Read The Clairvoyant Curse Online

Authors: Anna Lord

Tags: #feng shui, #murder, #medium, #sherlock, #tarot, #seance, #steamship, #biarritz, #magic lantern, #camera obscura

The Clairvoyant Curse (3 page)

BOOK: The Clairvoyant Curse
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“What a brave young woman,”
croaked the doctor – a sucker for redheads – shelving all thought
of the ghostly shroud.

“What a stooge.”

“What do you mean?”

“She is the perfect
victim.”

“Shush!” someone frothed with
deadly earnest.

A chair was quickly procured
for the shy young woman and the hypnotist went into the usual
routine, dangling a pocket watch on a chain in front of her
face.

“You are growing sleepy…listen
to my voice…when I count to three you will be in my power…one, two,
three.”

The vivid redhead slumped to
one side and some pouty red lips parted rather fetchingly. The
creepy spider lifted a delicate limp wrist and let it drop suddenly
to prove the girl was truly at his mercy. The audience was totally
convinced though the Countess thought the pretty stooge might star
in the West End in the not too distant future. The little actress
performed admirably as a mewling cat, a French burlesque dancer and
a chook laying an egg. The gullible lapped it up, particularly the
bit where she lifted her skirts and kicked up her heels. This
received thunderous applause and earned several encores. Eventually
the sleepyhead was awakened from her entertaining trance. She
returned to her seat seemingly oblivious to her newfound fame.

Another victim was selected and
this time to avoid the coincidence of sameness it was a male of
middling age. He performed admirably as a woodchopper, a man on a
horse, and then the horse itself, in the style of Moliere’s
cheval
, prancing and pawing the ground, rearing up and
throwing back his mane. His horsey act was so hilarious the wild
guffaws almost brought the house down. As he cantered back to his
seat, acknowledging the tumultuous plaudits with a toss of his
horsey head, the stage lights dimmed and the camera obscura
projected images of moons and stars swirling around the universe.
Everyone was once again as spellbound as they had been during the
song but in a different way. This time the magic worked itself on
the eyes rather than the ears. Shimmery clouds of gauzy muslin
obscured the occult heavens and when the floaty veils finally
parted there on a throne, like the Empress in the Tarot pack, sat
the renowned medium, Madame Moghra.

“I sense a presence,” she
rasped and paused, waiting for total silence.

“Why is it that spiritualists
all sound as if they have swallowed cobwebs?” whispered the
Countess before the rational part of her brain slowly succumbed to
the emotional. Tone of voice, setting, all had something to do with
it, but it was also some innate human desire to give oneself over
to the supernatural.

Dr Watson barely acknowledged
her observation, the rational man of medical science was falling
under the spell of the supernatural too.

“I sense a presence,” repeated
the Empress. “A restless spirit, recently departed, wants to speak
to someone called Lizzy…Lissy…Sissy.”

“That’s me!” shouted a young
woman, springing up from her seat. “Harry is that you?” She tilted
her face up to the sickly ceiling, searching for a sign in the
jaundiced heavens. “Harry? Harry? I know you’re there!”

“Harry is with you,” rasped the
medium. “He is watching over you,” she offered soothingly. “He says
you can remarry. He will not stand in your way. He approves of your
choice. He is happy for you. He is at peace.”

The young woman began to sob on
the shoulder of the young man who swept her into his arms. The
Countess remained sceptical though she was full of admiration for
the power of the performance and its ability to grip. These things
were so easy to stage-craft. But what happened next changed her
view dramatically.

“I sense another restless
spirit,” the Empress rasped. “It is an unhappy spirit who is not at
peace with himself, who haunts the dark pages of our past, in
particular the past lives of two who have joined us this evening, a
doctor and a foreign lady, who cling tightly to the unhappy soul
and refuse to relinquish him. He begs to be released…to be allowed
to find peace…”

Dr Watson and Countess
Volodymyrovna tried to stymie the chill running up their spines,
but when Fedir and Xenia, seated in the stalls, inclined their
heads, other heads followed suit and soon the entire audience was
staring in their direction.

