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Story Excerpt

The Edinburgh Vampire
by Jane Jakeman

Art by Shutterstock.com

Edinburgh, 191

It was a pleasant little private park, attractive to the owners of the fine houses backing onto it. Or rather, it would have been pleasant, were it not for the ominous long shape stretched out behind a clump of rhododendrons.

“I jus’ found her, right here,” gasped Angus McQuarry, the park keeper. He was still shocked, as well he might have been, for the thin young girl lying before the police officers was extraordinarily pale, as white as an alabaster monument. The face, the breasts, the thighs seemed quite unearthly, outlined against sable-black in the early-morning-light.

“We’ll have to get her to the pathologist,” said Sergeant Jamieson, “but it’s my bet this is the same as the last two. No obvious wounds at first sight, but she’s been put here on top of a black cape, like something in the theatre. As pale as if the blood had been . . . well, sucked out of her. Well, cover the poor child up and get her on a stretcher.”

The police officers, rough men though they often were, handled the small body as gently as if she were a daughter of their own. Jamieson looked down at the place where she had lain. “No blood on the cape,” he said and looked around. The neatly kept grass and flower beds smiled up at him. “And none in the park around her.”

 

Octavia Tenbaker was woken by a steward bearing a tray of tea and toast. She was sleepily aware that the wheels were slowing down and the engine gave a strong but mournful hoot as the Scotch Express screeched into the end of its journey, Edinburgh Waverley train station.

“Your early-morning call, miss. I hope you slept well. We’ll be there in an hour.” He placed the tray on a neat fold-down table next to her bunk. “And you asked for a local morning paper, so as well as The Times I’ve brought the Edinburgh Morning Post, though perhaps the front page might not be—” He broke off, laid the papers on the bunk, bowed, and retreated.

Octavia glanced at the Edinburgh paper first. She loved local newspapers, the advertisements for missing dogs, for reliable cooks and custard powder, the “births, marriages, and deaths” columns. One learned so much about a place and what really interested the locals.

But the Edinburgh Morning Post had departed from its sedate format to blazon a screaming headline across its front page. “Another body! The Vampire strikes again!”

Octavia had an orderly mind, not easily seduced by typographical banners. This would be something cooked up by an ambitious editor, something to peruse at leisure. She laid the paper aside and pushed back the tartan coverlet on her Caledonian Railway bunk bed. It had been quite comfortable all the way from London: In fact, she had scarcely woken except for the low sound of the whistle as the train crossed the border from England into Scotland at Marshall Meadows Bay. She could have ordered a traditional breakfast with kippers or bacon but preferred a lighter start to the day and now nibbled her toast and poured her satisfyingly smoky tea from the small pot. Then she washed at the basin provided in her compartment and dressed, putting on her travelling dress of fine charcoal wool with a thick cape, remembering the line scribbled at the end of Ogilvie’s letter: “Bring warm clothes.” She now unfolded that letter and scanned it as she drank another cup.

It was headed “Ogilvie Hall, Muskton, Edinburgh.”

 

—My dear Miss Tenbaker,

“I hope you will not mind my writing to you after your clever solution of the entangled problems we met at St. Helena’s College in Oxford. This letter comes to you from my family home in Scotland, where a friend has encountered a difficulty with which I should like to help her. You, with your cool brain and modern mind, are just the person I wish to have here with me. We would welcome you at Muskton, of course, and I could meet your train at Waverley Station if you would kindly telegraph me of your time of arrival.

         With all good wishes,

         Ogilvie

 

That was all he needed as a signature, for, as she had discovered in the case of “The Oxford Ghosts,” the affable young doctor, Laurence Ogilvie, was the head of an ancient Scottish clan and had the right to use only the one word of their name.

 

The telegraph system had worked perfectly, for as the train drew into Waverley Station amid great panting of steam and hustling of porters, Octavia saw a tall ginger-haired figure waiting on the platform. He was not sporting a kilt, but ordinary English dress with well-cut trousers. However, as he hurried along the platform towards her, he was followed by a gnarled old fellow who maintained Scottish tradition by wearing a heavy swinging garment chequered in dark green and red which exposed rather knobbly legs.

