As things stand in the academic community, there is the prevailing belief that those of lesser birth are also of lesser wit and capacity. Certainly this can be seen in the mindless droves that litter the streets of the Midnight Quarter where the homeless are very nearly as common as pebbles on a country road. If one has the stamina to survive the pungent aroma of that part of the city or a weathered eye upon the contents of his coin purse, he can easily witness the lesser minds at work and play. Their basest language and quick temperament stand ready testament to this; further proof given by biological studies of the recently deceased, where extensive documentation has been noted of their shrunken brains and stunted organs.
I had never given much thought on the matter myself, in all honesty. I only kept to the upper echelons of our fair civilization through my university connections, and even then most of the students I am saddled with for entire terms have about as much wit as a spoon. If the, dare I say, best and brightest of the next generation are little more than Cro-Magnons who understand how to wear a tie, what hope is there for the unwashed masses of the lower castes?
And indeed, there in the late Mr. McGuffin’s broom closet I was introduced with a strange sort of anomaly in the form of Gertrude Miller. She was mayhaps half my age, as a generous estimate, and bore all the trappings of one of lesser station. Grime stuck under her finger nails and her frayed chestnut hair was tied back with a scrap of hemp. Her nose was slightly crooked, possibly having been broken on a number of occasion, and to further add to her charming visage: she was missing one of her front, upper teeth.
Of course, I use the phrase charming in the most stretched sense my mind can fathom.
Most curious about her were the archaic trappings she wore, like a perverse sort of nun’s habit. It almost appeared to be a layered robe of some variety and its material seemed to be almost exclusively made of brown linen. Decorative blue trim ensorcelled the entirety of her attire, albeit it was very tattered and looked to be burnt on the left lap. Draped upon her mantel was a small mass of beaded necklaces with a few strange pendants tied to them. The only one I recognized was the official insignia of the church, all others seemed alien.
We very readily demanded the same question of one another upon my discovery of her predicament, and at very nearly the same time. Her gaze bore a semblance of feral intent, so I yielded to her question first and explained my intention of arriving at this location. Of course, my interests had reached an impasse, as the one I sought to speak with was now dead, with a suspicious individual beneath his toes. I was, of course, suspicious to say the least. She, surprisingly, conceded that her situation was indeed exceedingly suspicious. She offered an explanation into her condition, one that I have summarized and included thusly:
Gertrude Miller is a member of a sect of religious individuals who seek out paranormal and supernatural entities in an effort to not only understand, but dispel them. This sect is known as the Caïeen Order, making her a Caïeen Sister by extension. Her mentor, the local matriarch, had received warning that there was something afoul in this area, and so Gertrude was sent to investigate. Because it seemed the information had come from the late Mr. McGuffin, she had come here in hopes of learning more from him herself. Of course, she discovered him in this closet and, amidst her prayers, the boxes toppled over and sealed the door shut. She has, as a result, been here since early morning, hopelessly trapped.
I found a quaint sort of amusement with her tale on several accounts, and was quite confident that the local constables would have taken nearly as much humour from this situation as I had. I did not fancy this strange woman the killer of Mr. McGuffin, though: no murderer is so daft as to sit with a corpse in a closet to dissuade accusations.
Upon this remark, Gertrude inquired as to how I knew this was murder and not suicide. Evidentially the difference, for her, lies in the specific prayers recited. The evidence, as I explained, lies in the considerable lack of objects, outside of Gertrude herself, in the closet. Mr. McGuffin is hanging in a closet, and of all my memories of him: levitation was not one such talent he had expressed. If he were to kill himself, he would have needed something to stand upon initially while tying the noose around his neck. As such, there were no such objects prevailing.
Such a simple string of logic proving, again, why the lesser classes are also of lesser intellect. Her postulations that followed, however, surprised even me. Upon rising to her feet, she began to scour the room as if she fancied herself a detective. An enthusiast, no doubt, and I made for the door as she did this. The police needed to be informed and someone of appropriate training needed to investigate this properly. I stopped just shy of the door when Gertrude informed me that Mr. McGuffin had been murdered late in the night prior.
