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Friday, July 6, 2012

The Shadow 6


Marissa entered her house breathless from her dash. She had taken the most round-a-bout way home to make sure she wasn’t followed. Her heart pounded in her chest at what she had heard and seen. There was another woman out there who was just as invisible as she was and yet she couldn’t change and Marissa could.
She pondered what the difference could be as she removed her Shadow clothing and put on her nightgown. As she reassumed her normal role as Lady Edgington she watched her skin and face become visible. 
That must be the answer, she thought. 
She had two lives and when she was dosed she was playing the life of the Shadow. As Lady Edgington she was seen by anyone who chose to look. This woman must not have been so fortunate. Marissa also recalled that she had been given the second dose and not the first. If this woman had been given a first dose that might also explain the difference.
Then she thought about Jarvis’ instructions to find the Shadow. She shivered. She would have to remain aloof from her night job for a time.
She crawled into bed and lay restless for several hours before falling into a fitful sleep. When she awakened she was dead tired and cross. Eliza came in to help her dress and she made her way groggily down to the dining room for breakfast. Sean was already there waiting with her schedule of activities for the day.
“I’m not in the mood for social calls today, Sean,” she said grumpily.
He waited until the servants had left before responding. “You should think about that before taking to the streets at night, Lady,” he said sarcastically.
In a very unladylike way she stuck out her tongue at him. He only smiled.
“You have an appointment with Lady Cameron at eleven for tea and then the aid society at three,” he continues ignoring her manners. “There is also Sir Barton’s ball tonight. Dinner is at seven and your distinguished presence is requested.”
She made a face. “I’m not interested in Sir Barton nor his ball.”
“Never-the-less you have to go. There is a rumor that the Queen will be in attendance,” Sean replied.
“Victoria is attending Sir Barton’s ball? That’s a laugh,” Marissa said with a snort. “In his dreams will she ever attend one of his droll parties, besides she is getting on in years and after that attempt on her life I wouldn’t leave the palace if I were her.”
“Of course,” Sean replied annoyed.
She thought about her day’s schedule and sighed. “I guess it’s time I wore my new gown anyway. It hasn’t gotten some good dancing yet.”
“Leave it to a dress,” Sean grumbled.
“Thank you, Sean,” she replied sweetly. “Will you be coming to the ball with me?”
“I have other affairs to attend to,” he said stiffly.
“Always other affairs. Someday I will get you out of that board stiff role you enjoy playing so much and we will have some real fun,” Marissa replied with a laugh.
She didn’t feel like doing much of anything that day, but Sean was relentless in helping her fulfill her obligations. The constant visiting and social calls were a total bore to her, but she completed them with flair that usually left the ladies breathless and full of new gossip to share about Lady Edgington.
Marissa didn’t care about what the gossips thought of her. She knew that she was well liked among those who really mattered. Her thoughts returned again to the conversation she had overheard the previous night. 
Who was this woman and who was her daughter that was so accessible. Jarvis had mentioned a Lady, so it must be someone she knew, but who had a mother that had literally disappeared? She had no answers so she pushed it to the back of her mind and finished her breakfast.
On her was to see Lady Cameron for tea she decided it might be a good idea to put out random feelers. Lady Cameron knew most of the ladies in London and most of their background and history too. She would be an excellent resource to pump for information.
The servant immediately let her in after the coachman rang the bell and showed her into the parlor. She straightened her dress and hair after removing her hat and jacket and sat daintily on the small puff chairs that annoyed her. They weren’t built to accommodate the bustles that Marissa despised.
“Lady Edgington,” Lady Cameron exclaimed as she entered the room.
Marissa rose gracefully and went to greet her hostess. “Lady Cameron, thank you so much for inviting me to tea, it is quite an honor,” Marissa lied.
“Marissa dear, it’s been ages since we’ve gotten together,” the lady gushed.
For good reason, Marissa thought, you annoy the daylights out of me. “I know Charlotte, but we’ve both been so busy. Are you planning to attend the ladies aid meeting this afternoon?”
“Oh no, I have to get ready for Sir Barton’s ball tonight. Aren’t you attending the ball?” Charlotte asked amazed.
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it,” Marissa replied.
How could anyone stand primping for three hours, ugh! She glanced around the room, sipping her tea and trying to figure out how to ask her questions about the missing mother.
