Marcus L. Rowland
The most direct route to Cardiff is via London; since she has to go back there anyway, she decides to go home, get a good night’s sleep, and find out as much as she can before heading for Wales. Mrs. MacReady insists on giving her a pot of honey from the Professor’s hives, an illegal package of off-ration bacon, and a dozen eggs; Susan makes a token protest, but knows that she’ll enjoy breakfast in the morning.
After that, the obvious move is to call Directory Enquiries and ask if they have a number for a Captain Harkness in Cardiff. They don’t, and without a first name – which Mrs. MacReady couldn’t supply – or address they aren’t prepared to give her numbers for everyone called Harkness in the city. It’s time to start asking questions.
Her first stop is the American Embassy. They’re used to that sort of enquiry, though usually it comes from women accompanied by small children, and once she’s filled in the few details she knows a handsome young Marine goes off to check the files, and comes back a few minutes later. There was only one officer who fits the bill, a Captain Jack Harkness; the photograph shows a dark-haired officer. He enlisted in Canada a few weeks after the war began, arrived in Britain in October 1939, flew with one of the Eagle squadrons, and was killed in January 1941. There are no living relatives. They don’t have any reason to believe that isn’t correct; when she explains a little more, he checks some other records then returns. “There was an odd report – someone using that name in London a few weeks after he was killed, during the Blitz, passed some bad cheques. Nothing ever came of it though. Maybe an impostor, or just a coincidence of names. You’ll have to check with the RAF or Scotland Yard, they might know more.”
The Harkness in their records couldn’t have been involved in her adoption, of course, he was in Canada before 1939. But maybe there really is another Captain Jack Harkness out there. Armed with the name she calls Directory Enquiries again, but they still can’t help her. Either he doesn’t have a phone or it’s ex-directory.
At the War Office they ask her to fill in forms explaining her request, and tell her to expect a reply in two to three weeks. Not very helpful. Scotland Yard isn’t much better. She has an uneasy feeling that they won’t help her.
She has no idea how to track down an ‘institute’, even one created by Queen Victoria, but guesses that the Victoria and Albert Museum might be able to help. She explains her quest at the enquiries desk; the duty officer thinks for a moment, then directs her to one of the offices in the basement, the lair of a Professor Morgan.
“It could be a charity with a royal charter,” says the elderly curator she finds there, poring over old books in a haze of pipe smoke, “the trouble is that there must be thousands of them, her rule spanned sixty-three years. But the word ‘Institute’ does ring several bells… just a moment.” He goes off, comes back with a dusty ledger.
“One of my students found this just before the war. Chap called Evans, he was writing a paper on the history of the Privy Purse, poor fellow never finished it. He joined the army when the war began, his troop ship was torpedoed en route to Africa.” He opens the ledger to the last week of 1879, and points to an entry half-way down the page. “Here we are… a payment of ten thousand pounds to the Torchwood Institute, paid from the Queen’s own funds and authorised directly by the Queen.” He turns to another bookmark. “Another six thousand in March the following year, with a second payment of seventeen hundred pounds a few months later. Continued with similar amounts in 1881 to 1885. That sort of money could have paid for… oh, let’s say the Royal Navy’s first destroyer, with a good deal of change. And we have very little idea what it was spent on, beyond the name of the institute.”
“What happened after 1885?”
“Oh, after 1885 there’s still a hole around the same size in the Royal finances, right up to the end of the Queen’s reign, but it isn’t explicitly going to Torchwood. I think it was still happening, but for some reason they decided to cover it up a little more.”
“Maybe it’s the Secret Service or something?” Susan asks. “Why Torchwood? What does it mean?”
Morgan smiles, showing tobacco-stained teeth. “It isn’t the Secret Service; that comes out of the budget for… well, never mind. If it was that, I can assure you that I wouldn’t be telling you. As for the rest…” He coughs, and goes on: “In November 1879 Queen Victoria’s train was stopped by a fallen tree en route to Balmoral Castle. As a result she spent a night at Torchwood House, the home of Sir Robert MacLeish. Whatever happened there was hushed up, but MacLeish and several of his servants died that night, along with at least two of the Queen’s attendants. The deaths were recorded as being caused by a landside, but there was never a public inquest or enquiry, and the bodies were cremated. I suspect that there was an attempt to assassinate the Queen, it wouldn’t have been the first time.”
