Carnacki the saiitii man.., p.1
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       Carnacki: The Saiitii Manifestation, p.1

           Roger Wood
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Carnacki: The Saiitii Manifestation


  CARNACKI

  The Saiitii Manifestation

  by

  ROGER WOOD

  (Based on the writings of William Hope Hodgson)

  Copyright 2015 Roger Wood

  “I knew well enough what some of the great Forces are capable of doing. Yes, unless it should prove to be one of the cases of the more terrible Saiitii Manifestations, we were almost certain of safety, so long as we kept to our order within the Pentacle.”

  William Hope Hodgson, “The House Among the Laurels.”

  The Saiitii Manifestation

  You could not call it a reunion, Jessop thought. A reunion was for formal associations whereas their gatherings had always been informal and sporadic. Outside the flat in Cheyne Walk they had scarcely known one another. Jessop, now he came to think of it, had no clear understanding of how they had come together in the first place. Now, of course, the flat was gone. Its lessee Jessop had not seen for the entire four years of war. Would he turn up tonight, he wondered – Carnacki – at Taylor’s yellow brick villa in Putney? To be honest, answering that question was Jessop’s sole motivation in accepting the invitation. It came on a postcard, the invitation, which Jessop considered a nice touch.

  Jessop had had that unthinkable thing, a good war. He worked in shipping, specifically the importation into England of essential foodstuffs from the Empire. The depredations of Kaiser Bill’s Unterseeboots had forced ship owners to more than double their charges, allowing land-based go-betweens like Jessop to treble theirs. Not that Jessop regretted the return of peace. No, no: Jessop had daughters and his daughters needed husbands, preferably whole and in full possession of their faculties but – such had been the carnage in the sucking black morass of Flanders – presentable in public and fully functional in matters conjugal would more than suffice.

  Had Taylor sons, Jessop wondered? He had checked the casualty lists in the newspapers, as everyone did, but Taylor was such a common name. He had spotted Arkright’s boy. The lack of a ‘w’ in the surname had snagged his eye. Lieutenant Roderick J, eldest son of the Honourable Reginald and Mrs Arkright, fallen at Neuve Chapelle, March 1915. Jessop had sent condolences. Poor old Dodgson, their scribe, the Minutes Secretary of their ad hoc supper parties, had half his head blown off at Second Cambrai. The poor luckless devil, killed barely a month before the Armistice.

  As for Carnacki, the original host, the fellow who had, for whatever reason, brought them together – what had he done for the last four years? Not a lot of call, Jessop would have thought, for a professional ghost finder in wartime.

  Jessop took a motor-cab to Putney, a luxury he could never have afforded in the old days. He wondered how the others had travelled, if they had come at all. There were no motors parked outside Taylor’s place. No motors anywhere to be seen in Taylor’s street. It was that sort of a street, decent but hardly distinguished. Jessop told the driver to call for him at ten-thirty. It was currently five minutes to eight. Yet the curtains of Taylor’s house, upstairs and down, were tightly drawn, not allowing so much as a flicker of light to escape. Odd, Jessop thought, for an evening in late April.

  There were flowers blooming in the strip of garden beneath the front window. Pansies and daffodils, violets and narcissi. Taylor had always sported a buttonhole, Jessop recalled, back in the halcyon days. Now he knew where they came from. There was an electric doorbell set into the doorjamb. Jessop pushed then, slightly disappointed, pulled. It wasn’t that modern a bell. Taylor answered immediately, in person. Jessop had not expected a footman or butler but surely, even in Putney, they stretched to a girl of all work.

  Taylor blinked, mole-like, seemingly struggling to put a name to the face. Have I changed that much in four years, Jessop wondered. A little more poundage, perhaps; a little less hair on the head, a good deal more on the upper lip. Taylor, on the other hand, had definitely changed. Looked ten years older, all the colour drained from him. Not even a buttonhole to enliven his shabby plum-coloured jacket.

  “Ah, Jessop. So pleased you could come.” The voice, though, was precisely the voice Jessop remembered. “Do step in, won’t you?” Light and lilting, as if perpetually on the brink of bursting into song.

