By A. M. Morgen
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Things are finally looking up for George, the 3rd Lord of Devonshire. Not only did he and his friends outwit a nefarious criminal organization, the extremely rare (and extremely valuable) mushrooms growing in his attic ensure he’ll never need money again. After years of misery, George is no longer the unluckiest boy in London. Nothing could go wrong…
Until Don Nadie, the leader of the Society of Nobodies, moves in next door with his sights set on George…and everything goes wrong.
Overnight, George finds himself framed for poisoning the king (a crime he most assuredly did not commit) and once again on the run with his best friend Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace. Together, they must navigate the high seas in Ada’s latest invention, a submersible mechanical whale, all while trying to stay one step ahead of their enemies. Chased to the ends of the earth, it’s up to George, Ada, and their friends to clear the Devonshire name-and maybe even save the world.
In this rollicking sequel, author A.M. Morgen raises the stakes and delivers a humor- and heart-filled story sure to appeal to fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Inquisitor’s Tale.
Nothing good ever came of a house with no front door.
That was what George, the 3rd Lord of Devonshire, was thinking to himself as he strode out the back entrance of his house at No. 8 Dorset Square. All around him, the late- afternoon sun slanted through the trees and made the glass windowpanes of the doorless No. 10 blaze with golden light. His former neighbors, the Mallard sisters, had moved out rather suddenly a week ago, after receiving a generous offer from an unknown buyer. The mansion had been leveled to the ground before the sisters had finished loading their trunks into a moving wagon. Already, the brick walls of a brand-new house had risen in its place.
A brand-new house with absolutely no front door.
George breathed in deeply. The air was crisp and fresh. Graceful starlings flitted through the dimming sky before settling down in the trees for the evening. But No. 10 stuck out like an unsightly blemish in the otherwise perfect neighborhood.
George, who had been the unluckiest boy in all of London, knew that odd things should not be ignored, because they might be dangerous. Even Ada Byron, his genius neighbor and new best friend, had agreed that such a strange house meant trouble, though they had conflicting theories about why.
George was convinced that the owner of No. 10 was a rival truffle farmer who was after him—or, more specifically, after his truffle business. The leaky attic of No. 8 had proven to be the perfect environment for growing the valuable fungi, so it seemed reasonable that the new owners of No. 10 were truffle farmers looking to reproduce the unique environment of George’s attic by building a greenhouse and seeding their own operation with George’s precious truffles. A greenhouse had no use for a front door.
Ada’s theory, however, frightened George more than the thought of truffle thieves. Her theory was that the house’s owner belonged to the Society of Nobodies, the criminal organization that had stolen Ada’s inventions and chased them across Europe in pursuit of George’s treasure map. Ada suspected that No. 10 did have a front door but that it was hidden by complicated mechanisms meant to discourage intruders.
That was why George was setting a trap at his house for the owner of No. 10. Ada was setting her own specially designed trap across the street at her house, No. 5. How else would they know who was right?
Whistling casually, George retrieved a tall ladder from his garden shed and hoisted it onto his shoulder. He held it carefully to avoid the sticky barnacle glue that he’d borrowed from Ada and smeared on the rungs the night before. In plain sight of No. 10, George leaned the ladder against the side wall of his house as if he were going to do some home repairs. To further entice potential truffle thieves, he began chatting loudly to Mrs. Daly, his manservant Frobisher’s pet rat who resided in the walls of No. 8, about the incredible truffle crop he was about to harvest. The thieves lying in wait inside No. 10 wouldn’t be able to resist climbing the ladder to sneak into his attic now, he thought smugly.
To his shock, Mrs. Daly answered in a muffled voice. “Hmmhoo, Oorge.”
George then realized it wasn’t the rat’s voice he heard. It was Ada’s voice, floating through the front door from the speaking tube she had recently installed between their houses. George rushed inside to the trumpet-shaped porcelain mouthpiece sticking out of the wall, next to the front door. “Hello? Ada? Is that you?”
