Moreau’s Daughter

Issue #135

Her face caught his eye, pale ivory against the black December night, a still visage amidst the eddies of humanity that laughed and sang and fought and fornicated in the shadows around the Ten Bells public house. She had paused to lean against the lamp-post, eyes closed, face slack with drink and fatigue—a moment of repose that was unlikely to last long, since the patrolman would circle around in another four minutes and tell her to move along.

It was a younger face than Jack Nemo normally liked, but two things caught his attention: the stupid, intoxicated quality of her expression, and the exotic slant of her bone structure, especially around the eyes. It reminded him of early days when he had been a half-formed creature, surrounded by half-formed creatures, struggling through metamorphosis....

The predator in him was familiar with risk, and with opportunity. He left the shadows, leisurely, swinging his cane like the gentleman he affected to be, strolled across the street, and took the girl by the arm, shaking her gently alert.

She opened her eyes—less Oriental than he had supposed from the distance, but no matter—and smiled a drunken, welcoming smile. “Hallo chéri,” she said, in slurred Parisian gutter French. “’Oould you want to come ‘ome wit’ me, then?”

To hunt other Men was in strict violation of the Law. But the Maker had made clear that females were expendable.

Jack offered his arm. “Have you a room nearby, my dear?”

Despite her long journey and ulterior motives for visiting, Lily Quinn felt a joyous uplifting of spirit at the sight of Madame Thérèse’s townhouse, in its respectable but not-quite-fashionable London neighborhood. A light dusting of snow on the gate and shrubberies sparkled in the crisp sunlight. It was mid-morning yet—nobody out except the coal-carrier and the street vendors—and Lily wondered whether she would be intruding on her friend’s beauty-sleep. But the carriage had barely stopped before Thérèse herself was opening the front door and hurrying down the steps, her beautiful face alight with pleasure.

Lily chose to forget she was in London and posing as a refined lady. She leapt from the coach without waiting for the steps to be set down and hurried to throw her arms around her friend.

Thérèse was laughing at her already. “Lily! Too long cooped up in traveling cars, I see! It is so good to see you, chérie. I hope the journey was not too tedious.”

Lily linked her arm through Thérèse’s as they swept up the front walk. “No less tedious than any other train journey, I’m afraid. Not even any bandit attacks to fend off.”

Thérèse laughed merrily at their old joke. “Perhaps you can go walking after dark and find a few ruffians to keep you in practice.”

That remark was more prescient than Lily cared to admit, so she only chuckled.

The house was quiet, since most of Thérèse’s girls were sensibly still abed. The front parlors were rich and opulent, arranged for the pleasure of male customers, but the kitchen, Thérèse’s private parlor, and the back bedrooms were homey and comfortable. Thérèse took Lily to a room on the second floor, adjacent to her own, where a maid was preparing the bath.

Thérèse dismissed the girl immediately. The maid stole one curious glance at Lily’s face, which Lily pretended not to notice. Thérèse’s servants were well-trained in discretion, but Lily suspected the new chambermaid had heard an earful about Madame’s strange foreign-looking friend.

“You appear well,” Lily observed as she shed her cape and gloves. “Business has been good?”

“Quite so,” Thérèse said. “Business has actually increased this autumn, due to the unpleasantness in the East End.... Did news of the murders reach Shanghai?”

“I might have heard something about it.” Lily made her tone blasé.

“I don’t doubt,” Therese said dryly. “You may have heard, then, the speculation that the killer is an educated man, possibly a gentleman. So understandably, a number of gentlemen feel the need to distance themselves from Whitechapel, and my custom has increased correspondingly.” Her lips folded together in regret. “Of course I have also had an increased number of girls begging for boarder positions.”

“You cannot save everyone.” Lily reminded her, removing her hat. “Or so you always tell me.”

“No, but I am considering opening another house.” Thérèse knelt before Lily’s trunk, taking out fresh undergarments, hairbrush, cosmetics, and a heavy leather packet that clanked when she shifted it. “Do you want this out, chérie?”

