"No, Algy did. Her and this starved dead boy." To William and Maria he said, "Lizzie was accompanied by what must have been the ghost of a boy, though he - seemed unusually solid, for a ghost. I don't know who he was."
William stood up, still trembling. "It will be one thing to legally exhume Lizzie," he said, "and retrieve your poems. But it will be quite another to dig further, and break open our father's coffin, and then actually cut open his throat! We should establish first whether or not that statue is still there. Our uncle's recent activities may be the result of this statue's having lately ... dug its way out?"
"What sort of dowsing rod would you use?" asked Gabriel.
William smiled. "We should hold another seance here, with Diamonds and Clubs joining Hearts and Spades, for a full deck."
"I will not participate in any such thing!" exclaimed Maria.
"You can watch," said William, suppressing impatience, "and in proximity pray more effectively for our souls."
Christina didn't look any happier about the idea. "But who - what spirit would we ask to speak to?"
"Uncle John himself, I would think," said William. "Or, failing that, Lizzie - she was lying right over him; it's likely she would know."
"It's time we went in to dinner," said Gabriel. "It's to be in the green breakfast room tonight, and Algy is probably getting impatient." More quietly he went on, "Let's hold the seance soon - on a night when Algy isn't here."
IN THE SHADOWS OF the hall, Swinburne stepped back from the doorway and hurried to his room so that he could pretend to have been asleep when someone came to summon him.
We shall know what the darkness discovers,
If the grave-pit be shallow or deep;
And our fathers of old, and our lovers,
We shall know if they sleep not or sleep.
- Algernon Swinburne, "Dolores"
A THIRD OF A mile north of Tudor House stood Pelham Crescent, a semicircular row of splendid white houses designed thirty years earlier by Elias Basevi, who had also been the architect of Belgrave Square. Separated from one another by iron railings like rows of upright black spears, each house's doorway was up three steps from the pavement and framed by square pillars that supported a first-floor balcony. The gentlemen who entered or alighted from glossy carriages at the curb wore tall silk hats or the newer round creations of William Bowler, and their starched linen collars and cuffs were bright spots against well-tailored black overcoats.
From Number 7 on this February evening, though, emerged a contrary figure in a brown sack coat with an open-collared shirt and no hat; his white beard was untrimmed and his glance up and down the street was arrogant. Edward Trelawny waved his cane, and a hansom cab obediently slanted in to a rocking halt in front of him.
"New Cut Market," he called to the driver, flipping a half-crown coin toward the man's perch behind and above the cab.
The driver turned the coin carefully in the dim radiance of a streetlamp, but it evidently appeared genuine, for he tucked it into a pocket and nodded.
Trelawny snorted and stepped up into the cab.
As the long reins snapped over the roof and the cab surged forward, Trelawny sat stiffly upright, scornful of the padded seat back, but inwardly he was uneasy, and he was cautiously reassured by the angular bulk of the pistol tucked behind his belt buckle.
He had not seen anything of the terrible Miss B. for seven years now, not since two days after that Rossetti woman's funeral. At that funeral he had learned the identity of the woman previously known to him only as "Diamonds," and he had called on her at noon the next day.
She had received him in the parlor of a modest house in Albany Street, with her fat sister sitting beside her on the sofa while he sat in a chair on the other side of a table on which rested an array of tea and biscuits, which he had ignored.
"MY CONDOLENCES, ON YOUR loss," he had said formally.
"Thank you," said Christina Rossetti.
"You mentioned, Diamonds," he said, "that you know where that statue is buried."
The sister - Maria - turned a startled look on Christina, but Christina stared evenly at Trelawny and said, "It doesn't matter now. We have strangled it."
"You did indeed," he acknowledged with a respectful nod. "Last night I visited an acquaintance south of the river, a woman who was afflicted by your uncle - "
At that point Maria burst out, "How does this man know these things?"
"Mr. Trelawny is an ally," said Christina, and she smiled. "At least as much of an ally as we can hope for. Do go on."
"This acquaintance of mine," said Trelawny, "was distraught. For some months she has been receiving your uncle in rooms above her dolly shop in New Street, and hers is the only such shop without a crucible glowing away in a back room for melting down stolen silver, since your uncle doesn't approve of metals. She was on the roof last night, weeping, and her fingers were all chewed bloody in desperate hope of calling him back." Trelawny spread his hands. "That would have drawn him, if he'd been conscious anywhere in the British Isles! But she remains bereaved, and her old illnesses, which he had held back, are on her again."
No one spoke as he pulled a cigar from his coat pocket, though he frowned and put it away again when he saw Maria wince. Finally he said, "You don't want to tell me where the statue is buried."
"No," admitted Christina.
"If you are certain that you have somehow killed your uncle, then it doesn't matter. Without him, his spouse - my patron, whom you saw Monday last in Regent's Park and whom your brother shot - "
"Gabriel shot someone?" exclaimed Maria. "With that gun of his? 'Stina, you didn't tell me?"
Christina waved her hand impatiently. "She wasn't human," she said, "or not very much so. She seemed more to be a dog - a dog wearing clothes, that is. And when Gabriel shot her, she burrowed into the ground like a sand crab."
Trelawny laughed at the expression of baffled dismay on Maria's face.
"If, as I say, you are certain that you've killed him, then I don't need to know where he's buried, since his poor maligned spouse - you really didn't see her at her best - cannot accomplish their purpose alone. But I would like - "
"What is - was - their purpose?" asked Christina.
"My patron," said Trelawny, "would like to do again what she did in A.D. 60."
"You will explain all this to me," said Maria stiffly to Christina, "with diagrams, directly after this conversation."
