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Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express

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Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express

  The Night Watchman Express

  by Alison DeLuca

  Copyright 2012 Alison DeLuca

  All rights reserved.

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.


  Cover design and Layout: Lisa Daly

  Senior Editor: Pamela Brennan

  Maps: Ross Kitson

  For Joe and Genna

  Part One

  The Night Watchman Express

  Miriam’s House

  Chapter 1

  The Intruders’ Arrival

  iriam looked up from her book. Furnace, the butler, was in the middle of a speech about her guardians. “…and their room must be the largest bedchamber in the house, and it must face due South. They said that was very important.”

  “The largest room?” That was Mrs. Williams speaking. Something serious was going on if she had left her kitchen. “That could only mean…”

  “The master’s room. I’m aware of that, Mrs. Williams,” Furnace replied calmly.

  Miriam closed the heavy book. It was a volume of Arabic tales. She hadn’t been allowed to read it before her father died; Miss Osbourne, her last governess, had forbidden the book because of its ‘objectionable elements’.  She rested her chin on one fist and pushed back a tangle of black hair out of her eyes with the other.

  “The idea!” Mrs. Williams said. “To waltz in here, without a by-your-leave, and the master not dead but three months, and to demand his own room for their private use. It makes me that angry, Mr. Furnace. And to think of that poor child!”

  Miriam scowled. ‘That poor child’ was herself, of course. She remembered her father dimly as a dark presence behind his desk, holding a fountain pen and waving it about as he gave orders for this office to be contacted or those letters to be sent. He had worked hard, when he was alive, and built up his business to be a large, profitable company.

  Once he had died, several months ago, it hadn’t affected Miriam’s life very much. She hardly ever saw her father before in any case. And now she could read whatever books she found on the shelves.

  Mr. and Mrs. Marchpane were the people Furnace was talking about. Miriam had an idea that Mr. Marchpane had been Father’s partner or something like that. Everything that Father owned - the house, his business - would be held in trust by the Marchpane people. She wasn’t sure what ‘in trust’ meant, but she had heard Mr. Fortescue, Father’s lawyer, say it after Father had died.

  And now, she supposed, she herself would be held in trust.

  “Well, when do the Marchpane people arrive?” Mrs. Williams asked.

  “Their letter said to expect them any time after eight this evening.”

  “That means a good dinner wasted, like as not.” There was a loud snort from the cook. “The master’s own room! Due South! Such nonsense!”

  “That’s none of our business, Mrs. Williams,” Furnace replied. “Our task is not to ask questions, but to see that orders are carried out, as usual.”

  Miriam waited, but there was no further conversation. She heard Mrs. Williams’ shoes clack on the floor as she retreated back to the kitchen, and after a moment, it was followed by Furnace’s measured tread.

  The Marrrrrch-panes, she said to herself, stretching out the name with distaste. She opened her book to the place where she had stopped reading, but she had lost interest in flying horses and Arabic princesses. She scowled and slapped it shut. It was a large, heavy book, so it made a nice, loud thwack.

  Miriam wandered over to one window and sat on the ledge. She breathed on the glass and wrote her name on the glass. There was only enough space for MIRIAM PEARS. She wiped the window with her sleeve, smearing the glass and her shirt in the process.

  It was dark outside, and dark clouds huddled over the moon. The Marchpanes. Why did they have to come here? She certainly didn’t want them. Mr. Marchpane had been Father’s partner, so now he must be the new owner of Pearsons’, her father’s company.

  Along with the clouds, the wind increased. The tops of the hedges that grew over the garden walls were flattened by its violence, and Miriam was certain that if she went down the path to the sea, the waves would have white caps. Of course, it was far too late to attempt such a thing, and in case, she was never allowed to go down to the sand. Slowly, she breathed on the windowpane again and wrote again: I AM PEARSON.

  “Miss Miriam!” Nelly, the maid, came into the room and pointed at the window. “Look at that muck on your dress and the doings. I’ll have to wash those windows again, now.”

  Miriam shrugged and turned back to the window. Splatters of rain hit the panes of glass, and Miriam could see her face reflected there, like a weeping watercolor painting.

  “Go on and ignore me,” Nelly continued. “But it’s high time for you to have your supper and get to bed.”

  “Not hungry,” Miriam replied.

  “And how did I know that you were going to say just that?” Nelly spoke with a broad country accent, and she was well used to handling what she called “young ones.” While she talked, she guided Miriam off the seat and over to the door with one firm hand on the girl’s sleeve. “Now, off to the room with you. Your supper is waiting.”

