Relating to the late 1780’s
The conversation was continued in a sumptuous room across the hallway from the Dining Room, with its furniture arrayed in a half arc beside a magnificent piano, and a grand fireplace on the other side. Bernice lingered over the paintings on the wall opposite the piano. One portrayed a sunlit meadow in a nondescript field, its background a chain of cloud-fringed purple mountains. In the lower corner, dwarfed by the landscape, there was a couple. The other painting was smaller, octavo size, in a different hand and a much darker palette. There was something eerily familiar about the fire-ravaged stone ruins, backlit by the setting sun.
“The old wall,” the Spaniard was beside her, “all that was left of the ancient edifice that stood on this site before this property was built.”
“Was there another wall here, still standing?” She pointed to the right of the ruins.
“Surely there were walls all around,” he demurred and led her back to the center of the room.
The avoided question bothered her less than the realization of the origin of the feeling of familiarity that had struck her. She had seen those ruins before, in a moonlit night, and she had seen the dark figure that had toppled over the tallest of the standing walls. She had forgotten that vision, until now.
Lady Masveh chided them for abandoning her and then, settling herself on the edge of a chair, she pressed Bernice for more stories of Africa. She wanted her own eyewitness accounts of the great lions of the savannah, pointing out that Livingstone’s opinion on the noble animal’s character was obviously prejudiced by the fact that one of them had nearly mauled him to death.
So Bernice related a story of her own, of how she and a Batau woman, came upon a trio of lionesses baying and roaring at a hole in the ground. Hidden by a rise downwind, they watched the unfolding drama. One of the huntresses ventured again towards the hole, to be rebuffed instantly by the creature secured within. It was a large wild pig with fearsome tusks that had evidently retreated into the burrow. The approach and repel scene repeated itself several times over the next few minutes until finally the male lion, sitting on a boulder twenty paces away, stirred itself up from its slumber. The beast was easily twice as large in bulk as the largest of its mates.
It paused at the mouth of the hole and gazed into its darkness without a hint of purpose or excitement. And then in a fraction of a heartbeat it snapped one of its great paws down into the hole. Upon withdrawing it, the wild pig was lifted clear out of its hiding place. In that lightning blow the lion had dug its claws right into its prey’s skull. The hunters did not go hungry that evening.
Lady Masveh all but shouted ‘Huzzah!’ reacting with hearty approval and commenting on the wisdom in the strategy of reserving your most fearsome forces until the enemy’s resources were fully revealed. “Doctor Bernice,” the woman rose and walked over to the piano, “you did promise you would play for us this evening.”
Bernice complied gladly. Throughout her performance, the mysterious woman stood near the back of the piano with eyes closed and head raised, perfectly still, listening to the music, as it were, with her whole body. At the end of the piece Lady Masveh opened eyes that glistened intensely, and her smile was broad and more beautiful than ever. “That was delightful.”
She wrapped her arms about the doctor’s arm and led her back to the settee across from the Spaniard. “Do you play the piano, Lady Masveh?” Bernice asked as they settled into the cushions.
“Alas, no. Although I have no doubt that in all England I am only second in the appreciation of the fine musical arts to Lady Catherine.”
Santiago answered Bernice’s questioning glance with a simple, “de Bourgh”.
“But all the entertainment this evening has been provided by your guest, Lord Hallowstone. I think it is time you regale us with a story of your exploits.”
This time the exchange of glances occurred between Santiago and Masveh. The Spaniard cleared his throat and drew in the room with a sweep of his arm. “Indeed I promised to explain my humble estate.” Walking over to the fireplace he retrieved a pipe from a bronze dish on the mantle, filled it with tobacco, and lit it with one of the many candles arrayed on that surface.
“As you doubtless have guessed, this estate was not always in my family. The name Hallowstone is a contraction of Hallowed Stone, a reference to the remains of a Druid altar and evident funeral field nearby. It is not 100 meters due west from the old wall of the original manor.
“You are probably aware that this area was the bastion of the Druids. Ddinas, meaning the citadel, about 5 kilometers that way” and he pointed north along the edge of the fireplace, “was the place of the Roman landing when Caesar’s minions first invaded Anglesey. There the Druids defended their Nuns. Formidable warriors, if we can believe the remains found in the vicinity. A few years back Parry and Jones discovered a skeleton over seven and a half feet tall in the locality.
