The Toymaker's Curse (Glass and Steele #11) by C.J. Archer

Chapter 1

London, Winter 1891

“That Mason woman needs a thorough talking to,” Aunt Letitia said in her most imperial voice. “And you, India, must be the one to do it.”

I looked up from the deck of cards I’d been shuffling and shook my head. “I won’t interfere unless Cyclops wants me to.” I eyed him where he sprawled in an armchair by the fireplace, his long legs outstretched and a thin instruction book on the topic of policing loosely clasped in one hand. I thought him asleep until his eye cracked open.

“Nobody can change Mrs. Mason’s opinion of me except me,” he said.

“Maybe not even you,” Duke muttered from where he sprawled in an almost identical manner to Cyclops in the armchair positioned on the opposite side of the fireplace.

I glared at him.

He shrugged an apology. “I’m just saying she might be one of those people who never see reason because they’re blinded by their prejudice.”

“Mrs. Mason isn’t like that,” I said. “She can’t be or she wouldn’t have brought up such a kind, considerate and open-minded daughter as Catherine.”

Cyclops brightened at my response after deflating upon hearing Duke’s statement. “I reckon you’re right, India.”

“She usually is,” Matt said from behind the newspaper he’d been reading, proving he’d been listening to our conversation despite appearances suggesting otherwise.

The only one missing from our quiet evening was Willie, which probably explained why the evening was quiet. She’d joined Lord Farnsworth for a night of card playing at a gambling den. They might never frequent that venue again after tonight, however. Lord Farnsworth had lost a wager on Christmas Day to Willie and had to wear a dress. No doubt he’d be too embarrassed to face the other gamblers again.

Cyclops, suppressing a yawn, set the book on the occasional table nearest his chair. “I’m going to bed.”

“You don’t want to hear how Willie’s night with Farnsworth went?” Duke asked.

“Not enough to stay up. I’ve had to work all day, unlike some who’ve lazed about here, drinking tea and eating cake.”

Duke opened his mouth to protest but quickly shut it again. He couldn’t argue the point. He’d done very little today, whereas Cyclops had been performing drills as part of his police training. He was two days into the three-week course and had come home tired both nights from the drills and lectures.

Once Cyclops departed, Aunt Letitia asked for the cards. “Matthew, Duke, we need you for a game of whist.” She indicated the spare chairs.

Duke dutifully joined us but Matt murmured a distracted, “In a moment.”

“What has you so engrossed over there?” I asked.

“Electricity.” He folded the newspaper and indicated the article about the newly opened City and South London Railway, the first deep underground railway and the first to use trains powered by electricity. “One day every home in the country will be powered by electricity, not just the streetlights, some trains, and a few public spaces.”

“But it’s so expensive.”

“To convert the whole house, yes, and it’ll be some years before it’s affordable to everyone, but I think it’s worth investing in now. I’ll speak to my man of business tomorrow. Duke, do you want to invest in an electric lighting company?”

Duke shook his head. “I ain’t got nothing to invest. Cyclops might. He’s better at saving than me.”

“And he has a future wife and family to think about,” I added with a smile for Aunt Letitia.

She, however, was staring at Matt with something akin to horror. “You are not going to install electricity in this house, Matthew.”

“One day,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

“It’s much too dangerous!”

“Actually it’s safer than gas if installed properly.”

“If every home gets electricity we’ll be overshadowed by wires.” She dubiously eyed the ceiling rose above us. “Not to mention the illness caused by leaking electricity.”

“There’s no proof of that, Aunt.”

She didn’t look convinced but dealt the cards anyway and mercifully didn’t mention electricity again. Nor did Matt, wisely.

We played for a mere half hour before Willie returned home with Lord Farnsworth in tow. The dandy was dressed in an ill-fitting gown of russet silk with brown fur sewn into a diamond pattern on the skirt and trimmed with more fur at the collar and cuff. It was the most hideous dress I’d ever seen and I burst out laughing at the sight of it.