Worthington reached for his cloak and glanced at the time piece in its pocket, noting with a raise of an eyebrow the lateness of the hour. He wondered if he was doing justice to the man. He had known him for only half his own lifetime; how could he summarize in hours a life that he knew was measured in centuries?
“Doctor, I have ascertained that the Comte de Saint Germain did not exist for twenty years after the time of Diderici, until he recruited me in 1835. The furniture, books, and laboratory supplies he had shipped from France for our restoration of the manor at Anglesea, came from the barn and cellar of a country cottage that is no longer there. Out of curiosity I visited the place once. The house that once stood there was burnt to the ground and the locals shun the place.
“Although he has never confided in me in this regard, it is plain that my master lost someone in 1815, someone he loved dearly, soon after the night he defeated Diderici.
“Doctor, I know we have all lost dear people in our lives. And perhaps we could be tempted to believe that, for one whose life is counted in centuries, such loss would become commonplace. But maybe for that very reason he learned to lessen the attachment, keep his guard, distance his heart at all times… that is, until one special person, against every argument of reason, broke through. And, perhaps, for the first time, he loved. If this is so, then I cannot contemplate the depths of passion that that loss wrought upon his person. He disappeared in 1815. He said he wasted those next two decades. I believe he came almost to ending his own life.”
“The Marguerite of the notebooks,” Bernice said softly.
“Yes, I believe so. She must have been the woman in the portrait. And it must have been Diderici who killed her. It is plain that the master blamed himself for it.
“He must have decided never again to run that risk; for after the Wilshire affair he changed his methods. He began working alone, and did so for about a decade. During this time, in anticipation of his next life, he established an estate in Mexico and another in the Southern United States as his bases of operation. The household at Anglesea saw him only every three or four years, and always late at night.
“He kept me apprised of his progress and needs by mail (and telegraph if there was urgency) using our own cipher. During those years he measured his success by the precipitous drop in loup-garoux and vampire cases that required his attention. But soon he began to suspect that the occult heads of the Hydra, Elias’ fear mongers, had simply changed their tactics.
“And then came the revolutions of 1848. He found the simplicity of their motivation to be out of proportion with the extent of their scope. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it, all of European Society appeared to have been cut in two: ‘those who had nothing had united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror.’”
“During this time the master allied himself briefly with Wilhelm Stieber, chief of the Berlin police, and together they investigated an exiled political extremist named Marx. The man, with his associate, a German, Engels, drafted a manifesto matched only by the Illuminati papers in its gross vilification of traditional government. The document was at heart self-contradictory. Yet the movement they fostered quickly became a major force in the political undercurrents of the next decade.
“That, and Heinzen’s essay of 1849 entitled, Murder, where the author espoused the assassinations of leaders and even the mass murders of innocent civilians as acceptable political tools, convinced the master that something had changed in the other heads of the Hydra as well. The power brokers were becoming bolder.
“From that time he decided to wage his war with the weapons Marx disdained the most, the weapons of the bourgeois: Money, Society, and Politics. He traveled the world in the guise of a Portuguese sailor, and created several personas in Europe and America, each managing large portions of the fortune he had accumulated over his life. As the rotund American magnate, he aggressively penetrated the British market of bonds and shipping companies. As an aging Lord Hallowstone in high society, he manipulated royalty. As a Spanish businessman he controlled several newspapers.
“He focused on crippling the secret societies: discrediting their literature, driving several of them bankrupt, letting others self-destruct by setting member against member, defusing many by trapping key members in compromising positions.
“He started establishing new contacts around the world, but this time as a very limited network of associates, each one chosen for specific abilities; his unique perception of the living aura served him well over this time.”
Worthington looked down from his memories and met her eyes. “Indeed, when he first met you, he found your beauty and grace instantly attractive, but it was the aura that he saw that gave him pause. What your specific gift was, he had no way to guess. He suspected briefly that it was a universal grasp of languages, given the way you easily surmised the plight of the gypsies, and the state of the farmers, in spite of the fragmented translations; and given the fact that you spoke to him in Spanish at Rabelaire’s castle, a language you had never been taught.” He paused momentarily. “Since then he has learned otherwise.”
