Title: Entertaining Angels
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author’s Email: email@example.com
Permission to Archive: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: The Foggs, Jules, and Passepartout.
Summary: Not every lost soul who wanders the earth on All Hallows Eve is dead… yet.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest.
Notes: This is very much a Halloween ghost story. I originally wrote it in the spring of 2003 for fanzine publication, but after more than a year of gathering dust in my files, I decided that its time had come. I dedicate it to the memory of Loralee, who to my regret never had the chance to read this story, but who encouraged me greatly in its writing.
"In all the letting go, we’re
~ The Common Children
The air was bitterly cold, the sunlight on the snow a blinding brilliance. All else faded into that whiteness except the distant sound of rushing water, the frighteningly nearer shouts of searching men… and the hand clutched in his desperate grip.
You have to let go…
With a sudden gasp, Jules Verne started awake, every muscle in his body still rigid with the sensation of falling.
If the shouting from the downstairs sitting-room was any indication, Rebecca Fogg had returned from her latest mission for the British Secret Service.
Rubbing his eyes with his fists, Jules stumbled wearily down the staircase of Phileas Fogg’s house in London. For the last several days, he had been a weak and unprotesting charity case; the Foggs had brought him here to recuperate, after a bout of yellow fever which he had contracted in his travels with them. Under the vigilant care of Fogg’s valet, Jean Passepartout, the penniless young student was sure to have all the nourishing food and rest and warmth he needed to swiftly regain his health.
At the moment, however, he suspected he would as quickly recover in his own drafty garrett on a diet of bread and water.
"Rebecca, it wasn’t your bloody responsibility!" That was quite distinctly the voice of Phileas, assuming a particularly high pitch of anger. "Preston was head of the mission—it should have been for Preston to get his men out of there!"
"You perfectly well know Preston isn’t competent for that sort of action!" Rebecca’s voice now, every bit as sharp as her cousin’s. "In any case, this was not about Preston. This was about my doing as I was ordered, Phileas!"
The decibel level reached a heated climax as Jules arrived at the sitting-room door, but against his better judgment, he did not turn and march back up to the room kept for him. As he stood mentally debating whether or not to knock, the door burst open—disgorging a gaunt and swift-moving figure which very nearly bowled him over. Phileas Fogg disappeared into the hallway without a single backward glance, and a moment later, the slam of the front door resounded through the house.
Somewhat hesitantly, Jules peered around the doorjamb into the sitting-room.
Rebecca was standing in the middle of the room, hands on her hips, for once looking oddly out of place in her prim blue-velvet dress. It was her expression that did it: she made hellfire and brimstone look beautiful, and absolute terror feel thrilling.
Jules adored her.
Passepartout was hovering in the corner, with a posture that in another man one might have suspected to be cowering. He was the first to notice Jules, and his shell-shocked expression instantly gave way to a look of concern as he rushed forward. "Mister Jules!"
"Welcome home, Rebecca," Jules murmured awkwardly. Under the circumstances, it sounded perfectly ridiculous.
"Oh, Jules." Rebecca’s hands dropped away from her hips, and she stepped toward him, her expression suddenly transformed by contrition. "We disturbed you. I’m sorry. Were you asleep?"
"It wasn’t you that woke me up." The young writer once again rubbed his eyes, the shadows beneath them a mute testament to physical exhaustion.
Rebecca’s own eyes darkened. "Your dreams again?"
Jules nodded reluctantly. The visions that had long haunted his sleep had grown worse since his illness, allowing him little rest as he was increasingly awakened by vague terrors. By now, he had almost reached the point of asking Passepartout to concoct something to help him sleep.
Almost, but not quite.
"You will feeling better after you having the good supper," Passepartout said solicitously, resorting to his ubiquitous serving-cart to prepare a cup of coffee.
"Thanks, but I’m not hungry." Jules trudged over to the high-backed sofa and sank down onto it, looking up at Rebecca. "What was Fogg so upset about?"
"He was simply being pig-headed about my latest job," Rebecca replied crisply, and there was evasion in her tone of voice. Crossing the room to sit in the chair facing him, she bluntly changed the subject. "What about this dream of yours?"
As with a nod of thanks he accepted a cup of coffee from Passepartout, Jules gave a tired shrug. "I think I was somewhere in the mountains. I couldn’t see much, because of the glare on the snow… but there were people chasing me. That didn’t matter, though, because I was trying to hold onto someone at the edge of a cliff… Rebecca, what’s wrong?"
While Jules was speaking, Rebecca’s face had turned ashen. She shook her head, a troubled hesitation filling the silence that preceded her reply.
"Jules, what you just described… it’s what happened when my cousin Erasmus died."
A jolt as of electricity shot through Jules. He had known that Erasmus Fogg was killed on a disastrous mission for the Secret Service, but neither Rebecca nor Phileas had ever told him exactly what happened, and he knew it was too painful a subject to pry into. Phileas had been there; had tried, and failed, to save the life of his younger brother.
How could Jules have seen it in a dream?
…Yet the dream was different, and even worse, than the reality.
"But that’s not the way it ended in my dream," Jules murmured, shivering as he stared blankly into the depths of that terrifying vision. "I wouldn’t let go. We both fell."
"Phileas didn’t let go, Jules. It was Erasmus who did." Rebecca looked away, folding her hands in her lap. As she continued, her quiet voice could not have been more changed from the angry shouts she had last exchanged with her cousin.
"But Phileas, even to this day… never has let go."
The streets of London seemed unnaturally quiet for an autumn evening, the shadows of every doorway a little bit deeper. There was a sense of darkness and mystery in the air; this was All Hallows Eve. Once a Catholic holy day built on Celtic rituals, now an obscure observance left to rugged Irish countrysides and superstitious immigrants—yet it had always held a certain fascination for Phileas Fogg.
One ancient Celtic myth held that on All Hallows Eve, the spirit world was free to intertwine with that of the living. In some half-realized part of his mind, Phileas found it a somehow appealing notion that on one night of the year, the souls of the dead were close by.
Well… some of the dead, at least.
The occasion went largely unremarked in the bustling, modernized heart of London, yet here and there on a stoop or a windowsill, a candle guttered within a hollowed-out turnip. Phileas still recalled the legend of the Jack’s-lantern, as told to him in his childhood by the Irish servants of Shillingworth Magna. In life, the "Jack" of the tale was a notorious drunkard and prankster who played a trick upon the Devil; in death he was denied entrance to both Heaven and Hell, the Devil giving him only a single ember to light his way in the darkness.
Phileas had often felt a certain kinship with that ill-fated soul.
Whenever you’re not around… there is no light.
Rebecca was impossible. Simply, utterly impossible. On her latest mission, she had taken too many risks, nearly compromising herself to salvage someone else’s bungled operation. Agent Preston was thoroughly incompetent, in the true Chatsworth mold—but he’d had the resources to solve his own dilemma, if not the brains. Rebecca need not have been endangered.
Orders, indeed. Sir Jonathan Chatsworth’s orders, of course. If the man ordered her to hurl herself from the roof of Whitehall, Phileas had no doubt but that she would do it.
