It’s Friday night and do we have something for you! Before we can tell you all about The Yellow Book, Britain’s first Steampunk bar, you must hear about the mysterious disappearance of Doctor Braxton Beesworth. Follow the hilarious investigation conducted by a private investigator and his charming assistant.
DOCTOR BRAXTON BEESWORTH AND THE YELLOW BOOK (PART THE FIRST) by N. Visser
Mr Nelson Mackellow-Featherlight, Esq.
Private Investigator of Fluky Oddities & Peculiar Curiosities
34Ciii Boundary Passage
29th of February in the 39th Year of the Reign of Her Glorious Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, Princess of Hanover, Princes of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha, Duchess of Brunswick & Luneburg and Duchess of Saxony.
The Ministry of Lost & Found
1 Cyclops Mews
It is with bashful satisfaction and modest pride that I beg most humbly to present to you my findings vis-à-vis the missing naturalist Doctor Braxton Beesworth, formerly associated with the London College of Neoteric Postulations and the Society of Imperial Flora & Fauna.
Brevity dictates that I must omit a great deal of the intrepid derring-do that this assignment required both of myself and my most agreeable and charming assistant Miss Alice Kittyhawk. This is, of course, highly regrettable as the payment for this assignment, though seemingly generous upon the advent of this investigation, has been far exceeded by expenses incurred during the lengthy and often dangerous expeditions my delightful assistant and I embarked upon in order to satisfy your curiosity. I feel that only a full description of the many times we were forced by circumstance to risk our lives would emphasise the merits of a post-investigation review of a more suitable financial quittance. In all sincerity I add that this is not so much in recognition of the mortal dangers I casually overcame in my usual heroic fashion, but instead concerns the reputation of poor Miss Alice Kittyhawk. More often than not adverse climatic conditions or the hostile savage intentions of restless natives caused my exquisite assistant to seek safety, solace and comfort in my arms. Although I assure you these incidental and delectable occasions were purely of a professional nature I need not remind you of the rapidity with which wagging tongues can tarnish the reputation of morally upright scrumptious young ladies whose sole fault is the perfect, impeccable and succulent execution of their assigned tasks. Any revision of remuneration on a par with the actual efforts made and risks taken would arm poor Miss Alice Kittyhawk with the means to ward off unwelcome gossip. However, you know me well enough, Your Excellency, to understand I will not embellish on this matter any further in order to protect my deserved reputation as a breviloquent investigator whose communication is short, comprehensive, brief, concise, factual and to the point without long, excessively complex labyrinthine elaborations.
Thus, therefore and henceforth I will, without unnecessary further ado, relate to you forthwith and at all possible expediency the account of my woefully underpaid journey of discovery regarding the mysterious disappearance of Doctor Braxton Beesworth.
Had I not been distracted by pondering upon the Great Mysteries of the Universe I am quite sure that it would have been myself rather than the appetizing Miss Alice Kittyhawk who had first come upon the idea that a logical setting for immediate further investigation was Mount Pleasant in Clerkenwell, London; for the simple reason that Doctor Braxton Beesworth was a resident there before his puzzling disappearance.
We booked a passage to London on one of the new-fangled dirigeable schooners, feeling that the Express Airspeed facilitated by the retractable dorsal, adipose, caudal and pectoral fins justified the extra expense. Though the flight was bumpy at times – forcing poor Miss Alice Kittyhawk to hold on to me tightly for support – I must congratulate the captain of the P.A.S. Brighton Breeze for our speedy transferral, for the subsequent Steam Tram ride from Regent’s Park Airstrip to Clerkenwell seemed to take as long if not longer than our journey from Brighton to London.
Upon arrival we proceeded to divide the tasks at hand and my masculine instinct was to bear the brunt of this local investigation and leave the lighter less demanding work to Miss Alice Kittyhawk. Upon meeting at the end of our first day of investigation we had the following to report:
By means of rigorous detective work I had discovered that Doctor Braxton Beesworth much preferred the Fox & Zephyr and The Old Red Cow which he frequented on a regular basis whereas he was seen more incidentally at The Piston & Anchor and The Cog & Gear and never at all in The Clock’s Hands. Suspecting that there could possibly be a very good reason for this I had embarked upon thorough and exhaustive (not to mention expensive) research to discover that there was indeed a very important rationalization for this. Whereas The Cog & Gear excelled in their offer of mild, light and pale ales their bitter ales and stouts were disappointing to say the least. The Piston & Anchor reversed that with a poor selection of lighter drinks whilst their common porter, superior bitter and single and double stouts were almost as enticing as Miss Alice Kittyhawk. The Fox & Zephyr and The Old Red Cow, however, offer a much more balanced range all around, both also serving a very tasty imperial stout. The inferior quality of refreshments on offer in The Clock’s Hands is local public knowledge in Clerkenwell and I will not repeat the adjectives used by the natives to describe the poor imitation of ale, stout and bitter there. Apt as the descriptions may be they were highly colourful and most definitely unsuitable for refined gentlefolk such as ourselves; suffice to say many reverted to Mount Pleasant’s historical roots as London’s largest cess pit. Naturally I was routinely thorough and sampled each drink on offer in each public house from the X to the XXXX strengths despite the further dreadful depletion of our funds such perfectionism required.
Miss Alice Kittyhawk had, in the meantime, visited the former lodgings of Doctor Braxton Beesworth and attempted to use a picklock to gain entry. Despite her considerable skills (imparted upon her by the family business – the Kittyhawks are well-known locksmiths of qualitative repute) it turned out that Doctor Braxton Beesworth’s door was secured with a most intricate lock, forcing Miss Alice Kittyhawk to kick the door in for a less subtle entry. With the whistles of approaching Police Constables sounding on the street ere long, Miss Alice Kittyhawk did not have the opportunity to inspect the lodgings at leisure. Instead, in a flash of inspiration probably inspired by her frequent proximity to my genius, she gathered as many of the papers on the doctor’s desk as she could, before effecting a quick getaway.
Upon meeting she reported to have found a great many interesting things but for reasons of my frail health I was feeling unwell and not quite able to remain standing upright which caused us to conclude we would have to postpone further investigation until the next day. Still feeling somewhat indisposed the next morning I asked Miss Alice Kittyhawk to conduct the initial analysis of the papers she had obtained whilst I attempted to remedy my unfortunate and mysterious bout of ill health with copious amounts of invigorating tonics and coffee. Whilst I achieved at least a partial (and costly) recovery of my faculties Miss Alice Kittyhawk made considerable progress on the papers. She was helped therein, I have no doubt, by her prolonged exposure to the workings of a great mind as some of my inherent genius seems to have enhanced her own thought processes which, being of a female disposition, are, of course, generally inferior to those produced by the male brain.
The first lead procured by Miss Alice Kittyhawk led us to the offices of one Professor Godfroi Bostinwick, situated conveniently close to our lodgings on Laystall Street. My keen professional eye could not help but note that the aforementioned offices were located next to The Wheel & Spring and we quickly agreed that I would conduct a reconnaissance of this public house while Miss Alice Kittyhawk visited Professor Godfroi Bostinwick. Having soon established that Doctor Braxton Beesworth had often been seen at The Wheel & Spring sobbing into his pint I had little choice but to establish a sound reason for such undignified behaviour. It certainly was not the strong ale which could have induced such sorrow as it was quite splendid. Perhaps though, I reflected, the tears were not of sorrow but of joy for I was certainly close to tears when I sampled the porter; as rich, dark, creamy and chocolatey as a London porter ought to be and that most excellent taste only grew more exquisite upon the second and third pint.
