A noticeable quiet had settled like a blanket, softly covering the length of the Grassmarket. Where earlier in the day, merchant carts and stalls had lined the area, only trampled grass and muddy footprints remained. Tall buildings with darkened windows looked on like silent observers, watching the few pedestrians passing by.
Captain Hunter walked briskly along as one of the pedestrians, the stale smell of the factories drifting across the early evening air. Nearby, voices could be heard through an open window mingled with music – a family enjoying one another’s company just before the evening meal. Beside him, Thorias Llwellyn and Rodney Barnes moved quickly to match the captain’s pace. Not far behind, Moira raced to catch up.
“Granted, I have been curious over the flower blossoms,” Dr. Llwellyn said, “although of late, I confess I’d forgotten about them.”
“As had I,” Hunter admitted. “However, Will was awake when I asked after him today. He mentioned the flowers to me – that the ones we found had been freshly cut, or nearly so.”
“But that means somebody had to put ’em there,” Moira interjected, catching up with the group.
The captain nodded, “indeed. Someone did. Someone placed those flowers there as a cry for help, I suspect.”
Hunter led the small group along Candlemaker’s Row, past the curve that followed the wall outside the cemetery at Greyfriar’s Kirk. He continued his explanation while he walked, “Will mentioned that Mrs. Givens remembered three women asking after Miss Newt: Lydia, Vivian and a woman named Mary. Mary, based on accounts, I believe is Mary Hereford. Vivian is Vivian Carpenter. Lydia I believe to be Miss Olivander.”
“So one of them left the flowers?” Rodney asked.
“Wait, I see what you’re driving at,” Dr. Llwellyn interrupted, “Any could have done it, but you’re assuming the gears were left at the same time.”
“Yes,” Hunter replied with a reserved smile, “the gears were too clean to have been laying in the soft mud for all that long. They are specialized, being of a type used at woolen mills, and from what Mrs. Givens told William, Mrs. Monkhouse did often purchase fresh heath blossoms. Whoever laid those by the cart knew that.”
The captain turned at the corner of a tan brick building and stopped at the stone stairs and cemetery gate of Greyfriar’s Kirk. “Given that, Vivian would have no access to the gears from the factory. Mary would, but why leave any evidence? She had been obsessed with keeping everything quiet. Lydia remains.”
“Wait, wait,” Moira said abruptly, “Lydia was the one getting us to go ’round looking for her friend. She was surprised to even see the wagon. If she already knew about it, why be surprised?”
Hunter smiled, “if I’m correct with this outlandish theory, Lydia truly did not know.”
“Twins?” Rodney suggested, to which Thorias shook his head.
“No,” the doctor replied, with a suspicious glance at Anthony. “Something else. Twins would not be ‘outlandish’, just a handy coincidence.”
Captain Hunter walked up to the gate and slowly ascended the ancient stone stairs. Overhead, black ravens watched from the treetops in silence, their obsidian eyes glittered against the coming night. The captain held up a hand to warn the others to wait.
The baleful eye of the full moon had risen, peeking between the boughs of trees. Bone-white moonlight glittered off the cemetery tombstones, casting long shadows that danced in glee with the hint of fog that had just begun to rise from the grass, faintly damp from the evening air.
Unable to sustain her patience, Moira leaned forward to stare at the silent cemetery. “What now?” She whispered. “What are we lookin’ for? Ghosts?”
“After a fashion,” Anthony replied in a hushed tone. “We should know in a moment.”
Just then, the figure of a young lady, wearing a blue dress with tan trim and draped in a gray shawl, stepped from the shadows across the dark grass. From their vantage point at the gate, the observers could not make out her identity, although Captain Hunter smiled satisfactorily.
“There’s our answer now,” he told the others while he stepped out onto the grass, walking towards the lone figure.
The air itself seemed to pause while the captain headed across the grass, slowly approaching in such a way that he would intercept the young woman just as she reached three long mounds of earth. Fresh earth filling new graves with clean, small headstones.
One of the headstones was for Hiram Jones, another for Vivian Carpenter. They had been interred only just that day. Next to those stood a third stark white headstone marked ‘Allison Newt’, thrust up like a bone through the ground.
Five yards away, Captain Hunter pushed his hands into his coat pockets and stopped walking. The others paused alongside him. The young woman quietly knelt and placed fresh sprigs of heather blossoms onto the fresh graves.
“Miss Allison Newt, I presume?” Captain Hunter asked quietly, “We’ve been on quite the merry chase to find you.”
While it was the form of Lydia Olivander that turned to look at the captain, her voice was not the timid alto tone that belonged to the brave young girl from the woolen mill. It was more self-confident, yet at the same time, sad, as if from someone who had been through a staggering ordeal. In the pale moonlight, Hunter watched while the young woman’s eyes changed color to a deep, greenish-hazel. Lydia smiled warmly.
