Veronica Wells’ Journal
12 March. Morning — Upon my arrest and short incarceration as a participant in the suffragette protest which had, I later discovered, been strategically allowed to become, disorganized, discordant, and violently disruptive, there are the memories, which will remain with me always. That abhorrent bed, which was beyond anything I had ever experienced. The bedclothes, all coarse and yellowed and baring horrid stains from which I was certain I never wanted to know the origins of. The threadbare dress — if it were accurate to call such a garment a dress — which was beyond insufficient, especially for the chill of the cell, which they had rather scornfully tossed at me, and then stood intemperately, with their rather vile intentions of assuring I was to be given no recourse to modestly, in removing my clothing in order to put on their well-worn garment, and thus to be subjected to the appraisal of their severe scrutiny. The overwhelming mental and physical fatigue from which I could find no solace, as neither my body or my mind could find any rest, what with all the suspicious noises and the loud voices with their accompaniment of low moans and pitiful groans, which were though indistinct, nevertheless troublesome. And the light – the light which was flashed upon my face at irregular intervals, in which seemingly bodiless eyes peered in upon me from the small opening of the observational grate in the iron door, which was slid rather roughly, upon opening, and then slammed shut with far more vigour in order to give me assurances that I was ever under a constant state of observation – inspection.
In retrospect, as I think upon it, rather than my father’s surprisingly unexpected intervention and influence, which he brought to bear upon my case, so as to gain my release within the brevity of two days, I should have been held in that cold and miserable cell for a month, as all the others so incarcerated had been. There I would have been forced to sit upon that most uncomfortable of stools – one which was entirely too short-legged for me – and contemplate the consequences of my actions. Perhaps even sprinkled, or worse immersed, in some baptism within the turbid bath water, already used by another as the insolent Veronica resurrected in the sure and ever certainly of criminality. And over the course of the beastly days and weeks there within Holloway, I might have endured the sermonizing of its chaplain, whose countenance, upon entering my cell, was on his part a grand effort of maintaining some composure, in that his wizen features would have been severely compressed in the great frown of his moral displeasure and unrestrained distaste – in that he was once again forced to enter yet another Jezebel’s chamber, within which he had to take great care in what he may have to come into contact, owing to hygiene and other such contagions one may find oneself susceptible to from the filth of the dirty strumpets for which it was his solemn duty to administer his Christian piety. Yes, thereupon with nothing to do but shiver in the damp chillness and mediate upon all that I had done with my life up to that moment, as I would have had hours to sit uncomfortably in that insufficient, yet many times worn dress, which had been manifestly unwashed from all of those who had formerly worn it, as well as the under-linen just as equally unclean, I might have come to recognize my selfish imperfections, my impertinence and impatience. I may have even listened, without my smug self-assurance and pride, to that sanctimonious, wizen chaplain entering my cell to hold forth with one hand the holy scripture, and in the other, a pipe he had drawn from the pocket of his jacket to point out with some emphasis just how sadden he was to have to minister once again to yet another strumpet . . . yet another fallen, wanton child of Eve – who, like the first garden harlot, thought she knew far better than her Maker about her place in this world. Which I must confess, being not at all religious – even though I had been brought up for a while by my mother in the Church of England – it was not the first I had heard of that Eve’s supposed rebellion with the fruit equated to harlotry. Suffragette daughters of Eve! Upon which my pride and arrogance insolence would have no doubt been equal to his piety — But that in retrospect would have been but my two-day insolence – whereas, over the course of time, in confinement and the filth, I may have come to some other such introspection with regard to his wheedling admonition for me to “to see the consequences of a wanton feminine free will.”
