Overture

Sunday, June 8, 1902

            I wasn’t expecting him, sitting back there in the shrubbery of the Old Telgeshire Gardens. An open copy of The Arebin Times hid most of him from view, but I could see a straw boater hat peeking above the newspaper, and trim legs in tan check trousers crossed at the knee below. While some may have found his attitude a trifle uninviting, I slid onto the bench next to him and extracted my cigarette case from my pocket. He said nothing, apparently in no particular hurry to explain himself, so I lit up and looked across at the fountain. It was that golden afternoon hour. The sun slanted down between gathering clouds, and governesses pushed their shrill charges down the gravel paths in wiry perambulators.

Crinkling, the newspaper folded up beside me, revealing the face of Mr Thadeus Royal Stoker. I doubt that you know Mr Stoker. He doesn’t exactly get around in the best circles. In fact, Mr Stoker is a creature of the underground, a fact verifiable by anyone who has chanced to meet him. There is simply something undeniably sly in his way of staring at your left ear whenever you try to have a heart-to-heart with him, though really it is Mr Stoker’s mustache that puts his slyness wholly beyond doubt. The object in question is of the slightest pencil variety, so it almost disappears if not viewed face-on, putting you in constant doubt as to whether it exists at all and thus serving as the perfect centerpiece to his mystique.

“How now, Mr Stoker?”

He plucked the pipe from his lips, nodding. “Lord Geoffrey.”

“This is an unexpected pleasure. I was anticipating something a bit smaller and inkier in your place, don’t you know? I hope nothing’s gone wrong?”

Stoker turned to study my ear more closely. “He’s dead.”

A child shrieked from the fountain across the way, and I looked up toward the sound, feeling suddenly cold. “Mr Ridley?”

“He washed up on the Clouère two days ago.”

“How did he die?”

“Strangled. He was stripped clean and his face had been bashed in after death. It was him, though. Birthmarks.”

So that’s that, I thought. Four weeks of feverish work have led up to only and exactly that: nothing. “Well. That’s rather dashed unfortunate.”

Mr Stoker murmured agreement, replacing the pipe between his lips.

Nothing new then, since we last spoke?”

“No. As I said, I only met him once. James Ridley was the thief; he still had the necessary security enchantments, and that banker’s statement of his was valid. I checked that. He was paid a fabulous sum to be sure. But, no. No details on the enchantments he stole. None of his correspondence with his contractor. Nothing concrete on the person who hired him.” He blew out smoke gently. “She was too quick for you.”

Again, I thought. She was too quick for me again. I closed my eyes, but it all went on rather: the tinkling of the fountain, the children’s laughter, the relentless tick-tock of my pocket watch. I tapped the ash from my cigarette. “You will let me know, if anything turns up?”

A faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He nodded.

I took a thick envelope from my jacket pocket. “You’ll be wanting this, I suppose?”

“Thank you.” He accepted my small donation with light fingers, stealing another sly look at the governesses. “A pleasure doing business, as always, Lord Geoffrey.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, perhaps impatiently. “Tootle-pip, old boy.”

He touched his hat and unfolded his paper again, and I left him exactly as I found him.

 

I’m afraid I didn’t give the driver terribly specific directions when I stumbled back into my cab. After all, I had an hour before I really had to be at Miss Arborworthing’s debutante ball. And anyway, even if I was leaning against the cushion and gazing attentively at the hurrying clouds, I was more than a little preoccupied with the old inner eye.

That Mr Ridley was dead was a dashed sight beyond inconvenient. I’m sure you saw the headlines about the theft at the Université des Dorinels: A man can hardly break into one of the continent’s top universities and waltz out with a portfolio of most-secret elemental research without putting a few hundred noses out of joint. I had gone to visit Les Dorinels myself, immediately after the news broke, and on my return home I had approached Mr Stoker; he had previously provided me with delicate information about this and that, you know. Through some arcane art he had located Mr Ridley and confirmed him as the thief, and I had even had a meeting set with the chap. That’s why I was toddling about the Old Telgeshire Garden, you know, to pick up my instructions on when and where to meet Mr Ridley, and with how much money. I knew of course that Mr Ridley had only been a gun-for-hire, but even guns-for-hire learn something about their contractors—sometimes even enough of a something to eventually put said contractor behind bars.

