Miss Cordelia Frost lowered the page she was holding as a boy rapped on the door of the office to warn her that Mr Mathey was crossing the grounds from the building that held chambers for some of the bachelor members of the Commons. She’d expected to have more time if he approached from one of the omnibus stops on Tottenham Court Road, for why should he arrive in mid-morning if he had spent the night in situ? She gave the boy a penny, carefully re-wrapped the script Maddie had sent her to mark in its protective paper and stowed it in a drawer, then brought out a letter from a client and set it out facing her. She had already read the morning’s post and ranked the letters on Mr Mathey’s desk alongside the morning paper, but now she made a show of setting her pantograph to compose an unneeded reply until Mr Mathey stepped through the door.
He was a soft-spoken man, but tall and muscular and energetic enough to fill a room with his presence ordinarily; yet today his movements were muted and his face solemn as he nodded to her and murmured a nearly-inaudible greeting. He hung his hat and woollen overcoat on the stand and came to look at the appointments book which she had turned to show today’s date. He frowned, his fingers tapping the empty lines of the afternoon hours. “Where is my appointment with Mrs Hadley? I was to renew her household wards today. Oh, I see, this is for tomorrow.” He flipped the page back and then blinked at the notations already made there.
“I beg your pardon,” Cordelia said. “Today is Wednesday.”
Mr Mathey was holding the page, turning it back and forth for comparison. “Surely today is Tuesday?”
“You renewed Mrs Hadley’s wards yesterday - you’ll see I noted the time it took and a few extra requests she brought up, to be added to the bill I sent out this morning. Yesterday afternoon you went to speak to Inspector Hatton, and when you returned just as I was leaving, you indicated that you would not be available for appointments today.”
“Yesterday was Monday. Was it not?” He picked up the paper and peered at the heading in bafflement. Lower on the page, Cordelia had placed marks beside two articles that might be of interest, both about mysterious burglaries.
“Yesterday was Tuesday. I believe you had identified some potential targets for Inspector Hatton’s burglary case. You planned to check out one or more of the sites in the evening, with Mr Lynes.”
“Why should I use misty lines in an investigation?” Mr Mathey murmured.
Cordelia had been slightly amused until that moment, thinking that last night must have been a late one indeed for Mr Mathey, but when she saw that his expression was serious a chill went down her spine. “Mr Lynes,” she enunciated carefully. “Mr Julian Lynes, the detective. Your particular friend since your school days?” Her voice sharpened in alarm as his face remained blank.
He shook his head. “There was no one at St. Tom’s by that name, not at the time I attended.”
Cordelia reached for her reticule, where her own wand was kept. “Mr Mathey,” she said slowly, “I think you had better sit down and let me see if any spells have been cast upon you.”
She started with a square of the Sun held firmly in her mind’s eye: thirty-six numbers laid out in their ranks, each representing a letter of the metaphysical alphabet. Then she sketched the sigil for light in the air before his face, a very simple approach that could reveal aspects of a number of spells without getting tangled, in the event that there was something dangerous or non-conforming to be found.
Rather than brightening, the room grew darker in Mr Mathey’s vicinity.
“A spell to remove something,” she murmured.
“Which caused shadows to form when you added light to remove,” said Mr Mathey. “But what could it be removing? And how did I get a spell worked upon me? I’m sure I would remember someone casting at me.”
“I suspect,” she said darkly, “that the spell was added to a drink, and what was removed was memory itself. Do you have any clever tests I could use to confirm that?”
“None that aren’t rather tricky or even dangerous, I’m afraid.” He rubbed his chin. “You’re saying that it really is Wednesday.”
“Yes, it is.” She frowned at the little flickers of light that sparked about the edges of the shadow. “There’s something more there. Another layer. Possibly something non-conforming.”
“Well, it can’t be anything very serious, if all I’ve forgotten is Tuesday.”
Cordelia straightened. “You forgot Mr Lynes as well.”
Mr Mathey shook his head slowly. “I don’t believe I’ve heard the name before.”
Mr Oppenshaw, in the well-appointed laboratory he merited as a very senior member of the Commons, took some time teasing out the grammar of the spell one word at a time. Cordelia had seen Mr Mathey work much more quickly, but she supposed it was appropriate to use care in analysing a spell upon a living person. Mr Mathey followed the results and made some suggestions of his own, proving that he had not forgotten his own skills, whatever else might be missing from his memory.
Oppenshaw looked grave once the examination was finished. “It’s a nasty bit of work, indeed,” he said. “‘Forget this day’ is clear enough. Likely whoever it was had that much written out in advance. But for some reason they decided that a day wasn’t enough and tried to tack on more, so it became ‘Forget this day and this giver of spells,’ which is terribly imprecise.”
Mr Mathey nodded. “I assume it was supposed to be ‘the giver of this spell.’”
“Well, that would have been better, but you can hardly expect clarity of thinking from half-trained or entirely untrained practitioners. The way it was worded, the spell would also snag on any other practitioner who was present at the time.”
“But it didn’t. I haven’t forgotten anything except the one day,” said Mr Mathey, rising to his feet and setting his opened collar to rights.
Oppenshaw frowned at him and then glanced at Cordelia.
