Content warning: A scene involving cruelty towards animals, which is described in detail.
“My God,” Clara said.
“What?” Ernest was across from her at the breakfast table, spreading jam on bread.
“A man died at the train tracks last night. Look, they have a picture of him.” She held up the paper so that he could see. “That’s the one who helped us!”
Ernest’s pretty face crumpled. “Why was he at the tracks?”
“It doesn’t say. The police suspect foul play somehow, since he appears to have been unconscious when he died. They say that’s sort of what killed him, that he was asleep when he was hit by the train, and couldn’t get out of the way.” Clara flipped to the page where the full story was written out. “The boy who was watching for the trains says that the man – Dominic Sapping, by the way – went down onto the tracks to get something, then just sort of – slumped. There was another man there with him, who tried to get him free, but he jumped out of the way of the train and fled the scene soon afterwards.” Clara flipped to the next page. “In more cheerful news, Duke Mephisto is giving your father a great deal of trouble in getting his new reform laws passed.”
“Working against a member of his lover’s party!” Ernest laughed.
Clara gave him a confused look. “Duke Mephisto is married.”
“Oh- no, it’s a joke. We say that Duke Mephisto is sleeping with Duchess Emilia Campbell on account of the two of them hating each other so much.” Ernest took a bite out of his toast and sprayed crumbs everywhere. “Emilia is of the same party as my father, and is quite politically active.”
“Does she come over often?”
“Sometimes. She often sits with him when they go to the opera.”
Clara groaned. She was from the country, the sole heir of an impoverished Scottish line that was marrying Ernest both out of love and the hope of increasing her family’s fortunes. She had only been to the opera once or twice, and hated it both times. “You don’t think we’ll have to go, will we?”
Ernest winced. “My father had planned for us to spend the day rubbing elbows with the top politicians, concluding in the attendance of some kind of performance.”
Clara sighed, and continued reading the paper. “Says here that ‘someone’ important in the government is dying. They won’t say who.”
“Yes, someone shot him on a hunt, and the wound is badly infected. We don’t know who ‘he’ is yet, though. They’re keeping it from everyone for some reason.”
Ernest shrugged. “My father was on the hunt, but he didn’t see who shot who. They’ve ruled it an accident.”
Clara snorted. “Of course they have. It isn’t as if an important government man was alone with twenty other armed men who all want his job.”
Ernest shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think you should say that in front of the lords.”
“I’ll try not to.”
There was a knock at the door, and Duke Oswald Janson entered the room without waiting for a response. Behind him was his daughter, Emma, his middle son, Hugh, and his eldest son, Albert. There was another daughter, Sarah, who was the eldest child, but she was married and had four children already.
“Well, yes, all of you should come into our bedroom,” Clara said. “Silly me, why hadn’t I invited you yet?”
Hugh, who was a navy captain, smirked behind his raised fist. He had curly blonde hair, the only blonde hair in the family, and was dressed in civilian clothes for the moment.
Lord Janson ignored her, as he was wont to do. “Duke Mephisto is bringing the drunk and Lady Barbas for luncheon. I suggest the two of you be dressed and ready by the time they arrive, unless you would like them insulting your bathrobes.” He swept dramatically out of the room, followed by Albert. Hugh took a letter out of his pocket and placed it on the table, then left with Emma trailing after him.
Ernest opened the letter as a few servants helped Clara put on her dress. It was green, the bodice had tall, puffy shoulders, incredibly tight sleeves, and a high collar, and the skirt featured both an overskirt and ruffled underskirt. It was all in fashion, even the emerald green color of the dress, which Clara didn’t particularly like.
“Hugh’s military friends are offering to take me to Africa to study the plant life there,” Ernest said. He was an aspiring naturalist, and was completely obsessed with Charles Darwin, the man who had published The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.
“That’s good! You’ll make discoveries there, I’m sure.” Clara pinned her hat on, and smiled at herself in the mirror. She was quite pleased with the look.
Ernest smiled. “Won’t you come with me?”
“You’ll come to Africa with me, and we’ll make all manner of discoveries.” Ernest walked over to the closet, and pointed to a morning coat suit with a slight yellow tint to the pale fabric. Several servants helped him into it, and another fetched his hat and cane. Ernest took Clara’s arm, and they walked down the stairs together.
Albert was in the study that looked out over the street, writing a letter of some kind. He was twenty-five, a whole of three years older than Ernest, much taller, and generally considered to be much more handsome. His dark hair was ruffled in just the right way, his eyes were just the right shade of brown, and his skin was free of any blemish. He was a genius, too, that was what they said, a musical genius who could play and compose for any instrument with minimal training.
