Clockwork Princess (Page 19)

Clockwork Princess(19)
Author: Cassandra Clare

But now, in the cold hours of the evening, she knew that nothing she could do would turn back the clock, or unmake the feelings that existed between them all. She felt hollow inside, as if a piece of her were missing, and yet she was paralyzed. Part of her wanted to run to Will, to see if his hands were healed and to tell him she understood. The rest of her wanted to flee across the hall to Jem’s room and beg him to forgive her. They had never been angry with each other before, and she did not know how to navigate a Jem who was furious. Would he want to end their engagement? Would he be disappointed in her? Somehow that thought was as hard to bear, that Jem might be disappointed in her.

Skritch. She looked up and around the room-a faint noise. Perhaps she had imagined it? She was tired; perhaps it was time to call for Sophie to help her with her dress, and then to retire to bed with a book. She was partway through The Castle of Otranto and finding it an excellent distraction.

She had risen from her chair and gone to ring the servants’ bell when the noise came again, more determined. A skritch, skritch, against the door of her bedroom. With slight trepidation she crossed the room and flung the door open.

Church crouched on the other side, his blue-gray fur ruffled, his expression furious. Around his neck was tied a bow of silver lace, and attached to the bow was a small piece of rolled paper, like a tiny scroll. Tessa dropped to her knees, reached for the bow, and untied it. The bow fell away, and the cat immediately bolted down the hall.

The paper came free of the lace, and Tessa picked up the paper and unrolled it. Familiar looping script traced its way across the page.

Meet me in the music room.

-J

"There’s nothing here," Gabriel said.

He and Gideon were in the drawing room. It was quite dark, with the curtains drawn; if they had not had their witchlights, it would have been as black as pitch. Gabriel was going hastily through the correspondence on Charlotte’s desk, for the second time.

"What do you mean, nothing?" said Gideon, standing by the door. "I see a pile of letters there. Certainly one of them must be-"

"Nothing scandalous," Gabriel said, slamming a desk drawer shut. "Or even interesting. Some correspondence with an uncle in Idris. He appears to have gout."

"Fascinating," Gideon muttered.

"One cannot help but wonder exactly what it is that the Consul believes Charlotte to be involved in. Some sort of betrayal of the Council?" Gabriel picked up her sheaf of letters and made a face. "We could reassure him of her innocence if only we knew what it was that he suspected."

"And if I believed he wanted to be reassured of her innocence," Gideon said. "It seems to me more likely that he is hoping to catch her out." He reached out a hand. "Give me that letter."

"The one to her uncle?" Gabriel was dubious, but did as directed. He held the witchlight up, shining its rays over the desk as Gideon bent over and, having appropriated one of Charlotte’s pens, began to scratch out a missive to the Consul.

Gideon was blowing on the ink to dry it when the door of the drawing room flew open. Gideon jerked upright. A yellow glow poured into the room, far brighter than the dim witchlight; Gabriel put up a hand to cover his eyes, blinking. He ought to have put on a Night Vision rune, he thought, but they took time to fade, and he had been concerned it would have raised questions. In the moments that it took his vision to adjust, he heard his brother exclaim, aghast:

"Sophie?"

"I have told you not to call me that, Mr. Lightwood." Her tone was cold. Gabriel’s vision resolved, and he saw the maid standing in the doorway, a lit lamp in one hand. She was squinting. Her eyes narrowed further as they lit on Gabriel, Charlotte’s letters still in his hand. "Are you- Is that Mrs. Branwell’s correspondence?"

Gabriel dropped the letters hastily onto the desk. "I … We …"

"Have you been reading her letters?" Sophie looked furious, like some sort of avenging angel, lamp in hand. Gabriel glanced quickly at his brother, but Gideon appeared to be struck speechless.

In all Gabriel’s life he could not remember his brother giving even the prettiest of Shadowhunter girls a second glance. Yet he looked at this scarred mundane servant as if she were the sun rising. It was inexplicable, but it was also undeniable. He could see the horror on his brother’s face as Sophie’s good opinion of him shattered before his eyes.

"Yes," Gabriel said. "Yes, we are indeed going through her correspondence."

