“I trembled, and my heart failed within me; when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
Saturday, December 15, 1888
The Greymoor Lunatic Asylum made a grim impression even in daylight. It crouched at the end of a long, treeless drive, barred windows gleaming beneath a peaked slate roof. After her first interview with Dr. William Clarence, Lady Vivienne Cumberland had taken a hard look at those bars. She’d strongly suggested to the asylum superintendent that he move Dr. Clarence to a room with no window at all.
That had been just over a month ago. Now, in the darkest hour of the night, with rain coursing down the brick façade and thunder rattling the turrets, Greymoor looked like something torn from the pages of a penny dreadful, hulking and shadowed despite the lamps burning in every window. At the wrought-iron front gate, a black brougham drew to a halt. Following a brief exchange with the occupants, two officers from the Essex constabulary waved it through, immediately ducking back into the shelter of a police wagon.
“I told them to watch him,” Lady Cumberland muttered, yanking her gloves on. “To keep him isolated from the staff and other patients. Clearly, they didn’t listen. The fools.”
Alec Lawrence gripped the cane resting across his knees. He had been present at the interview, had looked into Dr. Clarence’s eyes, a blue so pale they reminded him of a Siberian dog. The memory unsettled him still, and he wasn’t a man who was easily shaken.
“We don’t know what happened yet,” he pointed out. “Superintendent Barrett can hardly be faulted considering we withheld certain information. I rather doubt he would have believed us anyway.”
Vivienne scowled. “You may be right, but it was only a matter of time. I’ve known that since the day Clarence was brought here. The S.P.R. made a very bad mistake entrusting him to Greymoor.”
“We still don’t know for sure—”
“Yes, we do. The killings stopped, didn’t they?”
“That could be for any number of reasons,” he said stubbornly.
“Including that the creature who committed them is behind bars. Or was, at least.”
Alec Lawrence buttoned his woolen greatcoat. This was not a new debate. “Perhaps. But there’s not a scrap of hard evidence against him. Nothing but a single reference in a report by some American girl and Clarence’s own odd demeanor. Had there been more, he would have been locked up tight in Newgate Prison.”
Vivienne turned her obsidian gaze on him. With her high cheekbones and full lips, she might have been thirty, or a decade in either direction. Only Alec and a handful of others knew better.
“That American girl is Arthur Conan Doyle’s goddaughter and she seemed quite clever to me. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” she added quietly. “Walls don’t hold Dr. Clarence’s sort for long.”
“Look,” he said, softening. “For what it’s worth, I think we did the right thing taking him off the streets. I just....” He trailed off, unsure how he meant to finish the thought.
“You don’t trust my judgment anymore. Since Harper Dods.”
“That’s not even remotely true. I simply think we need to keep open minds on the matter. The signs aren’t there, Vivienne. I’m the first to admit Dr. Clarence is an odd duck, perhaps worse. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t human.”
Vivienne arched a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “And yet here we are, summoned by Sidgwick in the middle of the night. I wonder if he’s regretting his decision?”
The note from Henry Sidgwick, president of the Society for Psychical Research, had arrived in the form of a small, bedraggled messenger boy pounding on Lady Vivienne’s front door in St. James an hour before. It was both vague and ominous, citing an “unfortunate incident” involving Dr. Clarence and urging all due haste to the asylum.
“I suppose we’ll find out in a minute,” Alec said, turning his collar up. He swiped a hand through chestnut hair and jammed a top hat on his head. “Off to the races.”
A gust of rain shook the carriage as it slowed at the front entrance. A six-story tower capped by a Roman clock and white spire anchored two wings extending on either side. Unlike most asylums, which had separate annexes for men and women, Greymoor’s residents were all male. The north wing housed those poor souls suffering from garden-variety disorders like dementia and melancholia. The other was reserved for the so-called “incurables,” a euphemism for the criminally insane. Violent, unpredictable men deemed unfit for prison.
Despite his doubts, Alec Lawrence would have happily had the lot of them over for tea rather than spend five minutes in the company of Dr. William Clarence. In his heart, he wondered if Vivienne’s instincts were correct. But he wanted her to be wrong because the alternative was far worse.
The jouncing of the wooden carriage wheels ceased. A pocket of silence descended, broken only by the steady hiss of the rain on the roof. He watched Lady Cumberland compose herself, smoothing a stray curl into place. The pearl grey gloves seemed to glow against her dark skin. They had been together for many, many years, and frequently disagreed, but he’d never grown tired of looking at her.
Vivienne unclenched her jaw and took a long breath through her nose.
“Shall we, Mr. Lawrence?”
He nodded once, girding himself for what waited inside. The young coachman, Henry, jumped down and opened the carriage door, offering his hand to Vivienne. Freezing rain swept sideways across the heath, soaking them both despite Henry’s best efforts to subdue a wildly flapping umbrella. Alec ducked his head against the downpour and used his cane to clamber down. The winter damp always worsened his knee, but he limped swiftly up the stone steps to the welcome shelter of the portico. A tall woman, Vivienne’s stride matched his own. Henry snapped the reins and the carriage moved toward the rear stables. Somewhere off in the darkness, Alec heard the mournful baying of a hound.
Moments later they stood dripping on the carpet of Greymoor’s small entrance hall. The sour aroma of mutton and boiled cabbage emanated from a distant kitchen. Through the door of an adjacent parlor, Alec caught a glimpse of a fire crackling in the hearth, but the air in the hall was still uncomfortably cold.
