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Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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FOURTH ITERATION
Seven Curses

   This object is a patriotic funerary plaque in dense white porcelain, of the sort produced to commemorate the deaths of royalty and heads of state. Beneath an originally colorless glaze, cracked and yellowed by processes of time, are visible the features of Lord Byron.
   Tens of thousands of these objects were sold throughout England during the months following the Prime Minister's death. The plaques themselves were of a standard manufacture, held in readiness for the demise of any sufficiently noted personage. The image of Byron, surrounded by wreaths, ornate scroll-work, and figures representative of the early history of the Industrial Radical Party, has been Engine-stippled upon a film of transparent material, which was then transferred to the plaque, glazed, and fired.
   To Byron's left, amid stippled scroll-work, a crowned British lion poses rampant above the blurred coils of a defeated serpent, most probably meant to represent the Luddite cause.
   It was sometimes remarked upon, both during and after Byron's rise to leadership, that his maiden speech in the House of Lords, February, 1812, urged clemency for the Luddites. Byron himself, questioned in this regard, is widely believed to have replied, "But there were Luddites, sir, and then there were Luddites." While this remark may be apocryphal, it is wholly in keeping with what is known of the Prime Minister's personality, and would seem to refer to the extraordinary severity with which he later put down and suppressed the popular Manchester-based anti-industrial movement led by Walter Gerard. For this was a form of Luddism attacking, not the old order, but the order that the Rads themselves had established.
   This object was once the property of Inspector Ebenezer Fraser, of the Bow Street Special Branch.

   Mallory had stayed with Fraser, watching the police surgeon at work with dirty sponge and bandage, until he was sure that Fraser was fully distracted. To further ease Fraser's evident suspicions, Mallory had borrowed a sheet of police stationery and set to the task of composing a letter.
   In the meantime, the Kings Road station had slowly filled with bellowing ruffian drunks and various species of rioter. It was very interesting as a social phenomenon, but Mallory was in no mood to spend the night on a cheerless cot in some raucous cell. His taste was most stubbornly set on something else entirely.
   So he had politely asked directions of a harried and exhausted sergeant, noted them with care in his field-book, and eased out of the station. He'd had no problem finding Cremorne Gardens.
   The situation there was nicely indicative of the city's crisis dynamic. It was quite calm. No one in the Gardens seemed aware of events beyond, the shock-waves of localized dissolution having not yet permeated the system.
   And it did not stink so badly here. The Gardens were on the Chelsea Reach, well upstream of the worst of the Thames. There was a faint night-breeze off the river, somewhat fishy but not altogether unpleasant, and the fog was broken by the great leafy boughs of Cremorne's ancient elms. The sun had set, and a thousand cloudy gas-lights twinkled for the pleasure of the public.
   Mallory could imagine the pastoral charm of the Gardens in happier times. The place had bright geranium-beds, plots of well-rolled lawn, pleasant vine-enshrouded kiosks, whimsical plaster follies, and of course the famous Crystal Circle. And the "monster platform" as well, a great roofed and wall-less ballroom, where thousands might have strolled or waltzed or polkaed on the shoe-streaked wooden deck. There were liquor-stands inside, and food, and a great horse-cranked panmelodium playing a medley of selections from favorite operas.
   There were not, however, thousands present tonight. Perhaps three hundred people circulated listlessly, and no more than a hundred of these were respectable. This hundred were weary of confinement, Mallory assumed, or courting couples braving all unpleasantness to meet. Of the remainder, two-thirds were men, more or less desperate, and prostitutes, more or less brazen.
   Mallory had two more whiskeys at the platform's bar. The whiskey was cheap and smelled peculiar, either tainted by the Stink or doctored with hartshorn or potash or quassia. Or perhaps indian-berry, for the stuff had the color of bad stout. The whiskey-shots sat in his stomach like a pair of hot coals.
   There was only a bit of dancing going on, a few couples attempting a self-conscious waltz. Mallory was not much of a dancer at the best of times. He watched the women. A tall, finely shaped young woman danced with an older, bearded gentleman. The fellow was stout and looked gouty in his knees, but the woman stood tall as a dart and danced with as much grace as a professional, the brass heels of her dolly-boots glinting in the light. The sway of her petticoats suggested the shape and size of the haunches beneath. No padding or whalebone was there. She'd fine ankles in red stockings and her skirts were two inches higher than propriety allowed.
   He could not see her face.
   The panmelodium struck up another tune, but the stout gentleman seemed winded. The pair of them stopped and moved off among a group of friends: an older, modest-looking woman in a bonnet, two other young girls who looked like dollymops, and another older gentleman who looked bleak-faced and foreign, from Holland perhaps or one of the Germanies. The dancing girl was talking with the others and tossing her head as if laughing. She had fine brunette hair and a bonnet knotted round her throat and hanging down her back. A fine, solid, womanly back and slim waist.
   Mallory began walking slowly toward them. The girl talked with seeming earnestness to the foreign man, but his face showed reluctance and a seeming disdain. The girl sketched out something like a half-reluctant curtsey, then turned away from him.
   Mallory saw her face for the first time. She had a strange long jaw, thick eyebrows, and a broad mobile slash of a mouth, lips edged with rouge. It was not exactly an ugly face, but decidedly plain. Yet there was a sharp, reckless look in her grey eyes and a strangely voluptuous expression that caught him as he stood. And she had a splendid form. He could see it as she walked—rolled, slid almost—to the bar. Again those marvelous hips and the line of that back. She leaned across the bar to chaff with the barman and her skirt rose behind her almost to her red-stockinged calf. The sight of her muscular leg thrilled him with a jolt of lewd intensity. It was as if she had kicked him with it.
   Mallory moved to the bar. She was not chaffing with the barman but arguing with him, in a half-painful, nagging, womanly way. She was thirsty and had no cash and said that her friends were paying. The barman didn't believe her, but would not say so straight out.
   Mallory tapped a shilling on the bar. "Barman, give the lady what she wants."
   She looked at him with annoyed surprise. Then she recovered herself, and smiled, and looked at him through half-shut lashes. "You know what I like best, Nicholas," she told the barman.
   He brought her a flute of champagne and relieved Mallory of his money. "I love champagne," she told Mallory. "You can dance like a feather when you drink champagne. Do you dance?"
   "Abominably," Mallory said. "May I go home with you?"
   She looked him up and down, and the corner of her mouth moved, with a wry but voluptuous smirk. "I'll tell you in a moment." And she went to rejoin her friends.
   Mallory did not wait, for he thought it likely a gull. He walked slowly about the monster promenade and looked at other women, but then he saw the tall plain-faced girl beckoning. He went to her.
   "I think I can go with you, but you may not like it," she said.
   "Why shouldn't I?" he said. "I like you."
   She laughed. "I don't mean in that way. I don't live here in Brompton; I live in Whitechapel."
   "That's a long way."
   "The trains aren't running. And we can't get a cab at all. I was afraid I would sleep in the park!"
   "What about your friends?" Mallory asked.
   The girl tossed her head, as if to say she didn't care for them. Her fine neck showed a bit of machine-made lace at the hollow of her throat. "I want to go back to Whitechapel. Will you take me? I haven't any money, not a tuppence."
   "All right," Mallory said. He offered her his arm. "It's a five-mile walk—but your legs are a marvel."
   She took his elbow and smiled at him. "We can catch a river-steamer at Cremorne Pier."
   "Oh," Mallory said. "Down the Thames, eh?"
   "It's not very dear." They walked down the steps of the monster platform into the twinkling gas-lit darkness. "You're not from London, are you? A traveling-gent."
   Mallory shook his head.
   "Will you give me a sovereign if I sleep with you?"
   Mallory, surprised at her bluntness, said nothing.
   "You can stay all night," she said. "I've a very nice room."
   "Yes, that's what I want."
   He stumbled a bit on the gravel walk. She steadied him, then boldly met his eyes. "You're a bit lushed, are you? But you look good-natured. What do they call you?"
   "Edward. Ned, mostly."
   "That's my name, too!" she said. "Harriet Edwardes, with an 'e' on the end. My stage-name. But my friends call me Hetty."
   "You have the figure of a goddess, Hetty. I'm not surprised you're on the stage."
   She gave him that bold, grey-eyed look. "You like wicked girls, Ned? I hope you do, for I'm in a mood to do wicked things tonight."
   "I like them fine," Mallory said. He grabbed her by her tapered waist, thrust one hand against her swelling bosom, and kissed her mouth. She gave a little surprised shriek, and then threw her arms around his neck. They kissed a long while beneath the dark bulk of an elm. He felt her tongue against his teeth.
   She pulled back a bit. "We have to get home, Ned. All right?"
   "All right," he said, breathing hard. "But show me your legs now. Please?"
   She looked up and down the path, then lifted her petticoats to the knee and dropped them again.
   "They're perfection," he said. "You could sit to painters."
   "I have sat to painters," she said, "and it don't pay."
   A steamer sounded at Cremorne Pier. They ran to it and got aboard with moments to spare. The effort sent whiskey racing through Mallory's head. He gave the girl a shilling to pay the four-pence toll, and found a canvas steamer-chair up near the bow. The little ferry got up steam, its side-wheels slapping black water. "Let's go in the saloon," she said. "There's drink."
   "I like to see London."
   "I don't think you'll like what you see on this trip."
   "I will if you stay with me," he said.
   "How you talk, Ned," she said, and laughed. "Funny, I thought you were a copper at first, you looked so stern and solemn. But coppers don't talk like that, drunk or sober."
   "You don't like compliments?"
   "No, they're sweet. But I like champagne, too."
   "In a moment," Mallory said. He was drunker than he liked to be. He stood and walked to the bow railing and gripped it hard, squeezing sensation back into his fingertips. "Damned dark in the city," he said.
   "Why, it is," she said, standing near him. She smelled of salt sweat and tea-rose and cunt. He wondered if she had much hair there and what its color was. He was dying to see it. "Why is that, Ned?"
   "What?"
   "Why is it so dark? Is it the fog?"
   "Gas-lights," he said. "Government have a scheme to turn off the gas-lights because they smoke so."
   "How clever of them."
   "Now people are running about in the blackened streets, smashing everything in sight."
   "How do you know that?"
   He shrugged.
   "You're not a copper?"
   "No, Hetty."
   "I don't like coppers. They're always talking as if they know things you don't know. And they won't tell you how they know it."
   "I could tell you," Mallory said. "I should like to tell you. But you wouldn't understand."
   "Of course I'd understand, Ned," Hetty said in a voice as bright as peeling paint. "I love to hear clever men talk."
   "London is a complex system out of equilibrium. It's like—it's like a drunken man, blind drunk, in a room with whiskey bottles. The whiskey is hidden—so he's always walking about looking for it. When he finds a bottle, he takes a long drink, but puts it down and forgets it at once. Then he wanders and looks again, over and over."
   "Then he runs out of liquor and has to buy more," Hetty said.
   "No. He never runs out. There's a demon that tops up the bottles constantly. That's why it is an open dynamical system. He walks round and round in the room, forever, never knowing what his next step may be. All blind and unknowing, he traces circles, figure-eights, every figure that a skater might make, but he never leaves the boundaries. And then one day the lights go out, and he instantly runs headlong out of the room and into outer darkness. And anything may happen then, anything at all, for the outer darkness is Chaos. It is Chaos, Hetty."
   "And you like that, eh?"
   "What?"
   "I don't know what that means that you just said; but I can tell you like it. You like to think about it." With a gentle, quite natural movement, she put her hand against the front of his trousers. "Isn't it stiff!" She snatched her hand back and grinned triumphantly.
   Mallory looked hastily about the deck. There were other people out, a dozen or so. It seemed none of them were watching, but it was hard to tell in the foggy darkness. "You tease," he said.
   "Pull it out, and you'll see how I tease."
   "I'd rather wait for the proper time and place."
   "Fancy a man saying that," she said, and laughed.
   The steady slapping paddle-wheels suddenly changed their tenor. The black Thames gave up a vile rush of stench and the crisping sound of bubbles.
   "Oh, it's horrid," cried Hetty, clapping a hand to her mouth. "Let's go in the saloon, Ned, please!"
   A strange curiosity pinned Mallory in place. "Does it get worse than this? Down-river?"
   "Much worse," Hetty said through her fingers. "I've seen folk swoon away."
   "Why do the ferries still run, then?"
   "They always run," Hetty said, half-turning away. "They're mail-boats."
   "Oh," Mallory said. "Could I buy a stamp here?"
   "Inside," said Hetty, "and you can buy me something, too."

