The Fire Rose
Golden as sunlight, white-hot, the Salamander danced and twisted sinuously above a plate sculpted of Mexican obsidian, ebony glass born in the heart of a volcano and shaped into a form created exactly to receive the magic of a creature who bathed in the fires of the volcano with delight. It swayed and postured to a music only it could hear, the only source of light in the otherwise stygian darkness of the room. At times a manikin of light, at times in the shape of the mundane salamander that bore the same name, this was the eyes and ears of the mage who had conjured it. He was a Firemaster, and all creatures of the element of flame answered to him. They brought him the news of the world now closed to him; what better source of information could he have? Where fire was, there they lurked; candle-flame, or gaslight, coal-fire or stoked box of a steam-boiler, burning hearth or burning forest-all held his informants, any of which could impart their observations to him. What one saw, all saw; speak to one and you spoke to all of them, for such was their nature.
Their patience was endless, but his, being mortal, was not. At length, he tired of watching it dance, and determined to set it upon its task. He summoned the creature from the dish with a thought; obedient to his will, it hovered above a pristine sheet of cream-laid vellum. This was special paper, and more exclusive than it seemed, pressed with his own watermark and not that of the maker.
He spoke out of the darkness of his velvet-covered, wingback chair, his voice rising from the shadow like the voice of the dragon Fafnir from its cave. He was Fafnir; like the giant, now utterly transformed to something no one who knew the former self would ever recognize.
Time to construct his letter, while the Salamander and all its kin considered his requirements. "Dear Sir," he said, and the Salamander danced above the vellum, burning the characters into it, in elegant calligraphy. "I write to you because I am in need of a special tutor for my-"
He paused to consider the apocryphal child of his imagination. A son? A lonely, crippled waif, isolated from the laughter and play of his peers? No, make it two children. If the crippled boy was not bait enough for his quarry, an intelligent, inquisitive girl would be.
"-my children. Both are gifted intellectually beyond their years; my son is an invalid, crippled by the disease that claimed his mother, and my daughter the victim of prejudice that holds her sex inferior to that of the male. Neither is likely to obtain the education their ability demands in a conventional setting."
He weighed the words carefully, and found them satisfactory. Appropriately tempting, and playing to the "enlightened" and "modem" male who would be the mentor of the kind of tutor he sought. He wanted a woman, not a man; a male scholar with the skills he required would be able to find ready employment no matter where he was, but a woman had fewer options. In fact, a female scholar without independent means had no options if she was not supported by a wealthy father or indulgent husband. A female had no rights; under the laws of this and most other states, she was chattel, the property of parents or husband. She could take no employment except that of teacher, seamstress, nurse, or domestic help; no trades were open to her, and only menial factory work. There were some few female doctors, some few scientists, but no scholars of the arts, liberal or otherwise, who were not supported in their field by money or males. He wanted someone with no options; this would make her more obedient to his will.
"My needs are peculiar, reflecting the interests of my children. This tutor must be accomplished in ancient Latin, classical Greek, medieval French and German, and the Latin of medieval scholars. A familiarity with ancient Egyptian or Celtic languages would be an unanticipated bonus."
The Salamander writhed, suddenly, and opened surprisingly blue eyes to stare at its master. It opened its lipless mouth, and a thin, reedy voice emerged.
"We have narrowed the field to five candidates," it said. "One in Chicago, one in Harvard, three in New York. The one in Chicago is the only one with a smattering of ancient tongues and some knowledge of hieroglyphs. The others are skilled only in the European languages you required; less qualified, but-"
"But?" he asked. "More attractive," the Salamander hissed, its mouth open in a silent laugh.
He snorted. At one point he would have been swayed by a fairer face; now that was hardly to the point. "Have they relatives?" he asked it.
"The one in Chicago is recently orphaned, one of those in New York was raised by a guardian who cares nothing for her, and her trust fund has been mismanaged as she will shortly learn. Those that do have families, have been repudiated for their unwomanly ways," the Salamander told him. "They are suffragettes, proponents of rights for women, and no longer welcome in their parents' homes."
Tempting. But relatives and parents had been known to change their minds in the past, and welcome the prodigal back into the familial fold.
"Show me the one in Chicago," he demanded. She seemed to be the best candidate thus far. The Salamander left the vellum page and returned to its obsidian dish, where it began to spin.
As it rotated, turning faster and faster with each passing second, it became a glowing globe of yellow-white light. A true picture formed in the heart of the globe, in the way that a false picture formed in the heart of a Spiritualist's "crystal ball." The latter was generally accomplished through the use of mirrors and other chicanery The former was the result of true Magick.
When he saw the girl at last, he nearly laughed aloud at the Salamander's simplistic notion of beauty. Granted, the girl was clad in the plainest of gowns, of the sort that a respectable housekeeper might wear. He recognized it readily enough, from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog left in his office a few years ago by a menial.
Ladies' Wash Suit, two dollars and twenty five cents. Three years out-of-mode, and worn shabby.
She wore wire-rimmed glasses, and she used no artifice to enhance her features. In all these things, she was utterly unlike the expensive members of the silk-clad demimonde whose pleasures he had once enjoyed. But the soft cheek needed no rouge or rice-powder; the lambent blue eyes were in no way disguised by the thick lenses. That slender figure required no over-corseting to tame it to a fashionable shape, and the warm golden-brown of her hair was due to no touch of chemicals to achieve that mellow hue of sun-ripened wheat.
"She is orphaned?" he asked.
The Salamander danced its agreement. "Recently," it told him. "she is the most qualified of them all, scholastically speaking."
"And possessed of no-inconvenient-family ties," he mused, watching the vision as it moved in the Salamander's fire. He frowned a little at that, for her movements were not as graceful as he would have liked, being hesitant and halting. That scarcely mattered, for he was not hiring her for an ability to dance.
From the look of her clothing, she had fallen on hard times-unless, of course, she was a natural ascetic, or was donating all of her resources to the Suffrage Movement. Either was possible; if the latter was an impediment to her accepting employment, the Salamander would have rejected her as a candidate.
"We will apply to her-or rather to her mentor," he decided, and gave the Salamander the signal to resume its place above the half-written letter. "I am willing to pay handsomely for the services of any male or female with such qualifications, to compensate for the great distance he or she must travel. The tutor will be installed in my own household, drawing a wage of twenty dollars a week as well as full room and board, and a liberal allowance for travel, entertainment, and books. San Francisco affords many pleasures for those of discriminating taste; this year shall even see the glorious Caruso performing at our Opera." Clothing he would have supplied to her, having it waiting for her if she consented to come; easier to supply the appropriate garments than to hope the girl had any kind of taste at all. He would not have a frump in his house; any female entering these doors must not disgrace the interior. While his home might not rival Leland Stanford's on the outside, the interior was enough to excite the envy of the richest "nob" on "Nob Hill." There would be no cotton-duck gowns from a mail-order catalog trailing over the fine inlay work of his floors, no coarse dark cottons displayed against his velvets and damask satins.
"I hope you will have a student that can match my requirements," he concluded without haste. "Your scholarship is renowned even to the wilds of the west and the golden hills of San Francisco, and I cannot imagine that any pupil of yours would disgrace the master. To that end, I am enclosing a rail ticket for the prospective tutor" it was not a first-class ticket for a parlor car; such might excite suspicion. A ticket for the common carriage would be sufficient, and a journey by rail would be safe enough, even for a woman alone. "I am looking forward to hearing from you as soon as may be."
"The usual closing?" the Salamander asked delicately. He nodded, and it finished, burning his name into the vellum with a flourish. It continued to hover above the paper, as the paper itself folded without a hand touching it, and slipped itself and a railway pass into a matching envelope. The Salamander sealed it with a single "hand" pressed into the wax, then burned the address into the obverse of the envelope.
"Take it to Professor Cathcart's office and leave it there," he instructed, and the Salamander bowed. "If she does not take this bait, we will have to devise something else."
"She would be a fool not to take it," the Salamander replied, surprising him a little with its retort. "She has no other place to go."
"Women are not always logical," he reminded the creature. "We were best to assume that the initial attempt will be balked at, and contrive another."
The Salamander simply shook its head, as if it could not understand the folly of mortals, and it and the sealed letter vanished into thin air, leaving the Firemaster alone in the darkness.
Rosalind Hawkins answered the door with her entire being in a knot of anxiety; expecting yet another aggressive creditor, she schooled her face into a calm she did not feel. Outside, the dreary, drizzling day was giving way to another dreary night. The home that had once been her sanctuary was now under siege-and no longer hers.
How long must I bear this? How long can I bear this?
"I'm sorry," she began as the heavy oak door swung wide, "But if you have a claim, you will have to apply to Mr. Grumwelt of Grumwelt, Jenkins and-"
But the figure outside the door was no hostile stranger. "Do I need to apply to a solicitor to visit, now, Rose?" asked the short, slender, grey-haired man on the front porch in surprise. She started, and began to laugh with relief at seeing a friendly face for the first time since the funeral, her emotions making her briefly giddy-and she hoped she did not sound hysterical. "Of course not, Professor Cathcart!" she exclaimed, "It's just that I've had Papa's creditors at the door all day, and I've gotten into rather a habit of-" She stopped at the sight of the Professor's confusion. "Oh, never mind, please come in! I'm afraid I cannot offer you any refreshment," she added, ruefully, "but the grocer came with a seizure notice and a policeman and carted away everything edible in the house before breakfast."
A week before, that simple admission would have been unthinkable. Too many unthinkable things had happened since then for her to even think twice about this one.
Professor Cathcart, Ph.D. and expert in medieval and ancient languages, her mentor at the University of Chicago, widened his colorless eyes with shock. He took off his hat as he entered the door, and stood in the entryway, turning it in his hands nervously, twisting the soft felt. Rosalind closed the door behind him and led him into the parlor. She had all the gaslights on, burning in reckless abandon. After all, why bother to save the gas? The bills were already too great to pay.
He sat down gingerly on the horsehair sofa-which tomorrow would probably be gracing someone else's parlor. His elongated face was full of concern as well as shock, and he appeared to be groping for words. She felt a stirring of pity for him; after all, what could one say in a case like this?
He licked his lips, and made an attempt. "I knew that Hawkins was not well off after those speculations of his, but I had no notion that things had come to such dire straits!"
"Neither did I," Rosalind said simply, as she sat down on the matching chair, groping behind her for the arm of the chair to assist her. "While he was alive, his salary at the University paid the bills, and the extra tutoring he did for those brainless idiots in the Upper One Hundred kept the other creditors at bay. Now-" She turned her palms upward in her lap and examined them, unable to meet his eyes and the pity in them. "Now they descend."
Professor Cathcart sounded dazed. "He left you nothing, then?"
"Nothing but a stack of unpaid bills and this house-which has been seized by the creditors," she replied wearily. "They have graciously allowed me to retain my personal possessions-excepting anything of value, like Mama's pearls."
"They're taking the pearls?" Cathcart was aghast. "Surely not-"
"Took, the pearls," she corrected, pushing her glasses up on her nose with a cold finger, trying not to remember how she had wept when they'd taken the only inheritance she had from her mother. "Yesterday. And other things-" She gripped the arms of the chair, trying to hold off the memory, the horror, of watching strangers sort through her belongings, looking for anything they might seize as an asset. "The books in Papa's library are already gone, the furniture goes tomorrow, and the house itself whenever Mr. Gramwelt finds a buyer, I suppose. They say I can stay here until then. I could camp out on the floor until the buyer appears, if they'd left me the camping gear-"
She was saved from hysteria by a wave of faintness that made her sway a little and catch at the arm of the chair to keep from falling. The Professor was instantly out of his seat and at her side, taking her hand and patting it ineffectually. But his words showed a surprising streak of practicality.
"Child, when did you eat last?" he demanded. She shook her head, unable to remember-and that, in itself, was disturbing. Was she losing her memory? Was she losing her mind? "I haven't had much appetite," she prevaricated.
He snorted. "Then that is the second order of business; the first is to get you away from here. Go upstairs and pack your things; I'm not leaving you here to be jeered at by tradesmen a moment longer."
"But-" she protested, knowing his own resources were slender. He cut her off at the single word, showing an unexpected streak of authority.
"I can certainly afford to put the daughter of my old friend up in a respectable boarding-house for a few days, and take her to dinner too. And as for the rest well, that was what I came here to speak to you about, and that would be best done over dinner, or rather, dessert. Now, don't argue with me, child!" he scolded. "I won't have you staying here! The next thing you know, they'll probably cut off the gas."
At just that moment, the gaslights flickered and went out, all over the house, leaving them in the grey gloom of the overcast day, the uncertain and haunted hour before sunset. Suddenly, the house seemed full of ghosts. If nothing else, that decided her.
"I'll just be a moment," she said, truthfully, since most of her belongings were already packed into a carpetbag and a single trunk, with only a valise waiting to receive the rest. Mr. Grumwelt had watched her with his nasty, beady eyes, like a serpent watching a bird, the entire time she packed; presumably to make sure that she did not pack up something that no longer belonged to her. Fortunately he did not recognize the value of some of the keepsakes she had managed to retain, or he would doubtless have confiscated them as well. He had made it very clear to her that anything she carried away, she did so on his sufferance. The trunk already stood in the hall; she had only to finish packing her valise and carpetbag. "I find myself in the position so many philosophers like Mr. Emerson profess to admire-unburdened by possessions."
"I'll get a cab," the Professor replied.
Bergdorf's was not crowded at this time of the early evening; the theater crowd had not yet begun to arrive. Fortunately, the German restaurant had never been one of her father's choices for dining out, or the memories the place evoked would have been too painful to permit her to eat. No, she had no sad ghosts waiting for her here, and Bergdorf's was clearly professor Cathcart's favorite, for the waiters all recognized him and they were shown to a secluded table out of the way of traffic. She wondered what they made of her; too plain to be a member of the demimonde, too shabbily dressed to be a fiancee or a relative. Did they assume she was his housekeeper, being granted a birthday treat?
Perhaps they take me for a suffragette relation, or one who has a religious mania and has given all her worldly goods to Billy Sunday. No matter. The respect they accorded to Professor Cathcart extended even to such peculiar females as he chose to bring with him; service was prompt and polite, and the headwaiter treated her with the deference that might be accorded to one who wore a gown by Worth, rather than one from the cheaper pages of Sears and Roebuck.
She had once worn fine gowns not by Worth, perhaps, but by one of the better Chicago seamstresses. That had been before her father's run of bad luck with his investments, and she had chosen to economize on her gowns as well as in other household matters. It had not mattered to her teachers and fellow students; they probably would not have noticed unless she had donned the chiton and stola of an ancient Greek maiden, and perhaps not even then. Her economies had gone unremarked, which had saved her pride. Since another of her economies was to abjure eating out, she was not forced to parade the slender state of their purses in public.
The Bergdorf was comfortably warm, lit softly with candles and a few well-placed gaslights. The only sounds were those of conversation and the clink of silver on china. The Professor was one who gave a gourmet meal all its due reverence, so they ate in silence. Rosalind was not loath to do so either; the peculiar sour-savory tang of the sauerbraten awoke a hunger of intensity she had not realized was possible, and although she seldom drank, she joined the Professor in a lady sized stein of the Bergdorf's excellent beer. The food vanished from her plate so quickly she might have conjured it away, and the attentive blond-haired, blue-eyed waiter brought her a second serving without being asked.
"Vielen dank," she said to him, surprising a smile from him. He winked at her, and hurried to answer the summons from another table.
She devoured her second helping with a thoroughness that would have embarrassed her a month ago. Now her capacity for being embarrassed had been exhausted, and her pride flattened like a sheet of vellum in a press.
The waiter returned at the Professor's signal, and cleared away the plates as the Professor ordered Black Forest torte for both of them. Rosalind did not even make a token protest; it might be a long time before she ever ate like this again. Her torte was long gone before the Professor had finished his, and she settled back in her chair with a sigh of melancholy mixed with content.
I must think of some way to earn my way. She had a vague idea that she might take a position as a governess somewhere, or even as a schoolteacher in some Western state. Any thought of achieving a Ph.D. in the classics and medieval literature was out of the question now, of course. She only hoped that she could convince someone that her unconventional education had made her fit to teach the "Three Rs."
The waiter arrived to clean off the dessert plates, and with him came coffee. Professor Cathcart settled back in his chair as she sugared and creamed hers liberally, cradling his cup in both hands.
"You must forgive your old friend and teacher his bluntness, but how did you come to such a pass?" he asked. "I had not thought your father to be the improvident sort."
She shook her head, bitterly. "You may lay the cause of our loss at Neville Tree's door," she replied, with bitterness not even the savor of her dessert could remove from her mouth. The Professor had the grace to blush, then, for it was he who had introduced that scion of prominent politicians to the elder Hawkins.
He said nothing more, for indeed, there was no more to be said. For all of Neville Tree's illustrious parentage, the man was no better than a common sharpster. He had come looking for investors in his bank, and he got many, including Professor Hawkins; he then ran the bank into the ground with his poor management-all the while drawing a princely salary-leaving investors and depositors alike holding nothing but air and empty promises. Not content with that, he concocted another scheme, with many promises that he would get the money back and more-he would go and find oil and make them all rich. Throwing good money after bad, Professor Hawkins and others had fallen for his plausible tale a second time, and once again found themselves with shares of useless stock in a company that had drilled for oil where no geologist would ever anticipate finding any. Presumably he had taken himself to another state with more schemes designed mainly to allow him to draw a handsome wage at the expense of others.
Under the table, Rosalind's hand clenched on her napkin. When her father had told her of the loss of all of their savings and more, she had not had the heart to reproach him. "I only wanted to give you what you should have had, Rose," he had said plaintively...
"But the History Department Cathcart began again."
"You know that none of them have ever approved of my I 'unwomanly' interests," she retorted sourly. "Doubtless, if they knew, they would be pleased enough, and advise me to go and get married like a proper female."
As if any young man had ever, or would ever look twice at me. Plain, too clever by half, and with the curse of always saying what I think. That latter habit had gained her no friends among her fellow students, who could look elsewhere for romantic interests. Any man at the University can find himself a nice, stupid girl with good looks or money who will assure him he is the cleverest creature on earth. Why should he take one with neither who will challenge him to prove he is her equal?
"Your mother's people-" Cathcart ventured.
He knew nothing about her parents' relationship with her maternal grandparents-Professor Hawkins had been careful to keep that unsavory situation very private. It was natural for Cathcart to bring them up, but only the fact that she had already borne with so much already made it possible for her to bear this as well. "They appeared the day of the funeral," she said. I will not call those-creatures-my grandmother and grandfather. "They insulted my father, slandered my mother, and told me that if I admitted some specious sort of guilt, agreed to be a good and obedient girl, and gave up my nonsense about a University degree, they might consider permitting me to take up some position within their household. I assume they meant for me to come be a drudge to Uncle Ingmar, and be grateful to them for the opportunity."
Cathcart's expression grew horrified. "Even when he was still sane, Ingmar Ivorsson was not fit company for a female, and certainly is not to be left alone with one!" he blurted.
She only nodded. "I told them what I thought of them, what Mother had thought of them, and what they could do with Uncle Ingmar, and showed them the door." That might have been what brought Mr. Grumwelt down upon my head with such uncanny swiftness. They probably went off and alerted every one of Papa's creditors. Did they expect me to come running to them as soon as the vultures arrived, begging forgiveness?
Cathcart gave her the ghost of a smile. "So you have burned all your bridges, then. That was brave of you. Not necessarily wise, but-"
"Professor, that bridge is one I would not cross under any circumstances. I had rather take Charon's boat than the Ivorssons' offer." She set her chin resolutely, but could not help a shudder of fear. Charon's boat ... it could come to that. She had contemplated suicide that very night, alone with her despair in the echoing house. She had more than enough laudanum in her valise to suffice....
But now the Professor's expression turned-calculating? Definitely! She had seen him look precisely like this when he was about to prove some obscure point, or had found a new research trail. She felt interest stirring in her, a feeling she had not experienced in days.
"I wanted to ascertain whether or not you had any other prospects," he said, quietly, but still with that calculating look in his eyes. "I have had a-well, a rather peculiar communication from a man in the West. It is so peculiar that I would not have advised that you consider it, unless you had no other recourse."
Now her interest was surely piqued. "Professor, what on earth are you hinting at?" she asked, sitting up a little straighter.
He reached into his coat pocket. "Here," he said, handing her a thick, cream-colored envelope. "Read this for yourself."
Obeying, she opened the envelope and set aside the thick railway ticket, and read the single sheet of thick vellum contained therein with growing perplexity. "This-this is certainly strange," she said, after a moment, folding the sheet and returning it to its paper prison. "Very strange." She slipped the railway ticket to San Francisco in beside it.
Cathcart nodded. "I've had the man looked into, and from what I can find out, he's genuine enough. He's something of a rail baron on the West Coast and lives outside of San Francisco. The ticket is genuine; I telegraphed to his office to be sure that the letter had truly come from him, and the offer is genuine also. He's said to be as rich as Croesus and as reclusive as a stylite, and that's all anyone knows of him. Other than the fact that he has phenomenal luck."
"He might have been describing me, precisely," Rose said aloud, feeling again that little thrill of apprehension, as if she was about to cross a threshold into something from which there would be no escape and no return.
"That is what was so peculiar, that and the offer itself." Cathcart flushed. "I thought of all manner of other possibilities; one does, after all-"
"Of course," she said vaguely. "White slavery, opium dens-" She noticed then that Cathcart's color had deepened to a dark scarlet with embarrassment, and giggled; she could not help herself. "Really, Professor! Did you think I was that sheltered? After all, it was you who let me read the unexpurgated Ovid, and Sappho's poems, and-"
She stopped, for fear that the Professor would have a stroke there and then. It never failed to amaze her that the scholars about her could discuss the hetairai of the Greeks, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise, and the loves of the girls on the Isle of Lesbos, and then blush with shame when one even mentioned the existence of certain establishments not more than a dozen blocks from the University.
"Don't decide at once," he urged her, swiftly changing the subject. "I'll take you to Mrs. Abernathy's boarding house; rest and think for a few days. This should not be an act of impulse."
"Of course not," she replied-
But she already felt the heavy, cold hand of Fate upon her sleeve. She would go to this man, this Jason Cameron. She would take his job.
After all, she had no choice.
Rose woke with a shock, startled out of disturbing dreams by sounds she did not recognize. For a moment, as she glanced around, she panicked with disorientation, her heart racing with fear as she groped for her glasses. This was not her room! Nothing was where it should be-why was that rectangle of fight at the foot of her bed, and not off to the side-and why was there only one, not two? Why were the walls white, and what was that huge, looming object at her left?
And why weren't her glasses on the stand beside the bed, where they should be?
Then, as the bed beneath her creaked in a way that her bed never had, the steadying knowledge of where she was and why she was here came flooding back.
Nothing was where it should be, because she was not at home, and never would see her room again. She was in a narrow, iron-framed bed in Mrs. Abernathy's boarding house for respectable young ladies.
Rose had met a few of them last night, and had immediately been reassured as to the solidity of this establishment. Several of the ladies were nurses; one worked at the Hull House with the indigent. Another was a typist for Professor Cathcart at the University. Her own shabby-genteel clothing fit in perfectly here, giving her no cause for embarrassment.
Mrs. Abernathy was a stolid woman who had not been at all disturbed when they appeared on her doorstep after dark. She had taken in Professor Cathcart's whispered explanation and the money he pressed into her hand with a nod, and had sent Rose to this room on the second floor, just off the common parlor. Her trunk was still downstairs in a storage closet, but she hardly needed what was in it. She'd brought up her carpetbag and valise herself, and had attempted to be sociable with some of the other boarders, but fatigue and strain had taken their toll, and she had soon sought the room and the bed.
She stopped groping for her glasses, preferring the vague shapes of furniture and windows to the stark reality of this sad little room. She closed her eyes again, and lay quietly, listening to the sounds that had awakened her. Down below, someone, presumably Mrs. Abernathy, was cooking breakfast; from the scents that reached her, it was oatmeal porridge and strong coffee, cheap and filling. Other girls in tiny rooms on either side of her were moving about. By the very faint light, it could not be much past dawn-but these young women were working girls, and their day began at dawn and ended long after sunset, every day except Sunday.
That was when the full impact of her situation hit home. Within the week, she would join them. She had not realized just how privileged her life had been, even with all the economies she and her father had practiced these last several years. She had always been something of a night-owl, preferring to study in the late hours when she would be undisturbed; her classes had always been scheduled in the afternoons, allowing her to enjoy leisurely mornings. Now she would obey someone else's schedule, whether or not it happened to suit her.
Everything was changed; her life, as she had known it, was over. It lay buried with her father.
The rest of her life stretched before her, devoid of all the things that she cared for-the joys of scholarship, the thrill of academic pursuit, the intellectual companionship of fellow scholars. She would be a servant in someone else's house, or a hireling in someone's employ, subject to their will, their whims. Very likely she would never again have access to a resource like the University Library. Her life, which had been defined by books, would now be defined by her position below the salt.
Professor Cathcart had insisted that at she think Cameron's offer over carefully before deciding, but her options were narrower than he thought; the choices were two, really. Take Jason Cameron's job (or search for another like it) and become a servant in the household of a wealthy, and probably autocratic man-or take a position teaching in a public school.
The latter actually offered fewer opportunities. It was unlikely that she would find such a public school position in Chicago; there were many aspiring teachers, and few jobs for them. She would have to seek employment out in the country, perhaps even in the scarcely-settled West or the backward South, where she would be an alien and an outsider.
In either case, as a private tutor or as a teacher, she would be a servant, for as a schoolteacher she must present a perfectly respectable front at all times, attending the proper church, saying the proper things, so as to be completely beyond reproach. Neither a schoolteacher nor a child's private tutor could even hint that she had read the uncensored Ovid. Neither would dare to have an original thought, or dare to contradict the men around her. The days of her freedom of thought, action and speech were over.
She had not wept since the funeral; she had remained dry-eyed before the Ivorssons, before Mr. Grumwelt, before his greedy minions. She had stood dry-eyed for days, but now something broke within her at the realization of how much a prisoner of society she had become overnight.
Her eyes burned, her throat closed, and she bit her knuckle trying to hold back the tears. She was unsuccessful, and quickly turned her face into the pillow, sobbing, smothering her weeping with the coarse linen so that no one would overhear her. How could any of the women here hope to understand her grief'? This prospect of life that she found intolerable was the same life that they had always led.
One born to slavery finds nothing amiss with chains ....
She curled up into a ball, forming herself around the pillow, as she cried uncontrollably. She had never believed that a heart could be "broken," but hers certainly felt that way now.
Oh Papa-why did you have to die and leave me like this?
Then came guilt for thinking such a terrible thing, which only made her weep the harder as she realized she would now face the rest of her life without his dear, if absentminded, presence. Finally, she could weep no more; she huddled around the soaked pillow, muscles and head aching, eyes swollen and burning, throat sore with holding back her sobs, nose irritated and raw. Her physical discomfort did nothing to distract her from her sorrow.
While she had cried out her grief, the noises to either side of her disappeared, leaving only the sounds of activity below-stairs. She did not feel that she could face anyone, and as for breakfast-the very notion made her ill.
Evidently either no one had missed her or Professor Cathcart had indicated that she was to be alone, for no one came to disturb her. Despair held her in that hard, narrow bed in invisible bonds; she could not even muster the strength to reach for her glasses. Once again, the presence of the laudanum in her valise beckoned temptingly. She need only drink down the entire bottle, and all her troubles would end in a sleep with no waking.
Would that be so bad? True Christian doctrine told her that suicide was a sin, but the ancients had held it no more a sin than healing a wound was. When the soul was wounded past bearing-when life became intolerable-why tolerate it?
Why, indeed? Why spend the remaining years of her life in an existence that was less than life? Why must she smother her very soul to see her body fed? Surely that was no less a sin than simple suicide!
How many grim, gray spinsters had she seen in her schools, withered creatures who had ruthlessly rooted out every vestige of intellectual curiosity in themselves and now sought to do the same to the pupils beneath them? Life as one such as they would be less than life.
Better to end it all now.
She spent a moment in fantasy, imagining what the news of her death would mean to those around her. The Ivorssons, of course, would cluck and shake their heads, and say that they had expected nothing else from her-she knew better than to anticipate remorse from any of them. She could leave a note, blaming her despair on Neville Tree-a subtle sort of revenge, since the stigma of having caused a girl's death would ruin him, especially if she did not say precisely why he had driven her to this. People would assume the worst; they always did.
She uncurled herself from her pillow; felt for her glasses and put them on, since she could not write a suicide note if she could not see. But her hand fell upon something else as well; Jason Cameron's letter. Almost against her will, she found herself drawing the letter from the envelope and reading it again.
But this time, reading it carefully rather than skimming it, she got a much different sense of the writer's personality than she had in the restaurant. There, she had been startled by the strangely accurate description of someone with precisely the same accomplishments as her own. Now she was drawn to the paragraph about the children.
In particular, her eyes were drawn to the statements about the daughter.". . . the victim of prejudice that holds her sex as inferior to the male . . ."
Surely the man who wrote such words was not the uncouth tyrant she had imagined! And surely he would not object to her continuing her own education-even if she had to choose an area of specialization other than her first choice-
Perhaps she would not be treated like a servant after all. This letter seemed to have come from the pen of a man who cherished scholarship, and would accord a scholar honest respect.
Shouldn't she at least see if he was the enlightened man his letter promised?
After all, the bottle would still be in her valise. She could end her life at any time; it did not have to be here. She could make the journey to the West Coast first; see the vast hinterlands in between. She had never personally seen a buffalo, a cowboy, or a Red Indian. She had never seen a mountain, or an ocean. She had lived all her short life in Chicago; surely before she committed any rash act, she ought to see more than just one city.
Besides, if one ended one's life-the setting ought to be something less squalid than this.
The ancient Romans called in all their friends, gathered their most precious belongings about them, and had a great feast complete with poetry and music. Then, in the midst of splendor, they drank their bitter cup.
She should take more thought to the setting of her demise.
Besides, it would distress those pleasant girls if I did away with myself here. It might even cast a stigma upon poor Mrs. Abernathy, and neither she nor they have done anything to harm me. No. It would be impolite and unpoetic to drink my cup here.
If she waited until she reached the West Coast, however-
I could go to the Opera House when Caruso sings there.
That would be a setting worthy of the Romans, and a properly poetic ending as well.
If I saved-I could have enough for a fine gown, and a private box. Even if the promised wages come to less than he states, I could save enough.
Yes; that would be the way. To drink the dose at the first intermission, perhaps-drift away into death with glorious music accompanying her-be found dressed exquisitely, with her letter of farewell lying beside her on the table-
She might be thought to haunt the place afterwards, which would do the Opera House no harm, since every good theater should have a ghost.
Not in squalor, but in splendor; turning her back on this world in a way that could not be ignored or pushed onto the back pages of a newspaper.
I seem to have decided to live. For now, at least.
But now she was impatient to be gone. The sooner she was on her way, the sooner she would find out if the promise of the letter was true gold, or dross.
She managed to get herself out of bed, and went to the washstand, to pour cold water from the pitcher into the waiting basin. Just as well that it was cold; her ablutions succeeded in removing the outward signs of her despair from her face. She dressed in an odd combination of luxury and penury; her most intimate underthings were silk (though much darned), but her stockings were of the coarsest and cheapest cotton at five cents the pair, and they were as heavily darned as the silk. The one thing that she never regretted about losing her maid was that she never again had anyone about to tie the laces of her corset as tightly as a human could manage; she had not retied the laces in a year. She donned that garment by letting out her breath and hooking it up the front, and tolerated being that much more out of fashion by not having a fifteen-inch waist.
Petticoats were the same mixture of luxury and thrift, depending entirely on whether or not she had been able to mend them. Her shoes were still good, although they would need resoling soon; her walking-skirt and shirtwaist ready-made, from a store that was far from fashionable, and of fabric that could be laundered at home. All of her expensive gowns had been sold long ago to dealers in second-hand clothing. Much of her own wardrobe had come from the stores of those same worthies.
I told Papa I didn't care about dresses, that I would rather have books ... I wonder if he believed me. Did he ever guess how much I missed the silks and velvets?
She wondered, too, what her new employer would think. Or would he even notice the sad state of her wardrobe?
She arranged her hair-her one real beauty-into a neat Frenchbraid, and set a pathetic little excuse for a hat squarely on the result, securing it with a dagger-like hatpin. Putting Jason Cameron's letter into her reticule, she stepped out into the hallway.
She would need to contact Mr. Cameron to let him know that she was accepting the post, so that he didn't hire someone else while she was making the arduous journey across the country, Her ticket was really a series of tickets, a rainbow of colored pasteboard, each of them for a different pair of cities. Evidently one did not simply "get on" a train in Chicago and arrive at San Francisco to "get off" the same train. From Chicago, one went to Kansas City; there one boarded a train from a second rail company bound for Los Angeles. Once there, a third and final change of rail companies took one to the final destination. But within the three stages, there were other options, other changes of trains, depending upon what day one traveled. It was all very bewildering.
No doubt-she must get in touch with Mr. Cameron, and the only one who knew how to do that was Professor Cathcart. So she must venture back into the beloved and hallowed halls of learning and endure a veritable barrage of memories in order to find the Professor himself.
She bundled herself in her old wool coat and slipped down the stairs and out the front door without meeting anyone. She walked to the University, since she could not afford street-car fare, much less a cab. It was not much more than a mile, and she was used to walking. It was going to be another grim, grey day, but at least it wasn't raining anymore. What would the weather be like in San Francisco?
Wasn't California supposed to be hot, even tropical? She occupied her thoughts with such speculations until she reached the University campus, ignoring the shouts of a group of young men playing football in the Quadrangle.
Every step brought out another memory that hurt, and she felt like the little mermaid in the Hans Anderson tale, who felt as if she walked upon knives with every step she took on her conjured legs. Somehow she found Professor Cathcart, who took one look at her and insisted that she sit down while he sent for some coffee. She had always ignored his secretary before this; now, acutely sensitive to women in subservient positions, she watched the drab woman carefully. I must learn to move and talk like that, she thought, paying careful attention to the little things that made Cathcart's secretary so inconspicuous. I will have no choice but to learn ...
"Are you certain that you wish to pursue this offer?" the Professor was saying anxiously, as he pressed a cup of coffee into her cold hands. "Are you positive?"
Beneath his questioning, she detected something else, and after a moment, she identified it with some surprise.
Relief. He was already regretting his hasty impulse in setting himself up as her protector and rescuer, and he wanted her off his hands as quickly as possible!
Resentment built, and was quickly vanquished by weariness. This should have been expected. The Professor, a confirmed bachelor, had suddenly found himself burdened with an unwanted female who was not even related to him. Yes, he was her mentor and teacher, but he had never expected to find himself caring for her mundane needs, only the intellectual ones. Now that he had the time for second thoughts, he was probably cursing himself for last night's visit. If he had waited a few days, she would have been gone, and he would not have felt the need to find out what had happened to her.
If she should take Cameron's offer, she would not only be off his hands, but halfway across the continent. He would never have to bother about her again. He could soothe his conscience with the content of Cameron's letter, which promised a secure and fulfilling position. He had urged thought and caution, she had taken both, and he was under no obligation to interfere further-or to assist her in any way.
"Yes," she said, with weary resignation. "I am sure. I would like to notify Mr. Cameron that I will accept his position, but there was no address on the envelope."
"I can take care of that," Professor Cathcart replied a bit too eagerly. "I'll have him wired that you're coming, in fact, so that he doesn't hire anyone else." There was no doubt; he was unhappy about his current obligation to her and wanted it done with.
"I don't want to put you to any trouble," she began, hiding her bitterness at his reaction.
