Fortunately, Jem didn’t seem to be waiting for her to continue the conversation. “I apologize for asking, but—your parents are dead, aren’t they?”
“Did Will tell you that?”
“He didn’t need to. We orphans learn to recognize one another. If I might ask—were you very young when it happened?”
“I was three when they died in a carriage accident. I hardly remember them at all.” Only in tiny flashes—the scent of tobacco smoke, or the pale lilac of my mother’s dress. “My aunt raised me. And my brother, Nathaniel. My aunt, though—” At this, to her surprise, her throat began to tighten. A vivid picture of Aunt Harriet came to her mind, lying in the narrow brass bed in her bedroom, her eyes bright with fever. Not recognizing Tessa at the end and calling her by her mother’s name, Elizabeth. Aunt Harriet had been the only mother Tessa had really ever known. Tessa had held her thin hand while she’d died, there in the room with the priest. She remembered thinking that now she truly was alone. “She died recently. She took a fever unexpectedly. She never had been very strong.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jem said, and he genuinely did sound sorry.
“It was terrible because my brother was already gone by then. He’d left for England a month before. He’d even sent us back presents—tea from Fortnum and Mason, and chocolates. And then Aunt took sick and died, and I wrote to him over and over, but my letters came back. I was in despair. And then the ticket arrived. A ticket for a steamship to Southampton, and a note from Nate saying he’d meet me at the docks, that I must come live with him in London now that Aunt was gone. Except now I don’t think he ever wrote that note at all—” Tessa broke off, her eyes stinging. “I’m sorry. I’m maundering on. You don’t need to hear all this.”
“What sort of man is your brother? What is he like?”
Tessa looked at Jem with a little surprise. The others had asked her what he might have done to get himself into his current situation, if she knew where the Dark Sisters might be keeping him, if he had the same power she did. But no one had ever asked what he was like.
“Aunt used to say he was a dreamer,” she said. “He always lived in his head. He never cared about how things were, only how they would be, someday, when he had everything he wanted. When we had everything we wanted,” she corrected herself. “He used to gamble, I think because he couldn’t imagine losing—it wasn’t part of his dreams.”
“Dreams can be dangerous things.”
“No—no.” She shook her head. “I’m not saying it right. He was a wonderful brother. He …” Charlotte was right; it was easier to fight back tears if she found something, some object, to fix her gaze on. She stared at Jem’s hands. They were slender and long, and he had the same design on the back of his hand that Will did, the open eye. She pointed at it. “What’s that meant to do?”
Jem seemed not to notice she had changed the subject. “It’s a Mark. You know what those are?” He held his hand out to her, palm down. “This one is the Voyance. It clears our Sight. Helps us to see Downworld.” He turned his hand over, and drew up the sleeve of his shirt. All along the pale inside of his wrist and inner arm were more of the Marks, very black against his white skin. They seemed to thread with the pattern of his veins, as if his blood ran through the Marks, too. “For swiftness, night vision, angelic power, to heal quickly,” he read out loud. “Though their names are more complex than that, and not in English.”
“Do they hurt?”
“They hurt when I received them. They don’t hurt at all now.” He drew his sleeve down and smiled at her. “Now, don’t tell me that’s all the questions you have.”
Oh, I have more than you think. “Why can’t you sleep?”
She saw that she had caught him off guard; a look of hesitancy flashed across his face before he spoke. But why hesitate? she thought. He could always lie, or simply deflect, as Will would have. But Jem, she sensed instinctively, wouldn’t lie. “I have bad dreams.”
“I was dreaming too,” she said. “I dreamed about your music.”
He grinned. “A nightmare, then?”
“No. It was lovely. The loveliest thing I’ve heard since I came to this horrible city.”
“London isn’t horrible,” Jem said equably. “You simply have to get to know it. You must come with me out into London someday. I can show you the parts of it that are beautiful—that I love.”
“Singing the praises of our fair city?” a light voice inquired. Tessa whirled, and saw Will, leaning against the frame of the doorway. The light from the corridor behind him outlined his damp-looking hair with gold. The hem of his dark overcoat and his black boots were edged with mud, as if he had just come from outdoors, and his cheeks were flushed. He was bareheaded as always. “We treat you well here, don’t we, James? I doubt I’d have that kind of luck in Shanghai. What do you call us there, again?”
“Yang guizi,” said Jem, who appeared unsurprised by Will’s sudden appearance. “‘Foreign devils.’”
“Hear that, Tessa? I’m a devil. So are you.” Will unhitched himself from the doorway and sauntered into the room. He flung himself down onto the edge of the bed, unbuttoning his coat. It had a shoulder cape attached to it, very elegant, lined in blue silk.
“Your hair’s wet,” Jem said. “Where have you been?”
“Here, there, and everywhere.” Will grinned. Despite his usual grace, there was something about the way he moved—the flush on his cheeks and the glitter in his eyes—
“Boiled as an owl, are you?” Jem said, not without affection.
Ah, Tessa thought. He’s drunk. She’d seen her own brother under the influence of alcohol enough times to recognize the symptoms. Somehow, she felt obscurely disappointed.
Jem grinned. “Where have you been? The Blue Dragon? The Mermaid?”
“The Devil Tavern, if you must know.” Will sighed and leaned against one of the posts of the bed. “I had such plans for this evening. The pursuit of blind drunkenness and wayward women was my goal. But alas, it was not to be. No sooner had I consumed my third drink in the Devil than I was accosted by a delightful small flower-selling child who asked me for twopence for a daisy. The price seemed steep, so I refused. When I told the girl as much, she proceeded to rob me.”