   Hetty lit an oil-lamp in the cramped little hallway of her upstairs lodging in Flower-and-Dean Street. Mallory, powerfully glad to be free of the fog-choked eeriness of back-street Whitechapel, edged past her into the parlor. A square, plank-topped table held a messy stack of illustrated tabloids, somehow still delivered despite the Stink. In the dimness he could make out fat Engine-printed headlines bemoaning the poor state of the Prime Minister's health. Old Byron was always feigning sickness, some gammy foot or rheumy lung or raddled liver.
   Hetty entered the parlor with her glowing lamp, and faded roses bloomed in the dusty wallpaper. Mallory dropped a gold sovereign on the table-top. He hated trouble in these matters, and always paid in advance. She noted the ring of the coin, smiling. Then she kicked off her street-muddied dolly-boots, and walked, swaying, to a doorway, which she flung open. A grey cat ran out, mewing, and she fussed at it, petting it and calling it Toby. She let it out to the stairs. Mallory watched her do this, and stood flat-footed in unhappy patience.
   "Well, then, come on with you," she said, tossing her plaited brown head.
   The bedroom was small enough, and shabby, with a pressed-oak two-poster and a tall, tarnished cheval-glass that looked as if it had once cost some money. Hetty set the lamp on the badly delaminated veneer of a bedside commode and began to pick at the buttons of her blouse, pulling her arms from the sleeves and tossing the garment aside as if clothing were more trouble to her than she cared for. Stepping deftly out of her skirt, she began to remove her corset and a stiff crinkled petticoat.
   "You wear no crinoline," Mallory noted hoarsely.
   "Don't like 'em." She popped the waistband of the petticoat and laid it aside. She deftly picked the wire hooks of the corset and eased its laces open, then wriggled it over her hips and stood there, breathing in relief, in her lace chemise.
   Mallory got out of his jacket and shoes. His member strained at his fly-buttons. He was anxious to get it out of his trousers, but didn't care to parade his erect prick by lamplight.
   Hetty jumped into the bed in her chemise, the worn springs complaining loudly. Mallory sat on the edge of the bed, which smelled powerfully of cheap orange-water and Hetty's sweat, and got his trousers and unmentionables off, leaving himself in his shirt.
   Leaning off the bed, he unbuttoned one compartment of his money-belt and removed a French-letter. "I'll do it in armor, dear," he muttered. "Is that all right?"
   Hetty sat up brightly on her elbow. "Let me see it, then." Mallory showed her the rolled membrane of sheep-gut. "It isn't one of those queer ones," she noted, with apparent relief. "Do as you like, dearie."
   Mallory carefully peeled the device over the taut skin of his prick. This was better. Mallory thought, happier for this act of foresight. It felt more as if he knew what he was doing here, and that he would be safe after all, and get his money's worth as well. He climbed under the dingy sheet.
   Hetty wrapped her strong arms around his neck and kissed him fiercely with her great crooked mouth, as if she meant to glue it to him. Mallory, startled, felt her tongue writhing about on his teeth like a slick warm eel. The strange sensation powerfully stimulated his virility. He struggled atop her, her solid flesh feeling marvelous through the obscenely thin veil of the chemise, and fought with the garment till he had it up about her waist. Hetty made enthusiastic groaning noises as Mallory groped about in the damp fleece between her legs. Finally, seeming impatient, Hetty reached down without ceremony and jammed his prick into her cunt.
   She stopped sucking his mouth as they began to rut. Soon they were breathing like steam-gurneys, the bed creaking and jouncing beneath them like a badly tuned panmelodium. "Oh, Ned, darling!" she yelped suddenly, setting eight sharp fingernails into his back. "What a fine big one it is! I'm going to spend!" And she writhed under him in near-convulsion. Jolted by the strangeness of a woman speaking English in the midst of sexual congress, he spent abruptly, as if the seed were wrenched unwilling from his flesh by the hard lewd plunging of her loins.
   After a quiet, panting moment, Hetty kissed his bearded cheek with the half-shy lash-fluttering look of a woman conquered by desire. "That was fine indeed, Ned. You really do know how to do it. Now let's have something to eat, shall we? I'm bloody starving."
   "Good," Mallory said, rolling off the sweaty cradle of her hips. He felt grateful to her, as he always did to any woman who had favored him, and a bit ashamed of himself, and of her as well. But very hungry, too. He had not eaten in many hours.
   "We can get a nice petit-souper downstairs from the Hart. Mrs. Cairns can fetch it up for us. She's my landlady what lives next door."
   "Fine," Mallory said.
   "You'll have to pay for it and tip her, though." Hetty rolled from bed, her chemise rucked up. She tugged it loose, but the glimpse of her magnificent backside sent a wash of gratified amazement through him. She knuckle-thumped the bedroom wall in quick staccato. After a slow moment there was an answering knock.
   "Your friend's up late?" Mallory said.
   "She's used to this business," Hetty told him, sliding back in bed with a chorus of squeaks. "Never you mind Mrs. Cairns. She mills her poor husband about every Wednesday and keeps the whole building awake."
   Mallory carefully removed his French-letter, which had stretched out of shape but not torn, and dropped it into the pot-de-chambre. "Should we open a window? It's damned hot… "
   "No, don't let in the Stink, deari
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"
   "No, don't let in the Stink, dearie!" Hetty grinned in the lamplight, and scratched herself beneath the sheet. "Anyway, the windows don't open."
   "Why not?"
   "The casements are all nailed tight. The girl who used to live here, last winter… Queer little thing, with a po-face and fine gentry airs, but awful frightened of her enemies. She nailed all the windows shut, I think. They finally got her even so, poor creature."
   "How is that, then?" Mallory asked.
   "Oh, she never brought her men here, that I ever saw, but finally the coppers came here looking for her. Specials, if you know the kind I mean. And they gave me a sharp time of it too, the bastards, as if I knew what she did, or who her friends were. I didn't even know her real name. Sybil something. Sybil Jones."
   Mallory tugged at his beard. "What did she do, this Sybil Jones?"
   "She had a child by an M.P. when she was young," Hetty said. "Fellow name of, well, I doubt you want to know. She was a politician's tart, who used to sing a bit. Me, I'm a tart who poses. Connaissez-vous poses plastiques?"
   "No." Mallory noted without surprise that a flea had landed on his bare knee-cap. He caught it, then cracked it bloodily between his thumbnails.
   "We dress in tight leotards colored just like skin, and swan about and let gentlemen gawk at us. Mrs. Winterhalter—you saw her tonight in Cremorne, bossing us about—she's my manageress, as they say. The crowd was dreadful thin tonight, and those Swede diplomats we was with are as tight as a chicken's arse. So it was a bit of luck for me that you showed."
   A rapping came at the door of the hall. Hetty rose. "Donnez-moi four shillings," she said. Mallory gave her some coins, which swiftly vanished as she left. Hetty returned with a dented and chipped japanned tray and displayed a misshapen loaf of bread, a lump of ham, mustard, four fried sausages, and a dusty split of warm champagne.
   Filling two stained champagne-flutes, she began to eat her supper, quite composedly, without speaking. Mallory gazed fixedly at her dimpled arms and shoulders and the swell of her heavy, dark-nippled breasts in the thin chemise, and wondered a bit about the plainness of her face. He drank a glass of the acrid, bad champagne, and ate the greenish ham in famished mouthfuls.
   Hetty finished the sausages. "Then, with a crooked smile, she slid out of bed, and squatted by its side, hoisting the chemise to her waist. "That champagne runs right through you, don't it? I need the pot. Don't look unless you want to." Mallory looked aside politely and listened to the rattle of piss.
   "Let's wash," she said. "I'll fetch a basin." She came back with an enameled pan of reeking London water, and sponged at herself with a loofah.
   "Your form is splendid," Mallory said. Her hands and feet were small, but the columnar roundness of her calves and thighs were marvels of mammalian anatomy. Her great solid buttocks were faultless. They seemed weirdly familiar to him, like the white female buttocks he had seen in a dozen historical canvases. It occurred to him that likely they were the very same. Her neat-lipped cunt was furred with auburn hair.
   She smiled at his stare. "Would you like to see me naked?"
   "Very much."
   "For a shilling?"
   "All right."
   She threw off her chemise with apparent relief, sweat standing out all over her. She sponged tenderly at her dripping armpits. "I can stand in pose, not moving at all, for full five minutes at a time," she said, slurring a bit. She had drunk nearly all of the champagne. "Have you a watch? Ten shilling an' I'll do it! Do you bet I can?"
   "I'm sure you can do it," Mallory said.
   Hetty bent gracefully, grasped her left ankle, and lifted it straight above her head, her leg stiff at the knee. She began spinning about, slowly, shuffling on heel and toe. "You like it?"
   "Wonderful," Mallory said, stunned.
   "Look, I can put both my hands quite flat on the floor," she said, bending at the waist. "Most London girls are so tight-laced they'd break in bloody half if they tried this." Then she went into a split on the floor, and gazed up at him, drunken and triumphant.
   "I never lived till I came to London," Mallory said.
   "Take off your shirt, then, and let's fuck starkers." Her long-jawed face was flushed, her grey eyes bulging. Mallory took his shirt off. She advanced on him with the enamel basin. "Fucking naked's fine in beastly hot weather like this. I always like to fuck naked. My, you have fine firm flesh on you, an' I do like a man with some hairiness. Let's have a look at your prick." She grabbed it forthrightly, skinned it back and examined it, then dabbled it in the basin. "You're not sick, dear—there's nothing wrong with you, it's quite a fine one. Why not fuck me without that nasty sausage-skin and save yourself nine pence?"
   "Nine pence isn't much," Mallory said. He put on another French-letter, then mounted her. He rutted nakedly, sweating like a blacksmith. The sweat was pouring off the both of them, with a reek of bad champagne, yet the sticky skin of her great teats felt quite cool against his naked chest. She galloped along under him, her eyes shut and her tongue showing at the corner of her crooked mouth, and put the backs of her heels sharply into his buttocks. At last he spent, groaning between clenched teeth at the burning rush through his prick. There was a roaring in his ears.
   "You're a bawdy devil, my Ned, and sure." Her neck and shoulders were red with prickly heat.
   "So are you," Mallory gasped.
   "I am, dear, and I like to do it with a man who knows how to treat a girl. Let's have some nice bottled ale, then. More cooling than that champagne."
   "All right. Fine."
   "And some papirosi. Do you like papirosi?"
   "What are those, exactly?"
   "Turkish cigarettoes, from the Crimea. They're all the rage since the war."
   "You smoke tobacco?" Mallory asked, surprised.
   "I learnt it from Gabrielle," she said, climbing from bed. "Gabrielle, she lived here after Sybil left. She was a Frenchie from Marseilles. But she sailed to French Mexico last month, with one of her embassy soldiers. She married him, lucky thing." Hetty wrapped herself in a robe-de-nuit of yellow silk. In the lantern-light it looked a fine garment, despite its frayed hems. "Sweet she was, Gabrielle. Donnez-moi four shillings, dear. No, five."
   "Can you change a pound-note?" Mallory said. Hetty gave him fifteen shillings, with a sour look, and vanished into the parlor.
   She was absent a long time—chatting with Mrs. Landlord, it seemed. Mallory lay at ease in her bed, listening to strange distant echoes of the great metropolis: bells ringing, distant high-pitched cries, bangs that might be gunshots. He was as drunk as a Lordship, it seemed, and Lordship felt mortal fine. The weight would be back on his heart soon enough, and no doubt redoubled for the sin, but for the moment fleshly pleasure had lifted him, and he felt quite free and feather-light.
   Hetty returned with a wire crate of bottles in one hand, puffing a lit cigarette with the other.
   "You took a long time," he said.
   She shrugged. "A bit of trouble downstairs. Some ruffians." She set the crate down, pulled a bottle out, and flung it to him. "Feel how cool—they keep these in the cellar. Nice, ain't it?"
   Mallory unloosed the complex stopper of porcelain, cork, and levered wire, and thirstily drank. NEWCASTLE ALE, the bottle said, in molded letters of raised glass. A modern brewery where they made the liquor in great steel vats near the size of a ship-of-the-line. Fine machine-made brew, free of any cheater's taint of jalap or indian-berry.
   Hetty got into the bed in her robe, drained the last of a bottle, and opened another. "Take the robe off," Mallory said.
   "You didn't give me my shilling."
   "Here, then."
   She slipped the coin under the mattress, and smiled. "You're a rum'un, Neddie. I like you." She took the robe off, flung it at the iron coat-hook on the back of the door, missed. "I'm in a rare mood tonight. Let's have another go."
   "In a bit," Mallory said, and yawned. His lids felt heavy suddenly, grainy. The back of his head throbbed, where Velasco had smacked him, it seemed an age ago. It seemed an age since he had done anything but drink and rut.
   Hetty gripped his limp prick and began to fondle it. "When did you last have a woman, Ned?"
   "Ah… two months, I think. Three."
   "And who was she?"
   "She was…" She had been a whore in Canada, but Mallory suddenly stopped. "Why do you ask?"
   "Tell me. I like to hear about it. I like to know what the fancy do."
   "I don't know anything about that. Nor do you, I imagine."
   Hetty released his prick and folded her arms. She leaned back against the headboard, then lit another papirosi, scraping her lucifer against a rough patch of plaster. She blew smoke through her oddly shaped nose—a disconcerting sight, for Mallory. "You don't think I know anything," she said. "I've heard such things as you don't imagine, I'll wager." "No doubt," Mallory said politely. He finished his ale.
   "Did you know that old Lady Byron flogs her husband naked? His prick won't stand till she beats him on the arse with a German riding-crop, and I'd that straight from a copper, who was sweet on me, who had it from an upstairs servant in the household!"
   "Oh?"
   "That Byron family is dead bawdy and wicked to the core. He's too old now, but in his younger days he'd fuck a sheep, Lord Byron would. He'd fuck a bush if he thought a sheep was in it! His wife's no better. She doesn't fuck other men, but she's of the flogging sisterhood."
   "Remarkable, " Mallory said. "What about their daughter, then?"
   Hetty said nothing for a moment. He was surprised at the sudden gravity of her expression. "She's dead flash, Ada is. She's the greatest whore in all of London."
   "Why do you say that?"
   "Because she fucks whoever she pleases, and none dare make a peep about what she does. She's had half the House of Lords, and they all tag at her skirts like little boys. And call themselves her favorites and her paladins, and if any man breaks troth and dares breathe a word against her, then the others see to it that he comes to a very bad end. They all ring round her, and protect her, and worship her like Romish priests do their Madonna."
   Mallory grunted. It was whore's talk, not a proper thing to say. He knew that Lady Ada had her gallants, but the thought that she let men have her, that there was shoving and spending, prick and cunt in the mathematical bed of the Queen of Engines… Best not to think about it. His head had a whiskey-spin, somehow.
   "Your expertise is impressive, Hetty," Mallory muttered. "You certainly command the data of your trade… "
   Hetty, who had been guzzling at another bottle of ale, laughed explosively. Foam splattered her chest. "Oh, Christ," she said, coughing, and smearing at her breasts. "Lor', Neddie, how you do talk. Look what you made me do."
   "Sorry," Mallory said.
   She gave him a fleering grin and picked her smoldering cigarette from the edge of the bureau. "Get the rag and give 'em a good wash," she suggested. "I'll bet you'd like that, eh?"
   Without a word, Mallory stooped to his work. He fetched the basin, and sopped the hand-towel, scrubbing the wet terry carefully over her breasts and the fat, navel-dimpled white rise of her belly. Hetty watched with hooded eyes, puffing at her cigarette and flicking ashes on the floor, as if her flesh belonged to someone else. After a while, she silently gripped his prick, working it back and forth encouragingly as he wiped at her legs.
   Mallory put on another sheath, with some clumsy fumbling, almost losing his erection as he did so. To his relief, he managed to enter her, where he soon regained stiffness in her welcoming flesh, and thumped hard at her, tired and drunk, with an ache in his arms and his wrists and his back, and a strange painful tingling at the root of his prick. The glans felt quite sore, almost painfully tender within its sheep-gut armor, and to spend seemed as hard and tricky as pulling a rusty nail. The bed-springs creaked like a field of metal crickets. Halfway through, Mallory felt as if he had run for miles, and Hetty, whose dead cigarette had burnt the bureau, seemed entranced, or perhaps only stunned, or drunk. For a moment he wondered if he should simply stop, quit, tell her somehow that it simply wasn't working, but he could not even begin to find the words that would satisfactorily explain this situation, so he sawed on. His mind wandered, to another woman, a cousin of his, a red-haired girl whom he had seen being shagged behind a Sussex hedgerow, when he had been up a tree as a boy, hunting cuckoo's eggs. The red-haired cousin had married the man, and was forty years old now with grown children, a round little proper woman in a round little proper bonnet, but Mallory never met her without remembering the tortured look of pleasure on her freckled face. He clutched that secret image now like a galley-slave to his oar, and fought his way stubbornly toward a climax. Finally, there was that melting, cresting feeling in his loins that told him that he would, in fact, spend soon, that nothing would hold him back, and he shoved on with a new desperation, panting very hard, and the agonized rush of spending came up his aching spine like a rocket, a surge of shocking pleasure in his arms, in his legs, even in the naked soles of his cramping feet, and he cried out, a loud ecstatic bestial groan that surprised him.
   "Lordy," Hetty commented.
   Mallory collapsed off of her and lay blowing like a beached cetacean in the foetid air. His muscles felt like rubber, and he'd half-sweated the whiskey off with the sheer work of it. He felt utterly wonderful. He felt quite willing to die. If the tout had arrived and shot him on the spot he would somehow have welcomed it, welcomed the opportunity never to come back from that plateau of sensibility, the opportunity never to be Edward Mallory again, but only a splendid creature drowned in cunt and tea-rose.
   But after a moment the feeling was gone and he was Mallory again. Too stupefied for any refinements of guilt or regret. Mallory nevertheless felt ready to leave. Some unspoken crisis had passed, and the episode was finished. He was simply too tired to move just yet, but he knew that he was about to. The whore's bedroom no longer felt like any kind of haven to him. The walls seemed unreal, mere mathematical abstractions, boundaries that could no longer restrain his momentum.
   "Let's sleep a bit," Hetty said, her words blurred with drink and exhaustion.
   "All right." He sensibly set the box of lucifers within convenient reach, turned out the lantern, and lay in the hot London dark like a suspended Platonic soul. He rested, eyes open, a flea feasting with leisurely precision on his ankles. He did not sleep, exactly, but rested for some indefinite time. When his mind began to run in circles, he lit and smoked one of Hetty's cigarettoes, a pleasant ritual, though without much point as far as the proper use of tobacco went. Later he left the bed and pissed in the pot-de-chambre, by feel. Ale had spilled on the floor there, or perhaps it was something else. He would have liked to wipe his feet, but there seemed little point.
   He waited for something akin to dawn to show at Hetty's bare and grimy casement, which gazed out gloomily at a nearby wall. At length there came a feeble glow, not much at all like honest daylight. He had sobered now, and lay there parched, his head feeling stuffed with gun-cotton. Not at all bad, really, if he didn't move it suddenly, but full of grim premonitory throbs.
   He lit the bedside candle, found his shirt. Hetty woke with a groan, and stared at him, her hair snarled and sweaty, her eyes bulging with a look that almost frightened him—ellynge, they would have called it in Sussex—fey. "You're not going," she said.
   "Yes."
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   "Why? It's so dark, still."
   "I prefer an early start." He paused. "An old camp habit."
   Hetty snorted. "Get back in bed, my brave soldier, don't be silly. Stay a bit. We'll wash and have breakfast. You can get that, can't you? A nice big breakfast?"
   "I'd rather not. It's late, I must go, I have business."
   "How late?" she yawned. "Not even dawn yet."
   "It's late. I'm certain of it."
   "What does Big Ben say?"
   "I haven't heard Ben all night," Mallory said, the recognition surprising him. "Government have shut it down, I suppose."
   This bit of speculation seemed to vaguely alarm Hetty. "French breakfast, then," she suggested, "sent up from downstairs. Pastry, pot o' coffee. It's cheap."
   He shook his head.
   Hetty paused, narrowed her eyes. The refusal seemed to have startled her. She sat up, the bed creaking, and tugged at her disordered hair. "Don't go out, the weather's dreadful. If you can't sleep, dear, then let's fuck."
   "I don't think I can."
   "I know you like me, Neddie." She raised the sweat-dampened sheet. "Come and feel me all over, that will make it stand." She lay there waiting, with the sheet up.
   Mallory, unwilling to disappoint, came toward her, patted her lovely haunches, and groped about the luscious smoothness of her breasts. Her flesh delighted his touch, but his prick, though it stirred, did not stand. "I really must go," he said.
   "It will stand again if you wait a bit."
   "I can't stay anymore."
   "I would not do this if you were not such a nice man," Hetty said slowly, "but I can make it stand right now if you like; connaissez-vous la belle gamahuche?"
   "What's that, then?"
   "Well," she said, "if you'd been with Gabrielle instead of me, you'd have had it by now; she always did it with her men, and said they were mad for it; it's what they call gamahuching, the French pleasure."
   "I'm not sure I understand."
   "Prick-sucking."
   "Oh. That." He had heard the term, though only as the foulest kind of abusive curse, and was startled to find himself in a situation where it might be performed as a physical act. He tugged at his beard. "Ah… how much would that cost?"
   "I wouldn't do it for any price, for some," she assured him, "but I do like you, Ned, and for you I'd do it."
   "How much?"
   She blinked. "Ten shillings?"
   Half-a-pound. "I don't think so," he said.
   "Well, all right, five shillings, if you don't finish there. But you have to promise that, and I mean it."
   The implications of this proposal gave him an exquisite thrill of disgust. "No, I don't care for that." He began to dress.
   "You'll come again then? When will you see me?"
   "Soon."
   She sighed, knowing he was lying. "Go then, if you must. But listen, Neddie, I do know you like me. And I don't remember your proper name exactly, but I know I've seen your portrait in the papers. You're a famous savant, and you have a deal of tin. I'm right about that, aren't I?"
   Mallory said nothing.
   She hurried on. "A fellow like you can get in bad trouble with the wrong sort of London girl. But you're safe as houses with Hetty Edwardes, for I only go with gentlemen, and I'm very discreet."
   "I'm sure that you are," Mallory said, dressing hastily.
   "I dance Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Pantascopic Theatre, down Haymarket. Will you come and see me?"
   "If I'm in London."
   He left her then, and felt his way out of the place. On his hasty way to the stairs he bloodily scraped his shin on the pedal of someone's chained bicycle.

