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 Ten

Penned upon the 26th of March, 2014

The final days of the Feast had come, and Doctor Taupe-Wainscot had enjoyed a subdued but steady string of social engagements. He had messages bearing sedate well-wishes…

“Doctor, please enjoy this small token of my regard in celebration of the Feast. I hope you are enjoying the local twist on the old-fashioned festival. How are you getting on in your quest to clear your name? We at the Clarion Call would be glad to publish a happy ending to your tale. Please do let me know when you are available for a meal. Fond regards, C. O’Cytus.

…and invitations to parties that shook the neighbouring houses and sent flocks of bats screaming into the night.

“Doctor, darling! Do you dance? You must — upstanding gentleman like you, you must know there’s a suit for every occasion, and for a Feast nothing suits like dancing and revelry. As the good book says: to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven! Or, in our case, under the earth. Come, let’s have a wild waltz together.

He’d also received a number of gifts from Londoners quite unknown to him – evidently the city regarded the festival as an ideal time to make new acquaintances. Some of these bore messages which spoke volumes about their senders, such as one missive which accompanied, appropriately enough, a pot of tongues…

“Greetings humble healer Have I sent you this before or not?.Time can be such a confusing thing somethimes This is “one of the many individuals in Mahogany Hall”. As I may or may not have told you in a letter you may or may not have recived (if you have recieved it then you are quite lucky in getting twice the amount of gifts from the same individual) I enjoy wandering around various locations in this fine city looking for inspiration,props and other things. Despite being reasonable creative I occationally uncover items I have no use for (or somethimes items I have no use for any longer).I felt it was appropriate to use this giftgiving season to share some of my discoveries.(Please do not interprit this as me being romantically interested towards you,consider it kind hearted charity)As I have heard from various sources that you are a man with a medical education I believe you can find a virtous use for these. I do humbly apologize for the confusion I have no doubt caused you when you read this letter,but as stated time can be a confusing thing.When one works with trickery and mystique one may somethimes end up on the wrong side.Take care of yourself and any patients seeking you out.”

…while others were terse, enigmatic, and even a little sinister.

Quite unexpectedly, you begin to receive very shiny gems from various sources. Various criminal and unsavory elements, individuals swathed in dusty bandages, and small urchins stop by, depositing valuables at your door. Or through your window. The last delivery is from a young girl urchin, who carries with her three blazing red rubies. She looks up with an uncanny intelligence in her eyes, gives a slight nod of the head, and says “Regards. The Player. Watching you. Intrigued.”

He’d also been forced to grapple with an affair of the heart of his own. He’d been attending a luncheon at the Continental Hotel in aid of the Recently Deceased Trust, engaged in a discussion of Gothic literature and municipal morbidity rates, when he heard, very close, a gasp and a clatter of crockery. Turning, his eyes met those of a white-haired, spinsterish woman, heavily wrapped in Shetland knitwear, who reached for his hand and cried “Graeme! Is it really you!” Good heavens. It was Clara Cordite. He hadn’t seen her since his student days; she’d been the daughter of the chief examiner, and the beauty of their social set. He’d stepped out with her once or twice, before he’d completed his studies and circumstance had taken him off abroad. She was telling him all her own adventures – she had been engaged to the son of a baronet, who had been a scholarly sort and a keen naturalist; he had disappeared while conducting research on river fauna in the Yorkshire Dales, and she’d been heartbroken ever since. She’d often thought of her dear Graeme Taupe-Wainscot in the years since, especially since London had been so cut off from the rest of the world, and was overjoyed to see him again. She was holding him uncomfortably closely now, and her declarations of revitalised affection were beginning to draw amused attention. He could not let the lady upset herself so; he had dedicated his life to medicine, after all, and had no time for more sentimental pursuits.

That had been the most distressing event of the holiday, except for a series of unusual dreams that had begun the night he had spent carousing with the dressmaker and the diplomat. They had begun innocuously – strolling on a sunlit lawn, watching the wildlife frolicking in the bushes – but had grown stranger and stranger, until they reached their apex on the last night of the Feast.

