The shadow and the star, p.1
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       The Shadow and the Star, p.1

           Laura Kinsale
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The Shadow and the Star


  LAURA KINSALE

  THE SHADOW AND THE STAR

  Mother, Daddy, Cindy, Ubba, Grandma, Grandad, Elva, Tootsie, Bud, Frances, Sue, Georgia, Auntie, Christine—

  Okage sama de: I am what I am because of your kindness.

  No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so lovingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeats is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack…in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.

  MARK TWAIN

  E lei kau, e lei ho’oilo i ke, aloha.

  Love is worn like a wreath

  through the summers and the winters.

  Contents

  One

  Leda came awake suddenly in the depth of night. She…

  Two

  Just to one side of the gangplank that thumped and…

  Three

  Leda was staring.

  Four

  It was a big house, but he was becoming accustomed…

  Five

  “You should be married, my dear,” said Mrs. Wrotham to…

  Six

  Little Kai loved to swim She squealed at the long…

  Seven

  “He’s made off with the goods again!” Mrs. Dawkins was…

  Eight

  It was in the garden, a few days after the…

  Nine

  Just at dawn the train came through, rumbling the walls…

  Ten

  Dojun never taught him the songs. Dojun never taught him…

  Eleven

  Leda found herself glancing suspiciously at every scruffy loiterer among…

  Twelve

  Samuel dreamed about women. He dreamed about them almost…

  Thirteen

  The maid who arrived in the morning with tea and…

  Fourteen

  They didn’t go to Chinatown for a long time. Dojun…

  Fifteen

  Somehow, Leda had thought the second day of the Jubilee would…

  Sixteen

  “The warrior who walks in disguise will avoid salty things,…

  Seventeen

  Miss Myrtle had never had any quarrel with the spirit…

  Eighteen

  They said that Haleakala was ten thousand feet above the…

  Nineteen

  Mr. Gerard had a true talent for contriving to have…

  Twenty

  He wanted her. He wanted to touch her. Aboard the…

  Twenty-one

  Leda was town-bred. The closest she had ever come to…

  Twenty-two

  Leda’s head had rather a trick of pounding unpleasantly when…

  Twenty-three

  Leda sat paralyzed in front of the mirror. From what…

  Twenty-four

  It was the jaguar that made Samuel a hero for…

  Twenty-five

  I wish you would again.

  Twenty-six

  Leda bit back panicked tears, sitting up abruptly in bed…

  Twenty-seven

  Lady Tess had bade her wait alone in the room…

  Twenty-eight

  He went to her because it would have been a…

  Twenty-nine

  Lady Kai, in her friendly way, wished to go with…

  Thirty

  He would have liked to show America to Leda in…

  Thirty-one

  Leda.

  Thirty-two

  When you bow, Dojun had taught him, you must not…

  Thirty-three

  Dojun drifted through Samuel’s house, inspecting it. Samuel stood on…

  Thirty-four

  Leda woke to the sound of the surf, very clear…

  Thirty-five

  Leda had become quite uncomfortably doubtful by the time they…

  Thirty-six

  Leda felt a trickle of perspiration slide from her nape…

  Thirty-seven

  Leda felt quite shy, and Samuel was no help. Mr. Dojun…

  About the Author

  Other Books by Laura Kinsale

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  The Shadow Warrior

  1887

  In a place of dark and stillness he suspended thought. He let the vast chatter of humanity slip away, let the sound of the light wind in the curtains fill his mind. He stared at his dim reflection in the mirror until the face there became a stranger, a set of features without expression in the silver eyes and impassive mouth…and then less than a stranger, only an austere mask…then something beyond even that: not human, but elemental shapes. Only a spectrum of dark and light, substance seen and unseen.

  With reality before him, he set about transforming it to his own purpose. To conceal the gold of his hair, he borrowed a prop from the kabuki theater, the black hood worn by kuroko as they slipped furtively into a scene to change the set. To shroud his face, he rejected paint or soot as inadequate: too difficult to remove quickly, too flagrantly illicit should he be perceived. He tied a mask across his face instead, covering all but his eyes with cloth the color of charcoal shadows, a soft, supple fabric like the loose coat of deep midnight gray that he belted around his waist. Within his dark clothing he carried the means to scale a wall, to hurl a lightning bolt, to escape or wound; to kill. He chose pliable tabi in place of shoes, in order to walk silently and close to the earth.

  Earth…water…wind…fire…and the void. He sat cross-legged on the floor. With his ears, he listened to the soft wind that no man was mighty enough to hinder. With his bones, he felt the vast heavy strength of the earth below him. With his mind, he accepted emptiness. Immobile, he blended with the night: unseen in the mirror, unheard in the breeze.

  With locked fingers entertwined, he invoked the power of his intention to change the world as it existed.

  He rose to his feet and vanished.

