|1850 Land Surveyor|
“The family is spending the summer months in Sommerville," Max told him. "The papers say Miss St. Clair is very popular.”
High society rotated amongst Roesia’s towns, taking their pleasures in seascapes and hot springs in Rostand followed by horse races at Dorceyster followed by fêtes in Sommerville. They would flood back to Kingston in the fall for the largest balls and, for the debutantes, entrance into the marriage mart.
Miss St. Clair was damaged goods, no matter how popular. Few knew as well as Lord Simon the disparity between use and affection. Being the latest fad didn’t guarantee reliable results.
I didn’t enchant her. I tried to help her.
The family certainly hadn't suffered. The brother, Richard St. Clair, had been offered a government post. Over time, people would forget the sister’s vague scandal of being bespelled. She would marry a dreary clerk—and be utterly bored.
“I should have transformed you,” he told Hannah after Max left. “Into a cat. A mouse.”
“At least here I’m safe.”
Maybe. For now. Until New Government, as it called itself, forced Simon from his home.
Hannah’s prison. But without it—she might disappear, turn to smoke, her soul undone. Simon was aging, more rapidly somedays than others. Or so it seemed. His time to save her was dwindling.
* * *
“Has Miss St. Clair reverted?” he asked Sir James who visited accompanied by a sullen Jacobs. "Shown any signs of her transformation?"
“She appears a perfectly ordinary young lady,” Sir James said ponderously. “We realize that you, ah, had to do what was best for the family, return to them their daughter and sister. It seems an unfortunate waste—”
“She is a waste,” Jacobs said snidely. "Tedious debutante."
Simon ignored him.
He said, "Removal could prove helpful."
"To our enemies perhaps. Nobody but Roesia uses potions--"
Which should tell the Academy something about the perceived future of magic, but of course, it didn't.
"There are enemies everywhere," Simon pointed out quietly.
These men spent more time bespelling citizens and each other than any one of real political clout.
Sir James harrumphed and Jacobs said, "Members of the Academy would never stoop so low."
Simon felt Hannah's chuckles, ripples of air against his skin.
He said, "Pity the Academy didn't consider Aubrey St. Clair's future before its own skin."
Sir James flushed. “The young lady will not, ah, come out this fall, but with all the attention she’s received, I’m sure she won’t notice.”
Likely she would. The girl Simon had met was no fool.
Unless her belligerent intelligence had been an effect of the spell. Or simply the best way to handle it.
* * *
Is she happy? He couldn’t ask—not these men.
He asked Brian Stevenson. Stevenson represented another faction within the Academy leadership. Wandering into the parlor after being announced by the butler, he revolved to watch the man leave—the first person, Simon realized who had ever noticed the butler.
“Not quite human, is he?” Stevenson said conversationally. “Is this place haunted?”
I am losing my reputation. Decades earlier, no one would have dared come so close to mentioning Simon’s original crime.
Simon said, “Your grandfather was a tutor at the Academy.”
A flash of a smile. “He was there when Hannah Tokington went missing.”
Nor would anyone seven twenty years ago been so direct. Simon eyed the sharp eyes in the thin face topped by untidy hair. New blood. Not a proto-aristocrat or even a supporter which begged the question, Why is Stevenson here?
“I heard Hannah moved to Wallaiston,” Simon said.
He betrayed himself, using Hannah's first name, but Stevenson just snorted.
“Aubrey St. Clair seems restored to ordinariness,” he said, wandering about the parlor to gaze at the dusty carved panels and worn curtains and occasional Lucorey objets. “You disappointed Sir James and his followers.”
“Potions are a dead-end.”
“Yes. Science requires accurate replication, which potions cannot provide.”
Stevenson strolled back to the grouped armchairs.
He said, “The need for replicable results is difficult to explain to emotional thinkers. A girl becomes a cat! How astonishing!”
“She’s been despelled.”
“Are you sure of that? Can you guarantee it?”
Simon said, “The girl is happy, isn’t she?”
Stevenson studied him, hands in pockets, then shrugged.
“Perhaps,” he said. “More importantly, is she safe?”
Finally—a man of disinterested concern.
Stevenson continued: “Any change in her status could provoke a regrettable overreaction from the Academy alums.”
“Even the mind doctors think Miss St. Clair will provide fodder for their agenda. Dr. Prescott wants to examine her mental state.”
“She would be better off left alone.”
“Yes. By everyone.”
There was Stevenson’s purpose in coming. Was Simon going to use the girl for an unforeseen purpose, setting in motion another upheaval that would slow the inevitable movement of the Academy towards modernity?
“You have no plans for Aubrey St. Clair?” Stevenson said directly.
Simon’s plan was already in motion; this detached young man might even approve his intentions, his hopes. Except Simon’s obligations precluded honest dealing. He and Mr. Stevenson might agree about the non-future of potions. That didn’t make Stevenson a friend, someone who would protect Simon, his choices, or his house.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Stevenson looked utterly disbelieving.
