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Authors: Richard A. Lupoff

Dreams (2 page)

BOOK: Dreams
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Holmes nodded, frowning. "There was nothing noteworthy about the room, then?" he asked at length.
"Yes, Mr. Holmes, there was." Lady Fairclough's response startled me so, I nearly dropped my fountain pen, but I recovered and returned to my note taking.
"At first the room seemed a perfect cube. The ceiling, floor, and four walls each appeared absolutely square and mounted at a precise right angle to one another. But as I stood there, they seemed to—I suppose,
shift
is the closest I can come to it, Mr. Holmes, but they did not actually move in any familiar manner. And yet their shape seemed to be different, and the angles to become peculiar, obtuse, and to open onto other—how to put this?—
dimensions."
She seized Holmes's wrist in her graceful fingers and leaned toward him pleadingly. "Do you think I am insane, Mr. Holmes? Has my grief driven me to the brink of madness? There are times when I think I can bear no more strangeness."
"You are assuredly not insane," Holmes told her. "You have stumbled upon one of the strangest and most dangerous of phenomena, a phenomenon barely suspected by even the most advanced of mathematical theoreticians and spoken of even by them in only the most cautious of whispers."
He withdrew his arm from her grasp, shook his head, and said, "If your strength permits, you must continue your story, please."
"I will try," she answered.
I waited, fountain pen poised above notebook.
Our visitor shuddered as with a fearsome recollection. "Once I had left the secret room, sealing it behind myself, I attempted to resume a normal life. It was days later that my husband reappeared, refusing as usual to give any explanation of his recent whereabouts. Shortly after this a dear friend of mine living in Quebec gave birth to a child. I had gone to be with her when word was received of the great Pontefract earthquake. In this disaster a fissure appeared in the earth and our house was completely swallowed. I was, fortunately, left in a state of financial independence, and have never suffered from material deprivation. But I have never again seen my husband. Most believe that he was in the house at the time of its disappearance, and was killed at once, but I retain a hope, however faint, that he may somehow have survived."
She paused to compose herself, then resumed.
"But I fear I am getting ahead of myself. It was shortly before my husband ordered the construction of his sealed room that my brother, Philip, announced his engagement and the date of his impending nuptials. I thought the shortness of his intended period of engagement was unseemly, but in view of my own marriage and departure to Canada so soon after my parents' death, I was in no position to condemn Philip. My husband and I booked passage to England, on the
Lemuria
in fact, and from Liverpool made our way to the family lands in Merthyr Tydfil."
She shook her head as if to free it of an unpleasant memory.
"Upon arriving at Anthracite Palace, I was shocked by my brother's appearance."
At this point I interrupted our guest with a query.
"Anthracite Palace? Is that not an unusual name for a family manse?"
"Our family residence was so named by my ancestor, Sir Llewys Llewellyn, who built the family fortune, and the manor, by operating a network of successful coal mines. As you are probably aware, the region is rich in anthracite. The Llewellyns pioneered modern mining methods which rely upon gelignite explosives to loosen banks of coal for the miners to remove from their native sites. In the region of Merthyr Tydfil, where the Anthracite Palace is located, the booming of gelignite charges is heard to this day, and stores of the explosive are kept at the mine heads."
I thanked her for the clarification and suggested that she continue with her narrative.
"My brother was neatly barbered and clothed, but his hands shook, his cheeks were sunken, and his eyes had a frightened, hunted look to them," she said. "When I toured my childhood home I was shocked to find its interior architecture modified. There was now a sealed room, just as there had been at Pontefract. I was not permitted to enter that room. I expressed my concern at my brother's appearance but he insisted he was well and introduced his fiancée, who was already living at the palace."
I drew my breath with a gasp.
"Yes, Doctor," Lady Fairclough responded, "you heard me correctly. She was a woman of dark, Gypsyish complexion, glossy sable hair, and darting eyes. I disliked her at once. She gave her own name, not waiting for Philip to introduce her properly. Her maiden name, she announced, was Anastasia Romelly. She claimed to be of noble Hungarian blood, allied both to the Habsburgs and the Romanovs."
