Charlotte glanced sideways at Henry, who was staring past the footman with a dreamy sort of expression. Lord knew what his mind was on—cogs, gears, and gadgets, no doubt—but it certainly wasn’t on their present situation. With an inward sigh she said, “I am Mrs. Gray, and this is my husband, Mr. Henry Gray. We’re seeking a cousin of ours—a young man named Nathaniel Gray. We haven’t heard from him in nearly six weeks. He is, or was, one of Mr. Mortmain’s employees—”
For a moment—it might have been her imagination—she thought she saw something, a flicker of uneasiness, in the footman’s eyes. “Mr. Mortmain owns quite a large company. You can’t expect him to know the whereabouts of everyone who works for him. That would be impossible. Perhaps you should inquire with the police.”
Charlotte narrowed her eyes. Before they had left the Institute, she had traced the insides of her arms with persuasion runes. It was the rare mundane who was totally unsusceptible to their influence. “We have, but they don’t seem to have progressed at all with the case. It’s so dreadful, and we’re so concerned about Nate, you see. If we could see Mr. Mortmain for a moment …”
She relaxed as the footman nodded slowly. “I’ll inform Mr. Mortmain of your visit,” he said, stepping back to allow them inside. “Please wait in the vestibule.” He looked startled, as if surprised at his own acquiescence.
He swung the door wide, and Charlotte followed him in, Henry behind her. Though the footman failed to offer Charlotte a seat—a failure of politesse she attributed to the confusion brought on by the persuasion runes—he did take Henry’s coat and hat, and Charlotte’s wrap, before leaving the two of them to stare curiously around the entryway.
The room was high ceilinged but not ornate. It was also absent the expected pastoral landscapes and family portraits. Instead, hanging from the ceiling were long silk banners painted with the Chinese characters for good luck; an Indian platter of hammered silver propped in one corner; and pen-and-ink sketches of famous landmarks lining the walls. Charlotte recognized Mount Kilimanjaro, the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and a section of China’s Great Wall. Mortmain clearly was a man who traveled a great deal and was proud of the fact.
Charlotte turned to look at Henry to see if he was observing what she was, but he was staring vaguely off toward the stairs, lost in his own mind again; before she could say anything, the footman rematerialized, a pleasant smile on his face. “Please come this way.”
Henry and Charlotte followed the footman to the end of the corridor, where he opened a polished oak door and ushered them before him.
They found themselves in a grand study, with wide windows looking out onto the square. Dark green curtains were pulled back to let in the light, and through the windowpanes Charlotte could see their borrowed carriage waiting for them at the curb, the horse with its head dipped into a nose-bag, the driver reading a newspaper on his high seat. The green branches of trees moved on the other side of the street, an emerald canopy, but it was noiseless. The windows blocked all sound, and there was nothing audible in this room at all save the faint ticking of a wall clock with mortmain and company engraved on the face in gold.
The furniture was dark, a heavy black-grained wood, and the walls were lined with animal heads—a tiger, an antelope, and a leopard—and more foreign landscapes. There was a great mahogany desk in the center of the room, neatly arranged with stacks of paper, each pile weighted down with a heavy copper gear. A brass-bound globe bearing the legend WYLD’S GLOBE OF THE EARTH, WITH THE LATEST DISCOVERIES! anchored one corner of the desk, the lands under the rule of the British empire picked out in pinkish red. Charlotte always found the experience of examining mundane globes a strange one. Their world was not the same shape as the one she knew.
Behind the desk sat a man, who rose to his feet as they entered. He was a small energetic-looking figure, a middle-aged man with hair graying suitably at the sideburns. His skin looked windburned, as if he had often been outside in rough weather. His eyes were a very, very light gray, his expression pleasant; despite his elegant, expensive-looking clothes, it was easy to imagine him on the deck of a ship, peering keenly into the distance. “Good afternoon,” he said. “Walker gave me to understand that you are looking for Mr. Nathaniel Gray?”
“Yes,” Henry said, to Charlotte’s surprise. Henry rarely, if ever, took the lead in conversations with strangers. She wondered if it had anything to do with the intricate-looking blueprint on the desk. Henry was looking at it as yearningly as if it were food. “We’re his cousins, you know.”
“We do appreciate you taking this time to talk to us, Mr. Mortmain,” Charlotte added hastily. “We know he was only an employee of yours, one of dozens—”
“Hundreds,” said Mr. Mortmain. He had a pleasant baritone voice, which at the moment sounded very amused. “It is true I can’t keep track of them all. But I do remember Mr. Gray. Though I must say, if he ever mentioned that he had cousins who were Shadowhunters, I can’t say I recall it.”
We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?
—Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market”
“You know,” said Jem, “this isn’t at all what I thought a brothel would look like.”
The two boys stood at the entrance to what Tessa called the Dark House, off Whitechapel High Street. It looked dingier and darker than Will remembered, as if someone had swabbed it with a coating of extra dirt. “What were you imagining exactly, James? Ladies of the night waving from the balconies? Nude statues adorning the entranceway?”
“I suppose,” Jem said mildly, “I was expecting something that looked a bit less drab.”
Will had thought rather the same thing the first time he had been there. The overwhelming sensation one had inside the Dark House was that it was a place no one had ever really thought of as a home. The latched windows looked greasy, the drawn curtains dingy and unwashed.
Will rolled up his sleeves. “We’ll probably have to knock down the door—”
“Or,” said Jem, reaching out and giving the knob a twist, “not.”
The door swung open onto a rectangle of darkness.
“Now, that’s simply laziness,” said Will. Taking a hunting dagger from his belt, he stepped cautiously inside, and Jem followed, keeping tight hold of his jade-headed walking stick. They tended to take turns going first into dangerous situations, though Jem preferred to be rear guard much of the time—Will always forgot to look behind him.