“Should I leave?” she asked. I could not tell if she was asking him—or herself. She was looking toward the door as if it stood at the end of a thousand-mile journey.
“It probably would be best,” he answered softly.
“It’s something you would do,” she said with a note of wistfulness. “Entirely predictable.”
“And perfectly logical.”
I missed who moved first. Whether a trick of the light or the result of my poisoned anatomy, it seemed that neither moved first; their hands did not touch . . . and then their hands touched. She remained half-turned toward the door, Warthrop half-turned toward the window opposite, and her hand lightly brushed the back of his.
“I hate you, Pellinore Warthrop,” she said without looking at him. “You are selfish. And you are vain. Even rescuing him was an act of vanity. He was . . . is twice the man you are. He risked his life because he loved you. You risked yours merely to prove him wrong.”
The doctor did not respond. He stood ramrod straight, head slightly bowed, in an attitude of prayer.
“I pray every night that there is a God—that there is judgment for our sins,” she went on in a level voice, now running her fingers, feather light, up and down his arm. “So you might spend an eternity in the deepest pit of hell with all the other betrayers.”
“Whom did I betray?” he wondered aloud. He did not sound angry, only curious. “I brought him out.”
Her hand fell away. He stiffened as if the loss of her touch were a blow.
“You sent him there. If not for you, he never would have gone.”
“That’s ridiculous. I didn’t even know about it until you told me—”
“He always knew there would be a reckoning. He wouldn’t admit it to himself—he was not an introspective man like you—but in his heart he knew there would be a price and that he would be the one to pay it.”
“A price, you say. A price for what?”
“For love. For you loving me and—” Her voice faltered. “And for my loving you.”
“But you hate me. You just said so.”
She laughed. “Oh, Pellinore. How can a man so intelligent be so utterly dense? Why is John Chanler my husband?”
He did not answer. She moved closer; he still would not look at her.
“John knew the answer to that question,” she said. “And John is not half as bright as you.”
“I can think of a better question. Why are you his wife?”
She struck him across the cheek. He received it with more stoicism than he had when she’d withdrawn her touch. He barely moved.
“I wish you had died there,” she said matter-of-factly.
“You nearly got your wish.”
“Not in Canada. In Vienna. If you had died in Vienna, I could have played the grieving fiancée and prostrated myself upon your premature grave. John would now be happily married to some bird-witted New York socialite, and I would have fallen in love again. I would not be in this hell of loving a man whom I despise, for as long as you walk this earth, I shall love you, Pellinore. As long as you draw breath anywhere—here or ten thousands miles from here—I will love you. I can’t help loving you, so I choose to hate you . . . to make my love bearable.”
“You—You should not—Muriel, there are certain things we should never . . .” For the first time in my memory, the monstrumologist struggled for words. “You should not tell me these things.”
“No, I want you to hear them. I want you to know I still love you. I want you to think about it for the rest of your pitiable life. You abandoned me for a cold and heartless mistress, and on the day Will Henry finally leaves you for good, I want you to think about it, and each day thereafter until you are old and dying alone on your deathbed, until the debt is repaid, unto the final reparation for your cruelty.”
Like a falling man who grabs whatever might be nearby, no matter how flimsy, he said, “Will Henry will never leave me.”
I was back in bed when he opened the bedroom door. Through slitted lids I watched him watch me. The door eased closed. Then it opened again. He said my name. I did not answer. He shut the door.
I heard their voices pick up again. Or thought I did. I was terribly hot suddenly, and my breath was quick. I wondered if I was coming down with a fever. Perhaps it was not voices I heard at all but the echoes of them, the memory made tangible by the Death Worm’s venom. I had retreated to my bedroom when he’d walked her to the door—surely Muriel had gone. I began to sweat. Paranoia . . . delusions . . . burning urine. I ticked them off one by one. Gangrene . . . bleeding. I reached under my nightshirt and gingerly touched my testicles. Had they grown any? How would I know if they had? It was not as if I measured them every morning.
In the outer room the murmuring gently swelled, receded. Closing my eyes, I had the sensation of something slipping, a loosening, like a poorly tied knot unraveling, and the voices undulated in what had been loosed in me, a sensuous undercurrent beneath the surface of the vast sea in which I found myself floating.
The latter poses the greater threat. . . . You’ll be fine one moment, and the next you may be convinced you can fly.
I cannot attest to things my eyes have not seen.
And I do not mean to disparage them.
I know I was not myself; I know in my blood swam the poison.
But in the outer room there were voices and then there were none; there was no closing of the door or the bidding of good night.
In the outer room the voices fall and do not rise again. In the empty space where they had been, a woman lifts her emerald eyes. In them the mirror that defines him, that gives him shape and substance. Without their light his shadow has more substance than he.
What have we given?
