Loir-et-Cher, France 1742
Château de Chambord, in search of the alchemist Count of St. Germain
A return to the northern European climate was a relief, not only for the familiar trees and air, but because the black stone had lost so much of its luminescence that it was reminiscent of a black pearl.
“This is our last stop,” I reassured John. “We’ll be home in no time!”
Some of John’s humor had returned, enough at least to permit a smile even if he laced me into a sacque gown in silence. I was rather pleased how sharp he looked in his courtier’s waistcoat and breeches, his longer hair for once in vogue. Though my praise pleased him, I was certain his disposition was bolstered far more by the forthcoming return to present day.
The chateau was not far, and its Renaissance-style towers and white bastions emerged from the summer trees ahead. There was little concern about security; though the chateau belonged to Louis XV, he used it primarily as a resort, and the staff was thus accustomed to a high turnover of visitors. Keeping our chins up and our strides proud, we strolled to the chateau without disruption.
St. Germain was here on a semi-permanent residence, having set up his laboratory at the king’s behest. He was easy to find, surrounded by so much company in one of the spacious sitting rooms that our arrival was hardly noticeable. Courtiers lounged upon low cushioned chairs arranged in no particular order, leaving but a chivalrous few standing. The arrangement was intended for easy conversation between several cliques, and though I did not have a perfect view of everyone, I had a reasonable view of most. There was little prattle to be heard, however; all faces were turned toward St. Germain, rapt with interest as he performed some captivating parlor trick, and the room went still with anticipation before bursting into gasps and delighted laughter.
John and I hung back near the doorway and observed; St. Germain was dressed in all black, somewhat unusual amongst all the bright silks, yet he did not appear sinister. His smile was endearing, gentle as it always was, and it almost surprised me that one elderly woman stared at him horrified. Before she spoke, I realized who she was – the Countess von Georgy, the account of whom I had read several times during my years of research.
The Countess could not take her eyes from him, which did not remain unnoticed. St. Germain nodded in her direction.
“How fares you, Countess? Would you prefer music instead?”
Countess von Georgy shook her head at once, and she made efforts to straighten her posture, as if waking from a trance.
“Will you have the kindness to tell me,” she began, her old voice cracked with uncertainty. “Whether your father was in Venice about the year 1710?”
“No, Madame, it is very much longer since I lost my father,” St. Germain replied. “But I myself was living in Venice at the end of the last and beginning of this century.”
He spoke with such conviction that those around him hesitated to respond. While most laughed it off, the elderly Countess replied with fortified resolution.
“Forgive me, but that is impossible! The Count of St. Germain I knew in those days was at least forty-five years old, and you – at the outside – are that age at present.”
“Madame,” said St. Germain, placing his hand at his breast. “I am indeed very old.”
“But then you must be nearly a hundred years!”
“That is not impossible.” His eyes momentarily unfocused. “I loved springtime the most, when we’d take the gondolas to the Pałaso Dogal for Carnivale. You were there of course, Madame – a favored ambassadress with impeccable tastes. Yellow was certainly your color, was it not? You were a great beauty in your time. Of course I could not forget you.”
He cast a wink towards her; it appeared friendly to me, but the Countess was the only person in the room not giggling at his antics. St. Germain clapped his hands together as if something had just occurred to him, and he reached for his violin.
“Your favorite melody, Madame!” he declared as he set the instrument under his chin. The bow slid against the strings to elicit a romantic tune I could not name, and as I watched the St. Germain play, the notes drawn easily, a bard wielding music like magic.
The Countess von Georgy waved her hands, visibly upset, and as St. Germain paused, his expression concerned, the audible protests of the Countess became clearer.
“None of that, no! I am already convinced,” she said, her voice trembling in her hysterics. “For all that, you are a most extraordinary man.”
