March, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1836
Less than a half hour had passed since Bernice had returned to her relatives’ house when she heard the bell announcing the arrival of a visitor. Something more than curiosity brought her to the front hall.
“Miss Vedeen, it is a Mr. Worthington to see ya.”
The maid’s introduction was not necessary. Bernice had seen the man, behind her curtsy. She led him to the library and spoke softly upon closing the door, “I thought there was to be no bodyguard.”
“I am not here at Lord Hallowstone’s request Ma’m. I am here by his permission.” The man straightened his tall frame slightly and winced as he rubbed his lower abdomen. “I have… not been feeling well since the Spring began. Seeing as you are a Physician, I wondered if I might have the honor of your consultation.”
Bernice smiled broadly and motioned him to sit down as she went to her room for her equipment. The slight yellowing of his eyes combined with the abdominal pain suggested the beginnings of a liver ailment. The sound of his lungs, though somewhat congested was no worse than she had witnessed in men ten years younger. His heartbeat was strong and consistent. The reduced flexibility of his joints was to be anticipated at his age.
“Mr. Worthington, in most respects your health is excellent, even better than would be expected in a much younger man.” She was watching his eyes as she spoke. “I could prescribe a different diet for your liver condition, but as I see from your brow, you would not be likely to abide by it for too long.”
The gentleman smiled. He finished buttoning his coat and spoke, his eyes avoiding hers initially. “My lady has already guessed I have other things in mind beside my health.” He met her gaze and smiled again. “I do thank you for your attention, and I would do my best to follow your advice.”
“As much as a military man can.” Bernice finished his sentence for him.
“Yes, precisely. The rigors of the service can be – shall we say – distracting.” Her smile encouraged him to go on. “I wonder if you would allow me to tell you what I know about my master’s present predicament. I cannot help but feel that if you knew the matters at hand you would not judge him as harshly.”
That comment had a sting to it, although none was intended. Bernice never thought of herself as harsh. She sat back on her chair and asked him to continue.
“I know that his trust of you is implicit. If circumstances were arrayed otherwise, I believe he himself would share some of these things with you. But above all he needs to know that you are out of harm’s way, for as long as it takes. Therefore I do ask that regardless of what I tell you, you do not alter your plans.”
She promised with a slow nod of her head. The old soldier understood her hesitation. “You wonder if I am betraying his trust. Perhaps.” He lowered his eyes momentarily. “In fact I know I am placing a burden on you that he has decided you should not bear. Say a word, and I will leave.” At her steady gaze he went on.
“As you know, my father was a military man. So have I been. We both had wives that understood what that meant. They freely chose to live that life, with all its uncertainties, whatever it brought.”
Bernice almost reacted by protesting the gentleman’s assumption that she had such an interest in the man. But it would have been futile. The experience of age and a long marriage informed Worthington in a way that her own conflicting emotions could not.
“The master seeks to protect you. But sometimes he assumes that others have his capacity for patience. I believe, and my wife would have agreed, that you should be allowed to make your own decision, even now. But for that you must know the facts.” He paused.
“You may speak freely, Mr. Worthington.”
“You know already the circumstances of my family’s connection with Lord Hallowstone and the estate at Anglesey. Most years our only communication with Lord Hallowstone came through letters and occasional visits from solicitors he had retained. The last letter we received from him arrived in the year 1815. By that time I had buried both my father and mother. In that terse letter he gave instructions to close down the estate and dismiss the household staff.
“Within a week, a solicitor from London arrived with bank notes for every family employed there to enable them to start a new life of their choice. The livestock was distributed to those who could find a tenancy nearby. In addition to my portion, he had secured for me an officer’s commission in the British army under the name of Worthington. And so I became a soldier of the crown.
“Twenty years later, the son of Rosendo De Soray sought me out in the garrison of Guernsey. He was as tall as his father, at least as I remembered him in relation to my father, but slightly more slender of frame, his wavy hair a clear ash brown. His gray eyes sparkled with life but there was something else in the line of his brow, a steadiness I had seen before, that strange calmness that you see in the eyes of old generals and seasoned admirals who have witnessed more than a man’s share of death.
Worthington paused for a second and then continued. “Would you not describe him that way?” The flicker in the doctor’s eyebrows made the old soldier nod. “I was forty five at the time I first met him. I judged Santiago De Soray to be my age.”
“That was twenty eight years ago,” Bernice protested; “he cannot be yet fifty.”
“Now you understand the deep impression that meeting with Rosendo De Soray made on my father. He never told me, but I suspect he believed Rosendo De Soray and Raul Santiago De Soray, the Spanish captain that saved his battalion in the Guarani war, were one and the same. I believe that same conclusion extends to my master.”
“That would make the man almost one hundred and fifty years old.”
“At least.” Worthington leaned forward in his chair and brought his hands together, fingers interlaced. “You have suspected something like this for some time.”
The doctor shook her face and voiced a contradictory, “Yes,” and then retracted. “No, not like this. There are things that I know, fragments, visions, feelings. I thought,” she hesitated, “I thought it was the history of his family that I had been granted insight into.”
Bernice sat back in her chair and allowed her eyes to wander across the room, and to review memories, hers and otherwise. “Then the painting in his study, in the house…”
“Is most probably him. I helped him restore the manor in the fall of 1835. He had a roomful of furniture and books shipped from France, together with half of the laboratory supplies you saw downstairs and the painting in his study. He himself tore down the walls in the north corridor of the manor to construct that study; obviously an exact copy of a room he once had loved.
“And the woman?”
