Episode Twenty – ‘Corpses & Corporeality’, Part Three

     By 7pm that evening the fine weather of the last few days had broken and a steady rain was falling, smothering the finer streets of Bath with a thin sheen of greasy mud and turning the poorer roads and alleys into a quagmire. Michael and I stood huddled in a doorway of the Westgate Buildings, our attention fixed upon the rear entrance of the Hospital of St John opposite. An arched gateway led into a narrow courtyard, beyond which stood a handsome stone building of classical proportions. My hours since tea-time had not been idle and I had led Michael here in order to fill him in on the fruits of my labours.

     “I got all the gen from our housemaid, Milly – she has a cousin who cleans here six days a week,” I told him. “Dr Worthing’s office is on the second floor, third on the right as you look at it. Which must make it… that one.”

‘That one’

     Michael’s eye picked out the window I was indicating and he gazed thoughtfully at it for a moment or two. “Of course, we don’t know for certain that Dr Worthing is actually responsible for the disappearance of Captain Crowley,” he cautioned.

     “Come on, who else is going to want the body of a middle-aged man with advanced gout?” I countered. “Remember, Dr Worthing has his lectures to prepare for and word is that he’s also been giving private tuition to young gentlemen preparing for the entrance examinations to the medical school in Edinburgh.”

     Michael tilted his head thoughtfully by way of conceding that I had a point.

     “And,” I went on, “Milly’s cousin says he’s in the habit of regularly receiving large crates which he won’t let anyone else go near but which give off quite a whiff. Now what do you suppose they could be?”

     “Alright, I’ll agree this at least warrants further investigation,” admitted Michael.

     “Right then, so Milly’s cousin says there’s only a solitary porter on duty after 9.30pm. He’s supposed to do the rounds every twenty minutes but most nights he’s hunkered down by the fire in the porter’s lodge by a quarter to ten and rarely comes out again before dawn.”

     “Excellent. But I think we’d better wait until ten-thirty before making our move, just to be on the safe side,” suggested Michael. He consulted his pocket watch. “In the meantime we’d better head over to Reverend Miller’s card evening. We can always make our excuses and leave early.”

     “Do we really still have to go to that thing?” I protested. “I thought the whole point of looking for Captain Crowley was to save us having to attend any more of those boring events.”

     “It is. But I think we ought to attend this one, even if it’s only to make sure Dr Worthing is safely occupied there before we come back here and try to break into his office. Besides, we already promised we’d be there – it would be rude to back out now.” I pulled a face. “Anyway, I thought you liked playing cards,” Michael added.

     “I do… when I’m allowed to play properly,” I returned. “But I just know the whole evening will be spent dodging Mrs Godwin’s disapproving looks every time I win another hand off Mr Duncan. Apparently she thinks it’s ‘unladylike’ to take your opponent to the cleaners.”

     “Perhaps she has a point – this isn’t exactly Monte Carlo, you know. Would it hurt you to let him win the occasional hand?” asked Michael with an exasperated sigh.

     “That’s easier said than done,” I retorted. “The man has all the card sense of a numerically-dyslexic walrus.”

     “Well, just try to sit at a different table this time,” instructed Michael as we left the shelter of the doorway and began to make our way to Reverend Miller’s. “And try to be a little less ruthless. Remember, we’re here to make friends, not money.”

     “Fine, I’ll try to graciously lose the odd hand,” I muttered with a somewhat sulky air. “But I can’t promise anything.”

********************************

     Three hours later we were back in the same doorway, keenly watching the hospital opposite for any signs of life. The rain had eased a little now but there was still a relentless mizzle which served to drive everyone without urgent business indoors. The hospital courtyard was empty and, but for a couple of dim lights spread across a couple of floors, there was little indication of any activity in the hospital itself. The window of Dr Worthing’s office was reassuringly dark.

     “So, we need to go through the courtyard and enter the building by a door on the right,” I told Michael, carefully reciting the instructions relayed to me by Milly from her cousin. “There should be a staircase directly opposite, we climb that to the second floor and then Dr Worthing’s office will be the third door on the left.”

     But Michael had taken his eyes off the hospital and was now gazing intently back down the road along which we had just come. “I think somebody just ducked into a doorway back there,” he said in a low voice.

     “Fine, we’ll wait here a couple more minutes to ensure they get inside,” I suggested.

     “I’m not sure they’re going inside,” murmured Michael thoughtfully. “The thing is, I’ve had the strangest feeling we’ve been followed ever since we left Reverend Miller’s.”

     “Who would want to follow us?” I asked. “Nobody can have any idea what we’re up to, can they?”

