Home > A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(14)

A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(14)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“Are you certain?” She climbed into the cart, looking back at me, but Carlyle whipped the mule and the cart started with a lurch. I waved to her and she settled among the baskets, waving back, until the wagon dipped over a hill and was gone.

Stooping down, I picked up the newspaper. The date was from a week ago—already old news, but it felt so real that I could practically smell the brine and damp fur of the water-tank creatures.

It was with a heavy heart that I recently attended the funeral of three colleagues who had once been highly esteemed by society,

the article began.

I pictured John Radcliffe’s pale blue eyes and shivered. As the King’s Club’s financier, Radcliffe was certainly not innocent, though he was hardly the worst of the bunch. Money had driven him, not science. That was why he—and the rest of the lesser King’s Club members—were still alive. Not to mention that Lucy would never forgive me if I killed her father.

Naturally I was horrified to learn of this tragedy, and even more upset that those three colleagues, whom I had once counted as friends, were involved in a plot to bring ruin to London’s lower classes. The worst of it all, however, is the loss of my daughter, Lucy, who I believe was present at the college that night. She disappeared shortly after the massacre and her mother and I are sick with worry. . . .

I sighed with relief. Mr. Radcliffe was formally denouncing his involvement with the King’s Club, just as we had hoped he would. I had been so shocked when Lucy and I had found a preserved human brain in a hatbox in his office, never suspecting him of being more than a mere financier. Now I knew I’d been right. He was a banker at heart, not a murderer. Lucy would be pleased to hear her father had dropped his ties with that organization. Perhaps it might even lighten her spirits.

I stuffed the newspaper in my coat and looked in the direction of Ballentyne. Clouds had rolled in, thick and low, and I had five miles to walk. I started at a fast pace, hugging my arms, mind lost in the newspaper article.

The Christmas Day Massacre.

I had been obsessed with the idea of bringing the water-tank creatures to life. Feeling their bodies warm. Counting their beating hearts. Most disturbing of all, part of me had even enjoyed it. Father had loved his work, too. Was I destined to be like him, even if I didn’t want to be?

A child can never escape her father, the fortune-teller had said.

The sun sunk over the horizon, meaning darkness would fall before I reached Ballentyne. I started to walk faster, but I couldn’t outrun my thoughts. There were times when I could almost feel Father in my head. I’d read enough research papers on genetics to know that a child naturally took on the properties of a parent. Even personality. Even an inclination toward madness. Is that what the fortune-teller had meant? Maybe there was no use fighting who one was—and I was inescapably a Moreau.

I must have been a mile and a half from the manor when a shriek like a child’s cry came from the moors. I froze. My stomach tightened with fear that Hensley or one of the young servants had gotten lost.

Alarmed, I pulled up my heavy winter skirts and trod into the heather toward the sound. The ground, normally frozen, had thawed a few inches and my boots sank into it, threatening to trap me. Crossing the moors was far more difficult than it seemed, each step sucking me down, heather catching me like thorns. The crying got louder. I scrambled up a small hill where the ground was more solid, that overlooked a bog with ice clinging to the edges.

A sheep was trapped up to its neck.

I drew in a sharp breath.

At least it isn’t a child, I thought, though that was small comfort: the sheep’s desperate bleats still pulled at my heart. Behind me, I could barely make out the road in the twilight. I couldn’t afford to stay out here on the moors with night falling. Yet the sheep would drown or freeze if I left it.

I started down the hill. My heart thudded, warning me to hurry. There were so few trees that it took me a precious few minutes to find a branch I could use. I came as close to the bog as I dared. The sheep had stopped struggling and bleated to me mournfully. I lay the tree branch close to give it purchase, but no matter how the sheep bucked, it couldn’t get out. I leaned closer, trying to grab hold of its mud-clotted wool. My fingers grazed its neck when the sheep bucked again and I slipped off the branch, landing shin deep in the bog.

I cried out with the rush of cold. My dress was beyond ruined; Mrs. McKenna would have to cut it up for scraps. But I was in now, and I could reach the sheep. I waded a few steps closer, mud trying to suck me down, and wrapped my arms around the sheep’s neck and leg. I pulled, and it bucked in fear, succeeding only in dragging me down deeper with it. Mud crept up my stockings. A jolt of cold ran through me. I tugged my foot, but nothing happened.

Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t saving the sheep anymore.

I was just as stuck as it was.

Panic made my pulse race. I let go of the sheep and grabbed onto the tree branch, but it wasn’t attached to anything, and only got stuck further in the muck. The sheep bleated frantically, frightened by my movements, and I only sank deeper.

The sun set on the horizon.

I was going to die out here.

I screamed as loud as I could until my voice was hoarse, until I could see only the horizon in the faint light, until the sheep gave up struggling.

Until a figure appeared on the horizon, as unreal in the twilight as a ghost.


IT WASN’T UNTIL THE figure came closer, walking expertly over the moors, that moonlight splashed over it and I recognized the face beneath the hooded cloak.

“Elizabeth!” I screamed.

She approached quickly but carefully, as though she’d spent her entire life learning how to navigate the hidden dangers of a bog—which I suppose she had. She wore a long brown cloak and a traveling gown, stained now with black peat. I didn’t notice the rifle in her hand until she was only feet away.

“Stop moving!” she called. “It only makes it worse.”

She lay down on the ground and held out the rifle. “Grab hold and don’t move. I’ll pull you in, but we must go slow.”

I curled my fingers on the rifle, heart pounding, fighting the instinct to kick as hard as I could. Inch by inch, she pulled the rifle toward her, giving the mud time to shift and release me. My heavy skirts caught on roots deep in the muddy waters. No matter how she pulled, she couldn’t tear me free.

“Your dress is caught,” she said. “You’ll have to take it off.”

I started on the row of buttons down the front of my dress with stiff fingers. Once I struggled out of it, the cold water bit at my skin through my underclothes, but I felt lighter, freer, and it didn’t take Elizabeth long to drag me to the bog’s edge and pull me from the water. I was slick with mud and shivering uncontrollably. She wrapped her cloak around me as I huddled on the ground, breathing in her rosewater scent.

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