He glimpsed the thing that had been Polidori too, moving like a mountain through the sky, retreating east to the snowy airless heights where nothing organic could live;
And in a house in Holmwood forty miles west of London, Algernon Swinburne dropped his glass of brandy and staggered to the window, but when he had fumbled it open and thrust his head out into the cold wind, the fresh air couldn't provide the sustenance he was now deprived of;
In Chelsea, Gabriel Rossetti stepped back from his dark, cramped painting of Astarte Syricaca and blinked around bewilderedly at the partitions that blocked his view of the garden, and then he sat down and was sobbing because he couldn't remember why he had ever nailed them up;
William Rossetti looked up from his desk and stared through his office window at the gray walls of King's College, and, for just one fleeting moment before returning his attention to the petition at hand, he tried in vain to recall any of the verses he had once been shown, verses that he might have written;
In Christina's bedroom in the house in Torrington Place, the bottle on the bedroom shelf vibrated faintly, and the furry sea mouse slowly sank to the sediment at the bottom;
And across the bridges and rooftops and steeples of London, all the songbirds burst into wild chirping and trilling.
WHEN THE VISIONS ABATED, no time seemed to have elapsed; Crawford was still holding the knifepoint pressed against the stone.
He shook his head and handed the knife back to Johanna, then pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket, folded it, and gently laid it across the hissing gash in the old man's throat.
"Pressure," he told Trelawny, whose hand wobbled up to hold the handkerchief in place. "Not too much."
"Let - me up," whispered Trelawny. His face was pale under his tan and slicked with sweat.
"No! Your larynx would probably fall out on your chest." Crawford looked across at McKee, who had wrestled Rose into a sitting position on the deck. The girl was panting and grinding her teeth.
"She'll be pretty wild for a while yet," commented Johanna. "As I recall."
Christina Rossetti was gripping her cut hand. "I think she'd benefit from staying at the Magdalen Penitentiary," she said.
"It saved me," agreed McKee.
Rose made a sullen suggestion about what Christina might benefit from.
Christina sighed and looked down at Trelawny. "Someone should tell her parents, soon, that she's well."
"I'll do it myself," croaked the old man on the floor, but Crawford frowned and shook his head.
"I'll send Johanna for medical supplies, and I'll clean out the wound and sew you up. But you're going to be living right here for a few weeks, if you live at all. And I mean right here, on the deck - I don't think even a pillow would be a good idea for a few days. Swallowing is likely to be difficult - can your Larks cook soup?"
"My Larks," gasped Trelawny, "are going to be busy tonight disposing of a body."
"I can cook soup," said Johanna. "I can stay here with him." She looked down at the old man. "Who's sleeping in the sleigh these days?"
"I'll turn 'em out," whispered Trelawny. "It was always yours."
Crawford got to his feet, wincing at the pains in his knees and hip. He dug some coins out of his pocket and handed them to Johanna. "Alcohol," he said. "Carbolic acid. There's a stove here? Good. Water. A sewing kit. Thread. Bandages." He glanced down at his scowling, sweating patient; the handkerchief Trelawny was pressing to his throat was already completely blotted and gleaming with blood, and the red puddle on the deck seemed wider. "I'd advise a Bible too, and a priest," Crawford added uneasily.
Christina nodded. "A Catholic priest, I think, when it's something important." Then she bit her lip and looked down. "I'll even - say a rosary."
"Don't talk more foolishness - than you need to, Diamonds," whispered Trelawny. "This is just the ... last stage of the assault I survived fifty years ago. I'll go on surviving it."
"No priest?" said Christina. Her eyes were anxious.
"No priest," echoed Trelawny in a hoarsening whisper. "I married my Zela and loved her without a priest's consent, and when I do die, it will be without one."
Christina gave him a wan smile and then looked at the scattered dust on the deck by Abbas's corpse. She sighed, and said, perhaps to herself, "I only loved one man, and it was my misfortune that he died nine years before I was born."
Crawford stared at her and opened his mouth, then shut it and turned to Johanna. "You'd better hurry up getting those supplies."
Johanna nodded and started toward the ladder. "He won't die of this," she called back over her shoulder. "He'd scorn to."
