Brother’s Ruin

The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Brother’s Ruin is the first in a new gaslamp fantasy series by Emma Newman—available March 13th from Tor.com Publishing!

 

 

Chapter 1

Charlotte guided her brother to the right position on the pavement, ignoring the glares from other Londoners as they stopped the flow of people hurrying about their business. Soon she and Benjamin became like a little rock in the stream of people, moved around with ease now they were predictably still.

“May I open my eyes yet?” Ben asked.

“No.”

She could feel his arm trembling. Anyone else and she would have assumed it was the cold; the bitter November wind had teeth today. It was the furthest Ben had walked in weeks, and she feared she’d taken him too far from home. His lips were pale beneath his brown moustache, his cheeks still rather gaunt. She would hail a hansom cab to take them home. There were plenty clattering up and down the cobbles behind them.

She lined him up in front of the display, leaving her hands wrapped around his arm to steady him. “Now you can open them.”

He blinked at the sight of the shop window, a slight frown creasing his brow as he took in what was displayed on the other side of the glass. “Charlie, is that . . . ?”

She beamed. “Yes!”

“I’d recognise your work anywhere!”

“Shush,” she whispered, glancing at the people walking past them. None of them seemed to have heard him.

“And you did all of the illustrations?”

“Every single one. It took months. It’s already in its third printing and it’s only been on sale for a week.” She didn’t mention that she had walked to this very shop every day to admire the display. There were several copies positioned over a luxurious pile of green velvet, artfully arranged to hide the boxes positioned underneath to give the display several platforms for the books. Three copies were clipped open, to show different examples of her artwork. One of them was the illustration she was most proud of: a medieval knight kneeling at his true love’s tomb. The collection’s title, Love, Death and Other Magicks, was displayed on a large board behind the books, as if the embossed covers were not sufficient, with A collection of poetry by Thackery Brown, illustrated by Charles Baker written underneath in elegant copperplate. “The sales are because of the poetry, of course, not my small contribution. It really is the best collection I’ve ever read.”

Ben looked down at her, his left eyebrow spiked upwards. “Darling, the collection is exquisite and successful because of your substantial contribution. Your illustrations do far more to form the first impression than anything else.” He rested his hand over hers and pressed it against his arm. “I am so proud of you. And so very grateful.”

Charlotte felt the heat in her cheeks and looked away. “It’s nothing.”

She felt his kiss on the top of her head. “You deserve recognition. I’m not talking about everything you’ve done for me. I mean as an artist. You’re so talented.”

Her heart flipped unpleasantly at the thought of anyone else other than her brother and her agent knowing about her secret career. Not even George, her fiancé, knew about it. “I earn more under a male pseudonym, you know that.”

Ben waved a hand at the display. “This collection is the talk of London. I heard that the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts ordered fifty copies for their library, and there are rumours that the Queen herself has been seen with it. If you revealed your identity as the illustrator, then . . .”

“Don’t be silly, Ben. I need the money—we need it! My agent can only command such high fees when the publishers think I’m a man.”

“But you’re not listening to me, dear heart. If people knew you were the one who illustrated this collection, you wouldn’t be disadvantaged by your sex. Times are changing! The Royal Society has proven that women are just as able as men. They—”

Charlotte pulled away, looking for a cab. “It’s one rule for the magi, another for everyone else.”

“Magus Magda Ravensthorpe has a female accountant. I read it in the Times only this morning! Even for the magi, she’s one of the wealthiest people in the Empire. She’s making a statement. Perhaps you could do the same in the arts.”

“I’m not wealthy enough to make a statement.” Why were there no cabs now she needed one?

“But you’re talented enough. I’ve a good mind to write to the Times and tell them who Charles Baker really is. It’s in the public interest!”

She scowled at him. “You’ll do no such thing, Benjamin Gunn. I would never forgive you. And if my wishes are not enough to dissuade you, consider our parents. Mother would be appalled that all those times she thinks I’ve been tutoring young ladies have actually been spent drawing pictures, and Father would be embarrassed. I already earn twice as much as him per commission and my agent believes that will only increase thanks to Other Magicks. I couldn’t bear it if he felt upstaged by his own daughter.”

Ben shook his head. “They would be proud. They’d be relieved! At least one of their children is capable of making something of their life!”

She clasped his hand, gripping it tight. “You are perfectly capable, too! You’ve just met a bump in the road, that’s all.”