A knot of police stood at the end of the corridor. They turned at the newcomers’ arrival. Alec recognized the bluff face of Detective Inspector Richard Blackwood. He acted as the liaison between Scotland Yard’s Dominion Branch and the S.P.R., of which Alec and Vivienne were members. They’d worked together on several previous cases of a delicate nature, and Alec liked D.I. Blackwood. He was shrewd, discreet and open-minded, embracing modern methods of investigation while at the same time accepting there were things in the world the general public would be better off staying in the dark about.
“Lady Cumberland,” he exclaimed, rushing forward in his usual energetic manner. Blackwood was small and wiry, with prematurely thinning black hair parted on the side and a faint Yorkshire accent. The buttons of his navy uniform had been done up crooked, as if he’d put it on in a hurry. “Mr. Lawrence. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Blackwood steered them into the parlor, which was marginally warmer, and closed the door. Fading rose-printed wallpaper provided the only color in the room. The rest of the furnishings were dark wood, and the paintings arranged above the fireplace—all of bearded men with somber expressions who were either alienists or benefactors of the asylum—did little to enliven things. Alec assumed the parlor served as a waiting room for the patients’ relatives, although the place had such an untouched, almost desolate air, he suspected visitors to Greymoor were a rare event.
Alec shrugged off his coat and hung it on a rack. Vivienne leaned against the mantel, letting the heat of the flames dry her sodden cloak. For an instant, he envied her ability to bask in the warmth and light. It was an experience he would never share.
“I have a dead orderly upstairs,” Blackwood said unhappily. “And if you two are here, I suppose I can expect things to get worse. Barrett says the patient who did it was voluntarily admitted at the personal request of Mr. Sidgwick.”
“Has Clarence escaped?” Vivienne asked.
Blackwood nodded. “Through a window. He must have used a prying tool. We have bloodhounds combing the grounds, but the rain isn’t helping any. Time of death was about eleven o’clock. The body was only discovered two hours ago. He’s had a head start.”
Alec and Vivienne shared a look. “You must tell your men not to approach Clarence under any circumstances,” she said. “Should they find him, we’ll deal with him ourselves.”
“I already did. As soon as I heard the S.P.R. was involved. We know the protocols.”
Alec nodded approvingly. Commissioner Warren had been astute to put Blackwood in charge of the Dominion Branch. He didn’t take chances.
“What have they told you?” Vivienne asked. “About Dr. Clarence?”
“Practically nothing,” Blackwood muttered, dropping heavily into an armchair. “Only that he was admitted four weeks ago after complaining of migraines. No one seems to have an adequate explanation of why he was placed in South Wing. He was the only patient there without a criminal record.” He gave them both a level look. “If this is a matter of interest to the S.P.R., I would like very much to know why the Yard was not informed earlier.”
“The short answer, Inspector? Dr. Clarence is a surgeon with the New York Police Department. Or was, until a few weeks ago.” She paused for dramatic effect. “It would cause them a great deal of embarrassment should the newspapers learn he’s a suspect in the Whitechapel killings.”
“What?’ Blackwood sat up straight. “The Ripper? I hope you’re joking. We’ve been tearing the city apart for weeks—”
“He’s not an official suspect,” Alec interjected, shooting Vivienne a quelling look. “There’s no physical evidence. None at all. Only circumstantial, and of a nature that cannot be made public, if you get my meaning.”
D.I. Blackwood took his cap off and sighed. “Let’s have it then.”
Vivienne withdrew a cigarette from a silver case and tapped it twice it on the lid. Blackwood waited with barely suppressed impatience while she produced a Magic Pocket Lamp, then took a long drag and exhaled a wreathe of smoke. “There’s a connection between Dr. Clarence and the Jekyll and Hyde case in New York.”
“I heard about that,” Blackwood said thoughtfully. “Nasty business. They caught him with a little boy in the Beech Transit Tunnel. But I thought it was solved?”
“The man’s name was Leland Brady,” Alec said, taking a seat on a sofa by the window that was about as cozy as a slab of granite. Lightning flashed in the low skies outside, followed by a rumble of distant thunder. “A perfectly respectable real estate agent who killed five people. Dr. Clarence was present when Brady took his own life. He was treating the suspect’s gunshot wound. Shortly afterwards, the doctor quit his post and boarded a ship for England.” Alec hesitated. “He arrived just before Polly Nichols was butchered on August 31st.”
D.I. Blackwood said nothing. He knew there was more to it than that.
“Before he died, Brady wrote a letter to his wife,” Vivienne said, flicking ashes in the general direction of the fireplace. Alec, ever fastidious, tried not to wince. “It expressed his belief that he was possessed by a demonic entity, and contained the words ‘From Hell.’ The letter was written in early August. You do see the significance?”
Blackwood rubbed his chin. “Aye. The note with that same phrase from the Ripper wasn’t sent until weeks later. Christ, it was the one with the piece of kidney, wasn’t it? What else?” He rested his hands on his knees. “Are you saying Clarence is a ghoul? That Brady somehow infected him?”
“He passed the iron test,” Alec said quietly.
“Yes. He also spoke to us quite normally, although he admitted to suffering from headaches. What about the dogs? How did they react to his scent on the bedclothes?”
“No frenzied barking, not like they would for a ghoul. One or two did whimper rather strangely. I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. But you say Clarence passed the iron test. And he carried on a conversation. Doesn’t that settle it, then?”