 “Yes, thank you.” Lily took the packet and opened it on the bed. She removed the derringer from the pocket of her skirt and stowed it in its leather sheath. Then she reached under the false-buttoned front of her bodice and loosened a small Chinese knot, allowing a whole ladder of interlocking loops to slip out of each other, quick as a conjurer’s trick. All of Lily’s English clothes used tricks from Peking opera costumes, so they could be discarded swiftly in case of emergency. Beneath her sensible wool travelling suit she wore black silk trousers, closely wrapped from ankle to knee, and a tunic with long sleeves.

“Still no corset, I see,” Thérèse teased. “Were you expecting trouble on the train?”

“I am only English on the outside,” Lily reminded her. “And a woman travelling alone can never be too careful.” From the concealments in her leg-wrappings she drew two long, slim stiletto blades, and from similar bindings against her wrists she removed a pair of short, fine knives. “Though, I must admit I will be grateful to shed these silks—I think they may be permanently glued to my skin.”  With all of her tools properly stowed, she peeled off the clinging black undergarments, then climbed into the bathtub with a sigh of relief.

Thérèse fetched the hot water kettle from the fire and emptied it carefully into the bath near Lily’s feet. “Not to be tactless, chérie, but do you have other business here? Fond as I am of you, I know you like to kill two birds with one stone.”

“No business,” Lily said truthfully, reaching up to pull pins from her hair. She hesitated. “The Ambassador and I... came to an agreement. I am now free to pursue my own interests, outside of Shanghai.”

“Good,” Thérèse said vehemently. She lifted the thick black coil of Lily’s hair from her nape and began to tease a brush through it, letting the ends trail over the tub’s edge to the floor. “I hope that means you will not go back. The man has too many enemies, and your reputation has spread too far. Sooner or later someone will realize his deadly Ghost Flower is a woman, and then you will be a liability to him.”

“Perhaps.” Lily stretched her aching legs to the opposite end of the tub and raised her elbows to rest on the rim, rolling her wrists out of habit. The sheen of water accentuated her scars—thin, precise lines tracing the insides of both arms and legs, where incisions had been made to reshape muscle and tendon. She worked her limbs daily to prevent their stiffening and contorting, but even with diligent chi practice the pain was never completely absent, only sleeping. Lily thought it far more likely that scar tissue would catch her up before her reputation ever did, but she wouldn’t say so to Thérèse. “I will confess... your mention of the Ripper murders was perceptive.”

“Oh, Lily,” Thérèse groaned. “You are so predictable. I almost hoped you would not hear of it.”

“Women are being butchered and discarded like trash. You know I cannot ignore such brutality.”

“You know I feel the same. But it is not your duty to suffer and bleed for every lost soul in the world.”

“Someone ought. I can.”

Thérèse sighed. “Oui, mon amour. I never doubt your capability.” She paused, and Lily could imagine the tightness of her lips, the line of worry between her brows. “I only fear for you, Lily. I know you think... what was done to you, changed your nature. But I think sometimes  you take too many unnecessary chances, to punish yourself for surviving what was never your fault.”

Lily sat still for a minute, her eyes lowered against Thérèse’s words. She had the familiar feeling of holding a door closed in her mind, against a nightmare of filth and pain and fire. She turned abruptly, lifting her arms to rest on the lip of the tub, and smiled coaxingly. “The pleasure of your company is never an afterthought, dearest.”

Thérèse’s own smile was wry, but she was, after all, in the business of pleasure—and the soft pressure of her kiss was a temporary balm against memory.

The whore latched onto Jack’s arm like a lamprey, and pressed her body against him as they fell into step together. No one paid them the slightest notice; people brushed past them on all sides, but Jack knew no one would see anything other than a rich gent with a dollymop.

Despite the girl’s drunken appearance, she was light on her feet, and rather than the gin stench he anticipated, she smelled of sandalwood and spice—incongruous scents in the chill of London. This was a fresh flower, indeed, and probably in better health than the others. Jack smiled down at her, and she grinned back, cooing, “Ah, you’re a ‘andsome one. What’s your name, chéri?”