“Did they usually hush them up?”
“You have an instinct for this, I see. No, the usual response was arrest of those involved, a prompt trial, and the noose or the asylum for the perpetrator.”
“Can you tell me anything else about the Institute? You said you knew very little about what they spent the money on – that implies that there’s something that you do know.”
“Very good, Miss Pevensie. Faultless logic. And yes, we do have a small clue. The original plan was for the Queen to spend the Christmas holiday through to the New Year at Balmoral, returning in January. Instead she returned to London immediately after the Torchwood House incident, and invitations were sent to various eminent men for an urgent meeting at the Palace. The Prime Minister, some senior offices in the Army and Navy, and a veritable Who’s Who of scientists and engineers, including some of the finest minds of the era, as well as some who we would now regard as somewhat suspect. And to the best of my knowledge none of them ever revealed what was discussed there.”
“That was seventy years ago,” says Susan. “Is there anyone still alive who might have been at the meeting? Or someone that someone at the meeting might have talked to? I know it isn’t likely, but if someone brought along a student, or an apprentice…?”
“Professor Morgan… I think you’ve been worrying at this ever since mister… Evans, was it? … ever since he died. I think you’ve probably looked at every name on that list. Am I right? Don’t you want me to try to find out more?”
Eventually, with some persuasion, he gives her a name; Lady Juliet Sinclair, the daughter of a prominent engineer, later one of the leading figures in the construction of London’s underground railways.
“My father was a genius,” says the old lady, “but he had a dreadful memory and his handwriting was awful. As soon as I was old enough he’d take me along to meetings. If I was allowed in he’d have me sit in a corner and take notes; if not, he’d leave me sitting outside, scribble some notes, and we’d go through them in the carriage on the way home, write things out so we could read them, so as not to forget anything. I remember that meeting quite well… it was the first time I visited Buckingham Palace, and I was wearing my Sunday best, and the old Queen saw me waiting there as she was going in, and stopped to talk to me, asked me who I was and why I was there. So I told her, and she told me that it was going to be a long meeting, and sent me off with her ladies in waiting to have some lunch. They went on until nearly seven that evening, and when father came out he looked… well, shaken, like he’d seen a ghost.”
“What did he say?”
“Nothing. I asked him if there were any notes, and he said ‘Not for this,’ and wouldn’t say another word. When we got home he told me that the Queen had said that a smart girl like me should be improving herself, not following her father around all day, and he asked me if I wanted to go to university. And when I admitted I did, someone must have used a lot of influence; I was one of the first women to study at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, which became the Royal College of Science. For a while I was in the same class as H.G. Wells, though of course nobody knew what was going to become of him. I ended up taking engineering, and eventually went back to work for my father.”
“What happened then?”
“Whatever he was doing was over by then, I think. Certainly he never spoke of it again. But I do know that when we got our first contract to build a deep tube line, he already knew exactly how we were going to do it, had all of the engineering methods at his fingertips. It saved us months.”
“And you think that the meeting had something to do with that?” asks Susan.
“Not the meeting,” says Lady Juliet, “not just that. You don’t get that sort of knowledge from a meeting. The only way you get it is by doing it. They must have built something; something big, and deep underground. But he would never talk of it, and there was nothing in the company records.”
Susan wakes with no memory of having gone home or fallen asleep. She’s in bed, still wearing her underwear and her slip, and her mouth tastes like something died in it. She’s been dreaming again, that silly game she used to play with the other children, queens and kings and talking animals. She stumbles to the loo and takes a stomach powder and an aspirin. There’s a mess in the living room, it looks like she spilled a bottle of whisky. Why would she have been drinking? She can’t remember. And why whisky, of all things? She rarely drinks, when she does she prefers wine or sherry, and there are bottles of both in the flat. She tries to remember, checks the calendar, and discovers that she’s somehow lost more than a week. The last thing she remembers is moving back into the flat after the funeral. Why would she have been drinking?
