The Isle of Blood

Page 35

“Well?” Warthrop asked upon my breathless return.

“All clear, sir.”

He nodded briskly. “Two cabs—von Helrung, myself, and Will Henry in one. Doyle, Sir Hiram will go with you—”

“Would you please stop calling me that?” Walker asked. He was leaning against a column, still trying to collect himself. “It’s cruel and childish.” The British monstrumologist’s nickname, bestowed upon him by Warthrop, had originated several years before, at a party at which Walker had been smitten by a certain young woman with ties to the royal family. Trying to impress her, Walker had inadvisably passed himself off as a peer of the realm, and his fellow scientists were not about to let him forget it.

Warthrop ignored him. He said to Conan Doyle, “I suggest you take a circuitous route, and keep an eye open for our redheaded friend and his hairless compatriot. If they do spot us, I think we shall be the ones followed—but then again, they may split up. Pray you get the bald one!”

He seized Conan Doyle’s hand in both of his and gave it a quick, hard shake. “It has been my pleasure to see you again, sir. May our next meeting be in more congenial circumstances!”

“The pleasure has been entirely mine, Dr. Warthrop,” replied Conan Doyle earnestly. “Touie will not believe the story I have to tell her!”

“I would not divulge too much,” cautioned the doctor, his dark eyes twinkling. “She will think you’ve been drinking.”

“The feeling is not so different,” admitted the author. “I don’t know if you’re a spiritual man, but—”

“Not often,” said the monstrumologist, urging Conan Doyle toward the lobby doors. “Hardly ever. No—just once. I was three or four, and my mother caught me deep in a conversation with God.” He shrugged. “I have no memory of it. God might.”

Five minutes later we were inside a hansom cab, on our way to Hyde Park. “Why Hyde Park?” von Helrung wanted to know.

The doctor shrugged. “Why not?”

“I sincerely hope they haven’t followed Doyle,” Warthrop said. “I am uncertain why you recruited him to join your rescue party, but I would hate for him to pay the ultimate price for his altruism. And, of course, it would be a great loss to literature. I normally don’t care much for fiction, but there is something charming about his stories. A kind of grand naïveté—like the British Empire itself—the blindest of faiths that reason will triumph over ignorance, and human intellect over evil.”

Von Helrung looked incredulously at my master. Perhaps he was thinking he did not know Pellinore Warthrop half as well as he’d thought.

“We have just discovered our dear colleague butchered in a hotel room, and you wish to discuss literature?”

Warthrop nodded. He either entirely missed von Helrung’s point or he didn’t care. I did not think it was the former. “It is a pity; for all his faults, I rather liked Torrance. He would have been my choice too, had I been forced to make one, so do not hold yourself to blame, Meister Abram. If you want to assign fault, look no farther than the empty bottle of whiskey on the table in the sitting room. He was three sheets in the wind when his murderers came to call. There is no other explanation for how they overcame him so easily.” He looked at me. “There are only three real causes of death, Will Henry. The first is accidents—diseases, famines, wars, or like what befell your parents. The second is old age. And the third is ourselves—our slow suicides. Show me a man who cannot control his appetites, and I will show a man living under a death sentence.”

Von Helrung was shaking his head vehemently. “You are responsible, Pellinore—not for Torrance, God rest his soul, but for Conan Doyle. Should he perish for what he’s seen this day, it will be to pay the fine for your impulsiveness. Why did you invite him to our rooms? He was taking his leave of us at the station, and you—”

“Yes, he was,” snapped Warthrop. “And I may have saved his life—temporarily, perhaps, but at least I bought him an hour or two to spend with Touie and his newborn babe. You have no understanding of those men you saw on the platform, von Helrung. They are ruthless. They kill without compunction or remorse. I had to act quickly, and I believe I made the best of a very tenuous situation.”

“And what of this ridiculous and bizarre charade in the room? What is your excuse for that? You knew it was those men we saw in the station, and yet you pretended that you deduced everything, down to the color of the killer’s hair! For what reason, Pellinore? In mocking Doyle, you mocked the dead!”

The doctor’s countenance darkened. He leaned forward and poked von Helrung in the chest.

“Do not speak to me of mockery, von Helrung. Do you have any inkling of what it’s like to be sane and have your very sanity be the thing that binds you? Think about that before you judge me for a harmless bit of whimsy!”

They fell silent after this heated exchange, until we reached our destination, at which point the doctor knocked sharply on the hansom’s roof and directed the driver to now take us to Piccadilly Circus. The whip cracked, and we were off again.

“Where are we going?” von Helrung demanded.

“To Piccadilly Circus.”

Von Helrung closed his eyes and sighed wearily. “You know what I meant.”

The doctor glanced behind us, and then settled back into his seat. “I do.”

“They are ruthless, you said. Killers without compunction or remorse, you said. But you fail to say who they are or why they pursue us.”

