Tuesday, October 15, 2013
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS: Chapter 24
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I didn't demand to go with the gentlemen to the Majesty's office, but I did demand to go to London. What else would they have done with me? Lavinia had a dear friend she wished to visit, desperate to have something of normalcy. I had no plans, but I didn't dare miss London.
During our carriage ride, the gentlemen took turns driving. Jonathon was quiet and introspective when he rode with us, his hand entwined in mine, Lavinia stared at the new engagement ring with a wistful envy that she did not voice. As we'd readied in the morning, she noticed the piece, and I told her what had happened, my initial rejection of him, and the second chance in the study. She had embraced me and congratulated me. But I could feel the pang then and saw it now as she turned away from the garnet treasure upon my finger.
Nathaniel entertained us ladies with new material, blatantly overjoyed to have a captive audience. Thankfully, in this case, it was no trouble to be captive, as he was exquisite in his rendition of Shelley's Ozymandias. It was an interesting narrative, the epic poem, as epic London grew before us, beginning in modest outlying villages to clusters of greater population in a radius around the heart of the matter and unto the great, gargantuan golem of a city that was London...
Ah, London. What a beautiful mess. What a terrifying wonder and mystery. Did newcomers look at New York this way? Utterly overwhelmed?
Nothing could quite have prepared me for the scope of what I was seeing out the carriage windows. Manhattan, while vast, was an island, so simply its space had limits. London seemed an endless sprawl that was utterly confusing. There was no grid. No numbered streets. Everything was at twists and turns. And nearly all of it covered in soot. Though I wasn't sure what of that lens was made a shade darker by the gray, overcast sky.
The city grew narrower in brick alleys and confining arches over our carriage head and then expanded to grand lanes in dizzying instants, devastation like I'd seen in records of Manhattan's Lower East Side, but then palatial stretches much like our Fifth Avenue. They were sister cities in their own right, I supposed, centers of the world in many ways. But I was left with no idea where I was or how I could ever orient in such a tangle of streets and masses of people. It was vibrant and dark, grand and guttered. Impressive and terrifying. And it seemed without end.
The carriage made its rounds, Nathaniel first escorting Lavinia to a mutual friend, leaving me alone in the cab while Jonathon stayed with the horses. Next, I was taken to a friend of Mrs. Northe, Mr. Knowles, who would keep me until the gentlemen came back with news of their plans. We were in a business district; I could tell from the pristine streets and the lack of human bustle. If there were residents in the area, they kept their lamps trimmed low or were not yet home from being out and about on what had turned out to be a fine day with a brightly setting sun.
Nathaniel stayed with the horses, and Jonathon led me through an iron gate and up a stoop of a well-appointed building that had several names etched in gold upon the glass door. He plucked a key from his pocket and opened the office door.
"You've keys?" I asked, incredulous, as if all of London might be at Jonathon's disposal.
"Knowles and Brinkman have availed many resources to me," he explained. "As the Society is a sincere threat to crown and country, I've secret allies and places to hide."
"And yet you're confronting the Society directly, tomorrow," I said ruefully. "Why can't all those secret allies and those threatened take over instead of us running blindly forward at this point?"
"Hiding in plain sight is often the best strategy," Jonathon replied with an impressive nonchalance. "Besides, prosecuting the Society's aims needs as much evidence as possible. So much of it is paranormal circumstance you and I could not prove in a court."
I nodded acquiescence as he led me into the first floor foyer and then moved ahead to a frosted-glass window that was lit from within. He knocked, was bid enter, and there was a conversation I couldn't hear for a moment before he poked his head back into the hall to gesture me into the room. I walked into a warmly lit office well appointed in leather and books. A vast desk with matching mahogany chairs faced a wing-backed leather chair prominent before a grand fireplace. The trappings were similar to the finery of the Denbury study, but in a business setting, not residential.
At the door stood an elegant, patrician fellow in a well-tailored suit, the splash of a russet ascot offsetting the grey of his entire person: silver hair, eyes, frock coat, waistcoat, and trousers all the color of the English sky.
"Mister Knowles, this is my fiancée, Miss Natalie Stewart," Jonathon said. As Knowles inclined his head to me, I smiled, for the first time hearing the word fiancée. The newness of it must have been evident in my blush, for Mr. Knowles's wise-looking eyes sparkled in a way that was quite familiar.
"You know Mrs. Northe," I said eagerly.
"That I do," he replied. He turned to Jonathon. "I know you must be off, feel free to leave the girl in my care. She is under careful protection here. An officer has been assigned to this building with the precinct on watch."
"Thank you, sir. I'll return with news." He reached out and grabbed my hands in his and kissed them, one then the other. "I won't be long, my brave girl."
I smiled at him with a look that spoke of trust and care and stood at the threshold of the office to watch him go, my heartstrings tugging along after him. He looked back at me at the front door and pursed his lips in a kiss. I blew one back. He caught it and reached into his coat, placing it in his breast pocket, close to his heart. "For safekeeping," he said. "I'll need it."