Unfortunately Mr Ridley’s shadowy contractor must have been both insidiously well-connected and extraordinarily wealthy, and if I knew anything about bloody anything, her name was none other than Dame Orvilea Faufferseff. I couldn’t know for a fact, naturally, but I knew. I suppose I’d call it a feeling deep in my bones if I were a rheumatic or a gothic novelist. There were all the little things. Dame Orvilea was a celebrated (and certified) illusionist for one, which put her every action beyond certainty as far as I was concerned, and then she had been pointedly hosting a ball in Arebin that night, three hundred miles away from the theft. A friend of mine (whose a devilish fine enchanter) even analyzed the security spell Ridley provided as proof of his involvement in the theft, and this enchanter chum told me the spell had been designed by Dr. Mimi Chatsworth—a close society friend of Dame Orvilea.

Now, perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “Isn’t this Lord Geoffrey chap being a bit paranoid? The evidence is all pretty circumstantial, and anyway Dame Orvilea sounds perfectly sweet to me!” Allow me to suggest that you have not had the advantage of knowing Dame Orvilea as I have. Her nephew is something of a pal, and I have it on good authority that she is the worst aunt in all of Arebin. For example, she is the sort of woman who marries a man named Icthaveus, misplaces him, and then “purchases” a parrot also named Icthaveus the week next. This same parrot has bitten at least ten people of my acquaintance, no doubt under the malevolent influence of its owner. Beyond this, even the most apolitical observer should be suspicious that Dame Orvilea has attempted to become prime minister four times under the auspices of the Faufferseff Autocratic Party. I should also mention that she was a fervent supporter of the Second Trekpachter War, as both a member of parliament and a private hostess, and I need hardly add that I wasn’t the only one to find the influx of ducats into the Arebin underground after our victory somewhat disturbing. Dame Orvilea’s own distinct rise in fortune after the war was equally disturbing if distinctly less well known.

You can well imagine my disappointment then that Mr Ridley had been careless enough to get killed. He had sounded like a thoroughly decent sort of chap, and as a man who closely linked Dame Orvilea to capital crime he had been dashed near invaluable. Of course I would keep an ear to the underground in case Dame Orvilea saw fit to sell her freshly stolen elemental research any time soon, but that seemed rather less than unlikely. For all real intents and purposes, the trail had gone cold—cold as a snake on Boxing Day.

We were just then bouncing across the cobblestones of Wolverhampton Bridge when I called out, “Stop coach!” and the driver clopped to the side of the road, looking askance at me over his shoulder. I fumbled with the door latch, tripping down the step. My pace may have been a bit more brisk than the author of A Gentleman’s Conduct could’ve condoned, but there you have it. I probably walked half the bloody length of the bridge before I finally turned to lean against the balustrade, restive fingers tapping against the stone. I lit a cigarette and breathed in slowly.

Arebin lay before me, stretching out on either side of the wide, rolling surface of the River Brenn. Close at hand were boxy factories and shipping houses, the freighters cutting their flat troughs as they swung to and fro. Farther down the bustling waterway, my eyes came to rest on the Palace of Brimsdon, sprawled majestically on the west bank. Long and regular, Brimmers reached skyward with neo-gothic towers, and behind it I could make out the red dome of St Agatha’s Cathedral. Farther still rose the gentle slope of Tamber Hill, with its spacious green squares and its stately white-stone houses.