He stumbles alone through a broken landscape; the wind whistles in the dry bones; there is no water.
In her eyes, the spring.
What have we given?
He has seen what the yellow eye sees; he has prayed in the abandoned cathedral among the dry bones, kneeling in the ruins; he has heard his name spoken by the high wind, by the dry limbs strumming the sterile air.
He has known these things. He is the monstrumologist. Too long he has been in the desolation.
Now, in her eyes, the abundance.
Some would judge them. I do not. If it was a sin, it was sanctified—the trespass consecrated by the act itself. He met himself in the purity of her eyes and obtained absolution upon her altar.
In the outer room their shadows meet and become one. The starving man eats; he drinks his fill from the pure waters overflowing. Her sweet breath. Her skin golden in the firelight. For a moment, at least, he tastes what his enigmatic mistress, the one for whom he rejected this love, cannot provide. In the abundance of her emerald eyes, Pellinore Warthrop found himself in another human being at last.
“IN THIS METROPOLIS, LET IT BE UNDERSTOOD, THERE IS NO PUBLIC STREET WHERE THE STRANGER MAY NOT GO SAFELY BY DAY AND BY NIGHT.”
“A Beautiful Day”
He burst into my room early the next morning bearing a tray burdened with eggs, toast, pancakes, sausages, cranberry muffins, apple cobbler, and orange juice. My startled expression upon this completely unexpected and uncharacteristic display of largess did not go unnoticed. He laughed aloud and placed the tray before me with a flourish; he even snapped the napkin open and arranged it with great formality around my bandaged neck.
“Well, Master Henry,” he cried in a disconcertingly joyful voice. “You look terrible!” He strode to the window and threw back the curtains. Brilliant sunlight flooded the room. “But it is a beautiful day—a beautiful day! Truly, the kind of day that stirs the slumbering poet in a man. We’ve been much too long in the doldrums, you and I, and we must work to remedy our dour outlook. Without hope a man is no better than a draft horse pulling the heavy dray of his woes.”
He laid a hand upon my forehead. He measured my pulse. He examined my eyes. He chuckled when I stared with near incomprehension at the feast laid before me.
“No, you are not suffering from a hallucination. Eat up! I have decided to skip this morning’s colloquia and explore a bit of this marvelous city. Do you know I have been coming here for fifteen years and have barely seen it? I wear a path from the hotel to the Society and back again, blinders firmly in place like the dray horse of my metaphor, never venturing off the beaten path . . . too much in love with routine—and routine is a kind of death too. What? Why are you looking at me like that? Does your throat hurt too much to speak?”
“How is your stomach? Do you think you can eat?”
I picked up the fork. “I think so, sir.”
“Marvelous! I’ve been thinking . . . first we should take the ferry over to Liberty Island to have a look at Monsieur Bartholdi’s statue. You know, he is a friend of mine—not Bartholdi. The builder, Eiffel. Well, not precisely a friend, more of an acquaintance. An interesting little story about Eiffel. As you know, the International Exhibit is next year in Paris, and the government wants to commission a suitable monument to commemorate the centennial of the revolution. Well! Eiffel wrote to me about his plans to—”
The ringing of the telephone interrupted him. He dashed from the room. I sipped my orange juice—“golden nectar,” Lilly had called it—and heard him say, “Yes, yes, of course. I shall be right down.”
He appeared in the doorway, his entire being transformed. Gone were the uncharacteristic sparkle in his eye and the rare spring in his step.
“I must go,” he said.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s happened?”
“It is . . . You should stay here, Will Henry. I don’t know how long I’ll be.”
I placed the tray to one side and threw back the covers. He watched impassively as I struggled out of bed and stood swaying in my stocking feet.
“I feel fine, sir. Really, I do. Please take me with you.”
A young officer of the Metropolitan Police Department came forward as we stepped off the elevator. Short of stature, dressed in a freshly starched uniform, with a shock of red hair and a round baby face sprinkled with freckles, he looked much too young for the role, like a child playing dress-up. He saluted Dr. Warthrop smartly and introduced himself as Sergeant Andrew Connolly. We followed him to a brougham carriage waiting at the curb.
Warthrop had been right. It was a beautiful day, chilly but cloudless, the bright morning sun etching sharp shadows and chiseling the buildings into exquisite relief. As we rattled south within sight of the choppy waters of the East River, I glanced at the doctor, wondering if I should risk asking him again what had happened—though I was certain it could be only one thing: John Chanler was dead.
Our carriage drew up before a block-length structure on the banks of the river—Bellevue, the nation’s oldest public hospital. We followed Sergeant Connolly through a side door, up the dimly lit stairs to the fourth floor, and then down a long, narrow corridor whose walls had been painted a ghastly institutional pale green. Connolly knocked once upon the door at the terminus of this depressing passageway.