"Humph," I grunted, "Eastern European nobility is a ha'penny a dozen, and three-quarters of them aren't real even at that."
"Perhaps true," Holmes snapped at me, "but we do not know that the credentials of the lady involved were other than authentic." He frowned and turned away. "Lady Fairclough, please continue."
"She insisted on wearing her native costume. And she had persuaded my brother to replace his chef with one of her own choosing, whom she had imported from her homeland and who replaced our usual menu of good English fare with unfamiliar dishes reeking of odd spices and unknown ingredients. She imported strange wines and ordered them served with meals."
I shook my head in disbelief.
"The final straw came upon the day of her wedding to my brother. She insisted upon being given away by a surly, dark man who appeared for the occasion, performed his duty, and then disappeared. She—"
"A moment, please," Holmes interrupted. "If you will forgive me—you say that this man disappeared. Do you mean that he took his leave prematurely?"
"No, I do not mean that at all." Lady Fairclough was clearly excited. A moment earlier she had seemed on the verge of tears. Now she was angry and eager to unburden herself of her tale.
"In a touching moment, he placed the bride's hand upon that of the groom. Then he raised his own hand. I thought his intent was to place his benediction upon the couple, but such was not the case. He made a gesture with his hand, as if making a mystical sign."
She raised her own hand from her lap, but Holmes snapped, "Do not, I warn you, attempt to replicate the gesture! Please, if you can, simply describe it to Dr. Watson and myself."
"I could not replicate the gesture if I tried," Lady Fairclough said. "It defies imitation. I cannot even describe it accurately, I fear. I was fascinated and tried to follow the movement of the dark man's fingers, but I could not. They seemed to disappear and reappear most shockingly, and then, without further warning, he was simply gone. I tell you, Mr. Holmes, one moment the dark man was there, and then he was gone."
"Did no one else take note of this, my lady?"
"No one did, apparently. Perhaps all eyes were trained upon the bride and groom, although I believe I did notice the presiding official exchanging several glances with the dark man. Of course, that was before his disappearance."
Holmes stroked his jaw, deep in thought. There was a lengthy silence in the room, broken only by the ticking of the ormolu clock and whistling of the wind through the eaves. Finally Holmes spoke.
"It can be nothing other than the Voorish Sign," he said.
"The Voorish Sign?" Lady Fairclough repeated inquiringly.
Holmes said, "Never mind. This becomes more interesting by the moment, and also more dangerous. Another question, if you please. Who was the presiding official at the wedding? He was, I would assume, a priest of the Church of England."
"No." Lady Fairclough shook her head once again. "The official was neither a member of the Anglican clergy nor a
he.
The wedding was performed by a woman."
I gasped in surprise, drawing still another sharp glance from Holmes.
"She wore robes such as I have never seen," our guest resumed. "There were symbols, both astronomical and astrological, embroidered in silver thread and gold, green, blue, and red. There were other symbols totally unfamiliar to me, suggestive of strange geometries and odd shapes. The ceremony itself was conducted in a language I had never before heard, and I am something of a linguist, Mr. Holmes. I believe I detected a few words of Old Temple Egyptian, a phrase in Coptic Greek, and several suggestions of Sanskrit. Other words I did not recognize at all."
Holmes nodded. I could see the excitement growing in his eyes, the excitement that I saw only when a fascinating challenge was presented to him.
He asked, "What was this person's name?"
"Her name," Lady Fairclough voiced through teeth clenched in anger, or perhaps in the effort to prevent their chattering with fear, "was Vladimira Petrovna Ludmilla Romanova. She claimed the title of Archbishop of the Wisdom Temple of the Dark Heavens."
"Why—why," I exclaimed, "I've never heard of such a thing! This is sheer blasphemy!"
"It is something far worse than blasphemy, Watson." Holmes leaped to his feet and paced rapidly back and forth. At one point he halted near our front window, being careful not to expose himself to the direct sight of anyone lurking below. He peered down into Baker Street, something I have seen him do many times in our years together. Then he did something I had not seen before. Drawing himself back still farther, he gazed upward. What he hoped to perceive in the darkened winter sky other than falling snowflakes, I could hardly imagine.