   The sky above the Hart was like nothing Mallory had ever seen, yet he knew it. He had seen such a sky with his mind's-eye, a lowering dome abrim with explosive filth, awash with obliterating dust—a sky that was the very harbinger of Catastrophe.
   By the twilight blur of the fully risen sun he reckoned it near eight o'clock. Dawn had come, yet brought no day. The Land Leviathans had seen this very sky, he knew, after the earth-shaking shock of the Great Comet. For the scaly herds, ceaselessly progressing through the teeming jungles, driven always by a mighty hunger in their great fermenting bellies, this had been the sky of Armageddon. Storms of Cataclysm lashed the Cretaceous earth, vast fires raged, and cometary grit sifted through the roiling atmosphere, to blight and kill the wilting foliage, till the mighty Dinosauria, adapted to a world now shattered, fell in massed extinction, and the leaping machineries of Evolution were loosed in chaos, to re-populate the stricken Earth with strange new orders of being.
   He scuffed down Flower-and-Dean Street, awestruck, coughing. He could see little more than thirty feet ahead, for the alley roiled with a low-lying yellow fog that blurred his eyes with its clinging acid tang.
   More by luck than design, he emerged on Commercial Street, ordinarily a thriving Whitechapel avenue. Deserted now, its smooth tarmac was spread with fountained shards of shop-front glass.
   He walked a block, then another. There was scarcely a window intact. Cobbles, grubbed up from side-streets, had been flung right and left like a shower of meteors. A seeming whirlwind had descended on a nearby grocery, leaving the street ankle-deep in dirty snow-drifts of flour and sugar. Mallory picked his way through battered cabbages, squashed greengages, crushed jars of syrupped peaches, and the booted footballs of whole smoked hams. Scatterings of damp flour showed a stampede of men's brogues, the small bare feet of street-urchins, the dainty trace of women's shoes, and the sweep of their skirt-hems.
   Four mist-shrouded figures, three men and a woman, all dressed respectably, all carefully masked in thick cloth, came shuffling into view. Noticing him, they pointedly crossed the street. They moved slowly, unhurriedly, talking together in low tones.
   Mallory moved on, splintered glass crunching under his shoe-heels. Meyer's Gent's Furnishings, Peterson's Haberdashery, LaGrange's Parisian Pneumatique Launderette, all presented disintegrated store-fronts and doors torn off their hinges. Their fronts had been thoroughly pelted with stones, with bricks, with raw eggs.
   Now a more cohesive group appeared. Men and young boys, some rolling heaped barrows, though they were clearly not costers. In their masks, they seemed tired, bemused, somber, as though attending a funeral. In their aimless progress they slowed before a sacked cobbler's, picking over the scattered shoes with the limp enthusiasm of scavengers.
   Mallory realized that he had been a fool. While he had wallowed in mindless dissipation, London had become a locus of anarchy. He should be home in peaceful Sussex now, with the family. He should be readying for little Madeline's wedding, in clean country air, with his brothers and sisters at hand, with decent home-cooked food and decent homely drink. A sudden agony of homesickness struck him, and he wondered what chaotic amalgam of lust and ambition and circumstance had marooned him in this dreadful, vicious place. He wondered what the family were doing at that very moment. What was the time, exactly?
   With a jolt, Mallory remembered Madeline's clock. His sister's wedding-gift was sitting in its brass-hasped carry-case in the safety-box of the Palace of Paleontology. The lovely fancy clock for dear Madeline, now grotesquely out of his reach. The Palace was seven miles from Whitechapel. Seven miles of roiling chaos.
   There must be some way back, some way to cross that distance, surely. Mallory wondered if any of the city's trains were running, or the omnibuses. Perhaps a hansom? Horses would choke in this foul mist. He was down to shank's mare. Likely any effort to cross London was foolish, and likely it would be wisest to cower in some quiet cellar like a rat, hoping for Catastrophe to pass him over. And yet Mallory found his shoulders squaring, his legs tramping forward of their own accord. Even the throbbing in his parched head began to pass as his wits focused on a goal. Back to the Palace. Back to his life.
   "Hullo! Say there! Sir!" The voice echoed over Mallory's head like the cry of a bad conscience. He glanced up, startled.
   From a third-floor window of Jackson Bros., Furriers & Hatters, protruded the black barrel of a rifle. Behind it, Mallory made out the balding head of a spectacled shopping-clerk, leaning from his open window now to reveal a striped shirt and scarlet braces.
   "May I be of service?" Mallory called, the phrase emerging out of reflex.
   "Thank you, sir!" the clerk cried, his voice cracking. "Sir, could you, please, have a look at our door there—just to the side, below the steps? I believe—there may be someone hurt!"
   Mallory waved one hand in reply, walked to the shop's entrance. Its double-doors were intact but badly battered, dripping splattered eggs. A young man in a sailor's striped blouse and bell-bottomed trousers lay sprawled there, facedown, a pry-bar of forged iron near his hand.
   Mallory seized the shoulder of the sailor's coarse blouse and turned him over. A bullet had taken him through the throat. He was quite dead, and his nose had been mashed to one side by the pavement, giving his bloodless young face a bizarre cast, so that he seemed to have come from some nameless country of sea-going albinos.
   Mallory straightened. "You've shot him dead!" he shouted upward.
   The clerk, seeming rattled, began coughing loudly, and made no reply.
   Mallory spied the wooden butt of a pistol tucked in the dead sailor's intricately knotted sash; he tugged it out. A revolver of unfamiliar make, its massive cylinder curiously slotted and grooved. The long octagonal barrel, under-hung with a sort of piston, stank of black-powder. He glanced at the furrier's battered door. Clearly an entire mob had been at it, an armed mob, bent on the worst kind of mischief. The wretches must have scattered when the sailor had been shot.
   He stepped into the street, waving the pistol. "The rascal was armed!" he shouted. "You did well to—"
   A bullet from the clerk's rifle screamed off a cement stair-step, bleaching it white with impact and narrowly missing Mallory on the ricochet.
   "God blame ye, ye cack-handed fool!" Mallory bellowed. "Stop that this instant!"
   There was a moment's silence. "Sorry, sir!" the clerk cried.
   "What in hell do you think you're doing?"
   "I said I was sorry! You best throw away that gun, though, sir!"
   "The hell I will!" Mallory roared, slipping the pistol into the waistband of his trousers. He meant to demand that the clerk come down and decently cover the dead man, but he thought better of it as other windows rattled up on their casters, four more rifle barrels appearing in defense of Jackson Bros.
   Mallory backed up, showing empty hands and attempting to smile. When the fog had thickened around him, he turned and ran.
   Now he moved more cautiously, keeping to the center of the street. He discovered a trampled cambric shirt and cut its baggy sleeve loose with the small saw-tooth blade of his Sheffield knife. It made a serviceable mask.
   He examined the sailor's revolver, and plucked a blackened cartridge-case from the cylinder. It still held five shots. It was a clumsy thing, foreign, unevenly blued, though the mechanism looked to have been executed with a decent degree of accuracy. He made out BALLESTER-MOLINA, stamped faintly on the side of the octagonal barrel, but there were no other markings.
   Mallory emerged on Aldgate High Street, recalling it from his walk with Hetty from the London Bridge pier, though it looked, if anything, more eerie and horrid than it had in the middle of the night. The mob did not seem to have touched it as yet, in the inherent vagary of Chaos.
   A rhythmic clanging of alarm sounded from the fog behind him. He stepped aside to watch a fire-gurney steam past, its red-painted sides battered and dented. Some London mob had brutally attacked the firemen, attacked the trained men and machines that stood between the city and mass conflagration. This struck Mallory as the acme of perverse stupidity, yet somehow it failed to surprise him. Exhausted firemen clung to the gurney's running-boards, wearing bizarre rubber masks with gleaming eye-pieces and accordioned breathing-tubes. Mallory dearly wished for such a mask himself, for his eyes were misting so painfully now that he squinted like a pantomime pirate, but he tramped on.
   Aldgate became Fenchurch, then Lombard, then Poultry Street, and still he was miles from his goal, if the Palace of Paleontology could be said to be one. His head pounded and swam with the sullen lees of bad whiskey and worse air, and he seemed to be nearer the Thames now, for a damp and viscous taint arose that sickened him.
   On Cheapside, a city omnibus had been toppled on its side and set afire with its own boiler-coals. Every window in it had been shattered, and it had burnt to a blackened husk. Mallory hoped no one had died inside it. The smoking wreckage stank too fiercely for him to want to look more closely.
   There were people in the churchyard of St. Paul's. The air seemed somewhat clearer there, for the dome was visible, and a large crowd of men and boys had collected among the churchyard trees. Unaccountably, they seemed in the highest spirits. Mallory perceived to his astonishment that they were brazenly tossing dice on the very steps of Wren's masterpiece.
   A little farther on, and Cheapside itself was blocked by scattered crowds of eager and determined gamblers. Fairy-rings of rascals had sprouted left and right from the very pavement, men kneeling to guard their mounting stakes of coins and paper-money. Eager leaders in mischief, tough, squint-eyed cockneys who seemed to have leapt whole from the coagulated Stink of London, cried aloud, hoarsely, like patterers, as Mallory passed. "A shilling to open! Who'll shoot? Who will shoot, my lads?" From the scattered rings came cries of triumph at winning, angry groans muffled by masks.
   For each man boldly gambling, there were three who timidly watched. A carnival attraction, it seemed, a stinking and criminal carnival, but a London lark nonetheless. There were no police in sight, no authority, no decency. Mallory edged warily through the thin, excited crowd, a cautious hand on the butt of the sailor's pistol. In an alley, two masked men booted a third, then relieved him of his watch and wallet. A crowd of at least a dozen watched the sight with only mild interest.
   These Londoners were like a gas, thought Mallory, like a cloud of minute atomies. The bonds of society broken, they had simply flown apart, like the perfectly elastic gassy spheres in Boyle's Laws of Physics. Most of them looked respectable enough by their dress; they were merely reckless now, stripped by Chaos to a moral vacuity. Most of them, Mallory thought, had never seen any event remotely like this one. They had no proper standards left for judgment or comparison. They had become puppets of base impulse.
   Like the Cheyenne tribesmen of Wyoming, dancing in the devil's grip of drink, the goodmen of civilized London had surrendered themselves to primitive madness. And by the patent look of surprised bliss on their shining faces, Mallory perceived that they enjoyed it. They enjoyed it very greatly indeed. It was exaltation to them, a wicked freedom more perfect and desirable than any they had ever known.
   Along the edge of the crowd a line of gaudy handbills had been newly slapped-up across a formerly sacrosanct brick wall of Paternoster Row. They were adverts of the cheapest and most ubiquitous kind, the sort that pursued the eye all over London: PROFESSOR RENBOURNE'S MAGNETIC HEADACHE PILLS, BEARDSLEY'S SHREDDED CODFISH, MCKESSON & ROBBINS' TARTARLITHINE, ARNICA TOOTH SOAP… And some theatrical prints: MADAME SCAPIGLIONI at the Saville House in Leicester Square, a VAUXHALL PANMELODIUM SYMPHONY… Events, Mallory thought, that would surely never come off, and indeed the sheets had been posted with a careless haste that had badly wrinkled the paper. Fresh glue dripped from beneath the bills in rivulets of white ooze, a sight that perturbed Mallory in a way he could not define.
   But slapped amid these mundane bills, as if it belonged there by right, was a great three-sheet broadside, a thing the size of a horse-blanket. Engine-printed, rumpled in the hasty plastering. Indeed, its very ink seemed still damp.
   A mad thing.
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Pol Muškarac
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   Mallory stopped dead before it, stricken by its crude bizarrity. It had been done in three colors—scarlet, black, and an ugly greyish-pink that seemed a muddle of the two.
   A scarlet blindfolded woman—a Goddess of Justice?—in a blurry scarlet toga brandished a scarlet sword labeled LUDD over the pinkish-grey heads of two very crudely rendered figures, a man and a woman depicted in busts—a king and queen? Lord and Lady Byron perhaps? The scarlet goddess trampled the midsection of a large two-headed snake, or scaly dragon, its writhing body labeled MERIT-LORDSHIP. Behind the scarlet woman, the skyline of London was vigorously aflame in scarlet tongues of fire, while the sky all about the various demented figures was full of stylized scrolls of thick black cloud. Three men, clergymen or savants apparently, dangled from a gallows in the upper-right-hand corner, and in the upper-left a confused mass of ill-formed gesticulating figures waved flags and Jacobin pikes, advancing toward some unknown goal under the bearded star of a comet.
   And this was not the half of it. Mallory rubbed at his aching eyes. The vast rectangular sheet seethed with smaller images like a billiard-table littered with random pool-balls. Here a dwarfish wind-god blew out a cloud labeled PESTILENCE. There a cannon-shell, or bomb, exploded in stylized spiky fragments, small black misshapen imps being flung aside by the blast. A coffin heaped with flowers held a noose atop it. A nude woman crouched at the feet of a monster, a well-dressed man with the head of a reptile. A tiny praying man in epaulets stood on a gallows, while the hangman, a little fellow with a hood and his sleeves rolled up, gestured brusquely at the noose… More of the smudgy smoke-clouds, flung onto the image like mud, connected the whole business like the dough of a fruit-cake. And there was text, too, near the bottom. A title, in large smudgy Engine-type: "THE SEVEN CURSES OF THE WHORE OF BABYLONDON"!"
   Babylondon. Baby what? What "curses," and why "seven"? The sheet seemed flung together out of random chunks of Engine-imagery. Mallory knew that modern printers had special printers' punch-cards, clacked-up to print specific blocky pictures, much like the cheap woodcut-blocks on old murder-ballads. In the Engine-work of the catchpenny prints you might see the same hackneyed picture a hundred times. But here the colors were hideous, the images jammed hither and thither in apparent madness, and worst of all the broadsheet seemed to be attempting to express something, in however halting and convulsive a way, that was simply and truly unspeakable.
   "Be ye talkin' a' me?" demanded a man next to Mallory.
   Mallory jumped a bit, startled. "Nothing," he muttered.
   The man loomed nearer at Mallory's shoulder, a very tall, gaunt cockney, with lank, filthy yellow hair under a towering stovepipe hat. He was drunk, for his eyes were maddened and bright. His face was masked securely in polka-dot fabric. His dirty clothes were near-rags—save the shoes, which were stolen and spanking-new. The cockney reeked with days of unwashed sweat, the stink of dereliction, madness. He squinted hard at the broadsheet, then at Mallory again. "Friends of yours, squire?"
   "No," Mallory said.
   "Tell me what it means!" the cockney insisted. "I heard you a-talking over it. You do know, don't you?"
   The man's sharp voice trembled, and when he looked from the poster to Mallory again the bright accusing eyes above the mask seemed kindled with animal hate.
   "Get away from me!" Mallory shouted.
   "Blasphemin' Christ the Savior!" the tall man screeched, his voice rising, his gnarled hands kneading the air. "Christ's holy blood, what washed us free o' sin—"
   He reached for Mallory. Mallory knocked the grasping hand away.
   "Kill 'im!" an anonymous voice suggested eagerly. The gloating words charged the sullen air like a Leyden-jar. Suddenly, Mallory and his opponent were in the midst of a crowd—no longer random particles, but the focus of real trouble. The tall cockney, half-shoved perhaps, stumbled into Mallory. Mallory doubled him up with a punch to the breadbasket. Someone screamed then, a high hilarious bloodcurdling sound. A flung wad of mud missed Mallory's head and splattered against the picture. As if this were a signal, there was a sudden blinding melee of shrieks, thudding bodies, flung punches.
   Mallory, shoving, swearing, dancing on his trampled feet, yanked the revolver from his waistband, pointed it in the air, and squeezed the trigger.
   Nothing. An elbow caught him hard in the ribs.
   He cocked the hammer with his thumb, squeezed again. The report was shocking, deafening.
   In a split-second the melee was melting away from Mallory, men falling, billowing, scrambling away headlong on hands and knees in their utter beast-like eagerness to flee. Men were trampled before his eyes. Mallory stood for an instant, his jaw dropping in astonishment within his cambric mask, the gun still poised overhead.
   Then a bolt of good sense struck him. He retreated. He tried to jam the pistol back into his waistband as he ran, but saw with shocked alarm that the hammer was cocked again, the gun ready to fire at any touch of the trigger. He dangled the treacherous thing at arm's-length as he fled.
   At length he stopped, coughing bitterly. From behind him, wrapped in the roiling obscurity of fog, came scattered pistol-shots and bestial cries of rage, derision, glee.
   "Dear Christ," Mallory muttered, and peered at the mechanism. The devilish thing had cocked itself automatically, channeling part of the powder-blast into the piston beneath the barrel, which shunted the grooved cylinder back against a stationary ratchet, spinning the next round into place and kicking the hammer back. Mallory hooked both thumbs over the hammer and worked at the trigger with care, until he could close the mechanism. He slid the pistol back into his waistband.
   He had not outrun the line of pasted handbills. They still ranged before him, apparently inexhaustible in number, slapped-up one after another in a ragged line. He followed them, through a street now seemingly empty. From somewhere came a distant crash of glass and whoops of boyish laughter.
   SECRET KEYS made CHEAPLY, said a plastered bill. Handsome WATER-PROOFS for INDIA and the COLONIES. Apprentice CHYMISTS and DRUGGISTS Wanted.
   Ahead he heard the quiet clop of slow hooves, the squeak of an axle. Emerging from the mist, then, the bill-sticker's van, a tall, black wagon, its towering sides mounted with great shouting billboards. A masked fellow in a loose grey raincoat was shoving a plastered bill against a wall. The wall was protected by a tall iron fence some five feet distant from the brick, but this bothered the sticker-man not at all, for he had a specialized roller-device on a kind of long broom-handle.
   Mallory stepped nearer to watch. The bill-sticker did not look up, having reached a crucial moment of his work. The bill itself, which was tightly wrapped about a black rubber roller, was pressed and rolled, bottom-upward, against the wall; the sticker, at the same moment, deftly squeezing a hand-piston on the shaft of his device, which squirted out a gruelly mess of paste from twin spigots bracketed to the roller's ends. Another swipe downward to complete the pasting, and it was done.
   The van moved on. Mallory stepped closer and examined the bill, which extolled, and depicted in an Engine-cut, the beautifying effects of Colgate's Clear Complexion Soap.
   The sticker-man and his van moved on. Mallory followed it. The sticker-man noticed Mallory's attention, and it seemed to rattle him a bit, for he muttered something at the driver, and the van moved on a good ways.
   Mallory followed discreetly. The van stopped now at a corner of Fleet Street, where the hoardings bore, by old tradition, the great shouting bills of the city's newspapers. But a bill was boldly slapped across the face of the Morning Clarion, and then another, and another.
   More theatrical prints this time. DR. BENET of PARIS was to lecture on the "Therapeutic Value of Aquatic Sleep"; THE CHAUTAUQUA SOCIETY OF THE SUSQUEHANNA PHALANSTERY would present a symposium on "The Social Philosophy of the Late Dr. Coleridge", and a Scientific Lecture with Kinotropy would be presented by DR. EDWARD MALLORY…
   Mallory halted, grinning behind his mask. EDWARD MALLORY! He had to admit that the name looked very well in eighty-point Engine-Gothic. It was a great pity that the speech could not come off, but clearly Huxley, or likely one of his staff-men, had placed the order for bills with promptness, and there had been no cancellation.
   A shame, Mallory thought, gazing at the departing bill-van with a new proprietorial fondness. EDWARD MALLORY. He would have liked to keep the bill as a souvenir; and thought, indeed, of peeling it loose, but the gobbets of paste dissuaded him.
   He looked more closely, hoping to commit the text to memory. At a second glance the printing-job was not all it might have been, for the black lettering had, here and there, smudgy rims of scarlet, as if the printing-pins had been soaked in red ink and not properly cleaned.
   "The Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street, has the honor to present to the London Public, for two shows only, DR. EDWARD MALLORY. Dr. Mallory, F.R.S., F.R.G.S., will present the thrilling history of his discovery of the famous LAND LEVIATHAN in savage Wyoming; his theories of its milieu, habits, and sustenance; his encounters with the savage Cheyenne INDIANS; detailing with this the MELANCHOLY and HIDEOUS MURDER of his closest rival the late PROFESSOR RUDWICH; Secrets of Professional Gambling, specifically that of RATTING-DENS, to be imparted to those eager to know the TECHNIQUE OF ODDS-MAKING, to be followed by a most luscious DANCE OF THE 7 VEILS to be performed by the several Misses Mallory, giving a Frank Account of their Several Introductions to the ART of LOVE; only Gentlemen will be admitted; Price 2/6. Show to be accompanied by the advanced kinotropy of MR. KEETS."
   Mallory gritted his teeth and broke into a sprint. He ran ahead of the van, which was moving on at foot-pace, and seized the bridle of the mule, two-handed. The animal stopped with a snort and a stumble. Its filthy head was swaddled in a canvas mask adapted from a feed-bag.
   The coachman emitted a yelp from behind a smut-stained muffler. He leapt down from his wooden seat to land with a stagger, waving a hickory cudgel. "Hullo! Leave off!" he cried. "Bar that nonsense, Davey, and hook it sharp…" His voice trailed off as he took Mallory's measure, slapping the cudgel against his callused palm with an attempt at menace.
   The second bill-sticker rushed up from behind the van to join his friend, brandishing his long-handled rig like a pitchfork.
   "Hedge off, mister," the coachman suggested. "We ain't doin' you no harm."
   "You most certainly are!" Mallory bellowed. "Where did you rascals obtain those bills? Tell me at once!"
   The taller man defiantly shook the paste-smeared roller of his rig at Mallory's face. "London's wide-open today! You want to make a fight of where we dab our paper, then just you try us!"
   One of the large advert-boards on the side of the van swung open suddenly, on squealing brass hinges. A carriage-door, it seemed, for a small stout balding man hopped through it, from within the van. He wore a neat red shooting-coat, and checkered trousers tucked into patent-leather walking-boots. He was bare-headed, his round, red-cheeked face was not masked, and to Mallory's astonishment, he was smoking a large, vilely fuming pipe.
   "What's all this then?" he inquired mildly.
   "A ruffian, sir!" the coachman declared. "Some villain bully-rock sent by Turkey-Legs!"
   "What, all by hisself?" the stout man said, with a quizzical arch of his brows. "That don't seem right." He looked Mallory up and down. "You know who I am, son?"
   "No," Mallory said. "Who are you?"
   "I'm the gent they call the King of the Bill-Stickers, my boy! If you don't know that fact, you must be mighty green at this business!"
   "I'm not in your business. I, sir, am Dr. Edward Mallory!"
   The stout man folded his arms, and rocked a bit on his boot-heels. "So?"
   "You just pasted-up a bill that grossly libeled me!"
   "Oh," said the King. "So that's your bellyache, is it?" He grinned in evident relief. "Well, that's nothing to do with me, Dr. Edward Mallory. I just paste 'em; I don't print 'em. I ain't liable."
   "Well, you're not putting up any more of those damnable libel-sheets!" Mallory said. "I want all the rest of them, and I demand to know where you obtained them!"
   The King quieted his two bristling henchmen with a regal move of his hand. "I'm a very busy man, Dr. Mallory. If you'd care to step up in my van, and talk to me like a reasonable gentleman, then perhaps I'll listen, but I've no time for any bluster or threats." He fixed Mallory with a sharp squint of his little blue eyes.
   "Well," Mallory blurted, taken aback. Though he knew he was in the right, the King's quiet retort had taken the steam out of his indignation; he felt rather foolish of a sudden, and rather out of his element, somehow. "Surely," he muttered. "Very well."
   "Fair enough. Tom, Jemmy, let's back to work." The King clambered deftly into his van.
   Mallory, after a moment's hesitation, followed him, heaving himself up into the body of the oddly made carnage. There were no seats inside; the flooring from wall to wall was dimpled and buttoned with thick maroon cushioning, like a Turkish ottoman. Slanted pigeon-holes of varnished wood lined the walls, stuffed with tightly rolled bills. A large trapdoor in the ceiling had been flung open, admitting a gloomy light. It stank direly of paste and cheap, black, shag tobacco.
   The King sprawled at his ease, propping himself on a fat tufted pillow. The mule brayed under the driver's whip-crack, and the van lurched into sluggish squeaking motion. "Gin and water?" the King offered, opening a cabinet.
   "Plain water, if you please," Mallory said.
   "Straight water it is." The King poured from a pottery canteen into a tin mug. Mallory tugged his frayed mask down below his chin, and drank with an aching thirst.
   The King gave Mallory a second round, and then a third. "Perhaps a tasty squeeze o' lemon with that?" The King winked. "I do hope you know your limit."
   Mallory cleared his slimy throat. "Very decent of you." His face felt oddly naked without the mask, and this show of civility within the King's van, together with its chemical stink of glue, almost worse than the Thames, had quite dizzied him. "I regret it if I, er, seemed a bit sharp earlier."
   "Well, it's the lads, you know," said the King, with generous tact. "A cove must stand ready to handle his fists in the bill-sticking business. Just yesterday, my boys had to lay it on pretty brisk with old Turkey-Legs and his lads, over a matter of sticking-space within Trafalgar Square." The King sniffed in disdain.
   "I've had certain sharp troubles of my own during this emergency," Mallory said hoarsely. "But basically. I'm a reasonable man, sir. Very rational—not the sort who looks for trouble; you mustn't think that."
   The King nodded sagely. "I've never yet known Turkey-Legs to hire any scholar as a bully-rock. By your dress and manner I take you to be a savant, sir."
   "You have a sharp eye."
   "I like to think so," the King allowed. "So now that we have that matter clear, perhaps you'll informate me concerning this grievance you seem to hold."
   "Those bills you've pasted are forgeries," Mallory said. "And libelous. They're certainly not legal."
   "As I explained before, that's none of my affair," the King said. "Let me tell you a few facts of commerce, straight-out. For dabbing-up a hundred double-crown sheets, I expect to make one pound one shilling; which is to say tuppence and six-tenths of a penny per sheet; say three pence, rounded out. Now if you should care to purchase certain of my bills at that rate, I might be ready to talk business."
   "Where are they?" Mallory said.
   "If you'd care to have a look among the cubbyholes for the items in question I will oblige you."
   When the crew had stopped to paste more bills, Mallory began to sort through the stock. The bills were tightly wrapped in neat thick perforated scrolls, as dense and hefty as bludgeons.
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   The King passed a scroll through the trap-door to the driver. Then he peaceably tapped out the dottle of his meerschaum, refilled it from a twist of coarse paper, and lit it with a German tinder-box. He blew a cloud of foulness with every appearance of satisfaction.
   "Here they are," Mallory said. He peeled the outermost sheet from the roll and flapped it out within the van. "Have a look at this abomination, will you? It looks quite splendid at first, but the text is obscenely outrageous!"
   "Standard roll o' forty; that'll be six shillings even."
   "Read here," Mallory said, "where it as much as accuses me of murder!"
   The King, politely, turned his eyes upon the sheet. His lips moved as he puzzled painfully over the title. "Ma Lorry," he said at length. "One of your lorry-shows, is it?"
   "Mallory—that's my name!"
   "It's a demi-sheet theatrical, no illos," the King said. "Bit smudgy… oh yes, I remember these." He sighed smoke. "I might 'a known no good would come of taking this consignment. Mind you, the rascal paid in advance though."
   "Who? Whom?"
   "Down in Limehouse, in the West India Docks," the King said. "A deal of commotion in that locale, Dr. Mallory. Rascals slapping brand-new bills up all over every wall and hoarding in sight, since yesterday. My boys were inclined to make a bit of trouble over that encroachment, till Captain Swing—that's what he calls hisself—saw fit to engage our services."
   Mallory's armpits prickled with sweat. "Captain Swing, is it?"
   "Sporting-fellow of some kind, to judge by his dress," the King said cheerfully. "Short, red-headed, squinty—had a bump on his head, just here. Crazy as a bedbug, I should say. He was polite enough though, not proposing to make any trouble for the bill-sticking trade once customary matters was explained to him. And he had him a sight of ready money."
   "I know that man!" Mallory said, his voice trembling. "He's a violent Luddite conspirator. He may be the most dangerous man in England!"
   "You don't say," the King grunted.
   "He's a dire threat to public safety!"
   "Fellow didn't look like much," the King said. "Funny little duck, wore spectacles and talked to hisself."
   "The man is an enemy of the realm—a dark-lanternist of the most sinister description!"
   "I don't much hold with politics, meself," said the King, leaning back quite at his ease. "The Bill-Sticking Regulatory Act—now that's politics for you, a doltish business! That blasted Act is mighty stiff, regarding where bills may be posted. Let me tell you, Dr. Mallory, I personally know the Member that got that Act passed in Parliament, for I was hired for his election campaign. He didn't mind where his bills went. It was all quite right-enough, so long as they was his bills!"
   "My God!" Mallory broke in. "The thought of that evil man, loose in London—with money, from God only knows what source—fomenting riot and rebellion during a public emergency—and in control of an Engine-driven press! It's nightmarish! Horrible!"
   "Pray don't fash yourself. Dr. Mallory," the King chided gently. "My dear old father, rest his soul, used to tell me: 'When all about you are losing their heads, son, just remember: there are still twenty shillings in a pound.' "
   "That's as may be," Mallory said, "but—"
   "My dear dad stuck bills in the Time of Troubles! Back in the thirties, when the cavalry charged on the working-people, and old Hooky-Nose Wellington got hisself blown to flinders. Hard times indeed, sir, much harder than soft modern days with this trifling Stink! Call this an emergency? Why, I call it opportunity, and have done with it."
   "You don't seem to grasp the urgency of the crisis," Mallory said.
   "The Time of Troubles—now that was when they printed the first four-sheet double-crowns! The Tory Government used to pay my old dad—my dad was Beadle and Bill-Sticker to the parish of St. Andrews, Holborn—to black-wash Radical bills. He had to hire women to do it, there was so much call for the job. He'd black-wash Rad bills by day, and stick up new ones by night! There's a deal of fine opportunity in your times of revolution."
   Mallory sighed.
   "My dad invented the device we call the Patent Extendable Dabbing-Joint—to which I myself have made a number of mechanical improvements. It serves to stick bills to the under-sides of bridges, for the water-trade. We are an entrepreneurial line in my family, sir. Not easily put out of countenance."
   "A lot of good all that will do you when London's reduced to ashes," Mallory said. "Why, you're helping the scoundrel in his anarchistic plottings!"
   "I should say you have that straight-backwards. Dr. Mallory," the King said, with an odd little chuckle. "Last I saw, the fellow was paying his money into my pockets, and not vice-versa. Now that I think on it, he's consigned a number of bills to my safe-keeping—right along the top row, here." The King stood, yanked the documents down, cast them onto his padded floor. "You see, sir, it don't really matter a hang what nonsense is blithered and babbled on these bills! The secret truth is, that bills is endless by their very nature, regular as the tides in the Thames, or the smoke of London. London's true sons call London 'The Smoke,' you know. She's an eternal city, like your Jerusalem, or Rome, or, some would say, Satan's Pandemonium! You don't see the King of the Bill-Stickers worrying for smoky London, do you? Not a bit of it!"
   "But the people have fled!"
   "A passing foolishness. They'll all be back," said the King, with sublime confidence. "Why, they have no place else to go. This is the center of the world, sir."
   Mallory fell silent.
   "So, sir," proclaimed the King, "if you was to take my advice, you'd spend six shillings on that roll of bills you're clutching. Why, for one pound even, I'll toss in these other misprinted bills of our friend Captain Swing's. Twenty simple shillings, sir, and you may leave these streets, and rest at home in peace and quiet."
   "Some of these bills have already been posted," Mallory said.
   "I could have the lads black-wash 'em—or paste 'em over, anyhow," the King mused. "If you was willing to make it worth their while, of course."
   "Would that put an end to the matter?" said Mallory, reaching for his pocket-book. "I doubt it."
   "A better end than any you can make with that pistol I see peeping from your trouser-band," said the King. "That is an item which cannot do a gentleman and scholar any credit."
   Mallory said nothing.
   "Heed my counsel, Dr. Mallory, and put that gun away before you do yourself a mischief. I do believe you might have hurt one of my lads, if I hadn't spied that gun through my peep-hole, and stepped out to set things right. Go home, sir, and cool your head."
   "Why aren't you at home, if you truly mean that advice?" Mallory said.
   "Why, this is my home, sir," said the King. He tucked Mallory's money into his shooting-jacket. "On pleasant days my old woman and I take our tea in here, and talk about old times… and walls, and embankments, and hoardings… "
   "I have no home in London; and in any case business calls me to Kensington," Mallory said.
   "That's a distance. Dr. Mallory."
   "Yes, it is," Mallory said, with a tug at his beard. "But it strikes me that there are any number of museums and savants' palaces in Kensington, which have never been touched by advert-paper."
   "Really," mused the King. "Do tell."

