“You can’t possibly sell Farnley House.” Lady Clara Farnley stared at her brother-in-law in horror. “It’s been in the family for over a hundred years! Besides, it’s too soon after Nicholas’ death. People will talk.”
“Clara, you need to understand. The money simply isn’t there.” Lord John Farnley tried to keep his voice down. “Your husband, my brother, played ducks and drakes with the business and we just don’t have the money at the moment. We have staff to pay, the aether mines need investment, and you have already started the improvements back in Farnley Grange.”
“But that’s the thing, the aether mines are making a fortune!” Clara said. “I don’t understand. Everyone wants the aether crystals.”
John ran a weary hand through his hair. “Did Nicholas never talk to you about business? Or any of the regulations for the miners?”
Clara shook her head uncertainly. “But people are paying thousands for aether crystals.”
John sighed. “They used to pay thousands for aether crystals. Now they pay hundreds. We found the first crystals, but now they’re being found all over the world. Our mines are extensive and good quality and we’ll always find a market, but it isn’t quite so exclusive. Besides, Nicholas hid a lot from both of us.” He slumped back in his seat and looked around the parlour. “Clara, you have done wonders over the last month, and Farnley House is looking better than ever, but it’s a waste. You never visit London under normal circumstances and if I’m here I usually stay at my club. We have a huge house, eating up money for its maintenance, which is never used and which the family cannot afford.”
Clara paced in front of the fire flickering in the grate. Rain beat against the window and there was a pervasive chill in the air. “I don’t understand.”
“You’ve never really looked into the family history, have you?” John said. “We have never been rich.”
“But the title goes back hundreds of years!” Clara cried.
“Titles are misleading,” John said quietly. “We got the title from King John, but we’ve never been wealthy, not like some of the lords of the realm. We’ve always scraped by. We’ve had some good lords and bad lords. Lord Alexander chose the wrong side in the English Civil War and the family had just dug itself out of that pile of debt a hundred years ago when Lord Thomas invested in the Ellesmere Canal, which failed. He was also the one who bought Farnley House in the belief that the salt mine near Nantwich, and the extra land over near Gobowen, would pay for it. They didn’t.”
“I saw the papers on the salt mine,” Clara said. “It’s making a profit.”
“It’s making a small profit but needs investment,” John said. “Just like everything else. The aether mines need expanding, the machinery is already outdated, and, to be frank, the whole estate is neglected. Now you want to spend thousands on a house that is never used to get it fit to live in. By whom? It’s fine living for two servants.” He looked helplessly at Clara. “It’s not just that.” He hesitated. “Father mortgaged this house to raise money to build the aether mines. He paid it back quickly enough, but that took a slice out of the first money we got. Then he invested in a few racehorses and, well ….” John shut his eyes. But what was the point of keeping quiet now? “Mother gambled. She gambled a lot. She would spend weeks in Chester playing cards and losing hundreds at a sitting. And she never missed the Chester Races. When Nicholas took over, after father died, the debts were massive.”
“I suppose his own little hobbies took some funding,” Clara said bitterly.
“No, not so much.” John didn’t want to think about how much his brother had spent on feminine company, but he wasn’t going to discuss that with his brother’s widow. “The fact is, we can’t afford to refurbish Farnley House when we are barely clearing the debts.” He leaned forward. “But if we just hold household for a little while, it will be fine. It’s just for these next few years. And if we get a good price for this old mausoleum, then it will make that journey so much shorter.”
Clara tossed back her magnificent, bright chestnut hair and glared at him, her porcelain skin paler than ever. “And I suppose you will be selling that aether flyer of yours, the Jalopy,” she snapped. “That must have taken a great deal of family money.”
John jumped to his feet. “I earned that aether flyer,” he growled. “I took wages for piloting, I took payment for my mechanical skills and I worked my way up. The only windfall I got was £500 from my godfather’s will, and I treated it like treasure. And we are keeping it, because I can still get paid for piloting. And that’s why I’m going to Sudan whether you will or not! I’m getting good money and a chance at bringing home a share of the proceeds.”
“You honestly think that there will be a treasure at the end of this?” Clara snapped. “It’s chasing moonshine. All the pyramids are in Egypt.”
“There are pyramids south of Egypt as well,” John said wearily. “And according to Professor Entwistle-”
“Professor Entwistle does not study respectable subjects,” Clara interrupted. “I’ve been speaking to Mr Naismith who believes that Professor Entwistle does not truly understand the subject matter.”
“Professor Entwistle works for the British Museum. What are Mr Naismith’s qualifications?”
“Mr Naismith is a good friend of Mr Bram Stoker,” Clara said primly. “And he is a great student of the occult.”
“I think being employed by the British Museum carries more weight than being friends with a theatre manager,” John said dryly. “And Professor Entwistle not only believes that there will be valuable artifacts, but is willing to pay my fee as the pilot of the expedition.”
“A lord can’t be a pilot!” Clara cried. “You can’t work for money!”
“I’m borrowing money to get the proper safety equipment for our miners,” John shouted back. “Your husband didn’t bother with that side of things, though he threw the money at you to refurbish Farnley Grange. I’ve seen the invoices. The fee for the expedition would more than cover the new stove that you ordered for the kitchens. It would also cover the cost of reinforcing the miners’ helmets with aluminium. And that’s just the fees. If Professor Entwistle is correct, I’ll be bringing home enough to entirely outfit the mine, as well as cover your plans for the glasshouses. You really need to think of your priorities.”
“How dare you! I had no idea about the matters, as your brother kept me in the dark. I know how to hold household, and I know it far better than you. And I think that the fees for a flight cannot possibly make a difference compared to the sum raised by a flyer.” Her eyes narrowed. “Or are you worried about where your brother’s murderer will stay if you close down the hanger?”
“Stop that.” John’s voice dropped and his tone was icy. “Nicholas died from an accident. Hammerhand pushed him, Nicholas slipped and hit his head. He could have died falling from a carriage just as easily. And you know why Hammerhand pushed him.”
“I do not need reminding of my late husband’s habits with ladies of all classes.” Clara’s tone was equally cold. “I have had to deal with far too many of his mistresses appearing on my doorstep. But you cannot deny that the creature responsible-”
“Not responsible,” John interrupted wearily.
“That the creature is living in your hangar at Richmond.” Clara pointed an accusatory finger at John. “It’s a monster, and dangerous. What if it were found while you are away?”
“He’s coming with me,” John said.
“But I don’t see why you need to go!” Clara cried. “And surely once we are past this awful time, we will need a house in London. What will happen if you have daughters to be presented at Court? Are you going to house them in your club as well?”
“I am going to Sudan, with Professor Entwistle and Miss Armley, and that is final.” John said coldly. “I will instruct Baldwin to put Farnley House on the market. I’m sure it will sell quickly to a tobacco merchant or similar. I suggest that you travel back to Farnley Grange and mourn your husband there.”
“And if you die on this dreadful trip?” Clara asked. “If this creature turns on you? Or are you too blinded by the chance to spend time in Miss Armley’s company to care?”
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