The fear in his eyes didn’t need to be voiced. She tried to look confident, to look certain that he would be able to complete his studies, all the while desperately hoping he couldn’t see her doubts. She was just about to say something when the clang of a bell cut through the noise of the street and made her gut cramp with terror.

“Let’s cut through to Bond Street,” she said, doing all she could to hide the panic from her voice. “There must be cabs there.”

But Ben was craning his neck, using his height to peer over the heads of the women on the street and even some of the top hats. “I think that’s an Enforcer’s bell.”

But how could they have found out what she was? She’d been so careful. “You look pale and I’ve brought you too far, too soon.” Charlotte pulled his hand. “Time to go home.”

“Gosh! It is the Enforcers! They’re heading this way! How splendid! I’ve always wanted to see the gauntlet. Charlie, stop pulling! Don’t you want to see it, too?”

“No. It isn’t any of our business.” Charlotte feared her heart was going to punch its way through the bones of her corset if she didn’t get away. The bell’s mournful clang reverberated through the street, bouncing off the stone of the buildings until it sounded like it was coming from all directions at once. Her lips started to tingle and it felt like the blood in her veins was somehow seeping through the soles of her feet, into the pavement. Had someone reported her? Why? She never did anything to give anyone cause to summon the Enforcers.

Ben wrested his arm from her grip and she staggered away, taking a moment to right herself. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t leave her brother, so frail, to make it back home without her. No doubt he’d forgotten his coin purse, and besides, he was dreadful at summoning cabs. If it hadn’t been for the prospect of a dramatic spectacle, she was sure he would be swaying by now. But above any concern for his health was the simple selfish fact that she didn’t want him to see her being dragged off, weeping and screaming.

She backed away as the dark shape of the horseless carriage came into view, a sliver of black glimpsed between the shoulders of the gathering crowd. It was large and, like any normal Clarence carriage, fully enclosed with the capacity to carry several passengers at once. But unlike a Clarence, there were no horses pulling it. A driver sat at the front as usual, but he was masked, dressed in black and moving the wheels with his esoteric knowledge. Only the fact his hand was held out in front of him, holding a Focus, suggested he was involved in driving the vehicle at all. Whatever the Focus was, it was too small to be seen, cupped as it was in the magus’s hand.

Charlotte’s legs almost gave out from under her at the sight of the driver’s mask. It was dark red, featureless with only holes for the eyes, covering the entire face and positioned over a black veil so not even any hair or skin on the neck could be seen. Every couple of seconds, he—or she, perhaps—clanged the bell that hung from a hook at the side of the carriage, there to warn pedestrians of its approach in lieu of the clattering of horses’ hooves.

The carriage was slowing. They must have spotted her. Ben forgotten in her blind panic, Charlotte span around and tried to make a dash for the nearby cut through to Bond Street, but too many bystanders had gathered behind her. She bounced off a portly gentleman in a half-caped coat who scowled at her and didn’t move an inch. Behind her, the carriage was drawing to a stop and she could barely breathe. The man grabbed her by the shoulders and just as she was about to berate him for his rudeness, she realised he thought she was fainting. “My wife has some smelling salts!” he said, the words puffing over her face with breath that smelt of liver and onions. Her stomach heaved as the doors of the carriage opened mere yards away from her.

“Charlotte, are you quite well?” Ben was at her side, gathering her away from the well-meaning man as his wife rummaged in her reticule.

“Tell Mother and Father I’m sorry,” she whispered as the sound of boots landing on the cobbles behind her made her shiver violently.

“What was that?” Ben leaned closer but she hadn’t the breath to speak again.

Charlotte closed her eyes, waiting for the moment they dragged her from her brother’s arms. She should have given herself up. She should have thought of her parents, how submitting herself for testing would have been so much better for them, for Ben, too. She could have solved their financial woes more honestly, could have lived without fear all this time. But no. She was too selfish for that. She’d always felt her love for her fiancé was something beautiful, that wanting to be his wife and make him happy was a far more noble pursuit than magic. Now she understood the depth of her cowardice.

“It’s someone in the bakery!” Ben said, and Charlotte listened to the stomp of the boots pass her completely. Stunned, she turned back around to see the Enforcers streaming towards the bakery on the opposite side of the street. “And there’s the gauntlet!” Ben whispered to her, wrapping his arms tightly around her so they could lean against each other as they watched, both trembling for very different reasons.

The gauntlet was being carried on a bright blue velvet cushion by someone masked and veiled like the rest. Whoever the bearer was, Charlotte assumed he was a man, judging by the height and broad shoulders. The polished steel glinted in the winter sunshine and they were so close that Charlotte could see the intricate etching that decorated it.

