Sherry's thoughts were disrupted by a knock on her door and she called for whoever it was to enter. "Your pardon, milady," Hodgkin said, his narrow face pinched and pale, as if he were in pain. "There is a young—I hesitate to use the word 'lady' in view of the sort of language she used—woman downstairs who insists she must see you."
Sherry looked at him in the mirror above the dressing table. "Who is she?"
The elderly under-butler spread his hands and they trembled with the force of his reaction. "She says she is you, miss."
"I beg your pardon?"
"She says she is Miss Charise Lancaster."
"How very…" Sherry's heart began to thunder for no apparent reason, and her voice strangled on the word "odd."
Sounding as if he were begging her to claim the other woman was a mystic or a fraud, he added, "She is… is in possession of a great many facts that might seem to prove her claim. I—I know this to be true, my lady, because I was once employed by Baron Burleton."
Burleton… Burleton… Burleton… Burleton. The name began to howl like a banshee in her brain.
"She—she was demanding to see the earl, but you have been very good to me… to all of us, and I would hope that were our positions reversed, not that they ever could be, you would at least come to me with any possible falsehood, instead of carrying the tale to the earl… to someone else. I will, naturally, have to tell him of the woman's wish to see him when he arrives for the nuptials, but if you perhaps had a chance to see her first and she were to be more calm…"
Sherry leaned her hands on the dressing table for support, nodding to him to show the woman who claimed to be her upstairs, and she closed her eyes tight, concentrating.
Burleton… BURLETON… BURLETON.
Images and voices began to flash through her mind, speeding up faster and faster, spinning so quickly that the next one appeared before the other had spun away.
… A ship, a cabin, a frightened maid. "What if Miss Charise's fiancé thinks we killed her, or sold her, or something evil like that? It would be the baron's word against yours, and you aren't nobody, so the law will be on his side. This is England not America…"
… Torchlight, stevedores, a tall, grim man standing at the end of a gangplank. "Miss Lancaster, I'm afraid there's been an accident. Lord Burleton was killed yesterday."
… Cotton fields, meadows, a wagon filled with goods, a little girl with red hair… "My papa calls me 'carrot' because of my hair, but my name is Sheridan. There is a rose—a flower—called Sheridan, and my mama named me for it."
… A restless horse, a stern-faced Indian, the smell of summer. "White men are not as good as Indians for giving names. Not flower, you. Fire, you. Flames. Burn bright."
… Campfires, moonlight, a handsome Spaniard with smiling eyes and a guitar in his hands, music pulsing in the night. "Sing with me, cara."
… A tiny, neat house, indignant little girl, angry woman. "Patrick Bromleigh, you ought to be horsewhipped for the way you've reared that child. She can't read, and she can't write, her manners are deplorable, and her hair is wanton. She announced to me, as bold as brass, that she 'fancies' someone named Raphael Benavente and she'll probably ask him to marry her someday. She actually intends to propose matrimony herself and to some Spanish vagabond who cheats at cards. And I haven't even mentioned her other favorite companion—an Indian male who sleeps with dogs! If you have any conscience, any love for her, you will leave her here with me."
… Two solemn men standing in the yard, a third one in the doorway, his face tense. "You mind your aunt Cornelia, darlin'. I'll be back for you before you know it—a year or two at most."
… A distraught child clinging to him. "No, Papa, don't! Don't leave me here! Please! Please, I'll wear dresses and fix my wanton hair, just don't leave me here. I want to go with you and Rafe and Dog Lies Sleeping! That's where I belong, no matter what she says! Papa, Papa, wait—"
… A stern-faced woman with gray hair, a child who was supposed to call her "Aunt Cornelia." "Do not try to stare me out of countenance with that expression, child. I perfected that very look long ago in England, and I'm quite immune to it. In England, it would have served you well, were you Squire Faraday's acknowledged granddaughter, but this is America. Here, I teach deportment to the children of people whom I would have once regarded as my inferiors, and I am lucky to have the work."
… Another woman, stout, pleasant, firm. "We may have a position for you at our school. I've heard some very good things about you from your aunt, Miss Bromleigh."
…Little girls' voices. "Good morning, Miss Bromleigh." Miniature young ladies in white stockings and ribbons practicing their curtsies while Sheridan demonstrated.
Her palms were perspiring on the dressing table's top, her knees were turning to liquid. Behind her, the door opened and a blonde girl stalked in, her voice raised in fury. "You unspeakable fraud!"
Reeling from the fleeing visions, Sherry forced her eyes open, lifted her head, and stared into the mirror above her dressing table. Framed beside her own face was another face, a FAMILIAR FACE. "Oh, my God!" she moaned as her arms began to shake and give way, forcing her to either straighten from her hunched position or fall to the floor. Slowly, she lifted her palms off the dressing table, and very slowly, she turned, while terror began to hammer through her, banishing weakness and lethargy. Her entire body vibrating with panic, she faced Charise Lancaster, and felt each of her enraged words as if it was a blow to her head:
"You evil, despicable, scheming slut! Look at this place. Look at you!" Her eyes were wild as she looked around at the luxurious green and gold suite. "You've actually taken my place."
"No!" Sheridan burst out, but her voice was unrecognizable, brittle and frantic. "No, not on purpose. Dear God, don't—"
"It will take more than prayer to save you from prison," her former student snapped, her face contorted with fury. "You've taken my PLACE… You tricked me into marrying Morrison with all your talk of romance, and then YOU TOOK MY PLACE. You actually intended to MARRY AN EARL!"
"No, please, listen to me. It was an accident. I lost my memory."
That only made her more infuriated. "Lost your memory!" she screamed contemptuously. "Well, you know who I am!" Without another word, she swung on her heel. "I'll be back with the authorities within minutes, and we'll see how they feel about your memory loss, you vile—!"