My father complained at supper that talk in the capital was growing more indiscreet with each passing day. In the harbors south of Rotterdam a navy was coming together, and the word was that sailors were flocking from all over England to join William and Mary’s fleet. In the marketplace the street children sang about cutting off the King’s head. I heard a priest wonder if being overthrown was to become a Stuart family tradition. At night I could hear cheers for William and Mary coming from the crowd in the Three Tuns.
My father was quite busy at this time and rarely home. He shuttled between his offices on Paternoster Row and various courts and salons in Westminster. My mother also was unusually busy; she feared that the revolution would interrupt her studies, so she determined to absorb as much from the libraries of London as she could before it was too late.
Each night there were men in the house, an odd assortment of nobles, businessmen, and scholars. Isabelle and I were summoned to entertain them. We played and sang nearly every night. There were a few men who came often enough that I recognized them and learned their names, but for the most part I only came to play and then leave again. Once the music was over the conversation would return and my mother would motion for us to leave.
My chief complaint was that Isabelle quite enjoyed dressing up for our performances, and so each day our playtime was cut short by Miss Annie ordering her to come in and get ready. She’d wash up daily, which Mrs. Smith disapproved of at first—frequent baths cause cholera, she said—but Miss Annie insisted that Isabelle couldn’t put on her fine dresses and gowns if she smelled of sweat and earth after a long day of playing in the fields with me. Mrs. Smith eventually relented, and it wasn’t long before they began insisting that I wash daily, too. I asked her about the dangers of cholera and Mrs. Smith admitted she had made it up.
My studies continued, and Miss Annie took up tutoring Isabelle during that time. I never knew that Miss Annie was educated, but Isabelle told me her room was filled with books. I had never gone into Miss Annie’s room so I didn’t know. I studied sums and geography, and Isabelle learned Latin and the Roman gods. The gods she already knew—we both did—but it was a useful way to come to understand the Latin.
During the days, in the time left between studies and performances, we led armies across the fields behind St. Martins, or else ran down to the Thames beside Middle Temple and watched the boats go by. Mrs. Smith sent us to the market on small errands, o fetch cabbages and apples and the occasional skinned rabbit or goose. During all of our adventures we always, without saying so to each other, took care to avoid the Shively house. During my studies sometimes I would look up at her broken window; sometimes the crows were watching, and sometimes they were not.
Though she wouldn’t say, Isabelle missed her father. Sometimes, during a lull in our games, she would grow quiet, and her eyes would drift a hundred miles away. My own father hated to leave London and thus had never left my side for more than a day at a time. My mother had once gone to Cambridge to sit a lecture, and had stayed for nearly two months. She took Miss Annie with her as well, leaving my father and me alone with Mr. Percy and Mrs. Smith; Jane hadn’t come to join us yet. I remember how quiet and empty the house felt, and how (remembering that I was very small then) I would often cry at night, missing my mother. Isabelle must have felt that emptiness every night of her whole life.
One of my earliest memories of Isabelle, we must have been three or four years old, she sat on my legs and pummeled my chest with her fists, laughing maniacally while I cried. Her father had to scoop her off of me and carry her to her room. Mother washed my tears away and explained to me that, as odd as it seemed, this was Isabelle’s way of showing affection for me. “She doesn’t have playmates at home,” she explained, “and so doesn’t know how to act properly around them, that’s all. She wants your attention because she thinks you are special. Not even she really understands it herself. She just knows she feels something strongly, and so, well…”
“Well, what?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and then sighed. “And so I suppose she wants to destroy it.”
Isabelle always smelled bad, too, when she was little. That was one of the first issues that my mother and Miss Annie addressed to Lord Edmonstone. Little girls don’t need to smell like strawberries and cream, but they shouldn’t smell like wet rodents, either.
In general, though, Isabelle was being quite strange this year. She played rougher than before somehow, not just her insistence on us actually hitting each other with swords but climbing higher up the trees, and other such things. And then we would come home and she would surrender to Miss Annie and allow herself to be bathed and primped and dressed as though she expected to entertain royalty. Poor Jane had no idea what to make of Isabelle and just scurried out of the way as quickly as she could whenever their paths crossed.