"It won't be any trouble," he said heartily. "I'll just send a message to the rail office, and they'll see to it all. While I'm at it, I'll have them check the timetables for the correct schedule-you do want to leave tomorrow, don't you?"
She shrugged. It was obvious that her welcome here was at an end. "Why not?" she replied, which sent another look of relief across his face. "It's not as if I have anything to stop for. My research-well, what's the use in pretending? I'll never finish the degree, so I'll hardly need my notes. Perhaps one of your other students could use them."
Professor Cathcart made a token protest, but she could tell his heart wasn't in it. Not when both of them knew that she was only speaking the truth. The sour taste of anger and despair rose in her throat, and she stood up, hastily.
"I'll go back to the boarding-house and set things in order," she said, suddenly feeling as if she could not breathe properly in the dusty office. "If you could have that railway schedule sent over-I know you are busy, Professor, you can't be spending all your time with me when you have students who will be completing their degrees to help-"
He flushed, but did not contradict her; he merely fumbled in his pocket and pressed some money into her hand. "This is for a cab in the morning, and one now," he stammered hastily. "I'm sorry it isn't more. Your ticket entitles you to meals on the train, so you should be fine ..."
He babbled on for a little longer, and she finally fled his office to avoid his embarrassment. And she did not take a cab back to the boardinghouse; every penny in her purse was one more than she had expected to have, and she was not going to waste those pennies with frivolities like cabs. She had no choice, though, in the morning; there was no way that she was going to get herself and her heavy trunk to the train station without a cab-unless she was lucky enough to find a cart and driver for hire at that hour.
When she reached the boardinghouse, not only was the schedule waiting, but a telegraph from Jason Cameron himself. In the terse words required by telegraphy, he expressed pleasure that she had chosen to take up the position, promised her needs would be met on the way, and assured her that she would be greeted by his people at the Pacifica switch.
What, she wondered, is a "Pacifica switch?"
It must mean something to a rail baron, she reasoned. That would have to do for now.
After missing breakfast, she did not intend to skip any other meals although her appetite had vanished again; she managed a luncheon of tea, wafer-thin ham and thick toast, and joined the other girls for a dinner of potato-laden stew with astonishingly little meat in it, more thick slices of bread, and a bread-pudding. On the whole, if this was the daily fare here, she was just as glad not to be staying. A diet so starch-heavy would quickly bloat even the slimmest person.
She took to her bed early, like the nurses who had awakened her, for her first train left the station almost at dawn. After so much walking and emotional turmoil, she was exhausted and drained.
Her last thought before sleep finally caught her was actually one of wonder-wonder at herself, for having made so clear and final a break between her past and her future. Perhaps it was true that despair could drive people to heroism and daring.
But she went into sleep, not with a feeling of excitement, but of resignation. She might be stepping off into the unknown, but it was not with a sense of adventure.
Perhaps that, too, had died with her father. She had once greeted each day with anticipation. Now, her only hope was that the new day would not be worse than the old.
And when all was said and done, for that, too, she had an answer, in a small bottle in her valise....
Rose ignored the rocking of the railway car and the steady, vibrating rhythm of the wheels as she ignored the stares of the rude man across from her and kept her eyes firmly fixed on her book. This fellow had gotten on the train at a stop outside Los Angeles; with his "snappy" checked suit and well-oiled hair, pomaded with brilliantine, he evidently thought he cut quite a fine figure and that she should be well aware of the fact.
She wasn't certain why he had fixed his attention on her, but she wished that he would go away. He had been trying to attract her attention for miles, and she could not imagine what attracted him to her. She was grimy with days of nonstop travel; she hadn't had a bath since Mrs. Abernathy's boardinghouse. Her hair felt so greasy that she thought she must resemble one of those outlandish aboriginal people who coated their locks with oil. Perhaps it was only that she was the only unaccompanied female in the car below the age of sixty. By the huge leather case under his seat, she suspected that he was a drummer-a traveling salesman.
Whatever he's selling, I want none of it.
She was weary to the bone with days of hard traveling. Mrs. Abernathy had awakened her before dawn on the day she had left, with the welcome news that the man who carted away boxes and other "clean" rubbish was willing to take her and her trunk to the station for half the cost of a cab. She had also given Rose some sound advice in the matter of traveling attire.
"Whatever you put on," she had warned, "make certain that it won't show stains, and that it is something you will be willing to throw away at the end of your trip. Believe me, child, you won't want it after that."
Rose had followed her advice, wearing the dreadful black Manchester-cloth street-skirt and sateen waist she had bought for her father's funeral. The clothing was cheap, but serviceable enough to last the journey and look respectable. She had thought that Mrs. Abernathy had meant that after wearing the same clothing continuously, riding and sleeping in it for days, she would simply never want to see it again.
That might also have been true, but what Mrs. Abernathy had been too well-bred to explain was that the floor of the common railway-carriage-particularly in the West-was filthy. The uncouth men who shared the carriage with her chewed tobacco, and often did not bother to travel to the end of the carriage to use the spittoon. They brought mud and worse in on their boots, and the dust of the plains blew in at the window. The floor was sticky with the residue of tobacco juice, and coated with the ashes that often floated in through the windows. The outsides of the carriages gave no hint as to the state of the floors; the carriages were kept as clean as possible given the circumstances. Try as she might to keep her hem free of the floor, it dragged whenever she sat, or when the carriage lurched as she walked, and she was forced to drop her skirt and clutch at the backs of the seats for balance. She did not think that she was ever going to get the skirt clean again, and she only hoped she could prevail on some hardy soul in Mr. Cameron's employ to clean her boots, for she was nauseated by the notion of having to touch them, sticky and odorous as they were.
She had observed the travelers in the parlor cars and the occasional private carriage with raw envy. The hard wooden bench-seats of the common carriage were too short to lie down upon, and if one could sleep, one woke with a stiff neck and a headache from being wedged into an unnatural, upright position. The most comfortable naps she had taken had been in stations, on the benches reserved for waiting passengers, as she also waited for the next train, guarded by the watchful eye of the curiously paternal stationmasters.
At least she had not starved, although she had expected to spend at least part of the time hungry. Her meals were, indeed, taken care of, and she ate as well as anyone else taking the common carriages. Those same stationmasters saw to it that when there was no dining car attached to a train she was provided with a packet of thick ham or cured-tongue sandwiches and a bottle or two of lemonade. This, evidently, was on the orders of Mr. Cameron, since she saw no one else being so provided for, and occasionally her preferential treatment aroused glances of envy akin to those she bestowed on the wealthier travelers.
There had been sights she would never forget: the fury of a prairie thunderstorm, as lightning formed a thousand spidery legs of fire beneath the heavy, black clouds; the brilliant skies at night, with more stars than she had ever seen in her life; the mountains-every day held its share of natural wonders, more astounding than any of the seven wonders of the ancient world. If she had not been so exhausted, she probably would have been able to appreciate them more.
She had been looking forward to her first sight of the Pacific Ocean, but with this boor trying to catch her attention she was unlikely to be able to appreciate this particular vista.
At least she never tired of this book, The Odyssey in the original Greek. The advantage of having the original before her was that she need not be confined to one particular translator's view of things; she was able to discover nuances and new interpretations every time she read it. It never mattered that she was tired, that the long stretches across the empty plains had seemed interminable. Even with the eyes of another upon her, she was able to reach beyond this journey, to a strange and wondrous journey of a different sort, infinitely more perilous than her own, fraught with the machinations of gods and terrible magic's, with-
"Well, excuse me, missy!"
The boor, seeing himself spurned in favor of a mere book, had elected to take things a step further and try to gain her attention directly. She pointedly ignored him, turning away a trifle, although that cast the pages of the book in shadow. Surely he won't persist if I make it clear I want nothing of him.
Undeterred, he persisted. When he got no response from his verbal attempts, actually poking her foot with his toe so that she looked up at him in shock and affrontery before she could stop herself.
"Well, there, missy," the rude fellow said, in a falsely hearty voice. "You sure have been buryin' your nose in that book! What's it you're readin' that's so interestin'?"
She stared at him, appalled by his impoliteness, then replied before she could stop herself, "Homer's Odyssey.
He wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. Evidently his sole exposure to literature had consisted of what lay between the covers of the McGuffy's Readers. "Homer who? Say, missy, that's all Greek to me."
"Precisely," she replied, lowering the temperature of her words as her temper heated, and she turned her attention back to the book. He's been snubbed, surely he won't persist any further.
Only to have the book snatched out of her hands.
Her temper snapped. Outraged, she jumped to her feet while the lout was still puzzling over the Greek letters.
How dare he!
"Conductor!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, and in her most piercing voice.
The lout looked up at her, startled in his turn by her anger and her willingness to stand up to his rudeness. The conductor, who fortunately happened to be at the other end of her car collecting tickets, hurried up the aisle, walking as easily in the swaying car as a sailor would on a swaying deck. Before he could even voice an inquiry, she pointed at the miscreant with an accusatory finger, her face flushed with anger.
"That man is a thief and a masher!" she said indignantly. "He has been bothering me, he would not leave me alone, and now he has stolen my book! Do something about him!"
But the cad was not without a quick wit-probably a necessity when confronted with angry husbands , fiances and fathers. "I don't know what that woman's talking about," he protested, lying so outrageously that her mouth fell open in sheer amazement at his audacity. "I was just sittin' here readin' my book, when she jumps up and screeches for you."
That wolf-in-sheep's-clothing! Her hand closed into a fist as she restrained herself from hitting him. Any other woman might have shrunk from confronting him further, given that it was her word against his, but her blood was up-and besides, the book had been a birthday gift from her first Greek teacher. She was not going to surrender the book, the truth, or the field without a fight. 'Well, then," she said with venom-dripping sweetness, "If it's your book, I presume you can read it. Aloud."
As it happened, he had the book upside down not that it would have mattered to him. If he did not recognize the name of the great poet Homer, he could hardly recognize one Greek letter from another. He gaped at her in shock of his own, and she neatly plucked her prize from his nerveless fingers, turned it right side up, and declaimed the first four lines on the page in flawless tones. By now, everyone in the car was staring at the drama unfolding at her end.
"Translated roughly," she continued, "It says, 'The One-eyed giant howled his anguish as his bleeding eye burned and tormented him. His fellow giants rushed to learn what had befallen him. "No man has blinded me!" he cried to them. "If no man has blinded you," they replied, "Then it must be the punishment of the gods." ' Anyone who has the faintest knowledge of the classics will recognize that scene."
The boor was not to be so easily defeated. "Why, she could make any gabble, say it meant anything!" he cried. "She's a crazy woman!"
She put the book into the conductor's hands. "Look inside the front cover," she ordered imperiously. "On the flyleaf. It reads, 'To little Rose, one of the greatest flowers of literature, from a humble gardener. With affection, Lydia Reuben.' If this is his book, then how could I know that? And while I may or may not be a scholar of Greek, I have never yet met a man named Rose."
Those sitting nearest her giggled at that, as the rogue flushed. The conductor read the dedication, his lips moving silently, and looked up with a nod. "That's what she says, all right," he rumbled, and turned a stern gaze on the masher. The man coughed, and turned pale, and looked around hastily, as if searching for a way to escape.
Rose felt a bit faint, but she was not going to show it in front of him. "Conductor," I she replied, in more normal tones, "Do you normally permit thieves who compound their crime with an attempt to molest honest women to continue traveling on this train?"
The man turned paler still as the conductor seized his collar. "That we don't, miss," the conductor said, handing her book back to her and pulling the man to his feet. "Sometimes, though, we let the train stop before we throws 'em off."
He blew a whistle, which brought two burly train-guards from the next carriage up, and together they removed lout and baggage, hauling both off towards the rear of the train, as he protested every step of the way at the top of his lungs. Curious stares followed this procession down the aisle, and more curious stares were directed at her after they left the car, but she no longer cared about what anyone thought. Now she let her shaking knees give way, and lowered herself back into her seat, holding onto the back with her free hand, precious book clutched in the other.
Now she let the reaction set in. How had she dared to face that man down? She'd never done such a thing before in her life! Oh, she had argued with men, and told them what she thought; she had made free with her opinions on paper, but she had never actually stood up to anyone who was not a gentleman. She had never confronted someone who was obviously prepared to do whatever he wanted, and determined to get his way. No lady would ever have faced down someone like that.
The conductor returned to make certain that she was all right. She murmured something appropriate at him, and he went back to his duties, evidently satisfied. She did not ask him what he had done with the boor. She really didn't want to know.
Probably he'd been escorted to a dank, nasty corner of a baggage car and put under lock and key. But she was a bit appalled to find that she hoped he and his case really had been pitched out of the back of the train.
Despite the bent heads and murmurs of delicious shock up and down the car, she must have convinced the conductor that she was properly helpless, for he kept a solicitous eye on her after that. And her first glimpse of the ocean was not marred by any unwelcome and uninvited presence, for no one else would sit with her. Or even near her.
She looked out across the endless expanse of water for as long as it was visible. She had seen Lake Michigan, of course, but this was so much bigger! She forgot her weariness, forgot everything. Huge-and fierce-even over the cacophony of the train, she heard the roar of the waves against the cliff below.
The train rounded a curve and scrolled away from the ocean, which vanished behind the hills. With the vista blocked, the tossing of the train threw her back to the sordid reality of the carriage. She turned back to her book, still feeling rather shaky inside.
And still angry and puzzled by the drummer's behavior. She simply could not divine what had driven him to persist, and that kept her worrying at the subject. Did he really believe that I was only feigning indifference? Did he think I was trying in some perverse way to flirt with him by ignoring him? He was obviously expecting no resistance to his advances. What had been in his mind? Was he so used to having his way with women that he saw everything she did in terms of what he wanted and expected?
What did he think I was reading, anyway? Walter Scott? A dreadful dime novel? A romantic love story? Wuthering Heights, perhaps?
Probably the latter, and the memory of his expression when he tried to read the book sent her into a fit of giggles she tried to stifle with her gloved hand. When he saw the Greek-oh my! I don't think I've ever seen anyone so surprised since-since I proved to Professor Smythe that I was just as conversant with Chretian des Troyes in the original as any of his other students.
It did occur to her, however, that the works of the Bronte sisters would not have been inappropriate reading given her current situation. Or perhaps Jane Austen. There is not much difference between going off to become a governess and going off to become a housekeeper. Perhaps reading the Brontes could prepare me for Jason Cameron.
From a masher to her future employer-both male, both unfathomable. Neither responded to her attempt to analyze them. She simply did not know enough about either of them to grasp them and pin them beneath the white light of intellect. She gave up trying, and read until darkness fell and it became impossible to read any further. There were oil-lamps suspended in each carriage, but they were too far away to cast enough light for comfortable reading-shadows moved as the lamps swayed, obscuring the letters and revealing them in a way that made her eyes ache. So she didn't bother to try; she just propped herself in the corner of the seat and half-dozed. This last leg of the journey, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, had begun before dawn and would continue until well after midnight. Perhaps her stamina had finally been exhausted; perhaps it was just the knowledge that the trip was nearly over and she was about to confront her employer and learn the truth or falsehood about him. Perhaps it was both, but she was conscious of leaden depression that weighed down her spirits.
She both dreaded the moment for the journey to end and longed for it. As the miles and the hours crept by and her fellow-passengers in their turn dozed off, she stared at her own reflection in the window, seeing only two dark holes for eyes in a ghostlike face which, because of her black clothing, seemed to hang suspended in the air, bodiless.
I am a spirit, wandering, without a home, and I shall wander bodiless forever... I shall become a ghost in Jason Cameron's manor, long before I am truly dead.
What would Jason Cameron really be like? What could she expect as his employee? The comfortable and stimulating experience his letter promised? Or something out of a Bronte novel: poverty of spirit, repression and despair?
Would she find herself bundled up into a tiny attic room, waiting like a drudge on a pair of monstrous, spoiled children? Would the promised wage remain only promises, so that she remained trapped here, where she knew no one and had no way to escape, a virtual slave? Would she find herself confined to the grounds of the house unless she was escorting the children on some outing?
Or would Jason Cameron keep his word? Of late, her experiences had not done much to convince her of anything but the perfidy of her fellow man.
She stared at her reflection, and asked it a silent question. Why had she agreed to this?
Her reflection stared back in equal silence, for it had no answer for her.
A squeal of brakes broke into her melancholy thoughts. The train was slowing down, but why?
It had slowed before, of course, to pass around curves and over bridges. It had even stopped on sidings to let other trains pass, going the opposite direction.
But she hadn't felt the slight change in direction that meant a siding, and if there had been a curve ahead, she surely should have felt it by now. Yet the train was still slowing, and there were no lights beside the track, no buildings, nor any sign of habitation, as there would be if they had reached San Francisco.
The train came to a complete stop. In the strange silence, the engine panted, and some canine creature howled in the far distance. A wolf? Or only a farm-dog? She sat up and peered out of the window on her side of the train, and still saw nothing. Where were they and why had they stopped?
Perhaps there is a blockage on the track? That would certainly be tiresome, adding more hours to the journey while they waited for the track to be cleared, even forcing them to get off and walk around it while their baggage was brought to a second train. During the course of the journey this had happened twice, both times in the mountains when land-slips had sent mud and gravel cascading down on the track. Those accidents had each added days to her trip, for it was no easy thing to get word ahead about the blockage and the need for a second train.
When she saw the conductor entering the car, she was sure he was going to tell them all that this was the case. But he did not disturb any of her drowsy fellow-passengers with a general announcement. He came straight to her, as she watched him in surprise.
"This is a special stop for you, Miss Rosalind," he said, when he saw that she was awake and aware of him. "We've already taken your trunk and bag off, if you'll just gather up your valise, we'll have you on your way in no time."
"On my way?" she asked, dazedly, as he picked up her valise from the seat beside her and offered her his hand to rise.
"Of course," he replied, as if this was a matter-of-fact occurrence to him. "Didn't Mr. Cameron tell you he was sending people to meet you at the Pacifica switch?"
"I-I believe so," she said, as he guided her to the end of the car and the stairs there. There's no station here-who is Jason Cameron that he can have trains stopped in the middle of nowhere to let off a single person?
The conductor handed her down as she gathered her skirts up in one hand for the jump to the ground. It was then that she saw what awaited her on the rails beyond a switch that joined a spur-line to the main track.
Lights cut through the darkness, from lanterns suspended on the rear of the vehicle ahead and from the headlights of both engines. The air was cold and damp, and she shivered as it penetrated her clothing. Overhead, the stars were not as huge and bright as they had seemed in the desert and on the open plains, but they were much more impressive than any stars seen from a city street. There were not many sounds besides the panting of the engines; a night-bird or two, some frogs or insects. Two men with lanterns and a hand-cart approached her from the odd vehicle on the tracks of the spur, and the wheels of the cart grated in the gravel of the right-of-way. Men from the baggage car met them, carrying her trunk and carpetbag. One of the two new men removed his soft cap deferentially and approached her.
"Are you Miss Rosalind Hawkins?" he asked.
"Yes, I am," she said, faintly, with one hand at her throat.
He looked relieved. "Good. Mister Cameron sent us to meet you, ma'am. We'll be taking you right to his door, practically." In the light from the carriage windows above her, and the lantern in his hand, the man smiled reassuringly. "Won't be long now, and you'll be all settled in."
He put his cap back on and offered her his arm. The other man loaded up his cart with all of her baggage, including the valise the conductor handed to him, and headed back to the odd vehicle without uttering a single word. Rose looked doubtfully at the conductor, who nodded and smiled, and made little shooing motions with his hands.
So she took the stranger's arm, and she was glad to have it. The railroad right-of-way was rough and uneven, and she couldn't see where she was putting her feet in the darkness. The conductor mounted back up to the platform of the carriage and signaled to the engineer with a lantern as soon as Rose and her escort were out of the way. Down at the end of the train, another lantern waved in the same signal from the caboose.
The engine, which had been "panting" slowly up at the head of the train chuffed out a great puff of steam as if sighing with impatience, and resumed its interrupted journey. The wheels rotated slowly, with a metallic screech, as the locomotive strained against the dead weight of the train, got it in motion, and gradually picked up speed. By the time Rose and her escort reached the spur, the red lantern on the back of the caboose was receding into the black distance, disappearing like a fading, falling star.
The vehicle they approached was like nothing Rose had ever seen before. A combination of two pieces, an engine and a passenger car, it was smaller than the locomotives that had brought her here, but quite large enough to be impressive. She could not see past the windows of the passenger section with their lowered, red shades trimmed in heavy gold fringe, and it was too dark to see the exterior of the car clearly, but the carved molding, glinting softly with a hint of gilding, implied luxury and opulence.
"This is Mister Cameron's private vehicle," the man said proudly, patting the side of the carriage with his free hand. "We use her to get in and out of Frisco. Useta be, when he had to travel down to Los Angeles, we'd hook the car in with the regular train. I reckon you'll be comfortable enough in her, ma'am." He handed her up into the carriage, doffed his cap again to her. "Mister Cameron says, make free of what you find."
"How long will it take us to reach-where we're going?" she asked, feeling anxious, as he started towards the cab of the engine.
"Well, we'll be a-goin' fairly slow, ma'am, so maybe a couple of hours," he replied, over his shoulder. "This spur's a twisty piece, and we wouldn't want to take any chances. You ought to go inside and make yourself to home."
Since he was reaching for the handhold to haul himself up into the cabin of the engine, she decided she probably ought to take his advice.
Strange, how this rough-seeming man could be so polite, and the one who had dressed like a pseudo-gentleman had been nothing of the sort.
She turned and opened the door, stepping into a world she had thought was lost to her. The color-scheme was of red and gold, the gold of polished brass fittings and gilded fixtures, the red of scarlet leather, velvet and satin. The car was fitted out to resemble a comfortable parlor, with three small tables covered with red damask cloths, real chairs, a Roman divan couch, and a bed lounge. All the furniture was deeply padded and upholstered in red velvet or leather. The floor was covered with a deep red Turkey carpet, and the furniture was discreetly bolted to the floor through the carpeting. Mahogany bookcases full of leather-bound volumes decorated one wall, and a handsome mahogany sideboard laden with bottles and glassware graced another.
Enough oil-lamps burned from fixtures set between each window that the interior of the car was illuminated as cheerfully as anyone could ask. There was even a porcelain stove in an alcove at the back of the car to heat it.
A serving-plate covered with a silver dome sat on one of the tables, but as the "train" began to move, Rose's attention was drawn to a door on the end of the car. A discreet brass plaque announced "Lounge" in square script, and she made her way to that door, wondering if it contained what she hoped.
It did. A brass and porcelain oil-lamp lit the tiny room softly. Her valise sat in a clever tray bolted to the top of an oak washstand, to keep anything placed in it from being overset. The washstand-or rather, vanity-boasted a graceful porcelain basin inset in the top; the basin was even equipped with a drain-hole and a stopper to close it so that one need not try to find a way to empty it in the moving train. A bar of castile soap lay in a porcelain cradle next to the basin. Above the basin was a matching porcelain ewer with a spigot in the bottom. She touched the spigot and was rewarded by a stream of fresh, warm water.
Without hesitation she took off her sateen waist and washed and rinsed her face, neck and arms-twice, because she was appalled to see that after the first washing, the water was gray with grime. She could not wash her hair, but at least she could damp it down a little and comb it out-and she did, bracing herself against the basin as the train twisted and turned on its journey. She rebraided it and wound it about her head in a kind of crown rather than making the French twist and pompadour she usually wore.
There was one clean waist in her valise; she had been saving it, in the faint hope that she would find a way to change before she met her employer. A remnant of her former fortune, it was of much-mended taffeta silk in a deep rose. In the soft light of lamps and lanterns, the mended places would not be too obvious. She also had fresh stockings, but it would be impossible to change the rest of her underclothing without somehow extracting herself from petticoats and corset.
She put the stockings and the waist on, and immediately felt much better. To finally don clean clothing after so many days in the same outfit was pure bliss. She procured her toothpowder and brush from the valise, and completed the process of cleaning at least the upper portion of her body.
She regarded her reflection in the mirror beside the basin, and decided that it could have been worse. She was exhausted, and looked it, but she also looked respectable now, and not as if she had been sleeping in her clothing, in trains and on benches in railway stations, for endless days.
She left her valise where it was, and re-entered the car, curious now to see what lay on that silver salver. She lifted the silver dome lid, and gasped with pleasure.
Fresh grapes, something she had not seen, let alone tasted, in weeks-and with them, two kinds of cheese, and bread with a chewy crust and, when she tore off an experimental bit, a curiously tangy flavor. She helped herself to a light wine from the cabinet and made an unashamed glutton of herself.
A nap would have done her a world of good, but when she reclined on the lounge, she discovered that her treacherous mind would not be quiet, manufacturing all manner of suspicions, coming up with reasons why the apparently benevolent Mister Cameron was in truth a monster.
This could all be some kind of trap. The food could be drugged. Cameron might be a white slaver He could have brought you here to debauch you.
Nonsense, she replied to the slightly hysterical thought. Why go to all this trouble and expense to obtain one woman from Chicago, when there were hundreds well, dozens, anyway-of "soiled doves" right at hand in San Francisco, all much more experienced at-at pleasing a man than she. Surely a man as rich as Cameron would not lack in charming companions of the demimonde, all eager to serve his every wish!
Yes, but perhaps he wants someone acquainted with the uncensored Ovid-
But the idea of the apocryphal Jason Cameron importing a scholar from Chicago to indulge him in Roman debaucheries was too absurd even for her suspicious nature.
He doesn't even know what I look like! she told herself, trying not to giggle. He could be getting someone like Lydia Bullfinch, all bones and brains and hair! And the idea of Lydia in a sheer Roman chemise, reclining sylph-like on a couch, did send her into hysterical giggles.
She must have finally relaxed enough to doze, for the next thing she knew, the little train was slowing with an unpleasant metallic squeal of brakes, quite enough to wake even the soundest sleeper. She sat up and smoothed down her shirtwaist and skirt, although she hated even to touch the latter, as it felt gritty and faintly gummy.
Once the train had come to a complete stop, there was a knock at the door of the carriage. She rose to her feet as a man entered, without waiting for her to answer.
He might well have figured as a creature from one of the Bronte books. He was a little taller than she, slender, and dark. His dark hair was long by the standards of Chicago, just at his shoulders, and cut to wave in a quite romantic fashion. His saturnine face held a pair of brooding brown eyes above chiseled cheekbones and a decidedly Romanesque nose. Only in his chin did he lack true romantic grace-it jutted just a bit too firmly outward, as if he was inclined to use it as a ram against those who dared to get in his way. He was impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit, fine shirt, and tie with a conservative stripe.
"Mister Cameron?" she said, instantly, holding out her hand. "I am Rosalind Hawkins-"
"I am pleased to meet you, Miss Hawkins, but I fear I am not Jason Cameron," the man replied, taking her hand and clasping it briefly before letting it go. His voice was a deep tenor, with the intimation of power behind it, but no discernible accent. "Master Cameron is my employer also, and he sent me to bring you up to the house. My name is Paul du Mond, and I am his personal secretary and valet." Now he smiled, although it was not an expression that brought any warmth to his face. "You must call me by my given name."
"Of course," she replied, feeling rebuffed, although she could not imagine why she felt that way. "Please call me-Rosalind."
Dashed if she would let this cold fellow call her "Rose"!
"Thank you, Rosalind. Ah, no-" he added, as she made an abortive attempt to retrieve her valise. "No, do not trouble yourself over your baggage. It will all be seen to. Would you come with me?"
Seeing no other option, she descended the stairs of the carriage behind him, not entirely certain what to expect. She found herself stepping onto a marble landing, and looking up at a series of white marble stairs inset into the cliff, illuminated by lanterns, that seemed to rise into the stars. She backed up a step and put one hand to her throat, shivering just a little in the cold and damp. Fog wised across the platform, and she thought that it might be very near dawn.
The staircase, however, daunted her. She was never going to be able to climb all that!
Paul smiled at her dismay, as if he was amused by it. "Do not be concerned, Rosalind. We will not be dealing with that tonight. The Master does not expect weary travelers to exhaust themselves at the end of their journey. The stairs are only for effect and those who insist on showing how strong and fit they are."
He led the way to a door, hidden in the shadows, which he opened, revealing the prosaic iron grating of a lift door. He motioned to her to precede him, which she did.
The lift operated smoothly-disconcertingly so, with no noise or sound of machinery. If she had not been aware of the motion of the stone wall beyond the grating, she would have been sure they were not moving at all. Paul du Mond made no attempt at conversation, and neither did she, although the silence became very uncomfortable after a while.
Finally, a crack of light showed at the top of the lift door; it widened as the lift rose, and she saw they had reached their destination. This was a hallway; floored with black marble, with wall-coverings of wine-red brocade above half-panels of dark wood. Polished brass oil-lamps with shades of ruby glass lit the hallway clearly.
Paul opened the gate of the lift, but made no motion to follow her out into the hall. "I have some things to attend to, but I am certain that a competent lady like yourself will be able to find her way." His smile implied that he rather doubted she would be able to do any such thing. "Go to the right, take the staircase up to the third floor. Your rooms are the first door on the left."
She was taken aback by his brusque behavior. Before she could reply, he closed the lift door behind her, and the lift descended again, leaving her with no choice but to follow his instructions.
Not that they were especially difficult, really. It was only that she found the silence of the house rather unnerving. But that was only to be expected; after all, it was still night-time. It was not reasonable for her to expect that Jason Cameron or many of his servants would be awake to welcome her. It was enough that Paul du Mond-and whatever other servants were taking care of her baggage-had been here to greet her. At least they had a room waiting for her.
She had anticipated a dark, back staircase, a servant's stair to be precise, but the staircase proved to be both broad and handsome in dark wood and oak paneling, and well-lit with more brass lamps, this time with white porcelain shades. It boasted a red carpet, and climbed in a square spiral, with doors at each floor.
She opened the third of these-this time certain it would let out on a mean little hallway-to find that it did nothing of the sort. The hallway here was papered in red-on-red fleur-de-lis, and the floor was of dark wood with a red carpet runner down the center of the hallway. Again, the lamps were of brass and ruby glass; red and gold seemed to be Jason Cameron's preferred colors. The door that Paul du Mond had indicated was a few steps past the door to the staircase; she had just touched the handle, when she noticed that the door itself bore a brass plaque. On it was inscribed a single word.
Startled, she froze, but the handle seemed to turn beneath her fingers and the door swung open, as if under its own power.
She gasped as she saw the room; she could not help herself. In all her wildest dreams of what might be waiting for her, she had never imagined anything like this.
For a moment, she hesitated. Surely this was a mistake; this room could not possibly be meant for her! But her name was on the door-and Paul du Mond had sent her here. She stepped inside, hesitantly, and the door swung silently shut behind her.
If someone had given her free rein and an infinite budget to design a sitting-room that would best please her, this would have been it. There was a small fire in the fireplace to ward off the chill of the air outside, although a modern steam radiator made it clear that the fireplace was mostly ornamental. Between the cozy fire and the two lamps, there was not a single corner that was unlit.
Unlike the red-and-gold opulence of the parlor-car and the rest of the house, this room was decorated in tones of deep blues and dark silver, both restful colors to her way of thinking. A Roman couch upholstered in teal-blue velvet stood beneath a huge window, curtained in matching material. Two wingback chairs in the same material flanked a small table with one of the lamps on it, and a combination bookcase and writing desk held the second lamp, with a matching armless chair positioned at the desk. The soft Turkey carpet was of a deeper blue than the chairs; the walls were papered in a lighter blue with a stripe of discreet silver.
A second door stood open at the other end of the room, and she let her feet take her to it as in a dream. As she stood in the doorway, she could only stare, for this room was as perfect as the sitting-room.
It held not one, but three wardrobes, all matching and standing side by side, flanked by a pair of dressers; all were of dark maple with silver fittings. There were two chairs like the ones in the sitting-room, and a huge full-length mirror between them. Another radiator promised that this bedroom would never be cold. The carpet, wall-covering, and curtains were the same as in the sitting-room. The bed, which dominated the room, was absolutely enormous. Amazingly enough, it was of the medieval style she had always secretly favored, with curtains of blue-on-blue brocade, and a matching spread now turned invitingly down to reveal the snowy linens.
But there was more, and light through a third door drew her onward, until she found herself in a bathroom whose opulence matched the rest. This room was tiled in pale grey, pale blue, and silver. A bath was drawn and waiting for her, steaming and fragrant with lavender bath salts. The tub, large enough to recline comfortably in, was of the square, Roman style - a huge marble basin enclosed in a tiled box. There were two sinks, an abundance of mirrors, a lounge and two chairs, a vanity with a framed mirror. The vanity held a wealth of green and silver bottles whose contents she longed to explore. Snowy towels hung from a heated towel-rack, and the "convenience" was of the most modern flush-type. The bathroom was as large as her bedroom had been at home, and had its own small wardrobe at one end, with the door opened to display a tempting selection of nightgowns and dressing-robes or kimonos.
Rose didn't even hesitate. Much faster than she had ever remembered undressing before, she shed her clothing down to the last stitch-shirtwaist, skirt, underskirts, stockings, corset-cover, corset, vest, drawers-all of them dropped from her body with a speed that was positively magical. She slipped into the hot water with a gasp of delight, and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed again until she was pink all over. She ran more hot water into the tub and rinsed again, then undid her hair and washed it as well.
She did not go so far as to appropriate any of the lovely night things in the wardrobe, however. She was certain that they must belong to someone else, and had been left there by accident. Instead, she rebraided her hair, wet as it was, wrapped herself in a towel, and went to look for her valise.
The valise wasn't there-but someone had stolen into the bedroom while she was bathing, had drawn the curtains around three sides of the bed and had left a nightgown lying across the pillow, in an obvious invitation.
It was an invitation too tempting to resist especially given that the mere sight of the bed had started her yawning.
She took the gown into the bathroom to change just in case the unknown "helper" returned. It was silk, a luxury against her skin after the coarse cottons of her traveling clothing that made her dizzy with pleasure. She blew out the lamps in the bathroom and returned to the bedroom, to find that all the other lamps had been extinguished except for the one next to the bed.
She was too tired to be alarmed at the way people kept stealing in and out of the rooms without her noticing. In fact, she was too tired to think of anything other than falling into that wonderful bed-putting her glasses carefully on the bedside table and blowing out the lamp-pulling the bed curtains around to shut out the morning light-and pulling the covers up over her head.
Rose woke in darkness, but this time with no sense of disorientation, no fear when she did not recognize her surroundings. She remembered precisely where she was; even if she hadn't, the faint perfume of some unfamiliar flower wafting from her hair would have reminded her.
She was at her destination, the home of Jason Cameron. She was in darkness because she had drawn the heavy velvet bed curtains tightly around the bed, and not even the most persistent sunbeam was going to penetrate both velvet curtain and satin lining.
She stretched luxuriously in the warmth of the bed, taking an animal pleasure in the soft caress of the silk of her borrowed nightdress upon her skin. Tonight, of course, it would be plain cotton weave again, but for now, she could pretend to luxury.
Pretend? It would hardly be pretense, given the luxury of her quarters. While she might be shabby, her surroundings were palatial.
I wonder what time it is? Surely it couldn't be too late in the morning; she'd be expected to take charge of the children immediately, and her employer would probably insist on interviewing her first. Although she wished devoutly that she could wallow in this wonderful bed with a book, her hours were no longer her own. With a reluctant sense of duty she pushed back the curtains to find that oil lamps had again been lit to augment the thin grey daylight coming in through the windows. Without her glasses, that was just about all that she could ascertain.
She reached for her glasses and the room sprang into sharper focus. She sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and found that a pale-pink silk wrapper trimmed in soft lace that matched the lace-trimmed gown had been laid out on a chair beside the bed, ready for her to put on, even though she had not heard anyone come in. She frowned a little as she put on the wrapper and moved into the sitting-room, with the carpet soft as moss under her bare feet. Why hadn't she heard the servant come in? She didn't usually sleep that heavily.
