Your filthy son of a bastard! I thought yesterday evening that the hole into which the prison director had pushed me couldn’t be deeper, but this evening I had to realize that Sylvius was already working on filling it over my head.
I entered the Bucket of Blood and paused: the old oak floorboards, the dull warm light, the alcohol-soaked atmosphere and the occasional fistfight. While the pub used to be a place where I could switch off and enjoy myself, it seemed different today – the furniture greasy, the view dim and the drunks disgruntled. Though I knew better, I blamed a man at the bar: Franz Sylvius. I stood in the doorway for a while and watched the gaunt figure sitting on one of the bar stools. Despite the few years that separated us, Sylvius’ pale scalp was already flashing at me. Together with the remaining hair dripping with pomade, with which he tried in vain to cover the large gaps at the back of his head, it was an extremely pitiful picture he presented from behind – similar to the last greasy leech on a faded floater on the banks of the Thames.
“Glad you could make it, my friend. You’ve been so busy lately.” Sylvius had turned and his big smile greeted me gloatingly. Dale’s face showed visibly astonishment when I took a seat next to Sylvius. But he seemed to notice for himself that his features deviated from his usual stoic expression. Quickly he indicated to us with the familiar indifferent nod of his head that he was ready to take our order. Sylvius ordered two gin. We reached for our glasses at the same time. He raised his toast, whereupon I emptied mine straight away. I ordered another, while he only took a small sip.
“Well, my dear fellow, where shall I begin?” Sylvius did not wait for my reaction, he simply started at the beginning; at the very beginning. With his grandfather, his father and his mother.
His mother, a woman who thought he was the most terrible mistake of her life, tied him to the bed with a rope when he was a child or beat him with her shoes if he was naughty again. He tried hard, became a doctor and got the job at Newgate. But Mum still saw him as the disgrace of the family. A family of eminent doctors and distillers, and without whose reputation Sylvius, according to his mother, would never have come so far. Sylvius hated his mother. She put his father and grandfather on a pedestal, which in his eyes no longer existed, since the golden times of the family were long gone. He had sworn to himself that one day he would outdo them, push them off their pedestal and immediately afterwards push his mother into the gutters of London.
A plan that took shape with the admission Caitlyns to the infirmary. It was her who led Sylvius on the trail of the Inmates’ secret and thus to the gin. A gin that would strike in the fine society of London. A gin that would make his name – Franz Sylvius – famous far beyond London and would make the names of his ancestors fade away. All he needed was the recipe for the gin. But all his attempts to obtain the complete recipe by means of favours, via Grace or any other means failed. It was almost a maudlin story that he told me if he hadn’t gotten to the point where I became part of it myself.
At first he thought I was a simple-minded guard who was looking for satisfaction in Rose. This picture, however, began to become incongruous the moment I inquired about the inmate who had been admitted. A few days after my visit, he had to find out that his medical records had been searched, which further fuelled his suspicions and he began to stalk me.
He did not know everything, but he knew enough. Enough to know that I had found out more about the secret than he had been able to. Enough to know that I loved Rose. Enough to understand that the director used Rose against me to get at the incriminating documents. Documents that were now in that son of a bitch’s hands. Which he proved to me by bringing me the file of Evie. Sent by that bastard! Now that her split skull was being eaten by rats in some dark corner of Newgate, her file was probably the most expendable document in the bundle I had stolen from the director’s office.
I couldn’t believe it. Was it really Franz Sylvius who decided in the end whether Rose died a miserable death and I was put on trial for Evi’s death? His demand was simple, yet almost insoluble: He wanted the Inmates’ prescription!
I had never been able to find the recipe myself. I knew everything about their smuggling, their production site, which herbs they used in part and how the distribution took place, but not what actually made this cursed gin. Sylvius didn’t care, I had already found out so much, so this little thing shouldn’t be a problem anymore. He ordered another gin from Dale, put it in front of me and left me with the words
“I ask you, why do we have secrets? It’s not because we’re trying to hide anything. No. Deep down, we look for someone worthy to carry the burden of the secret with us. So be worthy, my friend.
Worthy. How could I feel dignity when I revealed a secret that allowed others to survive hell on earth? Once Sylvius had the recipe in his hands, he would do anything to silence the witnesses of his origin. By handing over the recipe I would not share the burden of the Inmates, I would only increase the burden. A burden that would finally seal the demise of the community to which Rose belonged.
So this seems to be the price of the recipe. And it is the price to pay to get the director’s files, save Rose’s life and prevent my conviction. But is the size of this tribute justified?