“Ah shouldn’t be surprised to find ye and the others here, Cap’n,” She replied with a noticeable Scottish accent; one that Lydia did not possess. “Of course, that’s why Ah suggested Lydia go into the White Hart Tavern that night. Ah had a good feelin’ that all of ye would be the right ones to help us.”
“Us?” Dr. Llwellyn asked curiously before a kernel of understanding took hold. “Wait … ‘us’ … Oh my word … ” He said in shock.
“I … I don’t understand,” Rodney stammered, his voice quavering, skin as pale as a sheet.
Moira stared wide-eyed at the woman that looked like Lydia Olivander, but spoke with the voice of another young woman altogether. “She’s possessed,” she said in a hushed tone.
Lydia-Allison stood and brushed the dirt from her simple dress, then folded her hands in front of her.
“Ah apologize, Doctor,” she told Dr. Llwellyn. “Ah’m sure yer vexed with me for draggin’ Lydia out of bed like this. What with Greyfriar’s Kirk being only a short coach ride from the hospital, Ah thought no harm would be done.” She hesitated, embarrassed, “Ah also be afraid that we’d never get another chance to be payin’ respects, once people eventually … found out about me and Lydia.”
Medical responsibility to his patient came to the fore in his mind, spurring him to action. “Oh! Well, you should be more careful, young lady, er, ladies … ” he stumbled over his words while walking quickly over to Lydia-Allison. “You might have pulled one of your stitches.”
The young woman lifted an arm to allow the doctor to inspect her wounds as best he could through the clothing. “Ah be quite careful. Last Ah ever want would be to hurt Lydia.”
“Lydia? Don’t you mean ‘you’ … not ‘Lydia’,” Rodney suggested, still struggling with the entire moment.
Lydia-Allison smiled, suppressing a laugh. “In a way, Ah do, but Ah mean her too, Rodney.”
“Fortunately, no harm done physically,” the doctor said after a moment. “Nothing that I can right away see or feel seems to be loose or bleeding.” He gave the young woman a deep frown, “you should be more careful in the future.”
“We will,” she replied.
“Miss Newt,” Hunter said carefully, “how did his happen? What do you remember?”
“Ah remember most of it, especially how it started,” Lydia-Allison replied. “It be all about that one night. Ye remember the one, Rodney?”
“Yes,” Rodney replied, an embarrassed flush turning his cheeks a faint crimson. “I remember. It’s when I accidentally broke my opti. You said you saw something strange along the avenue.”
Lydia-Allison nodded, “yes, the two with the carpet. Ah followed them quite a ways that night, thinking ye could still hear me. Ah followed them all the way to that accursed factory, and then below it.” She shook her head sadly, “Ah should’ve gotten help, not gone alone. When Ah caught a glimpse of it being Lydia in the carpet, Ah just couldn’t wait.”
“What happened then?” Moira asked, wide-eyed.
Lydia-Allison glanced over at the tombstones, embarrassed. “Ah got away from me own common sense. Ah hid among the boxes, waitin’ for them all to leave. Dr. Hereford and her two men, that is. When they stepped out, Ah raced for the little room. What a nightmare it was! Lydia had been strapped down. Machines were all about her with surgical tools. Ah panicked. Runnin’ over, Ah tried to move the machinery, but it was too heavy for me. So Ah unstrapped Lydia instead.” The young woman paused, “Ah was too slow.”
She glanced back at the group, “Dr. Hereford caught me just as Ah worked at the last strap! Ah was so close! Before Ah knew it, that mad woman screamed at me, grabbing up a knife to run me through. She was screamin’ Ah’d ruin everything and she wasn’t going to let me.”
Lydia-Allison shrugged, “we fought for the knife, and somewhere in there Ah fell against that devilish machinery. It was some electroshock generator. Why that mad woman had such a thing is beyond me thinking. When Ah fell into it, it ignited, shocking meself and Lydia.”
“Electroshock?” Thorias said, surprised. “That wouldn’t cause … this to happen to you.”
Lydia-Allison smiled at the doctor, “no, but it did nearly kill Lydia and meself. Mostly Lydia. Dr. Hereford decided that wouldn’t do.” Her smiled faded, closing her eyes while her voice shook just slightly from the memory. “So she used parts from the opti, parts from me, parts from other things. All of it to repair and make what she wanted. Lydia never had ta wake from it … thankfully. As for me, Ah remember … long painful moments, but not all of it. Ah think they disposed of me body later.”
“The mortuary,” Hunter said thoughtfully. “The young woman with no identity.”
“Wait though,” Moira interjected, “Her hair be black as a raven, an she wasn’t burnt any.”