A visiting lord, after we performed one evening, commended us for our playing and congratulated my father for finding “such a lovely girl for your son.” When we left the room she hit me hard, in my face, and said she intended to marry nobody, ever.
She wasn’t the only one being strange, either. One morning after our lessons I chased Isabelle down the stairs, charging through the house to get outside as though we were on fire, and blew right past Mr. Percy. He stepped aside and smiled as we went by. By all rights, he should have grabbed one or both of us by our necks and reminded us that no running was allowed in the house. Instead, he smiled. Later that evening, after we had performed once again—and I must say that my appreciation for John Dowland was starting to wear thin when I played his songs night after night—Mr. Percy left the library with us and intoned, quite gravely, “Follow me.” We did, and he led us into the kitchens, where Mrs. Smith had prepared for us two fantastic bowls of ice cream.
I’d had ice cream once before. I think it was Isabelle’s first taste of it. She bit directly into the cream with her teeth and cringed at the cold. We all laughed except for Mr. Percy, who smiled and produced his own spoon. “Let me show you, child,” he said, and showed her how to lick the ice cream so it wouldn’t hurt her teeth.
If I had known that almost getting kidnapped was all it would take to make Mr. Percy nice, I would have tried it years earlier.
Perhaps nearly losing us to pirates had made him understand that Isabelle and I weren’t foul little creatures after all. Maybe deep down he realized that he loved us. Or maybe it was all a trap.
Regardless, for ice cream, that rare and wonderful treat, I would put up with nearly anything. Even another round of Dowland.
The morning after the ice cream I woke to a most curious sensation, a faint tugging at my body. I reached out with my hand to where the feeling came from, only to pause in mid-air when I realized that I wasn’t sure where it actually was. Somewhere on my clothes, but no; it was my skin, near my belly, or my arm, or even perhaps deeper inside, or under me. A feeling of being pulled that came from someplace vague but real. It wasn’t urgent, but it was persistent, and if I couldn’t tell at all where it was pulling from, I had no doubt about where it was pulling me to, or at least the direction.
I stood and followed. It wanted me to go out of my room. I wasn’t ready for that yet; first to use the chamber pot, then to change out of my bedclothes and into something more proper. The pull couldn’t be ignored but it could be delayed, I supposed.
It—the feeling, that is—led me down the stairs. It was plain summer, and with my father putting in long hours at work the curtains were all open and my house was exceptionally bright. There was activity all around, as Jane and Mr. Percy and everyone else went about their chores, but nobody noticed me, and their presence was little more than a distant hum to me. The morning felt bright, still, and quiet.
The pull flowed through to the door. I followed it outside. Left, down Shandos Place, away from the market square. I stayed on my side to pass the Shivelys’ and the Three Tuns, and then crossed the street. I could hear the noises on the Strand and Bedford Street, but Shandos Place was as quiet and still as my house had been.
Onto St. Martin’s Lane, and the pull led me north towards the fields. St. Martin’s Lane was busy but still pleasant. I crossed the street again, and passing Longacre I found myself in front of St. Martins-in-the-Fields, and the pulling sensation that came from within me and around me and behind me and through me relaxed into a happy squeeze and left me.
The church was a squat affair of brick, with a stone front facing the street. The stones were broken in many places, revealing the brick beneath; the tall tower that rose from the side was held up buttresses but even still looked like a strong wind might blow it over. The little cupola that held the bell had once been white but was grey now. The roof of the main church was tiled but many of those tiles were broken as well. The whole thing looked more like a barn than a church, except for the windows, which were sharply arched and made of stained glass.
Although I played in the churchyard regularly I rarely went inside. I rarely even approached the building from this direction: it was faster and more interesting to take Bedfordbury to Longacre and go directly into the fields from Castle Street. I could count the number of times I’d stood on the steps of the old little church. My mother was raised Catholic, and my father Protestant. In England today that was a difficult matter, more difficult with each passing day. The Church had long ago, and wars had followed between those who kept the old faith and those who followed the new. King Charles the First, Catholic, had his head cut off by Oliver Cromwell, Protestant. Cromwell himself was overthrown, and replaced by Charles’ brother, who was Catholic but promised that he wouldn’t be a bother about it. His brother, the current and soon to be former King, was not so charitable.