   Mallory bade the King farewell a good mile from the Palace of Paleontology; he was unable to bear the fumes of glue any longer, and the van's lurching had made him badly seasick. He staggered off with the heavy scrolls of libelous and anarchic bills bundled awkwardly in his sweating grip. Behind him, Jemmy and Tom set to eager glue-slapping on the virgin bricks of the Palace of Political Economy.
   Mallory propped the rolled bills against an ornate lamppost, and re-knotted his cloth mask over nose and mouth. His head spun evilly. Perhaps, he thought, that sticking-paste had had a bit of arsenic in it, or the ink some potent nauseous coal-derivative, for he felt poisoned, and weak in his very marrow. When he juggled up the bills again, their paper wrinkled in his sweating hands like the peeling skin of a drowned man.
   He had, it seemed, frustrated a lashing bite of the tout's hydra-headed devilment. But this minor triumph seemed wretchedly small, when matched against the villain's seemingly endless reservoirs of wicked ingenuity. Mallory was stumbling in darkness—while torn at will by invisible fangs…
   And yet Mallory had discovered a crucial piece of evidence: the tout was gone to earth in the West India Docks! To be so close to a chance to grapple with the scoundrel, and yet so far—it was enough to madden a man.
   Mallory stumbled badly on a slick lump of horse-dung, then swung the scrolls up onto his right shoulder, in an unstable heap. It was a useless fantasy to imagine confronting the tout—alone, unaided, while the man was miles away, back across the chaos of London. Mallory had almost reached the Palace now, and it had taken well-nigh all he had to manage the trick of it.
   He forced himself to concentrate on the matters at hand. He would haul the wretched bills to the Palace safety-box. They might prove useful as evidence someday, and they could take the place of Madeline's wedding-clock. He would take up the clock, he would find a way to flee this cursed London, and he would re-join his family, as he should have done. In green Sussex, in the bosom of the good auld clawney, there would be quiet, and sense, and safety. The gears of his life would begin to mesh once more in order.
   Mallory lost his grip on the rolls of paper and they cascaded violently to the tarmac, one of them hitting him a smart blow across the shins as it bounded free. He gathered them up, groaning, and tried the other shoulder.
   In the rancid mists down Knightsbridge a procession of some kind was moving steadily across the road. Ghost-like, blurred by distance and the Stink, they appeared to be military gurneys, the squat treaded monsters of the Crimean War. Fog muffled a heavy chugging and the faint repeated clank of jointed iron. One after another they passed, while Mallory peered forward, standing quite still and gripping his burden. Each gurney hauled a linked articulated caisson. These wains appeared to be canvas-shrouded cannon, with men, foot-soldiers in canvas-colored drab, clustered atop the cannons like barnacles, with a sea-urchin bristle of bayoneted rifles. At least a dozen war-gurneys, possible a score. Mallory rubbed his aching eyes in puzzled disbelief.
   At Brompton Concourse he saw a trio of masked and batted figures scamper off with light-foot tread from a broken doorway; but no one offered trouble to him.
   Some civil authority had erected saw-horses at the gate of the Palace of Paleontology. But the barricades were not manned; it was a simple matter to slip past them and up the fog-slick stone stairs to the main entrance. The Palace's great double-doors were thickly curtained in a protective shroud of wet canvas, hung from the brick archway down to the very flagstones. The thick damp fabric smelled sharply of chloride of lime. Behind the canvas, the Palace doors were slightly ajar. Mallory eased his way inside.
   Servants were draping the furniture of lobby and drawing-room with thin white sheets of muslin. Others, a peculiar crowd of them, swept, and mopped, and dabbled earnestly at the cornices with long jointed feather-dusters. London women, and a large number of children of all ages, hustled about wearing borrowed Palace cleaning-aprons, looking anxious but vaguely exalted.
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  Mallory realized at length that these strangers must be the families of the Palace staff, come to seek shelter and security within the grandest public building known to them. And someone—Kelly the major-domo, presumably, with help from whatever savants still remained on the premises—had pluckily organized the refugees.
   Mallory strode toward the lobby-desk, lugging his paper burden. These were sturdy working-class folk, he realized. Their stations might be humble, but they were Britons through and through. They were not daunted; they had rallied in instinctive defense of their scientific institutions and the civil values of law and property. He realized, with a heart-lifting wash of patriotic relief, that the lurching madness of Chaos had reached its limit. Within the faltering maelstrom, a nucleation of spontaneous order had arisen! Now, like a cloudy muck resolving into crystals, everything would change.
   Mallory flung his hated burden behind the deserted counter of the lobby-desk. In one corner, a telegraph was clacking fitfully, new punch-tape spooling by fits and starts upon the floor. Mallory observed this small but significant miracle, and sighed, like a diver whose head has broken water.
   The Palace air was sharp with disinfectant, but blissfully breathable. Mallory stripped the filthy mask from his face and stuffed it in his pocket. Somewhere in this blessed shelter, he thought, there was food to be had. Perhaps a wash-basin, and soap, and sulphurated powder for the fleas that had been creeping about his waistband since morning. Eggs. Ham. Restorative wine. Postage-stamps, laundresses, shoe-blacking—the whole miraculous concatenated network of Civilization.
   A stranger came marching toward Mallory across the lobby floor: a British soldier, an Artillery subaltern, in elegant dress-gear. He wore a double-breasted blue coatee, bright with chevrons, brass buttons, and gold-braided epaulets. His sleek trousers had a red military stripe. He wore a round, gold-laced forage-cap, and a buttoned pistol-holster at his neat white waistbelt. With his shoulders square, spine straight, and head high, this handsome young man approached with a stern look of purpose. Mallory straightened quickly, taken aback, even vaguely shamed, to compare his rumpled, sweat-stained civilian garb to this crisp military paragon.
   Then, with a leap of surprise, happy recognition dawned. "Brian!" Mallory shouted. "Brian, boy!"
   The soldier quickened his pace. "Ned—why it is you, ain't it!" said Mallory's brother, a tender smile parting his new Crimean beard. He seized Mallory's hand in both his own, and shook it heartily, with a solid strength.
   Mallory noted with surprise and pleasure that military discipline and scientific diet had put inches and pounds on the lad. Brian Mallory, the family's sixth-born child, had often seemed a bit quiet and timid, but now Mallory's little brother stood a good six-four in his military boots, and had the look in his creased blue eyes of a man who had seen the world.
   "We've been a-waiting for you, Ned," Brian told him. His bold voice had slipped a bit, by some old habit, into the remembered tone of their childhood. For Mallory, it was a plaintive echo from deep memory: the demands of a crowd of little children upon their eldest brother. Somehow, this familiar call, far from tiring or burdening Mallory, rallied him immediately into a mental second-wind. Confusion vanished like a mist and he felt stronger, more capable; the very presence of young Brian had recalled him to himself. "Damme but it's good to see you!" Mallory blurted.
   "It's good you're back at last," Brian said. "We heard tale of a fire in your room—and you vanished into London, none knew where! That put me and Tom in a very mizmaze!"
   "Tom is here too, eh?"
   "We both come into London in Tom's little gurney, " Brian told him. His face fell. "With dire news, Ned, and no ways to tell it, save to your face."
   "What is it?" Mallory said, bracing himself. "Is it… is it Dad?"
   "No, Ned. Dad's all right; or right as he ever is, these days. It is poor Madeline!"
   Mallory groaned. "Not the bride-to-be. What is it now?"
   "Well, it's to do with my mate, Jerry Rawlings," Brian muttered, squaring his epauletted shoulders with a look of embarrassed pain. "Jerry wanted to do right by our Madeline, Ned, for he always talked of her, and lived very clean for her sake; but he's received such a letter at home, Ned, such a foul and dreadful thing! It quite knocked the heart out of him!"
   "What letter, for God's sake?"
   "Well, it warn't signed, 'cept 'One Who Knows'—but the writer knew so much about us, the family I mean, all our littlest doings, and said that Madeline had… been unchaste. 'Cept in rougher words."
   Mallory felt a surge of hot fury rush to his face. "I understand," he said, in a quiet, choked voice. "Go on."
   "Well, their engagement is broken, as you might guess. Poor Maddy has the vapors like she's never had them before. She liked to do herself an injury, and does nothing now but sit alone in the kitchen and cry rivers."
   Mallory was silent, his mind grating over Brian's information.
   "I've been away a deal of time, in India, and Crimea," Brian said, in a low halting voice. "I don't know how matters stand, exactly. Tell me true—you don't think there could be aught to what that wicked gossip told to Jerry? Do you?"
   "What? Our own Madeline? My God, Brian, she's a Mallory girl!" Mallory slammed his fist on the counter. "No, it is slander; it's a foul deliberate attack on the honor of our family!"
   "How… why would anyone do such a thing to us, Ned?" asked Brian, with a strange look of plaintive fury.
   "I know why it was done—and I know the villain who did it."
   Brian's eyes went wide. "You do?"
   "Yes; he is the fellow who burnt my rooms. And I know where he is hiding, at this very moment!"
   Brian gazed at him in astonished silence.
   "I made an enemy of him, in a dark affair-of-state," Mallory said, measuring his words. "I'm a man of some influence now, Brian; and I've uncovered the kind of secret, silent plottings that a man like yourself, an honest soldier of the Crown, could scarcely credit!"
   Brian shook his head slowly. "I've seen pagan vileness done in India to make strong men sick," he said. "But to see it done in England is more than I can bear!" Brian tugged at his whiskers, a gesture Mallory found oddly familiar. "I knew it was right to come to you, Ned. You always seem to see straight through things, the way none else can. Say on, then! What shall we do about this horrid business? What can we do?"
   "That pistol in your holster—is it in working order?"
   Brian's eyes brightened. "Truth to tell, 'tisn't regulation! A war trophy, gotten off a dead Tzarist officer…" He began to unlatch his holster-flap.
   Mallory shook his head quickly, looking about the lobby. "You're not afraid to use your pistol, if you have to do so?"
   "Afraid?" Brian said. "If you warn't a civilian, Ned, I might take that question ill."
   Mallory stared at him.
   Brian met his eyes boldly. "It's for the family, ain't it? That's what we fought the Russkies for—for the sake of the folks at home."
   "Where is Thomas?"
   "He's eating in the—well, I'll show you."
   Brian led the way into the Palace saloon. The scholarly precincts were crowded with babbling, raucous diners, working-folk mostly, forking up potatoes off the Palace china as if famished. Young Tom Mallory, dressed rather flash in a short linen coat and checked trousers, sat at table with a companion, over the remains of fried fish and lemonade.
   The other man was Ebenezer Fraser.
   "Ned!" cried Tom. "I knew you'd come!" He rose, and seized another chair. "Sit down with us, sit down! Your friend Mr. Fraser here has been kind enough to buy us lunch."
   "And how are you. Dr. Mallory?" Fraser inquired glumly.
   "A bit fatigued," Mallory told him, sitting, "but nothing a bite of food and a huckle-buff wouldn't set to rights. How are you, Fraser? Quite recovered, I hope?" He lowered his voice. "And what line of clever nonsense have you been telling my poor brothers, pray?"
   Fraser said nothing.
   "Sergeant Fraser's a London policeman," Mallory said. "Of the dark-lantern variety."
   "Truly?" Tom blurted, alarmed.
   A waiter worked his way toward the table, one of the regular staff, looking harried and apologetic. "Dr. Mallory—the Palace larder's a bit low, sir. Simple fish-and-taters would be best, sir, if you don't mind it."
   "That will be fine. And if you could mix a huckle-buff—well, never mind. Bring me coffee. Strong and black."
   Fraser watched the waiter leave, with melancholy patience. "You must have had a lively night," Fraser remarked, when the man was out of ear-shot. Both Tom and Brian were watching Fraser with a new, half-resentful suspicion.
   "I have discovered that the tout—Captain Swing, that is—has gone to earth in the West India Docks," Mallory said. "He's attempting to incite a general insurrection!"
   Fraser's lips tightened.
   "He has an Engine printing-press, and a rabble of confederates. He's printing seditious documents by the scores and hundreds. I confiscated a few specimens this morning—obscene, libelous, Luddite filth!"
   "You've been industrious."
   Mallory snorted. "I'll shortly be a deal busier yet, Fraser. I mean to hunt the wretch down directly and put a sharp end to this!"
   Brian leaned forward. "It was this 'Captain Swing' who wrote that lying slander against our Maddy, then, was it?"
   "Yes."
   Tom sat up straight in his chair, with a flush of excitement. "West India Docks. Where's that, then?"
   "Down on the Limehouse Reach, clear across London," Fraser said.
   "That don't matter a hang," Tom said quickly. "I've my Zephyr!"
   Mallory was startled. "You brought the Brotherhood's racer?"
   Tom shook his head. "Not that old banger, Ned, but the latest model! She's a spanking-new little beauty, sitting in your Palace stables. Took us all the way from Sussex in a morning, and would have gone faster yet, if I hadn't had a coal-wain hitched to her." He laughed. "We can go wherever we like!"
   "Let's not lose our heads, gentlemen," Fraser warned.
   They fell unwillingly silent for a moment, as the waiter deftly set Mallory's food before him. The sight of fried plaice and sliced potatoes made Mallory's stomach knot with a famished pang. "We are free British subjects and may go as we please," Mallory said firmly, then seized his silverware and fell to at once.
   "I can only call that foolish," said Fraser. "Riotous mobs are roaming the streets, and the man you seek is as cunning as an adder."
   Mallory grunted derisively.
   Fraser was dour. "Dr. Mallory, it is my duty to see that you don't come to harm! We can't have you stirring up dangerous serpent's-nests in the vilest slums in London!"
   Mallory gulped hot coffee. "You know that he means to destroy me," he told Fraser, locking eyes with him. "If I don't finish him now, while I've the chance, he'll slowly peck me into pieces. There's not a dashed thing you can do that can protect me! This man is not like you and I, Fraser! He is beyond the pale! The stakes are life and death—it is him, or me! You know that is the truth."
   Fraser, struck by Mallory's argument, looked shaken. Tom and Brian, even more alarmed at this new revelation of the depth of their troubles, glanced at one another in confusion, then turned to glare angrily at Fraser.
   Fraser spoke reluctantly. "Let's not act hastily! Once the fog lifts, and law and order have returned—"
   "Captain Swing lives within a fog that never lifts," Mallory said.
   Brian broke in, with a swipe of his gilded sleeve. "I see no point in this, Mr. Fraser! You have deliberately deceived my brother Thomas and myself! I can put no credit in any of your counsel!"
   "Brian's right!" said Tom. He regarded Fraser with a mingled scorn and wonder. "This man claimed he was a friend of yours, Ned, and got me and Brian to talking free-and-easy about you! Now he's a-trying to order us about!" Tom shook his clenched fist, sinewy and work-hardened. "I mean to teach this Captain Swing a sharp lesson! If I need to start with you, Mr. Fraser, then I stand a-ready!"
   "Softly now, lads," Mallory told his brothers. Other diners nearby had begun to stare. Mallory deliberately wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Fortune favors us, Mr. Fraser," he said quietly. "I have acquired a pistol. And young Brian is also armed."
   "Oh, dear," said Fraser.
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  "I'm not afraid of Swing," Mallory told him. "Remember, I knocked him flat at the Derby. Face-to-face, he's nought but a yellow cur."
   "He is at the Docks, Mallory!" Fraser said. "D'ye think you're going to waltz and polka through a riot in the hardest part of London?"
   "We Mallory lads aren't fancy-jacks from any dancing academy," Mallory told the policeman. "D'ye think the London poor more frightful to face than Wyoming savages?"
   "Actually, yes," Fraser said slowly. "Considerably worse, I should judge."
   "Oh, for Heaven's sake, Fraser! Don't waste our time with this trifling! We must grapple once and for all with this slippery phantom, and a better chance will never come! In the name of sanity and justice, put an end to your useless, officious grizzling!"
   Fraser sighed. "And suppose, in this brave expedition, that you are cunningly trapped and murdered, like your colleague Rudwick? What then? How would I answer to my superiors?"
   But now Brian fixed Fraser with a soldier's steely eye. "Did you ever have a little sister, Mr. Fraser? Did you ever have to watch that girl's happiness shattered like a china cup, trampled by a monster? And with her broken heart, the honest heart of a Crimean hero, whose simple, manly intention was to make her his bride—"
   Fraser groaned aloud. "Enough!"
   Brian leaned back, looking somewhat crestfallen at the interruption.
   Fraser smoothed his dark lapels with both hands. "It seems the fated time for risks," he admitted, with a lopsided shrug, and a passing wince. "I haven't had a bit of luck since I met you. Dr. Mallory, and I daresay I'm due for a change of fortune." Suddenly, his eyes glittered. "Who's to say that we might not bag the scoundrel, eh? Arrest him! He's clever, but four brave men might catch the nasty wretch with his guard down, whilst he swaggers about in poor stricken London like some Jacobin prince." Fraser scowled, his lean face twisting with genuine anger. It was an unexpectedly fearsome sight.
   "Fortune favors the brave," Brian said.
   "And God looks after fools," muttered Fraser. He leaned forward intently, plucking his trouser-legs from his bony knees. "This is no light matter, gentlemen! No lark for amateurs. This is dire work! We shall be taking the law, and our lives, and our honor, into our own hands. If it is to be done at all, it must be done in the strictest and most permanent secrecy."
   Mallory, sensing victory, spoke up with an adroitness that surprised even himself. "My brothers and I respect your special expertise, Sergeant Fraser! If you will guide us toward justice, then we will gladly place ourselves at your command. You need never doubt our discretion or our resolve. The sacred honor of our own dear sister is at stake."
   Tom and Brian seemed taken aback at this sudden change of tack, for they still distrusted Fraser, but Mallory's somber pledge brooked no objection from them. They followed his lead.
   "You'll never see me peaching!" Tom declared. "Not to my grave!"
   "I should think the sworn word of a British soldier still accounts," Brian said.
   "Then we shall try the venture," Fraser said, with a wry look of fatalism.
   "I must get steam up in the Zephyr!" Tom said, rising from his chair. "Half-an-hour my little beauty takes, from a cold start."
   Mallory nodded. He would put every minute to good use.

