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The Governess Game Tessa Dare 2022/8/3 13:55:20

“The Tower of London,” Alexandra mused aloud. “A bold choice. So much rich history. We can view the crown jewels.”

“Jewels are not on the schedule. I have a specific history lesson in mind.”

They proceeded directly to Beauchamp Tower, where Chase—she couldn’t think of him as Mr. Reynaud any longer—marched them up a spiraling stone staircase.

They emerged onto a floor shaped rather like a flower. A round space in the middle, with small alcoves sprouting from the center, like petals.

Daisy popped in and out of each alcove, skipping in circles. “What is this place?”

“It’s a prison,” Rosamund answered. “This middle here was for the gaolers, and those little bits you’re dancing around were cells.”

“How do you know?” Daisy replied.

“Because this is the Tower of London, ninny. If you don’t believe me, ask the prisoners who left their marks.” Rosamund pointed at letters carved into the wall. “See, here.” She traced another mark, a bit higher. “And here.”

“Everywhere,” Daisy said, turning in place.

Hand-etched graffiti crammed every bit of stone that a man could conceivably reach. Sometimes, merely initials or a date. In other places, elaborate crosses had been chiseled in bas-relief. Bible verses stretched for yards across the walls.

“Why would they do that?” Daisy asked. “It’s terribly naughty.”

“They were criminals,” Rosamund said. “They didn’t care about right behavior.”

“People want to leave a mark on the world,” Alex said. “It’s human nature. Some are remembered by their accomplishments, or their virtues. Others live on through their children.” She trailed her fingers over Daisy’s back as she strolled by. “And if he has none of those to leave behind, a man carves his name into the wall. We all want to be remembered.”

“Oh, they were remembered—as criminals.” Chase stood in the center of the room. “Do you know who ended up in a prison like this one, girls? Murderers. Traitors.”

“And pirates,” Rosamund finished dryly, having caught on to her guardian’s lesson.

“Yes. And pirates. A few hundred years ago, you’d have been brought in through the river entrance, dragged up to one of these cells, and left to rot for a year or five. Only straw for your bed. Crusts and weak soup, no meat. You’d have been crammed in with other unwashed prisoners. Covered in filth, lice, rats, disease.”

“Disease!” Daisy cheered. “Which ones?”

“Very, very boring ones,” he said. “And don’t cheer. It was misery. Now if all that wasn’t bad enough, once you were convicted in court?” He drew a finger across his neck in a throat-slicing gesture.

“Beheading,” Daisy said, awed.

“Right out there in the yard. That’s if you were of noble birth. The rest were hung by their necks, and their heads went on pikes by the river as a warning. All the blood dripping down. Eyes pecked out by ravens.”

Hands behind her back, Alex ambled over to stand by her employer. “Surely there are less gruesome ways of teaching history, Mr. Reynaud.”

“Surely there are less irritating methods of teaching geography than piracy.”

She had no answer to that.

“Be grateful I didn’t choose an outing to the Fleet.” He crossed his arms over his chest and addressed the girls. “Now. I expect that this little visit will have cured you both of your criminal behavior. There will be no further stealing, piracy, or . . . dollicide. Not unless you want a scene like this one in your future.”

“In our future?” Rosamund looked around the ancient cell, considering. “Locked in an upstairs room, given only crusts to eat, and plagued by disease. Seems rather like the life we have now. We may as well have a few high-seas adventures while we can.” She beckoned to Daisy. “Let’s go see the menagerie.”

Chase tipped his head back and gave an exaggerated groan of despair.

“Wait.” Alex rummaged in her reticule. “You’ll need a shilling each for entrance.”

Rosamund rattled two coins in her hand. “Our guardian gave us the coins already.” She cast a cheeky smile at his pocket. “In a manner of speaking.”

Daisy skipped to follow her sister, singsong chanting all the way down the stairs.

Alex moved to follow them. She only made it two and a half paces before his deep voice arrested her progress.

“Not yet, Miss Mountbatten.”

“I should follow the girls. It isn’t safe to leave them without supervision.”

“They’re fine,” he said. “Rosamund won’t let Daisy out of her sight.”

“Oh, I know the girls will be safe.” She gave him a deceptively carefree smile. “It’s the lions and tigers I’m worried about.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” He pulled her into one of the room’s stone alcoves. “I need a word.”

He needed a word. Which word, she longed to know. Could it possibly be “lovely”? Because that was the only word she’d been able to think since the previous night.

By God, you’re lovely, he’d said.

He called you lovely! her brain had sung. And it hadn’t stopped singing ever since. Lovely. Looov-eh-leeee. Lovely lovely lovely lovely. L-O-V-E-L-Why? Because he finds you lovely. Also, lovely.