He was young, in his early twenties, I guessed, tall, athletic of build, fashionably attired (a bit of a dandy was my first impression of him), dark of hair and lean of face. With his high, angular cheeks and sharp, slightly hooked nose, he might have been considered handsome in a patrician sort of way—the “lean and hungry look” so common among the privileged classes. He seized my master’s hand and pumped it vigorously, squeezing hard enough to make Warthrop wince.
“Dr. Warthrop, I cannot begin to express my profound delight to finally meet you, sir. It is truly a… well, an honor, sir! I hope you’ll forgive my intruding like this, but when I heard you were coming to New York, I simply could not allow the opportunity to pass!”
“Pellinore,” said von Helrung. “May I introduce my new student, Thomas Arkwright, of the Long Island Arkwrights.”
“Student?” Warthrop frowned. “I thought you had retired from teaching.”
“Herr Arkwright is very persistent.”
“It’s all I’ve really cared about, Dr. Warthrop,” said Thomas Arkwright of the Long Island Arkwrights. “Since I was no older than your son here.”
“Will Henry is not my son.”
“He is my assistant.”
Thomas’s eyes grew wide with wonder. He appraised me with new respect.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an apprentice so young. What is he, ten?”
“Awfully small for thirteen,” Thomas observed. He flashed me a quick, slightly patronizing smile. “You must be very clever, Will.”
“Well,” said the doctor, and then he said no more.
“I feel positively old now, terribly behind in my studies,” joked Thomas. He turned to Warthrop. “I never would have applied, if I had known you already had an apprentice.”
“Will Henry is not precisely my apprentice.”
“No? Then, what is he?”
“He is…” The doctor was staring down at me. In fact, all three men were staring at me. The silence was heavy. What was I exactly to Pellinore Warthrop? I squirmed in my chair.
At last the monstrumologist shrugged and turned back to Thomas. “What did you mean when you said you never would have applied?”
“Why, to apprentice under you, Dr. Warthrop.”
“It is true,” admitted von Helrung. “I am not Thomas’s first choice.”
“I don’t recall receiving your application,” said my master.
Thomas seemed crestfallen. “Which one? I sent twelve.”
“Really?” Warthrop was impressed.
“No, not really. Thirteen, actually. Twelve somehow sounded less desperate.”
To my shock the monstrumologist laughed. It happened so seldom, I thought he had gagged on a crumpet.
“And I never answered any of them?” Warthrop turned toward me with a frown, one eyebrow arching toward his hairline. “Will Henry arranges the mail for me, and I cannot recall receiving even one from you.”
“Oh. Well. Perhaps they were misplaced somehow.”
Again a weighty silence slammed down. My face grew hot. In truth I did arrange the doctor’s correspondence. And, in truth, I could not recall the name of Thomas Arkwright; I was certain I had never seen it before. But to protest would only convince my guardian of my guilt.
“So the saying is true, all is well that ends well,” put in von Helrung at last, with a consoling pat upon my shoulder. “I have a new student, and you, Pellinore, you have your…” He searched for the proper description. “Will Henry,” he finished, with an apologetic shrug.
Thomas begged to take his leave shortly thereafter. He’d only interrupted Dr. Warthrop to express his undying admiration; he knew the doctor had pressing business and he did not wish to delay him.
“What do you know of my business?” asked the monstrumologist sharply, with an accusatory glance toward von Helrung—You did tell him!
“I know nothing of the present matter. Professor von Helrung has been quite annoyingly coy about it,” said Thomas, running to his mentor’s rescue. “I know it is urgent—monstrously urgent, if I may make a play on the word. The rest of it I can only guess at. You are here in New York to entrust to Professor Ainesworth a nidus ex magnificum, which has recently come into your possession from overseas—England, I would guess.” He shrugged apologetically. “But that is all I can guess.”
Thomas Arkwright waited for the monstrumologist’s reaction with a slightly smug expression, for he did not guess that he was correct; he knew he was.
“That is a remarkable ‘guess,’ Mr. Arkwright,” said Warthrop, glowering at von Helrung. He clearly thought he had been misled and betrayed.
“Not all that remarkable,” replied Thomas. “I know you have been to the Monstrumarium—that’s easy. The smell floats about you like a foul perfume. And I know you went straight there from the depot, for you are still in your traveling clothes, which suggests your errand was of the utmost exigency—not a moment to lose.”
“You are correct so far,” allowed my master. “But that much, as you said, is easy. What of the rest?”
“Well, you didn’t go to get something from the old man. The Monstrumarium has not been called Fort Adolphus for nothing. You must have brought something—and not just any something, but a something that could not sit even for a moment in your hotel untended, being too large a something to secure upon your person. In other words, a very special something, a something so rare and valuable you had to secure it at once, without delay.”