She nodded. “The renewing is particularly worrisome. He remembers that he’s forgotten yesterday, but he doesn’t remember that Mr Lynes was ever mentioned at all.”
Oppenshaw tsked and shook his head. “We’d better bring Lynes in for examination, then.”
“I sent him a telegram to come to the Commons on an urgent matter.”
“Will he come, if he doesn’t remember Mathey?”
Cordelia hesitated. She had indeed put Mr Mathey’s name upon the telegram, assuming it would convey greater authority.
Oppenshaw continued, “He must have been present when the spell was cast. No knowing how it might have affected him - unless we check. Better send a boy ‘round to fetch him.”
“Who on Earth are you talking about?” Mr Mathey pressed.
Cordelia sighed. “I think I should go myself.” She would have to see what his situation was, and then decide how best to persuade him. He wouldn’t respond to feminine wiles, but he was gentleman enough to help her if she seemed in distress.
Cordelia was no naif; she was well aware that there was a connection between her employer and his old school friend which would be considered by many to be unnatural or even disgusting. As to the first, Cordelia supposed it was true, but then so were railroads unnatural, or for that matter training an animal to pull a carriage behind it. If the same God that had made Man clever and inventive had also made some men desire their own sex, then doubtless it was all part of some greater plan. And it seemed scarcely more unsavoury to her than the things that married couples might do with the full approbation of the Church, all of it equally personal and no doubt equally messy.
Even kissing, about which Maddie waxed rhapsodic, seemed profoundly disturbing to Cordelia, as if the meeting of two negative spaces ought to cause some sort of clash just as incompatible magics would, or two magnets brought together with their poles aligned instead of reversed. Yet two mouths did not repel each other, nor seem repellent in the minds of most of the populace. Why then should two positive parts garner a different opinion? Cordelia did not truly understand it, and preferred not to contemplate the details too deeply.
Mr Mathey’s relationship with Mr Lynes seemed to bring them both the benefits of companionship and some measure of happiness, without the complications of marriage. It also benefited Cordelia, as she need have no fear of being importuned by her young and handsome employer, nor of having some jealous wife urge that she be replaced by a more traditional male clerk. Mr Mathey was more interested in listening to her opinions than in gazing at her face or figure, and that suited Cordelia splendidly.
The omnibus carried Cordelia through a chill drizzle as far as the British Museum, after which she made a few wrong turns before finding Coptic Street. She knew Mr Lynes’ address, but she had never been there herself. She was unsurprised to see that his parlor, where he met with clients, was cluttered with stacks of books, magazines, newspapers, a few curious devices in various states of disassembly, and one rather lugubrious plant in a pot. The landlady had expressed some frustration with Mr Lynes as she was showing Cordelia up, and it was evident that only the most cursory dusting was done in the room. She wondered if the woman was annoyed that she wasn’t given a free hand to clean, or if she refused to clean thoroughly because of her annoyance.
A movement in the corner of her vision made her look again at the potted plant, which proved to be Urtica mordax, evidently of the magical variety. She suspected it might have come from the Commons garden, where the beds regularly offered menace to passing pedestrians. Its tendrils were now questing the air, either trying to divine her own presence or else hoping to catch flies.
Mr Lynes came into the room wearing a smoking jacket over shirtsleeves, entirely inappropriate for the hour. His red eyes and nose suggested a winter ailment as a possible explanation, but something in his haunted expression reminded Cordelia of Mr Mathey’s somber aspect this morning. He did not seem to have the same vagueness in his gaze, though, so she wavered between suspicions that he either had or had not suffered the same loss of memory. She had prepared conversational openings for either possibility, but uncertainty made her hesitate.
“Miss Frost,” said Mr Lynes in a tone that made it clear he remembered her, yet it was markedly less friendly than his address to her only yesterday. “I suppose I have you to thank for this.” He tossed a crumpled piece of paper in her direction, and it fell short upon the rug.
She could see that it was a telegram, and surmised that it was the one she had sent that morning. “Ah. Yes, I’m sorry, Mr Lynes, for signing . . . my employer’s name to the telegram instead of my own. But it is a matter of some urgency.”
He cast himself down upon the settee, ignoring the day-old newspaper which crumpled beneath him. Eyes closed and one hand pressed to his forehead, he sneered, “Urgency. What sort of urgency would that be?” The words were likely meant to be contemptuous, but instead merely sounded miserable.
Cordelia took a breath and decided to take the chance of using names. “Mr Mathey has had a spell cast upon him. Hostile, and evidently non-conforming. Mr Oppenshaw is attempting to untangle it, but we hope you might provide more information about how and when it was cast.” She did not mention that there appeared to be something wrong with Mr Lynes himself, since he seemed unlikely to be receptive to the suggestion.
Mr Lynes dropped his hand and glared at her with his red-rimmed eyes. “Mr Mathey. This would be Mr Edward Mathey, and not some relation I’m unaware of?”
“My employer Edward Mathey, yes.” She noted the promising evidence that his memory was intact, yet something was unquestionably wrong.
“The same Ned Mathey who died nearly three months ago, and whose remains are sealed up inside that dreadful house in Battersea, in a room I myself locked him into?”
