London, September 1889
"Julia, what in the name of God is that terrible stench? It smells as if you have taken to keeping farm animals in here," complained my brother, Plum. He drew a folded handkerchief from his pocket and held it to his nose. His eyes watered above the primrose silk as he gave a dramatic cough.
I swallowed hard, fighting back my own cough and ignoring my streaming eyes. "It is manure," I conceded, returning to my beakers and burners. I had just reached a crucial point in my experiment when Plum had interrupted me. The table before me was spread with various beakers and bottles, and an old copy of the Quarterly Journal of Science lay open at my elbow. My hair was pinned up tightly, and I was swathed from shoulders to ankles in a heavy canvas apron.
"What possible reason could you have for bringing manure into Brisbane's consulting rooms?" he demanded, his voice slightly muffled by the handkerchief. I flicked him a glance. With the primrose silk swathing the lower half of his face he resembled a rather dashing if unconvincing highwayman.
"In any event, you must see that it is impossible for me to go away. I have to know what Bellmont is about."
"Julia, why?" Portia demanded. She wore a mantle of calm as easily as any Renaissance Madonna, and I suppressed a sigh of impatience at her newfound serenity.
"Because either Bellmont is in trouble or Brisbane is," I told her