“That’s the one the Queen granted to the Royal Society when it was created,” Ben whispered in her ear.

“I know,” she whispered back.

“The other of the pair is held at the Tower of London,” he continued.

“I know.”

“It symbolises how the power of the Royal Society can only be fully effective . . .”

Charlotte sighed and elbowed him gently to make him look at her. “. . . when used in concert with the Crown. I know, Ben.” She also knew how powerful that symbol was. The Royal Society and the Crown had never needed to unite for military action on English soil, but they had in the far-flung reaches of the Empire, to extend Her Majesty’s power across the globe. The Royal Society was eager to demonstrate loyalty and put to bed any rumours that its fellows coveted rulership of the Empire. No matter how many times the tabloids speculated about the power struggle between the nobility and the magi, there was certainly no sign of treason yet.

Ben gave her his best lopsided smile. “Sorry, Charlie. I forget you take much more of an interest in these things than Mother does.”

The bearer went to the bakery’s door across the street, the other magi fanned out in a semicircle behind him. Three customers leaving the shop with their warm loaves paused briefly on the threshold and then scurried away, clutching their purchases to their chests. On the other side of the line of magi, people who had clearly been about to enter the shop changed their minds. Soon it was empty, save for the baker and one other inside who Charlotte couldn’t see.

“It must be the baker’s son,” Ben said. “He’s still in there.”

There was a movement inside as someone came from behind the counter and Charlotte listened to the bolts on the door being slid shut. She bit her lip, feeling so guilty being merely a bystander when someone’s life was about to be changed forever.

“That was a mistake,” Ben said. “Locking them out will only make it worse.”

“They’re frightened,” Charlotte said.

“Cowardly,” Ben replied. “Better to face up to it. These reports aren’t made lightly. There must be some truth in it.”

One of the magi stepped forwards, passing the gauntlet bearer to rap on the door. A formality. Everyone on the street knew it wasn’t going to be opened, but the gesture had to be made first. The magus waited a few moments and then returned to the semicircle.

A murmur passed through the crowd, a palpable excitement building. Charlotte wanted to be anywhere but here, surrounded by people feeling so fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time to see an actual arrest. It was nothing but a bit of drama to them, something to talk about in the pub or over dinner, to make other people listen. How could Ben even think of making her career as an illustrator into a similar thing? The scandal of a woman earning as much as a man in the arts would be the same fodder for conversational cattle.

Ben’s hold tightened as the gauntlet bearer stepped forwards, making the faint noise of the crowd sink away to silence.

“We have requested entry and it has been refused,” the bearer said, his voice a deep, rich baritone.

“We have witnessed it,” said the magi in concert with both male and female voices.

“We have knowledge of a threat to the Crown and to the safety of the public. It is our duty to act.”

“We will witness it.”

The bearer took another step forwards and raised his gloved hand. The gauntlet rose from the cushion, making the thrilled crowd gasp in awe. With his other hand, the magus passed the now superfluous cushion to his nearest colleague, his attention never leaving the gauntlet hovering in the air in front of him.

From where they were watching, Charlotte could only see that and the corresponding movement of the magus’s hand. If the magus was doing anything else, she couldn’t see it, nor the Focus he was presumably using.

Charlotte felt a pull in her chest, a need to get closer, and quickly suppressed it. She looked away, preferring to study the mutton chops on a man’s face nearby than be tempted towards something rash.

A loud thud and the breaking of glass drew her attention back to the bakery. The gauntlet was drawing back from the door and then was propelled towards it again with enough force to splinter the wood around the lock. The small pane of glass in the top of the door was already broken. The door swung open on the third strike.

The gauntlet and the magus who controlled it moved into the bakery, with his colleagues closing in around the doorway.

The crowd shuffled forwards as the magi advanced and Charlotte was pushed ahead with them. Ben kept his arms around her, knowing she wasn’t fond of crowds and probably holding himself up in the process. There were screams and pleading and Charlotte felt tears prick in her eyes at the sound of a mother’s distress. Would that be her mother one day?

“Give him up!” a man in the crowd shouted, and others jeered their agreement.

“I always thought he was an odd one,” said a woman behind them.

“He isn’t odd, just thick,” said a jowly faced man. “Too thick to be a magus.”

“Hiding his light under a bushel, I reckon,” said the woman. “The mother probably put him up to it. Silly old tart. She could have been rich!”