He smiled, thinking of all the aliases he affected—in his rented rooms, in his taunting letters to the police—and all the names given him by the newspapers. Even drunk as she was, “Saucy Jacky” would likely put her on her guard. “You may call me Mr. Nemo,” he said, knowing she would not understand the reference to Odysseus.

And of course she didn’t. “M’sieur ‘Nimeaux?” she laughed, corrupting the Latin for “no one” into the French for “animals.”  “Are you a zookeeper, M’sieur Animeaux?”

The question startled him, drew him away from his constant surveillance of the street. “I was, of a kind.” He was years past his apprenticeship, but her ignorant mention of animals, and her exotic perfume, brought to mind the old days, when he’d still been learning his craft: the original thrill of inspiration, the genius of like-minded men....

He felt a heightened throb of anticipation. He’d come close to touching greatness with the last girl, but like the others she had proved a disappointment, a failure. This sylph seemed to have dropped into his hands by sheer providence—perhaps this one had the requisite raw material, in some metaphysical way he scarcely understood.

He reminded himself to be patient. Even the Master had seen many failures before constructing his masterpiece. Jack stole another glance at her face—there was definitely some Oriental blood in this one. He’d seen enough mixed-race children in the old days to be sure. And Moreau had always maintained that mongrels, like hybrids, produced the hardiest stock.

“Here we are, chéri.” The whore led him into Miller’s Court and unlocked the door on a dim, featureless, sixpence-a-day room: wooden bedstead behind the door, small table beside the bed, chair and fireplace with a copper kettle hanging over. It was like any other hovel in that neighborhood, with one notable difference: straw had been scattered on the floor near the bed, and a subtle animal scent rolled out of the room. Like the island. Like the cribs where the children were kept....

The predator was dangerously close to the surface. He wanted to sink his teeth into the whore’s neck, throw her into the room and mount her from behind.

But that was in violation of the Law.

Not to go on all fours: that is the Law. Are we not Men?

Not to eat Flesh or taste Blood: that is the Law. Are we not Men?

“I am more than a Man,” he whispered fiercely. “I am made in His image. Mine is the Hand that Makes.”

The whore looked over her shoulder at him, a question between her brows, and her gaze fell on his left hand—he had thoughtlessly clutched the doorframe, nails sunk into the wood in his excitement. He gave her no time to grasp what she had seen. He swept off his tall silk hat with his left hand, and kicked the door closed behind him.

“The killer struck again while I was en route,” Lily mourned, flinging the newspaper onto the breakfast table. “I feared he would. News from London reaches Shanghai so slowly.” She paced violently across the Turkish carpet, the wide sleeves of her silk tunic creating a breeze that fanned Thérèse’s hothouse flower arrangement.

“I am as eager as you to see him stopped,” Thérèse said. “Perhaps more so, now that he has killed a victim in her own room. It does not beggar the imagination to suppose he will expand his attention to establishments such as mine.”

“As long as I am here that will never happen,” Lily said fiercely.

“I know that, chérie. Do please sit down.”

Lily sat and picked up her teacup. It was not the awful black English tea she’d been forced to drink for most of the trip; Thérèse kept delicate, expensive wulong in her larder for favored company.

“And while I do not doubt your ability to... dispatch the killer once you have located him, how do you propose to do the locating? The police are baffled, they have arrested a half-dozen suspects only to clear them days later. Eyewitnesses’ stories contradict each other, describing everyone from a wealthy Englishman to a degenerate sailor to a—“

“Heathen Oriental?” Lily suggested smoothly.

“I don’t believe anyone has yet pointed a finger at the Chinese, but there was suspicion of a foreigner—someone dark.”

“Someone dark who had spent time in the East and learnt about their barbaric practices—I read the piece, myself.” Lily’s breast swelled with well-worn anger. “Ironic, is it not, that the English choose not to see the savagery their own countrymen commit? Even when it on their doorstep. On their hearth.

“Yes, dear. Englishmen are quite, quite evil in their own right.”

