Chapter Eight - The Bruiser

He wiped his mouth. It had been a lucky blow, and it had drawn blood from his lip. But he was not worried. To fall would be deadly, putting himself in reach of those heavy boots., but he was confident.

"Come on" someone called.

He crouched, fists raised, and eyed his opponent. A big, heavily muscled man, a navvy, a bruiser to the core.

"Come on," the voice came again ,"finish him."

But he laughed, an unexpected sound that cut through the hubbub of the crowd. There was a moment of stunned silence.

"Come on, then" his voice was a little slurred from the swelling lip, but carried to the back of the crowd..

The navvy launched himself at his smaller opponent, the great swinging blow from his massive fist a serious attempt to remove his head. But he ducked under the wild arm, kicked him hard in the shin, and as he staggered forward, slammed the edge of his hand into the soft, unprotected throat. The navvy staggered, gasping for breath, a fist thudded into his solar plexus with clinical precision, and as he collapsed a boot hit his ribs with an audible crack.

"This is science," he spoke quietly, yet his voice carried to every ear in that place, "brute force can be used against itself to bring its own downfall."

His opponent lay on the ground, gasping for breath. He kicked him again, savagely, crushing ribs and internal organs.

"If anyone here cares about him, take him to an hospital. They say that there are a few around here which don't kill all their patients. I'm going to finish my drink."

He went back into the pub, followed by his two companions.

"My God, Tom," stammered one, "you might have killed him."

"I may well have. The broken ribs are on his left side, and may cause damage to his heart."

"Do you not care?" the older of the two men spoke.

"Why should I, Sedgwick? He is one of the working classes. They reproduce with wild abandon and no concern for the consequences."

"You were a member of that class once."

"I have shaken off those shackles. I reject them all, their values, all their petty religiosity. No doubt that animal dying on the street thinks his soul will be clasped to the bosom of Jesus." He spat into the sawdust. "Even thinking about such things leaves a foul taste. I need another beer to wash it away."

The three of them, sitting around a table in an alcove. A rough public house in the eastern districts of the great city of London, well away from the gentility of the fine streets and houses where the middle classes lived. Herbert Spencer, using the excuse of his social and economic studies to frequent such place, Sedgwick an occasional companion, and the ringleader, Tom Huxley, who made no excuses to anyone. It was his habit, his addiction. To come to a place such as this, to goad some muscular but dim-witted victim to violence, then use the fighting arts he had learned in his navy days to beat him to a senselessness.

"What about Darwin?" Sedgwick mused.

"What about him?" Huxley's voice was indifferent.

"He's lost his edge. Ever since that damned book came out, he just sits in his house in the country and does nothing."

"Yet you ask me to join your ... club, when it's leader is failing ?"

"He has a strong following. In the public eye he is a great scientist, the greatest alive today."

Huxley snorted. "All on other men's work."

"That may be the case. But we control the newspapers and the publishers, and we tell the public what to think. He may be a figurehead, but he is useful to us." Sedgwick gulped at his whisky. "There is a delegation coming to see him soon. Some scientists from Germany, who tell us that they are inspired by his work. Perhaps you'd care to join the party?"

"Germany? What has that dismal place to offer except pine trees and cheap tin toys?"

"They have excellent manufacturing capacity. This is something which may into our plans."

"You're welcome to them. I have better things to do."

He raised his voice. "Sally," he called, "come over here."

"She'll give you the pox," Spencer muttered "all the whores here are riddled with it"

"She is helping me with my studies," Huxley retorted "my studies in human anatomy."

When Sedgwick and Spencer left him, his was arm around her waist as whispered into her ear.

They sat together in the hansom cab. Spencer broke the silence.

"That is the man you wish to recruit?"

"He has the qualities we need. He is tough, resourceful, and ruthless."

"He is no Darwin."

"He will be our tool to supplant Darwin."

"If we do so, we will lose. Darwin is important to our cause."

"He can be a figurehead. His power is fading."

"We shall see."

"But we have more pressing matters. The Book was a great success- our control of the newspapers ensured that. But there are matters arising from the Book which need to be addressed."

"The transitionals."

"Yes. The transitionals."

Owen's star had waned when the Book was published. His great museum looked like an anachronism in this new world of mutability of kinds, but now he was fighting back.

"Where are the transitional forms? Perhaps someone would be so kind as to ask Mr Darwin if he ever bothers to grace us with his presence. He tells us that there should be many of them, that the fossil record is replete with such forms." He looked around the packed hall. "Has anyone here seen any such forms?" He paused for effect. "I have looked at not a few fossils myself. I have identified the creatures of the prediluvial world, the dinosaurs, the ichthyosaurs, the plesiosaurs and the pterosaurs. Some call me the greatest living authority on such forms." He paused again. "I have seen no transitional form. No form with the head of a mouse and the body of a lizard. No form with the body of a lizard and the feathers of a bird. No form with half a wing, or part of a leg."