“Charlotte, I was wondering if you could possible help me with a little mystery I have on my hands,” she said carefully.
Charlotte’s eyes brightened and she leaned forward conspiratorially. “Yes?”
“I heard, from the servants, that a certain lady’s mother has disappeared in the last few months or years. I’m not certain which, you know how the servants can be so blaze` about these things,” Marissa said quietly.
She knew Charlotte would drink in any gossip that she heard and spill it just as quickly.
Charlotte’s eyes widened and then her brow crinkled. “Which lady?”
“I don’t know, that’s the problem. I overheard them talking about it, but it seems like some time ago and since I am still so new to everything I thought you might know about it.”
“I can’t think of any ladies that have up and disappeared recently, even in the last few years. There have been some who have passed on, bless their souls, but none that have disappeared,” Charlotte replied.
“Nothing mysterious?” Marissa asked hopefully.
“Well, darling, the only mysterious thing lately has been your appearance here in London,” Charlotte said with a smile and a tiny dig.
“Indeed, I am quite the mystery,” Marissa answered with a grin. She found it so much more satisfying to play with their little insults and toss them back than to actually be insulted. The expressions on their faces when their remarks didn’t faze her was priceless. “But everyone knows, I’m no longer the gossip anymore,” she added for the final sting.
Charlotte’s face darkened slightly and Marissa knew she had won.
“I guess the fact that no one knows who my mother is makes quite a stir. I would love nothing better than to find out myself and settle everything once and for all,” Marissa replied nonchalantly. “Thank you for trying, dear. I always wonder at the things I hear the servants say. Sometimes I think they are just playing with me.”
“You should send the whole group packing and hire some that are more respectful of your position,” Charlotte advised.
Marissa nodded laughing to herself. She loved her people. They were all extremely loyal knowing her background and she treated them all with respect. She knew what they were required to do, having been there herself, and they knew she knew and chose to do what they were asked. She made sure they were well compensated for their work and they all worked hard. She would never get rid of one of them unless she were forced to.
Marissa sighed inwardly. Charlotte was not going to be any help. She would have to turn to her next source which was the very servants they had been discussing. She finished her tea spending the hour discussing fashions and parties and balls. Finally she was able to make her escape and on her way home stopped at her favorite sweet shop.
The bell rang cheerfully as she entered and a voice from the back called for her to wait. She glanced over the desserts on display deciding on a sweet little Italian chocolate that she was very fond of. The chef bustled out from the back room looking pale and uneasy.
“Hello Robert,” Marissa said cheerfully. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the curtain move as if someone had passed through.
Her thoughts went wild as her previous evenings adventure sprang to the forefront of her mind.
“Lady Edgington, this is a surprise,” Robert said nervously.
“Not really, you know I always stop by after tea every second friday,” she said her eyes darting to the curtain.
Someone had walked through, she was certain of it, someone invisible. she never would have believed it if she weren’t head deep herself.
“Oh yes of course. What would you like, Marissa?”
“I want the Italian mint chocolate,” Marissa replied eagerly.
“Is that all?”
“Yes.” She paused. “Did I hear voices when I came in?” she asked carefully.
Robert’s hand froze as he reached for the chocolate. “Voices?” he asked shakily.
“Yes. Do you have a guest?”
“No, no guests, just me talking to myself,” he laughed and she could hear the fear in his voice.
“Can I also get a variety box of chocolates. I like to surprise the staff once in a while,” she said airily. She was dying to know if the invisible woman was here or not, but she couldn’t think of a way to find out.
She glanced around the room and noticed a bag of sugar and cocoa beans. She meandered around the shop toward the cocoa beans chatting about how Sean and Eliza loved the chocolates and how much fun it was surprise them. When she got near the bag she faked a trip and pushed the bag to the floor the beans scattered all around the floor. For a split second she saw the outline of two feet in the mess and then it disappeared and once again the curtain moved on its own.
“Oh, Robert, I’m so sorry.” 
She got down and started sweeping up the beans into her skirt. Charlotte would have a field day if she saw this.
“Lady Edgington, it’s fine. I’ll clean it up. You shouldn’t be putting those in your dress. Are you all right? Did you catch the edge of the counter?” he exclaimed.
She allowed him to help her back, dumping the beans into the outstretched bag.
