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A Gathering Storm
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When grief-stricken scientist Sir
Edward Fitzwilliam provokes public scorn by defending a sham
spiritualist, he’s forced to retreat to Porthkennack to lick his
wounds. Ward’s reputation is in tatters, but he’s determined to
continue the work he began after the death of his beloved brother.
In Porthkennack, Ward meets Nicholas
Hearn, land steward to the Roscarrock family. Ward becomes convinced
that Nick, whose Romany mother was reportedly clairvoyant, is the
perfect man to assist with his work. But Nick—who has reason to
distrust the whims of wealthy men—is loath to agree. Until Fate
steps in to lend a hand.
Despite Nick’s misgivings, he
discovers that Ward is not the high-handed aristocrat he first
thought. And when passion ignites between them, Nick learns there’s
much more to love than the rushed, clandestine encounters he’s used
to. Nevertheless, Nick’s sure that wealthy, educated Ward will
never see him as an equal.
A storm is gathering,
but with Nick’s self-doubts and Ward’s growing obsession, the
fragile bond between the two men may not be strong enough to
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the
understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
A Gathering Storm
by Joanna Chambers
From The Collected Writings of
Sir Edward Fitzwilliam, volume I
twenty-fourth day of June, in the year 1852, I was visited by my twin
I was a passenger
on a steamship, the Archimedes, sailing from Dublin to
Anglesey, and it was close to midnight. The captain had told us they
expected an electrical storm that night and that we should stay in
our cabins, but I was most keen to witness the phenomenon of a great
storm at sea, and so I ventured onto the deck despite his warnings.
It was like no
other storm I had ever experienced. I could sense the
electricity that saturated the atmosphere before a single bolt of
lightning struck. Indeed, the very air seemed to hum with it, and the
distinctive pungent odour of ozone gas—so named by Professor
Schönbein, whose experiments into the electrolysis of water were of
particular interest to me at that time—was all around me. When I
glanced up at the sky, there was a faint, luminous glow over the brim
of my hat, eerie and bluish white, and even though I knew it was
produced by electromagnetism, it was no less beautiful or miraculous
for that. I stared at that glow for long minutes, even discerning
tiny sparks dancing there.
And then the
lightning came. Mighty enough to tear the very heavens in two, it
seemed, and I cried out in alarm, muttering some half-remembered
prayer from my childhood as I clutched at the side of the
Archimedes. Again the lightning struck, and again, each bolt
seeming to disappear into the black depths of the churning sea. I
admit, I was frightened then, and wished I had heeded the captain’s
words. But just as I was about to run below deck, a voice spoke to
me, a voice as dear to me as my own. My brother, George. My twin.
said. “Ward. Can you hear me?”
I whirled on the
spot, heart pounding, searching the empty deck for him. I called his
name, over and over, and cried out, “I can’t see you! Where are
My rational mind
supplied a rational answer: George was in Burma. His regiment had
recently served at the Siege of Rangoon. He could not possibly be on
a steamer to Anglesey with me, and yet I’d heard his voice!
be all right, Ward,” George said. “All will be well.”
That was all he
said. A moment later, a physical pain wrenched through my body, worse
than anything I’d ever felt, even in the worst days of my long
childhood sickness. I cannot do justice to that pain in mere words.
It was as though one of those great lightning bolts had struck my
very heart and sundered it in two. It sent me to my knees. I fell
heavily to the wet wooden deck, crying out my brother’s name.
I felt George’s
absence—the moment he was gone—much as I’d felt his presence.
It was negative to positive, opposite and equal, an emptiness to
match and cancel out his sudden, shocking appearance. He was dead. I
knew it—felt it—with a terrible finality. And though I called his
name, over and over, weeping, I knew he would not return.
I dragged myself to
my feet and began to search the deck of the Archimedes, hoping
to find some lingering sign of George’s fleeting visit, but it was
not until I finally raised my eyes from the deck, beaten, that I saw
it. Quivering at the very top of the ship’s mast: a strange and
luminous violet-blue light, like a huge flame atop some monstrous
candle. Ethereal and otherworldly.
I knew what this
was, had read reports of these spirit candles, as the Welsh
sailors called them. Or St. Elmo’s fire, as I knew it.
And as I stared,
awestruck, I was filled with sudden certainty: that it was all
connected somehow. The electric storm, the sea, the ozone, my bond
with George. Some or all of these elements had combined to defy the
laws of man as I knew them and bring my twin to me in the terrible
moment of his death.
It was in that
instant that my life’s work was conceived.
2nd April 1853
Roscarrock House, Porthkennack
The new mare was as
fine a horse as Nick had ever seen. Proud and lovely with her
dapple-grey coat, ivory mane, and delicate, high-stepping legs.
“What do you
think of her?” old Godfrey asked, without looking at Nick. He
leaned over the paddock fence, his eyes on the mare, but Nick could
hear a betraying note of eagerness in his tone. “Do you think
Isabella will like her?”
Nick, who’d been
chewing on a stalk of grass, spat out a stray seed and said, “Those
are two different questions.”
Godfrey gave an
impatient sigh and turned his head. At seventy-eight he was still
hale, a big man with a shock of silver hair. There was a slight stoop
to those broad shoulders these days, and the big hands gripping the
top of the fence were spotted with pale brown marks, but he was as
active as he’d always been. Still rode every day.
separately then,” Godfrey demanded.
Nick watched the
mare canter round the field, in no hurry to respond. He knew that
Godfrey hated that Nick didn’t rush to do his bidding like everyone
else. In a way though, Godfrey liked that about it him too. Or, at
least, he respected it.
At last Nick looked
at Godfrey and gave his verdict. “It’s rare to find a grasni
as fine as this one.”
A brief flicker of
distaste crossed Godfrey’s face at Nick’s use of the Romany word,
but his satisfaction at Nick’s approval soon chased it away.
