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'There's a fascination frantic
In a ruin that's romantic'
The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan
From the letters of Inspector Thomas Lovegrove to his sister
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.
'Now, who are you and what are you doing up here?' my assailant demanded.
My mouth was dry and I could not form an answer. Fortunately, help was at hand.
'Good morning. I'm the Doctor and this is my good friend Inspector Lovegrove.'
The Doctor extended a hand in greeting. My assailant turned his weapon to point at the Doctor, who took it by the barrel and shook it vigorously.
'A pleasure to meet you, Mr ?'
'Colonel,' the man with the shotgun replied. He seemed completely bewildered in the Doctor's presence. I knew how he felt. 'Colonel Charles Ashforth. Retired.'
'Well, Colonel Charles Ashforth retired, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. The inspector and I were just on our way to see you.'
'We were?' I said.
'You were?' the colonel echoed.
'We were,' the Doctor confirmed. 'It would appear, my dear colonel, that you were one of the last people to see poor Sir Rupert alive.'
'I say, are you with the police?' Colonel Ashforth asked. He squinted short-sightedly at the Doctor.
'Mr Lovegrove here is an inspector come down from London,' the Doctor replied. 'I am helping him with his enquiries.'
'Oh, good show and all that,' the Colonel said, finally lowering the shotgun. 'How do you chaps feel about returning to my cottage for a spot of luncheon and we can discuss the case.'
'It would be our pleasure.'
We set off towards the town once again, the Doctor chattering animatedly with the Colonel who, after we had explained who we were, insisted that we call him Charlie ('Everybody else does.') while I brought up the rear. I do not like walking near the sea, not any more. I have too many memories. Memories of long walks hand in hand on the beach. Memories of picnics on the grass in summer, having to share our repast with the seagulls. Memories of all too fleeting happiness. Caroline is dead now and I must find a way to move on. Nothing is served by burying oneself in the past, even if it is preferable to dwelling in the present.
Thoughts of Caroline kept me company all the way back to town, like a spectre sitting at my shoulder. The warmth of the colonel's cottage soon banished cold memories, however. A fire burned low in the grate and once again the Doctor stooped low to stir some life within it.
'Just a cold collation, I'm afraid,' the colonel was saying. 'The housekeeper's taken the day off to visit her sister in Leeds.'
We sat in armchairs in front of the fire, plates of cold meats in our laps. The Doctor declined the meat, however, though he did partake of a cup of tea. After the fare of my landlord, I must say that the colonel's food was excellent. The colonel, it transpired, was a veteran of two wars.
'I was just a war recruit when they packed me off to the Crimea,' he told us, 'but I distinguished myself to earn promotion. Mainly through dint of staying alive, I suspect.' He chuckled, but it was with little humour. 'Very few of my regiment made it back that year. Anyway, then they packed me off to fight the Boers. That's where I picked up this little souvenir, eh what.'
He rapped on his wooden leg.
'Let me guess,' the Doctor said, sipping his tea. 'You were savaged by a lion.'
The colonel laughed. 'Nothing so dramatic, I'm afraid. It was just a minor scrape, but it got infected and turned gangrenous. Had to amputate the whole blasted lot.'
'I'm sorry,' I offered weakly.
'Don't be,' the colonel insisted. 'Africa is a hellhole and I was glad to be invalided out of there to be honest. Anyway, that's when I retired and came to settle here. There's not much use for a one-legged soldier and I didn't fancy a desk job planning strategy. I want to be out there, fighting the good fight and whatnot. Still, this is a nice enough place for an old soldier to come and write his memoirs.'
The Doctor drained the last of his tea. He nodded to me to take up the conversation.
'What was your connection with Sir Rupert?' I asked.
'We met in Africa,' the colonel explained. 'The place may be a hellhole, but it offers some of the finest hunting you will ever see. And there was no better hunter on the veldt than Sir Rupert Percival.'
'Yes, I saw some of his trophies up at the house,' the Doctor said. I had missed them. I must be getting old.
'Fine examples of man's need to kill in order to prove that he's worth something,' the Doctor continued. 'Playground bullying taken to the next level.'