Then again, those unseen servants had penetrated her room while she bathed last night, without her hearing them. They must simply be preternaturally silent.
Her trunk and bags had arrived while she slept but to her dismay, when she opened them, she found that her clothing was missing! Searching frantically, she saw that not a single personal possession was missing-only the clothing!
She forced herself to calm down and think of a decent explanation. After all, there was still clothing here. Cameron obviously didn't intend to keep her a prisoner by taking away her clothes. Wait. I'm being unreasonable. They've probably taken it all away to be cleaned. Of course; that was the obvious explanation. She'd heard that this was the way such things were done in the homes of the wealthy.
Even for someone who is one short step above a servant?
She ignored the nagging thought, and turned to the small table beneath the window. The curtains had been drawn, showing her a view of a lush scrap of lawn, a wilderness of trees, and just beyond them, a hint of the sea. She couldn't see the shore itself; had this house been built on a seaside cliff?
On the table was one of those silver platters with a domed lid covering it, though this one was nearly the size of the tabletop. When she lifted the dome, she found a complete breakfast, hot and ready, as if it had just come from the kitchen. There was a pot of coffee wafting up a savor worthy of heaven; two perfectly poached eggs, golden-brown toast dripping with butter, fried shredded potatoes, and a slice of ham with the fat crisped and the lean moist and tender. Beside this lay another plate containing a piece of hot apple pie redolent with cinnamon and nutmeg, with a tiny pitcher of cream to pour on it. This was so unlike the pitiful bread and oatmeal of the boarding house that she could have wept. There was also a note, in an envelope identical to Jason Cameron's first missive, resting against the coffee-cup.
She opened it first, before touching the tempting breakfast, even though her stomach murmured its displeasure. The script was the same, in the same odd, sepia-toned ink. Dear Miss Hawkins, it read. Welcome. I have taken the liberty of ordering my servants to make away with your clothing so that it can be cleaned and pressed for you.
There-the very explanation she had arrived at.
I hope that you will make free of the garments that I have had ordered for you, and continue to do so if they please you.
Remembering the envy she had felt on seeing the wealth of silken night-things, comparing the gown and wrapper she now wore with her own, and imagining what must be in the wardrobes and chest, she was not inclined to miss her skirts and waists from Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Enjoy your breakfast at your leisure. I shall communicate with you when you have settled yourself for the day.
The note was signed, Jason Cameron. The signature was the same as the one she remembered.
Part of her was immediately suspicious. Part of her found this completely reasonable. Why shouldn't she be treated with respect and care? After all, she did have a set of completely unique qualifications. And Jason Cameron was obviously a man of extreme wealth, to whom all this expense on her behalf represented little more than pocket-change.
She seated herself at the table and picked up knife and fork, and found the ham was so tender she hardly needed the former. Think of that lift alone! she told her suspicious side, as she slowly savored her breakfast. Not even a great hotel could afford a lift like that one! The man owns his own private rail-spur and train, and sends it to fetch someone the way I would call a cab! He is simply being a gentleman; he knows what the journey must have been like, and he is giving me a chance to get my bearings.
As for the gowns and the accommodations-well, if she were in Jason Cameron's place, she would not want anyone in her employ to walk about looking as-as shabby as she was. You purchase paintings to suit your decor-why not clothe your employees to match? Certainly there is no uniform for a governess the way there is for a maid or some other servant. Certainly Paul du Mond had been clothed as elegantly as any gentleman of her acquaintance. Perhaps his garb was also the result of his employer's generosity.
Her suspicious side settled, though not without a grumble. She finished her breakfast, and returned to the bedroom to see what delights the wardrobes held.
She soon discovered that someone female had assuredly had a hand in the selection of what lay within the drawers of the dresser and doors of the wardrobe. There was literally nothing lacking, from the most delicate underthings to fashionable corsetry to gowns, skirts, and shirtwaists of a style and fabric that shouted "Imported! French!" Any susceptible woman would have flung her good sense temporarily to the wind at the mere sight of such treasures, and Rose was no exception.
With much difficulty, she chose a selection that included underthings trimmed with real Brussels lace, and real silk stockings. To meet her employer, she picked a skirt of the softest wool she had ever touched in her life, wool as soft and as plush as velvet, in a deep sapphire blue, and a silk waist with a flowing jabot in pale blue with more lace, dyed to match, at the collar and cuffs. There were even shoes and boots in her exact size, and she had no hesitation in carrying off a pair of kid half-boots that matched the skirt.
She bore her prizes off to the bathroom, and spent a rapturous hour "Putting herself together." When she was done, she surveyed the result in the mirror, and was more than pleased with the result.
Just as importantly, she was no longer self-conscious about meeting with her employer. Clothing was a kind of armor, really, and her armor had been patched, weak, and dangerously thin before. Beautiful clothing was, in a way, invisible-but people noticed when one was poorly or shabbily dressed, and acted accordingly. Now she could face any man or woman on the face of the globe and feel confident that she would be judged on her merit, not the state of her clothing. Her self-confidence increased with every passing second. Now she was herself, now she was Rosalind Hawkins, scholar and Doctoral candidate, and the equal of anyone in America, even Jason Cameron! After all, she had something he wanted, and that made her the seller in a seller's market.
She left the bathroom and entered the bedroom The silent, invisible servants had struck again. The bed was made, the havoc she had wrought among the clothing had been tidied away, her wrapper and nightdress whisked off to who-knew-where.
How are they doing this? she wondered, with mingled admiration and irritation. I haven't been deafened by all the noise of the locomotives, have I?
She moved on to the sitting room-and the breakfast things had vanished also. But there was a new addition; a pile of books lay on the table beside the couch, a reading-lamp had been lit, and the end of a speaking-tube was laid beside the books. On top of the books was another note.
Something about this sent a chill of apprehension running down the length of her spine, though she could not imagine why it should be so. She stepped carefully over to the table and picked up the note. Her hands shook as she opened it.
Dear Miss Hawkins, it said. Now I must make a confession to you. You have been brought here under false pretenses.
She almost dropped the note there and then, but something made her continue reading.
There are no children; I never had a wife. I do require the abilities of a remarkable scholar, the exact abilities and skills that I outlined in my missive to your mentor, Professor Cathcart. I am an invalid and an accident has left me unable to read the books that I require for my own research. In addition, I am imperfectly acquainted with medieval German and Gaelic. I desire your services, both as a reader and a translator.
She blinked at the letter, jaw dropping in a most unladylike expression of amazement. Of all of the possibilities, this was the one she would never, ever have guessed at.
The salary will remain the same; the hours will perhaps be longer, and extend deep into the night, for it is at night that I require the distractions of work to free my mind from pain. I fear that you will not be able to make as many excursions into San Francisco as you would like, but that is only because the journey is of three hours in duration, and you would probably wish to stay overnight. At the moment my need of your services does not allow for this; in a month or two, I shall take pains to arrange such an excursion. In recompense for this curtailment of your freedom, I offer my apartment in the city for the eventuality of such a trip, and the use of my box at the Opera or Tivoli Gardens, whichever shall present the choicer entertainment for that evening in your mind.
She felt breathless, and hardly knew what to think, now.
I personally pledge that you shall hear Caruso, even though my own needs must then take second place.
How had he known how much she wanted to hear Caruso sing?
You have the freedom of the house and grounds, although I am afraid that you will probably find it rather dull. I entertain no one, and my servants are as reclusive as their master. You will, however, encounter my secretary, Paul A Mond, from time to time. He will see to obtaining whatever you need, if it has not already been provided. If you are shy of communicating some personal need to a strange male, simply write it down and leave the note with your meal tray; my housekeeper will then attend to it.
She sat down on the couch, feeling suddenly dizzy If this was a form of imprisonment, then it was the oddest sort of imprisonment anyone had ever imagined. And for what purpose? That she should read books?
My accident has left me disfigured in a way that I would not inflict upon one who did not know me before. You will therefore be reading to me through the speaking-tube, and I will make my requests by the same manner.
Not even the fevered and disordered brain of a Mary Shelley could have created a plot like this one! Surely even the publishers of dime novels would balk at such an unlikely situation!
You can, of course, refuse your services, and I will have you transported to San Francisco with all your belongings immediately. It was unfair of me to bring you here under false pretenses, and I apologize most humbly-but ask yourself this: if I had communicated the truth, would you have believed it? I think not. I believe that even Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling would have blushed to pen such a wild tale.
He had a point. If she had been presented with this situation in Chicago, she and Professor Cathcart would have discarded it as the fantasies of a lunatic.
She could leave, now, this moment. He had said as much. She did not need to stay here a moment longer.
But if she chose that escape, it meant to be set down, with two dollars to her name, in a strange city. That was not the best option open to her at the moment. Here-if Jason Cameron was more lunatic than this note suggested-she was subject to the will of one man, two at the most. Thus far there was no evidence that either Cameron or his man had any interest in any part of her but her mind. There was no reason to believe that she wasn't perfectly safe here. There were bolts on the doors, she could lock herself in-and although secret passageways and hidden doors in the walls were a hallmark of dreadful cheap novels, she knew enough about architecture to be aware that it was extremely difficult to construct such things, and even more difficult to conceal them.
I will be waiting to hear your decision in person, the letter concluded. Merely say what you will into the speaking tube, and I will abide by your decision. But please take into your considerations that if you accept this employment, you will be granting a crippled and disfigured man an entry into a world of scholarship he had thought was lost to him, and a way for him to forget, for a few hours, his pain.
It was signed, simply, Jason.
Oh, that was manipulative! That last was clearly an attempt to win her sympathy; quite calculated to appeal to every noble instinct she might possess. And as such, it succeeded, even as she recognized it for what it was. She actually found herself admiring a man who had the strength and audacity to use his infirmity as a weapon. Most men would never have admitted to needing anyone or anything-Jason Cameron was clearly a craftsman who did not scruple at using whatever came to his hand, including his own weakness.
But she was also very much aware of the fact that of her two options-to go or to stay-this was by far the most attractive. There was no reason to suppose that this time, Jason Cameron was telling anything other than the truth. His tale was so fantastic that, strangely enough, it rang truer than the tale of the two precocious children.
He had treated her well up to now; why should that cease? He clearly had wealth; what would he want with her other than her services as a scholar? Money would gain the cooperative company of a professional courtesan for even the most hideous man in the world. He would not get that from her by any means other than coercion. All the arguments she had used back in Chicago to persuade herself to take this position still held true.
She put down the note; considered the room she sat in, the clothing she wore, the books on the table beside her. Her self-confidence returned, and she began to think that she might well be the equal of Jason Cameron, even in manipulation.
If this was a gilded cage, why not abide in it for a while? Where else did she have to go-and what else had she longed to do, but use her mind and her skills in pursuit of learning? He could not keep her if she was determined to leave. She was certain that she was clever enough to outwit any attempt to trap her here.
She picked up the end of the speaking-tube, coughed to clear her throat, and sent her first words into it.
A moment later, the reply; hoarse, rather deep. And to substantiate the story, it did sound like the voice of someone who had suffered an accident of some devastation. "Miss Hawkins? Have you come to a decision, then?" "I believe I have, sir." She took a deep breath, then committed herself. I have what he wants and needs, she reminded herself. This is still a seller's market. "I see no reason why I should not continue as your employee under the new requirements that you have outlined to me."
Another question occurred to her-then why insist on a woman? Why not a male? But the answer was obvious. He could not, dared not, trust a man. A male would be all too likely to take advantage of the situation, perhaps overpower the secretary and thus control Jason Cameron's life and fortune. Though Paul du Mond was not precisely robust, no woman would be able to physically overwhelm him. Thus, only a woman would be safe to trust.
Once again, then, I hold the cards.
A deep sigh, as if Jason Cameron had been holding his breath, waiting for her answer. "I should add something to this, in all honesty, Miss Hawkins. My path of research is very - outre. Very odd. You may find yourself reading books that are unpleasant to you. Perhaps even shocking."
Her self-confidence was soaring, to the point where she actually felt giddy. She surprised herself-and possibly him-by bursting into laughter. "Mister Cameron-I have read the unexpurgated Ovid, the love-poems of Sappho, the Decameron in the original, and a great many texts in Greek and Latin histories that were not thought fit for proper gentlemen to read, much less proper ladies. I know in precise detail what Caligula did to, and with, his sisters, and I can quote it to you in Latin or in my own translation if you wish. I am interested in historical truth, and truth in history is often unpleasant and distasteful to those of fine sensibility. I frankly doubt that you will produce anything to shock me."
There was silence for a moment, then a chuckle. It sounded like an appreciative chuckle. "Miss Hawkins, I am rightfully rebuked. You are a scholar, and there is nothing that shocks the mind of a scholar except censorship and falsehood. I confess that I was not aware that you were so widely read, and I commend you for your self-possession. You will find my research odd, then, but not shocking."
"Thank you," she said simply, glowing a little with pleasure at his words.
"I have, in the light of this, a new contract for you. You are evidently a lady of much stamina, and one who understands the need that drives the seeker of knowledge when the trail is hot. I had intended to ask you to read for a fixed number of hours in a day. I would like to change that-and ask you to read for as long in a day as I need you to. If you can put up with the whims of my research, and if you can bear with the fact that I shall need you for long and difficult hours, I shall see to it that you have all the resources you require to pursue your own goals of research, in addition to all else I promised you. In fact, I shall have all my recent book catalogs of rare and antique volumes sent to you for you to look through and make selections, and I shall have them purchased for you. Is that a bargain, scholar to scholar, equal to equal?"
If he had been Mephistopheles, he could not have offered her a bargain to tempt her more. If he had been able to read her mind, he would not have phrased it any differently. It was an offer she could not possibly reject. "It is a bargain, sir," she said, immediately. "And as I see you have had some books left here for me, I am prepared to begin reading immediately, to seal our agreement."
Was it her imagination, or did she sense elation on the other end of that long tube?
"Thank you," came the answer, "And-if you will forgive an impertinence, before you begin, I have a final question for you."
"You may ask," she replied, "but I will not guarantee to answer, if it is that impertinent." A bit bold, perhaps, but had he not just addressed her as equal to equal? Let him take what he had offered.
"Miss Hawkins-are you sentimentally attached to those garments you brought with you?" There was a plaintive, pained quality to his words that brought another laugh bubbling up out of her throat, which she suppressed only just in time. His poor, bruised sensibilities! It was the question of an aesthete confronted with an object of terrible banality stuck squarely in the middle of an otherwise matchless vista.
In other words-he really doesn't want to know that there is anything shabby trailing about in his beautiful home. Poor man! He's probably afraid that I'll disgrace him if anyone should see me! She giggled again. He's probably dreading the censure of that terribly superior secretary of his if he permits a dowd to stalk his exquisite halls.
"Mister Cameron, I am not," she said firmly. "Provided that I may keep these replacements that you have graciously provided for me, you may do with them what you will. Burn them, bury them, use them for cleaning rags; I will not be sorry to see them gone. They are inferior specimens of their type, have nothing of grace or charm to recommend them, and deserve an ignoble end. Frankly, I bought them because I had to, not because I wanted to. My taste, sir, is better than that."
Another sigh of relief. "Miss Cameron, once again you please and surprise me. If you would take up the first volume in the stack and begin at the place marked?"
The leather-bound book was without a title or any other identifying marks; the ribbon bookmark within fell at a new chapter. Somewhat to her surprise, it was hand-printed, in medieval French. Within a few words, she knew what it was, although such books had never been of interest to her. It was a treatise on alchemy, full of maunderings about "Red Lions" and "White Eagles," "male and female principles," and allusions to "Hermetic Mysteries." Despite obvious flaws in grammar and syntax, she read it precisely as it had been written, for these tomes were often encoded, and to correct what was there might render it indecipherable.
Alchemy! I wonder what his "researches" are? Not a search for the Philosopher's Stone, surely; any man as acquainted with science and rational thinking as a man in his position must surely know what nonsense such things are! Besides, he does not need a Philosopher's Stone to render him wealthy; he already has wealth in abundance. Then again-perhaps he was interested in the occult aspect of such things. He had suffered a terrible accident-would someone in his place not crave some supernatural remedy to his injury, since science could not supply one?
She came to the end of the section and was about to continue when Cameron spoke.
"No more," he said, sounding resigned. "I remembered that passage imperfectly; there is nothing there I can use. Pray, go on with the next volume. You will have to translate for me, if you would be so kind."
The second book confirmed her guess, as it was another treatise on an occult subject, this time printed in Gothic black-letter German, and of a more recent date. She read as she was accustomed to, given an unfamiliar text; when she encountered a phrase she did not immediately understand, she read it aloud in the original, then puzzled it through aurally. Cameron did not correct this habit; evidently he approved of it, for once or twice he suggested an alternative translation that made a great deal more sense in the context of the book-though not a great deal of sense in terms of the real world.
"The next section," she said, when she had finished the portion marked, "is entitled 'An den Seele'-if that is of any interest to you?"
She was beginning to enjoy her new duty, odd though the subject of her reading was. "Not particularly," was the response. "Pray continue with the next volume. May I say you have a particularly pleasant voice? This is proving to be as pleasurable as it is instructive."
"Thank you," she replied, surprising herself with a blush. By this time, the light outside had faded into dusk, although she had not thought it that late when she broke her fast. She must have slept far longer than she had thought. On the other hand, if these were Jason Cameron's preferred hours, she might as well get used to them now.
She was halfway through the stack of books when Cameron himself called a halt. She reckoned that she must have read at least a hundred pages in that time, perhaps more. Her throat was certainly getting dry, and she was conscious of increasing hunger.
"Your voice is a trifle hoarse; I detect that you are in need of a rest. Have you any notion what time it is?"
"Candidly, no," she admitted. "I am afraid I do not possess a watch, and there doesn't seem to be a clock in these rooms." It had not occurred to her before, but that was a rather odd omission.
But apparently it was an accidental one, for he made a sound of chagrin. "I do apologize; I shall remedy both conditions immediately." There was a sound of scraping, as if something heavy had been dragged across the floor. It did not come from overhead, but rather through the speaking-tube only, which told her that wherever Cameron's rooms were, they were not above her own. "It appears to be approximately nine o'clock," he said after a lengthy pause. "Would you prefer to dine in your rooms or in the dining room? There are no other guests, nor, since my accident, are there likely to be, but you may care for a change of scene."
The thought of sitting at a long, empty table was a bit daunting. She shivered just a little; she would feel precisely like a heroine in a haunted romance. "in my rooms, if you please," she told him. "In fact, if it is convenient, I should like to take all my meals here, except for the odd alfresco picnic lunch if the weather is fine. I am in the habit of taking long walks," she added, warningly. "Exercise is valuable for sharpening the mind."
If he was going to try to keep her penned up in here, he would surely object at this point. But he didn't. "Healthy mind, healthy body, hmm?" he said with amusement. "The Greeks would approve, and so do I. It is quite convenient, actually, and I am sure my servants would prefer the arrangement. Simply let my housekeeper know with a note if you intend such excursions, and there will be a luncheon made up and waiting at the front door. I shall also see that you have a rough map of the area. You don't by any chance ride, do you?"
"Actually, no," she admitted. "I was raised in Chicago and never had occasion to learn."
"What, so you are not perfect, after all?" he replied with a hint of mockery. "A pity; my horse could use another to exercise him besides Paul and the stableman. Well, you shall have to content yourself with enjoying my little wilderness afoot. I am afraid I cannot recommend my steed for the inexperienced; he requires a rider who knows what she is about. And for now-I suggest that you might stretch your limbs in exploring the house a bit while I have Paul organize a dinner for both of us, and remedy the shocking lack of timepieces in your rooms."
"Thank you, sir," she replied, getting to her feet a bit stiffly. "I believe I shall do precisely that."
Just at the moment she felt a decided aversion to encountering the so-superior secretary; on the whole, if she met him, she would rather it was on neutral ground rather than in her own rooms. Besides, this was an open invitation to be as inquisitive as she cared to, and devil if she wasn't going to take advantage of it!
For one thing, she rather thought she would like to try and puzzle out just where her employer was speaking from. It wasn't from overhead, and yet the voice coming from the speaking tube was strong and clear, so his own rooms could not be located too far away.
Directly beneath her, perhaps? That would be logical. It would also be reassuring. She really would rather that he were not above or to either side. Secret passages were one thing; peepholes, however, were ridiculously easy to contrive. He might be able to spy on her from any direction but below; even an occultist would have difficulty seeing through a thick Oriental rug laid down over carpet as the ones in her rooms were.
She left her door standing open, so that Paul du Mond would know that she was not in her rooms, and considered her direction.
Down the hall, I suppose. I might as well discover what is on this floor before I go on.
The hallway proved to be singularly devoid of entertainment. The doors leading from it all opened on suites as lushly appointed as her own, and all were unlocked. Each had a unique flavor or color-scheme; one was Chinese and a pale celadon in color, one East Indian and done up in gold and brown, one appeared to have a Russian theme, complete with icons and massive samovar and the scheme there was red and black. The remaining two suites were very nearly the twins to her own, save that one was decorated in stark green and silver, which she found rather cold and repellent, and one was decorated in Cameron's trademark red and gold, which she found uncomfortably lush. Living in the former would have felt like living underwater, living in the latter like living in a jewel-box. On the whole she was quite happy with the choice that had been made for her.
That disposed of this floor. Where Paul du Mond resided, she did not yet know, but at least there was no possibility of peepholes from either side.
Nor, it seemed, from above; the stairs upward terminated in a series of dark attics which she did not care to penetrate. So, that left below-and there were two floors to explore yet that she knew of.
The second floor was something of a disappointment, and yet it did tell her that this was, indeed, where Jason Cameron laired. Beyond the door on the landing was a kind of anteroom, decorated with black marble statuary in niches. Again the color scheme was red and gold, with three doors leading from it, one in each wall; all three were locked.
At least now I know where you are, Jason Cameron, she thought with satisfaction as she turned and descended the stairs to the first floor.
By the time she finished exploring that floor, she had the feeling she ought to be returning to her post, or she was likely to find a cold collation instead of a warm dinner. She was more than impressed by what she found on the first floor, which was much more extensive than the third floor would have indicated, as there were three single-storied wings off the main building. She guessed that there might be as much as twelve thousand square feet of floorspace here; she had been in museums that were smaller. Anything that a man of wealth and leisure could possibly have wished was in this house-from a grand ballroom and music room to a smoking room and billiard parlor. The library was enough to make her gasp and grow faint with envy and anticipation. She was doubly glad now that she had indicated a preference for taking her meals in her room; the dining room was echoingly huge, and decorated with the heads of trophy game animals. She was quite sure that she would have quickly developed indigestion with all those glassy eyes staring down at her while she ate.
There was also a conservatory and greenhouse, full of strange plants. That would be a pleasant place to sit or walk when the weather was uncooperative.
There was at least one lamp lit in every room except the ballroom and greenhouse; it must be the whole duty of one servant to see to them. It was a pity that this place was too far from the city to receive either gas or the electric main; she pitied the poor soul who went about cleaning, filling, lighting and extinguishing all those lamps.
On the whole, living here would be rather like living in a palace. She had heard that these western rail-barons had built themselves manors to rival the Medicis, and now she was certain this was nothing less than the truth. Why, the expense in lamp-oil alone must rival the total of all of the household bills of any normal household put together!
She hurried her steps as she turned back towards her own suite; the place was so empty it seemed haunted, and just at the moment she wanted the cozy walls of her own domain around her. Obviously Cameron did not ask the servants to keep his hours; they must all have retired for the night. Perhaps there was a separate building as servants' quarters. That might be where Paul du Mond resided.
When she entered her own rooms again, she heaved a sigh of relief, both because she had not encountered du Mond on the way, and because after the huge and lifeless rooms below, this suite seemed a very haven of warmth and welcome.
There were two additions immediately visible; a striking clock on the mantlepiece, between two silver candlesticks, and one of the domed serving-trays. She seated herself at her little table with alacrity as her stomach had the bad manners to growl, hoping that she had not tarried too long.
Either she had somehow missed du Mond and the servants by mere minutes, or Cameron's delving into alchemical processes had uncovered some arcane way of keeping food perfect and piping hot for hours. And perhaps he had divined that with a "masculine" mind her culinary preferences were "masculine" as well. This was no dainty lady's dinner of toast and lobster-salad; a savory and hearty platter of rare roast beef, new potatoes, and mixed grilled vegetables awaited her appetite, with caramel flan and a good red wine as accompaniments. There were also a pot of tea, sugar-bowl and a cream-pitcher waiting at the fire, presumably for the ease of her throat, later.
It occurred to her, as she finished her meal, that it was just as well that she was in the habit of taking hearty exercise. If she continued to eat like this without those long walks, she would soon resemble the plumply upholstered sofa!
Now would have been a pleasant time to settle in with a good history and read for leisure-but her duty called, and she would be reading in any case, though it was not what she would have chosen. She covered the remains of the meal with the domed lid and returned to her station.
But with the books, she found another new addition, so small she had initially overlooked it. There was a red Morocco leather box on the table, and when she opened it, she found a lady's chatelaine watch within, complete with neckchain. Both were unique, and clearly from a fine jeweler's stock; the yellow-gold case of the watch was inlaid in white- and rose-gold, in a lovely pattern of climbing roses; the chain was a triple-strand of braided rose-gold, yellow-gold, and white-gold. This was no "gold-filled bargain" from Sears, Roebuck; it was an expensive piece of fine jewelry.
For a moment, she was inclined to tell Cameron that she could not accept the gift-oh, why not? It wasn't inscribed with a sentiment; there was no note with it. For all I know, this is the kind of thing he gives his housekeeper for her birthday. Why balk at a trifle like a watch, when he had already given her an entire new wardrobe?
She picked up the next book in the pile-the ones she had already read were gone-and spoke into the silence. "Mr. Cameron?"
"Miss Hawkins?" the answer came, promptly. "I trust you enjoyed your explorations."
"Very much so. Your home is-is stunning beyond words," she replied honestly. "I cannot imagine that anyone in this area has anything to rival it."
A chuckle. "Oh, there are other homes in San Francisco that are larger-but I flatter myself to think that mine is in better taste. You would not believe the incredible pile my partner Crocker has constructed. I hope you will forgive the watch-I know it is a bit ostentatious, but I happened to have it on hand and could not resist the play on your Christian name. If you would rather have something plainer I shall have to have Paul look further in the safe-but this does suit your new wardrobe, you will have to admit."
"You have me at a disadvantage, for I must agree with you." Oh, she was enjoying fencing with words with this man! He was probably unprincipled in many ways, possibly without morals to speak of, but he was witty and intelligent, and he gave her the accolade of treating her as equal in intelligence. "There; now you know another weakness of mine, I am vain, and I fear, greedy as a child for pretty things. Greedy enough to accept your ostentatious gift. Thank you." There. I have said it, so you cannot assume superiority.
"You are welcome." Another chuckle. "It is very refreshing to find someone who knows when blunt and plain speaking can be as clever a weapon as dissimulation. Touche. Now, if you are ready to begin?"
"I am," she said, with a chuckle of her own, and resumed her task, pouring herself a cup of tea and adding cream and sugar in the English style, to ease her voice.
It was past one by both the watch and the clock when she finished, and she was suppressing yawns as she closed the last book. "Miss Hawkins, you give me cause to rejoice that you accepted my offer," came the harsh voice from the speaking-tube. "And now, I shall leave you to your virtuous rest. Good night."
"Good night, Mr. Cameron," she replied, as she drank the last of her tea. "I am looking forward with curiosity to see what you shall have unearthed for me to read to you tomorrow."
If he chuckled at that sally, she did not hear it; she had already moved to blow out the lamps and leave the fire to burn itself out.
Once again, a silk nightdress had been laid out for her on the invitingly-turned-down bed. She wavered between bed and bath, and finally her yawns overcame her. I can bathe in the morning, she told herself, as she stepped out of her clothing and left it lying, neatly folded, on the chair beside her bed. The cool silk of the nightdress against her skin only confirmed the rightness of her decision in her own mind.
This might have been a mistake-but she didn't think so. If Jason Cameron happened to be slightly crazed, well, then so were thousands of others, who went to Spiritualist meetings and flocked to hear Madame Blavatsky. What harm was there in his seeking some redress for an intolerable situation? And what harm was there in her aiding and abetting that search? Clearly, she amused him, and that in and of itself was healthy for him. Better that he should take amusement in her audacity than that he should sink into apathy and despair.
With that comforting thought, she fell asleep, with the bed curtains drawn securely about her and the watch ticking quietly away beside her glasses on the nightstand.
Cameron the Firemaster watched his newest acquisition in his mirror as she read to him, unaware she was being observed. Here in his own domain he had no need of the Salamander's aid to watch whomever he chose; the mirrors were his eyes, mirrors formed in the white-heat of his furnaces and enchanted before they cooled. Needless to say, he had mirrors everywhere, though he chose not to activate the ones in her bathroom. He was no voyeur, at least not of innocents.
And she was innocent, despite her intellect and all her reading. He found that both charming and touching. How like the Tarot card she was, of the Wise Fool, full of knowledge and utterly unworldly! How easily she could be led to a fall, unaware and unwary of the precipice, of the void gaping beneath her feet!
The Salamander watched her too, dancing above its volcanic mirror as he watched her in the mirror of man-made glass. "She is more attractive, properly dressed," it said, sounding surprised. "Even with the glasses."
"There is nothing unattractive about a woman with glasses," he snapped sharply. "A woman who is neither self-conscious about them, nor a prim and prudish old maid, wears such objects as any other accessory, and they become a statement of strength and character."
Now why had he leapt to her defense like that?
Perhaps because she impresses me. I had expected a mouse; I have been given a lioness. I prefer the lioness; it will be a challenge to keep her tame and choosing to come to my hand.
She had certainly stood up to him with spirit and wit. "I know in precise detail what Caligula did to, and with, his sisters, and I can quote it to you in Latin or my own translation if you wish. " How many other women would have dared to make a statement like that? How many could have done so without stammers or blushes? How many would have accepted his gift and laughingly told him they were greedy for pretty things, daring him to think of her as an opportunist? Oh, it was a valuable gift, but less valuable than the furs and jewels he had flung at his light ladies. Yet he could not have given her less, and what other women would have faced him the way she had?
None, in his acquaintance. Rosalind Hawkins was unique. And even when the passages she read held nothing of value for him, he preferred to let her read on to the end, enjoying the sound of her voice, the cadence of her words.
Unfortunately, his memory had proved to be faulty in regards to the books he had chosen for her to read today. There were only one or two passages burned into the oversized pages of the special book he'd had constructed, a book with tabs at each page so that this misshapen paws could turn them. He would do better tomorrow.
On the other hand, his choice of books was not entirely due to his own needs. He would be educating her in the ways of Magick as she read, tutoring her with his selections. By the time she was ready for the books he truly needed to have her read aloud, she would no longer be surprised by anything she read to him. She might well be repulsed, but she would not be surprised, and she had already proved to him that she could face what repulsed her without flinching.
"We like her," the Salamander said, unexpectedly. "There is Fire in her, though she is mostly Air. Fire and Air dancing together; it is a goodly dance."
Oh? It wasn't often that the Salamander volunteered anything. It wasn't in its nature to volunteer information, or even an opinion.
Now Cameron knew something he hadn't known before; Rosalind's Magickal Nature. That was useful; knowing her Nature would make it easier to predict what she would do, how she would react, what things would move her.
That also explained why she settled in so quickly, why she reacted so positively to the house. It also explained why she seemed to prefer the colors in the suite he had given over to her to the colors of the others. If she had been primarily a Water woman, she would have favored either the Chinese suite or the Emerald suite; if Earth, the Indian. A true Fire woman would have instantly sought the Russian or the Ruby suite, and asked for her rooms to be changed.
Interesting. Very interesting. What a pity he had not encountered her before!
Perhaps it was just as well. He could be amused and entertained by her without worrying about anything else. Attractions of the flesh had their place, but not when mixed with the Great Work.
"Paul doesn't like her," the Salamander volunteered again, surprising Cameron all over again.
"Paul's opinion was not asked for," the Firemaster said, coldly. "It is of no value. Paul believes that he will become a Master because he deserves to be one, not because be is willing to study, work, and sacrifice. Paul is a fool."
"Paul is dangerous," the Salamander warned, spinning a little before subsiding again.
"I know. A dangerous fool and therefore not to be trusted, and I do not trust him with anything of importance." Cameron had once had hopes for Paul du Mond, but the man was lazy, and so had been given everything material he wanted, but no more power than any other menial. "Is he a danger to Rosalind?"
The Salamander laughed unexpectedly, a sound of tiny silver bells chiming. "She is too clever for him, and she does not like him. He can neither deceive her nor seduce her. He reminds her of someone unpleasant, but she does not yet remember who, so she does not know why she dislikes him."
"Good." He was relieved, and told himself that it was because this woman was too valuable to lose just at the moment.
"Why did you give her the watch?" it asked, with childlike curiosity and childlike candor. "It is very costly by the standards she is accustomed to."
He laughed at its boldness. "It is my collar of ownership," he told his creature. "Through it, I can follow her, no matter where she goes; I can hear what she hears and see what she sees. When she enters the city, if any of my rivals or fellows see her, they will know she is mine and not meddle with her."
"Even Simon?" the Salamander asked.
"Especially Simon," he replied, his voice turning as hard as tempered steel. Simon Beltaire was the only other Firemaster on this coast, and there was no love lost between the two of them. Fortunately, the accident notwithstanding, he had not lost any of his powers, or Simon Beltaire would not have hesitated to challenge him.
Just as, were their positions reversed, he would not have hesitated in challenging Simon. There could not be two Firemasters in the same city. He would rather there were not two in the same state. Eventually, one of them would go-living or dead, one would go.
Rosalind was nearing the end of the last passage in the last book; soon it would be time to send her off to bed. He had enjoyed watching her as she read; she made a very pretty picture in the lamplight. How pleasant that she had turned out to be ornamental as well as useful! And possessed of good taste, fully the match of his own, he suspected. He had feared he would be forced to manipulate her choices of gowns; instead, she had made a choice that was as tasteful as anything he would have chosen, and yet was not what he would have chosen for her.
Should he order a Worth gown for her? He had never met a woman in San Francisco worthy of a gown from the house of Worth. Perhaps, when I have been restored ... when I am prepared to show myself to the city again, to take my box at the Opera. I wonder what sort of a companion would she make?
Then he chided himself for even thinking the idle thought. This woman was no potential companion. She was no demimonde, not to be used only for pleasure.
And before I ended my Apprenticeship I gave up the romantic nonsense of finding a female to share the Work with me as well as my life. There is no such creature, and never can be. Rosalind Hawkins was a worthy tool, and as such, she must be cherished, honed, cared for, and put away when the task for which she had been brought was at an end. She must be sent somewhere as far away as possible. She herself might not know what she had done for him, but anyone who knew him would be able to deduce it with careful questioning.
She will have a sizable bank account, a fine wardrobe, possibly a generous bonus, and an excellent letter of recommendation. She will have the wherewithal to do whatever she pleases. Perhaps it would even be wise to send her on a trip to Europe out of "gratitude." That would remove her-and her curiosity-from his life quite painlessly. He could arrange for the trip to return her to Chicago, where she could resume her studies. Or better yet, he could arrange for her to be admitted to one of the great universities of England or Europe. France, perhaps; with the example of Madame Curie before them, the French knew how to treat a woman scholar. Or Oxford; women were making great progress there.
That would be best. The one thing he dared not do would be to leave her where Simon might be able to find her and learn what she had been doing for him. It would tell him altogether too much about what had been going on in this house.
Definitely a trip to Europe. Perhaps I should arrange a romance?