Sophie took a step back. "I shall fetch Mrs. Branwell immediately-"

"No-" Gabriel held out a hand. "It isn’t what you think. Wait." Quickly he outlined what had happened: the Consul’s threats, his request that they spy on Charlotte, and their solution to the problem. "We never intended to reveal a word she had actually written," he finished. "Our intention was to protect her."

Sophie’s suspicious expression did not change. "And why should I believe a word of that, Mr. Lightwood?"

Gideon finally spoke. "Ms. Collins," he said. "Please. I know that since the-unfortunate business-with the scones you have not held me in esteem, but please do believe I would not betray the trust Charlotte has placed in me, nor reward her kindness to me with betrayal."

Sophie wavered for a moment, then dropped her gaze. "I am sorry, Mr. Lightwood. I wish to believe you, but it is with Mrs. Branwell that my first loyalty must lie."

Gabriel snatched up from the desk the letter his brother had just written. "Miss Collins," he said. "Please read this missive. It was what we had intended to send the Consul. If, after reading it, you are still determined in your heart to seek out Mrs. Branwell, then we will not try to stop you."

Sophie looked from him to Gideon. Then, with a quick inclination of her head, she came forward and set the lamp down on the desk. Taking the letter from Gideon, she unfolded it and read out loud:

"To: Consul Josiah Wayland

From: Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood

Dear Sir,

You have displayed your usual great wisdom in asking us to read Mrs. Branwell’s missives to Idris. We obtained a private glance into said correspondence and observed that she is in almost daily communication with her great-uncle Roderick Fairchild.

The contents of these letters, sir, would shock and disappoint you. It has robbed us of much of our belief in the fairer sex.

Mrs. Branwell displays a most callous, inhumane, and unfeminine attitude toward his many grievous ills. She recommends the application of less liquor to cure his gout, shows unmistakable signs of being amused by his dire ailment of dropsy, and entirely ignores his mention of a suspicious substance building up within his ears and other orifices.

Signs of the tender feminine care one would expect from a woman to her male relatives, and the respect any relatively young woman should give her elder as his due-there are none! Mrs. Branwell, we fear, has run mad with power. She must be stopped before it is too late and many brave Shadowhunters have fallen by the wayside for lack of feminine care.

Yours faithfully,

Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood"

There was silence when she had finished. Sophie stood for what felt like an eternity, staring wide-eyed at the paper. At last she said, "Which one of you wrote this?"

Gideon cleared his throat. "I did."

She looked up. She had pressed her lips together, but they were trembling. For a horrible moment Gabriel thought she was about to cry. "Oh, my gracious," she said. "And is this the first?"

"No, there has been one other," Gabriel admitted. "It was about Charlotte’s hats."

"Her hats?" A peal of laughter escaped Sophie’s lips, and Gideon looked at her as if he had never seen anything so marvelous. Gabriel had to admit she did look quite pretty when she laughed, scar or not. "And was the Consul furious?"

"Murderously so," said Gideon.

"Are you going to tell Mrs. Branwell?" demanded Gabriel, who could not stand the suspense another moment.

Sophie had stopped laughing. "I will not," she said, "for I do not wish to compromise you in the eyes of the Consul, and also, I think such news would hurt her, and to no good end. Spying on her like that, that awful man!" Her gaze sparked. "If you would like aid in your plan to frustrate the Consul’s schemes, I am happy to give it. Let me keep the letter, and I shall ensure that it is posted tomorrow."

The music room was not as dusty as Tessa remembered it-it looked as if it had received a good cleaning recently; the mellow wood of the windowsills and floors shone, as did the grand piano in the corner. A fire was leaping in the grate, outlining Jem in fire as he turned away from it and, seeing her, smiled a nervous smile.

Everything in the room seemed soft, as muted as watercolor-the light of the fire bringing the white-sheeted instruments to life like ghosts, the dark gleam of the piano, the flames a dim reflected gold in the windowpanes. She could see her and Jem too, facing each other: a girl in a dark blue evening dress, and a thin rake of a boy with a mop of silvery hair, his black jacket hanging just slightly too loose on his slender frame.

His face in the shadows was all vulnerability, anxiety in the soft curve of his mouth. "I was not sure that you would come."

