"We shal ask your mother." Matthew swept the fairy princess into his arms and grabbed the pirate by the back of his bandanna. He safely delivered both children into the waiting arms of their parents. Long before reaching them, however, the fairy princess had forgotten her tears. Instead she had one sticky hand wrapped in the col ar of Matthew's sweater and was tapping him lightly on the head with her wand, repeating, "Bippity, bop-pity, BOO!"
"When she grows up and thinks about Prince Charming, he'l look just like you," I told him after he returned to the house. A shower of silver glitter fel as he dipped his head for a kiss. "You're covered with fairy dust," I said, laughing and brushing the last of it from his hair.
Around eight o'clock, when the tide of fairy princesses and pirates turned to Gothic teenagers wearing black lipstick and leather garments festooned with chains, Matthew handed me the basket of candy and retreated to the keeping room.
"Coward," I teased, straightening my hat before answering the door to another gloomy bunch.
Only three minutes before it would be safe to turn out the porch light without ruining the Bishops' Hal oween reputation, we heard another loud knock and a bel owed "Trick or treat!"
"Who can that be?" I groaned, slamming my hat back on my head.
Two young wizards stood on the front steps. One was the paperboy. He was accompanied by a lanky teenager with bad skin and a pierced nose, whom I recognized dimly as belonging to the O'Neil clan. Their costumes, such as they were, consisted of torn jeans, safety-pinned T-shirts, fake blood, plastic teeth, and lengths of dog leash.
"Aren't you a bit old for this, Sammy?"
"It'th Tham now." Sammy's voice was breaking, ful of unexpected ups and downs, and his prosthetic fangs gave him a lisp.
"Hel o, Sam." There were half a dozen pieces in the bottom of the candy basket. "You're welcome to what's left.
We were just about to put out the lights. Shouldn't you be at the Hunters' house, bobbing for apples?"
"We heard your pumpkinth were real y cool thith year."
Sammy shifted from one foot to the other. "And, uh, wel . . ."
He flushed and took out his plastic teeth. "Rob swore he saw a vampire here the other day. I bet him twenty bucks the Bishops wouldn't let one in the house."
"What makes you so sure you'd recognize a vampire if you saw one?"
The vampire in question came out of the keeping room and stood behind me. "Gentlemen," he said quietly. Two adolescent jaws dropped.
"We'd have to be either human or real y stupid not to recognize him," said Rob, awestruck. "He's the biggest vampire I've ever seen."
"Cool." Sammy grinned from ear to ear. He high-fived his friend and grabbed the candy.
"Don't forget to pay up, Sam," I said sternly.
"And, Samuel," Matthew said, his French accent unusual y pronounced, "could I ask you-as a favor to me- not to tel anyone else about this?"
"Ever?" Sammy was incredulous at the notion of keeping such a juicy piece of information to himself.
Matthew's mouth twitched. "No. I see your point. Can you keep quiet until tomorrow?"
"Sure!" Sammy nodded, looking to Rob for confirmation.
"That's only three hours. We can do that. No problem."
They got on their bikes and headed off.
"The roads are dark," Matthew said with a frown of concern. "We should drive them."
"They'l be fine. They're not vampires, but they can definitely find their way to town."
The two bikes skidded to a halt, sending up a shower of loose gravel.
"You want us to turn off the pumpkins?" Sammy shouted from the driveway.
"If you want to," I said. "Thanks!"
Rob O'Neil waved at the left side of the driveway and Sammy at the right, extinguishing al the jack-o'-lanterns with enviable casualness. The two boys rode off, their bikes bumping over the ruts, their progress made easier by the moon and the burgeoning sixth sense of the teenage witch.
I shut the door and leaned against it, groaning. "My feet are kil ing me." I unlaced my boots and kicked them off, tossing the hat onto the steps.
"The page from Ashmole 782 is gone," Matthew announced quietly, leaning against the banister post.
"It's time, then." I pul ed myself away from the old door, and the house moaned softly.
"Make yourself some tea and meet me in the family room. I'l get the bag."
He waited for me on the couch, the soft-sided briefcase sitting closed at his feet and the silver chess piece and gold earring lying on the coffee table. I handed him a glass of wine and sat alongside. "That's the last of the wine."
Matthew eyed my tea. "And that's the last of the tea for you as wel ." He ran his hands nervously through his hair and took a deep breath. "I would have liked to go sometime closer, when there was less death and disease," he began, sounding tentative, "and somewhere closer, with tea and plumbing. But I think you'l like it once you get used to it."
I stil didn't know when or where "it" was.
Matthew bent down to undo the lock. When he opened the bag and saw what was on top, he let out a sigh of relief.
"Thank God. I was afraid Ysabeau might have sent the wrong one."
"You haven't opened the bag yet?" I was amazed at his self-control.
"No." Matthew lifted out a book. "I didn't want to think about it too much. Just in case."
