AUTHOR: Susan M. Garrett
CATEGORY: Drama, adventure.
Damnation and Hellfire - Chapter One
The door to Fogg's residence on Saville Row was opened almost before Jules Verne could knock. He was forced back a step as Passepartout barely gave him a wan smile of greeting before leaning out the doorway and glancing nervously up and down the early evening street.
"Passepartout, what's this all--?"
"Come in, Master Jules, come in quickly. Miss Rebecca will be telling you." Catching hold of Jules' shoulder, he drew him into the foyer of the townhouse and deftly removed the leather jacket from him.
"Is everything all right? I came as fast as I could." Jules reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the telegram, tapping it against the palm of his hand. "Is it Rebecca?"
"It is not Rebecca," said the lady in question, as she descended the stairway, skirts of her green gown in hand. She paused at the turn in the landing to smile down at him. "But thank you for your concern. You received my wire?"
Jules stared at the three words on the paper - 'Come. Saville. Now.' "This isn't much of a message."
"I'm sorry there wasn't time for anything more." Reaching the bottom of the stairway, Rebecca touched the shoulder of his coat in an affectionate gesture. "Thank you for coming so quickly." She nodded toward Passepartout, then proceeded into the parlor. "I think you must've broken a number of land-speed records in getting here."
"I caught the last night train to the coast and the first boat over, as soon as I saw this. What's the problem?" Jules followed her into the parlor and glanced around, but could see nothing amiss. The gas lamp had been turned up and the fireplace had been stoked with a small, but cheerful blaze to counteract the chill winter wind outside. There was no sign of mayhem; not even the placement of the furniture had changed since his last visit. He'd come all the way from Paris with no food and no sleep, for this? "There is a problem, isn't there?"
He turned toward Rebecca and immediately regretted the petulance in his tone. Having appropriated a straight-backed chair, she was arranging her skirts, for a moment permitting him only a glimpse of her profile by firelight. There were signs of worry in her face, of sleepless nights - certainly more than one.
"What's happened to Fogg?" he asked softly, drawing the only conclusion possible from the facts at hand.
"I'm not entirely certain that anything has." Rebecca finally looked up at him, a wry smile on his lips. "Oh, don't look so terribly dire, Jules - it's not as if he's been kidnapped or anything. In fact, we expect him to return shortly."
She glanced past him, over his shoulder and he turned to see Passepartout standing just inside the study door. "I will be keepings watch," the valet told her, then slipped silently out into the foyer.
Jules picked up a footstool and seated himself near her, in front of the fire. "Is Fogg ill?"
"I'm not entirely sure." Her smile gained a bitter edge to it, indicating her embarrassment at the admission. "He's been behaving . . . oddly since I returned from - well, that's neither here nor there. But that's been over a week now and Passepartout informs me that it started several days before my return."
Shaking his head in confusion, Jules asked, "What started? Behaving 'oddly' - how?" He looked up again, around the room, and caught sight of the decanter. "He's been drinking, more than usual?"
Rebecca hesitated a moment. "I believe so. He shows signs of it, although he's not been drinking overly much here. I've been watching the decanter and Passepartout has been keeping me advised."
"Then at his club?"
"He's been out every night - quite late - and has been sleeping in most mornings. He hasn't been to his broker for days and he's only stopped by the bank to withdraw funds. Even his man of affairs is baffled." She clasped her hands together in her lap, then looked at him from lowered lids. "Phileas seems to have changed his schedule."
Had she told him that Queen Victoria had eloped with an Indian Pasha, Jules could not have been more surprised. Fogg never deviated from his 'schedule' unless absolutely necessary. Or, rather the plural, in that there seemed to be a specific schedule for life at Shillingworth Magna, another for the London townhouse, and yet a third, certainly more malleable, for life aboard the Aurora. Situations threatening life, limb, and national security seemed understandably exempt from such regulation, but Jules had also noted that if there was the faintest possibility of tea and coffee being served at four o'clock, or the Times being ironed, trimmed, and ready for presentation by ten-fifteen, Fogg would expect his schedule to be maintained.
"In fact," she added, after giving him sufficient time to digest that earth-shattering bit of information, "I suspect Phileas has changed clubs."
