Maria took up the slack. "Then keep that mirror in position - I'd advise putting her and the mirror in a box together, and hiding the box in a secret place. It needn't be a big box, probably - she's likely to diminish in substance a good deal."
THAT WAS SEVEN YEARS ago, Trelawny thought as the hansom cab rattled south through the lamplit streets of Chelsea toward Battersea Bridge, and I'm seventy-seven years old now. And I did not succeed in catching Miss B. in a mirror - though I did manage to drive her away from me. That has been a relief, I do steadfastly insist.
DIRECTLY AFTER LEAVING THE Rossetti sisters' house in Albany Street on that February afternoon in 1862, he had bought a three-foot-tall framed mirror and scratched the glass and rubbed blood from a cut finger onto it, and then he had set it in the chair he usually occupied, and himself sat down cross-legged behind it with a pipe and a book of Shelley's poems to wait for twilight and Miss B.
It was a nostalgic and half-melancholy vigil. Miss B. had loved him, in spite of his evasions and derelictions and their unconsummated pairing, and in the twelve years since the night when he had found her in the ravine outside King's Norton she had shown him marvels that had astonished even him, who had fended off vampires in Italy and questioned ghosts with Lord Byron in Athens and ridden with devils in the gorge below Mount Parnassus!
Trelawny put down the pipe and the book and leaned back against the chair legs, staring into the fire in the grate.
She had shown him visions of the earth as it had been before the sunlight changed, before the air was poisoned by the harsh, flammable element exhaled by the spreading greenness - when the creatures later called Nephilim or fallen angels had filled the red skies with their yet-unwithered wings and shaken the young mountains with their glad choruses...
And on moonless nights she had taken him out in a boat on the western sea, where the luminous curtains of the aurora borealis were reminiscent mirages of the walls of long-perished palaces...
And she had offered him immortality, of a much more tangible sort than what the Rossetti girls looked forward to in their Christian faith ... but it would have required that he renew it periodically.
Trelawny shuddered behind the chair at the thought of that bloody, predatory renewal. He shook his head. In his arrogant youth he might have been able to extend his life by taking the lives of others, but he certainly could not do it now.
There was the rap of a boot on the hall floor -
And then he heard Miss B. fling open the chamber door and step heavily into the room, and he huddled motionless behind the chair. Look at the mirror, he thought; look at my blood. In spite of the fire, the air was suddenly so cold that he could see his breath.
"I see through it to you," came her voice, heavy as gold. "I see through you."
The floor jumped under Trelawny and the curtains swayed across the rocking walls, and as he clutched at the carpet he heard pictures and books hitting the floor, and gritty plaster dust sifted down onto his gray head and he heard a loud clank behind him, which must have been the mirror falling forward out of the chair and landing face-down on the heaving floor.
"You are the translation bridge between our kinds," said her voice. "I must not kill you. I withdraw from you."
And then his ears had popped and the window had burst inward with a crash, and a powerful draft had knocked the chair over and flung papers out into the hallway - and she was gone.
AND SHE DID WITHDRAW, he thought now as his cab rattled over Battersea Bridge. Looking out through the side window, over the forward-rushing rim of the left wheel, he watched distant boats silently interrupting the moon's glitter on the water. Seven years it's been, now, since I've laid eyes on Miss B., though she's presumably still active, somewhere, with somebody. Well, that poet, for one - Swinburne.
On the south side of the bridge, the cab angled northeast through Kennington to the Lambeth Road; and when they arrived at Waterloo Bridge Road, the glow in the sky and the increasing roar of a hundred raised voices let Trelawny know that they were on the threshold of the New Cut. Soon the cab halted, blocked by dozens of milling pedestrians.
He climbed down from the cab and stood for a moment in the middle of the crowded, noisy street; behind him the rows of houses were lost in darkness in spite of the dim yellow rectangles of windows, for ahead of him the street was spangled with dazzling constellations of red and white and yellow light; gas jets fluttered over butcher shops, the pearly glare of gas lamps eclipsed the ruddy radiance of grease lamps, and candles and dips stood everywhere, in glass chimneys at the doorways of shops and stuck into vegetables on the high-piled carts of costermongers. The night breeze was from the east, funneling down the churning street, and it carried a pungent mix of smells: curry, candle wax, fish, perfume...
