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By Duncan Johnson
'But the privilege and pleasure
That we treasure beyond measure
Is to run on little errands for the Ministers of State'
The Gondoliers, Gilbert and Sullivan
From the letters of Inspector Thomas Lovegrove to his sister
20th November 1900
I trust you are well and that little Simon is behaving himself. Do write and tell me how his studies are progressing.
I have just retired for the evening in this wretched town. I am lodged above the public house, which is just down the road from the police station, and I have to say the food is terrible. How I miss your home cooking.
As you may recall from my last letter, I have little regard for this assignment that calls me from my more comfortable rooms in London. The death of Sir Rupert Percival seems to me to be unambiguous, but the Percivals, I regret to say, wield some influence with the chief constable and thus I find myself dispatched to investigate a case with no mystery at all.
Yes, June, I know what you will say. It is no one's fault but my own for speaking my mind during that despicable affair six months ago. However, you know very well that I have never been one to keep quiet when I see an injustice being perpetrated.
Despite my misgivings, though, the day has not been completely wasted. Let me tell you about the Doctor.
* * *
He was at the station when my train pulled in a good half-hour late, I might add and I cannot shake the feeling that he was waiting for me. I confess, I found myself drawn to him despite myself. He was carelessly sprawled across a bench and reading a newspaper. His long brown hair blew wildly in the breeze. He was dressed in the attire of a gentleman, with a bottle-green velvet coat, waistcoat and silk cravat, but it all seemed to have been thrown on haphazardly and without proper care and attention. The impression he gave was of a man, formerly of property, but now down on his luck. A gambler, I suspected.
'Sometimes,' he announced suddenly. With hindsight I can see that he must have been commenting on an article in his newspaper, but at the time I truly believed that he had read my mind.
He grinned at me, a toothy smile that lit up his face and filled me with warmth despite the chill. He had a penetrating gaze that focussed on me alone. It was as if everyone around us has ceased to exist. He tucked his folded newspaper under one arm and extended his hand towards me.
'Good afternoon, Inspector,' he said in a gently lilting accent.
I let him take my hand and he pumped it vigorously.
'How did you know I was ' I began.
'An inspector?' he responded. 'Lucky guess. You were either a policeman or a journalist. No one else would feel they had the right to be so brazenly nosy. Well, almost no one else.'
He seemed to be studying me, watching for my reaction. I reassessed my opinion of him. If he was the victim of hard times it was through no fault of his own. The man's mind was sharp as the late autumn wind that howled around us. Nonetheless, his arrogance was beginning to grate.
'And who might you be, sir?' I asked.
'Oh, no one of importance,' he flashed an infuriatingly enigmatic smile. 'Just a traveller. An enquirer into the world's mysteries much like yourself. As for my name well I've been known by several, but I think my favourite is the Doctor. I take it that you will be staying in town?'
'Not that it's any of your business, Doctor, but yes I will,' I replied.
'Excellent.' The odd man clapped his hands together with glee. 'Then may I suggest we share a carriage. Unless of course you would prefer to walk?'
As you know, I usually prefer to travel alone, but, despite the man's abrasiveness, I found him fascinating and resolved to learn as much about him as I could.
'So, what brings you to Whitby, Doctor?' I asked once the carriage was in motion.
Evening was drawing in and the interior of the carriage was dark, but the Doctor's eyes seemed to sparkle with a light of their own as he turned to me. 'Curiosity,' he said. 'And I have some time on my hands. Quite ironic that, really.'
'Yes, quite,' I said, not really understanding the remark.
'I'm supposed to be attending a friend's funeral,' the Doctor continued, 'but I've managed to get the dates wrong.'
'You missed it,' I deduced. 'My condolences.'
'Oh no, not at all,' the Doctor said, waving his arms as if to ward off my suggestion. 'Quite the opposite in fact. I arrived too early. Most embarrassing.'
We continued in silence for a few minutes and I turned to watch the countryside rolling by.
'You are here to investigate the death of Sir Rupert Percival, aren't you, Inspector?' The Doctor's voice made me jump out of my skin and it took a moment for his words to sink in.
'And just how do you deduce that?' I replied defensively.
'Oh, come now, Inspector,' the Doctor said. 'There can't be that many mysteries in a place like Whitby, certainly few that would merit the attention of an Inspector from the City of London.'