Ogilvie took her hands and greeted her warmly. “My dear Miss Tenbaker—how good of you to come! Where are your bags?—Ah yes, Mungo will take them.” The kilted retainer whisked Octavia’s single item of luggage out of the hands of a porter and Ogilvie led the way out.

Waverley Station had a grand entrance hall with glass panels in the roof. Octavia saw several women standing there, not the kind of respectable Edinburgh passenger she might have expected, but dressed in showy garments with low-cut bodices in spite of the chill and tattered feather boas flung round their necks.

“Aye, professional ladies, if you take my meaning,” said Ogilvie.

“Hoors,” said Mungo, “Call them by their rightful name. A disgrace to Edinburgh, they are! And since the railway came they hang aboot here, waiting for gentleman passengers like Scylla or Charybdis.”

Octavia was reflecting on the classical aspects of Scottish education as one of the women—this one was a mere girl, almost a child—came close to Ogilvie and Octavia could see that her clothes were drab and her face thin. Mungo hastened to scare her off, and she scuttled out of sight like a stray young cat.

“I would dearly love to have a motor car here in Edinburgh, but Mungo says he must have old Sadie here and cannot be doing with all those new-fangled motories,” said Ogilvie as they emerged into the street. Powerful grunts of agreement came from Mungo as he heaved the valise up into the back of a horse-drawn coach and climbed up behind the plump brown mare between the shafts. As she got into the coach, Octavia glimpsed on a worn door panel a coat of arms bristling with weapons and bearing the inscription “Agin the world” on a shield borne by a snarling lion with two tails.

When Octavia and Ogilvie were settled in the back, Mungo tapped Sadie’s side and she started off at a surprisingly brisk trot. “Have you visited Edinburgh before?” asked Ogilvie. “No? Well, I must point out some of the sights.”

They trundled over broken pavements. “The castle is magnificent,” was a tactful comment from Octavia, who could see a towering heap of stones perched high above them. They seemed to be moving up towards it, passing over a bridge spanning green banks and through a narrow alleyway. “Yes, we must go up there while you are in Edinburgh. There is a magnificent view, and also Mons Meg, its most famous inhabitant.”

“Mons Meg?” queried Octavia.

“Aye, Mons Meg, the great siege cannon. She was constructed in 1449 in Burgundy. She was given to the Scottish king of the day and she’s still up there, protecting the city. Now we’re going through the Old Town, the city around the castle,” said her guide, “and there, on the other side of the ravine, you can see the New Town. That was planned in the late eighteenth century, over a hundred years ago. A true product of the Enlightenment, wide streets, modern houses, plenty of windows.”

They were moving now into medieval Edinburgh and she could certainly see how ancient it was. Here were streets so narrow that there was scarcely room for the carriage between steep canyons of soot-blackened stone tenements.

Octavia recalled the newspaper headline, perhaps because of the grim atmosphere around them, “The morning paper had the news, ‘Another body!’ What is happening in your fair city?”

But before he answered her, the laird suddenly shouted, “Draw your head in now, Miss Tenbaker,” and Octavia, who had put her head out in order to peer up at the forbidding walls, saw a window clatter open high above, heard a shout of “Gardyloo!” and ducked back inside just in time to avoid a cascade that tipped down from on high.

“Gardyloo. Regardez l’eau! Watch out for the water! And not merely water. I must apologise for our city,” said Ogilvie. “I trust you were not splashed. I am afraid the sanitation in this area is of the primitive kind. As a medical man, I must utterly condemn it. That is one of the advantages of the New Town, where the plumbing is most clean and modern. Here we are in the Old Town, where the facilities are, shall we say, really quite, er—basic.”

Octavia returned to her preoccupation. “And what of these ‘Edinburgh Vampires,’ I think the newspaper called them?”

The cobbled passageway, barely wide enough to allow the passage of the coach, along which they passed revealed here and there dark mouths, entrances to gullies and foul-smelling little courts and alleys, with here and there a maid carrying a basket or a ragged youth working a pump.

“Allow me,” Dr. Ogilvie said as he reached across and pulled up the window by its leather strap. “The vapours in these Wynds, as in winding sheets, by the way—that is what we call these alleyways—are foul. I am sure they contribute to the diseases and epidemics from which the city suffers. Although things are considerably better than they were. Princes Street Gardens, the flowery stretch of green you will have observed which stretches along between the Old and New Towns, that was the site of a filthy lake into which all the effluent drained. And into which corpses were thrown and left to rot: It was rumoured that was where a vampire lurked and threw in its victims. I beg your pardon, but I know from our adventure in Oxford that you have a strong stomach, on which I congratulate you.”

