Matthew frowned. "What's this?" he said, picking it up. A note was pinned to the outside. He opened it. "From Ysabeau. 'This was an anniversary gift from your father. I thought you might like to give it to Diana. It will look old- fashioned but will suit her hand.'"
The bag held a ring made of three separate gold bands twisted together. The two outer bands were fashioned into ornate sleeves, colored with enamel and studded with smal jewels to resemble embroidery. A golden hand curved out of each sleeve, perfectly executed down to the tiny bones, slender tendons, and minute fingernails.
Clasped between the two hands, on the inner ring, was a huge stone that looked like glass. It was clear and unfaceted, set in a golden bezel with a black painted background. No jeweler would put a hunk of glass in a ring so fine. It was a diamond.
"That belongs in a museum, not on my finger." I was mesmerized by the lifelike hands and tried not to think about the weight of the stone they held.
"My mother used to wear it al the time," Matthew said, picking it up between his thumb and index finger. "She cal ed it her scribble ring because she could write on glass with the point of the diamond." His keen eyes saw some detail of the ring that mine did not. With a twist of the golden hands, the three rings fanned out in his palm. Each band was engraved, the words twining around the flat surfaces.
We peered at the tiny writing.
"They're poesies-verses that people wrote as tokens of affection. This one says ' a ma vie de coer entier,' "
Matthew said, the tip of his index finger touching the gold surface. "It's old French for 'my whole heart for my whole life.' And this, ' mon debut et ma fin,' with an alpha and an omega."
My French was good enough to translate that-"my beginning and my end."
"What's on the inner band?"
"It's engraved on both sides." Matthew read the lines, turning the rings over as he did so. "' Se souvenir du passe, et qu'il ya un avenir.' 'Remember the past, and that there is a future.'"
"The poesies suit us perfectly." It was eerie that Philippe had selected verses for Ysabeau so long ago that could have meaning for Matthew and me today.
"Vampires are also timewalkers of a sort." Matthew fitted the ring together. He took my left hand and looked away, afraid of my reaction. "Wil you wear it?"
I took his chin in my fingers, turning his head toward me, and nodded, quite unable to speak. Matthew's face turned shy, and his eyes dropped to my hand, stil held in his. He slid the ring over my thumb so it rested just above the knuckle.
"With this ring I thee wed, and with my body I thee honor."
Matthew's voice was quiet, and it shook just a bit. He moved the ring deliberately to my index finger, sliding it down until it met the middle joint. "And with al my worldly goods I thee endow." The ring skipped over my middle finger and slid home onto the fourth finger of my left hand.
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." He raised my hand to his mouth and his eyes to mine once more, cold lips pressing the ring into my skin.
"Amen," I repeated. "So now we're married in the eyes of vampires and according to church law." The ring felt heavy, but Ysabeau was right. It did suit me.
"In your eyes, too, I hope." Matthew sounded uncertain.
"Of course we're married in my eyes." Something of my happiness must have shown, because his answering smile was as broad and heartfelt as any I'd seen.
"Let's see if Maman sent more surprises." He dove back into the briefcase and came up with a few more books.
There was another note, also from Ysabeau.
"' These were next to the manuscript you asked for,' "
Matthew read. "' I sent them, too-just in case.' "
"Are they also from 1590?"
"No," Matthew said, his voice thoughtful, "none of them."
He reached into the bag again. When his hand emerged, it was clutching the silver pilgrim's badge from Bethany.
There was no note to explain why it was there.
The clock in the front hal struck ten. We were due to leave-soon.
"I wish I knew why she sent these." Matthew sounded worried.
"Maybe she thought we should carry other things that were precious to you." I knew how strong his attachment was to the tiny silver coffin.
"Not if it makes it harder for you to concentrate on 1590."
He glanced at the ring on my left hand, and I closed my fingers. There was no way he was taking it off, whether it was from 1590 or not.
"We could cal Sarah and ask her what she thinks."
Matthew shook his head. "No. Let's not trouble her. We know what we need to do-take three objects and nothing else from the past or present that might get in the way. We'l make an exception for the ring, now that it's on your finger."
He opened the top book and froze.
"What is it?"
"My annotations are in this book-and I don't remember putting them there."
"It's more than four hundred years old. Maybe you forgot."
In spite of my words, a cold finger ran up my spine.
Matthew flipped through a few more pages and inhaled sharply. "If we leave these books in the keeping room, along with the pilgrim's badge, wil the house take care of them?"
"It wil if we ask it to," I said. "Matthew, what's going on?"
"I'l tel you later. We should go. These," he said, lifting the books and Lazarus's coffin, "need to stay here."
