Excerpt: Not Quite A Lady
Book Two: The Victorian Brothers
The home of Jack and Dorothea Temple, London, Spring 1886
“Not bloody likely,” Sam Temple grumbled in response to his sister-in-law’s remark. He returned to his place at the table, sat down and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “There is not one shred of empirical, scientific evidence that ghosts exist.”
He did not like to disagree with his brother’s lovely English wife, but the notion of hauntings in country castles or any other building was nonsense. Ridiculous. Certainly not a worthy theory for an intelligent woman like Dorothea to entertain, no matter who had sent the letter describing strange doings at Ravenwell Cottage.
“Perhaps not everything can be explained by science,” Sam’s brother, Jack, said, lighting a cheroot. Since they dined en famille, the gentlemen did not leave the table for their brandy. Jack poured a draught for himself and one for Sam, who took a long swallow and gave half his attention to his elder brother. “There may be forces in the world that men will never understand. You have to have faith.”
“Supernatural forces?” Sam scoffed. He’d given up on anything but the here-and-now when he and several colleagues had been imprisoned in Sudan, when he’d been tortured and whipped like an animal by the fanatic followers of a religious leader, when he’d been forced to witness the execution of his friend and mentor, Robert Kelton.
He had gone with Kelton and twelve other naturalists on that fated trip to Sudan, each man pursuing studies in his own specialty. For nearly six months, they’d been left alone to collect their data. By the time they’d understood their peril from the Mahdi’s uprising, it was impossible to get out. The Mahdi’s vicious band of followers reached Khartoum, and Sam’s group was doomed.
The only thing that had kept Sam from losing his sanity during his captivity was his ability to focus on his work.
When he’d been desperate to escape his tormentors, he had concentrated so completely on the bees he’d been studying that his mind had separated from the sensations of his body.
Sam swallowed the bitter taste that arose when he thought of the horrors the fanatics had inflicted, and avoided looking at his own torn and ravaged hands when he lifted his glass. At least his fingernails had grown back, such as they were. And he’d regained most of the weight he’d lost when his captors had nearly starved him.
After the British troops had stormed the prison and he’d been released from his cell, Sam had been carried to a hovel outside Khartoum. He’d drifted in and out of consciousness for a long time – he still didn’t know if it had been days or weeks. He hadn’t known his rescuers, or why they’d taken him in and cared for him.
At some point, he’d been taken out of Sudan in a caravan, lying on a pallet, ailing and feverish. Somehow he’d survived the journey to Cairo, along with several other victims of the Mahdi’s bloody uprising.
Sam had been shocked to learn how many months had passed since he and the rest of his party had been ambushed by the Mahdi fanatics. Yet he’d needed three more months to heal and recover his strength before going on to London, where his brother lived with his family …
“Why not?” Jack retorted, jerking Sam’s attention from his hideous memories. “Why do you fellows who spend your days in laboratories and classrooms think that everything must be predictable and definable, that science has all the answers?”
“My opinion on the subject has nothing to do with science,” Sam said. “It’s pure common sense.”
“Because the -“
“Because there’s a crackpot on every corner who would swindle you for a buck – or should I say, a shilling,” he amended, giving Dorothea a nod.
“Why should it be different here in England than in any other country?”
Jack just smiled, which infuriated Sam. That was no way to win an argument. One didn’t just sit back and smile and take on a superior demeanor to make a point.
“Empirical data is what’s needed,” he said.
“Even the ancient Greeks sought firm evidence to explain the world. Look at the Socratic method. Or at Plato, who states that the visible realm contains ordinary physical objects, and our perception of them provides the basis for belief.”
“Point taken,” Jack said, putting out his cheroot.
“But didn’t Socrates encourage his students to question the truth of popular opinion? And Plato clearly addressed the difference between do’xa and episte^me
^- opinion and true knowledge.”
“But their entire purpose -“
Sam’s argument was interrupted by the arrival of his young nephew, in the arms of his nurse. “Ah, here he is,” Dorothea said, appearing glad of the interruption.
The child, little more than a year old, went into his mother’s arms with glee, and Jack leaned forward to press his lips upon Joshua’s brow. Sam sat back in his chair, unable to make himself reach out and chuck his little nephew under the chin. The thought of touching another made his skin crawl.
Being touched was even worse.
“Have you come to say good-night to Papa and Uncle Samuel?” Dorothea cooed.
“I have the greatest respect for the Greeks,” Jack said. “Not to mention Mr. Darwin and his methods. Your methods.” He turned to face Sam. “But I also believe that there are forces in the world that are not quantifiable.”
Sam noted the subtle glance exchanged by Jack and his wife. It was as though they knew something the rest of the world did not.
“Such as objects … and events … that defy explanation.” Jack leaned forward. “Why do you insist that Ravenwell Cottage cannot possibly be haunted? Dorothea’s letter is from a very reputable friend – a professor of antiquities at Oxford. Surely Professor Bloomsby is not a crackpot.”
Had anyone else spoken these words, Sam would have laughed in his face. But this was Jack, his older brother – a man who had made some of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the century. Though Jack was an unconventional fellow, there was no doubt that his methods were sound. Sam could not just discount his opinion.
“There is no object or event that cannot be explained,” Sam maintained. “If it is examined competently, then logic and the scientific method will prevail.”