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WHEN I’D DECIDED to work at the Henry Street Settlement house for the summer, I’d been told that part of my job might entail navigating the Lower East Side tenement houses where our clients lived. But I’d never pictured myself leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Or chasing after an escaped changeling.
I thought I’d left all that behind at Blythewood.
But now that’s exactly what I was doing, running hell-for-leather, leaping over the dividing walls between rooftops.
It had started that morning at Henry Street with an unexpected guest.
I was leaning out my office window trying to catch a breeze, watching a gang of boys whose damp and tattered clothing suggested they had been swimming off the piers. I envied them, even if the East River smelled, the currents were deadly, and bloated bodies occasionally bobbed to its slick, greasy surface. It would be worth it to feel cool water on my skin! I pulled the damp, limp lawn of my shirtwaist away from my tightly laced corset and closed my eyes. If only I could sail out this window and wing my way over the tarpaper roofs and water towers, out to the river. If only I could fly. . . .
A memory of a dark-eyed boy who had carried me up into the air on his ebony wings flitted through my mind. Raven. The last time I’d seen him he had fled from me, sure I saw him as a monster—but really I had only reacted to him as I did because I had been afraid thatI was one. Now I might never get a chance to tell him I’d been wrong. The memory of him was so real I could almost feel the beat of his wings stirring the stale air around me and hear the rustle of feathers. . . .
I did hear rustling.
I turned around, but of course it wasn’t Raven. It was a young girl—a child in stature, but perhaps really a teenager stunted by poor nutrition—in a white shirtwaist that had been much mended but was clean and pressed and a plain brown skirt with a tattered muddy hem that hovered a few inches above the tops of her worn, scuffed boots. Instead of a hat, she wore a faded scarf tied over her hair, as many of the Jewish girls in the neighborhood did. All in all, she looked like many of the young immigrants who filled the Lower East Side tenements surrounding the settlement house. Like Tillie Kupermann, my friend who had died last year in the Triangle fire. As an image of Tillie striding across the smoke-filled factory floor filled my head, I remembered.
“Etta!” I cried. “Etta Blum! You were at the Triangle. You’re the girl Tillie—”
“Saved. Yes, although she couldn’t have done it without you and that strange young man.”
Raven. How much did Etta remember of that day? Raven leading us through the flames beneath a cloak and up onto the roof? A man in an Inverness cape shoving Tillie off the roof? What about me falling? Or Raven catching me midair and bearing me aloft on ebony wings? Or had she relegated all the events of that terrible day to the realms of nightmare?
“Much was strange about that day,” I said, glancing nervously at the door where Miss Corey and Miss Sharp had appeared, drawn by my crying out Etta’s name, no doubt. “But I’m so glad to see you. I’ve thought about you, but I didn’t know where to find you.” A prick of guilt stung me. I had seen her name on the rolls of survivors; I could have looked for her. I should have looked for her.
“I thought you were dead,” Etta said simply. “I saw you fall. But a couple of days ago I saw you walking on Ludlow Street. At first I thought you might be a ghost. I’ve seen so many strange things recently. But then I followed you and saw you come here to the settlement house.” She turned around and smiled shyly at Miss Sharp and Miss Corey. “It didn’t seem a place for ghosts.”
“No, of course not,” Miss Sharp said, holding out her hand to Etta. “It’s a place for girls who need help. Do you need help, Etta?”
“Not me!” Etta said. “It’s my sister, Ruth. She’s . . . she’s . . .” Etta’s face crumpled and she began to shake. Miss Sharp grasped her shoulders just before she slumped to the floor. She helped Etta into a chair and snapped at Miss Corey.
“Lillian, don’t just stand there! Make the girl some tea. And Ava”—she turned to me—“go see if there’s some bread and cheese in the soup kitchen—”
“No!” Etta roused herself to grasp my hand. “I want you to stay. I knew when I saw you that you were the only one who could help me . . . that if you could come back after falling off a ten-story building, you could bring back my sister.”
“How long has she been gone?” Miss Sharp asked, handing Etta a cup of tea.
“That’s just it,” Etta said. “She’s not gone—she’s just not herself anymore. And the thing that’s taken her place . . . it’s not human.”
We gave Etta three cups of sweet, hot tea, but she still didn’t make a lot of sense. A change had come over her sister, Ruth, three weeks ago, but Etta insisted it was more than a change. She insisted that the thing sharing the cramped two-room tenement with her and two younger brothers and their parents was not Ruth. “It looks like Ruth and talks like Ruth. It’s fooled my parents and my brothers, but Iknow that’s not my sister.”
“When did you first imagine that she had changed?” Miss Corey asked brusquely, holding a pencil to her notebook.
“When did she stop being your sister?” Miss Sharp rephrased the question more gently.
“It was after the Fourth of July Tammany Hall excursion to Coney Island. Papa forbade us to go. He says picnics are for goyim.” She blushed, looking apologetically at blonde, blue-eyed Miss Sharp.
“But your sister didn’t care about the old ways, did she?” Miss Sharp asked gently.
I startled at the phrase. The old ways was how we talked of tradition at Blythewood. I’d learned last year that the phrase had a more sinister meaning having to do with breeding and forced marriages. I was surprised to hear Miss Sharp use it in connection with a Coney Island excursion, but I understood when Etta answered.
“No,” she admitted with a small, shy smile. “Ruth said we might as well have stayed in the shtetl in the old country if we’d only come to America to marry good Jewish boys and shave our heads. . . .” As Miss Corey’s eyes widened, Etta went on. “That’s what Jewish women do when they marry,” she explained. “Ruth didn’t care about marrying a Jewish boy. She flirted with the Irish boys on Cherry Street and the Swedes from Bay Ridge.”
“She went with all these men?” Miss Corey asked.
“Not that way!” Etta cried, bristling. “She liked laughing with the boys and going out to Coney Island to ride the Steeplechase and dancing at the dance halls. She worked hard all week at the factory and wanted to have a good time on her day off.”
“There’s many a girl who’s been led astray in the pursuit of fun,” Miss Corey said primly, giving me a knowing a look. Since I’d volunteered to spend my summer vacation working at the settlement house, the Blythewood librarian had kept a close eye on me and lectured me daily on the dangers of the city. “Especially girls who go with strange men.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions, Lil,” Miss Sharp said. She cradled Etta’s hand in hers and added in a softer tone, “But perhaps, Etta, the change that came over your sister is a result of an attachment she’s formed. Young women can sometimes seem quite different when they fall in love. ”
“Yes!” Miss Corey said, snapping her pencil in half. “They frequently act like perfect fools!”