An so, rather than having been provoked by the chaplain’s haughty self-righteousness and my father’s severe and hurtful appraisal of me – which, I do so want to be certain to get this down as brutally accurately as possible:
“Vee you are as naïve and head-strong as you are ungracious. All that I have done for you – all that I have provided for you and I am to be recompensed by your . . . your coming out . . . into society . . . to all our connections as a . . . I shall not even utter the whisper. Do you not know what they say! I do not dare to give it name. Leaving home scandalously, to live upon . . . upon, only God knows upon, what means. Some indebtedness, I am sure. I can only hope. To whom and to what I have only my worst fears. How have you become so wrong-headed? In all the matters of consequence—political, religious, and moral. Who has fill you with these far too many fanciful and extravagant ideas? I feel, with full conviction, they have been inspired not only by academia – one of the worst capitulations I have ever made, in acquiescence to your want of an education – but all of these damned novels, with all their modern notions and sham ideas, which you are so determined to not only read, but to emulate. Nonsense. Utter nonsense — dangerous in the extreme. It is just smut, damned smut – I tell you! Promiscuous smut of the mind and nothing less. I stand and look at you and I can see all their abhorrent corruption. I am thankful unto God in all his wisdom in granting that your mother, your grandmother, did not have to live to see this reprehensible behaviour – worse . . . worse even than the disgraceful elopement of your sister. Which I thought could never be equalled! I felt there could never be anything as distasteful, so dishonourable, as that beastly affair. Yes, by God scoff. Scoff all you want, but you mark my words, Veronica, and you mark them well. You are ticketed upon an express bound nowhere but straight to hell. My God, Vee! Your reputation! Do you even have one?”
I think I can fairly well answer that now – no.
I am as filthy and unchaste as that woman the wizened chaplain had entered the cold and gloomy cell expecting to find. For I have given way to their blackmail. Not so much in regards to the photographic photographs taken of me, and the salacious fabrications sexual and political attached in addendum, and any subsequent consequences they may have to my reputation, what little of it remains, or in retrospection, in consideration of Bradley, ruefully, or the law — but that have consented to fulfilling all my father’s expectations.
And so, I have exchanged one incarceration for another – one in which I am complicit.
125 Long Lane, Southwark London. That is my new address wherein once again I awaken in a strange bed. Albeit not as hard and uncomfortable as the one in my previous cell. And with a new ensemble which is far more expensive and fashionable than the much worn, threadbare dress thrown at me. Although there was no grate upon the door of my bedroom, nor an incessant flash of light to awaken me, there is still the same such state of observation – two gentlemen, who from all appearances are in the employ of Mrs Willingham; a Mr Crump, a brutish, unkempt man, who apparently has no given name, but does have a most hearty appetite for sweets, in particular, dainty Victoria Sponge Cakes; and a new fellow, who from all appearances could have been the scornful chaplain’s brother – a Mr Ferguson – save for his gaze, which being far less filled with indignation and a righteous supercilious piety, was more aligned with the chaplain’s condemnation of the immorality of Eve – he having far more wanton appetites to be sure. His gaze worrisome in that it belied a desire for a far more intimate inspection. I could not help but wonder if he had gained access to the salacious artistry of Francis Aytown? Miss Miniver, upon the occasion of one of her less frequent visits, catching the insincerity of his ingratiating smile and detecting its obvious intent, had spoken to him in some hushed tones, to which his thin, whisker-stubbed face grew remarkably ashen.
As I have indicated, Miss Miniver had become a far more infrequent visitor since the night in which I had been relocated from my rooms at Mrs Burrows to this new residence and I had, as preposterous as it seemed, once I had written it down, believed I had seen her climbing down the wall of the house across the way in a manner much too reminiscent of that revelatory account of the sinister descent of that Count in Stoker’s fanciful Gothic. To which she gave a wry smile when I mentioned it to her – “Yes well, my dear, the little packet I mixed for you was to off-set your morning head – not to give you visions on a snowy night. A mere trick of the light.”
Well, I intend my own trick once more with a window – hopefully it will be as successful and I shall be able to meet Cadet Tanner – whom I hope has received my note and will be at his rooms in Limehouse.
Veronica Wells’ Journal
12 March – Late Afternoon – continued – A whirlwind. Nothing less.
I knew I had fallen amidst a gathering of evil, but as she held me, her hand clasping my throat, pressed up against the platform wall of the dimly-lit corner of the railway station, while the underground carriage cars rumbled past, I did not know to just what extent. Not until she told me.