'I might just be here for a holiday,' I responded, though the excuse was not convincing even to my ears.
The Doctor obviously sensed this and smiled again. 'No, I don't think so,' he said. 'So, fell, jumped or pushed?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'It's really quite simple, Inspector,' the Doctor said impatiently. 'Was Sir Rupert's death accident, suicide or murder?'
'Murder?' I laughed. 'Really, Doctor. Surely you don't think '
'Yes?' the Doctor prompted.
'Well, I don't see the need to attach any sinister motive to the man's demise,' I said. 'There are far simpler explanations.'
'And the simplest solution is always the correct one.' The Doctor grinned and I got the distinct impression that he was mocking me. 'My dear Inspector, what a charmingly insular world you live in.'
I was about to fire off a retort when the Doctor changed the subject again.
'So you think it was suicide then?'
'It's possible,' I confessed. 'Who knows what occupies a man's mind, but by all accounts Sir Rupert had a happy and untroubled home life. He did not gamble, did not drink to excess or cheat on his wife. A model citizen in all respects.'
'And yet you do not like the man,' the Doctor commented.
I turned away from the Doctor to look out of the carriage window again. 'It's not the man I object to,' I explained, 'but what he stands for. The upper classes. Why should men, through sheer accident of birth, be any better than other men? I tell you, Doctor, sometime soon, the working-man is going to rise up and topple the aristocracy, you mark my words.' It could not come too soon for me. You would think that an organisation such as the police force would judge a man on his merits, but I have already been passed over for promotion three times by men whose only superior aspect was their social status.
It suddenly occurred to me that, as a gentleman himself, the Doctor might be offended by my remarks so I hastily added, 'Present company excepted, of course.'
If the Doctor was insulted he did not show it. 'Dictatorship of the proletariat,' he mused. 'I am afraid you are about two decades too early, my friend.
'So, poor Sir Rupert stumbled off the cliffs in the dark,' the Doctor continued, breaking out of his reverie.
'That is my belief,' I agreed. 'Man probably had too much to drink and lost his footing while out for an evening's stroll.'
'But if that is what happened then why are you here?' the Doctor asked, jabbing the air with a slender finger. The Doctor had what you would describe as pianist's hands. 'Let me guess, you superiors are not satisfied.'
'Actually, it's the widow who is not satisfied, Doctor,' I explained. 'My superiors only sent me to placate her.'
'My sympathies,' the Doctor offered.
The carriage had stopped outside the pub and the Doctor helped me get my luggage down. He had no bags of his own.
'Still, since we are here we might as well investigate,' the Doctor said. 'After all, you never know ' He looked up at the building. 'You will be staying here, I take it.'
'Good, good. I'll meet you here at eight o'clock and we can commence our enquiries.' He spun on his heel and started striding down the street. 'Eight o'clock sharp,' he called back. 'Don't be late, Inspector Lovegrove.'
It was only when I got to my room that I realised that I had never told him my name.
* * *
From the journal of Mrs Mina Harker
I often wish I could look on Whitby without the site being tainted by sadness. I remember thinking what a lovely place this was once with its pretty red-roofed houses and the beautiful ruins of the abbey watching over them from above. It is, in truth, still a lovely place, but I can only appreciate it in the abstract for it no longer stirs my heart with joy and wonder and romance. Now all this place means to me is loss and horror and sadness. It is regrettable how memories can taint our lives.
But if it were not for memories I should not be here, for I have come here to remember a good friend who passed away all too young, just as I come here whenever I can, not to remember the tragedy that took her from me, rather to recall the joy we shared in life.
I find myself wondering if the Doctor is haunted by memories. He seems so young until one looks into his eyes and then it is easy to believe that he might be older than time itself. What might he have seen, what losses must he have felt? When I first saw him it was, I confess, with the impression that he was shouldering a heavy burden.