“But that’s just the thing,” Etta said. “She’s not acting like a boy-crazy fool. She’s become perfectly obedient and suddenly has no interest in boys at all. She does everything Mama and Papa tell her to do—except for the ironing—but she wrings the clothes instead and hangs them all on the clothes rack, which is much harder.”
“But she won’t use the iron?” Miss Corey asked, looking up from the new pencil she was sharpening and catching Miss Sharp’s worried glance. “Is there anything else she won’t use or touch?”
Etta frowned, thinking. “The kettle,” she said finally. “Ruth used to get up first and put the kettle on the stove, but now she goes to fetch the water from the pump even though it’s six flights down and back . . . come to think of it, she doesn’t go near the stove either.”
“The iron, the kettle, the stove,” Miss Corey said. “All made of iron.”
“If she can’t touch iron,” I began, “does that mean she’s a fair—”
“It means it’s fairly certain we should go see her,” Miss Sharp broke in, widening her eyes at me. “Is she home now, Etta?”
Etta nodded. “It’s her half day at the factory, but she comes home straightaway now to help me and Mama make silk flowers to sell. Mama will be wondering where I am.”
“Well, let’s get you home, then,” Miss Sharp said, squeezing Etta’s shoulder. “Lillian, why don’t you take Etta down to the kitchen to see if there are any day-old loaves to be had while Ava and I collect my nursing bag so we can give Ruth a proper exam.”
“She’s not sick,” Etta began to object, but Miss Corey steered her out of the office, explaining to her that coming as a visiting nurse would give Miss Sharp an opportunity to speak with Ruth. When their voices had faded on the stairs, I turned to Miss Sharp, who was bent over her leather valise. It had surprised me that Vionetta Sharp, English teacher at Blythewood, would spend her summer off training as a nurse, but she told me that the world might soon be more in need of nurses than English teachers. The jeweled dagger she pulled out of her bag and slipped into a concealed sheath at her waist, though, did not look like part of the usual nurse’s kit. I recognized it as a magical dagger from Blythewood.
“What do you think has taken Ruth’s place?” I asked.
“A Fata mutabilis,” Miss Sharp replied, adding a potions vial to the bag. “Or in common parlance: a changeling.”
Henry Street was so crowded with housewives buying their dinners from food carts, young women pouring out of factories, and men pouring into the taverns, that we had to walk in pairs. Miss Corey went in front with Etta, while Miss Sharp walked beside me, whispering what she knew about changelings—which wasn’t much.
“Little is known about them in their indigenous state, as they are almost only encountered after they have assumed the characteristics of their human hosts. By that time they look almost entirely human, save for certain telltale marks on their skin, which only an expert trained by the Order can recognize. Also there are their habits—avoidance of iron, unusual appetites, insomnia—that give them away. If Etta’s sister has indeed been taken over by a changeling, it’s quite remarkable that Etta spotted the creature. When this is done, we should conduct an interview with Etta to test for preternatural talents. She might be a candidate for Blythewood.”
“I can’t imagine Etta wanting to leave her sister. She seems so devoted to her.” A sorrowful look from Miss Sharp froze my voice. “We will get her back, won’t we? That’s how the stories my mother used to read me always ended—once the changeling is driven off the real child returns.”
Miss Sharp sighed. “Unfortunately, those really are fairy stories. The original host is rarely restored. We’re not sure what the changelings do to them—we suspect they kill them to absorb their features and memories.” Seeing the look of horror on my face, Miss Sharp pulled me to the side of the street, out of the path of a horse-drawn ice cart, and gripped my shoulders.
“These creatures are dangerous, Ava. I know your . . . encounter with the Darkling this past year has predisposed you to look favorably on the fairies, but there are dangerous creatures hiding in plain sight, preying on humans, and as members of the Order we’re pledged to protect humanity from them.”
Vionetta Sharp might not have looked like a warrioress of an ancient Order, but she and Miss Corey had taken the same oath I had on my first night at Blythewood to defend humanity against the creatures of Faerie. Some of those creatures—trolls, goblins, ice giants—were dangerous and scary, but others, like the tiny lampsprites, were harmless. And then there were the Darklings . . .
“Darklings aren’t fairies,” I protested. “But yes, Raven did help me to see that the Order is wrong about the fairies. They’re not all evil. I thought you agreed. Your grandfather believed they weren’t all evil.”
“And nearly killed my uncle Taddie trying to prove it!” Miss Sharp snapped in an unusually brusque manner. She hadn’t been herself all summer. I’d put it down to the strain of settlement work, but now I saw that something else must be on her mind. “I believe it’s true that we have to revise the old ways of the Order, but we can’t throw them out willy-nilly. Many of these creatures are truly dangerous—the changelings perhaps most of all. Look at what one did to poor Lillian.”
“To Miss Corey? What do you—” Then I remembered what she’d said about the marks that distinguished a changeling. “Do you mean the marks on Miss Corey’s face—?”
“Made by a changeling that was trying to take her place. Her father killed it before it could, but it left those marks. So you can understand why Lillian does not feel kindly disposed toward the species. If that is what’s up there . . .” She lifted her eyes up to the tenement house where Etta and Miss Corey had stopped. “Then you must let us do what is necessary. You stay with Etta and help her distract her family while Lillian and I draw the creature out and . . . deal with it.”
I thought of the dagger in Miss Sharp’s bag and shivered despite the sultriness of the day. I’d seen Vionetta Sharp mesmerize a murder of shadow crows at Blythewood with that dagger. Her blue eyes were shining now with a cold light that reminded me of the eyes of the Dianas when they went into a Hunt trance. She didn’t look as if she would brook any disagreements. I nodded my head.
“Good girl,” she said, turning to join Etta and Miss Corey at the door of the tenement, dismissing me as abruptly as a general would dismiss a field soldier. My teacher was already on the hunt. I almost felt sorry for the creature waiting for us upstairs.
Though I was no stranger to the dark, unlit stairwells and strong odors of tenement houses, I felt a lowering sense of dread as we climbed to the sixth floor to face a creature trying to pass as human. Would it go with us peaceably? Or would it fight to keep its place? And how did Miss Sharp plan to deal with it?
At the top of the stairs, Etta removed a key from a string around her neck and held it to the lock of a worn and faded wooden door. She turned to Miss Corey. “Are you going to hurt it?” she asked.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” Miss Corey answered.
“I only want my sister back,” she said.
“We’ll do what we can,” Miss Corey said, not meeting her eyes.
We stepped into a dim and dingy room. The only light came from a window facing an airshaft, inches from a brick wall, and a smoking kerosene lamp on the center of a large round table. Around the table were gathered a circle of indistinct figures hunched over piles of incongruously bright flowers, the only color in the room. The two women at the table wore gray dresses and dark scarves over their heads. The two little boys were so covered with dirt I could only make out the whites of their eyes as they looked up at us. Everyone looked up except for one figure at the far side of the room, who curled herself over the table and tugged her scarf down lower over her forehead.
