Sebastian was not in a good way, and Marko too was pretty badly mauled. As Lady Glossop saw to their bruises, Henry returned from outside, looking more than a little frustrated.
He and Bertie had been involved in a firefight in the western half of the upper floor with a man they realised was in fact Doctor Choker. He had displayed some strange abilities in combat, and when they looked saw that fixed – indeed planted – on his left forearm was some sort of bracer like device, with several phials – some now empty – affixed to the back of the device. They had left him to see to the others, and to corner the raving Mrs. Wiggins.
“I’m afraid the chap at the window has escaped” said Henry. “I think there was another carriage kept in the stable and I think he’s taken that. What’s worse I checked outside the gate and MacPherson and his fly have vanished too. The escapee probably cut his bonds.”
“That only leaves Choker and the Housekeeper” said Bertie. “I doubt we’ll get much sense out of the Village Idiot.”
It was worse than Bertie had surmised: Choker too was now missing, bullet holes and all.
“There was something strange going on with that fellow” opined Bertie. “He was hit enough to take several people down – and he was so fast.” Lady Glossop frowned, and thought of the Commonist Manifesto she had read, with its strange ideas.
With Mrs. Wiggins cursing non stop and gagged and tied to a chair, the three of them checked the rest of the house. At three o clock in the morning and no transport, several miles from Grantchester, there was little else they could do. They built a fire up and rested Sebastian on a couch, with Marko watching him nearby, and then they explored.
“There was something about the gentleman at the window I ought to tell you” said Lady Glossop. “I recognised him.”
“Another of our College friends?” suggested Bertie.
“Much odder than that” replied Lady Glossop.
“It was SIr WIlliam Vernon Harcourt. I’m sure of it.” she said simply.
“Er…..whom?” said Bertie. “You’ll have to enlighten me Old Girl.” Henry too was mystified.
“Sir WIlliam Vernon Harcourt” said Lady Glossop slowly, “Is a prominent member of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and widely tipped to be Chancellor of the Exchequer after the next Election.”
“The Deuce you say!” exclaimed Henry. “Well that is odd.”
A search of the basement revealed a real Circus of Horrors. A series of six lockups off a corridor stinking of animal dung contained a grossly muscled dog, barely able to move;
a pair of sickly looking swans, feathers glowing greenly in the semi-darkness; and a monstrous-looking ape, with wires protruding from its head. With intelligence in its eyes, the ape grabbed the bars and hammered violently yet mutely—its voicebox had been removed, surmised Henry. Loading his pistol he put each of them out of its misery.
Choker’s laboratory was half operating theater, half chamber of horrors. There was an operating table, with straps and restraints, and ranks of jars containing animal parts and what looked like partially grown human faces. Lady Glossop scanned through some notes, and realised with mounting horror that the faces were apparently being grown from fragments of skin!
A stout wooden door with a single ventilation grate was unlocked using one of Mrs. Wiggins keys. Inside was a dishevelled and dirty Edward Ponsonby.
“Still looks like a halibut” thought Bertie.
“Chin up old chap” he said, “It’s me…. Bertie.”
“B…B…Bertie? Bertie Wilburforce – Stretham?” stammered Ponsonby.
“The very same” smirked Bertie. “Now what’s all this Russkie Rot you’ve got yourself all tangled up in young Fellow – me – Lad?” Slowly, and with some coaxing from Lady Glossop, Ponsonby blurted out his story.
Edward was obviously well meaning, but had developed some socialist leanings. Fascinated by Fyodorov’s theories , he had become thick with Stepan Narodnikov, who inducted him into the Cambridge Commonist cell.
However he had recently discovered the existence of an assassination plot which had thrown his beliefs into question, and his state of mind into despair. Fyodorov’s theories had electrified him, but he now realized that Narodnikov, and Choker had no interest in regenerating the world, but rather wanted to spread destruction, chaos, and war – a “cleansing fire” to bring about their “glorious revolution.”
“And what about the presence of Sir Willaim Vernon Harcourt?” smiled Lady Glossop secretly.
“Wha…what? I don’t know what you’re talking about ma’am.” Edward seemed genuinely surprised.
“Rumour has it that he is attending the Apostles Dinner this evening I suppose” he added thoughtfully.
“Apostles Dinner?” asked Henry.
“Apostles old chap” explained Bertie. "Although the Apostles’ Society is “secret,” most fellows at Cambridge hear about it. Supposed to be some elite society of thinkers and debaters, founded by twelve original members in 1820 that meets once a week on Saturday evenings. Lots of the Jolly Old Empire’s leading luminaries are reputed among its alumni. "
“Including Harcourt?” asked Lady Glossop.
“Well he’s a Cambridge man, so possibly.” said Bertie.. “Oddly enough I was never invited.”
“Anyway, it traditionally draws members from St John’s, King’s, and Trinity Colleges. The term “apostle” properly refers only to undergraduate members; graduates, including those who have left the university, are known as “angels.” One can only join the Apostles by invitation, of course.”
“Lots of trouser leg rolling and all that rot too” continued Bertie. "Lots of odd traditions. Prospective members are secretly vetted at “embryo parties,” and must take a dreadful oath before joining. No women are allowed. Meeting records are written in a leather diary known as “the Book,” kept in a cedar chest called “the Ark.”
“And every few years, the Apostles’ Society holds a secret dinner at a Cambridge college. Angels are known to attend: and there’s one this evening.” added Ponsonby.
“And this assassination plot you say you stumbled across?” said Lady Glossop.
“Choker was stockpiling dynamite – lots of it” said Ponsonby. “I wanted none of it so first he fabricated charges against me, and then had me kidnapped. What are we going to do?”