She looked at the curtain quizzically, as if she was trying to recall why it was drawn. “I understand that Mr. Birch was going to speak to you about leaving for Europe straight away.”
“He did, yes, but—”
“Good.” She regarded me. Again, there was something discomfiting about the look; she was no longer the mother I knew, I realized. Or was I no longer the son she knew?
“It’s for the best, Haytham.”
“But, Mother . . .”
She looked at me, then away again quickly.
“You’re going, and that’s the end of it,” she said firmly, her stare returning to the curtains. My eyes went to Miss Davy as though looking for assistance, but I found none; in return she gave me a sympathetic smile, a raise of the eyebrows, an expression that said, “I’m sorry, Haytham, there’s nothing I can do, her mind is made up.” There was silence in the room, no sound apart from the clip-clopping of hooves from outside, from a world that carried on oblivious to the fact that mine was being taken apart.
“You are dismissed, Haytham,” Mother said, with a wave of her hand.
Before—before the attack, I mean—she had never used to “summon” me. Or “dismiss” me. Before, she had never let me leave her side without at least a kiss on the cheek, and she’d told me she loved me, at least once a day.
As I stood, it occurred to me that she hadn’t said anything about what had happened on the stairs that night. She had never thanked me for saving her life. At the door I paused and turned to look at her, and wondered whether she wished the outcome had been different.
Mr. Birch accompanied me to the funeral, a small, informal service at the same chapel we had used for Edith, with almost the same number in attendance: the household, Old Mr. Fayling, and a few members of staff from Father’s work, whom Mr. Birch spoke to afterwards. He introduced me to one of them, Mr. Simpkin, a man I judged to be in his mid-thirties, who I was told would be handling the family’s affairs. He bowed a little and gave me a look I’m coming to recognize as a mix of awkwardness and sympathy, each struggling to find adequate expression.
“I will be dealing with your mother while you are in Europe, Master Haytham,” he assured me.
It hit me that I really was going; that I had no choice, no say whatsoever in the matter. Well, I do have a choice, I suppose—I could run away. Not that running away seems like any kind of choice.
We took carriages home. Trooping into the house, I caught sight of Betty, who looked at me and gave me a weak smile. The news about me was spreading, so it seemed. When I asked her what she planned to do, she told me that Mr. Digweed had found her alternative employment. When she looked at me her eyes shone with tears, and when she left the room I sat at my desk to write my journal with a heavy heart.
11 DECEMBER 1735
We depart for Europe tomorrow morning. It strikes me how few preparations are needed. It is as though the fire had already severed all my ties with my old life. What few things I had left were only enough to fill two trunks, which were taken away this morning. Today I am to write letters, and also to see Mr. Birch in order to tell him about something that occurred last night, after I’d gone to bed.
I was almost asleep when I heard a soft knocking at the door, sat up and said, “Come in,” fully expecting it to be Betty.
It wasn’t. I saw the figure of a girl, who stepped quickly into the room and shut the door behind her. She raised a candle so I could see her face and the finger she held to her lips. It was Emily, blond-haired Emily, the chambermaid.
“Master Haytham,” she said, “I have something I need to tell you, which has been preying on my mind, sir.”
“Of course,” I said, hoping my voice wouldn’t betray the fact that I felt suddenly very young and vulnerable.
“I know the maid of the Barretts,” she said quickly. “Violet, who was one of those who came out of their houses that night. She was close to the carriage they put your sister in, sir. As they bundled Miss Jenny past her and the carriage, Miss Jenny caught Violet’s eye and told her something quickly, which Violet has told me.”
“What was it?” I said.
“It was very quick, sir, and there was plenty of noise, and before she could say any more they bundled her into the carriage, but what Violet thinks she heard was ‘Traitor.’ Next day, a man paid Violet a visit, a man with a West Country accent, or so she said, who wanted to know what she’d heard, but Violet said she’d heard nothing, even when the gentleman threatened her. He showed her an evil-looking knife, sir, out of his belt, but even then she said nothing.”
“But she told you?”
“Violet’s my sister, sir. She worries for me.”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“I shall tell Mr. Birch in the morning,” I said.
“But, sir . . .”
“What if the traitor is Mr. Birch?”
I gave a short laugh and shook my head. “It isn’t possible. He saved my life. He was there fighting the . . .” Something struck me. “There is someone who wasn’t there, though.”
Of course I sent word to Mr. Birch at the first opportunity this morning, and he reached the same conclusion I had.
An hour later another man arrived, who was shown into the study. He was about the same age my father had been and had a craggy face, scars and the cold, staring eyes of some species of sea life. He was taller than Mr. Birch, and broader, and seemed to fill the room with his presence. A dark presence. And he looked at me. Down his nose at me. Down his wrinkled-with-disdain nose at me.
“This is Mr. Braddock,” said Mr. Birch, as I stood fixed into place by the newcomer’s glare. “He is also a Templar. He has my total and utmost trust, Haytham.” He cleared his throat, and said loudly, “And a manner sometimes at odds with what I know to be in his heart.”
Mr. Braddock snorted, and shot him a withering look.
“Now, Edward,” chided Birch. “Haytham, Mr. Braddock will be in charge of finding the traitor.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
Mr. Braddock looked me over then spoke to Mr. Birch. “This Digweed,” he said, “perhaps you can show me his quarters.”
When I moved to follow them, Mr. Braddock glared at Mr. Birch, who nodded almost imperceptibly then turned to me, smiling, with a look in his eyes that begged my forbearance.