My parents’ faith was very ambiguous, I think to some extent by design. Centuries ago an earlier Lord Falmouth had been granted a special dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, which meant that we didn’t have to physically go to church anymore but could instead pray in our own house. When the Church of England broke off from the Church of Rome it was unclear if that special dispensation still carried over, or if fact that current Lord Falmouth had settled permanently in London had any effect. My father didn’t answer the question when asked, instead giving long and hard-to-follow histories of our family and the church with such enthusiasm that the questioner inevitably gave up. We always left it at that.
Father had a love for the ancient gods—”Though, of course, we can’t actually worship them, it’s been ruined, but it still makes more bloody sense to me than all the rest”—and mother was taken with what she called the “Church of Nature,” by which she meant her studies. She was part of a group of philosophers, I suppose you could call them, who met regularly at Cambridge and looked at the stars and the earth for patterns that explained the universe. She tried explaining it to me several times but that was beyond me. Even though they were supposed to be talking about stars they spent a lot of time actually talking about numbers.
The church’s front door was open so I went inside. The interior was wooden, rather like a barn or a warehouse, with a slightly domed roof that made me feel like I was underground. The stained glass windows broke the light into thousands of angles and shapes that danced on the floor and on the backs of the pews, like fairies or little angels.
One solitary voice filled the room, echoing off the walls and floor, the voice of a man sounding as much as possible as a young boy. Halfway down the aisle stood Isabelle. I walked down to join her; I could tell that she was listening to the music, which rather cosily filled the entire church and sounded as bright and dancing as the light. When I reached her she didn’t look at me but instead reached out a hand and took mine. I looked down at her hand in mine and then looked at her, but she kept looking straight ahead.
After a few flourishes the singing stopped. “What was that?” Isabelle called out. There was a startled shuffle of feet, and Father Mallory stood up, his heading popping up out of the choir.
“Isabelle Edmonstone,” he said happily, and after spotting me behind her he added, “And young Lord Falmouth.” I’m not Lord Falmouth, actually; not yet anyway. My father must die before I can become that, which hardly seems a fair trade. “I thought I was alone,” he continued, walking awkwardly towards us, clearly embarrassed.
“That was a pretty song,” Isabelle added, releasing my hand. She looked over at me with a smile—her happy smile—and then back at him.
“Ah, yes, pretty. It’s Italian, in the new style. I was in Hamburg, recently, and—oh dear, there’s a step there I always forget.” He stopped, now halfway between the altar and us. “The song, I fear, is not appropriate for a church setting. Although in a way all music is a celebration of God, I suppose. To what do I owe this visit?”
Isabelle, being Isabelle, plopped herself down into a pew as though it were any ordinary seat. I waited until Father Mallory invited me to sit.
“I wish to learn a song,” she said firmly.
“I know very many songs.”
“I know the melody and wonder if you know the rest and can teach me.”
“Hum it for me and I will tell you.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment, then began to hum. Her voice was normally high and sweet, but she reached instead for the lowest rungs of her register, and hummed something slow and almost melancholy. Father Mallory furrowed his brow and listened.
“Is there more to it?” he asked.
“Yes, but that is all I remember.”
“Does it sound like this?” he asked, and hummed back. His notes were different, lower and graver, but his melody was longer. He also hummed far more slowly than she did, letting each note roll an earthy tremble. I could see Isabelle becoming excited, leaning forward and sitting upright, like a pleased kitten.
“Yes, yes, that’s it.”
Clearly thrilled, Father Mallory closed his eyes and hummed more, the melody growing longer, taking on a slightly martial air. And then, as the melody reached a high point, he dropped back down and began to sing. The words were alien and guttural, and sounded strange and ancient. “What is that?” I ask.
