The year 364, the eighth month. (The year 1883 Barley by the Old
"Are you sure we're headed in the right direction?" asked Clifford.
Barrett looked up from the newspaper. He had been reading accounts of a rumbling volcano on a faraway island, of a tornado that flattened a city in one of the Midwest nations, and of an overseas house that had been jolted by an earthquake, with the result that its gas pipes had broken and the entire family inside had fried in a ball of flame. All of these disasters were described in lurid detail by the reporters. Barrett set the newspaper aside. He had enough lurid activities at work. Instead, he concentrated his attention on the argument between Clifford and D.
" . . . out in the middle of nowhere," Clifford was saying.
"Well, where else could we be going?" D. sounded cross, the way he always did when he was worried. "This is the Norfolk and Yclau Beach Railway. The train must go to Yclau Beach."
"Perhaps it travelled onto the wrong track." Clifford turned his head to stare out the window at the pine forest they were passing through. "Your father's railroad has only just opened, hasn't it?"
"Cliff, he has been a railroadman for thirty years! He's not going to lose a train."
"Maybe we should ask the others." Clifford's voice was doubtful as he turned his gaze toward their fellow passengers.
Barrett couldn't blame him for his hesitance. Judging from the clothing and the conversations, the cream of Yclau's society was packed into this carriage. Barrett would swear that the man across the aisle from him was a duke.
Barrett swung his wicker armchair around to stare again at the scenery outside. The sun had only just risen an hour before; it was difficult to see where they were headed, with the sun directly in their eyes. They had passed nothing since they left Norfolk except farms, though. This hardly lived up to the description that D.'s mother had offered in her invitation, of an "opulent setting."
Glancing back at his travelling companions, Barrett saw that D. was on the point of blowing up. Barrett decided to intervene; he hated arguments. Squinting against the sun, he made out something at the horizon. "Station?" he suggested.
D. and Clifford turned their chairs to look, with a swiftness which suggested that they too were regretting the argument. Barrett leaned forward in his seat. Certainly something lay ahead, though it was hard to see through the pine forest. The object grew more visible as the train clattered over a short bridge spanning what appeared to be a lake. Then the train was past the trees, and he could see clearly their destination.
The building was too big to be a station; it looked more like one of the sixteenth-century manor-houses that dotted the Yclau countryside, every one of them surrounded by fields with servants hard at work. This building was new, though. As the track turned sharply north to allow the train to draw up in front of the building, Barrett caught sight of something blue, to the east of them. The ocean.
"See now, I told you." Relief was clear in D.'s voice. "We've arrived."
Passengers were already gathering up their belongings, gentlemen picking up the bags for the ladies, since no servants accompanied them on this trip. There were no children either in the single passenger car; Barrett guessed that the planned activities were considered too mature for young ladies and gentlemen.
He wondered whether the activities would be too mature for himself.
As the train came to a halt, D. scanned the area in front of the building in an anxious manner. "I don't see Mother."
"Oh, my goodness!" Clifford cried. "Who are those lovely ladies?"
"Where, where?" D., who had as much appreciation for a fine figure as Clifford did, leaned against Clifford, eager to see out the window.
"There!" said Clifford, pointing.
The trio standing next to the track were certainly eye-catching. The oldest young woman looked about a decade younger than Barrett, perhaps Clifford's age. The young woman beside her looked to be four years younger, about twenty-two. The youngest looked barely into adulthood. The oldest was the tallest, the middle one was of middle height, and the youngest was the shortest. They were all three wearing identical dresses with startlingly fashionable bustles protruding from their backsides. They stared expectantly up at the train, with white handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses to protect themselves against the thick smoke of the engine.
"Oh, them." D. lost interest, turning to take hold of his overnight bag. "They're not ladies. They're my sisters."
The girls were trying to hold down their skirts and hats in the light wind as Barrett and the others climbed down from the train. The morning sun in the cloudless sky was dazzling; their cream-colored frocks contrasted beautifully against the red brick of the building behind them.
Belying his earlier show of indifference, D. quickly dropped his bag and opened his arms wide. With cries of pleasure, all three girls crowded in to kiss him. By the time the four of them released one another, they all looked a bit mussed.
"You've grown a mile!" D. told them appreciatively. "Oh, sweet blood – is that really you, Drusilla?" He stared at the youngest girl.
The oldest girl laughed. The middle girl said, "She was wearing her hair down when you last saw her."
Drusilla promptly whacked the middle girl on the arm. "I've had my debut, if you please. I'm a grown woman." Then, with the eagerness of a child: "Are these your friends?"
Barrett braced himself.
D. turned his attention back to the men beside him. As he did so, Barrett noticed a crease upon D's brow. He was obviously worrying about how to introduce them. Barrett didn't envy him that task.
Opting for formality, D. said, "Mistresses, it is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Clifford Crofford and Mr. Barrett Boyd of Her Majesty's guard in the royal prison of the Eternal Dungeon."
So introductions in the Queendom of Yclau were made in reverse order of rank? Barrett took note of that. He was still relearning etiquette.
"And these," said D. with elaborate politeness, "are my sisters: the Shy One, the Practical One, and the Flighty One."
"D.!" The Shy One, the eldest sister, blushed right down to her breasts.
"You beast!" said Drusilla, who looked ready to throw something.
The middle girl, the Practical One, merely rolled her eyes. "Idiot. As though they aren't going to have a hard enough time remembering our names. This is Dorothea." She pointed to her elder sister. "And I'm Decima."
"I'm Drusilla," added the Flighty One. "Aren't our names awful? Papa had such demonic fun naming us: he gave all of us girls' names that begin with D and end with A, even—"
Decima, moving with admirable quickness, clapped her hand over her younger sister's mouth. Drusilla's eyes widened as she realized what she had been about to reveal. An awkward silence ensued.
"It's all right," said D. in a weary voice. "They already know my name. Where are the parents?"
"Busy, where else?" Decima said, releasing her sister. "Papa is in the office, I think. I don't know where Mama is."
"Supervising the preparation of tonight's dinner." Drusilla tucked her hand under her brother's arm in an obvious attempt at an apology. "We escaped being put to work for tonight's festivities by volunteering to serve as escorts for three high-ranked guests. Aren't we noble?" She grinned.
"If it's to your satisfaction, of course." Decima was eyeing Clifford, quite obviously satisfied with what she saw.
Which left Barrett with a clear social duty. He escaped it by taking Clifford's bag to add to his own.
Dorothea promptly looked away. "Oh, there ought to be servants here to carry your bags. Let me find one for you."
"I'll come too." With obvious reluctance, but apparently too well-bred to impose herself where she might not be wanted, Decima stepped back. "Drusilla, are you coming?"
Drusilla shook her head. "I want to hear all about D.'s nine years in the dungeon. Is it dreadful there?" she asked him cheerfully.
They moved forward, Barrett holding the two bags, Clifford scooping up D.'s bag, and D. absorbed in conversation with his youngest sister. The other male passengers were handing bags to servants as the female passengers admired the beauty of the building. It stood four stories high, capped by a copper roof that complemented the brick. The flag of the queendom flew upon what looked like a turret, though it was clear that this was the back of the building, not the front. A generously wide entrance stood several steps up from the platform. As the train behind them backed away, Barret glanced behind in an automatic manner. He was relieved to see that the train merely took advantage of the Y track to turn itself round before returning to the building entrance. Barrett could not shake off the feeling that he would need a quick exit from this situation.
After a time, Barrett became aware that Clifford was looking with concern at him. Tracing back in his mind what had happened before, Barrett winced. "Sorry," he said in a low voice.
"There's nothing to apologize for, my love." Clifford came close enough that he could give Barrett a discreet squeeze of the arm. "We both knew this wouldn't be easy. Just remember: When all else fails, ask questions. People adore answering questions. You can hold a lengthy conversation with someone just by asking questions whenever they pause their speech."
Barrett nodded, though his stomach was churning. He had prepared himself, all the way down, for the moment in which he would be forced to greet D.'s father. He had not prepared himself for speaking to three chattering girls.
Though the eldest, Dorothea, had been quiet so far, he was bound to concede. Perhaps talking with her would not be so difficult.
". . . thought it was going to be named Yclau Beach Hotel." Pausing at the foot of the steps, D. pointed at the words over the entrance: Princess Anne Hotel. "Why did he change the name?"
Drusilla tossed her head. "He's trying to draw important people to stay at the hotel. He was hoping that, if he named our hotel after the heir, she would visit here."
D. released his sister in order to smack his forehead. "Not again! Will he never learn? I suppose she refused to come."
"Well, yes and no," replied Dorothea. She had reappeared with a servant by her side, who silently relieved Barrett of his burdens. Nearby, another servant was taking the bag from Clifford's hand. The other passengers had already made their way into the hotel.
D. looked immediately wary. "Yes and no?"
Drusilla grinned, skipping a bit, as though she were still a young girl. "The story that Papa is telling everyone is that Princess Anne sent representatives in her place."
"Three representatives," added Decima.
"No!" Giving way to his tempestuous temper, D. bellowed the word to the sky. "No, no, no, bloody no!"
Dorothea, turning away from giving the servants low-voiced instructions, put her hand on her brother's arm. "D., it's all right," she said softly. "He's not going to ask you to give a speech. You can just be yourself."
"You could think of it as his way of showing you off." Decima was obviously as concerned as her sister at avoiding an explosion.
Drusilla said quickly, "He's glad you're coming to visit. I heard him say so."
D. sighed. Clifford offered his own contribution at peacemaking by saying, "At least we're dressed properly."
D., Clifford, and Barrett glanced down at their uniforms. After a great deal of discussion between Clifford and D., the three of them had decided to wear their uniforms on their visit to D.'s family. There would be a Grand Dress Ball that night, they had been given to understand, and none of them owned the sort of civilian evening wear that was appropriate for a ball. Despite the high ranks they received by virtue of being guards in the royal dungeon, they were afforded very little opportunity for high socializing in their work.
Drusilla tugged at D.'s hand. "Come! Let's go introduce your friends to Papa. Then we can do something fun."
Having prepared himself for the worst – some primitive, rustic notion of hostelry – Barrett was pleasantly surprised to discover that the newly opened hotel was actually quite stylish, in a country fashion.
Ladies and gentlemen milled around the main hall, the women waving fans against the late-summer heat, the men tipping servants who were taking their bags through a doorway next to an office counter on the left side of the room. To the right, some of the couples were making their way out the door toward a pavilion to the south of the hotel, which Barrett had glimpsed from the train as they arrived. In the corner of the room came the chatter of a telegraph, while a woman sat placidly beside the telegraph man, sorting mail.
Barrett and the others walked forward into the light streaming from a room directly ahead, which seemed to be some sort of sunroom, for men and women there were sitting in lounging chairs, being served drinks by the servants. At a whisper from D., his three sisters went to sit on a padded circular seat surrounding a wooden strut holding up the ceiling. D. walked past them and slumped against a column supporting the hood over a large fireplace.
Which left Clifford and Barrett alone, abandoned. Barrett looked at Clifford, raising his eyebrows. Clifford looked just as bewildered as Barrett felt, but he turned his head, searching. "That must be our host," he said, pointing to a dapper gentleman with a pointed beard, who was greeting some of the guests.
As they came closer, they saw that the man was dressed, not in an ordinary railroadman's uniform, as Barrett had initially thought, but in a military railroadman's uniform. Emblazoned across the man's shoulder was the insignia of the Royal Yclau Engineers.
As a group of guests turned away, the man caught sight of Barrett and Clifford. He smiled. His appearance was very neat; there seemed scarcely a hair out of place on his grey head. He said, "Welcome, gentlemen. I'm Colonel Cornelius Urman, proprietor of the Princess Anne Hotel."
His voice had a faintly enquiring tone to it. Correctly interpreting that tone, Clifford offered his arm, saying, "How do you do, sir? I'm Clifford Crofford, and my companion is Barrett Boyd."
The colonel was evidently skilled at hiding his confusion, for he merely looked amiable in the moment before his face lit up with recognition. "Of course, of course!" he cried, clasping Clifford's arm and giving him a vigorous armshake. "What a great honor it is to have Her Majesty's guards staying with us. I trust that you enjoyed your journey from Norfolk?"
"The ride was quite pleasant, sir," Clifford replied. "We very much enjoyed the views of the countryside."
Barrett managed to keep a straight face. Colonel Urman said, with the low voice of modesty, "Well, it's a only a narrow-gauge railroad, of course, but we have plans for expansion – great plans. We've recently built a seawall on the beach, as you'll see; it keeps the sand from drifting into the hotel. We plan to cap the wall with a boardwalk, so that our guests may experience the magnificent view that this setting affords of the ocean. Our engineers have constructed a most marvellous flue that conveys seawater to the nearby lake, so as to prevent mosquitoes from arising there. We are in the midst of installing electric lights in the hotel, run by our own generator. As for our grand ballroom . . . But it would be easier to show you. Would you care to receive a small tour?"
Clifford hesitated, looking at Barrett. Barrett guessed that Clifford's thoughts matched his own.
Clifford was courageous enough to voice those thoughts. "That's very kind of you, sir. Perhaps you would like to have your son join us?"
"My son?" For a moment, Barrett would have sworn, the colonel's gaze turned blank. Then his face shone. "Of course, of course! Is he here now? I had assumed that he went ahead to your rooms to supervise the unpacking of your luggage."
They led him to the fireplace. D. was smoking a cigarette. Barrett already knew that, since smoking was forbidden in the Eternal Dungeon, D. never touched tobacco except in moments of great stress. Although he must have sensed the approach of the party – he was a guard, trained to track prisoners' movements – D. did not look up until his father greeted him with a cry of welcome and an out-thrust arm. Then D. tossed the cigarette into the empty fireplace, accepted his father's armshake, and said, "Thank you, sir. It is exceedingly kind of you to take the trouble to welcome me personally to your new home."
Barrett stared. D. Urman had a reputation in the Eternal Dungeon – one might say a notoriety – for speaking rough. It was not merely that the younger guard tended to lapse into the commoners' dialect he had picked up from classmates in school. He was also rough in manner, a startling contrast to Clifford's gentle, genteel manner of conversation.
Now D. sounded as though he had been taking lessons in elocution. His father appeared not to notice the change. The colonel said, "I was just about to give your friends a tour of the hotel. Perhaps you would care to accompany us? I don't know how much your sisters have told you about it, in their letters. . . ."
There was much to see on the tour. A billiard room, a tennis court, bowling alleys, elevators, and a ballroom where an orchestra was rehearsing. By the end of the tour, Barrett had begun to reassess his estimate of the Urman family's rank in society.
". . . and we're planning to provide jousting next year," Colonel Urman concluded as they returned to the main hall, now empty except for the telegraph man and the postmistress. "Of course, many of our ladies prefer quieter entertainments. We consider ourselves blessed indeed to have such a refreshing rural setting, with pine trees shading strollers. We hope to set up stables later, for the sake of guests who wish to go horseback riding. And if either of you gentlemen care to hunt, I may say that we have very fine waterfowl on the lake."
Clifford, whose eyes were shining, burst out, "It's a magnificent hotel, Colonel Urman!"
"Thank you, thank you." For the first time, D.'s father stared down, nudging the pine floor with his boot. "It has been my most precious dream, since the time I was a young boy, to own a hotel by the seaside. Like my father, I went into railroad work, first serving in the portion of the Royal Engineer Corps that built railroads to facilitate troop movement, and then becoming an employee of the Yclau Midland Railway. For many years, it seemed as though my dream was just that: a boy's dream, to be set aside. But when a friend invited me to this beach as a guest of his hunting club, I knew, from the moment I first saw the beach, that this was the place for my hotel. I poured all of my savings into making that dream come true."
Barrett glanced over at D., wondering what he thought of this news that his inheritance had been depleted. D. was staring at the wooden pigeonholes behind the office counter, apparently oblivious to his father's words.
Clifford said tentatively, "It must have taken a great deal of money, sir."
"Far more than I possessed," the colonel acknowledged, paying no more attention to his son than his son was paying to him. "Fortunately, some of the high-ranked men I'd come to know on the Yclau Midland Railway were willing to form a company with me, since they could see the potential of a seaside resort. We bought up the land here, ran a railroad track from here to the city, and built this hotel, which I now run."
"It must be wonderful to see your dream come true, sir." Clifford's voice was soft; he was adept at offering sympathy to men who desired it.
Barrett glanced at D. again. D. Urman was staring at the carvings over the doorways, the rug on the steps leading up to the pavilion, the lounging chairs littered around the hall . . . At everything except his father.
The colonel cleared his throat, his gaze returning to Barrett and Clifford. "But I must not keep you fine gentlemen from settling in. . . . Ah, here is my wife, who will want to greet you."
Softly gliding up to join them, Mistress Cordelia Urman welcomed Barrett and Clifford with quiet warmth and then turned to her son. "My dear, how wonderful it is to see you again after all these years."
For the first time, D. appeared affected. He accepted her outreached hands and held them awkwardly, saying, "Mother." His voice broke on the word.
Mistress Cordelia looked over his shoulder. "Oh, my, one of the servants has need of me. I'm still helping our lady guests settle in, you know. I'll see you at luncheon, I trust?" She had left them before D. had a chance to reply.
The colonel was checking his pocket-watch. "I fear I have other duties as well. Do let me or one of the servants know if you need anything. I want your stay here to be as enjoyable as possible. It was good to see you again, Daniella."
There was a small, awful silence. Then D. said, in a voice as cold as storm winds, "I would greatly appreciate it, sir, if you would not use that name in my presence."
"Eh?" Under any other circumstances, Colonel Urman's look of incomprehension would have been comical. After a moment, he appeared to realize what he had said. "Oh! No . . . no, of course not. Gentlemen?" He saluted Clifford and Barrett, an acknowledgement of their service to the Queen. Clifford automatically saluted back. Barrett did not.
As the colonel hustled away, Clifford took D.'s arm, saying softly, "You never told me, D. – why did he give you a girl's name?"
D. shrugged. He was visibly withdrawing like a snail into its shell; his face had taken on its familiar look of sullenness. "Something about a great-aunt and her will. It doesn't matter. Let's go find the girls and get away from this place, so that we can enjoy ourselves." He stomped away, looking not the least bit joyful.
They had found the Urman sisters sitting in front of the hotel and chatting with the very young chambermaid. Drusilla had changed into a most remarkable costume: although she wore white lace and pink satin, her gown was so shapeless that she looked as though she had shrugged herself into a dressing gown after a bath. Barrett would swear she was not wearing a corset.
"Drusilla!" D. had turned quite red in the face. "You can't wear your tea gown away from home!"