Clearly intrigued, the doctor nodded quickly and flicked his finger at him, a gesture he had given me innumerable times—Go on, go on!
“So it is quite rare, this prize you brought—extremely rare, and that leaves but a handful of monstrumological curiosities. And out of that handful only one or two might compel a scientist of your stature to drop everything and rush straight to the Monstrumarium after a long journey by stage and rail. Nidus egnificum is the obvious choice and, since no nidus has ever been discovered in the New World, in all likelihood it came from Europe—”
“Hah!” cried the monstrumologist, holding up his hand. “The scaffold of your reasoning grows unsteady, Mr. Arkwright. Why would you assume my special something came from Europe, since the only authenticated something comes from the Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean?”
“Because I know you too well—or of you too well, I should say. If you knew the origin of the something, you would not be in New York. You would have sent the something to Dr. von Helrung to place in the Locked Room, and been on the first boat out.”
“Why England, though?”
“England is a guess, I will admit that. I passed on France. The French contingent of the Society has never cared much for us Yanks—less so after that unfortunate incident last fall involving Monsieur Gravois, for which, I hear, they blame you, unfairly in my opinion. The Germans would never trust a nidus to an American—even if his name is Pellinore Warthrop. The Italians—well, they are Italians. England was the most logical choice.”
“Extraordinary,” murmured Warthrop with an appreciative nod. “Truly extraordinary, Mr. Arkwright! And precisely right in all details; I shan’t mislead you.” He turned to von Helrung. “My congratulations, Meister Abram. My loss seems to be your gain.”
The Austrian monstrumologist smiled broadly. “He reminds me of another promising student from many years ago. I confess in my dotage I sometimes forget myself and call him Pellinore.”
“Oh, I hope not!” said my master with uncharacteristic humility. “I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone—or the world. One is enough!”
Thomas did not take his leave until the doctor and I departed for our hotel; I suppose he forgot in the excitement of the moment his humble desire not to delay the great man in his important scientific pursuits. The great man himself seemed to forget the pressing matters before him, utterly absorbed in a conversation that revolved entirely around him or that singular extension of himself called monstrumology.
And Arkwright appeared to be an expert on both. With alacrity he demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Warthropian—his sickly childhood in New England; the “lost years” in the London boarding school; his tutelage under von Helrung; his early adventures in Amazonia, the Congo, and “that ill-fated expedition to Sumatra”; his invaluable contributions to the Encyclopedia Bestia (more than a third of the articles were written or cowritten by Warthrop); his championing of the cause to the broader world of the natural sciences. The monstrumologist drank deep the sycophantic draft until he was positively drunk. It had taken thirty-odd years, but at last it appeared he had met someone who admired Pellinore Warthrop as much as he did.
Indeed, the atmosphere in the room was so saturated with Warthrop that I found it difficult to breathe.Von Helrung noticed my discomfort and proposed, sotto voce, a foray into the kitchen for a raid on the pantry. I gladly accepted the commission, and we charged the larder, conquering two platefuls of sweet pastries and two steaming cups of hot chocolate.
“He is very bright,” said von Helrung, meaning Thomas Arkwright. “But one can look into the sun for only a moment, and then… blindness! Frequent respites are called for, but you must know what I mean, Will. Pellinore is the same.”
I nodded slowly, avoiding his gaze. He understood at once, and said quietly and with great compassion, “It is hard, I know, to serve him. Men like Pellinore Warthrop—one must exercise the utmost caution or be subsumed by their brilliance. The fate of your father, I’m afraid. In the presence of men like Warthrop, the lesser light is consumed by the greater.”
“How does Thomas know so much about him?” I asked. In the space of a half hour, I had learned more about the monstrumologist from a stranger than I had after two years of living with him.
“From me primarily. The rest from any and all who will talk about him.”
“Well, he doesn’t know everything about him,” I said. “He didn’t know the doctor already had an apprentice.”
“Yes, that did strike me as strange. He does know; I told him upon our first meeting a fortnight ago. Perhaps he forgot.”
“Or he’s lying.”
“Is this wise, Will? Given the choice, should we not always choose the good motive over the bad? It probably wasn’t important to him, so he forgot.” Not important to him! I pushed my plate away; I had lost my appetite.
“No, no, eat, eat!” he said, sliding the plate back. “You are far too slight for a boy of ten.”
“I’m thirteen,” I reminded him.
“Then you are much too thin. A growing boy is like an army, ja? He travels upon his stomach! I must speak to Pellinore about it. I do not imagine he cooks very much.”
“He doesn’t cook at all. We used to have a cook,” I added, “but the doctor fired her. She boiled one of his specimens.”