He could do it; once he was back to his old self, his powers would reach that far-and the Firemaster held mastery over the hot passions.
No. No, she would be too wise to be carried away by an impulse, however romantic.
She finished the book and put it carefully down, taking care not to mar it. Interesting that he had seen her mostly in profile this evening. Most women turned towards mirrors as towards the light; she seldom glanced at the mirror in her parlor and then only by accident.
He bade her good night, then silently ordered the vision in the obsidian to fade.
On the whole, he was far happier with the results of this venture than he had any right to anticipate. Rosalind Hawkins was are doubtable woman, pleasant to look upon, and quite self-possessed, although she had no idea of her real ability or her potential. He would not have to worry about keeping an eye on her every waking moment-not only because it was clear that she could amuse and defend herself, but because it was also clear that she was not the kind to be ruled by the busybody curiosity that was the ruin of so many of her sex. He had watched her in his mirrors as she explored his house; when a door was locked, she left it alone. She did not try to force the lock, she did not stoop to peer through the keyhole, she did not listen at the crack. She assumed it was locked for a reason, assumed that the reason was no business of hers, and went on her way. Too many women made it their obsession to find out the heart of every secret. She was content to let secrets remain secrets.
It was a pity that she did not ride, though. He would have been happy to see her take Sunset out; Paul could not ride the stallion without a curb bit and he would not permit any such device of torture to go in Sunset's tender mouth. If a man could not guide a horse by neck and knee, he did not deserve to ride anything more than a mule.
Sunset can wait until I am myself again. He gets enough exercise in the field. He will not suffer for not being ridden.
"Well," the Salamander said, interrupting his thoughts. "Now what have you in mind?"
"See to it that those book catalogs I mentioned are on her desk in the morning," he replied. "Clean up the rooms as soon as she is asleep. I suspect she is going to want to look at the grounds tomorrow, so have a map waiting for her with the catalogs, and see that a luncheon is prepared for her if she decides to walk out. You know the rest."
"Have breakfast waiting when she wakes; tidy the rooms when she is gone." The Salamander spun lazily. "What books do we leave her?"
"I will choose them tonight, before I retire." That would be best. "I will tell you what chapters to mark."
It was a shame that the Salamander could not read; if it could, all of this nonsense could have been done away with.
Then again, he would not have had Rosalind here. The Salamander was occasionally amusing, occasionally surprising, but it took another living human to be a consistent challenge.
Rosalind Hawkins was a challenge; it would be a challenge to educate her, a challenge to keep her unaware of what she was capable of while nurturing that capability. It would be a real challenge to mold her while keeping her ignorant of the fact. It occurred to him that he had been in danger of losing himself to despair and ennui before her arrival. He was certainly in no such danger now.
He raised a glass in his clumsy paw to the obsidian that had so lately held her image. "Welcome, Rosalind Hawkins," he murmured. "May you never fail to surprise me."
When she woke, it was with a feeling of delight, of giddiness. She had thrown all caution to the wind; she had taken a position no prudent woman would have accepted. She might be mad-but she felt truly alive for the first time since she was accepted into graduate studies.
She reached automatically for her glasses and they danced just out of reach as the bed and nightstand shook.
She grabbed for them and caught them somehow before they hit the floor. Just as her hand touched them, the shaking stopped.
It took her a moment to realize that she had just been through an earthquake, and it was not her knowledge of the present that allowed her to identify what it was, but her knowledge of the past. Vesuvius. Pompeii. There had been Roman accounts of Pompeii, Herculaneum-
For a moment, her imagination took over. At least, she thought it was her imagination. The blue blur of the room vanished; she saw fires, people fleeing, screaming, and fire everywhere; for that moment, she even felt the flames hot on her own skin.
She saw herself on her knees beside victim after helpless victim, some crushed, some burned beyond recognition; saw herself trying desperately to help those who were beyond aid, or who perished beneath her hands. She felt the terrible despair of one who knows what she does is futile, and yet cannot, in the face of such pathos and need, stay her attempts to do something.
But no matter what she did, her actions were as chaff in the whirlwind. The destruction about her was too great, and her two hands too few. Still, defiant in the cause of life, she continued to try as the flames bore down upon her and those still trapped, screaming, in the ruins.
There are no volcanoes here, she chided herself. I am not about to find myself in a hail of cinders! It was only an earthquake, and there are earthquakes here all the time. This is not ancient Rome! In this modern age, our buildings are proof against the worst that Nature can send.
But there was a hollow place where her stomach should have been, and for long moments more, as she seized her glasses and settled them carefully on her face, her hands trembled.
But when she entered her sitting room to find breakfast waiting for her, she had regained her composure, and her knees no longer felt like water. She was looking forward to exploring the house and grounds further, especially the grounds, and to that end had donned a smart walking suit of sapphire-blue silk-broadcloth, a pale blue silk waist with a hunting-stock tied about the neck, and low-heeled walking shoes. Beside the tray holding her meal were the pile of book-catalogs that Cameron had promised her, and a map showing the grounds. Beside the table was a basket just large enough to hold a picnic luncheon for one.
Just as he had promised.
A quick glance at her new watch told her that there would be plenty of time to explore before Cameron needed her services. The only question was-inside, or out? There was a great deal about the house she had only glimpsed last night; she would like to see it all in daylight. But the sun shining warmly outside her window made up her mind immediately. If all she had heard was true, bright, sunny days were not all that frequent in this season. She should take advantage of this one. Tomorrow it might ram; she could explore the mansion then.
She hurried through her breakfast and took up the basket. The map showed her a side entrance not far from the staircase on the first floor, letting out near the stables for the benefit of those who wanted to take an early-morning ride; she would take that. She felt shy about confronting any more of Cameron's strange servants-people who could slip in and out of a room without her even hearing a footfall or people like Paul du Mond.
Especially people like Paul du Mond.
A breeze of no particular direction swirled around her as she stepped out into the sunshine, tugging her skirt around her ankles. She smiled and kicked free, turning at the same time to her right as movement attracted her attention.
The stable lay to her left, a building that could well have been mistaken for a fine home, painted in the traditional red with white trim and surrounded by white-painted fences. Behind it lay a forest of dark green trees, through which wind played, bringing her the scent of the woodland. In the middle of a lushly green field attached to the stable, surrounded by a wooden fence painted so pure a white that it hurt the eyes, a horse reared and danced with the breeze. Rose was not familiar enough with horses to know what kind he was, but it was clear to even the amateur eye that this was a stallion, and an extremely expensive one. His coat gleamed a pure copper, his mane and tail a fiery bronze; his muscles rippled beneath the shining coat with every move he made, and he was more alive than any other horse she had ever seen. He reared again, pawing playfully at the breeze, then glanced at her as she drew nearer the fence, attracted by his vibrant vitality. His dark eyes flashed, and she could have sworn he was laughing as he settled again on four hooves and whirled, neck curved in a perfect arch and tail flagged, turning towards her.
Fascinated and entranced by the beautiful stallion, she did not realize that she was walking towards the fence until she actually ran into it. The horse danced sideways towards her, as daintily as any ballet dancer, stopping just out of reach, where he posed as if perfectly well aware how lovely he was, and intending to show off for his appreciative audience.
"That's Sunset," said a dry tenor behind her. "Or, strictly speaking, 'Cameron's Fiery Sunset,' a pure Arab from a line that reaches back farther than your lineage and mine put together, imported at immense expense from somewhere near Mecca. Pampered beyond belief. Only Jason can ride him, of course."
She did not have to turn to know that Paul du Mond had once again approached her without her realizing it. Her shoulders tensed, and her hands clenched on the wicker handle of the basket. She did not know why she was developing such an aversion to the man, but every time she encountered him, that distaste grew more pronounced. "Oh?" she replied, without turning. "I wouldn't know an Arab stallion from a plowhorse, but even I can tell he's beautiful."
The horse stared at a point behind her, and gave a snort that sounded disgusted, although she would not ordinarily have attributed an emotion to an animal. He kicked up his heels and pranced away to the far side of the enclosure, where he resumed his dance with the breeze, glancing from time to time at her and ignoring Paul du Mond disdainfully.
Du Mond laughed, a sound with no humor in it. "He doesn't like me, and I'm afraid it's mutual. He was a gift from some Arabian chieftain, or whatever they call themselves. He was escorted here by a half a dozen of the nastiest-looking barbarians you ever could imagine, bedecked with flowing robes and great, curved swords, and evil expressions. While they were here, they lived in a tent on the lawn and took time out for praying to Mecca ten times a day. I'm told the horse had his own cabin on the boat that brought him to New York; he certainly had his own special car on the train that took him from there to here. Walnut and redwood interior, special spring-water to drink, and every strand of hay and oat he was fed examined by his entourage before he was given it."
"Really." If Cameron went to all that trouble for a mere horse-well, now she had some notion of her position in the scheme of things. Oddly enough, that was comforting. The less extraordinary Cameron's attentions, the better she liked the situation.
I am a pair of eyes and a voice, and that is all he needs of me. Good. She had rather be an object of utility than of interest. The one thing she did not want was for Cameron to take her for anything other than-say-a colleague.
Du Mond finally came up beside her and leaned on the fence, ostensibly watching the horse. "There are hundreds of children in the city that have less spent on their welfare than Sunset-and all for a horse that no one can ride since Jason's ... accident." He cast a sardonic glance at Rose. "Jason is like that; if something benefits him personally, then he spares no expense on it, but if it's for anyone else's well-being, unless their welfare helps him in some way-well, that's just too bad." The man shrugged. "He's peculiar in other ways, too; he has odd interests and odder habits. He's got some notions many people would find unsettling. And some would say that he is dangerous."
"Oh?" She kept her attention on the horse. While she did not know a great deal about animals, she had noticed that they tended to reflect the way they were treated in the way they behaved. This was an animal that had never known a harsh word or a blow when young, and even now feared no one and nothing. He had never been mistreated, only controlled, which was interesting in itself. She knew many, many men who, to prove that they could, would have "broken" a horse like this one. She guessed that Paul du Mond was one of them.
Another of those oblique glances came her way. "He likes to own people as well as things; he likes to control them. When he can't, he prefers to make certain no one else ever can or will."
She echoed his earlier shrug, and said nothing. Du Mond waited for her to say something, then suddenly conjured up a charming manner and ingratiating smile.
"I'm sure you've met men like him before, so that hardly surprises you," he said, as he edged a little closer to her. She pretended to adjust her skirt to give herself the excuse to step away, keeping him at the same distance as before. "Powerful men tend to use their power without thinking it might crush those beneath them. We underlings have to remember our place, but it always helps to have someone about who knows how to handle an employer, don't you think? Jason has some strange talents, and stranger friends than that Arab to help him enforce his will; it's best to be warned in advance, it seems to me."
"I suppose so; I've never been an employee before," she replied without committing herself. If I was as foolish as he seems to think I am, to be won over by a charming smile and a comradely manner, I might even believe what he's saying. Now, finally, she realized who he reminded her of-a particularly facile graduate student who had been everyone's friend-and who had used his ability to ingratiate himself with people to crib shamelessly from their research.
She had heard things like this, before. Like Paul du Mond, Steven Smythe-David had also hinted darkly of conspiracies among the other students and even the professors, conspiracies aimed at "eliminating the competition."
She had been one of the first to be taken in, but fortunately she was quick to recognize her own researches when she saw them in someone else's presentation; particularly when she knew that he had never read a single one of the medieval letters he had quoted. All of her weeks of research had been for nothing, since he was as quick to write a paper as he was to steal the work, and beat her by a good week.
She might have allowed the friendship to persist anyway because he had also pretended to the beginnings of a romantic interest. She even started to convince herself that if his interest went far enough, marriage was an option. She toyed with the notion of making a husband and wife partnership with him. She would conduct the research, and he would write the papers. Of course, she would get no credit, but that was no new thing; many men of science and letters had similar arrangements with their wives, if the wife had a scholarly bent ... and certainly, this was often the only way that a woman's research would ever be given credence.
Then she realized that such an arrangement would be nothing less than absolute falsehood. Her realization coincided with the point when her father's fortunes went into decline, and there were no more gowns, parties, or opera excursions, only economy after economy. When her money evaporated, so did Steven's interest in her. When he ceased to call, she was hurt for a while, but not deeply, and she soon got over it when she saw what a shallow creature he was.
She had thought about warning some of the other students when he began approaching them, but they had treated her so shabbily that she decided to have a subtle sort of revenge by letting them find out for themselves why this charming fellow had decided to cultivate a friendship.
And they did, as Steven presented paper after purloined paper, the spread of his subjects seemingly demonstrating a great breadth of expertise and interest. One of the professors even remarked in ignorance that Steven showed enough knowledge for ten people.
Of course he did, since he was cribbing from ten people. Once Steven had presented his paper, of course, none of those he had defrauded could present their own without it looking as if they had cribbed from him instead of the other way around. Eventually he was caught and expelled, but she guessed that he had probably gone on to another university to begin the same game all over again-and eventually, he would get his degree out of his machinations. And then-probably a professorship, where he would bungle his way through teaching unsuspecting undergraduates the rudiments of classical literature. Half of what he taught would be wrong, but they would never know that, having no interest in the subject beyond passing the course. He would probably woo and wed the daughter of a wealthy man or of the president of the college, and so settle himself comfortably for life. He would exert himself only enough to see that his life was comfortable with a minimum of effort required to keep it that way.
Physically, Paul du Mond looked nothing like Steven, who had been the tall, athletic, hearty and flaxen-haired collegiate to the core. That was what had kept her from recognizing the similarity at first. Perhaps it was his tone, perhaps something in the way he gestured; perhaps it was something else entirely but now that she had the reference, her instinctive urge not to trust him had something she could base it on, and she was not about to let him charm her.
Much less seduce me, she thought grimly. But she allowed none of this to show, as she eased herself a little further away from him. "Well, although my duties will not commence until after dinner, I am sure I am keeping you from very important work, Mr. du Mond," she said lightly, swinging her basket in the hand nearest him to keep him from making the excuse to pick it up and carry it for her, and to force him to keep his distance. After all his hints about how important he was to Jason Cameron, he could hardly reverse himself and claim he had plenty of time to waste now! "I have a great desire to view the ocean, since I have never seen it this closely before. I'll be getting along now, so that I can be back before sunset. Good afternoon!"
And with that, she struck off down the path that the map said eventually led to the sea, leaving du Mond staring after her. Evidently he had never been cut dead quite so cleverly before; she'd left him speechless.
Perhaps now he thinks that I am even more foolish than I seem! She had no objection to that-provided he did not think that would make her easier to seduce.
Not that I have any illusions about my beauty-or rather, lack of it. But so far she had seen no other females about, and had certain knowledge only of the housekeeper, who was presumably of middle age or older. Hardly competition-Assuming I was competing. She was not that desperate to change her single status.
Her path led beside the fence for a goodly way, and the horse left off his wind-dancing to trot along beside her, giving every evidence of enjoying her company. She had no objection, particularly if Sunset's presence would ensure du Mond's absence.
"I wish I knew how to ride," she said aloud to the frisking stallion. I think you might let me on your back."
The horse bobbed his head wildly, for all the world as if he was answering her in the affirmative, and she had to laugh aloud. "Perhaps Mr. Cameron will get you a nice little mare to keep you company, and you can settle down together," she said lightly. "Be good, Sunset. I will try to remember to bring you an apple next time."
Her path left the fenced-in field and plunged into a stand of lush trees at that point, and she left the horse standing at the fence, watching wistfully after her. Doubtless, he was longing for a good gallop outside of the fences. She felt cooler air close around her as she entered the shadows of the forest, and was glad she had worn clothing appropriate to the chill.
The path was well-groomed and she had no fear of losing her way, although it turned and twisted so many times she quite lost track of where on it she was supposed to be. The noise of the sea grew louder, so she knew she had to be going in the right direction, but she did not know if she would come upon the shore in another few feet or another half mile.
But there was another surprise waiting for her, as she broke at last into the open. A stretch of perhaps twenty yards of closely cropped turf lay between her and nothingness. Although the path did, indeed, lead to the sea, it gave out on a cliff overlooking waves pounding the shore far beneath her.
Seagulls hung in the air at the level of her eyes, hardly bothering to move more than a wingtip to keep themselves aloft, as a strong wind along the cliff-face did all of the work of flying for them. Below her, at the foot of a rocky escarpment, waves crashed against tumbled rock and sent spray halfway up the face of the cliff. There was a scrap of a beach down there as well, and what appeared to be a path leading up. She was not adventurous enough to care to trust it.
She walked cautiously to the very edge and looked down. It was several stories'-worth, at least, in height. It felt for a moment as if she were swaying, and she backed hastily away.
"Well," she said aloud, "if there were ever a place for a picnic more picturesque than this, I have never seen it. What's more, I'm hungry."
She checked the map again to make sure that she wasn't inadvertently trespassing, before settling in. A group of rocks made a convenient shelter from the wind, and in their lee side, the sun had soaked into them until they were quite comfortably warm. She spread out her napkin and the contents of the basket, and proceeded to enjoy herself. Once again, someone had anticipated her taste. There were no ladylike cress and cucumber dainties in this luncheon, but a thick slice of honey-cured ham on more of that tangy bread, garnished with lettuce and a hearty mustard, and accompanied by good sharp cheese and soft rolls. A bottle of lemonade was more welcome than wine would have been with a long walk in front of her. The only concession to femininity was a delicate jam tart.
When she had finished, she amused herself by flinging the remains of the rolls to the gulls. Although they were probably unused to being fed by humans, it did not take long for such supreme scavengers to grasp the fact that she was throwing edibles over the side of the cliff. Before long, they were swooping in and catching what she tossed long before it reached the foaming sea below.
The edge of the cliff seemed quite open in either direction, although the coastline made such twists and turns that it was not possible to see anything past the nearest promonotories. But if she followed the coastline north, she would, eventually, come to San Francisco. It would take a long time to walk there, particularly if she was burdened with a valise, but Jason Cameron did not have her trapped while she had two feet and shoe leather to cover them.
She did not need to consult the map again; there were no paths leading here other than the one she had taken. She lingered a while longer to give Paul du Mond ample opportunity to take himself about his business, then returned along the way she had come. There had been an apple among the luncheon things; remembering her promise to Sunset, she had not eaten it, but had tucked it back into the basket. She was irrationally pleased when Sunset greeted her with a friendly whicker and trotted up to her before she presented him with the apple. Of course, he could have scented it-
Nevertheless, the feeling of his soft, warm lips on her palm as he gently took pieces from her made her smile, and when he followed along beside her like a puppy as she headed back towards the house, she smiled even more. If only she knew how to ride! But she was not foolish enough to dare putting a saddle on a stallion that no one but Cameron could ride, no matter how gentle and friendly the horse seemed!
It was just about sunset when she reached her room, leaving the basket just outside her door for one of the invisible servants to take away. There was a hot dinner waiting for her-one of the servants must have seen her feeding Sunset-and she found that she was starving although it seemed as if she had just eaten lunch. According to her watch, it had taken two hours to stroll down to the sea, but three to return, and the return trip had been all uphill.
It's just a good thing that I'm used to walking and I am still going to feel the results of my bravado in the morning, she thought as she attacked her meal with zest. Chicago is not known for its hills, after all!
She had just enough time by her watch to tidy up before her evening session of reading. She found, once she had done so, that she was a hundred times more relaxed than she ever recalled being for the past three years and more.
Well, she thought, as she lit the reading-lamp and waited for the voice of her employer to request the first book of the night, Perhaps there is something to be said for jumping off into the unknown, after all. What you cannot anticipate, you cannot dread.
As always, the study was in darkness except for a lamp, glowing under its heavy red-velvet shade. Jason Cameron folded his misshapen paws together beneath the shelter of his desk and regarded his employee and putative Apprentice with what he hoped was an icy calm. Of course, the lupine mask that was now his face was not well suited to expressing subtleties; if he was not in a deep and fiery rage, he tended to look calm and unruffled. But although Paul du Mond was a lazy fool he was not an unobservant lazy fool, and the less Paul knew, the better.
The younger man was dressed impeccably as usual, in an expensive tailored suit that Cameron's money had furnished, silk tie held with the diamond pin that was all that was left of his own "fortune." His handsome face bore an expression of dissatisfaction that he attempted to cover with an imperfect mask of deference.
Jason already knew about the encounter at the stable, but he was waiting to see if Paul reported it. If he did, well and good. If he did not-he would bear closer watching than Cameron had anticipated.
"Oh-and I met with Miss Hawkins just outside Sunset's paddock," du Mond said casually. "She was carrying a basket, so I assumed you knew she was going wandering and arranged for a luncheon." The slight rise of his eyebrow turned that into a question.
Du Mond frowned. "Do you think that's entirely wise? She might encounter one or more of your neighbors-"
Cameron laughed. "And what harm could that possibly do? What is wrong with my engaging another servant?"
But Du Mond grimaced. "She is not precisely a servant," the man pointed out. "Nor is she a guest. And she is unchaperoned."
The Firemaster shrugged. "She will style herself as such if she is wise and wishes to preserve her reputation. She won't tell anyone that she is here alone and unchaperoned. If she's foolish enough to do so, she will brand herself as one of my demimonde ladies, and my very proper neighbors will have nothing whatsoever to do with her. If she does not make that mistake, they will assume she is here with the appropriate protections and will not feel any great impetus to place themselves in the position of protector. The one thing I cannot be accused of is taking advantage of an innocent. All of my light-of-loves have been well-known professional ladies, and while my neighbors may find this a bit fast, they also feel it is to be expected in a vigorous man in my position. Moreover, since they have persisted in flinging their daughters at my head, I assume my reputation as a gentleman is intact. They would hardly wish to wed their offspring to a rake."
Du Mond merely grunted, which Cameron took for agreement.
"Did you observe anything unusual about her?" Cameron persisted, curious to see if du Mond had taken note of how positively the stallion had responded.
Du Mond shrugged. "Sunset likes her to the point where he follows her like a puppy, but I don't see that as being very important."
As well not to tell him that Firemaster Prince Ibrahim had told him the stallion was supremely sensitive to personalities and would be a good way to measure whether someone could be trusted. "Animals dote on women," he said dismissively. "It is an indication of their more primitive nature."
When Paul actually smiled and nodded agreement at that piece of balderdash, he had to repress a sigh of disgust. How could he ever have thought the fool had the potential for the Great Magicks? He was facile, yes, and quick-but his fire was all on the surface, with no depth to his personality or his mind. Given fuel, it would burn out and leave no trace of its passing.
Jason Cameron was not going to waste precious fuel. Eventually, he would have to put some thought into finding a way to be rid of the man, but at the moment, Paul was his only access to the outside world.
But if he becomes too troublesome, that can change. I hired Rosalind Hawkins without his help; I could hire an appropriately close-mouthed and discreet manservant the same way. One of the other Elemental Masters might even be willing to help him with the choice of a servant; the local Earthmaster, for instance, who had no interest in Elemental power-struggles and wished only to tend his forest creatures and his garden, dispense herbal medicine, and pursue his charities. Perhaps Ho, the Master of Air he had no love for Simon Beltaire, not after Simon had disfigured him in a quarrel over a Chinese slave-girl. Or I could buy a Chinese boy, see that he learned English, free him, and educate him. Given the new freedom and luxury he would have with me, he would be more securely mine than if I bound him in chains, and as intensely loyal as a mastiff.
Definitely a project for the future. And as for Paul-
If only I could interest Simon in him! They deserve each other A pity that's too dangerous a prospect.
"Is there anything else that requires my attention?" he asked. Paul shook his head. "Your elemental servants are performing well, your office can tell you how your investments are doing better than I. When are you going to begin teaching me again?"
He had been expecting this; Paul asked the same question once a week. "When you have mastered the Ninth Summons," he replied smoothly. "Until you do that, there is no point in going further, since virtually everything in the next stage requires that Summons or something like it."
Paul pouted; it was not an attractive expression on the face of a grown man. He could not deny the truth of the Firemaster's words, however, for he could see it in the hand-written tomes of Magick for himself, if he cared to look. Now, if Paul's troubles with mastering the Summons had been related to temperament, Cameron would have found an alternative to the course of study he had set for du Mond. But Paul's failures were due entirely to laziness, an unwillingness to sacrifice anything, not even a moment of leisure or a single luxurious meal. The Summons required a fast of seven days and total dedication for a month. Paul had tried numerous shortcuts; he had met with failure. Until he was prepared to conduct the Summons correctly, he would continue to meet with failure.
And since Jason Cameron would be willing to stake his entire fortune that he would never take the time and effort to conduct the Summons properly, Paul du Mond would never progress beyond Apprentice. And the most ironic thing of all was that in frantically seeking for the easy path he would waste a hundred-fold the time and effort it would have taken to do the Summons properly.
I hope I can rid myself of him without any ... unpleasantness. Fortunately, du Mond had no living relations with whom he was still on speaking terms. He had alienated anyone who might ordinarily have felt concern if he vanished without explanation. It would, in fact, be only what most of them expected. Paul had been a clever "confidence artist" when Cameron first encountered him, alternating his time between parting fools from their money by sheer persuasion and by card-sharping. The latter was his court of last resort, as gambling cheaters, even in relatively civilized San Francisco, tended to find themselves facing guns or knives in the hands of very unhappy people.
Paul could not know what Cameron was thinking, but the Firemaster's steady and unflinching gaze clearly made him nervous. He began chattering mostly making excuses why he had not yet completed the Ninth Summons successfully-and Cameron ignored him.
I believe it is time to persuade him to go away. With a whispered word, he caused the lamps on his desk to flare, so that he was no longer hidden in the shadows of his chair.
Du Mond started, and broke off in the middle of his sentence. A second later, he looked completely composed, but Cameron had seen the fear igniting his eyes for a moment before his mask came down. "I still have some letters to write for you," du Mond said, his voice trembling ever-so-slightly, although his expression remained bland. "If that is all, I trust you will excuse me?"
Cameron nodded a gracious dismissal, and du Mond took himself out. Did he know, did he guess, that Cameron had Salamanders watching every move he made so long as he was on the grounds? Did he know that every mirror in the house was a pair of eyes for the Master?
Did it matter if he did?
I am bordering on hubris. Time to remind myself of what that particular vice can bring.
He stood up and turned towards the wall, reached out a misshapen, hairy paw, and pulled the red-velvet drapery away from the mirror behind his desk, staring unflinchingly into the yellow eyes of his reflection.
Into the face of the beast.
Hubris was what had gotten him here, what had led him to attempt a Magick that was no part of a Firemaster's Disciplines. Hubris left him with paws instead of hands, the mask of a lupine-human hybrid instead of his own face-and beneath the elegant clothing, a half-human body with a garnishing of heavy grey pelt, powerful shoulders, and the indignity of a tail. He stared into his own reflection until his stomach turned, and he let the drapery fall again.
What he had attempted, if it came within any Master's purview, would be in the realm of the Earthmaster. But no Earthmaster would ever have defied Nature the way he had, in his pride and over-confidence, to warp and twist Nature herself with the most blasphemous spell in all of the grimoires of the medieval magicians of ancient France. If an Earthmaster wished to experience the sensation of being a wolf, he would have sent his spirit to share the body of a real wolf; he would never have tried to shape his own body into the form of a gigantic, man-sized wolf.
But Jason was proud of his power, certain of his ability, and had foolishly attempted the old French spell of the lycanthrope, the loup-garou.
There were two kinds of werewolves-those who were cursed to change with the moon, and those who could change at will. Jason was hardly likely to endure the first, but the second tempted him.
The spell called for-among other things-a belt made of the skin of a wolf, and Jason had trapped that wolf himself, just as he had gathered the other ingredients personally. There could be no question of their authenticity or purity. He had performed the spell as required-stark naked except for the belt and he certainly had plenty of experience in correctly following spells.
But something went terribly awry.
He lowered himself carefully down into his chair; his joints did not work quite the same, and his balance was all wrong. Perhaps he would get used to this-
No! he told himself fiercely. I will not get used to this form! I will regain my proper face and body! I will not permit myself to think otherwise!
But the ghost of the pain of that night thrilled over his nerves as he sat. He had never felt pain so intense in all of his life, as his flesh writhed, melted, reformed-he had endured the pain of molten lava to earn his title of Firemaster, but this was worse agony even than that moment.
He had collapsed, half-conscious, on the floor of his workroom.
He had awakened to find himself, not in the form of a four-legged creature, but in this half-and-half hybrid. And he could not take the belt off to break the spell, because the belt had merged into his own body.
Paul du Mond had found him; Paul was the only human to know his true condition. Cameron had sent his human servants away once he regained his senses and replaced them with Elemental servants; had instructed his underlings to send all business to the house so that he need no longer go into the city. Rosalind was the only person he had told the spurious tale of an accident to-he had not wanted even a hint of his difficulty to reach his enemy.
Nothing he had tried when he awoke or since had broken him free, and he had exhausted his memory of anything even remotely related to the spell. He needed to do research.
And he couldn't even hold his own books, much less turn the pages. His eyes wouldn't focus properly; he had trouble reading even large print, much less the crabbed scrawls of many of the handwritten volumes.
But now he had Rosalind Hawkins to be his eyes and hands-and in fact, to translate those manuscripts he himself would have had difficulty reading. Now he could find a solution.
Now the real work could begin.
And as soon as he found his solution, his second act would be to find a way to be rid of Paul du Mond.
Paul du Mond had never been so certain of anything in his life as he was certain that Jason Cameron had no intentions of teaching him anything further. As he left the Firemaster's private sanctum and heard the lock clicking shut behind him, he allowed his mask to drop and felt his lips contorting in a silent snarl.
He knew why Cameron didn't plan to teach him anything more; the man was afraid that once Paul advanced past the stage of mere Apprentice, he would quickly outstrip his teacher.
Paul's anger ebbed enough that a smirk passed over is lips. Cameron should fear him; he had more ambition than the Firemaster, and fewer scruples. Not that there were many who would say that Cameron was anything but unscrupulous, but Paul knew his employer, and he knew that there actually were things that Jason Cameron would not do. He would not take advantage of someone who was, in his estimation, truly innocent, for instance. So far as Paul was concerned, the world was against him, and anyone was fair game. No point in thinking anyone was innocent; even the tiniest children were supreme manipulators, using their big eyes and ready tears to extract what they wanted from unsuspecting adults. In some ways, the Catholics with their doctrine of Original Sin were more enlightened than the modern scientists.
That fellow Charles Darwin was right; it was a world of fang and claw, and not even infants were innocent, for they were as selfishly interested in survival as any adult. Only the fit survived, or deserved to survive.
The only way of succeeding in the world was to use every weapon at his disposal, use those weapons ruthlessly and without remorse, for without a doubt, given a change in circumstances, those weapons would be used on him by someone else. Paul had seen the truth of that in his own life, which was the surest measure of what was true.
So Cameron did well to fear him, fear what he would do if he ever became the Firemaster's equal. He would not, as Simon did, allow the situation to endure in stalemate. He would eliminate his rival, quickly, and efficiently. Cameron admired the horse-well, Paul admired the shark, the tiger, and the cobra, the most efficient killing machines in Nature. They wasted no motion, no time; if there was a chance to kill when the prey was unaware of the hunter's presence, that was the best moment to strike.
He retired to his own quarters and shut the door behind him. As luxurious as he cared to make them, they were no reward-everything in them belonged to Cameron and could be taken back at a moment's notice if du Mond failed to demonstrate the appropriate level of gratitude and servility. There was very little here that was his own, and Cameron never let him forget it. Everywhere he looked he saw Cameron's hand, Cameron's taste, Cameron's signature red and gold. He lived surrounded by those colors, even in his own bedroom, branding him as Cameron's property.
But Cameron was not God and he could not be everywhere; his sure influence extended only as far as the borders of this estate. Now that the man himself was confined, so was his power-and Cameron had taught Paul enough that du Mond knew how to make certain that influence did not follow him when he left the estate.
Cameron' s business sent him into San Francisco overnight or for two or three days about once a month. He was due for just such a trip in another few days. With the addition of the girl to the household, the trip might be sooner than usual. There were bound to be things that she needed that Cameron had not thought of, and things that Cameron needed he had not anticipated. There would be "special" packages to deliver, and to pick up.
He would occupy Cameron's city flat most of the time; he would certainly sleep there. But during the day, he would carry out at least one errand of his own.
Just to be ready, tonight before he went to bed he'd pack his valise, so be could leave on a moment's notice.
If Cameron would not teach him, share the Power with him, there was someone else who would.
Paul du Mond went directly to the office attached to his suite. He did have work to do, as he had told Cameron, and he had better get to it in case Cameron could see him. There were books to order, routine business-letters to write, invitations to politely refuse, pleas from various charities to deal with, all the minutiae of a wealthy man's life to handle. Once or twice, something amusing would cross his desk-such as the time that one of Cameron's paid companions tried a spot of blackmail-but mostly it was boring work, which was precisely why Cameron had always left it to him. The important correspondence, such as missives from other Masters, du Mond never saw.
On the desk was one of the new type-writing machines, but tonight du Mond had pushed it aside in favor of pen and ink. Only completely trivial letters were written on the machine; Cameron preferred the personal touch for anything else.
Did the Hawkins girl have as elegant a hand as Paul did? He doubted it. He knew that his calligraphy was so perfect as to seem artificial, and he always knew how to choose precisely the right words, whether dealing with a hopeful clergyman looking for a contributor, or an equally hopeful socialite hoping to attract Jason to her soiree. Perhaps he could not read the manuscripts Cameron needed, but neither could the Hawkins girl replace him. Cameron needed his skills too much to be rid of him.
He had learned to keep his feelings hidden around Cameron a long time ago, but he could never look at that strange man-wolf mask without a mingling of fear and satisfaction. The fear was natural enough; how could any sane human look at what the Firemaster had become and not feel fear and revulsion? But satisfaction-that was a bit more complicated. There was certainly satisfaction in seeing how Cameron had at last overreached himself and come to grief. There was more in seeing that now the man's essential nature was reflected in his appearance. Cameron was a predator; well, now he looked like one. There was more satisfaction in knowing that Cameron could no longer be at the center of a glittering round of dinners, theater engagements, and parties. Paul had often seethed with resentment and envy as Cameron took his private railcar into the city for a weekend of amusement; now Cameron was bound more firmly to the estate than he. He held all the cards now, and all the control. Let Cameron go on pretending otherwise; it was Paul who would write the program for this little play.
When the end to this relationship came, it would come when Paul du Mond chose-and in the manner of his choosing.
With a smile, he sat down at his desk, removed an engraved invitation from the waiting basket, and selected a piece of rich, cream-colored paper with Cameron's own watermark.
He dipped a pen into the inkwell, thought for a moment, and wrote the first word of Cameron's gracefully worded refusal of yet another dinner-party.
"I'm going to need you to go into the city for a few days."
Once again, the Firemaster's study was shrouded in darkness although it was a bright afternoon outside, and Cameron himself was nothing more than a darker form amid the shadows of his chair. Du Mond simply nodded.
"You'll take the private carriage," Cameron continued. "You'll be bringing back a quantity of packages for me, and I want you to have somewhere safe to keep them until you return."
That meant he would be picking up occult and Magickal supplies; otherwise he would have brought them to the apartment instead. But Cameron had greater protections on the railway carriage than on the apartment, now. In the past, that had not been the case, but since the accident he could not go into the city to renew the apartment's Shieldings himself, and he did not trust Paul to do so. Now, when he dared not take the risk of an enemy tampering with his belongings, he had Paul use the carriage as his storage-depot.
That was fine with du Mond, since the carriage was infinitely more convenient and comfortable than the small buggy he would otherwise have used. In a downpour, the buggy was decidedly damp and cold, and du Mond did not have the Elemental Mastery required to make it otherwise.
