It has recently become an uncommon privilege of mine to make frequent sojourns back to the Midnight Quarter: that ramshackle mass of cobbled together buildings and poor businesses merge with the despondent mills and factories that make those common folks miserable lives possible. Located downriver of the University and Clarkesville districts that were much more to my liking, this poor place marked where many were bred and culled in the churning gears of progress. Not unlike cattle, many of the lower castes would remain in this dingy, grimy and gritty world looking out from their pens to the upper echelons and wondering what steps they would need to take in order to rip themselves free.
Were it so easy, however, the Midnight District would never exist. Markedly, it’s by an almost oxymoronic mercy that the district allows these crude peoples a chance at a marginally decent lifestyle. Such simple pleasures can be found in abundance along those cobblestone streets, nary wide enough for two carriages to pass side by side but more than wide enough for eight to walk abreast. Overhangs, terraces and cables dangle over those roads which allow putrid and pungent aromas and odours to ensnare the nose this way or that. Bread, beer, tar and sex all lingered on the back of my pallet as I followed along, begrudgingly, behind Gertrude. She meandered this way and that through these streets with a serpentine-like methodology that spoke volumes of her familiarity with these roads.
She spent no shortage of time prattling on about the various theories she had come up with for poor Miss Sawyer’s affliction: ghosts, demonic possession, black magics, ill omens and divine intervention, to name a few. I heard everything she said, but listened to none of it. Instead, I was pouring over the notes I had made in my pocket notebook about what I had seen, heard and smelled whist within both Dentonn’s Abbey, as well as the Bridewater Estate. The more I pondered on things, the more I began to wonder about an odd similarity between the two buildings.
Most notably, both of those buildings had pulled motifs from the same ancient eras, before the golden age of science and industry, when petty ideology and spirituality ruled as law. These motifs were built into the very architecture of both buildings, and would have been popular design choices from the same decade. I could not speak, specifically, to who the architect was for both buildings, but I suspected that they would not be the same. A man of quality, the designer of the Bridewater Estate, would not reasonably be expected to design a pauper’s house of worship in the pit of civilization.
After a metric of time, Gertrude pulled me down a narrower side road and stopped before a pocked wooden door. A musty sign hanged above it on cast iron chains: “Anita Brown’s Apothecary” it read in a sadly simple script. The aroma of this alleyway began to seep into my nose, the smell of burning ointments and rank smokes became increasingly and exponentially more apparent to me.
Whilst busy batting the smells to the side, my intrepid companion pushed into the shop before us and beckoned me to follow. Reluctantly I did so, nearly stepping into a small stain of questionable colour upon the floor just after the door’s threshold. The interior was as I suspected it would be: a precarious arrangement of potted plants and glass bottles scattered about without anything resembling rhyme nor reason. Of course, none of the bottles were labelled, even though it was abundantly apparent that each contained a slightly different liquid or, in some cases, sludge.
The lead-paned windows filtered out most of the outside world’s light and instead relied heavily on the five oil lamps inside, each one a little different and in different states of dismay. Hunched over a desk near the middle of the room was a darker woman with wild mud-like hair. At first, I thought her from one of the desert countries to the south east, but upon mention of her name, I decided she was very likely an immigrant from the new world to the west. She looked up at the pair of us with uneasy eyes, though I suspected it was directed at myself more-so than anyone else.
I opened the conversation with Miss Brown, doing my best to be as polite as I deemed necessary for this person, inquiring as to speak with the master of this apothecary so as to ask some question about Miss Sawyer, who received medicine from this place.
I was met with border-hostility from the woman at the desk, who was evidentially Miss Anita Brown. She informed me, curtly, that she was the master and owner of this apothecary, and that she was of no mind to speak of her patients. Doubly so, since I was not a constable nor any other representative of the law.
Gertrude inquired abruptly, asking if Anita was not her given name. My daffy companion seemed to be completely absent of the fact that a conversation had been taking place already, and her fixed gaze upon Miss Brown completely unaware of the dismissive look I affixed to Gertrude. Miss Brown shook her head in affirmation, stating that her given name, Nittawosen, curried no favour in these lands and among such narrow minded folk who hold power in this city. Gertrude nodded sympathetically, pulling herself a chair to sit across from Miss Brown. I intended to follow suit, but Gertrude nearly batted me away without so much as glancing in my direction.
Sitting in close to Miss Brown, Gertrude began to explain that something foul had befallen Miss Sawyer’s psyche, and as a Cӓieen Sister, it was her holy duty to aid in every aspect she was capable of. The first step to solving the mystery would be to understand what sort of ailments had befallen the woman before she had come to the apothecary, and that both their aims were of the same goal: to bring peace to an otherwise tortured person.
