“As the times change, so must we, Pellinore, or face certain extinction.”
“Science is about progress, von Helrung. The things you are talking about belong to our superstitious past. It is a step backward.”
“Let us just say there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The monstrumologist snorted. He scrubbed the bottom of his shoe upon the pavement; the broken glass from the shattered window crunched beneath his foot.
“My philosophy does not extend that far, Meister Abram. Heaven I leave to the theologians.”
“If so, I do pity you, mein lieber Freund. If the theologians are right—and if I am, in this—you will live to regret it.”
Warthrop looked at him sharply, but he smiled ruefully. “I already live with that,” he said.
“I Do Not Think We Will Find Him”
Muriel Chanler was waiting for us in the von Helrung parlor. She rushed to Warthrop, threw her arms around him, and pressed her face into his chest. Warthrop murmured her name. He stroked her auburn hair. Von Helrung turned his head and coughed politely, ending the moment. The two withdrew quickly from each other’s arms.
“Have they found him yet?” she asked.
“If not, it will be soon,” the doctor said firmly. “In his condition he could not have gotten far.”
“Muriel, liebchen, perhaps you would like to find little Will something to eat?” suggested von Helrung. “He is looking very pale to me.”
“I’m not hungry,” I said. I was, I will admit, deeply concerned about the doctor’s mental state. I’d not witnessed him this close to breaking since those awful days in the wilderness.
“I hope you’re right,” Muriel was saying to him now. “And I hope Meister Abram is wrong. I hope it was someone else who murdered Skala.”
“He is in the wrong about practically everything,” the doctor allowed. “Except that.”
She turned her lovely face away. Warthrop raised his hand as if to console her, then allowed it to fall.
“I’ll see to it he has the best defense possible, Muriel,” he promised. “And of course I will testify on his behalf. I’ll see to it a proper place is found for him.”
“An asylum,” she whispered.
“Please, please, you must be strong, Muriel; you must be strong for John,” said von Helrung, taking her by the elbow and guiding her to a chair. “Here. Sit. You will listen to your uncle Abram now, yes? There is a time to grieve, but that time is not yet! What shall Bartholomew bring you? Would you like some brandy? A glass of sherry, perhaps?”
She looked past him to Warthrop. “I want my husband.”
The doctor demanded a word alone with von Helrung. They retired to the older man’s study and shut the door. After a moment I could hear their row; the doctor was upbraiding him for telling the police they were hunting a mythical beast when their quarry was nothing more than a terribly disturbed man.
I looked over and found Muriel smiling at me through her lingering tears.
“Whatever happened to your neck, Will?” she asked.
I avoided those penetratingly beautiful eyes, casting my own upon the Persian carpet and mumbling, “It was an accident, ma’am.”
“Well, I didn’t think it was something deliberate!” She laughed in spite of herself. “It isn’t easy, is it? Serving a monstrumologist.”
“No, ma’am. It is not.”
“Especially if his name happens to be Pellinore Warthrop.”
“So why do you?”
“My father served him. And when he died, I had nowhere else to go.”
“And now I shall guess you are indispensable to him.”
She smiled at my startled expression.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I have little doubt he’s told you that. He used to tell me the same thing, but that was a very long time ago. Do you love him, Will?”
The question rendered me speechless. Love—the monstrumologist?
“I shouldn’t ask that,” she went on. “It is none of my business. I know he is all that you have. He was once the same to me. But a house cannot be built upon sand, Will. Does that make any sense to you? Do you know what I mean?”
I shook my head slowly. I did not.
“It used to comfort me to think he was incapable of love—that in no way should I take what happened between us personally. But I think I understand now. It isn’t love he lacks—he loves more fiercely than any other man I have ever known—it is courage.”
“Dr. Warthrop is the bravest man in the world,” I said. “He’s a monstrumologist. He’s not afraid of anything.”
“I understand,” she replied gently. “You’re just a boy and you see him through different eyes.”
I had nothing to say to that. For some reason I heard his voice, echoing in a snowbound clearing, You disgust me. I lowered my head, and felt the memory of his arms pulling me close, his warm breath on my neck.
She sensed my distress, and her heart was moved with pity. “He is quite fond of you, you know,” she said.
I searched out her expression. Was she teasing me?
“Oh, yes,” she continued, smiling. “Worries about you like a mother hen. It’s quite sweet—and quite unlike him. Just last night he was saying—”
She stopped herself. She looked away. I saw that she was blushing.
By the time the two monstrumologists had suspended their debate, she was ready to leave. Though von Helrung pleaded, there was nothing he could say that would change her mind.
“I will not hole up here like a frightened kitten,” she said. “If they don’t catch him first, he’ll find his way home, and I want to be there when he does.”
