Lord Simon: Age Thirty-Four, Part I

The other Eakins painting
Simon stood beneath a large, blunt-faced statue and watched the Ennancian Harbor fill with fog. Behind him lay a town of cobblestones and smart shops filled with ladies and gentlemen in elegant dress.

Though Ennance produced no exports, its harbor was a necessary stop before the northern passage through the frontier of Svetland. So Ennance was wealthy and cosmopolitan. It could afford several fine churches plus an equal number of clubs and racetracks. Not to mention a dozen universities, including a college devoted to New Medicine.

“Mr. Penderley will return at five o’clock,” the assistant professor told Simon, so Simon had come here to watch the fog and let his mind drift.

He had forgotten what utter silence sounded like. Hannah may not speak to him; he never stopped listening. The slightest groan on the stairs, the faintest creak of floorboards in his room, and he was alert, calling for her.

She seethed with a fury that yearned to dismantle the world’s foundations. His fault. He should never have used Suvaginnean blood. She had been upset before, perhaps angry. Not like this. He could hardly hear the woman anymore through the churning atmosphere of her displeasure.

He returned to the college, striding through the gabled gate with its graven proclamation: Learning for All, a noble sentiment. Ennance—like Svetland—had a reputation for broadmindness. Its institutions included female students plus a few male students from trade backgrounds. No straggling masses. Still, Simon allowed, Learning for Only the Socially-Acceptable wouldn’t fit on the gate.

Simon headed for the low brick buildings towards the end of the central quad. He entered a long room filled with low tables. A sturdy man in short sleeves walked about the room, arranging glass saucers filled with fluid—blood, Simon perceived with a hesitation in the heart. Suvaginnean blood had been the wrong approach, but blood, spit, bodily fluids were still the answer.

Mr. Penderley looked around as the lecture door closed behind Simon. He peered over his spectacles, then beamed.

“Mr. Simon? You dropped by earlier.” He leaned forward and briskly shook Simon’s hand. “Your correspondence has been most interesting.” He continued setting down saucers. “I should inform you—I am more tolerant than most Ennancian scientists of Roesia magic.”

Lips quirking, Simon lowered himself to a stool.

“Then you are already more accepting than most Roesia ministers.”

Mr. Penderly snorted. “Bureaucrats fear the curious mind. Your saliva experiments—any success?”

Simon stopped a wince. Mr. Penderly sounded like a man asking about the weather. Simon tried to answer as matter-of-factly:

“Limited results.”

* * *

Saliva experiments—how much more official and legitimate it sounded than the reality: Simon spitting the products of various formulas on prostitutes in the cellar of the Academy’s main house.

They were paid, of course, for any possible inconvenience. None of them knew that “inconvenience” included possible disappearance into the walls of the Academy.

A few of the prostitutes faded in response to the potions. A few disappeared for less than a minute. A few did little more than “tingle” (coyly said). Most didn’t alter at all. Illumined by stuttering lamps, they stood in their tasseled and gaudy dresses, hands on hips, heads tossed back.

“Well,” they said, eyes rolling. “What’s supposed to happen, Mr. Magician?”

Simon ignored their clenched fists, taut arm muscles, and darting eyes. They were frightened. They knew who he was. He was rapidly gaining a reputation as a potion master although the Academy had difficulty replicating his concoctions. Even prostitutes from Kingston’s slums had heard of him. They were relieved to the point of hysteria when he dismissed them.

They kept returning, and they sent others—Simon paid well and never touched them except for the wash of spittle. Never mind that their pale faces now occupied Simon’s memory alongside Hannah’s shocked glare from the night Simon sent her into limbo.

* * *

“Your blood and spit?” Mr. Penderley said.

“In varying ratios.”

“Hmm. And no mixture is more successful than the other?”

Simon shook his head. “Blood concentrates the effects but doesn’t stabilize it.”

A year earlier at Mr. Penderley’s suggestion, Simon had called in leeches to bleed him. One after another they made their incisions, propping his arm over a shallow white bowl. Simon lay on his cot in the solarium, eyes glazed while his life’s blood dripped away. Between each drip, he heard Hannah’s whispers of wrath and disgust. He couldn’t guess if she wanted his death or his life.

He collected three bowls of blood over two months, a time period that left him shaking, near delirium at times. He used one bowl on the prostitutes, creating potions with various proportions of water combined with dried blood. The results seemed promising. More of his victims, patients, vanished for longer periods of time and returned whole, sane.

But of course there were those on whom the potions had no effect. Whenever Simon attempted to draw Hannah back to full life, he failed. She still occupied the walls and doorways, ceiling and floors of his house. Except now she seemed to weep behind her mad rage.

* * *

“Interesting. Interesting,” said Mr. Penderley. “There are qualities in blood that organs accept or reject. Have you spoken to any anatomists?”

With a dry mouth, Simon said, “The Academy is opposed to dissection.”

“They don’t consider it a gentleman’s sport.” Mr. Penderly rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Pity. I don’t suppose you could procure bodies yourself?”

Simon couldn’t answer. In Kingston, there was a black market of bodies from paupers’ fields, even some—it was muttered—from more respectable graveyards. Simon quelled a grimace. He would have kept his uncle’s body if he’d wanted to follow such a path.

Mr. Penderly must have seen some antipathy in Simon’s face because he sighed and set down his remaining saucers.

“Dissection,” he said, “is a necessary step in scientific measurements. How can medicine, how can doctoring, improve us otherwise? Health, survival, longevity—what is the human experience but the pursuit of these things? Gentlemanly scruples, proprieties, superstitions about death—meaningless twaddles, wafflings versus the need for true moral action.”

Simon allowed a smile to crack. “Corpses bring complications.”

“Decay. Poor preservation. Environmental damage. I know.”

“And if a potion damages an organ . . .”

“It would need to be individually tested. The organ that rejects the potion could then be used as a counteragent.”

“Unless like binds to like.”

Mr. Penderley sniffed.

“That theory is disproved. Mostly. But magic may operate on such illogical associations.”

Simon grinned with real appreciation.

“Of course the best approach,” Mr. Penderley said, turning back to his saucers, “would be to operate on a living being after it was fed a potion. The color of the organs would explain much. Unfortunately, infections are still too great a danger.”