A murder at a séance. In an age of rationalism and science, spiritualism has taken hold of the popular imagination. At the home of Lord and Lady Summerhayes, a séance ends in a horrific climax — a man is drowned in ectoplasm! Impossible! But there’s nothing Elizabeth Hunter-Payne and her Investigation Bureau like better than to investigate an impossible mystery.
Victor Drake was at the table and tried to save the hapless victim. His smoldering good looks and irresistible allure take Elizabeth’s fancy, and her carnal desires are reciprocated. Together, can they solve the mystery? Another thrilling adventure set in a steampunk world of airships, steam-powered aircraft, and swords disguised as lavender umbrellas.
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Copyright ©2021 Mikala Ash
Lavender Umbrellas and Death at a Séance
Tuesday, January 10, 1860
“A murder at a séance,” I repeated incredulously. “A séance? You mean ghosts and such?”
Lord Arthur Summerhayes was an elegantly dressed white-haired man in his early seventies. A military background I surmised, as he wore enormous and immaculately clipped side whiskers, made popular by troops returning from the Crimea. In his youth, and clean-shaven, I believe he would have been a handsome man.
“Indeed I do, Mrs. Hunter-Payne. I’m talking spiritualism, mediums, apparitions, spirit controls from beyond the veil, and communicating with the beloved dead. The whole battalion, if you have my meaning.”
I was taken aback by the notion, and I struggled for a response. I knew spiritualism had become a popular pastime lately despite this being the age of rationalism, and surrounded as we were by very real advances in science and engineering. Airships droning away above the city and steam-powered aircraft patrolling the clouds were common sights now, as were Cumberland cabs steaming along every street and thoroughfare. Submarines skulked beneath the waves, and automatons had even entered domestic service. The list of technological marvels was endless. Gone for the most part was the age of horse and carriage in which I had been born.
I’d read in The Times that after the war in the Crimea, and the more recent mutiny in India, both of which incurred such great loss of life, there had arisen an ever growing desire of the bereaved to contact their lost loved ones. Spiritualists, those purporting to be able to contact the spirits of the dead, had conveniently materialised to meet the demand.
Séances, as I understood them, were ritualised gatherings of people in a darkened room sitting in silence around a table, holding hands, awaiting a spirit to contact them through the auspices of a medium. For some it was an amusement; merely a parlour game. For others it was an earnest and sorrow-fuelled desire to contact lost loved ones. Newspapers made light of the pastime, ridiculing believers and taking particular glee in exposing frauds and charlatans. The church proclaimed it sacrilegious, no doubt believing the practice subverted their monopoly over the afterlife.
That was the extent of my knowledge and my interest. I understood quite intimately the emotional need of the bereaved to have some form of contact with their loved ones. My thoughts rested always with my late husband Jonathan who had been killed in the Crimean War. I had given the possibility of actually contacting him scant regard, thinking it slightly foolish whenever the thought arose. Though I would give anything to see him again, and know for certain he was at peace, I admit to being highly sceptical of the notion of mediums being able to accomplish the task. Jonathan lived in my mind, and in my dreams; an ever-present reminder of the deepest love and consuming passion I could ever hope to experience. I glanced at his portrait, and my longing for his company struck me like a blow to the chest.
“I need your help,” Lord Summerhayes said urgently. His face was creased in anxiety, his faded blue eyes pleading. “Or my wife and I shall be ruined. Not that I care for myself. I am old, ready for whatever is next. It is for my wife that I fear.”
“I’ve not any experience in spiritualism,” I said carefully, in case Lord Summerhayes was a believer.
“Devil of a thing. Absolute nonsense, of course,” he said. “But murder nonetheless. Man drowned by ectoplasm.”
Just in time I stopped myself from appearing particularly obtuse by repeating the unfamiliar word. I was aware, however, of my mouth hanging open and thought that I must appear quite vacuous.
His lordship continued. “In my own drawing room, would you believe. Terrible slimy stuff. Ruined the carpet. Dashed inconvenient.”
Until that astounding announcement my morning had progressed prosaically enough, though it did bring with it a touch of novelty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aussie Mikala Ash used to be a mild-mannered training & development consultant by day, and a wild sci-fi and paranormal adventure writer by night. Now she is a brazen full-time writer and nature photographer who is concentrating on having among other things, “… bags, and bags of fun!” Mikala can be found on Facebook and on Twitter.