Busy, busy, busy. This is the life I lead. But we seem to have tailored the daily homeschooling down to about three hours, finishing by lunch, and then a flurry of chores and other things give me leave to write while the youngest naps in the mid-afternoon.
The last two weeks I’ve shared bits of Dust and Silver, my paranormal historical mystery, but today I’m jumping over to an excerpt from The Death Within, the sequel to my book The Half Killed.
In this story, there is an illness that is infecting people in London, one that kills them in a horrible manner. Dorothea Hawes connects one of the victims to a local temperance society, and so attends a meeting in order to see if there is anything of importance to be discovered, or if the connection is merely coincidence.
“Pardon me, but I do not believe we have yet been introduced?”
Mrs. Newton is taller than I imagined, my original impression of her height taking into account the small stage on which she stood. But even without the aid of a platform, she stands at least a head above me. On top of that head, held to her hair with a jet-tipped pin, she wears a simple hat, adorned with only a few black silk roses tucked away in tight curls of lace.
“Miss Hawes,” I say, and hold out my hand. The other hand I slip behind my back, my handkerchief and its plunder held well out of sight.
She takes my fingers and shakes them gently, as if one of us will shatter should she attempt a more forceful maneuver. “Miss Hawes, is it?” Her fair eyebrows pinch together, then pull apart as her forehead clears and a smile pushes her cheekbones out and upwards. “Miss Dorothea Hawes? Am I correct?”
I must admit, I am stunned that she knows who I am. I am far from claiming myself as a celebrated personage, and what fame I did have when I was younger has long since dissipated, even before the loss of what gifts had plagued me. But her hand drops quickly away from my own, her fingers working inside her gloves like one brushing a few particles of dust from the tips of them.
“Yes.” A rough sound drags itself out of the back of my throat, the word sticking there before I cough behind my hand and say it again. “Yes, though I am not what I once was. I am reformed, you might say.”
“We are more enlightened now, I think. Spiritualism, seeking to commune with those departed from us…” Her lips nearly disappear between her teeth. “A perilous return to the superstitions of the Dark Ages. We are better than that. Such great scientific discoveries of the last few years have brought about a new age, don’t you think?”
“A renaissance, you mean?” I glance towards the nearest window, where the sky darkens over a city hunkered down beneath a drifting fog of smoke and sleet and the discolored fumes spewed out from the various factories and mills gathered near the river. Since the last intellectual rebirth swept across Europe, has anything about London really altered? If my history has not failed me, it was a fire and not science that brought about any change to that sea of buildings, stretching towards the horizon.
Mrs. Newton smiles, her gaze dipping down in what appears to be an affectation of shyness. Or perhaps I am being too harsh, though the lack of that smile in her eyes when she again raises her head leads me to cling to my original assumption. “And what else? The poverty, the filth, the drink and vice that infect these streets… I fear we can descend no further, Miss Hawes.”
Even lacking my ability to delve into her thoughts, to trawl through the sins of those assembled around me, snacking on their edibles while they stir cream and sugar into their tea, I wonder at the gall of this woman to make such an assertion. In all of mankind’s history, and here, at this moment, we have only now fallen to the nadir of our development? But I pull my mouth tight, an expression one could almost mistake for a smile as artificial as Mrs. Newton’s. If only I could touch on the fringes of whatever cogitations are currently spinning around beneath that silk-flowered hat, but I push the desire away before it can lead me in a less healthful direction.
“But you believe we have begun to rise again?” I pose the question easily enough, giving them the tone of being the first words to leap into my head. The truth is that Mrs. Newton’s manner is rather open, considering that this is our first encounter with one another. If her wish is to win me over as a new recruit to her cause, I wonder at her willingness to delve so quickly into subjects that would make the typical London housewife curl her lip in offense.
“Do you not agree?” She steeples her fingers in front of her, taking on a pose I would expect from one standing to have their likeness painted. “You yourself have already left the foolishness of Spiritualism behind. There are no great mysteries that cannot be solved without the dedication of great intellectual minds and the tools they yield. We will conquer all of the scourges that have plagued humanity, from illness to war…” She spreads her hands apart, leaving the rest of her statement open.
“Perhaps even death itself?” I suggest, still managing to keep my voice light.
A small laugh escapes from the back of her throat. “Oh, I’m not sure we’ll press matters that far. But with the advances we’ve seen these last few decades, I would not rule out anything, Miss Hawes.”