Copyright © 2001 by David Goodner
Inspector Thomas Keening, of Scotland Yard, sat in the parlor of a rather tidy, expensive flat, waiting upon his hostess. He'd had the fortune to call just before tea- time, and she had insisted upon serving him properly. She returned from the kitchen with a serving tray bearing a steaming pot of tea and a china service. There were fresh biscuits as well. Inspector Thomas Keening was somewhat relieved, since he had missed his lunch.
"So you're looking for Steven. I rather thought someone would be," she said, sitting down across from him. "Sugar?"
"Two, please," Thomas answered. "Can you tell me anything, Miss Walford?"
"I can tell you a great many things." She smiled at him, with just a hint of irony in her expression. "I don't think you'll find Steven, though."
She poured his tea and dropped two lumps in deftly. She took her own with honey.
"I've already spoken with Mr. Davis' other associates. They all said that if anyone would be able to help me, you would. You know him very well, I'm told."
"I suppose I did, if anyone did. I'm not really sure." Miss Walford paused. "Let me begin at the beginning. I'm certain that everyone's told you already that Steven was somewhat unusual. He never quite saw life the same way everyone else did. That, more than anything, is what made him such a good artist. It was also what made him so miserable.
"He was fond of taking long walks. The others told you that, I assume. He called it looking for his Muse. I really think he was trying to escape her. We would talk sometimes, and he once told me that he believed if he could only stop painting, he might have a normal life, whatever that was. Steven didn't know, you see. He'd never had one.
"But I'm losing my point. Let me start again. Steven took long walks. Sometimes he would tell me what he saw, where he went, what he did. Mostly he tried to find places to be alone. Steven craved quiet, peace. One of his favorite places to walk was the old Elliot Park near the cemetery. The place is so old and overgrown that it's more like a wood than a park. He would go to play his flute.
"That flute is a story all by itself. You've searched his flat? Did you find it?"
"Yes, we've looked over Mr. Davis' residence, but we didn't find a flute."
"I didn't really think you would. Steven bought the flute at a street market. He was always going places like that, to find things to paint. He taught himself to play, wrote all his own music. He would never play in public. He was good enough to make a living at it, but I may be the only person ever to hear him.
"That's neither here nor there, though. I really should try to keep to the point. I'm sure you're very busy. One night he came to see me after one of his late night expeditions into the wilds. He was in a state, more excited than I'd ever seen him.
"'I've seen the most amazing thing,' he told me. This woman was dancing in the park, only she didn't have any music. He told me about her, described her very intently. He said he watched her dance in the silence for a while, then she saw him watching, and she ran away. Steven said he went after her but she'd disappeared. He said he heard a carriage fade into the distance. He was quite taken with her.
"I need to tell you now that I like old things very much. You have only to look around to see that. Sometimes I used to take Steven with me when I prowled the shops, you know, antique stores, second hand shops, anywhere I can find bits of the past. Steven never had any money, but he used to carry my parcels for me.
"There was this one time we were at an estate auction. Steven saw a certain painting and went absolutely crazy. He kept pointing at it, looking at it.
"'That's her,' he told me, 'the girl in the woods.'
"He was in such a state that I bid on the portrait just to quiet him. I have it. You should see it, Inspector."
She stood up and walked over to the mantel. A painting done in the old style hung there. Thomas took it in. It was a picture of a young woman in a pale pink ball gown. The artist had rendered his subject in the sort of spring garden that Victorian painters loved so much. She looked too young, too sweet to have such great melancholy in her blue eyes. The girl was smiling demurely, but still seemed to convey a sense of quiet longing.
Thomas was so enraptured by the painting that he forgot his hostess completely.
"She's got you, too, hasn't she?" Miss Walford's quiet voice startled him. "It's a haunting thing. I don't know why I leave it up there, but I can't bring myself to take it down.
"Let me continue." With difficulty, Thomas returned his attention to the woman he had come to see. "I bought the painting, and with it, more information than I really wanted about its origins. Steven read and reread the small packet of information, but he wasn't satisfied. The painting had been painted by one of the past owners of the estate, and had just sort of remained there through the generations. The auctioneer gave us a lot of stuff about the painter, but almost nothing about the model. All we had was her name, Millicent Sinclair.
"Steven disappeared for a while. I didn't think anything of it. Sometimes he went on painting binges. He would fill canvas after canvas with his art, not stopping until his groceries ran out. I went by his flat a time or two, to make sure he was feeding Goblyn. That's his cat. By the way, who has the cat now?
