De Profundis

Princeton, Sept 10, 1909

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

MY DEAR ALBERTS, — I was in New York five days ago, and Webster mentioned the Library. The memory struck me like the dull bells of St. Paul's at Lauds; our evenings spent over pipe and page. It did my heart a great deal of ease to reflect fondly on our common time, but shocked me in the same moment with the realization of the gap that time has eroded between us. I knew at once that I must mend the condition and so set to paper at this earliest opportunity.

It seems strange to me now to conjure up my image of you, bolstered in stiff tweed, fresh as only spring linen can be. In my minds eye you are still but two and twenty. How foolish time makes us all seem, my friend. Do you still wear the penciled mustache? I, for one, am no small matter changed from what you must surely picture—though perhaps you saw the portrait done of me in the Times last year. Still, with all that our venerability has brought us, we cannot condemn the stray wrinkle or spot, can we?

Coincidence as it may seem, Webster's words were not the only cause of my rumination. —Here's a secret. A most curious event that occurred just a few weeks prior to my trip to the City. Read these things, but don't mention them, I implore you.

Last fall, my old mother—then 72—took a notion to attend a convention of old settlers of the rural town whence she lived all these years gone by. My brother's wife was astonished; and represented to her the hardships and fatigues of such a trip, and said my mother might possibly not even survive them; and said there could be no possible interest for her in such a meeting and such a crowd. But my mother insisted, and persisted; and finally gained her point. I, being still on summer holiday, was volunteered to accompany the antediluvian woman. We started; and all the way my mother was young again with excitement, interest, eagerness, anticipation. We reached the town and the hotel without incident. As I prepared to retire to my room, she burst forth with a strange wellspring of energy such as I haven't seen in years. It was her desire, as she put it, to venture forth right away. There was no stopping the old broad, Alberts! Weary as I was, it is the duty of every good and faithful christian to honor his parent, especially in their aged state; and so with great aplomb I offered my hand and did as she bid; went forth.

I shall not bore you with the many stoppings here and there which ate up our afternoon, but instead press forward to the event at the center of the incident. Upon the corner of two crossing backstreets in my mother's home town there stands a general store. It is one of those typical american centerpieces that is becoming more and more sparse. It struck me as an utterly wholesome building if buildings might be offered up such a morality: square windows, wide door, whitewashed porch complete with a rocking chair. It is, frankly, the very essence of America that is missing from the soul of my academic home in Princeton. I digress—

Inside the store was a hodgepodge. Silk stockings, frock coats, knickers suits— and O! the books. I was crazy as a bedbug in those piles. Mother had wandered off doing— Search me— I was too absorbed in what I'd found. There, in a pile of haphazard novels and remedy books, was the Diary. At first I didn't recognize it; after all, it has been almost thirty years. Thirty years since the three of us sat down and started writing it as what— a joke? I can't even recall anymore. It was like the joke was being played on me in that store, Alberts. How could it possibly be there, waiting for me like that. You remember what we did, what we did with it.

To be honest, I was shaken deeply, but then mother was there again twittering on about a shell necklace and marigolds. The moment had passed. I won't lie to you. I took the diary with me in my coat pocket. It didn't feel right to pay for something we started— something I thought we finished. It's here with me now, in my study. I still haven't worked up the courage to open it past the first page.

Alberts, I am distraught. For all the world you are the only one I can talk to now, and yet the years have crept between us. Have you had any word from him since that night, since we burned the diary?

The school is once again in session and I must head to a lecture, so I shall bid you well. A hundred students of history will stare down at me in a few moments and I must compose myself before my own history consumes me.

Truly Yours, J. L. Harrison

Manhattan, New York City, Sept 19, 1909

To J.L. Harrison; in Princeton, N.J. -

MR. HARRISON, – What a pleasant surprise I had opening the post the other day! Seeing your letter amongst the daily humdrum of invoices was a joy. I made sure that I had a cup of my favorite earl grey tea and was sitting comfortably in my study before opening it. After reading the article in the Times and seeing your smart looking portrait there I had been meaning to write you, though life has its curious way of delaying the things that are truly the most important and we end up struggling against the daily slings and arrows instead of focusing our attention on what matters for our spiritual well-being.

I’m still managing the bank and now my eldest son, Reginald, has begun taking over many of the duties that I performed. The accident has made it difficult to move about and in my condition the long hours are too much of a strain. His youth and determination more than make up for my loss of capacity. If you come back to New York you must meet him.

