Exceptionalism vs. Patriotism at the Everyman

Wherein I tackle American exceptionalism and try to explain why we need to give up on the idea:

I don’t say this just because our system of government and society barely resembles that which existed at the nation’s founding (even allowing for the passage of time and development of technology). Nor because we have recently witnessed the departure of what may well be the last legitimate president we will ever have, leaving the nation in the hands of criminals. Nor do I say this on account of slavery or racism or any of the other sins of our past (which are only to be expected).

It isn’t even because I think the philosophy we based our nation upon is incoherent and dangerously self-contradictory, or because I think the narrative underlying it to be thoroughly false.

No, the reason we need to give up the idea of our own exceptionalism is that it is fatal to patriotism.

As Americans (as I assume most of our readers to be) this may shock you. It may even sound like nonsense. But I beg you to try to understand what I’m saying.

Suppose a man were to say to his young son “I love you because you are the smartest, best behaved boy in school.” Suppose then that the boy gets a poor grade on his test, or gets into trouble with the teacher. What is he to think? The most natural thing would be for him to fear that his father would no longer love him, or not as much because he has shown himself to not be so smart or so well-behaved as his father believed him to be.

It is unlikely his father would really feel that way, but the boy would think so. He would think so because that would be the logical deduction from his father’s words. Therefore, even if the boy never does break the rules or get a bad grade, he will have that fear in the back of his mind of “what if…?” “What if I fail this test? What if I make a mistake and get detention? My father won’t love me a much anymore.” He will thus either work fearfully and fervently to ‘keep’ his father’s love or else despair and give up entirely. One thing is sure though: any love of the subjects themselves or any enjoyment in the ordinary life of a schoolboy will be crippled because none of them can be enjoyed for their own sake. They must go toward the satisfaction of that all-important condition.

It is the same for a husband and wife. A woman whose husband tells her “I love you because you are so beautiful” will fear the aging process and, just as much, fear the inevitable rival whose looks outshine her own.

If you ask why you love someone or something, you may give reasons (“She’s so sweet and so lovely!”  “He’s so strong, so honest”), but the real, proper response – which it is important to understand whether or not it is directly stated – is simply “because you are yourself.” As Professor Von Hildebrand says, to love something means to perceive the unique idea in the mind of God that it represents: to see it as something unique, irreplaceable, incomparable.

This is the great danger of American exceptionalism: it seeks to justify patriotism. Worse, it actually takes those justifications seriously. We are to love America because she is the freest, most just nation on earth, the nation that corrects the mistakes of the rest of the world, where equality and opportunity and liberty reign supreme.

Read the rest here.

There’s obviously a lot more to be said about all this than I was able to fit in or had time to adequately research. But if there is one idea, one section of this essay that I would wish to be ingrained in the readers’ mind and to hammer home as much as possible, it’s this:

No nation is meant to be a creed. It is not our duty to save mankind or to be the shining example for the world to follow. We are not the new Jerusalem, we are not the last best hope of earth, we are not God’s chosen people. America is not the Church. It isn’t even Rome.

The Key Question: A Malachi Burke Mystery

“Most crimes, Alfred lad,” said my friend and mentor Malachi Burke one evening after supper, “are absurdly obvious once ye take the time to think them through. The trouble is that most folk don’t bother.”

He reclined in his great wingback chair, pulling on his pipe. I sat opposite him, enjoying one of his excellent cigars. Burke’s sitting room was a model of comfort. Shelves of books alternated on the walls with fine paintings. Rich colored rugs of greens and golds and blacks welcomed one’s feet, and the cushions of the wingback chair seemed to embrace me like a mother’s arms.

It was spring, very soon after I began my apprenticeship in the ways of detection, and it had been a damp, dreary kind of day. A cheerful fire roaring in the grate made me bless the wet weather. A large window gave a glorious view over Brooklyn, largely obscured by the rain, though the lamps and electric lights could be seen gleaming through the haze like stars.

The one jarring note in all of this elegance was my host. Malachi Burke, the master detective, looked rather like an ogre out of some fairy tale. He was tall, with a massive breadth of shoulder, a barrel of a chest, and huge, long arms ending in gnarled, calloused hands. His ebony cane leaned against one of the arms of his chair while his lame right leg stretched out before him onto the carpet. His scarred, weather-beaten face gave the impression of having been carved out of some hoary old wood and his dark hair was tinged with grey. It was as though a farmer from the roughest corner of Ireland had been dug out of the ground and planted in the middle of Brooklyn society. Which is, indeed, rather close to the truth.

“You mean,” I said, preparing myself for one of his usual post-supper lectures on crime. “That once you understand the facts, they usually point only one way.”

“I mean that often times the whole thing can be settled once you ask the right question,” he said. “Criminals usually aren’t as clever as all that, it’s just that crime is such an outlier to most folk’s experience that they don’t consider things properly and know what to ask.”

He drew out his pipe, blew a perfect smoke ring into the air, and related the following story. Though not, of course, in these words.

###

“A gentleman and lady to see you, sir.”

Malachi Burke regarded the young couple that entered his office. The young man was long-faced, pale, and moderately good-looking, his black hair neatly combed and his suit, while of cheap make, was clean and well-kept. His appearance suggested a clerk or perhaps a young lawyer.

The lady was a small, quietly pretty young woman. Burke put her age at perhaps nineteen. The cut of her dark-brown hair, unstyled and bound back from her face, suggested a working girl. Her plain, dark-green dress contributed to the impression.

He noted these details in a swift, almost unconscious manner while he observed their demeanor. They were both anxious, that much was sure. There was definite tension about the mouth and the eyes. The woman’s gloved hands were twisting unceasingly as she walked in, and the young man kept darting glances about the room as though seeking for some source of reassurance. He had blanched noticeably when he caught sight of the great detective, a reaction Burke was quite used to.

But there was something else in the woman’s face: the lift of her chin and the set of her jaw suggested a higher degree of determination than her soft features would have implied.

The huge detective pushed himself to his feet in the manner of a great standing stone being raised into place and bowed to his visitors. The girl visibly quailed before the giant.

“Good afternoon,” he said in his deep Irish brogue. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintances yet.”

“My name is Stanley Cutter,” said the young man. “This is my fiancee, Miss Margaret Pierson.”

“Thank you for agreeing to see us,” said the lady.

“Not at all. Won’t you please have a seat?”

They sat down in the chairs opposite his great oak desk. Horatio, Burke’s impeccable butler, retired on silent feet and Burke lowered himself ponderously back into his chair.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

The two glanced at each other.

“I am told,” said Stanley. “That you are a detective.”

“Did anyone beside the notice in the papers or the sign on my door tell you that?” he inquired.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I put that badly. Margaret…Miss Pierson here works for a Mrs. Henrietta Freeman, who recommended you to us. She said that she employed you once and that you were both very honest and very good at your job.”

“I did indeed help her out once,” said Burke, nodding. “So what brings you here today?”

Here Margaret swallowed and squared her small shoulders.

“We would like to hire you,” she said. “We don’t have much money, but we can get a loan if necessary.”

“Before you do that, you might tell me what you want to hire me to do,” he said.

“That is rather delicate,” said Stanley. “You see…”

Again he looked at his fiancee, as though expecting her to take the lead. Burke guessed that this visit had been her idea.

“We want you to prove that…that Stanley did not murder his employer.”

Burke regarded her a moment with a heavy, serious gaze, and then shook his head.

“I do not do that sort of work.”

“Oh, but Mrs. Freeman said….”

“Let me explain a moment,” he said, holding up one of his huge hands. “I do not engage to prove anyone’s guilt or innocence. That’s a lawyer’s job. I engage to find out the truth. That is my only business. Whether it is to your liking or not, or whether it will hold up in court is another matter, but it is the truth and nothing but that I will discover. D’ye understand?”

“We understand perfectly,” she said. “And that is what we want, isn’t it Stanley?”

“Of course we want the truth,” he said, though with rather less conviction than she. “If you think you can get it. The trouble is that…well, let’s put it frankly. Things look so black against me that I honestly think I’d be better off going straight to a lawyer.”

Burke leaned back in his chair, studying the young man.

“Is that a confession then?”

“Certainly not!” Stanley said hotly. “I didn’t kill anyone. But I’m a practical man, Mr. Burke, and I can see how things are setting. If I could just figure out what did happen, then maybe I’d have a chance, but the thing just doesn’t make sense.”

“You interest me,” said Burke. “I believe I will take this case after all. Now, supposing you tell me just what happened. From the beginning now.”

Stanley Cutter drew a deep breath. His fiancee patted him on the arm, and he grasped her hand in his.

“Very well then,” he said. “I work – or have worked – in the offices of Caribel Brothers. They are an insurance firm, covering shipping, trade goods, and the like. It is a very lucrative business, as you can imagine. Men like to feel that their livelihoods don’t rest on the whim of chance.”

“They do indeed. Superstitions are ever welcome in the human heart. Please continue.”

Stanley looked slightly bewildered by this, but he went on.

“Well, early this morning we came in and found Mr. Bartholomew Caribel dead in his office. He, ah,” he glanced at Margaret. “He had been stabbed behind the right ear with a letter opener.”

“You were one of them that found the body, then?”

“I was. Myself, Angus Caribel, and Nicholas Feldstein, one of our clerks. We came in as normal, sat down to work….”

“What manner of work do you do for them?”

“Oh, I am secretary to the two brothers,” he said. “As I say, Mr. Angus opened up the office and we sat down to work as usual. Mr. Angus commented that Bartholomew must have slept here again last night as he hadn’t been home – he often did that when he had work to do late at night – and knocked on his door. Getting no answer, he tried the knob, found it unlocked, and…and found him. Of course the police were summoned at once and they interviewed all of us.”

“Can you describe the morning routine more precisely? What time, for instance, did you arrive?”

“A little before seven,” said Stanley. “I was early that day, though it doesn’t really matter: the office wasn’t open yet, so I waited in the hallway for a bit with Mr. Feldstein. Then Mr. Angus showed up at seven precisely – they’re always very precise – and let us in. I went to my desk, Mr. Feldstein went into the clerks’ office, and Mr. Angus went to Mr. Bartholomew’s office door and knocked and called for him…then it all happened like I said.”

“And what makes you so sure you’ll be suspected?” asked Burke.

“Ah, well, here we come to some rather delicate matters,” said Stanley.

“More delicate than your neck, are they?”

Margaret gave a faint gasp. Stanley turned a little paler.

“You have a way of putting things,” he said. “All right. The truth is I had words with Mr. Bartholomew the night before.”

“Tell him the whole story, Stanley,” said Margaret. “About the man.”

“I told you, Margaret, that can’t have anything to do with it.”

“Why not?”

“Perhaps I did not make myself, clear,” said Burke. “If you want me to help you, you need to tell me everything. Understand?”

“Very well,” said Stanley. “What happened is…to be clear, Margaret here works in the same building as I do.”

“Doing what?”

“I am a typist,” she said. “I work in the floor above for Mrs. Freeman. That is how we met. You see, I get off of work at six and Stanley doesn’t get off until seven. So for some time it’s been our custom for me to go down and sit in the lobby with him.”

“And your employers didn’t mind this?”

“Not at all, provided she didn’t make a nuisance of herself,” said Stanley. “And since she would sometimes help me with a bit of work they were actually the gainers by the scheme.”

“I see. And you did this yesterday evening.”

“Yes,” said Margaret.

“What happened next? Tell me exactly.”

“The clerks get off at six thirty,” said Stanley. “Then Mr. Angus left about twenty to seven. Then not long after he left was when someone threw something against the window.”

“Before you go any further, can you describe the lay of the office to me?”

