Jane felt her face go white. She couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t think of this dream world she was leaving, this place where one might talk of books and laugh about pranks and consider what it meant to be respectable. This was not the world she inhabited.
She fumbled a heavy coin from her pocket and pressed it into Susan’s hand. “Thank you,” she said.
The household staff no doubt very much appreciated the fact that Jane and her uncle were at odds. It gave them all sorts of ways to supplement their income.
“Miss Fairfield,” Mr. Marshall said carefully, “might I accompany you home?”
In her mind, she’d imagined telling him everything. She’d imagined him telling her not to fret, that it would be all right. But he couldn’t say that now. After all, he’d told her he wouldn’t lie to her.
It wouldn’t be all right. The best she could hope for was an uneasy truce—one bought with as many banknotes as she could carry.
Her mind had gone numb. There was no room in her life for a simple friendship.
“No.” Her voice was tight. “Don’t. You’re respectable, see, and you should try to remain that way. I have to go bribe a doctor.”
By the time she reached home, Jane could scarcely breathe. Her chest heaved uselessly against her corset and spots danced in front of her eyes.
The housekeeper greeted her in the entry, glancing once out the door. But she didn’t ask any impertinent questions—questions like, Where is the carriage? or Why are you gasping for air?
Jane answered those unspoken queries anyway. “I left the carriage behind,” she said. “I thought a brisk walk would be nice.” In truth, with the market in full force today, it would have taken her forty-five minutes to bring the conveyance around. It had taken her fifteen minutes of quick marching to make her way home.
“Of course,” the housekeeper said, as if it made sense for Jane to be heaving in the entryway like a fish landed on the dock.
Jane’s hair was falling out of its careful arrangement. The curls at her ears were tilting; the hairpiece of long brown curls pinned to the nape of her neck had come askew. Pins jabbed into her scalp. She reached up a hand, tried to arrange it all into some semblance of order, and gave up when her fingers encountered chaos.
The housekeeper didn’t move from her spot. “The exercise has brought color to your complexion.”
Ha. Sweat beaded on Jane’s forehead. She could feel it trickling down one cheek, tickling her skin as it slid. She didn’t need a mirror to tell that her face was bright as brick.
“I’ll just go see my sister, then?” She threw this out airily.
Mrs. Blickstall was just turning onto the street behind her, puffing heavily.
“Yes,” Jane said. “I’ll go talk with Emily. Just like I always do when I return home.” Coming at a dead run, just like I always do. She clamped her lips together. Shut up, Jane.
The housekeeper gave her a pitying look—one that said, Really, Miss Fairfield, don’t bother with the lies. We all know how this is supposed to work.
Jane sighed and slipped her a coin. It disappeared almost instantly.
“She’s in the east parlor, with Alice and Doctor Fallon. I’ll see you’re not disturbed.”
Jane nodded and started grimly down the hall.
She found her sister sitting at a table. One sleeve was rolled up; the arm that was bared had been strapped to the table, exposing the pale skin of her scars.
Strips of white cotton were wound about her wrist and forearm, holding metal plates in place. These were attached to wires, which in turn were attached to some kind of contraption. Jane had no idea what it was. Some evil-looking, foul-smelling collection of jars. Galvanics. Electrical batteries.
But at least Emily looked to be bored rather than in pain. She brightened at the sight of her sister.
“What is this all?” Jane asked.
“We’re waiting for a seizure to come on.” Emily rolled her eyes.
“Miss Emily,” said the man standing by the curtains, “I believe I have told you before. You must not move. When you wiggle your leg like that, you jar the contacts. They might come loose, and if they’re slack at the wrong time, I can’t complete the circuit.”
Emily gave Jane a speaking look of waggling brows and compressed lips. “Yes,” Emily said, “Meet Doctor Fallon. He’s been hard at work this morning.”
Doctor Fallon was a trim man of maybe forty. His chestnut-brown hair had not yet started to gray. He had a curling mustache and brown, bristling sideburns.
Jane strode forward. “I’m Miss Jane Fairfield, Emily’s sister. Would you mind explaining your methods?”
He frowned in puzzlement. “But I’ve already told Mr. Fairfield everything.”
“I take an interest in medical advances.” Jane settled into a chair next to her sister. “I would like to hear about yours.” She made a face at him that she hoped passed for a smile.
He seemed taken aback for a moment and then responded with a rusty smile of his own. “I am a galvanist,” he said earnestly. “Which is to say, I practice medicine of the galvanic sort. To wit, I have discovered that passing current through the human body can produce a number of effects, such as numbness, pain, convulsions…”
He glanced down at Emily, whose lips had pressed together into a thin line.
“Ah,” he said, “and, ah, I have found a few useful effects as well. For instance, the application of galvanics can cure malingering.”
Oh, Jane was sure it did. Delivering an electric shock to a patient who was pretending to be sick would no doubt be very effective. It would probably “cure” lesser illnesses, too.
“That’s lovely,” Jane said. “Good work, having found that out.”
He smiled uncertainly.
“I’m positive,” Jane continued, “that there’s absolutely nothing at odds with your oath as a physician in delivering—what was it you called it?—galvanic current to your patients.”
He flushed. “Ah, well, you see. In my case, doctor is something of a courtesy title.” He brightened. “A rank bestowed upon me by dozens of grateful patients.”
So he was a complete quack. Jane folded her hands and wished, not for the first time, that her uncle was not so dreadfully gullible.
“Interesting,” she said. “Have you ever cured anyone with a convulsive disorder?”