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Authors: Sonia Gensler

The Dark Between (25 page)

BOOK: The Dark Between
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Kate answered Elsie’s questions mechanically. On any other day she might have pressed the girl to explain her need for such information, but today all her thoughts focused on how to get safely out of Robert Eliot’s reach.

When Elsie finally left the table, Kate turned back to the London paper’s listing of vacant situations. She searched for
parlor and scullery maids, shop girls—anything that looked remotely suitable. One listing for a photographer’s assistant sparked her interest, but that was before she read the requirement that applicants be male. No one needed a library assistant. No one needed a spirit apparition, or they weren’t brazen enough to advertise for one anyway. What else was she qualified to do? Factory work? Sewing buttons?

In the old days Tec would have been a great resource, but now he wouldn’t even speak to her. In fact, he seemed quite unbalanced. Why seek her out only to run away from her? It hurt to remember, for she’d believed him to be a good friend.

She’d even thought he could be more … in time.

Having found nothing ideal among the London employment notices, Kate scribbled the details for two remote possibilities and tucked the scrap of paper in her pocket. What she really needed was enough money and creativity to post her own “situation wanted” advertisement. It was just a matter of choosing which kind of situation, and then manufacturing a character reference that praised her for having the proper skills.

Kate poured herself another cup of tea and picked up the local paper, scanning the city and county news. She wasn’t expected at the library for another half hour—one more cup of tea while she perused the local tittle-tattle was preferable to sitting in her room and staring at the walls.

She found little of interest among the announcements. The bishop of the diocese had appointed a new school inspector. A special late train to and from London would begin service on Saturday. The local branch of the Hearts of Oak Benefit Society was having a meeting Thursday next.

She was about to refold the paper when a name caught her eye—
Elizabeth Grove Gardner
. She read the paragraph.

Publicist and Conservative politician William Gardner will appear Thursday evening at the Senate House, where he will lecture on the future of the New Conservative. His wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Grove Gardner, will host a four o’clock tea for ladies sympathetic to the Conservative movement at the Prince Albert Hotel that same day, prior to the lecture

Kate closed her eyes, considering. Her father’s widow was Elizabeth Grove Stanton—was this the same woman?

Kate clutched the paper and made her way to Mr. Thompson’s office, clearing her throat when she reached his doorway. “Mr. Thompson, may I ask you a question?”

He looked up, his forehead creased. “I must be out the door this instant, Kate, else I’ll be late for my appointment.”

“I’ll be quick. Did my father’s widow remarry a man named Gardner?”

Thompson’s face fell. “Have you been reading the paper, my dear?”

“So I’m right—Elizabeth Grove Gardner
my father’s widow.”

“Yes,” Thompson said weakly. “And she married a politician. Poor Frederic would be turning in his grave.”

“Do you keep in touch with her?”

Mr. Thompson’s mouth tightened. “I’m afraid Beth Stanton always resented how much time Frederic devoted to the Society. She had little respect for our work. Oh, she was civil enough in her response to my note of condolence, but she has not been in contact since.” He sighed. “A year after his death, she married Gardner, a member of Parliament. She lives an entirely different life now. Much grander than we could imagine, I’m sure.”

So there’s money
, thought Kate.
And the desire to avoid scandal

“You’re not going to do anything foolish—are you, my girl?”

Kate raised an eyebrow. “Of course not. Just curious, is all. I won’t keep you any longer.” She smiled. “You’d best leave now if you’re to make your appointment, hadn’t you?”

Kate’s thoughts were a tangle as she made her way to the library. Though she’d never been inside it, she knew the Prince Albert Hotel was located on the northwest edge of Parker’s Piece—she and Asher had passed it on their way to the police station. Somehow, before three o’clock the next day, she would come up with a scheme for meeting the former Elizabeth Stanton face to face.

Chapter 25

o Asher it felt quite lordly to reside within the gates of Trinity. The college was older than Summerfield by nearly four hundred years, and though he’d seen the buildings that lay between Trinity Street and the River Cam, he’d since learned that the college spread east to Sidney Street, and beyond the Cam all the way to Grange Road. Trinity was practically a city unto itself. By comparison, Summerfield was but a tiny upstart with little money, land, or tradition.

He said as much to Dr. Marshall.