“Etta!” the older woman cried, and then spoke in a stream of words I didn’t understand but recognized as Yiddish.
“Mammaleh, speak English!” Etta replied. “I brought a nurse from the settlement house to look at Ruth. I’ve heard her coughing at night.”
Mrs. Blum switched her gaze from her youngest daughter to her eldest. “Is that true, bubbeleh?” She reached out her hand to touch Ruth’s forehead but the girl squirmed away. As she did, her scarf slipped and I caught a glimpse of her face. She had the same dark hair and olive complexion as Etta, but her skin was mottled around her hairline and neck—a faint pattern of spots similar to the ones on Miss Corey’s face. And her skin wasn’t just olive-toned; it was distinctly green. As soon as she saw us she bolted out the open window onto the fire escape. Miss Sharp raced after her. Miss Corey tried to follow her, but the old woman stood up.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “What you want with my Ruthie?”
I dodged around both of them and ducked out the window onto the fire escape.
The metal structure shook under my feet, reminding me of how the fire escape at the Triangle factory had twisted away from the building, hurtling everyone on it to their deaths. I clutched the rusted metal railing and looked up to see Miss Sharp’s blue serge skirt disappearing over the ledge of the roof. I climbed to the roof, wishing my corset wasn’t so tightly laced, and swung my legs over the brick ledge just in time to see Miss Sharp leaping over the dividing wall onto the roof of the next tenement, her petticoats frothing around her legs like feathers. I’d seen girls at the Triangle leap to their deaths, their skirts fluttering in the air like that.
I bit my cheek to banish the image and ran across the rooftop after Miss Sharp, who’d landed safely on the next roof and was chasing the changeling. The changeling was already two buildings away, leaping over the walls between the buildings like the gazelles at the Central Park Zoo. Nothing human moves like that, I thought as I vaulted over the wall. I landed hard on the tar-paper roof, my knees and shoulder blades tingling with the impact. Miss Sharp would never catch her, but she wouldn’t give up either. She’d kill herself in the chase.
I quickened my pace, catching up with Miss Sharp at the next wall. I leaped over it, my heart hammering against my corset stays—the damnable contraption! Surely I could go faster without it.
I reached under my shirtwaist and tugged at the laces to loosen them. Something ripped. I felt a sweet relief as cool air cascaded across my back. Ah! The wind felt delicious! I barely touched down on the next roof before I was off again, soaring over the roofs like a seagull skimming the surf, gaining on the changeling who’d reached the end of the row of tenement houses and was teetering on the edge of the last building. She turned to look over her shoulder and our eyes locked. We both knew there was nowhere to go but six stories down to the street.
She turned away and began to step into the empty air. I plunged through the air crying her name—the only name I had for her.
She turned, her eyes widening with horror, teetering on the edge of the roof. I somehow cleared the gap between us quickly enough to grab her and got a handful of shawl that began to unwind. I grasped the other end and she flung her arms around me, her sharp fingernails digging into my back. With both my arms pinned to my sides I couldn’t counteract the pull of the changeling’s weight. We were both going to plummet to the pavement. I felt the empty air beckoning us . . .
Then I felt something else pulling me back—a pressure along my shoulder blades as if someone had grabbed me by my corset and yanked. We both fell backward onto the rooftop, slamming hard onto the sticky tar paper, the changeling’s arms still wrapped around my back, her eyes wide with surprise.
“Quickly!” she cried, pulling me up and wrapping her scarf around my back. “I’ll hide your secret if you protect me. You of all creatures must know what the Order does to our kind.”
Secret? Creatures? Our kind? What was she talking about? I stared at her, but she was looking behind me. Baffled, I reached under the shawl and felt wet, slick skin where my shirtwaist and corset had torn. I must have scraped my back on the roof and started bleeding.
But as my fingers reached my shoulder blades, I felt something else beneath my torn skin: the soft silk down of newly fledged feathers. The wings that had been growing beneath my skin these past few months had finally broken free.
I’D KNOWN SINCE May, when Raven told me that my real father was a Darkling and the pains in my shoulder blades were fledgling wings, that this day would come. But I had hoped to forestall the moment with tight corsets and will power. I certainly hadn’t meant to reveal my true nature in front of a changeling—or my favorite teacher. Had Miss Sharp seen? A cold wash of horror, as if I’d been dunked into the rank waters of the East River, swept over me.
But when Miss Sharp reached us, panting, her hair loosened from its bun and whipping around her face, she had eyes only for the changeling. She withdrew the dagger from the sheath at her waist and held it up before the changeling’s face, spitting out words in Latin. The carved runes on the blade floated into the air and hovered over the changeling’s head. The mottled pattern on the changeling’s hairline and throat began to move under her skin, forming into the pattern of the runes. She moaned and writhed, her skin turning greener where it wasn’t covered by the marks.
“Please make her stop!” she cried, clutching my arm, her eyes pleading—eyes that seemed to be changing color even as I looked into them, into a blue-green that reminded me of my mother’s. Her hair was changing, too, turning the same color red as my mother’s.
“Let go of her!” Miss Sharp growled, pointing the dagger at the changeling’s throat.
The changeling’s hand slid off mine. Instantly, her eyes and hair changed back to brown. She had been changing into me. Only it had looked like my mother.
“You look like her,” the changeling said.
“How . . .? ”
“She was stealing your memories while she was taking your appearance,” Miss Sharp said. “Just like she stole Ruth Blum’s identity.”
“Not stealing,” she said, her eyes sliding slyly to mine. “I only borrow. I have not taken your memories away, have I, miss? Your secrets are safe inside you, no?”
I nodded, guessing at her meaning. “She didn’t harm me,” I said, raising my eyes to Miss Sharp.
“And what about Ruth?” Miss Sharp demanded. “Does she still have her memories wherever she is? What have you done with her?”
“I did nothing to her. She disappeared, so I took her place.”
“You’re lying!” Miss Sharp cried, moving the blade closer to her throat. “You can only assume a human’s appearance by touching them.”
“I didn’t say I never met her,” she said sulkily. “I brushed up against her on the excursion boat to Coney Island. Her memories of her family were very strong, but only because she was planning to leave them. When I knew she didn’t mean to go back to her family I decided to go back in her place—”
“That’s a lie!”
We all turned to see Etta standing in the middle of the roof with Miss Corey. Her hands were curled into fists, her eyes glaring at the changeling.
“Ruthie would never run away and leave me.”
“She felt bad about that,” the changeling said, her expression softening at the sight of Etta. “She meant to send for you once she was settled, but I think . . . well, I don’t think things turned out for her the way she’d hoped.”
