DOWNTON ABBEY MEETS LOVECRAFT MEETS NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in Deadtown Abbey.
It is a world few of us have ever known. A world of masters and servants, where everyone knows one’s place. A world of newfangled technology like telephones and motorcars. A world of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and monsters of the deep. At the center of his necropolis estate lives the Earl of Monroe, who must hold the family he loves and the servants he trusts together against the eldritch onslaught of this rapidly changing world.
If it were possible for a person to look literally green with envy, then Lady Eleanor, middle daughter of the Shambley family, had gone positively putrescent that Saturday morning. The handsome, dashing older gentleman Sir Abraham had sat next to her at dinner the previous evening, charming everyone with his erudition and knowledge of Romanian history and folklore. Perhaps charming everyone was a bit of an overstatement, since Eleanor had been alone in asking him interesting questions about his work and his travels. He said that he was a kind of anthropological detective, sussing out any truths that might lie behind ancient myths and folk stories, which Eleanor found fascinating and everyone else found … well, she didn’t know and didn’t care what those stuffed shirts thought. She was head over heels in love with this—unmarried, mind you—fine gentleman.
And famous, too, from what she had heard before his arrival. She knew his name from somewhere, although she couldn’t imagine where. It certainly wasn’t in the society pages, although he had recently been knighted for his service to Britain. Was it in that context? She couldn’t remember what service it was that he was being hailed for. Well, it didn’t matter, did it? He was a dashing older fellow, he was a knight, and he was as wealthy as the Terrible Old Man of Kingsport!
Asking for a word with Her Ladyship, Buffy the housemaid told Lady Eleanor that she heard Sir Abraham would be staying for the Saturday-’til-Monday, just as Eleanor had hoped. This would give Eleanor plenty of time to show the gentleman what a fine wife she herself would be for a man like him. Nothing showy or vulgar, of course, but—
“Lady Eleanor, delightful to see you again,” Sir Abraham said warmly, his gold-rimmed spectacles lending him an air of intensity. Here he was, before the men went out shooting, resplendent in his tweeds, saying hello to her!
“Good morning, Doctor.”
He chuckled. “Please, call me Professor.” His smile straightened out as he took a quick glance to see if anyone were in hearing range and, seeing that they were quite alone, leaned in a little closer to Eleanor. “Would it be impertinent of me to ask you a question?”
The blood seemed to stop in Eleanor’s veins. This was it! An offer already, and they had only dined together once! She knew that he was high quality, but this was an exceptional level of discrimination and discernment. “O-Of course not, Professor,” she stuttered at him.
“Marvelous! Then do you think that you could,” he said semi-quietly, “ask Lady Maureen to accompany me on the shoot? I have come to learn that she is not yet spoken for? I myself am without a romantic situation, if you understand my meaning.”
“Oh.” Eleanor could feel her upper lip wanting to twitch and her nose wanting to run. Ye gods, every cell in her body wanted to hop away. And die.
“Lady Eleanor? Are you all right?”
“Yes, certainly,” she said, her voice definitely wavering. “I would be most happy to help you to shoot Lady Maureen. With Lady Maureen, I mean.” (Like Hastur, she did.)
“Thank you, my dear, you are so very helpful! I—oh, there she is now. I shall have a chance to ask her myself. Good morning to you,” he said, giving Eleanor a single nod of the head like she was a doorman holding the door for him at a Scottish chophouse. If those had doormen.
Well, she told herself as she watched them stroll away arm-in-arm, perhaps they won’t even get on.
* * *
“It’s a shame we haven’t had a chance to spend more time together,” Sir Abraham said as Monroeville Hall’s latest knighted guest prepared to return to London. “I do so enjoy our time together, Lady Maureen.”
“Oh, please, do call me just Maureen. And I think we’ve talked more over the past few days than I’ve talked with anyone my entire life,” she said, and quickly added, “Oh! Not that I would find more time disagreeable in the slightest, mind you!”