Drusilla had simply laughed.
That was two hours ago. Now she was sliding on sand. Laughing, she held onto her hat with one hand and her skirt with the other hand as she slid down a steep dune near the beach. Her brother, who looked as though he would have liked to join her in play, had dutifully positioned himself at the bottom of the dune, like a boy awaiting his younger sister at the bottom of a slide.
"Drusilla, what do you think you're doing?" demanded Decima.
"Playing!" tossed Drusilla over her shoulder as she trudged back up the dune after her latest slide. "Come join us!"
For a moment, Decima looked tempted; then she evidently decided that this would belittle her in the eyes of her escort. Clinging a little closer to Clifford's arm, she turned her attention back to the guard. "She's such a child still."
Clifford murmured something polite. Dorothea, who was walking several paces back from the two of them, spoke her first words to her escort: "I do hope Drusilla finds a husband who appreciates her qualities. It would be a shame to see such exuberance snuffed out."
Like Decima, Dorothea was holding onto her escort's arm. Barrett had offered her his arm at the beginning of the stroll, since that seemed to be the given thing to do. He still hadn't figured out what to say to her, during this long walk up the beach to Cape Henry.
He could see Cape Henry's lamphouse looming ahead of them: a cast-iron pillar striped in black and white, like the outlandish prisoner uniforms that were coming into fashion in some of the queendom's life prisons. No light shone from the lamphouse during this bright morning. Decima was chatting now about how the original settlers of Yclau had landed near the future location of the lamphouse, had decided after one storm that this was a dreadful place to live, and had sailed further up the mighty Bay that began at Cape Henry. . . .
Barrett would have liked to hear more. His knowledge of history was still a bit vague, despite nights spent studiously perusing books from the dungeon library. Sometimes he recognized that he'd read those books before, in the old days.
But his thoughts were distracted as they reached a point in their journey where he could see what lay beyond the lamphouse, at the very tip of the cape: a modest-sized mansion, built in the style of the forts of the middle centuries, with turrets on all four corners of the building. On one of these turrets, an oddly shaped wheel seemed to be blowing around in the wind. Barrett supposed it must be the local variation on a weather vane.
Then he heard something which caused him to slow his step.
"The de Veres?" Decima was evidently responding to some question that Clifford had asked. "Yes, they're at home now, but they don't take any visitors. And right now they're busy hosting their only child, a son. I've forgotten his name—"
Decima turned her head, looking so surprised at Barrett's terse addition to her conversation that he supposed she had concluded he was a deaf-mute. Dorothea looked positively alarmed. Barrett tried to rearrange his expression. He knew, from Clifford's testimony, that he could look deadly at moments like this.
Clifford explained quickly, "Mr. Boyd had an unfortunate encounter with Vito de Vere in the past."
That was a mild way of putting it; the encounter had involved Barrett drawing his work-dagger upon Mr. de Vere when the Seeker-in-Training had illicitly gone into a rack room with a prisoner. The prisoner had emerged some time later, naked and crying.
It had turned out to be a sly trick on the part of the prisoner: to cry "rape" and thereby win his release. And despite the Seeker-in-Training's poor judgment during that episode, Barrett had to admit that young Mr. de Vere had redeemed himself somewhat this month, by helping to end what might have been an exceedingly ugly massacre of the dungeon's prisoners by invading gunmen. But Barrett had assumed he would be free of all chance of meeting Vito de Vere on this trip. Wasn't Mr. de Vere supposed to be pursuing his court case to be rehired as a Seeker?
"Vito?" It was Drusilla, dragging D. behind her in an effort to catch up. "Is he that very handsome young man who grew up at Cape Henry Mansion? I met him last week."
Everyone stared at her. "Truly?" said Decima.
"Yes, truly. He was changing trains at Norfolk, just when we arrived there with Mama to consult a seamstress about our ballgowns. While the rest of you were checking the station schedule to see what time the train home would leave, I went over to look at the arriving passengers on the latest train from the capital—"
Decima rolled her eyes. "To check out the men, you mean."
Drusilla grinned. "He was very handsome, as I say. He saw me watching and tipped his hat to me, so I curtseyed to him and asked after his welfare."
"Drusilla!" cried Dorothea, evidently shocked by this bold move. All six of them had slowed to a halt near one of the many life-saving stations that seemed to dot the coast. Their party had had already passed another station of surfmen within the bounds of Yclau Beach; at that station, the surfmen had been holding their daily drills, which trained them to save the crews of sinking ships.
"Oh, it's all right," said Drusilla earnestly. "It turned out that his father had met our father at the time that Papa first bought the land here. Our families had been properly introduced. The young man was quite nice. He told me that the capital's courts were recessed for the remainder of the summer – whatever significance that might have had – and so he was coming home to stay with his parents until the autumn. He seemed very intelligent and ever so good-looking."
Decima sighed. "You've never met a man yet that you didn't think was good-looking."
"The de Veres are strange folks," Dorothea reflected, releasing Barrett long enough to jab in her hat-pin more securely as the breeze freshened. "They're quite rich, but they never seem to move in society. Mistress Florence de Vere keeps busy tending her flower gardens, I've heard, while her husband tends his weather station."
Weather station? Barrett looked again at the turret, where the wheel was quickening in response to the wind.
"You must be making mock," protested D. "The elder Mr. de Vere is a gentleman!"
Decima shrugged. "It's his hobby, Mama said. He set up a proper weather station in his home, complete with telegraph, so that he can receive messages from the other coastal stations and send messages out, telling what the weather is like here."
D. suddenly looked very much like his youngest sisters; his eyes were alight with curiosity. "What sort of messages? I've heard that the Queen has a map in her palace that shows the state of weather all over Yclau."
But Drusilla had clearly lost interest in the conversation, now that it had turned from handsome young men to weather science. "Is that a ship?" she asked, pointing to a large wooden object on the water; with its three masts, it could not be mistaken for anything but a ship. "It looks as though it's pulling in its sails. Do you suppose it realizes we don't have a wharf? Let's go watch it."
Having tugged her brother over to where the waves rolled lazily onto the beach, Drusilla stood on her tiptoes in order to see the ship slow its pace. Sighing, her brother took out the field glasses he had brought on this trip and peered through them. "It's called the Dictator," he announced. "It's written on the side, on a metal plate. I don't recognize the flag; the ship must be from one of those overseas nations that our queendom hasn't colonized yet. The ship has a figurehead of a woman—"
"Oh, let me see!" begged Drusilla, grabbing for the glasses.
Taking Barrett's arm again, Dorothea subtly turned their path in the direction they had come. Barrett, who spent much of his days observing Seekers subtly turn conversations with prisoners in the direction they wanted, appreciated Dorothea's skill in such matters.
"It must be lovely to have an occupation like gardening or watching the weather," Dorothea remarked as Barrett pulled down the brim of his cap. The wind was from the southeast and was blowing into his eyes now.
She said nothing more. Barrett spent a long minute waiting for her next remark, and another long, tense minute realizing that no remark would be forthcoming. Finally, he gathered his courage.
"Do you?" Two syllables seemed to be all that Barrett could manage presently, but at least he was following Clifford's advice: Ask questions. Ask questions, and pray that it didn't occur to Dorothea to ask questions back.
Evidently taking his question to be a general enquiry, Dorothea replied, "Do we occupy ourselves? Well, Drusilla would like to be married at once. You've probably gathered that. It's really a blessing that she fumbled a bit when we met your train. She feels the need now to be extra nice to D., so she's been staying close to him. Otherwise, I'm afraid she'd be making a nuisance of herself with you and Mr. Crofford. As it is, you can see what a sweet girl she is."
Fondness permeated her voice. Barrett glanced over his shoulder. Decima and Clifford had gone up to Drusilla and were saying something to her. Drusilla laughed in response, grabbed Decima's hand, and the two girls raced down the beach together, their escorts jogging to keep apace.
Glancing briefly that way, Dorothea appeared unsurprised by her sisters' behavior. She said, "Decima would like to marry too, but she would prefer to travel first. Our Great-Aunt Charity – the daughter of our late Great-Aunt Daniella, who was really our great-great-aunt – moved overseas some years ago to enjoy the waters at a spa. She has invited Decima to visit her on several occasions."
"You?" He was down to one syllable, but at least the conversation wasn't flagging.
"Charity work, I think." Dorothea's reply was prompt. "Like Mama does. She has undertaken a tremendous number of good deeds for needy children and youths. It's inspirational to watch her at work. It's a shame that she and Papa have never really understood that D. does similar good deeds, under much more dangerous circumstances, by working with accused criminals. He's an inspiration to me as well. I'm not sure what sort of charity I should support, but if I had the chance, I'd like to spend my life doing that sort of work."
Barrett thought this was an obvious question, but for some reason, his enquiry seemed to make Dorothea shy. She stared down at the pebbly beach as she said, "No, not marriage. I . . . I don't think it's wise to mix charity work with caring for one's own children. It's hard to find time for both."
Barrett's thoughts on this revelation were interrupted by Drusilla. Abandoning her more sedate sister, Drusilla had come charging up the beach, scattering sand as she skidded to a halt. "D. wants to go bathing in the ocean! Let's all get dressed properly and join him."
"Swimming?" It was Clifford, catching up with Decima and D.; he sounded puzzled. "How are we going to swim? We have no bathing suits."
"Don't need clothes."
The words – a triumphant three syllables – were no sooner out of Barrett's mouth than he realized the inappropriateness of them. His brief flickers of memory could do that to him sometimes.
Dorothea had turned as red as a setting sun. Decima pulled open her fan in an effort to hide her smile.
As for Drusilla, she laughed aloud. "Isn't bare bathing out of fashion, even for boys? When did you last swim?"
He had no idea. That was part of the problem.
The cottage walls smelled of pinewood. White Sand Cottage – the name was over the entrance – was too bulky to disguise itself as a tree: it was a square box, topped by a peaked roof with dormer windows. Atop it all, somewhat surprisingly, stood a little cupola, barely the size of a man. The brackets at the top the porch's wooden columns were attractively carved, but there was otherwise nothing distinguished about the cottage design. It was as though Cornelius Urman had put all of his heart into designing the hotel and had entirely forgotten about his family home.
The Urman sisters had disappeared into the cottage to change into frocks appropriate for luncheon. Clifford sat on the porch step, brushing sand off his uniform cap. He looked tired from the long walk to and from Cape Henry.
D. Urman, though, was bouncing with energy, exploring every corner of the porch, from the settle to the wicker table. Peering around the corner, he said, "The porch wraps around the back. Let's go see what's back there."
With a sigh, Clifford rose slowly to his feet. Barrett went over to help him up. As D. disappeared around the corner, Clifford looked up at Barrett and said in a soft voice, "How are you?"
Barrett supposed that Clifford had reason to worry. This was only the second social occasion that Barrett had undertaken since he had realized the necessity for such matters, during the previous month. The first, fraught occasion had been with his parents.
"Fine," he said, which he realized was true. There had been enough chatter between Clifford and D. and the two younger sisters that Barrett had been spared the necessity of carrying on a conversation with Dorothea. With any luck, he wouldn't have to speak more than two syllables for the rest of his visit.
But Clifford had other ideas. As they walked slowly over the newly laid wooden porch, the younger guard said quietly, "I know this is hard for you. But the ability to hold a normal conversation isn't lost in you, my love. You talk normally with me all the time, and you can do so with the prisoners if your duty requires it. You just need to spread your focus beyond me and the prisoners."
There was no opportunity to reply; they had turned the corner and found themselves facing D., who was striding back, disappointment on his face.
"There ain't nothing there," he said, lapsing back into commoner dialect, as he had begun to do with surprising frequency. Clifford had told Barrett that D. often spoke in a commoner fashion when he and Clifford were alone. It was the tongue D. had spoken as an adolescent boy, but normally he did not use it around other people; it could easily have gained him ridicule in his elite workplace.
Yet he was using it now around Barrett. Barrett chewed on his thought as Clifford said with a teasing tone, "Well, what did you expect to see? Ammippian warriors shooting arrows?"
D. shrugged. He looked more than a little rumpled after his romping play with Drusilla; his cap sat askew on his head. "Something more than a hotel and a cottage and a promise of a boardwalk. You're right, Cliff; this place is desolate."
Clifford glanced at Barrett. After a few moments, Barrett realized that he was expected to contribute to the conversation. By the time this revelation came, it was too late. Raising his voice above the sound of the crashing surf, Clifford filled the gap by saying, "Oh, I don't know. There's a beautiful pavilion too, and I thought the hotel was wonderfully made – don't you agree, Barrett?"
Barrett turned around abruptly, heading to the front porch, urgency rising in his body, as though he had seen a prisoner reaching for his hidden weapon. Glancing back, he glimpsed briefly the waves of the beach, white with foam, and then he had reached the front door and was opening it.
"What are you doing?" It was D., his voice aggressive; he and Clifford had followed Barrett.
Barrett addressed himself to Clifford, rather than D. "Exploring."
"My love, the girls are changing clothes, remember?" There was a warning note in Clifford's voice, though he kept his instruction soft. He never shamed Barrett in public by lecturing him in any obvious manner.
Barrett contented himself with nodding acknowledgment before he stepped through the door. He had not forgotten that it was wrong to enter a lady's bedroom while she was changing clothes. He simply had that thrumming feeling of danger and a need to discover the source of the danger – or perhaps the solution to it.
The cottage's interior proved as plain as the outside. Barrett skimmed through the rooms downstairs, hearing the low-voiced murmurs of Clifford and D. on the porch, along with the laughter of the sisters upstairs. The family was evidently still in the process of moving in, for the long living room was scattered with trunks, and most of the furniture was missing. Ignoring a door that led to the back porch, Barrett passed into the room to the right. He glanced into the small kitchen next to the room he stood in. Beyond it stood a doorway leading to a tiny bedroom, presumably intended for family servants; the room had bunk beds. The bedroom was bare, however; it appeared that no domestic servants had yet been hired.
The room he was standing in was probably the dining room, though it was denuded of tables and chairs and sideboards. He moved back to the beach-facing portion of the cottage, where the one remaining ground-floor room stood: a parlor, which was the only room yet furnished. It had armchairs and a sofa and a desk where the colonel evidently did his correspondence. An elaborately decorated trunk under the side window doubled as a window seat.
The guest area, where Colonel Urman received visitors, was fully furnished. The living areas, where his family spent their time, had been left for last. Barrett thought upon this for a moment and then moved toward the front windows.
The brocaded curtains were drawn. He pulled back one of the curtains far enough to see out. Clifford and D., who were worriedly debating whether they should locate Barrett before he scared D.'s sisters, were out of sight. The waves thundered onto the beach, sparkling their white foam. Barrett looked at the waves for a time, trying to call up a memory – any memory. But nothing came, so he let the curtain fall.
The stairway was just a few feet from the front door, in a tiny entryway between the living room and the parlor. Barrett started upstairs, keeping his steps quiet. Before he had climbed halfway up, he knew where the sisters were: in the bedroom to the left of the stairwell, over the front part of the living room. Ignoring that bedroom and the one standing opposite it, he slipped into the bedroom to the immediate right of the stairwell. He guessed at once that this room belonged to Drusilla; it was filled with frilly linens, while magazine pictures of handsome men had been tacked upon the wall.
The room opposite hers was the master bedroom, with a double bed. That left the corridor opposite the stairway. It appeared to lead nowhere, but when Barrett looked up, he saw a trap door with a strap hanging down from it.
He was tall enough to be able to pull the trapdoor down without jumping. The door hung down a foot from the floor, revealing a ladder on the opposite side. Barrett put a foot on the ladder. The step squeaked. Barrett paused, looking over his shoulder, but the sisters were too absorbed in their laughing conversation to have heard.
The ladder led to the attic. There was nothing strange about the attic. A dormer window faced east toward the beach, another faced west, and two small, triangular windows to the north provided an excellent view of the pavilion between the cottage and the hotel. If Colonel Urman had intended to building windows to the south, he had run out of time. Or perhaps he had simply lost interest; nothing lay to the south of the cottage except miles of empty beach. As Clifford had said, the hotel was in the middle of nowhere. Aside from the sound of the girls' voices below, Barrett could hear nothing except the rattling of wind upon the window-frames and the sigh of the surf.
Puzzled, Barrett looked around. There must be something here to explain his feeling of urgency. He could see nothing except chimneys in each corner of the attic, poking their ways toward the roof. Next to one of the chimneys stood a trunk, much less elaborate than the one in the parlor. This trunk was locked.
Barrett was trying to remember whether he knew how to pick a lock when he noticed something else: a metal ladder in the middle of the attic. It led straight up to the peak of the roof.
The trap door to the cupola was harder to open; it was tightly wedged against the area of roof upon which it had been built. Barrett managed to get it open, though, and he cautiously climbed the ladder steps into the cupola. It was open to the outside, providing views on all sides of the sights: the pavilion and hotel to the north, the beach to the east, more beach to the southeast, and just visible over the tips of the western pines, the lake that the train had travelled over.
Barrett contemplated the lake for a while, wondering whether it was the source of the danger he felt. If he had ever taken lessons on Yclau's flora and fauna, he had forgotten them; he could not recall whether Yclau's coastline included beasts that were poisonous or ravenous.
With his body secure against the ladder, he laid his arms upon a horizontal bar on the cupola and contemplated the serene landscape. Wind rippled the lake, but he could see no animals, ravenous or otherwise. Whatever danger there was, it seemed unlikely to arise here.
He could still hear the voices downstairs, both the girls' and the men's, but he felt no desire to join them. He stared at the lake, his mind wandering.
He must have been an ordinary person, once. He had his parents' testimony to that fact. He had lived his ordinary life, growing up surrounded by sisters and brothers. He had visited his uncle and aunt in the countryside occasionally and had gone squirrel-hunting with his cousins. He had done well enough in school to enter university, where he received good but not outstanding marks. All this he knew from his mother, who had sat beside him on her couch one afternoon, showing him a scrapbook of drawings she had sketched of him when he was a boy.
But something had changed, and despite what everyone said, he thought the change had occurred before the fatal moment when a disciplinary punishment gone awry had wiped his memory away and transformed his life.
Perhaps the change had occurred when he joined the army? His father had lightly hinted that Barrett's career as a soldier had been undertaken against the will of his family. Spurning his family's wishes, Barrett had gone willingly onto some of the worst battlefields that Yclau soldiers had ever known.
He had survived. Yet instead of returning home to the peace of his boyhood, he had chosen instead to take up the dangerous work of being a guard in the Eternal Dungeon. That much he had done with his parents' blessing; to be a guard in the royal prison was an elite calling. But he knew that, even if his parents had been opposed, he would have become a guard anyway. The fragments of memories that he was beginning to gather told him that.
