from a diary:
by Simon Barber
Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
encounter the world after Songmark Academy -- beginning July 1937.
by Simon Barber
Art by Kjartan
Wednesday, 4th August 1937
A finer day in more ways than one. It started alarmingly enough; we were dressed to head out in the sunshine and take a look at the Storm Bird when the Cabot mansion had some discreet visitors – as Hetty put it, “two gentlemen from the Government, desiring an interview with Miss Procyk.”
We could of course have headed out the back door but (a) someone would probably be expecting that and (b) the “interview” would just happen somewhere less elegant, probably in a narrow street suddenly sealed off by lorries parked at both ends. So with teeth somewhat gritted, we headed to the main reception room to see what sort of interview Mr. Hoover has in mind for us today. Mrs. Teresa Cabot joined us; it is under her roof and concerns her granddaughter, after all.
Awaiting us were another pair of soberly suited furs, one of them a mastiff and the other a much slighter polecat. They introduced themselves as Mister Smithson and Mister Jonesson, and this time pulled out FBI badges and identity cards to match. A little politeness would have saved the previous pair of G-men much embarrassment.
As soon as I walked in the room my tail bottled out – Mister Jonesson, the polecat gentleman, was the one who has been watching us! At this range there was no mistaking it. Although he was not concentrating on me, he was using some abilities at full throttle, that I doubt they have a training chapter for in police regulations.
Mister Smithson explained they were seeking a notorious gangster, heiress to her father’s empire of crime, who they had reason to believe was still carrying it on under cover. He pulled out a sheaf of photographs and showed them to us.
Oh dear. Some of the photographs were Molly as I remember her on arrival at Songmark – mostly filmed with long lenses in some urban setting that might be Chicago. In two of them she is clearly carrying a Thompson sub-machinegun with the long box-magazine she always tried to get through Spontoon Customs. The other is more recent – Molly in grass skirt along with the rest of us, recognisably dashing across the road from the Missing Coconut to the beach after one of our Saturday dance lessons. There was generally a tourist crowd watching, and though I do not recall Mr. Jonesson ever being there, had he avoided use of his special talent there is no reason why I should.
Just as I thought our goose (or strictly speaking, venison) was cooked, I noticed the polecat’s expression run through the gauntlet of carefully concealed surprise, confusion and shock. He whispered urgently to Mister Smithson whose ears went right up, then drooped noticeably. He simply asked “are you certain?” and at the polecat’s anguished nod he stood, thanked us for our time and the pair of them excused themselves and left. My ears are as keen as anyone’s, and pressing them to the hall door as they walked down the hallway I heard him whisper something about “soul sniffer” in mocking tones. The polecat replied about “a ringer” before they passed out of hearing.
Well! We put our heads together and worked out what might have happened. Saimmi has mentioned that there are rare furs with particular abilities, and I think we have met one today. Being able to recognise someone’s spirit would be a big help to any police-fur, and would make any sort of disguise or concealment useless. Mister Hoover must want her very badly, to have sent a rare asset so far out of the country just for this. Evidently he had been sent to Spontoon this Spring to see Molly and take more than one sort of snapshot, so he would know her again whatever happened. Except that we have Miss Cabot here, who may look the same to a camera but is decidedly not her.
Hopefully this should clear things with the G-men. It is scarcely their business if an unknown doe is adopted into the Cabot household even if she happens to look like a “notorious criminal”. Perhaps they believe we chose a double to go with us and draw attention, while the real Molly Procyk slipped past undetected. In that, they are quite likely to be right – though not in any way we could have predicted! Helen whispered that if the “real” Molly walked past Mr. Jonesson in feline fur right now, a certain polecat might lose all faith in his abilities, sanity or both.