Sir Abraham laughed, his grey-flecked black moustache and goatee hugging the face around his grin. He saw that his valet was placing the last of the cases into the motor, and made a decision. “Maureen, might I ask of you a question?”
Sir Abraham checked to see that no one was about in the small room where he and Maureen had been saying their goodbyes. “I was wondering, if you weren’t otherwise indisposed,” he said in as casual a manner as possible, “if you might consider marrying me.”
As the past few days had been spent so pleasantly with Sir Abraham, and since her secret had weighed so heavily upon Maureen that she never dared to become engaged in the years since the Tarboosh incident, she had been thinking almost incessantly about whether he would make her an offer. Now, here it was before her. And all she could say was, “My father would want to be consulted, of course.”
“Of course. That is why I spoke to him last evening.”
A look of astonishment that quickly turned into an open-mouthed smile took over Maureen’s face.
“It was over cigars, after dinner, when I was able—and only through great effort, mind you—to back His Lordship into a corner,” Sir Abraham said with a smile of his own, “figuratively and literally.”
“You astound me, Sir Abraham! And after all your trouble, wouldn’t it be churlish of me to say no?”
“Indeed it would! And call me Bram, if it would please you.”
“Bram it is, then. And the answer is yes.”
He put his big arms around her then and kissed her. It was a delightful kiss, her first since dear Johnny had gone off on his mission. It tasted of vanilla and pipesmoke, and Sir Abraham’s—Bram’s—face was full of love as they parted.
His valet stepped into the doorway, timed too well to have been an accident. “Sir, the motor is ready.”
“Aye, thank you, I won’t be but a moment,” Sir Abraham replied, and turned back to Maureen, whose hand he now held in his own. “My darling, I shall write to you as soon as I get back to London.”
“I look forward to it!” She kissed him once more before he turned away and took his seat in the back of the automobile. He waved at her with grey-gloved fingers as the motor pulled away down the drive.
So that was it. She had survived her infamy, her indiscretion with the vampire. And she knew that if there were anyone she could tell without fear of hatred and contempt about her terrible secret, it was her new fiancé, the fair-minded Sir Abraham Van Helsing.
* * *
With every mile put between the Emma and the sunken city of R’lyeh, the horrors lessened. They never went away completely—no sensitive on the planet was spared to that extent—but the vividness of the gibbering terrors faded almost with every wave they crested.
Except for Peter. He was locked in a makeshift brig now, the dagon’s bite eating away at his brain almost from the time it happened. Johnny would go below decks and try to keep him company, but soon the smell of offal and the complete nonsense Peter spewed drove even the compassionate Mister Shambley away. It seemed that the boy had broken off any connection to the world of the senses and was seeing something quite different from what the unafflicted perceived.
For all that, it wasn’t consistent—sometimes he would greet Johnny or one of the sailors tasked with feeding him, and he’d take his food tray without flinging it against the bulkhead. Sometimes he would politely hand over his slop bucket instead of pouring it over his own head and shouting that he was a lizard or a woodpecker now.
Johnny and his fellow Order members knew that, technically speaking, Peter could have been considered one of the lucky ones. He was still alive, after all, and being transported back to the most medically advanced country in the world. Every other man who had been bitten by the unnatural creatures had gone into the ocean, some accidentally in their growing madness, others voluntarily in the hope they could spare themselves the terrible end they were likely to face. All of them joined the other dead of the sea near R’lyeh as pieces of new dagons fashioned by Cthulhu’s psionic energy.
But Johnny had swiftly ferried Peter below and had tended to his wounds as best he could. The ship surgeon was one of the first to be carried off by the antibodies of the Old One’s eldritch system, so Johnny had stepped in. During the studies he undertook for writing stories of the macabre and unusual—entertainments meant to sneak in acceptance of the dark forces at work in the world—he had picked up quite a bit of medical knowledge, and this he now used to help Peter any way he could. He had promised Cousin George that he would do everything possible to take care of the beloved servant, and so he would.
NEXT WEEK: PART 19 — AN URGENT LETTER AT SEA