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MISS SMITH & THE DEVIL’S LIBRARY
Yes, I know, the original publication date has come and gone. The delays were beyond my control. However, I have some good news for those who’ve been waiting ever-so-patiently:  I’ve been assured that Miss Smith & the Devil’s Library will be published in August, which is just a couple of months away. Yay! As soon as it becomes available, I’ll post an update here.

This is an exciting, action packed, thrill a minute adventure novel, if I do say so myself. And it’s the first novel in what I hope will be a series to remember, so be sure to get your copy (and hey, books make great gifts, too, hint hint). 🙂

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MISS SMITH & THE DEVIL’S LIBRARY
Published by PD Publishing – 2010

“Every adventure begins with a single step…and a loaded revolver.”

London 1890 –  Held at bay by an armed and desperate madman, librarian Felicity Smith thinks her troubles are over when she is saved by the enigmatic Minerva Walcott, but within minutes of their meeting, she is drugged, kidnapped, and whisked away from London to a strange house where she learns about a stolen book of religious prophecy and the cult led by a charismatic woman who will stop at nothing to get it, including murder. To save her missing father’s life, Felicity crosses the Continent with Minerva, following a string of clues to Edinburgh and Prague in the hope she will find the Maiden Prophecy before the killers hot on her trail catch up. Despite being stalked underground by a hunting pack, shot at, abducted, chased, almost losing her life time and time again, Felicity is beginning to suspect the biggest danger comes from Minerva Walcott herself.

A rollicking, fast-paced adventure filled with twists, turns, action and suspense!
Nene says: “I set out to create a page-turner, and I’m pretty sure I succeeded. I enjoyed the heck out of creating Felicity Smith – she’s the kind of woman I’d love to be if I lived in the Victorian era.”

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AND THE DEAD SHALL SPEAK
Nene Adams Copyright 2009
A Short Story in the World of Gaslight

“The dead speak seldom, but they never lie.”
The World’s Desire, H. Rider Haggard

“Let us touch hands and form the sacred circle,” moaned the medium, Madame Coralie Girard, tossing her head back as the trance seized her. “The spirits are eager to come to us tonight! Ah, I feel their emanations… they are close!”

The parlor was suffocatingly dark save for a tiny oil lamp in the center of the table, the flame dimmed by a red glass shade so that it cast very little light. On the medium’s right side, Rhiannon Moore shifted in her chair, feeling oppressed by the claustrophobic atmosphere. The air seemed stale, scented with some strong cloying fragrance that stuck in her throat. Worse was the chill draft on her neck, a constant caress that made her shiver.

Beside her on the left, her partner Lady Evangeline St. Claire leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Do not be afraid, my dear, there are no such things as spirits. The dead do not rise to haunt the night, except in Gothic novels of the more feverish kind.”

Rhiannon did not reply. Like everyone else around the table, she kept her hands pressed palm down on the lace cloth that covered the top, her little fingers touching those of her neighbors. A loud rap sounded, and Rhiannon jumped. Lina’s somewhat condescending chuckle did nothing to soothe her nerves. She did not really believe in ghosts, but it was Halloween. Who knew what might happen on such a night?

The faint glow cast by the red-shaded lamp left the other seven participants looking fairly demonic, their faces leering crimson out of the darkness as if they had been dipped in blood. Rhiannon was not acquainted with any of them apart from Lina, which added to her discomfort. A room full of friends would have made the séance easier to bear.

A series of raps vibrated under Rhiannon’s hands. Madame Coralie let out another moan. Her face had stiffened into a contorted mask, horrible to see. The table shuddered, then rose and tilted a little before bumping onto the floor. Rhiannon’s mouth went dry. A moment later, the table levitated higher, several inches into the air. At the same time, a jangling tambourine floated across the room to hover above the medium’s head.

Rhiannon sat frozen in place, her blood turning to ice.

The table thumped back into place while the medium babbled, a confused tangle of syllables that meant nothing, and afterwards she fell silent. Rhiannon dared not make a sound to break the expectant hush that settled over the parlor. A pair of disembodied glowing hands flashed out of the dark. The tambourine swooped down to be grabbed and vigorously shaken before both instrument and hands whisked away, vanishing from sight.

Suddenly, something peeped out of Madame Coralie’s half open mouth. It looked like a fat luminous white slug. Rhiannon found it loathsome, but equally fascinating as more and more of the stuff emerged from the medium’s mouth, squirming its way between her lips. Ectoplasm! Having read about such physical manifestations of the spirit world in books and magazines, Rhiannon could not tear her gaze away. When the ectoplasm had emerged about a yard, the end rose up until it formed a glistening rope reaching for the ceiling.

A woman’s voice echoed hollowly, “David? Oh, David, darling, I am here!”

“El-el-eleanor?” one of the men around the table replied, stuttering over the name. Rhiannon recalled him from the brief meeting of the sitters in Madame Coralie’s drawing room earlier that evening, before they moved to the parlor for the séance. Slender, brown-haired and aristocratic, the Honorable David Lancelot Bliss had seemed withdrawn, somewhat melancholy. The wide band of black crape of the type known as a “weeper” on his hat had told Rhiannon that Mr. Bliss was in deep mourning for someone close to him.

“David, I hear you… I am happy now,” the ghostly voice stated.

Rhiannon knew Madam Coralie could not be speaking; the woman’s mouth was filled with ectoplasm, more of which oozed out to plop into her lap.

Apart from David Bliss, there were two other men and three other women around the table, not including Lina and herself. As far as Rhiannon could tell, none of them was speaking, either, and Eleanor’s voice sounded as if it came from very far away… perhaps as far as the spirit world, she thought, shivering. Her ultra-logical partner Lina did not believe in ghosts, but she was not so sure.

“Eleanor!” David sobbed. “My God!”

He appeared so affected, Rhiannon feared for his sanity. An older bearded gentleman seated next to him—Dr. Carrington, she believed—put a hand on the stricken man’s arm. “Try to stay calm, please. You’ve only just left the sickroom.”

David shook him off. “Quiet, Neville, damn you,” he said, his expression edging towards desperation. “She’s here.”

As if on cue, Eleanor spoke. “David, I’m so very happy here… so happy… there is no pain anymore.” A pause, then the spirit continued, “Our son is with me, darling.”

It was impossible to tell for sure in the dim red light, but Rhiannon thought David blanched. “Our son?” he asked softly, his face and voice becoming so devoid of emotion that Rhiannon found him more frightening than the activities she had seen so far.

“Our child, our son… he is with me, darling. We are happy together,” Eleanor sighed. “I’m sorry for what I did, but God forgives our sins… I must speak, everyone must know.”

The high-pitched childish giggle that followed made Rhiannon’s flesh creep. Something fell from the ceiling near David, striking the table in front of him—she made out a baby’s rattle, probably silver, with a coral teething bar. An apport! She had heard of the famous medium, Agnes Guppy, and her amazing ability to produce items out of thin air. Rhiannon had to confess herself impressed by Madame Coralie’s demonstration.

Beside her, Lina shifted, pressing her knee against Rhiannon’s under the table.

David said nothing. Turning his head, he gave Madame Coralie a long, steady look that Rhiannon could not interpret. Whatever he felt, he was no longer so grief-stricken. Reaching out, he picked up the rattle, holding it delicately as if afraid it might shatter under his touch, and finally slipped the object into his jacket pocket.

Another voice came from a different corner of the room. It sounded like a man, deep and resonant. “Katherine, where is she? I can’t find her.”

One of the women at the table, a plump, middle-aged female with tightly curled, marmalade-colored hair, gasped loudly and exclaimed, “Henry? Is that you?”

“What happened in June, Katherine? What happened to her?”

The woman called Katherine let out a nervous titter. “I don’t know what you mean, Henry. Aren’t you happy? Everyone always says they’re happy in the next world.”

“Where’s Helena? What did you do?”

An object drifted down, settling on the table in front of Katherine: a woman’s silk scarf. At the same time, a strong fragrance of violets filled the air.

“Henry! Just stop it!” Katherine swallowed, obviously struggling to maintain her composure. “It’s good to hear from you, dearest,” she said with artificial sweetness, “but perhaps you ought to stand aside and let somebody else have their turn.”

Ectoplasm continued slithering from Madame Coralie’s mouth. The last few inches flopped out, dripping wet, and she began to make low, guttural groans that sounded inhuman . The ectoplasmic column rose higher, swaying slightly like a charmed snake. Because she sat so close to the medium, Rhiannon not only had an excellent view of the ropy, slimy ectoplasm, but also detected a smell that incense and violet perfume failed to mask: an offensive sour tang that reminded her of spoiled milk.

“Is Arthur there?” asked another of the women at the table—young, blonde and chocolate box pretty. The strong family resemblance she shared with the man seated next to her made it clear they were siblings.

A horn flew across the room, stopping just above Madam Coralie’s head. “I am here!” intoned a male voice issuing from the horn. “I am here, Mary. I’ve journeyed far to see you.”

Mary inhaled sharply, visibly shaken. “Oh, Arthur… oh, I do miss you.”

“But Stephan doesn’t, does he?” Arthur said through the horn.

“What?” Mary asked, startled. “What do you mean?”

“For God’s sake!” Stephen muttered. “This is ridiculous.”

The horn dropped  several inches, performed a lazy rotation, then lunged at Stephen, stopping short of the side of his head. “You, you, you,” Arthur said. “You did it.”

“I’ve had quite enough!” Stephen lifted his hand to bat at the horn, knocking it away. “Stop taunting me, you evil hag!”

“Stephen, Stephen, you mustn’t break the circle!” Mary protested.

“Mary, you fool!” Swinging at his sister, Stephen struck the oil lamp on the table instead, knocking it over and shattering the red glass shade. Thankfully, the lamp went out instead of setting the cloth on fire. At the same time, Madame Coralie let out a piercing scream that went on and on before being abruptly cut off.

Rhiannon sat still in the utter darkness, knowing her eyes were wide open but unable to see anything at all. Hearing the crash of a chair falling over, she winced. What was happening? A woman’s loud sob came from across the table, punctuated by someone’s heavy breathing as they fumbled around the room crashing into the furniture.

“Stay in your seats,” Lina commanded. “Remain where you are!”

The scritch of a lucifer being struck was followed by the near eye-watering glow of the little wavering orange flame. Rhiannon blinked, relieved as Lina crossed the parlor to turn on the gaslight. The illumination revealed Madame Coralie slumped over the table, and no sign of the ectoplasm. Everyone except Stephen remained in their seats; he stood in the corner, gripping the edge of the thick red velvet curtain that completely smothered the window.

Rhiannon feared the worst, but after catching her raised eyebrow, Lina pressed a finger against the medium’s wrist and shook her head. “In a faint,” she said. “My dear, is your vinaigrette conveniently at hand?”

After rummaging through her reticule, Rhiannon produced a gilt-silver vinaigrette which she gave to Lina, who flipped open the top and waved it under the unconscious woman’s nose. The potent ammonia fumes from the hartshorn inside the small box soon had Madame Coralie’s eyes fluttering open.

“Oh,” she groaned, sitting up slowly. “What happened? Was the communication successful? Did we make contact?”

“Oh, yes! Arthur came straight away,” Mary enthused, then her smile faded to an anxious frown. “But my brother Stephen broke the circle, though I’m sure he didn’t mean to. Are you well, madame? Were you hurt very much?”

Madame Coralie’s kohl-rimmed gaze flickered to Stephen, who stared back at her defiantly, his mouth set in a thin line. “Oui, I am well enough,” the medium replied in her French-accented English. “Did everyone receive their messages?”

David Bliss made a short, sharp jerk of his head. “Yes, my wife Eleanor was here,” he said. “I want to speak to you, madame, in a place more private, just the two of us,” he added. “We have some matters to discuss.”

“In a little while, monsieur.” Madame Coralie looked at Katherine. “You are satisfied, oui? That your dearly departed Henry sent you a message from the other side?”

Katherine drew herself up and replied coolly, “I haven’t made up my mind.”

