Authors: Sonia Gensler
Once he reached the museum he followed only a few paces behind. He had no choice, for she was nearly running up the steps. He didn’t want to lose her in the building’s labyrinthine galleries.
What did she mean to do? Whom did she wish to see? He quickened his pace, determined to confront her. Just as he drew near, however, Miss Atherton collided with a tall young gentleman. Asher’s heart quickened as she crumpled against the man. Another seizure? The bottle felt heavy in his pocket. If he offered assistance, she would know that he’d followed her all the way from Cambridge. She would think him strange. Certainly she would be offended. And yet—
She was in agony. Asher clenched his fists as her body trembled and her eyes rolled back. The young man had eased her to the ground, and while many had left the room in undisguised dismay, a few had circled to offer words of encouragement. How strange would it seem for him to step forward and pour medicine into the girl’s mouth?
Damn his pride! He couldn’t hold his vanity dearer than Elsie’s health.
He pulled the bottle from his pocket, but as he joined the circle surrounding the young man and the girl, Elsie’s convulsions ceased. For a moment, all was quiet.
Then her eyes opened. Her expression was strange—her eyes vacant and icy blue. She shivered and moaned, but her eyes remained open. The intensity of her gaze made Asher think she looked at something, or
—yet her eyes were fixed on the ceiling. Then her moaning ceased, and to him she seemed to be listening.
The man patted her cheek. “Miss, are you feeling better?”
Elsie did not answer, nor did she blink.
Asher was certain the medicine would not help her now. She was breathing normally, no longer convulsing. Yet somehow she was not entirely conscious.
Another young man gathered his folded easel and backed away. As he brushed past, he kept his eyes on the floor. Asher curled his lip at the man’s long hair, his lack of a proper jacket.
. No doubt he was rushing off to sketch Elsie for some hideous scene of a writhing mystic.
Elsie sat up with a harsh gasp. One lady squealed in alarm. Asher watched, his body frozen, as Elsie’s eyes fixed upon the gentleman who held her. She clutched the man’s arm so tightly her knuckles whitened.
“She’s with you … always watching,” she gasped to him. “She is so very sad. She begs you to know how sorry she is.”
Her words—intimate and thick with yearning—made Asher feel slightly sick, as though he were spying. The dreamy, detached Elsie was gone, and in her place was something mystical and rather frightening—a Grecian oracle offering a divine message.
The recipient of this message opened his mouth but seemed unable to speak.
All around the onlookers whispered.
Finally, Asher stepped forward to kneel by Elsie. He dropped the parasol and reached for her hand, gently prying it from the man’s arm.
She turned. Her eyes widened in recognition before they filled with tears. “Oh, Asher.”
The young gentleman cleared his throat. “Do you know this lady?”
“I do,” Asher replied, not taking his eyes from Elsie’s face. He squeezed her hand. “Do you feel well enough to stand? Should I get you some water?”
Elsie shook her head, prompting a tear to spill down her cheek.
Asher turned back to the gentleman. “You may rely on me to see her home safely.”
The young man searched his face, his grey eyes thoughtful. “May I know your name?”
“I am Asher Beale … of Boston.”
“Beale?” His eyes brightened. “Are you … could you possibly be a relation of Harold Beale?”
Asher flinched. “I am his son.”
“What good fortune! I’ve met your father and have followed his work with great interest.” He pulled a watch from his pocket and frowned at it. “I am late for a meeting, but I’m certain I can trust this young lady to the care of Harold Beale’s son.”
Asher nodded, then turned back to Elsie. She stared as the young gentleman rose to his feet and attempted to brush the creases from his trousers. Her eyes were wide and more deeply blue than he’d remembered.
The gentleman gave Elsie a last lingering look before turning to go. With his departure the crowd broke up, the curious show having reached its conclusion. Asher helped Elsie to her feet and tried not to frown when she refused to meet his gaze. Instead she looked after the gentleman who’d held her.
Asher had not thought to ask for the man’s name.
s Freeman and Barrett prepared to leave for luncheon, Kate lingered near the back of the room, aligning the corners of an unruly stack of books. Freeman pinned a straw hat to her head before turning a disdainful eye toward her.
“Don’t tarry too long, Poole. I’m not sure I like the idea of you here alone.”
“Mrs. Thompson doesn’t mind,” Kate murmured.
do. When you’re finished with that, go on to the kitchen. And don’t bring any of Cook’s treats back here. Food attracts mice. And you know what mice do.”
“They nibble books and leave nasty little presents,” Kate recited obediently, trying not to grimace.
“Exactly,” said Freeman. Satisfied, she nodded toward Barrett and the two ladies made their way to the door.
“Silly prigs,” Kate hissed under her breath. She went to the window and watched them until they were out of sight. Her stomach gurgled plaintively, but she could not have her lunch just yet. The shelves waited.
For the past day and a half, they’d worked on cataloging and moving the new acquisitions. The older books still
remained on the shelves. She had only a vague idea what the numbers and letters on the spines meant, but having deduced the subject matter from the titles, she moved from literature to mathematics before finding the area devoted to science.
She shifted slowly through each scientific discipline, scanning the titles. It took some searching, but finally she found her father’s book tucked among those having to do with witchcraft, superstitions, hallucinations … even insanity. She cocked her head to read the titles, whispering the strange words in wonderment. What could her father have had to do with all
She gently pulled the heavy volume from the shelf and carried it to a table. Flipping to the title page, she ran a finger across her father’s name
—FREDERIC STANTON, MA, LATE FELLOW OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE—
directly under the title. The words brought a strange flutter to her heart. The preface followed, but other than an acknowledgment to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, it told her very little of interest.