“I believe we know too little of their customs and even less of their true religion but, as you would expect, there has been much superstition associated with their places of worship and supposed human sacrifices. As far as I can tell this area was shunned for decades until sometime in the 1600’s the land was granted to a family of French ancestry by Tudor decree.
“Around the Summer of 1786, the first Lord Hallowstone, that is the first future Lord Hallowstone, Rosendo De Soray, Conde de San Germán, was serving the Prussian government on the matter of the unrest in Bavaria caused by Adam Weishaupt and his followers. The Ancient Illumined Seers of Bavaria they called themselves. Their conclave had been in existence for almost a decade and under investigation for at least four years. San Germán had been recruited by an agent of the crown, Fritz Alswanger, and working together they eventually brought down that organization.
“Among the evidence collected in their investigation, San Germán found a series of letters from America and France that suggested to him that key organizers of the movement had infiltrated the Free Mason societies in France much earlier than they had suspected. The trail, once followed, extended to England and the Court of George the third.
“Alswanger and San Germán parted ways, the first to pursue the trail of the Secret Society into Eastern Europe and the second to ascertain the significance of the connection to the British crown. Although the identity of the recipients inside the court could not be discovered without overt interference, San Germán was able to find the focus of the activity outside. It led to London and a thirty-six year old needlewoman by the name of Margaret Nicholson. San Germán blended into that society for a fortnight and soon came to the conclusion that the woman was mentally disturbed. Nothing in her life before that time commended her to be the crux of international intrigue. Yet San Germán maintained a quiet vigil, observing her life, routines, and contacts.
“The delivery of a letter one afternoon excited the woman greatly; and without a word to any of her acquaintances she rushed out early the next morning. He followed her to the garden at Saint James’ Palace where she sat and waited. Shedding his disguise, San Germán set to explore the area, and he soon recognized the horsemen and chaise of the King of England. They had paused just beyond the courtyard, and the King had stepped down to listen to a small crowd of his subjects.
“You realize,” he looked up out of his memories to address Bernice, “this myth of the personal accessibility of the King to his subjects will be the death of the English crown someday.” He went on. “San Germán approached the Head of the Household troops escorting the King. Presenting his letters of introduction from the Prussian Court, he took him aside and warned him to stay alert if anyone within the crowd at the end of the courtyard requested a personal audience with the King.
“The warning was given barely on time. Someone had delivered a note regarding a petition of great importance to the royal family. The King crossed the courtyard in response, and out of the crowd approached a short woman in a black hat, her left hand holding out an envelope while her right was hidden within the fold of the black shawl wrapped around her shoulders. The head of the Troops reached the King just in time to draw his attention, the woman lunged forward with a dessert knife, thrust at his chest but her target had just turned aside. The blow did no harm and instantly the rest of the guards apprehended her.
“As I understand it, Miss Nicholson had been convinced that she had a claim to the throne. The King kept her from being harmed, realizing immediately she was mad. Privy Council so declared it, and she was confined to Bethlem for the rest of her life. But the trail did not end there.
“Now that San Germán understood that the goal of the conspiracy included the assassination of the King of England, he followed up on the American connection. An incomplete reference to a French aristocrat bore no fruit, but the rest of the clues in that trail led him to Jeffery Amhurst, British Governor of the Americas, whose position gave him authority over the affairs of the Crown in Jamaica.”
Santiago again paused to offer an editorial comment: “This is the Amhurst that suggested giving the American native Indians, clothes and blankets infected with smallpox in an attempt to eradicate them.
“It turns out that a man by the name of John Frith had been retired of his Jamaican commission in 1787, on evidence of supposed insanity. His protestations availed naught and the half pay he received in consolation, insufficient to support his family, simply added to his perceived injury. Perhaps legal counsel could have helped resolve the issue but the man’s claim, that Amhurst’s supernatural agents tormented him, whispering in his ears and denying him sleep at night, only served to prove his superiors’ case against him.
“By the end of that year Frith, back in London, addressed the House of Commons in person, seeking redress, and soon his crusade started taking anarchist overtones.
“At that point San Germán had to interrupt his investigation in deference to Alswanger’s judgment. The Bavarian was convinced the target of the Illuminati’s grand plan, the master blow that would demonstrate to the world their power and authority, was the de-stabilization of the suzerainty of Egypt, and perhaps a revolution in Constantinople itself. Since 1770 the French had been buttressing up the Ottoman capital against Russian advances. It seemed a plausible interpretation of the information gathered.