"She was always the best of the Larks," whispered Trelawny.
April 14, 1882
I want to assure you that, however harassed by memory or by anxiety you may be, I have (more or less) heretofore gone through the same ordeal. I have borne myself till I became unbearable to myself, and then I have found help in confession and absolution and spiritual counsel, and relief inexpressible.
- Christina Rossetti, in a letter to Dante, Gabriel Rossetti, December 2, 1881
THE OLD FIELDSTONE All Saints Church at Birchington-on-Sea, east of the Thames Estuary in northeast Kent, was separated from the North Sea only by a gently descending mile of sand and sparse weeds, but the churchyard was bright with flowering irises and lilacs, and Christina Rossetti had brought woodspurge and forget-me-nots. The angular gray stone steeple was the only interruption of the bright blue sky.
Gabriel had died five days earlier, on the evening of Easter Sunday, at the age of fifty-three. The cause of death had been kidney failure, or a stroke, or the ravages of breaking a chloral hydrate addiction by switching to whisky and morphia. A local doctor had pronounced that Gabriel had simply not wanted to live any longer.
Birchington was a long train ride from Victoria Station in London, but Gabriel had been staying out here in therapeutic retreat, and he had been adamant that he was not to be buried at Highgate Cemetery with Lizzie and his father. No one had argued with him.
The coffin had been carried from the church down to the grave on the shoulders of William Rossetti and five men Crawford didn't recognize, and the priest was now praying over it. The walls of the grave were straightly cut down into the chalk.
Swinburne was absent - at forty-five he had reputedly become something of a penitent hermit, living out in Putney and forswearing drink. Of course his poetry was technically competent but uninspired these days, but he seemed grateful for his deliverance from it; it was said that he even remembered Trelawny fondly.
Trelawny had died only last August, at the age of eighty-eight, having lived actively for four years after Crawford cut the stone ball from his neck.
Christina, at least, had apparently noticed the four figures hanging back by the church porch, and she hobbled up the path to where they stood.
"Adelaide!" she said, squinting in the sunlight but not cringing from it. She touched an old scar on her hand. "And Mr. Crawford. Your beard is white now! And - Johanna... Foyle, is it, now?" When Johanna nodded, Christina turned to the fourth person in the group, a diffident and clean-shaven man of about thirty. "And Mr. Foyle himself?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, bowing.
"I'm sorry I was too ill to attend the wedding ... two years ago already?"
Crawford nodded. "At the church in Bozier's Court."
"I remember it well."
"Trelawny was there," said Johanna. "Muttering heresies."
"And his granddaughter? Rose? Was she at the ceremony?"
"No," said McKee. "I gather she stayed on at the Magdalen house, working there now."
"Ah. I haven't been back there in years." Christina shook her head, and her gray hair blew around her face as she turned to look back down the shallow slope to the churchyard. Absently she blew aside a stray lock.
"No mirrors in Gabriel's coffin," she said, "and William has three children now, the youngest a two-year-old girl. All well, and I don't know if he even remembers now where the bit of Shelley's jawbone is."
Christina glanced at Mr. Foyle and seemed reassured when he nodded, clearly acquainted with the whole story.
"I've - been to Confession," she said, "at a Catholic Church, though it was hard. I truly think you three would benefit from doing the same." She sighed and looked at Crawford. "But if it weren't for your actions, I believe we would all be very different people now, and incalculably worse, living in a London like Dante's Inferno."
"Or dead under an inverted London," said Johanna.
"That too, that too," Christina said distractedly, staring again down the slope at the mourners and the coffin. "I should rejoin the others." She blinked, then focused again on Crawford. "I'm glad you have your spouse and child," she said, and Crawford could hear the effort it took for her not to emphasize some of the words. "And I ... truly do forgive you for the ... sometimes stressful changes you brought us."
Johanna's brown hair was longer now, pinned back against the wind. She cocked her head and smiled at Christina. "We forgive you too," she said, "for the same."
Christina blinked. "Oh, yes. That's - yes, thank you. And may the - the Father forgive us all."
She shivered in the sunlight and then began hobbling back down the path to her brother's burial.