Madame Coralie gave the woman an unpleasant smile. “Ah, can there be any doubt remaining? Perhaps the lady requires more evidence?”

Katherine pressed her lips together, shaking her head.

“I suspect everyone’s a little fraught owing to the extraordinary events we’ve witnessed this evening,” said Dr. Carrington. He sported a full, thick black beard and mustache that practically concealed the lower half of his face, and his left eye was covered by a patch, giving him a piratical appearance at odds with a gentle voice and bluff, jolly manner. “I prescribe drinks all round, an excellent tonic for the nerves, Who’ll do the honors, eh?”

“There’s a good chap,” Stephen murmured, moving to the other side of the room. He stopped at a small table with a sherry decanter and a number of glasses on it. As he poured out a measure into each glass, Dr. Carrington passed them around the room, not forgetting Madame Coralie, who tossed her sherry back with a practiced tilt of her wrist.

Merci. Now I must retire upstairs for a few minutes to rest and recover from my ordeal,” the medium announced, rising from her chair. The starry spangles covering her loose sky-blue robe caught the light, glittering like the large cut-crystal ornament fastened to the front of the turban that covered her head. “I will return shortly. When I do, there will be other messages from your loved ones… this is promised.” She glanced at Lina and Rhiannon, then at Dr. Carrington. “Eh bien, not always do the spirits communicate through me. We will see. If not tonight, another night.”

Having given this pronouncement, Madame Coralie shook out her spangled skirts and sailed out of the room, the bells sewn on her hems tinkling at every step.

Rhiannon found the promise somewhat  more threatening than reassuring. “What do you make of it?” she asked Lina.

“The madame plays a dangerous game,” Lina answered, her expression remote. After a moment, she glanced at Rhiannon with her usual fondness. “My dear, you look out of sorts. Are you finding the séance a dreadful bore? I thought you might enjoy yourself more, considering your insatiable appetite for Gothic horrors populated by ghosts, vengeful spirits, mad monks, cemeteries, maidens with quivering bosoms and the like.”

Rhiannon flushed, though she was not ashamed of her passion for reading ‘penny bloods’ and Gothic literature. No, it was the intensity of Lina’s emerald green gaze that brought the color to her cheeks as she recalled how pleasantly they had occupied themselves in their bedroom before coming to the séance. She cleared her throat, blushing brighter at the knowing look in her lover’s eyes. “I just don’t understand why we’re here,” she said. “I can’t imagine why you’d want to attend a séance of all things.”

“As to that, I received an interesting invitation. I didn’t tell you because I thought you might enjoy the surprise.” Lina produced an envelope from her reticule, offering it to Rhiannon. “Read it, if you like.”

Taking the envelope, Rhiannon drew out a sheet of folded foolscap and read the handwritten lines:

Lady Evangeline St. Claire –
I’m afraid something terrible may happen this evening at a séance being given by Madame Coralie Girard. Please come to 110 Gower Street in Bloomsbury at eight o’clock. You once proved a great help to my friend, Lady Fitzroy; I beg you will assist me now.
Yours most sincerely,
Mrs. Mary Josepha Whitmore

The writing was a hurried scribble, made more difficult to read by blots and careless splatters of ink. “Lady Fitzroy?” Rhiannon asked, finding something else inside the envelope—a black-edged card printed on heavy stock, the type usually reserved for funeral announcements. The card contained an invitation to attend this evening’s séance.

“Lady Amanda Fitzroy, a singularly stupid woman married to Lord Peter Fitzroy. She gave a footman—her lover—the contents of her jewelry case, intending to run away with him, but the blackguard instead made off with the jewels, leaving her behind to face her husband’s wrath. I tracked the footman to a relative’s house in Ireland.” Lina’s lips quirked upward. “He proved a vicious fellow, but a few knocks on the head convinced him to turn over the stolen goods. Lord Fitzroy declined to press charges, fearing scandal. The case was hushed up.”

“And do you know Mary Whitmore? I assume that’s her over there,” Rhiannon said, nodding at the pretty blonde woman standing beside Stephen, sipping from a glass of sherry.

“The invitation is the first contact I’ve had with Mrs. Whitmore. Her brother, however…” Lina paused before continuing, “Stephen Wilcox is well known to Scotland Yard for acts of drunken violence. Their father, Sir Maccabees Wilcox, is a High Court judge who has often uses his wealth and influence to get Stephen out of trouble, most recently when the young man’s mistress accused him of beating her so savagely, she was almost blinded. Her case was settled out of court, no criminal charges were filed.”

“Good Lord… I had no idea.” Rhiannon regarded Stephen with alarm.

“Have no fear, my dear; should he dare touch the merest hair of your precious head, I will thrash him within an inch of his life.” Lina emptied her untouched sherry into a potted aspidistra on a plinth near the window as Mary approached them.

“Lady St. Claire, I’m most appreciative that you came tonight,” Mary said. “Please forgive the impertinence of introducing myself to you.”

“Quite all right, Mrs. Whitmore,” Lina replied, “We have at least one acquaintance in common, and I confess myself intrigued by your note. You said you were expecting trouble?”

“Yes.” Mary glanced at her brother, who was frowning in her direction. “I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t give you any details at the moment. After the séance, may we meet somewhere? I’ll think of an excuse to give Stephen.”

“If it suits you, we can go to my home. My carriage is outside.”

“That would be fine. Oh! Pray excuse me,  I’d better go. Stephan wants me.” Mary hurried away, returning to her brother’s side.

Rhiannon wondered about the spirit of Arthur and his relationship with Mary Whitmore. Her late husband, perhaps? She wore a lavender dress trimmed with white, which could indicate half-mourning—changing from stark black ‘weeds’  to subdued colors like mauve and grey was permitted after twelve months of full mourning for a close relative.

“I know you,” said Katherine, eyeing Lina up and down. She had come over to them  right after Mary left. “You’re that Duchess’ daughter, aren’t you,  the vulgar one who pretends to be a detective.”

Lina met the insults with a cool demeanor. “I am Lady St. Claire, daughter of the Duchess of Inishglen, and I pretend nothing. As to vulgarity… may I remind you, Mrs. Sweeney, who approached whom without a proper introduction?

Rhiannon gave an inward cheer at Katherine’s obvious chagrin: the woman’s scarlet blush clashed horribly with her orange hair. After glaring at Lina, her double chin quivering with affront, Katherine whirled around and stalked off.

Taking a drink from her glass and wrinkling her nose at the dank, faintly rancid flavor of cheap sherry, Rhiannon watched the last two sitters, a middle-aged man and woman, as they stood by the unlit fireplace, deep in conversation with each other. He was tall and running to fat, his face tanned with deep lines graven in his forehead and around his eyes. A former naval captain, Rhiannon thought, judging from his military posture.

Much shorter than her companion, the woman’s thin figure and obvious middle years were not flattered by the girlishly pink, ruffled and beribboned gown she wore. Her mouse brown hair (complete with a false fringe) was dressed in corkscrew curls in a fashion at least twenty years out of date. Rhiannon could not help but notice how much the woman twitched—making minute adjustments to her shawl, toying with the rings that weighted every finger, lightly tugging an earring, patting a curl into place.

“Captain Abbott Hallchurch and his wife, Clara,” Lina said, following the line of Rhiannon’s gaze. “Ardent spiritualists and supporters of Madame Coralie, I believe.”

Twenty minutes passed. Rhiannon stayed close to Lina, watching the people in the room. Mary talked with several other sitters including Dr. Carrington, her brother sticking close and drinking glass after glass of sherry. Katherine Sweeney kept to herself, running the silk scarf through her hands, while David Bliss stood alone in stoic silence. Every now and then a muscle in his cheek quivered.

Finally, Dr. Carrington let out a loud cough, instantly gaining everyone’s attention. “Pardon me, friends,” he said, smiling, “but I’ve never attended a séance, and while I’m not an impatient fellow, I wonder how much longer the madame might be?”

Captain Hallchurch and his wife exchanged a glance. “She rests five or ten minutes in her room between communication sessions,” Clara admitted, peering around with a concerned frown. “I don’t know what’s keeping her tonight.”

“To hell with that bloody witch!” Stephen exclaimed, drawing a shocked gasp from Clara. “I’m done cooling my heels, now I’ll get her whether she likes it or not!”

“See here, Mr. Wilcox,” Captain Hallchurch objected, “you could endanger Madame Coralie’s health by interrupting her meditations.”

“Well, to hell with you, too!” Stephen lurched forward, grabbing a bell pull on the wall and giving it several vigorous yanks. The distant sound of a bell ringing upstairs came to Rhiannon’s ears. Stephen continued to jerk the bell pull until his sister Mary protested.

“Stop Stephen! Please, I beg you… don’t make things any worse than they already are,” she pleaded, almost in tears.

His face turning red with frustration, Stephen dropped the bell pull and rounded on Mary. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he spat at her.

Embarrassed on poor Mary’s behalf, Rhiannon wanted to leave, but Lina shook her head. “Not yet, my dear. Not yet,” she murmured.

“Perhaps we’d better go upstairs and check on Madame Coralie,” Dr. Carrington suggested to Captain Hallchurch.

The two men walked out of the parlor into the entrance hall. Rhiannon watched them trudge up the narrow staircase. After a moment, Captain Hallchurch called down, “The door’s locked, and Madame Coralie isn’t answering!”

Without hesitation, Lina went across the parlor in a few strides, snatching at her grey velvet skirts and bounding up the stairs. Rhiannon hastily set her sherry glass aside and followed Lina, aware the other sitters were hot on her heels.

On the upstairs landing, Captain Hallchurch and Dr. Carrington stood in front of a closed door, the doctor’s hand on the knob. “We’ll have to break it down,” he said shortly, his good humor turned serious. “Mr. Wilcox will help us, I’m sure.”

With surly bad grace, Stephen consented, putting his shoulder to the door. Captain Hallchurch and Dr. Carrington added their efforts, and the lock soon gave way, splintering out of the wooden frame. At once, the doctor bounded over the threshold into the bedroom, headed towards the figure crumpled on the hearth rug.

Rhiannon crowded around the entrance with the rest. The medium’s bedroom was dark except for smoldering embers in the grate. Lina pushed her way through, lighting a paraffin lamp that stood on a chest of drawers beside the bed. Bringing the lamp over to the doctor, she watched grim-faced while he examined Madame Coralie.

“I’m afraid she’s dead,” he pronounced at last, rising and wiping his hands on a handkerchief taken from his jacket pocket. “Stabbed through the heart.”

“No!” Mary exclaimed in horror. “She’s been murdered? But how? Who?”

A glance showed Rhiannon a gilded dagger hilt sticking out of the dead woman’s chest. Firelight glimmered on the red gem set in the pommel, the color matching the surprisingly small bloodstain on the front of Madame Coralie’s sky blue dress. She thought she recognized the weapon—an Oriental styled letter opener she had last seen on a table beside the front door when she entered the medium’s home at the beginning of the evening.

Lina tested the only window. “Nailed shut,” she said. “And as far as I can determine with a brief examination, there is no other way in or out of the bedroom.”

“So how did the killer get inside?” Captain Hallchurch muttered, clearly shocked. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he backed away, bumping into Stephen, who turned around and shoved through the crowd, stomping downstairs.

“Oh, Abbot! I can’t bear it!” shrieked Clara, latching onto her husband and digging her fingernails into his sleeve. “I can’t bear it!” She began to weep noisily, gasping for breath, while a disconcerted Captain Hallchurch awkwardly patted her back.

“Let us return to the parlor,” Lina suggested. “There is nothing more to be done here.”

Katherine Sweeney, who had been staring transfixed at the dead woman,  turned and snarled at Lina, “Just who do you think you are, ordering us about?” Her fingers twisted and knotted the silk scarf, threatening to shred the delicate fabric.

“Just come with me, Mrs. Sweeney,” Dr. Carrington said in the sort of soothing tone one used to calm an upset child. “You’ve had a terrible shock.” He led Katherine out of the bedroom, pausing to collect Mary, Captain Hallchurch and the weeping Clara on his way.