Booths crowded both sides of the street, and in the space of six yards Trelawny could have bought bootlaces, tin saucepans, or a smoked codfish nearly as tall as himself; and he threaded his way between gentlemen in silk hats, tradesmen in caps and leather aprons, and headless dummies wearing embroidered waistcoats and Norfolk jackets. From all sides rang the din of vendors announcing their wares: "Hot chestnuts!" and "What do you say to these cabbages?" and "Three a penny, don't pass it up!" and "Here's your bloaters!" as if Trelawny had misplaced the disreputable fish in question and had been looking all over the city for them.
As he stepped around some pedestrians and was jostled by others, he kept one hand on his belt buckle, directly over the pistol tucked into his trousers; he wasn't risking some pickpocket making off with it.
Above all the flares and banners on the south side of the street stood the theater he remembered as the Coburg, now known as the Royal Vic, the Corinthian capitals of its four tall pilasters underlit by the lights below, and behind the high scalloped cornice he could just see the brick structure that had been built to hold the stage's famous crystal curtain, which could not be rolled or folded but had to be raised all of a piece.
Trelawny didn't believe he'd been followed, but he made for a gin shop he knew of on the east side of the theater.
The door was already ajar, spilling a streak of yellow gaslight across the stained pavement, and though in pushing it farther open he nearly knocked down a burly fellow standing just inside, Trelawny's fierce gaze made the fellow merely touch his cap and shuffle backward. Trelawny nodded by way of token apology and stepped inside.
Just by the smell, Trelawny could tell that the place had apparently converted from gin to rum since he had last visited - the warm sweet reek of it nearly overpowered the tobacco smoke that hung in layers under the low wooden ceiling, and a big cask rested on a shelf behind the bar with a sign on it that read CHOLERA MIXTURE! He recalled reading that a doctor had recently advised rum as a preventive for that disease, and apparently all the men and women in this narrow gas-lit room were busily attending to their health - though the place still served drinks in pewter mugs, which were reputed to get a person drunk faster than ceramic or glass vessels did.
The white-haired landlady who sat behind the bar took a blackened clay pipe out of her mouth when she saw him.
"Trelawny, you villain," she said, "don't you trust me?"
He recalled that he had loaned her money at one time.
"Keep it," he said curtly. "I just want to pay my respects to Oatie."
"I remember that!" she exclaimed, giggling toothlessly. "It's been a while since anyone gave the poor old soul a thought. I think the door's locked - here. You can leave the key in the lock; I'll send a boy after you to fetch it back."
Trelawny grinned and caught the tossed key, then strode toward the back of the place. Oatie Granwell had been a scissors-and-knife sharpener who had died in 1836, and after his wake had been held in the back room of this place, people had for years continued to use "paying respects to Oatie" as an excuse to leave by the back.
When Trelawny unlocked the door at the far end of the room and swung it open, he saw that the entire rear chamber was gone - he was standing in a dark alley by the loading bay doors of the Royal Vic. Quickly he sprinted across the pebbled pavement to a remembered set of stairs, and when he had climbed them to the narrow unlit first-floor balcony, he was relieved to see that the old beam still spanned the ten-foot gap between this balcony's railing and the roof of a bakery next door. He hopped nimbly up onto the rail, and then stepped carefully across, disdaining to hold his arms out for balance.
And on the bakery roof he was pleased to find that he remembered the path between the skylights; even in daylight they were hard to discern, being as black with soot as the rest of the roof surface, and he knew from experience that an unaware pursuer would inevitably put a foot through one black pane or another.
From the coping on the far side of the roof he leaped across a four-foot gap to the next building, a boardinghouse, and a couple of groggy drinkers sitting by the stairway shed looked up at his booming arrival on the roof, but they made no objection as he stepped over them and clattered away down the interior stairs.
When he stepped out through the south door of the place, he was in New Street, and the only light now was the faint glow behind him in the foggy sky over New Cut; by memory more than sight he found the recessed doorway of Number 12 on the far side of the street, and he groped his way up the dark stairs within.