“Certainly,” said Stanley. “It’s on the second floor on the corner. There’s a door leading off the hall that opens into the lobby. That’s where I sit. My desk is to the left of the door under the window. To the right is the door into the office where the clerks sit. Directly across from the hallway door are the two doors leading into the brothers’ private offices.”

“They each have their own?”

“That’s correct.”

“Windows in them?”

“Yes, there are two windows in Mr. Angus’s office and one in Mr. Bartholomew’s, behind his desk.”

“And your window faces what direction?”

“South.”

“Southwest corner then, is it?”

“That’s right.”

“I see. Go on then.”

“All right. As I say, someone threw something against the window. I naturally went to look and there was a man in the alley below. He was shouting and cursing in the most disgraceful manner. I tried to shout down to him that there was a lady listening, but he wouldn’t hear me.”

“Did you see this man, Miss Pierson?”

“Yes. I went to the window as well,” she said.

“Why?”

“Just curious, I guess,” she said with a faint shrug.

“Can you describe him?”

“He was a dirty, disheveled kind of man,” she said. “All wild hair and torn clothes. I thought he looked like a drunkard.”

“I’m sure he was,” said Stanley.

“Was there any substance to what he was saying? I mean, was it more than just profanity?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” said Stanley in a hesitant kind of manner. “He was shouting about how we had cheated him. That he was ruined because of us. Specifically by Mr. Bartholomew.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes. He said he would kill him. ‘Tell that old,’” Stanley caught himself. “’That old person that I will kill him for what he did to me.’ That’s what he said.”

“That’s right,” said Margaret. “He said it at least twice. Then Stanley told him he would summon the police and the man took off.”

“Did you summon the police?”

“No,” Stanley admitted. “I guess I should have, but I thought the man was just drunk and that the brothers wouldn’t want the police hanging around if they could help it and I…I didn’t really take it seriously. You don’t really expect your employers to be murdered, Mr. Burke.”

Malachi Burke did not comment on that.

“Did the man have any peculiar way of speaking? Was he, perhaps, Italian? Or Irish?”

“No, just ordinary American, I think,” said Margaret. She then caught herself and flushed. “Not that…I don’t mean to imply…”

“You ain’t implying anything, lass,” he said gently. “I’m just trying to get a picture of what you saw. So you sent the man on his way. What happened next?”

“A few minutes later, Mr. Bartholomew called me into his office,” said Stanley.

“Yes?”

He swallowed hard.

“Now…this is where we get into the delicate matters, Mr. Burke,” he said. “I must beg you to believe me when I say that I never intended to break the law.”

“That is never a good thing to have to say, lad,” said Burke.

“Yes, I know. Well, here’s what happened. And it is the God’s honest truth, sir. I went into his office. He was sitting there, half-turned and looking at the wall. He had a way of doing that, you see: not looking at you when was speaking to you. He said he liked to concentrate on what he was saying and not on your expression. Well, anyway, he started to dictate to me as usual. It was a simple correspondence. Didn’t take more than five minutes. When I’d finished he said ‘I’d like a word with you before you go, Mr. Cutter.’

“’All right sir,’ I said.

“’I happened to be looking through our old accounts,’ he said. ‘What can you tell me about the Scalzi account?’

“That was when I knew I’d had it,” said Stanley. He looked at Margaret and gripped her hand rather tightly. “See, the Scalzis are an Italian wine importing firm. Very good kind of people. There was an incident last year where they filed a claim that wasn’t quite covered by our policy. I…took the liberty of editing their claim a little before passing it on to the clerks.”

“So you committed fraud.”

“Yes, I suppose I did,” said Stanley. “I never imagined they’d find out. I still don’t know how: Mr. Bartholomew doesn’t even attend to the client side of the business very often.”

“So what did you do when he brought this to your attention?”

“I didn’t do anything!” he said. “I tried to explain my side of it, of course, and he let me have it pretty good. Something you should know about the late Mr. Bartholomew, Mr. Burke, is that he never raised his voice, but he knew how to twist the knife in you. Oh!” he said as the implications of the phrase struck him. “I didn’t mean…”

“Yes, yes, quite all right,” said Malachi Burke, waving away the mistake. “Never mind that now. What happened next?”

“He said we would discuss my future in the morning,” said Stanley with a grimace. “The way he put it, I could tell I wasn’t going to have much of one. Once he put it about to his connections that I’d been fired for fraud, that’d be all up for me. I’d be lucky if he didn’t call the police on me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse than when I left that office.”

Burke turned to Margaret Pierson.

“Would you say his appearance bore that out?” he asked.

“Oh yes!” she said. “He looked terrible, all pale and shaken. I asked him what was wrong, and he said he’d tell me later. He just wanted to get out of there.”

“I sort of snapped at her,” Stanley admitted. “I feel terrible about it, but that’s how agitated I was.”

“He apologized later,” Margaret hastened to reassure him.

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Burke. “Did you leave the office straight away?”

“Yes, like I said, I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” said Stanley. “We went walking for a bit while I tried to get my head straight, then we went to a show and I walked her home.”

“What time was that?”

“About half-past-ten I would think,” said Stanley.”

“And where do you live, Miss Pierson, if I may ask?”

“I live in a boarding house on Galt street,” she answered.

“And you Mr. Cutter?”

“Apartment on 7th.”

Burke nodded.

“What happened the next morning?”

“I told you. I went to the office like usual and we found Mr. Bartholomew.”

“Ah, yes. Of course.”

Burke leaned back in his chair, thinking a moment.

“As you say, things look very black against you from a certain point of view. When did you tell Miss Pierson about the argument?”

Stanley swallowed.

“Not…not until this afternoon. Just before we came here.”

“After you were interviewed by the police.”

“Yes.”

“Did they question you, Miss Pierson?”

“They did, yes.”

“And you told them that your fiancee came out of the office very agitated and upset following an argument with his employer.”

“I…yes, I did.”

“And you were the last people to leave the office. Are you sure about that?”

“Quite sure, yes,” said Stanley.

“Hm.”

“There is something more as well,” said Margaret in a hurried kind of voice. “I…the police asked me and I didn’t know how to avoid telling them.” She swallowed and looked pleadingly at her fiancee. “Stanley asked if I would run away with him last night.”

“And you told the police that?” he said in a horrified tone.

“I didn’t mean to, darling!” she wailed. “But they asked and they badgered and it was half way out before I knew what I was saying!”

“I’m surprised they didn’t arrest me already,” he moaned.

“I’m so sorry!”

“Oh, well,” he muttered, patting her hand. “I guess they would have found out sooner or later.”

They turned to Malachi Burke with expressions of desperation.

“Well, Mr. Burke?” said Stanley. “Do you think you can help us?”

Burke didn’t answer right away. He knocked his pipe out into an ashtray with a series of slow, heavy thumps.

“I’ve just a few more questions,” he said. “These Caribel brothers. I never saw them myself: what are they like?”

“Hard-nosed businessmen,” said Stanley. “There’s not a spec of imagination or human feeling between them I should say.”

“What do they look like?”

“Mr. Bartholomew I always thought looked like a wire-haired terrier,” said Stanley. “I’m sorry, I know I probably shouldn’t speak that way of the dead, but there it is. He had a tangled gray mane of hair and a long, drooping kind of face. And he wore glasses: round glasses that always seemed to catch the light, like a cat’s eyes in the dark. Mr. Angus is completely bald and a good deal taller than his brother. He wears half-rim spectacles. He’s a bit more agreeable, I’d say. He at least looks at you when he’s speaking.”

“Did you ever see that tramp again?”

“No. I certainly didn’t,” said Stanley, looking at Margaret.

“Me neither.”

“Was anything taken from the dead man? Anything missing from his desk or his pockets?”

“The police had Mr. Angus do a thorough inventory,” said Stanley. “But no, as far as he knew nothing was missing. All his money, his watch, his keys, his correspondence, his checkbook, all it was there.”

“Now this is very important. When you left the office, have you described your movement exactly? You simply walked out and down the stairs and out the door, not stopping or going back for anything?”

“Oh!” said Margaret, her small hand going to her mouth. “Actually I…I ran back for my coat.”

“You what?” Burke said sharply, making her jump.

“Stanley was so eager to leave that I almost forgot it,” she said. “We had almost reached the first floor when I remembered and ran back. I wasn’t more than a minute.”

“You ran back,” Burke repeated.

“If you’re thinking she…” Stanley began hotly. But Malachi Burke silenced him with a look of his flashing green eyes.

“Did you notice anything while you were there?”

“No,” said Margaret. “Nothing. I was only in the office for a second to grab my coat. I…” she hesitated. “I think maybe I heard Mr. Bartholomew walking about in his office, but I didn’t pay any attention to it, except to hurry back out since I definitely didn’t want him to come out and find me.”

“How long was she gone?” Burke asked Stanley.

“Not more than…half a minute,” said Stanley in a firm tone. “Just long enough to go up and get her coat.”

“And you didn’t notice anything strange,” said Burke.

“Nothing,” she said firmly.

Again, he nodded his great head.

“Now Mr. Cutter, once again think very hard. The next morning, did you notice anything usual when you came in? Anything at all?”

“No,” said Stanley. “I came in a little early. I…I was anxious of course. I figured it was liable to be my last day. Only then I had to wait about in the hallway with the clerks, and that didn’t do my nerves any favors. I remember Mr. Feldstein was in an infuriatingly cheerful mood. Kept talking about some bet he’d won the night before. Then Mr. Angus came and let us in and we went to check on Mr. Bartholomew.”

“It was that quick, was it?”

“Yes. Right away. Mr. Angus said, ‘Bartholomew must have slept here last night again, I am going to wake him.’ Then he went in and kind of screamed, and Feldstein and I rushed in after him.”

“Did you go near the body?”

“No, I hung back. I was in shock, I didn’t know what to think.”

Malachi Burke nodded once more, bobbing his great head up and down like a wooden doll.

“I think,” he said. “That is all I’ll need from the two of you.”

“Do you…is there any hope?” asked Margaret in a tentative voice.

Burke looked at her, and to her evident surprise bestowed one of his kindly smiles on her.

“Hope is a gift of God, lass,” he said.

His next move after shooing the young people out was to put on his hat and coat – it was a chill April morning – and go to see the detective in charge of the case. Detective Levinson, like many in the department, had been a colleague of protege of his and greeted Burke warmly. Burke was pleased to find that Mr. Angus Caribel was also present settling some arrangements with the police about his brother’s property.

“You’re in luck, Mr. Caribel,” said Levinson. “If Malachi Burke is on the case, your brother’s killer won’t get far.”

“Do you have any suspicions, Mr. Burke?” asked Angus Caribel after shaking hands.

“One or two,” said Burke, easing himself into a chair and stretching his lame leg. “Ach, this damn thing gets worse every year,” he groaned, rubbing it. Even the taxi ride from his apartment had been taxing on the old wound.

“What can we do for you, Burke?” asked Levinson.

“First I want to hear what you know of the case so far,” said Burke. “See how well it tallies with what I’ve heard this afternoon.”

Levinson nodded and gave a summary of events. Burke listened and nodded along, satisfied that it fit the story that the young couple had given him.

“Was there any sign of a struggle?”

“No, none,” said Levinson. “He was a very neat man and things on his desk were perfectly arranged.”

Burke nodded.

“Is that about right Mr. Caribel?”

“Exactly, yes, to the best of my knowledge,” said Angus Caribel. “I don’t want to tell the police their business, but…it seems to me that there is a fairly strong case against young Cutter. Though I’d be very glad to told I’m wrong in that. He’s quite an efficient young man, though this story of fraud is…unfortunate. Makes me question everything I thought I knew about him.”

“Well, there is that tramp,” said Burke. “Have you been able to trace him at all? Or find any further evidence of his existence?”

