Professor James Reighcard Attenborough II: my mentor, teacher and the very reason I entered into this esteemed field of education and intellect. I’ll always remember the words he spoke to our class upon his first lecture, looking out to a horde of bright eyes and eager minds. The autumn was still early into its life and, up until that day in October, Professor Attenborough had been away on a research expedition to the New World across the western ocean. He had walked into the room, his chestnut hair carefully combed back into a respectable style and his wire spectacles polished to a fine shine.
His professor’s gown, however, told the testament of a man who spent very little time in the library. In those days, he was prone to wandering the university gardens, a little notebook in his hands, reading and puzzling at the same time. As a result, very fine tears could be seen around the knees, and a fine trim of dust rimmed the bottom of the black robe. It had been apparent to us all that he had been indulging this habit before the class had begun, and it seemed that he had happened upon a thought whilst wandering.
“To ye few learners amongst this mass, I have but one request. An uncanny request, to be sure; nay would I believe that any other such professor of this institute would demand the same of any of their students. For times will see changes in these years to follow, of this I am certain. The sciences of combustion ought revolutionize the very fabric of our world as we view it presently. The power of machines is to beckon a new age unto us all. And ‘twill be met with opposition; aye it will. Met with opposition from the blind who pray to their gods for salvation and from those whom depend on the status quo. With this in mind, I demand only one thing from all my students: do not disappoint me in these precious times of change.”
To be put simply, I refused to disappoint this man. As times would go on and lessons retained, I would begin to understand where Professor Attenborough’s faith lay. He paid homage to neither spirit nor deity. He sought the council of neither soothsayer or priest. No, his faith lay completely and unerringly in the sciences.
Yet, he was a complex and patient man. Far greater than I in scope of his hidden compassion for the human race at large. He would spend no shortage of time attending to his student’s inquiries of theory or objection, no matter how far of a farce their beliefs turned out to be. Indeed, Professor Attenborough would spend hours in discussion and debate with anyone who sought to peel back the layers of the fictitious world surrounding the natural world. I would be in perpetual awe that, no matter how convinced and devout his opponent, Professor Attenborough would bring them around to see the truth that they refused to believe with great vigor.
Even to this day, a few years beyond two decades later, I still hold this great mind in high esteem. Were I to possess even a fraction of his intellect, I would consider myself a fortuitous soul. And, might I be so bold to observe, I do indeed possess a shred of the brilliance in my mind.
To even add credit to my belief, I was summoned to Professor Attenborough’s office one late afternoon shortly before one of my lectures were to commence. This was not an unusual request, initially; though upon my arrival I began to appreciate how strange things were to become. For sitting in a leather clad mahogany arm chair was a young woman bearing the strains of untenable stress in her eyes. I was introduced to miss Molly Sewyer, a maid in the service of Lord Forrest Alecksander Woolney, a benevolent sponsor of our great university.
The day was Wednesday, the 9th of February. For weeks, I had been determined to keep my mind from the mystery of Dentonn’s Abbey, having been served a vicious conclusion to my investigation at the destruction of the old building. And yet, in the form of Miss Sewyer, a fresh lead would present itself. I was headed down to Professor Attenborough’s office to deliver some freshly marked assignments and, upon my happening across his office door, I discovered that the door was slightly ajar.
I hadn’t the time to wait for him to answer a knock, as I had a lecture to host in a matter of minutes, so I nudged my way in and proclaimed that I had the assignments he was in need of. Much to my surprise, there was a girl seated in his office across from him. She didn’t appear to be a student; she bore the wears of one who worked with her hands for a living and her dress was that of the lower middle class. Her round face was encompassed with a pale blue bonnet, its colour doing much to draw a great deal of attention to the dark markings below her eyes.
