“Yes, Father,” I said, trying not to look as confused and disappointed as I felt. I watched as he turned and replaced the box in the secret compartment, and if he was trying to make sure that I didn’t see which book triggered the compartment, well, then, he failed. It was the King James Bible.
8 DECEMBER 1735
There were two more funerals today, of the two soldiers who had been stationed in the grounds. As far as I know, Father’s gentleman, Mr. Digweed, attended the service for the captain, whose name I never knew, but nobody from our household was at the funeral for the second man. There is so much loss and mourning around us at the moment, it’s as if there simply isn’t room for any more, callous as it sounds.
After my eighth birthday, Mr. Birch became a regular visitor to the house and, when not squiring Jenny on walks around the grounds, or taking her into town in his carriage, or sitting in the drawing room drinking tea and sherry and regaling the women with tales of army life, he held meetings with Father. It was clear to all that he intended to marry Jenny and that the union had Father’s blessing, but there was talk that Mr. Birch had asked to postpone the nuptials; that he wanted to be as prosperous as possible so that Jenny should have the husband she deserved, and that he had his eye on a mansion in Southwark in order to keep her in the manner to which she’d become accustomed.
Mother and Father were thrilled about that of course. Jenny less so. I’d occasionally see her with red eyes, and she’d developed a habit of flying quickly out of rooms, either in the throes of an angry tantrum or with her hand to her mouth, stifling tears. More than once I heard Father say, “She’ll come round,” and on one occasion he gave me a sideways look and rolled his eyes.
Just as she seemed to wither under the weight of her future, I flourished with the anticipation of my own. The love I felt for Father constantly threatened to engulf me with its sheer magnitude; I didn’t just love him, I idolized him. At times it was as if the two of us shared a knowledge that was secret from the rest of the world. For example, he’d often ask me what my tutors had been teaching me, listen intently, and then say, “Why?” Whenever he asked me something, whether it was about religion, ethics or morality, he would know if I gave the answer by rote, or repeated it parrot fashion, and he’d say, “Well, you’ve just told me what Old Mr. Fayling thinks,” or, “We know what a centuries-old writer thinks. But what does it say in here, Haytham?” and he’d place a hand to my chest.
I realize now what he was doing. Old Mr. Fayling was teaching me facts and absolutes; Father was asking me to question them. This knowledge I was being given by Old Mr. Fayling—where did it originate? Who wielded the quill, and why should I trust that man?
Father used to say, “To see differently, we must first think differently.” It sounds stupid, and you might laugh, or I might look back on this in years to come and laugh myself, but at times it felt as though I could feel my brain actually expand to look at the world in Father’s way. He had a way of looking at the world that nobody else had, so it seemed; a way of looking at the world that challenged the very idea of truth.
Of course, I questioned Old Mr. Fayling. I challenged him one day, during Scriptures, and earned myself a whack across the knuckles with his cane, along with the promise that he would be informing my father, which he did. Later, Father took me into his study and, after closing the door, grinned and tapped the side of his nose. “It’s often best, Haytham, to keep your thoughts to yourself. Hide in plain sight.”
So I did. And I found myself looking at the people around me, trying to look inside them as though I might be able somehow to divine how they looked at the world, the Old Mr. Fayling way, or the Father way.
Writing this now, of course, I can see I was getting too big for my boots; I was feeling grown-up beyond my years, which would be as unattractive now, at ten, as it would have been at eight, then nine. Probably I was unbearably supercilious. Probably I felt like the little man of the household. When I turned nine, Father presented me with a bow and arrow for my birthday and, practising with it in the grounds, I hoped that the Dawson girls or the Barrett children might be watching me from the windows.
It had been over a year since I’d spoken to Tom at the gate, but I still sometimes loitered there in the hope of meeting him again. Father was forthcoming on all subjects except his own past. He’d never speak of his life before London, nor of Jenny’s mother, so I still held out hope that whatever it was Tom knew might prove illuminating. And, apart from that, of course, I wanted a friend. Not a parent or nursemaid or tutor or mentor—I had plenty of those. Just a friend. And I hoped it would be Tom.
It never will be now, of course.
They bury him tomorrow.
9 DECEMBER 1735
Mr. Digweed came to see me this morning. He knocked, waited for my reply then had to duck his head to enter, because Mr. Digweed, as well as being balding, with slightly bulging eyes and veiny eyelids, is tall and slim, and the doorways in our emergency residence are much lower than they were at home. The way he had to stoop as he moved around the place, it added to his air of discomfiture, the sense of his being a fish out of water here. He’d been my father’s gentleman since before I was born, at least since the Kenways settled in London, and like all of us, maybe even more than the rest of us, he belonged to Queen Anne’s Square. What made his pain even more acute was guilt—his guilt that on the night of the attack he was away, attending to family matters in Herefordshire; he and our driver had returned the morning after the attack.
“I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, Master Haytham,” he had said to me in the days after, his face pale and drawn.
“Of course, Digweed,” I said, and didn’t know what to say next; I’d never been comfortable addressing him by his surname; it had never felt right in my mouth. So all I could add was “Thank you.”
This morning his cadaverous face wore the same solemn expression, and I could tell that, whatever news he had, it was bad.
“Master Haytham,” he said, standing before me.
“Yes . . . Digweed?”
“I’m terribly sorry, Master Haytham, but there’s been a message from Queen Anne’s Square, from the Barretts. They wish to make it clear that nobody from the Kenway household is welcome at young Master Thomas’s funeral service. They respectfully request that no contact is made at all.”