His mouth hung open for a moment, then Jules remembered to close it, at least long enough to swallow. Although Fogg seemed to have retained membership in the most exclusive gentlemen's clubs in every fashionable city in the world, the Reform Club was his home away from Saville Row, at least when in London. Jules had met him there twice for supper - once having been denied entry due to some lack in his attire, which he had yet to understand - and had been amazed at the number of recognizable names and faces among the membership. Fogg had informed him, with no small amount of pride, that even peers of the realm had been denied entrance to that hallowed ground.
"You must be mistaken," said Jules, after a moment's hesitation. "Have you been to the club? Spoken to any of his friends there?"
Rebecca's raise of an eyebrow and pursing of her lips made him realize just how foolish his words were. Glancing away, he grinned at his own naiveté. "No women allowed."
"Precisely. And though Passepartout could certainly gain entrée under that condition, there are other issues . . . ."
"Because he's a valet?" asked Jules bristling slightly.
"Much as I've learned to appreciate your egalitarian views in an academic sense, it would very much help, Jules, if you could restrict your focus to our current dilemma?"
"Sorry," he muttered, reminding himself to attempt that topic of conversation at another opportunity. Glancing up at her, he asked, "But I'm not a member - would they even let me in?"
"Not dressed like that," she noted, not unkindly, as he glanced down at his coat and waistcoat in confusion. "You only need to get as far as the porter - he'll recognize you. You can make a polite inquiry of Phileas. They know you're from Paris. It can be very casual, that you stopped on your way to Saville Row, thought you might catch him at his club--?"
"And if I can find out how long it's been since he's visited there?"
"So much the better. Although nothing too elaborate," warned Rebecca, shaking a finger at him.
Jules grinned. "I'm a writer. Intricate plots are not a problem."
"They are when you get tangled up in them." Sighing, she kicked at the bottom hem of her dress in a very unlady-like fashion that he found most endearing. "That is, of course, our secondary plan of action."
He stared at her, puzzled. "It is?"
"Yes." Rebecca shook her head at him, a faint, fond smile on her lips. "Oh, do keep up, Jules. Our first course of action is to have Phileas invite you to his new club. You know how he is with any new acquisition - he loves to show off - and he certainly can't ask either Passepartout or myself. You're the only suitable candidate."
Her pronouncement was hardly flattering, even if it was accurate. Jules shrugged at her assessment and found himself glancing over at the decanter again. There was something about the entire matter that made him uneasy. Rebecca was usually so direct when it came to these sorts of things - he'd seen her confront her cousin on several occasions about a variety of matters. She'd not been successful in every circumstance, but more often than not. It just seemed wrong to be questioning Fogg's personal affairs without anything substantial to . . . .
The word stopped him cold and it took an effort of will not to look at Rebecca. Jules licked his lips and raised his eyes to the fire instead, wondering how he could broach such an indelicate subject.
"Perhaps you can ask someone who's spent time with him recently. Are there any other friends? Anyone new he might have met? Anyone he's become reacquainted with?"
He dared a glance at her, wondering if he'd treaded the line as carefully as he'd intended. Rebecca was watching him with a steady gaze that he would have desired under any other circumstance, but at the moment found not only disheartening, but completely unnerving. "Phileas has few 'friends,'" she answered, her tone even, pronunciation precise, "although his list of social acquaintances is extensive. And if you're asking if there could be a new woman in his life--" she raised a finger to forestall his objection, "--I don't believe there is. Not a woman. I would have seen the signs."
His cheeks burning, Jules looked back at the fire again and pursed his lips. He'd walked directly into the line of fire on that one and now there was no way to pursue the matter without having to delicately suggest to Rebecca that she might be mistaken - there are so many ways of not seeing what one didn't want to see.
"Phileas is a grown man," she said softly, as if reading his mind. "I have no delusions about that."
Jules sighed. "Rebecca, I'm sorry. I didn't mean--" He stopped and then glanced up at her. "But it's a possibility. Considering that he's been spending money, the odd hours, not saying anything about where he's been?"
Her smile was forgiving, but there was a touch of sadness to it. "I know. It was the first thing I'd considered. If it was an affaire de coeur," she shrugged, "those pass quickly enough."
"But if it were something more serious?"
He wanted to take back the words as soon as he'd said them, spotting a sudden flash of panic in her eyes that she tried to hide with a wave of her hand. "He would have said something, or done something to betray himself by now."
