SPOILERS may be found here today, chickens, so if you haven’t yet read SILENT ON THE MOOR, you might want to check back in tomorrow.
Today is an excerpt from SILENT ON THE MOOR. Julia, ever intrepid, has just pushed in where she is not wanted–specifically to Nicholas Brisbane’s room in his dilapidated estate in Yorkshire. This is their first meeting in a number of months, and in spite of their mutual attraction and love of detecting, much remains unsaid between them…
I made my way to the door Brisbane had used and knocked soundly, not even pausing to gather my courage. There was no reply, and after a moment, I tried the knob, rather surprised to find that it turned easily in my hand. I had half-expected a barricade.
I pushed through and found myself in a large chamber, crowded with indistinct shapes. The light was poor, and it took a moment for me to realise everything in the room was covered in dustsheets. Packed nearly to the ceiling, the shapes left only a narrow path leading to a door in the wall opposite. This door was slightly ajar, flickering light spilling over the threshold. I threaded my way through the dustsheets, careful to disturb nothing. I hesitated at the door, then pushed it open. I had not troubled to disguise my footsteps; he would have known I was coming.
The door gave onto a smaller room furnished simply with a bed, a small writing table, and a single chair. A second table, tucked into a corner, had been carefully draped with a piece of linen to cover something, but I did not stop then to wonder what. A little fire burned in the hearth, scarcely large enough to drive the chill from the room.
Brisbane was busy at a basin set upon the deep windowsill. He had stripped off his blood-streaked shirt and was naked to the waist, scrubbing at his hands and forearms until the water went quite red. I had first seen him partially undraped in a boxing match on Hampstead Heath. The effect was still rather striking, and I cleared my throat.
“I am glad you are not hurt,” I said, motioning to the impressive breadth of his chest. He was muscular as any statue I had seen in my travels in Italy, and yet there was a sleekness to his flesh that no cold marble could hope to match. Black hair spread from his collarbones to his hips, and I put my hands behind my back lest I be tempted to touch it. High on one shoulder there was a round scar, still fresh, from a bullet he had taken quite deliberately to save another. A different man might have worn the scar as a badge of honour. To Brisbane it was simply a mark of his travels, a souvenir of his buccaneer ways.
He reached for a thin linen towel and wiped at his face. “I might have known it would take more than a closed door to keep you out.”
“Yes, you might have.” I closed the door behind me and moved to the chair. I did not sit, but the back of it was sturdy and gave me something solid to hold.
I waved at him. “Do carry on. Nothing I have not seen before,” I said brightly.
“Do not remind me,” he returned with a touch of asperity. “My conduct toward you has been ungentlemanly in every possible respect,” he added, turning away.
I blinked rapidly. “Surely you do not reproach yourself? Brisbane, whatever has happened between us has been as much my doing as yours.”
“Has it?” he asked, curling his thin upper lip. He moved to the travelling trunk that sat at the foot of his narrow bed. He threw back the lid and reached for a clean shirt. It was a mark of his fastidious ways that he knew precisely where to find one.
I tipped my head to one side and began to enumerate on my fingers. “You did partially disrobe me to question me about the circumstances at Grey House, although I should add that you asked permission first. You kissed me on Hampstead Heath, but as I kissed you back, you can hardly count that amongst your crimes. You gave me a piece of jewellery, highly inappropriate, but I kept it, which is equally inappropriate. We have been together unchaperoned, both at your lodgings and mine, upon numerous occasions. I have seen you in a state of dishabille more than once, but on none of those occasions was I specifically invited to view your nakedness. If anything, my misbehaviours quite outnumber yours. I would say we have compromised each other thoroughly. Steady, Brisbane,” I finished. “You are about to tear that shirt.”
He muttered under his breath as he pulled on his shirt, and I looked away to afford him a chance to settle his temper. When I looked back, he was as tidily dressed as any valet could have managed, his cuffs and collar perfectly smooth, a black silk neckcloth tied neatly at his throat.
“You astonish me, Brisbane. I should not have thought you bothered by the conventions of gentlemanly behaviour.”
He turned to face me, his expression betraying nothing but deep fatigue. “Every man should have something impossible to which he aspires.”
“You look tired, Brisbane. What takes you abroad on windy nights and leaves you covered in blood that is not your own?”
He canted his head, his eyes searching my face.
“Sheep. I was assisting a ewe at a difficult lambing. Quite a comedown, isn’t it? I am a sheep farmer now.”
He crossed his arms over his chest, immobile as any sculpture of antiquity.
I shrugged. “Any man of property who owns livestock could say the same. It is a very great change from your investigations in London, but I do not see why you think it objectionable.”
He gave a short, mirthless laugh, sharp and unpleasant. “You do not see. No, you do not. You will see a great deal more when the sun comes up. Folk in the village say this place is accursed, and I am beginning to wonder if they are right.”
“Nonsense,” I said briskly. “Of course, it is a little remote–”
He laughed again. “Remote? Julia, I do not want you here, and I cannot even compel you to leave because I have no means of sending you back to the village. No carriage can manage these heights, and there isn’t even a farm cart left here. The entire property is in shambles. Only the façade of the east wing remains; the rest of it has crumbled to dust. The gardens are overgrown to wildness. Everything of value has been stripped from the house and sold. There is nothing left here except ruin.”
“And you,” I said, emboldened by his excuses. Brisbane was more determined and more capable than any man I had ever known. Had he really wanted me to leave, he would have carried me to Lesser Howlett on his back and put me on the first train back to London. His pretexts told me everything I ought to know: Brisbane needed me.
His expression was bitter. “I? I am the most ruined thing of all.”