Gentleman's Doll

 

Thaddeus Grandtower walked to his foyer to collect the morning mail that had just fallen through the letter slot. But when he glanced out the leaded glass sidelight onto Carrington Street, he lurched backward at the sight of Madam Radzukova bustling from her next-door townhouse. Anything to deny the old bat the sight of him. But to Thad’s relief Madam Radzukova merely crossed the sidewalk, then climbed into her waiting carriage.
     “Practitioner of poppycock!” Thad growled and shook his head. How the old Russian émigré, the self-proclaimed “mistress of the Hermetic arts,” got away with plying her parlor tricks in his respectable neighborhood beggared his imagination. Tarot cards, palm readings, even séances? In the name of all that’s rational, he rolled his eyes. When he peeked out the sidelight again, her carriage was gone. “Good riddance,” he sniffed. He figured the Tsar himself, whom she claimed was her cousin, probably personally booted the old charlatan from her homeland.
     The shameless old busybody had her prying tendrils entwined around every inch of the neighborhood grapevine. She seemed to be privy to every scrap of dubious gossip about Beatrice and him. Thad wondered if Beatrice herself, his now erstwhile betrothed, had shared the particulars of their discord with the meddlesome old faker. Lady Beatrice Moore, he thought, so prim of ardour, so unbridled in her vengeance!
     “Women!” Thad sniffed, gritting his teeth. “Hell indeed hath no fury.” Why else would Madam Radzukova have proffered him her ready counsel? The horrid crone even offered to lecture him on “conjugal harmony.” Thad clenched his jaws even tighter. As if a man of science and reason would countenance such a mountebank. Why save for sheer spite would Beatrice disclose even the tiniest impropriety to such a hideous woman?
     As he leafed through his mail, a missive from the British Society for Scientific and Engineering Enterprise came to his attention. Forget Beatrice and the old bat! Thad ripped the envelope open, devoured the contents of the letter it bore. “Marvelous!” he shouted and nearly broke into a jig. The Society had agreed to honor his extraordinary request. He was invited to unveil a fortnight hence his latest invention to the assembled membership at the club. His lips curled into a satisfied smile. How had he ever doubted the Society’s wisdom? Of course it would accede to the wishes of its youngest, yet so precociously accomplished, member. And with fortnight more to perfect things, all would be ready at the appointed time. He gave himself a confident nod, even decided to forego his breakfast, to repair posthaste to his laboratory.
     Then Madam Radzukova’s wizened visage rematerialized his mind. The histrionic old witch! Last month, when she got wind of his experiments, she banged on his door. Had he an inkling of the cosmic repercussions of his unnatural tampering? she cried. Automatons in the guise of human flesh? Soulless servants? Veritable golems? An animate creature must be given a soul, she insisted, a soul with a conscience, or there would be mortal hell to pay. But what did a modern young man blinded by his gullible faith in science know of ensoulment? She, she claimed, would have to perform all the necessary rites and incantations needed to “mollify Fate.” And then what, Thad snickered to himself, the presentation of an invoice for her all-important ministrations?
     The silly old fraud! Thad shook his head. A soul for his creation indeed. Did Madam Radzukova imagine a soul as passionless and unforgiving as Lady Beatrice Moore’s would suffice? Even in all her devious machinations, the old Russian fraud was incapable of conceiving the magnitude of his accomplishment. Women! he thought. And didn’t Beatrice Moore epitomize the most vexing flaws of their sex? As great Erasmus lamented, can’t live with them, can’t live without them. But he, Thaddeus Grandtower, inventor extraordinaire, would see about that....

 

Copyright 2020 A. R. Gregory