Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


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

The Most Boring Man in Fallen London, Part Three

Penned upon the 16th of January, 2014

Doctor Taupe-Wainscot slept fitfully, haunted by dreams of water dripping onto prison stones, of downcast grey men marching single-file, and of giant rats dressed as postmen, delivering boxes of squealing babies. He awoke with a start as the first lamps were being lit. Snow had begun to fall during the night, and a few local children were already playing noisily in the street outside. He resolved to walk for a time before breakfast, and clear his head. It was not until he had washed and was knotting his tie – one of his hostess’s late husband’s, given to him as a gift because “it would look so terribly nice with your new suit!” – that he realised the peculiarity of snow falling underground.

He pondered this as he stepped out into the gaslit street. By whatever means it fell, it certainly looked like snow – and, like the London winters of his youth, it was dotted with grubby and cacophonous children, engaged in games without any apparent rules or goals. Indeed, unguarded and unmanaged children seemed curiously in evidence – were there no parents in this city? No sooner had he thought this than he almost tripped over a figure sprawled upon the thoroughfare – a sandy young lady, dressed in rough corduroy, who bore a gash on her forehead.

Hrrmmh! London had always been a wild sort of place, but it was clear that there was a dire want of public order if urchins were robbing honest citizens in broad dayl- …that is, in full view, and in the heart of the city! He saw the criminal peeking down at them from a low outbuilding. He could not reach her to clip her ’round the ears, but he could deliver some stern moral counsel. He recalled the nursery-tales that Nanny had told him – the naughty boy who stole sweets, and was locked up in the Tower; the boy who disobeyed his father, and was stolen away by pirates…

He noticed still more examples of this terrible infancy on his return journey: children fighting in the street; children dropping snow onto people from rooftops; children chasing yowling cats down alleys and up drainpipes. He resolved to write a letter to the Times… or, as he hadn’t seen the Times for sale, whichever paper was considered most respectable a venue for such missives.

On arriving at the widow’s house, he found that a drift of snow had settled across the steps, and the widow was hovering in her doorway. She waved to him, and began a fluster of worried explanation – she daren’t come out for fear of slipping and falling, and her upstairs lodger had gone to work early. Could he – would he – be so kind as to clear the way for her? Taupe-Wainscot felt he was over-old for shovelling snow, but he owed her a debt of gratitude – there was no way he could reasonably refuse to help. She handed him a spade and pail, and he set to work.

The doctor blinked, and returned to himself – exerting himself on an empty stomach was clearly affecting his senses. He laid the spade down by the areaway stair, and was about to haul the pail out to the gutter when he noticed someone in the street. A red hooded robe trimmed with fur, a big brown sack – why, it was Father Christmas! He had been travelling through much of Christmastime, and was happy to see he’d not missed out on all of the festivities. The man in the robe approached him, and stuck the doorframe with a gloved hand.

Er… did Father Christmas want something from him? Perhaps this was a local tradition he was unaware of… ah! That was it, surely – one of the city charities, collecting for the poor! He extended a hand, ready to make introductions, acquit himself as not having his possessions ready to hand, and fetch the lady of the house, but he’d only made it so far as “How d-” when the man snatched the snow-pail from him.

He stood dumbstruck, feeling equal parts baffled, rudely snubbed, and ashamed at his own inadvertent parsimony. He stared at the pot of honey the charity-collector had left. It was unlabelled; perhaps some local farmer was sponsoring the collection? Well, it would go nicely on his toast, anyhow. He stepped inside, and, finding the morning post lying on the hall table, collected a number of packages addressed to him under his arm, and carried mail and honey together to the dining-room.

His landlady had laid out an orderly breakfast of toast, eggs and mushrooms, and he poured out a cup of tea as he reviewed the letters and parcels before him. The first was a lady’s calling-card.

A card on the floor by the mailbox. It seems to have fallen out of the letter from before. On it is written a note: “If ever you are in need of assistance. Elene Ledford

How kind! It must have been overlooked the night before, and rescued by his hostess. Next was a rather larger calling-card.

A white rectangle of paper gilded with silver arrives on your doorstep. On the back is a bizarre symbol with the words “An introduction by way of unexpected sources” written underneath. “Sirrah, I have been informed by an acquaintance of your recent arrival in our fair city. I was shocked to hear of your wrongful incarceration, and suitably pleased by your subsequent manumission. As a Correspondent for the Clarion Call, one of London’s less disreputable papers, I would be happy to print your tale should you wish to tell it. If not, I would still enjoy a dinner with you any evening from this Thursday. Regards, C. O’Cytus P.S. I would put this card down quite quickly, if I were you.” You note the seemingly unnecessary capital letter in ‘Correspondent’ just before a point of light appears at the centre of the card, which quickly expands and consumes it.

