Relating to the events of September, 1837 through February, 1838
“The ball was held in mid January. Elias left Lady Masveh with us, and her help was invaluable. You have experienced recently yourself what we were introduced to for the first time that evening. Within her sphere of influence, time seems to pass differently and the world outside seems somehow disconnected. You can walk with her through a crowded room and remain unnoticed, even by the people you brush against. It is not invisibility but it is just as effective. It appears human beings only see what they expect to see, what they focus their attention on. She is able to partition and manipulate that imperfect perception at will.
“We interviewed Crosse’s wife at length. Noticing an uneasiness in her, at the arrival of the businessmen, Masveh made a comment about the fact that some humans, mostly women, can sense danger to their loved ones through means beyond their normal physical senses. Thanks to Masveh’s arts we found the truth of the connection between Wilshire and Crosse.
“From within a trance-like state Crosse’s wife revealed the details. Wilshire came to her husband as an eager youth, hard working and earnest in his apprenticeship. But in the sixth month of their acquaintance something changed in the young man. He set out to seduce his employer’s wife. It was subtle at the beginning, and she found herself welcoming his attentions and his compliments. He was noticing her at precisely the time that her husband was becoming more and more distant, immersed in his experiments. But when his advances became blatant, her scruples reined her in. She refused him, and she saw in those eyes that had vowed poetic love, a fearsome anger. She convinced her husband to terminate the apprenticeship.
“When we were done, Mrs. Crosse had no recollection of our extended conversation. With the businessmen, Lady Masveh was more careful. Given their exposure to occult circles she did not subject any of them to a probe deeper than a superficial glamour, lest they be subsequently examined by other fey. Apparently a deep trance leaves a detectable residue that lasts some days.
“There were no dark secrets to be gleaned from our brief interviews with them. They were what they appeared to be: ordinary successful men, with too much money and time on their hands, dabbling in the occult for curiosity and the excitement of the forbidden. One piece of news, though, was valuable confirmation of the effectiveness of our network of informants. The businessmen had settled on a potential translator of the book and sent for him. According to the solicitor Greenfield, our principal connection to the businessmen, the man had arrived three days prior. As our sources had told us, he was kept cloistered at the country estate.
“It was at the arrival of Wilshire that Masveh became utterly reserved. He appeared to us slightly older than he had seemed at the exhibition in Crosse’s estate. A glance at Mrs. Crosse confirmed that she could not recognize the man behind the beard, attired in gentleman’s clothes. He however recognized her from across the room.
“As he started to wander through the crowd towards her, the master moved to intercept; but Masveh held him back. Under cover of our bodies, she was examining Wilshire from a distance. On her forearm there was a long slate, fringed in mother of pearl, nudged against the crook of her elbow and held by her fingers at the top. Those fingers danced across a set of keys like a guitarist’s fingers skip over frets, while her other hand slid colors across an intricate pattern of squares and dials that populated the slate’s surface.
“When she was done, she pulled out of the slate’s center what appeared to be a round mirror the size of her palm. It presently took the appearance of a carved coin and in another second, coin and slate vanished, seemingly into the folds of her clothes.
“‘Be careful,’ she told the master. ‘He is more than he appears to be.’
“‘No. The man has indeed been in contact with fey but, for now, he is free of their influence. There is something different, wrong, about his person.’ As the master moved through the crowd, Masveh finished her explanation to me. ‘My instruments are being foiled by noise, an interminable chatter, and yet the sky is clear.’
“Before Otis Beaumont reached him, and before Wilshire reached Mrs. Crosse, a murmur in the crowd drew their attention. An unusual pair had arrived at the door. A short Hindu man in a crisp white suit, golden silk scarf for a belt, and turban, was speaking to the head butler. His companion, a tall, thick Negro, clad in dark silk pants, and a green embroidered vest that exposed scarred muscular arms, drew cautious glances from many of the guests. In particular, the officers of the 5th regiment focused as one on the ceremonial sword hanging from the Negro’s broad leather girdle.