I am getting ahead of myself. I had travelled to Whitby to lay flowers at Lucy's grave and to lay to rest some of my own demons. Demons. Here in Whitby it is difficult to avoid the connotations of that word. Ten years have not been long enough to wipe away the stain left by those dark days. Perhaps no amount of time will be. These were the thoughts that filled my head as I sat in the graveyard with my journal open in front of me, unable to think of the words to write. Instead I stared out to sea and listened to the waves crashing rhythmically down below. The headland descends so steeply over the harbour that the bank has fallen away, sending some of the graves tumbling into the bay. The headstones at the edge jut out at obscene angles over the abyss and I keep expecting them to heave themselves up and throw themselves into oblivion.
That, it would seem is what Sir Rupert Percival did. I got the whole sorry tale from the landlady at my lodgings in town as I unpacked my things.
'A right proper gentleman he was,' Mrs Hibbard had said as I transferred clothes from my case to my wardrobe. I planned to stay in Whitby for several days to take a break from city life and from the terrors I am forced to instruct at school.
'Used to come down into the town regular like,' the landlady continued, 'not like some of them folks what live in the big house. Always willing to stop and chat, he was. Liked to pass the time of day, you understand.'
I muttered an acknowledgement as I strained to lift my now empty case up on top of the wardrobe and off of the bed.
Mrs Hibbard saw my struggle and said, 'Now don't you be doing that, my dear. I'll get Joshua to lift it for you. Joshua!'
However, I had already lifted the case so that it balanced on the wardrobe's corner and it seemed foolish to take it down just so someone else could be seen to be doing the work for me.
'It is quite all right,' I said when Joshua came running up the stairs, 'I've managed to do it myself now, but thank you both very much for your trouble.'
'Weren't nothing, ma'am,' Joshua said. He was grinning so widely that I feared his head might split in two. Mrs Hibbard shooed him off, then continued her story.
'Well now, as I was saying, Sir Rupert always had time for a chat, but just lately he changed. Rarely came down to the town he did and when he did come he scarcely had two words to say to no one and neither of them kind words neither. Word was he spent most of his time wondering up by the abbey. Creepy place, if you ask me. Never liked it.'
I have always found the ruined abbey to be somewhat romantic, but I thought it best not to mention this to Mrs Hibbard.
'Took to heavy drinking he did, too,' Mrs Hibbard continued, 'where before he barely touched a drop. Then just a week ago he disappeared. They found his body a couple of days later washed up on the beach. They say he got drunk and fell off the cliff path in the dark, but there's something right queer about the whole business. Right queer indeed.'
Now I sat in the graveyard of the parish church, which lay between the town on one side and the abbey on the other. In the gathering dark, I had to agree with Mrs Hibbard's assessment that the abbey was indeed "creepy". I closed my journal, the page still blank. It was past time I returned to my lodgings. There were still people wandering through the graveyard, singly or in pairs, whispering to each other as if raised voices would somehow damage the sanctity of this place. I glanced at them to see if I recognised anyone from my last visit, but they were all strangers. Times change and if you are unprepared they can leave you stranded and alone.
I turned back towards the town and that was when I saw him. Tall and rail-thin, his long hair blowing wildly, he stood at the edge of the graveyard where the bank had fallen away. With his arms outstretched and his head tilted up towards the sky I thought for a fleeting moment that he was going to jump.
There was enough tragedy around me and I found myself running towards him, determined to prevent him from adding to it. It had rained in the morning; I remember the water on the windows of my compartment on the train obscuring my view of the beautiful countryside. The grass was still wet. I slipped. My hands were gathered in my skirts, hoisting them up so that I might run more freely and I was unable to free them to stop myself. I slid and stumbled past the man I had come to rescue and tumbled over the edge.
I felt strong arms around me, gathering me up and hauling me to safety. One of my shoes had come loose and I turned my head to see it plummeting downwards. It was then that I realised how close I had come to serious injury and I collapsed into the stranger's arms, all the strength drained from my body. The stranger picked me up and carried me to the nearest seat, where he set me down. He crouched down beside me and my first concern as my strength returned was that he would get mud on his clothes.
The stranger, however, was more concerned with my welfare than his attire.
'Are you all right?' he asked. He looked up at me so earnestly that he reminded me of a puppy pleading for attention.
'Yes, yes thank you,' I managed. 'I'm just a little shaken.'
'Of course you are,' he said abruptly, slapping his forehead with the heel of his palm. Then he started to root through the pockets of his frock coat. 'Now where did I put it.'