I suppose it’s only natural, on a summer’s afternoon, for a fellow to feel a certain what’s-it for his city—to wax wistful about the center of good society and the seat of his country. It’s a feeling of affection, a quiet sort of protectiveness, as if one really shouldn’t let the Dame Orvileas of the world muck about with policy and economy and the free exchange of the underground. I mean, I was trying my best not to let her muck about, only I always seemed to be a step or three behind. It was maddening to say the very least. It almost made one wonder what one was doing it all for, and whether one’s time might be rather better employed lolling about seaside resorts with strawberries and champagne.

St Agatha’s chimed out the half hour, ringing me out of my reverie. I really hadn’t any reason to be late for Miss Arborworthing’s coming-out ball, when I thought about it. Nor had I any reason not to enjoy myself that evening. All the fellows would be there, after all, and I could dance one too many with Miss Braxton, and a thoroughly jolly time could be had by all. I took a last look at my city, clear and vigorous in the afternoon light, then turned to wave down my taxi again.

 

 

Chapter One

Sunday, June 8, 1902

evening

 

Hildenborough House, home of Elaine and Hugh Marcaby, loomed large and extravagant in the cloudy dusk, its classical columns and orderly windows gleaming with lamplight. Statues garbed in togas and laurel leaves crowned the vast triangular pediment at the top of the house, completing its likeness to an ancient Anaktoric temple. It was dashed lucky for Miss Julia Arborworthing (who was the daughter of a textile mogul) that her parents had become fast friends with the Marcabys. They were already some of the most prolific hosts in Arebin, and their house was as near the center of Posh End as one could get. Miss Arborworthing would have one of the finest debutante balls of the season, and the cacophony of music, laughter, and animated chatter roaring out of the open windows assured me that everyone who was anyone had come out to make full view of it.

The footman took my hat and gloves at the door, and I was led up the clear marble stairway. Already near the top, I began to find sets of lords and ladies in close conversation, and I shook a few hands here and said a few how-d’you-do’s over there as I made my way to the great room.

The herald at the door announced me, banging a wooden staff against the marble floor: “Lord Geoffrey Avery!”

The great room was a long expanse covered in red velvet and enormous portraits of distinguished family members and mythical heroes alike. This evening found it packed to the gills with earls and duchesses and the honorable who’s-its, not to mention the ever determined nouveau riche, of whom the Arborworthings seemed to have invited the lot. (New Money always wants to make such a ruddy splash, you know.) The dancing was in full swing, a smattering of the Royal Arebin Philharmonic sawing away at the far end, while others stood around the edges with glasses of champagne in hand. The crystal chandeliers breezed back and forth, the heat palpably rising to the gilded vaulting above.

I pinched a glass of the white and bubbly from a passing maid and was scanning the floor for Miss Braxton, so I wasn’t exactly looking where I was going when an icy voice caught me.

“Lord Geoffrey. Good evening.”

Dame Orvilea Faufferseff had turned toward me, fixing me with the full force of her figure. She was a short, plump woman, with shoulder-length gray hair, a lavish black silk dress, and a long string of pearls standing out against the black lace of her bust. A wry smile lit her round face, putting beyond dispute her likeness to Castiglione’s “Devil of the Temptation.”

“Excuse me, Sir Edward,” she said, and I became aware that Sir Edward Greenwich was standing nearby, a polite smile under the single sweep of his graying blonde hair.

“It’s no trouble at all,” he said, with a faint hint of relief. I had never liked Sir Edward, even if his estate wasn’t ten miles from my family’s ancestral pile, but for once I fully understood him. “I really do need to say hello to Lady Keighley, if you’ll excuse me.” He nodded his farewell and melted away into the crowd, leaving me quite alone with her.

“Dame Orvilea,” I said, giving my most officious bow. “This is a pleasure.”

“Yes,” she spoke crisply. “I was afraid we might miss each other.”

I felt rather than heard the note of triumph in her voice. All I really could do was smile. “I was too. Indeed, I think we did miss each other last time. Was it at the—?”

“The MacCarrols,” she supplied. “Their river party, wasn’t it? But then, it’s so hard to speak to anyone properly when everyone’s drifting about every which way. I’m surprised no one drowned.”