The mustache! I had pleasantly forgotten that ridiculous feature of my upper lip, but no, I leave the sharp fashions for the younger generations. I am very fond of my, now very grey, beard which seems to be the mark of older, wiser individuals whom I would like to be associated with, even if merely by appearance. Have I always been so vain? We can curse the toll the years take upon our faces but in the end we must accept them. No amount of scolding or gnashing will smooth our countenances. Though, if I’m to believe my doctor, thinking younger thoughts reverses some of the trends of aging. Have you heard such nonsense, my friend? I think I need a new doctor!

My disability brings me to the library quite often to set my mind free amongst the writings of Chaucer, Poe, and James. I have also gotten to know one of the librarians well enough to get unsupervised access to their rare books collection. Let me tell you, Harrison, you would be in Heaven here, leafing through the old tomes and first editions; the smell of decaying paper somehow breathes life into my soul. The restricted section is still barred to me, though I would hate to revisit that room and relive the memories.

Five days, you say? It pains me to tell you of his passing then. Charles was found dead in his home early on the 6th of this month, but the constabulary have refused to tell anyone how he died. If it was anything ordinary I’m sure they would have said. I’ve included a clipping from the Tribune of his obituary. The funeral was held at his home with his family and a few members from his lodge. It was a nice service. Morbid as it sounds, curiosity got the better of me and I took a long look at Charles in the open casket, covertly lifting up his collar and checking his hands while the rest of the attendants mingled around the refreshments, but didn’t notice anything irregular except that his clothes smelled faintly of incense. Harrison, I don’t think I need to tell you what the scent was because you know it well. We burned so much of it when we were all together in the old days. It was a cold shock to smell it again and it sent shivers to my toes and stood my hairs on end but I thought it nothing more than coincidence or a strange trick of my nose. That is, until I received your letter.

Webster and I had begun speaking again only a few years ago and we’ve had lunch a number of times since. How was he when you spoke with him? He was always a paranoid but what we did scarred him and my guilt has only been slightly assuaged by helping his wife with a modest monthly stipend. She’s told me that poor Charles had never been able to keep a job and his seizures and hallucinations drove all away; it causes such a strain on Gail. I feel we were responsible, in a way, for his condition pushing him further than he was comfortable and when we were done he was a shell. During our last lunch, he stopped mid-sentence, the blood drained from his face, and his expression screwed into a manifestation of sheer terror. Then looking off into the distance as if he were witnessing some unearthly horror rise up over my shoulder he began to chant, softly at first growing steadily in intensity and urgency. His hand, still clutching his fork, began to shake making a rattling undercurrent to his verbal madness. The chanting drew the frightened stares of the other restaurant clientele and if that was the first time I had seen Charles do this I would have been up in arms and yelling for a doctor. Sadly this was normal. I turned and reassured the other patrons that this was just a mental episode and it would pass and to please continue their conversations as if everything were normal. My back was to Charles and I could see the maître d’ rapidly approach our table when Charles yelled out, “Aufwachen! Aufwachen! Seine Augen sind auf uns!“ and he abruptly fell silent; his fork hitting the floor was the only sound in the stunned parlor. That was the last line in one of the diary entries I made. What right did we have in pursuing this madness? How irresponsible we were in our youth and still have not yet truly faced what we have done? We should have stopped our research when Charles wanted out. And when his sanity began to fade we should not have trusted him to burn the diary. I do not know what he had done with it these past decades or how it ended up in your mother’s village, but from the smell of his old suit he must have still been using it. I fear that others might have seen its contents and since reading your letter that thought keeps my nights restless and my days frought with worry. May God have mercy on us and on poor Charles.

I tried to begin this letter with a happy heart but it sank quickly as I wrote. If only our renewed correspondence started before this tragedy we’d have much lighter and frivolous things to write. Jefferson, please do not read the diary. Do not reopen the wounds that we caused so long ago. I implore you… burn it and scatter the ashes over water and let the vile secrets we discovered vanish in smoke and wave. Then we can only hope that no one else dares follow the same dark path we did.

Warm Regards, H.H. Alberts

New-York Daily Tribune

Tuesday, September 7, 1909, page 7

WEBSTER – Suddenly on Monday, September 6, 1909. CHARLES WEBSTER, in his 52nd year. Son of the late George Webster and Mary Webster, husband of Gail Webster. Relatives and friends of the family, also members of La Universal Lodge No. 751, F. and A. M., are respectfully invited to attend funeral services at his late residence, No. 109 East 38 st, on Thursday, September 9, at 3 P.M. Kindly omit flowers.

New York, N.Y., Sept 22, 1909

To J. L. Harrison; in Princeton, N.J.:

Pickman, Wyndham, & Gravel LLP

3 East 45th Street

New York, NY

MR. HARRISON – I hope this letter finds you well. My name is Brandon Wyndham, active partner with Pickman, Wyndham, & Gravel LLP, and I am the executor of the final will and testament of the late Charles Webster of No. 109 East 38 Street, New York. Mr. Webster has bequeathed to you certain items of his estate. The following particulars will be sent to you via parcel courier within three to four weeks.