But at the back of the room, Huxley smiled.

The German delegation came to see Darwin in his country home.. He received them in a large sitting room with large windows opening onto a large formal garden.

"Wealth has its privileges," he told them. "My estates in Prussia have a similar outlook," the leader of the delegation remarked, "the woods and rolling hills." He spoke punctilious English, though his accent was strong. "What do you hunt here? We have elk and boar. They are excellent sport."

"Nothing so wild, Dr Haeckel. We must be content with pheasant and the occasional stag here. But they are plentiful. We must have a day of it before you leave."

Darwin's deep voice and massive presence dominated the gathering. This was his especial power, the power of domination over others. Though his health was failing, the force of his will carried him and overrode any weakness.

"I understand that you are interested in my work on the mutability of kinds?"

"Mr Darwin, I must be frank with you," Haeckel, hesitant at first, grew more confident as he spoke. " I have made an extensive study of the world of living organisms. I have dissected and figured creatures from every part of the world, and of ever class of organic life. I find no signs of such mutability."

"No signs?" Darwin growled.

"But" continued Haeckel, raising a finger "I see a wider cause."

"And what is that?"

"It is the destruction of religion."

There was a long pause.

"My word, Haeckel. How did you work that out?" Sedgwick's voice broke the silence. "Do any other of your countrymen see it in that way as well?"

"There is a small but growing band of us. We see the higher purpose. The cleansing on mankind from the petty constraints of morality will allow us to seek our higher purpose. The betterment of mankind through the selective breeding of those of the highest race. I will offer you any assistance you require. Yours, Darwin, is the vision which has inspired us."

He snapped his fingers, and his servant came forward with a portfolio.

"I have prepared some drawings. They are of the embryonic forms of many vertebrate kinds, and show that they are identical at the early stages of development."

"And are they?" Darwin queried.

"No, of course not," Haeckel responded, "but there are some slight similarities which I have exaggerated. They form part of an argument in favour of the evolution of living organisms. It is by the creation of such subtle evidences that we can sway the minds of the undecided, and it is by the control of the presses that we can ensure that no more accurate version is printed."

"Very clever, Dr Haeckel," Darwin murmured, "very clever indeed."

The drawings were exquisite, beautifully drawn.

"Did you do these yourself?" Darwin asked.

"I have no time to devote to such things."

Haeckel turned to his assistant

"Schickelgruber here has an exceptional artistic talent. I am told that such talents run in families, so perhaps his son or grandson will achieve world renown through his art."

There was a sound of voices from outside, a commotion, and a figure strode into the room. One of Darwin' servants reached for him but was felled by a savage fist.

"Your minions tried to eject me!" "Huxley! What is the meaning of this?"

"Are these the Germans?"

"Mr Huxley! Get out! This is an outrage."

Huxley pushed past him.

"Are you Haeckel?"

Haeckel stared at this figure before him. Then he bowed, clicking his heels.

"Your servant, Mr Huxley."

They studied each other.

"You are an intelligent man, I understand," Huxley said. "and have no doubt seen through Darwin's charade."

"I see the deeper purpose, Mr Huxley."

"So do I. And we need something from you, something which can be best achieved by the great craftsmen and toymakers who are to be found in your country."

"And what may that be, Mr Huxley?"

"Come outside with me."

Haeckel looked at Darwin, who shrugged.

"We may as well see what he has to show us. Who knows, it may even be helpful."

Darwin looked Huxley up and down.

"I am told that you have great talent, Mr Huxley, but are not committed to our cause."

"And if this is the case?"

"It may be dangerous for you. Your talent for fisticuffs will not save you from a bullet."

"Why should I fear a bullet?"

"Indeed, why should you? Perhaps that is a question you need to ask yourself in reflection."

The part trooped outside. Huxley drew their attention to an object on the ground, in front of one of the large windows. It was the skeleton of a bird, all the flesh gone, but with the feathers still intact.

"Could you make something like that, and make it look as if it were fossilised?"

Haeckel crouched down, and examined the skeleton closely.

"I see no reason why not. If there is sufficient reason, we can learn. But why do you desire the skeleton of a bird?"

"Could you combine the skeleton of a bird with that of, say, a lizard to make it look as if it were a single animal?"

Darwin's laugh exploded behind them.

"Well done, Mr Huxley, well done"

He moved forward, and they moved aside to let him examine the corpse.

