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 Five

Penned upon the 29th of January, 2014

Doctor Taupe-Wainscot was wakened before dawn – or, rather, before morning was signalled by the lighting of the street-lamps – by a colossal hammering and clattering that, upon cautious investigation (armed with a candle-stub and armoured in an old dressing-gown,) proved to be an unusually dutiful or insomniac tradesman mending the sitting-room skylight before any more snow could get in. A bucketful of the stuff had settled on the curtain before it was taken down, and was now being borne by his hostess (who buzzed about the front hall in a diaphanous pink nightdress like a startled Pekingese, while her maid futilely entreated her to return to bed and let others handle the work.) She seized upon the doctor as a potential recruit – could he have the very great kindness to take the bucket out to the gutter?

His heart almost lurched out of his chest when he opened the front door to find a lumpen figure in a scarlet robe already waiting there. He stuttered a breathless blasphemy, and immediately felt a pang of impropriety as he realised that it was only another Father Christmas – not the same one as had come collecting the day before, though he couldn’t make out the man’s features at all. He peered beneath the robe’s fur-lined hood, and thought he saw something reflected back at him – spectacles? A mask? Or simply his imagination? He became aware that he was staring rudely, and began an apology. “I beg you pardon, sir; I was bringing this snow out, and did not expect-”

Why, of all the foolish… twice, now, he’d done that, and the charities of London must think him the most shocking ass in the city. They’d be laughing at the mission hall, talking about the feeble-minded gent who donated snow! He examined the bottle the fellow had left – the last gift had been unfit for consumption, and if this wine were poisoned, he almost felt he deserved it. It looked, however, like a rather excellent vintage – he was not a great drinker, but felt that his nerves might need a small glass before too long. Still, he reflected, he was learning something of the city and its inhabitants, and he felt he’d be right home before too long.

He returned to his room, and, folding a pillow about his head until the sounds of repair work were adequately muffled, spent some time reviewing the accumulated notes of his journeys. When, at last, he dressed and descended for breakfast, he found the morning post waiting for him – a promising little stack of letters, parcels and cards. He turned them over as he sat down to a plate of sausages and mushrooms – the first was a card with a cordial message appended.

Doctor, As an old friend of your hostess’ I have become aware of your arrival and most unfortunate plight; if I can in any way ease your reacquaintance with the city of your youth, you have only to write. Please consider yourself welcome at any time at the Diogenes Club, an establishment for gentlepersons of intellectual refinement of which I am the proprietor; I’m certain my guests would savor your unique perspective on the affairs of modern London. Sincerely yours, Jack Vaux-Harrowden, Pyrrhus’ Spire, the Bazaar, London.

What a very kind and gentlemanly missive! He surmised from the address that the sender was some sort of trader or manufacturer, and evidently a prosperous one. The next card was rather more unusual, and he had to read it twice before he felt he’d entirely taken it in.

*The card is solid black, with silver bordering and gold lettering, and the intricate border suggests the shape of odd sigils that make the eyes water if looked at for too long* My good Doctor, is is a pleasure to see this card finds you having already found a place to stay, if not a place of your own. I hope you may accept an offer of acquaintance, even though you do not know me. If you question my motives, suffice to say, I simply wish to avoid seeing the vicissitudes of London cause harm to a good soul when I have the opportunity to assist. If you wish to decline, I will understand, however, if you accept, I may be able to assist you, as a well-connected individual, and will contact you again when the opportunity arises. Until then, may your fortunes improve, good sir. Sincerely, Allanon Kisigar.

Most curious – the sender made no mention of how they knew of him and his circumstances. They seemed most generous-minded – perhaps some connection to the widow’s charitable projects? No doubt that was the explanation. The next card was a most decorous affair, and the formality of the message penned on its reverse was contrasted by the easiness of the accompanying note.

A pale green card embossed with passionflower vines and leaves sits in the silver tray by your door. “I would be honored to make your acquaintance. I have heard good things of your medical skills and would welcome a doctor of your stature in my social circle.” It is signed in phthalo green ink, “Parthenia.”