She checks that the hot water is working and draws a bath. As she undresses she realises she’s wearing a silver locket, one she doesn’t remember. It opens to a picture – a woman who looks a bit like her, wearing a green dress and a coronet. It reminds her of that game, Queen Susan the… the Gentle, that was it. She must have found it in a shop somewhere in the days she doesn’t remember.
Once she’s clean she puts on a bathrobe and goes to the kitchen. Maybe a cup of tea will help. There’s bacon in the fridge, a pound or so of rashers wrapped in greaseproof paper. She can’t remember buying it, and that’s a month’s ration for a single person. And ten eggs in the larder; with the rationing you can rarely get more than a couple, or the horrible powdered mix that’s only good for making cakes. Her ration book is in her handbag; she hasn’t bought them, at least not legally, and she usually does her best to avoid the black market. She checks the rest of the larder’s contents; the bread is getting a little stale, and there’s nothing else that seems out of place except a jar of honey she doesn’t remember buying, there’s no label so it doesn’t tell her much.
She makes herself the best breakfast she's had in years – bacon and eggs, fried bread, toast with honey, and tea – and tries to think things through. Why the whisky? Why the mess? It really isn’t like her at all. After tidying the living room she goes through her bag more systematically, but doesn’t find anything interesting until she notices that there are a couple of pages missing from the back of her diary. That’s where she usually notes down addresses and telephone numbers. She finds a pencil and gently rubs it over the next page, hoping that she might find the traces of the last thing she wrote, but while that usually works in the movies all that she sees is a meaningless mess.
There’s a slight noise from the hall, and she goes out to find a few letters. Three bills, and something from her father’s bank manager:
I write to inform you that you seem to have left the key to your safety deposit box in my office on Tuesday. I would be grateful if you could call in to collect it at your earliest convenience; in case I am not in when you call in, please bring your passport or other means of identification.
Box? What box? She has no memory of Tuesday at all, or Monday, or the weekend. What about the previous week? Yes, she remembers now, her solicitors were arranging for her to have access to her father’s deposit box. She must have gone into the bank about that. Maybe something there will jog her memory.
The manager is at lunch when she gets there, so she proves her identity and picks up the key. The clerk mentions in passing that they’re still waiting to hear back from the Bank of England; she has no idea what he’s talking about, but doesn’t want to look like an idiot and say so. On the other hand, nobody expects a pretty girl to be Einstein.
“How long does it normally take?”
“Well, as Mister Dean said on Tuesday, the Bank has to be sure that none of the notes are forgeries. The Nazis did forge vast quantities of those old white tenners, so it really isn’t unreasonable. Once they’re satisfied they’ll issue a cheque for the full amount, and we’ll be able to credit it to your account. It shouldn’t take more than a fortnight or so, unless there are problems.”
“That’s good. One thing, did I leave the receipt here with the key? I can’t seem to find it anywhere.”
“No, but it won’t be a problem. It’s all in our ledgers.”
“Thank you. You’re going to think I’m dreadfully silly, but I can’t remember the exact amount – I thought I’d written it down in my diary, but the number ends in six so it must be something else.”
He checks the ledger – why does that seem important? – then says “Five hundred and eighty pounds.”
“Oh, then I must have written the nought so it looked like a six. Silly me.”
Why on earth would there be that much money in her father’s box? He could have bought a house for less than that before the war. Maybe there are more clues in the box. “While I’m here, I need to check something else. Could I go to the box again?”
“Of course, I’ll take you down.”
He escorts her down and leaves her with the box. She opens it; some papers – she discovers, to her surprise, that she’s adopted – and a jewel box. There’s a coronet inside, exactly like the one worn by the woman in the miniature. Her head’s aching as she holds it and looks for any clue to its origin. She’s never sure what impulse makes her put it on.
Comments greatly appreciated as always.
Please note - some minor revisions where I discuss old bank notes and food for greater historical accuracy.