Madame Moghra did not name the
dead spirit she alluded to despite repeated calls of Who? Who is
it? Tell us! But she did allow her eyes to drift to the upper
gallery, indicating she knew very well who she was targeting.
However, without a hook on which to attach their supernatural hats
the audience grew increasingly restless. It was time to offer some
fresh otherworldly fodder.

Madame Moghra went into a
slight faint. Her head lolled and she moaned as if in pain. Harp
strings could be heard plaintively in the background and then her
throne began to levitate. It appeared to hover in mid-air for
several seconds. When the chair clunked back down with a resounding
bang the medium was jolted from her trance. There was a collective
gasp from the audience and all were once again riveted.

“Xenia! Xenia!”

Xenia froze in her seat.

“Show yourself, Xenia. You are
one of us. You have the power of second sight. Do not be
frightened. Do not be frightened of your mystic power. Do not be
frightened of who you are. Show yourself, Xenia.”

Shaking like a leaf, Xenia
stood up. At the same time the blood rushed out of her head and she
gripped the wooden top-bar of the pew to stop from fainting.

“The spirit world speaks to
you, Xenia. The spirit world speaks through you, Xenia. You have
the gift. I am your spirit guide. I am the one you have been
waiting for. You must follow your soul path. You must reach out to
me so that you too can guide others when your time comes. You have
come from afar. You have travelled over the seven seas. You are
from an ancient tribe. You have lived many lives. You are almost
there, Xenia. One more lifetime and eternity is yours…yours…”

Without warning Madame Moghra
began gasping for breath. Her hand flew to her throat in
desperation as she gagged and choked on her own saliva. She twisted
and writhed as if in an agony of convulsion. The doctor had once
witnessed someone die from strychnine poisoning. Her convulsions
were much the same. Gasping, she collapsed suddenly onto the stage,
hitting the floor with a dramatic thump!

“She’s dead!” someone called
out. “The spirit world has spoken!”

Several women screamed.

The Countess might have shown
more concern for the fate of the medium but at the exact same time
as Madame Moghra thudded to the floor the magic lantern flared to
life. Occult symbols flashed across the starry heavens bamboozling
the eyes. It was a touch too coincidental for a rationalist.
Besides, the Countess was still meditating on the strange message
Madame Moghra had delivered to her personal maid. Every atheistic
instinct screamed out that she was being targeted along with Dr
Watson: first, the allusion to a restless soul, meaning Sherlock,
and then the cryptic message enticing Xenia to go over to the other
side. What game was this?

There were several ways the
medium could have known they were in the audience. A telegram sent
from Lady Moira Cruddock telling her to expect a gift which would
be delivered by Dr John Watson and his sleuthing companion,
Countess Varvara Volodymyrovna – and that was just for starters.
The medium may have gone through the same routine every night this
past week waiting to strike it lucky. Of course, someone from the
clairvoyant troupe, someone in the ticket booth perhaps, may even
have recognized Dr Watson from a photo in the newspapers and
reported to the medium that the doctor was finally purchasing
tickets for a performance. It would not have been difficult to
attain extra information regarding the name of the Countess, her
personal maid or her background. Even the traditional Ukrainian
clothing Xenia and Fedir favoured would have given them away at a
glance. Someone at the door could have been told to look out for
two Slavs with a well-dressed foreign lady in the company of an
older man of conservative frame. What appeared to be supernatural
could usually be explained by rational deduction. Still, Madame
Moghra was good at her game.

It was time to seek her
out.

Our four bemused heroes waited
until last to emerge from the Unitarian Church Hall. Xenia was
still shaking when the quartet met up on the pavement and discussed
what to do next.

“Fedir and Xenia will go to Ye
Old Jorvik Tavern and wait for us there,” announced the Countess,
worried about the pallor of her normally russet-cheeked maid,
handing Fedir some money for drinks and a light supper before
turning to the doctor. “In the meantime, let’s go down the side
lane to the stage door and hand a calling card to the doorman.
Something tells me Madame Moghra will be expecting us.”