He’d shot bolt awake, struggling against a pinion of tangled sheets, and was horrified to see before him a contorted face, gasping for breath beneath an all-enveloping rain. His horror was little relieved as, on sitting up, he realised that this was his hostess, considerably surprised to have had a bowl of porridge upset over her by the doctor’s sudden spasms. Following a welter of apologies and the fetching of the washstand towel, she explained that she’d thought be might enjoy taking his breakfast in bed, and was about to wake him when he began shouting in his sleep – something ecclesiastical in tone, about the Judgements of the Shames and the burrows of foxes, and she hoped something he’d eaten hasn’t disagreed with him, and she’d be happy to wash his nightshirt for him, and she used to suffer terribly from sleepwalking herself, and go wandering about the house, not knowing what she was doing.

Once he’d cleaned up as best he could, he dressed and descended to find the morning post already collected, and the maid preparing a replacement meal. Awaiting his inspection on the hall table were four parcels and a small bundle of correspondence, which he took into the parlour to investigate. The parcels could be anything… and he didn’t feel like surprises just yet, after his unsettled sleep. The letters first. On top of the pile was a card, which proved remarkably difficult to read.

The calling card is elegant and minimalist, or it would be if it wasn’t covered a note written in a scrawling hand. “My sincere apologies for being so forward, a friend recommended your services as the best on this side of the zee. My jobs can be a bit dangerous at times so I thought it would be best to send you a note now before I show up bleeding on your doorstep.” There’s more writing but most of it is to smudged to make out and written in a different color of ink. You think you can see ‘neutral grounds’ ‘payed in secrets’ and something that is either ‘arsonist’ or ‘assassination’. Written over it in black ink is ‘buy milk’

Good heavens; like something out of The Three Musketeers. Did people in this city often make medical appointments in advance of injuries they expected to suffer? He put a knot in his handkerchief to remember to stock up on dressings and surgical thread – like it or not, if this individual did call on him in such a state, it was his duty to attend to their wounds. Next was an envelope which bore a short, neat letter.

“Dear Doctor, I have heard that troubles obtaining supplies have made things more difficult than they should be for your practice. I do make a habit of importing medicines and makings from the Surface, as well as having been engaged in thorough study of the fungi of the Neath for over the past decade, and how they can be used in medicinal preparations. My companion has a terrible habit of getting himself into the worst kinds of trouble and always comes to me for patching up. I would be happy to share my supplies in exchange for some of your advanced knowledge of techniques and Surface medicines — I obtain a great many books, but it’s never quite the same as speaking with someone who actually uses the stuff. Also, I have a great many contacts in many portions of society in the Neath, from the heights to the depths. If there is, perhaps, someone I could put you in contact with that would help in putting your situation to rights, I would be honoured. If not for the help of several who asked little to nothing in return, I would still be an starving urchin in the Flit, myself. My belief is that I honour them by passing on their kindness to others. I look forward to meeting with you, G. Morgan

This was a very handsome proposition – he imagined that London may have fallen behind the more up-to-date medical methods of the Surface, and he’d certainly found it difficult to source necessary supplies at anything approaching a reasonable price. He placed this letter aside for further consideration, and picked up the next – a brief, friendly note in an unknown hand.

“How’s everything going doc? It’s quite some time since your arrival at London, how do you feel about it now? Don’t worry, down here everyone is citizen of Neath, and remember, all shall be well. Regards. Neath beckons. Mr.G

What an informal way of writing the youth of today had – but, the intention was well-meant, and he appreciated it. Behind this note was a string of paper scraps held together by a large clothespin, which were, he realised, the rat-maniac’s daily contribution. The author was in fine form today – their ravings were d-mn near unreadable.

“The Presbyter will suffer no rats in her palace. perhaps we’ll fight our way out. Warm still air in the Rat-den. Sweat on your skin. The calm before rats. Slow dark rain meanders downwards. Rats. You are buried in moments. The sun screams overhead in its loneliness.” (At this point, the train of thought seemed to grow still wilder and less coherent.) “the clockwork rat king is the true ruler of the Neath never to be denied a great rat provides the winds and rains of the Neath crown the rat king with a wreath of tails”

The last of these was torn in two, and he discovered its second part gummed to one of the packages – a large, well-wrapped parcel, quite unlike the usual crates. “I hope you enjoyed the Feast of the Exceptional Rats,” it said, “this could be rats. or not.” He ought to be disgusted, but he was surprised at his own coolness. Perhaps it was only resigned irritation, or perhaps he was becoming inured to the queerness of the Neath. In any case, there was no sense in delaying it – he fetched a pen-knife and cut the wrappings away.