Nearby courtiers and attendants leaned towards the Countess to comfort her, or to assure her that it was all in playful jest, but she ignored such gestures. Her eyes remained hateful upon St. Germain as if she thought him pure evil–
“A devil!” she spat, before my own thought could be realized. The force with which she said it startled even me.
The tension in the room was perhaps too much for even St. Germain. I could see in his face that he’d realized he’d gone too far.
“For pity’s sake,” he said, returning his violin to its stand. “No such names.”
He paused then, and I stepped backwards into John, shuffling the pair of us out of sight.
“Did he see us?” John whispered, and I beamed at him.
“No,” I said, patting the Kodak under my arm. “But I got a shot of him playing.”
His mouth spread into a relieved grin. “Brilliant!”
John took my elbow to lead me back to the time machine, but I resisted as a figure in black emerged quite swiftly from the room. I needn’t glimpse his face to know it was St. Germain, who turned the opposite direction from us with a clipped pace. I touched John’s arm, imploring him to let us follow.
“There’s no need, Isabella. You’ve got your proof.”
“But the laboratory!” I pleaded. “Don’t you wish to see it?”
“We did see it! We spent hours there in Milan. Besides, you don’t know that’s where he’s heading.”
“But I do! His encounter with the Countess is well documented – I’ve read it hundreds of times, and word-for-word we witnessed it unfold. He retreats to his apartments and refuses all social invitations for the remainder of the evening.”
“How do you expect to see the laboratory if St. Germain shuts himself in?”
“He’ll go to his private room, I’m sure, but the laboratory still belongs to the king and would be expected to remain accessible. We’ve come all this way, John, please?”
John looked unhappy, but he sighed in that way that I knew meant he would offer no further protest. The chateau was no burning library, after all. In our hesitation to trail him, St. Germain had nearly cleared the hall and turned a corner. We hastened our pace, catching sight of him again as he disappeared through an open door at the far end of the next corridor.
As I expected, the entrance remained wide open, and St. Germain was nowhere in sight when I peered inside. John did not follow me in, urging me from the doorway to make haste with the Kodak. I meant to comply, but I found myself quite awestruck standing here among the count’s things.
The laboratory was not the castle dungeon I had always imagined it to be, but a tidy workshop filled with light. The walls were white, gilded with gold embellishment, and the decor a cheery red. Tall windows looked out onto the chateau’s green lawn.
I raised the Kodak and snapped several shots, particularly those of things I recognized. I noticed much of the equipment that had been present in Milan set upon long tables along the walls, but there were other familiar items as well – the stunning paintings, the star charts, the Templar relics, and the hardbound books with metallic latches. There was the map of Nova Scotia, accompanied by blueprints of the intricate, multi-leveled maze, and among the piles of parchment, I recognized drafts of the yet-unnamed steamship I had seen a model for in Milan. I found the unsuccessful astrolabe timepiece tucked among many other trinkets, along with an hourglass-shaped item bearing a prismatic black stone quite similar to the one we’d been given. As I leaned in for a closer look, the device appeared to be filtering mineral water into a small vial below the jewel, one tiny drop at a time.
“Forgive me, Madame, but I don’t believe I’ve had the honor of an introduction.”
St. Germain’s voice startled me so much that when I turned and gave a curtsey, I replied in English instead of the French spoken to me. He’d emerged from a room against the opposite wall from where I stood, and as he closed the door behind himself, it was evident by his weary expression he’d expected to find company less than I’d expected to be caught. His face brightened when his eyes met mine, however, and he approached with a kind, knowing smile.
“Mon dieu! But you’ve traveled quite far to come here.”
With my French returned to me, I said, “Oh, but England is not so far.”
His smiled broadened at that, and before he could press me for a name, I flattered his collections, insisting I’d heard of his laboratory and had not meant to intrude.
“I will see myself out, Monsieur,” I said with another bow as I made to depart.
“It is no intrusion, Madame….forgive me, but how should I call you?”