Cordelia caught her breath. She knew of the incident, although she had not been aware just how dangerous it was at the time. And she would never have learnt from Mr Mathey just how much peril he had been in, except that Mr Lynes had been uncommonly solicitous of him after the incident. Mr Mathey had been patient with the extra attention at first, then gradually grew annoyed, until about a week later they apparently had it out between them and came to some new understanding. But Mr Lynes still had a tendency to watch Mr Mathey when he didn’t think he was being observed, as if he expected his friend to become unreal at any moment.
And now, from Mr Lynes’ point of view, that was quite nearly what had happened.
“The spell on Mr Mathey -“ she began.
She stiffened. “It has affected his memory.”
“Get out of my rooms. Now.”
She spoke quickly to persuade him before he could interrupt her again. “Mr Lynes, I believe your memory has also been altered.“
He stood up and marched over to her, although he was not so lost as to lay a hand upon her. Instead he pointed imperatively at the door.
“He’s not dead, Mr Lynes! He came out of that room safely. He’s at the Commons right now, and -“
He spun on his heel and retreated through the inner door he had appeared from, slamming it definitively behind him.
Cordelia smoothed down her skirt, breathing carefully. Her hands trembled, but only a little. Though Mr Lynes had occasionally been rude to her early in their acquaintance, she knew that Mr Mathey reposed great trust in him and she did not truly expect any physical threat. Yet the power of his emotions - grief, guilt, and anger - were overwhelming in themselves. And she had been unable to relieve them.
The drizzle had turned to half-frozen sleet, and Cordelia opted to spend on a cab to Whitehall rather than waiting by the omnibus stop. Scotland Yard was a warren of buildings, some connected and others detached, but at least she knew where she was going. Maddie had showed her around shortly after coming to work here, airily telling the men who frowned at them that Inspector Hatton wished to speak to Miss Frost. It hadn’t been true then, but Cordelia was determined to make it so now. She wound through the halls with a quick step and determination on her face, and no one attempted to intercept her.
The converted mews where the Metaphysical Squad had their offices were rather too airy for December, and still carried a distinct smell of horse. Desks were tucked into odd corners and behind partitions, but nearly all were empty. Madeleine Barton sat at the desk nearest the door and caught Cordelia’s eyes at once with a quick smile.
“I must speak with Inspector Hatton, Maddie. It’s urgent. Is he in?”
“He was planning to stop for a bite on his way back from a burglary at Russell Square. He should be back very soon.” Maddie folded up a grease-marked sheet of paper around the crumbs of a sandwich and dropped it in the trash.
Cordelia’s own luncheon awaited her in a drawer at Mr Mathey’s office, and she had eaten nothing since breakfast. Firmly telling her stomach to be quiet, she asked, “Can you tell me anything about those burglaries? I know Mr Mathey has been helping with the investigation, and I believe he may have run into some trouble last night as a result.”
Maddie’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t know all the details. Certainly the Squad gets many reports of burglaries using metaphysical means, but most turn out to be dull business with just one or two lock-picking enchantments involved, not truly a metaphysical crime. This series has been different - there’s always a servant or even a member of the household who’s completely forgotten the day of the theft, and then it turns out they’re the ones who did the stealing, only they can’t remember doing it or what they did with the goods!”
Cordelia nodded at this confirmation of what Mr Mathey had told her. “And you don’t know how long this may have been going on, since usually the servants are simply turned off?”
“Or clapped in gaol. Inspector Hatton’s been interviewing accused servants from cases going back months or years, and it’s hard to tell if memories were tampered with or they just naturally faded. But recently the mastermind started using houseguests and even family members to do the deed, and that’s how it all came to light.”
“Have any of the affected people recovered their memories, at all?”
Maddie frowned. “Well, not the ones who were never believed in the first place. Inspector Hatton tracked down some who were turned off, and apparently they have trouble remembering all sorts of things now, when they were fine before. But your Mr Mathey was trying to come up with a way to lift the memory charm for some of the more recent cases.”
“He mentioned that. I believe they’ve been able to keep the memory from deteriorating further, but they haven’t really recovered the missing day for any of them. I suppose if they had, they’d have found the mastermind by now.”
“Inspector Hatton thinks -“ But just then, a rumble of voices informed them that the Inspector was returning along with several of his men.
“Miss Frost,” said the red-haired man with some surprise, brushing ice crystals from his hat. “What brings you here?”
“I need your help, Inspector,” she told him. Once she was seated in the relative privacy of his small office she said, “Mr Mathey has been the victim of a spell to affect his memory.”
Inspector Hatton whuffed out a breath.
“I believe Mr Lynes is affected as well, although he’s less cooperative so it’s difficult to be certain of the precise effects.”
“Tell me they didn’t rob someone,” Hatton said wearily.
Cordelia paused. “I have no idea. Perhaps you know where they were planning to go last night?”
“I have a list of several possibilities. The house on Russell Square that we’ve just come from was one of them.”
“Oh dear. Well, it seems Mr Mathey has forgotten all events of yesterday. In addition, he has forgotten the existence of Mr Lynes entirely, and forgets him again within a few minutes of being reminded.”
“That’s something different,” Hatton reflected.
“Mr Oppenshaw has been examining the spell. He believes that the cantrip to forget one day was prepared in advance, but there was some addition made at the last moment which went awry. It may have had something to do with both Mr Mathey and Mr Lynes being subjects of the spell at once.”