Clara didn’t think that was true, but she couldn’t deny that Albert was a musical prodigy. She’d heard some of his work, and it was incredible.
Albert stood when he heard them coming, and hid the paper quickly. “Father is in the parlor with Duke Mephisto and Lady Barbas.” He punctuated the sentence with a harsh cough into his fist, and wiped his hand on his pants.
“What about John Amon?” That was presumably ‘the drunk’ Lord Janson had spoken of.
“The dining room.” Albert coughed violently again, this time into his handkerchief. “Getting – kof – getting breakfast.”
“Why don’t you go see Lord Amon, Clara? You didn’t eat, did you?” Ernest smiled as he said this, probably trying to get it across that he was attempting to spare her his father’s bad mood.
Clara had never met Baron John Amon, though she had heard the rumors about him being a drunk and an idler. She went to the room where the family took breakfast, where John was sitting alone at the long table. He was on the shorter side, with coppery skin and brown hair brushed neatly onto his forehead, and a long, gaunt face. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked haggard, sick somehow. There was a display of food in front of him, but it didn’t look like John had so much as touched any of it.
He smiled at her as she came in, and attempted to surreptitiously push a glass of something amber away from him.
“Mrs Ernest Janson, I presume?” His voice was scratchy, and made her want to cringe.
“Clara.” She sat down across from him, and took a piece of toast to nibble on.
“Sorry.” John took a generous swallow of his drink, and sat back in his chair. “Got any plans for later today?”
“I think Duke Janson has my day mapped out well enough.”
“Duke Janson!” John stood abruptly. “I have to go into the sitting room.”
How random. “Er… okay?”
John hurried out of the room, leaving Clara sitting there alone. A few moments later, another man came in.
“Oh!” she said. “Dr Faust!”
Johann Faust waved. “I’m here to see your father-in-law, and he told me to come in and get something to eat while he ‘sorts things out’ with Duke Mephisto.” Faust rolled his eyes. “He’s my patron, you know.”
“Duke Mephisto. He supplies me with money, transport, support, all of those things I might need.” Faust took a pastry from the table, and stuffed it into his mouth. Crumbs fell out as he spoke. “I’m a scientist.”
“I know, you told me as much yesterday on the train. You study death.”
“Yes, death.” Faust swallowed the pastry and took a folio out of his coat. “I was told to work in here.”
“Might be a little hard with all of the food.”
Faust chuckled, and held up a full, colored diagram of the human muscular system. “What do you think?”
It was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen. “Looks good.”
“I have a few others.” He eagerly showed her a page full of scale drawings of organs. “Did I tell you just how I examine death?”
“You want to reverse it.”
“False! I have reversed it!”
That piqued her interest. “How?”
“Observe.” Faust took a pistol out of his bag, along with a small shoebox. When he whipped the lid off the shoebox, a rat was revealed.
Faust cocked the pistol, and shot the rat in the head. Blood and brains flew all over the box, splatting on the sides. The rat was dead, that was for sure, and Clara felt ready to throw up what little she’d eaten.
“Observe,” Faust repeated. He drew out a syringe, a battery, and a strange contraption that looked like a length of lead with two hooks on string coming out of the sides. He injected the rat in a few separate places, until the contents of the syringe had been distributed around its body. Faust then took the wand, shoved it down the rat’s throat, and stuck the hooks into what Clara assumed to be important veins in the rat’s arms. There was a third cord, an iron wire, coming out the top of the lead rod, which Faust hooked up to the battery.
A second syringe was used to inject another liquid into the top of the battery, then Faust lit a match.
“Look away,” he said. Clara did, and when she looked back the top of the battery was blackened from being set aflame. He waved her away, lighting a second match, and presumably a third. When that was finished he tapped her on the shoulder.
Clara was horrified to see his tools back on the table, and the rat, with an enormous hole still in its head, crawling around inside the box. It seemed wrong somehow, perhaps in the way it moved, or its dead eyes, or the fact that it was currently sniffing at its own brains.
“Wh- what did you-” Clara moved away from him, and from the abominable thing inside the box.
“What did I do to it? Well, a magician never reveals his secrets, but I can tell you that only the dying part hurts. I think. I can also proudly say that with a few modifications to the recipes, I was able to be sure that a resurrected organism will be back to full ability within an hour.”
“A- an organism?”
“What? Oh, of course, this discovery cannot be consigned to rats. I daresay there’s enough of them in the world without me bringing them back. I’ve done birds, and rabbits, and dogs, even a cat, though I didn’t kill that one on my own.” Faust paused. “Even a human, once or twice.”
