The Folly: second arc
Wake is a lonely outsider, who belongs nowhere; a man who feels himself entitled to royal respect; feels at the same time that he is particularly singled out for scorn. His deep broodings on the female sex have led him to an obsessive quest, to know, in the liveliest way, what a woman is. It is 1884, and as of yet, the maddest of murder sprees remains unthought of. All this converges, and Wake…but not Wake alone…pays the price.
The Regent’s Bastard’s Grandson
And what do they keep in their reticules
It has been his job to make them give these over
This post a vulgar letdown, but Wake earns enough
To keep the rent up
While these holiday-makers, these thieves of the Queen’s revenue
Sneer…they sneer behind a pretence of anxiety
Wake is the scion of royalty
Goes to show
He bends, hands clasped at his back, and circles
Gives, does he suspect, a bustle stuffed with Turkish
‘No, madam, I won’t touch you…needn’t worry’
He says it stiffly, mumbles
Makes a point, before their eyes, of going in
To the elbow, plumping up the linings
Of their travel-trunks
Well, we all know bloody Wake, the Bristol Ripper
No one wants him
Not so! Not so…ha! You know me, sir
Try to trap me
But I’ve seen things…and yes, who won’t like to know?
Then, do you suppose, the guest says, sotto voce, to the host
He’ll have gone, by tomorrow evening’s summoning?
He won’t, the girl Celt guiding them advises
Old Wake is next in line, and so the matter rests
His is a soul maligned, he has the right
To speak his piece
What makes a thing grow to a torment
Not a thing, Wake tells himself. He has fallen prey
The succubus has dealt him night for day.
The Queen’s road constable falls in beside him.
‘Fine evening, sir.’
‘How,’ says Wake, rigid, and refusing to eye him,
‘may I be of assistance to you?’
‘Pleasant, I always find it, walking. You’ll suppose
I don’t see much of interest, along this way. No, I’ll say it’s quiet.
Wintertimes we get some thefts. Boots, they steal. Coal
now and then. You, Mr. Wake,’ he adds, as Wake
thrusts hands in coat pockets, his gait become a stride,
‘see some thieving in your line. Much the same thing,
‘I’ve been heard to say so. Shall we part company, constable?
Or have you shopping of your own to do?’
Night for day, yes, pain for pleasure. Antic thoughts for lonely hours.
And yes, he has been noticed pilfering—
or this clumsy interview would not have been.
When dark falls, and sea-born fog rolls up the Avon
Wake, standing suspense no more, pulls her feathered bonnet on
Who she is, this swart female whose face needs powdering
He hasn’t in full decided. He awaits a sign.
Surgeon to the Bowfin
‘I am a respectable woman. Inspector, I still feel
myself at sixes and sevens. I believe I took the greater
‘Now, madam. I hope you’ve thought of it—
The assailant could well have cast aside those letters.’
She tells him she accepts it may be fancy. Yes, there
are Good Samaritans in the world. It is only in her heart
she feels his hand must be—
‘But…why do I say he? I’ve told you though,
the assailant…as you put it…’ She sips her tea
‘Was rather queer. I swear I know it, sir…he looked them over.
Then posted them for spite.’
Inspector Samuels sighs. She’ll say her piece twice more.
So he expects. Respectable madam leaves her train.
She is in a temper.
‘Yes, the usual incompetence. Making some delay.’
And finds herself sister to a low, dishonoured jade.
He has in mind a figure…a man he might name Wake.
But as the superintendent has already put a second P.C. on,
he’ll hold off speaking to the neighbours. Samuels
distrusts the public taste, for making pickpocketing
Turn murder. Keep the poor blighter safe.
I couldn’t keep the fellow from sidling up
He’d taken lodgings in my house, this Howitt
Surgeon to the Bowfin, she
Having her barnacles scraped in dry dock
‘I’ve been three times round the world, Wake.
I can tell you a thing or two. There are islands in the Indies…
I mean the Dutch Indies…where it’s nothing to see a chap
Tog himself out in skirts. Very true
that travel makes one see men as they are.
You’ll consider me a confidante, I hope.’
Travel, if that were the cause of it
A career of amputating limbs…a bent
Towards a ruthless, curious, yearning to experiment
Perhaps an inclination when he spoke
Of all humanity’s being one
To place himself outside of it
Howitt, the only friend I’d known
Wake’s voice dies at this.
A breath of sound
After a silence stirs the candle flame. I might believe
that in his voyages he’d run afoul,
that in some demon-haunted cave of the Malay,
had left his soul behind
This Howitt seen, the very appetite of evil
Clothed in flesh
I did not feel it then.
‘Wake, catch that animal!’
I had got a habit of obeying him.
The stalls were shuttered yet these
Spits and moanings of the matted, bony
Crook-tailed pusses of the lanes and alleys
Came nightly to our ears. Some tender pity as though I
Once had loved, slackened this time, my grip, and Howitt told me,
But he’d a thing he’d meant to say.
‘You’ll be surprised, Wake, seeing this for yourself, one day.
How the force of life,
Resists extinguishing. Say I’d cut you open…
How long might you live, do you suppose, each nerve
Being severed from the spine, one by one?’
Truth for the Victim
Wake has become lost
Three summonings have failed to raise him
‘But,’ M. de Clieux says, ‘the case is odd. This woman,
…like them all,’ he laughs, ‘confuses me.
What is the dénouement?’
