Home > Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(15)

Time's Convert (All Souls Trilogy)(15)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Marcus counted to five before his mother reached for the tea. Chaunceys didn’t gobble their food or behave as though they couldn’t remember their last meal.

Something poked Marcus in the ribs.

It was a wooden whirligig, and Miss Anna Porter was at the end of it. She was Madam Porter’s granddaughter, and she never let Marcus forget that she was one year and one month older than he was. A roll of her brown eyes and a toss of her red head suggested they leave the adults to their conversation and find amusement elsewhere.

But Marcus wanted to stay where he was and hear what had happened at the cemetery. It was something bad, something nobody would talk about in front of him and Anna. Marcus hoped a ghost was involved. He liked a good ghost story.

“They asked for my help, and I had no one to send but Zeb.” Madam Porter sat down with a deep sigh. “It’s on stormy nights when there is a pounding at the door that I miss having a husband.”

Marcus’s mother made a sympathetic noise and sipped at her tea.

Madam Porter’s husband had died a hero, in battle. Zeb had told stories about Master Porter, though, that made Marcus wonder whether he had been a nice man.

“Really, Catherine, you should rent a house in town. Living out by the burial ground cannot be salubrious,” Madam Porter said, changing the subject. She picked up her needlework and began to stitch a bright pattern on the cloth.

“My grandmother said your pa is a drunkard,” Anna whispered, her freckled eyelids narrowed into slits over pale eyes. She was waving the whirligig to and fro, which made the arms move in slow circles. The face on the whirligig, with its curled black hair and dusky skin, looked like Zeb Pruitt.

“Is not.” Marcus grabbed at the whirligig.

“Is too,” Anna taunted, still in a whisper.

“Take that back!” Marcus wrestled the whirligig from Anna’s hands.

Madam Porter and his mother turned, shocked by his outburst.

“Ow!” Anna grabbed at one of her long red curls, lip trembling. “He pulled my hair.”

“I did not,” Marcus protested. “I never touched you.”

“And he took my toy.” Anna’s eyes welled over, her tears dampening her cheek. Marcus snorted.

“Marcus MacNeil.” His mother’s voice was low but intense. “Gentlemen do not steal from defenseless women. You know better than that.”

Anna had strong arms, ran faster than a scalded cat, and had many hearty male cousins. She was far from defenseless.

“Nor do they torment young ladies with pinches and pulls,” his mother said, dashing Marcus’s hope of reprieve. “Since you are not fit for polite society, you will beg Anna’s forgiveness, and Madam Porter’s, too, and wait for me in the barn. And when we get home, your father will hear of this.”

And he would be angry. Marcus’s lip trembled.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Marcus said, bowing slightly to Madam Porter, his fists clenched behind his back. “Please forgive me, Anna.”

“A very pretty apology,” Madam Porter said with an approving nod.

Marcus fled to the barn without waiting for Anna’s response, swallowing down his fears about what awaited him at home and his tears at his mother’s rebuke.

“You all right, Master Marcus?” Zeb Pruitt was propped up on his pitchfork in one of the stalls. Standing beside him, long of limb and broad of shoulder, was Joshua Boston.

“Something happen at the house?” Joshua spit out a long, thin stream of brown liquid. Unlike Zeb, who was in stained work clothes, Joshua was wearing a wool coat with polished buttons.

Marcus hiccupped and shook his head.

“Hmm. Something tells me Miss Anna has been up to mischief,” Zeb said.

“She said my pa is a drunkard,” Marcus said. “It’s not true. He goes to church every Sunday. God answers your prayers. Pa says so. And now I have to tell Pa what happened with Anna and he’s going to be angry with me. Again.”

Zeb and Joshua exchanged long looks.

“Just because a man takes himself to Smith’s tavern on a rainy night to dry off by the fire doesn’t make him a drunkard.” Zeb stuck his pitchfork into a nearby pile of hay and crouched down so he was eye level with Marcus. “What’s this about Mr. MacNeil being angry?”

“He was out all night, and when he came back I was kneeling on the chair. He told me not to do it, hundreds of times.” Marcus quivered just thinking about it. “Pa told me not to disobey him again, or I’d get another beating.”

Joshua said something under his breath that Marcus didn’t catch. Zeb nodded.

“You be sure you stay away from your pa if he’s in a dark mood,” Zeb told him. “Hide in the henhouse, or under the willow by the river until you think it’s safe.”

“How will I know when that is?” Marcus asked, worried he might miss dinner.

“You’ll learn,” Zeb said.

* * *

THAT NIGHT, MARCUS TOOK HIS pillow and arranged it at the top of the stairs. The pain in his backside and legs had gone from a fierce burn to a dull ache. His father had given him the promised beating, and had used a leather strap from the barn this time rather than his hand so that Marcus wouldn’t forget the lesson.

His ma and pa were arguing in the kitchen. Marcus couldn’t make out what the fight was about, but he suspected it had to do with him. His stomach growled with hunger—there hadn’t been enough food at dinner, and his ma had let the bread they were supposed to have with it burn.

“Mind your place, Catherine,” his pa said, storming out of the kitchen and grabbing his hat off the newel post. The woolen felt was dry now, but the brim had wilted and it no longer had a familiar, triangular shape.

Marcus opened his mouth, ready to call out another apology in an attempt to end the shouting. But he wasn’t supposed to interrupt his father and mother when they were talking, so he waited, hoping that his father would turn around and see him sitting there and ask what he was doing out of bed.

“It’s my place to keep this family from ruin,” his mother retorted. “We barely have enough to eat. How are we going to manage if you keep drinking away what’s left of our money?”

His father whirled around, one hand lifted in the air.

Catherine cowered against the wall, shielding her face.

“Don’t you make me give you a beating, too,” Obadiah said softly as he walked out the door.

He never did look back.



14 MAY

Phoebe’s second day as a vampire did not include the dreamy, rapturous experiences she’d had on the first. While her body was learning how to be still, her mind could not—would not—be quiet. Memories, images from her years studying the history of art, lyrics from her favorite songs—all these and more flitted across her brain in an unsettling film where she played the starring role and also comprised the entire audience. Since she had become a vampire, her memories were weirdly addled and unusually sharp.

Her first bicycle was navy blue with white stripes on the fenders.

Where was it now? Phoebe wondered. She thought she had last ridden it at the house in Hampstead.

There was a pub in Hampstead, perfect for stopping in and having lunch when you took a Sunday walk.

Not that she would ever have a Sunday lunch again, Phoebe realized. What would she do on Sundays in the years to come? How would she entertain friends? Neither she nor Marcus went to church. They would have to create a different Sunday routine after they got married, one that didn’t revolve around a big meal.

The church in Devon where her best friend got married had a beautiful window with bits of blue and rose glass in it. Phoebe had stared at its colors and intricate patterns all through the service, marveling at its beauty.

How old was that window? Phoebe was not a glass expert but she suspected it was Victorian—not very old at all.

The celadon glass pitcher downstairs was far more ancient.

Could it be Roman, maybe third century? Its value would be enormous if that were so. Freyja shouldn’t keep it where it could be smashed.

Phoebe had spent a summer in Rome, digging in the ruins and learning about tesserae. It had been so hot and dry that the air singed the tiny hairs in her nose and every inhalation scoured her lungs.

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