“I will come with you,” the doctor said.
She avoided his eyes. “No,” she said simply. But Warthrop would not let it go; he followed her to the door, pressing his case urgently while he helped her with her wrap.
“You should not go alone,” he said.
“Don’t be silly, Pellinore. I am not afraid of him. He is my husband.”
“He is not in his right mind.”
“A defect not uncommon among you monstrumologists,” she teased him. She spoke to his reflection. She was adjusting her hat in the hall mirror.
“Can we be serious for a moment?”
“Describe a moment when you were not.”
“You’ll be safe here.”
“My place is at home, Pellinore. Our home.”
He was taken aback by this; he did not attempt to hide it. He said, “Then I am coming with you.”
“To what purpose?” she demanded. She turned from the mirror, the color high in her cheeks. “To protect me from my own husband? If he is as sick as you say, why should you feel the need?”
He had no ready answer. She smiled, and lightly touched his wrist with her gloved hand.
“I am not afraid,” she repeated. “Besides, it would not do, a married lady in my position entertaining a gentlemen without my husband present. What would people think?”
“I don’t care what they think. I care about . . .”
He would not—or could not—finish the thought. He raised his hand as if to touch her cheek, quickly dropping it again when he saw me out of the corner of his eye.
“Will Henry,” he snapped. “Why are you constantly hovering about me like Banquo’s ghost?” He turned back to her. “Very well. Your blasted stubbornness has worn me down, madam. But surely you can’t protest to Bartholomew staying with you.”
Von Helrung thought it was a capital idea, and Muriel relented to mollify them. She seemed amused by their concern.
“And you will ring me when you’ve arrived. Don’t make me worry, liebchen!” von Helrung called to her from the doorway. He waited until the hansom had melted into the traffic, before closing the door. With a heavy sigh he ran a pudgy hand through his hair.
“My heart is troubled for her, Pellinore. Dear Muriel is in shock. The truth has not yet sunk in that John is lost to us forever.”
“I do wish you’d stop with that melodramatic drivel,” my master said. “It grates on my nerves. He may be lost, as you say, but it will be for considerably shorter than forever. I expect Inspector Byrnes will be calling within the hour to notify us of his death or capture.”
The call did not come that hour or the next or the next. Shadows crept across Fifth Avenue. Von Helrung smoked cigar after cigar, filling the room with the noxious fumes, while the doctor paced, obsessively flipping open his pocket watch. Warthrop would occasionally pause before the window to scan the street for the chief inspector’s brougham. At a quarter past four, with the sun slipping toward the Hudson, the maid poked her head into the room to inquire if the doctor and his ward would be staying for supper.
Warthrop shuddered at the question; it seemed to break inertia’s hold upon him.
“I think Will Henry and I will head over to Mulberry Street,” he said. “We can wait for word at police headquarters as well as here. Ring for us there if you hear anything, Meister Abram.”
The cigar fell from the old man’s mouth and rolled across the expensive carpet. “What?” he cried, leaping out of his chair. “Lieber Gott, what is the matter with me? How could I be so stupid?”
He rushed to the front door, calling for the maid to have Timmy—the livery boy—bring around the calash. He patted his pockets frantically, finally withdrawing from some inner recess of his jacket a pearl-handled derringer.
“What is it?” Warthrop demanded.
“It may be nothing—or it may be everything, Pellinore. In my distracted state I completely forgot, and now I pray it means nothing—I do pray so! Here.” He pulled a long-bladed knife sheathed in leather from another pocket and pressed it into the doctor’s hands. “Remember, aim for the heart! And never—never!—look into its eyes!”
He flung open the door and raced to the curb, where a boy not much older than me sat holding the reigns to a low-slung calash. We hurried after him. “Tell me what you forgot, von Helrung!” Warthrop demanded.
“Muriel, mein Freund. Muriel! She never called.”
Situated a few blocks north of the Plaza Hotel at Central Park, the Chanler residence sat squarely in the middle of Millionaires’ Row, palatial abodes lining Fifth Avenue above Fiftieth Street, mansions of such staggering size and architectural extravagance that they perfectly reflected the ethos of their owners. Here lived the titans of American capitalism and avatars of the Gilded Age—families with names such as Gould and Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Astor, to whom Muriel was now, by marriage, distantly related.
The Chanler House was not the largest of these estates by any means; still, compared to the housing in which “the other half” of the city lived—the crowded and filthy tenement buildings—it was a castle in the style of a fifteenth-century French château.
With surprising agility for a man of his years, von Helrung jumped from the calash, and he dashed through the front gates, attacking the steps two at a time.