I was just ordering my fourth pint to ensure it really was of such superior quality when Miss Alice Kittyhawk entered the premises to make her report as to why we had discovered invoices for Professor Godfroi Bostinwick’s treatment of Doctor Braxton Beesworth. Miss Alice Kittyhawk had established that Professor Godfroi Bostinwick was in fact a Philosopher of the Mind and adherent to the theories of Alexander Bain; something to do with the correlation of sensations and experience attending a school of associationism influencing daily human behavioural patterns and such modern poppycock. As a true professional I was enticed to dismiss this so-called professor as an obvious fraud but refrained from doing so when I cleverly deduced that Miss Alice Kittyhawk was quite taken by these new-fangled notions of psychoanalytic readings and treatments. For all her wholesome perfections Miss Alice Kittyhawk does sometimes fall victim to the illogical workings of the female mind but I chose to indulge her upon this occasion. What she had discovered was that Doctor Braxton Beesworth had visited Professor Godfroi Bostinwick on a regular basis after the professor had diagnosed our missing doctor with something called ‘Botanical Atelophobia’. According to the professor this ailment had been exceedingly common amongst naturalists ever since Darwin published On the Origin of Species. The essence of this malady was that members of this particular profession were resigned to the doomy prospect of never ever possibly coming even close to the eminence established by Darwin and therefore endeavouring in their labours without any prospect of success, let alone the establishment of an academic legacy. The professor had also made clear his opinion that no naturalist within the whole Empire had been stricken by Botanical Atelophobia as badly as Doctor Braxton Beesworth for the man refused to accept the prospect of inevitable failure; instead burning brightly with the unhinged ambition to surpass Darwin regardless of the cost.
Being a gentleman I complimented my ravishing assistant with her findings before informing her that I myself had discovered a matter of much greater import; namely the fact that Doctor Braxton Beesworth frequently shed tears into his beers and that I was about to order an India Pale Ale to determine if the quality of this IPA at The Wheel & Spring might have been the cause of this unnatural behaviour. Miss Alice Kittyhawk, I regret to say, reacted to my IPA proposal with uncharacteristic hostility, forcing me to momentarily consider her dismissal. However, I decided that all-in-all Miss Alice Kittyhawk’s many merits outweighed the occasional burst of female hysteria all members of that gender are genetically disposed to, especially as my ill health played up again. Upon this occasion I was barely able to walk and had to rely on the support of Miss Alice Kittyhawk to reach our lodgings. By-the-by, I suspect this frailty of my physique is much aggravated by anxiety regarding the many unexpected costs of this investigation, Your Excellency, though assure you that I have never faltered in my determination to bring it to a satisfactory close, if only as a matter of professional pride. It will probably ruin my business and leave me destitute but that is more desirable than failure to close an investigation.
Although I would have much appreciated a more gradual period of recovery Miss Alice Kittyhawk insisted on a radical new cure she said she had encountered. Without giving me time to consider my answer she less than gently landed me in front of the water pump at the back of our lodgings and vigorously worked the contraption; soaking me in icy cold water. Though somewhat perplexed at her rough handling of my status and dignity I was forced to admit the rapid return of at least a third of my diminished faculties which thus facilitated a continuation of our underpaid investigation.
This led us to a Clerkenwell’s well-known cottage industry of clock and watch makers for we had discovered amongst Doctor Braxton Beesworth’s papers a great many invoices for mysterious deliveries from a particular Swiss clockist named Herr Branke Schlingestatter. Herr Branke Schlingestatter’s shop was located right next to The Clockless Cuckoo and though I was immediately determined to pursue the possible role played by foreign lagers in the perplexing disappearance of Doctor Braxton Beesworth I was outdetermined in this by my most shapely assistant who dragged me rather ceremoniously into the clock shop. Apart from a few meritable display cases at the front most of the interior was taken up by Herr Branke Schlingestatter’s workshop; wheels, cogs and gears in abundance as well as magnifying glasses and a great many other instruments which were strange to my eyes. Herr Branke Schlingestatter himself was a rotund man wearing tiny round spectacles. He spoke in such a strange and barely intelligible accent that my dazzling assistant had to conduct the interview as I was almost continuously reduced to manic giggles and hysterical laughter at his words. From Miss Alice Kittyhawk’s subsequent debriefing I gathered that Doctor Braxton Beesworth had often visited Herr Branke Schlingestatter, drawn as he was by an endless fascination with the concept of time. It was not only the measurement of time which had compelled the doctor to listen to Herr Branke Schlingestatter’s horrible foreign accent though, but also the notion that time could perhaps be turned forwards or rewound backwards. This rather odd notion, Your Excellency, gains in peculiarity when described by such a one as Herr Branke Schlingestatter. “He vanted to know about ze tick und tock. How, perhaps, ze tick could be tocked and ze tock ticked und perhaps reversed to tock-tick instead of tick-tock.”