Left alone with Lina, Rhiannon asked, “What happened?” as she pulled the bedroom door shut to give them some privacy.

“It appears Madame Coralie was stabbed through the heart by an unknown assailant.” Lina grimaced. “I do not mean to state the obvious, but that is what happened.”

Rhiannon nodded. “If the door was locked, and the window’s nailed shut, who killed her? How did they get in? No one could have come from the street, either through the front door or the back… the parlor we were in has a clear view of the stairs. Someone would’ve noticed a stranger creeping through the house.”

“True, and we were in sight of one another the entire time, so it appears our murderer must be a ghost.” Lina bent to examine Madame Coralie’s body, setting the paraffin lamp down close. “The madame has not been dead long, not even ten minutes, I would wager. Her flesh is still warm to the touch.”

“No one passed us on the stairs. Could the murderer be hiding in another room?”

“A plausible hypothesis, though too late to be tested properly. Bah!” After rummaging through the dead woman’s clothing, Lina rose from her crouch. Rhiannon noticed some white stuff poking out from beneath the spangled gown’s hem.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“The ectoplasm produced by Madame Coralie during the séance,” Lina replied. “Fine muslin soaked in egg whites. Presumably she was a regurgitator, one of those persons who can swallow a quantity of prepared muslin and vomit it up on cue.”

“Good Lord!” Rhiannon swallowed her own gorge. That explained the sour milk smell she had detected.

Lina shrugged. “As for the perpetrator’s escape, following the chaos of everyone running up the stairs, the breaking down of the door, the general hysterics upon discovering Madame Coralie weltering in her gore… frankly, my dear, an elephant could have blundered down the stairs and away without anyone the wiser.”

“Still, we could search the other rooms, see if they’re locked, too,” Rhiannon suggested. “But first we ought to summon a policeman.”

“Indeed, my dear, you are quite correct, though I would prefer testing the rooms, then turning the scene over to the inspectors and their minions.” Lina started to walk out of the bedroom, and paused so abruptly, Rhiannon almost ran into the back of her.

Making a desperate effort not to fall on her face after losing her balance, Rhiannon forced herself upright, taking a step backwards to avoid knocking Lina over. “What is it?” she asked, a trifle annoyed.

Lina stared at the bedroom door without answering. Grasping the brass knob, she swung the door open, looking at the floor. Whatever she sought, she did not find because tutting under her breath, she held the lamp high and examined the entire floor from corner to corner, including laying full length to peer under the bed.

“What’s going on here?” asked Dr. Carrington from his position in the doorway, startling Rhiannon, who had not heard him approach He sounded curious.

Lina rose from the floor, brushing dust off her velvet skirts without much success. “My dear,” she said to Rhiannon, ignoring the doctor, “I wish you to leave at once, find a constable, and report the murder to him.”

Rhiannon recognized the familiar light in Lina’s eyes, but she knew better than to say too much too soon. “I’ll go right now,” she promised. Dodging around Dr. Carrington, she hastened downstairs and out the front door, walking as quickly as she could while her heart raced in excitement. Lina knew who had killed Madame Coralie Girard!

It took a good hour before Rhiannon returned to the house on Gower Street with Inspector Saunders, a police surgeon, and several constables in tow. She found everyone in the parlor, watched over by Lina, who was smoking one of the little brown Egyptian cigarettes she preferred.

On sighting the Inspector, Katherine let out an aggrieved shout, “I demand to be allowed to go home! This… this woman is holding us captive!”

“Nonsense,” Lina replied, flicking cigarette ash into the potted aspidistra. “I said you were free to go at any time, but as potential witnesses in a homicide case, the police will surely want to speak to you forthwith, and in the interests of good citizenship, should you choose to absent yourself, I would be happy to provide names and addresses to them.”

Katherine subsided, casting a look of hatred at Lina.

“Lady St. Claire, is it?” Saunders said, not hostile but not approving, either. He had the grizzled, world-weary air of a policeman who had seen everything. “Harry Valentine’s told me you’re a good ‘un, but this is murder, and I’ll not have any interference.”

“Perfectly correct. I assume you wish to examine the scene of the crime?”

“I do.”

Lina exhaled a plume of smoke at the ceiling, a faint smile touching the corners of her mouth. “Inspector, will you first indulge me with a few moments of your time? It could be that I have made some observations which you may find interesting.”

His eyebrows rose, but he nodded. “Very well, milady, I’ll listen, but I want to send Dr. Harrison to examine the body.”

“By all means. I appreciate your diligence, Inspector.”

Saunders gave orders to his men, who went upstairs with the surgeon.

Rhiannon took a seat at the table. Looking around the parlor, she saw Stephen Wilcox standing sullenly in the corner, the empty sherry decanter in his hand. Mary Whitmore sat huddled in on herself; it was clear she had been crying. Dr. Carrington and David Bliss sat side-by-side; David had the child’s rattle, absently smoothing the coral teething bar with his thumb. Captain Hallchurch and his wife, Clara, were also seated together.

Katherine Sweeney maintained a defiant stance by the window. Someone had turned on all the gaslights, the yellowish illumination giving her marmalade-colored hair a distinct brassy tinge. “I refuse to remain here a minute longer,” she declared.

“All right,” Saunders said phlegmatically, “but you’ll have to come with me to headquarters, madam, and stay there until I have time to take a formal statement from you.”

She lifted her chin but made no further protest.

Lina crushed out her cigarette in the aspidistra. “Let me begin by stating that my companion, Miss Moore, and I were invited to the séance by Mrs. Mary Whitmore, widow of Arthur Whitmore.” She turned to Mary. “Mrs. Whitmore, will you explain to Inspector Saunders why you asked me to come here this evening?”

Mary flushed. “I thought there might be trouble,” she said in a half-whisper. “My brother… he’s been so overwrought since Arthur died.”

“Shut up,” Stephen growled.

“No, no, I won’t be quiet. You’re drunk again!” Mary cried in a sudden passion. “You’re always drunk! And I know what you did to Mrs. Kennecott, too!”

“Mrs. Kennecott?” Lina asked, casting an inquiring glance at the Inspector.

“A spiritual medium,” Saunders answered, turning a narrow-eyed gaze on Stephen Whitlock, “who was badly beaten in her home six months ago. Mrs. Kennecott has not accused anyone of the assault… yet.”

“Damned woman told a pack of lies,” Stephen muttered.

Mary gave him a hurt look. “That’s no excuse for what you did, and besides, you’re wrong—Mrs. Kennecott is a very skilled medium.”

“Tell  us exactly what happened, Mrs. Whitmore,” Lina said. “Matters have gone beyond protecting your brother from the consequences of his vile temper. The truth will out.”

“It doesn’t matter, does it? Father will save Stephen, he always does,” Mary replied bitterly. “When Arthur died a year ago… it was very hard for me. I know people talked about us. Arthur was my elder by thirty years, but I loved him. I loved him so much!” She paused to regain her composure, letting out a sigh. “Arthur treated me with such kindness that I hoped he might live forever. After he died, I turned to spiritual mediums, trying to contact Arthur and hear his beloved voice once more. Such a comfort to me.”

“I take it your brother disapproved?”

“Very much so. He discouraged me at every turn, insisted on attending séances just to disrupt them, and made himself so disagreeable we were asked not to return. Mrs. Kennecott was different. She faced Stephen down, refused to be intimidated. That’s why I’m sure he went to her house and gave her a beating, because she was not afraid of him.”

“And tonight? What did you fear might happen?”

“When Madame Coralie contacted me a week ago, I had half a mind to refuse—for her own good, not mine. Stephen would never really harm me, but he might hurt the madame. She assured me she could protect herself. Still, I feared something ugly might happen, so not knowing what else I could do, I contacted you, Lady St. Claire.” Mary gave Lina a wan smile. “You would not be afraid to contact Father directly if you knew Stephen had done something wrong, and Father would listen to you. He has a great respect for the peerage—some might say he’s a dreadful snob—and you will inherit your mother’s title some day.”

“So I was to act as spy and informant,” Lina mused, shaking her head. “Well, let us move on to more relevant matters… you say Madame Coralie contacted you?”

“Yes, I was surprised to receive her letter.”

“You did not know her?”

“Not at all.”

Lina addressed the room: “Who else here was unexpectedly contacted by Madame Coralie, and invited to join tonight’s séance? Indicate by a show of hands, if you please.”

Most of the sitters raised their hands, including Katherine Sweeney. “This is a waste of time,” the woman snapped.

Rhiannon remembered how Madame Coralie had looked at her and Lina, and Dr. Carrington as well, just before she retired upstairs, when she spoke about the spirits not always having a communication for their loved ones. Did that mean the doctor had not been invited by the medium?

“Dr. Carrington,” Lina said, as if she read Rhiannon’s thoughts, “are you certain you were invited to attend by Madame Coralie herself?”

“My apologies,” the doctor answered, lowering his hand. “I’d forgotten, you see. It was David who asked me to come.”

“Thank you.” Her hands clasped behind her back, Lina began to pace while she spoke, stalking around the room like a hunting lioness scenting her prey. “Mr. Bliss, during the séance, you believe you spoke to the spirit of a woman, Eleanor,” she said, stopping in front of David, who remained sitting in his chair.

“My late wife,” he replied shortly. “I would prefer not to discuss the matter.”

“I am sorry if these proceedings cause you any hurt, sir. Now as I recall reading in the newspapers a few months ago, Eleanor Bliss died of complications in childbed, is that not so? Yet you were taken aback and angered when her spirit mentioned your son, who presumably died with his mother. The rattle which fell to the table… did it belong to your unborn child?”

David clenched his jaw, refusing to meet her eyes.

“I do not think so,” Lina continued, her tone sympathetic but resolute. “You did not even know Eleanor was enceinte, did you?”

“What is the point of this interrogation?”  Dr. Carrington interrupted.

“To establish a motive for murder,” Lina replied, ignoring the collective gasps and curses from the other people in the parlor. “I make no accusations at the moment, merely collect the necessary facts.” Turning back to David, she said, “Mr. Bliss, the police will ascertain the truth, and I doubt they will be discreet about it. Inspector Saunders will question your family and friends, rattling old skeletons that were best left alone.”

“What do you want me to say?” David burst out. “Eleanor… I loved her, I did, but she… she…” He let out a harsh sob, gritting his teeth. “Carrington told me what happened. Ask him. He might as well tell you as well.”

“Doctor, will you elaborate?”

Put on the spot, Dr. Carrington cleared his throat. “Ah, if David agrees… well, I shan’t varnish the truth. It seems the beautiful and vain Mrs. Bliss, concerned not to lose her figure, had no wish to carry her husband’s child to term. She visited one of those blasted female abortionists, and no, Inspector, I do not have the woman’s name. The operation, if it can be called such, resulted in a severe infection that ultimately caused Eleanor’s death. To spare her family, I made no mention of the abortion on her death certificate. David did not know the real cause of his wife’s demise, either, until I told him after the séance ended. I would have preferred to keep the knowledge to myself, but in light of what the so-called spirit hinted at, I thought he should be informed in case of more revelations.”

“I thought Madame Coralie was trying to manipulate me, take advantage of my grief,” David said, his face like stone. “She would not be the first spiritual medium who pretended to contact my late wife in order to get money from me.”

“If you do not believe, why did you come?” Lina asked.

“Because I still hope Eleanor will return to me, even for a moment. It doesn’t matter what she’s done. Had she given me a son, I would have cherished him, but I love my wife more. I would have chosen her over an unborn child.” David’s expression softened, his eyes filling with tears. “I wish she’d told me. God! If she’d only had the courage to tell me.”

Dr. Carrington put a hand on David’s shoulder, but he spoke to Lina. “Lady St. Claire, I think we’ve answered enough of your questions.”