With a brief smile at that thought the old soldier returned to his summary of the Spaniard’s career. “By the mid 1850’s he thought his campaign had succeeded. The Crimean war was ended. Even the scourge of cholera appeared to have been defeated. And he relaxed. He vanished for six months, indulging the persona of the Portuguese sailor.
“But something happened in late 1856 that brought him back to England. He again attended Faraday’s lecture that December, and then spent time studying the work of a young man, surnamed Maxwell, of Glenlair, whom Faraday recommended enthusiastically. I saw a change in him then, but I am not sure how to explain it. It was, though, a change that pleased me.
“Doctor, I don’t know if you can imagine how the disparity of the passage of time between our two lives renders our relationship mystifying. When I first met him, I looked upon him as a peer, of a different station surely, but nevertheless a peer. When I started to suspect his true identity, I found myself thinking of him as my elder. But as time passes by and I age, and he does not, I find myself thinking of him more often than not as a son or nephew. Does this make sense, Doctor?”
“Perhaps it is the only way it can make sense to our minds,” Bernice replied.
“Yes, that may be it. Have you ever wondered what your outlook on life would be if you had such a gift, if you could live so long, if you could survive injury and plague?”
Bernice had to think carefully for a moment before answering. She had to separate her thoughts and feelings from those mysterious insights that she had been granted into the man’s life. “It would be a heady realization upon first discovery. Then it would be utterly tempting… to do, to dare things that the fear of death kept others from doing. I would think it would lead most men into a life of dissipation; it would set them free to seize power, pleasure, anything they desired – until the futility of it all finally got through to them.”
“Like Solomon, in Ecclesiastes,” Worthington agreed.
“It would be an extraordinary man who chose another way, under those circumstances.”
“Even if he did, the temptation would always be there.”
“It would also be a very lonely life.” Bernice finished.
“I saw something new in him in those days of 1857, a steadier hand, a character that seemed more tempered. I would say that it was then that his avocation finally became for him a mission, something greater than himself.
“He started investigating again the secret societies, new activities he had noticed in the occult circles; and that was what took him to a London tavern in December of 1858, where there was an attempt on his life. His investigation of that incident led him to evidence of a series of secret societies he had never heard of, supposedly connected to the family of the Tsar. That unsettling discovery prompted the trip to Russia and his return via the Black Sea. You are a witness of what happened then.
“On his return from that trip he took up his work where he had left off. But again he worked alone, exercising the utmost care in protecting his identity. The Rabelaire incident had evidently been a trap set by the same hand that had orchestrated the attempt at the tavern. They had had the advantage on him. He would not let that happen again.
“His first order of business, he said, was to eliminate the new loup-garoux; not literal beasts like the ones he had fought half a century earlier, but a new manifestation: Murderers who like the Bavarian Ripper needed no animal form, no drug-induced euphoria, to give full vent to their blood lust. They seemed to be at the nexus of two of the heads of the Hydra, for the anarchist secret societies showed a distinct interest in their activities. Dumollard was the third of these wolves that he brought to justice in those following years.
“It was with him, as you may have surmised, that he realized the past was not as dead as he had hoped. When during his interrogation of Dumollard, he saw on the man’s forehead a familiar scar, he disinterred the second man and found not only that scar but a strange wound above the temple, a wound that would have killed him, and therefore could not have been inflicted before he was executed.
“Thus he waited in the cemetery for the burial of Dumollard’s remains. When he exhumed that body, he found the scar and the temple wound as well. Since he had been a witness to the guillotining, and only the authorities had access to the body between that time and the interment, he decided someone in that chain of command, maybe the executioner himself, was hired to remove certain evidence from their brains.”
Worthington paused to allow the weight of that conclusion to sink in. Bernice had already recognized the connection between the mineral traces Lord Hallowstone had asked her to identify in Dumollard’s brain, the story of Crosse’s Acari, and Wilshire’s bizarre claim to the origin of his powers. “Surely that crystalline powder was not alive.”