The sound of loud conversation in the hall outside startled him. Jules sat up suddenly, half-turned toward the door, but looked back at Rebecca when she placed a hand on his arm.
She touched a finger to her lips as if to ask him for silence. "You didn't receive a telegram," she said softly. "You're visiting on your own initiative."
He nodded his acceptance and she released his arm just as the door opened. Fogg was removing his gloves by tugging them from his fingers, casually tossing each over his shoulder as he moved forward - leaving Passepartout to trail behind him and catch them in the up-turned top hat he was holding, Fogg's walking stick tucked beneath his chin.
Jules rose, but Fogg passed right by him, smiling broadly at his cousin. "Hall-llo, Rebecca. It's so very nice to find you here." He planted a quick, if slightly inaccurate kiss on her cheek, his hand resting on her shoulder for a second as if steadying himself. "I hope your day was uneventful."
"As uneventful as can be expected," she replied, casting Jules a sharp glance, one eyebrow raised as if to caution him to miss nothing. "Although we have had a visitor--"
"Have we?" Fogg paused as if amazed, then turned toward Jules and took his hand, shaking it with both of his own quite strenuously. "Verne! This is a surprise, a most welcome surprise. I do trust this is a social call?"
"More or less." Jules retrieved his hand from Fogg's grip with some effort and then tucked it behind his back to surreptitiously stretch out his crushed fingers. "Passepartout and I had been discussing an adjustment to the navigational system aboard the Aurora - I had some new ideas and thought we might try them out."
"We have?" Passepartout dropped the cane in surprise, but caught the length of it on an upraised knee. He balanced the stick while standing on one leg, his hands still holding each side of the brim of the top hat, and stared in confusion . . . until Jules shot him a sharp look. "Oh, yes, masters, we have. I am having great interests in Master Jules' ideas." The valet popped his knee up again, shifted the hat to his other hand, and caught the walking stick with his right hand.
Fogg seemed not to notice the acrobatics, turning to Jules again. "Have you? Splendid! Splendid!" He glanced around, spotted the decanter on the desk behind him, and walked toward it. "Can I interest you in a drink, Verne? Rebecca?"
"No thank you, Phileas," said Rebecca quickly, cutting off Jules before he could answer. "And I hardly think Jules should drink on an empty stomach - he's just arrived and probably hasn't had a thing to eat all day."
"Haven't you?" asked Fogg. Replacing the stopper in the decanter without pouring, he removed his watch from his waistcoat and consulted it briefly. "Well, you're just in time for supper, then." He adjusted his position to look at his valet. "Can you accommodate Verne in your preparations, Passepartout?"
"Oh, yes, master. There is being sufficient mutton."
"Capital." Fogg proceeded to remove the stopper from the decanter again and poured the alcohol into a nearby tumbler. "I hope you don't think me rude, Verne, if I beg off supper, but I have a previous engagement. Had just stopped in to change, as a matter of fact." Fogg raised the glass to his lips, downed half of it in a single swallow, and then used it to gesture toward his cousin. "I'm sure Rebecca can keep you entertained. And if there's anything, anything you need--" Fogg swiveled, adding Passepartout to the gesture.
"Thank you, Fogg," said Jules, taking a step forward. "But I was hoping for an invitation to your club tonight. There was something I wanted to discuss - I thought we might do it over dinner?"
"Did you?" Fogg swallowed the rest of his drink. Abandoning the glass, he stepped forward to grasp Jules' shoulder, pulling him close as if to favor him with a confidence. "I can think of nothing I'd enjoy more," he explained, then added with a casual wave, "but this prior engagement. Can't be helped, I'm afraid. Another time, definitely another time." Straightening with a smile of promise, he sobered for a moment and tested the weave of the fabric of Jules' jacket between his thumb and forefinger. "But not in these clothes, certainly. We must see about getting you some new togs, Verne." Tapping Jules on the shoulder, he headed out the door, saying, "You will excuse me. Passepartout?"
Eyes wide, Passepartout gave them a shrug, placed the top hat on his own head, and followed Fogg from the room. "Yes, master?"
Jules immediately wiped his closed eyelids with his fingertips, barely cognizant of the fact that Rebecca had risen to her feet and was standing beside him - the rustle of her skirts gave her away. "Your impressions?"