And then he had defied orders in order to protect a prisoner, knowing that he might die as a result of that defiance. Yes, he had definitely been on the path to change before the brutal punishment he received for his act had shattered his brain, leaving him with only two missions in life: Protect the prisoners against abuse. And protect Clifford Crofford, who had been his love-mate before the punishment.
Their lovemaking had not survived the transformation. Their love had, largely thanks to Clifford, who had persisted in his attempts at intimacy during that terrible period when Barrett had lost all memory of the younger guard. Barrett's memories were starting to return now: slowly, very slowly, and in all likelihood he would never fully recall his past – the past of the man who had been named Barrett Boyd, but whom the present Barrett could not entirely consider himself.
Yet even assuming that he had once been that man in the past, Barrett had no memory of ever being what Clifford clearly wanted him to be: normal. A normal love-mate, who did normal things such as talk with three young women . . .
. . . and with Clifford's new love-mate, D. Urman.
"It's for looking at birds."
Barrett nearly fell down the ladder. Gripping the horizontal bar of the cupola, he looked down cautiously. Dorothea stood at the bottom of the ladder, dressed now in white lace. She was staring up at him.
When he didn't say anything, she added, "For viewing wildfowl, I mean. Father enjoys hunting ducks and geese on the lake nearby. But he also enjoys just watching them. He had the cupola built so that he could watch wildfowl throughout the day. They're always flying around the lake; it's where they get much of their food."
There must be some sensible reply which Barrett could make to that. He couldn't think of a single syllable to speak. Instead, he made his way down the ladder, closing the trapdoor behind him. When he reached the bottom, he waited awkwardly.
Dorothea looked equally awkward. She stared at her boots, which were neatly laced up. The silence extended, like a hangman's rope.
D.'s head popped up from the hole in the attic floor that formed the ceiling for the second floor. "What are you two dillydallying for? I need your help finding the bathing suits."
Looking relieved, Dorothea hurried toward her brother, who helped her onto the steps before the two of them disappeared from sight. Barrett walked toward the steps.
And then stopped. He stood in the middle of the attic, in the area exactly between all four of the chimneys. It took him a moment to realize why he had stopped. Then he turned and went back to the metal ladder, scrambling up it to push open the trapdoor and look out the cupola toward the west.
There were no ducks and geese over the lake. None whatsoever.
The wave rose like a lion, pounced, and turned tame, dribbling its way across the sandy beach. The water nibbled at the feet of the many ladies who were seated on the beach, watching the gentlemen swim, or, in a few cases, watching their female friends wade at the beach's edge. Clifford and D. emerged from under the latest wave, laughing, their arms over each other's shoulders. Nearby, Decima and Drusilla were making their way into the water, following a rope that was staked at two ends: on the beach and on the ocean floor. Without that rope, Barrett gathered, the young women would have been in danger of being swept under the water in their heavy bathing skirts.
Clifford and D. were dressed in lighter clothes; the woolen suits clung to them from neck to thigh. D. had found his old bathing suits in the trunk in the attic; he and Barrett had wrestled the trunk down to the narrow hallway under the trapdoor, and then Barrett had stepped back to let D. rummage through the trunk, with the help of Clifford. They had only found two bathing suits; D. had looked quickly at Barrett when this discovery was made, but Barrett had made no effort to dispute possession of one of the suits. He still didn't know whether he could swim; he didn't want to learn the answer by drowning.
Dorothea also showed no interest in risking death by water-filled lungs. She remained in the white lace dress she had donned for luncheon, with her opened parasol over her shoulder, though she was sitting in the shade of a small picnic shelter built near the water's edge. On the table beside her was a wicker basket containing the remains of their midday meal. D. had insisted on a picnic, once he had discovered that his mother would not be attending the hotel's luncheon after all, for she was tending to some matter that had arisen with the hotel's younger menservants.
Drusilla was trying to duck Decima under the water. Dorothea shook her head. "I don't know how she expects to find a husband, if she keeps up that sort of behavior. Decima and I worry about her. Drusilla is so intent on marrying and having her first child before she is twenty-one. But here on Yclau Beach, where we have few neighbors and where most of our male guests are too elite to be interested in a girl of Drusilla's rank— Drusilla, no!"
Drusilla had let go of the rope and was treading into deeper water. Alerted by Dorothea's call of danger, D. swam toward Drusilla, just in time to keep her from being dragged under by another wave. "The ocean is lively today," D. told her with a smile as he took firm hold of her, but he showed no inclination to return her to the rope. Instead, as Clifford swam over to check on the welfare of Decima, D. began showing his youngest sister how to float on her back in the water.
Dorothea sighed as she moved the pale parasol to better shade her from the burning afternoon sun. "Those two are two of a kind. Do you mind being down there?"
It took Barrett a moment to realize that she meant him. Since the other chairs were covered with the girls' parasols, he had automatically seated himself on the sand, in front of the picnic shelter. Confused, he looked up at Dorothea.
She must have sensed his confusion, for she said quickly, "I'm sorry; that must have sounded silly. I was just wondering whether it bothered you, sitting below me. Most of the men I know prefer to stand over me. Loom, I should say." She smiled.
Barrett suddenly felt very self-conscious. He knew that he was abnormally tall; the height difference between him and Clifford, one of the shortest guards in the dungeon, was pronounced. It had never occurred to Barrett that this might be a disadvantage in social circumstances.
Dorothea had evidently lost hope that he would respond, for her gaze had turned toward the ship they had seen before, the Dictator. It had anchored itself across from the hotel. A boat was being let down its side, with a party in it that was too far away to identify. As the boat reached the rough water, Dorothea said, "The weather is turning poor, I fear, but at least there are no gulls to snatch away our food today. They're usually perpetual pests."
No gulls? The thrum of danger returned to Barrett's body. He looked around at the sky, seeing only grey clouds beginning to drift in from the south. He hadn't thought to look for birds here. But now that Dorothea had mentioned the matter, Barrett recalled that the one picture he had seen of a beach had shown the air clogged with seabirds.
Where had all the birds gone? And why had they left?
Clifford broke through Barrett's thoughts, staggering out from the waves to throw himself onto the sand. Barrett looked at him with some concern. He had once overheard a couple of guards say that Clifford Crofford had nearly failed the physical examination to be a guard, which tested strength and vigor.
"It's a good thing that his power of empathy toward prisoners is so high," said one of the gossipers. "Otherwise, someone as weak as him would never have achieved his post."
Barrett had nearly taken a swing at the gossiper. That had been the day when he realized that he was still in love with Clifford, despite having no memory of having pledged his love.
Now Clifford gasped, "The sea is too rough for me. That last wave nearly pulled me under."
"D.!" Dorothea was on her feet. "D., the waves are too rough!"
D. put up a hand in acknowledgment of the warning. Clifford had hurried back to the water to help Decima return to shore. She was holding carefully onto the rope, hand over hand. Drusilla, on the other hand, seemed inclined to argue. D. settled the argument by picking her up and walking out of the water with her.
She kicked and struggled in his arms, but it was all in fun; she was laughing by the time D. let her down. Grinning, he said, "Let's go back to the hotel. It's getting too windy anyway."
None of the other guests on the beach seemed to have noticed yet the change in weather. As Decima reached the rest of their party and picked up the picnic basket, she said, "I hope this doesn't spoil Papa's dinner plans. He is going to have an outside dinner."
"Oh, we'll be all right under the pavilion roof," said Drusilla. "D., are you sure we can't swim for another hour? It's a lovely day."
It was a lovely day, even with the rough waves, which were lapping at the rowboat coming ashore. Despite the wisp of grey clouds, the sun still shone brightly upon the sand.
D. looked tempted, but he was evidently not prepared to take chances where his sisters were concerned. "We can come back tomorrow. We ought to be starting to get ready for dinner."
"I'm all covered in salt," Clifford announced with surprise; he was licking the back of his hand.
The sisters laughed. D. shrugged. "Salty ocean, I suppose? Decima, where can we bathe?" He turned for help to his practical sister.
"The bathing house, of course," she replied promptly.
"It has two pools," Dorothea explained. "A salt-water pool and a fresh-water pool. You can all bathe in the fresh-water pool to wash off the salt."
Drusilla perked up noticeably. D. took her hand, and they began to run toward the pavilion, leaving the rest to follow behind: Clifford with the picnic basket he had taken from Decima, Decima with both her parasol and Drusilla's, and Dorothea taking a step forward and then looking behind to see whether Barrett was coming.
Barrett barely noticed her. He was watching as the rowboat, now beached, revealed its occupants. A woman with a boy about four years of age, both in foreign costume, were helped off the boat by the young man who had been rowing, as well as by an older man who bore all the marks of being a captain. The captain smiled as he waved the others toward the hotel, but as the woman and child and young sailor walked forward, chattering together in some foreign tongue, the captain looked up at the sky, a frown on his face, as though he too sensed something was amiss.
The gentlemen's changing room was empty when they entered it after bathing. Barrett could hear nothing besides the muffled sound of Dorothea talking to Decima and Drusilla as she helped them back into their dresses in the ladies' changing room. All other potential pool-bathers had stayed outside on this beautiful day; the bathing house was otherwise empty of both guests and servants.
As Barrett stripped off his suit, he was keenly aware of D. watching him. When Barrett met D.'s eye – no doubt with a flat stare, for Barrett could not always control his expressions – D. quickly looked away. Nearby, Clifford took down his uniform jacket from the hook where it hung, offering a good imitation of a man unconcerned by the sight of the deep scars on Barrett's back. Both men had seen the scars of Barrett's four-years-past punishment during the previous month, when Barrett had been forced by circumstances to go on duty half-dressed. But D., it seemed, had still not come to terms with the sight.
Barrett paused as he pulled on his drawers, recalling something Clifford had told him recently: that D. had been so deeply affected by Barrett's punishment that the episode had helped to turn him from a perpetual grumbler into an outright rebel against the dungeon's centuries-old tradition of torture.
"Goodness, I believe that the hotel servants may have pressed our suits." Clifford – another member of their small but victorious group of torture abolitionists – inspected the jacket he had donned. "Your father must have ordered that."
They had met Colonel Urman on their way back from the beach. Hearing that their party intended to return to the cottage in order to fetch their clothing, Mr. Urman had assured them that this matter would be taken care of by the servants. With much good wishes, he urged them to enjoy their bathing.
"I plan to add electric lights to the pavilion and the beach," he added as a parting tidbit, "so that bathers can enjoy the ocean into the evening."
Now D. simply grunted at Clifford's remark, sitting down to tie up his boots. Barrett, who was still wriggling his way into his undervest, glanced over at Clifford. The junior guard had paused in the midst of struggling to put on his collar. He was looking at D.
After a minute, Clifford said, "Your father has been a most gentlemanly host."
D. said nothing, setting aside the boot-hook as Barrett pulled up his suspenders. For this trip, Barrett had abandoned his heavy work-belt, which normally held his weapons. It had seemed unlikely they would encounter any danger at a beach resort.
More tentatively, Clifford said, "You seem to get along with your mother."
For a minute, D. remained silent. Barrett spent that minute thinking of Mistress Cordelia, whom they had met as they were entering the bathhouse. She had been shepherding the youngest of the hotel's distinguished guests, who was even younger than Drusilla. From Mistress Cordelia's hurried explanation, they had learned that the young woman was much in need of maternal attention, since her parents had chosen to take a long walk through the nearby pine woods, leaving their daughter behind. Mistress Cordelia was performing her self-chosen duty so admirably that she barely had time to lift a hand to wave to D. as she passed.
Finally D. said, "Father and I quarrelled a lot when I was young. He always blamed me when I had trouble with the other boys. No matter what happened, he was sure I was the one who started the dispute."
With a name like Daniella, D. must have had quite a few disputes with the other boys in Charlottesville. Barrett watched D. covertly for a moment as Clifford's love-mate fiddled unnecessarily with his boot-laces. Then D. rose abruptly to his feet.
"I'm done. I'll go wait for the girls to finish." He left before Clifford could reply.
D. had not responded to Clifford's remark about Mistress Cordelia, Barrett reflected as he attempted to tie his uniform's old-fashioned scarf, without benefit of a mirror.
"Let me," said Clifford, and came over to help him.
It was a pleasure still, to be able to approach this close to Clifford and to feel the intimacy of Clifford's touch as the younger man settled the knot against Barrett's collar. Without looking up, Clifford asked, "Are you all right?"
Barrett was still thinking of D. and his family. For that reason, his reply was immediate and frank. "No."
Clifford paused in smoothing down Barrett's shirt. He looked up, his brows low and grave over his eyes. "You can do this, Barrett. I know that you can."
He felt again the heavy weight of Clifford's faith in him. But for once, Clifford's empathy had gone awry. Barrett struggled to explain. "Not me. That's not what is wrong. Something else. I'm not sure what."
"Is it D.?" Clifford took hold of Barrett's lapels as he peered up at Barrett's face. "My love, I don't want you to feel that I bullied you into this trip. I just . . . Well, I thought it would be a good opportunity for you to get to know D."
Again. The word was there, unspoken. Barrett tried to think of an appropriate response. He settled upon, "His sisters are nice."
Clifford's smile flashed like sun upon the water. "They are, aren't they? And his parents are very helpful. But perhaps not . . ." He hesitated, seeking the word.
Barrett supplied it. "Reliable."
Clifford sighed. "Yes, exactly. Barrett, I'm really worried about D. I'm afraid that this visit will hurt him a good deal, because of the way his parents are ignoring him. Could you help me keep an eye on him?"
Keep an eye on D.? Barrett looked blankly at Clifford, who had stepped back to finish buttoning his own jacket. Barrett had no idea what Clifford meant. Caring for D. wasn't Barrett's duty. His duty was to care for Clifford and the prisoners—
Oh. With chagrin at returning to his longtime habits, Barrett said, "I'll try."
Clifford reached forward to squeeze his hand. "That's all you need do. The rest will come back to you. I know it will. It's still inside you, just waiting to be woken."
Waves boomed as they crashed onto the shore, the foam sparkling like jewels in the late-afternoon sun. Wind whipped the pine trees into a frenzy of activity as it scurried north, past where the engineer and small crew were standing by their train, enjoying cigars at their leisure as they awaited any passengers who preferred to return to Norfolk by the midnight train. The passengers were sitting a few yards away, under the doubtful cover of the pavilion roof, struggling to keep their napkins from flying away.
"You must be used to such stormy weather, sir," said Clifford.
Captain Jorgensen smiled. He had accepted their invitation to join them at their table, although his young wife, who did not speak the Yclau language, preferred to stay with the cluster of young female guests whom Mistress Cordelia had gathered around her. All of the young women were admiring the foreigners' little boy, especially Mistress Cordelia. Mistress Cordelia had still not looked in the direction of her own son, though she had smiled a vague greeting at him when they left the bathing house to join the other guests in the pavilion.
"Yes, and a bit of stormy fighting too, when I encounter your fleet." With apparently no ill feeling, the Captain grinned. Barrett's grasp of foreign geography remained vague, but he gathered that the Captain came from the northernmost portion of the Northwest Continent overseas, which did not yet enjoy the protection of the Queendom of Yclau.
"Surely you didn't come all this way just to see us?" Drusilla leaned over the table, showing off to splendid effect her ample bosom. She winced in the next moment and hastily sat back. From where Barrett was sitting, he had seen Decima kick her in the ankle.
In the jovial manner of a man who has offspring of his own, Captain Jorgensen replied, "We are bound for ports in the Deep South. But when my ship passed this way and I saw a building, lo, where none had existed a year ago, as though it had sprung from the ground like a sapling, I could not contain my curiosity. . . . I invited my men to join me on this expedition," he added, as though fearing he would otherwise appear uncharitable. "But I think they preferred being outside my watchful eye this evening." He winked.
Barrett glanced at the ship, which was bobbing vigorously up and down on the waves. If any of the Dictator's crew had stayed behind in the hope of enjoying a drink or two, they must be regretting their decision. It seemed likely that even a seaworthy crew would be retching by now.
"I have a good Second Mate," added Captain Jorgensen, as though his thoughts paralleled Barrett's. "He will sail the ship to Norfolk's shelter if the weather worsens."
From the way the Captain kept glancing every few minutes at the ship, Barrett guessed he wished the Second Mate had done so already.
Certainly the atmosphere within the pavilion was turning from bright spirits to annoyance. Women crouched over to try to keep their skirts from billowing, the servants who were bringing before-dinner drinks had difficulty keeping hold of the trays, and the youngest men, sensing excitement, were eager to return to the beach and battle with the enormous waves that were building up on the shore.
"My goodness gracious!" Dorothea exclaimed. "I believe the waves have reached the picnic shelter!" Then she gasped as her hat flew off.
Barrett rose at once, nearly shoving the back of his chair against the turn-off valve for the pavilion's string of gas-lamps – the hotel's electrification had not yet reached this far. He managed to catch the hat before it sailed in the direction of the idle train.
Barrett handed the hat back to Dorothea, who was blushing at her mishap. Then he murmured to Clifford, "Back soon."
Not waiting for an answer, he made his way along the covered pathway to the hotel. As he passed through the main hall, he saw that a few guests had lingered there, peering uncertainly at the weather outside.
A maid guided Barrett to the suite where he and the other guards were officially housed, though they had not yet had the chance to spend time in their rooms. Barrett turned on the electric lamp and then rummaged through the suitcase until he found what he had sought in Clifford's suitcase: a map-book of the Yclau coastline. He sat down to study it, wondering, as he did so, what instinct was guiding him.
When he returned to the main hall, he found that it was empty except for Colonel Urman and the telegraph man, who were having a low-voiced conversation behind the counter of the office. Barrett would have walked past, except that he caught sound of a familiar name. Immediately, he slid back into the shadows of the entrance to the remainder of the hotel.
Colonel Urman was saying in an urgent voice, "No, no, the guests mustn't be disturbed. I'm sure it's nothing in any case. It will blow out to sea – they always do before they reach here. Send him back a message of my thanks, but say not a word to the guests."
The telegraph man looked unhappy, but he nodded in acknowledgment of the order as Colonel Urman slipped the piece of paper he was holding into one of the cubbyholes along the wall. Barrett waited until the colonel had left the main hall, and the telegraph man was busy tapping away at his post. Then Barrett went behind the counter and slipped the note out of the cubbyhole.
He went over to the covered passage, with wind whipping his body, before he opened the folded piece of paper.