Lily shot a wry look at her friend and banked her ardor. “The police suspect a doctor or butcher of the murders. They have said it is a man with medical knowledge, operating with precision, and they have said it is a madman who slashes and slices without pattern or reason. So far as I know, no one has considered that the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.”

“What do you mean?”

Lily picked up a fork and sank it into a piece of jam cake, watching the raspberry filling bleed out onto the white plate. “I mean, the killer may be a vivisectionist.”

The room was a near-perfect copy of the last operating theater he had used. Had he been this close, then? Was the location so important to success? The metaphysical aspects of the Master’s work had always been hardest for him to grasp... but No! He could not afford to doubt.

Mine is the hand that Makes. Master, I will succeed where you failed.

He watched as the little whore bent over the coals, stirred them to life and added a few sticks of kindling. She seemed less intoxicated than she had on the street. There was a sure, sultry quality to her movements, and when she glanced over her shoulder at him, her eyes gleamed gold in the lamplight.

He remembered the puma, how its screams had sounded like a woman’s, and a delicious shudder went through him. He set his bag on the table and turned up the lampwick—he needed plenty of light for the procedure. She rose to her feet and watched him. There was definitely something feline in her posture.

“Take off your clothes.” The room was not yet warm, but he was sweating. His fine suit seemed constraining, unnatural. He swung his own greatcoat off; removed his coat and waistcoat as well.

She let her shawl slide to the floor, quickly followed by the cheap wool bodice and skirt. She wore no corset. Her body was covered only by a thin cotton chemise and pantaloons, which the firelight shone through, outlining her lean hips and thighs. Her bare arms gleamed as if they were carved from ivory, the shoulders shapely with muscle. She wore black Chinese slippers on her feet, and wrappings over the legs like the street acrobats in Hong Kong.

That detail stopped him. He didn’t know why it should, but it changed the context of what he saw in her: not a gin-soaked French prostitute with a touch of Chinese blood, not a sylph sent to lead him to enlightenment but a ghost, a knife blade, a tigress.

She turned her arms slightly in the firelight, and he saw the faint silvery scars running along their length—the unmistakable work of the Maker’s hand.

“Oh no, Lily,” Thérèse said. “You cannot truly believe—this man, this killer cannot be one of the monsters who tortured you. What the Frenchman did to you was cruel beyond measure, but it was precise.” She reached for Lily’s hand across the table. “And while I would not have wished your suffering on anyone, I cannot condemn the result of his labor. What this killer has wrought in Whitechapel is pure destruction. There is no vision in it, only hate.”

Lily squeezed her fingers gratefully. “I do not believe it is one of the surgeons who operated on me, no. But there were other men at the house—dogsbodies, who bought the children and brought them to the island, who fed the animals and helped dispose of the... the remains of the failed experiments. I am thinking of one in particular, who fancied himself an apprentice to the Frenchman. He enjoyed carving up the... discarded parts.” Lily felt her thoughts retreating into darkness, into smallness and helplessness. She shook her head, sat up straighter, and then stood and paced in a tight circle, rotating her wrists; a tigress in a cage.

“Even if that is true,” Thérèse argued, “and the man escaped the conflagration—“

“Some did,” Lily reminded her. “I did.”

“—how will you find him? Will you recognize him if you see him? The police believe the killer may be using disguises.”

“I don’t have to recognize him,” Lily said, with grim pleasure. “He’ll recognize me.

“Bitch,” the killer breathed, his eyes lifting from her scars to her face. “So you did survive.”

“So did you,” Lily observed. “Jack, isn’t it? Jack Nolan? Northam? I know it’s not ‘Nemo.’ When did you learn Latin, Jack? Last I saw you, you could barely speak English.”

“I’ve evolved,” he said, grinning, and lunged at her.

She saw the knife appear in his hand; she had been expecting it. But he was faster than most, and his attack was startlingly efficient. She flowed away from the blade as it nicked past her throat but felt a hot line slice across her left shoulder. She caught his arm, drove it down and slashed at him with her own blade. He twisted back, and the point of her knife laid his cheek open to the bone. He threw himself away from her with a snarl, and they repelled to opposite corners of the room, watching each other warily. Lily felt warmth trickling down her arm but didn’t dare look at the damage.

