But she seemed unconcerned by the squalor. "Ham!" she said. "And onions! And cheese! Have you got mustard?"
"We can do without. Better we talk underground."
"The last time we talked, it was underground."
Johanna had reached up to the larder shelf and hoisted down the platter of ham, and she carried it carefully to the narrow servants' table by the oven and clanked it down.
"Dirt's an extra roof," she said, going back for the cheese. "Hides him from the sun, hides us from him."
Crawford frowned. "'Hides'? But he's dead ... surely." He found a knife in the scullery and wiped it on his shirt, then tugged an onion free from a braid of them and joined her at the table. He set the lamp down beside the platter.
"I thought so too," she said. Her tone was light, but she had pulled her knife out to cut the ham, and he saw the blade shaking. "But he - visited me! - this evening."
She darted a glance at him and might have briefly attempted a smile. "He's thin now, his clothes are black paper, and he smells like mud. He's got to start over, and he wanted to bite me again, get me in his boat again. I ran away from him." She twitched the knife blade. "I already had this, but I got some garlic quick."
Belatedly it occurred to him to wonder how she had been living during these past years. "Stay here. You're safe here."
"Here! He's on to you too. He fancied your mother but got jilted by her, he said - my grandmother! - in the long ago, in Italy. And he can always find me." Her voice broke at last as she added, "He says by his reckoning I'm his d-daughter."
"You're my daughter," Crawford said, with more feeling than he had anticipated. "And I'll protect you from him."
"However much you can. But thanks." She sniffed and scowled and brushed her sleeve across her eyes, and then went on almost briskly, "Was your mother's name Josephine?"
"Yes. How did you - ?"
"He used to call me that, sometimes. How did you see him, that day under the cemetery?"
Crawford blinked. "See him?"
"Where did it look like you saw him? In the old tower full of rolled-up books? On the glass seashore? In the big skull? In the hanging boat? Among the giant wheels?"
"The skull," said Crawford. "You were there - you didn't see the interior of an enormous skull?"
"I only saw a dark tunnel and an underground river with a broken bridge over it. The skull means he's worried. Was. With good reason, as it turned out." She had cut several ragged pieces of ham free of the bone, and now wiped the knife on her sleeve and sat down in one of the two wooden chairs.
"I don't," she said quietly, "want him to get me again. You killed him then, and he stayed dead for seven years. Can you do it again?"
"It wasn't me that did it then." Crawford crouched to draw two mugs of beer from the cask by the coal scuttle, and he set them on the table and then sat down and began slicing the onion. The smells of ham and beer and onions made him realize that he was hungry, and he wondered where there might be clean plates. "But I know the woman who did it. We can tell her it needs doing again."
"I hope she's still alive."
Crawford wrapped a strip of ham around a lump of cheese and some rings of onion and took a bite of it. It tasted wonderful.
"She is," he said as he chewed. "She's a poet, and she's been publishing things steadily." He wondered if Christina Rossetti would still remember him, and he was embarrassed to think that she might.
"A poet?" said his daughter. "I hope her poems haven't suddenly got better."
Crawford remembered Trelawny saying, that day in the cage in Regent's Park, that writing good poetry was "one of their gifts."
"She gets bad reviews," he said hopefully.
On the black brick wall above the doorway to the stairs, a bell rang, loud in the narrow kitchen; both Crawford and the girl jumped.
He had installed an electric doorbell a few years ago. "I believe that means there's someone at the front door," he said.
"Stay down here! You locked the door?"
Crawford had half stood up, and now he sank back into the chair and picked up his beer mug in a trembling hand.
The bell rang again.
He took a long swallow of the lukewarm beer and set the mug down - but a moment later he whispered a curse and stood up. He lifted his chair and carefully walked across the flagstones to the street-side wall, and he set the chair down slowly below one of the ceiling-abutting windows and stepped up onto it.
The window glass was black, and he could see nothing outside.
The bell rang a third time, and then faintly, through the glass in front of his face more than from down the kitchen stairway behind him, he heard the door knocker rapping.
He glanced back at Johanna; she had stood up and was pressing a finger to her lips.
The rapping sounded again, louder, and after thirty seconds he heard boots descending the housefront steps.
The boots clinked against the stone.
The breath stopped in his throat and he glanced over his shoulder at the stairway and calculated how long it would take him to rush up the stairs and down the hall to the front door - too long, perhaps.
So he hopped to the floor, dived to the table and snatched up his beer mug and flung it as hard as he could at the high narrow window.
Even as the broken glass was clattering across the bricks of the area outside and the steamy kitchen air was roiled by the sudden chilly draft, he was on the chair again and calling through the broken pane,
The clinking footsteps halted, then rang down the iron stairs from street level to the bricks of the area, and a moment later Adelaide McKee's remembered face was peering in at him, dimly lit by the lamp on the stove behind him. She must have been practically lying down on the pavement out there.
"John!" she said breathlessly. "Open the damned door and stop breaking your windows!"
She looked past him then, and her eyes widened in astonishment. She tried to speak, then just bit her lip and gave him an urgently questioning look.
"Yes," he said, "it's our daughter."
Crawford looked over his shoulder at Johanna, who was standing by the stairs with her knife drawn.
"Johanna," he said, "it's your mother! She's fully and only human - aren't you, Adelaide? - run upstairs and open the door!"
He turned back to face McKee, and he thrust one hand through the broken window to clutch at her gloved fingers.
"You can't open your door yourself?" she said, squeezing his hand. Tears glinted on her cheek in the lamplight.
"I - " It hadn't occurred to him. "I don't want to let you out of my sight."
The cold night air clearly carried the snap of the door bolt retracting, and McKee glanced upward.