He handed me the book. It had black leather bindings with simple silver borders.
"It's beautiful," I said, running my fingers over its surface.
"Open it." Matthew looked anxious.
"Wil I know where we're going once I do?" Now that the third object was in my hands, I felt strangely reluctant.
"I think so."
The front cover creaked open, and the unmistakable scent of old paper and ink rose in the air. There were no marbled endpapers, no bookplates, no additional blank sheets such as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century col ectors put in their books. And the covers were heavy, indicating that wooden boards were concealed beneath the smoothly stretched leather.
Two lines were written in thick black ink on the first page, in a tight, spiky script of the late sixteenth century.
"' To my own sweet Matt,' " I read aloud. "'Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?'"
The dedication was unsigned, but it was familiar.
"Shakespeare?" I lifted my eyes to Matthew.
"Not original y," he replied, his face tense. "Wil was something of a magpie when it came to col ecting other people's words."
I slowly turned the page.
It wasn't a printed book but a manuscript, written in the same bold hand as the inscription. I looked closer to make out the words.
Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess.
"Jesus," I said hoarsely, clapping the book shut. My hands were shaking.
"He'l laugh like a fool when he hears that was your reaction," Matthew commented.
"Is this what I think it is?"
"How did you get it?"
"Kit gave it to me." Matthew touched the cover lightly.
"Faustus was always my favorite."
Every historian of alchemy knew Christopher Marlowe's play about Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical knowledge and power. I opened the book and ran my fingers over the inscription while Matthew continued.
"Kit and I were friends-good friends-in a dangerous time when there were few creatures you could trust. We raised a certain amount of hel and eyebrows. When Sophie pul ed the chess piece I'd lost to him from her pocket, it seemed clear that England was our destination."
The feeling my fingertips detected in the inscription was not friendship, however. This was a lover's dedication.
"Were you in love with him, too?" I asked quietly.
"No," Matthew said shortly. "I loved Kit, but not the way you mean, and not in the way he wanted. Left to Kit, things would have been different. But it wasn't up to him, and we were never more than friends."
"Did he know what you are?" I hugged the book to my chest like a priceless treasure.
"Yes. We couldn't afford secrets. Besides, he was a daemon, and an unusual y perceptive one at that. You'l soon discover it's pointless trying to keep anything from Kit."
That Christopher Marlowe was a daemon made a certain sense, based on my limited knowledge of him.
"So we're going to England," I said slowly. "When, exactly?"
"Every year a group of us met at the Old Lodge for the old Catholic holidays of Al Saints and Al Souls. Few dared to celebrate them, but it made Kit feel daring and dangerous to commemorate them in some way. He would read us his latest draft of Faustus-he was always fiddling with it, never satisfied. We'd drink too much, play chess, and stay awake until dawn." Matthew drew the manuscript from my arms. He rested it on the table and took my hands in his. "Is this al right with you, mon coeur? We don't have to go. We can think of sometime else."
But it was already too late. The historian in me had started to process the opportunities of life in Elizabethan England.
"There are alchemists in England in 1590."
"Yes," he said warily. "None of them particularly pleasant to be around, given the mercury poisoning and their strange work habits. More important, Diana, there are witches- powerful witches, who can guide your magic."
"Wil you take me to the playhouses?"
"Could I keep you from them?" Matthew's brows rose.
"Probably not." My imagination was caught by the prospect opening before us. "Can we walk through the Royal Exchange? After they light the lamps?"
"Yes." He drew me into his arms. "And go to St. Paul's to hear a sermon, and to Tyburn for an execution. We'l even chat about the inmates with the clerk at Bedlam." His body shook with suppressed laughter. "Good Lord, Diana. I'm taking you to a time when there was plague, few comforts, no tea, and bad dentistry, and al you can think about is what Gresham's Exchange looked like at night."
I pul ed back to look at him with excitement. "Wil I meet the queen?"
"Absolutely not." Matthew pressed me to him with a shudder. "The mere thought of what you might say to Elizabeth Tudor-and she to you-makes my heart falter."
"Coward," I said for the second time that night.
"You wouldn't say so if you knew her better. She eats courtiers for breakfast." Matthew paused. "Besides, there's something else we can do in 1590."
"Somewhere in 1590 there's an alchemical manuscript that wil one day be owned by Elias Ashmole. We might look for it."
"The manuscript might be complete then, its magic unbroken." I extricated myself from his arms and sat back against the cushions, staring in wonder at the three objects on the coffee table. "We're real y going to go back in time."
"We are. Sarah told me we had to be careful not to take anything modern into the past. Marthe made you a smock and me a shirt." Matthew reached into the briefcase again and pul ed out two plain linen garments with long sleeves and strings at the neck. "She had to sew them by hand, and she didn't have much time. They're not fancy, but at least we won't shock whomever we first meet."
He shook them out, and a smal , black velvet bag fel from their linen folds.