“Not for me,” Vivienne said. “There are too many oddities in the Brady case. Evidence that doesn’t quite add up. And now we have another killing.”
Blackwood stared at her uncertainly. “But if it’s not a ghoul and it’s not a man…what is it?”
“I’ve no idea, Inspector.”
Vivienne’s tone remained level, but Alec sensed her frustration. This was essentially the same conversation she’d had with Sidgwick a month ago.
“All right.” Blackwood pressed a hand against his forehead as if it pained him. Alec understood. It was a lot to digest in one lump. He still wasn’t sure what to make of it all himself. “You say there were oddities in the New York crimes.”
“A few. The report claimed that fingerprints were burned into one victim’s throat,” Alec said, earning a grateful look from Vivienne. “An actress named Anne Marlowe.”
The inspector leaned forward. They’d caught his interest. “Have you seen anything like that before?”
“Never,” Alec conceded.
“Who wrote the report?”
“An amateur detective in New York named Harrison Fearing Pell.”
“Fearing Pell? As in Myrtle Fearing Pell?”
“Harrison is the younger sister.”
“I’ve heard of Myrtle. The Yard called her in last year on a rather bizarre extortion case involving the Duke of Argyll. Solved it in record time, apparently. Is the sister any good?”
“Well, she managed to catch Mr. Brady, so I’d say she’s quite competent,” Vivienne said. “Her summary of the case came to us through Arthur Conan Doyle. He thought the Society would be interested because of the occult features of the case.” Her mouth tightened. “Unfortunately, Miss Pell’s report sat under a heap of papers on Mr. Sidgwick’s desk for nearly three weeks before he read it and passed it on. Had we known about it sooner, Mary Jane Kelly might still be alive.”
They were all silent for a moment. Kelly had been the last of the Ripper’s victims, and the most savagely treated. She’d died on November 9th, bringing the number of confirmed murders to five. Fear still gripped the city of London, although the man who called himself Jack appeared to have vanished as suddenly as he’d arrived.
“We found Dr. Clarence on November 12th in Cheapside,” Alec said. “He wasn’t hard to trace. The lodgings had been rented under his own name.”
Alec had a sudden memory of that night. Kicking open the door of a squalid room. William Clarence sitting on the edge of his bed, neatly dressed in a dark suit, black leather bag between his feet—the same bag Leland Brady had seized a scalpel from to cut his own throat.
The doctor slowly lifted his head. He didn’t seem surprised or alarmed at the sudden intrusion.
You’re to come with us, sir, Alec said firmly.
Dr. William Clarence smiled.
Certainly. If you say so.
“He came along readily enough,” Alec continued. “That in itself was rather peculiar, considering he claimed to be on holiday. But in light of the fact that we had no case against him—either on the Whitechapel murders or anything else—Mr. Sidgwick suggested he be committed to Greymoor. For observation.”
“He’s been locked up here ever since, against my strenuous objections,” Vivienne said.
In fact, she had wanted to cut his head off, but Sidgwick wouldn’t permit it. Not without proof; not after the Harper Dods fiasco.
“The timeline of Ripper killings does fit.” Blackwood thought for a moment. “With all due respect, it’s still rather thin, milady. But I’ll send some extra men to Whitechapel. If nothing else, Dr. Clarence is a confirmed murderer now. Where were his lodgings?”
Alec recited the address and Blackwood went into the hall to notify the officers waiting there.
“The Met will check out Cheapside,” he said when he returned. “Where else would Dr. Clarence go?”
“I haven’t a clue.” Vivienne tossed her cigarette into the hearth.
“What about you? Would Dr. Clarence hold a grudge for bringing him here?”
“I doubt it. He has all of London to terrorize. No, I’m afraid we’ll find out soon enough where he’s gone. Now, perhaps we should see this poor orderly. What was his name?”
“John Davis Pyle. We’ve already taken statements from the staff, but I ordered the police surgeon to leave the body as it is until you had a chance to examine it.”
“Where’s Superintendent Barrett?”
“Upstairs with Dr. Cavendish. He was Clarence’s attending physician. Cavendish arrived just before you did, I haven’t spoken to him yet. Do they know about any of what you’ve just told me?”
“No,” Vivienne said with disgust. “Sidgwick insisted on complete secrecy. I suspect there was some pressure from the S.P.R. in New York. They’re all convinced the iron test is infallible. Anyway, Sidgwick and Barrett were school chums at Eton. I’m sure it helped grease the wheels.”
“Well, I suppose that explains the South Wing. But next time, I’ll thank you to take me into your confidence sooner. I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent Pyle’s murder, but we don’t need another incident like Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty would not be pleased.”
“You’re right, Inspector, and I apologize,” Vivienne said. “We should have come to you straight away.”
Somewhat mollified by the sincerity in her voice, Blackwood led them to twin curving staircases at the end of the hall. A grandfather clock on the landing sonorously chimed the hour: half past three. They turned right, away from the quiet, airy north annex toward the South Wing where Dr. William Clarence had spent the last thirty-three days in solitary confinement. At the top of the stairs, a burly attendant waited by an oaken door. He seemed to expect them and produced a ring of iron keys.
“I hope you catch him,” he said, unlocking the door. “Pyle was a good man. Didn’t deserve such an end as that brute gave him.”
“Don’t worry,” Blackwood said firmly. “We won’t rest until Clarence is found.”