“Dear Sir, Thank you very much for your treatment of my mischievous little friend. She told me about your kindly binding of her cuts and scrapes after she fell through your landlady’s skylight. I hope you find the contents useful. Best regards, Parthenia.”

Well, this acquaintance was less mysterious – this was some relative, or friend, or caretaker, of their unexpected visitor of the previous day. But… “contents”? The note had been folded and sealed, without envelope… ah! But surely it had come off of this long, round parcel. He peeled back the wrapping to reveal a bottle of unusual design, bearing a rather baffling label.

Brandy? He made it a rule never to be without a reserve of brandy for long, for its innumerable benefits in the treatment of most common maladies; still, something about this bottle gave him pause. Perhaps it would be safest to lock it away for present, until he could locate a reputable reference on the local spirits. He took up the next parcel.

Greetings. Welcome to London. Surviving well? Hopefully so! Getting a lot of packages? Dont worry, We do that occasionaly. The neath is a strange place, both in physics,customs and logic. People told me you are a true surfacer, Huh. Well you will find strange things soon. Ware serpents,wells and intrigue. Godspeed Doctor! -“The reckless professor” 32C Red-Cloth street PS.Quite frankly these package can be anything. You should probably watch out if someone sends you angry arachnids.

A most eccentric message, though not the first warning he’d received regarding the unreliability of the postal service. The package, when opened, was another bottle of brandy, very similar to the last – meaning, he decided, either that there had been a generous sale of the stuff, or that part of someone’s wholesale order had been sent to him in substitution of his own mail. Well, no doubt he would find some use for it. The next parcel was marked in a familiar tarry fashion, and evidently referred to his letter to the editor, which had appeared in the evening edition of the Clarion Call. It was the most verbose the lunatic had yet been, and read Interesting article. Perhaps you’d like to meet a different breed of furry creature.. He took the box to the back door, ready to cast its contents over the fence and into the lane.

When he came to, he was lying in the cobbled yard, there was blood on his shirt-front, and the maid was slapping his face. He remembered the top of the box erupting like a demolition charge had gone off, and a mass of fur and teeth leaping at him… and then blackness. He was, he realised, gripping the coal-scuttle like a claymore. “You was yelling about rats.” was all the maid had to say, and he staggered back indoors feeling as though he’d been beaten with a dozen tiny shillelaghs. What was he rats? Oh, yes; the post. The remainder appeared to be more conventional correspondence, and largely concerned requests for, or offers of, professional services.

My dear doctor, I recently hear of your arrival in our fair city. This might strike you as a slightly unconventional request but my own physician has recommended the noble art. Therefore I always seek others of a similar mind and I would be delighted if you could meet me at your convenience. Yours cordially, Lady Ciel.

Dear Doctor, I hear you have some difficulties in navigating the less appealing parts of our beautiful city. Since, unfortunately, the city consists mostly of less appealing parts, this can make travel more difficult than it needs to be. Perhaps a guided tour is in order? Sincerely, Krawald

I usually don’t take care of new arrivals, but I heard you’re a doctor? Doctors can be useful, but without some training you won’t last long. How’bout a training bout? I won’t do any damage that can’t be repaired. Oh, and could you take a look at that wound? Training hyenas is a dangerous job. – Loogan

Despite his temporary difficulties, and not yet being able to practice his trade, the doctor felt that assisting a lady in undertaking her exercise was within his means. The animal trainer was a more unusual case, but it could do no harm to visit the chap. The final letter was an unassuming affair, but as he read it, the colour drained from his face and his hands began to shake.

[A plain, unmarked envelope is lying on the doorstep. Inside, there is only a short note.] Dear Sir, Word has spread of your daring escape from New Newgate prison. Now, of course one expects these things from the common folk, but for a gentleman such as yourself to be incriminated in such a thing…well, it would be scandalous, wouldn’t you agree? Of course, I am a generous soul, so if you would leave the paltry sum of 100 echos in the alley by the Singing Mandrake, I can ensure that no more will be said about the matter. Of course, if you do not, I may be forced to inform certain respectable gentlemen of the press about the matter. Sincerely, A Friend

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

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