“Where did she go?” Miss Sharp asked, pressing the point of the dagger into the changeling’s throat. “If you touched her thoughts you must have seen what she was planning.”
The changeling frowned. “I saw a man—someone who would be waiting for her beneath a sign—but I couldn’t see his face, only the terrible grinning face on the sign.” She shuddered.
“A grinning face?” Miss Corey asked.
“Like this.” The changeling drew back her lips into a hideous, unnaturally wide smile, revealing two crowded rows of small teeth. That smile was instantly recognizable as the face above the entrance to Steeplechase Park in Coney Island.
“So she was meeting a man at Steeplechase,” Miss Sharp observed. “Is that all you know? What was his name? Where were they going?”
“I don’t know. When Ruth thought about him, her mind grew dim, as if he were cloaked in shadow. Even the picture she had of him—here—” As she reached into her pocket Miss Sharp tensed, but the changeling only drew out a photograph. “Ruthie carried this with her that day, but she dropped it on the boat.”
We all looked down at the photograph. It showed a couple driving in a topless automobile against the backdrop of a great arch that I thought might be the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées. Or at least a painted backdrop of the Parisian avenue. I’d seen girls at the Triangle showing off such souvenir photographs. I recognized Ruth as the girl in the car, but the face of the man at the wheel was a blur.
I looked harder at the blurred face of the man and felt a shiver go through me. The face wasn’t just blurry; it was veiled by a shadow. As if the man in the car with Ruth wasn’t a man but a creature of the shadows.
I looked up to find Miss Sharp and Miss Corey exchanging a look. Last year a man who controlled the shadow demons—the eviltenebrae—had gained control of one of the students at Blythewood and attacked the school.
“Yes, I thought the same thing,” the changeling said. “The man who took Ruth is controlled by the shadows.”
I looked down and saw that her hand had crept onto mine. I snatched it away. “Then why didn’t you go and help her?” I demanded.
“How? We changelings have no power over the shadows. We only take the places of those who have gone missing. Luckily many girls go missing in this city.”
“Luckily?” I cried. “Did you never think to tell anyone of this to help these girls?”
The changeling stared at me, confused. “Who would listen to me?” she asked. “I’m no one.”
“Don’t you have an identity apart from the one you take?” Etta asked.
The changeling shook her head. “We are not fully grown until we take a human’s identity. I haven’t just assumed Ruth’s form; I’ve acquired her thoughts and feelings. I know how much she loved you because of how much I love you.” She reached her hand out to touch Etta, but Etta pulled away.
“You are not my sister!” Etta cried, tears springing to her eyes. “Because of you no one has gone looking for Ruth. We could have gone to the police.”
“Do you really think the police would do anything to find a poor Jewish factory girl?” spat the changeling. “Go and ask them—see how many girls go missing every day in this city.”
It was true, but I put my arm around Etta’s shoulders and said, “We’ll go together. My friend Mr. Greenfeder has connections at the police department.”
“Lillian and I will also help look for her,” Miss Sharp said. “If there are really many girls going missing, the Ord—the settlement house should investigate.”
“What will happen to her?” Etta asked.
“We could take care of her right now,” Miss Corey said, taking the dagger from Miss Sharp.
“No!” I cried, stepping in between Miss Corey and the changeling. “Don’t hurt her. She’s harmless.”
“How do you know?” Miss Corey snapped.
“Because . . .” Because she’d seen what I was and hadn’t revealed my secret? She might just be manipulating me. But there wassomething else.
“I don’t hear my warning bells,” I said, looking into the changeling’s eyes. They were no longer the blue-green of my mother’s eyes or the brown of Ruth’s; they had turned colorless as water. Inside them I saw my own reflection—and the stark fear of losing herself.
“We could take her back to her kind in the Blythe Wood,” Miss Sharp suggested, laying a restraining hand on her friend’s arm.
I expected the changeling to show some relief, but she cried out in a mournful voice, “No, please, I’d rather die here and now. If I go back to the forest, I’ll be no one. I’ll lose Ruth. I’ll lose her memories—my memories now—of Mama and Papa and little Schlomo and Eliahu and, most especially, of you, Ettaleh. Imagine, shvester, what it would feel like to lose your memory of the time Mama put salt in the Rebbe’s tea and he spit it out on the tablecloth and Papa asked if that was his blessing.”
Etta laughed, but then steeled her mouth. “You weren’t there.”
“But I feel like I was! Please . . .” She turned to Miss Sharp and Miss Corey. “Let me stay just a little longer. I can help you find Ruth. Her memories are still inside me. Perhaps there is some clue . . .”
“I thought you said everything about the man was shadowy,” Miss Corey said suspiciously.
“Yes, but I can try to see through the shadows.” She squinted her eyes. “I think I see something now . . .”
Miss Corey snorted. “She’s just playing for time.”
But the changeling’s face was undergoing a transformation. Just as before she’d assumed the grinning face of the Steeplechase man, now her face was changing into a man’s face. A familiar face. She was beginning to resemble Judicus van Drood, the man I knew was the Shadow Master.
“Stop!” I cried, terrified at the idea of seeing that face again.
The changeling’s eyes flashed open, her features reassuming the features of Ruth Blum.
“What’s wrong, Ava?” Miss Sharp asked, touching my arm. “Did you recognize the man she was becoming?”
I shook my head, not wanting to admit it had been van Drood. I had hoped he was dead—drowned on the Titanic. But if he were the one who had lured Ruth Blum away, then he was still alive.
“If the changeling could show us the face of the man who abducted Ruth, she could be useful,” Miss Sharp said to Miss Corey. Kneeling beside the changeling, she asked, “Do you promise to go peaceably back to the Blythe Wood once we’ve found Ruth?”
The changeling’s eyes shifted away from Miss Sharp’s and fastened on Etta. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll do it for Etta. That’s what Ruth would do.”
“How can we possibly take her word . . .? ” Miss Corey began.
“We don’t have to,” Miss Sharp said, laying the flat of the dagger on top of the changeling’s head. “I can perform a binding spell to make her keep her word.”
Miss Sharp recited a few Latin words I recognized from Mrs. Calendar’s Latin class as a promise-keeping spell. The elderly teacher had subjected us all to it to ensure that we returned our Latin spell books in good condition. I recalled that it had made the top of my head ache for days and that whenever I touched my Latin textbook I felt a little shock, but if the changeling felt any pain she didn’t show it. She kept her eyes locked on Etta as she recited the words: “Do meam verbam tibi in fide.”
When the spell was done we made our way back to the Blums’ apartment. Ruth walked beside Etta, with Miss Corey staying close behind, keeping an eye on the changeling’s back. Miss Sharp lingered behind with me.
“I feel sorry for her,” Miss Sharp said as we followed behind them.