He began to form a pile of objects in the grass in front of him and my eyes must have widened in astonishment. Surely it was impossible to fit all of that into a gentleman's pockets, but that was undoubtedly were the objects had appeared from.
'Aha!' he declared, producing a hip flask. He handed this to me. 'Brandy,' he explained, returning his pile of items to his pockets. 'For medicinal purposes.'
I looked at the flask curiously. The initials G.B.S. were engraved on one side. The stranger smacked his lips. 'Drink up,' he said.
Cautiously, I risked a sip. I choked on it, but the alcohol was filling me with new warmth.
'Feeling better?' he asked. His voice was soft and somewhat shy.
'Much. Thank you.' The stranger beamed. I took another sip from the flask it went down more easily this time and looked regretfully at my stockinged foot, thinking of the walk home. 'It is a pity about my shoe though.'
'Hmm.' The stranger pursed his lips. 'Wait here.'
He dashed off in the direction of the drop, coat tails flapping behind him, and, as he neared the edge, I thought for one heart-stopping moment that he would succumb to the same disaster that had so recently threatened me. He managed to keep his footing, however, and scrambled down the path to the beach. Minutes later he returned, clutching my shoe triumphantly. He was not even out of breath.
'It's a bit damp, I'm afraid,' he said as he handed it to me. He seemed to take the condition of my footwear personally.
'It's only a shoe,' I reassured him, slipping it back onto my foot.
'Yes, yes, yes,' he said animatedly, 'but it's the little things that make life special. A comfortable pair of shoes. Birdsong in the morning. The first light of stars as they come out in the evening. Lovely view, isn't it.'
'So that's what you were doing!' I exclaimed.
'I'm sorry?' the stranger said.
'You were stargazing. I thought you were going to jump and I was trying to save you, but you ended up saving me.'
'Then I thank you for putting your life at risk on my behalf,' the stranger said. 'That was a very brave thing to do. Braver than me, all I had to do was stick my arms out. I'm the Doctor, by the way.'
'Mrs Harker,' I said, but then a devilish impulse overtook me and I added, 'but you can call me Mina.'
'Mina,' he said, rolling the name around as a connoisseur might a fine wine. 'Mina. MINA! What a wonderful name. Are you staying in town? Splendid. Then perhaps you would allow me to escort you home?'
'I would be honoured, Doctor,' I said, taking his arm.
'Incidentally,' the Doctor said as we left the churchyard, 'I very much like your scarf.'
We chatted as we made our way back, but discussed nothing of consequence. I suppose I should have been uncomfortable, alone in the presence of a strange man, but there was something about the Doctor's presence that made me totally relaxed in his company. He bade me goodnight at the door to my lodgings and then disappeared into the distance.
I retired as soon as I got inside, despite Mrs Hibbard's insistence that she should make me some supper, and have stayed awake just long enough to write this entry in my diary. Tomorrow I am resolved that I shall seek out the Doctor again.
* * *
From the letters of Inspector Thomas Lovegrove to his sister
It was ten minutes after the clock had chimed eight that I descended to the common room of the public house. The Doctor was already sitting at one of the tables and he waved cheerily at me. Once I had sat down opposite him, he pushed a plate across to me.
'I took the liberty of ordering you breakfast,' he explained.
'Have you already eaten?' I asked as I tucked in, my hunger arming me against the horror that is the landlord's cooking.
'Sorry?' the Doctor said and I repeated my question. 'Eaten? Yes, if you like.'
The strange man drifted off into his own thoughts while he waited for me to finish my meal. He fidgeted constantly. It was as if the man was unable to keep still for any length of time. He seems to be one of these people who feel that a moment when they are doing nothing is a moment wasted. When you get to my age you appreciate the value of taking your time, but the young seem to lack this sensibility.
As soon as I had finished, the Doctor was on his feet.
'Are you up for a little stroll, Inspector?' he asked.
'Where to?' I wanted to know.
'To see the Percivals, of course.' He looked at me with that same sort of incredulity that Simon shows when he says something that to his child-logic is obvious, but which completely baffles me. 'I would have thought that would have been your first port of call.'
I did intend to go and see the Percivals this morning, if only to offer my condolences, but I had not intended to leave until later. I am not, as you know, a morning person. However, the last thing I needed was for the Doctor to visit the house on the hill by himself, which he was sure to do if I refused to accompany him.
