European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
The Telegram from Budapest
Lucinda Van Helsing looked out the window. They were coming for her, she knew they were coming for her. She walked back and forth over the carpet, rubbing her hands together, occasionally putting one to her lips. She could feel the sharpness of her teeth, which no longer felt like hers. Yesterday, she had inadvertently bitten her own mouth.
The clock on the mantle chimed. It was almost time for her afternoon coffee. Helga would bring it as usual, and she would stare at the coffeepot, the selection of little cakes. She could no longer eat. She had not eaten for three days.
There . . . what was that, out beyond the linden tree, against the line of privets? A flicker of something black. For the last few days she had seen them, lurking. Frau Müller, the housekeeper, had said there was no one there, but she knew—she could sense them. Yes, they were coming for her, and soon she would be in that place, where no one could find her or know what had become of her ever again.
When Helga, the parlormaid, entered five minutes later, the parlor was empty. A chair had fallen over, but otherwise the parlor looked as it always did. Lucinda was gone.
DIANA: I don’t think you should start with Lucinda. You should start with us.
Why are you telling me how to write this book?
JUSTINE: I think she’s right, Catherine. Forgive me, I know you’re the author, but I think Diana is right. You should start with us.
CATHERINE: Fine. Whatever.
The Athena Club was meeting, with all members present.
The parlor windows were open to let in the morning air. It was late summer, and for once, miraculously, London was warm. Beatrice sat on one of the window seats, reveling in the sunlight like a happy poisonous plant. “This weather reminds me of Italy!” she said. How London can remind anyone of Italy, I don’t know.
Mary and Diana were sitting together on the sofa, although officially they were quarreling. Yesterday, Diana had cut the feathers off Mary’s favorite hat with the sewing scissors.
“Why can’t I go?” she asked, petulant as a child.
“First, because I can’t trust you,” said Mary, imperturbable. Our Mary is always imperturbable. She had already retrimmed the hat. “And second, because you’re my sister, and I want you safe, here. I’m going, because I’m the only one who knows Miss Murray. Justine is going, because she speaks French and German.”
“But only a little German,” said Justine.
“And Catherine is going because it will be useful to have someone along who can bite people.”
“I can bite people!” Diana showed her teeth, as though prepared to demonstrate.
“And third, because you need to focus on your studies. You don’t even know where Vienna is, so how can you go there?”
DIANA: I wasn’t petulant! I’m never petulant. What does that mean, anyway? I think you made that
word up. Are writers allowed to do that?
MARY: I am certainly perturbable! Catherine, you’re describing me as though I were some sort of female Sherlock Holmes, which I am not, thank you very much.
DIANA: That’s not such a bad comparison, actually. You’re as annoying as he is.
Justine was sitting on the carpet. All our chairs, she said, made her feel as though she were folding up like an accordion. And Catherine, your author, was standing next to the fireplace, leaning on the mantle, looking particularly jaunty in a man’s suit.
MARY: If she does say so herself.
That day, Catherine was going to Purfleet to meet with Joe Abernathy. She went once a fortnight, to see if he had any information on the doings of the Alchemical Society or the movements of the sinister Dr. Seward, director of the Purfleet Asylum. After our previous adventures, Joe had agreed to spy for our heroines. And if those heroines keep interrupting me, this story will never get started.
My readers may remember that in the previous adventures of the Athena Club, Mary Jekyll learned about the existence of her sister, Diana Hyde, and the secret society to which their father belonged: the Société des Alchimistes. Certain members of the society had been conducting experiments in transmutation, as they called it: experiments that involved transforming girl subjects
in various ways, for their brains were the most malleable, as Dr. Moreau insisted. Female flesh was the easiest to transform. If you looked around the parlor that day, you would see the results.
Beatrice Rappaccini, wearing one of those shapeless liberty dresses she insists are more healthful for the female figure, sat leaning forward, with a ceramic mug in her hand. The window was open not only to let in air, but also to let out the poisonous fumes she could not help emitting. As a girl, she had tended the garden of poisonous plants created by her father, Dr. Rappaccini, until their toxic essences became a part of her. If you stood too close to Beatrice, you would begin to feel faint, and her touch burned.
BEATRICE: You make me sound so dramatic, Catherine!
CATHERINE: Well, you are dramatic, with your long black hair and the clear olive complexion that marks you a daughter of the sunny south, of Italy, land of poetry and brigands. You would be the perfect romantic heroine, if only you weren’t so contrary about it.