“I seem to remember someone did,” I said, too lightly.

She eyed me appraisingly. “Well, what have you been doing with yourself these days? Can’t just sit around wasting your father’s money.”

“I thought that was business of second sons?”

“Better go into politics—or business. I’m told that’s respectable nowadays. Too much leisure can be a terrible thing. You know my nephew, I think? Percival Terce? He’s gone quite mad from it. Used to be all horses and hunting and clothes; my sister tells me he’s become practically catatonic these days. It’s really rather dangerous, don’t you think? It seems more and more dangerous all the time.”

I found my composure somewhere or other, and I said easily, “So few people speak right out to you anymore, do they? It’s really rather flattering of you, Dame Orvilea.”

“I’ve never liked mincing words.” Her eyes had latched onto mine, and one of her hands strayed to her pearls, rather near the neck.

“I’ll be sure to remember that.”

She smiled her Castiglione smile again. “Well, I’m sure you have many other people to greet. Good evening, Lord Geoffrey.”

I bowed again, and she rustled softly away, alert as a biding harpy.

 

It took me a moment to realize I was in urgent need of a brandy and soda. I stumbled toward the door to the music room, but as luck would have it, I was next set upon by Mrs Arborworthing and Miss Julia Arborworthing herself, fresh from the dance floor. Naturally I was not so out of sorts as to neglect the duties of a young Galahad to the guest of honor, and soon we were jaunting across the floor to an eager waltz. A wide majority of marchionesses would not have considered me so good a catch as Lord Aubrey or Lord Basildon, but the younger son of an earl was by no means poor marks for a manufacturer’s daughter, and she was a perfectly charming young woman in any case. Happily I chanced upon the Honorable Minnie Braxton during the waltz, and we danced the next set together. It was the sort of thing calculated to raise a chap’s spirits and stoke his appetite, so I made another concerted effort to reach the music room afterward and finally succeeded.

The foodstuffs were top hole of course, from the braised quail to the cherry sorbet, and what with the relative quiet of the music room, I almost felt a sort of contentment come upon me. The sunlight had failed by now, and rain was pouring outside in enthusiastic sheets, the cool air stealing in through the stuffy windows. With the night the yellow enchantment lamps cast more muted shadows, and the red velvet and gold leaf of the music room glowed warmly. The buzz of so many conversations seemed to take on a confiding tone, the peals of laughter smoothed by the society of wine. I saw it as one of those smudgy, new-fangled paintings, heavy on the reds and oranges: “Life as It Rather Ought to Be.” One had almost forgotten that Mr Ridley had been strangled to death two days ago, and that Dame Orvilea had as good as threatened my life, and that life hardly was what it ought to be. Less and less so, too, if the Dame Orvileas of the world kept sashaying about society and fanning the flames of war and generally being rotten to younger sons of the aristocracy.

I seemed to be catching the dolors again, so there was nothing for it but to pop back to the great room and flag down Miss Braxton. Rather fortunately, she was just finishing a slow number with some grizzled commodore, and she declared herself more than happy to accompany me back onto the floor for something a bit brisker.

Few things are capable of diverting me from a partner as bewitching as the Honorable Minnie Braxton, especially during one of Schlegel’s most pulse-making waltzes, but it is not every day that one suddenly spies a greasy-looking fellow slithering along the outer wall of the Marcabys’ great room in a tailcoat and collar at least two inches too wide for him. Whatever misgivings the fit of his suit stirred within me, however, were nothing beside the frank alarm provoked by the flower in his buttonhole, which assaulted my eyes when I had swung round again and caught sight of the blighter for the second time. It was a spidery white orchid, darkly spotted, and it looked like the victim of a mishap involving a bottle of pinot noir, a Wardian case, and a loaded musket.

