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 with some heat.
"Brisbane? What sort of trouble? And why would he look to Bellmont for aid?"
I spread my hands. "I do not know. But if Brisbane were in some sort of trouble, his first inclination, his very first, would be to see me safely out of the way. You know how annoying he is upon the point of my personal safety." The issue was one—the only one in fact—that caused dissension in our marriage, but it was a common refrain. "And once I was safely out of the way, he might well turn to Bellmont. Our brother is superbly connected, one of the most trusted men in government, and he has the ear of the Prime Minister. One snap of the fingers from Lord Salisbury, and whatever trouble Brisbane might have found himself in goes away."
"True," Portia said somewhat reluctantly. "But I cannot imagine a situation Brisbane couldn't extricate himself from." She added, "The man is clever and elusive as a cat," and I knew she meant it as a compliment.
"Yes, but even cats need more than one life," I reminded her. "And this particular cat now has a partner to look after him." I took a deep breath and lifted my chin. Whatever difficulty beset my husband, I was determined to see it through by his side, offering whatever aid and succor I could.
I fixed my sister with a deliberate look. "And that is why I have formed a plan...."
I arrived home to find Brisbane busily engaged in a project that required a pair of workmen wearing leather aprons, endless spools of wires, and significant alterations to the cupboard under the stairs.
He backed out of the cupboard, shooting his cuffs. "You are rather earlier than I expected. I had hoped to present you with a surprise."
He gave me a bland smile and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. I had reason to be cautious of his surprises, I reflected.
"What is this?" I asked, indicating the workmen and their wires with a sweep of my arm.
"A telephone," Brisbane informed me.
I stared, blinking hard. "A telephone? To what purpose?"
"To the purpose of being able to speak upon it," he explained with exaggerated patience.
"Yes, but to whom? In order to speak upon the telephone, one must know someone else with a telephone."
"We do." He wore an air of satisfaction. "I am having a second one installed in Chapel Street. We shall be able to communicate with the consulting rooms from here and vice versa."
"We are paying for two telephones?" I asked, sotto voce. I had no wish to quarrel with Brisbane, particularly over money, and most particularly in front of workmen. Still, the expense was staggering. "Whatever would possess you?"
"It will be extremely convenient for my work," he replied smoothly. "I am surprised you are not more enthusiastic, my dear. I should have thought the notion that we could speak to one another at any time would have appealed to you."
"Of course it does," I told him in full sincerity. "I was simply taken by surprise. It does seem a rather complicated enterprise."
"Not at all," he assured me. "In fact, Bellmont has had the device for some weeks and says it is quite the most useful invention."
"Bellmont?" My pulses quickened. "Have you spoken with him recently?"
Excerpted from THE DARK ENQUIRY: A Lady Julia Grey Novel © Copyright 2011 by Deanna Raybourn. Reprinted with permission by Mira. All rights reserved.