Time quake, p.10
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       TIME QUAKE, p.10

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  ‘What is it that you give me, madam?’ asked Sir Richard. ‘It is a picture of some kind but, alas, I can barely decipher it in this light.’

  The woman replied in a low, hesitant voice, looking this way and that as she spoke. ‘I have marked where you might find the lodgings of him whom you seek, your honour. I trust that you are gentleman enough to forget the identity of she who divulged the information.’

  Sir Richard peered at the piece of paper and the Parson leaned over Gideon to see better. Smiles appeared on both men’s faces and the Parson slapped Gideon on the back.

  ‘Such timely information! Madam, we are your humble servants!’ exclaimed the Parson gleefully. ‘Please accept our most grateful thanks.’ He shook the piece of paper in front of Gideon’s nose. ‘This is capital news,’ he roared. ‘Capital!’

  The fortune-teller looked around her, anxious to avoid drawing any attention to herself, and Sir Richard gestured to the Parson to moderate his ebullient behaviour.

  ‘Madam,’ said Sir Richard, with a bow of his head, ‘we are vastly indebted to you.’

  Sir Richard drew out a guinea from his purse and held it out for her on the palm of his hand. She shook her head firmly, and made as if to push his hand away.

  ‘But why is she telling us? How do we know that she is telling the truth?’ asked Peter. ‘She could have been sent by the Tar Man. It could be a trap!’

  The fortune-teller glared at Peter and said: ‘This young lady will vouch for me!’

  Suddenly Kate let go of Peter to cover her face with her hands. Peter heard her sharp intake of breath.

  ‘What’s wrong, Kate?’ asked Peter in alarm.

  Kate quickly grabbed hold of Peter’s hand again. ‘Nothing . . . I’m fine.’

  Peter raised his eyebrows in disbelief. Kate ignored him.

  ‘We can trust this lady – she is a fortune-teller and it was the Tar Man who gave her that bruise.’

  Kate looked over at the woman and was somehow certain that she, too, had suddenly smelled the stink of the river, had heard the lapping of water and had shared the selfsame vision of a highceilinged room, crammed with artefacts, its pale walls glistening with damp. Through a circular window the Thames had been visible, its greenish-brown waters swirling and heaving. She saw the billowing sails of cargo ships gliding by and the watermen plying their trade. Above all, she saw the unmistakeable and glowering profile of the Tar Man looking out over the city.

  ‘Then why are you helping us?’ demanded Peter.

  ‘The Oracle has always been in my dreams. Her face has haunted me my whole life long.’

  ‘The Oracle?’

  The fortune-teller pointed at Kate. As she spoke her large eyes darted fitfully about as if she hardly dared even rest her gaze on this terrifying spectre of a girl. Her voice wavered. ‘I was born with a gift to perceive echoes of what will come to pass but it is as nothing compared to the powers which will manifest themselves in you, my lady . . .’

  ‘What do you mean?’ asked Kate in alarm. ‘What powers?’

  ‘I’ll wager you already have your suspicions . . . By rights I should pay you my respects as an apprentice would a master – save that in my dreams your arrival heralds destruction and despair. Tell me, I beg of you, my lady, is it the end of the world that I see?’

  Kate looked at her companions in distress and shook her head. ‘Stop calling me “My Lady”! I’m not your lady . . . I’ve no idea what you’re talking about!’

  ‘Then I can only pray that I have an imperfect understanding of my vision—’

  The fortune-teller fell abruptly silent as a flamboyantly dressed group strolled by, talking loudly and passing around a basket filled with sweetmeats. One of the women wore her heavily powdered hair very high and it was dressed with tiny models of exotic birds, their blue and yellow plumage setting off the vivid hue of her silk dress, the colour of sunflowers. The wind had dropped a little since the party had arrived at Bartholomew Fair but now it was strengthening again and one of the little birds was blown off. The ladies and gentlemen paid scant attention to the party, even Gideon, whose face, as Hannah said, told an eloquent story. Soon the wind had blown the ladies and gentlemen on their way again and Kate, spying the little wooden bird lying in the mud, picked it up and held it tightly between the palms of her hands. When she stood up again she found the fortune-teller staring at her once more, seemingly mesmerised. ‘I wish there were some greater service I could perform for you but the whereabouts of Master Blueskin will help you. Your fate is linked to his, although this is also, no doubt, already known to you.’