“Félicité,” I blurted, as the name of my French cousin flew to the forefront of my mind. “Félicité du Chandler. Monsieur, I really must-”
“Félicité,” St. Germain repeated thoughtfully, though it seemed more of a private consideration than a direct address. “Well! You’ve indeed come a long way to find my laboratory. Would it please you to see an alchemic demonstration? Come, Madame.”
He beckoned for me to join him at one of his tables, and though I most certainly should have departed when his back was turned, my curiosity kept me drawn to him. The man I’d chased across time and space had just invited me to witness him perform the very thing my father insisted was bullocks.
“Madame du Pompadour is on her way to Chambord,” St. Germain explained as he showed me a sizable diamond taken from his pocket. “And Louis wishes to give this to her.”
It was a jewel worthy of a queen, except for a flaw buried in its center that I only noticed with the aid of a magnifying glass. I had read accounts of this diamond, of its value despite the imperfection, and Louis’ request to purify it further for his beloved mistress.
“Shall we subject it to a bit of alchemy?” St. Germain asked me, to which I found myself nodding in earnest. He set the stone within an apparatus with a tight seal. “Do be so kind as to retrieve the protective eyewear from that drawer just by your skirts. Yes, that’s the one.”
Struggling to bend and control the Kodak at my side, I set the box camera at my feet and grabbed the eyewear, which he advised to place upon my forehead so that the tinted glass covered my eyes. As I did so, St. Germain took several moments to add chemicals and adjust the settings on the device. With a final warning to only observe through the filtered eyewear, he flipped a switch and the machine whirred to life. We both leaned in, and watched. At first, nothing happened, but then the diamond twitched. Slowly, the defect within the jewel began to bubble towards the surface, and I cried out in astonishment.
St. Germain smiled, and while I stared, enraptured with the process, he returned his supplies to their shelves and drawers at our feet.
“It can take several tries to lift all the impurities,” he said, still bent under the table. “I’ve spent the better part of a month working on it. With too prolonged an exposure, the diamond will melt, and I’d have great difficulty assuring Louis it to be the same one he’s entrusted me with. Despite my laboratory, I am no jeweler.”
Several minutes later, after the intense light had disappeared and St. Germain assured me we could remove our filtered eyewear, he opened the device and carefully inspected the newly solidified jewel.
“There we are,” he said, tapping the diamond with a caliper. “That’s better, isn’t it? Somewhat smaller without the imperfection to bloat it, but all the more valuable. I do not think Louis will mind.” He straightened, and met my eyes again. “Is alchemy of interest to you, Madame du Chandler? I conduct discourse every month at Louis’ behest, and I would invite you to attend.”
My breath caught somewhere under my stays, and for an instant I considered it, except that I was certain John would refuse. If it weren’t for the faint conversation where I’d left him – distracted interaction with another courtier, surely – I was certain he’d be in a panic over the invitation. A prolonged visit would reveal our fraudulence and risk the time machine being found. As it was, even I was beginning to feel nervous for how long I’d been here.
“My husband is a mathematician and a physicist,” I said. “If he is also welcome, we may very well attend.”
“But of course! I’m only sorry to have missed him presently.”
“Then I should be delighted to tell him,” I said, edging towards the door. “Thank you for the demonstration! Forgive me, Monsieur, but I must be on my way.”
St. Germain gave a courteous nod. “Please, don’t forget your bag.”
At first I did not understand what he meant; I carried no bag. Then, as my eyes fell to place I’d been standing, my insides dropped. The Kodak still sat under the workstation where I’d set it! I rushed to retrieve it, but St. Germain had already bent to pick it up, and he passed it to me with a smile as his hand touched mine.
My departure could not have been better timed if I’d planned it, for just as I joined John in the corridor, Louis and his entourage passed us and filed into St. Germain’s laboratory. We bent our heads and bowed low as the king passed, and with one final surge of ambition, I tilted the Kodak around the corner and pressed the shutter button.
