Time quake, p.32
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       TIME QUAKE, p.32

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  ‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘I am Lord Edward Luxon, come here to haunt you!’

  Most people laughed, although he overheard one elderly man saying that he found jokes about ghosts somewhat tasteless when there had been so many time quakes of late.

  ‘Lord Edward Luxon was certainly an intriguing character,’ said the guide. ‘Having acquired a lot of land in the American colonies, they say that he travelled there, incognito, to avert what could have turned into a revolution . . . Although there was a lot of mystery surrounding the episode and many historians dispute his involvement.’

  ‘Is that so?’ asked Lord Luxon sharply. ‘And yet there is a square named after him in New York.’

  ‘Well, I’m no expert – but that could be because he was created the first Duke of New York. Not that there was any great kudos attached to the title – as any of you who have visited the city can understand! But in middle life Edward Luxon acquired a reputation as a pathological liar. They say he had delusions of grandeur about what he had achieved in his life. He drank and gambled away several fortunes and the branch of the family who succeeded him took great care to distance themselves from anything to do with their embarrassing relation. He was a tragi-comic figure who died childless and alone.’

  ‘But what about America?’ spluttered Lord Luxon. ‘Did he not overturn a revolution? Did he not assassinate the commander-in-chief of the Patriot forces?’

  The guide looked at him with interest, clearly surprised that he knew so much about such a minor incident. ‘Most historians agree that it was a British spy, a Welshman by the name of Thomas, I think, who was actually the hero of the hour . . .’

  The guide was taken aback by Lord Luxon’s expression.

  ‘Some people,’ she whispered to her neighbour, ‘can’t bear to be corrected.’

  The guide looked at her watch. ‘It’s coming up for eleven o’clock. Can I ask everyone to hurry along to the next exhibit? We’ve got just under two minutes to take full advantage of the Luxon Timepiece Collection. It’s worth the trip, I assure you!’

  Lord Luxon tagged along at the back of the line of Canadian tourists, walking like an automaton, heart and mind numb with grief and shock.

  Peter had roused Kate and Gideon with difficulty, having to practically drag them out of sight into the thicket of rhododendrons. They sat huddled together in deep shade on the fragrant, peaty earth. The odd arrow of sunlight pierced the evergreen leaves whose russet undersides had the texture of felt. This latest trip through time had done Kate no favours. When Peter had first seen Kate blur, so long ago now, at the bottom of the valley in Derbyshire, it had seemed as if she were flickering like a poorly tuned television set. She was flickering now. He held her firmly by the hand – even though he could scarcely feel her. He was avoiding looking at her. It was too distressing. He had to get Kate back to her parents. And as quickly as possible – which meant not attracting unwanted attention. A tall order in the circumstances.

  Peter turned around to check up on Gideon who was holding his pounding head in both hands. The Tar Man seemed to have gone off. So much for blood being thicker than water. His friend did not look in great shape. With his bruised and battered face, anyone would have guessed he’d been in a terrible fight – which, of course, he had. All at once it came to Peter that as Kate and Gideon weren’t capable of making any decisions right now, it was down to him to work out what to do next.

  Peter went through the possibilities in his mind. As he did so he absent-mindedly pushed heaps of leathery, dead leaves into a pile and kicked them down again. He delayed worrying about how they were going to get Gideon back to his own time without an anti-gravity machine. All he could think about, all he wanted to do, more than anything in his whole life, was to save his friend. He knew, from what Kate had said, that he should actually be worried about the safety of the universe, rather than the well-being of one person. But how could he care about something so infinite and mysterious and incomprehensible? Kate had gone back in time to find him when he had been left behind – he wasn’t going to let her down now. He squeezed Kate’s hand in his own.

  ‘Ouch,’ said Kate. ‘You’re pinching me!’

  ‘Oh. Sorry,’ he said.

  ‘Are you okay?’

  ‘Yeah,’ said Peter. ‘Are you?’

  ‘I’m okay, too.’

  ‘I don’t believe you.’

  Peter pulled down a branch to get a better view of the commotion outside. The anti-gravity machine had attracted much interest from visitors to the water gardens of Tempest House. A circle of people stood around it, talking and pointing

  ‘I’d like to hear what explanations people are coming up with,’ commented Kate. ‘Perhaps they think it’s a sculpture.’