"I shall have my gardener flogged for allowing this to remain here, but it is an excellent object lesson. Well spotted, Mr Huxley."

He stood for a moment in contemplation.

"But not a lizard, Dr Haeckel, not a lizard. This is to be our weapon against Owen, the transitional form he denies. We need to strike close to his heart, to destroy him. Wounding him is not enough. The dinosauria, Huxley, the dinosauria. They are his most famous discovery, they are what has caught the public imagination. Let them be the ancestors of birds. Dr Haeckel will create the transitional form which will prove that."

Huxley stood for a moment, his mouth open.

"My word, Darwin. You have an evil imagination!"

"As do you, Huxley, as do you."

On this exchange of pleasantries they returned to the house.

Let us not concern us with the details of history, with the first crude attempts which were rejected, with the growing experience in the fabrication of specimens, and with the startling new techniques developed by von Meyer under the guidance of that master forger, Haeckel. Nor let us forget the contributions of Haeckel's assistant, Schickelgruber, whose utter devotion to their cause inspired the team. Let us proceed to the great Museum, the temple to the fixity of kinds, and to the figures standing on the steps leading to the great entrance hall.

Owen was inside, a broken man. Such was the skill of the forgers that even his highly developed mind could not detect it, and such was his integrity as a scientist that he could not deny the proof it provided.

Kinds were not fixed.

They were plastic, mutable, and this ... this thing, this chimera, this sport proved it. It had the feathers of a bird, and the long tail of a dinosaur. It had the wings of a bird, but it's mouth was lined with teeth.

Owen sat in utter dejection, the edifice of his life crumbling around his head. Even his greatest discovery, his beloved dinosaurian, had turned against him, and shaken the very fabric of his beliefs.

But Darwin and Huxley stood together, triumphant, and exhilarated by their victory. They shook hands, and parted their ways, Darwin to return to his country estates, Huxley to celebrate in some dark stew.

Late night or early morning, Huxley did not care. The fog had descended, and he walked cocooned in yellow, stinking velvet, the occasional gas lights small oases in the deep darkness. He had drunk heavily, fought, but the excitement still fizzed through his blood. Approaching the next light, he recognised the figure standing there.

"Sally," he greeted her warmly "out late?"

"Business is slow, Mr 'uxley. I need to eat."

"Well, perhaps you can help me in my studies in human anatomy in that case."

"Oh, Mr 'uxley!"

He looked up and down the street. As far as he could see through the fog, it was deserted. The windows of the houses were closed against the fog, dark. Feeling the stirrings of a deep excitement, he drew Sally to him.

"Ooh, Mr 'uxley," she murmured into his ear "is that a cut-throat razor in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"


Her screams were quickly muffled. He carried out his task quickly, efficiently, brutally. Then a sound reached his consciousness through the pounding of his heart.

A whistle.

He heard the sound of heavy boots on cobbles, approaching through the murk. Looking around, he could see little, but he started to run away from the noise of approaching feet, through a narrow alley, out into a wider thoroughfare. A dark shape loomed out of the fog. A coach, a black coach drawn by four black horses, it's wheels unnaturally quiet on the cobbles. It drew to a stop, and a door swung open.

"Get in, Mr Huxley,"

He hesitated. He knew that voice.

"The police are approaching."

He heard their cries, the hubbub as they found Sally's body.

"Get in, you fool!"

He swung into the dark body of the coach, and closed the door behind him. Strong hands grasped his arms and forced him back into a seat. The interior of the coach was dark. Lights from the street pierced the shadows.


"So I've saved your life now, Mr Huxley."

"How did you know?"

"Do you think me a fool? I know far more than you imagine. I know of your plots with those imbeciles Sedgwick and Spencer. And I know of your little peccadilloes, Huxley. I know of your taste for blood. I know of your taste for death. Your every move is known to me. My men have been following you for months."

"I'll kill you!" Huxley lurched forward, raising the bloody razor, but the men on either side of him caught him and slammed him back against the seat. He tried to pull away, but they held him in such a way that any violent movement threatened to pull his arms out of their sockets.

"These are not the petty thugs on whom you practice your sport, Huxley" the deep voice rumbled. "these are men who live and die by violence. They will kill you as easily a you would a fly - or a woman."

"What do you want?"

"I need a champion. I need someone to go out and face the common people, someone to argue with the scientists, someone who has the will, the anger to crush all opposition. In short, Huxley, you will be my poodle."

"And if I refuse?"

"The police will learn the identity of the monster who stalks these streets, murdering the ladies of the night. I believe they have a name for him. They call him Jack the Ripper."

First posted 4th April 2007
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