Crawford tried to imagine talking Christina Rossetti into cooperating in this. "Wouldn't your blood work?" he asked. "You're the - what did you say? - the Rosetta stone between the species?"
"Impersonally, at a distance - like the tidal effects of the sun compared to those of the moon. Miss Diamonds is Polidori's immediate redeemer, by her personal blood."
"You think, then," said McKee dubiously, "that this has a chance of actually working?"
Trelawny pursed his scarred lips. "I'd be very surprised if it did. But I wouldn't be ... astonished." He turned and began striding away from the river, toward the close pillars and the pavement of George Street.
Crawford raised a hand, intending to call him back, then just let his hand fall.
"So much for our ambush idea," he said.
McKee shrugged. "We could do what Trelawny's daughter did. Sail to America. Or France - Trelawny said that might do. The Magdalen Penitentiary might still front me money for passage, if I undertake to work it off as a domestic servant."
"I could buy three tickets," said Crawford, squinting thoughtfully. "To France, at least. And we'd want some money for food and lodging. I might need to convert some things to cash."
"In the meantime," said Johanna glumly, "there's the blood shoes."
"One way or another," said McKee, "we need to talk to Sister Christina again." She started to walk away in the direction Trelawny had taken, but Crawford caught her arm.
"If passage to America should be possible - or to France, I can certainly afford that - for the three of us here, you'd do it?" Suddenly he despised his own circumlocution, and he said directly, "Would you come with me, and leave Tom?" His heart was beating rapidly.
"Yes," said McKee in a level tone, "if that would save Johanna."
Crawford nodded. "Are you married to this Tom fellow?"
McKee raised her chin. "Common law."
"Will you marry me? Properly?"
For several seconds, McKee didn't speak. Crawford could peripherally see Johanna staring intently at them, but he didn't take his gaze from McKee's.
She looked away. "That would probably be necessary, for us to get travel documents with our child."
Johanna exhaled audibly through her teeth.
"What I mean is," persisted Crawford, "do you want to marry me?"
McKee looked at him almost angrily. "Do you want to marry me?"
"Yes," said Crawford. "As I have for seven years." He was still holding her elbow.
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, if you've got to have it said straight out. I still think you saw that in my head, then, in that tunnel."
Johanna clapped her hands. "Oh, well done, you two."
Crawford couldn't take a deep breath, and just nodded. He took Johanna's hand in one of his, and McKee's in the other, and started walking back up the pier toward the pillars and the Strand beyond. McKee was looking only straight ahead, but she was holding his hand tightly.
"Where does Johanna sleep?" she asked finally. "At your house."
"It's been Mrs. Middleditch's old room, on the second floor," said Crawford. "You didn't meet her, though, did you? But last night we both wound up in the basement, and I think I'm going to set up two beds down there, for now."
"Could you set up a third bed? Over on Johanna's side of the stove?"
"Easiest thing in the world," said Crawford.
Listen, listen! Everywhere
A low voice is calling me,
And a step is on the stair,
And one comes ye do not see,
Listen, listen! Evermore
A dim hand knocks at the door.
Hear me; he is come again;
My own dearest is come back.
Bring him in from the cold rain...
- Christina Rossetti, "Death's Chill Between"
IT WASN'T ONE of Gabriel's raucous dinners, with jokes and impromptu limericks flying back and forth under the two dozen candles in the Flemish brass chandelier - it was just family and Charles Cayley, whom William had invited mainly to discuss the handling of some ambiguous verbs in translating Dante - but Christina had excused herself after the soup and retired to one of the downstairs sitting rooms to lie down on the sofa under the big, ornately framed mirror.
She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece - ten o'clock, and though Maria would be getting tired, the men would probably go on talking until after midnight.
Of course it would not have occurred to poor William, lost in his merely voyeuristic concerns with literature, that Christina might find it awkward to sit down at dinner with Cayley, whose proposal of marriage she had refused three years ago.
He had been so earnest, that day in the parlor at the Albany Street house, and so disconcerted when she had gently told him that she couldn't marry him!
She had been thirty-five years old then, and Cayley was surely the last suitor she would ever have - and she had always been very fond of him, and he virtually worshipped her. He had even managed to overlook what she knew he thought of as an element of coarseness in her, excusing it as an inevitable result of her charitable work among the prostitutes.
And her diabolical uncle had been, as far as she then knew, laid to permanent rest four years earlier - so there was no reason to fear having children ... and she would have loved to have children.
Ultimately she had simply not considered it fair to Cayley, to marry him when she -
When she -
Go ahead, she thought now as she looked up at the mirror in Gabriel's sitting room, admit it.
When she loved another.
But she was a good enough Christian to suppress and starve that love, and to pray that the object of it might somehow one day be saved from Hell.
She had convinced herself that she was glad, when they had laid Lizzie's poisoning coffin over him; and she had convinced herself that she was horrified, five days ago, when it became clear that he had evaded the mirrors and risen from that grave.
She closed her eyes now, and tears spilled down her cheeks. Assume an attitude long enough, she told herself, and it will become your real one. But if only I had been permitted by circumstances to have a child! Even a niece or nephew - but her siblings were not likely now to have children either.
But, she thought, a child of my own - !
A soft thump on the Sarabend carpet made her open her eyes, and then she simply stared, disoriented.
This wasn't another vision, for she was still in Gabriel's sitting room - but a little boy was standing only a few feet away from her now, wrapped in one of Gabriel's purple Utrecht velvet curtains.
Then she blinked and looked at him more closely - and sat up, alarmed and guilty, for he had clearly been long neglected - he appeared in fact to be near death from starvation: his wide bright eyes sat deep in the round sockets of his skull, and his mouth and nostrils looked like torn spots in a thin sheet of overstretched leather. In fact, if it hadn't been for the lively attention in his eyes, she would have believed he was dead.