'There are a number of things that will be arriving by train, so I will need you to remain in the city until they appear," Cameron went on. "You'll use the apartment, of course, and I trust you'll find ways of amusing yourself."
The sardonic tone of his voice said without words just how he expected Paul to amuse himself. It tickled Paul's fancy to know that Cameron hadn't the least idea how far his assumptions were off the mark. Not that he wouldn't have the kind of amusement Cameron assumed, but the style would be vastly different from Cameron's own. Perhaps when he had broken free of Cameron, he'd make his amusements permanent ...
Then again, perhaps he'd better not. Slavery was illegal, no matter what the Chinese slave-dealers believed.
Too bad, too.
"These will be complicated errands, and they may take the entire week to complete, so I will not expect you to return for at least five days. If it looks to you as if you may be staying longer than a week, send a messenger, but otherwise don't bother."
Cameron didn't mean a human messenger, of course; Paul had mirror-mastery enough to send a message that way. Paul nodded. "Your correspondence is completely up to date," he offered. "I'm ready to leave."
"Good, then anything that comes in during the week can wait until you return," Cameron replied promptly. "I've already sent down orders to have the carriage ready; it will be waiting for you down at the siding at any time after two."
That meant, of course, "Be down there at two on the dot." The telegraph on Cameron's desk let him communicate with every stationmaster up and down the line and with the switchyard in San Francisco. The track would be clear of traffic at two, but probably not at two-thirty or three. If he wanted to get into the city rather than sit on the siding for hours, it behooved him to get himself down there and on that carriage at two, precisely.
He nodded again.
"That should be all, then, unless you have any questions." Cameron's voice told him the Firemaster had already dismissed du Mond from his thoughts and was on to other things.
"No," Paul replied, and took himself out. He wondered, as he opened the door to the landing, if Cameron had noticed the absence of the word "sir." Possibly. But just at the moment, subservience stuck in du Mond's throat, and he could not bring himself to offer the word to someone who looked like a creature in a circus freak-show.
Now that he was out of the office and he could read the face, he pulled his watch from its vest pocket and checked the time-which was set every morning by the big clock in the hall, which in turn was always set by railway time. How like Cameron! It was barely one-thirty. He would have had just enough time to run upstairs and throw a few things into a bag, if he had not already packed.
As it was, he was able to go upstairs at a leisurely pace, get his valise, and make his way to the elevator without breaking into an undignified trot. The elevator deposited him at the siding-platform just as the train-carriage itself backed into view, huffing and hissing. The brakeman saw him and waved to him; he waved back. He made it a point to be on friendly terms with these men, who knew nothing of Cameron's Magickal activities. For one thing, the engine was a creature of Fire, and Paul was quite certain Cameron had a Salamander on board to see that all went well with his precious vehicle, which meant the Salamander could spy for him, too. For another, these men had it in their power to make his trips to and from the city less comfortable than they could be. They did not have to report difficulties with Paul back to Cameron; they had ample means of revenge in their own hands. They could "forget" to take on water for the carriage when they took it on for the engine; they could "forget" oil for the lamps or fuel for the stove. They could "decide" that they were not comfortable with the margin between scheduled trains, no matter what Cameron decreed; they could wait at the switch for hours until a "safe" margin occurred, with Paul sitting in a cold, dark, velvet-upholstered box.
Paul did his best to be cooperative and undemanding, which was the best way to deal with them. Rail people often preferred cargo to passengers; cargo didn't make difficulties. Paul acted like smiling cargo, which seemed to suit them.
The engineer applied the brakes, and the wheels emitted their metallic screaming. As soon as the train had squealed and screeched to a full stop, he swung aboard, throwing his valise up onto the top step ahead of him. That earned him a grin of approval; the one thing a railroad man hated worse than anything was a wasted minute. Paul had barely time to open the door into the carriage itself when the train was in motion again.
None of the lamps were lit since it was still brilliantly sunny, but a small fire was going in the stove to take the chill off the car, and Paul saw with approval that refreshments had been stowed in the proper places. Good; a whisky and soda would be just the thing right now, with perhaps a cigar and a light snack. But first he checked the safe, cleverly concealed in the sideboard.
As he had expected, there was a slim, pale envelope containing his instructions, and a packet of banknotes. He raised an eyebrow when he saw that in addition to the banknotes there was a supply of gold coins. Evidently some of the people with whom he was to deal did not trust paper money.
He took out only the envelope; the rest could wait until he arrived in the city. He poured himself a whisky and splashed in the soda, making certain with long habit that both bottles went back into their respective "cradles" before be closed the liquor cabinet. He took the letter and the glass back to his favorite chair and sat in the sun, sipping and reading, while the train clattered through an endless sea of trees. The whiskey in his glass trembled and the vibration of the car made even his bones hum-but by now he was so used to it that it was merest background, like the humming of bees in the summer.
Some of his errands were routine, but there were three that were not-trips to three different Chinese emporia. This, according to his instructions, was where he was to take the gold. In one, he was to purchase books that were waiting for him, in the second to purchase rare herbs.
In the third he was to hand over a specified amount of coin for a sealed packet, and was not under any circumstances to break the seal.
Interesting. All three errands could only have to do with Magick, though this was the first time he had been instructed to pick up a sealed package. Presumably Cameron had always gone after such items himself in the past. Just because the package came from the shop of a Chinese did not mean that the Magick was from the Orient, however. The Chinese, like the Jews, had a remarkable talent for acquiring things, and this package could contain anything from an African artifact to the ceremonial dagger of Giles de Rais.
He would have to make inquiries about the shopkeepers. They might be a resource he would need later.
The rest of the errands were much like others he had run in the past, except for one small item; among the other items Cameron wanted from the apothecary was a remarkable quantity of laudanum, and for the first time since Paul had known him, a small amount of morphia.
So, Cameron needed opiates, did he? Perhaps that hybrid body of his was giving him pain. And perhaps that sealed packet was not Magickal at all, but was the pure opium, straight from the poppy-fields of China. It wasn't illegal, but Chinese White was much purer and stronger than the stuff doled out by pharmacists and mail-order houses. Du Mond smiled, for if Cameron was clouding his mind with drugs, the situation could only be advantageous for du Mond.
He made a mental note to watch Cameron for any signs that the man was at less than optimal condition, and to take advantage of it if he was.
There were new errands, but they were obviously at the behest of the new employee, the Hawkins girl. There was a second handwritten list, a short one, in a hand he did not recognize. It was not as good as his, though it was legible enough. It certainly would not do for writing to important or influential people. In this, at least, his position was secure.
An endless parade of trees flew past the windows of the carriage. The train did not slow or stop as they neared the switch to the main line; evidently the way ahead was clear and they would not have to wait for scheduled traffic to pass. That was excellent; as they rolled onto the main line with the distinctive click-pattern that heralded a switch, the engine accelerated. At this rate, they would be in San Francisco well before sundown, and he would be in Cameron's town apartment shortly after that. All of Cameron's employees were well-trained to a nicety; the personnel at the switchyard would have a cab waiting for him, the driver already paid and briefed on where to take him. The poor little Hawkins girl, should she take advantage of an excursion to the city, would probably be speechless, she would be so overwhelmed. But this was how the very wealthy lived; so surrounded and insulated by attentive employees that they need never think or plan for themselves.
Cameron hadn't allowed such luxury to soften him, at least not until now. But what luxury could not do, perhaps pain, and the drugs he took to conquer it, would.
The remainder of the journey passed uneventfully. Even when the trees gave way to a cliff-side view of the ocean below, du Mond ignored it. Paul had made this trip too often to be impressed by the scenery; he renewed his whiskey-and-soda, sipped it while he read a book from the innocuous selection provided in the bookcase at the end of the car. Jonathan Swift was acerbic enough to suit his mood, so he was pleasantly occupied until the abbreviated train pulled into the switchyard and was sent to its own special siding.
Moments later, he was in a horse-drawn cab on his way to Cameron's apartment in one of the fashionable sections of the city, up against the base of "Nob" Hill-which had gotten the nickname because so many of the "nobs," or members of the wealthy elite, had built their mansions there.
Cameron's "apartment" was not the type of dwelling du Mond would have characterized as such. It was one of a block of similar townhouses, all owned by those who either had manors in the country and did not want to duplicate them in the city, or were wealthy bachelors who entertained only a few friends at most and did not want the burden of an enormous house. They were built so closely together that there was hardly room for a cat to pass between them, and their fronts were virtually identical. They differed only in color, variations on chaste tan, rose, and brown, all trimmed in demure white.
The cab let du Mond off at the western corner of the block at the intersection of Powell and Pine; a most desirable location, since the setting sun could shine in the windows on that side. That gave Cameron windows letting in light and air on two sides, an amenity shared only by the other corner townhouses. Carrying his valise, Paul walked up the steps, to be met at the door by one of the two manservants here. A cook and a maid rounded out the staff; a pleasant change to have humans to wait on him, rather than Cameron's invisible Magickal servants.
The man took his bag at once, allowing du Mond the leisure to check and see what, if any, changes had been made to the downstairs dining room, parlor, and billiard room. He already knew that the study and smoking room would be intact; Cameron allowed no meddling there.
A few new ornaments and a new Chinese rug graced the parlor; the chairs had been replaced in the dining room, and high time, too. They had been old-fashioned when Cameron was an Apprentice himself, and sentimental attachment to a piece of furniture did not become a Master of the Elements. In the billiard room an additional game echoed an increasing Oriental influence-a chess set of carved ivory from India, in which each of the pieces was graced with balls of filigree so delicate it looked like lace, balls that held carved balls within carved balls. Paul picked up the king, which had seven balls nested one inside the other; he'd heard of these carvings, which were made from solid pieces of ivory and carved by master artisans so that the balls moved freely inside each other, but he had never seen one. He marveled at it for a moment, then put it down. He did not lust after such things; his pleasures were in areas Cameron would consider less intellectual.
By now the manservant would have unpacked his valise and put everything away in the guest bedroom-which, to be honest, was every bit as opulent as Cameron's own. There would be time enough to refresh himself before dinner-and after dinner, he would see about a little of that entertainment he had promised himself.
He smiled, imagining what the Hawkins girl would think of what he found entertaining.
Du Mond knew better than to count his winnings; enough that he had won, there was no point in exciting the envy of those around him to the point that they might consider helping themselves to his good fortune. He hadn't even used much Magick to influence the outcome of the cockfight, which made the win all the sweeter. He'd simply observed that the bird he chose demonstrated a certain berserk rage when presented with the least glimpse of another rooster; it literally flung itself at the bars of its coop in an effort to get at the interloper, ignoring the possibility of injury. It demonstrated all the mad fury of a goshawk rather than a rooster, and pain obviously did not affect it when it was in a fighting rage. All he'd done was to work that temper up to the boiling point, so that when the birds were released, his launched itself without any preliminaries straight at his rival.
Well, now he had more than enough cash to ensure his amusement for the next week without depleting any of his accounts. He could have used Cameron's money, of course; the man had given him a generous allowance for entertainment. But he disliked the notion; Cameron could have a Magickal trace on the bills themselves, and du Mond did not want that kind of information in Cameron's hands.
Enough people had backed the same bird that his winning was nothing out of the ordinary, and no one paid much attention to him as he stood at the payout window for his reward. Behind him, another fight had already begun, and shouts, curses, and cheers rendered speech impossible. Paul paused to consider doubling his winnings yet again, but the effluvia of sweaty, unwashed bodies, stale beer, cheap cigars, and blood suddenly seemed too much to bear.
Du Mond stuffed his winnings in his inside coat pocket, and left the cockpit while his luck was holding. On the way out, he tipped the owner of his winning bird a generous ten dollars; the awkward country-bumpkin took it and made it vanish with a speed that told du Mond that the man was no more a country-clod than du Mond himself was. He stepped out into the street and moved aside from the door, out of the path of traffic. He gazed up and down the street, at the garishly-lit businesses, the river of men-
Now, the question was-should he go looking for a girl now, or later?
Now, he decided. Go while his luck was still in.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and assumed a slouch that changed his silhouette entirely, then set off down Pacific Street towards the docks and deeper into the district they called the "Barbary Coast." Here were all the things that the good women of the stately homes on Nob Hill despised-the cockpits and dogfights, the gambling dens, the hundreds of taverns, the bawdy-houses, bordellos, and brothels. But this was not to say the district was entirely poor-and many of those good women would faint dead away if they discovered how many of their sons and husbands visited some of the more discreet and luxurious of those Houses on this street. There were none of those in this end of the Coast; as Paul looked up, he saw plenty of second-floor windows with women lounging out of them, calling and beckoning to those below, something that never would happen at the better Houses.
Nor was it to say that the district was wealthy; down sidestreets were the opium dens, squalid, filthy holes where men (and sometimes women) paid for the privilege of lying on a wooden bunk stacked three high, leaning on one hip, and smoking a little sticky ball of gum-opium until they either passed into unconsciousness, nausea, or both. The smoke in those places was so thick that a man walking erect between the bunks stood a good chance of passing out himself from the narcotic fumes.
Down other alleyways were the cribs, the lowest places of prostitution in the city, tiny little closets just large enough to hold an excuse of a bed and a girl to lay in it. "Girl" was a euphemism; most of them were aged far past their years, riddled with disease, drugs, or drink, subhuman creatures a year or less from their own demise. Many, many of them were Chinese; they would strip to the waist and press themselves against the wood slats of their windows, calling out the only words of English they knew. "One bitteelookee, two bittee feelee, three bittee dooee!" The only thing lower than a crib-girl was a street-girl, one who would service her clients in the alley because she had nowhere else to take them.
What Paul sought was in between those two extremes, and he knew just where to find it. He had a selection of three merchants he patronized, though given the current interest Cameron was showing in things Oriental, it would be best to avoid the place in Chinatown. That left Giorgio's, or the Mexican's.
The Mexican's was nearer, which was what decided him.
The entrance to the Mexican's place was a single narrow door in between the entrances to a bar and a peep-show. Recessed in an alcove, a passerby probably wouldn't notice the door unless he was looking for it, which was how the Mexican liked it. The Mexican's given name was Alonzo de Varagas, but he didn't like anyone to use it. Except for this little venture, which was what had made him the money to become a respectable shop owner outside the Barbary Coast and still kept Senora de Varagas in silk and pretty jewelry, he no longer had anything to do with the clientele of Pacific Street.
Paul knocked on the door, which opened just enough to permit the suspicious eyes of the doorkeeper to examine him. Then the door opened wide, and Diego grinned whitely at him in the light from a gas-lamp, gesturing him inside with a flamboyant fling of his arms.
"Hey, Mister Breaker! You come on in, we got a special one for you!" the man said, happily, and spat on the sidewalk before closing the door. "Damn! Good thing you get here, boss begun to think he might have to break her himself!"
The door gave access immediately to a narrow staircase leading up, lit by three gas lamps. Paul went up ahead of Diego, half turning so he could talk to the man. "Is she giving you trouble?" he asked hopefully.
Diego shook his head, but to indicate that she was, indeed. "She wake up from the happy-juice, next thing, she be prayin' and cryin'-you know how boss hates the ones that pray an' start callin' on the Virgin."
"I know." It was a constant source of amazement to him that a procurer like Alonzo had trouble with girls who wept and prayed. Perhaps they reminded him of his wife-who tolerated the fact that he had this little business on the side so long as he didn't sample the merchandise himself. Hence, Alonzo's dual quandary with "breaking" this particular girl.
Du Mond was a man with a talent, and it was a talent the Chinaman, the Mexican, and the Italian all found useful. He was a "breaker," which was the name by which they knew him. The procurers themselves were not brothel-keepers; they supplied girls to the Houses up and down the street. The Chinaman usually bought his back in his homeland; Alonzo specialized in bringing mestizos and Indians up from Mexico. The Italian ran his business a bit differently; he recruited bored country-girls from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana by promising them something other than a life of drudgery married to a dirt-farmer, or Chicago shop-girls tired of waiting on surly customers. Given the Mexican's problems with "breaking" girls who cried and prayed, Paul would have expected him to be the one recruiting in the Grain Belt, but evidently Alonzo's conscience never bothered him about recruiting his own countrywomen for a life of sin.
The Chinaman's girls thought they were coming to America to be given to husbands; the Mexican women were told that they would find easy jobs in the households of gold-rich families. And as for the girls garnered from the fields of Indiana and the shops of Chicago, Giorgio posed as a businessman setting up a rival to the Fred Harvey chain on the West Coast; the girls expected easy work waiting tables with big tips in gold nuggets from men who hadn't seen a woman in months.
What they got, was a dose of morphia; they woke up to find their virginity had been taken by men who had paid highly to have it, even from a semi-conscious and unresponsive body. What happened then depended on the girl. The Chinaman seldom needed the services of a breaker; most Chinese girls seemed to resign themselves to their concubinage readily enough. Giorgio preferred to break his girls to the trade himself, but often enough he had more than one who was making trouble, and a man could only do so much in a day. The Mexican girls seemed divided into three types; the ones that gave up, the ones that fought, and the ones that prayed.
They would all end up in the same position in the end; Paul never could figure out why they didn't just resign themselves and make the best of the situation. If a girl played her cards right, she could end up a madam with a house of her own, or even married to a client. But she had to be smart and she had to learn how to play the game quickly, before her looks went. And she had to stay away from drugs and drink, or her looks would go even faster.
"So we've got a weeper, hmm? Well, maybe she'll turn out to be a fighter, too." He preferred it when they fought; they often thought that because he wasn't built like a prizefighter, he couldn't overpower them, and it increased his pleasure to prove them wrong.
It was his job to break them like untamed horses; to prove to them that not only did they have no choice in their new profession, but that he was infinitely worse than any customer they were ever likely to service. The unspoken threat was that unless they proved tractable, he would get them.
He was popular as a breaker because be didn't need to slap the girls around and possibly damage them to break them. He had an infinite number of ways to hurt them that didn't leave any marks. Some of them used nothing more than words; he couldn't use those on the Chinese girls, but his Spanish was as fluent as Alonzo's, and it was words he most often used on the Mexican's girls. By the time he was through flaying them with his tongue, they were convinced that they had brought this life of sin upon themselves, that they were already so black with sin that God had turned His back upon them.
He would pay for this privilege, of course; the exclusive use of a girl wasn't something easy to come by on Pacific Street. But the cost was a fraction of what such a privilege would have demanded in a House. He would be only the second man to touch these girls, which vastly reduced the all-too-real risk of disease.
The girl looked up quickly as he opened the door, which had neither latch nor handle on the other side. She had been kneeling-obviously praying-as far from the bed in the corner as possible. In the light from the single dingy, metal barred window, her face was swollen and tear-stained, and she tried to cover her nakedness with her hands. That was all there was in this tiny closet of a room; the naked girl, the undraped, iron-framed bed bolted to the floor, and four bare walls with bare wooden floor. There was a single gaslight, too high on the wall for her to reach.
He smiled. He would try words, first.
"Hello, little whore," he said, in clear Spanish, his voice smoother than honed steel and just as cold and sharp. "I am your master now."
The first session had gone quite well; Paul was pleased as he gave the special knock that alerted Diego that he wanted out.
"Well?" the little Mexican asked, as he closed the door on the semi-conscious girl.
"Five or six days , Paul said, truthfully. "Not more than that. Today she cried, tomorrow she might fight or weep more; maybe the day after, too. Then she'll begin wearing down, and she'll have it in her head that she's dirt and there's nowhere else that would have her but a whorehouse. She'll probably start drugging once she gets into a House, though. The religious ones usually do."
Deigo shrugged. "Not our problem," he said, dismissively. "Whoever paid for her can worry about that. We'll be seeing you for the next week, then?" He held his hand out, palm up.
"Probably." Paul counted out enough cash to cover the week, then some over. "I'll need the usual."
"The usual," was for Deigo to dig up well-used clothing in Paul's size, send it to the Chinese laundry, and have it waiting here for him. Even if Cameron "followed" him here, the man's fastidious nature would never allow him to keep a more direct eye on his Apprentice. And the moment Paul left here on errands of his own, clad in shabby clothing that had never come within Cameron's reach, there was no way the Firemaster could trace him further.
Besides, as long as du Mond's own clothing remained here, Cameron would probably assume he was with the clothing, if not in it.
"It'll be waiting," Diego replied, without interest. He and his employer had no curiosity about why Paul used their establishment as a way-station. That greatly endeared them to him. Add in the fact that this place was within walking distance of the Nob Hill apartment, and it was altogether an arrangement to du Mond's liking.
But for the moment, with all of his needs satisfied, it was time to get back to his gilded cage. He bade the Mexican goodnight, turned up his collar against the damp and chilly night air, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets to foil petty thieves.Although it was near midnight, the establishments of Pacific street, from the meanest tavern to the Hippodrome, were barely getting warmed up. Some of them were even decked out in electrical rather than gas lights. He wondered what the Coast would look like when electrical lights became cheap enough to use for signage and shook his head.
It was a lengthy walk, but not bad for a man in the physical condition of Paul du Mond. He strode east, watching the traffic around him with a wary eye and wondering what secrets some of those faces held.
One day, soon, he would have the power to find out. And San Francisco herself, the biggest whore of them all, would have a new master.
When he had a number of errands, Paul always solved the difficulty of finding a cab by hiring one for the entire day. They were Cameron's errands, so Cameron's money might as well pay for them. He ran the more mundane chores first, and they took him all over town before it was finished. Among those was the list the Hawkins girl had supplied, and he took some savage amusement in wondering what her reaction would be if she ever learned it had been him who had purchased her requested supplies-
She'd probably faint from embarrassment alone. He'd like to see her embarrassed, or better still, humiliated. He'd imagined her prim little face superimposed on Lupe's last night. He'd like to have a chance to break her. Damned women, thinking they had a right to careers, taking money out of a man's pocket to do so, getting ideas about equality ...
Perhaps he'd have the opportunity, if things worked out properly. She was an orphan; there'd be no one to miss her or inquire after her if she vanished.
Among his errands, he contrived to drop a message in a certain tobacconist's when he bought his own Cuban cigars. Tonight, after Lupe, he would find out if there was an answer to that message.
Meanwhile, the day plodded along like the weary cab-horse, straining its way up the hill of time towards noon, then straining to keep from tumbling headlong down the other side. Why anyone had ever chosen to build a city here, in this maze of hills and valleys, was beyond him. The inhabitants suffered from enough back and foot ailments to keep every purveyor of quack medicine in the country happy. There were no real places to leave a carriage, and even if you found one, it wasn't one where he'd want to leave a horse standing for long. The cable car system that ran up and down the Slot on Market Street had been invented because the life of a trolley-horse in San Francisco was a fraction of one in any other city. They had dropped dead in their traces all the time before the mechanical traction device took over their chore.
Paul, of course, did not have to walk unless he chose, nor suffer the press of the Great Unwashed on the cable cars unless he wished to. He always hired cabs with strong horses with some draft-blood in them; horses that were up to a long day of traversing the streets. He had stopped by the tobacconist's early; on impulse, on the way back from the final errand of the day, he had the cabby stop there again.
Much to his pleasure there was already a reply to his message-a single slip of paper with three words, none of which would have given the game away even to Cameron. Twelve, the usual. It could have been someone's order, picked up by accident, for boxes of cigars or cigarettes, or any other product the tobacconist sold, which was precisely the point.
None of the parcels he obtained today required the special handling Jason had specified, so he simply left them piled in the hallway with orders to have them sent to the waiting carriage. The cook had prepared an excellent meal, and du Mond settled in to eat it with full enjoyment, now that his duties were over for the day and the evening lay before him.
He had a cab take him as far as the end of Pacific Street that was only risque; what harm, after all, was there in his taking in a bawdy show? He even entered the theater, although he came right back out again as soon as the cab was gone. From there, he walked to the Mexican's, where events proceeded as he had predicted they would.
He was finished by eleven, and the man who left the Mexican's in no way resembled the man who had entered. Seedy cap pulled low over his forehead, hands stuffed in the pockets of his dungarees, warding off the chill with a shapeless, baggy flannel shirt, Paul would not have been recognized by anyone who knew him as Cameron's secretary, and he knew it. All of the clothing was old, threadbare, patched. He had altered his posture, even his gait. He did not bother attempting to find a cab-no one looking the way he did would have money for such a thing, and the use of anything other than his own two feet would only reveal that he was not what he seemed.
It was a long way to the docks at the end of Pacific Street, but that was "the usual." So near water-both in the form of fog drifting in off the Bay and of the Pacific Ocean itself-it was the last place one would expect to see a Firemaster.
Which was why Simon Beltaire had chosen this as a meeting site.
Even if, by some incredible ability, Jason Cameron was tracking Paul by means of the flames of gaslights all across the city, he would not be able to do so on the docks. Nor would a Salamander ever come here, where the Salamander's worst enemies, the Undines, held sway. Humans, of course, could go anywhere they chose, no matter what their Magickal Natures, and if the Undines resented the intrusion of a Firemaster into the edges of their domain, they were wise enough to keep quiet about it.
The docks were silent at this hour. Perhaps someday there would be work around the clock-but not until either science created brighter gaslights or electrical lights became cheaper. For now, this was a good place to meet someone when you didn't want to be seen-although you had to listen carefully, for some of the street girls brought customers here for the little privacy that the darkness and piles of crates afforded.
Paul walked five steps, paused, and listened before walking five more; in this way he made his way to the end of one of the docks without interfering with anyone's pleasure. It didn't matter what dock he chose; Beltaire would find him easily enough. He chose one that didn't have any boats moored up against it.
He leaned up against a piling, folded his arms across his chest, and waited. Beneath him the water of the Bay lapped against the wooden pilings, and the faint smell of fish and seaweed rose to his nostrils. Fog obscured the surface of the water to a height of about four feet; above the bank of fog, the stars shone down unobscured. Behind him, the sounds of the Barbary Coast drifted down Pacific Street, jumbled together and rendered into mere whispers by distance. Snatches of tinny piano music, shrill laughter, the shrieks of women, the occasional breaking of glass; they all seemed to come to him from another world, across a distance too vast to bridge.
He wished he'd thought to have Diego get him an old duffel coat or a pea jacket; it was cold out here.
"I hope you haven't been waiting too long, Paul."
He didn't start, since he'd been expecting Beltaire, but once again Simon had somehow strolled up behind him without making a sound.
"Not long." He turned; the flare of a flame illuminated Simon Beltaire's elegant face as the man lit himself a cigar.
Beltaire did not use a match, of course. There was not enough light to grant more than a fleeting glimpse of Beltaire's countenance, but Paul didn't need any light; he and Beltaire were well acquainted with each other. Beltaire, while not circulating among the elite as Cameron did, was still sought after in his own set. While he might well have been as wealthy as Cameron, he preferred not to flaunt that wealth. He could easily have stood as a model for the hearty, football-playing, dark-haired and dark-eyed college hero. His square jaw and cleft chin had been known to cause palpitations in the hearts of shopgirls and jaded professionals alike, sculptural as it was.
"And what has my estimable lupine colleague been doing since last we talked?" The light from the glowing coal at the end of the cigar was hardly enough to show Beltaire's smile, but there was amusement in the man's voice.
Paul gave a basic summary of most of it; Beltaire listened without comment, since it differed little from the last time they had spoken.
Then he casually dropped his real news, and instantly felt Beltaire's attention riveted to him.
"Cameron hired a young woman to read his books to him."
Simon's drawl did not disguise his intense interest. "I assume you do not mean fairy tales."
"He's working up to the important tomes, but he began her with High Magick from the first word," du Mond agreed. "He's found a way around his handicap. She's fluent in several languages, including the archaic forms and supposedly even has a knowledge of hieroglyphics."
"This is going to force my hand; I had expected to have more time," Beltaire said under his breath. Paul smiled; that was what he had hoped to hear.
"Tell me what you know about her," Simon demanded.
Paul complied. "I don't know much," he warned. "Cameron found her himself, hired her himself, and made all the arrangements to bring her here. Her name is Rosalind Hawkins; she's from Chicago, and she has no living relatives. I have to assume she was in some advanced degree program at the university there, given her accomplishments. Perhaps she suffered some change in circumstance that left her destitute and willing to accept Cameron's offer-"
"Never mind that; I can find the facts of the matter out for myself, now that I know where she comes from." Beltaire waved his cigar dismissively. "Once I have the details of her life, then I can decide what to do about her."
"I could get rid of her for you," du Mond offered, hoping that Beltaire would accept the offer. The girl had taken one long walk already; who was to say that something might not happen to her if she made a habit of such things?
"No-no. I want to know what she's made of, first. She could prove to be a useful tool, especially once she begins to understand just what Cameron is asking her to read." Beltaire nodded thoughtfully. "If he revolts her, if he frightens her ... that woman's weakness can be turned to serve us. She might even welcome such an opportunity."
He must have sensed Paul's veiled disappointment, for he added in explanation, "I prefer not to discard a possible weapon until it proves useless. It would make things much simpler for us if we can use her against Cameron and avoid drawing attention to you."
Paul nodded, still disappointed, but with his disappointment fading fast. It would be better to avoid Cameron's attention and anger. He might not be the magician he had been before his transformation, but he was still formidable.
"If she proves useless, you may deal with her as you choose," Beltaire continued. "In the meantime, I will find out what I can about her, and you keep me informed. I particularly wish to know if she is released for an excursion to the city. I wish to approach her myself and take her measure. If nothing else, she may give us information we need on Jason's progress." Again, the smile crept into his voice. "I do not believe that I flatter myself when I say that I am remarkably good at temptation."
Du Mond laughed dryly at that, for Beltaire had certainly discovered exactly what tempted him. "I cannot think of anything else that would interest you at this time, Simon."
"Nor can I, and it is getting quite late." Beltaire's voice turned solicitous. "Paul, I do believe it is more than time that I gave you some recompense for your assiduous labor on my behalf. Here."
He passed over a parcel; as du Mond's fingers touched it, he felt paper and string tied about what felt like a book.
"Don't allow Jason to see this, or he'll certainly know where it came from," Beltaire warned. "It is rather in my style. I told you that Jason's way was not the only method of Firemastery. This should get you started on an easier path."
Du Mond's heart leapt with exultation, and with a fierce joy that he had been right. He had been so certain that Jason was prevaricating, that there was another, easier way to become a Master of Elements-one without all the tedious memorization and the mummery.
"I have hesitated this long only because I have been waiting for something to occur that would take Jason's attention off you-and to make certain of your own temperament." Beltaire chuckled. "There are things required on this path that would be repugnant to a weaker man, but I am certain you have the stomach for them."
"I have the stomach for a great deal," du Mond promised. "Thank you. Now, I must continue to play Cameron's errand-boy tomorrow, so if you'll pardon me, I will take my leave of you."
Beltaire touched the brim of his hat with his cane in ironic salute, and faded into the darkness. Paul waited several moments for him to get well on his way, then made his own way across the docks, making certain not to retrace his footsteps.
Diego was still on duty at the Mexican's-du Mond wasn't the only breaker the Mexican used, just the most skillful-and sounds from some of the other rooms led him to believe that his counterparts were hard at work. Diego bowed him mockingly into an empty room where his clothing waited.
It was past one before he was out on the street again and hailing a cab, his precious book tucked into a pocket. It was a leather-bound, handwritten volume, like many of Cameron's treasured books of Magick, and small enough to fit in a coat pocket.
So many important things were small in size.
He hailed a cab, and took it back to Cameron's townhouse-which would not be Cameron's for very much longer-leaving the noise and garishness of the Barbary Coast behind him.
Somehow, even though she had hardly seen Paul du Mond for more than a few minutes at a time, knowing that he was going to be in San Francisco for a week made Rose feel much more relaxed. She woke uncommonly cheerful, and knew immediately that du Mond's absence had a great deal to do with that cheer.
She stretched like a cat and blinked at the blurred beam of sunlight creeping past the bed curtains. I could almost believe in six impossible things before breakfast, like Lewis Carroll's White Queen. This is such an incredible home ...
Last night, she'd had the oddest feeling while reading one of Jason Cameron's books, that this nonsense she was translating for him wasn't nonsense at all. She had gone to bed only to lie awake for some time, staring at a single moonbeam that had found its way past both her window and bed curtains to fall on a single carved rose on one of the bedposts. At least, I thought it was a moonbeam and a rose. Without my glasses it's rather hard to tell what I'm looking at. Magic ... in this house, with its invisible servants, its incredible luxury, and its odd master, did not seem so impossible, especially not in the moonlight. But that had been last night, well past midnight, with the wind rushing in the branches of the trees outside and moonlight shining in her sitting-room window. Now, with the scents of breakfast coffee and bacon drifting through the bedroom door, and sunlight replacing the moonlight, she had to laugh at her own fantasy. Magic indeed! I might as well believe in Santa Claus or genies in lamps! If Cameron wished to continue to deceive himself, that was his doing. She would collect her wages and continue to amuse him, and meanwhile, with the help of the books he was ordering for her, she would continue her own researches. Then, when he finally tired of this farce, she would take her savings and enroll in another university. Leland Stanford had founded one here, in fact, that was well thought of. Would they admit a woman?
I'll worry about that when the time comes, she decided. There had been one book among all the ones she had read last night that had been well-written and coherent-unlike most of the rest, which were written as if the author had been granted a Doctorate in Confusion and Obfuscation. She had saved that one out of the pile with an eye to reading it straight through from beginning to end. Maybe if she had some notion of what Cameron thought was real, she'd be closer to understanding what be was looking for.
She had not planned on going for a walk, and by the time she had finished breakfast she was just as glad, for she would have been greatly disappointed. The sunshine had given way to a drizzling rain that didn't look as if it was going to let up any time before dark. Well, she could get her exercise by doing a more thorough, daylight exploration of more of the house, and then she could settle in with that book until Cameron needed her.
She took the book with her, thinking that it might be pleasant to spend some time reading in the conservatory, among the exotic hothouse plants.
She had already examined the ballroom, the dining room, the music room ... most of the rooms that a casual visitor would have seen. Now she decided to pry just a little, and take a good look around those bastions of masculine power, the smoking room, the billiard room, and the library.
I've never actually been in a smoking room ... Women, other than maidservants who cleaned them, were not welcome in such places. Cameron had very sensibly arranged his entertaining area with the billiard and smoking rooms to the right of the drawing room, and the ladies' parlor and "withdrawing room" to the left. The smoking room was disappointing; her father had never had one, and she had actually expected something a great deal more-well-decadent. She wrinkled her nose a little at the heavy scent of tobacco as she entered, but other than that slightly disagreeable and penetrating aroma, there was not much to distinguish this room from the ladies' parlor. Instead of cut-crystal bottles of genteel sherry on the sideboard, there was a bar holding a variety of glasses and hard liquors, but other than that, it was fundamentally identical. The real differences between the rooms intended for ladies and men were in the materials used to decorate; in the parlor, the furniture was covered in damask satin and velvet. Here, it was covered in leather. There, the lampshades were fringed and elaborately painted; here, they were plain parchment.
In short, it was a luxuriously appointed version of a little boy's clubhouse, with cigars and strong liquor replacing chewing gum and lemonade; the only thing lacking was the sign on the door saying "No Girlz Aloud." No paintings of naked odalisques, no illustrated risque versions of the Thousand Nights and a Night lying about on the table. No opium pipes! I expected a den of iniquity, a recreation of Caligula's orgy-rooms, and I find a harbor of hearty male gamesmanship! What a disappointment! She had to laugh at herself, and wondered what most men thought lay in the ladies' parlor! Did they have similar fantasies, or did they assume that it was a room of such overwhelming femininity that they were afraid to venture in lest they break or soil something with their mere presence?
The billiard room was not much different; besides the billiard table, there was a truly lovely chess set carved from black onyx and white marble, and a substantial round poker table with a sealed deck of cards on it. Other than that, it was furnished in the same uncompromisingly comfortable and unadorned style as the smoking room.