Isabella Cooper-Oakley, age 31
“Can you imagine?” I said to John, as we sat, finally returned within the familiar walls of our parlor in Budapest. Still reeling from our adventure, I wasn’t sure if my shortness of breath was attributed to excitement or the lacing of my costume. I held the Kodak above our heads in triumph. “A photograph of St. Germain with the king of France! Let’s see him deny this evidence!”
John laughed into the air as he squeezed my shoulders. “I cannot believe you dared that. Do you suppose they noticed?”
“It doesn’t matter now,” I said, hugging the box camera and winding the key to the next frame. “All that matters is my husband is a genius, and St. Germain most certainly must–”
I paused, realizing something was different as I wound the Kodak. There was less resistance than I recalled, and no sound of film rotating within. When I shook the box camera, it semed somewhat lighter, and something loose shuffled around within. I was certain it had not been this way before.
“Is something wrong?” John asked.
Indeed! My stomach was twisted in all sorts of knots as I rushed to the basement workshop for John’s tools. Ignoring Mr. Eastman’s warnings not to open the camera, I pried away at its various safeguards until they released. John was beside me, bewildered and questioning and concerned, but he quieted once the hatch opened and we looked inside.
There was no film wound about the barren mechanisms or anywhere else within, just a loose piece of paper with writing scrawled upon it.
“Veuillez m’excuser, Félicité.”
A livid flame torched inside my chest as I recalled St. Germain’s extended fussing under the worktable while I was distracted.
“That trickster!” I screeched, picking up my skirts as I took to the stairs. “I was afraid he was onto me. Confound it! I’m going back at once!”
John’s futile attempts at reasoning with me were mere background noise until I noticed the philosopher’s stone upon the faceplate, now deteriorated into a muted slate.
“But there must be something left,” I insisted, reaching at once for John’s notebook, despite having little practice at operating the machine’s mechanics. I couldn’t bear to face the reality of my fallacy, to admit that if I had listened to John for once, and left France when he’d asked, that the film would not have been taken. I gave a cry of despair as John took the notebook from me and set it aside. “Won’t you even try?”
John regarded me with pity as he shook his head, and when he removed the stone from the faceplate, it shattered between his fingers.
I sniffed back stubborn tears, and stood in quiet fury for a long moment as I reconsidered. “Very well,” I decided. “I’m going to Milan.”
Isabella Cooper-Oakley, age 31
I did not write to Giovanini to announce my visit, for I did not wish for him to make himself scarce. Though John had tried to dissuade me from going at all, he accompanied me, managing the trip preparations and keeping his opinions mercifully quiet once we’d set out. He occupied himself with his reading while I stewed beside him, replaying what I might say to Giovanini again and again in my head.
John chose to wait in the street outside of Giovanini’s address, and for all my plans, words escaped me as the door gave way to my insistent knocking.
“Back already, Isabella?” said Giovanini, and I could not discern if it was in reference to our previous visit, or because he was used to seeing me only once every few centuries. I held his apologetic note out to him, and after a cursory glance at it, he raised his eyes to mine. “Or it is it Félicité?”
“Your list of aliases far outweighs mine,” I spat back, though I regretted my tone at once.
Giovanini did not appear to take offense, however, instead granting me a conceding, not unkind smile as he stepped aside to let me in.
“I know you,” I blurted, as he only just closed the door behind himself. “I know who you are – who you’ve been. Louis Napoleon knew as well, or he would not have kept a dossier on you. You carry the secrets of the ancients and have passed through the eras with them, waiting for the rest of us to match pace while humanity suffered around you. With your knowledge and skill, you could have rebuilt the great cities and led nations. You could have avoided centuries of war and famine and disease, but instead you lingered in obscurity and left us to our tragedies.”
Giovanini listened with great patience until I’d finished airing my grievances. “Preventing humanity’s atrocities would only postpone them,” he finally said. “This is how we evolve – we succeed and fail, improve, and succeed again. It is necessary, my dear Isabella, a fundamental process of alchemy. Do you understand?”