     Michael could only shrug in response. He continued to peer suspiciously up the road for another minute or so but when there was no further sign of movement he finally said, “I suppose I must have been mistaken. Come on then, let’s get this over with.”

     I cautiously scanned the courtyard one last time before making a move in that direction. I had taken barely two steps across the road before I ran straight into a mysterious figure wrapped in a dark cloak. I blame Michael’s forebodings for setting my nerves on such an edge that my immediate reaction was to let out a high-pitched squeal and leap backwards, cannoning into Michael who was following behind me. To my surprise the mysterious figure responded by letting out a high-pitched squeal of its own and scuttling away. As it did so the hood of the cloak fell away to reveal a familiar face.

     “Emily!” I exclaimed.

     Emily’s first instinct was to reach up a hand to pull the hood of her cloak back over her face but, swiftly recognising that this was now a rather futile gesture, she settled instead for flushing a deep red and bobbing an awkward little curtsey. “Good evening Natasha, Mr Redgrave,” she said politely.

     “Have you been following us?” asked Michael curiously.

     Emily somewhat shamefacedly nodded. “Please don’t be angry. I only want to help.”

     “Help with what?” asked Michael.

     “Why, finding Captain Crowley of course! That is why you’re here, isn’t it?”

     “How on earth did you know that?” I demanded.

     “As soon as I saw you making your excuses to Reverend Miller I guessed what you must be up to,” explained Emily. “Everyone’s simply itching to know what has happened to the Captain and I was certain you were the type to take action. I’m right, aren’t I?”

     “Well, we er…” I began, considering all kinds of explanations before eventually choosing to concede the basic point with a brief nod.

“And you’re here because you suspect Dr Worthing, aren’t you?” Emily pressed on eagerly. “Have you any proof against him?”

     “At this stage our evidence is mostly circumstantial,” admitted Michael.

     “So you’re going to look in his office for clues? How thrilling!” Emily exclaimed. “Can I come?”

     “I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Michael demurred. “Whatever would your mother say?”

     “She needn’t know,” returned Emily brightly. “I told her I had a headache and intended to have an early night.”

     “Suppose she decides to have an early night herself and retires home to find you’re missing?” I pointed out.

     “Oh, she’ll never do that,” Emily insisted. “Reverend Miller always invites her to stay for a sherry after the last round of cards and she doesn’t like to disappoint him. I can be home long before she returns.”

     I regarded Emily’s bright eager face with mixed emotions. On the one hand I was rather delighted by her sense of daring and impressed with her ingenuity but on the other hand I couldn’t help but be concerned for her. It was one thing for me to disregard the prejudice this society held towards women of spirit – one way or another I’d be out of here soon enough – but if we were caught Emily would be obliged to live with the consequences of her actions for a very long time.

     “Look, I’m really not sure this is such a good idea,” I eventually rather reluctantly advised. “You could get into serious trouble.”

     “Please don’t send me away!” pleaded Emily. “I’ll be ever so careful and I won’t cause you any bother. Only I’ve never had the chance to be involved in anything so exciting as this. And I promised to keep my friend Lucy up to date with absolutely everything that’s happening in Bath. She’s my dearest friend in all the world and at the moment she’s stuck in Stowick while her husband settles into his new parish and her poor baby hasn’t been well… and, oh, I so wanted to cheer her up with the inside story on the biggest scandal to occur here in Bath for years!”

     “Well, I really don’t know…” said Michael hesitantly. He turned to me with a questioning look but my memory had been stirred by something in Emily’s excitable speech and I was looking at her with a puzzled expression on my face.

     “Hang on a minute,” I said to Emily. “Didn’t you tell me that Stowick was the parish of the chap that you were once engaged to?”

     Emily flushed and nodded quickly.

     “So this Lucy,” I clarified, “she’s now married to the bloke that used to be your fiancé?”

     “That’s right,” replied Emily, bowing her head.

     “Blimey,” I remarked. “Well, I’m not sure I could go on being quite so pally with the woman who nicked my fella.”

     “It’s not like that,” replied Emily quietly. “Lucy would never have interfered whilst I still had the expectation of an inheritance from Uncle Talbot. But, as you know, that fell through and, well, Henry and I could never have set up home together without any money. And as Lucy had a small legacy of her own and she and Henry had always got on so well… it seemed only natural…”

     “But still,” I murmured, not entirely convinced. “She was your friend, she must have known how you felt…”

     “It’s just the way things are – Lucy needed a husband, Henry needed a wife with a little money,” concluded Emily with a sad sigh. “There’s no use in being bitter. What good would it do me to throw over my dearest friend because of circumstances over which neither of us had any control?”

