Clockwork angel, p.16
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       Clockwork Angel, p.16

         Part #1 of The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
 
Page 16

 

  “Jessamine can’t stand you,” Jem pointed out.

  “Henry, then. ”

  “Henry will set you on fire. ”

  “Thomas,” Will suggested.

  “Thomas,” Jem began—and doubled up, suddenly racked with an explosive fit of coughing so violent that he slid from the steamer trunk to crouch on his knees. Too shocked to move, Tessa could only stare as Will—his expansive drunkenness seeming to vanish in a split second—sprang off the bed and knelt down by Jem, placing a hand on his shoulder.

  “James,” he said quietly. “Where is it?”

  Jem held up a hand to ward him off. Racking gasps shook his thin frame. “I don’t need it—I’m all right—”

  He coughed again, and a fine spray of red splattered the floor in front of him. Blood.

  Will’s hand tightened on his friend’s shoulder; Tessa saw the knuckles whiten. “Where is it? Where did you put it?”

  Jem waved his hand feebly toward the bed. “On—,” he gasped. “On the mantel—in the box—the silver one—”

  “I’ll get it, then. ” It was as gently as Tessa had ever heard Will say anything. “Stay here. ”

  “As if I’d go anywhere. ” Jem scrubbed the back of his hand across his mouth; it came away with red streaking the open-eye Mark.

  Standing up, Will turned—and saw Tessa. For a moment he looked purely startled, as if he’d forgotten she was there at all.

  “Will—,” she whispered. “Is there anything—”

  “Come with me. ” Catching her by the arm, Will marched her, gently, toward the open door. He thrust her out into the corridor, moving to block her view of the room. “Good night, Tessa. ”

  “But he’s coughing blood,” Tessa protested in a low voice. “Perhaps I should get Charlotte—”

  “No. ” Will glanced over his shoulder, then back at Tessa. He leaned toward her, his hand on her shoulder. She could feel every one of his fingers pressing into the flesh. They were close enough that she could smell the night air on his skin, the scent of metal and smoke and fog. Something about the way he smelled was strange, but she couldn’t place exactly what it was.

  Will spoke in a low voice. “He has medicine. I’ll get it for him. There’s no need for Charlotte to know about this. ”

  “But if he’s ill—”

  “Please, Tessa. ” There was a pleading urgency in Will’s blue eyes. “It would be better if you said nothing about it. ”

  Somehow Tessa found she could not say no. “I—all right. ”

  “Thank you. ” Will released her shoulder, and raised his hand to touch her cheek—so lightly she thought she might almost have imagined it. Too startled to say anything, she stood in silence as he closed the door between them. As she heard the lock slide home, she realized why she had thought something was odd when Will had leaned toward her.

  Though Will had said he’d been out all night drinking—though he’d even claimed to have had a pitcher of gin smashed over his head—there had been no smell of alcohol on him at all.

  It was a long time before Tessa could sleep again. She lay awake, the Codex open at her side, the clockwork angel ticking at her chest, and she watched the lamplight trace patterns across the ceiling.

  Tessa stood looking at herself in the mirror over the vanity table as Sophie did up the buttons on the back of her dress. In the morning light that streamed through the high windows, she looked very pale, the gray shadows under her eyes standing out in splotches.

  She had never been one to stare in mirrors. A quick glance to see that her hair was all right and that there were no spots on her clothes. Now she could not stop looking at that thin, pale face in the glass. It seemed to ripple as she looked at it, like a reflection seen in water, like the vibration that took her just before the Change. Now that she had worn other faces, seen through other eyes, how could she ever say any face was really her own, even if it was the face she had been given at birth? When she Changed back to herself, how was she to know there wasn’t some slight shift in her very self, something that made her not who she was anymore? Or did it matter what she looked like at all? Was her face nothing but a mask of flesh, irrelevant to her true self?

  She could see Sophie reflected in the mirror as well; her face was turned so that her scarred cheek was to the mirror. It looked even more awful in daylight. It was like seeing a lovely painting slashed to ribbons with a knife. Tessa itched to ask her what had happened, but knew she shouldn’t. Instead she said, “I’m much obliged to you for helping me with the dress. ”

  “Pleased to be of service, miss. ” Sophie’s tone was flat.

  “I only wanted to ask,” Tessa began. Sophie stiffened. She thinks I’m going to ask her about her face, Tessa thought. Out loud she said, “The way you talked to Will in the corridor last night—”

  Sophie laughed. It was a short laugh, but a real one. “I am permitted to speak to Mr. Herondale however I like, whenever I like. It’s one of the conditions of my employment. ”

  “Charlotte lets you make your own conditions?”

  “It’s not simply anyone who can work at the Institute,” Sophie explained. “You need to have a touch of the Sight. Agatha has it, and so does Thomas. Mrs. Branwell wanted me right away when she knew I had it, said she’d been looking for a maid for Miss Jessamine for simply ages. She warned me about Mr. Herondale, though, said he’d likely be rude to me, and familiar. She said I could be rude right back, that nobody would mind. ”

  “Someone ought to be rude to him. He’s rude enough to everyone else. ”

  “I’d warrant that’s what Mrs. Branwell thought. ” Sophie shared a grin with Tessa in the mirror; she was absolutely lovely when she smiled, Tessa thought, scar or no scar.

