“No man brought the nidus to Kearns. A man was brought to Kearns, and that man brought Kearns to the nidus, in a manner of speaking. Once I identified the man, I had my answer. I mean, of course, our answer.”
“And Kearns’s answer—to pass on to his client, the czar of Russia! You will forgive this question, and I pray you will answer in the same spirit of goodwill in which I ask it, but, once you supplied the fiends with what they wanted, wouldn’t it have been much easier for them to simply kill you? Why riskall by arranging your sojourn in Hanwell Lunatic Asylum?”
“Didn’t Arkwright tell you? I am assuming that’s how you found me, through Arkwright, when you saw through his story of my untimely demise.”
“He did not say.”
“You didn’t ask him?”
“I could not,” answered von Helrung, avoiding the doctor’s eyes.
“And why couldn’t you?” pressed the doctor. Then he answered his own question. “Arkwright is dead, isn’t he?”
Von Helrung did not answer, so I did. “Dr. Torrance killed him, sir.”
“In a manner of speaking,” I answered.
“How does one do something like that ‘in a manner of speaking’?”
“Is not that how all things are done in our dark and dirty business—our ‘science’?” asked von Helrung bitterly. “Pour ainsi dire—‘in a manner of speaking’?”
Our cab jerked to a stop in the exact spot from which our journey had started, before the entrance of the Great Western Hotel at Paddington Station. The driver called down to us, “And will this do for His Excellency?”
“Another fiver for another five minutes!” Warthrop called back. He turned to von Helrung, and in my master’s eyes I saw the same backlit fire that had burned in the Fifth Avenue parlor a lifetime ago—I am the one. I am the one! The same fire I’d seen burning in another man’s eye but two hours past. Ruthless. Without compunction or remorse.
“I am going to Socotra,” he whispered hoarsely. “I am taking the train to Dover and I am boarding the first steamer out. I will be in Aden in less than a fortnight, and then on to Socotra—if I can find passage; and if I can’t find passage, I shall swim there. And if I cannot swim there, I shall construct a flying machine and soar like Icarus to heaven’s gate!”
“But Icarus did not soar, mein Freund,” murmured von Helrung. “Icarus fell.”
For the second time, the older man turned away; he would not—or could not—endure that strange, cold fire in his friend’s eyes.
“I cannot go with you,” the old man said.
“I’m not asking you to go with me.”
“I am going with you,” I said.
“No, no,” von Helrung called out. “Will, you do not understand—”
“I won’t be left behind again,” I said. I turned and repeated it to the monstrumologist: “I won’t be left behind.”
Warthrop leaned his head against the seat back and closed his eyes. “So tired. I hn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months.”
“Pellinore, tell Will he is coming home with me. Tell him.”
“You should not have left me,” I said to Warthrop. “Why did you leave me?” I could contain it no longer. It emptied out of me, and once I was empty, it contained me. “None of this would have happened if you’d listened to me! Why didn’t you listen to me? Why don’t you ever listen to me? I told you he was a liar. I warned you that he was false! But it’s just like always: ‘Snap to, Will Henry! Fetch me my instruments, Will Henry! Sit beside me all night while I moan and cry and feel sorry for myself, Will Henry! Will Henry, be a good boy and sit there and watch Mr. Kendall rot inside his own skin! Hold still now, Will Henry, so I can chop off your finger with this kitchen knife! Snap to, Will Henry! Will Henry! Will Henry! Will Henry!’”
He opened his eyes. He said nothing. He observed my tears. He studied my face, knotted up and burning hot. He watched as it spun out, the unwinding thing that was me and not-me, and he was able to do this, to stare at me with the attitude of a man watching an ant struggle with a burden five times its size, because I had suffered him to live, because I had brought Jacob Torrance into the truth by way of a monstrous lie.
“How strange, then, that you would wish to come with me.”
Meister Abram, who had taught my master everything he knew about monstrumology but had failed to teach him what he, von Helrung, knew best, gathered me into his arms and stroked my hair. I pressed my face into his wool vest and smelled cigar smoke, and in that moment I loved Abram von Helrung, loved him as I had loved no other since my parents’ fall into the abyss, loved him as much as I hated his former pupil. What is it? I remembered thinking in panic. What is it? Why did I want to follow this man? What was it about the monstrumologist that consumed me? What demon of the pit chewed and gnawed upon my soul like Judas’s in the innermost circle of hell? What did it look like? What was its face? If I could name the nameless thing, if I could put a face upon the faceless thing, perhaps I could free myself from its ravenous embrace.
We are hunters all. We are, all of us, monstrumologists.
