A few miles outside of Hoxett on the Barlovian island of Hulry stands a large, isolated house. High walls surround its 18-acre grounds. The local people call it the "Old Brundage House," after its former owner, a professor of engineering who died a few years past. Its residents have adopted the name, and know its secret, as do others like them elsewhere in Barlovia.
Modern technology has produced new sorts of intelligence to share the world with man: mechanical men, reanimated corpses, and beings of less familiar sorts. Despite their hatred for slavery and passion for human freedom, the Barlovians aren't sure about freedom for nonhumans. The law still classifies them as animals, or machines, or corpses. Some of them have special privileges, but as yet none of them have rights.
Vance Brundage was a giant of the Analytical Revolution; one of Ian Elroy's most talented protegees. His advanced designs for steam-powered analytical engines made him wealthy. His house embodied all the latest technological innovations, from gaslamps to an analytical engine for his personal use, complete with a magnetic drum memory. As his own memory became less reliable, he made a habit of relying on the engine to prompt him, calling it his "memory palace." Somehow the series of associative chains he created awakened it to sentience.
One of Brundage's close friends in his old age was the noted physician and naturalist David Fanshaw. Brundage's will established a trust, to be administered by David Fanshaw "and such successors as he shall designate" and to be used for unspecified "charitable purposes." In fact, those charitable purposes focus on improving the position of nonhumans and providing a refuge for the desperate among them. Fanshaw continues to live on his native Hulry and can travel to the Brundage House on short notice. While he is away, the analytical engine administers the property. At any time, up to a dozen nonhumans may be found in residence. Two of Brundage's servants remain in residence - the driver, Owls, and the cook, Mrs. Tellow - but the residents do most of the estate management themselves.