“And I suppose Lynes has forgotten Mathey as well?”
“Not precisely. He remembers his existence and that they were . . . working together. But he seems to think that Mr Mathey died during that incident with the cursed writing desk a few months ago. He’s forgotten that Mr Mathey ever emerged from the room in which he confronted the creature.”
Hatton looked grim at that. “Does he remember Tuesday?”
“I was not able to establish that. When I attempted to reassure Mr Lynes that Mr Mathey is still with us, he refused to hear me out. It occurred to me that this refusal might be an effect of the spell itself, just as Mr Mathey repeatedly forgets when he is reminded.”
“And what does Mr Oppenshaw have to say?”
“He thought that having Mr Lynes present would aid his investigation of the spell or spells upon Mr Mathey. There may be more to it than just the memory charm.”
“That’s right. For the other, er, victims there were two layers. Some sort of compulsion which led them to commit the burglaries, then an additional compulsion to dissolve the written memory cantrip into their drink at the end of the day.”
Cordelia considered that. “Compulsion spells are generally non-conforming, and can take a variety of forms depending on what traditions they borrow from. That would fit with what Mr Oppenshaw detected.”
Hatton nodded. “Then it sounds like Oppenshaw has that end of things well in hand. I’ll see if I can find out more of where Lynes and Mathey went last night and who they talked to, but I might not be able to learn much if they can’t get their memories back.”
“I thought your men might assist by bringing Mr Lynes to the Commons for further examination. He was quite resistant to the idea when I approached him.”
Hatton leaned back slightly in his chair, looking thoughtful. “Has it occurred to you that it might be better for the both of them if they were to, er, go their separate ways?”
It took Cordelia a moment to realise what he was implying. When she did, a sudden hot flash of anger stiffened her spine. “Whatever you may think of their association, Inspector, it can’t be good for it to end under the influence of a spell which causes progressive deterioration of the mental faculties.”
Hatton sighed. “No, you’re right there.”
“Mr Lynes is in considerable distress, and Mr Mathey is unhappy also although he can’t remember the reason for it.”
“It was only an idea,” he said, sounding ashamed of himself.
She would have liked to say more about a mindset which would think it preferable for two men to be miserable and lonely rather than defy conventions about proper manly behavior. But even though she and Hatton both knew what they were speaking of, and both knew that the other knew as well, it was important not to make any open admissions - not simply for propriety’s sake, but in case charges should be brought on some future date and Cordelia called to witness. So she had to content herself with a stern frown and the observation, “Not the most helpful idea you’ve had, Inspector.”
“In that case we’d best get to fixing this, then.” Hatton ushered her to the door of his office before calling out, “Garmin, Beal, I’ve a job for you. You’re to find Mr Julian Lynes and bring him to the Commons. Send word to me when you’ve found him, and I’ll meet you there.”
“He was at his rooms on Coptic Street an hour ago,” Cordelia told them, “but he might have left by now.” She recited the address for them.
“If he gives you any trouble, you can use handcuffs on him,” Hatton added.
Constable Garmin’s face creased into a smile. “Mr Lynes to the Commons in ‘andcuffs, right you are guv.”
Hatton looked around the unpopulated room. “Blast, everyone else is out on jobs already.”
“Could I help with anything, Inspector?” Maddie asked brightly.
Hatton scrubbed a hand over his whiskers. “Well, it is only a matter of note-taking, I suppose. Will you accompany Miss Frost to the Commons and find out what more they’ve learnt about these memory charms, or cantrips or curses or whatever they might be? If they can solve that, we might break the entire case open, and then we’ll want to move quickly once we know who’s behind it all. Send a telegram if there’s anything I need to know immediately, otherwise take thorough notes on everything. We never know what might be a clue, or important evidence when it comes to a trial.”
“I can certainly do that, Inspector!” Maddie quickly stuffed a notebook into her reticule and caught up her coat, ready in a moment to leave with Cordelia.
Despite the foul weather, they had an enjoyable coze on the trip back to the Commons, discussing Maddie’s latest script which Cordelia was helping her to revise. Maddie was also very excited about some new ideas for stories which had come to her as a result of her work with the Metaphysical Squad, and she asked for Cordelia’s opinion on whether she should write those under a completely new pen-name, or perhaps even as serials in a magazine rather than in novel form.
Maddie did not mention anything directly about Inspector Hatton or the polite interest which he had stopped directing at Cordelia once Maddie had been hired. This lack of desire to talk, in Cordelia’s experience, frequently indicated that something of a romantic variety was in fact developing, and she sighed to think that Maddie might be getting herself into further complications. Yet it seemed a good sign that Hatton was letting Maddie get out of the office for actual metaphysical work on occasion; she had always been intensely interested in the ways in which Cordelia was able to help with some of Mr Mathey’s investigations. So far, the job with Scotland Yard seemed to provide considerably more scope for Maddie’s talents than her previous school-mistress employment. If only Maddie could avoid romantic trouble, it might work out very well for her indeed!