With my interests piqued, I demanded she explain the logic to her statement. That came in the form of the oil lamp upon the one desk: the wick had been recently burned and the oil used up, however the other lamps in the room had at least enough oil for a few hours of light. There were also letters addressed on the desk to Ashley McGuffin and signs he had been writing when he was last there, indicating he had been working late into the night at his desk when he was killed.
Then, accosting the pine-planked floor with her toes, she exclaimed that there were scuff marks where the chair typically rolled out almost as if it were on tracks. Yet this time, the chair had been pulled out much farther than before and off to the side. In all likelihood, Mr. McGuffin had been seated at his desk and working when he was pulled from his chair from behind.
I am still impressed by her insight into such things. I had been under several impressions about her primeval mental capacities; yet there she was, using a series of observations and postulations that were reminiscent of methods of investigation that I had taught to several mindless plebeians at the University over the course of my career.
Were it not for her religious inclinations, I’d very nearly consider her very nearly half as clever as I. For while religion serves a very irreplaceable function for the masses, it serves no function in the academic world and those in the esteemed fields of the sciences. I was quick to remark upon this myself in Gertrude’s presence, though she seemed to pay it no mind. Her mind seemed busy at work with some thoughts or otherwise.
A thought of mine own came to me. If Mr. McGuffin had been at his desk when he was attacked, and it seemed that he had been the one to send me the warning about Dentonn’s Abbey, there might be some sign of it. Indeed, I could see similar looking recycled parchment envelopes scattered about the surface intermittently, and the ink in the ink well looked to be of cheap quality, though it could be hard to say for certain.
Gertrude asked what sort of information I sought, and I pondered for a moment if I should tell this eccentric stranger of my equally eccentric recent exploits. I recalled telling Professor Demont some days prior and conceded that, if it were copacetic to tell a man I had spoken with once or twice about this bizarre mystery, telling this girl of the abbey could do me no harm. And so I prattled off the broad strokes of the letter and key I had received, my sojourn into the mad realm of the abbey and the investigation that had lead me to this point. As I had anticipated, this odd person very nearly asked every question about the strange sensation of dread that had ensnared my better senses within the abbey.
Though I must confess, I was quite shocked that she could offer no definitive, otherworldly explanation as to what I had encountered. She had mused to herself that it was likely the work of a residual memory or perhaps even a boggart. These were terms that I had been once familiar with but never once imagined that I would be forced to take seriously in my whole life. Even now, I still do not take them seriously, nor do I have any intention of doing so.
It was about at that point when I recalled the corpse in the closet and a strange pang hit my inner guts. A sort of guilt as to having left a student I once held in high to stay in such a miserable state. I informed Gertrude that I was to leave immediately for the proper authorities and that she should come with me; the police would very likely have a great number of questions for us both. She swore to me that she would follow and provide her end of the tale.
Of course, I half expected her to vanish along the ways, but she did no such thing. She stayed alongside for the entirety of the process, quite silent all the while as she very likely bemused herself with an abundance of theories and such to explain things.
Most shocking was when she declared, just before we parted ways, that the only thing to do now was to cleanse the abbey of its foul curse. I admit I found this to be amusing in several ways, and so elected to accompany her in this task. If for no other reason to try to pry inside her fanatical mind while she did so to see what sort of value there was to her faith.
We agreed upon a time in the coming days to meet at the abbey; I was informed that she was in need of several trinkets and essences to perform the rituals necessary to purify the building, whereas I needed a time when I would not be bogged down by the shackles of my station. True, I am not a professor myself, but a teaching aide is of no small value within the esteemed walls of the educated world.
More questions now circulate within my mind. Certainly there can be no excuse of coincidence to explain the letter I received and the death of Mr. McGuffin. Mayhaps it’s time I read back to some of his articles to see if there was something in his papers that might shed some light on these strange events?