“You grew up,” Jack said, still grinning despite the blood running down his face and the utter lack of expression in his eyes. His teeth were the stuff of nightmares—filed to points, the canines unnaturally long. Wolf... or maybe hyena. Moreau had been fond of the larger predators, but she hadn’t thought he’d stoop to operating on his human lackeys. “You always were a vicious little cunt.”

“I’m flattered you remember me,” she said, calculating his reach, the distance between them, and the likelihood that the wall would collapse beneath their combined weight if he threw her into it. “Do you remember any of the others?”

“You sprouted tits. Think I’ll cut ‘em off before I cut your throat.”

“Come on, then,” Lily said quietly.

He moved in, not charging, not stupid; feet sure and elbows close to his body. He’d probably been in a few warfside brawls even before the benefit of Moreau’s improvements. There was something wrong with his left hand, the one he was using to feint at her—the fingers were short and stubby, gnarled.

He pivoted suddenly and came in low with the knife hand. She curled away and cut upwards, slashed the tendons of his wrist. He yowled and his knife clattered to the floor, but that gnarled left hand proved to be very quick and tipped with claws that sank like hot needles into her wrist. He trapped her knife arm across her body and shoved her into the wall; the thin partition at her back cracked and shuddered but held.

She curled her spine like a cat, braced both heels against his hips, and shoved. He staggered backwards; she took one long step after and hiked her foot into his groin. He doubled over, an almost comical look of shock on his face. She kicked out his knee, pivoted as he collapsed, and drove her heel down between his shoulder blades.

She heard the crack.

He slumped to the floor with a faint cough, as if surprised. Then he lay there wheezing, stunned, flailing his head in short circular movements like a whale she had once seen beached in Okinawa, unable to understand why his body was suddenly uncooperative.

She stood over him for a second, breathing hard, listening for sounds of disturbance in the adjacent rooms. When she was sure he wasn’t getting up again, she went to the window. No one was staring or approaching in righteous concern. No one had come to help his last victim, either.

She went back to the monster on the floor and pushed on his shoulder with the toe of one slipper. He fell onto his back, the lacerated right hand flopping at an unpleasant angle, the misshapen left groping about aimlessly, feebly.

“Your spine is crushed,” she told him. “You can’t move. You may live, but you won’t ever move again.” She watched his left hand crawling across the floor. “You might move enough to feed yourself, if you try.”

He was panting through his teeth, frantic with frustration and terror. In any other creature such suffering would have moved her to pity, but for this one she felt only cold satisfaction. She squatted beside him, hands dangling between her knees. “This is how it felt, you know. Being strapped to that table. Waiting for the knife.”

“The knife made you what you are,” he snarled. “Moreau elevated you. You were a worthless chink whore’s whelp and he made you into a perfect being.”

“Moreau made me a monster. Not chink, not gwai-lo. Not even human, by some standards.” The long teeth he bared at her were not wolf, as she’d first thought. Dog, perhaps. The gums were infected and angry. “I suppose he didn’t spare any of us.”

She picked up his left hand, which had been carved into a crude approximation of a paw. The scarring was thick and some of it still raw, as if the incisions had been opened repeatedly, and recently.

Perplexed, she pushed his sleeve up and found that the carving continued up his arm, in jagged lines with occasional raw bloody patches. It reminded her of the way a kenneled dog would gnaw its own leg out of distress and boredom. In horrified fascination she opened his collar and found the same mutilations on his chest and shoulders—raw cross-cuts in a childish parody of skilled knife-work.

Aiya,” she said, reverting to childhood oaths in her revulsion. “You’ve done this to yourself.” The flesh was so scored and thickened across his breast it looked like crocodile hide.

His eyes glittered with the flames from the fireplace. “I am the Maker now. That fool Montgomery never had the stomach for the work. I alone have carried on Moreau’s vision.”

