Narrative 38 - Datura

(The narrative which forms the greater part of "Datura," as it falls within the chronology of Letters so far, is a flashback. The action of this narrative takes place in January 1903, beginning one day after events mentioned in Letter 26 - Theories and Things Overheard and finishing roughly a week prior to Letter 27 - Dissociation. The reader may therefore wish to review Letter 26 before continuing with "Datura," and possibly review Letter 27 directly after finishing, to better orient him or herself within the time frame that the action occurs.)

Mr. William Morgan
25 Victoria Street

9 January 1903

Dear Sir,

I am required outside of London on a matter of personal importance. I depart immediately, and may be absent for the better part of a week. I shall report my return as soon I am again in the city, and hope you will not have need of me in the interim.

With respect,


* * *

Really, it was almost insulting how overqualified he was for the task. Not that this was about ego, or anything of the sort. But, if it had not been … Maisie's particular chum who was in danger, Peter Bristow would simply have wired a tip to the Préfecture de Police and been done with it. As it was, he had made immediate arrangements for a brief visit to Paris. The journey by train had gone much too slowly, but he had occupied himself by outlining his strategy in detail. Now, watching the lights of Calais draw closer from the deck of the Pride of Canterbury, he couldn't help himself thinking of Maisie, and what she would suffer if Hill went the way of Davies, of Blackstone ... of Collins. There were many more, of course, but he tried not to think about the ones whose names he did know, let alone the countless, faceless others. This was hardly the time to let himself become distracted, but the words he had exchanged with Hill yesterday afternoon had drained him of the usual drive that enabled him to do his work. He had been harsh with Maisie, but she would thank him for it if she knew his motives. He could not afford to become more attached to any of them--he had to distance himself as much as possible. It was clear to him that this was the most noble course, though Hill refused to see it. Stuart Hill, in his supreme selfishness, wanted it all, and Peter could not like him for it. Upon disembarking at Calais, Peter resolved to think no more of matters at home, and immediately began making the necessary inquiries regarding his quarry.

* * *

The sun was setting over the tops of the buildings lining the cobbled street as Peter emerged from Pigalle Station and headed east along Boulevard de Rochechouart at a brisk pace. It had not been particularly troublesome to trace Shapcott to this less-than-reputable neighbourhood. The man was a foreigner here, striking in both accent and aspect--despite the fact that he had apparently altered his usual appearance by the removal of his customary beard--and seemed to have little wish to go unremarked through the streets of Paris. Of course, Shapcott would not have expected that anyone had reason to pay attention to his movements. As it was, Peter thought wryly that the man might as well have left a trail of bread crumbs. He had tracked Shapcott from Calais with relative ease, learnt this morning that the man had made inquiries as to rooms for rent in the neighbourhood of La Chapelle, and had obtained a most disturbing affirmation of Miss Westley's abduction only this afternoon, when a tiny French woman peddling flowers on Place Louis Lépine had remarked upon the unusual circumstance of an Englishwoman stealing a bouquet of irises. As the flower seller's tale had also included the description of the young woman's accomplice, an older Englishman, and as Peter had found the pillaged flowers abandoned in a narrow alley not far from the market, there was little doubt as to the identities of the presumed thieves. Nevertheless, he had been one step behind Shapcott from the beginning, and had not closed that distance as of yet. It was essential, of course, that he head the man off. The only item of comparable importance was his personal conviction that he must not be seen. Adeline must not suspect. It would not do for him to further encourage an interest he had no intention of returning, particularly in light of the fact that he had purposely allowed Maisie to misinterpret many of his own actions as a manifestation of returned interest. That damage had been unavoidable, under the circumstances, but he would not wrong Miss Westley further if he could help it.

The area was rife with maisons d’abattage, but it was not difficult to locate the particular hotel he sought. As he executed a brief but thorough search of each side street, he could not but notice that one portion of Rue de la Charbonniere was conspicuously empty, while crowds of men pressed in on the others. He wondered at the proprietor's choice to let a room here--surely Shapcott would have had to pay at least as much as could have been earned by the unfortunate girl who would have serviced a good one hundred men that night. But Shapcott had ever been an enigma to Peter. If he wished to spend his curious wealth on a squalid room in La Chapelle, when he could likely have procured more comfortable lodgings elsewhere for the same sum, what was it to Peter? And yet he could not think it less than remarkable as he approached the battered door. Not having an exact idea of how much time may have passed since Miss Westley had been imprisoned in the room, Peter was nevertheless painfully aware that the interval may have afforded Shapcott more time alone with her than was conscionable. Removing his hat and pressing his ear to the cracked red paint covering the surface of the door, he strained to hear past the surrounding murmur of waiting clients. He could discern movement within--the dull thump and shuffle of boots on a wooden floor, the clank of glass bottles, and then the great thud and creak that seemed to announce a body settling onto a piece of wooden furniture. Had the man failed at his attempt? Was Shapcott alone, and disappointed? But, no--another sound seemed to rise out of the chaotic noise of the street to contradict any such happy theory--a muffled, piteous cry that sent an involuntary chill through Peter's body. He was too late, then. Not too late to remove Miss Westley from Shapcott's power, not too late to return her to her uncle ... but too late to prevent the damage that had surely already been inflicted upon her. He could not imagine Shapcott securing his prize only to shut her away in favor of a drink, or a kip. Not before making her his own. He had not been swift enough. The realisation of what his inadequacy had cost Adeline seemed to settle into his chest and shoulders like a great weight, and a full minute had passed away before he was able to shake himself out of the unpleasant reverie inspired by the discovery. When he had recovered himself he was mildly surprised to realise he was sagging against the door for support, and he strove to regain his former composure. It would not do to fall apart now. He needed to focus, assess the situation. All had gone quiet within the room. Replacing his hat and tipping it as far down over his eyes as it would go, Peter slipped silently inside and closed the door behind him.