   Outside the Palace, washed, combed, and intimately dusty with flea-powder. Mallory sought a lumpy purchase atop the Zephyr's wooden coal-wain. The chugging little gurney had barely room for two men within its line-streamed tin shell. Tom and Fraser had taken those seats. They were arguing now over a London street-map.
   Brian stamped out a rude nest within the wain's flabby canvas, stretched atop a diminishing heap of coal. "They take a deal of shoveling, your modern gurneys," Brian observed, with a stoic smile. He sat across from Mallory. "Tom does take-on about this precious machine of his; talked my ear off about Zephyrs, all the way from Lewes."
   The gurney and wain lurched into motion, the coal-wain's wooden-spoked rubbered wheels turning with a rhythmic creak. They rolled down Kensington Road with a startling celerity. Brian brushed a flaming smokestack spark from his dapper coat-sleeve.
   "You need a breathing-mask," Mallory said, offering his brother one of the makeshift masks the ladies had sewn within the Palace: a neatly stitched ribboned square of gingham, stuffed with cheap Confederate cotton.
   Brian sniffed at the rushing air. "Ain't so bad."
   Mallory knotted the ribbons of his own mask neatly behind his head. "Miasma will tell against your health, lad, in the long run."
   "This don't compare to the pong of an Army transport boat," said Brian. The absence of Fraser seemed to have relaxed him. There was something more of the Sussex lad about him, and less of the stern young subaltern. "Coaly fumes pouring out our engine-room," Brian reminisced, "and the lads tossing-up their rations from the mal-de-mer, right and left! We steamed through that new Frenchy canal in Suez, straight from Bombay. We lived in that bloody transport for weeks! Rotten Egyptian heat—straight through to hard Crimean winter! If the cholery, or the quartan fever, didn't carry me off from that, then I needn't worry over any little mist in London." Brian chuckled.
   "I often thought of you, in Canada," Mallory told his brother. "You, with a five-year enlistment—and a war on! But I knew you'd do the family proud, Brian. I knew you'd do your duty."
   "We Mallory lads are all over the world, Ned," said Brian, philosophically. His voice was gruff, but his bearded face had colored at Mallory's praise. "Where's brother Michael right now, eh? Good old Mickey?"
   "Hong Kong, I think," Mallory said. "Mick would be here today with us surely, if luck had put his ship in port in England. He was never the sort to flinch from a proper fight, our Michael."
   "I've seen Ernestina and Agatha, since I was back," Brian said. "And their dear little ones." He said nothing about Dorothy. The family did not talk about Dorothy anymore. Brian shifted on the lumpy canvas, turning a wary eye on the looming crenellations of a palace of savantry. "Don't care much for a fight in the streets," he remarked. "That was the only place the Russkies really stung us, in the streets of Odessa. Scrapping and sniping house-to-house in the city, like bandits. That's no civilized war." He frowned.
   "Why didn't they stand up straight, and give you an honest battle?"
   Brian glanced at him in surprise, then laughed, a bit oddly. "Well, they surely tried that at first, at Alma and Inkermann. But we gave 'em such a hell of a toweling that it knocked 'em into a panic. You might call that partly my doing, I suppose. The Royal Artillery, Ned."
   "Do tell," Mallory said.
   "We're the most scientific of the forces. They love the Artillery, your military Rads." Brian snuffed another fat smokestack spark with a spit-dampened thumb. "Special military savantry! Dreamy little fellers with specs on their noses, and figures in their heads. Never seen a sword drawn, or a bayonet. Don't need to see such things to win a modern war. 'Tis all trajectories, and fuse-timings."
   Brian watched with alert suspicion as a pair of men in baggy raincoats sidled down the road. "The Russkies did what they could. Huge redoubts, at the Redan, and Sevastopol. When our heavy guns opened up, they came apart like cracker-boxes. Then they fell back into trench-works, but the grapeshot from the mortar-organs worked like a marvel." Brian's eyes were distant now, focused on memory. "You could see it, Ned, white smoke and dirt flying up at the head of the barrage-line, every round falling neat and true as the trees in an orchard! And when the shelling stopped, our infantry—French allies mostly, they did a deal of the footwork—would trot in over the palisades, and finish poor Ivan off with wind-up rifles."
   "The papers said the Russians fought with no respect for military decency."
   "They got mortal desperate when they found they couldn't touch us," Brian said. "Took to partisan work, fighting from ambush, firing on white flags and such. Ugly business, dishonorable. We couldn't put up with that. Had to take measures."
   "At least it was all over swiftly," Mallory said. "One doesn't like war, but it was time to teach Tsar Nicholas a lesson. I doubt the tyrant will ever tug the Lion's tail again."
   Brian nodded. "It's right astonishing, what those new incendiary shells can do. You can lay 'em down in a grid-work, neat as pie." His voice fell. "You should have seen Odessa burning, Ned. Like a flaming hurricane, it was. A giant hurricane…"
   "Yes—I read about that," Mallory nodded. "There was a 'storm-fire' in the siege of Philadelphia. Very similar business, very remarkable principle."
   "Ah," said Brian, "that's the problem with the Yankees—no military sense! To think of doing that to your own cities! Why, you'd have to be a cack-handed fool!"
   "They're a queer folk, the Yanks," Mallory said.
   "Well, some folk are too chuckleheaded to manage themselves, and that's a fact," Brian said. He glanced about warily as Tom piloted the Zephyr past the smoldering wreckage of an omnibus. "Did you take to the Yankees, at all, in America?"
   "Never saw Americans, just Indians." And the less said about that the better, thought Mallory. "What did you think of India, by the way?"
   "It's a dreadful place, India," Brian said readily, "brim-full of queer marvels, but dreadful. There's only one folk in Asia with any sense, and that's the Japanese."
   "I heard you took part in an Indian campaign," Mallory said. "But I never was quite sure who those 'Sepoys' were, exactly."
   "Sepoys are native troops. We had a rash of trouble with mutineers, Moslem nonsense, about pig-fat in their rifle-cartridges! It was sheer native foolishness, but Moslems don't care to eat pork, you know, all very superstitious. It looked dicey, but the Viceroy of India hadn't given the native regiments any modern artillery. One battery of Wolseley mortar-organs can send a Bengali regiment straight to hell in five minutes."
   Brian's gold-braided shoulders glittered as he shrugged. "Still, I saw barbarities at Meerut and Lucknow, during the rebellion… You'd not think any man could do such vile, savage things. Especially our own native soldiers, that we ourselves had trained."
   "Fanatics," Mallory nodded. "Your common Indian, though, must be surely grateful for a decent civil government. Railroads, telegraphs, aqueducts, and such."
   "Oh," said Brian, "when you see some Hindu fakir a-sitting in a temple niche, filthy naked with a flower on his hair, who's to say what goes on in that queer headpiece of his?" He fell silent, then pointed sharply over Mallory's shoulder. "Over there—what are those rascals doing?"
   Mallory turned and looked. In the mouth of an adjoining street, the paving had been taken over by a large and thriving ring of gamblers. "They're tossing dice," Mallory explained. A knot of shabby, disheveled men—scouts of some primitive kind, lawless pickets—were standing lookout under an awning, passing a bottle of gin. One fat ruffian gestured obscenely as the Zephyr chugged past, and his startled companions booted disbelieving taunts from behind their rag-masks.
   Brian flung himself full-length across the coal-wain, and peered over the wooden wall. "Are they armed?"
   Mallory blinked. "I don't think they mean us any harm—"
   "They're a-going to rush us," Brian announced. Mallory glanced at his brother in surprise, but to his greater astonishment he saw that Brian was quite right. The shabby men were capering after the Zephyr, almost skipping down the empty street, with a shake of their fists and a slosh of their gin-bottle. They seemed possessed with an angry yapping energy, like farm-dogs pursuing a carriage. Brian rose to one knee, untoggled his holster-flap, set his hand to the large queer pistol-butt within it—
   He was almost flung from the wain as Thomas hit the Zephyr's throttle. Mallory grabbed his brother's belt and hauled him back to sprawling safety. The Zephyr racketed smoothly up the street, a small cascade of coal pattering out the back with the shock of acceleration. Behind them the pursuers stopped short in disbelief, then stooped like idiots to pick at the fallen coals, as if they were emeralds.
   "How did you know they would do that?" Mallory asked.
   Brian knocked coal-dust from his trouser-knees with a pocket-kerchief. "I knew it."
   "But why?"
   " 'Cause we're here, and they're there, I suppose! 'Cause we ride and they walk!" He looked at Mallory red-faced, as if the question were more trouble to him than a gun-fight.
   Mallory sat back, looking away. "Take the mask," he said mildly, holding it out. "I brought it just for you."
   Brian smiled then, sheepish, and knotted the little thing about his neck.

