Picking up a glass, a bottle of Hot Nemo, and sitting down on a stool, Mr Underby addresses the skull on the bar top:
The mob crowds forward once again, Mother; just when everything was coming together as I had foreseen… They are so focused on tiny details and unable–or unwilling–to look at the grand scheme. Once they’ve sunk their talons into you, they are wont to keep them secured. No matter what the evidence presented. Or, lack thereof.
What is it they hound me for now, you may ask?
You remember Dizelle, mother, she was the woman who was enraptured with me last winter. Well, I should say one of the women, for your son has become as popular with the ladies as you were with the men when you still walked this ball of mud, dear mother. Until the wife arrived in town I fairly had to beat them away with a club. I digress. Dizelle. Dizelle Soup. She was the medium who assisted my return from the todash last autumn, only to be struck down a few months later. Life is cruel, is it not Mother? You know that better than anyone that that is true. Life is cruel, yet I try not to be. She was struck down, and what did I do? Did I leave her to rot in the ground? No. No I did not. I was unable to help you at the time, but I have learned much since that day. Much. I did not allow her to waste away in a box in the ground, I made every effort to bring her back from that brink. It was difficult. It took much effort, and some manipulation, but I did it. Though not without cost. It took long enough that much of what was Dizelle was lost in the process, but I was triumphant!
Triumphant. I could not save you, but I was successful in saving Dizelle. What thanks did I receive, you may ask. Was I praised? Was I congratulated?
Mother, your optimism amuses me. I, of course, was despised further still. Mocked by those who think such an operation cannot be performed, and derided by those who did believe. Now her brother has come to town looking for his sister, and the whispering begins anew. Will this brother see what I have done for his sister? Or will I be splattered publicly with molten pitch, and bedecked with the feathers of fowls? Need I answer that one too?
And, yes, what of the head thorn in my crown of sorrow, Miss Macbain? I have told you of her unending trials, but did I tell you how I attempted to take that cup from her lips? A philosophical question, mum, is there ever a proper way to take someone’s life? You, you were in the prime of your life with a small boy yet to raise when you were plucked from the face of the planet, but think on this… if I were the one who was plucked, how would you have fared? Would you have wished to continue to toil day in and day out?
I suspect not. And so, I think, is it the same with Miss Macbain. Her face was continually beset with pain and weariness, and one could easily imagine how the prospect of a full life into old age was a cross she was unwilling to bare. Then she lost her closest friends to an unending sleep… am I wrong to have wished to assist her in finding peace? Does that make me a monster?
Why do you grin at me so, Mother? Do you doubt the words of your only son? Would you have me let that woman live out the misery of daily life, simply so one might be able to say he is not hypocritical in his view of death? Do not grimace at me so! Speak if you have something to say, lest I should hide you away in a box never to look upon you again.
Why do you doubt me? What of Mr Soup? What does his life mean to you? Would you cherish his life over that of your own son? He is nobody here, and almost unknown. You would have him whip the crowd into a frenzy so that I may be hung by my heels in the square?
I will not! I will not be chased from Babbage as I was from Munich and Steeltopia. I make my stand here mother, and if it comes between Mr Soup and me, believe me that I shall see to it that he rots in an empty field somewhere.
Do not grin at me so, mother. I try. I try my best.