BEATRICE: But I have no desire to be a romantic heroine.
MARY: Brigands? Seriously, Cat, this isn’t the eighteenth century. Nowadays Italy is perfectly civilized.
Beatrice took a sip of the noxious green sludge she called breakfast, which smelled like Thames water. Because of her unique constitution, she had no need of food. She lived off sunlight and
water in which organic matter had been steeped. In other words, weed soup.
Mary Jekyll had finished her breakfast some time ago. She was already dressed in her walking suit; after our meeting, she would walk across Regent’s Park to 221B Baker Street, where she was employed by the famous and insufferable Sherlock Holmes as a sort of assistant-secretary-Girl Friday, for which she did not receive enough credit, although she insisted that she was quite well compensated at two pounds a week.
Diana, who had not yet had her breakfast, lounged beside her in disarray—as usual. She had been pulled out of bed just before our meeting, and was still in her nightgown, with an Indian shawl thrown over it. She was whispering to Alpha, one of the two kittens, who was not supposed to be up on the parlor sofa, according to Mrs. Poole. But there she was, snuggled into a corner of Diana’s shawl. You would not have thought they were sisters, Mary with her hair neatly pinned at the back of her neck, Diana with her freckled face and the mass of red curls she had inherited from her Irish mother. And yet sisters they were, born of the same father in different phases of his being—Mary of the respectable chemist Dr. Jekyll, and Diana of the despicable Mr. Hyde, murderer and fugitive.
DIANA: Oy! That’s my dad you’re taking about.
By the fireplace, as I have mentioned, stood Catherine Moreau, created by Dr. Moreau out of a puma on his island in the South Seas, where through a long, cruel process of vivisection, he turned beasts into men. There was something foreign about her, with her yellow eyes, the faint tracery of scars on her brown skin. In her respectable suit, she appears to be a civilized Englishman, but at any moment she might be at your throat, white fangs bared.
Oh, for goodness’ sake. Do all writers romanticize themselves?
And finally, on the carpet at her feet sat Justine Frankenstein, already in her painting smock. Taller than most men, pale and fair like the Swiss maiden from which she had been created by Victor Frankenstein after being hanged for a murder she did not commit, she was the quietest of us, the gentlest and most delicate, although she could lift a costermonger’s cart without assistance. She had a spot of paint on the side of her nose.
JUSTINE: Did I really?
CATHERINE: I don’t remember, but it makes for a better description. Anyway, you probably did. You usually do.
“I do too know where Vienna is,” said Diana in response to Mary’s question.
Just then, Alice poked her head through the doorway. “Is it all right if I clear away the breakfast dishes, miss?” The question was directed toward Mary. Although we all lived together at 11 Park Terrace, she was still indisputably the mistress of the house.
“Of course it is,” said Mary. “You know if you want to, you can always chase us out of the breakfast room—or join us for breakfast.” As though Alice would have! I’m just a kitchen maid, she kept insisting, despite her role in our previous adventures. I don’t want to be involved in your investigation of this Alchemical Society or whatever it may be, not after almost getting killed last time, thank you very much. Now she disappeared behind the door, like a mouse.
“Is it all right that I’m staying in London rather than going to Vienna?” asked Beatrice. “I know I could be useful to you.”
“Of course you could.” Mary stood and smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt. “But we need you here, to protect Alice and Mrs. Poole, and make sure Diana doesn’t do anything stupid. If you do,” she looked at her sister, “Beatrice will poison you. So don’t!”
“I haven’t even had breakfast yet, and you told Alice she could clear away,” said Diana.
“It’s your own fault for lazing in bed until all hours. Ask Mrs. Poole for something, but don’t let her see that you sneaked Alpha up here. And for goodness’ sake get dressed!”
Diana kicked Mary on the shin, but not hard—almost affectionately. If Diana had meant to kick hard, it would have hurt.
DIANA: You bet it would!
“Well, I think it’s time you told Mr. Holmes,” said Catherine. “We’ve calculated how much the trip will cost, we’ve decided who’s going, we know the train routes. We should leave as soon as possible.”
“I know,” said Mary. “I’m planning on telling him today. He may be able to give us some advice on how to rescue Lucinda Van Helsing. Anyway, I need to ask for a holiday. We don’t even know how long we’ll be gone.”
And now I think it’s time I returned to telling the story in a more traditional way, focusing on one character at a time. However, a story about monsters can never be entirely traditional. And anyway, the nineteenth century is drawing to a close. I believe the new century will bring new ways of writing, new ways of perceiving the world. . . .