That over, we breathed a sigh of relief and piled into the Packard to show Mrs. Teresa Cabot our Storm Bird. As a member of a shipping family, she is more interested in commercial transport than most of her neighbours, and had some searching questions to ask about the local freight and passenger aircraft of Spontoon and area. The New England Coast has a lot of well-established harbours which help keep coasting ships economic, compared to some of the coral islands of the Nimitz Sea which are so ringed with reefs that a seaplane is about the only reliable way to get cargo in and out safely, without even thinking of the speed advantage.
While we filed a flight plan out in the direction of Cape Cod, Miss Cabot showed her grandmother around the Storm Bird. It was only right that she should be in the pilot’s seat for takeoff, with her grandmother propped up on cushions behind (she really is very short) watching the proceedings.
A fine day for a flight! We headed out to sea for five miles to get clear of the local air traffic, then headed up the coast. There are surprisingly undeveloped areas near at paw considering how close they are to Boston; sand and shingle beaches cut off large areas of swamp and lagoon from the sea, and many of the small fishing towns appear to have seen better days. Even from a thousand feet one can spot abandoned buildings when half the roof has fallen in. One surprising thing I saw was an abandoned and weed-grown railway. That is a very strange idea – one can hardly imagine such a thing ever happening in England, depression or no depression!
Further up the coast past Kingsbury the hills rise quite abruptly to several thousand feet inland, with towering cliffs and short, pleasant-looking grass near the edges. Behind there are definitely wild-looking areas of forest with a few small pastures and glimpses of gambrel-roofed farmhouses tucked back against towering rock outcrops as if they had reason to tunnel into them. All in all it looked quite home-like, if more of an epic-scale Cornwall than Barsetshire. At the very edge of one towering cliff was a lovely ancient cottage that I fear is not long for this world – evidently due to cliff collapse one of the doors now faces straight out onto a thousand-foot drop! As Maria joked, if unwanted guests turn up from the other side one can show them the door in a very decisive manner.
Mrs. Cabot was quite taken by the view, and was evidently proud to have a granddaughter (however acquired) with such skills. Songmark might be expensive but by her account a Boston finishing school is as well – and she is glad which one Molly Cabot went to.
We turned back when we reached Cape Cod, and having seen the sights on the way out decided to open up the throttles and at five thousand feet see just what the Storm Bird can do. It was impressive to see the speedometer nudge past 200 miles an hour in level flight – decidedly speedy! Of course that puts the fuel consumption right up, so after ten exhilarating minutes we dropped back to cruise speed for the approach to Boston.
It is a good thing there is not more traffic moving as fast as we are; at our top speed two aircraft would be closing at four hundred miles an hour, and in anything less than perfect visibility pilots would scarcely have time to dodge once they recognised a collision course. However near Schneider Trophy speeds aircraft may be technically able to reach in the future, I fear that will always be the big limitation. Even echo location (as some zeppelins attempted) would hardly work, what with the engine noise and the fact we were travelling nearly a third as fast as sound itself!
Another half hour brought us back to the seaplane strip along the river (the main harbour area is too crowded with shipping to allow a seaplane run anywhere the city centre) where Mrs. Cabot thanked us for a most fascinating day. She says commercial shipping more usually makes ten knots rather than our speed, but she can see a future for air freight someday.
Back to Knob Hill, a rapid change out of our flying kit and back on with the evening wear! Seven o’clock saw us at the Pendleton’s town house, not quite on Knob Hill but in a genteel old neighbourhood regardless. This time we walked, it being a fine evening. We met Miss Jenks and her brothers, who introduced us to the hostess Mrs. Pendleton, a squirrel lady. A rather younger and “faster” set were at this party, with less old and more new money. They say that two types of American business survived the Wall Street Crash with ease – the old-established families who own land and grow food (as long as furs have small change in their pockets they still need to buy food) and the sharper ones who liquidated a week before the bubble burst and headed over the border with carpet-bags full of negotiable gold; steering clear of a desperate government keen on grabbing it. The crowd here were definitely the latter – some of the names Miss Cabot recognised as furs her Father had business with since Prohibition’s repeal dried up his traditional business.