“Thank you,” said Octavia, mulling over this rather odd compliment, “but the vampire?”

“It’s a strange thing, Miss Tenbaker, but in the eighteenth century the bodies of a supposed vampire’s victims were found in the Old Town. Beautiful young women completely drained of blood, with puncture wounds on the neck. That’s how the legend goes, anyway. But two more bodies have been found in the last few weeks. In the New Town. Young women completely exsanguinated, that means—”

“Do you mean to say that your vampire has relocated from the Old Town to the New?”

Ogilvie gave a short bark of a laugh. “With a long rest of a century and a half in between, and one paper has claimed that the digging required to create the New Town has disturbed a vampire lying in the lake which was emptied for the building work. Yes, vampiric activity, that’s what it looks like to the popular press.”

“And to you?”

“As a medical man, all I can say is that the two bodies were bloodless, but as I have not seen the pathologist’s reports, I cannot say how. Though I have heard about some odd features which suggest it would be an interesting case. But, my dear Miss Tenbaker, please do not be alarmed by the impression that there is a vampire on the loose in our city. And the problem I shall ask you to solve is of quite a different nature. You need have no anxiety about a descendant of Dracula or some such creature.”

“I am not at all anxious, merely intrigued, Doctor. But are we not coming to some fine monument now?”

The space of the street had opened out and she perceived the façade of a great building covered with Gothic ornament.

“St. Giles’ Cathedral,” answered her companion. “I will take you inside sometime and show you the tomb of the great Marquess of Montrose, devoted supporter of the Stuart kings. He was hanged not far from this spot.” Fascinated though she was, Octavia could not help but shudder; so many centuries of murderous history seemed to be looking down at them in this city.

They rattled on beyond the dense tangle of alleyways leading down from the spine of the hill, and beyond the city the coach drew up at last outside a craggy black house that Octavia thought must be of great antiquity, so worn and dark were its stones. A shield with weapons and attendant two-tailed lion stood on a carving above the heavy mahogany door which Ogilvie unceremoniously pushed open. As they passed inside, Octavia saw an inscription over the portal. She made out the same challenge that appeared on the coat of arms on the coach, “Agin the world.”

“Welcome to Muskton,” said her host. They stood in a great hall with beams high above them, logs blazing in a fireplace itself the size of a small house. The walls seemed bristling with a strange ornamentation, but as Octavia gazed around she saw the glassy eyes and spreading antlers of many stags, some with cobwebs trailing between their horns. “Ah yes, I am intending to get rid of the trophies,” said Ogilvie. “I do not think Miss Broderick would care for them and she will be coming here, I hope, after our marriage.”

“I heard of your engagement and offer you my sincerest congratulations.” But Octavia was somewhat troubled inwardly. The Valerie Broderick she had met in Oxford, now the fiancée of this hopeful young Scot, had been a very promising and capable scholar. Would she give up that profession for this bunch of old horns and crumbling walls, no matter how romantic the idea?

She asked Ogilvie, “Will she not remain the principal of her Oxford College? She seemed admirably suited to the role when I met her in that affair of the Oxford Ghosts.”

“I have hopes,” said Ogilvie, turning pink. “This house—originally a tower fortified by my rather belligerent ancestors—is my inheritance. She may take an interest in my private research—let me show you my laboratory.”

Behind a heavy oak door was the most modern of contrasts, a room fitted with workbenches and fume cupboards and gleaming rows of flasks and phials. The air had a heavy, sulphurous smell which the fume cupboards had not completely contained. “Good heavens!” said Octavia. “You have a fully fitted science room here. I wish there were such a laboratory in Oxford at St. Helena’s College, so that women students might conduct experiments! But surely this ancient house is not connected to the general gas supply—what supplies the gas to the burner?’

Ogilvie pointed under the bench. “A propane tank with a rubber tube which can be connected to the burner when I wish to use it. My research is into haematology—the study of the blood. But this must bore you, and besides, the air is not of the freshest in here. Let us go back into the hall.”