Her mouth tightened in disgust. “I hope to God you’re the only one.” She stood up, away from him, and went to the cupboard beside the fireplace. She took down a valise and a good wool dress and cloak; there were clean rags in the valise and a bottle of carbolic acid. “I don’t remember the Doctor making such a mess of his work, far less leaving his messes for the authorities to find.” She doused a bandage with the carbolic and swiped it over her wounds, jaw clenched against the antiseptic burn.

“Garbage is garbage,” he spat. “All you split-tails. Man was made in God’s image—woman is the parasite that must be cut from his flesh.”

Lily shrugged into the new wool bodice, taking care to leave a pad of bandage pressed over her shoulder to blot the seeping cut. “It’s just as well I didn’t kill you. If you live long enough to go to Marleybone you may well make a career for some young alienist.”

“You killed your Maker. You’re damned to hell.”

“An interesting interpretation. In Christian theology, the killers of their god are redeemed by his death.” She bent to pick up her old clothes from the floor. She stuffed them into the valise, pinned on her hat, and swung the cloak about her shoulders.

She debated for a moment whether to leave his bag and knives where they were—if he was found alive, would he confess to being the East End killer? Would he be believed? Or would it all be bungled or hushed up, as the rest of the matter had been? She decided it was none of her affair.

“You think you escaped,” he hissed, as her hand was on the latch. “But you left part of you on the Island, just like the rest of us. Evil are the punishments of those who break the Laws! None will escape!”

Lily cast a damning eye over his crumpled form, mutilated to match his wretch of a soul. “Not if I have aught to say about it,” she agreed.

She closed the door firmly behind her and walked away into the night.

Lily decided to extend her visit through the end of the year, and on Christmas Day she accompanied Thérèse and several of the girls to the pantomime at Drury Lane. It was a predictably silly performance, led by two portly red-faced actors as The Babes in the Woods and the usual assortment of singing, dancing, cavorting man-beasts.

Lily laughed and booed and applauded along with the rest of the audience, but there was something about the stage-wolf’s sly, animalistic movements that intruded on her peace of mind—either the actor was more skilled than his fellows or his costume was more convincing. The chaotic chase through the woods after the Babes likewise struck too close for comfort. When the Wolf abruptly pounced, letting out a fearsome howl, several of Thérèse’s girls jumped and shrieked with delight, but Lily found herself clutching the arms of her seat, rigid and aching with old fear.

She was grateful when Thérèse took Lily’s gloved hand in her own and led her out of the aisle, out of the auditorium to the theater’s lobby, where there were few patrons and a good many gaslights.

“I’m sorry,” Lily said, feeling both relieved and foolish as soon as she was away from the sight of that grotesque, too-real man-beast. She drew in deep draughts of chi, rotated her wrists and neck until the stiffness eased. “I’ve been surfeited with old memories, of late.”

“Memories are insidious things,” Thérèse admitted. “Even now, I can catch a certain scent, a certain look of a man’s brow or the slope of his shoulders, and though I compose myself in public I may wake in the night with my fist between my teeth, trying not to scream the house awake.” She looked at Lily with sympathy, but no pity. “Do you even remember my waking you last night? You were crying out.”

“I remember.” Lily’s jaw tightened. “I haven’t had the night terrors in months. Not even when I decided I was coming here.”

Thérèse waited, but when nothing more was forthcoming she said, “My contact at the London Hospital says their paralysed mystery patient is still alive, although he is weakening from a bowel obstruction. He has been talking in his delirium—about men becoming beasts and beasts becoming gods, and woman being the destroyer of Eden so she must be destroyed.... I believe those were his words.”

Lily made a harsh amused sound. “He learnt Moreau’s catechism well.”

“Do you regret leaving him alive?”

Lily shook her head. “He’ll be dead soon enough, and the doctors believe him mad. He can harm no one else with his words.”

“He said nothing to upset you, then?”