And now, I am even more troubled about the fact there has been no word of Bradley. Not even to Randall. Of course, I am more than certain were he to attempt some form of correspondence it would be intercepted by Miss Willingham, if not by one of her minions. Or those of Lady Hélène or the abhorrent Mr Pym – who it seems is playing quite a dangerous game. Earlier it had all been an abstraction, a mere calculation, sitting on the edge of my bed fluctuating upon whether or not it was at all advisable to even attempt to try clandestinely to engage them one against the other, but now it was no longer merely a question as to whether I should dare to play. I was already a pawn – and they are alas far too easily sacrificed. If I am going to survive, I am going to need all of Randall’s Confidence. And it can no longer be the shorter game, but must need be the longer. For everything is far more sinister and treacherous than I ever had imagined.
If in their grand scheme I am to become a spy then I need to be far more resolute in becoming one – to my own advantage. Earlier, I had felt so confident in the execution of the simplest of plans, of what I considered to be my sly subterfuge – but now, I am having to fight against a ever growing and frightening obsession of thought in imagining something horrible, awaiting for me just around the corner, should I make a miscalculation. But – if I am further along in their planning, there must be some security in my general welfare: Mr Pleydell-Smith is now a far less odious thought . . .
For everything has changed amidst the rumble of those railcars.
Having arisen and dressed and made a light breakfast, I had casually announced to Mr Crump that I intended to visit the university lab – where, as I had informed them earlier, I was involved in a research project, which, if I did not make my contributions, suspicions and questions may well arise, and perhaps, of even more importance, I was more than certain should Mr Pleydell-Smith be so inclined, he would, based upon what little I could remember of our introductory conversation, enquire of the lab instructor in my regards, to which Lady Hélène had acquiesced with a smile. “He was so inclined and has done so already.”
She had looked at me confidently as she calmly explained I was not a captive but a significant member of a conspiracy – one in which a sufficient amount of evidence had been produced to assure that not only my father, but the entirety of the Law Society, could not possibly win for me an acquittal. I was in it now – and so, I had best realize the severity of the consequences of betrayal – “besides, those for whose interests we were representing have a rather unique relationship with death.”
That and the remembrance of Madam Eskimoff’s breath upon my cheek as she whispered her cryptic warning had given me pause.
Though not a captive, I was under observation – which Mrs Willingham had of course made to sound as if it were for my own security rather than theirs as Mr Crump or Mr Ferguson were ever vigilant to accompany me in my comings and goings. Besides, they were self-assured in that as far as they knew, I had no one with which to confide in London, of any import, as I had left all my friends behind in Morningside Park. So, as I had planned, I made certain to muddle about the lab until Mr Ferguson found himself becoming less attracted to my hips and entirely bored with the academic setting and began to wander off. Then – having previously used a low window off the east corridor from the laboratory to make this self-same excursion – I hurriedly made my way to the underground.
Taking the Central London Railway at Chancery Lane to the Metropolitan Railway to Limehouse Station, I was more than certain I had left Mr Ferguson well within the maze of King’s College.
I hurriedly made my way from the station to the narrow street most appropriately designated Narrow Street. Ahead I saw the door of the ramshackle building – one which I found to be quite surprising for Cadet Tanner to be associated. As I proceeded in my preoccupation and arrived at the door to rap my gloved knuckles against the weathered door, I was suddenly startled by a voice that was quite near, so near in fact it came with a drifting breeze carrying the heady odour of gin.
“My what a jazz of a girl? I bet you’re as lithe as any yellow girl from the assaying of them fine white hips—”
I continuing knocking – had the Cadet not received my note?
I glanced to see he was dark – a Hindoo, I suspected – his white teeth grinning lustfully, “Just a quick knock.” He continued even as my gloved knuckles continued with their rapid knocking upon the door.
When suddenly I was startled and stepped back for the door as a large, black man with Oriental features moved with almost feline swiftness to shove the Hindoo up against the wall of the building, the glint of a knife, one with a very, very long blade placed quite dangerously against the flesh of the man’s throat.
