"It was ... there," she told William, pointing at the snowy ground to her right, "about twenty feet below the surface now, where I talked with the watermen. I wonder if their shed is still down there, buried!"
She remembered the old waterman, Hake, telling her, We're well after being ghosts ourselves, and she shivered now in the cold.
"And I saw Papa ... a bit farther on."
She hobbled down the steps, leaning on William's arm as he matched her pace. After walking several yards through the snow, she stopped and pointed down.
William obediently stared down at the frozen grass for a moment, then peered around at the leafless trees and lampposts standing up from the whiteness.
"I expect he's at peace now," he muttered.
"He was, from the moment of his death," said Christina. "I'm sure he went directly to Heaven. But I trust his ghost has dissipated by now - certainly I don't sense him at all here. One of the watermen told me it was remarkable that Papa's had lasted eight years - and it's been nearly a quarter of a century now."
William steered her back toward the arch. "Thank you for showing it to me," he said, "but we should find a cab and get you home. This winter doesn't seem as if it ever means to make way for spring."
Christina sighed and nodded. William had brought this outing on himself, by quizzing her this afternoon about what dangers their uncle might still pose to his growing family. Only two days ago his wife, Lucy, had given birth to their second child, a healthy boy they had named Gabriel Arthur Madox Rossetti.
The discussion had started with Maria's ghost.
Their sister, Maria, had died three months earlier, of cancer, at the All Saint's convent in Margaret Street, and the sisters had refused permission to Christina and her mother to view the body in the coffin, or even to enter the convent mortuary. Christina assumed it was because the sisters recognized the ineradicable Nephilim mark on her soul and therefore feared that she would try to capture Maria's ghost - and in fact Christina had worried about Maria's ghost, cut off from the Heaven-bound soul and perhaps swimming about disconsolately in the cold river. All fear one another, her father's ghost had told her, fourteen years ago; river worms now... Ugly, crushed, blind ... this waits for you all too, remember.
Christina had no doubt that it waited for herself and Gabriel and William, but she had been unable to bear the thought of even a half-sentient fragment of gentle Maria drifting fearfully in the cold river at night, part of what they had called the Sea-People Chorus...
And so she had been inexpressibly grateful when poor, silly, gallant old Charles Cayley had, on New Year's Day, given her Maria's captured ghost.
Cayley had said, with fastidious embarrassment, that he was distressed to see Christina so unhappy, and that he had learned from her that there was another London behind the one he had grown up in. And so he had consulted a series of "spiritualists" who had pointed him eventually to one of several magicians living in the sewers - and, through a hired intermediary, Cayley had had to deliver several cages full of songbirds to the magician in exchange for the peculiar sea creature that contained Maria's ghost.
Cayley had given it to her preserved in a wine bottle filled with brandy. It was a kind of worm called a "sea mouse," or more properly an example of Aphrodita aculeata.
It was a little oval thing no bigger than a baby's shoe, furred with fine crystalline hairs that shifted from blue to green to red as one turned the bottle in the light.
Cayley had provided the magician with various items to draw the ghost to shore, where it could be netted - a copy of a book Maria had written, Letters to My Bible Class, and an old hairbrush of hers, and a sliver from the wooden floor of the old family house on Charlotte Street, which was now a City Registrar's office - and Cayley had not been cheated. Though the creature itself was dead, swirling in the amber brandy, Christina could clearly feel her sister's presence when she held the bottle.
Christina kept the bottle in her bedroom, and sometimes read Tennyson to it by candlelight when the night beyond the windows was especially cold and stormy.
This afternoon in Christina's parlor, William had again obediently held up the bottle and peered into it, though he never sensed any presence of Maria in it. Then he had asked her whether a captive ghost - "I mean a contained and protected ghost," he had added hastily, putting the bottle down - might be a protection for his new family against the lethal attentions of their uncle. Christina had for three years known about the piece of Shelley's jawbone, which seemed so far to be effectively serving that purpose, and William had wondered aloud whether its evident power might derive from some fragment of Shelley's ghost still adhering to it.
Christina had told him that ghosts weren't supposed to last nearly that long, and she had described her nighttime river-side encounter in 1862 with their father's ghost; and William had said, "I'd like to see that spot sometime."
Intrigued by the idea herself, she had got up and fetched her overcoat and shawl and bonnet, and within minutes they had been in a cab bound for the Victoria Embankment.
And in the end she had been able to show him only expanses of frozen dirt where the river shore had once been. Feeling antique and irrelevant now, she let him lead her back to the cab rank by Gatti's Restaurant on Villiers Street.
"I wish your friend Trelawny had more bits of Shelley to give away," she said as a sedate old hackney coach bore them back up Tottenham Court Road toward the house Christina now shared with her mother and two aunts. The streetlamps were already lit and made passing halos on the coach's window glass. "I believe that to some extent our terrible uncle is punishing Gabriel and I for our renunciation of him."
Six years earlier, Christina had nearly died of some ailment that had swelled her throat and made her eyes protrude and permanently darkened her skin; it was tentatively diagnosed as Graves' disease, and she had somewhat recovered since, though her hands shook almost too badly to write, and she still had little energy. The following year Gabriel had tried to kill himself with an overdose of laudanum, perhaps in mimic expiation of his guilt at Lizzie's death; and though he had not died, he now believed that enemies were perpetually spying on him, and he had built partitions in his studio to keep them from peering in at him while he worked. And he took ever-increasing doses of chloral hydrate in brandy in a vain attempt to be able to sleep more than a couple of hours a night.
William was still as responsible and competent at forty-seven as he had ever been, and he was a devoted husband and father - but Christina sometimes sensed a wistful sadness in him, as if he too had chosen to make some never-referred-to but profound sacrifice for the sake of his family.
