Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 181

   

“Just stand still, please, Reverend Campbell,” I said. Hands shaking, I drew the pistol Jamie had given me out of the pocket of my habit and pointed it at him. Rather to my surprise, he did stand still, staring at me as though I had just grown two heads.

I had never held anyone at gunpoint before; the sensation was quite oddly intoxicating, in spite of the way the pistol’s barrel wavered. At the same time, I had no real idea what to do.

“Mr.—” I gave up, and used all his names. “Yi Tien Cho. Did you see the Reverend at the Governor’s ball with Mrs. Alcott?”

“I see him kill her,” Yi Tien Cho said flatly. “Better shoot, First Wife.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! My dear Mrs. Fraser, surely you cannot believe the word of a savage, who is himself—” The Reverend turned toward me, trying for a superior expression, which was rather impaired by the small beads of sweat that had formed at the edge of his receding hairline.

“But I think I do,” I said. “You were there. I saw you. And you were in Edinburgh when the last prostitute was killed there. Nellie Cowden said you’d lived in Edinburgh for two years; that’s how long the Fiend was killing girls there.” The trigger was slippery under my forefinger.

“That’s how long he had lived there, too!” The Reverend’s face was losing its paleness, becoming more flushed by the moment. He jerked his head toward the Chinese.

“Will you take the word of the man who betrayed your husband?”

“Who?”

“Him!” The Reverend’s exasperation roughened his voice. “It is this wicked creature who betrayed Fraser to Sir Percival Turner. Sir Percival told me!”

I nearly dropped the gun. Things were happening a lot too fast for me. I hoped desperately that Jamie and his men had found Ian and returned to the river—surely they would come to the house, if I was not at the rendezvous.

I lifted the pistol a little, meaning to tell the Reverend to go down the breezeway to the kitchen; locking him in one of the storage pantries was the best thing I could think of to do.

“I think you’d better—” I began, and then he lunged at me.

My finger squeezed the trigger in reflex. Simultaneously, there was a loud report, the weapon kicked in my hand, and a small cloud of black-powder smoke rolled past my face, making my eyes water.

I hadn’t hit him. The explosion had startled him, but now his face settled into new lines of satisfaction. Without speaking, he reached into his coat and drew out a chased-metal case, six inches long. From one end of this protruded a handle of white staghorn.

With the horrible clarity that attends crisis of all kinds, I noted everything, from the nick in the edge of the blade as he drew it from the case, to the scent of the rose he crushed beneath one foot as he came toward me.

There was nowhere to run. I braced myself to fight, knowing fight was useless. The fresh scar of the cutlass slash burned on my arm, a reminder of what was coming that made my flesh shrink. There was a flash of blue in the corner of my vision, and a juicy thunk! as though someone had dropped a melon from some height. The Reverend turned very slowly on one shoe, eyes wide open and quite, quite blank. For that one moment, he looked like Margaret. Then he fell.

He fell all of a piece, not putting out a hand to save himself. One of the satinwood tables went flying, scattering potpourri and polished stones. The Reverend’s head hit the floor at my feet, bounced slightly and lay still. I took one convulsive step back and stood trapped, back against the wall.

There was a dreadful contused depression in his temple. As I watched, his face changed color, fading before my eyes from the red of choler to a pasty white. His chest rose, fell, paused, rose again. His eyes were open; so was his mouth.

“Tsei-mi is here, First Wife?” The Chinese was putting the bag that held the stone balls back into his sleeve.

“Yes, he’s here—out there.” I waved vaguely toward the veranda. “What—he—did you really—?” I felt the waves of shock creeping over me and fought them back, closing my eyes and drawing in a breath as deep as I could manage.

“Was it you?” I said, my eyes still closed. If he was going to cave in my head as well, I didn’t want to watch. “Did he tell the truth? Was it you who gave away the meeting place at Arbroath to Sir Percival? Who told him about Malcolm, and the printshop?”

There was neither answer nor movement, and after a moment, I opened my eyes. He was standing there, watching the Reverend Campbell.

Archibald Campbell lay still as death, but was not yet dead. The dark angel was coming, though; his skin had taken on the faint green tinge I had seen before in dying men. Still, his lungs moved, taking air with a high wheezing sound.

“It wasn’t an Englishman, then,” I said. My hands were wet, and I wiped them on my skirt. “An English name. Willoughby.”

“Not Willoughby,” he said sharply. “I am Yi Tien Cho!”

“Why!” I said, almost shouting. “Look at me, damn you! Why?”

He did look at me then. His eyes were black and round as marbles, but they had lost their shine.

“In China,” he said, “there are…stories. Prophecy. That one day the ghosts will come. Everyone fear ghost.” He nodded once, twice, then glanced again at the figure on the floor.

“I leave China to save my life. Waking up long time—I see ghosts. All round me, ghosts,” he said softly.

“A big ghost comes—horrible white face, most horrible, hair on fire. I think he will eat my soul.” His eyes had been fixed on the Reverend; now they rose to my face, remote and still as standing water.