“Because she’ll have to go back to being no one?” I asked, shivering at the thought. I pulled Ruth’s shawl more tightly around my shoulders, hoping that Miss Sharp wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t mine.
She shook her head. “That sort of oblivion might sound awful, but when you think about it, she won’t know what she’s missing. No, what I pity her for is the life she’s leading now. Having to play a part around the people you care for most . . .”
Her voice faltered, and for a moment I thought she knew. Although she would be sorry to do it, she would have to turn me in to the Order. I would be exposed as a monster before all my friends, and then I would be killed. If Miss Sharp wouldn’t do it, Miss Corey would. I’d seen the merciless look in her eyes. One of these creatures had scarred her for life; she had no pity for them, just as she’d have no pity for me.
But then Miss Sharp gave me a bright, brittle smile. “But you don’t have to worry about that, Ava dear. You’re so open and honest. . . . I admired the way you stood up for the changeling back there.” Then she quickened her pace to catch up with Miss Corey and I followed, wondering why I didn’t feel more relieved.
TWO HOURS LATER I was staring at my reflection in a gilt-framed mirror while a lady’s maid in a starched white cap and lace collar stuck diamonds into my hair. I couldn’t imagine a more startling contrast to the tenement flat where we’d left Ruth and Etta.
Nor could I think of anything I wanted to do less than get dressed for Georgiana Montmorency’s ball. Georgiana was the richest—and haughtiest—girl at Blythewood. She’d made no secret last year of what she thought of a former factory seamstress attending the same school as her. But for her senior year she’d decided to throw a ball for all the “local” Blythewood girls—meaning the ones high enough in society—and because of my grandmother’s connections she couldn’t not invite me. There would be a few girls, like my roommate Helen, whom I’d enjoy seeing, but I didn’t feel ready to face the rest of them, not with the threat of my wings unfurling at any moment.
When I’d gotten home I’d looked at my back in the mirror and seen two long rusty gashes running down my shoulder blades. At least they’d stopped bleeding, and the wings had retreated back under the skin. I’d washed away the dried blood and feathers, bound myself into a new tightly laced corset, and put on a dressing gown before Betsy came into the room to help me get ready, but I didn’t know how long I could keep the wings from bursting out. What if they erupted right in the middle of Georgiana’s ball?
“Ow!” I cried, the prick of a hairpin bringing me back into the moment.
“I’m sorry, miss, but your hair’s frightful short and Mrs. Hall was particular she didn’t want you going to the ball looking like a bald goshawk chick.”
I pivoted around on the swiveling vanity stool to face Betsy.
“Did she really say I looked like a bald goshawk?” I asked.
Betsy turned crimson. “No, miss! Just that she didn’t want you to look . . . what with your poor hair being burned away in the fire . . . not that it hasn’t come back in wonderful . . . and it’s a lovely color!” Betsy ended confusedly. I turned back to the mirror.
It was a lovely color. I was lucky that it had come back at all. Two months ago I’d defeated the tenebrae at Blythewood by setting them on fire—and myself in the process. When my hair grew back, it was a brighter shade of red than it had been before. Gillie, Blythewood’s caretaker and falconer, had once told me that when a falcon was fledging, its feathers grew faster than normal. My hair had been swiftly growing into fat, glossy ringlets, but it still barely reached my shoulders. I liked how it framed my face, making my green eyes look bigger, and how light my head felt—as if I could fly. But fashionable society demanded a more formal coiffure, and so my grandmother had, without my knowledge or consent, purchased an elaborate hairpiece that sat in Betsy’s hands now, looking like Mrs. Rutherford’s pet Pomeranian.
“Why don’t we save ourselves a lot of trouble and leave it off?” I suggested to the flustered Betsy. “No one will be looking at me with Georgiana strutting about.”
“I did hear Miss Georgiana’s wearing an entire peacock in her headdress, just like that French queen who lost her head!”
“Yes, she’s dressing up as Marie Antoinette, and all of us Blythewood girls are supposed to be going as her ladies-in- waiting.”
We both turned toward the enormous cerise confection of silk, chiffon, lace, and ruffles hanging from the post of my bed. It looked as if it could walk on its own—and I wished it would. Perhaps there was a spell that could animate it and I could send it to the dance in my stead. All I’d have to do was give it instructions to curtsy and utter polite platitudes—Of course I’m thrilled to be one of Georgiana’s ladies-in-waiting! The cucumber sandwiches are simply divine! I’d be honored to have this dance with you. . . . It would probably do it all better than I could, despite the hours of dancing lessons my grandmother had paid for. I was so wrapped up in the idea of sending an automaton in my place that I didn’t hear my grandmother’s secretary come in.
“Land’s sake! Is that the dress? It looks like someone murdered a raspberry trifle.” Agnes placed a large box down on the bed and stood, hands on slim hips, staring at the hideous dress. “Caroline Janeway said the instructions from the Montmorencys were a bit over the top, but this . . .”
She cocked her head. In her slim blue serge dress and neat plumed hat she looked like a wading bird listening for fish. Everything about Agnes Moorhen was neat and ordered. Even her freckles adhered to a strict mathematical formula as precise as the social calendar and accounts she kept for my grandmother. Of course she would hate the dress.
“This,” she concluded with a decisive shake of her plumed hat, “is a riot of ruffles . . .”
“. . . a flummox of foorfaraw. . .”
Betsey snorted and covered her face in her apron.
“. . . a lunacy of lace!”
“You’re going to give Betsy an apoplexy,” I said, stifling my own laughter. It wasn’t as funny if you were the one who had to wear the damnable thing.
“Betsy,” Agnes said solemnly, “go right down to the drawing room and remove the late Mr. Hall’s dueling pistols from above the mantel. Someone must shoot this dress and put it out of its misery.”
Betsy fled the room, shrieking like a banshee.
“You really shouldn’t tease her,” I scolded Agnes. “If she does pick up one of those pistols she might shoot herself.”
“They haven’t been loaded since Throckmorton Hall used them to hold off an invading army of rebel trolls at the battle of Antietam,” Agnes said. “And it would take more than them to do away with this monstrosity.”
At the word monstrosity I broke out in a cold sweat. Agnes had always been kind to me. But if I was discovered as a half-breed Darkling and sent away in shame from my grandmother’s house and Blythewood, I’d never see Agnes again—and I wasn’t sure she’d even want me to. I’d be an outcast to everyone I loved—maybe even Raven. For all I knew the Darklings would reject me because I was half-human. Perhaps that was why Raven had stayed away from me all summer. I was a monster to humans and Darklings alike.
“What’s the matter, Ava?” Agnes asked, narrowing her eyes at me. “You don’t look well. Has Betsy laced your corset too tightly?” She laid her hand lightly on my back, but it felt like a brand burning through the silk of my dressing gown. I flinched away from her touch. Her eyes widened in surprise.