As they returned, Ogilvie looked at all the stags’ heads mounted high above them. “Apart from installing my laboratory, I have made few changes in the house. But I don’t care for all these dead animals around. Do you shoot, Miss Tenbaker?”

“Er, not for sport,” said Octavia, and was spared from continuing by the appearance of a motherly grey-haired lady at the top of a stone staircase which must have been part of the original tower. “This is Mrs. Laughton, my housekeeper,” said Ogilvie. “She has been here since—since I was a small child, in fact. But I am afraid she may be leaving us soon.”

“Welcome, my dear,” said Mrs. Laughton. “Come and have some refreshments.”

 

Octavia was whisked into a drawing room for tea and scones. The room was surprisingly comfortable, thickly carpeted, though the brocade curtains contrasted somewhat oddly with the narrow, roughly cut stone windows—could they possibly have been arrow slits?

Hungry, she scoffed two scones and then sat back, inviting Ogilvie to tell her the reason for her presence. He looked across at Mrs. Laughton on the other side of the tea table, and to Octavia’s surprise, it was the housekeeper who began the tale.

“I have the problem, Miss Tenbaker, not the Laird. He has advised me to consult you. You see, I expect to retire soon, and to be frank, I can no longer manage these winding stairs as I used to, so I thought I would get a house in the New Town, where there is every convenience—wide, easy steps, plumbing, water laid on, and run it as a luxurious guesthouse. Only the right sort of people, you know. Visitors who would pay a little extra for genteel surroundings.”

“It seems an excellent plan,” said Octavia. She reflected that no doubt Ogilvie would contribute towards the establishment of his faithful old servant in a comfortable style. And perhaps, if Valerie Broderick did indeed become the mistress of Muskton, both women might find a change desirable. Too many cooks, and so forth.

“But what is the difficulty?” she asked, feeling that with Scots the most forthright way of approaching the problem would be the best.

Mrs. Laughton’s rosy little face became troubled. “Well, I have set my heart on a house there. One that would be most suitable. And I have taken a lease of it for five years. But now I am not at all certain it would be at all the right place for a guesthouse—at least, not the sort I had in mind. Oh dear, I find it difficult to speak of, even to another woman.”

At this point Ogilvie coughed and rose from his chair. “My dear Miss Tenbaker, I have a few affairs of business to attend to, if you would forgive me.” He slipped quietly out of the room.

“He has always been the soul of tact,” said Mrs. Laughton. “He knows I will find it easier to speak of this without a gentleman present. It is indeed rather shocking.”

“Do proceed,” said Octavia Tenbaker, now agog with curiosity.

“It is really the house opposite mine,” said the housekeeper, leaning forward. “You see, ladies arrive there very discreetly, all muffled up. And others at night: I hear carriages outside.”

“You think it may be, well, what we might call ‘a house of ill repute,’” said Octavia.

Mrs, Laughton held a handkerchief before her face as she whispered, “I fear so.”

“Then surely the proper author-ities . . .”

“Miss Tenbaker, on one occasion when a lady arrived and I happened to be watching from my window, she was holding a shawl to her face, and it slipped. I recognised her. Miss Tenbaker, it was the wife of the senior judge advocate, one of the highest officials in Scotland!”

“That is indeed interesting,” said Octavia.

“But there is more.”

“More?”

“I have mentioned the plumbing. The drains from the new houses empty directly into the pipes below the street. But one can observe the water as it runs out through a grating. And, Miss Tenbaker, several times, I have observed it gushing with . . . with a red substance!

Oh, dear, thought Octavia. Have I come all this way to find a nasty little back-street business relieving women of a “trouble” they have got’? Aloud, she said “But Mrs. Laughton, is that not a matter to bring to the attention of a medical man? Have you consulted Dr. Ogilvie?”

Mrs. Laughton clearly understood the implication. “Oh, no, ma’am! It is not something of that—that nature.” She could not bring herself to name the procedure which had entered both their minds.

“No such matter, Miss Tenbaker! One of the maids working there ran out in great distress and into my house. She said she had been told to clean the bathroom. There was a great glass contrivance next the bath, and it was full of—”

Mrs. Laughton leaned forward as if unsure of the word she was about to utter. . . .

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2022. The Edinburgh Vampire by Jane Jakeman

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