"Um, I believe one of the Bobbies took charge of him." Thomas was caught off guard by the question. "I could find out, if you like."
"Her. Goblyn is a girl. And thank you, Inspector. I would like it if you could find her for me. The last time I went by, the studio was full of paintings. They were all of her, more than fifty of them, easily."
"Truly? We didn't find any, none at all."
"Steven destroyed them, took a knife to the canvases and burned them all up. I didn't learn why until later. The next time I found Steven he was prowling the stacks of the lending library book sale. That wasn't his usual sort of haunt, so I asked him what he was looking for.
"He gave me that exasperated look he usually reserves for art gallery owners. 'I'm trying to find a book,' he told me.
"I told him that I had assumed as much. I just wanted to know what book, and possibly why. It was in a family history, he told me. He'd found some reference to Millicent Sinclair, and he suspected she'd kept a journal.
"Really, that was the most daft thing I'd ever heard. Even if the woman had kept a journal, the chances of Steven finding it at a used book sale were so slim as to be nonexistent. Still, he prowled the tables relentlessly. His intensity was contagious and I found myself helping him. While we looked, Steven told me what he'd been up to.
"He had gone back to that park every night. Every time the moon was out, he'd see his lady love. He'd filled up four sketchbooks with drawings of her."
"Where are they?" Thomas asked. "We didn't find them at the flat." He took a sip of his tea, but it was getting cold, and tasted stale on his tongue.
"As far as I know, Steven has them. He carried them everywhere in that green canvas bag he always had," Miss Walford answered. "He kept them with her diary. We found it, by the way. The hunt took all afternoon, and we found it tucked away on a table marked 'buy one, get one free.' Steven didn't have any money with him. That was just like him. So, I bought it for him, along with an old penny dreadful I never finished reading. He thanked me profusely and let me take him out for supper. Then he went off on his own again. Some mornings, I would find him on my landing with a bag of fish & chips. He would want to talk about something he'd read in the diary, or some dance he had seen his mystery lady do.
"He also started playing music for her to dance to. Sometimes he would play bits and snatches of his new pieces for me. He stopped going anywhere else. He stopped painting anything but pictures of her, dancing, sitting, lying in repose, holding flowers, every pose you could think of and three more.
"The only way I can explain it is that he was in love with her. Here, let me read you something."
Miss Walford walked over to the roll top desk in the corner and opened one of the drawers. She pulled out a very old book. The cover was black leather with silver scrollwork, mostly flaked off.
"'I've left Father and Mother,'" Miss Walford read. "'It is so unfair. Why is it proper for a Lady to listen to music, to watch ballet, but not to dance? Cannot Father understand? I have to pursue my dream. No one can take my music away.'"
"What's that?" Thomas asked, suspecting that he already knew.
"The journal of Millicent Sinclair." He was right. "Steven left it here by mistake. I've read the whole thing. She had a rather tragic life. She ran away from a rich, respectable family to become a professional dancer. Things didn't go the way she planned, of course. She never became famous. She was too properly Victorian to ever just come out and say it, but it's clear that she was a prostitute before she finally died."
"She died?" Thomas asked.
"Well, of course she did. If she hadn't, she'd be well over a hundred now. But I get the feeling she died rather young. She was a religious diarist, and her entries stop quite suddenly. The final entry is about a man named Bruce Tudlow, whom she was quite afraid of.
"Not too long after we found the diary, Steven disappeared again. I was beginning to worry a bit. He seemed obsessed. After a few weeks, I went by his place to check on Goblyn. Really, I was hoping to find Steven. I never expected to find him the way I did.
"I used my key to get in. Steven was in the studio. He was attacking his paintings with a meat cleaver, raving like a madman. He had a raging fire burning in the fireplace, and the room was full of the most awful smell. It took me a moment to realize he was burning the canvases.
"I was afraid to go near him, even to speak. He was so enraged. I did have the presence of mind to kick his sketchbooks behind a chair before he noticed them.
"Finally, after Steven had destroyed the whole studio, he sort of collapsed onto the floor. He was sobbing like a baby. I think he only noticed that I was there when I walked over and put my arms around him. He cried for a while. Great, heaving shudders took him, then he was at least coherent.
"He told me he had seen Millicent with another man. They were kissing. They went off in the carriage together.