  Within, all was good old-fashioned yellow gaslight, so much better than the harsh electric glare which Mrs Jessop insisted upon. Taylor led the way down the hall – a good wide hall, Jessop noted with approval, decent height to it – and into the parlour. Another comfortable room in the bygone style, with gasoliers dangling from the ceiling rose and a black-leaded stove in the hearth. Close by the stove, in a high-backed armchair, was Arkright, red-faced as ever but much greyer, understandably, in the side-whiskers. “Hallo, Jessop,” he boomed. The heartiness was feigned, Jessop thought. Again, it was only to be expected. Across from Arkright, so frail and emaciated that the chair seemed to be consuming him, so reluctant to be seen that he seemed to wrap the shadows around him like a shawl---

  “Carnacki?” Jessop couldn’t stop himself blurting. “Is that you?”

  “Tom’s not been well,” Taylor murmured, at Jessop’s shoulder.

  “Tom?” Jessop had not known that Carnacki had a forename.

  “We’re on first name terms now,” Taylor said. “Reggie, of course, as I’m sure you know. I’m Arthur. What shall we call you...?”

  “Jessop.”

  Taylor tutted – Jessop was sure he heard him tut – and bustled off towards the back of the house, muttering about dumplings and something that sounded suspiciously like ‘roo’. Jessop took up station between his fellow guests, standing with his back to the chimney breast and his coat-tails lifted. “Well,” he said. Then, when no one responded, he added: “So this is Putney.” Again, no one took the bait. Jessop flexed his knees, blew out his cheeks. Finally Arkright spoke. “We got your note, old man. Greatly appreciated.” There really was no answer to that. Both men of substance found themselves staring at the spectral third. Yet again Jessop led. “I must say, Carnacki, you look bloody awful.” “Quite,” said Arkright. Carnacki merely grunted. Then he offered a flickering movement of his right hand, an unmistakable gesture of dismissal.

  Taylor appeared in the doorframe, visibly vibrating with excitement. “Gentlemen,” he trilled, “supper is served.”

  It was an excellent supper, served in a back parlour the mirror image of the front, albeit with a drop-leaf table and dark wood dresser. They had beef bouillon with dumplings, roast pork with potatoes and greens and gravy so thick you could lard it on your meat like mustard. Pudding (very definitely pudding, not insipid continental dessert) was treacle sponge and custard. Proper food, Jessop thought. English food, unlike that French muck Mrs J made him eat. Arkright was an English epitome and a stout trencherman. He tucked in with methodical relish. “I say, Taylor,” he enthused. “You’re damned lucky to find a cook this good, what with suffragists and women wheelwrights and all that rot.” “I cooked it myself,” Taylor beamed. “I do all my own cooking.” Jessop cocked an eyebrow but said nothing. He was beginning to harbour suspicions about Taylor. Carnacki meanwhile attacked his food like a man who hadn’t known sustenance in a twelvemonth, shovelling it into his mouth until his slack cheeks bulged and sweat trickled across his bulbous brow. All through the meal they chatted idly about this and that and not very much – anything other than the matter which, to varying extents, weighed heavy on the mind of each guest: Why were they here? What did Taylor hope to achieve by gathering them?

  In fairness, Taylor was an excellent host, burbling away cheerfully, keeping everyone involved, their glasses topped up, albeit only with water. Jessop scanned the
dresser in the hope of wine. He looked in vain. Had Taylor been an abstainer pre-war? He thought not. He would have noticed.

  “I see you’re admiring my specimens, Percy.”

  “Eh?”

  “My fossils.”

  “Ah!” He had taken them for rocks and wondered why anyone, even in Putney, even a man who was his own cook and housekeeper, should arrange rocks on a his dresser. “Is that what they are?” Jessop was doubly perplexed, looking at Taylor now. His face was apparently coated in some sort of grease. Mind you, he had noticed earlier, in the front parlour, the fellow’s skin was appallingly dry, as if it had not felt the sun in years. Jessop felt
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