The original draft of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl had several episodes from Gideon’s favourite penny dreadful magazine, World Marvels & Wonders, interspersed with the narrative. Sadly they had to go for space reasons. Here’s an interesting one purporting to be Captain Trigger’s first encounter with the Faxmouth Mummy…
The Shadow Over Faxmouth
“This adventure, as always, is utterly true, and faithfully retold by my good friend, Doctor John Reed” – Captain Lucian Trigger
Following my adventures in the Wild West I repaired for some much needed rest and recuperation to the magnificent city of Boston, seat of the British Empire’s interests in the Colonies and one of the wonders of the New World. As I was to quickly discover, though, rest is something of a luxury for Captain Lucian Trigger, and more escapades were to duly follow…
I had been accompanied on my adventure to quell the deadly Steamcrawlers and their insane commander Captain Jim Bowie, known as the “Napoleon of Arkansas”, by my old compatriot Louis Cockayne, that sterling Yankee gentleman who had joined me on many previous jaunts , and as he was subsequently charged with carrying out a most secret mission south of the Mason-Dixon Wall, that impressive feat of engineering which spans North America and keeps the troublesome Texan rebels and their allies at bay, I wished him luck and farewell, and struck out by steam-stage to Massachusetts alone.
What a marvel is Boston! Its wide avenues are lined by trees that present a rainbow of browns, greens and reds in the Autumn months, against clapboard buildings painted white and blue. They have an aquarium on the harbour that houses a living whale, and you can stand on the observation platforms and stare the leviathan right into its vast eye, and wonder at what intelligence might lurk in the behemoth’s mighty brain. I strolled on Boston Common and fed red squirrels from my hand, and strode up Bunker Hill to take in the magnificent views of the countryside all around. It was quite, quite enjoyable, and I would have been bound for London on a passenger dirigible after my few days’ sojourn had I not met at a gathering organised by the British Governor in Boston an old acquaintance, Professor Reginald Halifax, who you might remember cropped up briefly in that nasty business in Switzerland some time ago.
An archaeologist by trade, Professor Halifax specialised in Egyptology, and had recently returned from an expedition to the Nile valley, about which he was most excited. Born a Londoner, he was an inveterate traveller and had been latterly attached to the University at Arkhamville, a small town some miles north of Boston, in EssexCounty. He was most insistent that I should see his latest acquisition, and despite my desire to journey home to London and meet with my old friend Dr John Reed as quickly as possible, my interest was piqued by Halifax’s refusal to speak any further of said discovery unless I accompanied him to see it in person, so I agreed that I would travel north with him to Arkhamville the following afternoon.
We travelled through the enchanting countryside by steam train, Professor Halifax and myself catching up on our doings since last we had journeyed together. He gave me some short history of Arkhamville, site in generations past of the infamous witch trials of the Puritan era, and since then dogged by myth, legend and supernatural rumour, which attracted those of an esoteric bent but dissuaded those of a more nervous disposition from travelling to the area.
Quite a shame, because Arkhamville has much to offer the tourist. Whitewashed houses in the Georgian style, with the roofing type I believe is called gambrel, abounded in the airy, spacious city square, and the townsfolk seemed open and friendly enough. The university to which Professor Halifax was attached was an impressive facility, and had an extensive archaeological department, of which my friend was the head. The student body seemed bright and well-mannered, good-looking in the way that the young men of Massachusetts so often are, if a little more raucous than their British counterparts. Save, that is, for the occasional huddled knot of students who had dour expressions and unprepossessing features, as though all distantly related. They appeared not to mix with the others, and Halifax whispered to me, “Faxmouth boys. A very insular group. Not many of them are intelligent enough to make it to the university – problems with inbreeding going back generations, they say. It’s a desolate place, out on the coast, and I’ve heard that some of the older townsfolk are little more than savages.”
After a dinner in a small restaurant just outside the university grounds I had expected to be shown to the rooms he had booked in advance for me, but he was keen to show me his mysterious discovery, and we attended his faculty forthwith, just as the sun was setting.
The university was all but deserted at that late hour, save for the night-watchman who patrolled the quadrangles and grounds, and Halifax had lit the gas lamps in the large acquisitions hall to illuminate the proceedings.
The large room was filled with cases, glittering gold idols, piles of ancient coins, stone carvings and parchment rolls. But my eye was immediately drawn to a glass casket in which stood a figure I at first took to be some waxwork dummy, and I could tell from Halifax’s glance that this was what he had been so eager to share with me. A more abhorrent thing I have never set eyes upon. It was shorter than an average man, but its thin limbs gave it the appearance of something gangly and unwieldy. It was clothed in ragged strips of cloth, evidently very ancient by their threadbare state, and its hands and feet were viciously clawed. But it was its face that caused feelings of revulsion to rise in my gullet. The greyish skin looked parchment dry, stretched over a hairless skull surely more globular than any normal human’s. The eyes were unnaturally round, and pupil-less, staring from the face like grey, smooth stones. The nose was almost rudimentary – merely two nostrils etched in the dry skin – and below it hung a most horrible mouth, frog-like in its width and aspect, but with rows of black, cruel-looking teeth as sharp as razors.