  One

  London, 1887

  Leda came awake suddenly in the depth of night. She had been dreaming of cherries. Her body made the jerk of transition, an unpleasant startle that sucked in air and twitched muscles and left her heart pounding as she stared into the dark and tried to get her breath—to make sense of the difference between sleep and reality.

  Cherries…and plums, had it been? Cobbler? Pudding? A receipt for cordial? No…ah—no…the bonnet. She closed her eyes. Her brain swam dreamily over the question of whether it would be the cherries or the plums to trim the ready-made, gable-crowned Olivia bonnet that she could buy directly, at the end of the week when Madame Elise paid out for the day work.

  She felt instinctively that the bonnet was a much safer and more agreeable topic for contemplation than the one that she knew she ought to be contemplating—which was her dark room and the various even darker corners of it, and what disturbance it might have been that had woken her from a sound and much-needed slumber.

  The night was almost silent, except for the tick of her clock and the soft breeze that flowed into the attic window, carrying the scent of the Thames tonight instead of the usual smells of vinegar and distilling. Queen’s weather, they were calling this early summer. Leda felt it on her cheek. The celebrations of Her Majesty’s Jubilee had made the evening streets noisier than usual, what with the crowds and commotion of the entertainments, and perfectly outlandish foreigners from every corner of God’s earth walking about, wearing turbans and je
wels and looking just as if they’d got right down off their elephants.

  But the night was quiet now. In the open casement, she could just see the outline of her geranium, and the cloudy pile of pink silk that she’d finished at two A.M. and laid across the table. The ball gown was to be delivered by eight, tucked and ruched and the embroidery in the train completed. Leda herself had to be dressed and at Madame Elise’s back door before that, by six-thirty, with the gown in a wicker basket so that one of the workroom girls could try it on for faults before the porter whisked it away.

  She tried to regain her precious slumber. But her body lay stiff and her heart kept thumping. Was that a noise? She wasn’t certain if it was a real sound she heard or only the pump of her own heart. So, naturally, her heart just beat all the harder, and the idea, which had been floating nebulously at the edge of admission, finally took full control of her brain that there was someone in the small room with her.

  The shock of alarm which Leda experienced at confronting this notion would have made Miss Myrtle snort. Miss Myrtle had been of a courageous disposition. Miss Myrtle would not have lain frozen in her bed, her heart pounding. Miss Myrtle would have leapt to her feet and taken hold of the poker, which would have been placed in a conveniently handy position next to her pillow, because Miss Myrtle had made it a point of habit to plan ahead for just such an emergency as not finding oneself alone in one’s own room in the dark.

  Leda was not made of such stuff. She knew she’d been something of a disappointment to Miss Myrtle in that respect. She did have a poker, but she’d forgotten to arrange it close by before she went to bed, being ever so weary, and the daughter of a frivolous Frenchwoman.

  Unarmed, she had no choice but to take the next logical step and convince herself that there was most certainly no one in her room. Decidedly not. She could see most of it from where she was, and the shadow on the wall was only her coat and umbrella on the hook where she’d hung them a month ago, after the last cool weather in mid-May. She had a chair and a table with her rented sewing machine; a washstand with a bowl and pitcher. The shape of the dressmaker’s dummy by the mantelpiece gave her a momentary start, but when she squinted more closely, she could look right through the open weave of the torso and skirt to the square shape of the fireplace grate. She could see all of these things, even in the dark; her bed was pushed up to the wall in the little garret, so unless this intruder was hanging from the ceiling beam above her like a bat, she must be alone.

  She closed her eyes.

  She opened them again. Had that shadow moved? Was it just a bit too long for her coat, fading down into the obscurity near the floor? Was not that deeper darkness the shape of a man’s feet?

  Nonsense. Her eyes were gritty with exhaustion. She closed them again, and took a deep breath.

  She opened them.

  She stared at the shadow of her coat. And then she threw back the sheet, scrambled up, and cried, “Who is it?”

  Nothing but silence answered this comprehensive inquiry. She stood in her bare feet on the cool, rough wood, feeling foolish.

  With a sweeping circle of her pointed toe, she passed her foot through the deep shadow beneath her coat. She took four steps backward, toward the fireplace, and groped for the poker. With that instrument in hand, she felt much more the mistress of the situation. She moved the poker in the direction of her coat, jabbing the iron rod all round in the fabric, and then waving it into each deep comer of the room and even under her bed.

  The shadows went perfectly empty. No hidden intruder. Nothing at all but vacant space.

  Her muscles went slack with relief. She put her hand on her breast, said a little prayer of thankfulness, and checked that the door was still locked before she returned to bed. The open window was safe enough, backed up on the sludgy canal, and accessed only from the steep rooftop, but still she kept the poker close by her on the floor.

  With the much-mended sheet pulled up to her nose, she settled back into an agreeable dream in which a stuffed finch, very pretty and genteel, so much in the correct mode that one might be persuaded it was superior to both the plums and the cherries as an elegant trim for an Olivia bonnet, took a prominent role.