They arrived at the Commons to find that Mr Oppenshaw had drawn in a few more of the metaphysicists who worked on complex theories. Cordelia eyed Mr Simmons and Mr Connor with some scepticism, for she generally agreed with Mr Mathey’s opinion that the theoreticians had insufficient care for the dangers posed by the practical application of metaphysics. Indeed, within a few minutes of their arrival Mr Connor suggested that they might re-apply the memory cantrip to Mr Mathey so that they could see precisely how it tangled, in order to more easily untangle it afterward. Fortunately Mr Mathey was able to speak for himself in quashing this suggestion, supported by a blistering glower from Mr Oppenshaw.
They had so far weakened the memory charm that Mr Mathey was now able to recall Tuesday morning’s appointment with Mrs Hadley.
“And does he remember Mr Lynes?” Cordelia murmured to Oppenshaw during a moment when Mr Mathey was in discussion with the other gentlemen.
Mr Oppenshaw raised an eyebrow. “He has recalled his existence, but he appears to think Mr Lynes perished in some tragic incident at their school when they were boys. He becomes quite agitated if we try to tell him it isn’t so.”
“I see.” Cordelia related Mr Lynes’ similar reaction, which interested Oppenshaw a great deal.
“We must get them together. That might prove the key to breaking the entire enchantment.”
“Yes, I’ve asked Inspector Hatton to track down Mr Lynes and bring him here. I’m not sure how long that might take, however.”
“In the meantime,” Oppenshaw went on, “we’ve also learnt a bit more about the lower layer of non-conforming magic. It was some form of compulsion, quite barbaric, borrowing from old Ottoman traditions regarding slaves.”
Cordelia shivered at the thought and related Hatton’s theories about the mastermind who got other people to commit burglaries for him. “There was another theft just last night at one of the locations Mr Mathey and Mr Lynes had been planning to check out. We don’t know if they were actually involved, or just caught up in the edges of it.”
Oppenshaw shook his head. “This is a bad business. We need to know what Mathey and his friend have already discovered, but sadly he seems to be rather foggy on the details.”
“What about his notebook?” asked Maddie, who had just that instant been making notes of her own.
Cordelia blinked. Mr Mathey normally carried a small moleskine diary in his coat pocket, in which he kept notes of all sorts, particularly about any enchantments he was asked to reconstruct. But she hadn’t seen the little book today, and a quick examination of Mr Mathey’s woollen coat showed that it wasn’t there either.
This sent her on a hunt back to Mr Mathey’s office, where she was at last able to bolt down the cold meat pie that had awaited her. When she didn’t find the notebook there, she crossed the Commons to the residence and persuaded Mrs Clewett, with some difficulty, to let her look in Mr Mathey’s rooms. There she found an older notebook which had already been filled up, but not the current one. Empty-handed, Cordelia returned across the grounds. It was mid-afternoon and dusk was beginning to fall, while the sleet had turned to a gentler snow. The earlier rain had washed the soot from the air so that the snow was mostly white instead of grey, and was beginning to settle peacefully over the bare garden beds in the gloaming.
Inspector Hatton was approaching Mr Mathey’s office as Cordelia rounded the corner, and she called out to him before the locked door could give him a sting. “They are in the laboratory on the other side of the square,” she said. “Have you any new information?”
“Yes, my men are bringing Mr Lynes round. Apparently he was at a public house in Bethnal Green, but fortunately the landlady had heard the address he gave a cab driver so they were able to find him.”
“Ah, good. Mr Oppenshaw is convinced that examining both of them at once is the best way to undo the enchantment.”
Halfway around the square, they saw the police wagon arrive and disgorge a rather sullen Mr Lynes under the escort of Constables Garmin and Beal. His hands were bound behind his back and Garmin had hold of one elbow, while Beal hung back and watched with suspicion in his gaze.
Inspector Hatton studied the group. “Was this really necessary?” he asked.
Garmin shrugged. “Well, he got out of the cuffs twice when we had them done in front. Second time he fetched Beal ‘ere a good clip.” And indeed, Cordelia could make out the reddening blotch on Beal’s cheek even in the soft light of the gas lamps. “Stronger than he looks, for such a weedy one.”
“Mr Lynes, you do understand this is for your benefit? You’re under a spell.”
Mr Lynes returned a dark glare. “I think I would know if I’d been cursed. This is some sort of farce, and you won’t have my cooperation in it!”
They had reached the steps at the front of the building by now, and one constable on either side bodily encouraged Mr Lynes up to the door.
“You don’t remember because the spell acted upon your memory,” said Hatton patiently, holding the door first for Cordelia and then for the awkward trio. “It was likely a cantrip washed into your drink.”
“I know what the effects of a cantrip feel like, and I would certainly never take one that I hadn’t made up myself!” Mr Lynes’ voice was rising in his agitation, and ahead of them the laboratory door spilled forth first Mr Simmons into the hall, then Mr Oppenshaw, and finally Mr Mathey.
Mr Lynes stopped dead.
Cordelia happened to be looking back at just that moment, and in his face she saw something break apart and then slowly, painfully, re-form itself.
“Ned,” he breathed.
“Lynes, by God,” Mr Mathey rasped. “You’re here. You’re . . .” Cordelia wasn’t sure whether he’d been about to say alive or older because his voice choked off. There was some of the same breaking and mending occurring in his expression as well.
