New Year's Day, 1755 The life of Nathaniel Hopson, journeyman to the illustrious cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, is about to take a chilling turn. He has been sent to Cambridge to install a new library at the country home of Lord Montfort. Moments after the foul-tempered Montfort storms away from the afternoon dinner, a gunshot is heard. Hopson runs to the library to find him dead. His nephew and lawyer believe the conclusion is obvious: Montfort, burdened with gambling debts, must have taken his own life. The gun near Montfort's hand suggests suicide, but there are bloody footprints on the library floor. And there is a strange detail: he is clutching a small, elaborately carved box of rare grenadillo wood.
In the cellar there was no sound at all except her own breathing and the soft rustle of her skirts. After her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, she noticed a niche in the wall a yard from where she stood. She saw something there about the size of her fist. Agnes quietly picked it up. It was wrapped in a cloth and surprisingly heavy. . . a pistol, the hilt filthy with mud and dirt. Suddenly she heard the chinking sound of glasses nearby. There was no mistaking the voices now. Before she had time to call out, another door creaked open and the pair emerged from the darkness.