Certainly I am more suspicious than your average aristo, what with my underhanded dealings with Stokers and Ridleys, but the disturbing conclusions to which my mind leapt on sighting this young vulgarian were clearly warranted. The Arborworthings had been overgenerous when composing their guest list, certainly, but the cove in question was of such an unwholesome appearance—I even had a nauseating glimpse of heliotrope-colored argyle socks showing beneath baggy turn-ups. Mr Arborworthing himself wouldn’t have trusted the young bird to dress for a suburban garden party.

I have a general aversion to leaving lovely young ladies on the dance floor and will confess a particular pang at the thought of leaving Miss Braxton. However, my suspicions got the better of me when my man with the dotty orchid edged his way to the nearest doorway and gave the room a rodent-like look-over. I begged Miss Braxton’s pardon for a sudden, insatiable desire to eat ices and then dashed off the dance floor, dodging between dowdy old dowagers and fresh young fish alike. Naturally my desertion of Miss Braxton (in the middle of a back-facing whisk no less) elicited severe scowls from the aforementioned duchesses and ruffled more than one lord’s mustache, and I can only offer as apology that my being so quick on the ankles really made the difference between the present good order of things and the total collapse of society—though of course you shouldn’t know that from last season’s gossip or even the very well connected of the underground.

When I came out into the hall, I found my man loitering in the doorway of the music room in what must be called an unsavory manner. I knew I should have to pass by him and head for the cards room unless a fashionable excuse for loitering myself came to hand. Luckily, the Honorable Donnel Fennaveus Hinxley came out from the cards room just then and started toward me, pausing on his way for a nod and a “good evening” to my man.

“Avery, there you are, old thing,” he said, shaking my hand. “Thought you’d still be skipping about the ballroom with Miss Braxton. Don’t tell me she’s had to go?”

In those days, Mr Hinxley did not often frequent Plunket’s, the club where we were both members, but we had gone to boarding school together, and we had met often enough at dinner parties and soirees. Once, too, after a particular visit to the underground, I had gone to him with a pair or two of broken ribs when I had wanted to avoid the wagging tongue of my family physician. Hinxley was one of the aristocracy’s finest surgeons and also a forgetful soul, a fact I had discovered to be as useful as the gravest discretion. I should perhaps mention—in his defense—that Hinx is one of the most generous men I have ever met. I have only once seen him engage in an argument in what you might call a heated manner, when I told him the beard that traversed from one of his ears to the other by route of his upper lip looked like the growth of a poisonous fungus.

“Miss Braxton was feeling a mite woozy, so I’m fetching ices,” I said, glancing over Hinxley’s shoulder as my man finished his inspection of the music room and hoofed on to the cards room.

“A very wise thing to do. Such a lot of people—dashed hot, what?” Hinxley said. He noted my distraction and turned to look across the hall. “Do you know that man, by the bye? I’ve never seen such atrocious socks!”

“No, I’m sorry to say I don’t know him. But I rather intend to. If you’ll excuse me, Mr Hinxley. A pleasure.”

He smiled knowingly, perhaps remembering my broken ribs better than I thought. “Good night, Lord Geoffrey.”

We parted, and I skirted around some ancient statuary of dreadfully attractive gods—the objects of keen study for a couple of countesses of my acquaintance. I barely took the time to say my how-do-you-do’s, though, as I feared I might be a jump or three too far behind my man to work out what it was he could possibly be doing at Miss Arborworthing’s debutante ball. Providence, however, was with me, as I thought it jolly well should be.

I made the cards room and secured a fresh glass of champagne just as my man’s assignation came to its pièce de résistance. He was standing by the roulette wheel and taking rather a longer snort of champagne than good breeding could make advisable, when a great cheer rose up as the roulette ball fell to number twenty, and a lucky gentleman raked in his winnings. The hullabaloo provided the cover for which my man had evidently been waiting, as quick as a horse out of the starting gate, he pulled a piece of paper from his jacket and dipped it into the pocket of Godfrey Pranchester.