“As a matter of fact, we did,” said Levinson. “The fella’s name is Harold Climpson, used to be a bit of a big name in shipping…”

“Climpson!” said Caribel in surprise. “Why, I know the man! We used to do business together, until his stock was unfortunately wiped out in a fire.”

“Yes, and he blames your brother for not paying on his claim,” said Levinson. “Very hot on the subject it seems.”

“Our policy was very clear that such events were not covered,” said Angus Caribel. “But you don’t think…”

“I would if not for the fact that he has an alibi,” said Levinson. “It seems that after he got done shouting at the building, he went straight to the nearest bar and drank himself into a stupor, still ranting about your brother to anyone who would listen. He ended up so drunk he tried to knock another patron’s head in and spent the night in jail. He’s there now if you want to see him, Burke, nursing a nasty headache and a nastier temper.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary just yet,” said Burke. “I was only curious, but I am glad we have it. It makes it all that much simpler.”

“Simpler? What do you mean?”

“I mean I know what happened, and he’ll make it easier to prove….”

###

At this point, as he usually did in his recitals, Malachi Burke paused and looked expectantly at me.

“Well?” he said. “Do you see it, lad?”

I thought about it hard, then waved a hand in surrender.

“No, I don’t. I guessed that the young man didn’t do it. Apart from everything else, I don’t think he would have calmly gone out with his girl and come back to work the next day if he had. He would have booked the first ticket out west at the very least. But I don’t see how it could have been done otherwise. Unless…were the people at the bar certain about the time that Climpson came in?”

“Sure enough,” said Burke. “They were busy and couldn’t quite swear to it exactly, but they’re fairly sure it was well before seven-thirty.”

“With quick work he might have managed it,” I said.

“He might have, but do you think Mr. Bartholomew would have sat there calmly while an irate tramp burst into his office and let himself be stabbed without a struggle?”

“No, I see what you mean,” I said. “Then there’s one other possibility I can see.”

“Which is?”

“I hate to say it, but you always say suspect everyone. The girl.”

“Ah! I’m glad to hear you bein’ broadminded on the subject!” he said. “Sometimes I think you’re reluctant to believe a pretty face can hide a murderess’s heart. Though it might just be because you haven’t seen her.”

“Maybe,” I admitted with a sheepish grin. “But from the way you describe her she sounds like one of these apparently-soft women who are like steel when those they love are in danger. I can see her listening in on the argument, thinking that her man was going to be ruined, and, in a burst of anger running back and stabbing the old man before he knew what was happening. Was he deaf at all?”

“I don’t believe so, no. Very nearsighted, but his hearing was excellent.”

“Yes, but he wouldn’t expect a gentle-looking creature like that to be dangerous, so he might not have realized what was happening until it was too late.”

“That’s well considered,” he said, nodding. “It might have happened like that, I’ll grant ye. Only, you’re missing the important question. Only ask that and the whole thing becomes clear.”

“What question is that?”

Malachi Burke re-lit his pipe and blew a large smoke-ring.

“The question I asked Angus Caribel a moment later, after I’d confirmed that his version of the morning’s events tallied exactly with young Cutter’s. The question is, who locked the door?”

“What door?” I asked.

“Faith, lad, weren’t you listening at all? The hallway door. The door that the Caribels had to open for their employees every morning. Remember, it was locked when they got there. Mr. Angus had to open it for them. So who locked it?”

I thought a moment. Then I saw.

“Cutter didn’t have the key.”

“No, nor did Miss Pierson. Nor did Mr. Climpson. Mr. Bartholomew’s key was still found on him. So only one man could have locked the door, and thus only one man could have killed him. Mr. Angus.”

“’Don’t show how it might have been: show it couldn’t have been done any other way’,” I said, quoting one of his commandments.

“Exactly.”

“But then I don’t see,” I said. “Cutter swore that Angus left before any of it happened, and the girl said the same thing. How did he get back in? I suppose he just waited around outside for his brother to be alone.”

“Not such a fool,” said Burke. “In the first place, he’d be likely to be seen loitering about. In the second, he knew that an open police investigation is an incalculable thing, and if there wasn’t an obvious suspect, then anything might happen. He was cautious devil. So he arranged to pin it on young Cutter. I suppose it was discovering Cutter’s messing about with the letters that put the idea into his head. Nothing like finding a motive for someone else to make murder seem practical.”

“Then what did he do? Hide in the hallway, or the stairwell?”

“Ah, lad,” Burke shook his head. “You don’t see it at all. Consider the tramp.”

I did, but I didn’t see what the tramp had to do with it.

“What about him?”

“Don’t you think Mr. Climpson’s behavior was a might odd? It struck me at once, right off I heard the two young people describe it.”

“Well, he was drunk.”

“Drunk or no, if he’d done business with them he knew where Mr. Bartholomew’s office was. If his purpose were to spew his threats and his hatred at the man, why would he throw stones at the secretary? Did he expect him to take it as a memo? Why wouldn’t he stand below Mr. Bartholomew’s window and scream and swear at him?”

“Oh,” I said. “I hadn’t thought of that. Then…why?”

“Well,” said Burke, blowing another smoke ring. “A good way to find out why someone did something is to look at what that something actually did. And what did it do?”

“It…well, nothing, except to bring Mr. Cutter and the girl to the window and to provide…oh!”

“You see it then,” he said. “It brought them to the window, giving Mr. Angus a chance to slip back across the lobby and into his brother’s office.”

“Into his…”

“Yes. That is when he killed him. He shut the door, said something like ‘Oh, I forgot to mention so-and-so to you, brother. Have a look at this…’ He puts a bit of paper under his brother’s nose, his brother bends over….”

I could see it. See it as clearly as if it had happened right before my eyes.

“That’s clear enough,” I said. “But then Cutter spoke with him afterwards. Had his meeting with…you mean that was Angus?”

“You’re picking up lad. Yes, that was Angus, not Bartholomew. They were brothers, after all. They may have been superficially very different to look at, but the structure of their faces was much of a piece. All he needed was a wire-haired wig and his brother’s glasses to play the part. It helped that Mr. Bartholomew didn’t look people in eye when he spoke to them, and that the window faced west so that at seven o’clock the sun would be shining right behind him.”

“I see. So he berated Cutter to emphasize his motive and so that it would seem that Bartholomew was still alive well after he had left.”

“Quite so. The plan was that Cutter would be the last one to see Bartholomew alive, and had been threatened with ruin while alone in the office with him. All things considered, it was a fine little plan. Then Angus went and ruined it all when, by sheer force of habit, he thoughtlessly locked the door behind him as he left the office.”

I shook my head, admiring how neatly everything fell into place as he described it.

“Like you said, absurdly obvious. But do you mean to say,” I added, frowning slightly. “That if he hadn’t gone and locked up that he would have gotten away with it and poor Cutter would have been hanged?”

“Oh, no, there was another weak point in his scheme,” said Burke. “Climpson.”

“Climpson?”

“Well, obviously Angus hired him. You don’t suppose he left something like that up to chance? No, he paid him well to be part of the scheme, and Climpson was only too happy to help murder the man he regarded as his enemy. Only, Angus didn’t count on the consequences of Climpson’s character. A man like that with money in his pocket and hatred in his soul is sure to do only one thing: go to the nearest tavern, rant and rave, get roaring drunk, and so end up in jail. The very last place in the world that Angus would have wanted him. He might have passed a common police interview without incident, but I would have soon had him spilling the whole story.”

I shook my head.

“What did Angus think would happen?”

“I suspect he meant to meet the fella’ somewhere to celebrate and perhaps pay the rest of the money. Then he would have maybe knocked him on the head. No one would look twice at a drunk tramp with a bashed in skull, would they?”

“So, Angus Caribel was done in by his own responsibility and his failure to understand another man’s debauchery,” I said. “That doesn’t seem a proper lesson at all.”

“It shows you must learn to think things through, or you’ll be done in by something absurdly obvious. As I say, most criminals are.”

“What about Mr. Cutter and Miss Pierson?”

“Oh, Mr. Cutter’s doin’ quite well last I heard. In Chicago I believe. They sent me a photo of them and their children a few years back. Quite a happy little family they seem.”

He puffed on his pipe a moment, then began to hum an Irish folk song, and I knew we were finished with crime for the evening.

Learn how Alfred More’s apprenticeship with Malachi Burke began in The Ten Commandments of Murder, available for kindle or print on demand

Escape to Some Fantastic Schools

Want to take your mind off things? Pick up a volume or two of Fantastic Schools (now both available in paperback: a nice, thick volume to decorate your shelf and that can’t be digitally taken away from you).

Official Blurb:
Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to … Fantastic Schools.

Vol. 1
Follow a girl trying desperately to find her place in a school of dark magic, a band of witches desperate to prove they can be as good as the wizards, a school of magical monsters standing between the evil one and ultimate power, a businesswoman discovering the secrets of darkest evil … and what happens when a magical education goes badly wrong.

Vol. 2
Follow a mundane teacher striding into a world of magic, a spy on a mission, a guided tour of a magical school, a school dance for monsters, a dangerous reunion … and many more.

Follow us into worlds different, magical …

… And very human.

My own story, Halloween Dance is the final entry in the second volume. It’s all about the trials and complications of young love, particularly when the boy has a troubled past and is covered in scales, the girl is outgoing, friendly, and gorgeous, but can’t show her face without killing someone, and both are attending a school for monsters where unspeakable evil can strike at any time.

Pick up a copy today and escape into some fantastic schools.

Neptune Rises

Planetary Anthology: Neptune is now available to order in paperback (E-book coming Tuesday)

A collection of stories thematically centered around the planet Neptune, named for the god of the sea. Stories of the sea, of magic, of disillusionment, of wonder. Including one by your humble servant that tells of a pirate captain driven before a mysterious wind into strange waters, where his quest for gold leads him to discover a different kind of treasure…one that is not for the plundering.

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Pick up your copy today and enjoy this and fourteen other stories by a diverse cast of talented authors.

Amazin’ Amazon Holiday Book Sale

Over eighty kindle books are available for $0.99 or less over Thanksgiving weekend. Several are free, including such modern independent fiction classics as Monster Hunter International (Larry Correia’s first book: badasses shoot monsters in the face for fun and profit) and The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (cute girl with a perfect memory has adventures in a school for magic while blowing the world-building and magic system of Harry Potter out of the water). Also works by the likes of Richard Paolinelli, John C. Wright, Bokerah Brumley, Kit Sun Cheah, Caroline Furlong, J.D. Cowan, Declan Finn, Alexander Hellene, and more!

Also included in the sale is Fantastic Schools vol. 2, featuring a story by your humble servant called Halloween Dance. It’s all about the trials and complications of young love, particularly when the boy has a troubled past and is covered in scales, the girl is outgoing and friendly but can’t show her face without killing someone, and both are attending a school for monsters where unspeakable evil can strike at any time.

In any case, a good chance to pick up any of those great works of independent fiction you’ve had your eye on, but which your Scrooge-like ways couldn’t permit you to try.

Find them here

Rising of the Sun: Sol Anthology Live!

Tuscany Bay Books’ Planetary Anthology: Sol is now live!

Featuring thirteen stories centered on the theme of nobility and righteousness, including my own Under the Midnight Sun.

Far in the future, the dying sun has swollen and scorched most of the earth. The last known remnants of humanity dwell about the South Pole, where the sun rises and sets only once a year. There the beautiful, imaginative Gienna cherishes dreams of marrying for love, like the heroines of her favorite stories. By an unexpected chance, she at last meets a man who touches her heart, but who is he really and what secrets does he hide?

The Sun may die, but love, hope, and nobility need not.