“It is,” he
agreed. He respected Nick’s opinion on horses more than anyone
else’s. Said that Nick had an instinct for them. Sometimes he said
he should have left Nick in the stables, working with the horses,
instead of educating him to take on the elevated position of
Godfrey’s steward. But that was usually only when he was irritated
certain, though,” Nick continued, calmly, “that she’s the right
animal for Miss Isabella.”
“Why ever not?”
Godfrey demanded, his grin falling away.
watching the mare as she tossed her head. “Just look at her. She’s
“Isabella is a
fine horsewoman,” Godfrey snapped. “She has a wonderful
seat—better than her brother.”
Nick ignored that
flicker of bad temper, his expression neutral. Godfrey was a
domineering old martinet who controlled his household with an iron
hand and sought to control everyone else who came into his vicinity
too, but he couldn’t control Nick. He might be Nick’s employer,
his landlord too, but Nick made sure Godfrey knew that if Nick had to
walk away from his position and his cottage, he’d do it without a
second thought. And he never let Godfrey see him getting riled. He
reacted to all the old man’s bluster with the same calm equanimity.
No matter what it
cost him to do it.
has an excellent seat,” he agreed now, his tone mild, “but you
know she’s careless with her hands at times. She damaged Acteon’s
mouth last month, pulling too hard at the reins. She didn’t mean to
hurt him, but she was showing off, being reckless.”
He didn’t waste
his breath agreeing that she was indeed a superior rider to her
brother, Harry. Godfrey was the only person permitted to criticise
Beside him, Godfrey
gave a harrumph in poor-spirited acknowledgement of Nick’s
point, and they fell into silence, both turning back to the paddock.
The mare was
cantering playfully round the perimeter now, and Nick found himself
imagining what it would be like to ride her himself, to let her have
her head on the long beach at Constantine Bay with no saddle between
them. He’d hug her flanks with his thighs and bend low over her
neck as she galloped, and something of her would be in him and
something of him in her as they raced.
Gaze fixed on the
mare, Nick made a soft, clicking noise in his throat. Her pointed
ears flickered, and she slowed her pace, turning her head in his
direction. She paused, as though considering, then changed direction,
swinging round to walk towards him. He reached into his pocket as she
approached, drawing out a slightly shrivelled russet apple. He
offered it to her from his flat hand, and she eyed it—then
him—carefully. At last, though, she lowered her great head to
accept the tribute, taking it almost delicately, her moist breath
huffing against his palm. He patted her powerful neck as she munched
“Bloody typical. I couldn’t get her to come near me when I tried
earlier.” His tone was light, but it carried an irritable edge. He
and Nick shared a passion for horses, but Nick had an affinity with
them—with all animals—that far outstripped Godfrey’s mere
knowledge, and at times, Godfrey seemed almost resentful of Nick for
The mare butted
Nick’s shoulder with her beautiful head and whickered softly,
demanding his attention, blatantly ignoring Godfrey.
flirt,” Nick told her. “A bad ’un, through and through.” Her
neck was warm and powerful under his hand. She was quick with the
magic of life, and again, he found himself wishing fiercely he could
The mare tossed her
head, as though insulted by his words, but even as she did so, she
stepped closer, bumping him affectionately with her nose.
Godfrey made a
disgusted noise. “Christ, she is flirting with you. Bloody
animal wouldn’t even look at me!”
like me fine, don’t you?” Nick agreed, addressing the mare.
“Maybe you’ve decided I’m husband material.” He chuckled
She gave him a look
at that but stood her ground, docile as he patted her. When Godfrey
stretched a hand out to her, though, she sidestepped, then turned and
walked away. Slowly, as though to insult him.
Godfrey huffed a
sigh. Nick took pity on him. “You did well to get her for the price
you did,” he said. “She should’ve gone for twice that.”
That was all it
took to cheer Godfrey up. Soon he was telling Nick the story of the
auction for the second time that day, reliving the glory of his
was a man who liked to speak far more than he liked to listen. He
dominated every conversation he was part of, and though he was a fine
storyteller, Nick had heard all his stories a dozen times or more. He
was used to only half listening as the old man talked, and that was
what he did now, grunting occasionally when Godfrey paused for
breath. In truth, though, his attention was on the mare as she slowly
circled the paddock.
After a while,
another head butted him, below his knee this time. Nick looked down
to meet the gaze of the white bulldog sitting at his feet, its
unlovely face made uglier by a missing eye.
He smiled at the
dog. “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” he asked Snow, bending
down to ruffle the silky flaps of the dog’s ears.
“That ugly mutt’s
still trailing after you, I see,” Godfrey said disapprovingly. He
kept a few hunting dogs, but was not a man to make a pet of an animal
and couldn’t understand why Nick would.
“He’s a good
dog,” Nick said mildly. Godfrey just grunted, and they fell silent
Nick began tracking
the mare’s gait, fixing his gaze on her as she circled the paddock
over and over. She had a slightly unusual high-stepping gait that
made him wonder what she’d been used for before Godfrey had bought
He was about to ask
just that, when Godfrey prodded his arm and said, “Well? Have you?”
missed something, Nick said, “Have I what?”
tightened. “I knew you weren’t listening.”
bother to defend himself. As Ma used to say, “No point saying
sorry when you’re not, is there?”
“I said, have you
seen Sir Edward?” Godfrey said.
Godfrey gave an
impatient huff. “Sir Edward Fitzwilliam—the fellow who’s built
that new house up by the Hole. He’s calling it Varhak Manor.
Apparently he’s some kind of scientist.” Godfrey said
scientist as though it was the most ridiculous idea he’d
ever heard, adding dismissively, “He must be a madman to build
something up there—the bloody place’s liable to fall into the
Nick used to play
at the Hole when he was a lad. The village children were all
fascinated by it—an eighty-foot-high cavern that stretched from
cliff top to seabed. When Nick was little, and Ma used to tell him
stories about the piskey folk, she said the cliff had been
gored by a giant bull. He’d believed her for years. That was just
what it looked like after all, as though a huge horn had been driven
into the cliff and torn back out again.