1) One (1) tapered ebony fountain pen with engraved silver nib, No. 2 medium fine, with case;

2) One (1) stoppered engraved Baccarat crystal bottle of red ink, half full;

3) One (1) stoppered engraved Baccarat crystal bottle of black ink, three-quarters full;

4) One (1) red lacquered small chest, leather bound wood with iron, locked and unopened as per written instruction;

5) One (1) iron key with red ribbon loop fitting listed chest.

Please sign the courier’s log upon receipt. If you have any inquiries please do not hesitate to write. My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family during this sad time.


Brandon W. Wyndham

Princeton, Sept 23, 1909

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

DEAR HENDRIK, — I am aghast. In all honesty, this business of Charles' death has shaken me greatly. You know I am not faint of heart or prone to overstimulation. Indeed have I endeavored always to state the facts of my life with brutal realism and perspicacity. You can testify to my own account of those days in Cuba, wherein I spoke eloquently and at length of the sores of being in the saddle again after so many years in a lecture hall. Be honest in your assessment, Hendrik; I never overstated what we did for our country or spoke of the deaths of men with anything but disgust. No, this matter is a wholly different beast. I have known loss—known it intimately—but Charles!

Please do send my apologies to Gail that I did not attend the service. Had I known—

That day I spent in New York seems to have brought back our past insgesamt. There were moments as I wrote you my first letter where I allowed myself the pleasure of a gentle reverie, lost amidst the images of days gone by. For all my musings, I never thought it would be the horrors of our past that would find us. Why, after all these years, would such folly return? My only bit of solace in this whole affair is that Eliza is nowhere to be found. I think if she returned I might truly lose myself.

Listen to me, an old man now, still daydreaming over a girl from my youth, and one who has proven herself time and again to be of a reproachful demeanor. Yet you and I were the same in that at a time. What we did to Charles is least amongst our reprehensible conduct as youths. Still, while we may have grown into some small manner of virtue, I cannot begin to envision an elderly Eliza who would be comfortable going to see a Christmas show, or playing whist. Her tastes cannot have devolved from such—

No, I cannot blame her abhorrent nature for my own actions. A friend, a dear friend, has passed from this world, and no matter how I turn the object, my name is written upon it. Our names, dear Alberts. We three chose to take on the challenge Eliza presented us even after she disappeared. It stopped being a game and we chose to continue boldly. Perhaps it is that guilt that has plagued my dreams these past nights.

Allow me to share with you one such night-time apparition that stands above the others. It was, as one might expect, of Charles. He stood apart from me a short distance with eyes that looked beyond me into shadow. His face! Such fright as would wake any child with terrors. A hand reached toward me, belonging to Charles, I believe, though I could not see where it met his body. And there, on the palm of his hand was a symbol burning in a fire of a miraculous colour—a colour I cannot describe to you for there has never been in Heaven or Earth a colour quite of that nature, quite of that vibrance and intensity. It, above all, torments my nights. Of the symbol itself, I can say only this. You would recognize it plainly as the mark we made together on the old leather spine of the Diary. The same symbol she taught us a year before. The same one she left in her note.

Finally, while my eyes can see only The Colour—so entitled due to the awe it must inspire—my mind heard Charles voice once more. It was the voice of his youth, from a time when his words carried more astonishment than trepidation. It said, again and again, "Wake up!"

O Alberts, Death is so kind, so benignant, to whom he loves; but he goes by us others and will not look our way. How Death, with gentleness and majesty, makes the human grand-folk around him seem so little and trivial and silly!

Tell me, Alberts—I struggle with the memory—do you recall when Charles told us he burned the Diary. It is clear that he did so in my mind, but the memory of it eludes me. He must have spoken the words, I'm sure, but I cannot recall when or where. How could something so important slip the mind like that? Is it age that does this to me, or something more sinister?

Now my letter has become what you must have feared in your own. I have spent all this time strangling my pen into a scrawl of worry and agitation without a care for your state. Your family must be feeling the effects of Charles' passing as well and I have been remiss to not acknowledge them. Please give my best wishes to Anne and Reginald. I do so hope he takes to the life of the Banker. You've done well to keep him away from this infernal business. You have always had the strongest convictions and the greatest character of us all.

I almost forgot to mention it with the weight of everything that has occurred. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration is featuring the young Wilbur Wright next Wednesday. I will most likely be in lecture and miss the event, but I do so hope you can witness it yourself. Perhaps it would make a fine outing for the family to help recover from the melancholia that surrounds us.