Perhaps the library would be more rewarding, although she had the suspicion that she would not be finding any of the strange books she had been reading on the shelves of so public a room. It was far more likely that Cameron had a second library in his own suite where he kept such things. But at least she would see what his casual taste ran to.
The room she sought now was on the other side of the dining room, and covered as much or more floor space than any other large room in the mansion. She already knew that the library was a big one-that is, it contained a huge number of books; the room was two stories tall with a balcony around the second floor to give access to the higher shelves and ladders on rolling tracks to reach the books nearer the ceiling. She strolled down the hallway and found the door already open, as if she had been expected. All of the curtains were drawn back from the windows, which were not just plain glass, but also beautiful artworks of stained and leaded glass. Interestingly, the furniture here was of a piece with the smoking room, oversized and not particularly comfortable for women; evidently Cameron did not expect many female visitors to this room-or else, he had decorated it to suit his personal taste.
Perhaps his fancy runs to women who don't read, she thought, a bit acidly. Just because he finds me entertaining now, that doesn't mean I am the style of female he is likely to wish to associate with socially.
Of course not. No man of wealth wished to spend any time in public with a bookworm, a girl with her nose so deeply in ancient volumes that there was dust in her hair. No, she had seen her share of the style of girl he would associate with, in the fiancees of her fellow students; wealthy, beautiful, schooled in the proper manners and life of a lady of the upper crust and often enough without a thought in their heads beyond the latest mode. Lady scholars were not among those invited to the opera. Why was she even considering that this man, her employer, would spend one minute of time with her if he did not need her skills? Just because she was coming to like him, that did not mean that the opposite was true. With his money, he must have dozens of girls flinging themselves at him, and more whose parents are doing the flinging, I shouldn't wonder. All with proper womanly interests, who grow property faint at the merest hint of the excesses of the ancient Romans. And no matter how disfigured he might be now, there are plenty of women who would be happy to become Mrs. Jason Cameron. Once he decides that his quest for healing is in vain, he will dismiss me and get on with his life. And even if that life does not include a bride, it will hardly include me. I am an employee, not a friend, and I must always keep that fact in mind.
She should be planning on what to do with herself after he dismissed her-and on how to keep that moment at bay until after she had amassed enough money to make the future she envisioned possible.
Well, let me see what literary face Jason Cameron shows his visitors. Perhaps that can help me decide how to proceed.
There was a section of popular literature and poetry, light novels and romances in the bookcase nearest the door, all bound in matching leather with hand-tooled titles on the spine and the cover. The Bronte Sisters, Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Kipling, Doyle ... oh, Lord Byron-now there's something a bit racier! Cooper, Defoe, Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne, that was to be expected. How could an American tycoon not have the American literary lions in his library? Longfellow, of course. Verne, now there's a surprise! Dumas and Stevenson. Oh dear, what are Corelli, Alexander, Hodgson, and Braeme doing in such exalted company? Probably for those whose tastes are a bit more plebian. After a cursory examination she moved on to more fruitful territory.
Fruitful territory began with the very next case, which held general history books, arranged in time-sequence by author. Many of them were, as she well knew from her undergraduate courses, as dry as the Sahara, and guaranteed to encourage a "proper" young lady to return to the first case! Following the general histories were general geographies, then natural history and the sciences. The farther she went, the more pleased she became. All in all, a person could acquire quite a complete post-graduate education just by reading the books on the first floor.
So what was on the second floor?
She picked up her skirts in both hands and ascended the spiral, wrought-iron stair with anticipation.
Her anticipation was rewarded. Now this is a great deal more like it! Excellent translations of the Greek and Roman classics met her eye first-multiple translations, in fact-housed snugly next to the same books in the original. Other ancient works followed in the same pattern; translations, more often than not, multiple translations, followed by copies of the originals. Oh my-there is dear old Wallis Budge, all of his Egyptian translations! If ever I suffer from insomnia, I shall know where to find the cure for it!
Then a surprise; English versions of virtually every book ever considered "holy" by any culture, East or West, again with copies in the original tongues. They were all here-from the Mahabharata to the Koran, from the Talmud to the works of the Zen Masters. She raised an eyebrow at that; Cameron had not struck her as being anything like interested in religion. Perhaps, once he came to the inevitable conclusion that his search for "magical" help was in vain, she might send him here for consolation. Perhaps ... Buddhism? Somehow I can't imagine Jason Cameron becoming a proper Christian lamb. But I can't imagine him seeking enlightenment with serenity either.
She was halfway around the room when she came to the next subject-change; pure mythology, with interpretations and volumes of scholarly speculation. Then a surprise, in the form of medieval romances, ballads, and minstrel-tales.
Interesting. That certainly doesn't fit. Is this the remains of a younger, more romantic Jason Cameron? Or is this fodder for something quite the opposite? At any rate-there was more than enough material here for her to write several dissertations. I wonder if the world could tolerate another analysis of the cult of the Virgin Mary and the reflection of that cult in troubadour-ballads ... no, wait! What about something allied but different? What about reflections of Mary Magdalene in the 'fallen heroines" like Kundrie, Guinevere and Yseult.
That would be new-She happily pursued this notion for some time, making mental notes on a rich lode of source-material Cameron had available here. Why, she might even be able to fashion a doctoral dissertation just from what was here!
And how "proper" it would be for a lady, too-pious reflection on sin and redemption-One of the problems with her previous research had been resistance by her professors to the "appropriateness" of the subjects she found interesting. They could hardly argue with this! Not like the last one, where I was trying to prove that the "allegorical" nature of the courtly love-poem was anything but allegorical!
That brought her all the way to the end, which proved to be all huge, unwieldy, handwritten volumes. Some were old atlases, some she couldn't make head or tail of, and some were rather laughable "natural history" works of the previous century, showing all manner of imaginary beasts and claiming improbable things about them. There was certainly nothing of any use there, and the volumes themselves were so musty they made her sneeze. She dusted her hands off on her skirts and descended.
The weight of the book in her pocket reminded her that she had intended to read it this afternoon. While there was still plenty of light, it would be a good time to look the conservatory over and see if there were any surprises growing in the linked hothouses.
The conservatory was heated by steam and was as warm in this late-fall day as the warmest summer in Chicago - which was quite warm indeed. The conservatory was quite an affair of glass, wood, and wrought-iron, with graveled paths to walk on and wrought-iron benches placed at intervals for seating. In the main greenhouse, the largest one, was the expected tropical paradise, this one complete with two fountains, a waterfall, and towering palm trees.
There was another aspect of this delightful place she had missed in the dark, however-the birds. There were dozens of tiny, brightly-colored birds about the size of a wren flitting among the trees and bushes, bathing in the shallow pools and basins, and helping themselves to half-hidden feeders full of seeds and fruit. She recognized canaries both brown and yellow, but the others were new and entirely baffling. Their twittering blended pleasantly with the falling water, and by placing the benches in open spaces, away from overhanging branches, the unpleasant but inevitable droppings at least were not lurking on the seats.
There were four greenhouses attached to the main one. One held vegetables, one was clearly a forcing-house for flowers, and one for more tropical plants, both to decorate the mansion and to replace others in the conservatory. But the fourth one held herbs-and most of those herbs she didn't recognize.
More of Cameron's obsession with magic? Perhaps; many of the books she had been reading specified odd plants and herbs as components of spell-casting and ritual.
Or he could simply have a very sophisticated cook.
She took her book back to the conservatory and settled onto a bench to read.
In part because the book itself was so well-written, and in part because the concepts were not altogether foreign to her, she finished it quickly and closed the book on the last page just as the sun began to set. She remained with the book closed in her lap, thinking.
If one simply began with the assumption that there is some power that can be tapped with these cantrips and incantations ... there is a logic about all this that is difficult to dismiss out of hand.
It had not been all that long ago that the mysterious force of electricity had been as arcane as any of this magic. Claims of what it could do-besides providing light and heat-were still being made for it that were similar to those made for spells.
Was she being logical, or close-minded? Until now, she would have opted for the former without hesitation. Her understanding of the world was firm-until she read this book that was as reasoned as any of those modern books on science back there in the library.
The sun set, the birds settled into to groups to sleep for the night, some of them packing themselves five and six at a time into round basket-nests made of gourds. The fountains and waterfall continued to play, filling the usual silence of the house with welcome music.
And that, in itself, set off another train of thought. Usual silence ... I have become so accustomed to it, that I haven't thought about it. But there are no sounds of people, ever, anywhere in this place. No sounds of cooking in the kitchen, not even a whisper or a footfall. Yet this place is kept clean, meals are prepared, the animals tended-and the only human I have ever seen within these four walls is Paul du Mond.
She might have said, jestingly, that it was all done by magic. But what if that was no jest, but a fact?
I feel very much as if I have been sleep-walking and have awakened to find myself in a foreign land! She had been lured by the isolation of this place, and by the fact that she wanted that isolation, into ignoring the fact that she did not want the company of others about her. She did not want anyone to know that she was nothing more than a glorified servant in someone else's home, especially not other servants. As long as she could remain in her beautiful, luxurious suite without anyone seeing her here, she could pretend she was not Cameron's paid hireling, but a guest.
So she had willfully put the inconsistency of a huge, well-run establishment without any sign of a menial about completely out of her mind. She had purposefully closed her eyes to things that should have been screaming at her.
Or was I "encouraged" to ignore these things?
The book had also hinted that the power of magic-or rather, "Magick"-could be used to influence the thoughts and even actions of others. Had Cameron been playing with her mind?
A chill ran down the back of her neck, and spread over her entire body. If that was the case, what else could he have been doing to her? Could he be-
Her vision of the world and her common sense warred with what she had observed in this place, and now she was no longer certain of what was true and what was false.
There could be an even more sinister, yet completely mundane explanation. Cameron might be drugging her food, keeping her sleeping so soundly that the noise of staff working in the morning didn't disturb her. Then, once she was awake, he banished the staff to somewhere else on the estate so that she would not come into contact with them. Why he would do something like that, she had no idea-but a man who engineered a plot like that one was hardly sane.
But the situation as it stood was no longer tenable. "I have to talk with him," she said aloud. "I have to confront him, and know the truth about this place." She almost expected to hear a reply come out of the shadows gathering in the dusk beneath the tropical trees, but there was no response but the twittering of sleepy birds.
In a way, that was comforting. If magic really was a true force in the world, at least Cameron wasn't using it to spy on her every movement and thought.
Cameron was not paying a great deal of attention to the girl as she prowled the halls and rooms of his home; she was not being overly curious-she was not opening drawers or trying cabinet doors, for instance. He didn't see any point in giving her more than cursory attention, although he was too suspicious by nature to let her make her explorations unwatched. He noted with a bit of amusement her enthusiasm for his library, once she got past the first bookcase. She spent a great deal of time where he had expected her to, in front of the medieval section. After that, she retired to the conservatory with a book, one he assumed she had borrowed from those same shelves. Probably more of those ballads the trouveres created, I suspect my selection is as good as that in her university. Trust a woman to be fascinated by the roots of romance and ignore all the open descriptions of Magick as practiced by Masters!
He simply dealt with the mundane affairs of his business while she read, telegraphing orders to his underlings in the city. It was very convenient, having his own telegraphy instrument on his desk; he didn't need to write down the code as it came in, for he was so fluent in Morse he could translate it immediately in his head. If he hadn't had one, he would have had to depend upon Paul to an uncomfortable extent.
It is a pity I cannot give du Mond a watch like Rosalind's-but even if I did, he would probably find a way to be rid of it. Even he is capable of sensing something of that nature.
Having paws instead of hands did not greatly interfere with his telegraphy. With his instructions complete, he turned his attention to shelving his books of Magick and making the selections for tonight. He often ordered the Salamanders to perform this little task, but only when he was busy with other concerns. Even with misshapen paws instead of hands, he could still manage to shelve and remove books-
Then, as he shelved the last one, he knew that there was something wrong. One of the books was missing; there should have been seven, and there were only six. He hadn't noticed because the light was kept so low.
He knew immediately which one it was: The Arte and Science of Magick by Dee. He'd chosen it for her to read, even though it was really an Apprentice's book, because of a partial chapter on transformations, a chapter he thought might jog some associations loose for him if he heard it again.
It was also one of the books he had planned for her to read in its entirety later-when she was ready to believe, to prepare her for the more dangerous books he would ask her to peruse. But he had not planned that to occur for several months at least.
Swiftly he spun, and with a gesture of his black-tipped claws, called the mirror to life. She was still reading, although by the thickness left, there were only a few pages remaining. It was certainly too late to stop her.
He knew her; she was a scholar, and if she had not already deduced that Marcus Dee was a descendent of John Dee, the personal Magician and Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, she would soon make that connection. The modern Dee had written his book for the instruction of the offspring of High Magicians who also bore the Powers in their blood, offspring presumably under the tutelage and guidance of their parents. To that end, it was clear, concise and erudite, rather than reveling in obscurity. Because it was meant for the eyes of those who were already being competently guided, there was no need to shroud secrets in formulas that required other information from other sources to be decoded.
Even as he watched her, she finished the last few pages and closed the book. In the gathering dusk, she stared straight ahead, her blue eyes behind the lenses of her glasses focused deep within herself. As she sat there, thinking, a myriad of emotions crossed her face. Speculation, alarm, fear-she must be going through incredible turmoil at this moment.
Well, he was sharing those emotions! He clutched both paws in his mane and tugged with frustration. All of his carefully choreographed plans, set awry in a single moment! What was she going to do? More importantly, what was she going to believe?
As if she was answering him, she spoke. "I have to talk to him," she said aloud. "I have to confront him and know the truth about this place."
She stood up, clasping the book to her chest, and turned quickly. A moment later, she was well on her way to the staircase, her brisk stride unimpeded by her skirts, the silk petticoats whispering about her ankles.
Is she coming here? From the determined look on her face, he was quite willing to believe that she would march straight up to the door of his suite and demand entry!
But she went right past the second-floor landing without a pause, heading for her own rooms.
"Dinner for her, quickly, before she reaches her room!" he ordered his servants, harshly-thank Heaven he had already decided on the menu! It appeared, on his silver and china, as always, purloined tonight from the kitchens of the Palace Hotel. He always selected items that would not be missed slices of beef off the joint rather than a steak; soup and vegetables from large batches, and so forth. His servants could have prepared food, of course, but cleaning up required water, which Salamanders were not inclined to touch. He could persuade them to lick the china and silver clean with their flaming tongues, but as for cleaning up pots and pans-
The dinner was in place as she opened the door to her rooms, and before she could say anything, he forestalled her by speaking through the tube. He used his most commanding tone, on purpose, hoping she would not be inclined to ignore his authority if he invoked it.
"I sense you are agitated, Miss Hawkins. Please, sit down and enjoy your dinner. You will feel better if you eat first."
She turned and faced the speaking-tube; he noticed then that she was nowhere near as composed as he had thought. Her knuckles were white, she was clasping the book so hard before her breasts, and her voice trembled. "Is it drugged?" she blurted, her eyes wide.
That was so far from his mind that he found himself laughing, and for some reason that seemed to relax her a trifle. "It is not drugged, I pledge you that," he said, when he could speak again. "Please, enjoy your dinner. I believe that you wish to speak with me on an important subject. You will think more clearly if you are not suffering hunger-pangs."
He bolted his own dinner while she ate hers his altered body required only meat, as near rare as possible, and he ate it as a wolf would, bolting it down in large chunks. He was finished long before she was, but he did not take his eyes from the mirror even when he ate. His mind, raised to a fever-pitch of clarity by his own anxiety and alarm, analyzed her every movement. She evidenced none of her usual enjoyment of the food before her, chewing and swallowing it automatically, as if she was not even tasting it. She drank a bit more wine than was her usual wont, and he gathered that she was trying to find courage in the bottom of the bottle, as so many did.
She kept the book on her lap, as if by having it in contact with her, she reminded herself of her resolve. She ate quickly, either out of nervousness or because she did not intend to allow him too much time to contemplate her intentions.
She did not touch the sweet; instead, she emptied her wineglass, poured it full, and emptied it again in a gulp. Then she pushed resolutely away from the table and stood up again, still holding the book as if it was a shield. "Mr. Cameron?" she said, her voice quavering a little on the last syllable.
"I am still here, Miss Hawkins," he replied. "There is, after all, nowhere else I am likely to be."
"Mr. Cameron," she said, her face pale but her mouth set and her eyes behind the glasses hard with resolution and fear. "When I accepted this position, I was not aware of-of the irregularity of this establishment. I believe you owe me an explanation."
He coughed, and prevaricated. "I do not take your meaning, Miss Hawkins. There are no opium dens here, no ladies of dubious repute; I fail to see what you mean by an 'irregular establishment.' Would you care to explain?" Perhaps, given this opportunity, she would decide against confrontation.
"Why are there no servants here?" she asked, flushing a brilliant pink, as the words rushed out of her. "The work of many servants is done, the mansion is cleaned, the lights lit and extinguished, the beds made, meals prepared, animals tended-yet there are no servants! In fact, I only know of two people besides myself who dwell in this place! I have not seen a single soul but Paul du Mond since I entered these grounds, and I have only heard your voice. Where are the servants? And why did I not pay attention to their absence before this?"
"Before I answer that-what is your solution, Miss Hawkins?" he asked, as she reached blindly for the back of the chair beside her to support her. She is unused to confrontation. This is taking all the courage she can muster.
"I-I-" Abruptly she sat down, deflated, her hair coming loose from its careful arrangement and falling in tendrils about her face. "I have no logical solution," she said flatly, after a long moment of silence. "And the illogical solution flies in the face of all reason. I do not want to believe it."
Should he be the one to grasp the bull by the horns? Well-why not? If he could bring her to believe in the reality of Magick he would be able to eliminate a great deal of beating about the bush.
And it will save me endless effort in hiding it all from her. It is worth the risk. "And if I told you that the reason was because all work in this house, on these grounds, is accomplished by what you would refer to as Magick?" he asked, just as flatly.
She flinched, and did not answer him directly. "I must be mad," she said under her breath. "I cannot be hearing this-or discussing these things. It is not reasonable." She was shivering, though she tried not to show it.
She's afraid. She's afraid that it might be true, yet at the same time she wants it to be true. If I told her it was because my servants were all working only while she slept, she might believe me ...
"You could make her believe you," hissed a voice in his ear. "You could make up almost anything and make her believe you."
He did not have to turn; it was one of his Salamanders, and by the voice and assertiveness, the cleverest one. "I know," he told it, covering the speaking-tube, with one hand. "I could have you cloud her mind again. She has drunk so much wine it would be child's play to make her believe me."
"But you do not want to do that," the creature said shrewdly. "You want her to believe, because if she believes, she can help you."
Now how does it know that? The Salamander surprised him more every time it spoke. "If she believes, I will no longer need to waste time and effort concealing your presence from her-and I will not need to depend so much on du Mond for assistance, for she could do some things for me that do not require either experience or her actual presence. "That would be very good," the Salamander said with emphasis. "Show her, Firemaster. Give her facts. Give her the evidence of her own senses. She is practical, and where she might doubt a mere explanation, she will not doubt what she can see and test for herself."
Show her? Well-why not. She is so annoyingly logical, that just might be the correct approach to take with her "Go collect her supper-dishes," he told the Salamander. "But leave the sweet, and bring coffee. I want the effect of the wine countered. She may need both energy and alertness before the night is out."
The Salamander spun with joy and uttered a breathy laugh. "Yes!" it said. "Warn her I am coming! Let her test me!"
"I will," he told it. "Now you be certain of your path and move slowly, so that she doesn't miss anything."
"I must be mad," Rose muttered again.
"You are not mad, Miss Hawkins," came the hollow, grating voice from the speaking-tube. "Believe me, you are not mad. And if you will not believe me, then believe the evidence of your own eyes and watch your supper-table."
The last words were still hanging in the air as she turned again to stare at the table-and at the flickering shape of flame suddenly hovering above it.
A conjurer's trick, she thought, with disgust-but then the flame took more definite shape, the general aspect of a lizard, which blinked fiery blue eyes at her, and began to spin in place. Then her supper dishes rose gracefully on their tray, levitating above the tabletop. The dish containing the sweet separated from the rest and wafted gently down to rest on the tablecloth and a minute later, a spoon floated down to lie beside it. She hesitantly touched the latter; it was noticeably warm.
The tray remained above the table.
"Test it, Rose," the voice urged. "Use your own senses to tell you whether or not this is fakery. Make every test on it that you care to."
With exquisite care, she waved her hand beneath it, and encountered no resistance, no hidden supports. She reached out further and waved her hand to either side, and finally rose to her feet to circle the table. She tested the air all about the floating tray, and then waved her hand above it. There was nothing, nothing whatsoever. She circled the table again, looking for any means by which the tray could be moved, and still found nothing. The tray was perfectly ordinary, except for the fact that it was floating in midair, about a foot above the table-top.
No supports, no strings, no wires. And she thought she heard a giggle of delight from the spinning shape, which continued to hover about a foot above the tray. She had even passed her hand repeatedly between the creature and the tray to make certain it was not somehow attached to the tray, and had encountered nothing.
She sat down again, her eyes wide, biting her lip. The tray and the creature of flame sailed towards the door, which opened obligingly for them, then closed again. But Cameron wasn't done yet, for a moment later, the door opened again, and a coffee service sailed serenely in, below the floating flame, setting itself down on the table. She stared at it. I am seeing this, but I still do not believe it. There must be a way to explain floating trays logically! Surely he's tricking me.
"I thought perhaps after all that wine you might like something to clear your head," Cameron said, with a touch of amusement. "Then you can be certain that you are not being tricked."
The coffee-pot lifted into the air and poured a precise and delicate cup. The cream-pitcher followed, and her usual two lumps dropped neatly into the cup, which lifted, saucer and all, and moved towards her. She put out her hand without thinking, and it settled down on her palm like a pet bird. Finally the creature above the table stopped spinning.
She drank the coffee in silence, glancing obliquely at the little form of flame still hovering in the air, looking down at her. Finally, she put the cup down and addressed it directly.
"What are you?" she asked it.
The voice, which came from everywhere, was thin, sibilant, and silvery. "Salamander," it said to her, and blinked benignly.
She knew the precise meaning of the word in the mystical sense, which had nothing to do with the amphibians in the garden. The Salamander was a creature commonly referred to in the medieval manuscripts she had studied back in Chicago, as well as the more modern book by Dee. She said it aloud. "Salamander-the Elemental of Fire-""Very good. I see your memory is still working." That was Cameron.
"As Sylphs are of Air, Undines of Water, and Gnomes of Earth-" she continued. Did he control all of these creatures? "What about them? Can you-do you-"
He anticipated the question before she formed it. "I am a Firemaster, Rose. Only the Salamanders are my servants. The Sylphs and Gnomes might aid me if they felt like doing so or their Master demanded it of them, the Undines would flee me or try to destroy me if their Master willed it. Water is my opposite; Air and Earth my allies. Every sign is the ally of those next to it, and the enemy of the one opposite."
She remembered that now from the book. Earth and Air were the opposites, and Fire and Water. She recalled the sequence now. Earth supported Fire, Air fed it. Water nurtured Earth, and gave Air substance. Air was transmuted by Fire and Water. Earth received life from Air and Water ...
But according to Dee's book, a human could only aspire to be a Master of the Element of his own Magickal Nature, and only those few humans who had learned and mastered their Natures could become Masters of Elements and Elementals. It took years, decades, to become the Master of even one Element, but the resulting power-
"But if you are a Firemaster, why are you confined here-" she stopped herself with a gasp, her hand going to her lips as she flushed. How could she ask such an impertinent question? But he didn't seem to think it impertinent. "I am confined here in my home, as I am, for precisely the reason I told you when you first arrived. An accident, brought upon by hubris. I attempted a Magick for which my Nature was ill-suited. I am as-disfigured-as I told you I was, but in a far different manner than you had been led to believe." The voice was calm, but under the calm was a welter of emotions. "I dismissed my servants, all but Paul du Mond who is aware of my Magickal ability, and have lived here as a recluse since it happened. I dare not permit anyone to see me as I now am. My Salamanders attend to most of my needs, Paul attends to those things which require an intermediary with the outside world."
"And all of this around me-the books, the reading is this to help you find a way to restore yourself?" There was a logic to this madness that was irresistible, It was all beginning to fall into place in a tight pattern, one she could not easily refute. If one simply assumed that magic power was real ... "I take it that Mr. du Mond is no student of languages?"
"Paul is no student of anything," came the dry retort. "He is competent in modern French, English, and Latin, but as you have seen, most of my books are in other tongues, many of them obscure. I am unable by reason of my deformity to read them for myself. Hence ... the ruse that brought you here."
She closed her eyes for a moment and digested that, then opened them again and poured herself another cup of coffee. If I had been the meek little bookworm I suspect he wanted, whet then? Would I have been kept mind-clouded and in the dark while I prattled his translations away for him? "And if I had told you I would not stay here in the first place?"
A dry chuckle, one with a touch of cruelty. "For myself, there were other candidates besides you. As for you-there are many ways for a penniless woman to make a living in San Francisco, but I do not believe that most of them would have appealed to you."
She felt anger penetrate her bewilderment at that bald statement. "You used me, used my circumstances to put me into a position where I had no choice!"
"I never claimed to be a gentleman, Miss Hawkins," he countered, his voice even and in fact, indifferent. "I am a businessman. You should be aware what that means by now. It is my nature to use people, and I have no responsibility to those people to guide their steps then, or later. It is up to them to make what they can of the situation, to make it mutually beneficial. You are hardly stupid. Can you say honestly that you are not benefiting by being here?"
He has me there. Wages, fine food, beautiful lodgings, lovely clothing-I am certainly worlds better off here. Even if I am at the mercy of a madman. Or a magician. If they're not the same thing. "No," she admitted. "I am much better off than I would have been back in Chicago. But I do not like being used!"
"Then do something about it," he replied, flatly. "Decide to stay or go, decide to be used or decide to use me to get what you want. It is your choice, Miss Hawkins."
She didn't have to decide; she knew already. "I'm staying, of course!" she snapped-and perhaps the wine was to blame for her runaway tongue and temper. "Do you think I am so foolish as to abandon luxurious surroundings and congenial work just because my employer is suffering from the delusion that he is a feudal overlord with wizardly powers?"
That made him laugh, as she flushed again. "It is not a delusion, my dear Miss Hawkins! I am a feudal overlord with wizardly powers. The powers you have seen for yourself, and as for the feudalism, why do you think we are referred to as 'rail barons'? But I am glad that your good sense overcomes any fear you might have, knowing your employer is also dabbling in Magick."
It was her turn to laugh, for once again he had turned the tables on her. But she still had an arrow in her quiver to sting him with. "I am not afraid of your magic; I haven't seen anything but a convenient replacement for gossiping servants. If you were all that powerful, Mr. Cameron, you would not have needed a railway train to bring me here. For that matter, you would not have needed me. Flying dinner trays are all very well, but you obviously are dependent on normal people for a great deal, or you would not need Paul du Mond, either."
Silence for a moment made her fear she had said too much, and angered him. He could send her away and find someone more tractable.
"She is right, Jason," the Salamander said merrily, making her turn her head so suddenly to look at it that she nearly overset her coffee-cup. "I know she's right, damn it!" Cameron growled. The Salamander laughed.
Rose smiled triumphantly. "Can I take it then, that this is about to become less a relationship of overlord and serf, and enter a stage of cooperation? Or-at least let it be an arrangement of lord and knight!"
"Only if you are willing to abide by some rules," Cameron countered swiftly. "If you wish to be my knight, you must obey my decrees, true? I did not show you all this only to have you flout my authority in Magick. I am the authority there. If I am occasionally terse with you, it is because I do not have the time or the leisure to be otherwise. If I give you a direct order, I expect it to be obeyed."
She nodded, primly. "Of course. You are still my employer, and these are deep waters. I may have the rudder, but you are both the navigator and the captain."
"Very well." He sounded calmer, more satisfied. "I shall accelerate your Magickal education, and I shall not trouble to hide the activities of my servants from you. In fact, I shall assign one to you to tend to your needs, the same one that has been cleaning and picking up after you. Simply speak what you want aloud if you have any request, and it will tend to the task."
As unnerving as the floating fire-lizards were, she actually was relieved. At least now she could see the presence in her rooms. And now she knew it wasn't du Mond. That was reassuring all by itself.
Is there a grudging admiration in his voice? At least he won't be tempted to take me for granted now.
"I will still be attending to the matters of my business during ordinary office hours, so you will still have your afternoons free," Cameron continued. "However, I must ask you not to discuss any of this with du Mond. I believe that Paul may be jealous of you, and this would only confirm that jealousy. He wishes more from me than he deserves-or than I intend to give him."
Interesting. What is he to du Mond, or du Mond to him? Master and Apprentice? Or prisoner and keeper? On the other hand, she would really rather not discuss anything with Paul du Mond if she could help it.
This entire situation had an air of such unreality that it should have been a dream. That must have been why she felt bold enough to say incredible things.
I will wake up in the morning, and this will never have happened. This is all a dream; I fell asleep over that book by Dee, and I am dreaming all this.
"I would just as soon see as little of Mr. du Mond as possible," she said slowly. "If it is all the same to you."
"That will suit me perfectly," came the reply, which only made her wonder. Was there something that du Mond might tell her that Cameron did not want her to know? But what could it be? Were there still more secrets to be revealed?
"So, I take it that our schedule is still the same?" she said, vaguely aware that she should say something. It was trivial, but at least it was something. "Exactly the same," Cameron told her, and there was no mistaking the satisfaction in his voice, as if now he had decided that he had accomplished something that he was very pleased with. "The only difference will be that now I will not have to wait for you to be conveniently absent or asleep to send my servants about. And now that you have recalled the schedule, may I assume that you are prepared to resume that schedule?"
"I am not so frail that I am in need of a bottle of smelling salts after all this," she said sharply. She pinched herself sharply. She did not wake up.
All right. This is no dream. And I am reasonably certain neither of us is insane. Well, I'm sure I'm not. This is not medieval moonshine; it is only a new kind of science. Surely, if I had never seen an electric light before, I would find it just as magical as the Salamander "Send me your book, sir, and I shall resume my duties this very instant!"
He laughed; he was very pleased with himself. He sounded just like one of her father's cronies who had soundly trounced another in debate. "You may relax and enjoy your sweet, Miss Hawkins," he said indulgently, as one would to a child. "The events of tonight prevented my selecting your books, and it will take a moment before they appear."
The Salamander giggled again, and vanished soundlessly. Rosalind Hawkins was alone again in her sitting-room, torn between fuming with anger and shaking with emotions she couldn't quite define. Surely Lewis Carroll's Alice had never found herself in quite so strange a situation!
Certainly she had never encountered a male creature quite so infuriating!
Caught between conflicting emotions, she finally did what any sensible person would do.
She ate her dessert, and sat back to wait for the books to appear.
So now we embark on the real undertaking. Cameron sent his Salamander down to Rose Hawkins with the night's set of books, and sat back in his chair. My hands are shaking. When was the last time that happened? He regarded the his trembling hands with bemusement. He had negotiated deals that could have broken his fortune if they had gone wrong, he had faced dreadful ordeals in the course of attaining his Mastery, he had endured trials of his strength and nerve that few other men could have survived, and none of that had left him feeling like this. He had been tempted to tell the girl that the evening's duties were canceled, but if she could sit there calmly and insist on carrying them out, he was not about to admit to weakness.
I feel as if I have run for miles, as if I have faced a ravenous tiger with nothing but my bare hands and my will, and convinced it to go eat something else.
The Salamander-which seemed very pleased with the evening's events-opened her door and brought the pile of books inside. She concentrated every bit of her attention on it, exactly as a bird of prey would concentrate on a rodent, as if she was still trying to spot some evidence of trickery. But when the books were on the table beside the speaking-tube, and the Salamander had transported itself to its customary position at his elbow, she stood up and walked slowly over to her accustomed seat.
"You will find these books a little more difficult than the ones I sent you in the past," he said, leaning forward so that his voice carried clearly down the tube. "They are mostly handwritten manuscripts, copies of books still older than they are."
"I am quite accustomed to reading medieval script, Mr. Cameron," she replied briskly, taking the top book without hesitation and opening it. "I see you have not marked a passage. Am I to read the entire book?"
"Precisely," he told her, with a touch of coolness. "You may begin now, in fact."
He really didn't need to hear all of that particular book-but she needed to read it. Although the author was not credited, it happened to be Doctor John Dee, the ancestor of the Dee whose work had precipitated tonight's crisis, and there was a certain symmetry in beginning her real education in Magick with this book, intended for the instruction of his Apprentices. It was a symmetry that John Dee himself probably would have approved of.
She read through it, unflinching, even when she encountered concepts as foreign to a well-bred young lady of this century as a fork was to an African Pigmy. Much of Dee's work was pure nonsense, of course; he often got results that were quite astonishing, and would correctly deduce the cause of some particular event but he would arrive at that cause by some of the wildest twists of illogic! For instance-the admonition that to rid a village of Plague one must first rid it of rats was, of course, correct-but the reason was absolute bunk. Dee's assertion was that both Plague and rats came under the auspices of the Moon, and thus the rats carried the Moon's influence indoors, where it otherwise could not penetrate!
His notes on transformations were sound though, as far as they went. Dee had never actually attempted a transformation; he only related what he had learned from colleagues on the Continent. His tastes ran to the mystical, which certainly suited a Master of Air. The Sylphs were the least effectual of the Elements, and the most capricious. It didn't do to depend on them for much of anything, and they could not keep their attention on a task for more than an hour or two at most. They made tremendous messengers and information-gatherers, they could fetch something from anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye, but if their Master had an accident and sent them for help, chances were that without the Master's eye on them, they'd become distracted on the way and leave him to bleed to death.
Not that they were harmless, any more than a tornado was harmless, or a hurricane. No would-be Master of Air ever made that particular mistake twice. Very few ever made it once and lived to tell about it. Such was the case with each of the Elements and its Elementals. They had their strengths and weaknesses-and all were deadly and dangerous.
In the final section of his book, Dee described the first Ordealan Apprentice underwent in the process of becoming a Master of Air, and Cameron felt it would be instructive for Rose to read it. It should serve as a cautionary tale, as well. He waited expectantly when she closed the volume and put it aside. She reached for the next book, but did not open it immediately. From the expression on her face, he deduced that she was making up her mind whether to say something or not.
She cleared her throat, self-consciously. "Clearly, some of that was flummery," she said.
"A great deal, actually, but anyone with a rudimentary scientific education would recognize what is nonsensical," he replied, quietly.
"But that final chapter-?" She let the sentence hang in the air, ending it on a note of query.
"The final chapter is accurate, insofar as it describes the correct First Ordeal for an Apprentice seeking to become a Master of Air," he told her, as matter-of-factly as if he were confirming that the sun rose in the east. "The Ordeals for other Elements differ, of course. Each is determined by the Nature of the Elementals; the one thing they all have in common is that there is a cost to the acquisition of power. Nothing comes without a price."
She did not answer that, but he had not expected her to. After a moment, she opened the second book, and began reading it aloud.
When she finished, it was well past four, and he called a halt. Even if she was able to absorb the stress of the past evening without any overt problem, he had not been. As she finished reading, he cleared his throat. "That will be all for tonight, Miss Hawkins-"
"You called me Rose, earlier," she interrupted.
He recalled immediately, much to his chagrin, that she was right. "So I did. I apologize."
"Don't," she replied, surprising him. "The use of Christian names or even nicknames to another has more than one interpretation. It can be the sign that one is far superior to the other, but it can also be the sign that they are equal, if the liberty is equal."
He felt the corner of his mouth pull in an approximation of a smile at her cleverness. "Very well, then. I freely give you permission to call me Jason. I never had a nickname."
