This deleted scene from Traitor is from a much earlier version of the novel and while it may read like a spoiler, fear not.
The background: Mary Quinn, posing as a housemaid in Queen Victoria’s household, suspects a fellow maid, Amy, of stealing small ornaments from the palace. The fact that Amy’s being courted by the outrageous Octavius Jones (who first appears in The Body at the Tower) only confirms Mary’s sense that something is very wrong here. So on Guy Fawkes Night, when the domestic staff at Buckingham Palace are given a rare evening off, Mary follows Amy and Jones to see what they’re up to. Just beyond the palace gates, however, they all run into trouble…
Jones and Amy threaded their way deeper into the Park, moving a little faster now towards a vast, roaring bonfire at its centre. It was a cruelly cold evening. Although the rain had stopped, the air was dank and heavy against the skin, like an unwelcome caress. If Amy planned to abide by Mrs. Porter’s “no drink” rule, she would need the warmth of the fire to keep her lips pink. Mary shivered, despite her warm coat, and fought the urge to run straight towards the fire.
It happened so quickly: Amy swung her handbag in a slightly larger arc and bumped somebody – a burly, cross-looking man. They turned and glared; exchanged words. This drew in another passer-by, a tall working man, who seemed to think himself the object of the burly man’s belligerence. He squared up to the man, shouting aggressively, and suddenly it was as though Amy had struck a tinder-box in a barn full of over-wintered straw. In moments, the pent-up aggression of the crowd – anger that might have spent itself innocently enough burning an effigy over a bonfire – kicked off. Mary didn’t see who threw the first punch. But before she could decide how best to act, violence erupted all about her. Screams and cries, insults and roars rang in her ears. Men punched complete strangers, jumped at their throats. Women swung handbags, slapped and kicked. Even an elderly man, half-sighted and doddering, lurched through the crowd in a frenzy, swinging his cane wildly all about him.
For a few moments, Mary stopped thinking about Jones and Amy entirely, so intent was she on preserving herself. She dodged a wild roundhouse swing and stumbled to one side, keeping one elbow close by her side, the other before her face. The crowd – nay, the entire Park – had become a wild melee of arms and fists, elbows and knees, a surging tide that threatened to sweep her away. She mustn’t lose her balance – mustn’t slip down onto the grass, where she’d surely be trampled. Instead, she caught herself against something – an arm, a back, no matter – and so managed to find the grass again, scrabbling until it felt solid beneath her feet. Somewhere in the distance, a high, shrill whistling began – a police constable mustering help. But help could be a long time coming.
Mary craned her neck, trying to get her bearings in this shouting, cursing, bawling throng. She was too short to see above the heads of others – had no way of knowing in which direction to go. Grimly, she turned and began to plough her way back the way she’d come – at least, she hoped it was that direction. It became, for Mary, a slow progress through a medieval nightmare as the press of faces, distorted with drunken glee, began to look like gargoyles. She saw them in flashes, in isolated moments of vivid portraiture: a twisted, screaming mouth containing a few rotted stumps of teeth; a bloodshot eye, rolling in fear; a bloody patch of scalp, where a clump of hair was torn from the roots.
She couldn’t tell if she was moving forward, or simply fighting hopelessly against a tide that would sweep her into the sea – the centre of the brawl. There were no landmarks, no fixed points, against which to measure her advance. She let down her guard just enough to scan the crowd and at that moment, a flailing backhand – a stick? an elbow? – caught the edge of her cheekbone. A bright burst of pain exploded behind her left eye. Mary tripped, cradling her throbbing eye. No – there wasn’t time for that – she had to remain afloat. She stumbled against people, pushing more aggressively now, determined to shift them past her, if she couldn’t pass them.
Moans of protest and return shoves met her efforts. She took that as a sign of success. She kept ploughing, busily sorting people as they crossed her path: left. Right. Right. Left. Right. She soon lost count, and all sense of time. Sensation and smell, too, fell by the by. All her awareness was focused on this mechanical progress.