"This was the first time Steven had ever said anyone else could even see her. I'd even gone down to the park with him once, but the dancing girl wasn't there.
"Steven was crushed. He sulked for days. I don't think he went back to the park for quiet a while. It was likely during this time that he started really reading the diary. Steven was never much of a reader.
"One night I was out with some friends and I saw Steven walking. It was raining, and he wasn't even wearing a coat. I asked my friends to wait and walked over. He was headed for Elliot Park.
"'I was such a fool,' he said as I caught up with him. 'It's all in the book. Thank you for saving it...and my sketchbooks.' He told me about what he'd read in the diary.
"Millicent Sinclair had been involved with a gentleman, the man who owned the tavern where she was dancing. I believe I've mentioned his name already, Bruce Tudlow. Tudlow was quite wealthy, and bought things for Millicent. He gave her a taste of the life she'd lost when her family disowned her. Millicent could be infuriatingly circumspect in her diary, so I can't really decide if she was Tudlow's mistress, or if he was her pimp, but for a while he played the perfect gentleman.
"Steven was convinced that the man he saw with his girl in the park was Bruce Tudlow. I thought Steven was crazy, but he seemed very certain.
"I left to get back to my friends, and I suppose Steven spent all night watching. It was only a little out of my way, so I stopped by the park before going home. Steven was standing under a tree. He heard me coming and gestured for me to be quiet. I walked over to stand next to him. When I got there, I could hear hushed voices. The wind covered up what they were saying.
"After a short while, I heard a carriage on cobble stones. The clattering faded away in the distance."
Miss Walford paused in her narrative. Thomas used the break to assimilate everything she'd said.
"Wait a minute," he questioned. "There are no cobblestones near Elliot Park."
His hostess didn't answer, but she smiled. "That was the first time I'd had even the slightest evidence that this was not some fantasy that Steven was playing out, that it could be more than a dream. I went with him to the park a few times after that.
"Bruce Tudlow wasn't always there. There were other changes from night to night as well. Some nights Millicent wore an evening gown, some nights a dancer's costume. By questioning Steven, I learned that her clothes had changed gradually throughout the whole time he had been watching her. He had researched Victorian clothing. At first, he told me, she wore French originals from Worth's. Later, her clothing was less expensive, but still nice. It was about then that she would occasionally be wearing her ballet clothes.
"Millicent Sinclair was beautiful. That portrait didn't do her justice. Steven's paintings were much better. I wish you could have seen them. Eventually, Steven started talking to her. I never had the courage. Perhaps I was afraid that if I touched her in any way, she would have truly been a dream, and I couldn't have done that to Steven.
"Knowing that Steven was not going mad, or at least that if he was, I was too, made me much less worried about Steven. He still went to the park every night. I went less often. I had my own life to live, and I couldn't spend it watching after Steven.
"Steven started painting again. He didn't do portraits of Millicent any more. I think Bruce Tudlow was appearing more and more frequently, and Steven wouldn't stay if he were there. Other than that, Steven seemed happy. Things stayed the same for about two months, maybe a bit more. I was free, without having to watch out for Steven, to concentrate on school. I was near midterms, so the relief was welcome.
"Then he returned. It was late one night, almost December. I was awakened by a pounding on my door. I simply couldn't imagine who it could be.
"I put on a robe and went downstairs. By then, Steven was crying out my name. His voice sounded so pained. I opened the door and he almost collapsed into my arms. He was clutching his arm, and blood stained his hand.
"I'm a medical student. My father is a doctor, and he showed me quite a bit. I was able to get Steven taken care of. The wound on his arm was not too serious. He'd also taken a nasty knock on the skull, but there was no concussion.
"Steven was very agitated, incoherent at first. It took me quite a while to get him to make sense.
"He told me he'd fought with Bruce Tudlow and Tudlow had shot him. I'd heard the shot. Elliot Park is not far away. But I thought it was an engine backfiring. The bullet hadn't hit anything vital, miraculously."
"And he was really supposed to have been shot by some rake from a hundred years ago?" Thomas asked.
"You tell me, Inspector," Miss Walford said, returning to the desk. She came back with a small tin box, which she handed to Thomas. "Go ahead and open it."
Thomas complied. The lid came off with a gentle pressure. The box contained a spent pistol round. He was somewhat studied in forensics, and he knew instantly that the bullet was fired from a very old sort of pistol.