Had she not watched him count the cost that orders had exacted upon him?
Phileas abruptly stopped walking and breathed deeply, surveying his surroundings. His brisk and heedless pace had carried him some distance from Saville Row, into darker and narrower streets.
What was done was done, and there was no point shouting about it now. He always came round to that, even if the next time he would end up shouting again anyway.
The next time…
Please God, let there be a next time.
Meanwhile, there was absolutely no way he could preserve his dignity if he crept back into the house so much as one minute before an hour had passed. There was proper custom to be observed in fits of temper, as with everything else.
A sudden gust of wind cut like a knife down the narrow street, and Phileas shivered, wishing he had not been too angry to snatch up his overcoat as he left. He sighed and reached for his pocketwatch.
A terrific blow smashed into his left ribs from behind, and the world spun away as he fell crashing into the darkness of a trash-littered alley.
Instinctively Phileas swung out at the dark shape looming over him. His right fist connected firmly with flesh and bone, eliciting a grunt from his assailant, but his left went wide as an unexpected red fire of pain blossomed along his side—red fire that turned white as his ribs sustained another blow. A kick, this time. Shouldn’t have been enough to stop Phileas… but it did.
The white fire mingled with a black ache in his head, and as he courted unconsciousness, Phileas knew he had suffered more damage than an unskilled pair of fists should have caused. He felt the spreading warmth of blood—and he knew.
The first blow had been struck by something very, very sharp.
Rough hands were groping over his inert form, dragging greedily at his pockets. He felt the chain of his pocketwatch being snapped loose.
Alright, then, Phileas thought dimly. Have anything except…
Clawlike fingers seized his wrist, prying away his golden bracelet.
Phileas surged upward with a sudden, raging force. His right fist landed solidly. With a muffled oath, his attacker flailed backward—but before Phileas could summon the strength for an offensive strike, another brutal kick landed against his side.
As he crumpled to the hard uneven bricks, Phileas heard fleeing footsteps; but he saw only the white fire, felt its heat transmuted to searing cold…
"For God’s sake, shut the door, Erasmus. It’s freezing out there. Anyway, I still think you’re out of your mind."
With a cavalier shrug, Erasmus Fogg turned from the bleak white landscape outside the hunting shack, shutting the door behind him. He was smiling, as he shambled across the dirt floor to the rough wooden table and sat down, and his eyes were ridiculously dreamy as he dangled his new trinket before them. The gold locket sparkled in the light of the fire from the makeshift hearth.
It was so typically Erasmus, Phileas thought with exasperation. Here they were, camping out in a hovel somewhere on the side of a desolate snowbound waste of a Prussian mountain, hours away from a vital rendezvous with a double agent—and Erasmus had decided it was time to discuss family issues.
With a frustrated sigh, Phileas rose from the fireside and stalked over to the table, leaning across it to stare firmly at Erasmus. "I’m serious, Ras. You can’t go through with it."
His brother pointedly ignored him, continuing to admire the skilled craftsmanship of the locket. Without Phileas’ knowledge, he had purchased it from a goldsmith in the village at the foot of the mountain, intent upon making a gift of it to the woman he was convinced he was in love with.
"Why not?" The younger Fogg looked up at Phileas, an abrupt demand in his expression and voice. "Phil, I love Rebecca. In fact, when we’re home from this mission… I intend to ask her to marry me."
"Oh, good Lord…"
"What? You had no complaints when I asked her before."
"Ras, on that particular occasion, you were spectacularly drunk. You know as well as I do that Rebecca didn’t take you seriously." Phileas sat down across from Erasmus. "Listen to me. If you do this… it will only cause a great deal of harm."
Erasmus stared at him blankly for a long moment. Then, slowly, an odd smile flitted across his boyish face.
"I think you’re jealous, Phil."
"I am not—" Phileas began, only to cut himself off sharply. He paused, sighed, and drew a deep breath. Now, of all times, was a horrible occasion to trample his brother’s feelings—but Erasmus was not giving him any way around it.
"Rebecca… doesn’t share your feelings," he said quietly.
The smile was gone instantly from Erasmus’ face. He sat for a long moment in stony silence, and Phileas could feel the storm brewing. That was the way of it with Foggs.
"How should you know?" Erasmus jerked suddenly to his feet. "You haven’t spent half the time with her that I have, Phileas. You don’t know her at all. How could you be the judge of what she feels or doesn’t feel about me?"
There was truth in that, as far as it went. Erasmus was, and had always been, closer than Phileas to their cousin Rebecca. They were two of a kind: hot-tempered, recklessly adventurous, indifferent to the accepted ideas about what was decent and proper in English society. No one, Phileas included, treated Rebecca the way Erasmus did, and for that she loved him—as an equal and a friend. She wanted nothing more, and in her eyes, to ask her hand in marriage would be asking her to become something less.
It was because Phileas stood removed from that friendship between his brother and cousin that he could see clearly the way Rebecca felt.
Slowly rising as well, Phileas spoke gently. "I simply know, Ras."
"It’s no affair of yours!"
"Watching over my family is my affair. Seeing that you don’t make a very foolish mistake is my affair." Resolutely Phileas reached out and took away the locket, its delicate gold chain slipping from the grasp of Erasmus’ tightened fist. "I’m not going to see you destroy your friendship with Rebecca. She adores you, Ras… but not that way."
For a long moment his brother stared at him, shock and anger etched into that ruddy youthful face which was so much more suited to cheerfulness and laughter. Then, with a sharp huff of breath, he turned away and folded his arms.
Phileas closed his eyes in a moment of silent heartache. Then he tucked away the locket beneath his coat, and took out his pocketwatch.
"We have to start moving if we’re to reach the rendezvous point in time," he announced, turning to douse the fire on the hearth. "Come on."
Not without some reluctance, personal tension gave way to official obedience. Erasmus slowly turned and preceded Phileas out the door of the hunting shack, trudging off into the diamond-bright snow. With a final sigh, the elder Fogg shook his head and followed.
Half a dozen paces into that cold whiteness, two gunshots ripped the air.
As many times as that moment played itself out in his memory in the years to come, Phileas would never determine whether he first heard the sound, or felt the heavy blow that knocked the breath from his lungs. He dropped to the frozen ground, calculated thought giving way to raw instinct.
Uphill of the hunting shack, two dark figures moved between the leafless trees. Prussian marksmen, closing in to confirm the kill; human wolves drawn to the scent of blood.
Phileas drew a breath, and drew his pistol, feeling the bitter cold of that forsaken place gather squarely within his soul.
He repaid two bullets for theirs, and the marksmen moved no more.
The word, and all of its monstrous implications, pounded in Phileas’ mind. Yet the danger was immediate; he pushed away thoughts of the cause for a later reckoning. Allotting himself two seconds to gasp for breath, he clawed at the ache in his chest. His fingers closed over the locket and brought it up, to find the remains of a bullet sunk deep into its gilded surface—a bullet that had been meant for his heart.
Erasmus, with his youthful conviction of his own immortality, should have long since popped up out of the snow with some flippant remark. His heart skipping a beat, Phileas pushed himself halfway to his feet and tumbled over the edge of the snowbank.