MARY: I doubt our readers want a lecture on modernity!
CATHERINE: You’re probably right.
Mary smoothed her skirt again, although Diana’s foot had scarcely disarranged it, then leaned over to kiss her sister on the head, quickly to avoid being hit.
“All right, I’m off,” she said. “Be careful in Purfleet, Cat.”
“I’m taking Charlie with me,” said Catherine. “I want him to look around the asylum, to see if there’s anything going on. We’ve heard almost nothing for three months—why has the society been so quiet? What can Dr. Seward and Professor Van Helsing be doing?”
Mary shook her head. She did not understand it either.
In the front hall, Mrs. Poole was waiting for her, holding a hat and gloves, with Mary’s purse hanging on her arm. Mary wondered again what in the world she would do without Mrs. Poole. The housekeeper had been there all her life. When Mary was a child, Mrs. Poole had been her nursemaid, and as she grew older the housekeeper had taught her how to manage the servants, keep the household accounts, care for her mother as Mrs. Jekyll had slowly descended into madness. Mrs. Poole had been the solid rock upon which Mary could lean in times of trouble.
MRS. POOLE: Oh, please. Miss Mary can certainly take care of herself.
MARY: Catherine may have a habit of exaggerating—or, you know, lying for effect—but that at least is completely and entirely true. I really don’t know what I would do without you, Mrs. Poole.
“You did a wonderful job on this, miss,” said the housekeeper,
looking at the hat. “I can scarcely tell that devilish child snipped all the feathers off.”
“Well, to be honest, I think it looks better without them, and I like this black ribbon,” said Mary. “It contrasts with the gray felt. Maybe now Beatrice will stop going on and on about the decimation of bird populations for women’s vanity.” She looked at the hat with satisfaction—she really had done a good job, and saved a few shillings into the bargain. Then, she frowned, worried. “Will you be all right here with Diana, while I’m abroad? You can always threaten her with Beatrice, you know.”
“Oh, I can handle Diana, don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Poole, handing Mary the retrimmed hat.
Yes, she liked it better this way: simple and modern in style. She regarded herself in the hall mirror: pale face, middling brown hair pulled neatly back, middling gray eyes looking solemn, as they almost always did—not an unattractive face, but not a noticeable one either. Gray walking suit, showing the white collar of her shirtwaist. She put on her hat, then pulled on the black gloves Mrs. Poole handed her. “I look like a governess,” she said, almost to herself.
“You look like a lady,” said Mrs. Poole approvingly. She handed Mary the purse. “If you don’t mind, miss, I’ve put in a recipe for Mrs. Hudson, behind that envelope. She asked about my quince jam, and I promised to give her my recipe, what came with my mother from Yorkshire when Mrs. Jekyll was a bride. I’ve written it down for her.”
“Of course, Mrs. Poole,” said Mary. “I’ll be back for tea, and I expect Cat will be as well.” She checked her purse: yes, the letter from Lucinda Van Helsing was there, beside Mrs. Poole’s recipe.
“Bread and butter and cold meats it will be today, miss, on account of it being laundry day,” said Mrs. Poole. “I hope that’s all right.”
“That will do quite nicely, thank you.” Mary made sure she had her latchkey—a custom she had introduced that scandalized Mrs. Poole, but how much easier when they each had their own keys to the house! Then she hung the purse over her arm and walked out into the sunshine of Park Terrace.
On the doorframe, above the doorbell, was a small brass plaque: THE ATHENA CLUB. For a moment, she stopped to wipe a smudge off the brass with her gloved finger. Was it really only three months ago that her mother had died, and she had found Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine?
She turned left down Park Terrace. How peaceful and quiet the old brick houses looked! Until three months ago, this was the only part of London she had truly known. Since then, she had been to Whitechapel, and Battersea Park, and the London docks. She had seen sights that would shock the respectable Mrs. Poole.
Should she go around by Marylebone Road? But her feet were already taking her the accustomed way: through Regent’s Park, where Mrs. Poole had taken her to play as a child, and later she had walked with her governess, Miss Murray, reciting the dates of the English kings. The park had been a constant part of her life. Even on days when her mother had been particularly ill, when Nurse Adams had grumbled and Enid the parlormaid had sniffled, and she had not dared leave the house in case her mother had one of her fits, she had been able to see the green tops of its trees over the houses across Park Terrace, waving in the wind. Now she walked along the paths beneath those trees, remembering the day, three months ago, when she had walked from 11 Park Terrace to 221B Baker Street for the first time.