"This could have been of recent manufacture," he said. "Collectors can get them." But even as he said the words, he doubted them. Why would someone go to all the trouble to shoot Steven Davis with a Victorian pistol? It would be expensive to use, difficult to hit with, and easy to trace. There couldn't be very many collectors of Victorian weaponry in the city.
His hostess was continuing. "Steven never went to the police. It would have been too difficult to explain where he'd gotten wounded.
"I started worrying all over again. This... thing Steven could somehow touch was unusual, fantastic, but I had never thought that it might be dangerous. I asked Steven not to go back, but I knew he wouldn't listen.
"He went back the very next night. I followed him. If I couldn't get him to be safe, I could at least be there if he got hurt.
"It didn't really matter. She wasn't there. Steven told me what happened the night before in more detail. He had gone to talk with Millicent. He'd brought a CD player and a disc of waltz music. I hadn't known Steven knew how to dance. Maybe he learned to please her.
"They were dancing together when Tudlow arrived. He flew into a jealous rage and struck out at Millicent. Steven leapt to her defense.
"I don't know if anyone told you, but Steven holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He was good at so many things, more than anyone had a right to be..." Miss Walford drifted into silence for a moment. "He was doing quite well against Tudlow, even though the other man was larger. Then Tudlow backed away and seemed to pause for breath. Steven dropped his guard for a second and Tudlow pulled out a small pistol and shot him.
"Steven was so stunned that he fell down and hit his head on a stone. When he came to, they were both gone.
"We waited together for a while. Finally, Steven decided she wasn't coming, and we went home.
"I think his being wounded had frightened him. I believe for a while he didn't go back to the park. Or perhaps Millicent didn't come back. Whatever the reason, I saw Steven at some of his usual night haunts. It seemed that his life was returning to normal, what passed for normal for Steven."
"But he did go back, eventually?" Thomas questioned. It had to be true, else why the story?
"Yes...Steven went back to the park, and Millicent was there. So was Bruce Tudlow. As far as I know, this was the last time.
"I was awakened in the middle of the night. Steven was pounding on my door frantically. When I didn't get there fast enough, he tried to break it down.
"I found Steven holding Millicent. There was a carriage, a Hansom cab parked in front. Millicent was covered in blood, they both were.
"Steven was in tears. I could hardly understand him. From what I could piece together, Bruce Tudlow had come after Millicent again. He and Steven had fought. Tudlow had drawn his little gun and tried to shoot Steven again, but this time Millicent jumped in the way. Tudlow dropped his pistol, but the damage had been done. Steven attacked him, enraged. Then he picked up Millicent's still form and started to carry her. He told me the carriage met him at the entrance of the park and the driver offered him a ride. He told the cabby to carry them here.
"I removed a bullet from Millicent's chest. It had come within a bare inch of her heart. I patched her up as best as I could. Steven was much more coherent once I told him she would live.
"He told me I had to go to the park. There was something there he needed me to pick up.
"I asked him why he didn't get it himself. He just took Millicent back to the carriage and rode away. I thought he was going to see Millicent home. Really, I was too tired to think at all.
"This is what I found in the park."
She opened a drawer on the desk, and removed a box. The box held a pistol, a pearl handled Derringer. She handed the tiny gun to Thomas. He expertly opened the chamber.
"Where is the second round?" Thomas asked. "Tudlow only fired once, you said."
"I think Steven used the other one. I noticed powder burns on his right hand."
"He killed Tudlow."
"Wouldn't you have? That was the last time I saw any of them. Tudlow's body was missing, though the dry leaves were bloodstained. The night after, it rained cats and dogs, so I doubt anyone else noticed.
"And that's all I know. I never heard from Steven again. Of course, you can never report any of this, Inspector. I'll deny everything, and that gun has been wiped quite clean. Even with my testimony, who would believe either of us?
"I suggest you give up, go on to some other case. Steven Davis is gone, and he'll never return. He's probably more happy wherever he is now."
With that, Miss Walford stood and crossed to the door. "I've an appointment soon, so I'd appreciate it if you leave now," she said.
She was, of course, right.
Eventually, Inspector Thomas Keening went on to other cases. He did not often think of Steven Davis, or of Millicent Sinclair, or of things that couldn't be.
One evening, though, his business took him past Elliot Park. He paused for a moment at the entrance, certain that he could hear the sound of a flute.
He considered the idea of going into the park to seek the source, but he decided against it. That music was not meant for him.
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