“Leather dye for the hair,” Lydia-Allison replied. “Ah do remember her tellin’ one of her men that she was worried someone might remember what Ah look like. So she took great pains to change what Ah looked like.” The young woman hesitated a moment, “to erase me.”
Dr. Llwellyn put a hand on the young woman’s shoulder, “heaven above. I’m so very sorry.”
Hunter watched Lydia-Allison for a moment before he spoke. “Lydia … Miss Olivander … she doesn’t know, does she?”
“No,” the pale young woman said with a small shake of her head. “At times, Ah be awake when she is. It like be riding in a carriage. Sometimes Ah can suggest something to the driver, sometimes she won’t pay attention. She thinks Ah be her conscience. At times Ah have been.”
“Why didn’t ya tell anyone?” Moira asked, flabbergasted. “Just someone, anyone?”
“Who’d believe me?” Lydia-Allison replied sadly with a shrug. “Ah’d be called possessed, and never be free of a sanitarium. Ah couldn’t let Lydia be put there. So, Ah kept quiet.”
Her gaze drifted down to her feet, embarrassed, “When Ah realized what happened, Ah cried at first. Ah wanted ta fade away. Then Ah got mad. Ah wrote Lydia a note, but it scared her. So Ah didn’t do that again, instead Ah’d give her a suggestion now and then. Enough to help her, just not so much that she’d think she’d gone mad.”
Rodney took a hesitant step forward, “Allison, I’m so sorry,” he said softly, with a deep sadness in his voice. “I should’ve gone to look, I should’ve gone to find you.” His hands balled into frustrated fists, shaking with long-contained emotions. “I should’ve …”
Lydia-Allison rushed over and put her hands on one of his arms. Gently, she lifted one of his fists and slowly uncurled it. “No, no, no. Ye didn’t know. If ye did, what then? Ye would’ve come to help me and we might have both been caught.”
“Or not,” Rodney said through clenched teeth, “I could’ve located a constable, I could’ve watched out for you.”
“What be done is done, the milk be spilled,” she told him firmly. “This be now. Let’s work out the ‘now’, not the ‘then’.”
Hunter stepped away from the pair, gesturing for Thorias and Moira to join him. “Thorias? What say you?”
The doctor rubbed his eyes, overwhelmed by the revelation. “What can I say? It could be the most pronounced case of dissociation I’ve ever seen. Though, she shows very little of the usual symptoms that I could tell. Even the aches and pains can be explained away due to the transplant vivisection she suffered.”
“So her story could be true, then?” Hunter asked curiously.
“I’ve no evidence either way, other than it’s astounding enough to stagger the mind. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but as horrific as it sounds, it could be.” Thorias admitted. “If this was revealed, asylum or no, Dr. Hereford would hang for a crime of this magnitude, and our young lady there …”
“Ladies,” Moira interrupted.
Thorias sighed, looking uncomfortable with the term, “ah quite, … ladies there would spend the rest of ‘their’ lives locked away, being studied like a sample of pond water.”
“What do ya think, Cap’n?” Moira asked. “I know it don’t make sense, but I want to believe her, at least some of it.”
“I think,” Hunter said at long last, “I believe that out of this horrible, shambling nightmare, there is a higher power striving to help bring some peace and resolution to it all. Some closure. That is what I believe.”
The captain sighed softly, “She doesn’t seem dangerous, not to herself or Rodney. However, I’m not one to make a final diagnosis. If we make your Dr. Bell aware of the nature of Allison and Lydia, would he be up to the task of dealing with it? With helping everyone … reconcile?”
“Perhaps … yes. After some time,” Thorias replied. “Though, he still might find this a bit daunting. However, he’s done minor miracles before. Our young lady,” he hesitated a moment, “pardon … ladies … there, theoretically, would be able to even take up a somewhat normal life.”
“Well, until then, I’ll press the issue and put up funding to purchase Mrs. Carpenter’s boarding house.” Hunter said thoughtfully. “Until Allison … or Lydia … or even both are ready to decide if they wish to re-open it. It would give me time to sort Hiram’s things and send them to his next of kin while we’re still in port.”
“Bein’ possessed like that. I just can’t imagine. ” Moira asked with the noticeable edge of nerves in her voice.
“There’s so much we don’t know about the mind and spirit, Moira, so very much,” Thorias said wistfully.
“Well, my mind’s stayin’ right were it should, in my own head,” She said firmly, but quietly.
“Between Dr. Bell, Detective MacTaggart, Rodney, and ourselves,” Hunter said, “we’ve more than enough ability to ensure they won’t be prodded like a frog.”
The captain looked over at the young woman next to him. “Moira,” Hunter said quietly, “be so kind as to hail a coachman. Miss Olivander and Miss Newt both need their sleep. We promised Miss Olivander that we’d make sure her friend was safe, and that’s what we’ll do.”