The attendant shook his head. “He’s the last one I would’ve expected to snap like that. Never gave us any trouble. Quiet as a mouse.” He gave a resigned sigh. “Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t mad ourselves, working in this place.” The attendant stood aside to let them pass. “The other patients have been riled up since it happened. Don’t pay ‘em any mind, milady.”
The heavy door closed behind them, the tumblers echoing in the silent corridor. They passed an empty day room and several offices for the resident physicians. Around a corner, the cells began. Despite the wave of reforms that had swept England’s mental institutions mid-century, Greymoor’s secure wing harkened back to an earlier era when the mad were treated like feral beasts. Alec understood this was less a reflection on the asylum itself than the character of the men it was entrusted with.
Slack, unshaven faces pressed against the small grates of the cells. When they saw Vivienne, a collective howl went up, like chained dogs catching the scent of a hare. Blackwood flushed at the lewd and venomous suggestions hissed through broken yellow teeth. Vivienne didn’t appear to notice. Alec, on the other hand, gripped his cane with such force the silver falcon on the handle bit deeply into his palm.
“Black African whore,” one of the inmates growled.
Alec’s stride didn’t slow as he passed the man’s cell. He kept his eyes straight ahead. But a smile spread across his face as he heard a soft thud and cry of surprise.
“Witchcraft!” the man choked from the dark recesses of his cell. “She done hit me with an invisible cudgel!”
The other inmates erupted in loud laughter at this, and the vicious mood seemed to lighten. “Shut up, the lot of you!” an excited voice yelled. “She’ll think we’re all as barmy as poor Hobbes. Fer feck’s sake, mind yer goddamn manners. There’s a lady present.”
“I ain’t barmy,” Hobbes moaned. “Somethin’ clobbered me.”
His fellow inmates began to debate the relative merits of Hobbes’ sanity as they reached the end of the corridor.
“Really, Alec.” Vivienne glanced over her shoulder.
He raised an innocent eyebrow. “What?”
“I think Mr. Blackwood would agree that we should exercise discretion.”
Blackwood shrugged, sharing an amused look with Alec. “I didn’t see anything. The fellow’s quite mad, of course. I doubt anyone will believe him.”
They turned another corner. The smell of boiled cabbage grew stronger, then faded away. The cells in the furthest part of the ward sat empty, except for one at the very end, where a pair of constables guarded a door that stood slightly ajar. The light of a lantern spilled through the crack. Vivienne rushed ahead, long skirts rustling like dry leaves in the wind. There’d been no time to change and she still wore the sea green evening gown she had on when the messenger boy arrived.
“It’s not a pleasant sight,” Blackwood warned. “Not at all. Perhaps Mr. Lawrence….” He trailed off under Vivienne’s cool gaze.
“I’ll be perfectly fine, Mr. Blackwood.”
The inspector nodded to the constables, who stepped aside so Vivienne and Alec could enter.
The cell was bare save for a rusted iron bedframe and mattress. Someone had placed a lantern just inside the door. Rainwater pooled on the floor where it swept in through a broken window set high in the opposite wall. The bars had been bent to either side, leaving an opening just large enough for a man to squeeze through and drop to the ground outside.
Alec had a sudden vision of Dr. Clarence wiggling between them like an eel, his light blue eyes fixed on the damp grass below.
John Davis Pyle sat against the bedframe with his chin resting on his right collarbone. He would have been handsome in life. Strong jaw, dark wavy hair. A boyish face, with faint laugh lines at the corners of his mouth that spoke of an amiable disposition. Pyle’s eyes were half-open, lips parted, in a posture that suggested a man dozing off in his favorite armchair.
Vivienne cautiously approached the body, skirting the large pool of blood. The attendant’s navy blue uniform had soaked up a good deal of it. The only visible blood on his person was a large swath on the left side of his neck. It had flowed down from the ear, where a fountain pen had been embedded to a depth of five inches or so.
“Goddess,” Vivienne murmured. “It looks like Clarence must have caught him by surprise.” She studied the angle of the wound. “He attacked from the side and slightly behind, I would think.” Her face softened with pity. “Oh, Henry Pyle. What on earth did he say to convince you to open the door?”
Alec turned away from the gruesome sight and moved to the window to examine the bars.
“There are no tool marks,” he observed. “Bring over the lantern, would you?”
Vivienne obliged, while Blackwood watched from the door. Alec’s keen eyes took in every inch of the twisted iron. What he saw made his breath catch in his throat. He stared at the patterns, willing them to go away or rearrange themselves into something less horrifying.
“What is it?” Vivienne demanded.
“There are finger marks burned into the bars,” he said in a low voice. “Clarence did this with his bare hands. Some sort of heat transference, just like the Brady case.”
Blackwood laughed weakly. “But that’s—”
“Impossible?” Vivienne let the word dangle in the air.
They turned at the sound of footsteps approaching in the corridor.
“Lady Cumberland!” A small man with a wispy ginger mustache that quivered like a shy animal peered over Blackwood’s shoulder. His gaze landed on Pyle and darted quickly away. “Terrible business. Where is Mr. Sidgwick? I’d expected him to come personally.”
“Superintendent Barrett,” Vivienne said, moving quickly away from the window. “Mr. Sidgwick has been unavoidably delayed. He asked myself and Mr. Lawrence to come in his stead.”
They went back outside, where a second man in a tweed suit stood wringing his hands. “I see.” Barrett gestured to his companion. “I believe you know Dr. Cavendish?”
Vivienne inclined her head. “We met briefly following Dr. Clarence’s admission.”
