Part Seven: An Exploration Renewed

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Part Seven: An Exploration Renewed

In short, and after stashing Sam’s papery cadaver behind the chaise longue, Vespa and I went back into the Lambeth Labyrinth together.

I couldn’t trust her. I knew that. She could trust me. She knew that. We made a fine pair as we walked back to the spot where Sam had died.

After my discovery in Blake’s study, I’d recovered the sangness of my froid. Vespa filled me in on what she knew about the Lambeth Treasure.

It turned out it was not gold, diamonds, rubies or other such girlish gewgaws, as I had imagined. It was, Vespa said with a smile, a book.

I goggled, Phraxbyesque. You’ll forgive me. After all, a book had just given me a funny turn, and now I was told a book had killed a friend.

Odd lads, books. Never had much use for ’em except, every so often, to dip my toe into Buchan or dangle an idle finger in Radclyffe Hall.

But it seemed Vespa was telling the truth. Or at the least she was certain of her story, which was more than I could say for Radclyffe Hall.

So I listened, gawping, as Vespa told me about the book that was the Lambeth Treasure. Or, to give it its proper name, the Taxus Brevifola. 

The Taxus Brevifola was a medieval codex. Bound in vellum, illuminated letters, all that. A thousand pages thick. A work of art in itself.

Old Blake, apparently, had bought it in seventeen-ninety-something, two hundred years after the Dissolution released it from its monastery. 

Now Blake, as mentioned before, was something of a curious fish. Vespa reminded me about the visions, the poetry and the back-yard nudism.

Some fine fellow to have lured me into this infernal chase, I thought, as we stalked down culverts and sewers of yellow London brick. 

We passed the spot where Blake’s Flea had drained Sam Phraxby’s stuff of life. I tried not to look at the stains. Vespa did, and shuddered.

But she told her story. In brief (and as with Sam’s subterranean paleojurassic hooey, such tales benefit from a spot of pith) it was this: 

The Taxus Brevifola contained knowledge that the established church, and quite a few unestablished ones, did not wish to have widely known.

In short, the book proved the non-existence of God and indicated how the literary and artistic mind could be used to order the real world.

Hence Blake, with his egalitarian, atheistic and artistic leanings, had been as appropriate an owner of it as he had been a dangerous one.

And hence Blake, appalled by the power of the Taxus Brevifola when placed in his hands, had hidden it somewhere in the Lambeth Labyrinth.

He had subsequently and predictably gone rather mad and, in short order, died. The Taxus Brevifola, interred, lay undisturbed for an aeon. 

Until recently, when person or persons unknown to me but perhaps known to Vespa had found it and started to use it, with ignoble purpose.

And hence Blake’s Flea had appeared, literally bloodthirsty, to kill my oldest friend, Sam Phraxby, halfway down a storm drain in Lambeth.

The Flea had been given life by the book’s user who, said Vespa, would be a brainy cove with an arts degree. No other qualification needed.

As a plot, it sounded half-formed and ill-thought through, and I said so. Vespa agreed, with a lovely, trickling laugh. The thing was crazy.

But there it was. I plodded on, digesting the information. Subduing an urge to stop, sit down and laugh myself silly, I turned to Vespa.

‘Vespa,’ I said. ‘Let’s say, for argument’s sake, I believe your story. Let’s say, further, that Sam’s death does rather press your point.’

Vespa gazed at me, dark eyes glittering in the dim light of the tunnel, a hand on her hip. She looked, appropriately, devilishly fetching.

‘Let’s say,’ I said, ‘all this is true. You said someone else had found the Lambeth Treasure and was using it. And that this was not good.’

Vespa smiled. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘So someone has used the dratted book to conjure up a hideous beastie from Blake’s very imaginings.’

‘The Flea that drained your friend, yes,’ said Vespa. Despite an urge, I did not snort, scoff or pshaw. ‘There it is,’ I said. Vespa nodded.

I asked Vespa if she knew who this someone was. She said she did, but that she would not tell me quite yet. I looked up the silent tunnel.

Should I gird myself for another terrible visitation? Some new hell from Blake’s mind? Possibly. I tried to remember his other works.

Once more I cursed my boyhood wanderings, when sailing ships of dreams after whales made of clouds pushed dull schoolwork from my mind.

A few dim images swum into my cerebellum. I didn’t suppose I fancied meeting Behemoth or Leviathan on a dark night. Or in this dark tunnel.

Of course, had I known what was about to happen, there in the tunnel, I would not have wasted such time in arid and gloomy prognostication.

What was about to happen, as Vespa tensed and pointed up the tunnel, happened to be a rather efficient way to end such bookish meanderings.

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