“I take your meaning,” the doctor said as they gazed upon the prospect of the Wren Library from Trinity Bridge. “But even the most revered colleges were ragtag operations in the beginning. It’s taken them centuries to build their wealth and adorn their patches of earth with all this”—he waved his hand toward New Court—“ostentation. Perhaps you knew that Trinity originally was two small colleges? Henry VIII compelled the two institutions to surrender everything to him, and he used their revenues, along with the wealth he’d gained by dissolving monasteries, to found Trinity College. It’s really quite despotic when you think about it.”

Asher nodded thoughtfully.

“The women’s colleges have had no such benefactor,” Dr. Marshall continued. “In a time when a university education for women is still sneered upon, they’ve leveraged funds and founded their colleges, and these institutions show no signs of faltering. Honestly, I marvel at their fortitude.”

Asher thought of the striking arch of the Summerfield Gatehouse, the handsome Thompson Building, and the small but lavish interior of the new library—all of which made the Thompsons practically weep with pride—and felt a little ashamed of himself.

Dr. Marshall pulled his watch from his pocket. “I am hungry, and Dr. Spring’s first-rate hospitality awaits. Shall we make our way? Should be a fine walk this evening. The rain has greened things up quite nicely.”

As they walked in comfortable silence, Asher envied Dr. Marshall’s relaxed posture and lazy smile. He seemed content—successful as a scholar and fulfilled by his research. He certainly wasn’t the sort to lower himself by chasing spirits or seducing mediums.

“Is Dr. Spring a member of the Metaphysical Society?”

“Hardly,” said Dr. Marshall with a wink. “His main concern is bodily health in the here and now. The mysteries of the brain hold no interest for him, nor does Spiritualism or any of that rot. He has a lucrative private practice, but in his spare time he developed the electrotherapy wing at Addenbrooke’s. I assist him when I can.”

“I know little to nothing about electrotherapy. It sounds very forward-thinking.”

“If you join me at the hospital tomorrow, you will see it in action. Dr. Spring makes rather conventional use of it, I’m afraid. Many of his techniques were in use over a century ago. I
have other ideas, but they’re all theoretical at the moment.” Dr. Marshall gestured ahead. “We turn right at that street sign, and Dr. Spring’s house is the second on the left. By way of warning I should tell you that he’s a widower with three daughters and no sons. He is desperate to marry the lasses off to rich young men, and has trained them to that end, so don’t be surprised at the frenzied onslaught of feminine charm.”

Asher entered the house with some trepidation, imagining maenads or harpies tearing at his clothes. As it turned out, Dr. Spring’s daughters were pretty and attentive, but nothing to give fright to a man. If the doctor had indeed trained them, it was to make them biddable. They asked Asher thoughtful questions. They nodded appreciatively as he spoke, even when he struggled to express himself. They laughed prettily when he tried to be witty.

It was nothing like being around Kate and Elsie.

As the main course was cleared, Dr. Spring leaned back and settled his gaze upon Asher. “I always hoped for a son to take over my practice, but alas, I was instead blessed with these three.” He waved a hand in the direction of his daughters. “They are good girls, but they have no desire to take on a profession. Not to say there aren’t female doctors, but it’s a tough row to hoe. Wouldn’t wish that on the dears.” He wiped his mouth. “Don’t suppose
have any interest in the medical profession, Mr. Beale?”

The Spring girls leaned forward slightly.

Asher cleared his throat. “Well, I had talked with Dr. Marshall about visiting the hospital.”

“He’s coming with me tomorrow, as a matter of fact,” said Dr. Marshall.

“Splendid, splendid. And yet you must remember that Marshall prefers to research innovative procedures and such—it
can get rather grim at times and doesn’t bring much in the way of a regular income. I do enjoy my work at the hospital, but I can only afford to visit there because my private practice is so steady, you see. I keep certain hours and tend to maintain the same clientele over time.” He lowered his voice, as if sharing a confidence. “And these are all patients of a certain class, if you take my meaning.”

“I do, sir.”

“Perhaps you might accompany me on my private rounds one afternoon?”

“That’s very generous of you, sir,” Asher said.

“But tomorrow you must come to Addenbrooke’s,” said Dr. Marshall, “and see our grim innovations in action.”