I hurriedly changed the subject. 'Which of you moved to Whitby first?' I asked.
'Oh, the Percivals,' the colonel told me. 'That house has been in their family for generations.'
'So you moved here to be with Sir Rupert,' I continued.
'No, no, though I will admit it was a happy side benefit. I fell in love with Whitby from Sir Rupert's descriptions of it.'
'But the pair of you did continue to see each other regularly after you moved here.'
'Well, naturally,' the colonel replied. 'At the time, I did not know anybody else.'
'What was your opinion of Sir Rupert's scientific theories?' the Doctor interrupted.
'What theories?' the colonel asked.
The Doctor waved it away as unimportant. 'The abbey was where Sir Rupert fell to his death, wasn't it?'
Both Colonel Ashforth and I confirmed that it was.
'Hmm. And what were you doing there this morning, Colonel?'
'Well, it's rather embarrassing,' the colonel confessed.
'You can tell us, Charlie,' the Doctor assured him. 'The inspector and I can keep a secret.'
'I was looking for ghosts,' the colonel said.
'Ghosts?' I repeated.
'Yes, ghosts, inspector,' the colonel said. 'Sir Rupert had become convinced that he had seen ghosts up at the abbey. Now there is a local legend of a woman in white, but Sir Rupert was adamant he had seen a man.'
'Any particular man?' the Doctor asked.
'Well, I am afraid that you are going to find this hard to believe,' the colonel began, 'but Constance is not the only child Rupert had. Before her they had a son, Edward, but he passed away when he was just six months. Rupert was convinced that the ghost was of his son, had he still been alive today.'
'Hmm, fascinating,' the Doctor commented.
'Well, I found all of this as hard to believe as you, Inspector,' the colonel continued, 'but I agreed to help Rupert search for old times' sake. After his death, though, I've begun to wonder if there might not be more to it.'
'Quite possibly,' the Doctor announced, clapping his palms together loudly.
'Surely you don't believe all this nonsense about ghosts, Doctor?' I asked.
'Why not?' he asked. 'Buildings can absorb memories in much the same way as a human brain, though it usually takes far longer. Ghosts are simply a playback of those memories. At least that's the theory. I take it that Edward passed away in the Percival house?'
'Yes, Doctor,' the colonel affirmed.
'I thought so,' the Doctor muttered. 'Yes, the distance would be about right. But was the manifestation centred on the abbey or on poor Sir Rupert? Or was he simply hallucinating?' The Doctor took a large fob watch from his waistcoat pocket and consulted it. 'I must apologise gentleman, but I have an urgent appointment elsewhere. I shall speak to you both again later.'
With that, he hurried from the cottage.
* * *
From the journal of Mrs Mina Harker
I was sitting in the churchyard once again, with my diary open in my lap. I was trying to paint with words an accurate description of my surroundings, the cruel beauty I could see before me, but in reality I was watching the passers-by and hoping that I might spot the Doctor amongst them. What is it about him that fascinates me so? Perhaps it is that he reminds me of another doctor I knew, so long ago that it seems as if another life.
But there is something of dear Jonathan in him as well. Something about his casual elegance and in that earnestness that accompanies every action, no matter how small or inconsequential it might at first appear. There is something unique about him, as well, something strange and wonderful and mysterious, like the landscape about me. He seems so open and yet he has hidden depths. I have not felt as alive as I do in his company for a long time. Since I last saw Jonathan and our beautiful Quincey.
Thoughts of my darling boy, lost to me, filled my eyes and it was thus that I did not recognise the figure climbing the steps from the town until he sat down next to me.
'Here,' the Doctor said, offering me a handkerchief, 'take this. What is it? What's the matter?'
'It's this place,' I confessed, drying my eyes. 'It brings back painful memories.'
'Then why do you come here if it causes you pain?' the Doctor asked.
'Because I have many happy memories of this place as well,' I replied. 'Memories of time spent with friends and loved ones. If I let the unhappiness frighten me away then I would lose all of that joy as well.'