“Garmin.” Hatton jerked his head, and the constable quickly twisted a key in the handcuffs.
Mr Lynes surged forward and caught Mr Mathey’s hands in his own, and the moment they touched Cordelia felt the enchantment crack apart, like a wave of pressure passing over her. Both men staggered, barely holding each other upright.
“Ah, that’s done it!” Mr Oppenshaw exclaimed, then frowned suspiciously as the two continued to cling to one another.
“Mr Oppenshaw!” said Cordelia quickly, her mind scrambling for a distraction. She moved to the side so that he would have to face away from the others in order to address her. “I’m curious about something. Do you have an explanation for why the memory cantrip worked so differently on Mr Lynes, compared to its effects on Mr Mathey?”
“Oh, well, as to that, it could have been any number of factors. Perhaps Mathey used a stronger liquor, or let it sit longer before drinking.”
Mr Simmons stepped forward. “I believe I heard Lynes say just now that he was accustomed to drinking the occasional cantrip. If that’s so, he might have built up a tolerance.”
“Tolerance only develops in response to one particular cantrip, Simmons,” said Mr Connor dismissively. “It doesn’t apply to all cantrips, and especially not those of dissimilar class and effects.”
“It would if they used matching ink and paper -“
The three metaphysicists happily fell to arguing the question, and Cordelia saw that Mr Lynes and Mr Mathey had withdrawn into the laboratory, with Maddie innocently blocking the doorway while she listened to the discussion.
“All right,” said Inspector Hatton after a few minutes had passed. “I think you’re saying that they likely did have the same spell cast on them both, even though the effects weren’t identical?”
All three men started to answer, but Mr Oppenshaw won out as the highest authority. “You are correct, Inspector.”
“Right, then. Let’s all step into the lab here -“ the inspector’s voice was slightly louder on these words, “- and review what’s been learnt about these spells.”
When they entered the room Mr Mathey and Mr Lynes were standing a decorous few feet apart, although Mr Mathey’s hair was slightly disordered and Mr Lynes had unaccustomed colour in his cheeks. Mr Oppenshaw laid out the notes he had taken today, and Mr Mathey explained his own conclusions, after a short digression about the lost notebook.
“I must have dropped it outside of the house, where we were waiting for the mastermind to show up.” Mr Mathey rubbed at his forehead.
“You remember that much, then?” Hatton asked.
“I think I remember all the events well enough,” Mr Mathey said slowly. “But I can’t quite see the man’s face, or remember his voice.”
“And you, Mr Lynes?”
“The same.” Mr Lynes frowned. “All I can remember is a shadowy figure, almost like a silhouette. He raised his hand and said something, and then . . .”
“And then we did what he told us,” Mr Mathey finished.
“Did that include robbing the house?”
Mr Mathey winced. “I’m afraid so. It went very quickly.”
“I’m good with locks,” said Mr Lynes, sounding unsure if he should be proud or ashamed of that accomplishment.
“And was this person with you during the burglary?”
“No.” Mr Mathey glanced at his friend. “He gave us our orders, handed us each a piece of paper -“
“The cantrips,” Mr Lynes said. “He took a moment to amend them before handing them to us.”
“Yes. Then we went into the house and got the items he wanted: a music box, a statuette, and a few pieces of jewelry.”
“He told us exactly where to find them,” said Mr Lynes. “And which halls to take so we wouldn’t alert the staff.”
“Someone who knows the household well, in that case,” Inspector Hatton mused. “What then?”
“We dropped off the goods at a specified location,” said Mr Mathey, “and then went our separate ways. I went straight home, poured myself a drink, and dropped the cantrip in. And then I woke up in the morning upon my couch, fully dressed, thinking it was Tuesday.”
“The same for me, except that I woke thinking it was Tuesday and also that the last three months had been . . . rather empty.” Mr Lynes reached out a hand to brush Mr Mathey’s sleeve, as if to assure himself that he was truly there.
Hatton coughed. “Well, you’ve narrowed down our list of suspects, but there’s still several people it might have been. And I don’t like this business of a spell that makes people follow orders - it seems a deal more powerful than we were expecting it to be, if you did all that without direct supervision. What good will it do us to figure out the guilty party, if we can’t even approach him without becoming accomplices?”
“Mr Lynes,” Mr Oppenshaw put in, “you said this person raised a hand. Was he holding something? A wand?”
“Not a wand,” Mr Lynes said slowly.
“It glowed,” said Mr Mathey. “Some sort of talisman that empowered the spell or guided it somehow. I remember thinking that the spell felt much too complicated for such a simple incantation. It formed too quickly - we had no chance to do anything.”
“No, you wouldn’t, not if it’s the spell I’m thinking of. I believe I know where the compulsion spell came from - it’s an old one dating back to the Byzantines. The good news is that there is a counter for it. The bad news is that it takes the better part of a minute to cast the counter, so before you finish you’ll be under the compulsion already and disinclined to do anything more.”
“Was this the grammar as you reconstructed it?” The question, unexpectedly, came from Maddie, who had been looking over Mr Oppenshaw’s notes.
“That’s part of it. I have a book with the full ritual to create the talisman, assuming our culprit didn’t make any alterations.”