The telegram said:
Weather stations in Deep South nations report hurricane heading our way. Advise immediate evacuation of hotel. My father is sending word to the surfmen. Vito de Vere
"What is a hurricane?" asked Drusilla as she and her sisters peered over D.'s shoulder to read the telegram.
They were standing in the otherwise empty covered passage between the pavilion and the hotel. All of the sisters had their hands firmly on their hats. Even in the small amount of time that Barrett had spent inside, the wind had increased twofold. At the pavilion, servants were scurrying to and fro, seeking to calm the nerves of the now thoroughly exasperated guests. The train crew, wiser than the guests, had disappeared into the train.
"It's a big coastal storm, dear," replied Dorothea. "D., I'm sure it will be all right," she added as her brother handed back the telegram to Clifford. Clifford, rightly interpreting the expression on Barrett's face, had not only come to join Barrett immediately but had brought the rest of their party.
"I can see why Mr. de Vere would be worried," Dorothea added. "His parents live in that rickety old mansion. But our hotel is newly built and very solidly constructed. It's not going to blow down in the wind."
"Maybe we should invite the de Veres to stay in our hotel during the storm," suggested Drusilla, tugging down her skirt for the dozenth time.
"That's an excellent notion!" responded Dorothea. "I'll suggest it to Mama and Papa. —Excuse me," she said to the others.
She moved away before Barrett could remind her that they weren't supposed to know about the telegram. Decima bit her lip, saying, "What about the train, though? I've heard of cases where storm-floods wash out train tracks. And the train has to go over the lake on its way back to Norfolk."
Drusilla made a dismissive gesture before tamping down her restless skirt once more. "Oh, if that happens, Papa will simply invite everyone to stay at the hotel until the track is repaired. Can you imagine that making him unhappy?" She laughed, twirling around as the wind shoved them particularly hard.
Still chewing on her lip, Decima said, "What do you think, D.? And your friends? I imagine that all of you have encountered danger once or twice in that dungeon of yours."
Clifford hid a smile. Barrett was hard pressed not to snort. "Once or twice." Evidently D. had spared his sisters the details of his work.
D. sounded doubtful as he replied, "Not sure. No hurricane ever went as far inland as our old home in Charlottesville – at least, not while I've been alive."
Clifford was looking at Barrett. Barrett shrugged. If he'd been assigned duty on the coast during his years as a soldier, he had no memory of the experience.
Clifford answered for both of them, saying, "Mr. Boyd grew up in the capital, and my family's farm is located on a mountainside near the capital. Neither of us knows anything about hurricanes."
"We'll be fine," D. decided, his voice filled with certainty. "Perhaps we should hunt up some lanterns, in case the electric generator goes out, for some reason."
"I'll do that." Drusilla darted off, with Decima in tow.
D. went over to stand at the edge of the passageway, facing the beach as the wind began to whip rain toward them. After a moment, he took out a brass case from the inner pocket of his jacket, removed a cigarette from it, slipped the case back into his pocket, and stood with his fingers grasping the cigarette, unlit.
Not so certain as he'd appeared, then. Clifford drew Barrett back until they were as far away from D. as they could get without subjecting themselves to the rain that was now pouring down. In a low voice, Clifford asked, "Is this the trouble you were worried about?"
"Think so." Barrett looked over at the guests. Propriety was keeping the guests seated, but none of them looked in the mood for dinner.
"Why?" asked Clifford.
He struggled to explain. "There are no birds. They've left. What is it that all the birds fear? And there was something I was seeking in the cottage. I don't know what. But I think I was hunting because I heard the waves growing rougher."
"You sensed the storm coming." Clifford's voice was flat.
Barrett nodded. The ocean was now as much froth as wave, beating its way frantically up the beach. The picnic area was knee-deep in water.
Clifford glanced over at D., then lowered his voice yet further. "We can leave now, if you like. Vito de Vere must have come to his parents' mansion by carriage; we could telegraph him and ask him to send his carriage and driver to take us further inland. I'm sure Mr. de Vere would be willing to help us; he still considers himself a member of the Eternal Dungeon, despite his dismissal."
"What about D. Urman?"
"I don't think D. would leave if he thinks family might be in danger." Pain crossed Clifford's face then, but he added steadily, "I'll come with you, if you like."
There was no response that could be made to such an offer except a kiss. Barrett bent to place his lips upon Clifford's cheek as he kept an eye on D.'s back. There was little chance that any of the guests would notice; they were now complaining in loud tones about the conditions of their suits and gowns as rain made its way into the pavilion.
"I'll stay," said Barrett, straightening up. "His sisters might need us."
Clifford looked stunned, as though Barrett had announced that he planned to emigrate and join the nearby kingdom's royal ballet troupe. Clifford's mouth opened to say something, but at that moment the sisters returned, laughing as they carried the electric lanterns into the gathering dark.
"Collect all the chairs in the pavilion," Colonel Urman was saying as Barrett returned from the spacious water closet he had been allotted. "Store the chairs where they will not be harmed. Clean up the rubbish from every part of the grounds and deposit it in some secluded place. Gather any fallen branches to use as fuel for the fireplaces. . . ."
Barrett reflected to himself that the colonel – finally admitting that the weather was "a bit poor tonight" – was taking no half-measures for the comfort for his guests. Barrett paused at the door to the dining room, where the guests had been moved from the pavilion. The orchestra that had been hired for the ball had been moved to the dining room in order to entertain the guests . . . and perhaps also to keep their minds off the wind rattling the windowpanes. The guests, thoroughly drenched by the rain, did not appear to be in any way interested in their food.
Barrett ran his eye over the crowd until he found Clifford, who was talking with the three Urman sisters. D. was in conversation with the captain, who kept glancing at the windows.
Little could be seen outside, now that the sun had set. Occasionally the dark clouds scudding across the stars would part enough to let the rising moon appear as a bright beacon near the horizon. It was a full moon; Barrett had the vague notion that this was likely to make the tide higher than usual.
"No, there is no way in which our rowboat could reach the ship now," the captain was saying to D. as Barrett reached the table. "We will have to wait for the eye."
"The eye?" said Clifford, but was distracted as Barrett sat down and murmured in his ear.
"Water closet now. Might not be time later."
D. had overheard. He rose to his feet and said with forced cheerfulness, "Anyone wish to join me in visiting the toilets?"
"Oh, D.!" Dorothea's cheeks had gone scarlet, but she rose to her feet, nudging up Drusilla, who was showing far too much interest in the wine they'd been served. "Let's go now, dears," she said to her sisters. "Mama and Papa may need our help later."
When they were all gone, Barrett returned his attention to the captain, whose gaze had shifted to his young wife. The captain's wife was standing with her hands in her son's, smiling down at him as he swayed back and forth to the music.
"I don't know the Yclau uniforms," said the captain abruptly. "Seaman, are you?"
"Prison guard," Barrett replied.
"Ah." The captain puffed at his pipe a minute before saying, "Used to making quick decisions in a crisis, no doubt."
"Good." The captain gave him a grim smile, but said no more till the others returned. Then he snuffed out his pipe and rose to his feet. Barrett belatedly rose as well, remembering the etiquette lessons that Clifford had given him before this trip.
Once the sisters were seated, though, the captain did not return to his chair. Instead, he said, "You'll forgive me, ladies; I need to have a word with that Third Mate of mine." He pointed toward the young sailor who, ignoring the weather, was dancing with a young lady as Mistress Cordelia looked on, smiling.
"Of course, sir," D. replied. "Don't let us keep you."
It was his polite, out-of-character voice again. Looking around, Barrett determined the cause: Colonel Urman had re-entered the dining room and was going from table to table, offering apologies and reassurances.
"A spot of unexpected bad weather," Colonel Urman said to one couple. "It simply makes the indoors seem more gay, does it not?"
There as no denying that the blazing fire in the fireplace brought a comforting glow to the room. A stag's head jutted out of the wall above the fireplace, while a balcony overlooked the fanlike braces of the wooden columns. The complete effect was simple yet elegant.
"So when are you going to announce your news, D.?" It was Drusilla, dropping her napkin back down on her lap.
"Don't know what you mean." For some reason, D. had turned as red as his eldest sister was accustomed to.
"Drusilla, no." Dorothea's voice was quiet as she glanced at her brother.
Drusilla tossed her head. "It's no secret. That Seeker you now work for wrote to Dorothea and told her. When is it that you're going to begin work as a Seeker?"
Somewhere close by came the sound of a loud crack, as though a board or branch had given up its struggle in the wind. Barrett barely noticed the sound. His gaze had turned to Clifford, whose eyes were lowered, not meeting Barrett's.
"Can't," Barrett heard himself say. "No fraternization." It was in the Code of Seeking, which Clifford would never break. A guard could not enter into a carnal relationship with a Seeker. Surely D. must know that?
D. coughed. As he nudged a roll on his plate, he said, "Er . . . that rule is being eliminated, actually. In next year's revision of the Code of Seeking." He glanced at his sisters, then away. "Anyway, there's nothing certain at this point. I'm training before I put in my application for the post, that's all. The dungeon leaders probably won't want me as a Seeker. They don't much want me as guard."
"You're better suited to be a Seeker, your Seeker told us." Dorothea's voice was soft. "I'm sorry, D. – I haven't meant to kept secrets from you. Your Seeker wrote to me first, enquiring after your background."
D. shrugged. He had managed by now to tear the roll into a dozen separate pieces. "Doesn't matter. You can tell Mr. Taylor anything he likes to know. He – he's been very helpful. Offered to train me, even though he's busy preparing the new revision of the Code."
"You'll be made a Seeker," said Clifford firmly. "To D." He raised his glass.
"To D.!" the sisters chorused, raising their own glasses.
Barrett felt obliged to drink with them. He tried to think as he swallowed the wine. Clifford had been keeping secrets from him again, but why? Did he think that Barrett would be jealous of D.? As far as Barrett was concerned, D. was welcome to the job of Seeker; Barrett could not think of a more thankless type of work than to spend one's days questioning prisoners. And D. had evidently accepted the training only under circumstances that would not hurt Clifford.
Still. A Seeker. It had been hard enough, till now, to imagine any sort of relation between himself and D. How was Barrett supposed to approach D. if D. were a Seeker? Until very recently, Barrett had regarded every Seeker as his enemy: men who tore apart the bodies of prisoners. Not that D. would ever do so. He had helped lead the fight to abolish torture in the dungeon.
This would need some thinking.
There was another crash, much louder than before, and at the same second, the overhead lights dimmed momentarily. Drusilla jumped in her seat, giving a startled squeak.
"The hurricane is coming nearer." Decima's voice wavered.
"It's already here, I'd say." D. frowned as he looked at the windows. They were dark again, and they were rattling hard. A great sound, as thunderous as a piece of machinery, was building outside.
Then one of the windows broke.
Barrett came forward, along with some other curious men. It was not as bad as it might have been: a single pane had been broken, letting in the wind. Captain Jorgensen was beside Colonel Urman, offering advice in a low voice. The colonel nodded and beckoned to some of the male servants who were bringing forward water-buckets to help the female servants mop up the water. Colonel Urman gave them their orders, and a few minutes later, the unexpected sight occurred of servants standing outside the windows, striving to hammer pieces of plywood over the windows without being blown away themselves.
There was a muffled sound of hammering as the first piece of wood went up, over the broken window. Colonel Urman stepped away from the window and held up his hand to still the uneasy murmur from the guests. "A minor breakage," he announced. "No worse than if you kind ladies had brought along your young sons and one of them had thrown a ball too vigorously."
Many of the guests laughed, comforted by this domestic image. The colonel continued, "We'll have the mess cleared up in a trice. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy the remainder of your dinner." He signalled the orchestra, which promptly struck up a sprightly tune.
"The waves are getting bigger!" announced Drusilla, her cheeks flushed with excitement, as Barrett arrived back at the table. "I wish they wouldn't put that wood up. I'd like to see."
"I hope they think to cover the doors too," murmured D., and then caught hold of himself and smiled at Drusilla. "I'm feeling restless. Shall we dance till they bring in the dessert?"
Clifford immediately rose and offered Decima his hand. "Why, thank you, sir," she said, rising with as much elegance as her older sister might. "That is very kind of you."
D. was already whirling Drusilla across the floor. As Clifford and Decima departed to join the festivities, Barrett looked over at Dorothea, wondering how to explain to her that he didn't know whether he could dance.
Dorothea was staring at her untouched food. She looked pale. "Excuse me!" she said and rose so suddenly that her chair fell over. She fled from the room.
Barrett switched his gaze to Clifford, but none of the other members of their party had noticed Dorothea's departure. Many of the guests, taking their cue from the young guards and their dancing companions, had risen from their tables. The servants were hastily removing empty tables, so as to turn the dining room into an impromptu ballroom. Colonel Urman, who seemed amused rather than alarmed by this change of plans, was urging Captain Jorgensen to take his wife onto the floor. The captain shook his head without replying, though his young sailor was dancing with Mistress Cordelia's earlier charge.
Barrett glanced at the window. The last board was going up. Just as it did so, the moon swam out from behind the clouds, and the entire beach blazed momentarily with light, glittering upon water.
The ocean waves were making their way over the seawall.
It was not difficult to find Dorothea. She had run out of the door leading toward the main hall. Clustered just outside that door were servants busy moving fragile dishes back to the kitchen. One of them, seeing Barrett look around, silently pointed to a set of stairs that ran parallel to the wall of the dining room.
The stairs led to the balcony. Barrett found Dorothea huddled on a padded stool at the far end of the balcony, close enough to the balcony's edge that she could see her sisters and brother below, but mainly screened by the railings from being seen by the dancers.
Her nose was red, and her face was blotched with tears. Barrett found another of the stools, pulled it over next to her, sat down, and silently offered her his handkerchief.
She accepted it with a murmur of thanks. The sound of her blowing her nose into the handkerchief was barely audible over the increased sound of the orchestra, which was evidently contesting the storm for the right of loudest noise in the dining hall. Barrett thought to himself that it was an unfair contest. During the brief time it had taken him to track Dorothea, the wind had increased, so that it now sounded like a giant locomotive bearing down upon the hotel. The balcony vibrated from its force.
"I'm sorry," Dorothea said finally. "I've always hated storms, from the time I was a little girl."
Barrett couldn't think of any response to make to this – much less a two-syllable response – so he looked past the balcony railing. The electricity glowed from lamps hanging at the same level as the balcony. Below them, the dancers wheeled about like leaves upon the wind. Colonel Urman was instructing the servants, in loud enough tones to reach Barrett, to remove the remainder of the tables and push the chairs back against the wall, so that the dancers – nearly every man and woman now – could have room for their festivities. He seemed not at all nonplussed to have his dining room transformed into a ballroom, any more than he had been nonplussed by being forced to move the dining from the pavilion. He was one of those men, Barrett guessed, who thought on his feet.
Barrett found his gaze wandering over to Clifford. Clifford had handed Decima over to Drusilla so that the sisters could dance together; Clifford himself was dancing with D. This would have earned both men a few stares under normal circumstances, love between two grown men being forbidden by the Queen's law. But the circumstances were unusual, and perhaps some of the guests assumed that the Eternal Dungeon had its own laws on such matters – as, in fact, it did.
"You're sweet on him, aren't you?"
Barrett pulled back to look at Dorothea. She was still clutching the wet handkerchief, but her red-rimmed eyes were focussed upon Barrett. When Barrett said nothing, she added, "I do apologize. It's none of my business. But you're always looking at him, wherever we may go. Are you . . . ?" She hesitated, but Barrett's silence evidently assured her, for she asked in a rush, "Are you in love with Mr. Crofford?"
He nodded. She bit her lip, her hands tightening upon the handkerchief. Barrett waited, watching out of the corner of his eyes as the lamps hanging from the ceiling began to sway.
Finally she said, in as low a voice as could be managed over the scream of the storm, "He and D. are love-mates now. D. told us in the bathing house, when we were waiting for you and Mr. Crofford to finish changing. I'm sorry."
Her compassion was so acute that an explanation was clearly necessary. Barrett struggled to find the words. "He loves your brother. And he loves me. Just differently."
Dorothea stared and then gave a small smile. "I won't even pretend I understand that. But I'm glad if you're close to D. He has been so isolated for most of his life. The boys in Charlottesville used to treat him dreadfully; he never was close to anyone there, aside from Drusilla and Decima and me."
Close? Barrett turned his head to look at Clifford, just in time to see D. aim a poisonous look at Barrett, before the whirl of dancers spun him and Clifford away.
Barrett wondered what he'd done to offend D. now. Perhaps D. was angry that Barrett hadn't tried to bring his sister back downstairs. It was always hard to tell what offended D. Many things did.
Barrett knew, from Clifford had recounted, that D. and himself had never been friends, in the old days before his memories began. Clifford had been friends with D. In addition, Clifford had been on undefined terms of intimacy with Barrett, based on the fact that Barrett had trained Clifford when he was a newly arrived guard. Barrett's closest friend in those days had been Seward Sobel, senior-most guard in the dungeon. The four of them had often eaten together at the dungeon's dining hall or spent time chatting together in the dungeon's common room.
The idea that he had once cared about someone other than Clifford or the prisoners had been a shock to Barrett. He was still absorbing that knowledge. He had acknowledged and accepted his link of friendship to Seward Sobel earlier in the month. But he still had no idea how to be Seward's friend. He had no idea how to be a friend at all. What he felt for Clifford went so far beyond friendship that he had not troubled himself to observe the patterns of behavior by other men in the dungeon who were friends with each other.
As for D., he had never been a friend. And what he was now to Barrett . . . That was even more a mystery.
Barrett looked again at D., who was continuing to send angry looks toward the balcony whenever the dancing permitted. D. Urman, second highest-ranked guard in the dungeon after Seward Sobel . . . and now, it appeared, on his way to become a Seeker, one of the high-ranked men who questioned prisoners and helped to transform their characters so that the prisoners became better men.
Barrett couldn't think of a single guard in the dungeon who was less qualified for such a role. Barrett had high respect for D.'s courage as a guard, but D. was also rude, surly, aggressive, and inclined to thrust people away. How could such a man be placed in the role of modelling good behavior?
A sudden boom rattled every piece of glass in the dining hall; the lamps danced on their cords. The dancers faltered, looking up toward the ceiling. Dorothea gasped and grasped Barrett's jacket.
The lights dimmed, grew more bright, dimmed again. D. and Clifford darted toward Drusilla and Decima. After a quick consultation together, they hurried out the door. When they returned they were holding in each hand two electric lanterns – the lanterns the sisters had brought out of storage before. They placed these at strategic points in the room.