A surge of emotion pressed against my eyes, and I tightened my mouth to suppress the sensation. “Whatever did you give me the philosopher’s stone for, if not to discover your truths?”
“I gifted you the means to discover your own truths, which are of far more consequence than mine. Have you not stopped to consider all that you and your husband have accomplished? To appreciate what the human mind can be capable of? Does it not bring you any sense of hope or joy?”
Giovanini turned for his laboratory and picked up the model of the ship, the name of which I could finally read as we met in the sitting area – Félicité. He extended it to me.
“Frigates were originally acclaimed to be profoundly adroit, a suitable characteristic for one who could give such fearsome chase,” he said, and for the first time I felt like I understood the twinkle in his dark eyes whenever he regarded me. “I might have reconsidered the name before its commission, but I would very much like for you to have this.”
I accepted the ship, moved to tears I managed to smile through. “Is this as close to an admission to being the Count of St. Germain I am to expect from you?”
Giovanini’s dark eyes were soft, as deep as the philosopher’s stone in its truest form. “It is not impossible, is it? But St. Germain is a man of the past, and it is time for you to look forward, Isabella.”
I happened to glance up as he spoke, through the parted curtains overlooking the street. John was in the distance, exchanging money with a street vendor for a cannoli. He consumed it so quickly that I scarce believe he could have tasted it, and I smiled as he stood, unassuming, with full cheeks. A twinge of guilt hit me as I realized we had not stopped to eat all day, yet John had kept quiet so that we could reach Giovanini’s address at a reasonable hour.
Likewise, I had been so ecstatic about the notion of finding St. Germain that I’d never stopped to really admire what John had accomplished with the time machine. So much effort for my sake, chasing my dream of discovering the truth behind the many lives and times of the Count of St. Germain. In the end, St. Germain had remained as elusive as he had for everyone before me who’d tried to capture him, yet John was still here and always had been.
When I emerged from Giovanini’s apartments some time later, John hastened to meet me at the doorstep. I flung my arms around him and rested my head against his chest, breathing in his familiar scent as his heart beat steady in my ear.
“You’re the most wonderful man I know,” I sighed.
“Truly?” he said, pleasantly surprised by the affection as his arms settled around me.
“You always believed in me.”
We parted a moment later as we noticed Giovanini standing at his door, and he passed me the parcel in which he’d packed the Félicité.
“I do hope you’ll keep in touch, Isabella,” Giovanini said, as I took John’s arm. The invitation warmed me to smile.
“John and I are moving back to England,” I told him. “I’ll be sure to forward you our new address, along with a copy.”
“Oh? A copy of what?”
“The book I’m going to write about you.”
San Francisco, California
Elliott Bartley, age 42
Membership into the Bohemian Grove was no simple affair, but I’d earned my invitation through various credentials and valuable connections in the military. Under California’s majestic redwoods, the world’s finest leaders, businessmen, officials, and artists gathered to socialize during this annual retreat without the weight of responsibility upon their shoulders. Officially, no business was to be conducted during the event, a notion the society’s motto enforced.
Weaving spiders come not here. The sign was posted upon an archway as we entered the grove. Still, certain matters, such as the Manhattan Project, naturally came up in private conversations. Considering the overwhelming support within current company, it was unusual to encounter someone in direct opposition.
I first saw him at dinner, a mysterious man out of time with a medium build, dark hair, and a Mediterranean complexion. His posture was regal and his suit princely, but he bore no crest to affiliate him. I couldn’t place his deep accent either. He must have been European, or perhaps Jewish – he had that look about him.
“Tell me, old boy,” I later said to one of my associates who’d been seated more closely to the stranger. “Who was that swanky fellow?”
Several inquiries confirmed his name to be Marcus S. Garmin, but no one could say with conviction where he’d come from. All that was certain was that Mr. Garmin possessed enough understanding of the higher sciences to debate more than the moral aspects involved with bombing Imperial Japan.