“German. Medieval German, anyway. The song is called Palasteinlied. It’s an old German minstrel song, from the times of the Crusades. One of the most famous of those types of songs, one of the few that people still remember.”
“So you can teach me?” Isabelle asked.
“I can write the music down for you, it’s quite simple. Why do you wish to learn it?”
She smiled and stood. “A gift. For a friend.” He understood, or at least understood enough.
“Very well then. Will I be seeing you and your families perhaps this Sunday? We have a wonderful musical program.” He clapped his hands together and beamed.
Isabelle answered. “Not likely, sir.”
He responded kindly. “You know, we do welcome Catholics here, even in these times of trouble.”
“We’re not Catholic, either.”
“For love of music I welcome all kinds,” he answered.
“I know.” And then returning to the matters that interested her most, added, “Make it a duet, please. For voice and consort. Virginal and viol.”
“One voice or two?”
She looked at me. “Two.” And so, without being consulted, I was once again drafted into a performance.
“Very well then,” Father Mallory said. “I can work on this right away and have it ready for you in a short while or so. Will you return for it?”
“Of course,” she said as she turned away, taking my hand and leading me out.
We returned in just in time to be scolded for being late to our lessons. I went to my room and studied my numbers again. The lessons were difficult but I was interested. My mother and her friends at Cambridge were convinced that numbers could be used to solve all the mysteries of the universe. I couldn’t quite understand what she was talking about, but I enjoyed playing around with the numbers anyway.
In the afternoon I felt a pang similar to the one I’d felt in the morning, and looked out my window in time to see Isabelle running down the street. I thought of following but I doubted that I would catch up. Not twenty minutes later I saw her coming back, skipping a bit and clutching some paper. I knew she was coming to me, and not too long afterwards she was knocking at my door. My lessons were finished by then anyway.
“He only gave one copy,” she told me, holding up the music. “You’ll have to copy it over.”
“Why are we doing this?”
“We just are.”
The words were absolute nonsense to me:
“Nu alrest lebe ich mir verde,
Sit min sundie ouge siht,
Mirst geschehn des ich jebat,
Ich bin komen an die stat.”
The music, in Father Mallory’s spiky hand, was rather easy to follow. I hummed it.
“Well, go on,” she said.
“Now?” My fingers were already tired and inkstained from my lessons, but I could see she wasn’t going to stop. I sat at my desk and drew a fresh sheet of paper. On it I sketched a staff, and began copying notes. She hummed along as I wrote, correcting herself, and we both took a stab at the ancient German.
“What do you think it means?”
She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go.”
She didn’t have to say “Let’s go.” Isabelle, I had learned, was never one to simply stay put. She may as well have tattooed the words on her forehead.
She was eager to practice on our instruments. The library was empty, and she headed straight for the virginal, placing the music on top and beginning to play. I trudged over slowly to the viols, and after opening the chest I drew my usual one.
“Take a bigger one.” I didn’t answer, I just stopped. “The bigger one!” She insisted. “The sound has to be deep.”
“The bigger ones are too big for me,” I protested.
“It’s not like you have to hold it up, the thing sits on your knee.”
“Then I can’t reach the notes!”
“Then put it on the floor. Come!”
I put the little viol back and tried the others until I found the biggest one that I could reasonably carry. I carried its ungainly bulk to a chair and sat myself down, resting the instrument on my foot rather than the floor. It didn’t seem appropriate to put the thing on the floor.
“Do you think this is in tune?” I asked her. The larger viol had a different voice than my smaller one, I wasn’t satisfied that I appreciated the tones.
“How would I know?”
“Just tell me what you think.” I scraped a few notes. I had to work very hard to keep the silly thing balanced. She asked me to play again, and I did, and neither of us could be certain that I was playing correctly. Did the lows seems too low, or was I just unaccustomed to that range?
A heavy sound, someone clearing his throat. We froze. We weren’t even doing anything wrong, it was just an instinct. “What have we here?” It was Mr. Percy.
“We were just practicing,” I answered. Isabelle reached out and turned her music over.