“Two other facial expressions were notable in that crowd. Josiah Greenfield was clearly perturbed by the arrival of the visitors. The expression on Wilshire’s face was more difficult to decipher. At first there had been what seemed to be a flash of recognition, but then there was a look of puzzlement. Nevertheless he reacted by immediately turning his back to the door and immersing himself deeper into the crowd in the ballroom
“Otis Beaumont reached the door at the same time that Greenfield did. Beaumont greeted the visitors, commenting that any friend of Mr. Greenfield was indeed welcome to join the party. The Hindi did not react to the comment. Greenfield immediately explained that the visitors were there on a matter of business, that his office had alerted him to their imminent arrival, and that he would gladly see to their needs. We deduced the Hindi was the hired translator.
“As they left the house, I followed. My glance back at the master was redirected by him to the dance floor. Masveh, in the form of Beaumont’s golden-haired daughter, was dancing with Wilshire, steering him clear away from Mrs. Crosse and towards the library. They disappeared into its relative darkness. By the time the master slipped to that doorway, Wilshire was already walking out. Inside, the master found an agitated Masveh pacing in the darkness, her belle illusion discarded. He closed the doors behind him.
“All she would tell him was that the man’s mind was shielded or enshrouded by noise. She kept manipulating the shimmering slate on her arm, muttering comments more to herself than him. A large blurred image on the slate suddenly shifted into perfect sharpness. Masveh paused, a terrible look in her eyes. She said something about the man’s skeleton, and his skull. And then her next motion made the master skip back and draw his knife. The hair on the nape of his neck had reacted before his conscious mind put words to the feeling that alarmed him: a memory from his days in South America. He felt the eyes of a panther sweep through him.
“In that heartbeat, Lady Masveh’s slate vanished and her clothes turned charcoal black. He reached for her, to attempt to reason with her again, but she slid past him like a shadow and disappeared, leaving nothing behind but the flicker of burning eyes and the echo of a feral snarl. The guest of honor in Otis Beaumont’s party was gone.
“It was a little past ten thirty when Greenfield and his guests arrived at his house. My vigil in the alley across the street lasted less than fifteen minutes. The Hindi and Greenfield, in an increasingly heated argument, stepped out onto the kerbstone. The short man turned sharply to his manservant. Back then I was not familiar with the Hindu language but one word, one name I understood: Wilshire. The African giant immediately left in a hansom, headed back the way they had come. After a few more minutes of arguing, the Hindi shoved Greenfield into another cab and they headed south. I sent my two men to follow them with instructions to interfere if Greenfield’s life was endangered; and then I returned to Ashworth’s party.
“When I arrived back at Ashworth’s, the place was in disarray. Most of the guests were on Turner street outside. Half the Lambeth Street police force was on site, interviewing witnesses, or helping the injured to a doctor’s nearby house.
“According to one of our men, the African had entered the house through the kitchen door around eleven. He called out the name ‘Wilshire’ and, from the reaction of the crowd, identified the man. He drew his sword and started shouting at him in Hindi. As you would expect, the noble officers of the 5th regiment responded to the man’s threats. But the mêlée was brief in the extreme. With his massive arms, the black man swept them off the floor as if they had been rats.
“Our men drove the crowd out of the room and out every available door. The master almost intervened. Wilshire stopped retreating. The giant grasped the front of his jacket and threw him against a wall. Lifting him off the floor, he repeated his question, ‘What have you done with the rest of it?’
“The confusion in Wilshire’s face was the last thing anyone saw clearly. A blast of musty wind swept through the house, snuffing out every light. Several of our men swore they felt something in the darkness clambering past them. And then the sounds of a fierce struggle ensued. The dull crack of snapping bone was followed by the crashing of a chair.
In the flicker of a struck match, the master saw the bloodied African staggering backwards toward him, his right arm clearly broken. A shadowy assailant was giving him no quarter. The next blow that shadow delivered to his jaw dropped him on top of the master, extinguishing the match, and returning the room to total darkness.
“The African tried to stand. The savagery of the beating, reminiscent of the reaction of a cornered beast, determined the master’s next move. He knew if the African persisted, the next response by his attacker would do more than break bone. He pulled the giant back and trapped his neck within the crook of his elbow, cutting off the flow of blood to the brain, and choking him without crushing his windpipe. The man fainted in seconds and his assailant stepped away, his ire abating.
“After a minute of relative silence, Santiago ordered the rest of his men outside to ensure the crowd blocked the doors long enough for him to carry the African out the back, away from the approaching police whistles. Ashworth handled the guests and police expertly, and by one in the morning everything had settled down. We regrouped in the upstairs back room of a secluded alley pub well past three.
