Authors: Raymond Buckland
Cursed in the Act
“Buckland brings nineteenth-century London to life with this tale of treachery and supernatural doings set in the fascinating world of the theater. Harry Rivers is a delightful foil for his brilliant boss, Bram Stoker, as they unravel the plot behind the mysterious accidents and deaths plaguing the famous Lyceum Theater.”
âVictoria Thompson, national bestselling author of
Murder in Murray Hill
“Raymond Buckland perfectly captures the feel of Victorian London in this atmospheric and suspenseful novel. A terrific read.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Royal Spyness Mysteries and the Molly Murphy Mysteries
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Raymond Buckland
CURSED IN THE ACT
DEAD FOR A SPELL
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Copyright Â© 2014 by Raymond Cochran-Buckland.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62409-8
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dead for a spell : a Bram Stoker mystery / Raymond Buckland.âFirst edition.
pages cm.â(Bram Stoker mystery ; 2)
ISBN 978-0-425-26803-2 (paperback)
1. Stoker, Bram, 1847â1912âFiction. 2. MurderâInvestigationâ
Fiction. 3. Mystery fiction. I. Title.
Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition / October 2014
Cover illustration by Bill Angresano.
Cover design by Diana Kolsky.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Tara and in loving memory of “Tish”
I thank my wonderful agent, Grace Morgan, for her constant enthusiasm with my work. She is a gem! I cannot thank enough my talented editor, Berkley Prime Crime's Michelle Vega, who has the ability to pick up on my very thoughts! Thanks also to Marianne Grace for her excellence in copyediting, and to artist Bill Angresano and designer Diana Kolsky for the beautiful and eye-catching cover. I am extremely grateful to Natalee Rosenstein and all the wonderful family at Berkley Prime Crime who have contributed to the production of this book. Such a pleasure to work with them all.
Thanks also to Barb Lang, Ed Schrock, and all the other enthusiasts of the Killbuck Valley Writers' Guild, who have listened to me read and have given constructive criticism throughout my writing. Finally, very special thanks to my wife, Tara, for her constant encouragement and always brilliant critiquing of the book.
got up from where I sat, near the door, and moved around to stand facing the boy. “So what makes you think that she's missing?” I asked.
“We was to meet for breakfast, Mr. Rivers,” he said. “We always do; every mornin'. At the 'ot chocolate stand on the corner down the road. Just a cuppa and a slice of bread but, well, it was a start to the day, you might say.”
“All right, Billy. Take it slowly and go over it one more time,” said Stoker, studying the young man who sat on the edge of the straight-backed chair in front of his desk.
Abraham “Bram” Stoker was theatre manager of the Lyceum Theatre, and I, Harry Rivers, was stage manager. I was also a personal assistant to Mr. Stoker, running any number of errands for him, Lyceum business and otherwise.
“It's Nell, sir. Nell Burton.” Billy Weston ran a dirty finger around the frayed neck of his collarless shirt. “She's done mostly crowd scenes since she's been 'ere, which ain't long. She's one of the Players in Act Two of
. But, sir, she's gone missin'.”
Mr. Stoker gave me a quick glance, one eyebrow raised.
“After last night's performance she 'urried away; said that she 'ad a
fing she 'ad to do. She wouldn't say what it was, but I took the thought that it was somefin' for the Guv'nor; for Mr. Irving, sir.”
“Of course.” Stoker nodded understandingly. “So Miss Burton did not appear this morning?”
“No, sir. She ain't never missed before, and she said as 'ow she'd tell me all about last night's âadventure'âthat's what she called it, sir, an adventureâwhen she saw me this mornin'.”
“She was most likely delayed in some way, Billy,” I said. “I think it may be a little soon to start worrying.”
“No, sir!Â .Â .Â . Beggin' your pardon, sir. When she didn't come to meet me I went 'round to 'er lodgings. Old Mrs. Briggs on West Street. She said as 'ow Nell 'adn't come 'ome last night. She 'adn't seen 'ide nor 'air of 'er.”
Stoker glanced at me again then back to the young stagehand. “Is there anyone she might have gone to? Any close friend, or a relative, perhaps?”
Billy Weston shook his head. “She ain't got no relatives, sir. She's an orphan, or so she says. And I'm 'er closest friend, so she would o' come to me, wouldn't she?”
I could see that Stoker was concerned, but he tried to ease the boy's mind. “I think you can leave this with us for now, Billy. Mr. Rivers, here, will look into it more thoroughly. I'm sure there's just some misunderstanding. You let Mr. Rivers know if you hear of anything else, and he, in turn, will get back to you.”
“All right, Billy.” I opened the door and held it as a signal that the boy should now leave. With a last pleading look at both of us, he went out, and I closed the door behind him.
“What do you think, sir?” I asked, taking Billy's place on the seat in front of Stoker's desk. “Not very encouraging, is it?”
Stoker shook his great head, the sunlight streaming in through the small window catching the red, along with the silver, in his auburn hair. He sat back and steepled his fingers, his elbows on the arms of his chair.