“It’s a surprise,” Isabelle answered quickly. Following her lead, I slowly reached out and turned my own page over. Mr. Percy smiled.
“I was hoping to hear some music as I polished the silver. Imagine my joy to see you both here. But if I am interrupting, then I can return later when you are finished.”
Isabelle perked up. “No, no need to leave. We can play something else while you polish. Dowland?”
He smiled again, and I think that for the first time in my life I saw him relax his shoulders. He had an enormous frame. Although his fine clothing hid it, he was practically a giant.
“Young lady, you are most kind, and I thank you. Perhaps we can compromise, one single song. Something cheerful.”
Not Dowland, then. We played a cheerful improvisation—I struggled mightily with my heavy viol—and Mr. Percy listened with his eyes closed. When we were finished he opened them again and clapped. His gloves kept the sound muted. “Bravo. I shall leave you now. There is work that I can do upstairs.”
Before he could leave, my father appeared. “Did I miss the performance?”
“Unfortunately yes,” said Mr. Percy. “Although I have it on good authority that there shall be another.”
The heavy viol was putting too much pressure on my foot. I tried to lift it off but could not do so discreetly, so I stood and used both hands to lift it off. For a few minutes it could sit on my foot just fine, but not for long. I could see it had left a welt in my shoe.
“Let me help you with that,” my father said. “Why are you playing the big one?”
He came over and lifted it. Mr. Percy, without being told, had come around already to open the chest. Father carried the viol in and put it away.
“It’s great to see these old things being put to use,” he said to nobody in particular. “They’re happiest when they’re played, you know?” He took out a mid-sized one and plucked a string. “Sounds awful, doesn’t it? These all need to be tuned.”
“Quite right, sir,” said Mr. Percy. “I’ll speak to Father Mallory.”
My father stopped suddenly, his eyes fixed a spot behind Isabelle. We all noticed him stop, eyes suddenly very alert. Without looking he handed the viol back to Mr. Percy, who put it away without saying a word. He also looked suddenly quite alert.
Isabelle looked around quickly, following their eyes. I was about to say something when my father reached out and covered my mouth. Isabelle followed his gaze, and I did, too.
“Yes,” he said. “Father Mallory would know somebody who could tune them all, if he doesn’t decide to come tune them himself.”
The drapes along the wall, about midway between the chest of viols and Isabelle’s virginal; the folds and their shadows formed a shape that could, or just as easily could not, be a person. A bump that could be a forehead, another that could be a shoulder and an arm, shadows that could hips and knees. And at the bottom, in the short distance between the bottom of the drape and the dark wooden floor, a shadow that was almost unquestionably a pair of feet.
Isabelle moved slowly away. My father stepped closer. Mr. Percy closed the chest of viols and took a step towards the library door. My heart raced.
The grown men continued to talk to each other about tuning the viols, trying to keep calm as my father approached the shadow. He had long since let go of me but I stayed in my chair. Isabelle had cringed as far back as she could without falling off of her bench.
The shadow moved, and for the briefest measure of time we all saw it, the person there.
Quite suddenly heavy footfalls came from behind us and Jane strode into the library, a broom in hand. “Remember me to the one who lives there,” she sang to herself. She saw us after the first word, but couldn’t stop herself from singing the rest.
Everything happened then at once. Mr. Percy signaled for her to be quiet; Isabelle leapt off of her bench and ran for the far wall; my father dove at the shape behind the drape; and the drapes fluttered to life as the creature inside made a desperate escape. The curtains tossed and flew once, twice, and then twice more before finally my father and the visitor found opposite ends to pull back. Jane dropped her broom with a loud bang; Mr. Percy shoved her rudely out of the way, blocked the door with his body, and Jane shrieked.
From behind the curtain burst forth the figure of a young girl, small and thin, in a dirty frock that had once been white. Her hair was black, her skin was grey, and her eyes were a cold hollow blue. She wheeled around, looking at all directions as she backed away from us.
Father’s head cocked to one side and he whispered in shock. “Emily Shively,” he said.