     I conceded her point with a sympathetic smile.

     “So please can I come with you?” begged Emily. “It would mean so much to me.”

     I turned to Michael. Emily’s eager face was so hopeful there was no way either of us had the heart to refuse.

     “Alright,” agreed Michael. “But you had better be ready to make yourself scarce at the first sign of any trouble.”

     “Oh, I will,” said Emily with a beaming smile.

     So all three of us made our way across the street and through the courtyard, swiftly locating the door on the right. It opened with a low creak. I let Michael lead the way through, his masculinity conferring on him a certain protective air of authority in the event of our encountering anyone, while Emily and I tiptoed behind. Fortunately, the chilly stone corridor beyond the door was completely deserted. We hesitated for just a moment, breathing in the distinctive smell in which an earthy scent of unwashed bodies struggled inconclusively for the upper hand with a sharply chemical tang, before beginning to climb the staircase directly in front of us.

     After two flights we reached another bare stone corridor identical to the one two floors below. A dim light from some distant unseen quarter cast a faint glow along the walls but once again there was no sign of life. Still, we proceeded with due caution, counting off the doors until we reached the one which Milly’s cousin had indicated would lead us into Dr Worthing’s office.

     Michael reached out and carefully tried the handle. “It’s locked,” he whispered in a tone of disappointment.

     “I suppose we couldn’t expect to have it all our own way,” I murmured, eyeing the door thoughtfully. It was a sturdy oak affair, unlikely to give way without a lot of effort and noise, but as I examined the keyhole I thought I spotted a more promising opening. “Do you have a hairpin I can borrow?” I asked Emily.

     Emily duly obliged and I knelt down to set to work on the lock.

     “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” muttered Michael anxiously.

     “I’ve had training from Sid, remember?” I told him. “These big old locks tend to be pretty straightforward.”

     Even so, it took five anxious minutes and another three of Emily’s hairpins before I succeeded in fashioning a pick strong enough to release the mechanism. I stood up and pushed open the door with an air of mild triumph and the three of us slipped inside.

     The room beyond was at first just a dark mass of shadows but Michael soon succeeded in finding a stack of candles on a shelf by the door. We each took one, lit it and looked curiously around. Dr Worthing’s office was a large, square room with a broad desk covered in papers at its centre. The walls were densely lined with shelves packed with books and equipment and there were several small tables dotted around piled high with yet more books and papers.

     “This may take some time,” murmured Michael with a degree of anxiety.

     We split up, Michael and I turning in opposite directions along the walls whilst Emily crossed over to the desk to peer tentatively amongst the papers piled on top. I’m afraid I became somewhat distracted by an extensive collection of impressively icky things in jars and was still trying to identify some of the more extraordinary specimens when Michael softly called out, “Here, look at this!”

     Emily and I joined him by the window, beneath which stood a large wooden crate. “It seems this was delivered only this morning,” whispered Michael, pointing to a note tacked onto the side.

     “Do you think it large enough to contain Captain Crowley?” Emily asked, considering the crate from all angles.

     “If you bent him over and tucked in the elbows, then maybe,” I suggested.

     “There’s certainly an unpleasant odour about it,” remarked Emily, reeling backwards and wrinkling her nose.

     I leant forward and took a good sniff. “It smells kind of… sulphurous,” I decided after careful thought. “Is that how dead bodies smell?”

     “Well, there’s one way to find out,” declared Michael. He hunted around for a moment before discovering a crowbar handily perched on a nearby shelf. Setting his candle down on the window ledge, he worked the crowbar into the slender gap between crate and lid and heaved. The lid rose with a sharp crack. I helped him to ease it onto the ground and then, with a mixture of excitement and dread, all three of us peered into the crate.

Peering into the crate

     “What exactly do you think you are doing?!”

     The sudden unexpected voice made us all jump. I turned reluctantly towards the doorway and was rewarded with the sight of Dr Worthing standing on the threshold of his own office, glowering fiercely at us.

     “I knew it!” he cried, his eyes flashing triumphantly as they passed over Michael and I. “I knew you were up to something as soon as I saw you sneak out of Reverend Miller’s party!” The look of outraged satisfaction faltered for just a moment as he took in the presence of Emily alongside us – clearly he hadn’t reckoned on her part in our adventure – but he soon turned his gaze back to Michael and I in order to declare once again, “I knew it!”

Caught in the act

     “Please Dr Worthing, if you’ll just allow me to explain…” began Michael, lifting his hands and taking a step forward.