The Doctor looked uncomfortable, like one of my pupils when I caught them drawing on the blackboard in the old school room.
'I always felt painful memories were best buried,' he admitted.
'Our memories make us who we are,' I told him, 'whether we like them or not.'
'Yes!' He suddenly shouted and bounced to his feet. 'That's what I've been looking for.' He sat back down. 'Recently I went through a well, I suppose you would call it a trauma. I lost my memories for a time and now that I've got them back I don't know if they're the ones I had before. And if they have changed, does that mean that I'm not the man I was? I need to know, you see, in order to figure out who I am.'
'Well, in that case,' I began, 'I suppose that you can only judge yourself by what you do in the present and let the past look after itself. Is that what you wanted to hear?'
He was nodding vigorously.
'In that case, I am the Doctor.' The last was almost a shout of defiance to the heavens. 'I was just going to visit the Reverend Samuels. Would you care to come?'
* * *
I had seen the reverend Arthur Samuels about the churchyard, but I had never spoken to the man. In his austere black garb he always seemed unapproachable. I could well imagine him standing in the pulpit ranting about fire and damnation and the wages of sin. I found it difficult to believe that the same man would preach compassion and forgiveness and love. I remembered a similar priest in London. He would preach about original sin and the evil in us all and the horrors that awaited us. Not once did his sermons speak of the very Christian values of forgiveness and redemption. His speeches frightened Quincey and Jonathan and I had found another church to which to take our son.
The reverend was up in the pulpit of the church rehearsing this week's sermon. With his high forehead and hooked nose he had the appearance of a bird of prey or of one of those Pilgrim Fathers who sailed to the New World. As I had suspected, the priest's message was one of warning.
'"God resists the proud, but shows favour to the humble. Humble yourselves, then, under God's mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. Be alert, be on the watch! Your enemy, the devil, roams round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him, because you know that your fellow believers in all the world are going through the same kinds of sufferings."'
I shivered. Reverend Samuels was a powerful preacher and his words echoed long after he had finished speaking. The oppressive tone of the text weighed down upon me. The Doctor, however, was lounging casually in one of the pews. I half expected him to put his feet up on the bench and was grateful when he did not.
'An interesting passage,' he said. 'I particularly liked the delivery, but I believe the text goes on:
'"But after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grave, who calls you to share his eternal glory in union with Christ, will himself perfect you and give you firmness, strength, and a sure foundation."
'Peter. Chapter Five. Rather optimistic, wouldn't you agree?'
'And who might you be,' the reverend demanded, 'and what do you mean by barging in here unannounced?'
'Oh, I'm the Doctor and this is my friend Mrs Harker,' the Doctor answered. 'As I was saying, don't you think a little encouragement might be more useful in getting you message across rather than all this pain and suffering.'
'I find the stick to be more productive than the carrot, Doctor,' Reverend Samuels said as he descended from the pulpit.
'Aha, a behaviourist,' the Doctor pronounced. 'You must have much to discuss with the late Sir Rupert Percival. I believe animal behaviour was one of his areas of interest.'
'Do not speak to me of that heathen,' Reverend Samuels demanded.
'Unfortunately, that's what I'm here for,' the Doctor replied. 'You were one of the last people to see him alive.'
'So I am told,' Reverend Samuels agreed.
'Do you mind telling me what you discussed?' the Doctor asked.
'Yes, as a matter of fact I do!'
'Then let me guess.' The Doctor held a hand to his forehead in a theatrical gesture. 'Could it possibly have been Darwin?'
Samuels already had a very pale complexion, but I fancy he became whiter on hearing the Doctor's words.
'Yes, I thought so. I've seen his library, you see, so it comes as no surprise that Sir Rupert would be a supporter of Mr Darwin's beliefs.'
'Blasphemous lies,' Samuels spat. 'The very idea that man might be descended from beasts why, it's obscene.'
'Yes, I can see why you would think that. You clearly have very strong views on the subject. Strong enough to kill perhaps?'
'How dare you!' Reverend Samuels shout made me step back. The Doctor, too who it was addressed did not flinch.