I wonder what Eliza would think of that. She had such visions of the future. I wonder if she suspected man would one day soar among the clouds.

Truly Yours, J. L. Harrison

Princeton, Sept 25, 1909

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

MY DEAR ALBERTS, — Some events transpired on the day after I sent the last letter that require my pen once again, but first, I feel I should apologize for my previous candor. My distress should be no burden to you, old friend. It all came as such a shock, I wasn't myself, you see. Please do forgive me.

As to the events I mentioned: Yesterday evening, I was walking out of Dickinson Hall having just given a rather half-hearted lecture on the merits of William James' epistemology and pragmatism when I had a most unexpected encounter. A former student and assistant of mine, Mister Johnston Price, was waiting for me below a bough of ivy, sitting like a man waiting for a train atop his briefcase. Now I have not seen Price for many years—in fact, he went by J.J. when I knew him—but I had no trouble recognizing his rather impressive mustache. He appears rather like a young Justice Holmes.

As Kipling has taught us, the crest of the mongoose species could be read, "Go! and find out." This man, Price, could easily be one of their breed. What an inquisitive mind he had, and such vigor! It seems that Price had a message for me that he felt needed to be delivered in person. Can you imagine, a man I haven't seen in neigh on fifteen years catches a train to hand me a sheaf of papers, speak for but a moment, and depart.

The subject he spoke of is the impetus for my letter, friend. It seems that in the time since I had known him Price had found himself a member of La Universal Lodge, and a Master of the 4th Degree. It is, as I should have guessed myself, the same lodge attended by Webster, and no small coincidence brought the young man to me in the wake of tragedy. He had a message from Charles for me—or rather messages. They were sealed under the same Glyph he favored in our college days, that Egyptian note that looks like a Cross. I never was into the Egyptology to the same degree as you two, so you'll excuse my ignorance.

I was going to open the messages there on the spot, but Price forestalled me. He said something just as I broke the first seal that shook my soul.

"Eyes are upon us"

We spoke more about Charles and his last days. Apparently Price had become something of an assistant to him, or to them, as he put it. I infer that Charles was working with some others from the Lodge on something mysterious. These notes were not the only ones to be delivered, but I was the first on the list. Apparently your name is on it as well, though a few others were listed above you. If my former student does manage to find you, take what he gives you with care.

Once safely in my study, I did open the notes. There were six of them altogether, and each a greater mystery than the last. They were made up of sketches for the most part, with occasional inscriptions upon them. These, unlike the Hieroglyphs of Egypt, were more easily digested as they were a comfortable Greek. The text was a bit archaic in grammar, but easily understood. For all my unfamiliarity with the subject of quintessence, they seemed to be on the subject of ancient alchemy. I think I can understand enough to recreate the experiments they describe. Do you imagine that is his reason for sending this to me? You must write and inform me of what Price brings to your door as well. Perhaps the nature of the mystery will be revealed by more evidence at hand.

There is one other thing I must mention. I'll admit to being shaken these past few days by the news, and I was not my most aware when he came upon me. I failed to ask some questions of him that I now regret. His discussion of the Lodge was brief, which I now expect is the result of my own attitude toward its mention. The thought brought up those same worrisome dreams and I must have shown him my displeasure upon my face. I suspect the lad still feels some trouble over the Taxil hoax, and is wary of talking freely about his practices. Would you press him further when he comes to you? I am beginning to feel we must get to the bottom of this affair if we are ever going to put it behind.

Your Friend Always,

J. L. Harrison

Manhattan, New York City, Oct 3, 1909

To J. L. Harrison; in Princeton:

MR. HARRISON, – Nowhere in the letters I have received from you do you mention that you have burned the diary. Quite to the contrary it seems, and the fact that it is an action you have so far refused to take speaks volumes. Did you mention it to Webster when you met him? I do not know what Webster was engaged in with Price, but if he was still using the Diary then the origin of whatever documents he has is suspect. Completing whatever experiments are there may yield results that are not readily visible! Hadn’t we enough of this other-worldly dabbling in our youth? How many people had to die, Harrison? Do you remember? I do, and it haunts me every day! As the years pass I have needed more and more tipples to soothe my guilt – the Prohibition Party be damned! Even when my dear Isabel was taken from me during Anne’s birth I didn’t turn back to the sickness in which we immersed ourselves. Do you have no guilt or shame, or has the life of an academic and your lectures on William James turned your morals into malleable convictions to be changed or discarded when they become impediments to Science? Please do this, if not for me, then for your sanity and the sweet memory of our dear friend Charles.