When Marshall pursued a new topic with Dr. Spring, Asher’s mind wandered away from the conversation to consider his host more carefully. Physicians like Spring were respectable and wealthy. They attended well-heeled patients. Medicine was a practical profession, but it also offered opportunities for specialization. Though quacks sometimes infiltrated the ranks, the profession itself wasn’t subject to constant ridicule.

He looked about him, admiring the dining room with its elegant chandelier and Baroque paintings in gilded frames. Dr. Spring’s entire house was handsome and well appointed. It suited Asher nicely. But did he have a passion for anatomy? For surgery? For curing ills? He didn’t think so, but with training he might develop one.

Had he ever
a passion?

For too long he’d associated passion with obsession—because of his father. But he’d encountered plenty of people who were keen on their occupation for more reasons than the income or acclaim it brought. Elsie had a passion—he could see it in her eyes when she arranged a scene before photographing
it. Kate had a passion for survival. He couldn’t help but wonder what she might accomplish if all her energies weren’t devoted to something so basic.

He resolved to keep an open mind during his visit to the infirmary with Dr. Marshall. If medicine was to be his passion—and at this point he could neither rule it in nor out—surely he would recognize it tomorrow.

Heavy clouds darkened the sky Thursday afternoon, but no rain fell. Instead a pall of humidity blanketed the city. The oppressive atmosphere worsened inside Addenbrooke’s Hospital, as Asher soon discovered. Sweat trickled down his face as Dr. Marshall led him on a tour of the different wards. Even with the windows open the place was stuffy and sour. In every room he found matrons mopping and scrubbing, but the odors of sweat, blood, and urine prevailed.

Dr. Spring had two wards for electrotherapy. The first, a room partitioned into smaller curtained areas, smelled of mildew. Dr. Marshall sidled up to the nearest curtain and spoke. “Mr. Soames, might I trouble you for a moment? A prospective student wishes to see your treatment.” Hearing no protest, he pulled the curtain aside to reveal a corpulent bald man lying in a bath, his linen dressing gown floating in the water. The poor fellow seemed to shrink into himself at being thus exposed, but he did not complain.

“I’ve never seen an electric bath,” said Asher wonderingly. “What is this gentleman’s ailment?”

“Gout,” said Dr. Marshall. “Dr. Spring uses the baths to treat various conditions, including rheumatism, sciatica, and even”—he lowered his voice—“gynecological disorders. The water temperature is kept as close as possible to ninety-three degrees and thus conducts the electricity perfectly. The flow of
voltage increases blood circulation in the skin and deep muscle tissue.” He recited the details dully, as if by rote. “We’ve had moderate success with this method. At the moment, however, Dr. Spring is more involved in another sort of electrical therapy. Come, I’ll show you.”

When Asher entered Dr. Spring’s second ward, he was struck by yet another smell. It was acrid, like something burning. Not wood or paper, however.


His stomach heaved even as Dr. Spring bustled into the room.

“Come in, come in!” Dr. Spring’s face was pink with enthusiasm. “Come meet young Denny. He served in the Boer War.”

Asher nodded at the sullen man sitting on the cot, his trousers rolled up and his socks lying in a bundle next to him.

“He was sent home after a leg injury that resulted in partial paralysis. You can see how the left leg has atrophied.”

Marshall brought Dr. Spring a box, which he set next to Denny. Inside was a cylinder with wires and wooden paddles. “This is an induction coil,” Spring told Asher, “powered by a dry cell. I apply these electrodes to the affected area to stimulate the muscles.”

“And this really works?”

Dr. Spring smiled. “I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard of electrotherapy for neuralgia and nervous disorders. Heavens, I’ve even heard of people using it for bowel complaints. All of that is quackery. But using electrical impulses to stimulate atrophied muscles? I’ve seen it work.” He glanced at Dr. Marshall. “My young colleague hopes one day to utilize this technology in his brain and heart research, right, Marshall?”

“In what way?” asked Asher.

Dr. Marshall frowned. “Doctors have applied electrical
current directly to the brain to treat cerebral maladies, but it’s time to refine these methods. I’m also interested in the effects of electric shock on the heart. I’ve worked with others to prove that accidental electrocution deaths result from massive contractions of the heart rather than respiratory paralysis.” His eyes brightened. “What preoccupies me most, however, is what happens to the brain and heart of those who
accidental electrocution.”

BOOK: The Dark Between
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