Erasmus lay unmoving in a small valley between the white drifts.
Unconsciously Phileas thrust the locket beneath the folds of his coat as he stumbled toward his brother. He had covered half the distance before Erasmus raised his head, his face taut with pain—yet there was something quizzical and surprised, too, about his expression.
He was clutching his stomach, and Phileas could see the bright redness welling up between his fingers.
You see? You’re mortal after all, you idiot.
As Phileas reached his side, Erasmus looked up, the bafflement changing to a determination which filled the elder brother’s heart with a moment of incredible wonder. He held out his right hand—the one not presently employed in staunching his bleeding. "Help me up."
"You’re not going to insist that I go on without you?" The nervous humor was unthinkably perverse, and Phileas could not recognize the strained, hoarse voice as his own.
Erasmus grimaced, a pale shadow of a smile. "Would you?"
The thunder of hoofbeats was rising from farther down the mountain. Ten horses. Fifteen.
"When Hell freezes over," Phileas growled, and put his arm around Erasmus, lifting him to his feet. He closed his eyes to the drops of scarlet dripping onto the snow, and with his brother leaning heavily on his shoulder, they set out to meet their divergent fates: the uncertain, and the final.
It was rather ignominious, really.
What armies and assassins, vengeful supernatural beings and even the League of Darkness could not do, one lowly thief had accomplished on the streets of London: the demise of Phileas Fogg.
This was the thought that turned over in Phileas’ mind, as he lay bleeding his life away in a cold dark alley. More than any other consideration, that humiliating concept roused his effort to move, to survive—but his wounds brought him down before he could stagger four steps toward the mouth of the alley. His attacker’s knife must have found something vital, in its single lucky stroke.
Odds. That, eventually, was what it came down to, Phileas thought rather dreamily, staring up toward the one starlit patch of sky that was visible between the close-crowded roofs. The odds had overlooked him for much of his life. Odds that he would not return from a mission; odds that a Prussian bullet would not find the single spot on his person which was shielded by a small gold trinket.
No, the odds had never cared to give him his comeuppance for relentlessly courting them… but sooner or later, the house must always win.
He wouldn’t have minded so terribly much, if not for the argument. Fate had caught him in a moment of embarrassing disregard for the precious value of those close to him. His last words with Rebecca had been spoken in anger—as had his last real conversation with Erasmus.
"Ye gods, Phil. You really have been hard at your cups tonight, haven’t you?"
A unique sort of chill crept down Phileas’ spine. The voice was distinct; he had not imagined it in any sense that he could comprehend, and his years of intimacy with alcohol had taught him a great deal about imagining things. Yet it was a voice which could not be.
The sliver of moonlight falling into the alley had brightened and widened as the moon rose higher in the sky. A dark shape detached itself from the shadows and stepped into that light, gingerly, as if appraising a very delicate situation. Said appraisal was summed up by a disapproving shake of the head.
Erasmus, just as Phileas had last seen him—only without the blood.
Phileas blinked several times and let out a slow breath. His head was throbbing more thunderously than any hangover he’d ever had; the brick-paved surface of the alley had gotten in more than one crack at him, during the fight with his attacker. That explained much, of course. A good solid concussion, perhaps even a fractured skull.
Now a pretty delusion to let him know how far gone he was.
"Come on, Phil. I know you can hear me." The figment of his fading mind that purported to be Erasmus leaned down, hands braced on his knees, peering at Phileas with a long-suffering expression. "You’re only lucky some desperate character hasn’t come along and robbed you."
A hiccuping sound that was suspiciously like a giggle somehow made its way out of Phileas. It hurt, but it couldn’t be helped.
"Alright then, have it your own way." Erasmus reached out to put his hands under Phileas’ arms, as if to lift him to his feet.
For an hallucination, this was proving to be a most vivid experience. Phileas could actually feel the firm pressure of Erasmus’ hands taking hold of him; even a sharp pain as the wound in his side was jarred. He let out a soft grunt, and instinctively attempted to brush away the intrusive hand.
His uselessly clawing fingers found nothing solid to grasp.
At almost the same moment, the apparition started and drew back. Phileas heard Erasmus’ sharp intake of breath; he saw, in the colorless moonlight, the black blood on his brother’s hands.
Equally black memories suddenly threatened to swallow Phileas up. Erasmus—the blood…
His own blood, this time.
Then his persistent hallucination was kneeling beside him. Without ceremony his arm was pushed out of the way, and he felt his wound being explored by the hands which were not there. "What happened? Shot? Stabbed? Phileas!"
Even for a dying man, this was all really a bit too much. Phileas closed his eyes and turned his head away, trying to will his mind to abandon this illusion. To die with a clear mind was surely not too much to ask; to maintain enough dignity, at least, to be aware of reality, instead of delirious and conversing with imaginary phantoms.
"Answer me, Phil…"
For the first time, Phileas spoke directly to this apparition. The words somehow felt as murderous as a knife plunged into his brother’s heart.
"You’re dead, Erasmus."
For a moment, Phileas thought he was alone. For a moment as he opened his eyes, that thought filled him with an unspeakable horror.
Yet Erasmus was still there, gazing off into the middle distance. The expression on his face was one of surprise—and something more. Concern and puzzlement and… yes. Realization.
"I was falling," he said quietly—to all appearances unaware of the pain those three words aroused in Phileas’ soul. "Falling for what seemed like an eternity… and then… I was here."
He raised his eyes, and once more, Phileas saw a young man’s startled disillusionment harden into the steel of determination. Smiling grimly, Erasmus placed a hand over his.
The touch held the chill of an icy Prussian river.
"I am here," Erasmus said, in a firm, quiet voice. "And I intend to keep you alive."
For a moment, a profound silence filled the alley.
Then Phileas began to laugh.
It was choked and painful and it ended in a cough that gurgled most disturbingly in his left lung—but it was a laugh, nonetheless. The irony, the impossibility of the situation appealed to him. It was now Erasmus who proposed to hold on and not let go.
No. Not Erasmus. Not his brother’s spirit… but a machination of his own mind.
"If you’re really here," Phileas rasped, "you might be so kind as to go and fetch a doctor." It seemed like a reasonable idea. At the very least, a pretext by which to drive off this illusion.
Erasmus started slightly. He looked up, toward the mouth of the alley, then down again at Phileas. His brow was creased by a frown of confusion; he shook his head. "I… can’t."
"Ah." Phileas closed his eyes, a silent dismissal. "Let me tell you why that is, Erasmus. It’s because you aren’t really here at all… I’m only imagining you."
He could feel a frustrated tension in the silence which followed this blunt pronouncement.
"Believe that if you want," Erasmus grated at last. There were some scraping sounds as he moved—and Phileas suddenly felt himself hauled bodily up from the ground.
His eyes snapped open as pain flared in his side, but the movement was too swift to resist. It was over as quickly as it began, and he found his head and shoulders resting on the lap of Erasmus, who now sat with his back braced against one of the walls enclosing the alley. His right arm lay lightly across Phileas’ body, clasping a hand over his side to staunch and shelter the wound there.
