27

John Slade was innocent of theWhitechapel murders, I now knew beyond doubt.

Even as my spirits soared with elation, the weight of reason hauled them down to earth. The entries in the journal were not a confession of Niall Kavanagh’s guilt. I reread them, hoping to find evidence I’d missed. What exactly had happened between Kavanagh and the women? Had he poisoned them as he’d done his students? Was that what “exposed” meant? I surmised that he’d examined the women in the manner that a physician examines his patients; but what had Kavanagh been looking to find?

Nothing in the entries answered my questions. I turned to the next page. It bore a pen-and-ink drawing of a woman, simple but skillfully done. She was naked, her fleshy body and her breasts and genitals accurately depicted; yet the drawing didn’t look erotic. It reminded me of the illustrations in a medical text I’d once seen. Under the drawing was written “C. Meadows.” Her curly hair and facial features were lightly sketched. The detail rendered in the heaviest line was a Y-shaped mark, its fork on her chest, its vertical line running down her stomach. A sense of dread gripped me. As I turned the page, my hand trembled.

Another drawing of the same woman appeared, but here her torso was depicted as if the skin, underlying muscles, and ribs had been cut away. I knew that scientists performed dissections in front of public audiences, but I’d never witnessed one, and I’d never seen the inside of a human body. A tube ran down the woman’s throat and branched into two lobes that appeared to be her lungs. Blood vessels fed into a fist-shaped heart. Another tube extended from her throat to a curved pouch that I took for her stomach, which was connected to a mass of coiled, sausage-like bowels. I felt as fascinated and ashamed as if I were poring over indecent pictures. I remembered that the Whitechapel Ripper had mutilated his victims, and shock hit me as I comprehended what I was seeing.

Niall Kavanagh had dissected the women he’d killed, as part of his scientific experiments. Here was the evidence. The police must not have recognized what he’d done; they’d thought the murders and mutilations were sheer, meaningless carnage. A wave of nausea sloshed through me. I turned to the last page, even though I dreaded finding something worse.

It showed an enlarged view of the woman’s body from waist to groin. The bowels were parted to show a pear-shaped organ attached to two thin tubes, each ending in a clot of fibers and a little round sac. At first I couldn’t imagine what these organs might be. A lady is conditioned not to think of what is inside her body that cannot be mentioned in public. A detail at the side of the page showed the pear-shaped organ removed from the abdomen and cut open. Inside was nestled a creature like a salamander, with a black spot for an eye. Realization struck.

These were the female organs. The pear-shaped one was the womb, the creature inside an unborn baby. The Whitechapel Ripper’s victims had been found with their female organs missing. Niall Kavanagh had removed them before he’d dumped the bodies in the streets. Catherine Meadows had been with child. How would Kavanagh have known, and how could he have drawn the child unless he’d sliced her womb and looked inside?

Although my powers of imagination serve me well when I write my stories, they were my undoing now. I pictured a nude woman laid on a table, and a knife slicing through her flesh. Hands reached inside the slit, pushed aside red, glistening bowels. They cut out the female organs and held them aloft, crimson and dripping. My mental picture was so vivid that dizziness swept over me. Black dots stippled the room and coalesced. On the brink of fainting, I grasped the desk for support. I bent my head and breathed deeply until the blackness receded. As I hastily closed the journal, I became aware of voices outside.

“Kavanagh not live here anymore,” the landlord said.

Another man asked a question, too quietly for me to discern his words, but his voice was too familiar, and the last one I wanted to hear.

“I don’t know,” the landlord said impatiently.

The man spoke again. He was Wilhelm Stieber. He was still looking for Niall Kavanagh, and had somehow tracked him to this house.

“No, you can’t look around,” the landlord said.

I crouched, paralyzed by terror that Stieber wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“This private property,” the landlord said. “You trespassing.”

I crept to the stairs and looked up them. The open door framed a rectangle of daylight. In it stood four men, my view of them limited to their trousers and shoes. The landlord’s backed toward the house as those of the other men advanced on him. Stieber had brought his two henchmen. Would the landlord tell them I was here?

