I posted recently about one of the stories in Robert W. Chambers’s book, The King in Yellow. Just like the fictitious book of that title mentioned in the first four stories, the real one captured my imagination, helped by a graphic novel version by I.N.J. Culbard. So I wrote a fan fiction on that first story — “The Repairer of Reputations.” Aside from writing something new, I learned that the urge to write fan fiction comes from the desire to figure out something in the original work, to clarify ambiguous details or simply to inhabit the world of the original for a while longer.
The story is nearly 3,000 words, so I’m posting it in two parts, of which the first follows forthwith.
The Deliverer of Delusions
The shop looked as I remembered it, with the same sign over the door. “Hawberk, Armourer.” A closer view revealed four more years of fade and peel. The same tinkling bell, though.
He looked up from his work with a blank-eyed stare. Then – “Ah, Miss Miranda. Miss Castaigne, I mean. My condolences. It’s a sad return home for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hawberk. I left Paris as soon as I received Louis’s telegram, but it took me two weeks to get here.”
“Bienvenue à nouveau après toutes ces années, Mademoiselle.” Followed by a courtly bow and Gallic hand gesture that made a flash of reflected light from the ring on his right hand. It must have been the signet on which my brother Hildred had recognized the arms of some ancient English family – one of the reasons he found Hawberk and his shop so fascinating.
“Merci, Monsieur.” As always, suits of armour stood around the shop, in various stages of completeness, some shiny, some rusty. Customers who did not mind waiting. “I gather it happened here? That last incident, when Hildred was… taken into custody?”
“Not here in the shop, no, but in this building. In Mr. Wilde’s rooms, upstairs.”
“Mr. Wilde – he was the man who died? Whom Hildred was supposed to have murdered?”
“He lived upstairs, yes.”
“May I see…? I’m trying to put it all together, his last days. How it happened.”
“I understand.” He rummaged in a drawer and brought out a key.
The stairs were steep, brown and narrow. Hawberk struggled awhile with the key before the door opened with a screech. “Reminds me of Wilde’s cat,” Hawberk said. “Savage creature, but he liked her.”
Mr. Wilde’s rooms were empty of visible life – bare bookshelves, a curious high desk and matching tall chair with a set of ladder-like rungs. Dust and nameless scraps lay on the floor. A signboard leaned against the wall. I turned my head sideways to read it. “Repairer of Reputations. What’s that?”
“Mr. Wilde was eccentric.”
Watery sunlight from the small-paned window drew a scintillation from something on the floor. I bent and extracted it from a crack between two boards. A scrap of paper lying nearby caught my eye, my own surname unlikely in this dreary place. “…only son of Hildred Castaigne and Edythe…” and, on the line below that, “…in the succession.”
I slipped the scrap into my pocket and examined the shiny object. Intricately cut facets made a small brilliance on my palm. I held it out to Hawberk. “What do you suppose this is?”
“It looks like a diamond. Couldn’t be real, though.” He looked up at me. “It might have come from that diadem.”
“Diadem? Did Mr. Wilde collect such things, as well as repairing reputations?”
“No. Mr. Castaigne brought it with him, that night.”
“My brother had a diadem with him?”
“Yes. Made to look like gold and diamonds. Couldn’t have been real, though. With everything that happened, I didn’t get a good look at it, but I supposed it had something to do with his interest in heraldry, royal symbols, all that. You didn’t know about it?”
“No!” The succession, I remembered. I looked at the diamond again. Real or paste? “So what happened to this diadem?”
Hawberk creased his brow and looked toward the window, where a fly buzzed against the panes. “I really don’t know. Perhaps the police took it away, as evidence.”
There was nothing more to say. The musty smell of the place, and the buzzing fly, were oppressive. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, Mr. Hawberk.”
But at the door of the shop, I paused. “Do you think my brother was insane?”
He examined the key to Wilde’s door, rubbing it with his thumb. “I really can’t say, Miss Castaigne. He didn’t seem so, all those years, but something happened to him, at the end.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Hawberk. And thank you for being kind to Hildred. He loved your shop.”
Upon his removal from Dr. Archer’s care six months after his riding accident, Hildred had moved to the Benedick apartments on Washington Square. For an entire year, I had called on him every day, often tracking him down in Hawberk’s shop, where he went to listen to the music of metal on metal and lose himself in scintillations of light on the armour plates. Then the call of Paris and adventure had grown too strong for me to ignore. An opportunity presented itself, and I took it, telling myself that Hildred was well again, even if other interests had supplanted his former pastimes of fishing, yachting and riding. And our cousin Louis was near enough to keep an eye on him.
I was gone for more than three years – golden years! They fled by so quickly, until Louis’s telegram came. “Hildred dead in asylum for insane.” By the time I arrived in New York City, Louis too was far away. His regiment had been posted to San Francisco. He had married Constance Hawberk and departed. Was I unjust in suspecting him of undue haste? No matter – he was only a cousin. I was Hildred’s sister.
The concierge at the Benedick admitted me quite readily when I identified myself. I felt a moment of dread before unlocking the door to Hildred’s rooms, anticipating sorrow at the sight of his possessions bereft of his presence. But a surprise greeted me instead – the rooms were empty. Not only of Hildred, but of furniture, books, carpets and ornaments. Only the curtains remained, their velvet folds hanging mutely, as though in helpless apology.
No books on the shelves. No shelves! No papers on the desk. No desk! No clothes in the wardrobe. No wardrobe! Where was everything? The concierge hadn’t said anything about this removal. The rooms were still Hildred Castaigne’s. He was gone, but his possessions should have remained.
I returned to the sitting-room and took the tour again. Study, bedroom, sitting-room. Back to the study, floors creaking, my steps echoing. He was gone. Gone completely. His mortal remains rested in our family’s cemetery plot. I had hoped to capture something of his spirit here, in the last place he had lived. But it was an empty shell.
The concierge was still in his office. “Can you tell me who removed Mr. Castaigne’s possessions? And when?”
“Not exactly, Miss. Some men came, a couple of weeks ago. Said they had the family’s permission.”
“I am his family. His sister. I gave no permission. And a couple of weeks ago I was still in Paris.”
He shrugged. “Well, that’s what they said. And where? I think I heard them say Madison Avenue.”
My heart sank. Madison Avenue was a long street. I pulled my wallet from my handbag and held out several dollars. “Please, can you remember anything else?”
The man took the currency and counted it. “Maybe,” he said, smirking. “Make it an even ten and we’ll see.”
I produced two more dollars.
“Dr. John Archer,” he said.
Look for Part 2 tomorrow!