Then, as now, she had been carrying important documents. Three months ago, they had been the documents she had received after her mother’s death—her father’s laboratory notebook, his letters and receipts, and an account book detailing payments for
“the care and keeping of Hyde.” She had been convinced those payments would lead her to the notorious Mr. Hyde, her father’s former laboratory assistant, who was wanted for the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, a member of Parliament and prominent supporter of Irish Home Rule. But no, they had led her to Diana, Hyde’s child, who had been raised in the Society of St. Mary Magdalen, a home for magdalenes—fallen women who were trying to reform amid the corruption and vice of London. Such women deserve much better than the opprobrium they are met with in society, and in the halls of power! No, Mary, I’m not turning this into a political tract. But you know perfectly well how women like Diana’s mother are treated. And remember those poor dead women whose murders we solved, but whose lives we could not save. Remember Molly Keane, lying on the pavement with blood pooling around her head . . . The image still haunted Mary at night.
BEATRICE: Did it really?
MARY: Yes. Even now, it still gives me nightmares.
Her father’s papers had revealed that the respectable Dr. Jekyll was Hyde, and that his chemical experiments had a deeper, darker purpose. He had been a member of the Société des Alchimistes, a secret society whose adherents continued the research of the medieval alchemists into the transmutation of matter. However, in the nineteenth century they were attempting to transmute, not base metal into gold, but living flesh into—what? Her inquiries had led her to Beatrice, exhibited at the Royal College of Surgeons as a scientific marvel, the Poisonous Girl. Beatrice had told her and Diana about the Alchemical Society and the experiments on young women conducted by certain of its members—Dr. Rappaccini and
Dr. Moreau. Then she had led them to Catherine and Justine, who had been working in the sideshow of Lorenzo’s Circus of Marvels and Delights in Battersea Park.
Here Mary stopped to touch a rose, still blooming although it was late August. She bent down to smell it—but it was one of the new hybrids, lacking the old rose scent. No wonder it was blooming out of season. She drew her head back quickly—at its center was a black beetle that had already eaten through some of the petals, leaving the heart of the flower ragged. How could life be so beautiful and yet contain such evil in it? She did not know. Regent’s Park basked peacefully under the sun, yet out there, in London itself, were horrors enough for any number of penny dreadfuls.
She was grateful that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson had helped them, as the members of the Athena Club had helped the famous detective solve the Whitechapel Murders. A series of fallen women had been murdered in the vicinity of Whitechapel, each missing a part of her body: legs, arms, head. Following the clues to their logical conclusion, they had learned that Hyde was still alive and involved in the murders, acting at the behest of that monster—Adam. Mary shuddered to think of Victor Frankenstein’s original creation, who had loved Justine with such a cruel, sick love that he had attempted to recreate her with parts of other women—and then attempted to replace her brain with one that might love him in return. How thankful she was that he had met a fiery death!
But Hyde—she could not acknowledge him as her father—had escaped from Newgate Prison itself, and Mrs. Raymond, the corrupt director of the Magdalen Society, remained beyond the reach of the law. These adventures, and more, are detailed in The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, the first of these adventures of the Athena Club, only two shillings at all the best booksellers.
That’s rather clever of you, inserting an advertisement. But you haven’t mentioned Mr. Prendick, who was also working for Adam, creating Beast Men.
CATHERINE: I don’t want to think about him.
And now she had arrived once again at Baker Street, with the cries of the costermongers in her ears—Onions! Lovely onions!—Apples! Ha’penny a lot, apples!—Old shoes, patched as good as new!—Once again, she wanted Mr. Holmes’s advice.
She crossed Baker Street and rang the bell at 221B. The door was opened almost immediately by Mrs. Hudson.
“Oh, Miss Jekyll, good morning! Do come in. They’ve been uncommonly quiet up there, which means they’re working on something, although goodness knows what.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” said Mary. “Mrs. Poole sends her best regards and a recipe for quince jam that I’m told is a sort of state secret.” She pulled it out of her purse—no, that was the letter. Behind the letter . . . there it was, a folded slip of paper with Mrs. Poole’s handwriting on it. She handed the recipe to Mrs. Hudson. “Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .” She rather liked exchanging pleasantries with Mrs. Hudson, but this morning she was in a hurry.
“And how is Alice? I knitted a pair of stockings for her, if you wouldn’t mind taking them over, miss—”
“Not at all, Mrs. Hudson. I’ll get them from you later!” Mary hurried up the stairs to the second floor.