At that, she took a step forward, wanting to fling her arms about him, but she stopped herself. She had to speak first. "Of course I came," she said. "Jem, I am so sorry. So very sorry. I cannot explain-it was a sort of madness. I could not bear the thought that harm would come to you because of me, because in some way I am connected to Mortmain, and he to me."

"That is not your fault. It was never your choice-"

"I was not seeing sense. Will was right; Mortmain cannot be trusted. Even if I went to him, there is no guarantee that he would honor his end of the bargain. And I would be placing a weapon in the hands of your enemy. I do not know what he wants to use me for, but it is not for the good of Shadowhunters; of that we can be sure. I could even in the end yet be what hurts you all." Tears stung her eyes, but she held them back by force. "Forgive me, Jem. We cannot waste the time we have together in anger. I understand why you did what you did-I would have done it for you."

His eyes went soft and silver as she spoke. "Zhe shi jie shang, wo shi zui ai ne de," he whispered.

She understood it. In all the world, you are what I love the most.

"Jem-"

"You know that; you must know that. I could never let you go away from me, not into danger, not while I have breath." He held his hand up, before she could take a step toward him. "Wait." He bent down, and when he rose, he was holding his square violin case and bow. "I- There was something I wished to give you. A bridal gift, when we were married. But I would like to give it to you now, if you will let me."

"A gift?" she said, wonderingly. "After- But we quarreled!"

He smiled at that, the lovely smile that lit his face and made you forget how thin and drawn he looked. "An integral part of married life, I have been informed. It will have been good practice."

"But-"

"Tessa, did you imagine that there exists any quarrel, large or small, that could make me stop loving you?" He sounded amazed, and she thought suddenly of Will, of the years that Will had tested Jem’s loyalty, driven him mad with lies and evasion and self-harm, and through all of it Jem’s love for his blood brother had never frayed, much less broken.

"I was afraid," she said softly. "And I-I have no gift for you."

"Yes, you do." He said it quietly but firmly. "Sit down, Tessa, please. Do you remember how we met?"

Tessa sat down on a low chair with gilded arms, her skirts crinkling around her. "I barged into your room in the middle of the night like a madwoman."

Jem grinned. "You glided gracefully into my bedroom and found me playing the violin." He was tightening the screw on the bow; he finished, set it down, and lovingly took his violin out of its case. "Would you mind if I play for you now?"

"You know I love to hear you play." It was true. She even loved to hear him talk about the violin, though she understood little of it. She could listen to him rattle on passionately for hours about rosin, pegs, scrolls, bowing, finger positions, and the tendency of A strings to break-without getting bored.

"Wo wei ni xie de," he said as he raised the violin to his left shoulder and tucked it under his chin. He had told her that many violinists used a shoulder rest, but he did not. There was a slight mark on the side of his throat, like a permanent bruise, where the violin rested.

"You-made something for me?"

"I wrote something for you," he corrected with a smile, and began to play.

She watched in amazement. He began simply, softly, his grip light on the bow, producing a soft, harmonic sound. The melody rolled over her, as cool and sweet as water, as hopeful and lovely as sunrise. She watched his fingers in fascination as they moved and an exquisite note rose from the violin. The sound deepened as the bow moved faster, Jem’s forearm sawing back and forth, his slim body seeming to blur into motion from the shoulder. His fingers slid up and down slightly, and the pitch of the music deepened, thunderclouds gathering on a bright horizon, a river that had become a torrent. The notes crashed at her feet, rose to surround her; Jem’s whole body seemed to be moving in tune with the sounds he wrung from the instrument, though she knew his feet were firmly planted on the floor.

Her heart raced to keep pace with the music; Jem’s eyes were shut, the corners of his mouth downturned as if in pain. Part of her wanted to rush to her feet, to put her arms about him; the other part of her wanted to do nothing to stop the music, the lovely sound of it. It was as if he had taken his bow and used it as a paintbrush, creating a canvas upon which his soul was clearly displayed. As the last soaring notes reached higher and higher, climbing toward Heaven, Tessa was aware that her face was wet, but only when the last of the music had faded away and he had lowered the violin did she realize she had been crying.