Colonel Urman, as quick-witted as ever, called out, "And now we bring the evening to its most romantic moment, when we dim the lights and dance by candlelight!" Which the electric lanterns most certainly weren't, but the guests appeared to accept this reassurance. The orchestra struck up again, louder than before, and the dancers started round the floor, talking and laughing.
Barrett became aware that Dorothea was still clutching his jacket. Dorothea seemed to become aware of that as well, for she began to edge back, saying, "I'm sorry—"
"It's all right." He put his arm around her to pull her closer. The words and the movement were instinctive. As Dorothea's head settled under his chin, he wondered about that instinct. He possessed sisters – he knew that, though he had not yet met them. Or rather, he amended to himself, he had not yet met them in this new life of his. Given what he knew about his old life, he supposed that he must have put a comforting arm or two around his sisters at some time. At any rate, holding Dorothea close like this felt natural.
He suspected that, under ordinary circumstances, she would never have allowed a man she barely knew to touch her with such intimacy. But once again, the circumstances were not ordinary. Dorothea was shivering now; looking down, Barrett saw that tears were streaming down her cheeks again, though her eyes were closed. He looked toward the dance floor, as he automatically did when he was out of his depth. He found that Clifford was deep in conversation with D., who was pointing at the balcony and saying something angrily. Clifford shook his head and gestured toward Decima and Drusilla, who had not rejoined the dance, but instead were standing in front of the great fireplace, their arms around each other's waists as they stared up at the swaying lights.
After a moment, D. nodded, apparently accepting Clifford's advice, and the two of them approached the sisters, coaxing them over to a quiet corner where the four sat down together.
Reassured that he himself was doing the sort of thing that Clifford would have approved of, Barrett looked back down at Dorothea. Her eyes remained shut; she was tense within Barrett's arm. Somehow, Barrett needed to break through her fear.
He tried. "Lots of women here," he said.
It wasn't the most brilliant remark he had ever made, but it worked. Dorothea lifted her head and said, "You don't have many women working in the Eternal Dungeon, do you? D. mentioned that once. Do you know any of the women there?"
His mind still on Seward, Barrett said, "Mistress Sobel." He had spoken to her only once, just two weeks before, when Seward formally introduced Barrett to his wife. She was petite, fragile, and quite beautiful, despite having given birth to four children in short order; she had evidently been in a hurry to produce progeny, for she had married Seward later in life. Barrett had not known what to say to her.
Nor to her husband. It had been a relief when Clifford proposed this trip. It gave time for Barrett to figure out what to do about Seward.
"Mistress Sobel?" said Dorothea, a crease of puzzlement between her brows. "She uses her last name? Is she elite?"
As always, the part of Barrett's memory that was not under his direct control came to his rescue. He had learned this fact at one time. In Yclau, women were not addressed by their last names unless they were of noble birth or had undertaken notable achievements of their own.
"Yes," he replied, recalling some fragments of gossip he had overheard the previous year, without caring. "Her brother is a nobleman. She was quite rich before she married, but she gave her fortune to her brother, so that she would not be richer than her mid-class husband." Feeling Dorothea relax within his arm, Barrett scraped around for anything else he knew about Seward's wife. "She used to be much involved in charity work, but her health failed her. Now she helps run the dungeon's nursery."
"What an extraordinary life she has led." Dorothea had straightened up, though she had not pulled away from Barrett's arm. "Are there other women like her in the Eternal Dungeon?"
"Mistress Chapman." The reply came without thought, and Barrett had to suppress a wince a moment later. That one of the dungeon's dreaded Seekers was a lady was closely guarded information. Officially, Mistress Birdesmond Chapman was listed in the dungeon records as Mr. B. Chapman.
But Dorothea was waiting, and Chapman was a common enough name. So Barrett said slowly, picking over his words with care, "She isn't of noble birth, but she has achieved a great deal in her own right. This year, she helped organize a group that was pressing for improvements in how prisoners are handled." They had pressed for the abolition of torture. And had won their victory, much to Barrett's astonishment. He added, "Your brother was part of that group."
"And you and Mr. Crofford were, as well?" Dorothea guessed accurately. "I can well believe that the three of you would have fought for the prisoners' welfare – at least, I know that D. would have, and if Mr. Crofford is his love-mate and you his friend, you both must be of like mind." She snuggled closer to him, not coincidentally at the moment that a great blast of wind hit the hotel. Even the orchestra faltered, the conductor looking up toward the ceiling with a worried expression.
Colonel Urman, however, waved the conductor on and turned to order the servants to bring in more champagne. Barrett noted this with relief. He did not think that even Colonel Urman would fail to act if the hotel was in imminent danger of falling down.
"They must be very brave," murmured Dorothea. Her head was back down on Barrett's jacket, which was well soaked with her tears by now.
It took him a moment to retrace the conversation. "Mistress Chapman and Mistress Sobel?"
She nodded, her cheek rubbing against his uniform like a puppy rubbing its face against a hand. "It's frightening enough, for a man like D. to work in a prison. For a woman to do so . . . Mother is like that too."
Barrett looked back at the floor. It took him a while to find Mistress Cordelia; unlike her husband, she kept to the side of the room. She had gathered around her some of the youngest guests and even some of the young servants, who had evidently been excused from trying to serve under these shattering conditions. She was smiling at them and encouraging them to play with Captain Jorgensen's child. The child, evidently well used to storms, was laughing as he clambered over laps. Captain Jorgensen's wife looked pale, but she was attempting to smile.
Dorothea continued, "Mother doesn't just raise money for the deserving poor, you know. She campaigns on behalf of impoverished women and children. Every night, she sits down at her writing table and composes letter after letter to elite men, telling them of the conditions that poor women and children endure and begging them to pass laws that ease the women and children's suffering. She has been doing this for years. I've helped her, ever since I was old enough to hold a pen; I write the addresses on the envelopes."
"But not the letters?" Barrett craned his head to look at her. Her eyes were open again, but she showed no inclination to raise her head above Barrett's heart.
She shook her head. "Mother prefers to write the letters herself."
"But you could do charity work yourself. You said you wanted to. Why don't you? And why don't your sisters do what they want to?"
It was a question that had been bothering him all day, ever since he learned of the sisters' ambitions. Initially, he had not thought anything strange about finding the three sisters living at home. Unmarried women of good birth usually did live with their parents, he knew from his reading. They made themselves useful in various ways, by helping to run the household or by sharing their mother's social duties.
But neither Mistress Cordelia nor Colonel Urman struck Barrett as the type to delegate their high duties. And both the older sisters were well beyond their debutante years. Even if Dorothea preferred to remain a spinster, Decima should certainly have been engaged by now. She was past the time when she should have taken that foreign visit before she settled down with a husband and children. And Drusilla . . . Drusilla, who desired so badly to marry soon, was making not a single note of protest at having been taken to this isolated resort, where she was unlikely to meet any young men of her mid-class rank.
Dorothea hesitated. Barrett guessed that these were matters she would not normally have discussed outside the family. But Barrett's supposed intimacy with her brother – and perhaps the fact that Dorothea was still clinging to Barrett – broke past the barrier of normal propriety. She said simply, "I ask myself that, sometimes. Drusilla is very fond of Papa, I think. And Mama needs my help with the envelopes. As for Decima . . . I suppose she stays because Drusilla and I stay. D. is the only one of us who has left, and he's a man, so of course he would be eager to leave home. The rest of us . . . Mama and Papa are leaders. So is D. I don't think the rest of us have that sort of courage."
Her voice was bleak. Barrett was still trying to think what to say to reassure her when a change of sound alerted him. He jerked his head up and looked around.
A cluster of servants stood in the doorway leading back toward the main hall. They bore mops and pails. Seeing this, D. and Clifford and the two younger sisters rose to their feet.
The dancers were beginning to slow, their conversation dying away. The conductor put a halt to the music.
Unfortunately, this sudden silence coincided with the moment that the eldest servant – a man in formal livery, not holding a bucket or mop – evidently answered a question he had been asked by Colonel Urman.
In a clear voice that carried over the entire room, the servant said, "I regret to report, sir, that the ocean has entered the main hall."
By the time that Barrett and Dorothea reached the others – flying across the floor, hand in hand – the entire dining hall was in chaos. Some of the sillier women were screeching at the top of their lungs or even standing on chairs. Some of the men were bellowing, as though that would help matters. The young servants and guests who had been around Mistress Cordelia scattered as she hurried forward to her husband.
"What do we do?" asked Drusilla as Barrett and Dorothea reached the group. She wasn't screaming, but she appeared ready to do so at any moment.
"We'll go upstairs," said Clifford quickly. "The suite that Barrett and D. and I were placed in is on the top floor. There's no chance that the water will rise that high."
"No, but the roof might cave in." This was D., the perpetual grumbler, grumbling at the exact wrong moment. Decima turned a shade paler.
Dorothea said in a high voice, "We'll ask Papa and Mama. They'll know what to do."
This suggestion was well received by all. Though dubious, even Barrett had to admit that, in a crisis, the best thing to do was to follow the orders of the man and woman who were in charge. The six of them hurried over to where Colonel Urman and his wife stood, buried in deep conversation. Fortunately, none of the guests had decided to flock to the hotel proprietor yet, and the servants were already running toward the door leading toward the main hall.
"Papa, what should we do?" Dorothea pleaded as they reached Colonel Urman and his wife.
The colonel did not hesitate. Pulling a key-ring from his pocket, he pulled off a key and handed it to her, saying, "I need you to fetch my bank-books – no, the hotel plans. They're more important. They're in the second drawer of my desk. You'll find oil-cloth in the kitchen pantry. Wrap the papers well and bring them back here."
"Dear, are you sure that it's safe—?" began Mistress Cordelia, and then her voice changed. "The linens!"
"Linens?" On the point of turning away, Colonel Urman looked back, puzzled.
"Our wedding linens! I've been planning to auction them this autumn in order to raise money for the Fund for Indigent Children. They'll bring in a great deal of money; they were given to us by your Great-Aunt Daniella. Oh, they mustn't be spoiled!" Mistress Cordelia wrung her hands, a performance which Barrett observed with interest, since he had only heard of it through novels before now.
"We'll take your linens to the second floor of the cottage, Mother. They'll be safe there." D. kissed his mother on the cheek and then gestured to the others. "Come!"
The sisters raced behind D. to the door. Clifford was left staring after them, horror on his face. Barrett, who could almost trace lines of inevitability in his mind, pushed Clifford's back to startle him out of his trance. The two of them ran to catch up.
"Wait!" Clifford's voice was breathless. The others stopped, looking behind them. They were standing near the doorway leading toward the main hall. Their path remained unobstructed. The remainder of the guests were being ushered by Colonel Urman, Mistress Cordelia, and the helpful servants toward the back of the room, where the doors led to the portion of the hotel facing the pine woods. Unable to fathom Colonel Urman's reasoning, Barrett turned his attention to Clifford, who was standing still like a personification of Reason.
In a calmly rational voice, Clifford asked, "Is that wise? We'll be much safer here in the hotel than in the cottage."
The expressions of the four Urmans were almost comical. D. appeared ready to say something in reply. Then his head went up, like that of a hunting dog.
So did Barrett's. For a moment, he could not tell what had alerted him. But others were feeling it too; all around the room, the guests were beginning to still themselves, growing quiet.
Everything was growing quiet. The storm was lessening.
"It's over!" This jubilant cry from a young man was greeted by cheers and laughter by the guests. Colonel Urman brought out a handkerchief and wiped his sweaty brow, then hugged his wife with one arm while accepting a champagne glass from one of the guests.
D. shrugged. "Let's go see whether everything's all right in the cottage, as Mother and Father asked."
The sisters were already surging through the door. Clifford joined them, evidently having decided that D.'s plan fell within the realms of reason. Barrett looked around, seeking help.
What he saw was Captain Jorgensen urging forward his wife, child, and the young sailor. None of them appeared to be joining in the general jubilation. They were all wrapped in their cloaks, heading rapidly to the doors that led toward the beach.
Barrett managed to catch hold of Captain Jorgensen before the man slipped through one of the doors. "Storm over?" Barrett asked, not at all hopefully.
"By no means." The captain's voice was grim. "Batten down the hatches."
Barrett had nearly caught up with the others, halfway to the cottage, when the storm winds began again, more furious than before. Barrett needed no instructions; he battled his way forward to where the youngest girls stood stock-still, clutching each other as though they might keep themselves from being uprooted by the wind. Their hats had disappeared; their skirts were snapping like flags on a windy day. Barrett took hold of them as Clifford raced forward to help D., who was struggling toward the cottage with Dorothea inside his arm.
They barely managed to reach the cottage. Barrett waited till the others were inside; then he turned to look.
With the sun entirely set now, it was hard to see the scenery; the storm-clouds had covered the moon. But occasional flashes of moonlight illuminated the Dictator, bobbing up and down in the water like a toy boat in a splashing bathtub. Water glinted upon the beach. It was only a few inches now from the cottage doorstep.
Barrett went inside and closed the door, shoving the doormat against the crack under the door.
Drusilla was bemoaning the ruination of her ballgown. Decima, who had her priorities in place, was lighting the lamps. Dorothea – her hat still well pinned to her hair – was already on her knees, opening a heavy chest to peer inside. "The linens are fine," she announced. "Should I leave them here or take them upstairs?"
"Upstairs," Barrett said.
Not understanding his warning, Dorothea nodded and began pulling linens out of the chest as Decima pulled papers from her father's desk. D.'s eyes narrowed. Clifford said softly, so that the sisters couldn't hear, "How bad is it?"
"Should have stayed in the hotel," replied Barrett tersely.
Drusilla, who had gone to stand by the parlor window that faced north, cried suddenly, "Oh, what are they doing?"
All of them crowded next to her to look, Dorothea with her arms full of linen. It took Barrett a minute to realize what Drusilla had seen; the picture before him came in one-second glimpses, as glints of moonlight illuminated the scene.
Colonel Urman and his wife were supervising the loading of the train. Amidst the wild wind, he had just finished ushering the hotel guests into the passenger car, while his wife assisted the youngest guests and youngest servants on board. Now the remaining servants leaped on, in any manner they could: onto the roof, onto the coal car, onto the couplings, or clinging to the doors. With a long whistle, barely discernable under the howling wind, the train struggled forward.
"Papa!" Dorothea pushed up the window and hung out, waving wildly. "Mama! Wait! You've forgotten us!"
The train gathered steam and hurried out of view, its train giving a final, low wail. Decima dragged her older sister back and slammed down the window. Mistress Cordelia's wedding linens now lay heaped upon the floor. Dorothea's face was streaked with rain and, Barrett thought, tears.
"They're gone." Decima's voice sounded choked with tears too, but her mind had raced ahead. "Forget about them. What are we going to do now? Shall we return to the hotel?"
Barrett turned to look. "Water," he warned.
"Oh, that's the last thing we need." Dorothea, who had been about to pick up the linens she dropped, pushed a wet strand of hair out of her eyes. "Drusilla, go fetch the mop from the closet—"
"Oh, sweet blood." In a strangled voice, D. hurried forward. He put his shoulder to the door. Clifford glanced out the front window. One look at his face told Barrett all he needed to know. He turned to Dorothea. "Upstairs," he instructed again.
Dorothea hesitated. "We need to fetch the papers and linens first—"
"Girls, upstairs!" D.'s face had turned red with his exertion; he was leaning heavily against the door now. Water was seeping rapidly through the mat that Barrett had placed against the crack.
Barrett left them arguing and retreated into the kitchen, passing Drusilla, who was browsing in the closet for the mop. Tossing aside his cap, which he knew would be lost within a minute, Barrett slipped out the kitchen door.
The wind from the south hit him full force. He managed to inch his way to the stairs leading down to the cellar; then he had to crouch over till he had reached the cellar door.
The land on which the house was built was on an incline; the water had not yet reached this end of the house. He had to wait till a spark of moonlight through the open door revealed what he needed to see. He hurried over to the valve and twisted it to the off position.
When he returned to the house, it was in darkness. Dorothea was saying, "Up on the mantelpiece. Father keeps the electric lantern there; he received it as a gift for his many years' service to the Yclau Midland Railroad."
"Found it." Clifford's voice was breathless, but he had to shout to be heard. The winds were screaming now. Barrett thought he heard the crack of a tree falling, in the direction of the pine forest.
"There's a switch on the side," said Dorothea. She was standing somewhere near the back of the parlor room, close to Barrett, who was standing at the dining-room door. "If you'll turn it to the right— Sweet blood!"
Her scream brought Drusilla running from the kitchen. Decima gasped; she was standing next to her sister, carrying both linens and papers. Clifford stood with the lantern in hand, knee-deep in water. D. had his back to the door, shoving with all his strength, as though he were trying to hold back something of mighty weight.
He was trying to hold back the ocean.
"Run!" D. managed to shout.
This time, Dorothea did not argue. Grabbing Drusilla's hand, she rushed toward the stairway, which stood a few feet from D., near the entrance to the living room. Their progress slowed as they reached the water. Grimly, Barrett strode forward, took hold of both the girls' waists and pushed them toward the stairs. Clifford followed, helping Decima, who had abandoned the linens and papers to their fates.
By the time Decima and Clifford reached the bottom steps, Dorothea and Drusilla were rushing up to the second floor. Barrett turned to take Decima from Clifford's grasp. Clifford was already turning back on the bottom step, his hand outstretched. "Now!" he shouted to D.
For a second, it looked as though D. would make the fatal decision to remain at his post. But at that moment, the front window of the parlor burst. Water poured in like a waterfall. D. fled. As he was jerked onto the stairway by Clifford's hand, the door burst open, and the ocean entered.
Barrett didn't bother to watch; he was racing up the steps, pushing Decima before him, with Clifford and D. at his heels. Upstairs, he found the other two sisters standing in Dorothea's bedroom, staring out toward the beach. "Oh, no!" moaned Drusilla.
Dorothea said nothing; she put her arm around the waist of Decima, who was staring wild-eyed as the brave ship Dictator, ceasing its struggles, began to sink under the waves.
Standing beside Barrett, clear in the light of the electric lamp he still carried, Clifford drew a circle of rebirth on his forehead. D. said quietly, "May the Fates preserve them."
Barrett thought it was more to the point to ask whether the Fates were anywhere in the vicinity of White Sand Cottage. He looked down through the window, trying to gauge how far the waves had risen. The entire cottage was shuddering now. Downstairs, the sound came of another window breaking.
Everybody drew hastily back from the bedroom window and looked at one other. Barrett guessed that they were all wondering the same as he was: How long would the cottage last?
"Our dresses!" cried Decima suddenly.
"What do you mean?" shouted Dorothea over the howling wind and thundering floodwater.