Seeing my revolted sneer, Halifax said, “Fascinating, is it not?”
“Foul, rather!” I ejaculated with a curling lip. “What is it? Some heathen idol? Leather and stone?”
Halifax shook his head excitedly. “No, Trigger. It’s a mummy. It was alive, once, probably two thousand years ago or more.”
“Then that visage… a mask, perhaps?”
“No,” said Halifax. “That’s its face. We’ve run initial tests and that was once living matter. Have you ever seen anything like it?”
I hadn’t, although my adventures had taken me to all corners of the globe and I had encountered many things beyond the ken of both science and religion. I said, “I find it hard to credit. A freak, then, a sport.”
“Possibly,” said Halifax. He took me to a wall chart showing the shifting sands of Egypt and pointed with his fountain pen to the Nile delta, some distance to the south and east of Alexandria. “We found it floating here. We’d been searching the fabled Rhodopis pyramid… you have heard of it?”
I hadn’t. “No matter, that isn’t important,” said Halifax. “We had a report from one of the natives that a body was in the river, and this is what we pulled out.”
“It was just floating there? How?”
Halifax shrugged. “My theory is that it had been buried in some lost temple or pyramid, perhaps one that was fed by an underground tributary of the Nile, and had become dislodged and made its way to the main river course during one of the frequent floods.”
“Lost pyramid?” I said. “Perhaps your… what did you say, Rhodopis pyramid?”
“Perhaps,” said Halifax. “But our search was at an end and we did not have resources or funds to continue. Perhaps we’ll return. Besides, this old chap was prize enough for me.”
A distant clock sounded midnight, and I could not stifle a yawn. Halifax said, “You get off to your lodgings, and we’ll meet again tomorrow.”
“You do not fancy a nightcap, old friend?”
He shook his head. “Not tonight. I have some cataloguing of our more minor finds from the expedition to do, then I can be free to show you around Arkhamville and take dinner with you again tomorrow.”
The lodgings that Halifax had secured for me were perhaps a ten minute stroll from the university, and as I walked there, alone, I felt a nameless dread creeping up on me. Where, by day, Arkhamville had seemed pleasant and friendly, under cover of darkness its tall, shuttered townhouses spoke of dark secrets within, its wide avenues seemed painted with unusual shadows. Even the landlord of the rooms I had taken gave me a curious look as I bade him goodnight, as though I had no right to walk the streets after dark. I was glad to get to my bed and lock the door behind me, having a nightcap of whisky and reviewing the day’s events before falling into an uneasy sleep troubled by witch-haunted dreams.
I breakfasted on a fine repast of pancakes, eggs and strong coffee, which was interrupted by a message delivered to me by a student from the university. It read simply, “Professor Halifax in Arkhamville infirmary. Requests you visit at your earliest convenience.”
“What happened?” I asked the boy, who I could see was itching to tell me.
“A robbery, it looks like, sir,” he said breathlessly. “Late last night. Someone broke into the archaeology department. Professor Halifax has been severely injured.”
The student directed me to a row of horse-drawn hansom cabs outside the university grounds and I took one post-haste to the infirmary, where a shocking sight greeted me when I was shown into the private room allocated to Halifax.
“Great Scott, man!” I exclaimed. “What on earth happened?”
Halifax looked to be at death’s door. He was propped up on a number of pillows, his complexion sallow to the point of near-morbidity. He was bare-chested and a swathe of bandages were wrapped around his torso and over his left shoulder, already seeping with dark blood. He looked at me with sunken eyes, seemingly finding it difficult to focus, and whispered through dry, cracked lips, “Trigger. Thank God.”
Haltingly, he told me his tale: “I had been locking up for the night and was just about to leave the premises when I remembered I had left my notebook in my office. As I returned for it I heard a crash of breaking glass; the night-watchman was evidently elsewhere on his rounds so I followed the sound to the archaeology department. When I unlocked the door I found the cabinet that had held the mummy shattered.”
“And the thing? The mummy?”
“Gone,” he whispered.
I thumped my fist into the palm of my hand. “Rival archaeologists, perhaps? Von Karloff, returned from the certain death we had thought he suffered when he plunged from the summit of Everest?“
Halifax shook his head. “In the gloom I noticed a figure hunched over a second broken display case. It held a ruby pendant on a gold chain, which I had recovered on a previous Egypt expedition.”
