Christabel nodded and turned around and began shambling back toward her pew.
Father Cyprian looked after her. "Sister Christina has sent us a lot of parishioners," he said. Then, to McKee, "Ten in the morning? Not a lot of people in here on a Friday at that hour. Bring fourteen shillings - two are for the banns, I'm afraid, but the receipt is necessary for the certificate."
McKee smiled. "I'll send out invitations at once."
"And I," the priest said, "have to make some corrections in the banns list."
He shook Crawford's hand and then strode away back toward the altar and the door to the sacristy, and McKee led Crawford and Johanna back out into Bozier's Court.
THAT NIGHT AN ODDLY warm October breeze shook the bare branches of the oaks and elms in Highgate Cemetery. The fire the gravediggers had kindled next to the grave made a spot of glaring orange light in the moonlit landscape of headstones and waving groves. Far overhead, ragged clouds surged across the spotted face of the moon.
Gabriel had been leaning against a tomb thirty feet away, where he could watch the gravediggers plunge and lever their spades in the loam while the cloaked figure of Charles Howell stood by the fire and stared into the deepening hole; but when one of the men eventually climbed out of the grave and fetched a couple of ropes, Gabriel stepped closer, and when the two gravediggers had hauled the dirt-caked coffin up out of the hole and swung it heavily onto the firelit grass, he edged around behind a thickly vine-hung elm to view the proceedings more closely.
He was viewing the coffin from the foot now, from a distance of only a couple of yards, and so when the men pried up the lid and laid it aside, he found himself looking directly at Lizzie's face by the fire's illumination.
Howell and the gravediggers were momentarily motionless, staring into the coffin, and Gabriel stepped hesitantly forward, out of the shadows, and peered.
Lizzie's face was pale but apparently undecayed, framed in masses of red hair that gleamed in the firelight - much more hair than when he had closed the coffin in the Chatham Place flat seven years ago!
Belatedly it occurred to him that the mirror-veil Maria had made was no longer over Lizzie's face.
Gabriel could see the poetry notebook. He had laid it in on top of her hands at her funeral, but Lizzie's smooth white fingers were curled around the edges of it now, and - he blinked rapidly and stared - her fingernails seemed to have grown too, in the grave, and now indented or even pierced the binding.
Lizzie's body was fresh and undecayed, but the notebook was now stained and warped.
Gabriel choked and blinked back tears, glad that her eyes were closed. He retreated back into the shadows behind the elm tree. The warm wind in the trees seemed to be full of whispering voices.
His view was blocked then as Howell at last leaned in and worked with both hands; Gabriel heard popping and scratching, and whispered curses from Howell, and then the man had straightened up, panting, holding Gabriel's ragged notebook. Howell curtly said something to the gravediggers, dug some banknotes out of his waistcoat pocket - the twenty-two pounds with which Gabriel had provided him - and handed it to them and then strode away quickly through the sparse red-lit grass toward the lane and the stairs. Gabriel stepped back as he passed, deeper into the shadows.
The two gravediggers were refastening the lid onto Lizzie's coffin when Gabriel heard Howell's carriage snap and clatter into motion, and he stepped forward into the firelight.
One of the gravediggers looked up at him from under a battered tweed cap. "You weren't along to help, I reckon."
"No," Gabriel agreed. "I came along to pay you to take a rest now, down in your carriage." He dug six gold sovereigns from the pocket of his Inverness cape and gave three to each man. "I'll call you when the rest period is finished."
The men blinked in surprise, and then one of them said, "Take your time, guv'nor!" and they ambled away across the grass toward the stairs.
Gabriel waited until he heard their steps on the gravel lane below the stairs, then crossed to the open grave and stared down into it as he pulled on a pair of gloves.
In the deep shadows he could see a few patches of wood showing under the scuffed dirt, and he sighed and sat down on the edge with his feet swinging in the hole.
I can drop down, he thought, and avoid putting my feet through Papa's coffin, but can I get out again? Will I have to call those two back to help me?