   There were soldiers with bayoneted rifles on the street-corners in Piccadilly, in modern speckled drab and slouch hats. They were eating porridge from mess-kits of stamped tin. Mallory waved cheerily at these minions of order, but they glared back at the Zephyr with such militant suspicion that he quickly stopped. Some blocks on, at the corner of Longacre and Drury Lane, the soldiers were actively bullying a small squad of bewildered London police. The coppers milled about like scolded children, feebly clutching their inadequate billy-clubs. Several had lost their helmets, and many bore rude bandages on hands and scalps and shins.
   Tom stopped the Zephyr for coaling, while Fraser, followed by Mallory, sought intelligence from the London coppers. They were told that the situation south of the river was quite out of control. Pitched battles with brickbats and pistols were raging in Lambeth. Many streets were barricaded by pillaging mobs. Reports had it that the Bedlam Hospital had been thrown open, its unchained lunatics capering the streets in frenzy.
   The police were sooty-faced, coughing, exhausted. Every able-bodied man in the force was on the streets, the Army had been called in by an emergency committee, and a general curfew declared. Volunteers of the respectable classes were being deputized in the West End, and equipped with batons and rifles. At least, Mallory thought, this litany of disaster crushed any further doubts about the propriety of their own venture. Fraser made no comment; but he returned to the Zephyr with a look of grim resolution.
   Tom piloted on. Beyond authority's battered boundary, things grew swiftly more grim. It was noonday now, with a ghastly amber glow at the filthy zenith, and crowds were clustering like flies in the crossroads of the city. Clumps of masked Londoners shuffled along, curious, restless, hungry, or desperate—unhurried, and conspiring. The Zephyr, with merry toots of its whistle, passed through the amorphous crowd; they parted for it reflexively.
   A pair of commandeered omnibuses patrolled Cheapside, crammed with hard-faced bruisers. Men waving pistols hung from the running-boards, and the roofs of both steamers were piled high and bristling with stolen furniture. Thomas easily skirted the wallowing 'buses, glass crunching beneath the Zephyr's wheels.
   In Whitechapel there were dirty, shoeless children clambering like monkeys, four stories in the air, on the red-painted arm of a great construction-crane. Spies of a sort, Brian opined, for some were waving colored rags and screeching down at people in the street. Mallory thought it more likely that the urchins had clambered up there in hope of fresher air
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  "I'm not afraid of Swing," Mallory told him. "Remember, I knocked him flat at the Derby. Face-to-face, he's nought but a yellow cur."
   "He is at the Docks, Mallory!" Fraser said. "D'ye think you're going to waltz and polka through a riot in the hardest part of London?"
   "We Mallory lads aren't fancy-jacks from any dancing academy," Mallory told the policeman. "D'ye think the London poor more frightful to face than Wyoming savages?"
   "Actually, yes," Fraser said slowly. "Considerably worse, I should judge."
   "Oh, for Heaven's sake, Fraser! Don't waste our time with this trifling! We must grapple once and for all with this slippery phantom, and a better chance will never come! In the name of sanity and justice, put an end to your useless, officious grizzling!"
   Fraser sighed. "And suppose, in this brave expedition, that you are cunningly trapped and murdered, like your colleague Rudwick? What then? How would I answer to my superiors?"
   But now Brian fixed Fraser with a soldier's steely eye. "Did you ever have a little sister, Mr. Fraser? Did you ever have to watch that girl's happiness shattered like a china cup, trampled by a monster? And with her broken heart, the honest heart of a Crimean hero, whose simple, manly intention was to make her his bride—"
   Fraser groaned aloud. "Enough!"
   Brian leaned back, looking somewhat crestfallen at the interruption.
   Fraser smoothed his dark lapels with both hands. "It seems the fated time for risks," he admitted, with a lopsided shrug, and a passing wince. "I haven't had a bit of luck since I met you. Dr. Mallory, and I daresay I'm due for a change of fortune." Suddenly, his eyes glittered. "Who's to say that we might not bag the scoundrel, eh? Arrest him! He's clever, but four brave men might catch the nasty wretch with his guard down, whilst he swaggers about in poor stricken London like some Jacobin prince." Fraser scowled, his lean face twisting with genuine anger. It was an unexpectedly fearsome sight.
   "Fortune favors the brave," Brian said.
   "And God looks after fools," muttered Fraser. He leaned forward intently, plucking his trouser-legs from his bony knees. "This is no light matter, gentlemen! No lark for amateurs. This is dire work! We shall be taking the law, and our lives, and our honor, into our own hands. If it is to be done at all, it must be done in the strictest and most permanent secrecy."
   Mallory, sensing victory, spoke up with an adroitness that surprised even himself. "My brothers and I respect your special expertise, Sergeant Fraser! If you will guide us toward justice, then we will gladly place ourselves at your command. You need never doubt our discretion or our resolve. The sacred honor of our own dear sister is at stake."
   Tom and Brian seemed taken aback at this sudden change of tack, for they still distrusted Fraser, but Mallory's somber pledge brooked no objection from them. They followed his lead.
   "You'll never see me peaching!" Tom declared. "Not to my grave!"
   "I should think the sworn word of a British soldier still accounts," Brian said.
   "Then we shall try the venture," Fraser said, with a wry look of fatalism.
   "I must get steam up in the Zephyr!" Tom said, rising from his chair. "Half-an-hour my little beauty takes, from a cold start."
   Mallory nodded. He would put every minute to good use.