He was a pleasant fellow upon my introduction, setting aside his book – The Comte de St. Germain – when I invited him for a drink. It was only after I’d ordered myself an old fashioned that I realized Mr. Garmin intended to nurse at his hidden flask instead.
“It is but mineral water,” he claimed, when I’d drawn attention to it. I didn’t believe him, but I left it alone as inconsequential, though I did wonder what prestigious liquor he preferred that couldn’t be acquired at the Bohemian Grove.
“I overheard some of your statements regarding the Manhattan Project,” I said. “Did you share the same sentiments when they attacked Pearl Harbor?”
“But of course,” Mr. Garmin said, with great empathy. “These world wars have been tragic. This is not the first time in history we have tried to annihilate each other, but never once have we been the better for it.”
“Everyone’s tired of war, but the West wasn’t won by taking threats to national security lightly, was it?”
“This is not untrue.” Mr. Garmin tapped his forefingers together, and his dark eyes were distant for a brief moment. “However, the founding fathers of your great nation did not intend for their descendants to use tyranny against the rest of the world.”
“Now, wait just a minute, Mr. Garmin! No one said anything about tyranny.”
“Neither did they speak of it during the rise of such campaigns as the Crusades or the Inquisition or the Third Reich, and so forth.”
I disliked that last comparison. I drained my old fashioned and slammed the empty glass upon the counter. Mr. Garmin did not appear affronted by my clipped silence, and, in fact, managed to summon the bartender on my behalf when I’d failed to catch his attention.
“It was terribly hot in Philadelphia that day,” he said. “The First Continental Congress had gathered in Carpenters’ Hall to review the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. As it was laid out, an apprehension filled the room. The men were afraid. To sign the document was to officially declare themselves against the most dominant power of the age. They were as David facing Goliath, and should they fail, they knew the fate of traitors awaited them. That day in July, your great nation very nearly was not.”
I was aware of the clink against the counter as my drink arrived, but I only picked it up after staring hard at Mr. Garmin. Even then, I hesitated to drink. Perhaps it was his accent warping his word choice and inflection, but he spoke as if recalling a memory.
“You read about that in a book somewhere?”
I didn’t feel mocked by the smile he gave me.
“Someone in the back of the room stood and cried, ‘Humanity has the freedom to be.’ It galvanized the colonists and changed the course of that day, because at every corner of this earth, we seek the same thing: the freedom to be. As we engage in war across oceans, halfway across the globe, it is all the more important that we promote Atlanticism, not iron fists. Understanding the conditions under which our enemies arise is the only way to learn from our mistakes and transcend them.”
“I read those fantasy books, too – New Atlantis, Utopia….Shakespeare, right?”
“Sir Francis Bacon and Thomas More, respectively,” Mr. Garmin corrected. “But I have misspoken. English has never been my strongest language. It’s not like French, you understand, particularly here in the United States. It’s constantly changing.”
I shook my head with a chuckle. “Your English sounds fine to me.”
“The Atlanteans were a remarkable people, of course – another conversation for another time – but by Atlanticism, I meant bridging communication between the United States and Europe. The world will only grow larger, and its problems more complex, but we are all connected. Progressing together is the only way forward.”
I was a military man and not one for fairytales, but I didn’t mind entertaining my amiable companion just a bit. “I suppose you have stories about Atlantis too?”
Marcus Garmin just smiled.
As a shy, awkward kid, M.K. Beutymhill adored Victorian charm, fairy tales, and RPG’s, none of which she ever outgrew. A stubborn independent streak introduced contact sports to this cocktail while surviving Charm City (balance is good, amirite, my ladythugs and gentledudes?). This juxtaposition between the whimsical and the visceral is present in her tales, where fantasy and science often collide into a blend of steampunk, gaslamp fantasy, or speculative historical fiction.