  Peter did not try to hide his disbelief but let out a sharp cry as the woman grabbed hold of his wrist in her hot, dry hands. She was strong. She opened up his fingers and scrutinised his right palm, frowning in concentration. After a few seconds she let go of it as if what she saw was a disappointment to her. She turned her back on the party and they all saw her head suddenly droop.

  ‘What is it, mistress?’ It was Hannah who spoke. ‘What did you see?’

  The fortune-teller turned around slowly and faced Peter. ‘You are her guardian but you will lose her. And yet you must hold on to her for as long as you can for all depends on it . . .’

  Peter and Kate looked at each other in dismay, neither understanding, nor wanting to.

  Finally the fortune-teller took Gideon’s hand. ‘Surely you do not need the word of a soothsayer to confirm the tie of blood. Your hand resembles Blueskin’s.’ Nodding towards Peter, she continued: ‘Help the boy. He has need of you more than he knows.’

  Through one bloodshot and horrified eye, Gideon returned the woman’s searching stare. The woman’s words caused ripples of distress to spread through the party, and before anyone spoke she vanished from sight, bowing her head to Kate as a mark of respect as she passed her.

  After a prolonged pause Sir Richard roused himself. ‘Ha! That woman is wasted in Bartholomew’s Fair – she should be on the stage at Drury Lane at the very least . . .’

  ‘Quite so, my dear fellow!’ agreed the Parson as energetically as he could. ‘She has a veritable talent for making the blood freeze! Besides, I fancy I caught a whiff of gin about her – doubtless she is intoxicated.’

  ‘Come, my dear friends,’ continued Sir Richard. ‘Be not so downcast! Are we men of reason or do we jump at shadows in the dark? Come, let us return to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Supper and repose will quickly restore our spirits after such a night.’

  ‘Ay,’ said the Parson. ‘Supper and repose. I shall make fine work tonight of Hannah’s ox tongue, I promise you.’

  Gideon unhooked his arms from his two companions and endeavoured to stand as tall as he could. ‘Let Hannah return with the children, by all means, but how, my good sirs, can you think of abandoning our quest tonight? Blueskin holds every advantage! There is not a rogue in the city who would refuse him. Please, I beg of you, now that we know where he lives, and before the Tar Man disappears like woodsmoke into mist, let us pursue him while we may.’

  ‘You’re not leaving us behind!’ cried Peter. ‘And you can’t go alone!’

  ‘But if you are prepared to give credence to the woman on one point,’ asked Sir Richard of Gideon, ‘are you prepared to do so on another? Do you accept that you and the Tar Man might be brothers?’

  Gideon looked at his hands. ‘What say you, Mistress Kate? For this night you have had cause to observe the Tar Man at closer quarters than you should have liked.’

  Kate cast a glance at Gideon’s hands. She said nothing but Gideon read the expression on her face and she saw his agony as he contemplated the awful truth: the man he most despised and hated on this earth could also be his own flesh and blood.

  Sir Richard looked over at the Parson. The latter nodded his head.

  ‘Very well, if Mr Seymour insists on it, let us depart without delay.’

  As the party began to walk slowly out of Bartholomew’s Fair, scarcely noticing the wonders that had so struck them on their
way in, Kate approached Parson Ledbury and pulled something from under her arm and handed it to him.

  ‘Here’s your wig, Parson. Everything else has gone wrong today but at least I found your wig.’

  The Parson accepted her offering with quiet gratitude.

  ‘My Mistress Dyer, you are ever full of surprises . . .’