“For now, I agree. Next, we have Mrs. Sweeney, who was also chosen to receive a communication from her late husband, Henry, as well as a curious object: a silk scarf,” Lina said, swiveling to confront the woman. “Who is the Helena your husband’s spirit mentioned?”

Katherine seemed to swell with indignation, but a glance at the forbidding figure of Inspector Saunders left her deflated and looking a bit smaller, as if the loss of anger had lessened her. “If you must know,” she replied with a hint of acid, “Helena Fabian was an actress and my late husband’s mistress. The stupid woman took her own life about two months before Henry died of a fit of apoplexy.”

“Helena Fabian was found poisoned in her dressing room at the Maugham Theater,” Inspector Saunders put in. “The coroner ruled it an homicide.”

“I believe I recall the case,” Lina said, speaking to him but with her gaze locked on Katherine. “Strychnine, wasn’t it? And she died in the second week of June?”

“Indeed so, milady.”

“Any suspects of note?”

Saunders also looked at Katherine. “The case is still under investigation.”

Before Katherine could say anything, Lina walked away, moving to stand with her back to the fireplace, and subsequently fixing everyone’s attention on her alone. Rhiannon could not help feeling a trifle annoyed by the woman’s theatrics, but over time she had become resigned to Lina’s eccentricities.

“The spirit messages given to some of the sitters seem to be hinting at darker matters,” Lina said, her handsome face alight with intelligence. “We know Helena Fabian was poisoned, but was the late Henry Sweeney accusing his wife of the crime? Remember the question the spirit asked: ‘what did you do?’ Not an outright accusation, but a threat.

“What can we surmise from Eleanor Bliss’ message to her grieving husband? ‘Everyone must know’—must know what? That she obtained an illegal abortion that cost her life? If the newspapers got hold of the story, it would create a terrible scandal, destroying the reputation and loving memory of the woman David Bliss still loves.

“Now we come to the last two persons invited by Madame Coralie: Mrs. Mary Whitmore and her brother, Stephen Wilcox, a man with a reputation for violence. The spirit of Arthur Whitmore said to Stephen, ‘you did it.’ Kindly tell us, Mrs. Whitmore, how your husband died?”

“Poor Arthur, he fell down the stairs and broke his neck,” Mary replied, dabbing at her wet eyes with a handkerchief. “I was away at the time, staying with friends in the country. He was supposed to join me after completing some business in town. Stephen found Arthur’s body. It gave him quite a shock.”

“The coroner ruled it misadventure,” Saunders supplied.

“A most unfortunate accident… or was it?” Lina’s gaze fell on Stephen, who sneered and flung the heavy glass decanter down.

“If you think I killed the old man, just say it!” he said in a clear challenge.

Rhiannon thought he did not appear as drunk as she had first thought.

Lina shrugged. “I have no evidence of wrong-doing, but Arthur’s spirit seemed to think you are guilty of something.”

“Hah! You mean Madame Coralie’s accomplice, don’t you?” Stephen swept an arm through the air. “We all know she was nothing better than a confidence trickster.”

Feeling partly stupid and partly relieved that the séance had been a fraud, Rhiannon nevertheless glanced at Lina for confirmation.

“Very astute of you,” Lina said to Stephen. “I congratulate you on your perception.”

Mary inhaled sharply, her expression stark. “You mean Madame Coralie was a cheat? Everything that happened was a lie?  Arthur wasn’t… he didn’t…”

“No, Mrs. Whitmore, I fear your late husband has not spoken to you from beyond the grave, not on any occasion.”

“That’s impossible! I recognized Arthur’s voice!”

“Are you certain?” Lina asked in a gentle voice. “Perhaps because you wanted very badly to speak to the husband you lost, you were willing to believe what spiritualist mediums told you, no matter any evidence to the contrary.”

Shaking her head, Mary shrank back in her chair, the handkerchief pressed to her face.

Turning once again to Stephen, Lina said, “Your devotion and willingness to protect your sister does you credit, sir, if your methods leave much to be desired.”

“Those damned vultures,” he growled, “making promises, taking her money, and for what? A magic show that wouldn’t fool an idiot.”

“Maybe I wanted to be fooled!” Mary exclaimed, lowering the handkerchief to glare furiously at her brother. “Did that never occur to you, Stephen? I miss Arthur. He was good to me. He treated me like a grown woman, not an empty-headed child. And I was also afraid.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “I’ve overheard some of the servants talking about you. They believe you pushed Arthur down the stairs that night. You were in the house, after all.”

“I was in the house because you asked me to look in on Arthur while you were away! Now you’re listening to servants’ tattle?” Stephen sounded as grim as he looked. “I did not murder your husband, Mary. What reason would I have to want him dead?”

“Money.” Mary lifted her chin at Stephen’s snort. “Since I married a wealthy man, you’re always after me for money. Arthur didn’t like it. That’s why he was going to town. He intended to alter his will and appoint a trustee who would prevent me giving you any money when he died. You knew what he intended, Stephen. He told you.”

“Why, you ungrateful little—!”

“Mr. Wilcox, I suggest you say nothing more in the presence of Inspector Saunders until you have consulted your solicitor,” Lina interrupted. “For the moment, let us return our focus to the murder of Madame Coralie.

“I believe Madame Coralie gave hints during her séance to the people she knew were ripe for blackmail. How she obtained her information, I cannot tell, except in my experience, extortionists generally rely upon a network of informants, disgruntled servants and the like, who betray their masters’ secrets. While I have no proof, I feel confident that blackmail was indeed Madame Coralie’s game. Is that not so, Captain Hallchurch?”

Startled, the man jerked in his chair. “I beg your pardon!” he blustered.

Lina remained confident. “You and your wife acted as Madame Coralie’s accomplices. Denial is fruitless. No one else in the house could have helped her produce the effects.”

“How can that be?” Mary asked. “I touched hands with Captain Hallchurch during the séance. I’d swear he never left his seat.”

“A false hand,” Lina explained. “He slipped it onto the table when you were distracted.. In the dark, fascinated by the phenomena, you did not notice. Mrs. Hallchurch would have done the same with her neighbors, leaving them both free to manipulate the props as needed. It is a common device among spiritualists.”

Fiddling with her shawl, exchanging glances with her husband, Clara Hallchurch finally said, “Abbott and I were told what to say during the séances. Madame Coralie was very strict. Everything had to be done according to her wishes. We didn’t know what it meant. If she was blackmailing people, we didn’t know anything about it.”

“Neither of you will leave this room,” Inspector Saunders ordered the Hallchurches. “I have some questions to ask you, and we’ll be doing it at police headquarters.”

Lina addressed the rest of the sitters. “You see, the flying instruments, the ghostly hands, the levitating table were nothing more than set dressing. The true purpose of the séance was to give her potential blackmail victims a hint that their secrets were on the verge of exposure. No doubt afterwards, Mr. Wilcox, Mr. Bliss and Mrs. Sweeney would have been asked to make a ‘donation’ to Madame Coralie to keep the spirits silent.”

“It’s true,” Katherine offered, tossing the silk scarf on the table. “This belonged to Helena Fabian, or at least it’s very like the one I saw her wearing once at the theatre. Can you believe Henry took me to see her perform? Of course, at the time I had no idea she was his mistress. At any rate, Madame Coralie was going to ask me for money, I’m certain of that. It was obvious she thought I poisoned the woman.”

“Did you?” Lina asked blandly.

Katherine glared, her arms crossed over her chest..

Rhiannon noticed Lina carefully did not smile.

“We have three people here who had good reason to want Madame Coralie dead,” Lina said. “However, all of us were in this room, visible to one another from the moment the madame went upstairs to the time she was found dead. No stranger could have entered the house. The bedroom window was nailed shut, and the door locked. Yet somehow, someone managed to get by us, stab Madame Coralie in the heart, and escape without leaving a trace.” She paused. “Of course, we all made an incorrect assumption.”

Several seconds passed while Lina let them stew. Rhiannon felt the tension in the room rising, humming feverishly along her nerves like an electric current. At last, when she could bear it no longer, someone else broke the silence.

“Well?” demanded Inspector Saunders. “Have you aught to add, milady, or should I join my men upstairs?”

Lina made a slight grimace as the Inspector shattered the suspenseful moment, but she said graciously, “I’ll continue, if you do not mind. As I was saying, our incorrect assumption was that the bedroom door was locked before the murder took place.”

“But Dr. Carrington told me—!” Captain Hallchurch broke off, looking distressed and pressing a hand to his mouth.

“Did you test the door yourself?” Lina asked him.

“Just wait a moment!” Dr. Carrington exclaimed, half rising from his seat. It was the first time Rhiannon has seen him less than good-humored. “How dare you accuse me!”

“Sit down and be quiet!”  Saunders commanded.

Dr. Carrington complied, though his stiff movements spoke of reluctance.

“Captain, did you test the bedroom door yourself?” Lina repeated.

“No, I did not,” he replied. “When the doctor told me the door was locked, I had no reason not to believe him.”

“And you have no proof, either,” Dr. Carrington put in. “I tell you it was locked!”

Lina shook her head. “If the bedroom door was locked, where is the key?”

“Well, it must’ve fallen out of the keyhole when Captain Hallchurch and I broke down the door,” Dr. Carrington answered dismissively.

“I searched the entire room and found no key.”

“You must not have searched thoroughly enough,” he countered.

“I checked the room from top to bottom, not forgetting beneath the bed and in the corners. Furthermore, Madame Coralie’s dress has a single secret pocket into which she hides the ‘ectoplasm’ produced during her séances—in reality, no more than yards of egg white-soaked muslin. There is no key on her body,” Lina said. “Unless the woman drifted through the walls like the ghosts she claimed to contact, she could not have gotten in or out of the bedroom without a key. Therefore, I conclude the door was never locked.”

“But why would he lie?” David Bliss spoke in defense of his friend.

“Because Dr. Carrington murdered Madame Coralie.”

Lina’s announcement caused excitement. Several people began speaking at once, Clara Hallchurch squawking the loudest of them all. Inspector Saunders finally held up both hands, shouting,. “Enough! I’ll ask you all to be quiet. Quiet, now!” Turning to Lina, he added in a more normal volume, “That’s a serious accusation, milady.”

“To be sure, but allow me to continue and I will try to make my conclusion clear.” She addressed the room once more, “Why would Dr. Carrington lie about the door being locked? Only if he desired to conceal the fact that it was not locked. Why would he do that? To make a straightforward murder seem inexplicable, and give himself an unshakable alibi. The explanation makes sense.”

David asked,  “How could Neville have stabbed Madame Coralie? He was here with us. Seven witnesses, including yourself, can attest to his presence..”

“I have no proof that would guarantee a guilty verdict at trial,” Lina said. “What I do have is a collection of fact which, when taken together, tend to point in a singular direction.” She ticked off the points on her fingers. “Fact: Dr. Carrington suggested someone ought to check on Madame Coralie. Fact: Dr. Carrington lied about the bedroom door being locked. Fact: the letter opener used as the murder weapon was on a table near the front door, clearly visible and easily accessible to anyone passing by. And a final fact: the wound through Madame Coralie’s heart ought to have produced a quantity of blood, but it did not, therefore she was already dead when she was stabbed. Why would a murderer stab the corpse? Only to try and conceal the cause of death.”

“You’re mad,” the doctor said, but his voice faltered when he spoke.

“You have your medical bag with you, do you not?” Lina asked. “Yes, I see it there. Every doctor of my acquaintance carries a selection of sedatives with him. What did you slip into Madame Coralie’s drink? I suspect chloral hydrate, an overdose which killed her.”

“I remember Stephen poured the sherry, but you handed round the glasses,” Mary remarked to Dr. Carrington. “And you suggested we all have a drink.”

“Having given Madame Coralie the drugged sherry, you must have been elated when she went upstairs to rest,” Lina went on. “Thinking quickly, you devised a plan. If she died from a drug overdose, there would be questions asked by the police. As the only doctor in the group, you would be the natural suspect. Knowing she must be unconscious or dead, after an interval you expressed concern for the woman’s welfare. Palming the letter opener as you followed Captain Hallchurch upstairs was child’s play.

