The Sign of the Black Dagger

The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard Read Free Book Online

Book: The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Lingard
wall. In case he comes back to sleep here tonight. After all, it does give some kind of shelter, doesn’t it?”
    Lucy had a notebook in her pocket. She wanted to be a writer when she grew up and a writer visiting her class at school had suggested keeping a notebook and jotting downideas when they came to you.
    She ripped out a page and squatting down on her hunkers she wrote their message, with Will crouching beside her.
    Hi, Dad. We hope you’re all right. We are. If you get this leave us a message to let us know how you’re doing. We love you and miss you. Please come home.
    Lucy & Will

Chapter 6
    Louisa
     
    Yesterday, Saturday, at midnight, and William and I were standing at the head of the close listening to the Tron clock strike twelve. We were excited. For twenty-four hours, almost, our father would be at home again. He would sit with us at table and eat proper food freshly prepared by Bessie. He would sleep in his own bed between newly laundered sheets instead of lying wrapped in a blanket at the mercy of the month’s inclement weather.
    We had wanted to go down to the Abbey Strand but our mother would not allow it. She said half the riff-raff of Edinburgh would be waiting there to welcome their criminal relatives.
    “Papa is not a criminal!” William had been annoyed with her.
    “I did not say that
he
was. But I am sure that some of the other debtors in Sanctuary are. Bessie tells me so. She says they are not suitable company for your dear papa. If he had any money they would rob him. My poor Ranald!” It is her constant cry these days.
    “Perhaps it is as well he has no money, then,” William had responded, his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek.
    Within minutes of the last stroke of midnight dying away, the carriages came rattling up the hill. The air was filled withthe rumble of carriage wheels, the clatter of horses’ hooves on cobbles, and the cries of the drivers as they cracked their whips and urged the beasts onward and upward. Steam gushed white from the horses’ nostrils into the cold night air. We could just dimly make out the noblemen who sat inside the coaches, released, like our father, from confinement for a day. They would be in a hurry to reach their destinations. Bessie, who gathered in all the news on her way up and down the street, said they would go home to sumptuous banquets awaiting them. When we asked how could they afford to have such meals she said they told the shopkeepers they would get their money later. Without a doubt, the Comte d’Artois would be taken to spend the night in one of their grand houses where he would be safe not only from debtors but from others who might wish him ill. The French monarchy has many enemies.
    After the carriages came sedan chairs, and then the men on foot. Our father was to the fore of the last group. As soon as we saw him we dashed out to greet him. He hugged us both and kept his arms round our shoulders as we went down the alley to home.
    Bessie was at the door. She took his hand and looked up into his face, stubbled around the chin and grown thinner even in a few days. “I’m richt pleased tae see ye, maister. Ye’ll be needin’ a good bath afore ye eat. I have the water bilin’ fer ye.” We had seen her hauling the bath of steaming water up the stairs to his bedroom. By now it would be tepid but he would not mind.
    He laughed. “How right you are, Bessie!”
    “And aifter that a guid hot meal.”
    He sniffed the air. “I smell it, Bessie! I am sure you will have cooked me a meal made from heaven.”
    We could do with some help from heaven to enable us tobuy food. Today we were to have a stew made from a small piece of neck of mutton with potatoes and neeps. Papa would be given the best pieces of meat. We had not eaten any all week. We’d been living off porridge and bannocks for the most part and each day were not sure where our next meal would come from. But today was to be a feast day, even if our table would not be covered with

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