Miss Jenks had mentioned that her family was investigating the movie business, and we were introduced to several folk in that trade. Boston itself is not a major centre for filming, but it is not so far from Gnu York and a lot of the financiers are here. I used to read Molly’s discarded “Film Frolics” on occasion, and recognised some of the studio names.
One gentleman who was pointed out to me was of a species I had not met before – I first thought he was a shrew of some kind, with his almost conical snout and furless tail. When he opened his mouth to laugh I saw his jaw opens to an almost crocodilian extent – this Mister Sanchez is an opossum, which are native to the Southern part of the country. Miss Jenks whispered that he is an executive of “Dakka” studios, which is one she will not be investing in – nor do I recall the studio name from the reviews of bright lights of Hollywood I used to read. She did not elaborate as to why – he seemed prosperous, although in the movie business I have heard that appearances are everything and a fur will spend their last penny to polish up any crumbling business façade.
Although I was not introduced to him, I did spend awhile talking with two film actresses who have been working with the company, a vixen called Louise Lamarra and a chinchilla called Dottie Dorico. I doubt those are the names their parents gave them. They had been out to Bermuda and back on Mr. Sanchez’ yacht the El Dorado, and been taking “screen tests” for the studio. Certainly it looks as if the life of stage and screen is sometimes as glamorous as the film magazines claim. Miss Lamarra looked a little the worse for wear, mind you – she has been with the studio a year and no doubt has been to rather a lot of the famous Hollywood parties.
Quite a lively evening. The party looked as if it would be going on till the small hours, but at Midnight I rounded up Helen, Maria and Miss Cabot to take our exit. It was a bright moonlit evening, and the rooftops of old Boston shone with an intriguing silvery glow. We were all glad of the fresh air – Helen complained it would take two baths tomorrow to get the stink of tobacco smoke out of her fur – and a stroll in the moonlight before bed seemed a capital idea.
Certainly, Boston seems to keep late hours. In England, even in the cities, streetlamps are switched off by eleven. As the last public house shuts its doors at half past ten, there is time for most furs to be home by then, and anyone spotted after that is likely to be queried by the vigilant constables on their beat. Maria says this is more like Italy in summertime – no doubt New England in January is a very different proposition, and furs are making the most of the season.
We were exploring a narrow lane with fine old overhanging houses of the eighteenth century on each side when Helen spotted a fur we recognised – Senator Lovecraft. He wore a rather old-fashioned high collar (which looked well on him, equines having long necks) and a short cape, which looked rather excessive for August. He greeted us courteously, explaining that he often wandered through the empty streets “seeking echoes of that almost vanished and better New England drowned out in the daytime by the polyglot babble of sinister crowds unwisely let through by Ellis Island.”
Senator Howard Lovecraft of Rhode Island, Anthropomorphologist & folklore expert,
giving a tour in 1937 of the eldrich neighborhoods of Boston. (Larger file here - 501 KBytes)
Art by Kjartan
Hmm. If Mr, Lovecraft does not approve of “polyglot babble” I doubt he would like Spontoon much. He would probably see sinister things in the Natives of No Island, and if he disapproves of Senator Boop he would not get on too well with Priestess Gha’ta from Ponape. I quietly started one of the exercises Saimmi has taught us, and by the way his ears went up Mr. Lovecraft spotted it immediately as I doubt one in a thousand could.
I rather think I surprised him; good girls from Barsetshire tend not to become Warrior Priestesses with the abilities we have. He asked politely if I had any “atavistic talents passed down from a long armigerous* bloodline from a far time when strange deeds were common under the eldritch eaves of dark English forests” and I found it hard to deny without disappointing him. Not that I actually said yes, of course.
