The Dark Enquiry

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn Read Free Book Online

Book: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn Read Free Book Online
Authors: Deanna Raybourn
Tags: Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, Historic Fiction
“Ah, bonsoir, my friend. I come to see the great medium—Madame Séraphine!” I cried in my Continental accent. I swept him a low, theatrical bow.
    The lugubrious expression did not flicker. “Have you an appointment?”
    “Ah, no, alas! I have only just this day arrived from France, you understand.” I smiled a conspiratorial smile, inviting him to smile with me.
    Still, the face remained impassively correct. “Have you a card?”
    I felt my heart drop into my throat. How I could have been so stupid as to forget such an essential component of a gentleman’s wardrobe was beyond me. I did not deserve to be a detective, I thought bitterly.
    The porter noted my dismay and took a step forward as if to usher me from the premises. But I had come too far to be turned back.
    I flung out my arms. “I should have, but the devils at the station, they pick my pockets! My card case, my notecase, these things they take from me!” I cried. “It is a disgrace that they steal from me, the Comte de Roselende, the great-nephew of the Emperor!”
    Napoléon III had been deposed for the better part of two decades, but an innate snobbery lurked within most butlers and porters, and I depended upon it. “I am here in England to visit my beloved great-aunt, the Empress Eugénie,” I pressed on. “She lives in Hampshire, you know.”
    This much was true. The Empress lived in quiet retirement in Farmborough, and had once taken tea with my father. It was a particularly brilliant stroke of inspiration as it was well-known that the Empress had once hosted the famous medium Daniel Douglas Home who had conjured the spectre of her father. I watched closely, to see if my connections with royalty swayed the porter at all, but he seemed unmoved.
    “I am sorry, Monsieur le Comte, but without a prior appointment, I cannot admit you to the Spirit Club,” he intoned sadly. He made to shut the door upon me, but just then a woman appeared, her plain face alight with interest.
    “Monsieur le Comte?” she asked, coming forward to put a hand to the porter’s sleeve as she peered closely at me. “You are a Frenchman?”
    Her own accent was smoothly modulated, perhaps from long travels out of her native land, for I detected French as her native tongue, but touched with a bit of German and a hint of Russian in her vowels. “ Oui , mademoiselle! St. John Malachy LaPlante, the Comte de Roselende, at your service.” I sprang forward to press a kiss to her hand, praying my moustaches would not choose that moment to desert me. But they held fast, and I released the little hand to study the lady herself. She was dressed plainly, and it occurred to me that I had erred grievously in paying her such lavish attentions.
    But she merely ducked her head, blushing. “You are very kind,” she murmured in English for the porter’s benefit. “My sister will be very happy to find a place for you.”
    “Ah, you are the sister of the great Madame Séraphine!” I proclaimed grandly.
    She gave me a shy, gentle smile. “Yes, I am Agathe LeBrun. Please, come in. You will be our special guest. Beekman, let the gentleman pass.”
    The porter, Beekman, stepped aside, not entirely pleased at the development. I smiled broadly at him as I passed and followed the kindly Agathe as she conducted me down a dimly lit corridor. She stopped at a closed door and inclined her head. “This is where the gentlemen gather before the séance. Please sign the guestbook and make yourself comfortable. There are cigars and whisky.”
    I pretended to shudder and she gave me a look of approbation. “I understand,” she mumured in French. “Whisky is so unsubtle, is it not? I will see if I can find something more palatable for you.”
    “You must not exercise yourself on my behalf,” I protested.
    She ducked her head again, glancing up at me, a thin line of worry creasing her brow. I put her at somewhat older than my thirty-three years, perhaps half a dozen years my senior, and her plain

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