“In that case, I have an idea,” Maddie said. She turned to Cordelia. “I think you might want to send your mother a note that you won’t be home for dinner.”
Hours later, after a considerable amount of argumentation and some strategizing and (much to Cordelia’s relief) a hot meal, she found herself waiting in a corner of a draughty stable for a criminal mastermind to show up. She had let Maddie do much of the arguing because she herself had a cooler head, but in fact she agreed with Maddie’s conclusions and was determined to be a part of this plan. Maddie was pressed against Cordelia’s side, shivering and trying not to let her teeth chatter. Mr Mathey, Mr Lynes, and Inspector Hatton were also secreted nearby, and a number of constables were arrayed at a distance outside of the building to close the trap if all went as planned.
The stable was unoccupied, as it belonged to a heavily indebted gentleman who had sold all of his horses and turned off his staff but had not yet finalised the sale of the property itself. Mr Mathey had checked the grain bin and confirmed that last night’s stolen goods still waited there to be claimed. Now they just had to see who would come to claim them.
It was a long time to be sitting still in the dark and cold, even with one’s warmest hat and gloves and scarf. Cordelia found herself thinking back to that expression on Mr Lynes’ face in the moment of shattering and renewal. It was frightening to contemplate. Even aside from her distaste for the messier physical aspects of human love, Cordelia was not at all sure she would want to feel so strongly about anyone that their absence or return could threaten to break her.
And yet . . . she found that she did rather want someone to care about her that much. And it would be pure selfishness to desire such a feeling aimed at one without expecting to return it. But was it even possible to have such a strong connection without a physical side to it? Cordelia had thought to feed her soul with good friendships and with her mother’s unceasing if not unconditional affection. Could such be enough to sustain her?
There was a scraping sound, and Maddie pressed closer with a tiny gasp. Slowly the stable door creaked open, allowing in a diffuse glow from gaslamps reflecting off the bellies of snow clouds. The figure that entered had a dark lantern open only enough to let out a sliver of illumination, which wavered across the empty stalls and then settled upon the grain bin. Footsteps crossed the stable’s packed earth floor, and the lid on the grain bin lifted.
“That’s enough,” said Mr Mathey’s voice firmly.
The lid dropped closed with a bang and the lantern’s light whipped around, catching upon Mr Mathey and Mr Lynes beside him. Suddenly there was a stronger blue-white glow coming from a spot just above the lantern, and a man’s voice droned out several words in a strange tongue.
Cordelia felt the spell grow and bloom, just as complex as Mr Mathey had described, and then it spread quickly to fill the room. “Stop,” said the man’s voice. “Don’t move.”
The compulsion washed over Cordelia like a heavy blanket pressing down all around her . . . and then it passed. Just as Mr Oppenshaw’s notes had predicted, just like the spell laid out in his compendium of classical maledictions, the talisman had been constructed with the phrase these men. At one time it might have referred to people of either gender, but there had been enough change over time that now the language targeted only men. The mastermind might have been aware of this weakness but apparently didn’t consider it important enough to address. Inspector Hatton and the rest of the Metaphysical Squad had failed to notice that all the servants and houseguests that had been targeted to commit burglaries were male. Only Maddie had figured it out from Oppenshaw’s notes and her knowledge of the history of the burglaries.
The lantern opened fully, showing not only Mr Mathey and Mr Lynes, but Inspector Hatton standing motionless a few steps behind.
“You again,” said the man in his nasal voice. “I wasn’t expecting to see you back so soon. And you brought the good inspector with you.”
Maddie’s hand squeezed painfully on Cordelia’s arm, and she belatedly remembered the plan. She tugged her glove off and pulled her wand out of her sleeve.
“I suppose I’ll have to make a stronger cantrip this time,” mused the man. “And perhaps take a little time off in the country, until all of this blows over. It will be a shame to have the head of the Metaphysical Squad and his two pet consultants turn into doddering fools. But there’s no reason it can’t end there, if -“
Cordelia’s chilled fingers fumbled on the grip of her wand, and the length of ivory made a tock against the stall partition as it fell. Maddie gasped.
“Who’s there?” the man demanded. “Show yourself!”
Maddie patted Cordelia reassuringly on the forearm and then she pushed out of their little cranny and rose to her feet. Cordelia held still, appalled as her friend stepped around the partition and into the lantern’s light.
“A girl? Who are you?” asked the man. Did he not realise that his compulsion spell wouldn’t work on a woman?
“M-madeleine Barton,” Maddie quavered. “I’m a c-clerk for the Metaphysical Squad. I keep notes.”
“And they brought you out here in the middle of the night? For shame, Inspector, that’s hardly gentlemanly of you. Come here, girl. Stand right there.”
As the light moved to follow Maddie, Cordelia bent down and groped across the floor for her wand. Her thoughts seemed as chilled and slow as her fingers, and she struggled to remember the counterspell that Mr Oppenshaw had showed her.
“Well, so there’s four of you now. I haven’t enough papers readied for so many. I suppose you will all have to wait here while I go get what I need.”
Cordelia focused on a square of Mars for the underlying framework, then began to trace sigils in the air that connected the letters to draw each word, whispering them under her breath at the same time. She needed the proper modern symbols to respresent each of the ancient non-conforming ingredients before she could tie them all into the spell. Venom of an asp . . . a lizard’s forked tongue . . .