Just at that moment the door opened and there stood Randall Tanner and I found myself rushing through the threshold of the door and giving him a thankful: –
“Randall! I am so glad to see you!”
He gave me a reassuring smile as he looked quizzically at the black man with the blade at the man’s throat. “Come on in.” He said, “I’m sure this fine gentleman was just leaving.”
He gave a short nod to the large, black man as he closed and locked the door.
“Did you not receive my letter?” I asked, my attention drawn to a rough-looking man lying at the foot of the narrow stairs, which lead up to the second-floor landing, where perhaps Randall Tanner had his rooms. The man was wearing worn trousers, a much-stained shirt, and a thin threadbare coat – all of which was entirely inadequate for the wintery weather.
“Oh, that’s just Gary, don’t mind him.” He said as he stepped over the man and then held out a hand to assist me in stepping over ‘Gary’ as well. “Only just got here, haven’t had time to read it. Ran into an old friend.”
“I had a class at the University today, and so, I slipped away at lunch.” I told him as we ascended the stairs, “Tell me, have you heard from Bradley?”
He pushed open the door to his flat, “Nothing yet, but I’m following many leads.”
“Ah, the enchanting Miss Wells, it is so good to see you again.” I looked to see the charismatic Oriental gentleman, who had been so helpful when I had slipped away yesterday to leave the message for Randall, as I entered the meagre room.
I smiled, "Oh, Mr Ling. It is so good to see you as well. Thanks ever so for your assistance.” I am so terribly wicked – Mr Ling – I must admit there is something about him, the tone of his voice, the languid ease of his every movement, the mischievous glint in his eye, the warmth of his smile.
Randall closed the door and set his cap on the stove.
Mr Ling bowed slightly. His eyes ever on me, “It is but my humble honour to help the friend of my friend. And so, as I see you have much to discuss—I shall make my departure." And he stepped away from the window, the smoke of his cigarette curling in his wake, oddly within the light of the window from which he had been standing, where no doubt he had had a vantage to look down upon me as I approached the front door. I had a sudden thought – in some way, had the black man’s intervention with the horrid Hindoo, somehow been engineered by Mr Ling.
He stepped past me on his way to the door, and then suddenly stopped, “"Oh, Randall. I have a message for you. Lascar Sal wishes to see you before you depart Limehouse. There may be something for you of interest."
“Indeed.” Randall replied.
I watched as Mr Ling closed the door behind him, “Lascar Sal, he sounds dangerous,” I said as I unpinned my hat and stepping over to the table very near the window put it down.
Randall smiled, “She.”
“Oh,” I pulled at my gloves removing them. This world was so unlike the one in which I used to live, and as I placed by gloves beside my hat, I had a feeling that although this Lascar was a woman, she was in fact as dangerous as I had first suspected.
Randall pulled back one of the dusty chairs. “Do have a seat.”
I sat sighed and sat down rather wearily. “Oh, Randall, it is ever so good to see you.”
“Certainly,” He pulled back the chair opposite, its legs scraping across the uneven planks of the floor: “It is good to see you are well after such treatment on the street.” He sat down, “How have you’re new lodgings been?”
“As well as can be expected —“ And as I had that first moment we had met in my room at Mrs Burrow’s, I so wanted to tell him everything – about Pym, and Beltham, and the truth about Mrs Willingham, the photographs, all of it, but, how much should I get him further involved? Bradley was accused of being a spy. I was a spy. And Randall was a Cadet in the Navy – how could I jeopardize his career as well? No, finding Bradley was of upmost importance at the moment—what with the entirety of London’s constabulary seeking him . . . “I do miss Mrs Burrows. But, Bradley – have you heard anything about him? Mrs Willingham says more police have searched his rooms. And have men posted without awaiting his possible return.”
Randall’s face took on an air of seriousness, “I’ve been making connections with people that can help me find him, but so far there’s been no word. I won’t lie. I don’t think he’s hiding deliberately. No offense to your Bradley, but I don’t think he’s this good at staying hidden.”