  The Jubilee drove everything and everyone to a mad pace. It was barely full light when Leda trotted up the back stairs in Regent Street, but the girls in the workroom were all bent over their needles under the gaslights. Most of them looked as if they’d been there all night—which they likely had. This year, the annual rush of the Season accelerated: the parties, the picnics, all the pretty girls and stylish matrons in a tide of engagements and amusement for the Jubilee. Leda blinked her tired lids and blinked again, as she and the first hand among the seamstresses unfolded the vast puff of fabric from her basket. She was exhausted; they all were, but the excitement and anticipation were infectious. Oh, to wear something like it, the lovely thing! She closed her eyes again and stepped back from the ball gown, a little dizzy with hunger and agitation.

  “Go and get a bun,” the first hand told her. “I’ll warrant you didn’t finish this a moment before two in the morning, did you now? Take tea if you will, but hurry along. There’s an early appointment. They’ve a foreign delegation to arrive at eight sharp—you’re to have the colored silks ready.”

  “Foreign?”

  “Orientals, so I believe. Their hair will be black. Mind you, it won’t do to bring out the sallow in their complexions.”

  Leda hastened into the next room, gulped down a sugary cup of tea along with her bun, and then ran upstairs, greeting the resident hands as she whisked past them. On the third floor, she ducked inside a small room and slipped out of her plain navy-blue skirt and cotton blouse, bathed in lukewarm water from a tin bucket and porcelain sink, and went trotting down the hall in her chemise and drawers.

  One of the apprentices met her halfway. “It’s the tailor-made they’ve selected,” the girl said. “The plaid silk—in honor of Her Majesty’s affection for Balmoral.”

  Leda gave a little cry of vexation. “Oh! But I—” She caught herself up on the verge of making the very vulgar admission that she could in no way afford the new outfit. But it was to be the uniform of the showroom for the remainder of the Jubilee; she would be obliged to have the cost taken out of her wages.

  With Miss Myrtle gone everything was really very difficult. But Leda would not cry about it, no indeed, she would not, no matter how lowering it was. It was only that she’d had so little sleep, and rested uneasily, and woken late and cross. She felt more inclined to kick than to weep, for Miss Myrtle had planned so carefully for the future, and left a proper will and testament, in which the lease of her little Mayfair house where Leda had grown up was left to a nephew, a widower just shy of eighty, on condition that Leda was to be allowed to stay on and manage it for him, with her own bedroom to remain hers if she so wished, which she very much did wish.

  The widower had agreed to it particularly, and in the solicitor’s office he had even said it would be an honor to have Miss Myrtle’s young lady hold house for him, and just when everything was settled to their mutual satisfaction it was painfully unlucky of him to walk into the path of an omnibus, leaving no will or heirs or even an expressed opinion on the matter.

  But there, that was a man for you. A rather foolish sex when all was said and done.

  The Mayfair house had gone then to some distant cousin of Miss Myrtle’s who couldn’t see her way to living in it herself. Nor to keeping Leda on for the new tenants. Leda was too young to be an acceptable housekeeper; it was not done. No, not even if Cousin Myrtle, a Balfour, had brought up Leda in South Street. An ill business, that, to take a girl out of the gutter and put her above her natural place. The cousin wondered at it, she did indeed. But then, Cousin Myrtle always had been peculiar—the whole family knew it—never mind that she had once been engaged to a viscount; she’d stepped out with that unspeakable man instead, and put herself quite beyond the pale, and hadn’t even had her marriage lines for her troubl
e, had she now?

  Nor could the cousin quite see any possible way to keep Leda on in any other capacity, not for any amount of work or plain and fancy sewing, nor bring herself in conscience to write a character so that Leda could apply as a typist. The cousin was very sorry, she was sorry indeed, but she didn’t know a thing about Miss Leda Etoile except that her mother had been a Frenchwoman, and where was the good of writing something such as that in a referral?

  And indeed, as Leda had quickly found, it seemed that there were only two sorts of houses where a young lady of genteel manners and dubious French background would be welcome, and the showroom of a fashionable dressmaker was the mentionable of them.

  Leda took a deep breath. “Well, we shall all look the veriest Highland fling in the plaid, shan’t we?” she said to the apprentice. “Is mine made up?”

  The girl nodded. “I’ve only to tack up the hem. You’ve an eight o’clock appointment. Foreigners.”

  “Orientals,” Leda said as she followed the white-aproned girl into a room where stray scraps of material in all colors and patterns littered the carpet and one long table. While Leda tightened her corset and adjusted the wire hoops of the tournure behind her hips, the girl shook out a heap of green and blue plaid. Leda lifted her arms to allow the dress to fall over her head.

  “Orientals, are they?” the girl mumbled around the pins in her mouth. She plucked them out and tacked deftly. “Them ones who wrung chickens’ necks in the Langham Hotel?”

 
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