Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë

Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë by Laura Joh Rowland Read Free Book Online

Book: Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë by Laura Joh Rowland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laura Joh Rowland
the friendships he cultivated in the course of his work often turned out badly, for both sides.

5

    I FELT BETTER AFTER MAKING THE DECISION TO RETURN TO Bedlam, but I couldn’t go alone, and I knew Dr. Forbes would be unwilling to escort me. During breakfast at Number 76 Gloucester Terrace the next morning, I told George Smith what had happened the previous day and tried to press him into service. He said, “I’m sorry, Charlotte, but I think Dr. Forbes is right. You must have made a mistake. It would be best to forget the whole business.”
    â€œSurely, Miss Brontë , you wouldn’t drag George into it?” his mother was quick to object. “Not on his Saturday off.” She sounded as much aggrieved because I dared make work for him as appalled that I’d gotten mixed up in sordid doings.
    I said, “I am afraid that until I discover the true identity of the lunatic, I won’t be able to concentrate on my writing.”
    This was sheer blackmail. Mrs. Smith bit back a retort: she knew how much the fortunes of Smith, Elder and Company depended on me. George protested that another trip to Bedlam would only worsen my state of mind, but in the end he capitulated.
    While we drove through London, rain began to fall. We hurried up the steps of Bedlam, got drenched in the downpour, and paid our admission fees. As I hurried George through the wards, I noticed matrons and attendants standing in huddles, conversing in low, nervous voices. Patients roved, more agitated than they’d been the day before. Upon reaching the door to the criminal lunatics’ wing, we found a uniformed police constable standing guard.
    â€œWhat’s going on?” George asked.
    The constable was young, as fresh-faced as a farm boy, and clearly distressed. “There’s been a murder.”
    The word struck a mighty throb of alarm through me. My fears for Slade surged higher.
    â€œWho’s been killed?” George asked.
    â€œI’m not at liberty to say,” the constable said. When I threw myself at the door, he held me off. “Sorry, mum, you can’t go in there.”
    George read the name on the constable’s badge and said, “Look here, Constable Ryan—I’m George Smith of Smith, Elder and Company, and the police commissioner is a friend of mine.” It was true; George had many friends in many places. “Let me in, or the next time I see him, I’ll mention that you were uncooperative.”
    Constable Ryan hesitated, torn between his duty and his fear that George could put him in bad odor with his superior. He opened the door and stood aside.
    â€œI’ll see what’s happened,” George told me. “You stay here.”
    â€œNo! I’m going with you!”
    I spoke with such determination that his will gave way to mine. Together we entered the criminal lunatics’ wing. The stench and the inmates’ howls greeted us.
    â€œGood Lord,” George muttered.
    Blind instinct guided my steps through the dungeon. As I broke into a run, I chastised myself for allowing Dr. Forbes to rush me away from Bedlam yesterday, and for my doubt that the lunatic was Slade. Was he dead? Might I have saved him? Winded and panting, I arrived at the cell in which I’d seen Slade. Voices issued from the open door. Inside, two police constables were milling around, examining the table with the straps, the weird apparatus. Two more, and a man who wore a black raincoat, stood gazing down at something at their feet. I perceived an odor at once sweet and salty, metallic and raw.
    The odor of blood.
    It seemed to leap through my nostrils and claw at some deep, vulnerable place in me. The blood was wet and fresh and shockingly red, pooled on the floor, smeared where feet had skidded in it. A frantic cry burst from me: “Slade! No!”
    The men turned. As they stared at me, they shifted position, and I saw what they’d been looking at. Two men lay on

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