“Not alive as we understand life.” Worthington replied. Lady Masveh referred to it as some sort of mechanism, a fey construct, incredibly refined to exist at such a minute scale, and apparently autonomous.” Worthington shrugged his shoulders emphasizing that he knew no more, and then he added: “The Comte de Saint Germain gathered his army about him one more time. The Arnot conclave is no more.
“But Lord Hallowstone saw that scar again, on the forehead of the man that led the attack on the Victoria and Albert. That one, as you know, erased the evidence himself.
“You see, Doctor, why he does not want you anywhere close to him. He believes it is starting all over again. This time the power brokers are seeking out human wolves and they are experimenting on them with Diderici’s legacy. They have not succeeded in replicating Wilshire’s abilities or reassembling the knowledge he had accumulated, but someone is trying.”
He paused again, this time with a severe finality; and then he summarized it all in one final question. “Do you see any other way around my master’s plight, Doctor?”
Bernice bowed her head. Worthington’s exposition of his master’s life filled in a host of gaps, confirmed suspicions, verified impressions, but it did little to change her feelings. Against all reason, she was still angry at Lord Hallowstone. Even completely understanding the danger she would place him in if she stayed, by distraction or even by giving his enemies a target to use against him, she still resented the parting.
She stood up and walked across the room, arguing in silence with herself, marveling at the extent of her selfishness. Or was it arrogance? What did she expect the man to do? Was she expecting him to abandon his mission for her sake? Would she abandon hers for him?
No, it was not selfishness. And it was not arrogance to recognize that flesh and blood can not hope to contend with the powers of Hell. But even if she joined him, there was no guarantee that her faith would be enough for them both. After all, was not the Lord Himself constrained from healing the people of his own town by the lack of their faith?
In those few steps, Bernice’s mind framed and destroyed half a dozen arguments in support of her impulse to defy the Spaniard’s wishes and stay. She tried again: Don’t the Proverbs condemn the one that sees a man headed for disaster and does nothing? She couldn’t just stand by and – No? Tell that to King Josiah, who picked a war that was none of his business. He was the last righteous King of Judah… How many hearts could he have turned to his Lord if he had lived another year? But he meddled where he did not belong.
She shook her head as she realized that Saint Paul’s cry kept echoing in her heart: ‘for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren’. That was not hyperbole. The apostle meant that; he would have been willing to trade his life, his own soul, if that alone could have saved his whole nation. But here, it was not a nation at stake, and she was not Saint Paul. Even if she could wish it, she could not take Santiago’s place. Every man makes his choice. And there is only One that can redeem that choice.
That was the problem, and she had to acknowledge it. Santiago De Soray had made his choice. With every conviction of her faith she knew he was doomed to fail. With equally strong emotions she wished it not to be so. But neither conviction nor wish have the power to determine a man’s fate. Only One has that power. And He seldom reveals His plans to men.
She hung her head in defeat. To Worthington’s question she finally replied with the prophet Elisha’s words, “The Lord has hid it from me.” She could discern no clear direction from her Master. That frustration aroused the anger again, and her spirit had no other recourse but to seize the reins and rebuke the anger and the doubt.
She knew there was only one decision left to her, to return to her mission, to return to Africa and carry out the work she knew had been given to her. There was a measure of reassurance in that decision, in recognizing there was no other way open to her. But still a trembling remained. Her eyes moistened as she turned to face the old soldier. He looked into her eyes and answered the plea she could not voice.
“I will stand by his side till my last breath, Doctor. Elias and Lady Masveh cross our paths at least once every decade… sooner if they sense he needs them. Do not worry, we will watch over him.” He walked to the door. Bernice walked by his side, unable to say anything else. There he bowed down and kissed her hand and said in farewell, “You will pray for us, will you not?”
She started to nod and then, on an impulse, she reached up to his face and kissed the old soldier’s cheek. With that she closed the door.
Her Master once let a man He loved die, didn’t He? And at his tomb He wept. She did too.