I placed my elbow upon the table in resignation as I pressed my forehead against my fist and slid it ever so to rub at my temple, “Oh, Randall, I am . . . so frightened.”
Randall glanced out the window at the street below. “I am still confident that he is still alive though. He got himself caught up in some pretty nasty business, and fear is all too real an emotion when dealing with this.” He turned his attentions back to me, “But instead of letting fear be our guide, we have to use it. Divert it into equal parts resolve and caution.”
I glanced up to look at him and noticed he had paused owing to something he saw out the window, “What?”
“That woman.” He said arising from the table – even as I pushed back the rough-hewn chair and turned to the bare pane of the dirty glass of the window. I looked below to see the queue of foot traffic moving hither over the crusted snow, my gaze seeking out what ever had gathered his attention and then I saw her—
It was Miss Miniver. But how? I had not seen her this morning? She had not in the underground carriage. And yet, there she was standing upon the narrow pavement of the lane, just beyond the greengrocer wares placed for inspection, just outside the door of some specialized food shop, in the shadow of the building wherein we stood.
“Miss Miniver.” I said more to myself.
“She is the woman from outside of Mrs Burrow’s boarding house.” He replied.
“Yes . . .” I said as he looked at him expectantly.
“You said she worked for Mrs Willingham.” He continued.
I nodded, “For or with, I am not at all sure.” How much of a lie can I continue . . . how much of the truth can I tell.
“I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what is going on with this Mrs Willingham,” He pressed, looking down at Miss Miniver, “With this Miss Miniver.”
“I am a fool, a complete and utter fool.” I felt the heated vexation rise in my voice, even as I felt the tear drop from the corner of my left eye. I turned from the window and returned to the table and sat down heavily.
“Veronica . . . " Randall pulled out a cotton handkerchief and handed it to me.
“I am in trouble, Randall.” I took the handkerchief from him and dabbed at my eyes, “Bradley’s gone and I have no one else to turn to.”
He sat down and leaned forward, his elbow resting on the table. “More trouble than Bradley’s being missing?”
I tried to smile, “Oh, no – that is far worse.” I dabbed at my eye once more – and as I sit here writing and crying, crying like a goddamned silly schoolgirl, knowing what I know now—there can be no more crying. There is no one to blame for my circumstance other than myself – and tears are in no way going to help me extricate myself from this horror. And so, I looked across the table at him, “Miss Willingham says that a City of London Police Inspector has been through his apartment. Then later, some Lieutenant, I think, Rice—Rice was his name, he came sometime later and then he too ransacked it. They think him a murderer and a spy – and so, no . . . no, my troubles cannot be at all compare to his.” I gave him a wry smile I am certain, “My troubles—they – they are of my own making.”
“I meant more as in additional troubles.” He said, “What? What has happened?”
“I—I was so impatient to be free of the conventions of my father, to moved away from Morningside Park, to live in London, to have a life.” I began – he had to know some part of it, “I—damn, there is nothing for it but to say it: I made a most unforgivable mistake . . . "
“You got yourself into debt that you can’t repay?” he surmised.
I laughed; he was ever so very prescient. “Precisely. And the payment has come due. You see, I took money from a gentlemen who I thought of as a friend, really, truly, I friend, one I met everyday on the train commuting to University – he is a broker and financer – he seems ever so thoughtful, and supportive of my aspirations of being free to – to live a live of my own, here in the city; and so, he offered to help me – “ I made some silly motion with the handkerchief, “He gave me money – an investment, in my future, he said.
“I see” Randall pushed the chair back so that it half leaned against the wall.
“And now – he comes to me and says the payment, it is due – and so, " I sighed heavily and sat back: “I am a horror, Randall. There is no good of me. You best know. I think you are aware that I am a suffragette. Well as well – a while back I was actually arrested and incarcerated for a protest that went badly – well, actually it was planned to go badly, although I was unaware – seemingly I am unaware of a lot of things – these days. The strategy and tactics of those leading the movement, you see; and so, my father, he is rather well thought of solicitor, and Sir John Paxton, a barrister and friend of his, they were able to use their connections and got me out of lock up and expunged my record. I should have learned, shouldn’t I Randall – from that?” Thus, tilted back, he sat in silence, as if well aware there would be more, “Well – my father thinks so, but I was still politically active, that is how I met Mrs Willingham. I knew her before, you see. Before I knew Bradley, actually, that’s how we met; she being his landlady. She’s a radical, a socialist.” I looked at him earnestly, “I am one as well.”