Lily laughed again. “His very existence offended me. The smell of him—my God. As soon as I took his arm on the street, I knew what he was. I just never imagined anyone could do that to themselves, would desire it for himself.” She turned to her friend, her voice low and raw. “Am I that damaged, Thérèse? I know you say I punish myself, but was some blood-lust built into me as well, that I must hunt and kill and feel nothing like remorse?”

“I do not believe you are incapable of remorse, chérie. And if your lack of feeling for that monster is a defect, then I must share it in my own character.”

Lily held tight to Thérèse’s hands, head bowed. Thérèse set an arm about her shoulders. “Come along. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

By the sudden flurry of voices and the flooding of people into the lobby, Lily realized the play was in intermission. Thérèse led her upstairs to the private boxes, to one in particular where the door was open and a distinguished-looking gentleman about Lily’s own age stood waiting for them. “Madame Stevick,” he said warmly, holding his hands out to Thérèse.

She took his hands and kissed his cheek. “Hello, Frederick. Lily, this is Dr. Treves, from the London Hospital. He’s been keeping me abreast of our friend’s progress.”

Lily shook his hand warily. “You are an alienist?”

“I am a surgeon,” the doctor said. “I have a particular interest in physical aberrations—both natural and man-made. But you look as if you have been led into an ambush, Miss Quinn. I only asked Mrs. Stevick if she would bring you to meet my friend Mr. Merrick. She thought the two of you would deal famously together.”

Puzzled, Lily could see the silhouette of a person in the depths of the box—an upright but misshapen person, whose bulbous head seemed precariously heavy for his slender neck. He turned toward her at the sound of his name, and her memory connected the name with an illustration she had seen in a newspaper months ago.

“Yes, of course,” she said, and Dr. Treves ushered her into the box, where he introduced her to Joseph Merrick, lately known by his stage name as the Elephant Man.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance,” Lily said. “Are you enjoying the pantomime, Mr. Merrick?”

His reply was laborious and unintelligible, due to the tumors distorting his jaw and lips, but his eyes were bright on her face and his bow over her hand was as correct as any gentleman’s. Lily took his answer for agreement. Then he asked her a question, and she looked to Dr. Treves for translation.

“Mr. Merrick says he has travelled over much of Europe, but he has never been to the Far East. He wants to know how China is different from England.”

Lily smiled and described the climate and land of southeastern China, and the port city of Shanghai, with its rich smells and sounds so different from the streets of London. Mr. Merrick gave her the impression of a bright child, listening avidly to fantasies. He asked polite questions, which by and large she was able to understand and answer.

They talked avidly until the orchestra struck up again, signaling the end of intermission. Mr. Merrick thanked her for coming and wished she might visit him at the Hospital, if her time in London allowed.

“It would be my great pleasure,” Lily said sincerely. “Would Thursday suit?”

“Yeth... pleathe.” Mr. Merrick could only smile on one side of his face, but Lily was warmed through to the core, nonetheless.

 “Then I will do myself the honor of joining you for tea, Mr. Merrick. I hope you enjoy the rest of the play.”

He bent quickly to kiss the back of her hand—a damp, awkward kiss, like that of a favorite nephew—and Lily felt tears spring to her eyes. She smiled at Mr. Merrick, and he at her, in perfect harmony.

Lily and Thérèse took their leave of the gentlemen, and as they descended the stairs from Dr. Treves’s box, Lily took her friend’s arm and squeezed it once, in gratitude.

Thérèse patted her hand.


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Holly Messinger started writing Madeleine L'Engle fanfic in the third grade, and by the time she got her BA in English, had written more than a million words of original fiction. Her stories inevitably feature snarky female anti-heroes. Her first novel, The Curse of Jacob Tracy, about a psychic cowboy and the mysterious bluestocking who sends him into mortal danger, is due out from Thomas Dunne Books in July, 2014. "End of the Line," also featuring Jacob Tracy, appeared in Baen's Universe. Her website is www.hollymessinger.com.

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2 Comments on “Moreau’s Daughter”

2 Responses to “Moreau’s Daughter”

  1. Tonia says:

    Exquisite! You have captured time and place while providing a new twist to an old game. Bravo!!

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