Some interval later, she was utterly surprised to stumble out of the fracas into open space. It was bitingly cold, outside the swarm. Still, too. Mary wobbled towards a tree and leaned against its trunk with a small huff of relief. It was only a small tree, spindly and ruthlessly pruned to remain a dwarf, but it was sufficient. Her head pounded – not only where she was injured, but also from the din that, like the fight, had flared up in mere moments. She touched her cheekbone with an experimental fingertip that came away wet: blood, possibly, although other liquids weren’t out of the question. She couldn’t see its colour in the uncertain shadows. She straightened up and became aware of myriad scrapes and bruises along the length of her body. Her skin would be a pretty patchwork of green and purple, tomorrow, but she’d escaped lightly. There must be a large number who, like her, were accidentally caught in the middle of the scrap, except that they remained trapped within.
Like Amy and Octavius Jones. Mary scanned the crowd, looking for a glimpse of that gaudy straw hat, even while she knew it was futile. The hat was almost certainly ripped to shreds – her own was gone, she noted with an absent touch – and neither Amy nor Jones was above the average height. Nevertheless, she straightened, wincing slightly at the soreness of her ribs. She circumnavigated the wriggling, brawling scrum that, from this distance, looked remarkably like a brood of maggots swarming a carcass. No sign of them, of course. Mary was deeply concerned for Amy who, for all her vulgarity, was a decent sort. But Jones, she reckoned, would have little trouble extricating himself from the violence. And while he’d seldom – if ever – bother to rescue another, Amy was likely still useful to him. She’d been carrying that bulging handbag, after all. Yes, it was reasonable to assume that Amy and Jones were, like her, safe although somewhat bruised and rattled.
“You all right, miss?”
She turned with swift surprise, then grimaced as a twist of pain gripped her body. “Yes, constable,” she said. “Only a bit bruised.” The PC beside her was short and broad, a whisky-barrel with arms and legs, and a Toby jug for a head.
He nodded. “You’re lucky there, miss. That ain’t no Sunday school picnic.” He raked her with a sharp, assessing gaze. “In service?”
“Yes, sir. I came out with my friend, Amy. We got separated when the fight began. I don’t suppose you’ve seen her?”
“What’s she like?”
“Fair-haired. Middle height. Straw hat with lots of flowers.” Mary thought of mentioning Jones, but decided against it. “I hope she’s all right, sir.”
“And well may you hope. What’s a pair of girls doing out here, anyway? You got no business mucking about in public parks after dark. Your mistress know you’re out here?”
She bristled slightly. “Yes. We have permission.”
He snorted. “And if I was to ask her, would she say the same?”
Mary drew herself up. “Ask away. It’s Mrs. Porter you want, the housekeeper at Buckingham Palace.”
His eyes widened and he stared at her for a moment, as though tempted to call her bluff. “Lordamercy.” He stepped away from her and blew three sharp blasts on his whistle, followed by a long, continued shrilling. When at last he stopped, he was visibly winded. “What’s she want to do that for, giving you all freedom to roam the streets and get up to no good?” he demanded angrily. “It ain’t enough for the rabble to come down here, with their gin and them firecrackers. Now the queen’s own domestics got to pitch a scrap in the Park, and who’s going to rescue them?”
“Much you’re doing to help,” retorted Mary. “It’s nice and safe, standing here and scolding me instead of helping innocent people.”
He gave her a dark look. “None of your lip, missy. I’m waiting for reinforcements. I’m like to die, going in there alone.”
Mary saw the sense in this last remark but remained angry all the same. London was a violent city – everybody knew that. Tensions and tempers ran high, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a pair of men scrapping in an alley, encircled by a ring of onlookers laying wagers on a winner. But she was unreasonably angered at having lost sight of Amy at such a critical moment. And, she realized, her nerves were rattled. It was one thing to fight – carefully, skilfully, strategically – when it was necessary. Yet that sort of gratuitous free-for-all had always been foreign to her. She felt again, powerfully this time, how fortunate she’d been to escape with only a few bruises. A distant skree of answering whistles caught her ear. “Your mates are here,” she said flatly. “Good luck.”
She walked away across the churned-up grass, thinking, We’ll both need it.