"I frankly can't imagine anyone daring to give you one," she countered, the blue eyes behind the thick lenses of her glasses sparkling with a hint of mischief. "I have no objection whatsoever to you calling me 'Rose,' however. I never particularly identified with my namesake."
"The character from Shakespeare?" he said, surprised. "But why ever not?"
"Because I wasn't named for the character from Shakespeare, but the naughty wife from Die Fledermaus," she admitted, blushing. "My father's taste ran to music rather than theater."
She startled him into a real laugh. "Now that I understand! We have done a good night's work, Rose; a great deal has been accomplished. Thank you, and good night."
"Good night, Jason," she answered, setting the book aside and standing up, brushing her skirt as she did so. "May I say that, strange as this has been, I fervently hope that I do not wake in the morning to discover this has been a dream brought on by too many medieval manuscripts and too much imagination? Life will be so much more interesting if all this is real."
"It is real enough, Rose," he told her image soberly, though too softly to be heard. "Real enough to be more nightmare than dream-which I pray you never discover."
In the morning, Rose woke quite certain that she had dreamed all of the events of the previous evening. It was too fantastic to be believed, too ridiculous. A railway magnate with a double life as a wizard, with magic at his command that truly worked? Absurd. She laughed at herself even as she stretched and made ready to rise-
Right up to the point where she drew aside the bed curtains and groped for her glasses, only to find them floating mere inches from her face, with a blurry globe of brightness hovering in the center of the room.
She seized the spectacles and fumbled them on hastily, and the blurry form resolved itself into a Salamander. There was no mistake; it was exactly as she remembered, a lizard-like creature that glowed a brilliant, flame-colored yellow, with fiery blue eyes. She could not tell if it was the one from last night or not, since she didn't note any real differences.
Then it spoke, and the voice was significantly different from the other; higher, breathier, like a small, shy child's. "What would you care to wear today, lady?" it asked. Its tone was deferential.
She blinked at it, and said the first thing that came into her mind; the slight chill in the air reminded her that it was November, and she identified the first warm ensemble she recalled. "The brown wool plush suit and one of the ivory silk blouses," she told it. The Salamander began to spin, and the wardrobe doors opened.
The suit lifted out, jacket and skirt together, looking uncannily as if it was alive. "This?" said the Salamander, as the suit turned for her examination.
"Oh-yes," she replied, still feeling rather stunned.
A bureau drawer opened, and one of the blouses rose from it, unfolding itself before her eyes. Even as she watched it, dumbfounded, the creases it had acquired from lying folded in the drawer smoothed out.
"And this?" asked the Salamander politely. "Or another?"
It was silk, it was ivory-the details of ornamentation hardly mattered at that moment. "I-yes, that will do nicely." She stared in wonder as the suit draped itself over the back of a chair, the blouse followed, and the appropriate underskirts, petticoats, and underthings followed it. Without prompting, the Salamander extracted a pair of fine brown kid boots that matched the suit from the special rack holding shoes, and those skimmed across the floor to join the rest of the ensemble.
"Will you have a bath?" it asked breathily. "Your breakfast is here already, if you would care to eat while I prepare the bath." "Please-" she said, still dazed. The Salamander, still spinning, floated off into the bath room.
She groped for the dressing-gown she had left at the foot of the bed, slid her legs out from beneath the covers, and put it on. She made her way into the sitting room in her bare feet; there were already fires burning in the fireplaces, warming the air.
Of course there are fires. This is a Salamander, a creature of fire. It would probably want a fire here.
The usual tray was indeed waiting for her. She sat down, bemused and a bit dazzled, but not too bemused to eat. Long before she was finished, the Salamander, no longer spinning, floated in through the door.
"Your bath is ready when you are, lady," it said. "Is there anything else?"
"Not-not at the moment," she told it, hesitantly.
"Only say what you need, and it will be here." The Salamander gave itself another spin, then vanished completely.
She put her fork down, still staring at the place where it had been. At least now I know what has been in and out of my rooms, and how things appeared so silently. It could be worse, much worse. It could have been du Mond. The very idea was enough to make her lose her appetite.
It also made her skin crawl, and the bath suddenly seemed very inviting.
There were distinct advantages to this new situation. The Salamander had laid all her clothing out, perfectly; had drawn the bath while she idled at breakfast. She discovered another, when the creature appeared as soon as she stepped out of the bathtub. It warmed her towels before she touched them, then brought her garments, one at a time, into the bathroom without her having to ask. She felt rather like a French queen with a hundred attendants before she finished dressing-and for once she didn't have to do up her corset herself as an approximation. The Salamander tightened it snugly for her-not fashionably constricting, but not so loose that it was uncomfortable and unsupportive. Not for the first time, she wished she did not have to wear the silly thing-but she was not the kind of wild and rebellious woman who would shed her skirts and corsets for a vest and bloomers, and stride off to march in a suffragette parade. Perhaps she was a rebel in her own way, but she preferred to keep her rebellion to paper and academia.
Sunshine outside beckoned, and she hurried down the stairs to see what her new change in status meant to the running of the household.
The change wasn't immediately obvious, but as she walked around the gardens, she did see the occasional spinning globe of light moving along a hedge or over a flower-bed. Where they passed, order appeared in their wake. And when she reached Sunset's paddock, the handsome stallion was enjoying the ministrations of three of the creatures; one giving him a thorough brushing, one cleaning his hooves, and a third slowly combing out his tail. Or rather - one hovered above his back while a brush passed over his flanks, one spun around the vicinity of his knee while a hoofpick cleaned his upturned hoof, and one spun above his tail while a comb ran carefully through the long hair. He seemed perfectly at ease with them, which surprised her, as she would have thought that such strange apparitions would have sent the stallion into a fit of fear.
But perhaps-if he came from a 'friend" of Jason's, perhaps that friend is also a Firemaster. Perhaps Sunset has always been handled by supernatural as well as human grooms, and they seem ordinary to him. Even so, he was remarkably steady with them; the little she knew of horses was that they were often restive even with human grooms.
She took the remainder of her "stroll" at a very brisk pace, trying to cover as much ground as she could, to get the paths of the gardens firmly in her memory. Before long, she intended to have a mental map of every path on the grounds. A need to escape was still a possibility; Jason's cordiality last night had not changed her mind on that score. If anything, she regarded him as more dangerous, rather than less, no matter what she had told him. If she no longer needed to worry about interference from human servants in an escape, now she had to be concerned with the even more dangerous Salamanders. If she had to flee, she would have to get off the estate before they were sent to search for her, for she would never be able to escape them.
That set her to wondering just what Jason' s accident had involved. Is he terribly burned, I wonder? That would make sense-the little I remember about Salamanders is that they were employed to smelt ores, fire up crucibles to incredible temperatures, and make fine steel by alchemists. Perhaps he had slipped, or somehow angered them, and they had burned him. But if that was true, would he still have such control over them now? I thought he said that his accident was because he attempted something foreign to his Magickal Nature. But I can't imagine that Sylphs or Gnomes could do much to him-and what kind of deformity could an Undine inflict?
The question kept part of her mind occupied as the sun slowly sank and she hiked her way through Jason Cameron's extensive complex of gardens.
For he had more than one. There was the Formal Garden, with its mathematically precise flower-beds and its carefully sculpted topiary trees in geometric shapes. This garden featured roses extensively, but also rhododendrons and other blooming shrubs. There was the requisite privet-hedge Maze, which she very quickly reasoned out to be a Fibonacci series and had solved the same afternoon she entered it. There was what she privately thought of as the Pleasure Garden, after the gardens mentioned in the poem "Kubla Khan" by Coleridge. This was a place of nooks and bowers, artificial grottoes and other places suitable for romantic tete-a-tetes, all planted around with bushes of fragrant leaves or flowering vines, all planned in such a way that each was invisible to the next or the one behind.
There was a Water Garden, a series of ponds graced with waterfalls and fountains, planted with lilies and other water-loving plants, and stocked with enormous, gracefully-moving fish of gold, white, and black.
A Kitchen Garden clearly supplied the estate with herbs and salads, and there was even a small orchard. But by far the largest part of the grounds had been sculpted into a clever imitation of a wild forest, complete with an artful "ruined tower," rustic swings, pretty little "forest huts" for shelter, and sculpted seats beneath the branches of some quite magnificent trees. A masterful hand had been at work here, keeping the best of the wilderness that had been here intact, leaving pockets of completely wild brush to preserve the illusion of absolute wild, while taming the rest so that it was inspiring rather than intimidating.
Cameron had walls around the gardens, but they were decorative rather than functional. At the extreme of his property, he had a single wire strung as a token fence. It was not even barbed wire-he had no near neighbors, and there were supposedly no dangerous animals about, so all that this "fence" did was to define his property line. Once she got this far-if she had to flee-she could make her way down to the coastline and follow it to San Francisco, or follow the fence-line in the other direction to the rail-spur and follow it to the main line. It would be a long and grueling walk; it might well take two or even three days. But she had no doubt that she could make it, provided she could avoid pursuit.
Perhaps it was foolish to think about a need to escape from this place-
But it would have seemed ridiculous to think that Jason Cameron was a magician, two days ago, she reminded herself, as she made her way back to the mansion itself. I believe in the next day or so I will try to find where the rail-spur crosses the property line.
And if nothing else, this was certainly ensuring that she got her exercise!
"Do you try again this afternoon?" the Salamander asked, watching Cameron lay out the lines of a magickal diagram in specially enchanted chalk on the floor of his workroom. He had stuck the chalk itself through a potato so that he could manipulate it, for otherwise his paws did not have fine enough control to hold something the size of a stick of chalk.
"Yes," he replied in a grunt that betrayed his pain; his body was poorly suited to bending over, and the position was causing him more difficulty than usual. At the same time, he dared not take any narcotic for the pain; he could not afford to make a mistake in this diagram.
"Are you certain this is a good idea?" the Salamander continued. "You have not found out anything new in what the girl has read to you."
"Nevertheless-I think-I have-a new-insight," he grunted. Perusal of his notes this afternoon had given him a slightly different perspective into the spell-or rather, the counter-spell-that was supposed to have reversed his condition. He thought, perhaps, he might have deduced a piece that had been deliberately left out of the original manuscript. If he was right, he should be able to enact the altered spell and return to human form.
The main question in his mind now was if the spell would be effective on his hybrid form. It was possible that the only way to make the reversal would be to transform all the way to wolf first, then return to his human state. If that was true, his task was doubly difficult, for he would first have to find out what had gone wrong with the transformation to wolf, then make corresponding changes in the reversal-spell, then perform both.
I must have been insane. The medieval spell of the loup-garou appeared often in tales, but in only one real grimoire that he had ever discovered. That alone should have made him extremely cautious. He knew that most medieval Masters held things back from their written records, kept key points secret in order to maintain their power over their Apprentices. He should have assumed that this grimoire would have been no exception.
And he should never have trusted the grimoire of an Earth Master who created such a thing as a lycanthrope spell. What use was it, except to terrify or spy upon one's neighbors? If one wished to experience life as a wolf, there were many spells to place one as an observer within the mind of a real wolf. Earth Masters in general were the mildest of creatures, much taken up with the health and fertility of the regions in which they lived, with studying the flora and fauna, and tended to be very conservative in their Magicks. The Master who had written the grimoire must, therefore, have been something of a "maverick," unusual in his interests and in his approach to Earth Magick. Cameron knew now that he should have taken warning from this.
Instead, he had felt a cocky kinship with the long-dead Master, and confidence in his own ability to be as much of an innovator as the man who had penned the spells in this grimoire.
Stupid, foolish, over-confident ... all those described Cameron, and well he knew it. After all, overconfidence was what had led him to accept Paul du Mond as an Apprentice, so certain he had been that he could make a silk purse out of that particular sow's ear. But up until now, he had never gotten himself into a difficulty he could not manage to get himself out of with a profit.
Up until now. Eventually the odds catch up with you, and pride goeth before a fall. He finished chalking the last of the sigils and straightened with a groan. His bones ached whether he remained still or moved, and he walked slowly to the table to deposit his chalk, listening to his joints pop and snap with each step he took. The muscles in his neck were so knotted and painful it was hard to hold his head up.
Fortunately, what he was about to attempt would either work, or not, within a half an hour.
"Guard me," he ordered the Salamander shortly. "If this is to be successful at all, it will be immediate, and whether it succeeds or not it will all be completed quickly."
"If it is over quickly, it will strain your resources." The Salamander sounded disapproving. "Your resources are thin enough, with very little to spare." "If so, it is my decision to make." He turned to look at the creature with half-closed eyes. "You yourself know that your kind are no longer my servants, but my allies. I no longer need to guard myself against your rebellion, nor to use my Power to force you to obey me. I have not controlled you for years; you obey me because you wish to, not because I must coerce you. Unlike Simon."
"Unlike Simon," the Salamander agreed. "Still. You have limits, and you have enemies. There are other things you must guard yourself from, and Simon is one of them."
"So I will rely on you to accomplish some of that for me," he retorted. "Guard me now. This will require but a half an hour of both our time."
He stepped into the center of the diagram, being careful not to scuff any of the chalked marks.
Half an hour later, he stepped out again, unable to raise his feet enough to prevent scuffing the lines. But by then, of course, it didn't matter.
The modified spell had not worked, and as the Salamander had warned, it had left him in terrible pain and so exhausted that the mere act of breathing was an effort.
He ached in every joint and every muscle, and shivered, chilled to the bone, as if he was in the grip of a high fever. His mouth hung open, his parched tongue lolling out, doglike, as he panted. His lungs burned, his stomach churned, there were shooting pains running down his spine and into both legs with every step be took. His head throbbed with agony. He got as far as his chair before collapsing, which was better than he had expected. He caught the arm of it as he fell, and turned enough so that his body slumped into the chair without further mishap. He wanted to close his eyes, but he knew that if he did, he would lose his grip on consciousness.
The Salamander was already beside him as he collapsed, and a goblet containing a mix of herbs and opium powder levitated into his hand before he could ask for it. He made the supreme effort it took to raise his hand, and lapped up the bitter mixture in thirsty gulps.
He lay back in his chair, as the goblet whisked away from his limp hand. Though bitter, the liquid did a great deal to ease the torment of his burning and dry throat and tongue. A second goblet followed the first into his hand, this one full of milk, one of the few liquids besides water he had any taste for in his altered body. As the initial exhaustion faded, he managed to bring it to his mouth as well; he lapped it up more slowly, and felt his stomach settling from the combined effect of some of the herbs and the warm, soothing milk.
The empty goblet lifted from his hand before he could put it down. He leaned back into the chair, and closed his burning eyes.
"Can you eat?" the Salamander asked. He raised his lids, and gazed at it. It had stopped spinning and now perched on the asbestos pad he'd placed on the desk for it to rest on.
"I shall have to soon-but not just yet." His voice sounded hoarser than usual to his own sharp ears. "Let the drugs take effect first." "Yes." The Salamander cocked its head to one side, and regarded him closely. "You are not yet in danger from them."
"But I will be soon, if I am not careful." He filled in what the Salamander did not say. "And therein lies the dilemma, does it not? Do I take opiates for my pain, and risk addiction and muddle-headedness, or do I endure the pain and the attendant distractions and weakness? Both put me at risk, no matter which I choose."
"It is a difficulty," the Salamander agreed. It did not offer any further opinion, for which Cameron was grateful. He was not in a forgiving mood at the moment, and he did not want to hear any more criticism from what was essentially a creature under his command.
He slumped back in his chair and tried to relax into its cushions and support, consciously working to loosen those knotted muscles, to get them to release some of their tension. Gradually, the pain that was centered between his eyes began to ebb, the aches of his muscles and joints to subside, as the opium exerted its power. Finally, the pain receded altogether, and he opened his eyes, carefully assessing his physical state.
He was just a trifle light-headed, but no more than the equivalent of a single glass of wine. The Salamander was quite good at judging his need and the strength of the drugs he would require to deal with his difficulties.
And it was quite good at judging when those drugs would take effect. Within seconds, there was a plate of barely-seared chunks of beef on the desk, and another goblet of milk beside it. Obviously, his caretaker was going to see to it that he did eat.
The lamps had been trimmed, and the shades were thick, amber-colored glass, so that the light was clear, but not hard on his now-sensitive eyes. He was familiar with the physical effects of drugs; they were something a Master of any Element had to know, both on the rare occasions when he himself might have to resort to them or prescribe them, and in case an Apprentice resorted to drugs to make up for inferior ability. Cameron knew that the opiates had made his pupils widen, and that if he looked at himself in the mirror, he would see that there was nothing visible of the iris but a thin, brown ring around the dark, wide pupils. That would make him even more sensitive to light than usual, and his lupine eyes were very sensitive indeed.
He bolted the chunks of meat without chewing them, and washed down the salt-sweet taste of the blood left in his mouth with the milk. The Salamander said nothing during the whole time he ate, but whisked the plate and cup away the moment he had finished.
He yawned, and felt his jaw muscles stretching and his tongue extending, though he tried to prevent the latter. "I am just as glad that Paul was not here for this," he said.
The Salamander stirred restlessly. "Are you certain that you can trust him for a week alone in the city?"
It occurred to him that this Salamander was uncommonly intelligent and articulate, and growing more so all the time, as if continual exposure to its Master was making it into something akin to a highly intelligent human. Well, all to the good. I certainly need an intelligent aide, and if it is a Fire entity, why should that matter? He shrugged, or tried to. "I am reasonably certain that I cannot trust him, beyond trusting that he will follow my orders. But I have not yet detected the touch of Simon Beltaire on him, so whatever mischief he is getting into, it is probably nothing more serious than finding ways to cheat me. Or to cheat others," he added as an afterthought. "He has enough Magickal knowledge now to ensure that he wins at any number of games of chance. I am quite certain that whatever else he is doing, he is increasing his personal fortune illicitly, no matter how many times I warn him that such is a dangerous game to play."
"He would never believe he could be caught," the Salamander pointed out.
"And he might be correct," Cameron mused. "Who else would catch him but a Master or another Apprentice, and what others are there in the city that would stoop to cheating at games of chance for mere money when there are surer ways of obtaining a fortune for a trifle more work?"
He considered his own fortune, obtained by using his growing control and knowledge of Magick to be certain what commodity would be needed when and where. With that knowledge, and with the ability to see to it, through his Salamanders, that no one else beat his goods to the market, a relative pittance carefully invested doubled, redoubled, and doubled again. Within a year, he was well-off, within two, wealthy, and within five, in very near the position he held today. After that, he needed only to find competent underlings and he could settle back and concentrate his attentions on Magick, which was precisely what he had done.
It had been easier to accomplish all that out here in the West, where fortunes were made and lost overnight, where one's status depended, quite simply, on how much wealth one had, and no one questioned what a man did as long as he appeared to be a perfect gentleman in genteel company. In the East, he might have run into difficulties, not the least of which were the vastly greater number of Masters there. Here he had no one to contend with but Simon Beltaire, for the Masters of other Elements had no reason to interfere with him out here, where there was so little in the way of competition. The local Masters of Water invested in shipping concerns, knowing that they could ensure their ships arrived safely and ahead of all others. Those of Earth had made all of their fortunes in gold and silver; who better to know where the strikes would be? And those of Air invested in entertainment, and were paid back handsomely, for there was no place on the face of the earth as pleasure-loving as this West Coast, and no one better able to manipulate the emotions of others to induce pleasure than a Master of Air.
He closed his eyes, felt himself "floating" just a little with the effect of the drugs. It was the closest he came these days to a moment of pleasure himself-a moment when he allowed himself the luxury to be free from pain at the expense of mental alertness. He would not permit himself to fall asleep like this-his training made that much possible-but he could relax, just a little, and let his thoughts meander where they would.
He drifted further, and did not trouble to fight the drugs. The last time he had felt like this, it had been the effect of fever rather than drugs ...
Typhoid. So medieval. Incredible that I survived. With opium between himself and the memories of what some might call a tragic childhood, it seemed as if they might belong to someone else entirely. He let the memories flow past him, surveying them with drug-induced detachment.
Not so tragic. Not as tragic as an early death, certainly. There are sadder stories than mine playing out in the streets of every large city every day.
How ironic that he and the Hawkins girl should have come from the same city. But a span of fifteen years separated her birth and his, and he doubted that she even thought a great deal about the event that had been so pivotal in his life and the lives of most other natives of Chicago born before 1871.
How incredibly ironic that he should have become a Master of Fire when Fire had been instrumental in obliterating his past and changing his future beyond all expectations. How even more ironic that this same Fire had been caused by two now-dead Firemasters.
He had only been four years old when the Great Fire in Chicago had taken his mother and destroyed his father's home and business. That was what he had been told, at any rate-during the few times his father had been drunk enough to talk, but not too drunk to be incoherent. He himself had no real memory of her or of the times before the Fire; vague feelings, even vaguer images, but no memories. And as for the Great Fire itself-
Even the opium could not cushion that memory, and as usual, he shied away from it.
He and his father had wandered for days before someone had taken them to a charity shelter run by some church or other, but when his father began to drink, they were turned out. His father had no real heart for anything after his mother's death; despite the generosity and charity of many, he never bothered to look for help outside of a bottle again.
Cameron could, if he chose, conjure up a Magickal vision of his father as the man had been, but all that remained in his memory was the drunk.
I can't even think of him with any positive feelings; he was never more than someone I had to obey-and sometimes take care of. The only time that Ronald Cameron was not drunk was when he was suffering from a hangover and trying to scrape together the cash for his next bottle of rotgut whiskey. He dragged himself from one odd job to the next, hauling his young son behind him like so much unwanted, half-forgotten baggage.
It was life on the edge, but children are flexible, and he had endured it because it was all he knew. Such a life could not last for long, but it had been long enough to ensure his father's complete descent into a state where nothing mattered to him but the next drink.
The two years Jason spent trailing about after his father should have been a century for all the misery they contained. Always cold, hungry, filthy-fighting with tramps who tried to steal the little he and his father had left, always sleeping with one eye open for trouble-small wonder he had gotten sick.
Small wonder father abandoned me as soon as became a real burden.
As so much of his memory was fragmented, he had only bits and pieces of memory from his illness, but the pieces he had were extraordinarily vivid. The first was of the hour before dawn, and his father literally tying him to the front gate of a brick house so that he would not try to follow, or wander away in his delirium. He recalled that he was cold, but as light-headed as he was now, and as he shivered, he could not make himself move so much as a finger. The second sequential piece was of an amazingly ugly man peering down at him, then glancing up at someone out of Jason's line of sight ...
"Sick as a dog, sir." Then, in a tone of acidic irony, "Someone must've mistaken this place for a charity hospital. I'll call a policeman. "
A second voice. "Wait a moment." A second face, thin and ascetic, peering at him through the lenses of a pince-nez. "No, bring him inside, clean him up, and send for the doctor. I can use this one. "
And that was his savior. Jason grimaced sardonically. Not surprising that "clean him up" was the order before "send for the doctor." Alan Ridgeway was not a cruel man, but he was not a compassionate man either. He could have stood as a model for anyone wishing to study the morals and manners of the pure intellectual. There was very little warmth in him, which was rather ironic considering that he was the most powerful Firemaster in Chicago.
He had not been in Chicago at the time of the Great Fire, or it might not have gotten as far as it had.
Might. He might have been able to separate the combatants before they burned down half of Chicago and thousands of acres around Peshtigo ...
One Firemaster had lived in Peshtigo, a lumber town in the heart of the Wisconsin woodlands, and one on the South Side of Chicago. They had always been rivals, but one day in October, something happened to make them deadly enemies. And a few days later, the battle began that claimed twelve hundred lives in Wisconsin and an additional three hundred in Chicago.
The only other Masters in the city at the time of the Fire had been of Air and Earth, and precious little use in the face of an inferno. There were no Masters of any kind in the lumberland of Wisconsin. And when it was over, both Firemasters were dead.
The Masters of Boston had been horrified by the carnage, and in an unprecedented burst of public-spiritedness, those of Fire decreed that one of their number must relocate to Chicago to see to it that there were no outbreaks of fires caused by Elementals set free by the deaths of their Masters. He had been told the Masters of Water of New York had sent a similar representative to counter any actions of Salamanders. The Firemasters had drawn lots to determine who should go, and Alan Ridgeway had lost.
A true Boston Brahmin, Ridgeway had changed his name when he achieved his Mastery and had vanished from the ken of his family, who would have expected certain duties from him that he was no longer able or willing to fulfill. Magick was his mistress and his wife, and no mere female could ever interest him enough to make him want to make even a token effort to satisfy her. That would not have Done in the circles he was born to, so he removed himself from those circles.
It hardly mattered that he was no longer even part-heir to the family fortune, since no Master was ever without money for long. He soon made a modest fortune of his own-a modest fortune was all he wanted-and when he was chosen by fate to go to Chicago, he went without too much complaint.
But the Fire that had claimed so many lives seemed to have claimed a disproportionate number of those with the Magickal Nature of Fire itself, for the one thing Alan Ridgeway had not been able to find in the year he had been in the City was an Apprentice. For some, this would have caused no great trouble, but for Alan, brought up to always strictly follow the rules, it was very disturbing. He was a Master and a Master needed an Apprentice. He had left his previous Apprentice with another Master, since the boy was not able to make the move with him. And Alan Ridgeway, unlike many Masters, loved to teach. Without a pupil, he felt truly incomplete.
So when a filthy, sick, penniless child, with the purest Magickal Nature of Fire Ridgeway had ever seen, had been abandoned at his front gate, it must have seemed like the hand of a beneficent Providence at work.
Not that Ridgeway believed in Providence. A true Cynic of the ancient Grecian school of philosophy of that name, he believed in nothing he could not see or experience himself. Perhaps that had been why Magick had claimed his soul with such strength-for although Magick was mystical in nature, it was also something he could see, measure, and control.
Dear old Ridgeway. Once I was clean and fit to come into his immaculate house, he did his best for me.
For a Firemaster, of course, the work of augmenting the doctor to ensure a cure was fairly simple. The reason for fever was to burn out a disease. In a child whose Magickal Nature contained even a hint of Fire, Fire could be used to complete the process before the child became too weak and debilitated to recover. In a child like Jason, Ridgeway could work a cure even the doctor pronounced as miraculous, though the illness be the deadly typhoid fever itself.
Jason had awakened in a place that, at the time, seemed compounded from fever-dreams-in an oak bed with clean, fresh sheets, in a fine room, with the ugly man sitting in a comfortable chair beside the bed, watching over him.
The ugly man was Ridgeway's trusted manservant, Barnes; beneath Barnes' gruff exterior beat a heart of solid granite. He was in that chair because he had been ordered to remain until Jason awoke, and not out of any humanitarian concern for a sick child. Barnes never showed any sign of caring for anything or anyone; his acidic wit burned as wickedly as any Salamander, and he spared no one, not even himself. He treated Jason as an adult from the beginning, for he had no patience with children, and he reasoned that if Jason was treated like an adult, he would soon become one. If Jason did something childlike, he was scourged with the whip of Barnes' wit until he often thought that a physical beating would be preferable. But as long as I behaved like a responsible adult, I had nothing to complain about. Certainly there was nothing lacking in my physical and intellectual surroundings!
Ridgeway knew nothing about children or their needs, and left Jason's care up to Barnes. But as for Jason's education-there Ridgeway had an interest. He had his own theories about the way a child should be taught, and applied them with a vengeance.
It was a good thing I came out of that fever with all my intelligence intact. He had needed every scrap of it. Ridgeway's notion of a proper education was to rush the child through the tedium of learning to read, write, and figure, and then go straight into the real meat of learning, beginning with the classics of Grecian and Roman literature. Ridgeway had a sound background in history, and saw no reason why a modern child couldn't emulate an Elizabethan child like Lady Jane Grey, who could read and write in several languages competently enough to correspond with adults in them by her ninth birthday.
I would have been a severe disappointment to him if I'd been a dolt. Not likely, though. Not with such a strong Magickal Nature. Children of that sort were generally the brightest and best.
Ridgeway kept him at his books from dawn to dusk, with time out only for another passion of his, physical exercise of the classical Greek sort.
Cameron had actually enjoyed poor Ridgeway's attempts to replicate the exercises undertaken by the athletes of ancient Greece, with the addition of equitation, for Ridgeway loved riding and there was nothing he could not ride. Sound mind, sound body, and all that. They were the closest he came to being able to play. The time or two that he had feebly objected to the strenuous intellectual regimen, both Barnes and Ridgeway had pointed out that he had been taken from the gutter, and they had no obligation to him. If he wished to return to the gutter, he could do so at any time.
Memories of near-starvation were a potent goad to keep him from voicing any further objections.
Ridgeway was even kind in his own way. He never uttered a rebuke that was not justified, and while he did not demonstrate affection physically, he was certainly ready enough with warm praises as Jason rose to meet his high expectations. Before long, Jason never even thought of his former life.
Soon enough, Ridgeway treated Jason as the Apprentice he would be when his powers settled at about eighteen, rather than the child that he was. Such treatment included one-sided "discussions" of Ridgeway's observations.
"What do you think of people, boy?" The Master puffed on his pipe and regarded Jason speculatively. "People, as in humanity, sir? Ordinary people, you mean?" At Ridgeways nod, the boy shrugged. "I don't think of them much at all, sir. I mean, we're so different from them. Why bother thinking about them?"
"People are sheep, boy." The Master made this pronouncement with the finality of a physical law. "But it's in our interest to protect the flock. If we don't, the wolves will eat them up, and there'll be nothing for us. Just because they're sheep, it doesn't follow that they have no value. Always remember that, boy. We aren't the wolves. We're the shepherds, and the sheep can be of great benefit to us."
Cameron had never seen anything in all his years to contradict that particular piece of wisdom. Ridgeway had used that analogy often during Cameron's education.
Once it had come up in an odd circumstance when a stained-glass window in a church had caught Ridgeway's eye. It depicted Jesus with a shepherd's crook and a lamb over his shoulders, and Ridgeway had begun to laugh.
Jason had been puzzled at the reaction to a church window, and Ridgeway had been in a good enough mood to explain it to him.
"I have to laugh whenever I see the sheep talking about Jesus as 'The Good Shepherd' without thinking about it. What does the shepherd do?" Ridgeway waited for the obvious reply, smiling a little.
"He protects the sheep," Jason had replied promptly.
"And why?" Ridgeway chuckled. "So he can take their wool twice a year, take their milk if he's so inclined, and butcher lamb and ewe alike when the flock is big enough that he can afford some meat out of it. Do you think that's the image those good people in there really have of their God?"
Even at ten Jason was far more aware of the illusions people cherished than most adults. "No," he had answered promptly. "They don't want to think of God that way."
"But it's a truer view than they know," Ridgeway had replied, sardonically. "A truer image than they want to contemplate." He chuckled again. "Barnes keeps asking me if the correct translation of that passage in the Bible feed my sheep,' shouldn't read 'fleece my sheep.' "
Jason's mouth twitched with amusement at the recollection. No doubt if anyone had overheard them, Ridgeway would have been publicly vilified, perhaps even attacked.
But Ridgeway was too clever to say any such things where he might be overheard. He had made a concerted effort to portray a perfect humanitarian and man of letters. He contributed generously to charity, in part because the "sheep" had to be fed, and in part because people who were starving tended to make trouble. In his capacity as a Firemaster, he helped to keep the common people of Chicago safe from a repetition of the Great Fire, though that was hardly public knowledge. He was considered a fine gentleman and a model citizen, and he saw to it that Jason was formed into the same pattern-but also that Jason knew why such a pose was necessary. When Jason passed his Ordeals and became a Master in his own right, Ridgeway was as proud of his accomplishment as he had any right to expect. If Ridgeway and Barnes had never attempted to become substitute parents, they also never pretended that they were trying to do so.
He had never found his father. He'd gone out, now and again, to look-but his quest was as fruitless as it was futile. What would he have done if he'd found the man, anyway? He could hardly have taken a drunk back to his Master; Ridgeway would rightly have refused to have anything to do with the situation, and might have thrown both of them out. Any money he had supplied would quickly have turned into little bottles of spirits.
At least Ridgeway and Barnes wanted him. Ridgeway wanted him because of his potential as a student, and Barnes because having him there pleased the Master and because Jason assumed some of Barnes' duties. It wasn't love, but why should that matter? It was tolerance and welcome, and that should be enough for anyone.
Well, it didn't matter, and there's an end to it. My own father didn't want me, so I'm lucky I found a place where I was needed.
But after he became a Master in his own right, things changed, as Ridgeway had known they would. It was uncomfortable to have two Masters of the same ardent Element as Fire in such close proximity to each other-the more so, since one was a former Apprentice of the other. There were bonds of respect and pride there that would not permit them to become enemies, so one of them had to go, and since Jason was the younger, he opted to leave. Besides, he had just discovered the amazing potential for wealth that the railroads represented, and it had seemed to him that it would be foolish to compete for a territory when so much of the great West remained unclaimed. Ridgeway provided him with the seed money for his own fortune and sent him off with blessings, and Cameron began his investments in the Chicago Commodities Exchange. It did not take him long to build up enough that be could be considered a serious investor in larger projects. That was when he left Illinois entirely, and became an entrepreneur in Steam and the Railroads as only a Firemaster could.
"Rose is in her room again," the Salamander said, interrupting his reverie. "She's just finishing her dinner. Are you fit enough for her to read tonight?"
With an effort, he raised his eyelids, and waved a clumsy-feeling paw at the obsidian mirror. Rose Hawkens' image appeared in it, laughing at something.
"She has just found out where her meals come from," the Salamander told him. "She asked her servant. She seems to find it very amusing."
She looked as if she was beginning to take all of the strangeness of her situation in stride, which was a definite relief to Cameron.
"Where was she today?" he asked the Salamander. "What was she doing?"
The Salamander could not shrug, but its indifference was clear. "Walking in the gardens."
That was harmless enough, and surely would have bored the Salamander. But the girl did more walking than any woman he'd ever met; not even the women who made a living on the streets covered as much actual distance in a day as she did!
"She must be used to walking," the Salamander continued. "She seemed to walk a great deal in Chicago."
There was that. Given the shabby state of her wardrobe, she probably had not even been able to afford street-car fare regularly.
He pulled the mouth of the speaking-tube over to his face, and spoke into it. "If you are ready, Miss Hawkins-"
"Rose," she interrupted. "We agreed to use Christian names, Jason."
"Indeed we did." He felt a flicker of amusement at her boldness. "Very well, Rose, we can begin where we left off last night."
He was not paying a great deal of attention to anything but the cadence of her reading once she began. He allowed the chair to take all of his weight, and stared into the obsidian mirror at her image as she slowly puzzled her way through the complicated German grammar of the first of the night's volumes. It was not an easy task to wade through this book, and Cameron was impressed by her fluency.
As she paused to decipher a particular word, she evidenced a flash of humor. "I beg your pardon for taking so long with this sentence," she said without looking up, "But I sincerely hope that this fellow's grasp of Fire Magick was better than his penmanship and skill at writing, or I fear he came to a warm end."
Cameron was surprised into a dry chuckle. "I believe you can be easy on that score," he replied. "I am given to understand that he died peacefully in his bed at an extreme old age."
She continued on for a bit further, then frowned, flipped ahead a few pages, then stopped altogether. "Excuse me, Jason, but I think the reason you wish me to read this next section is for my benefit, and not yours."
Once again she surprised him with her acuity. "Your point?" he asked.
"While I have no objection to the principle, this man's handwriting is wretched, his spelling worse, and his grammar, even for a German, worse still." She looked at the speaking-tube directly, as if she was looking straight at him. "I think you would do your ears and my eyes a great deal of good if you would give me your understanding of a person's Magickal Nature, since that seems to be the subject of this particular segment of the volume."
"She has a point," the Salamander chuckled. "You hated that book when Ridgeway wanted you to read it, and for the same reasons she dislikes it."