   Outside the Palace, washed, combed, and intimately dusty with flea-powder. Mallory sought a lumpy purchase atop the Zephyr's wooden coal-wain. The chugging little gurney had barely room for two men within its line-streamed tin shell. Tom and Fraser had taken those seats. They were arguing now over a London street-map.
   Brian stamped out a rude nest within the wain's flabby canvas, stretched atop a diminishing heap of coal. "They take a deal of shoveling, your modern gurneys," Brian observed, with a stoic smile. He sat across from Mallory. "Tom does take-on about this precious machine of his; talked my ear off about Zephyrs, all the way from Lewes."
   The gurney and wain lurched into motion, the coal-wain's wooden-spoked rubbered wheels turning with a rhythmic creak. They rolled down Kensington Road with a startling celerity. Brian brushed a flaming smokestack spark from his dapper coat-sleeve.
   "You need a breathing-mask," Mallory said, offering his brother one of the makeshift masks the ladies had sewn within the Palace: a neatly stitched ribboned square of gingham, stuffed with cheap Confederate cotton.
   Brian sniffed at the rushing air. "Ain't so bad."
   Mallory knotted the ribbons of his own mask neatly behind his head. "Miasma will tell against your health, lad, in the long run."
   "This don't compare to the pong of an Army transport boat," said Brian. The absence of Fraser seemed to have relaxed him. There was something more of the Sussex lad about him, and less of the stern young subaltern. "Coaly fumes pouring out our engine-room," Brian reminisced, "and the lads tossing-up their rations from the mal-de-mer, right and left! We steamed through that new Frenchy canal in Suez, straight from Bombay. We lived in that bloody transport for weeks! Rotten Egyptian heat—straight through to hard Crimean winter! If the cholery, or the quartan fever, didn't carry me off from that, then I needn't worry over any little mist in London." Brian chuckled.
   "I often thought of you, in Canada," Mallory told his brother. "You, with a five-year enlistment—and a war on! But I knew you'd do the family proud, Brian. I knew you'd do your duty."
   "We Mallory lads are all over the world, Ned," said Brian, philosophically. His voice was gruff, but his bearded face had colored at Mallory's praise. "Where's brother Michael right now, eh? Good old Mickey?"
   "Hong Kong, I think," Mallory said. "Mick would be here today with us surely, if luck had put his ship in port in England. He was never the sort to flinch from a proper fight, our Michael."
   "I've seen Ernestina and Agatha, since I was back," Brian said. "And their dear little ones." He said nothing about Dorothy. The family did not talk about Dorothy anymore. Brian shifted on the lumpy canvas, turning a wary eye on the looming crenellations of a palace of savantry. "Don't care much for a fight in the streets," he remarked. "That was the only place the Russkies really stung us, in the streets of Odessa. Scrapping and sniping house-to-house in the city, like bandits. That's no civilized war." He frowned.
   "Why didn't they stand up straight, and give you an honest battle?"
   Brian glanced at him in surprise, then laughed, a bit oddly. "Well, they surely tried that at first, at Alma and Inkermann. But we gave 'em such a hell of a toweling that it knocked 'em into a panic. You might call that partly my doing, I suppose. The Royal Artillery, Ned."
   "Do tell," Mallory said.
   "We're the most scientific of the forces. They love the Artillery, your military Rads." Brian snuffed another fat smokestack spark with a spit-dampened thumb. "Special military savantry! Dreamy little fellers with specs on their noses, and figures in their heads. Never seen a sword drawn, or a bayonet. Don't need to see such things to win a modern war. 'Tis all trajectories, and fuse-timings."
   Brian watched with alert suspicion as a pair of men in baggy raincoats sidled down the road. "The Russkies did what they could. Huge redoubts, at the Redan, and Sevastopol. When our heavy guns opened up, they came apart like cracker-boxes. Then they fell back into trench-works, but the grapeshot from the mortar-organs worked like a marvel." Brian's eyes were distant now, focused on memory. "You could see it, Ned, white smoke and dirt flying up at the head of the barrage-line, every round falling neat and true as the trees in an orchard! And when the shelling stopped, our infantry—French allies mostly, they did a deal of the footwork—would trot in over the palisades, and finish poor Ivan off with wind-up rifles."
   "The papers said the Russians fought with no respect for military decency."
   "They got mortal desperate when they found they couldn't touch us," Brian said. "Took to partisan work, fighting from ambush, firing on white flags and such. Ugly business, dishonorable. We couldn't put up with that. Had to take measures."
   "At least it was all over swiftly," Mallory said. "One doesn't like war, but it was time to teach Tsar Nicholas a lesson. I doubt the tyrant will ever tug the Lion's tail again."
   Brian nodded. "It's right astonishing, what those new incendiary shells can do. You can lay 'em down in a grid-work, neat as pie." His voice fell. "You should have seen Odessa burning, Ned. Like a flaming hurricane, it was. A giant hurricane…"
   "Yes—I read about that," Mallory nodded. "There was a 'storm-fire' in the siege of Philadelphia. Very similar business, very remarkable principle."
   "Ah," said Brian, "that's the problem with the Yankees—no military sense! To think of doing that to your own cities! Why, you'd have to be a cack-handed fool!"
   "They're a queer folk, the Yanks," Mallory said.
   "Well, some folk are too chuckleheaded to manage themselves, and that's a fact," Brian said. He glanced about warily as Tom piloted the Zephyr past the smoldering wreckage of an omnibus. "Did you take to the Yankees, at all, in America?"
   "Never saw Americans, just Indians." And the less said about that the better, thought Mallory. "What did you think of India, by the way?"
   "It's a dreadful place, India," Brian said readily, "brim-full of queer marvels, but dreadful. There's only one folk in Asia with any sense, and that's the Japanese."
   "I heard you took part in an Indian campaign," Mallory said. "But I never was quite sure who those 'Sepoys' were, exactly."
   "Sepoys are native troops. We had a rash of trouble with mutineers, Moslem nonsense, about pig-fat in their rifle-cartridges! It was sheer native foolishness, but Moslems don't care to eat pork, you know, all very superstitious. It looked dicey, but the Viceroy of India hadn't given the native regiments any modern artillery. One battery of Wolseley mortar-organs can send a Bengali regiment straight to hell in five minutes."
   Brian's gold-braided shoulders glittered as he shrugged. "Still, I saw barbarities at Meerut and Lucknow, during the rebellion… You'd not think any man could do such vile, savage things. Especially our own native soldiers, that we ourselves had trained."
   "Fanatics," Mallory nodded. "Your common Indian, though, must be surely grateful for a decent civil government. Railroads, telegraphs, aqueducts, and such."
   "Oh," said Brian, "when you see some Hindu fakir a-sitting in a temple niche, filthy naked with a flower on his hair, who's to say what goes on in that queer headpiece of his?" He fell silent, then pointed sharply over Mallory's shoulder. "Over there—what are those rascals doing?"
   Mallory turned and looked. In the mouth of an adjoining street, the paving had been taken over by a large and thriving ring of gamblers. "They're tossing dice," Mallory explained. A knot of shabby, disheveled men—scouts of some primitive kind, lawless pickets—were standing lookout under an awning, passing a bottle of gin. One fat ruffian gestured obscenely as the Zephyr chugged past, and his startled companions booted disbelieving taunts from behind their rag-masks.
   Brian flung himself full-length across the coal-wain, and peered over the wooden wall. "Are they armed?"
   Mallory blinked. "I don't think they mean us any harm—"
   "They're a-going to rush us," Brian announced. Mallory glanced at his brother in surprise, but to his greater astonishment he saw that Brian was quite right. The shabby men were capering after the Zephyr, almost skipping down the empty street, with a shake of their fists and a slosh of their gin-bottle. They seemed possessed with an angry yapping energy, like farm-dogs pursuing a carriage. Brian rose to one knee, untoggled his holster-flap, set his hand to the large queer pistol-butt within it—
   He was almost flung from the wain as Thomas hit the Zephyr's throttle. Mallory grabbed his brother's belt and hauled him back to sprawling safety. The Zephyr racketed smoothly up the street, a small cascade of coal pattering out the back with the shock of acceleration. Behind them the pursuers stopped short in disbelief, then stooped like idiots to pick at the fallen coals, as if they were emeralds.
   "How did you know they would do that?" Mallory asked.
   Brian knocked coal-dust from his trouser-knees with a pocket-kerchief. "I knew it."
   "But why?"
   " 'Cause we're here, and they're there, I suppose! 'Cause we ride and they walk!" He looked at Mallory red-faced, as if the question were more trouble to him than a gun-fight.
   Mallory sat back, looking away. "Take the mask," he said mildly, holding it out. "I brought it just for you."
   Brian smiled then, sheepish, and knotted the little thing about his neck.

   There were soldiers with bayoneted rifles on the street-corners in Piccadilly, in modern speckled drab and slouch hats. They were eating porridge from mess-kits of stamped tin. Mallory waved cheerily at these minions of order, but they glared back at the Zephyr with such militant suspicion that he quickly stopped. Some blocks on, at the corner of Longacre and Drury Lane, the soldiers were actively bullying a small squad of bewildered London police. The coppers milled about like scolded children, feebly clutching their inadequate billy-clubs. Several had lost their helmets, and many bore rude bandages on hands and scalps and shins.
   Tom stopped the Zephyr for coaling, while Fraser, followed by Mallory, sought intelligence from the London coppers. They were told that the situation south of the river was quite out of control. Pitched battles with brickbats and pistols were raging in Lambeth. Many streets were barricaded by pillaging mobs. Reports had it that the Bedlam Hospital had been thrown open, its unchained lunatics capering the streets in frenzy.
   The police were sooty-faced, coughing, exhausted. Every able-bodied man in the force was on the streets, the Army had been called in by an emergency committee, and a general curfew declared. Volunteers of the respectable classes were being deputized in the West End, and equipped with batons and rifles. At least, Mallory thought, this litany of disaster crushed any further doubts about the propriety of their own venture. Fraser made no comment; but he returned to the Zephyr with a look of grim resolution.
   Tom piloted on. Beyond authority's battered boundary, things grew swiftly more grim. It was noonday now, with a ghastly amber glow at the filthy zenith, and crowds were clustering like flies in the crossroads of the city. Clumps of masked Londoners shuffled along, curious, restless, hungry, or desperate—unhurried, and conspiring. The Zephyr, with merry toots of its whistle, passed through the amorphous crowd; they parted for it reflexively.
   A pair of commandeered omnibuses patrolled Cheapside, crammed with hard-faced bruisers. Men waving pistols hung from the running-boards, and the roofs of both steamers were piled high and bristling with stolen furniture. Thomas easily skirted the wallowing 'buses, glass crunching beneath the Zephyr's wheels.
   In Whitechapel there were dirty, shoeless children clambering like monkeys, four stories in the air, on the red-painted arm of a great construction-crane. Spies of a sort, Brian opined, for some were waving colored rags and screeching down at people in the street. Mallory thought it more likely that the urchins had clambered up there in hope of fresher air