Helen asked why he was spending his time in Boston when he is a Senator elsewhere; surely he ought to be in his constituency in Providence, Rhode Island, or else representing them in Washington as he was elected to do? I could imagine film stars in their leisure time staying well clear of Hollywood where their fans would recognise and mob them.
In fact, it proved to be a very similar idea – this is the “recess” of Congress, when the Summer weather in Washington is fit only to steam-cook potatoes and any policy enacted would probably be regretted later on. Though Senator Lovecraft does spend most of his time with his public duties, he explained that he kept up his researches after hours – and invited us to follow and see what he means.
Remembering our trip to Krupmark Island to retrieve the second fragment of the Great Tiki, I hesitated a little; we had expert and powerful help there from the Priestess Oharu. But Helen and I have passed our tests since then, and are now full Warrior Priestesses. Besides, if there was anything like that under Boston the city would be a very different place. It certainly explained the… peculiar setup of Krupmark.
Still, we are Adventuresses and it was an Adventure. So we followed Mr. Lovecraft through the twisting alleyways only lit by the gibbous moon rather than the City authorities – to judge by the alignment of stars I glimpsed every now and then in some shadowed courtyard we had crossed North Hill and were heading down towards the harbour.
At length we came out in a cleared area of rubble, surrounded by rather decaying streets of the eighteenth century, somewhat doomed by having no room to get motor traffic through their twisting cobbled alleyways. It seemed rather odd, to arrive at somewhere that was no longer there. Mr. Lovecraft invited Helen and I to “try our noses” and see if we could spot anything about the area before he told us what he had researched.
Back on Spontoon we have found some decidedly interesting areas, that are not deserted even when nobody is obviously around – there is something at the Great Stone Glen on Main Island that we have almost caught a glimpse of a few times, and we will not forget the awful presences we encountered on Cranium Island. I sat down in the moonlight and began to use what Saimmi taught us; even with my eyes closed I could tell that Helen was doing the same.
If it had been a movie, it would have been a rather confusing series of flashbacks. I saw a street that began as a dirt track heading up into the woods, when these hills were all wooded. It was like watching a tree growing, becoming bigger and more solid – as the street grew something of its own awareness grew with it, absorbing the style and personality of generations of solid citizens. But like an ageing tree, in the course of the years it grew to hide a rotten heart, being the centre of strange things and sinister plottings; I recalled the sight of “Bronstein’s reading rooms” we had seen not far away.
As to what happened in the end – I could imagine on Spontoon, that which is in the Great Glen bringing the mountainside down on itself in the last emergency, saving the islands from its power being put to evil ends. Whatever was here that grew in happier times had just enough surviving to do that, like a rotten tree calling the lightning down on itself to make an end and save the forest from infection.
Helen seemed to have picked up the same ideas – she asked bluntly exactly what happened here. Senator Lovecraft recounted us the full story – it seems that what Priestess Oharu calls a “Kami” can actually exist here. In ancient Boston and surroundings at any rate; I could not be so sure of anywhere called Medium Rock or Smithville. The street had destroyed itself, but taken with it the heart of a Bolshevik conspiracy that was poised to make Boston another New Haven.
Quite a revelation. It was late, so we bid the good Senator goodnight, leaving him to continue his moonlight stroll amongst the crooked alleyways and shadowed courtyards of the old North End.
Back to Knob Hill and our long-awaited, extremely welcome beds!
*Editor’s Note: in all versions, Mr. Lovecraft was fascinated by backwoods survivals of “armigerous” Euro families, i.e. those with enough ancient pedigree to have in theory a coat of arms. Not that he was snobbish about it – considering the sort of hideous secrets his stories revealed that showed just why they had to leave home and hide away in the remote New England valleys in the first place. Of course, the doings of “unclassified dregs of Asia wisely turned away by Ellis Island” probably run a close second. Basically, Mr. Lovecraft could find cosmic horror anywhere. See his entirely factual tales “The Street” and “The Horror At Red Hook” for revealing social commentary on the true nature of Boston and New York.