(This is what happens when you read The Curse of Capistrano and The Night Land at roughly the same time)

“Oh thou bright orb, ruler of the sky…”

Pick it up today! Enjoy tales of nobility and goodness, and drop a review letting us know what you think! Feedback is always appreciated.

Fantastic Schools Vol. 2 is Live!

Fantastic Schools Volume 2 is now live!

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Well, mostly. We’re still waiting on the paperback. So, think of it as ‘live’ in the sense of Frankenstein’s Monster when he first awoke, but was too disoriented and confused to form any kind of conscious thought or intention. It’ll be a few hours before he can stumble out of the laboratory to look at the Sun for the first time, if you follow me.

But it is available for Kindle purchase as of now, so you can pick it up and enjoy a dozen different stories by massively talented authors, plus my own Halloween Dance, all dealing with the trials and tribulations of life at fantastic schools.

(As you might guess, my own story is pretty seasonally appropriate. Just throwing that out there).

Chapter Five of ‘Perseus Corbett and the Forbidden Valley’

See Chapter One here, Chapter Two here, Chapter Three here, and Chapter Four here

Chapter Five
The End of the Known

“You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what I want to forget.”
-Marlowe, Heart of Darkness

“It took some convincing,” said Bill. “Quite an unpleasant scene, really. But we won him over in the end. He said, ‘all right, Bill, we shall see how you acquit yourself on this trip. If you give satisfaction and show yourself a man, then you’ll have my consent. If you don’t, then I don’t suppose she’ll care to have you anyway.’”

“A glowing endorsement,” said Martin.

“Well, it’s better than I expected,” Bill replied. “Can’t think why I went and blurted it out like I did. Of course I’ve always had a reckless streak in me; act first, ask questions later, what? Did I tell you how, when I was a boy, I went and jumped off the pier at Brighton? Twelve feet straight down, and April, so the water was damned cold. We were gone to seashore for Easter holiday, see.”

“A curious thing to do. Had you a reason for it?”

“This other boy dared me to do it,” Bill answered. “Just shows, doesn’t it, what an impulsive chap I am. That’s why I have to keep it all bottled up, you see?”

“It is certainly an illustrative incident,” said Martin with a hint a dryness in his tone that Bill, unfamiliar with the Austrian’s moods, missed entirely.

“But I am most impressed,” Martin went on, “that you should show such concern to secure your prospective father-in-law’s approval. Most do not in this day.”

“Frances tells me I’m old fashioned,” Bill agreed with a faint laugh. “But you see, she’s very close to her father; they’ve been a bit of a team ever since her mother died, and I certainly wouldn’t want to create a rift between them, what?”

“Admirable.”

They spoke while sitting in wicker chairs upon the deck of a riverboat making its way up the Amazon. A comfortable passage across the Atlantic had been followed by an almost equally comfortable journey up the Amazon to Manaus, where they had remained a few days while purchasing the rest of their supplies before taking another steamer up the Purus. It was the ‘dry season,’ so to speak, though the air was heavy with moisture and the rains still came almost every day. Great, heavy downpours, with raindrops the size of hailstones lashed down upon the mighty river and its green banks, but they didn’t last long and they certainly didn’t cool anything off. Even simply sitting in the shade upon the deck of their riverboat was enough to make Bill sweat as much as he ever had in his life.

“I say,” he said, fanning himself with his book. “You’ve been all around the world, haven’t you?”

“I have travelled extensively with Mr. Corbett, yes.”

“Is it always this hot?”

Martin looked at him with a faint expression of pity.

“When one is only ten degrees south of the Equator, yes,” he answered. “Though, of course, the humidity contributes.”

“Is it going to be like this the whole way?”

“Unlikely,” said Martin. “In the thick jungle, it will be far worse. There will be no breeze, you see.” 

Elizabeth, meanwhile, stood at the rail and watched the ranches and villages of the Amazon basin pass by. She was soaked with sweat, felt feverish from the heat, and the heavy, damp air seemed to resist being breathed. She was smarting all over from insect bites. All in all, she was extremely uncomfortable, and could not remember ever being happier. She was in the Amazon; that great, untamable ocean of life spread across a third of a continent, where man was not and never could be master. She stood only upon the surface now, but soon she would plunge into those dark depths and then the adventure—oh, what a word that was!—would truly begin.

Overhead, the clouds gathered once again and growled with thunder, making the air feel even heavier.

“I thought this was supposed to be the dry season,” she said to Perseus as he joined her at the rail. “If this is dry, I wonder what the wet one is like.”

“Oh, there’s no such thing as ‘dry’ in the Amazon.,” he said. “The rains don’t alter much; you get a few more downpours per day in the summer than you do in the winter, that’s all. The ‘wet’ season is so because that’s when it rains in the Andes, and all that water washes down here and makes the rivers higher and faster. ‘Flooded’ would be the more proper way to speak of it.”

“I keep forgetting it’s technically winter here,” she said. “The word sounds rather funny doesn’t it?”

They had spent a good deal of time together over the past few days. Sometimes he would tell her tales of his adventures, or they would discuss what they might expect in the coming days when they left all civilization behind, but lately they had mostly spent their time simply standing side by side and watching the banks of the river pass by.

At first, on the Amazon, there had been far more settlements and signs of human activity than Elizabeth had expected; towns, villages, cities even, and innumerable boats passing by. As they drew deeper into the basin, the signs of humanity became fewer and small, though they still floated past pretty often. There were small villages full of people of every hue and color, who paid little attention to the familiar sight of a passing riverboat. Here and there they passed great farms and ranches cut from the living jungle, with big, fine houses, some so grand that they made Elizabeth think of her own family estate. These sometimes sparked architectural discussions as they admired or critiqued the taste of the buildings: “What a hideous monstrosity!” “That one is charming; look at the latticework.” “Now there’s a house; classic Spanish style. Wonder how old it is?” “Good Lord! They brought all that paint this far into the jungle to give it that color scheme?” 

But these became fewer and fewer as they journeyed, and the jungle closed in as a solid wall of green about them. Birds of every color imaginable filled the trees, calling to one another with the sharp cries of the jungle. Monkeys gambled about in the branches, watching the passing boat with disinterested eyes, as though they thought the travelers beneath their notice. The banks of the river were high, with vast expanses of mud crisscrossed with fallen trees, and in many places they saw fat caiman basking in the sun, reminding Elizabeth forcibly of sunbathing tourists, the thought of which made her laugh. At one point they saw a big, long-nosed tapir drinking in the shallows, though it took off into the jungle as they drew close. More often they saw small red deer coming down to the water to drink and watching the passersby with big, innocent eyes.

Professor Illingworth spent most of his time in his cabin, going over books and making notes in his journal. On the occasions he joined them on the deck, he would give dry lectures on the wildlife they saw (“Caiman crocodilus, commonly known as the spectacled caiman or white caiman. There are currently four recognized subspecies…”) Or else he would expound a little on a few pet theories of his own (“The evolutionary history of this region very clearly demonstrates the principle of…”). And, when he had nothing better to do, he would entertain himself by yelling at Bill.  

In this way they proceeded up the Purus for several days until they reached their destination. Here, at the very end of the civilized world, the Brazilian government had long ago established a telegraph station, guarded by a small contingent of soldiers. A trading post naturally grew up around it, along with a church, and farms and so, eventually, the small village of Pordesol was born. Here goods were brought in from down river and sold among the villagers and soldiers, or shipped to the ranchers and rubber men up river. The turn off for the Rio Tardas, from which they would find the outlet of the mysterious Noite, was about three or four miles below the village, and as far as anyone knew, the only men who lived along the Tardas were the Catauxi tribesmen, who were generally friendly enough, but not keen for making contacts.

Perseus had known about Pordesol and its telegraph from an earlier trip he had taken into the interior, though he had never been there. This was how he had come to concoct his story of Colonel Torres. Early on in their plans, however, he was surprised to discover that Elizabeth knew of it as well. An old friend of her father’s, Colonel Newgate, had retired from service and left England shortly after the war and had, through a series of events that she didn’t quite understand, had ended up running the trading post in this little village on the extreme edge of the unknown.

Elizabeth having sent word of their coming ahead up the river, he was ready to greet them when the steamer pulled up to dock and embraced his friend’s daughter with warm affection. Newgate was a muscular man of medium height, with a square, expressive kind of face with a slightly elfish quality about the eyes that suggested an Irish ancestor. His greying hair was beginning to recede a little, and his clothes were simple, but clean. Elizabeth introduced him to her companions, and he greeted them with a well-bred politeness tempered by the ease of a man used to living far from society.

The trading post and general store that he ran fronted upon the docks, and his long, comfortable home extended out the back, running parallel to the riverbank. He gave a few quick orders to the comaradas who were handling the receipt of goods from the steamer, then led the expedition onto a shaded veranda overlooking the Purus. Drinks were provided, and they sat in perfect comfort while the breeze blew in off of the waters.

“I can’t tell you how surprised I was to get your telegram,” he said, leaning back in his chair and looking at Elizabeth with a warm smile. “I really thought my days of receiving old friends were over.”

“I had thought of simply surprising you,” said Elizabeth. “But then I wanted to be sure you were still here.”

“Where else should I be?” he answered. “I fully intend to die out here. It’s a good life; the people are pleasant company, there’s enough work to keep me occupied, and the scenery can’t be beat.”

“What made you decide to come out here in the first place?” asked Illingworth. “Seems a strange place for a British officer to retire to.”

“Not at all,” said Newgate. “After the war, I’d had quite enough of civilization. I looked about for the most isolated place I could go. I considered Tibet for a while, but eventually settled on the Amazon. Here, at least, no one tries to blow each other up, and I’m two weeks behind the times, so by the time I get news of trouble, it’s already been cleared up.”

“Sounds most appealing,” said Perseus. “You don’t find the weather a trial?”

“Yes I do, but it is quite worth it. Now tell me; what are you all doing here? Your telegram didn’t quite say. Some scientific survey, was it?”

“Yes,” she said. “Survey up the Noite. Perseus here says that he met an old colonel from the Empire days who I suppose must have been in this very spot, right?”

“I believe so, yes,” said Perseus. He spoke lightly, but inside he was tense. They had reached the point where the truth would soon have to come out, and he only dreaded its being discovered too soon. It suddenly occurred to him that people who lived at this station likely knew that there had never been a man named ‘Colonel Torres’ here.

Newgate added to his unease by shooting a quick glance at him, but he allowed Elizabeth to continue.

“Supposedly there are some very interesting species to be found along the Noite. We’re going to document them.”

“I see,” he said. “But, forgive me, what are you doing here, Elizabeth?”

“I’m funding the expedition,” she said. “Thought I ought to know what my money was being used for.”

“Really?” he said. “Is that all?”

She smiled a little embarrassedly.

“I confess, no. I’ve always wanted to go on a trip like this, and I didn’t know when I would have another opportunity.”

“I see,” he said, frowning a little. Perseus guessed that, like him, Newgate saw that Elizabeth had no idea what she was in for. But he said no more and instead began inquiring after their mutual friends in England.

After they had sat and chatted for a time, Newgate showed them over his house and store, which was remarkably comfortable and well-furnished for being so remote. He gave them a regular tour; showed them his wares, showed them his comfortable, book-lined rooms, his shining rifles upon the wall, and his photographs of old friends from England, whom Elizabeth wasted no time in examining.

“There’s father, of course,” she said. “That was during the war, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, just outside of Toutencourt. Right before the Somme, I think it was.

“That’s what’s his name, Lieutenant…

“Lieutenant Herbert. Surprised you remember him. He got blown up a few days later.

“I remember father telling me about him…and that’s Colonel Blunt, right? He used to come for shooting parties before the war. You met him, Perseus.”

