The Notorious Doctor Cleghorn

A penny-dreadful
transmitted by Ætherweb

27 December 2009

Part Three

‘This is most unlike you, Doctor.’ Gallowman’s voice disquieted Cleghorn at the best of times – the man spoke like an asthmatic hacksaw, and took care to enunciate every consonant as if it had personally offended him – but now the note of satisfaction in his voice turned the doctor’s stomach. ‘We both know fine well you wouldn’t cut a man’s throat.’

Cleghorn tightened his grip. ‘Out the front. The police will be here any moment.’

‘And what will you say to them, I wonder? Perhaps they won’t take too kindly to your threatening an innocent citizen with a deadly weapon.’

Cleghorn tried not to listen. ‘Start walking.’ His captive obliged.

The doctor frogmarched Gallowman out of the back room, through the – undamaged? why? – front of the shop. From the shadows, he caught a glimpse of the small group of constables assembled outside; the sight caused him to involuntarily lower the knife a half-inch. Immediately, Gallowman seized the blade, twisted it from his hand, and disappeared into the shadows with a vicious, yellow-toothed grin. The Peelers didn’t move at all.


Advancing down the street – not knowing exactly where he should be headed, but forcing himself to walk in order to get the blood flowing – the doctor almost ran straight into Isabel.

She turned to face him. Both parties stared open-mouthed for some seconds, snowfall gently settling on their shoulders.

‘You’re covered in dust,’ was the best she could manage.

‘I was quite near an explosion.’

‘Are you all right?’

‘Most of it went the other way.’

‘Oh.’ Isabel folded her arms. ‘Good.’

‘I had to threaten someone.’

‘What?’

‘It seemed the thing to do.’

‘What happened to him?’

‘I’m sure I’ll see him again.’

Isabel hesitated. ‘I should explain.’

‘Friends of yours, were they?’

‘I thought they knew you.’

He laughed mirthlessly. ‘We’re professionally acquainted. Much as I was with Professor Belmont before his disappearance. It seemed they were almost as interested to hear about his recent exploits as I am.’

Isabel looked about the street. Officers stood at each end, some distance from her. ‘We should go-’

‘I can quite understand your desire for privacy, Miss Constance, but I find your taste in sanctuary leaves something to be desired. Might I suggest we retire to my home in Regent’s Park?’

Isabel nodded. Cleghorn waved down a carriage.


Having generously compensated the driver and sent him on his way (the doctor apologising profusely, having found himself temporarily impecunious), Isabel stood for a moment outside the house, breathing in the chill night air. The carriage’s whistling steam-vents and clattering wheels had conspired to make conversation quite impossible, and so the journey had passed in uncomfortable silence.

Cleghorn opened the door. The house was unlit, and colder, it seemed to Isabel, than the air outside.

‘No butler?’, she said as she gently tapped the snow from her boots in the vestibule. ‘I thought no Harley Street doctor would be without a full staff?’

‘Perhaps they aren’t. I fear I’m of a humbler league.’ He took her coat and directed her to the parlour. Presently he returned and busied himself with the fire.

‘Would you like help with anything?’

‘Not at all. Make yourself comfortable.’ Isabel lit one of the lamps on the wall, and collapsed delicately into an armchair.

As Cleghorn fumbled with a match, he said ‘Perhaps, if you don’t mind, you could begin telling me something of what you know about the Professor?’

‘Are we past formalities so soon?’

‘Miss Constance, so far this evening I have been harassed by a pigeon, perplexed by a madwoman, threatened, assaulted, and partially blown up, and now to cap it all I can’t get this damn fire lit.’ He dropped his second match, spent, to the floor. ‘If you could do anything to expedite the satisfaction of my curiosity, I would be most appreciative.’

‘You’re doing it all wrong. Here.’ She got up, handed him a piece of kindling. He took it.

She returned to her armchair, and took in the room for some moments while the flames began to rise in the hearth.

‘When did you last hear from Professor Belmont?’

‘He visited London in July. Came to see the Society. I remember he was terribly excited about something, but he wouldn’t say what. Do you remember Van Ivan?’

‘I do. Nasty business. Poke it a bit more.’

‘Belmont had that same look in his eye, just like Van Ivan did before he locked himself in his laboratory.’ Cleghorn jabbed at the coals. ‘I recognised the signs immediately, but, of course, Aquinas said-’

‘-not to worry-’ they chorused,

‘-because he was under a terrible strain, what with his daughter and so forth, and the best thing would be to leave him to his research and let his mind sort itself out.’

‘I didn’t know he had one. A daughter, I mean.’

‘I believe they’re estranged.’

A silence entered the room.

‘Didn’t you once know a girl called Belmont?’ Isabel enquired as delicately as she could manage.

‘I did.’ The silence was longer this time.

‘Were you aware that the Professor had been spending a lot of time in Geneva recently?’

‘In the literal or figurative sense?’

‘Both.’

The heat was beginning to rise from the hearth. Cleghorn stood up and glanced out of the window; the snow was falling again, not so thickly as before.

‘Did he find anything?’

‘If my sources are correct, Doctor, it seems that something may have found him.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 UK: Scotland License by Alex McGivern