It was possible, the doctor reflected, as he climbed down from the end table, that there were some circumstances for which he was not yet entirely prepared. Witnessing the final moments of a talking military-rodent, for instance. He ventured to prod the creature with a rolled-up copy of the Unexpurgated London Gazette, but it was quite dead. He replaced the lid of the casket, and, on reflection, weighted it down with a paperweight. The next parcel he picked up had not been stacked with the rest, for it was of an irregular shape – broad at the base, but with a round, lumpy protuberance above. He recognised the writing on the label – it was that of Mr Regas, the strange man who he had meet for coffee some weeks before. It read, simply, “I sent this package completely devoid of any contents. If anything and i mean it-ANYTHING has found its way inside, please discard it immediately, preferably by using fire.”

He recoiled from the violet… blobby… thing. Perhaps it carried some sort of electric charge, like Signor Galvani’s frogs? He wasn’t at all sure that it would burn. The documents accompanying it were scarcely less strange – large, even blocks of letters, some representing English words, some not. A code of some kind? They looked important, and he was hesitant to dispose of them – perhaps someone would be able to make something of them. He picked up the next parcel – a simple, unadorned cardboard box, tied with string. It bore a simple label:

Another box, another note. The box is delivered reputably–through the mail–this time, which is odd because so far it’s the one that is most likely to get the sender arrested. “Have another–this time we offer lessons for you to take advantage of. Do not abuse them. –SF

Inside was a bundle of mismatched scraps of paper – cuttings from theatrical reviews; a torn page from a police notebook; what looked like a training schedule from a boxing club… good lord. There were some blackmailing letters, too, not unlike the one he’d been sent – all the details had been excised with black ink, but enough remained to get a sense of the form. With such a collection of this, one felt one had a sense of the seamier side of city life. He replaced them in their box, and made another knot in his handkerchief to remember to lock them in his writing-desk. The final package was adorned with a card, bearing the name ‘Roland Jones’.

Amidst all the other mail, a package scarcely larger than the card attached to it. The front of the card is printed, with raised black lettering on subtle off-white paper. A name, and an address at the very heart of the Bazaar. On the back, a handwritten message. “Greetings. Welcome to London. I apologize for the treatment you have received down here; a doctor deserves better. Alas, London is a rather peculiar place these days. If you have the time, then I could perhaps teach you some of the city’s secrets. To help you avoid such such unpleasantness in the future, among other things. Free of charge, though I admit I may require your services at some point as well. Good doctors are unfortunately rare. Please give my regards to your hostess.” On the inside of the box’s lid, another message. ‘An invitation to deeper intrigues.”

Hmm! This Mr Jones (Welsh?, the doctor wondered) was a polite sort of fellow. The box contained only a single object, a glimmer of ivory… he picked it up; a chess-piece. A knight, in fact, smooth and cold in his fingers – so smooth that it actually slipped from his grasp, and landed on the rug. As he bent down to retrieve it, a glint caught his eye – a letter, with a decorous gold trim, that had fallen and been kicked under the table – had he dropped it that morning, or had it been overlooked for days? He fetched it and smoothed it out before him.

“To The Dear Doctor Taupe-Wainscot I must say I am rather impressed with the spectacular amount of trouble you’ve managed to attract in the past few days. You really have stirred up the hornets nest if you don’t mind me saying. I barely returned from a long voyage to zee when I found my connections alight with whispers and mutterings about you. Your high profile arrival seems to have started all sorts of rumors. Some think you are one of Ferenczy’s men considering your involvement in that mass break out, while others think you are a surface spy using that gang as cover due to your encounter with a Master, and others yet think, well…best not trouble you with that. Even my friends at the post are cross since they have had to reopen their rat delivery branch early on account of your arrival. There are rather a large number of dangers in London these days and being the center of attention rather amplifies the risk. As you are a family friend, I feel obliged to give you a hand. Therefore I would like to invite you to my lodgings for a chat. Perhaps I can give you a bit of advice regarding making your way down here. The spires are a bit difficult for people to get to normally, so I will send my sedan chair to pick you up. Yours Truly, Elene Ledford

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

If you so desire, you may follow any commentary upon this missive with the aid of our “RSS-O-Matic” apparatus.

Neither remarks nor trackings-back are currently permitted, so as to focus your attention better upon the wisdom herein.

Further remarks are not permitted.