Barrett introduced D.I. Blackwood, and Dr. Cavendish shook the detective’s hand. He was tall and grey-haired with a perpetual look of injured surprise, as though someone had just slammed a door in his face.
“There was no indication he would do something like this,” Dr. Cavendish burst out in a defensive tone. “He stopped speaking entirely three weeks ago, but he never behaved in an aggressive or self-destructive manner. Quite the opposite. The man was practically catatonic.”
“If I may ask,” Blackwood said politely. “Where did he get the fountain pen?”
Dr. Cavendish studied the ceiling. “I’m afraid it came from my office.”
“He was to be kept in total isolation,” Vivienne said, her voice cold. “I thought that was unambiguous.”
“This is mental institution, Lady Cumberland, not a medieval dungeon.” He puffed his chest out, a primate asserting home turf dominance. “It’s my duty to carry out periodic assessments of my patients. I assure you, he was accompanied by four attendants at all times. I’m not sure how he managed to steal it.”
“No one’s blaming you, Dr. Cavendish,” Barrett said, frowning at Vivienne.
“I last saw Clarence this afternoon. Very briefly, for fifteen minutes perhaps. I asked him a series of questions and received no response. Frankly, I couldn’t say if he even heard me.” Dr. Cavendish paused. “Something rather odd did happen. I was just signaling to Pyle and Stokes to take him back to his cell when he mumbled a phrase.”
“What was it?” Blackwood asked eagerly.
“I can’t be certain, but it sounded like, ‘they’re here.’ That’s all. Then he resumed his catatonic state.”
“They’re here,” the inspector repeated. “Was he looking at anything in particular in your office when he said it?”
“I believe he was looking out the window.”
“Did he have any visitors while he was at Greymoor?” Alec asked.
“Do you know how he spent his days?”
“Whenever I looked in on him, he’d be sitting on his bed, hands folded. Staring off into space. We only had one troubling incident, near the beginning of his stay here. The patients are not permitted writing materials of course”—he seemed to remember Pyle and paled a bit—“but that doesn’t prevent them from…communicating in other ways.” Dr. Cavendish glanced at Vivienne with obvious discomfort. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to relate in front of a lady, begging your pardon.”
“It’s all right, Doctor,” Vivienne said in an amused tone. “I won’t be offended. Please go on.”
He took a breath. “Well, he did write something on the walls of his cell. In…” Cavendish coughed. “I’m afraid it was his own feces. Over and over. It was at that point that Mr. Barrett and I agree he should be kept indefinitely.”
“What did he write?” Blackwood asked.
“A Latin phrase.” He searched his memory. “Pervadunt oculus, I believe it was.”
“They come through the eyes,” Alec said softly.
“I see you know your Latin, Mr. Lawrence,” Dr. Cavendish said approvingly. “I assumed he meant the headaches. Migraines are often accompanied by a phenomenon we call auras. It’s a shimmering light viewed in the peripheral field of vision. They commonly precede onset.”
D.I. Blackwood shot Alec a questioning look. Alec gave him the barest nod.
“Well, you’ve been very helpful, Dr. Cavendish,” the inspector said briskly. “If there isn’t anything else, I think we’re done here for now. I’ll write up your statement. You can sign it later.”
Dr. Cavendish seemed relieved to be off the hook. “Indeed. Such a tragedy. I do hope your men find him quickly. Good day, gentlemen. Lady Cumberland.” He gave a brief bow and fairly scampered off down the corridor, eager to get away from the macabre scene lurking behind Clarence’s half-open cell door. Alec didn’t blame him in the least.
“The morgue wagon is waiting downstairs,” Blackwood said to Superintendent Barrett. “I’ll have Mr. Pyle removed now.”
“Poor Pyle.” Barrett shook his head. “He had three children, you know. I’ll organize a collection for the family.”
“Please allow me to contribute,” Vivienne said immediately, offering him a card. “I…well, we brought him here. I feel responsible.”
“That’s very kind of you, Lady Cumberland, but I don’t blame you, nor Mr. Sidgwick. I’ve been superintendent of this asylum for more than twenty years and know better than anyone how difficult it can be to predict human behavior.” He stroked his mustache. “The soul of man is larger than the sky…ah, deeper than ocean or…or….”
“The abysmal dark of the unfathom’d centre,” Alec finished quietly.
“Yes, that’s it! You’re an admirer of Hartley Coleridge, Mr. Lawrence?”
“I enjoy poetry,” he admitted. “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
“Splendid. I’m not sure I know that one. What’s his name?”
“It’s a woman, actually. Sarah Williams.”
“Indeed.” Barrett seemed to lose interest. “Well, I can vouch that the mind is a strange and confounding place. We may never know what drove Dr. Clarence to this unspeakable act.”
“Perhaps. But I still wish to help his family,” Vivienne said, and Alec understood that she would carry her burden of guilt no matter what anyone said.
“I’m sure it will be appreciated, thank you, Lady Cumberland. Shall I accompany you out?” Barrett looked down the corridor, in the direction of the other occupied cells. “They’ve been worse since Clarence came. I really can’t fathom why. He kept to himself.”
“Thank you, but we can see our own way,” Blackwood replied. “Good day, Mr. Barrett.”
They made their way back through the cells. Dim wall sconces cast pools of alternating light and darkness. No bright electric bulbs, Alec thought. Not here, in this forgotten place. The usual cacophony of deranged voices accompanied their progress, but it was more subdued this time around, as though the men shared their foreboding.