“I am right,” he said simply, and nodded again. He had not shaved his head recently, but the scalp beneath the black fuzz gleamed in the light from the window.

“He eat my soul, Tsei-mi. I am no more, Yi Tien Cho.”

“He saved your life,” I said. He nodded once more.

“I know. Better I die. Better die than be Willoughby. Willoughby! Ptah!” He turned his head and spat. His face contorted, suddenly angry.

“He talks my words, Tsei-mi! He eats my soul!” The fit of anger seemed to pass as quickly as it had come on. He was sweating, though the room was not terribly warm. He passed a trembling hand over his face, wiping away the moisture.

“There is a man I see in tavern. Ask for Mac-Doo. I am drunk,” he said dispassionately. “Wanting woman, no woman come with me—laugh, saying yellow worm, point…” He waved a hand vaguely toward the front of his trousers. He shook his head, his queue rustling softly against the silk.

“No matter what gwao-fei do; all same to me. I am drunk,” he said again. “Ghost-man wants Mac-Doo, ask I am knowing. Say yes, I know MacDoo.” He shrugged. “It is not important what I say.”

He was staring at the minister again. I saw the narrow black chest rise slowly, fall…rise once more, fall…and remain still. There was no sound in the room; the wheezing had stopped.

“It is a debt,” Yi Tien Cho said. He nodded toward the still body. “I am dishonored. I am stranger. But I pay. Your life for mine, First Wife. You tell Tsei-mi.”

He nodded once more, and turned toward the door. There was a faint rustling of feathers from the dark veranda. On the threshold he turned back.

“When I wake on dock, I am thinking ghosts have come, are all around me,” Yi Tien Cho said softly. His eyes were dark and flat, with no depth to them. “But I am wrong. It is me; I am the ghost.”

There was a stir of breeze at the French windows, and he was gone. The quick soft sound of felt-shod feet passed down the veranda, followed by the rustle of spread wings, and a soft, plaintive Gwaaa! that faded into the night-sounds of the plantation.

I made it to the sofa before my knees gave way. I bent down and laid my head on my knees, praying that I would not faint. The blood hammered in my ears. I thought I heard a wheezing breath, and jerked up my head in panic, but the Reverend Campbell lay quite still.

I could not stay in the same room with him. I got up, circling as far around the body as I could get, but before I reached the veranda door, I had changed my mind. All the events of the evening were colliding in my head like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope.

I could not stop now to think, to make sense of it all. But I remembered the Reverend’s words, before Yi Tien Cho had come. If there was any clue here to where Geillis Abernathy had gone, it would be upstairs. I took a candle from the table, lighted it, and made my way through the dark house to the staircase, resisting the urge to look behind me. I felt very cold.

The workroom was dark, but a faint, eerie violet glow hovered over the far end of the counter. There was an odd burnt smell in the room, that stung the back of my nose and made me sneeze. The faint metallic aftertaste in the back of my throat reminded me of a long-ago chemistry class.

Quicksilver. Burning mercury. The vapor it gave off was not only eerily beautiful, but highly toxic as well. I snatched out a handkerchief and plastered it over my nose and mouth as I went toward the site of the violet glow.

The lines of the pentacle had been charred into the wood of the counter. If she had used stones to mark a pattern, she had taken them with her, but she had left something else behind.

The photograph was heavily singed at the edges, but the center was untouched. My heart gave a thump of shock. I seized the picture, clutching Brianna’s face to my chest with a mingled feeling of fury and panic.

What did she mean by this—this desecration? It couldn’t have been meant as a gesture toward me or Jamie, for she could not have expected either of us ever to have seen it.

It must be magic—or Geilie’s version of it. I tried frantically to recall our conversation in this room; what had she said? She had been curious about how I had traveled through the stones—that was the main thing. And what had I said? Only something vague, about fixing my attention on a person—yes, that was it—I said I had fixed my attention on a specific person inhabiting the time to which I was drawn.

I drew a deep breath, and discovered that I was trembling, both with delayed reaction from the scene in the salon, and from a dreadful, growing apprehension. It might be only that Geilie had decided to try my technique—if one could dignify it with such a word—as well as her own, and use the image of Brianna as a point of fixation for her travel. Or—I thought of the Reverend’s piles of neat, handwritten papers, the carefully drawn genealogies, and thought I might just faint.

“One of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies,” he had said. “Concerning the Frasers of Lovat. Scotland’s ruler will come from that lineage.” But thanks to Roger Wakefield’s researches, I knew—what Geilie almost certainly knew as well, obsessed as she was with Scottish history—that Lovat’s direct line had failed in the 1800s. To all visible intents and purposes, that is. There was in fact one survivor of that line living in 1968—Brianna.

It took a moment for me to realize that the low, growling sound I heard was coming from my own throat, and a moment more of conscious effort to unclench my jaws.

I stuffed the mutilated photograph into the pocket of my skirt and whirled, running for the door as though the workroom were inhabited by demons. I had to find Jamie—now.

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