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   Four dead and bloating horses, a team of massive Percherons, lay swollen in Stepney. The stiffened carcasses, shot to death, were still in their harness. A few yards on, the dray itself appeared, sacked, its wheels missing. Its dozen great beer-casks had been rolled down the street, then battered open, each site of rapturous looting now surrounded by a pungent, fly-blown stickiness of spillage. There were no revelers left now, their only evidence being shattered pitchers, dirty rags of women's clothing, single shoes.
   Mallory spotted a leprous plague of bills, slapped-up at the site of this drunken orgy. He hit the top of the Zephyr with a flung lump of coal, and Tom stopped.
   Tom decamped from the gurney, Fraser following him, stretching cramps from his shoulders and favoring his wounded ribs. "What is it?"
   "Sedition," Mallory said.
   The four of them, with a wary eye for interference, marched with interest to the wall, an ancient posting-surface of plastered timber, so thick with old bills that it seemed to be made of cheese-rind. Some two dozen of Captain Swing's best were freshly posted there, copies of the same gaudy, ill-printed broadside. The bill featured a large winged woman with her hair afire, surmounting two columns of dense text. Words, apparently at random, had been marked out in red. They stood silently, attempting to decipher the squirming, smudgy print. After a moment, young Thomas, with a shrug and a sneer, excused himself. "I'll see to the gurney," he said.
   Brian began to read aloud, haltingly.
   " 'AN APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE! Ye are all free Lords of Earth, and need only COURAGE to make triumphant WAR on the Whore of Babylondon and all her learned thieves. Blood! Blood! Vengeance! Vengeance, vengeance! Plagues, foul plagues, et cetera, to all those that harken not to universal justice! BROTHERS, SISTERS! Kneel no more before the vampyre capitalist and the idiot savantry! Let the slaves of crowned brigands grovel at the feet of Newton. WE shall destroy the Moloch Steam and shatter his rocking iron! Hang ten score tyrants from the lamp-posts of this city, and your happiness and liberty be guaranteed forever! Forward! Forward!!! We take hope in the human Deluge, we have no recourse but a general war! We crusade for the REDEMPTION, of the oppressed, of the rebels, of the poor, of the criminals, all those who are TORMENTED by the Seven-Cursed Whore whose body is brimstone and who rides the nightmare horse of iron… ' "
   There was much more. "What in the name of heaven is the wretch trying to say?" asked Mallory, his head buzzing.
   "I've never seen the like of this," murmured Fraser. "It's the ranting of a criminal lunatic!"
   Brian pointed at the bottom of the bill. "I cannot understand about these so-called 'Seven Curses'! He refers to them as if they were dreadful afflictions, and yet he never names and numbers them. He never makes them clear… "
   "What can it be that he wants?" Mallory demanded. "He can't think that a general massacre is any answer to his grievances, whatever they may be… "
   "There's no reasoning with this monster," Fraser said grimly. "You were quite right, Dr. Mallory. Come what may—no matter what risk—we must be rid of him! There is no other way!"
   They returned to the Zephyr, where Tom had finished the coaling. Mallory glanced at his brothers. Above their masks, their reddened eyes shone with all the stern courage of manly resolution. Fraser had spoken for them all; they were united; there was no more need of words. In the very midst of this low squalor, it seemed to Mallory a moment of true splendor. Touched to the core, he felt his heart soar within him. For the first time in seeming ages, he felt redeemed, clean, utterly purposeful, utterly free of doubt.
   As the Zephyr rolled on through Whitechapel, the exaltation began to fade, replaced with a heightened attention and a racing pulse. Mallory adjusted his mask, checked the workings of the Ballester-Molina, exchanged a few words with Brian. But with all doubt resolved, with life and death awaiting the coming roll of the die, there seemed little enough to say. Instead, like Brian, Mallory found himself inspecting every passing door and window with a nervous care.
   It seemed that every wall in Limehouse was spattered with the wretch's outpourings. Some were vivid madness pure and simple: many others, however, were cunningly disguised. Mallory noted five instances of the lecture-posters that had libeled him. Some might have been genuine, for he did not read the text. The sight of his own name struck his heightened sensibilities with a shock almost painful.
   And he had not been the only victim of this queer kind of forgery. An advert for the Bank of England solicited deposits of pounds of flesh. A seeming offer of first-class railway excursions incited the public to rob the wealthy passengers. Such was the devilish mockery of these fraudulent bills that even quite normal adverts began to seem queer. As he scanned the bills, searching for double-meanings, every posted word seemed to decay into threatening nonsense. Mallory had never before realized the ubiquity of London's advertisements, the sullen omnipresence of insistent words and images.
   An inexplicable weariness of soul struck him, as the Zephyr rumbled on unchallenged through the macadamed streets. It was a very weariness of London, of the city's sheer physicality, its nightmare endlessness, of streets, courts, crescents, terraces, and alleys, of fog-shrouded stone and soot-blackened brick. A nausea of awnings, a nastiness of casements, an ugliness of scaffoldings lashed together with rope; a horrible prevalence of iron street-lamps and granite bollards, of pawn-shops, haberdashers, and tobacconists. The city seemed to stretch about them like some pitiless abyss of geologic time.
   An ugly shout split Mallory's reverie. Masked men had scuttled into the street before them, shabby, threatening, blocking the way. The Zephyr braked to a sudden stop, the coal-wain lurching.
   Mallory saw at a glance that these were rascals of the roughest description. The first, an evil youngster with a face like dirty dough, in a greasy jacket and corduroy trousers, had a mangy fur cap pulled low, but not low enough to hide the prison-cut of his hair. The second, a sturdy brute of thirty-five, wore a tall grease-stiffened hat, checked trousers, and brass-toed lace-up boots. The third was thick-set and bowlegged, with leather knee-breeches and soiled stockings, a long muffler wrapped round and round his mouth.
   And then, rushing from inside a plundered ironmonger's, two more confederates—hulking, idle, slouching young men, with short baggy shirt-sleeves and trousers too tight. They had armed themselves with spontaneous weapons—a goffering-iron, a yard-long salamander. Homely items these, but unexpectedly cruel and frightening in the ready hands of these bandits.
   The brass-booted man, their leader, it seemed, tugged the kerchief from his face with a sneering yellow grin. "Get out of that kerridge," he commanded. "Get the hell out!"
   But Fraser was already in motion. He emerged, with quiet assurance, before the five jostling ruffians, for all the world like a school-teacher calming an unruly class. He announced, quite clearly and firmly: "Now that's no use, Mr. Tally Thompson! I know you—and I should think you know me. You are under arrest, for felony."
   "That be damned!" blurted Tally Thompson, turning pale with astonishment.
   "It's Sergeant Fraser!" shouted the dough-faced boy in horror, falling back two steps.
   Fraser produced a pair of blued-iron handcuffs.
   "No!" Thompson yelped, "none o' that! I won't stand them! I won't bear none o' that!"
   "You will clear the way here, the rest of you," Fraser announced. "You, Bob Miles—what are you creeping round here for? Put away that silly ironware, before I take you in."
   "For Christ's sake. Tally, shoot him!" shouted the mufflered ruffian.
   Fraser deftly snapped his cuffs on Tally Thompson's wrists. "So we have a gun, do we, Tally?" he said, and yanked a derringer from the man's brass-studded belt. "That's a shame, that is." He frowned at the others. "Are you going to hook it, you lads?"
   "Let's hook it," whined Bob Miles. "We should hook it, like the sergeant says!"
   "Kill him, you jolterheads!" shouted the mufflered man, pressing his mask to his face with one hand, and pulling a short, broad-bladed knife with the other. "He's a fucking copper, you idiots—do for him! Swing'll choke you if we don't!" The mufflered man raised his voice. "Coppers here!" he screeched, like a man selling hot chestnuts. "Everybody, come up and do for these copper sons-of-bitches—"
   Fraser lashed out deftly with the butt of the derringer, cracking it against the mufflered man's wrist; the wretch dropped his knife with a howl.
   The three other ruffians took at once to their heels. Tally Thompson also tried to flee, but Fraser snagged the man's cuffed wrists left-handed, yanked him off-balance and spun him to his knees.
   The man with the muffler hopped and hobbled back several paces, as if dragged against his will. Then he stopped, stooped over, picked up a heavy toppled flat-iron by its mahogany handle. He cocked his hand back, to throw.
   Fraser leveled the derringer, and fired. The mufflered man doubled over, his knees buckling, and fell to the street, writhing in a fit. "He's killed me," the ruffian squawked. "I'm gut-shot, he's killed me!"
   Fraser gave Tally Thompson an admonitory cuff on the ear. "This barker of yours is rubbish, Tally. I aimed for his bloody legs!"
   "He didn't mean no harm," Tally sniveled.
   "He'd a five-pound flat-iron." Fraser glanced back at Mallory and Brian, where they stood astonished in the coal-wain. "Come down, you lads—look sharp now. We'll have to leave your gurney. They'll be looking for it. We have to hoof it now."
   Fraser yanked Tally Thompson to his feet, with a cruel jerk of the cuffs. "And you. Tally, you'll lead us to Captain Swing."
   "I won't, Sergeant!"
   "You will, Tally." Fraser hauled Tally forward, with a sharp beckoning glance back at Mallory.
   The five of them picked their way around the squealing, choking ruffian, who rolled in his spreading blood on the pavement, his dirty bow-legs trembling in spasm. "Damme if he don't take on," Fraser said coldly. "Who is he. Tally?"
   "Never knew his name."
   Without breaking step, Fraser slapped Tally's battered top-hat from his head. The wrinkled topper seemed glued to the ruffian's scalp with grime and macassar-oil. "Of course you know him!"
   "No name!" Tally insisted, looking back at his lost hat with a leer of despair. "A Yankee, inne?"
   "What sort of Yankee, then?" asked Fraser, scenting deceit. "Confederate? Unionist? Texian? Californian?"
   " 'E's from New York," Tally said.
   "What," Fraser said in disbelief, "you'd tell me he was a Manhattan Communard!" He glanced back once at the dying man as they walked on, then recovered himself swiftly and spoke with tepid skepticism. "He didn't talk like any New York Yankee."
   "I don't know nothing 'bout any commoners. Swing liked 'im, is all!"
   Fraser led them down an alleyway crossed with rusty elevated cat-walks, its towering brick walls glistening with greasy damp. "Are there more like that one, in Swing's counsel? More men from Manhattan?"
   "Swing's got a deal of friends," Tally said, seeming to recover himself, "and he'll do for you, he will, you trifle wi' him!"
   "Tom," said Fraser, turning his attention to Mallory's brother, "can you handle a pistol?"
   "A pistol?"
   "Take this one," said Fraser, handing over Tally's derringer. "There's but one shot left. You musn't use it lest your man is close enough to touch."
   Having rid himself of the derringer, Fraser then reached, without pause, into his coat-pocket, pulled out a small leather blackjack, and commenced, while still walking steadily, to batter Tally Thompson, with numbing accuracy, on the thick meat of his arms and shoulders.
   The man flinched and grunted under the blows, and finally began to howl, his flat nose running snot.
   Fraser stopped, pocketed his truncheon. "Damn ye for a fool, Tally Thompson," he said, with a queer kind of affection. "Know you nothing of coppers? I've come for your precious Swing all by meself, and brought these three jolly lads just to see the fun! Now where's he lurking?"
   "A big warehouse in the docks," Tally sniveled. "Full of loot—wonders! And guns, whole cases of fancy barkers—"
   "Which warehouse, then?"
   "I dunno," Tally wailed, "I never been inside the bloody gates before! I don't know the bloody names of all them fancy go-downs!"
   "What's the name on the door? The owner!"
   "I can't read, Sergeant, you know that!"
   "Where is it, then?" Fraser asked relentlessly. "Import docks or export?"
   "Import… "
   "South side? North side?"
   "South, about middle-ways…" From the street behind them came distant shouts, a frenzied shattering of glass, and drum-like echoed booms of battered sheet-metal. Tally fell silent, his head cocked to listen. His lips quirked. "Why, that's your kerridge!" he said, the whine gone from his voice. "Swing's lads a-come back hotfoot, and found yer kerridge, Sergeant!"
   "How many men in this warehouse?"
   "Listen to 'em breaking 'er up!" said Tally. A queer variety of child-like wonder had chased all fear from his sullen features.
   "How many men?" Fraser barked, boxing Tally's ear.
   "They're knocking 'er to smithers!" Tally declared cheerily, shrugging from the blow. "Ludd's work on your pretty gurney!"
   "Shut yer trap, ye bastard!" young Tom burst out, his voice high with rage and pain.
   Startled, Tally regarded Tom's masked face with a dawning leer of satisfaction. "What's that, young mister?"
   "Shut up, I told ye!" Tom cried.
   Tally Thompson leered like an ape. "It ain't me hurting your precious gurney! Yell at them, boy! Tell 'em to stop, then!" Tally lurched backward suddenly, snatching his manacled hands from Fraser's grip. The policeman staggered, almost knocking Brian from his feet.
   Tally turned and screeched through his cupped hands. "Stop that fun, my hearties!" His howl echoed down the brick-work canyon. "Ye're hurtin' private property!"
   Tom pounced on the man like lightning, with a wild spinning swing of his fist. Tally's head snapped back, and the breath left him in a ragged gasp. He tottered a step, then dropped to the cobbled floor of the alley like a sack of meal.
   There was a sudden silence.
   "Damme, Tom!" said Brian. "Ye knocked his lights out!"
   Fraser, his truncheon drawn now, stepped across the supine ruffian, and peeled one eyelid back with his thumb. Then he glanced up at Tom, mildly. "You've a temper, lad… "
   Tom tugged his mask free, breathing shakily. "I could have shot him!" he blurted, his voice thin. He looked to Mallory, with a strange confused appeal. "I could ha', Ned! Shot him down dead!"
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   Mallory nodded shortly. "Easy, lad…"
   Fraser fumbled to unlock the handcuffs; they were slick with blood from Tally's lacerated wrists.
   "That was mortal strange, what the rascal just did!" Brian marveled, in a hushed Sussex drawl. "Are they bedlam crazy here, Ned? Have they all gone ellynge, these London folk?"
   Mallory nodded soberly. Then he raised his voice. "But nowt that a good right arm don't cure!" He whacked Tom's shoulder with an open palm. "Ye're a boxer. Tommy lad! Ye blowed him down like a slaughtered ox!"
   Brian snorted laughter. Tom smiled shyly, rubbing his knuckles.
   Fraser rose, pocketing truncheon and cuffs, and set off up the alley, at a half-trot. The brothers followed him. "It warn't so much," Tom said, his voice giddy.
   "What," Mallory objected, "a mere lad of nineteen, layin' out that brassy-boots brawler? It's a marvel surely!"
   "It warn't any fair fight, with his hands bound," Tom said.
   "One punch!" Brian gloated. "Ye stretched him flat as an oaken plank. Tommy!"
   "Stow it!" Fraser hissed.
   They fell silent. The alley ended by the vacant ground of a demolished building, its cracked foundation strewn with bits of red brick and greying spars of splintered lumber. Fraser picked his way forward. The sky rolled yellow-grey overhead, the haze breaking here and there to reveal thick greenish clouds like rotting curd.
   "Hell's bells," Tom declared, in a tone of thin jollity. "They can't a-heard us talking, Mr. Fraser! Not with that almighty rucket they were making on my gurney!"
   "It isn't that lot worries me now, lad," Fraser said, not unkindly. "But we might meet more pickets."
   "Where are we?" Brian asked, then stumbled to a halt. "God in heaven! What is that smell?"
   "The Thames," Fraser told him.
   A thick wall of low brick stood at the end of the vacant plot. Mallory hoisted himself up and stood, breathing very shallowly, his mask pressed hard to his bearded lips. The far side of the brick wall—it was part of the Thames embankment—sloped down ten feet to the river-bed. The tide was out, and the shrunken Thames was a sluggish gleam between long plazas of cracked muddy shore.
   Across the river stood the steel navigation-tower of Cuckold's Point, adorned with nautical warning-flags. Mallory could not recognize the signals. Quarantine, perhaps? Blockade? The river seemed nigh deserted.
   Fraser looked up and down the mud-flats at the foot of the embankment. Mallory followed his gaze. Small boats were embedded in the grey-black mud as if set in cement. Here and there along the bend of the Limehouse Reach, rivulets of viridian slime reached up through the gouged tracks of channel-dredgers.
   Something like a river-breeze—not a breeze at all, but a soft liquid ooze of gelatinous Stink—rose from the Thames and spilled over them where they stood. "Dear God!" Brian cried in weak amazement, and knelt quickly behind the wall. With a sympathetic ripple of queasiness. Mallory heard his brother retch violently.
   With a stern effort, Mallory mastered the sensation. It was not easy. Clearly, the raw Thames surpassed even the fabled stench in the holds of Royal Artillery transports.
   Young Thomas, though he'd also gone quite pale, seemed of tougher stuff than Brian—inured, perhaps, by the chugging exhaust of steam-gurneys. "Why, look at this nasty business!" Tom suddenly declared, in a muffled, dreamy voice. "I knew we'd a drought upon the land, but I never dreamt of this!" He looked to Mallory with astonished, reddened eyes. "Why, Ned—the air, the water—there's never been such a dreadfulness, surely!"
   Fraser seemed pained. "London's never what she might be, in summer… "
   "But look at the river!" Tom cried innocently. "And look, look, yonder comes a ship!" A large paddle-steamer was working her way up the Thames, and a very queer-looking craft she was indeed, with her hull flat as a raft's, and a cheese-box cabin of sloping, riveted iron, the walls of black armor patched bow-to-stern with large white squares: cannon-hatches. On her bow, two sailors, in rubber gloves and nozzled rubber helmets, took soundings with a leaded line.
   "What sort of vessel is that?" asked Mallory, wiping his eyes.
   Brian rose unsteadily, leaned across the wall, wiped his mouth, and spat. "Pocket ironclad," he announced hoarsely. "A river gun-ship." He pinched his nose shut and shuddered from head to foot.
   Mallory had read of such craft, but had never seen one. "From the Mississippi campaign, in America." He stared beneath a shading hand, wishing for a spyglass. "Does she fly Confederate colors, then? I didn't know we'd any of her class here in England… No, I see she flies the Union Jack!"
   "See what her paddle-wheels do!" Tom marveled. "That river-water must be thick as neat's-foot jelly… "
   No one saw fit to remark on this observation. Fraser pointed downstream. "Listen, lads. Some rods away lies a deep-dredged channel. It leads into the moorings for the West India Docks. With the river this low, with luck, a man might creep through that channel, to emerge within the docks unseen."
   "Walk o' er the mud o' the shore, you mean to say," Mallory said.
   "No!" Brian cried. "There must be another stratagem!"
   Fraser shook his head. "I know those docks. They've an eight-foot wall about 'em, topped by a very sharp cheval-de-frise. There are loading-gates, and a rail-head, too, but they'll be close-guarded sure. Swing chose well. The place is nigh a fortress."
   Brian shook his head. "Won't Swing guard the river, too?"
   "Doubtless," Fraser said, "but how many men will stand sharp lockout over this stinking mud, for Swing or anyone else?"
   Mallory nodded, convinced. "He's right, lads."
   "But it'll daub us neck to foot with smeechy filth!" Brian protested.
   "We're not made o' sugar," Mallory grunted.
   "But my uniform, Ned! D'ye know what this dress-coatee cost me?"
   "I'll swap ye my gurney for that shiny gold braid," Tom told him.
   Brian stared at his younger brother, and winced.
   "Then we must strip for it, lads," Mallory commanded, shrugging out of his jacket. "Like we were farm-hands, a-pitching sweet hay on a nice Sussex morn. Hide that city finery in the rubble, and be quick about it."
   Mallory stripped to the waist, tucked his pistol in the belt of his rolled-up trousers, and lowered himself down the embankment wall. He half-slid, half-hopped to the evil mud below.
   The river-bank was as hard and dry as brick. Mallory laughed aloud. The others joined him, Brian coming last. Brian kicked a cracked dinner-plate of mud with his waxed and polished boot. "Damme for a fool," he said, "to let you talk me out of uniform!"
   "Pity!" Tom taunted. "Yell never launder the sawdust out o' that fancy forage-cap."
   Fraser, removing his collar now, was in white shirt and braces—surprisingly dandyish items, of watered scarlet silk. A new shoulder-holster of pale chamois held a stout little pepperbox pistol. Mallory noted the bulge of a neat padded bandage beneath the shirt and strap. "Don't go griping, lads," Fraser said, leading the way. "Some folk pass their very lives in the mud of the Thames."
   "Who's that then?" asked Tom.
   "Mudlarks," Fraser told him, picking his way. "Winter and summer, they slog up to their middles, in the mud o' low tide. Hunting lumps o' coal, rusty nails, any river-rubbish that will fetch a penny."
   "Are you joking?" Tom asked.
   "Children mostly," Fraser persisted calmly, "and a deal of feeble old women."
   "I don't believe you," Brian said. "If you told me Bombay or Calcutta, I might grant it. But not London!"
   "I didn't say the wretches were British," Fraser said. "Your mudlarks are foreigners, mostly. Poor refugees."
   "Well, then," Tom said, relieved.
   They tramped on silently, breathing as best they could. Mallory's nose had clogged solid and his throat was thick with phlegm. It was a relief of sorts, to be spared the sense of smell.
   Brian was still muttering, a monotone to match their tramping step. "Britain's a sight too hospitable to all these damn foreign refugees. If I'd my way, I'd transport the lot to Texas… "
   "All the fish here must be dead, eh?" said Tom, stooping to rip up a china-hard platter of mud. He showed Mallory a mash of flattened fish-bones embedded in it. "Look, Ned—the very image of your fossils!"
   They reached an obstacle a few yards on, a dredger's muddy hollow, half-filled with black silt, marbled with veins of vile pale grease like the lees from a pan of bacon. There was no help for it but to leap and dodge and splash across the ditch, and Brian had the evil luck to miss his footing. He came up foully smeared, flicking muck from his hands and cursing wildly in what Mallory took to be Hindustani.
   Beyond the ditch, the crust grew treacherous, plates of dried mud skidding or crumbling underfoot, over a pitchy, viscous muck full of ooze and bubbling gas-pockets. But there was worse luck yet at the entrance-channel to the Docks. Here the channel's banks were close-packed tarred pilings, slick with greenish fur and oily damp, rising fifteen feet above the water-line. And the water itself, which filled the broad channel from bank to bank, was a chilly grey sump, seemingly bottomless, writhing with leg-thick wads of viridian slime.
   It was an impasse. "Now what's our course?" asked Mallory grimly. "Swim?"
   "Never!" Brian shouted, his eyes reddened and wild.
   "Scale the walls, then?"
   "We can't," Tom groaned, with a hopeless look at the slimy pilings. "We can scarcely breathe!"
   "I wouldn't wash my hands in that damn water!" Brian cried. "And my hands are caked in stinking muck!"
   "Stow it!" Fraser said. "Swing's men will hear you sure. If they catch us down here, we'll be shot like dogs! Stow it, and let me think!"
   "My God, the Stink!" Brian cried, ignoring him. He seemed near panic. "It's worse than a transport—worse than a Russki trench! Christ Jesus, I saw 'em bury week-old pieces of Russki at Inkermann, and that smelled better than this!"
   "Knife it!" Fraser whispered. "I hear something."
   Footsteps. The tramp of a group of men, coming nearer. "They've got us," Fraser said in sharp desperation, gazing up the sheer wall and putting a hand to his pistol. "Our number's up—sell your lives dear, lads!"
   But in one moment—a series of instants shaved so thin as to be normally useless to the human mind—inspiration blew through Mallory like a gust of Alpine wind.
   "Don't," he commanded the others, in a voice of iron conviction. "Don't look up. Do as I do!"
   Mallory began to sing a chantey, loudly, drunkenly.


" 'At Santiago love is kind,
And we'll forget those left behind—
So kiss us long, and kiss us well,
Polly and Meg and Kate and Nell—' "


   "C'mon, you lads!" he urged cheerily, with a boozy wave of his arm. Tom and Brian, direly puzzled, chimed in the chorus, faltering and belated.


" 'Farewell, farewell, you jolly young girls,
We're off to Rio Bay!'"


   "Next verse!" Mallory crowed.


" 'At Vera Cruz the days are fine,
Farewell to Jane and Caroline…' "


   "Ahoy!" came a brusque shout from the top of the wall. Mallory glanced up, in feigned surprise, to see foreshortened bodies. Half-a-dozen marauders were looming over them, rifles slung over their backs. The speaker crouched at the top of the pilings, his head and face swathed in kerchiefs of knotted silk paisley. He held a gleaming, long-barreled pistol, with seeming carelessness, across his knee. His trousers, of white duck, looked immaculate.
   "Ahoy the shore!" Mallory shouted, craning his neck. He flung his arms wide in jovial greeting, and almost toppled backward. "How might we be o' service to you flash gentlemen
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