The delivery arrived at seven that evening, and Christopher directed the men to take it down to the laboratory. Alexander Somerville waited until the swearing and puffing and panting had finished and there was relative quiet, and then he descended the stairs into the basement of the house.
Standing on the cold, stone floor in the open space in the middle of his laboratory, so it could be approached from all four sides, was a large metal cage.
On one side of this there appeared to be a heap of black rags lying on the ground against the bars. Alex walked across the room to get a closer look.
The black rags had a shape, the figure of a man curled on his side in a fetal position. His body was covered from head to knees by a blanket, a pair of breeches and leather boots revealed below.
Alex surveyed the four men in the room, seeking Mr. Roberts, the man he had done business with. Alex's gaze settled on a well-dressed man in cloak and frock coat, holding his top hat in his hand, no sweat gleaming on his brow, unlike those of the rougher-looking men in his company.
"The journey was smooth?" Alex inquired politely, stiffly, because he wasn't a sociable man and didn't bother pretending that he was.
The shipment from France had taken three long weeks, during which time Alex became convinced Roberts was a confidence trickster who had taken his money and run. Either that or the precious cargo had escaped en route. However, he had only sent half the money up front, and the man had delivered after all.
"It was." The man looked uncomfortable at the question, and Alex regarded him suspiciously.
"Show me him, then," he said curtly. Something was wrong.
Mr. Roberts glanced at his companions before he moved forward to stand in front of the cage. With the tip of his cane, he reached through the bars and flicked back the blanket.
The figure huddled beneath twitched. He half lifted a hand before it fell back as though too weak to move. Alex stared. The figure wore expensive, fashionable clothes -- cravat and stiff starched shirt, frock coat, and cloak -- and his hair was black and glossy as a raven's wing, short and untidy, falling over his face. But it was impossible to tell if he was attractive because every area of exposed skin -- face, neck, and hands -- was burned.