Miss Penny Dreadful introduces
"The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler"
Part Five The Stone of The Sons of Horus
I toyed with the cane I had appropriated from Doppler’s attacker. After the blood and fragments of Stoney Face had been cleaned off, I found it was finely made, too fine for the previous owner, this was a gents cane. The shaft being polished black wood, possibly ebony, with a spherical gold and pale citrine knob. On the top in gold the monogram R.L.S.
But for now, it was mine.
We breakfasted at Mrs McCrivens’ Bonnie Tattie, attired in walking outfits, mine in a deep wine red, Dopplers’ a shimmering pearl grey. Both dresses had small, unfashionable bustles and no hoop-skirt underneath. Dopplers shiny toed, button top boots peeped from underneath like winking eyes. Both hems shorter than was proper and longer than totally practical. We ate griddled oatcakes, scones and porridge that could fill the cracks in Hadrian’s Wall, swilled down with the strongest tea known to man – fine belly timber indeed. The nice family at the next table were discussing the latest horseless carriage as a substitute for the ‘real’ thing, when the man of the family coughed and turned crimson, I half rose to assist when Dopplers hand restrained me. I watched as his eyes went glassy, he started to giggle. Wife, daughter and tiny son gawped in fear and wonder. He slammed both hands down on the starched linen, laughing uproariously and…
“I came across it in me trooser pocket!”
I caught Doppler smirking into her teacup, I asked with my eyes; is this your doing? The dour wifey hustled them out of the dining room like a scarlet, domineering mother hen, all the while the husband laughed out the last lines of puns he seemed to have just understood and grabbed at passing guests to listen.
“He’ll be fine soon. I’m sure.”
I was speechless, she had somehow administered a concoction to the unsuspecting fellow. I couldn’t condone her behaviour, but, she had bottle. In fact she had a plethora of bottles did Theodora Doppler.
We became tourists for a while. The Penny Geggys, Tam O’Shanter at the Brillig Theatre, St. Giles church and of course Edinburgh Castle. Magnificently formed and seated on the Rock like Gods own house. However, it was towards early evening, in the Pilkington Museum of Chronological Curiosities that things became exciting. I espied a couple of toffs, possibly married, looking attentively at Portrait of the Artist as a Young Kraken. Both immaculately attired, both wearing smoky, round glasses, both sinewy and erect. Before them was a chunky red rope, beyond which were a handful of narrow glass plinths with various contraptions, doo-dahs and thingamajigs with the painting beyond them. They were smooth, really smooth. The gent pointed with his cane at aspects of the painting he wanted to emphasise, a nearby attendant stepped up to ask sir, if he wouldn’t mind, not pointing his cane at the collections, the gent swung his cane around, causing the attendant to duck a little, and pointed to another painting and made an enquiry. By which time, the lady, had enveloped one of the plinth displayed curiosities in her large muff and moved quietly on. The attendant was still occupied by the gent with the cane in a discussion of Pilkington’s’ choice of glass in the architecture of the building, as we surreptitiously followed the muff out to the lobby and into the street.
She strolled from George Street with its granite facades, New Town grandeur and fashions into the Old Town and beyond. We almost lost her at one point when she dipped into an alleyway only to emerge wearing a different colour coat –a reversible, clever. I imagined the male of the pilfering pair would join her at some pre-arranged destination. In a mean little street the incongruous woman glanced about briefly, applied a key to the lock of a featureless door and stepped inside. The houses on either side were derelict and empty. It was a building of four stories, spreading layer upon layer, from a regular ground floor to a teetering wide roof surmounted by uneven, topsy-turvey chimneys. A light came on in an upper story. We hung about in a side alley before witnessing the male arrive, and go through the same routine.
We glided to the end of the street to find a back alley entrance, a rat scrambled across Doppler’s feet and she gave an inadvertent squeak. We broke into a neighbouring yard, then clambered over the fence, flattened against the gritty base of the house. Now, I’m no mechanic, but I know a machine when I hear one, and there was an odd humming, very faint, emitting from the upstairs. There was a sparse kind of window ledge high up, I bent and joined my fingers so that Doppler could step in. I boosted her up. She grasped the ledge, I altered my hands so that I was now pushing under her feet (thank goodness for our lack of interest in fashion). She was holding onto a higher ledge whilst she teetered on the lip of a window frame on her toes. I craned to see her face. Her eyes were goggling.
“What is it?” I hissed.
She, unbelievably, took a hand from her support and smothered her mouth. Unbalanced, a boot slipped on the slender foothold, I automatically opened my arms.
“Hide! Hide!” she shrilled.
I scanned around the rubbish, broken barrels and collapsing outhouse. Just as the rear doorway shed a puddle of light, I dived for the rear of the outhouse and squatted in the foetid, squalid remains of a mattress smelling of urine, what seemed like years’ worth of newspapers, layered and matted with something unidentifiable. A rat dropped from a partially disintegrated brick corner onto my hunched back. I couldn’t see who was at the door from my position, and, more worrying, I couldn’t see Doppler. I gently lifted the rat from where it had found comfort on my shoulder, gave it a brief stroke and set it down. It raced for the light. An odd clicking sound- a skreeek! And silence. The door was closed.
You know, when you’re playing Hide and Seek, you should always assume the other fellow is pretending to lose interest, I always do, so with that in mind, I sat down in the muck and waited. Then an odd coloured light came from the top floor window, I chanced a peek around the corner. Doppler was climbing out of the neighbouring window, she had managed to somehow scale across and tumble into the dark square unnoticed. I looked at her quizzically.
“Spider gloves” she smiled
“Lake District climbing expedition two years ago, remember? Some guy invited me to his room to show me some etchings! I found these amazing things in his stash of equipment. Brand new technology, you see these little automaton spiders are made into the fabric and can cling to most surfaces with irregularities in them, and when y…”
“Never mind that. What did you see?”
Doppler always forgot herself where new technology, or chemicals where concerned.
“Bloody hell, they’ve got a walking dead man in there, and machinery like you’ve never seen”
“What do you mean, walking dead man? And mind your language” I scolded.
“You say it” She sulked “Anyway. The thing she stole from the museum, she put it into a guy’s chest, I swear he was a dead man, massive, looked quite deceased –until- this thing kind of, lit up and he sat up! Bloody Hell Lockhart, what’s that all about?!”
“I haven’t a clue. But I know a man who might. We must get a telegram to the Major.”
I began to creep away from the strange, uncanny house.
“And stop cursing!”
To be continued…