“Every guest was accounted for, except Wilshire and Greenfield. But we had the manservant of the Hindi in our custody. His right forearm set in a splint, we felt no need to bind him. Truth be told, nothing short of a mooring rope would have done the job. The Hindi relinquished his own hostage, and agreed to meet with us in the back room. Two of our men delivered a blindfolded Greenfield back to his house.
“‘Why do you seek Wilshire?’
“To our surprise it was the black giant who answered first, in perfect English. ‘He stole something that belongs to us.’
“‘Indeed,’ the Hindi bowed his head respectfully. ‘It is a sacred item, of great religious value.’
“‘The book.’ The master kept his eye on the Negro to measure his reaction as he revealed to them that he, Otis Beaumont, had created the facsimiles that were used to advertise for a translator. We soon realized we had misunderstood the relationship between these men. The Hindi was the servant. A learned man, adept in Sufism and many other arts, he had been retained by the giant to translate the treasure they had discovered together.
“At my nod toward the leather bag clutched in the Hindi’s hand, the master went on. ‘Since you have recovered it, I presume you will want to leave without further incident.’
“‘Pages are missing,’ was the Hindi’s reply. A dark look crossed the Negro’s face.
“‘Then you understand the text?’
“The Hindi said nothing. The African spoke up: ‘We had fragments, disjointed phrases. This Wilshire claimed he had the key that reassembled the codex. And then he disappeared with it.’
“‘You believed him?’
“The implication of gullibility hardened the Negro’s jaw. ‘The man correctly recited the translation of the hieroglyphs found on the walls of the chamber where we uncovered it.’
“The black man smiled with unfeigned pride. ‘How little you know. To the eye of the superficial observer the Pyramids appear as enormous monuments of granite. But there are certain places…’
“Santiago interrupted the African by finishing his sentence for him, a declaration he had heard several times before, circulated within the mystic underground: ‘certain places, such palaces as no ordinary traveler has ever entered before.’ In response to the surprise in the man’s eyes, Santiago added, ‘I presume you will tell me that the book contains the secret that will usher the return of Isis, Anubis and Apis, gods of your Egyptian ancestors.’ The man struggled to suppress his reaction. ‘Perhaps you too, like many of the nobility of Europe, have been duped by the disciples of Cagliostro.’ The Negro said nothing more, his eyes thinned down to slits for a moment and then he looked away.
“Our observation of the Hindi suggested to us that he had a different opinion, and a different design for the book. We turned our interrogation to him; my questions forming a counterpoint to the master’s. Pressed on the contradiction between his beliefs and those of the ancient Egyptians, the short man retreated into a pantheistic stance, claiming that the same ancient deities went by different names in different lands.
“‘So you do this as a service to a deity.’
“At the Hindi’s hesitation the African spoke up. ‘Of course he does. He hears the voice of Isis, the great mistress. That is how we met. After seven years of searching I finally acquired the lost notebooks of the alchemist and grand master Baresch. But the map to the hiding place of the book was shorn into pieces, two thirds gone. And then we met.’ He motioned at the Hindi. “He heard my name in a trance.’
“We turned our eyes to the Hindi and he was compelled to agree. ‘There are ancient rites among our people that give us access to divine knowledge. I had myself buried alive for a week. It was thus that I heard about the prince.’
“The Hindi went suddenly silent when he realized what he had just revealed. Beaumont capitalized on his word. ‘The twelve Ethiopian princes, and their decades-long search, are not a myth then.’ The Negro just stared at him. ‘They would have a legendary fortune at their disposal.’ In an instant, half a dozen puzzle-pieces in the master’s mental catalog of his investigations fell into place. ‘Ah, Hesse-Casel money is not the only vast resource flowing through the underground.’
“‘What is that to you and I?’ was the man’s response to Beaumont from the edge of his chair, and then just as suddenly he settled back. ‘Unless you are insinuating that you have something to sell.’
“‘Perhaps your family should be more careful whom you enrich.’ The master glanced at the Hindi. ‘Practitioners of rites outlawed by the British –with good reason– make suspicious allies, especially for the owners of fortunes that end up financing anarchists.’
“‘What those that help us do with their reward is not our business.’ The Ethiopian prince replied evenly. ‘If the nations of the world choose to destroy themselves, why should you hold us accountable?’”
