The Notorious Doctor Cleghorn

A penny-dreadful
transmitted by Ætherweb

28 December 2009

Part Four

Isabel sighed. ‘I did hope you might react a little more.’

Realisation dawned on Cleghorn.

‘Oh, er, great Scott! Whatever do you mean?’

She looked at him coolly. ‘I suppose people must say that sort of thing to you rather often, these days.’

‘Miss Constance, a man in my line of work can barely discuss the weather without hearing some ominous pronouncement or ill-favoured portent.’

‘Oh?’ She arched an eyebrow. ‘Been an outbreak of prophesy in the surgery, has there?’ Cleghorn remained impassive. ‘Or perhaps you were referring to your other occupation?’

Cleghorn felt exhaustion creeping up on him. ‘What, precisely, do you believe became of Belmont? You were alluding to his æthermatical work, I think.’ Isabel nodded.

‘He published a paper. Inducement of ætheric vibrations in response to psychic stimuli.

‘Must have passed me by.’

‘It gained him disciples within the Geneva Convention.’ She watched the flames flickering in the grate. ‘They started talking about applications – you know how excited they get.’

‘I should expect half of them thought they were just ready to publish right before he did.’

She nodded. ‘He made a few enemies. But his work was exciting interest from a lot of different quarters.’ She sat back. ‘Not just Geneva, but elsewhere. The Okhrana. Prussgeheim. Civil Intelligence. And…others.’


Isabel stared into the hearth for a moment, then turned her gaze directly on Cleghorn. ‘How much do you know about the Chromaticists?’

There was a rapping on the front door.

Both turned instinctively at the sound. Isabel turned back. ‘Expecting someone?’

Cleghorn gripped the poker, a slightly glazed look in his eye. The rapping came again, more insistently. It was joined by a voice.

‘Doctor Cleghorn! I must speak to you at once!’

‘Cottar,’ hissed Isabel. She got up and moved to the hallway, listening for the voices conversing behind the door. She signalled two to Cleghorn.

He stood; moving quickly to stand by Isabel, he called down the hall, ‘Is that you, Mr Cottar? On what business do you wish to speak to me?’

There was a pause before Cottar spoke again.

‘I gather you had a nasty encounter with a gang of ruffians?’

‘Indeed I did! And it’s left my poor nerves quite shaken. I fear I shan’t be entertaining any guests to-night.’

‘Nevertheless,’ he persisted, ‘I must ask for an brief audience. It could help to explain some of the misfortune that’s befallen you of late.’

‘Would you be willing to deliver your explanation from the doorstep, Mr Cottar?’

Isabel heard footsteps outside the house.

‘The doorstep?’

‘That would be the most agreeable arrangement.’

‘I’m afraid I can barely hear you, Doctor. If you would merely open the door-’

‘Absolutely out of the question, I’m afraid. Our conversation will be conducted thus, or not at all.’

‘Very well.’ A brief silence; some muttering. ‘You must understand that my colleagues and I very deeply regret any trouble you may have been caused as a result of – as a result of certain externalities.’

‘I’m sorry, Mr Cottar? You became quite inaudible there. I distinctly heard you claim that you “very deeply regret” – something?’

More muttering, then, ‘We very deeply regret’ – Cottar’s voice was raised to a shout, and the pitch began to rise with it – ‘any inconvenience you may have been caused as a result of certain externalities, which are of course entirely beyond our control.

‘Externalities, Mr Cottar? Why on earth should you be apologising for such, if you have no control over them?’

‘It has come to my attention that’ – there was a shattering of glass behind them – ‘certain elements employed by the Ministry have taken it upon themselves to act outside the bounds of their authority-

Drawing her pistol, Isabel turned and advanced upon the kitchen.

‘Ah! Would you excuse me just one moment, Mr Cottar? I believe I’m about to be burgled senseless.’

Isabel could just make out the form of the Cottar’s associate in the gloom of the unlit kitchen. She raised her pistol. ‘Stand where you are. The next move could be the last you ever make.’

The figure seemed to ignore her. Wrapped in a large black coat, he proceeded to walk slowly around the kitchen, feeling his way as if blind. Isabel cleared her throat.

‘This weapon is loaded and I will shoot you. Kindly cease your investigations and surrender.’

Cleghorn stepped in behind her. As he did so, the figure spun round, arms outstretched, and leapt at him.

Isabel fired.

Belle stood at the window, surveying the landscape below. A few other members of the Circle mingled with the crowd in the ballroom, maintaining cover. As she turned, a tall, aristocratic gentleman – Giuseppe Trovato to the airship’s passengers, though Belle knew him as Signor Verdi – approached her.

She smiled humourlessly. ‘Giuseppe.’

‘I hear there has been a delay?’ His French was flawless – just enough of an accent to sound foreign, not quite enough to be placed exactly.

‘So they tell me.’

Verdi attempted to conceal his surprise. ‘And you’ve heard this from – where, exactly?’

Belle glanced around, trying not to look furtive. ‘You should keep an ear listening. There was an incident in London. A bombing.’

‘Any suspicions?’

She sniffed. ‘Them, obviously. Though I’m sure it’ll be pinned on the usual suspects.’

‘I take it it wasn’t, ah-’

‘Not as far as I’m aware.’ Verdi looked relieved. ‘Our friends will simply have to keep their heads down for a little while.’

‘What will you be doing in London?’

‘Me?’ She smiled. ‘I have an appointment with a doctor.’

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