“Are you finished setting your trap?” Ada’s voice sounded hollow and tinny.
George grinned. “Yes. Come over and I’ll prove you wrong.”
“Don’t hold your breath. I’m always right,” she chirped.
The speaking tube went silent. A shiver raced up George’s spine. If Ada was right, a formidable enemy lurked behind the windows of No. 10.
The Society of Nobodies was a gang of vicious thieves Ada had once called the Organization. They had used stolen science to make weapons that could crack a pirate ship in half and machines that could fly through the air or swim underwater. George and Ada, along with their friends Oscar and Ruthie, had barely survived their last encounter with the Society. If the Society was next door, then… well, George couldn’t even fathom what it might mean for their safety.
Someone tapped on his shoulder, and he screamed.
“Sorry,” said the messenger who’d stepped in through the front door while George’s back was turned. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your… conversation with the wall. I’m here for the—”
“Special delivery for the King?” asked George breezily, as if he hadn’t been caught talking into a wall. By now, he knew better than to try to explain Ada’s inventions to strangers. They only became more confused. “Yes, I have it right here. One moment.”
He darted up to the attic and returned with a smooth, polished wooden box. The engraved words on top, DEVONSHIRE TRUFFLES, seemed to wink in the light of the setting sun. “Please make sure this package arrives at Windsor Castle safely.”
“Of course, sir,” said the messenger, his eyes bulging—either because he was impressed by the lovely box or because he was trying not to gag from the smell of the truffles inside. To some people, truffles smelled heavenly. To others, they stank. The messenger bowed, then tucked the very fancy box and its very odorous contents into his leather bag.
George ambled to the library to record his latest royal order. He lifted the tip of his quill to record the King’s purchase in his accounts ledger—
And was immediately interrupted by a jarring THUMP that shook the walls of his house. George’s inkpot rattled on the desk. Ada’s giant mechanical frog made quite a racket whenever she landed it on his roof. Seconds later, her footsteps rang out on the stairs, followed shortly by the sound of her flutelike voice echoing in the foyer. “George?”
“In the library!” he called out.
Ada appeared in the entryway and paused, smiling. George heard the clack clack of several hard-boiled eggs knocking against one another inside the pockets of her yellow dress.
Instead of hello, she said: “Did you get a new clock, Lord Devonshire?”
George frowned. “Not yet. It takes time to refurnish a house.”
Ada cupped her hand to her ear. “That is so strange. I could have sworn I heard a clock chiming wronnnng, wronnnng as I was coming down the stairs.”
“Ha-ha. Very funny. You’re the one who’s going to be wrong,” George said smugly. “I couldn’t help but notice, though, that your trap isn’t set up yet.”
Ada tilted her head to one side, an amused smile lifting her cheeks. One of her loose curls fell across her face. “My trap’s been set for hours.”
George scrunched his brow in confusion. He pushed back the curtain to see Ada’s house from the window. “I don’t see anything unusual except your maid still sitting on the front steps.”
Ada laughed. “That’s not the maid. That’s the trap! Remember the automaton you bought me?”
“Of course! From the Jaquet-Droz workshop in Geneva.” George had first seen the organ-playing automaton while they were looking for the Star of Victory in Geneva. She resembled a human woman, but like everything sold in his grandfather’s favorite workshop, she was a piece of clockwork made up of gears and mechanisms. With his truffle money, George had bought the machine as a birthday present for Ada. “You named her Hippolyta, or was it Cleopatra?”
“Neither. I named her Hypatia after my favorite mathematician. But I call her Patty now. Don’t you recognize her?” she said, nodding out the window.
“That’s her!” George squinted in surprise at the figure sitting as motionless as a statue in front of No. 5. Her face was white porcelain and framed with tight blond curls. George had first noticed the automaton because of her unique pendant in the shape of a butterfly, which looked exactly like a drawing on his grandfather’s map. Though he couldn’t see it from so far away, he could picture its silver wings. It was another mysterious clue that George would probably never decipher. Had his grandfather copied it on purpose? The 1st Lord of Devonshire loved puzzles.