To the expert (that nobleman from Rennes)
in dead languages, the guest nods. ‘That we have yet to learn.
Some private notes of Mr. Samuels were found
Hid in the cabinet of a county magistrate…for what it’s worth,
your host,’ he adds, ‘is author of the pamphlet.
That account, I mean, of the buried crime in Bristol.
‘Yes.’ The host supplies an unforthcoming smile.
For modesty, or that he finds it irritating still.
‘Crothers wanted a full retelling…and I deem murder,
as a subject, uncompelling.’
‘Yet I suppose the Whitechapel victims will always be of interest.’
Souls in purgatory, or in limbo, as with other party guests,
Find the thrilling controversy cannot go unaddressed.
The voice that emerges from the chatter is a woman’s
She is not the Celt
She is not Wake’s other self, as de Clieux had doubted she might be
‘In a sort of way—Wake will tell you this as well—he and I
Have long been married.’
She…you do not know her name…she has one.
She patches a living for herself, as best she can.
Fear she can’t afford, that too, is for the well-to-do
All smiling men are equal in her sight, no chore demeans her
If it gets her lodging for the night
One in a cell weaves his tale of revenge
One eyeless corpse washed ashore from a wreck
One only known by an arm and a leg
One with a gun by himself in the woods
One gazes last on a view from a cliff
One bit by bit freezes stiff on the street
One in delirium strangles in bed
Dead, in their hundreds, without law or forgiveness
Will you demand it then
Truth for the victim
She sails, within a fortnight, the Bowfin
Wake, relieved, or like a living man
Entombed, soon, shall heft aside the grinding lid
He cannot whisper his secret heart to Howitt
As a maiden sister might…though his friend invites it
Howitt’s intimacy with vein and sinew
Has gifted him, almost, with second sight
And Wake’s own private thoughts disgust him
Shown him in this light
I feel I have gone wrong, sir. It was a fiendish business, and I believe the spectacle, the room, affected me. I ought not to have let it, you will say. I had thought of a trial, of Wake’s ancestry, the London press, the hideous publicity. And you know, I was rather ashamed of myself at the time, feeling for him that pity. He seemed to me quite sane—haughty, if you want to know the truth. Insisted on his innocence, yet offered nothing in his own defence.
It is mid-afternoon
An hour of the day when solacing strangers
Still will walk, and steps remain unshadowed
Even one whose fingers tremble
At the fear of some surprise
Turns the latchkey, pats the owner’s spaniel
And for that moment, exhales a sigh
Wake smells a thing his mind can’t wholly recognize
Blood in such redolent quantity
What he sees
Parts of her are set about
He is not Howitt and can’t name them
Her spine is flayed, her eyes
Glassy, not dead, catch his, and he takes this in
The depth to which his struggle
Has resolved itself
His hands move of their own whim
He knows of nothing he can do to help
It was Farringate, the city magistrate, who’d thought of his old colleague, Mr. Moss. Wake had come along (by private car) docilely enough. We shut hm in a room, there, at Abbothurst Farm. I think it is nothing—that is, I do not find it sinister—that your uncle’s house has since burnt down. I told Wake I thought he must know what to do. And he’d said to me, though reluctant, I believe, ‘Yes, likely I will.’ Last of all he said, ‘You’ll be careful, sir, of that man Howitt.’
I am in an attic, a low, chill chamber
Smelling of linens, wax, and dust
Samuels has placed a vial
With a plink of glass his fingers snuffs
Next the basin…shall I fill it?
And taking poison, wash my hands?
His hands betray a season come too late
I gave my soul to him a moment after
This, Wake, is what you never knew and hoped to fathom
He starts, and drops the victim’s head
That he had pressed his eyes to
The voice is Howitt’s
‘Yes, constable, very true. An old woman’s dream,
and her day help gone missing. Hysteria. The girl will turn up.’
Howitt seems to think of things. He chuckles,
and this rattling, lacking mirth, ascends the stairs.
Wake sees his half-closed door begin to swing.
So it may have been, that the sinking of the Bowfin
Reported late, this news carried home
By the merchantman Ceylon, in ’87, the year of the hurricane—
Some said the men were mostly saved
By the hundred boats of the pearl fleet—
Ended Mr. Samuels’s part, no guilt attaching
Unable to find proof, did Howitt live
Did Howitt walk
A particular London street
He rabbits round the circumstance
Circumstance, the inspector’s word
For Annie Chapman’s mauling
But you see, Moss, what I’d done was in pursuit of right. I am not the author of this method, and it has been used. Yes, when it all began, I’d thought they had got it wrong about the stabbings—the ordinary knife violence, I’d have said, of a poor district. They would lead themselves astray, the metropolitan police, putting stock in propinquity, and never gather proper evidence. The first day of October, I’d learned there had been a third found in the same circumstance (as the others like my own). And to think we’d made a careful photograph of Wake in his coffin; before we had allowed his step-father to remove him. In the event, you understand, of some new transgression’s coming to light. Howitt was not a physician, of course. But yet, the prussic acid was his supplying. He kept a number of things, in his shipboard surgery. I had nothing to give Sir Charles but my recollection of his face.
‘Liddie, sir,’ she says, ‘née Watts. That was it, my name.’
De Clieux rises from his chair and bows.
‘By God,’ the host murmurs, ‘I wonder.
Can it be he is living still, the creature?’
‘It would be worthwhile…’
The guest slides the paper knife across a fingertip.
‘…to beat the old boy out of cover.’