Alexandria Baxby's world is turned upside down when her husband disappears on a routine business trip and her family is caught up in a ruthless man's dangerous plot that could change the course of history.
LONDON, June 1857
Bedlam Asylum, St Georges Fields
The Lord Chamberlain’s deputy, Greyson Woodridge III, watched tiny dust motes dance in the shafts of light that shone into the small asylum room and reflected how strange it was to be the last person, other than the priest, who would see the man before him alive.
The room was sparsely furnished; a bed, a wooden chair that Grayson was sitting on, a small table with a jug of water and a porcelain bowl. There was little to signal that this would be the final resting place for a man who had helped to design the most magnificent room in the British Houses of Parliament; the Lords Chamber alongside Augustus Pugin, widely regarded as the best Gothic architect of his generation.
Grayson’s master, The Lord Chamberlain had a well known love of architecture and the deputy knew that he had studied for many years under Pugin himself before he took up the office that was his birthright. He'd heard from his master’s own lips that Pugin had become more of a Father figure to him than his own absent flesh and blood, and the fact that he had been driven insane by his own perfectionism, his mind spiralling out of control and leading to his death five years ago in this very place was a tragedy that The Lord Chamberlain had taken very badly.
It struck Grayson as a strange and melancholic coincidence that Oliver Stockett; Pugin’s senior pupil, the man lying in the bed in front of him, was also fated to leave the earth from the same spot after being committed to the Bedlam Asylum for the clinically insane only months ago.
Greyson sighed and turned to the bed. The old man was sleeping, his breath coming in shallow rasps. It was hard to believe that this shell of a man could be of use to The Lord Chamberlain, but Grayson knew that his position at Pugin’s right hand had afforded him unrivalled access to the great architect’s work and ideas. It was this that had led The Lord Chamberlain to call Grayson into his office that morning to ask him to visit Stockett and find out if he knew anything about the vial.
The old man had been reluctant to talk at first. But Grayson was skilled in the art of gentle, and not so gentle, persuasion and within a short time Stockett had relented. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness for the past twenty minutes which had given Grayson time to consider the information he had been entrusted with when the man was last awake. It seemed fantastical, surely the ravings of a lunatic maddened by the endless hours creating a architectural masterpiece. Yet the old man hadn't been raving. He had been completely calm and lucid as he unburdened himself of the secret that he had discovered from his own master. The secret that was now Grayson’s to keep.
Suddenly the old man's eyes flickered open and he fixed them squarely on his visitor.
"Come closer," he said with a strength in his voice that surprised the younger man. "There is one more detail you must know before..." he trailed off, not saying the obvious but sad truth they both knew.
Grayson moved to the bedside leaning slightly forward in anticipation. He felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck as he listened intently to the old man's final words.
Just minutes later he sat back in the chair and as the priest closed the old man's eyes and marked an invisible cross across his forehead he realised that the mystery that he had come to solve for The Lord Chamberlain, the secret of The Elixir, was now his to keep.