She knocked on the door of the flat, then entered. It was always left unlocked for her on weekday mornings, whether Holmes and Watson were there or not. Usually they were, just finishing their breakfast, but occasionally they would be away
on one of Mr. Holmes’s cases. She had participated in a few of them herself—not as many as she would have liked, and Watson had not mentioned her in any of his accounts except occasionally as “a lady” who had done one thing or another. A lady whose chance remark had reminded Holmes of a clue (no mention that at the time, she had been pointing a revolver at the baronet who committed the murder), or who had collided with the absconding clerk at an opportune moment (although the collision was of course deliberate). She did not mind . . . much. What would Mrs. Poole think if she were featured in a Sherlock Holmes case in The Strand?
MRS. POOLE: What indeed! Your poor mother would be spinning in her grave. Not that Miss Moreau writing these books is any better. Gallivanting around Europe is one thing, but writing about it . . . It’s not ladylike, is all I say.
BEATRICE: Neither is agitating for the vote, Mrs. Poole, yet you accompanied me to that suffrage rally and almost got yourself arrested!
MRS. POOLE: Well, men have been running this country for the last thousand years, and where has it gotten us? It’s time women had a say in what goes on.
The parlor looked as it always did—an organized shambles, more organized since she had taken over keeping the records of Mr. Holmes’s cases, the notes for his monographs, his files on famous crimes . . . The shelves were filled with books that overflowed onto the floor. On one side of the room was a long table
covered with the scientific instruments necessary for Holmes’s investigations, including a Bunsen burner and microscope. On the shelves behind it were specimen jars with parts of bodies swimming in them—mostly ears. By the window stood a camera on a tripod. On the other side of the room, on the mantelpiece, were skulls of various physiognomic types, all human except the last, which was that of an ape. This morning it sported Holmes’s deerstalker cap.
Lying on the sofa was the man himself, Sherlock Holmes, smoking a pipe. Dr. Watson sat in one of the armchairs, reading The Times.
“Ah, good morning, Miss Jekyll,” said Holmes. “We had some excitement over the weekend and missed your assistance. It was the case of Mr. Lydgate, the Hounslow butcher accused of murdering his daughter and cutting her up like one of his carcasses. Watson did his best, but I could have used a lady’s hand to retrieve the murder weapon from a drainpipe into which the murderer had jammed it. Instead, we had to use a pair of fireplace tongs, and even then we almost lost it down the drain.”
“And of course your insights, Miss Jekyll,” said Watson. “I assure you, we do not value you solely for the smallness of your hand. You cannot be replaced with fireplace tongs.”
“You are both in very good humor this morning,” said Mary. “I deduce, following the precepts of Mr. Holmes himself, that you solved the case of poor Mr. Lydgate and delivered your murderer to Inspector Lestrade. Probably with a ribbon tied around him, like a Christmas present.”
“Ha! She’s got us,” said Holmes, sitting up and giving one of his rare smiles. Mary had long ago told them not to stand when she entered the room, any more than they would have stood for Charlie or another one of the Baker Street boys. She could not work with them if they were continually bobbing up and down
like apples in a bucket. “We wrapped him up in red ribbon and drove him to Scotland Yard ourselves. And it was not Lydgate, as you have no doubt guessed, but the local Reverend, who had gone completely mad by the time we got to him, insisting that he had been sent to divide the sheep from the goats, and poor Amelia Lydgate was a goat, ready for slaughter. Evidently he had seen her with one of his curates in a compromising position, and decided he had been divinely appointed as an instrument of the Almighty. I have no doubt that he would have gone on to commit another murder—the mania had taken hold.”
“The man will be sent to Broadmoor, no doubt,” said Watson.
“But for the present, we have no pressing cases on hand. There is something—but no, it’s not worth discussing yet. So today we might work on that disquisition on ears I hope to present at the meeting of the Anthropological Institute. Ears, as you know, are my fascination.”
“Indeed, how can one not be fascinated by ears?” said Mary, trying not to smile. She could not quite tell whether he was joking—he did it so rarely. Now was the time to show him the letter and ask for his advice . . . as well as time off. After all, she would be leaving for Vienna in little more than a week.
“What is it, Miss Jekyll? Out with it. There’s something you mean to say.” Holmes looked at her expectantly. It always bothered her, just a little, that he seemed able to tell when something was on her mind. Was it her expression?
“And do sit,” said Watson. “Wait, let me move that pile of books. You haven’t even taken off your hat, and already Holmes has started on one of his hobbyhorses.”