* * *
“She’s back in Kingston,” Max told Simon. “That girl. She visited the police.”
Innocent young ladies didn’t visit the police. Had Miss St. Clair remembered her policeman? Had instinct sent her off her chosen course (not quite a debutante) into the mire of unrespectability?
As he returned packets of herbs to his satchel, Max mumbled, “Kev thinks she’ll change back, thinks she never really changed at all—from being a cat.”
“Is Kev back in Kingston?”
Max flushed and muttered. “He’s got hideaways.”
“Max.” Simon pressed a thin hand to Max's sleeve. “Did Kev kill Guy?”
Max hunched further into his overcoat, eyes on the floor.
“No one knows. Not for sure. Guy left Kingston—Kev said. Guy never came back.”
Or never left because he was dead. Too bad the New Police weren’t operating in those days.
I benefited from Kev’s iniquity. But then Kev, a demon of insidious whispers, had also used Simon. If Kev had never entered his orbit, perhaps Simon would still be pure.
No. Simon shook his head (crazy old man, talking to himself). Simon had embarked on a path of self-destruction long before Kev attached himself to Guy.
I will exorcise myself of Kev before I die. Simon would never leave Hannah to Kev’s snooping. If he couldn't free her--
He had to protect the house
* * *
New Government sent an official to survey the house. The man, who was youngish, tall, and dark, strolled about the cavernous hall, jotting down observations in a notebook.
“This is one of Truflet's creations,” Simon told him.
The young man looked doubtful and said, “Not his best example.”
But the comment was made objectively without political innuendo. Bureaucrat or no, he was open to argument.
Simon said, “Age surely counts for something. Once an edifice is gone—”
“Institutions rise and fall.”
“Institutions? A history of institutions is the history of tediousness." He saw the young man's mouth quirk upwards and continued, "Objects of the past carry an aura that transcends mere institutionalism.”
Yes. If the removal potion worked on Miss St. Clair, Simon would apply it to the house. Hannah would forget him, forget this place. Wasn’t it better that she forget? Miss St. Clair might wish to remember her policeman. Hannah should be sent untouched back into the world.
Will I forget her? Not until the world forgets me.
The outside door stood open to the still warm fall day. Simon had sent the butler to prowl about the scullery. If Kev was back in Kingston, Simon needed to secure the house against him.
The thin, older gentleman coming in from the outside stumbled on the doorstep as he peered into the comparatively dim interior.
He called, “Mr. St. Clair?”
The dark-haired government man turned sharply, brows constricted. His eyes flicked to Simon, then to the visitor. So. The young man was the brother, Richard St. Clair, who had accepted the position of building surveyor despite, presumably, his reservations about the men who offered it to him. Though taller, he resembled his sister in the eyes and utter expressiveness. Right now, he was worried.
He said, “Sir Prescott?”
So. The newcomer was the mind doctor from the Academy's board. Stevenson had mentioned that Dr. Prescott wanted to examine Miss St. Clair. His tone had stamped Dr. Prescott as an oddity but not an opponent. Here was another rift in the Academy's infatuation with potions.
Richard St. Clair said, “Sir Prescott, weren't you on an outing with—” and stopped.
“Your sister. Yes. I’m here to inform you—”
“Tell me outside.”
Simon interrupted St. Clair's march towards the outside door: “How is Miss St. Clair?”
Dr. Prescott squinted past the younger man to where Simon leaned against the staircase newel post. His expression became a befuddled mix of awe and disdain.
“Lord Simon? Hello. Hello. I heard about your removal of Miss St. Clair’s bespellment. What a pity you didn’t wait for a more propitious time.”
“You disagreed with the removal?” Simon said, trying not to sound too amused, and St. Clair gave him a quick glance.
Dr. Prescott said, “I would have preferred it take place in a calmer setting—at one of my spas, for instance.”
St. Clair made a strangled sound, and now Simon glanced at him. If the sister were any indication, the brother had a streak of pragmatism that despised such avuncular sympathy as Dr. Prescott’s.
That man burbled out, regardless:
“She is obviously still suffering emotional trauma from her experience. Dreams. Confusion.”
“Is that why you came here?” St. Clair said and pressed forward, herding Dr. Prescott towards the outside stoop.
“Oh, yes. Of course—I came—I’m afraid your sister fainted at police headquarters.”
“Headquarters? I thought you were attending an art exhibit.”
“Yes. Well. She is looking for answers, Mr. St. Clair. She felt the police could provide them—”
But Miss St. Clair was already in contact with the police, she had persuaded this fulsome man to take her there today. Either she was indicating her preference for younger company or she needed to communicate urgently with her particular policeman.
What did the police know that would make Miss St. Clair’s visit to them so urgent? Had she seen Kev?
St. Clair said, “I should retrieve my sister,” his eyes sliding towards but missing Simon. “I’ll continue my inspection later, Lord Simon.”
The tone said, Stay away from my family. The tone said, This is none of your business.
Simon wished he could agree.