Perhaps that was part of it; perhaps it was fear in part, but not in whole. For the first eleven years of my life I had witnessed the esteem-nay, the profound and consummate awe-with which my beloved father had regarded him. Long before I met Pellinore Warthrop in person, I had encountered him countless times in my mind, a towering genius to whom my family owed everything, a looming presence under whose long shadow we dwelled. Dr. Warthrop is a great man engaged in great business, and I shall never turn my back upon him… It is no exaggeration to say that my father loved him with an affection that bordered on idolatrous worship, just as it is no overstatement that this same love would lead him to make the ultimate sacrifice: My father died for Pellinore Warthrop. His love for the doctor cost my father his life.
Perhaps, then, it was love that stayed me. Not love for the doctor, of course, but love for my father. By remaining I honored his memory. Leaving would have invalidated his most cherished belief, the one thing that had made service to the monstrumologist-and the terrible cost of that service-bearable: the idea that Warthrop was engaged in “great business” and to be his assistant meant you, too, were part of that greatness; that, indeed, without you his “business” could not even have approached that exalted level. Running away would have been tacit acknowledgment that my father had died in vain.
“Why, bless me, look here who this is!” cried Flanagan, rushing toward the door upon the tinkling of the bell. “Missus, come see what the wind’s blown in!”
“I’m busy, Mr. Flanagan!” called his wife querulously from the back room. “Who is it?”
The apple-cheeked purveyor of, among other fruits and vegetables, apples, dropped his hands upon my shoulders and peered with sparkling green eyes into my upturned face. He smelled of cinnamon and vanilla.
“Little Will Henry!” he called over his shoulder. “Sweet Mother Mary, I don’t think I’ve seen you in a month,” he directed to me, his cherubic features glowing with pleasure. “How have you been, m’boy?”
“Who?” Mrs. Flanagan bellowed from the back.
Flanagan winked at me and turned to shout, “The master of 425 Harrington Lane!”
“ Harrington Lane!” she shouted back, and at once appeared in the doorway, a heavy carving knife in her huge red-knuckled hand. Mrs. Flanagan was easily twice the size of her husband and three times as stentorophonic. When she spoke, the very windows rattled in their frames.
“Oh, Mr. Flanagan!” she boomed when she saw me. “It’s only Will Henry.”
“Only Will Henry. Listen to you, Missus.” He smiled at me. “Don’t listen to her.”
“No, sir,” I responded automatically. Thinking this might offend his knife-wielding Amazonian mate, I quickly appended, “Hello, Mrs. Flanagan; how are you, ma’am?”
“I would be much better without these constant interruptions,” she roared. “My husband, whom my sainted mother warned me not to marry, thinks I’ve nothing better to do than be the brunt of his silly jokes and ridiculous riddles all day.”
“She’s in a bad mood,” whispered the grocer.
“I’m always in a bad mood!” she shouted back.
“Has been since the potato famine of ’48,” whispered Flanagan.
“I heard that!”
“Forty years, Will Henry. Forty years,” said he with a theatrical sigh. “But I love her. I love you, Missus!” he called.
“Oh, stop it. I can hear every word you say, y’know! Will Henry, you’ve lost weight, haven’t you? Be honest, now.”
“No, Mrs. Flanagan,” I said. “I’ve just grown a bit.”
“That’s it, Missus,” interjected Flanagan. “It isn’t lost; it’s just redistributed, eh? Right!”
“Oh, nonsense,” she rumbled. “These eyes aren’t that bad yet! Look at him, Mr. Flanagan. Look at his hollow cheeks and bulging forehead. Why, his wrists are no wider round than a chicken’s neck. Talk of famine! There’s one going on right now in that horrible house on Harrington Lane.”
“More than just famine, if the tales I hear have but a smidgen of truth to them,” ventured Flanagan with an elevation of an elfish eyebrow. “Eh, Will Henry? You know the stories we hear: mysterious comings and goings, packages delivered in the dark, midnight callers and the sudden, long absences of your master-you know, don’t you?”
“The doctor doesn’t discuss his work with me,” I said carefully, remembering his counsel: Some falsehoods are borne of necessity, not foolishness.
“The doctor, aye. But what exactly is he a doctor of?” barked Mrs. Flanagan, eerily echoing Erasmus Gray.
And I echoed the same feeble reply, “Philosophy, ma’am.”
“He’s a deep thinker.” Mr. Flanagan nodded gravely. “And God knows we need all of those we can get!”
“He’s a queer man with queerer habits,” she countered, shaking her blade at him. “As was his father and his father’s father. All the Warthrops were queer.”
“I rather liked his father,” said her husband. “Much more-oh, what is the word?-personable than Pellinore. Very friendly, though in a regal kind of way. Reserved, to be sure, and a bit-oh, what do I need?-aloof, but not in any haughty or lordly way. A man of culture and breeding. From good stock, you could say.”
“Yes, husband, you could say whatever you like, and usually do, but Alistair Warthrop was no different from any of the other Warthrops. Miserly, stuck-up, and standoffish is what he was, a friend to no one save the unsavory transients who oft darkened his door.”