'You haven't answered my question,' he said.
Samuels fought to control his temper. 'Sir Rupert committed suicide. Further evidence of his heretical leanings.'
'Hmm, interesting,' the Doctor commented. 'I have a police inspector who thinks that it was an accident, a widow convinced it was murder, and now a vicar preaching suicide. You can't all be right.'
The Doctor and Reverend Samuels continued to argue, oblivious to my presence so I decided to investigate the church. There was a figure arranging flowers by the entrance so I went over to introduce myself.
'Good morning,' I said. 'What lovely flowers.'
'Do you really think so?' the girl asked. 'I picked them myself on the walk down from the house. I'm Constance Percival, by the way.'
'Mina Harker. Sir Rupert was you father?' Constance nodded. 'I'm sorry.'
'Thank you,' the girl replied. There was a moment of awkward silence between us.
'Here, let me help you,' I said, taking some of the flowers from her. 'I'm surprised the vicar allows you to decorate the place. He does not seem the type who would appreciate flowers.'
Constance shrugged. 'Since father died I've been spending a lot of time here. This is one way I can feel useful.'
I was keeping an eye on the Doctor and Reverend Samuels and Constance noticed the direction of my gaze.
'What's he like?' she asked.
'Who?' I responded. For a moment I thought she was referring to the revered.
'The Doctor,' she replied. 'Is he as mysterious as he appears?'
'More so,' I replied, 'but I have only just met him.'
'He's very handsome, don't you think?' Constance eyes took on a dreamy quality and I shook my head sadly. With his childlike way of looking at the world I could never imagine the Doctor returning the poor girl's affection.
I took her hand. 'Come on,' I said. 'I'll introduce you.'
'Do you believe in ghosts, Reverend?' the Doctor was asking.
'Ghosts?' the reverend replied. 'Certainly not, Doctor.'
'But you do believe in spirits, don't you?' the Doctor persisted. 'You believe that the soul can exist without physical form.'
'That's a completely different matter,' Reverend Samuels returned.
'In what way, reverend?' Constance asked.
'It's complicated, my child,' the reverend said. There was a tenderness in him towards Constance that I had hitherto doubted that the man possessed.
'You know,' said the Doctor, 'that's usually my line.'
'Doctor,' I said, 'Constance wanted to say hello.'
'Well, hello, Constance.' The Doctor beamed. 'How are you and your mother coping?'
'We manage,' Constance replied. 'Thank you for asking.'
'Constance has been a great help to me here at the church,' Samuels interjected.
'I'm glad to hear it,' the Doctor said.
'How is your investigation progressing, Doctor?' Constance asked.
The Doctor risked a glance at Reverend Samuels. 'I'm pursuing several lines of enquiry,' he replied.
'It's getting late, Doctor,' Reverend Samuels said, 'and I really should be going.'
'Of course, reverend,' the Doctor agreed. 'Constance, would you tell your mother that I will call tomorrow. Come along, Mina.'
I turned to Constance. 'Would you like us to walk you home?' I asked.
'Actually,' the reverend said, 'I would prefer it if Constance helped me to put things in order before I leave.'
'Is there anything we can help with?' I offered though the Doctor was already waiting at the door.
'No, thank you, Mrs Harker,' the reverend replied. 'Constance and I will be quite all right alone.'
I can take a hint, so I said my goodbyes and left with the Doctor.
Darkness was drawing in, but the Doctor's ranging stride was carrying him away from town. I struggled to catch up, holding onto my bonnet with one hand to prevent it blowing away in the growing wind.
'Where are we going?' I cried. My dress had not been designed for running in.
'I want to take another look at the abbey,' he called back. 'It does seem to be at the centre of things.'
'And we have to look at it now?' I thought of the hot meal and warm bed waiting for me back in town.
'No time like the present.' Mitigating against that, of course, was my desire not to let the Doctor out of my sight.
'Could you at least slow down?' I asked.
'Of course.' The Doctor stopped in his tracks and waited for me to catch up. 'You only had to ask.'