Peter could not discern much in the cramped space, lit only by a pair of candles on a garishly painted wooden table. He immediately noted Miss Westley's absence, however, and the presence of a second door which must open to an inner room, from which direction he could now perceive the continued cries, softer than before although he had drawn closer to their source. The object of his hunt was sprawled across the only other piece of furniture in the room, a painted wooden bench in rather worse shape than the table. Clarence Shapcott lay before him--insensible, vulnerable. It would seem the man had celebrated his conquest with more whiskey than was compatible with consciousness. A heady wave of hatred flooded Peter's senses, and he felt as if every nerve in his body was vibrating as he stood over Shapcott, breathing hard. He wanted to annihilate the man. He wanted to pummel that newly shaven face until it was unrecognizable, to shatter every joint and snap every bone in the man's body. Why could not he have faced an alert Shapcott, who would surely have offered the resistance necessary to justify these actions? Peter endeavored to smooth the angry frown that distorted his features as he struggled for self-control, closing his eyes and drawing a slow, deep breath. He must not indulge his loathing at the expense of the mission. None of the violence he felt so eager to engage in would serve to lessen Miss Westley's suffering. He told himself this, and he almost believed it. At length he removed a dirty coil of rope from his coat pocket and tied Shapcott securely to the bench. This work done, he glanced at the inner door. He realized that the cries had ceased, and all was stillness. She had fallen asleep, then, and he would go--he would go and procure a hero for her. He turned his back on the door resolutely, but did not move to leave. Something held him in the room, and he realised after a moment that it was an effect of his training, which had made it habit to apply thoroughness to every situation and circumstance. The motivation for his mission--the girl he had assigned himself to protect--was very likely injured, possibly in need of medical care to preserve her life. It would be foolishness to leave this up to chance, however imperative it was that he not be seen or connected to this crime in any way. It would be imprudent to take his leave without first satisfying himself that she breathed and was not too grievously injured. The idea was at once both repulsive and attractive. He did not wish to behold the results of Shapcott's abominable predations. But, again, he was almost wild with desire to ensure that his actions had not been in vain. The internal struggle was brief, however, and once he had granted himself permission to proceed, he advanced towards the inner door without delay, and let himself inside. He was immediately gripped with a certain horror at the complete silence which reigned, and the utter stillness of the figure curled up on the floor at his feet, her disarrayed curls covering her face. He dropped to the floor at her side and found intense relief upon discovering the strong pulse of blood at her wrist. Even amidst his terror, however, he had not been insensible to the effect of her physical nearness. How long had it been since he had shared a common space with Adeline Westley? He had not forgotten her charms, of course, but his memory had not done her justice. He gently brushed the dark curls from her cheek and drew breath sharply at sight of the deep purple bruise that marred her jawline. Her breathing was slow and even, however, and he could not discern any greater injury upon rudimentary inspection. Gathering her slight form into his arms, he placed her gently on the disturbed bedclothes of the singular piece of furniture in the room, trying not to dwell upon the scene that must have taken place there. He realized that his hands were clenched into fists, and willed them to relax. Now he could go without worry or reservation--she could easily rest here for the brief period of time it would require for him to find a suitable rescuer. But he did not wish to leave her. Surely, it had been at least a year since last he had seen her. Yet here she was, lovely despite her recent trauma--as soft and beautiful and delicate as a night-blooming flower. He could not recall how many nights he had paced the Botanic Gardens at Oxford, and found in the exotic blooms some semblance of the pleasure he knew in her presence. He had never beheld a blossom to equal her, but had come to value the exotic fragrance as a connection to her, however frail and fleeting. The sounds of fervored movement in an adjacent room brought him back to himself, and he was immediately ashamed of the time he had wasted in selfish indulgence. He turned and exited the rooms, pausing only to note that Shapcott remained senseless before emerging onto the street.

It remained only to select the man who would convey Miss Westley to her uncle, and Peter settled upon a small fellow loitering at the opening of the street who looked to be waiting for a friend, or perhaps regretting a lack of funds which prevented him from partaking in the pleasures of the evening. Peter had been careful to dress so plainly as not to occasion notice in Paris, the most remarkable item of his apparel being his hat, and now affected a rather good approximation of an American speaking French as he greeted the little man. He offered a significant sum to the man, pointing out the door to Shapcott's room and explaining that the man need only transport the girl he would find inside to an estate in Le Marais where he would then receive several times over what he was now being given. Upon receiving the necessary details from his benefactor, the Frenchman, who it transpired was called Molyneux, was only too eager to take the roll of notes and hurry in the direction Peter indicated. Peter put great trust in greed as a motivation--he had too often seen its influence to doubt its power--but nevertheless followed Molyneux's movements at some distance to satisfy himself that the man's lust did not exceed his avarice. He had no sooner placed himself in a position so as to witness Miss Westley's delivery at her uncle's door, than she had disappeared inside, and it was time for him to be gone. He had not gained as much satisfaction from the operation as might be hoped, but he had done what he could--or must persuade himself that it was so. The route that had seemed so endless as he moved toward Paris now passed with unaccountable speed as he traversed it in the opposite direction, and as his journey to London neared its close he began to consider what repercussions he might face in the mews over his sudden and unexplained absence. It was not a pleasant line of thought, and was followed shortly by the conviction that it was past time for him to make his residence in Victoria Street a permanent one.


Cathy said...

wow! never saw that coming

Jen said...

Ah, that nicely fills the plot hole ;)

Cheryl said...

Perfect! I love Peter. Sigh...

Now all that needs to be explained is Stuart and his crazy antics! What is he up to? And why???