Chapter 3: Bumby And The Ex-Fiancee
November 2nd, 1875
Threadneedle, London’s West End, England
Well, that was a waste of my time and money. Chatting with fat, irritable lawyers and combing through abandoned buildings aren't precisely my favorite activities. Though I suppose it was worth a look, just in case. After all, Thirteen might have thought that returning his stolen goods to the scene of the crime would be the best way to hide them. And at least now I can be sure Alice won't stumble upon the wretched toy if she is still out and wandering about. The last thing I need is that damned rabbit jolting her memory. Dr. Angus Bumby smirked to himself as he proceeded down Threadneedle Street, on his way back to the square that separated the East End from the West. On the other hand, what good would it really do her now?
"Good day, Dr. Bumby," a passing man said, tipping his hat.
"Good day," Dr. Bumby nodded back. Ah, wasn't this something – the well-connected and well-to-do acknowledging him as one of their own, even if he didn't live in the same swanky neighborhoods they did. It was one of his favorite parts of being a famous psychiatrist. Mrs. Van Dort would be green with envy, he thought with a little chuckle. Especially if she knew from what source I derived what may pass as my "fortune." No chance of that, of course. I've fooled people far smarter and craftier than her. Though speaking of which. . . . "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Van Dort: I regret to say that your son has finally made good on his threats and disappeared into–"
"Oh! I do apologize!"
Bumby rocked backward, hastily snatching at a nearby lamppost to steady himself. Goodness, how distracted had he been to be nearly bowled arse over teakettle (if he could be excused such crudity in his own head) by the mere slip of a woman standing before him? Though admittedly he'd always had a bit of trouble in that regard. He glared briefly at nothing as he remembered the bad old days of schoolyard bullies taunting and shoving him all around the courtyard, laughing as he staggered and wobbled like a drunken man. Bloody balance issues. You'd think medical school would have given me a way to fix that, but no. . . . "Quite all right," he assured the lady once he had his feet properly under him again. "It happens to everyone eventually, doesn't it?"
"I suppose it does, but still, I'm sorry," the woman replied, twisting her hands together. "I should have paid more attention to where I was going."
"When it comes down to it, so should I," Bumby replied, frowning. There was something oddly – familiar about this young lady. He couldn't place what it was – in fact, he was quite certain he'd never met her before – and yet. . . . He scanned her form with the attention of Mr. Holmes, searching for clues. Her red-striped dress fit her well and was made of some superior material – that ruled her out as one of his neighbors. She was also prettier than the average woman he met on the mean streets of Whitechapel, with a tight-corseted waist and a heart-shaped face. A nob then – but surely if he'd met her at one of those little dinner parties he was occasionally invited to, he would have recalled her? He wasn't one to use his techniques on himself (no matter how much certain painful memories begged to be erased), and honestly, someone as monochrome as her would have stuck out in his mind. Her skin was white as paper, her hair such a pale brown one would be forgiven for mistaking her as youngly gray, and her eyes were such a dark blue as to be almost black –
Oh, that was it! The whole 'having walked out of a tintype' look – she resembled Thirteen! How curious! "Do forgive my staring, but – you wouldn't happen to be from Burtonsville, by any chance?" he asked, wondering if she was a relative the elder Van Dorts had forgotten to mention.
The woman blinked, taken aback – then, for some reason, her expression darkened. "I am," she said, dropping her arms to her side. "Or rather, I was." She extended a hand, her face clearly saying this was for politeness's sake rather than any actual desire to be friendly. "Mrs. Victoria White, nee Everglot. And if I don't miss my guess, you would be Dr. Bumby of the Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth?"
"Why yes, I am," Dr. Bumby said, quietly amazed. What a curious coincidence – Thirteen's former fiancee, here in London! He never would have expected it. Still, it was rather gratifying that even minor nobility in some Godforsaken part of the country knew his name. He kissed her knuckles with a smile. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
"I would very much like to say likewise," Mrs. White said coldly as she withdrew her hand from his. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid your name is rather tainted to me, thanks to your involvement in keeping Victor a near-captive here."