"Yes, Maria, I'm sorry!" To Trelawny she said, "But what did she do in A.D. 60? Besides die? Oh! She burned London."
"It burned," agreed Trelawny, "but first she shook it to pieces."
"You mean Boadicea," said Maria. "She was, or is, one of these things like our uncle, I presume."
Trelawny bowed in his chair. "I see it's only Gabriel who is witless among your family."
"You haven't met," began Christina; " - oh, never mind."
"He's not dead," said Maria quickly, as if in spite of herself, "our uncle. Just ... perpetually disrupted, shattered - cross-eyed!"
"How were they intending to destroy London?" asked Christina, apparently as much to change the subject as from curiosity. "It's a much bigger city these days!"
"The same way she did before," said Trelawny. "She and her daughters had been consecrated to the old British goddess known as Andraste and Magna Mater and Gogmagog, and then one of her daughters was raped by a Roman who was consecrated to a similar goddess in the Alps - the effect requires parents from two continents - and with certain rituals the birth of the resultant child was made to flex the continents, physically, like bending a sheet of glass."
"An earthquake," said Maria.
"That's it," said Trelawny. "And she would like to be that sort of catastrophic 'grandmother' again - to have one of her forcibly adopted family of the British goddess beget a - beget what you might call a 'child' - by a victim of the European devil that animates your uncle." He shrugged. "Snap the continental whip again."
"'Consecrated to,'" said Maria fastidiously, "means 'bitten by,' I gather."
"To put it vulgarly," agreed Trelawny.
"Are you ... consecrated to her?" asked Maria.
"No - not that way, at least, not as consummated as that. Shelley was, but he was born into it, poor old fellow; and Byron was, but he had no self-control. I did invite her into my house twelve years ago, but I was able to protect myself and my family from her. I'm in a privileged position - I'm the precious Rosetta stone between the two species, the bridge, as long as I've got this half statue growing in my throat - "
Maria looked helplessly at Christina, who rocked her head and waved reassuringly.
" - but because I invited her in, she sticks to me like my shadow. I'd like to free myself, and even more so the world, from Miss B. Therefore - "
"'Miss B.!'" exclaimed Maria with a smile. "That's genteel."
"Fewer syllables to say. Therefore, I would like to know how you managed to 'disrupt and shatter' your uncle."
"So that you may do it with Miss B.," said Christina, "who is - you said - your patron."
"Soon to be my former patron, if you'll tell me how."
"But, as you say, you would still be the bridge, the Rosetta stone."
"That's right, and the simplest thing to do would be to have the statue cut out of my throat, you mean? - and then the overlap between the species will be gone, and the vampires will all be 'melted into air, into thin air.'"
He picked up his cup of tea and drained it; it was lukewarm, and he wished they had served plain cold water instead. "The man who previously served as the Rosetta stone, the overlap between our species, a centuries-old Austrian, had his ambassador-statue cut out of him in 1822. He died of it."
"Are you particularly afraid to die?" asked Maria; she was so earnest that he felt obliged to answer the question seriously.
"I've risked my life a hundred times," he told her, "sometimes frivolously. But I'm convinced that this life, this mortal coil, is all there is. 'Our little life is rounded with a sleep,' and there's no Heaven or Hell afterward. I'm seventy years old, and with luck my purse of years is nearly emptied, but while I don't mind laying my remaining days down on a decent wager, I don't want to simply toss them away."
Maria nodded sympathetically and said, "Or even spend them, on saving the lives of strangers?"
Trelawny took a deep breath and repressed an irritable reply. After a few seconds, he said, "You're devout, aren't you? Some species of Christian, I imagine?"
She smiled faintly. "Yes."
"I would say that was a mark against your intelligence, but since you're both nice girls, I won't say it. But you assume a sequel to this life, one in which noble sacrifices are rewarded, or at least noted. I'm convinced that no note is taken at all, and that, as far as any one of us is concerned, the universe comes to an end at the moment of his death."
He smiled. "But if you'll tell me how you got your uncle cross-eyed, I can do it to Miss B., and then I don't think there will be any active vampires left in England."
"But don't their victims who die become vampires, in turn?" asked Christina. "There must by now be a number of those about."
Trelawny exhaled through clenched teeth. Could these women not answer a plain question?
"My suspicion," he said carefully, "is that your uncle and Miss B. have sustained any such; without that sustenance, any second-generation vampires will probably just fall down belatedly dead, like marionettes with the strings cut. Your uncle's are now presumably laid to rest - I'd like to do the same for my patron's."
"Probably," said Christina. "Presumably."
"Your suspicion," added Maria.
Trelawny smiled coldly and got to his feet. "I apologize for wasting your afternoon, ladies. Perhaps your brother would be good enough to shoot her with his silver bullets again, from time to time."
"Mirrors," said Maria quickly.
Christina sighed. "Do sit down, Mr. Trelawny."
Trelawny resumed his seat and leaned forward, raising his white eyebrows.
"My sister appears to have faith in you," Christina said. She blew a stray strand of hair out of her face. "I trust you'll use this information as you say, and not to help your ... patron protect herself!"
"I will use it as I say."
"Very well." Christina bit a fingernail, then spoke in a rush: "These creatures won't ordinarily fix their attention on a mirror, because it would reflect their identities back on themselves, you see, and that's like - apparently it's like randomly rearranging a complicated first-person sentence, so that the verbs and adjectives and nouns are all in the wrong places, and it's all just contradictory gibberish."
"They can no longer utter themselves," put in Maria, "as it were."
"But," Christina went on, "if you scratch lines in the glass and rub some of your blood into the lines, the creature will focus on it, out of its love and concern for you." She blinked several times rapidly and looked away, and Trelawny realized that she had to some extent loved her uncle too.