"I'll ask Trelawny," said William now with a gentle smile. "He always speaks highly of you. He calls you 'Diamonds.'"
The coach had turned in to Torrington Place, and lights glowed in the windows of most of the houses in the row; Christina and her mother and aunts had moved here six months ago, but Christina still sometimes had trouble identifying which of the similar steps and doors were hers.
This evening she was able to tell immediately. "I think you can ask him right now," she said, suddenly very tired.
Four people stood in the lamplight on her doorstep. Though they were shapeless bulks of winter clothing, the white-bearded one was clearly Trelawny himself, and she was pretty sure that two of the others were Adelaide McKee and her husband.
The cab slithered to a stop on icy cobblestones, and William climbed out and helped Christina step down; and he kept hold of her elbow as they nodded to the visitors and made their way carefully up to the lamplit door.
After unlocking it, Christina turned to McKee and said, "I'm afraid I'm not up to guests at the moment, Adelaide. If you would write to me tomorrow - "
"Actually, Miss Rossetti," interrupted Trelawny, "it's William we came to see."
William glanced at his sister, and she sighed and nodded. "Do come in. William can be your host."
"Just for a couple of minutes," said William. "I've got to be getting home myself."
They all trooped up the steps and into the entry hall, where there was another little snowstorm as everyone unwound scarves and took off hats and shrugged out of overcoats, and then William had fetched in another chair from the dining room so that they could all sit in the parlor. Trelawny made quick introductions.
"I'll just join you all in a cup of tea," said Christina, "and then I'll have to ask you all to excuse me." She smiled at Johanna, who now looked very much like her mother did when Christina had first met her at the Magdalen Penitentiary, nineteen years ago. "It's so good to see you again, Johanna!" she said. "You were still a child when I saw you last."
Johanna, sitting between her mother and father on a sofa by the fireplace, nodded and returned the smile. "I remember that you fired two shots from a revolver in my father's surgery."
William, sitting closer to the fire, had clearly been about to ask Trelawny what his business was, but at this he turned to stare at Christina.
She shrugged. "It was a stressful afternoon. And the second shot was just because I dropped the pistol."
Trelawny stood up. "We've come," he said bluntly to William, "to ask you for that piece of Shelley's jawbone that I gave you three years ago."
William blinked up at him, his mouth open. "But - but Edward, surely you know why I can't give it back!"
"We were just talking about it," exclaimed Christina. "Did you know William's wife gave birth to a son two days ago?"
Trelawny bared his teeth in a pained grimace, but he went on, "It was a loan. I'm calling it back now."
William's eyes were wide, and his beard was shaking along with his chin. "I'd be killing my children - and my wife - if I gave it up! Just as I killed our first child, and my wife's brother, when I refused it at first, foolishly!"
"You've had benefit of it," said Trelawny. "Now my grandchild has been taken by your uncle! - the uncle you," he said, turning on Christina, "quickened!"
Christina's face was hot, and she took a breath but then couldn't think of anything to say.
McKee and her husband were looking away, but Johanna - who must be twenty now! - was listening avidly, her blue eyes bright in the glow of the gas-jet chandelier overhead.
"I thought," began Christina. William and Trelawny both swung to face her, so she went on weakly, "I thought we had reached a working truce. William had the fragment of jawbone to protect his family; you," she said, nodding at Trelawny, "were in a favored position; and Adelaide, I thought you three had fled overseas!"
"My idiot daughter moved back to England," said Trelawny, "and now her daughter is a captive of your damnable relative."
"As I was," murmured Johanna.
"As you're likely to be again," snapped McKee, "if we don't get you into a foreign-bound boat damn quick!"
"I can't leave," said Johanna, "while a fourteen-year-old girl is in the trap I was in." She gave Christina a look that was almost merry. "You're the one who saved me, with your mirror trick."
To Trelawny, Christina said in a whisper, "She's fourteen?"
The old man nodded grimly.
"I was fourteen too," Christina said softly, "when I fell into his trap."
"My son is two days old," said William, standing up.
"We've been friends, William," said Trelawny, "but I will have that bit of bone." He drew a revolver from under his coat, hesitated, then stepped to Christina's chair and pointed it diagonally down, straight at her face.
She found herself looking up the barrel, which was only inches in front of her nose - she noticed spiral grooves in the bore, and in that tense moment the only thing in her mind was remote curiosity about whether all guns had that feature.
Trelawny glared sideways at William. "The first incentive I offer," he said, "is the life of your sister. Forfeiting that, you'll find I can bring further incentives to bear."
"I have another idea," Christina said.
CRAWFORD HOPED SHE DID. The Rossettis' mother was in some nearby room preparing tea, and Trelawny might very well be capable of blowing Christina Rossetti's head off right here in the parlor.
Crawford's ears were ringing as if in anticipation of the shot, and Trelawny was too far away across the carpet for Crawford to hope to spring up from the sofa and catch the old man's arm before he could shoot, and William's chair was on the other side of the sofa from Trelawny.
"My sister, Maria," said Christina evenly, "died three months ago. Two months ago a friend acquired her ghost for me. It's in my room upstairs."
"And your idea is...?" grated Trelawny, not lowering the gun barrel.
"Maria always claimed - that is, she never denied - that she had found a way, in her studies, to stop our uncle. She would never tell us what it was, because it apparently involved us committing some mortal sin, and she didn't want to be a party to us damning our souls."
William, almost as pale as his shirt, nodded jerkily. "That's right."
Christina's face had somehow darkened and sagged since Crawford had last seen her, but when she smiled, it was the face he remembered. "She had scruples, do you see?" she said. "While she was living. But ghosts don't have scruples."
For several seconds the clock on the mantel ticked and no one spoke. Then Trelawny lowered the pistol and tucked it back under his coat.