The assistant came at once, his expression perturbed, his brown hair in disarray as if he’d been tugging on it distractedly.
“Mr. Valentine,” Poppy said with a frown, “do you know anything about Mr. Rutledge’s whereabouts at present?”
“No, ma’am. The driver just returned without him.”
“What?” she asked, bewildered.
“The driver waited at the usual time and place, and when Mr. Rutledge didn’t appear after an hour, he went inside the club to make inquiries. A search was done. Apparently Mr. Rutledge was nowhere to be found on the premises. The master of the fencing club asked various members if they had seen Mr. Rutledge go off with someone, perhaps enter a carriage, or even mention his plans, but no one had seen or heard anything after Mr. Rutledge finished his practice.” Valentine paused and drew the side of his fist over his mouth, a nervous gesture Poppy had never seen him make before. “He seems to have vanished.”
“Has this ever happened before?” she asked.
Valentine shook his head.
They stared at each other in the mutual recognition that something was very wrong.
“I’ll go back to the club and search again,” Valentine said. “Someone had to have seen something.”
Poppy steeled herself to wait. Perhaps it was nothing, she told herself. Perhaps Harry had gone somewhere with an acquaintance, and he would return any moment. But she knew instinctively that something had happened to him. It seemed her blood had turned to ice water . . . she was shaky, numb, terrified. She paced around the apartments, and then she went downstairs to the front office, where the receptionist and concierge were similarly distracted.
Evening had settled deeply over London by the time Valentine finally returned. “Not a trace of him anywhere,” he said.
Poppy felt a chill of fear. “We must notify the police.”
He nodded. “I already have. I once received instructions from Mr. Rutledge in case something like this ever occurred. I’ve notified a Special Constable who works from the Bow Street office, and also a South London cracksman named William Edgar.”
“Cracksman? What is that?”
“Thief. And from time to time he does a bit of smuggling. Mr. Edgar is familiar with every street and rookery in London.”
“My husband instructed you to contact a constable and a criminal?”
Valentine looked a bit sheepish. “Yes, ma’am.”
Poppy put her fingertips to her temples, trying to calm her racing thoughts. A painful sob rose in her throat before she could swallow it back down. She dragged a sleeve across her wet eyes. “If he’s not found by morning,” she said, taking the handkerchief he handed to her, “I want to post a reward for any information that leads to his safe return.” She blew her nose indelicately. “Five thousand—no, ten thousand pounds.”
“And we should give a list to the police.”
Valentine looked at her blankly. “A list of what?”
“Of all the people who might wish to do him harm.”
“That won’t be easy,” Valentine muttered. “Most of the time I can’t tell the difference between his friends and his enemies. Some of his friends would love to kill him, and one or two of his enemies have actually named their children after him.”
“I think Mr. Bayning should be considered a suspect,” Poppy said.
“I had thought of that,” Valentine admitted. “In light of the recent threats he’s made.”
“And the meeting at the War Office yesterday—Harry said they were displeased with him, and he—” Her breath stopped. “He said something about Mr. Kinloch, that he wanted to lock Harry away somewhere.”
“I’ll go tell the Special Constable immediately,” Valentine said. Seeing the way Poppy’s eyes flooded and her mouth contorted, he added hastily, “We’ll find him. I promise. And remember that whatever Mr. Rutledge is dealing with, he knows how to take care of himself.”
Unable to reply, Poppy nodded and pressed the wadded-up handkerchief to her nose.
As soon as Valentine had departed, she spoke to the concierge in a tear-clotted voice. “Mr. Lufton, may I write a note at your desk?”
“Oh, certainly, ma’am!” He arranged paper, ink, and a pen with a steel nib on the desk, and stood back respectfully as she began to write.
“Mr. Lufton, I want this taken to my brother, Lord Ramsay, immediately. He is going to help me search for Mr. Rutledge.”
“Yes, ma’am, but . . . do you think that wise at this hour? I’m sure Mr. Rutledge would not want you to compromise your safety by going out at night.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t, Mr. Lufton. But I can’t wait here without doing something. I’ll go mad.”
To Poppy’s vast relief, Leo came at once, his cravat askew and his waistcoat unbuttoned, as if he’d dressed hastily. “What’s going on?” he asked shortly. “And what did you mean, ‘Harry’s gone missing?’ ”
Poppy described the situation as quickly as possible, and curled her fingers into his sleeve. “Leo, I need you to take me somewhere.”
She saw from her brother’s face that he understood immediately. “Yes, I know.” He let out a taut sigh. “I had better start praying that Harry won’t be found for a good long while. Because when he learns that I took you to see Michael Bayning, my life won’t be worth a tin of oysters.”