“So San Germán joined him. It turned out to be a purposeful misdirection and eventually a trap set for them both. In the greatest blunder of their short career together they missed completely the true target of the conspiracy. Under their noses the fire of the great revolution was set… to France.”
Throughout his story Santiago had been measuring the doctor’s reaction to his words, carefully keeping his emotions from carrying away the tale. Seeing no challenge or disbelief arising in her eyes he went on: “By the time they got to France, the reign of terror was in full swing. They succeeded in saving a few aristocrats, but it was too little, too late.
“How could they have guessed? Yet, there were weeks of self-recrimination. Together they scoured the records they had amassed, to understand what they had missed. But there was nothing. No one could have predicted it.
“You must understand, doctor, the people of France were not clamoring for revolution. In fact, San Germán interviewed a Dr. Rigby, a tourist in Paris at the time of the storming of the Bastille, and he confirmed that for such a momentous stroke to the history of France there had been little commotion.
“Did you know that there were only seven prisoners in the Bastille? And one of them was the Comte de Solages, held there for monstrous crimes against humanity. There was no social outcry, no outrage festering in the populace that could have triggered that conflagration.
“The people of the countryside had a more interesting observation. Brigands from the south of France, from Germany, and Italy had been brought to Paris that fateful week. They stormed the Bastille for weapons. Lord Acton reached the same conclusion: a hidden hand had been at work managing it all.” He paused for Bernice’s reaction.
“I have read that Disraeli holds similar views.” She nodded for him to go on.
“Alswanger and San Germán parted ways again. The Bavarian returned to his land to investigate an Austrian connection. San Germán decided that the hidden hand was infinitely more subtle, insidious, and far-reaching than the Illuminati had ever been. Weishaupt’s self-styled puppet masters had to be themselves the pawns of another deeper power. San Germán returned to France via Normandy and infiltrated the revolutionary ranks. This time fortune, or Providence, was with him. The name he had connected to the drama of the disgruntled military Englishman in Jamaica appeared again. It indeed had been a French aristocrat, strangely untouched by the revolution. Further inquiries had this suspect traveling into England, disappearing in London.
“San Germán therefore fastened himself again to the trail of John Frith in London. He became an innocuous part of that society, and observed all the transactions of the man’s life.
“The man was indeed deranged. His delusions combined messianic elements with esoteric babble. You see, by his own admission it was through Christ-like powers that he overcame the voices whispering in his ears. He went as far as erecting a bizarre monument to himself in Hampstead churchyard, covered with strange emblematic figures.
“Early in January of 1791 a pair of visitors changed the man’s outlook overnight. The manic despondency became a cold defiance. The calls for personal redress changed into a mission for the people, who in his words were long oppressed by a monarchy that had abrogated its right to rule.
“Given the choice of discovering the origin of the visitors, or maintaining his guard on Frith in case the French aristocrat surfaced, San Germán chose the latter. The man’s demeanor had started taking on an air of urgency. The presence of others in the house prevented surreptitious investigation of the premises but San Germán was sure the visitors had delivered a package to Frith on their last visit in mid January.
“On the 21st of January, the day of the State Opening of Parliament, Frith made his way to the Treasury Solicitor’s Office, again demanding redress for his case; but before his audience was concluded, he left and headed towards Saint James’ Park, and a large crowd that was gathered there waiting for the King.
Santiago smiled at Bernice as he quipped, “You can thank Providence for crowds. San Germán matched his pace to his quarry’s, and entered the multitude half a dozen people away. As the man pushed his way through to reach the edge closest to the path the King’s coach would take, San Germán made his way to him.
“The clacking of the horses’ hooves on the stones announced the arrival of the coach. Frith fingered a large round object in his coat’s outside pocket. San Germán, next to him by then, stumbled as if pushed by the swelling of the crowd, knocking him down. Immediately he reached for him to help him up, and in the act traded a round cobblestone from the ground for the object in the pocket.
“As the King’s Coach turned the corner by Carlton House, Frith fell in beside it, holding up in his right hand a rolled petition. But on getting the attention of the King he shouted, ‘You tyrant! You villain! You will burn like a rogue, you and your constables! And he threw the stone at the carriage. The constables fell upon him. On looking about, the captain of the guard recognized San Germán and took him also into custody.
“The appearance of the same man at two attempts on the life of the King, could have been damning evidence before any other regent, but I’ve always heard King George was a level-headed man. San Germán briefed the King on his findings in France, and assured him that the architect of the affair was still at large. Under commission of the King, San Germán was given leave and authority to track down the revolutionary.