Only too true. He considered his own state for a moment. Was he personally fit to give anyone a coherent explanation of anything?
Possibly. Just possibly. "I will try, Rose," he acknowledged, "but you must bear in mind that my approach is modern, and tends to the rational and scientific, insofar as Magick can be either of those things. The solution I am searching for may be in more mystical realms and if your understanding is purely modern you may not translate later documents with the appropriate slant."
"Then I will set this aside to read later, in stronger light," she promised, and marked the book, placing it back on the table. Then she settled back in her chair, but rather than folding her hands in her lap, to his surprise she took a leather-covered notebook from the table and picked up a pencil, preparing to take notes!
He almost commented on that, and caught himself just in time. He could not let her know that he was able to watch her, or she might be offended. Worse, she might be angry, angry enough to demand to be released from this position.
I need her skills. There is no escaping the fact.
"Very well, if you are ready-" He cleared his throat, feeling a trifle self-conscious. Well, I cannot possibly bore her worse than those ancient professors she had to listen to. "According to the System of Magick which we all use, as calculated by Pythagoras, all Magickal Power is embodied in the creatures of the Four Elements. If a human-or any other earthly creature, I suppose, but at the moment we are only concerned with humans-wishes to work Magick, he must do so through the intermediary of creatures of the Element which he commands."
She nodded as she made notes. "Just as an aside, are there any other creatures that work Magick?" she asked.
"For certain, I am only aware that the whales and dolphins have a few Magick-workers among their kind," he said. "They work Water Magick, of course. There are rumors of other creatures, Man-Apes in both the Himalayas and the forests of the Northwest, for instance, but nothing I can confirm. If they do exist, these creatures are extremely secretive and are rarely even glimpsed. It is believed that they would do anything to avoid contact with humans."
"I suppose," she said, touching the end of the pencil to her lips as she thought, "That if they were working Magick, it would be to hide their presence from our own species, so you never would find out for certain, would you?"
He coughed. "A point, I grant you. Well, to get back to the subject, as described by Herr Alexander Metzeger, whose handwriting you so despise-"
She flushed very prettily.
"-every human has all four Elements commingled in his Magickal Nature. Most of them possess exactly equal amounts of all four, and thus, command no Magick for themselves. It is only when there is an imbalance that one can work Magick, for it is only when there is an imbalance that a human comes near enough to the Nature of the Elemental that he can communicate with and command them."
She scribbled fiercely in her little book, and he paused to allow her to catch up. "Would that be something like a blind man having acute hearing?" she hazarded.
"Good!" he applauded. "Yes, that is an excellent analogy. It may be that because the Magician has that lack in one Element, he becomes more perceptive in another, as the blind man does. There is a danger attendant in having an imbalance, which is that you are vulnerable in the area in which you are the most deficient, and most often, that is the Element that is the opposite of your own."
"How far can the imbalance go?" she asked. "How-how far can the sensitivity to one Element be taken?"
"To the point where only a Master would be able to find the traces of any elements other than the one that the Magician-or would-be Magician-in question commands," he told her. "That is why no one can command more than one Element. By simply having that surplus of one, you of necessity drop the rest below even that of a 'normal' man." He frowned, and thought of an analogy, since she seemed to favor analogies. "Think of a square table, with marbles rolling about on the surface. Tilt it towards any one corner, and only that comer will fill with marbles. That is the way Magickal Nature operates, and it is just as well."
"Why?" she asked.
He had been expecting that question. "Because the Elementals are jealous creatures. They would never tolerate sharing a Magician with creatures of any other Element. Even if a person somehow managed to get a surplus in two Elements rather than one, he would be much better advised to simply concentrate on the one he preferred. The Elementals of his two Elements would be constantly bickering with each other, wasting time and energy, and interfering with his plans."
"They sound like naughty children," she commented, with a smile she did not know he could see.
He snorted. "They are like naughty children," he told her. Actually, he had thought of another simile, but it was not a polite one. "Well, that, in essence, is what Herr Metzeger has written in the section of his book you wished to set aside for the moment."
She made a face. "He took forty pages to say that?" she responded incredulously.
"With more elaboration, which you can read if you choose. He goes on at some length about the characteristics of each Element, how you can tell if a child has that imbalance in his Magickal Nature that will make him suitable for an Apprentice, and how the characteristics of the Magickal Nature carry over into the personality." Cameron paused for a moment to let a wave of light-headedness pass. "You might find all that useful. If you pay close enough attention, you will be able to decipher a person's Magickal Nature without ever using anything but your wit and your five senses to do so."
"Is that what you do?" she asked boldly.
He barked a short laugh. "No," he told her truthfully. "I don't have to. I am a Firemaster, and I have my Salamanders do it for me. They can tell with a simple look what a person's Magickal Nature is."
She had that contemplative look again. She's thinking of something. This could be interesting. I wonder if she is going to ask me what her Magickal Nature is, and if she could be a Magician. But the question she asked was not the one he expected. "Could a Master of one Element teach an Apprentice of another?"
"Well, that is an interesting question." He thought it over for a moment. "In theory, I don't know why not-in fact, according to some of the old books you will be reading, the great Masters of the past did so. The discipline is the same, only the spells and Ordeals differ. The one drawback would be that if the Apprentice got himself into trouble the Master would not be able to command the Elementals of the Apprentice to return to their places."
"You stressed the word, command. Could he do something else to save his Apprentice from his own folly?"
Dear God, she was quick! "He might, if his command of his own Elementals was strong enough, be able to persuade his Apprentice's Elementals to leave the Apprentice alone." He shook his head, forgetting she could not see him. "I would not care to try such a tactic with any Elemental but the Sylphs, however. They are the most forgiving and tolerant, and the least likely to anger. Gnomes are slow to anger, but when enraged, they are implacable, and Undines I could not handle at all, obviously."
"Obviously." She picked the book back up. "Thank you, Jason. You have saved my eyes a terrible strain. On to the rest of Herr Metzeger's pearls of wisdom however atrociously written they are."
He settled back again as she resumed her reading, but his mind was still on the last question she had raised.
Her Nature was Air; the Salamander would not have bothered to mention that unless she was powerful enough in Air to command the Magick. Should he make the experiment she suggested, and try training her himself? It would certainly obviate the problem that most Masters and Apprentices had, that as soon as the Apprentice became a Master, one or the other had to seek a new home. A Master of Fire and one of Air could even dwell side-by-side in the same building with no ill effects....
Could I? Should I? Who would it hurt? I don't think she's stupid enough to do anything that would get her in real trouble; the only question would be if she could pass her Ordeals, and that would be out of my hands if she was an Apprentice in Fire rather than Air.
It was a question that continued to coil in the back of his mind through the rest of the evening, and even followed him into his dreams that very night.
From the moment that she had accepted Magick as a reality, Rose had leapt out of bed every morning with anticipation that was not in the least hampered by her knowledge that Jason Cameron was a dangerous and possibly unbalanced man, and that this situation might turn hazardous at any moment. That didn't matter-perhaps it even put a frisson of exhilaration into the arrangement, for there was nothing quite like skirting the edge of danger to put a certain zest in living. But this morning Rose awoke with her sense of excitement and adventure dimmed, and for a good reason. Today, so Jason had informed her last night, Paul du Mond would return to the mansion. Cameron had reiterated his request that she not reveal her new-won knowledge of Magick, and she had been quick to repeat her agreement. Paul represented danger too, but not of the sort she preferred to court. She was suspicious of his motives and his morals, and he was altogether too sly for her liking.
I know too much about men like du Mond, and yet I don't know enough to protect myself. I would prefer not to learn anything more the hard way. She sighed. No, it isn't precisely danger that he represents, it's corruption, it's veniality. I can't imagine him doing anything magnificent, only petty-or anything really horrifying, only tawdry.
She pulled aside the bed curtains, which was the signal for the ever-attentive Salamander to levitate her glasses into her outstretched hand. Oh, what an improvement that was over her former fumbling!
I wish there was a way to keep this Salamander with me when all this is over ...
As her fiery servant moved to the windows and the window curtains pulled apart to let in the daylight, the thin, gray light from outside was an ample reflection of her own dampened spirits, for she knew, as surely as she did not want to encounter du Mond, she assuredly would. It had always happened that way; the people she most wanted to avoid were always the first to greet her and the hardest to get rid of. With only the two of them in the house, it would be difficult to avoid him, for he could always find her by listening for her footsteps.
Ah well. At least if the weather has gone all grey and grim, I shall have the excuse to retire to my own rooms. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, slipped into a dressing-gown and sought the bathroom. It's too bad that I was never the properly fragile type so I could plead some infirmity and get rid of him that way-
-on the other hand, Paul du Mond doesn't know that.
She stepped out of her night-things and into the hot bath-which was, as usual, at the absolutely perfect temperature, just short of painful and hot enough to forcibly relax every muscle in her body and open every pore in her skin. Yet another advantage of having a Salamander as a servant....
He saw me going out for a walk, but he cannot have any notion of how far I went. I could have gone for a genteel little stroll, rather than a healthy hike. That's the solution; I can be polite to him for a few minutes, then develop a headache and have to go off somewhere quiet! If I'm inside, I can either come back here or be in desperate need of fresh air. If I'm outside, I can manage a similar excuse! Just having a "polite" way to rid herself of du Mond's unwelcome company made her feel a fraction better. Her thoughts began to move a little more freely.
I wonder if I could discourage him in some other way? I didn't say very much the last few times I spoke with him. I could continue that; I could pretend I'm shy. But he might take that as a challenge; some men would. Can I also pretend to be rather stupid, I wonder? She thought that over, as the steam from her bath rose about her face and curled the loose hair into little ringlets.
Stupidity might disgust him, but then again, it might encourage him. Men generally didn't seem to mind stupidity in a woman, and besides, how could she be stupid and claim to have all the expertise in languages she did? Not stupid, but silly. I knew plenty of girls at the University who were amazing linguists, and hadn't the least sense. That might be a better ploy. She'd noticed that men with silly fiancees or wives didn't spend much time in their company. If he won't leave me alone, I could babble endlessly. I never saw a man who could tolerate babbling for more than a few minutes at best.
That should be a last resort, however. She didn't think she'd be able to keep up the pretense of being silly for very long.
She took a deep breath, and further relaxed. Now that she had a plan, she felt much better able to face the day and whatever it held. If only it didn't hold du Mond! She wasn't exactly afraid of him-but whenever she saw him, she was somehow acutely intimidated. He might not be all that prepossessing physically, but he was bigger and stronger than she was, and she had the feeling he was not averse to using that strength against a woman.
I wonder if it would be possible to convince Jason to send du Mond into the city more frequently-or perhaps to keep him there instead of here, and only summon him back if he truly needs the man. It was a nice idea, but she didn't entertain it for very long. Probably not. He is Cameron's secretary, and I'm not going to attempt to take on that task as well as my own.
In fact, she probably couldn't. Du Mond obviously had very exact orders from Jason Cameron, and a routine he accomplished without thinking. She would not be able to follow that routine as smoothly and invisibly. Cameron clearly expected and rewarded competence, and was just as clearly impatient of incompetence. If she tried to replace du Mond, she was doomed to failure, and she did not want to lose the respect she had so far gained.
Her own job had now spilled over into the daylight hours, for as of today, she would be busy reading the books Cameron suggested for her own education when she wasn't reading aloud to him. She had suggested that to him yesterday, pointing out that she was fully qualified to do research, and if he was not utilizing that skill as well as her translation abilities, he was not making the best use of her.
I'm doing quite enough as it is. It will be much easier to keep du Mond from finding out I know the truth about Jason that it would be to try to become, not only translator, student, and researcher, but private secretary as well. There are not enough hours in the day and night together to accomplish all four.
The grey light reminded her of winter skies back in Chicago, although she knew that once she actually looked out the window, the scene would bear no resemblance to winter as she had always known it. It was now nearly Thanksgiving, not that she expected that particular holiday to be celebrated in this household. The nearness of the holiday was just a measure of how long she had been here.
Only a week to Thanksgiving! It hardly seems possible.... Since each day was the same, with nothing to mark one day as different from another, they all tended to blur together.
It is so hard to keep track of what day of the week it is, much less what day of the month. They were not even near enough to the small hamlet of Pacifica to hear the church bells marking Sunday mornings, as she had heard every Sunday of her life in Chicago. And of course there was no question of actually attending church on Sunday, so she lost even that "event" to mark the beginning of a week. She reflected on that as she dressed-warmly. It was too chilly for silk; the radiators in her rooms were operating and the Salamander kept a fire tended in each fireplace. Odd. I suppose if I were a properly brought up person I would feel very badly about skipping Sunday service, but I don't particularly miss not attending church. Was I bored? I must have been; the Reverend wasn't an entertaining speaker, and the music wasn't ever what I would call outstanding. I don't remember Father ever being very fervent about religion either. We always attended University Chapel because faculty was expected to, I suppose.
Once she had passed childhood, Rose could not remember ever turning to religion for comfort or for aid-quite probably because she had become too practical to expect either. There had never been any evidence that the religious leaders she knew were prepared to offer anything but lip service to the concept of "feeding the hungry and comforting the oppressed." As for the Deity Himself, she could not imagine that God was so idle he had time to listen to each and every voice rising plaintively and pleadingly from the Earth, anyway. I don't think I'd want to, if I was God. Half of the people are begging like spoiled children for another sweet, and the rest are wailing about the unfairness of life. Perhaps a small fraction are pompously pretending to thank Him when they are really gloating over their own good fortune. If I were God, I think I'd send them all a nice plague or barbarian invaders just to shut them up and teach them what real suffering means!
Yesterday must have been Sunday, the last Sunday before Thanksgiving. November. So strange!
She finished buttoning her shoes and went out to the sitting room where her breakfast was waiting for her as usual. If the Salamander had been there, she would have thanked it, but it had gone off to wherever the little creatures did go when they weren't needed. She sipped her coffee and buttered a roll, while she reckoned up the passage of time in her mind. I left Chicago in late October and I must have been on trains for a good week or more before I arrived here; in fact, didn't one of the conductors mention something about Halloween? Then I was just doing the translations for Jason for about a week or so before I read the Dee book. Paul has been gone for a bit more than a week and a half. Yes, it is nearly Thanksgiving; I haven't reckoned wrongly. She shook her head. I would not have thought time could get away from me so easily.
So strange, how much her life had changed in the course of a few weeks! Magick, Salamanders-good heavens, a few weeks ago I was trying to think of some way to keep a roof over my head and food in my mouth, and now look at me! Silk and wool-plush gowns, the finest of food, a palatial set of living-quarters, and work I not only am good at, but which I enjoy above all else! And the opportunity to complete my degree! All this, and I am being paid handsomely for my time! She shook her head. I should be thanking Providence, not fretting because I am trying to avoid the company of a single unpleasant man!
Yes, that was true-but Jason Cameron must have some reason to mistrust the man himself, or he would not have asked her to keep her new knowledge of Magick a secret. So perhaps it was not inappropriate to fret about possible meetings with him. With that in mind, the question before her now, as she finished her breakfast, was whether to go down into the house and grounds and chance meeting du Mond, or to stay up here in her rooms and avoid him altogether.
I probably ought to try to avoid him. But Sunset is probably looking forward to seeing me. She had begun visiting the stallion daily; he was as gentle with her as a pet dog, and her contempt for du Mond and his dislike of the horse only intensified with each visit. Poor Sunset seemed very lonely, despite the companionship in the next paddock of the two carriage-horses and an aged pony. She had gathered from Jason's conversations that he had spent at least an hour or two every day riding his stallion before his accident, and she had a vague idea that for a horse, running in the paddock was not a substitute for being ridden. At some point she must have been told that a riding horse needed human companionship to be happy; certainly Sunset's behavior with her bore that out.
However, she was not going to be the one to ride him, though she had no objection to going and petting him and talking to him. He might be gentle with her, but she doubted he would be forgiving of a rank beginner on his back. She'd taken some thought to learning to ride on the old pony until she realized what a prime dunce she would look, a grown woman trying to bestride a pony meant for a child, with both feet dragging on the ground and her skirts hiked halfway up to her waist. It would definitely not be dignified, and she did not want Paul du Mond to have the advantage over her if he caught her in such an undignified state. Besides, she would have to learn to ride astride; she doubted that Sunset was used to a sidesaddle.
The Salamander appeared to take her tray away. "Is it going to rain today?" she asked it.
"Not until just before dark," it told her with authority, and neatly levitated the tray towards the door.
That decided her. First of all, she was not going to let Paul du Mond intimidate her into keeping to her rooms. And secondly, that poor horse needed company. She took an apple from the basket of fruit she now kept in her room, and slipped it into her pocket, then pulled on the warm walking-coat she had asked for when she found the lovely cloak Jason had supplied with her wardrobe to be dramatic, but entirely impractical for strolls through the woods.
There was no mistaking the fact that Sunset was looking for her; she caught sight of him before he spotted her, for the stallion was hanging about the house-end of the paddock, occasionally draping his head over the top of the fence to stare longingly at the house. And when he saw her, his ears went straight up, his tail flagged, and he actually whickered a welcome, pawing the ground and tossing his head a little as she neared.
She found herself smiling as she walked up to the fence. He put his nose into her hand immediately, and whuffed into it, without any hint of wanting to use his teeth on her. Stupid man. Poor Sunset probably just wants to bite him because he senses du Mond is not to be trusted. She scratched his brow-ridges, then moved her hand to scratch under his chin as he sighed in pleasure and tried to rest the weight of his head in her hands.
"You only love me for my apples," she told him. "It's pure cupboard-love, and don't think I don't know it."
He whickered, as if agreeing with her, and she chuckled. "It's all right," she told him. "You're so beautiful that it doesn't matter. That's what happens when you're beautiful, you know, you can do anything and people will forgive you because they don't want to believe that anything so pretty could be bad." She sighed. "But of course, when you're as plain as I am, they're perfectly willing to think you'd do quite vicious things out of pure mean-spiritedness. And every pretty girl is quite certain you are ragingly jealous of her, and envious of her good looks." She reached into her skirt pocket for the apple. "That was why they hung women as witches, you know", she told him. "They were probably all plain and hadn't a chance in the world of getting a husband so they could be proper ladies, so of course they must have turned to the Devil for consolation."
She fed him his apple, but he didn't seem disposed to leave when he'd finished it, so she lingered with him, scratching him and saying baby-nonsense into his ears.
"You're spoiling the brute," said du Mond, startling her so that she jumped. That startled Sunset as well; the stallion jerked his head up, his eyes rolling wildly as he danced in place. Then he caught sight of du Mond, set his ears back and bared his teeth for a moment, then shot off across the paddock to the opposite side. There he trotted in a small circle, watching du Mond as if he expected the man to jump over the fence and beat him.
"You frightened him!" she said, taking care to put a little whine into it, and when she turned to face the man, she managed a little pout as well.
"Not I. That beast isn't afraid of anything or anyone." Du Mond stared sourly after the trotting stallion. "He just doesn't like me, and it's mutual. Animals should be made to earn their keep-people certainly are. I think he's a waste of money; if Jason isn't going to ride him, he should at least be sent off to stand at stud somewhere. With his lines, Jason could command enough fees to at least pay back what he's costing to keep."
She blinked, and tried to think of an appropriately silly answer. "I suppose so," she said vaguely, "But he's very pretty. I like seeing him here; he makes me think of all kinds of things that are wild and free. It wouldn't be the same if he was gone. Is having him here any sillier than having those birds in the conservatory?"
Du Mond simply shrugged. "The birds eat the insects that get into the greenhouses, not that it matters. What you or I like does not matter, dear lady. It is what Jason Cameron likes that is important, and he does not want his precious horse out of his sight."
Suddenly he was all charm, turning it on as if he were lighting one of the new electrical lamps. "But I did not come down here to talk about Sunset; I came to find out how you were faring. Is Jason treating you decently? Don't be afraid to tell me if he isn't; he is inclined to run rough-shod over his employees unless I remind him that this is not a medieval castle and he is not a feudal overlord."
She was startled to hear an echo of her own words to Cameron coming out of du Mond's mouth. It was positively uncanny; she'd have suspected he had been spying upon them had she not known he was in the city at the time. But she managed a weak laugh, and waved her hand. "Oh, how could I not like this job? It is much better than having to teach two children! I have everything I want, and all the time I wish in which to read!"
Quick. Now is the time to say something that will make him disregard you. "There's a lovely lot of books in the first case in the library," she continued hurriedly. "I didn't get much chance to read that kind of book when I lived at home, I-Father made me spend so much of my time studying."
Du Mond gave her a peculiar look. "You were going to the University to please your father?" he asked carefully.
She nodded, making things up glibly as she went along. "It was what he wanted-I always did what Father wanted. He said if I was going to be a spinster I might as well be a scholar so he would have someone to talk to."
She watched du Mond's eyes flicker as thoughts passed behind them, and tried very hard to read his expressions. He was making no attempt to guard himself with her, which argued that he already was underestimating her.
He's looking at my face-evaluating how plain I am, and thinking that I'm very obedient, very pliant, and don't have much in the way of a will of my own, I expect.
Perhaps that was a better ploy than playing stupid.
"Father always had my best interests in mind, and I was very glad to be able to help him," she continued softly, knowing that this, at least, was the truth. "For some reason I have always been good with languages, so I was able to serve him in the same capacity that I am serving Mr. Cameron."
Du Mond smirked. "Indeed. Well, don't let him bully or frighten you, my dear. You're too pretty a girl to have to languish in a room, ruining your eyes to read to him for days at a time."
She almost laughed, and held it back only with a great effort. He really is spreading the flattery on a bit too thickly! I suppose I'll have to play up to it, though.
She fluttered her eyelashes and dropped her gaze modestly. "It's really not at all bad," she murmured. "I could be cooped up in a stuffy old office or library somewhere, working from dawn to dusk. At least here I get to go outside every day for a little."
He moved forward as if he was going to try to touch her; she managed to move away from him without she hoped-making it obvious that she was avoiding his touch.
"What if I found another option for you?" he asked, and frowned, his concern so patently feigned that she wondered how he ever thought he fooled anybody. "I don't want to alarm you, but Cameron's not entirely sane, you know."
"The-accident?" she faltered. He shrugged, scarcely wrinkling his suit. "It might have been. He has always been ruthless, but since the accident he's become quite callous about anyone and anything other than himself. I think he's dangerous, frankly. I don't worry about myself, but I'm not sure a woman is safe around him."
She made her eyes go wide and put her hand up to her mouth, hiding the grimace of distaste. "Surely you don't think he would-that I-"
"I think he would not trouble himself to keep you safe, although I doubt that he himself is any danger to you," du Mond told her, with false sincerity. "He never comes out of his own apartments, after all. But I have several friends in the city, and I might be able to obtain an alternate position for you if you wished to find other employment. The circumstances would not be as pleasant as these, perhaps, but at least your employer would be sane."
She dropped her eyes again and shook her head. "I cannot imagine leaving this position," she said. "I gave my word."
"At least keep it in mind if you feel Cameron is growing unpredictable," he urged.
She nodded, and put her hand to her temple, making a face. "This is all so-unpleasant. I believe one of my headaches is coming on, Mr. du Mond-"
"Paul-" he said, warmly, once again attempting to touch her.
"-this is all very upsetting, and if I do not go and lie down, my head will be splitting shortly," she continued, turning, as if oblivious to his outstretched hand. "You really must forgive me." And with one hand pressed to her temple, she gathered up her skirts in the other, and hurried back into the house before he could offer to escort or assist her.
She felt altogether unclean, as if she had brushed up against something slimy. The nerve of that man! Ugh! I would rather have the company of a hundred frogs than his!
She was just glad that Cameron could not possibly have overheard this conversation. He might not have put the best interpretation on her responses.
I think I will spend the rest of the day right here, she decided, opening the door to her room, and closing it firmly behind her. I have had more than enough fresh air for one day. Or rather-given that I had to deal with du Mond, perhaps the air was not so fresh after all.
Cameron stared deeply into the mirror, his jaws clenched so tightly he expected to hear some of his teeth snap at any moment. Just what is he up to? he snarled savagely and silently. Who does he think he is, lording it as if he is the master here! That interloper-I'll tear his heart from his body-I'll rip his treacherous little head from his shoulders-
His thoughts dissolved into pure and incoherent rage; the scent of musk and blood filled his nostrils, and bile rose, acrid and sour, in the back of his throat. He began to pant and his vision darkened, narrowed to the mirror before him. He wanted blood, blood and the death of this would-be Master who dared to undermine him within his own territory-
The splintering of wood shocked him out of his madness.
He looked down at the desk, stunned, to see that he had rent the wood in four long parallel gouges on either side of the blotter, where his claws had dug furrows into the maple in his rage.
That brought him to his senses. Icy calm flooded over him, replacing the hot anger.
Du Mond is just being himself-I know his pattern, I saw it often enough with the pretty maidservants. He's no fool, he can see how attractive Rose is for himself. His "friends" don't exist; he just wants to ingratiate himself with her and get her to trust him, get her to leave my protection and put herself into his hands-
That made du Mond a bounder and a cad-which Cameron already knew-but nothing more sinister than that.
What was sinister was Cameron's own instant reaction, immediate rage in response to a perception that a rival was trying-trying-
Trying to what?
Trying to take over my "property," trying to challenge my authority on my own ground. I reacted, not as a man and a Firemaster, but as an animal, an animal being challenged for his territory and his females.
To be precise, I reacted as a wolf. A shudder convulsed him, as he realized just how close he had come to going over the edge. Is the wolf taking over the man? Shaken, he dropped back into his chair and stared at the eight furrows in the top of his desk. For many long minutes he was unable to move or even think, sunk in a paralysis of shock.
Then he shook his head-Like a dog shaking himself dry-
No! That way lay madness! Wake up! he told himself angrily. There is no point in looking for more signs of something you might well be able to control with a little exertion of will! He sneered at himself. You do remember using your will, don't you? You were ready enough to boast to Rose about it!
No, the important thing now was to exert his self-control and that so-vaunted Will. He must immediately bring things back to normal. He must immediately begin to analyze matters as he would have in the past. Think, man! What else about that conversation was important?
He felt anger begin to rise again as he recollected du Mond's impertinence, but he throttled it down successfully.
What was important?
Then he had it. Rose's reaction. She didn't act as if she believed him. She didn't act as if she was coming under the spell of his rather dubious charm. In fact, unless I miss my guess, she fled him as soon as she could.
Suddenly he felt much, much better; felt tension simply draining out of him. Rose Hawkins was too clever for du Mond; she saw through his blandishments, and she did not trust him. That meant he need not look for treachery on her part. Whether or not she believed du Mond's claim that his Master was mad-which, unfortunately, I cannot honestly ignore-at least she had the sense to see why du Mond was attempting to charm her.
He spent several minutes in a deep-breathing exercise, calming himself, regaining complete control of himself, and only when he was certain of his own inner state did he call up Rose's image in the mirror.
She was reading; to his pleasure and gratification, she was reading one of the Apprentice-texts he had recommended. So, her suggestion that she at least engage in the theoretical side of an Apprenticeship so that she could help with research had not been a ruse. She really did intend to follow through on the idea, at least for now.
We will see what happens when she encounters some of the more difficult books. Then again ... they couldn't be any more abstruse than some of the medieval texts she had already mastered.
She had arranged herself in a pose which would have driven a teacher of deportment to distraction; sitting sideways on the upholstered, high-backed divan, her back against one arm, with both feet braced against the opposite arm-cushion, knees bent, and skirts modestly tucked around her legs. No properly-bred young lady would ever have taken a seat on a divan like that! And no properly-bred young lady would ever slouch the way she was now. She frowned a little as she read, rubbed her eyes now and again, and adjusted her eyeglasses from time to time as if her eyes were bothering her. While this was a printed book, the print was very fine; he hoped she was not having too much trouble with it. Perhaps I should suggest she visit an occulist in San Francisco at my expense? I doubt that she had the wherewithal to have glasses properly fitted these past several years-not with the state her wardrobe was in. That was probably one more economy she was forced to bear with.
Then he snorted at his own naivete. Of course she hasn't seen an occulist; everything else in her wardrobe came out of the Sears, Roebuck catalog, so her eyeglasses probably did, too. He clearly remembered his amazement at the pages devoted to eyeglasses and spectacles, complete with a so-called "test" to determine which of the eighteen available strengths one should order. She tested herself, no doubt, with that same exact care she uses for everything else. The only problem is, the test itself is hardly exact, and what they offer even less so.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and made some mental calculations. Useless to send her there before Thanksgiving; no one will be able to fit her in, even with me as her patron. Besides, if she's going into the city, I want her to have some time to enjoy herself a little. If I have her read some of the more important works this week and next, I can send her in for three days in the second week of December-and that will give me three days in which to put some of that to the test. Hmm. Thursday through Sunday, I believe. There should be something playing at the Opera House, and I'll arrange for something on whichever weekend night the Opera isn't. Is she frivolous enough for an operetta at the Columbia Theater? Perhaps a recital, instead...He started to summon his secretary, then realized his agent in the city could take care of everything. Somehow, he did not want du Mond to know precisely what his arrangements were going to be for her... I could use a Salamander to write the letter for me. No, wait, I have a better notion.
So he reached instead for the telegraphy machine, and began tapping out his orders to his agent at the railhead. Have the apartment opened for her ... notify the servants ... appointment with an occulist ... tickets ... She didn't know her way around the city; he added another order. Snyder to have a carriage or cab and experienced driver for her. While she might well enjoy the cable cars, he had better warn her to either take Snyder or the maid with her on any excursions, and confine herself to the paid conveyance after dark.
He felt altogether like an indulgent uncle arranging a holiday treat by the time he was finished. And he couldn't wait to until after dinner to tell her; he had to see her reaction now.
He reached for the speaking-tube, and cleared his throat, remembering to act as if he did not know she was there. "Ah ... Rose? Do you happen to be there?"
She jerked her head up at the first sound of his voice, and with a look of guilt, swung her feet to the floor, put the book down, and moved to the speaking-tube in her room. "Jason? Yes, actually, the weather is not as pleasant as I would like, and I stayed here. Can I help you?"
"Actually," he responded, his jaw dropping open in the lupine equivalent of a grin, although she could not see it, "I thought I might help you. You're going to be working very hard for the next few days, and I had promised you periodic rewards for hard work. What would you say to an excursion into the city in about a fortnight?"
Her face lit up with pleasure and an emotion he did not recognize. "Oh, that would be absolutely splendid!" she exclaimed. "There are some things I did not like to ask anyone else to get-"
She blushes so very prettily.
"It occurred to me that you were working very diligently and deserved one of those treats I mentioned to you." The telegraph was tapping a reply to his message, and he translated it effortlessly. "The Opera will have a Friday night performance of La Giaconda, the Columbia Theater is presenting Babes in Toyland, on Saturday, or if you are so inclined, you can go see that ham, young Barrymore, overact his way through Shakespeare. I am aware that you wear eyeglasses-"
She self-consciously pushed her eyeglasses firmly up onto the bridge of her nose.
"-and I thought that with all the reading I am asking you to do, it would be beneficial to both of us if I had you go to my occulist to be certain your lenses are strong enough."
She opened her mouth as if to protest, then shut it again. Good girl. You know you need them; don't look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.
"No harm done if they are fine, but you have been faltering a bit and I would like to be certain that your eyes are not being strained," he continued. "I certainly need them to be in top order. At any rate, you may use my flat in town, I'm arranging for a conveyance, and you can use the rest of your time to shop."
"Thank you, Jason," she said warmly. "That will be considerably more than I expected." Her cheeks were flushed with pleasure, and her eyes behind those thick lenses sparkled brightly.
Now he felt even more like an indulgent uncle arranging a holiday treat. "Would you prefer Barrymore or Babes?" he asked. "I'll have my agent get tickets."
Her mischievous smile lit up her face. "I suppose I should say Barrymore, but I have to confess that I-oh, this is dreadful!-I adore Victor Herbert. His musical plays are like candy: terribly sweet, probably bad for you, but such fun!"
"And what better Christmas treat than Babes in Toyland?" He laughed, and tapped out his last order. "Sometimes a surfeit of sugar is just what one needs. I must admit that my opinion of John Barrymore is not shared by the general public, but-well, Shakespeare is not his forte. He is far too dissipated for Oberon, too bombastic for Hamlet, too shallow for Macbeth, too callow for Othello, too young for Lear and too old for Romeo."
"Prince Hal?" she suggested delicately.
He snorted. "Only the drunken Hal, bosom friend of Falstaff. Wait until he's appearing in something more suited to his style, then I can recommend seeing him." He shut the box on the telegraphy machine. "Well, that was all I needed to interrupt you for, if you are ready to resume reading at the usual time. Unless you had something?"
There. If she wishes to "betray" du Mond to me, there's an opportunity.
She hesitated, biting her lip. "I encountered Mr. du Mond today," she said slowly. "I said nothing about Magick, and he did not ask. However, he seemed quite friendly." Her tone said more than that, and he was pleased that he had not read her wrongly.
"I should have warned you that he is something of a rake," he replied solemnly. "I hope he did not become overly familiar?"
"Not precisely, no." She grimaced. "But I did guess-that if he had any encouragement, he might."
"He has his orders to treat you with respect," Cameron assured her, "but I would not believe anything he promised if I were you, nor anything he told you about himself. He once claimed to one of my maids that he was the rightful heir to the throne of Russia, and that if she would come away with him he would make her a czarina."
She burst into laughter at that, as he had hoped she would. "No! Not truly! Did she believe him?"
He chuckled. "She smacked his face and told him to take his fairy tales to children, who would find them entertaining. I do my best not to employ people with more hair than wit."
She was still laughing. "Good for her! Well then, if he is so easily put off, I shan't worry about him. Thank you again, Jason. My diligence will be all the greater for the promised treat, I promise you!"
"I counted on that," he said teasingly, and grinned again at her blush and wry smile.
She resumed her place and position on the couch, taking up in her book where she had left off. He watched her for a few moments more, then blanked the mirror.
He did not summon the Salamander, but it appeared anyway. "I assume you overheard?" he asked it.
It spun lazily, once, then came to rest on its obsidian plate. "Do you want du Mond to have free access to her?" it asked.
"He won't try anything physical-not here, at any rate," he replied. "Not while she is under my protection. And, quite frankly, if he intends to say anything more to her, I want to know about it, and I want to see if she says anything about it." He thought for a moment. "She didn't precisely report his conversation, after all."
"One does not tell one's employer that another in his employ called him mad," the Salamander pointed out. "Not only would that be rude, but it might reflect badly on her and her ambitions. It could be assumed that she was angling for his position, which is a permanent one, whereas hers is only temporary-and after all, it would be her word against his."
"True." That was an aspect that had not occurred to him, and he was glad the Salamander had pointed it out. "Making claims like that could actually get her dismissed if I believed him instead of her." "And she is no fool; she would like to continue in this position as long as possible." The creature sounded smug. "She sometimes talks to herself in the bath."
Which was, of course, the one place where he would not spy upon her! Nor did he intend to start now, however relevant the information might be.
"You may continue to eavesdrop, and tell me if you hear anything interesting," he told the Salamander. "I would just as soon not hear girlish secrets, however."
The Salamander grinned. "As you wish." It acted as if it had something it was not going to tell him now, and however much his curiosity nagged at him, he was not going to counter his previous order!
"You might as well come with me since you're here," he told it instead. "I'm going to select more books. We are going to intensify the search tonight."
Because I dare not take the chance that the beast is overcoming the man, he thought, grimly, as he led the way to the bookcases. Nor can I take the chance that I can control what is happening. Perhaps this is the result of pain, perhaps the result of the narcotics I am forced to use-or perhaps it is not. I have no options.
By the time her holiday comes around, I fear that Rose will be in desperate need of it. But with luck-I may by then have found my key.