Something small hit the window again. I tilted my head at the professor, and saw that he had been pointing not at me but at the east side of the house, to the entrance that led to the mews behind it. He wanted me to open the gate.
But the servants—oh, God, the servants. What would I tell them? How would I explain?
Pulling at my hair again, I tried to think. I could avoid the servants’ quarters if I took the main staircase, exited through the front door instead of the rear. The gate key was kept in the kitchen. If I was careful, and quiet, I could get it without disturbing anyone.
I nearly left the room in my dressing gown stained with my husband’s blood, but I stepped on the hem, drenching me in horror anew. I felt sick but dizzily managed to find a clean dressing gown and clumsily slipped it on. It had been so long since I had dressed myself, and I had nearly forgotten how.
I descended the main staircase in bare feet, my long, undone hair veiling my face, my gown billowing at my ankles. All thoughts of propriety were banished by the memory of my husband’s blood pooling beneath his face. Quivering with panic, I cringed at every creak of the floorboards, held my breath at every sound. My fingers trailed the wall to help me find my way in the dark.
Finally I reached the kitchen and the key, silently slipped out of the house’s side entrance, and unlocked the gate that led to the mews. The professor was waiting for me.
The coal-colored sky had swallowed all the stars but had bitten only a slice out of the moon, leaving just enough light to see him by. He stood there dressed in a black waistcoat with black shirtsleeves beneath. He led me quietly into the empty stables. Since Charles had begun courting me, he had been unable to keep horses here. They kept injuring themselves, kicking the stall doors in fear or fury to escape some unnamed fate, and had to be moved to a stable nearby.
Ghosts of cobwebs hung in corners of the quiet stalls, and a light breeze tossed leaves at the cobbled steps. They danced at the professor’s feet, and I shivered from the chill.
“We must leave tonight,” the professor said.
I opened my mouth, but the only words that came out were, “My husband—my husband—”
“Where is he?”
But I could say nothing else but those two words. I kept repeating them as if it would make him reappear.
The professor took me by the shoulders—I never remembered him touching me before. I recoiled as he said, “Your husband is dead.”
He knew. He knew.
“Your husband is dead,” he repeated. “You must leave this house, and London.”
I could not speak, so the professor continued, “The life you lived is no longer available to you. Everything you once had will vanish. You will be shunned, cast out. If you are not treated like a criminal, you will be facing destitution, poverty. A woman with no property, no husband, the curse of a husband’s death looming over her—”
His words brought me back to myself. “But my family—”
“They are not your family. Have you forgotten where you come from?”
The question frightened me. “How do you know where I come from?” He didn’t answer, but he hadn’t been wrong to ask. I had forgotten. Between the dinners and the balls and the courting and the wedding, I had forgotten many things. It had been so long since I had done anything for myself; I’d spent years learning how to let others dress me, feed me, teach me, all under Aunt Sarah’s careful tutelage, and now, now I was helpless.
“I cannot—I cannot leave.”
He spoke firmly. “You can and you shall.” Then his head tilted, as if he had heard something. “We must—”
“We?” I asked sharply. His words had opened a vein of anger I hadn’t realized was even there. “Where have you been? You left without a word, and now—”
“I left because I had done all I could for you then, and I am doing all I can for you now. You are not my only student,” he said a bit snappishly. “I was assisting another at Christ’s College in Cambridge, and I came here as swiftly as I could. Now gather yourself. We have a long night ahead of us.”
“This is madness,” I said. “My husband—”
“Your husband is dead because you killed him,” the professor said, stunning me into silence. “You are not what Simon Shaw thought you were,” he added softly.
My eyes brimmed with tears. “And what was that?”
“So, what am I?”
His gaze dropped. “A disease.” He hesitated, and looked around us at the empty stable. “The horses knew.”
The rough hardware of a stall door pressed into the curve of my spine. I had backed myself up against it without realizing. “How do you know?”
“I have seen it.”
“In your future.”
His words chilled my heart. “Who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
I swallowed. “What are you?”
“Your teacher,” he said simply. “Now obey me. Get dressed, in dark colors preferably. Take nothing from this house. Nothing from this life.” He looked at the sky, which threatened to lighten. “We must begin before dawn.”
“Begin what?” I whispered.
“Your real education.” He reached into his waistcoat then, and withdrew something I could not see. He stepped out into the dim moonlight, and I followed him as he opened his palm. Something silver glimmered in his hand. A pendant, half of it hammered into the shape of a feather, the other half a sword.
OKAY, SHE’S OUT.”
“What did you give her?”
“Morphine, I think.”
“I don’t know! Whatever was in that vial.”
“How do you even know how to do this?”
“Okay, um, there’s like, tissue around it—”
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Hand me a scalpel first?
“I don’t know. No, not that one, a different one. Yeah, that one I guess.”
“You guess? What if you cut, like, an artery or something?”
“Stop making me nervous.”
“Should we just take her to the hospital?”
“I think . . . I don’t know. I think maybe. Yeah.”
Something smashed against the wall. “Okay. Okay. Go call.”