I pray God you have never met Lord Pranchester. A dubious fellow, always hanging about in a whirl of large cigars, large brandies, and large speculations, he made his fortune from “coffee import” and was made a life peer in the ’eighties for “great acts of parliamentary service in the area of farming law”—though most underground tattlers agree that he bought his peerage in the wake of the bankrupting Belcher Budget Scandal. I wasn’t the only person who found his whereabouts around the time of Education Minister Horburgh’s death worryingly unclear, and I have even lunched with a lord who swears he stopped Lord Pranchester’s three daughters from making off with priceless jewels from the National Museum. Apparently the metropolitan police have half a dozen petty charges they could press against him at any moment.

I had myself a deuced dilemma to face, which anyone who works alone in my business will quite understand. The message tucked into Lord Pranchester’s coat pocket was evidently urgent enough to require a bruiser to attempt white tie and flounder his way through the Marcabys’ rooms, so I knew Pranchester would tramp downstairs to his carriage and be on his way in five minutes or less. At the same time, I could’ve staked my shirt that my man with the wilty orchid would flee in the exact opposite direction. Certainly, the letter in Pranchester’s pocket was more tantalizing, but he was a slippery devil. Lord Pranchester’s alert deceptions had kept every winkling eye in the city from plumbing his secrets. Though the admission pains me to this day, I knew his pocket was safe even from my light fingers. Besides, my intuition told me the man with the heliotrope socks had not discarded all his incriminating evidence.

Everyone seemed ready for another drink after the grand roulette victory. In the bustle of champagne flutes and chatter about fickle Lady Luck, my man was already stepping back from the table and scooting straight for the door. I had posted myself rather near the exit (feigning deep engrossment in Lady Allen’s whist hand, of course), yet I let my man pass a few paces ahead of me before I came into the hall behind him. He didn’t take the staircase down to the front hall as I had quite anticipated, but instead he doubled back past the music room and the ballroom in search of the back stairs, or so I could only surmise.

The only really decent reason a ne’er-do-well could have for taking the back stairs at the Marcabys’ was that he meant to leave the house by the garden door, which would scarcely be in demand on such a rainy night. I already felt rather fishy for tailing my man back across the hall from the great room, though, and only the thickest of strong-arms wouldn’t suspect something was afoot when I tumbled down the backstairs after him. I thought it best to dip back into the great room and push my way across to the painted room, all the while praying rather devoutly that Hugh Marcaby hadn’t retired there with a select circle of gentlemen. Happily, the painted room was vacant except for a housemaid and footman engaged in intimate conversation, and I apologized profusely to them as I ran past the room’s silk-covered sofas. Somehow or other, while unknotting my tie and securing a handy champagne flute between my teeth, I finally managed to push open the far window, and with perhaps a moment or two of hesitation, I pitched myself out into untold darkness.

Providence was apparently still with me: I landed in an azalea hedge and could forego the cleaning bill for rolling through wet grass and mud. I disentangled myself as quickly as possible and squinted around me. Clouds and rain made the night positively inky, and I could barely see a dashed thing except for the light streaming through the glass garden door not fifteen meters from me. I ran toward it, mussing my hair and hoping I was not too late.

Like clockwork, my timing was. My man cracked the garden door and slid eel-like through the gap. He turned up his collar against the rain, hesitated, and then darted down the gravel path. His eyes had not adjusted to the darkness, and it was the easiest thing to sidestep straight into him.

“What the devil?” he cried.

I had approximately three moments to act. I very much wanted his wallet, but I was experienced enough to resist such an amateur mistake. Breast coat pockets are tricky for one thing, and he would miss his wallet well before the night was over. His outer pockets had a box of matches and two squares of chocolate in paper, which I also thought better of taking. My whole caper, then, was only worth a peek at the stitching inside his jacket, and in that too my hopes were somewhat dashed. The name of the coat’s owner had been rather unceremoniously ripped out of the label; however, I was at least able to make out the tailor’s name—PL Chieveley—by the light from the garden door.