“I would think the why is obvious. As to who… The big red-haired one is called Rurick. His bald partner goes by the name Plešec. They are Okhranka, Meister Abram, members of the Russian secret police.”

Von Helrung absorbed the news with a crestfallen expression. He had not wanted Torrance to be correct. A part of him, I think, clung to the hope that Jack Kearns had but one coconspirator in the affair, the betrayer Thomas Arkwright, and all the rest of it had sprouted in Jacob Torrance’s fertile imaination. The truth sickened his heart. He was a scientist, and the essence of science is the quest for truth, a noble thing in and of itself, but no human endeavor—no matter how noble—remains unsullied for long. Monstrumology could be characterized as a contemplation of nature corrupted. The same could be said of us.

“We were duped,” my master stated bluntly. “I suppose we could take some small comfort in the fact that we were not the only ones played for fools. Arkwright played us, but the Russians played him, and Jack Kearns, I think, has had his fun with all of us.”

“It was Jacob’s theory that Kearns and the British—and the Russians, too—were using us to find for them the home of the magnificum. They had the golden egg—the nidus—but not the goose who lays it. That’s how Torrance put it.”

Warthrop smiled tightly. “I’m going to miss Jake. He had a way with the colorful metaphor. He was partly right, but mainly wrong. We were being used, though not by Kearns or the Russians; they had what they wanted. Thomas Arkwright of the Long Island Arkwrights was a wholly British creation. Arkwright is an officer in the British secret intelligence service.”

Von Helrung sighed. “So the British are involved… and the Russians. Who else?”

“No one—well, not counting us, and I would not count us out just yet,” Warthrop said grimly. “I didn’t want to believe it. When I was first brought to Hanwell, it suited my naïve faith to believe that Arkwright must have been working with the Russians—a double agent, a traitor to his country—and I bravely hung on to that bit of fiction for quite some time. In the first month of my lunatic holiday, I wrote more than forty letters, none of which, apparently, reached their intended recipient. Someone had to be intercepting them, and it is difficult for me to comprehend that the reach of Okhranka extended to the mails of England or the United States. Six of those desperate missives I personally handed to the superintendent. Now, I suppose he could be in the employ of the czar or be a member of Okhranka, but at some point we must put away childish things, Meister Abram, and acknowledge that, in matters where something like the magnificum is concerned, there are few limits to the perfidy of men and nations—even men like the superintendent and nations like Great Britain.”

“Alas, dear Pellinore, I have lived a very long time and have yet to discern any.”

We rolled to a stop, and the driver called out in a loud voice, “’Ere you are, guv’ner! Piccadilly Circus.”

“The Great Western at Paddington Station, driver. And with all alacrity, please!” called Warthrop. He smiled at the driver’s muttered curses as we started off again, to the place from which we’d begun.

“We are going in circles,” observed von Helrung.

“We were,” replied the doctor. “Though tonight no more! For on this night, my old master, the months in the wilderness come to an end. Ourong exile is over. I have the answer; I know from whence the wind cometh; I have found the hiding place of the grail.”

Chapter Twenty-Five: “Dvipa Sukhadhara”

Von Helrung turned away from his friend with a pained expression. “You should not call it that.”

“Why?” the monstrumologist seemed genuinely puzzled.

“It should not be called that,” the old man insisted vehemently. A tear welled in the corner of his eye.

“Where is it?” I asked. “Where did the nidus come from?” The central question had gone too long unanswered.

Warthrop’s face was glowing with triumph. “The nidus ex magnificum was recovered upon the island of Socotra.”

Von Helrung looked round and stared at the doctor for a long moment. “Socotra!” he whispered. “The Isle of Blood.”

“The Isle of Blood?” I echoed. I could feel the tightly wound thing vibrating to the rhythm of my heart.

“It isn’t what you’re thinking, Will Henry,” said the monstrumologist. “It is called the Isle of Blood because that happens to be the color of the sap of the Dragon’s Blood tree, which grows there—the color of blood. Socotra has other names—better names, if names matter anything to you: the Isle of Enchantment, the Isle of the Phoenix, Tranquility Island, among others. In Sanskrit it is called Dvipa Sukhadhara, the ‘Isle of Bliss.’ Recently it has been dubbed the Galápagos of the East, for the island is so isolated that many of its species, like the Dragon’s Blood tree, are found there and nowhere else on earth.…”

“Socotra is a British protectorate,” von Helrung said.

“Yes,” acknowledged Warthrop. “And if it were not, the nidus never would have found its way to London’s East End and the clutches of Dr. John Kearns. The British have maintained a small presence there since ’76, when the treaty was signed with the island’s sultan, to protect their shipping routes from India and West Africa.”

“So the man who brought the nidus to Kearns was a British soldier or seaman?” asked von Helrung.

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