“She’s the most wonderful present I’ve ever had,” Ada gushed. “She’s an amazing machine. Her arms are controlled by the gears in her back, so I can program them to perform any sequence of movements. There’s no end to what she can do—repairs, navigation, maybe even surgery one day. And she’ll be perfect to control my new water cannon.”
“She’s your trap?” George asked.
Ada raised a gleeful eyebrow. “I made it look as if she had been delivered earlier but no one was home to accept the package. I’ve rigged her arm to throw a lasso around anyone who walks up the steps toward her.”
“That’s quite clever. She’s excellent bait,” George remarked grudgingly. She was the perfect thing to lure the Society. Anyone else walking by wouldn’t give Patty a second glance, but the Society of Nobodies loved complicated machines. Turning to Ada, he said, “It’s a shame you won’t have a chance to see Patty in action, since the owner of No. 10 isn’t the Society.”
Ada sniffed in disagreement. “I hope you’re right. Really, I do. I’d rather it not be the Society after what they put us through in Venice and how ruthless they were about your grandfather’s map. But if you were being logical, you’d see that my theory makes more sense. The Society wanted your grandfather’s map. They didn’t get what they wanted. Therefore—”
“Therefore, they have no reason to come after me anymore,” George interjected quickly. “Let’s go up to the roof and wait. I made us some sandwiches, and there’s a pot of stew on the stove,” he added to change the topic to something that didn’t make his stomach sour with nerves. The thought of Roy, the redheaded brute from the Society, living next door after trying to kill him was enough to ruin his appetite completely.
While George stoppered his ink bottle and wiped the nib of his feather pen clean, Ada ran her hands along the empty shelves in the library, collecting dust on the edge of her palm. “Are you sure I can’t store some of my instruments here? With all the work I’m doing for C.R.U.M.P.E.T.S., my room is full to bursting,” she said.
George busily tidied his desk. “This is a library, not a pantry. I have truffles in my attic. I don’t want crumpets on my bookshelves. Besides, if we keep any more pastries in the house, Mrs. Daly will invite all her rat friends over for a feast, and Frobisher will insist that we keep them. Oscar may like living in a menagerie, but I don’t.”
Ada’s face fell at the mention of Oscar’s name. An undertow of sadness tugged at George’s chest, too. He often had to remind himself that his friends Oscar and Ruthie no longer lived a few miles away at the royal menagerie in the Kensington Palace gardens. Once, it had seemed like the journey of a lifetime for George to leave his house and cross the street. But now that Oscar and Ruthie were sailing the seven seas with Oscar’s father, Captain Bibble, his friends felt as far from Dorset Square as the stars in the sky.
Ada brushed her brown curls out of her face, discreetly wiping away a tear at the same time. “You and Oscar are always thinking about food. I didn’t say crumpets. I said C.R.U.M.P.E.T.S. The Council for Radical Undertakings in Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Technology, and Science.”
“The council for…?” George asked. He knew the next word wasn’t radishes, but he couldn’t remember what it was. Ada was right. He was always thinking about food.
Ada sighed. “It’s a brand-new scientific gathering happening in London. I received an invitation to submit an invention for consideration. If I get accepted, I’ll finally be able to prove to my mother that my inventions are worth something. She thinks I’m wasting my time making sloppily built toys instead of devoting my mind to serious scientific pursuits.”
Ada pulled the invitation from her pocket and put it under George’s nose with a flourish. It was printed on creamy white paper and stamped with a gold wax seal in one corner. The date was less than two months away. The location was London. A specific address would be revealed to those who accepted the invitation.