“Maybe she didn’t want her son to be taken away,” Charlotte said, rounding on them. “Maybe she just wants her son to have a normal life.”

The woman, whose cheeks were a lurid red, pursed her lips. “A normal life? What you on about? Who wouldn’t want to be rich?”

“But—”

“That selfish woman was holding him back,” the woman went on. “I hope they hang her.”

“That’s rather harsh!” Ben said, and the woman narrowed her eyes at him.

“I think it’s treason, and so do lots of others. I ’eard they’re talking about it in Parliament. She’s been denyin’ the Crown and them magi what’s rightfully theirs. Not right, that.”

“What if the son didn’t want to go?” Charlotte asked.

“It’s the mother’s fault.” The woman pointed towards the bakery and the magi who had already started heading to the horseless carriage. The bearer was backing out onto the street and not far behind him the baker’s son was being dragged by the gauntlet as if it were being worn by an invisible giant. The boy, a slip of a lad in his mid-teens, was pale faced and obviously trying not to cry as his mother tugged at his free arm until they were all out on the street.

When the carriage door was opened ahead of him, the sight of the dark interior made the boy struggle, too, only fuelling his mother’s distress.

“He isn’t one of you!” she sobbed. “He’s a baker’s boy, that’s all!”

“He will be tested,” one of the magi said. Her voice was firm but not without sympathy. “If he is found to be a Latent, you’ll be brought before a magistrate for trial.” She held out a scroll tied with red ribbon and sealed with wax. “Take this and let your son go, or it will be all the worse for the two of you.”

“You brought it on yerself!” called out the red-faced woman who had made Charlotte feel ill.

“You shut your mouth!” the baker shouted back. “You don’t know nothing about us!”

“Take it and let your son go,” the magus said again. “Do this, and I will see him safe,” she added.

Charlotte didn’t believe her, but it was enough to take the last of the mother’s fight out of her. She released her son’s arm and sagged. The magus rested a hand on her shoulder and put the scroll into her shaking hands.

“Ma! Ma!” the boy had time to shout before he was bundled inside. The rest of the magi entered the carriage, along with the bearer. The magus who had delivered the scroll climbed up onto the front to drive it away.

Drama over, the crowd drifted apart. Charlotte tried to shut out the judgemental comments and snide remarks directed at the baker and found it impossible. “Haven’t you seen enough?” she said to a cluster of people who stared openly at the baker’s distress. “Surely there are other tragedies for you to judge elsewhere?”

“Charlie,” Ben said gently, but she was angry now.

“Well?” She shrugged his embrace off. “Or is watching a mother crying in the street of the upmost importance to you?”

The group finally felt enough shame to leave, but not without a few comments aimed in her direction about rude young women.

The baker was still standing there, staring at the end of the street where the carriage had last been seen, tears rolling down her cheeks. Charlotte went over to her, ignoring the tuts and the way the stragglers were turning their backs on the poor woman. She gently rested a hand on the woman’s arm. “Perhaps it would be best to go inside and sit down? I can make you a cup of tea, if you wish?”

The baker blinked at Charlotte as if she was an apparition and didn’t trust her eyes. “My boy,” she whispered.

“I know. I’m so sorry,” Charlotte said, steering the woman back towards the bakery gently. “Do you have any family I can send for?”

“He was it.”

“A friend, perhaps?”

“Not now this has happened.”

Charlotte guided her through the door and fetched a chair from the back room as the woman stood ghostlike in her own shop. Once the baker was seated, Charlotte grabbed a dustpan and brush she’d spotted behind the counter and began sweeping up the broken glass. “You’ll need a locksmith for your door. I think there’s one in the next street along.”

The baker broke down, her whole body heaving with each sob. Charlotte set the dustpan and brush down and knelt beside the baker, feeling horribly impotent as she rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder.

“Charlie?” Her brother’s voice at the doorway made her look up. The sight of his dreadfully pale face startled her into standing again. “Could you possibly find a cab?”

“Of course, darling.” She looked back at the baker. “I’m so sorry. I need to get my brother home. He’s been unwell and he needs to rest.” The baker didn’t acknowledge her. Charlotte moved to the doorway. “I will call by tomorrow, if I can. Please do try to get some help with the door.”

“Charlie,” her brother said again and she rushed to his side, wrapping one of his arms over her shoulder to help him back onto the street.

“Sorry, darling. Let’s get you home.”

He kissed the top of her head. “Dear Charlie Bean, always the one to help the least deserving.”

