The Isle of Blood

Page 33

“Is me,” finished von Helrung sadly. “I know this story, Herr Superintendent. Alas, I have heard it many times. To William I am not Abraham Henry, humble shoemaker from Stubenbach, but Abram von Helrung, the head of this imaginary society of monstrumologists. And young William here, not William anymore, no! But Will Henry, his faithful apprentice who aids him in this mythical monster hunting of his.”

“He even includes me in his fantasy,” Walker interjected. “I am, it seems, also a member of the Monstrumologist Society, somewhat of a rival, too, substantially more accomplished and therefore a threat to him—”

Von Helrung cleared his throat noisily, and said, “I want to take him home. He is no danger to anyone—unless you happen to be a three-headed dragon! My grandson, God rest his soul, should never have taken upon himself the burden that rightly belongs to the father. I came at once, as soon as I heard he was here. I will leave at once, as soon as I see my boy again. Will you bring me to my boy now, Herr Superintendent, to ease his burden and my own?”

We were escorted to the third floor, where the most dangerous inmates were housed. There were no bars on the doors, but the locks were sturdy and in the rooms the furniture was bolted to the floor. Some rooms were padded for the patients’ own protection, but no one was shackled or restrained in any way, another humane distinction of the Hanwell philosophy. It occurred to me that Warthrop could have suffered a fate much worse than confinement in a house of the mad. No doubt it had been torture for him; without question he had suffered to be sane and to have that very sanity cited as the proof of his madness, but he was alive. He was alive.

The keeper of the ward was waiting for us in the hall. The superintendent nodded to him, the keeper threw back the bolt and swung wide the door, and I saw my master seated on the small bed on the other side, wearing a white robe and slippers that seemed to glow in the shaft of light pouring through the window behind him. He was pale and thin and haggard but alive, his exile at its end, alive—the monstrumologist.

Folio IX: Das Ungeheuer

Chapter Twenty-Three: “My Name Is Pellinore Xavier Warthrop”

For a moment I forgot my lines. My mind went blank, my knees shook, and I almost shouted Dr. Warthrop! which would have abruptly brought down the curtain. There was joy at seeing him again—I will not deny that—yet there was trepidation, too, a little thrill of dread. The monstrumologist may have been all that I had in the world, but that meant the monstrumologist was all that I had!

He stood as I stepped forward, a look of nearly comical astonishment on his drawn features, dominated by the expression in his dark eyes—the strange, haunted look of slow starvation.

“Will Henry?” he whispered, hardly daring to believe it.

I remembered my lines then. “Papa! Papa!” I rushed forward. I threw myself into his chest, hard enough to rock him back on his heels, and hugged him with all my might.

“Papa! Papa, you’re alive!”

“Well, of course I’m alive. For the love of God, Will Henry… Von Helrung, is that you? Good! I was beginning to think you were fool enough to believe—Who is that beside you? Not Walker? Why did you bring Walker? What did you tell Walker? Please, Will Henry, release me. You are crushing my spine.”

“Oh, my son! My son!” von Helrung cried. Now it was his turn to crush my master to his chest. “William! Your father has come for you!”

“I hope not! My father has been dead over fifteen years, von Helrung.”

“What? You do not remember me? William, you must remember me; I am your father!” Von Helrung was standing between Warthrop and the suspicious superintendent. He seized the opportunity to give the doctor an exaggerated wink. “Your father, Mein Sohn!”

Warthrop missed it entirely. Perhaps it was the suddenness with which he had been shoved upon the stage. Perhaps it was the result of a constitution weakened from three attempts at self-starvation. Or perhaps it was the inevitable consequence of caging a man like Pellinore Warthrop—like trying to stuff the sun into a bottle. Whatever it may have been, he refused to step into the part.

“No,” he said. He was calm now; the door had at last opened. The rest was simply a matter of walking through the open doorway. “You are Dr. Abram von Helrung, president of the Society for the Advancement of the Science of Monstrumology. The man standing behind you is Dr. Hiram Walker, a colleague of ours of rather mediocre talent, who for some inexplicable reason you’ve brought along—I pray only to help in affecting my release from this accursed place. The one standing beside Walker I do not know, but his face is vaguely familiar—a physician, I think, and he enjoys the game of golf, I will guess.

“And you…” He turned to me. “You are William James Henry, my indispensable assistant, my cross—and my shield. But mostly my cross.”

He turned to the superintendent.

“Do you see? I told you I was telling the truth!”

“Mr. Henry,” the superintendent said. “You do not recognize these people?”

“Yes, I do recognize them. In fact, I just told you who they are!” He snarled in von Helrung’s direction, “Do you see what I’ve been forced to endure for the past one hundred and twenty-six days, seven hours, and twelve minutes? The more I profess the truth, the madder I become!”