  Kate’s voice was as faded as her appearance looked. She sounded as if she were talking from the next room. He had to strain to hear her. He decided not to tell her.

  ‘Do you think it can be mended?’ he asked.

  ‘It’s got a tree through it! No, I don’t. I think it’s amazing we got here at all.’

  Peter turned to Gideon. ‘Do you think you might be able to walk yet?’

  ‘The world is still spinning . . . but I think I trust myself to stand up.’

  ‘All right. Let’s go to the house and ask to use a telephone. I think the only thing we can do is telephone our parents and get them to pick us up here. With Kate looking the way she does we can’t use public transport. We’re just going to have to keep our heads down until they arrive.’

  ‘It’ll take hours to get to Surrey from Derbyshire,’ said Kate. ‘Are we going to be stuck in a rhododendron bush all day?!’

  ‘It doesn’t take long to get here from Richmond – if I can manage to get hold of my mum or dad, that is . . .’

  ‘Oh,’ said Kate, observing her faded arms. ‘I’m not sure that I can face meeting your parents looking like this. Couldn’t we wait until my mum and dad get down here? I’m not sure that I can—’

  ‘Don’t be daft, Kate, they won’t mind what you look like . . .’

  Kate’s head drooped.

  ‘Shall I see a tel-ee-fone at last?’ asked Gideon, changing the subject.

  ‘Yes, you will!’ said Peter to Gideon. ‘And then you’ll see I haven’t been making it all up!’

  ‘Should we all go to find a phone?’ asked Kate.

  ‘I think we’ll have to,’ Peter replied. ‘I can’t let go of you and I don’t want to leave Gideon by himself in a foreign century – just in case.’

  ‘Shall I hear a police car crying nee-naw, nee-naw?’

  This made Kate burst out laughing, which reminded Peter how long it had been since he saw her look jolly. ‘I hope not!’ she giggled.

  When Gideon tried to get up he staggered and had to sit straight back down again. When he stood up a second time he managed to stay up.

  ‘Poor Gideon,’ said Kate.

  Gideon looked at Kate and smiled at her.

  ‘There is no need to be concerned on my account, I assure you. And soon you will be home, Mistress Kate, and all will be well.’

  ‘I don’t know how we’re going to get you home, though,’ said Kate.

  ‘As Parson Ledbury would say, enough unto the day are the troubles thereof,’ Gideon replied.

  Peter raised an eyebrow at Kate. ‘I think Gideon means that we can worry about that tomorrow.’

  Peter and Gideon both donated their jackets to Kate. They placed Gideon’s around her shoulders and put Peter’s over her head. If anyone were to comment they would say that she had sunstroke and that they were keeping the light out of her eyes. As they were covering her up, a small child scrambled into the bushes in search of a good hiding place. She looked at the big people playing their strange game and backed away.

  ‘It’s all right,’ Peter called out to her. ‘It’s all yours until we get back.’

  They walked over the spongy turf and soon the shadow of Tempest House fell on them. They approached the west wing of the
house marching three abreast with Kate in the middle, her form obscured by their jackets. Peter was delighted to see several guides in period dress as it had not yet occurred to him how they were going to explain away their strange clothes. Kate allowed herself to peep out from underneath her jacket and when she looked up at Tempest House, glorious in the sunshine, she noticed the roof terrace with its stone balustrades and corner statues. Her blood ran cold. This was the tall building where she saw Peter in her dreams. Suddenly she was overwhelmed by shadowy fears and lost her footing. Peter stopped her falling.

  ‘Do you want to sit down for a minute?’ he asked.

  Kate consciously pushed away the images that crowded into her mind. ‘No, no, I just tripped over something. Let’s just make that call.’

  ‘But what has happened to Tempest House?’ exclaimed Gideon. ‘It was always much admired but this . . . this is a palace fit for a king! Upon my word, Lord Luxon must have made several fortunes in the future . . .’

  They entered through a glass side door which had The Luxon Timepiece Collection painted above it in copperplate script.