Looking around, I saw a door at the back of the room. I ran for it, then reversed and picked up Niall Kavanagh’s journal and papers. I fled through the door just as footsteps descended toward the cellar, and I bolted up slippery stairs to a fenced yard. Racing for the gate, I dared not look behind me: if I should see Wilhelm Stieber, I would die of fright. I burst through the gate; I ran through yards behind other houses. I didn’t stop until I reached the Whitechapel high street. There I stood, panting from exertion, amid the crowds.

A block away was an omnibus-a long carriage drawn by a team of horses. It stopped to let out passengers. I hurried to it, climbed aboard, paid the fare, and sat beside an old woman with a basket of smelly fish. I traveled a mile or so; the London scenery blurred past as I watched to make sure that no one was following me. Then I felt safe enough to let down my guard and attend to the prize I’d stolen. I examined the papers. Anticipation turned to disappointment: page after page was covered with equations and scientific language. I found reprints of articles from learned publications, and incomprehensible diagrams featuring lines, arrows, numbers, and geometric figures. The two sheets I could read were a grocery list and a bill from a tailor.

But I couldn’t believe that a clue to the whereabouts of Niall Kavanagh was not among the material that I’d risked my life to obtain. I turned over diagrams and found one whose other side bore a note penned in a clear, bold, masculine hand. I read: Our agreement of 20 July 1850 is hereby confirmed. A research laboratory has been procured for you. It is located at the old workhouse in Tonbridge. The facilities and equipment you requested will be delivered on 18 August. Remember to keep all matters associated with your work and our agreement strictly confidential.

The note wasn’t signed; however, I’d seen that handwriting before. Its strong forward slant, high ascenders, and emphatic punctuation marks were distinctly familiar. But where had I seen it? Gazing at the note, I had a memory of a desk strewn with papers that bore the same handwriting as the note I held. A man rose from behind the desk. It was Lord Eastbourne.

So many thoughts barraged my mind that I could not immediately sort them out. The note proved that Lord Eastbourne and Niall Kavanagh had entered into a contract under which Kavanagh would receive a laboratory furnished by Lord Eastbourne. I recalled Slade telling me that Kavanagh was building a model of his invention for the British government, which was keeping him hidden. Lord Eastbourne must be the official charged with installing Kavanagh in a secret location.

So many things that I had wondered about were now explained. Lord Eastbourne had pretended he didn’t know about Kavanagh and the invention because they were a government secret that he wasn’t permitted to reveal. He’d left me to languish in Newgate Prison because he couldn’t let me run loose, reveal what I knew, and interfere with Foreign Office business.

Yet so many questions were still unanswered. If Lord Eastbourne was working with Kavanagh to build the secret weapon, then why would Lord Palmerston be unaware of it? After all, Lord Palmerston was Lord Eastbourne’s superior. But I would swear in church that Palmerston didn’t know. At Osborne House I’d seen nothing in his manner to suggest that he’d only been pretending to doubt my story about Kavanagh. I had to conclude that his ignorance was genuine, and so must be the Queen’s.

And why had Lord Eastbourne asked me whether Katerina had told me Niall Kavanagh’s whereabouts? He, of all people, should have known them.

More questions had to do with John Slade. Why had Lord Eastbourne seemed unappreciative of Slade’s efforts to protect Kavanagh and the work he was doing for the British Empire? Why was Lord Eastbourne instead so eager to brand Slade a traitor? Why had Lord Eastbourne been unwilling to reinvestigate Slade’s case, discover the truth, and help me rescue Slade?

I could not answer these questions, and now I faced the most immediate one of all: What should I do with the journal and the note?

My first impulse was to run to the police and show them the evidence that Niall Kavanagh was the Whitechapel Ripper and I was innocent. But caution forestalled me. Nothing in the journal spelled out the fact that Kavanagh had killed Mary Chandler, Jane Anderson, or Catherine Meadows. The police would think I was clutching at straws, and so might a jury. The fact that I’d left prison before being officially released wouldn’t lend me credibility. Moreover, the journal and the note didn’t prove that John Slade was not a traitor. If I turned myself in to the police now, they would throw me back in prison, and I would lose my chance to exonerate Slade.

As the hot, crowded omnibus carried me past the drab cityscape of Whitechapel, I realized that I must give up all hope of a quick end to my troubles with the law. There was but one feasible course of action, which required me to remain a fugitive a little longer.

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