Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Most Boring Man in Fallen London, Part Seven

Penned upon the 7th of February, 2014

Doctor Taupe-Wainscot felt oddly cheered as he stepped from the cab. He had gone unarmed into the lair of the… well, he wasn’t sure what the fellow had been, but he seemed of low origins and almost certainly up to no good… and set him against the greater foe. He had gone up against the worst that London – the roughest, rowdiest city in the world – had to throw at him, and he had been the victor. His pace faltered a little when he saw a stack of familiar-looking boxes waiting on the widow’s doorstep, almost bursting with limp, furry carcasses, and ribboned round with tarry messages. “I hope you like rats cause there’s several thousand more where these came from.” “the double doors of the rat horizon are open” “the postmen hunger. one day they may consume you too, if you travel across the zee to their flinty forsaken homeland” “ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha” Still, he was prepared to deal with the madman’s mousy mania – forewarned and forearmed, as it were. He hung his hat upon the area fence and hauled the boxes to the back gate for the rat-catchers to collect. If any of the little beasts were still alive in there – well, they could deal with them; it was their job, after all.

He let himself inside, and heard the widow singing something hymnal elsewhere in the house. There were a handful of messages on the hall table, which had evidently been left while he was out. The morning’s experiences had soured him to correspondence, but after cautious examination, they seemed harmless enough. The first was a small pouch, accompanied by a note in a lady’s handwriting. It read, “I understand that you are a recent arrival to the Neath and I hear that you are still lodging with the widow, lovely woman, but a bit of a gossip. The novelty of a new arrival can be so entertaining. Please feel free to call on me if you have need but in the meantime here is a small something to help you find your way. Circe.” He opened the pouch, and found a number of coins – not modern currency, but evidently those of some past age. The beginnings of a collection, perhaps? He toyed with the notion – he’d collected interesting stones in his youth, and then, as his interest in natural science bloomed, had attempted to collect frogs, but his mother had quashed the idea. Coins would be a very diverting interest to pursue – particularly in the city, where trade was common and frogs were scarce.

The next card was very simple, stamped with only the name ‘Regas‘. It bore the message “Welcome to the Neath good doctor. Dear Widow told me about you last night – you certainly have made an impression of sorts. Keep this card – there are good things to come for you”. That was rather mysterious, but, turning it over, he discovered an addendum: “Come to Dante’s grill at 9 PM. Don’t be late.” Dante’s Grill? He’d heard the name before… ah, yes, of course; some of the young persons he’d met in the street had been talking of eating there. It was evidently in a respectable part of town – surely no harm could come of a meeting there. Next was a small parcel, labelled, he realised, in the same hand as the card. “Some jewels for you my friend! Don’t sell them- better make yourself a cane. No gentleman would be seen in polite society without one after all! Oh and don’t touch those rubies without gloves. Don’t give up- never let failure daunt you. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

Next was a rather untidy letter, which he read with increasing merriment. “Good Sir, I hear that you are a doctor of some ability, and thus I have a request for you. Would you have any idea how to replace a soul? I happened to trade mine for a diamond in a moment of weakness. It was the largest, most fabulous diamond I have ever seen in my defense, but I do miss the feeling of warmth. I have asked others, but most would rather do without the risk of running foul of devils. I’m aware that you are relatively new to the Neath, so souls may not be something you are used to dealing with yet, but with the amount of post that I have noticed your house receiving already you must surely be a man of great importance and capability. I await your reply. – cookoo. Cookoo was right – another poor lunatic, though a very polite one. He worried a little that the writer knew of the deliveries he had received – perhaps some local eccentric, in the care of their relatives, who kept themselves busy watching everything that went on in the street.

The final letter was rather strange. It was not addressed, and read in an ornate hand, “Dear Sir or Madam, I am a one-time prince of Hell of some importance. I would ask you to allow me to introduce myself; my name is however unfortunately unpronounceable by vocal cords that have not been stretched by screams of unimaginable torment. I am contacting you because I have amassed great wealth which is now in jeopardy. I am in need of trustworthy individuals with whom my former subjects have no relationship. I seek your cooperation and assistance in the transfer of 7’777’666.00 echos worth of Nevercold Brass Slivers and bottled non-liquids to London. To show my appreciation I will offer you 15% of the total sum including 20% of interest earned. Please treat this issue confidentially. Please assist me in acquiring the funds for a ship permit as well as the crew and supplies required for the journey. I wait to hear from you.The doctor wondered if this had been meant for him at all. Written by some crank, no doubt, with a faint hope of profiting by others’ credulity. Screaming princes, indeed. He tore the letter in two, and carried it into the parlour with the intent of casting it into the fire.