It was in one of the pools of shadow that he heard a whisper from the cell next to him. Alec stopped, facing the grill set into the door at head height.
“What did you say?” he asked softly.
Ahead, Vivienne and D.I. Blackwood turned to stare at him.
“Alec?” Vivienne called.
He could see nothing beyond the grill but more darkness. Whoever was inside didn’t respond.
“Never mind,” he said.
Alec limped toward them, the iron tip of his cane clacking on the wooden boards. Vivienne watched him for a moment, then followed Blackwood to the stairway. Alec glanced back once. The ward had gone quiet again, but he was certain of what he’d heard.
Alec retrieved his coat and hat from the parlor. Barrett paused at the front door. “Pervadunt oculus. You’ve heard that phrase before.”
“It was in the Brady report,” Alec said. “He scratched it on the walls of the Beach Transit Tunnel.”
“What in blazes are we dealing with?”
“Not a ghoul.” Alec needed to think. To talk with Vivienne. “Something worse, I fear.”
“It might not be in Dr. Clarence anymore,” Vivienne said. “You should be aware of that possibility.”
Blackwood swore under his breath. “Then how do we catch it?”
Neither of them replied. Alec leaned heavily on his cane. His knee throbbed from all the stairs. For some reason, going down was always worse than going up.
“Well, that’s the problem,” he said at last. “I think we’ll have to get very lucky.”
“I’ll need a copy of that Hyde report,” Blackwood said.
“I’ll have it sent over straight away.”
“Stay in touch. If you come up with something.”
Outside, the rain had eased to a light mist. Alec scanned the grounds as they waited for Henry to bring the carriage around. He could still hear the faint baying of the dogs, but knew in his bones that Clarence was gone.
“What do we tell Sidgwick?” he asked at last.
“The truth,” Vivienne replied, lighting another cigarette.
“Those are bad for you, you know,” Alec pointed out. “No matter what they claim.”
Vivienne rolled her eyes. Alec turned away, but a faint smile played on his lips.
Dawn broke as they joined the flow of traffic back into London. Even at this early hour, the streets were jammed with carriages and omnibuses and people walking to their jobs in factories or shops. At Vivienne’s request, Henry took the Bow Road back into the city, which became Mile End Road and finally, Whitechapel Road. The thoroughfare itself was broad and busy, but the maze of alleys and side streets to either side concealed some of the worst slums in London. Clarence’s old hunting ground.
Neither of them spoke much. Vivienne looked out the carriage window, scanning the faces of the people on the street. The sober ones who had just woken up for work looked tired already, stoically ignoring the drunk ones who hadn’t gone to bed yet. Barefoot children played in the muck before rows of drab brick buildings. Vivienne’s eyes lingered on the children. Alec knew that Brady had killed a boy in New York. An organ grinder.
She’d been right about Dr. Clarence all along, but she didn’t rub it in his face, which Alec found surprising given Vivienne’s propensity for gloating. It occurred to him that perhaps she hadn’t wanted to be right, either.
A few minutes later, Henry deposited them at the front door of 19 Buckingham Street off the Strand where the Society for Psychical Research kept a suite of rooms. It had been formed in January 1882 to investigate growing claims of spiritualist phenomena in a spirit of rigorous scientific inquiry. That remained its primary mission, but following certain dire events at Buckingham Palace in 1886, a small and entirely secret subcommittee had been formed to deal with more dangerous aspects of the occult. This coincided with the creation of the Dominion Branch of Scotland Yard, and the two entities worked in tandem—with the Queen’s blessing—to contain the undead ghouls that plagued Britain.
Vivienne and Alec went straight to the library, where Henry Sidgwick waited with a tray of tea. He sat erect, bushy black beard falling down his chest, a sheaf of papers held loosely in his large hands.
“Well?” he inquired without preamble. “How bad is it?”
“We have a problem,” Alec said, pouring himself a cup and dropping into a wing chair. “Potentially quite serious.”
“Potentially?” Vivienne repeated. “I’d say it’s very serious indeed.”
She removed her cloak and tossed it carelessly on an ottoman. Her ball gown was sleeveless. Gold glinted in the light of the lamps—a thick bracelet circling her right arm. Words flowed across the metal in a script that had not been spoken aloud for more than two thousand years.
“Do you know what this says?” she asked Sidgwick, holding up her wrist.
“I’ve always wondered,” he replied dryly.
“We are the light against the darkness. And now we’ve failed in our duty. Clarence is gone,” she said bitterly. “Escaped. He murdered an orderly. There’s no doubt it’s the same creature that ran loose in New York. None at all.”
“Dear God.” Mr. Sidgwick turned to Alec, who could usually be relied on not to embellish the facts. “Is this true?”
Alec nodded wearily.
“Tell me everything.”
So he did, while Vivienne paced the room like a caged lynx, skirts swishing.
“What exactly do you think we’re dealing with?” Sidgwick asked when he’d finished.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
Sidgwick shut his eyes. “I’m still coming around to believing in ghouls. Not that I doubt it anymore, their existence is an unfortunate fact of life in England, it seems. Now you’re telling me that we have a creature that looks and sounds human, but can burn iron bars with its hands and do God only knows what else. Is it undead?”
“Probably.” Vivienne snapped her lighter shut and blew out a stream of smoke.
“Most definitely,” Alec added cheerfully. The hot, strong tea—three cups of it—had worked its humble magic. It was one of the few English customs he embraced with open arms.
“Dear God,” Sidgwick said again.