Back when Nick used
to be friends with the village boys, they’d dare each other to
stand at the edge, as close as they could get without falling in.
They’d sway there, buffeted by the high coastal winds, waiting for
the great rushes of seawater that would explode up through the rocky
crevice at high tide, like spurts from a whale’s blowhole, soaking
them, sending them running away, shrieking with laughter.
He’d seen the new
house—this Varhak Manor—being built when he was out walking, and
had wondered who it was for. It was a strange place to build
somewhere to live. Not that the house was particularly near the Hole
itself. But still.
“I’ve seen the
house,” Nick said. “It’s a handsome place.”
Godfrey made a
face. “You think so? I think it’s quite ugly. But I suppose
that’s the modern style.” He sniffed.
“It’s not as
beautiful as Roscarrock House,” Nick agreed, shrugging, and that
much was true. Roscarrock House was supremely elegant with its
mullioned windows and long gallery, its weathered walls dressed in
robes of ivy. The scientist’s house was very different, square and
strong, the edges of its brand-new sandstone bricks immaculate and
sharp. Nick had been surprised to find that he liked the brutal,
modern look of it, but he did.
Godfrey continued, his tone displeased, “I don’t know anyone
who’s even met this Sir Edward yet. Apparently he arrived in
Porthkennack a fortnight ago and hasn’t so much as paid a call on
anyone. Hasn’t even been seen in the village yet.”
That would bother
Godfrey. As far as he was concerned, the Roscarrocks were the most
important family in the county, and he would certainly regard this
Sir Edward’s neglect of him as an insult.
Not to mention
being wildly jealous of his title, Nick thought, suppressing a grin.
“Why d’you ask
if I’d seen him if you know no one else has?” he asked, puzzled.
“I thought you
might have caught a glimpse on one of your wanderings,” Godfrey
said carelessly. He cast Nick a sly glance. “Always up on those
cliff tops, aren’t you? Just like your mother. Must be her Gypsy
blood coming through.”
Nick smiled thinly.
He knew Godfrey meant that as an insult, but Nick refused to take it
as one. Even as a very young child, he had known he was different.
His skin was darker than most people’s round here, whether in
summer or winter, and his hair wasn’t merely black, it was so black
it shone with a bluish lustre in the sun, like the plumage on a crow.
The only sign of his gadjo side, his father, was his eyes.
These were a distinctive and very light silver grey, bright against
his tawny skin. They marked him as an outcast on both sides. Not
Roma. Not Cornishman. Not . . . anything.
His mother hadn’t
ever belonged in Porthkennack, but she’d had no choice but to stay.
Her own father had refused to allow her to return to her people after
she’d run off with the English gadjo. Not that it changed
how she thought of herself—or Nick.
“We are Roma,”
she would tell him, fiercely. “You should leave here and join
the family when I am gone. When they see how you are with the grai,
they will know you are Roma through and through, and let you travel
He’d hated when
she talked like that, about dying. She’d been too young to talk
like that. But she had died young after all, and now he wondered if
somehow she had always known that was her fate. If the stories she
spun about her fortune-telling had some kernel of truth in them, even
though she’d told Nick they were just foolish nonsense she made up
for the gadjikane villagers, to make a little money.
Nick had never met
his mother’s people—he didn’t know if he wanted to—but they
came back to Cornwall every second year, and he knew they would be in
Penzance this summer. Lately he’d found himself thinking about
going to see them, to meet Ma’s father and give him the news of his
daughter’s death. Nick wondered if he would care. Ma had always
spoken of her father with loyal affection, yet he was the one who had
cast her out and refused to allow her to return to her people when
Nick’s father abandoned her, forcing her to find another way to
He wondered too if
he would feel a connection to the old man. To any of them. If he
would be tempted to travel with them if they asked him to. To leave
Porthkennack behind and take up a life on the road. That was what Ma
had wanted. That was her dream for him.
Nick pushed himself
back from the fence.
“I should be
getting on,” he said. “I’ve to see Jessop about that damaged
distant now. “Join me for supper in the library,” he said. “Six
o’clock. You can give me a proper report then.”
Nick nodded, then
turned on his heel and strode away, Snow lumbering and wheezing in
From The Collected Writings of
Sir Edward Fitzwilliam, volume I
George—my identical twin—preceded me into the world by six
minutes. As boys we were as one, so much so that even our parents
could not tell us apart. Our thoughts were as one too, and often we
would speak the exact same words spontaneously. This changed forever,
however, shortly after my eleventh birthday.
Father had taken
George, being the eldest son and heir to the title, to town with him,
and while they were away, my sister Honoria and I both fell ill with
the disease now called diphtheria and in those days called the morbid
My poor sister had
the misfortune of falling ill first. As is well-known, victims of
this cruel disease grow a putrid, grey, membranous substance in the
throat that coats the tonsils and larynx. Within a week of taking to
her bed, my sister could barely breathe and seemed like to suffocate.
In desperation, and despite the warnings of our nurse, Mother called
in a surgeon to try to cut some of the stuff away and ease the
passage of air to her lungs. By all accounts, it was bloody
work—certainly, I could hear Honoria’s screams from the other end
of the house. Unable to withstand the shock of the ordeal, she died a
few days later.