The filthy little waif was indeed Emily, but also not, somehow. She was the color of a dead tree, and her eyes were wild.
“My child, dear sweet Emily,” my father said quitly, his hands up in a gentle gesture, “don’t be afraid. You are safe with us, you are among friends. What has happened to you, child?” Emily’s eyes shot from him to me, to Jane and to Isabelle, and then to Mr. Percy. I could see the color both rising and draining from Jane’s face. I could see cracks in Emily’s skin, around her neck and behind her ears. The grime on her frock was a mixture of dirt and blood. Her fingernails were badly torn and bloodied. The grey of her skin was sickening.
And her eyes were frantic with fear.
Isabelle backed up too far and tripped over an end table, which sent her to the floor. Jane screamed, and Emily at that moment lunged at my father with all of her might, arms and legs flying through the air at once. One of her hands gripped his hair and the other struggled to grab hold of his jacket; her legs kicked wildly as she tried to wrap them around his body. She screeched like an owl. Father grabbed the hand in his hair and used the other to keep her from grabbing onto him. Together they crashed into the chest of viols, which rocked back far enough to hit the wall before lurching forward and crashing face-first onto the floor. A blind impulse seized me and I ran to Isabelle. Mr. Percy ran towards the shrieking demon, grabbing what had once been Emily around the waist and pulling her off of my father. Jane grabbed her broom and held it in front of her like a cruelly ineffective weapon.
Mr. Percy pulled while my father pushed and they at last succeeded in prying Emily off of him, though not before she managed to scratch my father’s face with a jagged fingernail, leaving a gash near his right eye that immediately began to bleed. She also had a clump of his hair in her hand, and I could see he was bleeding from where it had come.
She flailed furiously, kicking and gnashing. Mr. Percy had her firmly in his arms but could not control her.
“Jane!” he bellowed. “The door!” She just stared at him, her broomstick still in hand. “Open the front door!” Something about the sheer power of his voice tore through her panic and she ran out of the library to open the front door. Mr. Percy followed, the angry waif still whipping her body. I wanted to stay put but I followed, and even then I didn’t know if it was because I wanted to or bceause Isabelle was going and I had to follow her.
Emily knocked her arms and legs against the doorway and knocked over a lamp on a stand in the hallway. My mother and Miss Annie were just coming down the stairs, drawn by the commotion, and Mrs. Smith emerged from the kitchen just in time to see Mr. Percy deliberately slam Emily Shively against the wall. A large mirror a few feet away came crashing to the ground, sending glass across the entire entryway. Isabelle shrieked and covered her face, falling down into a ball on the floor.
Jane at last opened the door and cowered behind it as Mr. Percy shoved Emily through it. “Get out of this house!” he hollered at her, and Emily tumbled out onto the bricks. She stood and bared her teeth at us all, her dead eyes briefly shining black and yellow before returning to that empty blue, and then she scrambled to her legs and bolted down Shandos Place towards the City. Her legs stumbled and just barely caught her each time she stepped.
I squeezed past my father to stand by Mr. Percy and see her run away. It looked very much like she would fall, her bare bloodied feet hitting the ground only just in time, each step coming closer and closer to missing the ground entirely.
And then her step did miss the ground, only instead of falling, she kept running, her legs pinwheeling in the air a few inches above the street, and then a foot above, and then more, until she was running more than high above the street, whipping her arms as well, her grey turning to black, her bony body filling out and her arms going out and sweeping back behind her, and with two final pushes the demon that had once been Emily Shively turned before our very eyes into a crow and soared up and away over London.
I saw it clearly. Isabelle, who was still stumbling out of the house when ‘Emily’ took off, couldn’t have seen anything more than a blur of movement. Father and Mr. Percy had a clear view. And Jane, poor Jane, had seen more than enough through the window by the front door.
“Mr. Percy, get them inside,” my father said, and with the same coolness he’d shown in the City, Mr. Percy scooped Isabelle up with one arm and me with the other and carried us both inside. My father closed the door behind us. Jane was there, unable to speak or scream or move, her mouth just wide open.
