Clockwork angel, p.51
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       Clockwork Angel, p.51

         Part #1 of The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare
 
Page 51

 

  It was Will who broke the silence. “Very well. You have me alone in the corridor—”

  “Yes, yes,” said Tessa impatiently, “and thousands of women all over England would pay handsomely for the privilege of such an opportunity. Can we put aside the display of your wit for a moment? This is important. ”

  “You want me to apologize, do you?” Will said. “For what happened in the attic?”

  Tessa, caught off guard, blinked. “The attic?”

  “You want me to say I’m sorry that I kissed you. ”

  At the words, the memory rose up again in Tessa with an unexpected clarity—Will’s fingers in her hair, the touch of his hand on her glove, his mouth on hers. She felt herself flush and hoped furiously that it wouldn’t be visible in the dimness. “What—no. No!”

  “So you don’t want me to be sorry,” Will said. He was smiling very slightly now, the sort of smile a small child might bend upon the castle he has just built out of toy blocks, before he destroys it with a wave of his arm.

  “I don’t care whether you’re sorry or not,” Tessa said. “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to tell you to be kind to my brother. He’s been through an awful ordeal. He doesn’t need to be interrogated like some sort of criminal. ”

  Will replied more quietly than Tessa would have thought. “I understand that. But if he’s hiding anything—”

  “Everyone hides things!” Tessa burst out, surprising herself. “There are things I know he’s ashamed of, but that doesn’t mean they need to matter to you. It’s not as if you tell everyone everything, do you?”

  Will looked wary. “What are you on about?”

  What about your parents, Will? Why did you refuse to see them? Why do you have nowhere to go but here? And why, in the attic, did you send me away? But Tessa said none of those things. Instead she said, “What about Jem? Why didn’t you tell me he was ill the way he is?”

  “Jem?” Will’s surprise seemed genuine. “He didn’t want me to. He considers it his business. Which it is. You might recall, I wasn’t even in favor of him telling you himself. He thought he owed you an explanation, but he didn’t. Jem owes nothing to anyone. What happened to him wasn’t his fault, and yet he carries the burden of it and is ashamed—”

  “He has nothing to be ashamed of. ”

  “You might think so. Others see no difference between his illness and an addiction, and they despise him for being weak. As if he could just stop taking the drug if he had enough willpower. ” Will sounded surprisingly bitter. “They’ve said as much, sometimes to his face. I didn’t want him to have to hear you say it too. ”

  “I would never have said that. ”

  “How would I have guessed what you might say?” Will said. “I don’t really know you, Tessa, do I? Any more than you know me. ”

  “You don’t want anyone to know you,” Tessa snapped. “And very well, I won’t try. But don’t pretend that Jem is just like you. Perhaps he’d rather people knew the truth of who he is. ”

  “Don’t,” Will said, his blue eyes darkening. “Don’t think you know Jem better than I do. ”

  “If you care about him so much, why aren’t you doing anything to help him? Why not look for a cure?”

  “Do you think we haven’t? Do you think Charlotte hasn’t looked, Henry hasn’t looked, that we haven’t hired warlocks, paid for information, called in favors? Do you imagine Jem’s death is just something we have all accepted without ever fighting against it?”

  “Jem told me that he had asked you all to stop looking,” Tessa said, calm in the face of his anger, “and that you had. Haven’t you?”

  “He told you that, did he?”

  “Have you stopped?”

  “There is nothing to find, Tessa. There is no cure. ”

  “You don’t know that. You could keep looking and not ever tell him you were looking. There might be something. Even the littlest chance—”

  Will raised his eyebrows. The flickering corridor light deepened the shadows under his eyes, the angular bones of his cheeks. “You think we should disregard his wishes?”

  “I think that you should do whatever you can, even if it means you must lie to him. I think I don’t understand your acceptance of his death. ”

  “And I think that you do not understand that sometimes the only choice is between acceptance and madness. ”

  Behind them in the corridor someone cleared their throat. “What’s going on here, then?” asked a familiar voice. Both Tessa and Will had been so caught up in their conversation that they had not heard Jem approaching. Will gave a guilty start before turning to look at his friend, who was regarding them both with calm interest. Jem was fully dressed but looked as if he had just woken from a feverish sleep, his hair mussed and his cheeks burning with color.

  Will looked surprised, and not entirely pleased, to see him. “What are you doing out of bed?”

  “I ran into Charlotte in the hall. She said we were all meeting in the drawing room to talk with Tessa’s brother. ” Jem’s tone was mild, and it was impossible to tell from his expression how much of Tessa and Will’s conversation he had overheard. “I’m well enough to listen, at least. ”

  “Oh, good, you’re all here. ” It was Charlotte, hurrying up the corridor. Behind her strode Henry, and on either side of him, Jessamine and Sophie. Jessie had changed into one of her nicest dresses, Tessa observed, a sheer blue muslin, and she was carrying a folded blanket. Sophie, beside her, held a tray with tea and sandwiches on it.

  “Are those for Nate?” Tessa asked, surprised. “The tea, and the blankets?”

