Day One, Morning
Henry Jekyll is dead.
I whisper the words and then listen, as if I've dropped a stone into a well and await the plunk and splash ... But inside my head there is only silence. All around me a chorus of celebratory noises fills the void: the simmering pop of the coals in the stove, the nautical creak of the whole wooden cabinet, and a faint, high-pitched cheeping from beyond the windows that sounds almost like baby birds. Here I sit in Jekyll's chair by these three encrusted casement windows, with his mildewed overcoat draped about my shoulders like a travelling cloak. My journey's end. The transformation has never felt so smooth before. No spinning sickness, no pain. Just a gentle dissolution: Jekyll evaporating like atomic particles into the air and leaving me behind in the body. This time for good.
Extinction. That was the word Darwin used in his book, which Jekyll befouled weeks ago and then dumped from the chamber pot out the window (no doubt it still lies down there in the yard like a spine-broken bird tumbled from flight). Extinction. Do the races of men, Darwin said, encroach on and replace one another, so that some finally become extinct? Jekyll refused to explain this concept to me. But now I begin to glimpse what extinction really means. I have been singled out. Selected for survival.
The fine hairs along my forearm rise into filaments. I look down at my left hand, resting in my lap like a pale crab, belly-up, the fingers loosely curled. The fraying cuff of Jekyll's shirt is folded back once, revealing the lavender tail of the vein that runs to my wrist. Gingerly I draw the cuff farther up the arm and see the purple lines of infection fork and branch into darkened tributaries that reconverge at the crook of my elbow, which I bare with a hissing wince. The abscess in the notch has gone black, juicy and fat, like a blood-gorged spider at the heart of its web, its abdomen a-throb. I brush my thumb down the cubital vein, hard as a violin string under the skin and scattered with systematic punctures, some scabbed over and some red and fresh, my various points of entry. Look at what he's left me. What he's made me do. All those experimental powders, those double injections — and for what? The end is the same.
My pulse thumps in vindication as I turn in the chair and stare across the cabinet laboratory at Jekyll's writing desk. The white envelope sits propped up against the brass-and-bell-glass lamp. Just as he left it an hour ago. Even in this wan light I can read the elaborate contour of ink across the envelope face: Gabriel John Utterson. For the past week I have watched Jekyll scratch out those buckled pages of frantic confession that are folded inside this envelope. Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case. Possessed by his own demented monologue, Jekyll would scribble, lips twisting, for hours — and then he would stop cold and glance up, as if he'd detected a furtive footstep from behind. Amazed, I peered out, surrounded by the pump of his blood, the fizzling whisper of his thoughts, and watched him ease open the lowest drawer of the desk, lift the false wooden bottom, and stash the accumulating pages in the secret under-space compartment. As if he somehow hoped to hide them from me. As if he believed I could not read through his own eyes every word he was writing — believed I would rip his precious manifesto to scraps if he were to leave it lying in the open. Lunacy! And yet after all that, this very morning when he is finally finished, what does he do? He stuffs the pages into that envelope, addresses the crazy thing to his best friend and solicitor, and props it up right bloody there on his desk for me to destroy at my leisure!
I won't destroy it, of course. I have no reason to touch it. Let Utterson find it and read it. The solicitor is no fool. From the moment he first heard my name fall from Jekyll's lips, Utterson knew he was not being given the story entire but rather a carefully manicured account. Why should Jekyll's written confession be any different? From the first line, Utterson will see that the statement is anything but full, that it is little more than his friend's dying, desperate protestation of innocence. Why should I waste the effort? No, I won't deny Jekyll his pathetic self-exoneration. But neither will I let him have the final say.
I don't know how much longer I have before Poole realises it's me festering up here — the wanted murderer Edward Hyde — and not his master. Jekyll's man to the last, trusty old Poole. Twice a day for the past two months, he's been ferrying his master's meals on a tray with a domed silver cover across the gravel courtyard from Big House: charred bangers and glutinous eggs and a leaky slice of grilled tomato for breakfast, then a chop or chicken or minced pie sometimes for supper. But this arrangement won't continue indefinitely. Surely this evening, the moment Poole throws open the rusty steel door, he will feel the change, like a temperature drop, in the gloomy depths of the surgery block below me. With chilled breath he will stand at the foot of the stairs, holding the tray, staring up the dark rickety ascent at the cabinet door behind which I crouch. Will he climb up to the door himself and knock? Or will he fetch Utterson to do it? Yes, it will be Utterson who knocks, Utterson who shouts out, Harry, open this door at once! Jekyll knew his friend would be coming, of course. Jekyll knew how it all would end: Utterson pounding at the door and Poole a step below, armed with some implement to smash the door down, that black-headed axe with a silver gleam along its lip. Take it down, Poole! Utterson will cry, and the door will jump and crack as the blade bites in. Our saviours, who will arrive far too late to save anyone.
