April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1837
“After two weeks,” Worthington continued, “replies to the letters bearing the two images from the book started arriving. One of the businessmen, the solicitor Josiah Greenfield, had become Otis Beaumont’s contact to the inner circle. They met regularly in a London public house, where the rotund American was kept apprised of the developments, in the eventuality that more prints were required.
“Given the added confidence Beaumont had earned, he chose to make himself more useful. When Greenfield revealed that they had that same day received two positive replies with full translations of the text, but completely different from each other, the American suggested that perhaps his experience in secret communications during his employ with the Continental Army might help discern which of the two was more likely to be the true translation. The businessman agreed immediately.
“As they left the public house Greenfield’s nervous state became evident from the furtive glances he cast to either side of the darkened road. Grasping the hand of the first street boy that came begging, he pressed a coin into his palm and whispered the directions to his secretary’s house with the instructions for her to bring the letters to his office. From that point they hastened through alleys and side streets to the man’s offices.
“It took the businessman several seconds to sort through his keys and just as many to make the chosen one fit the lock on the door, and then they heard a woman’s scream. They raced in the direction of the sound, the master straining to keep his gait appropriate to his disguise as the bulky American. Upon reaching the lane by the Churchyard they saw another three men respond to the cries. They had come out of a party taking place two blocks away and confronted what appeared to be a man in a dark sweeping cape who was dragging his screaming victim along the road by her hair.
“At the sight, Greenfield clung to the iron fence and nearly collapsed on melting knees. Santiago left him there and lumbered in the direction of the conflict. The dark figure released the woman and stepped into the shadow of the nearest building, almost disappearing from sight. There it waited. The moment one of the men reached forwards, the figure turned bright white and burst into a strident laughter.
“It was a simple enough parlor trick: two-sided garments with stark white hidden under the black until at the opportune moment a ‘phantom’ appears revealed. The master had made himself fully versed in the trade of the theatre long ago, he was not impressed; but something about the way the man moved bothered him. He continued to approach. One of the three men tried to engage the phantom in a fist fight but every blow struck empty air. The laughing spectre had the agility of an acrobat. The three rushed in at once and again he evaded them, this time leaping clear out of their reach over their heads. When they turned their faces, he was gone.
“His laughter brought all eyes to the roof line of the building where he was now standing. Cackling, the figure started weaving among the chimneys and vaulting from rooftop to rooftop towards the center of the city.
“Throughout all this, I was across the Churchyard watching everything through a spyglass. The master started running along the street trying to keep up with the assailant but his bulky disguise proved an insurmountable hindrance. I caught up with him in an alley where I helped him shed most of the padding from his costume. Together we started off again knowing we’d never catch the man but hoping to get a hint of where he was going. Four blocks from the London Station we saw the caped shadow leap onto the top of the last car of a rushing train and mock us from the distance.
“It was when we stopped to gather our breath that I saw in my master’s face an expression I had never seen in our year’s acquaintance or ever again since then.”
The old soldier paused and brought his hands together, palm to palm, debating how to explain. “You see, doctor, whenever he fights, with sword or knife, there’s never a hint of apprehension, even when caught by surprise. As in that room with Lady Masveh, he simply turned the table into a shield without a second thought. It is as if, when he fights, his whole person becomes the weapon; there is no wavering, no fear, only one goal, to vanquish the enemy.
“But here I saw sweat in his brow and eyes that kept shifting from scanning the environment around us to stealing glimpses at some dark memory. ‘He did not vanish,’ the master said looking into my eyes, ‘you did not see him vanish, correct?’
“‘No, Sir – he’s just leaping, five to six feet at a time.’
“He spoke no more of that and we returned to find Greenfield, the master in his disguise again, and I playing the part of his secretary. The woman that had been attacked was indeed Greenfield’s secretary. We learned that this was not the first encounter that he or his fellow businessmen had had with the fiend. Over the last six months they all had reported a shadowy figure lurking around their houses. But eventually it became more than just sightings of shadows.
“From within the relative safety of his house a trembling Greenfield confided in us. One night, two weeks prior, having worked late he decided to take a short cut to his house through Barnes Common. As he passed the cemetery a figure vaulted over the railing and landed before him. What he could see of its face was hideous but what truly shook him were its eyes. He said they were on fire.
“‘What are you waiting for?’ the cloaked figure asked him in a raspy voice. Greenfield ran home. He must have collapsed in his study, for that is where he awoke the next morning after a night of fitful sleep. In the light of a new day, he thought, he hoped, it had all been a nightmare and so he went about his business. But after a second night of restless sleep he purposed to prove to himself that he had been the victim of an overworked imagination. He returned at midday to Barnes Common and did not have to go far to hear the same tale repeated several times: The night after his encounter, that same figure had accosted a group of three young women.
“The first one ran screaming down an alley, the second one had her coat ripped by the man as she slipped out of his grasp. But the third could not escape. With hands described as cold, iron claws he grabbed at her breasts and started to tear her clothes off. As the others returned with a policeman they found her unconscious at the site.
“Lord Hallowstone and I spent the next two days in the pubs and houses of ill-repute in the unsavory parts of London. A few had heard of the ghostly figure but none speculated that it had been a prankster in disguise. And no one bragged of its exploits. What was more surprising, no one offered to accept our money to have the phantom pay a visit to victims of our choice. If anything, those who would speak of it (and then only in hushed superstitious tones) did so hoping we would know who it was that was slowly terrorizing the night streets of London.