“Oh I’m fine, it’s the lace on this silly dress, the hem is just a tad bit too long. I need to fix it, I keep tripping on it. Did I ruin anything?” she asked hoping she hadn’t.
“No, no, everything is fine,” Robert replied. He was still nervous, but not nearly as much as before. “Marissa, only you would stop to help a working man clean up the mess you made...accidentally,” he said with a sigh.
“But it was my fault,” Marissa chided.
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter to most high born folks,” he replied.
Marissa shook her head in disgust. He was right and she knew it. She held out a three pound note to him. 
“Here is for the chocolates and the ruined beans,” she said kindly.
“Lady Edgington, this is too much,” Robert refused.
“I don’t care, Robert, you deserve it. I’ll see you in two weeks,” she said leaving the money on the counter and taking the wrapped chocolates he had left on the counter.
She had gotten more information from that little accident than she thought. The invisible woman was moving through her contacts. Robert was one of her best sources for messages. He often sent potential clients her way and she paid him handsomely for his efforts.
She wondered if the woman knew what she was doing when she wandered the shop and if she did would she come after Marissa. She hoped she playacted well enough to disguise her actions. If not then she was certain she would be receiving a visit from the invisible woman.
Marissa returned to her waiting carriage and decided to stop at another one of her contacts. She gave the instructions to the driver and he nodded and flicked the reins. They moved through the streets of London to a well-known cheese maker named Albert.
A few minutes later she pulled up to the cheese shop and the driver helped her down. She entered the dimly lit shop and rang the bell. she took a deep breath reveling in the delicious smells that entered her nostrils. She loved the heady smells and sharp tangy flavors of the shop.
A robust man with heavily muscled arms came to the front.
“Marissa!” he exclaimed, “What brings you here today?”
“I need to order some cheese for next week. I’ve been craving a few things and cook hasn’t been in a cheesy mood lately,” she said with a grin.
Albert laughed. He knew just as well as she that her cook would make anything Marissa asked for, she was here for jobs.
“Well I don’t have any new cheeses this week. Do you want to try some nice sharp cheddar or a creamy havarti perhaps?”
“Cheddar is fine.” She paused and then decided to take it one step further. “Has anyone come asking about our friend?” she asked quietly.
“No, not recently at least nothing specifically about our friend,” he replied just as quietly. 
“If anyone does will you let me know?” she asked.
“Certainly. Is our friend in any danger?” he asked suspiciously. “I don’t mind being a contact for him, but I don’t want to be involved in anything dangerous.”
She didn’t blame him. “I don’t think so, but it might be a good idea to send new cheeses in other directions for a few weeks,” she replied.
“All right. So how much cheddar do you want?” he asked resuming his normal tone.
“A small block,” she replied. “If I get too much cook will put it in everything. Just send it up to the house when you have a chance.”
Albert nodded and she turned to leave. He headed back to the back of his shop as she opened the front door. She froze when she heard a cry of fear from the big man. She reached up to silence the bell as she closed the door and crept back into the shop.
The door to the back was slightly ajar and she could hear voices.
“What do you know about the Shadow?” a woman’s voice hissed. It was Sarah.
“I don’t know anything about him, I just receive messages and pass them on to his contacts so he can deliver them,” Albert replied. “Please, I’m just a simple cheese maker.”
Marissa was ready to jump through the door, but Sarah continued.
“Who is your contact?” she asked.
“I...I can’t say,” Albert replied hesitating.
“Oh I think you can,” Sarah threatened.
Marissa’s blood froze in her veins.
“It’s a Lady. She’s a good Lady, please don’t hurt her,” Albert begged.
“What is the Lady’s name?” Sarah demanded.
“Edgington,” Albert replied defeated.
“Marissa?” Sarah said surprised. Marissa heard a knife drop onto the floor.
“Please, Marissa is a good woman. She’s kind hearted to working folks. She wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Albert cried.
“Marissa keeps with interesting company,” Sarah said thoughtfully. “Thank you cheese man.”
There was silence and Marissa heard sobbing. She knew it was Albert and that he felt responsible for anything that might happen to her in the near future. She quietly slipped over to the door and held the bell as she left the shop.
If the woman was tracking her this way then it was possible that she could find the Shadow, but would it lead her to Marissa Clarence or Lady Edgington?

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