The Diary of Percy Cavor
12th December 1795
Bole Manor, the village of Wold Newton, Yorkshire
I arrived safe and well, if in a state of considerable dishevelment and much perturbation of mind, at Bole Manor just after seven of the clock. I will not trouble your patience with a studious reminiscence of my tedious and unpleasant journey from London: suffice it to say that said journey took seven days, many changes of carriage and the revealed understanding that the standard of accommodation offered to travellers diminishes in direct proportion to the distance hostelries are from our nation’s capital.
Such were the rigors of the journey that I find myself at a loss to understand why a personage as elevated as Sir Algernon Bole chooses to tolerate residing in such a backwater as Wold Newton. It is a pretty enough sort of place, though nondescript architecturally and very confined, but this pleasing aspect is, I suspect, slight compensation for the isolation dwelling here must, perforce, impose on a scientist of Sir Algernon’s rank, removing him as it must from the intellectual cut and thrust of London Society.
I can only assume the Sir Algernon wishes to ensure the fruits of his scientific studies remain private and confidential.
The length of the journey did, however give me ample time to reflect upon my decision to accept the invitation made so generously – and unexpectedly – by Sir Algernon to visit Bole Manor. I use the word ‘unexpectedly’ with regard to the invitation as, previous to the invitation’s receipt, I had enjoyed only the most tentative of acquaintance with Sir Algernon. I seems, however, that the paper I submitted to the Royal Society entitled ‘The Peculiar and Interesting Effects of Extreme Magnetic Flux on the Workings of the Body’ caught Sir Algernon’s eye and provoked him to offer me the opportunity to participate in the scientific soiree he is hosting in this very house tomorrow.
Quite why my enquiries regarding magnetic flux could be of interest to one, such as Sir Algernon, whose investigations are of a more anthropological bent is beyond me. But as Sir Algernon has no small reputation within scientific circles - his especial passion being the study of the ancient civilisations which flourished in preDeluge Anatolia – it would have been churlish to refuse: churlish and fiscally foolhardy. The Bole fortune is reputedly vast (being derived, I understand, from the slave trade) and has been used to generously fund the work of talented but impecunious scientists, within whose ranks I am numbered. Thus I grasped with alacrity the opportunity to meet and to discourse with a number of the more celebrated of Europe’s scientists and by doing so to impress Sir Algernon.
However, having met the man, I am of a mind to criticise the precipitous enthusiasm with which I accepted the invitation. Sir Algernon is a most singular individual with quite a forbidding disposition.
But I get a little ahead of myself.
Upon my arrival, tired and travel stained, I was ushered without the least ceremony or my being given the opportunity to repair my dishabille into the drawing room, where I was greeted by Sir Algernon and his fiancée, Lady Hortense Steele, who is to act as hostess for those select individuals Sir Algernon had brought together at the Manor.
It is with no false modesty that I attest my belief that I am a broad-minded individual, blessed with a malleable and phlegmatic temperament, and hence I was not immediately discomforted by the oddity of Sir Algernon’s form or appearance – the man is peculiarly tall, peculiarly thin and peculiarly pale – but my sangfroid was tested by his icy cold demeanour.
When I was brought before Sir Algernon there was such little warmth evinced in his greeting that my initial – and very disturbing – impression was that Sir Algernon had developed a premature and quite unjustified aversion to me. He was reluctant to shake my hand or to rest his gaze upon me except for the most fleeting of glances. But now on reflection I believe Sir Algernon to be afflicted by a most extreme and debilitating form of misanthropy: he loathes his fellow man. But there is more: as I stood in that room I came to realise that though a fine fire blazed in the hearth, the room was chilled. It was as though Sir Algernon’s antipathy drew all the warmth from the place.
I must record that the man unnerved me.
The remarkable thing is that Sir Algernon’s fiancée, Lady Hortense, is the very antithesis of her husband-to-be. She is a remarkably handsome young woman, though perhaps a trifle tall to be ever thought a beauty. She is also something of a rarity in the Society of Georgian England in that she is well-educated and decidedly well-read and out-spoken on many matters. Fortunately, for the sanguinity of mind with which I anticipate my sojourn, where Bole is frosty and aloof she is all smiles and gaiety. Together they make an ill-matched pair and one can only speculate that it is the Bole fortune that persuades her to stand at his side as his putative bride.
The conversation with Sir Algernon was mercifully brief. He advised me that the rest of the party would be arriving from Scarborough – there they had been taking the waters – tomorrow and will comprise Doctor Manfred von Frankenstein from Ingolstadt in Bavaria, who is, without doubt the most prestigious Alienist and pathological anatomist in Europe; Professor Yuri Andreevich Petrov, Head of the Natural Sciences Department of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences and a man whose papers regarding gravity I have found profound and illuminating; William Jekyll, a leading authority on lunacy and disorders of the mind; and the Countess Mircalla Karnstein, who is, it seems, the world’s foremost expert on preDeluge history.
A strange and eclectic group to be sure, especially as Sir Algernon has brought us together to debate a remarkable discovery made by von Frankenstein regarding Man’s soul and the resulting theory that H.Sapiens might be the unwitting host for a second and much more visceral species. I am advised that the Baron, somewhat whimsically, calls this his ‘Cuckoo Contention’.
In view of the sensitivity and the potentially scandalous nature of the topic – especially within Church circles – to be discussed, Sir Algernon has arranged that he and his guests will, after luncheon tomorrow, be attended by only one of his staff, his mulatto butler, Heathcliff, a man in whom Sir Algernon places immense trust.
I repaired to my room, my head abuzz with a concoction of disparate emotions: eager anticipation of meeting and debating with my fellow scientists; trepidation of further experiencing Sir Algernon’s frost; and excitement at the prospect of being in the company of the lovely Miss Hortense Steele.