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“And you’re quite certain it’s Anthropophagi?”
“Without a doubt. There’s one hanging in my basement if you’d care to-”
At that moment Constable Morgan appeared in the library doorway, his round eyes narrowed suspiciously behind his spectacles. Kearns spied him over the doctor’s shoulder, and his cherubic countenance lit up. His teeth were astonishingly bright and straight for an Englishman’s.
“Ah, Robert, good,” said Warthrop. He appeared somewhat relieved, as if the constable’s appearance had freed him from an intolerable burden. “Constable Morgan, this is Dr.-”
“Cory,” said Kearns, extending his hand forcibly at Morgan. “Richard Cory. How do you do?”
“Not well,” answered the constable. “It has been a very long day, Dr. Cory.”
“Please: ‘Richard.’ ‘Doctor’ is more or less an honorary title.”
“Oh?” Morgan tilted back his chin; his spectacles flashed. “Warthrop informed me you were a surgeon.”
“Oh, I dabbled in my youth. More of a hobby now than anything else. I haven’t sliced anyone open in years.”
“Is that so?” inquired the constable courteously. “And why is that?”
“Got boring after a bit, to tell you the truth. I am easily bored, Constable, which is the chief reason I dropped everything to answer Pellinore’s kind invitation. Bloody good sport, this business.”
“It is bloody,” rejoined Morgan. “But I would hardly call it sport.”
“I’ll admit it isn’t cricket or squash, but it’s far superior to hunting fox or quail. Pales in comparison, Morgan!”
He turned to the doctor. “My driver is waiting at the curb. The fare needs settling up, and I’ve some baggage, of course.”
It took a moment for Warthrop to grasp his meaning. “You intend to stay here?”
“I thought it the most prudent course. The less I’m seen about town the better, yes?”
“Yes,” agreed the doctor after a pause. “Of course. Here, Will Henry.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. “ Pay Dr. Kear-Cory’s-”
“Richard’s,” interjected Kearns.
“-driver,” completed Warthrop. “And take his luggage up to the extra room.”
“Extra room, sir?”
“My mother’s old room.”
“Why, Pellinore, I’m honored,” said Kearns.
“Snap to, Will Henry. We’ll have a late night of it, and we’ll be wanting some tea and something to eat.”
Kearns pulled off his gloves, shrugged off his cape, and dropped them and his hat into my arms.
“There are two valises, three crates, and one large wooden box, Master Henry,” he informed me. “The valises you can manage. The box and trunks you can’t, but the driver may lend a hand if you provide the proper incentive. I would suggest you carry the crates around to the carriage house. The suitcases and the box must go to my room. Be careful with my box; the contents are quite fragile. And a spot of tea sounds spectacularly satisfying. Do you know they had none on the train? America is still an astonishingly uncivilized country. I take mine with cream and two sugars, Master Henry; that’s a good lad.”
He winked and ruffled my hair, clapped his hands together, and said, “Now, then, gentlemen, shall we get to work? It may have been a long day, Robert, but the night will be longer, I assure you!”
The men retired to the library while I and the driver, once his palm had been properly greased, set to unloading our guest’s baggage. The aforementioned wooden box proved to be the most cumbersome item. Though not as heavy as the large crates we carted to the carriage house, the box was at least six feet long and wrapped in a slick silky material that made a good grip difficult. Negotiating the turn of the stairs presented a particular problem, in the end accomplished by easing the box on its end and pivoting it around the corner. The driver cursed and swore and sweated profusely, complaining during the entire enterprise of his back, his hands, his legs, and the fact that he was no beast of burden-he was a driver of them. We both felt cutouts in the wood beneath the silky wrapping that would have made excellent handholds, and he wondered aloud why anyone would bother to wrap a wooden box in bedsheets.
Next I went to the kitchen for the tea and cakes, and at last to the library bearing the tray. As I entered, I realized I had set out only three cups; I would have to go back for another; and then I saw that O’Brien was gone, sent home, perhaps, by Morgan, who may have wanted as few witnesses as possible to the budding of their nascent conspiracy.
The men were leaning over the worktable, considering the marked-up map as Warthrop pointed to a spot of coastline.
“This marks where the Feronia went aground. Impossible to say, of course, the precise location where they came ashore, but here”-he picked up the newspaper from the top of the stack-“is a notice of a missing boy who the authorities believed ran off to sea, two weeks later and twenty miles inland. Each circle, here, here, here,” he said as he jabbed each spot, “et cetera, represents a potential victim, most of whom were reported missing or were discovered several days or weeks later, their injuries attributed to the foraging of wild animals. I’ve noted the corresponding dates in each of the circles. As you can see, gentlemen, while we cannot attribute every instance to the feeding activities of our uninvited guests, the record indicates a cone of distribution, a gradual migration that leads here, to New Jerusalem.”