Somewhat absurdly, Phileas’ first reaction was indignation. To be manhandled by a mirage was an entirely new level of indignity—yet the very fact of its unreality made it pointless to argue. Besides, hallucination or not, he felt somehow warmer and more comfortable there… in his brother’s arms.
"I know my time is short," Erasmus whispered. "I can’t leave you, but I will help you… if I can."
It was the tone of voice he had always used when he was utterly transfixed by an idea. Occasions such as, for example, the last day of his life, in the hunting shack… and on the cliff. And in spite of himself, Phileas found himself giving in to that once-familiar bullheadedness.
Closing his eyes, he grudgingly resigned himself to whatever illusions his mind might seek, to ease the shock of dying.
The ticking of the clock in the sitting-room seemed to be getting louder.
Well, perhaps it wasn’t, but its relentless sound was beginning to grate on Jules’ nerves. It resonated across the void left by the absence of a friend. Fogg had been gone for nearly two hours now, and his supper was left to grow cold, much to Passepartout’s distress.
Yet it wasn’t the noise of the clock that was distracting Jules from his writing. For the better part of the last hour, he had been sitting at the desk with his notebook open before him, but the pencil in his hand remained unmoving. The limitless possibilities of the blank page should have inspired him—but the longer he stared at it, the more its empty whiteness reflected a lonely expanse of mountain snow.
Phileas never has let go.
Perhaps that was the meaning of the dream, then. In the same sense that Fogg had not let go, he too had fallen—and to even deeper depths than his brother. Jules never had learned to understand those depths of blame and guilt; he saw only rare glimpses of them, for the substance of his past, if not the shadow of it, was something which Fogg held locked away deep within his heart. Yet in every moment that found him silent and still, it was all there behind his eyes, stealing a few shades of their light.
You have to let go…
Jules jerked upright in his chair, like a marionette whose strings had been pulled taut. A sudden sense of urgency was vibrating in his nerves. He turned to look over his shoulder at Rebecca, but she was sitting on the sofa with a book in her hands, oblivious to his sudden movement. He knew, as well, that her mood was still… precarious. Perhaps only more so since he had related his dream—no doubt stirring memories which must have been painful for her.
Swallowing hard, he rose and stepped away from the desk. "Rebecca… I think we should go look for Phileas."
Two blue eyes raised themselves from the retreat of the printed word, to fasten upon his with a look of mild—and mildly reproving—incredulity. "What on earth for, Jules? He’s just had a fuss and gone out drinking or playing cards. You know he does it all the time."
"I know, but…" How could he explain a feeling of un-rightness? Jules shook his head, and tried to win with mere persistence what he had no logical reason to request. "I just feel like something might be wrong. I’d feel better if he were here."
The book snapped shut. Rebecca set it aside with a dubious expression and leaned forward, folding her arms over her knees. "Jules, you’ve been ill, and you shouldn’t be running around London in the night air. Besides, Phileas could be in any of a hundred places—half of which do not even permit women within their doors." Her voice dropped indignantly upon this conclusion.
Passepartout, who had been standing by and fussing with the tea-service, chose that moment to come to Jules’ defense.
"Miss Rebecca, I am thinking Mister Jules is right. Is the Eve of All Souls. Many scary things walking the earth on this night." The valet solemnly crossed himself, eyes turned heavenward. "The dead spirits, they come back, to haunt the living."
"Poppycock." Rebecca pronounced the annoyingly English word with a tone of finality.
Two unwavering French gazes meted out a silent reply.
With a long-suffering sigh, Rebecca suddenly rose from the sofa. "Oh, all right! We’ll go out and look for Phileas—and he can very well hope that I am not the one who finds him first. ‘Dead spirits’, indeed… Come along, Jules, you had better dress warmly."
She did not remember Lazarus, then. Jules wondered if Fogg had ever really bothered to tell her.
However, that was a story for a more peaceful Eve of All Souls, when ghostly tales could be told amongst friends round the fireside. There was an idea in that; Passepartout would relish the opportunity to share his grandmother’s superstitious yarns, and Rebecca might be amused by them when she was in a better mood. Fogg, of course, would sit lurking behind his newspaper and scoff at such things—but that was only to be expected.
His heart torn between hope and dread, Jules followed Rebecca and Passepartout from the room.
"Phileas, stay awake. Stay with me."
The voice distracted Phileas from the contemplation of a most enticing darkness. His head hurt, and he was bloody uncomfortable, and who was talking to him and why couldn’t he just sleep?
Then he remembered.
Stabbed somewhere round about the spleen, or the left lung perhaps, and robbed. Bleeding to death in an alley. A worthless way to die, even by his own ambivalent valuation of his life.
And a cracked head conjuring the delusion of his dead brother to keep him company.
With great reluctance Phileas opened his eyes to find Erasmus still holding him, peering down anxiously into his face. The worry that was reflected there eased just a little at the sight of his annoyed grimace. "Ah, good. Come on, Phil… don’t leave me now."
Something about those words affected Phileas profoundly.
He had not left—had not let go—when Erasmus had asked him, begged him to. Now Erasmus asked him to stay, and he could not refuse his brother again. Even if this wasn’t real, he could know that he had done his best to humor this shadow of Erasmus; the thought would count, at least to him. Letting out a ragged breath, he silently collected himself. His strength. His will to survive.
Erasmus apparently noted the effort, because he smiled gently, if perhaps a bit sadly. "That’s better. You must talk to me, and keep alert."
"I don’t feel like talking," Phileas retorted querulously. His voice was low and rough; his throat ached, and he was thirsty, although the pain in his side seemed to have diminished. "You talk. If you really are Erasmus… you ought to be able to tell me something about the glories of the Pearly Gates. —Or are you better acquainted with a different sphere?"
"I won’t dignify that with a reply." Beneath him Erasmus shifted his position slightly, as though he had sat still for too long and was feeling a cramp, and on some level it amused Phileas that an hallucination—or indeed a ghost—should be subject to such physical discomfort. "I don’t remember."
"I don’t suppose you’ve seen Father, then." Phileas closed his eyes. "No, of course not… You could never have gone where he must be."
The silence in reply stretched just a bit too far, and he looked up to search Erasmus’ eyes. He found deep sorrow there—and for all he refused to believe that this was truly his brother, he suddenly regretted that he should have caused that pain.
"Then Father is dead," Erasmus said softly. "I thought, somehow, but… Tell me, Phil, what happened to him."
"His heart failed. Some time after…" Phileas couldn’t say the words. In a very deep place within his own heart, he was sure the horror which took place on that Prussian mountain had killed Sir Boniface Fogg, as surely as it had killed his younger son.
That… and his elder son’s bitter rejection of him, in the aftermath.
Erasmus was quiet for a long moment. When he spoke at last, his words astounded Phileas.
"Then… it was me that killed him."
"No!" Phileas managed a slight shake of his head. "Absolutely not. It was you who made him truly live. God knows Father never thought I was worth living for… or dying for."
Phileas was the elder, the heir apparent. From the day of his birth, Sir Boniface Fogg had intended to make his son worthy of that duty and privilege—worthy to succeed him as head of the British Secret Service. His means of assuring that had been hard, sometimes even cruel… and ultimately, a failure. Even Phileas’ own mother had watched what he became at the hands of his father, seen the shadows that lingered in his soul, and regretted it; and, thank God, had not permitted the same to befall Erasmus.
Yet Erasmus had accepted willingly the duty which Phileas resented, and for that, their father loved him. As for Phileas, he was a lost cause, a fatally flawed experiment.
He closed his eyes, remembering the hand of his brother as it slipped from his, and later the hand of their grieving father extended to him at Erasmus’ memorial service—a hand which he had refused to take. It was the harsh and calculating hand which had sought to shape his life to Sir Boniface’s own grim purposes; the silently searching, pleading hand which, not an hour later, he had pushed away from him forever.
"No, Ras. It was me… I killed him, too."
A slight start passed through Erasmus. "What?"
"You don’t know what really happened on that mountain. The truth came too late." Phileas drew a breath, deep and painful, and felt it tremble with the force of emotions aroused. "Father knew there were questions about the integrity of that double agent we were sent to meet. He knew… and he sent us anyway."
Silence, for a long moment. Erasmus leaned back slightly, his posture stiffening, in a manner very typical of a Fogg who was confronting an unpleasant fact.
"Ah," he said at last. Phileas had perfected every nuance of that eloquent monosyllable, but Erasmus had always possessed a command of its expressive range, as well.
"Well, the truth is… I would have done the same," he concluded, after a long, contemplative moment.
Struck speechless, an expression of shock was Phileas’ only response.
"Oh, come on, Phil. The information that double agent claimed to have could have broken the security of Prussia’s entire intelligence network—and doubts or not, he’d steered us right in the past. You more than anyone ought to recognize a good gamble when you see it."
"Father gambled with the lives of his own sons," Phileas ground out. "Pawns on a chessboard, Ras… he didn’t care."
"No. Phil, listen to me. I know he was harder on you than on me; I know you and Mother protected me. But I know things you don’t, as well. I remember once when we were young, after you’d been punished—no doubt for something I had done. I saw Father standing outside the door of your room, listening to you cry… almost in tears himself. I know he didn’t take any pleasure in being harsh with us." Erasmus paused. "I think he knew the kind of life he lived could put us in danger, and he wanted to make us strong enough to protect ourselves—because he loved us. He loved us both."
It was an interesting theory, and Phileas wished he could believe it. If he could have felt that his father had loved him, perhaps he could have resented less what his father had made him become: something he feared no one could love.
"He blamed me, Ras," Phileas whispered, his voice becoming rough. "When I came home, without you… he dared to blame me, when I—"
"Shh." Erasmus laid his left hand on the side of Phileas’ head, stroking his hair, almost the way a mother would comfort a child. "That just sounds like Father being Father—always in need of someone to shout at. Anyway, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to take what I deserved of it. Seems you took the blame for my stupidity yet again."
Phileas rigidly blinked away the tears he felt gathering in his eyes. "I’m the elder. Looking after you was my responsibility."
"Do I detect a note of wounded pride in your voice?" Erasmus grinned down at him. "Yes, Phil, you were the responsible one. You were the careful one, at least when it came to me, and you did your best to shelter me. I find, however… that sometimes one only wins by letting go."
On those solemn words his eyes met Phileas’, filled with a directness and meaning that forced the elder Fogg to look away, lest he lose his composure.
"I didn’t want you to be like me," Phileas murmured.
"And you were just like Father." Erasmus grinned at Phileas’ ungrateful glare. "I was once fool enough to take your concern as jealousy, you know. I thought you were always trying to come between Father and I—protecting me whether I wanted it or not, and all of that. It’s only now I realize… I was the one who came between you and him. God, even after… when you needed each other most."
"Ah, but you between us was the only tie that Father and I ever had." Phileas smiled ruefully. "Warring over the fate of your eternal soul was the one thing we had in common."
His brother chuckled softly. "In that case, I’m afraid Father won my soul. And yours into the bargain, I suppose."
"No. Not mine… Not all of it." Phileas closed his eyes briefly. "I quit the Service, after."
Erasmus gave a start as though he had been pinched.
"Does that really surprise you?" Phileas felt a stirring of grim amusement that was not unwelcome.
"Knowing now what happened between you and Father… no, I suppose it shouldn’t." Erasmus carefully shifted the weight of Phileas’ upper body across his lap. "It’s only that, finding you here like this… well, I rather assumed some foreign assassin had happened along. But if no one is out to kill you just now, then precisely how did you get into this fix?"
"Oh, I can assure you, I am still wanted dead in any number of countries. Rebecca has seen to that." Not quite comfortable with the way Erasmus had settled him, Phileas moved slightly, grimacing at the renewed pain. "In point of fact, a common thief caught me by surprise. A grand and noble ending for a Fogg, don’t you think?"
His brother ignored the bitter sarcasm; he always had. "It’s no ending if I can help it."
"Do you know… the wretch even got your locket. Or what was left of it."
A faint smile flitted over Erasmus’ lips. "You mean to say you’ve actually kept it with you?"
"After a fashion. I had the gold made into a bracelet. It’s not funny," Phileas grumbled, as Erasmus let out a snort of surprise and amusement. "It was a gift from your heart, meant to win Rebecca’s… and it caught a bullet meant for mine. I suppose I thought there was something binding in that. I wanted to keep it near me. I should have given it to her, but—"
"I’m glad you didn’t." Erasmus shook his head at Phileas’ puzzled frown. "You were right, Phil. Rebecca was not a prize for me to win, and I would’ve lost her esteem if I’d treated her as such. I was only a friend—and I’d be very grateful if you let it stay that way. Don’t let her search the past for evidence of things better left unsaid; don’t tell her how I felt. Please."
Phileas winced. "I don’t believe I’ll be telling Rebecca anything anymore, Ras."
"Here, none of that now." Erasmus shook Phileas’ shoulder very gently, in mild admonishment. "You’re going to live, because I’m trusting you in my place to take care of our sweet… innocent… little lamb of a cousin." He grinned. "Or do you think you might not be quite up to the task?"
A crooked smile was Phileas’ skeptical response. "I do believe you’re asking a miracle."
"A miracle," Erasmus repeated thoughtfully. He lowered his eyes, and a gentle smile crossed his face. "Yes, Phil… I think a miracle would do very nicely."
On the front stoop of McLeod’s gambling house, Rebecca Fogg primly adjusted her hat and dusted off her lace gloves, casting an ill-humored glance over her shoulder at the door. "Well. I don’t think Phileas was in there."
"You could have just asked," Jules retorted plaintively. With a wince he rubbed his shoulder, his fingers finding a tear in the seam of his coat. One of Fogg’s coats, actually, requisitioned from Fogg’s wardrobe by Rebecca, over the misgivings of Passepartout. It was too long for Jules, but warmer than his own, and far better suited to the sort of places Fogg frequented.
And now it had been ripped in a slight… altercation, caused by Rebecca.
"Jules, that gentleman made an insult to my honor." Rebecca floated down the steps, with the grace and beauty of a thundercloud. "I thought he needed a bit of a talking-to."
"With the fists?" Passepartout interjected dubiously, rubbing the back of his head—which Jules thought had recently suffered a forceful collision with a swinging wine bottle. At an ominous glance from Rebecca, the valet took a step behind his fellow Frenchman.
"I don’t know about you two," Rebecca announced flatly, "but I’ve had enough of this. Wherever he is, Phileas can take care of himself perfectly well."
Heaving a sigh, Jules trailed after Rebecca as she started off down Piccadilly. They had inquired at most of Fogg’s particular haunts, from the Reform Club to McLeod’s, without any success in finding him—and Jules had only become more concerned. Fogg was a man of strict habits, at least when he wasn’t being shot at, and his absence in his habitual places did not bode well.
Perhaps he was already back at the house, working up to a hangover… provided he ever got hangovers anymore, after half a lifetime of hard drinking. Jules couldn’t remember any evidence to that effect. It was just one more facet of Fogg’s annoying superiority that he could spend an entire evening with the bottle, and still appear fit to take on an army by dawn.
"’Ere now, you looks like a gen’l’man of good taste. ’Ave a look at this."
With a start, Jules turned to face the summons. A short, grizzled-looking man in a dirty pea jacket stood by a streetlamp, peering up at him brightly from beneath the brim of a battered cap. He held a small bundle of something in his mittened hands.
"Jules, who is that?" Rebecca had stopped walking and turned to observe—taking no notice of the fact that Passepartout continued to trudge obliviously onward.
The man glanced toward Rebecca, then smiled conspiratorially at Jules. "Want a pretty thing for your lydy friend? Let’s see now." With a rather poor attempt at a flourish, he spread open the rust-spotted handkerchief in which his bundle was wrapped. Within it lay a tangle of watches and bits of jewelry, most in questionable condition; in all probability, stolen.
Perhaps it was the way he turned his hand, some curious trick of the light. One of the trinkets caught the glow of the streetlamp just so, and for an instant, reflected a flash of brilliant whiteness.
Hoofbeats and gunshots and scarlet against snow—
It was Phileas Fogg’s bracelet.
Almost reflexively Jules caught the old peddler’s wrist, prompting a slight grunt of protest, but he didn’t care. He picked up the bracelet. It was no mistake; there, on the underside, was a small scuffed spot which Passepartout had caused with an experimental polishing solvent. Fogg had come close to slaying his valet over the error, and Jules hadn’t understood why. He’d never met another man who wore a bracelet. What did that slender band of gold mean to his friend?
The clasp was broken. It had not been gently removed from its owner’s wrist.
"Where did you get this?" Jules demanded.
The peddler squinted at him dubiously. "I buyed it off a man what wanted to sell it, not two hours past. If you’re a-likin’ of it, sir—"
With sudden force, Jules shoved the peddler against the lamppost. "What man?"
The threat in his own voice frightened him; the alarm and anger that drove him to hold an old man pinned by the throat frightened him.
Rebecca had reached his side, and her light but restraining hand came to rest on his arm. "Jules! What’s the matter?"
Fogg was in trouble—and that frightened him.
"I never seen ’im afore, honest, guv’nor!" The peddler tried vainly to squirm away. "Ugly brute ’e was too—face all puffed up and bloody. Somebody did ’im a good one, that’s sure enough!"
"Did who?" Rebecca protested.
"Whoever it was that took this from Fogg." Jules held up the bracelet between finger and thumb for her to see clearly in the light.
Rebecca stared for a moment. Then, without ceremony, she pushed Jules out of the way, and her dainty lace-gloved hands replaced his at the peddler’s throat.
"I would like to know who sold you this, and where," she said. So quietly. Just the way her cousin spoke, when it meant a wrong answer was going to get someone seriously hurt.
"I swear I don’t know ’is name!" the peddler protested frantically. "I ain’t seen ’im ever, afore ’e comes up to me along about Saint James’ and says let’s bargain, and that’s all, Ma’am!"
"Saint James’ Square." Rebecca abruptly released the peddler, who slumped against the lamppost and gasped for breath. "We’ve already been down that way, asking after Phileas at the Reform Club."
Jules swallowed hard. "But… if he’s hurt…"
It was difficult to tell in the dim yellow lamplight, but he thought he saw Rebecca turn pale, in the moment before she turned on her heel and hurried off in the direction of Saint James’ Square. Passepartout, who had finally realized he was walking alone and was hurrying back to rejoin them, swiftly changed his course at a sharp gesture from her. Clutching the bracelet, Jules moved to follow.
"’Ere!" The peddler had evidently recovered his wits, now that Rebecca was retreating, and he raised his voice in protest as Jules began to walk away. "I bought that right and fair, and if you’re thinking you’ll be takin’ it, I want what’s owin’ me."
Jules stopped in his tracks. The bracelet may have been stolen goods, but if the peddler claimed to have bought it in good faith, Jules could see no way around giving him the benefit of the doubt—especially after they had all but assaulted him. In any case, he was in neither the mood nor the condition to fight over it. On the other hand, what little money the young writer had was safely tucked away in his coat pocket, back on Saville Row. The pockets of Fogg’s coat which he was now wearing were empty. Rebecca would doubtless have some money at hand… but at the moment, it seemed extremely unwise to get in her way with this little dilemma. Perhaps later Jules could sneak back and retrieve Fogg’s bracelet, but all that mattered now was retrieving Fogg himself.
Sorry, Fogg, he thought, and throwing the bracelet at the feet of the peddler, he ran after Rebecca.
Phileas must have been drowsing, for he became suddenly aware that Erasmus was moving, gently easing him down onto the cold bricks paving the alley. He opened his eyes, perturbed by such a disruption of his comfort—although he now felt little pain. "What are you doing?"
Erasmus was crouching over him. His left hand was resting lightly on Phileas’ chest, as seemingly both a comfort and a restraint. Yet his gaze, as it met Phileas’, was distant.
"I have to leave now."
The elder brother’s heart skipped a beat, his muddled mind trying to make sense of the words. Erasmus, leaving him alone in the cold again—letting go, falling away. No. He couldn’t this time, not again. Never again.
Phileas drew a breath, drew upon whatever faith was in him… and seized Erasmus’ hand in both of his, feeling his brother’s flesh and bone become solid in his grasp.
Erasmus looked down at his captured hand; then up again, slowly, to meet Phileas’ triumphant gaze. And he smiled, with the infinite sadness of which only a Fogg was capable.
"Don’t say it," Phileas hissed. "Don’t you dare."
An icy chill had begun to work its way from his fingertips up through his hands, spreading from the point of their physical contact. Without knowing how, Phileas understood precisely what it was. It was the touch of that which had taken Erasmus once—and now had come for him again.
Phileas held Death in his hands.
Holding his brother’s gaze, Erasmus slowly shook his head, and there stretched open between them a chasm of emotion as vast and chilling as a mountain gorge in midwinter.
"You have to let go, Phileas."
Snarling a curse, the elder Fogg tightened his grip, and felt the numbing cold progress up into his arms. He knew that it was creeping slowly, steadily toward his heart—there to still its beating. Yet Erasmus had made no effort to pull away… and Phileas realized suddenly that he could not.
Only by Phileas’ own free will could they both be released.
"There’s nothing you can do to keep me," Erasmus said softly. "If you try to cheat Death, you’ll only forfeit your own life."
"It’s forfeit, then," Phileas ground out. "I won’t let you go again."
"Phileas." Erasmus leaned closer, an earnest plea in his eyes; they reminded Phileas of his father’s eyes, that last day, at the memorial. "It isn’t your time. You’re meant to live, for others’ sakes if not for yourself. Please, don’t undo the work I came back to do tonight."
Phileas squeezed his eyes shut. The first tendrils of cold slithered into his chest, crystallizing slowly, like frost gathering on a windowpane.
"If you believe you owe me a debt, then I discharge it. Better still, I transfer it to Rebecca. Repay me for my life by protecting hers—because if you only throw away the life I’ve tried to save, you’ll dishonor me, Phileas." Erasmus drew a deep breath. "You have to let go."
For Rebecca. For honor.
Erasmus knew too well how to reach Phileas’ heart before Death could.
Something broke within him, and slowly, his fingers loosened their grip on Erasmus’ hand. His eyes had become clouded with tears, and he closed them again, clinging to one final image of anxious hope and relief in his brother’s face.
"I don’t want to lose you again," he whispered, as the cold closed in around his heart.
"Never, Phileas. I am always with you." Erasmus paused, and a gentle humor crept into his voice. "Hurry now. I think Father is waiting for me—and you know how he gets when one of us is late."
The joke was so perfectly, naturally Ras, and the sob gathering within Phileas escaped as a short, gasping laugh of bittersweet despair. Sometimes one only wins by letting go.
"Give Father my regrets that I have no intention of joining him… for a very long time."
And Phileas let go.
The deadly chill retreated, but Erasmus’ hand still rested on Phileas’ chest for a long moment. Then he felt his brother lean closer. Light fingers brushed his tears away; a kiss was pressed against his forehead, warm as a shaft of sunlight, breathing life into his soul.
"Rest now," Erasmus whispered, and the darkness faded away.
The jarring cry woke Phileas rudely from what felt very much like a deep and comfortable sleep. The cold and darkness of the alley, the throbbing pain in his head, rushed straight back to the top of his awareness. Two—no, three figures were closing in on him. And that waft of rose perfume…
It was Rebecca, and that meant Passepartout and Jules had to be near as well. His eyes flew open; indeed, his servant and the young writer were bending over him.
"Steady, Phileas." Rebecca was kneeling by his head, and if his bleary eyes did not deceive him in the poor light of the alley, her expression was one not of concern… but disgust. "Why must you do this to yourself? …Come on, let’s get him up."
Before Phileas could protest, Verne and Passepartout had him by the arms and were hauling him upright. Even as he unsteadily got his feet underneath him, he reached for his wounded side, an instinctive effort to hold his insides in—
But there was no pain.
His breath caught, and he gingerly probed his ribs with his fingers; nothing. He lifted his hand and looked at it in the moonlight; not a trace of blood.
A dream… all a dream.
"Phileas?" Now Rebecca’s voice wavered uncertainly. "Are you alright?"
He blinked and frowned, amazement warring with bitter disappointment in his heart. "Yes."
Well, almost. His head still hurt like the Devil, and his balance was none too trustworthy; the concussion was certainly real enough. He tried to straighten to his full height, swayed dangerously, and was caught by Verne and Passepartout. As he gripped Verne’s shoulder to steady himself, his fingers found a ragged tear in the younger man’s coatsleeve.
"Why Verne, presenting yourself like this in public?" he murmured dryly, fingering the damage. He peered more closely at the garment, recognized it, and scowled—with more dismay than he truly felt. "And my best coat, really, Verne."
The younger man ducked his head, his blush visible even in the dark. "It’s… a long story."
Rebecca folded her arms and glowered at her cousin. "And speaking of long stories. What happened to you, Phileas? We already know you were robbed." She paused, her voice lowering. "You must have been drunk to let that happen."
So that was what they thought. Just like Erasmus—or what he’d thought was Erasmus. They assumed he had gone out to muddle his head with drink, rather than clear it in the evening air; find Phileas Fogg lying in a gutter, and he must obviously have passed out drunk. Never mind that it was not alcohol, but worry over Rebecca’s welfare that had clouded his alertness at the time.
Oh well… Perhaps it was what he deserved. It stung, but after all, Rebecca had not said it with very much conviction. In fact, for a brief moment, he’d thought he heard genuine fear for him in her voice… but he felt as far away from fear as he ever had in his life.
"I needed to let go," he said simply.
His cousin sighed and shook her head, turning to Jules and Passepartout. "Let’s take him home."
Stepping into his house on Saville Row brought Phileas a more intense feeling of comfort than usual. He was still dazed, and now grappling with the certainty that his visit from Erasmus could not have been real, but only the product of a head injury. It was a difficult conclusion to come down to, after the moment of absolute belief which he had experienced.
He hadn’t much time to dwell on it. Passepartout insisted—in his own polite and servile way, of course—on subjecting Phileas to his mildly inept nursing skills. So, in short order, Phileas was squirming on a chair in the sitting-room as his valet examined the back of his head. There seemed to be no serious injury, but he had taken a distinct lump, probably when he was first felled by the thief. That part of his misadventure was quite real, as proven by the articles missing from his person: his pocketwatch, a bit of money. Nothing of great value to him… except for the bracelet.
While Phileas was being thus administered to, Verne sank into a chair, after throwing the illicitly borrowed coat over the back of it. His paleness contrasted sharply with the dark shadows under his eyes, which were half-open at best. He was going to pass out himself before long.
"Oh, Passepartout, stop fussing with me and get Verne up to his bed," Phileas groused suddenly, trying to duck away from his servant’s hands.
Verne snapped to alertness. "No, I’m alright. You first, Fogg."
Rebecca had given Phileas some sketchy details of their search for him on the way home. She was seated on the sofa now, hands folded in her lap. "Well, Phileas, the authorities should have no trouble finding the thief, after what you did to him. At least according to the man he allegedly sold your things to. Oh, I really should have kept hold of him for questioning."
"Never mind," Phileas said quietly. "There’s plenty of time to sort all that out. Actually, what I’d like to know is… why did you come looking for me?"
His cousin shot a glance toward Verne, who was drooping in his chair like an unwatered flower. The writer jerked to attention as though he had been physically prodded. "What? Oh… I just… had a feeling."
Phileas arched an eyebrow in bemusement. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one being affected oddly by All Hallows Eve, after all.
"Master, I will getting some ice for this lumpiness," Passepartout announced behind him, and trotted out of the room before Phileas could negate the proposal.
A sudden, quiet snore came from the direction of Verne’s chair.
Rebecca smiled, rose from the sofa, and crossed the room to gently spread Phileas’ damaged coat over their sleeping friend. In a very motherly way she tucked him in, and Phileas thought he heard her whisper something—"No nightmares tonight, Jules"—but he wasn’t quite sure.
Phileas sighed; he was tired as well, and his head still ached. Looking up at his cousin, he said, "Bugger Passepartout’s ice. What I want is to sleep." With that he rose from his seat, and slowly walked out of the room. Rebecca followed at a few paces’ distance, perhaps concerned that he might fall over, but he didn’t feel like minding a little concern just now.
Halfway down the hall, he was arrested by Passepartout’s voice. "Master?"
He turned slowly, expecting some form of reproach for escaping Passepartout’s tender mercies, but that was not the case. The valet was coming up the hall toward him, looking more perplexed than usual as he turned over some small item in his hands.
"There was a knock-knocking at the door, and I am finding only this on the doorstep." Passepartout held out the object for his master’s inspection.
Phileas stared for a long moment. Then, snatching the object from Passepartout’s hands, he headed for the front door at a full run.
The stout locks were a miserable nuisance as his fingers stumbled over the bolts. At last they gave way, and he threw the door open. As he did so, to the southeast, he could hear the bells of the great Parliament clock-tower begin to ring out across the city.
The street was deserted. Nothing so much as a stray cat was stirring on Saville Row.
A wave of rapidly shifting emotions swept through Phileas: disappointment, grief, gladness, and finally, understanding. He looked down at the bracelet—his bracelet—now resting safely in the palm of his hand, and clutching it against his heart, he smiled solemnly.
The bells ceased to ring; he had not counted the chimes, but he knew. It was midnight, now the first day of November, and All Hallows Eve was past.
"Phileas?" Rebecca queried behind him. "What’s wrong?"
He closed the door slowly, and only then turned to face her, his smile warming. "Nothing is wrong," he answered, stepping aside to let Passepartout dutifully rebolt the locks.
Rebecca stared at the bracelet in puzzled curiosity. "Whoever could have brought that back? I suppose the peddler must have had a change of heart—but how could he have found us?"
"No," Phileas replied quietly. "It was… a very old and dear friend."
She gave him an odd look, but did not question him further. Meanwhile, Passepartout had finished with the locks, and was now peering at the bracelet as well—with a less comprehending but more observant eye than Rebecca’s.
"The fastening has broke, Master," he noted. "Passepartout could fixing this… if you will wanting."
Phileas frowned at his sometimes overly inventive manservant, remembering the debacle of the polishing-solvent—but then his expression softened, and with a faint sigh, he reverently turned over the bracelet to Passepartout. "Oh, very well."
The Frenchman smiled. "Yes, Master! I will even fixing the scrapement which idiot Passepartout caused with the untarnishing agency."
"No. Don’t do that." Phileas put his hand over Passepartout’s. "Leave it as it is. Only repair the clasp."
Passepartout frowned in mild puzzlement, but clicked his heels together and bowed slightly. "Then I will putting it away safe until morning, Master. You are wanting for bed now?"
"Yes." Phileas smiled wearily. "I am wanting for bed. But see to that, first."
The valet bowed again, and scurried off.
"I never have understood why you wear that thing, Phileas," Rebecca mused, watching Passepartout’s retreat.
"Ah. Well." Phileas came as close as he ever did to shrugging. "Only a piece of the past, my dear cousin. And perhaps one of the many I would do better to let go… but it has its place in my heart."
A place which a bullet should otherwise have occupied, he added silently.
In short order Phileas lay in bed, half-asleep, as Passepartout moved about the bedroom and fussed with various articles of clothing—laying out his master’s wardrobe for the next day, then gathering the clothes which Phileas had just replaced on his own person with his nightshirt. The nearly inaudible sound of the valet going about his domestic tasks was oddly comforting.
He had been wrong, Phileas decided, to compare himself to that lost soul for whom the Jack’s-lantern was named. Perhaps his way, too, lay somewhere between Heaven and Hell—but he had more, much more, than one lonely spark to fill the darkness. He had Rebecca and Verne and Passepartout. As long as he walked in the light of their affection and friendship, his soul was not yet lost.
A muffled noise of perplexity came from Passepartout’s direction. Phileas frowned, and reluctantly rolled over to survey whatever problem had arisen. "What is it?"
"Your clothings, Master." Passepartout turned, holding up the shirt Phileas had been wearing that night. "How was this happened?"
So saying, he thrust three fingers through a large hole beneath the left sleeve, waggling them at Phileas. Then he withdrew his hand, shrugging both his shoulders and his eyebrows.
For a moment, Phileas gazed in wonder at the knife-slashed garment.
Then he calmly rolled over again, drawing the covers up around him. "A minor accident, Passepartout. Have it mended, will you? I rather like that shirt."
He could almost hear the gears grinding in Passepartout’s head. "Yes, Master."
After a few more moments, Passepartout slipped out of the room with the clothes that needed laundering and mending. Silence descended, and Phileas committed himself to his need for sleep.
He was not quite sure whether or not he had drowsed off when he heard his door open again. The scent of roses identified Rebecca; he lay still, feigning sleep, as he sensed her closing in on him. Her hair tickled his cheek as she leaned over him—and she placed a kiss on his forehead, light as a breath, in precisely the place where Erasmus had done the same.
"You’re utterly impossible, Phileas," she whispered fondly. "But I love you anyway."
She silently withdrew. Phileas let her get halfway to the door before he turned his head and spoke.
His cousin froze, hesitated, and turned, perhaps somewhat chagrined—not only at her words and deed, but her state of undress. She was wearing a dressing-gown over her nightgown, and her long copper-red hair hung loose over her shoulders.
"Yes, Phileas?" she answered, badly attempting to sound casual.
He smiled. "What would you say, if I told you I had spent the evening… arguing with Erasmus?"
She gaped in surprise—yet somehow, she seemed to lack the incredulity he had expected. And gradually, the expression changed to a smile that must have been very much like his.
"I might say that it was a dream come true," Rebecca said softly. "Good night, Phileas."
She went out of the room, and Phileas closed his eyes.
The sitting-room clock was ticking again, but this time, Jules Verne did not find it annoying. Now it was as comforting a reminder and reassurance of life as the pulse in his own veins. No more did he feel the fear of time that he had felt earlier; the fear that they would find his friend Phileas Fogg too late. They had found him, safe and reasonably well. Everyone was safely home, and for once Jules felt he might sleep without the night terrors that so often came upon him—something of an irony for the Eve of All Saints, when thoughts might so easily become dark with ghosts and witches and other terrible things.
So he drowsed right where he was, curled up in the armchair in the sitting-room. Someone had covered him with Fogg’s coat, but he wasn’t sure who; Rebecca, perhaps, or Passepartout.
Distantly he heard the sound of the door closing. As he drifted in the pleasant twilight between sleep and waking, for a moment he thought that Passepartout, Phileas, and Rebecca must all have left the room… but no. Someone was still there. A presence, a sound of movement, as the figure moved closer to Jules. He felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. Then he heard a voice, a hollow whisper, close to his ear—yet he did not feel its breath against his cheek.
"You answered my call… you went to my son. Thank you, Jules Verne."
With a jolt, Jules started fully awake. For a single instant, he thought he saw before him the face of a white-bearded old man; yet the sitting-room was empty, and he was alone.
Save for the clock that was softly tolling midnight.
~ FINIS ~
© 2004 Jordanna Morgan