Time quake, p.30
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       TIME QUAKE, p.30

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  ‘Who’s there?’ asked a small and nervous voice.

  ‘Master Peter?’ cried Gideon. ‘It is I, Gideon, and the Tar Man.’

  ‘I’m so glad you’ve come at last!’ exclaimed Peter. ‘It’s so spooky here.’

  The moon came out again from behind a cloud and shafts of bluish light penetrated the tree cover.

  ‘But why did the Parson leave you here by yourselves?’ asked Gideon.

  ‘We knew you’d arrived because we found the cart and horses. But we waited and waited for you. We were beginning to get anxious. Parson Ledbury and the driver went off to Tempest House to see if there was any sign of you. He was going to ask for some water and see what he could find out. We wanted to go with him but he refused because . . . because . . .’

  Kate finished off his sentence. ‘Because I look like a ghost.’

  Kate stepped out of shadow into the moonlight. The Tar Man backed away from her.

  ‘I am truly sorry we gave you cause to worry,’ said Gideon, trying to conceal his own reaction to Kate’s appearance, ‘but, as you can see, here we are, safe and sound. And we have the key to the crypt.’

  The Tar Man snorted. ‘Ay, Gideon filched the key, and alerted a band of redcoats to our presence into the bargain.’

  ‘Redcoats?’ asked Kate.

  ‘Soldiers,’ Gideon explained. ‘They have not followed us.’

  ‘Is Parson Ledbury all right?’ asked Peter. ‘Where is he?’

  ‘He is doubtless on his way back as we speak,’ Gideon replied. ‘Let us move the device onto the cart while we wait—’

  ‘No,’ said the Tar Man sharply. ‘I shall not hand over the device yet. First I need some assurance that Mistress Dyer has told us the truth. Let her prove to me that she knows the secret code.’

  ‘If you like,’ said Kate, hoping that what Dr Pirretti had told her had not been some terrible hallucination.

  ‘There is no need for that,’ said Gideon fiercely, ‘Mistress Kate is no liar. And the hour is late and it is dark. Let us wait until morning.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Peter, who was half-convinced that Kate was bluffing. ‘Let’s wait until daylight for that.’

  ‘It’s all right,’ said Kate, turning to the Tar Man. ‘If you unlock the crypt and show us that the anti-gravity machine really is in there, I will key in the code.’

  The Tar Man fetched a candle and his tinderbox from the wagon and presently a small flame illuminated the darkness. The Tar Man inserted the heavy key into the lock. He tried to turn it but it would not. Kate and Peter exchanged glances. The candlelight illuminated the heavy grain of the wooden door and the elaborate wrought iron lock.

  ‘Damn your eyes, Gideon!’ exclaimed the Tar Man. ‘You’ve got the wrong key!’

  ‘No! It is the key, I am sure of it!’

  Gideon took the key from his brother’s hand and inserted it again. They all held their breath as he turned it. There was a satisfying click.

  ‘Phew!’ said Peter.

  The Tar Man said nothing. A smell of damp and musty air hit them as the door of the crypt creaked open. Gideon disappeared into the impenetrable darkness followed by the Tar Man. They found a fat candle on a sconce close to the door and they lit that, too. Soon they could all see the anti-gravity machine by its guttering light. Kate could also see many thick cobwebs and at least two big spiders. She hated spiders. She pointed to the biggest one and saw by Peter’s face that he was not too keen on them either.

  ‘Very well, Mistress Dyer,’ said the Tar Man. ‘To work.’

  Peter and Kate walked over to the incongruous object in the corner of the crypt. The anti-gravity machine was as tall and wide as a big man and it had a transparent dome. Kate examined it as best she could in the weak light. It looked the same as Tim Williamson’s machine – her dad and Dr Pirretti must have made an exact replica. Kate flicked the on/off switch and they heard a familiar humming sound.

  ‘Yes!’ cried Peter, holding up the palm of his hand for Kate to strike in a high five.

  She struck it, though he could barely feel anything. But for the first time both of them started to believe that they might actually get home! The machine was here and in working order. The Tar Man had not tricked them! The Tar Man pointed to a luminous display without comment. It read: Please enter six-digit code. Kate nodded. Peter looked at her and she could tell by the fear in his eyes that he was not convinced that she knew it.