“Did you hurt yourself today chasing that creature?”
“She’s not a creature!” I cried. “She’s a person with thoughts and feelings.”
“Strictly speaking she doesn’t have her own thoughts and feelings, only those of the host she takes over, but I think I understand why you feel such sympathy for a creature of Faerie. It’s that Darkling boy you met last year, isn’t it? That Raven fellow. You think that if he’s good, then all the fairies—”
“He’s not a fairy!” I sulked, sorry now that I’d ever told Agnes about him. “The Darklings are different. They bridge the gap between humans and fairies. It’s all explained in the book my mother was looking for—A Darkness of Angels.”
“You mean the book that poor Mr. Farnsworth died trying to save?”
I was immediately sorry that I’d brought it up. Last winter I’d written to Mr. Herbert Farnsworth, the librarian of Hawthorn, Blythewood’s brother school in Scotland, asking about the ancient book A Darkness of Angels. Raven had told me that it would prove the Darklings’ innocence, and that it also contained the secret to destroying the tenebrae, the embodiment of pure evil. Mr. Farnsworth had written back to tell me he was sailing to America with the book. He embarked on the same boat that my grandmother and Agnes—and Helen’s parents—were taking back from England: the ill-fated Titanic.
There’d been another passenger on the voyage—Judicus van Drood. Agnes and Mr. Farnsworth had seen him on the deck when the ship ran into the fatal iceberg, and Mr. Farnsworth had used the book to keep van Drood on the sinking ship. As much as Agnes grieved for Mr. Farnsworth, we’d both hoped that van Drood had perished, too.
Now, I wasn’t so sure. I told Agnes about the changeling morphing into the likeness of van Drood and showed her the picture of Ruth and the shadow man. I thought she’d be horrified, but instead a glimmer of hope sparked in her eyes.
“If van Drood survived, perhaps Mr. Farnsworth did, too!”
“Maybe he did,” I said, thinking it was rather unlikely. If he had survived, why hadn’t he contacted us?
“I’ll check again with the Seamen’s Friend Society,” she said enthusiastically, and then added, “I’m sorry I called your friend Raven a fairy. I’m sure if Mr. Farnsworth risked his life for that book, there must be something valuable in it, and real proof that the Darklings aren’t evil. Perhaps you could ask Raven to help look for him.”
“I would, but I haven’t heard from him since the end of school. We had a . . . disagreement. I’m afraid I may have driven him away for good.”
Agnes sighed. “Perhaps that would be for the best.” Seeing my stricken look, she gestured to the large box she’d laid on the bed. “Why don’t you open the box? There seems to be a corsage of violets on top.”
I was up and across the room as if my wings had sprung loose. So many people grew violets in Rhinebeck that it was known as the violet capitol of the world. There was no reason to assume they came from Violet House, where Miss Sharp’s aunts lived. And certainly no reason to think they came from Raven, who lived there under the disguise of Raymond Corbin, clockmaker’s apprentice. But still . . .
I untied the bouquet and lifted the flowers to my nose, inhaling their fragrance. Memories of a wooded grove, a night I’d spent in Raven’s tree house hidden in the highest boughs, came flooding back to me, along with a touch of wings that had calmed me, a mouth that had tasted of violets . . . no, the kiss had come later. But it was all mixed up now with the scent of violets. Could Raven have sent them?
“Are you going to open the box?” Agnes asked with amusement. “I think there’s more than flowers in a box that big.”
The box sprang open as if something alive had been waiting to get out . . . something with feathers.
I stepped back, catching my breath, as delicate, sheer wings unfolded from the box.
“Costume wings,” Agnes said, lifting them from the box. “And look—there’s a dress to go with them.”
I’d never heard practical Agnes utter the word dress with such longing in her voice. Her freckled hands gingerly lifted the gown out of its nest of lavender tissue paper. It seemed to catch a breeze as it rose, billowing into the shape of an invisible girl. A girl on fire. The dress was the color of molten gold, embroidered with tiny rubies and blood-red feathers. “Oh!” Agnes said. “It’s quite . . . quite . . .”
“Divine,” I finished for her, thinking that a girl wouldn’t need wings to feel like she was flying in such a dress.
“Try it on,” Agnes said with a mischievous grin.
I shucked off my dressing gown and held up my arms for Agnes to slip the dress over my head. It felt like a waterfall spilling down my bare skin. I tingled from head to toe as the cloth skimmed past my breasts, flared over my hips, and swirled around my ankles like a cat. I turned to look in the mirror, the satin moving with me like a second skin, and thought someone else had taken my place. A changeling, perhaps, who had assumed my features and figure but had set them on fire.
The bodice was fitted with tiny pleats and a beaded design at the neckline that framed my throat with a rim of rubies that made my skin whiter, my eyes greener, and my hair an even more vibrant red. The overskirt flared out into a petaled design that swished as I moved. The damask red underskirt clung to my ankles. I looked like some kind of exotic bird rising from the flames.
“Like a phoenix,” Agnes said, fixing the gold and ruby wings to my back and then a matching feathered crown to my head. “It’s the perfect costume for you to wear tonight.”
“But all the Blythewood girls are supposed to go as Marie Antoinette’s ladies-in-waiting,” I said, glaring at the monstrosity hanging from the bedpost.
“Too bad your dress was never delivered from Miss Janeway’s,” Agnes replied, handing me a pair of crimson satin gloves. “And this came instead. There must have been a mix-up.”
She picked up a folded card nestled amidst the tissue paper. “Hm . . .” Agnes said, frowning. “Caroline writes that the instructions and payment for the dress were sent to her and that she was to have it made to your measurements with a note that said that it was from—”
“Yes! Who’s it from?”
“It says, ‘From a secret admirer.’”
THE MONTMORENCY MANSION was only two blocks north of my grandmother’s house, and I could have easily walked. Indeed, I would have gotten there more quickly on foot than trapped in the traffic making its laborious progress up Madison Avenue. But my grandmother had scoffed at the idea when I’d come into the parlor to say goodnight, and I was afraid a prolonged argument would draw more attention to my dress, which she was already studying skeptically through the lenses of her lorgnette.
“I thought the theme was the court of Marie Antoinette.”
I considered claiming, as Agnes had suggested, that Caroline Janeway had sent the wrong costume, but I didn’t like the idea of getting Miss Janeway in trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to say anything about the note that had come with it. Every time I thought about it my knees went weak. A secret admirer. Who could it be but Raven?
“I like this dress better,” I said, lifting my chin defiantly, although part of me wanted to cringe like the ebony Moors crouching on either side of her chair. I sometimes fancied that they—along with all the statuary, stuffed birds, antimacassars, and aspidistras that cluttered the Victorian-style parlor—had been frozen by my grandmother’s Medusa stare.