  As soon as they walked into the cavernous hall with its tiered galleries on high, its sumptuous ebony panelling below, and its inlaid marble floor, Peter was aware of ticking. A lot of ticking. The air shivered with the marking of time. Rows of clocks studded the walls, there were half a dozen grandfather clocks placed at regular intervals, there were tables full of carriage clocks, cabinets where pocket watches lay on plush velvet, dress watches and miniature, bejewelled timepieces. At the centre of the lofty space was a golden water clock whose great wheel scooped up water and propelled a mechanism which both kept the hour and also rotated a baroque representation of Father Time. Everywhere pendulums swung and intricate mechanisms clicked and whirred. It was a veritable temple to celebrate the lie that time is constant and regular and can be tamed. Peter hated the terrible sound. The nightmarish tick-tocking was enough to send you mad. Then he noticed how all the people milling about in the room were not looking at the individual exhibits, but seemed to be waiting in anticipation.

  Close to the door, a girl sat at a desk covered with piles of books and postcards and information leaflets. She was counting out coins. The three figures shuffled forward together in a line and Peter coughed gently. The girl looked up and a frown creased her forehead when she noticed Kate.

  ‘Could I use a telephone please?’ Peter said to her. ‘I need to contact my friend’s parents.’

  The nervous girl looked from Peter to the person under the pile of jackets and back again. She spoke very quickly in a staccato voice. ‘Sorry? . . . Are, are you tour guides? I didn’t catch what it is you wanted – would you . . . would you mind repeating your question?’

  Peter’s face fell but he repeated the word all the same. ‘Telephone? Could I use a telephone please?’

  The girl shook her and looked even more anxious. ‘I’m so sorry, I still don’t understand. I only started this week. I’ll ask my supervisor if you like – she might know what one is.’

  ‘Never mind,’ said Peter. ‘It doesn’t matter. Thanks anyway.’

  Peter turned and walked away and the others followed his lead. His heart sank.

  ‘Oh no,’ he said under his breath.

  He realised with a start that he could not feel Kate and checked to see that he held her insubstantial hand in his. But she was still there, her face shrouded by his jacket.

  ‘What’s going on?!’ he whispered to her.

  ‘I set it to the right reading, I know I did!’ said Kate.

  Peter scratched his head in exasperation. ‘I don’t know when they invented telephones but I’m sure it was a long time ago.’

  ‘It must be Lord Luxon!’ exclaimed Kate. ‘He’s done something. If there aren’t telephones, he’s done something to change the future!’

  Peter put his head close to hers. He could only just make out what she was saying. ‘But why would Lord Luxon want to un-invent the telephone?’

  ‘I didn’t mean that,’ said Kate. ‘And anyway, they might have telephones . . . they might just call them something else. What I meant was—’

  Abruptly Gideon stepped in front of them and pointed. ‘It’s him! I am sure of it!’

  Peter and Kate turned to look. Visitors were congregating in the large exhibition area and everyone seemed to be standing still in breathless anticipation. Indeed, people had even stopped talking so that Gideon’s cry echoed over all the building.

  ‘There is the man that destroys the world with his vanity and who pits brother against brother!’

  Peter and Kate watched, open-mouthed, as Gideon started to sprint away from them as fast as if someone had set off a starting pistol. Kate clutched at Peter’s arm.

  ‘Oooh! Peter, look!’ Kate screamed. ‘It’s Lord Luxon!’

  It seemed to Kate that only one person in the entire room was not watching Gideon run through the crowds – and that was the solitary figure engrossed in his own thoughts next to the water clock, Lord Luxon himself. At the sound of such rapid footfall Lord Luxon looked up, startled, and the first thing he saw was Gideon, his face wild and fierce, charging at him from the other side of the room like a bull at a gate.

  ‘Gideon?’ he cried.

  Instinctively Lord Luxon raised his arms to protect himself against imminent attack. But at the very moment that Gideon was reaching out to grab hold of Lord Luxon’s shoulders, the hour struck. It was not for nothing that this collection was so renowned: hundreds of clocks all over the building were synchronised so that they all chimed the hour in perfect unison, like an orchestra coming to life in reaction to a tiny movement of a conductor’s baton. It was so loud you could feel the vibrations. It was so loud it hurt. Without thinking, Peter, like so many others in the room, covered his ears with his hands, an action he regretted as soon as he had done it.