“A robber with an interest in Egyptology, then,” I surmised.
Wincing at the pain, Halifax leaned forward to grip my arm. “You don’t understand, Trigger! He turned to look at me as I entered. He was grasping the pendant in his hand. I saw exactly who it was.”
“It was the mummy!” he gasped, falling back into his pillows.
I remained silent for a moment, stroking my moustache. Eventually I said, “You are delirious with pain, or whatever drugs they have you on, Halifax. The dim light played tricks on your eyes, perhaps…”
“Then how do you explain this,” he hissed, unwinding his bandages despite my protestations. I was about to call for his nurse when he unveiled the wound on his shoulder. A whole section of the flesh had gone, right down to his collar-bone. It was a crescent-shaped wound, very much like the injuries I had seen when my occasional travelling companion Jamyang, the gentle Tibetan mystic, had suffered a shark attack that proved sadly fatal while we adventured in Australia.
“It bit me, Trigger,” he said weakly. “I think the damn thing would have eaten me alive had the night-watchman not finally turned up. At the sight of him it leaped through the window and fled, taking the artefact with it.”
I shook my head, trying to disbelieve but failing. The strange atmosphere of Arkhamville must have been working on my mind, and I was ready to believe anything. “Have you told this to anyone else? The constabulary?”
Halifax nodded. “They think me mad, as no doubt do you.”
“No,” I said with resolve. “You are not mad, Halifax. Where do you think the abomination went?”
“Home, no doubt. To Egypt.”
“I doubt it will be booking a seat on the intercontinental dirigible,” I said wryly.
“It will head towards the sea,” he said weakly, then his eyes widened. “And the most direct route would take it to Faxmouth. I beg you, Trigger, do not follow it.”
“I will get your artefact back,” I said stoutly. In truth, I wanted to see this living dead thing for myself. “Faxmouth can hold no fear for Captain Lucian Trigger.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he whispered, then slumped into unconsciousness.
I could find no cab driver to take me out east to Faxmouth on the coast. Some shook their heads sullenly, others made excuses that their horses would not handle the journey, or that they were busy with bookings, though there was little evidence of that. There had apparently been a steam-locomotive many years ago, but the service had been discontinued and the track abandoned. One cabbie did grudgingly tell me that there was a steam-omnibus that left Arkhamville every lunchtime, which would take me within a mile of Faxmouth before it swung northwards on its circular journey around the district. I was in time for that, and waited with two quiet men, both of whom had the strange “Faxmouth look” about them, and who refused to be engaged by my attempts at conversation.
The omnibus was a juddering, single-deck affair, which belched white smoke alarmingly from its exhaust and required the sweating fireman to constantly feed the furnace at the rear of the vehicle with great shovelfuls of coal. It was also lightly sprung and I felt every bump on the desolate coast road as I scanned the window for any sign of the mummy loping across the scrubland. Soon I could scent the sea through the open windows and the landscape gave way to harsh, sparsely-vegetated sandy dunes, just as we crested a hill and I beheld my first sight of Faxmouth, laid out below, crouching on a stretch of rocky coastline.
The omnibus shuddered to a halt and the driver called, “All out for Faxmouth.”
My two silent companions lumbered towards the doors at the front of the omnibus and exited together, immediately walking in their curious, staggering gait along a track that led down to the town. I followed them off the bus and before I stepped on to the sandy track I turned and asked the driver if he could recommend anywhere to stay, should my business keep me longer than a day.
He gave a mirthless laugh. “Anywhere to stay the night? As far as possible from Faxmouth, friend.” Then the door hissed shut and the omnibus steamed back into life, taking the road as it looped northwards and disappearing from view, as I looked down at Faxmouth.
It looked a black place, all right, dark wooden houses pushed up against each other in a most unbecoming fashion. I could make out a town square, and a wharf, though no boats were clustered around it. Dark shapes loitered in the tight cobbled streets, in twos and threes, or walked across the square with the same loping gait as my two travelling companions. The whole place had an air of decay and abandonment rising from it just as the breeze carried the briny smell of the sea. In truth, reader, I wanted to flee the place at once. But the road was deserted in either direction, I had made a promise to Professor Halifax and Captain Lucian Trigger was a man of his word.
What a foul place was Faxmouth! As I strode into its narrow streets I sensed hidden eyes watching from behind filthy curtains or tattered shutters. The houses were all in a state of disrepair, the gardens overgrown and the stench of rotting fish all around. The few locals I passed on the streets regarded me with unabashed stares, curious and rude. I made my way to the town square, wondering how I was going to find the mummy. Surely it would not make for a built-up area, even one as desolate as this. And Halifax had failed to say what the creature would do when it reached the sea. Did it mean to swim back to Egypt with its purloined prize?