She released his hand and got to her feet, and now he could see only her boots, with the familiar metal pattens strapped to the soles. He heard her say, "I can't stay long."
FIFTEEN SECONDS LATER JOHANNA and McKee were seated at the table, and Crawford was dragging up the cask of beer to sit on.
By Crawford's calculation, McKee was thirty-four now, but she looked as young as Johanna as she gazed wide-eyed at her daughter's face by the now-flickering glare of the lamp.
"You - " McKee said to her, "we - we thought you were killed - I never should have - "
Johanna nodded. She seemed only interested, not upset. "He got killed, that day. It was a good day. But now he's alive again."
"You know?" McKee turned to Crawford. "That's why I came here tonight, to tell you, warn you. The songbirds are in a state. Chichuwee says all the ghosts are jabbering about it and fleeing straight to the river and out to sea. Sister Christina's trick has worn off, or broken, and he'll know us, you and me."
She looked back at Johanna. "And you. How long have you been living here? How did you know he's back up?"
Johanna gave her an uncomfortable smile. "If I'm living here, it's only been for about half an hour - Mr. Crawford's name and address were in his watch." She pulled the watch out of one of her shirt pockets and laid it on the table. "And I've known that he's back for ... about two hours. He came straight to me, but I got away from him, dove into a mountain of shoes and he couldn't follow me among the million old footprints. He's lost all his suppliers, and he can't see very well."
McKee turned a blank gaze from one of them to the other. Then to Johanna she said, "You've had the watch all this time? - seven years! - and you only came to your father tonight?"
"I couldn't read, for a long time. And up to now everything's been good enough."
"What have you - " McKee waved a hand. "Where have you been living?"
Johanna puffed her cheeks and blew out a breath. "Lately in a room off Petticoat Lane, by the Old Clothes Exchange; I sometimes pick up porter work, baling up leather trousers and wigs for Ireland, and old rugs for Holland... I've been sharing a room with two women, and when I can't make my share of the nine-pence week's rent, I sometimes bring home some rug pieces for the floor, so when we drop something it doesn't go straight through the cracks to the donkey stable below. But before that ... a rooftop shed against a chimney, for a while, right after he went away; I was a beggar then, without even deciding to be ... then on a boat by Southwark Bridge, working for the Mud Lark man... I lived with a coster family for a couple of years, I think, selling apples on the streets."
"You live here now," said Crawford firmly. After a second or two, he made himself look at McKee. "Our daughter is not dead." His voice was steady. "Do you remember what I said - the last thing I said to you - in that village, Lower Clapton?"
McKee sat back in her chair, and after glancing around at the narrow kitchen, she looked squarely at him.
From her ragged handbag Crawford heard the mutter of a songbird.
"I'm - where do I start?" she said in a flat voice. "After that day under Highgate Cemetery, I went back to Sudbury, since I'd no longer be bringing a devil's murderous attention with me. But it turned out my parents were dead by that time, and I thought Johanna was too. I came back to London."
But not to me, thought Crawford. With a chilly, sinking feeling in his stomach he remembered her saying, a few minutes ago, I can't stay long.
"What," he began, but his voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat. "What does he do?"
McKee's stare was defiant. "He's a dealer in metal spoons."
Johanna caught Crawford's eye and then glanced meaningfully at McKee's brown coat and faded blue dress, and he gathered that the garments didn't look top class in the girl's professional appraisal.
Crawford met McKee's gaze and nodded gently. "You said there was nothing for you to hope for, anymore, in London."
"Nor anywhere else, I discovered." She shrugged. "And I knew the ins and outs of London already."
Crawford remembered her despair, at their last meeting, and he suspected that she had taken up with this spoons seller out of that despair, out of that self-disgust.
He sighed, emptying his lungs. "How long can you stay?"
"I don't - not long, he gets jealous, and I don't want him spending any money on - but Johanna!" She threw Crawford an uncharacteristically helpless look. "Can she live here?"
"We'll need garlic and mirrors aplenty," said Johanna. "And soon."
"Yes, of course she can stay here," said Crawford.
McKee nodded. "Does that watch work?" she asked Johanna.
"No. And it's been in the river a few times."
McKee glanced at Crawford and then away, and he remembered her saying, I owe you a lot of time. A debt to be written off, he thought.
"God knows what time it is," she said, and got to her feet. She looked yearningly at Johanna and said, "I'll be back soon."
"Tomorrow?" said Johanna with some eagerness. "Morning?"
McKee smiled. "Yes. I promise."
"Bring some mirrors and garlic, and some of your old man's spoons, if they're silver. I'm not going to dare sleep a wink tonight, with just these." She patted her shirt and pants pocket, indicating the knife and, presumably, some garlic.
McKee nodded, tight-lipped. "He sleeps late. I'll tell him he sold the spoons and spent the money on rum," she said. She glanced again at the inert watch. "Unless he's already done that by now."
"Never mind," said Crawford hastily, "I've got crowns and shillings - plenty of silver."
"I knew somebody did," said McKee. She took a cloth-wrapped bundle from her handbag and set it on the table; from inside it Crawford heard a muffled cheeping. "Take that now. A goldfinch - if he really yipes, duck and get your garlic ready." She started to say something more, but exhaled and turned away. Finally she said, "I'll see you tomorrow."
Then she was gone, tapping rapidly up the stairs. A few moments later Crawford and Johanna heard the front door close, and, through the broken window, McKee's metallic footsteps receding.
Johanna was swinging her feet under her chair. "The last thing you said to her, before, was asking her to marry you?"
Crawford stared at her and managed to smile. "Yes."
"That's a man's coat she's got on, much mended, and the boots don't match." She rolled some cheese and onion in a piece of ham as Crawford had done and bit off half of it.