“That’s not true,” she said as she steered him towards Bond Street. “I always help you and no one could deserve that more.”

They kept up the gentle banter as they walked but she couldn’t pull her mind from the bakery. She needed no further reminder that she was a criminal and a coward, and yet there it was, played out in front of her. How long could she keep her latent magic hidden before she brought that same grief to her own family’s door?

 


Chapter 2

By the time the hansom cab was pulling into their street, Ben’s lips were a disturbing grey colour and Charlotte felt exhausted. It was as if the panic caused by the arrival of the Enforcers had made everything inside her surge like in a spring tide. Now it had all ebbed away, leaving nothing but a churned-up shore and driftwood. All is well, she kept telling herself. No one suspects a thing. She just had to be careful for two or three more years, until she was a happily married woman in her early twenties and such an unlikely candidate for being a rogue magus that no one would pay her any attention at all.

Charlotte closed her eyes, enjoying the last moments of rest before the cab came to a stop. She imagined her and George, living in one of the little terraced houses just a few streets away, making a life together. He a fully qualified registrar, she an illustrator. She frowned to herself. When should she confess her secret career to her fiancé? The right moment hadn’t yet presented itself. He was such a . . . sensible man, she wasn’t sure he would take the news well. It felt dishonest to keep it from him before they married, but what if he broke their engagement at the news? Perhaps it was better to just carry on as she had for the past two years, working in secret. He knew she was a keen artist, as did her parents. Did he really need to know she had an income of her own?

“’Ere we are then,” called the cab driver.

She paid him through the hatch behind her and he released the lock on the carriage doors. It was only when she’d helped Ben down the steps that she realised a man was on their doorstep.

As soon as Charlotte saw him, she instinctively looked away. There was something about the way he peered at them from beneath the brim of a rather tatty bowler hat that made her shudder. He wore a long coat that was expensive but poorly cared for, and boots that were fashionable five years ago which had suffered a great deal of wear.

When she looked back, she was dismayed to see the man was still there. She knew most of the local residents by sight and his was not a familiar face. He had a moustache that looked more like an old broom cut to size and tufty black eyebrows that looked like they were trying to push the hat brim off his forehead.

“Good morning,” she said, straightening up as best she could whilst supporting her increasingly limp brother. “May I help you?”

The man snorted something back up his nose that had been making a bid for freedom and cleared his throat. “Just deliverin’ a letter. Live ’ere, do ya?”

She saw the envelope in his hand. “I do. Is the letter for my father?”

The man’s rebellious eyebrows twitched with excitement. “Didn’t know he had a daughter. ’E didn’t mention that.” He grinned, revealing a set of yellowed teeth that looked like they’d been crammed into his mouth in a hurry and left in disarray.

“I shall pass it on to him, but please excuse us. I need to take my brother inside now.”

She waited for him to come down the three steps that separated the front door from the pavement, but the man didn’t move. He just stood there, leering, as if he were trying to see through her winter coat and shawl. When a moan slipped from Ben’s mouth, Charlotte lost her patience with the stranger and started up the steps, expecting him to doff his hat and make an apology. He did neither, waiting until she was squeezed in front of the door next to him, Ben on the step below. The stranger smelt of waxed cotton left in a damp box too long, and his breath was worse. Sardines for breakfast could only explain part of the stench.

He held out the letter, pincered between a grimy thumb and finger poking from fingerless gloves. “It’s most important he receives this today,” the man said in a mock formal tone. “Most. Important.”

Charlotte took it, and much to her relief, the man descended the steps with the lopsided gait of an elegant drunkard. “Nearly there, darling,” she whispered to her brother as she fumbled for the key. She knew her father had a meeting with a publisher this morning and Mother was delivering a dress she’d finished making, then taking tea with a friend who was also convalescing from a bout of illness. There was such a lot of it about at this time of year.

Soon enough, Ben was lying down on the sofa—neither of them had the strength to get him up the stairs—and the kettle was heating on the stove. Charlotte sat in the kitchen, trembling with fatigue and regretting the excursion. It had been pure vanity on her part, and she must do better. She would allow herself a cup of tea and a slice of the sponge cake Mother had baked the day before, then she would dust the living room and beat the rugs. She had no love for domestic labour, but it had to be done.

The letter rested on the table next to her. The jagged scrawl on the front read nothing more than Mr J. Gunn but even that seemed to have been written with disdain. Charlotte couldn’t stop staring at it. She was convinced it couldn’t possibly contain anything that would benefit her family or make her father happy. But that was just an assumption, based on the man who’d delivered it, surely? Perhaps it was a commission.