He shouted at the superintendent, “My name is Pellinore Xavier Warthrop, of 425 Harrington Lane, New Jerusalem, Massachusetts! I was born in the year of our Lord 1853, the only child of Alistair and Margaret Warthrop, also of New Jerusalem, Massachusetts! I am not now, nor have I ever been—nor do I have any desire to be—a citizen of Great Britain. You have no right to hold me here against my will, under English law or international law or the higher laws of decency and reason that govern all civilized human beings!”

“If I may,” Walker said sotto voce to the superintendent. “Perhaps we should retire to your offices. The patient is becoming a bit agitated—”

“I heard that!” roared the monstrumologist. “Von Helrung, I am, of course, forever in your debt for rescuing me from these imbeciles, but I will never forgive you for involving Hiram Walker in my case.”

“As I told you earlier,” Dr. Walker said to the superintendent with a mealymouthed little grin.

My master took that as the cue for the next movement in his symphony, his curtain-dropping aria: “Upon all that’s holy, Walker, if they hadn’t confiscated it, I would pull out my revolver and shoot you. I would shoot you point-blank right between those devious little rat eyes of yours. God save me, I can’t stand the English! I challenge anyone in this room to name one worthwhile thing that ever came out of the British Isles, besides William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Tiptree jams! England is home to the most unattractive people on earth!” He glared at Walker. “You are the perfect example. You are a very homely man, and don’t get me started on your queen—”

“Now, William—,” the superintendent vainly tried to interrupt.

“It comes down to natural selection—to Darwin, like everything else. Isolated for thousands of years upon an island roughly the size of Texas, inbreeding is unavoidable. We may look no further than to Sir Hiram here, who seems to have misplaced his chin. And not only that. I could gather the collective intelligence of the British people in a teacup. Do you require proof? What other civilized nation would place a man in a padded room without the benefit of a trial, without the opportunity to face his accuser, without making any effort whatsoever to corroborate his story?” He pointed a quivering finger at the superintendent’s nose. “I shall have you sacked. I shall have this abomination you call a hospital razed to the ground, and then I shall spit on its ashes! For my name is not William James Henry.” He glanced at me.

“It is Pellinore Warthrop,” he roared. “And you may take that to your grave, sir, as will I. As will I.”

I don’t believe the superinendent of Hanwell Lunatic Asylum was entirely satisfied that anyone, in nearly any regard, was telling the truth about the strange case of William “Pellinore Warthrop” Henry. I do believe, however, that on this, the eighth hour of the one hundred and twenty-sixth day, he was heartily sick of the whole thing and ready to wash his hands of it. It was time for the monstrumologist to be someone else’s problem, and we were asking for the problem, after all, so the paperwork was handled without delay (Dr. Walker signed for my master’s release—the one person in our cabal, besides Conan Doyle, who would not have to sign a fake name.) By the dawn of the ninth hour, we were on the train bound for Paddington.

“Well, as the Bard did say, all is well that ends well!” von Helrung boomed out with forced good cheer. “You are rescued, mein Freund Pellinore!”

Warthrop was in no mood to celebrate. He glowered at the two Englishmen seated across from us. Walker could not meet his icy glare, but Conan Doyle replied to it with a convivial smile.

“Arthur Conan Doyle,” the author said. “How do you do? We met several years ago in Dr. Bell’s office at Edinburgh.”

“Yes, of course. Doyle. Are you still penning those clever diversions about the policeman?”

“Consulting detective.”

“Hmmm.” He turned to von Helrung. “Whose idea was it to make you my father?”

“Well, it is hard now for me to recall,” von Helrung replied weakly, avoiding his eyes.

“It was Dr. Torrance’s idea, sir,” I said.

“Torrance!” The monstrumologist’s cheeks turned scarlet. “Do you mean to tell me Jacob Torrance is part of this too?”

“The inclusion of Dr. Torrance was young Will’s idea,” von Helrung said to deflect the blame. And then he promptly assigned credit. “And thank God Will had it! It was Torrance who—” He realized Conan Doyle was listening, and stopped himself.

“Sir Hiram, Jacob Torrance, a writer of popular fiction who isn’t even a doctor of monstrumology… Who else have you involved in the most sensitive case to present itself to us in almost forty years, von Helrung? Might I expect Mr. Joseph Pulitzer to be waiting in our rooms at the Great Western?”

“I would watch the manner in which I expressed my gratitude if I were you, Warthrop,” warned Dr. Walker. “If not for Torrance, you would still be just another poor, anonymous face in a sea of troubled faces, your presence there wholly unknown, if not forgotten. And if not for myself—”

“I would prefer that you not talk,” the doctor said levelly. “It reminds me of all the things I don’t like about the English in general and you in particular, Sir Hiram.”

“Stop calling me by that name!”

“Speaking of names,” Warthrop said to von Helrung. “How in the world did you think you could pass off a surname like Henry as Austrian?”

“We had hopes you would discern our little farce, Pellinore,” returned the Austrian stiffly, parrying the thrust. “Your obtuseness could have cost us the game!”

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