At the end of Part 1 of The Masks of Nyarlathotep, Victoria Woodhull stayed behind in New York to take care of some unfinished business in the city and to keep a promise she made. Her companions Hazel Claflin, Zeke Ford, and Cecil Watson went on ahead to England to continue their investigation.
When the trio arrives, they make themselves at home in Victoria’s spacious London flat under the care of her loyal Indian man- servant, Gupta.
Hazel’s been reading a book about occult sects in Africa during her ocean voyage, and she’s learned a thing or two about Nyarlathotep since her encounter with the Cult of the Bloody Tongue:
“That name’s Egyptian, but the god itself is older than the Egyptians. It has countless forms and manifestations for worshippers throughout the world, organized into different cults.”
Which gives our heroes some idea of what they’re up against.
They have a few clues left behind by Jackson Elias from which to begin their search. One is a business card for the Penhew Foundation, which funded the missing Carlyle Expedition. Another is the name of a newspaper editor in London, who doesn’t know much but refers to them to a Scotland Yard inspector who talked with Jackson and may have more information.
The inspector does. When Cecil visits the Yard, he learns about a recent series of grisly murders that interested Jackson, called the Egyptian Murders by the Press because so many of the victims were from Egypt. Jackson believed that these deaths were the work of a cult named the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh. The inspector’s doubtful about this, since educated sources–such as the British Museum and the Penhew Foundation–tell him that cult existed eons ago and seems unlikely to have survived to operate in modern London. But he does note that several of the victims were connected to a Soho nightclub called The Blue Pyramid.
When Victoria joins the others in London, she and Hazel visit the Penhew Foundation. The director, Mr. Gavigan, is happy to show them some of the priceless antiquities in the Penhew collection… and some items that are more spurious. He even tells them more about the Carlyle Expedition, but the two women agree that he isn’t telling them everything.
For one thing, Mr. Gavigan claims to know nothing about the Kenyan woman who provided the information that led to the expedition. For another, when they sneak back in that night, they find evidence to suggest that the Foundation’s former director, Sir Aubrey Penhew, who disappeared on the Carlyle Expedition, is still alive. If he is, could other members of the missing party also be living?
My favorite part of this episode occurs when Victoria Woodhull (who was a spiritualist in real life) gets in touch with her late sister Tennessee via a homemade Ouija board. I love a seance. Tennessee provides Victoria and her companions with two cryptic pieces of information: “Attend the Black Sphinx,” and the way to get at the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh is through “the girl”.
Hazel is certain that that Black Sphinx must be that little statue that Jackson left her, but she has no idea what “attend” it means.
And who is “the girl”? Could it be the dancer at the The Blue Pyramid who provided Hazel and Zeke with information about the Brotherhood? Or is it the little girl who helps Cecil and Gupta break into the Penhew Foundation’s warehouse in London’s Limehouse district that same evening to discover what they’ve been shipping out to other countries?
Their investigations, and this second episode, culminate in a meeting of the Brotherhood on the grounds of a country estate where an Egyptian obelisk has been transplanted. Hazel, Zeke, and Cecil are once again witness to some horrifying sights and manage to escape… but now the cultists are aware of them and retaliate. England is no longer a safe place to stay.
While there’s a great deal I enjoyed about Part 2, it does have something of a second-verse-same-as-first feeling to it. When I first listened to this disc, I wondered if each subsequent part was going to follow the same pattern, with investigations ending in our heroes’ witnessing and interrupting another secret and horrible occult ceremony–another one of Nyarlathotep’s Masks.
But with Part 3, the overall plot becomes more clear.