"Lady Fairclough," he intoned at length, "you have been remarkably strong and courageous in your performance here this night. I will now ask Dr. Watson to see you to your hotel. You mentioned Claridge's, I believe. I will ask Dr. Watson to remain in your suite throughout the remainder of the night. I assure you, Lady Fairclough, that he is a person of impeccable character, and your virtue will in no way be compromised by his presence."
"Even so, Holmes," I objected, "the lady's virtue is one thing, her reputation is another."
The matter was resolved by Lady Fairclough herself. "Doctor, while I appreciate your concern, we are dealing with a most serious matter. I will accept the suspicious glances of prudes and the smirks of servants if I must. The lives of my husband and my brother are at stake."
Unable to resist the lady's argument, I followed Holmes's directions and accompanied her to Claridge's. At his insistence I even went so far as to arm myself with my Enfield MK II revolver, which I tucked into the top of my woolen trousers. Holmes warned me, also, to permit no one save himself entry to Lady Fairclough's suite.
Once my temporary charge had retired, I sat in a straight chair, prepared to pass the night in a game of solitaire. Lady Fairclough had donned camisole and hair net and climbed into her bed. I will admit that my cheeks burned, but I reminded myself that in my medical capacity I was accustomed to viewing patients in a disrobed condition, and could surely assume an avuncular role while keeping watch over this courageous lady.
There was a loud rapping at the door. I jerked awake, realizing to my chagrin that I had fallen asleep over my solitary card game. I rose to my feet, went to Lady Fairclough's bedside and assured myself that she was unharmed, and then placed myself at the door to her suite. In response to my demand that our visitor identify him¬self, a male voice announced simply, "Room service, guv'ner."
My hand was on the doorknob, my other hand on the latch, when I remembered Holmes's warning at Baker Street to permit no one entry. Surely a hearty breakfast would be welcome; I could almost taste the kippers and the toast and jam that Mrs. Hudson would have served us, had we been still in our home. But Holmes had been emphatic. What to do? What to do?
"We did not order breakfast." I spoke through the heavy oaken door.
"Courtesy of the management, guv."
Perhaps, I thought, I might admit a waiter bearing food. What harm could there be in that? I reached for the latch only to find my hand tugged away by another, that of Lady Fairclough. She had climbed from her bed and crossed the room, barefoot and clad only in her sleeping garment. She shook her head vigorously, drawing me away from the door, which remained latched against any entry. She pointed to me, pantomiming speech. Her message was clear.
"Leave our breakfast in the hall," I instructed the waiter. "We shall fetch it in ourselves shortly. We are not ready as yet."
"Can't do it, sir," the waiter insisted. "Please, sir, don't get me in trouble wif the management, guv'ner. I needs to roll my cart into your room and leave the tray. I'll get in trouble if I don't, guv'ner."
I was nearly persuaded by his plea, but Lady Fairclough had placed herself between me and the door, her arms crossed and a determined expression on her face. Once again she indicated that I should send the waiter away.
"I'm sorry, my man, but I must insist. Simply leave the tray outside our door. That is my final word."
The waiter said nothing more, but I thought I could hear his reluctantly retreating footsteps.
I retired to make my morning ablutions while Lady Fairclough dressed.
Shortly thereafter, there was another rapping at the door. Fearing the worst, I drew my revolver. Perhaps this was more than a misdirected order for room service. "I told you to go away," I commanded.
"Watson, old man, open up. It is I, Holmes."
The voice was unmistakable; I felt as though a weight of a hundred stone had been lifted from my shoulders. I undid the door latch and stood aside as the best and wisest man I have ever known entered the apartment. I peered out into the hall after he had passed through the doorway. There was no sign of a service cart or breakfast tray.
Holmes asked, "What are you looking for, Watson?"
I explained the incident of the room service call.
"You did well, Watson," he congratulated me. "You may be certain that was no waiter, nor was his mission one of service to Lady Fairclough and yourself. I have spent the night consulting my files and certain other sources with regard to the odd institution known as the Wisdom Temple of the Dark Heavens, and I can tell you that we are sailing dangerous waters indeed."
BOOK: Dreams
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