“Gossip, Missus,” insisted Flanagan. “Gossip and idle rumor.”
“He was a sympathizer. That much isn’t gossip.”
“Don’t listen to her, Will,” he cautioned me. “She loves to go on.”
“I heard that! My ears work as well as my eyes, Mr. Flanagan.”
“I don’t care whether ye heard or not!” he yelled back.
Nervous now in the presence of this escalating domestic brawl, I grabbed an apple from the bin beside me. Perhaps if I selected my purchases, the fight might dissipate under the onslaught of commerce.
“They came asking after him,” rejoined his wife, her wide face turning the color of the Red Delicious in my hand. “You remember as well as me, Mr. Flanagan.”
Flanagan did not answer. The twinkle in his smiling Irish eyes had vanished. His lips were painfully pursed.
“Who came asking after him?” I blurted, unable to help myself.
“No one,” growled Flanagan. “The missus is-”
“The Pinkertons, that’s who!”
“-stirring tempests in teapots,” he finished with a shout.
“Who are the Pinkertons?” I asked.
“Detectives!” she answered. “A whole troupe of them.”
“There were two,” said Flanagan.
“All the way from Washington,” she continued, ignoring him. “In the spring of’61.”
“The spring of’62,” corrected her spouse.
“With orders from the War Department-from Secretary Stanton himself!”
“No, it wasn’t Stanton.”
“It most certainly was Stanton!”
“Then it couldn’t have been the spring of’61, Missus,” said Flanagan. “ Stanton wasn’t made secretary till January of’62.”
“Don’t tell me, Mr. Flanagan. I saw the orders myself.”
“Why would undercover men for the government show you, a grocer’s wife, their orders?”
“What did they want?” I asked. The year (or years) in question nearly coincided with the mission to Benin. Could it have been mere coincidence, the proximity of the two events, the visit from the detectives on behalf of the Union, and the sailing of the Feronia but two years later? Had the government somehow learned of the elder Warthrop’s plan to bring Anthropophagi to America? My heart began to race, for it seemed that this serendipitous encounter might provide the key to unlocking the riddle plaguing the doctor, the answer to the anguished Why? at the dying captain’s bedside. What would he think if I returned with the answer to that conundrum, after intimating that I had little between my ears; that I was, in essence, a silly, stupid child who could not answer a simple question without becoming befuddled and tongue-tied? How much would my stature grow in his eyes! I might prove myself truly “indispensable.”
“They wanted to know if he was a true Union man, which he was, through and through,” replied Flanagan before his agitated wife could. “And it really wasn’t about him they were asking, if you remember, Missus. It was those two Canadian gentlemen… can’t recall their names now, but it’s been nigh twenty-six years.”
“ Slidell and Mason,” she snapped. “And they weren’t Canadian, sir. Rebel spies is what they were.”
“The Pinkerton men never said as much,” he indicated to me with a wink.
“Both were seen at that house,” she said. “That house on Harrington Lane. More than once.”
“Doesn’t prove anything about Warthrop,” he argued.
“It proves he associated with agitators and traitors,” she shouted back. “It proves he was a sympathizer.”
“Well, you may think so, Missus, and say so, like now, like everyone did back then, but it doesn’t necessarily make it so. The Pinkertons left town, and Dr. Warthrop stayed, didn’t he? If they had proof of anything, they’d’ve carted him away. Right? Now you go on about this man-this good man who never did harm to anyone that I know of-but that’s all it is. Just going on. It isn’t right, Missus, speaking ill of the dead.”
“He was a rebel sympathizer!” she insisted. My ears had begun to ring from all her shouting. “He was different after the war, and you know it, Mr. Flanagan. Holed up in that house for weeks at a time, and when he did come out, moped around town like someone who’s lost his best friend. Never so much as a ‘how do you do’ crossed his lips, even when you passed right by him on the street, like he’d been dumbstruck, like a man whose heart’s been broken.”
“That may be so, Wife,” conceded Flanagan with a heavy sigh. “But you can’t say it was because of the war. A man’s heart is a complicated thing, a little less so than a woman’s, I’ll admit, but complicated it still is. Perhaps something did break it, as you say, but you can’t say what it was that broke it.”
I could not say, either, but thought I had a good idea: By the war’s end, Alistair Warthrop’s hands were stained with blood. Not blood spilled upon the battlefield but poured out by the gallon aboard the Feronia-that blood, and the blood belonging to all the future victims of the monsters he’d worked so tirelessly to bring to our soil, all the victims sacrificed upon the altar of his “philosophy.”
I found the doctor in his study, sitting in his favorite chair by the window. The blinds were drawn and the room quite dark; I almost missed him when I glanced inside. I had looked for him first in the basement and, finding nothing but overturned boxes and files strewn upon his worktable, checked the library next, which I found in a similar state of disarray, books thrown from the shelves, old newspapers and periodicals scattered pell-mell upon the floor. The study had not fared much better than the library; the contents of every drawer and cabinet lay in jumbled piles on every available surface. The entire house appeared to have been ransacked by bandits.