The new Lord Danver, recently taken up with his estate, was also taken to joining the East India gentlemen’s club for commensurately lordly company, and it was from there his unexpected jouney began. Early one afternoon, barely a week after he had joined the club following Miller’s invitation (his father’s closest confidant), after settling by the window with a chronicle and a port, he was interrupted by the stewardess Agatha bringing him a letter.
He read it quickly at first, scanning it for the gist, then held it closer and pored carefully over the few words it contained with the frown of confusion reserved for those occasions whereupon he would hear a tall tale. He looked up at the faces of the patrons around him then held the letter to the light of the window and began to read it quietly to himself:
“You are hereby invited to join the most exclusive of gentlemanly clubs in England: Pinnacles. As the establishment is located some distance from the capital I have inscribed a small map which you will find sufficient for the purposes of finding it and registering with our manager who will be happy to register you any time, night or day. Yours, L.M.”
“Now who can L.M. be?” Danver muttered, gazing thoughtfully through the window. “I’m sure I don’t know anyone here whose names begin with such letters. Not in this room nor at my father’s… nor at MY estate.” At that moment Miller (whose first name was Edmund, thus ruling him out as the clandestine sender) was snoring soundly in his favourite corner seat so Danver decided to let him sleep on rather than wake him and bother him with initials. Young Salisbury, his newest acquaintance (naturally so given their similarities in age and status) was involved in a heated debate with the rich and irascible Lowndes over the transportation costs of coals from sources to cities, so Forster decided to let him alone too until he cooled a little, which could well take the rest of the day.
Instead Danver rose, asked for his hat, and bid his companions farewell with the express purpose of riding out to the – “Pinnacles club?” He repeated to himself as his boots rapped hurriedly down the stairs of the establishment that — up until now — he was assured was the most exclusive club in London, the whole of England, and therefore, by extension he fancied, of the whole world. “But I’ve never heard of it!” He railed.
That very night Danver took the mail coach out toward Norwich way. The coach pulled up outside The Mitre Inn around two in the morning and Danver took his one small case which he had kept beside him as he was the only passenger that night, and booked himself in for a much needed hour of rest or two. He rose late in the morning, ordered a cold dinner from the landlord, which he found he had to endure rather than enjoy — such was his impeccably discerning palate — then ordered a coach and six strong horses for the difficult journey he imagined he would face along the ill-formed landscape that stretched between himself and the beckoning glory of Pinnacles.
His imagination fell short of the difficulties he, the coachman, and his horses encountered. The roads were indeed treacherous, so much so it seemed ridiculous to Danver when the coachman made several mentions of where he had best turn next, as the word ‘turn’ implied — to Danver’s mind — a perceivable stretch of road. After nearly overturning the coach crossing rivers and marshes the coachman pulled up on dry land and pointed to rugged moorland ahead. Here they parted ways and Danver, map in hand, marched up the rising lane with a fortitude tripled by a timely nip from his liquor case.
It was early evening when Danver spotted three shadowy figures rising over the hilltop ahead of him. He stopped, a little shaken by this, a little unsure. Then he carried on walking, slower this time, squinting and angling his head to see if the shapes would resolve into familiar forms. They didn’t. The closer he came the more they made him think of witches on a heath. “The earth hath bubbles as the water has, and these are of them.” He recited with trepidation. But he carried on, more determined now that the end of his map was within reach.
The three shapes rose higher and soon Danver saw, with relief, that they were stone stacks placed near the edges of the roof of a large building. He sped up now that his fears were assuaged by this oddly but innocuously piled mansion — or was it a cathedral? It looked like both. The close he came the more he made out: serpentine rubble stone walls, tiers of gothic lancet windows, Norman style responds projecting brokenly into a non-existent arcade. Odd that they should be there like that, he thought, but there they were. He came closer, looking for an entrance, expecting an entrance: he couldn’t see one. The entrance must be at the north side, he concluded and he traipsed around the foot of the structure in lighter mood, half-expecting to be greeted, as the letter had said, by the manager of Pinnacles.
Danver was greeted with a sight more ruinous and abject as that which faced his first approach. There was nothing to be seen here but a high flat wall. No doors, no entrance, nothing but climbing stones; not a single way in could he find. Worse still, when he tried to peer into the narrow window nearest him, hoping for a glimpse of a warm fire, capacious bookcases, panelled walls, resplendent mirrors, he realised with a cold shudder that not only was it composed entirely of stone but so too was every other window.
“They aren’t real!” He exclaimed indignantly. “The windows aren’t real; nothing about this…this ruin is real. It’s a folly, pure and simple; a folly.” He ran his hand along the dusty ashlar and wondered if all this was a prank, a jape dreamed up by his new friends, a means of initiating him into the genuine ranks of the elite. He thought back to the afternoon before as he stood to leave the club; did Miller take a sneaky peek at him through a feigned sleepy eye as he passed him? He wondered if he may have done so but thought nothing of it at the time. And Salisbury, didn’t his anger visibly subside a touch as he turned to bid all farewell? Had he and Lowndes merely been acting out their argument?
Danver gulped nervously now from his flask as it dawned on him that he was miles from anywhere warm and safe from the elements. It was clear to him that there was nothing here for him now and that he had to find shelter somewhere else and soon. Nightfall was a matter of an hour or so away.
“But who is this L.M?” he asked himself, “If L.M. does not denote a real person then what exactly is the significance of those particular letters?”
A crow perched on the crumbling bellcote atop the high flat roof and cawed a gloomy song to herald the approaching darkness. It shook from him a memory of a man he knew years before, when he was but a boy. His name was Massey, Laurence Massey. He was a keen young chaplain who taught him scripture on Sundays and classics on weekdays. Sometimes he taught both at the same time and it seemed to Forster his purpose was to instil in him a lesson that blended divinity with reason, but he never could quite catch the import of his teachings. He recalled a puzzle he enjoyed teasing him with that went something like: Can God create a stone so heavy even He cannot lift it?
Danver dismissed the question at the time; he dismissed the very idea. But it became apparent to him at that moment that he was standing near a grand old building, a grand expression of a lordly wealth, the creation by a rich and powerful man of a house so extravagantly uninhabitable, so splendidly impenetrable, that he had been given the unwanted opportunity to consider the chaplain’s question in greater detail.