“I didn’t kill them, I simply brought them back. It was a robber, first, and then a child I found. The girl had been gutted, drawn along her stomach just like this, and she was stiff as a stone. Dead for days, I should like to say. Anyway, I found her on my way to the train station in Italy – did I tell you I lived in Italy? Well, I did, and I found this girl there. So, seeing so young a corpse, I went back and got my instruments, and I brought her back right there on the road. She remembered everything, even the man who had killed her, and was much the same, or so her mother said. I wish I knew what has become of her, but I was leaving for Germany that day, and I couldn’t stop.
“The robber I found early in my studies, and he died trying to break into my house. Well, I thought this might be a sign from God, so I took him down to my laboratory and brought him right back. Most of what I know about after and what the resurrection feels like comes from him.” Faust paused again. “I have a third corpse, one that died just yesterday, but I haven’t done anything with him yet.”
Clara was just about finished hearing about the man’s morbid exploits. “Thank you for your time, Dr Faust,” she said, standing. “I wish you luck in your further research.”
As she ran off to the sitting room where everyone else would be, she cursed his work a thousand times over. She’d read books about men who did things like this – albeit fiction ones – and it never ended well.
The visitors were in the sitting room, talking with Oswald, Ernest, Albert, and Emma. Duke Mephisto, a tall, lanky man with angular features, red hair that was mussed in the front, and a thick red beard covering the lower half of his face, sat across from Oswald. Lady Barbas sat next to him, being a short, slightly overweight woman of African descent, with long, braided hair. Baron Amon was on Mephisto’s other side, looking pale and sweaty.
Oswald Janson himself was a man of average height, with slicked back dark hair, a thick mustache, and an egg-shaped face with wide eyes. He was completely humorless, and frowned at the visitors like they were irritating him by their very presence.
Emma had his hair and face, but her mother’s bright blue eyes. Albert was hunched over, glaring daggers at Duke Mephisto. Ernest, of course, was all smiles and in a good mood, and was chatting happily about species’ of birds.
Duke Mephisto stood to greet her. “Miss Clarissa Janson.” He bowed.
“Clara,” she said.
“Apologies. Clara, would you like to sit with us?”
Ernest moved so she could sit next to him. Clara pulled her legs up onto the sofa, and leaned into his chest. The image of the rat with a hole in its head was still fresh in her mind, and she didn’t think it would ever not be. Faust was insane. More than insane. A danger to everyone. Any man who thought it good work to bring back the dead was.
“Did you meet Dr Faust?” Duke Mephisto asked.
Clara nodded. “He’s…”
“There are many adjectives that might apply to Dr Faust.” Duke Mephisto chuckled. “I suppose that was one of the reasons I chose to be his patron.”
“Why?” Clara narrowed her eyes. “What do you get out of it?”
Duke Mephisto’s eyes sparkled. “A deal is a deal, either way. I get something of equal value.”
Clara was confused. “What could be of equal value to the ability to raise the dead?”
Duke Mephisto only smiled.
Oswald Janson was clenching his jaw so hard Clara thought his face might shatter. He stood, and left the room. Duke Mephisto began a new discussion with the comment, “I have a friend who can drink ink and not die.” Clara closed her eyes and tried to simultaneously tune him out and forget about the rat.
“How do they do that?” Emma asked.
“I don’t know, but she did it, and most certainly is not dead.”
“Why did she do it?”
“She doesn’t like my other friend, Cesare Sabia. He called her a coward and claimed to be braver and tougher than her when she didn’t want to be the one to smash a fly that was buzzing around in her room. Camilla went to her desk, and drank an entire bottle of ink while looking him dead in the eyes. He didn’t question her toughness again.” Duke Mephisto grinned. “Not that that’s the worst or most shocking thing she’s ever done, but it was certainly the thing I presumed to be the most deadly.
“Who could hate Cesare Sabia? His poetry is so pretty,” Ernest said.
“Camilla has a… well, a thing about poets. I tend to not ask.”
“A thing for poets or a thing about poets?”
“A thing about poets. She hates them. Seems to think that poetry can be exorcised with math.”
Clara laughed. “The true opposite.”
“The exact opposite.”
“Ink is poisonous,” Ernest said.
“It can be,” said Duke Mephisto. “Perhaps Camilla has simply drunk so much of it that she is now immune.”
They all laughed at that.
Johann Faust entered the room. “I am here to meet my patron.”
Duke Mephisto stood. “Here I am. The lot of you will have to do without me for now, I fear. My newest side project has arrived.”
“What, you think you’re my main project? I’m a duke. Come on, let’s have a look at what you’ve been doing with your unholy powers of death.”
Clara shuddered, thinking of the rat again. It would be a long time before she got that image out of her mind.