I was spared this
treatment but had to withstand endless days of struggling to breathe,
dragging the tiniest threads of air through my clogged throat. I grew
convinced my fate was to die from asphyxiation—something I cherish
an utter dread of even now. At last, however, the membrane came loose
and I could breathe again. The relief this brought was sadly
short-lived as I was then afflicted by a weakening of the heart and
paralysis, first of the face and then of the limbs. For weeks I could
do nothing but lie and be tended to, like a newborn. Many times my
parents were told they must expect my death. That this did not come
to pass was, I feel quite sure, due to my mother’s tireless care
for me, and her determination that I would live.
recovered, but I was left with two permanent reminders of the
disease. The first was a harsh, unbeautiful voice, my larynx having
been permanently damaged. Even today, I cringe to hear my speaking
voice and my laughter, which sounds like the barking of a dog. The
second was the change in my similarity to my twin. While my body had
been doing everything it could to resist death, George’s had
continued to grow. I never quite caught up to him. By the time we
were one-and-twenty, he was five foot ten inches with broad shoulders
and strong arms, while I was three inches shorter and far slighter.
4th April 1853
Messrs Godritch & Godolphin,
“Now, tell me,”
Mr. Godolphin said, settling back in his chair, “how may I help
you, Sir Edward?”
Ward regarded Mr.
Godolphin over the polished expanse of his desk. Godolphin was the
only solicitor in Porthkennack, Mr. Godritch having passed away some
twenty years before. He was an unremarkable-looking man in late
middle age, with a small paunch, thinning grey hair, and a rather
rosy nose, the cause of which became plain when he insisted on
breaking open a bottle of sherry, despite it still being afore noon.
Ward’s glass of amber wine sat on the desk before him, untouched,
as Godolphin sipped contentedly at his own.
“It is a rather
unusual matter,” Ward said. Godolphin’s gaze flickered briefly at
Ward’s harsh, toneless voice. That was a more restrained response
than during their introduction a few minutes before. Soon Godolphin
would cease to react at all. It usually took a couple of meetings for
people to become accustomed to it. Ward was used to such reactions,
but still, they irritated him.
him a serene smile. “My practice is small but I am yet to be asked
to deal with any matter beyond my abilities. Tell me—is it a
question of property? Or perhaps you need to discuss your will? It is
never too early to put arrangements in place—”
subjects,” Ward interrupted. “As many as you can get me.”
solicitor frowned at him across his broad walnut desk. “Subjects?
I’m not sure I follow.”
“As you may have
heard, I am a scientist, Mr. Godolphin. I am also fortunate to come
from a family of some considerable means. I visited this area last
year and became convinced it was the ideal place in which to carry
out my work. That is why I purchased the land on which I subsequently
built Varhak Manor.”
“I was aware of
that,” Mr. Godolphin said, inclining his head in acknowledgement.
“Having acted for Mr. Roscarrock in that transaction, as you will
no doubt recall.”
Ward said, though in truth he hadn’t known, nor did he care. He’d
left all the legal business to Mr. Embleton, his solicitor in London.
“I first decided
to purchase property in Cornwall,” he went on, “due to the
weather conditions here. The work I am doing now is concerned with
the impact of atmospheric electricity and electromagnetism on . . .
certain spiritual and psychic phenomena. Since this part of the
English coastline is prone to storms, it’s well situated for my
experiments, as well as being not too far from London.” Ward leaned
forward, over the desk, warming to his subject now. “The particular
reason I selected Porthkennack, though, was because of the so-called
‘Round Hole’ situated at the edge of my property—”
“The Hole?” Mr.
Godolphin interjected, his tone doubtful.
“Oh yes. I
realise having a huge great hole in the ground might be off-putting
for most buyers, but for me, it was the very reason I wanted this
land. The conditions inside that crevice would usually only be found
during a storm at sea. The air is constantly saturated with droplets
of sea water, and there are frequent surges from sea level. I fully
expect that in the course of an electromagnetic storm, these unusual
conditions will be enhanced, and indeed I hope to take steps to
further enhance them myself. For one thing, I’m installing certain
equipment at the base of the Hole to stimulate production of ozone
gas. Are you familiar with ozone g—”
Ward blinked at
that and for the first time noticed that Godolphin looked . . .
the lawyer said, “but I’m not sure I am entirely following you.
What does all this have to do with these subjects you want me
to help you with?”
“I beg your
pardon,” Ward said, flushing. “I get a little ahead of myself
sometimes, when I start talking about my work.”
all right,” Godolphin said. “And perfectly understandable. But if
you could perhaps explain what it is you need my assistance with,
that may . . . expedite matters.”
Ward paused and took a deep breath. This was the part he found more
difficult. “It is my hypothesis—given the right person and the
right conditions of electromagnetic and atmospheric activity—that
it is possible for a living man to communicate with spirits.”
widened. He opened his mouth. Closed it again. Then he picked up the
sherry bottle, poured himself another large glass, and threw half of
Ward waited. He was
well aware, painfully so, of how most people, especially educated
people, viewed his work. But he also hoped that Godolphin, as a
professional man with a living to make, would agree to help him
regardless of his views regarding what Ward was trying to achieve.
Godolphin said, “Are you a spiritualist, Sir Edward?”
Ward shook his
head. “By no means. Make no mistake, Mr. Godolphin, I am a
scientist, first and always. I have witnessed some marvellous things
in my life that others have ascribed to magic or religion, but there
is nothing I have seen that I do not firmly believe may be perfectly
explained by science, if not now, then someday.”
considered that and finally said, “What is it you want me to do?”
“In order to
conduct my experiments, I require various things”—Ward counted
some of them off on his fingers—“electromagnetic activity, sea
water, ozone gas. These are all things I am able to obtain in some
form or other. There is one thing I need, however, that I have been
unable to get: human subjects. It is this ingredient I require your
assistance with.” Ward paused, then added, “I am willing to pay
any volunteers you find me a generous sum for their assistance—and,
of course, a fee to you for acting as my agent in this matter.”