  “You like Charlotte, don’t you?” she said. “She does seem awfully kind. ”

  Sophie shrugged. “In the old house I was in service in, Mrs. Atkins—that was the housekeeper—she would keep track of every candle we used, every bit of soap we had. We had to use the soap down to a sliver before she’d give us a new bit. But Mrs. Branwell gives me new soap whenever I want it. ” She said this as if it were a firm testament to Charlotte’s character.

  “I suppose they have a lot of money here at the Institute. ” Tessa thought of the gorgeous furnishings and the grandeur of the place.

  “Perhaps. But I’ve made over enough dresses for Mrs. Branwell to know she doesn’t buy them new. ”

  Tessa thought of the blue gown Jessamine had worn to dinner the night before. “What about Miss Lovelace?”

  “She has her own money,” said Sophie darkly. She stepped back from Tessa. “There. You’re fit to be seen now. ”

  Tessa smiled. “Thank you, Sophie. ”

  * * *

  When Tessa came into the dining room, the others were already midway through breakfast—Charlotte in a plain gray dress, spreading jam onto a piece of toast; Henry half-hidden behind a newspaper; and Jessamine picking daintily at a bowl of porridge. Will had a pile of eggs and bacon on his plate and was digging into them industriously, which Tessa couldn’t help noting was unusual for someone who claimed to have been out drinking all night.

  “We were just talking about you,” Jessamine said as Tessa found a seat. She pushed a silver toast rack across the table toward Tessa. “Toast?”

  Tessa, picking up her fork, looked around the table anxiously. “What about me?”

  “What to do with you, of course. Downworlders can’t live in the Institute forever,” said Will. “I say we sell her to the Gypsies on Hampstead Heath,” he added, turning to Charlotte. “I hear they purchase spare women as well as horses. ”

  “Will, stop it. ” Charlotte glanced up from her breakfast. “That’s ridiculous. ”

  Will leaned back in his chair. “You’re right. They’d never buy her. Too scrawny. ”

  “That’s enough,” Charlotte said. “Miss Gray shall remain. If for no other reason than because we’re in the middle
of an investigation that requires her assistance. I’ve already dispatched a message to the Clave telling them that we’re keeping her here until this Pandemonium Club matter is cleared up and her brother is found. Isn’t that right, Henry?”

  “Quite,” Henry said, setting the newspaper down. “The Pandemonium thingie is a top priority. Absolutely. ”

  “You’d better tell Benedict Lightwood, too,” said Will. “You know how he is. ”

  Charlotte blanched slightly, and Tessa wondered who Benedict Lightwood might be. “Will, today I’d like you to revisit the site of the Dark Sisters’ house; it’s abandoned now, but it’s still worth a final search. And I want you to take Jem with you—”

  At that, the amusement left Will’s expression. “Is he well enough?”

  “He is quite well enough. ” The voice wasn’t Charlotte’s. It was Jem’s. He had come into the room quietly and was standing by the sideboard, his arms folded across his chest. He was much less pale than he had been the previous night, and the red waistcoat he wore brought a slight tinge of color to his cheeks. “In fact, he’s ready when you are. ”

  “You should have some breakfast first,” Charlotte fretted, pushing the plate of bacon toward him. Jem sat, and smiled at Tessa across the table. “Oh, Jem—this is Miss Gray. She’s—”

  “We’ve met,” Jem said quietly, and Tessa felt a rush of heat in her face. She couldn’t help staring at him as he picked up a piece of bread and applied butter to it. It seemed hard to imagine that anyone quite so ethereal-looking could possibly eat toast.

  Charlotte looked puzzled. “You have?”

  “I encountered Tessa in the corridor last night and introduced myself. I think I may have given her something of a fright. ” His silver eyes met Tessa’s across the table, sparkling with amusement.

  Charlotte shrugged. “Very well, then. I’d like you to go with Will. In the meantime, today, Miss Gray—”

  “Call me Tessa,” Tessa said. “I would prefer it if everyone did. ”

  “Very well, Tessa,” said Charlotte with a little smile. “Henry and I will be paying a call on Mr. Axel Mortmain, your brother’s employer, to see if he, or any of his employees, might have any information as to your brother’s whereabouts. ”

  “Thank you. ” Tessa was surprised. They had said they were going to look for her brother, and they were actually doing it. She hadn’t expected that they would.

  “I’ve heard of Axel Mortmain,” said Jem. “He was a taipan, one of the big business heads in Shanghai. His company had offices on the Bund. ”

  “Yes,” said Charlotte, “the newspapers say he made his fortune in imports of silk and tea. ”

  “Bah. ” Jem spoke lightly, but there was an edge to his voice. “He made his fortune in opium. All of them did. Buying opium in India, sailing it to Canton, trading it for goods. ”

 

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