"Was he drunk as an owl, you mean?" Jules tried to open his eyes and was forced to wipe the left one again. "He could have been. He's certainly had more than that one glass - brandy, I think - my eyes are still watering from his breath."
"Steady on," said Rebecca, patting his shoulder. "Have a drink yourself, if need be. When Passepartout returns, he can find you something to nibble on from the pantry." Jules glanced up in surprise as she walked past him, before she paused at the door and looked out into the foyer. "I suppose I should take this opportunity to change, as well."
"There's no need to change for supper on my account--" When she glanced back at him, a solemn expression on her face, Jules bit his lip. "We're going to follow him, aren't we?"
"I don't see any other course of action open to us, do you?"
"Yes, I do." Taking a breath to steady himself, Jules walked over to her and tugged her arm gently, but enough to draw her back into the room. He closed the door behind her and leaned against it. "We do nothing."
Her eyes widened slightly, that eyebrow arching again. "We?"
Jules touched his right fist to his mouth a moment and took a step backward even as Rebecca stepped toward him. "Before you throw me across the room, just hear me out, please?" He took her momentary hesitation as a good sign and continued, "You have no proof there's anything wrong. Maybe Fogg's been drinking more heavily than usual, he's been out later . . . but there's nothing sinister about any of that."
Rebecca met his gaze evenly. "There's something more to it. He's hiding something - I know it."
"Doesn't he have a right to do that? You said it yourself, Rebecca, he's a grown man." It was only when her eyes darkened and her lips tightened into a frown that he added, "Aren't there things you'd rather Fogg not know?"
She turned away and Jules took another step backward, not wanting her to feel trapped between him and the foyer door. "There are times, Jules, when I find myself questioning your aversion to a career in the law." Rebecca's gaze was fixed on the floor at her feet. "You saw what Phileas was like after Saratoga Browne's death. You were in the train car. You agreed that we had to sell his guns before he hurt himself, or someone else." She looked back at him. "It wasn't the first time something like that has happened and I'm afraid it won't be the last. Phileas has a right to his privacy and his secrets, but not if they'll put him in his grave. I don't want to pry; I want to know that he'll be all right, that this isn't simply another version of the same thing he's tried before."
She had a strong argument on her side - he'd seen Fogg in that self-destructive state and knew what it had taken to drag his friend back from the brink. And yet . . . .
"What if we follow him and everything's all right, but you still don't like what you find?" asked Jules. "What then?"
"Then I close my eyes and walk away." Rebecca's smile was almost frighteningly brittle. "You think that hasn't happened before, as well?"
Jules had no answer to give her; no apology seemed sufficient for not realizing what previous heartache of a similar nature she might have suffered. But Rebecca took pity on him, nodding slightly as if accepting the emotion that rested in his eyes as sufficient recompense. "I'd endure it a hundred thousand times if it meant never experiencing the alternative, losing him that way."
There was sound on the stairs outside. Jules looked up, deciding that it sounded like Passepartout returning. "You'd better get changed, he'll be ready to leave soon."
"You think so?" Her sober expression was replaced by a disbelieving grin. "If the word 'fastidious' hadn't existed, it would have to have been invented solely for Phileas." She waited until he answered with a smile, then lowered her gaze slightly. "You are coming with me tonight, aren't you?"
"Good." Her smile seemed a bit warmer, now that she'd reassured herself of his support. "Then do get Passepartout to fetch you something from the pantry." She reached across to tap him on the stomach. "Empty bellies tend to rumble and that's very inconvenient when you're trying to sneak up on someone."
She rolled her eyes at his fatalistic tone, then opened the door and slipped out into the foyer. The stairs were empty, Passepartout having gone into the kitchen to check on his mutton, no doubt.
Jules folded his arms and leaned against the parlor doorjamb, watching her. It never ceased to amaze him how she could move so quietly when the need arose, particularly with the rustling crinolines beneath her skirts. That thought made his cheeks flush and he turned back into the parlor before she could catch a glimpse of him from the landing. She'd just spent the past five minutes convincing him that her concern for Fogg's activities was more than justified and here he was thinking about the rustling of her crinoline underskirts?
He was certain that when he died, he was going to hell.
End of Part 1