“What sort of
person is it that you seek?” Godolphin asked. “Do you require
your subjects to be literate, for example? What will they be asked to
Ward shook his
head. “There is no need for them to be able to read or write. I
will need them to tell me what they are experiencing, but that is
all. My only real stipulation is that it would help if they have
recently experienced a family bereavement.” He saw the lawyer
frowning at that bluntly stated requirement. “As for what they will
be asked to do, well, nothing much at all: merely submit to being put
into a trance—”
Godolphin sounded taken aback. “Do you mean mesmerism? If you mean
to put them to sleep and press pins into them or some such thing, I’m
afraid I could not countenance assisting you with any such
endeavour.” He gave a dry chuckle to lighten his words, but Ward
could see he meant it seriously.
“No, no, of
course not,” Ward reassured. “Nothing like that, Mr. Godolphin. I
am not a circus performer. The reason I put my subjects into an
hypnotic trance—which is in a fact a very subtly altered state from
the usual—is not to deprive them of the ability to sense things, as
the mesmerists purport to do, but rather to enhance their mental
concentration. By focusing my subjects’ minds in this way, I hope
to unlock what I believe is a latent ability we all have to reach
beyond the boundary of the visible world we perceive around us.”
As usual when he
spoke of his work, Ward began to feel happier, excited at the
prospect of the efforts that lay ahead, and of the tantalising
possibility of success. He realised he was smiling, and that
Godolphin was considering him with what looked like curious interest,
no longer the wary man of business, but one man taking his measure of
Godolphin nodded. “Very well, Sir Edward. Let us give this a try. I
will do what I can to help you find some subjects, and we will see
how we go.” He rang the bell at the side of his desk and seconds
later, the young man who had greeted Ward when he first arrived
popped his head round the door.
“You rang, Mr.
“Ah, Mr. Gwynn.
Please come in,” Godolphin said. “We have a contract of agency to
Godolphin was as
good as his word, but over the next several weeks, the few subjects
he was able to send Ward’s way proved to be worse than useless.
Agnes Penrose, a
frowsy woman of about forty, blushed every time Ward asked her a
question, could barely stammer out an answer, and was impossible to
hypnotise due to her inability to maintain her gaze where Ward needed
it to be to achieve the requisite state.
Thomas Cadzow, a
strapping young farm labourer, appeared a better prospect, at least
at first. He succumbed to the trance state with ease, but it
transpired he’d never suffered a bereavement in his life—not only
were his mother, father, and six siblings alive and well, but all
four grandparents and two great-grandparents were in fine fettle too.
The man hadn’t lost so much as a pet cat.
The worst, though,
was Jago Jones, a sullen man who’d recently lost his place on one
of the local fishing crews after being drunk and incapable one too
many times. Silent at the outset, in his trance he grew tearful and
spoke like a frightened child till Ward, alarmed, woke him. On
waking, Jago was mortified to find himself cowering and wet faced. He
claimed to remember nothing of what had occurred and grew angry with
Ward, though all Ward had done was ask him to call to mind his dead
father. He stormed out of Varhak Manor insisting Ward had been trying
to possess him with witchcraft.
A few days later,
Godolphin called on Ward.
Pipp showed him
into Ward’s study, and he dropped into the chair opposite Ward’s
desk with a heavy sigh.
wrong?” Ward asked.
family are swearing blind he’s been abed since he returned from
undergoing your experiments,” Godolphin told Ward flatly. “They
say he’s unable to see, hear, or speak since you put him in a
“Well, I can assure you, he was able to do all those things when he
walked out my house shouting at the top of his voice.”
wearily. “I pointed out to them he must’ve got home somehow.
Nevertheless, that’s what they claim. And if they start spreading
that rumour, your chances of getting any more subjects for your
experiments will dwindle to nothing, I’m afraid.”
Ward gave a harsh
bark of laughter. “Well, that couldn’t be much worse than what
I’ve had so far.”
again. “Yes, I know and I’m sorry for it, but the truth is, the
villagers have been more wary of your experiments than I expected
them to be. It’s not so much the hypnotism that bothers them as the
rumours that your work involves electricity. Most people round here
have lost men to storms at sea at some time or another, and they
don’t consider that such things are to be trifled with.”
“Believe me, no
one has more respect for the power of an electrical storm than I,”
Ward replied. “I wouldn’t consider putting anyone in any kind of
danger. For God’s sake, I’m erecting lightning rods round the
Hole so that when I’m working in storm conditions, any strikes will
be harmlessly discharged!”
“That’s not how
the villagers see it,” Godolphin said, shrugging. “So far as
they’re concerned, your lightning rods attract lightning, and they
can’t understand why on earth you’d want to do that.”
“Oh, for God’s
sake!” Ward exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “That’s
“But that’s how
they think,” Godolphin pointed out patiently. “And that’s why
I’ve not been able to find anyone else willing to be a subject.
Mind, I’ll keep looking, but in the meantime, if you want the Jones
family to be quiet, I suspect you’re going to have to pay them some
As much as that
rankled, Ward hadn’t spent months building Varhak Manor and
planning the work he would carry out there, only to throw his efforts
away now by allowing the Jones family to defame him the length and
breadth of the county. Besides, as much as he doubted the truth of
their claims over Jago’s incapacity, he still felt faintly guilty
every time he remembered the sight of the man weeping like a babe.
And so, in the end, he instructed Godolphin to offer the Jones clan
twenty pounds in exchange for their silence, and they happily took
Jago Jones was, of
course, walking and talking as well as anyone else within a day of
the money being handed over. He blew the lot at a boxing match at
Trebudannon, got spectacularly drunk, overturned his buggy on the way
home, and caved in his skull. He died three days later.
Within a week, the
whole county was whispering that his death was down to Sir Edward
Fitzwilliam’s mysterious electromagnetic experiments.
After that, there
were no more subjects from Mr. Godolphin.
28th April 1853
The Hope & Anchor Inn,
“Well now, me
’ansome, what will you be having this fine day?”
winked at Nick over the scarred wood of the bar and thrust her ample
bosom out a little further. She was known to be a lusty one, Martha,
and she’d made it plain to Nick on more than one occasion that she
“A pint of ale,
if you please, Martha.”