     Unfortunately, he forgot that he was still holding the crowbar at the time so that what he intended as a conciliatory gesture came across as something altogether more threatening and Dr Worthing reacted accordingly. “Help! I’m being attacked! Somebody help me!” he cried out, somewhat hysterically.

     “Oh no, I didn’t mean…” protested Michael, unthinkingly taking another step forward so that Dr Worthing was practically cowering by one of his bookshelves before Michael finally had the good sense to put down the crowbar. “Please, there’s no need for alarm. We mean you no harm,” he added, holding up his empty hands to prove it.

     “Mean me no harm!” snorted Dr Worthing, scrabbling rather embarrassedly back to his feet. “You needn’t pretend with me sir! I know precisely what you’re up to,” he declared, growing bold enough to take a step forward himself now that his adversary was unarmed. “I’ve been onto you for some time!”

     “You have?” said Michael uncertainly.

     “Oh yes, I know all about your plans to steal my scientific secrets,” announced Dr Worthing, feeling bold enough now to wag an accusatory finger. “You think to make your fortune, sir, by taking my work from me!”

     “What? No, I…” spluttered Michael.

     “Yes, I picked up your little game in Mrs Grace’s drawing room,” Dr Worthing pressed on. “Asking all those questions, feigning interest in all my pastimes in the hope that I would divulge something of use to you.”

     “No, you’ve got it all wrong,” protested Michael. “I was actually…” But his words faded away as he tried and failed to think up a way of explaining precisely what it was that he had been hoping to achieve in Mrs Grace’s drawing room.

     “You even thought you might use your pretty little bluestocking here to lure me into some kind of indiscretion, didn’t you?” added Dr Worthing, nodding at me.

     “Oy!” I objected, reacting perhaps more to the tone of voice than the actual words. After all, I’d been called far worse things than a ‘pretty little bluestocking’ in my time.

     “And now you seem to have tricked another innocent young girl into doing your bidding,” continued Dr Worthing, turning towards Emily. “Where exactly does your harem end Mr Redgrave?”

     At this, Emily flushed a deeper red than I could have thought possible and awkwardly brushed at the several locks of stray hair that had been dislodged by the loss of four hairpins. I, on the other hand, couldn’t quite refrain from a loud snort of laughter at the notion of Michael as some sort of regency criminal mastermind exploiting a coterie of willing female accomplices.

     “You think this is funny, do you Miss Everingham?” demanded Dr Worthing, turning on me with a furious glower.

     “Quite funny, yeah,” I felt obliged to confess.

     “Well, we’ll see just how funny you find it once I have the parish constable called and the three of you arrested on a charge of breaking and entering, shall we?” declared Dr Worthing. “I shall see you all ruined, utterly ruined I tell you, before the week is out!”

     “Oh, please no!” cried out Emily in dismay.

     “Really Dr Worthing, I understand how this must look,” said Michael, taking up a respectful tone in an effort to soothe proceedings before they got out of hand, “but I can assure you that I have not now and never have had any intention of stealing your work.”

     “Then what, pray, do you think you are doing creeping around my office in the middle of the night?” challenged Dr Worthing.

     There was a long, rather awkward pause.

     “We were looking for Captain Crowley,” I finally said. Under the circumstances I could see no alternative but to admit the truth.

     “Captain Crowley?” Dr Worthing repeated. He glared at us for a moment. “Oh, I see. A body goes missing and therefore you have decided that I, as a medical man, must be responsible, is that it?”

     “I don’t think it’s an entirely unreasonable assumption to make,” protested Michael mildly.

     Dr Worthing continued to glare for a little longer. “Well, I trust that you have at least had the opportunity to satisfy yourselves that he is not in there,” he finally said, nodding towards the open crate behind us.

     We were each obliged to nod. The brief glance we had been allowed inside the crate before Dr Worthing’s untimely interruption had been sufficient to confirm that it did not contain the remains of Captain Crowley. What it appeared to contain were a couple of strange-looking instruments, a long copper coil and several glass jars containing a substance that seemed to account for the sulphurous smell. Sensing an opportunity to diffuse the tension a little, I asked with an air of innocent curiosity, “What exactly is all that stuff?”

     “That, young lady, is the future of modern medicine!” announced Dr Worthing haughtily.

     “It all looks very technical,” I casually remarked.

     “But of course!” retorted Dr Worthing. “The equipment I have gathered here represents the culmination of years of research. For years I have laboured to drag the medical profession out of the dark ages and into the new scientific century!”

     “That sounds like a most worthy endeavour,” said Michael encouragingly. “I hope your research is going well.”