For one moment, sheer unadulterated terror ruled Bumby's mind. What?! But – how could she – no, no, I've only just gotten him how I like – have to lure her away have to silence her make sure she's told no one else – Then rationality set back in, and he gave himself a good mental kick. Oh stop that, you idiot – it hasn't even been a full week yet! No one could possibly know. Perhaps the people in the market have noticed a change in his behavior, but why would they give a damn? And my customers are much more interested in the children than my personal assistant. Which is good, because half of them would probably snap him in twain if they tried their luck. . . . Unless this frail slip of a girl has been to the Home without my knowledge – an utter impossibility – there's no way she, or anyone else from his past, could have the slightest idea of his transformation. But then, why call him a "near-captive?" "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean," he said smoothly, covering his curiosity and worry under a smooth layer of manners.
"I mean accepting his case from his parents," Mrs. White replied, folding her arms across her chest. "Thinking he even needs help in the first place."
Bumby arched an eyebrow. Well, this conversation was pulling no punches in its attempts to puzzle him. Thirteen had always described Victoria as being part of his delusions – a main player, in fact, near the end. If she'd come across him attempting to marry a dead woman in the local church, surely she would have to know why he was here? Then again, given he'd been so clearly hallucinating during that long, dark day in January. . . . "Are you not aware of what your ex-fiance has suffered? I wouldn't fault your parents from keeping the details from you – it's a rather tragic mental breakdown. Though he'd managed to raise the dead, poor boy. I'm simply doing my best to–"
"It happened, Dr. Bumby."
Bumby stopped, startled. "Beg pardon?"
"It happened," Mrs. White repeated, eyes slitted and steely. "All of it. I can only personally vouch for the parts I saw, but it happened. Victor really did have a corpse bride."
. . .Oh, now this was interesting. Bumby couldn't help leaning forward a bit, adjusting his glasses to get a better look at this fresh lunatic before him. "You believe him?"
"As I just said, I saw some of it," Mrs. White said with a huff. "Surely he's told you about how he was driven to climb into my bedroom seeking help in the middle of the whole ordeal. Emily spirited him away right before my own eyes. And it was at my wedding breakfast to Barkis that the dead rose! Their scaring the wits out of my parents is the whole reason we left Burtonsville! You could write them if you're not willing to accept my word – they'd be happy enough to back me up!"
"Would they?" Her parents too? Truly fascinating. He'd heard of the tendency of certain disorders of the mind to be catching during his turn at university, but he'd never actually seen such a case up close and personal before. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say.
"Yes, they would. They have enough guilt over what they put me through to do that, at the very least." Mrs. White drummed her fingers against her arm. "Or you track down Pastor Galswells and ask him, if you like. He's certainly never tried to deny it, even if his version of events is rather twisted. He'd be only too happy to rant and rave at you."
"'Rant and rave' is correct," Dr. Bumby replied, smirking. "The Van Dorts told me during our initial interview that he'd lost his senses in response to their son losing his, and I'm much more inclined to believe their version of events than yours. If only because what I've heard of him from Master Van Dort never painted a picture of someone that stable to begin with."
Mrs. White sighed heavily. "Well, I don't seem mad, do I?"
"Mrs. White, for a psychiatrist, that is always a loaded question."
That got a glare. "They haven't thrown me out of society yet," she returned. "And even if they have tossed Victor away, I don't think it was warranted. I had tea with him not that long ago, and he was quite himself. No hint that he belonged anywhere near an asylum at all."
"Forgive my impertinence for saying so, Mrs. White, but how would you know?" Bumby had to ask. "By every account, Master Van Dort's included, you knew each other for rather less than an afternoon."
Ah, there was some color for the young lady's cheeks. "True, but we lived across from each other for years. I may not have ever met him directly – my parents disapproved of me going outside much – but gossip and rumors and Mrs. Van Dort's voice carried even to my room. Everyone said he was shy and gentle and loved dogs and butterflies. No one ever hinted that his mind might be wrong."