I shake off a ripple of goose flesh and peer out one of the three iron-framed casement windows that overlook the white gravel yard. A low stratum of morning fog moves like dense liquid over the stones. Above the boxy, silhouetted back end of the surgery block, to the east, the sky is soft cerulean blue, ribbed with pink fire. My breath mists up the glass, and I draw back, wipe the pane with the squeaky meat of my palm. Seven o'clock. Jekyll stopped winding his pocket watch over a month ago, but I can tell the hour by the light and by Poole's comings and goings. Breakfast at half past eight, and supper at six. I have some time yet. And anyhow, the end will not come today. I am oddly certain of this. I have been selected. Granted this final spell of solitude, alone in the body, to set our story straight. I don't want to die with Jekyll's hectic lies echoing in my mind like the jeers of a mob at an execution. I don't want to die at all, but if there's no escaping it, then at the very least I want to remember everything properly first, the way it truly happened. The truth is inside this head. I simply must extract it. In the end no one will know it but me, but that will be enough. I shut my eyes, blow out a trembling breath. A nerve in my hand is twitching an erratic pulse, like a telegraphic code. Tap-tap, tap, down the wire.
I am alone, I whisper.
I am all alone.
Winter, then. Not this winter past but the one before it, the first, euphoric winter. December of 1884. The early days of my awakening. I had been roused from my long hibernation just that summer, in June, July. And on the full October moon, Jekyll finally cooked up the first injection and ejected me into the world. By December, then, I was still newborn, naïve. Everything was simple, at this primary stage. Up here in the cabinet after dark, Jekyll would prepare the twin syringes, strip off his clothes, and slide the needle into his arm; the floor would flip in a sickening spin and I'd stagger out into the body. I'd climb into his huge hand-me-down suit and descend the rear stairs and slip from the back door onto Castle Street. Before dawn I would return, take the second syringe, and give the body back. Receding inside Jekyll was a necessary respite from the overwhelming enterprise of existence, and the end of each evening found me stumping happily down spindly Castle Street to the blistered door in the old limestone block of the surgical theatre and the cabinet laboratory on the upper floor. Home, such as it was.
That particular night in December of 1884, though, something was off. As I plodded back to Castle Street, a kind of restlessness still teemed beneath my skin. I wasn't unfamiliar with Jekyll's occasional dissatisfaction, an itch my seedy adventures had failed to scratch. I could feel Jekyll's urgings, but I couldn't always decipher what precisely he desired me to do. It was late, however, and my legs were dead from tromping around Soho, and my toes in Jekyll's draughty boots were nubbins of ice. I was approaching Castle Street from a poky, poorly lit side lane, hands buried in Jekyll's overcoat pockets, breathing steam through the chink in his upturned collar. The dark rooftops almost converged overhead, like the edges of a chasm, and the slot of sky in between was raw pink, like blood mixed into milk. I was gazing upward as I turned the corner onto Castle Street, and when I heard the quick slap of bare feet on stones I spun in surprise. A small hurtling body hit me in the belly with a yelp.
It was a girl. I caught her arms and hoisted her into the air, as if I were her father returned from distant travels. A black tangled mane covered her face as she squirmed in my grip, kicking her naked feet at nothing. She wore only a nightshirt. I could feel her sliding skin prickled into points. Where was she going, dressed like this, with no shoes, in such hurry? Easy, lassie, I said, giving her a shake. She stopped struggling. Through her tresses she breathed fiercely at me, a frightened, defiant animal. I caught a hint of odour from her nightclothes, medicinal, urinous, obscurely arousing. Then she shrieked and kicked me square between my legs. I dropped her, doubling over with belly nausea, and she fell and tripped backward onto the stones. As she tried to scramble up, I put my foot down on her chest.
I did not stamp on her, as everyone would later accuse me of doing. I placed my foot lightly on her chest, with just enough pressure to pin her down. It was reflex, like stepping on a news sheet before the wind snatches it away. The girl beat at my leg with tiny fists. I could feel her frail rib cage under my boot sole. I returned her glower a moment, then stepped off and hobbled away, my lower belly and bollocks sick with that specific pain. The surgery block, a squat cube of pitted limestone, was just across Castle Street. Three cement steps led up to the stoop and the peeling door, and as I approached, fishing from under my collar the chain with my keys dangling from it, I heard a loud manly holler from behind. My pulse spiked and I broke into a panicky scurry, but heavy feet were clapping up quickly, and as they came closer I froze, shoulders hunched. A hand grabbed my collar and wrenched me around.
A man with black muttonchops spilling down his ruddy cheeks gripped my coat lapels. Where are you going, eh? Where d'you think you're going?
