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.
George actually flinched away from the letter when he read Johnny’s postscript. What in the blazes did that mean, “PROTECT YOUR BRAIN NOW”? Was his heir implying that George had in some way not been protecting his brain? Was George, in fact, not doing enough to keep himself free of the Enemy’s nightmare factory? He read and reread the line, which was so much in contrast in tone and urgency from the rest of the letter.
It was entirely possible that Johnny could not go into detail, lest his own brain be penetrated by Cthulhu. Was he referring to the fact that George, as the newest member of the Order, had not had the time to develop the psychic defense skills that his comrades had achieved?
His hand went to his mouth when he realized that, for all the intelligence he thought he was gathering about the Enemy through his disturbed dreams, the Enemy could have been getting just as much information from the Order of the Elder Sign’s leader through his unprotected brain.
That was it. That, no doubt—ye gods!— was it. He glanced around the library for an inspiration as to what to do to PROTECT HIS BRAIN NOW. What would not seem overly ridiculous but might keep the Old One out of his brain? From what George understood about electricity, he thought that metal would scramble a broadcast signal. Perhaps psionic energy worked the way electric energy did, and was subject to the same physical limitations? Yes, metal could be the answer!
He used the bell, and Foree appeared. “Your Lordship rang?”
“Yes, thank you, I—wait a minute, where is Bubb?”
“He had an important war errand to see to in London, milord.”
“Oh, of course, of course. It seems I never know what staff is available anymore.”
“I understand you completely, milord.” Foree would never admit openly that the chaos was making him as unsure as His Lordship, but what he did say was taken as much the same thing.
“Very good. In any case, could you please contact Sir Abraham’s man and ask him if he could procure a piece of scientific equipment for me?”
One of Foree’s huge brows canted at an angle. “Scientific equipment, sir?”
“Yes. What I need is a deep-sea diving helmet.”
“Of … of course, milord.”
“Something, if possible, that I can wear around the house and also to bed at night.”
Foree felt stuck to the floor in confusion, his head churning as he tried to figure out what his employer was talking about. “By ‘diving helmet,’ does Your Lordship mean to indicate one of those rounded metal constructions that adventurers wear while walking beneath the sea, milord?”
“Exactly so. Thank you, Foree.”
“Certainly, milord,” Foree replied, although that was utterly pro forma. He wondered if the letter had been an invitation to go diving in the English Channel, or perhaps to join the war’s submariner corps. Either way, his place was to do, not to ask why, no matter how burning that question might have been.
* * *
Foree needed to sit for a moment and try to reconcile his picture of the noble Earl with one of a deep-sea daredevil who preferred cavorting with hagfish to a morning hunt. He would try the telephone device to contact Sir Abraham directly at his College, since the matter seemed urgent.
He realized he had only ever received calls on the blasted thing, and he had no idea how one was to initiate such a communication. He was certain that the technologically savvy scholar would have such a device, as they were seeming to pop up everywhere now.
He was about to pick up the earpiece when Foree’s opposite number, Mrs McDermott, tapped at the pantry door.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything. You asked Daphne to find me?”
“Indeed, I did. Please do come in, Mrs McDermott, but kindly close the door behind you.”
She did, and sat, looking with concern at her longtime coworker and friend.
“I would deny that there was anything wrong, Mrs McDermott, but it would be a fruitless effort to try to deceive you, I believe.”
She smiled kindly—she had the kindest smile—and said, “You have learned so much in our years here together, Mister Foree.”
They both had a chuckle over that, but then the butler turned serious and said, “I must admit to you that I am having some trouble with my great shame.”
Mrs McDermott blinked. Great shame? Had something happened of which she was not aware? “I don’t know what you could be speaking about,” she said with honesty.
“My shame. My”—he lifted his right forearm up to show the capped stump where his hand once had been—“disability.”
“Oh!” Mrs McDermott exclaimed brightly. “There is no reason for you to have shame over losing a hand, Mister Foree. Half the boys coming back from war are missing one part or another, and they should feel only pride at their survival. The same goes for you—not everyone goes toe-to-toe with a werewolf and lives to tell about it.”
His lips twisted in frustration. “But that’s just it, Mrs McDermott. I was attacked by a filthy animal and now I am the one who becomes a beast, a completely uncivilized, inhuman beast now, once every month, twice some months. I believe I should tender my resignation to His Lordship.”
“That’s absurd! You were in His Lordship’s service when the attack befell you! You were hurt in the line of duty. And that was two years ago! Why are you only coming to this now?”
Foree said sadly, “I have just come to realize over the past few weeks that my, em … special arrangement every month is affecting the family’s entertaining schedule. They are not allowing themselves to house any guests or hold any functions during my night of … indisposition.”
“Oh, I doubt very much His Lordship and Her Ladyship feel hard done by, Mister Foree. Perhaps they even—”
“You don’t understand. I am a hound among men. I am a disgusting, shameful presence that brings infamy to this good house!”
Mrs McDermott sat quietly and never took her eyes off the butler. Seconds passed, then almost a minute, the clock ticking loudly in the silence. It was enough time for Foree to start feeling a bit silly.
After what seemed like an eternity, she said, “Are you quite finished, Mister Foree?”
He cleared his throat and adjusted some papers on his desk that suddenly required his attention. “I believe I am,” he said at last.
“Good. Now you can listen to me: You are the heart and soul of Monroeville Hall, Mister Foree, and you should never forget it. You are a second father to Lady Maureen, not to mention the only father figure some of your staff have ever known. You will take your lumps once a month and devote yourself to service anew every time you come out of that underground sepulchre, is that understood?”
He looked at his dear friend and a smile returned to his face. “It is clear as crystal, Mrs McDermott. I thank you for adjusting my sights.”
“All in a day’s work,” she said with a pleased expression, and excused herself from the room.
Mister Foree watched her go with the smile still in place. He was very fortunate, he mused, to work for such wonderful people as His Lordship and with such wonderful people as Mrs McDermott. They forgave him his unfortunate condition and allowed him to continue the work he was born to do.
The word “work” resounded in his mind for a moment before he remembered he was supposed to be doing some of that work right then. He picked up the candlestick telephone, placed the earpiece to the side of his head and spoke clearly into the transmitter, “King’s College, please. Sir Abraham Van Helsing.”
In due course, after a long series of clicks and buzzing sounds and a few moments when the operator woman returned to the line and asked questions of Foree or of someone on the other end, the starched and ironed voice of the educated gentleman came out the earpiece: “This is the Professor.”
“Um, yes, thank you, sir, I am enquiring on the behalf of the Earl of Monroe. He asked me—”
“Lord Monroe!” the Professor cried, his entire way of speaking transformed into one of enthusiastic friendliness. “I wish you had said such at first! His Lordship is well, I hope? And his charming daughter?”
Mister Foree was taken aback, but pleased, at how his telephone call was proceeding. “Thank you for asking, sir. They are both quite well, indeed.”
“Marvelous. Thank you for calling! I hope to speak to you again in the near f—”
“Sir! If you please, I am making an enquiry on behalf of my employer, the Earl.”
“Right, yes, of course. What would you like to know?”
“Em … His Lordship was of the opinion that you, sir, as a scientific man, might have a deep-sea diving helmet that His Lordship might borrow. It is to do with the present war, I can tell you that much.” Actually, this was not certain, but anything that would bring the Professor around to help Lord Monroe was fair game in Foree’s eyes.
“A diving helmet? Why would he think I should have one of those? Are there many vampires at the bottom of the sea?”
Foree blinked at the telephone. What the Professor had said was, to the butler, as much a non sequitur as if he had asked whether a chicken had lips or if a shoggoth liked to dance. Had he said vampires under the sea? “I’m afraid I don’t have any information on that, Professor,” Foree said at last.
“I do happen to own one of the metal beasts, however. Hasn’t been used in years, but I would be delighted to bring it by Deadtow—em, that is, to Monroeville Hall.”
“Really? I would be most willing to send a man down to fetch it.”
“No, not at all! I seek any reason to visit His Lordship’s fine home, and, of course, Maureen.”
“Of course.” Why was this old man prattling on about Lady Maureen? And was it not terribly familiar of the man to drop the ‘Lady’ when speaking of her? He tried to show his disapproval with a serious frown, but of course a man on the other end of a telephone line would not see that. He cleared his throat with indignation instead.
“Are you all right, man? Are you choking?”
Blast. “Yes, quite fine, Professor, thank you. When might you be able to bring the item for His Lordship? He will be most pleased and grateful, I assure you.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’ll bring it by the day after tomorrow, wot.” And the line went dead, which Foree took as his cue to hang the receiver on the hook of the candlestick phone. Then he stared at it until he was sure it felt properly abashed for having carried such rudeness across the countryside.
NEXT WEEK: PART 21 — JOHNNY FINDS THE SABOTEUR; ELEANOR POSTS A LETTER