Her face and hands stung with a sensation that wasn't tingling only because it was steady, and she was vaguely aware that her heart was pounding rapidly.
But - this must be the boy Gabriel described, she thought. His undead son, born from Lizzie's dead body in the grave.
She didn't even move, except to tilt her head back, when he sprang nimbly onto the back of the couch and, reaching up with his long gray tree-branch arms, draped the curtain over the corners of the big mirror; his arms seemed to stretch out even thinner, like taffy. Now he was wearing only a breechcloth made from one of Gabriel's towels; his knees were the widest parts of his bone-thin gray legs, and his ribs stood out like ridges in eroded wood. The still air was rank with a smell of clay and loam.
Christina pushed back her suddenly damp hair with both trembling hands and tried to think. Gabriel had described the boy as dead, but perhaps he wasn't, quite.
Then she noticed a flapping cut in the gray skin below his left ribs.
"Let me - " she burst out instinctively, "let me get you to a doctor!"
He looked as if he would have blinked at her, if his eyes were able to close, and she pointed a trembling finger at his side.
"I don't bleed," he said. His voice was a harsh quacking.
Perhaps the wound wasn't as bad as it looked; certainly there was no sign of blood. "Then let me - at least - get you some - " she stammered, "something to eat."
"You can't sustain me now."
"But you - what's your name?"
"I haven't got a name. I told you that when I drew you the pictures."
Her right hand twitched, involuntarily. That's right, she told herself - this is the thing we contacted last night, the thing that had no name and couldn't spell. But he can't be alive at all, if we contacted him at a seance!
Don't make it angry, she thought cautiously as the perspiration beaded at her hairline. It doesn't seem to be intelligent.
"What can I," she began, and then the breath stopped in her throat.
A woman had stepped hesitantly into the room, groping as if blind, and Christina recognized her first by the long auburn hair that tumbled over her pale face and down her shoulders.
Christina sagged on the couch, as unable to move as if this were a nightmare.
"Lizzie," she was able to whisper.
"No," said the woman hoarsely. "Her spirit left this form long ago. And the one I have shared it with is gone now too - she is shrunken and hardened and stopped in a box of mirrors. I'm alone here." Lizzie's body tossed its head, throwing the lank hair back, and her heavy-lidded eyes were fixed on Christina. "I need you, my dear. Your mirrors broke me, and I'm not reassembled properly. I love you as I always have - give me your blood, and then you can do what is needed to restore me."
"You're," said Christina softly, "you're John, my uncle John, returned to me..."
For a moment the form of Lizzie Siddal wavered, and in the instant before it snapped back into focus, Christina glimpsed the remembered man's face, the mustache and the lips and the melancholy eyes.
"All borrowed images," came Lizzie's scratchy voice, "but this woman's image is less effort to maintain, to reflect light in, since my partner wore it so recently." The visible body inhaled deeply, lifting the appearance of Lizzie's bosom under the rotted black cloth of the dress. "Last night you refused me," the voice went on, "but we weren't alone. Do not refuse me now, when I need you so desperately."
Christina glanced at the skeletal gray boy.
"He," came Lizzie's voice, and her face was actually smiling, "does not compromise 'alone.'"
Algernon invited these two into this house, Christina thought. They have power here. Still, John doesn't seem willing to simply force me.
"What," she said carefully, "is needed to restore you?"
"Something like cross-pollenization," said Polidori through the appearance of Lizzie's mouth. "Something like sexual recombining of strengths."
Christina's heart was hammering in her chest, and she couldn't speak.
"I need you to get the stone figure that is my physical self," Lizzie's voice went on, "and rub on it the blood of one of my partner's subjects."
"Your partner?" said Christina. My blood was good enough once, she thought, and then she smothered the thought. "That's... Boadicea?"
"Yes, to the extent that I am Polidori. She is not me, and the blood of a subject of hers, charged with her essence, will convey her differentness to me. It will fill these present fissures in me with her unrelated vitality. I will be healed."
"And soonly," grated the nameless gray boy.
"Soonly," agreed the Lizzie figure, swaying with evident weariness. "Blood is made in bones, and every particle of it only lives a hundred days before it dies. My partner is in no position to renew any of it now, and she was stopped five days ago, and the blood of her subjects was not newly imprinted with her essence even then."
He's talking as if it's already agreed that I'll let him have me now, Christina thought. Can I leap up and run out of here? To where?
No, she thought as her heart pounded and her breath came rapid and shallow, I'm not certain I can even get to my feet, and he or the boy would catch me in any case. There's nothing I can do, nothing I can do.
She heard steps in the hall, and the bony gray boy darted to the far side of the couch and huddled himself below the arm of it.
"Whoever comes," said the Lizzie apparition, "make them go, or we will kill them."
Who is it? thought Christina. Whoever it is is only delaying the inevitable.
And it was Charles Cayley who shambled awkwardly into the room, some book in his hands, his bald head gleaming in the light of the one gas jet over the mirror.
"Oh!" he said, blinking at Christina on the couch and the figure of Lizzie standing on the rug. "I don't mean to intrude. I was just..."
Christina stared at him, wondering if she dared wait out another of his interminable pauses. After several seconds, she said, "If you'll excuse us, Charles, we're having a confidential discussion."
"Ah!" he said, bobbing his head and waving the book he carried. His face was red. "Certainly, excuse me, I - "
"I'll say good-bye before we leave," Christina interjected.
Still bobbing his head and mumbling polite inanities, Cayley turned and shambled out of the room. Christina recalled Gabriel's judgment of him: The man's an idiot.