Though I am still shaking with rage at your naivety please do not mistake me, my friend, I deeply value our friendship. My harsh words are not meant to drive you from me, but to plead for common sense in this matter. My goading is truly only out of a fraternal love for you. As for Mr. Price, I have not yet been paid a visit by him, but will send you any details from our conversation when he arrives. We must find out who else is on the list to receive these packages and stop them from having the same thoughts that run through your mind.

I passed on your greetings to Anne by way of post as she has just started at Radcliffe this past month, and from what she has written she is enjoying her first term there. It’s been difficult on Anne and Reginald since Isabel died; the house has never been right and it’s been rough raising children on my own with my injuries, but I have been thankful for their governess and my maids. Anne’s transformation into a most capable woman now on her own at university has given me such happiness. I do not want my children to inherit the mistakes of their ailing father. You and I are inextricably linked in these happenings and I fear that if you go down this ignominious path I will be taken forcibly with you.

I do not know what to make of your dream, but from the description it must have been terrifying in the least from which to wake. Dreams to me seem to be just the mind running wild when the eyes close and darkness descends. My doctor, however, believes that nonsense from Professor Freud at Harvard, that dreams have some deeper meaning and provide a clouded window into the soul. Every time I visit him I must put up with relaying my ridiculous dreams of being crushed by massive ledgers, drinking champagne with President Taft in the library, or my terrier Huxby in a smoking jacket asking if I would like cream or sugar in my tea! Nonsense I tell you, Harrison, pure drivel! I really must find a new doctor.

I feel I must disagree with you on your musings of Death. Death is not kind, for He is like a child with a hammer who crushes the nail but leaves a dozen craters in the wood. This is to say that for every moribund man or woman He pounds into the Earth, He leaves many more in sorrow and tests the faith of those who face it. Do you recall what we did to the Wharton boy? This memory plagues me so. We had meant to cure that poor child of typhus, but what he was twisted into was surely a result of some mistake we had made in our ritual. That death was not sweet or kind just a relief from the agony we inflicted. His death tainted many lives with the lingering, blood-soaked finality of its noisy thrashes and rattles. You seemed to handle tragedy the best out of us all, save for Eliza. Her cloak of callousness and cold indifference was that of the strongest steel, though I view her extreme quality as a fault and not commensurate to your stalwart heart. It is no surprise how hard it had impacted Charles, for all of his brilliance in chemistry he lacked in fortitude of spirit.

Just as we thought we could end death and cure those whose throats Death had already wrapped His osseous fingers around, are you implying that Charles and Price thought to do the same with alchemy? Whatever the route, these veins of research or conjuring should both be forgotten, for nature cannot and should not be subverted; it is beyond the territory of mortal man. The feverish impetus we had called up in our work never truly went back to whence it came but lived on and thrived in Charles eating his mind and soul to madness. Another death delivered handily to our doorstep, Harrison. We are all haunted each in our own lonely crater.

How could you not remember when we burned the Diary? Do you even remember when we all decided that the Diary should be destroyed? We knew it needed to be done but we had left it around for weeks with none of us being able to commit the final act, only stare impotently at it unable to carry out our consensus. Its weighty presence seemed to have a life of its own, pleading for survival. Maybe this was just our timidity in destroying two years of exacting effort or was it us refusing to believe that all of the sacrifices made were entirely in vain? As for my memory of Charles and the Diary, I can call up when he took it and the night it was destroyed.

I believe it was the end of the summer of 1881, the night before Cecilia Penning’s annual dinner party. We had retired to our third floor apartment in the evening. This was after you had left, though I do not recall the reason for your departure. After our evening tea, Charles’ mood drastically changed, anger and venom boiled to the surface as though he were a bell suddenly struck. I had never seen him like that. He was breathing heavily and the corner of his upper lip lifted and quivered in a look I could not mistake for any but pure contempt. His presence filled the room as he stood over me, and that was the first and only time I could say that I saw in him a complete manifestation of his bellicose father. With his arm outstretched as if to pull me from the chair he growled, “This has gone on long enough! Give it to me, Alberts!” and I quickly took the Diary from the side table next to me and handed it to him. I was fearful as I had never seen him so enraged and dared not anger him further, especially after hearing what his father had done to him weeks before. The moment his fingers closed around the leather book his arm snapped back to his chest and he began to back out of the room. He descended the few steps to the stairwell door never taking his eyes from me. His final words that evening were harsh and have stayed with me since, “We were never meant for this work; no man was meant for this! We have taken ourselves for God and look what we have left along our bloody path of notes and diagrams and symbols! If we only had used ourselves instead of the sick and the wretched, we would be burning right now, but at least those innocent victims, yes I say victims, Hendrick!, would have passed peacefully instead of the agonizing torment we subjected them to! I mean to destroy this,” he said, waving the book at me, “We will abandon our goal and I will make sure no one picks up our sputtering torch.”