A beefy thug with a face like a
vicious bulldog took one look at the Countess’s calling card and
waved them through. “Follow those stairs and watch your step,” he
mumbled out of the side of his misshapen mouth. “The walls are
dripping with damp and the stones get slippery-like.”

The subterranean world beneath
the church hall was not as large as the undercroft of a proper
theatre, nevertheless it was a twisted maze of narrow corridors,
fetid cellars and large vaulted crypts that resembled caves for
storing barrels of wine or possibly human remains, recalling the
catacombs under Montmartre that had started life as limestone
quarries and ended up as bone yards. There was no electric power
and the sepulchral caverns were illuminated solely by candlelight
that distorted every passing shadow, transforming them into hellish
hollows more macabre than anything the camera obscura could have
achieved. What the freemasons ever did down here was a mystery that
was perhaps best left to posterity, though the medieval vaulting in
the largest of the crypts suggested that this netherworld may have
predated the Masonic hall by several centuries.

As if the moment had been
pre-ordained, they were met in the largest cavern by the
wild-haired blond pianist. He did not bother to make eye-contact
nor introduce himself, but they remembered his stuttering name. It
was the same young man who had deftly operated the complex camera
obscura.

In the cavernous dimness it was
hard to tell his age but a bit of intelligent guesswork would have
put him at around thirty. Poetically handsome in a dissipated sort
of way, he called to mind a poorer version of some broody Byron,
shabby and down-at-heel, sadly self-neglected, like a once
beautiful garden that had gone to seed or a once lovely house that
had gone to wrack and ruin, beyond repair, the inhabitants fallen
on hard times, beyond redemption.

“Follow me,” he soughed and
sighed, sounding bored with life in general and his life in
particular, tired, deflated, emptied-out of empathy and emotion in
the manner of a disembodied spirit whose soul had checked out long
ago.

How many admirers, how many
acolytes, how many victims, had he ushered to the feet of the
Empress of the Underworld? He paused at a wooden door and did not
bother to knock.

“Go right in.
She
will
be expecting you.”

The emphasis on the ‘She’
suggested he meant it to have a capital S, and yet in that moment
of cynical italicising, just before he turned on a down-trodden
heel, he used a fine-boned pianist’s hand to smooth back a tangle
of untidy locks that had fallen over a pair of bloodshot eyes, and
it was the deep-seated ache in his eyes contrasted with the gesture
that belied everything else you noticed about him. It forced you to
remember a man could not be a musician without feeling or a
scientist without caring.

Dr Watson caught the elbow of
the Countess before she could push open the door, his grip was
fierce and his undertone grave.

“I think I should tell you that
Madame Moghra and I have met before.”

An elegant brow registered the
gravity of this last minute confession. “When?”

“Several years ago.”

“Where?”

“London.”

“What for?”

“A séance.”

Her intuition was as sharp as
ever, barely a heartbeat passed before she guessed. “After Mary
died?”

He grimaced painfully. “And
Sherlock.”

She didn’t reply. She was
staring at the ceiling of the vaulted chamber where sinister
shadows were performing a dance macabre on the concave brickwork -
fire, earth and air; light, stone and space - a dance as old as
time, the laws of nature in natural step, except for one shadow
standing motionless in the darkness, like Death waiting in the
wings.

Chapter 3 - Madame
Moghra

 

The dressing room of the famous
medium was a billowy boudoir, tented in colourful Indian silks to
disguise the fetid walls, damp ceiling and dungeonesque
dimensions.

The maid who rushed to the door
had more than a passing resemblance to the virtuously vulnerable
young woman who had volunteered to be hypnotised, though she was no
longer a throbbing redhead, rather a plain little thing with
severely up-pinned hair as dull as London ditchwater. The Countess
wondered if Dr Watson noted the resemblance too. Probably not. Men
were not attuned to the specifics of female features. Her
ex-husband had once told her the Chinese females on the Bendigo
goldfields all looked the same to him; he could not distinguish one
chink
from another. Later, she realized it was because of
the sameness of their hair. Put four brunettes of similar
propinquity in a group and most men could not tell you at a glance
how many women were there gathered, but make one a blonde, one a
redhead, one a brunette and one raven-haired and a man could say
instantly there were four.

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