The Strange Case of Finley Jayne Page 22

Then, she repeated the same maneuver she had a few nights before when she last ventured to Lord Vincent’s estate, even entering the house through the same window.

This time, however, she did not linger in the countess’s old room. It was simply too disturbing. She opened the door a crack and peeked out into the corridor. It was dimly lit, but there was not a servant in sight, which only added to her suspicion that he had something he didn’t want others to see up here. Quickly, she slipped into the hall, closing the door behind her. This time she avoided the places where the boards had creaked beneath her feet. It wasn’t the middle of the night, and there were people and machines in the house that might hear her mincing about.

Her heart thumped hard and heavily against her ribs as she turned the knob on the door at the end of the hall. She pushed. Locked.

Bloody hell. What now? She couldn’t very well kick the door in—that would cause a bit of a ruckus. She knew nothing about picking locks, although it seemed it shouldn’t be that difficult.

She turned and glanced down the corridor in the direction from where she’d come. Most grand houses had separate bedrooms for the mistress and master of the house, but those rooms were almost always connected. Down the corridor she went, again taking pains to avoid creaking floorboards. This time she stopped one door before the countess’s room—approximately halfway down.

This door was not locked, and she ducked inside the darkened room. There was a lamp on the wall beside the door. She found the switch and flicked it, bringing light to the room. How fortunate she was that Lord Vincent insisted on having his entire house outfitted with modern conveniences.

His room was large and very masculine, the walls cream with lots of wood paneling and trim, the air filled with the scent of Bay Rum and hair pomade. It made him seem a far nicer man than she believed him to be.

She didn’t have to look hard. Sitting atop his dressing table was a key attached to a ladies’ hair ribbon. The ribbon was dark blue, slightly frayed and creased. It had to have belonged to the former countess. He was still in love with her.

For a second—and only the one—Finley felt sorry for him. Then she remembered that he was marrying Phoebe, and why, and her pity faded. She snatched up the key and crept back to the room at the end of the hall.

Satisfaction blossomed in her chest as the key turned and kicked the tumblers into place. She slid the key into the pocket of her sweater and turned the knob. Tiny beads of sweat formed along her hairline. She was a little scared to go in.

There was nothing that could hurt her on the other side of this door—unless of course Lord Vincent had rigged some sort of trap for people who came spying—like perhaps an automaton with blades for hands, or a pistol set to go off as soon as the door opened.

Perhaps it was just her overactive imagination that made her paranoid, but Finley jumped back after giving the door a push, just in case.

Nothing happened. No blades, no bullets. Cautiously, she peeked around the door frame into the room. Aside from scientific equipment, it was empty. It was a little disappointing, really. As an inventor he could at least have had a hunchback assistant, or perhaps a metal one.

The room was clean to the point of being sterile. The walls were a fresh white, the benches and sideboards a deep walnut. A stack of folders sat at the far end of the counter, near a tray of neatly arranged surgical instruments.

Finley turned her head. There was another workbench on the other side of the room, and near the window, with a large chandelier over it, there was a table—the kind she’d seen at the doctor’s office.

Why would a man who built automatons have a surgical table? Surgical equipment? Lady Morton said Lord Vincent had built his own prosthetic leg, but surely he hadn’t installed it on himself, as well? Perhaps he had. But why maintain the equipment? Who was he working on now?

As if in reply, there came a gurgling noise from behind her. She froze. Her heart was so far up her throat she could feel its beat on the roof of her mouth. Cold heat prickled her fingers and toes, and spread up to the nape of her neck.

She did not want to turn around, but she had no choice.

Slowly, mouth drying out with every movement, Finley turned toward the tank. She had been able to ignore it until now, when the contents had apparently come alive.

The coils of wires running into the tank were mostly concealed by a white cloth draped over the top. Finley’s fingers trembled as she reached for that cloth. Once she removed it she would not be able to put it back, not without seeing what lurked beneath.

She clutched the linen and pulled. Lord, was it possible for someone her age to die of heart failure? Surely the poor thing could not continue this furious beating for much longer.

The cloth fell away, revealing the bubbling pink goo beneath. Revealing what lurked there.

She had been right. It was a brain. Her stomach twisted, threatening to expel her dinner. It was awful and fascinating at the same time, floating there in the goo, wires attached to it. The wires had to be what kept it “alive”—some sort of electrical current? The goo had to be similar to human tissue, perhaps the lining of the skull. She had no medical knowledge, so she could only assume these things, but it made sense to her shocked mind.

What sort of madman kept a brain in a tank?

She turned away, unable to stare at it any longer. It bobbed in the liquid, as though begging for her help, which she had no idea how to give. It had been inside a human once. Did it maintain memories, feelings? Was it suffering?

It was too much.

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