“No smile for me
today?” she teased, lifting up on tiptoe to unhook a metal tankard
from the beam above her. Nick just grunted in reply, and she sighed
dramatically. “It’s a sin, is what it is, a man like you never
cracking a smile. I daresay you’d be twice as lovely to look at if
lovely to look at,” Nick scoffed, but Martha laughed.
“What’ve you to
be so glum about anyway?” she demanded as she pumped out the frothy
ale. “It’s a lovely day. The blossom’s on the trees, it’s
warm as high summer, and the maypole’s going up today for the Young
Oss on Sunday. If it stays like this, we’ll be dancing late into
“It is—not that
you’re one for dancing.” She set the tankard down in front of him
and lifted the coins he’d laid there.
He took a swig of
the ale. “That’s true enough—I’ve two left feet.”
She eyed him,
unimpressed. “No use lying to me, Nick Hearn. I seen you dance with
Jenny Lamb three years ago, and you were fine. Better than fine.”
Nick forced a
smile. “Jenny was a determined lass.”
“Oh, she’s determined all right! I’ll wager you’re relieved
she married the schoolteacher and laid off you. We was all sure she’d
set her cap at you.”
Nick’s smile felt
fixed and stiff, and he didn’t know what to say. He’d felt a lot
of things over Jenny’s marriage to Gabe Meadows, but relief wasn’t
one of them.
give me at least one dance, Nick,” Martha wheedled. She sent him a
wicked look from under her lashes, the sort of look that should have
given him a cockstand, but never would.
he said at last. “Mayhap I’ll fancy a jig come May Day, if I can
get five minutes’ peace and quiet to drink this good ale.”
Martha put her
hands on her hips and glared at him, mock-offended. “I swear you
prefer the company of that ugly dog to me.”
Nick glanced down
at Snow, who lifted his head and gave a little grunt, as though he
knew he was being talked about.
said. “He talks less.”
sauntered off to see to her next customer, and Snow set his heavy
head back down on his paws.
The inn was busy,
despite it being the middle of the day. On a warm day like this, a
working man liked a cool pint of ale to quench his thirst, and the
place was full of labourers, fishermen, and other men who worked in
the village and on the surrounding farms. There were a number of men
his own age who Nick had attended the village school with and played
with as a lad. Till the interest Godfrey Roscarrock had taken in him
had marked him out as different from them.
Nick turned round
to face the room, leaning one elbow on the bar behind him. He raised
his tankard and drank deeply, enjoying the light, hoppy ale. He’d
been out riding round the estate all morning and had been nursing his
thirst in anticipation of this drink.
When he finally
lowered the tankard, he glanced around the inn, nodding a few civil
greetings at the other patrons without bothering to initiate
conversation. He was a man of few words. He knew some people reckoned
he thought he was better than everyone else because he’d risen from
being Darklis Hearn’s bastard to being steward to the Roscarrock
family, but that was their lookout. He couldn’t help what people
thought or didn’t think.
When Nick finished
his ale and turned to set his empty tankard down on the bar, Jim, the
innkeeper, caught his eye. He raised a questioning brow at Nick.
the unspoken question.
briefly, then nodded, and Jim brought a fresh tankard to him a minute
later. He was halfway through his second ale when the door of the inn
opened and a newcomer arrived—or rather, two newcomers. The first
man was plainly a toff. He was elegantly dressed, all in shades of
brown, and had the typical air of a rich man—the air of someone
used to getting what he wanted, whenever he wanted it. He strode
inside and looked boldly around, not bothering to shield his
curiosity about the gathered clientele. The second, older man seemed
to be the first man’s servant. He appeared far less comfortable,
his gaze flicking nervously about the room from behind his half-moon
taproom fell silent. The toff removed his hat and regarded the inn’s
patrons with bright-eyed interest. He had a willowy sort of youthful
grace—Nick guessed him to be somewhere in his twenties. His neatly
side-parted hair was dark blond and his golden-brown eyes shone with
intelligence and unconcealed curiosity. There was a delicacy to his
clean-shaven face, with its fine, symmetrical features, yet there was
firmness there too. Determination in the sharp jut of his jaw,
boldness in the unshirking gaze.
desire rolled in Nick’s belly, cresting like a wave that broke and
flooded through him. The strength of his reaction took him by
surprise, and he had to glance away briefly to consciously school his
expression before he allowed himself to look back.
The toff offered
the assembled company a smile. “Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he
said. Or rather barked.
Christ, that voice.
The man might be fair, but his voice was scraping and hoarse. Nick
waited for him to clear his throat, but he didn’t, merely continued
in the same harsh tone.
“Allow me to
introduce myself. I am your new neighbour, Sir Edward Fitzwilliam. I
live close to the Hole—I’m sure you all know it. You may be aware
that I’ve built a house there, where I carry out my work.” He
offered another of those engaging smiles. “I am a scientist.”
“We know what you
are,” a voice assured him from the back of the inn. “You’re the
one messing around with ’lectricity and putting up lightning rods.”
Sir Edward craned
his neck, trying to find the owner of that voice. “Well, that’s
rather an oversimplification, but in essence, yes. I am investigating
certain effects of electromagnetism, amongst other things. It is, as
I’m sure you all know, an area that is being studied in some depth
at this time. No doubt you’re all familiar with the work of Mr.
“Oh, to be sure!”
someone else said, with a snort. “We’re regular professors here
at the Hope and Anchor.”
That voice was
closer, and familiar to Nick. Jed Hammett, one of Nick’s boyhood
friends. These days he was a fisherman—at least, he was when his
brothers could extract him from the village hostelries. He liked his
rum, did Jed, and he was a belligerent drunk as Nick knew too well,
having had more than one run-in with the man when he was in his cups,
when Jed would decide that Nick had gotten above himself and needed
taking down a peg or two.