Neither in his audience spoke. Morgan sucked on his pipe, long since gone out, and regarded the map through the lower quadrant of his pince-nez. Kearns gave a noncommittal grunt and smoothed his nearly invisible mustache with his thumb and forefinger. Warthrop went on, speaking in that same dry lecturing tone to which I had so often been subjected. He realized it was unlikely that this twenty-four-year migration had occurred without someone discovering the cause of these mysterious disappearances and deaths, but, as there could be no other reasonable explanation, it must have happened that way.
At this point Kearns interrupted, “I can think of another.”
Warthrop looked up from the map. “Another what?”
“I would love to hear it,” said the doctor, though it was clear he would not.
“Forgive my cheekiness, Pellinore, but your theory is nonsense. Completely ridiculous, absurdly convoluted, unreasonably complicated balderdash. Our poppies no more traveled here on foot than I did.”
“And what is your theory? They took a train?”
“I took the train, Pellinore. Their mode of transit was undoubtedly a bit more private.”
“I don’t understand,” said Morgan.
“It’s perfectly obvious, Constable,” Kearns said with a chuckle. “A child could see it. I wager Will does. What do you say, Will? What is your answer to our devilish riddle?”
“My-my answer, sir?”
“You’re a bright boy; you must be for Warthrop to employ you as his assistant-apprentice. What is your theory of the case?”
With the tips of my ears burning I said, “Well, sir, I think…” All three had turned to stare at me. I swallowed and plunged on. “They’re here, obviously, and they must have gotten here somehow, which means they either got here on their own with no one knowing or… or…”
“Yes, very good. Go on, Will Henry. Or-what?” asked Kearns.
“Or someone did know.” I looked to the floor. The doctor’s glare was particularly discomforting.
“Precisely.” Kearns nodded. “And that someone knew because he arranged their passage, from Africa to New England.”
“What are you suggesting, Kearns?” demanded Warthrop, forgetting himself as the course of the conversation veered toward treacherous waters.
“ Kearns?” asked Morgan. “I thought his name was Cory.”
“ Kearns is my middle name,” offered the retired surgeon smoothly. “From the maternal side of the family.”
“It’s as absurd as you claim my theory to be,” insisted Warthrop. “To suggest that someone brought them here, with no one being the wiser for it, housed somehow and fed… how? And by whom?”
“Again, my dear Warthrop, questions the answers to which are obvious. Don’t you agree, Will Henry? So obvious it’s comical. I understand your myopia in the matter, Pellinore. It must be quite painful for you to accept, so you have worried and twisted the facts, chewed and gnawed upon the evidence, until up is down, black is white, square is round.”
“You offend me, John,” growled Warthrop.
“John? But your given name is Richard,” objected Morgan.
“A nickname, after John Brown, the agitator. My mother was an American, you see, and quite the abolitionist.”
“I am a scientist,” insisted Warthrop. “I go where the facts lead me.”
“Until your heartstrings tug you back. Come now, Pellinore, do you honestly believe in this claptrap theory of yours? They wander ashore, undetected, and for the next twenty-four years manage to feed off the local populace and make little Anthro-poppies, leaving behind no direct evidence, no survivors, no eyewitnesses, until they miraculously arrive at the doorstep of the very person who requested the pleasure of their company? You’re like the priests in the temple: You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
“It’s possible; the facts do fit,” insisted the doctor.
“Adaptation, natural selection, and some luck, I’ll admit that. It’s conceivable-”
“Oh, Pellinore,” said Kearns. “Really. It’s conceivable the moon is made of blue cheese.”
“I can’t conceive of that,” Morgan argued.
“You can’t prove it isn’t,” retorted Kearns. He laid a hand on the doctor’s shoulder, a hand the doctor promptly shrugged off. “When did he die? Four, five years ago? Look at your circles there. You drew them yourself; look at them, Pellinore! Look at the dates. See how they cluster there and there? See the gap in time between this circle twelve miles away and this one but a half mile from the cemetery? These here, within this ten-mile radius, beginning in late ’83 to the present-these represent true attacks, perhaps; the rest is wishful thinking. They were pulled off that ship, transported here, and kept safe and sound until their keeper could no longer provide them their victuals.”
Warthrop slapped him hard across the cheek. The sound of flesh striking flesh was very loud, and no one spoke for a long moment. Kearns ’s expression hardly changed; he wore the same small, ironic smile he had worn from the moment he’d stepped inside 425 Harrington Lane. Morgan busied himself with his pipe. I fiddled with a teacup. The tea had long since gone cold.
“It’s right before your eyes,” said Kearns softly. “If you would but open them.”
“This John Richard Kearns Cory does have a point, Pellinore,” Morgan said.