"We have to take them off! If we try to swim with them on, we'll drown! Here, let me get your buttons." She turned Drusilla around and began attacking the long line of buttons on her back.
Dorothea looked uncertainly at them. Clifford promptly placed the lantern on a dresser and turned his back. D. and Barrett did the same, though Barrett could not help but wonder why. It wasn't as though the sisters were going to don bathing suits in place of the clothes they took off.
Behind them, Decima was saying urgently, "Yes, corsets and bustles too. Anything that would weigh us down. Oh, Dorothea, why are you taking you so long?" Decima's voice grew to a wail.
Clifford suddenly tackled the buttons on his jacket. With a strangled curse, D. did the same. Barrett, following their train of thought, stripped himself of jacket, vest, and shoes. He was just wondering whether he ought to shed his trousers as well when he felt a strange sensation of movement, as though he were on an elevator.
The floor was sinking.
All was chaos in the next minute. Barrett glanced briefly at the walls, saw that they were not sinking like the floor, and turned to grab Dorothea, who had proceeded no further than removing her hat. Without waiting to see whether the others would follow, he swept her almost off her feet and ran.
The entrance to the attic was precisely where he remembered it, in the narrow corridor. He released Dorothea long enough to jump, pulling down the trapdoor ladder as he returned to the floor. Barrett didn't bother to offer Dorothea his hand. He took her into his arms and pushed her up, high enough that she was able to scramble onto the attic floor.
Clifford was at his side, lantern in hand, accompanied by Decima. Seeing what Barrett had done, Clifford pushed Decima into Barrett's arms, then turned to pull Drusilla forward.
The water was round Barrett's ankles by the time he raised Drusilla up to where her sisters waited, arms outstretched to drag her up. Anticipating an argument, Barrett forced Clifford onto the ladder. The water rose to Barrett's knees. The moment Clifford reached the attic, Barrett jumped for the ladder, which was about to rise out of his reach. He managed to grab hold of it and breathlessly scrambled up the steps.
Which left D. behind, below reach of the ladder.
Barrett hesitated, cursed in his mind, and then scrambled back down. Holding the ladder with one hand, he reached down with the other. D., showing his usual good sense during crises, had pushed the abandoned clothes-trunk over so that he could stand on it. He took hold of Barrett's arm immediately, letting himself be hauled up onto the ladder. The ladder creaked ominously. As soon as Barrett was sure that D. was secure on the ladder, he hurried up the steps again and collapsed onto the attic floor, gasping.
Behind him, Clifford helped D. onto the attic floor. Forcing himself onto his hands and knees, Barrett crawled over to the ladder. He caught a brief glimpse from the lantern-light of furniture sinking below the waves as the second floor sunk into the ocean; then he pulled up the ladder and slammed shut the trap door.
The attic swayed back and forth as the cottage continued to take blows from the surging waves. Drusilla was crying. Clifford looked as though he would have liked to join her, but he said firmly, "We'll be fine."
Within Clifford's arm, Decima said in a shaking voice, "May we show courage in time of tribulation and trial. May we enter into our death and transformation in certain knowledge of our rebirth into a better life—"
The other girls took up the prayer, whose words were unfamiliar to Barrett. Clifford had begun to whisper a prayer from the service book of the Eternal Dungeon. D., cutting right to the heart of matters, was reciting the words that were most sacred to the three of them: the opening words of the Eternal Dungeon's Code of Seeking.
Barrett didn't know what to say. Following Clifford's example, he crawled over to where Dorothea sat and placed his arm around the shivering young woman. She stared at him, wide-eyed. Breaking away from her prayer, she laid her head on his shoulder, saying, "I suppose our dreams will never come true now."
Barrett tightened his grip around her waist, looking around the attic. The dormer windows to the east and west were letting in rapidly shifting slivers of moonlight. Drusilla, never able to repress her curiosity, was standing next to one of the smaller, triangular windows to the north. "Oh, look!" she cried.
Dorothea didn't move. Decima, who was slumped heavily against Clifford, said crossly, "What now?"
"The pavilion is on fire! It's halfway under water, yet it's on fire!"
"The waves must have moved the pavilion, and then the gas pipes broke, and something sparked the gas." D. had managed to drag himself over to look out the window with Drusilla. "I've heard of such things happening during floods or earthquakes."
Dorothea turned her head to look at Barrett. She whispered, "That's why the house lights went out. You turned off our gas, didn't you?"
He nodded. Nearby, Decima said in a wavering voice, "Do you suppose the surfmen might see our lantern, if we place it in the northern window? Or would they be too busy saving the survivors of the Dictator?"
Clifford's reply was dashed away as the cupola's trap door opened with a burst. As though running through a spigot, the rainwater poured down in a rush and crashed through the attic floor.
This time, even D. cried out as he turned around. The attic floor gave a lurch. "Oh, sweet blood," said Clifford; then, "D., can you get over to this side?"
The hole in the floorboards was widening, having reached the trapdoor. Caught on the other side of the chasm, D. and Decima managed to edge their way around the widening gap. They had just grasped hold of the sturdy metal ladder to the cupola when the attic lurched again and the bricks of the chimneys fell down with a crash.
Decima screamed as one of the bricks hit her. "Darling!" cried Dorothea and started to crawl over to check on her sister, entirely ignoring now the effects of the flooring on her skirt. Barrett pulled her back, assessing the situation with a quick glance. The other two girls were white and shivering in their undergarments. D. was trying to persuade Drusilla to let go of the metal ladder, but she shook her head, clinging to it as though it were a beau. As Dorothea tried to soothe her crying sister from afar, Barrett finished his assessment. The gap in the floor was nearly attic-wide now. The water continued to pour down from the cupola onto the floodwater rushing loudly below the attic. D., abandoning the attempt to move Decima, had moved around to shield her back with his warmth.
Barrett glanced at where the chimneys had been, in the four corners of the attic. Flues stood upright from where they had been hidden before, leading from the attic floor to the roof.
There was not much time left. Without bothering to explain, Barrett pulled Dorothea over to the southeast flue. He took hold of Dorothea's hands and wrapped them around the flu. "Hold tight," he ordered. "Whatever happens, hold tight. Clifford—"
But Clifford was already helping Decima to wrap her arms around the southwest flue. Barrett sat down behind Dorothea. He had barely managed to wrap his legs around Dorothea and the flue when the roof blew off and their half of the attic floor cracked off from the rest of the house.
All three girls screamed. D. gave a shout that was carried away by the wind. Clifford cried, "Fates above—!"
Barrett said nothing; he was too busy trying not to drown. The attic floor had slid, with surprising smoothness, onto the ocean waves. It was spinning round as the southern wall, which remained attached to the floor, served like a sail in the wind. A wave crashed over the floor, and for a moment Barrett thought they had reached the end. But the newly created raft was evidently sure of itself now. With an abrupt turn it moved forward, leaving behind the tattered remains of the rest of the cottage. Turning his head to look behind him, Barrett saw D. and Decima clinging to the metal ladder, which had stayed attached to the raft. To the left of Barrett, barely glimpsed through the clouds, the rising moon shone in the east.
The raft raced forward. It was heading northeast.
It was heading toward the open ocean.
"One . . . two . . . three . . . duck!"
D.'s final shout was swallowed by the sound of the wave reaching the raft. With his head bowed and his mouth firmly closed, Barrett felt the shockingly cold water submerge him. He had the momentary sensation of rising in an elevator, and then the raft was going down, down, down, apparently headed for the ocean floor.
Then the wave passed on, and all that were left were a dozen little waves sliding their way across the raft while Dorothea coughed within his arms, having evidently swallowed some of the latest water.
Barrett looked first to his right, and then behind him. They were all of them still there: all six of them had survived the latest onslaught, though Clifford looked so white that it was not clear whether he was still conscious. Following Barrett's lead, he had asked the sister he protected to tie his hands behind the flue with his scarf, so that he would not lose his grip during the periodic onslaughts of the waves. But unlike Barrett, he was not tall enough to wrap his legs entirely around his charge; his right leg dangled over the edge of the raft, unsupported.
Barrett crossed his own ankles firmly, trying not to think of the consequences of their bound state if the raft should go down. It was unlikely any of them would survive, even free. As far as he knew, they were far out to sea now. The faint hope he had held at first, that the raft might deposit them at the tip of the Eastern Shore of Yclau, had faded as the hours passed. It had become clear that the raft had skipped past the Bay's mouth, skipped past the Eastern Shore, and was now headed somewhere northeast.
That much Barrett could tell from his occasional glimpses of the moon, which had risen high in the sky and was now making its way toward the western horizon. Barrett tried to remember the map he had so carefully studied at the start of the storm, but he could not recall whether their progress would be blocked by the northeastern nations of the continent, or whether they would simply be pushed by the storm into the depths of the ocean, once the storm turned eastward.
Not that it seemed likely they would live the many hours it would take for them to reach the northeastern nations. Barrett glanced again over his shoulder. Of all the sisters, Drusilla had the hardest time of it; she had to grasp the ladder alone each time that D. rose to his feet, for D. was the only man among them who was far enough away from the protective "sail" of their wall to sight the waves coming toward them from the south. She clung to the ladder now, as strong as a sturdy pony, but her face was as white as Clifford's. D., daringly holding on with only one hand, leaned back so as to see better the oncoming waves.
Within Barrett's arms, Dorothea gave an enormous sneeze. He returned his thoughts to her. Her back felt warm against his chest, but she was shivering. So was he, for that matter. They had been drenched in ocean water for hours now, with strong winds chilling them without cease. Barrett paused to cough – a deep, hacking cough – and then he snuggled a little closer to Dorothea. She made no protest at his lack of propriety.
Ever practical, Decima was trying to look over her shoulder to tell where they were going. Barrett glanced over his shoulder as well, but the view at the front of the raft was entirely black at the moment. He knew, though, that the waters ahead of them must be more peaceful. Mercifully, the raft had not been sucked into the hurricane itself, which would undoubtedly have torn them apart. Instead, the raft had spun to the front of the hurricane, pushed by the lesser waves that were being forced forward by the oncoming storm.
"One . . . two . . . three . . . duck!"
Ocean water around them, and for one terrible moment, Barrett knew that the scarf had broken and that he was being torn away from the flu. But Dorothea caught hold of him; together, they managed to re-establish his grip on the flu as his legs kept a tight grip around the metal pole.
"Oh, sweet blood," moaned Dorothea when they finally emerged from the water. Her heart was fluttering hard against Barrett. Barrett glanced to the right, then to the back. Everyone was still there.
"What's that?" cried Drusilla suddenly. She was peering in the direction of Dorothea. Before Barrett could ask what she saw, the moon drifted out of a cloud, and Barrett saw it in the water beside him. A grey, moist head. Teeth like Ammippian warheads.
Then it was gone, circling around to the other side of the raft. With a shout, Clifford pulled his leg out of the water while Decima gripped her flue, staring wide-eyed at the intruder.
"There's three of them!" announced Drusilla with horrified fascination as D. strove to keep her from coming too near the water.
"Sharks," murmured Dorothea, her speech slurred.
Barrett conveyed this information to the others. Clifford's shout this time was more like a yelp.
"That's just what we need." It was almost reassuring to hear D.'s perpetually grumbling tone.
Barrett had already pulled the necessary information from that dark place which constituted his memory. Sharks: carnivorous water-beasts, known for eating sailors. Occasionally seen in the Bay; more often found in the ocean, especially by sailors on rafts, who might not survive the encounter.
"Sweet blood," moaned Dorothea again.
A comment rather too close to the mark, Barrett felt. He had come close to death on more than one occasion in the dungeon and had survived a 101-lash punishment that ought to have killed him – that indeed had killed a large part of him. But there was something particularly chilling about ending one's life being gnawed to death by a sea monster.
What if the next wave brought the sharks onto the raft?
"What's that?" Decima cried, echoing her younger sister.
Without much hope, Barrett looked behind him. Everything there remained black, as though they were travelling through a tunnel, or through a starless sky.
Then the moon raced between clouds, and he saw it. A thin line of land to their right, toward the west. The waves were pushing the raft parallel to the land. Or was the raft coming a bit closer to the land?
"Please, please, please, please . . ." Dorothea's prayers had narrowed down to her murmured pleas. Still hanging onto the ladder with one hand, D. traced a circle of rebirth on his forehead. Decima and Drusilla merely stared.
Clifford slumped against Decima. Barrett couldn't tell whether he was still alive.
"We're coming closer!" D.'s triumphant shout broke across Dorothea's murmur.
The little waves sliding across the raft were growing more vigorous. Another big wave must be building behind them. Barrett kept his eye on his occasional, moon-fleeting glimpses of the land, calculating. Like the hurricane, they were going to hit the land at a glance. They might only have seconds.
D. had apparently reached the same conclusion; he had leaned forward and was murmuring instructions to Drusilla. Barrett contented himself with saying to Dorothea, "Be ready. Hold tight." Then, with fear thrumming through every bone in his body, he slid his hands out of the scarf.
He managed to reach Clifford and rouse him with a few sharp words which the younger guard responded to immediately, having served as a junior guard under Barrett on many occasions. Decima, understanding now the need, poked him vigorously. Seeing that she had the matter in hand, Barrett slithered back across the wall to where Dorothea awaited him, hugging the flue with all her might.
He just managed to reach her before the latest wave broke.
With D. watching the land rather than the waves behind them, there was no warning. Caught off-guard, Barrett choked on the water, then had sense enough to keep his mouth closed, despite the seawater already bitter in his mouth. The raft shuddered under them in an ominous manner.
Then they were breaking free of the ocean water, and D. was shouting, "Now, now!"
Barrett did not bother to try to make his way toward where D. was helping Drusilla off the raft. Barrett simply flung himself sideways into the water.
His bare feet touched ground; straightening up, he found that the water was waist-high – but the raft was beginning to spin away. Quickly, Barrett reached forward and took hold of Dorothea, who had been hesitating at the raft edge. He pulled her into the water with a splash.
A wave nearly pushed them under. Shaking now, not only from the cold, but from sheer weariness, Barrett stumbled toward the beach that he knew must be somewhere ahead of him, for he could hear D.'s voice in front of them, saying incredulously, "Drusilla, this is no time to float on your back! There are sharks nearby!"
Barrett and Dorothea reached dry land just as Clifford and Decima did; the latter two looked as though they were supporting each other. Clifford was limping, having apparently hurt his foot on some object under the water. As it began to spin out to sea again, the raft emitted a sharp crack and slid under the waves. Kneeling on the beach, Drusilla laughed at the sight, almost hysterically.
Then D. grabbed her up and pushed her forward. In the next moment, Barrett realized why.
They had forgotten that the hurricane was behind them.
It was all wind and rain and frenzied waves breaking over the beach. No matter where they ran, the waves swept across the land, trying to suck them back into the ocean. Dorothea was crying as Barrett towed her along; Barrett could not hear the others, though occasionally, when moonlight brightened the scene, he caught glimpses of them: dark, wet shapes running west in search of elusive shelter.
By now, Barrett had remembered the map. If they had landed on the mainland coast, whether in Yclau or in one of its northern neighbors, all was well. They need merely run as far west as they could, till they reached high land. They might even find a sturdy house as refuge.
But if they were on one of the long, narrow barrier islands that protected the mainland coast . . . Barrett knew little about barrier islands, but he had the terrible feeling that the islands were there to suffer the destruction that might otherwise reach the mainland.
Dorothea had fallen into the water three times now, despite Barrett's best efforts. It was all he could do to keep his own feet steady. The water was merely ankle deep, but each small wave was hitting him with the force of a locomotive.
And behind the small waves, another enormous wave must be building.
He found the grove quite by accident. He had been seeking sight of the other four refugees and had initially mistaken the pine trees for humans. Trees seemed to be a bad place to go during a storm; nonetheless, some instinct kept him pushing in that direction.
The water began to recede as he went forward. Then it was gone. Barrett kept stumbling further, prodded on by knowledge of that enormous wave behind them. He heard Dorothea calling out to the others, guiding them with her voice.
Then he and Dorothea had reached the grove, and the ground peaked. Beyond it, the ground began to go down again. Barrett leaned heavily against a pine tree, breathing hard, as he watched the big wave building in the moonlight.
It broke over the island as the others reached the grove, pouring over the beach, sweeping down shrubs as though they were balls of dust. The water was thick with driftwood. Some of the "driftwood" consisted of heavy and dangerous trees. The surge of water and wood raced toward the grove.
And sank back, just a yard or so from where they stood.
Dorothea moaned. Before Barrett could grasp that she about to faint, she tumbled out of his arms. D. caught hold of her, but he barely had enough strength left to lay her on the ground, upon last year's fallen pine needles.
Clifford and Decima were already seated, looking dazed. Drusilla simply flopped onto the ground and shouted over the wind, with devastating obviousness, "I'm tired!"
"Cold," murmured Dorothea. Moonlight revealed her to be curled up on the ground. Her sisters joined her, cuddling up together like newborn puppies. Clifford curled himself around Decima's back, while D. lowered himself slowly, as though he were as stiff as an old man, in order to protect Clifford's back with his warmth.
Drusilla was curled between her two older sisters. That left Barrett's duty plain. He took one last glimpse west, saw the glitter of water under the moonlight, and fell to his knees.
His last thought, as he curled up behind Dorothea, was that he had lain with a woman like this, long ago. After that, there were no thoughts, only the sound of thunder on the island, and then black silence.
The sound of thunder awoke him.
It took him a minute to open his eyes; his eyelids were covered with sand. Beach sand; he carefully wiped the sand away and then cautiously opened his eyes to see what awaited next.
They were lying amidst the pine trees, which stood denuded of their needles. The trees looked as though they were dying at the chilly end of the cycle of time. But the sun rising in the east warmed the air. There was scarcely a cloud in the deep blue sky.
A gull called out sharply, startling Barrett. Sitting up, he saw seabirds wheeling above, looking cautiously at the ground. He couldn't blame their caution.
He checked the others first. The three sisters remained huddled together like a group of newborn kittens. In the light of day, it could be seen that their clothes were in tatters, while their pale white skin was scratched. They were breathing easily, though.
D. Urman was twitching in his sleep from some troubling dream. Clifford looked most alarming of all; his wounded foot had swollen during the night. Eyeing it, Barrett began to have thoughts of gangrene.
He lightly touched Clifford's arm. Clifford murmured, "What's for breakfast?"
"Pine trees," mumbled D. and then sunk back down into sleep.
Reassured, Barrett departed from their sanctuary and looked around. To the east was water. To the west, only a few hundred feet away, was water. To the north and south, as far as Barrett's eye could run, was land.