When, afterwards, the resplendent Miss Alice Kittyhawk inquired what observations I had chanced to make I answered her dutifully that I believed that it would be a severe failing on our part not to investigateThe Clockless Cuckoo and that it was quite clear to me both Doctor Braxton Beesworth and Herr Branke Schlingestatter were mad as hatters. As far as I was concerned a visit to Bethlem Royal Hospital would probably reveal to us Doctor Braxton Beesworth’s whereabouts after which the investigation could be closed. These considerations were waved aside by Miss Alice Kittyhawk whose own notes included Herr Branke Schlingestatter’s refusal to disclose the precise nature of the many items ordered at his shop by Doctor Braxton Beesworth as well as other answers given by the clocker which my scrumptious assistant believed to be deliberately vague. Struck by an inexplicable headache I could not raise the focus required for a debate upon the matter and agreed to prolong our investigation the following day.
We set out early that next day, catching a Steam Tram which huffed and puffed its way to Spitalfields; an ill-named pestering sore on the greatness of our Imperial Capital. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy in all the Empire. As we disembarked and I took in the roads which were paved with filth and the decaying houses amidst which flitted the silent shadows of the human vermin who inhabited this open sewer I realised that I had little to no clue as to why, precisely, we had taken it upon ourselves to visit such a horrid place. Miss Alice Kittyhawk reminded me of some rather odd notifications she had found amidst Doctor Braxton Beesworth’s paperwork; clues which she had pieced together to form a trail which led to the Spitalfields Rookery. I received this news with glumness as I swatted aside a few beggars; offended by their sunken, black-rimmed eyes, pallid faces and foul-smelling garments. We had to draw our guns shortly thereafter to see off a party of cut-throats intent on relieving us of our valuables and then again to see off a group of drunk Air Fleet Cadets who were intent on relieving me of my luscious assistant. Not long thereafter we arrived at a local lusherie with drooping loam walls and a sagging thatched roof and a fading sign which named it as The Hat & Feather. Once inside Miss Alice Kittyhawk made some enquiries after which she led us to a discreet nook in a dark corner where we encountered a roguish looking fellow who introduced himself as Fitzsimons Noakes. He was in the company of a tall and excessively hairy creature which I took at first to be one of Darwin’s great ape men from some far-off and remote corner of the Empire but then it – or rather she – spoke to introduce herself as Myrtle Minnocks Moylan, First Mate on the air-ship captained by Fitzsimons Noakes; The Centennial Kestrel.
There followed much pugnacious boasting and bellicose posturing by which means both Fitzsimons Noakes and Myrtle Minnocks Moylan conveyed to us that they considered The Centennial Kestrel the fastest Channel-Runner in business, capable of outrunning even the swiftest vessel of her Majesty’s Air Fleet. Their grandiloquent bluster also revealed that these scoundrels were first and foremost smugglers but would not deign from the odd stint of piracy if so required – at a special fee, of course. I myself was far more interested in their pints of triple stout and realising it would be rude not to partake I ordered a pint of the stuff for myself and another for Miss Alice Kittyhawk. The latter explained to Fitzsimons Noakes that our interest was not in the retention of their services but of a more informative nature. While I researched the quality of the triple stout my impressive assistant disarmed the wary smugglers with her smile and then slowly enticed out of them the information we sought. The smugglers had spoken to Doctor Braxton Beesworth on several occasions. The first time he had sought them out had been part of a recruitment drive as Doctor Braxton Beesworth had fervently desired to obtain the services of the notorious Fitzsimons Noakes and his First Mate for a journey of some importance. Fitzsimons Noakes had been tempted at first for Doctor Braxton Beesworth had been most persuasive with regard to the nature of the voyage; one of utmost importance upon which the fate of mankind’s understanding of the world depended. The smugglers had declined, however, when it had become clear to them that Doctor Braxton Beesworth had no finances with which to reward the crew of The Centennial Kestrel. Everlasting botanical fame, according to Fitzsimons Noakes, would not fill an empty belly, provide a stake for illicit gambling or purchase triple stouts at The Hat & Feather.