Mary took off her hat and placed it atop one of the skulls on the mantelpiece—the one representing the highest intellectual type. She put her gloves on the mantle, with her purse beside them, taking out the envelope with Lucinda Van Helsing’s letter.
Then, she sat in the armchair Watson had cleared for her, uncertain how to start. Ah, of course Mr. Holmes could tell something was different today—usually she took off her jacket and got right to work. Even Dr. Watson had noticed. How to begin? At the beginning, as the King of Hearts said in Alice in Wonderland.
Holmes looked at her keenly, like a hawk sighting its prey.
DIANA: Oh please!
BEATRICE: He does look like that, actually. It’s rather frightening, until you realize what a gentle man he is.
DIANA: When he’s not shooting someone.
“When I was a child,” she began, “I had a governess named Miss Wilhelmina Murray. She came shortly after my father’s death and left just before my fourteenth birthday. As my mother’s illness progressed and she required the constant presence of a nurse, I could no longer afford a governess, and anyway Miss Murray had been offered a position at a prestigious girls’ school up north, which I encouraged her to take. After she left, we kept in touch by letter, and I always thought of her as a friend.” Miss Murray had been her one intellectual companion, the only person who had ever truly encouraged Mary to develop her mental capacities, suggesting books to read, telling her about the world beyond her doorstep. If not for Miss Murray, who would she be now? Certainly not the Mary Jekyll she had become.
“After the events of this past summer, when we solved the Whitechapel Murders and the other girls moved in—after we formed the Athena Club—I wrote to her. I told her everything. And she wrote back. My letter had taken a while to reach her—she
was no longer at that school, or even in England. The letter found her in Vienna, for reasons she did not have time to explain. But enclosed with her letter was this.” She held up the sheet of paper, with its elegant, foreign handwriting, and read:
Dear Miss Jekyll,
Our mutual friend Miss Murray has told me who you are, and of the Athena Club. You do not know me, but I take the great, the very great, liberty of asking you to help me in my dire need. I am the daughter of Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a doctor and researcher associated with several important universities, in England and on the continent. My father is also a prominent member of a certain Société des Alchimistes. Miss Murray has assured me that you know of this society, and that you and your fellow club members are aware of its activities. I am, against my will and sometimes without my knowledge, the subject of certain experiments carried out by my father. As I result, I am . . . changing. And I am afraid. The one person who could protect me, my mother, is locked away in an asylum for the insane. I am not yet of age, and have no resources of my own or friends to whom I could turn. I do not know what to do. Please, if you can, help me, I beg of you.
Lucinda Van Helsing
When Mary finished reading, she looked up at Holmes, then at Watson. Holmes’s eyes were narrowed, his chin on his hands, pipe on the table beside the bedroom slipper that served as an ashtray. It was still burning—well, that would be another mark
Mrs. Hudson would shake her head over. Watson was regarding her with astonishment and dismay.
“My God, Miss Jekyll! They’re at it again, aren’t they? This is another of their abominable experiments. But the last we heard, Van Helsing was in Amsterdam, where he is a professor at the university, holding appointments in both law and medicine. That, at least, we have been able to discover. Why would his daughter be in Vienna?”
“When did you receive this letter?” asked Holmes.
“A little more than a week ago. I did not bring it over directly because we had to discuss it first—the Athena Club, you know. I’m sure you understand, Mr. Holmes.” Actually, she was not at all sure he would. She had been bracing herself for his displeasure.
He frowned. “I am as interested in the doings of the Société des Alchimistes as you are, Miss Jekyll. I wish you had brought me this letter immediately, rather than waiting more than a week, particularly as it concerns Van Helsing, whom we know is a prominent member of the society. You should have brought it at once.”
“No, Mr. Holmes.” She sat up straighter, if that was possible (our Mary always sits up straight). There was the response she had expected, but he needed to understand and respect that she made her own decisions. “Your interest is as a detective—you wish to prevent the society from committing further crimes. Our interest—that is, the interest of the Athena Club—is personal. Lucinda Van Helsing is one of us, and we mean to rescue her. We’re preparing to leave for Vienna—I plan to go, and Justine and Catherine will accompany me.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Mary saw Watson raise a hand and open his mouth—he was going to protest, wasn’t he?
“Dr. Watson, if you are about to lecture me on how a group of young ladies can’t possibly go off to Vienna to rescue one of their own who is in trouble, I shall remind you of the night we stood
outside a warehouse at the London docks, preparing to rescue Justine from Adam Frankenstein. We acquitted ourselves quite admirably, I think. So please don’t bother.”