“Oh, yes; he complimented my flower border. Whatever happened to him?”

“Survived the Somme; died at Passchendaele,” said Newgate.

“Hard luck, that,” said Perseus.

“What about this one?” asked Eliazbeth, pointing to another photo that showed Newgate and a much younger man.

“Don’t suppose you ever heard of him; Sergeant Allenby. Good chap from Birmingham. Invalidated out with shell shock and cut his wrists in hospital.”

“Have all these people died, then?” asked Bill.

“Most of them,” said Newgate sadly. “They’re useful reminders in case I ever get the urge to go back to what is called civilization. I think your father and I, Elizabeth, were the only ones here who survived the war, and then of course that damned motorcar…except this group shot, of course; some of those boys made it, I think. Oh, and you of course.”

Perseus, who had been examining the group shot, turned eagerly to this last photo. He recognized the setting at once: the back porch at Sangral House. There were Newgate and Lord Darrow sitting in wicker chairs, and there, standing beside her father, was Elizabeth, just as he remembered her; all arms and legs and tangled hair, wearing a look of unrestrained happiness with her arm around her father, as though she wanted to show him off.

“I remember when that was taken,” she said. “Just before you all left for the war.”

Then it was only a few months after he had left. He looked at the girl in the photo and smiled to himself. That was how he remembered her; that radiantly expressive, hold-nothing-back kind of smile.

He had yet to see that look on her present face. His eyes shifted from her to the man beside her in the photograph and he thought he might understand why. 

They were treated to a delightful supper on the veranda, while the usual afternoon downpour rattled outside. As they ate, Illingworth turned the conversation back to the purpose of their journey.

“Have you heard any rumor of these supposed strange beasts on the Noite, Colonel?”

Newgate leaned back in his chair and looked out on the misty river and the jungle beyond.

“One hears many strange stories out here,” he said. “The Noite holds a certain reputation among the natives. The Catauxi will not travel upon it, and the other tribes regard it as unlucky.”

“What for?” asked Elizabeth.

“It is said that the river marks the path to an evil place; a forbidden place. Some say it is only a part of the jungle, others say it is a great pit or cave in the earth. The legend goes that it is both the abode of monsters and the treasure house of the gods.”

Perseus flinched a little. They were getting very close to the mark. He wondered suddenly whether word of Professor Applegate’s expedition had reached Newgate’s ears, for surely they must have passed this way.

“Do they say what manner of ‘monsters’?” asked Illingworth.

Newgate smiled.

“Cuangi is said to dwell there.”

The rain seemed momentarily to grow more intense and the sky grumbled with thunder.

“What is ‘Cuangi’?” Elizabeth asked.

“A native superstition,” he said. “Most of the tribes of the southern Amazon have one version of him or other. Some say he’s a spirit, others a great beast, and others something in between. The only common thread is that he’s monstrous and all-powerful.”

The rain rattled upon the roof, and a fork of lightning lit up the sky. The expedition members had fallen silent.

“And he’s said to dwell along the Noite?” asked Perseus.

“Yes, or in that forbidden place I mentioned. One version of the legend has him the guardian of the gods’ treasures. Sort of a demonic watchdog. There’s a story that goes along with it.”

“Oh, tell us,” said Elizabeth.

“Ah, well, I only know the one version,” he said. “But it goes something like this. There once was a great warrior of a certain tribe. He was chief and the mightiest hunter the world had ever seen. He was betrothed to the most beautiful maiden in the tribe and, as is said of many a promising young buck, had everything in his favor.

“One night, while performing the sacred rites, for he was also well-versed in the world of spirits, he received a vision. A great spirit spoke to him from the smoke of the ritual fire. The spirit said ‘thou art great, but shall yet be greater. Take thy betrothed and walk into the forest for seven days and seven nights. Then thou shalt come to a great wall. There thou shalt possess the treasures of the gods.’

“So the chief took his betrothed and walked through the jungle. They didn’t need to fear anything, as he was the greatest hunter in the world, and the jaguars and snakes all knew to fear him. He came to the great wall of stone, and in the wall was a gate, and at that gate stood mighty Cuangi. They bowed and made obeisance before him, and the chief said, ‘Oh, mighty Cuangi, it has been given to me to possess the treasures of the gods.’

“But Cuangi answered and said, ‘None may pass my way without an offering.’ So the chief asked what he would have, and Cuangi said, ‘If thou wouldst possess the treasure of the gods, then thy betrothed is the price. Give her to me, or go back the way ye came.’

“And so the chief took hold of his betrothed and gave her to Cuangi, who ate her in one bite…”

“Wait, he did what?” Elizabeth exclaimed. 

“Not very nice, was it?” said Newgate, laughing. “Our friend is not a hero by English standards. But that is not the end of the story. After he had offered his betrothed to Cuangi, he was permitted to pass and to enter the great treasure house. There he outfitted himself the raiment of the gods, took their treasure for his own, and set off to claim his place among them.

“Only, when he tried to pass through the gate again, Cuangi again prevented him, saying that if he would pass, he must offer a second gift, equal to the first. But of course, he only had one betrothed and had already offered her. He protested and said that he had been promised possession of the gods’ treasures. ‘Yes,’ said Cuangi, ‘Thou wert promised to possess them. But thou dost possess them. Thou wert never promised to be permitted to bear them away.’

“And so, the great chief simply had to sit there in the god’s treasure house, bedecked in marks of power that he could never use to command and holding weapons he could never hunt with, until he grew old and rotted where he sat.”

“Overall,” said Perseus after a brief silence. “That is not an edifying story.”

“I’m glad the chief got his comeuppance at least,” said Elizabeth. “Serves him right!”

“Hear hear!” said Bill.

“Let us not be too harsh in judgment,” said Martin. “He merely did what most of us do.”

“What do you mean?” asked Bill. “You’re not saying most men would feed their fiancée to a monster to get his hands on a lot of treasure.”

“After a fashion, yes,” he answered. “Most of us are all-too quick to sacrifice the real good at hand for the mere promise of a better one.”

“I don’t know,” said Newgate. “I’m more inclined to think men too ready to cling to goods that they know, even it means they and others must suffer for it. We are altogether far too conservative a species.”

“I quite agree with you, Colonel,” said Illingworth. “Surely obscurantism is the greater danger. A certain continuation of the evils of the past must be outweighed by the possibility of a better future.”

“But the evils of the past are known and we can, in a sense, manage them,” Perseus argued. “The potential evils of future novelties must be unknown and, for that reason, must be worse.”

“I think there’s something to be said for both sides,” said Elizabeth. “We can’t stop all progress, even at the cost of losing something we love, but then, we can’t simply throw everything onto the chopping block, or else what would be the point? The trouble is knowing where to draw the line.”

“I certainly hope we all agree that it is somewhere on this side of ‘feeding beautiful young ladies to monsters’,” said Perseus.

“Only beautiful ones?” asked Elizabeth. “What about the plain young ladies?”

He shrugged.

“As you say; we can’t stop all progress.”

She laughed, and so did Bill. Newgate, however, did not laugh. He was watching Perseus with a thoughtful expression.

After dinner he showed them their rooms. The trading post also functioned as an inn for the rare few visitors who came that way, and he had two small, but comfortable spare bedrooms made up. He insisted on giving up his own room for Elizabeth’s use and promised that he would be quite comfortable in his study, as he often slept there when he was obliged to work late.

Before they retired, however, he beckoned Elizabeth to join him on the now-empty veranda. She went willingly, not feeling the least bit sleepy. It was just after sunset, and the forest across the river was like a sharp black shadow against the pink sky, both doubled in the river. The rain had cleared and left the air cooler, and the insects sang from the shadows. Elizabeth once again felt a shiver of delight at the thought of where she was.

Then Newgate began without any preamble.

“Elizabeth, how much do you know of this man, Corbett?”

She looked at him in surprise.

“I’ve told you; he stayed with us for two years before the war.”

“Yes, I know that. Have you had any contact with him since?”

She flinched involuntarily at the reminder.

“No,” she said. “Not until a few weeks ago when we got this all together.”

“I was afraid of that,” he sighed. “Now listen; I am going say something that I know you are not going to like, but I owe it to you, and to the memory of your father. I know men like that; that sort of devil-may-care, vagabond type who travels the world doing this and that and never settling to any honest trade. You see them all the time around here, and there were more than a few the in the army. They’re devilishly charming and handy in a tight spot, but you cannot trust them. They always are after one thing and one thing only; money.”

Elizabeth looked at him in shock.

“Thank you for your concern,” she said slowly. “But you’re quite wrong about him. Perseus isn’t like that at all. He has knocked about the world a good deal, but he isn’t in it for money. Why, just to give you an idea what he’s like, he’s the boy I gave that Charles the First medal to, you remember? He still has it. You can’t tell me a mercenary personality wouldn’t have sold that thing long ago.”

“You’re sure he still has it, are you?” he said.

“I…yes, I’m quite sure. But besides that, he isn’t even charging us! Says he’ll take his salary upon delivery.”

“He is taking you into the jungle and not even asking to be paid?”

“Yes. So that shows, doesn’t it, that he’s acting in good faith. It isn’t the money he cares about; it’s the adventure.”

His face did not relax.

“Why would he need to make such a gesture of good faith?”

“Because we did, after all, only have his word for it. Like I told you, he happened to meet an old colonel from the empire days; Colonel Torres, I think it was, and learned about the Noite from him. So, to prove that he was telling the truth, he volunteered to defer payment until his story was verified.”

Newgate looked at her with something approaching pity.

“Elizabeth,” he said. “This station wasn’t started until after the empire.”

“Oh,” she said, taken a little off guard. “Then it must have been another site. What does it matter?”

“Didn’t you hear what I told you about the Noite, and the legends around it? The treasure house of the gods?”

She felt suddenly uncomfortable as she realized what he was getting at.

“You think that is what is after? But that’s just a legend, isn’t it?”

“All legends have a basis in truth,” he said. “In any case, I can much more readily believe him willing to go after a legendary treasure than I can believe a man like that would have such a disinterested love of science that he would propose and undertake a trip like this simply to discover a few new species of butterfly.”

“No, no,” said Elizabeth. She was beginning to feel faintly desperate as she realized the plausibility of his words and, what was worse, that she had no answer to them. “He…he said that he was only interested in an adventure; the chance to see one of the few unexplored places left on Earth.”

“Of course he would say that,” Newgate sighed. “Just the thing to get you hooked. Elizabeth, he is using you! Can’t you see that? He knows what kind of person you are, so he shows up with just the right story to peak your interest.”

“No, you don’t know him!” she said furiously. “He wouldn’t do that sort of thing. He…he can’t have changed that much.”

“How long has it been since you’ve seen him? Ten years? Fifteen?”

“Fourteen.”

“Fourteen years is a lifetime, especially for the kind of life you say he’s been leading,” he said. “Please, Elizabeth, you know I’m not trying to make you unhappy; I’m only trying to keep you safe. I know something of men like that, and I do not think you ought to go off into the jungle with him.”

Elizabeth was too sensible not to see the reasonableness of his request. It was all horribly plausible, and against it she only had her own knowledge of and affection for a man whom she had not seen in many years. But though her head told her that Newgate was perfectly right, her heart recoiled from the idea that she couldn’t trust Perseus.

“No,” she said. “I don’t care what you say, I know him. And Perseus would never lie to me. I’d swear to that.”  

“All right, all right,” sighed Newgate. “I won’t badger you. But please, Elizabeth, think hard about what you’re doing. This will be your last chance to turn back.”

“I most certainly will not turn back!” she said. She drew a deep breath, summoning all her self-control. “I know, Colonel, that you mean well, and thank you for you concern, but I…I know what I am doing.”