“They’re an intriguing lot. I can say if politics were my domain, ol’ Henderson would get my support.”
“I know that cannot be good for Bradley – his naval commission and all, and – and he doesn’t know.” I sighed, "It wasn’t good then and it’s even worse now . . . what with what they are accusing him of – which of course they are readily pointing out. You see,” and another silly wave of the handkerchief, “The gentleman,” I laughed, “Gentleman? The man, I borrowed the money from, he is involved with Miss Willingham – which at the time I was quite unaware.” And it felt good telling him – even this little bit of the truth, “He is a Russian.”
He nodded, “And so, this Russian, you borrowed money from. Got it in writing, does he?"
I shook my head, “No, nothing was ever written down. But they say I owe them and they want my help and if I don’t do so – they will,” I frowned for a moment as I paused, having until this moment been still indecisive as to how much to relate to him, and looking at him, I decided he was perhaps my last best hope of all and so: – “They will reveal my being a socialist – and they have fabricated documents . . . to make it look as if the money was payment from a foreign government . . . and they say it will only make things worse for Bradley as he is already suspected of espionage. And it is not like they want me to say commit some horrible crime or anything. And so — I am sorry, Randall, I had to speak to someone – I mean, I have no one at the moment I can trust.”
I am not certain I shall ever truly trust anyone again.
“No, no, it’s fine.” Randall said stroking his clean-shaven chin. “So you say they have manufactured evidence? You’ve seen it?”
I nodded, “Yes.”
“What do they want you to do?”
“They want me to assist them in obtaining some kind of information from a chemist. A Mr Winston Pleydell-Smith – he is on the board of The Chemical Society. He is also among the head chemists working for May & Baker, one of the more influential chemical companies in Britain. But I gather it has to do with some previous work he did. It all has something to do with Petroleum. With my education and background in science, chemistry – that is why they selected me I from what I gather.”
“And how much of your debt is that worth?” He asked still leaning back in his chair.
“If I find what they are looking for then they will give me all the stuff they fabricated and I am debt free . . . they say.”
He sat forward he legs of his chair settling to the floor, “The origin of this debt was never in writing, I suggest you should get the terms of your . . . indenture, for lack of a better word, in writing if you can. If they will lie to your face about an agreement to pay back a perceived debt, then what is to say they won’t move the goalposts as far as it will take them."
I leaned forward and pulled at the edges of the handkerchief, "As I said, I am a fool. An absolute fool. But, you see, I am hoping that in assisting them, I can find some evidence of my own, something with which I can procure some leverage.”
“You’re only a fool if you do not learn from these past mistakes—and adapt to them.” He told me with a reassuring smile, “Don’t keep admonishing yourself over it. The past is set, but the future is up in the air. Getting some dirt on them to counter blackmail is a good plan, but you have to be careful. To stop a con artist, you have to think like a con artist.” He half chuckled to himself. “I should know a thing or two about that.”
I smiled and handed him his handkerchief back, "Well, I have always been a rather quick study, double honours. I know that is school, but this is a different kind of schooling for it looks as if I am in for a definite learning experience from all this. I felt so foolish and I still do, but, I know I have to gather some pluck and stick this out. One thing I know, they understand blackmail – if I can pull it off. If not, then perhaps I can use whatever they want for leverage should I find it.”
“There’s the radical spirit of the socialist.” He said, “Let the exploiters know on whose backs their fortunes are made.”
“If they think I am good enough to have been selected for this conspiracy, then I just have to use whatever they saw in me against them.” I said now with some conviction.