“‘I suppose,’ the master said, ‘they have a choice of whether to build up or tear down. And if they choose to tear down, the world will be all the weaker when the new Ethiopian empire rises. It will be their loss. No shame could be cast on King Solomon’s long lost children.’ A curt nod from the African signified his agreement. And then the master went on. ‘I wonder what that wise King would have said, what the Queen of Sheba’s opinion would be, were they to see you rewarding not countries but societies of murderers.’
“We both caught the flicker in the Hindi’s eyes. The confusion in the African’s face owned his innocence. The master continued. ‘Have you never heard of the Thag? They have been around since the 11th century. They befriend foreigners in their travels through India, pretend to aid them and then eventually murder them. The British started investigating the matter around 1812 with the discovery of three score victims buried near the shores of the Ganges.
“‘Since 1822 Major General Sleeman has made it his personal mission to eradicate this goddess-worshipping cult. But the goddess is Kali not Isis.’
“The Hindi stood up and protested in anger. Two of our men held him down. ‘We will see what the Foreign Office knows about your friend here.’
“The Negro giant was truly caught off guard by the accusations against his ally. Beaumont pressed him: ‘Your show of innocence is not very convincing, Prince. Didn’t you ever wonder what your family’s money was being used for? Bribery and intrigue may start in the courts of kings but its consequences eventually spread to the people, innocent people. Those you have enriched are not after power, they are after chaos.’
“Beaumont stood and continued. ‘Certainly you read about the Odessa riot of ‘21.’
“‘I don’t know what you speak of.’
“‘No? Then maybe it was your father that financed it. That was not a crowd getting caught in the frenzy of the moment. The sequence of events does not support that conclusion. Reliable witnesses reported a Mahometan mob attacking the residence of Gregory V in Constantinople and murdering him; yet all that the official recorded evidence contained, all that was publicized, was the claim that twenty Jews mutilated the body and cast it into the sea. When the Greeks of Odessa were holding their solemn funeral for the slain Patriarch, a riot ensued. Seventeen people were killed, fourteen of them Jews, and sixty others were wounded. And I have it on unimpeachable authority that the police knew the riot would happen in advance.
“‘You see, Prince, someone wanted to keep the Greco-Turkish conflict alive, and the world off balance.’ There was a momentary pause as the master’s brow flickered. I could tell another piece of a puzzle had fallen in place in his mind. The absence for hard evidence of Hesse-Casel involvement in another conspiracy now had an explanation.”
“‘I would not be surprised,’ he said, ‘if it was your family’s money that was also used to fuel the ambitions of Arthur Thistlewood the year before. Had his conspiracy succeeded, the entire British Cabinet would have been murdered at the house of the Earl of Harrowby in February of 1820.
“‘Such a loss would have changed the course of British politics for the next decade.’ The master turned again to the Hindi. ‘The landscape of India and Palestine would have been the first to change.’
“‘I knew nothing of this.’ The Negro stood up, distancing himself from his former ally.
“‘Who attacked you in the house?’
“‘I do not know. It was a beast, it was savage –’ Drops of perspiration started to form on the giant’s forehead, his eyes growing wide. We both noticed the intense stare set upon him by the Hindi, and we both struck the man at the same time. The moment the short man fell unconscious to the floor the Negro regained his composure. The master gave orders that the Hindi be taken, gagged and blindfolded, to the authorities.
“‘A beast, yes beasts,’ the African finally answered, ‘long fur, hard as stone.’
“With the book in his hand the master faced the man. ‘Prince, this book is not what you have been led to believe.’
“‘How do you know? Our destiny is written in the stars; our day will come.’ The prince took a piece of paper from his pocket. It contained a carefully drawn row of symbols identical to the ones in the book. He held it for us to see. ‘See? Wilshire translated this phrase. It appears several times in the manuscript. He said it means twelve princes. When he met us, I was a stranger to him, he could not have known who I was.’
“The master glanced at the chair where the Hindi had sat, and then returned his eyes to the Prince. The accusation of gullibility did not need to be repeated. The African’s broad shoulders slumped slightly. I examined the paper as he addressed the prince again. ‘I assure you, if this book ushers the return of anything to our world, it is not any benign gods your forefathers ever knew. I suggest you forget your affair with this man, and return to your people.’ Otis Beaumont walked the giant to the stairwell and, after a few more minutes, sent him on his way.