He shook his head.

“I hope so,” he said. “I really do.”

Elizabeth turned away from him. She felt something like hatred for Colonel Newgate; hatred of the fact that he had planted such seeds of doubt in her mind, which she could neither accept nor get rid of. She wanted badly to speak to Perseus, and she was just resolving to go seek him out when he stepped into the hall from the study.

“Elizabeth?” he said. “Can I speak with you a moment? In private?”

“Certainly,” she said, endeavoring to appear as herself. “I was just coming to see you myself.”

“I thought you might be,” he said.

They went into the store, which was closed up and deserted. Elizabeth waited for him to begin.

“I…I have something of a confession to make,” he said. “Which I probably ought to have made earlier, but I beg you to hear me out before you judge me.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. The suspicions so recently and unwilling sown in her mind sharpened. 

“It isn’t easy to have a private conversation in a country where the windows are always open,” he said with a grimace. “I heard what Colonel Newgate and you were saying.”

“Oh!” she said, coloring. “I’m sorry; I hope you didn’t take offense or…”

“No, no, nothing like that,” he said hastily. “Newgate’s an astute man, and he clearly cares for you. My confession is that he is…he is not entirely wrong.”

There was a heavy silence.

“What are you talking about?”

He reached into his shirt and drew out a leather bundle. He unwrapped it and handed her the torn notebook.

True Narrative of Certain Events in the Brazilian Jungle, by Robert Cooper,” she read aloud. “What is this?”

“An account of the Applegate expedition from 1910,” he answered. “Professor Applegate was a naturalist, much like Illingworth, and led a party to this region to study the Noite. They followed a native legend to a place they call the Forbidden Valley. The narrative breaks off before they describe what happened there, but Applegate and several others died, and the survivors considered what they found there to be so startling, so out of the ordinary that they kept it a secret from everyone, except for what is recorded in this book.”

She stared at him.

“Then…that is where you mean to go?”

He nodded.

“Where did you get this?”

“Off of a drunk old man I bumped into in Istanbul. Where he got it, I have no idea. He was being assaulted by a gang of toughs and Martin and I stepped in to try and help. The poor fellow was already done for – stabbed – but he lived long enough to give this to me in gratitude for the effort. I don’t suppose many people ever tried to help him. No longer after, on the way to England, a gentleman tried first to buy it off me, then to have it at gun point. I got the better of him, but from what he let slip I realized that there was some sort of gang after the book. I don’t know how they knew about it, or how they knew I had it, but they were clearly willing to do anything to get their hands on it. So I thought it best to keep its existence a secret and to not let our real destination be known, just in case they were on the lookout. I don’t mind being shot myself, but I hate having my friends shot at.”

She did not smile.

“Then, that story you told us, of the Brazilian colonel…”

“Was just a story,” he admitted. “I needed a plausible alternative that would take us in the same direction. But I tried to make it as true as possible; we are going to an undiscovered ecosystem off of the Noite. I only left out a few details about its nature and location. Probably would have been easier to convince Illingworth if I’d told him everything.”   

“In short,” she said slowly. “You lied to me.”

The words landed like blows.

“I am sorry,” he said. “When I decided on that story, I had no idea you were the one I would telling it to. And only did it to try to keep you safe.”

“You might have told me afterwards,” she said. “You could have trusted me to keep quiet about it, couldn’t you?”

“Oh!” he said. “I…yes, I could have. I…I am afraid I didn’t think of that.”

She looked from him to the book in her hands, then back to him. Her face was very red and her eyes were hard and angry.

“Tell me honestly,” she said. “Do you still have that medal?”

He opened his mouth to say ‘yes,’ but the word seemed to stick in his throat.

“It’s safe,” he said.

“What does that mean?”

“I…we spent the last money we had coming to London. I needed some to start putting this together, and I needed it quickly, owing to those people being after me…”

“You sold it.”

She said it in a quiet, almost a childlike voice. The realization of what he had done seemed to take everything from her.

“Pawned,” he said. “And I’m making him hold it for a year. It’s only temporary, and it’s as safe as can be. I swear to you, I will get it back…”

“What are you really after?” she snapped, cutting him off.

He blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t drag us all out here for a mere lark,” she said. “You expect to find something in that valley, don’t you? That’s why you’re so set on it, isn’t it?”

There was a commanding tone in her voice. It was the voice of one who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. The cheerful, exuberant girl had faded, and the feudal lady of the manor had risen to the surface.

“Yes,” he admitted. He pointed to the wall. “But whatever he says, I am not using you, and I never would!”

“No, you’re just using my money, aren’t you?” she spat. “Like you used my medal.”

“It isn’t like that!”

“Isn’t it?”

He looked at her.

“Do you really think it is?”

A kind of painful cramp was growing in her heart as she met his gaze.

“A few minutes ago, I swore that you would never lie to me,” she said. “Yet here we are. So I don’t know what to think.”  

They looked at each other for several minutes, both breathing rather hard.

“If you don’t think you can trust me,” he said. “Then it probably would be best if you were to return home. We are going to be going into very dangerous territory, and I would much prefer if you were not exposed to it.”

“First you lie to me, now you try to humiliate me,” she said. “Send me home to be jeered at for spending all this money and then running off when it gets difficult?”

Her vehemence took him off guard.

“I would rather have you embarrassed and safe than otherwise,” he said.

“I thank you for your concern,” she said. “Now are there any other lies you’d care to confess?”

He flinched.

“No,” he said. “But Elizabeth, you really ought to take Newgate’s advice and go home.”

“I appreciate that advice, Mr. Corbett,” she said. “And I thank you for at least telling me this now. I only wish that you had done so while there was still time for me to fire you!”

So saying, she turned and marched back into the house, slamming the door behind her. She fairly ran to her own room, threw herself down on the bed, and began to cry.

Chapter Four of ‘Perseus Corbett and the Forbidden Valley’

See Chapter One here, Chapter Two here, and Chapter Three here

Chapter Four
The Unexpected Outcome of a Museum Gala

“Well, we’ve gone and done it, young fellah my lad.”
-Lord John Roxton, The Lost World

On the following evening, Perseus found himself at the Natural History Museum, dressed in a rented suit and tails, with a ticket in hand that had cost almost as much, scanning the crowed of richly dressed guests the way a lion scans a herd of zebras, looking for that one who stands out as a viable target.

Martin had outdone himself. The gala was being held in honor of an expedition to Borneo that had returned in triumph with several new species of insects, reptiles, and birds, one of which – dubbed the silver eagle for its sticking feathers and nocturnal habits – had made rather a sensation. The reception was held in the central hall of the museum, with specimens from the expedition on triumphal display at temporary stands between the pillars of the gothic space (the live specimen of the silver eagle was perched in a large cage in the center of the hall, shooting warning looks at anyone who ventured too close). Virtually all the most important and influential zoological men of the Royal Academy and the major universities were there, along with their patrons, and all, no doubt, were eager for a ‘silver eagle’ of their own. Here if anywhere, he would find what he sought.

He got some champagne and, putting on his best winning manner, the one that he had used to flirt with tourists when he had worked on a riverboat, he selected the elderly Lord Fitzgibbons and his wife (Martin had provided him a list of notable people who would be present) and began making small talk. They were charmed, particularly Lady Fitzgibbon, and a few anecdotes and compliments were enough to establish a rapport.

But just as he was laying the foundations for his attack, there was a momentary lull in the chatter around him and a voice reached his ears from across the hall.

“Tell me, Lady Elizabeth, will you be making another donation to the museum this year?”

That name. Surely not…

In a flash, Perseus forgot everything and whipped around. His eyes found her at once, standing beside the diplodocus skeleton, not twenty feet away from him.

The same, and yet not the same. The skinny, rambunctious girl, all arms and legs, covered in freckles and insect bites, had become a tall, elegant woman; grace and refinement in every limb. The tangled red hair was now smooth and done up in a kind of crown, like a halo of flame. The dirty, torn frocks had been replaced by a green dress trimmed in gold which emphasized her fiery hair, as well as her firm and blooming figure. Her face was much as it had been, yet somehow more. Beautiful, certainly; it was a face made for the open air, for the adoring, obedient eyes of dogs and horses. An open, kind face that looked as though it would be quick to laughter.

But the eyes—the bright, hazel-green eyes, sparkling with life—those hadn’t changed.

Martin hadn’t said a word…perhaps she was a late addition to the guest list? Or had he deliberately kept quiet to ensure Perseus ran into her. He might have to have words with him later.

“I suspect I shall,” Elizabeth was saying without interest. “I always find human knowledge a good investment.”

“I just wondered,” said the other woman, whom Perseus had barely noticed. “As I’d heard you’d purchased yourself a new horse.”

“Apparently to my shame, I have money for both,” said Elizabeth, coloring slightly. “Horses needs homes just like anyone else.”

Perseus disengaged himself from his new acquaintances without noticing what he said and crossed the room.

“Of course,” said the other, making a note. She was evidently a reporter of some kind.

“Oh, bother, you’re going to make that sound horrible, aren’t you? ‘Lady Elizabeth says that she sees people on a level with horses.’”

“That is one possible interpretation of what you said,” the reporter replied with a smile like vinegar. “After all, I can’t help notice that your donations tend to be, how shall I put it? Abstract. Why not give to something more practical, if you really want to put your money to good use?”

“What would you suggest?” asked Elizabeth.

“Say, the League of Women voters? Or the Peace Pledge Union? Something for the immediate benefit of mankind.” 

“Personally,” said Perseus, sliding into the conversation. “I don’t think people are on a level with horses. I think, taking all in all, that horses are far preferable. Particularly compared with the League of Women Voters.”

Elizabeth laughed, looking at him with grateful surprise.

“And, who are you, sir?” asked the reporter.

“Only a barbarian from beyond the sea,” he said with a bow. “Now if you don’t mind, I should like to borrow Lady Elizabeth for a moment.”

Elizabeth nodded at the woman with elaborate politeness and allowed Perseus to draw her aside.

“Thank you for coming to my rescue,” she said. “I’d a hundred times prefer to be abducted by barbarians than preyed upon by reporters.”

“Does she do it so often?”

“Always,” said Elizabeth. “That’s Sarah Manning, society writer for the Guardian. Rather hot on the subject of the aristocracy and how it is ‘a parasitical tumor upon British society,’ I believe is how she put it. I suppose tomorrow I’ll receive a double-dose of venom for your gallantry, but at least I can enjoy the look on her face tonight, and so for that I thank you, Sir Barbarian.”

“My pleasure, your ladyship,” he answered with a bow.

“I didn’t catch your name,” she said. She tilted her head, scrutinizing him closely. “And…pardon me, but have we met before?”

“We have,” he said. “And I am glad to see that at least the sea monster hasn’t gotten you yet.”

Her hazel eyes widened and her jaw dropped. For a moment, all her good breeding and elegant habits were lost in astonishment.

“Perseus?” she said. “Perseus Corbett? I…my goodness, I wouldn’t have recognized you! You have…well, you’ve grown!”

“So have you,” he said. “I suppose it happens over fourteen years, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, yes it does,” she stammered, hardly thinking what she was saying. “But where on Earth have you been? The last I heard you’d gone off to sea.”

“You heard of that?” he said, surprised.

“Of course. I wrote to ask you to come for Christmas, but your mother said you’d gone.”

“Oh,” he said. He felt thrown by the news; it had never occurred to him that she would do such a thing. “I thought your mother didn’t like me.”

“She didn’t frightfully, but I talked her into it. I was so disappointed to find out you weren’t coming.”    

“I…I’m afraid I had to start earning my fortune,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” she said. She seemed suddenly embarrassed and dropped her eyes, fingering her dress. “I mean, of course I realize that now.”