'Very well, Doctor,' I said, thinking regretfully of my lost time in bed. 'Just let me fetch my hat and coat.'
The sky outside was grey and the morning was chill. I was forced to wrap my coat and scarf close about me.
'There's a storm coming,' the Doctor murmured. It was the only indication that he even noticed the elements.
* * *
The storm broke before we could reach the house. The heavens opened and the rain fell in sheets, thundering on to the ground and bouncing back up as if trying to return from whence it came. I had me hat and overcoat to protect me, but the Doctor was exposed to the storm's fury, his long hair plastered to his scalp. He did not seem to object, however. Instead he was laughing and jumping about in time to the thunderclaps as if he were a small boy in the schoolyard. A flash of lightning connected the sky to the sea and the Doctor stopped to point out towards the horizon.
'Did you see that?' he cried delightedly.
I muttered something under my breath and continued walking.
By the time we reached the Percival residence we were both soaked to the skin. The house was up on the hill beyond the abbey and there was a long drive running from the gates to the front door. I was prepared to enter via the tradesman's entrance, perhaps taking the opportunity to confer with the staff before speaking to the lady of the house, but the Doctor marched straight to the front door and rapped loudly.
A world-weary butler opened the door to us. It is my experience that all butlers appear world-weary. Perhaps it is the nature of the job that makes them so, or perhaps it is one of the qualifications for becoming a butler in the first place.
'Can I help you, sir?' he asked with that quality of both subservience and arrogance unique to menservants everywhere.
I stepped forward before the Doctor could open his mouth and get us both into a lot of trouble.
'My name is Inspector Lovegrove,' I said. 'From London. I am here to see Mrs Emily Percival regarding the death of her husband.'
'I am not sure that the lady of the house is receiving visitors today, sir,' the butler replied. 'If you will wait here '
'I believe Mrs Percival will want to see us,' the Doctor interrupted. His eyes were closed and his voice seemed to be coming from far away.
'And who might you be, sir?' The butler clearly did not take kindly to being interrupted by a stranger.
My companion opened his eyes suddenly, turning his gaze on the butler who took an involuntary step back. 'I am the Doctor.'
'Yes, yes, of course,' the butler stammered. 'If you will come this way gentleman. You can wait in the drawing room while I go and find Mrs Percival. If that's convenient, of course.'
'Most convenient, thank you, Perkins,' said the Doctor. 'You may go now.'
Once the butler was gone it struck me that the Doctor had done his thing with names again. I was about to comment on this when I saw the Doctor casually examining the contents of the bookcase.
'Doctor,' I said, shocked, 'try to remember that we are guests.'
'We are also investigators,' he replied, then muttered, 'well, at least one of us is.'
I bridled, but the Doctor was paying no attention. Instead, he was leafing through the books.
'Look at this stuff, Inspector, it's fascinating,' the Doctor was saying. 'It seems our dear Sir Percival was quite a scientist. And given the date, a somewhat controversial one at that.'
'My husband's beliefs were his own affair.' Mrs Percival was standing in the doorway. She was small and slender, with steel-grey hair and eyes. She was dressed in an old-fashioned black dress and wore a veil. Despite her size, she was clearly a powerful woman and now I was able to understand why she had such influence over my superiors in London.
'Be that as it may, Mrs Percival,' the Doctor said, still casually holding a book and seemingly unfazed by her sudden appearance, 'you will agree that there are many who would have disagreed with your husband's views.'
'I don't see why I should agree with anything you say, young man,' Mrs Percival retorted.
The Doctor slammed his fist down on the reading table. 'Because we are trying to investigate your husband's death.'
'I would appreciate it if you would not take that tone of voice with me, sir.' Mrs Percival whirled past, snatching the book from the Doctor and replacing it on the shelf.
'And I would appreciate it if you would co-operate,' the Doctor snapped back, not giving an inch in front of the woman. I had to admire him for that. 'You sent for us. You clearly believe your husband's death was suspicious. Therefore, you must admit that his beliefs could give someone a motive for his murder!'
'M-murder.' Mrs Percival stumbled and the Doctor helped her to the armchair.
He crouched down beside her. 'There are three possible explanations for Sir Rupert's death. One, he lost his way and fell from the path.'