“You pretended the door was locked, sounding an alarm. When the door was broken down, in the confusion you made certain you were the first person over the threshold. Bending over the body, you thrust the letter opener into her heart. No doubt you hoped by creating mystery around Madame Coralie’s murder, you would deflect attention and suspicion away from yourself. It very nearly worked, too, except for the missing key.”

“Why?” David asked Dr. Carrington, grasping his arm and giving it a shake. “Why did you do it, Neville? I’ve never known you to… I never thought you capable of murder.”

Rhiannon caught her breath at the emotions simmering in Dr. Carrington’s expression: grief, resignation, a deep abiding fury and a great deal more.

“You’re right,” he said hoarsely, smoothing his beard and pushing his tousled hair off his forehead. “I killed her. She was a parasite, a black-hearted witch who deserved death.

“Ten years ago, a woman named Girard found out my wife had born a child out of wedlock, and threatened to make the matter public. I knew about the bastard child, of course—it happened long before Emily and I married—but I had forgiven her. I loved my wife, and did not care about her past. Still, she feared her old sin being exposed for the boy’s sake. He lives with a family in France, and knows nothing of the unhappy circumstances of his birth. Girard apparently worked for the family, found some papers relating to the boy’s irregular status, and came to England for the purpose of blackmail.”

“What happened?” Lina asked when he paused.

“Girard wanted money,” Dr. Carrington snarled, thumping his fist on the table. “We managed to meet the woman’s demands, but she wanted more, and more, and more! It never ended!” He glared at the silent onlookers, and after a few seconds a kind of eerie calm settled over him. He continued much more mildly, “Emily could bear it no longer. She stole a bottle of chloral hydrate from my surgery and committed suicide.”

“You never reported the extortion to the police, did you?”

“The police are worthless in such cases. No, Girard tried to ruin us, and she killed Emily with her greed. Afterwards, she disappeared. I never saw her again until tonight.” He exhaled, his one eye glittering. “How can I describe how I felt when I walked into this house, and there she was, the devil woman! She did not recognize me; I lost my eye in a hunting accident a few years ago, and grew the beard to hide some facial scars.

“Everything came rushing back to me in an instant, as if ten years had never passed. I had to kill her. I would not rest until she was dead. So I did as you described—gave Girard an overdose of chloral hydrate in her sherry. I carry a supply in my bag. Then I waited until I was certain the drug had done its work, and suggested we ought to check on her. I took the letter opener when Captain Hallchurch and myself were on the way upstairs, and I pretended the door was locked. The rest you know.” He shrugged. “She was already dead when I stabbed her. A pity, since I hoped she might suffer as my poor Emily suffered, but I am satisfied that justice was served.”

“And justice will be served again,” Inspector Saunders said. “Though I feel sorry for you, sir,  it is my duty to place you under arrest for the willful murder of Coralie Girard.”

“So be it. At least my Emily can rest now, and if they hang me, I will join her on the other side.” Dr. Carrington seemed at peace. He allowed Saunders to screw the cuffs around his wrists, and went with him without protest. Rhiannon thought his steps were lighter, his back straighter, as if a terrible burden had been lifted from him.

“I cannot blame the man,” Lina said, coming to wind an arm around Rhiannon’s waist. Her voice lowered, taking on a darker tone. “If you were taken from me, my dear, I would go to Hell itself to find the person responsible.”

Rhiannon felt the same. Shivering, she  pressed briefly against the length of Lina’s body, solid and warm and reassuring. “If it happened,” she replied around the knot in her throat, “my spirit would come back to you. I wouldn’t leave you alone, I swear.”

Lina squeezed her, saying, “Perhaps God will be kind, and leave neither of us mourning the other, but the subject is depressing, my dear. Let us not think of such things. Besides,” she added, laughing a little, “have I not proven to you that ghosts do not exist?”

Despite Lina’s logic, Rhiannon fancied she heard the soft chime of a tambourine, and smelled the scent of perfume, and heard a whisper that sounded like a woman’s sigh when Dr. Carrington was led out of the house, his head held high

THE END

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The Gaslight Series Novels
Black by Gaslight
The Madonna of the Sorrows
The Witch’s Kiss
The Curse of the Jade Dragon – 2010
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THE SAILOR’S KNOT
Nene Adams Copyright 2005
A Short Story in the World of Gaslight


“Much suspected by me, nothing proved can be.” – Queen Elizabeth I of England

The Months have ends — the Years — a knot —
No Power can untie
To stretch a little further
A Skein of Misery…
—Emily Dickenson, The Complete Poems

“If you cannot help my poor brother, he will surely be hanged!” the woman cried, her bone china teacup rattling in its saucer as her hand trembled with the force of her distress.

At this declaration from her client, Lady Evangeline St. Claire raised her brows in disbelief, then reached over and steadied Evelyn Shaw’s cup before she spilled tea on the poppy-orange merino skirts of her dress. “Surely your brother has nothing to fear if he is innocent,” she murmured.

Lina’s partner and lover, Rhiannon Moore, let out an unladylike snort. “Men have been condemned to death on little or no evidence, as you well know,” she said, putting down the cucumber sandwich she had been nibbling and picking up a small notebook and mechanical pencil from the table.

“Very well,” Lina sighed. “You are correct, my dear.” Her gaze transferred to Evelyn Shaw. “Begin at the beginning, Miss Shaw, and omit no detail, however slight.”

“Can you help my brother?” Evelyn asked.

“I shall do what I can, certainly.” Lina took an Egyptian cigarette from a silver-and-jade case and lit it with a struck lucifer, shaking out the match and depositing it in a little dish on the side table near her elbow. A thin stiletto of smoke trailed lazily into the air.

“That is all I may ask of you, Lady St. Claire.” Evelyn smoothed a stray lock of brown hair behind her ear. Her eyes were red-rimmed and slightly swollen from weeping. Removing a crumpled handkerchief from her reticule,  she patted her face with the cambric square before continuing, “My brother Thomas and I are American, although we were born in England and have lived here all our lives. Our mother is English, you see; she and our American father separated when Thomas and I were young children. We – that is, myself, Thomas and my mother –  live in Essex. Father lived in New York City, the last scion of the wealthy Shaw family.”

“Lived?” Lina asked.

“Yes, our father is dead these eighteen months. Until then, we – that is, my mother, my brother and myself – lived on a small stipend which he gave us for the purpose. Six years ago, when Thomas professed an interest in joining the Royal Navy, Father was kind enough to forward the necessary funds for his commission into the officer’s ranks. Unfortunately, Thomas had to leave the service last year on account of an injury he received in the line of duty while serving on the H.M.S. Hotspur.”

“What sort of injury?”

Evelyn frowned. “Thomas’ leg was badly broken during a storm. It left him with a permanent limp. At any rate, during my brother’s convalescence, our father died, leaving us with a sizeable inheritance as well as properties in New York and London. At about the same time, Thomas met a woman named Adelaide Heath.”

Rhiannon glanced up from her notes. “I read about this in the newspaper. Adelaide Heath is the woman that your brother has been accused of murdering.”

“Indeed. Do go on, Miss Shaw,” Lina said, propping her elbow on the arm of the settee and resting her chin in her hand. Between the first two fingers of her other hand, the Egyptian cigarette smoldered.

“Adelaide Heath was a mill worker, one of those weaver girls,” Evelyn said, grimacing. “Believe me, I did not hold her trade or her birth against her, though some others might. Rather, Mother and I objected to the pernicious influence she seemed to have over Thomas.”

“Perhaps you can explain the manner of this influence.”

“Until Thomas met Adelaide, he rarely drank. He never raised his voice. He-” Evelyn broke off, her shoulders shaking. Holding the handkerchief to her eyes, she took several deep breaths before going on, “Thomas was never violent, Lady St. Claire. Never. But after he took up with Adelaide… well, she introduced him to heavy drinking and… and other unsavory things. Cocaine. He would buy Vin Mariani coca tonic and mix it with gin. Thomas and Adelaide used to have screaming rows; he struck her on more than one occasion. She gave as good as she got; Adelaide was no weakling and Thomas often sported bruises.”

“Cocaine… the crystalline alkaloid obtained from the leaves of the coca plant, indigenous to South America,” Lina said, recalling the necessary information. “It is a nerve stimulant as well as a physical stimulant and can, in certain cases, cause a persecution complex leading to violence. Cocaine is also a pain reliever, and Vin Mariani – approved by the Pope and our own Queen, no less – is a seven percent solution. Did you brother suffer much from his injured leg?”

“Yes, and he took opium for it as well.”

Lina nodded, understanding the nature of addiction all too well. “I do not wish to contradict you, Miss Shaw, but it may be supposed that your brother’s difficulties did not stem so much from contact with Miss Heath but because of the loss of his Naval career coupled with a crippling and painful injury.”

“That may very well be, Lady St. Claire,” Evelyn said adamantly, “but nevertheless, Adelaide Heath was not a good influence on Thomas. Matters degenerated to the extent that Mother asked Thomas to leave our home; she could no longer tolerate their carousing and fights. My brother and his paramour found a place in London, in Limehouse near the West India Dock Road, renting a filthy little room from a Chinaman named Ah Soong.

“There they lived in sin, one presumes, until Adelaide’s death six weeks ago.”

“Did not the police surgeon originally proclaim Adelaide Heath’s death a suicide?”

“Yes. He said she hanged herself, but the policeman in charge of the investigation – Inspector Letchford – said it was murder and arrested Thomas for the crime. The jury at the coroner’s inquest agreed with the Inspector and brought back a verdict of premeditated murder.” Evelyn sniffled into her handkerchief. “I fear my brother will be convicted. As Miss Moore stated, men have been put to death on less evidence.”

Lina stabbed her cigarette out in the dish on the side-table. “Say no more, Miss Shaw. I would prefer to review the police evidence directly.”

Hope dawned in Evelyn’s gaze. “Oh! Thank you, Lady St. Claire! Thank you!” She burst into tears of relief, forcing Rhiannon to wield both vinaigrette and a bottle of sal volatile with vigor.

After Evelyn Shaw had recovered and been escorted out of the study by their elderly butler, Jackson, Rhiannon turned to Lina and asked, “Well? What’s our next step, love?”

Lina rose to her feet, shaking out her black-and-tan striped skirts. “We shall proceed to Scotland Yard to interview Inspector Letchford. Ask Jackson to summon a hansom cab, my dear. I do not wish to waste time waiting upon our own carriage. Although Mr. Thomas Shaw is not in danger of  Jack Ketch’s less-than-tender hempen ministrations just yet, I should imagine he will want to be relieved of the charge as soon as possible.”

Inspector Letchford proved to be the sort of earnest, well-fed, slightly under-educated individual who ought to have been walking a constable’s beat and would have, too, had it not been for his wife’s connections. Through discreet inquiry of a police clerk of her acquaintance, Lina learned that worthy woman was the Police Commissioner’s second cousin and therefore, nepotism had elevated the good Letchford into a position for which he was hardly qualified, but the same could have been said for a number of other detective inspectors in her opinion.

“Ah, I’ve heard about you from Harry Valentine,” Letchford said upon Lina’s self-introduction, his head tilting to one side. “How may I help you, milady? Oh, and Miss Moore, of course.”

Lina returned his smile. “I wish to discuss the Adelaide Heath case with you, Inspector, if it is not inconvenient.”

He nodded,  sucking his teeth, then probed inside his mouth with a  beefy finger. Removing a shred of something – meat seemed likely – Letchford examined it before popping the morsel back into his mouth for re-consumption. Gaslight shimmered on the balding dome of his head. “Aye, Thomas Shaw’s the killer’s name. The dead woman’s fiancé.”

“How did you determine that Mr. Shaw was responsible for Miss Heath’s death?” Lina asked, making every attempt to conceal her disgust at his ill manners.