He yanked open the door with such force that the knob left a dent in the plaster and stormed out. I couldn’t move until the stairs were quiet and I heard the outer door close. It was then that I felt a euphoric sense of relief wash over me now that the Diary was out of the room. I was glad that one of us had the strength to finally take our decision to action. I am sorry that I did not discuss the details of that evening with you previously, but I thought that Charles’ outburst was so uncharacteristic that it would have been a source of embarrassment for him.

I didn’t see him again until the next night at the dinner party, but the fire he had shown had completely left him; he was the nervous, fidgety Charles once more. After the final course and a few cocktails, the three of us were huddled in the corner of the dining hall when he whispered, barely lifting his lips from his glass, that “our work will be finished” and to meet him in the back garden, then turned and left toward the garden balcony. By the time we said our goodbyes to Miss Penning and made our way to the garden, the outdoor stone fireplace was lit and Charles stood squarely before it silhouetted with a flickering, orange aura. We stood there for only a moment before he walked to us with the Diary in his hand. The brief silence between us was profound and the sharp crackling of the fire sounded as gunshots in the empty night air. Charles held up the Diary to us as in some final admonishment, then slowly walked back across the garden and cast it into the fire. He didn’t come back to us, but instead walked off into the darkness. For a few minutes we stood and watched the Diary warp and hiss as it was consumed, and waited for Charles to come back, but I knew he wouldn’t; he was gone to us, chased away like the long shadow that had leapt and lurched in front of him. Concerned that you would have trouble negotiating the stairs, I helped you back to the apartment. I started packing for New York City that very night.

The conviction and fervor he displayed that night in the apartment made it clear that his will would be done and the Diary burned. There was no doubt in my mind that his path would have taken him anywhere else except a roaring fire with which to incinerate our profane scribblings. Does this bring back any of the memory for you? How could this infernal book reappear in a curio shop after being immolated decades ago?

I do not want to water down the stuff of this letter by discussing any of the personal and jovial events I wish to relay. I will save those for the next time I sit down to write to you. Better times are ahead if we wish it, my dear Harrison. I can smell them as Huxby can smell the bacon fat now rending in the kitchen, and I salivate for it.

Warmest Regards,

H. H. Alberts

Manhattan, New York City, Oct 11, 1909

To J. L. Harrison; in Princeton:

MR. HARRISON, – I saw Gail at church this past Sunday and I conveyed your sympathies. Her reaction was polite but strained and her brief smile never managed to reach her eyes. I must say that Gail looks younger, some of the wrinkles seemed to have gone from her face and though she wasn’t happy, her eyes became bright and unclouded as if hearing some joke moments before. Her expression caught me off guard since I did not believe that she had the capacity for such a morbid streak of humor. I wonder if, now that the strain of taking care of Charles has been lifted, the stresses of her daily life have receded bringing her a youthful appearance and upsetting her usual emotional moderation. I am not diminishing her grief or mean to insinuate that she has ceased her mourning prematurely for she still wears the black veil and thick fabrics of a newly made widow.

Mr. Price paid me a visit yesterday, and he indeed, presented me with a package. I had tried to talk Price up while he was in my foyer but he seemed reluctant when I questioned him about the package and his relationship with Webster. I don’t believe his reticence has anything to do with Taxil, but because he fears whomever or whatever is watching him. It was strange, but I felt the air become noticeably heavier when he crossed the threshold of my front door, as if something larger had come through with him. I know it must have been the wet air rushing in from the rain storm outside, but the ominous feeling it caused did not go unnoticed.

The parcel contained five well-worn pages that, like yours, were mostly in Egyptian and Greek, and all of which I have the very mind to cast into my study fireplace. From what I can tell without delving into my library, a few of the pages deal with embalming and the formulation of the liquids used in its process. To be honest I have not heard of half of the ingredients. The final page had four familiar diagrams on it. They described the points on the hand, back and front, where blood should be drawn during the rituals of conjuration. Our hands have felt the sharp edge of a knife many times, though in these diagrams there were many more such places described, with hieroglyphs that hint at how and for what the blood should be spent.

When we spoke he had the delivery list in his hand and I was able to catch two of the names on it. The first name was Samuel Wesselhoeft, of whom I have never heard. The second name will chill your bones – Elizabeth De Quedville. I had truly hoped that we had seen the last of her in university. She was one of those people we associated with because we were young and did not know how to properly choose our company. I never understood how you could have such an attraction to that girl. When she looked at us her cold stare and drawn frown measured us bit by bit weighing our worth against whatever damnable currency in which she traded. She held herself above us and never degraded herself by performing any of the work that we executed; she never sliced her hands but was the first to hand over the knife and point to where we should cut. My hands are still slow to heal.