Watson slouched back into his chair, looking nonplussed. Had she been too hard on him?
“I have no intention of lecturing you, Miss Jekyll,” said Holmes. “So may I be permitted to continue?” He looked . . . well, more amused than anything else.
“Certainly,” said Mary. At least he did not seem angry. But there was nothing amusing about this situation.
“If I were free, I would offer to accompany you, Miss Moreau, and Miss Frankenstein. That is, if you would allow it.” Here he bowed, but Mary did not believe in this display of humility. When had he ever been humble? “However, I am needed here. There is a matter—not this matter of the Société des Alchimistes, but the one I alluded to earlier. It is something my brother Mycroft has brought to my attention.”
His brother? Holmes had a brother? It suddenly occurred to Mary that he must have had a mother and father—like ordinary human beings. Of course he must have—he couldn’t, after all, have hatched out of an egg!
DIANA: Although if he had, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Sometimes it was so easy to see him as some sort of walking, talking automaton. A processor of information, rather than a man.
“. . . not certain what it is yet,” he continued, and she realized that for a moment, her attention had slipped. How unlike her! “Mycroft does not resemble me, either physically or in inclination. He does not go to and fro upon the earth, making mischief, as Inspector Lestrade calls it, searching for information among the
criminal elements. No, he is like a spider in its web. Information comes to him, and when he finds it, he keeps it, often until the right time to act. And he never acts himself, only through others—several times, he has acted through me. A spider, to continue the metaphor, can feel when there is some other insect on its web. That is what Mycroft has described to me—nothing more than faint vibrations on a string. But when my brother asks me to stay in London, I know there is something important afoot. And I need Watson here with me, particularly since I am about to lose you . . . I cannot do without one or the other of you. So no, Watson, you may not indulge your chivalrous desire to accompany Miss Jekyll and her fellow Athenians to Mitteleuropa, although I see it written on your face. It may console you a bit that evidently Miss Rappaccini is staying here.”
Once again Watson looked as though about to protest, but Holmes continued. “However, Miss Jekyll, I can nevertheless help you. I am not without resources, even in Vienna.”
“Indeed?” What sorts of resources could he have there? Surely the Baker Street Irregulars did not venture so far as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Holmes rose and went to the rolltop desk next to the fireplace, where Mary usually worked. It was kept open, although she often had to clear stacks of books and papers off it before it was usable. He pushed on a decorative scroll between two drawers, and it slid open—Mary had suspected it was a hidden drawer, but had never tried to open it herself. She was not the sort to go prying into other people’s secret drawers, unlike some—Diana! Don’t kick me. I’m trying to write a novel and you’re interrupting my train of thought. Holmes withdrew some sort of document. What was it?
He stood looking at it for a moment, then brought it to her. Ah, a photograph. Mary took it from him, holding it by the edges. It was the sort of image used to advertise theatrical performances. An
actress in costume, dressed as—a character from Shakespeare, perhaps? A queen, judging by her medieval dress and crown. Cordelia? Lady Macbeth? She was very beautiful.
“Who is this, Mr. Holmes?” The last thing Mary had expected him to keep in a secret drawer was the photograph of a woman. Unless she was a murderess . . .
“Her name, when I met her, was Irene Adler. She is now Mrs. Norton. I knew her only briefly in London, but years later she wrote to me.
Her husband had been attached to our embassy in Vienna, and after he died she decided to remain there rather than returning to England. She told me that England had too many painful memories for her. We established a correspondence, which we have since maintained, although we do not write often. But if I write to her and explain your situation, I know she will help you. A letter should reach her by the time you arrive. She has contacts in the artistic and intellectual communities there.”
He took the photograph back from Mary, examining it again, his face inscrutable. Then with a brief shake of his head, surely the result of unconscious cerebration, he returned it to the secret drawer.
What mystery was this? Whatever his association with this woman, it was no ordinary matter of business. Mary had never seen him look so pensive, almost hesitant. He had been unlike himself. Even Watson was looking at him strangely.
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes.” She did not quite know what to think. “We propose to leave early next week—we are trying to get our affairs in order as quickly as possible—and the journey itself will take another two weeks. If you would also give me her address and a letter of introduction, I can find her in case the letter does not arrive in time or goes astray. I would of course be grateful for her assistance.” How could an actress help them? Although she was probably not an actress any longer. Perhaps, if her husband had been attached to the embassy, she might have some contacts in government or at the university who could help them locate Lucinda Van Helsing. At any rate, it would be useful to know another Englishwoman in Vienna. Justine’s German was better than she gave herself credit for, but it was certainly not fluent.