“There are gangs about the London streets that will abduct a young woman and sell her to traffickers in the white slave trade, Harry. I'm sure you know that. I wouldn't want to think that a young woman of our Lyceum family had been so interfered with. What do you know of this Nell Burton?”
“Not much, sir,” I said. “She joined us a month or so back, when one of the female extras had to leave because of family problems. Miss Burton had come to London from up northÂ .Â .Â .”
“Like so many,” sighed Stoker.
“.Â .Â . seeking fame and fortune,” I continued. “She had little experience but seemed to take to the boards very quickly. She'd done a few walk-ons at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham. I think she actually came from Derby; close by there. John Saxon noticed her and drew my attention to her. I was watching Miss Burton with a view to possibly bringing her to your attention at the end of the
“Our Mr. Saxon always notices the young ladies.” Stoker pursed his lips and sat in silent thought for a moment. “We cannot afford to lose good young material, Harry.”
“What would you like me to do, sir?”
“You might take a walk around to this Mrs. Briggs and question her, Harry. Young Mr. Weston was obviously too upset to get all available information. See if there is any clue as to where this mysterious assignation was to take place yesterday evening.”
“I know of Mrs. Briggs,” I said. “She runs a respectable boardinghouse used by girls from both here and other theatres in the central London area.”
“You might, then, see if any other of our extras board there. I find it difficult to believe that this Miss Burton knows no oneâother than our young stagehand, of course.”
I nodded and then hurried off. At twenty-two, I, Harry Rivers, had been delighted to obtain employment at London's famous Lyceum Theatre, home of England's prominent Shakespearean actor Henry Irving. I had dabbled in stagecraft during my education at the Hounslow Masonic Institution for Boys, which I attended courtesy of the Honorable Gregory Moffatt. I should explain that I am not of that class, by any means, but my father, a blacksmith, had done a great deal of work for the Hon. Mr. Moffatt (third son of Baron Runnymede), and that gentleman had looked kindly upon me.
My mother died trying to bring my brother into the world, and my father passed soon after that, so, at the age of fourteen, I was forced to come to London to seek my fortune. After a few rough years as crossing sweeper, errand boy, newspaper seller, and cab driver, I met the owner of the small Novelty Theatre on Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields (he was one of my cab fares), and I obtained the job of theatre doormanâso much preferable to sitting up at the back of a cab in all sorts of weather. When I later heard that Mr. Irving was to take over the running of the Lyceumâa much more prestigious theatreâI applied for a position there. Apparently Mr. Irving had brought over from Ireland a Mr. Abraham Stoker, a theatre critic who had written very favorably of Mr. Irving's performances in that country. Mr. Stoker became the Lyceum's business manager, and I became stage managerÂ .Â .Â . a job with which I fell in love.
I worked closely with Mr. Stoker and also became a personal assistant to him. I came to admire him a great deal, although even after three years I could still be caught off guard by some of his idiosyncrasies. He was not afraid to display his emotions and, despite a fine business sense backed by years at the best Irish university, was easily swept up by tales of ancient Irish lore and legend. He openly believed in ghosts, sixth sense, and even “the little people,” and spent what spare time he had writing his own stories. I must admit, however, that I would not change my employment for any other.
It didn't take long to find out that several of the Lyceum's young ladies boarded with Mrs. Briggs. In fact, Miss Tilly Fairbanks was Nell's roommate. I found Tilly sitting in the greenroom by herself, studying the
script. She was youngâabout five years younger than myselfâand not unattractive. Her dark brunette hair reminded me of my inamorata, Jenny Cartwright, though Tilly's hair was shorter and, at this moment, in some disarray. She sat with the fingers of one hand tugging on a ringlet. For whatever reason I was suddenly conscious of my own carrot red hair.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Rivers,” she said, glancing up. “Just looking over my lines. Sarah Jenkins is off with a sore throat, so I'm doing the Player Queen for a bit.”
“I'm sure you'll do the part proud, Tilly. I just wanted a quick word with you.”
“Nothing wrong, is there, Mr. Rivers?” She looked worried.
I shook my head. “I hope not. I understand you room with Nell Burton?”
She nodded. “Why d'you ask, Mr. Rivers?”
“Haven't you heard?” I said. “Nell seems to have disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” she echoed.
“Did she return to your room last night?” I asked. “I understand she went out somewhere in the late evening. What time did she get back?”
Tilly turned very red. She brought her script up to cover the bottom of her face, as though she wished she could hide behind it. There was a long silence before she replied.
“IâI'm sorry, Mr. Rivers. IÂ .Â .Â . I meanÂ .Â .Â . You seeÂ .Â .Â .” Then, in a rush, “I didn't sleep at home last night, Mr. Rivers! I don't make a habit of it. I'm not a bad girl. It's just thatÂ .Â .Â . well, last night me and my young manâSammy Cooper. You know him. He works the curtains. Well me and him has been stepping out together for some time andÂ .Â .Â .”