'Nonsense,' Mrs Percival said. 'My husband knew the area like the back of his hand.'
'Two, he took his own life.'
'Why on earth would he do that?' Mrs Percival demanded. 'Rupert was happy here.'
'Which leaves three,' the Doctor continued. 'Someone pushed him over the edge. By the way, I'm sorry for dripping on your carpet.'
There was silence for a moment as both Mrs Percival and myself digested the import of the Doctor's words. The silence was broken by the sound of feet coming down the staircase.
'Mother,' said a voice, 'who are these people?'
'I'm the Doctor and this is my friend Inspector Lovegrove,' the Doctor supplied. 'And you are?'
'My daughter, Constance,' the elder Percival supplied.
'Charmed,' the Doctor said. The Doctor took her hand and she looked up into his eyes. When I was younger, girls used to look at me in the same way. I coughed to break the moment.
'I expect you're here about father's death,' she said. 'Come and sit by the fire so that you can dry out.'
I moved closer to the fire, but remained standing so as not to damage the furniture. The Doctor crouched down and began stirring the flames with a poker.
'Your mother was about to tell us if your father had any enemies,' the Doctor said. I was amazed by his frankness.
'My husband was admired and respected by everyone,' Mrs Percival said.
'Everyone?' the Doctor queried, but Mrs Percival would not change her position. 'Lucky man,' the Doctor continued. 'Do you know if he quarrelled with anyone recently, even if only in a small way. Think carefully, every little detail is important.'
'No, there was nobody,' Mrs Percival.
'Constance?' he prompted.
'She does not know of any quarrel either,' Mrs Percival insisted. I would have preferred to hear that from the girl herself, but the Doctor chose not to press the point.
'Did he have any visitors recently?' he continued. 'Say, in the last couple of days before he died.'
'No,' Mrs Percival snapped, but at the same moment her daughter said, 'Yes.'
Mrs Percival scowled. 'Yes, now I recall. There were two. The Reverend Arthur Samuels and Colonel Charles Ashforth.'
'Do you know what they discussed?' the Doctor asked.
'No,' Mrs Percival replied. 'Both my daughter and myself were in town.'
'And where might I find these two gentlemen?'
'You can find Reverend Samuels at the church, where else?' Mrs Percival answered. 'Colonel Ashforth lives in town.'
I copied the address into my notebook.
'Thank you, ladies,' the Doctor said, standing up. 'You've been most helpful and we've taken up enough of your time.'
'You will come back and tell us what you find out, won't you?' Constance asked. I was still facing the mother and saw her baleful stare directed at her daughter.
The Doctor had his back to her and merely beamed at Constance. 'Of course,' he said. 'Good day.'
* * *
The rain had stopped by the time we emerged from the house and the Doctor set a brisk pace cross-country towards the town.
'Well, that went well, didn't it?' he announced.
I grunted. 'It seems to me that the old dear called us out here on a fool's errand. She confirmed that there is no one who might have wanted him dead. She just does not want to admit her husband is gone.'
The Doctor stopped and turned on me. 'There are none so blind as those who will not see.'
He spun on his heel and set off again. 'And what of the books?' he called back.
'What books?' I called.
'What books?' The Doctor had turned to face me and was walking backwards. He was grinning widely and I got the distinct impression he was laughing at me. 'Sometimes I wonder how your species ever managed to pull itself out of the primordial slime.'
'Doctor,' I snapped, 'I haven't the faintest idea what you are talking about.'
'Well of course you haven't,' the Doctor agreed, 'because you didn't look at the books!'
We were wandering through the ruins of the abbey and they were casting long dark shadows across the grass. I had to shield my eyes every time we stepped out of shadow into the sunshine. That is how I lost the Doctor.
He was already some distance ahead and, while my eyes were adjusting to the light, he must have disappeared around some of the stones. One moment he was in front of me, the next he was gone.
I started to call his name, but my voice did not carry in the wind. For some strange reason, I was uncomfortable standing alone in the ruins and I hurried forward, my walking steps turning to running ones.
Then I heard a sound behind me and I stopped. Someone was pressing something against my back.
'Stay where you are,' he said.
I turned my head to see what he was holding.
It was a shotgun.
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