“Am I correct in thinking Miss Moreau is currently in Purfleet?” Now he seemed himself again—all business.
Mary merely nodded. He knew perfectly well she was. It was he who had suggested that Catherine should pay Joe Abernathy regular visits, since Holmes, Watson, and Mary were known in Purfleet, particularly at the asylum. And didn’t he keep watch over the Athena Club? One or another of the Baker Street boys was always hanging around 11 Park Terrace. Mary could not always see them, but Catherine could always smell them out. That morning, she had mentioned that she was taking Charlie with her. He would no doubt have sent Holmes word of where he was going.
“Then perhaps when she returns you can call a meeting, if you would be so kind as to include Watson and myself. I’m very interested to hear what Dr. Seward is up to—particularly whether he intends to travel to the continent in the near future. If Van Helsing is experimenting on his daughter, I suspect Seward is involved in some fashion. You may remember that Van Helsing was writing to Seward about the progress of his experiments—perhaps this is what he meant? And we can discuss the details of your journey.”
She had known this would happen—as soon as she told him about Lucinda Van Helsing, he would take command. If she were honest with herself, and she generally tried to be, she would have to admit that it was one reason she had put off sharing the letter with him for more than a week. Perhaps the primary reason. After all, this was her mystery—the Athena Club’s mystery—as much
as it was his. Still, how could she protest? He meant well, and after all, he had offered his assistance, which they would certainly need.
“She won’t be back before teatime,” said Mary. “Until then, since Mr. Lydgate no longer requires our attention, shall we work on ears? I can at least type up the manuscript of your talk.” She was getting to be quite a good typist. She had even bought herself a book on shorthand. “And I’d like to make sure his case is properly filed, so all the records are in order before I leave.”
“I don’t know what we will do without you, Miss Jekyll,” said Watson. “We’ll be back to the state we were in before you came.”
Mary smiled. They would make an infernal—yes, that’s right, an infernal—mess. Well, she would clean up when she returned from Vienna. Whenever that might be. . . .
CATHERINE: Our Mary swearing. I’m shocked.
MARY: No, you’re not.
She returned the letter neatly to her purse, then finally took off her jacket and sat down at the rolltop desk, glancing just for a moment at the secret drawer. Whatever curiosity she felt could not be satisfied at present. Anyway, she was Mr. Holmes’s assistant, and it was time for her to get to work.
“All right, Miss Jekyll,” he said. “If you will transcribe these notes I made on Sunday evening. I’m afraid they’re all out of order. . . .”
For a long time, there was no sound in the parlor at 221B Baker Street but the scratching of Mary’s pen, the rustle of Watson’s newspaper, and Holmes’s occasional murmurs to himself, all on the subject of ears: “Three inches from top to bottom of the lobe . . . fleshy auricular tubercle . . . particularly prominent lobule, pierced twice . . .”
He had just turned to her, with a specimen jar in one hand, saying in a particularly satisfied voice, “This, Miss Jekyll, is the ear of John Seton, a famous highwayman in the time of the Georges, who was known as Black Jack Seton. He and his men terrorized Shropshire until he was hanged—even now his ghost is said to ride the country roads. You see how it disproves Lombroso’s theory that a criminal is immediately identifiable by his ears. Seton’s ear is neither large nor prominent, yet he was a thief and murderer. . . .” when Mrs. Hudson opened the door without knocking and Alice stumbled in. Her sleeves were still rolled up, as though she had come directly from doing the laundry.
“Miss, telegram!” she managed, then put one hand to her side, breathing heavily. Had she run all the way across the park?
“Sit down, Alice, or you’ll fall,” said Watson. “Come, there’s space on the sofa.” He brushed away flecks of ash.
Mary made her way across the room, dodging Holmes and his precious jar. “Mrs. Hudson, could Alice have some water? And do sit down, as Dr. Watson said. What could possibly be so urgent?” She took the telegram from Alice. She stared at it for a moment, then showed it to Holmes. On the thin, cream-colored paper was written:
LUCINDA MISSING CAN YOU FIND AND BRING HER TO BUDAPEST S.A. ANNUAL MEETING SEPTEMBER 20-24 MUST CONVINCE THEM TO STOP EXPERIMENTS LOVE MINA