“We did find that the witnesses of its earliest appearances, near and around Barnes Common, contradicted each other and our own observations. The first to see it had declared the phantom to be a devil in the form of a bull, but others said it had been a bear. A carpenter in Isleworth claimed to have been attacked in Cut-throat Lane by a ghost in red armor; and when he fought back, two other ghosts joined in and left him badly beaten.
“We would have continued following that trail but on the evening of the third day after the attack on Greenfield’s secretary the master had to return as Otis Beaumont to Greenfield. He had given him his word to return with a report on the translations. Neither attempt at translation was right, we knew. The pages he had reproduced were both part of the biological section where word variations followed each other in endless, meaningless repetition.
“One of the self-proclaimed translators from Germany had attached arbitrary word meanings to some of the repeating forms and generated a sort of epic poem full of alliteration and chains of synonyms. It was somewhat reminiscent of the poetry in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. It spoke of a lost land, a mythical continent of Lambdaria.
“The second one came from India, also nonsense but bothersome in one detail. The translator had returned the prints and annotated the drawings on the page in ancient Greek with the statement: ‘This door has no soul,’ and the question, ‘Where is the mind?’
“Otis Beaumont reported to Greenfield that the second one exhibited insight into the nature of the manuscript but no consistency in the deciphering. He suggested it may have been a previous owner or perhaps someone that had been seeking the manuscript before they had acquired it.
“That neither was a true translation was easy to prove to Greenfield from the fact that both submissions assumed the images were from facing pages, and had continued their narratives from one to the other. Greenfield had been there when Beaumont on purpose chose two separate pages to image. Even in the correct order that we had discovered later, the pages were not consecutive, we had also made sure of that. Otis Beaumont proposed they wait for additional translations before making any decision.
“Sure that the phantom would attack again, we watched the next few nights over the house of the owner of the estate where the book was kept. But the next attack was not there. This time the victim was a servant girl at the Lavender Hill house of the grandmaster of their inner circle. She had gone to visit her parents in Battersea and was on her way back past Cut-throat Lane when a tall figure dressed in black jumped out of the darkness and embraced her. Alternating between kisses and hysterical laughter the attacker’s hands ripped apart the bodice of her dress. She finally screamed and, at the approach of several people, the figure released her and vanished into the night.
“That left three businessmen to be terrorized. Lord Hallowstone took one, I the second and Elias agreed to watch over the third. But the following night, as the master of the house at Lavender Hill was returning home, the same figure appeared out of the shadows into the path of his approaching carriage. The horses panicked at the sight of those flaming eyes and broke into an uncontrolled gallop, driving the carriage over the kerbstones and finally crashing into one of the buildings. A witness then saw the figure jump over a nine foot wall with no apparent effort.
“Not a week later a relative of the wife of another of the members of the inner circle was attacked near Clapham Churchyard, and this time the attacker left a clue behind. The damp churchyard soil where he had landed clearly bore the imprints of his boots. Those imprints were three inches deep, suggesting a fall from a considerable height. At the center of the soles there were additional impressions as if some sort of apparatus was attached to the boots. What seemed to disturb my master the most was the fact that the nearest structure to those footprints was over twenty feet away. I assumed the perpetrator had launched himself from a patch of rocky ground nearby and thus I spent a couple of our evenings making the calculations on the size and strength of the device that would have enabled a man to make the leaps reported by the witnesses.
“Otis Beaumont strongly advised Greenfield to recruit the services of James Lea of the Lamberth Street police, in his opinion the best detective in London. But at the end of September the attacks suddenly ceased. Emboldened by the quietus, the businessmen hastened their interviews of everyone who claimed to have broken the book’s code, and jealously excluded Beaumont from any further involvement.
“Nevertheless, by then we knew all the players. We watched and we waited. Every night without incident, deepened the brooding mood that had settled over my master. When two weeks of quiet had been confirmed, Lord Hallowstone visited the Royal Observatory. After an interview that lasted less than half an hour, he met me at a nearby lodging house, his face hard as flint. He indicated what books to bring and where they were located precisely in the great library of the Hallowstone estate. Without any additional explanation he dismissed me, charging me to return within 48 hours.
“At the appointed rendezvous he traded my burden of a trunk of books and pamphlets for two pages of notes written in his hand. During my absence he had obtained copies of private reports from the office of the Mayor of London detailing the contents of two short letters they had received. In the letters, the correspondent, demanding anonymity for fear of his life, claimed that the attacks of this Spring-Heeled Jack were really the work of a gang of noblemen who had agreed on a wager upon oath.
“They would receive five thousand pounds if they succeeded in destroying the lives of thirty human beings: eight old bachelors, eight old maids, eight ladies’ maids and as many servant girls as possible.
“I looked up from the notes, puzzled. ‘Misinformation, Fernando.’ He said. ‘It always follows, it always accompanies.’ He looked down at the stack of books and exhaled slowly. ‘The truth is probably the exact opposite. These letters suggest random attacks. We know that, even if they were initially directed at random victims, those attacks are now focused on the circle that owns the book. They claim many are involved, we can surmise there is but a few, perhaps only one man, and that money is not the prize. We need to talk to Lady Masveh.’