The invitation certainly looked impressive to George, but he wasn’t sure Ada’s mother would feel the same. Though Ada’s inventions were the most wonderful things that George had ever seen, Lady Byron had forbidden Ada to make any more flying machines after her mechanical bird had crashed into the Adriatic Sea. She even insisted that the frog, which had jumped back and forth between No. 5 and No. 8 a million times with no problems, must have a safety harness and an extra braking mechanism. If Ada needed some space away from her mother to build her invention for C.R.U.M.P.E.T.S., then it was George’s duty as a friend to help. “Of course there’s room for you to store your instruments here,” he said, smiling at Ada. “But first, will you join me for dinner?”
In the kitchen, George placed two bowls of truffle stew on a serving tray next to a neatly stacked pile of cucumber sandwiches. Frobisher usually prepared their meals, but the manservant had left for a well-deserved and much-needed vacation at a curative health spa in Vienna. After spending many years at sea as a pirate called Jon the Gardener, Frobisher had developed a terrible case of land sickness when he gave up piracy, and he needed help recovering his land legs. When Frobisher returned from the spa, a brand-new identity would be waiting for him so that his former life as a pirate would be completely erased. All legally arranged by Ada, of course.
They carried their sandwiches and stew up the narrow stairs to the attic, snuffing out all the lights on the way, then climbed out onto the roof to wait for their prey in the shadow of Ada’s jumping machine. The contraption vaguely resembled the bottom half of a giant frog or equally large grasshopper, with two long legs that were bent nearly double at the knee joints. Coiled tightly between the legs, the machine’s two massive springs were waiting to vault over Dorset Square when they were released, calculated to alight precisely on the matching landing pad on Ada’s roof across the street. Though he told himself that the Society had not moved in next door, George threw a tarpaulin over the frog to hide it from view. Just in case.
Darkness fell around them like a blanket. As the stars began to twinkle through the breaks in the clouds gathering overhead, George felt a familiar jumble of excitement and fear prickling in his gut. Something could happen at any moment. Ada adjusted the telescope aimed at her front steps, and George secured the top of his sticky ladder to the gutter, but otherwise it could have been any night spent with a friend. They ate their food and wrapped themselves in quilts to keep warm while they minded their traps like two fishermen waiting for fish to bite.
A few carriages rumbled by, sleepy starlings tittered in the trees, some stray cats yowled in a far-off alley. Soon George’s eyelids became heavy. His chin nodded toward his chest. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves was a beautiful lullaby. With any luck, he’d sleep peacefully all night under the stars and in the morning his ladder would be empty and Patty would be on Ada’s front porch, safe and sound.
Suddenly, Ada was shaking his arm. “Wake up! They’re here!”
George jolted awake. Ada glared at No. 5, her eyes burning bright as the gas lamps dotting Dorset Square. “It’s not a truffle farmer. It’s the Society. One of them got Patty’s arm. He’s heading for No. 10. Hurry.”
A shiver of dread shook through George like an earthquake. He looked across Dorset Square. Patty had fallen onto her side. The dark shape of a man raced through the trees away from Ada’s trap. But the figure was like something out of a nightmare—he streaked over the grass on thin legs as tall as fenceposts. Patty’s disembodied arm dangled behind him like a worm twisting on a fishing line.
In ten long strides, the man crossed Dorset Square and disappeared around the side of No. 10.
“After him!” Ada cried. She was already climbing down from the roof into the attic.
George raced after her, and soon they emerged onto the lawn and skidded to a halt, eyes searching for any sign of the shadowy figure.
“Did you see how tall he was? I didn’t calibrate Patty’s strength properly to account for someone of that extreme height. Patty’s horizontal grip is stronger than her shoulder joint. Her arm sheared off with the rope when the man ran away. He must have gone inside,” Ada whispered breathlessly, then vaulted toward No. 10.
George grasped Ada’s skirt to pull her back. “Wait—shouldn’t we get something to defend ourselves with?”