  Miriam suddenly stopped and gripped the doorknob. “No. I don’t want to go to bed. I won’t!”

  “Ah, sure, that’s enough of that,” Nelly said. “I’ll not hear any of your lip this night. I’ve lit a fine fire in the grate upstairs, so there’s no reason to kick up a fuss. Many a child would be happy for a warm bed and supper to eat, Miss Miriam, so away with you.”

  Miriam considered whether to scream and throw things, as she sometimes did. However, Nelly had a bony hand and was not afraid to use it. Miriam shrugged again and turned to the stairs.

  She climbed up to her room as slowly as she dared, watched by Nelly with her fists on her hips. When Miriam reached the top landing, she turned back, thrust her tongue out as far as she could, crossed her eyes, and banged her door closed behind her. The maid shook her head, frowned, and slammed the sitting room door shut in return.

  Upstairs, Miriam found her nightgown was laid out on a chair in front of the fire. Miss Osbourne would have helped her get undressed, but now she had to do it by herself. Maybe I’ll just stay in my clothes, she thought. Yes, that might help her stay awake. And she wouldn’t eat. Hunger would help too.

  She took the tray of food – a leg of chicken and some tapioca pudding - and put it in the closet. As she closed the door, she reasoned that no one would ask about it until the morning, and she wouldn’t be tempted to try a bite. There was a glass of milk by the tray; she considered for a moment and poured it into the tin chamber pot under the bed.

  There, that would take care of that. She locked her door so no one could come in and rattled the door to make certain it was shut tight.

  There was a large trunk at the foot of the bed that she intended to explore. Nervously, she looked around the room again. Miriam unlocked the trunk with a large key, reached inside, and pulled something out.

  She grunted with effort. It was a heavy, strange-looking machine, made of brass. Its base upheld a curved frame that supported a sheet of white paper; the frame itself was l
ike a cylinder that had been cut in half lengthwise.

  The most distinctive feature of the machine, however, was a ‘ball’ that rested over the curved piece of paper. Up from the ball sprang small keys, also made of brass, which had the letters of the alphabet printed on them. On the side facing away from the typist, there were two words written in swirling, ornate letters: CROWN PHOENIX.

  Miriam plopped the machine on the floor. She poked at one of the keys, and the corresponding letter appeared on the paper held fast by the curved cylinder. She peered at the letter (it was an S, printed in brownish ink) and smiled with satisfaction. Her father’s “Writing Ball,” which she had purloined from his study right after his death, had always fascinated her. Now it was all hers.

  She poked at a few more letters, and settled into a cramped position on the floor in front of the machine. With a scowl concentration, she tapped the keys. Slowly, she filled the white page with words.

  As the day ended, the rain began in earnest and blew nearly sideways from the wind. Downstairs, there was a loud rap on the front door. Furnace opened it to reveal four people at the top of the marble steps.

  A thin woman made up of bony elbows and sharp features pushed her way into the house, followed by a man with a narrow mustache carefully carrying a leather bag with handles. “Mr. and Mrs. Marchpane,” Furnace said.

  Two boys followed the man and the woman into the house. They looked as if they were about the same age. One was rather tall with blond hair that curled on his neck and an athlete’s body. The other was slender and dark, and he wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses.

  “Don’t keep us waiting in the hall, numbskull!” the woman snapped at Furnace. She tugged at her husband’s arm. “Come in, Virgil, Simon; why are you both just standing there?” She flicked her gaze over the dark-haired youth but did not address him. “My son, Simon.” She indicated the first boy with the blond hair. “You might as well know who your new masters will be,” she added.

  “And this is my friend, Neil.” Simon’s voice rose in volume.

  The darker boy flushed, and he edged towards one of the shadows cast by the candles in the wall sconces.

  Mrs. Marchpane clicked her tongue with annoyance at Simon’s determined introduction. “Show us the drawing room right away, fool!” She looked around the hall and pinched her lips together.

  Furnace bowed again. “Certainly,” he said. “This way, Sir, Madam. Young gentlemen, if you will follow me.”

  The entrance led to a sitting room that was lit by a cheerful fire. Long curtains covered the many windows on the far walls, flanked by pedestals that held potpourri bowls and vases filled with sea grass. Comfortable cushions lined a long settee. Although Miriam’s father hadn’t believed in giving his daughter many gifts, his one large expenditure had been his huge house by the sea and its furnishings.

  A tray lined with a white cloth rested on a low table in front of the sofa. The firelight winked off the amber liquid in the glass decanters on the tray, as well as a steaming coffee urn and tiered plates of cakes and biscuits.

