My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies #2)(8)

It was all so sinister. “Where did she go? Is she in there?” For a moment Jane completely forgot herself.

The agent turned to look at her sharply. “So you did see her.”

Drat. Ever since the Red Room, Jane had operated by the following set of rules:

Rule #1. Never tell anyone that she could see ghosts. Never. Ever. Ever.

Rule #2. Never interact with or speak to a ghost in the presence of a living person.

Rule #3. No matter how tempted she was, no matter how interesting the ghost, no matter how pressing the situation seemed to be, refer to rules #1 and #2.

“No, I—I didn’t see her,” Jane stammered. “It, I mean. I saw nothing.”

The agent narrowed his eyes. “Who are you?”

“No one, sir.”

“You’re obviously someone,” he countered. “You’re a seer, at the very least. And you came from somewhere. Where?” His notebook was in his hand again. Jane felt a surge of panic. In spite of her strict adherence to the rules concerning ghosts (which were more like guidelines, really), she was not a very good liar.

“I assure you, sir, I am no one worth noting,” she said, although this did nothing to stop his obvious noting of her in his notebook. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m very late.” She gave a quick curtsy and started for the door, but the agent stepped into her path.

“You’re late? Who could be expecting you at this hour?”

“My students,” she blurted. “I’m an instructor. I am teaching maths.”

“You teach mathematics in the middle of the night.”

“Yes,” Jane agreed. “Imagine how worried my students must be.”

The agent frowned and was obviously about to question her further, but at that moment the barkeep (having only now regained consciousness) stood up from behind the bar. “What happened?” he asked groggily.

The agent narrowed his eyes at the barkeep. “Who are you, sir?”

“I’m Pete. Obviously.” He rubbed the goose egg on the back of his head. “I own the place. You’re wearing a mask. You’re from the Society. Did you get the ghost?”

“Yes,” the agent said.

“I’m sorry I missed it.” Pete surveyed the destruction of his pub. “Good riddance, I say.”

The agent turned back to Jane, who had been silently sidestepping toward the door. “At what school do you teach?” he asked her.

She stopped. “Oh, I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.”

“There is a school nearby,” the redhead piped up from behind them. “Do you teach at Lowood? Perhaps you are acquainted with—”

“I suppose now you’ll be wanting to be paid,” the barkeep interrupted, clearly impatient to get on with his business of straightening up the pub and reopening it. He scratched his chin. “Ten pounds, was it?”

“Fifteen,” the agent clarified, reluctantly turning his attention away from Jane as Pete the bar-owner went to fetch his purse and then slowly, grumpily, counted the coins off into the agent’s hand. In shillings, not pounds, which was going to take a while.

That was all the opportunity she needed. Jane fled, pausing only to swipe a pickled egg or two from the floor on her way out, because she had learned never to leave a room with free food without grabbing some.

“Wait, I still wish to speak with you,” the agent called after her as Pete continued to count out the cash with excruciating slowness. “Wait!”

But Jane was out the door. The street urchin was still standing in the exact spot where Jane had left her.

“Did you see a ghost?” the child asked.

“Run, urchin, run!” Jane cried. The little girl sprinted away, and Jane ran, too.

The moment Jane stepped across the school boundaries, Mr. Brocklehurst appeared.

“Miss Eyre! What are you doing skulking about at this hour! I’ve caught you!” He pointed to the ground beneath his feet. “You shall be made to kneel on Cook’s cornmeal!”

The scars on Jane’s knees prickled at the thought. But happily Mr. Brocklehurst was dead.

Which, sadly, had not made him any less annoying.

“You know, I had a wife,” he said, wiping a nonexistent tear from his nonexistent face. “And children. What will become of them now?”

Jane considered feeling bad for him, but then a few victims of the Graveyard Disease floated by, and she decided against it.

“You’re looking well, Miss Eyre,” Mr. Brocklehurst noticed, his eyes narrowing. “Please don’t tell me they have increased food rations at the school. I’ll have Miss Temple’s hide for this!”

Jane’s stomach growled. The pickled eggs had done little to take the edge off. She pushed past the ghost and headed for the second floor.

“Come back here at once!” Mr. Brocklehurst shouted. “Miss Eyre!”

“Oh, leave me alone,” Jane muttered. “You can’t hurt anyone anymore.”

Mr. Brocklehurst huffed, but to her relief he did not follow.

In the stairwell she came upon Charlotte curled up with a candle, writing. She was always writing, always, oblivious to the rest of the world, scribbling away into that notebook she carried around. Jane was exceedingly fond of Charlotte. The girl was a bit peculiar, but that only made Jane like her more. Charlotte was Jane’s favorite non-dead person at Lowood, but Jane was too frazzled for conversation at the moment.

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