I held up my hand. “You don't have to tell me, Tilly. You know as well as I do that you're on very dangerous ground there. But I'm going to ignore it for now because there are more important things to look at. You are saying, then, that you don't know when or even if Nell Burton slept in your room?”
She nodded mutely, still clutching the script in front of her.
“It seems unlikely that she was up to the same shenanigans that you were, since it was her young man who reported her missing.” I had a sudden thought and looked hard at Tilly. “By any chance does Nell have more than one young man? Would she be likely toÂ .Â .Â .” I didn't get a chance to finish.
“No!” Tilly sounded shocked and almost dropped her script. “No, Mr. Rivers. Nell is very serious with Billy. She wouldn't be untrue to him. Her and Billy and me and my Sammy, why, we often go out together. None of us would ever deceive the other.”
“Thank you, Tilly,” I said. “You don't know, then, where Nell might be?”
She shook her head. I turned to leave.
“Just behave yourself,” I said over my shoulder.
“Yes, Mr. Rivers.”
By rights I should have reported her impropriety to Mr. Stoker, but I decided to overlook it. There were times when I had extremely strong feelings toward my Jenny, but, thankfully, I had so far kept them in check. I could, however, acknowledge and understand such feelings in others. I headed for West Street.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
enny Cartwright was a housemaid in the home of the Guv'nor, Mr. Henry Irving. I had met her quite by chance when I had been sent to the residence to collect a book belonging to Mr. Irving. Somehow Jenny and I had taken a shine to each other, and I had, on more than one occasion, met with her on her afternoon off and we had spent a few precious hours together.
As a youngster at school the other boys had teased me about my red hair, calling me “Ginger.” Also, my ears were a little prominent, and I had to endure endless jokes about being cautious in a high wind in case I was lifted off the ground. My freckles did not go unnoticed, either. But I had survived the ragging of my fellow students and found that such idiosyncrasies were not dwelt upon in the adult world. Jenny seemed not to notice them at all, or if she did she was too kind to comment.
I thought her extremely beautiful and had not been slow to tell her so. She had blushed with pleasure and denied the charge, though she was obviously secretly pleased. I looked forward to the coming weekend when we had planned to take Jenny's aunt Alice to Kew Gardens, now that the weather was a little less cold. Miss Alice Forsyth had raised Jenny when her parents died, and Jenny was very fond of her. Aunt Alice had been instrumental in getting Jenny placed in the Irving household. I had not yet met the lady and looked forward to it. But Sunday was still several days away, and I had work to do.
I focused my attention on the immediate problem, the disappearance of Nell Burton. I approached the front door of Mrs. Briggs's establishment on West Street. It was a plain-looking house typical of the area. A black-painted wrought-iron fence stood around the basement; the front doorsteps had been scrubbed clean and whitewashedâa good sign of pride of ownership on Mrs. Briggs's partâand the brass door knocker gleamed in the sunshine that fought its way through the ever-present traces of fog coming off the river. I walked up the steps and knocked.
A tiny, frail-looking lady with wispy gray hair escaping her cap opened the door and appraised me. She wore a high-neck black dress that, although somewhat worn and faded, was obviously clean and smartly pressed. A cameo brooch sat in the center of the neckline; her only adornment. She looked up at me. I am but five feet and six inches of height, so this attested to her slight frame. She squinted slightly as her eyes studied my face. I wondered if she needed spectacles.
“Good morning,” I said, smiling and raising my hat. She did not return the smile. “Mrs. Briggs?” I asked.
“What do you require, young man? I will have no callers for my young ladies at this hour of the day.”
“Oh no! No, Mrs. Briggs, I am not here to call on any of your tenants. At least, not directly.”
“What are you blathering about? Oh, come in! Come in. We can't have you standing on the doorstep inviting talk from the neighbors. Come on inside and explain yourself.”
She turned and led the way into the house. I followed, looking around in the dark hallway. The walls were vaguely discernible in the dim light, covered with ancient flock wallpaper. There were a number of small colored prints of country scenes in gaudy gilt frames, together with matching framed silhouettes of a man and a woman, and an overlarge etching of a stag at bay. A massive walnut Renaissance Revival hallstand projected from the wall into the hallway and had to be carefully negotiated. It was festooned with ladies' coats, and its outer arms held an assortment of umbrellas on cast-iron drip pans. Mrs. Briggs hurried on, opening a door and ushering me into the parlor.
The parlor furniture was darkâmahogany and darkened oak; I got the sense that the whole house was dark if not dingyâand overfilled with chairs, tables, and potted plants. I ducked around an aspidistra and found myself facing Mrs. Briggs as she stood in front of the imposing marble fireplace. There was no fire burning in the hearth, but the heavy curtains pulled only slightly apart at the windows seemed to keep out much of the cold. A single gas lamp burned low over the mantel shelf. My eyes were drawn to an ornate clock with two overly pink cherubs supporting it, one on either side, the small hands permanently pointing to two of the clock. The timepiece itself rested between two large glass globes covering dusty and mangy-looking stuffed birds, once colorful.