“Now, you will all be good and stay right where I’ve put you, won’t you? Or perhaps I could use some extra precautions. Inspector, do you have handcuffs?”
“Yes,” said Hatton in a flat tone.
Cordelia finished the ingredients and started on the spell proper, tracing out one word at a time. The spell would become more noticeable as it neared completion; she only hoped it would take the man some time to realise what was happening.
“Only two pairs. Well, I suppose if I thread them through the slats on a manger and put one cuff on each of you . . . what is that?”
Cordelia felt the spell building up and forced herself to maintain focus, trying not to worry about the man’s sharp tones.
“Who’s there? Come out!”
There was a squeak and a thump as Maddie did something, around the corner where Cordelia didn’t see. For a moment she lost her concentration and couldn’t remember the next word of the spell, pulling her attention back sharply before the pause could cause everything to unravel.
There was the sound of a slap and the man cried “Stop her!” just as Cordelia reached the final word: untie. She felt the twist of magic in her gut, wrenching something out of her and throwing it out into the world. And then there were several masculine cries and a good deal more thumping and scrambling, and the sound of Inspector Hatton’s whistle.
Cordelia came around the partition to find Maddie pressed back against the wall watching Mr Mathey and Inspector Hatton hold down a kicking man while Mr Lynes pressed his wrists into cuffs. A moment later several constables poured through the door and joined the fray.
“Get the talisman!” Maddie said urgently, pointing into a corner.
Cordelia ducked past the struggling men and scooped up a sort of pendant that looked like simple coloured glass; she took care to hold it only by the chain. While she was at it, she righted the dropped lantern before it could spill oil and start a fire, although with no straw in the stable it probably would not spread to half of London.
The constables hauled the man to his feet at last, and Cordelia found herself regarding a youngish man in expensive clothes, his regular features marred by a snarl of anger. She supposed the Inspector knew who this was, but she found that she did not particularly care, so long as he was about to be packed off someplace where he couldn’t cause further trouble. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with!” he shouted, looking at the pendant in Cordelia’s hands.
“I’m fairly certain we have a better idea of it than you do,” Mr Lynes returned.
“That’s right,” said Maddie triumphantly. “After all, we knew that spell wouldn’t work on a woman.”
Cordelia merely shook her head and turned to Mr Mathey. “Have you any silk to wrap this in?”
He brushed a lock of hair from his eyes and produced a square of silk from one pocket. Cordelia held the pendant up while Mr Mathey knotted the silk carefully around it, then drew a sigil with his wand to keep it quiescent. “This should go back to the Commons,” he said.
“I can take it,” she said with a glance at Mr Lynes. “I need to get my things from the office before I go home.”
“You needn’t come in tomorrow,” he told her with a smile. “In fact, stay away until after Boxing Day. I don’t expect I’ll have any work for you before then.”
“The year-end accounts -“
“Can wait. You’ve earned a rest. Spend some time with your mother; I wouldn’t want her eternal enmity for working you too hard at the holiday.”
“Well.” Despite the cold, Cordelia felt something warm curl inside of her. “You have a Merry Christmas, then, and Mr Lynes as well.”
“And you. And, Miss Frost . . . thank you. I can’t think how this day would have turned out without your hard work.”
The Inspector and constables had already hauled their captive away, with Maddie following. Now Mr Lynes was holding the door, and nodded to Cordelia as she passed him. He didn’t quite meet her eyes, perhaps embarrassed about his outburst that morning, but she knew better than to expect any direct apology. She wondered how many small favours she might extract from him over the next few weeks before his normal personality reasserted itself.
The sky had cleared. The moonlight was shining down upon the freshly fallen snow, turning the city into a wondrous landscape, improbably clean and sparkling.
Maddie turned back from the cluster of constables, her eyes shining nearly as brightly as the moon. “The Inspector offered us a ride.”
Mr Lynes and Mr Mathey shared a glance. “We’ll walk,” they said at the same moment, and both laughed. There was still a sort of amazed relief in their faces, the renewing wonder continuing to grow as they looked at each other.
“All right, then. Enjoy your holiday. Cordelia?”
She almost wished she might have chosen to walk as well, if the air were not so frigid. She had been party in the past to a few awkward teas with Maddie and some suitor or another, which generally resulted in Cordelia sitting unregarded while the other two flirted unrepentantly. Flushed with success, Maddie had that same impish look about her now, and Cordelia did not particularly wish to get in her way.
But Maddie wrapped an arm about Cordelia’s shoulders and leaned close. “We have so much to talk about! You must tell me what to bring for dinner, day after tomorrow. Your mother already has a goose laid by, does she not? What else is needed?”
Cordelia fell into step while Maddie chattered and Inspector Hatton looked indulgently upon them both. She remembered the moment when Maddie had stood up to provide a diversion, not to mention her boldness in snatching the pendant away just at the moment when Cordelia’s spell was most vulnerable to interference. They had worked well together, and both their employers were pleased with the results, and Maddie was not after all ignoring her in favour of another form of attention.
Friendship could indeed be enough to sustain the soul, Cordelia thought. She felt the warmth in her chest bubble and grow, like something just a little bit broken which was mending itself.