     Dr Worthing continued to glare darkly at Michael for a moment or two. It was clear that his suspicions about Michael’s motives had not been entirely allayed but in the end the chance to talk up his own achievements proved too tempting. “The medical profession is long overdue a shake-up,” he grandly declared. “Call a doctor for practically any complaint these days and what does he do? Relieves you of a few guineas and a couple of pints of blood. Well, I say that blood-letting is a barbaric and ineffectual process. My new technique represents a huge step forward in the treatment of disease.”

     “That certainly sounds promising,” I cheerfully remarked, wondering if I hadn’t perhaps somewhat misjudged Dr Worthing.

     “Electricity, you see, is the key,” explained Dr Worthing eagerly, now warming to his theme. “Instead of removing blood, I propose that treatment can be much better effected by simply moving the blood around the body. My device uses an electric current which I apply to strategic areas of the body, thereby stimulating the flow and easing vital fluids either towards or away from the afflicted organs as necessary.”

     “Oh,” I said, somewhat deflated. “That sounds…” I tailed off, unable to find a way of truthfully completing the sentence without using the words ‘utter bollocks’.

     Fortunately, Dr Worthing was by now too fired up with messianic zeal for his new process to notice my fading enthusiasm. “You just wait and see, within a few years the ‘Worthing Galvinator’ will be the standard item of equipment for every physician in the land,” he confidently asserted.

     “How thrilling!” exclaimed Emily, peering curiously down into the crate again. “Does it really work?”

     “Well, there are still one or two improvements to be made,” conceded Dr Worthing somewhat evasively, “but the early tests that I have conducted have proved most encouraging. The design is the result of much painstaking research.”

     “This research of yours,” I said slowly, raising an eyebrow, “it wouldn’t have involved the use of any cadavers or anatomical specimens, would it?”

     “Damn it all, you’ve already seen for yourselves that Captain Crowley is not here,” responded Dr Worthing irritably. “Or perhaps you’d care to check my lodgings as well to ensure he isn’t hidden beneath the bed?”

     “Alright, maybe you don’t actually have Captain Crowley but I’m willing to bet you know something about his disappearance,” I ventured. “You’re a medical man, after all…”

     “And I suppose that automatically makes me a party to all kinds of nefarious practices, does it?” retorted Dr Worthing. “I should have known better than to think that you might understand. It’s precisely these kinds of ideas spread amongst the general populace that serve to push the scientific establishment into the shadows.”

     “Believe me, we’re not here to make any moral judgements, we just want to find out what became of the Captain,” said Michael reasonably. “People are going to keep asking questions until they get some kind of answer and I doubt we’ll be the only ones to point the finger at the medical establishment. I’d say it was in your interest as much as anyone’s that the matter is swiftly cleared up. So if there is anything you can tell us it’ll be as well to speak up now.”

     Dr Worthing sighed. He spent a moment lightly running his hand along the spines of his books on a nearby shelf, carefully weighing up his options. When he finally spoke, it was in a low tone, as if he were talking to himself as much as to anyone. “I can’t think what they were about,” he muttered. “Taking a body from an open casket like that. Why, it was simply asking for trouble.”

     “Who do you mean – ‘they’?” I asked. “The bodysnatchers? You know who they are, don’t you?”

     There was another pause before Dr Worthing sighed again. “Alright, I’ll tell you what I know.” He walked over to his desk and sat down behind it, pressing his fingers together like a professor about to commence a lecture. “It’s true, my work does require the use of fresh anatomical specimens from time to time and the only legitimate source of corpses for dissection is direct from the gallows. Well, even in these lawless times, there are never enough of those to go around. So, when I came to Bath I endeavoured to seek out a group of resurrection men who could supply my needs. The group I found came highly recommended – their work was said to be prompt, efficient and discrete. And until now they have delivered in every way.” He paused and shook his head. “But this business with Captain Crowley – I neither sanctioned it, nor will I have any part in it. It’s sheer madness!”

     “So what made these resurrection men suddenly take such a risk?” asked Michael.

     “I haven’t the faintest idea,” replied Dr Worthing. “To find the answer to that question I suppose you would have to ask their leader.”

     “And how would we go about tracking down their leader?” I asked.

     Dr Worthing looked up at us with a sly smile. “Oh, I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble, he’s seen at all the best society gatherings. In fact, I’d say there’s every chance you’ll run into him at Mrs Grant’s soiree tomorrow evening.”

     Dr Worthing sat back, relishing our puzzled glances for a moment or so, before finally declaring, “You see, the leader of the resurrection men is none other than Bath’s most eligible bachelor, Sir Robert Farleigh.”

To be continued…

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