The River Knows

By: Amanda Quick


Late in the reign of Queen Victoria…

She did not dare turn up any of the lamps for fear that some passerby would notice the light and remember it later when the police came around asking questions. The fog was thickening outside in the lane, but there was still enough moonlight slanting through the window to illuminate the tiny parlor, not that she needed the cold silver light. She knew the cozy rooms above the shop as well as she knew her own name. This small space had been her home for nearly two years.

She crouched in front of the heavy trunk in the corner and tried to insert the key into the lock. The task proved incredibly difficult because her hands were shaking so terribly. She forced herself to take a deep breath in a futile attempt to slow her pounding heart. After three fumbling tries she finally got the trunk open. The squeaks of the hinges sounded like small screams in the deathly silence.

She reached inside and took out the two leather-bound volumes she had stored there. Rising, she carried the books back across the room and placed them in the little suitcase. There were dozens more books downstairs in the shop, several of which would have fetched nice prices, but these two were far and away the most valuable.

She had to limit the number of books she took with her; books were heavy. Even if she could have carried several more it would have been unwise to do so. A large quantity of valuable volumes missing from the shelves downstairs might arouse suspicion.

For similar reasons she had packed only a minimal amount of clothing. It would not do for the police to discover that a supposed suicide had taken most of her wardrobe with her into the river.

She closed the bulging suitcase. Thank heavens she had not sold the two volumes. There had certainly been times during the past two years when she could have used the money, but she had been unable to bring herself to let go of the books her father had treasured the most. They were all she had left, not only of him, but of her mother who had died four years earlier.

Her father had never really recovered from the loss of his beloved wife. No one had been greatly surprised when he put a pistol to his head following a devastating financial loss. The creditors had taken the comfortable house and most of its contents. Mercifully, they had deemed the vast and distinguished library of little value.

When she had found herself facing the customary career choices available to women in her position—a miserable life as a paid companion or a governess—she had used the books to do the unthinkable and, in Society’s opinion, the unforgivable: She had gone into trade.

In the eyes of the Polite World, it was as though she had magically ceased to exist. Not that she had ever been acquainted with anyone from that world. The Barclay family had never moved in Society.

Her knowledge of book collecting and collectors, garnered from her father, had made it possible to begin turning a small profit after only a few months in business. In the two years that the shop had been open she had succeeded in establishing herself as a small but successful dealer of rare books.

Her new life, with its sensible wardrobe, journals of accounts, and extensive business correspondence, was a long way from the comfortable, genteel world in which she had been raised, but she had discovered that owning and operating her own shop was deeply satisfying. There was a great deal to be said for having control over one’s finances. In addition, as a shopkeeper she had at long last been freed from many of the stultifying rules and restrictions that Society placed on well-bred single ladies. There was no denying that she had gone down in the world, but the experience had allowed her to take command of her own destiny in a way that had never before been possible.

Less than an hour ago, however, the dream of a bright, independent new future that she had begun to fashion for herself had been destroyed. She was now in the midst of a nightmare. She had no choice but to flee into the shadows, taking only a handful of personal items, the day’s income from book sales, and the two precious books.

She must disappear—she understood that quite clearly—but she had to ensure that no one would feel compelled to search for her. Her feverish inspiration came from a report in the press that she had read a few days earlier.

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