Oh well, I've paid them enough to provide that service too.
He pushed off and landed with a thump, his boots straddling the long mound that was his father's coffin. Quickly he reversed his feet and then crouched, tugging the hammer and chisel from his belt.
He set the chisel blade crossways to the grain of the wood and swung the hammer. There was enough dirt still on the coffin to mask the shape of it, and he hoped he was not about to see his father's feet.
The clang of steel on steel seemed awfully loud, but he supposed the noise was muffled somewhat by the walls of dirt; and after a dozen blows he was able to drop the tools and reach down to pull up a splintered section of still-glossy oak. He wrinkled his nose at a smell like toasted cheese made with a very old, metallic-tasting blue cheese.
He tore the section of wood away, and then by the reflected light of the fire on the grass above he was staring down at his father's collapsed and withered face, black as coal.
His only emotion was intense anxiety to get this over with, and he supposed that he would feel guilt and horror later, at his leisure.
Gabriel pulled the penknife out of his pocket and opened the long blade, but when he pushed his father's cold chin back, the whole neck simply broke, like a roll of frail glass sheets. He brushed thin black shards off his gloves. His hands were visibly shaking now.
He tapped the base of his father's throat with the back end of the knife, and it clinked, steel on black glass.
Whispering shrilly and not even listening to what he was saying, prayers or curses or the multiplication table, he put the knife away and picked up the hammer again - and then he rapped his father's throat smartly with the head of it.
The glassy flesh shattered inward in a thousand pieces, and he picked among them, tossing them aside - and, deeper than he would have thought, he felt the rounded head of the little statue; he gripped it and pulled, and with a creaking and snapping and a shower of glassy throat fragments, the thing was free, and he was holding the little statue he had last seen on the high shelf in his father's bedroom, back in the old house on Charlotte Street.
And there was a faint pressure in his mind, a flavor of greeting and promise.
Suddenly he was moving with feverish haste - he shoved the statue into his pocket and wedged the broken piece of wood back over the hole in the coffin and his father's now crookedly uptilted face, and then he had gripped the grassy edge of the hole and pulled himself up and swung a leg up onto the surface, and a moment later he was lying on his back on the grass, panting so hard that he was blowing spit onto his goatee.
He rolled up onto his hands and knees. The gravediggers had taken their spades away with them, so with his hands he shoved piles of dirt down into the hole until he supposed any evidence of tampering must be concealed - he wasn't going to actually look, for he could imagine the broken piece of wood knocked aside now and his father's black face peering blindly up at him - and he got wearily to his feet.
All at once immensely tired and longing for his distant bed, he trudged to the lane and the steps down to the yard, where the gravediggers straightened up and knocked the coals out of their clay pipes and began trudging back up the steps with their shovels.
Now I've got to get to Howell's house, Gabriel thought as he hurried to the rented Victoria carriage he had left tied up on the far side of the chapel, and convince him that I've been there all along - and if he's there ahead of me, as is likely, I'll claim I had to take a ride in the fresh air.
But I've violated my wife's grave, and my father's, and probably broken my dead father's head right off. It will, he thought as he anticipated the self-loathing sure to come soon, take a powerful lot of fresh air to put some distance between me and the memory of this.
I heard the blood between her fingers hiss;
So that I sat up in my bed and screamed
Once and again; and once to once, she laughed.
Look that you turn not now, - she's at your back...
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "A Last Confession"
"OH! I COULD never have done that," said Christina with a breathless laugh. "But luckily there's no need now."
She leaned back in the forward seat of the hackney coach and smiled warmly at Crawford and Johanna and McKee, who were sitting on the opposite seat. Smells of cologne and damp wool filled the coach.
The traffic was not too badly congested on this rainy Friday morning, and the coach was rattling at a steady pace across the puddled intersection that was Oxford Circus, and Crawford, seated between Johanna and the right-side window, could see through the veils of rain down Regent Street past Jay's Mourning Warehouse to the round, pillared façade of the Argyll Rooms.
Oxford Circus still looked more or less the way John Nash had designed it in the '20s, and, what with Christina's unexpected good news, Crawford let himself indulge in a reassuring sense of continuity.
We don't have to go to France after all, he thought; I don't have to sell my practice. Adelaide and Johanna and I will still be here a year from now. Ten years from now. Not eating frogs in France somewhere, thank God. Perhaps one day we'll be going this way to attend Johanna's wedding, and these awnings and rooftop windows and ranks of chimney pots will mostly still be here.
"Gabriel woke William last night and told him that he had found it," Christina went on, "and by now I'm sure he has destroyed it."
McKee smiled at her with her eyes nearly closed. "I got the impression he sleeps late."
"Well," allowed Christina, "soon he will have destroyed it, if he didn't last night. He has all manner of hammers at his house, and he's only two steps from the river. In any case, we don't have to think about using my blood to make a pair of magical shoes!"
Crawford thought sourly that she might, now that it was apparently unnecessary, at least pretend that she would have gone to the trouble, if called on. She should do it, Trelawny had said two days ago; she's got amends to make, like us all.
"I need to know that he's done it," said Johanna quietly. "And how he destroyed it."
Christina sobered. "Of course, child - I'll inform you all directly I know it's done. He intends to pound it to powder and sift it widely into the river; it's my uncle's physical body, so that should certainly ... unmake him."
She seemed distracted then, and Crawford had to repeat his next question: "What's become of the other one, the one Trelawny travels with?" The priest had said, one up, the other down.
"I believe she's gone too, now," said Christina. "My uncle appeared to me two nights ago, and he said that she was - how did he put it - 'shrunken and hardened and stopped in a box of mirrors.' The way he was, for seven years, apparently." She shook her head. "Queen Boadicea of the Iceni, shrunk to a pebble and locked in a box! I think it must have been Trelawny who managed to do it at last - Maria and I told him long ago how we stifled our uncle."
The coach had passed the Oxford Music Hall - Crawford noted that the time on the clock was ten minutes to ten - and now swerved in to stop in front of the pub at the corner of Bozier's Court.
Crawford levered open the coach door and stepped down to the pavement while opening an umbrella, and Johanna, in a new cambric dress and pink velveteen coat, hopped out right behind him; he reached a gloved hand up to help McKee down, and she too was wearing a new dress: blue silk with a hip-length cape. He remembered the enormous crinoline dress she had been wearing on the night they first met, and he was glad such things were apparently no longer in style - he would probably have had to hire a second coach.
Under a woolen overcoat he was wearing the formal frock coat he had bought seven years ago to replace the one he had lost in Highgate Cemetery. All three of them would have preferred to wear more ordinary clothing - McKee had said this church favored informality - but Christina Rossetti had insisted on buying the new clothes for McKee and Johanna.
Christina herself was clad in a woolen coat and plain brown muslin dress, as resolutely unfashionable as ever. Crawford took her hand as she carefully lowered one foot and then the other onto the wet pavement.
Once inside the church, they shed their damp hats and boots and overcoats in the vestibule and shuffled forward down the center aisle toward where Father Cyprian stood below the altar in the gray light from the stained-glass window above and behind him.
The only other person in the church on this rainy morning was old Christabel, who nodded and smiled when Crawford glanced at her. He waved uncertainly.
"The certificate is made out and the parish marriage-record book is ready to be signed," said the priest, "so there's no use delaying." To Crawford he said, "Do you have a ring?"
"Yes." In his waistcoat pocket he had brought along his mother's wedding ring; he hoped it would fit McKee.
"Let's - " began the priest, but he was interrupted by the squeak of the front door.
Crawford looked back and was somehow not very surprised to see the lean, white-bearded figure of Edward Trelawny in the doorway. The old man glanced around the dim interior and had begun to step back outside when he visibly recognized the people in the aisle.
He grinned and came in, pulling the door closed behind him, and when he had walked up to stand between Crawford and McKee he said, "Any of you know why a dead boy with a parasol should be anxious to get in here? I followed him up from Seven Dials."