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It was the most awful faux pas. The guests sat quietly around the table, trying not to look at each other, but it seemed that each was thinking the same thing. How could Lady Ellington have made such a dreadful mistake?

Still, there was no way out of it now. The maids brought the soup out, and the guests tried to make light conversation as they ate. Lady Ellington did, at least, employ one of the best cooks there was, so the soup was excellent.

“I wonder if I might persuade your cook to part with the recipe,” Lady Barnes said with a forced smile. “Not that my cook would do it even half so much justice, of course.”

Lady Ellington, anxiety showing on her face, simply nodded.

After the soup came fish, and then the main course. Every dish was just as delicious as the first. The accompanying conversation was just as strained.

Finally, Countess Alladay could take it no longer. She put her fork down and looked directly at the hostess. “What on earth were you thinking? Can you not count?”

Lady Ellington burst into tears. “I’m sorry,” she cried. “I… Miss Harling cancelled at the very last moment and I simply couldn’t find anyone else to invite!”

Countess Alladay looked around the table and harrumphed. “The obvious solution, my dear, would have been to ask one of the gentleman to kindly excuse himself for the night. Not bring thirteen to the table! You might as well be a murderess!”

The guests looked at each other in silence.

“Well, somebody had to say it,” Countess Alladay said, sitting back. The maids, unnoticed as always, began to clear away the plates from main course. “Everyone knows that you can’t have thirteen to dinner, or the first to leave the table will die. We only have dessert left, and while I’m sure it will be delicious, I have no desire to make this my last meal. One of you will have to leave the table first.”

Lord Masketh coughed gently. “Perhaps the curse could be avoided if we were all to rise at once?”

Countess Alladay shot him a withering look. “Don’t be ridiculous. It is in the nature of human beings to protect their lives. Were we to attempt that, it is inevitable that one of you would fall prey to cowardice and delay rising so that they stood up last.”

She looked at Lord Masketh and Lord Ellington in a manner that made it patently obvious where she thought the yellow streaks might lie.

They all fell silent as dessert was served. It was a delicious steamed pudding, served with custard. Despite their discomfort, most of the guests tucked in eagerly.

“Well,” said the young Lord Marsden as he laid down his spoon. “At least if I should die it will be with a good hot pudding inside me.”

He put his hands on the table as if to push his chair away from the table. His mother put a hand on his shoulder. “Charles, you will not move from this table until I say you may.”

He looked down. “Yes mother. Sorry mother.”

“Honestly,” came a voice from the end of the table. “You’re all such superstitious fools. Thank you, Lady Ellington, for a most delicious meal.”

Genevieve Moore stood up and left the room.

“Well,” said Countess Alladay, after a moment’s silence. “The General will be quite upset, I should imagine.”

“Nonsense, as always,” Genevieve called back. “My father would be pleased to see the back of me. But I shan’t die, because thirteen is just a num-”

There was a bang, then silence. Several of the gentlemen present – sharp eyes noticed that Lords Ellington, Masketh and Marsden were not among them – dashed for the door.

“I told you,” cried the Countess, cowering by her chair. “She left the table, and somebody’s shot her!”

The door was flung open. Genevieve lay on the carpet, a wet red pool spreading from her head.

It would have been quite convincing if she had refrained from laughing.

© Kari Fay