They were on either an island or a peninsula, Barrett decided. If it was a peninsula, it wasn't clear whether their group should walk north or south. If it was an island, where were they? Squinting as he looked west, Barrett made out a thin, dark line on the horizon. Another island? Or was it the mainland? The strip of land they had beached upon was so skinny that this might be one of the barrier islands. But which nation did it belong to? Yclau? The Dozen Landsteads, which was notoriously hostile to foreigners? Or one of the tiny nations to the northeast?
The waters lay calm and empty. Barrett looked again at the long strip of land to the north and south of him, thinking of the long barrier islands he had seen on the map. If either the south or the north led to the mainland, the mainland was likely many miles away. He doubted the sisters had the energy to walk that far. He doubted that he and the other men did either.
The sun continued to rise in the sky, blazing with late-summer heat. Barrett was sweating, and his mouth had gone dry. He looked around, saw a pool of water, and crouched down to cup the water with his hands.
A moment later, he spit out the water. It was briny with the seawater that had covered the island overnight.
Alarmed now, he looked back toward the grove where the shipwrecked party slept. What with Clifford's wounded foot and everyone's thirst, their party would need to reach civilization soon. If much civilization still existed upon the east coast of the Northern Continent, which Barrett very much doubted. But on the mainland they might find water and a healer. Here there was nothing except beach sand and bushes and leaf-bare trees and wheeling seabirds and thunder—
Thunder? There had been no thunder during the hurricane.
Barrett looked up at the sky. The few clouds there were white and tiny. Besides, the thunder was coming from the island itself. Barrett turned to look, just in time to see the herd of horses thundering toward him.
Instinctively, he jerked back. The horses swerved in the same direction that he had jumped. For a moment, a collision looked inevitable. Then the horses skidded to a stop, staring at him.
They were so small, they looked more like ponies than horses. Their eyes were wide and wild, as though they had travelled through the horse equivalent of hell. Some of them were still wet up to their bellies. Barrett found himself instinctively looking toward the water, to see whether any horses swam there.
But if any of this herd had been swept off the island, those horses were long gone. Cautiously, Barrett stepped forward, holding out his hand. Most of the horses shied back, though evidently too curious about their visitor to wheel away. A foal, less cautious, stepped forward on wobbly legs and nosed Barrett's hand.
Barrett stroked the foal's hair. It was piebald, cream and white. Barrett looked for a branding on the colt. He could see none; nor could he see brand-marks on any of the other horses.
Could they be refugees from the storm too? Swimming here from some shipwreck? But the lack of brand-marks suggested that this herd had been wild for some time. Descendants of other horses, perhaps, either shipwrecked or deliberately placed here by their owners. However the horses had arrived here, it was clear from their behavior that they were feral; they had a strange mixture of fearlessness and uncertainty in how they regarded him.
The sun was growing yet hotter; Barrett's shirt and trousers were entirely dry now. He wandered down to the west edge of the island. The horses followed, the foal trotting by his side. Most of the west side of the island was covered with little scrub bushes, and the western coast of the island was broken into fond-like pieces of land. Barrett thought of fjords and wondered, for the first time in many hours, what had happened to Captain Jorgensen and his wife and child.
As though called forth by the thought, a broken piece of flat metal caught his eye. He picked it up. The letters "DICTAT" were imprinted clearly on the metal sheet. It had evidently accompanied the raft on this long journey to the northeast.
The metal shimmered under the light, blinding Barrett. He let it fall, looking again at the land mass upon the horizon. It might be Yclau – the portion of Yclau's Eastern Shore that faced toward the ocean. He turned to tell the others.
And then turned back abruptly. One of the distinctive blue boats of the Life-Saving Service of the Queendom of Yclau was sailing down the channel between the island and the land to their west.
Barrett shouted and waved. The boat continued on its way. He was too far to be heard, and probably too far to be seen also, even assuming that the surfmen were looking at the island, rather than at what must be the coast of Yclau.
He looked around quickly, saw the metal at his feet, and picked it up at once. It would serve as a mirror, reflecting the light like a lamphouse mirror.
But the sun was in the wrong direction: east rather than west. Try as he might, he could not point the reflected light toward the boat.
The boat was abreast of him now; it would soon be gone. Barrett looked back and forth on the shore, seeking some other means by which to signal the surfmen. All he saw were the horses, placidly eating some vegetation next to the water, and the foal looking trustingly up at him.
He hesitated for a split second. He hated the idea of destroying that trust. But lives were at stake here. He tore off his shirt, rapidly tying it to a long piece of driftwood. Then, with deliberate hardness of hand, he reached over and slapped the rump of the foal.
The colt whinnied high in shock and pain, wheeling away. Frightened by the foal's warning cry, the other horses followed suit, thundering back the way they had come, raising dust high into the air as they went. Barrett waved his flag of distress amidst the dust.
As Clifford and D. and the three sisters arrived at a run, alerted by Barrett's shout, the boat of the Life-Saving Service turned and began to tack its way toward them.
Seagulls wheeled across the morning sun, skimmed the waves sedately rolling across the eastern edge of the beach, and dived toward the picnic luncheon of the young servant and her beau, who were deep in conversation with each other. With a laugh, the beau chased off the gull with his hand and then took off his straw hat to fan himself. It was hot again today.
Much of the beach was still strewn with driftwood, tree trunks, remains of houses, and other such reminders of the recent storm. The litter was being energetically removed by the hotel servants. One of them paused to consult with a man who was standing beside the fallen carving of a proud woman.
Captain Jorgensen shook his head. He was wearing the ragged remains of his uniform, as though, having parted with so much else, he could not bare to part with the remainder. "Keep it, keep it," he told the servant, gesturing toward his ship's figurehead. "Let it be a reminder of the friendship between our nations. That, and a tribute to my lady—" He put his face in his hand and began to weep.
Barrett looked away. He had already heard the tale. The captain had managed to reach his ship before the eye of the hurricane passed through, but his ship had sunk before he could bring it to safety, carrying half its crew to the bottom of the ocean. The bodies of the captain's wife and young son had returned to the beach just the previous day.
Nearby, Colonel Urman was standing with a reporter he had brought back with him from Norfolk that morning. He was saying, "No, indeed; I do not expect that we will be inconvenienced for long. The receding waters left a great deal of mud in the hotel, but our servants have already cleaned the floor of the main hall. They will soon have the rest clean."
"But wasn't there a fire as well?" asked the reporter, pausing his pencil as he glanced up from his notepad.
The colonel dismissed this with a wave of the hand. "A minor one. It burnt the pavilion and a few ground-floor rooms in the south wing. We will soon have the hotel reconstructed."
Evidently a persistent man, the reporter asked, "How will you manage the reconstruction, sir? I understand that your cottage, along with all your papers, was washed into the sea."
The colonel paused barely a moment before saying, "But without loss of life. Cottages can be replaced, and it turns out that I had a second set of the hotel plans in the hotel safe. Come, sir, I think you are entirely forgetting the important point: that everyone here was saved from the storm. . . ."
Barrett glanced again at the newspaper in his hand. It had arrived with the train that morning; Colonel Urman, eager to check on the welfare of his hotel, had arranged for the repair of the track from Norfolk in short order. The train crewmen, still grinning from their recent adventure, had handed a newspaper to Barrett without asking. It was not the local newspaper, which was too full of news about Norfolk's terrible flooding to spare much thought for what had happened at the coast. Rather, Colonel Urman had somehow managed to snag the interest of this reporter, who had arrived from the queendom's capital in search of colorful stories about the storm.
Colonel Urman had certainly provided that. The headline of the capital newspaper screamed, "Disaster at Yclau Beach! Hotel owner saves family, guests in the face of certain death!"
The wind picked up the sound of the servant girl from the picnic area. She was saying to her beau, "I would have been dead and drowned, Jerry, I do vow it, if it wasn't for Mistress Cordelia. She saw that all of us younger ones got on the train safe. She refused to step onto the train herself till she was sure we were all there. . . ."
Barrett dropped the newspaper to the ground. The light wind fluttered the pages, then sent them rolling toward the beach. Barrett turned away and began walking toward Cape Henry.
Rage was an exceedingly familiar emotion to him. He had spent most of the last four years in a state of burning anger against the Seekers who tortured prisoners, as well as the guards who helped the Seekers in their bloody task. Only his own desire to find some way to help the prisoners had kept him at his post. He had learned a long time ago that the best way to tamp his anger down to a point where it would not scald him was to take a long walk. On many a night, he had walked around the maze of hallways in the outer dungeon, willing his anger to recede to the point where he could do something useful.
Today, he travelled so swiftly that he was soon abreast of the life-saving station, which was in the midst of being mended by the surviving surfmen. One of them, seeing Barrett, gave him a salute.
He saluted back. Six days before, the surfmen of the Barrier Islands Live-Saving Station had deposited Barrett and his five companions in the manor house of the de Veres. The house was crowded with refugees from the storm: tenants of the elder Mr. de Vere, surfmen's families, and the only six surfmen from the Yclau Beach Live-Saving Station who had managed to survive their valiant rescue of Captain Jorgensen and some of his crew. Mistress Florence de Vere had raised her hands in exclamation when she saw the state of the survivors of White Sand Cottage; she had whisked them away to baths, bandages, and bedrest for a week.
When Barrett finally emerged from his bed, it was to find that Vito de Vere was no longer there. Young Mr. de Vere had waited only long enough to greet the Urman sisters, Barrett was told; then he had taken a horse and travelled to Norfolk in order to help coordinate the recovery there, before his return to the queendom's capital.
Vito de Vere had been interviewed by the reporter about Colonel Urman's brave rescue of his guests and family. Good manners had apparently restrained Mr. de Vere from saying what he thought of Colonel Urman's "brave rescue." Instead, he had merely commented blandly that good neighbors were always of value.
Barrett slowed his steps, staring toward the cliffs of Cape Henry. Vito de Vere had apparently not been told the identity of the sisters' companions in disaster. Though it would certainly have furthered Mr. de Vere's court case to say that his father was hosting three guards from the Eternal Dungeon, there had been no mention of that fact in the article. Barrett would not be forced to have any embarrassing conversations about his trespass on the de Vere manor if Vito de Vere ever showed up again in the Eternal Dungeon.
Barrett's continued rage against Vito de Vere, who had placed a prisoner in potential danger, had not abated after all these months. Vito de Vere remained an unsolved problem, like so much else in Barrett's life.
But today the sun was warm, the waves licked lazily at the shore, the gulls swung down to screech at squirrels gamboling nearby, and Barrett had not undergone a second death. That would do for now.
"We mean it, D. We're not spending another minute here."
All six of them were standing in front of the hotel, waiting for the conductor to open the train doors for them. An opportunity for farewells, Barrett had thought when he and his fellow guards arrived at the train.
Then the three sisters had appeared, lugging a large trunk between the three of them. A trunk, it soon manifested, that was intended for themselves.
"But, Dorothea . . ." Goggle-eyed, D. stared at his sister as though she had proposed moving to the moon. "You can't just leave Mother and Father without a single word to them. What will they think?"
"What will they think?" As she spoke, Dorothea snapped her fan open sharply. Dorothea and Drusilla already had their fans out; the day had turned muggy and hot again, as though the storm had never passed through.
Except that it was quite clear the storm had passed through, from Drusilla's snort and Decima's sharp remark, "Will they even notice? That is the question."
"Don't be ridi—"
"A full week." Dorothea cut into D.'s protest. "A full week we were separated from them. And would you like to know what Papa said when we told him we'd survived the storm here? 'Oh, dear. I hadn't realized you'd been left behind.'"
"He didn't bother to search for us!" Decima looked uncharacteristically close to tears now.
"Or even to worry." Drusilla's state of mind was so frenzied that she was close to mangling the fan in her hand.
"A full week," Dorothea agreed. "Not once during that entire week did it occur to him to enquire after our welfare, much less remember that he'd sent us to fetch his precious papers."
"But Mother . . ." D. trailed off this time in face of the look that his sisters gave him.
"Mama cried." Decima's voice was flat.
"She wept over us and hugged us." Now it was Drusilla who appeared ready to give way to tears.
"And then little Maggie Ann came in with a problem with her hem, and Mama said, 'Dears, I must tend to this. I'll see you at luncheon.'" Dorothea closed her fan with a snap. "I declare to you, D., that was the moment when the veil fell from my eyes. I've offered so many excuses for both of them over the years. I said they were busy with their important work, that they were charitable, generous people—"
"Which they are," added Decima. "Just not charitable toward us."
"I can't stand it here any longer!" Drusilla wailed. "I keep caring about them, and they never care back. I have to get away. You understand, don't you, D.? It's part of the reason you left home. Papa never gave you time to explain your side of the story, and Mama never had time to help you, no matter how badly hurt you were."
"She had the time." Dorothea's voice had turned gentle as her brother paled at Drusilla's final words. "She just isn't capable of spreading herself that far, and she isn't willing to admit to herself that she has been neglecting her children. Neither of them will admit that. We have to leave here, D. You know that."
D. took a deep breath. Clifford, fully healed from his foot injury, had nudged himself over to place a discreet hand on D.'s back, but D. remained pale as he said, "You girls need to be practical. I'm a man; I was able to work for a living after I left here. None of you have ever worked a day in your lives. And I'm senior guard to one of the highest ranked Seekers in the Eternal Dungeon; I can't live outside the dungeon, and I can't bring you to live with me there—"
Barrett slipped away then. He doubted his absence would be noticed any time soon. D. was wholly absorbed in the debate with his sisters, while Clifford, understandably, was concerned about the effects of this conversation on D.
Which left Barrett free to go in the direction that instinct was tugging him: into the main hall, past the servants still mopping up the mud, and over to the telegraph office.
The telegraph man handed him a form and a pencil. Barrett spent a moment
thinking before he wrote down his message. He had planned to send a telegram
in any case. By now it had been a week since the rest of Yclau had learned
the news of the terrible devastation of the Great Tempest of '64. Putting
himself firmly into the frame of mind that permitted him to speak clearly
on duty matters, he wrote:
ED via QP. B. Boyd, reporting on status. C. Crofford, D. Urman, and self are safe and unharmed. Storm damage to train track and telegraph wire prevented us from returning to duty on time or requesting extension of leave. Will journey west by train this morning. Due to continued train delays caused by storm, expect to reach dungeon no sooner than midnight. Message for B. Chapman: Mr. Urman's sisters estranged from parents, need home.
He paused, and then added,
Very well-behaved young ladies.
That was a stretch of the truth when applied to Drusilla, Barrett confessed to himself as he handed the message over to the telegraph man to be translated into code. But Drusilla was still young; in a few years, she'd doubtless be as ladylike as her sisters.
"You might as well wait for a reply," the telegraph man said, seeing the address codes at the beginning of the telegram. "The Queen's Palace usually responds promptly."
Barrett nodded and made his way through the door next to the telegraph office, which led to the sunroom. The lounging chairs there were empty, awaiting the next influx of guests. Barrett went over to the windows, which overlooked the beach.
In the time that he and the other guards had spent changing into travel clothes – generously supplied by Vito de Vere's parents on the previous day, as were the sisters' new dresses – the beach had been transformed. Driftwood and wreckage had been removed, the seawall was being briskly repaired by a group of servants, and another group of servants was carefully tilting the ship's figurehead up so that the Lady stood like a proud statue before the hotel. In a few days, Barrett guessed, there would be no sign that a hurricane had ever passed this way.
He watched the repairs, noting the erasure of pain and suffering. His own memory of the ordeal was beginning to fade. He wondered whether he would even recall this episode in a year's time. After all, nothing had changed here.
He had failed. He had failed the test that Clifford had put to him, to act like a normal man. He was still the mind-damaged man he had been when he arrived here: crippled in his ability to communicate with others, except in matters regarding his duties to the dungeon prisoners. Clifford remained the shining exception to this rule. But it seemed that Barrett was incapable of extending his consideration of Clifford to any other human being in the world.
He watched the scene on the beach a while longer, seeing the waves roll gently onto the sands. Then, frustrated, he made his way back to the telegraph office.
The telegraph man was awaiting him. "You must be important," he commented. "That's the quickest I've ever received a response to a telegram, even though your message had to be relayed."
Barrett glanced down at the telegram. He was not particularly surprised that the Codifier's secretary, who had charge over telegraph communications in the Eternal Dungeon, would respond quickly. All dungeon-workers must have been holding their breaths this week, waiting for word as to whether three of the dungeon's most valuable guards had been killed in the storm.
But the telegram was not from the Codifier's secretary.
YB via QP. B. Chapman replying to B. Boyd. If well-behaved young ladies, send them to my parents, 15 Leisure Lane, Parkside district of capital. Mother has wanted all her life to care for a well-behaved young lady. Maybe the Urman sisters will be able to please her.
"Mistress Chapman's mother?" said Clifford doubtfully as Drusilla laughed over Mistress Chapman's reply. All three of the sisters, as well as D., were reading the telegram over Clifford's shoulders. "Are you sure that's wise? Didn't she and her husband once lock Mistress Chapman into her room because her aspirations in life were . . . ?" He hesitated.
"Unladylike," D. concluded. He was frowning. "I'm not sure about this. I once heard Mistress Chapman say that her mother smothered her with maternal attention—"
"Oh, my goodness gracious," said Dorothea in a clear voice. "We might be smothered with maternal attention. What do we think of that fate, dears?" She turned to her sisters.
Her sisters simultaneously sighed. They had expressions of bliss on their faces.
D. tried again. "But you can't just impose yourself on a lady and gentleman you don't know, without any way to pay for your room and board—" He stopped abruptly. Drusilla had fallen into peals of laughter.
"Oh, D." Decima rolled her eyes.
Dorothea took pity on her brother. She said gently, "You've forgotten Great-Aunt Daniella's legacy, dear." Evidently in order to allow her brother time to recover from his gaffe, she turned her attention to Barrett and Clifford, saying, "Father tried to persuade Great-Aunt Daniella to leave him her estate and fortune. He— Well, it doesn't matter what he did," she added, glancing at the train crew as they emerged from the hotel. "Great-Aunt Daniella was piqued by what he did and wrote her will to leave her fortune to her niece. But she didn't want the four of us to suffer from our father's ill judgment, so she set aside a very generous portion of her money for each of us, as a coming-to-full-majority gift."
"D. was silly and refused his gift," Drusilla said between hiccups caused by her recent laughter. "He was still angry at Father for what he did, though I don't see why you blamed Great-Aunt Daniella, D. It wasn't her fault."
"The rest of us were more practical," Decima added. "Dorothea and I received our gifts when we turned twenty-one. The money has been in the bank, just waiting for us to use it."