Vivienne dropped onto a settee and crossed her ankles. “We need to consult Cyrus. He might know something.”
“Agreed. I’ll send Mr. Ashdown a cable. When can you leave?”
“It would be better if he came to London,” Alec said.
“He won’t want to,” Vivienne pointed out. “You know he hasn’t left Ingress Abbey in more than eight years.”
“If Barrett’s men do manage to find the good doctor, or whoever he’s taken, we need to stay close.”
“Do you think you can kill it?” Sidgwick asked.
“It’s already dead,” Alec reminded him.
“That was a figure of speech.”
“We can try to banish it back to the Dominion through a Greater Gate.” Alec had rolled up his shirtsleeves and propped his feet on the edge of the ottoman. He idly traced the curving script on his own cuff, a match of Vivienne’s. “So, The Serpentine. It’s by far the closest one.”
Sidgwick swallowed. “I went boating in Hyde Park just a few months ago. Are you saying—?”
“That there’s a portal to the Underworld beneath the lake? Yes, but only in parts.”
“And they’re safely warded.” Vivienne looked at Alec. “Aren’t they?”
“How do you know the wards haven’t been broken?” Sidgwick persisted. “I don’t find your explanation to be the least bit comforting.”
“Because I know.” Alec gave a thin smile. “I have the only talisman.”
Sidgwick grunted. “You should have told me all this before.”
“It didn’t seem necessary. Nothing comes through the Gates anymore.”
“So you believe it was summoned?”
“Had to be. By a powerful necromancer, I’d say.”
“But if it came from New York, that would be the American branch’s problem.” Sidgwick brightened.
“The necromancer, not the whatever-it-is.”
“True. I’ll send a cable to Orpha Winter. Any chance this”—he consulted the papers—“Becky Rickard was the one who brought it through?”
“Brady’s first victim?” Vivienne said. “She was a medium, but that’s hardly the same thing as a necromancer. In fact, she was disgraced as fraudulent. It doesn’t seem likely.”
“Whoever brought it through, the thing is loose now,” Alec said. “And the usual rules don’t seem to apply.”
“We’ll have to tell the Queen.” Sidgwick’s tone was funereal.
“I suppose you will.” Alec’s choice of words was not lost on Henry Sidgwick, whose dark, close-set eyes narrowed.
“She won’t like it one bit.”
“Not much to like, is there?”
“I need to be able to tell Her Majesty truthfully that we have the situation under control.”
Alec picked up his teacup, saw with disappointment that it was empty, and replaced it in the saucer. “Of course. I don’t see a problem as long as you omit the word truthfully.”
“Gentlemen,” Vivienne interrupted. “This is getting us nowhere. When Dr. Clarence is found, which we all hope will be sooner rather than later, Alec and I are fully capable of disposing of him.”
Sidgwick brightened again. “Well, that’s good news.”
“We are?” Alec said, earning a withering look from Vivienne.
“Yes. So we’ll put off visiting Cyrus for now, at least until we hear from Inspector Blackwood. Do send that cable though, Mr. Sidgwick. Cyrus can start searching the archives. They go back quite a long way, as you know. Perhaps he can find a reference to something similar.”
“What about your original interview with Dr. Clarence?” Sidgwick sifted through the sheaf of papers. “I have it here somewhere. Ah, yes.…”
He began to read the transcript aloud. Alec already knew it firsthand. Vivienne had conducted the interview in the empty dayroom at Greymoor while he stood by at the door, ready to unleash a whip-crack of power should Clarence do anything Alec found objectionable.
The doctor had sat in a chair facing Vivienne. He wore a woolen suit and held a small valise on his lap. It contained toiletries and a change of clothing. Alec had kept his black surgeon’s bag, with its syringes and vials other tools of the trade. Including a set of exquisitely sharp knives.
Even as Henry Sidgwick’s pleasantly deep and learned voice recited the transcript—he was a professor of moral philosophy at Trinity College, after all—Alec heard the echo of two other voices in his head.
“Would you state your name, please?”
“William Howard Clarence, of thirty-four Greenwich Street, New York.”
“Do you know why you’re here, Dr. Clarence?”
Clarence raised a hand to his forehead. “I…I’ve been suffering from headaches.”
“Why did you come to England?”
“I had a difficult case. A man used my scalpel to…” His fingers fluttered limply. They were small, delicate hands. “May I have some water? My mouth is very dry.”
Alec signaled to the attendant who waited outside. A minute later he returned with a glass.
“You mentioned a difficult case,” Vivienne resumed. “Do you mean Leland Brady?”
“Yes. I wished for a change of scenery.”
“You booked passage on the RMS Umbria, which arrived in Liverpool on the 25th of August. What did you do then?”
His eyes grew vague. “I don’t know. I walked around. Looked for lodgings. I think I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral.”
“Where were you on the evening of August 31st?”
“What day of the week was that?”
“Well, I’m not sure. If my head was very bad, I might have gone to bed early.”
“Have you experienced lost time?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Periods in which you cannot recollect your own actions. Places you might have gone.”
“No.” The sun crept across the floor. A shaft of light fell across Dr. Clarence’s face and his pupils suddenly contracted. “Just the headaches.”
“What about the evening of September 8?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“September 30?” Vivienne persisted.
“Why are you asking me these questions?”
“Mary Ann Nichols. Annie Chapman. Elizabeth Stride. Catherine Eddowes. Mary Jane Kelly. Are you familiar with these names?”
Clarence held her gaze. “Of course I’ve heard about the murders. They’re all over the newspapers.”