A list of Metaphysical Society members followed the preface. At first glance Kate noted the Thompsons’ names again, as well as that of Asher’s father, Harold Beale. Farther down the list she found James Atherton, 3rd Baron Rolleston. Could he be Elsie’s father? She turned back to the beginning, studying the list more thoroughly. The remaining names were unfamiliar, except one.
Eliot was Mrs. Martineau’s patron. He’d been the one to invite Mr. Thompson to the séance that exposed her. So Eliot didn’t just enjoy a passing familiarity with Mr. Thompson? He was a
of the Metaphysical Society? She knew the man was wealthy and well educated—he’d reminded Mrs. Martineau of that more than once—but he did not seem of the same class as Oliver Thompson. How could someone who dallied with
mediums, who pawed spirit apparitions with greedy hands, move in the same circles as a gentle soul like Mr. Thompson?
Kate turned back to the book, frowning in confusion over the chapter summaries.
Thought-transference. Telepathy. Telepathic Hallucinations
. What did these terms mean? As far as she could tell, there was no mention of ghosts or séances. Perhaps she’d been wrong about the nature of the Metaphysical Society.
She continued to flip pages, disappointment weighing heavily on her shoulders. What had she expected? It was a scholarly book, not a memoir. Still, she scanned the chapters, looking for some glimpse into her father’s mind. The word
appeared again and again—a more scientific word for ghost, perhaps? She’d always felt clever in school, but now the words on the page bounced off her brain. She simply could not absorb any sense from them.
She flipped back to the introduction and focused harder, searching for something her brain could latch onto. In its final paragraph, the words
caught her eye. Surely
would help clarify matters.
Experiment proves that telepathy—the transference of thoughts and feelings from one mind to another—is a fact of Nature. Testimony proves that phantasms (impressions, voices, or visions) of persons undergoing some crisis—especially death—are perceived by their friends and relatives with a frequency that mere chance cannot explain. These phantasms, then, whatever else they may be, are instances of the action of one mind on another
“The action of one mind on another,” murmured Kate. Was the Metaphysical Society arguing for the ability of a dead person’s mind to act on that of a living person? The language was
scholarly, but the underlying notion was similar to what Mrs. Martineau used to dupe her sitters.
Just as she was about to close the volume in disgust, it fell open at a folded piece of paper. Someone had tucked a clipping of newsprint between the book’s pages. Kate unfolded it to find a cutting from the
, dated June 28, 1898.
She chewed her lip nervously as she read:
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Emerson Bell, the Deputy Borough Coroner, held an inquest at the Brighton Town Hall, on the body of Frederic Stanton, aged 43, a gentleman of independent means, who was found dead in bed at the Avalon Hotel, Brighton, earlier this month
The next several sentences detailed how Frederic Stanton had arrived at the hotel in good health on June 1 but did not appear for breakfast the following morning. Nor did he answer when a maid knocked at the door. After several attempts to rouse their guest, the hotel staff was forced to break down the door. Kate’s heart thumped as she read the next sentences.
The deceased was discovered in bed, lying on his left side, already dead for several hours. He had a small sponge bag over the lower portion of his face, and near to the bed was a bottle containing clear fluid, supposed to be chloroform
She refolded the clipping and shut it within the book, barely resisting the urge to hurl it across the room. Tears pricked at her eyes.
her parents had met their ends as drug fiends?
No matter where Elsie turned people stared, and their eyes were anything but warm with concern. Instead they reflected
disgust, horror, and curiosity. Young ladies were not supposed to make such public displays. Shaking, convulsing, and crying out—why, it was almost obscene. At least that’s what Mother had once said to Father when Elsie was just outside their bedchamber and could hear every word of their distraught conversation.
She numbly took her parasol from Asher and followed him out of the British Museum, allowing him to help her into a cab. His hand at her elbow was steady, reassuring. They would return to Cambridge now, and she knew there was no point in summoning enough energy to resist. She had nowhere to go even if she somehow could evade him.
“Do you feel better, Miss Atherton?”
Elsie flinched at the gentle concern in his voice. “I do.” She sat still for a moment, truly considering the question. “In fact, I feel quite well. Usually I fall asleep after an attack … and my head feels terribly muzzy when I wake.”
“Last time this happened—or the last time
witnessed it, anyway—you took this.” His hand touched hers, and she turned to him as he placed the bottle of Chlorodyne in her outstretched fingers.
“You found it.”
“On your seat with the parasol. You must have been distracted.”
She stared at him. “You followed me all the way from Cambridge on the same train? In the very same carriage?”
He nodded. “What I meant to say, however, was that you usually take your medication to stop the spell. This time was different. Without the medication, the convulsions ran their course.”
She saw his cheeks color at those words, no doubt from his embarrassment at witnessing her distress. His handsome blue
eyes, however, were earnest. He did not seem to look at her with disgust.
“Now my head feels perfectly clear,” she said.
“That’s something to ponder, don’t you think?” His eyes brightened. “Miss Atherton, you spoke words during your …” He faltered, then took a deep breath. “May I be so bold as to ask what you saw?”
She thought of the pale woman, the vision of death reaching out to her. “I remember nothing,” she lied, looking away. It was still too recent, too disturbing to contemplate, let alone share.
came to mind instead. She’d been so close to freedom. As if recalling a dream, she vaguely remembered him standing a few paces away, his expression one of puzzlement … and then
? Her heart shuddered at the memory. Was he just like her parents after all?