Letchford leaned back in his chair. A bit of grease made a shiny spot in the center of his necktie, punctuated by a blob of egg yolk, doubtless from his breakfast that morning. “Well, now, I suppose that I might be willing to slip you a few details, milady, in return for…” He made a rubbing gesture with the fingers and thumb of his right hand.

Lina opened her reticule and took out a sovereign. “Will this suffice?” she asked, giving him her hardest stare and daring him to ask for more.

The coin vanished as if by magic. “Let’s see, milady… it was the Adelaide Heath case, eh?” At her impatient nod, Letchford continued, “Constables Darcy and Riggs were making their appointed nightly rounds in Limehouse by the West India Dock Road when they were summoned by a heathen Chinee fellow who owns a boarding house there. On entering the premises, the constables found Adelaide Heath a-hanging by her neck from a rafter, and Thomas Shaw on a pallet in the same filthy room, having drunk himself into a stupor.”

“And the constables alerted Scotland Yard.”

“Aye, that they did. The surgeon said ‘twas suicide but I knew better, see, on account of the knot.”

Lina frowned. “Perhaps you had better explain, Inspector. Do you mean the hangman’s knot?”

“The rope was passed twice ‘round Adelaide Heath’s neck and tied in a sailor’s knot called a clove hitch behind the right ear. Begging your pardon, milady, but no woman would know how to tie such a knot, and Thomas Shaw had been a sailor, serving on the Hotspur before he smashed his leg.” Letchford smiled complacently. “It was obvious to me that he’d done for Adelaide and tried to make it look like suicide.”

“Do you have the rope? I should like to examine it.”

Letchford pursed his lips. “I can show it to you, if you like, but I’ll have to remain present during the examination, milady. ‘Tis evidence, you understand.”

“Naturally, Inspector,” she replied dryly. “I would not dream of asking to see evidence unsupervised.”

Casting a longing eye at the remains of a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich on his desk, Letchford grunted and summoned a clerk. In due course, the clerk arrived bearing the rope with which Adelaide Heath had been hanged. Lina examined the article closely, especially the knot.

“Hmph. You are correct,” Lina said, sounding disappointed, “this is indeed a clove hitch, used by the nautical community. It is also utilized by farmers and in such circumstances, known as ‘two half-hitches.’” She tossed the rope down, unsatisfied. “Well, I can learn nothing else here. Inspector, I should like to interview Thomas Shaw, as I have been retained by his sister to perform an independent investigation of the case.”

Letchford dug in his metaphorical heels. “I don’t much care for the notion of respectable ladies visiting Newgate Gaol,” he said, thrusting out his lower lip in a stubborn pout. “It ain’t proper, what with all them criminals about the place.”

Lina made an effort not to roll her eyes at the man’s obstinacy. However, it would do no good to alienate Inspector Letchford, no matter the provocation. His cooperation was required, especially if any evidence of Thomas Shaw’s innocence was uncovered. Further bribery seemed neither necessary nor prudent. As she considered what to do, Rhiannon put on her brightest smile and leaned forward, laying a hand on Letchford’s arm.

“I’m sure Inspector Valentine has told you about Lord St. Claire,” Rhiannon cooed, gazing soulfully at the man from beneath her lashes. “Perhaps that worthy gentleman may visit Newgate in Lady St. Claire’s place.”

Lina was wont to wear male dress and play the masculine part when it suited her do to so, and Inspector Valentine was familiar with the lady’s deceptive habits. Rhiannon’s suggestion was not as outré as it may have appeared to one who was not aware of her theatrical training. She blessed the woman for her quick thinking.

Under Rhiannon’s gentle flirtation, Letchford puffed himself up like a pouter pigeon, smoothing his graying mustaches. “Well, of course I’d accommodate Lord St. Claire,” he said, patting Rhiannon’s hand and missing the blazing look that Lina directed at him. “Nothing easier, my dear girl. Nothing easier. I’ll send a note to the turnkeys to admit the gentleman to see the prisoner Shaw whenever he wishes.”

“Thank you, inspector,” Rhiannon said, removing her hand from his arm, much to Lina’s relief. “Thank you so much,” she  repeated, latching on to Lina’s forearm and tugging hard to get her in motion. “I’m certain that Lord St. Claire will express his gratitude at your cooperation… perhaps a letter to the Commissioner?”

Letchford looked pleased. “Naturally,” he murmured, his eyes narrowing to satisfied slits, “I should be only too pleased… a great honor…”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Lina said, making her farewells and steering Rhiannon out of the building. Once on the pavement, she pulled on her own gloves and used her parasol to attract the attention of a hansom cab. “We must return home to Grosvenor Street before paying a call on Mr. Shaw, so that I may make a change of costume,” she said.

Rhiannon asked, “Do you have any idea of Thomas Shaw’s guilt or innocence yet?”

“At the moment, I am maintaining an open mind,” she answered. A hansom cab halted beside them; she helped Rhiannon inside, telling the driver the address, and settled on the seat to consider how best to handle the case.

Sometime later, after Lina had changed into a man’s costume of tailored grey wool, she and Rhiannon took another cab to the infamous Newgate Gaol at the corner of Newgate Street and the Old Bailey. Representing herself as a solicitor – she had calling cards made up for a variety of professions – and Rhiannon as Shaw’s sister, she was admitted into the condemned man’s cell.

Shaw was thin and pale, his eyes bloodshot, his cheeks prickly with stubble.  After Lina explained the purpose of their visit, he continued staring at her dully. “What’s there to tell?” he shrugged, not moving from the hard little bench that doubled as a bed in his cell. “Adelaide is dead. The case is closed.”

“Not entirely,” Lina insisted.  “Did you kill Adelaide Heath?”

“I don’t know.” Shaw raked impatient fingers through his hair. “Do you know how often the police have asked me that self-same question? I loved Adelaide, I hated Adelaide… I cherished her and I wanted to destroy her, all at the same time. Could I have killed her? It’s certainly a possibility. Did I do it? I can’t remember.”

Lina blew out a sigh. “What happened that day? Can you remember that much?”

Shaw shrugged again. “I went to a place in Limehouse… an opium master’s house. He gave me half-a-dozen pipes. After I recovered, it was back to the room we rented from Ah Soong. Adelaide had bought a fresh bottle of gin. We drank some of it – how much, I do not know – mixed with the last of the Vin Mariani. The pain didn’t matter anymore; it could not touch me. I dreamed for a while. When I woke up, I was being charged with murder.”

“Your injured leg… I take it that the pain is chronic.”

“You take it correctly.” Shaw stood up and lurched around the tiny cell. His foot was turned in at an angle and his limp was severe. “I had to go aloft during a storm and I fell from the ratlines,” he said. “The ship’s surgeon wanted to amputate but I didn’t want to lose my leg. Matters might have gone asier had I permitted the surgery to take place.”

“So you take opium as well as drink liquor and cocaine to alleviate the pain.”

“Yes. Adelaide showed me. A blessing as well as a curse.” Shaw sank back down on the bench. “We met at the chemist’s, where I went to buy Godfrey’s Cordial and a bottle of laudanum. My naval career was over; I was at home with no one but my mother and sister for company. God knows I love them both but I was used to the company of men, not chattering females. I had no useful occupation except to sit in a chair and watch the world walk past my window. The never-ending ennui was worse than the constant pain.

“At any rate, Adelaide was exciting and unpredictable,” he continued. “She was a passionate woman, fiery of temperament, a true virago. Adelaide was just as likely to kiss me as she was to start a row, pushing me and insulting me until I snapped and hit her, and she hit me in return. I never struck a woman before Adelaide. Never.”

“I believe you,” Lina said, nodding.  Two people with very passionate natures who thrived on conflict might destroy one another even as they loved one another. “Go on.”

“We moved out of my mother’s house in Essex and took a cheap room. I had money, thanks to an inheritance after my father’s passing,” Shaw said, “but Adelaide preferred to stay in Limehouse rather than take lodgings in a more respectable quarter. I did not care, as long as I had access to opium and cocaine and gin.”

“How do you feel now?” Rhiannon asked softly.

“More human than I have felt in many months,” Shaw admitted, “although the first few weeks were a taste of Hell that I should not like to repeat.”

“’Opium! dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain!” Lina quoted from Thomas de Quincey’s book, Confessions of an English Opium Eater. “I had heard of it as I had of manna or of ambrosia, but no further. How unmeaning a sound was it at that time: what solemn chords does it now strike upon my heart! what heart-quaking vibrations of sad and happy remembrances!’”

Shaw sat back and scrubbed his whiskery face with both hands. “Indeed, my remembrances are more sad than happy.”

Lina took the silver-and-jade case out of her jacket pocket and offered her usual Egyptian cigarettes to Shaw, who took one and allowed her to light it with a lucifer. The lingering brimstone fragrance of spent sulphur helped cover up the prison stench briefly – a sour stew of unwashed bodies, mold and damp, human waste and worse. He inhaled deeply and coughed, spewing staccato clouds of cigarette smoke. Lina patted Shaw on the back until he regained control and looked up at her with watering eyes and a sheepish smile.

“My apologies,” Shaw said, waving the cigarette he held pinched between thumb and forefinger. “I’d forgotten what quality tobacco tastes like.”

“Mr. Shaw, your turbulent relationship aside, did you have any other reason to desire Adelaide Heath’s death?”

“None that I can recall.”

Lina hesitated a moment. The cell was illuminated solely by the stub of a tallow candle; shifting shadows painted her face with the hollow eyes and shaded cheekbones of a skull. “Had Miss Heath attempted self-harm in the past?”

“You mean suicide?” Shaw snorted, sending twin jets of smoke billowing from his nostrils. “There were scars on her arms and she told me that she had taken poison once. Adelaide’s moods were like a kaleidoscope; one day ecstatic, the next day sullen or angry or miserable or spleenish or melancholic. One never knew how she was going to act or react to anything. Her changeable moods were the reason I found her so exciting.”

“Your sister told us that Miss Heath worked in a mill.”

“Yes, as a weaver at the Solomon & Sons mill in Bradford, Yorkshire. Adelaide had some distant relations in London; when she left the mill, she came here and stayed with them a while before we met. The Saltaires, as I recall; they live in Spitalfields. ”

Lina inclined her head. “Well, Mr. Shaw, further investigation is required before a resolution may be found, however I may tentatively say that I do not believe you murdered Adelaide Heath.”

“Oh? And how came you by that belief, since twelve good men and true will almost surely find me guilty?” Shaw leaned over and crushed the cigarette stub beneath his boot heel.

“Your affair with Miss Heath was, by your sister’s account and your own, a turbulent one. You had nothing to gain financially or socially by killing the woman; the only logical reason you may have done so was a crime passionel. Had Miss Heath been strangled or stabbed or beaten to death, I could easily attribute the murder to a man driven to madness by drink and drugs. However, to disguise murder as suicide requires a cold calculation that admits no emotional elements. It is not done on the spur of the moment. It must be planned.”

For the first time, a flicker of hope lighted his eyes, then it vanished, snuffed out by despair and something else…the acceptance of a coming death that dares not waver.  “So you think someone else killed Adelaide? Why?” he asked, his tone indifferent, his gaze averted.

“The answer to that question lies elsewhere, Mr. Shaw. I shall remain in touch. Good day.” Lina touched the brim of her hat and called the turnkey to open the cell door. As she exited, her last sight of Thomas Shaw was a despondent figure sitting on a hard wooden bench, leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed. The uncertain flickering light of the tallow candle cast a halo around his dark head; he might have been one of Raphael’s more sorrowful angels.

“And now we must scour Spitalfields for the Saltaires,” Lina said thoughtfully, tapping her lower lip with a finger. “Have you any ideas, my dear?”

“An inquiry in the Agony Column in the Times, perhaps?” Rhiannon suggested.

“Excellent! Yes, I know the very bait required to lure any Saltaires from their burrows. Let us go to the offices of the Times, my dear, and place our advertisement at once.”

That being accomplished, Lina took Rhiannon home to await results.