Randall put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “I will be happy to teach you what I can, and I do enjoy a good revenge counter-con. But I do want to make the offer one last time to flee. I don’t often speak of my past, but when I was a boy, my parents were, dare I say it, con artists. They would set up a scam pretending to be some disgraced aristocrat with a sob story about needing to sell the family jewels, all paste of course. And then when they are found out, did we stick around to get caught? No, we were off to Liverpool with dad a poor miner and a broken leg, or Dover with Mum in need of a quick loan for a dowry to her betrothed’s brute of a father, played by a friend of course. The key to all this, is to be able to cut town and start a new life elsewhere. And I can help you with that, now or later.” I reached up and placed my hand upon his – for I could tell this was heart-felt. “But if you are insistent on staying and taking them down a peg, well then I’m here to help you to the end.”
“Thank you.” I patted his hand even as he gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze, “But I feel I need to stay here in London, for now, until there is some word about Bradley. I feel – I just can’t help it, that he will reach out to me and I want to be there if he should.”
“Alright.” Randall suddenly took a few paces towards the far wall and turned smartly, hands behind his back as if addressing a classroom. "The first lesson is a simple one. The fine art of confidence is devising a creditable role and being able to adhere to it no matter the circumstance.”
“Theatrics.” I said. “Like acting.”
“Precisely.” And then he quickly summarized methodologies of the confidence trick, the grifter’s sleight-of-hand: he explained, in general, the need of the foundation work; the necessary approach; the opportunity of the build-up; the need for a convincer; the excitement of that crucial moment known as the Hurrah. He laid out the nuances of the short and the long con – the advantages and disadvantages to each.
“But the most important trick of all, is learning how to become invisible. How to disappear.” He told me once more looking down to the street, below, “Like your Miss Miniver – she is absolutely uncanny in that ability.”
“Yes – she certainly does,” I was uncertain of the time, having discussed so much, “It is late, I must return to the university,” I told him and gathered up my hat and gloves, and took my coat from the back of the chair.
He gave he a hug and the reassurance of that bright smile of his and he then watched as I stepped out and made my way back down Narrow Street for Limehouse Station. I was well aware as I being followed by the same large black man who had intervened with the drunken Hindoo – I felt the protection of Mr Ling the whole of my hurried return to Limehouse Station. Timing of course being everything – in that I had been assured in allowing myself only a brief time with Randall. The train soon arrived and I pushed in with the others boarding.
I sat ruminating over my conversation with Randall, in particular his instruction on Confidence – in that the most important thing was determining a role and playing it well. And so to that end – I resolved to become less timorous and become more a ‘member of the conspiracy.’ To give all appearance of acquiescence to my plight – perhaps even so far as to ask more of Lady Hélène’s operations on the continent and of her implied invitation to become some element of by giving the impression that I too wished as she said to extend my reach.
“There are so many treacheries in Limehouse my dear,” said Mr Pym, his voice startling breaking my preoccupation, and I looked up to see him standing there before me, as always well dressed, in a dark Seville suit, his hand leisurely riding in his trouser pocket, seemingly well balanced against the jostle of the underground car, “As well as secrets.”
“Pym.” I think I might of hissed.
His smile grew and he sat down beside me in the rumble and rattle of the train. “Just as when we used to commute to the city for Morningside Park. Then you sought to confide in me. So, have you a secret you wish to share, Vee? That is of course the appellation you father uses, is it not.”
I turned to look at him as he took a seat close beside me.
“Yes, each morning he boards the 6:45. A man of very strict habits.” He replied removing a silver cigarette case and opening it to remove one before offering the open case to me. I shook my head. “In certain circles it is consider dangerous to have strict habits,” the case snapped closed, “Even more so should they be known.”
“You have me Mr Pym, I quite assure you. You can leave my father out of this.” I replied – this was bad, exceedingly bad. Miniver! How had I failed in not detecting her – and now she has brought Pym.
“Do I, Vee?” He lit the cigarette. “Do I really?”
“Yes — not withstanding this excursion . . .”
“For what do I have you?” He asked.
I hurriedly muddled through a various seemingly fragmented ideas, “I -I am to say the least undone Mr Pym. If you must know, I am to say the least, a but far more than an anxious – and so, I sought a remedy, as said to be found there.”