Miss Alice Kittyhawk understood the hint and visited the bar to order a new round of triple stouts during which time I quickly downed her first – untouched – pint for it seemed a waste to just let it serve as mere table decoration. Both Fitzsimons Noakes and Myrtle Minnocks Moylan ignored me, understanding no doubt, that a gentleman of my standing would have great difficulty conversing with their sort and such demeaning communication was best left to an intermediary of lesser social standing. When my most palatable assistant returned Fitzsimons made a rather curious remark as to a further reason for declining Doctor Braxton Beesworth’s offer: “Here I’ve got me ship and me gun, what would I be a long time ago or a time far, far away?” after which Myrtle Minnocks Moylan revealed that a subsequent meeting with Doctor Braxton Beesworth had led to a new deal. Namely, the crew of The Centennial Kestrel had helped the doctor recruit an alternative crew for his quest. The last time they had seen him had been when Doctor Braxton Beesworth had come to collect the motley gang of volunteers who were to accompany him into the great unknown where no man has gone before (according to the doctor). It was all very interesting no doubt although I was mostly concerned with Miss Alice Kittyhawk’s second pint of triple stout which looked most forlorn and neglected until I decided to relieve her of the responsibility of consuming it.
Making our way back Miss Alice Kittyhawk asked of me whether I had pieced all the information together. I told her that I would have undoubtedly done so had not that cursed frail health intervened once again for I was curiously unsteady on my feet and feeling a bit dizzy. She shook her head in dismay, no doubt in full empathy with my temporary infirmity, and then told me it was all elementary. It was her conviction that Doctor Braxton Beesworth, fanatically intent on surpassing Darwin, was planning an expedition similar to that of Darwin’s famous H.M.A.S. The Bounty. However, Doctor Braxton Beesworth intended not to cross the salty oceans that separated the continents but the far vaster spaces that separate time itself. It was for this purpose that he had collected components from the Swiss clocker and a crew to man the machine which would allow him to travel through time in order to collect botanical specimens and make clever observations which would cause Darwin to diminish into the shadows of obscurity.
I laughed long and heartily, Your Excellency, at this notion, making entirely clear that a machine which could travel through time was just about the most ludicrous concept ever; typical of the illogical emotionally driven hysterical nature of a woman’s mind. I missed my normal razor-sharp clarity of thought however, due to the recurrence of my ailment, to avoid the trap which followed. Miss Alice Kittyhawk, disingenuous as she turned out to be, told me that a man of my heroic reputation and self-professed courage would then not be afraid to board such a machine, seeing as to how it could not possibly travel anywhere. Naturally, Your Excellency, I had to accept the challenge in order to maintain my honour, integrity and pride. It is the case then, that I write you this instalment of my report for the primary (very expensive) investigation into this matter while my most deceitful and adorable assistant negotiates with Herr Branke Schlingestatter for parts and Fitzsimons Noakes for construction in order to assemble a smaller time vessel of our own with which to pursue Doctor Braxton Beesworth out of our time and into others. I assure you that once it has been decisively proven that said (costly) contraption is firmly grounded in the here and now a short secondary report will follow, no doubt placing Doctor Braxton Beesworth at Bethlem or any other sanatorium suitable for his delusionary perceptions.
Until then, I remain your hard-working, modest and most obedient servant,
Nelson Mackellow-Featherlight, Esquire.