“There’s no time. Our new neighbor is the Society. We can stop them once and for all. Here. Now. Patty’s arm is the evidence we need to charge them with trespassing.” Ada peeked around the edge of the house. “The coast is clear. I’m going.”
She lifted her skirts and raced across the muddy strip of dirt that separated George’s house from No. 10. George knew Ada well enough to know that nothing he could say would stop her from charging into danger.
So he took a deep breath and plunged after her.
Are you sure he went this way?”
Ada shushed him, then crept closer to No. 10. George followed at her heels. The shadows between No. 8 and No. 10 seemed to stretch and grab at their feet.
After searching for a few seconds, Ada whispered, “Eureka,” pointing at a sheet of corrugated tin nailed against the side of No. 10 that faced George’s house. The tin sheet was swinging slightly like a pendulum. Ada gestured at George to help her push it to one side and prop it open with a loose brick. Doing so revealed a large rectangular opening a few feet above the ground. The bricks had not yet been laid to close it off completely.
Peeking inside the black opening, George saw a narrow hallway that stretched into the dark house. There was no sign of the man who’d run off with Patty’s arm.
“I didn’t notice this before. That metal sheet must have been blocking the only way inside,” George muttered, trying to keep the fear from his voice.
“Help me up,” Ada said. Her smooth-bottomed shoes were slipping against the brick as she tried to climb up to the opening. George offered his knee as a foothold, and once Ada was inside, she pulled him up after her.
George’s skin exploded with goose bumps as soon as he stepped inside. The walls on either side of him were still in the process of being plastered. Dust coated the floor. With a jolt of fear, George realized he and Ada were leaving footprints behind them, but the tall man had left none.
“Do you see Patty’s arm? Let’s just grab that and go—”
“Not yet,” Ada replied. At the end of a short hallway, the walls opened suddenly into one enormous room, which was about the size of George’s entire house. The weak orange light from the street lamps outside did not reach the ceilings, which vaulted nearly to the roof. A narrow balcony ran the length of the entire room above their heads, but there were no stairs to reach it.
“One room? What sort of house is only one room?” Ada wondered aloud.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s supposed to be a ballroom. Or a library. Or both.”
With a shiver, George had the sudden feeling that he’d been here before. Though he couldn’t quite place it, the room was familiar. He stopped. Squares of white marble were being installed in the floor, gleaming in the gloom as if lit from within. The tiles were similar in color to the marble in George’s foyer. No—they were the same exact color, a shade called Unicorn Horn. George had spent years polishing the marble in his home—he’d recognize it anywhere.
The strange shiver crawled over his skin again as he surveyed the rest of the room. Every wall was lined with wooden shelves painted white. The decorative molding on the shelves was the same intricate pattern of oak leaves carved on the cornices of George’s foyer.
“There’s Patty’s arm. Oh dear, it’s cracked. I’ll need to reinforce her joints with iron bolts, I think.” Ada rushed toward a pile of crates covered in a sheet. She picked up Patty’s white porcelain arm from where it lay near the base of the boxes. The rope was draped over it like a dead snake. She stomped in frustration. “There’s no sign of anyone here. I think he escaped.”
Meanwhile, George was drawn to a set of bookshelves on the far side of the room. A row of narrow drawers for maps topped a set of tall shelves for atlases. He was not an expert on shelves, but their size, dimensions, and general appearance were so similar to those in his own library that he had to blink to assure himself that he wasn’t dreaming. It was as if these shelves, in a completely different house, were made to hold his grandfather’s collection of books.
George peered at a small crescent-shaped indentation near the front of the middle shelf on the third row from the left. Though his grandfather had restored it from the ground up, No. 8 was the 1st Lord of Devonshire’s childhood home, so he had preserved it exactly as his father had originally designed it. And because George’s grandfather had also loved puzzles, many rooms were filled with secret compartments and places to hide his treasures. If George was wrong about this shelf, then nothing would happen. But if he was right…
He pushed his finger into the indentation. A small strip of decorative molding popped off the front of the shelf to reveal a narrow compartment. “Zooks!” George said softly, staggering back with the piece of carved wood in his hand.