Mr. Percy deposited us on the floor. We saw for the first time that Isabelle’s mouth was bleeding; her lip looked like it had been split in half. The mirror shattering must have thrown a shard of glass at her—a little higher or lower and it would have blinded or killed her. Miss Annie rushed up and started daubing the wound with a handkerchief. Isabelle flinched but didn’t stop her. She did keep angling her head so she could see and hear better. My mother was standing next to my father by then.
“Mr. Percy,” my father began.
“Hector,” my mother interrupted. “Was it them?”
“Yes,” he said to her, and for a moment looked lost. Somehow that scared me more than seeing a dead girl turn into a bird. “We must go. To Bungay.” And as he said the word something in his eyes changed, and he regained his composure. He turned smartly to Mr. Percy. “Mr. Percy, you are to make arrangements to get us to Bungay immediately. There is no time to waste. I shall stay here, everyone else must go.”
“Shall I stay with you, sir?” he asked.
“No. I will need you to be with them. I also need you to make the arrangements quickly and quietly. Lady Falmouth and I—” he took her hand as he said this—”have urgent business to attend to in the meantime.” He moved towards Mr. Percy then and put a hand on the butler’s enormous shoulder. “Old friend, I apologize but I cannot explain anything now. You are the only one I can trust.”
“Of course, sir.” He turned to Jane, who was still in a frozen panic. “Jane,” he said firmly, then took her shoulders in his hands. I expected him to shake her, but instead he lowered himself so his eyes met hers. I’m not sure I’d ever noticed how much larger he was than she; Mr. Percy was nearly the size of a bull, but Jane was not much taller than Isabelle or I, and with the frailness of her bones she wasn’t much more substantial than either of us. How old was she? Nineteen? A child herself in all but name. Mr. Percy simply stared into her eyes until she began to focus on him. “Jane,” he repeated again, his voice still firm and deep but with an unmistakable tenderness to it. She looked at him for a moment longer and then nodded. Tears were spilling down her cheeks now but she wasn’t crying. “You must go to the stables and return with the carriage.”
“Don’t make me go out there,” she whimpered.
“You can do this. Cover your head with a bonnet, and bring the carriage. Do not explain where we are going or why, only that we must leave now. Do not return without it.” A pause. I expected him to reassure her once again, but instead he said, in a voice hard as steel, “Go now.” I could never predict what this man was going to say.
Without taking her eyes off of him Jane backed away. Moments later she had secured a bonnet and was on her way, still dazed with fear.
My parents had long ago gone into the library, whispering quickly to each other. My mother went straight to a bookshelf and my father began looking through drawers.
“Mrs. Smith,” Mr. Percy bellowed, and the rosy-cheeked cook appeared before us. “Take the children into the kitchen. Give them sweets and keep them there until further notice. Miss Annie, you and I shall pack all of the valises. Be quick. We can send for whatever else we need later.”
They continued to talk, but Mrs. Smith was already leading us down into the kitchen. When she talked it was clear that she was trying to fill the air with words in order to cover up whatever was happening. I didn’t blame her. The air in the house had become heavy. Whatever was happening was unexpected, and wrong.
Mrs. Smith talked and sang as she tended to Isabelle’s lip. It bled a lot but Mrs. Smith had a seemingly endless supply of clean rags and plenty of experience tending to wounds. “We cut ourselves all the time in the kitchen, dearie.” When the bleeding had slowed enough she produced a large loaf of bread and jars of jam and butter. I didn’t want any, and I could tell Isabelle wasn’t interested, either. She had that smile on her face again, the one that wasn’t happy, though this time she tried to stop it because it hurt to smile.
I don’t know how long we were there in the kitchen. Mrs. Smith never stopped talking, except to sing. Despite the wound, Isabelle helped me eat most of the loaf, and when that was finished Mrs. Smith brought us a ham and some pudding, and was promising to prepare Welsh rarebit for us when Mr. Percy appeared. “Children, come.” Only we didn’t have to come. He scooped us up. “Mrs. Smith, you, too.”