He dropped the burning paper on his saucer, and sucked at his fingers – what on earth had happened there? He must have held it too close to the candle – careless of him. He didn’t associate with journalists, as a rule, but this O’Cytus sounded like one of the more trustworthy members of the profession. His hostess didn’t take the Clarion Call, but he made a careful knot in his handkerchief as a mnemonic to pick up a copy before luncheon. There was a broad, flat box from the same sender, with a tag that read “Dear Sir, I hope you enjoy this item. The postal service is strangely unreliable down here. However, the postman always gives something to the recipient, if not the parcel that one originally intended. Regards &c. C. O’Cytus”. He set his teacup aside and peeled back the stiff brown paper.

A stack of medical journals; how thoughtful! He set them aside as his bedtime reading, and picked up the next envelope, which contained what looked like an advertising-bill, though curiously hand-lettered.

The envelope has been delivered to dr. Taupe-Wainscot’s newly acquired lodgings, slipped under the wooden door. It is plain white, with the doctor’s address written neatily in a corner. Inside there is a letter written in the same small, regular handwriting: “Bringing Earnest Welcome! Arrived Recently, Envisioning Elixirs And Toiling Endlessly Rendering Sickness Or Faintness Cured. Acknowledge Neathy Delights, Loosen Every Sense! – WM

His initial impression was of a would-be patent medicine-peddler, and, as he reflected on the value of initial impressions, he noticed that the next parcel was accompanied by a note from his hostess, explaining that it had been hand-delivered shortly after he went out for his walk.

The package is small, brown, and smells vaguely of dead rat. So did the courier: a man with a mask that covered his eyes, but who grinned as widely as anyone you’ve ever known. Despite this, shaking the box elicits a gentle, clear clinking sound. The note on the package reads, “A modest indication of good intentions. –SF

Good heavens. If this was from the man who had slipped him a letter during his… awkwardness with the police, then he hoped that it was not intended to indicate an outstanding debt. He patted the package on its side, and several small pieces of jewellery slid out into his palm. Stolen, no doubt – he repressed a shudder. Best not to think about it. He took another sip of tea and picked up the final package.

A parcel? A parcel and an envelope, and the envelope says “Nathanael”! Could this be? Certainly a message from the hospital – so improperly rechristened – to tell you that all confusion has been lifted and that all shall be well. But ah, it is not so. On second look, it’s “Nathanael Wells, esq.” and it’s not even really addressed to you! The letter – because you absentmindedly opened the envelope and nothing speaks against taking just a peek at the text – is for the most part sappy nonsense directed towards a certain “Chidiebere”. Some strained attempt at being romantic and arrogant at the same time. By Jove, this is unbearable. You can barely bring yourself to finish the letter. Something interesting in the postscript, though: perhaps a person named “L.B.” might be responsible for the postal mischief, as Mr. Wells has been quarreling with them somewhat fierce over the cancellation clause on certain services. You put the letter aside and help yourself to the orphaned parcel. Restitution enough for having read such an unpleasant letter, you hope.

Besides, the address on the parcel had been rendered quite illegible. Perhaps its contents would carry some clue as to the true owner. He carefully separated the seal from the paper with his butter-knife, and peeked at the contents.

More letters, similar in their contents to the first, and dating back over a number of years. Were they being returned to their original sender, at the end of a love affair? Passed on to a rival, at the beginning of one? Or perhaps this was a case of blackmailers conspiring among themselves. Hardly seemly behaviour… but, he reflected as he pushed his teacup aside, perhaps there would be some small reward for returning these letters to their proper owner. He took up the last envelope, which was small but surprisingly heavy – some heavy enclosure weighted it down on one side.

“Dear Doctor Taupe-Wainscot, I have heard of your dire situation. Please keep this token carefully. It will come in use. Sincerely, A Friend

And with it, an iron disk marked with… an asklepian? A caduceus? He looked closer – no, a knife. It was too heavy to wear on his watch-chain, but perhaps it would serve as a handsome sort of paperweight. He laid it on the sideboard, by the portrait of the widow’s late husband, and took two slices from the toast-rack. The honey-jar he’d been given was at his elbow – its contents smelled sweet and flavourful, so he spread a generous helping and took a bite.

He woke up on the floor, with his clothes disarrayed and a curious dragging weight in his limbs. His toast was sticking to the boards; how long had he been dreaming? Perhaps the grocer would take the rest of the honey – perhaps that’s what they liked down here. Honey that gave you giddy visions and made your heart weak. He stepped to the door to get some fresh air, and found a wooden crate labelled in a familiar hand.

“more rats? more rats. welcome to fallen london enjoy your stay.”

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

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