My mouth was dry. I could not respond. I lacked the strength to even knock his hands away. This wasn't anonymous Soho, where I could bolt off from whatever escapade, madly laughing. I was standing right outside our back door. The man narrowed his eyes at me. You come along, he said, and by the collar he towed me across the lane. I compliantly followed, knowing I should simply twist free and pelt off yet impelled by a queer curiosity. For to my amazement, a scene had materialised back where I'd left the girl. She was on her feet now, with a man and woman — her parents, presumably — kneeling and fussing at her, and I could see a third party limping up the dark poky lane. I stood as if shackled to the spot by my muttonchopped captor while they surrounded me. Where had these people come from? They all seemed to be jabbering at once. My eye fell on the bent old crone who had just arrived and was crowing toothlessly what sounded like Touch 'im! Touch 'im! Soon yet another figure shuffled up and inserted himself into the circle: an oldish, ashen gentleman with a black bowler and a black doctor's bag in his grip. His basset-hound eyes fastened upon me as my captor began explaining to him that he had seen me snatch up this girl and try to carry her off and then throw her down and trample her body before passing calmly on.
I could not protest. The scene had all the nonsensical spontaneity of a nightmare. And behind my breastbone, I was beginning to feel Jekyll's excited reverberation, that pleasurable buzzing I had been seeking all evening. An insuppressible smile was curling my lips. Still clutching my collar, my captor gave me a shake and said, Well? How do you answer for yourself?
Ah, I thought. Money.
From under the brim of my topper, I gleamed at him. How much? I said.
What — the man snorted — money? You want to buy these good people off?
My captor looked at the girl's father, who was holding her wrist. Then he looked at the old doctor. All right, he announced. One hundred pounds.
One hundred pounds! I had little concept of currency in these early days, but I knew a hundred pounds was exorbitant extortion, the price of a whole house. Ten, I replied. Ten? he cried. Ten is an insult — look what you've done to this poor girl! I did not glance down at her; I knew I'd done her no damage. Twenty, I countered. The muttonchopped man took my lapels in his grip and yanked me close. This is not a negotiation, he snarled, do you hear? One hundred pounds. A fleck of spit hit my cheek on the word pounds, and I blinked. My gaze slid down now to the girl, manacled to her father by the wrist and staring up at me with a small, vengeful smile, a dark wicked fairy. One hundred pounds, I heard myself say. All right, then.
I knew that we didn't have one hundred pounds up in the cabinet. I knew it was impossibly reckless to let them see me enter the surgery-block door, my portal. But Jekyll was guiding me now, his confidence suffusing my breast like a slug of good brandy. Over there, I said, and led the way to the warped, paint-chipped door. On the first step I paused, spoke over my shoulder: Wait here.
I shut the door behind me and turned back the bolt. Heart slamming, I leant against the wood as my pupils dilated in the blackness of the dissecting room. It was just an empty corridor now. But bodies had been preserved and prepared in this room when the great surgeon John Hunter had owned Big House and built the surgery block out back, and a sweetish, chemical fragrance still lingered one hundred years later. I groped up the steep rear stairwell to my left. I had only two keys on my chain at this time, the Castle Street key and the cabinet key, and I could tell them apart by feel. The Castle Street key was old and wrought intricately in iron, and the cabinet key was new and thick steel. Jekyll had installed the twin lever-tumbler detector locks on both the cabinet doors, front and rear, just a few months before. In the dark I fitted the key into the slot, snicked it open, and let myself into the cabinet.
The room always made me think of the hold of a ship: narrow, low ceilinged, and timbered in varnished oak. I hurried down the length of the walnut laboratory table to the wardrobe in the corner and opened its doors. Jekyll's suit hung from the bar; I slid it to one side and pulled out the main drawer, jerked it loose from the slot. I carried it to the table, surveyed the assorted coins scattered across the felt bottom. Ten pounds I counted, plus a bob or two. Then I noticed the pale green folded paper neatly tucked in the drawer's corner.
I peeled it open. It was one of Jekyll's bank cheques. He must have removed it from his pocket at some point and placed it here, though I couldn't remember him doing so. It looked complicated. Several blank lines to be filled in. How could I give them one of Jekyll's cheques, anyhow? Wasn't it a very bad idea, connecting his name to this business, to me?
Yet that warm assurance glowed now in my limbs as I retrieved Father's fountain pen, heavy and sleek, from Jekyll's trousers hanging in the wardrobe. I had not so much as held a pen since the childhood, and the polished mahogany thing felt clumsy and sinister in my fingers. When I unscrewed the cap, baring the needle-sharp nib, for a flash I saw Father in his hospital wheelchair, the pen held loose in his withered hand. I transferred it to the fingers of my right hand as I bent over the cheque on the table and tentatively touched the nib's point to the signature line. Instantly my hand scribbled out an elegant tangle of ink. Astounded, I drew back. A plausible autograph. Had I done that? I touched the nib to the cheque again and my hand dashed in the remaining lines, making it out to Bearer for ninety pounds.