I bit my tongue. 'Do you think Constance will be all right?' I asked.
'Well, the good reverend does seem to care for her more than he does anyone else. Curious that, but I shouldn't think she'll come to any harm.'
'I meant walking home in the dark,' I corrected, though I had to confess that I had my doubts about Reverend Samuels. I was probably just projecting the dislike I felt to his type rather than any trait peculiar to the man himself.
'I imagine she's walked this way dozens of times before,' the Doctor assured me. 'She's probably safer than we are.'
'That's not terribly comforting,' I replied. I had to shout to make myself heard over the mounting wind.
'Sorry,' the Doctor called back.
'So, where are you from?' I asked. The Doctor had a tendency to drift into his own thoughts so I found myself forced to drive the conversation.
'Here,' the Doctor said.
'Here?' I repeated. 'You mean Yorkshire.'
The Doctor laughed. 'No. Earth.'
'Yes,' the Doctor confirmed. 'I was born here. I think. I seem to recall somewhere with a warmer climate, but I can't really remember.'
'The problem with your memories again,' I recalled.
'Yes,' the Doctor said. 'I can remember growing up with my father, but I have no memories of my mother. Do you have any idea what that feels like?'
He seemed suddenly sad and vulnerable. He reminded me of the bird with the broken wing we had found on the step outside of school. The pupils and I had nursed it back to health and I felt the same instinct to reach out to the Doctor.
'Incidentally, I'm curious,' the Doctor said, changing the subject. 'What's wrong with your neck.'
It felt as if he had slapped me.
'I mean, I'm not saying there is anything wrong,' he continued, 'but it's just that you seem to always wear scarves or high collars and I was wondering why. I'm insatiably curious that way.'
He grinned, but I was coming over faint and his image was blurring.
The wind was whipping around us.
* * *
From the letters of Inspector Thomas Lovegrove to his sister
I stayed with Colonel Ashforth a while longer to build up a picture of the man who had been Sir Rupert Percival. In truth I could have stayed talking with the old man all afternoon. His stories about his campaigns were fascinating. Nonetheless, it was well passed time for me to make my presence known to the local constabulary, but not before the colonel extracted a promise from me to return and dine with him that evening. Given the quality of the food at my lodgings I did not spend long making up my mind.
The officer at the local police station could not add anything to what I had already discovered for myself. I leafed through his report, but it merely confirmed my own suspicions. Sir Rupert had been a well-respected outgoing man until fairly recently. This change in his character appeared to coincide with his sightings of his 'son' as reported by Colonel Ashforth. It is my belief that Sir Rupert was suffering from a kind of brain fever that was causing him to hallucinate. Tomorrow I shall visit the nearby lunatic asylum to confirm my suspicions with the doctors there. In the dark, and under the influence of these hallucinations, Sir Rupert strayed from the path and fell to his unfortunate demise.
All this talk of suicide and murder is utter nonsense. The widow cannot bring herself to admit that her husband is gone and so ascribes dark motives to everything and the Doctor is simply the victim of an overactive imagination. He seems a very excitable sort of fellow. I shall stay here one more day for appearances' sake and then I shall return to London and make my report. Perhaps then I will be able to find the time to call upon Simon and yourself.
I spoke briefly with the coroner also the local doctor, one Doctor Penrose but he had nothing new to impart. Cause of death: falling from a great height. I can hear the Doctor now, 'But was it the shock of falling that killed him, Inspector, or the impact when he hit the ground,' to which I would reply, 'Whatever does it matter, Doctor. He's still dead.' That man sees mysteries everywhere. Take those dratted books, for example. He never did explain what he found so fascinating.
I wandered down to the harbour, partly for the exercise and partly to interview the fishermen as potential witnesses. None of them had seen anything, though they were quick to tell me what a good person Sir Rupert had been. Always there with a kind word, he had apparently been known to take a drink with them down at the local pub. Though only the one mind. I did not ask if he ever tried the food. I would not wish that even on an aristocrat.