To be honest, I was a tad ashamed. It had been a long while since I had last interrupted a meeting of his, and I apologized for the intrusion. Much to my surprise, the professor invited me in and asked me to listen to Miss Sewyer’s tale. Far be it from me to decline the desires of the esteemed Professor Attenborough; the little wretches from class could wait a while. It might do them some good: one of them might entertain a thought for once in their being.
It would seem that miss Molly Sewyer serves at the pleasure of Lord Charles Birmingham Woolney II within his mansion. She has nothing but fine things to say about the treatment she has received, and the payment for her services have been adequat. She gets along well with the other maids, though the Butler, James Simon, is something of a prude. Her relations with Lord Woolney are acceptable, that with his son, Sir Aleksander Woolney, marginally less so. In fact, her day to day life is, much to my chagrin, abjectly mundane.
Three months prior, however, she began to feel quite ill. At first, it was presumed to be a basic illness, and she was permitted a day of rest. She felt well for a time, but had a pressing headache all the while. A week later, and compounding on an almost routine basis, she has been feeling this uncanny sense of dread. It came to a head this Thursday past, when she awoke in the dead of the night surrounded by some of the other maids. She had leapt from her bed and taken to a shrieking flight through the halls, evidentially, collapsing into a maddened heap before the central hearth.
Of course, it goes without saying that she has been put on suspension until she can find reason for her experience.
Deciding that she needed to consult an expert, she of course turned to a local psychic for aide. Were it not for the divination this wandering gypsy provided, I’d have very nearly stopped listening and departed to my lecture. The psychic had consulted her cards and divined the word Dentonn as being important to her terrors. Upon hearing this, Miss Sawyer recalled that the university had experienced professors of history, of which the late Bishop Dentonn was now a member of, and resolved to meet with a professor to ask what it meant.
I now understood why Professor Attenborough had asked me to listen to this curious tale. Over one evening’s cocktails, I had lamented the tale to him and we engaged in some light theories as to what it all could be caused by. Now, after I had very nearly put the strange story out of my mind, it came pounding to the forefront. All the memories seemed oddly fresh.
At first, I could assume that the word Dentonn had little, or more likely, nothing to do with Miss Sawyer’s case. Unless, of course, we were to excuse the possibility that the spectre that had been haunting the old Abbey had found its way into Miss Sawyer’s soul; which was total rubbish. The timing made no sense for that, for starters. The abbey burned to the ground barely less than a month ago, and I had definitely experienced some sort of stimulus during my limited time within that uncanny building before then.
I was… intrigued. An odd sensation was stirring within me, one I was not particularly fond of. Excitement, perhaps; an emotion I was not terribly familiar with as of my recent years. My life had settled into a sort of pleasant monotony over the past decade, and here came Miss Sawyer to shatter that feeling of calm.
Even more to my surprise, I decided I would look into it for her. If this, indeed, had something to do with my investigation into Dentonn’s Abbey, this might be a new lead to the resolution of this unfinished tale I found myself in the middle of. A brief interview with the poor girl indicated she had not been anywhere unusual during the time of her growing ails, nor had she in the weeks leading up to the outset of the symptoms. It seemed that, whatever it was, it stemmed from the mansion of Lord Woolney.
It also seemed prudent to find this mysterious diviner who spouted the name Dentonn to Miss Sawyer in the first place. I myself had no interest in tracking this strange individual down, but I knew of one much more familiar with that world and much better suited to such unsavoury legwork. Gertrude had begun to make it a habit to accost the University to inform me of other strange rituals she was to perform. She would be back within the next day or so, and I would charge her with her task. I had no doubt she would prove to be interested in this development, and so would agree to help.
In the end, I returned to my office to research some other notes and lessons of interest to this. I had to be better apprised of the world I was to step into; walking into a nobleman’s home with no knowledge of etiquette or background could prove embarrassing. Besides, a few new ideas came to mind, though I shall leave them from this article until I have some more time to read a few other encyclopedia.
All in all, I could say I had a rather productive day from that point onward. The same could not be said of the students I left behind to sit in confused silence in the lecture hall, however.