Ada whipped her head around. “George, what are you doing?”
“Proving a theory,” he replied breathlessly.
George pressed the carved side of the wooden molding in his hand against the molding on the next-highest shelf. The carved pieces of wood fit together like a key into a lock. With a sharp click, the back panel of the shelf released to reveal yet another empty secret compartment above the one he’d already revealed.
Ada gaped. “How did you do that?”
“This is exactly the same as the library in my house,” George said. His grandfather loved puzzles with many steps and surprises that built upon each other like links in a chain. The solution to one puzzle was the key to the next and so on and so on. George looked around the room, unsure whether he should be delighted or disturbed.
Ada strode toward him, then suddenly stopped, dead in her tracks, in the middle of the room. Her whole body stiffened and her eyes grew wide as they fixed on a point beyond George down the hallway through which they had entered.
George’s heart thumped. “What is it, Ada?”
She looked at him. “We should leave, George.”
“But—” George retorted. “This looks exactly like my house, Ada!”
Ada hooked Patty’s arm underneath George’s elbow and pulled him down the dark hallway, dragging him back toward the temporary side entrance, while George persisted, “Why is there no front door? Where’s the kitchen? Where’s the staircase to get upstairs?”
All of a sudden, though, he stopped. At the end of the hallway he saw what Ada had seen through the jagged opening half-covered by the tin panel.
On the outside wall of his own house, someone had drawn a faint chalk outline of a door.
He blinked again. An X was drawn inside the chalk outline on No. 8. The mark was almost invisible in the midnight darkness. But it was unmistakably there. It lined up perfectly with the temporary entrance to No. 10, which lined up perfectly with the hallway, which lined up perfectly with the hallway inside his own house, just steps away. No. 10 and No. 8 were close enough to span with a board.
The plan of the house clicked into place as neatly as the missing piece of a puzzle.
This strange house didn’t need a front door or a kitchen or a staircase because it would have those things as soon as it was connected to George’s. No. 10 wasn’t its own house at all.
It was the new wing of No. 8.
George’s heart didn’t stop pounding until they toppled through the doorway of Ada’s workshop.
Only then did George finally feel that he could breathe again. Ada’s room was even more cluttered than usual, but the extra piles of scribbled-in notebooks and scattered machine parts made George feel safer. As if they were a barrier between him and the outside world. With every breath, his fear of what they’d seen in No. 10 dissolved until only anger and bravery burned in his chest.
“How dare they!” George yelled at nobody in particular. “First, the Society tried to steal my map—and now they’re trying to steal my house!”
Calmer now, Ada lit an oil lamp, then cleared a space on her workbench for Patty’s arm. They had carried the mechanical girl up from the front steps, and now she was sitting next to the workbench, patiently waiting for her missing limb to be reattached.
“I saw the look on your face. You saw it, too—the Society bought No. 10 and intends to attach it to my house!” George paced between towers of books and piles of paper.
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Ada admonished.
“But you said—” He stared back at Ada, but her expression was resolute. “Fine. You want me to be rational and examine the evidence. Here’s the evidence: My mysterious next-door neighbor is building a house with no front door. Its inside matches the inside of my house. Its hallway matches up with my hallway. Its floor matches my floor. Someone has drawn the outline of a door on the side of my house exactly across from the only way into No. 10! Someone from the Society carried Patty’s arm into that house. Ergo and wherefore, I can conclude that the Society is going to invade my home at any moment.”
“Invade is a strong word, don’t you think? I agree the chalk was suspicious, but unless it’s explosive chalk, no damage has been done. An empty building is hardly a crime. Let’s take a moment and think this through.”
- Praise for The Inventors and the Lost Island:
- On Sale
- Apr 2, 2019
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers