Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Madness of Professor Craine

I fear the Professor has lost his senses. First he changed our plans on a whim, dashing to London to attend a lecture (at which he behaved very oddly) and then there was the strange business of the sabre-tooth tiger that he claims chased him from the burning... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lord Worthing sent us back to Wensleydale Priory to investigate the clock mechanism. I was sorry to leave the merry Worthing sons and heirs, of course, but his Lordship's sepulchral company I can do without. We are to take Birdie with us -- he has found a place for himself under my scapula. I seem to have another passenger, as well as the book.

But at the station, we met Mr Riley again. He told Professor C that our old friend DeWhymper was to lecture at the Royal Institute in London that very evening. So instead of going to Priory Halt, nothing would do for the Professor but for us to go to London immediately to attend this demonstration. I was troubled by the thought of looking for lodgings in a strange city after the lecture; but then the thought of the 7 mile walk from Priory Halt banished such thoughts from my mind. The Lord will provide, I told myself.

The Royal Institute is a wonder by day, as I discovered this morning, but lit up with gas lamps by night, it is even more of a marvel. Professor C and I were separated by the crowds in the lobby -- he was keen to get a seat at the front; while I just wanted to put the book down and rest my legs. In my row was seated a Dominican monk, Fr Constantine, I discovered, who was from the Vatican Observatory. But next to me was a charming Hungarian, Baron Franz Nopsha. He described himself as a paleobiologist. At the time, I said to myself: 'now I have heard everything! Who would have thought that a cultured, educated man would make a life's study of imagining the habits and anatomies of the stone bones God has seen fit to layer in the earth.' For all his misguided philosophies, though the Baron is a charming dandy and delightful company.

But then the lecture began. DeWhymper started his demonstration (not helped, I imagine, by heckling from certain portions of the audience). He transformed a live chicken into a pile of dry bones -- I was reminded horribly of the fate of DeWhymper's manservant Eustace. But worse was to come. The next chicken was transformed into a creature constructed from bones and leather and teeth. Baron Nopsha seemed entranced, and told me it was a pterrosaur, one of his ancient biologies. Professor C expressed his disgust in a loud voice, claiming it was some present-day mutant.

The meeting began to break up at this point -- I think people were not happy to sit watching a charlatan, or perhaps a once great mind deluding himself. I hurried to the door, hoping to catch a word with Fr Constantine. I was rewarded, and we agreed to meet later; and again I was rewarded, for in leaving the room, I avoided the explosion that I believe has unhinged the Professor.

When I came back into the room, all was in disarray. The walls were scorched; the apparatus was scattered around the room. And DeWhymper had vanished leaving a neat hole in the carpet. Professor Craine was fired up, almost electric. He announced his intention of investigating the ruined apparatus -- to my surprise, the people in charge of the Institute permitted this. The Professor must be more respected than I realised.

Baron Nopscha and Fr Constantine were kind enough to take me back to the Nunciature to Great Britain where the good father promised me guidance and rest while the professor worked.

After the baron had left us for his friend's home, having confessed and attended Mass first, Fr Constantine and I talked for a long time about the task I have been given. Perhaps I am naive to trust him; but there was something about him that gave me hope. Perhaps I will be able to lay this book down at last.

The next morning, I rose early and after a breakfast of good Italian coffee and a piece of bread, I went back to the Institute, thinking to find the Professor.

What I found was uproar -- the Institute afire and Professor Craine talking of giant tigers and an escaped gorilla. His eyes were wild and his clothing torn -- there was little sign of the respectable man of science who took control of the situation the night before. I did the only thing I could think of and took him back to Fr Constantine -- I had no money to hand; no other friend in London who might help us. The priests put the professor in a guest room, and he fell instantly into a deep sleep.

I meanwhile was full of energy following my restful night. I sought out the Baron and described the Professor's wild beasts to him. Then going back to the Institute I asked a few shopkeepers if they had heard or seen anything like a gorilla or a big cat. They looked at me oddly but had nothing of interest to say. Finally, I went to London Zoo to enquire about any escaped beasts. But there was nothing at all to indicate that the professor was telling the truth.

I am at a loss -- he did not seem like a man who was lying; he had seen what he said he had seen. But how can a tiger and a gorilla vanish into the streets of London?

Saturday, 29 December 2007

A race and a brass bird.

We were woken twice the night before the race -- once because the Professor heard a prowler in the garden; and again by a fire in the Italian camp. No-one was hurt, and the plane was saved. The events of the night made everyone jumpy, and Professor C was determined to stop the race.

But Lord Worthing and the pilots were just as determined that it should go ahead. In the end, I persuaded Professor C to 'let go and let God', as Sister Marie Therese always says.

Our employer seemed to have forgotten his order that we should find out who was sabotaging planes. I was sorry for this, as I would have liked to have seen whoever hurt that poor Frenchman caught and punished. But Lord Worthing had been sent a new item from Sotherby's and wanted the Professor to look at it. It was a sad-looking Arabian brass automata, badly in need of cleaning. The Professor and I got to work with the Brasso, and it perked up, even flying a little (I think the Professor was afraid Birdie might fly off altogether -- and not that I would have blamed the poor creature, with the way he was going on about taking it apart for further study).

Birdie seems to like music. Also, sand and cinnamon sticks. I think he is a phoenix. The Professor says he is a toy.

The estate was in full festival mode, ready for the race, so we took a break from work to watch the fun. As we walked down to the lawn set aside for spectators, we were accosted by a photographer. I paid him fourpence for a portrait of me -- I'm sure it will amuse the sisters back in Rome. But his daughter, Alice, an engaging if sticky child of four, was insistent about 'Birdie, birdie.' I've no idea how she knew what the Professor and I were up to -- maybe one of the gardeners, or one of the boys told her to ask me for a look at our mechanical wonder. So I took her to see him, and she was suitably impressed -- I think Birdie liked her, too. He was less impressed by Lord Worthing's young sons.

The race was flown, with a victory for Lord Worthing's son Malcom. The Americans came in second, and my Italian friend came in third --he was quite philosophical about it. I'm afraid the Germans were very sore losers. They were picked up later by a large dirigible, and I must say that no-one was sorry to see them go. I hope we never see the Graf again -- but I have a strange feeling he might be back.

I have the photographer's card here -- I'd like him to do a portrait of Birdie, as I've become rather fond of him.

The player says: Nick said afterwards that he had to really work hard to prevent Professor C from stopping the race. We never did ascertain or aprehend the villain -- we assumed it was the Germans, who are the traditional baddies in a HEX scenario.

I was so surprised when the mechanical bird turned up that I nearly fell off my chair -- here's why.

Nick said later that he was a bit taken aback when Tim put so much effort into trying to get the race cancelled. It was slightly annoying to put so much effort into following up clues which pointed only to sabotage, but not to whodunnit. It would have been satisfying to catch whoever was responsible and smash up their plane or something; but I guess the ignominious defeat was a good punishment. I think the Graf and his giant dirigible will be back -- he is far to interesting to waste.

I was interested to see the way the race was decided -- Nick threw dice for each participant and moved them along an imaginary course according to how much they scored.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Two corpses and a plane crash.

It is late, but I can't sleep for thinking about four unfortunate men who have crossed my path this day.

First was DeWhymper's manservant Eustace, whose bones I crunched underfoot in the clocktower.

Second was Charles DeWhymper, who feels guilt for the death of a man who trusted him, and is mourning the loss of a good man servant.

Third was Lord Worthing, who keeps vigil in a crypt with the corpse of his wife. He swears she moves, and that she is still alive. But above ground his four fine sons need a father.

Fourth was the French pilot, whose name no-one would tell me. He's going to live, but he is badly burned, and he knows that someone has tried to kill him.

The events at the priory have scared me. My life has been cloistered until now, and the wide world was always going to involve surprises; but nothing could have prepared me for the death of Eustace. Professor C and DeWhymper agree he was thrown through time by the clock until he fell to dust.

The Professor is convinced that the clock will be of some use in helping Lord Worthing go back in time to save his wife, if only he can learn how to use it properly. I am struggling with the ethics of this; I have prayed for guidance, though, and I have faith that I will be answered.

Lord Worthing commanded that we go down to his estate, claiming that he had something to show us. On the way, a terrifying thing, a flying machine raced our train. Professor C wonders how these young men survive such speeds -- he is sure their organs should be pulp by now. We met two of Lord Worthing's sons -- they seem nice enough boys, although they mourn two mothers and have good as lost a father.

Later, we met the other brothers, Douglas and George, who have a passion for flying machines and are hoping to race across the English Channel for a prize of £1,000. We witnessed a crash -- Douglas Worthing and I were first at the scene and were able to pull the French pilot from the burning machine. We took him to the village, where the doctor is attending to him.

The Frenchman blames the German team. Graf Von Kluge, the designer is hard to like -- although Professor C provoked him. Later, we found a broken part in the wreck of the plane.

Lord Worthing has not shown us what he called us here to see -- instead, he charged the Professor with investigating the crash. The Professor is not pleased, but has acquiesced. He fears he will lose his job, and the chance to study time, if he does not obey Lord Worthing. I am glad to assist in my own small way. I would like to see whoever hurt the poor Frenchman brought to justice. He was a handsome man, and will take his scarring badly.

I feel so many doubts. I have been employed to ensure that Professor C conducts his research as a good Catholic like Lord Worthing would wish. In my heart, I do not believe that what Lord Worthing wants to achieve is something a good Catholic should want.

Part of me would end this contract and return to Rome; but another part of me clings to this chance to see England, to find out more about myself, this book and, perhaps if there really was another child born to my parents.


The Player says: This was a long old session -- 6pm until 9pm -- that covered a lot of ground. I'm still not remembering to use my Perception and Empathy skills; but I remembered Nick's admonition about us failing to use our style points last time. I noticed that Sister J tries really hard to get people to like her, which is a lot like me in real life. Tim on the other hand, makes Professor C positively unlikeable with his Daily Mail-style imperialist frothings-at-the-mouth. Next time I'm going to play a horrible character; although it is challenging to get Sister J to work round people. I loved the pilots -- they reminded me of the Flambards books.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

A stolen cog and a bolting horse

The Professor and I travelled to Wensleydale Priory on this glorious summer's day. England in May must be the most beautiful place in the world.

Travelled by train (first class -- Lord Worthing is a very generous man) and found ourselves in company with a vicar and man who transported goods all over the world. Both were kind enough to answer my questions about their callings.

We went into a tunnel and all the lights went out -- and when we emerged, the vicar's bible was upside down. I'm sure he didn't drop it (I'd certainly have heard, even over the roar of the train), and I know it was the right way up before because I looked over to see what he was reading (Deuteronomy).

Arriving at the tiny Priory Halt, we discovered that there was no-one to meet us. I was much dismayed by this, because the book is very heavy to carry and I did not fancy walking the seven miles. But a farmer taking an empty wagon back towards the priory offered us a lift. Professor Craine kindly allowed me to sit up with the farmer; but given what happened next, I'm not sure I was lucky in this.

The horse was startled by a black motorcar, and the farmer was thrown from his seat. I don't think I have ever been so scared in my life -- but then I was taken by a moment of calmness and I felt as if I could have made the horse stop if only... if only I could remember the canticle. I jumped from the wagon, and I am rather bruised, but I'll live.

At the priory, it turned out that the driver of the car had arrived before us, and was known to Professor Craine as one Charles de Whymper. There is some kind of quarrel betweent the two men. My mind is whirring frantically at this -- I'm sure it's very dull and connected with research, but I secretly imagine all sorts of intrigue and lost loves and ill deeds, all the same.

Mr de Whymper does not seem a very gentlemanly sort -- later I caught his manservant climbing in through the library window; and soon after that he stole a cog from the priory clock and disappeared. But perhaps I'm doing Mr de Whymper down -- he seemed as shocked and confused as 'my' professor and the prior at this development. Professor Craine was furious. He demanded that Mr de Whymper be locked up and interviewed.

I wish I knew more of what the professor is working on. It is hard to observe something that I do not understand. He is very tight with his information -- everytime I ask, it seems to be the wrong moment. As far as I can tell, he plans to turn back time to allow our employer to meet again with his dead wife.

I wish I could say that I am disappointed to see a brilliant man waste his abilities on a pointless endeavour. But I am afraid that the things I have seen in these last few hurried months make me wonder if such a thing might be possible.