  Virgil entered the room and a pleased smile appeared on his face. He rubbed his hands together and approached the tray. “Oh, I say! That looks quite the thing, doesn’t it, Theodosia? Eh?” He put down the bag, sat on the low couch, and picked up a wineglass and a decanter. His nose wrinkled, and he sniffed the liquid inside before he poured himself a large glass.

  The two boys’ eyes brightened at the sight of the food, and Simon sat as close as possible to the tray. He picked up a plate and poised a hand over the plate of sandwiches. Neil, however, remained on his feet.

  “Shall I have your bag sent upstairs with your other luggage, sir?” Furnace asked.

  Mr. Marchpane picked up the bag again. “Don’t touch that!” he said in a loud voice. “That is, I’ll hold onto it myself for the moment.”

  “It’s no trouble, sir,” Furnace replied with an inquiring lift of one eyebrow.

  “Yes, yes,” the man spluttered, “but – have some important papers inside. Very important indeed.”

  “Virgil!” Theodosia said. “Get hold of yourself.” She turned and looked at Furnace up and down. “You heard him, idiot – leave the bag alone.”

  Furnace bowed. “Certainly, madam.”

  Ignoring this, Theodosia turned from her husband and looked at Furnace. “Where is the girl?” she asked.


  “Asleep! Wasn’t she made aware that we were coming? She should have been made to wait up for us.”

  “She did wait, but your carriage was somewhat delayed.” He turned as if to go.

  “Wait! I didn’t dismiss you!”

  Furnace turned back. “Was there anything else, madam?”

  Theodosia frowned, thought for a moment, and said, “No, nothing else. You may go.” Somewhat unnerved, she sat beside her husband. He shoveled fingers of cake and sandwich into his mouth. In annoyance, she watched Furnace bow, step back, and close the door behind him.

  “Virgil,” she said, “I simply cannot put up with such impertinence from servants. It seems as if I shall have to train the staff to my own liking.”

  “I leave it all in your very capable hands, my dear.” He refilled his glass and sat on the settee where Miriam had been hiding earlier with a contented sigh. “I thought the funeral and the legal arrangements would go on forever, but Fortescue came through as usual. Good man, Fortescue. Poor old Pearson – wonder what he would say if he were here tonight.”

  “As he is dead, I presume he would say nothing at all.” Her eyes darted over the plate of cakes, in the same manner as she had eyed the hallway. She stretched out one long arm and selected a biscuit. “I really wanted to see the child tonight so we could get things straight on how life will go on from this time forward. I’ll have her know her position before very little time goes by, believe me, Mr. Marchpane.”

  “Oh, I’m certain of that, my dear.” He drained his glass, poured himself another large drink, and winked at her. “And while you occupy yourself with the matters of the household, it’s back to business for Virgil, hey? Been on holiday long enough with Pearson’s funeral; time to remind everyone that we have a company to run and money to make. Eh?”

  She turned to him. “Not now, Virgil! Hold your tongue.” She turned to her son. “Are you finished, Simon? Isn’t it time for bed, dear boy?”

  With his mouth full, Simon said, “Neil hasn’t had anything to eat yet. And I could do with two more plates of these sandwiches. And I’m not ten years old.”

  His mother gave a thin little smile. “Dear boy, why don’t you take some upstairs, and you and – your friend – can eat there.” She turned to the table beside her and rang the bell on it.

  Neil cleared his throat. He shifted his feet and turned red.

  The door opened, and Furnace appeared. “Show these boys to their rooms,” Mrs. Marchpane commanded, “and see that some more refreshment is brought to Simon’s room as well.”

  “And Neil’s room!” Simon scowled. “Honestly, Mother –”

  Furnace motioned. “If I might take the liberty, madam; the two boys will share a room.”

  “What?” Her eyebrows twitched.

  “Some of the upstairs rooms were closed off, due to the late masters’ orders,” Furnace added.

  She flitted a hand at him. “Yes, yes, I remember now. Well, where does the girl sleep?”

  Furnace’s face remained as impassive as a stone. “Miss Miriam is in her own bedchamber, down the hall from her father’s room.”

   “Ridiculous,” Mrs. Marchpane said. “Rooms on the main floor for a young girl!”

  “Shh, Theodosia, my dear!” her husband whispered.

  She continued in her loud voice as if he hadn’t spoken. “I’ll have her moved upstairs to the attics,” she said. “Her present bedroom will be perfect for Simon.”

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