To his considerable surprise, he found his hostess there, entertaining a large party of what appeared to be invalids. Men and women, and others he wasn’t entirely sure of, of all walks of life – run-down socialites in last year’s fashions; bankers in faded top hats; workmen missing hands and legs and ears; a cavalry officer in a uniform that had seen considerable service – united solely by poor health, and some of them so swaddled in bandages that their features could barely be made out. The widow had been ready to delight her guests with another hymn, but dropped this on his entry in favour of a string of breathless introductions with which he could not at all keep up. They were, he learned, only in London for a short time; they were soon to return to the colonies (which colonies? “North,” a gnarled female in nurse’s costume informed him, “along the coast. But not too far north, a-heh, heh, hech, *ckhak*!”); of course in their condition it was difficult to travel and they had so few amusements; she was very glad she could provide some little comfort for those who had so sadly lost their lives in accidents and dreadful crimes and, of course, the terrible war of 1870. At this, the officer leapt to his feet with an alarming creak and saluted, knocking a potted lily onto the rug.

Once the last of the guests had hobbled off into the darkness, and his new pet, or patient, or pet-ient (that was a good one – he made a mental note to write that witticism down and use it later) had been fed a punnet of seeds, he asked his hostess the meaning of her remarks about assisting those who had lost their lives. Her response was rather vague – there were many (or so they said) whose injuries would have been fatal, had they lived anywhere else; something in the air, or the water, or perhaps it was those very helpful tinctures they sold, kept death at bay; but, many so afflicted never quite healed right, you know, and so chose to live abroad, and it was such a good thing that men of the doctor’s profession were here to help make people better and keep them from that sad exile (it must be so dull for them, poor dears!) He followed this explanation as closely as he could, but he felt that further investigation would be necessary.

He sighed. He’d spent the better part of the afternoon making enquiries in the saloon bar of one of the less expensive local public houses, but the citizenry seemed as uncertain of the state of London’s health as he was. His new raven seemed lively enough, despite her bandaged wings – she made a cheerful “wok-wok” noise as he returned to his room, and pecked at something pale and chitinous at the bottom of her cage. Well, no sense dwelling on it for now – he’d best get ready to meet his mysterious appointer for dinner. He hadn’t any evening-clothes, but he’d have to risk that – if he wasn’t allowed in, this ‘Regas’ would just have to meet him somewhere else.

A man is waiting for you – is he dressed in.. armor? Is that glove making crunching noises? You ignore them and take a seat. “You’ve come! Splendid! Have you been here before? The cuisine is excellent! But of course I didn’t call you here just to compliment the chef here. You are a newcomer to London and you are yet unaware of many dangers that may befall an ordinary person here. One of them is… devils. Stop sniggering! Look around – see? All of those yellow-eyed ladies and gentlemen are not human! And yes, they are after your soul. They will do anything in their power to get you to give it up – bribery, seduction, trickery – stay far away from them if you value it. And if you happen to misplace your soul…” *He takes out his pocketwatch and opens it briefly as if to check the time. On the inside a tiny shepherd’s crook is etched* “Contact me- I believe I can provide assistance.” The rest of the evening passes by unremarkably.

His first expedition of the day had been triumphant. His second had been merely unproductive. This time, as he admitted himself to the house with the latchkey the widow had entrusted to him, he felt positively baffled. He’d have ascribed Mr Regas’ fantastical claims to a peculiarly common monomania, but something about the waiters and diners at that singular restaurant had struck him as genuinely unearthly. Their dress and manners had been like nothing he’d seen before, in all his travels… and he’d have been prepared to swear that the young lady in the very old-fashioned bonnet had tasted her wine with a long, flickering forked tongue. He was about to discard his accoutrements and retire to bed, when a slight noise drew his attention to the parlour table, where there sat a parcel that had arrived in the evening post. It trembled slightly, and he was creeping toward the fireplace pokers, expecting another outburst of rats, when he noticed the accompanying label in an unfamiliar hand.

“Dear mister Taupe-Wainscot. I have recently read your letter in the Clarion Call, and although I disagree with your sentiment, I find your dedication to the feline cause rather admirable. Perhaps you may even be capable of redeeming this particular specimen. I wish you the very best of luck. You will need it.

A cat, then? There was a regular run on sick animals today. He was no manner of veterinary surgeon, but he was sure he could at least take a look at the creature – and, who knew, perhaps his hostess would enjoy its company about the house. It certainly couldn’t spend any longer wrapped up in a parcel! He fetched a pen-knife and cut away the string and paper, allowing the creature inside to leap free.

Fallen London and all its contents are (c) Failbetter Games 2010-2014.


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