“Oh, hang it all!” I slurred, and I went from leaning against him to reeling backward. “All that beautiful champagne all over your coat. So clumsy of me. Can you ever forgive me?” I staggered a step closer again and breathed heavily across his face.

“Go to the devil,” my man said. He shouldered me to the side and ran off.

“Hey!” I yelled after him. “The carriages are out front tonight!”

He was not foolish enough to call back further threats against my immortal soul, but I heard him tripping over some agreeable plant or other off to my left. I kicked off my shoes for silence’s sake and pursued at a distance, following him to the fence separating the Marcabys’ garden from Whitmore Street. Though it had enough swoops and curlicues to put a calligrapher’s writing to shame, the fence was not purely decorative: At ten feet high, the wrought-iron stakes ended in sharp points.

The telltale glow of a coppery incantation suddenly etched inside my man, and he took the fence at one bound, using his hands to sort of step up the stakes as his association with gravity shifted uncomfortably. The Whitmore Street lamps were burning with a mellow light, but I was too far away and it was too dark to get a decent look at his magical imprint. The motion looked telekinetic, but I couldn’t rule it out as a drifting spell.

My scramble up the fence would not be as neat or quiet as his, and I waited until he had ducked down a dark alleyway before putting hand to iron. I was a quarter of a minute from one side to the other, and I think you will agree that this feat was actually rather impressive, even without the rain and the fact that I was climbing in stockings.

My man and I had ourselves a sporting chase through the wide, white-stone streets of Posh End, and we were only occasionally interrupted by lords and ladies riding back from late-night parties in closed carriages or patrolling policemen in raincoats and custodian helmets. He led me—innocent fellow—to an alley off Bassington Park, where he mounted a waiting carriage, with a tall, angular shadow in a damp tweedy cape sitting on the box.

Thus I found myself at a second crossroads in one evening. I was soaked to the bone and deuced sick of trotting about town. I could, of course, confront the bruisers in the carriage, fasten them to an accommodating tree, and drag their sins from their lips—but they were just that: bruisers. They would say little and know less. It seemed much more propitious to remain undetected.

With a sinking heart and the hope that Gibson would not mind mixing me a brandy and chocolate well after two o’clock, I pulled a small box from my sock. Inside was the stickiest mess of amber resin known to man, for which I had to thank that devilish fine enchanter friend of mine. I scraped the resinous blob from the box and with careful aim threw it on the back canvas of the carriage that bore away the most garish pair of socks I have ever seen. You may well believe that I have told many people of those socks, and even with the corroboration of Mr Hinxley, I am rarely believed.

No self-respecting cabbie ran after midnight, and I had to walk back to the Marcabys’. I would like to tell you that this walk was thrilling, filled with many revelations about the man in heliotrope socks and, perhaps, three to five attempts on my life. However, it rained steadily, and try as I might, I could not even recall the tiniest scrap of information about PL Chieveley. I could say with confidence that he was not a West End tailor, or I would have known his name. Beyond that, the identity, habits, and Christian names of the tailor Chieveley remained a mystery.

I fetched my shoes from the Marcabys’ garden but found no trace of my bowtie, which must have fallen from my neck somewhere between the painted room and Bassington Park. Feeling somewhat heartened by the solid fit of my shoes, I pulled a small marble from my pocket and trundled out into the streets of Arebin.

The marble in question was another brilliant device designed by the aforementioned enchanter chum, and it led me with a simple, compass-like light to the location of the amber resin. The resin (and, presumably, the carriage it was attached to) was cached in the James Marlborough & Sons Fishery on the wharfs near Breedleby, east of the river. Only three doors led into the fishery, and all looked tightly barred up against the rougher elements of Breedleby. I also found faint imprinting of security enchantments around the posts of the doors and windows—a further safety measure.

I thought better of forcing my way inside and determined to return during business hours. The walk back to Tamber Hill was a long one anyway, and St. Agatha’s was chiming out a quarter to three as I passed by. I would have normally considered such an hour a perfectly reasonable bedtime, except my sister had threatened to call in the morning.