  Kate knelt down and tried to key in the first number. But nothing appeared on the display. She did it again and again. Still nothing. Kate started to panic and looked wildly up at Peter.

  ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

  ‘I don’t know!’

  ‘Well, have another go, then . . .’

  Kate tried again. Still nothing. The Tar Man’s face betrayed no emotion.

  Suddenly Gideon shot to the doorway. ‘Someone’s coming!’ he called over his shoulder. ‘Let us hope it is the Parson!’

  Gideon stepped outside and Peter stood up in alarm, dragging Kate with him. When Gideon reappeared he did not need to explain. They all heard the sound of a crowd of people descending on them. Gideon hurriedly removed the key from the door, slammed it shut and locked it from the inside with seconds to spare. Someone threw themselves against the door. It happened again, only this time it was accompanied by oaths and shouting. Then they heard the sound of feet on the roof and a scraping noise as someone slid off a slate roof tile.

  ‘Quickly, Mistress Dyer,’ warned the Tar Man.

  He meant her to set the machine off! . . . All at once there was a tremendous crash, so loud it hurt their ears.

  ‘What was that?’ cried Peter.

  Two seconds later and there was another explosive crash!

  ‘Quickly!’ urged the Tar Man. ‘They have a battering ram.’

  Kate and Peter knelt down and Kate tried to key in her date of birth once more.

  ‘I know what the problem is,’ said Peter. ‘Your fingers aren’t strong enough to press the keys! Here, let me try. Tell me the code!’

  Another terrifying crash. The Tar Man put his eye to the keyhole.

  ‘They’ve ripped up a tree! There must be twenty of them, at least!’

  Kate called out the numbers. Meanwhile Gideon and the Tar Man looked around for anything that they could use to block the doorway. There was nothing, nothing at all. Only themselves. Then, through a hole in the roof, an unseen hand pushed in bundles of hay that had been set alight. Kate screamed. Gideon ran over to the far end of the crypt and started to stamp on it but there was too much and more was being pushed down. Smoke filled the crypt and everyone started to cough.

  ‘Please! Mistress Dyer,’ spluttered the Tar Man. ‘I am not fond of the smell of roasting flesh. Especially my own!’

  Peter keyed in the last number.

  Suddenly Kate dropped to her knees. She peered at a setting in a second display window.

  ‘Pass me the candle!’ she shouted at the Tar Man.

  He thrust the candle at Peter, who placed it shakily on the ground next to the machine. The redcoats rammed the door again. This time the wood started to splinter. It would not survive another blow.

  ‘Six point seven seven megawatts,’ Kate read. ‘I’m not making that mistake again! It’s okay. We can go!’

  The anti-gravity machine made a tiny beep. Some letters appeared in the digital display. Kate read: Security Code accepted. Continue YES or NO?

  Peter selected YES and pushed the Enter key. Somewhere in the machine a procedure was initiated. A second sound was audible. The generator had started up. Kate and Peter looked at each other. Kate gripped Peter’s hand tightly.

  ‘Don’t let go of me,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what this will do to me . . .’

  ‘I won’t – I promise.’

  There was another explosive crash. Kate heard hinges being wrenched from the heavy door frame. The Tar Man dived towards the machine. It was at that instant that Gideon realised that he was not meant
to be going with them. He stepped away from the anti-gravity machine and pressed his back against the wall of the crypt. Peter looked from Kate to Gideon and back again in panic as the spirals started to fill his mind. They could see torchlight through the door and a scrabble of redcoats, like hounds baying at a cornered fox, sensing the kill.

  ‘Gideon!’ Peter screamed.

  But it was the Tar Man who grabbed hold of his brother’s arm and hauled him towards them . . .