Several days later, the two of them were having breakfast in the dining room. Rhiannon poured the tea, while Lina rifled through the morning mail brought by Jackson on the butler’s silver salver. Gratified, she held up an envelope. “It seems our bait has been successful and we have caught at least one of our prey,” she said.

Rhiannon nodded, her mouth full of toast and marmalade.

Lina was pleased at the result. The advertisement placed in the Agony Column had read: ‘Any Saltaire currently living in Spitalfields: if you will contact No. 38, Grosvenor Street, you will hear something that will be to your advantage.’ The simple notice was guaranteed to appeal, as it implied that money was involved.

She opened the envelope with a butter knife and perused the note. “A Miss Elizabeth Saltaire,” she said, “who lives in Hanbury Street. We shall pay her a call this afternoon.”

Rhiannon swallowed, taking a sip of milky tea. “What are you thinking, love?”

“B does not necessarily follow A, my dear. That is all I shall say for the nonce.” Lina wielded her knife and decapitated a soft-boiled egg with a single stroke, refusing to comment despite Rhiannon’s put-upon sigh.

Miss Elizabeth Saltaire lived on Hanbury Street close to Commercial Street. The second victim of the so-called Jack the Ripper – Dark Annie Chapman – had been killed at No. 29, so both Lina and Rhiannon were familiar with the area. The buildings were mean brown-brick hovels that huddled together on either side of the street, some of them with shops below and living spaces above. Elizabeth Saltaire’s lodgings were above No. 22; she lived in a small room with arsenic-green paper on the walls and very little furniture: a bed, a dresser with a broken leg propped by a piece of wood, a table near the fly-specked window and a single chair.

Elizabeth herself was a bedraggled, middle-aged female whose ill-fitting black wool dress stank of gin and lack of hygiene. She grinned at Lina and Rhiannon, showing a few missing teeth, and ushered them inside. From the obsequious manner that she affected, it seemed clear that Elizabeth recognized Quality (and a potential reward) when she saw it.

“How may I help you, milady?” Elizabeth asked after introductions had been made.

“I understand that you are a relation of the late Adelaide Heath,” Lina said.

“Oh, yes, our mums were cousins or some such,” Elizabeth replied, smoothing her skirts. “Has our dear Addie left me something? I’d heard she hooked a West End swell with deep pockets.” She smacked her lips, her grin widening.

“I want information, Miss Saltaire, and I am willing to pay generously for it.” Lina removed some Bank of England notes from her reticule and held them up for Elizabeth’s inspection. The woman had likely never seen such largesse in one place in her life, she thought. Elizabeth’s eyes grew round.

“For me?” she asked, her hands trembling.

“For you,” Lina confirmed, “in return for answering my questions honestly and to the best of your ability.”

Elizabeth’s eyes became suspicion-filled slits but she nodded. “Alright, milady. Ask your questions.”

Lina did. At one point, she took a piece of string from her pocket and gave it to Elizabeth, who quickly and expertly tied a knot into it. Rhiannon’s coppery brows rose nearly to her hairline but she remained a quiet spectator until after Lina had paid Elizabeth the money and they were outside in Hanbury Street.

“Are we going to see Inspector Letchford again?” Rhiannon asked.

“I am tempted to wait until the last minute in order to cause maximum embarrassment to the Inspector.” Lina chuckled, picturing the hapless man’s embarrassment. “However, that course of action would not be fair to Mr. Shaw, who languishes in durance vile. Instead, I shall invite Evelyn Shaw and Letchford to Grosvenor Street, and ask the inspector to bring Mr. Shaw as well. All interested parties should be present for the dénouement.”

That evening, once everyone had arrived at the house in Grosvenor Street and arranged themselves in chairs set out for the purpose in the study, Lina leaned an elbow against the mantelpiece and began her explanation.

“In the process of logical ratiocination and deduction, one never assumes,” she said. “One observes the facts objectively and creates a theory based upon these observations. The conclusion remains a theory until it has been proved by the evidence to be true.”

She surveyed the people in the room. Rhiannon sat on an ottoman by the fire. Letchford seemed bored but his gaze glittered. Evelyn Shaw clutched her brother Thomas’ hand as if it was a lifeline. As for Shaw himself… the man appeared defeated; his shoulders slumped, his complexion was prison-pale and his face was deeply lined with care.

Lina continued, “B does not necessarily follow A. Assuming that this is the proper progression without evidence is a mistake, and one to which, alas, the police are prone. Oh, I do not place all the blame on the police. Juries are just as likely to convict a prisoner because they do not like the shape of his nose or the color of his tie as they are to pay attention to the actual evidence in the case.”

“Just what are you getting at?” Letchford asked bluntly.

“Adelaide Heath committed suicide.” Lina’s equally blunt answer seemed to take Letchford by surprise.

After a moment, however, the shock faded from his face and he sniggered. “You won’t fool me, Lady St. Claire. Shaw’s guilty, all right. He killed her and you won’t convince me or twelve Englishmen otherwise.”

“I beg to differ.” Lina went to her desk where a hemp rope lay coiled on the top of the blotter. Picking up the rope in one hand, she used the other to yank the bell-pull. When the butler, Jackson, entered the study at her summons, Lina directed him to show in their ‘guest.’

“Who’s this?” Letchford cried upon sighting the slim, snaggle-toothed female in ill-fitting black wool who was escorted into the room.

“This is Miss Elizabeth Saltaire,” Rhiannon said, “who once worked at the Jellicoe cotton mill in Lancashire, and later, at a mill in Yorkshire with her relation, Miss Heath.”

Elizabeth bobbed her head nervously at the Inspector.

“Miss Saltaire was an expert weaver, the same as Adelaide Heath,” Lina said, moving to give the rope to Elizabeth. “B does not necessarily follow A, Inspector Letchford. You assumed that none but a sailor could tie a clove hitch knot. However, I already knew the same knot was used by farmers and called ‘two half-hitches.’ It therefore seemed quite plausible to me that an identical knot could be used by a former weaver, called by a name that suits its occupation. Knots are, you must admit, quite the vogue in the textile industry. I tested my theory by visiting Miss Saltaire.”

At Lina’s nod of permission, Elizabeth Saltaire took the rope. First, she made two loops twisted in opposite directions, then placed the left loop under the left part of the right loop in order to form a hole. She put her own head through the hole and pulled the ends, securing the clove hitch behind her right ear.

Letchford stood, knocking his chair over backwards. “You planned this,” he fumed at Lina, pointing an accusatory finger. “You showed this woman how to tie the knot.”

“Indeed, I did not,” Lina asserted, the corner of her mouth quirking up in a half-smile. “Within mill circles, this type of fastening is known as a ‘harness knot’ and it is used, not surprisingly, for mending harnesses. Go to any of the dark satanic mills and any weaver you choose at random will be able to demonstrate that particular knot for you.”

“So the Heath woman committed suicide after all?” Letchford asked almost plaintively, deflating in the face of Lina’s certainty.

“Yes, she did. Adelaide Heath suffered from fits of severe melancholia. Although Mr. Shaw may be guilty of aiding Miss Heath’s mental instability by providing her with the funds necessary to purchase quantities of drink and drugs, he is innocent of the crime of murder.”

Letchford nodded, proving he was not an entirely bad man by going over to Thomas Shaw. “You’ll have to accompany me back to the Yard, Mr. Shaw, but I’ve no doubt that you’ll be going home a free man after this evening. You’ve my apology, as well,” he said, chagrined.

“Thank you, sir,” Shaw said, shaking the inspector’s out-thrust hand. “And thank you, too, Lady St. Claire. You’ve saved my life.” Life had flooded into his face, bringing with it a shine and color and animation he had lacked before.

“Then do not waste it,” Lina replied acidly. “You have been given a second chance, Mr. Shaw. Now that you are no longer a slave to liquor and opium, perhaps you will find a useful occupation and avoid such temptations.”

“You may be certain that I will,” Shaw promised, having to raise his voice to be heard over his sister’s weeping.

The excitement over, Inspector Letchford left with Shaw, treating the man with courtesy; they were accompanied by Evelyn Shaw, whose tear-soaked handkerchief bespoke the depth of her relief over her beloved brother’s impending release from police custody. Elizabeth Saltaire was given another two pounds and sent back to Spitalfields in Lina’s own carriage, which honor left her preening and puffed up with pride.

Once everyone had gone, Lina sighed and settled on the settee. “Alone at last, my dear, and an innocent man saved from possible execution. Thank God the case is done,” she groaned, reaching for a camel’s bone box that held her favorite Egyptian cigarettes.

Rhiannon could not resist. “Yes, that was quite a knotty problem, wasn’t it?” she asked brightly.

Lina let out an agonized groan, snatching up a pillow and throwing it at a laughing Rhiannon’s head.

THE END

____________________________________________________________________________

The Gaslight Series Novels
Black by Gaslight
The Madonna of the Sorrows
The Witch’s Kiss
The Curse of the Jade Dragon – 2010
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CHAPTER ONE
“Give Me the Pomegranate Wine!”

The William R. Stallybrass Memorial Library
St. James’s Street, London, England
1890

At such moments, Miss Felicity Smith cursed the interest in antiquarian books that had led to her current employment. Most days, attending the absent-minded scholars who drifted into the Stallybrass library required an endless supply of patience, and an equally endless supply of handkerchiefs (for mopping up spilled ink, as well as smeared butter and bread crumbs from surreptitious luncheons). Today, however, the challenge was greater than usual.

Held by a gentleman dressed in a tailored suit, the revolver muzzle pointed at her head seemed as large as a cannon’s bore. Felicity straightened her spine, wincing as the vertebrae crackled. She had been trying to reason with this madman for ten minutes at least, and her first fear had long given way to irritation.

“I want that book, damn you!” the gentleman insisted.

“And I shall tell you once again,” Felicity replied, schooling her features to maintain a librarian’s stern mask, “as I have done several times already, this is not a public house, sir. Pray moderate the volume of your voice, and mind your language. There is a lady present.”

His hand trembled, as did the revolver, but only for a split-second before the trembling ceased. “You’re being deliberately difficult,” he said, flushing with anger. “I was told The Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy is here, at this library, and I will have it! Give it to me! Give me the Pomegranate Wine! Are you not in possession of your wits, woman? I have a weapon! If you want to live, give me what I want, or I will shoot you where you stand!”

Bristling, Felicity suppressed the desire to box his ears. The man acted like a spoiled petulant child denied a sweet. Had he stamped his foot and burst into tears, the resemblance would have been perfect. “Were you in possession of your wits, my good man,” she said with exaggerated patience, “you would have told me the title of the book you desire as soon as you came into the library, rather than stand there blustering in such a ridiculous fashion.”

“Just give me the book!” he demanded.

“I cannot.”

He seemed astonished. “You defy me?”

“This is a private lending library. The Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy has been lent to one of our subscribers,” Felicity took great pleasure in telling him. “It is due to be returned in a fortnight.”

His mouth worked but no sound emerged. At last, he gulped air, his throat working, gazing around the room as if seeking a more helpful assistant. There was no one else, Felicity could have told him. The other librarian—seventy years old, half-deaf, half-blind and over fond of cherry brandy—was no doubt napping in his office following his usual mid-morning tipple. “Get it back,” the gentleman ordered after a moment, looking pleased by the idea. “Yes, you can get the book back. I’ll wait. It can’t be long.”

“Allow me to explain a simple fact which seems to have escaped you,” Felicity snapped, tilting her chin to its most imperious angle. “A firearm is not a magic wand. You cannot simply wave it about and expect your wishes to be fulfilled. The book is not here. It has been lent. I cannot simply ‘get it back.’ That is not the way the Stallybrass library serves its subscribers..”

“I’m not afraid to shoot you,” he said, gesturing with the revolver.

“So I gathered.” Felicity did not mean to sound quite so dry.

. Instantly, his expression turned to stone, as if she had accused him of cowardice. “I survived the march to Kandahar in ’80 with General Roberts, you know.” The last was spoken with a fleeting air of pride.