Why have out the list of names? I do not believe that a man of Mr. Price’s intellect would be unable to keep one name and address in his memory long enough to deliver a small parcel. I will tell you why – because we were meant to see the names. This is bald and brazen manipulation and conspiracy, Harrison! He or they mean to pique our curiosity, have us seek each other out, and continue the work they could not, or do not want to, finish themselves. I say to you, without any equivocation, that I will not cooperate with any part of this plot. I have many things to be happy for and I tire quickly of this connivance.

Reginald has been spending quite a lot of time with a young lady and, you will be happy to hear, has finally proposed marriage! I have only met her once briefly, but she will be coming to dinner this Saturday. I am looking forward to getting to know this lovely woman and see all the smiles and joy of youth in love.

For the past two weeks the city has been lit up for the Hudson-Fulton celebration and the local pubs clogged with sailors. It has been quite fun despite the few spots of fisticuffs in the streets. I was able to get out and see the flotillas and fireworks, and try some of the food the vendors are selling at the fairground as well as witness the Wright Brother’s flying machine. It was magnificent, Harrison. Its flight a low, buzzing swan passing just above the bow of the new liner Lusitania, then in a drive south it circled the great Statue of Liberty. I can't think of a greater blessing for a ship than to be christened by a marvel of our age. The captain must be so pleased at such a fine and profound portent, not to mention the capitalists waiting for their purses to fatten. In fact, I will inquire upon any investing opportunity with the owning corporation.

Watch yourself, if we were shown the list of parcel recipients then the others will have seen our names as well.

Your Friend,


New York City, Oct 13, 1909

To J. L. Harrison; in Princeton:

Mr. J.L. Harrison, – I write to you in hopes that you will shine some light on to my husband Charles’ last day. I recently spoke with Mr. Hendrik Alberts, whom I believe you are familiar with, and he mentioned that you had met Charles the day before he was abruptly taken from us.

That evening he came home a little past eight and had one of his episodes. He became very angry; more upset than I had seen in recent memory. He was yelling about the past coming back to “pick his bones” and that they were haunting him. I brought him the laudanum the doctor had prescribed and began singing softly to him and stroking his arm to bring him back. His thrashing continued for some time even after taking his medication.

There were several things he said that caused me some alarm. He had mentioned your name and said that you were carrying his demons with you. He twisted and struggled away from me and said that you were the eyes and the mouth of the beast, and though this beast was a common fixture in his tantrums, you were not.

I know my husband was very ill and he was frequently taken by fits of madness, but whatever you had said to him agitated him greatly. It has bothered me for days and I mean to let Charles and his memory rest, but this new revelation has worn away at me and led me to write to you. Please, what did you say to him to cause such a panic and to lash out at you in this manner and do you have any information that could shed some light on what had befallen him?

Most sincerely,

Gail Webster

Providence, RI, July 5, 1908

To J. L. Harrison; Princeton:

My Dearest J, — I was so proud to see the article about you in the local paper this past Sunday alongside a handsome, though small, picture of you. You have certainly made quite a name for yourself at Princeton and I could not be more proud. The picture was very well framed and it is so nice to be reminded of how you look since I so rarely get visits.

As you know, every morning I follow the same routine: I have my morning tonic, wait for the postman, then take the day's mail back to the parlor — or to the porch on days when the weather is kind — and begin my daily correspondence. But even with the letters from distant family, friends, and your very prolific brother, the pile seems empty without letters from my youngest.

Recently, a visiting salesman came by and sold me a brand new set of letterhead. The kindly man said this new paper has a nice heft, a pleasingly dimpled texture that more readily absorbs ink, and creases with sharp purpose. I immediately bought a package of it à grands frais and set it in the tray on my roll-top to use to write to you. I do sincerely hope that if your esteemed colleagues and friends see my letters they are impressed that you received them on such a formal and elegant stationary. You can then declare that your mother thinks enough of you to use the very best paper and that she takes supreme care in the form and style of her cursive. Her other missives will seem to have been merely a port de bras of penmanship! A mother can dream, can she not?

Meeting with my Sunday brunch group has been difficult of late. My bragging six irons are running dry! All I am able to tell them are quotes that I find in the articles they write about you or in the newsletters from Princeton. Last week I thought they were beginning to get suspicious after I had told them about your new class for the fourth time, save for Anabelle for whom the sun in the sky is new revelation every morning and the moon every night. You remember Anabelle's son Jeremiah? You used to play together and I would make you freshly squeezed lemonade during the hot summers.