We changed in silence. I took off everything down to my bare skin, shivering as the linen smock slipped over my shoulders. The cuffs skimmed my wrists as it fel to my ankles, and the wide neck drew closed when I tugged on the string.
Matthew was out of his clothes and into his shirt quickly. It nearly reached his knees, and his long white legs stuck out below. While I col ected our clothes, Matthew went to the dining room and came out with stationery and one of his favorite pens. His hand sped across the page, and he folded the single sheet and tucked it into the waiting envelope.
"A note for Sarah," he explained. "We'l ask the house to take care of that, too."
We carried the extra books, the note, and the pilgrim's badge to the keeping room. Mathew put them careful y on the sofa.
"Shal we leave the lights on?" Matthew asked.
"No," I said. "Just the porch light, in case it's stil dark when they come home."
There was a smudge of green when we turned off the lamps. It was my grandmother, rocking in her chair.
"Good-bye, Grandma." Neither Bridget Bishop nor Elizabeth was with her.
"The house needs to take care of those." I pointed to the pile of objects on the sofa.
Don't worry about a thing except for where you're going.
Slowly we walked the length of the house to the back door, shutting off lights as we went. In the family room, Matthew picked up Doctor Faustus, the earring, and the chess piece.
I looked around one last time at the familiar brown kitchen. "Good-bye, house."
Tabitha heard my voice and ran screeching from the stil room. She came to an abrupt halt and stared at us without blinking.
"Good-bye, ma petite, " Matthew said, stooping to scratch her ears.
We'd decided to leave from the hop barn. It was quiet, with no vestiges of modern life to serve as distractions. We moved through the apple orchard and over the frost- covered grass in our bare feet, the cold quickening our steps. When Matthew pul ed open the barn door, my breath was visible in the chil y air.
"It's freezing." I drew my smock closer, teeth chattering.
"There wil be a fire when we arrive at the Old Lodge," he said, handing me the earring.
I put the thin wire through the hole in my ear and held my hand out for the goddess. Matthew dropped her into my palm.
"Wine, of course-red wine." Matthew handed me the book and folded me into his arms, planting a firm kiss on my forehead.
"Where are your rooms?" I shut my eyes, remembering the Old Lodge.
"Upstairs, on the western side of the courtyard, overlooking the deer park."
"And what wil it smel like?"
"Like home," he said. "Wood smoke and roasted meat from the servants' dinner, beeswax from the candles, and the lavender used to keep the linens fresh."
"Can you hear anything special?"
"Nothing at al . Just the bel s from St. Mary's and St.
Michael's, the crackle of the fires, and the dogs snoring on the stairs."
"How do you feel when you're there?" I asked, concentrating on his words and the way they in turn made me feel.
"I've always felt . . . ordinary at the Old Lodge," Matthew said softly. "It's a place where I can be myself."
A whiff of lavender swirled through the air, out of time and place in a Madison hop barn in October. I marveled at the scent and thought of my father's note. My eyes were ful y open to the possibilities of magic now.
"What wil we do tomorrow?"
"We'l walk in the park," he said, his voice a murmur and his arms iron bands around my ribs. "If the weather's fine, we'l go riding. There won't be much in the gardens this time of year. There must be a lute somewhere. I'l teach you to play, if you'd like."
Another scent-spicy and sweet-joined with the lavender, and I saw a tree laden with heavy, golden fruit. A hand stretched up, and a diamond winked in the sunlight, but the fruit was out of reach. I felt frustration and the keen edge of desire, and I was reminded of Emily's tel ing me that magic was in the heart as wel as the mind.
"Is there a quince in the garden?"
"Yes," Matthew said, his mouth against my hair. "The fruit wil be ripe now."
The tree dissolved, though the honeyed scent remained.
Now I saw a shal ow silver dish sitting on a long wooden table. Candles and firelight were reflected in its burnished surface. Piled inside the dish were the bright yel ow quinces that were the source of the scent. My fingers flexed on the cover of the book I held in the present, but in my mind they closed on a piece of fruit in the past.
"I can smel the quinces." Our new life in the Old Lodge was already cal ing to me. "Remember, don't let go-no matter what." With the past everywhere around me, the possibility of losing him was al that was frightening.
"Never," he said firmly.
"And lift up your foot and then put it down again when I tel you."
He chuckled. "I love you, ma lionne." It was an unusual response, but it was enough.
Home, I thought.
My heart tugged with longing.
An unfamiliar bel tol ed the hour.
There was a warm touch of fire against my skin.
The air fil ed with scents of lavender, beeswax, and ripe quince.
"It's time." Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown.