The Feast of All Saints
Acknowledgements & appreciations
As soon as I started this story I could tell that Susan Garrett’s "Barricades" was very much on my mind – though I couldn’t hope to match her light touch with the children, it was a lot more fun to write about these other children with my brain full of Susan’s wonderful characterizations than it might otherwise have been.
I have once again taken the liberty of borrowing Pesadilla from Daurmith, with permission. Pesadilla belongs to Daurmith’s wonderful story "Ritmo Andaluz," which can be found at SJJV and in the "Book of Knowledge" archive. Thank you Nice Daurmith!
But the reason for writing the story in the first place is that it’s Vita’s birthday, and she wanted something with pumpkins. Happy Birthday Vita, and many happy returns of the same!
It was the bright green feather that was Littleanne’s undoing. She knew that she wasn’t to cut across the pumpkin field; the pumpkins vines were all dying back, the gourds themselves huge and ripening, and she had on her best shoes for her errand to the manor-house’s buttery. She was supposed to keep to the road. It was getting dark, and a little girl – as she had been told – could trip on uneven ground and hurt herself; she would dirty her shoes, at the least.
But the dying light that filtered through the half-clothed trees of the Shillingworth stands caught in something brilliant and shining in the scarecrow’s cap and seduced her.
Littleanne hadn’t even realized that there was a scarecrow in that field. Crows weren’t much danger to pumpkins, were they? The pumpkins were much too large for a crow to carry away, and besides Shillingworth’s crows were exceptionally saucy birds against whom a scarecrow was so much waste of effort. There were crows in the bottom of the field, talking amongst themselves and sharing out a pumpkin that had been damaged or cut or somehow opened up for them, so it seemed that crows did like pumpkins. But the point about the scarecrow was still good. The scarecrow was clearly not doing its job. The crows paid it no attention – Shillingworth crows had Viking blood, and respected none but the biggest toughest crow – so what did the scarecrow think it was doing, sporting such a pretty jewel? One way or the other Littleanne had to find out.
Setting her round-bottomed basket with the wrapped lump of salted butter and the fat-bottomed jug of sweet cream down on the edge of the road where the grass would keep it safe from tipping Littleanne crept into the field to see what the scarecrow was wearing that shone so beautifully. Green. Bright and green and shining. The nearer she got the more beautiful it was, and she did have to watch her feet but there was a flattened path through the field to the scarecrow so once she found her way to that she was all right.
This was a good one, this scarecrow, better than its performance, actually. Any other scarecrow with such a fine costume and such a beautifully stitched burlap face and such carefully stuffed-out limbs would have been sure to do its utmost about the crows, and this one was just hanging there on its tree, with its hat pulled down over its eyes and its booted feet dangling idly. Boots. Littleanne stared at the scarecrow’s footgear hungrily. Wouldn’t those boots just fit Mam? Mam needed new boots, the old ones were going past hope of repair, and these were old and scratched-up but the soles were still stitched to the uppers and winter was coming on, here it was the end of October almost and getting cold…
The wind blew, and picked up Littleanne’s apron, teasing around her hem. Littleanne shivered. Cold. What had she been looking at? Feather. There was a beautiful bright green feather in the Scarecrow’s hat, long, shining, Littleanne had never seen its like. The scarecrow wouldn’t miss its feather, surely, there was a Pheasant’s plume she could bring it in exchange, it wasn’t a very pretty pheasant’s plume but this wasn’t a very good scarecrow either was it, and what was that sound?
Something dropped to the ground right near to one side, as Littleanne reached up for the scarecrow’s hat.
Distracted, Littleanne drew back, frowning at the dirt, trying to understand. With a little thud upon the ground something else dropped; Littleanne caught the movement, tracked the fall to the ground, and stooped to pick it up to look at it. It was boiled sweets. It was a piece of hard sugar-candy wrapped in a twist of gilt paper, it was the prettiest thing she had ever seen, and she had unwrapped it and popped it into her mouth before she had finished thinking about her find. Then it was too late. She couldn’t share it with sister and brother and brother and sister; she had already eaten it. She wouldn’t have to say. There had been two things dropping. She could take the other home and pretend there had only been the one.
Reaching down to hunt for the other thing that had fallen Littleanne was startled to be hit on the back of the hand with another wrapped candy. Snatching it up hastily from where it fell off of her hand, taking up the other one that she found there as well, Littleanne stuffed both candies into her pocket and looked more closely at the scarecrow, up along its side. This was a strange sort of scarecrow, shedding candy. There was a rent in the fabric of the scarecrow’s sleeve; and the long orange-and-gold light from the October sun caught a treasure trove of bright gilt paper, there, so that it filled Littleanne’s mind and heart with half-fearful cupidity. Oh. Such sweets. The one that she had in her mouth was beyond anything. She had to have more. There had to be enough there for her entire family, Uncle and Aunt and Mam and Da and everybody. But nothing more was falling; she would have to dislodge this find for herself, and the light was going, there wasn’t time to get back to her basket and then find her way across the field to the scarecrow.
Cautiously Littleanne stretched out her hand to grasp a handful of the candies in the scarecrow’s sleeve, and put them in her pockets – looking with wonder as she did so at the huge number that were in her hand. There had to be five. Six. Maybe even more. And there were more as well to be seen still through the tear in the fabric of the scarecrow’s sleeve. Everybody could have two. She could share with her friends. She put out her hand once more and took a fistful of candies, drawing them out of the scarecrow’s sleeve, but when she did – when she pulled her hand clear – the scarecrow convulsed, and writhed, and screamed like a damned soul.
"Why are you pulling my insides out, little girl?"
Littleanne stepped back, stunned and astonished. The scarecrow shook itself free, breaking off the cross on which it had been hung, and took a step toward her on its broken legs that went in wrong directions. "Why are you pulling out my insides? Tell me why!"
Its voice was hoarse and sepulchral and other-worldly, and Littleanne knew better than to say a word when the Devil appeared. She didn’t say a word. She screamed. The crows at the bottom of the pumpkin field took flight, and so did Littleanne, running for the road across the furrowed field as fast as her legs would carry her, and followed all the time too closely – altogether too closely – by the fierce and ferocious wrath of the scarecrow with its haunting cry, "Why are you pulling my insides out? It hurts, it hurts, why, why?"
Littleanne found the road, and ran. She ran all the way past the pumpkin field, across the lane, past the kitchen-gardens, straight to her own back step and into the cottage to fling herself at her mother, standing at the stove, wrapping her arms around her mother’s skirt, still shrieking. The scarecrow was chasing her. If it hadn’t been for the fact that its legs weren’t straight it would have caught her. It almost caught her anyway, and when Littleanne found the safety of her own threshold the scarecrow lifted its claw-like burlap hands and screamed in its own turn, an amazingly high and fierce scream of its own, scrabbling up stones from the ground in its clumsy paws to unleashing a savage hail of pebbles against the strong stone wall of the cottage and the stout oak of the door in its frustrated fury.
"What on earth is that racket?" Littleanne’s mother asked her. "Quiet down, girl. What’s gotten in to you? Where’s your basket?"
How could her mother even think of a basket at a time like this? "It wants me, Mam, it wants me, I didn’t do it no harm, it’s coming after me, it’s alive – "
Her mother crouched down to the clean-swept floor and took Littleanne by the shoulders. "I said quiet down. Tell me now. Slowly. Start first to last. What’s the matter, girl?"
"I went into the field." Yes, she wasn’t supposed to, but she had to admit to it to explain the peril she had so barely escaped to her mother. "There was a scarecrow in the pumpkins. With a hat. It was dropping sweets, Mam, look, see? But when I picked one up – " wait, this was a tactical error on her part, she was showing her mother a handful of sweets, she was going to have to own up to picking up more than one – "It jumped down from its cross and roared at me, Mam, just like a lion, and I ran, and it chased me, and."
Her brother came in from the yard with her basket in his hand, and Littleanne shut up abruptly. How had he escaped from the demon scarecrow? Her mother stood up, and patted Littleanne on the shoulder, kindly. "Thom. Your sister’s been on about a monster scarecrow. You shouldn’t be teasing her like that."
Littleanne looked up at her mother sharply. She was taking this much too calmly; but Thom had the basket. Could it possibly have been Thom? "I’ve nothing to do with it, Mam. But look what I’ve found in Little’s basket." Putting the basket down on the table-top Thom opened up the wicker-work wings that secured and protected its contents. There was the bit of butter; there was the jug of sweet cream. But all in and around the basket, covering the cloth in which the butter was wrapped almost to the point of complete concealment, cascading in a huge heap from the neck of the cream-jug – sweets. Bright shiny sweets, fat and round and wrapped in gilt paper. Littleanne stared. Thom gestured proudly. Littleanne’s mother stared too, reaching out to take one of the sweets up by the twist in the tail of its brilliant wrapper and hold it up to the light.
"Well," Littleanne’s mother said. "You got off easy, I should say, my girl. I hope this is a lesson to you. The next time you try to rob some poor defenseless scarecrow, you at least ask permission, and say thank you. We’ll go out to the field first thing in the morning and you’ll give that scarecrow your best curtsey, now, go on and wash, I need your help. And change your apron."
Well. At least Mam believed her. But Mam didn’t know. Thom didn’t know. Thom hadn’t seen the scarecrow, that was obvious enough. Neither of them knew that she had gotten two whole handfuls of sweets, and she’d only showed her mother one, there was another pocket-full, all for her – all hers –
It was better to be safe than sorry. What if the scarecrow was insulted, and hadn’t come back? Littleanne put her hands into her pockets, and added the candies she’d collected to the munificent stash in the basket on the table. "These are the ones I took," she said. "Best to put them all together. I’ll go change, Mam."
"Good girl," her mother said. "We’ll all have a sweet for afters. Go along with you."
Whether or not Thom had seen the scarecrow, he would have to admit that sweets did not appear out of the air. What if they were faerie sweets, and would turn into dead brown leaves by morning? Maybe she would have to put the question to her Da. Her Da would know. Her Da knew everything.
Putting on her common-work apron and settling down to help her mother in the cooking was a comfort to her, after the scare that she had had, and Littleanne resolutely put away the questions in her mind for later.
Jules Verne shivered slightly in the chill mist of the rapidly falling dusk and looked about him anxiously, clapping his arms against his sides to warm himself. He had only himself to blame; he was the one who had forgotten his gloves – again. He was still having a hard time thinking of them as his gloves, was his problem. They were sitting on the table in the front hall at Shillingworth Magna, just as McIver had left them, doing him no good; and here he was, cold and getting hungry and looking up and down the deserted road with anxious anticipation in his heart.
When the sound came from the woods the suddenness with which it fell upon his ear made Jules start back. The woods. There was something in the woods, and he’d been hoping to encounter someone on the road instead. Someone with a wagon-load of hay would be especially welcome, just about now. Someone with a wagon-load of hay and a blanket and a pint of whiskey, perhaps, and damn but he hadn’t heard that coming, how could such a large beast as that had to be come on him so suddenly and so swiftly? Looking back at the woods over his shoulder, turning to face the unknown with dread, Jules Verne caught sight of something huge and black and fearful that was coming through the woods. Coming right at him, like a fiend intent on his soul.
It was just past sundown and the light was fading rapidly, but there was enough light still to catch the ghostly gleam that seemed to halo the powerful limbs of a black Hell-horse as it thundered through the woods toward him with its head and shoulders burning with blue fire, tossing its long mane in its eagerness to taste human flesh. His flesh. The horse would be terror enough for any one Frenchman, but that wasn’t all, there was someone on that horse, someone – or something – all in black. Impossibly tall, with shoulders as formidable as a barricade, a long black silk scarf flying from his throat – but his head – his head – a horrid leering fiend with burning eyes, and flames that streamed from its gaping mouth –
And a sound. A horrible long moan, a sobbing shriek, a cry for vengeance and justice that chilled Jules to the marrow of his bone, "Give me back my head!" the monster cried, and snatched its head from off its demon shoulders, and flung that fiery thing at Jules as it thundered past – disappearing into the shadows from whence it had come, sobbing and moaning and cursing and weeping.
"Give me back my head!"
Jules had ducked to the ground by instinct as the monster had thrown its head. The thundering of the hell-beast’s hoofs was terrible, it struck sparks from the cold hard ground, and Jules stayed right where he was until it was well past.
He caught his breath.
The Hell-beast was gone.
The demon’s head had shattered on the ground, and lay there smoldering, yielding up a fragrance of roasted pumpkin that reminded Jules that he was hungry. He was moving bits of broken pumpkin about on the ground with the toe of his boot when Passepartout came hurrying up the road. When Passepartout saw Jules he reined in the horses that were harnessed to his cart and jumped out to join Jules, setting the brake hastily.
"Sorry, ladies, oh, so sorry, gentlehorses. Sorry. I will make up to you in the later, Jules, are you all right?"
"This fire," Jules said. "Look at it. It’s sticking right to the substrate, ah, pumpkin. Nothing else is burning."
"So that is good, yes?" Passepartout agreed, squatting down on his heels to examine the evidence. "The gel is working as it wants to. Are you seeing the blue horse in the woods?"
"Not so much in this light, Jean, but enough to tell that it’s going to be a great effect. But if Fogg doesn’t turn up soon I’m going to start worrying."
This was Fogg’s cue, apparently, because Fogg appeared on it and no longer on horseback, leading the magnificent Hell-horse that Shillingworth’s stables had grown to admire from a safe distance. Pesadilla. What could be better for the Wild Hunt than a horse whose name was Nightmare? Fogg looked suddenly much smaller, even with the framework that had supported the false head let down around his shoulders still; and stripped out of the scaffolding and the black over-garment as he spoke, laying them carefully in the back of the cart and covering them over with straw. "What do you say, Verne, does it come off?"
Jules thought for a moment about teasing, but honesty overtook friendship and he nodded. "Beautifully, Fogg, beautifully. You have a career in hauntings ahead of you. She gets all of the credit in my book, though, coming up through the woods like that, she looks like she’s floating, and I didn’t hear her at all until you were almost on me."
"Well, you have to hear us in time to get out of the way and appreciate the effect," Fogg pointed out, reasonably. "But yes. She is a magnificent player. She knows it. Apple, darling?"
He was talking to the horse. Passepartout rolled his eyes; Jules laughed. "You know, I’ve seen horses pick apples out of their trainer’s pockets, Fogg. You can train them to open a purse to get an apple. She’s smart enough. I’ll bet you could train her."
"I thought so too, didn’t I, darling?" Fogg said to the horse. "I went out one day last winter with a lump of sugar in my pocket, Verne, and invited her to find it. And she did. She walked all around me, very carefully, looking and sniffing. In my trousers-pocket, Verne, which was a tactical error on my part, but she let me off easy. When she got around behind me she put her teeth to the back of my coat and tore it collar to cuff, Verne, she made ribbons out of it, and that was a good wool coat, cost me a tidy sum I don’t mind telling you. Then she just looked at me. And at my trousers-pocket. She couldn’t have made herself any more clear if she’d been able to talk."
"So is the horse that has trained the master," Passepartout said helpfully, just in case Jules had missed the point. "She is a lady who knows how to get what she wants."
"As long as she is graciously pleased to oblige me I am willing to be trained. There is no shame in being the servant of such a beauty as this is. Another? How about a carrot? Yes. A nice carrot. What a perfect Hell-horse you are, and I mean that in a good way."
There was clearly no conversation to be got out of Fogg for the next few moments. Jules smiled and shook his head, and went up the little slope to the road to climb into the back of the wagon. Passepartout had blankets, along with that soft heap of clean straw. And a charcoal-warmer. And a flask. What a really brilliant man Jean Passepartout was.
"A horse-blanket, a flask of brandy, and thou," Jules said to Rebecca, as she came out of the woods to climb into the wagon, pulling the tails of her burlap mask out from underneath the demure lady’s cloak that she was wearing over her disguise as she did so. "How did it go?"
Passepartout had gathered up the bits of pumpkin into a black wool sack that had been lined with vulcan-wool to withstand burning. Now he climbed up into the driver’s seat of the wagon and clucked to the horses. "Let’s go home now, nice horsies, your barn is waiting. Let’s go home, nice master, you are having early supper tonight because of the pumpkin-heads."
Rebecca snorted, and Jules thought he understood the source of her amusement. Passepartout used the exact same tone of voice to speak to Fogg as to the horses, and almost the same language. Fogg didn’t seem to have noticed. Communing with Pesadilla made Fogg over into a queer sort of a semi-centaur, almost as much horse as man, who seemed to speak to her – and hear her answer – in a language that had nothing human about it. It could get tiresome, but it did make the two of them a magnificent spectacle when they were together, a tall man in black on a tall black horse. Mare. Tall for an Andalusian. Too tall for Jules one way or the other.
"Beautifully," Rebecca nodded, accepting the flask with a cheerful grin and knocking back at least one-quarter of its contents at one go. "Little girls should not track through pumpkin-fields at any time of the day, but especially not near sundown. Let alone at any time afterwards. I’ll have to check with her mother, make sure the scarecrow hasn’t incurred a mother’s wrath by causing her daughter to ruin her good shoes, running through the pumpkin-fields too fast. What’s for supper?" she called forward to Passepartout, who looked back over his shoulder and smiled and nodded.
"Lovely oats and sweet timothy-grass, and – oh. Sorry. Sorry, Miss Rebecca. The good soup of Mrs. Betty with cockie and leekie. A steamie salmon fish, and there is roast pheasant, two or three, and onions. Also pumpkin tart for last. Good food. Build up your strength. There is much work ahead."
There was. Even with all four of them concentrating their effort Jules didn’t know how it was all going to get done in time. There Wasn’t any getting to Shillingworth Magna any more quickly than they already were, though; so Jules wrapped himself up in a blanket, Rebecca already wrapped warmly in her cape, and drew her to him with his arm around her waist – for the purposes of getting and staying warm, of course, not because the weight of her head on his shoulder gave him any improper thoughts, no, indeed not – and lay in the straw in the back of the wagon looking up at the stars while Fogg rode quietly behind and Rebecca nestled chastely with Jules and asked the occasional question about constellations.
When the master and the Jules and the Miss Rebecca were all back and washing and getting clean and warm and the horsies were settled in the stables and gruntling happily amongst themselves, except for the Pesadilla who was as usual aloft in her dignity and shining in her coat like the firestones from that place where the firestones came from, Jean Passepartout changed his clothes and washed his hands face neck and ears and had his supper in the Mrs. McGarrett’s kitchen where Mrs. Betty fed him and Mr. McIvey and Mrs. McGarrett herself and Sondra also and then went down with Sondra – Chaffins, the lady’s-maid of Miss Rebecca – to the store-room in which the pumpkins had been hidden to carry the wheel-barrows out to the small barn for the carving.
It was a barn that was not being used in these days for gruntled horses, because there were not so many needed at Shillingworth as in the past. Jean had asked Mrs. Betty’s girls for the cold supper to be there, because Miss Rebecca had the good appetite starting sometimes not very long after supper and Jules was polite and would keep her company which was a very good thing for a student to be called upon to do for the sake of politeness and Mister Fogg would also have some nibbling when it got late but Jean had forgotten some fluid of sealing and drying that he needed for the pumpkins once they were carved so that the gel would adhere to them properly without dripping away and making the mess.
So Jean sent Sondra on with a wheel-barrow full of the head-sized pumpkins, which had to be larger than a head really was because the Horseman once Mister Fogg put on the costume was bigger than a really man would be, and stopped around by his Shillingworth work-shop on the grounds to get the raspy tools and was on his way to the small barn where the work would be done and almost there when suddenly from out of the shadows there appeared Duke Rimini with the eyes burning and the teeth all bared and a roar like a lion, "I want your blood!"
It was too sudden. Jean jumped back, clutching his tools to himself so that they would not fall, and just at the moment in which he decided to find out if a raspy tool would inconvenience a vampire Mister Fogg came out behind the pumpkin-head and asked "Do you like it, Passepartout? I did this one myself."
Jean relaxed against the edge of the wall behind him, taking a deep breath. "You should not do that, master," he scolded. "You are taking away the years of Passepartout’s life."
"So good as that?" Mister Fogg asked, but he was sounding the little bit apologizing which was about as apologizing as he ever got and a man learned to appreciate what he could get when he could not get what he would really appreciate. "I’m sorry, Passepartout, only meant to give you a bit of a start. Look, the teeth, they’re turnip."
Jean held out the raspy tools to Mister Fogg, who had the big enough hand to hold raspy tools in one hand and balance the Duke-pumpkin in the other hand so that Jean could take it for efficient admiration. It was a good likeness. "Jules is helping you with this?" Jean asked, and then realized what he had said, and hastened to upsupport his master’s self-image before his master could realize that he had been not-praised. "It is very good. Very convincing."
It was, really. Jules had probably helped with the model sketch, at least; but Mister Fogg had many manual skills that a person would surprise, from a man of his position in life. Mister Fogg had never expected to be a man in his position in life. This had led him to the acquisition of many useful knowledges. "And the eyes. You are cutting away behind very carefully."
They were walking as Jean examined the pumpkin, Mister Fogg carrying the light as well as the raspy tools. "That was Jules’ idea too," Mister Fogg said, happily. "Or maybe we thought of it together. Yes. Gives the appropriate glowing effect when you put the candle in." Mister Fogg pushed open the stable door, and Jean went through without thinking, his mind on the pumpkin. "We can use this technique," Jean said to Jules, who smiled with the beautifulness; but then Jean turned to the Foggs to ask "How many heads are we needing in all?"
"One for each end of the main street makes two," Miss Rebecca said with her eyes on her cousin’s face to check for her completeness of listing, counting on her fingers. "One for the Carters’, one for the priory, one for the outbuildings. One for the parish house, of course. Three for whatever comes up. That’s nine. And we’ve got five, so we’re in pretty good shape, but best get started."
Mister Fogg would be wanting ten or twelve, if Miss Rebecca said nine. It was only the way he was, a man who enjoyed the throwing of pumpkin heads with the smashing and the burning and the riding off into the black forest. "Six," Mister Fogg corrected his beloved cousin who meant even more to him than Pesadilla, with cheerfulness. "Jules and I did this one last night. Do you like it?"
His voice was trailing off into the touch of uncertainty as he looked from his pumpkin vampire to his dear Miss Rebecca, being clearly remembering that it was very obvious her feelings in the adventure had been more complicatedly mixed than his. Miss Rebecca was not seeming to be offended, though, she was taking the vampire pumpkin in her two hands and gazing at it very carefully.
"Rocket vampires," she said at last. "Doesn’t he need two little fuel tanks, here, Phileas? The teeth are a good touch, but I don’t remember them as being quite so large as that."
Mister Fogg did not like the idea of Miss Rebecca remembering too carefully such a thing as Duke Rimini’s teeth because of the circumstances in which a beautiful woman might have cause to note a detail of that nature. Jean coughed. "It is the license of poets," Jean said. "And of sculptor cousins. The exaggerates detail to make a visual impression. Also I am thinking it was clever to use turnips, Master."
He was getting Mister Fogg’s happy smile for his coming to the defense. Miss Rebecca was only looking for some more; then she made a moue and made the approaching of the turnip-teeth for a kiss, Mister Fogg looking horrified with the disappearing happy smile, but she nodded her head.
"A beautiful piece of work, yes, Phileas. Well. Let’s get on with it, shall we?"
Jules Verne stood with hands on hips admiring the fruits of the evening's labor. Let’s get on with it, Rebecca had said; that had been hours ago, and "get on with it" they had. There was a neat array of beautifully grotesque pumpkin-heads lined up on the burlap that covered the floor of the stables, washed and dried and rasped and painted with the gel that would dry overnight and cling to the pumpkin’s flesh inside and out, ready for the torch. Rebecca had given kisses all around and gone off to bed.
Fogg had watched her go with a thoughtful expression on his face, wiping the last traces of the fire-gel off of his hands; it took doing, because Fogg had long hands, but it was too late at night to expect anyone to heat water for his bath and he was clearly not interested in exposing himself to the cold water in the basin for any longer than necessary.
Of course it was never too late for Shillingworth’s master to call for hot water. Fogg was Shillingworth’s master. But he was a good and usually gentle man, for all that, and his instincts were where Jules thought they properly should be in the matter of hot water, household staff, and the lateness of the hour.
"Put my foot in it, I’m afraid," Fogg said at last. "I should have thought that one through a little better, Verne. Rimini. She’s still got feelings for the chap, and I’ve gone and bruised them."
Yes, perhaps, just a little bit. But Rebecca clearly hadn’t held it against Fogg in any sense. She’d be used to his occasional mis-steps, Jules supposed, and family was family all over the globe and subject to the same distressing domestic blind spots that made brothers and sisters say things to each other that they never would say to someone to whom they were not related.
"I was thinking about Rebecca," Jules admitted. This would come as no surprise to anybody in the room; they would be curious now, rather, as to what might be different in this case about the fact of him thinking about Rebecca. "We’ve been working hard on the stunts all week. She hasn’t had a chance to sit down and enjoy the season. And didn’t she tell me once that this was one of her favorite times of year?"
"Well, yes, along with all of the other times of the year – " Fogg started to say, a note of impatient scorn in his voice. Passepartout frowned, ever so slightly, but Fogg caught it, and moderated his tone. Fogg was good at that. Fogg and Passepartout worked very well together. "And still. She was quite taken with all of that Persephone-story, when she was a girl. Loved the holiday. It’s one reason why Father let her come along with us from the beginning."
"Persephone. Better and better." He had an idea. "Jean. You know that picture that I brought back from Monte Cristo, the one she had you make that trick frame for. Do you know where it is?"
Jean nodded, clearly not catching all of Jules’ thought just yet. "Is in her bedroom across from her bed, where Sondra and I made the place for hanging. Behind the picture that is in front of it. What are you thinking, Jules?"
"Just a little holiday decoration, Jean," Jules said, and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, reaching out to take Fogg by the shoulder with his other hand. "Just a little holiday decoration. Something to show that we respect her feelings. Even when we’re running rough-shod over them."
Fogg was looking at him with that worried, slightly wall-eyed expression that Fogg could get from time to time when he was fearful that he’d missed something important and frightened of admitting it. It was a very young look, on Fogg, something that he had brought forward from his childhood; and Jules cherished it, even when it appeared in painful circumstances, because it signaled that Fogg – for all the ills that had befallen him, or had inflicted on him, in his life – still remembered what it had been like to have an open heart.
An open heart could hear inspiration, and catch the thread of thought. Fogg’s face cleared of concern; he nodded. "Yes," Fogg said. "I know just the thing. Tomorrow. Before we leave. You and I and Passepartout. We’ll do it. Chaffins can keep watch, for us."
And now they all needed to get to bed.
It was much closer to breakfast than was comfortable, in a place that kept such unfashionably early hours as Shillingworth.
Satisfied that he knew what he could do to make it up to Rebecca for having shown her so grotesque a version of something she still cherished in her heart Jules went with Jean and Fogg to the main house, to go to sleep.
It was the eve of All Saints, and Allisoun was playing by herself in the street, imagining herself a pirate. Supper was over; she didn’t have lessons; there was no mending – she was free. She didn’t want to go in, though it was cold. She was a pirate queen, and all of Shillingworth trembled at her name.
She heard a sound of hoof-beats, coming up the road, and looked up from her tableau in the street to see what might be happening. The lamps were lit; it was just dusk, and in the twilight streets she could see people hurrying into their houses – it wasn’t a very long street, she could see clearly, hurrying and shouting "He’s coming! He’s coming! For God’s sake get inside!"
Who was he? And why was he coming?
Her mother pushed the cottage-door open with a fierce crash and ran for Allisoun in the street, snatching her up, shielding Allisoun’s head against her bosom with her hand, running back for the safety of the house. The sound of hooves was louder by the moment, and there were at least three horses, Allisoun was sure – coming through the heart of town at a full gallop, the idea of such recklessness was frightening, nobody was allowed to gallop in the town, it was Mister Fogg’s own prohibition –
Had her mother tripped? What was the matter? Because her mother seemed to fall to her knees beside the door, and cowered there, holding Allisoun. Where was Papa? Where were her brothers and sisters, and her Uncle Wes? The riders were upon them, she could hear them screaming, wild savage cries of glee and cruel enjoyment, laughing. Oh, her blood ran cold, and she peered out over her mother’s shaking shoulder with awestruck horror as the black horse came up the street like a spring flood, and on it a black rider with a head that burned. That burned. That face – it was so horrible –
It saw her.
It saw her and it reined in, and it turned its horse’s head toward her own gate, and that black horse stretched out its neck and bared its teeth and said "I eat children! Have you got any children I can eat! I especially want children who are out-of-doors when their mothers think they’re safe in bed! Can I have yours?"
It wanted her, it wanted to eat her, it was going to feed her to its horse. Allisoun screamed. Her mother shook her head, trembling like a leaf. "No!" her mother cried. "You can’t have her! She’s mine! I don’t care if she was in the street! She’s mine and you can’t have her, you can never have her, you go away and the Devil take you!"
The horse backed away, snarling, its burning eyes rolling in disappointment. Allisoun clung to her mother. It couldn’t have her. Mamma wouldn’t let it have her. It couldn’t have her because Mamma had said no.
"Well, then, take that, you stubborn woman!" the burning face roared, and flung a handful of something at the two of them. But for a demon its aim was bad, and they weren’t hit, either one of them. "And woe to you if I catch your girl where she oughtn’t be after dark ever again!"
The black rider spurred its horse on down the street, the horse reared up and shook its neck like a serpent in its frustration, but it couldn’t have her to eat. Mamma had said so. There were things behind it; a scarecrow mounted on a painted horse, a man with a bird’s-head, a prince in silks and satins but with no face, and they all pelted Allisoun and her mother alike with small hard objects as they rode past, picking up speed as they went.
Then they were gone, and Allisoun’s mother released her. Allisoun ran into the street to shake her fist after them, "You mind my mother!" but ran back to her gate as soon as she did, because the black rider – at the top of the street – pulled round on that child-eating horse once more, and as Allisoun watched in fathomless and fascinated horror it pulled off its head and threw it, with all its headless might, down the street as though the street had been a skittles-court. Rolling, and burning, and trailing fire after it, the monster’s head was coming straight at her, and Allisoun screamed again and ran for the open door.
But the burning head rolled on, and one of the riders came up after it and snatched it up out of the street at a dead gallop. Allison peeked her head out to see what would happen next: and that was when the bright sparkle of a piece of gilt caught her eye, and she realized. And called out to her family. "Come quick! Look, look, look!"
There were pence, in the yard. Pence, and boiled sweets wrapped in bright paper, and – with a gasp – Allisoun picked up a shilling from the ground, and stared at it in wonder, trying to understand what manner of demon it could have been that wanted children to eat and yet threw gifts.
It was quiet in their cottage, peaceful, supper over and Father smoking his pipe; when suddenly Father looked up. "Billy? What’s that?"
He hadn’t heard anything, and looked up from his lesson-book with raised eyebrows. His father nodded toward the window. "Something’s coming. You’d better go have a look."
If Father said so. Billy didn’t hear anything, but he knew how to do as he was told; going to the window, he drew the curtain away and pressed his nose to the glass, trying to see out.
"Father," Mother said, behind him. "You don’t think. Surely."
"I don’t know, Mother, but I’m not taking any chances, not after the last time. Billy, do you hear anything?"
Maybe he did.
Maybe if he listened very hard he could hear horses on the road, and weird cries. "I’m not sure, Father," he said. "I’d better go out and – "
"No," Father said, firmly, and put his hand to Billy’s shoulder. "No. Don’t do that. I know what’s going on. Mother, hide the light. Son, you stay right here, they can’t come in if we don’t go out."
He wasn’t sure he understood that, exactly. But he understood that his parents were worried about something. Mother turned the lamp down as far as it would go and still give light; then she joined him and Father at the window, bending down low, looking out. Trying to see.
Suddenly there were torches right there, right in front of the window, and the screaming that Billy had heard was right there too. "Children! We want children!"
Father put his hand out to Mother’s arm, to steady her. "Don’t fear, Mother, they can’t come in, they won’t get Billy. Just be strong, Mother."
"But, Father," Mother said, earnestly. " I heard they got a boy at Ravensgate last week – his own mother didn’t even know where he was – "
"That boy was nothing to do with us," Father said. "Ravensgate is so far away. Who knows whether that’s true or not? And you know where Billy is all the time, Mother, Billy’s a good boy, you know where he is. They can’t have him."
"Children!" they were calling, from outside. "Succulent! Tender! Moist and juicy! Children! Give us some children!"
"You keep hold of Billy," Father said, grimly, and Mother put her arms around Billy. "Father, no – "
"It’s the only way," Father said. "They’ve got to be told. They can’t have Billy. They can’t. I’m going to the door now."
Mother clung tightly to Billy. The waving of torches in front of the window was mesmerizing. Shouldn’t he be frightened? He was frightened. But he wasn’t frightened. He was fascinated.
Father threw the front door open with so much force that it rebounded against the wall, exactly as Mother was always scolding Billy for. "You lot clear off," Father said, loud and strong and determined. "There aren’t any children here that you can have. Go away. Leave us alone."
There was a voice that chilled Billy’s blood, calling from the darkness. "But we want children. We’re hungry. We haven’t had one child all night. Be a sport. Give us your son, do."
Father shook his head. "No," Father said, and the wailing that arose was terrible to hear. Mother put her hands over Billy’s ears and trembled. "No, you can’t have him. Clear off, I tell you, before I call the Law on you."
And with a screaming and a swooping of torches and a cursing in words that Billy didn’t understand – they left.
Father stood in the open doorway staring out into the black night. "Billy," Father said. "Get the lantern, son. I think they dropped something, on their way out."
Coins. Pence and even a shilling or two, and there were sweets there as well. Billy ran back into the house for a basket and scoured the ground in front of the window, looking for what the visitors had dropped, exultation in his heart. Not only had they failed in their mission – not only had Father proved too much for them – but they had dropped all of these good things, as they had fled!
"Wasn’t there just three of them last time?" Mother asked, clinging to Father as Father held the lantern for Billy’s search.
"Was three in the old Squire’s time," Father said. "Then four. Then three again. I don’t understand it, Mother. I’m just glad they’ve gone."
And so was Billy.
He was going to have such a tale to tell, in the morning…
There was cider with cloves and nutmeg and honey with supper that night at the parish house, where Shillingworth’s orphans were sheltered. There was no poor-house at Shillingworth Magna – at least not yet – and all of Sarah’s friends were orphans like she was, which was a blessing of a sort she thought, because everybody had heard about children taken from their parents in the poor-house, and it was so hard to be without her poor beloved papa that she couldn’t even imagine how she would live if he was alive and she was not allowed to go to him.
Cider with cloves and nutmeg and honey, and pretty round sweet-cakes made with pumpkin as well, plump and tender and iced with sugar-frosting colored in shades of red and brown. Mrs. Vincent, who oversaw the orphans, had doled out treats with a liberal hand; but she’d been nervous. Sarah knew that Mrs. Vincent was nervous. Mrs. Vincent had been nervous all day, as though something terrible was about to happen. Sarah knew what that feeling had been like. She’d had that feeling when her father had come home with the cough, and taken to bed. She’d known.
So Mrs. Vincent’s anxiety made Sarah a little nervous as well, and she ate her second sweet-cake slowly, trying to concentrate on the pleasure of the treat and its sweetness and tenderness and the fine sifted flour that had gone into it, and the white sugar, and the nutty flavor of the pumpkin. It had been a good year. There hadn’t been the rains there had been last year that had made such hard work of salvaging the corn. There was a stack of pumpkins in the cellar taller than Sarah, and Sarah was tall for her age.
The cider had been drunk and the cakes were gone from the table. Usually Sarah helped Mrs. Koval in the kitchen after supper, doing up the dishes; she liked working in the kitchen, and Mrs. Koval said she had a future ahead of her in a great house, maybe even Shillingworth Magna itself. Sarah could hardly imagine a greater house than that. Tonight, however, Mrs. Vincent lingered on without excusing the children to chores and bed, keeping up a bit of a conversation instead – asking after lessons and events and whether people were remembering everything they ought in their prayers, glancing ever and again towards the windows to the west of the eating-room that was their classroom during the day. Whatever Mrs. Vincent was worried about would be coming from outside. Some of the other children had noticed it too, Sarah could tell that. She hadn’t been here more than a few months – her father had died in the spring – but there were children who had been here all of their lives, almost, and Francis and Catrine and Bob were all getting restless. Doing their best to hide it from Mrs. Vincent, to spare her feelings, Sarah supposed. But it was there. What was going to happen? It had to be horrible.
Mrs. Vincent stood up, abruptly, clearly agitated, and whispered to them all in a hoarse voice. "Hush, children, hush, take each others’ hand, now, they’re coming. Oh. They’re coming."
Francis and Bob were off of the bench within moments, each taking one of the younger children by the hand, and Catrine reached out for Sarah. "Take hold of Daria," Catrine said, her eyes shining. "Quickly. They’re coming. They’re almost here." And hurried her over to the windows, beside the door, where in the darkness out across the field behind the parish-house Sarah could see a light, bobbing and hopping and moving to and fro, and coming closer. Bob lifted up small Phillip, by his side, up to the window so that he could see. "Do you see him?" Bob asked. "They’re coming. They’ll be here. They’re coming."
Daria started to cry, started to think about crying, staring at Bob holding Phillip. But noticing that Phillip didn’t seem to be afraid. Phillip was holding on to Bob’s neck for dear life, yes, but his expression was eager. Something good?
Hoof-beats. Thundering hoof-beats. And the light came closer and closer and closer until Sarah could see a ghostly glow beneath it, the outlines of a gigantic horse, the biggest – blackest – horse she had seen in her life, and riding it a man with a head that burned. It wasn’t a man. It was too big to be a man. There were demons with it, demons on horseback, screaming and crying and sobbing into the night like damned souls – and of course if they were demons they would be damned souls, wouldn’t they?
Sarah opened her mouth to scream. It was the Hunt. It was. She’d heard about the Hunt. Everybody had heard about the Hunt, damned souls condemned to hunt the fields at night throughout Eternity, demons rejected by God and on the prowl for human souls to take and rend and recruit into their band. The Hunt. She was going to scream. She wasn’t going to be able to help it. The black giant on the Hell-horse reined his awful mount in, sharply, at the gate; the horse reared back and screamed – as eerie and horrible a sound as a woman’s scream – and the black giant reached up for his head, two hands to the sides of his huge horrible swollen fiery head, and plucked it off his shoulders, and held it in his hands leering at her. He saw her. She knew it. He was looking at her with those glowing yellow eyes, he wanted her, she wasn’t a damned soul, no, she wouldn’t go, she wouldn’t.
"Sarah Osborne!" the burning head cried. Sarah lost her scream in terror. It wasn’t just looking at her. It knew her name. "Sarah Osborne! Come out, Sarah Osborne, I want you!"
Mrs. Vincent surprised Sarah, grasped her firmly by the hand. "You Don’t have to go, Sarah," Mrs. Vincent said. "You can stay here. You will be safe here. We will look after you. Don’t go, Sarah."
"Sarah Osborne! I want you! Come out, Sarah Osborne, I’m here to take you away!"
The demons with the black giant picked up the chorus, their shrill voices piercing through to her bones. "Sarah Osborne! Sarah Osborne! Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!"
Mrs. Vincent marched firmly to the door, with Sarah’s hand still in hers, and opened it, standing square in the doorway. "Away with you, Hell-spawn, she’s not coming out and you can’t have her. Go away, I say."
"I – want – Sarah – Osborne!" the giant shrieked, and threw its head in fury against the wall of the parish house. Its head, its horrible head, shattered against the wall and fell to the ground in pieces, burning with a diabolical blue light.
But smelling a little bit like a roasted pumpkin.
The other children were pushing past Mrs. Vincent, now, running out into the courtyard, and the demons were dismounting. "Well," Mrs. Vincent said. "He can’t harm anybody now, he’s lost his head. Let’s go out, Sarah, it’s all right."
The other children were already clustering around the black giant, and the demons that were with him – a scarecrow, and a beautiful prince without a face, and a bird-faced demon of some sort. The other children were laughing and reaching and taking, and bowing or curtsying; keeping a safe distance, yes, but they were not afraid of the demons. Mrs. Vincent knew, of course, Sarah decided. The black giant had lost his head, and there was no more danger to him, so she followed Mrs. Vincent as she had been bid – holding carefully to Mrs. Vincent’s hand, needless to say – and approached the black giant with cautious interest.
He was so big. He was so tall. She tried to stand on tip-toe to see the place where his head had been, but all that she could see was a black scarf. He leaned over her and chuckled at her horribly. "So you are Sarah Osborne, girl? Why didn’t you come out when I called you?"
Mrs. Vincent gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. Sarah swallowed hard. "It’s no way to talk to a good girl, Mister Hell-spawn, and Mrs. Vincent says I mustn’t ever let someone speak mean to me."
He stooped down at her and she recoiled, but Mrs. Vincent had her by the hand. He knelt down, on the ground, right there, and loomed over her where she stood wishing that Mrs. Vincent would let go. "What kind of matron teaches children that they aren’t to come whenever they’re called?" It was a puzzle how he could be speaking, with his head burning at the bottom of the wall; his voice sounded like it came from his chest. He was a monster; perhaps he had another mouth to speak in his belly. "She is raising disobedient children with no respect for their betters. We will have to see about that."
"They are perfectly good and obedient children, Master Hell-spawn," Mrs. Vincent said frostily. There was a tremor in her voice that Sarah didn’t quite understand. "And they know the value of obedience. Also their own dignity."
The black giant shook its shoulders. Behind it Sarah could see the Hell-horse – looking perhaps not so large as a plow-horse, really, but much more frightening – step up slowly, closer, closer, closer, the breath from its blue-rimmed nostrils smoking in the lamp-light. "Teaching children dignity. This is pernicious doctrine, Mrs. Vincent, but you have defeated me yet again. Hold out your hand, Sarah Osborne, if you please."
"He has asked you politely," Mrs. Vincent whispered. "Perhaps not very politely, but one must always make allowances for a person’s station in life. You may hold out your hand, Sarah, it’s all right."
She put out her hand to the black giant, palm flat, fingers trembling. He moved one great fist up beneath her hand and the other black-gloved hand over it to let something cold and heavy fall into her clammy palm, closing her fingers up to keep her from dropping it. "The world will try to teach you different, Sarah Osborne," he said. "You’ll need to keep your wits about you. Here, girl. Take these coins and buy some new bedding for the wintertime, and there’s a coin for you as well, for your trouble."
The Hell-horse was reaching out for the giant’s neck, for the scarf that fluttered where his head had been, baring its teeth in a soft snarl – why didn’t he feel the creature’s hot breath on his neck?
"Thank you, Mister Hell-spawn," Sarah said, and curtsied. "And the horse means to bite you, sir."
The giant ducked and turned with speed and agility not to be expected from giants. "Naughty girl," the giant said, in a quite different tone; and took the horse by the cheek-strap of its bridle. The horse just snorted and bobbed its head at him, for all the world as though it was laughing. Sarah thought she’d heard that voice before. Not long ago. Not often; but she’d heard it.
When the giant raised his voice, though, it was the giant’s voice again, huge and terrible. "There’s nothing for us here!" the giant cried. "We must be off! The night is young! Ride, my beauties! Ride!"
Mrs. Vincent gathered the children to her, behind her, the older children helping with the younger children as they had been taught to do of course. The giant mounted the Hell-horse, who was standing very calmly, for a demon mount; backed it out of the court-yard, wheeled and was off with his demon cohort behind him. "And I’ll see you next year, Sarah Osborne! Maybe Mrs. Vincent will let me have you next time!"
Sarah looked up at Mrs. Vincent, worried, but Mrs. Vincent shook her head firmly and reassuringly. "You need never go with someone just because he says so," Mrs. Vincent said. "Even if he has better manners. Now, children. Has anybody left something behind? We had better check, very carefully."
The older children brought extra lanterns, and went out into the courtyard.
There were coins. Coins, and things wrapped up in bright gilt paper – sweets. All over the courtyard. Pence. Shillings and pence, and sweets. Sarah opened up her hand and held it up to the light to see what was there, wondering; bright guineas, shining, brilliant, gold. More money than she had ever seen in her entire life.
"Hell-spawn said that one of those was for you, dear," Mrs. Vincent said. "It looks like there’s enough money here for new bedding for everybody. Nice warm blankets, and one, maybe two guineas left over for your keepings. He’s a strange sort of a demon, but we can’t always know what's in a person’s heart by how frightening they are, can we? Let’s go in, girl, it’s cold out here."
Daria had many, many pence. She had also found sweets. Mrs. Vincent had collected the sweets and the pence and written them down in her ledger-book, carefully, and had each of the children make their mark against their keepings. Daria had made her mark. She wasn’t sure she understood her keepings, but she’d made her mark, and the line that had her keepings on it was certainly black and heavy and as long as anybody else’s.
She couldn’t sleep. They’d washed and been put through their prayers and put to bed, but Daria couldn’t sleep. There had been too much excitement. The black giant – her heart beat faster just thinking about his horrible head. And the one with the curlew-face. And the scarecrow. And the one with no face at all. And the sweets, and the pence, and there had been shillings, too, real ones, and Hell-spawn had given Sarah golden guineas for the parish house, and one to keep for herself. Daria knew that she would have been too frightened to even hold a guinea. But a shilling – she had found a shilling, and it had been a wonderful thing to hold.
Could there be more?
There might be more. Mrs. Vincent had hurried them all into the house, and the older children had taken the lanterns in. But the moon was full and the night was clear and there were lanterns outside the door, so if something was shining in the moonlight, what harm did it do for her to go and find it before morning came? And she would give it to Mrs. Vincent. Of course she would. But she could hold it until morning.
She got up.
If she put on her boots and stockings she might make noise, and she might put wear in her stockings and be scolded, so she went barefoot down the stairs and through the classroom for the door. The door was bolted for the night, but she got it undone; it was a struggle, but she made it. She opened the door, and stepped out into the night, into the black night with the clear moon still climbing toward midnight in the sky and the white mists rising and the lanterns’ yellow light.
There was somebody out there, on the road, a tall man on a black horse who checked his mount when he saw her coming out and got down, leading his horse into the court-yard. He wasn’t so tall as the Hell-spawn giant had been; but he had yellow eyes as well, eyes like a wolf. She’d seen a wolf, once. People didn’t believe her, but she had.
"You are out of bed very late," he said. He had a different voice than the Hell-spawn giant, as well; it was – rich and creamy and smooth, somehow, a voice like a warm bed on a rainy night, so comforting. He didn’t speak proper English, though. He was the Devil, Daria decided; everybody knew that the Devil was a Frenchman, and this was a foreigner, so clearly he was the Devil. "Can you tell me in which direction I might find the manor-house, the home of Miss Rebecca Fogg?"
It was part of her lessons to know the plan of the parish and where things were, and who its important residents might be. There weren’t many more important than Miss Rebecca Fogg. "Shillingworth Magna," Daria said, and then thought she should curtsy. "You can see the lights, sir, at the end of the road. Four miles, I think, sir."
"Clever child," the Devil said, and his horse snorted, just as the demon horse had snorted earlier. But that was something that all horses did, including, apparently, demon ones. "You are a good girl, but you should not be out of bed at this time of night, you will catch a cold with your feet bare. If I give you a coin, will you go straight back to bed? Would you do that for me?"
She’d only come down for a coin in the first place, hadn’t she? She nodded solemnly, and held out her hand; the man smiled – she couldn’t see too much of his face except for his yellow wolf’s eyes, but she could see him smile – and felt about in his coat for a moment.
"There you are, child," he said, and put the golden treasure in her palm. It wasn’t a guinea. It was heavier than a guinea. She didn’t recognize it at all – the picture on it wasn’t the Queen, more like the Romans that they heard about in history lessons – but it was a coin, and she had promised, and if he was a foreigner there was no sense in being rude to him by pointing out that his coin wasn’t proper English coin at all. So she curtsied again.
"Thank you, sir, and god-speed."
"You are a good girl," he said, and turned away to mount his horse. "Now go up to bed."
It was a very bright coin. It was a very heavy coin. It was very cold, and damp, and she was sleepy. She would sleep with this beautiful bright coin. She could give it to Miss Vincent in the morning. She would have to admit to her fault, but she had been polite to the stranger which would have brought no shame to the parish-house, and would have the coin to offer in her defense.
"Just as you say, sir. Good-night."
He was already riding away. She went back in and wrestled the bolt back into place and went to bed, and shivered until her feet warmed up, and went to sleep with the golden coin clutched to her bosom in her hand.
"Threatened to eat Allisoun Pettit?" Mrs. Betty said, and poured another tot into Mister Fogg’s mug of cider. "Oh, sir. You go too far."
Jules could see her point, but also Fogg’s. Ogres were supposed to eat children, or threaten to eat children at the very least. When he was a boy the monsters that followed in the train of the Three Kings in January could be counted on to threaten to eat children, and to describe the various ways in which they would prepare especially tender ones in great detail. They could only be appeased by offering them something else to eat, an apple, a loaf of bread, a bit of cold roast; he’d often wondered what use monsters could possibly have for human food – and now he knew.
"McIver will check on things for me," Fogg said, his long nose deep in a tall mug of hot brandied cider. "Won’t you, McIver? You can rely on McIver to tell me if I’ve over-stepped, Mrs. Betty, and the parson means to speak to it in the morning, after all."
All Saints was not a Protestant holiday that Jules had ever heard of. But Shillingworth was an odd place. The old parish church had survived both Reformation and Civil War without destruction or despoliation; and while most of the residents of the shire were Protestants, Church of England strong and true on the face of it, there were sniffs and fragrances about that were older than King Henry’s time, or even older than the Holy Church in England. It had been that way in Nantes as well. Holy religion was holy religion, but there were places where old practices had put on a pious cloak and survived well enough for the disguise.
"What, exactly, does the parson preach on All Saints’, Fogg?" Jules asked, reaching for another of Mrs. Betty’s ginger cakes. She’d baked them with pumpkin. They were delicious; and you could guess that they’d come from a rich man’s kitchen, with so much cinnamon and ginger in them.
"Blessing of the harvest," Rebecca answered, since Fogg had his mouth full of baked apple tart and smiled at her gratefully when her response freed him to take another bite. Threatening to eat children apparently worked up an appetite. "So all of the children can bring whatever coins they might have found in the night into the church and have the parson bless them. Otherwise a devil’s coin might turn to clay or dead leaves or – worse."
Jules smiled. They knew the same stories. "And this has been going on for how long?"
"There’s nobody knows," McIver said, his voice rounded and roughened and relaxed with Fogg’s good brandy. "It’s as old as Shillingworth itself. Not the costume, though, your Miss Rebecca had that from our master’s mother’s family."
Rebecca nodded. "Bones. Phileas’ grandmother had a trunk full, in the attic, and Curlew as well – that’s the one that Jean was wearing. Yours was completely original, Jules, except the clothing was all old, you know that."
"I know I wish I knew why there were knives in the collar and fuses in the cuffs and a garrote in the heel of the boot, Rebecca." Helping Fogg threaten to eat little children had worked up his appetite as well, but tired him out, too. Jules yawned. "If it hadn’t been for Sarah Osborne, Fogg, Pesadilla would have exposed you before the world, though. And then what would have happened?"
Fogg nodded. "I owe Miss Osborne at the least an extra guinea for that. It would have been such a shame to spoil the fun for the younger children. I don’t believe any of the older children are fooled for an instant, but it’s part of the holiday, you see. Children love to be terrified in a safe environment. People love to be terrified in a safe environment. It’s the only reason I can fathom for why they go to the opera when the tenor is having a bad night."
Rebecca snorted, and gave her cousin a hard shove on the shoulder that moved but failed to perturb him. "Phileas, you are too unkind. I’m going to bed. I’ve got to get up in the morning for services." Which Jules and Passepartout alike were excused, being Romans, though Jules’ confessor had in the past sighed and granted him penance and absolution for attending services in a Protestant church on the grounds that it was a relatively mild form of heresy compared to some of the other things young men could get up to. Jules rather thought he might take advantage of his alien status on this one instance, and sleep late.
Fogg put up his cheek for a good-night kiss and got one; Rebecca kissed McIver and Passepartout and Jules as well, and left. Jules yawned again. "I hope she likes it," Jules said. "I’m going to bed, Fogg, I’m done in."
"We should all go," Fogg agreed. "No, Passepartout, I’ll undress myself. Will be wanting a hot bath in the morning, if there’s time before services. Thank you, Mrs. Betty, wonderful treat, good-night, all."
Wonderful treat, and good-night all. Fogg had said it all. Jules didn’t need to add a single word. He followed Fogg up the stairs and thence to his own guest-room, washed his hands and face and fell into bed to sleep and dream of wild horsemen under a full moon in the black night.
When Rebecca got up to her room and went in Sondra stood up silent as a ghost from the chair by the door in which she had been waiting, and led Rebecca into the wash-room that Phileas had put in for her, adjacent to her bed-room. Her bath was waiting, hot water, scented with flowers and creamy with oat-meal; heavenly. They’d been working very hard over the past two weeks, getting ready. Once services were over in the parish church tomorrow morning All Saints would be over for another year. She was going to have to speak to Phileas, however, because she was getting too old for this; and so – even if he wasn’t about to even consider thinking about it – was Phileas himself, and therefore one or the other of them was going to have to start breeding soon. And it wasn’t going to be her.
Sondra scrubbed her back and rubbed her neck and shoulders as Rebecca lay in the tub soaking it all up shamelessly; washed Rebecca’s feet, massaged the soles and the heels of her feet with the pumice-stone to smooth them, wrapped her up in an immense heated towel and combed out Rebecca’s hair, braiding it for sleeping. Helped her in to her night-gown and her wrapper, put her feet into slippers that Sondra had warmed on the hearth – Sondra really did spoil her abominably, and she didn’t know how she could possibly manage without her, not after these three years – and kissed her on the forehead, as Sondra did from time to time to express her affection, and Rebecca didn’t mind. She couldn’t imagine Passepartout kissing Phileas at all, but it was different.
So she smiled and kissed Sondra back, on the cheek. Sondra took her candle with a little curtsy and a murmured "Good-night, Miss," and went away to her own room, while Rebecca went in to bed. There was the fire on the grate; there was her bed, with the pillows plumped and the bedding turned back, invitingly. Seductively. Calling her. Oh, she was tired. She put her own candle down on the bed-side table and sat down on the side of the bed to take her wrapper off, and something caught her eye. What was it?
On the wall opposite her bed, where she could look at it when she got up in the morning. That was it. She had a landscape hanging there; but it was a landscape with a secret, because the landscape itself was just a cover for another picture that was there, something that was precious and private to her, treasured, but not to be displayed. Angelo. Jules had done a sketch of an antique bust whose identity had apparently been in question but whose features were unmistakably those of Angelo Rimini, the Duke of Carpathia; vampire, murderer, madman, and her lover. Jules had given her the sketch one night after a shy little dance around the question of whether a person would rather have something to remember a lost lover by or not, and she’d had Passepartout make her a frame that would conceal the sketch because she had loved him too much to be able to look at it every day – even while she had known, she had known all along, she had known from the beginning that there was no possible future in it. If Phileas and Jules had not thwarted his plan she would have had to find a way to do it herself, and she had never seen him again and only kissed him once.
The landscape wasn’t showing in the frame, not now.
It was Angelo who hung there, looking at her, and – more than that – the frame had been decorated. Rebecca took up the candle once more to carry it over and look at it, hearing as she did the old clock at the foot of the stairs tell the time, nine, ten, eleven, twelve o’clock, midnight.
Someone had draped black crepe around the frame like a mourning-portrait, and on the shelf beneath the frame there was a fall of heavy purple silk – funeral silk – a glass of wine, a small sheaf of ripe wheat, a pomegranate torn open with its succulent ruby fruit spilling out across the little shelf and gleaming seductively and suggestively in the candle-light as red as the open wound of a woman’s heart, as the heart of the flower of a woman’s passion. Phileas had done this. Phileas had made the joke with the pumpkin-head, and then he had been worried about her. Yes. But there was more than just Phileas’ hand at work here, Phileas had the poetry but Jules had the sense of stage-decoration, and Passepartout was the only one besides Rebecca herself who knew how to work the frame.
Persephone. She had spent those several days in the kingdom of darkness, and had known it for what it was, and had longed to be able somehow to embrace it for the love of Angelo Rimini, whose great soul had been fatally compromised by his jealous rage against the world. It had been a great soul. Before it had been tainted by vampirism or ambition it must have been a lofty soul indeed, because even after so many years of corruption and decay it burned with a true and brilliant fire that made her wish for nothing so much as to be able to find herself consumed in his bright flame.
The crimson pearls within the pomegranate blurred in the candlelight. Rebecca reached out and took one seed from the bloodless wound that was the opened fruit, one tiny berry-like seed from the heart of the pomegranate. "One night," she said, and her eyes cleared as her tears fell. "Oh, Angelo. Not even one night. Could you not have been any other than what you were, so that I could have loved you?"
The taste of the pomegranate seed was sweet and sharp in her mouth. Only one night. But he had been of the army of darkness, and she was sworn to defy him no matter how passionately her heart had wished that it could have been different.
She blew the candle out, and turned back toward her bed, trusting in the light from the full moon to find her way.
Her way was blocked. There was a man. Tall and dark and broad-shouldered and beloved and she recognized him, even in the dark, there was the fragrance of musk and the night air and the sweat of a horse and the leather of a saddle and the moonlight gleaming in the silver in his hair. Angelo. Angelo Rimini. It couldn’t be.
"But I am exactly what I am, Rebecca," he said. "And would not wish to be loved by you for anything else, for then you would be loving another man, and that I could not tolerate. It is the eve of All Saints, Rebecca Fogg, and I have come a very long way to be with you. Could we not pretend, for a few hours, that we are in the world between worlds, where all things are possible?"
He could not be real, and he could not be here. She had seen the fireball when the hosts of the rocket vampires had homed in on the carriage in which he had been taking her to sit upon the first of what he had promised would be many thrones. She had seen the agony in his eyes when he had let her go, that moment of destiny when he had looked at her and known that she had made her decision and that it was not to stay. He had died at that moment, and he had been already dead.
"It is the night." It was All Saints’ Eve. It was. Even though it was just past midnight, in the reckoning of her ancestors it would be All Saints’ Eve yet until sunrise. "Hades himself unlocks the iron gate, and sets souls free to visit their loved ones. I will be priestess of Persephone for this one night, Angelo, and gladly. Yes."
She did not have to ask him to embrace her.
He took her by the hand and led her to her bed, while the mist rose from the sleeping earth and the world dreamed of love and deathlessness beneath the silent moon.