Fortune smiled upon me that day. As I crossed the empty town square, weeds growing between the cracked stone pavings, there was a commotion on the shingle beach just to the north of the town. I could see a dozen hunched figures in some high state of excitement, and I set off at a run towards them, coming to the jetty and leaping down over the tarnished balustrade to the pebbles below. I looked over my shoulder and saw more locals staggering in my wake. Were they in pursuit of me, or attracted by the commotion? It was time for my trusty service revolver to make an appearance, and I withdrew it from my canvas bag and checked the chambers before running on to the gathering.
And there, in broad daylight, was the foul beast I had seen encased in glass just the night before. It had gained more vitality, though was none the better-looking for it. Its horrible batrachian lips were peeled back over those cruel black teeth, and it grasped in its clawed hands the stolen pendant. At first I thought the villagers were attacking it, or the mummy was attacking them, but then I realised the sounds they were emitting were not panic or anger, but rather a toneless, droning chant. Some of them were abasing themselves in front of the evidently nonplussed creature.
Good God, they were worshipping it!
I presented my revolver for all to see and strode forwards. “What occurs?” I demanded, and they turned to look at me.
“Go,” hissed one particularly foul-faced Faxmouther. “This is not your concern.”
“I’m very much afraid it is,” I said. “Now stand back from that abomination. It and I have business.”
“Do not speak that way of our god,” spat another.
“God?” I said. “Who would worship such a monstrosity?”
“It is the Great Old One, returned to us at last,” sneered another. “The Slime-Father. The Emperor of the Deeps.”
The creature was evidently as confused as I, and if there was any intelligence behind that dome-like head and blank, bulging eyes, it perhaps wondered what quirk of fate had brought it to this accursed town of madmen. Spying its chance it made for the sea, swinging its prize in its claw.
“Halt!” I demanded. “Halt, or I’ll shoot!”
The creature did not falter, and I somehow knew if it reached the waves I was lost. So I fired my revolver into its rag-clad back.
The mummy jerked once, twice, three times. It fell to the wet shingle, then, incredibly, began to rise again. The townsfolk stepped back in shock as I ran towards it and gave it the benefit of my boot in its thin stomach. The mummy bared its black teeth at me, and I discharged my revolver three more times. Even that did not do for the creature, though I had sorely stunned it. I took my chance and reached down to grab the pendant. Although the bullets had not killed the mummy, it was evidently wary of my weapon – thank God it didn’t know I had only six bullets! — and instead of attacking it crawled towards the sea. I would have restrained it but I had more pressing concerns – the Faxmouthers, their numbers swollen by more rushing from the town, were advancing on me. And as primitive and sub-human as they appeared, they obviously knew how many bullets a service revolver held in its chambers.
“Back off!” I warned them.
“He has driven off the Slime-Father!” intoned one.
“He has blasphemed!”
“He must die!”
I took one last look at the mummy, which was disappearing beneath the grey water, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Kicking the nearest villager in the leg I set out at a pounding pace for the cliffs, hoping that the Faxmouthers’ physical disabilities would prevent them following me as I began to scale the sheer craggy face. I was right, but I could see them loping back to the town, no doubt hoping to cut me off. Fortunately, my mountaineering skills are legendary, and I was at the top of the cliffs before the first of the Faxmouth heathens bobbed up on the track that I had taken down to the town. I immediately plunged into the undergrowth across the road, and by chance found the weed-choked, overgrown railway line that had once serviced this abhorrent place. Crouching low beneath the tall dune-grasses that grew there, I fled as fast as I could, until the sounds of pursuit thankfully died away.
It was nightfall when I returned to Arkhamville, and to bad news; Halifax had died that afternoon, raving madly and with a horribly infected bite-wound. I was glad to take my leave of the place, and returned to Boston. By happy chance I met there the valorous and noble Belle of the Airways, Rowena Fanshawe, who was bound for London in her dirigible the Skylady II, and I accepted her generous invitation to journey homeward in her always delightful company.
It was only when I was over the Atlantic that I found the artefact the creature had stolen, in my pocket. I must have slipped it there and forgotten about it when I received news of Halifax’s demise. It was a curious thing, a precious red gem encircled with gold, which in turn was engraved with some strange hieroglyphic that meant nothing to me. Ah, well, it was no use to poor old Halifax now. I resolved to keep it and place it in my trophy room, a reminder of one of the strangest adventures of my career.
Captain Lucian Trigger will return in The Mystery of the Birmingham Poisoner.
 See Captain Lucian Trigger vs the Bowie Steamcrawlers, in the August 1888 number of World Marvels & Wonders
 See World Marvels & Wonders passim
 Lucian Trigger and the Quest for the Rhinegold, in World Marvels & Wonders February 1887.