The wonderful vignette in our town rag will give me a few more petits contes to make the Sunday troupe jealous, but please write soon. My delicate and frail spirit cannot take more days empty of your post.

Your ever loving mother

P.S. – The salesman was right – the paper creases very neatly. I desperately hope to use it more often.

Princeton, Oct 15, 1909

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

DEAR HENDRIK, — I am torn asunder. This business with Price, our loss of Webster and his wife’s recent letter, and now the reappearance of Eliza—after all this time; I am utterly lost. I implore your help—

Je suis désolé, mon amie. When I received your first letters I was more taken by the novelty of the diary’s appearance and the haunting presence of the past returned. It becomes clear to me now that time is not fickle, peppering us with moments gone. Time, Chronos, Moloch; he comes to eat those children we once were. He is a devourer, Alberts, and He is insatiable. She warned us in her way. Do you recall when we began with Wharton? Our eyes were open, we said, and she warned us—“Wake up!” she called. It was the last time we were all together, before she left us.

Now that most ephemeral presence has returned to haunt me. I should have known when I saw Webster that there was more come back into my days than an old friend long lost. How can one memory be dragged from the ether without disturbing them all. Now that great beast which soaked in the blood of our misspent youth comes with maw agape; hungry for time and loss and fear; eager with retribution for sins which God, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to leave upon our breast in wait.

Eliza has returned. Those dull bells are ringing again, my friend. I hear them resonant and pure, if flat of key. With each beat I see Wharton convulse again. The eyes of our trusted friend are crying out in silent terror still. I see the betrayal in them. His eyes are still upon me, upon us both.

Alberts, I must hold strong and cling to what I know as tightly as I hold this pen. You have shown such character in all things since—I must now trust to your judgement again. You say to burn the diary, to burn the papers of these masons, to let all be blown asunder by wind. I take your advice now.

As this letter is sealed, so to is the fate of these cursed creations. My brazier already kindles with Greek left unexamined. The book remains closed. I cannot understand what fate has done to bring it to me again, but it will not last this night.

Your memory of the Penning affair creates such utter dissonance with my own, but which should be trusted? My own mind revolves around lost children and mislaid dreams; the artifice of intellectual solipsism. I see clearly the face of a girl for whom I would cut my palms and lay them upon the darkest fragments of my soul. I see clearly the face of a boy who arrogance sought to cure and ignorance brought to ruin. Your mind is clear, Hendrik, and so I trust your memory over my own. You say you helped me up the stairs to our room that night, and began your preparations for New York. In the milky quartz of wanting recollection I spent that night in the company not of Webster and yourself, but of a very grateful Miss Penning. How I wish that my memory of that night were the true one! But how could such a thing be in the face of your incorruptible remembrance.

Tonight I act, drawing power from your will where I find my own lacking. The diary will be destroyed once and for all. In this I am—

Your faithful servant, Harrison

P.S. — I cannot be sure, but the name Wesselhoeft reminds me of a story of one of those modern doctors you detest. A relative perhaps?

Princeton, Oct 18, 1909

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

DEAR HENDRIK, — Since I wrote my last missive several days past the light in my life has felt restored to some semblance of normalcy. I spent the weekend in relative peace, walking beneath the changing foliage of the campus. I had, in short, allowed this dreadful business to abate. This evening—O! the grotesque has come back upon me.

As the weather turned to bitterness I received a parcel from the estate of Charles Webster. In it, among other items, was a magnificent chest, lacquered red and bound like something found in Melville. Some vestige of my heart felt amiss, but the countenance of courage conjured through correspondence carried me clear. With key in hand the box exposed.

Alberts, I have no eloquence left in me, no words to adequately channel my despair and fright. It contained but one item.

The diary, whole.

Somehow having seen it, hearing myself let out an abstruse groan, came to such a realization that my hands were bleeding. Four points, you know the ones. There is no explanation that fits the rational, natural world. This is work profane that requires answers I cannot fathom. Hendrik, I must find them, I must find an escape from this trap.

My choice as I see it flows in one of two paths—The masons or the woman. You know my heart, my friend. You know which I’ll seek first.

I have sent a messenger ahead; for tonight I travel. I will leave word here in my absence with instructions to forward any letters. Be wary, my friend. There is more at play than painful memory.

J. L.

New York, Unknown date

To H. H. Alberts; in New York City:

Bitte hilf mir. Mir geht die Zeit aus. Es gibt mehr als chemische Formeln bei der Arbeit hier. Sie wissen, was wir getan haben. Sie wissen, wer verantwortlich ist. Du weißt, was du liebst.

Seine Augen sind auf uns. Sie ist sein Diener!

Das Buch lebt. Ich lebe noch. Innen.

Copyright © 2017