Something about this little monologue seemed to resonate with Miss Brown, who nodded understandingly to Gertrude and muttered something that I couldn’t quite catch. The disclosure of Miss Sawyer’s ailments, and an analysis of the medicine tablets we brought with us, yielded some interesting findings.
It seems that Miss Sawyer came to Miss Brown on two occasions. The first occasion was to assist with some onset head pains that seemed to linger and cause constant issue. The timing of this first visit corresponded with when the staff at the Bridewater Estate noticed Miss Sawyer’s first onset of sickness. Interestingly, however, Miss Brown did not prescribe mercury tablets as we had been informed. Instead, a queer herbal concoction had been given to her to drink a spoons worth with every morning meal.
The second visit came shortly before the evening of Miss Sawyer’s hysterics. She arrived again, explaining that the head pains had grown quite insufferable and she was beginning to grow uneasy. This sense that something was with her at all times. At this point, Miss Brown gave her some medical tablets of her own creation, which were in the same bottle as the remnants of what we returned with.
Where the mercury tablets came from I was as of yet not certain; and more interestingly there are other compounds that were found in the medicine we brought back with us. Some were identifiable, but a few others not so. Miss Brown did what she could to distill the contents she found and separate them, but with only marginal success.
I took a closer look myself at the separated compounds. I do not declare myself an expert in the realms of chemistry, however, so identifying the specifics of elements and chemicals is somewhat outside the realms of what I am capable of. But something peculiar did catch my senses while inspecting this compound closely. It was a miniscule whiff of an earthy smell, and it seemed to tickle at an old sensation I had felt. Upon further retrospective, some three days later and once again in my study, I recall where I felt this light sensation in my mind and smelled that earthy smell: Dentonn’s Abbey.
At the time, I had presumed the smell to be attributed to the moss and mould growing in the chapel’s walls. Now I realize it was more closely associated with this particular smell. Make no mistake, however: I’m sure a great deal of the particulars of the odours I inhaled were spores from various plant lifes. This smell, however, is much more key.
There was not much else to glean from Miss Brown, and we took out leave. A few questions lingered in my mind, and I needed a moment to sort some thoughts and process some concepts. While I thought, Gertrude very nearly dragged me to the nearest tavern and set about drinking the cold from her bones. I benefit from some natural, how to put politely, insulation; and the wool scarf I own is a miraculous thing: I could not say I was saddled with similar sensations as she in response.
When I was ready, I put forth some lingering questions I had to Gertrude, if for no other reason than to voice my thoughts to better rationalize them. Surprisingly, she was able to corroborate many of my observations, and even added a few of her own.
Primarily, what bothered me was the difference between the medicine that Miss Sawyer left Miss Brown’s apothecary with and what she returned to the Bridewater Estate with. We’d have to get in contact with Miss Sawyer again and see what she would have to say about this. As well, I was beginning to have a growing feeling that the events between Dentonn’s Abbey and the Bridewater Estate might be more connected than I had originally anticipated. Perhaps there was something within both the abbey as well as the tablets that could explain the drastic changes in psychological faculty. If so, then such a chemical compound could produce incredible changes in a person’s mind; and few of them would be for the general good, I was willing to wager. Thirdly, however, this did not explain the murder of Mister McGuffin. He still seemed to be tied up in all this, but only tenuously so now. It seems to be a little too coincidental that, at the same time I receive an anonymous warning about Dentonn’s Abbey, that Mister McGuffin should be murdered and his partner gone missing.
Gertrude, between an obnoxious amount of beer, agreed. She felt that something sinister was at play here: she consulted the spirits in a ritual a couple nights ago and they warned her that something foul was soon to happen: someone else would die. I placed no stock in her “warning”, but she did seem to be onto something. I, too, was getting the feeling that something truly dreadful was coming, though I had no logical basis for the sensation.
We parted ways shortly following, but not before I composed a letter and had it mailed out to Miss Sawyer’s current residence. I intended to speak with her at her earliest convenience to clarify some things, and needed some time alone with my thoughts to mill out some plausible hypothesises.
It would be three days later I would receive word back from Miss Sawyer’s sister: she had been interred into Blechiem Asylum only two days prior. It seemed her condition had taken a turn for the worse, and she had attacked her sister in the dead of the night all while wailing like some ungodly creature. Neighbours had heard the attack in the night, and it took three people to pull the deranged woman from her sister.
I sent word to my accomplice; an outing to the Blechiem Asylum was in order.