The yard was filled with men carrying large and complicated bits of machinery and tubing from a horse and cart toward a large building.

“Another one?” said a man coming out of the building. “We’re supposed to be an art gallery not a factory.”

“Boss’ orders,” said a second man, as if that explained it, then looked to see a woman turning into the yard. “Can I help you miss?” he said.

The woman was holding something in her hand and glancing down at it from time to time. She walked over to the man who had addressed her.

“Yes,” said Marie. “Can you tell me where we are?”

The man heard her accent and strange question and began to speak slowly. “This is the Peitho Institute, miss, on Albion Street.”

Marie nodded as if expecting that and closed her hand. She then asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Ah, can’t tell you that miss… boss’ orders,” he said and smiled sheepishly.

Marie began to say something in French, then stopped herself. A shadow of sadness passed across her face. The man saw this and concern spread on his.

“Well, maybe I could explain…” he started.

MM Ch 10 sepia“Little Familiar”

“Marie?” called Sir John, coming round the corner. “What are you doing here?”

“I … I went for a walk mon cher and found myself here,” she said. “This man was just telling me about the Institute.”

“Oh good!” said Sir John, turning. “How are you carrying on without Miss Copperwaite’s patronage?”

The man looked confused when a slight, short man came out into the yard. He walked over and looked at all of them, his head turning in a birdlike manner.

“Now then Wilson,” said the man, “no need to stop working. I can talk to our guests.”

He indicated the machinery being unpacked and the workman went over to it.

“I’m so sorry,” said the birdlike man, “but we haven’t made all of the staff aware of the, er, condition of Miss Copperwaite. We fear it would be bad for morale. But please, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Ernest Pook.”

“Good day, Mr Pook,” said Sir John, “I am Sir John Jennings and this is my wife, Marie.”

Pook nodded and turned to Marie.

“Is it possible we may have met?” asked Pook glancing briefly at her hand. “You seem … a little familiar.”

“Not that I know of, sir,” said Marie. Her fingers twitched as if something was trying to wriggle out of her hand.

“I take it you’re in charge here?” asked Sir John.

“Good Lord, no!” exclaimed Mr Pook. “I am a mere presser of buttons, turner of wheels, puller of strings. No, I am under the instructions of our institute’s benefactor. He is a gentleman of wealth and taste, who has stepped in to assist due to the unfortunate circumstances of Miss Copperwaite.”

“Who is this benefactor?” asked Sir John.

“Alas sir, I cannot say, for his modesty is as great as his generosity,” continued Pook. “He wishes to remain incognito. But sir, an idea has struck me. If you are so very keen to meet him, perhaps you will come tomorrow? We have a very special soiree to celebrate our latest artistic endeavour. Mr Cl… I mean our gracious benefactor will be on hand to say a few brief words.”

“Well, that sounds most satisfactory,” said Sir John. “May I ask what the endeavour is?”

“Of course,” said Mr Pook. “It is a most exciting and enticing enterprise. We are having our first unveiling of our Telharmonium: our device which will send music through the telephonic devices to enrich the lives of all those who hear it.”

The Mancunian Mesmerist: Chapter 12

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