The sun was sinking and I turned back towards the town. There is a set of shallow steps that curve up to the church from the town. At the top of the steps, silhouetted against the darkening sky, I could see two figures. They appeared to be arguing. Then the man struck the woman and she turned and ran off in the direction of the abbey. I considered going after her, but I was too far away and would never catch her. The man stood as still as stone for a minute or two as I watched, then began to descend the steps.
When he reached the bottom I considered confronting him about the altercation I had witnessed, but a sharp look from his cold grey eyes made me think twice. Then he was gone, his black cloak trailing in his wake. This could only be the Reverend Samuels.
The clock chimed five and I hurried to keep my appointment with Colonel Ashforth. His housekeeper had returned from Leeds and was preparing our supper in the kitchen while the colonel and I shared a glass of sherry in front of the fire. I told the colonel about the figures I had seen and asked him if he knew who the woman might be.
'Haven't the faintest idea, Inspector,' the colonel confessed. 'To be honest, it could be any number of people. The reverend has a tendency to put most people's noses out of joint, if you know what I mean.'
I resolved to interview Reverend Samuels in the morning, if only so I could threaten him with the power of the law. Not that I believed it would do any good, not if the state of the constabulary I had seen were any indication, but it would be immensely satisfying.
We were interrupted by a banging and we both rose to investigate.
A window had been left open and the gale raging outside was banging it open and closed.
'I could have sworn I told that woman to close all of the windows,' the colonel complained, leaning out of the opening to grasp the swinging pane and draw it in, 'but she does insist that I need fresh air in this place.'
That was when I saw the reflection. The face of a British soldier stared back at me out of the windowpane. I whirled around and staggered backwards. My knees were giving way beneath me and I had to support myself on the windowsill behind me. There were a half-dozen British soldiers in the room with us, but they were not dressed in traditional British red. Instead, their clothes were a strange blue-white colour, as was their skin and hair. And I could see through them to the outlines of the table and chairs beyond. I refused to believe it. Ghosts do not exist.
The colonel had turned as well and his jaw was slack and open.
'Tommy?' he breathed.
* * *
From the journal of Mrs Mina Harker
I was on my knees in the damp grass. The recent rain had brought out its odour and it was this I focussed on first as I came to my senses. Its freshness combined with the salt of sea spray that filled the air. I raised my head slowly and saw the Doctor, arms spread wide, head tilted back, laughing in the centre of the maelstrom.
'Mina,' he shouted over to me, 'isn't this incredible? I think we're witnessing a fully-fledged paranormal manifestation.'
I did not understand his words, but was still too disorientated to form a question.
There was a shape forming on the grass in the shadow of one of the crumbling abbey walls. It glowed a curious ghostly blue, the colour of lightning out at sea.
'Oh dear.' The Doctor's voice was soft, but it carried clearly despite the howling wind.
The form was resolving itself into the shape of a little girl. She had long straight hair and a round face with a button nose. She was wearing a sleeveless dress that stopped at her knees. Her bare feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as she skipped across the grass towards the Doctor. He fell to his knees and scooped the child up in his arms, holding her tight as if he feared she would run away. He stroked her hair with one hand and I glimpsed a tear rolling down his cheek.
The girl wriggled and, somehow, was suddenly free of his grasp. She went skipping away through the ruins and the Doctor hurried in pursuit. I scrambled to my feet in an effort to follow, but I was still unsteady after fainting. I half ran, half crawled across the grass in the direction they had vanished in. I rushed past the stones, shouting the Doctors name. The wind tore my bonnet from my head and it bounced across the ground away from me, but I paid it no heed.
Then I saw her, silhouetted in the moonlight, standing on the cliffs' edge, beckoning the Doctor. He was walking slowly, almost drunkenly in her direction. It reminded me of that one time I had caught Jonathan sleep-walking. Then I realised that this was the same place that Sir Rupert had met his end.
I ran forward, now with renewed vigour, but my footing betrayed me and I sprawled across the damp grass. I glanced up, my arms reaching out in a feeble attempt to reach my friend.
'No!' I screamed.
The Doctor did not hear me. I could only watch as he stepped over the edge and disappeared from my sight.
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