She cut herself a slice of cake, checked on Ben, who was snoring softly from beneath the crocheted blanket she’d drawn over him, and frowned at the kettle, wishing it would boil faster. Within moments steam plumed from the spout, spitting water onto the hot plate.

“Damn and blast!” Charlotte whispered, grabbing the tea towel so she could lift it from the stove. She had to be more careful! The morning’s events had evidently shaken her more than she realised.

Once the small teapot was filled and covered by a tea cosy, Charlotte found herself staring at the letter again. Before she had even realised she’d made up her mind, she was holding the envelope over the wisp of steam curling up from the kettle’s spout. She bit her lip as the flap curled free from the loosened gum, telling herself that it was just to ensure all was well and that nothing unsavoury was being sent to her father. He was a nervous man. It was her duty to protect him.

There was a single sheet of paper inside, of cheap stock:

6 New Road,
Whitechapel
London
20th November, 1850

Mr Gunn,

Our records show that you have not paid the last two instalments of your debt repayment. You were informed of the consequences of failure to repay when you secured the loan. You have until noon on 22th November to repay the outstanding amount in full, along with the interest incurred, otherwise steps will be taken to recover the amount.

Yours sincerely,

Mr P. Compton
Anchor Financial Services

Charlotte sat heavily in the chair, making it creak in protest. Debt? Her father hadn’t mentioned anything about taking out a loan, let alone being unable to repay one. He said that he’d paid Ben’s recent university fees with money from a commission. Even then, it hadn’t been enough, though no one had actually broken that to him. Ben had written to her only a fortnight after starting his studies, confiding in her that he hadn’t got enough money to last until the end of term and asking her to find the right moment to speak to their father about sending more money. Knowing how much the household had tightened its belt to send Ben away to train as a civil engineer, Charlotte resolved to support him financially from her own savings. She’d had to tell Ben the truth, so it didn’t come out in conversation once he was home again, neither of them knowing that would only be a month later.

They had both agreed it was better that Father and Mother didn’t know she’d sent him money. She’d offered to find work many times, but both of them were adamant that she would be spared what they had to endure as children. At least as an illustrator, Charlotte could earn money from a profession that didn’t have any visible effect on her hands or give any other indications. She’d secretly topped up the caddy that held the household funds without her mother noticing, thanks to her disinterest in keeping good books, whilst squirrelling away the rest for her marriage. Now all of her savings had been spent supporting Ben, so there was no way she could pay the debt off for her father.

Charlotte made a mental note of the address on the letter, resealed the envelope and poured the tea. She knew how hard her father worked, and it was a testament to his talent and perseverance that he was able to provide for the family; many illustrators barely supported themselves, let alone a wife and two children. They lived in a small house which was so much better than the cramped lodgings they’d grown up in, and neither Ben nor Charlotte had been sent to find work as children, unlike so many others. Whilst they all hoped Ben would forge a good career and be able to support their parents when they got older, Charlotte had her doubts. Ben’s health was poor, and it was up to her to make sure he had the time and space and care to restore himself to health again. If Father developed that tic again, the one that made his eye twitch when under pressure, Ben would think it was his fault and try to go back to university too soon. He’d already had to abandon an apprenticeship in Newcastle thanks to ill health. If he went back to university before he was fully fit, he might make himself so ill that continuing his studies would be rendered impossible.

It would be less of a strain on the household when she married and moved out, but George said that he wanted to wait until he’d been promoted, so they could afford to rent in a better area of London than where he lived now. She knew she’d receive royalties on the Other Magicks collection, but that wouldn’t be for months and now, Father only had days. The thought of him in debtor’s prison made her feel nauseous.

She couldn’t talk to Mother about it all; she hated any hints that the real world was harsher than she liked to believe, and besides, any suggestion that their earnings were inadequate was always met with shrill protestations. No. Charlotte knew she had to find a solution, and the only way that was going to happen was speaking to the lenders of the loan. She wasn’t sure whether they could be reasoned with, but if she could only find out the amount, she might be able to dash off a quick commission to cover an instalment at least.

Charlotte dashed off a quick note for Ben to find when he woke up, put her coat back on and went off in search of the address, the letter tucked deep in a pocket where it could do no harm.

Excerpted from Brother’s Ruin, copyright © 2017 by Emma Newman.
This excerpt originally appeared at The Book Smugglers.

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