  The instant that Sir Richard’s carriage drew up outside the crypt, Parson Ledbury jumped down and ran towards the commotion. He bellowed at the soldiers to calm themselves and cease demolishing a tomb erected to the sacred memory of Lord Luxon’s ancestors! But the redcoats were too roused to listen to a man of the cloth and they rammed the door yet again, the noise of it, like thunder, echoing into the night. Parson Ledbury started to push through them, determined to stand between the redcoats and the door of the crypt, if necessary. But all at once the redcoats did stop. Very suddenly and of their own accord. By the light of flaming torches, the now terrified foot soldiers saw their hands sink into the silvery trunk of the young birch they were using as a battering ram. The men pulled away from it in terror and stepped backwards away from the crypt, yet the tree trunk did not drop to the ground! The birch was dissolving before their eyes! Abruptly the whole tree trunk vanished. The redcoats stood there, shocked and afraid. The Parson walked past them and peered through the demolished door into the crypt. Thick white smoke billowed out of the gaping hole and escaped into the night. The Parson took out a handkerchief and put it over his nose and mouth. A galaxy of sparks glowed scarlet in the piles of blackened hay but there were no flames. Through watering eyes Parson Ledbury saw the candle lit in the sconce. There was no other sign that anyone had been here. He saw no trace of Kate nor Peter nor Gideon nor the Tar Man – nor of the anti-gravity machine.

  He stepped into the empty crypt.

  ‘They have gone home,’ he murmured.

  Parson Ledbury was torn between laughing and crying. He blew out the candle.

  ‘Farewell, my friends, God speed you on your way.’

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  That Bothersome Little Colony

  In which Lord Luxon discovers that you

  should be careful what you wish for

  Lord Luxon’s sleep had been fitful. In his dreams he had battled to move forwards through icy winds towards a dark space haunted by the spectres of soldiers. As he drew closer, he perceived that the soldiers resembled his father and uncles, and all of them wielded sabres which they pointed at him. All the while, Sergeant Thomas’s drooling hound snarled and tore at him ceaselessly with foam-flecked jaws until his clothes were soaking with his own blood. When he finally awoke, to the sound of William bringing in a breakfast tray, the sun was already high in the New Jersey sky. William helped him dress, as he always did, but today, just as the previous night when they had been forced, through necessity, to check into this downmarket, twenty-first century hotel, he was silent and refused to look his master in the eye.

  ‘By the laws, William, I have had a bellyful of your sulking! The fellow wasn’t a saint, he was a mercenary! And a mercenary paid handsomely for a job he failed to do!’

  ‘Yes, my Lord.’

  ‘For all his swaggering, Sergeant Thomas did not even have the bottom of that hideous hound from hell . . .’

  ‘As you say, sir.’

  Lord Luxon snorted angrily and threw down his napkin. ‘Pray command me a carriage, William. I am eager to return to Manhattan to see the fruits of my labours.’

  ‘A carriage, sir?’

  ‘A cab, you impudent fellow! And, as there is no one else, I must charge you to stay in New Jersey and stand guard over the device until my return.’

  ‘Yes, my Lord.’

  William reached into his pocket and held out an envelope to his master.

  ‘What is this?’ asked Lord Luxon.

  ‘I have sold your gold timepiece as you requested . . .’

  ‘Ah. Capital. I trust you got a good price – I was fond of it. No matter – I shall buy myself another watch . . . or a hundred if I feel so inclined when I return to New York!’

  Lord Luxon tore open the envelope and emptied a pile of banknotes and coins onto the palm of his hand. A smile slowly lit up his face. Instead of slim, green dollar bills he held up, one by one, larger paper notes, some blue, some green, some brown . . . and all with the British sovereign on the back.

  ‘Five pounds! Ten pounds! A half-crown!’ He picked out the largest note. It was tinted gold and bronze and had a fine silver stripe running through it. ‘I promise to pay the bearer fifty pounds!’ Forgetting decorum for once, Lord Luxon danced up and down on the spot, brought the notes to his lips and kissed them. ‘America has come home!’ he shouted. ‘I have achieved what vast armies could not have done! Why, even my own father might have dropped his disapproving air for once and admired the genius of the plan, eh, William?’

  ‘Indeed, my Lord,’ said William flatly. Lord Luxon’s father was dead by the time he came to work at Tempest House, but he was aware of his reputation and his ill-disguised contempt for his son. ‘I am certain your achievement would have astonished him.’