  Kate’s grip on her own time was by now so tenuous that she fast-forwarded the instant Peter removed his hand from hers. She tried to fight the distress that flooded over her as she held up a hand to see what more damage had been done. It was difficult to tell. This time the shapes she saw floating in the air around her were much clearer. In fact, if she compared her own flesh with the shapes, as she was becoming more transparent, they appeared more opaque. She was convinced that they were alive. There must, she thought, be worlds whose very existence we don’t even suspect because they move so much faster or slower than us, or because our senses just can’t detect them. She wondered if the shapes were aware of her.

  Unlike her own clothes, Peter and Gideon’s jackets did not move when she did, so it was with relief that Kate found that she could just duck down and creep out of the stiff tent formed by them. She looked up at Peter. His face was screwed up and his hands were clapped over his ears. The jackets floated next to him, the contour of her own head and shoulders still clearly visible. Kate realised how much easier it was to move in this world now, as if her body was better adjusted to life at this speed. She also realised how much effort just walking or keeping upright had been taking.

  She looked over towards Gideon. It was a striking scene. Every eye in the room was trained on the two figures, frozen in a dramatic tableau in front of the water clock. Kate’s experience with the Tar Man had made her wary of touching anyone, so she wove a very careful path between the visitors to Tempest House. She wafted the indistinct and floating shapes out of her way as she went. Did they remind her of thistledown or butterflies or jellyfish? She wasn’t quite sure.

  When she reached the water clock she saw that Gideon was in full flight and that neither of his feet was actually touching the ground. He was reaching out to grab Lord Luxon with both hands. Lord Luxon was gawping at him in alarm from behind arms crossed defensively in front of his face. Poor Gideon, thought Kate, looking at his bad eye. It was still very swollen and red, with a halo of purple and yellow bruising. Kate slowly circled Lord Luxon as if he were a statue in a museum. She had never come across a man who took
this much care of his appearance. How vain he must be, she thought.

  Lord Luxon’s ivory jacket was hanging open. It was lined with matching silk, and a small black object, protruding from an inside pocket, caught her eye. It wasn’t a wallet. It was made of metal. Being extremely careful not to touch Lord Luxon, Kate drew closer. It couldn’t be a gun, could it? Not that she had ever seen a real gun, but it seemed to Kate that it could potentially be the barrel of a small gun. Taking a step backwards, she scrutinised Lord Luxon’s body language – was he preparing to reach for a weapon? It was possible, she supposed. She decided that she had to investigate. If Gideon was in danger she could not take any chances.

  Kate stood uncomfortably close to Lord Luxon. Very slowly she placed thumb and forefinger around the small metal cylinder and pulled as hard as she could. It was to no avail. Then she tried pulling with two thumbs and two forefingers but she still could not budge it at all. The object might just as well have weighed a ton. She felt frustration and panic in equal measure. If it were a gun and Lord Luxon did intend to use it she would not be able to warn Gideon in time. By the time she had touched Peter and stopped fast-forwarding and shouted to Gideon to be careful, he could already be shot and bleeding on the floor.

  What should she do? Or, rather, what could she do in the circumstances? It then occurred to her that this was not only about Gideon’s safety. If Lord Luxon got away, and continued to use the anti-gravity machine, there would be more parallel worlds and more time quakes until . . . who knows what might happen. The weight of responsibility on her shoulders made her feel tearful and afraid. She looked at her hands again. Didn’t she have enough to deal with?

  Kate observed the water clock and at the ropes of sparkling water pouring off the top of the golden wheel and hanging in mid-air. She sat down next to it and patted the spongy surface of the water. The memory of the Tar Man’s horrified face when she had grabbed hold of him by the Thames was still vivid in her mind. And though she recoiled at the thought, this was a possibility . . . If she frightened Lord Luxon enough, it would give her a few more precious seconds to warn Gideon about the gun. Meanwhile Gideon would be able to grab Lord Luxon and wrestle him to the floor – and then Peter could help, too . . .

 
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