Chapter Twenty-Six: “It Is Part and Parcel of the Business”
He left us sitting in the cab. He stepped onto the street, swung the door closed, and strode away without a word or backward glance. I pushed against von Helrung’s soft belly, but he held tight; he would not let go despite my keening wails, saying, “Hush, hush, dear Will. He will come back; he is making sure those evil men are gone.… He will come back.”
And he did. Von Helrung was right; he did come back, cautioning me to dry my tears and bring down the curtain on my theatrics, for he did not want to draw attention to ourselves.
“There are no police in the lobby, and the desk clerks are gossiping happily. They haven’t discovered Torrance yet, or if they have, the English are even odder than I thought. Our Russian friends are nowhere to be seen. They have either quit the station or we have drawn them off. Snap—It’s time to go, Will Henry.”
We cut through the lobby to the station entrance unmolested—an unremarkable sight, a boy hurrying to catch his train, flanked by his father and grandfather, perhaps, three generations on holiday.
“There’s a train that leaves for Liverpool in a half hour,” Warthrop informed von Helrung. “Platform three. Here is your ticket.”
The monstrumologist said, “Will Henry is coming with me. I do not know what I will find on Socotra; I may require his services. That is, if he is still of a mind to come with me.”
Von Helrung looked down at me. “You know what that means, Will, if you go?”
I nodded. “I have always known what it means.”
He pulled me into his arms for one last hug. “I do not know for whom I should pray more,” he whispered. “For him to look after you, or for you to look after him. Remember always that God never thrusts a burden upon us that we cannot bear. Remember that there is no absolute dark anywhere, but here”—he pressed his open hand upon my heart—“there is light absolute. Promise Meister Abram that you will remember.”
I promised him. He nodded, looked at Warthrop, nodded again.
“I will go now,” he said.
“Well, Will Henry,” the monstrumologist said after von Helrung had melted into the crowd. “It is just the two of us again.” And then he turned on his heel and strode off without a backward glance. I hurried after him. It seemed I was always hurrying after him.
Back through the hotel and out the main doors and into a hansom, the very same hansom we had vacated a few minutes before. The driver called down, “Goin’ to the Great Western at Paddington, guv’ner?” The remark caught Warthrop off guard; he actually laughed.
“Charing Cross station, my good man! Get us there in twenty minutes or less, and there’s an extra shilling in it for you.”
“Dr. Warthrop!” I cried as he jumped inside. “Our luggage!”
“I’ve already made the arrangements; it will be waiting for us in Dover. Now get in! Every minute is precious.”
We missed the last steamer to Calais by ten of those precious minutes. Warthrop stood on the quay at Dover and shouted invectives at the ship as it chugged toward the horizon. He shook his fist and roared like Lear against the storm, till I thought the famous white cliffs might splinter and crumble into the sea.
There was nothing to do but wait until morning. We took a room at a lodging house within walking distance of the port. Warthrop drank a pot of tea. He stared out the window. He tried out the bed, pronouncing it too short (most beds were for him; he stood just over six-two in his stocking feet), too lumpy, and entirely too small for both of us to rest comfortably. He sent me to inquire at the desk about a larger room or, in lieu of that, a larger bed—both of which were not available.
The hour grew late. The room grew stuffy. He opened the window, letting in a pleasant sea breeze and the sound of the surf, and we lay down to sleep. He flopped and twisted and poked me in the ear with his elbow and complained of my heavy breathing, of my taking up too much room, of “that strange odor peculiar to adolescents.” At last he could abide it no longer. Throwing off the covers, he launched himself from the bed and began to pull on his clothes.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “I am going for a walk.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“I would rather you did not.” He slipped on his coat, felt something in the right-hand pocket—his revolver. It reminded him of something.
“Oh, very well,” he said crossly. “Come along if you must, but please keep quiet so I may think. I need to think!”
“Yes, sir,” I said, pulling on my clothes. “I will try not to be a burden to you, sir.”
The remark, like the gun, reminded him of something. He seized my left hand and held it in the lamplight to examine my injury.
“It’s healed up nicely,” he pronounced. “How is the mobility?”
I made a fist. I stretched my remaining fingers wide.
“See?” I asked. “Part of it’s gone, but it’s still my hand.”
We walked out onto the beach, and the stars were very bright and the moon was high and the towering cliffs to the northeast shone pearl white. To our left were the lights of Dover. On our right was the darkness of open water. The wind coming off the water was stronger and colder than the wind that had come through our window. I shivered; I had left my jacket in the room.
The monstrumologist turned abruptly and walked to the water’s edge. He stared toward the vaguely defined horizon, the thin line between black and gray.
“Pour ainsi dire,” he said softly. “How do you kill someone ‘in a manner of speaking,’ Will Henry?”
I told him what had happened to Thomas Arkwright. He was shocked. He looked at me as if he’d never seen me before.