#3 Penny Dreadful
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of amusement, adventure and instruction
The German Affair: Part Four
The mole digger man pointed his pistol, a small, regular percussion type with some odd casing around the barrel. I imagined this was to prevent it exploding in mining conditions – you never knew what gases leaked this far underground. I raised my hands slowly. He waggled the pistol indicating I should remove the cloth covering my lower face. As I pulled it down and smiled as innocently as I could I noticed his nonplussed expression – a female, in mining attire, roaming about the private stores, what was going on?
“Who are you and why are you here? Who do you work for?!” he barked.
What, I can’t be working for myself I thought! I allowed a moment to pass in which I made like I didn’t want to tell then oh what the heck, the game’s up…
“My name is Marianne Corday, I am the lover of Generalinspekeur Herr Kutz – and I think you know what he wants.”
“Der Ring” he smirked.
As he was about to continue questioning me, a riot of shouting drew our attention. Mole man’s eyes darted to one of the many windows and back. Taking a deep breath he indicated for me to proceed in front of him. I could hear some whooping and cheering, shouts to fetch Albert. Out in the dusty, gritty cavern, grey men crowded and craned about something. Keeping me on the platform with the weapon still aimed, mole man shouted to the workers. A scrubby, beardy one trotted over, wringing his hands excitedly,
“General, they think they have found it! They have something! This could be the prize! We will be rich!” he trilled.
“Send for Albert.” He ordered, and the dusty minion headed off down the tunnel.
General mole man pushed me forwards with the pistol. We descended the steps and moved towards the gathering. Babbling and chattering dropped to hushed whisperings and muted murmurings. A small package was being passed around and gazed at with wonderment. A tiny wink of light peeped out as the item passed from hand to grubby hand. The General, momentarily drawn to the find, forgot his detainee and shouldered into the group. Looking over my shoulder I could see others were approaching hastily to see for themselves. I grabbed a passing oldie by his lapel and hissed,
“The ancestral ghosts will come.”
I repeated this to another three or four, my eyes wide in feigned terror. The General, a good head taller than most of the miners, span around, hand raised clutching a small, sparkling ring of gold between finger and thumb, his face glowed with covetousness, the miners faces were a mixture of rapture and fear.
“The spirits are here! The spirits are come!” I yelled suddenly.
It was like dropping a stink bomb in the chambers of the Royal Academy – pandemonium. I snatched the ring from the drooping hand and ran! Dashing between wailing, running and aimless figures.
“Halt!” came the scream.
A shot was fired. All about me ducked or flinched automatically, I kept my speed up. En route, I dashed for the mammoth digger, rounded its screw tip and clambered up into the cabin eight feet above the ground, barely pausing, I hit the starter switch and clambered down out of the opposite side. The masterless beast began grinding and trundling forwards into the hodgepodge of humanity. I could see the lift shaft ahead and it was descending – presumably with the head honcho, Albert inside. Behind me the General was screaming orders to stop the machine, to stop that thief, how he was going to rip me apart. He began firing.
A figure to my near right fell in a heap, a support beam splintered as I ran past, wood spraying. I ducked and dived between the last of the miners causing more to be shot down in the mayhem. A hot burning sensation blossomed about my left shoulder –I had been hit. Ahead the door of the lift opened and the short figure excited, with accompanying armed guard behind. I pulled a coin from my pocket and hurled it at Albert’s feet, as he bent to discover what I had flung I sped up and, using him as a springboard, I leapt onto his back, kicked the astonished man behind him full in the jaw and tumbled into the wooden box. I hurriedly pulled my knife from my boot, slashed at the taught rope and shot aloft.
Having nothing to restrain it, the wooden box careered upwards into the surrounding structure, I was flung aside, rolling through pans of gruel and firewood. The lift smashed apart causing the few minions left up top to retreat. I staggered upright, trying to ignore the dull aching in my shoulder, I dusted myself down, turned to face the gawping faces, bowed slightly, bid them a good evening and walked off attempting nonchalance.
The solemn tones of a distant church announced midnight. A strange mist had descended across the lake. A feint peal of thunder was heard far off in the distance. As I floated across the water I lay back, extended my legs and looked at the rent in the fabric over my left shoulder. The bullet had not entered but sliced through the muscle leaving a pinkie wide channel in my flesh. Why oh why had I left Doppler at home? I really could do with her medical skills right now.
I must have fallen asleep as I awoke to the sound of angelic singing. Perhaps a local choir was rehearsing – at night time? I realised the singing was not coming from the shore but from close by. Heaving myself up, I peered through the misty morn. Was that a figure in the water? Who goes swimming in a freezing lake in the early hours? I asked myself. The boat made a sudden but gently tip to one side and a pale moist hand appeared over the side.
I stared in horrid fascination as another, then another clung gently to my stolen craft, rising from the still surface of the lake came the heads of three females, their skins like alabaster, their hair like liquid jet, and their smiles like those of the sweetest lover. Their eyes were white.
I drew my gun and fired point blank into the face of the first, caught the second on the side of the skull whilst the third retreated thrashing and shrieking at a pitch that made me cover my ears. Naiads, or nymphs if you prefer, are not what all those Pre-Raphaelites think they are, they’re not winsome and pretty, they are ravenous, flesh eating monsters. They don’t even have the bonus of having saleable body parts. I left the slowly sinking corpses without a backward glance and headed to shore.
After returning the vessel, clambering back up the scented, snowy hillside to the schloss and stealing my way back in, I fell fully clothed onto my bed and remained in a profound sleep until knocking at my chamber door dragged me griping and grumbling awake. Pain did the rest. As I rolled sideways to check my pocket watch on a side table, I rolled onto last night’s damage,
“Aarrgh!” I yelped, pushing my face into fat, snowy white pillow.
“Fraulein Lockhart, are you quite well?” a maids voice enquired.
I gritted my teeth,
“Absolutely. Tip top, thank you.”
Then stuffed the pillow into my mouth.
“Would you like me to bring your breakfast to your room Fraulein Lockhart?” she annoyingly continued.
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
I heard her rustle off down the passage. I needed to get myself in order. I pulled the little treasure from my deep pocket – what a lot of fuss and expense over such small thing, I mused, and then hid it somewhere no-one would look.
To be continued…