. It was a bit farther than Bedford.

Montgomery opened the door, clearly surprised. “Miss Moreau. What are you doing here?”

The carpetbag fell at his feet. My heart was racing.

“I’m coming with you,” I said.

EARLY THE NEXT DAY, our carriage rumbled south of town to the Isle of Dogs. I pushed aside the gauzy curtain. Outside, the massive hull of a cargo steamer rose toward the sky, dwarfing the fleet of barges that clustered around the dock. Everywhere men swarmed like insects, hawking services or bearing trunks twice their size.

Beside me, Montgomery compared a handful of banknotes against a small ledger, erasing and redoing sums with a frown. I wondered if he thought me a burden.

He looked up, as if sensing my question. The carriage lurched, and the ledger slid from his lap. We both reached for it, our hands grazing. I pulled back.

“It’s not too late to change your mind,” he said.

I shook my head and concentrated on the ships outside. I’d made my decision. We had argued all day and night since I showed up at his door. He’d flatly refused at first. He said the voyage was long, with a rough crew, and the island was no place for a lady. I told him I certainly wasn’t a lady, thanks to my father’s abandonment, and it was either the island or the streets. Or worse, prison. I didn’t tell Montgomery my other motive, the one deep within my rib cage that beat in time with my heart: The world knew my father as a villain. I knew him as a thin man in a tweed suit who carried me on his shoulders during the Royal Guard’s parades. I needed to know which man my father was—the monster, or the misunderstood genius.

In the end, Montgomery conceded only when I dragged him to the window and pointed out the prostitute my age. He said nothing of how Father would receive me on the island, and I didn’t press.

“Is our ship like any of those?” I nodded toward the magnificent four-masted cruisers lined up in port.

Montgomery barely glanced at them before giving a hint of a smile. “I’m afraid not.”

“It’s an older ship?”

“Most likely. The reputable ships turn us away. They don’t like Balthasar’s appearance. Nor our destination.”

Outside, the relative order of Union Docks gave way to a more run-down part of the wharf. I covered my nose to stifle the smell of rotting fish. Here, the docks were crammed with rusted parts and torn netting. There were no women—even the prostitutes stuck to the better end of the quay.

As we came around the bend, Montgomery pointed to a hulking two-masted brigantine docked alone at the Isle of Dogs. “There,” he said. “The Curitiba.” I frowned. It looked far too old and neglected to sail halfway across the Pacific. A windy storm might blow holes straight through it.

The driver stopped the carriage and we paid him a few coins. He seemed glad to leave us.

“There’s Balthasar,” I said, shading my eyes. He sat by the gangway on a steamer trunk that looked more like a child’s toy chest next to his size. A rabble of dirty sailors threw him uncertain glances as they dawdled around the rest of the cargo; rough as they looked, even they gave Balthasar a wide berth. A skeletal older man with a grizzly beard stumbled down the gangway in a mildewing black jacket that looked robbed from the dead. He stopped in his tracks at the sight of Balthasar, and went the other way.

“Is that our crew?” I asked Montgomery hesitantly.

“Afraid so.”

“They look a shady bunch. Good thing Balthasar could knock them flat if they tried anything.” I watched as Balthasar hoisted the trunk and carried it onto the ship.

“He’s not a fighter. But luckily for us, they don’t know that.” From the rigid outline of the muscles beneath his shirt, I realized Montgomery probably could have knocked them all flat, too. He was no longer the gentle-natured little boy who caught kitchen mice and placed them outside to save them from the cat’s sharp teeth.

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