“He never speaks of her.” Worthington paused again. When the doctor returned her eyes to his, he continued. “You may consider the stories of my father hearsay, reminiscences perhaps colored by the years. What I relate to you now, I know as an eyewitness.
“I am, as you see me, a score and a half older than my master appears. As far as I can tell, over these three decades he has barely aged, barely changed. If anything he seems to grow stronger with the years. Now he must weigh almost 280 pounds, of pure muscle. We prudently select his personal horses from Percheron or Belgian lines,” there was a glint of a smile in the old soldier’s eyes, “two of the strongest breeds in the world.
“After the manor was restored, he sent me to find the families of the original servants of the house. Any who wished to come to the manor or to send some of their children to tend to its business, from laborers in its fields, to stable hands, to the cooks for its kitchen, were given first choice.
“Then he tested my father’s work. He placed on the great table in the library some thirty books and pamphlets he had selected from his collection and tasked me with their translation. And he spent the next month instructing me in the work of the Counts of St. Germain. In our first mission together we penetrated and broke an extortion ring that was targeting one of the noble families of Spain.
“Our second mission together brought us back to England, Fyne Court, near the Quantock Hills. The events of that mission are what I must relate to you.
“It was 1836. We attended one of the lectures on electricity given by Andrew Crosse, an impressively single-minded man. He had erected over a mile of copper wire on a lattice of poles and trees across his property and through it drew the electricity of the atmosphere into his ‘philosophical room’. The demonstrations he performed on stormy nights astounded his audience.
“The repetitive rapping of sparks as the electricity from without entered the room, leaping from one great copper sphere to another, echoed magnificently from the high arched ceiling. At will he directed its flow into storage batteries and other instruments. And at will he demonstrated its power to melt metal, to create the shimmering iridescence of the aurora, and the fiery trail of falling stars.
“But we were not there for the magic show. The master had met Mr. Crosse years earlier at a party and had kept a file on him. At that party Crosse had been most emphatic that someday in the near future the power of the electric agency would enable the instantaneous communication of men’s thoughts to the uttermost ends of the earth. Today that statement does not seem extraordinary, but this was before the invention of the electric telegraph. It could have been simply a case of gifted extrapolation. But Santiago had learned to recognize, what he calls, the worship of Science.
“According to his extensive records, the great scientific discoveries of mankind are often assimilated first into the esoteric circles that ebb and flow continually under the mainstream of society. At times the effect is harmless, simply allowing self-deluded dreamers access to the courts of gullible royalty. But other times that assimilation is part of a bigger plan, where delusion and gullibility are not the results but the tools for a more sinister purpose.
“That night we were not investigating the man as much as members of his audience. Five powerful British businessmen were gathered there. And with them a younger man who watched the magic with fascination and pride. Three years before, that man, Neville Wilshire, had attached himself to Crosse, hiring himself to him as apprentice at a minimal salary, saying he too was doing this work for the love of Science. His apprenticeship was cut short at the insistence of Crosse’s wife. However, had she been there she would not have recognized him. The once beardless youth was now attired in gentleman’s clothes, his face masked by a well trimmed red beard.
“It was Wilshire that had called the businessmen together to this place. And that call, intercepted by Santiago, was what had brought us there and motivated his preliminary investigation of the young man. You see, the businessmen were the founding members of a nascent Secret Society that Santiago had investigated and set aside as harmless years before. Lately, however, rumors about a valuable antiquity had started making the rounds of the esoteric circles in England. Santiago therefore joined their society in his persona of the rotund American tycoon Otis Beaumont.
“Indeed within weeks, the inner circle of the society redoubled its layers of secrecy. According to the report of one who had glimpsed it, they had acquired a book most ancient, and powerful, but written in an undecipherable script. The intercepted invitation to this gathering, revealed it had been Wilshire who had supplied them with the book. We were there to understand what the man had obtained in exchange.
“From the questions asked at the intermission it became clear that the businessmen had brought with them experts in mechanics, machinery, and construction, to extract as much information as they could from Mr. Crosse. There was even an architect tucked in the back of the room, discreetly sketching every detail of what he saw.
“As the host’s attention was fully engaged by the important men, Wilshire slipped out of the hall. He went directly along a corridor to another room, full of chemist’s wares. Without the benefit of any torch, he made his way to a bench on which stood a wooden frame approximately two feet in height. The legs of the frame were so fitted to support a top and a middle shelf, each of them square, about 7 inches on the side.
“The upper one was pierced by an aperture in which was fixed a funnel of Wedgwood ware. Within the funnel there was a circular piece of mahogany supporting a quart basin with a piece of wetted flannel making the connection between the fluid in the basin and the inside of the funnel.
“This liquid dripped into a smaller funnel suspended likewise in the middle shelf. And likewise inside this funnel there was an object: a piece of porous volcanic oxide. That stone was kept electrified by means of 2 platina wires on either side of it, connected with the poles of a Voltaic battery of 19 pairs of zinc and copper single plates that stood in two porcelain troughs on the bench. Below it all, on the bench was another basin receiving the fluid that dripped from the stone’s funnel.
“Wilshire was after the stone, or rather the crystalline growths on its surface. I ascertained all these details after he left the room, once my eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness. As I was about to leave that room I noticed I had not been the only secret observer. A flash of lightning outside, etched in crisp white the silhouette of a hooded figure that stood less than a foot from the rain spattered window. Our eyes met for a moment, and I never forgot them.
“You know what I mean; anyone that has looked into the eyes of Lady Masveh knows what I mean.”