Home > Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia Grey #1)

Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia Grey #1)
Deanna Raybourn

THE FIRST CHAPTER

London, 1886

Other sins only speak; murder shrieks out.

—John Webster

The Duchess of Malfi

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

I stared at him, not quite taking in the fact that he had just collapsed at my feet. He lay, curled like a question mark, his evening suit ink-black against the white marble of the floor. He was writhing, his fingers knotted.

I leaned as close to him as my corset would permit.

“Edward, we have guests. Do get up. If this is some sort of silly prank—”

“He is not jesting, my lady. He is convulsing.”

An impatient figure in black pushed past me to kneel at Edward’s side. He busied himself for a few brisk moments, palpating and pulse-taking, while I bobbed a bit, trying to see over his shoulder. Behind me the guests were murmuring, buzzing, pushing closer to get a look of their own. There was a little thrill of excitement in the air. After all, it was not every evening that a baronet collapsed senseless in his own music room. And Edward was proving rather better entertainment than the soprano we had engaged.

Through the press, Aquinas, our butler, managed to squeeze in next to my elbow.

“My lady?”

I looked at him, grateful to have an excuse to turn away from the spectacle on the floor.

“Aquinas, Sir Edward has had an attack.”

“And would be better served in his own bed,” said the gentleman from the floor. He rose, lifting Edward into his arms with a good deal of care and very little effort, it seemed. But Edward had grown thin in the past months. I doubted he weighed much more than I.

“Follow me,” I instructed, although Aquinas actually led the way out of the music room. People moved slowly out of our path, as though they regretted the little drama ending so quickly. There were some polite murmurs, some mournful clucking. I heard snatches as I passed through them.

“The curse of the Greys, it is—”

“So young. But of course his father never saw thirty-five.”

“Never make old bones—”

“Feeble heart. Pity, he was always such a pleasant fellow.”

I moved faster, staring straight ahead so that I did not have to meet their eyes. I kept my gaze fixed on Aquinas’ broad, black-wool back, but all the time I was conscious of those voices and the sound of footsteps behind me, the footsteps of the gentleman who was carrying my husband. Edward groaned softly as we reached the stairs and I turned. The gentleman’s face was grim.

“Aquinas, help the gentleman—”

“I have him,” he interrupted, brushing past me. Aquinas obediently led him to Edward’s bedchamber. Together they settled Edward onto the bed, and the gentleman began to loosen his clothes. He flicked a glance toward Aquinas.

“Has he a doctor?”

“Yes, sir. Doctor Griggs, Golden Square.”

“Send for him. Although I dare say it will be too late.”

Aquinas turned to me where I stood, hovering on the threshold. I never went into Edward’s room. I did not like to do so now. It felt like an intrusion, a trespass on his privacy.

“Shall I send for Lord March as well, my lady?”

I blinked at Aquinas. “Why should Father come? He is no doctor.”

But Aquinas was quicker than I. I had thought the gentleman meant that Edward would have recovered from his attack by the time Doctor Griggs arrived. Aquinas, who had seen more of the world than I, knew better.

He looked at me, his eyes carefully correct, and then I understood why he wanted to send for Father. As head of the family he would have certain responsibilities.

I nodded slowly. “Yes, send for him.” I moved into the room on reluctant legs. I knew I should be there, doing whatever little bit that I could for Edward. But I stopped at the side of the bed. I did not touch him.

“And Lord Bellmont?” Aquinas queried.

I thought for a moment. “No, it is Friday. Parliament is sitting late.”

That much was a mercy. Father I could cope with. But not my eldest brother as well. “And I suppose you ought to call for the carriages. Send everyone home. Make my apologies.”

He left us alone then, the stranger and I. We stood on opposite sides of the bed, Edward convulsing between us. He stopped after a moment and the gentleman placed a finger at his throat.

“His pulse is very weak,” he said finally. “You should prepare yourself.”

I did not look at him. I kept my eyes fixed on Edward’s pale face. It shone with sweat, its surface etched with lines of pain. This was not how I wanted to remember him.

“I have known him for more than twenty years,” I said finally, my voice tight and strange. “We were children together. We used to play pirates and knights of the Round Table. Even then, I knew his heart was not sound. He used to go quite blue sometimes when he was overtired. This is not unexpected.”

I looked up then to find the stranger’s eyes on me. They were the darkest eyes I had ever seen, witch-black and watchful. His gaze was not friendly. He was regarding me coldly, as a merchant will appraise a piece of goods to determine its worth. I dropped my eyes at once.

“Thank you for your concern for my husband’s health, sir. You have been most helpful. Are you a friend of Edward’s?”

He did not reply at once. Edward made a noise in the back of his throat and the stranger moved swiftly, rolling him onto his side and thrusting a basin beneath his mouth. Edward retched, horribly, groaning. When he finished, the gentleman put the basin to the side and wiped his mouth with his handkerchief. Edward gave a little whimper and began to shiver. The gentleman watched him closely.

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