“Mmmph,” she finally uttered, tapping her cane on the marble floor. “Wise girl. I told Albertine Montmorency that wearing Marie Antoinette’s necklace to her own ball fifteen years ago didn’t bring any luck to Cornelia Bradley-Martin, not to mention what it did for Marie Antoinette. But are you sure this dress is not a bit . . . revealing?”
“It’s quite similar to the dresses all of Paris wore after Monsieur Poiret’s costume ball last year,” Agnes piped up, having crept silently into the room. “And doesn’t Ava look lovely in it?”
“Of course she looks lovely in it!” my grandmother barked. “We Hall women have always had good figures. Go and have a good time.” She waved her lorgnette at me. “Show all those Montmorencys and Rutherfords what we Halls are made of.”
I kissed her cool cheek and hurried out before she could change her mind—or before I could. But now I was stuck sitting in a stifling-hot motorcar as Babson the chauffeur jockeyed for position in front of the Montmorency mansion. Staring up at the granite façade, I felt a bit as Marie Antoinette must have felt approaching the Bastille. I could see all my classmates emerging from their carriages and motorcars in frothy explosions of lace and ruffles. There was Wallis Rutherford in a peaches-and-cream pouf that looked like a blancmange. Her hair was piled high on top of her head and powdered white. She was followed by Alfreda Driscoll in a chartreuse confection that quivered like lime aspic in the glare of the photographers’ magnesium flash lamps.
But as hideous as the dresses had seemed to me, I saw now what they really were—protective armor. Corset, bustle, and wire hoops sheathed in layers of lace and taffeta and damask formed a carapace that enclosed the girl beneath the costume. These girls—my Blythewood classmates—were clothed in their uniformity, protected by their families’ wealth and position. I, on the other hand, was about to stand nearly naked and exposed at the foot of this granite altar of high society.
“Perhaps if we can’t get in we should just turn around and go home, Mr. Babson.”
“Not a chance, miss,” Babson replied, nosing the Rolls into a narrow gap between a Benson and a horse-drawn phaeton. “You’re worth ten of them overdressed poodles. I’ve watched you make your way through streets on the Lower East Side what would make a stevedore quake, Miss Ava, and seen you face down gangs of strikebreakers at them meetings you go to at the Cooper Union. You hold your head up and do us proud.”
I met Babson’s eyes in the rearview mirror and smiled. Having a chauffeur drive me to the settlement house and union meetings had been the one condition my grandmother had demanded to allow me to do “social” work. It had been embarrassing to be chauffeured around poor neighborhoods, and I had imagined it had embarrassed Thomas Babson to deliver me to such destinations. I’d had no idea he thought well of the work I was doing. It gave me courage.
“Thank you, Mr. Babson,” I said. “I think I can now.”
“That’s all right then, miss,” he nodded curtly. “Because here we are. Sit tight till I come around to get the door for you and I’ll give you my arm while you make your grand entrance.”
I took a deep breath to steady myself as Babson got out. This is silly, I told myself. You’ve faced down goblins and ice giants. What’s a handful of reporters and curious onlookers?
A flash like lightning greeted my first step on the pavement, followed by a thunderous roar. Behind the flash of the magnesium lamps and the smoke they made was a crowd of spectators pressing against a line of policemen. There were mostly girls in the crowd—young girls like me, in shirtwaists and skirts, shopgirls and factory girls come to see the society debutantes in their fancy dresses. I remembered how Tillie always strained to make out the hats worn by the factory owner’s daughters. If Tillie were alive, she’d be in this crowd.
“Don’t she look a dream!” I heard one cry. “Like something out of a fairy story.”
If only she knew.
“Miss Hall,” a voice beside me said, “you’re wearing a most unusual costume. Could you tell the readers of The World why you’re not dressed like the other young ladies tonight?”
I turned to the reporter, hearing my grandmother’s voice in my head—a woman’s name should only appear in the paper three times: when she’s born, when she marries, and when she dies. I could murmur some inanity about liking feathers or a mix-up at the dressmaker’s, but when I looked at the crowd of young women behind the police line I was reminded of the women who had struck last year for better working conditions, and of the girls who had died in the fire at the Triangle Waist factory. I knew from my work at the settlement house and the union meetings I attended that many were trying to improve working conditions, but I also knew that there were plenty of girls who labored in overcrowded factories or were forced into working at the bordellos. Or who disappeared from the crowded city streets like Ruth Blum, never to be seen again, because no one cared what became of them.
“I’m dressed as a phoenix,” I told the reporter in a loud clear voice that carried to the crowd. “It’s a bird that rises from the ashes of a fire to be reborn. I’m wearing it in honor of the girls who died in the Triangle fire last year . . . and all the working girls in this city who risk their lives to earn a living.”
A great cheer greeted my words, and a dozen magnesium flash lamps exploded around me. Smoke from the flashes filled the air. Silhouetted against the light, the crowd became a cluster of shadows, as if the tenebrae had risen up to challenge my proclamation. I turned and walked up the steps of the Montmorency mansion, feeling less like a proud phoenix and more like a newly hatched chick cowering in the shadow of a hawk’s wings. The spectacle that greeted me beyond the front door did nothing to soothe my jangling nerves.
The Montmorency mansion, imposing at all times, had been done up to resemble Versailles at the time of Louis XVI. The foyer had been transformed into a formal garden with dusky bowers and fountains lit by floating lamps and scented by a thousand roses and orchids. Footmen in gilded livery and powdered wigs glided across the polished floors with gold trays of sparkling champagne and delicate pastries. My eyes still dazzled from the magnesium flashes, I wandered through the faux greenery in a blur, to the threshold of the ballroom.
The girls in their wide frothy skirts pirouetted around the dance floor like flocks of tropical birds wheeling across a marble sky; the men in their dark velvet costumes and black tails could have been their dark shadows. I recognized Georgiana at the center of the interlocking circles in a brilliant blue dress, peacock feathers quivering in her headdress as she preened over her flock. There were Alfreda Driscoll and Wallis Rutherford—and even the shy Jager twins, Beatrice and Dolores, dutifully following the steps of the waltz. I suspected some of the girls I didn’t recognize were the rising class—the new nestlings. They seemed to know the steps as well as anyone. How could I have ever thought I would be able to fit back in at Blythewood after all that had happened to me? I wanted to turn and flee, but a familiar voice stayed me.
“Ava! What a brilliant dress! Is it a Poiret?”
I turned to find Helen, my Blythewood roommate, standing in a robin’s egg gown that turned her blue eyes azure and her blonde hair gold. Unlike the overdone confections worn by Alfreda and Wallis, this dress was simple and elegant.