"My dear Mrs. White," Dr. Bumby said soothingly, "minds aren't often born wrong. More often, they're made wrong – and with depressing ease, I've come to learn. The smallest misadventure may send them careening off course. Master Van Dort is already of a nervous disposition, and by all accounts he wasn't exactly anticipating his marriage to you with pleasure. Begging your pardon, of course, he has spoken of how you two fell quite nearly in love at first sight. But surely you can see how such anxiety could give way to something much worse under the right circumstances? Such as accidentally stumbling upon the corpse of a murder victim while practicing your wedding vows?"
"That only applies when the corpse herself doesn't tell you about her murder!"
Bumby jerked back, rocking dangerously on his heels from the force of Mrs. White's vehemence. Goodness, for such a spindly-looking girl, she had an almost Alice-level snarl. She directed it at him a moment more, then took a deep breath, pressing down on her skirts as she did. "I'm sorry," she said, in calmer tones. "This – this simply hits rather close to home for me. My own parents – well, the subject of straitjackets came up when I first tried to explain things to them. I can't help but feel for Victor, given the circumstances."
"Sympathy is one thing, Mrs. White," Dr. Bumby replied, taking off his glasses and cleaning them as he worked to get control of the conversation back. "Feeding someone's delusions – buying into them with such enthusiasm, no less – is quite another. He's suffering terribly as a result of his insistence that Emily existed. Don't you want to see him get well?"
"I didn't think he was sick in the first place!" Mrs. White shot back, getting heated again. "And even if he is, he's certainly not ill enough to justify anything like you tried on poor Miss Liddell!"
Danger signals began going off in Bumby's head. "You're – acquainted with Alice?"
"Didn't Victor tell you? I met her once, right as she was coming out of the Bow Street police station. Just in time to catch her as she fainted and bring her back to our rooms, in fact. That's the whole reason Victor and I had tea – he came looking for her, hoping to bring her home. Oh, and the poor man was in a horrible state over it all. . .I've never seen anyone look so sad since – well. Myself in the mirror when my wedding to Barkis dawned." She sighed, looking at the cobbles. "I wish we'd managed to keep a better eye on her. Everyone said she was in a very bad way, and it showed." She raised her face to him again, frowning. "And Victor seemed quite certain that you weren't helping matters."
So she was the "nice young woman" whom had almost delivered Alice back into his hands! Trust Thirteen to keep the most important details to himself. "I'm afraid Master Van Dort has never been very approving of my treatment methods," Dr. Bumby said with a long-suffering huff. "But I assure you, everything I did to Alice was for her own good."
"Even those horrid medications? Victor was of the opinion they just made things worse for her."
"Even those. Alice is very, very ill, Mrs. White – more than you could ever imagine. Certainly more than Master Van Dort ever understood. Drastic measures must be used if we're ever to see progress." Much to my annoyance. . .why must you be so stubborn, you wretched girl? I thought your desire to forget would make you child's play when you first came into my care. What happened between then and now? "You yourself acknowledge she was in a bad way when you two met. Did she suffer one of her hallucinations around you?"
"No, merely collapsed. . .but she escaped our hotel suite by climbing up the side of the building in a haze, according to our manservant," Mrs. White admitted reluctantly, twisting her hands together again.
"There, you see? Does that sound like a mind that should be allowed to run wild?"
Mrs. White sighed in defeat. "No, it doesn't. Very well, I apologize for doubting your treatment of Miss Liddell. Psychiatry was never my strong suit." Her mouth tightened into a determined line. "But that doesn't change my opinion on Victor. I may not have known him long, but I know him well enough to be certain he doesn't belong in your care. At the very least, he doesn't need 'drastic measures.'"
"Well, I can settle your mind on that score, at least," Dr. Bumby told her with a magnanimous smile. "I was toying with the idea of starting him on medication, but I've decided he doesn't need it after all. You're right in that his delusions – and please, grant me the privilege of calling them such; most people don't believe in the dead walking – aren't of a dangerous nature, and aren't we all the better for it. But they're deeply inconvenient in not allowing him to actually move on with his life. Hanging onto such fantasies only separates him from others and makes it harder for him to fit in – and judging by what I've heard, he struggles with that already. I'm just trying to help him be the best man he can be – and fortunately, we've recently made a breakthrough in that regard. He'll soon be right as rain."
Mrs. White was giving him that slitted-eyed look again. "Really. I must say it sounds like you've all finally bullied him into recanting the story just to get some peace."