As they spoke, he thought something else about her had changed. The quickness, the colt-like energy that had marked her every move and expression in the past was gone. She seemed…slower. Tireder. The spirited colt had been reined. 

There was a somewhat uncomfortable pause. The things he really wanted to say to her, the things he wanted to ask her, couldn’t be said. He was trying to get a surreptitious look at her left hand, but she was holding them so that he couldn’t see. They were rescued by Lord and Lady Fitzgibbon.

“Lady Elizabeth! Do you know Mr. Corbett?” his Lordship asked.

“Oh, yes, we go way back,” said Elizabeth.

“Old friends,” said Perseus, watching to see what effect that might have on her. She gave no sign of either approval or disapproval.

“I am surprised you never mentioned him!” said her Ladyship. “Such a charming man.”

Was it his imagination, or was there a twinkle in Lady Fitzgibbon’s eyes?

“It’s been some time since we’ve seen each other,” Elizabeth answered.

“That certainly explains your hasty departure, Mr. Corbett,” said his Lordship with a smile. “Say no more! We shall leave you to your bewitching companion.”

They bowed and drifted off.

“When did you become acquainted with them?” she asked

“About five minutes ago.”

“Quick work. You seem to have made your fortune after all, haven’t you?”

“Looks can be deceiving,” he said, glancing down at his suit. “As a matter of fact I’m here on business.”

“How tiresome,” she said. “But tell me, what sort of business is it that you do? Nothing in London, surely.”

“Not usually, no,” he said with a grin. “I have done…well, quite a lot. I was a sailor during the Great War, and a soldier in one or two little ones. I ran a tour boat on the Nile, I tried my hand at ranching for a bit, I’ve hunted and trekked through most of the odd places of the world, and now I’m dabbling in a bit of field science.”

“My goodness! Then you’ve actually done it, haven’t you?” she exclaimed. Her lovely hazel eyes were wide with wonder, and she looked at him the way a child looks at a particularly good magician. “I mean, all those things we talked about as children that we wanted to do.”

“I suppose I have,” he said. “But I’m sure you’ve done some as well, haven’t you?”

“No,” she said. “No, I’m afraid I’ve turned into quite the boring, stay at home sort; the most adventure I have is the occasional hunting trip or riding party. And never farther abroad than Ireland.”

“Really?” he said in genuine surprise. “Has something happened to Sangral?”

“Oh, no; it’s taking in quite as much money as ever, and I’ve made a bit of an investment or two that have paid off handsomely. It isn’t want of resources; more want of opportunity.”

“I see,” he said, though he didn’t. “And how is the old place?”

“Quite the same as ever,” she said. “Tredwell is still treading about, your uncle is still keeping the grounds lovely. Mother sits home in her conservatory most of the time. And…and I’m afraid Father died some years ago; just after the war, in fact.”

“Did he? I am very sorry to hear that,” said Perseus. “I always liked him.”

“Yes, it was rather horrible,” she said in a dull kind of voice that sounded jarring coming from her. “Especially coming just then when we were all thinking we’d gotten through it.”

“Was he ill?”

“No, it was a motorcar. Some drunken fool ran him down.”

She cleared her throat and rallied herself.

“But never mind that. No help for it. Anyway, I don’t suppose you want to waste time hearing all my dreary news. And most of it is dreary; as I say, I’ve turned out frightfully boring.”

“It can’t all be dreary,” he said. “Come now; no good news?”

He braced himself as she considered the question.

“Well, as you heard, I have some charming horses,” she said. “And I have had a bit of a lark funding expeditions to interesting places. I don’t go myself, but at least I hear amusing stories from the people do. As a matter of fact, I put a bit of money toward this trip, though don’t let Ms. Manning hear that; she did a piece last year on how I only do it to keep my name in the papers. As if I want people to write horrible things about me! But there I go being dreary again, and it’s really too dull for me to recite that sort of thing when I want to hear more about you. Oh! do you still have that medal I gave you?”

“Of course!” he said smiling to cover the stab of guilt in his stomach. “I keep it very safe.”

“That’s a relief! I was just thinking that, with your running all over the world, getting into adventures, and being in the war and all it was…not that I’m suggesting you would be reckless with it, just that it is very precious and all.”

“Quite, quite,” he said, hoping she would change the subject. At the same time he noted the nervous, embarrassed edge to the question, with her perceived need to apologize for asking. That again wasn’t like her. Yes, she was definitely less sure of herself than she had been. He wondered what had brought the change.

“So, what is this business you’re here about?” she asked after another somewhat embarrassed pause. 

“Oh, that,” he said. “That is…a little complicated.”

He really didn’t want to have to lie to Elizabeth of all people. Yet here was an opportunity that he could not possibly pass by. He made up his mind in an instant. 

“The long and short of it is,” he said, lowering his voice, “that I’m hoping to get a little expedition together to go take a look at a backwater of the Amazon. I’ve happened to hear rumors of there being unique species in that region. I was rather hopping to convince one of these scientists to take an interest in it.”  

“Oh, is that all!” she said. “Why the whispering, then? I might be able to help you there. I know most of these scientist fellows. And if you need money…”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that!” he said.

“Whyever not?” she said. “I told you, it’s practically a hobby of mine, and I’d just as soon fund something for you as for a stranger.”

“Well…” he said, hesitantly. “I certainly could use the help, I won’t deny; I haven’t been in England since the war.”

“Come along then; we’ll hash it all out,” she said. “But not here; don’t suppose you want to talk with all these people about.”

He shrugged, nodded, and allowed her to lead him away.

“Damn, there’s another reporter; we’ll go this way…”

After a few more turns and detours to avoid certain guests, she had led him out of the central hall and down the corridors. After checking one or two chambers and finding them occupied by other guests who had sought to escape the main party, she at last deposited him in the hall of reptiles beside a case of various snakes.

“Perfect,” she said. “Now wait here a moment; I think I know just the man you want to see…”

She disappeared, leaving Perseus to try to gather his scattered thoughts. A few minutes later, she returned trailing a thin, elderly man behind her.

“Professor Julius Illingworth, may I present my old friend, Mr. Perseus Corbett.

During one of his many adventures, Perseus Corbett had spent some time in a very old house in the southern United States. One room had held numerous taxidermized specimens of deer, bear, and other creatures, but the house had been abandoned for so long that they had dried out and begun to fall in upon themselves.

Professor Illingworth reminded him forcibly of one of those creatures.

He was tall and very thin, with sunken cheeks and grey hair that was rapidly losing its war with the inevitable. He had a drooping kind of mustache and deep-set grey eyes with heavy eyelids that made him look a bit like an old dog. His grey suit appeared a trifle too large for him, as though it had been tailored for him when he had been more filled out and healthy. But the gaze that met his was sharp and cunning, and Perseus guessed that, however desiccated the man may be, he had lost none of his wits. 

“How do you do, sir?” he said, offering a cadaverous hand as he surveyed Perseus with his cold blue eyes. Perseus could almost feel the old man’s gaze as it swept over his tan, his scars, and took the measure of his frame. “I understand that you have some sort of proposition.”

“I do, sir,” he answered. “I’m by way of being an amateur naturalist myself; knocked around the world quite a bit…”

“Have you?” Illingworth interrupted. “Then of course you would have no trouble recognizing that specimen?” He indicated one of the taxidermied snakes under the glass, putting his hand over the label.

“Naturally,” said Perseus smoothly. “Kanburi pit viper. Lovely creature, isn’t it?”

“Magnificent,” said Illingworth in a mechanical tone. “And are you familiar with its cousin, the Stejneger viper?”

“I have made its acquaintance, yes,” said Perseus. “Not quite so attractive as this fellow.”

“Not at all. And you must then have encountered the Carneddau viper in your travels?”

Perseus sensed the trap.

“I have not, I am afraid, nor have I read of that species,” he said. “Some new discovery of your own, perhaps? The name suggests a Welsh variant.”

Illingworth smiled, a thin smile that did not reach his eyes.

“It has been some years since I have been actively involved in field work,” he said. “There is no such creature, to the best of my knowledge. 

“Ah, I see,” said Perseus. “You were attempting to trip me up? To show me as a fraud and imposter?”

“It has been known to happen,” said Illingworth. “Particularly where…” he glanced at Elizabeth. “Money is concerned.”

“So it has. I could tell you a fair few stories from my travels.”

“I am sure you could,” said Illingworth in a dry tone. “Now, what is this proposal of yours?”

“As I was saying, I have been around the world quite a lot. I was in Portugal a short time back where I chanced to meet a retired fellow from the Brazilian army. Left when the empire was overthrown. Anyway, he had done a deal of work in the Amazon; helped get the telegraph started. Living out in the wilds, he got to know the locals quite well, and they told him tales of a certain tributary, way back in the beyond of beyond, supposedly the haunt of monsters. One day he got curious and paid some of the fellows to show him the way. Well, he told me, after a long journey, they started seeing queer things; things he hadn’t seen anywhere else in the jungle.”

“Such as what?” asked Illingworth.

“He had a bit of trouble describing them to me,” said Perseus. “He was a bit far gone, I’ll admit; stumbled a little in his words, but I gather there were great snakes and huge birds, like the moa, you know. And a variety of large mammalian life; like bears, he said.”

“In the jungle?”

“Quite, that is what I thought.”

“What was your friends’ name, may I ask?”

“He said that it was Colonel Torres,” said Perseus. “Though I confess, from things he let drop, I suspect that was an alias. He kept talking of enemies.”  

“This is all very entertaining,” said Illingworth, in a tone that suggested he had never been entertained in his life. “But I still do not grasp what you want from us?”

“I propose an expedition, sir, to travel up this river and document its wildlife.”

“In fact, you wish us to pay you to travel to the Amazon based on the word of a man you yourself describe as a paranoid drunkard, and who, for all I can see, may not even exist?”

“Not at all!” said Perseus. “I want you to send some of your own people to the Amazon, and I offer my services as a guide.”

“It comes to much the same thing, does it not?” asked Illingworth.

“Indeed,” said Perseus with a bow. “You are, professor, a very clever man, I can see. You’ve got me in a nice little corner here. How can I prove my good faith on such a matter? I have no references in this country, save Lady Elizabeth here, and while I’m sure no man could doubt her good will or good sense, what can she really tell you on this matter when this is the first she is hearing of it as well? If I were to summon my partner to vouch for my story, you would only say that he is as much a crook as myself. What, then, do you suggest I do?”

“What indeed?” asked Illingworth.   

“What are you going to do?” asked Elizabeth. She was watching him with keen interest; like a child watching for the magician to pull his trick.

“Nothing simpler,” he answered. “I will venture to forego all payment until the successful completion of the expedition. ‘Satisfaction guaranteed or services free’. How will that do?”  

Elizabeth’s face broke into a radiant grin that nearly upset Perseus’s air of nonchalance.

“That, I should say, will be most satisfactory,” she said. “You might have had a career in advertising.”

Illingworth, however, though he looked surprised, did not look satisfied.

“May I ask, sir, why this is so important to you?”

Perseus tore his eyes off of Elizabeth to look at Illingworth.

“An adventure,” he said. “I am not particularly concerned with money, you see, but I do like a good adventure. This seems a cracking good one: the chance to explore one of the remaining really unknown places on Earth, to see things that few if any men have ever seen before. That is worth more to me than any gold.”

Illingworth surveyed him with dry skepticism.

“That may be so, sir, but I must say that I see no practical benefit to the museum in this proposal.”        

“No benefit?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “A truly unexplored and undocumented ecosystem?”