There were a few
muted chuckles at Jed’s comment. Sir Edward frowned, as though not
quite sure if he was being laughed at, which he was, of course—at
least as blatantly as a group of working men would ever laugh at a
titled gentleman in broad daylight. Nick glanced about the taproom,
taking in the shared glances and grins of the other patrons. On the
other side of the room, Sir Edward’s servant looked like he wished
the ground would swallow him up. Nick lifted his tankard and took
another swallow of ale, waiting to see what would happen next.
Edward said, turning his head to address his comments to Jed.
“Perhaps you might be interested in assisting with my experiments
then? For that is my purpose today—I am seeking volunteers, and I
am, of course, prepared to pay. Generously.”
He gazed at the
assembled company with a bright, expectant look that made Nick’s
gut twist. There was a spark of something in that hopeful look,
something vital and rare. Something that he knew the other men in the
taproom would see as nothing more than foolishness. That thought
bothered Nick more than it ought to have, and he turned determinedly
away to face the bar again, setting his tankard down on the wet wood
and hunching over it, wanting nothing to do with that handsome,
intriguing young man. Beside him, Snow pressed in close, his short,
powerful body warm against Nick’s calf.
“So, milord, what
would these volunteers ’ave to do?”
That was Jed again,
the rich, round burr of his Cornish accent a stark contrast to Sir
Edward’s upper-class rasp.
Merely allow me to put them into an hypnotic trance, then open their
minds to whatever messages might come to them from—” He faltered.
When Sir Edward
spoke again, his voice sounded even harsher than before. More
brusque. “From the spiritual plane—beyond the veil, if you will.”
veil?” Jed repeated, his words infused with real amusement now.
There were some subdued chuckles from the other patrons too, and a
few more backs turned on Sir Edward as some of them grew bored with
the scene, preferring to buy themselves more beer. Jim took a flurry
of orders while Martha began gathering in the empty tankards that
were pushed forward.
“You want us to
speak to spirits? What do you think we are?” the first voice from
the back of the room called out. “Gypsies with crystal balls?”
greeted that, a little less subdued this time. Some ineffective
shushing followed. Tense and angry, and still facing away from the
excruciating scene between the toff and Jed Hammett, Nick gripped his
tankard so hard his knuckles turned white. As though sensing his
emotions, Snow rubbed his head against Nick’s leg, and Nick leaned
down to give him a reassuring pat.
“Well now,” Jed
chuckled behind Nick, “if it’s a Gypsy you’re looking
for, milord, we’ve got someone right up your street.”
Nick stayed where
he was, his back firmly to the room, but he knew from experience that
more jibes would likely be coming, which probably meant that one of
his regular half-joking, half-aggressive confrontations with Jed was
inevitable. He really wasn’t in the mood for it today. Not in front
of this comely young man with his devil’s bark of a voice who
seemed to be oddly oblivious to being mocked.
But perhaps Sir
Edward wasn’t as oblivious as Nick thought, for when he answered
Jed, his voice was all icy anger. “Kindly do not presume to
tell me what I’m looking for,” he snapped.
The impact of that
was instantaneous. The muted chuckles died away, replaced by a newly
respectful silence, and as pleased as he was to hear Jed being set
down, Nick couldn’t stop his lip curling at that. This was typical,
wasn’t it? The rich, titled gentleman presenting himself,
uninvited, in the taproom of the local inn and expecting respect to
be handed to him on a silver platter. Then reminding them all of his
power when he didn’t get it.
Nick half expected
Jed, a notorious hothead in his cups, to snap back. But perhaps the
fisherman hadn’t yet had enough rum for that since, after a tense
moment, he chuckled again and said, “I beg your pardon, milord, I
didn’t mean to offend you. Why don’t you tell us what you’re
looking for, and we’ll see if we can ’elp you.”
“As I said, I’m
looking for volunteers,” Sir Edward replied stiffly. “I need
subjects to work with me on my experiments—as many as I can get.
I’ll take anyone who’s willing, but—and I apologise for the
indelicacy of this—the recently bereaved would be especially
Nick blinked at
those succinct and coolly spoken words.
bereaved would be especially welcome.”
The toff said that
as though it was an incidental thing. As though being recently
bereaved was like having a particular colour of eyes.
Jed parroted, unconsciously reflecting Nick’s thoughts. “Why
would they be especially welcome?”
theorised that the recently bereaved are more receptive to
communications from . . . the other side,” Sir Edward explained
“Oh, I see, it’s
been theorised, has it? Well I never!” Jed’s clumsy
sarcasm mimicked the man’s upper-class intonation—so perhaps he’d
had enough rum to be foolish after all. But this time no laughter
greeted Jed’s mockery, only silence. An uncomfortable, difficult
silence that stretched and waited for Sir Edward’s reaction.
“It seems,” Sir
Edward said at last, his rasping voice pricking at Nick’s jagged
nerves, “that I was mistaken in coming here. Furthermore, it
seems—” and here he paused, before continuing in a louder voice
that addressed everyone in the taproom, not only Jed “—that the
men of Porthkennack don’t have nearly as much backbone as I’d
thought they would. To be frank, I’m astonished to find that there
is not one among you that isn’t too craven to take part in a few
simple scientific experiments.”
The nature of the
silence in the room shifted at that and the men slouching against the
bar beside Nick began, slowly, to turn around to face Sir Edward
again. With a muttered curse, Nick turned too, resenting his own
foolish inability to mind his own business, while Snow circled Nick’s
legs anxiously, butting his head against Nick’s calves.