She waved him away and retreated to the oven. “Oh bother, no, I can’t take a trip like that and you know it. Besides, if Lord Falmouth is to stay, somebody must stay to cook for him. This is too big a house for one man alone. Jane will take care of you up there. I never could take to that northern weather, anyway.” There was no arguing with Mrs. Smith. Mr. Percy nodded to her in a gesture of respect, turned and carried us up into the house.
Trunks were already arranged on the floor in the entryway: Isabelle’s largest one, my only one, and my mother’s. Miss Annie and my father were working together to bring down his trunk; apparently she and Jane would be sharing it. Isabelle’s virginal and the other things she’d brought were staying—”We’ll send for them later if we need to”—and I was a bit pleased to see that none of my schoolbooks or viols were being brought.
Mr. Percy placed us gently on the ground next to Father, who squatted down to speak to us. He smoothed Isabelle’s dress—at some point we had been able to change into more comfortable clothing for the trip—and then took our hands in his.
“You both must be terribly confused. Thank you for your courage today.”
“What was that…thing?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, and I believed him. “Lord Edmonstone will know; it is a pity he isn’t here today. We have sent for him already, and for some of his friends who may know better.”
“Are we in danger?” Isabelle asked. He cut her off quickly with a soothing shush.
“No, of course not.” As he spoke swept thin strands of her hair behind her ears, almost as if he were distracted. “But your father left instructions, that if we were visited by certain fellows, that you all were to leave at once, just to be careful.”
“But you’re staying,” I said quickly. He didn’t play with my hair—it was too short—but he did lightly brush his fingers against my cheek.
“I assure you it is not by choice. I am staying because I must, and because I believe that I will be safe here. I can tolerate more risk for myself than I can for you, which is why you and your mother are leaving, but I would not stay if I thought I was in danger. The world has little use for courageous dead men.”
He stood slowly. “In a fortnight, not more, either I shall join you in Bungay or you all shall return here. For now, mind your mother. Miss Annie and Mr. Percy will be with you, and Jane.”
The whole time he spoke Mr. Percy had been quietly and firmly instructing Jane, and miraculously, despite her incessant trembling, she was doing as told. I think that being busy kept her from thinking. She had succeeding in securing the carriage, and although the sun was setting we were going anyway, hoping to be out of London before nightfall. None of us wanted to spend the the night in the house.
My father gave us both kisses on the forehead, and my mother quietly took our hands. The men shook hands, and Miss Annie gave Mrs. Smith a warm hug before Mrs. Smith retreated into the kitchen. My mother led us to the front door, and Mr. Percy turned to follow. They both looked out onto the street first before stepping out on Shandos Place, and then we went to the carriage. Mother, Isabelle and I would ride with Miss Annie; Jane sat with Mr. Percy, who was driving.
“We’ll take to the road to Ware,” Mr. Percy instructed. “We have friends along the way with whom we can stay.”
“Wait!” Isabelle suddenly exclaimed, and leaped from the carriage. She ran into the house. My father tried to stop her but she knocked him over. I stood to follow but Mother stopped me.
Isabelle came back maybe two minutes later, her face red and her breath hard, clutching iur swords in her hands. “We’ll need these,” she explained. Mother looked cross, but Mr. Percy scooped Isabelle up again and said, “Of course, child.”
Isabelle gave me my sword and settled down next to me, holding her own at attention. We waved at my father as the carriage began to move down Shandos Place. We turned onto St. Martins, and passed through the long shadow of the church as we went north. I was suddenly overcome by a feeling that I would not see these streets and these buildings again for a long time, if ever. I looked over at Isabelle and saw her staring intently at the scenery as well, her hand gripped tight on the handle of her sword. She felt it, too. I knew.
Overhead a crow called out, flying fast and high over the roofs. I followed it with my eyes. It flew away from us, not looking down. Against the darkening sky I saw a black smudge that revealed itself to be a small flock of birds.
Crows. I couldn’t really tell, but I knew that they were. The solitary crow and the flock met up somewhere above Covent Garden, and in unison they dove towards what I was certain was my house.