"And I'm sure that the bank will let me have mine a couple of years early, when I explain my circumstances," said Drusilla. "So you see, it's all arranged."
Looking desperate now, D. said, "The money won't last forever. And you can't expect to stay for the rest of your lives with Mistress Chapman's parents—"
"Of course not." Decima tossed her head.
"The very idea!" Drusilla managed to sound both shocked and ready to laugh again. "I don't know about the other two, but I fully intend to be married by the end of the year."
D. groaned. Smiling, Dorothea said, "She has a much better chance of finding an eligible man in the queendom's capital than she does here. D., we have no intention of imposing ourselves on anyone for a long period. Decima has already made her plans: she's going to accept Great-Aunt Charity's offer that she come overseas . . . where, knowing her, Decima will manage to catch the attention of some high-ranked foreign nobleman and spend the rest of her life travelling the world and showing off foreign sites to her children."
Drusilla laughed again. Decima merely smiled. Both sisters sobered, though, as Dorothea drew in a deep breath and said, "As for me . . . I shall become a teacher, I suppose."
For a moment there was no sign except for hammering inside the hotel, the rustle of pine needles in the gentle breeze, and the hiss of steam as the train prepared for departure.
Barrett was not surprised by the sudden silence. In recent years, teaching had become a respectable alternative for orphaned spinsters who had no parents or husbands to care for them. But it was not the sort of work that Dorothea had been raised to do.
Barrett heard himself say, "Mistress Sobel's brother runs most of the charities in the capital. He'd hire you. You could do the same kind of work your mother does, for pay."
The others switched their attention to him, wearing identical expressions of astonishment. Dorothea was the first to recover. She said to her brother, "You see? We've worked it all out."
Turning his gaze from Barrett with evident effort, D. said, "But you can't just leave all of the sudden like this, with no farewell—"
"Papa won't even notice we're gone." Dorothea's voice had gone flat, though her hand was tense upon her fan.
"Mother will." D.'s voice was low.
The train was steaming fully now, sending a light shower of soot upon them that caused Drusilla to cough. Nobody moved, however, and the train crew, seeing their party absorbed in conversation, waited patiently.
Finally, Dorothea said in a weary voice, "All right. I suppose we should give Mama her brief moment to cry over us. And I suppose we ought to wait until Mistress Chapman has had a chance to check with her parents to see whether they really want us there. But whatever her parents say, we're definitely coming to the capital—"
"Within a week," Decima concluded. "We'll telegram you to let you know when we're coming."
"And you can meet our train. We'll be respectable, D., I swear we will!"
Drusilla's voice was so pleading that D. looked hard pressed not to laugh. "You? Never. But I suppose . . . Yes, all right. I do understand. I'll help in any way I can."
Dorothea embraced him gently. Drusilla flung her arms around Clifford in joy. With alarm, Barrett looked toward Decima, but she merely held out her arm. As Barrett shook arms with her, she said, "Thank you. Thank you with all my heart. If it hadn't been for you, my sisters and I would be lying at the bottom of the ocean now . . . or dying of thirst on that dreadful island."
Drusilla was more concise when she wrapped her arms around Barrett, holding him tight as he stood stiffly in place. "You come visit us real soon, you hear?"
As Clifford received his share of the effusive farewells, Dorothea drew Barrett aside. For a moment, it appeared that her shyness would prevent her from speaking. Then she said softly, "Decima and Drusilla said what I would have said. But I just wanted to add my thanks to you for talking with me on the balcony during the storm. It helped comfort me, to have someone to talk with."
Barrett stared at her, his memories whirling back into place.
He hadn't realized. Amidst all that had passed, he hadn't remembered what had taken place on that balcony, nor realized that he had conducted an actual, authentic conversation with someone who wasn't Clifford and to whom Barrett was not duty-bound to speak.
Not only that. The entire, terrible night of the storm, Barrett had barely taken notice of Clifford's welfare. He had been concerned about Clifford, certainly, but he had only intervened at the moment when it appeared that Clifford was about to topple into the shark-infested ocean, leaving Decima without a protector. Aside from that moment, Barrett had kept his thoughts primarily focussed on protecting Dorothea and her sisters.
No wonder Clifford had been shocked when Barrett spoke of staying at the hotel to protect the three young women. It had been four years since Barrett had cared for anyone except Clifford and the prisoners.
Tongue-tied again, he struggled to express his surprise. "Don't usually do that."
Dorothea nodded. "You're one of those strong and silent men. I've always wanted to meet someone like you. All the men I've known wanted to chat and chat, and they didn't understand and appreciate why I was so quiet. It has been lovely, spending an entire week with someone who appreciates me just as I am, rather than as they think I should be." She smiled, extending her hands in an apparently unconscious imitation of her mother. "If I ever do decide to marry anyone, then I promise, it will be a man like you."
He couldn't think of what to say to such a remark. So he did what he would have done if Clifford had been kind to him: he took her hands in his and leaned forward, kissing her cheek.
When he looked up again, he saw that Clifford and D. were staring at him.
The cries of farewell and "See you soon!" faded as the train gathered steam. The train swung west, crossed the lake bridge, and disappeared into the dark, enfolding security of the pine woods.
Barrett had been silent since they entered the train, which was empty except for themselves. He was staring out the window, thinking that, for once, Clifford's wisdom had failed. Clifford was wrong. It was not necessary for Barrett to be as loquacious as he had been in the old days, before his mind was broken. Dorothea had shown Barrett that.
"Well? Aren't you going to ask me?"
The aggressiveness of D.'s voice startled Barrett out of his thoughts. He looked over at D., who had swivelled his chair to stare directly at Barrett. He was glowering.
Barrett said nothing, confused. Clifford, who was sitting in the chair between them, said softly, "D. . . ."
D. ignored Clifford. "Look," he said to Barrett, "I don't know how much you remember, but here in the Queendom of Yclau, etiquette dictates that, if a suitor is about to ask for a girl's hand, he first requests permission to do so from the girl's closest male relative. My father obviously doesn't care a bloody fig about what happens to Dorothea, so you might as well ask me. And you'd better do so before you make love to her again, the way you were doing in the dining-room balcony. Don't think I didn't see that."
Still baffled, Barrett turned to look at Clifford. Clifford gave him a half-smile. Relieved that at least one of his companions on the train remained sane, Barrett said, "You didn't tell him?"
"It wasn't my story to tell," Clifford replied softly.
Barrett turned his attention back to D., who was continuing to glare. D. had every reason to be angry, Barrett realized. Barrett's own memory was beginning to sharpen with the realization that men intimately touched women besides their sisters. Indeed, Barrett had the vague feeling that his own past intimacy with some women went beyond that of brotherly love. He would have to ask Clifford about that, later.
But D. had further cause for anger. Barrett had broken faith with Clifford. Barrett had spurned Clifford the first time that Barrett came in contact with a beautiful woman.
Or so D. thought. Wording himself as carefully as he had done when he first made clear to D. that he could be Clifford's love-mate, Barrett said, "I'm not interested in doing that with your sister. I'm not interested in doing that with anyone." He waited for D. to understand.
It took D. a minute. Then shock entered D.'s face as he said, "You mean, that's why you and Cliff don't . . . And that's why you don't mind if he and I . . ." D. swallowed down the remainder of his words. After a minute, he added gruffly, "Didn't realize."
No apology. D. was just as he had always been: rude, surly, aggressive, inclined to thrust people away.
Or so he seemed. Barrett looked at him, seeing what the week's visit had revealed about D.: a man who was tender and gentle inside, but who had been scarred by harsh experiences, until the layers of scar tissue hid his essential goodness.
Much as it had with Barrett.
Clifford was turning his head to look at both of them now. He was smiling. He had been like that in the old days, Barrett just barely remembered. Even before Clifford tied himself in love to the two of them, he had treated both D. and Barrett with warmth. And he had chosen to share his love, not with openly warm men like himself, but with two good men who were complexly layered from past suffering.
Barrett looked out the window again, watching the dark pines rush past. He had been wrong again. He had not merely learned this week that he could live his life as a quiet man. He had learned something far more important from Dorothea.
Clifford asked, "What did Dorothea say to you that made you kiss her, Barrett?"
He told them. To his surprise, D. merely shrugged. "Bloody blades, I could have told you that. You've always been like that." Then, as Clifford turned to stare, D. continued saying to Barrett, "Oh, you chatted a lot in the old days. But it was all surface. On anything that really mattered, like whether the dungeon prisoners should be tortured, you kept quiet, thinking. And when you finally made up your mind on what to do, you were a man of deeds, not words."
The admiration in his voice was clear. Barrett glanced out the window again. The train was beginning to emerge from the dark forest into the sun-drenched fields of eastern Yclau.
Two lessons. He only had to act on the second lesson that Dorothea had given him.
Barrett looked at D. and said, "When you become Seeker, could you ask to be housed in a suite, so that the three of us can live together?"
He had learned how to be a friend.
Chapter 6: The Awakening | Epilogue
The year 365, the third month. (The year 1883 Clover by the Old Calendar.)
After the day guards had relieved them from duty, and their Seeker had left for his prisoner's trial, Barrett and Clifford stared at each other wordlessly.
Clifford finally broke the silence. "Did we actually just agree to that?"
Barrett said nothing. Under Clifford's patient tutoring during the past year, Barrett had expanded his communication from his previous, truncated speech. But this latest turn of events had plunged him back into silence.
A cheerful whistle caused them to turn around. Guards did not whistle – the Code of Seeking outlined punishments for such an action – but there was D. Urman, whistling his way down the breaking-cell corridor as guards' heads swivelled.
"What are you two looking so glum about?" asked D., pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. Seward Sobel, who was passing at that moment, gave a light snort but said not a word concerning D.'s misbehavior. The other guards on the corridor exchanged looks.
"D., the prisoners . . ." Clifford's whisper was an urgent reminder that even guards, though not so high placed as Seekers, were supposed to serve as models for good behavior to the prisoners.
In an instant, the cigarette was crushed under D.'s boot. "Sorry," he said unrepentantly. "High spirits. Won't happen again. Why the gloomy looks?" He looked pointedly at Clifford and Barrett.
Clifford exchanged a glance with Barrett, took a deep breath, and proceeded with the explosive news: "We have agreed to become guards for Vito de Vere."
"Is that so?" said D. mildly. "He's that skilled, is he?"
Clifford's look of bewilderment matched Barrett's mood. How, within the space of the first ten days of his return as a Seeker, had Vito de Vere managed to persuade both of them that he was worthy of their service?
"Well, it's a day for news, it seems," D. said lightly. "Hold up, I have something for the two of you."
He pulled a cloth from the pocket of his trousers. At first, Barrett thought it was a black handkerchief. Then he caught sight of the red trimming.
"D.!" Heedless of the audience, Clifford flung his arms around D. Urman. "They've made you a Seeker!"
"They'll probably toss me out within the first week of my formal training," predicted D., more cheerful than he usually was when he made such pronouncements. D. had also changed a great deal during the past year. "No, this is what I wanted to show you." From the folds of the hood of a Seeker-in-Training, he pulled out a ring. A metal key-ring, holding three keys, all identical.
D. laughed at their continued bafflement. "A three-bedroom suite," he announced with a smile. "The High Seeker says we can live together."
Chapter 7: The Tempest | Historical Note
Like previous stories in the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs cycle, this novella is set in an alternative version of America that was settled in ancient times. All of the locations in the novella are based on actual places in Virginia (i.e. the Queendom of Yclau).
Yclau Beach is Virginia Beach, which was founded in the 1880s as a resort community through the construction of a single hotel. While I was trying to figure out some reason why D. Urman's railroadman father would have moved his family to a resort hotel, I discovered to my delight that Virginia Beach was actually founded by a railroad owner, Marshall Parks. Forming a company with other investors, Colonel Parks built the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Railroad to the coast and then built the Princess Anne Hotel (originally called the Virginia Beach Hotel). The hotel burned down in 1907, but before then the hotel attracted the cream of society to Virginia Beach.
Resort cottages began to spring up in Virginia Beach soon after the arrival of the Princess Anne Hotel. Among them was a cottage just south of the hotel, built in 1895 by a later superintendent of the hotel and railroad company, B. P. Holland; he built the home after marrying, and he enjoyed watching wildfowl from its cupola. The home was later bought by Cornelius deWitt and renamed Wittenzand Cottage – that is, White Sand Cottage. It is now the last surviving building from Virginia Beach's nineteenth-century waterfront. It houses the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum.
Virginia Beach's Seatack Life-Saving Station (the name "Seatack" may have arisen from a local battle during the War of 1812) has also survived, in the form of its 1903 station, now housing the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum. Seatack's nineteenth-century surfmen worked from an earlier building.
Cape Henry, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, is the site of not one but two lighthouses. The younger of these two lighthouses, built in 1881, is the one that features in my story. Cape Henry also had a weather station in the 1880s, but not a manor house. Today, part of the cape is an army base. The northern portion of the cape, First Landing State Park, serves as a reminder that Cape Henry was the site where the Virginia Company colonists first landed before entering the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and then moving upriver to Jamestown, where they created the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.
As for the barrier island in this story, it is Assateague Island of
Virginia and Maryland, famous for its Chincoteague ponies, also known as
Assateague horses. (I'm sure I'm not the only person who was introduced
to the island through Marguerite Henry's 1947 novel for children, Misty
of Chincoteague.) Local legend says that the horses came from a Spanish
shipwreck. Historians offer the more prosaic theory that Colonial Americans
placed their horses on the island in order to avoid paying taxes on their
beasts. At any rate, the horses remain feral, thanks to careful conservation.
Much of Assateague Island is wild, but some campgrounds exist on it. I
stayed in a house there with my family when I was young. I remember the
island as very bleak and windy.
Living in Maryland, I've experienced a few hurricanes, as well as one dreadful derecho that felled dozens of trees on my block. But my most vivid memory of storm damage comes from a hurricane I've only read about: the New England Hurricane of 1938, which slammed into the northeastern United States without warning on September 21, 1938.
A vivid fictional account of this hurricane can be found in Parhelion's novelette "Express," a tale that taught me a great deal about foreshadowing hurricanes. However, it was from a PBS documentary, The Hurricane of '38, that I learned the tale of Jeff and Catherine Moore and their four children, residents of Napatree, Rhode Island, a beach community.
I needn't recount their tale, because I've already done so in this story. With the notable exception of the cupola and the horses, nearly every detail of my six characters' survival story is borrowed from that of the Moore family. Along with a friend of the family and three servants, the Moores underwent the destruction of their cottage as their attic was turned into a raft and pulled into the waters. Believing they were being swept out to sea, the Moores and their fellow refugees clung to the raft while it was encircled by sharks. All of the refugees finally made it to shore mere moments before the raft broke into two.
My other source for the story was the Hurricane of 1879, also called the Great Beaufort Hurricane or the Tempest of 1879. On August 18, this storm swept along the coast of North Carolina, causing the collapse of the Atlantic Hotel in Raleigh. (The hotel proprietor was reportedly warned of the oncoming storm but didn't want to disturb his prominent guests' participation in a Grand Dress Ball.) Travelling further north, that hurricane was the worst nineteenth-century storm to pass through Norfolk, Virginia. Officially, it is dubbed a Category 3 hurricane by modern meteorologists, but since the wind gauges blew away at Cape Henry and practically every other weather station along the coast, nobody knows for sure how powerful the storm was. Weathermen at one North Carolina station estimated the storm winds as rising to 165 miles per hour, which would make the storm at that point a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest type.
What effect the storm had on Virginia Beach is lost to history. At that time, nothing existed on Virginia Beach except the life-saving station and a hunting clubhouse.
That would hardly be the last bad storm at Virginia Beach. In 1891,
the Dictator, a Norwegian ship, foundered offshore. Although the
surfmen were able to save Captain Jorgen Jorgensen and some of his crew,
the captain's wife and four-year-old son were drowned. For many years,
the figurehead from the Dictator stood on the waterfront side of
the Princess Anne Hotel. Later, "the Norwegian Lady" was lost, but today
replicas of the figurehead exist in Virginia Beach and in Moss, Norway,
the home port of the Dictator. Their plaques say:
The Norwegian Lady
I Stand Here
As My Sister Before Me
To Wish All Men Of The Sea
Safe Return Home
My reconstruction and acknowledgments
I recreated 1880s Virginia Beach from a variety of sources, especially Jonathan Mark Souther's dissertation "Twixt ocean and pines: the seaside resort at Virginia Beach, 1880-1930" (posted online) and images at the Virginia Beach Public Library's digital archives.
Colonel Urman's storm instructions to his servants are adapted from an 1890s memo (which I found at Virginia Beach Public Library's digital archives) to the Princess Anne Hotel staff on how to clean up after a recent storm and to prepare for future storms. An 1888 brochure advertising the Princess Anne Hotel is stored at the Internet Archive. From that brochure's pictures and other images, I knew the appearance of the hotel's waterfront facade, its main hall, its dining room (whose windows I've lowered, for drama's sake), and – from a much later postcard, after the structure had been moved – the pavilion. Since I wasn't able to locate a floor plan for the hotel, I've filled the gaps with my imagination.
I was more fortunate concerning the deWitt Cottage (variously spelled). Not only was I able to locate a floor plan and detailed historical description from the National Register of Historic Places, but Clark L. Mandigo, director of the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, generously supplied me with a good deal of information about the cottage's attic. For the most part, my characters experience the cottage as it actually was in the nineteenth century; however, I've changed a few details for drama's sake, such as making the cottage wooden rather than brick.
My information about the Hurricane of 1879 comes from various history books and from 1879 weather reports. The hurricane in this story follows the path of the Hurricane of 1879, but I've used my own imagination to determine the hurricane's timing, speed, intensity, wind direction, and storm surge.
As for the New England Hurricane of 1938, there is a wealth of information available about it, including many interviews with the four Moore children. I drew mainly upon R. A. Scotti's book Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 (also the main source for Parhelion's story) and the above-mentioned PBS documentary.
I first saw the documentary around the time it initially aired, in 1993. It has lingered in my mind all these years, serving as the seed for this story. Two lines from the documentary are especially memorable. One, which I have borrowed for this story, is Catherine Moore's account of how her father tried to hold back the water by pressing himself against their cottage's front door: "He was trying to hold back the ocean."
The other remark furrowed itself into my mind and perhaps shaped my understanding of the difference between being perceived as a hero and actually undergoing the experience of being a hero. Catherine Moore said of her parents:
"I'm sure that there must have been just cold fear in the pit of their stomachs, but it didn't translate to us."