“Ah, an Army officer,” Felicity said, taking a closer look at him. The gentleman was well-groomed, freshly shaved apart from the dark moustache that smothered his upper lip. The suit made of dark blue superfine bore the unmistakable perfection of Saville Row tailoring. His hair pomade smelled of sandalwood, the fragrance clashing with the gin-and-tonic scenting his breath. He seemed little different from the normal London boulevardier, likely a younger son of the peerage, moneyed and idle. Lavender gloves covered his hands, but his complexion did seem rather swarthy for an Englishman. The ruining effect of a tropical sun, she decided, that even a decade home had failed to fully heal.

“85th King’s Light Infantry,” he said. “Captain Montgomery Hamilton, if you’ll pardon the impertinence of introducing myself,” he added with a slight sneer.

“The ‘Young Bucks,’” Felicity said, recalling the regiment’s nickname.

“Why, yes!” Hamilton was too surprised to maintain a threatening air. His manner changed, as if they were exchanging polite chit-chat at a garden party given by a mutual acquaintance. “Do you have a brother, madam, or was it your father…?”

“My uncle commanded a company of Bengal sappers before his retirement.”

Hamilton paused to think. “Not Colonel Harland Smith?” he asked.

“The same,” Felicity replied, bemused by the sudden switch in his attitude.

“The officers used to call him Old Deuteronomy, you know, on account of his beard,” Hamilton said, giving her a small but genuine smile. “Fell below the bottom of his waistcoat, it did, astonishingly thick and luxurious. His orderly combed it out every morning. The wogs thought it brought them luck. Practically a separate entity, that beard. Very Biblical.”

“So I gathered when last I saw Uncle Harland, who retired to Sussex to keep bees. The famous beard is now a veritable hedge that has swallowed his face from eyebrows to chin, much to my Aunt Dorcas’s disgust.” Felicity attempted to return his smile but her face felt stiff, and all she could manage was a grimace. “Now that we know one another better, Captain Hamilton, perhaps you’ll be good enough to lower your weapon.”

“Not until I have that book, Miss Smith.” The friendliness melted away, leaving him resolute. “I must have it. If the volume is not here, tell me where it may be found.”

“Captain, I refuse to give you confidential information regarding our subscribers!” Felicity stood firm. She refused to set Hamilton upon an innocent person. Perhaps if she gave him an excuse to leave, he would go away, allowing her time to inform the authorities. “I can alert you when the book becomes available,” she offered. “You are not a subscriber, but as a favor I will grant you access during regular business hours to study the Pomegranate Wine of Inherkhawy, and you may even use my own office for privacy if you wish.”

“You don’t know what it’s been like, this hell, this awful living death,” Hamilton said, looking haunted. The revolver began trembling again. Felicity tried not to look at it. “The doctor said it will make me mad,” he continued. “The disease will make me mad, then I’ll rot and I’ll die, Jesus help me.” He let out a sound like a sob.

“What disease?” Felicity asked in bewilderment. “And what does Pomegranate Wine have to do with it?”

“It’s the cure, damn you.”

“The cure for what disease? Come, sir,” she added when Hamilton shook his head, “tell me. Perhaps I can suggest a different book to suit your purpose.” That would do as well, she thought. Anything to make this madman leave the library before poor addled Mr. Ludwell woke from his nap and came blundering into the scene.

Hamilton hesitated, finally bursting out, “The French disease, madam!”

“Cholera?” she asked, still groping for his meaning. “Measles? Influenza?”

“No, the Great Pox,” he said bitterly. “An infection I got from a Haymarket whore, damn her, and damn you, too.” His finger tightened on the trigger. At that moment, Felicity believed he might shoot. She held her breath until he lowered the revolver. “The whore temped me,” he whispered. “Tempted me with her eyes and her body.”

Understanding dawned. Given his earlier comment about rot and insanity, she ought to have known his ailment was syphilis, which also turned its sufferers violent in the later stage. As an unmarried woman, Felicity supposed she should have no knowledge about such immoral things as venereal disease and prostitution, but curiosity and a catholic taste in books had led her to read some very enlightening literature published by the Reform House for Fallen Women around the corner. The illustrations were particularly eye-opening.

“You understand now, don’t you?” Hamilton pleaded. “It isn’t my fault. The whore tempted me. I was told by a friend I’ll find the cure within the book’s pages, so you see I must have it. I must! If you don’t give it to me, you’ll be guilty of murder.”

Caught by the remembrance of an intriguing illustration in a Reform House pamphlet on marital relations—the positions of the figures seemed ambitious at best, not to mention somewhat ridiculous—her mind had wandered. However, this patently absurd assertion by Hamilton recaptured her attention in a way the revolver could not. “Captain, I assure you Pomegranate Wine is a collection of Egyptian love poetry written by an Eighteenth Dynasty court harpist, translated into German and English by Dr. A.B. Liebing in 1872,” she said crisply. “How can poetry possibly provide a cure for your illness?”

He turned a sickly shade of grey. “Love poetry?”

“Yes.”

“Not a book of ancient medical cures?”

“Not at all,” Felicity said, reaching over to pat his arm. She went on, almost sorry for the man, “Your friend has deceived you, either willingly or through error.”

“But Eddie told me!” Hamilton cried in disbelief.

Felicity sighed. “You can no more expect a cure for syph… er, your unfortunate affliction from Pomegranate Wine, sir, than to find a discourse on Dr. Fordyce’s sermons for young ladies in a copy of Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight.” She had tried to read Sir Richard Burton’s translation, but found the text far too florid. “Perhaps your friend meant you to consult the Ebers Papyrus, which is an ancient Egyptian medical text. It can be found, I believe, in the University of Leipzig’s collection.”

Hamilton’s shoulders slumped. He wiped the palm of his free hand across his sweaty forehead. “You’re lying,” he said, clearly attempting to sound more confident than he felt. The weakness in his voice gave the effort away. “I don’t believe you.”

“Nevertheless, I’ve spoken nothing only the truth,” Felicity said. Sugar-coating unpleasant facts did no good, in her opinion. Pretty lies and sympathy would not help Hamilton, and it was high time this farce ended. It was nearing eleven o’clock, and she expected the postman to make the second morning delivery any moment. “Your disbelief changes nothing,” she continued. “You will find no magical cure here. I suggest you return to your doctor’s surgery and do as he tells you. That is your best course of action.”

“Liar!” Hamilton sobbed, leveling the revolver at her. “You’re a damned liar and a…”

Felicity never learned what else she was, for at that moment a woman appeared behind Hamilton, rapping him smartly on his head with a walking cane. He dropped without a sound, the revolver skidding across the floorboards to disappear beneath a bookcase.

The unexpected turn of events rooted Felicity to the spot. Her astonished gaze traveled from the unconscious man sprawled near the Astronomy section to the woman standing over him. The stranger owned a face too sharp-boned for beauty, Felicity thought. A generous mouth was her best feature. Dark blonde hair was pulled into a simple chignon. She wore a violet silk dress, the sort of garment easily purchased prêt-a-porter at any London department store. Keen blue eyes returned Felicity’s stare, and Felicity tried to suppress a sudden blush.

“Forgive me,” the woman said, taking a step forward and politely offered a gloved hand. “Miss Minerva Walcott, madam, how d’you do? When I came inside, I noticed the gentleman was threatening you, and took the liberty of intervening.”

Felicity murmured her own name, shaking Minerva’s hand. She was astonished by the woman’s bold action. Most ladies would have fainted, screamed themselves hoarse or run away. Hearing a groan, she bent to check if Hamilton had roused. He remained unconscious, but Felicity thought she had better turn him over to the authorities as soon as possible. “Thank you,” she said to Minerva. “I appreciate your assistance. It was quite opportune.”

“You are welcome, Miss Smith.”

To her chagrin, Felicity realized she had begun patting her hair to check for loose pins, and made herself to stop. This was no time to preen. “I suppose we had better summon a constable to deal with Captain Hamilton. He’s quite mad, I’m afraid.”

Minerva’s eyebrow twitched upward. “Well, that explains why he threatened to shoot such a perfectly charming lady. Are you hurt at all?” she asked, opening the beaded reticule hanging from her wrist.

It was Minerva who demonstrated charm, Felicity decided, her cheeks growing warm under that steady blue-eyed regard. “I’m unharmed, I assure you,” she replied, waving aside the bottle of smelling salts Minerva offered.

“Shall we step outside and see if a constable is in the immediate vicinity? I will stay with you, if you don’t mind,” Minerva said, returning the bottle to her reticule.

“I will be grateful for the company.” Despite the calm façade she had maintained for Hamilton’s benefit, Felicity’s nerves were frazzled. Taking as deep a breath as her corset allowed, she led Minerva through the library. As they paced toward the door, she became aware of Minerva’s scrutiny, and knew how she must appear: her cursed ungovernable chestnut curls springing out of their restraining pins in messy corkscrews; her oval face, too pale, too bland to be interesting; the snuff-brown dress she wore at least three years out of date. Felicity found herself wishing she had chosen the newer pink gown that morning, which might at least have lent a touch of color to her countenance.

“Your father is Professor Rowland Smith, is he not?” Minerva asked suddenly.

“Yes,” Felicity answered with some surprise. “Do you know him?”

“By reputation only. He was a professor at Oxford, and now collects books, I believe.”

“Father is always hunting rare volumes.”

“Would he be here, by any chance? Perhaps I’m being forward, Miss Smith, but I appreciate an introduction. My brother was a pupil of Professor Rowland’s,” Minerva explained, “and I have often wished for the opportunity to thank him.”

“I regret Father isn’t in England at the moment,” Felicity replied “He’s in Buda-Pesth negotiating the purchase of a 1588 second edition of Maestlin’s Epitomie Astronomiae. I’m afraid he’s often away on business.”

Minerva’s glance was sympathetic. “His absences must be very trying for you.”

“I enjoy my work in the library, Miss Walcott. Father’s trips abroad do not inconvenience me in the slightest.” Felicity paused at a small table near the entrance to put on her brown felt hat, tying the ribbon under her chin. A mirror hung on the wall next to the brass plaque announcing the library’s opening hours, but she did not look into it. Telling herself that vanity was unbecoming in a spinster, Felicity took a parasol from the elephant’s foot umbrella stand—a hideous relic of his salad days in India, Mr. Ludwell claimed, but she suspected a second-hand shop was the true source—and gestured for Minerva to precede her out the door.

It was a beautiful spring day, the sky a clear cloudless blue that reminded Felicity of Wedgwood pottery. It might have been very pleasant had St. James’s Street not been such a busy thoroughfare. The day’s beauty was shattered by the sheer unbroken rush of traffic flying from Piccadilly to Pall Mall and back again. Horse’s hooves churned up the muck that coated the road, cart and carriage wheels rattled, drivers shouted abuse at each other, and the air smelled strongly of dung, dust and coal smoke.

Felicity spotted a sleek black carriage standing a few yards away. Remembering the cigar store next door, she wanted to dismiss the vehicle from her mind, but the scrap of fustian attached to the door seemed odd. There could be only one reason for it, but why did the nobleman who owned the carriage want to cover the painted crest to conceal his identity?

She glanced around for a constable, turning to address Minerva. Without warning, a rag clamped over her nose and mouth. Startled and no little frightened, Felicity instinctively sucked in a breath, recognizing too late the sweet odor of chloroform. She stiffened, clawing at the muscular arm looped around her neck, but her attacker was unrelenting, the chloroform fumes potent. Fear gripped her no less mercilessly than the man who held her immobile. The Wedgwood sky whirled around her. From a distance, she thought she heard Minerva speak.

“Do not be alarmed, Miss Smith,” Minerva said. “No harm is meant to you.”

No harm? Dizzied, her head spinning, Felicity’s eyes drifted shut. She slumped in a semi-swoon, unable to stand on legs weakened by the drug..

Thankfully, strong arms caught her before she completed her collapse to the pavement.
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Miss Smith & the Devil’s Library
To be published 2010 by PD Publishing

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