The scientist stood
in the middle of the taproom, his angry gaze travelling over the men
gathered around him. His golden-brown eyes glittered with injured
pride and his determined jaw was rigid—perhaps from biting back yet
more ill-considered words. Again, Nick’s senses tingled in response
to the man. He had a spark in him that called to Nick. Like the
quickness of Godfrey’s new dappled-grey mare, or the glimmer of
life he’d seen in Snow when he’d first laid eyes on the dog’s
torn-up body in that alleyway in Truro. Why that should be, Nick had
no idea. It made his brows draw together with displeasure till he was
Jed said quietly
but ominously, “Did I ’ear you right, milord? Did you just call
the men in this taproom cowards? After what you did to Jago Jones?”
Jed was a big man.
He topped Nick by at least three inches and Sir Edward by more like
six. In bulk, he probably outweighed the scientist near enough two to
one. Yet Sir Edward was uncowed. He glared at the big Cornishman with
scorn in his eyes.
“Any man in this
room who won’t accept my offer because of Mr. Jones isn’t just a
coward, he’s a fool,” Sir Edward spat.
There were a few
intakes of breath at that, and some uneasy murmuring.
“Now, now,” Jim
said from behind the bar. “Let’s ease up ’ere, shall we?” He
looked at Jed. “No more accusations from you, Jed.” Then he
glanced warily at Sir Edward, adding, “He don’t mean nothing by
it, sir. I’m sure none of us really know what happened to Jag—I
mean, Mr. Jones.”
Sir Edward eyed the
innkeeper. “Well, I know what happened,” he snapped. “Mr.
Jones overturned his cart and broke his head open because he was
drunk. The only part of it that I had anything to do with was that I
gave him the money that he drank himself into a stupor with.”
Jed greeted that
blunt statement with silence, but his expression was ugly. He eyed
Sir Edward with blatant, naked dislike and a couple of the onlookers
standing nearest to the scientist took a step away from him, as
though to disassociate themselves from whatever Jed might do, or
perhaps just to avoid Jed’s fists. Sir Edward’s servant was
eyeing the crowd carefully, as though weighing up the situation, and
all the while, Sir Edward kept glaring at his aggressor, not giving
This was going to
come to blows if someone didn’t step in. Nick mightn’t altogether
mind the thought of Jed Hammett being dragged up before the
magistrate again, and Sir Edward might be behaving with the usual
high-handedness of the rich, but still, Nick found he didn’t like
the thought of that comely face being marked with bruises from Jed’s
With an inward
sigh, he slammed his tankard down on the bar. The clatter of metal on
wood caused half the heads in the taproom to turn his way.
Nick said. “Even you must admit that driving your buggy arse over
tit is apt to do you in.”
There was a little
uneasy laughter at that. Slowly, menacingly, Jed turned his attention
from Sir Edward to Nick. Nick offered him an insouciant grin,
feigning relaxed amusement, though in truth he was holding himself
loose and easy, ready for violence should Jed rush him.
There was little
love lost between him and Jed these days, but there was, at least, a
modicum of respect if it came to a fight. When they were boys, they’d
run wild together, playing and arguing and yes, brawling a few times,
until Jed had finally realised that, despite being much bigger, he
couldn’t guarantee he’d beat the Gypsy’s bastard every time—and
he certainly couldn’t cow him, as he could so easily the other
“Well now, if it
isn’t Nick ’Earn!” Jed said, all aggressive friendliness. “I
was just speaking of you to milord here.” He turned back to the
scientist. “Mr. ’Earn is the Gypsy bast—sorry, gentleman
I mentioned to you, milord. He is just the man for you, is Nick. For
these ’speriments of your’n.”
Sir Edward’s jaw
tightened, eyes flashing with irritation as he anticipated more
mockery, but Jed held his hands up in a wait a moment gesture.
“Now, hear me
out, milord. You’ll like this, what with you looking for someone
who might be closer to the veil an’ all.” He pointed at
Nick. “This ’ere Gypsy, not only did his old mother pass away
just last year—which is one of the partic’lars you’re looking
for, you said—but better’n that, he sees ghosts. Ain’t
that the truth now, Nick?”
clenched. He itched to ram his fist into Jed’s smirking face, and
only the knowledge that that was precisely what the fisherman wanted
stopped him. By sheer force of will he maintained a neutral
expression, opening his mouth to disavow Jed’s words, only for Sir
Edward to beat him to it.
ghosts?” Sir Edward said, fixing that golden-brown gaze on Nick for
the first time. His expression was curious. Avid. And somehow,
without intending to, Nick found himself answering.
practically a babe when it happened.” He shrugged. “Probably
imagined the whole thing.”
Jed gave a chuckle
and wagged a finger at Nick. “Oh no. I remember that night like it
were yesterday. You saw something right enough. The look on your face
was a sight to see.” He turned back to Sir Edward. “None of us
saw anything, you understand. But, well, Nick’s a Gypsy, see? And
them Gypsies? Some say they’re related to the devil hisself, don’t
they? Stands to reason Nick ’ere would be able to see spirits.”
Sir Edward didn’t
even acknowledge Jed’s words. He canted his head a little to one
side, studying Nick intently. Nick felt that unfaltering gaze like a
physical touch, his cock stirring in his drawers as another wave of
desire broke in his belly. Christ. Why did the man affect him
“What did you
see, Mr. Hearn?” he asked.
Nick pressed his
lips together and shook his head, annoyed with himself for not
laughing off Jed’s charge immediately as he’d usually have done.
“Nothing,” he said flatly. “It was a child’s fancy, nothing
to him,” Jed told Sir Edward. “He saw the Plague Doctor, a ghost
as has been walking this village for nigh on two hundred years. He
saw it as clear as I see you now, milord. We was”—he glanced at
Nick—“what do you think, Nick? Seven? Eight? And you told me
everything about that ghost, didn’t you? From the square buckles on
his shoes to the beaky mask he wore on his head. When I told old
Granny Hammett what you said, she said to me, ‘That Gypsy’s
bastard’s seen the good doctor, all right! He’s got him right in