  Sophie nodded. “Mrs. Branwell thought he’d likely be hungry—”

  “And I thought he might be cold. He was shivering so last night,” Jessamine put in eagerly. “Should we bring these things in to him, then?”

  Charlotte looked to Tessa for her approval, which disarmed her. Charlotte would be kind to Nate; she couldn’t help it. “Yes. He’s waiting for you. ”

  “Thank you, Tessa,” Charlotte said softly, and then she pushed the drawing room door open and went in, followed by the others. As Tessa moved to go after them, she felt a hand on her arm, a touch so light she almost might not have noticed it.

  It was Jem. “Wait,” he said. “Just a moment. ”

  She turned to look at him. Through the open doorway she could hear a murmur of voices—Henry’s friendly baritone, Jessamine’s eager falsetto rising as she said Nate’s name. “What is it?”

  He hesitated. His hand on her arm was cool; his fingers felt like thin stems of glass against her skin. She wondered if the skin over the bones of his cheeks, where he was flushed and feverish, would be warmer to the touch.

  “But my sister—” Nate’s voice floated into the hallway, sounding anxious. “Is she joining us? Where is she?”

  “Never mind. It’s nothing. ” With a reassuring smile Jem dropped his hand. Tessa wondered, but turned and went into the drawing room, Jem behind her.

  Sophie was kneeling by the grate, building up the fire; Nate was still in the armchair, where he sat with Jessamine’s blanket thrown over his lap. Jessamine, upright on a stool nearby, was beaming proudly. Henry and Charlotte sat on the sofa opposite Nate—Charlotte clearly bursting with curiosity—and Will, as usual, was holding up the nearest wall by leaning against it and looking both irritable and amused at the same time.

  As Jem went to join Will, Tessa fixed her attention on her brother. Some of the tension had gone out of him when she’d come back into the room, but he still looked miserable. He was plucking at Jessamine’s blanket with his fingertips. She crossed the room and sank down onto the ottoman at his feet, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair or pat his shoulder. She could feel all the eyes in the room on her. Everyone was watching her and her brother, and she could have heard a pin drop.

  “Nate,” she said softly. “I assume everyone has introduced themselves?”

  Nate, still pickin
g at the blanket, nodded.

  “Mr. Gray,” said Charlotte, “we have spoken to Mr. Mortmain already. He has told us a great deal about you. About your fondness for Downworld. And gambling. ”

  “Charlotte,” Tessa protested.

  Nate spoke heavily. “It’s true, Tessie. ”

  “No one blames your brother for what happened, Tessa. ” Charlotte made her voice very gentle as she turned back to Nate. “Mortmain says you already knew he was involved in occult practices when you arrived in London. How did you know that he was a member of the Pandemonium Club?”

  Nate hesitated.

  “Mr. Gray, we simply need to understand what happened to you. De Quincey’s interest in you—I know you aren’t well, and we have no wish to cruelly interrogate you, but if you could offer us even a little information, it might be of the most invaluable assistance—”

  “It was Aunt Harriet’s sewing notions,” Nate said in a low voice.

  Tessa blinked. “It was what?”

  Nate continued, in a low voice. “Our aunt Harriet always kept mother’s old jewelry box on the nightstand by her bed. She said she kept sewing notions in it, but I—” Nate took a deep breath, looking at Tessa as he spoke. “I was in debt. I’d made a few rash bets, had lost some money, and I was in a bad way. I didn’t want you or Aunt to know. I remembered there was a gold bracelet Mother used to wear when she was alive. I got it into my head that it was still in that jewelry box and that Aunt Harriet was just too stubborn to sell it. You know how she is—how she was. Anyway, I couldn’t let the idea go. I knew that if I could pawn the bracelet, I could get the money to pay off my debts. So one day when you and Aunt were out, I got hold of the box and searched it.

  “Of course the bracelet wasn’t in it. But I did find a false bottom to the case. There was nothing in it of any worth, just a wadded-up bunch of old papers. I snatched them when I heard you coming up the stairs, and took them back to my room. ”

  Nate paused. All eyes were on him. After a moment Tessa, no longer able to hold her questions in, said, “And?”

  “They were Mother’s diary pages,” Nate said. “Torn out of their original binding, with quite a few missing, but it was enough for me to put together a strange story.

  “It began when our parents were living in London. Father was gone often, working in Mortmain’s offices down at the docks, but mother had Aunt Harriet to keep her company, and me to keep her occupied. I had just been born. That was, until Father began to come home night after night increasingly distressed. He reported odd doings on the factory floor, bits of machinery malfunctioning in strange ways, noises heard at all hours, and even the night watchman gone missing one night. There were rumors, too, that Mortmain was involved in occult practices. ” Nate sounded as if he were remembering as much as reciting the tale. “Father shrugged the rumors off at first but eventually repeated them to Mortmain, who admitted everything. I gather he managed to make it sound rather harmless, as if he were just having a bit of a lark with spells and pentagrams and things. He called the organization he belonged to the Pandemonium Club. He suggested that Father come to one of their meetings, and bring Mother. ”

 

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