“What sort of man do you think the police should be looking for?”
“Are you accusing me of these heinous crimes?”
“Not at all. I’m simply curious about your professional opinion. Having just concluded the Hyde case.”
Clarence folded his hands atop the valise. “He must be reasonably clever to have eluded the police. Whitechapel is a busy area.”
“Have you been there?”
“No. I read about it in the newspaper. I wouldn’t frequent that sort of place. It sounds like a cesspool.”
“Why do you think he does it?”
“Why?” A ripple passed over his features. “I’m not sure that question has a satisfactory answer, Lady Cumberland. Why does the earth suddenly slip its moorings and crush the little ants that crawl across the surface?”
Vivienne’s jaw tightened. Alec could sense the fury simmering beneath her calm exterior.
“Are you saying these women are insects, Dr. Clarence?”
He sighed. “You misunderstand.”
They looked at each other for a long moment.
“Or are you saying Jack is a force of nature?”
Dr. Clarence smiled. “That might be overstating it. I merely mean that these killings strike me as perfectly senseless. There’s no more meaning to them than the eruption of that volcano in Japan last summer.” He grew solemn again. “I do hope they catch him.”
“As do we all.”
Dr. Clarence rose and walked to the window. It looked out across the grounds, brown fields meeting white sky in the soft, monotonous palette of midwinter. “Will I be staying here?”
Vivienne looked at Alec. They’d reached the tricky part. Dr. Clarence had committed no crime, not that could be proven. He was an American citizen and member of the New York City Police Department. If he refused to admit himself to Greymoor and the consulate got involved, it would be a diplomatic nightmare. And Clarence would almost certainly end up slipping the net.
Fortunately, he had no wife or children. No one looking for him. By all accounts, his life in New York had been quiet and solitary.
“Dr. Cavendish believes he can help you with your headaches,” Vivienne said. She forced a smile. “A nice rest might do you good.”
Dr. Clarence raised a hand and curled it around the iron bars. Something in the gesture struck Alec as calculated, deliberate, although Clarence kept his back to them.
He’s toying with us.
Alec pushed the unbidden thought aside.
You’re letting Vivienne’s emotions cloud your judgment. Don’t.
“That would be most amenable,” Dr. Clarence said, returning to his chair.
Vivienne leaned forward and offered him a piece of paper. Their hands brushed and despite his misgivings, Alec’s heart beat faster.
“Thank you.” Dr. Clarence laid the form on his valise. He patted his pockets. “I’m sorry, but do you have a pen I might borrow?”
Vivienne gave him one. She waited, eyes fixed on the form.
Dr. Clarence paused, pen hovering over the paper. “How long would I be at Greymoor?”
“Just a short time,” Vivienne lied. “For observation. You can leave anytime you like.”
“All right, then.” Clarence didn’t bother to read the form. He signed with a flourish and handed it back. “Here you are.”
Vivienne scanned the document. It gave the doctors at Greymoor full legal authority to commit Dr. William Howard Clarence to the asylum until such time as they deemed him no longer a danger to himself or others. Alec knew that if Vivienne had her way, that day would never come.
“Thank you.” She stood up. “The attendants will see to you now. Good afternoon, doctor.” She’d reached the door before she stopped and turned back. “I believe you still have my fountain pen.”
Dr. Clarence looked down at his hands. “Oh, I’m awfully sorry. Here you are.”
He rose and gave Vivienne back the pen. His eyes met Alec’s for a single instant. They seemed to sparkle with some private amusement.
The attendant closed the heavy door. Alec waited to make sure he locked it.
Later, when they delivered the admission forms to Superintendent Barrett, he’d asked if sedation would be appropriate.
“Oh yes, give him everything you’ve got,” Vivienne said. “We promised Inspector Blackwood we’d share the full report from Miss Pell.”
“I’ll see it’s done right away,” Sidgwick was saying.
Alec came back to the present with a start.
“Send the report to Cyrus too,” he chimed in, hoping no one would notice his long absence from the conversation.
Sidgwick frowned. Vivienne sighed. “English, Alec. You’re lapsing into Greek again.”
“Sorry.” He repeated the request.
“He does that all the time.” She stabbed her cigarette into a heavy bronze ashtray. “It’s not even modern Greek. Some obscure third century dialect only a handful of scholars have ever heard of.”
Alec smiled apologetically. He’d probably forgotten more languages than he remembered, and he knew dozens fluently. Hundreds. Different places, different times. Different lives. It all swirled together in his head sometimes. Vivienne was much better at keeping the past neatly arranged. She was a perfect chameleon. It had only taken her a week to acquire a posh British accent, while Alec still sounded vaguely “Continental.”
“So what do we do now?” Sidgwick asked.
“Either Blackwood and his men will find Clarence,” Vivienne said. “Or he’ll do something to draw attention to himself.”
Kill again, she meant.
“So we wait.”
“Yes.” Vivienne lit another cigarette. “We wait.”
Outside the window, Alec could hear the clamor of London’s five million souls rushing through their day. He had been many places and seen many things in his long life, but never had he seen a city quite like this one. He’d watched it grow from a backwater of the Roman Empire to the undisputed capital of the world. Watched the factories rise like smog-belching dragons. Stood under the bright glare of electric lights, Vivienne on his arm, to see one of her plays. The pace of scientific progress was as swift as the steam trains that fascinated him so. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the weather, he reflected.
It was still lousy.
Coming June 26, 2017!
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