And with that he vanished to go confront his enemy. "Be careful," I called as the door shut behind him. I clenched my fists and tried to set fierce worry aside, as it would do me no good. I took my place in Knowles office, sitting in one of the fine wooden chairs he proffered to me.
Knowles looked at me with a wistful smile as he set tea before me, gesturing me to a seat across his desk. "She was Evelyn Rutherford when I met her," Knowles began, "in her first 'season' in London, full of New York wit and vivacity, catching the eye of every available bachelor and married man alike. Who knew that quiet, unassuming Peter Northe would catch her in the end? Baffled everyone. But then again, aside from the man's money, he was simply kind. She always said a man's kindness was worth as much as his pocketbook. Thankfully, she earned double, then, while the lucky man lived."
I smiled back. I thought of my father. That's why she cared about him. A tear came to my eye.
Knowles pretended not to notice and instead leveled a gaze at me. "She's not happy you're gone, I'll have you know."
I chuckled and shook my head. "Oh, I'm sure she isn't."
"Not surprised, mind you, as not much surprises a woman as gifted as she. But she said if I ran into you, that there will be quite a talking-to that awaits you. Also"—his expression grew grave—"as you're not a child, I'll not treat you with kid gloves. But you should know that your friend Miss Hathorn has gone missing from Chicago."
I blinked at him. "When? Why?"
"Neither Mrs. Northe or Miss Hathorn's caretaker have any idea. But, obviously, if you in any way hear from her, do let Mrs. Northe know, she's sick to death about it. About the both of you."
I suddenly felt so guilty I hadn't written to Maggie sooner. Had she run away? Was she homesick and simply decided to make a run for it? Had something called to her and lured her back to the erring paths? She probably didn't even get my letter. A profound sadness hit me like a slap to my face. I was selfish. I wasn't the only one going through troubled times. She needed a peer, someone with whom to commiserate. I vowed to be that more strongly and presently for her if I possibly could.
"Don't keep Mrs. Northe in the dark," I replied. "I'm sure she knows where we went. She tried to stop us. But she went into a medium's trance, and we eluded her. The spirit she channeled guided us, warned us, Miss Kent and I. Feel free to write her about any of our goings-on if you feel they will arrive safe to her and not place her in any danger. Not having her at my side for this battle doesn't feel right, but I'd not dare try to involve her. I feel this is Jonathon and my fight to see through on our own."
"She told me you were a brave, dear girl. But no hero does his or her entire quest on their own."
I nodded, allowing myself to take that in as comfort. We shared more tea. He told me of his late wife who had died in childbirth, and of her ghost that haunted him still. Evidently, 'that was how he and Mrs. Northe had become close. Séances. He asked if I'd met Senator Bishop, and I promised I'd give the man my best whenever I saw him again at Mrs. Northe's house. If I ever returned to her house…
No. I couldn't think like that. Act like that. I couldn't possibly manifest that even as a possibility.
"I've my mother with me," I stated, invoking her as a ward and guardian to refuse thoughts of failure. "Much like your wife, I know she watches over me. I do know I'm not alone. And for that I rejoice. Loving souls are never truly alone, for those who have loved us are always connected. Even the death of a body cannot stop that tether."
"Spoken like a true spiritualist," Knowles said with a fond smile.
"I've learned from the best," I replied, sharing the smile.
Jonathon returned within the hour. Nathaniel was with him. They entered the office, elegant black-coated figures shifting the quiet energy Mr. Knowles had cultivated into something alive and on edge. I jumped up, impetuously embracing him. I was his fiancée. I was allowed to do such things in the presence of others. His tensed shoulders eased a bit as I snaked my hands around them and clasped my lace-gloved hands about his neck. "Well?" I murmured, noting that the look on his face was tired and haunted, but not defeated.
"I think the "Majesty" continues to believe me," Jonathon said. "Nathaniel, too, but I believe the next step will be a test. Moriel is his name. He said he'd be delighted by a dinner party and would be sure a few of his ministers attend. We'll have our quarry. Let's make sure our trap is well set and in place. We must be able to draw out their strategy and once they’ve confessed their plans to listening ears, we’ll strike to the roots of their insidious tree and uproot it as best we possibly can."
"We have to take care in regards to the trapped souls in the dining room," I cautioned, turning to Mr. Knowles. "The family that took over the estate, their souls are separated from their bodies in a painted prison, likely the bodies possessed by demonic energies, as Jonathon's was. I do not know where the bodies are, I assume in the service of the Society, but the paintings, and the persons, cannot be harmed until body and soul are reunited. I cannot trust police to be delicate in those matters. That family will be collateral damage if we are not careful. We need to ensure the countercurse is landed before the police make the arrests."
"Very wise," Jonathon agreed, squeezing my hand. "See how sensible my lady is, Mr. Knowles? I am a blessed man."
"You have been a cursed man," Knowles said gently. "And so you deserve such blessings as she. It is only right and just."
I simply smiled, squeezing his hand back, tightly.
"Let's fetch Miss Kent and Mister Brinkman and ready the plan," Knowles said.
And we were off to the proverbial nightmarish races…
(End of Chapter 24 - Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends! Tweet it, FB, + it! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
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