He laughed, “Seeking such in Limehouse? For someone like you, it could be exceeding dangerous – and we wouldn’t want anything to happen, to our Vee. But really, I don’t think if I were to look in your purse, I would find any measure of narcotic there. Now, would I? No – there is a confident there among those sordid alleyways, I would surmise — but that is not why I am here. In fact, this little outing of yours is really quite opportune. It gives us a moment to converse as we used to.” He brought the cigarette to his lips, “I do so miss our early morning conversations on the train from Morningside – don’t you?”
“Ah, petulance does not become you, Vee.” He replied and brushed away a bit of lint that had drawn his attention upon his trouser leg. “I understand Pleydell-Smith has enquired of you at the university – that lithe little body of yours having of course turned his head. He does so like them young. I suspect a visit to King’s College will shortly ensue.”
I looked at him – what was he about?
“See here Vee, even as we rumble long there are meetings transpiring between London and Paris in regards to the future of petroleum, a future after the war. They are even now carving up the Ottoman’s – so to speak. Spoils of War.” He exhaled a long plume of blue-sliver smoke into the railcar. “And so, I don’t know what it is that Beltham wants you to use that exquisite little . . . ” He sighed before using the vulgarity – he does so have such a wicked mouth, “To seduce from Pleydell-Smith, but once you have – and you have purloined it, I want you to bring it to me.”
What new madness was this – it was beyond comprehension. I looked at him, “Are you mad? You are suggesting betraying Lady Hélène your employer?”
“I am self-employed my dear.” He gave me a most mischievous look.
“I am not – I am indentured.” I told him.
“Yes – mores the pity. But as I said, strict habits are a liability that some men just cannot afford.”
“You would have her kill me?” I retorted.
His lips curled wryly, “Bring it to me. I want only to know what it is and to make a copy. And everyone is contented, yes.”
I sat silently contemplating this new circumstance – I had looked into Lady Hélène’s eyes and well as Miss Miniver’s both were equally capable of murder. Mine.
The train rattled on for long moments. Mr Pym dropped his cigarette upon the floor of the carriage and stood. He smiled down at me, “You should take care in returning to the laboratory. They are aware you are missing.”
As if well timed we pulled into the station and he turned and strolled leisurely out of the carriage. I sat looking at him stunned at the implications of his threat and the consequences of betraying Lady Hélène. He had just told me he would murder my father. And to do has he asked – they would in tourn murder me . . . should I be found out. A whirlwind of perplexity engulfed me.
But the train was not about to wait for me to gather my wits. I looked up to see those entering the carriage and I quickly gathered myself and stepped onto the platform. Amid a host of passengers now boarding the train, pushing past me, I as I exited, preoccupied and beyond a doubt looking as dazed as I was confused. I felt myself proceeding, following along toward the exit – making my way but barely cognizant of those I passed, retreating so as to move long the wall to get away from them. . . when suddenly I was grabbed and whirled into the dimness of an ill lit corner.
Miss Miniver stood with the most amazing strength of her hand grasping my throat as she pressed me up against the platform wall. “You best be forewarned.” She said, her voice having assumed a tone I had never heard from her lips as her lower jaw pressed forward in a slight under bite as her cuspids appeared now long and sharp; her head oddly moving as if she were an animal detecting a captivating scent, “There are two incomprehensible forces at work. Each at cross-purposes. Forces of reckoning you do not desire to see the wraith of – Pym is a fool and it is best you realize,” her voice almost a hiss, “Who has your best interests.”
The grip on my throat was incredibly strong, as I was held there – aware that those passing by seemed not to take notice. The rail car was beginning to move, as she seemed to be resisting some inner turmoil. “Have you not been told you were selected from among candidates? You, my dear, were not their first.” The rattle and rumble of the train began to grow louder now as she pronounced her revelation: “You, dear Veronica, are but their second-best choice – their first was not as appealing to Pleydell-Smith as you. So, he lies diced up upon the embankment. Have a care Veronica – you do not follow her to the Thames.”
God to whom I have not prayed – help me.