  CHAPTER NINE

  The Splintering of Time

  In which Anjali makes a decision, Sam wonders

  if Kate is lost to him and the Marquis de

  Montfaron watches ghosts on the internet

  Vega Riaza, as Anjali still thought of the Tar Man, had secreted vast amounts of cash in the penthouse apartment in Docklands, more than enough for Tom’s modest and Anjali’s rather more exacting requirements. Tom had a talent for discovering these little stashes. He knew all the Tar Man’s tricks. He found a fat roll of twenty-pound notes in the sugar, envelopes stuffed with tenners taped to the back of half of the kitchen drawers and, most satisfying of all, nearly seventy-five thousand pounds in six separate packets, slid up the back of the huge Italian sofa and the seam neatly re-sewn. Each time Tom found another secret store he would shout out, ‘Pease Pudding! Pease Pudding!’ – a habit which he had caught from the Carrick Gang because that’s what they would eat after a good night’s thieving. Then, with sparkling eyes, he would watch Anjali as she whooped with delight and threw armfuls of notes high into the air so that it rained down on her like giant confetti. But Anjali began to realise that what drove Tom to keep playing this game was not, in fact, the money but the excuse to spend a little time, in a manner of speaking, in his old master’s company. It was plain, to Anjali at least, that Tom missed the Tar Man badly.

  It therefore came as no surprise when, one fine summer night, while they were watching London’s skyline blaze up into a violet sky, and Tom had regained his strength, he said: ‘I do not belong here, Miss Anjali. I wish with all my heart that I could return to my own time.’

  Anjali set fire to the corner of another ten-pound note and, leaning over the balcony so far that Tom got ready to grab her, she dropped it and watched the glowing fragments float down towards the dark river, leaving a brilliant, swirling trail until each tiny spark was extinguished.

  Anjali closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Her nostrils caught the acrid scent of burning. Then her eyelids flicked open and she turned to face Tom and asked: ‘The girl you always go on about – the one with the machine who was good to you when she landed up in 1763. What was she called again?’

  ‘Mistress Kate?’

  ‘Yes. What was her surname?’

  ‘Dyer.’

  ‘I thought so. The helicopter pilot told me where he took Vega the day that he disappeared. I can’t get you home, Tom, but I reckon I can take you to some people who might . . .’

  Anjali spat out her chewing gum and threw it over the balcony.

  ‘Ever been to Derbyshire?’

  A kestrel hovered high above the stone farmhouse. Suddenly it made a vertiginous dive towards the lower pasture that bordered the stream where the Friesian cows were grazing. The valley was still green despite the dry summer. Sam, the second eldest of the six Dyer children, sat at the kitchen table struggling over a maths worksheet. Through the open window his gaze followed the kestrel’s trajectory. Its prey would be a field mouse, he guessed, or even a water vole. He wished he were with the others, gathering wood for the birthday bonfire. He wouldn’t even have minded going to the airport with his dad to pick up Dr Pirretti. Sam hated being stuck inside. The distant baaing of lambs as they roamed the higher slopes beckoned him, as did the late-afternoon sunshine and the strong breeze gusting through the giant copper beech, a sound that always reminded him of breakers pounding the shore.

  It was getting hotter. He hung over the windowsill above his mother’s flower border, balancing on his belly, his feet leaving the floor and his arms stretched out in front of him. Bumblebees slipped drunkenly into snapdragons and emerged buzzing and sprinkled with yellow pollen. Presently his stomach began to hurt and he jumped back inside. Reluctantly he sat back down again at the table.

  Sam was supposed to have loaded up the dishwasher but instead he had shoved everything up to one end of the long table. He helped himself to some cold chips and some more of the lemonade his mum had made for the barbecue. He took a gulp. It was so tart it made his mouth pucker and his eyes water. His brows knotted together as he tried and failed to remember how to do long division, and for the hundredth time his gaze left the worksheet and roved around the room instead. He looked at, without really seeing, the bright pictures stuck to the fridge with magnets and the jumble of birthday cards on the mantelpiece. There were so many Dyer children it always seemed to be someone’s birthday. Even though Sam sometimes thought otherwise, birthdays weren’t cancelled because something bad had happened to the family. And today happened to be Kate’s birthday. Her thirteenth birthday.

  Sam had been having extra lessons during the summer holidays because his grades had nosedived since his big sister’s last disappearance. At first he had refused to go to school and then, when he did start classes again, he found that his concentration had been shot to pieces. If only Kate were here she would just give him the answers, he thought. She’d feel obliged to tell him he was stupid, too, of course, but that was okay.