“In the first place, I have heard nothing to convince me that such a place exists,” said Illingworth. “In the second, I am sure there are many such places in the world today, but an institution such as ours has better things to do with its time and money than go hauling around the world looking for them on bare and uncertain evidence. It would be a great expense with a very small likelihood of a reasonable return. Much as I care for the advancement of knowledge, the discovery of a few new species of butterfly or lizard or even bird would not significantly impact our reputation or income one way or another, despite what the papers may say.”

Elizabeth looked at him with something of expression she might have given if she had caught him burning the Union Jack. Then a mischievous glint came into her eyes, and she shrugged her slender shoulders.

“Oh, well,” she said. “I can certainly respect your feelings on the matter. We shall simply have to ask elsewhere.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Personally, I am convinced of Mr. Corbett’s sincerity and good intentions, and I, for one, mean to see to it that this river is found and documented. And so, if the Natural History Museum is not interested, I will have to go elsewhere.”

Illingworth’s cold, dry manner slipped a little.

“Lady Elizabeth, you surely are not going to waste your money on such a…” he glanced at Perseus. “Uncertain venture?”

“Why not?” she said. “It is my money, after all, despite what some people seem to think. And I don’t know that it is so uncertain. At any rate, I intend to fund this expedition as soon as I find a scientific organization that is more concerned with advancing human knowledge than advancing its reputation.”

Perseus had to bite his lip to hide his grin. He tried not to look at either of them for fear he would lose composure entirely.

“I…as to that…” Illingworth spluttered.

Perseus could almost hear the thought process going on in the old man’s head; Elizabeth was an important patron of the museum. Whatever the costs of the expedition, losing her backing would be worse.

“Not only do I intend to fund it,” she went on. “I intend to accompany it.”

Perseus’s amusement vanished.

“You what?” he said.

She beamed at him.

“Yes, I think, since I am making an investment, I ought to see what my investment will buy for once.”

“Well, yes,” he said. “But, you know, it’s going to be quite dangerous.”

“Of course I realize that.”

She didn’t, he could tell. No one ever really did until they were there. He hadn’t expected this. It was one thing risking himself in a quest for gold; risking Elizabeth was something else entirely. Especially when he had lied about what exactly they were looking for a and why he was going. He felt hot, prickling shame in his stomach and a sensation like coming fever at the back of his throat.

But it was too late now; if he admitted the truth, there would be the end of it.  

“Much as I would love to have you along,” he said. “I strongly, strongly advise against it. We are going to be travelling in very rough country, and there will be jaguars and venomous snakes and insects and disease and many of the tribes are very unfriendly to outsiders, and that isn’t even considering the hardships and lack of privacy and…”

He stopped. The more he spoke, the brighter her eyes became, and he realized he was only making her more determined. He sighed. There was nothing for it.

“But if you really are determined,” he said. “Then I suppose I can’t stop you.”

“No, you can’t,” she answered. “Now all we have to do is to find another museum to provide the necessary scientific…”

“Oh, very well,” said Illingworth. “If you really mean to insist upon this venture, then I shall at least see to it that some good comes of it.”

“You will back the expedition, then?”

“Yes, yes, I shall,” he sighed. “I don’t know what it will do to my reputation, but so be it. When do you propose we start?”

“The sooner the better, I should think,” said Elizabeth.

“Very well. I shall have my assistant begin work on an itinerary. Now, where is that boy? Bill!”

***

While all this was going on, Martin had waited in the eastern wing of the museum, watching the party from the shadow of the portico with keen eyes for any sign of trouble. Underneath his stoic exterior, he was really rather anxious; he didn’t like Perseus’s scheme very much, and had only agreed to it because he hadn’t been able to think of a better plan. But if he could not prevent it, the only thing to do was to be on hand to try to ensure it came off.

At the same time, he had had an impish curiosity to see what happened when Perseus met Lady Elizabeth at last, as well as to see her for himself (it was partly for that reason that he had neglected to inform Perseus that she would be there). For though Perseus had never spoken much about her, Martin knew enough to guess at what he hadn’t said. He observed their conversation closely, unable to hear, but exercising his keen eye to judge their manners. Once they had disappeared into the west wing, Martin withdrew into the quiet corridors to think and to consider what he had observed.

He rather liked what he saw of Lady Elizabeth. She was certainly a beautiful young woman, and what was rarer, she knew how to dress well. She appeared to have perfectly good manners, but without affectation. A thoroughly charming young lady, he concluded, though he detected an air of anxiety about her that he didn’t quite like. He would have to keep an eye on that. 

For all his sophistication, Martin Halritter really had a very simple soul. He was the quintessential servant; no talk of salary or communal service interested him, nor was he any company man, but personal loyalty to one man or one family was the prime mover of his soul. Many there are for whom it is so, and at that time they were already beginning to suffer from the want of such opportunity in a rapidly changing world.

Perseus Corbett was no gentleman, at least not yet, but Martin had seen in him qualities that he thought would make for true nobility. And so, he had attached himself to him. They spoke as equals, and Martin never used the word ‘Sir,’ yet in his mind he was a valet and Perseus was his gentleman. There was between them that deep, abiding love that is sometimes called friendship, other times simply loyalty, but stands in a class of its own; the peculiar love of servant and master that in some ways is akin to that of father and son, save that neither could say which was which.

As he strolled softly up the hall, he became aware of voices coming from the hall of fossils. Curious, he drifted nearer to try to catch what was heard. A combination of the training of a good servant and many years spent in dark and dangerous places had given him the power of moving quite silently when he wished, and he did so now, gliding down the hall to see what was afoot.

Peering around the corner of the entry way, he beheld two young people standing amid the looming skeletons of ancient monsters. One was a big, amiable-looking young man with a thin mustache, the other a slender girl with long dark hair and an attractive, clever kind of face.

“Bill, this is ridiculous,” the girl was saying.  

“No, but really Frances, I do love you…”

“Yes, yes, you have told me many times, but why you dragged me in here to tell me it over again…”

“Why? You think it’s odd that I should want to talk to you alone?”

“No, of course not,” she said. “But why here?”

“So your father shouldn’t catch us.”

“Do you think I would mind terribly if he did?”

“Perhaps not, but I would, seeing as he’s my employer. And how could I marry you without a job?”

“Honestly, Bill, I don’t know that having you constantly worrying about what my father will think is much improvement over a life in the poorhouse.”

“I don’t worry about what he thinks, but I do respect him and…”

“And you are terrified of the idea that he may sack you,” she said.

“I am not terrified!”

“Is that why you haven’t told him yet? Is that why we’re meeting here, in secret, away from everyone else?”

“No, I…well…”

He stumbled, fumbling for a way to deny the obvious. She sighed and shook her head.

“Bill, I do love you, but I don’t know that I can go on like this. You simply have to tell him and take what comes. It’ll do you good.”

“It’s likely to do me in,” he said.

The girl lost patience.

“Perhaps it will, but I don’t know that I care to marry a man who cannot even risk a harsh word from his employer.”

“But Frances, darling…”

“No, listen to me Bill,” she said, recovering her temper. “A comfortable home and a sure income are not all. I need to know that I can rely on you.”

“Surely my judicious caution proves that.”

“No, Bill; what you call ‘judicious caution’ only shows that you can’t stand unpleasantness. You always try to take the easy, safe way, and that makes me wonder whether you will be there for me if it ever becomes difficult. Do you see?” 

He swallowed.

“I…no, you’re perfectly right. I shall prove my courage.”

At this point, Martin heard the quick, soft steps an approaching servant and silently ducked into an alcove as a waiter strode past him into the hall.

“Mr. Little?” he said. “Professor Illingworth is calling for you.”

“Oh, yes; of course,” said Bill, hastily stepping away from Frances. “I-I shall be there directly.”

The waiter bowed and withdrew.

“Will you tell him now?” she asked.

“I…perhaps,” he said. “We’ll see what he wants first.”

He hesitated, then kissed her in a sudden burst of passion before dashing off. Frances stood stunned for a moment, then sighed, shook her head, and followed. Martin remained where he was, stroking his long chin thoughtfully.

Young people were really very silly.

***

“There you are!” Illingworth snapped as a big, round-shouldered boy with sandy brown hair appeared. “I would remind you that you are not here for your personal amusement; this is work.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bill. Perseus thought he gave the distinct impression of a dog. A big, friendly, likable kind of dog; say a Labrador or a retriever, but definitely a subservient character.

“I want you to begin work on an itinerary,” Illingworth ordered. “It seems that I shall going on expedition soon. You will prepare my schedule and be ready with my apologies once the dates are set.”

“Expedition, sir?” asked Bill.  

“Do you mean you’re coming yourself, Professor?” said Elizabeth in surprise.

“I do. Since I shall be taking full responsibility for this…endeavor, I shall at least go along to ensure the work is done properly.”

“Is that…wise, sir?” asked Bill. “At your time of life?”

“Thank you, Bill, but I assure I am quite fit,” said Illingworth sharply. “This will not be my first trip to the Amazon; I know perfectly well what to expect.”

He drew himself up and seemed to flicker momentarily to life, like a dying fire under the bellows.

“It will probably do me good,” he added. “I’ve been cooped up in that drafty office for too long.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bill.

“What is going on?”

A girl joined them. She was short and slender, with long dark hair and wonderfully formed hands. Her pale skin was appealingly contrasted by her black dress.

“Your father is going on expedition to the Amazon, Frances,” said Bill.

“You are?” she said in evident surprise.

“Yes, and don’t you start about my age,” Illingworth said, though in a different and much gentler tone than he had used with Bill.

“I wasn’t about to,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful! It’s been ages since you’ve gotten out and done any real work.”

She glanced at Bill, who colored a little.

“Ah, before we go any further, sir,” he said, clearing his throat. “There is something I…that is to say…”

“Well, what is it?” Illingworth snapped. “Out with it man! There’s work to be done.”

“Only…”

Bill glanced at Frances, then squared his shoulders.

“Only that I should very much like to join you, sir.”

Perseus saw Frances’ face fall from controlled excitement to open disgust. Illingworth, however, merely frowned.

“Would you?” he said. “Have you any experience with field work?”

“No, sir,” he admitted. “But that is just why I would like to come. It would be a boon to my career to be able to say I accompanied you on one of your trips, and I’m sure I would learn more in a few weeks in the field than I would in years in the classroom.”

“That’s true enough,” said Illingworth. “Well, then, you shall come. But I expect no complaints and no shirking of your duties.”

“No, sir. Also, I would like to marry your daughter.”

“You WHAT?!” Illingworth exploded.

“Quick; come away and let’s start planning,” said Elizabeth, seizing Perseus’s hand and dragging him out of the hall. Her face suggested she was holding in her laughter with difficulty and wanted to escape before it broke free Illingworth’s shouts followed them, echoing through the stone halls. Indeed, as soon as they regained the main hall, she burst into quiet, but heartfelt peals of merriment.

“Poor Frances!” she laughed. “What a way to have it come out! But at least now they can get on with it; the silly ass has been wanting to marry her for years.”

Perseus affected to laugh as well. The genuine amusement he felt at the boy’s clumsy proposal at least helped to cover his discomfort.

“Elizabeth,” he said. “About this expedition. Are you going to insist on coming? I’ve been on trips like these before, you know; it’s very different from reading about them. And I…the last thing I’d want is for anything to happen to you.”

“Thank you,” she said. “That is very sweet of you, and gratifying. And I know it will be terribly dangerous and hard and I’m sure I’ll probably to look back more than once and think what a perfect idiot I was to insist on coming. But then, I’m also certain that if I don’t go, I will always look back and wish that I had. It’s not fair that you should have all the adventures, you know; I’d like at least one.”

“As you like,” he sighed. “And I can’t deny that it will be pleasant to have you along for once.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Partners?”

She held out a hand. He swallowed and took it.

“Partners.”