At the top of the stairs he paused on the landing, straining his eyes to see in the near-total blackness.
This morning in his house in Pelham Crescent he had glanced at the mantelpiece and noticed that the ace of spades had fallen over inside the glass dome he thought of as his Byron bell jar.
In 1824, in Greece, Trelawny had clipped a lock of hair from Lord Byron's corpse, and after the Rossetti woman's funeral in 1862, he had glued a strand of the hair to the playing card so that the card was held nearly upright, and then he had set a lit candle beside it and sealed the glass dome over it all. The candle had soon used up all the vital air in the confined space and gone out, leaving the card and Byron's hair in an atmosphere similar to the primeval Earth's.
And at some time during the last day or so - he did glance at the bell jar pretty regularly! - the strand of Byron's hair had contracted, pulling the card over onto its face.
Byron had been bitten by Doctor Polidori in 1822, in Italy. Trelawny reckoned that the hair was a link to Polidori, a tripwire ... and it seemed that the Rossettis' uncle had recently tripped it, in spite of the assurances of Christina and Maria that their uncle had been banished for good. Inefficient women!
If Polidori was up and active again, then Polidori and Miss B., wherever she was these days, could resume their seven-year-interrupted effort to bring another earthquake to London. And it would be partly Trelawny's fault, he having invited Miss B. back into the world.
On the other hand, it could be that human hair just naturally shrank over the years. He had to make sure.
Long ago he had told the Rossetti sisters about the woman who lived in this house, over the dolly shop.
If she was still alive, if she still lived here, she would surely be approached by Polidori, if in fact he was resurrected.
By touch he established where the corners of the landing were. He was directly in front of her door.
He took a deep breath and knocked.
"Go away," came a woman's languorous voice from within.
Trelawny smiled in the darkness. "You've invited worse things in, Gretchen."
"My God, Trelawny? You must be a hundred years old. Go away, I've got company."
Trelawny tried the doorknob - it turned, but the door rattled against an interior bolt.
"Let me in, Gretchen," he said.
"Write me a letter," came her muffled reply.
Trelawny stepped back and drew the revolver from under his waistcoat, then lifted a boot and kicked the door near the knob. Wood cracked and the door flew inward and banged against some article of furniture.
Trelawny's nostrils flared at a mingled scent of roses and clay as he took two quick steps across the wooden floor inside, spinning to scan the whole room over the sight bead at the end of the gun's barrel.
By the dim glow of a red-shaded lamp he saw two figures reclining on a sofa by an open window on the street side of the long room. One was a woman in a filmy gown, and the other - Trelawny felt his heart begin thumping in his chest - was a pale man with curly hair and blood gleaming on his lips and chin under a disordered mustache.
The man wore a tight-fitting black coat and trousers, ragged at the hems and torn at the elbows and knees, but it was difficult in the faint light to be sure how big or far away he was. Trelawny was careful not to look into the man's eyes.
Trelawny swung the barrel to point at the man's chest, but the woman had stood up and blocked the shot.
"Will you kill me, Edward?" she asked, nearly laughing.
"Yes," he said. "It'll go through you to him." But he couldn't clearly see the figure of the man now, and Trelawny knew he had lost what he sometimes called the elephant of surprise. He blinked away sudden sweat.
The man behind the standing woman seemed to flail long arms, as if trying to stand up, or fly. "Who is it?" he said in a shrill voice like a drill bit twisting in green wood. "I see steel. I smell silver."
The pistol grip was suddenly very hot in Trelawny's right palm; but he held it more tightly and aimed it at a point below the woman's ribs that seemed to cover the broadest part of what might be the man's chest -
But in the moment when he pulled the trigger, the barrel was jerked upward, and the gun fired into the ceiling.
Momentarily deafened by the confined explosion and blinded by the lateral flares from the gap between the barrel and the cylinder, Trelawny leaped back into the doorway; he managed to juggle the hot gun in his nearly sprained hand and not drop it, but his retinas were hopelessly dazzled by the after-glare.