  A shard of sorrow stabbed at him. Despite everything his dad and Dr Pirretti and were doing to get the components to build another anti-gravity machine, Sam sometimes doubted that he would ever see his favourite sister again – although he would never give voice to his fears. It was an unspoken rule at the farm that you did not. But there were long, silent nights when his grief was so raw he would bury his head in his pillow, when the part of him that did not want to give up hope was overwhelmed by the part of him that needed to prepare for the worst. He was not sure whether that was somehow disloyal or cowardly or not the right way to think. But there it was – he could not help it. Who knew what the Tar Man had done to Kate and Peter once he had got them back to his lair in 1763 – and there was nothing anyone here could do about it.

  To the rest of the world Kate was just another missing person – and since her disappearance the Dyer family had got to know just how many people do suddenly vanish, for all sorts of reasons, leaving their families in a state of perpetual limbo. All of which did not make this particular family’s loss any easier to deal with. Perhaps in an effort to keep hold of her, Sam increasingly felt the urge to identify, as precisely as he could, that unique blend of qualities that made Kate Dyer who she was. Sam chose adjectives to describe her: brave, loyal, emotional, bright – in both senses of the word – impatient, determined . . . Absent she may have been, yet Kate’s presence nevertheless roamed the corridors of his mind and would dart out unexpectedly: a swish of red hair, a shrill hoot of laughter, a wry look, her habit of pulling hats over faces, her undisputed ownership of the last spoonful of her favourite risotto. One bleak dawn Sam and Dr Dyer had emerged simultaneously, red-eyed, from their bedrooms, and in the instant that their gazes had crossed, each recognised what the other was feeling. Brother and father clung to each other briefly and had then returned to their respective rooms without exchanging a single word, for neither felt inclined to indulge in empty words of sympathy.

  Sam jumped as someone rang the doorbell. As the only other person in the house was the Marquis de Montfaron – who was intent on catching up with two centuries of world knowledge in his father’s study – Sam scraped his chair back over the red quarry tiles and got up to see who it was. But the Marquis had got to the entrance hall before him and, as he pulled open the door, Sam saw a girl’s head appear, her blonde hair a luminous halo in the sunshine.

  Kate’s best friend Megan grinned at him. ‘Hiya, Sam!’ she called.

  ‘Is it time for the bonfire already?’ asked Sam. ‘I’ve still got tons of maths to do! Mum’ll kill me if I don’t finish it.’

  ‘No – the bonfire’s not ’til six thirty. I
wanted to come early. I’ll give you a hand if you like . . .’

  Sam’s face lit up. ‘Do you mean it?’

  ‘I wouldn’t have said if I didn’t.’ She looked up at Montfaron who towered above her, his hair scraping against the top of the door frame. ‘Good afternoon, Monsieur le Mar-r-rquis de Montfar-r-ron!’

  Megan rolled her r’s just as Montfaron had taught her to do. Parisians, he said, would frown at such a pronunciation but his ancestors came from the sunny south and he was proud of his origins.

  ‘Tr-r-r-rès, tr-r-r-rès bien, mademoiselle. Your pronunciation improves by the day. Br-r-ravo!’ said Montfaron, taking hold of Megan’s hand and kissing it because it amused him when she blushed. He bowed ostentatiously, knocking his head on the wall of the narrow hallway as he did so.

  ‘This charming dwelling,’ he said, rubbing the top of his head, ‘would be greatly improved by a little judicious expansion . . .’

  The Marquis made a show of placing the flat of his hands on each wall and pushing with all of his might until his face went red. When he heard a sound suspiciously like cracking plaster from beneath the old wallpaper, he stopped suddenly, and a guilty smile grew on his face.

  ‘Quelle horreur! Demolishing the salle d’entrée of my most generous hosts is an unfortunate way to show my gratitude . . .’

  ‘Don’t worry,’ said Sam. ‘I’ll tell Mum that Dad did it – she won’t say anything then.’

  The Marquis ruffled Sam’s hair. ‘An excellent stratagem, mon cher ami! Although, hélas, one untruth inevitably leads to another . . .’

  Sam blinked as the hall light flashed on and off, on and off, on and off. Montfaron forced himself to remove his hand from the switch and sighed appreciatively. ‘You, who take it for granted, like rain falling from the skies, cannot imagine how I adore electricity . . .’

  ‘No need to panic,’ laughed Megan, examining the wall. ‘You can’t see anything. The plaster’s all lumpy anyway.’

 
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