  William watched Lord Luxon’s cab disappear out of sight and then stood looking at the sky for a long while. He thought of Sergeant Thomas and Sally. And then he wondered if this new America would have room for Michael in his bar off Sixth Avenue. Finally he returned to his room, put on his jacket and, with only the clothes that he stood up in, walked out of his employment towards a new life where, if nothing else, he could call himself his own master.

  The cab was uncomfortable and hot, and the roads leading to New York were bumpy. Lord Luxon leaned out of the open window to feel the wind on his face and his blond hair escaped from its pigtail and blew into his eyes. It was a sultry, stifling day, and a thick carpet of lead-grey cloud was trapping the heat. A pity, he thought, that he would not be able to see the glorious island of Manhattan rising up out of the sea in brilliant sunshine that suited it so well. A pity, too, that he was not able to enter the city a conquering hero, carried on the shoulders of British redcoats, instead of arriving alone and in this shabby taxi.

  It was early afternoon when the cab reached a stretch of water which was unfamiliar to Lord Luxon. He saw an island, or a peninsula – he was not sure which – and soon they entered a tunnel. When they emerged, Lord Luxon saw rows of municipal buildings of grand, if insipid, architectural design, that failed to compensate for the forest of factory chimneys that sent up plumes of smoke to the west. Also to the west was a small harbour or shipyard. Lord Luxon watched cranes swing giant crates out of rusting ships onto an empty quayside. The cab stopped behind a line of queuing traffic. Fumes filled the car from the ancient lorry in front of them. The line of cars did not move and soon all the drivers were sounding their horns, those of the big lorries booming over the water. Lord Luxon dabbed at his forehead with a violet silk handkerchief. The heat and humidity were becoming irksome.

  ‘What is this city? Must we drive through it?’ asked Lord Luxon ill-temperedly.

  The driver turned around and looked at Lord Luxon as if he were a fool.

  ‘But we’ve reached your destination, sir – this is New York.’

  Lord Luxon bade the cabbie drive around the city until he told him to stop. He was shocked to the core of his being. What had happened to his city of dreams? Where were the skyscrapers? Where was the vibrant energy? Where was the crisp grid of streets? Where was his beloved Central Park and the great museums and art galleries! Where were the shops? Where were Saks and those irresistible boutiques in Greenwich Village and SoHo? Where were the bars, the luxury hotels, the restaurants serving cuisine from every nation that spilled out onto the sidewalks? And why were all the faces a tediously uniform white? Why did everyone dress with so little panache? This town was . . . dull.

  Lord Luxon’s own face was the colour of putty as the
y drove through a succession of narrow, winding streets. His expression had set into one of deep despair. He mopped his clammy forehead repeatedly, closing his eyes each time and hoping that when he opened them some wonder would confront them. None did. True, there were some attractive little crescents, and churches, and there was an equestrian statue of George III in a toga that caught his eye in Bowling Green Park. There was also a tolerable statue of an English monarch called Queen Victoria set above a granite fountain on Wall Street. Most things he saw through the open window of the grimy taxi cab were distasteful to his eyes. He had not seen a single building above twelve storeys high. Where was the civic spirit whose pride and self-belief had built the man-made mountains of Manhattan? This New York was not the city which had made his imagination soar. This New York was a carbuncle on the face of America . . . What could have happened? Lord Luxon’s heart sank. It then occurred to him that all the priceless treasures which he had amassed were housed in a street which did not exist and were guarded by men whose whereabouts in time and space he could not even guess at.

  The overheated cabbie was becoming frustrated driving around and around with no definite destination. Every few minutes he would turn around and look at Lord Luxon questioningly, but his passenger would just indicate, with a sweep of his hand, that he should drive on. Eventually they entered a square where once elegant red-brick terraces had been converted into shops with rented apartments above them. Lines of washing hung from many of the wrought iron balconies. A cluster of enormous plane trees grew in a patch of sun-bleached lawn at the centre of the square. Beneath the trees, a life-size sculpture of a lady in Grecian costume stood on a plinth. A seagull stood on her head and one of her hands had dropped off. A vague memory of such a statue stirred in Lord Luxon’s head but vanished again almost as quickly.

 
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