"Heaven forbid," Dr. Bumby said, putting a hand to his heart. "I am a doctor, not some back alley thug."
"Hmph. Forgive me for not being immediately impressed by your title. One of the worst men I ever knew tacked on 'Lord' before his name. And there's the matter of how your colleagues treated Christopher when he went looking for help for Miss Liddell. For people dedicated to helping them, you all seem to have a very low opinion of the mad. Or the supposedly-mad."
Bumby sighed. "There will be no convincing you of my good intentions, will there? Very well, I shall take my leave and not bother you any further." He put on his smarmiest tone. "Thank you for a most enlightening conversation, Mrs. White."
"My apologies for nearly running you over once again," Mrs. White replied, crisply polite. "And my thanks, small as they are, for deciding not to force any pills down poor Victor's throat. Perhaps I'll call on you and him later – just to see how he is. I know it's not typically accepted between ex-fiancees, but I would like to think of myself as one of his friends."
"I look forward to your visit," Dr. Bumby said, hiding a burst of annoyance and worry behind another smile. "But now I must go and take my tea. Good day to you, Mrs. White."
"Good day." With a quick twitch of her skirts, Mrs. White moved on, rejoining the ever-flowing river of people. Bumby watched her disappear into the rabble, then headed in the other direction, shaking his head. To think that Thirteen had successfully convinced other people that the dead had risen! He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't just been confronted with the evidence. That old pastor the elder Van Dorts had mentioned he'd dismissed as a mere outlier, of no real importance given that he seemed the type to seize on any opportunity to spread his rhetoric against sin. But the Everglots? A family that by all rights should have been the last to believe his mad story? Incredible how madness can be catching, he thought as he finally made it back to the market square. Maybe Mrs. Van Dort is right and he really did dig up a corpse and use it as a prop for his hallucinations to build on. I wouldn't put anything past him now. Young noble ladies are supposed to be delicate – the shock of seeing such a gruesome thing probably would be enough to addle the senses. Though Mrs. White doesn't seem that fragile. . .dear God, what a mouth on her. Not as bad as Alice's, but still. That husband she mentioned should teach her the edict that women are to be seen and not heard. I would do the job for him if the risks weren't too great. His brow furrowed. I wonder if she truly meant anything by that threat of appearing at the Home. Hmmm. . .well, the right suggestion or two, and I think she could be persuaded to leave without threatening my latest conquest. Particularly if I worked such a change in her old "love" that she'd happily depart wishing never to see him again. . . .
He amused himself with these thoughts as he hailed a cart and rode home, arriving at Houndsditch slightly after four. Thirteen was waiting for him in his office, tray in hand. "Ah, Thirteen," he greeted the young man. "I met a friend of yours today. I don't suppose you remember Victoria White?"
Thirteen blinked once, then shook his head. "No, sir," he said in that lovely empty voice. "I remember nothing."
Bumby beamed. "Just as you should. You had nothing worth remembering in that silly head of yours. Least of all her." He took his seat, leaning back and pressing his fingertips together as Thirteen poured. "I pity the poor girl, I have to say. It seems you managed to drive her quite mad before I took you in. She believes the same ridiculous stories you used to. Actually argued with me about my treatment of you. You have no objections to what I do with you, do you?"
"No, sir," Thirteen replied, adding a splash of milk to the cup.
"Of course you don't. Toys don't object to how they're used. Being used is what they're for, after all." He watched Thirteen stir in his customary spoonful of sugar. "But yes – if it hadn't been for the fortunate occurrence of some strange man willing to take a lunatic for a wife, you probably would have ruined that girl's entire life." He laughed softly. "I really did the universe a favor by wiping your mind clean, didn't I? You truly are good only for a fuck."
Thirteen didn't respond – just tapped the spoon against the lip of the cup, then offered it to him. Bumby took it and sipped. "Ahhh. . .speaking of which," he added, with a significant nod down.
"Yes, Master." Thirteen rounded the desk and ducked underneath. Moments later, the doctor felt those long, nimble fingers working on the buttons of his pants. He took another sip and grinned.
Life didn't get better than this.