The chapbook tells the story of two lovers, prevented from marrying by her obdurate father, Mr Butler. Broken-hearted, the gentleman, Henry Perpoint, signs up for a soldier and is shot while on duty in Spain. He survives for several days, and writes a letter to her in his own blood, which he sends with a lock of her hair, kept as a memento, and the ashes of his heart. Butler, meanwhile, marries his daughter to a Mr Harvey, a rich but jealous man. When the packet arrives Harvey intercepts it, and sprinkles the ashes in her tea. When he tells her what he has done, she bursts into tears, proclaims that the tea is "a draught so precious that no meat or drink shall ever come upon it." She retires to her room, cuts her finger for ink, and writes a poem in her own blood. She is found dead the next morning.
The author claims to be telling a true story of events that took place the same year the chapbook was published. In fact the subject dates at least to the Medieval period, and probably further, though the details have been updated to the 1700s.
Keeper's note: bumped means the cover is damaged, through careless shelving. Woodcut (extra-illustrated) means that the chapbook contains a woodcut illustration that was not in the original, and is probably an addition by one of the book's owners. Crozier chariot device means the book has a mark by its publisher, a crozier and chariot, most likely a reference to St Erkenwald of London, whose symbol is a chariot and who served as Bishop of St Paul's. This most likely means the publisher's shop was in or near St Paul's. No reserve price means the auctioneer will accept any bid, which is unsurprising for an otherwise unremarkable 18th century chapbook. All of this can be a 0 point clue for Book Scouts, Booksellers and Catalogue Agents, or anyone with a Bibliography pool.
This item is one of a longish list of interesting but not spectacular items, come out of a house sale. The Bookhounds probably attended to see if they can scarf up some material for the group's Forger, or purchase something cheap but interesting for the shop.
However things become heated when the bids for this item surpass all expectations, and a bidding war develops between two people unknown to the characters, or the resident Ring. One, a foreign gentleman with a German accent, (Eugen Grosche, grandmaster of the Berlin magical order Fraternitas Saturni), is bidding remarkable sums, but is being outbid by a shabby woman in tweeds with a Home County accent. She is Lillian Lewis, an Oxford academic and one of the steamboat ladies who got their degrees via the University of Dublin, at a time when Oxford didn't grant academic qualifications to women. This information can be had by 1 point spends of Occult, Credit Rating or History (Lewis is a renowned historian). Otherwise all the characters know is that one is clearly German, while the other is a redoubtable lady.
The characters can engage in the bidding war if they wish. Grosche has Auction 8 (he has the resources of his own bookstore to draw on) while Lewis has 10. However the bidding is brought to an unexpected end when, at the conclusion, Lewis drops dead of an apparent heart attack.
It later transpires - and the investigators can learn this immediately with Medicine, Forensics or Evidence Collection spends, otherwise they must wait for the official inquiry, which will take days - that Lewis was poisoned. Whoever did it must have injected Lewis with a fatal dose as she was bidding, so they must have been standing close to her. It would take a cool head and steady hand to do that, given the circumstances.
So, what happened to Lillian Lewis, why, and what does this all have to do with an otherwise unremarkable 18th century chapbook?
Facts to be uncovered by the investigators: The chapbook supposedly was once the property of occultist and artist Pamela Coleman Smith, co-creator of the Waite-Smith Tarot deck, though she denies all knowledge of the chapbook. Grosche believes it was hers, and also that the woodcut (extra-illustrated) is her work. That's why he wants it; he thought it an interesting early example of her art, and wonders if the woodcut is a precursor to her Tarot designs. He doesn't know that she denies it. Lewis, so far as anyone knows, had no interest in the occult or Pamela Smith, nor did she have anything like the financial resources to back up her frenzied bidding. Other Bookhounds and occultists believe the chapbook and its famous woodcut really is Pamela Smith's work, and claim she indulged in a bit of forgery to earn some extra cash back in the 1920s, when she was living in bohemian London. The woodcut shows a grieving woman writing a poem, and is similar in composition to the second trump of Major Arcana in the Waite-Smith deck, the High Priestess. Though intended to look as if it is an 18th century original, the woodcut is a modern addition, as 1 point Forgery or Art can realize. The poison that killed Lewis is a derivative of Gelsemium elegans, sometimes called heartbreak grass, a flowering shrub native to India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. It is popular among suicides, hence the name, and causes seizures, convulsions, paralysis and death.
- The killer is a high-ranking member of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan. The chapbook is part of a book code, and the woodcut is a sign to those who understand it that this particular chapbook is part of a two-book cypher set. It ought never to have come to auction; an enemy of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan stole it, and it was sold by his landlord to cover his debts when he turned up mysteriously dead in a back alley. The dead man was Lewis' brother, and she found out about his death too late to prevent the sale. That's why she bid so frenziedly; she knows, through her brother, that something important is hidden inside the chapbook, and is determined to uncover the identity of her brother's killer. Grosche is a red herring, in this version.
- The killer is one of Grosche's Berlin rivals, a potential successor to his position in the Order of Saturn. This Mythos-inspired madman wants to turn the Order to Mythos worship, but Grosche bars his way. The killer spread the word about the auction, knowing Grosche would hear about it. He also sent notice to Lewis, who he knew was a secret occultist who had clashed with Grosche before, in academic battles over literary scholarship The killer knew that the two would bid furiously, to spite the other. He killed Lewis with an obscure poison, intends to plant evidence that implicates Grosche, and alert the authorities. With any luck Grosche will hang, and the killer will take over the Order.
- The killer is Lewis herself. She met Grosche in Berlin in the 1920s, and became besotted - but Grosche did not return her affection. She threw herself into her work, but a brush with the Mythos fractured her mind, and she began to obsess about Grosche. He, she felt, was the anchor she needed, to bring her back to reality - but he stubbornly refused to accept that. So she manufactured the chapbook, made sure Grosche knew about it, and set up the whole incident at the auction. She used a Mythos variant of heartbreak grass, as grown by the Tcho-Tcho, which only incapacitates, not kills. She bribed the coroner and the funeral parlor with the last of her life savings, to keep them quiet, and then arranged her own funeral. Surely, she thinks, when Grosche attends the funeral ceremony, weeping over lost love and missed chances, he'll fall on his knees in gratitude when she reveals, from the coffin, that she's not dead after all? However if he doesn't show - as is quite likely - then the tantrum this Mythos-knowledgeable scholar falls into is likely to destroy the church, and kill several dozen innocent bystanders.