“I should have known Louis XVI would suit you,” I said, slipping my arm around Helen’s slim waist and hugging her. Beneath the layers of lace and silk she felt thinner than she’d been in the spring—and more fragile—but she embraced me back with the same strength and fierceness I recalled. “But how did yours turn into something so pretty?”
“Oh,” Helen replied, twirling her skirts, “I had a word with Caroline Janeway and we made a few alterations. You should have seen the puce monstrosity Georgiana had picked out for me. Puce! With my coloring! It was a deliberate attempt to sabotage my chances of attracting a suitable husband.”
“Is your mother still after you to marry?” I asked.
“It’s her idée fixe, especially since Daddy . . .” She didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t have to. I knew that when Helen’s father had perished on the Titanic, he had left his financial affairs in a shambles. Agnes and her lawyer friend Samuel Greenfeder had outlined a plan by which Helen and her mother might survive frugally, but from the quality of lace on Helen’s dress and the jewels in her hair, I didn’t think they were following it.
“Mama sees a rich husband as a way out of our financial difficulties, but you should see the ancient specimens she’s put forward.” Helen flicked open a silk fan and rolled her eyes. “They lurk around the house like undertakers waiting for someone to die. I’d rather die than marry one of them. Or marry a bank teller like Daisy’s Mr. Appleby.”
“Has Daisy written to you?” I asked. I hadn’t heard from our third roommate all summer.
Helen shrugged. “Just some drivel about campaigning for women’s votes in Kansas. You see, Daisy would be fine without money, but not me. Poverty just doesn’t suit me.”
I laughed. “I don’t really think it suits anyone, Helen. You should see the tenements I go into and the choices that life drives girls to.” I thought of Ruth meeting her mysterious stranger under the Steeplechase entrance. Had she thought he was going to deliver her to a better life? “Which reminds me, there’s a project I’d like you to help me with.”
I began to tell her about how Ruth Blum had gone missing, but I soon saw she wasn’t listening to me. Her eyes were focused on the glass doors to the garden, where a tall man in a top hat was leaning jauntily against a fake rose arbor. “Yes, yes,” Helen said distractedly, “I’m sure it’s a good cause. Put me down for a few dollars.”
“Really, Helen!” I stamped my foot. “Are you pursuing everything with pants on now?” But when I saw who the young man was I quit my scolding.
“Nathan!” Helen cried, then covered her mouth with her fan, embarrassed to have been caught shouting at a boy as if we were on the hockey field at Blythewood instead of a ballroom. But it was too late. Nathan Beckwith had turned and was scanning the crowd to see who had called his name. I’d have recognized those searching gray eyes anywhere, but the rest of him was quite altered.
He’d grown half a foot at least, and his pale silvery hair that always fell in front of his eyes was slicked back. The lines of his face had been set into an immovable coldness I had never seen before—the result, I guessed, of spending the last few months at asylums and hospitals searching for a cure for his sister Louisa’s madness after we’d rescued her from Faerie. From the look of his face, I was betting he hadn’t found one. Pools of darkness filled the hollows beneath his eyes and under his too-sharp cheekbones, as if he carried a reserve of shadows with him.
But then he spotted us and his smile chased the shadows from his face.
“Look how happy he is to see you!” I told Helen, because I knew how she felt about Nathan. As he crossed the room, though, I saw that his eyes were locked on me with a look that set my heart knocking against my ribcage and made me want to either fly from the room or fly to him. My shoulder blades were itching under my corset, my fledgling wings straining against the metal stays. The movement under my shoulder blades made my wire wings tremble.
Their movement in the light must have drawn Nathan’s attention. His gaze moved from my face to just above my head, and his pale gray eyes flashed silver. Had the wings reminded him of catching me and Raven kissing? When he looked back down at my face the shadows had reclaimed him. He stopped a few feet from us, doffed his top hat, and bowed low before us.
“You’ve learned fine habits on the continent,” Helen quipped.
“I’ve learned more than that,” Nathan said as he lifted his head. Up close I saw that his fine blond hair really was silver now, as if he had aged a decade in the months since I’d last seen him.
“How is Louisa?” I asked.
“As well as the combined medical knowledge of all the finest doctors in Europe could make her. I left her in an asylum in Vienna where there was a doctor who made some progress with her—at least enough so she’s stopped trying to run into the woods and can sit down to tea without playing chimes on the teacups. In her doctor’s last letter he informed me that she’s learned to repeat a few phrases of polite conversation and doesn’t tear her dresses to bits anymore, so I suppose she’s as fit as half the automatons here.”
He looked scornfully at the dance floor. “Really, where are they sending you girls to dancing school these days? I’ve seen less complicated maneuvers at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.”
“Oh, there’s the most brilliant new dancing school up in Riverdale. All the new girls are going there,” Helen said with a touch of envy in her voice. The dancing school was too expensive for the van Beeks. In solidarity I had gone to lessons with old Madame Musette in her fusty Stuyvesant Square studio. But Nathan didn’t hear the strain of jealousy—or anything else Helen was saying. He was staring at me.
“That’s an interesting dress,” he said, looking me up and down in a way that made the blood rush to my face. “What are you supposed to be?”
“She’s a phoenix,” Helen said, “in honor of the girls who died in the Triangle fire.”
I stared at Helen, amazed that my interview had traveled so fast and that Helen had paid attention to it. But that was Helen—loyal when you least expected it.
“Oh, so you’ve become a socialist,” Nathan said, not softening at all. Why had he come over here if he was going to be so disagreeable?
“Ava’s been working at the Henry Street Settlement House,” Helen went on, surprising me by knowing the settlement house’s name. “She was just telling me about a girl who’s gone missing.”
“A missing girl?” The interest made his face human again. “Do you think she’s been taken?”
I knew he meant taken by the Darklings, whom he believed had taken Louisa. Even though Raven had helped get Louisa back, Nathan still thought the Darklings were evil. Would I ever convince him—or the Council of the Order—that they weren’t? Not unless I found A Darkness of Angels—which proved the Darklings’ innocence and revealed how to end the centuries-old curse that kept them out of Faerie. That is, if it wasn’t lying on the bottom of the ocean among the ruins of the Titanic.
“The changeling didn’t say Ruth was taken by a Darkling,” I said. I told them what she had said about Ruth meeting a shadowy man in Coney Island. I didn’t say it was van Drood, because I was still hoping she had assumed his features from my memories and not Ruth’s. I was still hoping van Drood had died on the Titanic.
“Ruth’s memory of the man she was meeting might have been obscured by shadows because a Darkling had mesmerized her.”
“Nathan’s right,” Helen said. “Just like that Darkling mesmerized you last year.”
“He didn’t mesmerize me!”